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Famicon III - Anime, some of it actually superior to Gatchaman



This subject line refers back to a mailout last winter, written after a weekend of viewing anime films and seeing all those anime cliches that are, for the most part, so refreshingly absent from Gatch I and even II, although they've made their way into Gatch F. The anime weekend is a regular event organized by Dutch fans as an antidote to Mangle Video, and which I visited again about five weeks ago. Not only did they arrange a far better location this time, but the anime selection was downright impressive. This is not to say the organizers did a bad job the previous two times, since their aim was to introduce people to a wide variety of anime, not necessarily just the "best" stuff, but I was impressed enough by what I saw this time to want to share the experience.

The weekend started off hectically, on a sunny day with all the snails chomping their leaves safely in the shade. Now this takes some explanation: I have a snail plague in the garden. It's not as bad as a locust plague, the tougher vegetation doesn't really suffer, but snails have moved up to the lower leaves of the trees to deal with the overcrowding problem, and if something crunches under my foot as I walk up the path to the front door, it ain't gravel. Anyway, the weekend started at noon and, due to sloppy planning, I got there an hour later to receive an envelope of brochures&stuff and a program booklet. I made my way up to the roof to peruse the booklet - as always, there were three shows going on simultaneously, and I marked and planned films the way debutantes are said to plan their dances at the ball - and saw that the first two eps of the Vampire Miyu TV series were showing in room 1 at 13:00, which was, uh, NOW. I think I broke the speed record for scrambling down three flights of stairs without broken bones.

Vampire Miyu is one of those series that I collect a lot of info on before actually ever getting to watch it, and one that, I think, should receive the same kind of cult status as Bubblegum Crisis - maybe it does, and I just don't know about it yet. There are supposed to be six OAVs and a five-part manga novel, or was that the other way round? and I only know the story of the first four: there is a mysterious girl who is age-old and a vampire, who somehow became a vampire through her parents, and who, again somehow, is bound by a duty to chase rampant shinma (demons, trans.) off the earth and back into the Dark. She is also a sad girl, since her faithful companion, a shinma sent out to defeat her but defeated himself instead, stays with her out of compassion more than anything else; and to put it in a genre, she is a magical girl of a more grownup category than Sailor Moon or Creamy Mami, who I was more than happy to miss(1).

It is in its suggestion of containing messages of wisdom that transcend the narrative and affect all of mankind, that Vampire Miyu resembles Bubblegum Crisis: "deep" and slightly tacky. (Although, BGC, "slightly" tacky? Whoa, don't shoot!) The TV series appears to be more of the same, although, as the booklet acridly remarks, a cute fluffy animal had to be written in to make it sell; to make matters less odious, this creature is itself a shinma and has a round yellow all-seeing eye that is far from cute and fluffy. Apparently the shinma can exist in all forms, even African witch doctor masks, as in the second ep. How they are "born" and what their relationship to humans is, is not exactly made clear; the shinma that Miyu fights are monsters and enemies of humans, but there are at least two who are her friends, while she herself, as a vampire who has to hunt humans for food, is in a morally ambiguous position, and, since there are no happy vampire communities nearby, doomed to eternal loneliness; a loneliness only relieved by her companion and one-time enemy, Larva, who appears to have lived the life of a normal human in medieval Europe himself. A figure cowled in black with a mask of stylized sadness that hides one yummy face, I'd thought that the main reason why there doesn't seem to be love-interest thing going on between him and his "mistress" was the enormous difference in age; Miyu is, after all, very, very old - but since he seems to be just as ancient, and his yumminess has not gone undetected by fans (as proven by a KiSS set where he is shown wearing a T-shirt that reads "have you hugged your shinma today"), the preventive factor might be her own emotional immaturity: at heart, she's still the orphan who has lost her parents, yet has to put her own grief aside in a solitary mission to save the world, and Larva is a substitute father-figure. A series worth seeing, and prizes for who spots the thematic resemblances to Gatchaman :) (2)

