Tag Archives: Anime

Top 5 Anime Clichés I Wish Would Die

…Well, “die” is a strong word. Maybe they should just…go away? Quit their day jobs? Take a vacation?

Don’t get me wrong; I love me some good Japanese animation. I’ve grew up with it, even if it was mostly terrible, kiddy-fied dubs of adult shows done by 4KidsEntertainment at first.

By middle school, I was frequently sneaking downstairs at 3am on a school night to catch Adult Swim on Cartoon Network, which broadened my horizons with shows like Inuyasha, Case Closed (a.k.a Detective Conan), .hack//SIGN, and Wolf’s Rain. That was when I really learned that, despite its silliness, anime had so much more dramatic, mature potential. I certainly preferred it to live-action teenage schlock like Degrassi and One Tree Hill.

This was the closest I ever came to being a hipster, by the way.

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All compliments aside, anime can be weird. I mean really, really weird. Like used underwear in a vending machine weird…even though those don’t really exist.

Here are some things that annoy me about anime:

 

5) The Tsundere Character

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While it may be true that there is a fine line between love and hate, most average people don’t behave this way. It’s extremely bipolar.

I suppose it’s only to be expected. There’s a prevalent stereotype that women date men who are no good for them so that they can “fix” them, so why shouldn’t the opposite be true for some men? It might make sense that they’d want to melt the beautiful, frigid harpy’s heart. In theory, the greater the challenge, the more satisfying the reward, so if you could just tweak her the teensiest bit, she’d be the perfect wife!

I’ve never personally felt the attraction to people who treat me like crap (unless you count a few odd two-faced friends), and while I can understand why it’s a popular fantasy, I’ll thank it to stay out of my escapism as much as possible.

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Wait no, just kidding! NOTICE ME, SENPAI!

 

The Tsundere character is, as you might have guessed, a belligerent female character. She either runs hot, cold, or jumps schizophrenically back and forth between the two, almost as though she’s in need of some serious therapy. Even more so in the cases where the woman seems unaware or in denial of this fact.

But I’d never suggest something like that. This behavior is obviously totally normal and healthy. Why, just look at how often it shows up:

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It’s not cute and charming. It needs to be treated immediately.

 

4) Too Many Harems

Ah, I remember being young and having 7+ super attractive male friends who all had a stupendous crush on me and constantly fought for my attention.

Oh wait…

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I can buy some people making lots of friends, even if it’s predominantly with one gender. What I can’t buy is an unremarkable dude (or girl, for that matter) being surrounded by hotties, all of whom seem intent on winning this Joe Schmoe’s heart.

There is nothing subtle about this setup; it’s a shallow fantasy for the viewer at home to mentally port themselves into. Even if the main character has something of a genuine personality, which is unlikely, there’s usually a very flimsy explanation given as to why they’ve suddenly become the clueless anime Bachelor.

Even if I could believe it more often, I’m getting sick of it. Save it for the dating simulator games. To make it work effectively in an un-interactive visual medium is to make the protagonist so bland that you could close your eyes and lose nothing whatsoever. It’s junk food sprinkled over many generic anime shows, particularly poorly-written ones like Sword Art Online. Probably the best use of it was in Ouran High School Host Club, which was an affectionate parody of the genre and ended over a decade ago.

 

3) “You Had Me Worried”/”I’ll Never Forgive You!”

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I see this attitude as an extension of Japan’s highly collectivist culture, and in truth, there is something to be said for it. It’s not wrong to keep others (especially your loved ones) in mind when deciding how to live your life, and in anime, protagonists frequently run off and risk their lives, and not always for the sanest reasons.

However, coming from a country where mental illness is skyrocketing, I find something distinctly off-putting to this as well, at least in the anime context. Particularly when it appears to be presented as the only reason that the protagonist should feel bad.

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You might have just as easily destroyed the world, rather than saving it, but who cares? Your bae was worried about you!

The two basic flavors here are sadness and anger. Either the character is trying to guilt our hero into an apology, or he or she is trying to scare them into one.

On some level, it comes across as battling selfishness with more selfishness, just from a different source. And then the other person (usually the protagonist) mumbles a “sorry” and either all is pretty much instantly forgiven or the worrier is mollified for the time being. It feels like a lip-service to the worrier, and trust me, there is a world of difference between someone who shows concern for others and someone who feels the need to play the martyr.

