Sailor Moon Episode Guide, part I

The release of the Sailor Moon Crystal anime guarantees, at last, a faithful adaptation of Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon manga. However, a lot of the fun of the 1992 Sailor Moon series was seeing the talented crew make the most of the monster of the week format by adding comedy or changing the plot altogether. It’s well known that Kunihiko Ikuhara (Revolutionary Girl Utena, Mawaru Penguindrum) worked on Sailor Moon, but we mustn’t forget:

  • Junichi Sato (Sgt. Frog, Kaleido Star, Magic Users’ Club, Pretear, Princess Tutu, Ph-Brain, Aria, Ojamajo Doremi)
  • Takuya Igarashi (Ashita no Nadja, Captain Earth,  Ouran High School Host Club, Star Driver)
  • Yoji Enokido (FLCL, Diebuster, Redline, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Star Driver, Captain Earth)
  • Ikuko Itoh (AKB0048, Living For the Day After Tomorrow, Aria, Croisee in a Foreign Labyrinth, Magic Users’ Club, Princess Tutu)

It’s an awful lot of talent to work on a single show all at the same time, and the time between manga chapters allowed Sailor Moon to serve as kind of a playground for these creators. So Sailor Moon Crystal will not re-create all of the best moments of the 1992 Sailor Moon Experience. On the other hand, all of the original Sailor Moon series add up to a total of 200 episodes! That’s a serious time commitment.

Allow us, then, to point out the best that 1992 Sailor Moon had to offer. Special thanks to @vestenet for his Sailor Moon screenshot collection.

 

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Episode 3, “The Mysterious Sleeping Sickness: Protect the Girls in Love”

Director: Kazuhisa Takenouchi

Written by: Katsuyuki Sumisawa

Why It’s Essential: The anime version of Sailor Moon provided different characterizations for the Four Generals of the Dark Kindgom, and Jadeite, Sailor Moon’s first foe, became a narcissistic misogynist who explicitly hated girls and their silly girly things. Essentially all of his plots to gather energy for Queen Beryl were based around coming up with some sinister fad to ensnare all of the young women of Tokyo with something traditionally feminine: Jewelry, dieting, cute pets, etc. Episode 3 provides perhaps the best distillation of this dynamic. Jadeite, under too-clever pseudonym J. Daito sets up the “Midnight Zero” radio show, where he gets lovesick girls to send him their love letters so he can read them to everyone in broadcast range with a big sneer on his face. The reward for being selected? A flower brooch that drains your energy. The episode also sees Usagi at her most proactive, using the disguise pen in its first anime appearance, taking the appearance of a newswoman, and interrupting Jadeite’s broadcast by sitting right across the table from him and telling everyone he’s a scam. The girl power message is somewhat diluted by Tuxedo Mask having to bail out a Sailor Moon frozen in fear, but Usagi goes from crying in fear to taking on the Literal Embodiment of Misogyny in the span of two episodes. Not bad, Usagi.

 

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Episode 6, ”Protect the Melody of Love: Usagi Plays Cupid”

Director: Kunihiko Ikuhara

Written by: Katsuyuki Sumisawa

Why It’s Essential: Cut from the American broadcast likely due to Usagi’s provocative outfit, Episode 6 is not only Kunihiko Ikuhara’s first episode, but the single best episode where Usagi flies solo. Ikuhara is clearly a rebel, as he rejects the straightforward “Jadeite’s new fad” approach with a Demonic Audio Tape that is misplaced by the enemy youma. It falls into the hands of a hapless middle-aged jazz musician who has it confused for a song he wrote for his lady love. When Usagi sees the musician being chased by a female vampire, she decides to help him, because “old men deserve to fall in love, too!” Ikuhara plays with a lot of his favorite themes: The border between childhood and adulthood (Usagi uses her disguise pen to sneak into a bar where the musician is playing), gender roles (a female vampire is pursuing a helpless man and Usagi pitches in to help), and fast red cars driving through the night (not every theme is so high-minded). A fantastic episode Toonami viewers will not have seen.

 

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Episode 11, ”Usagi vs Rei: Nightmare in Dreamland”

Director: Kunihiko Ikuhara

Written by: Shigeru Yanagikawa

Why It’s Essential: If the ominous spiral staircase in the picture isn’t enough of a giveaway, Ikuhara is back. Ami and Rei have now joined Usagi, and Jadeite’s target this time around is the amusement park Dreamland. A kidnapping spree has hit many who visited Dreamland, but no one is able to definitively tie the kidnappings to any park employee. The Sailor Senshi decide to investigate, and find Jadeite is trapping people in the “House of Sweets” in order to steal their energy. On top of Ikuhara’s favorites of playing with age and gender, we also add fairy tales and ridiculous animals this time around. Additionally, many of Ikuhara’s favorite visual motifs show up, including the flowers, horseback-riding princes, and apples of Utena and Penguindrum. On top of this, it’s also an incredibly entertaining episode with a fantastic appearance by Mamoru.

