Archive for the ‘Ask John’ Category

2018 will not be remembered as a remarkable year in anime history as the year didn’t produce any television series of historical significance. No avowed masterpieces rose from this year. Even the year’s finest productions are not “all time best” caliber shows. Nor did 2018 produce any memorably awful shows that will go down in history’s flames. Excluding continuing series and shows seemingly officially recognized as continuing seasons rather than new series, and also excluding a record high number of Chinese productions broadcast in Japanese dubs, including Jikken-hin Kazoku, To Be Heroine, Onmyouji: Heian Monogatari, Ani ni Tsukeru Kusuri wa Nai! 2, and Hora, Mimi ga Mieteru yo!, 2018 premiered 249 new terrestrial broadcast & web streaming anime series and one-shot specials. I was fortunate enough to watch a sample full episode of 243 of them. I even managed to watch 75 of this year’s new anime to completion.

My personal selections as the finest TV anime of 2018 begin with Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho, the story of four high school girls who vow to visit Antarctica. Privately, each of the four harbors a tremendous personal anxiety, so their collective journey allows them the opportunity to challenge and overcome their most intimidating fears. The story, which is ostensibly a slice of life drama, rapidly blossoms into a far more substantial and rewarding viewing experience thanks to Jukki Hanada’s script and Atsuko Ishizuka’s exceptional direction. The series concentrates equally on character development and depicting the small, realistic daily nuances involved with teenagers joining and participating in a civilian Antarctic scientific expedition. Subtle details including the parallel of both teen girl Shirase Kobuchizawa and adult leader Gin Todo struggling through survivor’s guilt emphasize thematic depth. Likewise, for example, the framing of the separation between Mari & Megu at the shrine in episode five is one of the most symbolically meaningful composition shots I’ve ever seen within an anime. And their “breakup” scene – particularly the way distance between the two girls is utilized – is impactful and makes excellent use of visual symbolism. Like the whole series, the climax of episode 12 is much more nuanced than it initially appears. On first impression, it’s a heartwarming conclusion. But upon further consideration viewers may realize that it’s actually quite bittersweet and perhaps even an outright tragedy. From episode to episode, nothing about the show is particularly flashy or arrestingly impressive, and the show isn’t a memorable landmark in anime history, but consistently the show’s animation quality, direction, editing, characterization, story development, and attention to detail are exceptional.

Masao Otake’s 2010 comedy manga Hinamatsuri is fine, but it’s director Kei Oikawa’s 2018 anime adaptation that vividly brings the manga to life and imbues much greater impact and emphasis to within it. The story is a sitcom hybrid of traditional yakuza politics and psychic teenage battle. A yakuza underboss has a time-traveling psychic teen fugitive literally materialize in his apartment, so he adopts the disaffected and lazy teen as a surrogate daughter. Young Hina’s disinterested and weary attitude is great source for comedy, but the anime series’ strength actually lies in its supporting characters and themes. Hina’s self-proclaimed rival Anzu initially seems like a typical “yankee,” a female version of Yu Yu Hakusho’s Kuwabara or Rurouni Kenshin’s Sanosuke. But her story arc reveals her unexpectedly conscientious personality and allows the show its rare opportunity to extensively examine Tokyo’s homeless population that’s frequently excluded from anime for being too weighty and uncomfortable of a subject to deal with. Likewise, Hitomi’s story shines a satirical light on frustrations of the Japanese employment system. And Mao’s story allows the show to let off steam with kung fu movie and Castaway parody. Ultimately the anime series, far more than the originating manga, uses animation, characterization, editing, and scripting to deliver a hilarious goofy comedy that also devotes a lot of attention to empathetic concepts including family, consideration for the underprivileged and homeless, and empathetic personal responsibility. Hinamatsuri is a raucously hilarious comedy that’s also frequently deeply heartfelt and moving.

I have to acknowledge Koi wa Ameagari no You ni with a significant caveat. The May-December romantic drama revolves around a teen girl who harbors a crush on her divorced middle-aged family restaurant manager boss. The show is uniquely interesting in several ways. Immediately and obviously it looks like an early 90’s production. Despite being 2018 animation based on a 2014 manga, the show visually most resembles Madhouse’s 1989 Yawara television anime and Studio Deen’s 1988 Patlabor. So while the dated-looking art design may deter some contemporary viewers, it’s also a pleasant breath of fresh air compared to the look of every other contemporary anime. Particularly lead characters Akira Tachibana and Masami Kondo are deeply nuanced and faceted because the storytelling spends so much time on them. Viewers get to know and care for these two characters who both suffer an emotional stumbling block that obstructs their progress. But roughly half-way through the series the story changes from a romance to a drama when the show concentrates on depicting the two characters individually yet in parallel challenging and overcoming their own psychological hurdles. The series may be admirable for respecting its characters, but being faithful to the characters at the expense of viewer satisfaction leaves viewers rationally impressed but emotionally unsatisfied. On a side note, the show’s ending theme, Aimer’s “Ref:rain,” may be the best anime theme song of the year.

Planet With is literally a hybrid of Gadguard, Genma Taisen, and Star Trek. The 2018 original series felt very reminiscent of the “kitchen sink” unpredictability of golden age anime including Ai City, Harmagedon, and Battle Royale High School. Interesting, dynamic characterizations from a diverse cast and lovely, exciting animation from studio J.C.Staff make the show eminently gratifying, although its brisk pace may actually have been better served with a longer two cour length that would have allowed for more suspense and given the story some breathing room. Seeing characters including Soya, Benika, Yosuke, Takezo, and even Generalissimo reveal their secret motivations and change allegiances and philosophical values multiple times as their perspectives change adds fascinating nuance to the show. But all of these changes occurring so rapidly compromises their impact. Like all of this year’s best anime, Planet With isn’t flawless, but it is highly enjoyable for many reasons and in many ways.

In fact, I don’t have a top fifth pick. Rather, I have a number of runner-up picks worth brief mention.

Asobi Asobase & Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro were both outrageously and unpredictably hilarious at their best, but neither show had grand aspirations nor was either solidly consistent. Similarly Pop Team Epic was brilliant when at its best but largely too esoteric and limited in its scope to elevate its status sustainably. Netflix’s ten-episode Aggressive Retsuko leaves viewers wanting more, but minor changes from the earlier web series aggravated me. Despite being a bit derivative, Darling in the FranXX is arguably the year’s most ambitious and unique mecha anime. Yet it still felt like it never quite symphonized the way it wanted to. Masaaki Yuasa rarely disappoints. Devilman Crybaby delivered everything viewers expected and hoped for, but ultimately the show is just a greatest hits remix of elements from the prior Devilman adaptations. Hanebad exhibited exceptional animation but wildly uneven storytelling. Violet Evergarden is arguably the year’s most exceptional looking show, but the series’ script didn’t rise to its lush visual and animation quality. Hisone to Masotan & Kokkoku are among the year’s strongest unique narratives, but unfortunately both suffered underwhelming final acts. Uma Musume: Pretty Derby far surpassed low expectations with strong characterizations and a great amount of respect for audience intelligence. But exceptional execution isn’t sufficient to elevate a story with middle-of-the-road ambitions. Yuru Camp is this year’s best iyashikei anime, but it’s a bit redundant and limited in scope compared to series including Non Non Biyori, Natsume Yujincho, Amanchu, and Kemono Friends. While I enjoyed Yuru Camp quite a bit, Hakumei to Mikochi was my favorite iyashikei anime of the year.

