The latest issue of NEO magazine is in stores and available for download now, and this issue is a Dragon Ball Z special, including a guide to the cast and an A4 poster. There's coverage of Clannad as well as a Manga Snapshot on Jour the comic for bitchy housewives.
All this and much more. Available now from all good newsagents, and quite a few bad ones.
From the very outset, Iwao Takamoto (1925-2007) was torn between his parents’ birthplace of Japan, and his own homeland of America. His autobiography, Iwao Takamoto: My Life With a Thousand Characters, notes the uneasy situation in 1930s America, where Japanese immigrants were not permitted US citizenship, effectively ensuring that Takamoto grew up with a different nationality to his parents.
As a Japanese-American growing up during WW2, Takamoto’s dual ethnicity was a constant concern. He and his family were carted off to an internment camp in 1942, and spent the latter years of the war kicking their heels in the middle of the desert. As one inmate waggishly commented, if the Japanese win the war, Takamoto will be sent back to the camp, this time because he is American.
In 1945, Takamoto guilelessly turned up with a hastily drawn set of samples at Disney, where he was hired on the spot – it turned out that his ability to knock out a book full of sketches to order actually trumped the more considered portfolios of his fellow applicants. He arrived at a cash-strapped studio that had only made it through the 1940s on wartime government contracts, and which suddenly had to make money from entertainment cartoons again. His contributions included sequences and designs in Cinderella and Lady & the Tramp. There’s one intriguing aside where Takamoto brings up the subject of Yusaku Nakagawa, an animator sent from Japan to Disney to learn how things are done (and although Takamoto does not mention this, also the little brother of a famous Japanese film star). This is the same “Steve” Nakagawa who ends up a generation later working on a number of Japanese-American co-productions, including Frosty the Snowman and the ill-starred Metamorphoses, although there are allusions to behind-the-scenes skulduggery which kept his name off the credits.
In 1961, Takamoto ended up at Hanna-Barbera Productions, where he would eventually become “creative producer” – a made-up title for a series of responsibilities that, in Japan, would be parsed as character designer and supervising director. Takamoto would often be the point man who created specific looks and characters, storyboarded early shows, and then departed to set up the next project, leaving his creations to live on without him. He threw himself into work on The Flintstones, a show that had already established that it was, much to many animators’ surprise, possible to make a half-hour weekly TV show. He created characters for Wacky Races and Hong Kong Phooey, and most memorably came up with the “comedy dog” for a detective show who soon took over. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, with its counter-intuitive exclamation mark, is surely Takamoto’s most enduring creation, and dominated kids’ TV in America for decades. For what it’s worth, Takamoto also notes that he has always thought Scrappy-Doo was “a crummy idea.”
The autobiography itself is a work of academic brinkmanship. Takamoto died as the book was being laid out, which only adds to the sense of legacy and elegy in this excellent memoir. His collaborator Michael Mallory is deftly invisible, leaving Takamoto himself to do all the talking, in a story that spans six decades of animation, as well as tall tales of indoor archery and abuse of thumbtacks. Although of Japanese ancestry, Takamoto was never a “Japanese” animator, but his life-story only goes to demonstrate the transnational quality of the animation business – as The Jetsons is aired in Japan, in turn inspiring Tezuka to make Astro Boy, Go-Bots is made by the Taiwanese studio set up by Hanna-Barbera’s own James Wang, and Scooby-Doo ends up dubbed into Japanese under the hands of Satoshi Kato, an alumnus of Tezuka’s Mushi Production, who also worked on anime such as Berserk, Space Adventure Cobra and Tomorrow’s Joe.
In later years, Takamoto became less of an animator and more of a brand. Following the takeover of Hanna-Barbera by Warner Bros in 2001, Takamoto was wheeled out in countless public appearances at Warners stores around the world, to sign sketches and shill for merchandise. He seems to have embraced this “ambassadorial” role with great gusto, and gleefully reports his unexpected celebrity late in life, even down to the “respect” accorded him by unnamed rap stars when he appeared on The Big Breakfast.
