I will accept anything free that's handed to me.

*Dark Tower Countdown Dept: Only 14 months until issue #1!

*Well, sorry. I’m afraid you’re living a life free of hopeless addiction, dear reader. I’ll fix that now. Thank me later!

*A magazine just happened to tumble into my lap the other day - Vol. 4 No. 11 of Newtype USA, the official North American organ of the popular anime glossy (aside from the home office in Japan, there is also a Newtype Korea), which is published by A.D. Vision, which also has anime and manga tendrils swooping around.

I hadn’t read Newtype in a long time - I had no need to. I don’t really watch a lot of anime anymore, which is Newtype’s bread and butter as far as coverage goes (there's manga and gaming too). And even back when I did, I lost interest in the publication rather quickly; Newtype is a hype thing, nearly pure promotion from cover to cover. There’s reviews, though I can’t recall any of them being particularly negative - it’s more of a 'recommendations' deal. But then, Newtype hasn’t really held itself out as a magazine of criticism or analysis; there’s a lot of pretty pictures, a bunch of light behind-the-scenes articles, interviews and the like. It all maintains a cheery, inclusive tone, as if the reader has been admitted into a secret club, and there’s a distinctly fannish outlook; it’s not too proud to smirk at pretty anime girls, but it never goes so far as to alienate the flesh-and-blood girls among its readership. It's careful, succinct, and not at all probing.

Not really for me on the whole, but there were some interesting things to see anyway. While most of the space in the magazine is dedicated to coverage of various shows (most of them coming soon to or already out on R1 dvd), there’s also little features on other aspects of Japanese pop culture and art, like a brief step-by-step on sculpting with paper clay, or profiles of some scarily efficient cosplayers (folks dressed up in elaborate, homemade costumes, based off of their favorite anime/manga characters). I enjoyed a short essay on the changing face of anime on Japanese television - unlike the fairly widespread reach of manga, anime is an increasingly marginalized medium, often preempted for more popular programs. Shows have begun fleeing to satellite stations and Japan’s large UHF networks, with production committees often ponying up fees in order to get on the air - this creates a greater need to recoup costs through merchandise, resulting in anime that are increasingly targeted only toward the more hardcore factions of their potential audience (the most likely to spend). Newtype, of course, spins such catering toward the hardcore as a boon to the reader (whom, purchasing Newtype, is surely among their league), though I’m forced to contemplate the homogenization (and marginalization) that is only likely to rise from such targeting.

There’s other whispers of trouble throughout the issue. I was happily surprised to find a profile of Yasuomi Umetsu, certainly one of my all-time favorite character designers, and a unique director as well. Umetsu surely possesses one of the most unique career trajectories in modern anime, having sprung up as a controversial replacement character designer in the 1986 original video animation (OVA) Megazone 23 Part 2 (Umetsu makes reference to the director needing to ‘protect’ him from other staff members) then swiftly moving onto directing a moody, atmospheric segment of the 1987 anthology film Robot Carnival. He wouldn’t helm a project again for over a decade, instead working as an in-demand designer and animation director for a wide variety of projects, before moving into pornography where he trudged through the noxious swamps of the ‘nonconsensual’ landscape and finally obtained the (relative) creative freedom he sought with the 1998 OVA A Kite, a gritty, action-loaded thing, which became quite a hit in Japan (even among those not so easily moved to ‘adult’ anime) and a veritable controversy magnet in the US where concerns about some of project’s more extreme content led to no less than three separate dvd releases over the course of four years. A second OVA project, Mezzo Forte, was released in 2001, with all of the sex scenes made ludicrously gratuitous for easy excision (and thus bigger sales to those who wouldn’t touch porno). Mezzo Forte was then expanded into Mezzo, a full-length (non-porno) television series, with Umetsu at the helm, in 2002.

It was somewhat heartening to see that Umetsu is still working on getting his long-delayed feature film debut, Kiss and Cry, into production. He speaks frankly about the difficulty of getting anything ‘original’ made in the current market (I presume he means something that’s not based on manga - a successful comics run can assure some level of interested in the animation). Mezzo began as a street-level action piece, but eventually expanded to include ghosts and aliens and the like, as Umetsu wanted to get all of his ideas out (one has to wonder if he was concerned that he’d never get another forum to do all this stuff with). He laments the lack of lack of individual motivation among young animators. There's a strangely wistful vibe to the article - hope, but tempered through having seen an awful lot.

Newtype also comes with a dvd, stuffed with about 90 minutes of trailers and debut episodes of new shows. Of those, the most interesting is a new television series by Mahiro Maeda of Studio Gonzo, something of a ‘name’ director who worked on The Animatrix (he did the two-part heavy-duty backstory lifting, which also incorporated some of Geof Darrow’s drawings, I believe) - it’s called Gankutsuou, an adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo, and it’s quite possibly the most garish piece of animation I’ve seen in years. I don’t know if that’s admirable or not. It’s basically like seeing Lynn Varley’s coloring job on DK2 springing to life (and I liked Varley’s work on DK2 - it’s the whole ‘movement’ thing that gets to me), neon and eye-searing tones everywhere, with the additional fun of scanned-in ‘textiles’ (as the credits call them) spattered via computer all over every single piece of clothing worn by every character, along with everyone’s hair. And since most of the textiles remain in fixed patterns while everyone moves around, the character animation looks like a bunch of die-cut figures being moved around atop a stationary background, but only for certain parts of them. Projects like FLCL and Mind Game made very limited, judicious use of this technique for special emphasis, but this show uses the damn trick in every single scene. I really don’t know what to say - it’s such a phenomenal visual miscalculation that it’s almost admirable in a bull-headed way.

Oh, there’s a story too, but who can pay attention?