Prada says that demonic possession is "in" this year...
No it's not Prada's new "steampunk" collection, it's James and Lizzy Roussen ahead of the fashion game by being a hundred years behind, dressed as lord Ciel Phantomhive and his infamous "black butler" Sebastian Michaelis. Didn't think of the eye-patch, did you, Prada?
Black Butler is available on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.
Daniel Robson braves unspeakable horror at the Resident Evil café
Remember that bit in Resident Evil where STARS agents Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine stopped in at a barbecue restaurant for a quick bite and to watch a dance show, only to find a Tyrant lurking menacingly at the back of the room? What do you mean no? It must have happened in the game – otherwise why would Capcom have produced Biohazard Cafe & Grill STARS in Tokyo’s shopping district of Shibuya?
In case you haven’t guessed, this recently opened Resi-themed restaurant inside the Parco department store is not exactly a deeply immersive experience that brings the world of everyone’s favourite zombie-infested survival-horror series to terrifying life. It’s more like a branch of Hooters.
I’ll preface all of this by explaining that the last time I went to a space themed on Biohazard (the Japanese name for Resident Evil) it was at a “shooting bar” called EA in Tokyo’s Kichijoji district, where along with drinking shots from shotgun cartridges and eating a Pie-o-hazard meat pie while listening to dramatic music from the games, you could make use of the bar’s 10-metre shooting range and fire a variety of realistic replica guns at zombie targets.
Biohazard Cafe & Grill STARS hasn’t been put together with quite as much care.
The first thing you’ll notice before you even step through the doors is the soundtrack. Hanson’s “MMMBop” followed by Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” – less haunted mansion, more a night at London’s G-A-Y. Already it seems hard to imagine Resi creator Shinji Mikami ever setting foot in this place.
Inside, it resembles an American diner, with wide booth seats and metal-finish wood tables. The walls are lined with STARS replica air guns by Tokyo Marui and a map of Racoon City, and at the end of the room a life-size Tyrant monster is encased in glass. It’s flanked by costumes from the Resident Evil 5 movie, plus statuettes and a typewriter inspired by the games. All the waitresses (and there are only waitresses, no waiters) are dressed as STARS agents. STARS agents in hot pants.
The “Grill” part in the restaurant’s name refers to its specialty, an all-you-can-eat buffet, with meat brought to your table on skewers and sliced onto your plate, Brazilian-style. At 3,700 yen (£30) for Leons and 3,300 yen for Claires, it’s not bad value but not great either; other options include Red & Green Herb Salad, STARS Original Noodles and Albert Wesker-flavour ice cream (eww). The drinks menu is made up of sickly-sweet Racoon-Style Cocktails with punny names like Blue Racoon.
Suddenly the lights dim, the doors are thrown open, and a parade of four waitresses file in to the strains of the Spice Girls’ “Spice Up Your Life” – and then proceed to start dancing (as STARS Angelique). “Thriller” this ain’t, and it comes as a mercy when the lights dim further still and the waitresses are forced to abandon their dancing to tackle a new threat: the Tyrant is trying to escape!
Actually the Tyrant statue itself doesn’t move a jot, but graphics superimposed on the glass behind which it rests make it appear that the beast is being held off by the waitresses, who have pulled guns from the wall and are “firing” at it in formation. As video bullet holes appear in the glass, we’re assured all is under control – and the waitresses resume their awful, awful dancing.
Filing out of the restaurant and examining the Resi merchandise – hip flask, STARS badge, T-shirts – at the counter, we’re asked in Japanese whether we had “enough fun”. It wouldn’t be polite to say no. Then again, these women are all trained mercenaries, right? They can probably take it...
Tom Smith on the forefathers of visual kei: BUCK-TICK
From forming in 1983 with no prior music experience (or skill!), to filling the massive Tokyo Dome with 50,000 people in 1989, BUCK-TICK’s journey through the Japanese music system is amongst the country’s most exciting stories. They refused to let any record label dictate their sound, their image or their line-up, and the risk paid off, and in doing so, they led a whole new musical movement in the country. And they’re still making music today.
