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ANIME AICN - Column Evolution

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Column by Scott Green

Welcome back to the evolving AICN Anime. The column will continue to have news and it will continue to promote information that I and hopefully you will find interesting. However, I have no problem saying that there are much better places to find most anime news. A) I'm not set up to thoroughly and directly report on what's coming out of Japan. B) Blankly broadcasting distributors' announcements is dull for me and you. C) Ain't It Cool News isn't set up to do the kind of streaming feed of varied sized reports that lends itself to news sites. D) I started covering anime about 1998, and it's rarely been interesting.

What I hope to focus on in this column is discussing what works in anime and manga, what doesn't work, and why. As I've mentioned in several conversations recently, and I know it sounds pretentious, there's a range in both media between classic works and immediate entertainment, but regardless, it's worth investigating and evaluating how they function.

The form this will take is a greater volume and depth of reviews. This is still evolving, and I'm not completely satisfied with the current examples, but the old "Spotlight" review, which touches on most of what I consider to be the salient points, will be accompanied by "Quick Cut..." reviews that just capture the essentials, and "What Works..." which will attempt to pull and examine the mechanisms of a work of anime or manga.

So far, the Quick Cut... pieces seem too long and not plentiful enough, and I wasn't able to work out my complete agenda in the "What Works..."

Going on the new bi-weekly schedule, the next column will be posted on the morning of 8/7. There are a few interesting things in the pipeline that might materialize as stand-alone or near stand alone pieces before then.

Quick cut... Format: Anime
Speed Grapher

Volume 1
Released by FUNimation

Speed Grapher raises the question of whether anime producers, and producers of televised anime in particular, are equipped to tell mature, socially relevant stories. The number of examples in which it has been done well have been miniscule. Paranoia Agent, Tehxnoylze, Serial Experiments Lain, Haibane Renmei, NieA_7, Boogieoio Phantom; what else has taken a sharp mature look at society? Series like Berserk and Requiem From the Darkness went to something of the human condition, but mapping them to modern life is a bit more difficult.

GONZO in particular, with their reputation for letting their work slide after the viewer is impressed by the initial visual impact would seem to be an unlikely candidate for picking up the mantle of mature, televised anime. Though, to be fair they are responsible for GANTZ, Saikano, and Yukikaze (an OAV), all of which featured arguable merit.

Speed Grapher suggests an anime version of Cabaret, in that is a post war, economically thrashed society itching to be distracted with as much salaciousness as possible, with the fetishes of anime (school girls and explosions) in place of song and dance. It's protagonist is a photographer who acts as angry chronicler itching to destroy the decadent world. While exposing a secret society/fetish club he is granted his barely subconscious desire, the ability to destroy through his camera, manifested when explosions when he snaps pictures.

The character is too stern to be small "g" gonzo, making the series difficult to accept as a fun blunder that's entertaining in its excess. At the same time there is no sense that these characters exist beyond their perfunctory roles. In a sex scene between the hero, who can only be aroused when holding a camera and a cop who can only be arouse when holding a gun, a sex addict and violence junky wearing a kind of lingerie with suit sleaves and pant legs. The scene is handled with the calculated titillation, and overt, need to explain dialog that strips it of humanity.

What's left is an exhibition of super hero, exhibiting the type of decadence ostensibly being criticized without the courtesy of having fun with the hypocrisy. You hate the super-rich magnate mother who takes out her fear of aging by starving and humiliating her daughter, but as a villain rather than as a real individual or a product of a conceivable society. At the same time, there's an impulse to cheer the character because her cruelty is exaggerated enough to be one of the more entertaining features of the anime.

Other than this cruelty drama, the mother/daughter dynamic mentioned above, and also a scene in which a ballet virtuoso goes grotesquely far in instructing a child about flexibility, the anime is only gets marginal in its salaciousness. It flirts without leaping into the bad taste. Despite its evocation of perversion, for adult media it's pretty safe. Acts like the above mentioned sex scenes are treated with motion and shorthand while acts in the infamous scandal club are flash of bondage imagery. It's not near the league of John Waters or Takashi Miike, and apart from the super powers: the exploding photography and a bondage suited Mr Fantastic, very little leverages possibilities of animation.

Especially in that this DVD version has added footage, the ultimate sleaze factor is likely a known quantity, so the series probably isn't going to become a scandal spectacle. There is the potential for the series to redeem itself by developing idea of a corrupt society at its tipping point. The groundwork is there. The lead can easily stand in for the discontent intellectuals of an age. In that it owes much to Weimar Germany or to lesser degree Taisho Japan, by way of modern corporations, the series can end with the destruction of the lead, but more potential lies in the destruction of the transitive age. The aftermath of this should prove whether the ideas at work were thought through by the series' creators.

Quick Cut...
Format: Manga
Bakune Young
By Toyokazu Matsunaga

Volume 1
Released by Viz

Though Bakune Young is one of Viz's out of print Pulp titles, finding an copy on places like Ebay isn't much of a challenge. Pretend for a moment that calling a work of media "insane" isn't overused. Bakune Young is one of the most insane works of pop social deconstruction you will find. Comparing Speed Grapher to Bakune Young is like comparing the local Op-Ed piece to Hunter S Thompson. If you'd like to write a thesis on a work of manga, put you sanity aside and attempt to work through Bakune Young. Picking apart what it says about Japan and modern culture should be one intense challenge.

On what could be thought of as the strait level, Bakune Young is a kind of ultra-violent Looney Tunes parody of a yakuza story, kindof a spacey comic resembling the Takashi Miike/ Sakichi Sato movies (Gozu, Ichi the Killer) that is boiling in society pathology. With its constipated fury, high velocity idiot violence, and psychedelic expressionism, readers will either be fascinated or entirely offput by its Yazuka thrashing, idiot mastermind oaf of an action hero. In either case, the work is more than slightly bewildering.

