Don’t you know there’s a war on? Accomplished cosplayers Crys and Amy show off their style as Hetalia’s “Britain” and “America”, in a photoshoot on London’s South Bank, close to HMS Belfast. Oddly, despite hordes of early evening drinkers, nobody hassled two girls dressed as the personifications of World War Two combatant nations. But then again, this is London: nobody bats an eyelid if you are dressed as a rhinoceros, either. They're just happy if you aren't a charity mugger.
Hetalia Axis Powers, Complete Season 2 is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.
Jonathan Clements takes on the dirty baker’s dozen: Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins.
It is a matter of honour – the young Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki) has a terrible reputation for rape, murder and unspeakable cruelty. But he is a relative of the Shogun, and hence beyond the reach of the law. Behind the scenes, twelve loyal samurai assemble to mete out justice off the books. They are led by Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho), an aging samurai who knows there is little chance that he will return alive from his mission. But he still accepts his fate, in a gleefully suicidal rush for glory that sees his dirty dozen plotting a fiendish ambush, ending with an explosive 45-minute battle scene.
Twelve…? There might be twelve samurai, but there is a bonus extra to make up the baker’s dozen – mountain man Kiga (Yusuke Iseya), a grubby force of nature who offers to lead the men on a decisive short-cut, as long as there is money it for him.
In a refreshing change from the norm, these samurai are the masters of their own fate. They willingly embrace dirty tricks and battlefield engineering, and never stoop to blaming their deceptions on non-existent ninja. There are sly nods to earlier samurai stories – not merely the rain-soaked struggles of Kurosawa, but the flame-maddened cattle of the Tale of the Heike, and mid-air arrow cutting of many a Japanese fireside saga. Director Takashi Miike plays to unexpected strengths, including a marvellous score by his long-term collaborator Koji Endo, and punchy sound design, not just on swords and arrows, but on horse’s hooves on muddy roads and the thump of socked feet on mansion floorboards.
13 Assassins is not based on a true story, although it is inspired by true events – not the least the infamous misbehaviour of the historical Lord Naritsugu, who became lord of a feudal domain while still a teenager, and seems to have let the power go to his head. There is also a suspicion among some authors that the sudden, unexplained death of the historical Naritsugu smelled of a Shogunal cover-up. But 13 Assassins is also steeped in unquestionably real issues from the twilight years of the samurai. This is not a fairytale Japan of geisha and cherry blossoms; it’s an unfamiliar, alien place where a smile means distress and the triple hollyhock emblem of the Shogun is a sign of fearsome repression.
Andrew Osmond weighs the difference between the TV and movie versions of Eureka 7.
As with superhero comics and CSI, it’s hard to know where to start with some anime franchises. Do you start with the Ghost in the Shell films, or the Stand Alone Complex show? Naruto, or Naruto Shippuden? Evangelion,or Evangelion 1.11? Decisions, decisions...
The question is raised again by the new SF adventure, Eureka 7 The Movie:Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers. It’s spun off from the Eureka 7 TV show, available on DVD in two box-sets. The film appeared in Japanese cinemas three years after the final (fiftieth) episode was broadcast, but the film isn’t a sequel; rather, it’s what fans would call a “parallel universe” version. You could call it a reboot or retelling, but Tomoki Kyoda, who directed the big and small-screen versions, has really remixed his saga.
Both versions are about Renton, a boy with the feistiness of many an anime teen. Eureka is a girl from the “Churchill’s Russia” school of anime heroines, a riddle in a mystery in an enigma. With albino skin, green hair and lavender eyes, she suggests a very interesting mix of genes, not necessarily all human.
Both Eurekas fling the youngsters into world-shaking aerial battles, often between sky-surfing giant robots. But the details diverge from the start. On TV, part one has the teen Renton and Eureka meeting for the first time when Eureka’s robot, the Nirvash, crashes on Renton’s house (the “girl drops out of the sky” ploy has shades of Miyazaki’s Laputa). The film, however, shows Renton and Eureka raised as infants by a character who’s mostly – but not entirely – different in the TV version.
