Tag Archives: japan

(NSFW) RETRO REVIEW: The XXX Files


ADULTS ONLY. Masako delves into the world of XXX anime thanks to a ‘present’ from Benzaie back in 2011. This present being a hentai; and not a good one. The infamous movie Battle Can Can.

ADDITIONAL INFO

Name
Battle Can Can

Distributed by
Kitty Media/Media Blasters

Produced in
1987

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Blue Spring Ride (Ao Haru Ride) REVIEW


Life is a very complicated beast. People whom you have a connection with can drift out of your life as easily as they drifted into it. That moment that you cherish and cling to in times of melancholy may not quite be what you had imagined should you ever get to see that special someone again later on in life; especially when both parties have changed significantly in the duration. Blue Spring Ride encapsulates this evolution in personality in a safe and leisurely manner whilst also tugging at the heartstrings a tad.

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The story revolves around a girl named Futaba, a recluse whom was unpopular in middle school because she was popular with the boys. The jealousy which emanated from the other girls in her class made her an outcast; it didn’t help that because of this she developed a hatred of boys which compounded her already lonely existence. That is until she meets Kou, a mysteriously sweet boy and classmate at a local shrine. There the pair bond and quickly develop a friendship before outside influences conspire against the pair and Kou ends up leaving the school shortly after the summer break ends. Three years later, Futaba is a different person from the middle school girl she once was; she puts on a persona in order to be popular, unattractive to boys and not be a social misfit and it shows. For her, life is good and stable…until Kou comes back under a different name. He too is a different person and the pair are aware of this. They have the past, but that’s all it is now. Who are they? In any case, they don’t give up and over time they both start to get to know one another and Futaba especially re-evaluates her life choices and starts to change back into the girl that she used to be using traditional shoujo romance tropes along the way.

aoharu_5Blue Spring Ride is a straight up romance for a female audience; it is fit to burst with emotion and drama and yet it doesn’t get in your face. It could easily have become a vengeful and spiteful show about a girl who is bitter and broken after Kou’s disappearance in middle school; but instead Futaba is just confused and compliant. It’s a lot more pragmatic than most anime would be in this situation. She doesn’t scream at the top of her lungs her hatred for boys or be obnoxious, she just acts indifferently whilst also sprinkling in some comedic facial expressions and actions which are more a representation of her inner emotions. Simply put, Futaba is an emotional mess in her first year of high school. She has friends she doesn’t really like and is merely a player in the game of life rather than living it. It isn’t until she meets Kou again that she realises this and understands that she doesn’t have to placate to social conformity and can feel more comfortable in herself and who she wants to be. This is further defined when Yuuri, a girl in her year group, is vilified by the female student body for being popular with boys and ‘putting on’ a cute girl act for them…just like Futaba in middle school. It’s there in front of her and she doesn’t take it anymore and chooses to ditch her ‘friends’ and begin a new circle of friends as she enters her second year. Kou and Futaba do indeed start to grow closer again albeit in a haphazard sort of way with twists and turns and ups and downs, but it does happen.

aoharu_4At the start of each episode, we usually see a flashback to the main characters’ middle school days which add to the sea of memories the pair have and how much fun they had. This contributes to the main arc in two ways. Firstly it tells the audience that the pair were really close and this wasn’t some sort of flimsy one-time encounter and secondly it emphasises how painful the loss of the Kou that Futaba once loved must be; that boy is gone and in his place is a whole different guy with different airs and emotions and yet she can’t quite put the matter to rest. She wants to understand him instead of simply dismissing the new Kou; she wants to know what happened in the three years between middle school and high school. As the story moves on and we are introduced to more characters, we start to see the usual suspects of female romance stories; love triangles, heightened drama, whispering declarations, bitter side characters and subplots up the ying-yang. These don’t detract from the main plot but it sort of brings the package down to Earth a little bit instead of carving out a more unique furrow for itself.

aoharu_3The animation and overall delivery of Blue Spring Ride is a decent affair. Production I.G, as usual, puts in the required effort to construct something with above-average visuals which is pleasing to the eye but nothing truly special or groundbreaking. It’s a shame but it’s not the end of the world; if it looked like One Week Friends though it would be a way better show – just saying! The problem I had with the show was that the art style of the show’s original manga, as designed by Io Sakisaka, doesn’t work that well in anime form. It’s not terrible or anything and the proportions are all there and correct for the most part, but there is something about the eyes and mouth that put me off slightly. Sometimes Futaba’s smile looks too big or her eyes differ in shape every now and again; but that being said, I appreciate that Production I.G. and Sakisaka have managed to work together to maintain the original look of the manga. Some anime don’t do that, but here the original style is faithfully retained and stands out from the sea of moe that is all too common nowadays.

