Saturday, April 8, 2017

Anime On the Big Screen: “A Silent Voice”

Venue: Dendy Cinemas, Level 2, North Quarter, Canberra Centre, 148 Bunda Street, Canberra City, ACT
Date: Friday 7 April 2017
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Format: Digital Projection, Japanese dialogue with English subtitles
Length: 129 minutes
Production Date: 2016
Currently on Home Video in English (as of writing): No

After watching “Ghost in the Shell” the previous day, I ventured into town to watch Naoko Yamada’s (“K-On!”, “Tamako Market”) new film. Madman is really spoiling anime fans in this country with so many recent theatrical releases. I suppose with digital projection, the cost for screening these types of films has gone down dramatically. In the old days you’d have to get 35mm prints and burn the translation into a pre-existing print. A rather costly affair. At any rate there seems to be a substantial market for theatrical releases of anime films here. Like the rather niche “Sword Art Online the movie: Ordinal Scale” (which I didn’t see), this film is also a limited release. Even for a late morning screening on a work day I was surprised to see that around 15 people had shown up. I’ve noticed in the last couple of years the demographic for these screenings has changed; there’s a lot more people of Asian descent, more variations in age and less otaku types. Although for this screening there were more than a few otaku types in attendance. One guy had a “Attack on Titan” jacket on. Anyway, on to the film itself…

This film is based on a manga by Yoshitoki Oima was originally published in Weekly Shonen Magazine during 2013 and 2014. Shouya Ishida is a rough, spiky haired young boy in late primary school. One day a new girl transfers into his class, Shouko Nishimiya. Much to the classes astonishment when Shouko introduces herself she reveals she is deaf. She tells everyone that she would like to communicate via a spiral ring notepad that she writes on. Initially everyone is curious and welcoming to Shouko. One girl who is close to Shouya, Naoka Ueno, takes it upon herself to help Shouko. However Shouya along with his best friends, Kazuki Shimada and Keisuke Hirose begin to bully Shouko. But despite the harassment, Shouko continues to try and be best friends with everyone and tries to keep a smile on her face. Eventually Naoka tires of helping Shouko and joins in the bullying, as well as other class members.

The bullying becomes worse with Shouya constantly taking Shouko’s hearing aids and throwing them out the window or tossing them in water fountains. Eventually Shouko’s mother intervenes and the school principal lectures the class and asks who is bullying her. The class put all the blame on Shouya who tries to argue that other members of the class were in on the bullying too. However no one listens to him. Soon the bully becomes the bullied with the entire class shunning him and his former friends Kazuki and Keisuke beating him up after school. The school advises his mother of what he has done and later when he sees his mother compensating Shouko’s mother for the destroyed hearing aids, the he realises the full extent of his actions. The class are later advised that Shouko has transferred to another school.

As Shouya enters high school, he loses contact with his former schoolmates, however he does not make new friends and becomes rather isolated. In late high school he decides to end it all. He saves up money to compensate his mother, quits his job and sells his possessions. He attempts suicide but can’t bring himself to do it. His mother finds out and is furious at him and makes him promise to not to do it again. Soon after he unexpectedly runs into Shouko and decides to redeem himself. He learns sign language in an attempt to apologise to her. However a young boy at the sign language centre she visits claims that he is her boyfriend and blocks him from seeing her. He eventually manages to avoid the “boyfriend” and little by little begins to reconcile with her, though naturally she initially is reluctant to want to talk to him. Meanwhile a friendship begins between a stocky curly haired boy called Tomohiro Nagatsuka and Shouya after he manages to stop a bully stealing Tomohiro’s bike.

These two budding friendships raise Shouya’s self-esteem enough for him to believe that he can have friendships and relationships with others again. He attempts to contact his former classmates in order to reconcile with everyone. Some are far more willing to do so than others. In the midst of all of this tragedies and triumphs do occur. Shouya often find himself advancing then taking three steps back and starting again. However Shouya is completely unaware of the deep seated unhappiness that has taken root within Shouko and he may be too late from stopping a catastrophe.

This is the third film that Naoko Yamada has directed and her first that isn’t a sequel to a TV series (“Tamako Love Story” should be coming out in English this year or next, which makes me very happy). It’s great that there are so many established and emerging female directors in anime now. I really liked Yamada’s direction in “K-On!”, “Tamako Market” and her work on “Sound! Euphonium”. She’s a very interesting director who is quite details orientated. For example in an early scene Yamada concentrates on a young Shouya playing with the lead in his clutch pencil from his perspective. Shouko’s habit of feeding koi fish in the local stream also allows Yamada to craft some very interesting underwater sequences. The best being an underwater shot of one of the fish as it seems to swim past the moon. While the film doesn’t play with light as beautifully as other Kyoto Animation productions such as “Sound! Euphonium”, there are still a number of really beautifully rendered sequences such as fireworks at a summer festival and a rollercoaster ride at a theme park.

The character animation isn’t too bad at all either. Emotions come across very clearly from all characters in the rather large ensemble. However I had a few problems with the film. From what I can gather a far whack of material has been cut from the manga including various subplots and character explorations. I’ve read reviews that suggest the movie is both too long and not long enough. I sort of understand where these criticisms are coming from. I think due to the rather large cast there isn’t enough time to explore the motivations of each character. Possibly a few characters could have been cut in order to simplify the story for the sake of the film.

Possibly the other problem I had with it was that it really, really, hit close to home for me. When I was in high school we did have a deaf girl in my class. I can still clearly remember her as she had an epileptic seizure in class one day. It was first time I had seen anyone suffer such a thing. The teacher was madly trying to remove all of the chairs and tables out of the way until she stopped. I had no idea what to do. That girl was far more vocal than Shouko, but was still was teased by classmates due to the way she spoke. I must applaud Saori Hayami’s portrayal of Shouko. In my limited experience she sounds very much like a deaf girl speaking.