Other remixing soon becomes apparent. Several characters who were small-screen allies are more like adversaries in the film, and vice versa. The movie becomes something of a “mirror universe” with goodies recast as baddies to shake up the audience (though Eureka shies away from making characters whollygood or bad). Director Kyoda even considered giving most film characters different names from their TV counterparts, but decided against it when the actors complained.
While most of the film is new, it samples moments from the series in cunning ways. One flashback involves two characters flying down a Doctor Who-ish vortex. Except their heads have been switched with two characters in the TV serial, whose roles in the story have been given to two other characters... and so on.
So which version is the best starting-point? The series is simpler, but takes more time – twenty-odd hours – and reveals its plot very slowly. In contrast, the film is heavily plotted, not so much because it compresses the TV story, but because it’s doing lots of other things. It takes motifs from the series – for example, books of blank pages that must be filled – but converts them to its own distinctive theme, about how dreams help or hinder growing up. The story itself takes mighty leaps into dream logic in later scenes.
The film wrongfoots fans who’ve seen the show by changing everyone’s hats around, squeezing characters together and bumping off regulars for kicks. Consequently, TV Eureka fans may be more confused by the film than newbies. We’d suggest starting with whichever Eureka you fancy, but either way, come to the film version prepared to focus. And if the story loses you first time, try watching it again. It’s still quicker than watching the series...
Eureka 7 the movie is available on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.
Andrew Osmond on the Anglophile tradition in Japanese animation.
During the movie, Eureka 7: Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers, the rebels at the story’s heart are introduced as the “Children of Neverland” – the plot has a rather bitter twist on the Peter Pan idea of children who don’t have to grow up. It’s surprising that a twenty-first century Japanese science-fiction film should allude to a piece of Edwardian children’s literature. But then, British kids’ fiction has a way of cropping up in anime.
In the Eureka 7 TV serial, there was no Peter Pan motif. Instead, the villain was motivated by a murderous interpretation of The Golden Bough, the study of myth and religion by Scottish anthropologist James Frazer. However, children’s literature still figures in the TV Eureka. One episode had the heroes carrying out a daring operation, using codenames like “Alice,” “Red Queen” and “Humpty,” all from Lewis Carroll.
This July will see another anime Alice, with the Japanese release of the movie Alice in the Country of Hearts, based on a game and manga series. Alice will be voiced by actress Rie Kugimiya, no stranger to being changed by magic – she’s the Japanese voice of Alphonse Elric in the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise.
Chihiro in Wonderland
There are special reasons why the Japanese like Alice. It’s conducive to gothic and Gothic Lolita imagery; indeed, the latter fashion was inspired by Victorian clothing.But that’s not the whole story. What about Alice’s influence on the most acclaimed kids’ anime of all? True, the Oscar-winning Spirited Awaywas hailed by critics for its exotic Japaneseness, while for Hayao Miyazaki it was rooted in such local tales as “The Sparrow’s Inn” and “The Mouse’s Castle”, where people are taken to magic places. But Spirited Away also relates to Alice, with its “girl in fantasy world” set-up and its weird, nightmarish characters.
Supervising animator Masashi Ando said that Yubaba, the witch in Spirited Away, resembled a character from an abandoned Ghibli project. This proto-Yubaba was “drawn as a grotesque character, the kind that might appear in the illustrations of Alice in Wonderland.” Compare Yubaba to Sir John Tenniel’s famed drawings of the Duchess in Alice, themselves based on a great Flemish painting, A Grotesque Old Woman by Quentin Matsys. Separated at birth? We think so.
Matt "Sparkly" Kamen finds five reasons to love Vampire Knight more than that other story of the undead…
January 2005 – Hina Matsuri’s Vampire Knight manga debuts in the pages of LaLa magazine. October 2005 – Stephanie Meyer’s ‘vampire’ novel series begins publication in the USA. Both feature girls as their main protagonists, and both girls are caught in a love triangle between supernatural boys. Which series has the edge? There’s only one way to find out – FIGHT!
5 – Vampire Knight has style, baby!
Vampire Knight is set in the gloriously gothic Cross Academy, a private school where the Human Day Class and the Vampire Night Class are kept apart by the efforts of the super-powered Guardians. The students all wear crisp and stylish uniforms, while the backgrounds are full of baroque fittings, ornate decoration and other elements that bring to mind the romantic, European hallmarks of real vampires. It’s refined, aspirational and frankly impressive.