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This can often be the dutiful girlfriend/boyfriend character, which also pairs well the Tsundere. It’s more obnoxious when the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, so to speak. Even when it seems genuine, it’s still an attitude that doesn’t sit well with me, but to be fair, I am an individualistic Westerner. Maybe its value is just lost in translation.

 

2) Blandly Unlikeable (Or Just Bland) Protagonists

This is very in-line with trope #4 above, but whether the character gets a bunch of interchangeable love interests or not, bad writing is still bad writing, regardless of how much bad writing there is.

People often debate about what makes someone a Mary Sue, and to what extent that title is warranted. Why would some complain about Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, when she is no more inexplicably gifted and lucky than Anakin or Luke Skywalker before her? Is it just because she is female, and the largely male Star Wars fanbase can’t easily picture themselves in her shoes without having to sprout a uterus in the process?

I understand that the term “Mary Sue” gets thrown around to the point of near meaninglessness these days, but think about it’s classic definition. And think about this: the lead character, as you might expect, usually has to carry the story (unless you’re particularly clever and talented)

 

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and while you can fill the screen with quirky side-characters to balance things out, you’re better off putting some real time and effort into your main man (or woman) right off the bat. Who that person is can determine what your story is really about (for example, growing up vs saving the planet).

If all you can say is “she’s pretty and nice,” but then have her instantly become an all-powerful witch who can bend reality to her whims…that’s when it can become a problem.

Believe it or not, a character can be unlikeable, yet still easy to sympathize with. Characters can do bad things or think bad thoughts, but the point is to make them work with their flaws, not be ignorant or dismissive of them. Real people are admired for overcoming adversity, and so too are their fictional counterparts. We like to see that we’re not alone, and furthermore, we want to believe that, regardless of the obstacle life has thrown at us, we can beat it.

On the flip side, you can also find characters that are so ridiculously upbeat and happy-go-lucky that you pretty much never find them in the real world. Or if you did, they’d likely annoy the living hell out of you.

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It’s fine though. They’re just too good for this world, kind of like Jesus or Nausicaa.

Side note: I don’t really think Tohru is a Mary Sue, but at the very least, she’s a boring character that it’s hard to feel any genuine connection with, aside from a few basic things. To see a character like her done right, I recommend Shirayuki from the manga/anime Snow White with the Red Hair.

Being too nice and generic is by no means the worst that can happen, though. In fact, I’d prefer that to a character who is despicable, yet inexplicably coddled.

Involving the every-man in a world-changing story can be a great way to build character, drama, and intrigue in a way that doesn’t feel too forced or contrived, but giving a boring, unremarkable, sometimes actively contemptible character mad skills or a remarkable destiny doesn’t endear us to them automatically.

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Nor should it.

Huh…maybe Sword Art Online is just the perfect barometer for everything I can’t stand about anime.

Speaking of which…

 

1) Gratuitous/Surprise Nudity and Perversion

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But seriously, guys. If the show is not labeled as an Ecchi, Hentai, or whatever sexual genre, I don’t want to see stuff like this popping up. It’s very off-putting.

If I know to expect it, that’s one thing. While I think the “don’t like, don’t read” sentiment is too often used as an excuse not to write better,  it does have some practical, necessary uses. I take the “Mature Audiences” label with as big of a grain of salt as I can muster, especially if I’m familiar with the studio, director, channel, or even time of day that I’m watching. But I don’t think I should just expect to see some “hilarious” (MASSIVE air quotes) sexual harassment just because I happen to be watching an anime. To me, it’s like a happy kids movie being suddenly interrupted by a vicious grizzly bear mauling. Where did that come from? Why?

Did it add something meaningful to the story or the tone that I’m just not getting?

If there is one thing that puts me off about Japan and Japanese culture as a whole, it’s the portrayal and representation of women. And I say this as someone who has become significantly less prudish since I left high school.  I realize that my country has a very different religious background, among other things, and that we have this weird double-standard where extreme violence being easily visible and accessible is a-okay, but sex isn’t.

That said, both the U.S.A. and Japan have their share of problematic elements, and we seem to be on a similar page when it comes to how we view ladies. Whether they are competent fighters or damsels in distress, 14 year olds who look 20 or 20 year olds that look 14, there is nothing quite like the unparalleled character development we get from naughty up-skirt shots.

And it seems my cup runeth over with them, no matter where I go.