There is a kind of hair colour code in anime, although it doesn't always apply (and certainly not to Gatchaman): pink is of course cute, fair-haired may mean innocent, red-haired means hot-tempered or at least ready to commit violence, and shades of cold grey, blue or purple pale enough to resemble white stand for beings who are cold, ethereal, either genuinely un-human or seemingly so, and definitely too far removed from standards of mundane humanity to fit within the equally mundane ideas of right and wrong. (3) Larva is one example, Benten, the super-athletic bishonen-warrior-slash-reformed-criminal from Cyber City OEDO who falls in love with, of all things, a cyber-vampire, is another. There is also a class of mysterious, black-haired and invariably male characters who are similarly elevated above human notions of good and evil, and who derive their air of mystery from being somehow connected to or tainted with the dark; they may very cheaply be cast as the villain, but are more often with the "good guys", yet with an intuition of the darker, occult side of life that can give them an edge in battle and a broader understanding of life in general. The closest Gatch comes to this would be Condor Joe; other examples are Hasegawa, the police chief that Benten works for, or Raven from Virus, another chief of police who knows a lot of things his colleagues don't, and, heading them all, Darkside, the alien/human psychic question mark, dressed as an eighteenth-century coachman and driving a coach of black horses - the omen of death - through walls and over thin air, stopping time in its tracks when he passes, helping and healing, and claiming to bring "renewal", a renewal which, he says, can only come from darkness.

The setting is - again - Neo-Tokyo. Not, as the booklet says, infested with demons (even though this film is from the makers of Wicked City) but a little village in Gaul resisting the Romans (for anyone who reads Asterix), where the Romans are Persona, a corporation rather like BGC's GENOM, which has bought out 90 percent of the world, while the dissident Gauls are the low-life street fighters dominating the "free" areas, led by a girl known as the Messiah, and the Anti-Persona rebels - and, of course, Darkside himself, who appears out of nowhere just as one of these rebels is being tortured by the daughter of Persona's owner, a haughty and sadistic person who must have been Hitler's idea of a dream date, especially as it seems that even the most sadistic characters in anime should wear skintight and revealing outfits as long as they're female and young enough to be pretty. He dismounts at a "hotel" - for lack of a better word - and asks what the name of this area is, to which the owner replies, "Darkside"; to which he says, "Then that will be my name." This hotel is in itself a mystic place, as any visitor will either be teleported to whatever room they came for, or get no further than the lobby; this is what happens to Darkside's equally psychically gifted, but morally inferior adversary Enif. Notions of dark and light are completely reversed in this film: an albino black (yes, a "white nigger" :) ) sings a very authentic-sounding bluesy song about "darkness", which stands for rejuvenation and mercy and is, ultimately and ironically, the source of light, while light stands for the opportunism of Persona's mercenary Enif, of which the sadist daughter says that she "doesn't like his methods", and the dictatorial harshness of Persona itself. Although this sounds like a simple moral reversal, Darkside is far from one-dimensional. He is a healer, but no hero; he doesn't bring victory to either side, and neither does he take sides. His fights are spectacular, but few, and peculiarly non-violent; still, despite his ethereal character, he offers practical help when needed. He has a saintly humility, and a light, unearthly voice, quite close to that of OAV Katze, and exudes a profound melancholy sadness. Although I'm mostly content to see what the anime market has to offer and leave it at that, this is one film I would buy if I had the chance. It is like nothing I've ever seen. Silent Moebius (4) seems like senseless violence by comparison.

After all this profundity, I was ready for a dose of Bakuen Campus Guardress. Despite the panty shots and my low opinion of the Japanese sense of humour in general (see: Maze) this was actually funny. (Quick plot: students defend own campus from constant demonic invasions, their main asset a sword-wielding girl with all the destructive potential of an A-ko. Many quips at the "demon" genre.) Even funnier, though I didn't expect that either, was Child's Toy, in which motormouth Sana, a roughly ten-year-old TV personality and elementary school pupil who is driven to school every morning by her manager, boyfriend and "pimp" (since she gives him her pocket money) takes a stand against classroom bully Hayama, a silent, withdrawn type whose behaviour spells "dysfunctional family" and on whom Sana takes pity as soon as she has defeated him: he blackmails his teachers with illicitly taken nudie pics, she manages to take a nudie pic of him and with that, his reign of terror ends. Far from what this might suggest, Child's Toy has no panty humour; it is simply whacky. Sana usually opens mouth without engaging brain first, goes off into long soliloquys, is habitually late for school and plays the, whatever it is, kiddy toy synthesizer every evening composing her "theme of the day" song. Her manager, boyfriend and pimp :) is a nice, concerned, inoffensive young man (and a good looker besides). Her mother is a rich and famous writer who wears a kimono and the Empire State Building on her head and divines people's personalities with her pocket calculator.