I don’t relish recognizing bad anime, but 2018 seemed to produce an inordinate number of sub-par TV productions ranging from bad to near unspeakably abysmal. Among them: Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory, Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens, Hero Mask, LadySpo, Ore ga Suki nano wa Imouto dakedo Imouto ja Nai, Satsuriku no Tenshi, Sora to Umi no Aida, RErideD: Tokigoe no Derrida, and Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger.

List of 2018 TV & Web anime (The titles I didn’t watch any of are boldfaced):

25-sai no Jyoshikousei
3D Kanojo: Real Girl
A.I.C.O. Incarnation [Netflix anime]
Aggressive Retsuko [Netflix anime]
Aguu: Tensai Ningyou
Aikatsu Friends!
Akanesasu Shoujo
Akkun to Kanojo
Akuma no Memumemu-chan [web anime]
Alice or Alice
Amai Choubatsu: Watashi wa Kanshu Senyou Pet
Amanchu! Advance
Angolmois: Genkou Kassenki
Anima Yell!
Aru Zombie Shoujo no Sainan
Asobi Asobase
B: The Beginning [Netflix anime]
Back Street Girls ~Gokudolls~
Baki [Netflix anime]
Bakumatsu ~Ren’ai Bakumatsu Kareshi Gaiden~
Bakutsuri Bar Hunter
BANANA FISH
BanG Dream! Garupa?Pico
Basilisk: Ouka Ninpouchou
BEATLESS
Beelzebub-jou no Okinimesu mama.
Beyblade Burst Chouzetsu
Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu Happy Kiss!
Butlers: Chitose Momotose Monogatari
Caligula
Captain Tsubasa (2018)
Cara to Otama Jakushi Shima
Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card-hen
Cardfight!! Vanguard
Carnival Phantasm Selection
Chihayafuru Syuukasen
Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro
Chuukan Kanriroku Tonegawa
citrus
Comic Girls
Conception
Cutie Honey Universe
Dagashi Kashi 2
Dakaretai Otoko 1-i ni Odosarete Imasu.
Dame × Prince Anime Caravan
Darling in the FranXX
Death March kara Hajimaru Isekai Kyousoukyoku
Devidol!
Devilman Crybaby [Netflix anime]
Devil’s Line
Dorei-ku The Animation
Double Decker! Doug & Kirill
Duel Masters!
Emiya-san Chi no Kyou no Gohan
Fate/EXTRA Last Encore
Free!-Dive to the Future-
Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory
Fumikiri Jikan
Future Card Shin Buddyfight
Gaikotsu Shotenin Honda-san
Gakuen Babysitters
Gakuen Basara
Gan Gan Ganko-chan second series
gdgd Men’s Party
Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro (6th series)
Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu: Die Neue These – Kaikou
Gintama: Gin no Tamashii-hen
Goblin Slayer
Golden Kamuy
Grancrest Senki
Grand Blue
Gundam Build Divers
Gurazeni
Gyakuten Saiban: Sono “Shinjitsu,” Igiari! Season 2
Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens
Hakumei to Mikochi
Hakyuu Houshin Engi
Hanasaku Kizuna no Romantan [web anime]
Hanebado!
Han-Gyaku-sei Million Arthur
Happy Sugar Life
Harukana Receive
Hashiri Tsuzukete Yokattatte.
Hataraku Onii-san!
Hataraku Onii-san! No 2!
Hataraku Saibou
Hero Mask [Netflix anime]
High School DxD Hero
High Score Girl
Himote House
Hinamatsuri
Hinomaru Zumou
Hisone to Masotan
Hoshi no Shima no Nyanko
Hugtto! Precure
Hyakuren no Haou to Seiyaku no Valkyria
Idolish Seven
Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls Gekijou 3rd season
Inazuma Eleven: Ares no Tenbin
Inazuma Eleven: Orion no Kokuin
Ingress [Netflix anime]
Irozuku Sekai no Ashita kara
Isekai Izakaya: Koto Aitheria no Izakaya Nobu [web anime]
Isekai Maou to Shoukan Shoujo no Dorei Majutsu
ISLAND
Itou Junji: Collection
Itsuka Aeru Kimi ni [web anime]
Iya na Kao Sare Nagara Opantsu Misete Moraitai [web anime]
Jashin-chan Dropkick
Jingai-san no Yome
Jojo no Kimyou na Bouken: Ougon no Kaze
Joshi Ochi!!: 2-kai kara Ero Musume ga Futte kite, Ore no Areni!?
Juushinki Pandora
Kaijuu Girls: Ultra Kaijuu Gijinka Keikaku 2nd Season
Kakuriyo no Yadomeshi
Kamisama Minarai Himitsu no Cocotama: Natsu da! Oohashagi Special
Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san
Karakuri Circus
Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru
Kekeroke
Ken En Ken: Aoki Kagayaki
Killing Bites
Kimi no Matsu Basho e [web anime]
Kirakira Happy?Hirake! Cocotama
Kiratto Pri?chan
Kishuku Gakkou no Juliet
Kitsune no Koe
Koi wa Ameagari no You ni
Kokkoku
Koneko no Chi: Ponponra Dairyokou
Kuroneko Monroe
Kyoto Teramachi Sanjou no Holmes
LadySpo
Last Period: Owarinaki Rasen no Monogatari
Layton Mystery Tanteisha: Katri no Nazotoki File
Live Animation Heart x Algorhythm 2nd series
Lord of Vermilion: Guren no Ou
LOST SONG [Netflix anime]
Lostorage conflated WIXOSS
Lupin the Third: Part 5
Mahou Shoujo Ore
Mahou Shoujo Site
MAJOR 2nd
Mame Neko
Märchen Mädchen
Marvel Future Avengers Season 2
Megalo Box
Merc Storia: Mukiryoku Shounen to Bin no Naka no Shoujo
Miira no Kaikata
Mitchiri Neko
Mitsuboshi Colors
Muhyo to Roujii no Mahouritsu Soudan Jimusho
Nanatsu no Bitoku
Nanatsu no Taizai: Imashime no Fukkatsu
Nani Iro no Nani [web anime]
Nil Admirari no Tenbin
Okojo to Yamane
Okoshiyasu, Chitose-chan
Omae wa Mada Gunma wo Shiranai
One Room second season
Ongaku Shoujo
Ore ga Suki nano wa Imouto dakedo Imouto ja Nai
Ore-tacha Youkai Ningen G
Oshiete Mahou no Pendulum: Rilu Rilu Fairilu
Oshiri Tantei
Otona no Bouguya-san
Overlord II
Overlord III
PERSONA5 the Animation
Phantom in the Twilight
Piano no Mori
Planet With
Pochitto Hatsumei: Pikachin-Kit
Pop Team Epic
Puzzle & Dragon
Radiant
Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san
Release the Sypce
RErideD: Tokigoe no Derrida [Netflix anime]
Robot Girls Neo [web anime]
Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori
Ryuuou no Oshigoto!
Saiki Kusuo no ?-nan 2nd Season
Sakura no Chikai ~Marronni ? Yell Higashi no Asuka Shimotsuke-shi o Yell!~
Sanrio Danshi
Saredo Tsumibito wa Ryuu to Odoru
Satsuriku no Tenshi
Seishun Buta Yarou wa Bunny Girl Senpai no Yume wo Minai
Senjuushi
Senran Kagura: Shinovi Master – Tokyo Youma-hen
Sentai Heroes Sukiyaki Force: Gunma no Heiwa wo Negau Season e, Mata
Shichisei no Subaru
Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion
Shinya! Tensai Bakabon
Shoujo ? Kageki Revue Starlight
Shuudengo, Capsule Hotel de, Joushi ni Binetsu Utawaru Yoru.
Slow Start
SNS Police [web anime]
Sono Toki, Kanojo wa.
Sora to Umi no Aida
Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho
Souten no Ken: Regenesis
Space Bug
SSSS.GRIDMAN
St. Seiya: Saintia Shou
Steins;Gate 0
Sunohara-sou no Kanrinin-san
Super Dragon Ball Heroes [web anime]
Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online
Sword Art Online: Alicization
Swordgai The Animation [Netflix anime]
Tachibana-kan to Lie Angle
Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai
Takunomi.
Televi Yarou Nanana
Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger
Tensei Shitara Slime Datta Ken
The iDOLM@STER Side M: Wake atte Mini!
Thunderbolt Fantasy second season
Toaru Majutsu no Index III
Toji no Miko
Tokyo Ghoul:re
Tonari no Kyuuketsuki-san
Tsukumogami Kashimasu
Tsurune: Kazemai Koukou Kyuudou-bu
Uchi no Maid ga Uzasugiru!
Uchi no Oochopus
Uchuu Senkan Tiramisu
Ulysses: Jeanne d’Arc to Renkin no Kishi
Uma Musume: Pretty Derby
Usagi no Mathew
Violet Evergarden
Virtual Buzz Talk
Wakaokami wa Shougakusei!
Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii
Yagate Kimi ni Naru
Yakiniku-ten Sengoku
Yakusoku no Nanaya Matsuri [web anime]
Yama no Susume 3rd season
Yami Shibai 6th Season
Youkai Watch: Shadow Side
Yowamushi Pedal: Glory Line
Yume Oukoku to Nemureru 100 Nin no Ouji-sama
Yuragi-sou no Yuuna-san
Yuru Camp
Zannen na Ikimono Jiten
Zoids Wild
Zoku Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru
Zombieland Saga

