Another first for the Thieves, I’ve got a start to what (I hope) will be something of a regular feature on the blog – Side Dishes. In these features, I hope to explore side characters which I feel deserve the kind of attention/respect/analysis that is usually reserved for the main hero (or Entree, if you will).
Unlike Drake, I intend to start pretty much near the top – Dragonball’s Piccolo.
Piccolo is one of the characters that inspired me to even write about the importance of side characters. His arc is the same sad song we have heard so many times from a DBZ character – in Dragonball he was that dude, but once Z hits he gets repeatedly used just to show off Goku’s incredible abilities… and eventually not even that.
Regardless of his “weakness” by the show’s primary metric of fighting prowess, Piccolo is one of the more fascinating characters of the main story. He starts as an outright villain, then slowly but inexorably goes from reluctant aide to tenuous ally and then eventually a good (if reserved) friend. Throughout that time he finds true connection through being an adoptive father figure to Gohan – in fact, probably being a much better father than Goku himself – and a close friend to Krillin and the other Z Fighters. He discovers his own alien heritage, merges with his literal better half to become fully self-actualized, and is always the voice of reason in every encounter even if he is woefully outmatched. Unlike his orange-wearing counterpart, he is always punctual to any conflict, and buys time for his friends and allies time and again by risking life and limb for little respect or reward.
Stylistically he is a lot more unique than many of the other cast members as well. Though initially he is just a derivative design of his father, he stands out as one of the most unique looking members of the Dragonball mythos and has a style and flair that is second to none. The turban/cape combo is very distinctive, and even his color pallette of green/blue/white/purple is something of an oddity in the show and other works. While many characters in the show are recognizable for an attack or particular moment, Piccolo is memorable based on just his stance.
Sadly, for all of Toriyama’s imaginative brilliance, Piccolo is tragically underused and underappreciated by the end of the series. By the end of the series he is next to useless, and gets a double-whammy in the form of Pikon – a character who just shows up, is more powerful than Piccolo while looking nearly identical, and still being basically worthless. Ouch. Perhaps Dragonball Super will bring everyone’s favorite Namekian back and put him center stage again. Here’s hoping.
So what’s your take, Rogues? Any love for the Green Bean from Beyond? Let me know in the comments as usual, and enjoy your weekend!
Since the Thieves and I mainly review films and OVAs on the podcast, I will be using the blog to occasionally review full anime series as I complete them. Just like when we review normally, these reviews will attempt to educate on some of the creation process behind the work, provide a detailed analysis of its various elements, and provide a simple recommend or not recommend in lieu of stars/thumbs/points/etc.
For today’s review we will be talking about Kyousougiga.
Kyousougiga is a 10-episode show from 2013, directed by Rie Matsumoto and with animation by Toei. This work is based on the 2012 manga by Izumi Todo, which is itself inspired by the ancient Choju-giga scrolls. However, beyond the manga there is really no other merchandising linked to the property. Without much in the way of action scenes, no fan service to speak of, and the fact that this was released the same year as Kill la Kill – it all becomes quite clear as to why this was not a runaway smash hit.
Synopsis – Kyousougiga is not the easiest show to unravel, but simply put it focuses on how a priest/god (Myoe) and a living drawing (Koto) start a family together. With their three children, two of which are drawings (Yase and Kurama) and an adopted son saved from near death (Yakushimaru), the setup is not exactly traditional. These two lovers are breaking all social norms and conventions by being together and playing house, so they create a special dimension called Looking Glass and run away to live there. After many years of bliss, the two lovers leave Looking Glass to handle tasks that need attending so that their children can continue to live on in blissful peace. They tell their children that one day they will return. After waiting for what seems like an eternity, things are further complicated when a young woman (also Koto, but not the same Koto) shows up wielding a mallet of incredible power that can tear the fabric of their little world apart.
