Roving photographer Paul Jacques snaps another cosplay gem
Costumer Georgina Craddock rocks out as Haruhi Suzumiya in this bunny-girl guitar set-up. Stranger things have happened in the fan favourite franchise, and it's just about to get stranger with this month's release of a bunch of new comedy shorts, presenting the characters as squashed down, "super-deformed" versions of themselves. The box also includes the Nyoron! Churuya-san shorts, originated as a fan-made 4-panel parody, but animated professionally by popular demand.
The Haruhi Suzumiya boom rolls ever on – always popular among costumers, regularly seen in para-para dancing, one of the biggest anime phenomena of recent years, and, now with an anime movie out on UK DVD, in the form of the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. Meanwhile, author Nagaru Tanigawa has already snagged himself an entry in the new Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, alongside the greats of global SF.
But if you can’t wait to see if there will be another anime film or TV series, the later episodes of Haruhi Suzumiya are already unfolding in book form. The movie released this week as The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is actually based on the fourth book in the series, and books five and six are already out in English – something to bear in mind for the Christmas stocking of the fan who thinks he or she already has it all.
The Rampage of Haruhi Suzumiya book features prose versions of events that will already be familiar to viewers of season two, most notably the infamous Endless Eight sequence where the SOS Brigade are stuck in a time loop. Other stories in the same volume include “The Day of Sagittarius”, when the computer club challenges Haruhi and friends to a gaming tournament, and “Snowy Mountain Syndrome” when the club members are forced to take refuge on a wintry hillside in a deserted mansion… or is it…? this last and longest of the three stories in the book is a direct sequel to the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, taking place over the New Year's season as the cast recover from the events covered in the movie.
And just out in English translation is the next book in the series, The Wavering of Haruhi Suzumiya, with a time-warp theme that flings the reader back in time to show new perspectives on previously seen stories. It’s a treasure trove for fans of the books and anime versions, as previous mysteries are answered with a series of odd twists and bonus information.
As to what happens next…you only have half a year to wait until the next book, TheIntrigues of Haruhi Suzumiya. And no time like the present to buy the DVD. We’re just saying…
Redline’s Katsuhito Ishii on cars, stars and mud racing
“I had friends in Phoenix and Sedona and places like that, so I spent a bit of time in the central USA, just hanging out. I was surprised at how many people seemed to spend all the time just tinkering with their automobiles. They didn’t even seem to go to work! I thought, boy, these people must really love their cars. I started to wonder if I could make a film that would actually entertain those people, and I began to consider it terms of how it might work in an old US drive-in movie theatre.
Katsuhito Ishii is busy. At the time he answers our questions, he is knee-deep in pre-shooting rewrites on his new movie Smuggler (screening this week at the Leeds Film Festival). But the sometime commercial director, sometime live-action director, sometime animator enjoys the changing nature of his media of choice.
“I do adverts. I do screenplays. I direct. Modern art. Anything!” And some time before Redline was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, he made a short animated film with Takeshi Koike, about two talkative salvage operators, stuck in dingy spaceship.
“Trava had some philosophical discussions embedded in the plot. I didn’t want any of that for Redline. Instead, Redline is a prequel, set a few years before Trava, when all the characters in it were racers. It’s a tale of the distant future, when we have started interacting with alien civilisations, and progressed dramatically in the field of science. Transportation is possible with all kinds of flying saucers, and classic cars are obsolete, but for the attentions of a few last classic car maniacs.
“After I’d finished working on the animation components of Taste of Tea and Kill Bill, a producer asked me if I’d come up with a project with a single condition, that Takeshi Koike should do the animation. I’ve been involved in a few animated productions, but I was often left uncomfortable by the way that my original designs were streamlined in the production process until they were just ‘easy-to-draw’. It was never like that with Takeshi Koike, though. My characters just became better and better. So when I work with him, I just tell him to do whatever he wants.
“I wanted Redline to be set about ten years before Trava. My job was setting the overall tone of the work, the character design, the science fiction itself and the overall supervision of the other creatives.” And his aim was one of imparting some sense of the experience of being a young child, watching crazy racing shows like Machine Hayabusa. “When I was a kid, even if it was stupid, a cartoon looked real. If you go back now and look at Machine Hayabusa, it doesn’t look so great, but to me then it was so real. I wanted to show that kind of heated experience to the kids of today, and to do it with animation.”
