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A review of Manga, Manga

A review of Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics
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Frederik L. Schodt’s monograph Manga! Manga! was one of the first and most influential books detailing manga’s impact upon Japan. This book functions as a work for interested fans, a study for academics, and as one of the first titles to promote and translate major Japanese works into English. In many ways this book is still a prime example of manga history and cultural analysis, but like many texts based upon popular culture in other ways it hasn’t aged well. Schodt’s strengths are his presentation of strong arguments, detailed information regarding early manga history before Tezuka, a uses variety of sources and the referencing of direct images from comics as examples, and giving the reader a clear over view of Japanese comics. Despite this relevance the world of manga has changed a great deal since this work was published, especially in the area of English language publication and Schodt fails to give in text citation of his sources outside of the use of imagery. While this text remains a highly important read, due to fast changing environment of the manga industry, especially in terms translation within the United States it is important to investigate more recent history and culture further.
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Schodt presents a clear argument, while making sure that his opinions are not over powering. His writing style is presented in a personal manor, which I feel gives the text a more natural and less traditionally academic feel. He also often presents historical information chronologically in an almost narrative form. While some might take issue with this style of presentation, I found it pleasant while retaining a sense of detail many informal works often lack.
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One thing I noticed about this work’s approach to writing was that it emphasized early history a lot, basing a lot of its presentation of information upon on retrospect. The benefit to such a style is that it doesn’t really date as much as a style more focused upon the current work of the period. This allows the text to remain significant, despite being written around thirty years ago. This does, however furthers the issue of the text not portraying the more recent manga history of the period as strongly. Though this approach of emphasis does have its issues, it has allowed this book to remain a beneficial text.
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Schodt has a very unusual means of in text citation. Rather than using the traditional means of citing paraphrased material, he employs the use of actual manga pages as a means of clarifying and emphasizing his arguments. While this style is excellent at presenting a theme and visual representation, it is less successful in allowing the reader to determine where information was drawn from. While he does present a quite extensive bibliography at the end of the book, this style gives the reader an impression that a lot of the text is based off of personal research. His form of citation is very interesting; especially considering how little pictorial citation is generally used within more academic texts, but I would have appreciated knowing more about where he directly acquired some of his information and how much of the book was produced through individual research.
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The greatest strength of this text is the presentation of manga in a way that can both appeal to a fan or academic, while providing information in a way that someone unfamiliar with manga could appreciate. Manga! Manga! contains an excellent overview of Japanese publication practices and manga history, but isn’t afraid to explore topics related to manga such as questions of literacy and how manga reflects the needs of its readers. I have read a number of texts regarding manga publication that have struggled when trying to clearly explain the basic principle of manga publication. Schodt’s style in contrasts this by making the writing approachable, clear and detailed.
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Where this text struggles, however is in its examination of a more modern perspective, particularly the growth in US publication. Since the release of this book the U.S. translated manga industry has grown substantially. This growth has made the conditions of US manga publication vastly different from when this text was originally published. It is understandable for this reason that Manga! Manga! mainly focuses upon Japanese publication rather than US publishing which was nearly non-existent at that time. Due to this monograph’s age even the practices, styles and popular trends within Japan publication have changed drastically since it was released.
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Despite Schodt’s clear attempt to remain relevant, many aspects of the industry have changed drastically including the development of US publication which cannot be overlooked. Manga! Manga! is a key work of manga fandom and studies, and helped to encourage the development of a US manga translation industry. Its examination of Japanese manga history and culture, especially before World War two is clear, easy to read and highly informative to a variety of reader types. While it has clearly become dated and could use more in text citation, it is a wonderful window into the practices during the 1980’s, and what works and practices are important within Japan. Manga! Manga ! set the stage for the study of manga and English language publication.
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Schodt, Fred L. Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics New York: Kodancha USA. 1983. Print.
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Porco Rosso: A fine movie Miyazaki Month part 2

Porco Rosso is a movie I hold very dear; to the point where I considered it my second favorite of all Miyazaki’s of works. This film is beyond enjoyable, and has some truly fantastic concepts and elements within it. Although it has many of the wonderful features that are found in other Ghilbi films, Porco Rosso has some very interesting aspects of its own that set it apart and make it interesting to look at from a reviewers stand point (which is why I am including it in my month of Miyazaki). Despite not being the most personable of Miyazaki’s film I can say that in my opinion this is definitely is his most exciting work, while being a truly a beautiful and sophisticated work as well. Like Cagliostro while it isn’t Miyazaki’s deepest work (though it is still has much more complex characters then Cagliostro), it remains one of the most incredible works of film I have ever seen.

Porco Rosso has animation that often does things that I can hardly believe is possible. It has an amazing sense of motion within both the cast and the planes, but also takes the time to allow for pacing much like a book would by giving the viewer breathing room. Unlike a lesser director, Miyazaki clearly knows how and more importantly where to be still, frantic, or action packed. This film clearly continues to show Miyazaki’s great love of the airplane and flight animation, something found both in his previous works such as Castle in the Sky, as well as in his later works such as upcoming film The Wind Rises. His animation both of the workings of the airplane, as well the prospective of flight is the truly amazing element. One scene that really stood out for me is when the hero Porco is flying over the ocean as the sun reflects gently on the water. This level of detail really blew me away and made me realize just how much detail and reflection went into the animation. The animation of Porco Rosso is incredible, and still remains a great example of what is possible through animation to this day.

Like many Miyazaki films Porco Rosso has a fantastic score by Joe Hashi, who is the most famous, common, and arguably skilled composer that Miyazaki has chosen to worked with. What makes this score so interesting is how often I feel that this score is neglected among Hashi’s scores, which is a real shame providing how great it is. The music within Porco Rosso’s is not only outstanding, but also plays a key role in influencing the film’s plot and setting. The score really helps to reflect the setting of pre-World War Two waters near Italy. It also plays a major role directly within the film with one of the themes being sung in French by Porco’s love interest Gena. Many of the musical cues within Porco Rosso give a real emphasis to the mood of the film, and without them the movie just wouldn’t be the same. Though the score doesn’t stand out in the same way as it does in other Hashi scores such as Castle in the Sky or Princess Mononoke it is equally important to the films overall aesthetic.

Porco Rosso was clearly modeled on foreign films and has dialogue that reflects this. The scripting of the interchange is really clever within Porco Rosso, presenting both an homage to films such as The Grand Illusion, while also adding in plenty of goofy comedy. While the dub sometimes takes a few liberties and overall perhaps is not as quite good in terms in quality as the subtitled version, it has some unique actors that do a great job at portraying the leads Fiona, Curtis, Jeana, and Porco. In fact I would consider this the best of the Disney dubs (though the best of Miyazaki dubs belongs to Terry Gillian’s dub in Mirimax’s Princess Mononoke). I’d actually recommend seeing this movie dubbed (though the sub version also great), for this reason unless you are really adverse to dubs. This movie really has a wonderful script, and unusually great dub despite a few liberties being taken with the text.

