Japanese salaryman turned ten year old warrior mage in an alternate, 1920ties Germany uses his/her little girl voice to obey the letter, if not the spirit of international war crime law, then bombards the undefended capital of the enemy. So edgy you can cut yourself, but the series so far manage to balance Tanya’s coolness and bad-ass attitude with how sick (s)he is not to mention how fucked over by the god that landed him/her in this predicament. This could’ve been fodder for the anime reichwing, but the occassional Trump meme video notwithstanding, it seems to have managed to escape that fate, even though blonde, murderous under age girls are like catnip to that crowd normally.
Futari wa Pretty Cure is the first series in the PreCure franchise, which so far has had one 48 to 50 episode series coming out each year since 2004. Each series stands on its own (with the exception of the occasional sequel) but follows the same formula: two or more young teenage girls encounter cute (but usually annoying) mascot animals who give them special powers to fight evil. They use their powers to fight increasingly powerful monsters while encountering various more mundane troubles in their daily lives, but through the power of friendship and the occassional flying kick overcome them, to ultimately triumph over the Big Bad pulling the strings in the background. A typical magical girl/mahou shoujo franchise, one which is incredibly popular in Japan but almost unavailable in its original form outside of it (at least in English speaking countries). You may however have heard of Glitter Force, which adapted one of the series into something supposedly more palatable to American tastes.
True, the PreCure series are aimed at kids and are rather formulaic plotwise: Pretty Cure has to overcome some everyday challenge or adversity, the monster of the week shows up halfway through, they fight and defeat them, cut back to their ordinary lives and the resolution of the problem they faced; rinse, repeat. Personally I don’t mind this, as the execution of this formula is done decently, the characters are likeable and there’s enough “candy” in the form of well executed fight scenes to keep me interested. Not something perhaps to sit down to watch for, but more than good enough to have on while still being able to do something else. And, as you can see, when the animators are on point, they’re on point, like Tatsuo Yamada here in these excerpts.
The original Futari wa Pretty Cure series is available on Crunchyroll (but not in the Netherlands!) while Glitter Force can be found on Netflix. Videos via Sakugabooru.
After fifteen seconds of abstract swirls moving against a black background, SanGatsu No Lion opens with the silhouette of the protagonist, Kiriyama Rei, hair blowing wildly in the wind, against a cloudy blue sky. The wind is obviously a metaphor for being restless, uneasy, on edge and we’ll see Rei’s hair blowing around in the wind a couple of times more in the episode.
The opening theme starts and it’s one long sequence of Rei drowning, slowly sinking, getting out of the river to struggle through thorn bushes, sinking back into the mud again. There’s a stillness to the drowning sequences that’s in stark contrast to the wind of the pre-opening sequence. The water/drowning metaphor also re-occurs several times in the rest of the episode; air bubbling up in a bottle of ice tea signalling stress.
Coming out of the opening, the first thing we see is a close up of a face, a mouth, smiling, but not in a good way. That’s a smile that hurts, in more ways than one. The woman the smile belongs too may be saying hurtful things, but she looks like she’s hurting too. At this point we have no context for this dream or memory of Rei’s. We don’t know who she is or what she is to him, so we have no real idea of why she is saying this to him. Well, I do, but I cheated and read the manga.
As the dream ends and Rei wakes up, the story finally gets underway. Slowly. Almost five minutes are spent on him waking up, getting dressed and traveling to the shogi hall for a match. No dialogue, no narration, just Rei slowly making his way across town. This is rare in anime; normally you’d be right inside the protagonist’s head, but here you actually have to pay attention to Rei’s expressions and body language. And what I see is what I’ve seen with family members struggling with psychological issues or were recuperating from an operation. There’s a deliberateness to how Rei dresses himself in that excerpt above (courtesy of Wave motion Cannon), a way he pulls in his core that speaks to me of being hurt, of remembering pain. You also see how empty his apartment is, the only furniture being a wardrobe and his shogi board. It’s a gorgeous apartment but it feels blindingly cold.
The other thing that struck is how monochrome Rei is compared with his environment, visually setting him apart from everybody else, with his ink dark hair, white shirt and greenish-brown trousers. The camera angles seem to reinforce his isolation, with closeups being mainly showing his back, while longer range shots show him alone in the middle of the screen, or only half in frame, face cut off. It all works pretty well in establishing something is wrong with Rei, if not what.
There’s a lot of back story to Rei that’s only hinted at rather than explained in this first episode, as was also the case with the original manga. We get some clue from the dream that opened the episode, some quick flashbacks during his shogi match, but nothing yet ouright explained. Which makes a refreshing change from most of anime, which likes to front load its exposition. So we get the impression that this particular match is a big deal because of who Rei is playing and it is clear they know each other, but just how and why they know each other is only explained much later in the episode. Unexplained remains why the seventeen year old Rei is living on his own, what happened in his past to separate him from his family, or who the woman is he’s having nightmares about.
It’s a long and slow introduction to a character and it’s incredibly oppressive, as was the manga when I first read it. Even with just the visuals, with nothing explained, it’s depressive. And then it all changes a third of the way through the episode — but that’s for another post.
Dara Ó Briain there, on the fundamental problem of fanservice in anime. It’s not that fanservice exists, or that there are fanservice orientated shows, but rather the default assumption that anime fans have to be slightly horny all the time, so better cue up the ass shots, accidental gropings and hilarious female on female sexual harassment. Even if you like that sort of thing, most of it is just embarassing and godawful to sit through when an anime you’re enjoying gets interrupted for a bit of mindless, mechanical “sexiness”. Looking at you, Izetta.
I mean, why else have a close up butt shot in the middle of a great action scene like this (and it’s not the only example) unless you’re afraid your audience can’t concentrate unless they’re a little bit horny? Is that why there was that groping scene in episode four? To keep viewers’ attention as the action slowed down and exposition happened?
A pitch perfect book trailer for Ancillary Justice, done by the same person who did the wonderful Starships video. It’s uncanny how the video manages to capture the setting and story using only pre-existing sources. This got my imagination firing on how good a real movie or television series adaptation might look and yet. And yet… One of the things that sets Ancillary Justice apart is its use of pronouns and how we see the world through Breq’s eyes only, who is either unwilling or unable to make gender distinctions. Doing the same in a visual medium is much harder; the effect will be lost if we’re seeing actors who are “clearly male” or “clearly female” and they can’t all be Tilda Swinton. It would be a very different experience and one that needs lot of care and attention to get it right. I’m not sure anybody could do it right.