Matt Kamen is on the casting couch for Bleach the Movie
Big-screen Bleach is big business – hot on the heels of the third animated movie, Fade to Black, American studio Warner Bros announces plans for a live-action Bleach movie. Temper the hatred for a second though: unlike the hopefully aborted Akira remake, with the right cast and an appropriate effects budget, a cinematic Bleach movie might not be too bad. So, if Warner reps are reading, here are a few casting suggestions!
Rory Culkin as Ichigo Kurasaki. Put aside thoughts of elder brother Macauley’s typecasting in the Home Alone movies and you’ll find the Culkin clan actually has some impressive acting talents. Youngest brother Rory’s first major role was as Mel Gibson’s son in the 2002 sci-fi movie Signs, and he’s since racked up a ton of critically acclaimed appearances in indie films. As for the physical challenge playing Ichigo would require, Culkin was recently cast as the new Ghostface in Scream 4, so there’s little to worry about there. At 22, he’s about the right age to still pass for a teenager onscreen, too.
Chiaki Kuriyama as Rukia Kuchiki. Kuriyama might be a bit old for the role of Rukia – she’s just hit 27, while the character is meant to appear 15 – but if Warners want to add some Asian cinema authenticity to their Bleach outing, they could do worse than adding her to the starring credits. The talented actress effortlessly pulled off ‘deadly schoolgirl’ in both Tarantino’s Kill Bill Part One and Kinji Fukusaku’s Battle Royale and, having appeared in the original Ju-On as Mizuho, she also has the chops to pull off the horror elements a Bleach movie would require.
Logan Lerman as Uryu Ishida. Lerman isn’t a household name – he’s best known for playing Percy Jackson in The Lightning Thief – but between a growing number of respectable turns in reflective dramas and bigger Hollywood fare alike, his star is on the rise. Crucially though, he also has legitimate action film skills from his role as d’Artagnan in last year’s The Three Musketeers, for which he reportedly trained for three months. Top that up with some archery, dye his hair black and throw on a pair of specs and you have a talented young actor to bring Uryu to life.
Tom Hardy as Byakuya Kuchiki. Presuming an initial Bleach movie for western viewers would adapt the Ichigo’s induction as a Soul Reaper and the eventual infiltration of Soul Society to rescue Rukia, then her conceited elder brother Byakuya would be filling the villain’s role (with the series’ arch-nemesis Sousuke Aizen saved for sequels). For such an arrogant and physically imposing figure as Byakuya, Hardy would be perfect – plus he’s already on Warners’ radar thanks to his upcoming showcase as hulking villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.
Quinton Flynn as Kon. The chances of a highly-merchandisable and kid-friendly character such as Kon being dropped are slim, but the snarky lion plush is likely to get a CG makeover. Flynn is already Kon’s voice in the anime’s dub – why not give him the nod for the movie, too? Failing that, Warners will probably try to get Jack Black or Ben Stiller to do another ‘funny animal’ voice....
Bleach: Fade to Black is out next week from Manga Entertainment. The Bleach live-action movie is still “in development”.
Better ideas for Bleach casting..? Shove them in the comments section and let's see who's right!
Consider the roar of a waterfall. Now replace the water with crashing metal ball bearings and turn the volume up to eleven. Congratulations! You have just imagined the deafening interior of a pachinko parlour.
Believed to have evolved from the American game Corinthian Bagatelle, introduced to Japan in the 1920s, pachinko is Japan’s favourite pastime. It’s also big business, pulling in more cash annually than the domestic car industry. It has been accused of fuelling organised crime, ruining lives, and even funding North Korea’s missile programme. But what it all boils down to is the allure of those little silver balls.
A pachinko machine resembles an upright pinball table. Insert your cash, and hundreds of ball bearings (each usually worth about 4 yen, or far less than a penny) pour into a tray in front of you, which are then fed automatically into the machine. The balls are launched into play by an automatic plunger, shooting one by one from the bottom of the machine to the top, where they then cascade at thundering velocity through clusters of pins down the screen. Most of them will fall uselessly to a hole at the bottom.
