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Well, the time has come, it’s time to talk about RWBY volume 4. I’ve promised to do it, you’ve asked me to do it, and I’ve built a tradition around reviewing these seasons, so now I have to do it. So let’s do it.

Or, you know, we could do something else. We don’t need to do anything proactive or creative. We don’t need to do anything constructive. We don’t need to talk about our feelings for something, be they positive or negative, because really, we don’t need to do anything. Let’s Just Live.

Yeah, isn’t that a great song to describe a show about heroes? Let’s just live. That’s all we need to do. Look, I know that’s not what the song’s technically about… It’s not about falling into a stasis and just staying there… But it’s the chorus of the opening theme, so those words immediately feel attached to the show, and I don’t feel they worded it very well compared to what they probably intended. They meant to convey a message of “Don’t give up, take each day as it comes, and leave our regrets behind us,” which sounds like the message of the rest of the song, but “Let’s just live” is a terrible way to summarize that. honestly, this is probably the one thing in the series that needed the show’s catchphrase “Don’t stop moving forward” more than anything else. And honestly, the song doesn’t get off to a great start either.

Most songs in the RWBY catalogue make no attempt at symbolism, with lyrics that are on-the-nose and always say exactly what they mean, making them sound lazy moreso than direct or honest, and while Let’s Just Live isn’t the worst offender this season… We’ll get to that… It gets under my skin pretty fast. The lead-up to the first chorus feels like it’s just one step above “Hey, remember last season? It was tragic, the good guys lost, now we’re all broken up!” And there are so many wonderful ways you could deliver this sentiment in metaphor. I’m no fan of purple prose, but it’s better than no prose at all. Don’t just explain shit, put some magic into it. The theme to volume 3 was able to pull this off with it’s foreshadowing. But then again, that’s probably the problem… There was nothing to foreshadow this season. Because nothing fucking happened.

Yeah, remember that scene from Clerks(Or Clerks 2, not sure), where someone described the three Lord of the Rings movies by just walking? That’s kinda how I feel about this season. Everything that happened was just another random event in a series of random events meant to draw out the transition from point A to point B. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing… this season was used more for character and story development than anything else… But the only significant thing that happens is Yang getting her new arm. Oh, by the way, spoiler alert for that sentence. Honestly, Yang’s whole arc was about overcoming the sentiment of “Let’s Just Live.” That’s exactly what she was trying to do. She just wanted to be one-armed, stay home, do chores… And just live. Volume 4 isn’t the worst of the bunch by far, it’s probably second best after volume 3, but it definitely has the worst theme song.

It’s also probably the worst in terms of story structure, if you’re watching it in film form. Rather than telling a fluid story like volume 3, or a series of arcs like volumes 1 and 2, volume 4 takes the Game of Thrones approach, doling out it’s stories in bits and pieces that deal with different characters in different places, different situations, and according to one fan theory, at different times entirely. To be fair, if you’re watching it episode-by-episode, this isn’t too bad. It works on some level. If you’re watching it on DVD or Blu-Ray, however, you’re watching a three hour movie that tells itself through constant peaks and valleys rather than three distinct acts. Hell, volume 1’s three arcs don’t work as acts either, but I’d still take what that volume did rather than a bunch of different climaxes that seem to have to struggle to outdo each other.

Yeah, remember that one powerful moment in Mulan, where the innocent joy of the team is shattered when they come upon a ruined village and the cold reality of war comes crashing down upon them? That happens three fucking times in this volume. Literally, THAT happens, minus the doll. I mean sure they had different contextual intentions, but the effect kind of wears off a little each time. It’s also hard to keep up the tension of a long, intense battle when you keep cutting away to family squabbles and fight training. Once again, it works fine if you’re just watching it episode by episode, but the movie itself is a terribly paced, exhausting experience. Volume 3 kind of had this issue, but nowhere near as bad. It really only needed to cut a couple of scenes to tidy it’s pace up, and it would have been fine. This volume, however… I’m sorry, but I honestly can’t recommend buying the physical copies. Watch it on their website, the way it was originally released, and skip the opening song each time.

Anyway, the fellowship is disbanded, and out of the six stories being told, four of them are about the main cast embarking on their own individual arcs. Yang must overcome her PTSD and accept her new arm, Blake must stop running and turn to face her problems, Weiss must deal with and forsake her family, and Ruby… Well, she does a lot of walking and fighting. I didn’t say they were all gems. But that actually provides the perfect segway into what feels most predominately like the main story… The quest of RNJR and Uncle Qrow that began at the end of volume 3. And it is certainly a quest. They travel on foot, battle enemies, move through three destroyed villages, two of which are awkwardly named Demon Lesbian and Black Lesbian… No, wait, the literal translation of yuri is lily, isn’t it? My bad. Anyway, Ruby and Jaune get a little bit of development each… We find out what’s on Jaune’s shirt, and Ruby’s resolve to never again watch someone get hurt gets brought up… But nothing really interesting happens until Ren and Nora’s backstory comes up.

Oh, and Qrow’s fairy tail about humanity, but let’s just gloss over that by saying it’s either heavily metaphorical, or complete horseshit. I did notice it’s similarities to the origin of Nightmare Moon, though, so I guess it’s more like ponyshit.

And honestly, their backstory is probably the highlight of the entire season. It contains shades of Attack on titan, but as I said before, rip-offs aren’t necessarily a bad thing, and Rooster Teeth has a strong history of using them well. We meet them as kids, Ren with loving parents and Nora as a street rat, and they wind up as the only survivors of a Grimm attack on their home. Ren’s power is also revealed, although not adequately explained, and they form a bond that will last a lifetime, which feeds into the final villain of the volume perfectly. Having said that, they’re ship isn’t ever directly confirmed, so my theory about Ren being gay has not been disproven yet. But like I said before, nothing big happens in this volume. I mean, at least nothing important or meaningful. The fight against the Knuckleavy Grimm is cool, and the fight earlier against Scorpion Lanister is also cool, but after all the fantastic action at the end of volume 3, it all just feels so small. The fight against Scorpion Lannister does nothing for the story but force Qrow out of hiding and turn him into a plot point, and the fight later does nothing but… well, nothing. Yeah, it feels right after Ren’s backstory, and they needed a big fight to end the volume on, but he and Nora already felt like they’d overcome the tragedy. There weren’t any lingering flaws in them that needed to be resolved by that fight.

And if I’m being perfectly honest, the way they killed that Grimm kinda made me uncomfortable. It got pinned down and slowly chopped to pieces while screaming in pain and horror. Jesus Christ, heroes! When a wild animal kills someone, you don’t torture it, you put it down humanely! And as far as I can tell, that’s exactly what the Grimm are… Wild animals, fighting us for food and the territory that we keep taking from them. I know what the Grimm did, but where’s the evidence that it… Or any of the Grimm… Are truly evil? There are those scenes in fiction where a character like Ren has the opportunity and the justification to fuck up the shit of a disgraced villain, and it is not just cliched, but damned important, that they take the high road and refuse, rather than lowering themselves to such savage cruelty. I’m honestly not sure what this says about the writers and their attitude towards good and evil, but I’ve honestly considered it a sham this entire time that we’re supposed to believe the Grimm just blindly want to kill us for no reason.

