Out of all the fears that lurk in the back of our minds, there are some that are obvious… From spiders, darkness and the unknown to more everyday occurrences like violence, death, and the constant threat of insectoid invaders from outer space. But there’s one fear that people often overlook, and it’s one that can completely consume your life… The fear of absolute solitude. Not having a past, not having a future, just being alone, with nobody to look out for you but yourself. For some people, this wouldn’t be so bad… After all, as it’s been said, there’s no feeling freer than having nothing left to lose. But to Nono, a spunky girl surviving by the skin of her teeth on the planet Mars, there’s nothing cool or ideal about it. Having spent an unknown and potentially unfathomable amount of years living on her own, traveling the expansive red desert without a home to go back to, without any memories to tell her who she is, or any future to look forward to, the only comfort she has in the middle of the night is her head full of dreams, and her ambition to one day become a famous pilot and save humanity from the insidious alien threat!

However, like most people in modern day times, she’s only able to live out her dreams through fantasy while working a dead-end job for wages that she can just barely survive off of. Working in a diner that’s populated mainly by truckers and washed-up space pilots, her dreams of outer space adventures are the only thing saving her from the looming threat of assault from her patrons. Thankfully, when that threat becomes fully realized, so does her dream! An ace mecha pilot from the elite interstellar military known as Fraternity, who is ironically female, crash lands right in the middle of the diner, saving her(whether intentionally or not) and unknowingly offering her the once-in-a-lifetime chance to hitch a ride into space and live out her dreams! Well, that’s what she wants to do, but there’s a catch; The pilots of Fraternity are called Topless, not because they’re shameless exhibitionists, but because they have some sort of ESP power, so it’s like there’s no lid on their minds to hold in their powers. Yeah, that’s stretching it, but hey YOU try to explain why they’re called that. Nono, who is revealed to be a robot, doesn’t have this ability, but as it turns out, she might just have potential far exceeding those who can.

In 2004, Studio Gainax released two anime to commemorate their 20 year anniversary; One of them was This Ugly Yet Beautiful World, a full-length TV series that massively disappointed, and Aim for the Top Diebuster, the sequel to their debut OVA Aim for the Top Gunbuster, and it only takes a cursory glance at both shows to figure out which one got the most attention from the production team. This Ugly was going to be an easy, dumb title full of nudity, so they didn’t need to waste too much money to make it successful… Diebuster, however, was going to be a sequel to a 20 year old anime that had a massive army of loyal and highly protective fans behind it, was much more of a risk, and in light of this, the amount of money they poured into this title is immediately apparent upon the first few minutes of the first episode. I haven’t seen every single Studio Gainax anime… Give it a few more years, I definitely will be able to brag about this at some point… but from what I’ve seen, Diebuster is by far the best looking anime I’ve ever seen from them. Yes, that includes Evangelion, at least by a little.

To be fair, at least in terms of it’s characters, Diebuster is on the more cartoony side of the scale. Honestly, they look more like Fooly Cooly characters than Gunbuster characters, which I guess is just the look the company was pushing back then. It’s a huge step away from Gunbuster, but I think there are a few reasons it’s worth forgiving. First of all, the most colorful and cartoony character IS the sunny, happy-go-lucky robot girl, which allows the distinction to make a small bit of sense. Everyone else, even those with alternate skin and hair color options, look far more down to earth, and the few who don’t are given so little screen time it doesn’t really matter. Second, the outdated character designs of 1984 wouldn’t mesh at all with the beautifully drawn and exquisitely detailed backgrounds they’d be placed in. Before the first appearance of the show’s title in the first episode, I was already on Facebook gushing about how gorgeous it looked. I don’t think there’s a single shot in Diebuster that I wouldn’t want to watch on loop so I could fantasize about living in it, save for maybe the scarier war scenes.

There are so many layers on screen at any given time that you almost don’t know where to look… The characters aren’t always in the foreground, because sometimes that space will be reserved for lens flares, or a small cross section of whatever they happen standing in front of. After that, depending on the environment, the remaining layers can be used to show an entire world of activity in the background of outer space, or the crushing loneliness of an open plain. It’s not impossible for an anime to look as alive and immersive as Diebuster does, but it is rare, and I want to think this is the only time Gainax has ever pulled it off. The use of lighting also helps, seeing how once we leave Mars in episode 1, the bulk of what we see from there on is shrouded in shadow, which perfectly complements the bright and bouncy Nono, who’s childish antics and outgoing personality are quite literally designed to shine in the darkness, both in terms of the artwork and in terms of the bleak tone of the story. The immersive background also helps distract you during those rare moments when the animation maybe isn’t as fluid as it is elsewhere, which is already a sparse problem.

The CG is also used to perfection here, and it pops up frequently, in all sorts of background and foreground layers. You’re not just going to be impressed by the fleets of ships that the Fraternity owns, you’re going to be impressed by vast expanses of space they’re existing in. I’ve praised several anime in the past for having beautiful looking paintings represent space, but in Diebuster, space is ever moving and ever evolving like an organism all it’s own. In shots that combine layers of CG with layers of traditional animation, it looks freaking unbelievable. The same can be said for weather effects and the way they visually affect the characters on-screen, as well as lazers, light beams and any other special effects the script may call for. You could almost call this a spiritual predecessor to Gurren Lagann, if it didn’t also surpass that series. Characters, whether in action or idling between missions, are animated perfectly, with a wide and very graceful range of motion, capped off by fully expressive and photogenic faces. Gainax has never been the best company when it came to managing budget issues, so for Diebuster, I’m going to assume they didn’t HAVE any budget issues, and whether or not that’s the case, it worked out amazingly for them.

While Kohei Tanaka is not a name you’d generally hear associated with Gainax… Honestly, he’s much more well known to the One Piece crowd, although I’m a much bigger fan of his work on Bastard… He did compose the score for two of Gainax’s projects, those being both Gunbuster and it’s sequel, Diebuster. This is probably why there are so many Gunbuster songs that wound up being reused in Diebuster, and in some surprisingly smart and subtle ways. I wasn’t a huge fan of the first season’s OST, but the tunes that are shared by both shows are used much better this time around. Tanaka is generally known for his grand, sweeping ballads, but he’s also known for using rock and roll and electric tracks in order to rack up the intensity of a fight scene. Honestly, though, the music in this show isn’t exactly memorable… You won’t be humming along to any of it’s tracks on the way to work… But they work splendidly in the moment, and you will enjoy them when you’re watching the show.

The opening, Groovin’’ Magic, is far more memorable, and I challenge you not to get it stuck in your head. It’s received some criticism on two different fronts, with one saying that it’s just a piece of Jpop fluff, and the other saying it’s just a mish-mash of clips from the show. To the second I say, have you never watched a Gainax show before? They do that all the time. Most of Gainax’s anime properties have openings that use original animation to bookend long slots of random out-of-context clips. Diebuster does this too, and while the original animation basically consists of silhouetted characters walking, it’s still a lot of fun to watch. The song has a sort of light, funky sixties pop feel to it, which was a great choice considering what kind of person the main character is… Nono is an idealistic dreamer, a sunny flower child who brings ideals of pacifism and humane priorities to a war zone full of cynics and jaded veterans, challenging the way they think. this is very much her theme song, but that’s not to say the ending theme doesn’t also resonate with her. It does, but it runs a little deeper, to the darker feelings she keeps hidden from everyone, as well as her firm resolve to put on a smile for their sake. It’s a great soundtrack overall, and a huge improvement over that of the first season.

Actually, as it turns out, improvements upon the first show can be found all over the place in this one. Now, I originally thought Gunbuster was okay, a good show overall, if not problematic in a lot of areas. It’s characters were weakened by it’s insistence on setting aside time it didn’t have to spare for the sake of explaining things we didn’t need to know, showing us things we didn’t need to see, and exploring several dead end plot points that wound up adding nothing to the important areas of the story. As a result, thing got overly complicated, and we sacrificed any depth the main characters or the badly explained one-note villains could have had in exchange for footnotes like “dolphins with helmets were connected to the development of extrasensory perception.” It probably wasn’t fair of me to blast it for being outdone by a later series, particularly in the area of developing it’s main character, but I stand by my belief that newer anime can be both superior products and useful comparative tools to older anime, and since Gainax already improved upon several elements of their inaugural series through Evangelion, they had a golden opportunity to seal the deal with their 20th anniversary piece.

There really aren’t very many ways to connect Diebuster to Gunbuster as a canon sequel, although they apparently exist in the same universe with a massive time gap in-between, so it works a lot better to consider this series as a reimagining of an older concept. And yes, Diebuster features a vast improvement in terms of narrative and execution. On the surface, it’s story is very simple. It follows an innocent and untainted main character getting the opportunity to live out her dreams, struggling, and ultimately becoming more than the sum of her parts through unexpected and unorthodox means, while changing the people around her in the process. There are little to no deviations from her journey, and the fact that it’s her journey above all else is never in question. Everything that happens in the series is either related directly to her, or directly related to the Fraternity group and surrounding characters in ways that will affect her down the line By using this much tighter sense of focus, Gainax is able to explain the plot and setting to us through her, as we learn what she learned, while at the same time getting us invested in her story. With Nono performing this role, there’s little to no need for exposition, although Gainax still crowbars it in with their subtitles.

Unfortunately, Diebuster isn’t so much an improvement as it is the exact opposite of Gunbuster in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Whereas Gunbuster spent a lot of time telling you very little, Diebuster sounds way too little time telling us way too much. There wasn’t very much happening in Gunbuster that was very important, which made it feel a little boring, but there’s way too much important shit going on in Diebuster, making it feel way too overwhelming and confusing at times. To be fair, this doesn’t actually start happening until episode 4, as I think everything was paced really nicely up until that point. Past episode 4, however, the story and plot become extremely difficult to follow, with important revelations being dropped like hot potatoes, new characters being introduced just to be killed off after mere seconds worth of collective screentime, which is apparently supposed to feel tragic, but I had to watch episode 4 three times just to catch what that tragedy even was, let alone why all the remaining Topless were lying in hospital beds with protective headgear on. It made sense when I was finally able to wrap my head around it, and the scenario I’d been missing was even written better than I thought, but that still doesn’t excuse such shoddy pacing.

