Sunday, March 22, 2015

In a World of Pure Imagination...

In our modern internet era, Willy Wonka is known best as a masterful meme maestro at smoothly sarcastic satire directed at hypocritical positions and questionable claims. I'm sure most, if not all, of this blog's readers know exactly what I'm talking about there.

But decades before the inventions of Al Gore enabled this very blog to become reality, Willy Wonka sang about a world of pure imagination, and beckoned us into it with his charismatic mannerisms and his delightful candies and chocolates. Ah, but Charlie's Chocolate Factory was much like Charlotte's witch's barrier - Filled with delicious goodies, but also fantastical horrors that could harm children. Willy Wonka brought five such children into such a world, where all but one of them was victimized, albeit arguably by their own poor judgement. Remind you of a certain magical girl familiar? You could even consider Willy Wonka to be a proto-Kyubey!

This is one of the more fascinatingly fearsome forms of magic - The form of a double-edged sword that can slice miracles out of cold materialistic steel, but also slice chunks of flesh out of those who don't wield the sword with picture-perfect precision. 

Another form of magic is a more innocent form. The form of Mary Poppins, not Willy Wonka. The form that gives you sweet sweet sugar to help the medicine of daily life go down.

This magic is something that the western world once specialized in as amazingly adeptly as Willy Wonka specialized in chocolate and candy creation. After all, the western world gave us Alice in Wonderland, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and live-action musicals that held the imagination of a Willy Wonka as well as the relentless rhapsody resolve of a little orphan girl Annie, who never lost hope that the sun would come up tomorrow.

But the western world has largely traded in Daddy Warbucks for Lex Luthor. A gruff but hopefully sentimental adult replaced by a cynical corporate conman who wishes to remove things that are super from the world of the pleasingly dark and corrupt and normal. There is a place for such gritty entertainment, but I'm glad that anime has made a wonderfully whimsical world that I suspect Willy Wonka would gladly call his own if he could.

And this blog entry will now focus on exploring this aspect of anime, one which I think is perhaps not as well-understood and appreciated as it could be.

Anime, I would argue, tends to convey a fond fascination for a few specific things. Youthfulness. Hope. Struggle. Coming of Age. A strange blend of universality with cultural heritage. And with clear carefully calculated consistency, anime finds the magic and color in it all.

What I mean by magic and color is how it plays on a child-like imagination. An imagination that I think can ironically grow stronger and hungrier as we move through life.

"When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up." - C.S. Lewis

What I'm talking about is similar to what many of us anime fans call "chuunibyou", or some may even say that what I'm talking about is chuunibyou.

It's about a love of the strange and wondrous, the bizarre and imaginative, the surreal and the fantastical, the "larger than life". At its best, it does not dispense entirely with reality, but rather opens up a door between reality and a brand new world - Similar to the wardrobe door in Lewis' own "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

Sometimes this door opens up to a truly supernatural realm - Like the witch's barriers of Madoka Magica. Other times the door opens up to something more rooted in the natural world - Like the world of school idols in Love Live! But in either case, the key is that this new world is meant to be awe-inspiring and exciting and engaging and capture our imagination.

We are to join the protagonist(s) on an amazing adventure, on her or his newly discovered racy roller-coaster ride. Sometimes the roller-coaster ride ends in truly tumultuous triumph, and other times it ends in distressingly daunting despair, but in either case, the Amusement Park nature of the ride remains the same.

There is magic in the air - Magic in the sense of making the seemingly impossible real. It's about things gradually building up to key definitive moments, as these moments seem to justify everything that came before, and often give greater weight to what came before.

This is one specific thing that I think modern anime does exceptionally well. It takes something that almost all of us can relate to - Such as youthful first love - And it explores it in an unvarnished way that cuts through to the core of it. And to help itself do so, it cuts away the clutter and noise of background reality, and replaces it with fantastical events or imagery that I think speaks to a very deep and yearning humanity within many of us, if not all of us.

That is a yearning for meaning, and purpose, and success, and comfort, and knowledge, and love. Human drives are liberated from cynical defeatism and skeptical shackles, as distilled dreams are allowed to flourish and soar, like bubbles in Love Live! Episode 8 and blimps in Madoka Magica: Rebellion.

To get to these human drives - these core emotional truths - animators must capture just the right facial expression at just the right time. A good recent example can be seen with Aoi Miyamori in Shirobako Episode 23.