What Works –
Art – The most obvious draw for Kyousougiga is the incredible art. Not only is it technically impressive in that things look pleasing and are well-animated, but there is a very strong sense of style and flourish. Characters are very distinct while not being too abstract, landscapes are understandable but very evocative, and little flourishes are added to every scene let the viewer spend some time hunting for points of interest in every shot. The world of Looking Glass has a very unique feel, much of which is brought to life by the incredible design aesthetics. Every aspect of the show is just soaked in artistry – from the way the civilians are basically monochromatic geometric figures with checkered patterns, to the visual of the city itself as a bland uniform square with a rickety red tower jutting from the middle. Even the little touches are great, like young Koto’s mallet being clear but full of a field of stars, or the pixelated swirls that dance in the air during most shots.
Characters – This is largely a character-driven show about exploring the show’s primary themes through personal interaction, and that takes a strong cast. Thankfully Kyousougiga has that in spades. All of the characters are interesting and multi-layered, but not so bizarre that they are not relatable. It is hard not to feel for some of their struggles and insecurities as you journey through the series. Ultimately they are the main impetus of the show, and exploring their feelings about events is where the show spends the majority of its time. As wild as the context for the story is, the engine underneath is an emotional human drama grounded in real experiences.
Themes – The show relies very heavily on themes of abandonment and social possibility. Almost every character is dealing with abandonment in some way, whether from parents, siblings, or a sense of opportunity. How they approach their feelings of being left behind and what coping mechanisms they use to deal with their emotional turmoil is where a lot of the run-time for the series goes. The other theme is of possibility in social spaces, or fighting against established cultural norms and rules. Many of these changes would benefit everyone except the rule-makers, but as always there is a cosmic catch to breaking laws. There is a lot here to digest about what people are willing to do for love, how the rules of the cosmos are ultimately unjust, and the importance of letting go of the ways in which we halt our own progress.
What Doesn’t Work –
Structure – There is a definite sense of “clumping” in how the show is structured. The first episode is a whirlwind of activity and exposition. Then the next six episodes are almost entirely character-driven, with lots of small moments and interesting world-building but no real forward momentum. Then the last three episodes deliver an almost relentless stream of exposition and information about the world, in some cases literally having the characters walk around explaining everything to each other. It feels like this could have been more evenly spaced out so that the viewer has the plot slowly revealed to them over time, rather than spending most of the show knowing so little and then having a dump truck full of factoids dropped on them.
Opportunities – While the character development is really strong and well-thought out, there are a few missed opportunities with how characters are utilized. The two older siblings, Yase and Kurama, each get a complete episode dedicated to their unique perspectives. The problem is that, beyond these two focus episodes, they do not really contribute much to the story. Neither seem to do much in the way of contributing to the events which are occurring around them, and at one point even admit as much to their younger brother Myoue. There also feels like there could be more world-building along the lines of the station/garbage episode. The way they weave the aspects of “How is garbage handled in Looking Glass?” with the emotional impact it has on the characters is brilliant, but it is a shame that the show never really does anything like that again. All of the other world-building is pretty explicitly explained through long strings of dialogue.
“God” – This is more of a cultural issue, but I feel like there is always a bit of confusion when the word kami is translated as God for western audiences. Even though it may seem like a minor gripe, I feel like that having some characters referred to as “God” carries a certain amount of baggage/connotation for a western audience that can make it difficult to parcel out exactly how the cosmology of the world works. I think just leaving them as kami makes more sense, or perhaps something less weighty like “spirit” or “being.” Even if the show does flirt with a mixture of Judeo-Christian/Buddhist cosmologies, this feels like something that will perplex western audiences who – regardless of belief – are probably quite familiar with a very particular way of understanding the word God.
Verdict– In the end, I would give this a hearty recommendation for any general fan of anime. This show is very much a work of art, and it aims for some pretty lofty goals. It may not achieve every one of them, and like most art is a bit messy in certain parts, but the complete work is incredibly strong. Ultimately, for those of us who want anime to be taken seriously as an artistic endeavor, as something that has value as a tool for expression, Kyousougiga is the kind of work that we need to be encouraging. It may not be perfect, but this show exists largely free of any commercial goals, exploitative content, or meaningless violence. This is a story about people dealing with relatable human struggles in a world which can only be expressed through the delightful visual language of anime.