Anyway, the fights are nice, and this season needed to keep up it’s action tally, so whatever. Moving on, let’s go to Blake next. She’s running home so her friends don’t have to gewt dragged into her shit and hurt over her anymore, and the writers decided to pair her with Sun because I have no fucking clue. Did they do it so she’d have someone to interact with, and so she could explain things to him for the sake of the audience? Did they do it to tease the black sun pairing that won’t happen if the writers know what’s good for them? Did they do it to have Sun secretly hook up with Blake’s Mom off camera? Because that’s totally what’s happening in this story arc. Blake’s half cat, and her mom’s half cougar. We learn more about the White Fang through this arc, Blake develops to become a bit stronger emotionally, and her role in volume 5 looks to be something war-related. On a more confusing note, is it just me, or does Menagerie look like it was ripped right out of Final Fantasy X? I don’t know why Blake’s Dad thinks her outfit doesn’t cover up much… She’s the most conservatively dressed person on that entire damn island.

Weiss has gone home to her family, they’re assholes, wealthy society sucks, and people expressing ignorance and/or downright apathy to wars the tragedy at Beacon pisses her off. She gets grounded, disinherited, and escapes the estate with the help of her butler, who’s purpose in the story is to show off how fucking amazing J Michael Tatum is as an actor. Yes that is him. What can I say about this arc? Well, aside from Weiss growing a bit, I’m honestly worried that this whole story thread will amount to nothing. It explored the Schnee family, particularly the political leanings of the family, that both male members are complete assholes. Unless they become villains, however, the entire story will basically be pointless. Honestly, the Schnee family storyline felt so disconnected from everything that not only was I expecting Whitley to kill Weiss at the end, I was actually a little disappointed that he didn’t. I love Weiss to death, but that’s how little her arc felt like it mattered… The whole thing leading to a tragic twist at the last minute would have actually redeemed it. It would AT LEAST have given the volume an event that could match or even top the death of Pyrrha, though.

Hey, remember earlier, I said that the opening theme wasn’t the most on-the-nose song of the volume? I was referring to a song that Weiss sings, called This Life is Mine, and it’s a whole other barrel of awful. It’s a song about Weiss not wanting to be controlled by her father, which it makes painfully obvious, because of course it does. “You can’t control me… My life is mine… I’m not your pet…” Only it’s way worse than any other offender because it’s not just in the soundtrack, it’s a canon song in the story. Weiss sings it at a concert her Dad organizes. Try to wrap your head around that. Her father organizes a concert and forces her to perform for a crowd of nobles, so she sings a song about openly and explicitly defying his rules and being disobedient. Now, he seems to me like the kind of guy who takes careful control of everything. I refuse to believe he’d let her sing at the concert without at least reading her lyrics beforehand, or hell, writing her damn song for her, and there she is basically singing “Fuck you Dad” to the entire world, not hiding that message behind any subtlety, nuance or metaphor whatsoever, and he doesn’t even notice?

Yang’s story is okay. It was pretty much as predicted. Rooster Teeth knew we were all expecting her to get a robot limb, so they didn’t bother making a reveal out of it, which was smart. We see her out of bed, moping around the house and trying to do chores, and her development up until she puts on the arm is purely emotional, although I admit it goes by kind of fast. Personally, I was hoping this story arc would feature her having picked up a drinking problem, as she has a family history of alcoholism and emotional damage that she might need the bottle to numb. I feel like that would have made her story so much more interesting than it wound up being. What we got feels kind of cheap and empty, but once the arm is on, she actually gets some better development relating to her fighting style and her similarities to her mother. That’s really all I can say about her arc… I don’t think she got all that much screen time, did she? The other two arcs are ive at the evil lair, which served little purpose other than to introduce some new villains while keeping Cinder in the story and explaining what happened to Ozpin. And speaking of Ozpin, his consciousness floats to new bodies when he dies. He’s now taking over a little grouch named Oscar.

So to summarize… It doesn’t work as a film, because the structure and pacing are shit. Virtually nothing happens, and it basically amounts to a transitional volume, POSSIBLY setting up the upcoming fifth volume, assuming THAT volume isn’t a transitional volume meant to set up volume 6. It was awkward, it’s been heavily divisive, and I thought it was pretty damn good. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as great as volume 3 was, but at least it’s retained the character writing and smart dialogue that that volume introduced. Yeah, the structure’s terrible, but looking at it another way, it was also hugely experimental. The structure of volume 3 was a major departure from the structure of the previous seasons, and it wound up paying off immensely, so you can’t blame Rooster Teeth for looking at a volume where everyone’s been split up and taking it in a Game of Thrones style direction. It didn’t really pay off, but honestly, with what they were doing, I can’t think of a better way that they could have done it. I just think they could have done it exactly the way they did, only better.

And if there’s one thing that’s improved dramatically since volume 3, it’s the visual quality, which is saying a lot, because volume 3 ITSELF was a huge step up in visual quality. The animation in volume 4 is so amazing that there are some moments where if you’re not looking carefully, you’d swear it was stop-motion animated. This is partially due to just how intricate the lighting and shading is in comparison with the previous work, and just how much realism it adds to every texture, especially to people, and even more especially to their hair. That’s not to say there aren’t a few animation errors… An extra’s shadow walks out of sink with him at one point, and there’s a particularly embarrassing moment early on where Jaune attempts to sheath his sword, but it winds up attached like a magnet to the back of his wrist instead for one brief shot. It’s more errors than volume 3 had, but WAY less than volumes two and three had.

I feel like, if this volume were a movie, it would be Hunger Games: Mockingjay part 1. There’s not a lot going on, and a good chunk of it wouldn’t have mattered if left on the cutting room floor, but there’s just so much character development and good writing in it that I can mostly forgive it’s rather lackluster execution. It’s biggest problem, I feel, is the lack of surprises, twists, or big moments. For the first three volumes, particularly at the end of volume 3, there were so many moments that I enjoyed watching peoples’ reactions to. I haven’t watched any reactions from volume 4, mainly because there just aren’t any moments that feel like they carry that special RWBY magic. Even at it’s worst, this series has always been known for it’s energy, and I don’t feel any of that here. No… I take that back. I do sort of feel that magic in Ren and Nora’s backstory. I guess I could watch some reactions of that. But you know, this review’s gone on a bit too long, so I’m just going to say that yeah, this volume was pretty good. It’s lacking in some areas, it’s awesome in some areas, it’s kind of a mixed bag, but as far as RWBY’s offerings go, it’s still on the better end of the scale. I give Volume 4 a 6/10.