Question:
After watching some of the new anime series this season I couldn’t help mustering less than ambivalence for Production I.G’s two series Robotic;Notes and Psycho Pass. This came as a surprise since I had generally always looked forward to their shows which generally boasted stunning animation and interesting narratives. Lately though, their productions seem to be missing that wow factor of their earlier days. This too is so for Mangaglobe studios who seems to have jumped the shark from unique (if not entirely successful) thematically complex series such as Michiko E Hatchin , Samurai Champloo to Mashiro Symphony and The World Only God Knows. Definitely a far cry from their earlier productions. What is your opinion on the seemingly lack of “wow” factor that these studios had originally produced in their glory days? Is it due to new talents taking over, thus a downgrade in quality? Has any other anime studio such as Bones, Shaft, or Sunrise also seem to be creating series which are not nearly as interesting as their older shows?


Answer:
Anime productions require a year to several years, or in the case of Production I.G’s multi-award winning motion picture Momo e no Tegami, seven years of development time, so observers and critics should adopt a more long-term perspective of anime studio output than focus on trends within relatively short spans. Since its formation in 1987, Production I.G has been synonymous with high-end and exceptional anime, practically starting out of the gate with the impressive 1989 Patlabor motion picture, which was followed by fan favorite anime including Video Girl Ai, Dragon Half, and Please Save My Earth. It was only in 1995 that Production I.G established itself as an international animation powerhouse when it relesed the Ghost in the Shell movie. However, examination of I.G’s output reveals a number of years with underwhelming output. The studio’s highlights from 1996 were the Shinesman and Blue Seed 2 OVAs. The studio’s most impressive anime production of 1999 was the relatively unimpressive Akihabara Cyber Team movie. The studio produced the exceptional 2008 TV series Real Drive, but that same year also released World Destruction, Sisters of Wellber Zwei, and Toshokan Senso. Similarly, two years ago Production I.G released the amazing TV special Shoka but also co-produced the atrocious Loups=Garous movie and the underwhelming Bungaku Shoujo movie. So 2012′s mixed output of the technically impressive but narratively underwhelming Robotics;Notes and Psycho-Pass TV series are somewhat balanced out by the release of the affecting Momo e no Tegami movie. And a relatively down year like 2012 for the studio isn’t out of character for the studio from a historical perspective.

Anime studio Kabushiki-gaisha Manglobe was established in 2002 and initially produced a number of praiseworthy, esoteric productions including Samurai Champloo (2004), Ergo Proxy (2006), and Michiko to Hatchin (2008). However, beginning with 2009′s Seiken no Blacksmith, the studio has increasingly turned to animating more commercially friendly, conventional anime such as Kami Nomi zo Shiru Sekai (2010), Deadman Wonderland & Mashiroiro Symphony (2011), and Hayate no Gotoku. The studio’s only avant-garde production among its past eight titles has been 2010′s Sarai-ya Goyo. From a long-term perspective, three years, from 2009 to 2012, may be insufficient to really gauge whether and how Manglobe’s characteristic style is changing. The trend appears to suggest that unlike the traditional ebb and flow of Production I.G, Manglobe started out focusing on unusual, unconventional anime and has shifted its focus to more commercially viable and sustainable mainstream productions, either by choice or necessity. But considering that the studio’s initial batch of avant-garde anime were produced at an average of two years apart and Manglobe’s most recent such production was two years ago, observers may want to see what Manglobe produces in 2013 before leaping to the conclusion that Manglobe has “sold out” and abandoned its production of nonconformist anime.