I personally found myself empathising with Shouya. While I never have been a bully, I have been bullied pretty much from the first grade right through to the end of high school. Though in the film, you sort of realise that bullying in Japanese schools is on some next level shit. Watching, listening to and reading Japanese pop culture for the last 20 or so years, it really puzzles me that the high school years are romanticised so much. It’s patently obvious that a lot of bullying goes on in high schools (and continues on in the workplace to a degree), yet high school in pop culture is often portrayed as the best years of a Japanese person’s life, when in really it’s often the post high school years (often a rather easy and free lifestyle, paid by cashed up parents if you’re middle class) which are the best. I don’t think I’ll fully understand the incredible nostalgic pull high school seems to have over many in the Japanese population.

The film portrays the process of attempting to reconcile with people you’ve wronged (or have wronged you) in the past fairly accurately. I mean some people are just arseholes when they were kids and as adults they haven’t changed one iota. Naoka Ueno is one of the more interesting characters. She has an underlying attachment to Shouya and strangely blames Shouko for Shouya’s isolation from the rest of his schoolmates. Shouko’s little sister Yuzuru is also another stand out character. It’s patiently obvious that she is not coping with her family situation at all and her photography of dead insects and animals are not only a symptom of that but also a cry for help at attempting to help her sister cope with what she is going through.

While the film does rather successfully deal with a lot of serious issues such as mental illness, suicide, bullying, loss, grief and being a single parent (often with large doses of humour and a romantic subplot to boot), it does feel rather schmaltzy at times sometimes to the point of mawkishness. I would have liked a lot of this to be toned down a bit, which I guess in reality would be hard considering the content. While I think Yamada has done a pretty good job of adapting the source material, one thing which sticks out like nobody’s business is the visualisation of Shouya’s aversion to looking people in the eye. It’s a purple cross over people’s faces. This may have worked a treat in the original manga, but here in an animated film it just seems strange. I’m really not sure why Yamada decided to keep this element of the manga where there were other options she could have used to invoke the same sense of isolation.

In conclusion this isn’t a bad film at all. However it was a bit overly sentimental for my liking and some of the visual elements ported over from the manga plainly did not work. I personally had some issues with parts of the material which at times made me feel uncomfortable; however this is not the fault of the film. Having said that Yamada’s direction and sense of where to place the camera and sense of timing is pretty exceptional. I think with the right script and material she could (and should) be up there with directors like Makoto Shinkai and Mamoru Hosoda. I must also mention the soundtrack which always complements the mood in each scene. Of note is the unusual use of The Who’s “My Generation” in the opening credits. Hopefully that will be retained in any English language video release. But due to various issues I had with it, I can really only give this film a 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Hollywood Adaptations of Anime and Manga On the Big Screen: “Ghost in the Shell”

Venue: Hoyts Belconnen, Westfield Belconnen, Level 3, 18 Benjamin Way, Belconnen, ACT
Date: Thursday 6 April 2017
Distributor: Paramount Pictures Australia
Format: Digital Projection, English dialogue with some Japanese dialogue and English subtitles
Length: 106 minutes
Production Date: 2017
Currently on Home Video (as of writing): No

Ignoring everything written about it, I decided to go watch this film on my second last day of my annual leave. Thinking it would be cheaper before 4pm (it wasn’t) and wanting to park for free (as well as do a few other things on that side of town) I travelled all the way over to Belconnen. Gawd, there are some dodgy looking people in that area now. It didn’t seem that that way when I first lived there back in the mid 1990’s. The township’s demographic has substantially changed in the last decade or so. There are a lot of Chinese immigrants here now. Not sure why they have congregated here and not spread out more over the city, which is interesting.

The other thing which surprised me was the metamorphosis that Hoyts has undertaken. It’s fucking awful and soulless. There’s a Ben & Jerry’s in one corner and a whole heap of things in your way from the box office to the cinemas just to make you buy shit. This must have been a recent change as workers were seemingly putting the finishing touches to various areas of the interior. The cinemas themselves had changed too, with the one I was in being reclining seats, which made it rather difficult to sit up straight, but at least they were comfortable. Around 25 people showed up for a 1pm screening on a weekday which did surprise me. And despite the whole “whitewashing controversy” the vast majority of cinema goers were Chinese or Korean. Obviously they weren’t perturbed by the lack of Asian actors in the film, unlike everyone else making noise about the film (i.e. mostly “white people”).

Unfortunately some of the patrons in front of me decided to play with the phones on and off during the entire film. There’s nothing worse than trying to concentrate on a film and seeing the light of a mobile phone flicker on and off in the corner of your vision. This shitty little group also decided to talk later on the in the film they were barely audible. Hey kids, how about watching the film or fucking off? I felt like slapping them and hurling their phones across the cinema. The audience also had to endure 25 minutes worth of adverts and film trailers for nothing but truly terrible Hollywood sequels and remakes. Why do we need a big screen remake of “Baywatch” with really bad jokes and lame dialogue?

Anyway, on to the movie; set sometime in a future Hong Kong, the city now looks like a hyperreal version of Los Angeles in “Blade Runner”. A young named Mira Killian (played by Scarlett Johansson) has survived a terrorist attack and is taken in by the robotics division of multinational corporation Hanka. She awakens and is told by her physician, Dr Ouelet (Juliette Binoche, Julie Vignon de Courcy in the “Three Colours” film trilogy), that her body had been virtually destroyed and that her brain has been transferred into that of a very human-like cyborg body. Against the objections of Ouelet, Hanka CEO, Cutter (Peter Ferdinando), orders Killian to be transferred to Section 9, an outsourced government counter-terrorism group run by Hanka.

