Be sure to enter the AICN Anime Disgaea Give-Away here
Anime Preview Gunbuster 3 DVD Set To be Released by Image Entertainment and Bandai Visual February 20, 2007
If you approach anime as a sci-fi fan, Gunbuster is certainly a key candidate for the anime canon. The series is a six episode OVA (released direct to video) from the Neon Genesis Evangelion creators at Gainax. It's been argued that these projects made anime a specialized market, tailored to the hard core fans willing to pay a high price for each episode of the series. But to argue the case in favor the release vehicle, the OVA format allowed for the creation of short works exploring a concept in its concentrated form. Gainax grew out of a university sci-fi club that jumping in to anime by producing the Daicon conventional opening shorts, which were remarkable works of amateur animation. (See Yasuhiro Takeda's Notenki Memoirs for something approaching the complete story). Cementing their reputation as the geek studio, after Gunbuster, Gainax would go on to make Otaku no Video, a fictionalized indoctrination into the world of obsessive anime fandom. Given this background, Gunbuster can be said to be an early example of a work of anime from people who were anime, fans. It was a passion project, and not this season's giant robot show mandated to sell to a specific market. As a result, from start to finish, Gunbuster has the hallmarks of anime driven by, as Gunbuster's characters would put it "hard work and guts", rather than over-conceived marketing dictates. The series starts with what many viewers will find to be an uninspiring mecha-come-sports anime parody. The Japanese name for Gunbuster, Aim for the Top! or Top O Nerae! even looks like the name of tennis anime Aim for the Ace! or Eesu wo nerae!? The spectacle of girls running around a high school track and performing calisthenics in boxy robots is at least as silly as it was intended to be. However, most American anime fans don't have the familiarity or the least the affection for sports anime that original Japanese viewers might. Not knowing Aim for the Ace! from Happy! (Naoki Urasawa's tennis work), it is hard to get more than mild baffle amusement out these early scenes. The protagonist Noriko Takaya is what you might expect from a sports anime: hammy and earnest, a slow learner a the tail end of the pack, but also evidently gifted. And, she's the daughter of a hero, an admiral killed in one of the first battles in space. Perhaps because of this connection, the coach pairs her with the school's "Rose Queen" Kazumi Amano, an older, more graceful, genius mech pilot. Even when Noriko and Kazumi are sent into space in preparation for fighting, the tone is still initially irreverent. Their foes are called Uchuu Kaijuu or Space Monsters (and in later, extra-anime sources, referred to as the STMC or Space Terrible Monster Crowd), a name that is both silly and in keeping with 80's "Evil Empire" rhetoric. The sports/school rivalry metaphor is maintained with the introduction of Jung Freud, an arrogant, fiery, Soviet-by way of the moon (literally), prodigy. Then Gainax, and Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno begin turning everything on its head. Almost 20 years later, it's no new trick to start an anime series down a comfortable formula path, then subvert the formula by getting into the heads of the leads and demonstrating the devastating toll that those formula events would yield. With Evangelion later invoking the same serious minded look at its characters' psyches, Gunbuster retroactively became thought of as the proto-Evangelion. It's hard to argue Evangelion wasn't one of the most important anime titles of the 90's. In its wake, it left an effect similar to that of Watchman and Dark Knight Returns on American comics. Dark and tragic became the obvious mode for stories and implementations became lazy. For Gunbuster, not only is its evolution no longer novel, for viewers who became tired of post-Evangelion anime, it has reservations to overcome. Yet, after having seen the derivative works, holding it up against its descendants, by powerfully telling a very human story through science fiction, Gundam still commands attention. Still devastatingly effective, it is still a classic. The power of Gunbuster is in its vivid demonstration of the decisions these characters make. It is difficult to think of its conclusion without getting choked up to some degree. That the characters aren't brilliantly unique or likable is beside the point. They are well realized personalities, and what the anime does do is convincingly display what their mission does to them. The viewer can see that these characters know what they are doing and know the consequences of their action on their own lives. The universe of Gunbuster is subject to a lot of knowingly inventive physics. Post episode science lesson shorts feature stubby super deformed versions of the characters giving "everyone knows" inside-joke filled lectures about ether and near light speed travel. Yet, what effects the characters most deeply is the hard sci-fi-ish effects of relativity during high speed travel. Early on Noriko and Kazumi spend a few minutes too long engaging the enemy on a moving, deserted war ship. When they return to their staging location, six months had passed. Returning home from their first campaign in space, a decade had passed. Their friends were older, and had new outlook on life. While this sounds a bit like Forever War and more recently the anime Voices From a Distant Star, the dramatic nature of time dilation is different for the protagonists of Gunbuster. From their point of view, the war is not a protracted conflict. In Noriko's perspective time frame, the whole series covers about a year. Fighting the enemy is not without its loses, but for the protagonists, the journey is more of a sacrifice than the fight. Every time they engage the enemy, they leave the world they knew behind. The foes, the Space Monsters, are said to be the universe's version of white blood cells, seeking to wipe out the infection of humanity. For the people on Earth, it does seem like an unending war. Perpetually in fear of extinction, the Earth-bound humanity who aren't actively fighting do change to a degree that might shock Noriko and even her commanding officers. Gunbuster is one of the select few anime where the protagonists really seem heroic rather than just fulfilling roles. The sacrifice of what is certain, and what any person would like to hold on to, seems more tangibly real than some of the nebulous stakes floating around in anime. Their pursuit of their mission is firmly at odds with the human inertia to stay with what is comfortably familiar. Their leap into the unknown, leaving behind loved ones, not knowing what might happen to them, not knowing who and what they might return to