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.

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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.

dual-duality-dirty-pair-project-eden-10bit3e2aedc4-0-04-17-122

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 ^^/

Colorful

I’ve recently watched Colorful, a 2010 movie suggested to me by Shaurya. The movie follows a person who had died but was given a chance to redeem himself. He was reincarnated in a body of Makoto Kobayashi, a boy who killed himself with sleeping pills overdose. After the reincarnation the new Makoto needs to deal with the echoes of the Makoto’s life before the incident, the problems that lead up to his suicide.

I would say Colorful is a serious movie, at least compared to other things I’ve been watching recently. It might be a little hard to watch at times, but it definitely isn’t boring. Makoto’s mother acting is one of the best I’ve seen in a long while, I almost want to watch the movie again just to see it again (even though her role is such a sad one). If you like movies directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, Makoto Shinkai, you should check this one out. It would be different, but chances are you’ll like it.

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Puru Puru, sort of an angel that guides Kobayashi

Now time for spoilers. Though before the spoilers begin let me make a little detour and talk about stories in anime. Most anime do have a story, and it can be quite complex. The story can be told directly by the characters or a narrator, or it can be acted out; some of the events can be only alluded to without being shown. You can hide your story behind hints and metaphors, tell it through references, and since it is anime you can use words, pictures, sound and motion to construct those hints and references. Though if you aren’t careful no one will be able to decipher what the story was.

With this in mind most shows limit this complexity so the viewer can instantly see what is going on, at least in the more important parts of the film/series. But the possibility to do more than the ‘simple things’ is exciting, and people do go for it. This creates an interesting situation where most of the story is being told directly in a simple manner, but some of it is hidden and requires some effort to discover. And this is one of the things I like to write about, my feeble attempts to search for those additional parts of the story.

Now Colorful is pretty interesting in this aspect. I hope I’ll be able to explain why as we go. Let us start by recounting events of Makoto’s life, in chronological order. The earliest part of Makoto’s life that we get to see is his days at school where he was bullied and apparently didn’t have any friends. Now we jump to the time before his suicide. He lives in a family where people grew distant from each other, and it might have been in this state for a long time. At this time Makoto has feelings for his classmate Hiroka. Too bad for him, he sees the girl walking out of a love hotel with a middle-aged guy, which I guess would be hard on a boy. What’s more he also sees his mother walking out of that hotel with another man. Somehow all this drove him to take his own life.

What do you think, does it sound like a reasonable story? I can’t say that it is unrealistic, but I don’t feel like it makes sense. All of this was told very briefly and we don’t get to see how Makoto was reacting to those events. Maybe that is the reason why I can’t put this together with the Makoto that we do get to see in the movie. I can see how realizing that your crush is selling herself or is in love with another guy would be traumatizing and I can see how seeing that your mother is unfaithful to your father would be painful, but I don’t think this would drive the present Makoto to commit suicide. I feel like Makoto would need to show a completely different side of his character in order to make this story work.

Kobayashi family

Kobayashi family

Alright, now we get to the present Makoto. The guy is a piece of work for sure. He is bad at studying (or at least he doesn’t try to be good at it), he doesn’t have friends except Hiroka, he rejects the only other person who tries to communicate with him – his other classmate Shouko. After learning about his mother’s affair he starts acting cold towards her, refusing to eat her cooking, take things she buys for him. The more she tries to be nice to him, the more rude his actions towards her get. At some point Makoto tells his mother that her presence makes him want to puke. He doesn’t have hard feelings towards the rest of his family though. We see Makoto spending time with his father, and their conversation was at least free from aggression.

Makoto’s attitude towards his mother gradually deteriorates. The climax is reached when he accuses her of adultery and runs away from home. Consequently he is beat up by a gang of older boys and has to stay home to recover. And by this time Makoto and Hiroka had a conversation and Makoto kind of had to accept that she willingly sells herself, that this is who she is. You can notice how this resembles the situation right before his suicide. Both times Makoto was isolated from everyone, gave up on his family and heavy consequences followed.

