Everyone else is busy with Life or Conventions or something, so looks like I’ve got to write this introduction. You know, it’s actually starting to get pretty nice here in Florida. It’s been in the low 80s at worst all week, so I don’t want to die as soon as I step out the front door. That must mean it’s Fall, or Autumn, or whatever it is, and that means there’s a new batch of incredibly depressing Japanese cartoons airing on television and every single pirate video site on the Internet. Time for us to pass judgment on the shows that everyone else already watched and made up their minds about days ago, when we first wrote these blurbs!
What do you do when you just finished directing the megahit cash cow that will pay to keep your animation studio open for the next twenty years? If you’re Gurren-Lagann director Hiroyuki Imaishi, you climb a mountain and scream “Fuck all y’all! I do what I WANT!” as loud as you can.
And then, in a move that will no doubt further confuse the ongoing “Glorious Nippon Japanese Anime Purity” debate, you make an absurd, filthy homage to American Cartoon Network fare.
Panty and Stocking are Powerpuff Girls without the “everything nice”: they appear to be awful people, really, whose vices are sex and candy respectively. Each episode (15 minutes, two at a time, America-style) is concerned with the girls taking down enemies like, uh, poop monsters (the episode is called “Excretion without Honor or Humanity”).
Imaishi is aping Western cartoons on one level, but he’s going wild within the framework and making the results very much his own. The animation is a feast— I get the feeling that a good chunk of this show’s budget is being spent on the movement of English-language comic book sound effects— and the style is so removed from the norm that I can legitimately say you’ve never seen anything like it. The stunning animation is accompanied with gleeful, adolescent perversion that never lets up: if a pole dance transformation sequence or places with names like “Peni Station” bother you, this is not your serious cartoon.
Dirty jokes alone aren’t going to keep this show going, though: whether it’ll truly stay good depends entirely on whether the animation budget keeps up. I have faith that Mr. “I Just Made Gurren-Lagann” is going to take full advantage of that fact and keep this ridiculous vanity dream project soaring. I’m looking forward to it!
In conclusion, here are the lyrics to the opening theme song, sung by an autotuned Japanese man.
Panty stocking, panty panty stocking oh.
Panty stocking, oh panty stocking.
Tell me baby tell me baby feel alright
Panty stocking panty panty stocking oh
Oh panty stocking
Tell me alright
Tell me baby tell me baby feel alright
— Dave feels alright
It is completely, utterly unfair to attempt to compare this show to Revolutionary Girl Utena, easily my favorite work from scriptwriter Yoji Enokido. That series, packed as it was with surreal imagery, bizarre mood swings and shamelessly overt use of ritualized combat as the manifestation and resolution of characters’ internal emotional struggles, is rapidly approaching the age of its protagonist. It’s from a completely different era of Japanese animation, before Evangelion discovered antidepressants and therapy. (And besides, the show was really director Kunihiko Ikuhara’s baby, anyway.) If anything, I should be looking to Enokido’s more recent work, like his collaborations with Gainax, the also-ancient FLCL (2000-2001) and the completely-overstuffed Diebuster (2004-2006), or perhaps Enokido’s previous collaboration with Star Driver director Takuya Igarashi and Studio BONES, 2006’s Ouran High School Host Club, one of the most good-hearted and entertainingly stupid shows of the decade.
But I still kinda wanna do it.
A protagonist as gleefully enthusiastic, self-assured and confident as Takuto Tsunashi appears in the first episode of this show is practically begging to be run through the emotional wringer, and I’m going to be really disappointed if he isn’t. I’m just not sure how else to react to a character so devoted to screaming about the power of youth and rushing into any number of dangerous situations with a smirk on his face and a pun at the ready. Takuto’s like a Shonen Jump protagonist without the obligatory clownish layer: he seems so sincere, there has to be something else going on here, and I’m rather impatient to find out what that is. He does have a real gift for voguing, though, especially while driving a giant robot.
There’s something off-putting about the character designs in this show. I think it’s the noses. Something about them just bugs me. Luckily, it looks like a good half of the cast moonlight as members of the Glittering Crux, the secretive organization of masked men and women who meet in a secret base beneath the old gold mine that students are expressly forbidden from entering (which, as Takuto observes, makes it a very tantalizing target), so they get to wear cool masks and flamboyant costumes for at least half of the episode. They also fulfill the cryptic expositionary dialog quotient and provide the most hope for interesting future plotting, assuming Takuto is at least slightly more perceptive than the characters who inspired him and starts drawing connections between the green-haired fellow who tried to recruit him to the boxing club earlier that evening and the green-haired fellow who boxed (and robot-battled) with him later on. The odd, often surprisingly friendly relationships that developed between Utena and the other Duelists between their frequent clashes was one of the highlights of that series, and there’s a lot of potential in a reprisal of sorts.