can easily stand in for a number of live experiences: immigration, tours of military duty, college, starting an enterprise. In effect, the drama seems less adolescence bound than the post-Evangelion mold of a child who doesn't want to be a hero or must overcome alienation and parental issues. Gunbuster runs 6 episodes. As an OVA, it was originally released with months of space between each entry. Consequently, each episode doesn't flow into the next the way a weekly TV series might. Yet, there is something to be said for watching the DVD set back to back. Block out three hours and watch the series from when Noriko is pulling tires on her school athletic field to the series' teary conclusion. This doesn't necessarily reveal any hidden connections, especially in that Gunbuster is generally explicit in what it wants to convey. But the continuous viewing does magnify the impression. The sequence of single decisions that take Noriko further and further from typical high school life is a masterful evolution to watch. As with the conclusion of Evangelion, the presentation of Gunbuster's ending is subject to debate and speculation. The last episode is animated in black and white gray tones. During this, the series' largest battle is rendered with story-board like stills. How much of this was Gainax trying something new in the medium, breaking the mold of what had previously been done and what was expected? How much was a solution to being painted into a production corner? Ultimately the discussion just adds to Gainax's mystique. (Too bad that their mystique has been over mortgaged by their recent works.) The somber tone of the stark contrast is perfect for an episode that is down to the desperate final push of a struggle. The montage engagement has the look of old battlefield photos and a documentary feel. The depiction of that battle is debatable, but going into the final movements, with Noriko's last action rendered and black and white, the presentation is magnificent. It's hard to imagine the unforgettable scenes any other way. Regardless of whether it was conscious experimentation or necessity, Gainax deserves credit for stretching the medium beyond what is frequently seen. Gunbuster is clearly the fruits of an imaginative genre-fan's mind. The central conflict pits enormous, in size and quantity, fleets of human ships against legions of biological space creatures. Gainax allows themselves a carte blanche for what they can put onto the screen and then they deliver on the promise. With a host of "it would be nice if..." scenarios played out on screen, as immense gun banks open fire of Lovecraftian scale insect/sea creature/bacteria organisms, Gainax lives up to the potential of knowing, talented fans, heading a genre production. Given that anime like Votoms and Go Nagai mech works seem to be real niche appeal, the giant robot side of the fans-at-the-helm approach probably will reach many viewers as just an impressive spectacle. But, as with other aspects, there are plenty of knowing tweaks at work. Ironically, during the initial, more parody focused phases, as the robots are doing what you would expect an athlete to do rather than a mechanical tool, the robots themselves look to be in the mode of what is called "real robots". They look boxy, not so dynamic or appealing, seeming more like interchangeable machines, the way a jeep or tank might, than fighting power totems. As the tone of the series becomes heavier, the Gunbuster is introduced, which is more in the model what is called a "super robot". Like the 70's classic Mazinger, or more specifically, Getter Robo, it has a crest, a recognizable face, a body like a heralded suit of armor; it is also formed by two combining jet-like crafts. Then, the series' seldom replicated scale is worked into the picture. The Gunbuster itself stands 200 meters toll, weighs in at 9,800 tons, and fires what might be called fleet-womping armaments. Beyond Anno, the staff behind Gunbuster could easily been called genre favorites as well. Character designer Haruhiko Mikimoto, best known for Macross/Robotech, brings a cherubic touch to the faces of the characters, well suited for what is a markedly shoujo influenced work. Composer Kouhei Tanaka can be found all over anime, typically in series with memorable scores, including Dirty Pair, Bastard, GaoGaiGar, (the underrated) Gad Guard, Dragon Half, G Gundam, 08th MS Team, One Piece, Sakura Wars, Violinist of Hamelin and more. Gunbuster wouldn't have been the work that it is without Tanaka contribution, which perfectly evokes the right tone for the depicted events. There are plenty of overt bits of geek humor, and more hidden in-jokes throughout the anime. North American fans should be aware that the middle episodes immortalize US manga pioneer Toren Smith (formerly of Studeo Proteus and the US office of Gainax's merchandising). Especially throughout the supplementary material, genre gags are plentiful. Noriko makes a host of Sailor Moon jokes through the science lessons. An extra bit is dedicated to giving Jung Freud her mech, the (in English laughably named) Sizzler. The techs re-assure her that the idea that prototypes (the Gunbuster) are more powerful than mass production models (Sizzler) is a myth perpetuated by anime (see Gundam, Evangelion, ect). For years Gunbuster was notorious for the "Gainax bounce": obvious and unnecessary chest movement animation on the part of the female characters. Given the reputation, what can be found in the anime is actually surprisingly bearable. Maybe, as has been suggested, this is meta-level commentary concerning the role of female characters in sci-fi; but who's buying that. Female chest baring and chest animation does certainly play a noticeable role in Gunbuster, and comes into play at some odd and unexpected times. Yet, watching Gunbuster, fan "service", a term Gainax popularized in its Evangelion episode previews, has clearly developed in the last 20 years. Its use in Gunbuster is positively artful compared to a more recent Gainax work like This Ugly and Beautiful World. In order for a series to parody that current of animation direction now, a work like Godannar has to have giant mammaries moving in every cut. In 2007 it seems almost quaint to watch Noriko flop onto a bed in a loose tank top, or Jung Freud flaunting her lunar-gravity developed chest. Quick, lovingly animated, not gratuitously distracting, and non-intelligence insulting, Gunbuster might have marked a brief golden age of fan service. Unlike most North American DVD releases, Gunbuster DVD set does not feature an English audio track. It's been said that isolated audio tracks for the anime have been lost. Previous releases, which in North America, were limited to long out of print VHS from U.S. Renditions and Manga Entertainment, were similarly restricted to subtitle-only releases.