 

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Episode 14, ”A New Enemy Appears: Nephrite’s Evil Crest”

Director: Junichi Sato

Written by: Shigeru Yanagikawa

Why It’s Essential: Jadeite is replaced by the far superior Nephrite, and he shakes up the formula a bit. Rather than taking advantage of the naivete of groups, Nephrite targets the private ambitions of a select individual who is due a massive energy upgrade due to the movement of the celestial bodies. For his first target, Nephrite selects a tennis player who is best friends with Usagi’s pal Naru. Ambition, as encouraged by the Dark Kingdom, is a nasty thing, and Naru’s friend becomes violent, ill-tempered, and spiteful toward her former friend. For Nephrite’s introduction, series director Junichi Sato takes the reigns, offering a stylish flash-back sequence and chaotic transformation of tennis pro into tennis youma. Plotwise, this is the first time we see Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask work together in a meaningful way. The plots of both Nephrite and Tuxedo Mask are very different in the anime from the manga, and this is a key starting point for both character arcs.

 

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Episode 15, ”Usagi’s Panic: Rei’s First Date”

Director: Kunihiko Ikuhara

Written by: Katsuyuki Sumisawa

Why It’s Essential: Ikuhara is back, and he’s brought his animals with him. This episode of Sailor Moon might very well be considered Sailor Moon’s first “Nanami Episode.” Nephrite targets a kindly old park warden this go round, who just so happens to be a friend of Ami’s (Tokyo is apparently a very small world). The park warden’s park is due to be taken over by real estate developers, which fills him with a righteous anger only nature’s animals know how to convey. Rei gets a different motivation: Because the park is so lovely, she intends to ask Mamoru out on a date there before it gets paved over. Her fantasies of how the date will go, followed by the much crueler reality, is much like Nanami and Ringo’s fantasy sequences from Utena and Penguindrum, respectively. The episode ends with nature’s fury in full force, as even butterflies attack, and Luna, too, is targeted by her fellow animals. One of the best comedy episodes of the first series.

 

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Episode 19, ”Usagi’s Joy: A Love Letter from Tuxedo Mask”

Director: Takao Yoshizawa

Written by: Sukehiro Tomita

Why It’s Essential: One of the best elements of the 1992 Sailor Moon anime is the relationship between Nephrite and Naru, and episode 19 is the real start of its development. The episode is also great farce, as Nephrite figures that Tuxedo Mask is Sailor Moon’s weakness, and that the best way to draw her out is by writing every single girl in Tokyo a letter signed by Tuxedo Mask. This Tuxedo Mask tells Sailor Moon to meet him at the MS building, named after Nephrite’s alter-ego Masato Sanjoin. The plan ends up going better than expected, as Usagi does decide to fall into such a simple trap, but is heartbroken to learn that Tuxedo Mask loves every other girl just as much as he loves her. Naru is a bit more clever than most, and figures out that Masato Sanjoin is behind the letters, but decides to fall into the trap anyway, due to her love for him. The episode actually ends on a fairly serious note with a moment of honesty between Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask, cementing their bond. Another key episode for anime-only plot development.

 

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Episode 20, ”The Summer, the Beach, Youth and Ghosts”

Director: Kazuhisa Takenouchi

Written by: Megumi Sugihara

Why It’s Essential: I’m probably stretching the definition of “essential” here, but there’s only one episode where Usagi meets Draculina, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolfman, and it’s this one. A weird hybrid of beach episode and ghost episode, featuring a non-Dark Kingdom plot about a young psychic girl being forced by her father to use her powers against her will. Absolute filler, and cut from the American broadcast, there’s no better episode for seeing Usagi freak out with bug-eyed faces for 21 minutes.