Once upon a time, there were two young women who couldn’t be more different. Despite the fact that they were both teenagers going to the same high school in Saitama prefecture, Japan, almost nothing about them was similar. Konata Izumi, a petit bluenette with the attitude of a slacker, and Kagami Hiiragi, a responsible honor student with little tolerance for nonsense. One of them comes from a single parent home, the other from a large and closely knit family. One of them devotes her entire life to distractions with little time set aside for academics, the other devotes her entire life to academics with little time set aside for distractions. One of them is rooted in the present, the other one keeping a healthy eye on the future. Ordinarily, two people as drastically different as these two would go their whole lives without crossing paths, but against all odds, Konata became close friends with Kagami’s little sister, having daringly saved her life from a foreigner who was trying to ask her for directions to a thrashable car. And thus, these two individuals who should have never met, met.

Yeah, yeah, I know that’s a reference for a different show, but I’m never going to review that show, so I figured I’d use it here. Anyway, the fact that Tsukasa and Konata are in a different class than Kagami leads to the latter being drawn into the former’s world, avoiding what could have otherwise been a major power struggle. She already knew her younger sister Tsukasa, the soft spoken, clumsy and air-headed girl who often depends on her slightly older twin to get by, and while these three make up a troublesome trio all their own, a fourth girl joins their group… The smart, well-mannered and mature(in more ways than one) Miyuki Takara, who Konata and Tsukasa like to bring their cultural questions to. Together, these four unique high schoolers form a friendship that will last them a lifetime, as they share their joys, their frustrations, their lives and their dreams with one another… Or just constantly mess with each other and ask inane questions about candy. Honestly, it could go either way. But maybe, just maybe, they can band together to answer one important question; How DO you eat a chocolate coronet?

I’ve talked about Kyoto Animation quite a few times before, but if you’re worried about me saying the same things I said before, don’t be. I know they have a consistent style, and while it’s evolved over the years, most titles they release do look more or less like they could exist in the same universe. There are a few exceptions to this rule, and while one of them is the far more popular Nichijou, the first departure they made from featuring relatively normal human anatomy was Lucky Star, which is quite possibly one of the most extreme examples of anime where absurdly large “Moe blob” heads are stacked on top of smaller bodies. Well, you know, if you don’t count chibi shows. In any case, the fact that it’s so different from their usual output is probably due to the fact that they chose to produce it as a supplement to their previous smash hit, Haruhi Suzumiya. The two titles are mainly related through fanhood, as Haruhi Suzumiya is a popular series in the Lucky Star universe, and one of the main characters(Konata) is obsessed with it. Sgt. Frog is also big in it, but hey, they took what they could get.

In any case, when I talk about low budget anime using it’s money wisely to look just as good as a more expensive show, you’d have a hard time finding a better example than Lucky Star. It may be one of the black sheep of the Kyo-Ani family due to it’s somewhat cartoony style, but that translates incredibly well to budget-cutting techniques. Background characters are usually frozen and covered in blue paint-bucket filling as they loiter in the background, a move that would feel cheap and lame in any show with characters who are too weak to distract you from them, so it’s worth noting that for at least three-fourths of the time, you’ll barely notice them. The dialogue heavy nature of the series also gives the animators a perfect excuse to hold on a key frame while the characters talk to each other. There are a lot of high school anime that do this, and I can see where it might wear on the patience of most viewers, most examples of this are anime that are inconsistent, suffer from occasional quality drops, and feature movement scenes that look out of place among the rest of the material.

What separates Lucky Star from this lot? Well, the money that the animators saved with their budget saving techniques is put to exquisite use. Every single movement in this series, at least from featured characters, employs just enough movement to capture and portray the mood, intent and gravity of the shot that it’s in, no more, no less. Because of this, every single movement, from huge reaction shots to the smallest wave, features the exact same level of fluidity, unless of course the style has to change for the sake of a parody sequence, such as the “Legendary Girl A” material. Rather than waste their time and resources on weird angles and filters to keep you amused during long bouts of talking, Kyo-Ani decided to cut the bullshit and make the dialogue quirky and entertaining enough so that the slow, heavily conservative animation wouldn’t bother you… To mixed results, I’m afraid to say, but we’ll get to that later. I’d also like to say that whenever they do execute a parody from another series, the animation style they switch to is normally fairly accurate. The moefication of the characters may be a sticking point for some, but I think it was handled rather well.

As it happens, this is one of the rare anime that I’ve seen in their entirety in both languages, and for the most part, I can say that Bang Zoom managed to represent the original Japanese acting faithfully. Wendee Lee is a bit of a departure from Aya Hirano’s Konata, mainly because… As I mentioned in my Haruhi review… She doesn’t have quite the range of Aya-chan. Thankfully, she does much better with this character than she did with Haruhi, employing a sort of rolling rasp to imitate Konata’s gruff, good-humored delivery. This unfortunately doesn’t always work, such as when she sounds excited or needs to raise her voice, at which points she sounds so much like Haruhi that it’s honestly distracting. Still, the rasp is different from Aya’s performance, but it suits the character just as well. Karen Strassman, on the other hand, is spot on with her version of Aya Endo’s character, Miyuki Takara. It’s not identical, but it’s a very close ringer for the polite, aristocratic-sounding character.

Michelle Ruff is something of a chameleon(in a good way), and can play a wide roange of characters, so it might be a shock to your system if you hear her in bleach or Haruhi, and then see her listed in the credits under Tsukasa, the younger Hiiragi twin, a space cadet with an overly soft, shy sounding voice. She doesn’t sound as child-like as Kaori Fukuhara did, which is probably for the better, because her dialogue mainly alternates between innocent musings and woe-is-me whining, and it would have sounded annoying in English had Ruff not aged it up a bit. Out of all the main cast, however, Kari Wahlgren probably had the hardest job with Kagami, a tsundere-type of character whose vocal patterns and inflections don’t really exist stateside. Not only that, but Kagami is probably the most nuanced and complicated character in the cast, and while Emiri Kato was amazing in her native language, Kari knocks it out of the park by playing it down to earth, but with a more snarky, confident edge.

Rebecca Forstadt gets a heart-warming cameo that I won’t dare spoil, Bridget Hoffman is hilarious as Miyuki’s dependent mother, and Kate Higgins plays a quirky teacher that Luci Christian would be proud of. Hynden Walch is unrecognizeable as Konata’s cousin, and among her friends, Michelle ruff puts her talents to work playing double duty, the prolific Philese Sampler plays a small role, and Patericia Ja Lee… Well, she’s probably the only sour note in the group, keeping her performance as close to the Japanese as possible, when she really… Really… Shouldn’t have. But my favorite has to be Stephanie Sheh in the role of Akira Kogami, one of the two hosts of the episode ending segment Lucky Channel, and while I’ve preached the gospel about her character range before, she puts it on full display here, playing a character who’s sugar and spice personified. She flip-flops between a sweet, happy-go-lucky idol and a crude, bitter behind the scenes personality who, despite being 14, has seen it all and won’t take any shit from anybody. I personally recommend the dub, but you can’t go wrong with either choice.