The second box set of Shiki is lucky enough to contain not one, but two new songs from the band. The first half continues the opening theme set out in opening DVD collection; ‘Kuchizuke – SERIAL THRILL KISSER’. The song was specifically crafted for use in the series, with the band being force-fed the anime and the manga until they had a good enough taste of what it was all about. The only direction they had from the production team was ‘make it up-tempo’. See if you think it fits in with the supernatural nature of Shiki below;
Kuchizuke – BUCK-TICK
The latter half of this box set also introduces Shiki’s second ending theme, ‘Gekka Reijin’ from the same group (which can be translated as ‘the beauty under the moon’ or ‘the moonlit lady’, or something of that ilk – oh the ambiguity of kanji). This BUCK-TICK track wasn’t released as a single like the opener, leading to fans creating their own music videos for it online. The one I’ve linked you to at the start of this paragraph captures the band’s image styles, using a number of clips through the decades, though mostly choosing those when the visual kei movement was all about big hair, shoulder pads and plenty more clichés from what we’d come to call the new romantic era in the west.
Similarly, the above song also demonstrates that the ‘unique’ Japanese genre of visual kei actually has a lot more in common with British new wave, punk and rock of the 70s and 80s than that of Japanese music. Listen closely; those moody, haunting guitars licks sound awfully similar to those found in tracks by The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the electrifying and aggressive guitar solos and harder parts fall somewhere between the grittiness of the Sex Pistols and the craftsmanship of Led Zeppelin, if you ask me.
The comparisons aren’t unwarranted. BUCK-TICK were, and still are, open about their love for the UK and its music scene. Their fourth album Taboo is particularly influenced from the darker side of British music, something the band found lacking in Japan’s often optimistic and positive music scene. Coincidently, the album was also recorded in London and the band made sure to fit in a sneaky live show whilst over here.
Fitting in with the dark and melancholic theme, BUCK-TICK also found a place in Manga Entertainment’s spooky XXXHOLiC: Part Two, where their track ‘Kagerou’ was used as the ending theme.
Shiki: Part 2, featuring themes by BUCK-TICK, is out 31 December on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.
The fifth instalment in our character guide for Dragon Ball Z
Cell. The deadliest enemy the Z Warriors have ever had to face – themselves! Cell is a hyper-advanced android from the future, created using the DNA of the present day heroes and possessing all their skills and abilities thanks to genetic memory. Goku’s Kamehameha? Cell can use it and counter it. Tien’s Solar Flare? Just one of Cell’s basic attacks. Piccolo’s regeneration? That serves to make Cell even more difficult to defeat. Already an incredibly powerful figure, Cell has travelled back in time to physically absorb more fighters and add their powers to his own repertoire. His goal? To achieve his Perfect Form and become the mightiest figure in the Universe – and he won’t let anything or anyone stand in his way.
Android 17. One of the two Androids who have destroyed the Earth in Trunks’ future timeline, number 17 relishes his power and obediently follows his creators commands upon being initialised. Swatting aside enemies with ease, 17 also seems to enjoy creating chaos, be it in one-on-one combat or such trivial matters as stealing a car for a joyride. Despite his bluster, he seems to bear some affection for his fellow Androids, particularly number 18 – meaning there may be hope for his humanity yet.
Android 18. Blonde, beautiful, brutal – Android 18 is an emotionless ice maiden who effortlessly crushes anyone unlucky enough to face her. She’s strong and fast enough to easily defeat Vegeta, even in his powered-up Super Saiyan form, meaning few others stand a chance against her. Under her chill exterior though, there remains a human girl who was changed into her current form, a girl that Krillin sees flashes of and tries to reach. Whether she’s even capable of feeling emotions anymore remains to be seen.
Dr Gero. A former Red Ribbon Army scientist, Gero has borne a grudge against Goku since the hero destroyed his old organisation as a child. Gero is also the mastermind behind the Androids’ assault on Earth, believing so much in his research that he sacrificed his own humanity to convert himself into one of his powerful puppets. As Android 20, Gero can discharge huge amounts of energy, as well as boasting immense physical strength and resilience. Although he’s a genius, he’s also completely insane, making him a potent foe.