Upswings and lean periods are normal within the anime industry. Consider, for example, prolific studio Madhouse. During the exceptional span of 2006-2008, Madhouse produced amazing TV anime productions including Death Note, Kemonozume, Shigurui, Denno Coil, Oh Edo Rocket, Kurozuka, and Kaiba. However, in 2009 the studio released Needless, Rideback, Souten Koro, and Kobato. And in 2010 through 2012 Madhouse’s TV anime productions have included the four Marvel Anime series, Oda Nobuna no Yabou, and BTOOOM! Acclaimed studio Gainax has produced masterworks including Secret of Blue Water (1990), Evangelion (1995), Gurren Lagann (2007), and Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt (2010) but also, in recent years, humdrum shows including Dantalian no Shoka, Hanamaru Yochien, and Shikabane Hime.

Perhaps the only studio I can immediately recollect that could arguably be accused of genuinely declining consistently in creativity and integrity is AIC. The studio launched in the early 1980s with groundbreaking, evocative productions like Megazone 23 (1985), Gall Force (1986), Bubblegum Crisis (1987), and Tenchi Muyo (1992), but in recent years has been characterized by anime including Sora no Otoshimono (2009), Shukufuku no Campanella (2010), R-15 (2011), and Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate (2012). However, even in its still prolific yet more conventional state, AIC has still periodically made some effort to surprise viewers with unconventional (and marginally successful) productions like Ga-rei Zero (2008), Geijutsuka Art Design Class (2009), Horo Musuko (2011), and this year’s Jinrui wa Suitaishimashita & Ebiten: Koritsu Ebisugawa Koko Tenmonbu.

Even the most prolific anime production studios typically only create three or four television series per year, so making the assertion that a studio is losing its creativity or becoming more conventional and mainstream within a span of a year or two, or based on overview of only a half-dozen or so titles is really too small of a exemplary sample to support such a conclusion. A year or two and a half-dozen shows may seem like a lot of material and time for observers to base judgement on, but it’s actually not a lot of time and output for a major studio to be typified by. Unusual, artistic, esoteric anime literally don’t appear every year, especially not from a singular studio every year, so before believing that a studio has lost its touch, fans should give the studio at least a three or four year span of time before rendering characteristic observations.

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Question:
I’ve just watched Legendary Gambler Tetsuya and I really like it. The highly stylized high-stakes competitive gambling, the post-WW2 recovery period of Japan as it’s rebuilding…. I’ve never seen anything like this. Can you recommend anything similar to this in terms of atmosphere or gambling themes?


Answer:
Typically, gambling anime seem to polarize with either a very dark and threatening atmosphere or a light and fun atmosphere. Mahjong anime including the 1992 Super Zugan and 2009 Saki TV series and the 2010 Mudazumo Naki Kaikaku OVA are lighthearted and comical. The 2008 Ad Lib Ouji OVA revolves around rivalries between professional pachislo players, but the anime concentrates on goofy humor and depiction of bizarre personalities far more than competition and gambling technique. 2011′s Rio! Rainbowgate television series is set in a casino and stars Blackjack dealers but focuses exclusively on ridiculous, albeit entertaining, situational comedy rather than gambling strategy or suspense. Then there are the darker, more serious and dangerous gambling anime. Two titles immediately spring to mind that are very comparable to 2000′s Shoubushi Densetsu Tetsuya TV series. Gainax’s little remembered and even less often seen 1988-1990 OVA series Mahjong Hisho Den: Naki no Ryu is set in the 1980s and splits its focus relatively evenly between rivalries among Japanese mobsters and the intense rounds of mahjong that they play. The anime series features the exact same sort of unsavory characters in dimly lit, smoky rooms that appear in Legendary Gambler Tetsuya. However, since none of its three episodes have ever been translated into English, they’re now difficult to find and may not be very interesting to viewers that can’t understand the Japanese dialogue. Madhouse’s 2005 TV series Tohai Densetu Akagi -Yamini Maiorita Tensai- (Mahjong Legend Akagi: Genius Who Descended Into the Darkness) doubles-down on the foundation that Legendary Gambler Tetsuya laid. Akagi likewise depicts high-stakes mahjong games played between villains and criminals, but elevates the games to literal life and death stakes. The nearly mean-spirited narrative revolves around Akagi Shigeru, a self-serving, ruthless villain who employs relentless psychological manipulation and intimidation in conjunction with his amazing luck to crush and humiliate his mahjong opponents.

Creator Nobuyuki Fukumoto’s Akagi has been overshadowed by the success and popularity of his Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji series that got anime TV series adaptations in 2007 & 2011. The Kaiji anime series may appeal to a variety of viewers because Kaiji depicts a variety of high-stakes games instead of just sticking to mahjong. Kaiji may also be more accessible because its protagonist, Kaiji Itou, is a highly falible ordinary guy, unlike the sharp-witted, ruthless genius Akagi. However, a viewer used to the skilled gamesmanship evident in anime like Legendary Gambler Tetsuya and Akagi may be disappointed by the extensive reliance on coincidence, deus ex machina, and authorial manipulation present in Kaiji that substitutes for intelligence and strategy.

The 2008 One Outs TV anime tonally falls in between Akagi and Legendary Gambler Tetsuya. This show about high-stakes betting on professional baseball stars a professional pitcher who relies on his incisive understanding of human nature more than the strength of his arm to torment and intimidate the batters who try to swing at his pitches. One Outs, like Akagi, is engrossing and addicting because of its smart, suspenseful writing. While a bit more psychological than Legendary Gambler Tetsuya, One Outs isn’t quite as bitterly wicked as the Akagi anime is. Once again, while One Outs may be a bit smarter than the Kaiji anime, it may not be quite as appealing to a wide audience because One Outs, like Akagi and Legendary Gambler Tetsuya, stars a prodigy rather than an ordinary guy.

Strictly speaking, the 2007 Shion no Ou television anime isn’t a gambling series, but its tone is very comparable to ominous gambling anime. Overtly, Shion no Ou resembles mainstream, encouraging hobby anime like Hikaru no Go, Chihayafuru, and Saki. However, at its core, the show about an emotionally traumatized shougi prodigy literally haunted by the murder of her parents treads into some dark psychological realms and spends a considerable amount of time devoted to the strategy and culture of professional competitive shougi play.

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Question:
What is your opinion on Gen Urobuchi’s writing? Even with Psycho-Pass airing and Expelled from Paradise to come, do you think we’ll see even more of his works make the leap to animated form?


