Sunday, August 30, 2020

Insufficient Direction (TV): Thus Spoke Anno: An Anime for All and None

In 1883, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche introduced the idea of the "Übermensch", German for "Superman" or "Overman", in the book Thus Spoke Zarathustra & defined it as a goal for humanity to aspire to. In short, an Übermensch is one who is not beholden to "otherworldly" things & deems that "God is dead", as there's no need to believe in a higher power to look for human values. In turn, an Übermensch would define those new values to aspire to, and they'd be completely stuff to be found on Earth. I bring this up mainly because I truly feel that, while Nietzsche's concept of the Übermensch may not be something that can actually happen, a different type of Übermensch does indeed exist in Japanese otaku culture... And his name is Hideaki Anno.

I say this mainly because Anno himself is a bit of a madman among otaku; in fact, he's even an admitted agnostic. Having been a part of the industry before he even finished attending Osaka University of Arts, he was one of the men behind the DAICON III & IV Opening Animations, was one of the founders of Gainax, directed the likes of Gunbuster, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, & Neon Genesis Evangelion... And whenever he's portrayed in stories by other people, he's usually shown as a bit wild & crazy. Take, for example, Aoi Honou/Blue Blazes by Kazuhiko Shimamoto, who was a classmate of Anno's while at Osaka, which features Anno as a young man obsessed with anime & manga culture, almost as if it was competition in who reigns over all. The other notable example would be the manga Insufficient Direction by Moyoco Anno, the woman who married Hideaki in 2002. Running from 2002 to 2005 for a single volume in Shodensha's josei magazine Feel Young, the manga known in Japan as Kantoku Fuyuki Todoki/The Incompetent Director told a fictionalized account of Moyoco's life as the wife of Hideaki... One which required a literal "otaku dictionary" at the end of the compiled volume, because of the sheer amount of references made in less than 140 pages. In the Spring of 2014, as part of TV Tokyo & AT-X's anime info program Animus!, an anime adaptation of Insufficient Direction aired on TV as a series of thirteen 3-minute episodes, with animation done by DLE, a studio best known for other short-length adaptations like Thermae RomaeSkull-face Bookseller Honda-san; interestingly enough, this anime adaptation was never licensed, not even for simulcast. So let's see what happens when Hideaki Anno becomes the anime character he may have always wished he could become.

Rompers is the baby-like wife of Director-kun, a man completely unabashed in his love & obsession with anime, manga, tokusatsu, & their respective theme songs, model kits, toys, & other associated merchandise. Though she felt she knew what she was getting into when she agreed to marry him, Rompers is constantly shocked at just how far Director-kun's obsessions go... And living with a madman like that only makes her more & more into an "ota-wife".

Monday, August 17, 2020

Demo Disc Vol. 17: Technological Titans

So this Summer has been focused around the theme of "World War II in Anime", a subject with heavy real world connotations & themes. Therefore, let's follow the end of that up with something a bit more fun & silly: Old-school giant robots!

Large robotic constructs are no stranger to the restricted-viewing realm of Demo Disc. The very first volume in late 2014 was about one from each decade from the 70s to the 00s & the fifth volume in early 2016 returned to the genre with a similar focus, while the seventh, ninth, eleventh, & thirteenth volumes all featured at least one mech anime. The genre's even been featured in "single series" Demo Discs, specifically the fourth (Machine Robo) & sixteenth (Kiss Dum, though this one is tangential), and while there have been plenty of mech anime that have since seen complete English translations (both officially & by fans), I still managed to find a quartet that have only seen one or two episodes translated, much like how that original volume worked, so let's take a look at some first episodes of mech anime, even if it's for the last time as its own themed volume, from the 70s & 80s!