Master Roshi. Master Roshi has been a fixture of the Dragon Ball universe since the early days, training Goku and Krillin since they were children and creator of their signature Kamehameha attack. Bald, with a lengthy beard and walking with a cane, he may look old and frail but is still one of the top fighters on Earth. Roshi will still compete in martial arts tournaments from time to time, though is known for occasionally registering under the pseudonym ‘Jackie Chun’. Roshi is also a massive pervert, with a prized collection of “gentlemen’s magazines” and an obsession with panty shots. Even a flash of cleavage is enough to send him into a spasm of excitement – luckily, the women of Team Z are all more than capable of putting him in his place.
Dragon Ball Z box five is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.
Pirates versus ninja was so ten years ago. Things have moved on, and in Japan’s music world a new battle wages. With the country’s ninja population in decline, repairing wounds from the run-ins with bearded sea-farers, it’s down to the samurai to take up the offensive. And not just any samurai. Mute jazz samurai. And they’re up against twangy, indie-pop stars. Or at least they may have been if two of the biggest forces in each field hadn’t joined forces, forming one of the unlikeliest of matrimonies; pe’zmoku.
The unit consists of the instrumental outfit PE’Z – a popular jazz band in Japan – and a singer-songwriter going by the name “suzumoku”. Together, they launched their new project by slapping in a track as a closing theme to Bleach. Entitled ‘Gallop’, the song would become the anime’s 16th closer, appearing at the end of the ninth series, and it showed the snooty jazz-cats that it can be cool to be commercial.
‘Gallop’ showed a new side to PE’Z, who, up until now, had predominantly released tracks without vocals. suzumoku’s contribution to the unit radically shook the foundations that PE’Z fans were familiar with. Suddenly, a whole new ‘pop’ element was present, and it worked on so many levels. For fans of jazz, it saw the medium venture into something more formulaic, with clear cut chorus and verses. While, for those coming from a pop-rock background, they could sample the progressiveness of jazz without being fluent in jive, or sporting a beret.
Both artists emerged from similar backgrounds too. Japan’s indie music scene is plagued with pay to play schemes, making it difficult for new bands to get a foot in the door. Instead, many turn to the streets for what are mostly illegal performances. It’s here where, at the turn of the millennium, a young PE’Z first started to perform live – mostly around Tokyo’s trendy Shibuya district. Over time, their following on the streets grew and grew, with reports of up to 600 people attending one guerrilla live. Impressive when you consider that the majority of venues in the area barely cater for half, if not a quarter, of that figure.
suzumoku (the editor of this blog just loves all-lower-case names) was also a street musician. At that time he was still in school, and playing in his local area of Shizuoka. However, for him, it wasn’t until he decided to make the move to Tokyo to pursue his music dream that things really took off for him. After arriving in 2007, and continually playing the street, his path managed to cross with PE’Z, who had become an internationally recognised band by that time. In fact, PE’Z were massive; they’d won New Artist of the Year 2003’s Golden Disc Awards, had collaborated with Tokyo Jihen’s Sheena Ringo, performed in Manchester, London and toured the United States, and even performed with Cyndi Lauper. And now, they’ve got one of the biggest honours of all; being part of Bleach.
Helen McCarthy doesn’t trust everyone she meets on the Internet…
High-schooler Keima has absolutely nothing to do with girls. In fact, he has as little as possible to do with any non-virtual scenario. All Keima's attention is occupied by the dreamgirls of the dating sim games he plays online - and there, he never fails to score. In fact, he's known as "the God of Conquest" because no virtual female has ever been able to resist him. But one of the problems of online relationships is that it's easy for the other party to misrepresent matters. Keima finds himself trapped in a life-or-death deal to help Elsie, a cute, incompetent and absurdly named demon, to capture hearts: real ones, beating inside real girls. Having always viewed life as an unwelcome distractions from games, he has to use skills gained online to manipulate it.