Answer:
I must preface my response with the clarification that due to limited time and opportunity, I haven’t ever actually read prose written by acclaimed and popular Japanese authors including Gen Urobuchi, Tow Ubukata, Nishio Ishin, or Kinoko Nasu. Furthermore, I’ve watched the Gen Urobuchi scripted Madoka Magica and Fate/Zero anime TV series in their entirety, but I’ve only sampled episodes of Blassreiter, Phantom, and Psycho-Pass. I have a significant respect for prolific writers, and even greater respect for authors that compose in a variety of genres, as writers including Gen Urobuchi and Nishio Ishin do. However, based on my extrapolation of their work, many of Japan’s contemporary popular writers in the anime industry may be more accurately described as craftsmen than artists. Particularly Gen Urobuchi’s greatest talent appears to be an ability to effectively combine and recycle established ideas and concepts. Phantom of Inferno was fundamentally a reimagining of writer/director Luc Besson’s earlier live-action film La Femme Nikita. Blassreiter borrowed ideas from Kamen Rider, Devilman, Mospeada, earlier Masami Obari directed anime, and a host of other media. Madoka Magica simple carried the tropes of the established magical girl genre to their logical ultimate conclusion. Psycho-Pass appears to conceptually borrow heavily from Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film Minority Report and earlier convicts-as-heroes media including Escape From New York and Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s 1990 OVA series Cyber City Oedo 808. Similarly, Nishio Ishin seems to have the dual ability to crank out books at a near superhuman speed and create complete novels based on simple wordplay puns.

I’m certainly in no position to criticize working creators. It’s no secret that I’m presently finishing up my own first light-novel-style book, so hopefully before too long readers will be able to determine whether I’m simply jealous or if I’m legitimately able to compose original writing that’s not a gimmicky as Nishio Ishin’s or as derivative as Gen Urobuchi’s. I think that writers like Gen Urobuchi have found and excelled within a particular, effective niche, and that practical, craftsman-like reliability ensures continued work. A time-sensitive professional industry like the anime industry absolutely requires writers that can meet deadlines and produce creative and even consciously derivative stories and scripts promptly and reliably. When a concept proves successful, producers want creators that can quickly script more of the same. Gen Urobuchi’s proficiency and efficiency, combined with his ability to compose in a variety of genres – from action to horror to fantasy to sci-fi – make him a very useful talent in the anime production industry. Sometimes, extremely prolific creators oversaturate the market. For example, for a span of roughly nine years, from 1999 to 2008 character designs from Hisashi Hirai seemed to be everywhere, appearing in Mugen no Ryvius, Scryed, Soukyu no Fafner, Giniro no Olynssis, Gundam Seed and Gundam Seed Destiny, Heroic Age, and Kurogane no Linebarrels. But viewers seemed to tire of Hirai’s distinctive style, and his character designs have been absent from any new anime franchises from the past four years. Particularly Urobuchi’s ability to write in a wide variety of genres will enable him to stay relevant and appealing to producers and consumers for a long time.

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Question:
I was wondering if scars on a character’s nose means anything deeper than just a scar on the nose? The first character I can think of is Guts from Berserk, but then I saw Buso Renkin and was constantly wondering if the scar on the female lead’s nose meant anything, but it wasn’t significantly touched on in my opinion. The only other semi-prominent character I can think of is one of the captains from Bleach. It just always makes me wonder because I don’t see why the artist would choose to put a scar on their nose instead of their forehead, cheek, neck, chin, or any other body part.


Answer:
I honestly don’t know if a scar on the bridge of the nose has more figurative or symbolic significance than a similar scar elsewhere on the face, but it might. The obvious explanation for a scar on the nose instead of on the cheek is simply differentiation. Well known characters including Himura Kenshin, Sagara Sousuke, Bardock, and Rai Ryuuga have a cross-shaped scar on their cheek. Captain Harlock’s scar crosses the bridge of his nose but is most obviously on his cheek. Characters including Kakashi Hatake, Jet Black, Akagami no Shanks, and Zoro Roronoa have scars over an eye. Ageha Kuki from Kimi ga Aruji de Shitsuji ga Ore de is one of the few characters to have a prominent scar on the forehead. So placing a scar across the nose can be simply a less conventional position on the face to place a distinguishing scar. Scars on the face are effective character trademarks because they’re always prominent and visible, unlike scars elsewhere on the body that may be often covered up. Moreover, a scar distinctly on the bridge of the nose, or in Ageha Kuki’s case, the center of her forehead, may reveal a straightforward personality. Unlike a diagonal scar on the cheek that could have been rendered by a glancing blow or while the head was turned, a deep cut on the nose is centered, suggesting that the victim was injured while facing peril head-on. After all, characters including Captain Harlock, Buso Renkin’s Tokiko Tsumura, Gutts, and Ageha Kuki have very straightforward, pretenseless personalities while characters with scars on their cheeks, including Himura Kenshin and Sagara Sousuke tend to have bipolar personalities.

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Question:
I would appreciate a knowledgeable answer on Dominion Tank Police (DTP). I understand there are two US region 1 DVD releases with Eng dubs. One from 1999 and one from 2003. Now as I’m trying to purchase DTP I read a review on Amazon that spooked me some. The reviewer stated that the DVD release he purchased had content edited (opening and closing credits) and had some sort of cheesy paste-over censor bars on “objectionable” content throughout. Problem is, Amazon lumps together reviews for both DVD releases under the same section so it’s impossible for me to know which one the reviewer is talking about. So do you happen to know which US release is unedited? Also do you believe a company will license rescue/rerelease this and other old Shirow works?


Answer:

After initially releasing the Tank Police Dominion OVA series on domestic VHS, Central Park Media released the 1988 OVA series on domestic DVD in 1999 then again in 2003. I own the 2003 DVD release. According to old online DVD reviews and my examination of my own disc, I actually can’t determine any difference between the two DVD releases. Apart from a vague Amazon consumer review that states, “When I watched the DVD, I was disappointed… because the DVD conceals the nudity found in the original version in very uncreative ways that are very distracting from the plot. For example, objects are placed in front of the offending areas in ways that would have you beg for black bars instead.” I didn’t see any example of this in the 2003 DVD edition, as the extremely brief panning shot that includes a topless female hospital patient in the first OVA is uncensored in the 2003 DVD, and I can’t find any references to censored nudity in any other formal reviews of the 1999 DVD. According to the Anime No Editing Zone, the ending credits animation in the 1999 DVD is full screen until the non-graphic nude Puma sisters appear. Alternately, I’ve also found reviews that claim that the entire ending credits animation is windowboxed in the 1999 DVD. AnimeWorld reports of the 1999 DVD release: “The animation that originally appeared underneath the Japanese credits is shoved into a tiny box above the scrolling English credits, and even the Japanese soundtrack has the English end theme… I don’t know if their [CPM's] 2003 re-release fixed these issues.” I can confirm from personal examination that the 2003 DVD did not “fix” these issues. In the 2003 DVD release, the complete ending credits animation is present & uncensored but windowboxed. Evidently both 1999 & 2003 DVD releases replace the original Japanese ending credits theme “Hoshi no Orgel” with an original English language song. Both DVD releases exclude the OVA 1 and OVA 3 ending credits. According to DVD Vision Japan, the DVD releases also exclude the “digest” that should begin OVA 2 and was included in the earlier domestic VHS release.