But that’s all fine, because the characters get appropriate time devoted to their arcs and individual developmental journeys. Well, I say that, but just because time’s being devoted to them doesn’t mean what we’re being shown is going to hold up. As much as I loved her, and she is an incredibly fun and likeable character, Nono is kind of a Mary-Sue. There’s some subtle depth to her, when you compare her lonely past on Mars to her refusal to compromise her principals in Fraternity, but most of the time it barely resonates with her character in any meaningful way, and after spending half the series as an upbeat Lego brick, her transformation into Jesus happens on a dime. She’s too perfect, she’s always right, and when you get right down to it, she’s… well, she’s Robin Williams. I shouldn’t be too upset about that, as her perfect nature was an integral part of episode 3, which was so perfect it made me cry, but that wasn’t her episode… It was the episode of another pilot named Tycho Science(real name, not joking), who’s backstory and resolution are without question the most memorable thing about this story. And she doesn’t even manage to make an impact beyond that episode.

Which leaves the final main character, L’Arc Mellik Mai, who is probably the best one in terms of development. She starts out the series as a battle-hardened, no-nonsense warrior, the top of her class and the undisputed lord of the kill count. Meeting Nono gradually warms her heart and forces her to open up over time, resulting in her becoming more expressive as well as a few other spoilers. But I honestly can’t help but feel that she got a bit too much screen time. for a relationship between two characters to feel strong, it has to become strained at some point so it can mend and become stronger than before, which does happen in Diebuster between her and Nono… In what has to be the worst way possible. I’m going to spoil this, so skip to the next paragraph if you really don’t want to know how this all falls apart. Basically, she catches a pilot she has a thing for attempting to rape Nono, and her first words are “Why not me?” Which… I just… no. She turns her back on both of them, because how DARE he try to rape another, and how dare she BE that other, and oh dear God I’m going to vomit.

I know I spent a lot of space talking about Diebuster’s flaws, but it really is a fun show. Much like the first season, a lot of it’s best qualities can be found in it’s space battles, and in this season, none of them ever feel wasted or pointless. We know what the goal of every fight is, we know what’s at stake, and when the enemy suddenly becomes unimaginably strong, we know how and why it happened. There’s a sense of progression on both sides, with the humans discovering new technology, and the bugs becoming immeasurably powerful just when we think we’re about to overcome them, even though what they are and why they want to kill us still hasn’t been established. There’s a lot less fanservice than in the first season, as instead of bathing scenes forced in for no reason, everything that happens in this series… nudity included… Serves a strict narrative purpose, whether it’s Nono being cleaned after being rescued from Mars or characters contemplating their issues while alone in the bath, and even then, everything’s shot tastefully… Not to censor, but at the same time, not to exploit. Even the early shot of Nono ripping off the chest of her shirt was meant to be an homage to the first season, which Diebuster does clearly have a lot of respect for, even if it doesn’t look like it at times.

Aim for the Top: Diebuster! is available from Eastern Star Studios, which… Like a star… Is a bright spot in an expansive empty space of no fucking releases. This DVD set came out stateside nine years after the series came out proper, and after only three years since, it’s so far out of print that you can’t actually get it on Amazon. It’s cheap enough on Ebay, as I got my copy for about twenty-five dollars, but yeah, I have no idea why it’s been so sparsely released. An anime film, Gunbuster vs. Diebuster, is much easier to find, as it was released more recently. A single volume manga that ran in the magazine Dragon Age Pure is not available stateside.

So, how does Studio Gainax’s 20th anniversary OVA series hold up? Well, considering their other offering was a collaboration with Madhouse that brought little other than pretentious ramblings and barrels of bare boobies to the table, I’d say this one turned out rather nicely. It has surprisingly little to do with the original Gunbuster aside from some terminology and the visual of a robot running on a treadmill… I’d nitpick, but considering that she also eats, sleeps and has a heart, sure, why not… It actually feels a lot more like a few other Gainax properties. I already made the comparison to FLCL, in regard to it’s colorful and cartoony character designs and over-all artistic aesthetic, but it also incorporates a lot of Evangelion, especially in the way that the pilots interact with each other. Oddly enough, though, it kind of also feels a lot like Gurren Lagann, which wouldn’t come out until three years later. I won’t go too specific, but it even ends with the imagery of a drill! So yeah, it works way better as a representation of what Gainax was between the late nineties and the mid-oughts than it does as a direct sequel. Much like Gunbuster, it has a lot of problems, but over-all, it’s a pretty fun experience. I give Diebuster a 6/10.

The only reblog i’ve ever done, and quite possibly the only one I’ll ever do.

Congratulations, LMG!

Jennifer Paetsch

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter then you probably already know that I got my 3D Designer certificate which basically is to show that I know how to use Autodesk Maya to build models, animate them, use special effects, render images, etc. As a next step, I’m learning Blender and creating some work and a show reel. I’ll post updates here on my blog, but not as many or as often as I post on Twitter and Instagram.

Thanks to all my fans and friends and Patreon subscribers who have been very patient and supportive as I achieve my goals! I can’t express my gratitude enough. You are the best!

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Epic Rap Battles of Anime!

Asuka Langley Soryu vs. Kaori Miyazono!

Begin!

It’s April right now, but I’m not going to lie
I’m a self-driven pilot standing high above the sky
I’m independent girl, your life revolves around a guy
You’re a manic dixie dream girl who makes people cry
I had the world on the line, your stakes are raw like my rhymes
Up until you hit puberty, you looked like you were five
You need a smaller violin to tell your tale of fake misery
You passed out on stage, and then your agency was history
I fought a great war, left it all in the trench
You died the way you lived, putting Kousei on the bench!

Let me explain myself, because you seem confused
I do to music what Rahxephon did to you
Call me Alex Delarge, I bring the ultra-violins
You never would have fought without adult guidance
I’ll put out your other eye with lines as sharp as these
Your weakness is exposed, like your panties in a breeze
When this Nazi sees an older man, she dies of thirst
Does he remind her of her Daddy? This brat’s the worst!
Kaji may have disappointed you, he’s such a hardliner
But you’re in luck cause I know how to finger a minor!

Mein gott that was lame, is that as hard as you come?
I expected better from your Lindsey Stirling silver tongue
You never told us what you died of, but I think I know the answer
You were struck down in your prime by your bout with talent cancer
You had a musical tumor, in stradi-various places
Moe Mystery Disease, and you’re just one of it’s cases
Your parents made a half-baked effort, it’s true
First they lost Nagisa, then they lost you!

Remember Anime’s Got Talent? I took home the gold!
Even your penguin can’t handle me with rhymes this cold
You’re not even in my league, I’m beloved from here to Roma
You’re so annoying that you’re only sexy in a coma
You may be a soldier at the head of your class,
But my legs don’t even work, and I can still kick your ass
I’ll leave you like your mother, that’s all she wrote
When I string your heinee up and end this battle on a high note.

Who won?  you decide!

The year is 2015. It’s been fifteen years since the world suffered a cataclysmic disaster, which wiped out unimaginable portions of life and land mass, a great deal of which is now permanently underwater. While the cause of the incident is unknown to the general public, those with special clearance are aware of The Angels, giant celestial beings from the heavens who’ve come to Earth with the apparent task of ending humanity as we know it. In response to this, the secret organization NERV began to recruit a select few overbearing and overemotional young people, yes, teenagers, all of whom were born one year after the incident, which has been mysteriously dubbed “Second impact.” These young heroes have been tasked with piloting the Evangelion, a trio of giant cyborgs that have been proven to be the only weapons capable of fighting off the extraterrestrial threat and defending the remaining populace of this post-apocalyptic world, including what few loved ones they may have, all as humanity clings to the last remnants of society!

But all is not what it seems, as NERV seems to have it’s own agenda, independent from the harrowing exploits of the young pilots. Their seemingly altruistic goal of protecting humanity from the ever-present threat of extinction may only be a ruse that’s concealing a deeper, perhaps even more sinister scheme. These pilots consist of the first child, Rei Ayanami, a quiet and emotionally closed-off girl who’s shrouded in mystery; The Second child, Asuka Langley Soryu, a half-German girl with deep-seated superiority issues and an attitude to match; And the third child, Shinji Ikari, estranged son of the project’s director who wants nothing more than his father’s approval. These children must battle the constant threat of the Angels as well as each other and the increasingly shady people pulling their strings, all while coming up with new strategies on the spot against enemies that never show up in the same form twice, and especially never from the same angle. In order to understand each other, they’ll have to understand themselves. Will our heroes be able to protect us from total annihilation, or will they themselves prove to be the unwitting heralds of our demise?

Over the years, Neon Genesis Evangelion has garnered something of a larger than life reputation, which is why it’s so strange to hear people gloss over it’s massive budget restrictions. To be fair, they’re not a problem too often, as Gainax has proven themselves time and time again to be good at working under shoestring budgets, but it does become a problem once in a while, and to the show’s great detriment, it does so really early on. While there are later episodes that use obvious budget saving tactics that wouldn’t fool even the greenest of novice otakus, the ugliest material of the series takes place right in episode 3, where Shinji is settling into his new life at school. The budget for this particular episode was clearly drained bone dry, with stilted movements, frozen pictures with moving mouths for extended periods of time, and I swear I’m not making this up, a lengthy sequence where the number of students in Shinji’s class appears to change drastically between shots. Even by the standards of low budget old-school anime, this is just embarrassing.

Thankfully, it’s not the norm. It’s the exception, not the rule. There are other episodes where characters are badly drawn or inhumanly stiff, but never to the same level of concentration, and the animators clearly got better at it as the series progressed, right up until the obvious budget crash towards the end. I don’t think the budget ever really picked up, at least not to any sort of progressive degree, but it does get a lot better at preserving and allocating money, so that the big action scenes that take up the middle of the series can be just as epic as they need to be. The increase in artwork quality is also a huge point in it’s favor, as an improved grasp on framing and shading make even the stiffest of dialogue exchanges and character moments look passable at worst and thoroughly engaging at best. The character designs are a bit rough, but they’re thoughtfully done, incorporating similarities between certain characters that you don’t even realize are there until further viewings, with Shinji’s similarities to his father only being the tip of the iceberg.