The aim, by subtle manipulation of a throttle control, is to fire the stream of balls at just the right speed so that they will fall into designated scoring holes, triggering a slot-machine-like spin of three numbers on a digital screen behind the playfield. There then ensues an animated battle between the numbers to determine whether you’ve hit the jackpot, at which point thousands of balls drop into a rectangular bucket below your machine’s tray.
If all this makes pachinko sound like an exciting game of skill and action, think again. For all but the most seasoned pros, it’s simply a case of finding the ‘sweet spot’, or twisting the throttle to the optimum speed, and then not moving your hand again until home time, allowing your eyes to glaze over as the game plays out automatically in front of you. Newcomers may find a buzz from hitting their first jackpot, but in reality, pachinko parlours are depressing homes for motionless addicts: No number of flashing lights and brand tie-ups (Star Wars, Fist of the North Star, Kinnikuman, pop singers Koda Kumi and Hiromi Go, etc) will rouse the attention of the pachinko zombie.
The real skill lies in knowing which machine to pick. First of all, a shindai (new machine) is most likely to pay out, as its win average slowly drives down to the standard 1 in 400. Even this average is variable, however, as the parlour staff customise the machines during their closing hours to make them harder or easier to win on. It’s a careful balance of tweaking the odds to rake in more cash without turning customers elsewhere.
As such, the pros have ways of choosing the machines most likely to pay out on any given day, and it is common to see them queuing up before a parlour opens to get their machine of choice. And since the odds are so long, you’d better be prepared to stay at one machine till closing time.
But hang on, isn’t private gambling illegal in Japan? Unlike public-run moneyholes such as lotteries and horse, bicycle and boat racing, pachinko is legally a leisure activity. So once you’ve enjoyed a run of jackpots, what are you supposed to do with your glistening buckets of winnings?
Here’s where things go grey. Officially, you trade your winnings for prizes, much like at game centres in the UK; typical items include cigarettes, stuffed toys, cosmetics, even bicycles and DVD players. But unofficially, you can simply exchange your winnings for a token, walk to a nondescript kiosk nearby and cash it in. Authorities tolerate this borderline illegal trade since the kiosk is supposedly always owned by a company separate from the pachinko parlour, and yet mysteriously those tokens end up back in the parlour of origin. According to market research firm Yano Research Institute Ltd, about 95 percent of all winnings at Japan’s 14,600 pachinko parlours are exchanged for cash.
As you might expect, pachinko parlours tend to have links to organised crime. But you might be surprised to learn that it’s not Japan’s Yakuza that is believed to have the upper hand, but Korea’s. It has been variously reported that between 70 and 90 percent of all pachinko parlours are owned by ethnic Koreans, and ‘official’ sources report that anywhere between 3 billion and 200 billion yen (£22.7 million to £1.5 billion) flows back to North Korea annually, believed to be partly funding its controversial missile programme.
These parlour operators are not afraid to get sneaky. For one thing, they allegedly operate a ‘gambling tax’, whereby a portion of all winnings are kept by the house to pay police bribes. And they reportedly have tricks to entice newcomers, such as planting paid players at high-scoring machines; giving machines better odds on certain public holidays, when new customers are more likely to try pachinko for the first time, and worse odds on weekends, when parlours are most crowded; and adjusting the odds on a machine that is in play to make a player on a heavy losing streak win a few jackpots, to keep him coming back (this last is highly illegal and one of the few reasons a pachinko parlour might be closed by police).
And still, the Japanese love a good balls-up. According to reference site Japan Zone, the pachinko business “employs a third of a million people, three times more than the steel industry; it commands 40 percent of Japan's leisure industry, including restaurants and bars; and [has] 30 million regular enthusiasts coughing up more 30 trillion yen (£226.5 billion) a year.” The average pachinko punter parts with 30,000 yen (£226.50) on every visit.
