Kaiba

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Great works of art are not easy to review. They are not common like the cesspool of bad art. Bad art is easy to deconstruct, to show how pathetically horrible they are. “So bad it’s good” exists because these works are so bizarre, so extraordinary that they become unique. Bad art is never unique its badness. In contrast, great works of art always end up redefining what ‘good’ is, so any review of a masterpiece will never be analytical and conclusive. It always end up chasing something that we can only grasp a piece of, like a poet looking at a beautiful line he wrote and knowing he can never write a worthy poem of it.

Kaiba is one of those artworks. I say it deliberately. Judgment of it is not confined to anime. It transcends media, reaches something so deeply human and awe-inspiring that it becomes a part of you. Do not expect a rational explanation of why this anime is better than pretty much anything. If we understood completely why it’s so good, we’d have masterpiece dropping from the skies. I can try, though.

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The key to understanding Kaiba is understanding how it tells a story, specifically how it takes advantage of the personal nature of fiction. All art, including fiction, is personal. It is a product of human thought, a translation of your entire Being – your experiences, philosophy, unconscious, passions – into some kind of experience that another being can take on. Kaiba is a ridiculously expressive work. Every scene is imbued with emotion. Every object says something about what it represents. It’s so emotionally draining because of that.

Memory is the big topic, but Kaiba isn’t just about memory. In a cliched way, it’s existentialist, asking what we are. Its answer is memories, but memories are also information. The anime explores this intersection of information that defines us. Notice the symbols. When memory isn’t converted to information, it is organic and free – it is lifelike memory eggs. These are also tiny, fragile and fleeting. The memories float away and are easily lost.

The roe is us, so they use to show how tiny we are when death strikes. When a character dies, their bodies become liquid and vanish completely. The ‘self’ becomes just a bunch of yellow pieces floating way. It expresses the loss of death, how death completely erase us and we become nothing. The memory chip – a drill-like thing – can also die so easily, if it’s lost it’s gone forever. Sure, we can try to capture those roe or to protect the chip, but it’s so difficult. It’s an expression of how fragile we are.

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Yet converting ourselves into information makes us so much easier to control, and easier for us to control others. Altering other people’s memories is a sci-fi trope, but this anime is concerned with how it affects everyone, how it affects our personal lives. We see the small results of this – how erasing someone’s childhood erases who they are and they end up becoming nothing but a memory. How this power to change personal reality blurs into thinking we can change reality itself – a direct link to megalomania and tyranny.

Our memories are our personality. Once we control them, edit them, change them all lines break down. The world of Kaiba looks funny by design, but that’s because how the people experience it. People can also put their memories into a whole new body. In one episode this results in a world where bodies are manufactured like clothes. Its reality is grotesque, a mass of weird shapes that’s disorientating. Somehow we ended up creating a more chaotic reality than nature.

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Leaning towards a socioeconomic critique of society, the anime shows a world in which memories – selves – become products. So a character sells her own body with hopes that her memory will be kept. Selves are no longer precious. This society isn’t painted with strokes of black to show you how evil rich people are. Rather, to illustrate the chaos of it, we see selling your own body and putting yourself in a chip is no guarantee. You’re relinquishing control of yourself, your grip on the world.

Yet this ‘information’ is never just ‘information’. Consciousness was the result of accumalating all these pieces of data and connecting them. So we’re never really dead, and using memories this way is using people as objects. The anime is deeply concerned with living things. In a gallery of memories, the people who own these memories cry out to be released.

Everyone’s concerns are always personal. Although the characters are simple, they have motivation and a humanity. A sheriff who really wants a girl at first seems like a greedy bastard, but he’s a person. That’s his wants, and when we see this want doesn’t make him just an asshole but a good person we’re encouraged to sympathize with him. In the end, he’s a ‘human’ being – with people he loves, things he wants, and dreams lost when death comes.