The story of Porco Rosso is that of ex-World War One ace with the head of the pig nicknamed Porco, who now works as a sea plane bounty hunter hired to protect ships from a comedic incompetent group pirates. He spends most of his time alone either on a deserted Island hunting the pirates for profit, or trying avoid the local restaurant owner Gina at her cafe. Times are quickly getting more difficult for Porco; however as the desperate pirates hire the womanizing American race pilot Donald Cirtus to hunt him down. His problems are also compounded by the new fascist government who is also now hunting for him, since he deserted the Italian air force in the past.

Lots of elements of Porco Rosso are common within other Miyazaki films including sky pirates, flying machines, an anti-war message, goofy family friendly humor, and a strong female cast. Like all Ghibli films, however Porco Rosso is unique in its own way, and has a strong sense of originality despite these many familiar aspects. One of element that really stands out is that this is one of Miyazaki’s least fantasy based films, with only Porco’s origin and character really containing any supernatural aspects. His appearance as a pig (as well as an allusion to Miyazaki makes to himself) is made to be more of symbolic element of his emotional struggle and personality, then a result of magic. While some of the aspects of this film are very similar to other Miyazaki’s works, this work is definitely not like a repeat of ideas.

One of things I love the most about this film is its ability to switch between and balance out the serious and comedic aspects into the setting. This allows the film to be convincing and mature, while adding in a sense of humor that is family friendly but doesn’t talk down to audience either. This balance gives the film a kind of enchanting quality and mood to it, despite the lack of magic within the setting and make Porco’s curse more powerful as a plot device as a result. This balance is really one of the key ingredients to the film’s success, and to what sets it apart from other Miyazaki films.

One thing I really admire about this film is that it has an amazing ending and opening that leaves the viewer wanting more, in a good sort of way. Porco Rosso makes a great use of an epilogue, but still left me really wanting to hear more about Porco, Gena and Fio’s exploits. This sort of ending reminded me a lot of the ending original Fullmetal Alchemist tv series, which gives a sense of real sense of conclusion, but also room for the imagination of the viewer. The opening likewise starts out with setting and slowly builds into a crescendo of action as Porco battle to incompetent Mamma Aruta Gang, and saves the day pushing the plot into motion and creates a sense of background for the stories setting and mixture of action, romance and comedy.

No Miyazaki film is complete without a fantastic cast of characters. Porco Rosso cast has a real heart to it. While the characters might not seem to have complex characterization they are instantly relatable and likable, while retaining complex human quality to them. I like the fact that Porco is a character with such simple motivation, design and attitude, but develops overtime and in these simple aspects shows remarkable depth. Unlike most anti-heroes he really is not just relatable, but is truly lovable in his obstinacy, pigheadedness and flaws. Despite his gruff and stubborn nature he is truly trying to find himself and grow as a person, rather than just trying to do the right thing and to survive. This makes his ultimate and unexpected resolution all the more poignant.

The American race pilot Curtis is a silly and very obviously flat antagonist. What really makes him so convincing and interesting as character is the humor surrounding his inflated ego. He is constantly womanizing and bragging about his appearance, film career and skills as a pilot while trying to appear as classy. What is most remarkable about many Miyazaki films including this one is his use of strong and fascinating female characters.

Both Gina and Fio are given an incredible amount of depth, and don’t play into the typical stereotypes given to female characters. While Gina has a smaller screen time then some of the other lead characters, she has incredible presence and a complex and sophisticated relationship with Porco. She is far from the typical damsel in distress, and often is the one saving Porco from trouble. While she waits expectantly in hoping to emotionally connect with Porco, she clearly has a complex set of reasons for doing so that goes way back and is shown to be highly independent. Despite clearly being in love with Porco and being loyal to him, she isn’t the sort of woman who waits for him to reciprocate the feelings to move on with her life. Fio is likewise a highly intelligent and independent character, which despite Porco’s initial reservation proves to be a valuable ally. She is a plane engineer who not only helps with Porco’s plane and proves herself an expert engineer, but who also helps save Porco’s life.

The only real minor characters of the film besides Fio’s eccentric Italian grandfather and Porco’s old buddy in the air force are the pirate gangs, especially the Mamma Aruta Gang. These characters are very similar to Dola and her pirate in gang Castle in the sky, only even more comedic and over the top. They are constantly foiled by Porco, and comically stubborn, cowardly and inept. Even when they are planning an attack or kidnapping hostages they aren’t really presented as threatening. If any movie really knows a fun way of portraying pirates it is Porco Rosso. The characters in Porco Rosso are some of my favorite characters in any film, and are completely engaging.

Porco Rosso is a masterpiece, even among Miyazaki’s other films. It is hard to really find any fault at all with it. It is wonderful tool for introducing someone who is not familiar with Japanese animation to it, because it is such an imaginative and well-crafted work, its family friendly without looking down on its viewers or simplifying, and avoids many of the usual tropes associated with anime. While this movie like Castle of Cagliostro has a very straight forward story, it has a depth of characterization that Cagliostro lacks. Whether you are new to viewing anime or very experienced with the works of Miyazaki this is a wonderful film to see.

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Super Sad Man

Man of Steel should be retitled Man of Sad. I really feel like the S on Superman’s should stand in this film for sadness, since this film was often so gloomy. Not only is his origin, childhood and early adult life portrayed as one of suffering (especially with the death of Uncle Ben…I mean Pa Kent), but the main plot involves the villains murdering a majority of the citizens of Metropolis (and no doubt many people in Kansas) and then ends with a ridiculously overblown (though somewhat impressive looking) fight scene with the main villain General Zod, which then ends with superman being forced to kill him (which was un-necessarily grim). I wish the film had been as eager to reflect upon this tragic and horrible loss of human life as it was to show Superman’s difficult upbringing.

I loved the prospective given to Superman viewing the world from above, and the special effects for the outstanding and jaw dropping extent of his powers. I also felt that it was really creative concept to have activity of the earth be so overwhelming and maddening to those from Krypton who are unfamiliar with it. For the most part I also really liked the casting of this film, the actor playing Superman definitely connected with the traits of character, I liked how Lois actually was involved in the action (though often why she was doing things like riding on a top secret military mission was a mystery), and Russell Crowe as Zor El was definitely convincing and well played.

My biggest problem honestly with the film was the cliché invaders from space trying to destroy/revenge plot and the actor for General Zod. Zod was supposed to be misguided and a have once had heroic aspects according to Zor El, but in the film this never really was convincing and it was always clear he was the villain. His portrayal was over the top and often he was scene chewing, reminding me a lot of the evil military General in Avatar. This is especially apparent when he is vowing revenge while being frozen in the phantom zone for his uprising on the dying Krypton. During this scene he is constantly cursing and yelling about how he is seeking revenge, and corruption of the ruling class, and at Zor El’s wife for not supporting him.

The film was best when it avoided Zod and the main external conflict, and was exploring Superman’s past and internal struggle, though even these scenes could be a bit overly dramatic; or when Superman was interacting with the military officials and where his actor was able to show Superman’s intelligence and heroic aspects. Often the film seemed rather bipolar though with elements of Zod’s his plot, the destructive action and the Kryptonian technology seeming really out of place when placed alongside the portrayal of Superman’s everyday life (with the help his mentor guardian Uncle…I mean Pa Kent). This is definitely an improvement overall as a film though from the slog which was Superman Return or Synder’s last attempt at superhero film Watchmen.

