Okay, so maybe those other sites brought you live, 24/7 coverage of the latest shows on Japanese airwaves, but at Colony Drop, we believe you can’t rush quality. It’s not just about watching bootlegs obtained third-hand from mostly-anonymous dealers, it’s about detailed analysis and research. We might be a bit late, but here it is: the definitive preview of the hottest new TV Japanimation which you won’t be seeing legally for years!
Sunrise is on a real sci-fi kick lately, and I don’t just mean their giant robot shows. Sure, we all love pioneering titles like Mobile Suit Gundam and Dougram, Fang of the Sun, and they’re certainly not neglecting the genre (scroll down for Greg’s review of The Big O, the studio’s new noir-styled robot series), but in the past year or two they’ve made a big expansion into less mecha-reliant SF. Hot on the heels of last year’s genre-defining Cowboy Bebop and pulpy space adventure Outlaw Star comes Infinite Ryvius, the latest original production from Sunrise’s #1 idea man, Hajime Yatate. While it’s a bit early to say for sure, Ryvius seems to be setting up a somewhat more grounded (if not necessarily “harder“) approach.
In the year 2225, it seems, space travel is fairly routine, and teenager Kouji Aiba has set off for astronaut training school, held in a space station orbiting the Earth, which seems to be surrounded by some sort of “space fog” that does bad shit to spacecraft that wander into it. Much to Kouji’s chagrin, it seems that both his childhood not-my-girlfriend Aoi and his brother Yuki have also decided to enroll in the academy, and nobody told him. Mortified, he tries to keep his focus on his training — but unfortunately for him, and everyone else on the station, unknown extremists have decided that it’s the perfect opportunity for some sabotage. I’m kind of worried about the mysterious girl clad in an outfit composed entirely of purple straps who shows up near the end, though — while Kouji and his brother are having a fistfight over ideals and morals, she starts warping around the ship mouthing their internal monologues. It’s indicative of some sort of mystical mumbo-jumbo plot thread which will probably interfere with the technical mumbo-jumbo I was enjoying minutes ago.
First-time series director Goro Taniguchi teams up with veteran Tenchi Muyo! scriptwriter Yousuke Kuroda to bring Yatate’s vision to the small-screen. Pay close attention to hot-shot character designer Hisashi Hirai’s work on this show — his distinctive style is sure to have a huge influence on Japanese animation in the next decade. This series continues Sunrise’s recent experiments in mixing new, computer-generated effects with traditional animation — rumour has it that it won’t be long before computer-based colouring and composition will completely replace cels, but I don’t think we’ll have much to worry about if these projects are any indication. The music in this episode is sparse and incongruous — as the trainees discover the station’s perilous situation and, understandably, panic, we at home groove to a surprisingly funky electronic beat.
Hot on the heels of Sunrise’s Western-styled, genre-creating tour-de-force Cowboy Bebop comes another show planted even more firmly in the West than in the East. Big O — as it is so boldly titled — right from the opening scene hardly looks like a Japanese production at all. In sharp contrast to the more modern cutesy designs found in recent shows like Slayers or Saber Marionette, the character designs in Big O are dead serious, and are styled to look more like an American cartoon, namely Batman: The Animated Series. In fact, if the characters weren’t speaking Japanese, one could easily mistake this for an American cartoon.
The main character Roger (I’m assuming that’s his name, my tape didn’t have subtitles) himself is something of a mixture of Batman and James Bond. Working as a negotiator in Manhattan-inspired Paradigm City, Roger deals with the scum of the town in a professional manner. Afterwards, he retires to his nice mansion, where his black-clad butler Norman greets him. However, it’s not long before he has to take off again in his super car armed with missiles, which can also be controlled by his wristwatch. His answer to the Batsuit is the titular robot — The Big O — which he summons by yelling “SHOWTIME!” into his watch.
Big O‘s opening episode is one of the most well produced I’ve seen since, well, Cowboy Bebop. The color scheme is sexy and dark, which complements the bleak nature of the show perfectly. The already-mentioned America-like setting and designs along with a somewhat minimalist approach to background artistry gives the show a bold and unique style. However, amongst all the American influence, the robot battles take more from older Japanese special effects shows. Big O and the other robots don’t exactly move as if they are costumes worn by people, but the battles are slow, clunky and brutal. There is a lot of damage to public property, and each punch from the Big O looks as if it hurts.
It seems that between all of Sunrise’s other productions, they’re trying to carve out a niche for Western-influenced entertainment, especially in these shows headed by Hajime Yatate, who is also responsible for Cowboy Bebop. I can’t say whether or not future anime will progress further in this direction, but what I do know is that I want to see the next episode, since this one ended on a cliffhanger! Who knows how long it’ll be before I can get my next tape from Japan?
