I, My, Me: Strawberry Eggs (anime)

Hibiki Amawa is a recent college graduate who has taken up residency in a boarding house owned by aggressive, gun-toting land-lady Lulu Sanjo. He is looking for a job as a Physical Education Teacher and is living off of his meager savings, but eventually his savings run out. Nearby Seito Sannomiya Private Co-Ed School is hiring a Phys Ed. teacher, but despite Amawa’s excellent credentials refuses to hire ANY male faculty, claiming that men do not have the instincts to care for and instruct children. Still desperate for a position, Amawa disguises himself as a woman and is hired on immediately. The series is, for the most part, a standard and expected gender-switcheroo comedy, full of close-calls, odd crushes, and goofy disasters. Thematic issues with gender and sexuality do play out in some interesting, albeit mostly predictable, ways, but it is ultimately the sweetness of the show that kept me watching. The characters genuinely care for one another, and want to see each other succeed. With great episode titles like “Forbidden Eyeliner,” and very tender moments between friends and classmates, the series is worth watching.

There is, however, something in this anime that makes me slightly uncomfortable, to say the least. Amawa throughout the series develops strong feelings for awkward, immature, and naive student, Fuko Kuzuha (and vice-versa). Amawa is approximately 20 years old, and Kuzuha is 15. Their age difference is disturbing given the current conditions of their relationship (teacher/student…and erroneously same-sex?), but the age difference wouldn’t cause much uproar later in life. This isn’t a case of pedophilia really, because the closeness of their ages seems to thwart that interpretation, however the age issue is still too great to be deemed socially acceptable. And, in defense of the main character, he/she recognizes the problems with succumbing to a more physical relationship (and is adequately disturbed by his love for Kuzuha), and the series ends with a declaration of love, a reveal of identity, and promise from Amawa to return once Kuzuha reaches maturity. Despite the obvious problems with the relationship, and sexual tension, between these two characters, there is something sweetly innocent about their affection for one another.

So, to sum up: I, My, Me, Strawberry Eggs has a stupid title and contains at least one potentially skeevworthy relationship, but somehow manages to remain funny, sweet, a little sad and completely watchable.

Monster (anime)

“Once upon a time, in a land far away lived a nameless monster. He was dying for a name.”

Monster is a long running anime based on the graphic novels of Naoiki Urusawa. This extremely elaborate drama/thriller is set in Germany and the former republic of Czecheslovakia. It’s part fairy-tale (ala Grimm Brothers rather than Disney) and part gritty crime story. The story follows Dr. Tenma, a brilliant neural surgeon mistakenly framed for multiple murders after saving the life of a young boy, Johan Liebert. Johan, and his twin sister Anna, are the only survivors of the violent murder of their adopted parents. From the first episode viewers realize that there is something inhuman about the young boy, despite his charisma. Tenma, falsely accused and on the run from several groups of people interested in catching him, takes to the road to both clear his name, and discover the truth. (Image by Angel Zakuro.)

What follows is a complex, multi-character story which spans decades. A large part of the series deals with the internal battles each character faces regarding regret, responsibility and redemption. Later discussions of belief and faith in oneself are complex and interesting. Identity is a central issue as well. Johan, with his incredible ability to influence others, is a compelling villain with charm and beauty. He becomes symbolic of the darkness possible in each person, and is molded by the Eastern Bloc Government from youth to be a perfect leader and brilliant strategist. His sister Anna and Dr. Tenma, are his counter, and embody love and forgiveness.

It really is a fantastically complex (albeit sometimes slow-moving) anime. But, I’m still wondering WHY this is animated. The animation is beautiful, and the architecture and scenery is amazingly rendered, but there isn’t any apparent reason why this story needs to take anime form, or graphic novel form. There are no special effects, transformations or dream sequences…nothing that couldn’t be done live-action at all. Despite the strange decision to animate at all, this is a really complex and intelligent series. I am awaiting the next season and the conclusion to this epic.