When I said earlier that Evangelion employs budget saving techniques that wouldn’t fool most viewers, I was of course referring to the more discerning viewers who wouldn’t be drawn in by the animators dangling keys in front of their faces. There are too many moments where they stopped having the characters do stuff and instead just switch to a minimalist perspective and psychoanalyze the characters, with a thin veil of lore giving it enough of an excuse to separate it from similar Gainax shows that did the same thing, like that old trainwreck Kare Kano. It’s easy enough to get drawn in by all this psychobabble, and I’ll spend a fair amount of time later on going into detail about why you shouldn’t, but if you don’t, then you’ll likely see nothing more impressive in it than a cheap, transparent attempt to save a buck. This is concentrated mostly in the final quarter of the anime, which means you won’t have to put up with it often, but damned if seeing that one extended shot of Unit 1 and the final angel doesn’t attract most viewers to start massaging the fast forward button.

The music, composed almost entirely by Shiro Sagisu and distributed by King Records, received the 1997 Kobe animation award for Best Original Score, and I feel bad for whatever anime it was competing against, because they had no chance. The entire score is largely comprised of big, elaborate orchestral band pieces, and unlike the shaky at best animation quality, they go all out with the musical accompaniments. There are too many memorable tracks to count, including most of the angel battle themes(Dance like you want to win is a particular favorite of mine) and the repeated domestic tracks from the show’s more contained moments. There are a handful of pre-existing songs, like Hallelujah(The generic choir version, not the Leonard Cohen version). It’s a fantastic soundtrack, but the best part is still the opening, Cruel Angel’s Thesis, which in addition to being a great song is probably the greatest use of stock footage in an op that I’ve ever seen. The closing theme, a direct cover of Sinatra’s “Fly me to the Moon,” is sung by a different actress and in a different style every episode, in all of it’s engrishy glory.

Since the dub for Evangelion was released over ten years ago, it contains a lot of names you might not be used to hearing. That’s not to say they don’t show up anymore… Although Sue Ulu, Jaxon Lee and Kurt Stoll have long since retired… But for the most part, they’re names that have faded from the voice acting A-list with time. The Evangelion actor who’s probably the most well known these days is Tiffany Grant, who’s still churning out an impressive amount of work 23 years into her career. She also puts forth what’s probably the best performance of the series, playing the egotistical glass cannon Asuka, speaking in flawless German when she needs to and brilliantly following along with every single psychological facet of her character, from the arrogant boasting to the more tsundere-like ranting and nagging, including what easily puts her over the top, the young fraulein’s more fragile and broken moments. Alison Keith probably comes in second with her portrayal of the fan favorite Misato, the guardian of two of the pilots as well as a strong, dependent Major seeking revenge against the Angels.

I don’t think Spike Spencer did a bad job with Shinji, and after all, he was probably the perfect choice for the role, but the material he was given did him no favors. Shinji is a whiny and self-loathing adolescent boy, so in turn, that’s exactly what Spike plays him as, all the way down to the cracking voice and doubt-filled inflections. He didn’t exactly make the character likeable, but to be completely honest, I go back and forth on whether or not he was even SUPPOSED to be likeable, so points for accuracy. The same goes for Amanda Winn, later Amanda Winn Lee, for her performance as Rei, which she excels at despite it not being a very demanding role. She stays flat and monotoned throughout, but there’s still nuance to the performance. It is worth noting, however, that this is quite possibly the only good performance I’ve heard from her, as she is in fact my least favorite English dub voice actor. Her voice has a very uneven and unnatural quality to it, to the point that some of her roles have sounded like she was recording her lines in the back seat of a moving roller coaster, and while I’d love to give you some examples, all I have to do is point you to when she breaks character in the final episode.

Beyond these, there aren’t really any stand-outs, as almost everyone plays their roles equally good. Gendoh Ikari had two different voice actors, one for the series and one for the Director’s Cut, but you can barely tell the difference, and I mean that in a good way. He’s kind of a flat character like Rei, but instead of apathy and a lack of emotions, Gendoh needs to be played with a very specific level of strength and determination, the voice of someone who never leaves the office and can’t help but look down on anyone who’s less committed than he is. The directors’ cut also swaps a bunch of other modern names into the cast, such as Greg Ayres, Vic Mignona, Monica Rial, and even the short-lived Mandy Clark. The adaptive writing is mostly faithful, rarely making any changes beyond rewording certain lines to match the lip flaps, or just to change the timing of certain lines and the order in which they’re said. I know that sounds like a lot, but it never really takes away from the intent of the original material, and even when it comes close to doing so, it happens during moments that are acted more than well enough to justify them. Is it as good as the dub? No, but it does grow on you if you give it a little bit of time, and it’s pretty good in it’s own right.

In the 20 years that it’s been out, the public perception of Evangelion has been all over the place. It’s not the MOST poorly aged anime I’ve ever seen… I can think of a few certain titles from far more recent years that have fallen much harder and faster from grace… It was once considered one of the greatest anime of all time, if not THE greatest, which is an attitude that’s not only declined, but in today’s market, Eva worship is a simple, recognizable sign of rookie status, someone who hasn’t seen enough titles to compare it to. There are still die hard fans out there, who believe it to be some profound psychological masterpiece… We’ll stick a pin in that idea for now… But the growing critical consensus is, and has been for a while now, that Evangelion is little more than pretentious nonsense. In order to talk about this anime, I’m going to have to address these concerns, because no, I don’t think it’s THAT pretentious. I’m aware that I may be alone in this, but from what I can tell, a few problematic elements have been blown way out of proportion.

First of all, the definition of pretentious is as follows; If someone or something is attempting to impress by pretending to have greater importance, wisdom, depth, meaning, etc. than it actually possesses, then it falls into the official definition. Things aren’t pretentious because they seem smart, but because they’re not as smart as they want to look, and frankly, to tell the difference, you’ve gotta be smart enough to compare what’s being boasted to what’s actually there. In the case of Evangelion, there are a few pretentious elements at play, but it takes up nowhere near the majority of the material. For starters, I have to call them out on this because I don’t think anyone else has, there’s the episode titles, and I can provide a quick example; In an episode where two kisses take place, the title will be “Those women longed for the touch of other’s lips, and offered them their kisses,” or something, I’m paraphrasing. Titles that sound overly busy and full of purple prose that are meant to give the feeling of greater meaning or profundity to otherwise unimportant moments.

The other example is some stream-of-consciousness material that occurs toward he end of the series. I won’t go into too much about the bullshit this part of the series is loaded with, because I already said a lot of it in the animation portion, and besides, other reviewers have done a far better job of it than I ever could. Seriously, if you want to see the philosophies of Evangelion get a triumphant curb-stomp, look up Jesuotaku’s review, it’s not as hard to find as you might think. What I will say is that there’s a pretty good rule of thumb for judging pretension… If a story uses very little words in order to say a lot, then it’s probably profound in some way. If it uses a ton of words to say very little, then yeah, it’s pretentious. I won’t give away what’s going on in the official series ending, but to paraphrase(something I can do far too easily), it’s saying that with billions of different perspectives of awareness existing in the world, it’s impossible to fully understand anything, least of all other people and even yourself. They find so many different ways to say this, through constant repetition and rephrasing, that it very soon starts to feel like padding for episode length.

So yes, there’s some obvious pretension going on, but to it’s credit, that stuff is mostly only relegated to the final quarter of the series, and even then, barely half of that. Having said that, the series doesn’t get off to the best start either, as the first quarter of episodes suffer a slight case of growing pains, introducing a few of it’s main characters, who really don’t flourish well on their own, and the lackluster animation from those episodes doesn’t offer much support. Thankfully, the very concept of teenagers with room to grow piloting giant cyborgs to fight celestial monsters is more than promising enough to carry even the most reluctant viewers through, and thank God for that, because something happens a quarter of the way into the series that automatically brings all of it’s best qualities to the forefront. Evangelion truly shines when it’s in it’s element, with all three pilots gathered and a brand new Angel showing up to challenge them in brand new ways each episode, and the level of creativity and thoughtful writing that goes into these battles is nothing short of insane. It’s a bit episodic, yes, but it’s by far the best Eva has to offer.

Unfortunately, this all adds up to an extremely inconsistent level of quality throughout the series. I’ve seen shows that started out great but went downhill towards the end, and likewise, I’ve seen shows that were difficult to get into, but turned out to be rewarding at the end. Well, Evangelion is one of very few anime whose best material is in the middle. For more than half of the episode count, you could easily count this series as not only one of the greatest action anime of all time, but one of the greatest mech shows of all time, and that’s coming from a guy who’s not easily impressed by giant robots. It’s exciting, it’s inventive, and it’s damn funny to boot, but that’s still only a portion of the series. Now, you might be asking, how is this possible? The truth is, while Evangelion has many different problems plaguing it, there’s one issue in particular that I believe to be the core of everything wrong with it. For all the intense action and sci-fi fantasy that it offers, for all of the rich lore that’s so easy to get lost in, for all the intrigue keeping us guessing, let’s just say there’s a reason I worded my plot synopsis to not highlight any character in particular.

All of Evangelion’s worst problems begin and end with Shinji Ikari, who is… By all conceivable measures… A terrible main character. He doesn’t do anything you’d expect a protagonist to do, and he winds up hurting not only the story as a result, but other characters as well. The reason the middle of the story is the best part is largely because, for that stretch of episodes, Shinji’s not treated like a central main character. He’s not given any special attention, or any special development. Starting immediately from the debut of Asuka, Shinji just kind of fades into the rest of the cast. If you took any given episode from this portion out of context, you could be forgiven for thinking that Misato was the main character, or that there ISN’T even a main character, and instead the focus is on an ensemble cast, or more specifically the three pilots as a unit. I know a lot of people give Asuka shit for being egotistical and annoying, but she is the life of this series, as Shinji is way too busy reacting to her capriciousness and Rei actually shows some personality in response to the competitive Asuka provoking her.