 

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Episode 21, ”Protect the Children’s Dreams: Friendship Through Anime”

Director: Kunihiko Ikuhara

Written by: Katsuyuki Sumisawa

Why It’s Essential: At this point it’s clear that all of Ikuhara’s episodes are must see episodes. In this episode, Nephrite targets a female animator working on the Sailor V anime, filling her with jealous ambition in order to beat her close female friend/potential lover. This is one of the most routine of Ikuhara’s episode, and much of the humor is based on anime culture, or hearing Usagi wish she was in an anime (admittedly, still pretty funny). At one point Rei carries a Goldfish Warning bag at one point, as Goldfish Warning was the show Ikuhara and Junichi Sato worked on before Sailor Moon. If anime gags aren’t your thing, the episode features an ambiguously homosexual relationship between two female friends who are secretly jealous of each others’ talent. It’s a clear example of Ikuhara working with a theme that’s too big for the episode that contains it, but it’s not hard to see that elements of Utena found early expression here.

Book of Bantorra Reading Group

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Before she was Ragyo Kiryuuin, Romi Park was Hamyuts Meseta, central figure of the bizarre and fascinating Book of Bantorra. In June, I would like do attempt a group watch of this series, whether over Skype, or on people’s own time, and reported on their blogs.

The blu-ray and DVD complete collection is released on May 13th. The show is also available through Hulu, so it should be easy for everyone interested to find a copy to watch.

If you’d be interested in taking a few hours each weekend to watch 1-4 episodes (of a 26 episode series) and analyze them, or blog about them, please leave a comment on this post or fill out the form and I can think about the best way to go about organizing this discussion.

Conclusion: Blood Rain on Your Wedding Day

I’ve enjoyed the Gamako ship, but I realized what a threat it posted to my reading of Kill la Kill. If the last episode ends with a Gamako wedding, how effective will the show have been at showing an ideological war between parasite singles and their meddling mother? I probably would have excused it as being a “good wedding” as opposed to the more exploitative type Ragyo represents, but hey, the show does me a favor by never going there. Sorry Gamagoori. We still love you.

Let’s review how the ending ties into the themes I believe the show already expressed.

Right from the bat, Ragyo's nice enough to state her symbolism to the audience.

Right from the bat, Ragyo’s nice enough to state her symbolism to the audience.

Even the phallic symbols are feminine. An ocean of blood envelops the lipstick.

Even the phallic symbols are feminine. An ocean of blood envelops the lipstick.

Ragyo clearly reads her mission of forcing her daughters to marry as a mother's true role.

Ragyo clearly reads her mission of forcing her daughters to marry as a mother’s true role.

Anything else is simply AGAINST NATURE.

Anything else is simply AGAINST NATURE.

Mako suggests another possibility...

Mako suggests another possibility…

But Ryuuko herself doesn't quite fit into easy categories.

But Ryuuko herself doesn’t quite fit into easy categories.

Ryuuko acknowledging her adolescence that has occurred throughout the show? Acceptance of her body completes the arc.

Ryuuko acknowledging her adolescence that has occurred throughout the show? Acceptance of her body completes the arc.

Disappointed and defeated, Ragyo chooses to merge with the essential feminine that is Nui.

Disappointed and defeated, Ragyo chooses to merge with the essential feminine that is Nui.

Coupla ways to read this.

Coupla ways to read this.

Fight for the parasite singles, Ryuuko!

Fight for the parasite singles, Ryuuko!

The date is an opportunity for self-expression outside of the confining "wife and mother" role.

The date is an opportunity for self-expression outside of the confining “wife and mother” role.

Equality through nudity. Now Nudist Beach is the most clothed of all.

Equality through nudity. Now Nudist Beach is the most clothed of all.

Satsuki's hair is short - traditionally associated with married women. Moving on from the Kiryuuins? The cost of her use of Junketsu? Or just out of the marriage market?

Satsuki’s hair is short – traditionally associated with married women. Moving on from the Kiryuuins? The cost of her use of Junketsu? Or just out of the marriage market?

Sorry Gamagoori. Mako wins. But look on the bright side - if this were Gurren Lagann, you'd be dead!

Sorry Gamagoori. Mako wins. But look on the bright side – if this were Gurren Lagann, you’d be dead!

It’s a happy end, with both Mako and Ryuuko and Satsuki able to define roles for themselves. Having grown up in her mother’s (and father’s) shadows, Satsuki must learn how to be herself for herself. Ryuuko has accepted her social and physical changes, and Mako is the driving force of the universe.

As the end settles in, and people re-evaluate the show from the beginning, I hope to look more into the ideas Kill la Kill presented.

Even though it’s disappointing there never were any pink hi-tops.