Serials based on dating sims have well-defined limits; a serial about dating sims, but not based on one, can play with the tropes and stereotypes of the genre, playing with comedy, pathos and drama to make something better than its origins, enabling the shut-in hero to break through his shell and spread his wings. The World God Only Knows doesn't pull that off, perhaps not wanting to risk audience alienation, but it shows the average viewer enough of a good time to be worth watching.
Shigehiko Takayanagi directs both the 2010 and 2011 series, and Hideyuki Kurata both oversaw the show's writing team and scripted 22 of the episodes. Both stack up pop cultural hooks. A riff on Akira Kurosawa's mighty Rashomon shows one episode from four viewpoints, and there are sly visual nods to hit anime including The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Dragon Ball Z and Doraemon (all stories about damaged superbeings) as well as nods to Osamu Tezuka's classic outsider Black Jack and the misfit-packed Gundam canon. Game fans will have fun spotting homages to Love Plus, Super Mario Brothers and To Heart, while wider culture gets its tributes with 2001: A Space Odyssey, Peanuts, South Park and The Moomins.
Alongside these knowing nudges to the geek consumer, there's plenty of light comedy, visual as well as verbal. Stereotypically designed and plotted characters reflecting the nature of the sim universe, with story arcs devoted to each of the emotionally crippled girls waiting for romance to rescue them. The second season develops this a little further, revealing that Keima retains an emotional link, albeit rather one-sided, with all the girls who have fallen for him. The second season also adds another cute demon girl/merchandising opportunity.
If you're in the mood for something short and sweet (just 24 episodes, 24 minutes each,) nicely animated, visually charming and candy-bright, this bit of harmless fun is one of the few interesting offerings in an overpopulated genre.
Journey to Agartha (otherwise known by the hefty title Children who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below)is a film by Makoto Shinkai, the man behind 5 Centimetres per Second, The Place Promised in Our Early Days and Voices of a Distant Star. If you’ve seen any of those, then Agartha will scream Shinkai-ville from its opening shots. The film opens with Asuna, the little-girl protagonist, scampering over a railway bridge, sun gleaming off the metal tracks and the water below; then she climbs a hill that’s a blend of oil-painting daubs and crisp details. Shinkai’s stories take place in nostalgic realms of idealised lushness (keep track of Agartha’slovely incidental insect imagery).
Yet in an important way, Agartha is a new start for Shinkai. The protagonists in his earlier anime were teenagers, and Shinkai claims those films were watched mostly by males, aged between 20 and 30 years. It’s not a bad demographic, but it’s much narrower than Studio Ghibli’s movies, to which Shinkai’s films are often compared. He also said his anime were restricted in other ways. “My older works required people to know certain details about Japanese culture in order to enjoy them,” he told Baltimore’s Otakon convention in 2011. “I wanted to make Agartha different, so that people who don’t know about Japan could also enjoy it." According to the “Behind the Scenes” documentary on Agartha’s home release, Shinkai was partly influenced by a trip to the Middle East. In 2008, he held a digital animation workshop in Jordan, Qatar and Syria, at the request of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When he screened 5 Centimetres per Second, he found himself wondering if people from such different cultures could understand it.
On the other hand, Shinkai denied at Otakon that he thought of Agartha as an “international” film. “It’s true that I wanted younger audiences to watch it and if they do so abroad, that would make me very happy. But when I was in the process of making Agartha, I never really thought that I was making it for the world market. I just wanted to make something different.”
Instead of angsty, lonely adolescents, the heroine is a preteen girl who finds a realm of gods and monsters, with copious echoes of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Young Asuna lives in a small country town with her mother (her dad died some years before). She’s a delicate-looking but energised child, given to scaling the slopes above her village and listening to mysterious signals on her makeshift radio. On the railway bridge she meets a monster, a drooling bear-like creature wanting Little Girl for breakfast. She’s saved by a comely long-haired boy, who steals the young girl’s heart before vanishing. Asuna is told he’s dead but continues to seek him, stumbling on armed men looking for the boy’s mythic home. At one point, a helicopter shows up from nowhere, strafing Asuna’s wooded playground with machine-gun fire; it’s a jolting, powerful moment. One of the men takes Asuna through stone walls and cavernous passages to the underworld of Agartha.