Manwha Spotlight: Banya, The Explosive Delivery Man By Kim Young-Oh Released by Dark Horse Manwha
Both the super hero tradition and various manga genres have capitalized on the flexibility of the comic medium to establish grand visual spectacles. In contrast, while Kim Young-Oh's low fantasy Banya has the unique look of its own world, it focuses on more easily conceivable set pieces, and it derives a benefit from what might be thought of as focusing the scale a bit. Small groups fight at close distances. Combat abilities are heightened enough to leave an impression, but fallible enough to keep the danger present. With these factors at work, the manwha functions perfectly as cinematic action. Pre-cgi, director cared for, cinematic action at that. As a result, in a movie action sense, its one of the most exciting comics of any origin. Kim Young-Oh readies Banya's players for this sort of dynamic and tangible fight scenes with a look that is distinctive, but not over-designed. There are real physiques to the characters. The figures have fleshly thickness that gives the players the look of real, if a bit unusual, people, propelled into dangerous situations. Characters have the right amount of muscles. Rather than overbuilding, each person seems to have the mass that would make sense to their occupations. While faces feature typical abstraction, no form is too idealized. Many men have at least a bit of a gut. The women generally do not have overly large chests. Caught up in the action, the illustration is distorted by some noticeable flaws in perspective and anatomy, but through the storm of speed lines able choreography is evident. Having established a physical presence for the characters, with semi-obscured figures clashing in clouds of smoke or diving out of path of swung axes, there is a woosh of danger and excitement in the motion. Volume 2 of the manwha features noticeably less monster design than the first, which is a shame, because Kim Young-Oh brought a unique naturalist touch to the dangerous fauna of his world. By that token, he is also still teasing what looks like a very impressive Lord of the Rings like orcs versus historic Korean warriors (think Musa the Warrior) war. The thread doesn't receive too much attention in the volume, but their is an amazingly bad-ass mother orc who does some very nasty things to a monastery. Beneath the surface of the manwha's stories, there is clearly an intricately designed world. A patchwork of armies, factions, tribes, and independent players litter the landscape. Yet, despite this, Banya's stories have been universal. There probably are macro-scale agendas at work, but the events depicted only manifest the tips. From the perspective of the leads, it is all matters of simple objective and personal relationships. Even when these characters see deeper into a delivery than moving an object or message from point A to point B, the story is still kept to basic human frameworks. For example, the story that comprises the better part of the volume is driven by a mother's worries for her rebellious son.
Anime Spotlight Best Student Council, Vol. 1: New Home and New Friends Released by ADV Films
Often the issue that drives an anime into the ground is either bad ideas or a dearth of ideas. In the case of Best Student Council, once the intension for the series had been puzzled out, it does seem like it had a plan for drawing in and entertaining viewers. Yet, given the unexciting results, it appears that the implementation could not effectively capture the proposition that it wanted to offer its viewers. Evidently, either the direction or writing desperately needed to be tweaked. ADV has called the series "Azumanga Daioh meets Mission Impossible", and superficially it does resemble that description. However, it does not commit to that direction. Anime like Galaxy Angel mix absurdism with characters who had charismatic depths beyond their placeholder archetypes, and in that way a "Azumanga Daioh meets Mission Impossible" is imaginable. In Best Student Council scenario architect Yousuke Kuroda (Battle Athletes Victory, Excel Saga, Honey and Clover) plays coy with the characters. It might have the been intension to create enough space for the viewer to read into the characters. In that case, the intrigue would be for the viewer to puzzle out and speculate on the causes for the characters' engagingly showy behavior. However director Yoshiaki Iwasaki, whose work have been obvious (Love Hina) or disappointingly misaimed (El Hazard 2) produces characters who are too flat to be interesting. In the mid-90's there was a half-comedy space opera called Irresponsible Captain Tylr, about a seeming n'er do-well who was either a genius, subtly manipulating the events himself or the luckiest man in history. As he begins lazily moving himself into the epicenter of a galactic war, the ambiguity has the other characters pulling their hair out in uncertain frustration. The fun for the viewer was that he seemed to have been a bumbling lay about, terribly in over his head in a clash between space-empires, but he might also have been an unparalleled chess master. Best Student Council installs that sort of character in an exaggerated version of anime/manga's model of girl's school (best exemplified by Maria-sama ga Miteru aka Maramite). Rando Rino is either a terribly oblivious young student with seismically variable luck, or someone whose poker face hides her amazing people skills in an effort to come back from aweful circumstances. On the advise of her pen pal "Mr Poppit", after the death of her mother, without any clear plans for supporting herself, she gets on a train for the prestigious Miyagami High School. Her omnipresent, and possibly conscious hand-puppet Pucchan wastes little time vocally ripping into this plan. Pucchan's reservations initially seem to be well founded. Rino arrives to find that the apartment she had been planning to stay in was burnt down by arson. Consequently, she is reduced to sleeping in front of the school's front gate. However, the next day her luck turns around. In an unlikely chain of events, she is named class representative for her homeroom, which gives her an office in the Gokujou Seitokai or Best Student Council. As a member she receives luxury room and board in the Council's compound. The Council is more of a Utopian society/zaibatsu/organization from the Prisoner than a simple gathering governing student/faculty relationships and planning extracurricular activities. With Assault and Covert divisions, missile systems and extravagant resources, they are not just controlling the school, but the community around it. Best Student Council tries to be character driven. Beneath the veil of absurdity, with autonomous puppets and mega-empowered teens, it tries to have the characters lead by recognizable motivations. The appeal is supposed to be the mystery connecting the either hidden or simply unrevealed motivation to the often zany actions. A key component of these motivations is female homosexual love or "yuri." As many yuri stories do, Best Student Council teases the line where hero worship becomes romantic affection. The student council president Jinguji Kanade exudes so much calm control that she is universally admired, and several (or many) suborinate/younger students fall for her. While this current is an aspect of the plot, the anime also plays up the suggestions of lesbian love to almost a fourth wall breaking degree. The series runs over difficult ground when it shows behind closed doors scenes. Rino's character ambiguity seems contrived when it is maintained in scenes in which she could conceivably let her guard down. The more significant problem is that the anime relies on the viewer to find and latch onto the characters mysteries before the characters are established as interesting personalities in their own right. Visually, they lack a spark either in initial appearance or in motion. Character designer Tsuyoshi Kawada keeps the identifying features rudimentary in the series' simplified look. Especially with the characters spending most of their time in matching school uniforms, the look is frequently anime by the numbers. Animation with obvious short cuts, does few favors for the characters. A scene in which a martial artist jumps onto a car in one of the most shameless fakes since the moving frame of early CG anime: a pretty brazen move for an opening episode of a fairly long running series. There isn't just an effort to make the characters multi-dimensional, the premise depends on it. Relying on that presents a problem for the series. Some viewers find that they are intrigued by these characters, depending on what the viewer may read into them. But beyond the wackiness of the premise, it is hard to find the character doing, saying, or thinking anything particularly interesting or relevant. Unlike series Azumanga Daioh or Galaxy Angel the complex multi-faceted personalities do not yield a spark of charisma. If these people were sitting in a table next to you, you probably would not listen in on their conversation.