Kill la Kill: Shevangelion, Feminism, and Matrimony

One of the biggest questions that’s haunted Kill la Kill since its beginning is, “Is the show sexist or is it actually feminist?” One’s personal answer to this question colored how the show, and its fans were viewed. My personal belief is that the show is ultimately neither, but contains elements that can be viewed as either progressive or sexist, and sometimes both.

SPOILER WARNING

I would have considered most of the feminist themes to be having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too gloss on a very Go Nagai-style story, but then, in episode 23, we get the reveal of Shinra Koutetsu, the super Evangelion Costume that Ragyo and Nui have been working on all along.

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It kind of looks like a ridiculous white mage robe, but it’s actually a Shinto wedding dress. And wedding dresses have come up an awful lot in the series.

Does Ryuuko secretly wish for a more traditionally "feminine" role?

Does Ryuuko secretly wish for a more traditionally “feminine” role?

Dad, here looking a lot like a COVERS, explains the role of Junketsu- "purity"

Dad, here looking a lot like a COVERS, explains the role of Junketsu- “purity”

But for what’s supposed to be, ahem, cough, “The happiest day in a woman’s life,” Kill la Kill doesn’t seem to be thrilled about the whole marriage thing.

Daddy's super bitter about marrying Mommy, honey.

Daddy’s super bitter about marrying Mommy, honey.

Remember that the only reason Satsuki’s dad become involved with Ragyo is that he was adopted into her family. The Japanese term for this kind of adopted husband is mukouyoshi. He becomes a Kiryuuin – through MARRIAGE, and becomes a part of the family line of those who were entrusted to protect the life fibers.

Weddings clearly imply dominance and control - even submission of identity.

Weddings clearly imply dominance and control – even submission of identity.

So weddings are about dominance and control. This is clear with Junketsu. Satsuki must strain to wear it, and it’s used to brainwash Ryuuko into thinking she’s had the traditionally feminine “dream” of growing up to be a bride. The husband is faceless – in the role of a Japanese woman the fact of marriage is enough.

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When Mako intrudes on Ryuuko’s dream space – it’s the wedding chapel where she’s found. Not in any of the other scenes with Ragyo. Mako’s first, unintentional, action is to knock out the husband.

Speak now, or forever hold your peace.

Speak now, or forever hold your peace.

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..or I guess just do that.

It’s also clear that the husband is wearing the same white suit as the patriarch, Satsuki’s father did. And the white suits are the covers.

So, clearly, logic follows that the COVERS are the patriarchy.

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They are a one-size fits all role for everyone – their job is to absorb a person and make them an automaton. And marriage is clearly the route through which one becomes an instrument of said patriarchy. You’ll note that almost all of Ragyo’s henchmen are men in suits. And when Satsuki follows in her mother’s footsteps, the average Honnouji Gakuen footsoldier was a faceless dude.

BUT WAIT – there is hope.

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Ryuuko! A nontraditionally feminine tough girl tomboy who will wreck the patriarchy’s shit. She’s not “purity”-

Read into this what you will.

Read into this what you will.

but FRESH BLOOD, a vampiric suit with a spirit voice only Ryuuko can hear. She’s a shamaness – and she brandishes SCISSORS which will cut the ties that bind people together.

Meanwhile, Satsuki is rejected by her mother, who prefers the company of Nui. Nui, for her part, is exaggeratedly feminine, with a pink dress, blonde hair, a kawaii voice, and she doesn’t even sweat in combat. She’s as dainty as she could be.

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Every country has its moral panics, Japan included. And while we know about otakus and NEETS, another big one is parasite singles. Although men could technically also be parasite singles, the term gets extra teeth when used to describe women who refuse to get married, live at home, and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle with money they earn being spent on themselves.

The very ideal of the Japanese woman was “ryousai kenbo” or “good wife, wise mother.” The push in the Meiji-era to increase women’s educational opportunities was done in part because educated women would make better mothers. The importance of raising children to excel in Japan’s educational system required a “kyouiku mama” or “education mama” who was educated herself. By being neither wives nor mothers, these parasite singles threaten the very model of womanhood.

In 2004, 54% of Japanese women in their 20s were still single. They’re being blamed for the declining birth rate and the economic recession.

But having a career and being a mother are incompatible for many companies in Japan. Women are put on a separate career track, and once they have kids, a mother is expected to leave the job to raise the child-full time. A future career woman like Satsuki would have to choose between motherhood or her own ambition.

Though it’s been said that the writer of Kill la Kill wrote the characters as men, the relationships between the women, and the focus on marriage prove there’s something else going on here that involves women’s societal roles and the conflict this engenders.