aoharu_6Blue Spring Ride is indeed a fun ride. It may not be aimed at my target demographic, but I was moved by the plot and felt a strong amount of charm in Futaba’s desire to transform herself rather than remain a slave to popularity. Screw that! She can be whoever she wants and be friends with whoever she wants; nobody has to tell her what to do. It took Kou’s return to realise how skewed she was and it’s clear that the two will get together in some way so as to help their warped life paths become straight again or at least straighter than before. I would recommend this anime as it is rather pleasant to watch but if you are a romance enthusiast you will start to see the conventions of the genre pop up in the second act. If you think about it, the show talks about being yourself and not complying to social norms…and yet complies to traditional plot devices in a typical anime romance. Huh. If only it hadn’t, then it would be a fully rounded package; it’s still fun though!

Blue Spring Ride is available to stream on Crunchyroll.

RATING: CONTINUE [An admirable show with above-average visuals, plot and characters.]

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Tokyo ESP REVIEW


The thought of having super powers is a thought which intrigues the mind of mankind every day. What if you woke up one day and you had the power to control the world and reign supreme, jump from one space in time to another or have a sentient penguin as a pet? Well, in the supernatural anime Tokyo ESP, you get all three and a whole lot more in an action anime which is totally not influenced by a certain gang of mutants that are quite MARVELlous. Subtle, aren’t I?

Oh hai, Daft Punk.
Oh hai, Daft Punk.

In this iteration of Tokyo, a gang of espers [A person with the trait ESP or extrasensory perception] have begun an onslaught on Tokyo in the most audacious manner possible – floating the Japanese parliament building above the city. I always knew Japanese politics was up in the air but this is ridiculous! Anyway, the tyrants led by an esper known only as The Professor start to rain their might upon the city and the country as a whole. What’s caused these powers to suddenly appear? Vast schools of “psychic fish” swimming into the hearts of certain individuals and giving them superhuman abilities. That’s on the weird side, but it makes for a cool visual [apparently it’s how humans perceive psychic energy] As such, some of these “chosen ones” decide to use their gifts for ill purposes and begin a new world order by eradicating humanity one calamity at a time. It’s up to the likes of “The White Girl” and her posse to stop The Professor from destroying everything. However, the plot of the first episode isn’t the first episode; it’s actually an event which takes place towards the end of the season and by the start of the second episode, all of this becomes clear when we go back into the past and discover the origins of the modern day espers.

tokyoesp_7So we have a Memento-like narrative twist on our hands here. Another twist occurs in the vibe of the entire show; gone is the bleakness of episode one and in its place is a more jovial and somewhat less substantial action-comedy/drama. Rinka and her father live together in Tokyo and get by on a somewhat meagre existence. Rinka then one day witnesses the “psychic fish” as well as a flying penguin which turns out to be an important plot point; one of the fish absorbs itself into Rinka and she gains the power to pass through solid objects – sort of like Kitty Pryde from X-Men. In fact, there’s a lot of X-Men meshed into Tokyo ESP and its composition; even a little bit of Ghostbusters too! The biggest similarities are the vitriolic distrust of espers akin to mutants, new world order motif, desire for co-existence as well as Rinka’s father looking a lot like Wolverine. Despite these, the show is really charming and full of gags which makes it a very endearing end product. The first episode acts as a flash forward and the rest of the show chronicles how all the characters [both good and bad] develop and refine their powers from that day when a fish chose to assimilate itself with all of them. Sometimes when shows present a future event first, it runs the risk of confusing audiences and leaving tons of unanswered questions and headscratching about what’s going on; thankfully Tokyo ESP doesn’t do that. I felt like I got the gist about what was going on in that single outing and would be fine if the series started there; to get a back story is an added bonus. Who is this White Girl? “Well!” says the anime, “Let me show you!” and we get a telling of how Rinka got her powers and discovered how to be a true hero after many moments where she doubts her abilities. She encounters a guy named Kyotaro who got gifted by the fish too; he got teleportation powers [which are presented in a whisp of smoke quite masterfully I might add!]. The two quite clearly form a bond and the pair go through a lot of existential questioning about whether it’s worth fighting for peace or simply join the world order being formed before them. The Professor appears and we get a little more explanation about why he’s doing what he’s doing but it doesn’t shake off some concerns I have for the evil characters and the entire package.

