One Piece and life goals – realism in fiction

This is the second post in the “realism in fiction” series. In the first one I tried to describe the effect of having your story be as real life-like as possible, which is the most literal meaning of “realism”. I also talked about how breaking this sense of connection with real life in takes away from the feeling of the story. Here I want to talk about something different. I’ll focus on characters’ life goals and hopefully I’ll be able to make a convincing argument that this is directly linked to how realistic a story is.

Strawhats

I chose One Piece for this post because it is such a good fit for this topic (nothing to do with the fact that the manga is celebrating its 20th anniversary in a week, I swear!). The manga is very long and rich in detail for both the world and the characters, and it is well written too, allowing a meaningful discussion. Also it is a good excuse to feature Oda’s art on this blog ^^/

Perona Brook

Speaking of art, hope you don’t mind seeing a picture separating every paragraph, cause that is what I wanna do ^.^

Okay, let us start with simple examples, looking at the first members of Luffy’s crew. Luffy himself is famously going to become the pirate king, that is his motivation. It was rephrased as wanting to be the person with most freedom, which is supposed to clarify it, but it doesn’t. The “pirate king”, the “person with most freedom”, they are both completely abstract ideas. And it is very fitting that to become the pirate king Luffy seemingly needs to find One Piece, the McGuffin of this manga. You can easily wave all of this away as just an example of lazy writing. So how real is this motivation? Well in fact, it is very real. Almost anyone either experienced it or can understand how it feels, I think. “I want to become a great scientist!”, “I want to be famous one day!”, “I want to be a rock star!” and so on, all of those goals are almost as vague as Luffy’s. When you are a kid and you feel a desire to become something, you don’t necessarily imagine it in realistic (if any) detail. Neither does Luffy. He goes one step further though, refusing to learn what awaits him in the future (I am referring to the scene where he refuses to accept information about Raftel or One Piece from Rayleigh). In a way, his mindset is similar to that of a school boy who haven’t yet decided on his future occupation but is still thrilled about it and works hard to make it happen. So, on emotional level at least, Luffy’s goal is realistic and relatable.Luffy

Next is Zoro, the guy who wants to become the best swordsman. That is a clear and easily understood goal. It is similar to what an aspiring athlete would have. If you think about it, it is still a vague goal, at best it means something like “to defeat everyone who I think is stronger than me”. What matters for us though, it is very realistic and understandable.

Now we go to Nami. Her original goal was to get rid of Arlong. After Luffy granted this wish she joined him, and her official goal became to map the whole world. In reality though, she just seems to share Luffy’s dream of making him the pirate king. She also seem to enjoy the ride, same as the rest of the crew. Same story with Usopp, Sanji, Franky, Chopper and Brook. I’d argue their motivations are realistic too though. True, they might not be pursuing any real personal goals, but being part of Luffy’s crew, making miracles happen wherever they set foot to, seeing the world and having fun all the while, that seems like a worthy occupation. They are also all wanted people, so their options are limited.

makes me proud to be a freaking strawhat

Moments like this are what makes their motivations seem very real. I am totally with Franky there. These couple of pages were ones of my favourite in the Zou arc.

Okay, enough with the easy examples, let me start with real ones. First in is Edward Newgate, the Whitebeard. His life goal is to have family, as simple as that. This extended to having hundreds of people he called his sons and took care of, while not limiting their freedom. Point is, he had achieved this goal way back when Roger was still alive and Luffy hadn’t even been born. So, it is fair to say that he had no further goals, he just enjoyed his life. What about his crew though? I talked about how Luffy’s crew is kinda just in for the ride, they want to be a part of this grand adventure and to make Luffy the pirate king. Whitebeard did not had an ambition to become the pirate king, and everyone on his ship knew that. Knowing their leader’s history and abilities, Whitebeard’s crewmates couldn’t help but see that the main reason the Roger’s throne still is vacant is because their old man did not care to take it. At least that is what we know so far, of course there might be more to it.

Whitebeard

With all that said, I don’t think Whitebeard’s crew could operate the same way Luffy’s crew does. Whitebeard doesn’t do anything, his existence had been in stagnation for years. It is fine for him, and, sure, it is fine for those who just want an easy life free of worries. But his children are all fighters, they are pirates who had chosen to go against the government; it is hard to believe no one of them would have personal goals or ambitions of any kind. Or rather, it is hard to believe they could be satisfied living with no ambitions or goals. A famous example of a person who wasn’t satisfied is Teach, the arch villain of the series. He did have his own ambitions, and he realized them, which consequently made him an enemy of the Whitebeard.

Whitebeard 2

Another example of Whitebeard’s crewmate who had goals was Ace. His goal later in life was to hunt down Teach and make him pay for his crimes. That is a goal, and it also went against the desires of Whitebeard, although Ace still had his way. Ultimately this lead to the destruction of the whole crew and the death of Edward Newgate.

I feel this is an example where the story makes good use of the realistic life goals and their clashes. The motivations of every party involved in this conflict are clear and relatable, and you can see why it was inevitable, why it makes sense. You can’t achieve your ambitions while riding with a captain who has no goal, which is why Teach and Ace had to leave his ship (they did it in a different manner, of course).