If the core dynamic of Evangelion was the conflict between children and their fathers, with Shinji and Gendou as the main focus, Kill la Kill gets a lot of drama out of the conflict between mothers and daughters. Though thematically muddled, more exploration should be given to the series along these lines.

The ridiculously scanty costumes are the least interesting thing going on here.

Fujiko Mine Is The Realm Of Women – Part III

It’s safe to say with our mutual heads reeling from the explosive ending of Fujiko, the series has lived up to its exceptional hype. With mixed responses to Fujiko’s ultimate history and some critics who found the turn around plot lacklustre and unresolved, this particular fujoshi found the series on the whole ended with an utmost satisfying finale.
 

The curious responses to Fujiko’s ending says a lot about otaku culture on the whole, especially certain comments about Fujiko’s virtue. And some reviewers feel that turning the male gaze inward isn’t confronting the male gaze in a sufficient manner at all. These are interesting discussions and that individuals are turning to these themes while talking about Fujiko says a lot about its power to entertain and educate.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about, what I’m here to talk about are the rising peaks of femininity…

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All right, all right and Fujiko’s further engagement with literature of a different type. But while we’re focused on glorious boobs, let’s talk about the prevalence of nudity in the series. Our first stop is the reasoning behind Fujiko and her penchant to be naked in the opening sequence. We’ve seen by the ending how this has all worked out and clever watchers noticed that the opening theme seemed to be some kind of metaphor for the rest of the series. Let’s go past the initial response that Fujiko is a gorgeous woman and it’s extremely satisfying to the nether regions to see her disrobed, while her glorious breasts heave in a landscape of personal struggle. Sexuality is part of Fujiko’s character, and you can track the series by the stylization of her breasts from Mamo to the Pink Jacket. The only place you don’t really see her perversity is in Miyazaki’s gentle side-stepping of her sexual nature. Although her boobs are absurdly enormous, we don’t really see her in full seductress mode in Cagliostro. It’s easy to look at Miyazaki and instantly write off Fujiko’s contribution but I think there is something to be said in the way some men deal with women’s sexuality – by keeping their clothes on and their legs firmly shut.

This is also not so coincidentally one of the largest discussions in feminist history and has been going on since the dawn of feminism itself. Extremely simplified this discussion amounts to; what is the woman’s body, who has the right to use it and for what purpose.

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::::: SPOILERS AHEAD ESPECIALLY CONCERNING THE ENDING :::::

Read more…

The Shounen-Ai You’ve Never Heard About – Patalliro

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Patalliro was written by Mineo Maya in 1979 and already stands out by having a male author (there are few men who venture into shounen-ai without feminine sounding pennames) it’s an extremely long running manga, still ongoing today with a whopping 91 volumes to its name and features everything from comedic slapstick, blushing boy touch romance to full blown mpreg.

The anime was released in 1982 with 49 episodes and it’s one of those series I wish had more of a following because it’s so wonderful to look at, genuinely funny and weird, and totally cultural in a way not a lot of modern anime tend to emulate these days. There are glorious bishounen with long locks (the likes Eroica would swoon over), tawdry stories of the blue bloods that populate the boy King Patalliro’s world, humorous spy shit, serious romances and glorious shoujo sparkles and flowers in full bloom. It doesn’t delve too deeply into the enormous material presented by the manga but it does give you a pretty good glimpse into the main characters  personalities.

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Bancoran: The ‘Bishounen Killer’ Handsome Agent

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Patalliro: The Boy King

Bancoran is probably what I would consider the main character for most of the anime and his job is to protect Patalliro, a sudden child monarch. Unfortunately, Patalliro is more interested in being a kid and causing a raucous than actually ruling anything or taking the threats on his life seriously, much to Bancoran’s chagrin. But Bancoran has his own problems to deal with; namely a great many romances with swooning bishounen when they aren’t busily trying to kill him off to get at Patalliro.

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Bancoran has at least somewhat settled down with Maraich by the time the StarDust Keikaku movie came out and later they even (miraculously, with yaoi logic) have a baby in the manga. That doesn’t stop Bancoran from constantly cheating on Maraich who shrews it up with the best of them by throwing knives at his unworthy  ’husband’ hearkening back to their early relationship as target and assassin.

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 It’s worth mentioning that Toei did the animation and the backgrounds and detail are downright luscious even if sometimes the animation comes off as stilted or a bit jittery, it is after all, over twenty years old so the fact it looks this good is something to revel in.