A few years ago I would have called a domestic license rescue for older Masamune Shirow anime including Patlabor, Dominion, Appleseed, and Black Magic M-66 a very remote possibility. Although still entertaining, most of these 80′s and 90′s anime distinctly reveal their age compared to slick, crisp and ultra-detailed contemporary digital-era anime productions. However, today’s domestic anime distribution scene is very different than it was merely three or four years ago. The domestic acquisition and re-release of older anime including Crying Freeman, Venus Wars, Lupin III, Fist of the North Star, Galaxy Express 999, Captain Harlock, GTO, Mazinger Z, Cutey Honey, Robot Hunter Casshan, Tekkaman Blade II, Unico, Mad Bull 34, Space Adventure Cobra, St. Seiya, Locke the Superman, Dirty Pair, and Rose of Versailles atests to the fact that a significant portion of the remaining active anime DVD and Blu-ray consumers in America are now adults and veteran anime fans with an analytical or nostalgic interest in vintage anime. Now that fewer Americans are purchasing anime DVDs, many of those who still are may be fans that fondly remember being introduced to anime in the 1990s and early 2000s with titles including Dominion and Appleseed. Furthermore, the fact that many of these older anime are single-volume DVD releases with existing translations and English dubs make them much more affordable and practical acquisitions than typical contemporary titles. Granted, titles like Black Magic M-66, Dominion, and Appleseed may now have a very limited domestic consumer audience, but these days practically every anime has a very limited domestic consumer audience for a DVD or Blu-ray release.

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Question:
Is less hentai anime being released in the west? It seems like less original hentai anime has been coming out on DVD and most of them have been rereleases and license rescues.


Answer:
New adult anime certainly is getting scarce here in America, and we can largely look to ourselves for the answer. Since Iowa resident Christopher Handley was arrested for importing “obscene” adult manga in May 2007, the domestic otaku community has worried about the legality and future of erotic Japanese pop art in America. A week ago, Missouri resident Christjan Bee was arrested for possession of “obscene” digital scans and images of child pornography comics on his computer. Bee has plead guilty without making any attempt to defend himself. At this time, however, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) reports that the exact nature and identity of the art that Mr. Bee is being prosecuted for has not been clarified. CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein has stated, “I’m not at all persuaded that the comics Mr. Bee had on his computer weren’t legitimate speech.” So outside observers, at this time, don’t have any confirmation that the imagery Mr. Bee is being persecuted for is manga, anime, or even Japanese related at all. Regardless, these isolated instances of criminal persecution for possession of fictional comic book illustrations of sex have, so far, been only isolated instances. Since 2007 Digital Manga, Inc. has launched its “Project-H” manga imprint to publish translated Japanese erotic comics in America. So while American citizens may have some justifiable reason, varying in degree depending on area of residence, to be cautious about possessing ero-manga that may be easily confused with “obscenity,” adult manga itself doesn’t appear to be under any serious threat here in America.

Adult anime, though, is a different story. Although brand new adult anime continues to be produced and released in Japan – First Love OVA 3 and Unsweet ~ Netorare Ochita Onna-tachi Kurosei Katsuko were just released in Japan days ago, no new adult anime titles have been licensed for American distribution within the past several years. The very few recent licenses and releases, like Critical Mass’ release of The Urotsuki, have been strictly re-releases of titles previously available in America. A pair of causes seem to have virtually killed the adult anime distribution industry here in America, and contrary to popular belief, both of them are domestic in origin. The 2007-2008 implosion of the domestic anime distribution industry appears to have done irreparable damage to the American adult anime distribution scene. Labels including Nutech, Hot Storm, Amorz, Anime-18, Japanime, and Soft Cel have left the adult anime distribution business within the past five years. Critical Mass hasn’t licensed any new-to-America titles in recent years. And the anime industry crash that hit Media Blasters particularly hard has practically squashed the distributor’s Kitty Media sub-label. The 2008 market crash dramatically scaled back domestic anime DVD distribution, resulting in distributors having fewer discs on the market and less money to produce and distribute DVDs. The market crash was partially caused by the larger economic downturn, which caused fewer collectors and enthusiasts to purchase adult anime DVDs. The combined effect was the domestic adult anime DVD industry suddenly having drastically less income and capital. In effect, the industry hasn’t recovered from that sudden, abrupt stoppage.

Piracy has stepped in to fill the gap. A variety of adult anime fan-subbing groups have become active since the 2007 market crash, and the prevalence of unlicensed online adult anime streaming has shot up dramatically. Since the largest audience for adult anime is viewers interested only in transitory gratification, temporary viewing or free, unlicensed versions of adult anime are frequently satisfactory. In effect, digital piracy has literally nearly extinguished the legitimate, licensed production and distribution of adult anime DVDs in America. The fan community, uneager to accept its own culpability for this decline, likes to cite the unsubstantiated rumor that Japanese adult anime licensors are now hesitant or outright unwilling to license their productions for American release. I can’t entirely dismiss the possibility that certain Japanese producers are hesitant to allow American distribution over fears of reverse importation, but I can confirm that since 2008 a particular American distributor (unrelated to AnimeNation) did negotiate an American distribution license with Japanese ero-anime producer Pixy, but the small American distributor was ultimately unable to raise enough working capital and infrastructure to satisfactorily close the deal.

Noticably less contemporary adult anime is being officially released in America. In fact, no contemporary adult anime is being circulated domestically. The most recent Japanese release to reach America may be 2007′s four-episode Makai Tenshi Djibril 2 OVA series. Japanese distributors do seem to be willing to discuss American licensing, but domestic licensors have little room to spare for ultra-niche erotic anime when even mainstream anime is having a tough time finding a paying consumer audience these days.

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Question:
I recently watched Hotel Transylvania, an American animated film that’s a light-hearted parody of vampires and monsters in pop culture. I thought it was really funny and it made me curious to know if there were animes out there that are similar.


Answer:

Although typical American anime fans aren’t familiar with most, if not all of them, anime actually has quite a number of worthwhile and entertaining monster parodies. The majority of them are little known in America because they’re older shows that haven’t been officially released in America. In fact, out of Japan’s rather large number of monster comedy anime, only two have ever reached American home video.

The 2005 Karin anime television series, based on the manga by Yuna Kagezaki, was briefly released on domestic DVD by Geneon. However, the show has been out of print domestically for several years and is now quite difficult and expensive to obtain. This amusing shoujo-esque comedy about a high-school age vampiress who expels excess blood instead of consuming it is actually seemingly heavily inspired by the equally entertaining but less known (in America) 1982 TV series Tokimeki Tonight, based on the shoujo horror comedy manga by Koi Ikeno (which itself takes inspiration from the earlier shoujo manga Himitsu no Akko-chan). Like Karin, Tokimeki Tonight also revolves around a high school girl who happens to be a vampire and falls in love with a normal human boy, much to the dismay of her supernatural family.