As with most major BONES productions, the first episode of Star Driver is a visual treat, character design criticism aside. The completely hand-drawn robot fight is absolutely gorgeous, and refreshing in its ability to be brutal, flamboyant and brisk all at the same time, and Takuto’s transformation into Mr. Universe is a sequence I wouldn’t mind seeing over and over as budget requirements and/or ritual dictates. If things die off from here, though, nobody would be particularly surprised — but it’d be nice if it didn’t fall as far as Darker Than Black’s animation did. Extra credit: the really cool opening sequence, storyboarded and directed by some fellow nobody’s ever heard of named Shinichiro Watanabe, which Sony Music Records, Inc. keeps deleting from Youtube. Relax, guys!
This show runs on NHK, but guys, don’t tell me that it’s educational. It’s an employment film for Shueisha. That said, there’s no more brilliant way to get a kid to sign up for a backbreaking life of indentured funnybook slavery than to say “Hey kids! Making a Shonen Jump manga is just like a Shonen Jump manga!”
I haven’t read the source manga, but this first episode effectively sets up how this is going to go: by the end of the first episode, a pretty girl has pledged to marry our hero if he draws a manga that hits so big it gets animated, and if she is then cast as the heroine. That’s a hell of a Power Level ladder to climb. I’d say this story has about fifty episodes in it! (The TV series is scheduled for 25.)
With the exception of a cameo from noted hero Hironobu Kageyama, the anime version of Bakuman doesn’t do a great job convincing me that it needs to exist. It’s a fundamentally talky story, after all— comics and romance, it’s looking like— and while the animation looks polished, the direction doesn’t stand out in any way. Maybe it’ll pick up when they actually start drawing, or when someone is in a relationship whose stipulations don’t include the bizarre “we can’t ever see each other for any reason”. This is, after all, the first episode of a Shonen Jump story, and we know those don’t go anywhere for a long, long time.
This show won’t make sense to a lot of people. I’ve beaten the fifty-hour videogame this show is based on two or three and a half times, and I don’t really know what the hell was going on either. In Super Robot Wars, there’s at least twenty minutes worth of text exposition between each of the about 50 missions the player takes up. The script is too big, the cast is too big, there are too many damn robots. Animating this fan-beloved extravaganza is a serious undertaking.
Maybe Masami Obari was the perfect director for this thing: his passions— huge, frequently overkill robots and huge, frequently overkill breasts— match up with OG‘s priorities perfectly. If the show was just nothing more than boobs and metal-on-metal violence, well, hell, who am I to object to that?
So how is he doing with it? He’s got to run through the story at turbo speed, shifting fast between robot carnage, space politics, and love confessions, but it’s played pretty straight.
In this episode, the ongoing battle serves as a long line of introductions to our lovable heroes and their robots. You know how this goes: the character appears, they blow up some grunts, and it’s on to the next, bigger robot that blows up even more grunts. By the end, when a robot with a superfluous robo-chest (Obari gave it nipples and everything) arrives with angelic light shining behind it, you know everything you’re going to need to know about this cartoon.
The carnage is fantastic, of course. The previous TV series used CG for mechanical animation, and it didn’t look too great. This time, the CG is minimal and blends well, while the main attraction is lovingly animated 2D robot throwdown. It’s so hard to do this right and so rare to see it in action, so even if the show turns out a total mess, mecha fans will be really pleased.
I don’t see this having a lot of impact on anybody who isn’t already a lover of giant robots on principle (and even in this niche, it’s squarely aimed at existing fans of the SRW game series), but it’s guaranteed to be an animation spectacular and you might want to check it out on that merit alone.
Somebody call G4! It’s not too late to cancel the American TV broadcast and pretend this show never happened!
Iron Man, the animated TV series collaboration between Marvel and MADHOUSE, isn’t an interesting failure — it’s a textbook one. It’s incredibly obvious that nobody involved in the production of this show actually gives two shits about the franchise, and apparently the funding, time and/or creative constraints were too great for them to produce solid work in spite of that. It makes the Golgo 13 TV series look fluidly animated!
Every scene is a mess of expositionary dialog set to an near-constant wailing of guitars regardless of the mood of the moment, and each scene is somehow more improbable than the last. Rather than giving a sense of the larger-than-life nature of Tony Stark on his trip to Japan, the show repeatedly draws your attention to how absolutely stupid the thing you’re watching is. Reporters swarming Stark’s car seem truly shocked by minor details that he reveals about the rationale behind his trip, which while intended as a recap of Stark’s character as of the recent movies (the arms manufacturer turned vigilante clean energy magnate) makes the scene seem like an unintentional parody of itself and American views of Japan. Characters are introduced and then killed off within the space of a few minutes, and events continue to just happen arbitrarily at a rapid yet intensely boring pace for 20 minutes, until Tony finally puts on the suit to battle a robot in what has got to be among the most embarrassingly ugly 3DCG robot fights in anime this decade.
I can’t figure out who the hell this show is supposed to be for. If it’s for a Japanese audience, then this isn’t going to work as an introduction to the characters beyond what they might have seen in the recent films — sending American comic book characters to Japan for an arc isn’t a substitute for interesting writing and solid animation. American fans might have an easier time getting past how ugly and stupid this show is, if sales of things like Halo Legends are any indication, but against the animated superhero adaptations we’ve been watching since the 90s when they started actually getting pretty good, it doesn’t have much to defend itself. Not even nostalgia.