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The line work and detail is an imitation of the manga which is also exceptionally beautiful and strangely replete with patterns and a strong design sensibility (I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Mr. Mineo Maya was in fashion design before becoming a manga-ka) the careful attention to strange architecture that seems a contusion of Japanese and European design sensibility is just plain cool to look at.

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Shamefully this series isn’t available anywhere and there’s not that much fansubbed. If you can find it, the full Patalliro movie Stardust Keikaku is on the tubes along with some subbed episodes. I would love to see this cleaned up and pristine, especially since the manga is popular enough to keep going for 91 volumes in Japan but I’m not holding my breath. Any way you can see this show will be a treat, it’s quirky humour and beautiful eighties animation is really something to look out for.

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Check it out before the bishounen killer catches another victim~ Ohohoho~

Top Ten Saving Anime of 2013

Many anime came out in 2013. Listed below are ten of them which came out very well, to much enjoyment by me. The numerical ranking is forced. All 10 are perfectly valid, and may be re-ordered to your preference.

kyosogigaavatar1. Kyousogiga

Episode 0 of Kyousogiga is a nightmare of postmodernism. Like Book of Bantorra, when cowboys and maids or mad scientists and oni exist in the same space it feels like there has been a breakdown at the archetype factory and all quality control has been thrown out. In both cases, this horror is merely the feeling of postmodernism working in the best way, ripping out walls in your brain and allowing previously pure pools of story to intermingle and contaminate each other. But like its late simulcast, Episode 0 likely does Kyousogiga no favors with its chaotic FLCL-meets-Eccentric-Family hyperactive family drama and its hateful choice to name two, TWO, characters Koto and two characters Myoue, and one of the Myoues wasn’t even called that to begin with. It’s an alienating first step.

But if you watch a few more episodes, it all starts to make sense in a crazy kind of way, as a giant overflowing well of Japanese pop culture going back to the Japanese animal scrolls that some scholars consider the first “manga.” But pop culture is only one of the spheres on which Kyousogiga operates, and it claims there are seven. One is also surely religion, with its world occupied by oni and buddhas, another illusion, with rabbits and quotes from Alice in Wonderland. With only one viewing under my belt, Kyousogiga may be one of the hardest shows to define, and it may be harder still to determine whether it actually all coheres together in the end or if it’s kind of a glorious trainwreck.

Another show ended similarly, with befuddled audiences having seen the worst or best thing ever, and that was Evangelion, and I don’t use the comparison lightly. Director Rie Matsumoto and Toei Animation have been working this story over for years, as OVAs and ONAs and what has come together through it all is a kind of shoujovangelion, replacing the tropes about robots and masculinity with more shoujo-type concerns of family and memory. Very real similarities can be found, but to spell those out means giving up an awful lot of the show’s secrets, and from its view count the show is still underexposed.

Maybe in a few years we’ll decide it really was a train wreck that bit off too much when it tried to go beyond the family and into metaphysics, but for the time being fandom really needs to watch and digest it. There will be much time for discussion later.

 

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2. Gatchaman Crowds

I do not expect there is any person who did not expect this show on my list, considering how much I have written on it already. I will not rehash it all. The show is delightfully girly and queer and gets all kinds of cooties in the Batcave. One might forget I was so unenthusiastic for this show at its premiere that I thought Dog and Scissors would be a more worthwhile show to review. Part of this is due to a certain superhero fatigue. American popular culture has been on a revenge kick, examining morality by having superheroes decide if they really have the BALLS to torture a 10 year old girl in front of her father so that he might give up his terrorist plot. Even Superman was made into an insane killer, which should be a dangerous red flag.

Main character Hajime has been accused of being a Mary Sue, a perfect person who is never wrong. This is not so much untrue as it misses the point. Hajime was not designed to be perfect. The world of Gatchaman Crowds was created to be a world in which Hajime could actually succeed. There was something very inspiring to see an optimistic idealist take on a foe and defeat him on her own terms. If Hajime’s attempts at fighting back with glitter and ribbons had failed, and it had fallen to Joe to take on Berg Katze with guns and bombs and fire, the Gatchaman Crowds experiment would have lost what made it special. A world was made in which unbridled girliness could triumph, and for those of us who could believe in it, we do believe in it.

Some characters are designed to never fail. Hajime just happens to be one of those types. Rui is the true heart and soul and tortured conscience in the battle between Hajime’s optimism and Berg Katze’s pessimism. The way the depressed and apathetic characters transcend into a state of joy in the final episode is the most hopeful entertainment has left me in too many years for me to count.