It’s a family film, but dark and scary at times; the bloody scenes remind us we’re a long way from Disney. Like the very different Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Agartha is an anime that knowingly retells an oft-told tale and makes that part of its point. Of course, it’s in the tradition of stories about children finding fantastical words, like Wonderland, Neverland, Narnia, Oz or the gods’ bathhouse in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. It’s also a “Hollow Earth” yarn, like Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth or Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellucidar stories.
Shinkai, though, was specifically influenced by a Japanese story not known in Britain. It’s called Pyramid Boushi yo, Sayonara, by the female author Yoshiko Okkotsu. In this book, it’s a boy, rather than a girl, who travels to an underworld called Agartha.
“I fell in love with the book when I was at elementary school,” Shinkai says. “In the story, pyramid power leads a middle-school boy to Agartha. The book is packed with so many concepts that I didn’t know about back then: first love, the emotional strength and weakness of adults, and so forth. Actually, there is a scene (in the book) where the characters make an independent film. I learned that films are made by people for the first time. I loved the story because it felt like an exciting, unknown world was opening up before my eyes.”
The author died before she ended the book. “So a different author picked up where she left off and concluded the story,” Shinkai says. “I was only an elementary school kid but I felt that something wasn’t right. I thought, ‘This is not the ending I was expecting.’ I felt that way for a long time… I thought about what type of ending I was looking for. The story in that book and in Journey to Agartha are completely different but, looking back, I think the book was one of the things that influenced this film.”
Journey to Agartha stresses that cultures worldwide have dreamed of an underworld where the dead go, and where the boldest – or most foolhardy – living heroes might follow to get them back. For us, the most familiar version of the story has the Greek harpist Orpheus trying to save his beloved wife Euridyce. The Japanese have a parallel myth of the deities Izanagi and Izanami, whose story Asuna learns at school.
Like Asuna, Shinkai was a stranger in a strange land when he created the film. In fact, he was on a year-long stay in London.
“I was going to school there, taking classes with students in their teens and early twenties,” he said. “The time there made me reflect on when I was a clumsy teenager. I kept a record of the things that spilled over from everyday life and school days in story form…
“Whatever was my feeling during my stay in London kept sinking deep below. Basically the message behind [the film] is to go down there and notice or find something. It’d be great if you could come back to the normal world after your discovery. I guess you could say that’s how the idea of the underground world in the film originated.”
Shinkai also sometimes visited the British Museum, whose ancient artefacts from around the globe helped inform the fabulous land of Agartha. Like the forlorn heroes and heroines of his anime, Shinkai dreamed of getting home to Japan, and back to a special someone. In Shinkai’s case, that someone was his beloved cat. Finally, Shinkai went back to Japan and had the dreamed-of reunion, only to find the moggie had forgotten him completely. “She’s a cat… It can’t be helped,” Shinkai says philosophically of the faithless feline. Despite the betrayal, a cat plays an important role in Agartha… Ah, but is a cat all that it is?
Journey to Agartha is out now on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Kaze Animation.
Andrew Osmond talks to the voice of Lunatic and Gaara
At October’s MCM Expo, we caught up with the American voice-actor Liam O’Brien, whom you may know from a great many things, including Naruto and Naruto Shippuden, where he plays the orange ninja’s evolving adversary, Gaara of the Sand. He’s also Jushiro in Bleach, Lunatic in the new dub of Tiger & Bunny and the troubled hero Doctor Tenma in Monster. He’s handled voice direction and script adaptation, and is truly one of us – he was an anime fan years before he entered the voice-acting game. He grew up on Voltron, a “hidden import” anime in the ‘80s, then graduated to Akira and the manga Ranma½.