But when asked if there are any other inspirations, Ishii points to two sources: the gestures and looks of some of his real-life friends, ramped up to the hyper-real, and an obscure manga series called Dorofighter. Written and drawn by Motoka Murakami, Dorofighter ran from 1979 to 1981 in Shonen Sunday magazine, and featured a racing driver who moonlighted as a bounty hunter. His style of racing, however, was a world away from Formula One, instead driving straight into the messy, dangerous and often illegal world of American “mud racers” who take their vehicles off-road.
As for Redline itself, with audiences all over Europe and America proclaiming their love for its petrol frenzy, is there any chance of a sequel?
“I haven’t given it any thought, but if the kids want it, I’ll always consider it. I imagine that a sequel would be best presented in the form of a game.”
Redline is out next week on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment. For the chance to win a framed Redline poster, check out www.mangazette.com today!
Tom Smith thinks Naruto may be hiding two of the world’s cutest rappers.
Hip-hop in Japan is in a league of its own. In the west, the genre’s all too often tarred with images of attitude, bling and bootylicious women. Compare that stereotype with HALCALI, Tokyo’s all-girl rap duo whose introduction to the murky world of the hip and the hop is largely due to a big pink poster.
“We were so young at the time, we couldn’t even understand the kanji – we just thought the poster design was so cute!” confesses Halca, one half of the cute MC act. This statement alone separates the pair from the kind of demeanour outlined in the introduction. The poster was seeking members to form a new female rap unit, mentored by one of Japan’s most successful groups in the genre; RIP SLYME. The ensemble is best known in the anime community for their song ‘Super Shooter’ from the opening of GANTZ.
Halca and her buddy Yucali (Haruka and Yukari to their mums) aced the auditions and won the contract, in turn becoming the two-piece HALCALI by combining parts of their names together (and insisting on putting them in uppercase). Were they excited about winning? It’s been reported that the ditzy duo were nonchalant about the whole affair, and didn’t really grasp the calibre of talent they were working with, not until their debut single shot into the Oricon chart and snuck into the Japanese CGI series Mr. Stain, which was picked up by Funimation for the United States and Canada. The song used in the animation, ‘Tandem’ even found its way into Latin American MTV’s sports coverage! However, the bubble-gum rappers would have to wait until 2008 to make their debut on that side if the world proper.
It was in May of that year that the USA convention Anime Central invited the twosome over as musical guests of honour. They earned the position not just off the back of Mr. Stain. Mecha-based romp Eureka Seven also had a major part thanks to the girls’ ‘Tip Taps Tip’ single featuring as the series’ third ending theme. Their release ‘LOOK’ was also used in Powerpuff Girls Z, though the series was never licensed for America, despite airing in Canada, Mexico and Latin America.
Five months after hitting the States HALCALI returned to the anime scene with possibly their biggest crossover to date: Naruto! Their 12th single ‘Long Kiss Good Bye’ (above) featured as the series’ seventh ending, found on Manga’s latest UK release; Naruto Shippuden: Box Set 7.
The song’s music video is a girly neon nod to White Stripe’s ‘Seven Nation Army’ video. It’s far from the first time the girls have taken or parodied things from popular culture in their PVs. ‘Tandem’, their first release has a video paying homage to Super Mario while cheekily poking fun at Hikaru Utada, and there’s a section in ‘Giri Giri Surf Rider’s that salutes the late king of pop himself; Michael Jackson! Cute rap doesn’t get much better than that.
If there was ever a country to be a voice actor in, Japan is it. With over 100 talent schools dedicated to training young hopefuls in the way of the voice, and even monthly magazines solely on the subject, it’s hardly surprising that the country views the humble VA with greater prominence than anywhere else.
Only in Japan, for example, could a voice actress – or ‘seiyu’ as the profession has become known – reach the dizzying heights of idol status, even selling out entire arenas, blurring the line between pop star and vocal wonder. Meet Aki Toyosaki, one such actress currently taking her homeland by storm in such a way – and music-based phenomenon K-On! is to blame!
Aki Toyosaki’s career began like any other voice talent, with minor parts in animation and TV. Her first major breakthrough came in 2007 when she landed the lead role of Amuro Ninagawa in the dubiously named anime Kenkou Zenrakei Suieibu Umishou (‘Kenkou Nude Swim Series Umishou’). Lucky for her it was just her voice being ‘shown off’, despite her character’s inability to keep clothed.