Notice that I’m not calling  for a ban. If that is your thing, power to you. Just because I like chocolate doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily like chocolate covered ramen noodles, but you totally can, if you catch my drift. I’m just asking that we give it a point, or ease up on it a little bit, because plenty of people do find it creepy.

At least when it comes right out of nowhere and is particularly mean-spirited. You have the entirety of the internet for that, if you really want it.
As an unofficial 6th pet peeve: cutesy, loud, over-exaggerated chewing when female characters eat. That habit needs to die in a fire.

*None of these images in the article above are owned by me.

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Wolf Children: Conflicted Feelings

I was going to save this particular post for Mother’s Day, but seeing that the director has a new movie coming out shortly, I felt obligated to revisit this most recent entry in his small (compared to some), but respectable career and give my thoughts on it.

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Ah, Wolf Children. The beautiful, moving story about how truly difficult and thankless motherhood is.

…I have very mixed feelings about this film.

Directed by Mamoru Hosoda, who brought us one of my favorite anime films, Summer Wars, Wolf Children tells the story of a young woman named Hana who falls in love, only to discover that the man is a werewolf. While being initially shocked speechless, Hana succumbs to Miyazaki Syndrome, a frequent disorder in Studio Ghibli films in which a character, usually a child, is relatively unfazed by something that would make a real human being run away screaming. Hana has two children, a boy and a girl, before her love dies in a tragic accident and she is left to raise two wild, young half-werewolves on her own.

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Afraid that society will turn them into freaks at best and science experiments at worst, Hana moves her children out to a remote countryside and attempts to raise them on her own. Slowly, the neighbors pitch in, and the children themselves get better at hiding their wolf-ish transformations in front of people. The older sister, Yuki, though initially a literal wild child, grows to love human company and wants to fit in with her normal peers, and the younger brother, Ame, quiet and shy, closes himself off from humans slowly but surely and embraces solitude, nature, and self-sufficiency.

It’s a great story; wonderfully animated and deeply moving. And, like one of my other favorite anime films, Kiki’s Delivery Service, something about it feels so real despite the fantasy elements leaking into the slice-of-life.

Maybe because it feels so real, the ending leaves me feeling so full, and yet empty.

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I am not a mother. I hope to be one someday, but I am nowhere near close to being ready. I get the sense that motherhood is thankless, but, for some, endlessly rewarding at the same time, and that is a paradox that I hope to grasp when I finally take the first step into such unknown territory.

Right now, it makes no sense to me.

Without spoiling anything, I will tell you that the ending is the most bitter-sweet thing I have ever seen. And while I praise it for that, it also leaves me feeling horribly unsatisfied. Here is my attempt to explain why:

If a good person undergoes pain, it’s very hard to make that genuinely comedic, especially if you don’t dig the kafkaesque. Generally, we only tolerate a good character undergoing undue pain and strain if they rise above it in the end and get something that we believe that they truly deserve (think Cinderella). It’s cathartic for us because it makes us feel good, and reaffirms our belief that there is some sort of justice in the world; that bad things can happen to good people, but it isn’t without reason.

Sometimes I think that is the adult equivalent of believing in Santa Claus.

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But regardless, it’s almost an instinctual thing for people, myself included. You watch a good person struggle only because you want them to succeed. And watching Hana go through so much struggle and misery, just to be rewarded with intangible vagaries like “personal growth”, or “the knowledge that she’s done all she can and her kids will be fine hopefully”, feels more sad than it does gratifying or empowering.

Her children never once thank her or consider her before doing anything. It seems odd, especially because a lot of Japanese anime and movies perpetuate the “respect your elders” ideal, and have something I call “the guilt mentality;” i.e., whenever a character guilts another character for “making them worry”, or for not considering how their actions affected other people. Neither of these are particularly bad things, and it’s easy to see that the children love their mother in the movie, but Hana never guilts or even explains to them all of things she has had to go through alone, while supporting them, even once they are old enough to understand better. And they never ask her about what she has been through.

On top of that, she can’t even publicly mourn her husband because he dies in wolf form and gets carted off in a dump truck right in front of her.

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In the end, her children find their own paths, and it feels like Hana is left alone.

That is why I think this movie is realistic, and my sense of justice and connection with Hana as a character made me long for an unrealistic, “happy” ending. An ending not brought about by guilt or bitterness or remorse, but by deep family connection and understanding.