Whitebeard pirates

I this this page is a perfect illustration why Whitebeard pirates are such an awesome crew

Let me give you a few more examples of this sort. Remember Donquixote family? Or Big Mom pirates? Or even Baroque Works? What strikes you about those pirate groups, compared with Strawhats? Among many things, the number of traitors those groups have spawned. The reason is that the goals of the leaders of those groups, as well as the means of achieving those goals, aren’t always supported by all their members. But, the people who disagree don’t necessarily leave those groups, in fact sometimes they can’t (as a reference, see resigning procedures that Big Mom installed). Same thing with the navy. Garp, Akainu, Sengoku and Fujitora all have very different goals, yet they are still working in the same organization. It doesn’t mean that they necessarily are going to betray each other, but that is a possibility.

Fujitora 2

I love that moment.

Doffy 3

Doffy was a fun character to have around too

Now we come to the point I wanted to make. Writing the story this way, where the personal goals of supporting characters matter and play into their actions, it is not just about realism, it is also useful for storytelling. It allows the reader to speculate about the actions of certain characters, making long term predictions. For example, you can speculate that Fujitora would eventually raise against the current navy/government system, in particular against the most inhuman practices (such as slavery, above-the-law position of celestial dragons, shichibukai system). You can predict that Garp and Sengoku would join him only if Fujitora will show clear intent to preserve marines as defenders of justice, otherwise they would fight against him. You can predict that Boa Hancock would be willing to side with the government against Fujitora, as long as she can keep government’s protection for her island. It is easy to assume that the Revolutionaries might aid Fujitora, while Stawhats might stay away from the conflict untill they are being dragged into it. All of this follows from the goals of those parties and their leaders. It might (and probably will) be all different in reality, the conflict might never happen at all, but it is still fun to speculate, being able to back up your ideas. This realism in how characters act on their goals is breathing life into the world, making it feel as if it has some internal laws to it that you can see if you look close enough. Compare it with, say, Bleach, where characters don’t really have realistic and meaningful goals, and when they do it feels like just another feature of their personality, rather than the driving force behind their actions. And, coincidentally it had been way harder to make meaningful long-term speculations about plot twists and character actions in that manga.

Doffy 4

That is also such a good page. Love how Tsuru treats Doflamingo as a boy who made a mess and has to take responsibility. And his arrogance plays into this role perfectly too.

So, this is great and all, but I didn’t mean this post to be just a praise of Oda’s writing. Let us talk about the Red Hair pirates. What are their goals? What is Shanks’s goal? Does he even have one? He seems to be in the same position as Whitebeard, a pirate who made it and who is not looking for any new progress. He seems like a person in stagnation, who does not aim for anything. Remember that scene, where Shanks is drinking on some island and Mihawk visits him to tell him about Luffy’s new bounty? I found that to be very depressing, cause it conformed what I thought about Shanks and his crew – they have nothing to do, they are wasting their time drinking because there is nothing else they need to be doing. That is a very sad life if you think about it. It is ironic that out of all yonko the nicest and the most likable one would be also the only one whose life goes on this depressing way. I can’t even imagine someone wanting to join Shanks’s crew at this point, cause they would have nothing to offer.

Sugar 2

Could have posted a picture of Shanks here, but opted for an actually scary pirate instead!

I don’t think that was the intent when Shanks was written, but there isn’t much that can be done about it. Oda will have to invent something huge to provide a meaningful goal for Shanks. And, if Oda doesn’t give him a goal and doesn’t address the fact that he has none, then it would make for a substantial hole in his writing. This is a consequence of the realism I talked about earlier, it can easily backfire like that. On the other hand, this aimless existence contrasts Shanks with Teach, who had been supercharged with motivation and goals, similar to Luffy. Maybe Oda can exploit this contrast somehow, who knows. Would be really interesting if he creates this battle of motivations, where Shanks would represent balance/stability/preservation and Blackbeard would stand for change/progress/conquer.

Teach 2

Same with Kaido’s crew. So far they all look like ruffians from Hokuto no Ken or something. Oda will have to come up with something to give them goals and motivation. The way he handled it for Big Mom pirates was rather cleaver and unique, but it would be harder with Kaido.

Before I finish I want to add one last bit. Of all the things Oda will have to deal with in his story as it progresses, one of the hardest things to write is  going to be change in Luffy’s goals (and consequently, in the goals of his crewmates). When he finds One Piece his main goal will be fulfilled. But being the protagonist he can’t enter the state of stagnation as Whitebeard and Shanks did. Instead, either the series will have to end or he would need to acquire a new purpose in life, or maybe both. And, it would be way better if this process happens gradually, so the readers can see this change coming and feel that it is natural. The manga had been slowly shifting from the personal adventure of a rubber boy and his friends to a grand world-wide epic, which deals with practical aspects of justice, good and evil and oh so many other things. It would be natural to expect Luffy’s goals to change and shift too. But, writing it in a manner that would make it feel natural is going to be a challenge, the high standards of realism that Oda had set up will be haunting him. Let us see how he does. Till the next time, see you!

Blue Heaven – realism in fiction

Today I want to talk about Blue Heaven, a manga by Tsutomu Takahashi. Also if all goes according to keikaku plan this will be the first in a series of post where I’ll be focusing on different aspects of “realism” in storytelling (hence the title). So let’s start!

Blue Heaven

Blue Heaven is a story about a dangerous individual being rescued from a small boat in the middle of Pacific ocean. His rescuers bring him aboard a luxurious cruise liner packed with passengers. The guy isn’t just dangerous, his hands are already covered in blood and there is no way to hide the fact, so he will have to flee from his benefactors to retain his freedom, while committing new crimes, all on board a huge ship in the middle of nowhere. Sounds interesting? How about you go read it, if you haven’t already? I am going to have to spoil at least half of the manga, so consider it carefully. The manga is only 24 chapters long, plus a few unrelated bonus chapters, it is not going to take too long.

