Welcome, all, again. After a disheartening week at work, I found myself once again seeking the solace of favorite anime episodes. Knowing that I can’t be the only one who does this, I decided to dedicate this installment to a brief list of suggestions for those who need a quick pick-me-up after some unpleasant IRL time. And so, corresponding to the level of comfort sought, I offer the following:
4) Final  episode[s] of Cowboy Bebop: for when you don’t even want to feel better, you just want some affirmation for your state of mind. Spike is a man with a past, but don’t dare think that he’s running from it–he just needs some time to wrap his head around everything that happened before he can really move forward. And when he finally does, well, watch a man newly determined to plot his own course and alter fate. Don’t look here for happily-ever-after, but the conclusion does offer a sweeping sense of completion and fulfillment.
3) Episode 6 of Arpeggio of Blue Steel: for when you need that sudden infusion of hope (against all odds). Episode 4 sees a desperate battle between Iona and the combined might of Fog battleships Haruna (HaruHaru) and Kirishima, and ends with Haruna’s mental model ashore where she is found by the child Makie. Episode 5 follows the delicate inroads towards friendship made by Makie and Haruna, neither of whom has ever before had the opportunity to find or be a friend. But it is in episode 6, when Makie’s life is threatened, that we viewers witness just how important this new concept of friendship has become. Self-sacrifice is the order of the day all around, so that even if your tears fall, your heart will leap and soar! (Episode 10 covers similar themes of devotion and self-sacrifice, but based upon love rather than friendship.)
2) Episode 10 of Non Non Biyori: for when you really need the comfort of complete acceptance and unconditional love. As a slice-of-life show concentrating upon family and community, you expect feel-good storylines from Non Non Biyori. And you get them, but episode 10 is still something special. Throughout the preceding nine episodes, we viewers noticed the especially close relationship between Ren-chon, the youngest character, and Kaede (called “Candy Store”). Episode 10 finally reveals the connection, referencing the past while remaining firmly rooted in the present as the three Miyauchi sisters join Kaede for a New Year’s sunrise viewing. The end result is an episode brimming with warmth and heart! Even moreso than my upcoming #1 pick (which just takes too much out of me, sometimes), this particular episode is my go-to happyplace when I really need one. (Episode 10 of Non Non Biyori Repeat–the anime’s second season–likewise focuses upon the relationship between the two, as Renge tries to learn to ride a bicycle.)
Episode 1 of Usagi Drop (also called Bunny Drop): for when you need it all–love, trust, the recognition and validation of despair, as well as the tensile strength of hope. Lifelong bachelor Daikichi attends his maternal grandfather’s funeral only to learn that the old man left behind an illegitimate 6-year-old daughter. Scorned as the very manifestation of their family’s shame, Rin is alternately ignored, bullied, and ultimately rejected by all relatives. . .all except Daikichi, who is confused and repulsed by the insensitive treatment heaped upon an innocent child. But what can he do to help? Nothing but risk everything. This is probably the single most emotionally uplifting episode of anime that I’ve ever watched (and repeatedly re-watched!). Just be warned that it will savage your heart before it salves it, so first make sure that you’re really up for the emotional investment!
And there you have them, my recommendations for one-shot curative treatments against the blues, the blahs, and all the general nastiness that the world likes to throw at us. So go take a 24-minute soak and get revitalized!
Welcome, all, again. Having finally caught up with this season’s shows on Crunchyroll that interest me, I decided to go after some other recent shows that somehow got away, beginning with Dimension W. To be honest, I lost track of a number of shows that I was planning to watch. And the partnership that began between Crunchyroll and Funimation last September did nothing to help. While I understand the move from a business standpoint, from my own standpoint as a paid subscriber to both sites, well, things got a bit inconvenient–especially when Funimation unexpectedly cancelled my membership for me. That was both irritating and distracting. So, half-a-year later and I finally managed to restart my subscription. . .and finally got around to watching Dimension W!