There’s a certain brand of comedy anime… Which I believe was popularized by Azumanga Daioh… That takes the slice of life concept and moves it into the confines of a Japanese high school, so the viewer can observe the daily lives of a group of friends as they interact and develop both as individuals and as a group. Not only does this brand bank on the childhood nostalgia of older viewers, but it also leans heavily on the strong personalities of it’s characters to deliver jokes, humorous situations, and the occasional heartfelt moment. This brand gets criticized for being plotless, but is that really fair? Is a plot really necessary for a comedy, or can it stand on it’s own just by being funny? It’s true that most American TV, both animated and live action, is devoid of overarching plots, as they’re most often carried by strong writing and strong characters, but they still have individual episode plots. For more than a quarter of it’s run, Lucky Star doesn’t even have that. So, are the characters and comedy strong enough to overcome this disadvantage, like they were in Azumanga Daioh?

I’ll admit, the show doesn’t get off to a great start. It’s never been made clear why Yutaka Yamamoto was fired as series director after the first four episodes… Especially since he was the person who created the viral dance sequences that made the ending theme of Haruhi and the opening theme of Lucky Star so explosive… But rumors and speculation have been made that it was his approach to the series was far too close to the manga, adapting the small, four panel comics one after another, leaving little room for interesting stories and forward momentum. Personally, I didn’t entirely mind these episodes, as long as Kagami and/or Konata were on screen. The four main characters have a very strong dynamic made up of several smaller connections and interactions, such as Konata perving over Miyuki’s moe potential, Kagami and Tsukasa being polar opposites, Tsukasa and Miyuki… You know what? No. Those two alone just don’t amount to anything noteworthy. They need the other two characters to function.

Right in the early stages of the series, Lucky Star goes out of it’s way to show what happens when Tsukasa and Miyuki are left to their own devices, having a conversation so banal and fraught with unutilized set-ups that Kagami, sick in bed for a surprisingly unrelated reason, is begging one of them to just reach the punchline already. They need Konata to exploit their quirks, or Kagami to call them out, or it’s ultimately like leaving jokes on the table. That’s not to say Konata and Kagami don’t need the other two… They’re fairly versatile characters, and different interactions can bring that out in them… And Tsukasa can be fairly funny on her own, what with her constant airheaded mistakes… But the series is at it’s absolute best when Konata and Kagami are working off of each other. There’s a reason I based my plot synopsis off of their differences, and it’s not JUST the fact that I had to think of a gimmick just to give this show a plot synopsis in the first place. Out of the four supposed main characters, those two carry the series.

In most of their interactions, those two are the dominant forces… Konata making references and shocking people with her weird reactions, Kagami making sarcastic remarks and brutally biting observations… And it’s rare for anyone else to dominate them in an interaction, but they meet their matches in each other. The bickering that takes place between them is easily one of the highlights of the series, as you can’t always tell who’s going to come out on top of each encounter, most of which just end in stalemates. While Miyuki is probably the weakest of the four, they still come together to form the foundation of the series. Actually, they’re more of a trunk, as the comedic strength of Lucky Star feels like something of a tree. Together, they’re strong, sturdy, and have a great dynamic based on the chemistry that they have with one another. The reason I’m comparing them to a tree is that, when you talk about the rest of the cast, it does start to create a weakening effect, just like how a tree becomes more difficult to climb the higher up it spreads.

When the cast starts branching out, we get a group of supporting characters for the main cast to work off of outside of each other. Miyuki gets some support from her mother, an entitled slob who appears to take advantage of her brainy and responsible daughter in some cases, which is really when she’s at her best. Kagami and Tsukasa have their family for support, including their mother AND father(Both of whom are alive… weird, right?) as well as their four older sisters, their conflict with whom helps to develop their characters as well as highlight the special bond that they, the twins, have with one another. Konata, and I don’t think her bevy of fans realize this, has THREE characters supporting mainly her, including her pervy father to explain her upbringing, her cousin in law enforcement to highlight the illegal sorts of activities that her upbringing has led her to, and the homeroom teacher, who attempts to drag her kicking and screaming back to reality when she tries to escape to a game. She gets her shots in on all three of them, but it still goes to show just how dependent she is on the rest of the cast.

The branches of the support characters are strong enough to do just that, but they become significantly weaker when you move to the next group, the underclassmen, a group of younger characters who start to appear in the second half of the series, when even the comedy between the main four is strting to get tired and predictable. Unfortunately, these characters aren’t strong enough to hold a story for very long, with only one of them… Konata’s cousin, Yutaka… Being even slightly above one-dimensional. This group of friends is more stereotype than people, which is sad, because the characters on the lower branches do, to their credit, feel like fleshed out and complex characters, at least to a point. Yutaka’s friends, however, are direct archetypes, and Yu herself doesn’t even DO anything with her quirk, being the sickly girl. Her friends include the pervy mangaka, the ignorant foreigner, the boyish breast-envy girl… And that’s it, and the story seems to give them far more credit than screentime, as they play a major role in the ending. Also appearing at the ending climax are friends from Kagami’s class, poised not as branches but as sub-branches that aren’t strong enough to hold a freaking apple.

So in terms of characters, the comedy does get weaker as the show goes on, but that won’t matter if they grow and move through important events and situations, right? Well, yes, there are a few. There are a few moments that take the cast out of their comfort zone to explore them in new ways. In a later episode, with the main four taking a field trip together, contains a bunch of great moments in it, like Tsukasa being attacked by deer, Kagami getting a love letter, and Konata cheering her up afterwards. The episode soon after, where Konata’s family gets a secret visit, is surprisingly poignant. Some of the best episodes include the beach episode, the Comiket episode, the Christmas episode, Konata’s birthday… Episodes where something noteworthy actually happens, instead of just a chain of jokes and gags, and that’s setting a pretty low bar. There’s no point in getting invested in any of the characters, because unlike Azumanga Daioh, they have no arcs, and their futures beyond high school are left completely unresolved. Yeah, there are some enjoyable moments, and good jokes here and there, But I was never bored watching it… Even if I am in the minority.

I am part of a very specific demographic that this show caters to… I was an otaku in the mid-2000s. That’s it. That’s why I can enjoy it, while most new visitors can’t. find it anything but boring. People who enjoy it the most are the ones who watched it when it came out, or in the few years immediately following, but if you came into it after 2010, it probably comes off as one of the most dated anime you’ve ever seen. That’s not to say you won’t find the characters interesting, the casual tone relaxing, or element of friendship welcoming, but you’re watching anime that was created to be a reflection of it’s time, in it’s time, and a lot of what it chose to represent isn’t relevant today, unfortunately meaning that it hasn’t aged well. It relied on gimmicks and otaku pandering rather than story-telling and real emotion, and that fact along with it’s moe design kept it from having any chance of being as timeless as that other slice of life show I keep bringing up. It gets a lot better after episode 4, but it just doesn’t stand the test of time.

Lucky Star was originally available from Bandai Entertainment, and the DVD sets from then are still available online in both individual, limited edition and complete collection formats, although the DVDs that were produced by Funimation after they rescued the series are far more affordable. The OVA is available on DVD, but it’s also included in the Funimation release, and I think you already know how much I love it. It’s the same series, but with much more fluid and well written stories. The original manga is available stateside from Viz Media. Beyond that, there are a ton of light novels, mangas and games that are NOT available stateside.