tokyoesp_5The Professor and Minami, his cohort, are quite robotic in their justification for their attacks on the public at large and don’t seem to have a clear or deep motivation for giving espers autonomy. It seems to be purely built on blind frustration and not much else. Most people would question why I’m bothered by this and say that I should just let things happen and leave reason at the door; but I want some kind of meaningful cause to be the backbone of a charge against humanity. As far as I see, there was no anti-ESP movement before The Professor showed up, he pretty much caused the sudden fear. He could’ve easily got what he wanted in a more subtle and synergistic manner; achieve power through subversion and stealth instead of doing outlandish and somewhat immature acts over the skies of Tokyo such as A FRIGGIN’ TANKER! It may seem epic but it’s kind of irrational; contradictory of his character which is a lot more regal. As much as I like the good guy characters, the adaptation of the story sometimes gives them short shrift. Later on in the show, Rinka is screwed around with a lot and it’s here where you start to see the weaknesses that using a flash forward at the beginning brings. If you get the pacing wrong, then you need to frantically rush proceedings, risk cheapening certain key scenes because you know the end result already and also unravel the good build-up which had gone before; it’s something that plagues the latter half of the series. It’s a concern after such a strong start.

tokyoesp_2Tokyo ESP is a simple show but it’s executed with sophistication and explores ideas above its station; thrusting itself into the limelight with some of the heavy hitters of this seasons such as the re-edit of Psycho Pass and Aldnoah.Zero…to a point. Xebec [the anime’s production company] aren’t known for being masters of animation and it shows in some places where character models are inconsistent or scenes look cheap at times; but there are some very cool looking sequences and visual motifs which entice and enthral. It’s certainly an admirable showing from the studio which has floundered as of late with not that many hits – 2012’s Rinne no Lagrange being the most recent production which garnered much interest. I ultimately enjoyed myself watching Tokyo ESP and felt that it deserves a lot of credit for punching above its weight; it’s not the best produced show but it has the characters, the graphical cues and action to get the job done just about.

Tokyo ESP is available to stream on Funimation’s website.

RATING: CONTINUE [A charming and plucky series which gives a tip of the hat to Marvel’s classic mutant formula.]

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Terror in Resonance (Zankyou no Terror) REVIEW


On the surface, this anime could be seen as callous and shocking. I certainly felt that when I first heard about it and I felt a little uneasy that such a product existed. Terrorism is a very sensitive issue and when a show touches on that nerve, especially alluding to the events of 9/11, then it’s going to spark some controversy. That’s what the anime Terror in Resonance does in its first arc; shock the audience and yet entice them at the same time.

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Also known as Terror in Tokyo in its native Japan, the show brings to life the idea of Tokyo under attack. Not by outsider terrorist cels or madmen; but by teenagers, native Japanese teenagers at that. These aren’t your normal kids though. Nine and Twelve [as they are most often called] are the front of a group called Sphinx who have begun to cause havoc in Tokyo by blowing up key buildings in the capital. Both boys are escapees from some kind of research facility made up of what seems like abandoned children [it’s not quite clear as of episode seven, but it’s enough to go on for now] who have been exposed to certain experiments in a clinical environment. Some of these children got out and have now spent their lives in hiding; with Nine and Twelve choosing to get back at the government-run facility by blowing things up. It must be said though that nobody has died in all the attacks they’ve made thankfully. One day, the pair run into a girl called Lisa on one recon mission at a local school. She’s an outcast from a broken home and has nothing to live for; fate chooses to deal her a helping hand, albeit a somewhat warped one, by thrusting her into the arms of the duo of bombers. However, things get kicked up a notch later in the show which throws a spanner in the works and potentially implicate the pair as mass murderers and the tables turn rather suddenly. It’s a fit of twists and turns!