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Miyazaki Month: Castle of Cagliostro

To begin this month where I take a look at some of the Miyazaki’s works published within the U.S. I thought it would appropriate to start off with his first feature film and only franchise based work, Castle of Cagliostro. This is not only the first, but also best and most unusual works of the Lupin the 3rd film series, and clearly moves away from the 1960’s manga which is known for explicit slapstick and an alternative comic’s style. While it is clearly more typical of Miyazaki’s other work then the later Lupin the 3rd films, it clearly helped to influence the anime series and Lupin’s character. Miyazaki would later grow and evolve, but this feature definitely is incredible as theatrical debut for him and a work worth reviewing.

Even within this early work it is clear that Miyazaki is in expert in animation of movement. There is a distinct attention taken by Miyazaki to the timing and movement within his animation. It is clear that he has a distinct and precise sense of timing in all of his movies, and that each sequence of motion is carefully choreographed. It is this sense of movement that really made this movie to come to life so much and work so well as an action film. The breakneck paced action of this film, as well as a few of the more tender slow moments give this film a great grace and balance (though these slow moments are definitely refined as Miyazaki gained more experience). Without this sort of attention, especially within the action scenes the film couldn’t possibly have been nearly as good. Many of these the scenes are really achievements in animation such as the castle scaling scene, which is truly breathtaking to watch. Despite being a starting point and product of its time this film really hits the mark even to this day as one of the best action films anime has to offer.

 

The music for this work is mix of both great music and corny heavy handed sound effect cues. Castle of Cagliostro is one of the few Miyazaki movies not scored by Joe Hisaishi, since this is before the studio Ghibli period of Miyazaki’s career. Instead this work is scored by Ohno Yuji, who scored the music used in the Lupin the 3rd T.V. program. The music has a 1960’s Jazz feel and at its best it fits perfectly with the work. Tracks like the cool one used for the car chase theme (which would later become the Lupin the 3rd theme) and the exciting Samba Temperado were so well composed that they later became staples of the show, and fit excellently within the film. The main theme of the film Fire Treasure is remarkable, and an outstandingly beautiful song. The problem comes with some of the less musical cues which come off as distractingly silly or like over the top sound effects. I feel it would have been better if the film had removed most of these sound effect cues from the score all together. While some of these cues are distracting, the more musical parts of soundtrack is outstanding and befits the 1960’s action film setting of Lupin the 3rd.

With this movie I feel it is definitely best to go with the subtitles, because it feels like the most natural voice track for the characters and best acted. While neither dub does the sub justice, oddly enough I feel the older Streamline dub actually felt like it fit better with the character portrayal and with the film then the Manga entertainment dub, even considering the licensing problem forcing the Streamline dub to change of Lupin’s name to Wolf. While it takes a few frustrating liberties with the script, many of the characters feel as though their voice actors fit a lot better in the Streamline dub, such as the voice of Inspector Zenigata, the evil Count Calistro and his henchman Joto, and most importantly Lupin. I’d definitely advise though just seeing the sub version, especially since the Streamline dub is only official available on a rare video cassette version of the film.

 

The story for Castle of Cagliostro is fairly straight forward and can easily be followed even by those not familiar with the Lupin the 3rd franchise. The master thief Lupin and his partner the gunman Jigen rob a casino, only to find that the money they stole is an expertly made counterfeit coming from the small country of Cagliostro. It isn’t long before Lupin and his gang discovers a plot by the nation’s ruler an evil Count to forcibly marry the previous ruler’s daughter in hopes of revealing a treasure that is supposed to unveiled when the two blood lines are joined, and their two rings are connected. Lupin of course takes it upon himself to foil the evil Count, and his action attracts the attention of his archenemy inspector Zenigata of Interpol, as well as the femme fatal Fujiko who is also after the secret treasure.

Being a fairly simple story Castle of Caligostro has some interesting strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand the story is always exciting and never gets confusing or sidetracking. This allows for a constant stream of action which has been compared to works like Indiana Jones. The story also removes a lot of the raunchy and slapstick aspects of the manga, creating a more heartwarming and sentimental feel to this movie that would show up in other Miyazaki works. This treatment helped to tame the character and make him much more suited for a movie, and the television show which clearly splits the difference between the manga and this adaption of Lupin.

The problem with this simplicity, however is the story lacks a feeling of depth. Everything feels very straight forward, and despite having a few surprises for the most part the story is a fairly linear story of good vs. evil. Lupin goals are pretty straight forward: rescue Clarisse from the clutches of the evil Count and to search for the secrets of the royal family, all while foiling the Counts counterfeiting schemes along with Zenigata. What really sets the story the apart is the way it presents its actions and its characters. It is the details and timing that makes the story work far more than the basic concepts it presents.


The characters are given a fair amount of depth so that anyone unfamiliar with the Lupin the 3rd franchise will understand who they are clearly. In fact it is better perhaps to forget any assumption one might have about the characters if you are familiar with the franchise at all. The cast does lack the depth and personality; however that are found in characters within a later Miyazaki film in which the viewer can feel like the cast are like people familiar to them or at least believe that could they could be real. Those familiar with Lupin will be surprised by his characterization in Caligostro. Lupin is portrayed as a more mature and noble person with an ultimate goal, rather than being selfish and raunchy thief stealing from even more selfish people. He still has a charm and sarcastic wit to him, but feels far more of sympathetic character then in the manga or later adaptions. The Count of Caligrosto and his henchmen are fittingly slimy and sinister. I enjoyed how the Count attempts to cover his sinister temper with debonair manner, and how the more angered the Count gets the more this wicked he seems to appear. The most disappointing character of the cast is clearly Clarisse who is the only female Miyazaki lead other than Shita from Castle in the Sky to really to be mostly a damsel in distress character, rather than a strong female lead. Clarisse is constantly in danger, and rarely shows her own initiative (though she does get one chance to present a heroic sacrifice). She never really is given much characterization, other than being an innocent victim of the Counts cruelty.

The minor characters of the film are really interesting, especially in how they are portrayed. I really love how this Miyazaki handles the characters of Inspector Zenigata, and the femme fatale Fujiko.  Often Zenigata is portrayed in the anime as a bumbling buffoon obsessed with capturing Lupin or in the manga as a tired public servant who is usually one step behind Lupin. I love how Miyazaki redesigns the character to be unlike either of these character designs, presenting Zenigata as both a tenacious and driven, while still clearly a highly intelligent and noble character rather than an angry buffoon. The biggest change in character comes with Miyazaki’s blond Fujiko who is a strong willed and intelligent master of disguise, rather than a seductress who tries to use sex appeal to control people. This characterization differs from every other representation of Fujiko, and is far more respectful of her character and makes her character so much more deep and interesting. I really love how the movie really develops Lupin’s gang, especially Jigen who for first the part of the movie is traveling with Lupin (the samurai Goemon later arrives on a cart with a traditional rain hat). While Clarisse is a rather disappointingly weak character and the characters never really forge the emotional connection that some of Miyazaki’s other movies characters do such as those found Totoro, the characters are given a great reinterpretation and are easy for anyone to follow and enjoy.