This film helped me come to grips with an unrealistic ideal (nay, expectation) of love, but it still leaves me unsure if I want to watch it ever again. Maybe once was enough.

But it is definitely worth seeing at least once. John Oliver’s “Paid Leave” episode of Last Week Tonight didn’t give me nearly this much painful insight on motherhood, and that is a show about the real world. I learned so much from a movie that has freaking werewolves in it. 

Imagine the stress of your small kids getting sick, but not being able to take them to a doctor because of something like this
Imagine the stress of your small kids getting sick, but not being able to take them to a doctor because of something like this.

As usual, Hosoda gives us sweetness, warmth, and slice-of-life, but this is even more potent, powerful, and heartfelt than even The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. He may not be in Studio Ghibli, but in my opinion, his work deserves a place of honor on that same level.

 

9/10

*All pictures, video clips, and other media belong to Hosoda, Toho, Studio Chizu, and Studio Madhouse. Nothing belongs to me.

 

 

 

Kiki’s Delivery Service Changes, and the “Dub vs. Sub” Debate

Kiki’s Delivery Service is one of my favorite childhood movies. I didn’t see My Neighbor Totoro (or indeed many of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s other works) until later in my life, so Kiki is to me what Totoro is to most other fans. The story of a young witch who leaves home to train for a year and finds her purpose in a new city is a treasured memory, and a film I like to go back to when I find myself lost or lacking inspiration. Beyond the coming of age narrative, it’s a story about not giving up when life throws difficulties at you, as it inevitably will. Things may change, but you will never truly lose that which make you special.

 

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Recently I purchased a DVD copy of the movie, since my old VHS has long since vanished to some garage sale, Goodwill, or ignored corner of the house. I popped in the film and was quite unpleasantly surprised by what I found there. Half of the music was rearranged and redone, and scraps of dialogue and goofy ad-libbing were completely missing! ‘What the hell?’ I thought. ‘This isn’t Kiki!’

Yes, it was. I was just late to the punch.

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It turns out that the new 2010 DVD had been redone to resemble the original Japanese version, which was very minimalist, especially compared to the English dub put together by Disney. For those who are new and unfamiliar with the terms, a dub refers to the voice overs in a language (usually one different from the original recording), while a sub refers to subtitles. To say that a version is “English subbed” implies that the audio is still in the original recorded language (for example, Japanese), but that English subtitles have been included. “English dubbed” implies that the film or show has undergone English localization, with English-speaking voice actors and sometimes fixed or edited music.

The original Japanese film had music and very little dialogue, especially when the characters were offscreen. I don’t know entirely if it was Miyazaki, the fans, or some portion of both who demanded this change, but I do know that it was not advertised (explained) very well, and I would not have bought this specific copy, had I known.

(note: there is another English version from Streamline Pictures, but I never saw it and it’s harder to find)

The dub/sub debate is a large one in the anime community. I discovered this first in high school, just looking at the divide in my Japanese language class. I would say that half of the students in that class were there because they watched Japanese animation (anime for short) and liked it, and the other half because they were strictly interested in Japanese language and culture. Both groups seemed to thumb their noses at the other, and I could never understand it because I was there for both reasons. I liked anime, and that inspired me to learn more about culture, history, language, etc. I found both equally interesting.

The divide was even greater for the anime fans. Some are interested in culture, history, language, etc., and some of those argue that the Japanese dub (or English sub) is the only version anyone should watch. It’s the original after all; the closest to the creator’s true intent. Bringing it to America or other places just pollutes it, taking out all the jokes and references foreigners wouldn’t get and replacing them with ones they do understand.

I understand this mindset, but at the same time I appreciate what English dubs can do. They’ve grown a lot over the years, getting better at pronunciation and keeping closer to the original material, while bringing the content to a wide audience. Anime has grown in popularity in America in the last two decades alone. Sure, older generations still blink and gap in bemusement at fast talking, choppy animated Speed Racer and the like, but we have beloved films and shows that still have large followings today, even the ones heavily edited by folks like the infamous 4Kids Entertainment. Look at 90’s darling Sailor Moon. It’s getting a revamping with Sailor Moon Crystal.