Think of a dangerously demented man who's mind in a haze of artificial notions, who is so physically imposing that he can do what he's seen in the movies and comics. Bakune Young is a gargoyle faced, mountain framed man-child. He starts assaulting Yazuka. Then he begins assassinations, springing film caper ambushes with 'Beat' Takeshi brutal results. Then the coup-de-grace, he grabs the head of the head of a prominent yakuza, collars him, writes "Don of Nippon" on his forehead and draws Doremon whiskers on his face. He then holes himself up with the "Don" and busloads of elderly tourists in Osaka Castle (which holds historical significance in the rise and fall of the shogunate). In a meteoric rise in the shonen jump path to be the toughest, Bakune dons samurai armor sets himself as the shogun and demands 100 Trillion yen ransom

With plenty of shots taken at national identity and concepts of law, order and authority, it’s hard for a non-Japanese audience to suss out the exact twists at work. The well of cultural allusions is a deep one in which to get lost. Bakune dresses himself in the armor of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the successor to Japan's unifier Oda Nobunaga, who ultimately lost his power to Shogunate founder Tokugawa Ieyasu. Then there's that the yazuka kingpin that comes to resemble Amida Buddha.

It looks like the manga is present a daunting web of culturally significant references, but there are still ponderable points in the work that might resonate for a non native audience. Bakune's anti-bully bullying, in which he humiliates cruel gym teachers and graduates into killing the "human trash" yazuka is a level above cops and robbers that looks a lot like terrorism. Bakune and most of the other bent cast act in adherence to an idea with ignorance or disregard to what experience or logic would dictate, whether is Bakune's child-like domination plan, a Russian Rolette standoff, or even concepts of honor. It's as if the manga were a a violent act of evacuating ideas from the mind.

The plot at work isn't meant to be intriguing. How the situation will resolve itself is a curiosity, but the telling is more spiraling out of control than really developing. Because there is no modulation of tone, reading the volume through is a challenge. Perpetually at full force, it would seem like the series that is more effective as an another entry in an anthology than as stand alone collection.

Quick Cut...
Format: Manga
Love Roma
by Minoru Toyoda

Volume 3
Released by Del Rey

Love Roma continues to be an exceptionally charming seinen. Yes, it is published in the anthology Afternoon, so despite the praise from CLAMP, the manga was published in the same work as Blade of the Immortal, Blame, Eden, Gunsmith Cats, and Ah! My Goddess. If anything, its closer to shounen than shoujo. One reason that this is significant, beyond the simple fact that the lead of the series is male is that is series is acting as a rebutal to how much male romance manga has been about deception. From Kimagure Orange Road's Kyosuke hiding his ESP and his love for Madoka, to the current of hiding failure that has run from Maison Ikkoku to Love Hina, the genre has frequently relied on deception to a source of drama.

The reality is that is isn't just fiction where the common place action is to sabotage ones own relationships. The human impulse is to be defensive, hide the truth, and taking advantage of situations that are in the long term are detrimental.

Consequently, a relationship comedy that focused on active communications is so alien, so convincing and so right. Rather than manufactured love triangles and rivals, the manga has fun awkwardly building up to petting, seeing what happens when the characters drink and psuedo-planning for the future. The manga and its characters are aware of the youthful nature of the story, and like Azumanga Daioh, there is a sense that what's being depicted isn't so much the whole story as the moments that the characters will remember.

The volume does address the potential fault in relationship stories that create the impression that all the protagonist focuses on is the relationship. Time is spent establishing that he's neglecting other significant aspects of life, namely school work. The manga doesn't proceed to re-adapts its own focus, but there is enough space in the story, which is more rather quickly temporally (the volume ends the first year), so one could assume that he's taking time for non-love work.

Toyoda is able to maintain a tenuous half-verite in the story. There's a summer break story of working at a vacation spot that is saved from being a very genre exercise by the inclusion of an economic bend. More problematic is the lead's cartoonishly exaggerated.

Toyoda continues to demonstrate that his illustration excels at capitalizing on simplicity. It's masterfully minimalist and able to capture depths of personality, with a large cast all immediately distinguishable, and emotion with a few lines, achieving a crackling pop iconicness in the process.

Quick Cut...
Format: Anime
Galaxy Railways

Volumes 5 and 6
Released by FUNimation

Given that Leiji Matsumoto, best known for this space operas, is approaching age 70, and has already passed his 50th year in manga/anime, it is very conceivable that his direct involvement in production will be ending. Regardless of the extend of his involvement in Galaxy Railways, an argument can be made that the series serves as a counterpoint to the body of work, marked by a radical shift in voice. Matsumoto's creation spoke from the perspective of someone who was a child during World War II and grew up in the post war devastation. Galaxy Railways is talking to later generations. It's lead grew up in rather normal circumstances. He's not motivated by endurance or as a reaction to a sort of pan-tragic event. He's not in the direct footsteps or guided by one of Matsumoto's pantheon figures: Herlock, Emeraldas, Maetel and Tochiro mainly.

The closest thing to a pantheon appearance in the series is Herlock's image in a deck of cards. The one really larger than life figure is more a symbol than an active participant in events. Rather than exceptional people enduring cataclysmic hardships and engaging in an existential struggle for freedom, survival or revenge, Galaxy Railways depicts normal, but selfless people dedicating their lives to protecting a way of life.

Manabu Yuuki, whose father and brother sacrificed their lives in service to the Space Defense Force (SDF), spend the early volumes exhausting his youthful follies, and is now accepted as a promising member of SDF's Sirius Platoon. The SDF protects the Galaxy Railways, a series of interstellar railway roots traveled by locomotives. It's one of Matsumoto's many concepts that owes far more to personal symbolic significance than it does to logic. As such the SDF is called up to act in events from drunks and emergency child births to invaders from other galaxies.

The fifth, penultimate volume starts with something you don't typically find in a Matsumoto work, a hot springs episode. It's an Azumanga Daioh style in-between moment, in which the characters spend time trying to be who they are rather than worry about their occupations. There's plenty of clumsy romance and the kind of gags you'd expect, but the episode does serve to underscore the mundane nature of these characters.