Blue Heaven, Seiryuu

Alright, let me first recount the story. As I said, the story begins with a cruise liner saving a guy, Seiryuu, from a boat. There were two living people on that boat, and as we soon learn from that second guy, there were 11 more of them, but Seiryuu killed those. By the time we learn these details, Seiryuu had already escaped from his cabin, killing the person who guarded him, and started wandering the liner. The next thing Seiryuu did was finding a lone passenger and striking a conversation. They drink together, then Seiryuu get into his cabin and murders the guy, but not before interrogating him to get as much information as possible. Thus, Seiryuu was able to assume the identity of that passenger, and get a little bit of a breathing room. After all, that cruise liner holds about 2000 people, finding a new face isn’t an easy task.

Blue Heaven

So, what did the liner’s crew do to counteract this? First, they immediately saw the situation in all of its complexity. They rightly guessed that Seiryuu will mix in with the public rather than with the crew. They understood that there are only a few people who know Seiryuu’s face, and that those people would be targeted by him. Recognizing that their enemy is capable (being able to kill 11 people), they armed a group of people with guns. Also, they made a facial composite, which would soon prove to be useful, as one of the personnel members recognized Seiryuu as one of the passengers she saw earlier. You see, they did a fairly good job already. They also decided to call all the Asian passengers to one room, where they could try to identify Seiryuu. This is a drastic measure, definitely not something you would want to do to your passengers, and it is pretty questionable in terms of safety of those passengers. But, it shows crew’s dedication to deal with the problem as soon as possible.

Blue Heaven

Okay, so this is the summary. At this point of the story I was pretty happy and had high expectations for the rest of the manga, here is why. First, we have a pretty simple setup, an isolated place and two parties at play, “everyone” vs “the murderer”. It is a classic setup and I like it. I prefer it when the identity of the murderer is a mystery as well, but well, it is fun to read either way. Second, both parties play intelligently. Seiryuu seems to be on top of the game, he doesn’t make huge mistakes. You can say that he would have been better off hiding instead of roaming the ship, but I’d argue that is not his style. The crew too, they escalate the situation by bringing in guns, facial composites, calling the passengers into a single room. Can you immediately think of something they had forgot? Maybe having a dog tracking him? Maybe trying to take Seiryuu’s fingerprints? I would say it is reasonable to assume that they didn’t have trained dogs and dactyloscopy specialists on this cruise liner. So, my point is, the crew played it smart as well. At this point, I was eager to see the next moves, who will do what.

Blue Heaven, Fuyuki Jyungo

It is not what usually happens, by the way. Usually I would watch a similar two party struggle story and I would go “oh, why did they do that?”, “this came out of nowhere o.O”, “now that was kinda dumb -_-”, etc. Blue Heaven managed to capture my attention by being realistic, by showing me that it operates by sane logic. So, when I see Seiryuu posed with a situation that has no simple solutions, I wonder what he will do, how he is going to stay ahead of his pursuers. I expect the manga to give me a reasonable answer and waiting for this answer is exciting.

Blue Heaven, Seiryuu

Now, unfortunately Blue Heaven didn’t deliver. They soon introduced mentally and physically deformed neo-nazi family which decided to hunt down Seiryuu using submachine guns and explosives, which they conveniently had on the ship with them, unbeknown to the crew. They didn’t hesitate to kill random passengers and crew members, soon turning the manga into a depressive farce. This part was not interesting to read in the slightest, and I think it was because it didn’t seem real. I can believe into rich people carrying guns without permission and not being afraid to use them when needed, but I am not going to buy psychotic racist villains who outright slaughter people for no reason. Not only it makes no sense, but also there is nothing interesting about it, it is just repulsive. And well, the manga had been a bit repulsive all the way from the beginning, cause the utter disregard for human life was the motif of the story; but then it was balanced by the interesting struggle I described above.

Blue Heaven, Yoshiko Natsukawa

So, what I wanted to say is, Blue Heaven lots all of its appeal when it decided to introduce nonsensical characters, a bunch of cartoon villains basically. You can call it lazy writing, I’d agree with that. You can also say that the author lost his inspiration. Or, you can say that the story was supposed to be disgusting and I just mistook it for something else. People do write disgusting stories intentionally, check Gyo by Junji Ito, for example (here I don’t mean “disgusting” as a derogatory term, I think it is rather a weird genre or a theme or something).

Blue Heaven

But, even if it was lazy writing or an intentional spiral down, for me it seems that the driver of this motion was the loss of realism. But it may be just a personal preference. Another element I didn’t like was Seiryuu’s backstory. That backstory consists of Seiryuu spending about 10 years locked in a room, being thrown in there when he was 11. Regardless of everything else, there is no way he could be that strong and healthy after growing up in such conditions. That doesn’t make sense, and I didn’t like it. So, there you go, maybe I just don’t like nonsensical elements in fiction and my judgement is purely subjective.

Blue Heaven, Seiryuu

It is kinda ironic that one of the motivations that drives Seiryuu is wanting to know what the real world is like

Also, I want to add that the story didn’t need to lose its realism I don’t think. I would have been happy to read a story where Seiryuu runs around, hides himself and is being found eventually. Let the good guys win since they have such an overwhelming advantage. Sounds boring? I’d chose that over cartoon villains every day!