Irresponsible Captain Tylor, on the other hand, was utterly unfunny, as was Maze Bakunetsu Jikuu, this time in its TV series incarnation, and supposed to be better than the old one: girl is shaken and thrown around room and opens door to find that said room has been ripped away from house and is now in a Totally Different Place: guess what, we're not in Kansas anymore! To take the resemblance further, her room, in landing, has conveniently squashed a nastybad giant chasing around a pretty princess, who thanks her rescuer with gusto. She certainly has less of a brain than Maze herself, who spends most of the time being awkward and apologetic, especially after changing back from the male version of herself, who has a fiery temper, an obscene leer and, obviously, no brain, which seems to be the only factor linking the two forms together. Oh, he's more than happy to protect his "little sister". The only worthwhile contribution of this series to anime is, IMO, the neologism "oneni-sama" although considering the nature of this big brother/sister I'd leave off the suffix. Nope, for my laughs, I did better to count on the various Slayers eps/features shown, although I was disappointed: I missed Slayers Great through my own stupidity, and the newer Slayers Try was too noisy and super-deformed to my taste. The single funny moment in Try was after Lina's sidekick looks under the skirt of the girl who hires their help, because he thinks he saw something (she is in fact a dragon, who hasn't mastered the human form completely and therefore occasionally has a tail sticking out from under her dress) and she lays into him with a stone club. Waitaminnit, that wasn't the funny moment yet. The next day she returns, hesitant and apologetic, she rather overreacted, ummm... The sidekick returns her weapon and it is obvious that this is what she came for, "Oh, my club! Thank you so much!!" (Sidekick shakes head and thinks that pretty girls just ain't what they used to be.)

However, Slayers old style was back in Slayers Return which has my more favourite sidekick, the black-haired and totally unscrupulous Naga, whose laughter, which she thinks is very demoniacal and frightening, is in fact highly irritating and whose bosom seems to be forever about to pop out of her bikini, which may explain why the more practically clad Lina feels so self-conscious about her less inflated top two. These two anti-heroines are always out to strike it rich, and never quite get the reward they expected. This time, it is "elven treasure", or, to be more precise, a wannabe conqueror terrorizes the village and makes the village dig for what Lina thinks may be elven treasure. It is in fact the ultimate death mecha, totally impervious to magic. It is made of orichalcum (or rather, as they learn later, with a small orichalcum component) and the colour of gold: it is shaped like a huge turtle with tiny crab feet and two pincers coming out of the top of its back; it has a chicken head, and it constantly makes the sound "Ni-ao"; yes, rather like 1- Rover-1's "nyap", and the whole mecha does look like something Gel Sadra might concoct after a night of colourful dreams brought on by too much pud for afters. With the aid of everyone, even the wannabe conqueror, this monstrosity is destroyed, but only after half the village is in ruins - so much for calling on the magical Dirty Pair.

To move on to serious magical girls: Magical Knights Rayearth, which I'd expected rather much of, was also a disappointment. Again, too super-deformed for me, and the only improvement over Sailor Moon would be the more interesting setting: these magical girls are not only made aware of their destiny to fight Evil (cue eerie sound: "oooOOOOOOoooo") but transported to a fantasy world to do it. Fantasy it is, alright: as they stand before the prince who summoned them, in their sailor suits with extremely short skirts, he remarks that, now that they are magical knights, he will have to do something about their clothes. I heartily agree. He works some funky magic, and what is the result: their shoes have been replaced by knee-high boots and they have very impractical armour "sleeves" on one shoulder, but the skirts are still there, yelling "panty shots!" at me. Flame of Recca, a similarly disappointing series that I had high hopes of, resembles Sailor Moon more in that the young heroes marked by destiny (though of course unaware of their fate) live in modern-day Japan, and it is into this everyday reality that Evil intrudes. Lots of destiny and gratuitous panty shots in this series where classmates try to re-create the samurai codes of honour (while in sailor suits, yes) and the main character who strives to be a ninja proper and has a relationship with his father akin to that between Inspector Clouseau and Cato (i.e., neither is safe with the other, but it's all in robust good fun) runs into a girl with magical healing ability and... (yawn) This series might be more credible if it had more of a plot. If I want Destiny thrown at me I'll go for The Violinist of Harmelin (one suspects that "Hamlin" was the word the makers were looking for?) which I saw the third and fourth part of this time and which contains less squalling "princess" this time (yes, the snotty brat on whom the fate of the world depends), no panty shots to speak of, and a creative use of classical music. Brief plot, again: magical mother-queen who has sealed out Evil summons her daughter when Evil threatens to break down her defences; daughter was raised in village ignorant of her lineage, village is of course destroyed by Evil; daughter's best friend is boy with mysterious past and magical gift to control people through music, played on the violin which he carries around with him on his back. In these eps they meet boy's brother, who has a magical gift to control people through music played on the piano which he carries around with him on his back. (Yes. Fortunately, it's a small piano.) Girl's name is Flute, and her tame talking bird is called Oboe. Oh well, it's better than Carrot Glace, just as the series itself ranks miles over Bakuretsu Hunters.