A year on and Killian has earned the rank of major in Section 9 and functions as the group’s leader. Section 9 is headed up by Daisuke Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) who essentially gives the group orders, sometimes handed down directly from Cutter. While the team is made up of several specialised members, Major Killian has very close ties to one of her underlings, Batou (Pilou Asbæk, best known for his portrayal as Euron Greyjoy in “Game of Thrones”). Batou is quite protective of her. Section 9 is given the task of rescuing delegates at Hanka business dinner as the hacked Geisha android hosts take the delegates hostage. After rescuing the delegates and destroying one of the Geishas, Killian begins to wonder if she is really a robot and not a human. Batou assures her she is human. Later Killian begins seeing strange visions and is concerned that she cannot remember her past. Dr Ouelet dismisses her concerns as glitches in her software. Section 9 soon discover the culprit behind the attack was someone known as Kuze. Killian decides to dive into the remaining Geisha robot’s brain in order to obtain more information. Though it was a risky move, Killian discovers that the Geisha is linked to a seedy nightclub. Killian and Batou infiltrate the club but soon discover the culprit has trapped them. Both fight off their attackers and explore the rooms behind the club’s façade, only to find a booby trap in the form of a massive bomb. The resulting explosion severely injuries Killian and destroys Batou’s eyes which he replaces with cyborg versions.

Kuze’s next move is to hack to sanitation workers and make them kill Section 9's consultant, Dr Dahlin (Anamaria Marinca, Dita in “The Politician's Husband”). With the deaths of several Hanka researchers and scientists, Section 9 realise that Dr Ouelet is next in line to be assassinated. Using one of the sanitation workers captured by Section 9, Kuse briefly taunts Section 9 before compelling the sanitation working to commit suicide, but not before they track the location of Kuze’s hack. There they find nearly a hundred people mentally linked together as a makeshift signal network for Kuze. Kuse uses his underlings to capture Killian where he tells her that the scientists at Hanka stole her memories and identity. Kuze frees her and makes his escape. Later Killian confronts Dr Ouelet who confirms Killian’s worst fears. Cutter decides that Killian is too much of a risk and orders Section 9 to exterminate her.

Let’s put the elephant in the room to bed for once and all; outside of western anime fandom and the associated media, no one really gives a flying fuck about the supposed “whitewashing” in this film. It’s a commercial product (with a budget of the size of the GDP of a small African nation) from a large Hollywood movie studio, hence the reason why they got a bankable star as the lead. Go name an Asian female lead that the public knows, just one. Most of the complaints about this are from people who aren’t fans of the franchise or really don’t understand it. Masumune Shirow himself said that Major Motoko Kusanagi is to a certain degree stateless and chose a body that was generic to avoid her parts being harvested. I have also read that Shirow stated that Kusanagi chose a Caucasian body, however I can find no evidence whatsoever that he actually said this.

Overall the cast is quite diverse with Takeshi Kitano, Pilou Asbæk, Juliette Binoche, Chin Han (as Togusa) and Danusia Samal (as Section 9’s weapons specialist Ladriya), so to say the film whitewashes the characters totally misses the forest for the trees. Focusing on Scarlett Johansson and not the rest of the film misrepresents it as whole. Killian’s origins are exposed later in the film and it totally fits in with the promotional material in regards to her past and memories being stolen. Another recent article I’ve read interviews several Japanese American actresses (none who were born in or lived in Japan as far as I’m aware) who criticise the casting, the “twist ending” and how a Japanese woman in the film expressed herself. Again I think this is rather myopic and doesn’t view the film as a whole or understand that this film is made for a worldwide audience, not a Japanese one or one that was quite familiar with Japanese traits and social behaviour.

One of the key themes in this film is loss of identity. It is rather amusing that most of the critics of the film failed to pick this up. I note again that the audience I saw the film with where almost entirely Chinese origin with some Koreans and very few westerners. They obviously had no problem paying to watch this film. The Japanese media also don’t give a shit about the whole “whitewashing controversy”. They vast majority of people making noise about it are Americans who are absolutely obsessed with race in entertainment, rather than actually being concerned about the content and themes presented in that media. Personally I don’t give a shit about demographics or ticking ethnic, disabled or gender boxes, give me an entertaining film.

Admittedly due to the negativity surrounding this film, I had set a pretty low bar for it. However it passed that bar with flying colours. I was initially rather taken aback by the futuristic setting of Hong Kong which looked a lot like the Los Angeles of 2019 in “Blade Runner” on steroids. It looked garish and absurd but as the film progressed it made sense to me and seemed a plausible view of what the future may look like, especially for those with augmented brains. The film replicates scenes and concepts mostly from the first anime film as well as taking bits and pieces from “Innocence (Ghost in the Shell 2)”, “Stand Alone Complex” and the manga. Unlike the “Arise” film series which also reused and reinterpreted sequences from the manga and previous anime adaptations, here it feels rather fresh and different. In “Arise” it just felt uninspired. The film also does seem to understand the messages and themes of the original manga and anime adaptations such as identity, hackers implanting false memories and forcing people to commit crimes against their will etc. I really liked how several ideas from all versions of the anime were mashed up to create new concepts for this film. Kuze for example is taken from “Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig”, but infuses the same ideas from Puppet Master and Project 2501 from the manga and first anime film.

Scarlett Johansson portrays Major Mira Killian as someone who is tough on the outside, but also quite vulnerable as she searches for her true identity. One of the more interesting sequences is where Killian hires a sex worker and then proceeds to caress her face ask if she really human. It really portrayed Killian as woman confused about her identity and not feeling human within her cyborg shell. I thought this was a rather intriguing take on the major we are all familiar with. Pilou Asbæk also does a great interpretation of Batou. It’s patently obvious he has great affection for Killian and Asbæk’s performance expresses that brilliantly and effortlessly.

