For the latest installment of My Favourite Anime, LofZOydssey waxes lyrical about Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day. To read more of their anime writings, visit the website, follow on Twitter and Facebook.
Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (Anohana) was brilliant. It’s one of the best anime I have ever seen.
To start off, this was a visual story.
If something didn’t need saying, it wasn’t said. You could feel the emotions in every scene. When a character was happy, you were happy. When a character laughed, you laughed. When a character felt relief, you could see the weight lift from their shoulders. And if someone cried, well…
Let me put it this way. When Anohana wants to hit you with feelings, it will hit you hard.
Therefore, here’s a little friendly warning should you decide to check this show out. Anohana is a heart-wrencher.
There are plenty of anime out there that have created powerful moments that strike at our core. However, Anohana took things much further. There wasn’t just a single powerful moment. No, this series had several, and each one was stronger than the last. During the final few episodes, I don’t know if my eyes were ever dry.
To drive this point home, Anohana relied on its characters – and without a hint of sarcasm – what a pack of trump cards they were.
In this story, Meiko “Menma” Honma, who was loved dearly by her friends, died in a tragic accident at a young age. When that happened, it put a pause on everyone else’s lives. The tomorrow from that day had yet to arrive. The dark emotions the other characters – Jintan, Anaru, Yukiatsu, Tsuruko, and Poppo – were going through were a part of their existence. They never gave themselves the chance to heal.
As a result, a once tight-knit team shattered into a million pieces.
Thus, when Menma appeared before Jintan after many bitter years, she consequently dumped a mountain of salt onto still festering wounds. Can you really blame the others for turning hostile when Jintan said he could speak with Menma?
Think about it.
Since it was only Jintan who could see Menma, everyone had to go off his word. Had Jintan been lying, that would have made him an absolute piece of garbage. How dare he bring up beloved Menma in such a fashion. What right did he have to revive the pain of her loss?
The dilemma was, Jintan was telling the truth. That caused a different – maybe even greater – problem.
Why the hell was Jintan the one who could interact with Menma? How was that fair?
And these were only some of the issues going through these characters’ minds. None of them realized how much they truly missed their friend. But when that finally clicked in their heads – wow. I don’t know the right words to describe how incredible this series got.
Now out of due diligence, if there was something I had to say negatively about Anohana: it shouldn’t have been that hard for Jintan to prove Menma’s existence.
The only way Menma could communicate with people besides Jintan acting as a mediator was through the diary she had when she was alive. That and the fact she could move physical objects. Menma could cook, clean, and play video games with ease.
What I’m saying is, there were ways to make her presence known.
Be that as it may, this “issue” was as effective at bringing down Anohana as a plastic spoon is against a tank.
If you have not seen this show, then I urge you to make it your next watch. I cannot recommend Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day any higher.
Ten years after Negima?! abruptly ended little Negi Springfield’s magical training, UQ Holder! picks up eighty years on in the anime’s timeline. Instead, his grandson Tota Konoe steps into his mage’s shoes and joins the UQ Holder, a secret organisation of superheroic immortals. A simple enough set-up, but it nonetheless requires several convoluted plot strands and reams of exposition before the titular group can even come together.
At the very least, this sequel to the series based on Ken Akamatsu’s manga Maho Sensei Negima! balances out its anime-cliché plot confusion by subverting our expectations in other areas. In the obligatory hot springs episode Tota peeps on the girls’ spring only because he feels it’s what a guy should do. But even these societal statements grow tangled when he happens across another woman bathing, who turns out to be a man, who then turns out to be genderless. You can’t give a show that begins with a flashback of Negi sneezing his harem’s clothes off too much credit, even when it does avoid empty fan service.
Returning from that fond reverie is vampire Evangeline A.K. McDowell, looking taller and far more mature than back then in the vein of Monogatari’s Kiss-Shot. She, like Negi, has become a student teacher of magic, taking on Tota not only as pupil but also as her ward. She adopted him following his parents’ death in a car crash two years before; a detail, all spoilers spared, that unspools still more silly string plot threads to be deciphered. Tota leaves with her to follow his dream of heading to the city, but only after he survives a battle with bounty hunters and becomes a fellow vampire.