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Terror in Resonance is not a light-hearted show, not by a long shot. It may have a slightly soft character style with the main protagonists[?] but the issue is something very serious. In fact, it’s quite relevant. Terrorism exists everywhere and every person of every nation is capable of enacting it; not just one country or region. The show makes Japanese nationals the instigators attacking police stations, government buildings and other significant targets intrinsic to security and regional importance. As of episode seven, it’s not quite clear why Nine and Twelve are doing this on such a grand scale, but it is possible to deduce that these guys are not all bad. They don’t wish to kill anybody and go to great lengths to ensure that by making sure their targets are clear of people or in places which are quiet. The pair refer to the Greek myth of Oedipus [the man who was abandoned in the woods who grew up to kill his father and then marry his mother] in their riddles aimed at the Tokyo police and a particular detective, Shibazaki. Shibazaki was an ace detective who got carted off to the archive department many years ago; he has now returned to untangle Sphinx’s riddles and does so with great drama and intensity. He’s very involving and goes above and beyond the average detective. Lisa’s introduction into proceedings acts a means of jeopardy. It throws the duo into disarray and yet also is their best asset in some cases. She shares the same sentiments concerning identity and abandonment but their origins are worlds apart. All in all, the show is a complex beast; every shot in this show has a meaning or conveys some sort of importance either artistically or narratively. However, upon first viewing, I was a little confused about the overall plot. It seemed to me that the art team got the bigger budget and showed it off greatly. I was left feeling confused at points early on, but I chose to stick at it and my patience was rewarded with some more narrative tidbits which tided me over until the next episode. I became intrigued and wanted to know more, I was hooked.

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Things get even more intriguing when you realise who’s part of the anime’s creative team. Shinichiro Watanabe and Yoko Kanno return once more to head the directorial and musical teams respectively. Watanabe and Kanno worked together on anime classic Cowboy Bebop and in the recent series Kids on the Slope. It is safe to say that these previous works have influenced the resulting piece. The character models remind me of Bebop especially Shibazaki, who looks like a downtrodden Spike Spiegel as well as being introspective and intelligent whilst also being proactive. Not only that, but there’s also the question of whether the main characters are good or bad. Spiegel and co were bounty hunters/vigilantes [not exactly law-abiding citizens]; Nine and Twelve are activists who are knocking on the door of terrorism. In the latter’s case, the debate is a lot clearer. These guys are bad in the traditional sense; but they’re not EVIL. They have been wronged by a government which locked them up and stripped away their humanity; they are naturally going to want answers or to at least vent some of their anger and resentment. There is a plot twist which amps things up for the pair in their crusade, but I won’t spoil it for you; you’ll have to watch it. All I can say about the creative side of this anime is that it’s fantastic. The level of polish and detail is first rate and the acting is superb. It’s clear that this series is going to be a classic in the future, an infamous classic; not because it’s bad but because it’s intricate and unsettling.

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Terror in Resonance is one of those shows which unnerves you. On first impressions, you are baffled and upset when greeted with a show which seems to promote terrorism. That first shot of Twelve giggling whilst hurling a grenade like it were a ball is enough to shock on its own let alone the explosions. Yet as you progress, you are presented with two guys who are just trying to get the truth about why they were experimented on. They don’t want to kill, they just want answers and blowing up government buildings is how they go about things. It’s not mindless violence, it’s cleverly thought out plots with a brooding soundtrack and masterful storyboarding. It’s one of those shows which you have to watch because it’s nothing like its fellow summer anime. It’s different and I like different. I just wonder how well a show about terrorism will go down in America, especially when you watch the beginning of episode two.

Terror in Resonance is available to stream on Funimation’s website.

RATING: CONTINUE [One of the standout series of this season.]

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(NSFW) Why Fanservice Is More Of A Disservice


I think there is too much sexual content in mainstream anime.

That’s the summation of my argument. I could just leave you with that and walk away but that would be horribly arrogant of me, so I shall elaborate. What do I mean by sexual content? In this context, I am referring to the notion of characters [mostly female] being sexualised for the purpose of eliciting a reaction or positive sensation in a usually male viewership; the term used for this by most fans or publications is fanservice. I believe this term is far too general. Fanservice can also mean homages or references to other shows or even thanking the fans in some way by inserting a tidbit into the production [e.g. a line of dialogue or a hidden easter egg]. In essence, the term can be geeky but otherwise non-threatening. The inclusion of sexual content under the ‘umbrella of fanservice’ taints the word and makes it something tasteless.

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Jinsei is a noteworthy example of a very good anime marred by unnecessary fanservice.

When fanservice is referred to, it tends to be used to describe scenes or shots in an anime which isn’t pornographic but isn’t aimed at children or for general audiences either; the PG-13/R sector. A more accurate term would be the word ecchi. Ecchi is a shortening of the phrase “ecchi suru” [to have sex or to describe someone/something as lecherous] and is used as a bridging of mainstream anime and adult anime [hentai]. What does it cover? Well, it covers anything that isn’t exposure of genitalia or full-on intercourse. The most common examples would be groping, upskirt shots, skimpy costumes which leave little to the imagination and the objectification of women. In recent years, ecchi has started to trickle its way into more shows and with the advent of online streaming, us Westerners see more of it. This is both good and bad; we have access to everything and we have access to EVERYTHING. Nothing is out of our grasp and nothing is hidden away. How did this come about though? It’s simply down to historical context. Let’s take a look at the panty shot, the most infamous anime trope.

