Most shows are about stuff like whether or not a given villain will be defeated, or whether or not the guy will get the girl. Mushi-shi takes place on a wholly different plane — it’s not about a hero or a violent competition, but about an entirely new world with its own nature and biology, its own laws of being, its own cycle of living and dying and being reborn. It has the same meditative beauty as Haibane Renmei or Kino’s Journey — shows that are not about fighting or blowing things up, but simply observing things as they are and knowing their true nature. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
The “mushi” (derived from the Japanese word for insect) are like primordial homunculi — large single-celled organisms that only a few people can see, but which interact with the real world in bizarre ways. Sometimes they latch onto people and cause afflictions that have to be dealt with, but they’re not inherently evil: they just have a life cycle of their own, and sometimes we are part of that life cycle whether or not we realize it. The mushi-shi or “mushi master” of the title is Ginko, a young man with a mop of pale hair and a cigarette perpetually dangling from a corner of his mouth, and the ability to detect and work with (or rout out) mushi when they manifest.Read more
What a joy it is to see the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex mythology capped off so exuberantly and intelligently — at least, for now. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society (which has easily the longest title of any release this year) is a fitting culmination for what was created by the two seasons of the Stand Alone Complex TV shows. It has enough plot to fill a whole season of TV, skillfully and efficiently condensed into a single two-hour movie, but it never loses sight of the pole stars in the GITS cosmology of ideas: the tension between the individual and society; the way our lives and worlds are technologized with unforeseen consequences; the way this technologization gives rise to new orders of existence within and without us. And it’s also a great movie, period: fast-moving, gorgeous to watch, loaded with things that improve on repeat viewings. I also couldn’t ignore multiple parallels — thematic and visual — between SSS and the very first Ghost in the Shell film, right down to the images in the final shot and Kusanagi’s prescient closing lines.
Solid State Society opens some time after the end of the second season of Stand Alone Complex, and features many of the same characters. Togusa, the family man and former greenhorn, is now the mature and determined field commander of Section 9, leading Bateau, Ishikawa, Boma, Pazu, and all the other members of that elite outfit while himself taking orders from “the old goat”, Aramaki (himself a right-hand man to Prime Minister Kayabuki as per the 2nd GiG plotline). As for Motoko Kusanagi herself, she resigned four years ago and has “gone off the grid” for reasons unknown, much to the chagrin of the rest of the crew. “Her talents were as rare as ESP,” Aramaki laments, although apparently just as difficult to predict. We also find out that Bateau was offered Togusa’s post and explicitly declined it, and as much as Bateau admires his former teammate’s prowess it’s also clear he’s biting back a great deal of jealousy for what could have been.Read more
The Mystery of Rampo is a rare creature: a truly original movie, blessed with a fearless imagination and a delirious visual style. It helps somewhat to know from where the film has mined its imagery and inspirations, but I don’t think it’s crucial: the spell Rampo casts all by itself is powerful enough to bewitch most any receptive audience.
I’m lucky enough, I guess, to have been a fan of the film’s core inspiration: the life and works of Edogawa Rampo, the man who was to 20th-century Japan what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and (to a fair degree) Stephen King were and are to modern English-speaking audiences. One of his chief inspirations was Edgar Allan Poe, from whom he (rather cheekily) derived not only his pen name but also the other man’s nose for human frailty and foibles, and he wrote voluminously in Japan for decades without his work ever receiving much attention elsewhere. I devoured the only two editions of his work currently available in English (Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination and Black Lizard), along with other films that drew on his work for inspiration (Rampo Noir), and wanted more. And now I can add Mystery of Rampo to that list, which adds wonderfully to the man’s legacy without being redundant or insulting (as was the case, sadly, with the lamentable Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf).Read more
The second season of the Ah! My Goddess TV series is a little like having a reunion with an old friend who hasn’t changed at all over the years. You won’t get any real surprises, but you also won’t be let down — and in the case of A!MG, the whole cast of the show have taken on the flavor of old friends I’ve come to know and love.
Still, with the sheer number of iterations this material has been through, you’d think there would have been more variety. There’s the original manga; the first OAV adaptation; the feature-length movie; the first season of the new TV series; and now the second season of the TV show. Through it all, the basic math for the A!MG algebra has remained the same: Boy Meets Goddess(es), and Mayhem Ensues. Still, why tinker with a good thing when it already works?Read more
The second volume of Mushi-shi continues the same magical atmosphere conjured up so wonderfully on the first disc, and that atmosphere was a big part of the reason for watching this show in the first place. And now that the show’s nailed down the basics — the mysterious organisms called mushi, and the wanderer named Ginko who knows their secrets and aids others in dealing with them — it’s now starting to expand on the original premise and use it as an arena for even deeper things. The stories are not really about the mushi, but the people who come into contact with them — good, bad, indifferent, ambitious flawed, what have you — and how they are changed by the experience. It wouldn’t be wide of the mark to talk about the show as a kind of environmentalist parable: We all bear some responsibility for our effects on our world; it’s madness for us to simply use it thoughtlessly and not learn to coexist wisely with it. And finally, the show continues to deliver one lushly beautiful image after another, like a living storybook. It’s the sort of show you could just watch with the sound off, like a piece of video art, but then you’d miss out on the poetic dialogue and Toshio Masuda’s spare, precise gamelan-and-piano score.Read more
And once again I run the risk of devolving into blathering fandom. Tekkonkinkreet is the sort of thing where you set any and all criticism aside and just let the movie happen to you. If every anime was this visually ambitious and this soulful under it all, I’d be out of a job and wouldn’t mind it one bit.
The name Tekkonkinkreet is a mash-up of two words — tekkin (“iron structure”) and konkuriito (“concrete”) — and it’s a fitting title for an urban fable of two orphan boys who rule over the modern-day megalopolis “Treasure Town” with their fists and wits. The adult world — especially the two police detectives most familiar with their antics — look the other way while they pick pockets and shake down the unwary for loose change. To them the city’s like one great big parkour course, and in the movie’s flabbergasting opening sequence they go sprinting across rooftops, cartops and utility-pole-tops, sparring with rival gang members and gleefully thumbing their noses at gravity. Read more
You have no idea how many gaskets I popped — out of sheer jealousy — when Adam Beck, that lucky dog, got to review Black Lagoon #1 for AMN Anime. Not just because the series kicks about sixteen hectares of butt, that’s a given, but because it would have been a note-perfect way to throw down a theory about anime (and to a degree, manga) that’s been percolating in my head for some time and which now seems more truth than mere theory: A good percentage of the anime coming out now, despite being in Japanese and despite airing on Japanese TV and being released in Japanese video markets, was created to sell specifically in America as a way to recoup its costs.
I’ve seen way too many examples to not take this theory seriously. The folks at Bandai have expressed that they wanted to make a third Ghost in the Shell TV series — but only if the Solid State Society movie sells well here, because the U.S. (and other English-speaking territories, really) is where they make back their investment. Black Lagoon, too — which sports two cast members that are American and is, if anything, even more watchable in its English dub than the “original” Japanese edition — it has the same smell of a made-for-export product about it. Is any of this bad? No, absolutely not; although it does mean that we might be seeing that many less animated productions that have an unmistakable Japanese flavor about them and more things that are — how to put it? — “mid-Pacific”. Read more