Calling Lucky Star an acquired taste is probably being a bit too generous… It’s one of the most esoteric series I’ve ever seen, as it seems deliberately designed to appeal to a small demographic, which I happen to be a part of, and even I think the series is overrated. It’s appeal is small, but it’s still precious to the people in it’s demographic, and I still enjoy it as well, even at it’s worst moments. I love the main cast, and there’s a lot about them that I find relatable. Does that mean I’d recommend it to a high number of people? No, but if you know someone who was an anime fan during the previous decade, or if you know someone who plays a lot of online games, or if you just know someone who has a mischievous sense of humor, this might be a good title to suggest to them. To anyone else, tread with caution, because the phrase ‘culturally impenetrable’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. It’s worth checking out, but if you’re not into it by the fifth episode, try out Azumanga Daioh or Nichijou instead. Otherwise, this adorkable title has just enough going for it to make up for it’s weaknesses. I give Lucky Star a 6/10.  

Once upon a time on a certain bow-shaped archipelago, there was a young man who had become jaded and cynical towards the world around him. Known as Kyon to his friends, as well as his relatives and anyone else he ever meets, this young man once believed in the wildest things, from aliens and the supernatural to superheroes and the evil syndicates that they battle. He’s mostly given up on such fantasies, and although he does think about them from time to time, he’s accepted reality as it is… Unfortunately, that reality is so boring and tedious that he’s settled into a deep pit of ennui, shuffling through each day in a cloud of gloom as he lets his annoying friends, his bratty sister, his fellow classmates and the punishing climb up to school up a steep hill fly right by him. Does any of it matter? Is there any point in resisting convention, going against the grain, when it will just get him branded a weirdo and a social outcast, dealing with a day to day life that’s even more underwhelming than it was previously? For the most part, Kyon had resigned himself to reality, and a long life of blase blandness. That’s when he met her.

Standing proudly during first day introductions, wearing a stern expression and speaking directly with no room for misunderstanding, Haruhi Suzumiya proclaimed to her entire class that she’ll only waste any of her time on them if they’re aliens, time travelers, or espers. This could have turned out to just be an inconsequential blip on the radar of Kyon’s life, if it wasn’t for the fact that while absently picking her brain, he winds up inspiring her to start her own school club, and use it to bring the weirdness of the world to her. Kyon winds up dragged into this plan, having sealed his fate the minute he’d decided to poke the pretty-looking bear. This club is named The SOS Brigade, a name that impressively makes less sense than it sounds, and Haruhi winds up dragging three more poor souls into her mess. They turn out ot be interesting people, but as Kyon will soon find out, they might be just a little too interesting, and the supernatural phenomena that Kyon had once given up on may have been easier to find then he or Haruhi had thought. With the boundaries between reality and fantasy becoming more blurred by the day, will Kyon ever be able to get his normal, boring life back? Or will this bizarre new routine dominate his life forever?

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is part of what I like to call The Golden Age of Kyoto Animation, and yeah, a few points of this review are going to focus on the time frame of which it was released. In any case, this golden age occurred between 2005 and 2008, after their inaugural effort Fullmetal Panic Fumoffu, but before they’d switch to a cheaper visual style with Clannad Afterstory. The second season did fall victim to this change, but thankfully, Haruhi did not, and is a shining example of the kind of visual quality that it could put out back then. Movement is fluid, with a lot of inbetween work being done to keep everybody looking as crisp and graceful as possible, and I’m not just talking about the people in the main section of the foreground. you’ll lose track of the amount of background people, surrounding crowds and random cutaway figures there are who were given independent movement of their own, sometimes even just as good as what the main cast is getting. It does slow down in parts, but aside from a few odd choices, it all blends together well.

There are some short-cuts here and there… We get one extended segment where a character is just sitting at a chair and reading silently to herself for at least a minute or two, although you don’t have to reach very far up your ass to find an excuse for it. That aside, Kyoani is generally very clever at disguising their budget cuts from view, often using camera angles and cinematography techniques that, at the time, were easily considered avant-garde, before Studio Shaft stole them and ran them into the ground. Characters are almost realistically proportioned, and while the facial constructs lean towards moe, you wont find very many anime expression cliches in this title. If I recall, there aren’t very many if any upturned eyes, sweatdrops, anger lines, etcetera to be found. Instead, characters deliver their emotions through highly diverse and intricate facial expressions and body language. This can be pretty useful for people trying to track the true feelings of the show’s more duplicitous characters, seeing through their nuances.

Backgrounds are exquisitely detailed, down to the very smallest objects that can be pointed out in the SOS Brigade club room. On the very rare occasions that the budget seems to be dropping, it’s normally indicative of an intense visual happening soon, such as Haruhi singing as the frontman in a school rock band, or an all-out, no holds barred action scene, because yes, this slice of life title has some serious action in it. I won’t go into spoilers, at least not too deep, but when this series busts out the CGI, it’s time for jaws to start hitting the floor. Even outside of the action, which may or may not involve space fleets, alternate dimensions and a giant cricket monster, even something as menial as flowing water in a river can wind up looking beautiful. It’s a good looking show, way more-so than any title of it’s ilk has any business looking, and Kyoto Animation clearly put a lot of care and effort and good old fashioned give-a-damn into making it one of the most visually appealing titles they could.

The music isn’t quite up to par with the visuals, but it’s serviceable enough. There are several tracks that feel like they were ripped directly out of a dating game, considering how repetitive they are, but they’re still pretty fun to listen to, and a few of them have even become relatively iconic. Even when creating tunes that are just going to fade into the background and get skipped after a few repetitions in the soundtrack, Satoru Kosaki does not skimp on effort. A lot of different instruments are also used, from acoustic guitars to drums, trombones to bells, keyboards to full on electronic orchestrations, and it all comes together rather nicely. The best tunes tend to pop up during action scenes, including one of the major electronic tracks, whose very name would be a spoiler of the pivotal scene it accompanies. The climax of the series, which will happen either at the end or in the middle, depending on how you’re watching, even goes as far as to have a greek choir playing over the action and heightening the effect.

Of course, that’s just the background music. In all fairness, it probably wouldn’t be so easily taken for granted if it wasn’t for just how overwhelmingly the themes and insert songs stick out. The reason you won’t come away from this series humming Oi Oi or Nanika no Okashi is because you’ll be too busy trying to get the Live Alive songs out of your head. There’s a moment in the series when Haruhi and club-mate Yuki Nagato step in as subs for a couple of absentee members of one of the school’s biggest rock bands, and the two songs she performs… God Knows and Lost My Music… Are awesome. Not only does this scene feature some of the best animation in the series, as Haruhi is so viscerally articulated on stage that she’ll make YOU feel exhausted afterwards, but they work just as well in stand-alone for as they do in context. I’ve even heard from some people that they’re meant to be metaphorical for her relationship with Kyon, but I personally don’t see what they’re getting at.