Whites and non-whites alike have cried out, at seeing Mangle Video products like Guyver, Cyber City OEDO and Angel Cop: why all the Caucasians?? To which anime purists replied, enraged, that even if we arrogant Westerners think every instance of japanimation is a Betty Boop ripoff, characters with big round eyes, pale skin and multicoloured hair are not just Western icons (to which I agree: real Japanese don't look like that, but neither do real Caucasians), that more than one ethnicity is portrayed in anime (which is clearly visible, so again I agree), that the unrealistic japanimation big-eyes style is a way to transcend ethnic icons (yes, but on which ethnic icon is that style based?) and that we just don't appreciate Japanese culture enough to see that there is no, repeat no attempt anywhere at all to portray characters as ethnically Caucasian: and here, I totally disagree. Anime is a very recent part of that under-appreciated Japanese culture, born in a time of cultural contact with the West after centuries of near-isolation, a time when the West (read: USA) was seen by many countries, including humble Holland, as "the way to go". Anime is, up to now, a uniquely Japanese phenomenon (although it's pretty much going international through its exportation to many countries, excluding humble Holland) but it is most definitely influenced by Western culture and by the Western icon of "man", which is still, despite the USA's multi-ethnicity, White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, preferably male. Gatch chara designs were quite intentionally Caucasian, and when I see a run-of-the-mill production featuring a blue-eyed big-bosomed blonde, I have a hard time trying to believe that this is intended to represent a Japanese woman. And this is not a question of misinterpreting the style, because there is a difference that shows. Of course Mangle would export mainly products with "Caucasian"-looking characters and "Western" settings to assure high sales (oh, and how they failed), but they brought out at least two films, Wings of Honneamise and 3x3 Eyes, which were drawn in exactly the same style I recognize as "japanimation", but in which many if not all of the characters are clearly Asian, big eyes, white skin and all, and the kinds of anime shown at cons - anime that is sometimes never commercially exported - can have sufficiently low "Caucasian" content to illustrate that difference.

Mononoke hime, the latest from Miyazaki, is anime with NO Caucasians. It is also anime with NO daft plots, magic battles, panty shots, mecha, villains or demons, which may explain why, according to the booklet, this is the most record-breakingly popular anime film in Japan at this time. Wait: there is one demon. In a quiet village of the kind where the king is as much as the tribe headman, the prince, a champion archer whose steed is a loyal and sensible deer, sees a demon enter the field and make for three girls who happen to be harvesting: it is a "tatarigami", a creature turned demon through having suffered extreme pain (see, no villains in this anime) and to touch it is to be cursed and to slowly turn into a demon oneself. The prince manages to kill the tatarigami, a giant boar, but not without being touched. The resident shaman can do nothing for him but exile him to prevent wider contamination, and advise him to seek the cure in the west, where these giant boars live. She gives him the cause of the demonic transformation, a strange stone (in fact, a bullet) to help him on his quest. The elders are rather sad that he of all persons should be cursed, since he is, after all, the heir to the, er, throne? He leaves, and the village is never heard of again.