Resource Spotlight: Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. by Roland Kelts Released by Palgrave Macmillan
According to Anime on DVD North American anime distributors released 767 DVDs in 2006, down from 839 in 2005, but up slightly from 758 in 2004. While the industry probably isn't done consolidating, the last decade demonstrates that anime has established itself as a sustainable market and not a fad bound to fizzle out. As the subtitle of the book suggests, an aspect of Japanamerica's aims is to explain what properties of the Japanese anime tradition have made the form appealing enough to American audiences to warrant 767 DVD releases in a year. Japanamerica is not strictly anime focused, but anime does dominate an exploration of image oriented Japanese pop media, including manga, video games, related merchandise and some of the ancillary fandom niches, that have attracted followings in North America. An AICN reader recently posted in response to an anime piece "[Why do the] artists make vehicles, weapons, robots, etc, look super detailed and realistic, but draw humans with freakishly large eyes, mouths, etc?" As this demonstrates, the dominant anime aesthetic isn't one every viewer takes too or understands. Though Kelts addresses what is special or innovative about the works of specific, noteworthy creators such as Osamu Tezuka or Hayao Miyazaki, there isn't a substantial quantity of artistic theory in Japanamerica. The anime/manga Genshiken actually answers a variant on the question above very well. As does Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. What Kelts does suggest is that the more open, symbolic look of abstract figures in detailed contexts is more at home with our current, media saturated, from all angles view of the world. Without tight constraints, in terms of the type of content or how that content is framed, anime offers a ground level perspective of the world turned upside down. Kelts ends the first chapter saying that unlike the JFK assassination, caught by the Zapruder film "9/11 doesn't look like a movie, or a photograph. It looks more like anime." Anime becomes a means of processing anxiety. As Japanamerica points out, while there is an escapist fantasy comfort component, it also confronts the fears, by having the viewer establish a report with characters in circumstances that are both extreme and present. Japanamerica dedicates more attention to the idea that anime has never been divorced from American influence. Osamu Tezuka, who set the stage for both the anime and manga traditions, was greatly influenced by classic Disney. For example, he supposedly saw Bambi over 80 times. (More cause for wondering where he found the time to be so prolific.) By most accounts his work was later appropriated by Disney for The Lion King. This is an example of what the book refers to as a Mobius strip, suggesting that there is only one twisting continuum in the relationship between American pop culture/art and Japanese pop culture/art. Each side consumes the fruits of the other, and in doing so changes their own output, which in term changes the other. Except, you also have to factor in money, which weighs the direction of pop art. In that way, a neural network might be a better metaphor for the exchange. Essentially Japanamerica is a story told in the evolution of art and commerce. As each country notices the work of the other, both money and inspirational ideas are exchanged. It's not a simple static give-and-take, but a system where feedback in the form of new works, licensing and funding, is actively changing what is produced. If you are an anime fan who reads treasured old issues of Pulp, and blogs like Patrick Macias An Eternal Thought in the Mind of Godzilla and Matt Alt's Alt Japan and listen to podcasts like Anime World Order, you will find that author Roland Kelts spoke to a host of fascinating, key figures in the production and distribution of anime (Studio 4°C's Eiko Tanaka, Gonzo Digital Holding's Shinichiro Ishikawa, Steven Alpert, who was Tokuma International Managing Director during Disney's licensing of the Ghibli films, Masakazu Kubo, the Shogakukan Inc. producer for Pokemon, who speaks concerning 4Kids and North American distribution, as well as the familiar and always insightful usual suspect experts, in addition to Alt and Macias, writers like Napier, and Schodt). However, for that type of information consumer, though what is said might be phrased or supported in new ways, the book is unlikely to introduce new aspects or concerns to the discussion. For those who aren't quite so voracious, but are fascinated by the medium and the cultural commerce between America and Japan, Japanamerica is one of the two essential guides to the current state of anime production (the other is Yasuo Otsuka's interview on the bonus disc of the latest release of Casle of Cagliostro). The "current" part of that statement is key. There is a memorable comment from Frederik Schodt in the book: "Americans and others have a history of discovering and getting excited about dying Japanese art forms, without realizing that they are dying. It was true of ukiyo-e, and it was true of geisha, and probably lots of other things, including 'Japanese management'." And maybe given mortal symbolism of cherry blossoms and the classic tragic heroes of anime/manga, that seems appropriate. The decay of anime is clearly on the mind of many industry professionals and professional observers in Japanamerica. Some say that the economics of the studio system have resulted in a generation who hasn't been trained to take the reins from the masters like Hayao Miyazaki. Some say that the problem was introduced from the beginning when Osamu Tezuka set the per episode price too low. Some say that as soon as international audiences began looking at anime, Japanese producers began taking it too seriously and the free creativity was stifled. At the root of all of these issues, anime has never, not been a business, but as Japanamerica points out, that business as never been more complicated or uncertain. Dreary forecasts from observers, and speculation on the nature of the problem is mixed with industry insiders sharing ideas for ensuring creative and financial prosperity. Tanaka, who is head of one of anime's most excitingly innovative studios speaks about how anime will continue to develop as an art form. Ishikawa talks the business options by which an anime production company can expand its distribution globally. TOKYOPOP's Stuart Levy talks of bringing some of the internationally produced, anime/manga influenced works back to Japan. By speaking to enough people and speaking to the right people, Japanamerica overcomes the most difficult hurtle addressing this topic. Anime, from business and production standpoints, has a difficult back-story to tell. Even in the case of a famous/infamous, widely written about production like that of Neon Genesis Evangelion nothing approaching a reliable, complete account is going to be revealed. Movie makers, musicians, writers, and manga/comic creators seem far more given to speaking about and creating works concerning their creation process than animators. There are both outsider and insider pieces produced about the process. And, there are introspective works. However in animation, largely, there is more chatter than depth. This may be because for most of its history, anime has been a group production