I’ll begin with a question: have you seen SoltyRei? Because if you have, you’ll immediately slip into this show’s mindset. A haggard, lone-wolf kind of guy with blatant antisocial tendencies and a distrust of technology bordering upon hatred finds himself saddled with a robot/android-like being with the appearance and demeanor of a human girl. So the initial character pairing felt like a comfortable homecoming. Kyouma Mabuchi is a collector [read as: repo-man] of illegal energy coils who confronts and eventually partners with Mira Yurizaki, described as a highly advanced robot. Mira’s very existence is tied closely to Kyouma’s past, but both are ignorant of this link, which grows more important as the story progresses. Like Solty Revant from SoltyRei, Mira conceives of herself as human and is discomfited by references to robotics. One primary difference in character design between the two shows, however, is that Roy Revant is older than Kyouma and was married with a family that he lost. This allows him to accept and even adopt Solty as his daughter, an emotional connection not really available to Kyouma. He and Mira must first imagine some sort of relationship before they can create it. The fun is in watching them try.
Well, it’s usually fun. But one element of this show that leaves me cringing is the casual violence that Kyouma directs at Mira. Quite beyond his constant belittling of her, when Kyouma gets angry or annoyed he occasionally lashes out and hits Mira–obviously thinking that it doesn’t matter because (as a machine) she cannot feel pain. Now, aside from such [grotesque] logic, these incidents are even more disturbing for being random and gratuitous. And the fact that this behavior is reserved solely for Mira makes it feel vaguely like witnessing domestic abuse. Anyway, I could have easily lived without that little quirk in the show, and wish that I might have. The story would be better without it.
Otherwise, this series hits all the right notes. It’s fast-paced with plenty of action. It offers some fun sci-fi to play with, and asks questions about reality that–however trite–still need to be answered individually to have real meaning. For example, what are the nature and limitations of sentience? Does sentience establish emotion, or possibly validate it? Is our conceptualization of life big enough to embrace the non-organic? Additionally, character development is unhurried and feels fairly natural. And the military is portrayed in human terms, shown doing their job without being censured as tools (that scores big points with me!).
Is the premise believable? C’mon, it’s a sci-fi anime! There’s a bunch of background noise about Dimension W offering unlimited energy, and about the manifestation of possibility, etc., but the real story is embodied by the characters. And so, implied wife-beating aside (a real shame, that), this show offers just the perfect bit of escapism. I’m glad that I went back and watched it, and readily recommend it (albeit with reservation, noted below).
[Parental Note: Again, I caution that Kyouma’s spoken disrespect and casual physical violence towards Mira are not only disturbing in and of themselves, but mirror domestic abuse. Be prepared for some resultant uncomfortable discussions with younger viewers.]
Welcome, all, again. This post is not intended to be long, nor will I review anything. Rather, in solemn remembrance of the victims of 11 March, 2o11, I suggest watching three short works (each under 6 minutes) addressing the Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and aftermath. They are: Blossom (my favorite); Psychedelic Afternoon; and By Your Side. Produced by Zapuni, the 311 Japan Earthquake Charity Project, they beautifully examine loss and recovery and can be viewed by visiting: zapuni.com/#videos. Zapuni is one of several organizations which continue to provide aid to those affected; if you are so inclined, you might consider researching such ongoing efforts and opportunities to contribute. Regardless, please enjoy these shorts and take some time to reflect upon how wondrous and fragile our lives. Thank you.
Welcome, all, again. Time does not slow merely because I do, so I sometimes find myself caught by surprise. This morning is one of those instances. Some while back I let it be known that the band Sapphire Solace was seeking backing through PledgeMusic for their latest album, Waiting to Breathe. They reached their goal and released a rich, gorgeous collection of song and music in what I can only call an electro/Goth vein. Darkly beautiful stuff!
And now a band called VV and the Void (pictured), hailing from within the same musical space, finds itself in similar position. As of today, they have twenty-five (25) days left to complete their fund drive on PledgeMusic for their album The Upper Room [http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/vvandthevoid]. These are powerful songs couched within swirling thunderheads of music, and they need to be heard. I’m going to do my small part to try to make that happen, both through my blog and my wallet. Visit the link above and, if you like what you hear, consider helping them out! I promise, it’s a great feeling to help bring a little beauty into the world–and this music possesses an almost Wagnerian sublimity.
