Manga Spotlight: Parasyte volume 1 by Hitoshi Iwaaki Released by Del Rey
There might not be a huge audience for the esoteric horror manga titles like Hideshi Hino's Lullabies From Hell, but Parasyte is a violent thriller than any genre fan can embrace, regardless of a taste for manga or comics in general. Its teen life version of John Carpenter's The Thing can offer disturbing violence and implications, or it can be irreverently funny without either direction detracting from the other. In the wake of the Ring/Grudge school, irony and humor may not be the first qualities that come to mind when considering Japanese horror. However, widening the view of creators from Kazuo Umezu to Takeshi Miike would refute any impression of a monolithic tone. Parasyte is a horror comedy in the way that An American Werewolf in London or Slither are. Significantly, the act of pod people, unraveling their heads to lash out and consume their human victims is captured with enough dangerous force that even if it doesn't look entirely believable, it is ultimately able to command attention by tweaking deep survival instincts. The manga opens by arguing for a theory that life on Earth would be healthier if only the human population could be eliminated. It transitions to an aerial view of a densely settled community. A sprinkling of dandelion seed-like balls float to the ground, land, and sprout mollusk like feet. They crawl into houses, into bedrooms, and slither into the ears of sleeping humans. Fortunately, teen student Shinichi finds a way to thwart this invader: he fall asleep with his headphones on. Instead he finds that a lethal sentient being, rather than consuming his brain, buried itself into his hand. As an organism that is devoid of sentiment, Shinichi's hand-symbiot, dubbed Migi, can't see why it's host is so upset about others of its kind assuming human identities, then messily devouring unsuspecting victims. Given that the creature needs its host for substance, and that its kind has no reservations against killing their own, Migi soon finds itself battling to protect Shinichi. Parasyte does not just rely on refering to genre traditions. It's not just horror because it stars monsters from space and murderers. Iwaata makes sure that the manga never feels safe. A piercing sharp look in the eyes, combined with consumption minded zombie-think is efficient in tapping into predator-wary fears. The violence does not fall into ridiculousness, but it does flirt with a splatter sensibility. These creatures are cunning, but efficiency dictates that they generally do not need to be subtle. Iwaata includes some welcome references and clever ways of demonstrating the physical and mental sadism of the aliens. By half way through the volume, it is clear that these things are capable of almost reflexively eviscerating any earthly organism, and it is clear that given the inclination they can put a person through some disconcertingly nasty mind games. The manga started in 1990, which makes it older than most of the manga that is not presented as some sort of classic. Despite some dated fashion, its illustration is still perfectly potent. What Iwaata does especially well is make sure that the full extent of what happens is apparent. It is not just to avoid ambiguity, it is to ensure that the full change register. When a face splits open into eight jaws and seven eyeballs, each stage of the slit/open and shut transformation is captured. If a person's head and hands are sliced off, they fall past the victim's torso. Going this root, it is impossible not to recognize what's otherworldly and wrong with what these creatures do. When this wrongness is applied to social moray rather than violent death, it establishes the series sense of alien out of water humor. For something that seems evolved to supersede mankind on the food-chain, there is a cute charm to Migi's soft flesh stalk with eyes form. Not that some creature that is focused on amoral biological necessities and capable of developing razor sharped edges can be considered anything like a subservient pet character. It's passion for human learning leads to the creature devouring homework in a manner that is alien to almost any reader. Similarly, it exhibits an especially amusing inhibition in its interest in human sexuality. This point leas to a particular gag that is included in Del Rey's new translation of the book, but which was altered in the previous release from the Mixx days of TOKYOPOP (back in the charming days when the internet was putting swastikas next to Stu Levy's name to protest the company's handling of Sailor Moon).