And many examples of this can be found in Love Live! and Madoka Magica.

So, good reader, will you journey with me, as I take you on a roller-coaster ride review, in exploring Love Live! and Madoka Magica in the days or weeks to come?

This blog entry is meant to renew this blog, by forecasting new reviews of two of my all-time favorite anime shows. This blog entry is an appetizer of what I intend to explore in those reviews. In my mind, Love Live! and Madoka Magica are opposite sides of the same colorful magical anime coin. Both specialize in everything I have mentioned in this blog entry. And both reinforce that with cute captivating costumes that well-represent this marriage between reality and a world of pure imagination.

That is the world I hope to bring you into soon, so stay tuned! Let's just hope I can see my ideas here through to the end, without any regrets.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Honoka Kousaka Creates A-RISEing Love

It's been a long, long time since I last blogged on anime. And when I last blogged it was over at Rabbit Poets, but that site has been relatively inactive in general for quite some time now, which is why I've decided to resume blogging here.  And what has inspired me to start blogging again? Quite fittingly, it's that most inspirational anime show of all, Love Live!

There's been a lot of discussion about A-Rise taking on a much larger role in the Love Live! anime with Season 2, Episode 3. They are now, at last, interacting directly with the nine singing goddesses of Muse. Many, including myself, suspected foul-play, since hey, it's kind of a trope for underdog upstarts like Muse to be on the receiving end of foul-play from the empowered established elite rival, which definitely describes A-Rise.

And so in focusing on possible villainy, I think I missed something paradoxically both obvious and subtle. It's subtle in that each instance of it is easy to dismiss or chalk up to a different interpretation. But it's obvious in that when you add these instances altogether, it points towards yuri as telling as Akemi Homura interacting for any more than a minute with Kaname Madoka.

And what does Love Live! Season 2 Episode 3 tell when you're not actively on the lookout for megalomaniacal villainy? It tells of how Honoka Kousaka has actually managed to have a celebrity star fall hard for her. And that celebrity is Tsubasa of A-Rise. Before continuing, I want to familiarize my readers (and myself) with the names of the three A-Rise members, because they aren't exactly common knowledge given A-Rise's cameo-esque presence in Season 1.

The tall purple-haired girl on the left is Erina Toudou.

The girl with hat taste to match Tari Tari's Sawa is Tsubasa Kira. She's the main point of discussion for this post as far as A-Rise is concerned. 

The Mikuru Asahina-esque girl on the right is Anju Yuuki. 

 Try to keep these all straight, because I will be referencing each of these characters by name throughout much of the rest of the post. Now then, back to my argument, which will involve a step-by-step evaluation of the 2nd half of LL! 2nd Season Episode 3.

Honoka Kousaka is enthusiastically greeted by Tsubasa while Honoka was ironically caught up in watching an A-Rise promo video. Tsubasa then grabbed Honoka by the arm and raced off with her, leading her inside UTX Academy. Not long after we see this...

"UTX Academy" is clearly a front for a Jail Scaglietti-ran research facility. I mean, just look at that student uniform - It's like a cross between a business suit and a scientist's lab coat. All you need is a clipboard in Anju's hand and a stethoscope around Erina's neck, and the impression would be complete! 

But putting that aside, it's time to start reading body language. And the body language here is cool and confident, but also warm and inviting (such is the amazingly awesome A-Rise that they can simultaneously be cool and warm!) It's very clear that A-Rise is trying to make a good impression here... which is interesting, because the people they're talking to are almost completely star-struck. 

Looking at each girl individually, Erina is holding a fairly standard pose of friendly social confidence, while Tsubasa is similarly confident but also appearing quite earnest. Most interestingly is Anju, who looks like a lovestruck girl while holding a clenched hand over her chest. This is a gesture you sometimes see from an anime girl in romantic tension. It's an odd expression coming from a popular celebrity addressing a few of her fans. So what could it mean? 

I have a theory here - Anju knows how important this meeting with Honoka is for her good friend and team-mate Tsubasa. So she's excited for her friend. She might be the sort of girl that loves seeing her friends do well romantically. Now, this is admittedly an awful lot to read into one screenshot, definitely. But I wouldn't do it if not for what I see in many other screenshots. The next of which being...

