Mononoke shows us who the real monsters are

26 January 2015 | 3 comments

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Did you see that 2007 horror anime Mononoke is now on Crunchyroll? In spite of (or perhaps because of) work being crazy, I re-watched it all in a week.

Aesthetically gorgeous and deliciously creepy, Mononoke stars the unnamed Medicine Seller, a mysterious traveler who hunts mononoke, ghost-demon hybrids that come about because of powerful human emotions. To exorcise a spirit, the Medicine Seller must first find its shape, truth (what it wants), and reason (why it appeared).

The show purports to be about vengeful spirits and their exorcisms, but in the process reveals the the most frightening monsters are people themselves.

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Mononoke is twelve episodes long, but it’s better to think of it as four arcs—two two-episode tales and two three-episode ones. The tangle of human relationships that the Medicine Seller must unravel to discover the mononoke’s shape, truth, and reason are always far too complex for one episode. Each terrifying tale is set against a dizzying kaleidoscope backdrop of wild colors, elaborate Edo-period composition, and parchment paper texture.

In each arc, the Medicine Seller must become acquainted with several strangers who are all brought together by chance and all of whom have something to hide. Dialogue is sparing, since everyone has a secret. Traditional Japanese music accompanies frequent jump cuts, and artfully arranged settings give the backdrop the artful theatricality of a Kabuki play. Extreme closeups on people’s faces, hands, and objects around the set keep the viewer on their guard, aware that everything shown could be a significant clue to solving the mystery. There is always an element of tension, that something dangerous is lurking just out of focus.

Of course, it’s never the spirit that we should be afraid of. It’s one or more of the people who are being terrorized by it. The mononoke gets its power from a human emotion, and it’s always one of the humans in the arc who incited its vengeful grudge. Side by side against humans who lie and betray and murder in cold blood, the mononoke are simply bizarre nightmares, not unlike the witches in Madoka Magica. They are more manifestations of ill will than they are cognizant deliverers.

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The lesson of Mononoke is that if you have a clean conscience, then you have nothing to fear from a vengeful spirit. The Medicine Seller’s search for the shape, truth, and reason of the mononoke has the double purpose of a trial, a coming clean for everyone involved in inciting the emotional trauma that birthed a ghostly monster. Like in another show about otherworldly presences, Mushi-shi, the discoveries characters make in Mononoke are always about themselves, and more often than not they reveal something buried under the psyche that even the character has long been unaware of.

It’s rare for an anime to merge visual artistry with storytelling strength so well as Mononoke does. If you like Japanese mythology, supernatural plotlines and darker themes, there’s no reason this shouldn’t make your top 10 shows of all time.

Mononoke is streaming on Crunchyroll, but you can also buy it on DVD.

See also: ‘Mononoke': To Extreme Sickness, Extreme Remedies. As usual, Serdar is right on target with his review over at Ganriki.

Otaku Links: Your friend, Naruto

23 January 2015 | 1 comment

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  • The third episode of Assassination Classroom has been delayed due to the situation going on with ISIS and its Japanese hostages. Earlier this week Japanese Twitter users launched a Photoshop battle against ISIS to indicate that it wouldn’t be cowed by threats. Delaying a show about assassination attempts is likely a gesture of respect to the victims’ families.
  • If you like my blog but think all this talk of currently airing anime is exhausting, why not take a nostalgia break with the Anibaes? My friend Amber of Femsplain and her best friend David are re-watching Card Captor Sakura on their show.
  • Speaking of my friends, Nathan Meunier has published his latest book all about writing and selling your own non-fiction Kindle book from start to finish. These are the techniques I used to bring Otaku Journalism into the world, only more polished. Also, it’s just $0.99.
  • I started an advice column on my Gunpla site. Check it out and feel free to ask us your most pressing Gundam franchise questions!

Screenshot via nintendette

How did Funimation run away with Winter 2015?

19 January 2015 | 15 comments

rolling-girls

It’s time to irresponsibly speculate on what happened with simulcasts this season.

I can’t be the only one to notice that the balance of power has shifted dramatically. Usually, I can find every show I want to watch on Crunchyroll. This season, I bought a Funimation subscription for the first time because there were so many exclusives I wanted to see. From Assassination Classroom to Death Parade to Rolling Girls to Yurikuma Arashi, Funimation seriously swept the season when it came to brand new quality shows.

How did Funimation manage to snag so many new shows, and exclusives at that? Last week I reached out to both Crunchyroll and Funimation for comment and haven’t heard anything yet. So everything below this line is my opinion. Take it with a grain of salt.

As with most things, this likely comes down to money. When I interviewed Crunchyroll CEO Kun Gao, I picked up on two vital pieces of information. First, that Crunchyroll does not discriminate, but makes an offer for every single show in a season. Second, that the offers occur in something like a silent auction—Crunchyroll makes a bid, and the publisher considers whether or not to take it.

Now, I’ve never spoken with Funimation, but I do know that it’s the largest anime distributor in North America. As such, I’d wager that it has more capital to spare than Crunchyroll. I also doubt that Funimation makes a bid for every show, just the ones that are expected to do well and will convert to DVD sales later on. If this were the case, Funimation would only have to go to the publishers of shows they wanted to get, find out what Crunchyroll offered, and offer more for exclusives.