So finally the UQ Holder stands front and centre, with Tota now a member and all vampires, werewolves, et cetera ready to fight for justice. That is, when they’re not too busy fooling around (that hot springs episode floats back to mind). With all the awkward chewing over backstory out of the way, the show becomes a mildly entertaining watch, though it never truly reconciles those early episodes which feel like ideas were just thrown around to see what stuck. Lovers of Naruto’s combat will find something familiar and fun in the fight scenes, and Soul Eater devotees in Tota’s talking gravity sword which makes a comparatively quiet break from Excalibur. Fans of A Certain Magical Index and The Familiar of Zero should also meet UQ Holder! with open arms, and if these twelve episodes aren’t enough, the Blu-ray collection also features three OVAs.
Distributor: MVM// Format: Blu-ray// Extras: English dub; clean opening/closing animation; OVA clean opening; Japanese promos; disk credits
In its short lifespan, Studio Orange has produced a number of visually dynamic series, from Black Bullet to Norn9. But it was their 2017 adaptation of Haruko Ichikawa’s manga Land of the Lustrous (Houseki no Kuni) that would prove to be their most audacious and sumptuous-looking series to date. History will remember this twelve-episode run as the turning point for CG anime, one which has earned the respect not only of critics and commentators, but also of anime fans at large. Although there have been plenty of CG anime over the years, Land of the Lustrous has little in common aesthetically with Knights of Sidonia, Blame! or Ajin. It’s altogether more traditional looking, with sweeping grassy vistas possessing the artistry of a Miyazaki production, and skyscapes that could have been designed by Makoto Shinkai.
Where the CG animation truly comes to life, though, is with the crystalline characters that inhabit the so-called land of the lustrous. Not to be confused with Steven Universe, the world is populated by a handful of ‘gems’, sentient precious stones in the shape of girls with loves, loathes and agendas of their own playing out in complex, sometimes queer coded, relationships (more on that here). Whilst glittering in the sun and sporting the properties of crystal or stone, each gem’s hair also behaves like, well, hair. Light and bouncy and fluttering in the wind. This effect just couldn’t be accomplished with 2D animation.
That alone might not be worth the praise that’s been heaped on the show, but the action sequences most definitely are. The gems each have a role to play in defending against the Lunarians, a race of angelic-looking beings who want the gems for jewellery – a parable, perhaps, for how women’s bodies are objectified and turned into commodities. Their arrival is heralded by music as frightening and beautiful as they are and the action scenes that unfold have an immersive fluidity, a kinetic power that can easily rival anything adapted from the pages of Shonen Jump. Some of these sequences even unfold like the kaleidoscopic weirdness of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, itself a trailblazer for CG anime. Combined with quiet, more introspective moments and it’s easy to forget it’s a TV series you’re watching and not a movie. Such are the cinematic stylings and careful attention to movement and flow.
Despite the struggle between the Lunarians, the gems and the often sleeping (sorry, meditating) sensei, the series macros in on Phosphophyllite. Not only is Phos the youngest of the current gems, she’s also one of the most fragile. Coupled with her ditsy personality and accident-prone nature, she’s something of a liability among her fellow gems. The series sees her trying to find her place and purpose in the world. Desperate to be useful, Phos first accepts a job compiling an encyclopaedia, then later finds herself transforming and evolving over time, just like how real gems are formed over millennia. In doing so, she helps her friends in ways she couldn’t have imagined.
Even with Phos’ existential crisis driving the thrust of the story, to say the show has a plot would be overstating things. Outside of the action, things feel more slice of life, with a mix of mundane and the fantastical reminiscent of Humanity Has Declined and a ramshackle plot structure to match. Although the ending of this first series provides some closure, so much remains unanswered demanding a second series. The sooner, the better.
Format: Blu-Ray// Distributor: MVM// Extras: clean opening/closing animation; disk credits; also available from Sentai Filmworks.
The influence of Star Wars is written large on the Dragon Ball franchise, coded into its visual aesthetic and space opera storytelling. For all of the shared tropes and visual cues, it’s the family saga facet that unites these two properties more than any other. Characters grow onscreen, sometimes in real-time during hiatuses between series, coming of age as viewers do.
Dragon Ball Super: Broly, the twentieth entry in the Dragon Ball film franchise, is only the second ever to enjoy a theatrical release here in the UK. According to Manga UK, the film has now taken more than £1 million at the UK box office, making it the second highest grossing anime film of all time just behind Spirited Away. This success is indebted to die-hard fans who, according to Manga UK Marketing Manager Andrew Hewson, “watched it over and over again”.