Anime Spotlight: Gunbuster 2 Volume 1 Released by Bandai Visual
Of the anime reviewed this column, the piece on the original Gunbuster generated just about the most passionate responses. The six episode sci-fi, direct to video OVA series fully lived up to the potential of a project driven by talented geeks. Later, its creators at Gainax revisited giant robots with the same seriousness with Evangelion, irrevocably altering the genre in the process. In 2004, the studio returned to Gunbuster's themes with a second six episode OVA, known as Aim for the Top 2 or Gunbuster 2 or Die Buster. In place of Evangelion creator/director Hideaki Anno, the new series was helmed by Kazuya Tsurumaki. Tsurumaki has been with the studio since the days of its children's series Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, with prominent involvement Evangelion and His and Her Circumstances, but later achieved his own acclaim wowing audiences with a primary role behind the Freudian comedy FLCL. While Anno wrote and directed the original Gunbuster, Tsurumaki handed the script writing task over to Yoji Enokido, who penned FLCL, some of Rahxephon and Utena, as well as sailor Moon S.
Gunbuster 2 doesn't quite have the visual experimentation or mania of FLCL, but fans of that expressive work will still find plenty to admire in the approach applied to Gunbuster 2. Animated in the 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio, Tsurumaki takes full advantage of the available canvas. The movie opens in a Bradbury-esque idyllic spot on the terra-formed surface of Mars. As a monumental train system takes the narrative from a snow locked traditional Japanese village to a space port, the anime catches a view of departing rockets. The elaborate, billowing dispersion of the rockets exhaust calls to mind one of Gainax's earliest works. The Wings of Honneamise was a fictional history of the first manned space field. That movie climaxed with a rocket launch in which the staggering achievement of the event being depicted was matched by the staggering achievement in how it was depicted. With these early rocket launches in Diebuster 2, the series heralds some of that same passion for exploring what can be captured in anime. In terms of plot, the original Gunbuster had a light, relatively small scale opening. Early episodes played the series as a genre amalgamation joke, with teenage girls training to be robot pilots by putting their machines through athletic practice routines: running around their schools track, doing pushups and the like. Even the name, "Top O Nerae! Gunbuster" (Aim for the Top! Gunbuster) was a play on popular tennis series Ace O Nerae! (Aim for the Ace!).
Gunbuster 2's opening is modeled after stories of earnest, innocent young woman leaving home in hopes of achieving stardom. In this sci-fi recasting, the young woman in question is Nono, a painfully naive babe in the woods seeking to become a space pilot 'like Nono Riri'. She finds work in a bar run by a disaffected manager. Not only is she almost an indentured servant, she's absolutely terrible at the job. All she is really good is the nuisance skill of splitting things. And most things she lays her hands on find some way of splitting in half, from apples and plates to refrigerators. Fortunately, Nono is dauntless. Even when veteran robot operators begin explaining that in order her to become a space pilot, she'd have to pass through 15 years of intensive work and tests. As Nono puts it, in the Gunbuster tradition, with "hard work and guts" anything is possible. Then, Nono stumbles upon Lal'C Melk Mark, a quiet and slightly jaded (voiced by singer Maaya Sakamoto) young woman who turns out to the "princess" of the elite Fraternity of Topless. Lal'C pulls a seal of her forehead and summons the giant metal hands of Buster Machine Dix-Neuf out of thin air, a feat that earns her Nono's undying admiration and the label "one'-same" (an exaggeratedly respectful way of says "big sister".)