These are my thoughts on it. What do you think? Do you agree? Do you think I am wrong to attribute the quality of the first half of the manga to its realism? Tell me in the comments.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Figuration Libre

If you want to praise JoJo I think you would talk about its sense of humor combined with its unique narrative, especially the visual aspects of it. Like, it is fun to watch a vampire whose head was just split in half putting it back together, but having it a little off, so he has to adjust the two pieces, which seems to make him slightly annoyed.

Even better is to watch two dudes fight, where one throws a steamroller at another, and then both repeatedly punch it to make the machine hit the opponent. There are hundreds of awesomely stupid things like that in the series, and they all work because of how the show presents them. It is not all about actions scenes either, this anime can make even a static image work. Like this one, when an ark antagonist assumes a ridiculous pose and the anime treats it like focal point:

Dio Brando

It isn’t just one particular antagonists, they all do the poses

The whole anime is like this. People act as if they are actors on a stage, they strike poses that look like they belong to an athletic dance performance; the events are unpredictable and ridiculous while the characters are always in dire predicaments. You never know what would happen, would they outsmart their enemy or would they just overpower him or her, or will they get out on a sheer luck.

The anime went through four generations of JoJos already, each had their unique visual style, interesting quirks and interesting people to hang out with. There is a lot to say about each of the JoJos, a lot to praise in each season. But if I were to guess what would not make it to the list of praises I’d name the art style and animation.

JoJo is one of those (un)fortunate anime that were adopted from a manga with a got a huge and dedicated fan base. It is a common theme now to try to appeal to such fans by treating the source material with an utmost care. This usually means that the script, the key scenes, the character designs, all would be made as to follow the manga as close as possible. But JoJo took a step further, adopting an animation style that brings the characters closer to their manga look. This can be seen in the Stardust Crusaders, where character designs are notably heavier, which limited the fluidity of the animation and the diversity of the facial expressions. Take a look, can you imagine these faces moving very much? Right.

D'Arby

Polnareff and Kakyoin

Joseph Joestar

But even when the art style is this restrictive you can find animation gems. There was an episode where two brothers were trying to attack Jotaro Kujo (the third generation JoJo) and his friends. The younger brother had a power that allowed him to read near future in his comic book. It is not clear to me how much of an advantage this gave them, but the comic book did look pretty awesome. Here, take a look.

Boingo's comic book

This comic book inspired two alternative ending sequences made specifically for the episodes that feature this comic book. I’ll post a few screenshots from the second ending below ^^

You can watch the whole thing too, I definitely recommend it. Here is the first one:

What I found especially interesting is that this art style looks very similar to something called Figuration Libre, a French artistic movement. Here some examples of how this art looks (these are works of Robert Combas).

Do you see some similarities? When I first saw that JoJo’s ending I was very impressed by how unique it was, and I was even more impressed later when I realized it was an artistic influence of this not very well known French art style. I think this is the role those progressive art movements should play, discovering new forms of expression, new interesting aesthetics, and then giving them to the public by influencing popular commercial works, such as illustrations, decorative artworks and TV animations.

So what I wanted to say is, even in a show like JoJo you can find some awesome pieces of art, if you look carefully. It would be easy to brush aside this ending theme as some lazy weird joke, since the animation imitates still motion which creates an illusion of simplicity, and it would be easy to ignore it because the the art style looks so childish, while in fact it is very deliberate. Good job, whoever is responsible for this awesome piece of animation ^^b

JoJo's scenery

Just putting a few cool looking pictures here, which have nothing to do with Figuration Libre. Don’t mind me.

D'Arby

^^/

Kakyoin eating eyeballs

Okay, I’ll stop now -.-

If you want more art style talk, check out this post on Madoka Magika and postmodernism. If you wanna read more about JoJo, here are a few reaction posts on the first and second seasons.

Denpa-teki na Kanojo, episode 1 – tropes

Before we start let me say that this is not a review of Denpa-teki na Kanojo. If you want a review – we already have one written by Shaurya, you are welcome to read it. Here I want to discuss this OVA rather than to review it, so I’ll assume you’ve seen it. It is a good show by the way, and it is fairly short too, so if you haven’t seen it you can start watching it now and come back in 40 minutes =)

Ame Ochibana

I decided to write about Denpa-teki na Kanojo because it gives me a great opportunity to talk about certain recurring setups in anime. Before we start though I would ask you to try not to let any negative preconceptions about these tropes to guide you as you are reading.

The first trope I want to mention is “harem”, basically it is a setup where you have a guy and a group of girls who are showering him with their attention. It is a weird definition, but I find that it works pretty well. I’d personally consider it to be a harem setup if there are at least three girls who show interest in the protagonist. If there are just two of them you can use more specific terms like love triangle or something; these are just words anyways. First episode of Denpa-teki fits this pattern nicely, as Fujishima Kanako (the class rep girl), Satsuki Miya (the girl who turned out to be a psycho) and Ochibana Ame (the Juu’s knight with weird haircut) are all talking with Juu (the protagonist boy) almost exclusively, and each of them shows a distinct interest in him, though their feelings may be different in nature and depth.

Juu Juuzawa and Miya Satsuki

What do you think, does it make sense to call it a “trope”? If you have a character-driven show it is only natural that there would be people of both genders, and since all of them are teenagers it is also natural that there would be a bit of a romantic tension there. And since Denpa-teki is a short anime you can argue that there wasn’t enough room for more than one male lead, so it just happens that Juu has lots of girls interacting with him. Right?