Anime is more plentiful and accessible now than it’s ever been. So how does a veteran franchise like Dragon Ball stick steadfast to its formula yet continue to grow in popularity? An article over at Vice interviewed superfans and hit upon the key to the franchise’s longevity. It’s multi-generational.
This aspect is, of course, two-fold. As I’ve already mentioned, the Dragon Ball franchise is a family saga. At present there are three generations on screen, Goku having been a grandfather since the late nineties. Over the years, other long-running anime have attempted this to varying degrees of success, but there’s something unique about Dragon Ball and its generations of characters.
Since its original inception by mangaka Akira Toriyama in 1984, Dragon Ball has earned legions of loyal fans. Here in the west it was a gateway for many into anime, acting for kids in the early nineties as Naruto, Bleach and Yu-Gi-Oh! did for an entire generation later. With each new instalment into the Dragon Ball franchise, be that anime, manga, movie or video game, there was a new cohort of fans joining the fold. Fans that have since grown up and now have children of their own. My friends and I were obsessed with everything Dragon Ball, and I still have fond memories of watching the Cell Saga as a kid. Flash forward almost twenty years, and my own kid was born as Super was still airing.
As children discover the franchise for themselves, it not only allows older fans to fall back in love with the quintessential fighting anime but see things in a new light. Already I’ve found myself reacting differently to Goku’s relationship with his son, or the bond between Gohan and Piccolo. As my daughter grows older and I slowly introduce her to anime, no doubt Dragon Ball Z will be one of the first titles that I’ll want to sit down and show her. After the Miyazaki movies, of course.
Though there are plenty of properties that inspired Dragon Ball, and contemporaries it can be likened to, for me the strongest comparison is Star Wars. Both rank among the twenty highest-grossing media franchises of all time, and both are franchises that, although not exclusively, are typically discovered in childhood and carry on into adulthood. It’s inevitable that fans would want to pass on this love to their children, keeping the franchise alive and more popular than ever.
Anyone’s anxieties over the all-seeing eye of the Internet of Things are justified in BLAME!, a future in which the AI has assumed control, deems humans poisonous life forms and becomes the epitome of our worst mistakes. Humans had begun to construct cavernous cities, presumably after the surface world became overpopulated or unliveable, and once held genetic control over the Builders of our invention. But a glitch in the system, an incurable contagion, severed that link and caused the machines to see their makers as a virus. Nonetheless, the Builders’ orders remained, and so the city continues to grow, becoming a new wilderness.
As heavy-handed and awkwardly pious as this man/machine conflict can be, BLAME! has it’s saving grace in the details. The black expanses under red light in this never-ending city under the earth is symbolic of the dulling of humanity’s bloodline. They themselves are reduced to organisms in some dormant colossus spawning waves of Safeguards, the equivalent of white blood cells in mecha-spider form, to eliminate the disease.
In an inversion of the creeping calamity of overpopulation, the expansion of the city is diluting humanity’s power. No longer the dominant species, they have reverted to a hunter-gatherer way of life, plumbing the city’s pipes for their fast depleting sources of artificial food. It’s on such a hunt, their village close to starving, that Zuru, Sutezo, Tae, Fusata and Atsuji of the Electro-Fisher clan meet Killy. The stranger claims to have come from 6000 levels below their village, himself hunting for someone with the residual genetic strain to bring the machines to heel. And so, Zuru and her fellow ambassadors delve into the endless city to unearth the secret to regaining humanity’s power.
Killy, with his super strength and impenetrable visage, is the personification of the champions humans imagine themselves to be. He is also an avatar for what the human race could become – mournful, troubled, obsessed – if we persist in the folly of amassing power. The cast each bear this same metallic cool, blending in with their aesthetic surroundings at the cost of emotion. BLAME! rode the morose sci-fi wave onto Netflix, and morose is the majority of the mood that comes through, to the point where the whole adventure feels hopeless.
Too much seriousness leaves a film like this to rely on cool factor, and here it’s too repetitive to supplement the numbness of its characters. There is the odd rare moment where a tenderness shines through, when the city seems illuminated by the fire glow of our evolution. When all seems darkened by the impossibility of their mission, the adventurers sit by a campfire and talk of the tradition of being calmed by its light after a hard day. This tradition is no different now than it was when we began, warming and assuring that all is nature, and nature will have its way. We are not all-powerful, then; merely a glitch in the grand system, striving for survival.