Kobayashi Makoto

Now why does this happen to Makoto? Well this time it literally is him turning his back on his family. Was it the same the last time then? Or was it his family neglecting him?.. What I don’t like about all of those statements is their simplicity. It feels like I am describing a Naruto episode, not a serious movie. No offence to Naruto, but “family is sacred, period” is the general attitude the show has :P

I will stop there with the chronological order. I’ll stop because there is no way I can fit in the last part, the part where Makoto recovers his relations with his family. Let me explain myself. So far the events made some sort of sense. Makoto killed himself because he wasn’t able to find support from his family before. Now he rejects this support and his life falls apart again. It is a story about the importance of realizing the value of people around you. Makoto’s father even spells it all out for the audience. By the end of the movie Makoto will recognize Shouko as a friend; he also makes a new friend Saotome, who becomes the key stone to Makoto’s change. So, chronologically the story begins in a coherent way, and it ends in a coherent way. But I can’t connect the beginning and the end. Why did Makoto stop hating his mother? Why did he recognize the importance of his family?

To answer this question I would need to throw away the answers we already got. “It is a story about the importance of realizing the value of people around you” – lets forget about it. Instead lets look at Makoto bullying his mother. The more she tries to be nice to him the nastier he gets. One of the strongest moments in their interaction was when they are about to have dinner together and Makoto imagines his mother’s hands preparing the meal, which produces a violent reaction from him. His behavior towards her is disturbing exactly because it is so illogical. He is not just ungrateful, it is as if he finds his mother’s care offensive.

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To quote the subs “the more she fulfills her responsibilities as a mother the angrier I become for some reason”

And that is exactly it. He does find it offensive. Look at Makoto. As a person he is fairly grown up, with self assurance and independent thinking. All his actions show that he would be fine left alone, thrown into life to enjoy it or be beaten by it. Look at what the boy does. He follows his love interest around, when he sees an opportunity he forcibly takes her away from a date with another guy; and when he realizes that the love interest doesn’t care much about him he lets her leave. Compare this to his behavior towards Shouko. Being in his room, being expected to behave in a nice manner, being a good classmate and a good boy in general – Makoto protests against all of that. He protests against being treated like child, being taken care of by his mother. And on the surface level the feeling is so illogical that he himself likely doesn’t understand it’s origin. That is why he clings to this made up reason to hate his mother. It shouldn’t matter to him if his mother had an affair, he is broad-minded enough to accept things like that.

Looking at it this way it becomes clear why the movie spends so much time with Makoto and his mother. It is not easy to show this complicated problem, the problem of being sheltered and taken care of too much. Makoto’s mother honestly does all she can to help him. She even recognizes his antagonism and goes along with it. You can’t blame her for anything in this situation. Makoto, on the other hand, acts in an awful way and isn’t willing to do anything to remedy the situation. It seems the only way out was for his mom to leave Makoto alone, to stop worrying about him. Now do you see a contradiction? A few paragraphs above we were talking about how being neglected had lead to Makoto suicide. So which is it?

At this point, it almost seems like the movie can’t decide what it wants to say. Alright, let’s just look at it some more. I will pick up where I left, the moment Makoto recovers from being beat up. Soon after his recovery he starts spending time with Saotome, another guy from his class. They go around the city together, wasting time looking at old train routs. They go shopping together, talk about things, even think about what school they should apply to. Both seem to enjoy each other company, and their friendship even motivates Makoto to study. That is interesting because at this point Makoto believes he won’t be around by the time they go to that other school.

Makoto would later say about Saotome “he is the first friend I’ve ever made”, and the emphasis should be placed on the word “I”. There were other people who kind of came to be close to Makoto, but they weren’t exactly friends, and he didn’t do much to become their friend. In a way becoming friends with Saotome was an independent act, something that Makoto did for himself, without being guided. I think that was important for him. The plan to go to the same school that Makoto and Saotome made together, their decision to study together, them spending time together, it was the little part of independent life that I believe Makoto needed. Well, but how important is this friendship for the story? Why did it suddenly appear out of nowhere in such an intense part of the movie? I’ve said that Saotome is “a key stone to Makoto’s change”. I meant the way this event is placed, it seems like it was what lead to Makoto reconsidering his relations with his family. And I don’t know how it works. Maybe being around Saotome Makoto remembered what it is like to be a normal nice human, not a spoiled brat?.. I don’t know, but I would like to know.

