Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda (The Anthem of the Heart)

Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda is not a well known anime movie despite it being ranked #264 on MAL. I picked it because the synopsis looked interesting. It is the story of a girl who said something that ended up breaking her family apart and she paid the price for it by sealing away her words. We all do this, say something we didn’t mean to or speak a careless or ignorant word and hurt others. Most of the time the damage we do can be fixed by a simple apology. Sometimes the damage can never be undone. This movie takes it a step further and talks about how heavy words can be and how they are intentional or not doesn’t always matter. I will be spoiling pretty much the whole movie in this post. So please watch the movie first if you want to avoid the spoilers.

Kokoro Ga Sakebitagatterunda (3)

Jun Naruse – The protagonist

When Jun was a young child, she liked the castle built on top of the mountain and went to take a peak at it often. She saw her father come out of the castle with another lady one day and excitedly rushed home to tell her mother how her father was a prince. She didn’t know that the castle was a love hotel and her father was cheating on her mother. Her parents broke up and her father had to leave the town. What could be worse than being responsible for her parent’s break up? It is being told that it was all her fault.

Kokoro Ga Sakebitagatterunda (1)

When I read about this movie first and about how Jun believed it was her fault, I thought that it was natural for a young girl to not understand that she wasn’t to blame. I thought she believed she was to blame since she didn’t know any better. I never expected her father to actually make it all her fault. We see very little of his character but that one sentence speaks volumes about his character. He was the one cheating on his wife and if they broke up, it is his fault, not Jun’s. It doesn’t matter if he has some excuse for his actions. It could be that it was the first time he cheated on his wife and felt awful about it. He might have decided never to do that again and take good care of his family. But none of that matters. If he didn’t want to leave, he could have pleaded with his wife and if it didn’t work, he should have just walked away. Putting the blame on a child and making her feel responsible is the worst thing he could have done to her.

Kokoro Ga Sakebitagatterunda (2)

Jun believed it was all her fault and blamed herself. A magical egg appeared in front of her and put a zipper on her mouth, sealing away her words so that she can never hurt anyone else. Thus, the little chatter box of a girl grew up to be the weird kid who never talked, didn’t have any friends and pretty much became a problem child.

Jun was forced to be a committee member with Takumi Sakagami and two others by her teacher. Their team decided to do a musical. Jun can’t speak and her stomach starts hurting if she tried to talk. It is supposedly the egg’s curse. She realized that she was fine when she sang and wanted to do a musical, to get a chance to say the words she really wanted to say but never had a chance to.

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Takumi

She mistakenly thinks that Takumi knew about the egg’s curse and ends up telling the whole story to him. He doesn’t buy it but he lets it slide, assuming it was a weird tick of hers. What I like about his character is that while he doesn’t believe in the egg’s curse, he does believe that Jun get’s a stomachache when she tries to speak. He even called an ambulance for her when she collapsed after trying to talk.

Kokoro Ga Sakebitagatterunda (8)

This was my favorite part in the whole movie

It is easy to say that Jun’s pain is all inside her head and that it isn’t real, but Jun was probably in real pain whenever she tried to talk. It is called psychosomatic pain and is a real psychological problem. She probably did feel excruciating pain, enough to have to go to a hospital. It didn’t matter that the egg wasn’t real. It didn’t matter that the curse wasn’t real, but Jun did believe it, enough to be in real pain whenever she tried to break the curse, a curse she cast upon herself.

Takumi decides to help Jun with the musical and Jun writes a story based on her own life for the musical. It is the story of a girl who wanted to attend the ball in the castle. She later came to know that the ball was actually an execution site for criminals. They were cursed to dance until they died. The girl wanted to attend the ball anyway and decided to commit various crimes, just so that she would be sent to the castle as punishment. The girl hurt a lot of people with her words and eventually lost her voice. It is a rather interesting story in itself. After all, would people be normally willing to throw their lives away just to attend a ball? Takumi provided the lyrics and music for her story.

Kokoro Ga Sakebitagatterunda (5)

Jun managed to change a little after meeting Takumi and she formed an idea in her head that Takumi is her prince in shining armor and would save her. She learned that Takumi wasn’t in love with her the day before the musical. She ran away and abandoned her class, forcing them to find a new heroine on the day of the musical.

Kokoro Ga Sakebitagatterunda (9)

This was the worst thing she could have done to her classmates. She convinced them to do a musical and then ran away, making them clean up her mess on the day of the musical. Did she really expect the musical to go well? After all, you can’t just find a replacement for the protagonist in the last minute. That was a selfish and stupid move.

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Lucky for them, they did have a girl who was willing to take Jun’s place

Takumi pleaded with his classmates to let him go search for her. He wanted her to be in the play.