Twilight is set in Forks, Washington State. The city’s claim to fame is logging. Most people wear plaid. We bet Edward wouldn’t be half as interesting to Bella if she’d moved somewhere that actually had something to do. If your options are chopping trees down or vampire stalkers, we’d probably bare our necks, too.
4 – Yuki Don’t Need No Protector!
Twilight’s Bella is a total Mary Sue, practically perfect in every way, leading vampires and werewolves alike to lust after her. Other than that, she’s a bit useless – an angst-ridden plot device with daddy issues who needs constant rescuing and, at best, becomes an extreme sports adrenaline junkie. Even then, that’s solely for the purpose of putting herself in near-death encounters, all so she can see hallucinations of Edward. We’re not sure if the 104-year old teenage vampire hitting on a teenage girl is more or less unsettling than a girl so obsessed with her stalker that she keeps jumping in front of traffic.
Meanwhile, Vampire Night's Yuki can fend for herself – she’s already a proficient Guardian when we meet her, able to keep humans and vampires separate and wielding the powerful Artemis Rod, an anti-vampire weapon given to her by her adoptive father. Sure, she’s a ditz at times, and she’s carried a torch for powerful vamp Kaname since she was a girl but, geez, at least she can go five minutes without him before going into a fatalistic depression. Seriously Bella, get a grip.
3 – They’re pretty, we get it!
Sure, the girls of the Day Class go nuts for the effortlessly gorgeous pretty boys of the Night Class, but at least we’re not told over and over again just how pretty they are. Meyer has Bella comment on Edward’s total dreamboat-ness practically every time she sees him, to the point we’re surprised she doesn’t swoon into his clammy, undead arms! Whole paragraphs are spent reinforcing just how hunky he is – leaving us wondering why the resoundingly plain Robert Pattinson plays him onscreen – which leaves Bella over-obsessed and creepy.
2 – No ‘Teams’
Are you on Team Edward or Team Jacob? We elevated ourselves above the fray and joined ‘Team No-One Cares’. The worst part of the whole rivalry between Bella’s would-be paramours was that it was all a poorly conceived marketing ploy on the part of the Twilight movie studio, Paramount. By the time the first movie hit cinemas the final book had already been published, leaving absolutely no surprise as to whom Bella ‘chose’.
In contrast, Vampire Knight fans aren’t riled up into ‘Team Zero’ or ‘Team Kaname’ factions, and all the better for it – we’d rather avoid screaming hordes of cosplayers kicking off with each other over who Yuki should be with for eternity.
1 – Sparkle-free Zone
Yes, it’s an easy target, but good grief, vampires are meant to spontaneously combust under the harsh light of the sun, not shine like a cheaply made tin robot (if cheaply made tin robots fed on human blood, that is). The Twilight approach to the parched undead drives anyone who’s ever encountered any real vampire fiction to reach for the wooden stakes, just to put themselves out of the misery of existing in the same world. Vampire Knight is much more authentic, and though suave and romantically-themed, villains for the most part at least have a survival-driven reason to avoid getting a suntan. Of course, what the series lacks in sparkles, it does make up for in entire orchard’s worth of rose petals flying around for no real reason....
Am I biased? Perhaps a bit – but I can’t wait for Twilight to just go away, so real vampires can make a resurgence. Until that happens, we’ve got Vampire Knight to fill the void!
Osamu Dezaki, who died yesterday from lung cancer, will be remembered not only for what he animated, but for what he didn’t. His trademark directorial signature was the “Postcard Memory”, his own term for what other Japanese animators called a “Harmony” – a sudden freeze-frame that stripped away the animation to show an original, comic-style illustration, often rendered in pastel shades distinctively different from the original.
Many viewers assumed that these moments were simply another cost-cutting measure, but they came to be known as Dezaki’s signature. He would use them even on bigger budget works such as his Black Jackanimated feature. For Dezaki, they were a tribute to the original comics medium from which so many of his films were derived. They also served as poignant halts that drew the audience’s attention to key moments of drama or emotion.