Also there was Makoto going fishing with his father. While his father tried to catch fish he had time to paint, the first time he did it after the suicide. This is an important detail, cause it is an early hint that Makoto is Makoto, that the soul/mind occupying his body are his soul/mind. Makoto’s conversation with his father is one sided, but it does what it needed to do. It tells Makoto that his family care about him together, it isn’t just his mother who does. Later Makoto and his father go to a street noodle shop where Makoto’s father shares his food with him. It kind of mirrors the scene where Makoto and Saotome share their food, probably a metaphor for Makoto becoming friends with his dad.

The highest point of the story comes where the Kobayashi family have dinner together and they discuss a possible school for Makoto. Through the discussion Makoto instead of becoming more and more offensive, as he usually did, went to tears and actually pleaded for his own decision to be considered. His brother also speaks up for the first time. Unlike Makoto’s parents who have unlimited patience, Makoto’s brother seems to be fed up with Makoto and he tells him that up front. It is an important moment too; a fair bit of honesty is an important part of family relations. Long story short, the family seems to reconcile and Makoto seems to stop his aggression towards his mother.

Makoto Kobayashi

We also learn that that time when Makoto was beat up he was in a temple where he used to play as a child. It is the second hint that the soul/mind he has are his own. I bring up this and the other small details in order to sort of demonstrate that this movie does care about this stuff, giving the viewer hints as to what is about to come next. And this brings another question. We only learn details about Makoto’s past at the very end of the film. So are those details important? If they are, then the viewer is forced in the situation where he can only appreciate the story after he finishes the film and either goes over it in his head or watches it the second time. And I don’t think Colorful is this kind of movie, I don’t think it would do that to its viewer. But if Makoto’s past isn’t important to understand what is going on in the film, then what? What is the movie about? The idea that “it is a story about the importance of realizing the value of people around you” sort of relies on Makoto’s past. But the idea that this movie is about an overly sheltered youth doesn’t explain why he suddenly gave in and embraced his family. And it raises a question why they even needed to put that rushed story about Makoto’s past in the film in the first place.

I feel the only answer I can come up with would be repeating what Makoto told Hiroka about people being colorful. It is not a real answer though, it is just saying that Makoto’s ways may be weird and it might be hard to see any reason in his actions, and that this is fine, that is how people are. Maybe we should accept Makoto the same way Makoto accepts Hiroka and doesn’t question her ways of living. I don’t know if I am happy with this answer, but is ties up the film for me. Also earlier I was thinking about those questions I’ve written above I couldn’t find an answer. Then I went to watch certain parts of the movie again, and this dialogue between Makoto and Hiroka came up; and with that awesome vocal soundtrack in the background Makoto spelled out what I was looking for for me. So I just can’t turn down this explanation now ^^/

Colorful

Colorful

Sorry if this was a bit too boring to read. Now you see what I meant by “Colorful is pretty interesting in this aspect” – it almost tells you two different stories at the same time =) So what do you think?

Porco Rosso

Porco Rosso is a movie about a former fighter pilot Marco who does bounty hunting work in a pre- World War II Adriatics. The sea is lawless and chaotic with bandits and bounty hunters being about indistinguishable; people still remember the WWI and the next war is approaching. It would make a great setting for a dark and heavy story, but the movie doesn’t go there, it tells its story with good humor and positive attitude. And it is not serious about trying to be a period piece. I mean, the pilot Marco is a pig, that kind of throws the realism out of the window from the start.

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That’s Marco

But regardless, just the settings alone would sell the movie for me. Such a specific time and place, and not even something obvious or well known, it was bound to pick my interest. Also it is a Ghibli movie and so far I liked all they have put out. Porco Rosso was made in 1992, directed by Hayao Myazaki. The art and animation look very good, lots of moments worth pausing to have a better look at. I recommend this film to everyone who like anime movies.

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Now come the spoilers, so feel free to stop reading and watch the film instead.