While most of the film looked gorgeous, some of the design aspects didn’t work for me. The obvious one is Killian’s flesh coloured battle suit which looks a bit silly. The other thing which I was surprised about that the optic camouflage systems used to great effect in the anime adaptations where underutilised in this film. While most of the acting in this film was pretty good, Takeshi Kitano’s Daisuke Aramaki shat me. Essentially he just growled his lines in Japanese and sat about. When he did leap into action he hobbled about like an old man. I really don’t understand why they chose him for this film. Why not Ken Watanabe or some other Japanese actor who has more range and doesn’t look like they’ve had a stroke? Of course the most baffling thing is why all of Kitano’s dialogue is in Japanese and everyone else’s is in English? You could put that down to everyone having augmented brains and being able to translate it instantaneously, but for example, why don’t we hear anyone speak Cantonese since its set in Hong Kong?

Overall I quite liked this film. Though this is only the second film Rupert Sanders has directed (“Snow White and the Huntsman” was his first, he was previously a director for high end commercials), it looks fantastic. As I said before he seems to understand the concepts behind the franchise and injects new material such Killian’s confusion between her cyborg body and human mind, her search for original identity and interestingly the outsourcing of government tasks to the private sector (in Hanka’s handling of Section 9) and the conflicts, overreach and corruption that can cause. What impressed me is that even though the material was based on something I was quite familiar with (and lifted almost shot for shot from some sections of the first anime film), it did feel rather fresh and new. Despite a few problems I have with the film, this is easily one of the better if not the best Hollywood adaption of anime and/or manga material so far. Admittedly that’s not a high bar to jump. I think it’s a such a shame that the stupid “whitewashing controversy” has just about drowned out anything positive people have to say about the film. It’s already set to make a loss of $60 million. I am going to give this film a solid 7 out of 10. I was going to give it .5 more, but on balance a 7 is more than fair.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Half-Arsed History of Anime Fandom in Canberra 1995 - 2006, Part 3

Here's the final part of my half remembered personal history of anime fandom in Canberra. As I've said in the first two parts, this is by no means a comprehensive list of what went down in that decade. As you may have seen from the first two parts, most of it involves me in some way. Anyway in this final part, first I'll be looking at the two other anime clubs (now defunct) clubs in the region. First the UCU J-Pop Culture Club (as always, click on the images to enlarge);

This rough looking flyer mysteriously appeared in local comic book shops in early 2001. Discounting the Canberra Anime Society, this was the first (and only) official anime club that the University of Canberra ever had (UCU = University of Canberra Union). I think I met the club's president, Isaac, at a ANU Anime Society (ANUAS) screening sometime after that as I have his email address scrawled on another flyer. Anyway the goals of the club were to screen anime and do other stuff related to J-Pop music such as karaoke and god knows what else. The flyer opens up to about 200 words gushing about how great the club is going to be. I went to a couple of early screenings and they were a bit of a shambolic affair. Isaac invited me along and wanted to use me as a tape and DVD library, which I declined from doing. Apart from loaning out CD-Rs of J-Pop music, that was about it in terms of the J-Pop side of things. I think they just stuck to anime after the first year.

Along with the Magical Girl Club (which I will talk about next), they collaborated with ANUAS for (a convention I previously discussed in the previous part of this series). I did a fair bit of work on the booklet/program guide which included write ups of the three clubs participating. Late in the day the very angry president of the UCU club (a young woman, Isaac had left in late 2003), came up to us and said my write up of their club was "not in the spirit". We were all baffled as to what hell she was on about. All I had done, like in the descriptions of the other two clubs, was give the basic details of who they were, where they met, the URL of their website and when they had screenings. Everybody was flummoxed as to what they actual problem was with what I had wrote. Later in their online forums they continued to complain at the terrible treatment they received by ANUAS without ever articulating what we actually did.

It looks like the club changed it's name sometime after 2004 to the UCU Anime Club and eventually ceased operations in 2007. Their website still exists here. Now on to a fantastically odd offshoot of ANUAS, the Magical Girl Club;

The club started in 2002, and from what you can see from the flyers, they screened a bunch of magical girl anime every week (and ate Pocky, something which I don't recall happening at all). It was run by Alana who was an absolute Sailor Moon nut and especially loved the live action musicals. At one point they had over 70 members which is pretty amazing for such a niche club. During the O-Week market, people would always ask her if you had to be a girl to join the club, which I think equally amused and infuriated her. I'm not 100% sure, but I think the club finished around the time Alana graduated, maybe 2006 or so.

Just to finish up, here's a few more flyers I found;

Not sure when this was, 1999 to 2001 or so. As you can see it's a screening to help out one of the clubs to send students to preform a kabuki in Japan.

I think the above event happened in 1998 or so. Both titles had been available on video for a number of years, so I really don't know why you'd want to watch scratchy old dubbed 35mm prints of the same thing at the national gallery.

This a flyer for the 5th Japanese Film Festival in 2001. This was the first time the festival toured Canberra. Of note was the unbelievably obscure 1997 anime film "Home of Acorns". Based upon a manga which follows the life of a disabled young girl who opens up a home for children with disabilities when she becomes an adult. As far as I'm aware this film never got a home video release anywhere, even in Japan. The closest I've come across a copy of the film is on one Japanese site which is bootlegging a DVD of it for 5,000 yen. I didn't go to this screening, and I have always regretted it since.

I did go to Japanime 02 which was hosted by the now defunct Electric Shadows cinema for three days in November 2002. It was a pretty damn good line up; a remastered "Akira", "WXIII Patlabor the movie 3", "Millennium Actress" (some people actually cried at the end of the film), "Cowboy Bebop: Knocking on Heaven's Door"etc. Pretty amazing line up. They also had "Princess Arte", however the print was too damaged to screen, so they showed a dubbed print of "Roujin Z" which was utterly lame as it had been on video for nearly a decade here! This very short lived festival (this was the second and final one) began in 2000 in Sydney as part of the Olympic Arts Festival. After Japanime failed to show up in 2004, Madman Entertainment did their own little festivals called Reel Anime from time to time. Eventually those festivals stopped and they now do one off screenings of various anime films. In the years leading up to Japanime 02, Electric Shadows did screen some anime films such a s dubbed print of "Perfect Blue" and a subtitled print of "Princess Mononoke".