Juu with Ame

While this is a reasonable thing to say, I don’t think it is quite right. Regardless of the writer’s intentions, making your protagonist seem popular with the opposite gender affects the way the show works. Supposedly, it makes the guys who watch the anime associate themselves with the protagonist, and it makes the girls pay more attention towards him because he is popular. These ideas sort of popular are psychology-based speculations, and it is a broad-brush picture. It doesn’t have to work this way, if at all, for you in particular, my dear reader, so don’t complain :P So anyway, making your protagonist popular will likely change the way your audience views him, in particular it would likely make people to wish him well. And this can be exploited.

Kanako Fujishima

Let me give you an example of another show that falls under the harem definition I gave. In Neon Genesis Evangelion its protagonist Shinji Ikari is living together with Misato Katsuragi and Asuka Langley. He is also the only friend of Rei Ayanami, thus making it thee girls none of whom likes him very much, but they do hang out together almost constantly. This anime definitely does exploit the extra attention that Shinji’s popularity draws to him. It does so by making him fail miserably at everything he tries and by making him give up without trying half the time. So, because you wanted him to succeed you feel disappointment, frustration and even anger. Read what people say about Shinji, you’ll see just how well this worked out, he is a legitimate contender to be the #1 in the “most hated characters” list. All because the show is very effective at making you wish for Shinji to succeed. Of course, it is not just about him being popular with the girls, there are like half a dozen different ways the anime establishes him as a character you root for. Check it out, it is a pretty great anime series.

Shinji Ikari, Misato Katsuragi, Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley. The white haired boy is also a friend of Shinji’s

So with Evangelion I’d say using the harem trope was an effective choice that helped the show in achieving its goals. What about Denpa-teki na Kanojo? It is similar, in a way. Imagine you don’t care about Juu at all. Then the events of the OVA become bland, like a not-so-scary horror film. But then imagine that you do root for Juu very much. Or, better still, imagine that you are Juu. Then how do you feel about Fujishima’s death? She is a person who was always running around you, she was a classmate, she was generally friendly and so on. Feels pretty horrible, right? And what about Satsuki’s betrayal? Forget the emotional side of the situation, just being beaten up with a bat and then stabbed is awful enough already. This is how the first episode of Denpa-teki na Kanojo is supposed to work, I think. It tries its hardest to make you root for Juu, and then it uses this connection between the viewer and the character to deliver the impact.

Juu with Satsuki

If you doubt that the OVA was set up to exploit this trick, remember when Juu was attacked by Satsuki. It was a second after she finished a sentence that was worded as if she was going to admit her love for him. If you were gonna root for Juu this was the time. And a second later he is beaten with a bat but that same girl.

 

So, I think this trope can be used as a writing tool, rather than just being a fanservice device. Of course, there are dozens of anime where harem is the genre, and that is a different story altogether. Also there are anime like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, where the harem setup seems to be used only to make the show more appealing, so in a way it is just a fanservice.

The second trope I wanted to talk about is quite similar to the first one, but it is slightly less obvious. I would call it designing a character to be likable. In Denpa-teki it is Juu, of course. Lets describe him. He is a strong and brave guy with a clear sense of justice. He is slightly wild, but not dangerous. In fact, even when attacked he might not fight back, if there is a reason not to. He would rather get hurt than let another person be hurt. He wouldn’t take advantage of a girl, even if there are no consequences and more over he wouldn’t even want to be in such a position. He is sensitive, being able to understand how a person feels, even if that person offended him or physically hurt him. This particular trait has an absurd magnitude, as Juu is able to be worried about a person who just broke his arm and leg. Even when stabbed in the gut, he thinks of the mental torment his attacker is in. He is also a nice guy to hang out with. When he decided to spend time with Ame he asks her where they should go to, even though she was willing to tail him wherever he himself would want to go. He treats Ame as a person and as an equal even though she constantly suggests that she is his servant.

So, what do you think? Half of those traits are just a normal behavior of a good person. Being strong, brave, just, chivalrous, selfless, nice, that is a reasonable package for a protagonist, there are tons of characters like this. But that is not all there is to it. While the traits themselves are fine, the show obviously puts a lot of effort into showing that Juu has ’em, to the point that half the anime’s run time is spent on establishing his character. As a consequence it feels like half the show was written in such a way as to allow for Juu to display various aspects of his personality.

The disproportional amount of time the show spends on Juu, the more than impressive set of great qualities he has, the fact that the show is willing to throw some of its realism out of the window to make Juu look cooler (as with the scenes where he displays kindness towards Satsuki who tries to kill him), the fact that the show is interested in minute details of his personality while the rest of the cast gets a bare minimum of development, all this makes Juu a “designed to be likable” character, at least in my opinion. In particular, it seems he is sort of designed to feel dateable, as a good portion of of his qualities relate to the way he treats girls. Also his character does not display any human faults that would allow him to grow later, which shows that the writers weren’t interested in his dynamics, rather they wanted to see him in his perfect form from the get-go. And, as I mentioned, some of his actions seem unrealistic and even clash with his personality, which indicates that giving him those characteristics was more important than keeping him “real”. These choices are also a part of the reason I call him a “designed” character.