Only roughly half of the 1999 Munsters-esque original anime television series Tenshi ni Narumon was released on American DVD by Synch Point under the translated title “I’m Gonna Be An Angel!” Although the series primarily focused on romantic and slapstick comedy rather than horror, it told the story of a human boy drawn into a family that included an angel, an invisible woman, a Frankenstein-like monster, a pair of witches, a vampire, and an elf. The series also introduces a demon and a catgirl and does turn a bit darker and more morose towards its climax. The show is often discounted for its bright, bouncy look and initial tone, but viewers that enjoy it tend to tremendously love the show.

Production I.G’s 2001 twenty-six episode TV series Vampiyan Kids, in fact, could practically be the predecessor of Hotel Transylvania as it is also the story of a cute vampire girl who falls in love with a human boy against the wishes of her father who mistrusts humans. The very cute, fast-paced, and fun show seems remarkably similar to Genndy Tartakovsky & Sony Pictures’ Hotel Transylvania.

Don Dracula, Osamu Tezuka’s 1979 parodical take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel, was adapted into a 1982 anime TV series, but only 8 episodes were produced before funding for the production was cut due to the series’ sponsor going out of business. The odd comedy series migrated Dracula, his vampire daughter, and his manservant Igor to Japan and revolved around Dracula trying to adjust to “living” in Japan while being constantly pursued by his nemesis Professor Hellsing, who is always prevented from driving a stake through Dracula’s heart by the distraction of his hemorrhoid pains. (I did say that the series is odd.)

Katsuhiro Otomo & Shinji Kimura’s 2002 children’s picture book Hipira-kun was faithfully adapted into a 10 mini-episode CG anime television series in 2009. The amusing anime revolved around the misadventures of Hipira, a mischievous young vampire boy who found himself facing giant toads, ghosts, zombies, and even sunlight.

Japan has plenty of dark and foreboding horror anime, including children’s horror adventure anime like Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro & Yokai Ningen Bem (1968), Dororon Enma-kun (1973), and Mitsume ga Tooru (1990). Among these numerous shows, the 1989 Akuma-kun TV anime, based on Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro creator Shigeru Mizuki’s 1963 manga, tends to be a bit more lighthearted and comedy-oriented than most of its nearest relatives. Conceptually, Akuma-kun is very similar to creator Fujiko Fujio’s 1965 Kaibutsu-kun horror adventure manga that was adapted into anime TV series in 1968 & 1980. The series revolved around “Monster Boy” and his monster friends who visit the human world but find themselves opposed by antagonistic monsters.

Anime certainly has many more horror anime, but titles ranging from Devilman to Vampire Hunter D to High School Mystery: Gakuen Nanafushigi, to Gakuen Mokushiroku: High School of the Dead, to Rosario to Vampire aren’t parodical comedies in the same vein (no pun intended) as Hotel Transylvania.

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Question:
What’s John’s list of worst anime to date? Has there been such a list, just your personal list of titles you abhorred?


Answer:
I consider myself an anime fan, meaning that I respect and enjoy all varieties of anime. Moreover, I don’t expect anime to earn my viewing attention or prove anything to me. I’m already a fan; I naturally want to like every new anime that I encounter. But simply due to the fact that I don’t have the time or opportunity to watch every anime, I must be selective and choose which shows and titles I devote my attention to. Furthermore, I’m naturally attracted to certain genres over others, so I’ll naturally gravitate toward action or horror or sci-fi anime before historical drama or sports or children’s anime. So there have been countless shows that I’ve enjoyed, some of them because and some of them regardless of their production quality. And there have been shows that I’ve not especially liked. But there are very few anime that I outright detest. For example, I didn’t enjoy the 1990 RPG Densetsu Hepoi television series because I thought its protagonist was creepy. Similarly, I had a difficult time sitting through the first episode of the 1997 Sakura Momoko Gekijou: Coji-Coji television series because series’ protagonist Coji-Coji is so infuriatingly, selfishly ignorant. I also didn’t like the 1977 revival of Mach Go Go Go because it’s a pointlessly bland, lifeless rehash of a fun classic show. I recognize the merits and quality of World Masterpiece Theater anime and shows of a similar genre, like Watashi no Annette, Shokojo Sara, Shokoshi Cedi, Romeo no Aoi Sora, Sasurai no Shoujo Nell, Futari no Lotte, and Nils no Fushigi na Tabi, but I typically don’t enjoy watching them. I want to be entertained by anime, and I find most of these shows highly didactic. They’re also frequently uniformly depressing stories about children being unhappily separated from their parents. I’m also not a particular fan of the thankfully short-lived mid-1990′s sub-genre of anime & live-action hyrbid educational fantasy adventure anime that included Kynkyuu Hashin Saver Kids, Kyouryuu Wakusei, Gene Diver, and Kyuumei Senshi Nanosaver. But the list of anime that I outright detested, simply abhorred, is relatively small compared to the total number of anime titles I’ve watched.

A handful of anime have successfully merged serious gunplay action and slapstick comedy, among them: City Hunter, Grenadier: Hohoemi no Senshi, and Trigun. But the effort is difficult to formulate properly, and shows that don’t get the mix right usually end up disappointing and frustrating. I particularly dislike anime that try to merge innately serious and violent action with slapstick humor. Gonzo’s 2004 Sunabozu and 2005 Trinity Blood TV series both tried to mix grim, post-apocalyptic settings and intense gun action with goofy, slapstick humor. I hated both shows passionately. Sunabozu ends up feeling like a one-trick pony, and Trinity Blood compromises itself, creating mediocre gothic horror action and mediocre comedy. The Kite Liberator OVA feels like an action OVA that doesn’t want to be an action anime. It’s often cited as a satire, but it doesn’t feel deliberately satirical. It’s just an unpleasant, half-hearted mess to sit through.

After spending the early 1990s intently enjoying the Tenchi Muyo franchise, the 1997 Shin Tenchi Muyo TV series tried to be different and ended up messing with a good thing. Even though I managed to watch all 26 episodes in untranslated Japanese, recorded onto VHS tapes from Japanese TV broadcast, I hated every minute of the show. I disliked the show’s uncharacteristic effort to merge genres, the show’s rather ugly character designs, and the show’s ridiculous, rubbery stylized animation.

Similarly, after enjoying the nicely animated and well characterized 1998 Majutsushi Orphen television series, I absolutely hated the following year’s Majutsushi Orphen Revenge sequel that tried to spin the serious fantasy show into a goofy, slapstick, and very un-funny comedy.