I may complain that Shinji has so little agency that he makes Jupiter Jones look like Indiana Jones, but he gets more tolerable the less he’s expected to do, and that should have been a warning sign right from the first story-board panel. As a cypher, his job is to have the plot and premise of the story explained to us through him, and he does the bare minimum of this, learning about the fight between Angels and Evas for our sake before breaking off from the larger plot by whining about his own self-interests. He’d rather complain and refuse to make any forward progression, but due to his lack of agency, his refusals ultimately amount to nothing. Throughout the anime, the only thing he’s interested in is gaining the approval of others, and he gets so singularly invested in his own shit that they had to introduce an entirely different character… Misato’s “It’s complicated” guy Kaji… Just to get the ball rolling on what’s supposed to be shocking reveals later in the series. That’s supposed to be the main character’s job, and the fact that his story is so entirely divorced from what’s actually going on behind the scenes creates a huge tonal dissonance that ruins the impact of what could have been a much more interesting build to the climax.

There’s a critiquing device out there that has you asking one very simple question: Whose story is it? Who’s the real main character? Who has the motivation, who has the arc, who’s affected most by the plot? Well, let’s look at Shinji. He wants approval from his father. Okay, I’ve heard of worse arcs… How does it play out? Well, if Gendoh was a more interesting character, which I’m sad to say he’s not, then he’d use his heartlessness and lack of love for his son to manipulate the kid, using Shinji’s longing as a carrot on a string, offering false hope that Shinji would uncover so he could reject his own father and rise above it as a stronger character. Instead, the writers make no attempt to hide how little Shinji matters to Gendoh, making him as unlikable as possible to the detriment of the plot. We know Gendoh will never love Shinji, because there’s no nuance to his character, leaving Shinji to be motivated by little other than the fact that he’s good at something he thinks others can’t do. We’re supposed to grab onto his belief in his father’s humanity, but when Gendoh’s heartlessness is played up to the point that he winds up making borderline nonsensical decisions just to look as evil as possible, it just feels like everything our hero does is in vain.  We know Gendoh’ll never open up, there’s no reason to get invested.

Towards the end of the series… And I’m going to try and avoid spoilers here as much as possible… Something disastrous occurs, involving one of Shinji’s friends. The build-up is contrived as hell, with everyone connected to the event either assuming Shinji already knows what his friend is doing, or just not wanting to tell him for one reason or another, and it gets even more contrived when the thing goes wrong, and Asuka is cut off from telling him, because Gendoh’s solution relies heavily on his son being in the dark, but he shouldn’t even KNOW that Shinji’s in the dark over it, and that’s not even considering that he could have easily explained the actual problem to them while achieving a better outcome. But hey, screw logic, we’ve gotta make him look like a complete sociopath so that Shinji can rebel… Again… And try to leave… Again… And ultimately come back for the same reasons that he came back before, albeit with greater stakes. It’s probably the worst episode in the series, and it serves as a perfect example of how the writers went out of their way to keep Shinji in his own little bubble.

Of course, what Shinji and Gendoh DO have in common, aside from their looks, is that neither of them are given a proper backstory. Oh, we see them in the past, but it’s always in someone else’s backstory, and we’re never shown anything from their own. We see Gendoh as a part of Professor Fuyutsuki’s backstory, but we never learn where he came from, what his motivation was before Yui came into his life, or what drove him apart from his son. Speaking of the devil, we see Shinji as a child in other peoples’ backstories, and we learn that he ran away to live with his teacher, but we’re never shown why he ran away, what his life was like with Gendoh as a single parent, what his life with his teacher was like… All we know is that not having his father love him was hard on him, but he was told this, not shown it, which makes him very difficult to sympathize with. So who is the main character? It’s hard to say. If you include the movie, then Asuka has the best arc. Rei has the best backstory. Misato has the best relation to the ever thickening plot. And yet, Shinji is the focal character, dealing with issues that are annoying in the beginning and pushed aside for the show’s best material, before they have to pull some pretentious post-modern existentialist bullshit just to give him a resolution that it would take a theatrical ending to not conclude, but ultimately rewrite by using him as a tool for other character’s resolutions… Which is where he’s at his best.

Neon Genesis Evangelion, at least the original series, is currently out of print, although I have heard rumors that Funimation is planing to rescue it. A couple of different collections are available online, including the thin-pack Perfect collection, which I luckily bought when ADV films put it out twelve years ago. It’s worth about 350 dollars now. The movie, End of Evangelion, which is required viewing if you want to skip the last two bullshit episodes of the series, as it’s really the only way to complete the experience. Another film, Death and /rebirth, is literally the worst, so don’t get tricked into wasting your time and money on it. The Rebuild movies, released a decade after the series debuted and dubbed for American release by Funimation, is much easier to find, at least in regard to the three films that have been released so far, and I do highly recommend them. There are also several manga adaptations of the series, most of which are available stateside, but I haven’t read any of them.

Evangelion has been a highly influential series ever since it was released, with it’ themes, ideas, and story elements being simultaneously ripped off wholesale and used with respect, to the point that even Attack on Titan probably wouldn’t exist without it(seriously, compare the two). It also proved, for better or worse, that anime could deliver more depth and mature themes than people were used to, especially from a mass-marketable action series. While it may have struggled to find it’s stride and stumbled towards the finish line, you have to remember that before Eva came out, there really wasn’t anything like it in existence, it’s similarities to other Gainax properties aside. It was a pioneer, and it took a lot of major risks, which paid off a thousand-fold in helping to form the market as we know it today. It’s a flawed series, with uneven quality and one of the worst protagonists in anime history… I mean, this is basically the story of an entire chessboard where the focus is on a pawn who doesn’t even make it to the other side… I still highly recommend watching it. Just don’t forget to skip the last two episodes and conclude with End of Evangelion instead. I give Neon Genesis Evangelion a 7/10.

Honneamise is a country at war. It’s conflict with a neighboring country has been going on for longer than anyone can remember, and the ongoing battle has shaped it’s society as well as it’s economy. Many lives have been affected by this war, but a certain unit called the Royal space Force likes to think of themselves as above the conflict… So above it, in fact, that their lifelong mission is to break through the sky and take mankind to the stars! And they’re so enthusiastic about that… Well, that they have no drive whatsoever. It’s unclear why they joined the royal space force… Perhaps they wanted a taste of military pay checks without having to actually fight… But the general attitude among the base is one of blasé apathy, as the entire squadron would rather meander around the red light district than attempt to make any progress towards the heavens, to the great chagrin of their often disrespected superiors, who want nothing more than to kick their butts into shape. For a while, it looked like there was no hope for the program. Enter Shirotsugh “Shino” Lhadatt, a cadet who grew up with dreams of soaring above the clouds, and eventually, the atmosphere.

That starry-eyed boy has grown up into a literal and figurative space cadet, plagued with ennui and depression at his lack of direction and overall dissatisfaction with his life. Even the death of a comrade fails to affect him, much as he pretends otherwise. This all changes when he meets a pretty young woman handing out religious pamphlets in what can only be described as a more modern version of Sodom or Gomorra, and the idea of acquiring God in his life does pique his interests, if only a bit. They hit it off, and her amazement at his profession inspires him to volunteer to be the first man in the history of the world to enter orbit! That’s all well and good, but surprise surprise, space training is no walk in the park. There are several road blocks standing in his way, from harsh physical conditioning to the hassles of team work, to shadowy figures on both sides of the ongoing war who are trying to sabotage or straight up assassinate him for his efforts. For that small step for a man, they’ll have to take a giant leap of faith if they’re ever going to have a chance of reaching the heavens.

It should go without saying that not all Gainax anime look like masterpieces. That’s not to say any of them have necessarily looked bad, at least not so far from what I’ve seen, but several of them have looked a bit on the mediocre side. Wings of Honneamise is NOT one of them. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 1980’s era anime that looked as good as this one does. The animation is smooth and consistent, peoples’ movements are graceful and almost feel natural, even if certain shots do feel like you’re watching an animation flip book. The level of detail in the visuals is insane, from the elaborate backgrounds to the well-thought-out lighting and shading techniques, even all the way down to the gravity of a person plopping down on a bench, which bends ever so slightly from the impact. Facial expressions are also on point, highly expressive while never going off model. There are no short-cuts taken, at least not from what I can tell, and there was clearly a very high budget that went into it.

The artwork carries a very retro style… Once again, this is the eighties… And character designs skew more towards realism than exaggeration. While the color palette wasn’t really bright or lively, it still worked very well as a complement to the film’s gritty, down to earth tone. A lot of imagination went into the little details of this world that’s intended to be alternate to our own, from fashion and the technology of the times to architecture, and even the way the lines are painted on the road. This all speaks to the show’s highly distinctive design, which is consistent all the way through, and just feels right, like yeah, this is how an alternate version of Earth who’s culture revolves around war would look, with nothing… And I mean nothing… Feeling anachronistic or out of place. Studio Gainax obviously put a lot of effort into creating this world, and I have no doubt that their brainstorming sessions went way beyond what ultimately wound up making it to the screen. This would prove to be a double edged sword, as it does make the story’s landscape feel more immersive, but it also leaves out a lot of details, and makes me feel like there’s a lot of necessary world-building that got dropped.

Having said that, it still looks beautiful, in it’s muted, downtrodden and poverty-stricken kind of way, carrying a bittersweet taste alongside the stunning visual quality. You get the sense that the people are making due with little resources and money, and that’s not just true of the many civilians that show up and move fluidly in the background of certain scenes, but also surprisingly of the Space force’s uniforms, which look goofy and low budget yet still more than prideful. I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say that it’s dripping with layers of atmosphere like Diebuster was, but it comes pretty close without going over the top, and there are a few certain scenes that are simply amazing in their presentation… Particularly, there’s the scene midway through with Shino flying a plane for the first time, soaring through the air above the clouds in such a way that could almost be considered to reach Miyazaki levels of quality. It does occasionally feel like they were a little lacking on the inbetweening, as some shots do feel a little choppy, but that’s an easy enough problem to ignore, especially with the rest of the product looking so beautiful.

The music was okay, but aside from a few standout tracks, it was pretty generic. I also don’t want to spend too much time on the English Dub, as the Japanese track is vastly superior and will obviously get my recommendation, but still, if it’s English you’re looking for, the dub is okay. There certainly nothing overtly bad about it. There are a ton of appearance by well known voice actors in it, including over a half a dozen minor roles played by Steve Blum, and they even have Bryan Cranston playing Shino’s best friend, Matti. You know, the slightly taller and slightly rougher looking guy who… Does stuff? Arnie Hanks has also had a relatively long career, although most of it has been live action TV work. Wendee Lee shows up in a brief cameo before taking on the role of Manna, an orphaned girl who barely talks throughout the story, but she still plays her like someone who doesn’t talk often and isn’t fully comfortable in their own voice. They all take part, they all put in their work, and they do a fairly good job, for what’s often considered to be the Dark Days of anime dubbing.