After a half-effective episode in which Manabu gives up a position in the prestigious Space Panzer Grenadiers because while both the SDF and SPG afford him the opportunity to save lives, he's attached to his comrades in the Sirius Platoon (marked by one of too many cases in the series in which someone demonstrates their conviction by staying in a train longer than it is safe), the series launches into its longest storyline: a six episode attack against the railways by an invading species of life.

Galaxy Railways takes the tone of a sci-fi serial, a largely episodic space opera starring trains with battleship armament. It's staged for melodrama, with characters articulating the predicament as they are rushed towards a danger they and viewer know. Nothing as subtle and not made explicit either in dialog or pantomime. Though the telling is overt and predictable, there is a sincerity in the characters and storytelling that makes the work compelling. The thrust of the series has been Manabu growing into the noble idea that he avowed, as it solidified from youthful idealism into adult dedications. Ultimately, the course of the series test his determination, his sincerity and whether he was invested in protecting live or the trapping and rank of the service, and settled on an earnest sense of mission.

Quick Cut... Format: Manga
Rozen Maiden
by Peach-Pit

Volume 1
Released by TOKYOPOP

"Peach-Pit", the creators of Rozen Maiden and cute-slave alien series DearS, is a team of two women creators, and if their interviews hadn't come out and said that their work aims to capture what their audience is looking for, it would be tempting to think of them as a manga Todd Solondz. DearS took the magic girlfriend genre and packed it with so much bubblegum colored human sickness as to be unbearable.

Given that Rozen Maiden starts off explicitly conveying that it isn't a regular guy finding exceptional love, the series allows itself to be demented situation comedy/action/drama. Rather than a simply unexceptional, middle of the road, hero who the reader can identify with, Rozen Maiden presents a self-ish, abusive, plainly socially maladjusted hikikomori who refuses to attend school. With his parents out of the country on an extended stretch of business, he's cared for by older doting older sister. The human disconnect that allows the character to be so cruelly oblivious to this sister is staggering and quickly establishes the lead as a severely cracked characters. Still, because this character is such a reprobate, the series doesn't appear to be as pandering as DearS. Consequently it is more intriguing and strange than something that requires a cleansing shower

Rosen Maiden is hinting that it is going the direction of setting up a magical girlfriend/harem situation between the young shut in and some number of living, maybe a foot and a half tall, dolls. However, a volume in, there is no hint of sex or romance. Baggage from the creators, the genre, and the original anthology Comic Birz would suggest something would be present, but the subtext is hard to find. (Though, the lead’s sister keeps suggesting they are "Dutch dolls" or sex toys).

If the series were pandering, it would be that it offers the line of thought that if a wretch like the lead could have a sweet sister looking after him and a cute doll domineering him, you have to wonder what a somewhat adjusted human being could manage. As an appealing notion, that's too frightening to consider.

That the lead can't connect people, but can to something that is on some level an artificial construct almost seems to be meta commentary. However, an unpleasant lead isn't going to attract readers to a series, but an amusing a frilly doll commanding said lead with aristocratic distance is. DearS' illustration carries the appeal by intricately capturing loli-goth fashion.

Quick Cut...
Format: Anime Preview
Papuwa Volume 1

Released by ADV

Not having seen Nangoku Shounen Papuwa-kun 1992, it is difficult to tell whether series was in fact a reaction to early Dragon Ball, but that that is sequel/follow-up Papuwa from 2003 would suggest. Given that the series Papuwa was produced more than a decade after the original, though it makes reference to what happened, in story terms four years ago, its almost more a revival than a sequel. In terms of a Dragon Ball comparison, it is as if someone decided to recapture Toriyama's early work, when Goku was chasing down dinosaurs to eat, and add some extra sexual identity humor. Papuwa is big on jokes about gender boundaries.

Papuwa does feature a plot, and often misdirects energy at the plot with enough going on that can't be summed up in two sentences, but the intension is more to provide a constant stream of jokes. Absurd characters are played off an absurd setting. The shtick features, a poisonous, dare one say, hallucinogenic, mushroom, talk in a faux-polite manner and talking forest animals armed with sharpened bamboo spears or a giant carnivorous lizard on the loosing end of hunt, partakes in the meal of its severed tail.

If there's a problem with the series, it's that it doesn't provide a footing. With characters that don't offer recognizable perspectives it relies on plain absurdity translates to humor. Many of what jokes, like screaming at legged schools fish in fishnet stalkings, exist as floating ideas. It's almost clown humor. When the principals are an almost sub-lingual feral boy, a spoiled, super-powered amnesiac and a male maid/warrior, who are you supposed to use as a point of reference. Absurdist series Cromartie High had a normal lead was build off recognizable social dynamics. The manic parody Excel Saga sort of, occationally grounded itself in real touch stones: infatuation, occupations and such.

Papuwa doesn't quite have the charm that would disarm the characters complete eccentricities. Writer Toshiki Inoue has handled this better in other series. Galaxy Angel, namely in its anime incarnation defused the problem of having mass appeal incomes designed with a cross platform media/merchandising strategy in mind, they were given enough facets and subtly to breath, and this extra dimension to the personality paid dividends when using them in situation comedy.
In Papuwa, the best jokes are the ones that the series doesn't just throw out, but the ones it uses the characters to sell, such as when the character demonstrate their faith that the convincing mark of one's identity the name written in marker on the band of their underwear.

Quick Cut...
Format: Anime
Baki The Grappler

Volume 8: A Brother's Wars
Released by FUNimation

In theory the problems exhibited in this volume are particular to its particular stage of working within a real, bracketed fighting tournament. Unfortunately, going through at least two fights of episodes, the format’s weaknesses were exposed.

Familiar fights from the first season of the anime, and who promised to yield interesting fights received abbreviated engagements that fell short of potential. New fights were introduced, peaked an interest and in a number of cases went away quickly with an over-reliance on cheap tricks and short hand drama.