Takumi Fujiwara didn’t know if he even wanted to be a racer when he won his first downhill drag against Keisuke Takahashi of the formidable Akagi RedSuns. Hell, he only struck a deal for his trusty 8-6 auto so he could go out on a date with his best girl. Even now, as his own racing outfit the Speedstars gain notoriety, he doesn’t know what he wants. Doubting his skills, impressive as they are, Initial D Legend 2: Racer is Takumi’s trial to prove to himself that he is much more than the sum of his wild successes; a true racer.
Facing one challenge after another, Takumi is too unsure of himself to risk losing. We all know those imaginings of one failure amounting to our lives becoming pointless, and it’s that which keeps Takumi from becoming insufferable in his teeny moping. But his hand is forced when a rondo of rowdy NightKids ambush his friends on an innocent nighttime drive. Shingo Shoji, the leader of the dirty drivers, agrees to apologise if Takumi wins one of his patented duct tape deathmatches. The point of these races is that both opponents must drive with their right hands strapped to the wheel, making control near impossible.
It’s impossible to speak for the existence of such a wonderfully reckless head-to-head. However, this story, like the original Initial D manga, is based on the real world of illegal street racing in Japan. It was clearly a passion project for mangaka Shuichi Shigeno, who owns a 1980s Toyota Sprinter Trueno just like Takumi’s. But his own thrills to the speed blur of trees and darkness down the mountain passes of Gunma don’t translate to anime. For the sake of saving races from awkward silence, characters wax technical about the nuts and bolts of the cars and driving technique. It’s probably cool for the auto nuts, but for the rest of us it gets repetitive from so many of the same angles – side on the totally serious racers, dashboard ticking, extreme driver close up, and those wonderful windshield views of boxy car rears.
In between, an inordinate amount of blather over drift racing versus comes to so much empty lip-flapping, even for motor racing fans. There isn’t the wheel to asphalt action to justify it, and ultimately it just feels like padding to fill the downtime between drive time. The cars, town and characters have a tendency to look like a Tomy playset, with Takumi often just as plastic in demeanour. The joy of the race should be reflected in him, giving viewers a proxy from the (presumably) law-abiding safety of their sofas. But his doubts, human as they are, always fall short of driving the drama home.
English dub; Initial D Legend 1: Awakening recap; Initial D Legend 3: Dream preview; clean ending animation; also available from Sentai Filmworks.
Ever since the Wachowskis repackaged the themes and imagery of Masamune Shirow’s cyberpunk staple Ghost in the Shell for western audiences in 1999, the notion of living in a virtual world has become something of a fascination among creatives, consumers and conspiracy theorists. The most frightening aspect of The Matrix was in how perfectly the illusion recreated our own existence so that no one thought to question it. And yet, in 2016, in an ever increasing milieu of virtual reality and digital images, some of our greatest technologists are themselves putting stock behind the idea.
As well as housing some of the most forward thinking and, let’s face it, barmy, inventors on the planet, Silicon Valley is also home to a slew of folk who believe that we’re living in a simulation. Of the most recent converts, at least in the public arena, is billionaire entrepreneur and inventor Elon Musk. At a Recode conference, Musk, whose myriad companies cover renewable energy, electric cars, space travel and the Hyperloop, said that the odds are “one in billions” that our reality is the base reality. He believes that it’s far more likely that we are living in a simulation. Unsurprisingly, Musk’s comments quickly went viral, with a multitude of media commentators gaggling to get their word in, and Twitter and Facebook et al. awash with memes and responses.
Musk is essentially riffing on Oxford professor Nick Bostrom’s oft-discussed 2003 paper ‘Are you Living in a Computer Simulation?’, in which he posited that if indeed we existed inside a virtual world at any point in the history of the universe, then we would be living in one now. Sci-fi’s honeymoon period with virtual reality may have passed, as VR headsets move out of the realms of speculative fiction and into bedrooms and living rooms, but there’s one avenue which is still very much in love with the idea: anime.
Going digital in .hack//sign
One of the common plot threads that unite the virtual reality subgenre is becoming trapped in a simulated environment. With the popularity of Sword Art Online (SAO), this trope has once again entered the fray, ushering a contemporary swathe of trapped-in-video-game franchises. SAO draws heavily from the venerated .hack multimedia franchise, which began in 2002 with the launch of the anime series .hack//sign and the PlayStation 2 game .hack//infection.