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Although there are antagonists, the series always reminds us that they’re people in the most simple way. People want power, but not because they’re evil. They want it because they’re human beings, so we see the ringleader of the resistance crumbling to tears when he realizes what he’s done. He had to erase memories that painted him in a bad light, but the result was losing a friend.

This anime is in the end about treasuring people. The idea of memory is just a tool to show us how we can lose people, no matter how hard we work to keep them. We put their identity, their whole being in a chip but then that chip is lost. We sell a loved one’s body, hoping the salesman will keep the information in a chip. A friend blocks our ambition, so we erase some memories only to realize the whole person is gone. Eventually this anime reaches an important conclusion about being – we need each other, we’re social animals, power doens’t make up for it.

The castle of Warp is a lonely place. The only person he has is an all-seeing robot. He’s not happy and the only thing he can talk about are who to execute. He may be the king of memories, but these are his own memories. What good are they? In a beautiful scene Popo and the resistance at the palace, and it has a huge opening to a black void. That’s the height of power to you, a lonely high place looking out into nothing. The only thing that’s there are themselves, yet they’re craving control.

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The romance between Neiro and Kaiba isn’t a symbol for romance, but what’s really important – connection. Even during oppression, they found something of their own, a precious shared memory that’s enough. Separate yourself from the struggle for power. The privileges of the rich to put themselves in memory chips and live forever aren’t that worthwhile in the end. Every world touched by this is grotesque, people are lost yet they are still people.

You cannot talk about the art without mentioning the Neverhood, which seems like a direct inspiration for the anime. Both endings and beginning borrow from it. It opens with a man seeing an unknown, bizarre world. The ending includes a darker version of the hero and a gigantic, self-sacrificing robot. Like the Neverhood, the design is cartoonish, nonsensical and imbued with meaning and emotions. Look at the planet where the only thing that matters is the story of two old people. The planet itself is nothing but their tower. The underworld is almost colorless – but almost, since it still has some life in it. The club is colorful and weird but has a dominating shade of purple – a disorientating effect. Vanilla looks like what we expect from an asshole with the fat belly and aggressive face (Only his character later proves to be more). There is even a creature who flies by a propeller and doesn’t speak – like the sidekick from old video games. It’s as unrealistic as you get, but no scene is without emotional overtones just like life – and that makes it far closer to reality than anything else.

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Likewise the soundtrack couldn’t be better, a collection of gentle electronic sounds. It fits with the slightly childish designs, but it has the same fragility of the world. A lot of it sounds like Boards of Canada, only it takes it to less nostalgic tones. The soundtrack mostly expresses a reflective, introspective atmosphere, one of both awe and terror. Some tracks are colder and harsher that reminds us that this world is still harsh, a world where selves can be sold. Some tracks have beautiful, intimate melodies to go along with the theme of connection.

There is no other anime like Kaiba, an anime so expressive, where every shot is charged with emotion, wonder, terror and humanity. ‘Depth’ isn’t the right word. It’s not an intellectual, symbolic exercise like Paranoia Agent or a psychological exploration like Digimon Tamers yet it’s somehow better than these two. Perhaps because it takes anime to the origin of art – the expression, not explanation, of human experience. Nothing I could write would do this anime justice.

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The Tatami Galaxy

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A common misconception is that being experimental makes your work inaccessible. Too many experimental works got this reputation, and too many people now think difficulty is praiseworthy. It’s as if jumping through 50 hoops somehow increases the value of 20 dollars. It may increase perceived value, but that’s not the same. It just means your mind distorted the real value so you won’t feel bad about wasting time.

Difficulty can’t be the main aim of any piece of art. Art is a way to communicate ideas. The reason we seek these experimental/non-traditional/avant-garde methods is not because of their difficulty. These new approaches are meant to enhance a story, to shed new light on the same ideas. Experimentation shouldn’t draw you away from an anime, it should make you curious and involved in it.