The series’ fights don’t need to be drawn out for episodes, and the fights haven’t been, but cramming two fights and to dramas into each episode didn't work doesn’t work in this series. Because these combatants are sold as intensely tough and impact counts more than style, the series isn't constructed such that quick fights can be satisfying the way some of the fights in something like Air Master.

While drama is of secondary importance to rapid, brutal fighting in a series like Baki, and too much drama threatens to tip the work into maudlin territory, the volume introduces and presumably completes two family dynamics among secondary characters. Both are completed and taken out of the picture with an abbreviated rapidity that makes their original use questionable.

This season of Grappler Baki in particular stages itself to be comparable to mixed martial arts (MMA), but little caution is shown when it puts itself in situations that are in fact comparable to ones MMA fan would recognized. Voice over commentaries explain the danger of positions like a full mount in a manner that will have a MMA watcher scratching their head.

Along the lines of fight realism, Baki has rewarded a certain amount of leeway in accepting the improbable or impossibly. This volume hints that this is really going to be challenged. A key antagonist in the central conflict demonstrated his skill for the first time, and it consists of taking off into the air like a swam, hovering, and maintaining a position above the opponents head while kicking down on them. No explanation is given, presumably one will be coming later, and it looks ridiculous. In a series that over-does masculinity, this sort of martially ballet is far out of line, with a juxtaposition that just doesn't work the way a soft martial art might.

Quick Cut...
Format Manga
By Tetsuya Saruwatari

Volume 3
Released by Viz

This is the setup/training volume done right. Saruwatari isn't innovating anything in the fight story in which the underdog trains and through skill and heart finds a way to overcome his opponent. Nor do the character motivations have any more meat than the most meagerly plotted works of the genre. Instead, Saruwatari excels at establishing the physical stakes of the fight.

Unlike the first two volumes of the series, three doesn't have a conclusive fight, unless you count a flashback in which a non-character gets destroyed. Instead, it's the lead in to the between fight Kiibo, the young heir to a martial arts legacy and vale tudo butcher Kiyomasa "Evil Beast" Samon.

The volumes serves to demonstrate the effects of complete package fighters, who mix the ability to hit with the ability to grab, hold, twist and break in no-holds-barred situations.
Samon is taunt coil, ready to not just spring pain, but permanganate damage. He spends most of the volume breaking opponents in manners that mix brutality and plausibility well enough to be memorable. It’s spectacle, without being so outlandish as to evoke immediate disbelief. Highlights include:
A clinch, hyper-extending his opponents elbows and turn it into a head-cracking supplex
taking out one foe's eye with a toe while destroying the jaw of another with an elbow
cleaving an ear off with a stomp
mule kicking a knee, then turning around and flattening a guy's face with a palm

Nothing is done to take the character into immediately-recognizable-as-superhuman territory, but Saruwatari leaves little doubt that this man is on the most talented when it comes to destroying the human body.

The training scenes are dangerous and brutal in their own right. They follow the familiar route of crazy and arbitrary tasks that will in theory improve the hero, but in this case, they are pulverize Kiibo enough that they seem like they may help improve his chances of surviving.

Saruwatari excels at populating his work with unique faces and bodies. Rather than expressing the personalities of the character by dressing indistinguishable bulky physiques with flamboyant outfits, he conveys information about the characters through the damage to their faces and how their bodies have developed.
Kiibo himself isn't terribly interesting. He has the stand young turk look of teased, bleached hair, though his small size makes his physical pretense in the fights different.
Samon's hugely muscled, physically dominating body is offset with a large nose and small eyes. Especially when wearing his wire framed glasses, he has the look of a disapproving professor or technician.
Kiibo's opponent turned mentor Onikawa is another of characters whose look you'll see in Tough and no-where else: missing teeth, cauliflower ears, and a home-done hair cut, set against a body that's a mass of sinuous muscle built from training rather than a gym.

Merchandise Spotlight...
Revoltech Shin Getter 1

If you want to sport some old-school super-robot fan cred, you need to sport some Getter Robo. Unfortunately, Revoltech's Shin Getter 1 serves better as an accessory to a collection than it does as what would be desired for a solo-getter figure: a totem of an angry god, ready to cleave its foes with an axe.

Anime and manga's mad uncle Go Nagai created Getter Robo after he had Mazinger Z under his belt, as such it offered refinement that maintained a fresh aura of inspiration. It's not the nth generation clone jumping on a successful bandwagon and it's not a pretentious re-invention and such, it's simply forceful, memorable design with no baggage. Looking at robot, its banded primary color body and a horned head give it both the look of a super-hero and a demon (familiar territory for Nagai). There's a sense of pop culture artifact at work.

Revoltech's claim to notoriety is their figures’ joints. To quote the sales point "RevolTech Joint (or Revoltech) is an innovative joint system that allows figure to demonstrate any kind of realistic pose." These are joined two point plug that fit into rotating sockets that allow a range of motion. And they do maintain a position in a point of articulation with more range and stability than most action figures.

What you'll find is that the figure affords versatility within a range of preconceived poses. Shin Getter 1’s shoulders will fold in, but not rotate up beyond about 130 degrees to the body. The hips don't pivots to allow the angel of the legs to be adjusted. There's some puzzle work trying to find a pose to be happy with, and generally the best are what the package demonstrates: flying in wrestler's sprawl, a high knee-ed charge forward, preferably holding the getter tomahawk in hand, or in a wide-legged, face forward stand down. The figures' base features an add-on arm that allows the figures foot to be plug either perpendicular or parallel to a surface.