Here we see Anju playing with her hair in that "Shy girl thinking about romance" sort of way. Meanwhile, this is where Tsubasa really starts letting out subtle (and not so subtle) hints to Honoka. "Make yourself at home" is a classic lead-in seduction line. Tsubasa is trying to make her guests comfortable and relaxed. She especially wants Honoka comfortable and relaxed, for the pitch-perfect pick-up lines coming soon...

Everything in romance has to be done properly you see. ;)

Two key points on this screenshot.

1. Just look at Tsubasa's face. The sensuous cat-eyes, the sharp grin. This is a girl making her move, able to taste the delicious opportunity before her. And she knows this moment is key.

2. Anju is looking a bit nervously over at her friend Tsubasa. Anju also knows that this moment is key, and so she's paying close attention to Tsubasa, hoping Tsubasa doesn't mess it up. Thankfully, Anju's next facial expression makes it clear that Tsubasa is doing well.

Such is Tsubasa's fondness for Honoka that she's able to instantly pick Honoka's face out from a crowd. Anju knows that this is an effectively executed piece of sincere flattery, and so she can now rest blissfully at ease, confident that Tsubasa's aims here will be successful. Anju's face says "Aaahhh... isn't young romance so wonderful?"

"You're far more captivating in real life than on screen."

We have a word for this sort of line. That word is "flirting". ;)

So this is the money line, right here. Accentuated by Tsubasa shaking her hair, revealing her electrified excitement at having Honoka finally in her presence. This line is a clear-cut pick-up line. If a girl said this to a guy, or a guy said this to a girl, there would be no doubt whatsoever about that. So I think that even within a girl-to-girl context, it's still pretty suggestive. This line is the main thing that tipped me off to this romantic theory that I've since developed.

But Tsubasa's line is quickly followed up by Erina making a very professional-sounding evaluation of Honoka's strengths, perhaps masking what is really motivating Tsubasa here.

After A-Rise is done its conversation with Muse, they throw down the proverbial gauntlet, declaring how they will not lose to Muse. It's a somewhat strange end given how friendly and cordial and mutually complimentary their discussion has been. However, it's fairly reflective to similar scenes in sports anime shows between competing
players/schools/teams. It's usually a way of saying "I respect you, and so I'm going to do my best against you, and I fully intend to win. I hope you feel the same about me, and about what you're aiming for yourself. We should both give it our best!"

Now, I'd think this was all this was, except...

Just look at that face. That's almost orgasmic level of satisfaction! This is a person very, very pleased with how things just went down. Which again shows just how important this meeting was to her. It's amazing to write this about a celebrity like Tsubasa, but I think she was very emotionally invested in giving a good impression to Muse (especially Honoka). At this point, Tsubasa knows she nailed it, marvelously well. So that previous bit of "We're not going to lose" grandstanding?

I think its entirely sincere, and that A-Rise really are confident they will win, but I also think Tsubasa wanted to look cool to Honoka. And I think I know why she wanted to... ;)

A-Rise is then stunned by Honoka pulling off one of her Captain America moments, and with a stoic face that would make the Hitler-puncher himself proud, Honoka declared that Muse would not lose. This prompted Tsubasa to chuckle, and say to Honoka "You sure are interesting."

Yes... interesting... ;)

This is a key moment for Tsubasa. What was a crush based on seeing a person in a video has now turned into something more serious. In other words, Tsubasa's interest in Honoka has grown due to Honoka's show of strength and determination even in the face of a celebrity that causes much of Honoka's own team to fangirl like crazy. With her interest rising, Tsubasa makes an offer to Honoka - An offer to use A-Rise's live stage as Muse's owns stage as well. And just look at how happy Tsubasa is while making this offer?

Tsubasa has clearly come to like Honoka a lot. Consider that this is obviously impromptu. It was not part of the plan. A-Rise was walking away, conversation presumably ended, when Honoka unexpectedly stood up and threw the gauntlet right back at them.Tsubasa was so impressed by Honoka's reply that she on the spot decided to offer to share her stage with Muse.This was not part of the A-Rise plan, as it is a very emotional reaction to what Honoka did. And I think it says a lot.

Two weeks later...