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Tatami Galaxy is a perfect example of an anime that’s both experimental and, at the same accessible. It follows a non-linear narrative, whose structure has significant meaning. The characters all look weird, but that’s only makes them more lively. The characters themselves are weird, but people are weird. All their quirks aren’t there just to make them different from one another, but related directly to their personalities.

Jougaski’s love for a doll is directly related to how he’s an idol for women. Akashi is cold and intelligent, but it doesn’t help her when moths are around. Ozu is a scumbag, but even scumbags like him can love.

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The way they are drawn is also important to their personality. Anyone who thinks character design isn’t important has no business watching anime, with Tatami Galaxy a strong argument for the importance of character design. The designs are expressive for their personalities – Jougaski looks perfect, Akashi is pretty in a low-key way, Higuchi looks both absent-minded and too wise to care. Look at the shut eyes and the small smile. It’s right between a wise master and an oblivious buffoon.

The designs are both cartoonish and realistic at the same, and that’s whole approach of the show. It manages to be realistic by being cartoonish. Too many times we see attempts at realism by being ‘low-key’, like in Mushishi or Texhnolyze. In order to be ‘realistic’ you first have to ask yourself what is the reality your story is about. Then you seek methods, techniques, and cues that make us believe in your reality.

Life is weird, but college life is especially weird. It’s not a matter of life and death, but it’s a constant chase after an ideal. Even outside college, the dream of a life of constant partying, joy and excitement is common.

In the age of social media, this theme of ‘rose-colored life’ is more common. People often post only the good stuff and inflate them. We follow celebrities more closely than ever. Sometimes celebrities rise out of that social media. As a satire of that desire, Tatami Galaxy is dead-on.

It’s not so much about choices, because whatever Watashi chooses the results remain fairly similar. It’s also not about some big philosophy about Destiny and Fate, because every time Watashi fails it’s in different ways. The reason he fails so much is because of his desire. This dream of the rose-colored life is his undoing.

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Whether it exists or not, the anime doesn’t answer. It shouldn’t, since easy answers have no place in a great story like this. What it asks us to do look beyond our huge ambitions. The vivid, wacky art style is meant to portray a reality that’s varied, full of weirdness and ups and downs. Notice how the colors constantly change. Life can’t be ‘rose-colored’. It has too many colors.

The message is, thankfully, not just ‘enjoy your life and be thankful for it’. As I said, there’s no room for easy answers in stories that ask questions. Failure is a running theme and the anime is aware you can’t avoid failure and how painful it is. Characters who should lead ‘rose-colored life’ don’t lead them. Jougaski has plenty of things that make him ‘not a real man’. Hanuki may be a sexy, fun woman but she still falls into bad relationship. Ozu may be cunning, but he can also fall apart when loves takes over.

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All the colors, weirdness, and personification of a sex drive only lead to one conclusion. Life is a mess. You can enjoy it not by stop aspiring. You don’t even need some sort of ‘mythical balance’. The world is full of things, of Ozu’s who will knock us down and Higuchi’s who will babble nonsense. It’s about trying to enjoy it despite all these things, to sort out the mess and find what fits you. You can be life-affirming without being shallow

Some have pointed out that the monologues can be too fast. At first it’s annoying, but it quickly dies down. Watashi still talks pretty fast, but the monologues become less dominant and slightly slower. It was easy getting over.

The Tatami Galaxy is worth all the hype surrounding it. It manages to be so many things at the same time, and never losing control. It’s realistic without being dry. The narrative is experimental, but in a meaningful way rather than an obscure one. The character design is weird, but it’s for expressive purposes. For all the reputation it gained as an ‘intellectual anime’, it’s so accessible I’d recommend it to anyone, even people who aren’t into anime.

5 tatami rooms out 5

Terminator Genisys

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Genisys is far from a return to the glory days of Judgment Day. Expecting any film to live up to it is silly. It’s one of those great films where the people involved probably had no idea how good their stuff is. That’s why James Cameron left the building. He knew he couldn’t handle something this good. Nobody after him understood, either. At least the guys who made Genisys show an understanding of the first films, if not of how to make one.