In Getter Robo, Shin Getter was the robot replacing the original Getter mech, originally designed an upgrade for the Super Robot Taisen games. With the three combination of the three getter vehicles, Getter 1 is the configuration in which the fiery martial artist team leader Ryoma Nagare is in control (Revoltech figure the drill armed Shin Getter 2, with Hayato Jin is scheduled for a September release). The choice of Shin Getter over the original Getter is a mixed blessing. Shin Getter offers the impression of kinetic force to go out cutting through enemies, leaving a storm of defeated foes as it slices them with the Getter Tomahawk and blasts them with Getter Beam. But the Shin Getter's slick edge comes at the expense of personality. Rather than the original Getter's black paneled demon-god face, Shin Getter's features opal green panels on a head that looks tiny compared to protruding chest, silo sized shoulders and especially bladed lower arms that are each wider and larger than head.

If you are looking to tastefully display your love for mecha without crowding a shelf, TV-top or monitor space with plastic chachkes, the Revoltech Shin Getter 1 is not the ideal choice. Next to other, more static figures, its poses offer an action counter balance, but alone, it's too small to be noticeable. Various retailers list the size as between 5 inches and 7 inches. Importers who picked up the Japanese distribution have it right at 11.5 cm, or 4.5 inches. Given that the figure retails for about $22.00 (marked up at some retailers), consumers might argue about whether it’s a good price for its physical size, but for a non-collector, the problem with the size it that the figure is going to go unnoticed.

What Works...
Uncut Box Set 1

Released by Viz

The key to Naruto's success is not so much that the series does everything right, and it certainly isn't that the series does anything new, but that is is a well executed instance of a reliable formula. It provides a character for whom a connection can be establish and it feeds the viewer with reasons to continue watching. It's an adventure that keys in the turmoil of youth in a manner similar to Marvel's super hero creations in the 60's. It builds in the character in the manga adventure tradition. And, the anime can be counted on to build to visually involved battles at a reliable pace.

In terms of popularity in the US, Naruto is the current king of the hill. If you attend an anime convention, more people will be dressed as Naruto characters than any other property. The manga is tearing up the sales charts. The anime is doing well on television. To speculate a bit, if it received an afternoon time slot, it could really become an extra-anime cultural phenomena.

Of course, there is some backlash stemming from the fact that its is exceptionally popular, but not exactly a brilliant work, but as far as the series itself goes, the vitriol is largely undeserved and the popularity isn't unwarranted. More often than not popularity and brilliance aren't found in the same work, and Naruto is brilliance is mainly establishing and maintaining its popularity. While it isn't going to elevate anything, action shonen (boys) series is a workhorse that genre appeals to many. There's a sense of order and accomplishment in their progressional advancement.

Especially in their anime incarnations these shonen series have mastered manipulating the viewer's sense of anticipation. They prime viewer by connecting their lead character's drive to greatness with an appeal to a common sense that if one applies yourself, they can be the best. This is the lead in to the wait for the action. Anticipation builds, waiting for some combustible element to come along to drive the hero to the next level, and if done right, the released expression of physical spectacle will be satisfying enough to start the anticipation building for the next cycle. This rhythm of waiting, and building gives the series extra space and puts in the viewer into pattern that will have them further investing in the character; waiting for the hero to show their best because in that the series will be at its most exciting and the investment will have proven to be worth while.

Naruto is the kind of character that you identify with, but don't really want to. Despite, and partially because Naruto isn't an overtly likable character he is sympathetic.
In Japan, Naruto is consistently voted not to be the most popular in the series that's named for him. He's the ninja in the orange jump suit, explicitly stated to be the bottom of his class, lowest and in the ninja version of standardized testing and near universally regarded as a joke by his peers. Yet the series' doesn't waver in focusing on this character. Apart from the exception of a side story, every times another character's life is explored, it is through this character.

Where as other shonen heroes tend to be blinded and bound to a specific trajectory by raging individualism, adherence to principle or an almost pathological compulsion to fight, Naruto's motivation is a reaction to his acute alienation. He's the guy everyone wishes would just go away. In a community in which every member is tied to a single occupational endeavor, he's patently a failure, but more significantly, his existence is tied to one of the community's most severe disasters, and even if members of the community aren't exactly aware of the particulars, they pick up on the cues to shun him.

Specifically, Naruto responds to this alienation by forcing everyone to notice him. Initially this was by making himself the community's biggest nuisance, but as the series opens, he has put aside any self doubt and he's ready to declare his determined certainly that he will become the Hokage, the foremost ninja in the community. This would seem to a very establishment oriented goal. Achieving it doesn't really upset the social order. Isn't it just the unlikely person rising to the top? But, it might be noteworthy that other than Naruto, (almost) no one declares they want to be Hokage. The ridiculousness which with the characters disregard the assertion seems to go beyond his lack of ability, as if there was unspoken requirement that he's lacking; as if he wasn't just a chronic under achieve exclaiming he wants to be president of the United States, but a Canadian born chronic under achiever.

The digital animation at work in the series is quick and dynamic, with the speed and adjustment through the canvas providing kinetic sense of motion. There's a bounce as characters move through the air. Motion is quick, but clear, without using the speed of the characters to simplify what is depicted. The action revolves around demonstration of super-human abilities, since the ninja of the series can do more than hide in shadows and throw blades. As far, most of the supernatural abilities serve to extend the dimensions of the fights. Temporary clones and illustration substitutes give it the space for more strategy which in turn gives the animation more bodies on the field and ranges of motion to incorporate, all of which it handles cleanly.

Naruto's creator Masashi Kishimoto has spoken to how the series is a reaction to early Dragon Ball, and that works sense of fantastic setting and motion are evident in the Naruto anime. In addition to the series momentum, moving the characters, having them travel physically and in their learning, the animation emphasizes the differences in their world, in the colors and in the architecture. There's an almost Lucas Star Wars dedication to ensuring that the buildings look like the work of a complete and distinct culture.

This attention to stages works its way into who the action is constructed. Digital animations plans a part in adding a isolating fog to convey a sense of danger, or conveying the setting by animating the background will falling leaves. Color palettes are shifting from Naruto's bright home village to more muted settings, with proper highlights in the splash of water or glint of a metal.