If you kept reading I assume you’ve already seen the movie :P So what that film was about? The only plot line that persists through the whole film is rivalry between Curtis and Marco and maybe slight romantic tension between Marco and Gina. But the story doesn’t really spend most of its time on either of those. Instead it would give you a good look  into the life of an Italian family that builds Marco a new plane. We even get a new main character Fio out of the blue, and she quickly gets the story to rotate around her. It feels strange when she jumps into the movie, you can almost say that Miyazaki just wanted to have an obligatory teenage girl in his film.

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Fio, a 17 years old engineer

But I don’t think it is as simple as that. I think it is one of those stories that want to play a game with you, that give you a chance to guess what is going on without being told. And it is intentionally complicated, as the bits and pieces come in randomly, in no order. So I’ll try to give you my view on it, and you can decide if that makes sense or not.

First is Marco’s “curse”. I don’t think I need to argue that it is weird and out of place for such an otherwise realistic movie. What’s more, no one reacts to the fact that Marco is an anthropomorphic pic, a completely unnatural creature. The way people treat Marco is as if he just has some weird attribute, but nothing more. It is definitely intentional too. So it tells me that this is how I suppose to see that curse, as an attribute, or maybe as some sort of mental state.

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Then let’s look at Marco himself. The key ingredient of his personality is him being self-centered, at least on the surface level. As Marco said to one of his friends: “I only fly for myself”. He lives alone in an isolated place, he works alone, he defies governments and laws. Even for people he cares about, like Gina, he remains distant. And it makes sense, with him being a pig. You can say that it is a what the curse has done to him, since we know he wasn’t a loner his whole life. Later in the movie Marco would say “It seems to me God was telling me I was a pig and maybe I deserve to be all alone”. I quote the dub, the lines are different the subs, but the  meaning is about the same.

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A pirate plane, makes me wish Miyazaki had done more sci-fi movies *_*

We learn that Marco once was a fighter pilot, he fought in the Great War (WWI), and the finale of his career was a horrible fight where his best friend died while Marco was doing his best to save himself. Judging by Marco’s words I can guess the killing during the war and his actions during that last fight that he viewed as cowardly, that created a burden that Marco has carried with him since then. He left the air force and gave up on his former life. When talking to Gina he said “Good guys always die”, implying that he does not see himself as a good person. And it wasn’t a pose, it sounded like something he believed in. What’s more, he was not implying that his morals were twisted, rather that he failed to live up to what a good person is. Seeing himself as that sort of failure, wouldn’t that be a curse.

You can see where I am going with this. The curse was not a magic spell, Witch of the Waste didn’t have to be involved. It was Marco giving up on his own humanity. Unable to live up to his own ideals he turned to follow another road, more suitable for a pig, as he refers to himself every so often. And I can quote Marco yet again, as he says to Fio “Seeing you makes me wish I’ve never given up being human”. That line is pretty different in the subs though, much more neutral. And since I’ve compared the two, let me pull up another quote that I like and I feel it is missing from the subs. After that “I deserve to be all alone” line Fio tells Marco that he is a good person, to which he replies: “No, the good guys were the ones who died. Or maybe I’m dead and life as a pig is the same thing as Hell”.

Now why did we need the Piccolo family and Fio in that movie? Remember that scene when Marco was going to close the deal with his mechanic because he didn’t want his plane to be designed by a woman? And how he had given in the next day, seeing that Fio had what it took to build one? He given in because he wasn’t so stupid to actually be bothered by prejudice and he wasn’t rotten to actually believe that a woman can’t do as good job as a man. All he needed to do was to stop acting as a pig and give the girl a fair chance, and it worked out great for him. And I think that is a big part of Fio’s role in that movie, she makes Marco act decently, thinking of others instead of only about himself. Like that time when Fio was going to fly with him sitting in a tiny compartment on top of a machine gun. Marco couldn’t do that to her, so he got rid of one of his guns instead. Fio’s honesty and enthusiasm did way more for Marco than a company of his old wise friends could.

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I really like that scene. A myriad of planes against the blue sky, it looks amazing.

My friend Shaurya said that the story feels like a fairy tale. I think so too. I am very happy that I got to watch that fairy tale about a middle aged man who once lost his own self. Tell me what you think about it! See you next time.