The young Dezaki had cherished ambitions of becoming a manga artist, and was so sure of this career path that he spent much of his school days drawing comics when he should have seen studying. His high school graduation came in 1962, at a point when the lucrative rental manga market was collapsing, reducing the number of openings for new artists. Instead, he found himself with little hope of a job in manga, dropping out of Hosei University soon after arriving. An unfruitful year followed working for Toshiba in a factory job obtained through family connections. But from the moment Astro Boy was broadcast in January 1963, Dezaki was hammering on the doors of the studio, Mushi Production. In August 1963, as the company struggled to maintain the breakneck production pace of a weekly cartoon show, Dezaki was one of the new recruits.
Dezaki started as a lowly in-betweener, rising to key animator in just three months. His job put him in contact with his boyhood hero, Astro Boy’s creator Osamu Tezuka, who was often irritated by the staff’s habit of calling his namesake Dezaki Osamu-chan to differentiate between them in the studio. Dezaki was surprised by the attitude of Tezuka, who would often demand in meetings that a story should be more entertaining – a sticking point for Dezaki, who prided himself on taking animation seriously. He would insist throughout his life that stories were always about people, even if they starred talking machines like The Mighty Orbots.
He retained a strong interest in comics, channelling his frustrated manga career into the creation of elaborate storyboards. Sometimes, these were thrown out for being too elaborate, leading to occasional feuds with his colleague Yoshiyuki Tomino, who sometimes ordered 70% of the storyboards cut for reasons of clarity and budget. It was one of these eviscerated outlines, it seems, that led Dezaki to first use his pseudonym, Makura Saki, which appeared on several productions during the cash-strapped 1970s.
He left Mushi in 1964 to found the studio Art Fresh with his brother Satoshi and their friend Gisaburo Sugii. The trio immediately subcontracted their work back to Mushi Production, but became properly independent in 1967. In the early 1970s, as the Japanese animation business reeled from a series of financial shocks and collapses, Dezaki was one of the founder members of Madhouse, one of the definitive studios for anime in the late 20th century and into the 21st.
Although it was only one film in a long career, the Dezaki film that arguably made the biggest impact on a foreign audience was Golgo 13: The Professional. It was released at the right time to attract the attention of foreign buyers, and enjoyed a new and controversial lease of life as one of the first releases of the English-language anime business. Dezaki chose to film the story’s globe-trotting assassin “as if he were a tiger in the jungle”, and would laugh as he recalled the film’s audio recording session, for which the leading man Tetsuro Sagawa, was two hours late. The staff started to panic, but when Sagawa finally sashayed into the booth and sat down to record his spoken role, he was done in only thirty minutes.
"I think," Dezaki said, "he only had about five lines."
Despite a varied number of successes in the anime field, Dezaki was not necessarily a fan of the material he worked on, or the techniques he used. He once confessed that the only girls’ comics he had ever read were Aim for the Ace and Rose of Versailles, both of which he directed as anime classics. Despite pioneering computer graphics in anime with a landmark sequence in Golgo 13, Dezaki was a stern critic of digital animation, alleging that it had turned too many anime into “mechanical” exercises without any soul. Dezaki much preferred the hands-on approach of fiddling directly with the processes of film-making, and pioneered the use of treating animation cels with paraffin in order to create the image of a theatrical spotlight. He also once placed a shot glass between the camera and the animation cel, shooting through the thick glass of its base in order to create a shimmering effect on film. These days, both such effects would be added in post-production with computers.
Dezaki has directed anime in five successive decades, most recently with the movie Clannad in 2007.
Tom Smith bares all for Master of Martial Hearts... all in the best possible taste. There have been points in my life where I wished reality was more like an anime. I could have insanely ridiculous hair, both in terms of colour and gravity defying style – and no one would bat an eyelid. There would be a chance that I could accidentally phone a goddess and be granted a wish. And there would still be samurai, some of which would favour the Afro look. All fine things in my book.