Alright Rogues Gallery, what do you think? Has anyone else seen Kyousougiga? Do you plan to check out it now? Let me know in the comments below.
For today’s Anime Jukebox we have the theme for the anime Rose of Versailles, Bara wa Utsukushiku Chiru.
Based on the sweeping 1972 shojo manga by Riyoko Ikeda, Rose of Versailles is an anime released in 1979 that charts the pseudo-historical tale of Oscar de Jarjayes in pre-revolutionary France. Rarely do we find anime that is a mixture of historical fiction, search for gender identity, and melodramatic pairing of romance and action. Filled with engrossing characters that have interesting developmental arcs, Rose of Versailles has been a giant in the shojo field for decades.
The theme song by Hiroko Suzuki is a potent combination of moving, subtle, and catchy. The harpsicord gives a steady tempo as an undercurrent to the verses, and the stirring string accompaniment adds a layer of excitement to the moments just before each chorus arrives. Perhaps the song’s most memorable element is the chorus, which opens with a quick repetition of the phrase bara wa bara wa – something which is incredibly easy to find stuck in one’s head long after hearing it. Paired with some fittingly overdramatic imagery in the title credits, this theme is a perfect fit for an excellent show.
Alright Rogues, is it worth your quarter, or a pass on this one?
Greetings Rogues! We are so close to the weekend, I can taste it.
So the point of whatcha watchin’ will be to act as one part update, two parts accountability measure, an one part request. Essentially it’s a way for you to know what I am watching, but also a way for me to hold myself accountable and actually watch new things. If I know another post is coming, them maybe I will make sure to watch new things to keep myself from looking foolish (er, or, more foolish). It can also be a chance to get ideas from you guys on what I should look into next, with a few ‘Didja hear about’-s and ‘Oh if you liked that then you’ll like’-s to guide my future viewing.
I hope to do all of this without stepping on the toes of any content that the guys and I would be putting on the podcast, so the focus will definitely be on longer running shows here rather than shorter viewings.
First off, what am I watching?
Currently my big show is Kyousougiga. This little ten episode series from 2013 went completely under my radar (and I suspect the same is true for a lot of folks). But after a recommendation from a good buddy I have been giving it a whirl. I really enjoy shorter series such as this because even when life is busy I feel like I can still make substantial progress every week towards finishing it. Overall I’m feeling good about it and look forward to completing it.
Progress: 7 episodes
Remaining: 3 episodes
The other major draw for me each week is Thunderbolt Fantasy. Puppet Wuxia is just something I cannot resist. This show really exemplifies what I love about tokusatsu, in that practical effects can make all the difference. The fact that these are real, physical objects moving around gives them a sort of heft we do not normally see in fully drawn or rendered images. There are a few odd things – any time feet are moving it just doesn’t look right, and every person/place/thing has a long name that is difficult to make out in dialogue. Overall though this continues to be a super exciting entry in my weekly viewing. I think the breakneck pace of the narrative, elegant fight sequences, and gorgeously detailed hoteigeki dolls are all such great draws. I don’t see myself giving up on this any time soon.
Progress: 4 episodes
Feelings: Very Positive
I’ve got a few other longer running shows on the back-burner right now, getting to them as time permits, but those two are my big foci at the moment. Rogues, what shows are you watching right now? What manga are you reading? Anything I should be checking out? Let me know below.
So as has been reportedand discussedaround the web and blogosphere, Hulu will be ending its free streaming services.
While Hulu’s free model is going away they will retain their $7.99 with ads/$11.99 without ads models for paying users, whose service will not be changing. Furthermore, Hulu’s free model is essentially being shifted over to Yahoo for what is being called Yahoo View, which will largely operate as usual.
There are a few takeaways from this.
Firstly, for those who want free, legal anime streams, the net effect will probably not be terribly noticeable. Essentially the net number of free providers is not changing for many people. In addition, there is a benefit in that Yahoo View is going to allegedly have more backend support for social media integration such as discussion, posting gifs, etc. For anime fans, staying connected and a part of the wider community is always a huge boon, because it keeps us from becoming isolated.