Tiger and Bunny is one of O’Brien’s newest projects; how would he describe the series? “Tiger & Bunny is a sort of twist of the superhero story, imagining that if there were superheroes, in our world that’s becoming so corporate, wouldn’t they be corporatised just like everything else? There are some comics like Powers and Invincible which ask what would it be really like if superheroes existed. Tiger and Bunny does that in a very Japanese, fun and futuristic way.”
O’Brien has participated in non-anime superhero cartoons: he was in the feature-length video Planet Hulk and the TV show Wolverine and the X-Men. “Anime dubbing is always a more difficult job [than them],” he says. “You’re matching pictures that exist already, so working on Tiger & Bunny is like my work on Bleach or Naruto. I’m looking at a screen; we do a preview of each line as we go, so I can understand the tone the Japanese were going for. I have to start on time, pause at the right times, and end on time. It’s the technical tapdance that we do.”
O’Brien has handled anime on both ends of the spectrum; giant franchises like Naruto and niche dramas like Koi Kaze (unavailable in Britain) about forbidden desires. “Technically, they’re mostly the same,” he says. “Naruto obviously has battles and kung-fu theatrics, and Koi Kaze was a kitchen-sink drama. Koi Kaze was the first series I directed, and I gave it a lot of love and care, though I know it’s a very uncomfortable subject. For some reason we had a little more time than usual for the dub, so I was really able to massage performances and work with the actors, to get things I thought just right. I’m very proud of how it turned out. However, it was short and sweet, a beautiful project… There’s not seven seasons of Koi Kaze!”
Naruto, on the other hand… “It’s just epic storytelling, like being part of an ancient Chinese epic! We’ve watched the characters evolve, and my own character Gaara is nothing like he was when he started. I find myself feeling very blessed, to be along for the ride on a project like Naruto. All of us who work on the show, Maile Flanagan who voices Naruto and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, who plays Kurenai and is our main director… We all just sit around and shake our heads. We hit an episode number recently and went, ‘My god…’ and it’s still fun, still a great story.” (O’Brien declines to say what the episode number was, for fear of snipers.)
Given that Naruto is so long, and the characters change so much, does O’Brien feel obliged to read ahead in the manga, so he’s forewarned about the next twist? “It depends on if I’m an actor or a director,” he says. “Since I write (the English version) for Naruto, and occasionally direct for it, I think it’s my job to know where it’s going. Because you don’t want to crescendo too big with something, not knowing that something twice as big is coming twenty episodes down the road, and blowing your wad early! I think it’s the director’s responsibility to know, as much as we can… Only the manga writer knows the total end goal!
And as an actor? “I’m of the school of thought – and a lot of my peers don’t think this – that I also like to know what’s coming in the future. Because again, if you put everything into a moment, thinking it’s the crux of the character, and then something much deeper comes out later… But it’s a moot point, because as an actor in games and animation, I wouldn’t know what’s coming because I work so often and have two kids – there’s no time! Early in my career when I had fewer jobs, I would watch an episode or two so I could understand what’s going on, get a feel for the show… but now I just go in, trusting in a director who knows everything about it!”
Obviously, some episodes of a long franchise like Naruto have more dramatic weight than others. (“You’re telling me the Naruto peeing episode didn’t have a lot of weight?” O’Brien quips.) Given the tight schedules for dubbing, can O’Brien allot more time to the ‘heavy’ episodes, to given them full justice? “I think that boils down to the prep work that a director does,” says O’Brien. “If it’s a jokey episode, you can just watch it and prep normally. If it’s a very heavy episode, or a heavy arc, I and people like Mary, will watch and rewatch and think.’
O’Brien cites the Capcom horror game Resident Evil 6 (or Biohazard 6 as it’s called in Japan). “I directed the voiceover for that, and there’s a scene where a character is tied in a chair in a basement, watching her sister get whisked away for torture. And so before that day, I made sure I knew what I was doing – I wasn’t going to wing it, like some days. You will take a little more time on those scenes, and then move faster on the lighter stuff, but you won’t be given 50% more hours. The budget’s the budget, and an episode’s an episode!”