Yet, after experiencing the world of Master of Martial Hearts, I’m quite happy with the way our world works. Firstly, I don’t have to worry about my clothes disintegrating every time someone hits me – a very important quality, especially when contemplating the Tube at rush hour. I’m also glad that if, for whatever reason, I decided to stroll around town in a skirt, I could get by without exposing my underpants to the unwitting public at every given opportunity. And, if I had a mighty pair of breasts, I most definitely would not be caught with them on the loose, as I battle with a female shaman under a bridge. It’s just not ladylike. These are just a few of the lessons I have learned in just the first episode of Master of Martial Hearts – and there’s much more to come.
The series centres on an underground fighting tournament. The prize is the coveted Martial/Platonic Heart, a jewel that can grant any wish to its holder but, by some mysterious twist of fate, only works on females. Cue all manner of girl-on-girl action as clothes, hair and lady lumps are torn and swung around. And, as an added risk, those that fail in the tournament are banished to the Dark Realm. In other words, it’s an excuse to see an array of girls fight until their given costume is nothing more than a distant memory.
Fan Service is equally central to the series. The F word has a long and twisted history and is usually used in the context of anime and manga for scenes of pure titillation. For example, remember the shower scene with Chun Li in Streetfioghter II? Unadulterated fan service, and Martial Hearts goes toe to toe with the best (worst?) of ’em. It’s no surprise, either, seeing as ARMS is the animation studio behind it. They’ve been producing some of the seediest shows in anime, including the dubiously titled G-spot Express, Slave Nurses and Crimson Climax – classy.
Martial Hearts is only a 15 certificate, so don’t be expecting g-spots, slaves or anything crimson. Although you can look forward to nurses... alongside air stewardesses, schoolgirls and all manner of uniforms; each character has their own ‘cosplay’ type, meaning that whatever your taste in outfit, it’s most likely in there, ready to be ruined.
Master of Martial Hearts is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.
Attention all history students. Don't try and use Hetalia for revision. It'll all end in tears, says Matt Kamen
Ah, Hetalia Axis Powers! We love you, we really do. We just hope those of you in the midst of History courses aren’t planning on using Hetalia as reference material, since it’s not exactly the most accurate of records. Here are just a few reasons you’re better off hitting the books than the anime.
Sweet, Sweet Revenge!
In Hetalia: England, seeking revenge on Germany, attempts to summon a horde of demons to bring down the Teutonic warmonger – only to accidentally summon Russia instead.
In reality: After World War II, Germany was forced to pay reparations to the UK, France and Soviet Union. Largely, this took the form of coal, forced labour and physical assets such as factories. The Allied Powers also raided the German brain trust, seizing all patents, technological developments and many of the country’s scientists. Overall, a touch more effective than resorting to dark magic.
Jingle Bells, Finland Smells
In Hetalia: In the middle of a beach ambush, Allies and Axis alike are visited by Santa (actually a poorly disguised Finland!) who delivers presents to everyone – favourite foods for Japan, a giant plushie for China and porn for America!
In reality: The best known example of a Yuletide truce was actually in the midst of World War One. In 1914, British and German troops stationed along the Western Front – or Belgium, approximately – entered into an unofficial ceasefire over the Christmas period, exchanging gifts and even playing a few games of football against each other. Santa was nowhere to be found!
Our Friends in Japan
In Hetalia: The 1902 Anglo-Japanese Alliance is marked by England visiting Japan’s house and experiencing the strangeness of open air bathing and Japanese cuisine. Also, he befriends a Kappa, sad that Japanese people don’t see him anymore.
In reality: The Alliance was a real agreement, signed in London by the British Foreign secretary of the day, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice and Tadasu Hayashi , a Japanese minister based in London. While Petty-Fitzmaurice made no mention of lonely monsters from Japan’s myths, Hayashi did get a promotion to Viscount that same year. Sadly, the alliance terminated in 1923.
Super Robot U-Boat Titan!
In Hetalia: 1940’s Tripartite Pact, an official three-way declaration of support between Italy, Germany and Japan, is marked by Japan upgrading Germany’s plans for their U-Boats. Of course, this entails releasing them in a variety of collector-friendly colours, with new models available each season, all advertised by a popular voice actress. Unsurprisingly, it transforms into a giant robot, too.
In reality: We kind of wish it had been anywhere near as cool as that, even if transforming submarines would have probably meant an unfavourable shift in power during WWII. The actual Tripartite Pact was a fairly boring piece of propaganda documentation, one that essentially declared the three countries to be BFFs.