Finally, some fandom stupidity. I know the above flyer appeared everywhere around Australia in 1998, but surprisingly appeared in Impact Records as well. Supposedly all you had to do was write to SBS TV and they'd play every single episode of the show if they got enough people writing. Of course it was utterly absurd. I have no idea who thought up this daft campaign up (I mean you can clearly see it was the Australian branch of SOS - Save our Sailors, a rather vocal and nutty fan collective who wanted to get the show back on US broadcast TV) but what in hell gave them that idea? I heard that someone in SBS programming was sacked over this incident, as they told someone at Save Our Sailors this would work. However I have absolutely no evidence this happened. I often wonder how many letters SBS received because of this campaign and if they had any idea what the hell it was all about. It was a really weird time to be a fan during the 1990's. Those Sailor Moon fans were really rabid and strange at times.

I was going to also do a write up of anime shops in the area in the late 1990's, but I think I'll save that for another time. There is so little information floating about in regards to early anime fandom in my region and I really think that's a shame. A lot of websites have disappeared and haven't been archived by the internet archive. Pretty much everyone I knew in the local anime community has moved on from the hobby, except one or two people. Nobody is keeping an archive of this stuff which I find disappointing, but probably to be expected. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed looking through these tattered and yellowing flyers of a fandom long gone.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Half-Arsed History of Anime Fandom in Canberra 1995 - 2006, Part 2

On to second part of the not very comprehensive or all that well researched history of anime fandom in Canberra. The second anime club in Canberra was the ANU Otaku Council: the Asian Film Society. This odd name I think was in part based upon similar sounding otaku subject “research clubs” names on campuses at Japanese universities. When Peter left the Canberra Anime Society (CAS) sometime in 1997, it soon became quite apparent who the main supplier of material for the club was. The line-up at each subsequent CAS screening just got worse and worse. They ended up showing stuff like the dubbed version of the “Fatal Fury” movie and “Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer” which people just hated. People had become a little sick of CAS. By the time early 1998 rolled around, this flyer appeared in comic book shops around town (as always click to enlarge all images);

This new club was run by Matt Birks and Sam Wilson, two ANU students who had essentially set up the club to put CAS out of business. I kid you not. Note that the annual membership cost that same amount as one screening at CAS. It was a pretty fucking spiteful state of affairs. Of course they could do this as their club was an official Australian National University (ANU) club, they had free access to one of the small theatres there. However Bruce and Dave over at CAS had to deal with hiring out the theatre at UC which was getting close to $100 per screening, because they weren’t students. They had full time jobs.

In the previous year I had heavily got into fansubs and had begun to start trading with people overseas. I had acquired some great shows not available on commercial VHS and was trading some stuff with Bruce and Dave (mostly the former). I was rather sick of CAS and decided to help out Matt and Sam. I even did up a couple of their early flyers;

However it soon became apparent I was being used as a tape library and essentially I told them so. I was then subjected to some rather spiteful and awful emails which I thought was rather shitty. That’s when I joined forces with my fried Nathan and took over CAS for a couple of years. Regardless, the ANU club keep going and must have sourced tapes from elsewhere. As you can see from the flyer below they also played Hong Kong cinema and Japanese sci-fi films;

I sort of lost contact with the club over the next year and half. I had no idea what they were really up to. I do know in the end they stopped mimicking CAS’ schedule and in the last quarter of 1999 started playing some of the latter “Sailor Moon” series. I knew people weren’t all that interested in the ANU club and our patrons had actually increased in number dramatically. There was a bit of tit for tat during 1998 as we played some of the things on their schedule including the “Rurouni Kenshin” movie, because they were playing the series. For a while there, they had actually stopped promoting the club. There were no flyers or anything about. Eventually I made up with Sam. Both Matt and Sam had left the club and in late 1999 the new president Ross (whom I have forgotten his last name…) paid a visit to one of our screenings. From there I decided to wind up CAS permanently and help out the ANU club. I helped with programming stuff, supplying tapes and even the flyers;

As you can see, from 2000 the club was rechristened as the ANU Anime Society, shortened to the rather unfortunate ANUAS which almost reads as ANUS if you’re not careful… The live action Asian films did continue on for a little while, but all but disappeared from the schedule by 2002. Being there was quite fun and I made a few friends, all of which I have lost contact with. But anyhow… Sometime in 2003 the club thought up the crazy idea of doing a convention. Because every other bloody club in Australia was doing it and you know, it couldn’t be that hard, could it? Well it was. You now this stuff works; people put up their hands and then a few fail to do that task. I was programming a lot of older anime material generally because I saw that the video rooms of other conventions in Australia were kind of shit. I also did the basics for the program booklet which I kind of fucked up because I had too much on my plate (both private, club and work). It all came together on 3 April 2004 as In the end it was a pretty successful event; we had some great cosplay, the ANU Go club set up and played some rounds, there were martial arts demonstrations, a band who played J-rock and a Para Para demonstration performed by some really hard core devotees. All in all despite some minor problems I think the organising committee were pretty pleased at what they had achieved. Both the booklets for that year and following had artwork by Kyoto based doujinshi artist Colorful Biscuit;

Not too sure if she is still active now. Her website is here. Her art work seems to be mostly of J-Pop group Perfume, which I think is great. No other convention in Australia could claim that all of their official artwork (and mascots!) were produced by a Japanese doujinshi artist. There was too much rushing about to enjoy anything going on at the convention, so one year was enough for me. I crossed “participating in an anime convention” off my otaku things to do list and I was done with it. For a while there, the conventions continued in the form of mini-conventions such as;

And a summer mini-con;

I haven’t really kept up with what has been going on in the club, but it looks like they’ve had conventions on and off for a few years, with 2012 being the last one from what I can gather. Sometime in 2005 or 2006, I sort of began to felt like a bit of a dinosaur and started to come less frequently. I only had commercial DVDs and tapes, and they didn’t want any of that stuff. It was the age of digital fansubs. Also I probably was bit of a pain in the arse of times, they were probably glad to see the back of me...