But the two actors who get the most screentime are the ones playing the lead roles. Robbie Matthews, or more accurately, David Allen Thomas, has done barely any anime work, as the majority of his output has been video game roles. He’s playing a very subtle character, and thus is putting forth a very subtle performance, hitting all the necessary points of his character’s development. He obviously used a fake name, which was common practice at the time for union reasons, but the reveal of his actual identity didn’t shock me nearly as much as the church girl Riquinna’s voice actor did. Melody Lee, when I did a little digging, turned out to be Patricia Ja Lee, a former Pink Power Ranger. I’ve heard good work from her… Most notably in an episode of Cowboy Bebop… And she’s also done a lot of cringey roles, like in Lucky Star and the live action Haruhi skits. Her work as Riquinni blows even Bebop out of the water, as she dances on the line of an incredibly nuanced character, one who preaches and tries to save people, even when her own struggle for survival has led her down some dark paths.

The acting in this dub is great, and it would be even better with the help of good writing, but alas, that was apparently a bridge too far. Well, maybe that’s not fair. The writing isn’t really bad, per se, and you won’t have many complaints with it if you’re just watching it on it’s own with the subtitles off… Except for one little part that I’ll get to in a minute… But if you actually know what the original dialogue was, you may feel cheated over the lack of subtlety and constant unnecessary changes. For example, right before attempting to go into space, Shino gives Manna a message for Riquinni, and it gets changed from “Tell her I’m leaving, and can I bring you back anything” to “Tell her she changed me, and I want to repay her.” Either way, Manna asks for him to bring back a star, either for her or for Riquinni. But the worst part is the ending, which takes a more or less okay monologue about not corrupting our home to speech about how hey, once we get into space, there’ll be no reason to fight anymore!” Which has to be the most pretentious explanation of war that I’ve heard since Aldnoah Zero. The dub’s fine, but I highly recommend the sub.

So, there’s a certain comparison I’ve been making about Studio Gainax for a few years now, and even though I’ve been doing four years of a theme month in it’s honor, I haven’t found the perfect opportunity to talk about it until now, as I believe it to be the crux of this movie’s problems. In my opinion, if Studio Gainax were an American director, it wouldn’t be Michael Bay… It wouldn’t be be Quentin Tarrantino… It would be Zack Snyder, the man who rose to fame with Watchmen and then proved to us all what a joke he was by making Sucker Punch, but he firmly cemented what kind of filmmaker he was with last year’s Batman vs. Superman. Like Gainax, Zack Snyder is someone who you can call many things, but lazy and uninspired are not among them. He believes in his projects, he pours effort into them, and he really, really wants them to be good, but he just isn’t as talented as he would have to be to pull off the scope of his ambitions. He respects great writing and profound ideas, but he doesn’t understand them.

I feel that this is the best way to describe Studio Gainax, a production company that’s all heart and little brain, who dreams of creating awe inspiring, emotionally impactful anime, but often bites off more than they can chew and winds up losing focus on the story they’re telling. A good example of this would be the religious symbolism in Evangelion, which shouldn’t be that difficult to use, I mean hell, Death Note used it well by complete accident, but no, it just winds up leading to a confused and muddled mess of an ending that only really kind of stands up under a literal interpretation of the events. Even their attempts at tackling depression and existentialism digs them into a hole so deep that they have to pull an emotional deus ex machina out of their asses just to reach a satisfying conclusion. That’s not to say they can’t put out great work… With shows like FLCL and Gurren Lagann, simple ideas and elements were pulled off so well that the products didn’t even NEED good writing to support them… But from what I’ve seen, it’s been the problem for most of their work. They know the what, they know the how, but they never truly manage to grasp the why.

So how does this relate to Wings of Honneamise? Well, if there’s one thing people like to trumpet about this movie, and I will give them this, it’s that they did a really great job writing the main character. Shino has a complete character arc, and I’m sorry, but talking about it is going to go into some spoilers. At the beginning of the movie, he’s depressed, he feels empty and unmotivated, and he knows he shouldn’t feel that way. He meets a religious girl in the middle of a street of utter depravity… Which is a little touch I’ll also admit I really like… And he begins to find a renewed purpose through religion. Faith in something greater gives him faith in himself and his mission, and when his faith in the former is challenged, the latter pulls him right back up before long. He grows as a person, from a deadbeat louse to a model soldier and pilot, and in the end, when he reaches space, he realizes(in the sub, at least) that mankind can’t run from it’s problems, or it’ll just keep on making the same mistakes, spreading it’s sin wherever it goes. Change comes from within.

On the surface, this seems like a great message, and it even ties into his arc. It’s a great resolution to his conflict. The problem? Well, once all that’s said and done, the only thing I have left to say is… So what? It’s great for the character, and it teaches something to the audience, but consider this: He’ll have to come down eventually, or he’s going to die, whether from starvation, suffocation, or hypothermia. While the movie went into great, and hell, almost too much detail on how the spaceship was being built and how it was going to fly, I don’t recall anything being said about the return trip, which has to happen. And even if he does manage to get back safely, it’s still not going to satisfy the people who criticized the royal space Force for wasting potential war and/or food money on a pointless endeavor. In fact, they’ll probably be even more pissed off, since they’re likely going to need even MORE money for their next trip to the stars. I’m also having a hard time believing that their accomplishment will end war, because even though the rocket blasting off was shown to shock fighting soldiers into freezing in their paths, what does reaching space have to do with poor foreign relationships?

If anything, their enemies will be either jealous of them, want to fight them even harder to obtain their technology, or they’ll become afraid of what an enemy with space travel possibilities can do to them, forcing them into action. I also don’t see what good Shino’s speech is going to accomplish, because while I don’t THINK it’s ever explained what the two countries are fighting for, but there’s usually some kind of reason for fighting to take place, and whatever it is, no logic is going to cause warring powers to lay down their guns and start getting along. Yeah, Shino went into space, and gave everyone a lecture, but once he comes down, everything’s going to go back to the way it was, both for him and for his country. He hated being a celebrity before the flight, now it’s just going to be worse. He’s going to become the most famous man on the planet. I don’t see his flight changing Riquinna’s life, unless he marries her and shares his wealth with her, and the odds that being back on Earth with his space faring days behind him will drive him back down into a brand new cycle of depression are disturbingly high.

And that’s where Gainax’s true failure lies. They were so focused on writing out Shino’s character arc that they didn’t stop to think about the bigger picture, and the effect that his accomplishment would have on the world they built. It’s fine if you don’t think about it, but when you do, Shino’s big moment just feels like an empty, pointless blip in a long timeline of life just generally being shit. I legitimately can’t see a sequel to this movie feeling realistic without him coming back to Earth, and eventually committing suicide over the fact that his life dream has already ended, and his life’s purpose has already peaked. For a story that strives towards one goal, one symbol of impossible hope that’s meant to inspire it’s audience, nothing is really accomplished, which just ends up making the overall experience feel empty and bleak. Would it be like this if there was a tighter focus on the main character, and the war was left out of the story completely? No, I don’t think it would be. But on that note, there’s a lot of stuff in this movie that should have been cut out.

For starters, while Shino and Riquinni are pretty well written, everybody else… Literally everybody else… Gets the shaft. Shino has a lot of friends… The big doofus, the long haired short dude, the best friend who does stuff, and while I promise you they all have names, you won’t know them, and if they even say them… I can’t remember… You won’t remember them. They might as well not even be in the movie. That would at least make the training montages(yes, plural,) a little shorter. There’s also a character named Doc, who only has three scenes, is actually kind of likeable in two of them, but then he dies offscreen leaving no impact whatsoever. That’s a named character dying. There’s a lot more pointless characters, but what’s even more damning is the pointless world-building, as the ongoing war does nothing other than to add some tension to the launch, and the attempts at assassinating Shino and Matti are nothing more than filler. With so much going on, and so many problems happening with this fictitious world, the stakes for Shino’s space trip feel a lot more paltry than they would if all that material were just left by the wayside in the first place. At two hours long, this movie didn’t need to be more than forty-five minutes.

There’s also a controversial scene where Shino tries to rape Riquinni, and while a lot of people think of it as the single blemish that keeps this movie from becoming a masterpiece, I honestly don’t mind it so much. I mean, it bothered me the first time, but… We’ll get to that. People tend to think that it comes out of nowhere, that it makes a good person character look like a misogynist asshole, it’s sexist, it seriously undermines the religious aspect of the story… I disagree on all counts. That’s not to say it was important, or that what it accomplished couldn’t have been achieved better through other means, but it’s really not as bad as everyone says. First of all, and I’d never try to make excuses for a sexual assailant, this didn’t come out of nowhere… The catalyst was just way too subtle. See, Shino has tried to become more than friends with Riquinni, but was rejected, and he took it like a champ, respecting her and continuing to come to her for religion and deeper meaning. But then he finds out something about her that flies under the radar of a lot of viewers, including myself on my first viewing… She’s a prostitute.

Now, obviously this is a situational thing, as she’s just selling her body to put food on the table for herself and Manna, but in Shino’s disenfranchised mind, the same religion that’s keeping him away from her hasn’t been keeping her away from other men, so for that one brief moment, he becomes beset by jealousy and entitlement, and sees her as less than a person. I know rape is a thing that deserves to be demonized, but it’s important to remember that while it’s definitely a bad thing, good people do it, too. No matter who you are, you can make a mistake that will affect you and another person for the rest of your lives, because even good people can succumb to poor judgement. Now, don’t get me wrong, humanizing rape does NOT excuse it or defend it, it just teaches you that yes, even YOU could rationalize yourself into performing terrible acts, so don’t ever think of yourself as above them, or you’re more likely to wind up doing the same thing Shino does. Thankfully, he stops himself.

