Anime Jukebox – Rose of Versailles Theme

For today’s Anime Jukebox we have the theme for the anime Rose of Versailles, Bara wa Utsukushiku Chiru.

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1970s anime hair has no equal.

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?

Whatcha Watchin’? 8/11/16

Greetings Rogues! We are so close to the weekend, I can taste it.

Vash
Awww yiss

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?

Kyousougigacover
Kyousougiga

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

Feelings: Positive

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Thunderbolt Fantasy

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

Remaining: Weekly/Unknown

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.

Shifting Streams – Hulu Free and Yahoo View

So as has been reported and discussed around 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.

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Freedom from freemium.

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.

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It’s fine, loneliness is good for the soul.

 

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.

Sokka_with_toucan_puffins

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 – Respect the Red and Silver

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.

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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).

Ultraman Sad

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.

Lawl

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).

Advisory Parental – The Case for Parents in Anime

It is not uncommon for anime to lack parental figures. Many shows, especially the more popular ones, have mother/father figures who are either deceased, absent, or never mentioned at all. Anime tends to lean on the coming of age story structure, because a great deal of it is aged at children/adolescents/young adults. These groups will gravitate to imaginative spaces where parents are dead, absent, awful, or even outright villains, because that allows for the young heroes to take center stage.

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Thank goodness mom isn’t around to keep me from achieving my goal.

I feel like this is a huge missed opportunity. Sure, not every story needs or benefits from parents for any number of reasons. They may be outside the scope of the work, not particularly interesting, or the author simply does not know how to handle them. This is perfectly fine, but there are real advantages to adding parental figures to a work. Parents are very easy hooks for most viewers, as if they exist on this earth of ours then they have at least some personal dimension with parents whether they are biological, adopted, brought in through marriage, or of a more spiritual variety. Even if someone’s parents are completely absent, that absence plays some part in their story.

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I was both absent and a villain. Behold my incredible parenting abilities.

Parents also tend to be rather complex parts of our lives, as few people have entirely perfect relationships with the people who have raised them. They provide food, shelter, guidance, nurture, stories, and attempt to pass on a series of virtues to us, but can just as often be overbearing, overprotective, naive, or antagonistic to our desires. This kind of multi-layered complexity practically comes prepackaged with the use of parental characters, and authors should certainly not ignore the potential they have for telling stories

To show what I mean, I will pull examples from three (relatively) recent shows that use parents to great effect. To further compound things, all three will be shonen coming of age stories!

Major Hughes – Fullmetal Alchemist

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The Why – In a sense, Major Hughes is almost a bit boring. His entire character is literally Hey Look At Me I Love My Family. While that seems a bit one-dimensional (probably because it is), he definitely earns points for being one of the few characters in all of anime (or fiction, for that matter) who is just an out-and-out adoring father. I wish I could complain with something like, “Ugh, another good father, seen this a thousand times.” But truthfully good dads in anime are pretty similar to their real life counterparts – few and far between.

The Hook – His genuine goodness only magnifies the feels as the series progresses.

Rinko Iori – Gundam Build Fighters

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The Why – A somewhat typical maternal figure, Rinko gets bonus points in a few categories. Firstly, she has an earnest interest in her son Sei’s success, but is not overbearing/too nosy/obnoxious in any way. She clearly cares and encourages him without interfering with his life in any undo manner. Furthermore, she feels like an actual mother rather than a caricature of one – quietly supportive when Sei is around his friends, excitedly cheering for him when watching him compete. On top of that she is a successful businesswoman, has some great (if sparing) dialogue, and the audience can’t help but root for her while she roots for her son.

The Hook – A mother whose role is a bit traditional, but is refreshing in its sincerity.

Joseph Joestar – JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure

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The Why –  Not only is Joseph one of the better leads in the various arcs of JoJo’s, he really exemplifies the advantages of using these sorts of parental figures in anime. As an audience we see his journeys as a young man, and by Stardust Crusaders (JoJo’s 3rd arc) he is now an older man leading his grandson to save his daughter. The incredible dynamic that his legacy hook adds to the show as a whole gives everything that much more impact. Now the audience can juxtapose Joseph with his daughter and grandson, as well as seeing him continue on to have new adventures of his own. By including him as part of the adventure all of the events that take place have an additional sense of meaning, because this is both a new story for a new hero and the continuing tale of yesterday’s legends.

The Hook – Not your granpappy’s Grandpa character, an elder warrior who provides guidance and punch.