Secondly, it would appear that Hulu is confident enough in its paid business model to completely sever the free to use option from its brand. While certainly some could argue that this is a terrible, awful, nasty idea, and while in many cases I would agree (free users tend to drive sales, contrary to what many large businesses believe), there is something to be said for existing entirely as a paid streaming model. Netflix has never maintained any sort of free version of its services and is an industry juggernaut. Hulu has ads, but also has more up to date programming and is (like many streaming providers) beginning to grow its own stable of original content.
Overall, it seems more like a shift on an accountant’s spreadsheet more than a major tectonic shift in the industry… except for one very serious element.
Yahoo View will not be available outside the U.S.
For overseas fans, of which there are many, this is devastating news. The loss of legal options to view streaming anime only further criminalizes fans and forces them to pursue other means to be a part of the community. Most likely this has something to do with international licensing rights, and hopefully it is just a temporary issue rather than a long-term one. The Yahoo Finance article mentions that Yahoo View will launch “immediately” in the U.S., but gives no other indication of when/if other areas will be covered. Nevertheless, I hate that huge swathes of fandom may now have to use illegal methods to enjoy the shows they like purely because of their geographic location. This makes for another set of shows that overseas fans will have to use less-than-legal streams to access.
Well, some of us have always been fans of secret rivers I suppose.
Alright Rogues Gallery, let me know what you think. Will this affect your viewing in a major way? Or is this announcement a complete shoulder shrug?
Ultraman turned 50 years old this year. The brainchild of Godzilla special effects director Eiji Tsubaraya, the original series aired in 1966 on Japanese television and has had the kind of impact one would expect from a spandex-clad giant wrestling lobsters on mainstreet. One of the early tokusatsu works, this show cleverly blended superheroes, spies, kaiju, and a dash of Twilight Zone/Outer Limits style strangeness. It is really no surprise that it was such a smash hit.
Of course you choose this over the evening news, honestly it’s probably less crazy.
His cultural importance in the eastern hemisphere cannot be understated. With over 25 series in the Ultraman franchise and 8 movies, as well as countless video games and other merchandise, he truly is an endearing cultural icon. Much like Superman and Batman are infused with popular western conceptions of what a superhero is, Ultraman is the mold from which many eastern superheroes are forged.
Why is he such an unknown here in the west, then?
Part of the problem stems from the fact that to many he is “just another superhero.” Essentially viewed as a something of an off-brand Power Ranger, Ultraman seldom gets taken very seriously here in the west.
Another issue is syndication and visibility. In the United States, Ultraman has not been on the air in 20-30 years. While many Latin American countries have a much stronger history of showing Ultraman (and a lot of other things, like Mazinger Z – bless you Latin America), and I am unsure of Europe, there is always something to be said for keeping a property alive in the U.S. market because it will inevitably filter out to others due to the sheer number of viewers and amount of money involved.
Most distressing is the consistently frustrating legal battles that Tsubaraya Productions has had with Chaiyo over licensing issues. The agony here is worth a few blog posts in and of itself (and perhaps I should do that at some point, though far greater men than I have explained it quite thoroughly).
The mask hides my Ultratears.
Thankfully, the Ultra franchise is in one of the best places it could possibly be in terms of access. The original series is on Hulu, Shout Factory has both the dvds and free streams for a number of Ultra shows (including the magnificent Ultra Seven), and Crunchyroll has a metric ton of Ultra shows ready to be watched. In fact, Ultraman Orb is releasing new episodes every week as of this posting. I love everything about the classic series and many of its successors, either for the strange aliens, awesome kaiju battles, or sometimes outright corny special effects.
Behold, in episode 11 Ultraman faces down a foe while waiting for the bus.
So Rogues Gallery, I leave you with this. To celebrate 50 years of Ultramannery, have any of you watched or enjoyed the red and silver hero from a distant nebula? Have you tried and not liked it, or completely passed it over? Let me know in the comments below, Rogues! (Or just give me the loudest SHA! you can muster).