art, with teams laboring to produce a larger work. Even the famously demanding Miyazaki is hard to completely think of as an auteur. There are always aspects of design or even scenes that become the works of others. Then factor in the labor of the art, and there becomes a host of reason why a complete story of the production of anime is not told. Nor is it an easy topic to investigate. Few of the players in anime, either in America or Japan, are publicly traded companies. Which means there is only as much transparency as the companies and creators wish to give. What is put out is generally intended as promotion. At least as far as the US goes, in most cases, there are no box office numbers to look at, no TV ratings, no reliable sales charts. Take Azumanga Daioh for example. The high school comedy drama featuring a group of girls in the in-between moments of their academic careers registered on the consciousness of most anime fans. The name is still widely invoked in marketing copy when describing other high school series. Yet, there are contradictory speculations about its real sales success. Some insist that it was widely watched, but many who saw it did not purchase the work. In several regards, Kelts ascertains the state of anime exceptionally well. First, he spots the trends. A wide breath of topics is covered, and Kelts quickly and ably handles the factors that brought anime to its current state. He lays out the economic pressures of anime artists, the brain drain to the video game industry, and the institutions in the anime industry that direct creative energies. Second, Kelts speaks to influential people, but largely avoids the trap of falling for myth-making. For example, possibly because he was in Japan and seemed to have a solid bi-continental perspective, TOKYOPOP's Stewart Levy was the American distributor who spoke throughout Japanamerica. It can be said of Levy that he is more likely to speak spin than genuine insight, but that can be said of many in his position. Kelts obtains solid perspective from Levy, but he also checks him. When Levy speaks about the creative lull in Japanese manga, Kelts backs it with a comment from the unimpeachable Schodt. Kelts faithfully explains how impressions, both on the America and Japanese side of the story are formed. For example, he gives a short history of the term for passionate geeks: "otaku." Kelts' origin is traced to "ota-ku", a formal greeting of recognition somewhere between "hey, you" and "hello there, sir." This differs slightly from the story that it derives from the formal variant of "taku" or "house", widely accepted among American anime fans as the origin. (Which isn't the only case where Kelts' linguistic origins don't match the ones favored by North American fans, for example, he says the "chu" in "Pikachu" is the onomatopoeia for a kiss rather than a mouse's squeak). Kelts discussed the history of the term "otaku", how it became such as strong pejorative, namely by being attached to the Tsutomi Miyazaki serial child killer case, and how it is now softened by the likes of Densha Otoko/Train Man, and become a marketing target. In this way, he lays out a framework that American anime fans should be aware of. The book is not without its fact checking problems. Though the it refers to Anpanman as the "longest running cartoon series of all time, now well past its 800th episode", other, more venerable family anime, such as Sazae-san and Doraemon hold the title in terms of years running and episode count. There are also inside-anime conceptual problems, at least as far as the concepts are held among North American anime fans. What is refer to as "moe" and what is refer to as "lolicon" are not distinguished. Anime News Network ran a poll asking its readers "Should "virtual child porn" (IE: pictures and animation depicting minors involved in pornographic situations, but not involving real minors in its creation) be illegal?". Japanamerica refers to this saying "29 percent of American anime fans felt that moe images should be banned completely". Lolicon is conjunction of "Lolita complex". According to Anime World Order, it was coined in Hayao Miyazaki's Castle of Cagliostro, presumably by Yasuo Otsuka who wrote the screenplay. Furthermore, supposedly the first pornographic doujinishi fan comic of an under aged anime character featured Cagliostro's Clarisse. So, lolicon is a term describing feelings for an inappropriately young person. Moe (pronounced "mo-eh"), at least in North American anime fandom, is a term that describes what could be called a 'big brother complex' ; appreciating a character in a state of cuteness and innocence. There is a perception of protecting that innocence, that excludes explicitly sexual imagery. Some obvious counter-examples and points of significance are missed along the way. Japanamerica notes the lack of intellectual property super stars: people who have gotten rich from their creations. Pac-man's Toru Iwatani is examined as an example. While this may be largely true in anime (though Miyazaki has done somewhat well for himself. While not as rich as some American directors the Audi in Spirited Away reflects Miyazaki's personal car ownership habits), which is more full of starving artists then ever, and of video games, manga is another story. If you create the next Shonen Jump hit, you're financially set. Ask Rumiko Takashi, who is still topping the lists of Japanese income tax payers. Or Akira Toriyama, or Masashi Kishimoto. These are the super stars and the not norm, but it is still an example of those who do very well from their IP. There are plenty of American comic book creators and animators who haven't been served nearly as well by the fruits of their work. Then, there's what could be called the Gundam problem. This isn't so much a problem with Japanamerica, as a problem for the story of anime in America. Gundam was to have been the ready-made multi-media franchise, ready to be packaged and sold to American consumers. It's the gap between what should happen in theory and what has happened. Japanamerica bumps into this throughout, and it serves as a strong counter example to much of what both fans and companies say. It makes for a complex, unanswered issue. At times it contradicts what is said in the book. At times it is a very relevant example of the issues that the book spokes about. In theory, Gundam should have been a license to print money, the way Pokemon was, the way Power Rangers was. In Japan Gundam still has stellar marketing gravity. Everything from cheap chatskys to fairly high end (and strange) items have been Gundam branded. Since it took off (like Star Trek, it wasn't a hit upon its initial release), there has been a constant stream of models, video games and merchandise. The property is so valued and protected that many say that the original Gundam TV series has not been released in North America with Japanese audio for fear that it would be "reverse imported" back to Japan. The North American release started with a moderate success in Gundam Wing, but beyond that, Japan's flagship IP hit an uphill path. Especially with Cartoon Network pulling a flagging run of the original Gundam, and then choosing to emphasize other demographics in its key time slots. The franchise has sold, but not without work, and seemingly not to the degree that many had hoped or expected. In theory, the stage had been set. According to