Madoka Magica’s postmodernism

I’ve recently finished watching Madoka Magica, a magical girl anime, famous for its unusually dark plot (at least by the standards of the time it was airing). Unfortunately for me I knew a fair bit about the anime before going into it, so the shock of seeing how different Madoka Magica is from other anime in the genre wasn’t that great for me. Maybe that is why today I chose such a weird topic, deciding to talk about whether or not there is a way to claim that Madoka Magica is a postmodern art, instead of just giving it the praises it deserves.

Here is a quick intro for those who have not seen the anime, but wish to keep reading (which is probably a bad idea, as I’ll spoil all there is to spoil in that show). Madoka Magica is an anime about a group of girls who were confronted by an alien creature (name is Kyubey) that offered to grant them one wish. In exchange they would have to become magical girls, fight witches, and eventually be killed in a fight. The anime makes sure to let you see that the stakes are high, showing you one death after another, revealing horrifying details of the contract Kyubey makes with the girls in exchange for the wish. The anime spends a lot of time with the characters, showing their normal lives, their parents, friends and loved ones, giving you reason to care about them. At times it almost is a nice and light-hearted slice of life story. But when they get to an action, especially when they show a witch fight, then the anime changes into something very unusual. I’ll talk about it below.

For me it started with admiring the artworks that are displayed during the fights (they are made by Gekidan Inu Curry, check them out). Let’s look at them together.

I started to wonder if there is a specific art genre they belong to. Eventually I started looking at what can be called postmodern art. I’ll post a few thumbnails here.

Here is Raoul Hausmann’s pictures:

Here is Robert Rauschenberg’s artworks:

And here is Wallace Berman’s works:

I don’t want to say that those artists are clearly defined as representatives of postmodernism, but I think it is possible to say that. Anyway, for me it seems like those works or similar ones were the inspiration for some of the art from Madoka Magica. That doesn’t say much, just an interesting observation. And it made me look in it a little bit more.

I think there are a few more ways in which Madoka Magica is connected to postmodernism. The show is a genre deconstruction piece, and while I don’t know if people acknowledge that as a trait of a postmodern work, I think it does go in line with the ideas of the movement. Madoka Magica is working within an existing genre, with existing tropes and concepts, and it uses the viewer’s awareness of those concepts to tell the story. In that aspect it is similar to Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Would you say that proves my point? I don’t know.

All in all, I am just amused by the idea that those serious classifications of art movements could be extended to fit in a popular anime series. Though I may very well be a victim of confirmation bias. If you think I am (or if for some reason you think I am not), please tell me in the comments, would love to hear different opinions.

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And to save this post from being completely dry I’ll say a few words about my experience watching the show. As I said I knew it was going to be a somewhat serious anime, with tragedy and death, thanks to the spoilers. I was pleasantly surprised by a few things I saw in the anime though. First are the architectural references. When I first saw Burj Khalifa I was like “Is this anime set in the Emirates? :O” I liked the idea a lot, though it didn’t turn out to be true.

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Here is the Burj Khalifa, the white needle-like structure in the background

Also I liked the idea of ordinary people who lived good satisfactory lives being given a chance to have any wish granted. They just didn’t have a wish they would feel strong enough about. It was especially interesting with Madoka, who at the beginning clearly didn’t need anything and just wanted to become a magical girl cause she liked the idea. The show didn’t do much to develop this theme, instead it just gave the characters the motivations they were missing. That was kinda disappointing at first. Though eventually I started to appreciate the side stories they brought up to give the characters their motivations. Sayaka’s story turned out to be the one of the most emotionally engaging parts of the series for me. I liked the Madoka’s reason to become a magical girl, it made such a big contrast with the rest of the show. She suddenly changed that story about doomed people fighting for a lost cause into a fairy tale, and she did it in such a bizarre way that the transaction did not seem to undermine the feel of the show. At least it worked for me.

The few plot twists I didn’t have spoiled for me were that magical girls turn into witches, and that incubators were only there to gather energy, viewing people as live stock. Both are good enough twists, especially the first one, since it made such a big change for the relations between the characters and Kyubey.

Here is a reminder that this anime is made by studio Shaft

Here is a reminder that this anime is made by studio Shaft

That’s it from me. See you next time ^^/