I’m not instinctively opposed to South Korean animation or co-productions. In fact, I rather like the 2004 Korean/Japanese co-produced anime film Shin Angyo Onshi. However, I do have an accute antipathy for bad Korean co-produced anime, most noteably the 2001 Geisters: Fractions of the Earth and RUN=DIM. Geisters was just practically unwatchably bad in every respect. The obscure Run=Dim full CG mecha anime TV series is a typically bad video game adaptation rendered even more unwatchable by its terrible, primitive CG animation.

I enjoy a grim and ominous tone or atmosphere in an anime when it’s used as a backdrop for engaging characters and an exciting story. Anime including Yoju Toshi, Vampire Hunter D, Cyber City Odeo 808, Midnight Eye Goku, and Elfen Lied all achieve this important balance. I’m much less forgiving of anime that exist solely to convey grim, gloomy atmosphere, like Texhnolyze and Ergo Proxy. And I typically detest anime that combine perverse morbidity with unpleasant characters. The Koroshiya 1 Episode 0 OVA and Gantz television series were gratuitous shock value trash trying to pass themselves off as intelligent, insightful, satirical social commentary. The Bokurano television series was so deliberately obtuse and so rife with unlikeable, unpleasant characters that it quickly became torturous to watch. The Narutaru television series was a disjointed, unfocused, mish-mash of genres, ideas, and characters that ended up intensely unpleasant for no effective reason.

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A commentary:
A close examination of this year’s television anime seems to reveal an interesting and possibly revealing trend. While the number of action anime seems to be up this year, and the number of literally dark, dystopian anime including Symphogear, Zetman, BTOOOM, Zetsuen no Tempest, Code:Breaker, and Psycho-Pass is noticably increased, the number of assertive, confident and experienced male heroes seems to be noticably declining. At the same time, while female characters have always been popular, a particularly breed of dominant, capable female characters seems to be taking over anime.


Anime of the 1980s and 1990s, in particular, are especially memorable for their leading men: confident, capable, experienced heroes that controlled their own lives and destinies, like Kenshiro, Ryo Saeba, Captain Harlock, Shogo Yahagi, Jubei Kibagami, Fuusuke (the wind ninja of Ninku), Heero Yuy, Bolt Crank, Gutts, Spike Spiegel, and Vash the Stampede, to name a few. However, particularly this year’s anime illustrates a very different perspective on even the resurrection of the late 80′s and 1990′s style grim, dystopic anime. Older dark and violent action anime including Bio-Hunter, Ninja Ryukenden, Twilight of the Dark Master, Cyber City Odeo 808, Midnight Eye Goku, Jubei Ninpucho, Berserk, and Texhnolyze depicted aggressive, assertive adult male protagonists. This year’s similar anime, including Zetman, BTOOOM!, and Zetsuen no Tempest depict younger male protagonists who perceive themselves or begin their adventure as put-upon victims. In fact, even many of last year’s anime, including Kore wa Zombie Desu ka?, Ao no Exorcist, Deadman Wonderland, No. 6, Guilty Crown, and Mirai Nikki, likewise begin with male heroes that consider themselves victims rather than assertive actors. Among the contemporary anime that do depict capable, assertive, dominant male protagonists, there are Sword Art Online, Hagure Yuusha no Estetica, CODE:BREAKER, and children’s anime including Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter, but the number of such shows is rather small. Contemporary titles including Campione, Kingdom, and Phi-brain likewise feature assertive boys, but with caveats. Campione’s Godou Kusanagi is only confident and dominant after Erica Blandelli’s encouragement. Shin in Kingdom is assertive but limited by his youth and status. Phi-brain’s Kaito Daimon is outgoing but not the master of his own future. Many of this year’s anime that star outgoing, confident, capable male characters are actually not new titles at all; they’re revivals of anime from several years ago: Hunter x Hunter, Lupin the Third: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna, Saint Seiya Omega, and Zero no Tsukaima. Likewise, although not quite as old, this year’s Cross Fight B-Daman eS, Nisemonogatari, Dog Days’, and Hayate no Gotoku again depict assertive boys, but these are still revivals of previous titles.

A rather large number of contemporary anime subvert the male hero to a female control or simply transfer the traditionally male role onto female characters. 2012 anime including Jormungand, Medaka Box, Muv-luv Alternative: Total Eclipse, Oda Nobuna no Yabou, Inu x Boku SS, Psycho-Pass, and Tanken Driland all include powerful, confident and able-bodied male characters, but each show places these traditionally leading men in roles subserviant to female characters. Ironically, Upotte depicts schoolgirls who respect their teacher’s authority and consider themselves complaisant to his authority but frequently end up subverting that authority and reversing the dominance of power. Contemporary anime including High School DxD, Ixion Saga DT, and ROBOTICS;NOTES depict buffoonish or unmotivated boys that willingly subvert themselves to girl power rather than assert themselves. Accel World depicted a leading male character capable of standing up for himself but unwilling to do so without the support and encouragement of an older, stronger female character. And this year’s Moretsu Uchu Kaizoku and Senki Zesshou Symphogear, along with last year’s Fate/Zero that continued into this year depict scenarios and roles that would have been played by male characters in the 1980s and 1990s now dominated by female characters. Even the traditional Japanese adage “Boys be ambitious” gets undermined in this season’s first episode of Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo in which the phrase is officially translated into English as “Boys meet ambitions,” suggesting that boys now face, rather than possess, ambition.

Strong, dominant and powerful female characters have never been unusual in anime, but traditionally they’ve existed in parallel with emphatic, confident boys. However, anime seems to be seeing an increasing surrender of traditional masculine purpose. Certainly the increased emphasis on dominant female characters is a partial response to viewer interest. Male Japanese otaku enjoy watching cute girls. But I personally wonder to what extent this power position turnaround trend in current anime also reflects current Japanese social psychology. According to 2010 statistics from the CIA World Factbook, women very slightly outnumber men in today’s Japan, and more than 60% of all Japanese males under 30 years-old have never been married. The Japanese birth rate is also in continued decline, implying that Japanese women may have less desire for men to father children nowadays. These three statistics may reveal an unconscious attitude of complacency and marginalization of victimized and subservient male anime characters outnumbering male characters that are self-assured, experienced, and assertive. While anime is an escapist fantasy medium, it’s also a vicarious medium. In past generations, anime seemed to frequently depict male role models, self-determining men that viewers could respect. Especially in 2012, the majority of leading male anime characters seem to be timid, unmotivated, self-doubting people content to follow rather than lead (either themselves or others). I’m absolutely not trying to be sexist and assert that men should reclaim dominance over women. I’m only expressing my observation that in anime of past generations, the depiction of dauntless characters was much more evenly spread between male and female characters than it is now, when male characters are frequently depicted as either muscle to be ordered around by females or irresolute, vacillating characters that feel victimized by society and therefore recoil from social obligation or, at least, put minimal effort and conviction into their lives.

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