This was followed up with a part as a secondary character in the Minami-ke (‘The Minami Family’) franchise. Despite playing a lowly classmate of the central Minami sisters, the position led to Toyosaki being involved with the anime’s soundtrack CD. This would give her vital experience for her next job in the anime industry, and one that would define her as a voice actress: she became the voice of Yui Hirasawa, K-On!’s guitar-strumming schoolgirl.
On top of the typical voice recording duties for the series, Toyosaki was also expected to record the vocal tracks for the songs, including its opening and closing themes, ‘Cagayake! Girls’ and ‘Don't say lazy’. These were recorded with fellow cast members Youko Hikasa, Satomi Satou and Minako Kotobuki, and soon the franchise’s first mini album was released. It went straight to number one in the weekly Oricon album chart – the first time that an album credited to fictional characters has done so.
K-On! proved to be a huge success and a second series was soon in production, along with a whole new set of theme songs to accompany it; ‘GO! GO! MANIAC’ and ‘Listen!!’. With the momentum of the franchise in full swing, both of these themes shot to the top of Japan’s Oricon weekly singles chart, with the former at number one, and the latter one place behind, cementing both the series and Aki Toyosaki into the record books. It was the first time an anime song had debuted at the top of the singles chart.
You’ll have to wait until the second series to get your ears around those tracks. For now there’s always the second volume of the series that started it all. And while its first two themes may not have reached number one status, they were award winning! It’s closer ‘Don’t say ‘lazy’’ won Best Theme Song at the 2009 Animation Kobe Awards. It was also around the time of the second volume that Toyosaki and her three colleagues from K-On! caught the attention of Sony Music Entertainment, who turned the four actresses into the vocal supergroup Sphere – and they’ve been filling arenas ever since!
Andrew Osmond searches for hidden links in Eden of the East
Production IG’s political-romantic-comedy-thriller-borderline-SF saga Eden of the East concludes – perhaps! – on November 21st with the film Paradise Lost. Continuing the story from the King of Eden film and the preceding 12-part TV series, it sees protagonists Akira and Saki return to Tokyo for the last acts in the game to “save” Japan. There are bonus prizes on offer, like Akira’s backstory, and perhaps even the unmasking of the game’s enigmatic sponsor. In keeping with Eden’s copious cinephile references, here’s a clue for you; think Martin Scorsese.
If you’re chewing over the plot, bear in mind that one of the deep conflicts in modern Japan – perhaps even more so than in other countries – is between the old and the young, especially in the workplace. Japanese society had a terrible shake this March, but many of the country’s youth still perceive Japan Inc. as run by entrenched old men – the “gerontocracy” denounced at the end of the TV series. But Paradise Lost is complex enough to contain multitudes; stay around for a vital last scene after the credits, which up-ends what’s gone before.
Some viewers may complain that a few big questions remain unanswered, especially about Akira’s tendency to flush his own memories as casually as a Star Wars droid; though it’s arguable that his reasons are implicit in Eden’s central theme of a pure-hearted hero playing humanity’s most corrupt power games. But there’s another question left hanging at the film’s end, one that was set up at the very start of the story.
In the second TV episode, there was a passing reference to a plane crash in which a 6-year old boy and girl were the sole survivors. Now, bear in mind that Eden of the East is the creation of Kenji Kamiyama, who also directed Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex… and that in the second series of SAC,we learned that Motoko Kusanagi survived a plane crash as a child, together with a little boy. Is this just a tease, or an indication that the changing Japan of Eden is actually the same world as Stand Alone Complex, only a few decades earlier? If you’re not sold, then consider Eden’s dulcet-toned A.I. “Juiz,” voiced by the same actress as the ever-evolving Tachikoma robots in SAC…
Interviewed last year, Kamiyama seemed slightly cagey about whether Eden had finally ended, though he said that Paradise Lost concluded the “save Japan” game. The mind boggles at the prospect of a series bridging Eden and SAC, though any such venture would presumably need the blessing of Masumune Shirow, creator of the original Ghost in the Shell. Then again, Shirow seems happy to see very different interpretations of his world running in parallel, from the Salinger-inflected themes of Stand Alone Complex, to the art-house musings on dogs and dolls in the Innocence movie.
If you’re interested in following Kamiyama’s criss-crossing motifs, then watch his fantasy series Moribito Guardian of the Spirit, which features another steel-strong woman warrior who physically resembles Kusanagi but has a quite different psychology. And then there’s Kamiyama’s current project, which is a fantastically glossy-looking movie remake of the vintage Cyborg 009 science-fiction manga by Shotaro Ishinomori. Just watch the trailer and see if it doesn’t remind you of something...