That Time of the War
In Hetalia: By far the most outlandish war-time plan conceived by the Allies, Operation: Red Fuji involved dropping enough red paint on top of the iconic Japanese mountain to dye the crest of it. The idea is to dispirit Japan by defacing a beloved national monument, and poor Japan gets really worried by it.
In reality: The elaborate scheme might not be more than an urban legend. The idea was reportedly discussed in planning sessions, but dismissed outright for being, well, a bit silly. Calculating the cost of enough paint to cover the top of en entire mountain, plus the air fuel to get it there, just on the off-chance the Japanese got some hurt feelings over it (and hey, lead-based paints were big in the ‘40s, so there might have been some health problems caused by run-off water too!) the whole plan was written off as a massive waste of time and resources.
So, while Hetalia: Axis Powers makes for great entertainment, please don’t blame us if you fail your History exams this summer. Now go to the library!
Hetalia Axis Powers 2 is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment. Finland doesn't actually smell.
Tom Smith reports on YUI, the all-caps rock chick.
It’s been suggested that Japan’s singer, song-writing guitar chick YUI is her country’s answer to Avril Lavigne. Amid an industry manufactured and micro-managed to levels that make England’s best pop efforts seem amateur in comparison, she stands out as beacon of musical delight. For teenage girls, she’s proof that you don’t need to buy into the squeaky clean, plastic smiles of sickeningly sweet J-pop to be a successful female musician; for guys she’s the girl next door, and for anime fans she’s composed and performed themes in some of the most prominent series of recent years, including Bleachand Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
In fact, if you’ve been keeping up with your Bleach, you should be familiar with her brand of pop-rock already. YUI’s third single ‘Life’ featured as the ending theme for episodes 52-63 and quickly helped establish her as a serious player in Japan’s music scene when her first album From Me To You, which features the song, debuted at the start of 2006.
YUI returned to the world of Bleach with her second album Can’t Buy My Love (yep, she’s a huge Beatles fan and ‘borrowed’ the name). Included on it was her seventh single ‘Rolling Star’, the opening to the fifth series of Bleach. The single rocked Japan’s charts, entering at number four in its first week and going gold with over 150,000 copies sold. We have a sneaky suspicion it also helped boost sales of the album too, which sold more copies in its first week than the entire lifetime sales of From Me To You.
Her journey into the industry was equal parts fortune and misfortune. She had always had a fascination with music, something her single mother tried to encourage her to pursue by suggesting she kept a diary of feelings which could act as source-book when creating poems. As she progressed through school, the amount of time she could spare for music became thinner and thinner. However, that all changed when she fell ill and was taken to hospital. The time out from her usual hectic schedule of school and working to pay for tuition fees gave her time to think. She came to the conclusion that school and music could not coexist. She dropped out, joined a music cram school and performed on the streets to overcome her shyness.
If this were a screenplay of YUI’s life, the montage would be kicking in right about now. She performed three songs at her audition for Sony, including ‘It’s Happy Line’, which would become her first single released under indie label Leaflet Records. ‘Why Me’, a future B-side on her debut major label single ‘Feel My Soul’. And ‘I Know’, an album track from her first LP. All three left the judges in awe, leading them to award her maximum marks, and to quarrel amongst themselves as to which Sony label could have her.
Seven years on, her songs are still rocking the charts and finding their way into various commercials, dramas and anime. However, ‘Rolling Star’ is her last contribution to the Bleach series.
Tom Smith on pop idol Nana Kitade and the song that made her famous.
“I think that the tie-in with anime is a gateway for my music overseas,” says Nana Kitade, the singer whose ‘Kesenai Tsumi’ went global when it was used as the first outro to Fullmetal Alchemist. It proved to be one of her most popular songs to date and its success sprouted several reworkings through the years.
The first was within a month of its debut in 2003 when an acoustic version was released; ‘Kesenai Tsumi: Raw “Breath” Track’. The ambitious cover version, which works much better than it should, only managed to reach 87 in the charts, unlike its top 20 predecessor, and was quickly forgotten.
