Praise to the Glass Teat

*I do believe the Starz network will be debuting a one-hour anime documentary, Anime: Drawing a Revolution, this Monday at 9:00 PM. Thanks to judicious use of my famed psychic powers, I've actually already seen a mostly-complete version of the show, and it's ok. Very intro-to-anime stuff, which puts me and most readers of this site 180 degrees away from the target audience, but ok.

Do note the Drawing a Revolution title. The 'revolution' in question isn't quite referring to social forces or the internet or general aesthetics or anything - it mostly means big-time US entertainment, mostly blockbuster popcorn movies, which are apparently chock-full of anime influence these days. There's also plenty of "Anime talks like this, while American cartoons talk like this" going on, yet the ultimate aim is in showing how the awfully hip! and now! world of anime is shaping up to change the way Westerners construct their own entertainments. Fair enough ground for a basic intro, but there's a profound sense of validation-through-mainstream-acceptance running through the show (indeed, the validation of a foreign culture's work through US mainstream acceptance), implying that if Big Money Hollywood and fellow travelers like this stuff... why, it must be great!

Consequently, the program is peppered with chit-chat from seemingly everyone in North American film, television or music who's working on (or recently worked on) a project even tangentially anime-related, while the Japanese side of things consists of about 15 seconds of Mamoru Oshii, and some words by the creator of Afro Samurai. Again, this isn't all that unexpected -- I guess I'd expect to see lots of film folk and 'name' fans on the Starz network -- but I still had to wonder if, say, Stan Lee's presence was really necessary, or if the time expended on what one of the guys from Good Charlotte thinks of the art form couldn't have been put to better use.

An awful lot of Frank Miller-related clips too (although the man himself does not appear), which does initially seem to make sense - after all, Miller was one of the first hugely popular artists in American comics to really flaunt his Japanese influences, albeit coming from a fairly specific area of a different art form, and he happens to be rather big in movies right now. But then, if Miller's Japanese-influenced comics work was subsequently adapted into popular, extremely faithful movies, how does that demonstrate anything about the power of anime?

At best, this sort of analysis places 'anime' (and/or manga, I guess) at a crucial point on a creative path, aiding the artist in his journey toward an ultimate destination of Big Money Cultural Impact, which I think dilutes the individual value of those various points (and forget about the merits of individual works). Ah, I guess all workers act as one force in the Revolution!

This theme sometimes stretches itself thin. Silliness ensues when clips from The Matrix are placed side-by-side with various anime snippets, thus proving the crackling Japanese origins of scenes like 'people sitting at the controls of a vehicle.' But sometimes the problem goes deeper; I agree that Blade Runner might seem kinda anime-like, but I know the production team was strongly influenced by the towering cityscapes of Métal Hurlant and the like, just as I know the American film prompted its share of anime designs - but the program ignores such cross-cultural nuance, save for times when it absolutely cannot, like with the works of Tezuka, or the hip-hop flare of the aforementioned Afro Samurai.

Still, the canned history bits are fine - I didn't pick up on any glaring errors, save for the potential confusion of chatting up the landmark status of the original Astro Boy anime while nothing but clips from the later remakes are shown (rights issues?). Lots of enthusiasm and gloss. An anime novice could do worse, but it pales in comparison with the likes of The South Bank Show's manga episode from earlier this year - now there's a program I could get behind despite it being aimed away from me.

*And in further study of Japan's grip on today's talked-about fun: Brack on The Ultimates 3, including how Christian Lichtner's much-maligned coloring seems to be another expression of Joe Madureira's manga influence.

*Oh, the new Otaku USA is out too. Don't be fooled by Naruto and his characteristic safety cone orange approach to ninja stealth on the cover - the real feature is a nice 14-page ode to Star Blazers (Space Battleship Yamato), including an interview with original animation director and general anime legend Noboru Ishiguro, who candidly admits to having basically directed the original series himself, since first-time formal 'director' Leiji Matsumoto "was not versed in the ways of the studio" - very diplomatic!

There's also a good short essay by Tomohiro Machiyama that delves into the franchise's role in essentially birthing anime fandom in Japan, as well as its themes of nationalism and revisionist WWII fantasy, and how they relate to both Matsumoto and infamous producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki (aka: "The Nish"). It's tempting to characterize the pair as classic anime archetypes: Matsumoto the romantic, tortured hero, filled with pride and burning spirit; and Nishizaki the colorful, charismatic villain, in love with renown and prone to impossible demands. I'm sure the reality is less clean, and Machiyama outlines it well.

I also enjoyed the issue's little two-page chat (well, a little two-page chat translated from a Japanese magazine) with Rebuild of Evangelion Assistant Chief Director Todoroki Ikki, who lists cleaning Chief Director Hideaki Anno's bookshelf as among his duties, and readily admits that nobody working on the four-film series actually knows what the much-anticipated new ending is going to be yet. Good times!