Gowapper 5, Moving Out!
While Tatsunoko Production is known for its various anime about heroes saving the day from evil, doing so by way of giant robots is a true rarity from the prolific studio. Sure, Gatchaman's Science Ninja Team occasionally fought a giant robot of some sort, Tekkaman had the large robot Pegas, & the original Time Bokan featured giant, robotic contraptions, but Tatsunoko didn't actually make a "standard" mech anime until 1976 with Gowapper 5 Godam, which itself would become mostly forgotten when later mech anime like Toshi Gordian, Golden Warrior Gold Lightan, & (especially) Genesis Climber Mospeada would later come out in the decade following Godam's run, which came to an early end after 36 episodes due to low ratings; one of the shows it competed against was Toei's UFO Robo Grendizer, so it had no chance. But let's instead act like it's April 4, 1976, the date Gowapper 5 Godam debuted on Japanese television, and see how well its first episode hyped kids up for this new mech anime from an already iconic studio.

(Fun Fact: Both this anime & Gold Lightan originally were each titled "Abaranger" in pre-production, though neither has any relation to the eventual Super Sentai entry that actually used this name)

Thursday, August 6, 2020

75 Years After Hiroshima & Nagasaki Were "Struck By Black Rain": A Kuroi Ame ni Utarete Retrospective

After Nazi Germany unconditionally surrendered World War II in May of 1945, plans started being drafted for an invasion of Japan, the sole remaining force for the Axis Powers. In the end, those plans were never followed through on, with President Harry S. Truman instead deciding to take the "nuclear option"... Literally. On August 6, 1945, the uranium gun-type atomic bomb "Little Boy" was dropped by the Enola Gay on top of the city of Hiroshima, killing an estimated 90,000 to 140,000 people. Three days later, the plutonium implosion bomb "Fat Man" was dropped by the Bockscar on Nagasaki, estimated to have killed another 60,000 to 80,000; four days later, Japan unconditionally surrendered, with World War II officially ending on September 2. To this day, these remain the only nuclear attacks in history, as they showcased a power that, quite honestly, should never be used again. Though there was so much death that came from those two days, there were also survivors, ones who could tell the world of the horror they saw on those two days.

One of those survivors was the late Keiji Nakazawa.

Nakazawa, in 2011, in front of
the "Atomic Bomb Dome" in Hiroshima.

Born on March 14, 1939, Keiji Nakazawa was only six years old when the "Little Boy" hit Hiroshima, & he only managed to survive the blast because of a wall he was by that managed to stay standing; while his mother also survived, his father, brother, & (later) sister all died from the bomb. Come 1972, Nakazawa was a mangaka & was encouraged by his editor at Monthly Shonen Jump to publish a one-shot about what he saw on that day 27 years prior, which resulted in the short story Ore wa Mita/I Saw It. The story caught the attention of readers, almost all of which had been born long after the end of the war, so Nakazawa was asked to expand the concept, which resulted in 1973's Barefoot Gen in Weekly Shonen Jump, a fictionalized telling of how Nakazawa survived the bombing & grew up into wanting to become an artist, with the intent being to show not just the horror of the bombing, but also the hope that rose back up from those who survived. While it only lasted a year in Jump, mainly due to the magazine's size being cut in half, Nakazawa would continue the manga in other magazines, eventually ending in 1987 after 10 volumes, receiving various novels, live-action adaptations, & even two anime movie adaptations. Though Nakazawa eventually planned to create a sequel in the late 00s, he had to retire due to deteriorating health before passing away on December 19, 2012 from lung cancer, no doubt caused by irradiation from the bomb all those decades ago. Unfortunately, since his death, parts of the Japanese government have made some efforts to downplay Barefoot Gen, as Nakazawa was critical of not just the United States, but also Japan for letting things get to that point; to be fair, though, there are also efforts to make sure Nakazawa's tale is not forgotten.

This, however, is NOT that story. Instead, as the third of a three-part look at how World War II was reflected in anime (in this case, the aftermath), to remember the 75th Anniversary of the Hiroshima & Nagasaki bombings (& all of the lives lost from those days), & to honor the memory of Keiji Nakazawa himself, let's take a look at Kuroi Ame ni Utarete, a story from a different side of the man behind Barefoot Gen, both in its original manga from 1968 & in the feature-length anime adaptation it received in 1984.