The exchange between Jun and Takumi was really interesting. You see, the egg’s curse is a story that young Jun made up. As she grew up, she understood that it was all a made-up story. She knew it and yet she desperately wanted to believe in the existence of the egg and the curse, because if she didn’t blame her words for tearing her family apart, she would have had to blame herself and she couldn’t manage to do that. She probably thought it was stupid and yet she went around telling everyone how she was cursed by an egg and can’t speak.

Kokoro Ga Sakebitagatterunda (10)

You could say that this movie has a happy ending, considering how Jun manages to get her ability to speak back and even appears in the musical.

Now to do some serious complaining. I dislike how parents have little to no role to play in a kid’s life in most anime. Jun’s mom loved her and she should have known that Jun was blaming herself. She should have tried to talk to her and tell her it wasn’t her fault. She should have tried to heal the child. But no, she gets angry at Jun for not talking and snaps at her. If something like this happened in real life, do you think the child would be waiting for Takumi to magically appear and save her? No, her parents would have already done everything in their power to make her feel better, not blame her and drive her into a corner.

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I do understand that the writer’s want to make the story exciting and having adults take care of all the problems might look boring but that it how it works in real life and it would have been just fine to portray that in the anime.

Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda is a normal movie. I won’t call it a masterpiece but it is not a bad movie either. Give it a try if you feel like watching it.

See you next time ^^/

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.

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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.

Asura

Asura is the Sanskrit word for demon. Sura is used to refer to gods and asura literally means ‘the opposite of sura’. The only reason I decided to watch this movie is because the movie’s title sounded interesting. So I wasn’t expecting much from the movie.

Asura is the story of a boy who was abandoned in a forest when he was a baby. He never learned how to talk and he did whatever it took for him to survive, including cannibalism. There was a huge famine going on and he didn’t have anything else to eat. He is no different from an animal. He walks on all fours and eats raw meat.

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The protagonist- Asura

This isn’t anything new. We’ve seen many stories of abandoned kids and how they grow up. Even Tarzan did this. Unlike Tarzan, Asura actually shows what it means for a baby to be abandoned. Asura isn’t eating bananas and making friends with gorillas. Instead he is being chased, hunted down, attacked and feared. Most people don’t even use ‘him‘ when they talk about him. They use ‘it‘.

Asura’s mom gave birth to him and at first, she gave him lots of love and care. She didn’t have much to eat and she put up with it. It got worse with time to the point that she once ate meat from a rotting human corpse to feed herself. When she didn’t have anything to eat, she decide to eat her baby. She set up a fire and threw Asura into it. It started raining and she came to her senses. The reality of what she had done dawned on her and she ran away, leaving baby Asura all alone in the forest.

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Asura’s Mom

Asura grew up in the forest all by himself. He ate whatever he could get his hands on, including crows and dogs. He once attacked a monk who is far stronger than himself and got defeated. The monk took pity on him and gave him food. He named him Asura.

Asura left the village and went into the nearby village in search of more food. He killed the son of a noble because a stone the guy threw hit him and people hunted him down. He ended up falling off a cliff and was left to die. A young lady named Wakasa picked him up, cared for him, fed him and taught him words.

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Wakasa

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Wakasa and Asura

Look at how small he looks beside her. Asura is only eight years old and yet he knew a lot of things kids his age are not supposed to know.

Of course, this wouldn’t become a dark story if it ended there. Wakasa fell in love with a guy and it upset Asura because she was spending little to no time with him. Wakasa was the only human he ever came into contact with and the time he spent with her meant a lot to him. Asura tried to kill the guy Wakasa was in love with and ended up being hated by Wakasa.

Asura.mp4_002508189

I’ll stop here and not spoil the rest of the story for you. Let me just say that Asura doesn’t suddenly get a happily ever after and look at the world through rose coloured glasses.

Here is an interesting question though. The movie is called Asura but Asura isn’t a demon. If anything, he is like a wild animal. It isn’t his fault that he kills humans. No one taught him that it is wrong. If one of the villagers killed him, it wouldn’t be that guy’s fault either. After all, if there is a tiger attacking the villagers and killing them, you need to get rid of it. The movie does a good job showing how terrifying Asura’s existence would be to normal people and it also shows Asura’s perspective, how the things he was doing aren’t wrong when you look at them through his eyes.

Asura has beautiful animation. The art is unique and has a hand-drawn feel to it. They combined it with nice 3D graphics. The music is also good and suits the mood.

Asura has lots of blood and gore and a dark story. It might even leave a bitter aftertaste. If you’re okay with cannibalism and the gore, give this movie a chance.

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See you next time ^^/

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.