The dialogue and facial expressions here are both very telling. A-Rise's facial expressions are very warm and friendly now. Some of the coolness of "Welcome to UTX" has actually faded under the bright light of this amazingly inspirational girl named Honoka Kousaka. The look in A-Rise's eyes/faces as they look at Honoka is decidedly intense - They're all sincerely impressed by Honoka, and they really truly are happy to be performing with her. The fact that Tsubasa says "so happy" instead of just "happy" is also telling, I think. It takes this beyond simple friendliness and formal politeness.This really does mean a lot to Tsubasa. Honoka has become a very important person to Tsubasa.

 "Compliment each other's lives"? What, you mean like a married couple? So wait... ;)

In all seriousness, I initially just took this to mean that Tsubasa was hoping that A-Rise and Muse could both learn some things about being good School Idols from each other. And that probably is part of it, at least. Still, the wording is suggestive here. Why not say "compliment each other's performances" or "compliment each other's growths as school idols"? "Compliment each other's lives" is taking it to a more generalized but also higher level.

At a bare minimum, it strongly suggests that Tsubasa wants Honoka to remain a part of her life.

A couple ideas worth considering at this point...

1. If Tsubasa is in fact romantically interested in Honoka, then it makes added sense for her to want to share the same stage with Honoka. It gives Tsubasa a chance to show off directly and in person to Honoka. Trying to show off for the person you're interested in is a very common thing in romantic courtship.

2. Additionally, Tsubasa would want to watch Honoka live and in person. And she does so, and this is how she looks during Honoka/Muse's live performance at the A-Rise stage...

That's a surprisingly vulnerable look for Tsubasa. I mean, the slightly awed look on her face, and the gingerly holding of her arm with one hand.

Then there's how Anju and Erina are both keying in on Tsubasa here. They're either struck by Tsubasa's reaction to the Muse performance, or they just want to see what her reaction is, or both.

This could suggest that this is all especially important to Tsubasa, and the other two A-Rise members know it. So they focus on her. Is it like two girls focusing on their friend watching a guy that their friend as a crush on? ;) Well, I don't know about you, but this face makes me think of Sayaka Miki being awed by Kyousuke Kamijo...

 Is this a girl in love?

To be fair, my arguments depend a lot on reading body language and very accurate subs (so if anybody is aware of an issue with any of these sub lines, please tell me). And as I wrote before, each individual instance/screenshot is easily open to multiple interpretations. But when you put them altogether, I do think they make for an interesting yuri argument. Am I wearing goggles here? Perhaps. And it is just one episode of course. But I definitely think there might be more to this than villain!Rival or even honest!Rival. It'll be interesting to see how future Love Live! episodes portray Tsubasa, particularly her interactions with Honoka.

Well, I've presented my case in this blog post. I'd love to know what my fellow Love Live! fans think. ;)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Heading Down The Rabbit Hole!

And reading poetry with Nagato...

When I started this blog about a year and a half ago, it was an act based on the opinions of a couple Anime Suki friends - Dr. Casey and Heatth - that my lengthy comedic reviews of that encouragingly erotic Endless Eight were overly endless themselves, at least for posts on Anime Suki. As such, I created a blog, primarily to provide episode reviews, and overall feedback, on what was probably the anime world's biggest controversy of 2009. Little did I know at the time that I'd still be blogging about anime a year and a half later.

I soon found that I greatly enjoyed blogging, as it provided a nice outlet to me when inspiration struck, so to speak. I didn't really want the burden of feeling obligated to write in-depth blog reviews of each and every episode of a new anime that I watched, but I did and do like being able to put together long posts on anime, its industry, and its fandom, when I felt that important points needed to be made about one or more of the above. In addition to this, some particular animes have left a strong enough impression on me (good, bad, or mixed) for me to do series reviews of them.

Of course, all of the above is just one man's opinion, of no intrinsic greater worth than any other opinion.

But, the strength of each and every opinion, is that it comes from an unique source, as each person has their own distinct background that helps to shape how they see the world around them.

In my case, my background is very atypical for an anime fan, as I grew up mostly on DC and Marvel Comics (and its associated cartoons), and Star Trek. I only became an anime fan in my 20s, for while the Timmverse of DC renewed enthusiasm, on my part, for the animated medium, the other North American cartoons where not enough to satisfy that enthusiasm. And so, I turned to anime.

I think that this background sometimes gives me a very different perspective from most other anime fans, and I hope that this perspective can make helpful contributions to the anime fandom as a whole. Aside from voicing my own personal preferences, tastes, and opinions, I often try to ask "What would your average North American think about this?" when approaching a new anime, or an issue surrounding it. I do this because I want to see anime's popularity to grow, and to take a greater place in the western world as well.