 

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3. Shin Sekai Yori

A widely acclaimed favorite with accolades all across the anime blogosphere. A post-apocalyptic coming of age horror story. There’s no point to echoing what is said elsewhere. What I will note is the show’s greatest innovation is its approach to Japanese religion. A lot of Shinto and Buddhist practice in modern Japan is not doctrinal so much as ritualized. When a Japanese person buys a get well charm for a friend, they do it not so much because they literally believe in the cosmology of the kami, and that this kami has enchanted the charm with supernatural powers that will combat the viruses in the friend’s body. They do it because it is expected or appreciated. The trouble of going to the shrine and paying the money is encapsulated within the charm. You buy it for your friend because they are your friend, and thus the religion provides the means to express this.

Shin Sekai Yori basically creates a religion, the rituals, the folkways, the urban legends that allow the psychic powers in the show to be controlled. That is Shin Sekai Yori’s greatest triumph. The interior of the mind is projected outwards with psychic power, and so the scientists and elders in the show create a cosmology that controls the exterior world through the interior. This may sound terribly abstract, but when you watch the show, you see what great care was taken in this world building, and these stories that we tell ourselves about who we are.

Psychics have been a sci-fi trope in anime for forever, but this is the first time I have ever seen such a thoughtfully anthropological look at what this kind of consciousness means. A lot of the “slow episodes” where not very much happens are often case studies on the maintenance of social order. Fantastically imaginative stuff.

 

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4. Blast of Tempest

Perhaps no one loves Blast of Tempest as much as I, so it falls to be to explicate its brilliance. Sadly, I lack the expertise to defend the show on a Shakespearean level, so I have to admire its stagecraft from an amateur’s viewpoint. So much of shounen has become a dry formula perfected by the marketers at Shounen Jump. Triumphs like One Piece remain, but even this exists within the framework. Noble heroes fight dastardly villains in long, involved combat sequences with all sorts of supernatural powers.

I cannot describe how delighted I was when our heroes flee from the first enemy with any real combat expertise. Or that “our heroes” are kind of dicks. Blast of Tempest is the story of a bunch of imperfect people trying to achieve what they think is just in a confusing, corrupt world. Many people lost interest when the two leads and the dastardly villain face off outside the cult complex, debating for two or three episodes about whether the Tree of Exodus or the Tree of Genesis was the true villain. I loved it, all of the uncertainty, all of the desperation, all of the pragmatism destroying all of the smug certainties we expect from these kinds of shows.

This is a show that would rather show the main characters talking in circles instead of fighting. It could be staged as a play, and probably was designed that way by the original mangaka. The meta-textual turn it takes in the second act, the tricks it plays on you, and the ultimate ending are all satisfying. Blast of Tempest has a core of emotional honesty and maturity, despite its literary pretensions and silly sense of humor. What Fullmetal Alchemist is to other people, I expect Blast of Tempest is for me.

 

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5. Flowers of Evil

It seems like everyone hates Flowers of Evil now, because of its ending, or still, maybe, because of the rotoscoping. And there’s no denying that in all, the show is a bit of a mixed bag. Criticisms have also come at the show due to its slow pace, and the fact that each episode was basically one single manga chapter stretched out. All of this is true, but the fact remains that when Flowers of Evil was good, it was the best. Episodes 7 and 10 remain some of the best episodes of the year and decade, even if episodes 8 and 11 take the show down a few notches.

I also see the show oversimplified into being about how in high school, people take on pretensions to be better than other people, and that those pretentions are ultimately meaningless. That’s just the surface narrative, however. There’s also a lot going on about sexuality, and the way men view women through a virgin/whore complex, and about small town life and boredom in general. Director Nagahama and Mangaka Oshimi are to be saluted for this experiment, which succeeds far more than it fails, though its failures may damn it in the eyes of many. At least everyone can agree that the ED is the best of the year. Honestly, the OP is probably the best of the year, too.

 

6. Turning Girls

Oh, just watch it. It’s six episodes, with a recap for a seventh. Each episode is five minutes long. It’s great, and it’s easier just to watch and see than for me to spoil the whole thing.

 

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7. Muromi-san of the Seashore

Stupid, bawdy, and lewd shows get a lot of hate, and much of it is deserved, because they’re stupid, bawdy, lewd and terrible. But every once in a while otakudom comes up with a horrible show that is also incredibly entertaining, and Muromi is one of them. Sort of a mix of Urusei Yatsura and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, immortal beings hang out with normal humans and screw up their lives because immortals are just horrible, horrible people. Muromi’s animation is also top-notch and the show has moments of true poignancy in between all of the shocks and gross-outs. A license and second season would be appreciated.

