It's been coming: The Inevitable Anime Post

*But let's stall our fate for a second by checking out LAST WEEK'S REVIEWS:

Vector #1 (and hey, co-creator Rich Mrozek was kind enough to stop by and offer a link to his site featuring new 'beta-test' art for the 17-years in the making "Vector" issue #5!)

Grafik Muzik #1 (early Mike Allred!)

Deep Sleeper #1-4 (of 4), Challengers of the Unknown #1-4 (of 6), and The Punisher #11

In the Shadow of No Towers

Dare to fall in love with these links!

*I was a pretty hardcore anime fan for a long time. I had been exposed to anime (and by 'anime' I mean ‘Japanese Animation’ since ‘anime’ as taken in its cultural context simply means ‘animation’ whether domestic or foreign) as a little kid, with early morning Nickelodeon shows like “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” and “Belle and Sebastian” and “Noozles” (trivia: one of the directors, Taku Sugiyama, also directed an anime feature based on Osamu Tezuka’s “Phoenix” manga, “Phoenix: 2772”). But I didn’t really notice anything different in particular about these shows at such a tender age. And maybe it’s better I didn’t; no need to let the country of a cartoon’s origin dictate your level of enjoyment. But I was struck by the ongoing serial nature of the storytelling, and the style of the character designs.

I found out about ‘anime’ as a proper subsection of fandom in “Wizard”. It’s funny how many things I took from that magazine; I also first heard of Chris Ware in its pages, along with a ton of interesting books in the old “Palmer’s Picks” column. And the first Japanese comic I ever read was a “Ghost in the Shell” ashcan enclosed in the polybag, which I still have to this day (the ashcan, not the polybag). Around that time, some Wizard staffer wrote that manga would eventually become a powerful influence in US comic art, and they were right. Honestly, Wizard and the back covers of Image‘s “Shadowhawk” provided me with most of my early non-superhero comics exposure. Two curious agents of a comics awakening in a young man…

Er, anyway, I heard about a lot of anime in Wizard, and I caught a few late-night showings of “Vampire Hunter D” (cut to hell) and “Robot Carnival” on TBS (or was it TNT?) and I was hooked. This was the sort of action material that I wasn’t getting from other cartoons, so I started looking for anime VHS tapes in the tiny anime section of Suncoast. This was in about 1995 or 1996, so retail anime was just recently breaking through to a bigger audience. Those tapes were expensive, around $30 for two or three episodes of a series if I recall correctly. But it seemed like only seconds before dvd broke through, and anime got very big. The growth was gradual, I know, but it still felt like an explosion. I remember when ADV had a reputation for releasing glossy fan-service (lots of breasts and panties) shows, and today it’s a giant among home-video companies.

But the thing is, I got tired of the stuff after a while. There’s a lot of formula in Japanese animation, a lot of fan expectations that often need to be met at the expense of creativity or style. I got to a point where I’d already seen a good portion of the 'classic' productions, and very few of the new shows appealed to me at all. Maybe I just saw too much of it, and I grew too sensitive to clichés, or maybe I just didn’t like the new clichés as much as the old ones. Lord knows I can sit through the early 80’s “Golgo 13” animated movie (one of the unspoken influences on the anime segment of “Kill Bill”) over and over again. Those 80’s seltzer-gore freakshows like “Fist of the North Star” and those glossy space operas like “Macross” are where I left my anime heart.

Which isn’t to say that’s my exclusive area of interest; probably my favorite anime series of all time is “Serial Experiment Lain” which is a very post-Evangelion interior sci-fi epic, which also launched the interesting career of designer Yoshitoshi Abe. Evangelion itself, or more completely, “Neon Genesis Evangelion”, was one of the biggest shows around in the 90’s, beginning as a rather boring giant robot war epic, transforming into an excellent blood-and-thunder apocalyptic giant robot war epic, and concluding as the “Cerebus: The Latter Days” of anime. One of my favorite late 80’s-early 90’s character designers, Yasuomi Umetsu, has had a very curious career trajectory ranging from go-to updater of 70’s anime designs to porno anime superstar to glossy action auteur. And there’s the old standards like Miyazaki and Oshii and Otomo, all of whom have new theatrical features coming soon.

But it takes a lot to get my attention these days with new anime. One of the few that slapped me out of my haze of disinterest was “FLCL”, directed by Kazuya Tsurumaki, whose only other directorial credit was for part of the “End of Evangelion” movie at the venerable Studio Gainax. The show was a six-episode Original Video Animation (OVA), and it blew me away. Essentially a deconstruction of the shopworn anime 'girlfriend from beyond' genre (see: “Urusei Yatsura”, “Tenchi Muyo”, “Ah! My Goddess!”, etc.), it mixed a brilliant computer-assisted 2D style with heaps of adolescent angst and robot fighting and inter-dimensional forehead teleportation. It reminded me strongly of Grant Morrison’s superhero work, in that it knew exactly when and how to indulge in trashy genre moments, while retaining a core of intelligence and throwing out all sorts of fascinating ideas, sometimes while sacrificing clarity. The R1 dvds were expensive, but it occasionally shows up on Cartoon Network in slightly cut form. It’s by far one of the best recent shows I’ve seen.

Which is a really long way of mentioning that the trailer to Tsurumaki’s follow-up project is up, a sequel to Gainax’s 1988 OVA classic “Gunbuster”. And it fills me with mixed feelings. It looks a lot more subdued, a lot more typical 'contemporary anime' in its feel. There’s even a fucking maid costume on the heroine. Of course, one of the secret ninja tricks of the original “Gunbuster” was that it began as a parody of then-contemporary anime tropes, and gradually morphed into a rather subversive little space opera with a monumentally silly but swooningly sentimental ending. So maybe the new show has the same idea in mind. I remain guardedly optimistic. And Umetsu’s latest polarizing effort, “Mezzo” (a TV series continuation of a short action-porno OVA he did called “Mezzo Forte“) is also coming soon. So there’s a few titles I’m on the lookout for.

And gosh! ADV is even putting out one of the 80’s classics of my youth, “Neo Tokyo” (non “Akira” cash-in original title: “Labyrinth Tales”) out this Tuesday! And it’s $25 for a 50-minute show! Maybe things haven’t changed much after all!