The anime follows Tsukasa, a Wavemaster (or magic user) who wakes in a dungeon in MMORPG The World, suffering short-term memory loss and soon discovering that he’s unable to log out. The PS2 release, meanwhile, conveyed a game within a game and is set in an alternative 2010. Unlike its successors, .hack is set in a world where the internet is closed off to the public, following a virus that crashes almost every computer in the world. Two years into a world lacking the internet or online games, a new MMORPG is released to huge acclaim and admiration. With a population eager for escapism and a whiff of the digital, The World becomes the most successful online game of all time, securing some 20 million players. However, a number of players wind up comatose, something the developers dismiss as cyberterrorism.
The purpose of the game, far from entertaining the masses, was to breed the ultimate artificial intelligence, one capable of making independent decisions. To accomplish this aim, a variety of functions were inserted into the system which monitored the players and extracted behavioural data to develop the AI. It cements one of the core crises of the subgenre, in that the stakes of the game or simulation are the soul and the safety of the user; that the simulation is antagonistic or a challenge to overcome. It’s as true for the .hack franchise as its spiritual descendent, Sword Art Online.
Kirito plugging into Sword Art Online
SAO began life as a 2009 light novel series penned by Reki Kawahara, and took place in the near future with the release of a new Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game (VRMMRPG) called Sword Art Online, where players can experience their in-game counterparts with the NerveGear, which stimulates the user’s senses via the brain. 10,000 players log in only to find that they are trapped in the sword and sorcery world of Aincrad. In order to return to the real world, they must reach the top floor of the game’s castle and defeat its final boss. It upped the stakes of .hack in that players who die or remove their NerveGear helmets also die in real life, like The Matrix phenomenon which Morpheus explains as the body being unable to live without the mind. If life is defined by the inevitability of death, then the virtual world, in which actions have fatal consequences, is on equal terms to the ‘real’ world.
In Log Horizon, based on Mamare Touno’s 2011 light novel series, the trapped gamers are quick to accept and adapt to their circumstances, and treat their simulated lives with as much significance and dedication as their outside lives, if not more so. One of the ways in which the series differentiates itself from others is with the MMORPG itself— Elder Tales. Most of the characters are veteran players of the long-running title, which only traps its players following an update rather than from the outset. It brought more nuance, and existentialism to the idea, especially concerning its NPC inhabitants. If players die in-game, they simply respawn at the last city they visited, taking the fear of death out of the equation. Despite, or perhaps because of this, players interact and exist as if it were the real world, presenting it as something of a utopia, something better than our own existence rather than a prison of the mind.
Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie‘s Virtual Reality Diver
Philosophy and psychology alike argue that there is no fixed reality, that it is instead a unique construct differing from one individual to the next. Anime and virtual reality are converging in more than a narrative sense, with VR technology allowing users to explore the art form in a remarkable new way, from Ghost in the Shell to Studio Ghibli. Is it escapism? Or life imitating art? Or is it that we can sense the simulation and, like Neo in The Matrix, want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Little did we know that in 2016, the human species would have been destroyed if not for a Master and his Demi-Servant. This humanity knew through the Chaldea, a celestial oracle shining out the future of our survival. The root of mankind’s demise, a ravaged temporal bubble in Fuyuki circa 2004, the time of the Fifth Holy Grail War.
As a new recruit to the Chaldea’s surrounding Security Organisation, Ritsuka Fujimaru will become the all-too-average last hope for restoring the future. That is, if he can get past the barrage of people organisation-splaining their grand purpose. For the first fifteen minutes of this one-hour TV movie, everyone Ritsuka meets is an exposition vendor masquerading as a character, up to and including your cute pink-haired girl, Mash Kyrielight, who will inevitably find herself in peril. Sure enough, Chaldea HQ burns down in a supposed act of sabotage. Injured in the structural collapse, Mash gets her second wind as a Demi-Servant, becoming a badass shieldmaiden in boob armour. Just in time for herself and Ritsuka to pop off back in time to save the world.