Gunbuster 2 has not leveraged the big sci-fi concepts, such as faster than light time dilation, that played key roles in its predecessor. Nor does it seem to be building to total war on a galactic scale. While it might eventually aim to speculate on the nature of human evolution, so far it seems chiefly concerned with the social angles of its sci-fi setting. With a clubhouse of poofy shirts/short shorts wearing teens, there is a space academy or Legion of Super Heroes vibe which ensures that the far future nature of the work is inescapably present. At the same time, what is equally inescapable is that while this bold new future has produced new technological possibilities and even expanded human capabilities, those living it are cynical about their forward direction. It reflects the modern attitude that new innovation has the potential to introduce new problems, but offers little hope for new solutions. Which is not to say that there is a ludite resistance, just a deep pessimism. This sentiment is put into action with Gunbuster 2's generational antagonism, with the Topless' abilities serving as the concrete point of contention. After a certain age, these gifted elite lose their abilities and are unable to pilot Buster Machines. After that point, they are removed from the Fraternity, presumably for lesser work elsewhere. The jealousy is so bitter that in order for a Topless to board a military ship, they must be handcuffed. Each side of the divide sees the other as an emblem of wasted potential: adults who haven't followed through in producing a better world or arbitrarily selected children who might as well be a threat. Through this block of the series, this largely has been a sentiment, and not a demonstrable process. The world of Gunbuster 2 hasn't gotten demonstrably better or worse, or even fully introduced. The cynicism does serve as a relevant take on science fiction, but it has not been as concrete as the loss and sacrifice of the original Gunbuster, and consequently hasn't been as effecting. Nono stands as the one bold counter example to this perspective. Seeing her rare idealism, people like Lal'C feel some regret, and seem to on some level wish that they still had the moral certainty to be heroes. There is potential to develop a compelling dialog arguing Nono's vocally expressed dream that "hard work and guts" till inevitably pay off. So far, the idea of sci-fi that is distrustful of the future has been employed more for tone than exploration. It certainly does not give the theme as much ambiguous depth as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. A third the way through the series, the dynamic has consisted of Nono's being oblivious to the general, sour disposition. Dour themes aside, the look of Gunbuster 2 could not be more vibrant. The designer for the Buster Machines, Shigeto Koyama uses the far-future nature of the series as a license for radical expressiveness, with almost an urban motif similar to graffiti art or vinyl figures. Rather than rooting the work in the mecha tradition, either to Tetsujin 28's industrial might or the Go Nagai demonic super-hero look, Koyama focuses on individualism. For example, Tsurumaki said that the Dix-Neuf looks like a tradition teen tough-guy "bancho." While it doesn't have the obviousness of a robot dressed like a person, its outer covering does look a bulky overcoat. It does seem to have a tattooed bare chest. Its face plate and head coverings do look like a prominent jaw and backwards cap. Ultimately, the direction might appeal more to fans of the free flowing FLCL than old school mech enthusiast. The packaging certainly weighs the release towards the hardcore audience. At $39.99 for two episodes, with only Japanese language audio, as it compares to the price point of other media, Gunbuster 2 seems sure to be anything but an impulse buy. Even the subtitles assume that the viewer is up on their anime. There aren't cultural notes to explain "one'-sama" or when the characters begin going on about "moe" or "loli". You don't need to be terribly high on the anime curve to know the significance of any of these, but you do need to be on the fan curve. As explicitly stated by Bandai Visual during convention appearances, its a speciality product marketed for a dedicated audience. Bonus features on the DVD include Diebuster TV, behind the scenes material pairing Nono voice actress Yukari Fukui dressed in character having trite conversations with a puppet of the series' mass production mech, along with a more substantial interview with Tsurumaki. A 20 page insert features design work, text interviews, and background "science lessons." The packaging decisions seal the deal on whether Gunbuster 2 is an accessible work, but putting them aside, this isn't necessarily clear. It far from mecha to the hilt and there is plenty for a casual viewer/FLCL fan to enjoy about Gunbuster 2, particularly its approach to design and animation. So far, it has rewarded familiarity to the original, but not required it.