It’s not without its cultural impact, either. In the manga Bleach, Yachiru refers to Ikkaku as a “pachinko-ball head”. Also, in the anime and manga Poltergeist Report, main character Yusuke Urameshi is a pachinko addict and, at one point, misses out on a battle with one of the Seven Demons because he is in the middle of a pachinko game. And if you were to head to YouTube and search for Nicolas Cage and Sankyo, you’d find a series of somewhat disturbing ads featuring the American action hero line-dancing with bunch of pachinko-men, lusting after a woman’s earring, fantasising about triplets, and singing about the things he loves.
So, if you can reconcile with your wallet the likely loss of cash and with your conscience the likely proliferation of nuclear weapons, give pachinko a go next time you’re in Japan. But for god’s sake, don’t forget your earplugs.
“Nowadays it is getting difficult to create cool, global science fiction,” says director Kenji Kamiyama. “It is because reality has surpassed the future we imagined. Cool SF stories turn up just before the big bang of a new social infrastructure. This time, it was the Internet. Ghost in the Shell was the forerunner and a favourite.”
The issue of an aging population first appeared in Japanese science fiction in the early 1990s. Katsuhiro Otomo’s Roujin-Zsatirised the use of robots to care for the elderly, but around the same time in the original Ghost in the Shell manga, Masamune Shirow was depicting old people literally left out on trash heaps.
Solid State Society returns to one of Ghost in the Shell’s most important themes – the nature of the human spirit in a wired world. Directed and co-written by the Stand Alone Complex TV serial’s Kenji Kamiyama, it considers the possibility that human beings are temporary growths like leaves on trees, fated to fade and die while the real organism, society itself, lives on. It is a provocative and unsettling premise, reducing human beings to consumers and customers, mere cogs in a much larger system, which is only interested in them for as long as they are productive.
In Solid State Society, children are in short supply, while the burdensome population of retirees is increasing. Furthermore, the very technology that was supposed to make the future a paradise of easy living is keeping people alive for inconveniently extended periods, leading to Solid State Society’s “Kifu Aged” – pensioners on life-support machines, regarded by a brutal society as parasites.
Children played a crucial part in the rise of mass entertainment. Television and the post-war birthrate created the largest juvenile audience Japan had ever seen, numbers that boosted the ratings for children’s programming so high that anime became a viable and a welcome local product. Those same children became the industrious workers whose savings kick-started Japan’s economic miracle, and the harassed yuppies that presided over the bubble economy of the 1980s. Japan’s children were its greatest resource in the late 20th century, but with old age they risk turning into a new liability. The Western world faces a similar problem, but Japan will see it first.
Older Japanese are threatened with retirement in a land where there are simply not enough young, able-bodied adults to fund pension schemes. Nor are there large, old-fashioned extended families to support them. Japan never had an official one-child policy like China, but high housing prices and a high cost of living encouraged many families to stay small. A large group of modern Japanese children has grown up without brothers or sisters, aunts or uncles, or cousins. Modern anime reflects this friendless generation, most notably in the children’s show Bubu Chacha, in which a lonely child hangs out with local ghosts.
The Ghost in the Shell series has always mixed tantalising real-world issues with a science fictional spin, and Solid State Society is no exception. To a Japanese audience, it resonates even closer to home. One reason for Japan’s population predicament is its obstructive attitude towards immigration; “Japanese-ness” is not a matter of one’s place of birth or chosen allegiance, but a racially defined characteristic that is all but impossible for a foreigner to acquire. Even ethnic Koreans, some of whose families have resided in Japan for centuries, attended Japanese schools and speak no other language but Japanese, are still regarded as foreigners. Thus, when Solid State Society’s Motoko Kusanagi speaks off-handedly of a “Refugee Naturalisation Act”, she points to a chilling sign of a future Japan in a state of crisis – opening its doors to Chinese, Indonesians and other outland ethnicities. The suspects faced by Section 9 in Solid State Society have bafflingly monosyllabic names that sound alien to Japanese ears; they are blamed for Japan’s ills, but Japan desperately needs them to stay and support its economy. Foreigners are infecting Japan like a virus, altering it forever. They bring new hope, but also new tensions, and for Section 9, new crimes.