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So what if some people call her Serena and the rest call her Usagi? That only matters in online forums and chatting with your Japanese friends, and I personally think it’s interesting comparing and contrasting the versions. As for which one I go with, usually it’s whichever one I like better (not necessarily which version I see first, though it is certainly that in the Kiki case). I watch Black Butler, Spirited Away, Madoka Magica, and Hetalia in Japanese, but I watch Wolf’s Rain, .hack//SIGN, Princess Mononoke, and Ouran High School Host Club in English. I can watch the other versions too, but it’s just personal preference, mostly pertaining to beloved voice actors and no other rhyme or reason.

Whatever you change, heart, effort, and charm should shine through, no matter what. Changes have to be made in adaptation.

So why am I mad about Kiki again? Mostly because of the advertising of this new feature (rather than, say, having the original Disney dub and the new 2010 Disney dub available in the same package, like a theatrical and director’s cut) and the choice of doing such a thing over a decade later, at the expense of someone’s memory.

What do I mean by that last bit?

This article takes an in-depth look at the story and changes made, but let me point out a few things here for the uninitiated:

“The 2010 DVD drops a considerable amount of character dubbing. Most affected is Jiji (Kiki’s cat), for whom (Phil Hartman) had provided a number of witty ad-libs. Here, unless a character is explicitly shown to be speaking, they’re silent. The silence goes even further in few scenes that had score apparently added for the English dub; these now appear without music. Other noticeable losses include Kiki and Jiji’s in-flight and in-rain banter (particularly the latter, upon arriving in their new town), some of Tombo’s lines, and a radio report. Furthermore, some minor changes occur in the credited titles of certain filmmakers.

Film revisionism is generally something I never like, especially when an original version is no longer offered. In this case, however, we’re not talking about an original version but a dubbing. Still, the English version is definitely untrue to Disney’s original dubbing, which has existed for 12 years. While the changes bring the English version closer to the original Japanese, which sounds fair enough, anyone wanting the original Japanese probably would have simply already chosen to watch that version. Something about removing a whole bunch of Phil Hartman’s lines from one of his final movies, a project dedicated to him, also doesn’t feel right. I’m not sure how worked up anyone will get over this surprisingly thorough re-editing. I would guess that those accustomed to the dub are more likely to mind the revisions than to appreciate them. And it seems to me that if Miyazaki had objections, he should have voiced them back in the ’90s.”

~ Luke Bonanno

 

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The character who “suffers” the worst cuts is Jiji, whose voice actor was murdered. The original Disney dub was dedicated to him, so cutting half his dialogue, even if it was ad-libbing, after the project was released to the public for years feels like an insult to his memory.

Also, MAJOR SPOILER HERE:

 

Kiki seems to lose her magical ability during the second act, and regains it by the end (all but speaking with Jiji). This is the big growing up moment, as far as Miyazaki and the purist fans are concerned.

“In the original Japanese script, Kiki loses her ability to communicate with Jiji permanently, but in the American version a line is added which implies she is once again able to understand him. Miyazaki has said that Jiji is the immature side of Kiki, and this implies that Kiki, by the end of the original Japanese version, has matured beyond talking to her cat.”

~Kiki’s Wikipedia page

I can see why fans might have a beef with that line added into the ending, but I never saw the cat as Kiki’s childish side. I saw him as her companion, and her ability to speak with him as just another benefit of having magical powers. The fact that her parents don’t have any other pets, and are never shown speaking to Jiji (or any other animals) never led me to believe that they couldn’t understand him, and that only Kiki could. In fact, Kiki not being able to speak to Jiji was the first sign that she was losing her powers. Would it really make sense for her to lose one power, but not the rest?

But that could have just been poor writing/elaboration.

Maybe she should have turned from animal to human friends (as a part of growing up), but she had plenty of human friends, both before and after skipping town.

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So I have never had a problem with the line revealing that Kiki can understand her cat again; I found the Japanese ending bittersweet and sad for what felt like a no real reason. Princess Mononoke”s ending was bittersweet, but it felt earned. So did the ending for Spirited Away and even Castle in the Sky a little bit. Although, Jiji is portrayed differently there, more “cautious and conscientious” than his “wise cracking” Americanized counterpart. I can accept it if people say “it’s just you.”

Some people found Phil Hartman unfitting or obnoxious as Jiji, hating his general hamminess. I did not. But while I can’t fault those people, I would have preferred (as I mentioned above) something along the lines of a theatrical/director’s cut pairing of DVDs, not just quietly and effectively replacing the old version from the general market. Miyazaki approved the changes made to his work at the time, even if he didn’t agree with them. Now he, or someone else on his team, has pulled a George Lucas.