I tried coming back to the club, but really felt out of place. It was sort of the beginning of the end between me and the social aspects of fandom. Regardless the club continues on and was renamed the ANU Anime and Gaming Society 2012. The website isn’t very active, but the facebook page is. As you can see they still do screenings and other assorted social outings. Next year will be their 20th year of operation. I did some research and was really surprised to find out they aren't the oldest club in Australia. A couple other clubs are around the same age or older, one over 25 years old.

In the third part of this series, I’ll be looking at the other two (defunct) anime clubs in the city plus a not very comprehensive look at number of anime related events that took place in the decade from 1995.

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Half-Arsed History of Anime Fandom in Canberra 1995 - 2006, Part 1

I'm taking a bit of a break from doing reviews and will probably only do some occasional articles such as this one. I'll be back in full swing in April. Back in 2011, I wrote about my history with the Canberra Anime Society (CAS) and how I ran it (and ran it into the ground) with my friend Nathan for about a year and a half. You can read it here. I thought it might be interesting to scan some of the flyers I had collected over the years from various events around the region. I soon discovered that this would be a two-parter (or three). So first up I’m going to briefly look at the Canberra Anime Society. The history of CAS is pretty much covered in my previous post. Here’s some of the flyers that they put out while it was David, Bruce and Peter running the screenings (click for larger versions of all the images in this post);

Peter soon left and David and Bruce struggled on until May 1998 when they gave up. Before that though they did a screening for Japanfest which was a University of Canberra festival set up by the languages division;

Flyer is really beat up, but they played “Whisper of the Heart”, “Fushigi Yuugi”, “Grave of the Fireflies”, “Escaflowne”, “Patlabor” TV episodes, “Nadesico”, “Combustible Campus Guardress” and a Japanese film called “Family Secret”. Myself and Nathan took over in June 1998, but I think by the end of the year, he’d had enough. I struggled on through 1999;

I said before that we were the first club in Australia to play “The End of Evangelion”. Here’s a flyer we made up in our last screening of 1998;

I found a lot of flyers or temp flyers I had made for screenings which didn’t happen at all from late 1998 through the end of 1999;

Interestingly I have a few completed and made up flyers for the 10 July 1999 screening, but can’t remember what the hell happened or why I cancelled it. While CAS usually ran once every three weeks from 1995 to the end of 1998, in 1999 I did a grand total of five screenings. Look at this flyer I printed out towards the end of 1999;

You can clearly see by this time I really had a gutful of the University of Canberra Union screwing me around. And below two more screenings which never happened at all;

I had quit by the end of 1999 (last screening was 6 November 1999, where I played "Spriggan" and got a small mention in BMA) and decided to help the ANU Anime Society (ANUAS) during 2000 and used the CAS website as promotional tool for anime events in the region (it was kind of piss poor though). However I noticed that people were still coming to my website and asking me when the next CAS screening was on. So I did a joint screening with ANUAS in November 2000 in order to get some of those people to join ANUAS;

You’ll note that the “Escaflowne” film wasn’t released on VHS and DVD in Japan until April 2001. This was very early internet film piracy; someone at Sunrise had upped a pretty high quality digital transfer of the film onto the web (not some camcorder crap, a proper transfer) and US fans had already subbed it and put it up for people to download. I always find it really surprising that so little was made about this by fans. You’ll note that flyer is in full colour which one of the members at ANUAS did on a colour photocopier. And yes as I said before in my 2011 post on CAS, never even went to the screening for this one; I went home to see my parents that weekend. It was kind of interesting making up the flyers. I really enjoyed setting everything out, writing up little synopses etc. But it was a bit of a battle to get them printed and distributed to the two comic book shops in town (Phantom Zone and Dee's Comic Book Shop) and the now sadly defunct independent record shop Impact Records (which had incorporated a comic book shop into the store). In the end I had a lot of difficulty printing them off. I could no longer do it at work and local photocopy shops would either do a really shit job or charge absurd amounts.

Next time I’ll be looking at other clubs in the region plus a few notable events.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Otaku Moralists

A couple of months ago I wrote about a new website (and niche movement) which tried to apply western feminist ideology to anime and manga, without taking into account that Japanese pop culture (and wider Japanese society) is not the same as in the west. There was also the bizarreness of applying a western ideology to a foreign entertainment not produced with that market in mind. I found it rather similar to the phenomena of Christian fans applying their ideology to anime and having difficulty with overtly sexual or demonic themes. If your ideology clashes so much your entertainment choices you have difficulty enjoying it, you really need to find entertainment suited to you rather than tiptoeing through it, or attempting to change it to suit your needs. I recall the rather vocal dislike for ero anime (erroneously called “hentai” by western fandom) in the 1990’s where anime fandom webpages had banners proclaiming “Hentai Free Zone” or the like.

In the last couple of years I have really noticed that certain segments of fandom are vocally complaining about sexual elements of anime and manga. What utterly surprised me was how prudish the complaints were. Sure, there are obviously people complaining about certain series where the main draw is fanservice or other overtly sexist elements which I totally understand. But what blew me away in the previous season were the complaints about shows such as “Sound! Euphonium” and “Flip Flappers”. Neither are shows you’d normally consider to be controversial or have offensive content, however this doesn’t stop the new otaku moralists finding something objectionable in these shows.