And, speaking of approaching dates, remember that Fifi Rong’s very first SXSW performance happens in mere days in Austin, Texas. She’ll be performing at midnight on 16 March at The Iron Bear. Also of note, The Birthday Massacre’s new album Under Your Spell is due for release in May of this year. They also sought fan funding through PledgeMusic and had a very successful campaign. Merchandise, including pre-orders of the new album, is currently available at: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/thebirthdaymassacre2/exclusives. So go show Chibi some love!
And so, for your consideration and in closing this column, I would urge those of you who are interested and able to explore crowdfunding. Reputable and established sites such as PledgeMusic, Kickstarter, and Patreon (as well as others) offer ordinary individuals the chance to participate in bringing a bit of artistry into fruition, enriching the world in the process. Speaking personally, I have found it to be very satisfying to watch, view, or listen to something to which I contributed. You might, as well.
Welcome, all, again. For my last two reviews, I have explored the serious themes underpinning two very different comedy series. And so I thought, why not just go ahead and tackle something with a bit more heft? How about the senselessness and tragedy of war, the hypocrisy of a theological concept of free will, or even the duplicity of deities themselves? And for a finale, why not briefly explore the concept of evil? Oh, but this sounds like a boisterous handful, so pull on your tallest boots and get ready to wade deep! Because this time around we’re discussing Saga of Tanya the Evil.
First, a quick synopsis: Tanya is a petite, blonde girl of European (German) birth who is actually the reincarnated soul of a murdered Japanese salaryman. She has been born into an alternate world as it staggers into its first World War, about a decade later than did ours. Because of this later timeline, we witness equipment and tactics reflecting both of our World Wars. Moreover, magic exists in this world and is readily employed in combat. And Tanya is just brimming with the stuff!
Magic, however, is not the only thing Tanya carries–in defiance of most concepts of reincarnation with which I am familiar, she is born fully cognizant of her past life. From her very first conscious thoughts, she is aware of this new dichotomy within her nature. Now, might this be burden or advantage? Because such knowledge definitely helps her seem preternaturally precocious. But just how much does the arrangement strain her sanity? Nor does it help that the cause of her strange situation has followed her from life to life, a mysterious deity offended by Tanya’s lack of spiritual faith in both her lives. It was this being who harangued the doomed salaryman, freezing and prolonging his moment of violent death in order to question and then taunt him about faith, and who then becomes increasingly active in Tanya’s new life despite initially intimating non-interference. In fact, during his stasis before death, Tanya’s former self had deduced that this interloper was more likely the Devil rather than God. Unwilling to recognize either as real, however, he designated his tormentor Being X–but it seems the Devil still wants his due.
For while we viewers did not spend much time with Tanya’s former self, we can nonetheless deduce that in her new life she is placed firmly within the parameters of a Judeo/Christian (or Judeo/Christian-like) theology, as witnessed by the wordings of her prayers/spells. And so her situation gains an immediate familiarity, mirroring Job’s persecution by Satan. Except, of course, that this time the Devil’s goal is to lead the unwilling to God, rather than drag the faithful away. OK, you say, that makes no sense at all. But doesn’t it? What better revenge for Satan than to make God himself the source of a soul’s torment? What more elegantly understated way to demand of God: why allow free will if to employ it is to fall from grace? Why create cognizant creatures, only to punish their self-actualization? Mind you, I’m not seeking to challenge anyone’s religious beliefs here. I’m simply pointing out that–from the perspective of a culture not intimately familiar with the historical growth of Christian thought and tradition–it probably all seems a bit convoluted, if not sometimes hypocritical. And that’s without delving into the traditions that deny free will.