Wrapping up, we ask O’Brien about the differences in voice performance in Japan and the west. When Japanese actors voice, say, a crazy character, will they play the character in a different way from an American dub actor? “I know what you mean,” O’Brien says, “and it’s true for all character types. What plays there (in Japan) doesn’t always play here. I’m not sure how to articulate it… All I can say is we will often consciously say, Let’s not clone what’s being done in Japanese here. Gaara in Naruto is one case where I think he’s actually pretty similar in Japanese and English, but that’s usually not the case…”
O’Brien tells a story to illustrate the point. “A director told me about what happened when he was in a session for a Japanese game being localised. The Japanese producers were saying, we want the character to be a little more sexy, so the director got on mic to the actress. She voiced the character a little bassier, a little slower. The producers said, More sexy way, more sexy way. So the actress was a little deeper, a little smoother… and the producers still wanted More sexy…
“So the director thought there might be a disconnect here,” O’Brien says with perfect understatement. “He asked the producers to give an idea of how they wanted her to sound. Their answer was” – and here O’Brien launches into a series of soft girly coos that are, tragically, impossible to replicate in print. “We have the Catwoman in the west and high-pitched blushing flower in the east…”
Tiger and Bunny is released in on UK DVD from Kaze.
Andrew Osmond calls for death to Britannia, the evil empire!
In the magnificent Sunrise alternate-world saga Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion– whose first 25-part season comes to DVD and Blu-ray today –the Imperial superpower conquers Japan, renaming it Area 11. Schoolboy Lelouch is one of the Britannian elite, but under his handsome, ice-cool exterior, he has a secret past, a fiery rage and world-shaking ambitions. In the first part, he’s caught up in a bloody battle in a Tokyo ghetto. All seems lost when he has a fateful encounter with a mysterious girl – yes, one of those mysterious anime girls. She gives him power over people’s minds, plus a ragtag resistance army with which to pound the invaders.
Code Geass is loaded with operatic character drama and big robots, plus character designs by the famed female group CLAMP. The revolutionary Lelouch relishes the theatrics of the show. After he gets his powers, he dons a snazzy mask and cape and calls himself Zero, champion of the Japanese oppressed. Much of the plotting revolves round delicious dramatic ironies, as we see the main players as friends and acquaintances in their “everyday” lives, who then fight each other to the death behind masks and power suits.
The show has an enormous cast, though fed in slowly enough so we can keep track. As a ruthless, manipulative gameplayer, Lelouch recalls Light Yagami in Death Note. There’s a difference, though; unlike Light, Lelouch cares desperately about the people in his personal life, such as his angelic little blind sister, Nunally (who would later be the star of her own spinoff video, Code Geass: Nunnally in Wonderland). Lelouch also shares a secret history with Suzaku, a more straightforwardly heroic Japanese youth on the other side of the war. It’s Suzaku who’s picked by the Britannians to pilot an experimental mecha (called Lancelot) and ends up wooing a sweet princess. She in turn has a sister, Cornelia, who’s a warrior queen in the tradition of Nausicaa’s Kushana. That gives you some idea of how Code Geass’s cast snowballs…
Many of the Japanese voice-actors have intimidating pedigrees. Lelouch himself is voiced, mellifluously and seductively, by Jun Fukuyama, who’s been in other CLAMP-related productions; he was Kimihiro in the anime version of xxxHOLIC, a role he reprised in the crossover film Blood-C: The Last Dark. You may also know him as the pedlar Lawrence in Spice and Wolf, Yukio in Blue Exorcist, and Ayasegawa in Bleach.
Lelouch’s friend and foe Suzaku is voiced by Takahiro Sakurai, who’s now playing Griffith in the new Berserk films and the title ursine in Polar Bear Café. Another pivotal Geass character is Kallen, Lelouch’s classmate, who’s yet another character with complex origins and a deadly double life. Her voice belongs to Ami Koshimizu, who co-stars with Jun Fukuyama in Spice and Wolf as the lupine Holo. Code Geass’s support is provided by Fumiko Orikasa (Rukia in Bleack) as Shirley, another girl in Lelouch’s life; and also by the show-stealing Tetsu Shiratori (Gluttony in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood) as Lloyd, a mad scientist with a line in cracked humour.