First up “Sound! Euphonium”; now most normal human beings would consider this show to be pretty wholesome with relationships being shown in a very chaste way. However like the rather bizarre criticisms of “K-On!”, this series has a small band of high profile detractors who point out it sexualises teen girls. “K-On!” was accused (and continues to be accused) of framing scenes in the male gaze, which essentially means the camera is presenting women in the show as objects of male desire. Of course the claim falls apart when you realise that the director of the show, Naoko Yamada, the head screenwriter, Reiko Yoshida, the character designer, Yukiko Horiguchi, and most of the episode directors, storyboard artists and animation directors are women. Plus the show was broadcast on the Disney Channel in Japan and there really isn’t anything sexual in the show (unless you’re a weirdo and see sex everywhere). I'm finding “Sound! Euphonium” is in the same boat as “K-On!” when it comes to weird prudishness by anime fans. So apart from Kumi Kaoru’s really weird take on “Sound! Euphonium” which I have previously covered here, a few other high profile western fandom figures have had problems with the show. First up Erica Friedman, self-proclaimed lesbian icon, speaker, writer, and founder of Yuricon & ALC Publishing;

She had difficulty with the first episode of the first series where the main female characters are momentarily concerned about their appearance and a teacher enforces school dress codes as a couple of girls hitch up their skirts to make them look shorter. In total the scenes add up to less than a minute in a 24 minute episode. Even so, aren't these scenes representative of real life? Don’t real teen girls obsess about their appearance? Don’t real schools enforce dress codes? And what if you didn’t agree with Erica assessment of the show?;

Yes, you’re the weirdo, not them! Let’s check the details on that episode; episode director and storyboards; Naoko Yamada, animation director; Shoko Ikeda… Why you awful and creepy arsehole women!  A local blogger also recently suggested that episode 7 of the second series had a scene which contained the “Gainax Bounce” (i.e. gratuitous bouncing breasts). Here is the scene in full;

Did you see the bouncing breasts? You didn't? You weirdo, you’re obviously not staring at the girl’s chests enough and not mistaking shadow for bouncing boobies!. Besides the non-bouncing going on, yet again the episode was created by a number of women in key staff roles including Haruka Fujita who was episode director and storyboarder. Our local blogging friend also had the gall to suggest that one of the main characters, Reina Kosaka, should not have an (unrequited) crush on the music teacher in the series, Noboru Taki. Seriously?! Students shouldn’t have crushes on teachers? Like this stuff doesn’t happen in real life?

Much in the same way, “Flip Flappers” has also been subject to accusations of sexualisation from people such as Amelia Cook from the Anime Feminist. It’s an inescapable fact the show is about female teenage sexuality, however when Cook criticises the first episode for having a “grabby robot”, she is blind to the fact the main character, Cocona, has an amorphous fragment embedded in her thigh, which is a key part of the show and revealed towards the end of that first episode. Is Cook being disingenuous here? I honestly don’t know. The fact is “Flip Flappers” was the original creation of Yuniko Ayana, yes, yet another woman, who is a fan of the Yuri genre and in a recent tweet admitted that she forced the show’s staff to place a swimsuit episode into the series. “Flip Flappers” also has numerous female staff working on the show including Kotomi Deai (director of “Rolling Girls”) as an episode director.

It really seems a lot of “progressive” anime fans are no better than the Christian right prudes of old such as Mary Whitehouse and Fred Nile. They see sex everywhere and rather surprisingly seemingly see depictions of female sexuality as a threat. Whether or not they realise or understand that many of these depictions of female sexuality are actually created by Japanese women in the anime industry, I really have no idea. To me it’s rather clear; these new otaku moralists are fine with wiping out depictions of female sexuality by female creators. I really find that to be an appalling state of affairs. What’s even stranger to me is that in a broader view of mainstream fandom, popular shows like “Westworld” and “Game of Thrones” are full of violence, sex and “problematic” content, yet anime fans are catching the vapours over what amounts to inconsequential scenes not more than a couple of cuts (or seconds) long in otherwise wholesome shows.

Sure this probably has to do with the western world’s view on teenage sexuality being a topic not up for discussion or exploration (which is only a recent shift, see Gabrielle Carey’s 1979 novel “Puberty Blues” for example), however I can only see it as one thing; a silencing of women expressing female sexuality in fiction. When Whitehouse and Nile did it 30 years ago, they were prudes and moralists. When anime fandom does it now, while wrapping it up in progressive language, they're still prudes and moralists. If you have problems with how Japanese women choose to express themselves and their characters sexuality, move on to another hobby. It's fine to criticise certain aspects of anime as well as Japanese culture as whole, but when its this prudish and moralistic, especially towards women, then I really think you should reconsider why you're in this fandom.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Video Backlog: “Metropolis”

Publisher: Eureka Entertainment Ltd (UK)
Format: Region A and B Blu-ray, PAL, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Dub and English Subtitles. Region 2 DVD, PAL, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Dub and English Subtitles
Length: 107 minutes
Production Date: 2001
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

Detective Shunsaku Ban and his nephew Kenichi travel to Metropolis to question Dr Laughton, a scientist suspected to be involved in organ trafficking. They arrive in the city to discover its inhabitants hold extremely anti-robot views, as many of the jobs in the city have been mechanised, causing unemployment. They also find themselves in the midst of a citywide celebration of the opening of a massive skyscraper named Ziggurat which is owned by highly influential businessman Duke Red. A protesting robot tries to hijack the celebrations by projecting the logo of a local anti-robot vigilante group, the Marduk Party, onto the building. The rebel robot is destroyed by Rock, Duke Red's adopted son and unofficial head of the Marduk Party. Ban and Kenichi head to the police department in order to ask for help in their investigations. The only officer they can supply them with is a robot named 803-D-RP-DM-497-3-C, which Ban decides to nickname Pero.

Pero guides them through the three levels of the city; level one which is above ground where the most affluent live, level two where a lot of the working class, poor and unemployed live and the third level where the generators which run the city are situated. On the second level is the abandoned factory where Dr Laughton lives and produces his work. Unbeknownst to Ban, Duke Red has commissioned Laughton to construct a robot called Tima seemingly based upon Red’s deceased daughter. Tima has been created as a control until for a powerful secret weapon hidden inside the Ziggurat building. An enraged Rock discovers Tima's existence and decides to kill Laughton and set the factory on fire. Arriving just as the building is alight, Ban notices Laughton trapped inside the building and both he and Kenichi go to inside to rescue him and anyone else trapped inside. Laughton is almost beyond help, but he gives Ban his notebook on Tima. Kenichi discovers the now activated Tima, not realising that she is in fact a robot, rushes to save her. The pair fall through metal grates in the floor and down into the sewer system.