The violence in the series is allowed to get intense. Despite the youth of the characters, and probably to a degree the audience, characters are allowed to bleed. Naruto puts a blade deep into his own hand in an overenthusiastic demonstration of determination. Some of the blood edited out of the Cartoon Network version is due the nose-bleed, frequently used in anime to indicate sexual arousal. More often, the blood is emphasizing the brutality of the fights. As the throwing blades fly, there are plenty of deep cuts and puncture wounds. A number of cases of someone pulling a blade out a limb can be found, nor is it uncommon for a solid chest hit to be accompanied by a spray of blood from the mouth of the person on the receiving end.

Other than dodges and immediate attacks, fights are more chained demonstrations of abilities than a dynamic interchanges; more similar to a chambara sword fight than a wuxia melee. This characteristic plays into how the series works with the character's abilities. An adversary might unveil an entirely unexpected form of attack, but the heroes' are known, explained quantities. What they are capable of, and how what they are capable of works are established. The battles then afford an opportunity for the heroes to express and innovate their capabilities. Fights are then resolved by a layered crescendo of technique, one, hiding or building to the next. Even knowing the capabilities, predicting where a gambit will go is not an option, but afterward, but build and combination is evident, and it seems like the characters/their scripts pulled off a strategy that was clever.

The series defies characterization as a super-hero work. The characters' mission and lives bear little resemble to traditional super-heroes, they are doing a job without a structured organization whose goals aren't purely beneficent, but, there is little argument that Naruto is a work that features super-powered action. Yet, the series is clearly a work populated by super-powered individuals. Even when Naruto is failing his ninja training, he is able to leap above tries. How this super-human ability is handled in a key aspect of what makes the series rewarding to watch. The action needs to be, and is, both visually impact, and adhere to a logic. Because of the previously mentioned bounce, because acts such as Naruto filling a forest with Shadows clone of himself, possibility and verve factor heavily in the equation. In following the logic a confrontation, battles are not resolved by the character digging into the reservoir of righteousness to pull something new out of think air. What the character do follows pre-established rules. Because because is willing to shed a little blood, because the characters' expressions and reaction convey that they believe that their lives are on the line, the conflict of thought and fear charges the fight scenes.

Despite the complex motions at work, the action offers little sustained choreography. Overt cuts build an pattern of action, recognition, response. Often scenes will locate a number of characters along a staggered composition. The cuts then integrate shots of these people, around the other physical characteristics of the scene, such as trees, riverbanks or buildings. During a specific cut, there is often secondary motion as the view focuses or rotates. Typical a cut close up shots of the face to grab the expression, and pulls back to see the specific relationships of everyone after the movement. During an attack cuts hit the arc of trajectory, multiple close-ups during the motion and the point of impact before going through a cycle of reaction shots.
There is a range of intervals at work depending on nature of the of the transition being captured. In something like a surprise attack, all this active directing frequently happens faster than conscious processing. Numerous cuts might happen in the same time a quick motion might have taken to animate without the embellishments. Or, when impact is meant to be established, there may be a long progression in capturing a simple stand off. The difference between lighting impulse is slow deliberation dictates the edit speed.

Manga, and especially Naruto's manga use similar techniques of cutting between aspects of the action and the involved characters' faces, but in the case of manga it serves to depict the characteristics of the motion, and to give the space and position for dialog. In the anime, the results are a punchy directed beat to the storytelling than applies a pase to action that wouldn't have been as strictly felt with just the character motion.

Naruto is leaning on the story telling crutches that shonen works tend to be guilty of. Even in these early episodes, the pattern is evident. Episodes are divided between quick, lesson oriented stand alone or near-stand-alone stories, and more long continuous stories. Fortunately, these early episodes are almost all driven with momentum. Yet, stand alone episodes have the problem of coming across as inconsequential, and generally not being what the viewer wants to see. The longer episodes have the more impactful character advancement and the best action, but, proving its never too early to work through a source manga at a conservative speed, the episodes more often than not drag.

Given that is foremost an action series, the protracted nature of the engagements can be infuriating, especially if the episodes are watched more than once.
One round of fight may include the following steps:
build the emotional movement for an approach, this can take
five minutes of flashbacks before character can generate the courage to charge an opponent
then comes the attack
then the reaction, the character at the receiving end acknowledges what happen, then there are cuts to the other witnesses for their feedback.
then the attack explained
then the aftermath

The direction within cuts similarly dilates the action. In one instance, 5 cuts are used to show a motionless blade being held to a throat, several of which include long pans, and only the first of last which featured any accompanying speech.

The goals of giving the series an expansive world and providing enough background on the techniques and abilities of the characters forces it to rely of plenty of exposition. Much of the exposition in Naruto that fleshes out the nature of the characters' ninja abilities, the organization of ninja society and politics of the world benefits the work in that it allows the view to think through the series. Action grinds to a halt as diagrams, maps and charts appear of the screen. The excuse is made that Naruto never paid attention in his schooling, and thus has wide gaps in what should be common knowledge, but when something that look a wordy panel in a manga takes the screen for minutes, the continuity of something like a conversation or even a battle is broken. Placing the talking in the middle of stand-off is a considerable strain on credibility, especially with it makes up the better part of an episode It's necessary evil, but one whose cost is felt. The anime excels at building tension, but also at killing it. When a character is held in a spherical water prison for episodes while history and implications are discussed, the dangerous foe holding the victim looks considerably less dangerous.

The manga was popular enough before the anime commenced that Studio Pierrot ad TV Tokyo knew to approach it as a series that could support a prime " Golden Time" spot for while. Slavery to a manga title has been the hallmark of the majority of long form shonen anime for a while. For better or worse the aggravating qualities of these adaptations come with the benefits of adapting manga, mainly that the concepts are already proven quantities. Besides the commercial allure of a strong franchise, the success of the series is owed to how much we the viewers are willing to put up with once we've accepted the hook of a tightly continuous serial. It might be why inventive episodic works like the popular mecha and sci-fi action works of the 70's (Gatchaman, Mazinger Z, ect) have fallen by the wayside. Ultimately, many viewers are willing to put up with inconsiquential episodes that flaunt the characteristics of the larger series, and willing are to put up an episode focused on a single punch, because ultimately the reward of seeing the characters reach and excel is rewarding enough to keep coming back.