Riquinni also defends herself, justifiably so, which is where I really don’t get the sexism criticism. She doesn’t just blush, turn her head and ask him to be gentle, as a FUCKING TON of anime would have her do, she clocks him for it. If anything her apology for using violence to defend herself says a lot more about the effect religion can have on people than it does about gender politics. In any case, like I said earlier, this is the event that challenges his faith in a higher power, which he recovers from thanks to his faith in himself and his mission, and this could have been achieved in a number of ways that DIDN’T involve rape, but the reason I think it doesn’t work, and the reason I think it makes people so damned uncomfortable, is because, as I said, the reveal of her turning to prostitution is way too subtle. the visual of her pouring money out of her boot just isn’t clear enough to explain what’s going on, so yeah, that is a huge problem, but is it the single blemish on an otherwise masterpiece? No. Not even close.

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise is available stateside on many different DVD releases, including a Pioneer release, a Manga Video release, a couple of imported versions, and most recently, a Maiden Japan release, and chances are you can find it online for cheap. A four minute pilot to the movie, commissioned by Gainax two years prior, has not been released stateside, at least as far as I know. You can also view the film on Hulu.

Wings of Honneamise is considered by many to be a Gainax classic, an untouchable masterpiece with a very important place in anime history. I don’t disagree with that last part, as pretty much all of Gainax’s early work has been highly influential on the medium, but I kinda feel like squeezing the brakes on calling it a masterpiece. Yeah, the animation is almost unrealistically great, and Shino’s character arc does offer a compelling character study, but aside from the few things that I do agree are noteworthy about it, I just don’t think it’s a very good movie. The pacing is garbage, the scenes feel like they could have been shuffled out of order without losing very much impact, and there’s almost no attempt at foreshadowing a lot of what should have been important events. I do respect Gainax for it’s ambition and creativity… Well, back then, at least… But as writers, this movie carries a lot of the issues that have always plagued them. Their work may be important, it may be influential, but it benefits heavily from peoples’ nostalgia. Case in point, this movie may have looked beautiful, but it was so full of pulp and badly focused that I could barely manage to stay awake. I give Royal Space Force; Wings of Honneamise a 4/10.

 

Now, I’ve been doing Studio Gainax Month for four years, and right from the start, there’s one title I’ve always resisted reviewing.  It’s one very important Gainax title that I’ve been hesitating to touch on, not only because it felt like it was out of my depth, but because other reviewers have done a much better job on it than I can ever hope to achieve.  But that’s no way to live my life, right?  And that’s why next week, I’m finally going to tackle it.

I just need to remember this; I mustn’t run away.  I mustn’t run away.  i mustn’t run away.

The world of Pokemon can be a strange, wonderful, and often terrifying place. Along with humans and a select few diminutive and unimpressive animals, this world is inhabited by a race of peculiar creatures known as, of course, Pokemon. These creatures come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny moles and worms to giant whales and rock-snakes, and while some of the smaller ones might make good pets, almost all of them are capable of devastating feats. It’s understandable that some people may give Pokemon a wide berth, avoiding them at all costs, but there are a few brave souls among us who dare to encounter them up close and personal on a regular basis, bettering themselves in order to overcome any obstacle the world’s Pokemon might put forth. We call them Pokemon Trainers, and the very best among them, who’ve captured or at least owned one sample out of every known Pokemon, are considered Pokemon Masters! Of course, realistically, there can only be one Pokemon Master, as a select few Pokemon are one-of-a-kind, and capturing just one of them destroys the chances for anyone else to achieve said accolade. Seriously, what’s up with that?

Among these unique creatures are the legendary birds, Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres. These Titans of unimaginable elemental power live on a series of islands near Shamouti in the Orange Islands region, engaged in an ancient stalemate over their territory, unknowingly guarding the dormant beast of the sea. Should any one of those three be captured and removed from the scenario, that beast will roar to life and throw the world into chaos. This legend has attracted the attention of Lawrence III, a Pokemon collector with a hunger for the rare and valuable. Using his incredible technology, he has every intention of capturing these titans in order to lure out the beast of the sea… Who he believes to be the legendary Lugia. Unfortunately for him, an old prophecy states that when the balance of power taming the beast becomes perturbed, a chosen one can step in and make things right again! And as it just so happens, Ash Ketchum and his friends are passing through the area on the way to their next Orange Islands gym battle, when they wind up getting dragged into the conflict. When the world turns to ash, will one of these brave souls step up and take the world’s fate into their own hands? Or will humanity become the next one-of-a-kind species?

Remember in my review of the first movie, how I said it struck the right balance between CG and 2D animation, and that the balance would get progressively worse with each passing movie? This is where it starts, and oh boy does it get off to a noticeable start. Right off the bat, we’re shown Lawrence’s Castle in the Sky, a giant floating base somehow kept in the air by slowly turning propellers. If this movie had come out a few years later, it would probably be paired with Feel Good Inc as it’s pop song BGM. Anyway, this thing is the most obvious, out of place computer-generated construct since the tongue beasts in the first Resident Evil movie, and two dimensional characters appearing in the same shot look about as real and natural as paper dolls taped to a very expensive child’s toy. It’s also pretty obvious how much money went into this thing, because about half of this movie’s animation is about as low quality as the show, with talking heads moving and freezing on still canvases, and barely any background movement in shots that have lots of people on them.

If that’s not bad enough, there’s a scene very early on where the team is traveling by boat, and they’re hit by a storm that causes some turbulence. There is a shot where Pikachu is standing nervously on the rocking boat in a close-up, and I swear to Arceus they just took the still image and shook it around to give the illusion of movement. Characters often seem to freeze into the background whenever they’re not talking, some of the scenes are very poorly shot(like Ash’s arrival on Shamouti), and a lot of the movie is distinctly out of frame, due to 4Kids’ decision to convert the film from widescreen to fullscreen. Another obvious CG effect is an entirely pointless scene where hoards of Pokemon are stuck on an ice sheet staring out into the water, but can still be seen moving from a mile away, including Kangaskhan doing her little sumo stomp. The only moments where the CG and 2D elements blend nicely to the tune of a decent budget, and thus the moments that differentiate it from future movies, are the action scenes, most notably when the legendary birds are fighting either Lawrence’s devices, each other, or both. The animation for these moments are breathtaking, fast paced, and over-all a joy to watch, to the point that I’d actually say it’s worth sitting through the rest of the movie’s animation to get there.

The music, however, is a step up from the first movie. The score is powerful and epic, particularly with the music that accompanies the action set pieces. Rather than a Danny Elfman sound, like the first movie utilized, this one has more of a John Williams sound, which is equally appropriate. Where the first film had a dark and ominous tone, this one plays out more like a grand, sweeping adventure, so the music has to be a lot bolder and, well, for lack of a better term, bigger. This does unfortunately result in a lot of the tunes sounding a bit homogenized, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as this type of movie kind of calls for it. It only tends to get annoying when it comes to what I can only describe as the musical motif of the film, a certain wind tune that a new female character introduces us to. She never states what she’s playing, and I can’t identify it by ear, so we’ll just call it an Ocarina. It’s important to the plot, so I can’t harp on it too much, but suffice to say it gets old pretty quick. Thankfully, with Lugia’s Song as an example, it rarely ever plays in the background without evolving into something far more awesome.

The soundtrack in this movie is nowhere near as embarrassing as the first one, as it seems to have been put together with a much better focus than it’s pop-song grabbing predecessor. The Ocarina motif that I mentioned before gets expanded into a full song by Donna Summer, which was based off of one of this movie’s three names, The Power of One. It’s a pretty great song, not gonna lie, but it’s very nature carries one of the most unfortunate problems with the english version of the movie, which I’ll get to later. The pop version of Pokemon World is also pretty awesome, even though it’s being sung by two nineties bands that haven’t been mentioned by living people for over ten years. Yeah, the song itself is fun, but it only really becomes cringeworthy if you watch the two bands performing it onstage, which is totally a thing on the DVD extras. Those poor teen bastards. Even the actors from Pokemon Live came away more dignity than that. Flying Without Wings by Westlife is a pretty decent song… well, at least the cut the movie used… And for a bit of unexpected weirdness, Weird Al actually pops up in the credits to combine the Pokerap with his own Polka trend.

It’s not what I’d call a perfect soundtrack, but at least they tried to keep things relevant this time around. But much like the first movie, there are tunes on the CD that didn’t make it into the movie… Dreams by Alysha Antonino has the makings of a pretty good song, but the production features the absolute worst flavor of the late nineties. The lyrics themselves are almost poignant in their message, but the orchestration is just butt ugly. The Extra Mile by Laura Pausini is really generic, and could easily be placed in the credits of almost any film without feeling out of place. I hate to get mean over a song that’s been lost in time, but when I buy a CD and load the songs to Itunes, this is the kind of song I leave off. The same could be said by One Heart by O-Town, which probably the most memorable forgotten band in existence, and With All Your Heart by Plus One. The only songs present that are as entertainingly bad as the last CD are Chosen One by The B-52s, which almost seems to be making fun of the movie’s prophecy, and They Just Don’t Understand, a song by a bunch of twelve year olds called Dream Street about their love of the franchise. This one also appears on the DVD in all it’s cringey glory, you’re welcome.

For the most part, there isn’t much I can say about the english dub without talking about the series, as the acting in this movie is pretty much the same as the series at it’s best. I’ve always felt that the acting was the best part of the 4Kids dub, with the writing always being more hit-or-miss, heavy emphasis on the miss. I will concede that Ed Paul as Tracey is slightly less annoying than Eric Stuart as Brock. That, and while it might just be my imagination, Addie Blaustein was putting forth a bit more effort than usual as Meowth. Another performance of note comes from Veronica Taylor, who we’ve all gotten used to hearing as Ash, but also gets to play Ash’s mother in this film, and she gets a really heartfelt exchange with him later in the movie. Eric Rath was a bit on the forgettable side in his turn as Lugia, and despite having just as little voice acting experience, Neil Stewart was quite a bit better as Lawrence. Nathan Price, who’s done a bit more than those two, does a great job as Slowking, making the character sound like a slow, dim-witted person who’s somehow come upon great intelligence but still speaks like he used to.