All plot conveniences aside, it is hard to oppose the hack-bash flair of her offense. Her style is the epitome of what sucks you into Fate’s eternal battle for glory. Even if you start out indifferent to its historic fantasy nerd wish-fulfilment, the action injects small doses of hype till you’re well and truly hooked. This particular episode in the franchise is hobbled by its underprivileged release format, the animation sub-par for what we expect from the likes of Fate/stay night. Dull and hazy static backgrounds and flat character designs fall closer to a less vaunted visual novel, and Grand Order’s online RPG origins are blatant in the dialogue. Conversation for almost the first half takes the bland formula of introduction, present character quirk, expository technobabble, give quest. This pattern presides through to the end, making it hard to get invested in anything this cast cares about.
This characterisation flaw which rears its head throughout Fate‘s anime dominion usually comes balanced by some stunning personal revelations, the wider epic of the Holy Grail War smoothing over the smaller platitudes. But there are no such grandiose moments here to hold onto, so the cast remain plain but for what we already know of the Heroic Spirits, and of Saber, here a dark monarch corrupted by the timeline. Still, this realm in which humanity has perished leads a lacklustre premise into a thrilling clash with the cursed, risen skeletons of the dead and malicious Servants who, let’s face it, are always the most fun.
An exhilarating climactic fight between Mash and Saber, wreathed in an aura of dragon fire, rends open those dull backdrops with a black Excalibur. Mythology and fantasy devotees will find a lot to love in this time travel skit, which leads us to the beginning of the Grand Order game and its quest to neutralise seven singularities, restoring the human race. An extended advertisement for the RPG this anime may be, but hey, we were just in this for Dark Saber all along.
English dub; English cast interview; English and Japanese trailers.
Zombies provide an outlet for that most mortal of fears and fascinations; death, and what comes after. It’s a universal thread that’s tugged by all cultures, linking all human thought. This gives the walking dead a power that transcend interpretive borders; for instance, between anime and the western viewer. Subtleties of language and cultural significance are bound to be lost in translation, but that gulf of the unknown, the ongoing argument over the ‘soul’, what it is and whether it survives without the body, is immortal and interchangeable for fear itself.
While we still live, we can love the undead as something which makes death unreal, and can be decapitated by shovel or by bullet. For a time, we can pretend that death could be stopped in its shambling tracks. That integral drama in the familiar and beloved becoming monstrous means that undeath, in its most evocative readings, becomes about life.
School-Live! put the emphasis on this drama in much the same way the AMC series The Walking Dead is celebrated for. In the onset of the apocalypse, there are gaping wounds in the world the girls of the School Living Club loved being part of. For most of them the impact of this loss was only made real in hindsight, but Yuki adored her friends, her school and its teachers who helped her whenever she needed. She fills in those spaces with her imagination, patching her world with such deep desperation that it still feels real to her, building an emotional reality into an Armageddon occupied by the dead.
Shattered and faded in School-Live!
Perhaps what makes School-Live! most grounded in humanity is that the tension doesn’t reside in finding ways to escape, at least not in any physical sense. Instead, Yuki’s personal escape is balanced by her friends’ responsibility for working around her delusions, and trying to accept the rules of a new, more vulnerable way of life. Yuki is the representation of this coming to terms, learning that she can’t get through by pretending the rest of her life away. And yet, it is her make-believe which carries her friends through when reality and its grief is too hard to accept.
This moe ‘n’ zombies aesthetic reflects the clash of the immature and advanced in Japan’s current society. The grief post-World War II that left Japan’s identity fractured created the fear of a world forsaken, as in the series Sunday Without God. As Japan re-asserted itself as pacifist, this series adopts the Biblical roots of the undead. Light novel author Kimihito Irie mocks their nation’s naivete with the idea that, in one deciding day, heaven and hell ceased to exist, leaving humans unable to die. Putting a young girl at the heart of such stories, like Sunday Without God’s Ai, reflects a simultaneous sexualisation and nostalgic regard for her purity, especially in this anime’s reality, where humans are not only doomed to succumb to Half-Dead Fever, but can no longer procreate. This focus on such girls being the last of the innocents expresses a desire to protect that purity when under threat of contamination.
The Korean zombie flick Train to Busan establishes itself as a story of separation from self-centred ideas of progress. Conflict between the defence of purity and seeking out material accomplishment is made metaphor in the stretched relationship between recently divorced father Seok-woo and his young daughter Soo-an. Their journey to be reunited with Soo-an’s mother – coincidentally on the same day a chemical leak spreads what’s reported as mass derangement – incites humanity’s will to survive as a species through selfless heroism. But in placing a young girl in danger of a horde of literal predators (the groping of young women and girls in crowds in Korea as dire an issue as groping on trains in Japan), the film is drawing attention to sullied purity in context with another universal horror staple – the sexuality of survival.