But who are we kidding? The real stars here are the opening and closing themes, both of which can easily be counted among the best of all time. Much like the rock and roll tracks, the opening and closing are sung by Haruhi’s Japanese voice actress Aya Hirano, who both is and was a famous singer, and that talent is put to spectacular use in character. The opening, Bouken Desho Desho, which basically translates to “It’s an Adventure, Right? Right?!” Is beautifully animated with imagery that keeps pace with an incredibly catchy song, chronicling aspects of both Haruhi’s everyday life and fantasy life. The closing theme is by far the most recognizable of the bunch, Hare Hare Yukai, which translates to Sunny Sunny Happiness, and it’s notoriety can be drawn directly to it’s usage in a one-time viral video that set it to a full length, elaborate choreographed dance sequence, which was clearly designed to be addictive on both audio and visual terms. That dance is used partially in the ending theme, but they still featured all the best bits to entertain anyone who doesn’t feel like skipping ahead.

The English dub, an effort by Bang Zoom Entertainment, is a mixed bag to say the least. The writing, while nowhere near the worst effort I’ve ever heard, can occasionally sound forced and unnatural, as though the turn of phrase that they use to match the lip flaps doesn’t always sound like actual human speech. It’s not easy to describe, but for a handy example, imagine the line “Like a cat” were extended to “Like some kind of high-strung pet or something.” That’s an extreme generalization, mind you, but hopefully it will give you an idea of just how awkward the dialogue can get at times. Normal sounding words are swapped out for longer versions that don’t sound quite right, and entire sentences are sometimes rewritten for seemingly no reason at all. It gets pretty cringey when Crispin Freeman decides to ad-lib, because while his penchant for it may have resulted in a great line or two in .Hack, there’s something off-putting about a fifteen year old calling his friend “Sport.” I’m probably being too harsh, as these moments are relatively rare, but they do happen. Of course the writing is at it’s worst with the two Live-Alive songs, which don’t translate nearly as well to English as the songs from Beck do.

The acting, thankfully, is leagues above the writing, which I guess you could call serviceable over-all. First off, the name in the title may be Haruhi Suzumiya, but the main protagonist is Kyon, and his combination of snarky commentary and exasperated reactions make up about a third of the over-all dialogue. He narrates the story, doles out the occasional exposition dump, and plays the part of the audience cypher, albeit with more than enough personality to stand up as a fully realized character. Crispin Freeman is borderline perfect for this part, and while he may sound a little too old for the part, he sells every bit of it flawlessly. He’s said at a panel that he tries to play every part with genuine sincerity, and he proves it here. Wendee Lee plays the titular character, and while I hate to say that she sounds a bit miscast in the beginning, as she sounds a bit too tame and controlled to really live up to Haruhi’s spark of insanity, she does grow into the part as the series progresses, eventually standing on equal footing with Kyon.

The other actors… Well, it’s a little difficult to talk about them without going too far into spoiler territory, but I’ll try my best. Out of the characters that gravitate towards the SOS Brigade, for their own purposes of course, they all talk in fairly standard, almost stereotypical ways… This is very much intentional, for reasons you’ll come to understand, and it really takes multiple viewings to catch all of the little nuances and secret meanings that all three actors were trusted to convey. For example, johnny Yong Bosch plays the laid back, eager to please Itsuki Koizumi, and while he’s rarely seen without a smile, an astute viewer can pick up on what he’s really feeling, with a little bit of context to go with the small changes in Bosch’s delivery. Stephanie Sheh is playing very much to type, but she’s played her fair share of duplicitous characters, and the slight changes she makes in a particular episode are significant. Michelle Ruff almost feels wasted playing the monotonous role of Yuki Nagato, although in her case, she doesn’t show much variety until the second season. Perhaps the most impressive of these comes with Bridget Hoffman’s turn as a Class Rep character who’s sweet smile takes on a whole new meaning in one of the show’s climactic moments.

When The Melanchoy of Haruhi Suzumiya came out just over ten years ago, it was like nothing the anime medium had seen before, and it changed the landscape in ways we’re still seeing to this day. You may think that’s a compliment, but this series serves as living proof of how an entity can be too influential for it’s own good. First of all, taking a look at it’s most obvious contribution, Haruhi proved that a light novel adaptation can be a serious financial success. No, it’s not the first show of it’s kind to enter the public consciousness, what with titles like Read or Die and The Twelve Kingdoms being modest successes, but the vast majority of light novel adaptations that have come out did so after 2006, and you have Haruhi to thank for it. One of the ways it did this was by using odd camera angles and framing techniques to keep the viewer’s attention during long stretches of dialogue, an avant-garde tactical style it used sparingly, but was soon picked up by Akiyuki Shinbo, a Shaft director who would run it into the ground with the various Monogatari and Zetsubou Sensei titles that he put out, as well as other various properties, ultimately making the technique feel so cliched and pretentious that you really can’t look at Haruhi the same way anymore.

And it doesn’t stop there. The very premise of the series, which I won’t spoil, has been copied and twisted around over and over again by people trying to one up the original product and make their own little profit off of what they see as a proven trend. Some of these titles include Sasami-San@Ganbaranai, Kotoura-san, and Haganai, each of which take a different approach to recapturing Haruhi’s proverbial lightning in a bottle. On a more simple note, the premise of a socially unacceptable person forming a school club with unclear motives that has to find the necessary member count to stay open while filling itself up with odd characters and generally proving to be a nuisance for more people than not… Yes, all of that… Has become a very popular trend in and of itself thanks to Haruhi. Worst of all, this premise has been adopted by the harem genre, and is often used to sell merchandise based on color-coded characters from said clubs. That’s not even all, because it also proved how successful a series can be if it panders to otaku in just the right way, offering both a tongue-in-cheek parody and a sincere love letter to otaku culture, in a very for-the-fans, by-the-fans kind of way.

Where Haruhi Suzumiya was once one of the most popular and interesting shows around, It’s inspired so many copy-cats over the last decade that it’s kind of difficult to look at it with the same sense of awe that it originally inspired. What was once one of the most popular anime on the block is barely mentioned by contemporary audiences, and it’s all due to just how poorly the series has aged. Watching it in 2017, without that nostalgic context to back it up, it can get a bit cringey. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing, I’ve been guilty of turning up my nose at older anime in favor of newer titles that managed to surpass them before, but I really don’t think any of the anime that Haruhi inspired have really managed to surpass it… They’ve instead drove it’s best qualities into the ground, and while I don’t think that’s entirely fair, it does become easier to see the flaws in the material with all of those distractions taken out of the way. This includes a certain weakness in characterization, as aside from our two leads, none of the characters really impress outside of their gimmicks and relations to the plot(at least not this season), and this lack of depth can be a serious flaw if you’re not totally engulfed in what you’re watching.

One of the biggest problems, however, is the story structure. This season of the series was released out of order in Japan, and while that may not come as a surprise to anybody who regularly watches the Fox network, it’s a rarity among anime. It was done this way because when you watch the season in chronological order, the climax of the series happens in episode 7, followed by a bunch of loosely related episodic stories. This is partially because of the fact that it follows the first few volumes of the light novel to an almost religious degree of accuracy, and the first book really is the main story, with every following novel expanding and continuing the universe. I’ve read the books, and yeah, once the first novel’s over, you don’t really get anything resembling a major plot until the Disappearance story several volumes later. Because of this, the first season peaks early, and while that never bothered me for the first few years after my initial viewing, I did start to get what people were complaining about upon my recent rewatch.