Manga Spotlight: Who Fighter By Seiho Tazkizawa Released by Dark Horse Manga
Seiho Takizawa's Who Fighter is an unusual work of manga, especially among North American releases given the market's reticence to short stories or one-shots. Takizawa's military fiction chiefly recontextualize western stories, the results of which could be thought of as a manga version of Weird War Tales. The title story is a play on the World War II term for UFOs. It opens with a B-29 on a bombing raid disappearing into a ball of light. The story then follows a Japanese anti-aircraft fighter pilot who spots one of these mysterious glowing objects, pulling in grays alien abduction mythology, crop circles, cattle mutilation, men in black, the Mothman Prophecies and stories of Japanese wartime technology research. "Heart of Darkness" suggests a retelling of the Conrad novel, with the Japanese imperial military and the Burmese opium trade substituting Belgian imperialism and the ivory trade. However, despite the title and "inspired by" credit, the story owes far more to Apocalypse Now than it does Conrad's narrative. Finally, the manga concludes with a brief meditation on armored combat with a dream-retrospective on tank warfare from World War II into the future. Who Fighter depends on a fascination with the subject matter. Takizawa illustrates the work with a concrete style reminiscent of Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo. The manga's appeal is largely found in the details of this style's concrete view of the world. Any opinion of the collection is tied to an interest in participating in a solid gaze at the worldly, like military hardware or otherworldly, such as a dog taken apart in the manner of cattle-mutilation or mysterious blast zones. If the subject matter hold some sway, the volume is full of pages worth turning to. If not, it will likely feel like an empty, familiar narrative. The first two stories could be extended into longer works of manga, but Takizawa's aim is apparently to quickly test out a set of concepts. He goes about establishing the visual motif rather than fleshing out the idea. Consequently, characters are present to carry out roles. Because they need to be cardboard, or recognizable references, there personalities don't function as hooks for the stories. Given the themes invokes by the stories, the collection does inherit a grave seriousness. Even if it is somber, the direction is not always profound. The "we are not alone"/Day the Earth Stood Still aspects of Who Fighter are far too familiar to be effective. The reflections on impressionism found in that story and Heart of Darkness, as well as the thoughts on being in an armored shell in the midst of lethal combat can be worthy of consideration, but few cords are struck to really make them provocative. It is the visual approach rather than the stories themselves that are novel. Close encounters, treks in the wilderness, and the mental impact of being encased in a metal war machine all lend themselves to very perception based narratives. Applying a clinical style, reminiscent of Otomo or European sci-fi comic artists creates a struggle between the idea and the representation. Only a few panels are bent for atmosphere. A glance of a mysterious mothman partially revealed by headlights and the final page of Heart of Darkness were some of the few that aren't objective. There are consequences. The Kurutsu, of this Heart of Darkness, who is just a man, pales next to the mythic Brando or a Kurtz imagined from reading the novel. However, when a full page spread captures a temple arch in the middle of a jungle or a shapes carved into the ground by an inhuman force, the reality is chilling.
Dear Beautiful Wins Award
Dear Beautiful, an experimental short film that this column will be looking at in more depth shortly has recently been awarded the Animation prize in the Moving Motions Magazine Cannes competition. The short is will now be screened as part of the Cannes Film Festival. To see the work, check out www.movingpicturesmagazine.com/shorts/videos/dearbeautiful
Death Note Digital Distribution Plans Announced
VIZ Media, LLC (VIZ Media) has announced the availability of Death Note anime series via digital download on Direct2Drive, IGN Entertainment's premiere digital retail store. The subtitled version of the series will debut May 10, 2007 and fans may go to www.direct2drive.com to download the first episode. VIZ Media secured the rights to Death Note from Nippon Television Network Corporation (NTV) and anticipation for the launch of the series has built steadily since the company first announced it earlier this year. The launch is also significant because it marks the first time a well known anime property will be made legally available to U.S. audiences for download while the title still airs on Japanese television. Death Note, based on the Shueisha manga series of the same name, is currently one of the hottest anime titles in Japan. Licensed in North America by VIZ Media, it depicts the adventures of Light Yagami, an ace student with great prospects but who is bored out of his mind. All of that changes when he finds the Death Note, a notebook dropped by a rogue Shinigami death god. Any human whose name is written in the notebook dies, and now Light has vowed to use the power of the Death Note to rid the world of evil. But when criminals begin dropping dead, the authorities send the legendary detective L to investigate, and he is soon hot on the trail of Light, who must now reevaluate his one noble goal.