Psychic Wars (anime)

To be honest, I watched it twice, and not because it was good; rather, because it is short (50 minutes with commercial breaks) and because it has nothing to do with psychics. Really, nothing. There isn't a single psychic in the whole thing. It's like being handed a Sour Patch Kid with all the sour licked off...I mean I'll eat it, because it's my favorite candy, but I'll miss the sour part and I'll wonder why people are licking things before they give them to me (don't do that). Although,I suppose this unfortunate analogy is even more inaccurate because this isn't a Sour Patch kid (pre-licked or otherwise); it's a bad anime.

So, it has nothing to do with psychics...or wars really. Here's what it does have to do with: demons, nurses, curses (rhymes!), tiny headed men in very large suits with wide shoulderpads, really awkward English dialog and a plot that was both predictable and confusing at the same time.

Now, at times when I am confused by anime, for instance FLCL (I'll talk about it later...I'm so confused!!), I suspect that there is something lost in the translation, or some cultural theme that a native Japanese viewer might have which I, sadly, do not. This is about demons though, and (nerd-confession) I am pretty well informed for a gai-gin, because I have read some traditional mythology (in translation) and I tend to be a research junky. I did recognize some of the Oni (demons) in the story as being traditional to Japanese culture. And I was still confused by all of it. ALL OF IT!

Now, it could be that I am missing something, OR it could be that the thin plot was just a vehicle for demon fighting, intense wind storms, exploding shirts (you know what I mean) and exorcism rituals. I suspect that the latter is more probable. Not that I'm so clever, but that this plot was extremely undeveloped and stilted. 50 minutes of mostly fight scenes, windy forest scenes, and a unlikable main character who doesn't seem to care that his "quest" makes no logical sense. It's also one of those anime that you see coming from a mile away...I predicted the conclusion after the first ten minutes and then hoped for something surprising which failed to arrive. I give this a BLARGH! Although, if you'd like to buy it Amazon (click link above) has it for $22 dollars. That's the bargin price of 44 cents per minute...and that is the most surprising thing I can say about Psychic Wars.

OURAN update

Now, I know Ms. Shakespeare doesn't follow the manga of Ouran High School Host Club, but I do...and I have to admit my smitten-kitten-osity. The lastest issues of Ouran and the latest (hush-hush) fanslations of the newest chapters from the Japanese Magazine LaLa are heartnumbingly fabulous. The love and family conundrum is being brought to a head, and the characters keep getting more and more interesting. For chapters through 78, go visit SpectrumNexus, or wait (more patiently than I can) for the US releases. I am doing both. I read chapters as fast as I can, but I go out an purchase the manga as well.

Nothing makes me feel half my age half as fast as Ouran.

Vampire Wars (CRAPPY anime)

Absofuckinglutely horrid. Some of the worst crap I have ever seen...and I'm not saying that lightly. Really. You know how some really, really bad things are so bad they're good? Well this isn't. This is just bad, so I will provide a list of reasons for you potential viewers who may stray across this atrocity on Syfy's "Animonday" or it's bastard love-child, "Chiller"

Reasons not to watch Vampire Wars"
1. What IS that animation style? Vampire wars is 1991, and yet if feels like 1984...Voltron-Style.
2. Ultra-violence, and not in a "wow, hahahah, look at that" way. Just bloody randomness...and a lot of GIANT caucasians.
3. If you like your vampires mixed with non-badassedness, and international espionage (sort-of) and a lame sub-plot about a famous actress (Am I remembering that right? Because I think I zoned out there in the middle.) then this is all for you.
4. Someone on said this was "sexy," and I have to wonder what they consider sexy...really. Vampires haven't been this neutered since they sparkled in a meadow and lectured high-school girls on the virtues of "saving it for marriage."
5. Even Anime News Network is confused about the plot. I thought it took place in Paris, and they claim it takes place in the Rural American West (is that a place?). And yet it begins with a French secret service agent found face-down (and appropriately drained of blood) in the Seine. I'm confused.
6. This OVA is based on a series of ELEVEN (that's right) novels of the same name written by Kiyoshi Kasai (according to Wikipedia...which is (ahem) always entirely accurate). I hope this isn't true. Or, I hope that the anime is the travesty I feel it might be.
7. I don't even remember how it ended. Go read some Anne Rice (I recommend

Memnoch the Devil) then bask in the warm glow of how terrible/lovely vampires used to be.