Although it’s easy to miss because stuff gets blown up, Judgment Day is filled with ideas about the nature of men, machine and weaponry. It’s a one-dimensional story about Raging Against the Machine on the surface, but some people think Fight Club is encouraging rebellion. The films always hinted Skynet wasn’t the real enemy. Skynet isn’t a faceless villain to shoot up. Skynet learns to destroy from the people who created it.

Men are the ones who got obsessed with weapons and violence. They are the ones who solve conflicts with shooting the enemy. There is irony in destroying Skynet with the same methods that made Skynet want to destroy us. In a way, Skynet is the physical embodiment of man’s violent nature.

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The new Fear Factory album shares a title

This is why the machine in these films is almost always represented as weaponry. The actual purpose of the characters in Genisys is to reverse the world to a time before war, so humans would not be born into weaponry and violence (using weaponry and violence). Of course, we cannot truly exist without violence or technology. That’s why we get Terminators on either side. One side thinks the solution to all these problems is to be done away with the world, and one thinks that letting everyone live is the better idea.

This is what Kyle Reese means by ‘because we’re humans’. It sounds a bit cheesy, but the series was always about searching for the alternative to the violent nature of man. The whole ‘challenging fate’ comes into play, too. A deeper discussion of the themes is for another time. What all these paragraphs lead to is the film’s biggest strength and its reason for existance.

It’s not a generic action film with Terminator on the poster to attract audience. All the themes in previous paragraphs surface here. It’s actually far more concerned with the Terminator mythology than its reputation for great action scenes. This means this is the first sequel that understands the greatness of the previous films. It acts like the previous two never existed and goes straight back to talking about fate, weaponry, machines, violence and other deep stuff.

Theoritical knowledge doesn’t always translate to creative skills. The right pieces are all here. Emalia Clark looks exactly like how a military young Sarah Connor would look like and the film has the same color schemes. It may the creators were too busy replicating the atmosphere and feel, they forgot about action scenes.

Slow motion makes a cameo apperance a few times, which is great. Other than that, the action scenes have no intensity to them. A bus flips over and that’s cool. Cars exploding remains beautiful, but the violence doesn’t feel unstoppable or dangerous. People tend to shoot each other and this is where it ends. There is no unique camera movements, or a memorable set piece. There is nothing like the final battle of Judgment Day, which felt like a visualization of a Fear Factory song. It could be the PG-13 rating.

It’s also more plot-heavy. The first films had their moments of humanity because of how straightforward they are. People come from the future to blow stuff up, and then it’s one long chase scene that gives the characters moment to think philosophically. In Genisys, thinks are always happening. There is a tangled web of timelines and people traveling across timelines and robots who can copy others so you’re sure who is who.

Worry not if this sounds like Homestuck. It never reaches that level of bullshit, but it’s unnecessary. Everyone in the film knows technobabble is just cool words, so why use them so much? It was cool the first time, but then people can remember a life they could have lead or things along these lines.

It does connect to the whole ‘challening fate’ thing, but it’s still pointless complicating. The sudden appearance of Skynet at the end also came off as an asspull. The creators missed an opportunity for an alternative climax. Skynet sat somewhere between pure evil and a villain with a drive. By letting him speak, they could develop the opposing worldview. They do it a little, but the climax is concerned with replicating Cameron’s climaxes. Since they don’t have Cameron’s visual skill (or his love for Industrial music which he doesn’t reveal), it’s just two huge guys fighting. Centering the climax around a debate between the heroes and Skynet would have contributed much more to the film’s themes. Showing that Skynet can be defeated with intelligence and not violence would strengthen the film’s conclusion that we don’t have to be this violent. It did work for Vault Dweller in the first Fallout game.