So there you have it folks, three examples of great parental figures that really add to the stories they are in. Do you agree or disagree with our picks for great parental figures in anime? Or can you think of any others we should have included? Tell us in the comments below.

Anime Jukebox – Area 88 “How Far to Paradise”

The first in a new line of blog posts, Anime Jukebox will be a collection of songs that stand out to the Blade Licking Thieves for any number of reasons. Today’s track – How Far to Paradise, from the Area 88 OVA.

Sung by Derek Jackson, this track served as the first opening theme for the Area 88 OVA. Adapted from Kaoru Shintani’s legendary manga series, this OVA is a favorite for a lot of old heads in the fandom. This track firmly plants the show in the glorious cheese of the 1980’s – a story of seemingly endless war with a reluctant pilot and a distant love interest. While the manga and OVA certainly exceed the seemingly “ho-hum/been there done that” of the initial premise, this track is so drenched in 80s absurdity it is hard not to love. The heavy bass line, rhythmic guitar, and over the top brass accompaniment are a perfect pairing with the iconic logo – the unicorn with a burning mane of fire. The highlight of the track is definitely whenever Derek’s voice drops in pitch as he asks, “How far back to my hoo-ooome?” at the end of each chorus.

What’s your take on this classic anime track – is it worth you quarter, or do you skip it? Tell us in the comments below.

Of Cake and Icing

So a few days ago while checking my Twitter feed, Crunchyroll posted this –

https://mobile.twitter.com/Crunchyroll/status/761054966005891072

The post has a 45 second clip from the show New Game. At the time I encountered it, it had almost 100 retweets and close to 400 likes. Out of curiosity I watched the clip. What I saw was… something.

What had I just watched?

I pondered this for a moment – a straight 45 seconds of two girls walking down the street calling each other cute and then acting embarrassed and modest about being called cute. Was that it? Is this supposed to make me want to watch the show? This saccharine clip existed without context, character, or really any purpose. All icing and no cake. I can’t believe people would get anything from the clip.

But maybe I was approaching this from the wrong angle.

When I cut my teeth on anime it was a different time, and Japanese animation was a subset of the existing American science-fiction/fantasy fandom. So my expectations are wildly different than subsequent generations. I thought about what my “icing” would be – mecha fighting in space, two martial artists using kewl powerz, ancient warriors crossing blades at dusk. I realized that if the clip had featured, say, a criss-crossing laser battle with streaking missiles and detailed mecha designs I wouldn’t have needed much context to enjoy it. I would have just taken it at face value and excitedly searched for more. I’d have seen that plate of icing an devoured it, probably scraping the plate while I did so.

So what accounts for this change of taste? Why do modern fans enjoy two girls talking about nothing and it does nothing for me?

At first I thought it maybe have just been an issue of age. I’m little more than a cranky old man, shaking my cane at passing youngsters. Kids these days, or back when I was a young man, and rabble rabble babble blergha. That sort of thing. But I don’t think that is the entire story. Certainly, 11-year old Grant would not have liked the above clip any more than currently-ancient-Grant did.

Is it that tastes have change radically? Perhaps these dern youngins just don’t know how to connect with the sort of genres I care for. Growing up in he shadow of the Cold War does things to one’s mind, and maybe the current social context gives them a different set of experiences to pull from. Still, I think that may only be partially true. Sure, the current crop of fandom is a lot different than I am or was, but when I look at the top lists for shows on Crunchyroll the top three are all shonen fighting shows – Naruto, One Piece, and Jojo’s – and the fourth slot is the new Berserk, which has been a staple in the medium for years.

I think the truth of the matter is that the fandom is larger and a lot more diverse. Simply put, anime has always been all of the things it is now, but the proportions are different (i.e. less mecha, more slice of life) and the sheer breadth of shows is greater than ever before. It’s not that we exist in an age where everyone is watching 45-second New Game clips and going gaga over moe eyes, it’s that we live in an age where there is such an incredible amount of content that there exists a fandom for, well, everything.

So while some things have not changed, and some things perhaps too much for my taste, at the end of the day anime is probably better for the diversity. Choice tends to work in everyone’s favor. So no, I will never be swayed by sugary sweet clips, but if someone else is… well, more power to them. To paraphrase a famous line that helped someone else keep their head on their shoulders, “Let them eat icing.”

A Podcast on Asian Cinema: Anime, Kaiju, Chambara, Martial Arts, and More.

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