While Castle of the Caligostro lacks the heartwarming depth that some later Miyazaki films have and Miyazaki clearly developed a lot since this film, it still is my 3rd favorite film created by Miyazaki. It is a simple effective adventure film, with a lot of heart and style and is definitely the best of the Lupin the 3rd films. I perhaps like this film too much since it doesn’t have as much depth or signature themes that are found in later Miyazaki films, but for some reason (perhaps because it is so different) I love this film. There is definitely a reason why Speilburg loves this film so much, and why I love it as well. I’d definitely recommend seeing this film, even if you haven’t ever heard of Lupin the 3rd before.

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Sin City the Hard Goodbye: The fast goodbye

Sin city: The Hard Goodbye is one of the worst comics I have had the displeasure of reading ever. It is a perfect example of how not to write noire and just about everything wrong with bad noire. Its only redeeming quality is the excellent artwork, which is not nearly enough to save this horrid work. The most surprising thing about this work is not the fact that Miller had the audacity to write such a tasteless work or that anyone would publish this story and adapt it into movie; no the most surprising thing about this work is that someone actual read and enjoyed it (I got my copy used). I had planned on reviewing this work much earlier than now, but actually had to stop and start reading it multiple times before finishing it due to how unpleasant and unrewarding it was to read. This comic clearly shows that originality doesn’t necessarily translate to a good story, and what happens when a noire work lacks a sense of humanity.

The only quality that can be praised is the artwork, which is not enough to redeem this work despite its quality. For the type of story this is the artwork is fantastic. The dark almost etching like style of the art perfectly portrays the light and shadow, and helped to really characterize the insane and grim lead Marv. The use of paneling and angles also makes this work very cinematic and it is isn’t surprising compositionally that it adapted well into a film. The stark black and white esthetic even works thematically as the work is very clear cut in morals, and tries its best (which sadly isn’t very hard) to convince you of Marv’s heroism and the villains evil. The art would have been much more effective for me though if it were conveying a much more meaningful and less offensive work. None the less the art is the only part of this book that left a positive impression on me.

It is hard to know where to begin with what is wrong with the story. There are so many basic problems with the characterization, and story themes that it is difficult to know where to start. The Hard Goodbye is basically the story of psychotic man who is framed for the murder of prostitute by another psychopath and is out for violent revenge. Marv wakes up to find the hooker Goldie (yes I’m totally serious this is supposedly her real name) he was sleeping with night before has been murdered. They collapsed the night before after drunkenly making love to one another and she was murdered with the police in on the set up plan. After escaping from the police dramatically Marv begins a bloody rampage in search of her killer, all while spouting some of the worst noire dialogue ever to be published and to proclaim his love for his her (despite having known her for less than a day).

Even in bad works normally I can at least pinpoint only a few problems thematically, this is sadly not the case with Sin City. This story is filled with troubling elements including being distinctly masochistic, glorifying violence and justifying murder, and treating women like sex objects. To start off with all most of female characters save for Marv’s elderly mother appear as prostitutes, with the only acceptation to this rule being lesbian parole office who is still highly sexualized, often appears nude, and is referred to by Marv using an insulting slurs and is eventually brutally murdered. Not one of these female characters really are empowered within story, and often when they even begin to show authority they are killed or shown to be powerless. The other aspect of this work thematically that is so appalling is how it glorifies violence and the use of revenge as a solution.

Worst of all though is that this work is a purely unpleasant to read with a lack of any sense of remorse, and is unquestioning and unjustified in its constant assault of tasteless cruelty. I got no sense of humanity from this work, nor the sense of mystery normally found in a noire works. Without this sense of any human emotion and taste, reading this work was extreme difficult. I often found myself wanting to put down the book and find something to distract myself from how unpleasant the story was. The violence was unpleasant and felt unjustified, and as a result the conclusion which could have been alarming never felt earned. Thematically this book did succeed I guess only in the fact that it was shocking, other than that I felt this graphic novel was appallingly bad thematically.

 

 

The characterization for The Hard Goodbye is just like the story aspects, horrendous. The only real character really worth speaking about much is Marv, with the rest of the cast mostly consisting of nameless police officers, ugly looking killers, or female bombshells. Marv is depicted as an unpleasant psychopath whose motivation is killing off a “bad,” psychopath as revenge, all while narrating in an over top noire style dialogue. This dialogue is such a poor imitation of Chandler dialogue that it is comical bad (the only funny thing about this distinctly painful read).

To explore why Marv is such a poor character where other similar psychotic characters are so much more successful, I feel it is good to compare him to other characters of this type such as Allan Moore’s antihero/vigilantly Rorschach. The character Rorschach faces many similar situations to Marv and it is that these situations and his character influenced this work a great deal, but he reacts to these situations in very different from Marv. Rorschach also has a number attributes that make him a much more effective character then Marv, other than the fact that I feel that his dialogue and narration are far better written.

First off the role played by Rorschach in Watchmen is not that of hero, but of a character sadly unable to come to terms with a black and white moralistic world view (he even states “Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon.”), to work or relate with others who are trying to help him, or to overcome his hero persona. Unlike Marv who escapes his police set up dramatically reflected an escape from a physical and mental fate, Rorschach is captured by his persona and his actions are meant to be seen as disturbing and morally questionable. In Miller’s comic, however you are never supposed to question that Marv is supposed to be depicted as insane rebellious hero (the exact thing Watchmen was criticizing and questioning) who the reader is supposed to at least sympathize with regardless of how gruesome and violence his actions are.

Another aspect that Rorschach and other successful insane characters have that Marv lacks is a sense of some sort of humanity or remorse. With Rorschach we are able to see how troubled his past is and how he developed his madness. While the scene where he recounts facing a murdering rapist with hungry dogs is one of anger, it is portrayed in Watchmen as horrific one with real and shocking mental consequences. In Sin City while a similar encounter to this with prostitute cannibal is portrayed as shocking and gruesome, it is used as a justifier for Merv’s acts of cruelty rather than as a way of explaining his insanity or exploring his past. This scene thus lacked power or the same sense of horror when compared to Watchmen scene, because Merv has already at this point brutally tortured and murdered a number of men without remorse. A third great example of the difference between a character like Rorschach and Merv is the way that approach violence. While both characters use violence remorselessly and kill, Merv takes a sadistic pleasure from killing, while to Rorschach violence is unpleasant but necessary part of being an effective hero and is never gleefully exalting in it.

The most telling difference between the two characters, however is that Rorschach despite his madness and efforts clearly has the sense of humanity. Rorschach shows this as he apologizes to Daniel his ex-partner, refuses to harm his landlady despite her lies about him when he is arrested, tries warning his old teammates when he suspects someone is targeting masked heroes, and pleads at the ending of Watchmen for his own demise. Marv is never portrayed to really have a shred of human compassion which is clearly illustrated in the way the ending of The Hard Goodbye is presented. While the two characters do have a parallel it is clear when comparing the two how little Miller knew or at least cared why a character like Rorschach was successful or existed in Watchmen. Miller instead tries to present his main character as an cool anti-hero who lacks human compassion and revels in committing violence against those more scummy then him, rather than a much more interesting, realistic and complex tragic figure. As a result I found Merv to be an unconvincing, flat and unpleasant lead character lead more by Millers selfish personal politics and simplistic moral code then by any sort of logic.