Solid State Society also taps into modern Japanese paranoia about potential enemies, particularly North Korea, the rogue state with a nuclear programme and a scandalous history of abducting Japanese citizens for use in espionage – not a creation of science fiction, but a documented fact. Between 1977 and 1983, as many as 80 Japanese missing persons cases are rumoured to have been North Korean espionage kidnappings, although Pyongyang has only admitted to a dozen. The youngest was just thirteen years old at the time of her abduction.
Solid State Society cunningly whips up a political standoff between the past and the future, asking if it is right for the old-timers (which, in 2034, means us) to dictate what their grandchildren do, and how they should behave. It shares some trends with modern green politics, which asks how as-yet unborn generations will regard us, and true to the spirit of earlier incarnations of the anime, it takes such things to extremes. “The message,” reveals director Kamiyama, “is one of reclaiming a society in which people are aware of and considerate towards each other.
Mystic action abounds in the second thrilling collection of Fairy Tail, as flame-spewing Natsu, ice-mage Gray, summoner Lucy and the rest of the gang take on sorcerous threats across the world of Earthland. The series is based on the long running manga by Hiro Mashima, and as the anime closes in on its 150th episode in Japan, it’s clearly shaping up to be the next Naruto or Bleach, delivering ongoing adventure to a devoted audience. Unlike a certain orange ninja or black-garbed grim reaper though, Fairy Tail’s roots do not lie in the pages of the famous Weekly Shonen Jump anthology.
Covering everything from the likes of Masami Kurumada’s boxing drama Ring ni Kakero to Akira Toriyama’s world-conquering Dragon Ball, Shueisha’s boys’ manga serial is – to western fans at least – near-synonymous with lengthy action sagas. However, while Weekly Shonen Jump first saw print in July 1968 and is now indisputably the top selling boys comic in Japan, it was actually preceded by almost a decade by rival publisher Kodansha’s Weekly Shonen Magazine.
First published in March 1959, Weekly Shonen Magazine has been a staple of the manga industry for almost seven decades. Generations have grown up reading it, thrilling to the adventures contained within. It’s no surprise the comic has been such a persistent success story – poring through old issues of Weekly Shonen is like turning the pages of manga history. The publication is littered with works by luminary creators – Shigeru Mizuki’s supernatural Spooky Ooky Kitaro; Kazumasa Hirai and Jiro Kuwata’s Eightman, the world’s first cyborg superhero; a whole wealth of work from the “King of Manga”, Shotaro Ishinomori, including Skull Man, Kamen Rider and Cyborg 009; Go Nagai’s Devilman; Tohru Fujisawa’s Great Teacher Onizuka; the list is nearly endless.
Unlike its upstart rival, Kodansha’s anthology often skewed towards an older audience, offering a broader range of content as a result. Though Shonen Jump overtook it in sales and exposure by the mid 1990s, Shonen Magazine has consistently featured some of the best received and fondly remembered series.
In fact, Hiro Mashima’s career as a manga creator has been entirely at the legendary title. His debut work, Groove Adventure Rave (better known as Rave Master in the UK and US) premiered in Weekly Shonen Magazine in 1999. A globe-hopping story of superpowers and a quest for mystic stones, the story ran consistently until 2005, racking up 296 chapters and spawning a 52 episode anime series in the process. After a year off, Mashima returned in August 2006 with the first chapter of Fairy Tail which, at 270 chapters and counting, is looking to smash the 34-year old artist’s previous record.
Between Mashima’s works, sci-fi street skating strip Air Gear and a fictionalised manga based on the hyper-popular girl group AKB48, Weekly Shonen Magazine is on the rise again and the people in charge no doubt have their eyes on reclaiming the top spot once more. Naruto, Bleach? You’ve been warned.