The uncut set of Naruto presents the chance to see this popular show with its original Japanese audio, as well with the extra blood and sexual innuendo removed from the version that airs on Cartoon Network. Most fans who can select the content that they can view will likely choose this release rather than the English-dub only releases of the edited version.
The 3 disc, 13 episode set is package in an orange foil box set with a storyboard booklet for episode 8.

Episode 8 is an action centric episode that features a complex exchange of attacks and reactions. Comparing the storyboard to the original manga (chapter 14) is a fascinating exercise. A number of manga panels are reproduced almost exactly in the anime storyboard, but as a whole, the mapping is oblique.

One reaction head-shot of Naruto's male teammate Sasuke, after the main attack is the same in both media, but the storyboard rotates his face 90's degrees, seemingly as a reminder of his position of the plane. The storyboard frequently notes position and direction, which look harder to track in the dilated anime version of the action. The storyboard also exaggerates many of female teammate Sakura's expression. Where the manga portrays a slightly cracked reserved, in the anime her mouth opens wider and her eyes portray much more concern.

13 episodes is a sizable chunk of anime, but factoring in what looks like a a bi-annual release schedule, and that the series is approaching its 200th episode in its Japanese run, the math doesn't look good. Nor does that the release ends 2/3 the way through a story that is completed in episode 19.

In the halls of anime-dom, the question on the mind of many is whether Naruto will be a new gateway series that will bring new fans into the fold. History suggests a very qualified "yes". Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon and Gundam Wing all created some anime fans, but there are a number of reasons to suspect that Naruto's fans will not swell the rankings of anime fandom. Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing both aid at times where they could be watched on TV without interfering with other social activities and when there wasn't much else on that might appeal to the audience, so the exposure was probably wider than Naruto's. Anime was taking off as Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing were finding popularity, but where Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing driving fans into anime?
At the same time, the DVD format was taking off. The market was not just offering 2 episode VHS tapes for $30, and more consumers were becoming accustomed to buying home videos. So the popularity of those show was not a sole factor in the anime explosion in the late 90's probably.

More significantly, those shows, and especially Dragon Ball Z created fans of those particular series. Naruto encourages the viewer to watch Naruto. It is built to sustain popularity for itself within the context of the genre.

Speaking of the non-anime-pre-disposed: If an older non-anime fan watches the right 5 minutes of Naruto, they might be a little perplexed about why characters so young are beating on each other, but they might be enthralled and entertained, but they will probably change the channel at the next commercial break and if they returned to see the characters engaged in a drawn out conversation, they'd probably leave the series.

So, say someone more of a like age to the characters finds the series they may become a regular watcher. To some degree Naruto is a closed story, presumably there is an outline with some ending in sight, but the series might not get to than point in the next decade it is long enough that it might as well be opened ended like Dragon Ball, Naruto encourages the viewer to watch more Naruto. (Naruto's manga has run six years in Japan, Dragon Ball ran 11 and the Dragon Ball Z anime specifically ran 7).

Where does a Naruto fans go more, and more to the point, what is it that the Naruto fans will be looking of "more" of. Probably in the fall they'll go to Bleach. Maybe One Piece, if the adaptation wasn't so offensively poor. But chances are, a fan of Naruto will be a fan of that brand of story, and especially that series in particular, not a fan of the medium. It's well executed, but not horizon expanding. This is more true now than it was for previous generations of fans. Post Dragon Ball Z and Yu-Gi-Oh and Avatar and everything else, Naruto isn't demonstrating a new facet in the type of story that can be told through animation. It will be entertaining, but not eye opening. If you are introducing a perspective anime fan to the medium through Naruto, be prepared to provide additional active guidance.

Upcoming License Announcements

E's by Yuiga Satoru

Apothecarius Argentum by Yamashita Tomomi
Canon by Siomi Chika
Dorothea by Curie
Go Go Heaven by Yamada Keiko
Key to the Kingdom by Shitou Kiyoko
Orfina by Tennouji Kitsune
Time Garden by Tawao Ichinose and Daimure Kiishia
Variante by Igura
Covers can be seen here

Del Rey
Kitchen Princess by Kobayashi Miyuki and Andou Natsumi, winner
Mamotte Lolipop by Kikuta Michiyo
Mushishi by Urushibara Yuki, Kodansha Award winner
Parasyte by Iwaaki Hitoshi: horror action formerly released as one of TOKYOPOP's earliest
Shugo Chara by Peach-Pit

Digital Manga
Moon and Sandal by Yoshinaga Fumi (creator of Antique Bakery)
Megami DX magazine to be released bianually

Chinese Hero ~Tales of the Blood Sword~
Purgatory Kabuki

Seven Seas
NECONOCLASM Asaki Yuzuno, one volume

Brave Story by Miyabe Miyuk, light novel tied to Gonzo's upcoming feature
Dragon Drive by Ken-ichi Sakura
Gintama to appear in the Shonen Jump anthology
Houshin Engi,by Ryu Fujisaki a Shonen Jump labeled title, probably not to appear in the anthology
Lovely Complex aka LoveCom by Aya Nakahara for Shojo Beat
Millennium Snow by Bisco Hatori, a vampire relationship shoujo
Shakugan no Shana by Sasakura Ayao, light novel, the anime version will be released by Geneon in October
The Cain Saga by Kaori Yuki

See MangaCast (with audio recordings), Anime News Network, Anime on DVD and ToonZone for full convention reports

FUNimation To Distribute New Robotech

Anime News Network has unveiled that FUNimation has signed the deal to distribute Harmony Gold's production of the Robotech sequel Shadow Chronicles.Funimation and Harmony Gold are preparing a theatrical run and DVD release, while TV deals are being pursued.