It turns out the solution they came up with, and that I alluded to earlier, was to air the episodes out of order, giving you a jumbled and confusing experience, but hey, at least the peak is near the end, and the spoilers aren’t given away early! I’ll be honest, I’ve never watched it this way, but I’m also pretty sure it would only work for you if you were coming into the series blind and for the first time. Either way, this does make for a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of experience, neither method really offering a complete, satisfying experience. Even when I was trying to expose one of my friends to the series, all I showed him was the first seven episodes, three episodes of season 2, and the movie. The rest is largely unimportant from a plot standpoint, pointless fluff that’s geared exclusively towards people who are in love with the style and characters and just want to see more of them, which I am, although I know that I’m in a vocal minority in that respect. And if that were it’s only problem, I’d be a lot more forgiving of it.

Aside from the innovations I mentioned earlier, the only trope that this series actually manages to subvert is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl one, as we’re initially led to believe that Haruhi will be filling that role, but no, Kyon winds up filling that role for HER. That’s really clever. But every other trope that appears in this show… Every cliche they used, every character archetype, every story convention… They just exist. They appear, someone mentions the fact that they’ve appeared, and that’s about as much effort as it puts in. This is a very self-aware series, to be sure, but self-awareness does not equal depth, nor does it qualify a story to call itself smart or satirical. You can’t even really call it mature, as even with the show’s biggest secret revealed, the premise ultimately boils down to humoring an insufferable brat to keep them from throwing a world-ending tantrum. Kyon and Haruhi are one of my favorite anime pairings, as I really do feel that they complete each other, but that dynamic is still pretty questionable, almost as much so as the self-insert stuff that’s going on, but don’t even get me started on that.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was available from Bandai Entertainment, and while that company did go under, it’s been rescued and redistributed by Funimation. The entire series can be found on DVD and Bluray in countless different collections and formats, very few of which are actually expensive. A second season, as well as a movie called The disappearance, are also similarly available. Spin-off series Haruhi-chan and Churuya-Chan are also available. Several different written versions, including the original light novel series by Nagaru Tanigawa a handful of manga adaptations are also available stateside.

Well, I did it… I went into this review as honest and unbiased as I could, and as a result, I wound up saying much worse things about it than I originally intended. I’m still not sure I’ve scratched the surface of it’s issues. It’s nowhere near as smart or well written as it pretends to be, and while that does fall well within the definition of pretension, it never really goes as far as to feel pretentious. It is, as another reviewer once pointed out, to moe what Evangeleon is to Mecha… An awesome blast of fun when taken at face value, but puddle deep at best, and it just gets more and more shallow under scrutiny. Now, with me saying all that, you probably think I’ve turned my back on this show, and that I wouldn’t recommend it to modern viewers. You’d be wrong. Not only do I still love it, not only is it still number three on my top ten favorite anime list, but I still believe that even with all of it’s problems, there are still very good reasons to watch this show, even in 2017. In addition to offering a look back at one of the biggest shows of the 2000s, and setting up it’s more modern analogues, it’s still just as fun and entertaining as it ever was, but don’t expect anything too profound from it. I give The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya a 7/10.

Ken Kubo was just your ordinary Japanese college student. He had a beautiful girlfriend, a passion for a sport he was genuinely talented at, and a satisfying life with little to no problems to worry about. Everything was going just fine for young Ken, when he ran into an old friend from high school who’s dedicated his life to a surprising hobby. Tanaka, having put on a generous portion of weight since their last meeting, has fallen into otaku culture, a certified never never land where adults turn their backs on conventional society to pursue every possible facet of an underground counter-pop-culture revolving around obscure, esoteric subjects such as animation, idol singers, special effects movies and even military paraphernalia. He initially raises his eyebrow at such juvenile fare, but soon finds himself slowly being sucked in, and before he knows it, he gets in way over his head and begins to change on a drastic level, losing both the respect and affection of his girlfriend along with any hint of his old social life.

Having left everything behind, Ken quickly realizes that the only direction he can move is now forward, so that his newfound passion doesn’t have to be a dead end. Instead, he dedicates his life not only to experiencing otaku culture, but changing it, and becoming one with it, so that he may one day become one of the greatest otaku the world has ever known. With the help Tanaka and the rest of his nerdy, passionate friends, Ken Kubo begins to climb the ladder of success as a content creator, overseeing the production of model kits in both Japan and China, all of which is a part of his grand plan to unite all of the otaku of the world in harmony under his rule as the Otaking, leading up to his grand ambition, a future theme park called Otakuland! But when his best friend turns his back on him and sells him out to hand the company over to the least expected person imaginable, will Ken be able to land on his feet, and will the otaku of the world ever live to see the day where they’ll be respected by society?

One of the first things you’ll want to know about Otaku no video is that, unlike most anime, it’s not entirely animated. A good chunk of it’s running time consists of live action interviews conducted in mockumentary style with different kinds of otakus, and these segments are spliced throughout the ova. I’ll talk more about those later, but more importantly, with only two 40 minute episodes and large portions of film that didn’t need to be animated, you might think it would be really simple to set aside a decent budget for the animation portions. And come on, this is Gainax, even a lot of their earlier works are more or less impressive in the visual department. this is unfortunately not the case, as the animation in this OVA is bare bones at best. It can be unbelievably distracting when there are tons of motionless people in the background, which is sadly all too common, and the best looking scenes are the ones where the only things happening are conversations. The opening video was decently animated, but the rest of the product just looks cheap.

Well, I say it looks cheap, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it looks bad. There really isn’t much going on in the animated sections in terms of action, so there really isn’t any content that can feel short-changed over their shortage of change. Yeah, the backgrounds full of frozen people can be distracting, but most of the content is serviceable enough, with no excess funds needed. It doesn’t really look like Gainax style animation, but at the very least, it does look like Gainax style artwork. The characters have an aesthetic that’s very much of it’s time, but is still pretty easy on the eyes. People are more or less realistically proportioned, at least from the neck down, with your typical anime facial constructs being really the only thing keeping them from looking real. Characters also cosplay in several scenes, with the costumes they’re wearing being of incredibly detailed quality, more than accurate enough to satisfy any purists sitting at the table. It’s not a great looking anime, but it looks fine.

So, we’re all otaku, right? I know I am, and obviously you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t have some level of interest in the anime medium. We all love watching animation from a certain bow-shaped archipelago, and as long as we all have that in common, we can more or less live in harmony together. There may be some truth to this, but where people tend to differ is where it comes to their otaku origin stories. We all discovered and embraced anime differently, from people who watched kids anime from a young age to people who just so happened to have their imaginations sparked by that one anime film they saw at a friends’ house. In Otaku no video, the main character was a normal, average person, and he was drawn into otaku culture from his old life because… Well, they’re not clear about what exactly started it, but it was either his friends’ level of passion, the fact that he could watch and out of print TV show on taped cassettes, or seeing that one girl in a fur bikini cosplay. Whatever it was, he came into the fandom as an adult, and was drawn in from the outside world. I don’t know about you, but this couldn’t be more different from my story.