It’s back to school for Matt Kamen with Baka and Test!
At Fumizaki Academy, students don’t just face the usual trials of homework and exams to get the best out of school – if they want the best, they’ll have to fight for it! Championing an alternative approach to education, teachers maintain a modern day warrior caste system – the top performing class lives in luxury, the lowest suffer the worst conditions on offer. It’s not their academic rankings that determine status though – to win or retain the best equipment, a class needs to win no-holds-barred avatar summoning battles!
With battles overseen by teachers, the power of the kids’ avatars is decided by the results of the most recent test taken. The victors move up, while the losers are forced to take remedial lessons to restore their avatar’s health! Unfortunately for Class 2F, they’re less a classroom and more a storing room for the dumbest kids in school, meaning their avatars are weak and their resources poor. Enter the hidden aces – Mizuki Himeji is one of the smartest girls in school, who only missed out on placing in the top class due to falling ill and missing the entrance exam. After catching up, her avatar is one of the toughest available. Akihisa Yoshii, in turn, is idiotic enough to be the ‘baka’ (idiot) of the show’s name, but his avatar is the only one that can interact with the physical world around him. Guided by the dubious leadership of Yuji Sakamoto, Class F’s president, Mizuki and Akihisa are the edge the class needs to battle their way to the top of the school league!
This unlikely take on academia first appeared in the form of a series of light novels in 2007, published by Enterbrain. Written by Kenji Inoue, with illustrations by Yui Haga, Baka and Test has racked up an impressive ten volumes since its debut, with more to come. The series’ mixture of comedy and action, along with a peppering of romance and drama, has seen it explode in popularity. Three spin-off manga are currently published – one a straight up adaptation, one a four-panel joke strip and one focusing more on the students’ personal lives than their frequent avatar battles.
The anime adaptation is produced by the relatively fresh-faced studio Silver Link, which was also set up in 2007. Like the residents of Class 2F, Silver Link has been battling its way up through the anime industry since its inception, doing grunt work such as inbetween animation on the likes of Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, then assisting on key animation for Eden of the East and Astarotte’s Toy (another series by Yui Haga, coincidentally). Though 2009’s Tayutama: Kiss on my Deity was the first show Silver Link provided full Animation Production on, Baka and Test has been the company’s biggest success to date. The series is directed by Shin Oonuma, a veteran who worked as animator on the balletic drama Princess Tutu and comedy series Strawberry Eggs, before directing madcap shows such as Negima!
The complete first series is available for your revision needs now. Improved exam results not guaranteed. (Please do not try this at a real school – Ed.)
Come one, come all to the MCM Expo at London's Excel Centre on the weekend of the 25th-27th May, where we are having a full-on, no-holds-barred anime sale, with DVDs from just a pound, and Blu-rays from a fiver. The Manga booth is also the place to take part in the first SFX/Manga Cosplay Zone at our booth with the finalists published on SFX.co.uk where you can vote for your fave. Early birds will get an exclusive, limited edition copy of the Manga Entertainment, Know Your Anime comic book as well as a free DVD. Numbers are strictly limited and available on a first come, first served basis.
On Saturday 26th May, Manga/MCM Expo Special guests: Michael Sinterniklaas (One Piece, Naruto Shippuden) and Stephanie Sheh (Voice of Hinata Hyuga in Naruto Shippuden) will be attending the event to promote the worldwide exclusive of the feature length anime movie from A1 studio, Welcome To The Space Show (released by Manga Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray on July 2nd). Join Michael and Steph as they introduce the first 10 minutes of the movie’s English dub to the audience in Theatre B on Saturday 25th May (time TBC). This is a worldwide exclusive followed by a Q&A with Michael and Steph.
To celebrate the 2nd July release of Welcome To The Space Show, they will be exclusively signing a limited edition free Space Show poster on the Manga booth. Also bring your One Piece and Naruto covers to get signed too. Signing items are limited to two pieces per person. Get in line early to avoid disappointment.