West, in this case, does not mean America. It means a magical mountain where talking giant animals live, in this case boars and wild dogs, one of whom has adopted a human cub, the Princess; and a village built on this mountain by an enterprising and courageous woman called Eboshi who mines steel, has invented firearms and uses this invention to win freedom and safety for her followers and fellow-villagers. This mining involves cutting timber, for which the wild dogs of the mountain have declared war on her, and they are first seen trying to sabotage a cattle transport. The wandering prince comes in contact with both mountain and village when he rescues two men who have fallen into a ravine during this action. With the help of little ghost creatures of the forest who scare the cattle herds witless, but of whom the prince's sensible deer shows no fear, they make their way out of the forest and into the village, where the prince shows his wounded arm and the strange "stone", and is told that it is indeed a bullet from Eboshi's guns.

There follows a kind of battle between Man and Nature in which the poor prince tries to be the mediator. He is shot for his trouble and brought to the forest lake to be healed by the god of the forest, the Shishigama, who by day walks in the guise of a three-toed deer with sky-high antlers and the face of a friendly baboon. (Picture that if you can.) The healing powers of the Shishigama, said to be concentrated in its head, bring more misery to the forest; Eboshi wants its head to cure her colony of lepers, while some of her helpers have their own hidden agenda. There is a final confrontation in which the mother dog dies, and, well, I'm not going to give away the whole story, but this is another anime production I'd shell out cash for; and coming from a cloggie, that means something ^_^

Mediocrity, mediocrity: a girl whose father owns a dojo has to find new pupils for it and pose as a boy while trying to keep up a career as idol singer as a girl; she falls in love with the boy whose father, typically, owns the rival dojo. I believe Fraulein Galaxy Yuuna was also an idol singer, and her own personal idol Polylina certainly was. Isn't it funny how all these girl characters have to be TV personality or idol singer to cover up their "real" job? It doesn't improve my opinion of idol singers. Fortunately, I only saw the last 5 minutes of this. Next on the programme was Virus, where the Japanese show their near-biological perception of machinery by yet another powersuit/computer that grows tentacles like a first-rate demon after being infected by an untraceable computer virus - I'm warily eyeing my PC as I write this - of which the booklet says that it was drawn to suit both sexes, i.e. the men are tall and handsome, while the women have their wobbly bits all in the right places. This is true: these are elite force women in police uniforms, and their breast pockets wrap quite nicely around their boobs. Also, the drawing is crude, the profiles absurdly japanimated, the characters too Caucasian and the plot, so far as I saw, OK-ish. I think I prefer the male chara designs, at least they have chins.

I missed Neon Genesis Evangelion because half the con was crowding in to see it. Revolutionary Girl Utena, drawn in the same oily colours as My dear Mary, started off promisingly with a kind of stained-glass fairytale prologue that worked well with the animation: a princess's parents have died and she is left all alone to bear the sorrow, which she does without whining. A prince, moved by her courage, comes to visit her, tells her what a brave girl she is, and asks her to keep up her courage until the day he returns to her; and he gives her a ring as proof that he will return. The princess is so uplifted by his sollicitude that she decides she wants to be a prince herself. Switch scenes to modern Japan and drag king Utena, who scandalizes her teacher by showing up in boys' uniform. Follows: a boarding school novel with adolescent pranks, near-romance and a secret sect that she becomes implicated in. Yawn. I didn't stay to watch this. The most interesting aspect of the series is that the "masculine" characteristic that Utena tries to embody is protective kindness, something not considered particularly manly in the grim modern-day Western world. (5)