Rea Sanka chews her life-prolonging leaves
Certain anime, like Tokyo Ghoul, Zombie Loan and Sankarea: Undying Love, make a fetish of this instinct, entwining sex and death on the most reactive level. Even after death, we will still go on loving someone. Sankarea sparks a romance, then kills the eponymous heroine, giving Chihiro Furuya a choice – to let Rea Sanka slip into a natural death, or revive her with the same method he discovered for his undead cat, Babu. Really, there is no choice. He resurrects her because he can accept and even lust after her as a zombie, his kink coming to an unprecedented practicality, a next-level necrophilia.
Just like that, the cycle of life comes full circle. In setting out to save purity from defilement, anime lets sparks fly from the conflicts of sex, death and innocence with the unique perversion that comes from cultural trauma. It was only the turn of the millennium that spawned Japan’s own zombie obsession with the first video games dubbed ‘survival horror’, Resident Evil. But ever since they spawned from George A. Romero’s criticism of “real-world social ills” in Night of the Living Dead, Japan has continued to nurture its own unease, with industrial progress and the exploitation of innocence, through the anime zombie.
Studio Ghibli has been a powerful part of both of our lives as otaku, inspiring nightmares, empowerment and the hope that we can each be heroes in our own way. It’s safe to say that its legacy wouldn’t have held quite the same place in our hearts without co-founder Isao Takahata, whom we have sadly lost. Where Hayao Miyazaki brought the whimsy, enchantment and flights of fancy borne on pure fantasy, he brought the introspection, delicacy and the darkness of our real world.
Wreathed in black and gold, the acclaimed war drama Grave of the Fireflies would become the first film Takahata directed at Ghibli. Before that, he produced on Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Laputa: Castle in the Sky, but this was his mark and mission statement, his Ghibli. Chronicling the travels of Seita and Setsuko, a brother and sister scraping and stealing to survive the last desperate months of World War II, this story and many to come was spun from the tangled threads of his life, and life itself. Takahata himself survived a US air raid on Okayama City in 1945, when he was only nine years old.
Recapturing innocence in Only Yesterday
Picking through the rough gems and wreckage of memory, his purpose to make the darkness beautiful, became a signature aspect of Takahata’s filmmaking. There is a bittersweet nostalgia at the core of Only Yesterday, in which Taeko takes a trip to the countryside home of her brother-in-law. Such tangential connections to her childhood, amidst dissatisfaction with her life and career in Tokyo, nonetheless break ground on a wellspring of her own submerged memories. Some are held with fondness, while others she would rather stayed buried. But all of them help her face the truth of who she is, and how she might reconcile and reunite her childhood self with her adult self to reach fulfilment.
As recapturing innocence draws our integral light from the darkest veins of memory, so this theme pervaded Takahata’s works to the end. His final film, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, ensconced this connecting thread of his art in the purity of fairytale, that bastion of innocence. It is the closest film of his to our hearts for that reason, as it defines the significance of the life we came from, and the one we look forward to with our newborn daughter.
Doting on their daughter
Princess Kaguya reminds me of my childhood with Thumbelina, its painstakingly painted sakura blossom my great aunt’s watercolours, memories of her teaching me how to create the impression of petals, leaves, dragon scales, a still lake. The purity of new life and the flaws of a father’s doting on his daughter is held within its white space, and the mourning in the inevitable loss of a child to the bigger world beyond that love. We see the deeper sadness to its beauty since we’ve had our daughter in our lives, and will surely be holding back our tears when we introduce it to her. In the eight years it took Takahata to complete his vision of a fairy in a bamboo shoot, our Lorelei will be dipping her toes into striking out as her own person, figuring out her identity separate from the two of us, just like Kaguya.
Isao Takahata made Ghibli a studio for every audience, embodying every shade in its prism of theme and story. He captured the devastating violence of the human nature in Grave of the Fireflies, and gave us a fairytale full of wistful wonder in Princess Kaguya. His work, in its many layers of light and dark, brings generations together in appreciation of his art, and all it means to us through reflection, compassion, memory and hope.