[Source] Love Art Lab
Put simply, it’s a cultural throwback. In nineteenth century Japan, the country was slowly opening its borders to foreign trade. With that came the introduction of Western clothing including undergarments. During the Second World War, women were encouraged to wear trouser-like attire known as monpe over more traditional Japanese skirts or dresses [kimono]. Western underwear, drawers, worked well with monpe during the war; afterwards though, the garments were far too expensive. The only people who could afford Western undergarments were the callgirls that served the occupying Allied forces. As a result, an association of sexual deviance and wealth was established. As time wore on and more risque forms of underwear such as panties arrived in Japan, the association stuck. There was a mystique attached to it and it became a prevalent desire amongst men and therefore it eventually found its way into anime and other forms of media. It’s not baseless titillation, it’s tradition…of sorts. It doesn’t excuse it for being degrading though.

Highschool of the Dead – a notorious ecchi-heavy series.

That’s my biggest problem with fanservice or ecchi or whatever you want to call it. It degrades women and gives off the wrong message to newcomers. Whenever I talk to people who aren’t familiar with anime and about good it is, their first thought is usually “What? The porn thing?” and I cringe. The assumption in the West is that anime is purely sexual and strange…or it’s Pokémon. That’s not true! It’s like any other form of visual media, it just happens to be from Japan. It’s like India’s Bollywood cinema or England’s Shakespearean theatre; it’s a representation of Japanese traditions and ethics. That being said, anime doesn’t help itself in terms of convincing outside audiences that it’s not all “porn”.

What got me concerned initially occurred back in 2008 when I came across a little anime called Kanokon. The main character, Chizuru, was a hyper-sexual girl/fox spirit who constantly flirted with the lead guy in some bizarre scenes and costumes which were pretty blatant and pathetic. I couldn’t quite understand why Chizuru was being this provocative; it was nowhere close to reality and wasn’t that clever. It was just there. Then it hit me, ecchi these days is out in the open and too obvious. Of course, using sexually charged plot points aren’t new. They’ve been in anime for decades with examples going back to the seventies with Cutie Honey being a prime example. The character of Honey Kisaragi acted as a turning point in how manga and anime were perceived. She and Fujiko Mine from the Lupin III series were two signature female characters which really got people turned onto the idea that animated characters could be “sexy” and begun the modern idea of “fanservice”. Also, who could forget the legendary ‘Gainax Bounce’ of the late 1980s? I’m looking at you, Gunbuster!

Today, a lot of anime shows have a character or two that have either a large chest, a rampant sex drive or an inclination to get naked or as naked as possible. I can name tons of shows which are plagued with too much mindless ecchi. Recently My Sister is Unusual, Highschool of the Dead, No Game No Life, Moe-tan and Heaven’s Lost Property to name a few [all no older than 2007 to further illustrate the recent dilemma.] It perpetuates the idea that if a girl in an anime lets a character touch her for no good reason other than for laughs, then it could mean that it’s OK to do so in real life. Why do you think that Japan has a problem with non-consensual groping in public? There are gender-specific carriages on some services on Japan’s rail network today. While this can’t be fully attributed to anime solely, it could be a contributing factor. The whole groping on trains issue is even referenced in some shows and therefore kind of encouraged. In short, a sexist attitude towards women is driven by some shows which convey women as objects which are there for men to ogle. It’s kind of sobering when you find a website dedicated to chronicling counts of ecchi behaviour in anime. I don’t want that and I’m sure you don’t either.

[Source] Anime-Fanservice.org
So what do I want anime to do about this? Well, be creative. Don’t just stuff a busty girl into a plot just for the hell of it; throw in a bit of self-awareness or intellectualism. Women are attractive, clever and confident and deserve every bit of respect that men get. We are one species on this planet and we should be kind and courteous to one another. All nations should express sexuality positively and equally. By all means use the human body, but be original and tasteful about it! That’s not just a message for Japan, it’s for everybody. Sometimes, only showing a little skin is better. Leave it to your imagination…or you could do what Kill La Kill did and just go absolutely insane in order to convey pride in one’s own skin regardless of age, shape or gender!