Eden of the East: Paradise Lost is out on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.
We've been working in secret on a new web comic for the Manga UK blog, but couldn't resist the temptation to post this particular strip a little early. Click on the image to see it full size. Know Your Anime will go live on 1st December.
Wielding a luminous forest of lightsticks, the crowd cheers lustily as the blue-haired starlet struts birdlike on the stage, her voice a piercing high warble. The audience is flesh and blood; so are the musicians sharing the stage with the diva. Hatsune Miku, though, is 100% anime. Her pale skin and train of blue hair glow in the auditorium like the lightsticks raised up to her. Projected onto a clear screen, she’s a cartoon image with a fanbase in the thousands. Last year, that image was etched on metal plates and sent into space aboard the Japanese unmanned Venus probe, Akatsuki. It seems only fitting, given that Miku’s “live” music videos look like something out of science-fiction.
When Miku isn’t being a stage projection, she has a second career as a videogame sprite. Go to the Sega World games centre in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district, and you can see her perform pop numbers on a vast TV screen, projected from one of the many arcade booths where players struggle to follow her rhythms. The game is called Project Diva, a “hit the buttons in the right sequence” affair with dozens of different Miku videos (there’s also a version for the PlayStation Portable).
Officially, Miku is neither a stage projection nor a game character, but a piece of software based on Vocaloid technology. The Vocaloid – in the words of Hiroyuki Itoh, CEO of Crypton Future Media, the company which owns Miku – is “an engine that produces a singing sound.” Other Crypton Vocaloid characters appear alongside Miku in her games and stage shows. There are the boy-and-girl twins Len and Rin Kagamine, and Megurine Luka with her strawberry hair and her deeper, funkier voice. Miku’s own voice has been described cruelly by her detractors (as Morph on a megaphone, or a strangled chipmunk) but her singing partners balance her out quite a bit.
One things which fascinates people is what Miku’s popularity says about her fans. How on earth can people in a pop stadium respond so enthusiastically to a cartoon character who –sorry folks – isn’t real? Inevitably, a lot of the press talks about Miku in terms of crazy Japanese pop-culture, or crazy otaku pop-culture. Actually, her lineage goes back before either idea was in circulation. Decades before Jurassic Park or Jar Jar Binks, cinema audiences were already used to the idea of actors interacting with characters who weren’t really “there.” Indeed, they responded to these characters themselves; they laughed at Bugs Bunny, blubbed at Bambi, and cheered at Gene Kelly dancing a duet with Jerry (from Tom and Jerry). Other characters provoked more, ahem, interesting responses.
In 1943, mad animation genius Tex Avery released a saucy cartoon called Red Hot Riding Hood, the centrepiece of which was a song and dance routine by sexy singer “Red,” wearing very little, very attractively. One can only imagine how a crowd of on-leave U.S. soldiers would react to that kind of spectacle (unsurprisingly, Red returned in several follow-up cartoons in the ‘40s). Skip forward forty-five years, and it was Jessica Rabbit wowing audiences in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, breathing “Why don’t you do right,” and getting Bob Hoskins’s dander up.
In anime, who can forget Sharon Apple (another redhead), the femme fatale cyber-goddess in Macross Plus, floating over her adoring fans like a luminous angel? It’s interesting to note, though, that in the anime story she’s the dream of a flesh-and-blood woman, her alter ego, whom she seeks to destroy. A similar idea is used in Satoshi Kon’s film Perfect Blue, where the singer-goddess is a creation of a psychosis; not that that makes her any less forceful as she skips atop lamp-posts and mocks her creator from a computer screen. An earlier virtual anime singer was Eve in the 1980s video series Megazone 23, whom the public believe is real, but who is actually the A.I. of a supercomputer.
The first “real” virtual idol in Japan was the crudely-animated Kyoko Date in 1997, who released a single called Love Communication. She was followed by Yuki Terai, who was packaged with early 3DCG software, appeared in pop videos and released a DVD. Hatsune Miku’s impact has been far greater, but her forgotten predecessors remind us even virtual pop-stars are transitory. Will we be talking about Miku two years from now, let alone five or ten?
