Stratos 4: The Summer Anime Series, Sunny Summer Sun Times In The Sky Times Sun

Stratos 4 is the dreamiest little anime series. I've had the dvds tucked away for a few years now, and every time I need a breath of fresh air, I throw it on and just sort of chill out.

Blast Off At The Speed of Light!

Let me put it this way, there is an entire episode about their mischievous cat Admiral accidentally stealing a classified memory chip and saving a kitten from another cat bully. That should give you some idea of the gist of the series.

But that's not to say that it's frivolous entirely. There is a plot of sorts. The four main girls are part of a squad that has to break up meteors that enter the earth's atmosphere. There is also a space squad that tries to shoot them down out in space, but when they get through, the girls get called in. There's a whole power-struggle dynamic between the two squads, but for all the build-up it turns out to not be a very big conclusion.

The whole series takes place on a small island towards the bottom of the Japanese archipelago. It's a real island, Shimoji, the voice actresses and production crew visit it in the extras on one of the discs. Being a tropical island, the sense of sunny, slow, dazed, carefree life is prevalent. There's a lot of downtime between blowing up meteorites, apparently.
Where would their air strip be? Your guess is as good as mine.

At its' heart, Stratos 4 is a light-hearted anime about flying, fun, and fanservice. And there is a little bit of fanservice. Other than the occasional, very sparingly used, panty-flash, the girls fly their planes, riding in the cockpit motorcycle-style.
Maybe it makes it easier to pilot the planes.

This is about the extent of le sexiness, barring a few awkward lesbian space encounters.

I don't really have too much else to say about the series, because the main point of my review is the sunny, pleasant feeling it gives you while watching.

Don't expect Stratos 4 to come at you with any big ideas, crazy plots, or really anything out of the ordinary. Do expect to be relaxed and calmed into a tropical lull by cute, occasionally annoying pilot girls running around a gorgeous island. Do expect to be jealous, and want to visit aforementioned gorgeous island.

Memories - Katsuhiro Otomo (anime review)

I don't know if I've even reviewed anime before for this blog. That's kind of appropriate, as my tastes tend towards manga, generally. The tactile experience of holding the newsprint, touching it, smelling it, imbibing the drawings...all of it appeals to me.

However, I do make time to watch a fair amount of anime. I really enjoy the films, not that I don't like some series, but I love an animated film. Kind of like the movie version of the one-shot manga.

Memories is actually three short films. The first is called Magnetic Rose, the second is Stink Bomb, and the third is Cannon Fodder. Each of these really could stand alone and are drastically different in tone, animation style, theme, and writing.

Magnetic Rose is my personal favorite of the three. I am apparently alone in this, virtually everyone else prefers one of the other two.

Probably spoilers beyond this point. Due warning has been given.

In MR, a crew of space-scrap-salvagemen are out in space, looking for scrap. To salvage. They receive an S.O.S. from a mysterious ship, and two of the guys roll out to go save someone/see if they can snag the ship for salvage.

As soon as they get inside, shit gets strange. The inside of the ship (which is called the Magnetic Rose) is sort of a spaceborn Versailles. Huge, sprawling chambers and long, flowing staircases. Room after room of glorious, decaying opulence.

They quickly find out the ship belonged to a famous opera singer, Eva Rose, who basically had a flying fortress built so she could live out her glory days in space.

Unfortunately, her glory days turn a little...The Shining-y. As the Eagles say, "you can check out any time you want, but you can never leave."

Their descent into the ship is accompanied by an ever-increasing magnetic field. Everything is being sucked towards the Magnetic Rose, including the salvage ship.

Inside, the memories of Eva Rose run the ship. Her memories mix with those of the salvage men, and they experience hellish hallucinations. Children falling to their death, over and over. Their souls are twisted and broken inside the Magnetic Rose.

The ship itself has become a living beast, absorbing and manipulating everything inside to fit the distorted singer's desires. She even has an avatar, running and flying around the ship.

All of this leads up to a very dramatic end, it's all very thrilling. But none of this really gives you an idea of why this one is my favorite.

It is a difficult thing to describe. The film runs roughly fifty minutes, relatively short. The animation style is fine but vaguely dated. I think one of the things that really makes me love this movie is the feeling of kinship between it and 2001: A Space Odyssey. If you haven't seen Kubrick's masterpiece, I don't know, you're not doing a very good job at life. But they both have this sense of...epic feels too tawdry to describe it. There is a sense of Divine Purpose, as absurd as it for me to say that.

The entire film is backed by Eva Rose's opera, sweeping and blaring, dramatic and poignant. The characters are entirely believable, the dialogue is perfectly in sync with the characters. All the technical details are assured, you don't have to worry about them. The story is too important to fuck up stupid details like weak dialogue. Watching the main salvager try to catch his daughter as she falls to her death, you feel your heart plummet. Watching him paw at the ground through the hologram of her bleeding out at his feet, your heart hits the center of the earth. As Eva Rose's ghost toys with him, you feel rage rising up inside you.

And at the end, you think to yourself, "At least he wasn't a part of her fantasy."


Part of me wants to say, "And there were two other movies. The end."

but that's not fair. I'll give the other two due credit, they are also excellent films in their own rights.

Stink Bomb. Easily my least favorite of the three. Let me just say, you come off this incredible high from Magnetic Rose, one of the most powerful, excellent anime shorts you could ever watch, and you're just supposed to roll right into f*cking Stink Bomb.

