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Maison Ikkoku eps 1 & 2

Routinely cited as one of the greatest anime series of all time (by old people) and the second series by the most profilic comic artist in the world, Rumiko Takahashi, Maison Ikkoku is a love story about a desperate, almost totally useless not-quite college student and his pretty but prissy house manager.

Godai is the student, trying to study for his exams but constantly undermined by his neighbors who throw loud parties seemingly with the specific intent of ruining Godai’s concentration – by mutual assent, the parties always end up in his room. There are three neighbors –

The sexy lush next door, Akemi, who wander around in a see-through neglige. mid 80s Japanese TV had no problem, apparently, with the occasional nipple, so she doesn’t have the severe burn victim look that other naked TV anime ladies exhibit.

Yostuya, a mysterious businessman who is also a pervert – he gets into Godai’s room through a hole in the wall, and has had another one opened in Akemi’s, so he can spy on her while she sleeps. That’s the joke.

Hanae Ichniose and her brat, Kentaro. She loud, fat, brassy, often drunk. Her kid just sucks.

This trio conspire to keep Godai in the doghouse, and their antics have caused the apartment manager to abandon the building and run off to its owners. They have a daughter in need of work, so she is sent to take over for these misfits.

Godai meets her as she just arrives, while he’s screaming that he’s leaving forever. Enter cute girl, Godai forgets his distress. It’s a sitcom set-up, and the jokes are sitcom jokes. There’s nearly nothing to the story of the first episode other than the setup, and a few decent gags.

The second episode is just as light on content, though it has some better gags. Godai has decided, because he’s kind of stupid, that a big romantic present will get Kyoko to instantly fall in love with him, so he spends rent and food money on a ring, but can’t sum up the courage to give it to her. He finally gets a chance when she’s on the roof, fixing it before a storm, and subsequently falls asleep.

Why waking her up while she’s on the roof seems like a good idea is unclear, but again, Godai is stupid. She wakes up, doesn’t know where she is, panics, and Godai saves her from falling, but in grabbing her, he GRABs her.

I would think a quick cheap feel is ample repayment for a fella saving you from a broken neck, but Kyoko has less of the spirit of giving than I can evince, and she slaps poor Godai. Unfair.

That’s an okay gag. Better is the entire apartment’s relationship to Kyoko’s dog, Shintaro. They’ve all given him different names, all feed him things that are bad for him, and the dog responds to all of it, much to Kyoko’s distress. Shintaro is a very important name to her, and she’s damned if she’ll let the dog be happy being called anything else.

This important name figures into the larger story that is slowly being unfolded here. Kyoko’s got a past, and some secret sorrow. When Godai finds her on the roof, while sleeping, tears well up in her eyes, and she says the name, “Shintaro.” It’s not a lot to go on, but Maison Ikkoku is clearly happy to take its time establishing its characters and premise. It’s amusing, occaisonally. Not hilarious. Godai is a hard protagonist to really get behind, since he’s ineffectual and kind of a simp, all at once. He needs a spine, and a little less stupidity. And Kyoko’s a nice Japanese lady, but also a little bland.

Why is this considered one of the great classic anime series? That has yet to reveal itself. Maybe as the series unfolds, the secrets of its reputation will be revealed. As it stands… s’all right.


Love You ‘Til Tuesday (1969)

In 1969, Kenneth Pitt was desperate to make his wayward, odd little artist David Bowie somehow profitable. David had been plodding away for years, chasing trends, cutting singles that went nowhere, joining various little rock bands and writing tunes no-one except the most ardent Bowie-philes has ever heard.

He’d kind of lucked into a record deal with Deram (a division of Decca, the label which had famously rejected the Beatles) without having proven himself at all commercially viable. The result was eventually the first record titled “David Bowie”, which was an assortment of Anglo-oddities, part Anthony Newly style music-hall, part children’s album, and some various rock, psychedelic and folky tunes that added up to exactly nothing – as far as record sales went.

“David Bowie” isn’t a great album but it’s an interesting one. Interesting didn’t pay the bills, and David’s financier, his father, was desperate that DB finally begin to pull his own weight. At the time Bowie had had some small success on German television, so Pitt decided to produce a short film, hopefully to be sold to television, that was essentially the first set of David Bowie Music videos.

