Aldnoah.Zero: it finally clicks

AldnoahZero_Clicks_01

One thing that has bothered me about Aldnoah.Zero since episode 12 aired back in September last year was this question:

Why did Slaine shoot Inaho?

I get the feeling that most people decided pretty quickly what they thought—it can be summed up in just three letters: NTR. But that explanation, popular especially amongst viewers that really dislike Slaine, always bothered me, particularly after what Aoki (or one of the other creators) apparently said at a Machi Asobi in Tokushima talk event on October 12, 2014: Read more of this post

A third look at Usagi Drop

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Rush hour!

The Usagi Drop film, with Matsuyama Ken’ichi and Ashida Mana as the mismatched pair building a life together, was released in 2011 amidst the spotlight associated with the ending of the manga series. Even though it’s taken me a couple of years to finally sit down an watch this film, I’m taking it as a blessing in disguise, for it allows me to once again reflect on the themes that Unita Yumi seems to have been concerned with. Most viewers — myself included — celebrated the anime for its heartwarming story about how Kawachi Daikichi, a young man on the rise in his company, learned how to be a father even through the sacrifices he had to make, and the film can certainly be read in exactly the same way.

However, in the time that I’ve since had to think about the controversial ending of the manga, I’ve started seeing far more complex ideas and messages in this story. And these are also reflected in the film: even though the movie gives Daikichi male peers who dote on their young children, as errinundra observed, he isn’t learning how to be a father, but rather how to be a single, working mother. In fact, Daikichi isn’t just learning how to be a single mother, he’s learning about the constrained choices that confront women in Japanese society. Read more of this post

Looking back on 2014, part 7: anime and Japanese politics

12days7_Terror-2
A symbol of…what exactly…?

Watanabe Shin’ichirou’s latest work, Terror in Tokyo [Zankyou no Terror], was one of the two series I followed this year that I personally felt got more flak than it should have. Whilst there was at least one mistake made by the animation studio, many of the critical comments elicited but one reaction from me: you don’t really understand what Watanabe’s actually trying to do, do you? The themes he’s interested in, the context that he’s written this show in — some of it is obvious, and possibly quite universal. Some of it speaks heavily to those who have a very good grasp of Watanabe’s aesthetic: yes, Bobduh at Wrong Every Time is one of the reasons I appreciate Terror more than I probably would have otherwise. But some of it is also quite Japanese, and you’re not going to understand it if you don’t have a decent grasp of Japanese politics. And this is the aspect that Watanabe hooked me on, because Japanese politics is precisely what my life currently revolves around. Read more of this post

Looking back on 2014, part 5: the question of ‘equality’

12days_05_Mahouka_equality
A marker for discrimination…

Amongst the series I followed this year, there were two that touched on the question of equality and inequality, but as one left a much poorer impression on my mind, I will only talk about the other here, it being The Irregular at a Magic High School (aka Mahouka). Not surprisingly, the way Mahouka tackled this issue generated a lot of controversy, as people argued over whether this incredibly average (to be generous) anime and light novel had treated this rather sensitive topic in an appropriate way. The vast majority of people ended up giving it a huge thumbs down. I contend, however, that the author of the original work, Satou Tsutomu, has raised some interesting questions about ‘equality’. Read more of this post

Mahouka: oh how I wish they’d actually succeeded with this one!

Mahouka Mahouka...where to begin?

Mahouka Mahouka…where to begin?

The First High School affiliated with the National Magic University. Entry into this school makes you one of the societal elites whose magical talents have been acknowledged. But at the same time, right from the start, you’re either a great student or a mediocre one. What becomes of the pair of siblings that enter this school on either sides of this division?

To be honest, I’m a little conflicted about what I should do with this post. Whilst I do not think that all the criticisms directed at the anime are valid — particularly not those that the majority of light novel readers kept going on about in the first arc — there were some serious problems with The Irregular at the Magic High School (Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei), aka Mahouka. Some of the problems stem from the light novel, whilst others are problematic because of the anime. However, I would also say that the anime also improved on several things that I dislike about the light novel (and to be frank, that I dislike about this type of media in general). So overall, what we got was something that I was happy to sit through once — I’ll even admit that there were episodes that I enjoyed watching for a second or even third time — but that really felt quite uninspiring at the end of it. And that’s a huge pity, because Mahouka actually has some themes that I find very interesting to think about.

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Psycho-Pass: care to try a different way of thinking about the world?