To be honest, I’m not all that happy with Funimation right now. I don’t like the players, which pause with a big red button in the center so I can’t take screenshots easily. I don’t like the subtitles either—a particularly egregious translation that comes to mind was when they shortened Machiko’s name in Death Parade to the distinctly Americanized “Matchy.” Furthermore, I paid $60 for a year’s subscription, but that doesn’t include access to Funimation’s $10 iPad app. I downloaded the free app, but no matter how much I update it or my iPad software, it doesn’t play videos with sound for some reason.

Even if I’m having trouble adjusting to Funimation, this is likely the new normal. Funimation certainly made a subscriber out of me, and probably many other fans who want to see their shows simulcasted and are willing to pay for the privilege. By ensuring exclusives, Funimation can make sure that we watch these shows on their players and nobody else’s.

So that’s my theory. It still doesn’t explain how Daisuki got the rights to Kuroko’s Basketball when Crunchyroll has had it for two seasons prior, but it’s a start.

Image via Rolling Girls

Otaku Links: Hello from far away

14 January 2015 | 2 comments

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You’re getting my linkspam early this week because I’m not around. I’m in St. Thomas, a place I haven’t been since 2010 when my blog was still my journalism graduate school diary, not an anime blog yet. As always, I’ll be updating Instagram and that’s it.

Here’s what I saw this week before I left:

  • Since it tosses you into the world of animation in media res, Shirobako has a bit of a learning curve. Altair & Vega made a handy illustrated glossary of all the industry terms used in the show.
  • I liked The Tangles’ zeroing in of Death Parade episode one as an allegory about marriage. I interpreted the ending a little differently than he did—when Machiko said “I love somebody else” and then pictured a flashback her first meeting with her husband, I thought she meant she loved who he was back then more than who he became, not that she had a guy on the side.
  • Steve wrote about his brief career in scanlations, and how much work goes into something that falls into a legal gray area in the first place.
  • Anime News Network just revealed the Winter 2015 daily streaming lineup. I’ll be continuing with Yowamushi Pedal Grande Road and Gundam Build Fighters Try, and adding Kuroko’s Basketball to the list. Go sports teams! By the way, since I’m on vacation today, there’s no GBF Try review this week—next week I will cover episodes 14 and 15 in my review.

Screenshot via Welcome to the NHK episode 12, also known as the Worst Anime Beach Episode Ever. 

My Winter 2015 Anime Preview

12 January 2015 | 11 comments

New year, new anime! Wow, is Winter 2015 starting out strong or what?

In accordance with my resolution to watch less terrible anime, I watched a very wide range of new shows in order to pick my favorites. However, I ended up liking so many that I’m only committing to the first three episodes, and then reevaluating.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m still watching Parasyte and Shirobako into their second seasons for fun, and Yowamushi Pedal Grande Road and Gundam Build Fighters Try for review. That means if I don’t cut any shows, I’ll watch 9 episodes, or about 4.5 hours of anime every week!

That’s not very realistic for my schedule, but check out what I’m dealing with here and see why I’m reluctant to narrow it down yet:

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Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!

I call this one Magical Boys for short. Five pretty boys wear frilly outfits and fighting in the name of love to save the world. So far it’s stupid and silly in a way I’m certain is intentional since it shares a director with one of my favorite anime, Daily Lives Of High School Boys. I’ve got my hopes up for a so-bad-it’s-good parody of Magical Girl tropes.

Where I’m watching it: Crunchyroll

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Assassination Classroom

A ridiculous supernatural premise and comedic timing that both remind me of Soul Eater. In “Ass Class,” students have to kill their invincible alien teacher before he blows up the planet. The twist is that he’s an excellent teacher. The first episode had too much exposition and too little plot, but I’ve got a good feeling about this hyperbolic shounen show.

Where I’m watching it: Funimation

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Death Parade

A stylized supernatural thriller that looks gorgeous and sounds even better. I thought the pilot’s drama felt manufactured, but judging by Anime News Network’s consistently high scores, I’m giving it another episode. The first episode explained the gimmick; now I’m looking forward to see if the show can hook me now that all its cards are on the table.

Where I’m watching it: Funimation

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Kuroko’s Basketball

After sticking with it for 50 episodes, I’m here for the long run. Season three started strong with a short recap that didn’t feel stale and the introduction of a terrifying new adversary. Kuroko is probably the most interesting sports anime I watch for the sports, because real players would have to be doping to perform these killer moves.

Where I’m watching it: Daisuki

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The Rolling Girls

A little bit Samurai Flamenco, a little bit Kill La Kill, this show is all bright colors, smooth animation, and girl power. It’s a show about female vigilantes who battle for their districts in a distinctly panty-shot-free way. I like strong female characters better than Strong Female Characters, and I can’t wait to see where this character-driven drama goes next.

Where I’m watching it: Funimation

What are you watching this season? Anything you think I’ve missed?

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