“Love You ‘Til Tuesday” became the title, and it was the opening song, the free love paean that had been meant to be the big single from David Bowie’s first album. It hadn’t made a blip, and by the time Pitt was ready to make the film, Bowie had moved on, assuming his lack of success with Deram meant he ought to indulge in artier matters.

That’s where Feathers comes in. Feathers was a art folk band consisting of David Bowie, then girlfriend Hermione Farthingale (of “Letter to Hermione” fame) and friend John Hutchinson. David insisted they be involved in the film, so a few songs from “David Bowie” were re-recorded with Hutch and Hermione providing b-vox or some instrumentation. There was also a new composition, “When I’m Five”, a view of growing up from a several pre-adolescent perspective, a mime performance called “The Mask”. Pitt thought another song was needed, something that would make a great centerpiece to the whole show. So David dutifully wrote “Space Oddity”.

Rubber Band:

Sell Me A Coat:

When I’m Five:

Let Me Sleep Beside You:

Space Oddity:

When I Live my Dream:

The above links (David Bowie videos don’t seem to want to embed with WordPress right now) all go to the official David Bowie VEVO channel on Youtube. There, in piecemeal, is the Love You ‘Til Tuesday promotional film, short the title song, “The Mask” mime performance, and the rather wretched Feathers folk song, “Ching-A-Ling”, all of which apparently are to be read out of the David Bowie official histories, the same way all non Ozzy incarnations of Black Sabbath are supposed to no longer exist, according to the official website.


Halloween II

The difference between Halloween and Halloween II is the difference between technique and style. Halloween was shot with style – it had a particular point of view and stuck with it throughout the entire film. Halloween II, first feature of its director Rick Rosenthol, employs horror techniques when it needs to get a scare. It’s a worse film, by far, because one is a total vision that becomes an effective shock machine. The other begins with the attempt to shock (or terrorize) and so employs techniques absent of a unique vision. It’s unfortunate to note that many of the lazy shock scenes were directed and inserted by John Carpenter himself, over the film’s actual director’s objections.

The mistakes of the film in terms of narrative and directorial technique are voluminous, so let’s start with what it did right – it opens well. Without attempting to recreate the bravura POV long-shot of the first film, we have a series of actual suspenseful scenes, stuck together by a central, connecting notion: that a mad killer is loose, somewhere in town, and nobody knows where. And, true to the form of the first film, while he’s being chased, we see him seemingly everywhere, just out of sight, moving in the street at just the places where his searchers aren’t. There’s even a long sequence that I was sure was going to end in a murder where Michael Myers goes into a house to get a knife – but even then the director opts for suspense.

Until we get to the first lone teenager we see. Then there’s a pop-scare, a stabbing, a bunch of stupidity. In a thankless reprise of her attacked teenager in the first film, Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode spends most of Halloween II in a drugged out stupor (or her character does – I have no idea about Jamie Lee Curtis’s own narcotic habits or lack thereof). She barely has any lines of dialogue, and few memorable scenes.

Most of the film is carried by Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis, who brings an energy and mania to the role that is fun to watch. Unfortunately, he’s also the carrier of the exposition, which adds stupid layers of mythology from which Michael Myers’ character never recovered.

Because it turns out that Michael Myers had a definite motive in attacking Laurie Strode and those around her. She’s his secret sister, one he somehow automagically knew about and has to kill in a re-enactment of his first Halloween. I guess. It adds a touch of psychological reality to a film that can only exist, with any integrity, without psychological reality. Michael Myers is not really a character, and so he does not require character traits. They diminish him by fostering an understanding that is detrimental to his effect.

And so, weirdly, with this explanation of his behavior, his subsequent murders become completely inexplicable. He has absolutely no reason to kill the doctors and nurses and orderlies against whom he rampages through in the hospital, except to up his body count so there would be something to print in Fangoria.

But the primary sin of Halloween II is not any of that. It’s just that it isn’t scary, and it’s not properly atmospheric. So much of Halloween succeeds because it creates a suspenseful atmosphere of constant impending doom. It doesn’t do this through constant murder, but through suspense. We can watch Michael Myers moving through the houses and the town in the first movie. There’s a plausibility to his ubiquity. And we’ve bought into the world. By the time he’d turned the house across the street into a spookhouse filled with bodies that fell out of nowhere and a girl underneath a tombstone, we buy it because we are deep into the suspenseful world. Halloween II never reels us in (after those first, really good 10 minutes) and so when it wants to grabs us, its not close enough to us to grab. It’s full of icky blood, but no sticky direction or craft.