Japanamerica, Pokemon introduced fans to the right mindset for Gundam's tie ins. "The Pokemon game drew American and European kids into a genre of video games that they might otherwise have avoided...suddenly, all those Gundam titles and other variations on the 'character battle' theme had tapped a market that had previously ignore them." In terms of time frame, genre, and success, the point is debatable. In theory, Gundam could benefit from the depth of anime's catalogue of works. With numerous long running series Gundam tests the idea that the anime back catalogue is a gold mine. Once an audience of fans is hooked on a genre, there is a well of previous works that can be sold to that group of consumers. As Japanamerica puts it "Watch any type of anime across its many genres-giant robots, cyborg police, intergalactic romance, samurai showdowns, school baseball, teenage alienation - and you are welcome to fall in love with the genre of your choice, and pursue much further along its list of titles....That is the addictive power of the anime-maga axis - not only can it hook you on something seductive and habit forming, but it can also connect you with suppliers hoarding a massive stash." This assumption seems to be alive in the minds of Japan's anime distributors. The problem is that anime isn't composed of interchangeable parts, even among a franchise like Gundam. Gundam Wing fans wanted Gundam Wing and not the original Gundam, and for the most part, not other Gundam works. Even what fans say of themselves in this regard has proven to be untrue. Despite the self assessment that fans are looking for distinct characters and distinct stories not found in other media, the anime buying public have proven to be more fickle. To the chagrin of some, it can be assumed with a high degree of certainty that classics like Ashita no Joe and Rose of Versailles would not sell well enough to justify a licensing fee set by the Japanese holders' valuation of the series. As various comments and notoriously poorly selling series would seem to indicate, fans select against anime that does not look current. After a few years of digital animation, fans have tagged cel animated series of the 90's as looking "too old." The older series that have sold have been those with existing nostalgia connections, chiefly Voltron; Robotech to some degree. Japanamerica seems to have spoken to the Japanese holders who have the idea that Americans can be convinced to be as enthusiastic about valued older titles as the Japanese consumer public is. In theory, Japanese companies just need to tune their stories to fit into audience expectations and figure out the distribution model to break into the America market. In Japanamerica, anime producers say that they hope to do for their own anime titles what 4Kids did adapting Pokemon: making a Japanese series into one that an American audience would accept as their own. And, in Japanamerica, a number of the statements from Japanese distributors/producers concerning what American fans want do mesh with actual expectations. Yet, Gundam shows that there is still a considerable disconnect to be bridged. On the distribution side, Gundam has been a problem. The release of Zeta Gundam, a dark, well regarded sequel to the original series, has managed to engender deep ill-will among the hard core (very selective and knowledgeable) fans for whom it was marketed. Initially fans were told that the series would only be released as a box set collection. What fans were not told, angering many, was the Bandai did not license the original theme music, which was replaced for the DVD release. Later, Bandai went back of their distribution statements, releasing the series again, in re-priced sub-sets. To the further aggravation of the fans who bought the first set, the new ones feature a more faithful translation in its subtitle script. Bandai then opted not to initiate a suggested disc-replacement program for those who bought the first set. In terms of tuning the ideas for the American consumer, Gundam also has a problem. According to Gunoata's translation of a Sunrise Board Member Miyakawa interview The North American market is difficult. Gundam depicts war through the eyes of characters like Amuro and Kira, who are against fighting. These types of characters and the cruelty of war lend themselves to anti-war themes. But a protagonist like Amuro isn't acceptable in the North American market. It has to be a type of character who fights for his country. If we end up creating a Gundam for the North American market, it will be entirely different from the anti-war Gundam of Japan. At the same time, a conversation on Alt Japan suggests that America's three favorite Gundam series have been Gundam Wing, featuring a team of protagonists who are explicitly terrorists, Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket (the favorite of this column), perhaps Gundams most non-nationalist, most emotionally anti-war work, and Gundam 0083: 08th MS Team, re-framing the franchise in a South-East Asian landwar. These are the "least Gundamy" works of the franchise, but for structural reasons, not they are because untoothed, de-politicized works. History has taken anime to an interesting and challenging place. Japanamerica might not be a eulogy for the form, but whether anime experiences a lingering decline in creative and artistic returns or it leaps the hurtle of globalization into a renaissance remains to be seen. For anime fans looking to understand the pressures on the medium that they enjoy, as well as how industry leaders plan to move forward, Japanamerica is an imperative resource.
Robotech Theatrical Screening Plans
FUNimation has announced that Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles is coming to select theatres in New York, California, Texas, Massachusetts, Indiana, Michigan and Oregon as part of the FUNimation Films program. The Hollywood Theater Portland, OR Jan 5th -7th Key Cinemas Indianapolis, In Jan 5th -10th ImaginAsian New York, NY Jan 8th - 14th Studio Movie Grill Dallas, TX Jan 15th - 17th Alamo Drafthouse San Antonio San Antonio, TX Jan 15th - 17th Studio Movie Grill - Copperfield Houston, TX 18th and 19th 9pm The Brattle Theatre Cambridge, MA Jan 19th - 20th midnight The Majestic Crest Theatre Los Angeles, CA Feb. 3rd from 12:00 Noon The Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles will be released on DVD February 6, 2007.
Anime On IFC
Child assasin anime Gunslinger Girl and Ninja warfare anime Basilisk are scheduled to premiere on IFC Friday, January 5th at 11:00PM and 11:30PM respectively. Both will be shown in the English audio format, and both have been released on DVD by FUNimation. Gunslinger Girl runs 13 episode, and Basilisk run 24. See the Tenzen ninja4love and Henrietta HeavilyArmedGirl12 MySpace pages. The titles have been previously been reviewed in this column: Basilisk volume 1 Basilisk volume 2 Basilisk volume 3 Basilisk volume 4 is going to be released shortly. Gunslinger Girl volume 1 Gunslinger Girl volume 3
Afro Samurai Premiere
Studio Gonzo/Samuel L. Jackson's 5 episode Afro Samurai will premiere on Spike TV Thursday, December 4th at 11:00pm. Its first episode can current been seen online here The anime will be released on DVD by FUNimation.
ADV Sgt Frog Site
ADV has launched a site to promote their release of the anime version of Sgt. Frog. The manga version of the sci-fi comedy is released by TOKYOPOP.