But, long story short, it is now time for me to move on.

It's time for me to move on like Alice in Wonderland, by heading down the Rabbit Hole. ;)

My bad pun aside, Rabbit Poets is a very high quality anime blog which seeks to put forward varied viewpoints, rather than just the viewpoint of one individual blogger. And so, I was asked by that blog's chief contributor and manager to join its ranks. A flattering request that I thought about for awhile, and eventually decided to accept. It's been a nice run being the "sole proprietor" of this anime blog, but joining a more established team can only be good.

For as Haruhi Suzumiya herself learned, it's often better to be part of a brigade than to operate alone. ;)

So, to my regular blog readers (all three or four of you ;) ), please join me over at Rabbit Poets, where you will find more postings by me there. I should have my first post up there within a few days. As a spoiler, it will be about this:

From those three pictures, can you figure out what it will be about, my friends? ;)

Anyway, a big thanks to all those who supported this blog over the past year and a half. It's been a blast, but it's only going to get better, so please continue reading my blogging over at Rabbit Poet's site.

Any and all final words for "Assessing the Anime" would be greatly welcomed and appreciated! ^_^

And with that, "Assessing the Anime" is now... signing off.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Interesting News From Japan...

As far as Japan is concerned, at least, maybe Keima is right...

While I liked TWGOK, there was one episode I found slightly disturbing.

It was the episode where Keima stated a strong preference for "game idols" over "real idols". In essence, a strong preference for fictional female characters in a game over real girls in real life.

Now, there's certainly nothing wrong with engaging in some fulfilling fantasy from time to time (I myself certainly do this), but at the end of the day, fantasy shouldn't completely take the place of reality in a person's life.

However, as the old saying goes, fiction reflects reality, as there may be quite a few real-life Keima's.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pavlovian Entertainment: What is Plaguing Anime Today

Of fangs and maid outfits...

In the field of behavioral psychology, there is something called classical conditioning.

Classical conditioning is a form of associative learning that was first discovered by Ivan Pavlov. Classical conditioning, when put into layman's terms, makes one think of "Pavlov's Dog". The idea behind Pavlov's Dog is that the dog would automatically salivate in the presence of meat powder, but that if the presentation of meat powder became associated with another form of external stimuli (such as the appearance of the person who typically feeds the dog), then that other form of external stimuli could, in and of itself (separate from the presence of meat) cause the dog to salivate.

Pavlov took observations like the one above pertaining to dogs, and used them to formulate classical conditioning.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Anime: Now Completely Under Siege

Faces of Anime's Past and Present, Reflecting a Troubling Future...

This blog will be one of the most important ones that I ever write. It reflects fears that I've had concerning the anime industry for some time now. Two recent (but in some ways looming) events now come perilously close to confirming that those fears are justified. The picture above is presented here for multiple reasons. For one, these faces are those of prominent anime characters, from animes that can effectively serve as two bookends of a period of incredible growth in the anime industry. 

From 1995's El Hazard: The Magnificent World to 2009's The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya movie, anime has been a place of grand and compelling narratives, and of entertaining and psychologically fascinating characters, able to rival the best that other entertainment genres and mediums could muster. It is true that there were great animes both before, and after, the dates of these two animes, but I personally feel that 1995 to 2009 is where you find the bulk of great animes, and where the industry had both the quality and quantity of material to put it on par with even the best that other narrative mediums could offer. 

But that may sadly be about to end...

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Moe/Star Trek Connection AKA Defending Moe Part Two

To boldly go where no otaku has gone before...
As many of my readers know, I've been a part of multiple fandom communities over my life. Currently, my main entertainment passion is anime, which is why this blog exists. There was a time, however, when Star Trek was not only my main entertainment passion, but was also what captivated the imagination of a young Grade 6 student, who would make a point to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation each and every weekday evening at 8:30 PM just before heading to bed to prepare for school the next day.

Capt. Jean-Luc Picard was a noble hero to me, and a fictional character that I looked up to, and enjoyed cheering on in episode after episode of TNG. In fact, I had an Elementary Teacher that even looked and acted a bit like Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, and he tended to treat me as a student wunderkind, not unlike one Wesley Crusher, I must admit. ^_^;;