Patlabor OVA ep 1 of 7: “Second Unit, Move Out!”

Patlabor is an 80s mecha anime that focuses heavily on the practicalities of dealing with Mecha. It isn’t a heady philosophical drama (that wasn’t grafted onto the Mecha scene until Evangelion) and it’s not a thrill a minute action extravaganza. It’s about the people who have to deal, day to day, with using giant mostly-bipedal machines in the context of an all too familiar world of traffic jams, petty rivalry, and bureaucracy.

The “Second Unit” of the episode title is a newly created unit of PatLabor. In this near-future world, the giant piloted machines that have been used for much industrial work are called Labors. As soon as they were widely disseminated, they began to be used for crimes (as one would) so specialized Labors were designed to combat labor crime – these the Patrol Labors, or PatLabor.

And in this episode, a newly manufactured pair of Patlabors are going to be delivered to be a new unit of Special Vehicles Second Division – stationed way out in the sticks. Which means that it will take a hell of a long time for them to be delivered, since the big robots have to make their trek through the city highways to get to their destination.

The entire first half of the episode involves people waiting. The chief engineer, Old Man Sakaki, is waiting patiently by the side of the road. When the deliverymen phone and say traffic is so heavy they have no idea when it will be coming, he has a chair brought out, and an umbrella to block the sun, and a phone on a long cable so he can be called directly with the new labor’s progress. At the same time, the new recruits who are supposed to pilot these Labors arrive on base: there’s the reluctant Asuma, gun crazy Isao, henpecked Mikiyasu, gentle giant Hiromi, and the late arrival who gets to the base hot rodding on a motorcycle, and the sole female of the group, Noa. They more or less get along, and have their individual quirks, but for the most part they just complain through the first half of the episode that they don’t have their damned robots. To keep them busy, the base commander orders them to do some grass mowing on the grounds.

Their boring leisure time is interrupted when an emergency is called in: a mining labor is invading the city, and the closest Patlabors to this attack are the new units still in transit. The Second Unit drives down, meets up with their shippers, and suits up for a fight. It’s a complete disaster… but this is just the first episode. The good guys eventually win, and return to base with their brand new Patlabors… one missing a head, the other an arm.

A contrast from 80s anime to today’s more polished product is how much more readily cartoonish the shows are. The disastrous mission gets underway when Isao is ordered to corral the rogue Labor, but he’s too gunhappy with the desire to shoot off his big revolver, and goes against the enemy guns blazing. He misses the labor, but happens to take out all the cops who were chasing the rogue robot. Cars crash and are flung about, and there’s the comical image of a single cop, holding a steering wheel and spinning in place. It makes no physical sense, but is perfectly fitting in with a cartoon sensibility. Isao’s entire gun-mad persona is equally cartoonish, as is Noa’s unhealthy obsession with personifying her Labor – she already has a name for it, “Alphonse”, before she’s even seen it. Patlabor isn’t strictly a comedy, and it has the mechanical attention to detail that mark so many anime and manga, regardless of the tone (one of the joys of Kosuke Fujishima’s Oh My Goddess! is that, though his series is about goddesses and magic, he’s a total gear-head and loves drawing extremely detailed and accurate motorcycles and cars).

It’s action oriented by its nature, but the story of this first episode doesn’t foreground that action, but rather the practical details that it takes to get to the action. Parts get caught in traffic. The trainees have never actually fired their weapons, because the only safe firing range to do that has been booked up for months. Nothing is ready on time, nothing works the way it should, and inter-departmental rivalry undermines the ability of the Patlabors to do their job right.

It’s a fun introduction to the series, if not a complete ball out of the park success. The characters are broad strokes, and mostly primary colors. Asuma is Asuma Shinohara, heir to the Shinohara Heavy Industries corporation that actually builds the labors. His dad wants him to get direct experience with the robots they build. Noa loves labors with an almost creepy fervor. Their captain Goto seems lazy and unenthused, as well as semi-unprofessional: he chooses where to direct the rogue labor with their blockades and attacks not to get it into the easiest place to fight it, but to avoid damage to his home-town. These are bare character sketches. Hopefully, they’ll be filled out in the subsequent episodes.