Stuff I also watched as intermezzo: Lord of Lords Ryu Knight Adeu's Legend. Imagine a time of medieval magic and sorcery in a Wild-West setting with super-technological (and yet scientifically totally implausible) super power suits. Made "funny" by having a bumbling bonehead for a main character, who thinks he is a knight and has a long list of rules, each of which is rule number 1 in the knight's code of honour, which means there must be a lot of fighting and jockeying for first position among said rules. Muh. As with Maze, power suits in general, but particularly the scientifically implausible kind, do nothing for me. I passed up Giant Robo too. But I definitely took a seat for Battleship Nadesico! For those who don't know: this is a power-suit parody (I'd say of Gunbusters, but it appears that Gunbusters was itself already a parody of the genre) in which the characters watch "Gekiganger", a cheesy SF show which is a spoof of Gatchaman, Yamato and probably any mecha-containing show of the seventies. (6) The crew on board this ship are mostly impossibly young. The captain, sweet sixteen, has a crisis of faith after the death of a crew member and asks information from the shipboard computer on what a captain actually does. The computer tells her that although in the past captains made important decisions, on a totally automated battleships such as are made today, they are merely there for the crew to have someone to identify with; the ship's enfant terrible sums this up as "so, basically, anyone could do the job" and the captain runs off wailing, something she does often in the series. However, she soon gets a chance to make herself useful; many people died in the last battle, people who all require to be buried according to their own cultural traditions, and the images of her running from one funeral service to another, each time in a different costume of which I soon gave up trying to identify the ethnic origin, almost prompted me to make a KiSS doll of the character :) Nadesico came in two parts, the second one showing the Gekiganger "movie", and as I watched, I heard another watcher enlighten a third one: "You can't understand this unless you've seen those series... the ridiculous plots... those tacky colours, the footage they use over and over, always the same explosions..." I was grinning all over my face. Gekiganger Joe is not at all like the Condor - too gallant and polite for one thing, he addresses a woman as "miss" - and there is no Gekiganger Jinpei, but Gekiganger Ken is good ol' bad hair day Ken, even if he rather untypically sleeps with the enemy. No Galactor either, instead what I presume to be a Desslar-type alien prince and, ultimately, even more dangerous aliens; and the Gekiganger itself is, once again, a power suit. The Gekiganger hakase is a sight worth seeing - once you've seen him, Nambu will never look the same again.

A big jump from there: idol singers. Requirements for being an idol singer: cute, young, not too intelligent, it helps if you have pink hair. Idol singers are not noted for their musical and singing ability, or at least that is the impression I get: they are living dolls for the audience to croon and drool over. This may be the reason why Mima, lead bimbette of a successful group called Cham, wants to quit and become actress in Perfect Blue, a prize-winning film which also has NO Caucasians, although it does nod toward the West by its extremely unconventional and non-japanimated animation style: like a pulp comic, thickly inked with bad colours and dramatic shadows. This is not to say that the animation is bad. A particular style is being emulated, and quite successfully: this could be an early Superman comic, or a gangster comic set in Chicago. Inevitably, I'm drawn back decades in time, and react surprised when it transpires that Mima has, for instance, a fan webpage dedicated to her. Despite its pulp comic look, though, this is the most lifelike and least insulting rendering of ethnic Asians that I have ever seen in my limited experience of anime: these people do not have slit eyes or rabbit teeth, but they do have high cheekbones and yellow skin tone and NO one in the WHOLE movie has PINK HAIR!! That alone deserves a prize.

Mima looks like a bimbette because of her idol singer image, but she is a dedicated and, it appears, competent actress who is so eager to shed her sweet image and be taken seriously that she agrees to play a rape scene that is important to the plot and, it is suggested, to her career ("You'll be like Jodie Whatzername") and poses for nude pictures (showing pubic hair!!). Mama, retired idol singer herself who raised her daughter in her own image, is not at all pleased. Neither are some of her weirder admirers. People on the set mysteriously die. On "Mima's Place", the webpage created in her honour, named after her apartment and showing a "diary" where she reads all kinds of personal things about herself that only she could have known, repeated mention is made of "that impostor" by the "real Mima", who would like to see her die. Who is the real Mima? She sees visions of herself in her old idol singer outfit, ridiculing her and laughing at her. That she is playing the role of someone suffering multiple personality syndrome, where one of the subpersons has her real name, doesn't help matters. She has a hard time keeping truth and fiction apart, although ultimately it turns out that someone else has been suffering a personality disorder all along, and it wasn't MPS, either. That's all I'm going to give away, but this is the third anime product I would actually go out and buy. As in any truly good story, there is no real villain. There is violence and nudity, but shown in a non-sensational way that allows me to believe I'm actually watching real people. Mima may be a bimbette, but she manages to brain the creep who drags her into a deserted alley with evil intentions, and get away; she runs over roofs like 007 in a Bond movie, without once obeying the Laws of Anime Physics; although she obviously plays the role of object of desire, she is not presented to the audience as such; in all, she's the kind of person Jun might have wanted to be, and certainly gets the narrative focus that Jun, and any under-used character in the Gatch cast, deserved. And despite all this normalness and true-to-life rendering, the suspense in this film is so extreme that I'd almost warn people off it.