Other than the artwork this work presented me with nothing of appeal. The story is unbelievably crude and offensive, and the lead character is entirely disturbing, dislikable and unsympathetic. I fail to see why it is anyone loves this book, and personally it stands as a testament to me of how not to write a comic or a noire piece. It is clear that Miller uses this work as a platform for his own inner rage and moral agenda of vendetta. Instead of rising to the challenge of creating a thought provoking complex work or drawing and improving upon his influences such as Watchmen, Miller instead does the exact opposite and leeches the humanity out of them. As a result Miller’s personal deviance goes unchecked in this comic resulting in a grim, offensive, cliché and unpleasant mess of a work that gives no valid reason for its content. This work more clearly resembles Miller’s more recent streak of tastelessness found in works like Holy Terror then any of his earlier more enjoyable and overseen works such as his run on Daredevil or Batman Year One. While the art is excellent, this is a comic definitely better left unread.

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manga, Uncategorized

Black Blizzard: A look into the storm

As many of my long time readers know, I adore the author Yoshiro Tatsumi. Tatsumi was largely responsible for the move towards a more adult style of manga known as gekiga which is chronicled in his wonderful autobiography A Drifting Life. This shift in turn influenced a number of amazing creators including those who worked on Golgo 13 and Lonewolf and Cub, as well as the god of comics himself Osamu Tezuka. Black Blizzard is an excellent example of this shift towards more mature subject matter, and clearly shows the influence that film and noire literature had on Tatsumi and his story telling style during this time. While this isn’t as poignant as some of the other stories include in Drawn and Quarterly’s other collections taken from Tatsumi’s later periods, this manga clearly is distinctive and more clearly encapsulates the influence film has had on Tatsumi’s style making it stand out from his other translated releases for this reason.


The art within Black Blizzard is very interesting, because it seems so unlike the later period of Tatsumi’s work. The art reflects greater influence of the art style of Tezuka early work making it contrast Tatsumi’s later style. This isn’t to say that the art doesn’t show traits that are distinct to Tatsumi’s style, that it directly imitates Tezuka’s style or that this early work is undeveloped; clearly it is distinctive in its own interesting way. What is fascinating about the art of Black Blizzard is that it is clearly a reflection of the situation of which it was constructed, and a testament to Tatsumi’s skill. Unlike a work from a writer like Tezuka who eventually was able to have more power over his contract and work pace, Tatsumi was forced in this period to produce constantly and quickly to survive and support his family. Black Blizzard was created within a month, and yet despite this it is clear that his art is leagues better than most work, because of his ability to take cinematic qualities and translate them into his work. These qualities were inspired and influenced other great artists of the period, especially Tezuka.

Many reviews of this manga have criticized the book’s art style as crude or claim that the art is rushed, but I feel that this criticism is unwarranted. I feel that a lot of these comments are based upon Tatsumi’s later self-criticism and the conditions in which this story was written in.  While some of the qualities of the art could be seen as simplistic, and the design is very different from Tatsumi’s later artwork and Tezuka’s translated work from around period, Tatsumi’s art style in Black Blizzard works with the cinematic qualities and nature of the story. The play with light and shadow is extremely exemplary of what would be found in a classic noire film, as is the structure of the visual angles which directly imitate a Hitchcock film. When it comes to the cast at first glance the less realistic style that the characters are presented in might seem crude in comparison to some of Tatsumi’s later works, if you look though at the characters expressions careful however it becomes clear that Tatsumi has an immense ability to grasp expressive qualities. Tatsumi is able to place so much expression and variety into the faces of his cast despite the less realistic design used in this work. This is an extremely impressive accomplishment, especially if you consider that this was created in such a short period of time and how hard it is to make a cartoonish character have a strong sense of emotion. The designs used here clearly stand up to those done by others with great mastery of expression such as Tezuka, Urasawa, and Takahashi. While Tatsumi’s art style clearly improved and changed as he continued to develop, the art within this work is far from as undeveloped as many critics have claimed it to be. The art in this work definitely drew my interest and is better than at least 75% (probably more like around 90%) of the manga that is currently translated.

While the story for Black Blizzard uses a number of noire clichés and has an ending that feels rushed, it hardly matters due to the quick pacing and exciting story presented. Black Blizzard follows Susumu Yamaji a pianist who believes that he has killed a circus ringmaster in a drunken rage, after he refused to allow his daughter Saeko to become a professional singer and leave her life as a circus performer. After being arrested he is brought onto a prison train and handcuffed to a nameless hardened criminal and card shark. The train however is struck by an avalanche during a blizzard and the two end up escaping from it. The problem is though that the pianist wishes to turn himself in, whereas the criminal wishes to see his own estranged daughter and be free, both though are cuffed together.

On the one hand this story is clearly far less deep then any of Tatsumi’s later works and is far more derivative. On the other hand it clearly is influenced and carries some qualities found in great suspense works and the story is so quick that hardly has the time to really worry about depth. This work clearly takes a lot of influence from American films of the time, which is a double edged sword. On the positive side this story has wonderful pacing, especially considering the simplicity of the story. Unfortunately this comes at the expense of a major payoff within the conclusion which feels force, rushed and a bit heavy handed though it is still somewhat shocking. It might have been better if this story was less conclusive and had a more ambiguous ending, even though this wouldn’t fit with the pulp and movie style of the story as much. The dialogue is short and straight forward which is a result of Tatsumi’s style, the noire setting of the story, and the time constraints. This dialogue generally works well, but on occasion this style of conversation was a bit too simple and stilted. While the story of Black Blizzard clearly pales when compared to the stories found in works like Goodbye, Old Tokyo Abandon, and The Pushman and Other Tales and has some major problems in the conclusion and as a result of its source material, many of the stories problems forgivable due to the fast pacing of the story and the stories ability to present and pay homage to pulp works and American films.

Character wise there isn’t much to say about any of the cast. Unlike most Tatsumi works that seem to try to push a lot of characterization into a very small amount of space with a minimal amount of dialogue, this story uses more traditional pulp story telling methods. As a result it is the story and the suspense that really are most important to the work, rather than the characters backstories or personalities. Susumu the pianist is really sympathetic and given a great deal of confliction as he deals with his personal guilt and feelings of failure, and the outlaw character is made properly unpleasant and sinister while still being somewhat sympathetic, but these characters felt more like Hitchcock influenced archetypes rather than fleshed out characters. The rest of the cast really only performs story roles, all be it convincing ones that fit into the story. Oddly enough this work is definitely focused on the story, rather than Tatsumi’s usual focus upon strong characterization.

While Black Blizzard is far from Tatsumi’s best written or drawn story, I feel that often critics including Tatsumi himself have been too hard on this work. The artwork is far from as sloppy as many have stated, and in my opinion is actually fantastically cinematic, especially when comparing it overall to other creator’s works (especially modern artists) and the time frame in which it was drawn. While the story and characters clearly could have been stronger, they definitely fit well into the tradition of Noire works and it is definitely not even close to being amateurish or dull. Black Blizzard was an exciting read, and is definitely well worth owning. I would definitely recommend this as a great companion piece to Tatsumi’s wonderful autobiography A Drifting Life or to anyone looking for a fast and thrilling Noire style read.