And on Sunday, Kaze/MCM Expo/Manga Entertainment are proud to present Berserk: The Golden Age Arc – Egg of the King, the first movie in the highly anticipated Berserk movie trilogy. Joining Kaze UK’s Andrew Partridge on stage for this special panel presentation of one the most exciting new anime features to hit UK shores in a long time will be English dub cast member - Michael Sinterniklaas of dubbing studio, NYAV Post (Summer Wars, Welcome To The Space Show). The audience will get an exclusive sneak peek of the film as well as enjoy a Q&A. This will be followed by a free signing of Berserk movie posters on the Manga Entertainment booth. Bring your Naruto and One Piece stuff to get signed by Stephanie and Michael, too. Limited to two items per person. As ever, get in line early to avoid disappointment.
Andrew Osmond asks if it really is the end for Ghost in the Shell
Solid State Societyis, as of writing, the last anime instalment of Ghost in the Shell. Willthere be any more? Interviewed in 2007, Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, co-founder of Production IG, suggested the franchise could be refreshed by a switch to live-action, with Kusanagi, Batou, Togusa and the rest of Section 9 interpreted by real actors. If it was a success, the franchise could return to anime later.
In April 2008, DreamWorks announced it had the live-action rights and would make a 3D Ghostin the Shell, thanks to the enthusiasm of one of its own co-founders, Steven Spielberg. “Ghost in the Shell is one of my favourite stories,” the A.I. director told the trade paper Variety. Since then, there hasn’t been much news, except for female Shutter Island scriptwriter Laeta Kalogridis coming onto the property in October 2009. (Come to think of it, Shutter Island could be easily reworked as a GITS episode…)
As we’ve noted previously, Stand Alone Complex continues to be referenced implicitly in director Kenji Kamiyama’s subsequent works. Look at Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, Eden of the East and the trailer for his forthcoming film, 009: RE Cyborg. We’re inclined to think Kamiyama will probably get back to Stand Alone Complex in the future, especially as Solid State Society leaves things wide open for a sequel. Failing that, surely there’ll be a reboot by another director somewhere down the line.
Either way, SSS would make an excellent last chapter. It moves the principal characters on, making clear things will not simply stay at a series status quo. As the film begins, two years have passed since Major Kusanagi resigned from Section 9. Fans will remember one of her sweetest scenes in the franchise was in the first TV episode of Stand Alone Complex, when she gently chided nervous rookie Togusa out of his insecurities. “Geez, what do you think we hired you away from police HQ for? If you’ve got time to be depressed, why not grace us with your special talents?”
In Solid State Society, Togusa is squad commander, officially in Kusanagi’s old place, and endowed with unspecified cyber-prosthetics (something he had steadfastly refrained from getting in the TV series). Section 9 has expanded, as “old man” Aramaki works to secure his future after he’s gone, while we’re fed choice hints about his past. Another character tells him, “You should think about remarrying; there’s no sorrier sight than a single old man.” Is Aramaki what Togusa will become if he’s unlucky?
The older generation’s need to secure its legacy turns out to be central to Society’s mystery story. It opens with a standard action-film scenario – vengeful foreigners plotting destruction on Japanese soil. But it then transmogrifies into a far twistier mystery, involving secret elites and stolen children, with Japan’s modern culture in the dock.
As in other Kamiyama anime, someone is trying to give society a push into a new state. One phrase dropped into the script near the end is “Vanishing Mediator,” a notion from political philosophy. It means a self-effacing agent that can move society from one state to its seeming opposite. If you think about the anime of both Kamiyama and Oshii – in which epic plots are set in motion by stringpullers who promptly die or disappear – it’s a very apposite description.
While the situation is new, Society has a very characteristic Ghost in the Shell story that purposely includes many “kisses to the past.” The story’s string-puller is called the Puppeteer, a nod to the Puppet Master in the first manga arc and cinema film. The TV Stand Alone Complex series was predicated on the Puppet Master not existing, so that Kusanagi would stay a member of Section 9. So what does it mean that the Puppeteer appears now the Major has left Section 9?