Just to make it clear, I wouldn’t call most of the characters designed to be anything because they aren’t. Satsuki and Fujishima are both just functional characters, they serve their purpose and that is pretty much all there is to them. Ame has a bunch of different and interesting characteristics, but they don’t have a purpose; she isn’t meant to fit in any kind of mold, like Juu is. Most anime characters aren’t designed to be anything, they are just written to the best of writer’s abilities to fit into the story, serve their role and hopefully be interesting. Sometimes a character would fall into an archetype or something like that, but as often as not it wasn’t because the writers wanted it to happen, but rather because they couldn’t do any better or didn’t care at all.

At any rate, the designed to be likable Juu serves the same purpose as the first trope, making you more invested in the guy and in all the stuff that happens to him. I think all together it does a reasonable job, and the episode leaves a good aftertaste too. Tropes often feel like a lazy writing, but in the case of Denpa-teki na Kanojo they seem to work fine. The show’s impressive visual language holds your attention, and the writing is fairly clever too. Just as an example, remember the scene where Juu asks Ame to hit him because he was doubting her, thinking she was the murderer? She hits him making him bleed. This establishes yet another great quality of Juu’s, him being proactive in setting things right, apologizing the way that would not take advantage of the meek disposition of the person he apologizes to. But it also shows that Ame is not a doll and has feelings as well. If she wasn’t at least slightly annoyed with Juu’s lack of trust she wouldn’t have hit him hard enough to make him bleed. This is a clever way of achieving two goals with a single brief scene.

What do you think about it? Do you think the use those setups I talked about takes away from the anime? Do you think it is meaningful to talk about designed characters the way I did? See you in the comments ^^/

Dirty Pair: Project Eden

I am a big fan of good art and animation. If a cartoon looks great I would be happy to watch it, regardless of its other qualities. I would also like to tell other people about how good it was, but that is when things become difficult. Talking about art is hard in general, even if you limit yourself to a particular genre or style. Talking about modern animation where every piece may consist of a wild mixture of dozens of different styles is harder still. Not to mention that animation isn’t only about art, it is also about movement, which makes everything even more complex.

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That is why when I see an anime that showcases one particular aspect of animation I feel an urge to share it with others, which is the reason I am writing this post. Project Eden is a comedy, a movie about two girls with bad enough reputation to be called Dirty Pair. Same as in other Dirty Pair movies, they are solving a crime case, blowing up stuff in the process. But more importantly, Project Eden is about an art style. But, what is an art style? I’d say it is a combination of the color palette the anime uses, common details of the character designs, the drawing and animation techniques and the choices of what to show on the screen. It seems arbitrary, but hopefully it will make sense in a moment.

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Project Eden loves black, blue, red and hot pink. In my experience blue and black are a common combination in older anime, Yoshiaki Kawajiri used these colors a lot in his films. Adding red and hot pink makes this movie extra flashy, gives it more contrast, but also makes it feel less serious.

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The characters are equipped with some awesome 80s hair, but are otherwise simple. This is compensated by the animation, where the characters slightly go off model, move pretty freely, have enough different facial expressions not to be boring. Project Eden doesn’t win any prizes for the characters’ looks, but I think they go pretty well with anime’s visuals.

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Judging by how it looks and its age, the anime is hand drawn and cell animated. I think this type of animation technique lends itself well to darker and more contrasting color palettes. My guess is that cells were making the colors darker and were taking away some of the contrast, producing the nice look shows like Project Eden or Cyber City Oedo or many others of the sort have. Also the character designs used in this anime work well because the faces are always slightly morphing and changing; I don’t think it would look as good with more static computer-aided animation. This is why I mention animation techniques as a part of an art style, cause shows like Project Eden look the way they do thanks to the animation methods that were used back then when these shows were made. It also makes these anime unique – because of the change in animation techniques it is unlikely that anything that shares Project Eden’s style will be produced again.

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Now finally, what about the choices what to show on the screen? Project Eden shows us explosions, lots of technical facilities, all kinds of electrical discharges, dark blue monsters, space, spacecrafts and space stations. In short, lots of space enthusiasm sci-fi settings. This allows the anime to display its colors in all their glory. If your anime takes place in bright lit rooms or in the daylight there is no way to make Project Eden’s color palette work. Furthermore, the colors, the hand drawn animation, the sci-fi theme, they all go together, they create the atmosphere of the movies of this period. The bright explosions contrasted with dark blue background remind me of Macross: Do You Remember Love movie, the constant mindless destruction- of Tank Police OVA and maybe a few other OVAs from that time.

I don’t know if I should talk about the anime itself at this point. Maybe I’ll leave the plot be and let you see it for yourself. I guess the promo posters for Project Eden may look kinda iffy, the two lead characters being dressed like prostitutes and all, but oh well. Their costumes are completely stupid and don’t suit their personalities at all, obviously they were designed to attract attention to the anime. But there isn’t much more then that, just a stupid choice for the character’s uniform.

Oh, and before you go, watch the opening for this movie it is worth the look. It kinda illustrates all I wanted to say in this post. See you next time!