Air Gear Premieres on Anime Channel
The first episode of Air Gear, the action adapation of oh!Great's manga will premiere on Anime Network's video on demmand service January 25th. The first volume of the DVD will be released on February 6th. Synopsis: Welcome to the world of Storm Riders, where motor-powered inline skates called "Air Treks" take extreme sports to a whole new level. Those who dare to ride with these high tech devices risk life and limb in a struggle for fame, power and wings to take to the sky. Enter Ikki Minami, the toughest fighter on the east side of town. He rules his school, takes on violent gangs single-handedly and lives with the Noyamanos; four sexy sisters with a surprising secret. And after a humiliating defeat to a terrifying gang of Storm Riders, the sisters welcome him to the world of Air Trek, where his strength, speed and ambitions soar to brand new heights. Now, with powerful new wings, he must protect his friends, his school and his pride in fierce Air Trek battles known as "Parts Wars". One mistake could cost him everything, but each victory brings him one step closer to becoming the king of the sky.
Anime on DVD reports that readers have noted that the NATPE Conference lists Viz Media is the licensor or master licensor for Honey & Clover (1st season/26 episodes), Ichigo 100% (26 15 minute episodes) and Megaman Star Force.
Gunota reports that DS Super Robot Wars W (for the Nintendo DS) will feature mecha from the works Detonator Orgun Full Metal Panic Gao Gai Gar Gao Gai Gar Final Getter Robo G Golion (Lion Voltron) Gundam SEED Gundam SEED Astray Gundam SEED X Astray Gundam Wing Endless Waltz Mazinkaiser Mazinkaiser: Shitou! Ankoku Daishogun Nadesico Nadesico - The Prince of Darkness Shin Getter Robo (original manga version) Tekkaman Blade Tekkaman Blade II The game is scheduled to be released in Japan in early March The Magic Box has screen shots here. The next Gundam video game push is Bandai Namco's Gundam Musou, from Koei, the maker of the Dynasty Warrior. From Gunota, the game development is at 70% and it has been under production since 2 years ago. It will have space battles, movie recreations of scenes from the original anime, gauges like boost and durability. Release date is Spring. Confirmed units: Gundam (with Hyper Bazooka, Beam Javelin, Gundam Hammer, and beam rifle), Guncannon, GM, GM Command (space type), Ball, White Base, Char Zaku II, Zaku II, Gouf, Gouf Flight Type, Dom (including Black Tristar), Rick Dom, Elmeth, Gundam Mk-II, Zeta Gundam, GM II (AEUG), Nemo, Hizack (EFF), Marasai, Barzam, Bound Doc, The O, Qubeley, Gaza C, and ZZ Gundam. Magic Box has screenshots here. Speaking on Magic Box screen shots... One Piece Unlimited Adventure for the Nintendo Wii AnimeNation reports Tecmo's Bastard!! MMORPH as a trailer. A higher resolution, downloadable version is available from 4Gamer.
Kuaru: Phantom Memory Schedule
ADV Film announced that the long unscheduled license at Kuaru: Phantom Memory is now slotted for an April 10th 2007 release. The series was animated by Studio BONES (Eureka 7, Fullmetal Alchemist, RahXephon), with Character Designs by Tomomi Ozaki (Le Chevalier D’Eon) Synopsis: It’s the year 2100, and the moon is now home to a colony of scientists and pioneers. It’s also host to dangerous experiments into strange new forms of energy, and it isn’t long before one of them goes terribly wrong. In a freak accident young Kurau, the daughter of chief scientist Amami So, is struck by mysterious twin bolts of light. Rather then taking her life, the accident leaves her playing host to two mysterious entities that give her fantastic powers…and little love for the human race. Ten years have passed since the incident, and Kurau has grown into a top-notch agent of action.
From Gunota The Gundam Evolve series re-animates scenes from the various Gundam works in 3d CGI graphics. The new, 14th entry will feature SD Gundam's Musha Gundam versus Mazaku. A sysnosis can be read here Gunoata has translated interviews with Bandai Prez/CGO (Chief Gundam Officer) Kazunori Ueno here and Sunrise Board Member Yasuo Miyakawa here. Topics Covered included plans for new Gundam and the SEED continuity as well as Harutoshi Fukui's novel, Gundam Unicorn. Among the interesting points made: Q: When you look at it that way, there's a chance for Gundam in foreign markets. A: The North American market is difficult. Gundam depicts war through the eyes of characters like Amuro and Kira, who are against fighting. These types of characters and the cruelty of war lend themselves to anti-war themes. But a protagonist like Amuro isn't acceptable in the North American market. It has to be a type of character who fights for his country. If we end up creating a Gundam for the North American market, it will be entirely different from the anti-war Gundam of Japan. I doubt if we could call that Gundam. Instead of introducing the anime to the North American market, we want them to know the story. For example, knowing about Gundam through video games, then going to watch the animated series. Yahoo! Japan put up their lists of top keyword searches for 2006 1) Death Note 2) Bleach 3) Naruto 4) Gundam (down from #1 last year) 5) Doraemon 6) One Piece 7) Nana 8) Anpanman 9) Gintama 10) Prince Of Tennis
Bandai Entertainment will be distributing Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in North America for Kadokawa Pictures USA. Anime News Network points out that the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya site also has a voice talent voting page. Itsuki Koizumi here Yuki Nagato here
Geneon Releases Plans
From Anime on DVD, the three volumes of Ayakashi Samurai Horror Tales are scheduled for March 20th, May 22nd and July 24th. The first two volumes of Black Lagoon are scheduled for April 10th and May 12th.
Newly Announced Anime
From AnimeNation ufotable will produce a motion picture adaptation of Tsukihime and Fate/stay night author Kinoko Nasu's 1998 web novel Kara no Kyokai Satelight will be animating Koge Donbo's (Digi Charat) Kamichama Karin. Gonzo will be animating Yamato Yoshihiro's supernatural fantasy novels Kaze no Stigma. A Yes! Precure 5 has been confirmed for February 2007. Bones (Full Metal Alchemist) will be producing an anime adapation of Shoutaro Ishinomori's (Kikaider) manga The Skull Man. The Skull Man manga was an early release from TOKYOPOP Bakuretsu Tenshi (Burst Angel in North America) -Infinity- will be a DVD set that will include a new OVA called "Jo & Meg's Blues," which will summarize the anime. ufotable will be making a Kara no Kyoukai movie From Comipress Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama's early comedy Dr. Slump will be adapted into a new movie. More information will be available in the February issue of Monthly Shonen Jump, on sale 1/6. Madhouse announced that the movie "Piano no Mori ~The Perfect World of Kai~" ("Piano Forest" ), based on Isshiki Makoto's seinen manga is scheduled for July 2007. Nakahara Aya's manga Lovely Complex aka Love Con will be adapted into an anime series. Speaking of announced anime, Ikimashou has launched ikiKOYOMI, a calendar that allows you to track the releases/premieres of anime.