Miyazaki, I love you man. I respect you so much. I’ve visited your museum in Mitaka

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and it was magical.

But please don’t do stuff like that.

I can’t say which version is better, because all versions have their own values and merits. I just miss the ad-libbing, the mickey-mousing, the wonderfully fitting Sydney Forest songs I sang along with every time.

 

 

I’ll keep the new DVDs and the new and interesting features available on the second disc, but I’m determined to get a copy of pre-2010 Kiki. I advise all fans of the original Disney dub to be wary, lest you get the shocking, depressing surprise I got. For everyone else who may or may not care in this instance, look into the production of some of your favorite shows and movies. They take a lot of work to make the finished product, and you might learn some interesting things about what is and what could have been.

Like David Bowie could have played Elrond in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptations.

True story.

And fans…go there ^. Or here:

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As usual, pics and other media don’t belong to me (although I personally took the photos of the Studio Ghibli Museum and the shopfront. They belong to Studio Ghbili, Hayao Miyazaki, and Disney, etc.

Summer Wars Review

This time, let’s take a break from rants and trashing stuff.

This, in my opinion, isn’t a good movie. It’s a great one.

Don’t click away just yet! I know what you’re probably thinking, but stay! Prove me wrong and show me your attention span isn’t that tiny!

Oh, look! A butterfly!

No two Japanese anime shows or movies are alike, but a lot of them have similar elements. Most of them take place in Japan or mystical worlds based on Japan. They have a lot of cultural references and humor, the latter mostly composed of homonyms, puns, pain, and humiliation. They tend to focus on character growth and relationships (not always romantic), and often teach those characters, and by extension the audience, the importance of nature and humanity.

A lot of Americans in particular write Japanese animation off for being childish, perverted, silly, or just too foreign. Which is a shame.

That’s why you were going to leave this page, wasn’t it? Be honest.

Kevin Butler sees all, knows all....
Kevin Butler sees all, knows all….

Some anime are shallow or lack substance, certainly, but it’s hardly a genre-wide problem. As with other genres and styles, it’s all about knowing what you like, knowing where to look for it, and trying new things from time to time.

And if reading subtitles and listening to Japanese isn’t your thing, search or wait for the English language version, or dub. They’re out there, and thanks to anime’s ever-growing popularity outside of Japan, many are of as good, if not better, quality than the Japanese dubs.

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*sighs* I’d better turn in my geek card. I’m pretty sure I just committed heresy.

Anyways, Summer Wars takes place in Japan, but a good portion of the movie takes place on the world-wide web, and has stakes that are important to the rest of the world. The jokes are mostly based on the context of the situation, rather than obscure (to Americans) Japanese history and culture. The film has elements of culture that are not terribly distracting or confusing, give the movie a distinct flavor, and may in fact get a few more uninitiated viewers to do a little research post viewing.

As for the story itself, without giving out too many spoilers, think the family from My Big Fat Greek Wedding in Japan, discovering and fighting off a HAL-esque computer virus. A big family slice-of-life mixed in with a cautionary tale about heavy reliance on machines and automation. And it’s one of those rare instances where the film doesn’t push the opposite extreme as the solution.

The Characters:

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Our main character is Kenji Koiso, a quiet, nerdy almost-mathlete who works as a moderator on OZ, a virtual reality/social networking/gaming site where anything and everything that you want to do is possible. People have accounts that are in charge of everything, from controlling water pipes and traffic lights to allowing people to play games and do their shopping.

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He gets roped in to a scheme by Natsuki Shinohara, the most popular girl in school, to come home with her and be her pretend boyfriend (for pay), so that she can assure her sick, aging great-grandmother that she’s fine, happy, and taking care of herself and her future. You know, in case the old lady, now pushing 90, passes away.

Then Kenji meets Natsuki’s family, all gathering in preparation of the great-grandmother’s birthday.

As you might imagine, hijinks ensue.

Kenji is, as I’ve mentioned, nerdy, shy, and well-meaning. He’s a great contrast to Natsuki, who is really upbeat and not afraid to come out and say what she wants. The two are charming and engaging enough, skirting the lines of their stereotypes a bit without coming across as boring and one-note. They are fine protagonists (although I wish Natsuki got a little more screen time, talking about what she’s going through. We do get thoughtful glances though).

