Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Ergo Proxy: For a Lost Generation

It's been too long since someone tackled the "Blade Runner" theme, whether in live-action or anime. The closest things I can remember, with credible production values and a decent plot, are Armitage and Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040, and both of those are about ten years old now. Yes, it has been a long time, and never before have the themes and environment been tackled in such an appealing manner. Ergo Proxy is beautiful - something not thrown out lightly - and everything about it serves to support this statement.

The first thing any viewer will notice is the amazing amount of detail put into the animation. This isn't your typical TV production. It much more closely resembles, and in many ways even surpasses, the quality of many movie productions within the past few years. The team renders the backgrounds with vivid detail, the characters all have distinct characteristics of movement (something particularly difficult to accomplish in anime without overdoing it), and the frame rates are noticeably above par. Anyone looking simply for eye candy will come away more than satisfied.

Even more than the visuals, Ergo Proxy delivers a stylistic, plot-driven yet character-based story. Dai Sato, the chief writer, has credits on Cowboy Bebop, Wolf's Rain, and Samurai Champloo, all predecessors in form to this work. In many ways Ergo Proxy is the culmination of the elements of writing Dai Sato practiced in the other three shows. Cowboy Bebop focused on character development, Wolf's Rain on plot, and Samurai Champloo on style, whereas Ergo Proxy combines the three. The characters are there (names taken from the Shinsen-Subs version) - Real, the female protagonist, is a gutsy detective, yet Sato effectively reveals the depth of her humanity in the very first episode, when she cries from terror. Vincent Law, the clumsy, almost blubbering immigrant reveals a hidden level of strength by the time the third episode's credits roll. Even the Autoraves (similar to Blade Runner's replicants) have a human dimension, as is expected from such a Blade Runner-esque setup.

Character designs are by Naoyuki Onda, who has such credits as, surprise, Wolf's Rain and Witch Hunter Robin (not surprising, considering how similar the character designs for Robin and Real are). Even more captivating than Real's goth-inspired eyes, though, are the designs for the "Proxy," the monster seen in the first episode and whose appearance drives the plot of the show. The human features are readily apparent, but it is their chained, tortured appearance that will capture the viewer's attention. And with music by Yoshihior IKE, the man behind many of the most popular new shows, you can be certain that the musical score does not lack for intensity and a feeling of something approachig mysticism.

There's not enough of Ergo Proxy out there yet for any definitive statements about its intent and meaning to be made. What is apparent is that this tale will take us once again into the question of what it means to be human, and why we should care. This message comes at a critical time too, as the Japanese continue to slip into a state of aimlessness. This generation does not know where to turn for their purpose - the Emperor has long been demystified, they still do not have the right as a nation to go to war (and should they? - many are asking this question), and the beliefs of Shinto and Buddhism have lost their substance. Perhaps Ergo Proxy will stress the need to return to the ancient Shamanistic beliefs that held sway in Japan before the influence of China. Maybe it will go with the typical anime copout and simply stress the need for "love and belief." Or maybe it will provide a new answer, one that speaks to the minds of a lost generation about the need for self-confidence and assertion, and above all: individuality, not to be confused with selfishness.

*Note: All images in this post can be found on the blog, Memento. Link: http://anime.miao.us/archives/2006/02/06/605/

Continue Reading...

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Can you carry her?

"Can you carry her? ... I'm asking you, do you think you can carry Cheza?" - Kiba to Toboe

Wolf's Rain was not a particularly well-recevied anime at first, and with good reason. The biggest names in anime (at least in the States) composed the creative team that helmed the project, and from what they said, this was going to be big. Advertisements agreed, and so did every visual cue that viewers received from trailers leading up to the release. Then it aired, and the forum traffic began to flare up.

"This isn't what I expected," and "I'm not sure I like this," were common viewer comments. It certainly wasn't another Cowboy Bebop. The characters, while engaging and developed, did not grow to the extent that the Bebop crew did. In fact, to a certain degree the four wolves remained stagnant, always single-mindedly pursuing "Paradise" (Rakuen - my romanization of the Japanese, not sure if it's technically correct). That was the mistake, assuming that Wolf's Rain would somehow be a sort of continuation of what Cowboy Bebop started.

The quintessential difference between the two shows was that Cowboy Bebop was character driven, while Wolf's Rain was plot driven. The first episode of each show demonstrates this perfectly. "Asteroid Blues" is our first introduction to Spike, and rather than starting, or even hinting, at some sort of grand adventure it simply shows us what sort of person Spike is - laid back, smooth, like water. "City of Howls," in contrast, begins with the statement of a goal, which is the pursuit of Paradise. Staying true to their storytelling style, these opening episodes set the tone and theme that the creators intend for the series.

So that's all well and good, but where does that quote fit into all this? To me, that quote wraps up the whole point of Wolf's Rain. The story is one of will, the will to find "Paradise." We see many examples of people who do not have that requisite will, such as the majority of mankind and the pack of wolves in the southern city. But we also see many who do possess that will. Our primary contact with that strength is through Kiba, but other characters, most notably Darcia, give us a glimpse at what can drive someone to seek "Paradise." The story is about the drive, and what happens to those who possess it, and those who do not - which is why Kiba's question is so important. It is more of an accusation, demanding: "Do you have what it takes?" That is a question that we as people must deal with all the time, in everything we do. And many are found wanting.

Why did I choose to start this blog off with a post about Wolf's Rain, considering it's been three years since its release in Japan, and two since it came to the US? From what I've seen, too many people dismissed the show out of hand, simply saying, "well, it had a good plot and some cool concepts, but really didn't have all that much to take away." I really want to set the record straight - this show is amazing, and I'm not talking about the production values. Wolf's Rain brings something to the table that no other show has, and that's saying something in this day of copycat Shonen and Shoujo TV series. It's hard to boil down to a single phrase, or even one blog post, but if I had to pick one, I'd go with Kiba. "Can you carry her?"

Continue Reading...

Seeing Anime - Traveller

For the unacquainted, the title of this post indirectly refers to the anime, Kino's Journey. In it, the protaganist, Kino (aptly named), travels from one country to the next, learning about their various cultures and customs. In the end, the series does not focus on plot, but rather on the insights one gains from viewing the way that a particular country lives. Anime has a lot to offer - getting past the series dominated by busty women, or those muddled with lackluster plot and meaningless violence, you can find series that truly speak to your mind as well as your heart. Part of the appeal of anime lies not only in how it makes us feel, but also how it makes us think. That is what I want to impart in this blog, what thoughts come to mind as I watch anime, and what impact that has.

Continue Reading...