End of the ride: Zetsu Ai. This film was based on a shonen-ai manga, yep, male-male sex. From what I knew of the genre, I knew that this was probably the last thing I would see (7). What I expected: chara designs so aestheticized that they looked almost elfin, all kinds of very profound emotional complications and a highly eroticized animation, and believe me, nothing is less erotic than straight sex. This was the first shonen-ai anime I'd ever seen and I was quite determined to watch it for that reason alone. I was practically the only person in the room.

Two people came in and asked what was playing here. I wasn't quite sure yet myself - I had expectations, but was new to the genre, after all - so I gave the safest answer, "een soort sexfilm" which I meant as "an erotic film of some sort" but which they took as "porn flick", because they practically fell over each other in their hurry to leave the room. (Me and my big gob.) Oh, we wouldn't want to see some dirty gay movie, now would we. These people probably quite happily watched Naga's bouncing boobs and Doctor Slump's talking turds, not to mention the nude scenes in Perfect Blue, which were shocking in a stark way, and which had no one leaving the room in protest as far as I could see.

I got what I expected. Dishy idol singer - male this time, white hair, and I'll never believe he was sixteen even if the film says so - is curiously drawn, even physically, to the football player who picks him up one night (not ambiguously intended) when he's passed out drunk among the trash cans in the rain - yep, the idol singer has a very superstar way of life. The football player has a terrible secret: his mother murdered his father and then committed suicide. As it turns out, because she was so attached to him that she couldn't bear the thought of them ever being separated. The last words of his mother that this traumatized boy carries in his memory are almost exactly repeated by the idol singer (who is shocked to feel anything at all for another man, in that sense it definitely isn't a gay movie) at the end of the film. Curtain. No happy ending (8). I went home in a daze, crunching two snails underfoot on my way to the front door, and slept like a brick.



Footnotes:

1. No, she's not a magical girl. The "magical girl" series are wish-fulfillment stories for very immature girls, rather like Superman and other comics heroes for very young boys. See next write-up for a better description of this genre.
2. Or the thematic resemblances to, erm, how much other anime? Pseudo-deep statements on the human condition are common to anime series, and people, especially orphans, who give up warmth and companionship in a private sphere for some lofty ideal or duty - preferably, saving the world - are the most hackneyed cliche around. But what did I know, having been raised on Tom & Jerry and the Flintstones? Incidentally, this series, like BGC, still is a first of its kind as far as I know, but vampires have never become quite as popular as slayerbabes and body armour...

3. I expanded the hair colour list, which was originally just about black and white, partly since anime characters with "white" hair usually have some shade of other colour in it. The two supernatural entities in Darkside Blues obey this code, as do the Eva pilots in Neon Genesis Evangelion.
However, the black hair only counts if it's noticeable - very long, for instance - or if there's something to add to it, like Darkside's large, mournful black eyes. If it's short and unremarkable, like Shinji's, it's simply neutral.

4. Another one of those pseudo-deep classics one assumes everyone has seen or heard of. Girl with special mother who battles demons while lying in bed bleeding, has to battle demons herself, not only by fighting them but by overcoming her own fears and doubts. A nice mixture of gore and pop psychology. Darkside Blues is relatively low on gore.

5. And for people who watch beyond the first episode, there's hints of gay relationships in the friendship between Utena and Anthy (whom she "wins" in a tournament, and she's rather at a loss what to do with this prize) and the sometimes rather, er, flashy behaviour of the dominant clique of male students.

6. Including Mobile Suit Gundam: 8th MS Team, which is closer to the Gekiganger story than the other titles I mentioned. Although the tragic death of Joe definitely comes from Gatchaman; it seems that when the series was first run in Japan, the death of this character was mourned throughout the country.

7. -cough- This was when the genre was fairly young, artists had to white out any depictions of genitals and the sight of two people kissing was equated with sex. These days, it can get a bit more explicit, although it's still not all-out pornography; that falls under "yaoi", and even there, drama and aesthetics often matter more than sex.

8. The manga that this film was based off does continue towards a happy ending, rather ruining the beautiful structure of the story.




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