New Jin-Roh Anime Available Online

Anime Nation points out that Production IG animator Koushi Kishida's self-produced Jin-Roh digital anime short film "Images of the Last Battalion" is now available for online viewing.

New Broken Saints DVD Release

The manga inspired horror web-animation novel Broken Saints will be receiving a new DVD release from Fox on August 1st. The 4 DVD set will retail for $39.98.

Anime on TV

ToonZone reports a new dub of Crayon Shin-chan, about a foully precious kindergarten boy, blamed for rudeness in recent generations in Japan, will air on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim for a trial basic in August.

Funimation also mentioned that the IFC channel is preparing to air Funi properties Basilisk and Gunslinger Girl.

The English dub cast for the Bleach, to appear on Cartoon Network this fall will be
Ichigo - Johnny Yong Bosch
Rukia - Michelle Ruff
Isshin - Patrick Seitz
Karin - Kate Higgins
Orihime - Stephanie Sheh
Tatsuki - Wendee Lee
Ishida - Derek Stephen Prince

Bandai told Toonzone that Fox's broadcast rights for Escaflowne have finally lapsed and they are debating shopping the series around to TV again. The company is involved in the talked about live action adaptation of Witch Hunter Robin.

Twitch reports that a new season of Jonathan Ross' Japanarama will air on BBC3 this fall.

Anime News Network reports Eureka 7 will air on Canadian YTV this fall.

Tarantino Talks Anime

ComingSoon reports that during Quiten Tarantino's Comic-Con Grindhouse promotion, the director mentioned t he would like to make two anime "Kill Bill" prequels, examining Bill's mentors and the Bride.

Chevalier Trailer

AnimeNation points out that a new trailer for Chevalier, the historical work from Production IG is online here. The anime will start on Wowow on August 19th.

SD Kaleostar Screens

AnimeNation points out that screenshots of "Kaleidostar Good Dayo! Good!", the digital animated comedy version of super deformed circus anime Kaleostar here

Next Miyazaki Film Taking Shape? reports that an interview with Studio Ghibli's Toshio Suzuki hinted that Hayao Miyazaki is eager to step up for a new film. "He is full of fight (about Goro). He believes that he cannot be defeated by his son. We have already begun preparations for the film, we started a bit earlier than usual. I cannot say anything about it yet, it's a secret."

Ghibli World notes a Gendo Senki interview has been translated here and here

Manga Shut Out At Eisner Awards

In a year with scant nominations for manga releases, this year's prestigious comic industry Eisner awards selected no works of Japanese origin. Absolute Watchmen won the award for Best Archival Collection/Project--Comic Books in which Vertical's release of Osamu Tezuka's Buddha, vols. 5-8 was nominated. NBM's release of Manu Larcenet's Ordinary Victories won Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material in which ADV's release of Eiji Nonaka's Cromartie High School was nominated.

Gantz Manga Breaking, To Resume

ComiPress reports that the manga version of violence sci-fi/drama Gantz will ending its "first phase" with chapter 237, in Young Jump. Part 2, called Gantz -2nd Phase: Catastrophe, will begin serialization in Young Jump No. 51, on sale November 16th. A spoiler preview can be seen at here

Actor Mako Passes Away

Actor Mako Iwamatsu or "Maki" recently died of cancer at age 72. In addition to many like action roles, including the French adaptation of Crying Freeman, Mako's animated voice work include Avatar: The Last Airbender, Samurai Jack and the opening narration in Dexter's Laboratory

Manga Entertainment Projects

ToonZone reports Manga Entertainment will be co-producing an anime with APPP (Street Fighter Alpha: Generations, Honey and Clover) about a space pirate/ninja work scheduled for late 2007.

Manga is working on a release of the Renewal version of the Evangelion movies.

Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex - Solid State Society is currently targeted for a Summer 2007 release date.

Media From New Satoshi Kon Work

Twitch points out that images of Madhouse's upcoming Satoshi Kon work Paprika can be seen on Sony Picture's site. Catsuka has a teaser in Real Video and Windows Media

Bleach Movie Trailer

The official site for the upcoming Bleach: Memories of Nobody movie now features a TV trailer and a teaser here.

Commentary of Note

Heisei Democracy has been counting down to this summers' dojinshi (fan comic) mass-gathering with a look at the history and movements including

The site also looks at the dominance of maid cosplay here

Peter Tatara, formerly of Central Park Media has launched blog/webszine Tatara's piece Substantive Images: An Account of a Conversation on Otaku Culture And the Global Influence on and of Japanese Animation is especially worth reading.

Comics Journal's Dirk Deppey interviews Del Rey's manga guru Dallas Middaugh here

Anime on DVD talks to ADR director Liam O'Brien about odd incestual romance Koi Kaze here

Anime News Network interviews American voice actor Crispin Freeman here and Seven Seas here

SignOnSanDiego details Kazuo Koike's Comic-Con appearence here

Toonzone looks at Battle Arena Toshinden, the first North American anime DVD here

Sevan Seas has interviewed translator Andrew Cunningham about Boogiepop here

Irresponsible Pictures points out that a guided tour of Osamu Tezuka's studio can be seen on YouTube here

AniPages Daily has translated an interview with Mitsuo Iso (RahXephon, prop design and weapon design in Magnetic Rose and Ghost in the Shell in 1995 and co-writer of episode 13 of Evangelion).

AniPages Daily also points out that feedback on Gedo Senki has been more negative that has been historically been found for Ghibli movies.

ComiPress has translated the second part of AnimeAnime's 100 Questions About Anime & Manga Overseas look at English fan translations of anime.

Active Anime has interviewed Izumi Kawachi, creator of the manga Enchanter here

Love Manga has spoken with Tina Anderson and Caroline Monaco of Iris Print BL's here

Yu-Gi-Oh GX Manga in Shonen Jump Anthology

With the original Yu-Gi-Oh manga ending, the English of edition of the Shonen Jump anthology will begin running the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX follow-up starting in the January issue.

Second Season of Black Lagoon in the Works

According to Ikimashou

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