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other, Uncategorized

Hats Top Anime List: Top 10 Finale

9. +10. Serial Experiments Lain & Haibane Renmei : I’m going to start this top ten list with a tie of two of most artistic anime series ever. Yoshitoshi Abe’s graphic designs for these series are unbelievable with the character designs and backgrounds being some of the best designs anime has to offer. These designs are so powerful that they are literally a part of the show, much in the way that music in certain shows is a key element. The animation of these designs is likewise unbelievably well executed and deserving of praise.

It isn’t just artistry within these shows that wins them a place on my top ten list. While these shows are very different works, they both share the presence deep and subtle thematic material. Serial Experiments Lain is a surrealist trip exploring the ever growing role of computers and technology in everyday life. It surprisingly was able to predict a number of actual advances in technology, and more interestingly to questions the role of computers in our lives. The repeated disturbing imagery and motifs of this show truly make it a mind bending and fantastic work. While just as abstract Haibane Renmei is a much mellower and clearer series. Haibane Renmei manages to be a very spiritual work and introspective, without being religious, rushed or obvious. The story focuses upon Reki being reborn from a giant egg into a world with no previous memory, and her difficulties adjusting to her new life in an unfamiliar place. This work covers a number of deep themes of remorse, death, salvation, the cycle of existence, friendship, letting go and finding ones way in a place. It moves at introspective slow pace, slowly revealing its themes and content while taking the viewer on a journey alongside its lead.

The other elements of these series are also similarly great. Both series use openings with music from the UK (Lain with a folk rock group, and Haibane Renmei a befittingly gentle Irish inspired theme), and each has music very much befitting of the series. Both works also feature fairly solid dubs for early era works; though it is the sub tracks that definitely are the better choice. Both of these works are so fantastic in their own special ways that I couldn’t really place one above the other. They both felt like major journeys, and have left a major imprint upon the anime industry and me.

8. Mononoke: The first thing a person will notice with Mononoke is that there is no anime series that looks remotely like it. Mononoke is a story of a wandering medicine peddler/exorcist that investigates and disposes of odd traditional spirits. The design of this show is a treat for the eyes with its intense colour pallet that mixes the surreal and disturbing with a traditional Japanese aesthetics. It appears like a moving screen print, with even aspects of the background like rain or fish tanks looking like they were lifted from a traditional print. This is another work that really earns its merits for an animation. The animation is just as strong as its design, moving with subtly and fluid mastery of motion, presenting characters as flawed and ugly beings and the lead as humble mystically powerful and mysterious figure.

Thematically Mononoke incorporates the tale of the heroic wanderer, but mixes it with the tale of the healer of supernatural woes (much like Mushishi). Kusuriuri the mysterious exorcist insisting he is merely a medicine man travels to a location where spirits are at unrest. The stories like supernatural mysteries as he slowly unravels for the viewer the true nature of a particular spirit and the situation. Each story is well paced, and feels almost like a miniature movie. The most interesting aspect of the stories for me though is that the stories arcs feel like a mixture of traditional Japanese mythology and surrealism, which gives them a translucent quality.

The music for Mononoke is a great blend of traditional instrumentation and orchestra with the creepy and supernatural. This blend goes great with the style of animation presented in this show, and is so strong that it is definitely a listen outside of the show. While this show is only subbed, it is clear even in the sub that a lot of work went into the voice acting of this show, especially with the lead character. It is a huge shame that this work has never been licensed in the states, and it definitely ranks as the show I am most eager to see an official release of (like Billybat I’d be willing to pay almost any amount for a copy of this work).

7. Revolutionary Girl Utena: This anime clearly has inspired so many anime series for good reason. Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of the first anime series to strongly employ many elements that seem standard place today such a vast variety of tone, the presence of deep symbolism and emblems and subtext, the mainstream inclusion of diverse sexuality and the inclusion constantly repeated motifs. Most importantly though is that this show still stands out todays as one of a kind and one the best anime series ever.

Revolutionary Girl Utena stars the heroine Utena who is brought out of despair as a child by a mysterious Prince who gives her a special ring with a rose emblem. Rather than play the traditional role is the grateful Princess though Utena is inspired to emulate her savior and become a prince herself. As she enters junior high she chooses to wear a male uniform, rather than accept the female one. She soon discovers that her ring makes her a duelist and is drawn a competition with the student council and others around her based on preservation of the world, and Anthy a girl who acts as the guardian of the winner’s sword and the ceremony of duels. Despite being only interested in giving Anthy freedom, Utena quickly becomes the most accomplished of the duelists and begins to connect with the mysterious upside down castle location the duels take place in.

While the animation has dated slightly from its release the repeated sequences and style of the Shojo remains highly intriguing to view due to their emblematic nature. Another interesting aspect of this show is how it handles major story arcs, and often (at least in the first season) has a radical changes in tone from the extremely dramatic to the comedic. The character designs take the concepts classical design of shojo women and bishonen men to a whole other level that I have yet to see topped. The lush orchestral score and use of choice in this work likewise gives it a truly classical and timeless quality, as does the classic J-Pop opening. While the dub fails to do this work justice, the sub once again makes up for this with its excellent quality. Utena is truly one of a kind and worthy of its spot among my top ten.

6. Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex: You know that you are looking at impressive list of anime series when this show is not placed within the top five of this list. Regardless this series is impressive in every aspect, and clearly does the Ghost in the Shell series much more justice than any other adaption save perhaps the first movie. Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex is a futuristic police/espionage drama, where the blending of machine and human has reached a point where it is often hard to determine which is which, and what it means to be living. This title follows the secret government task force section 9 a force designed to fight the highest levels of terrorism, cybercrime and governmental matters. Despite the wide cast, each cast member is given a good amount of time to develop a detailed and interesting personality befitting their role in the story.

In terms of quality of animation from a technical stand point this is one of fluidly animated shows, blowing away even the best imitators to this day. Production I.G. went all out, and the result is a futuristic masterpiece making the blending of technology and realism seem believable. This animation also allowed the super human level of conflict within this show to really look fluid and to be so outstandingly gripping to view, while still making the more introspective moments just as noteworthy and profound. This is the type of work where clearly no expense was spared animation wise and it shows.

The sound quality for this show is again top notch. You know that you are going to have an outstanding soundtrack considering the composer, but even among Kano soundtracks this one is particularly memorable. Her mixing of electronic music with her brand of scoring creates a very unusual blend that sets this anime apart. While the first opening’s CG hasn’t exactly dated well, the second opening is much more visually successful and the score for both really make them accomplishments worthy of praise. This is another one of those anime series where I feel that I can claim that the dub is for the most part entirely perfect, despite a strong sub cast as well. The dub cast really helped to definite the personalities of the vast cast, and all fit really perfectly into the roles they were playing. This is definitely a science fiction classic and Cartoon Network was extremely clever to have this masterpiece on its Adult Swim block and to continue showing it (if only Adult Swim showed shows with this much quality now).