The worst thing about this dub are the changes it made to the material, of which there are far too many. There was at least one plot point that I hoped was a rewrite, but no, it wasn’t… The rewrites that do exist are way worse. The relationship between the Legendary Birds and the Beast of the Sea is given a much better explanation in the Japanese, although it’s still a work of fantasy, so it’s not THAT much better. There was originally a moment when Tracey was allowed to shine by helping his friends to science their way out of a jam, but that got cut, so he’s basically as useless as his Venonat was in the opening short. Much worse than these, and probably much more shocking to westerners who’ve never seen both versions, is the fact that the whole “Power of One” idea was entirely a dub-only concept. In the Japanese, not only was there no such thing as a ‘chosen one,’ but from what I’ve been told, there was no prophecy, either. The film actually had a heavy emphasis on teamwork, which makes more sense considering how much help Ash needs throughout. Much like the pacifism of the first movie, this just goes to show how confused 4Kids can get when it comes to teaching western-friendly morals. If you can, stick to the sub.

If you knew me around the turn of the century, you’d know that I was a huge Pokemon fanatic. If you were also a member of the Pokemon fandom, you probably also knew that I was a huge fan of the Orange Islands arc. To this day, it’s still my favorite season of the original series, and the only season that I own on DVD. It was just so different from anything that came before, or that’s come out of the series since. As far as I’m aware, it was the only season to not be connected to the games, although I did at least attempt to run the fan-made Pokemon Orange-version on my piece of crap MacIntosh. I loved how much creative freedom it had, as it wasn’t tied down to the formula of the Kanto region, as they didn’t have to dedicate each episode to revealing a new Pokemon, and they could just write episodes revolving around new concepts of older, already established Pokemon. Some very popular iconic Pokemon got to take center stage, like Lapras and Snorlax, and the battles didn’t have to be actual battles, and there was a lot more material for Pokeshippers. It was a breath of fresh air, and the news of an upcoming movie finally got my ass into theaters.

So how did it hold up? Well, you hardly need me to tell you how popular it is. While the critics were notoriously tough on it, giving it only a one point advantage over it’s predecessor, it is one of the most common fan favorites among the actual Pokemon fandom. It’s lowest review score on Myanimelist is a 6(until now), and none of those reviews lasted more than a single page(until now). It’s not hard to see why, because this was the first Pokemon movie to feel like an actual movie. It had a more epic, theatrical feel to it, with higher stakes and arguably a more ambitious story than most other Pokemon films. It introduced two Generation 2 Pokemon, not counting Elekid in the opening short, and the ones it did introduce in the main story were actually important to the plot, not cannon fodder in a random opening battle. It’s not often considered the best movie in the Pokemon line-up, that honor often goes to the Entei and Lucario movies, but it is a generally respected and highly regarded movie… Which is why it might surprise you to hear me say that it really isn’t THAT much better than the first film.

Now, credit where credit is due, it does a much better job following the traditional three act structure. In the first act, we meet the villain. We learn about who he is, what his plan is, and what will happen if said plan comes to fruition. We also get introduced to the main character, why he’s in the area, and how he gets drawn into the conflict. We get all the backstory we need, and then some, as well as intros of basically every single plot point that’s going to matter. In the second act, the plot picks up, and we see the main character set out to resolve the conflict as quickly as possible, even though the conflict is way bigger and more dangerous than he initially thought, and his inability to solve the problem leads him into a worsening situation, where things basically hit rock bottom. Finally, in the third act, the worst case scenario happens, the main makes a much grander stand, and it all builds to a climax that delivers on everything that set it up. Power of One follows the three act structure so well that it’s almost like the writers made a conscious effort to do so, and it’s ultimately the reason that the movie feels so much more like, well, a movie.

Having said that, a three act structure doesn’t guarantee the movie will be good, and for all of it’s grandeur and epic nature, this movie has just as much stupid, lore and continuity breaking material in it as the last one. First of all, harping on the English dub, the prophecy is completely pointless. Not only does it feel mind-numbingly stupid that some ancient prophecy knows who Ash is and decides that only he, one of the most incompetent heroes in anime history, can possibly set the world back to right, but there was nothing in the prophecy about Lawrence starting all of this conflict. It also doesn’t work in terms of the story, because Ash doesn’t need a prophecy to tell him to go into action and save the world… He’s a good person, he’ll do it anyway! Hell, I wouldn’t even make that point if it wasn’t for the fact that (mild spoilers in this sentence) Team Rocket, the show’s signature antagonists, decide all on their own to turn over a new leaf and act heroic for the sake of saving the planet. Ash needed a prophecy to call him out by name(In an oh so clever pun that fooled absolutely nobody), but Team Rocket are the altruists in the scenario? Bull to the motherfucking shit!

Going right back to act one, not only does Lawrence have a Pokemon trading card… Which just throws all kinds of logic out the window, because this isn’t Digimon Tamers we’re watching… But the exposition he gets from his computer makes no sense. It identifies the prophecized Titans as the legendary birds, which means he likely didn’t know that yet, and since the prophecy mentioned nothing about Shamouti, how the hell is he already in the area? And why are Ash and friends taking a ferry, when they usually just ride on Lapras’s back? It would make sense in a Pokemon game, but they never had random encounters on her back before. Also, how did Lawrence and Ash move into position on the exact annual day that the island was expecting this exact catastrophe to occur? Then in the second act, we get such gems as Tracey being useless, a flying sailboat, Ash trying to tackle an electrified cage, and to top it all off, there’s a strong implication that in order to catch all existing Pokemon… Or to “Catch’em All,” which is explicitly the catch phrase of the series, you would have to destroy the world as we know it in the process. I don’t think they really thought this through.

Then the third act happens, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it damn near justifies everything. In the first movie, the “third act,” if you could call it that, is where it failed hardest, as it used it’s climax to crawl right up inside it’s own ass. This, however, is what a third act is supposed to be. Every single plot point, even the worst ones like Misty bantering with Melody over her crush on Ash, comes to a satisfying conclusion. Even though there’s well-animated action scenes throughout the movie, this part of the story upstages all of them, as it should, with Lawrence being largely written out of the story so the birds themselves can fight among themselves, and it’s as awesome as it sounds. That’s not to say nothing stupid happens… Bulbasaur and Squirtle are shown to run as fast as Charizard flies, in a scenario when he really should have tried to call out Lapras, and the dialogue between Melody and Misty ends in an exchange that doesn’t make much sense… I’m assuming only one person in that group has any idea how to play the Ocarina… But it doesn’t matter, because every moment leads to something great. Does that make all the stupid crap that we had to sit through to get to that point okay? No, not really, but at least there’s something at the end worth sitting through it all for. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Pokemon the movie 2000, also known as The Power of One and Revelation Lugia, is available from Viz Media in both single format and a three-pack with the first and third films. . You can also find the out of print original DVD from Warner Home Video, albeit at a much more expensive price. Unlike the first movie, you can also find the soundtrack and score on the same CD, although brand new copies are quite a bit more expensive. Netflix generally has about four or five different Pokemon movies available for legal streaming at any given time, and this is occasionally one of them.

Despite my criticisms, this is my favorite Pokemon movie, and it’s the one I have the most nostalgic feelings for. There are at least two scenes in it that make me cry… One involving Team Rocket, the other involving Ash’s mom… And that’s something no other Pokemon movie can say. It also expands upon the lore in a lot of interesting ways, such as giving a few characters first names for the first time. Of course, just because it’s my personal favorite doesn’t make it one of the best ones. I wouldn’t even call it one of the top five. Looked at as a sequel, it just barely surpasses the first movie in terms of scale and execution, but the story is still based on coincidence, there’s still a lot of dumb and inaccurate material, and it breaks the fourth wall more than any Pokemon movie should. It doesn’t fall into the trap of pushing a confused and hypocritical moral, but it only pulls this off by not trying to push ANY moral… Which is probably the smart way to go, but it still doesn’t convey the kind of growth that a sequel should go through. It’s sense of pacing, structure and emotional resonance, as well as it’s killer third act ultimately saves it, but doesn’t vindicate it. I give Pokemon the Movie 2000 a 5/10.  

Well, it’s the last Saturday of March, and you know what that means.
Starting next week…  It’s Studio Gainax month!

It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. It’s a tale of two kitties, and i’m not talking about that abysmal Garfield sequel. Nyako and Nyatta are two sibling kittens living in a quaint little house with their parents, a doting homemaker mommy cat and a lazy, slovenly daddy cat. One day, while the older sister Nyako is fatally ill, her little brother Nyatta accidentily drowns while playing in the bathtub. Death doesn’t come for him, however, as a Japanese grim reaper comes for his sister, who passed moments before him. Taking advantage of this unique opportunity, Nyatta pursues the two, finds them under a series of street lamps, and attempts to wrestle his older sister’s soul away from the deity. Their struggle unfortunately results in her soul being torn in half, with Nyatta and the reaper each getting away with an incomplete soul. Nyatta is revived by his father, at which point he returns the soul he recovered to the body it once inhabited.

His sister comes back to life, but is she truly alive? With only half of her soul intact, she may have resumed breathing, but there’s no light in her eyes, and she’s basically been left in a sort of waking coma. She can eat and drink for herself, providing that you put food and water in her mouth, but she shows no sign of independent thought or movement. Not satisfied with this half-brained husk of a sibling. Nyatta embarks on a journey to bring her back to the way she was. He starts off by visiting a circus that allegedly specializes in creating spectacular miracles, under the hope that she can be revived there, but his hopes are dashed when the two of them are swept up in an odyssey of oddities, becoming sojourners of a strange, surreal space. They’ll battle to survive as they break through the very boundaries of reality, contending against drought, starvation, an unstable time frame, and the cruel whims of God himself, all while finding the answer to one simple, albeit haunting, question: How far would you go for the sake of your family?

If there’s one thing that stands out about JC Staff, it’s that they don’t really seem to have a distinctive style. If I were to look at Excel Saga next to Toradora, or Karin next to Kill Me Baby, or even Index next to Ookamisan, I would never guess they were animated and produced by the exact same company. The majority of their work looks nothing alike, and this is nowhere as pronounced as it is with Cat Soup. JC Staff uses a variety of styles in this project, from fluidly animated traditional style to the kind of broken, frameless style that they’ve used in other anime to give the illusion of frenetic motion to what I can only describe as stop-motion animation of rough, graphic chalk drawings. Some of those styles probably sound cheap to you, but oh no, they spared to expense on this OVA, even though they’re animating what’s basically the story of a world of anthropomorphic animals, which nobody really needs to see in fluid motion. I mean, if you’ve seen the anime this one is based on, it wasn’t exactly the most lavish production.