Unlike Ken Kubo, I was born to be an otaku. If you follow the original Japanese definition of the word, someone who’s obsessed with something to the point of over-indulgence, that’s pretty much always described me. As a child I was an otaku for Power Rangers and Xmen, then I moved onto Star Wars, and later on in life I’d have similar experiences with RWBY, MLP Friendship is Magic, and the WWE. I would focus on these things so tightly that I would scare my friends and family away from the same properties. To this day, my brother still feels an aversion towards anything I get into. Seriously, after I got my PS4, his drive to buy one himself instantly died out, and he never touched mine in the year that I’ve had it. I have a tendency to approach things cautiously and skeptically, but then to dive in head first as soon as my toe’s in the water. I’ve had numerous otaku-like obsessions throughout my life, but looking back, none of them hit me as hard as Pokemon did. That franchise landed me like a prize bass, and it ultimately worked as my gateway anime as a result, just like it has for a lot of people.

I went HARD into Pokemon. It dominated my life to the point that I could see myself being one of the people interviewed in Otaku no video, were it made today. I don’t feel comfortable going into relevant experiences without a mosaic covering my face, but trust me, it wasn’t healthy. Thankfully, it’s proximity to Cardcaptors on Kids WB set me on the beginning of a much better path. Cardcaptors(No, not Cardcaptor Sakura, and I’m not proud of this) soon took over for it in my heart, and managed to get me into fanfic writing, which got me into writing in general. I would eventually move onto other TV anime, such as Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon, before titles like Azumanga Daioh, Excel Saga and Chobits took me deeper into the medium, seeking out titles that weren’t immediately available at the time. Getting a full-time job also really helped, as it’s allowed me to pour money into the medium, often to my own detriment, and I eventually wound up giving back to the community through a blog that I’ve been running for four years strong. My obsessive tendencies haven’t gone away, as I still feel the need to buy merchandise and become a part of everything I get into, but I doubt I’ll ever grow out of that.

Now, why did I go out of my way to tell you all about my journey as an otaku? Well, first of all, because Otaku no Video doesn’t really offer a lot of discussion points of it’s own. That may sound harsh of me, but second of all, I can’t really relate to any of it, as my story is so obviously different from theirs. I don’t doubt that there’s a lot of people out there who can watch this anime, point to the screen at various moments and proclaim “Yeah, that’s how it was for me,” but I really can’t. Maybe I’m not the target audience, because I didn’t come up the way they did, I’m not well versed in classic anime(I mean come on, most old shows are at least one hundred episodes long), and I don’t feel so attached to the sanctity of otaku lifestyle that I need to see it given a blowjob just to feel more contented with my own life choices. I didn’t catch most of the references, I don’t feel compelled to look them up, and while I’ve been able to acknowledge the existence of passion as a positive life lesson before, it doesn’t feel as important here.

Part of it has to do with the fact that this anime wasn’t really intended to have a great story attached to it. One of the over-all themes I picked up on was one of nostalgia, and sure enough, I’ve been told by a few sources that Otaku no video is a semi-autobiographical tale about the founding of Gainax, through the love, passion, tragedy and triumph that got it where it is today… As well as 18 years in the still-distant future, because hey why not be optimistic? I don’t know how much of “Giant X’s” history accurately represents Gainax’s own tale, but it does offer a strong argument for no compelling story or plot being needed. After all, if you’re telling someone’s real life story, there’s no call to embellish the facts for the sake of entertainment. Well, you can say that, but when you’re telling your life story in 1991, and you’re patting yourself on the back for events that take place in 1999 and 2035, maybe throwing in a little spice to keep the viewer entertained isn’t the worst thing you can possibly do. I’m just saying.

Because as it is, I certainly didn’t hate this anime, but I also found it really difficult to get invested in it. Rather than an actual story, it felt like footnotes, only giving us about one brief scene from each year of the fictitious company’s history, and who the hell knows what happened inbetween? For all we know, the guy with the weird sleeping habits had a drinking problem. For all we know, Ken and Tanaka were almost turned against each other by a love triangle with the cute cosplaying lady. For all we know, somebody’s parents died, affecting their attitude and convictions. All we ever get is “This happened, then this happened, then this happened…” And while all of it is relevant in some way to the over-all plot, I felt so little attachment to the stakes and characters that I found myself dozing off multiple times during the much more fast-paced second episode. Then again, maybe that’s a good thing, because from what I hear, one of the things I missed was seeing a porn enthusiast who’s trying to find a way to circumvent Japan’s decency laws jerk off on camera. I’m kind of glad I didn’t get to see that.

And speaking of the live action segments, they are pretty interesting. They act as a counterbalance to the anime’s shameless trumpeting of otaku pride by showing off the other side of the coin, how these types of obsessions can dominate and potentially ruin a person’s life. It’s not entirely negative, of course, and offers a fair and honest look at the real human faces behind otaku culture. It introduces us to people who are obviously deviating from social norms, but to them, what they’re doing is completely normal, even if it results in perpetual virginity. Everybody they show us is fascinating in their own way, from a military geek who’d fit in quite well with America’s paintball culture, a gashapon enthusiast who likes to disassemble merchandise he gets and construct his own parts for them if they’re not to his liking, somebody who records rare video(I’d like to imagine he, or a close relative, is now making a killing off of youtube), and even a few criminals who buy and sell animation cells from anime production companies. This alone would make up for a lot of the anime’s failings, if it wasn’t for the overwhelming evidence that all of these interviews were staged, and starred Gainax employees under false names.

Otaku no Video is available from Animeigo in both video cassette and DVD, which despite being out of print for respectively twenty-four and fourteen years, is still pretty easy to find online at an affordable price. There’s no English dub, but honestly, I don’t really find that surprising.

If you can’t tell by the length of this review, I had a very difficult time writing a piece on this particular OVA. It almost defies review, because by it’s very nature, the story it’s telling doesn’t need to be fleshed out or well written. It had a very specific goal, to cater to a very specific group of fans, which just happen to be the same kinds of fans that Gainax is made of. Even 26 years later, modern day otaku who grew up on the anime of the seventies and eighties can still find a fulfilling experience in it. I guess that’s why, at the end of the day, the word that I think best describes Otaku no Video would be esoteric, and that’s ultimately why it’s so hard to place a rating on it. I haven’t watched a lot of older anime, and with my time now being eaten up by a full time job and a blog that I need to constantly be writing reviews for, I probably never will, once again considering just how long a lot of those shows ran. I feel bad giving it a negative score when I’m so very explicitly not part of it’s target audience, especially seeing how beloved it is to people from it’s intended crowd, so I guess in the end there’s nothing I can do but take it on faith and shoot for the middle ground. I give Otaku no video a 6/10.  

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 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.

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