5. Princess Jellyfish: Princess Jellyfish has but one major flaw, which is that it ended leaving me wanting even more. This is one of the cutest and more humorous shows I have ever seen. Jellyfish Princess stars Tsukime a shy nerd who lives together with a bunch of anti-social nerds with special obsessions. She ends up stumbling into a cross-dressing politician’s son Kuranosuke, who ends up deciding he likes the building (as he is fashion obsessed) and goes there constantly despite the no men policy of the building (lucky the other girls are too thick to ever discover his secret). Soon it is discovered though that the building is in danger of being torn down by a redeveloping firm, and Kuranosuke most push the various antisocial tenants to try and work together to save the building. Meanwhile his brother Shuu is being blackmailed by an egotistical seductress working for the redevelopment firm tricks him and takes a fake sex picture. She is unaware though that he is actually terrified of women outside of a work situation and has fallen for Tsukime when she is dressed up by her brother.

This show is tons of fun, and has lots of wonderful humor. Since I have reviewed this work before I will try to keep this description short, but it does deserve note as to why I love this series to those who haven’t read my review. While not the most memorable works musically the score works well, the opening is outstanding despite not really relating to the show directly. While the animation isn’t as flashy as many other works on this list, it is extremely adapt. The movement and ability for this work to create realism in the backgrounds is truly outstanding, despite not being as noticeable as some other works. The characters are really what make this show so funny and charming though, and give this work so much charm. Each character has so much personality and is a real comedic treat to watch, while rarely if ever feeling over the top or forced. I was blown away by the dub for this show, though this anime also has a great sub track as well. Despite most of the actors in this work being pretty obscure and rarely cast in major roles they shine in this series. Even though this series might seem expensive providing the short episode count, the quality of the extra features and the show in general make this anime worth every cent of its asking price.

4. Princess Tutu: Those who have never viewed Princess Tutu might ask why a series with such an unpromising name would be appearing so high on my list. Those, however who have an open mind and who have seen Princess Tutu clearly understand why I adore it so much and why it is here on my list. Princess Tutu is one of my favorite children’s anime series, with an amazing combination of humor, dance, fairy tale elements, and of course a wonderful soundtrack. Princess Tutu is the story a duck named Duck that is in love with a beautiful prince Mytho, a boy who shattered his heart to seal away an evil raven spirit. She is given a magical necklace that transforms herself into the magical girl and dancing heroine Princess Tutu. Unfortunately this fairy tale world is ruled over by the malevolent spirit of the author of the Prince and Raven fairy tale who has a distinct love for tragedy, and who has given Duck her powers only conditionally. He warns Duck that if she professes her love to the Prince, she will vanish forever from the story. With becoming Princess Tutu comes the challenges for Duck of retrieving shard despite the objections of prince Mytho’s controlling best friend Fakir, and his girlfriend the prima ballerina at Duck’s dance school with a secret Rue, and the fact that she is forced to remain anonymous despite her efforts. It also soon becomes apparent that the rebuilding of the prince’s heart has other unforeseen consequences, marked by the arrival of the Raven’s daughter Princess Kraehe who is also in love with Mytho.

While perhaps not as consistently good as some of the other shows in my top ten in terms of animation, Princess Tutu does clearly have bursts of amazing animation where it really matters. The dancing animation and the sense of ballet like joy, conflict and drama are all played out well. This is a show where the music clearly is major part of the work. Princess Tutu has a breath taking score comprised almost entirely of Ballet music or music clearly inspired by classic Ballet scores. The full orchestration of these tracks graces Princess Tutu with one of the greatest soundtracks ever to be included in an anime series. Both the Sub and Dub are excellently preformed, and I have had no trouble listening to this show in either format. Both give the characters a strong personality and are worth hearing, with the dub being stronger with distinguishing some of the cast such as the storyteller Drosselmeyer and the Duck’s dance teacher Mr.Cat, while the sub overall does a slightly better job capturing the voices of Duck and Mytho. This is a real treat to watch and hands down one of the most complex and successful magical girl series ever created.

2&3. Wolf’s rain & Gankutsuou: The Count of Monticristo: Again we come to a point where it would be too painful for me to decide between these two shows. Both of these works are nearly perfect in their own ways. I have tried time and time again to decide between which one I felt was better, but every time I do I always end up unable to choose between these two works.

Wolf Rain combines the sense of an adventure and spiritual journey. This series takes place in a world that is dying out. Suddenly after being extinct for more than 200 years wolves begin to populate the world and gain the ability take upon the appearance of human’s. Wolf’s Rain follows Kiba a white wolf, who eventually ends up grouping up with a variety of other wolves to take a mystical flower maiden to a place known as paradise. Meanwhile humanity is still trying to figure out what is going on, with the elite nobles still at war and rest of the human race trying best survive and to make sense of what is occurring around them.

Not only is Wolf Rain’s a journey towards mysterious paradise (both a physical and mental one), it also is Buddhist inspired story of death and rebirth and the damage caused by the inability to move on or connect with each other. Wolf’s Rain is deep work that explores human nature and isn’t afraid to end in a truly tragic way. Being that the score for Wolf Rain is by Yahko Kanno it is a guarantee that it would be fantastic. The combination of eclectic orchestral strings, blues and bossa nova makes this soundtrack remarkably different from even any other Kanno scores, and fits perfectly with this the mood of the show. The dub for this show is pretty much perfect again, even surpassing the subtitled version. The cast contains an interesting variety of major stars voice actors, as well as a few excellent lesser known actors all playing their parts spectacularly. This is another show also where you can clearly see that no expense was spared in terms of animation. Even just by watching the opening you can see that every shadow, tree blowing in the wind or little motion of the characters was animated with intense detail. This level of detail is something that only few shows or movies can master, and it clearly shows a distinct care and love was put into this work.

It is hard to adapt work, let alone to create material in an adaption that adds something new and meaningful to an original piece. The Count of Monticristo anime by Gonzo though not only is a successful interpretation, but is one of the best appropriations of a novel (especially of such a large size) that I have ever seen. Gankutsuou is the story of Albert a young noble who comes upon a mysterious alien royal calling himself the Count of Monticristo. Albert is instantly drawn by the strangers charm and grateful after he is saved from bandits through the eccentric Count’s charity, despite warnings from his close friend Franz. He invites the Count to his home in Paris unaware of his true intensions, and that the Count is cunningly plotting revenge against those who wronged him in the past including Albert’s father. Gankutsuou takes the major story tenants and intent of original the novel, but it also changes them to fit futuristic setting involving space travel and aliens, while focusing just as much upon the betraying general’s son as the Count himself as he is thrown in the middle of conflict and used. The anime does an excellent job both making the Count malicious and larger than life, while retaining a level of internal struggle and remorse, and building up the tension into shocking crescendo’s.

