God-like schoolgirl Haruhi Suzumiya may well have a near-religious following, but she’s got just as many atheists denying her merits. Matt Kamen embraces his bipolar disorder to examine the vices and virtues of one of the anime world’s most divisive series!
Pro: an innovative storytelling structure! The first season of Haruhi Suzumiya was lauded by fans for playing around with how it told its story. Following the broadcast order of the episodes on Japanese television meant the first episode shown was actually the eleventh in story order; the second was the first; the fourth the seventh, on and on. The show challenged viewers to pay attention and piece the series’ arc together for themselves, never pandering to them by spelling anything out. How many shows can claim to have that much confidence in their audiences’ intelligence?
Con: An “innovative” storytelling structure.... Ever seen the movie Memento? It tells the story of a man suffering amnesia through two plot threads – one in chronological order, the other reversed – that only combine at the end. This anachronological tactic is largely what the first season of Haruhi was lauded for. The problem is, it’s not all that laudable, and far from a unique narrative device. Memento itself premiered in 2000, and examples of such jumbled chronologies go back decades; 1927’s “The Three Sided Mirror” being possibly the earliest onscreen example! So, strip away the ‘innovative’ order and what are we left with? A pretty generic high school comedy with sci-fi elements. In other words, nothing special.
Pro: It takes chances! It’s not cheap to air anime in Japan – a lot of the time, studios pay networks for airtime. So when Kyoto Animation chose to screen eight episodes that were essentially the same, it was a bold move. The so-called ‘Endless Eight’ saw Kyon and the other members of the SOS Brigade trapped in a time loop, each episode seeing only the subtlest of changes. While it could have driven viewers away, it instead became a hallmark of the series’ brilliance.
Con: Those “chances” are a waste of time! The Endless Eight was a waste of not just viewers’ time but a waste of the animators’ time. Time loops are nothing new in sci-fi, and while stretching it out over more than one episode is slightly original, eight was overkill. At best, it was an exercise in laziness – digitally change some clothes here and there, add in some slightly changed scenes and bam, done. The arc of Kyon and co. trapped in time could, and should, have been told in one episode.
Pro: The characters are genuinely interesting! Where else can you find a cast that includes a time traveller, an android, aliens, and a girl with ultimate power who doesn’t even realise it? The cast mix of Haruhi is one of the richest in all of anime!
Con: The characters are an annoying mess of clichés! Sure, the character concepts are interesting but the character personalities are all picked from the “Generic Anime Character” guidebook. Aloof quiet girl? Check. Overly friendly secondary male? Check. Cute and ditzy girl? Check. Wake me when someone who’s actually original shows up.
Pro: It’s gorgeously animated! Kyoto Animation did an outstanding job on bringing the cast and their zany world to life! It’s rich and fluid, and is simply a pleasure to watch.
Con: It’s.... gorgeously animated? OK, it does look good; on that we can agree. And KyoAni are amazing – their Full Metal Panic series are gorgeous too. It’s fair to say that Haruhi’s not the most dynamic show for most of its run though.
Pro: The Hare Hare Yukai Dance. ‘Nuff said. What other series has had its iconic ending animation used for a rehabilitation exercise in a Thai prison dance performance? I think that says it all...!
Con: ...I got nothing. Fine, on the Hare Hare Yukai alone, Haruhi gets a pass!
BASED ON THE ANIME PHENOMENON. THE FIRST HARUHI MOVIE! SOS Brigade chief Haruhi Suzumiya has gone missing! It is up to loyal brigade member, Kyon to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Haruhi Suzimiya! But when the other members of the SOS Brigade cannot even remember who Kyon is things start to get even weirder. The SOS Brigade seems to have never existed and nor has Haruhi Suzumiya.
The tradition of the solitary animator continued past the establishment of an anime industry, with notable luminaries such as Yoji Kuri, Kihachiro Kawamoto and Tadanari Okamoto positioning themselves outside it and creating works that challenged what could be done with the medium, often using other media such as stop-motion and silhouette.
Bruce Wayne has a kick-arse suit, perfectly apt for thwarting Gotham criminals; Peter Parker has arachnid-esque abilities that turn him into a neighbourhood icon following an incident with a radioactive spider; and when a certain Kyousuke Shikijou places ladies’ panties across his visage, it unleashes his inner potential as Japan’s most forbidden superhero – no one’s safe!
Japan Underground's Tom Smith on how to rock and roll all nite in Tokyo
I wanted to see bands playing live music, experience local pubs and bar culture, and not get back to my hotel until it was light. Now, my nights in the city are as busy, if not busier, than my days. Here’s a quick look at some of the Tokyo hotspots worth hitting for music fans.
Jonathan Clements goes in search of groove in a grove
Tajomaru: Avenging Blade is part of a trend in filmmaking that has seen a number of Japanese classics approached from new angles. In Hollywood, we have the Satsuma Rebellion retooled in The Last Samurai, and Keanu Reeves already at work on the forthcoming Forty-seven Ronin. Within Japan, Sogo Ishii’s Gojoe (2000) replayed a famous samurai legend with a gritty, glossy, pop sensibility. Shinji Higuchi’s Hidden Fortress: The Last Princess (2008) re-appraised a Kurosawa classic through the priorities and influences of George Lucas’s Star Wars. Kazuaki Kiriya’s Goemon (2009) retold an old kabuki tale, re-imagined with the weight of a century of potboiler novels and schlocky ninja movies.
Andrew Osmond finds Emperor Hirohito in Japanese animation
The Sara storyline in Fam the Silver Wing seems to echo a view – many would say a myth – of Hirohito, encouraged not just by the Japanese but also by the victorious Americans when they rebuilt the country. Namely, it was the story that Hirohito was a helpless figurehead, at the mercy of his warmongering government.