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The album is referenced often in the film

At least Schwarznegger is as good as always. The film will let you know that he’s old, but he also became a fan of Fear Factory. At least I’d like to believe that it was a reference to their album. He still looks great packing a shotgun. He still delivers his line with zero emotion, and that makes him both hilarious and realistic. Any time he’s off-screen everyone looks a bit lost. Actually, even in the old films everyone looks lost while Schwarznegger isn’t on screen. No one could play the Terminator character like he does – just look at all the other Terminators. The Terminator may be his only meaningful performance, but it’s a great. Hopefully he’ll bless with a few films like Commando before he retires.

The film is messy and clumsy, but not lazy. There is a genuine attempt to revive with the myth, using the same themes that defined it. The creators don’t have Cameron’s skill and the soundtrack contains no songs from that fanboy band I kept mentioning in my review. It’s still worth a watch if the myth does anything to you. Some have said the franchise has been played out and they do have points, but Genisys lays ground for someone to pick it up and improve on it. That said, the franchise probably won’t get a second chance if anything after this won’t work.

3 Fear Factory songs out of 5

Green Green

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Green Green is the most important ecchi anime, for all the wrong reasons. Don’t be fooled by the pictures that promise you fun times with the occasional peak at tits. Green Green is cruel and mean-spirited. It doesn’t want to, but this is the side-effect of taking sexual shenanigans to their extreme. This is what happens when you’re making a sex comedy and enjoy the limitlessness of animation.

Despite what I and many reviewers write, anime is a really just a lot of lines and colors moving around. The stories are in our heads. It’s like how a novel is just some ink painted in different shapes upon (recycled?) paper. No real people are involved, but it’s surprising how legal action hasn’t taken against the creators. Surely, such sexual harassment shouldn’t be presented in such a care-free and comic way, even if it targets animated characters, right? If not, then the viewer himself was sexually harassed and the viewer is a real person.

This is how watching Green Green feels like for most of its length. Panty shots and the camera finding its way to the girls’ bathroom aren’t its defining feature. Very early in the first episode the fat guy gets off on rubbing his man-boobs. This is what the series revolves around. Everything else is just a side dish.

It’s amusing, but only because it’s hard to take your eyes off it. The show pushes things to the extreme, doing things in the real world would land the idiots in jail if not in a hospital. Key scenes include ‘fishing’ a shirt in front of other boys, basically stripping her and a fat guy jumping on the teacher screaming ‘here we go’. In the real world, we call this an attempted rape.

There is a light-hearted tone to all of this, but it doesn’t fit the events. It gives the impression that it takes what’s going on lightly, which only makes things worse. The three idiots are not bumbling buffons, but creeps. It’s hard to feel anything but contempt and hatred for them. The fat guy sees women as literally a stick with tits on. Tenjin is a pedophile who gets off on eating rice while Sanae is asleep. Metalhead-looking guy is sometimes better. He sometimes serves as an amusing satire of a desperate horny teenager. Mostly, he’s a stalker who goes on and on about love but tries to use brute force.

The creators try sometimes to give them what they deserve, but its at the expense of the viewer. We may not feel very sorry for them when they get humiliated, but here the punishment includes a rape from a bear. Worse, it’s not an implied one. A bush volunteers to prevent it from becoming full-blown porn, but there are enough sounds and moaning so you’ll have a clear image enough in your head.

The characters have nothing resembling depth, but that’s not the problem. They’re comic relief characters, but it’s hard to be funny when all you do is harass. What else can you call peeking at the girls while they bath and sending them questionnaires about their bra size? There are even homoerotic and cross-dressing moments. This is when their assault shifts again target to the viewer. I don’t know what is worse, but if I had to choose between seeing Futaba humiliated again or watching Bacchi-Gu rubs his breasts again, I’d choose the latter. Call me a white knight, but it’s not like I’m catching a bullet.

No girl leaves this show unharassed. Sanae and Futaba are the main victims, but only Wakaba kind of avoids this. She only falls victim to them whenever their harassment schemes target all the girls, instead of their girl of choice. The fact Wakaba is the luckiest girl, and she’s still getting harassed thanks to scheme that are the equivalent of sexual genocide should tell you how unpleasant this feels.