Stink Bomb is really light-hearted. It has a message, about chemical/biological warfare, but wrapped in kind of an annoying package of goofiness. The main character, his name didn't even come close to sticking in my mind, is an IDIOT. That's not a huge deal, I mean, we've all read books with silly and dumb main characters. I even like a lot of series with them. Naruto, for instance, is pretty dumb and goofy but it's one of the best-selling, most popular series ever put out. The problem here is that he has no real redeeming qualities other than blissful ignorance and a preternatural ability to avoid death.

Basically, the dude has a cold, takes a pill, turns out the pill was an experimental bioweapon that turns him into a walking, breathing cloud o' death. *rolls eyes*

He kills everyone in the building, and doesn't have any idea it's him. He then gets told to bring the rest of the pills to a city nearby by an administrator who also doesn't know he's taken the pill and is the cause of the disaster.

You can pretty much surmise the rest of this movie. He tries to get to the city, they all realize he's the cause, and they throw all their military might against him. It is, admittedly, vaguely amusing to watch him dodge missiles and somehow survive on a little Vespa.

I don't know what else to say about it. It took me three tries to watch it, every time I tried to, I would fall asleep. That's how I feel.


Okay, Cannon Fodder! Back to a good short!

Cannon Fodder switches art styles again, to a very gritty, not-very-Japanese style. There isn't a ton of dialogue in it, but it does very well putting together the story visually.

In this sort of Orwellian dystopia, everyone lives and dies under a bunch of huge, towering cannons. They all work for them in some capacity, loading them, firing them. The shells are the size of large trucks, and there is a lot of inherent danger.

There is this interesting social element to it, because the loaders are sort of at the bottom, the controllers are above them, and then the firing man is at the top of it all. The women all go off to factories to put together munitions. If a crew screws up something, their punishment is to stand on the firing platform and get blasted by the shockwave.

The slogan is NO CONQUEST WITHOUT LABOR. Everyone stands and salutes and chants when the cannon fires.

In this world of war, everyone accepts it without question. There is an invisible enemy, and they must be fired upon. It's simply what they do. That's what makes this interesting, seeing the lives of individuals who are being ground to pieces by the machine they slave to run.

This set of shorts can be picked up anywhere for really cheap, I think I paid $3 for mine. A dollar each for three good movies? When Magnetic Rose is worth the price of entry on its own? Yes please. :)

Spice and Wolf (anime)

Imigin/Funimation 2008
Based on the light novel series (11 volumes) by Isuna Hasekura (writer) and Ju Ayakura (ill.)
Rating: PG-13 (A little bit of wolf-girl nudity, and a little bit of violence)


There are two kinds of werewolves in the world. The ones we are most familiar with are the kinds that are people first, cursed by fate or a bite or any number of "causes" these people transform from human into animal and wreak havoc on others. The second kind of werewolf is a different thing altogether a wolf who, through magic or kindness or age or wisdom or courage (there are a lot of stories), becomes a human in order to assist humanity in some way. Sadly, we don't see very many depictions of these kinds of werewolves, but there are cultures (surprisingly, or maybe unsurprisingly, because of isolation and turmoil, my Appalachian culture is one of them) who look to these werewolves as kindred spirits and protectors. I love stories about these kinds of werewolves, so I actually write about them a lot.

The wolf in Spice and Wolf is a god. Holo, the wise wolf, has been blessing the town of Pasloe with abundant harvests of wheat for over 600 years, but times change. Old gods fall, and new religions arise, and new technologies come into play. When the story begins it seems that the need for Holo's blessings have fallen to the wayside and the town of Pasloe is held in suspicion by the new Christian Church for it's pagan ways. Holo knows it is time to go. She sheds her wolf-skin and sneaks her way into the back of a travelling merchant's cart where Kraft Lawrence discovers her, looking all of 16 and naked but for her tail and ears. 

Overall, I'm going to say the story is good, but Holo is weird. And bossy, and drunk, and naked, and kind of all...naughty for apples.
Holo has a thing for apples. 

And Kraft Lawrence is a little strange too. He's a shifty merchant with a heart of gold who I am supposed to feel sympathetic towards. He does seem like a gentle guy, but he's also a bit of a con-man who takes advantage of his customers and his fellow merchants.

Don't you try that innocent look with me. 
Around the middle of the first season I got excited by some brief discussions of Church dogma and pagan persecution, but sadly none of that story line really seemed to pan out at all. That disappointment combined with some rather "odd" discussions about trades, tariffs and monetary exchange rates that were either generally confusing, or way over my head, to create my wishy-washy reaction to the series as a whole. It needed something...more oompf, more direction, less discussion of medieval guild practices, more burning pagans at the stake...something, anything. It was, sadly, kind of a let-down.

But, the animation is pretty, and the series wasn't a total bore. Plus there's the fact that the closing credit song is perhaps one of the cutest I've ever heard (and it's a total earworm). It could be vying with _Furubu_ for cutest ending song ever. Just...just, hit play:

Did you hit play? Okay. Now, can we talk about this? OMG, I KNOW, RIGHT? Supercute! Done.

All in all, I don't know that I'm rushing out to watch the second season, named Spice and Wolf II, but I will share the trailer. The second season aired last summer on the Funimation Channel. 

I wish it were meaner werewolves.