The sheer number of colliding protagonists makes Code Geass fizz with backstories, twists, counter-twists, shock revelations and delirious “what the hell?” moments. There are endless combatants to pair off, cool battle tactics (Zero’s army brings down half a mountain) and Death Note-style conundrums (how do you fool a telepath?). The tone whiplashes from comedy scenes of high-school hijinks (Zero’s helmet gets nicked by a cat) to shocking images of kids and elderly being slaughtered by the Britannians.
It might seem a queasy mix at first, but gradually the two sides draw together, as Lelouch’s soap-bubble student home threatens to pop as the war seeps closer. Throughout, the show is motored along by its absurdly addictive plot, regular robot wars and bonkers multiple cliffhangers. In Japan, viewers had to endure a mid-series hiatus, and then a long wait before the sequel (Code Geass: Lelouch of the Revolution R2) picked up the story. Luckily, we won’t be left hanging so long – the follow-up comes to DVD and Blu-ray soonish…
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion is out now on UK DVD and Blu-ray.
Andrew Osmond says if you liked that… you might like this…
So, you’ve finished Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Good, wasn’t it? Don’t be too depressed that it’s over. A new story is being prepared as a feature film (not to be confused with the two-part compilation recently released in Japan). Moreover, writer Gen Urobuchi revealed in October that a further TV incarnation of the show is on the cards. But if you’re looking for something to watch till then, consider Angel Beats, out on Blu-ray and DVD.
Granted, Madoka Magica and Angel Beats aren’t obvious siblings, apart from their upfront fantasy premises. Angel Beats is an afterlife story, in which an amnesiac teen boy finds himself in a strange school where a small student resistance holds out against their deadly class president, the petite, imperturbable girl Angel, who might serve God Himself. Like Madoka Magica, part of Angel Beats’ appeal is the show’s ideas, which frequently take familiar fantasy tropes and twist them around. In the opening episodes, for example, Angel is set up as a Scary Supernatural Girl, advancing remorselessly on the terrified hero a la Sadako in the Ringu films or a little-girl Terminator, but there’s far more to her than that.
More deeply, Angel Beats and Magica Madoka both play knowing games with their audience, never concealing their manipulations. They’re anime that let you see their tricks (well, some of them), even while seducing you with story. Magica Madoka plays with a definite genre, the magic girl show, initially pretending to be one more of that type. Angel Beasts plays more with tones. Its second episode, for example, has a hilarious Indiana Jones pastiche where the student rebels go down an underground tunnel of death-traps, being sliced or splatted while the survivors brush past (because death’s only temporary in Angel Beats’ world). Then with just the amnesiac boy and the rebel leader left, she tells him a ghastly story about her past, involving child murder, to explain why she fights God.
Angel Beats and Magica Madoka are in the business of wrong-footing viewers (“And you thought it was this kind of anime?”) and changing the plot (“And you thought it was this kind of story?”). In these shows, the viewpoint character may notbe the true hero, and the stories don’t come into true focus until their triumphal last scenes, both classics of the form. Finally – and this is something that Angel Beats and Magica Madoka share with Evangelion – they’re titles whose tricksiness plays to both fans and newbies. In other words, they’re anime that a new viewer can “get” just as much as a fan who knows the clichés they subvert.
Angel Beats shifts blithely between emotions, and between different kinds of story, making no effort to hides its manipulations from the viewer; and yet it still manages to be charming, touching and heart-rending. The show’s motored along by genuinely good pop songs; its emotional peaks play up the absurdly contrived scenarios with gusto. Like Lost, Angel Beats packs in mini-stories from the “real” world, from misery memoirs to disaster dramas, and its final outrageous revelation is among the best in anime. Don’t expect it to be “another” Magica Madoka, but if you enjoy twisty journeys and surprise destinations, give Angel Beats a whirl.
Angel Beats is out on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.