Archive for the ‘anime’ Category

Shinichiro Watanabe interview

A few years ago, while working on a story for CBC Radio, I had the great honour of interviewing Shinichiro Watanabe about his hip hop-anime Samurai Champloo. Until recently, this interview was archived elsewhere, but it disappeared, so I’ve uploaded it myself.

Keep in mind that the interview may sound a bit odd: I had not intended to use my own voice on the air, so I’m asking the questions to the translator who then answers them in first person.

Still, you’ll get some great insights into Champloo.

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Anime review: Batman Gotham Knight

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Synopsis
Set between the movies Batman Begins and Dark Knight, this is a collection of 6 vaguely connected short stories about the caped crusader, written by American comic book guys and animated by some of Japan’s mightiest anime studios. As such, it is hard to summarize the entire thing. Safe to say The Bat spends his time tracking down bad guys and handing out a fair share of whoopass. Some of the stories are predictable and completely forgettable, but a couple rise above expectations and manage to inject some new flavours into this very old character.

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When I first heard about Gotham Knight, I had some pretty strong reservations. And in many ways this is the cynical jump-on-the-bandwagon that I expected. However, on the whole, the DVD impresses more than it disappoints.

I’ll start by admitting that I’m a fan of The Batman. However, I also feel that he, and all costumed superheroes, have outlived their relevance to our culture. Still, of all the American icons they could have anime-ized, Batman works remarkably well. He’s all dark and moody and mysterious. As much as these are stereotypes of anime, they’re also kinda true stereotypes.

The standout short for me is the first, Have I Got a Story For You (top picture) done by Studio 4°C, the folks behind the fabulous Tekkon Kinkreet. Have I Got shares Tekkon‘s fluid and surreal look, as well as a storytelling style that flows from a kid’s imagination. It also briefly features a mecha-Batman. Oh yeah.

The rest of the DVD goes up and down and even though I was not disappointed at the end of this ride, I still maintain that anime is more than just a “style” – using it to simply create a new take on old ideas greatly underestimates its storytelling value.

Anime review: Kaiji

Status: watched 3 episodes (of 26)

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Synopsis
So Kaiji once co-signed for a buddy who took $300 dollars from a loan shark. Eventually, his buddy ducked out, leaving Kaiji on the hook for the dough plus interest. Interest of almost $40,000. Kaiji is small time and just doesn’t have that kind of cash. His way out? Get on a boat with loads of other losers like him and risk it all on a game of chance. He can come away with the debt paid and a lot of extra money for himself. Or, he can become the indentured slave of the shadowy organization behind this whole racket. But when you’ve got nothing to lose, those seem like pretty good stakes.

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I started playing Texas Holdem a few months ago and I love the game. The strategy. The bluffing. The feel of the chips in my hand. And of course, the winning. The most intense moments I have during the game are when I’m betting high, even “all in”, without knowing if my cards are enough to beat my opponent. But you get this sense of purpose, of destiny, that you must win, that you will win. That doesn’t keep my heart from beating hard, and on more than one occasion, making my hands shake as I moved the chips into the center of the table.

That feeling is what propels Kaiji. This poor son of a bitch lives in this world constantly, and watching this show, you can’t help but feel that sense of fate.

There are so many wonderfully unique things about this show. First, the fact that it went from a manga, to a pachinko game, to an anime. Yeah, a story about a problem gambler who gets roped into a do or die gamble was turned into a… gambling game. Welcome to Planet Japan.

Then there’s the very simple plot with an even simpler game at it’s core. I’m only 3 episodes in and really wonder how this stretches out to a full series.

But the aspect that people probably notice right away is the unusual animation style – extremely heavy lines around the characters’ faces. I’ve never really seen anything like it and it looks both retro and kinda grotesque, but I’ve gotten used to it and it seems to fit the crude and intense style of the story.

Highly recommended for gamblers and anyone else looking for anime that’s just a little bit of the beaten track.

Movie review: Lupin III – Dragon of Doom

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Synopsis
Many stories were lost with the Titanic, including that of Arsène Lupin who – according to Dragon of Doom – died trying to steal a mysterious and powerful golden statuette. Now his grandson has been hired by a Hong Kong crime boss to complete the mission by diving down to the recently discovered ship. Little does Lupin III know that capturing the dragon is only the beginning of an adventure that will eventually pit him against his oldest and most loyal friends.

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I’m not a big Lupin head – even though I’ve cosplayed as him a couple of times. I’ve only seen Castle of Cagliostro and a handful of episodes of the show, so I didn’t have many expectations for Dragon of Doom. My only concern, actually, was that since this movie is so recent – 1994 – they were going to do one of those “re-inventions” of the character, where they try to find deeper emotional motivations and backstory explanations. I’m looking at you, Dr. Who.

Thankfully, Dragon keeps it simple. It’s a thrilling heist movie with twists and turns you don’t always expect. The characters are true to themselves, fitting into their traditional roles with aplomb. The only disappointment is Zenigata, the bumbling Interpol inspector on a life-long mission to capture Lupin, who is used solely as comic relief. If he was a real threat to stop Lupin, he could have added another layer of tension to the film. Thankfully, there are enough challenges for Lupin to deal with that the movie moves along briskly and is tonnes of fun.

Another reason to watch Dragon is because it holds a special place in the Lupin universe – it is the last performance of Lupin’s classic voice actor Yasuo Yamada, who died less than a year after the film’s release. In my limited experience of his work, this is a fitting testament to his legacy.

Highly recommended for fans and newbies.

Anime review: Moyashimon

Status: watched 9 episodes (of 11)

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Synopsis
Tadayasu Sawaki can see microbes. And not just under a microscope, but floating around in the air all the time. Plus, he can hear their conversations and even – occasionally – get them to do his bidding. But when it comes to superpowers, there’s not much you can do with this one, unless your archenemy is really prone to athlete’s foot. So, Tadayasu enrolls in an agricultural university in hopes of using his powers for good – well, actually, his family forces him to go so he can look after the family business – The Sawaki Yeast Shop.

Reations
Sometimes I look at all the new anime releases of the season and think “do we really need more moe/harem/magical girl/recycled mecha shows?” And then something like Moyashimon comes along.

This show is very, very odd on a number of levels. The obvious one is a main character who can interact with microbes. I’m also going to guess this is the first anime ever set in an agricultural university. Then, there’s the obsession, that runs through all the episodes, with fermentation. Before this show, I really never put much thought into it, but I am now fascinated by the thought of millions of unseen – and incredibly cute – little bastards flying around helping to perfect everything from soy sauce to cigars. There’s also an occasional scene right out of a high school biology class, which I found a little tedious. And then there’s the “slice of school life” with all the relationship problems and usual challenges, like fighting a huge ninja-wrestler hell bent on keeping you locked into the campus.

All of this, packed into 11 episodes. This show is remarkably efficient – ideas and concepts aren’t dragged out – with so few episodes, there’s no time for wistful looks and tiresome montages. And by choosing a small cast, only about 7 main characters, you really get to know them and, like Genshiken, wish you could all drink sake together.

One more odd thing I will point out is the flag of the university which looks almost identical to the flag of Portugal. Turns out the similarity is not a coincidence. According to Wikipedia, the Department of Agriculture building is a replica of the University of Coimbra (which I’ve visited!). Is it a stretch to assume that one of the manga/show’s writers studied biology in Portugal? This show just gets more and more interesting…