This is another anime where the style of and quality of animation places this work apart from all others. The detail of the colour scheme is truly outstanding, but it is the cut out fabric overlays in the animation that really draws the eye. Yota Tsuruoka also truly deserves credit for his work on the score of this series, and a number of other momentous anime scores (include Lain and Inuyasha to name just a few). Not only does he do a wonderful job incorporating wonderful classical excerpts into his score, but he also is responsible for a great deal of the wonderful scoring elements that reflect the action and are worthy of hearing again and again. The opening and ending are visually and musically are wonderful. The opening has a calm, sorrowful feel that reflects the great artistry of the series. The ending acts much more like an opening normally would with the music reflecting the anger of the Count and bright fast moving imagery that at time borders on the surreal attracting exciting the eye. Amazingly enough both the opening and closers music both composed and performed by the western artist Jean-Jacques Burnel, and sound almost as though polar opposites to one another. This is an anime where it is clear that the sub is definitely the way to go. While the dub does a serviceable job with trying to live up to outstanding performance of Jouji Nakata as the Count, Jamieson Price cannot begin to compete with show stealing voice presented in the subtitled version. Sadly the same cannot be said about Johnny Young Bosh’s performance of Albert which felt unconvincing and as though Bosch were going through the motions, and never really invested himself in the character clearly shows that he was extremely miscast in the role. This is the main reason why I feel the subtitled version is far superior and definitely the version of choice for viewing.

Both of these series are truly masterpieces that are so good that it pains me to even not have placed one of them in the top series spot. Both present some of the best work anime has to offer and I would be surprised if I didn’t see either of them in or even at the top of other peoples top 10 lists who have seen them.

1. Cowboy bebop: I know that many people who are reading this are likely now calling foul. How could a person like me with a list with so many obscure, artsy and intellectual shows choose such a popular and cliché choice as Cowboy Bebop to put on the top of the list? Before you start crying though please first consider that this is a list of my personal favorites, not an objective look at the best series and also consider why this series has been continually playing on Adult Swim pretty much non-stop since its initial release in 2001 (around 12 years since I am posting this) and why it remains such a popular work. Cowboy Bebop is truly a timeless work that lives up to its timeless reputation and it are important to remember that it has set many standards within the anime industry. While episode to episode Bebop might not hold up as the best work, as a whole and complete package this work personally leaves me the most satisfied of any anime work. I have seen Bebop more times than any other anime series and would gladly watch it again many times. While a few episodes are skip worthy most are well worth seeing, and when an episode works it presents the viewer with something truly special.

Cowboy Bebop is a work set in the future where other than space travel and technology little has actually really changed in the world’s workings. It follows an eccentric crew of bounty hunters just trying scrounge up enough cash to live off of. Ironically despite being qualified professionals none of the crew ever can seem to hold onto a major reward for long and they are constantly at odds with one another other, thus they are continuous is in search of new criminals to chase. Everyone in the cast, however are also chased closely by their own past. The cast includes Spike Spiegel who is in search of his old flame and is often being followed/is chasing his past partner in crime the cruel Vicious, the extra weird hacker girl Edward who is running from her mundane past in search of adventure, the femme fatale Faye Valentine who is fleeing from her debts and her past life from 21st century when she was cryo-frozen, the gruff ex-cop and head of the main ship the Bebop who is escaping his disappointment with corruption within the police force and broken dreams, and even the ship dog character Ein has escaped from a lab where he was experimented on.

Two things really set Bebop’s story from so many other series. First off is the quality and artistry of the presentation. Where so many other series pander to the viewer’s sentiments and only write in a way that directly plays to a specific target audiences interests (such as genre or theme works such as shonen, harem, shojo, moe, romantic comedy, fantasy adventure, sci-fi ect…), Bebop often writes material that goes above a specific category. Even within a genre based episode there are multiple layers of complexity, such as the noire influenced episode Black Dog Serenade or the tragedy of Waltz for Venus. This allows Bebop to last on as a classic many years after its premiere in the United States where so many other series including once popular ones have fallen into obscurity.

This lack of direct genera leads into the second major aspect that sets Bebop apart, which is the radical variety of tone. It is clear that it was highly influenced by works like Revolutionary Girl Utena, which would often change radically in tone. Cowboy Bebop however takes this one step further by presenting a huge variety of tone and thematic material, and mixing serious themes into even comedic episodes and comedic sarcasm into serious ones. A wonderful example is the parody episode Cowboy Funk involving Spike competing with an obnoxious and thick rich bounty hunter cowboy fanatic Andy for the bounty of a teddy bear obsessed terrorist spouting an anti-consumerism philosophy (that no one is interested in hearing), this episode is then followed and contrasted by an episode where the Bebop’s crew chases after a mysterious cult leader claiming to have the power to copy a person’s soul into the ether computer and that explores the prospective of reality. Another interesting aspect of this variety is that Bebop switches between a series of episodic adventures which are connected by the crew’s backstories. While only three stories specifically follow Spike’s backstory and a few others follow the rest of the cast’s backstory these stories are extremely important to creating strong sense of world building and feel like they balance the show between backstory and standalones.

The technical aspects of Cowboy Bebop are just as impressive (if not more so) as the story format. Sunrise clearly went all out with the animation and soundtrack budget for this show, and the dub for Bebop remains one of the most famous of all dubs for good reason. Despite this show being many years old the detail and impact of the animation still makes this one of the best looking animated series. Everything from the fantastical aspects of the space travel, to the smallest shadow and moment of a characters body is captured by Sunrises animation team (the same fantastic team responsible for the detailed animation found in Wolf’s Rain).

The soundtrack for Cowboy Bebop goes beyond simply being an important part of the series. The music in Cowboy Bebop is a key element to the show’s success and is even directly referenced constantly with the episodes titles and dialogue. It is not surprising that the soundtrack for Cowboy Bebop is the source that really popularized Yahko Kanno in the U.S., since the without the soundtrack there could be no show. Not only are her Jazz and Blues tracks that are included within the openings and ending (which both appeared as number two on my top opening and closers list) beyond remarkable, but the various styles and experimental nature of soundtrack make it one of the most successful and ambitious anime scores of all time. As a result of this show many other shows such as Baccano have placed a much greater emphasis on musical aspects.
To round out this show, this is one of the first works to perfect and set the standard for dub quality. While a few works before Bebop had notable dubs, Bebop clearly set a standard for dubbed works by modeling what a dub could be. Cowboy Bebop was really the first work to present a dub that adapted its source material in a way that was nearly perfect. Dialogue was not just spoken like in many previous works, but was instead presented in a form of subtle and passionate acting. This sort of quality dub helped set the bar extremely high for other series, and was very much a wake-up call to many dubbing teams as to what sort of dub the audience wanted and now expected from an anime work.

While Cowboy Bebop might seem like a predictable show to place on the top of the list, I have good reasons both personal and objectively for placing it at the pinnacle of my list. This was the first anime series I really remembering watching and falling in love with. I remember seeing Cowboy Bebop during a special broadcast and marathoning the entire series until around three in morning start to finish. It blew me away, and to this day it continues to blow me away every time I see it. Cowboy Bebop is both in story and production process a magical show and there was no question even when I began this project that it was going to be at the top of this list.

I hope you all enjoyed my list and found perhaps a few new shows to view or at the very least a few show to revisit. If you enjoyed this list please let me know, and also feel free to suggest what sort of top lists you’d be interesting in reading in the future. See you space cowboy!

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