The family really makes this movie for me.

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Similar to The Hobbit films with their dwarves, or, as previously mentioned, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the Jinnouchi (Natsuki’s) family has a lot of characters and only so much time spent getting to know them. But the difference (from Hobbit specifically) is that their actions, however few and simplistic, let you know who these people are immediately.

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Mansuke is a hardy, stubborn, nostalgic fisherman who is really passionate about his job and doesn’t take nonsense.

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Kazuma is the bullied kid who shuts himself out of the real world and lives almost entirely through his computer, training in martial arts to deal with his anger and bully problems.

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The great-grandmother,  Sakae, values family and communion more than anything, and she’s not afraid to fight (sometimes literally) for what is right and what needs to be done.

There are many others, like the aunts, daughters, and wives, who are all “take-charge” women.

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Watching this family eat dinner, you will easily be reminded of people in your own family. The ones who butt into your business, for your sake or theirs, and gossip or try to “help” you; the crazy, bratty kids and cousins; the problem children, or black sheep; the apple of the family’s eye; etc. There’s something to like about everyone, even when they make mistakes.

The story is great as it is, but I would have enjoyed a movie just about these people, interacting and going about life. They are that compelling.

*Fun fact: the Jinnouchi family is based on a real family from Ueda, where most of the movie takes place.

Some of them might be stereotypes, but that’s not done for the sake of mean-spirited humor. It shows that the family is large and full of different people, but they are all willing to come together when any one member is threatened.

And, in its optimistic altruism, the film portrays the entire world this way.

The Animation:

This film came from well-known animation studio Madhouse, which gave the anime community such gems as Trigun and Death Note, and director Mamoru Hasoda (formerly with Madhouse, but who left two years after this film came out to found his own studio, Chizu), who gave said community The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Wolf Children. 

For people who grew out of anime, but watched the stuff as a kid, you may also recognize Hasoda from parts of Digimon: The Movie, as cobbled together by Fox Kids.

The movie is a blend of traditional and 3D CGI animation, with the latter looking like a pretty decent video game. Which it’s meant to, by the way; Hasoda said he based it off of Nintendo games, and the world of OZ itself has numerous virtual gaming areas. It’s bright and colorful, and the shapes and designs are nicely varied. Kenji’s avatar in OZ looks vastly different from that of his friend, which looks like a 2D, pixel sprite face.

The scenes out-of-OZ are gorgeously drawn, with softer colors and more visible, defining lines. The best way I can describe it is inviting. The movements of characters are, surprisingly at times, hyperbolic and goofy, but in a charming, engaging sort of way.

The two styles blend relatively well, with the popping CG and the more understated hand-drawn animation each showcasing action, drama, and suspense in their own ways. It’s quite a feast for the eyes.

The Music:

Not much to say here, other than it just fits.

Some songs are more memorable than others, such as the music in the opening when Kenji is meeting the family members step by step, and the ending theme, which is relaxed, happy, and very minimalist in terms of instrumentals. The rest is fitting, but blends together at times and is, at least to my mind, just okay. It works for what it is, but I wouldn’t necessarily buy the soundtrack.

The Acting:

Or, in this case, the voice acting!

I haven’t seen the Japanese version yet-

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*sighs*

I haven’t seen the Japanese language version, but I plan to soon. If you want the film in its “purest” form, with nothing altered or dumbed down at all, see the Japanese version. I’m sure the seiyu (Japanese voice actors) do a wonderful job; I haven’t heard otherwise, by myself or from others, yet.

The English dub was handled by Funimation, which has a veritable phonebook of great English voice talent. I won’t bother listing them all here, even the most notable of actors (because those of you who know, know, and those who don’t probably won’t care), but I will say that they do a wonderful job creating “characters” for their characters and deserve a listen too. Or a watch, I suppose. 🙂

Dubs vs. Subs (subtitled in English, but voiced in the original language) is a debate for another day. Lay off me, fanboys and girls!

What else is there to say, without spoiling the thing? It’s a good movie that is totally worth your time. Even if you don’t think so, it is. Sit through thirty minutes at least, then come back and comment to me if you aren’t even remotely interested. There might be something wrong with you, and I can surely help you contact someone to get it checked out right away.

Still…

No video or pictures belong to, or were made, by me. As usual. Support the official release of Summer Wars and at least give anime a try once. You might decide you like it 🙂