One of my favourite versions is found on her compilation album Berry Berry Singles (a limited run was released in Europe by Spark & Shine). This reworking of the Fullmetal Alchemist theme features former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman and offers a much heavier, thrashy take. And if you liked that, you’ll definitely have to track down his mash-up/retake of it with Nana’s single ‘PUNK&BABYS’ – it’s appropriately titled the ‘Air Guitar Mix’. Every little helps in bringing Japanese artists to new listeners – and Nana has since also featured on the soundtracks to D.Grayman and Hell Girl.
“I’m pleased that my music and I can meet various people, who might even become new fans because of it. I am just so proud that my music can go international with anime.”
And what of one nation in particular…? The one whose flag appears on her outfits both in Japanese alternative fashion mag KERA – where she regularly models in gothic lolita clothing – and from her own music videos.
“The Union Jack holds that ‘punk’ image for me,” she explains. “I have been a fan of the punk music that emerged from seventies London as well as the fashion that grew out of it. It seemed to encourage people to keep the faith, which could be seen as anarchy in a sense. I feel sympathy for the impulsive and liberating punk spirit.” And when quizzed on her next career goal, she quickly squeals back: “To play a gig in the UK!”
Her new project, Loveless, is a collaboration between herself and Taizo, the guitarist from the obscure band FEEL. The idea behind the partnership was to create a new genre of music, one combining the cutesy, immature aspects for which Nana is famous, with the ‘philosophical context’ that Taizo is supposed to possess. Marketing drivel? Or the the musical maturing of one of Japan’s cutest exports? You can find out for yourself later this month…
While the festival awards and the DVD sales figures might be the usual arbiters of success in the anime world, many creatives put food on the table by doing little blipverts, idents and funny-animal sales pitches for TV. Many Japanese ad companies have spent much of the last century as inadvertent patrons of the arts, paying out, and paying well for the skills of animators.
Popular legend holds that the Japanese animation business came back to life in 1958 after a decade in the post-war doldrums. But the most widely seen piece of anime in 1958 was not the first colour feature, The Legend of the White Snake. If you wanted to see that, you had to go to a cinema. If you wanted to see Uncle Torys, on the other hand, you only had to turn on your television set, and he was there every night.
Created two years earlier by the artist Ryosuke Yanagihara, Uncle Torys was a cartoon businessman with an outsized head, who began appearing on billboards all over Japan touting the wonders of the “Torys” brand of Suntory whisky. With the distillery’s parent company sponsoring the Japanese broadcast run of Rawhide, it was decided to do a little cowboy saloon-bar skit in which Uncle Torys gets hammered. This was back before anyone had really worked out how long an advert should be. As a result “Torys Bar” (1958) ran for over a minute, in a comedy skit scripted by author Takeshi Kaiko. It was the first of many sketches featuring the drunken uncle, who would go on to appear as a blue-collar worker, as a henpecked honeymooner and numerous other comedy roles.
The cartoon style was based loosely on the look of Gerald McBoing-Boing, an American cartoon, copies of which had made it to the TCJ studio where the animation work was done. The advertisers warmed to the economy of line and, once colour television came in, the opportunity to go mad with rainbow hues. One history of Japanese advertising even went so far as to proclaim that the Torys commercials were “cartoons that even grown-ups could enjoy.” One would hope so – they were selling whisky!
In later years, TV companies would tout for smaller business by reducing the size (and hence cost) of ad blocks, until by 1962, it was possible to buy advertising space that was only five seconds long. But this short-form craft only encouraged advertisers to search for ever more eye-catching artwork (some of which turned out oddly creepy). Japanese animators found plenty of work to do – advertising work remains the most lucrative and enduring element of Japanese animation, and one that is rarely seen outside its native country. The likes of Kihachiro Kawamoto, the famous stop-motion animator, largely funded their artistic works from the proceeds from advertising jobs. So, too, did Yoji Kuri, who is known in avant-garde circles for his festival short films, but in the commercial world as the man who animated dancing drum majorettes to advertise Mitsuka Soap.
Uncle Torys eventually retired in 1971, to be replaced by a live-action celebrity: an old man who made cabinets and mumbled reminiscences about the good old days. But Uncle Torys has cropped up on anniversaries and special occasions in the forty years since, getting gleefully blotto with his big giant head.