And these styles aren’t being used randomly, either, there’s a point to them throughout the story. We start out with traditional animation, but something amazing happens with it… Instead of keeping to a two dimensional perspective, JC Staff managed to pull off a three dimensional perspective without using a lick of CGI, employing an inventive use of shading, angles, and the occasional wide-angle lens. This style is largely on display when the cats themselves are on screen, rightfully painting their material as the “Real world” material, or as real as anthropomorphic animals can be. That’s not to say there’s no CG, as I’m pretty sure it shows up for certain shots involving water and gears, and a giant creature summoned during the carnival, but it’s used sparingly, and never as a crutch, instead appearing so that film can take advantage of it’s clash with 2D aesthetic. The broken style comes into play when actual humans are on screen, giving an other-worldly look to what should seem the most familiar to us. It’s also used on a figure that I’m going to presumptively call God, who shows up later on. Still, these people are somewhat cartoony, and to take the disparity between reality and fantasy even further, the chalky aesthetic is used in moments involving photorealistic people.

There’s barely any music, with the first track only appearing around 12 minutes in, and with the exception of the last two tracks used, none of it is really worth mentioning, as what’s left is repetitive and generic sounding. They work well in context, and provide decent background music for certain scenes, but it’s not the kind of thing you’d really want to listen to independently. There is some very real beauty to the last two tracks, however, as a certain spoiler one does sound kind of heartwarming, and the ending tune sounds like an old music box being played with by a child. The opening tune which I didn’t lump in with the others, is your typical anime walking music, but with an old timey echo and a hypnotic underlay of footsteps and everyday noises making it into the likes of something you’ll swear you’ve never heard before. Speaking of everyday noises, while there’s little to no music throughout almost half of it, the sound design is amazing, with everything from the footsteps to chirping crickets to underwater sound distortion making it sound like you’re really there with the characters. There’s almost no dialogue, save for some text balloons accompanied by some meep-meep-meeping, so lets just move on.

I wasn’t planning to write this review… It came about as a result of another idea that popped into my head, that it might be fun to write down my top ten series-based OVAs. This idea led to a second idea, which was “Hey, instead of just taking up one slot in my schedule this winter, how about I write a full review of the number one spot, and make it two?” Well, I wound up backing off of my original number one, when I realized that I’d already reviewed Wolf’s Rain, and I couldn’t talk at length about the last four episodes without giving away major spoilers. A-doy. In comes number 2 to the rescue, and Oh God, it’s Cat Soup. I was simultaneously excited and terrified of the corner I’d backed myself into, because I genuinely love this little film, but I didn’t know if there’d be enough talking points that a guy who refuses to review FLCL could successfully articulate. Upon second watch, however, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. There’s a lot more here to unload then I thought.

First things first, if I’m going to talk about Nekojiru Sou, I need to talk briefly about the whole Nekojiru thing. Chiyomi Hashiguchi was a manga artist in the eighties and nineties who took the traditional image of the good luck cats… The things Meowth was based on? And sent them on adventures that spoke to Japanese youths at the time through a bleak, pragmatic lens that explored the cruelty of the world with a casual, childish approach. It’s basically like if Ayn Rand were to direct a story set in the Busy World of Richard Scarry. Yes, you’ve got anthropomorphic animals talking in human languages and acting like people, but they also hunt and eat each other, both friend and foe. She committed suicide at the age of 31, and while her reasoning isn’t exactly known, there’s speculation that the success and commercialization of her work, combined with the creative exhaustion of having to fill more and more work orders may have overtaxed her already troubled mind. I mean, hell, her two main characters were just about to be adopted as safety mascots when she did it. Imagine how much that would have blown things up.

Likewise, the two animated adaptations of her work were released posthumously. I haven’t read any of her original work, I’m only vaguely aware that her first comic involved a baby cat being killed and turned into soup after a botched neutering was performed to keep it quiet, but I am aware that the two releases represented different sides of her work. The series, Cat Soup Theater, or “Nekojiru Gekijou,” was based on her more common work, the Snoopy-like tales of Nyatta and Nyako. One of the most famous moments from this series involves the older girl’s friend, a pig, being brutally murdered and turned into pork cutlets by her father, who gives just as little of a shit as she does about the fact that he’s scared to die and having the only normal reaction to this deed. He’s ultimately fed to the family, as well as to his clueless little brother, all while his parents… Ahem, ‘pork,’ in the background. This clip was featured in AMV Hell 5 along with a song about how delicious pork is, because AMV Hell 5 wasn’t very good. Sorry, it’s true.

The problem with having such a horrific event take place so early in the production is that there’s really nowhere else to go from there. You can’t very well bank on the shock value of people dying when a slide throws them into a brick wall or a little Tanuki getting shot in the head by Daddy cat when you’ve already gone into such dark territory, and if I’m being perfectly honest, the series wasn’t very good. Maybe it’s because I’m not the specific Japanese audience it was targeting at the time, and yeah, I can see things like this being more entertaining in comic form, but after such a huge bump early on, the rest of the show just felt kinda dull to me. Luckily, it wouldn’t be the only adaptation of Chiyomi Hashiguchi’s work, as we’d soon get Nekojiru Sou, which translates to Cat Soup Grass… Possibly a nod to the other side of her material that it would be representing. Yeah, some of her work was surreal and druggy enough to make Alice in Wonderland’s book look like the Disney version. The cartoon version, not the “Oh-ho-ho, look at silly Johnny Depp gasping whimsically in facepaint” version.

The first time you watch Cat Soup, named in English releases after the creator, it may feel like little more than random weirdness. Even the opening segment is easy to get lost in, as the characters say nothing, and the OVA does little to nothing to explain to the viewer what’s going on. For some people, it takes a plot synopsis online just to figure out that Nyatta drowned just long enough to save Nyako from dying of her illness, and that’s with the giant foreshadowing clue of Nyatta playing in the bath with a truck, which would sink, instead of a floaty boat. Cat Soup relies on it’s viewers to use their brains to interpret and figure out what they’re watching, spoon-feeding you so little that even the little bit of thought bubble dialogue we’re given seems out of character for it. It’s easy to write it off as a couple of kitties eating some badly dated magic mushrooms and experiencing all of the other-worldly weirdness through the lens of their drug-addled eyes, and I’m sure on some level this assumption would be accurate to the comics, but to do so would be seriously reductive of the material.

It took me multiple views to connect as many dots as I have, but Cat Soup isn’t random by any means. There are a few sequences I can’t place any significant meaning to, like a fish escaping from a horde of sword swinging samurai, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no meaning that can be found. For the most part, at least as far as I’ve observed, this thirty minute OVA is packed with complex metaphors that act as an extension of what Hasiguchi’s original point was, as it carries two very important and interwoven themes with them. The first theme is the bleak nature of existence. The circle of life isn’t always life affirming like it is in the Lion King. The world is cruel, and life itself is harsh by it’s very own nature. Everything that’s born will inevitably die, and to believe that your brief existence holds any significance to a grand plan or that you’ll leave a major impact merely by existing is a childish illusion. Life continues in a cycle, nobody can escape from it, and even those who consider themselves prey are, in some way, predatory. Even if you don’t eat living things, you still use them, and often without thanks as they die for you.

The other theme, and this may come as a surprise to anyone who can’t get past the casual cruelty of Hasiguchi’s work, is the importance of family. The world is full of violence, people and animals die in massive numbers every day, history is full of people committing horrifying acts on one another, but it pays to focus your attention on those closest to you… To treasure and cherish your family and loved ones, because in the end, their lives mean the most to you, and their deaths are the ones you should go to the ends of the earth to prevent. According to Cat Soup, as is shown constantly throughout the film but most noticeably through a callback to the series’ disposal of pig characters, there’s nothing wrong with killing and taking advantage of others for the sake of your older sister, because in the end, she’s what should matter to you. It doesn’t even matter if you’re defying God… God is a fickle being who cares more about his next meal than the lives of people who are just going to be born to die anyway.

I could go on and on with a point-by-point analysis of what everything in this OVA means… Or at least I could try to overcome the futility of doing so… But in the end, you’ve got to experience it for yourself. I haven’t figured everything out yet, but I still have faith that everything in this anime means something, however small, and not a second of screen time was wasted. I could explain the water-elephant, the tall mosquito figures, the stitches on the fat dude’s head, even the ending, but… No, I probably should say something about the ending, because that’s one of the most confusing parts of the show. I’m only ever going to do this once, because I swore I’d never recommend this dude’s work to anybody, but it’s the only way to help you out without spoiling anything. After watching Cat Soup, if you’re confused about the final segment, watch the movie Dogma. I’m not saying it’s a good movie, in fact I think Kevin smith is severely over-rated, but some parts of the movie will go a long way in explaining the end of this one.

Cat Soup is available from… Well, nobody, really. It was released on two different DVD sets by Central Park Media, one in a normal case and a limited edition in a bloodier Liquid Art case, both versions now out of print. Nekojiru’s written works have not been released stateside, nor has the series the OVA was based on, but they can be imported from Japan. If you’re looking to read more on Chiyomi Hashiguchi, you can find an essay online by Thom Bailey at http://www.hz-journal.org/n5/bailey.html.

I don’t think I’m overselling Cat Soup when I call it a surrealist masterpiece. It can be viewed from either the perspective of those looking to find meaning in it as well as by those who are just looking for some weird shit to look at, either to get stoned through or to confuse their friends with, and it works perfectly either way. I don’t entirely agree with everything it says, being that I am Christian myself, but I still find it’s representation of a depressed individual’s outlook on life to be fascinating down to it’s core. It’s beautiful to look at, rich with introspection, and somehow manages to have a solid heart behind all of it’s cruel observations. To call it a major improvement over the preceding series would be like calling the Mona Lisa a major improvement over your tween cousin’s selfies. If I can find any flaw in it, it would be that the music was a bit lacking, but it was obviously never intending to have a huge soundtrack, and the brilliant sound design more than makes up for it. I can watch it multiple times a week without getting sick of it, and you should too. I give Cat Soup a 10/10.

 

In Loving Memory of Shadow;  February 2001 – March 2017

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