The fun here is in the world of contrast – the silly cartoon characters in the real world bureaucracy of a science fiction concept. Everyone isn’t fighting for family honor or to overcome some horrible psychological problem rooted in their past (which will be easily related by a single scene shown in a brief flashback) but instead are a group of weirdos doing a weird job. It’s a nice foundation for hopefully more interesting stories to come.


Episode 23: Welcome to Misaki and Episode 24: Welcome to the NHK

When I was young (late 90s, times like that) the appeal of anime was that it would tell stories that Western pop culture shied away from – the heroes had feet of clay, bad things could happen that were not fixed. It was a gross over-simplification, and if there was one thing that characterized scholarly fans of anime at the time, it was an apparent complete lack of familiarity with the Western Canon, since all of these things were extremely prevalent in Western literature, poetics and drama. The Pollyanna everything is going to be okay storytelling is entirely a function of Hollywood from the depression.

Welcome to the N.H.K. does not surprise by ending on a bittersweet note, but the tenor (one might say flavor) of the anime pointed toward a Pollyanna-esque ending, that the last four episodes subverted. In episode 23, Welcome to Misaki, Sato comes to the realization (becuase Misaki pushes the point) that her saving him was him saving her. And that was too much responsibility for Sato to fully brunt. After all, his existence is the absence of responsibility – a hikkimori demands that his existence on its own be supported, despite his complete lack of production. It’s a late stage capitalism sort of thing – if someone can find parental (or sibling) support, in a world of inexhaustable distraction, there’s no reason not to take advantage of it.

But Sato loses that support. Welcome to Misaki has only a couple of scenes in its first act – a cute conversation between Sato and Misaki where she prepares him for his final test, ominously getting him to recognize famous people’s last words and then famous suicide notes. It’s a cry for help he cannot recognize, and then when a literal demand for reciprocation comes from Misaki (in the form of yet another contract – this time a delcaration of mutual affection, with appropriate fines for withdrawal of support) Sato balks. He screams, “I’m not lonely” as he runs to his apartment, alone. All of his forward strides are obliterated, yet Misaki cannot help him anymore. Her point for living is pulled out from under her just as Sato reinforces his own uselessness.

Then the money runs out. And Yamizaki is getting married, and he cant send food to Sato. So… he gets a job. Once all of the charity is gone, he does what he has to to survive. It’s in the form of directing traffic, which is the universal anime temp job – you see it in Key the Metal Idol, in Excel Saga and a million other shows. But it pays the bills. All of Misaki’s work is for naught because Sato, when he loses everything beneath him, actually finds his own feet. If only he’d been cut off in episode one.

Then Misaki is taken away form an amublance, and disappears from the hospital. Her backstory is spilled out by her uncle to Sato on a car ride (dead dad, abusive step-father, perhaps her mother’s death was a suicide) so Sato, without telling anybody (seriously, phone calls would save a lot of money and time in stories) races to the place where Misaki almost saw her mother fall to her death.

Which leads to Welcome to the NHK, the final episode of the series and the final confrontation of Misaki and Sato. They are at a famous suicide spot, and Misaki very calmly lists off the reasons why life for others would be better if she were dead. She makes a compelling case, then slips off the railing to fall into the sea.

Only Sato catches her. And convinces her that her problems aren’t her own. It is the conspiracy – the same one that has been destroying his own life, the NHK. Hers is a different NHK, but it is still external forces that are attacking her. And to get back at them, he’ll.. jump off the ledge and plunge to his own death to save her. Of course, in the moment he does that, he realizes he, in fact, loves the girl. Woops.

This is all sweet and remarkably well staged, but the thing that moves this anime from amusing to affecting is the final few scenes. All the crises are over, so we go back to Sato getting up in the morning. His apartment is a mess. He still hates getting out of bed and is plagued with the NHK demons that convince him nothing is any good. His life isn’t fixed. He can barely manage.

But barely is enough. And if there’s a difference between NHK and what would be an equivalent Western show, it’s the doing your best spirit. Nothing is fixed, completely, for Sato. But he has the will to try to move on, and that’s more than he had at the beginning. Misaki gives him a final contract, declaring themselves as mutual hostages – they have to live for each other’s sake. With these broken people, that’s as good as it can get.