Twitch points out that a second trailer for Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo's live adaptation of manga/anime Bugmaster (aka Mushishi) is online here. Toshiba entertainment plans to release the film theatrically in Japan during March 2007. From AnimeNation The site for mecha revival Dancouga Nova has openned. The anime is scheduled to premiere February 15, 2007. Dengeki Bunko Movie Festival, a triple feature of the Shakugan no Shana, Kino no Tabi: Byouki no Kuni -For You-, and Inukami motion pictures, has trailers in narrowband and broadband . Animate.tv has trailers of Saiyuki RELOAD -burial- OVA, for Japanese release on April 27, 2007, in narrowband and broadband. The site for the anime adaptation of Higuchi Asa's award winning manga series Ookiku Furikabutte is online here Satelight's (Noein) upcoming sci-fi Kissdum ENGAGE Planet has a site here Keitei Shoujo ("Cel Phone Girl") Potemayo The official homepage for the anime variety show "Short DE Anime Damashii" is now open. The 30 minute program will include animated shorts such as Neko Ramen and Kasan'in Desu ga Nani ka? The first episode is scheduled to premier on December 28th. On the domestic side, Top Cow has posted a Witchblade Manga trailer at YouTube and Revver.
ADV to Release Live Action Synesthesia
ADV Films will be releasing the live action film Synesthesia on February 27 Synesthesia (sin’is-the’zhea) • n – a rare sensory disorder that scrambles the senses so that shapes have taste, colors induce sound and textures evoke visions. Only those afflicted – called synesthetes – can truly understand their significance. This acid trip of the senses affects 1 in 100,000 people. And sometimes, two. Synopsis: Shin is a professional voyeur who provides live camera feeds of everything from the street corner to the public toilet. He is also afflicted with a freakish condition known as synethesia – a glitch in his wiring that puts his five senses in a blender and spits out something close to insanity. A high-profile murder propels him into a psychological odyssey in pursuit of Picasso – a serial killer, snuff peddler and fellow synesthete – who leaves deadly hidden messages in his victims’ blood that only Shin can decipher. Lulling his victims into a trance with a spellbinding video game, Picasso leads Shin down a mysterious, hypnotic trail of death. Murder, sex, betrayal – Shin’s once hidden world is the one reality someone else is willing to kill for.
Go! Comi Online Store Opens
Manga publisher Go! Comi announced that they have opened an online store on their site gocomi.com. Fans can now purchase books from Go! Comi’s entire line of manga directly from the publisher. In addition, “Her Majesty’s Dog” T-shirts and other merchandize will be added shortly. To celebrate the store’s opening, Go! Comi will be offering free shipping on all orders through January 14th.
Vertical Licensing Rumor
MangaCast suggests Vertical for picking up Keiko Takemiya's classic Andromeda Stories.
ADV Officially Announces Ah! My Goddess Season 2 License
ADV Films has announced that they have acquired exclusive home video and broadcast rights in North America for the second season of Ah! My Goddess. The first season was released by Media Blasters' Anime Works (the original OVA was released by AnimEigo, the movie and super deformed "Mini-Goddesses" were released by Geneon, and the manga is released by Dark Horse). The anime adaptation features production by AIC (Godannar, Tenchi Muyo!), with character designs by Hidenori Matsubara (Gankutsuou: The Count of Monty Cristo, Bubblegum Crisis 2040) adapating the popular magical girlfriend manga.
Anime News Network reports The Japan Academy Prize nominees for "Animation of the Year" are Arashi no Yoru ni Gedo Senki Toki wo Kakeru Shojo Brave Story Detective Conan 10th Movie: Tantei Tachi no Requiem The Beat reports Turkish cartoonist Mehmet Arslan has won the Grand Prize in Japan's 28th Yomiuri International Cartoon Contest.
Comipress reports Kentarou Miura's Berserk will resume serialization in issue 2 (1/12) of Hakusensha's Young Animal after a break of over three months.
Tales from Earthsea Australia Plans
Nausicaa reports Madman has secured the rights to Tales from Earthsea (Gedo Senki) and is planning a release to theatres in mid-2007.
VIZ Media Expands European Operations And Promotes Key Executive
VIZ Media has announced the relocation of its European operations from Amsterdam to Paris. The new European company will be called VIZ Media Europe, S.A.R.L (VME) and will officially open on January 15, 2007. John Easum has been appointed President/Gérant of VME and will oversee all of VIZ Media’s European, Middle Eastern and African operations from Paris. Easum will be charged with growing VME to become a dominant player in the rapidly expanding European manga and anime markets. He previously held the position of Executive Vice President of VIZ Media, supervising its North American sales and marketing operations. Easum has lived and worked in France, speaks fluent French and Japanese, and has extensive media business and management expertise. He plans to draw on his experience to increase VME’s market share and raise visibility and awareness of Japanese content across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Current VME manga properties include BLEACH, KEKKAISHI, DEATH NOTE, and M.A.R. Current VME animated properties include BLEACH, M.A.R, ZOIDS GENESIS and HONEY & CLOVER.
ImaginAsian/Geneon TV Launches New Anime Block
ImaginAsian TV (iaTV), announced that it will launch a new two-hour primetime anime block called “Anime EnerG.” The block will feature anime series from Geneon Entertainment, including: ELEMENTAL GELADE, KYOH KARA MAOH!, LAW OF UEKI, and GANKUTSUOU: THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO. These titles will premiere January 30, 2007 at 8:00 p.m. PT/ET. iaTV will broadcast them in both English subtitled and dubbed versions. Kyo Kara Maoh! Yuri Shibuya was living a pretty normal life. That changed the day he was dunked into a toilet after an attempt to save a classmate from a gang of bullies. Instead of just getting a good soaking, he's pulled in. The next thing he knows, he's in a world that vaguely resembles medieval Europe . If that's not odd enough, he's told that he is to be the next Maoh, the