P.S. If you wanna read me talking about other anime with beautiful animation, you can check out my posts about Madoka MagicaThe RescuersThe Old Man and the Sea and Colorful. Or, take a look at Shaurya’s posts about MushishiGarden of Words and this post about Tokyo Ghoul. We don’t usually talk as much about the animation itself though.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is good example of a show that I normally wouldn’t feel like writing about. It is like trying to make a review of Confucius’s works, you wouldn’t attempt something like that just for fun. Innocence is probably the only movie so far that made me feel like I’m not educated enough to be watching it. The characters are literally talking in quotations, referencing European philosophers, Buddha, Confucius and some Japanese writers. And in my limited experience, quotes from philosophical texts make sense only in context. The text may have a couple paragraphs that build up reader’s intuition before delivering a few sentences that contain the core meaning of the text. Without a context these sentences are just mysterious collections of words, almost indecipherable. So because I wasn’t familiar with most of the texts cited in the movie, I just had to accept that I have no idea what characters imply by their words, which is a weird experience.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Batou

Spoilers below

The movie is focused on questioning the boundaries of what a human being is. Not the word itself, but the classical interpretation of it. When you say ‘human’, you may think of one of the existing humans, or you may think of a being with the biological properties that we associate with being a human, or you may think of a being that looks and behaves as a human should, or maybe something else yet. The variety of the ideas that are covered by the umbrella word ‘human’ is interesting in itself. What’s even more interesting is how fragile these ideas are, and that is what the movie displays.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

The main character of the film is a cyborg Batou, the former partner of major Kusanagi, who ceased to be a human in the previous movie (watch it, the phase will make sense then; the movie is too good to be spoiled here). The main plot line starts with Batou looking into a case of robots killing their owners. Those were so-called ‘sexaroids’, the term is self-descriptive. As Batou proceeds with his investigation he has conversations with all sorts of crazy people, like a woman cyborg who makes a convoluted argument about these androids being the same as people, somehow implying that their imperfections compared to humans are similar to the imperfections children have, compared to adults.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Carnival, monk

A little bit later Batou talks with a guy who converted his brain into a computer program and his body – into a robot. This person was saying so much crazy stuff that I hesitate to even summarize it. One of the things he said was that humans’ limited perception causes the incompleteness of their reality, and the species that have a ‘complete’ reality are the ones that either have no consciousness at all, or those who have an unlimited consciousness. As examples of the two he mentions dolls or gods. Obviously there is a little difference between a doll and a robot and it all gets extra weird because the guys saying those things is essentially a robot himself, though he had started his life as a human. Also, if you had to make a mental effort parsing that sentence about perception and consciousness – there you go, that is how the whole movie is.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Batou

The reason I described these episodes was to give you a sense of how the characters in this movie think. You show them an android and they wouldn’t say “yep, that’s a robot, just a moving piece of metal, not a human at all”, rather they would avoid categorizations altogether, and more importantly they would avoid assigning emotional labels to these categories. Normally we consider robots to be things, objects that don’t have intrinsic value other than their cost. Not so in this film. I’ll give an example.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Carnival

At some point Batou finds the source of the problem with the killer robots. The facility that produced these androids was giving them emotions by effectively copying a human brain into their system (they refer to it as ‘ghost dubbing’, and a ghost is a little different from a brain in GitS universe, as far as I understand). The procedure is very damaging for the human who’s brain is copied, a few sessions are rendering the person an invalid. They used children for this, against their will, of course. So one girl who was used there decided to try and make the robots go berserk, I guess by directing her emotions a certain way during the copying process. As the result the robots produced during this session were murdering their owners.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Carnival

So, when Batou heard that the robots were murderous because this was the girls’s way of sending out a help me signal, he gets angry. You think he is angry because she caused many deaths? Nope. Here is the quote:

Batou: “Don’t you realize what kind of chaos you have caused? I am not talking about just the humans. Didn’t you think about the dolls who were forced to have malicious ghosts dubbed into them?”

Girls: “But.. but.. But I didn’t want to become a doll!”

Another character: “You cry for bird’s blood, but not for fish blood. Fortunate for ones with voice. If dolls also had voices, they would have screamed ‘I didn’t want to become human!'”

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, doll

This dialogue is so weird. You can’t have your main characters be so cold, to have them equate the value of a child’s  life and the well being of a bunch of robots. Yet, this is the movie that can do it. If this ghost dubbing procedure somehow takes away the ‘human essence’ from the donor and transmits it to the recipients, then maybe it would make those dolls partially human. Does it justify treating them as humans? Or maybe ‘treating someone as a human’ is an inherently flawed idea in a world populated by dolls with human minds, AI who used to be people, cyborgs that can’t be sure if whether what they experience is reality or a simulation.

Hope this wasn’t too boring to read. See you next time ^^/

Otaku no Video

There are plenty of anime about specific groups of people. We have anime about school students, people who do competitive sports, detectives and policemen. Recently we started to get more anime about young adults who start their careers, working in all sorts of industries: game development, restaurants, anime production, manga magazines, to name a few. And this makes perfect sense, hobbies and occupation are a large part of one’s life, and people seem to like to see the stuff they care about.

Right, then what about the hobby most anime viewers share. I mean, watching anime, it is sort of a hobby, and anime fans are a target audience for anime, obviously. So why not make anime about them, the anime fans, or even better, about the passionate okatu who are at the core of this social group?

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Well, it is not as easy as it may sound. Think of any school anime. What does this anime spends its time on? Is it the particular classes the students take? Do you learn a lot about their curriculum? Do you see what kinds of problems they get for their homework, and how they solve them? How much time does the anime spend on listening to the teacher? My guess is, the anime you thought of would be more about school club activities, maybe sports, also very likely it would be about interactions between students, friendship, love, rivalry and what not. A lot of school anime I watched would have a plot that doesn’t even require the characters to be in a school, it is just a convenient setting.