 

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8. Jojo

Jojo because Jojo. You can go back to reading #1 now. But seriously, a kind of re-imagination of the monomyth hero as a kind of fabulous freak show. And Speedwagon.

 

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9. Meganebu

A show designed for failure that succeeds on every level. Sure, a glasses club is stupid, but lots of groups are built around shared enthusiasms. A glasses club is just an anime club for people who like glasses. Combining the character humor of Milky Holmes with the metaphorical warm fuzzies of Polar Bear Cafe (not the literal warm fuzzies), Meganebu works as a comedy, and then in the final episode, it all comes together for a genuine character study. Stunning, and quite literally out of nowhere.

 

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10. Watamote

A show that was loved and hated for its ability to do one thing extremely well: characterize social isolation in its truest form. Tomoko is the boddhisatva of loneliness, designed to make mistakes for our benefit, so we might learn how to save ourselves. Thank you, Tomoko.

Fancy Theory: Kill la Kill? More like… Kill la Kill! (it works in Japanese)

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Kill la Kill is 26 episodes, and most everyone figures that like, in Gurren Lagann, the second half of Kill la Kill will have a surprisingly different second arc, separating it from the first arc with a surprise.

This is correct.

The common assumption is that Satsuki will be a mere mini-boss facing an even bigger bad, and the two of them will team up together to fight the more malevolent force.

This is too easy. Give them way more credit.

The hints given in episode 10 give it away.

The second half is where Satsuki will be the protagonist. Ryuuko will be overcome by Senketsu, seeing as how it’s obviously corrupted her and made her into a jet-girl. The post-instrumentality clothing will be the big bad, but it will steal Ryuuko with it.

We’re getting all of the background on the relationships between Satsuki and her crew because they’re going to drive the second half, when Satsuki’s crazy plot to rule the world has to go on the backburner because FASHION APOCALYPSE.

Consider all of the different meanings of the verb “kiru”, and also its parallelism in the title. Kill la Kill. Two kills, separated by pivot point la. Or the image above. Ryuko before… Satsuki after.

Fujiko Mine Is The Realm Of Women Part II

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:::WARNING; MAJOR SPOILERS AND FAR FEWER BOOB JOKES.::::

The new Lupin series is really ratcheting up the cause. Before, we explored the gothic novels that shoujo manga and in this case, Mine Fujiko To Iu Onna has been drawing from. While not every episode lives up to the gothic novel tropes, the mood has still been set throughout. Even the political flavour of episode 7 was highlighted by a clever coup by Fujiko and her ‘samurai boyfriend’. The latest episode was a virtual explosion of everything that’s been hinted at in the series, and short of episode 6 which is probably my favourite, was the most impressive exploration of feminism I’ve seen since Utena. I cannot wait to see how it ends but until then, we still have some reading to do.

Let’s get to it!

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Fujiko Mine Is The Realm Of Women – Part I

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::::::WARNING::::: FOR THOSE INTENDING TO WATCH THE SERIES THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD. AND BOOB JOKES. LOTS OF THEM. Also, pretty men and blood.

The new Lupin III came bursting out of the gates which such force, I was left reeling from the impact of its images. It was a testament to the new ‘old style’ animation, with character designs by Takeshi Koike and the director Saya Yamamoto (check those staff credentials; X, Redline to name a few) it was set up to be a fascinating series from the moment it appeared.

The initial commentary about the new Lupin was thus: Lupin must be updated, particularly the role of Fujiko Mine who was an oft-maligned heroine in a series defined by it’s naughty perversions and slapstick humour. While still an adventure series it was less Indiana Jones and more James Bond with boobs. The new series Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna is an ambitious attempt to imbue more character development and interest into its long running characters.

But I won’t get into that here, what I will get into is how a relatively two dimensional character like Fujiko Mine has been transformed very cleverly into a gothic romantic heroine who is subverting all the tropes. Because the new Lupin isn’t just for men and boys any more and despite the prevelant presence of boobs and ass, there is something beautiful happening in this series. It pains me to hear people call it sexist, when there is so much more complexity. And I hope over the three parts of this exploration, I can convince you to take another look at it too.

Enough! Before I lose my shit and everything with a penis is lit on fire. The proof is in the pudding.

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Pudding, not poing.

And it’s time to have it. In the words of Fujiko Mine:

Stop everything but your beating heart.

And look at me.

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