Separated from Kenichi and with the Laughton now dead, Ban and Pero continue on with the investigation while searching for Kenichi. He and Tima are somewhere on the third level. Kenichi is surprised to discover that Tima can barely form sentences and doesn’t seem to know much about the world. Meanwhile Rock discovers that the remains of Tima weren’t in the remnants of the fire and hunts down Tima and Kenichi in an attempt to kill them both. During the long chase, Kenichi is knocked out while trying to escape. He awakens to find himself and Tima in a room. They have been saved by a man named Atlas who heads up a group of unemployed labourers who are planning a revolution against Duke Red. However Atlas has made a secret pact with Metropolis mayor President Boone in order to take out Duke Red. The revolutionaries set about attacking the city, however it soon becomes apparent that Duke Red has known about their plan all along. Later Tima is eventually captured along with Kenichi. Tima is forced to control the Ziggurat against her will. It’s up to Ban and Kenichi to not only save Tima but also the entire world from Duke Red’s weapon inside the Ziggurat.

This film was probably the most hyped anime film of 2001 (well maybe “Spirited Away” was the first). When Osamu Tezuka died in 1989, his production company, Tezuka Productions, set about turning as many of his manga into anime. A string of anime were produced, mostly of titles that had not previously been animated before such as various adaptations of “Black Jack”, “Ambassador Magma”, “Jungle Emperor” and “Buddha”. Before its release in 2001, this film had apparently been in production for almost five years and had an astronomical cost (for an anime film) of ¥1.5 billion. There were a lot of heavy hitters on the production side with Katsuhiro Otomo writing the screenplay, Rintaro directing and Madhouse as the animation studio. It was also one of the first anime features to really use computer graphics to a large extent.

The last time I saw this film was around 15 years ago when Columbia Tristar/Sony released the film on DVD (with a bizarre 8cm “CD single” DVD containing all the extras) to much fanfare. To be utterly honest I don’t think I was overly impressed with the film back then. I think I’m even less impressed with it now. The key problem I think a lot of people have with Rintaro’s work is that he goes for spectacle over story. It’s a complaint that you’ll hear quite often about his previous major work, his movie adaptation of Clamp’s “X”. Right from the start of the film you can see that he’s more interested in showing off the city than actually telling the story or exploring the characters motivations or backgrounds. Watching this time around it really stuck out to me how many wide shots there were and how at times you could not distinguish from the main characters of the story and background characters. There is so much going on in a lot of these shots. Every bloody thing is animated and moving and at times I really found it hard to spot the main characters in in certain shots. With few close up shots, it really depersonalises the characters, and to a large degree you don’t feel involved in the story at all.

Some of the background characters in these wide shots had really exaggerated and unnatural movements which really made them stand out from everything else. The point is we as an audience should be focused on the story and its main characters. All of this background animation was needlessly distracting and a hindrance to the story. As a result I really found it hard to connect to any of the characters at all. I found really hard to accept that Kenichi and Tima had made any real connection between each other. The political machinations between Duke Red, the Marduk Party, President Boone and Atlas’ revolutionaries were muddled and could have been clarified and cleared up a bit more. Many of the characters and side characters are introduced and are almost always killed or vanish before the audience really get to know any of them. Then you have the relationship between Duke Red, Tima and his deceased daughter. This is barely explained and makes little sense when you consider Duke Red is anti-robot.

I think a lot of the blame here can be attributed to screenwriter Katsuhiro Otomo. He’s crammed a lot of story into the film’s short runtime. While the film is based upon the original manga, a lot of material has been added to the story including a number of characters. Like the overly animated backgrounds, there is just too much going on and not enough focus of what is important. The audience has a hard time trying to make sense of it all. This film is the first time I became aware of Tezuka’s Star System. A ton of his characters from other manga appear here such as Rock (who wasn’t in the original manga), Shunsaku Ban, Duke Red, Acetylene Lamp (who plays Boone’s secretary), Skunk (who appears briefly as a general), Ham Egg (who appears a police officer) and Pero who is taken from an early part of the “Astroboy” manga. But really these cameos don’t really propel the story along at all. They just make the film feel overstuffed.

This two disc set (one blu-ray, one DVD) was produced by niche UK based arthouse/cult film distributor Eureka. While the blu-ray is a lot better than the only Sony DVD, there are some video problems. The most glaring problem is the strange horizontal banding (similar lines as you’d see in an old CRT TV) which occurs only in some light coloured scenes. There is also some colour gradient banding in a couple of dark scenes, but it’s not really all that bad. The discs retain all of the important features from the Sony release and also include a previously unseen extra; a Japanese promo video. The two disc set comes in a steelbook case which is a bit so-so really. The back of the case has no image at all; it's just black with small company logos at the bottom. At the very least it’s probably better than the forthcoming US Sony release which is being replicated on BD-Rs, not factory pressed blu-rays. Eureka’s BD also has Japanese titles rather than replaced English credits as the Sony DVD had, and the post credits still image which was cut from the original western DVD releases appears on Eureka's release.

Summing up, I really felt frustrated with this film this time around. I don’t think it’s aged well at all, it’s stuffed too much with plot and characters, and is far more interested in showing off the animation than actually trying to engage the audience with the story being told. All the elements are there for a great film, but it’s all a bit of a mess I’m afraid. And to top it off you have that really misplaced Ray Charles version of “I Can't Stop Loving You” during the climax… I can only give this film a 5 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: Eleven TV series and one OVA and one movie. In addition I am also waiting for the second part and movie of one TV series to be released before viewing it.