Gurren Lagann (anime)

Gurren Lagann

The title means something like crimson face envelope (or crimson lotus, if you prefer). This is strike one. Crimson face envelope? My god! Really? The anime is essentially a mecha (a giant robot piloting series along the lines of Gundam, or the fantastically irritating Code Geass). That’s strike two! Mechas are something I usually dislike…oh, they’re so boring! Boring! Boring! Strike three is the busty sidekick/heroine Yoko, who looks like every big-breasted, wild-haired, machine-gun toting anime stereotype. So, despite three really big strikes, I really liked this series.

It begins with a small tribe of humans living underground; the surface of the earth has been uninhabited by humans for generations. One of the tribe members, a frail-looking boy named Simone the Digger, discovers something while tunneling through the darkness…a giant face. He and his “bro” (best friend and father figure) Kamina, defy the orders of a timid underground tribal government and decide to discover the purpose of this “giant face.” The face turns out to belong to a “Gurran” or gunman, and the spiral of Simone’s drill, combined with he and the ever-positive Kamina’s “fighting spirit,” activates it. Once active, above-ground renegade surface-dweller (and big-boobed slaughter junkie) Yoko’s gunman sensor is signaled and she bursts into the underground cavern to destroy the gunman. She is amazed to find that a human has activated it. Gunmen on the surface are operated by beastmen under the command of human-hating Lord Genome. No human has ever successfully piloted one of these gunmen. She is, however, not the only one alerted to the active gunman. Just after Yoko’s entrance, an enormous pig-man piloted gunman bursts in aiming to destroy the tribe entirely. Yoko, Kamina, and the timid Simone, defeat the enemy, and because the gunman’s existence will continue to draw enemies, they decide to venture to the surface leaving behind all they have known. Kamina sees this as their destiny, and claims that their drill will pierce the roof of the heavens…some foreshadowing of what is to come. So, with their fearless battle cry “Just who in the hell do you think I am?” the trio (quartet if you count Simone’s weirdly emotive hedgehog/mole pet) ventures into the sunlight to battle, and love, and fail, and triumph.

Surface stupidity aside, this anime is extremely interesting on an analytical/thematic level. The central focus seems to be about evolution (biological, societal and individual), and the tug of war between seemingly dichotomous elements (lest you forget that I am an English professor…shwa, shwa). This anime considers some fairly sophisticated ideas of reality and the persistence of life in the universe. The very final scenes of the series are simultaneously heartbreaking and thought-provoking...combining some of the more interesting concerns of The Matrix (there were interesting concerns, it just wasn’t an interesting movie...and I hate Keanu in everything...he should be silent and pretty) with those of The Last Temptation of Christ.

Is this a love story? A creation story? An apocalypse? What are the inherent strengths of being “weak?” Or malleable? Is it about power? Who has it? Is it about an obligation to future generations? Or to the dead who sacrificed for our continuing survival? Where does selfish determination become selfless determination? What about free will and destiny…are they mutually exclusive? Do we create our own reality as we create our selves? Can our will triumph over any adversity? Is living on the greatest gift we can leave those who are left behind? What is the purpose of life? My head was swimming, and my heart was broken, by the end of this anime series.

Do not let the mecha genre, the ridiculously aggressive Kamina, or the occasional over-the-top silliness of this anime dissuade you from watching. These characters evolve throughout the anime in remarkable ways. Heroes like Simone are borne aloft by the memories of their fallen comrades. Yoko’s tender side emerges as we become aware of why she fights, and for whom. Even villains like the (awesomely squeeworthy) shark/cat? beastman Viral find their purpose…incidentally, his purpose is my favorite—he is cursed with immortality so that he can tell the story of humanity’s triumph’s forever. Poor, lovely, viral!