The creators hit a fun, energetic, sex-driven high school vibe that makes me feel nostalgic for the days when I was too young to see that girls were just as confused as I. The decision to have more than one male character and have them do stuff makes this stand out. Most high school anime tend to have a comic relief who pops once or twice, a gay dude or a trap.

Still, in such a sexually-predatory environment it’s hard to find friends. Almost everyone here is a creep, not just the idiots. Midori has her happy-go-lucky charm, but what she does to Yusuke is only a little better than what the three idiots do to the girls. Chigusa remains AWOL for most of the show, appearing occasionally to let us know reality can’t compete with those breasts. Sanae is boring and does nothing, and Arisa is a pathetic attempt to make us feel awkward with a horny ugly girl. Too bad for her she can’t compete with the three idiots.

Speaking of Yusuke, he’s a little less boring than your typical do-gooder. His occasional aggressive behavior with Midori is surprising. It’s good to see a male character this active, but all he does is add more to the mean-spiritedness. Midori and Yusuke, instead of being the emotional core and safe haven just add to the unplesantness of it all. Adding Futaba to the love triangle doesn’t help. She’s fun at first, but then quickly becomes a tsundere. You’re always sure these tsunderes are bit more interesting than they are.

Reika and Wakaba are the only ones who lighten the atmosphere a little, and even the former isn’t good enough. Reika doesn’t fit any archetype at first, and she adds some genuine appeal. For a show so obsessed with sexuality, she’s the only one with actual sex appeal and it’s not just because she has breasts. Too many times though, she’s given a cruel edge whose reason is very unsatisactory. She also get a single moment of harassment that might be worse than anything else. You’d think the creators would let us enjoy the sex appeal without seeing the girl humiliated. As for Wakaba, her role is to stand around and talk to the cactus. It’s the only joke here that works, and it’s those little details that make characters feel alive. She’s the only one who’s not an empty archetype or a creep. She deserved a much better show, maybe something like Bamboo Blade where everyone is weird like her.

Maybe it’s the story that makes everyone comes off like creeps. All this envelope-pushing at least makes them feel alive, and not just archetypes. The premise is also great and has a lot of room for satirizing the sexual confusion. There’s even a great atmosphere that makes it easy to forget how terrible everyone they are. They just don’t do anything with it.

High school boys can be silly, and sometimes creepy with their sexuality. They’re never like this. This is criminal behavior. It’s like a satire of bullying where the bully is the killer. They’re both violent, but the satire is way off-target. It doesn’t deal with the confusion or the pressure or the excitement of being sexual. All it does is present sexual harassment with a light tone, hoping we’d forgive because ‘it’s just comedy’. Sexuality can be a pain, but it shouldn’t be this depressive.

The romance is also shaky. It was about to say something interesting about fate and destiny, but then it decided to take the easy road of manipulative sentimentality. A big emotional climax was very uncalled for, but the supernatural elements made the whole thing look like they came up with it ad hoc. It gains a little impact because the characters feel alive, even though they’re shallow. It’s a romance whose obstacle isn’t inner but outer. Instead of exploring how the two lovers deal with challenges, it just throws a silly reason that doesn’t let them be together with hopes it’ll capture some tears.

Yet, this is somehow not a total trainwreck. It would’ve been easier if it this was just a string of terrible ideas after another. There’s focus here. There’s more life in this anime than others in the genre. The story is actually concerned with themes, and teenage sexuality can be a lot of fun to watch. Is focusing on a terrible idea better than not focusing on a good idea? I’m not sure. Green Green has a few things to teach other shows, but I’m afraid people will borrow the size of Reika’s breasts instead of her sex appeal or the fun atmosphere.

The fact that I spent so much time writing about women’s breasts should tell you enough about this anime. I wish I could’ve used it as a starting point to talk about how messy but fun high school, but here I am, writing about the fourth paragraph where women’s breasts appear. I hang my head.

1.5 horny idiots out of 5