The “live” concert footage of Miku is breathtaking, but according to people who were actually at the events, it’s also misleading. Reportedly, the illusion that Miku is on stage is only perfect if you’re placed watching the projection head-on; otherwise Miku and her chums look rather ghostly. Nonetheless, the potential of the stage technology is obvious. If it can simulate a pop concert, then why not a story, a whole anime drama played on stage with anime characters? An audience with Gollum, or Astro Boy, or Haruhi Suzumiya (or better still, all three)? Or how about a Roger Rabbit-style stage spectacular, with live and anime performers? Once you let a blue-haired, squeaky-voiced diva on stage, then brace yourself… It’s her world now.
“Hatsune Miku Live Party 2011” will be shown at the Apollo Piccadilly cinema on Monday November 28 (at 6.30 pm) and on Tuesday November 29 (at 8.30 pm) Tickets can be booked on the cinema website.
The runners-up from our Cosplay Zone at this weekend's MCM Expo
Congratulations to all the amazing costumers who showed up at our Cosplay Zone photobooth over the weekend at the London MCM Expo. Roving photographer Paul Jacques snapped hundreds of photographs of truly intricate, original, professional-quality cosplays. Entrants included characters from games, anime, manga, movies and comics, and even this remarkably realistic Vic Mignogna lookalike. Although he didn't give his name. (You idiot: that is Vic Mignogna - Ed). We'll be uploading some of our favourites over the weeks to come, and also announcing the winners in our Best Male, Best Female and Best Group categories at the end of this week on Friday. Thanks to all the costumers who took part; you make Expo such a fun experience for us. And keep your eyes on this blog for more pictures from the weekend.
But first, here are our picks of the runners up: each of you will be getting a prize from Manga entertainment.
Best Princess Leia Slave Girl is shown above. No, not Vic. The other one. A lovely, polite young lady who gives Carrie Fisher a run for her money in the "who can be the most glamorous Rebel Alliance spy" stakes.
Best Group Runner Up: She-Ra and He-Man. An amazing effort that captures our fond childhood memories of the great muscled one and his glamorous cousin. Extra points were earned for He-Man’s close likeness to Angus Deayton. GREAT EFFORT. Some prizes will be sent out to them next week, for the honour of Grayskull.
Another notable Group runner-up are our two Arrancars from Bleach. Excellent attention to detail.
Best Dr. Who: Great pose! Allons-y!
We are also happy to see the cosplay scene widen to cater to some well known Marvel and DC comic characters such as Jean Gray, above, and the less well known, but very hip cartoon character Freakazoid, below.
And an honourable mention for this fantastically slinky Mystique.
We really enjoyed seeing some of the amazing original designs from the UK Steampunk scene. This October saw costumes that have really upped the ante. Special mention must go to the one below. A very cool-looking hand-made coat, which would not look too shabby on the high street.
But just think, if this is how good the runners-up are, imagine what amazing winners we'll be announcing at the weekend...
Jerome Mazandarani delivers his verdict and the prizes
And here, after a week’s wait and a week’s deliberations, are the winners of the Manga Entertainment Cosplay Zone competition from October’s London MCM Expo.
Each winner, including each of the Group winners, will each get £200 of Manga and Anchor Bay Blu-rays and DVDs, from a roster including Spartacus Season 1 and 2 box sets, Dance in the Vampire Bund, the Akira Steelbook, D Gray Man box set, Soul Eater box set, Naruto Shippuden Season 1 box set, Summer Wars, Redline and Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. Plus, they get their own prints of their photographs, courtesy of our lovely photographer, Paul Jacques.
Best Male -- Liam Maddock as Old Snake from Metal Gear Solid
A great example of what cosplay should be all about. Excellent attention to detail, fantastic creativity in sourcing and piecing different materials to achieve the overall look, a sense of humour and faithfulness to the original character. Well done.
Best Female -- Ella Roberts as She Predator
This is one of the best costumes I have ever seen in 6 years of MCM Expo. You can tell the costume has been faithfully built from the ground up entirely by hand. This is not an off the peg costume. It's amazing and shows real imagination. I love it.
Best Group – Tanya, Carla and Steph as Card Captor Sakura et al.
A wonderful result to look at, and great poses, girls.
Several big-name anime features will be showing at selected cinemas around the UK on 26th November. Tekken: Blood Vengeance, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, and parts one and two of Mardock Scramblewill be wowing audiences at Picture House cinemas, courtesy of those lovely people at We Love Anime. The one-day anime explosion takes in cinemas across the country, from Aberdeen to Exeter, so check the website to see if they are showing at a cinema near you.