The empirical fact that certain themes seem to emerge in pairs, as has often occurred in Western film (Armageddon/Deep Impact, Saving Private Ryan/The Thin Red Line – to name a couple I actually remember), seems to happen in anime too. The last two seasons, viewers have been able to envelop themselves in two different dystopian societies. Having not seen Shin Seki Yori though, I can only focus on the other for the moment.

And yes, in Japanese, that’s also how we’d write “Psychopath”…

This is a world in which the mental state and personal tendencies of humans can be quantified. In this world, where all sorts of inclinations are recorded and policed, the measured number used to judge a person’s soul is commonly called “Psycho-Pass.

Forgive me for cutting to the chase, but whilst there is a mountain of things I could write about for this show, but to me, the most important issue to discuss is what viewers might be able to take from the way it ended. To do that, I shall begin by outlining some of the major criticisms of Psycho-Pass, and my own reactions. The common theme I find running through the critiques is that Western viewers in particular are bringing certain expectations to both the characters and the show itself. I contend that the these expectations and the foundations that they are built on need to be recognised, understood and critiqued, and the themes of Psycho-Pass analysed with that in mind.

Spoilers, as always, under the cut…

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Magi: I really didn’t need another reminder of just how superficial I can be…

In a medieval world where nations are still being forged, a young boy magician has grown up in a closed magical space. Eventually, he enters into the world at large to find out about himself and what role in the world he should play…

Magi - The Labyrinth of Magic
Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic…

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“Argo f*** yourself.” – popular media and politics

Ever since I shifted to my current field, I’ve found myself watching more and more shows and films inspired by its themes, the people heavily involved in it, and the events that dot its colourful historical trajectory. Argo, of course, belongs to the latter group, and is certainly a fascinating example of reality defying all expectations about how the secret services really work. However, this film is also interesting as a small indication of how the aims of popular media and the choices that their creators make can negatively affect relationships between countries.

Definitely the best promotional picture of the lot.

Definitely the best promotional picture of the lot.

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Lawrence of Arabia: the importance of things past

Rather than the poster typically seen today, I decided to go for a slight more retro one...

Rather than the poster typically seen today, I decided to go for a slight more retro one…

When I joined the film group at my university this year, this classic was one of the films that I marked off immediately as one I had to see. I didn’t expect it to be as long as it was – I don’t really check such details anymore – and was stunned to be presented with a mid-film break! However, the challenge of sitting through more than four hours was worth it: despite some historical inaccuracies, the glimpses of politics was completely fascinating, for what happened and did not happen back in the early 1900s has huge implications for what’s happening in the Middle East today.

One thing that struck me as I was researching lightly for the purpose of writing this post is that photos of T.E. Lawrence show that the costume designer recreated what he wore with pretty darned good accuracy. Although history was indeed adapted for the needs of the theater, Lawrence’s level of empathy and integration into the groups of people he encountered was well captured. Considering how many Westerners are incredibly insular today, balking at the idea of cultural relativism and focusing on what’s in their interests without regard to the interests of others who share this planet, it’s fascinating to consider the experiences of someone who integrated himself so deeply into the Arab culture that he was deeply respected by many of them at the time.

It’s difficult to imagine such a tale today. Modern people so caught up in ‘getting results quickly’ that any seemingly impossible challenge would automatically be left by the wayside. Furthermore, the tendency today is for an ideal that is highly influenced by Western culture, which many justify by pointing to beliefs and practices that revolt us. Conversely, the practices and beliefs that make sense to us may be completely alien, even barbaric to them. This is not to say that I condone what is clearly problematic in terms of the rights of any person to life, food, shelter, education and so on, but I do have issues with the blatant condemnation of the so-called lack of rights that are not quite as ‘necessary’, so-to-speak. What I see instead is the great danger of losing all possibility of interacting with others if we do not even attempt to understand how they think. From what I have read since seeing this film, this is the argument that Lawrence tried to make for much of his life, and something that many people today would do well to learn.

King of Devil’s Island: Norway’s penal system, past and present

Or, in Norwegian, “Kongen av Bastøy”.

The year is 1915, the place the Bastøy prison, separated from the Norwegian mainland by a narrow fjord. It it to this prison that youths are sent to be moulded into respectable Christian citizens through schooling, hard work and discipline. However, when the hardened Erling is sent to the island, his defiance of the prison’s authorities and the moral foundation that grounds is a source of inspiration for others, and leads ultimately to a rebellion against the unfair system that confines them.

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