So why is that? Well, cause listening to the teacher going through a class intended for middle school kids would be super boring, not to mention a single class should be longer than an entire episode. Same with the other real aspects of the school life. The anime needs to be exciting, so it only picks the cool parts of its setting. It is easy with schools and sports, there are plenty of exciting activities to show. Not so easy with quiet hobbies or professions that do not require interactions with other people or doing something physical. Notice how anime portray engineers or scientists. Engineers would always be drawing diagrams or assembling stuff, and scientists would always looks at fancy displays with flashing lights and play with equipment. Cause this is physical, that is easy to show and it is at least remotely exciting. The real science and engineering are much more than that through.

Otaku no Video - Do you remember love?

Now, being an anime fan doesn’t even have that. You just watch anime, talk with your friends about it, and this is it. How’d you make an interesting show about that? And since your audience has first hand experience with it you can’t just get away with diagrams and flashing lights, you need to be real. Well, Otaku no Video tried to do that, so let’s look at it.

The first episode of Otaku no Video is, in a way, a real story of an otaku, an obsessed anime fan. It shows a lot of possible aspects of being an obsessed fan, like literally studying the shows, looking at animation frame by frame to better appreciate its beauty, collecting figures and other merchandise, etc. The anime shows how a normal guy, Kubo, gets into it, and after a while ends up being a full fledged otaku. Following Kubo gave the anime a way to show off little bits of otaku’s lives. But that is not the only thing the anime showed. While becoming an otaku Kubo lost interest in playing tennis, something he was really good at before. He also lost his girlfriend, and in a weird way, his place in life. That is an interesting thing to show in an anime about anime fans. But it is also true. As any other hobby that takes a lot of time, being an otaku would affect your life in all sorts of ways, not always positive.

Otaku no Video - Kubo

This is Kubo, by the way

But it is not all negative either, Kubo definitely was enjoying his time with other anime nerds, you can say he found good friends. Also, if you think of it, how is playing tennis better than watching anime? Both are just fun activities. Sports are better for your health, but other than that both are equivalent. The difference lies in how society treats the two. Well recognized activities, such as sports, playing chess and other popular intellectual games, tourism, photography, even just going out, all of that is recognized and accepted by people, so there are no problems if that is what you do. But smaller hobbies don’t get this treatment. Your family and friends will probably get worried about you if you start to invest too much time into something like being an otaku, which is what Otaku no Video shows in its first episode. And I think Otaku no Video contrasts Kubo’s previous hobby with his current one exactly so it could stress this point.

Otaku no Video - otaking

Alright, so this is cool, we got an anime about how otaku fall out of the society. Can we also get something positive about the anime culture? Yep we can, that is where the second episode comes in. In the second episode Kubo and his friends start a company that sells garage kits, basically plastic models of anime characters. The company becomes hugely successful, then it is being stolen from Kubo, then he founds a new company that produces animation and overtakes the old one. It is like a story of an otaku dream coming true. And I like this episode a lot, way more than the first one. Here is why.

So Kubo had set up to become an “Otaking”, the king of otaku, and he started by getting into the garage kits industry. Do you see a contradiction here? Being an anime fan is all about admiring the works the others put out, it is about expressing your feelings as a fan. The people who are not contempt with just consuming also create their own fan works, which closely related to what Kubo started, the garage kits industry. But wait, there had been people selling figures all along, and there had been people who were producing animation too. And those weren’t otaku, not in the way you would use the word normally. So what makes the Kubo’s project to be otaku-spirited? Is it his passion for the stuff he works on? Or his origin as an anime fan? This is an interesting question. In a way Otaku no Video suggest that the way to greatness for an otaku is to go into the industry that produces what you enjoy so much. But on the other hand the show also ridicules Kubo for his nonsensical perception of reality, for his belief in things like “Otaking”.

If you think that these questions are made up and aren’t related to the movie, take a look at Kubo’s employee, Fukuhara. Do you remember her? She is the one who carries Kubo towards his success. She is the one who makes him his anime that he needed to start the second company. Her role is silent, she never strikes theatrical poses and shouts about her passion. She just works, and works really well, producing exactly what an otaku such as Kubo likes. She is one of those people, people who make anime happen, who put in work without being noticed too much. She provides a huge contrast with Kubo and helps to appreciate the questions I’ve put above. Also, taking an aside, it is really fitting that Otaku no Video is made by Gainax, the studio that was founded by anime fans, and that (in my opinion) in some ways carried the spirit of anime fandom of its era. In a way Gainax is a prototype for Kubo’s GX (the name similarity is definitely accidental ^^/).

I like the ending of the second episode. At the end Kubo and his friend Tanaka, old men, search underwater for the ruins of their otakuland. They find a giant robot/spaceship, with all their old otaku pals as the ship crew. Once they remove their helmets they are their young selves once again, and they direct the ship to the stars in search of the otaku planet. It is so nice. The burning passion of those guys allowed them to overcome reality, overcome time and age, and pursue their dreams. They are passionate about pursuing things they are passionate about, that is a beautiful circular logic that allows them to enjoy the process that doesn’t lead anywhere. And the ridiculousness of this ending emphasizes the weirdness of an idea of achieving something as an otaku.

Otaku no Video - Yuri Satou

I guess you can get an impression that this OVA looks down on the anime fans, or otaku in particular. But that is not the case, I think. Otaku no Video is a faithful yet fun look at the otaku culture, or at least a few aspects of it. It is not a documentary, it is a story. I like it, hope you would find it enjoyable as well. See you next time!