Numerous moments in Society mirror both Ghost in the Shell films by Mamoru Oshii, especially the famous sequence where Kusanagi fought a tank and communed with a broken doll. There’s a surprise return for some popular Stand Alone Complex characters (well,not much of a surprise). Conversely, Society reminds us of mortality; in the film, a key character faces death when he’s given a ghastly choice about a loved one that we know, for him, is no choice at all.
Kamiyama’s mentor Oshii directed a classic “valedictory” anime in 1993’s feature film Patlabor 2, which showed a reunion of the robot-driving police team of the title. An example from another anime genre is the 1996 film Kimagure Orange Road: Summer’s Beginning, which took the characters beyond high school, asking what happened after the traumatic end of the love-triangle which defined the source TV show.
At Production I.G, Kamiyama has continued to favour franchises that move characters on from their comfortable starting point. In the first Eden of the East film, King of Eden, the members of the Eden team are surprised to realise they’ve crossed over from counter-culture NEETs to established entrepreneurs. For a police team like Section 9, the obvious move would surely be into politics. Kusanagi for PM, anyone?
Anime isn’t all action and explosions – for every pulse-pounding movie like Redline, there’s an emotionally devastating counterpart such as Grave of the Fireflies. And for every high-powered TV show, there are quieter, more considered offerings, such as the library of fan-favourite studio Key.
Founded in 1998, the Osaka-based company got its start as a producer of visual novels. Headed by Jun Maeda, Itaru Hinoue and Shinji Orito, the 1999 game Kanon was the group’s first effort. Originally an erotic tale for PC gamers, it was so popular that it was toned down and re-released on consoles as a ‘pure’ romance. Unlike many such titles, it was praised for its weaving narrative, captivating characters and lush visuals, cementing the developer as one to watch. Kanon was spun off into light novels, manga and an initial 13-episode anime series from Toei, which debuted in 2002.
Key’s next hit, Air, followed much the same pattern – an adult “visual novel” in 2000, edited down to a softer dating sim for Dreamcast, PlayStation 2 and PSP, and followed by assorted multimedia tie-ins. However, this time Kyoto Animation was tapped to bring the dramatic story of love and loss set in a seaside town to the screen. The 2005 collaboration was so successful that a year later, Kyoto produced an updated take on Kanon, which this time enjoyed a full 24-episode run to provide a far deeper examination of its characters’ lives.
However, Key’s third visual novel marked a change in direction. Unlike its predecessors, 2004’s Clannad abandoned sexual content and was released for a general audience straight away. Taking on the role of Tomoya Okazaki, a delinquent teen with a tortured past, the player navigates various relationships, chiefly with the young would-be actress Nagisa Furukawa. Along with romantic intrigues, Tomoya’s story reveals the fractured and abusive relationship he has with his father, and the tragedy of his mother’s death. It was a slow, considered and humanising tale full of realistic, flawed characters, and even a gentle touch of the supernatural was dealt with in a poignant and appropriate manner.
Kyoto was once again the creative force behind bringing Clannad to the small screen, delivering a 23-episode run directed by Tatsuya Ishihara. The talented director (also responsible for Kyoto’s in-house schoolgirl-turned-goddess, Haruhi Suzumiya) channelled the multiple plotlines of the visual novel to create a singular vision that focused on the deeply personal connections Tomoya forms with Nagisa and the other girls - Kyou Fujibayashi, a fantastic cook with a terrible attitude; Kotomi Ichinose, a shy and studious girl whose only weak point is the violin; Tomoyo Sakagami, a street-smart fighter with academic ambitions; and Fuko Ibuki, a first year high school student with an odd habit of carving wooden starfish.
The story that unfolds in Clannad is a weighty and often moving one, but promises to engage viewers in the lives of its cast in a way few other shows can manage.
Clannad, part one, is released in the UK by Manga Entertainment.