No need. After all, the suppression and denial of free will are inherent to the military, most especially during the vacuum of war. Indeed, free will is the antithesis of military order. To wit, orders are issued; orders are received; orders are executed. Any variation compromises the mission. And as a rising star of the [German] Empire’s army, Tanya refuses compromise. Of course, war is bigger than any one person, and it’s not as if the majority of people actually fighting a war ever had a say in beginning it–which fact itself does nothing to detract from the perceived righteousness of their causes. But why must ideals be thought so much more valuable than people? (Don’t look now, but I think you dogma might have rabies. . .)
And that finally brings us to the question of evil. Why, within the framework of this series, is Tanya called evil? Is it because she acts in her own best interest? Don’t we all, occasionally? Is it because she consistently subjugates compassion to logic? While that might make her unpleasant company, calling it evil seems to stretch credibility. Perhaps, then, because she is so ruthless in battle? This sounds more likely, especially when we consider the long shadows cast by such figures as Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun. Or is it ultimately because she denies not just God’s grace, but his very existence? Certainly the nuns who taught me catechism in my youth considered atheism the epitome of evil. But at seven episodes in, I still can’t offer a satisfactory answer. Self-serving, unfeeling, likely psychopathic, and even somewhat depraved all aptly describe Tanya; I’ve thus far seen nothing to indicate evil as I interpret the word, meaning to deliberately cause unnecessary pain or destruction. Or might the evil within the title really be one of those “lost-in-translation” situations?
I like this show. A lot. It’s brave, relatively fast-paced, and exhibits a gallows humor all too rare in the shows I’ve seen lately. And while admittedly dark, with grim themes, it is beautifully drawn and animated (despite the frequent use of CGI). So sit down and make yourself comfortable–you won’t stay so for long, I promise.
Addendum (03 March, 2017–Per Episode 8):
And no sooner do I post the above review than an episode arrives that presents Tanya seeming to make unconscionable decisions regarding what we now call urban warfare. She is ordered to engage and destroy enemy forces within a formerly captured city, then informed that all civilians remaining after an ordered evacuation will legally be considered enemy combatants. To wit, she is being ordered to kill civilians. To be fair, native militia and armed partisans are organic to occupations–and they are most certainly combatants! Engaging them is simple–if brutal–reality. That they melt into and hide within civilian populations is also factual. This means that engaging them almost assures some amount of collateral damage. It should be remembered, however, that these actors come to the occupiers’ attention only through their own efforts; they signal their presence through their actions. Put bluntly, they initiate others’ efforts to destroy them. And it is their disappearance into the larger civilian population that immediately endangers those civilians.
I would next point out something that might have easily been overlooked, the fact that Tanya challenged the initial order by tossing it right back to her commanding officer. In the military, when you receive an order, you execute that order. Tanya instead repeated it, with commentary, back to the superior who had issued it. This was clearly a challenge to its content. Admittedly, the issue is muddied by the late revelation of a paper she had previously submitted concerning the legalities of engaging civilian populaces. Was the paper a nod to the reality of engaging civilians, while her challenge represented her true opinion? Or was that challenge simply to camouflage her own embrace of the tenets of total warfare? Either way, the fact that she issued the challenge is undeniable.
Last, I would caution against anyone getting comfortable on what they might consider moral high ground. Tanya is, after all, from our own world. And in our world, civilians have almost always been targeted during war, and by all sides of a conflict. After all, it is civilians who supply their army; eradicate the civilians and their army starves. Or freezes. Or finds some other uncomfortable way to die. Consider World War II: as to hiding behind legalities, did Japan really think that declaring war minutes before the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor would negate its being a surprise attack? That was, after all, their plan. And as for targeting civilians, did the US really think that it was destroying important military targets by firebombing huge swaths of residential Tokyo? In both cases, the larger target was the enemy’s morale. So let’s rain rockets onto London! And let’s burn Dresden to the ground! Let’s crush enemy morale through indiscriminate slaughter! If Tanya is truly walking this path, might it not be simply because she realizes its inevitability? To willingly employ a tactic does offer at least the possibility of controlling both its progression and its outcome. And while this latest episode might indeed finally signal Tanya’s descent into evil, I still have hope for her. After all, she’s still true enough to herself to fight against divine intervention in her life. . .and that might yet prove a strength beyond the reach of any external power.