Great Teacher Onizuka
I used to think I’d learned a ton about the culture of Japan (or as I like to call it, “onsen country”) from Japanimation, but Great Teacher Onizuka has been the most educational anime I’ve ever seen– in more ways than one!
I thought I knew Japanese high school kids after Kimagure Orange Road, but boy, did I have a lot to learn. It turns out that in the 90’s, Japanese high schools have turned into vicious psychological war zones. Instead of sending weak academic types to be tortured into madness and death, the Japanese school system now uses upgraded “Great Teachers” like our hero Onizuka, a hard-ass biker with a sledgehammer. You see, Japanese people aren’t born smart, studious, and quiet– they’re made that way.
The reason the Japanese are so happy and fulfilled is that high school kids aren’t disillusioned by the end of their academic careers. They’ve been too busy having adventures with their Great Teachers! Gang rumbles, jumping from buildings, you name it: GTO solves all your problems and makes school an awesome time, every time. It really makes you feel like maybe we missed out on something by not going to Japanese high school ourselves, you know? I also noticed that Onizuka gets to be a bit of an ecchi, and I wish that certain people at the anime club would be as accepting of my lifestyle as people are in this Japanese school.
Gotta say, this is another great idea from Japan that I’d like to see more of here in the states. The kids at the 7-11 always give me looks when I load up my Ultra Big Gulp, and I used to be mad about it. But these days, after having seen GTO, I can’t help but pity them. If these kids had just had Onizuka, they’d hand me the Taquitos with a smile, except the Taquitos would be Yan Yanquitos and we’d all be at a big cosplay party because something that good could just never happen outside of Japan.
Ahh, I want to sign up for JET. The girls must be really cute.
Initial D: Second Stage
The Initial D franchise is a testament to just how influential anime and manga can be, as Shuichi Shugeno’s Initial D manga created the concept of “Drifting,” a style of racing that has since taken Japan by storm. As the most popular sport in Japan, drifting has people driving around mountain corners in such a way that that it looks like they’re sliding around them. As the Initial D anime and manga show us time and time again, drifting is without a doubt the fastest way to drive a car.
If you are like me and loved the first Initial D series, you should be pretty excited about the new one that is just now airing in Japan, called Second Stage. My friend who has read all of the manga (he speaks Japanese) tells me we are in for a LOT of exciting stuff in Second Stage so I think you’ll be really happy about this like I am.
The one POSSIBLE negative aspect of the first Initial D TV series was the computer animation, which wasn’t very good. It did a well enough job, but computer graphics may be the one area where anime fails to compare to crappy American cartoons. Judging from the first episode of Second Stage things are VERY different this time around and the computer graphics are VERY MUCH improved. They aren’t as good as the stuff we saw in Star Wars Episode 1: A Phantom Menace, but at least there’s no Jar Jar Binks in Initial D!! We fans can only hope someday Japanese studios could work with Lucasfilm to create a truly amazing Initial D movie that could be shown everywhere in the world. Even if you don’t like cars, I really recommend this series.
Mark my words internet, Alexander Senki is going to change Japanimation forever. Not only is it actually based on REAL history, but it also features my favorite Japanese animator, Chung Peter. If you haven’t gone to your local Blockbuster’s anime section, and picked up Aeon Flux, then you don’t know what you’re missing! Even a crappy English dub can’t hold back Peter-chan‘s talent and genius, so it’s my privilege to be able to watch Alexander Senki in ORIGINAL Japanese.
Alexander Senki stars Alexander the Great and is based upon his life and conquests. As of episode 1, I think it has a real appeal for history buff like me. Philotas! Haphaestion! I leapt out of my chair when I saw those names. Only thing is, I never realized just how crazy history was! Did you know they had floating islands, or that the daisy dukes were invented well before the 1980s? They sure leave a lot of details out from the textbooks, that’s for sure. I’m actually kind of relieved, because this means I haven’t spoiled this show by watching the History Channel’s special on Macedonia.
Like I said before though, the main reason you want to watch Alexander Senki is the animation and character designs. Everything is so action-packed that I almost wonder if this show is going to spoil me forever. Also, you know all those bishounen (pretty boys) you see running around in shows these days? Well, Alexander one-ups them by being just as thin and pretty, but also sporting some serious abs and biceps too. Think of him as an evolution, a bishounen for the 21st century, because after Alexander Senki is over everyone’s going to be looking like this. You have Chung Peter-sama to thank for that.
I know some anime fans might not like Alexander Senki because it doesn’t deal with Japan, but I think with masterpieces like Vision of Escaflowne and Cowboy Bebop having set the trend for western stories, now is as good a time as any to learn that there’s more to the world than just Japan. Now don’t get me wrong, Japan is still the coolest and best country ever, but you have to remember that this was a time when no one in Europe knew about Japan. And in a way, wasn’t Macedonia the “Japan” of its own era? Think about it!