Saturday, March 14, 2009

As you wish

Meiji, it’s more than just chocolate! –or- Everyone go watch Ruroni Kenshin.

Something has always bothered me about “The Princess Bride.” It starts with farm-boy Wesley going off somewhere via sailing ship and then the news that his ship was captured by the “Dread Pirate Roberts,” who is such a bastard that he kills everyone on every ship he ever does pirate things to. After a few years Wesley returns as the Dread Pirate Roberts to rescue his princess. Initially the princess hates him for killing her one true love, but then once she finds out he IS her one true love, she’s so elated to see him. She apparently has no problem that since he’s been gone, her beloved farm-boy Wesley was such a bastard that he killed everyone on every ship he ever did pirate things to (everyone; passengers, crew the captain’s wife and 12 year old daughter, nuns, a doctor on the way to help some beleaguered colony somewhere… everyone). This princess biatch and the audience are supposed to think nothing of the fact that this guy has racked up executions of mostly innocent people in the triple digits. I’m sorry but no matter how heroic he comes off there has got to be a huge take-a-number machine full of people who wanna kill his ass to avenge some family member he probably cut the throat of and let them bleed to death over the deck of his pirate ship and then kicked their lifeless corpse into the ocean.

To an equal extent, the same sort of forgiving eye is often turned to the world of pre-Meiji Japan. The samurai class, shinsengumi, and their various entourages have been romanticized to such an extent, that it often paints a picture of an era that looks cool to live in. But let’s face it, much like medieval Europe, Ancient Rome, or the American “Wild West” pre-Meiji Japan meant a life full of total suck for about 98% of the people there. Aside from being a time without electricity, a safe water supply, penicillin, or toilet paper Japan had laws regulating dress code, travel restrictions which rivaled modern North Korea, an inescapable cast system, a massive gender inequity gap, and demanded absolute obedience to a ruling class. All of these laws were enforced with such brutal force, that the Taliban could have taken pointers.

Modern literature and entertainment from “Blade of the Immortal” to “The Last Samurai” glosses over much of this kind of thing for the sake of making a good story, and that’s ok if you you can keep in mind that these are works of fiction. This kind of romanticism in historical settings is more or less required for works such as “Ninja Scroll” or “Zatoichi” to be entertaining. To be entertaining you more or less have to be fun, and it’s hard to do that if you pack all that human misery of real life into it. The problem is when this gets taken too far, and we end up with tripe like “The Last Samurai” or things that make the Shinsengumi look like cool heroes rather than the more true to life Gestapo with swords. The same kind of view is also applied to world history with Hetalia, but that’s not exactly the same in the way it treats things. But since they are coming from a set of different set of historical literacy, iIt’s important to take context into account when dealing with historical anime titles. Think about it, how many people actually knew what the “House of Toyotomi” was when it was mentioned in "Ninja Scroll"...really?

The Meiji restoration is increasingly being seen and reflected in pop-art as something that was somewhere fundamentally was "done wrong". There’s a notion that there was a serious degree of “Japanese-ness” that was left behind in the Meiji that could have otherwise been brought into the modern time we have today if things were different. Of course anyone who knows the political climate of the Meiji and the history of Japan up to 1945, knows that this notion is total bullshit. One of the series that treats the Meiji restoration realistically (though it takes liberties in a lot of areas, not just historical), is actually Ruroni Kenshin. A side note: I remember talking to Black Belt TV when they mentioned they were licensing Ruroni Kenshin for broadcast, and I thought that it might be a tough property for them since they were looking for programming for 21+something men who like UFC and hot chicks. Apparently they based their decision to license the entire series from watching 10 min of the first episode... They looked at the opening sequence, and judged a 50+ episode series based entirely on that. And people wonder why TV is all fucked up.

It's a soap opera, not "Akira with swords"

Even in the Kenshin OVA, Kenshin’s decision to choose a side is very relevant to the era’s political climate, which if you’re a guy like him you just can’t escape (though this is lost on American audiences who only want blood and guts). Ruroni Kenshin is worth a another watch if you try looking at it from a historical perspective. One thing I disliked about Ruroni Kenshin though, is that it had all the late 1990’s weaboos trying to use terms like “dono” and “gozaru” in Japanese, which sound stupid, since in Japanese this way of speaking died out a century ago (it would be like a modern English speaker using terminology from the Victorian era).

Apart from older history, anyone familiar with the political and cultural climate of Japan during the 1980’s, should find Akira a very special level of fascinating.

Also, I know I keep mentioning this, but the interview with TM Revolution is coming soon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Countdown to the Tokyo Anime Fair

1 week from Today.

This year I will be at the TAF starting March 18. I like the TAF. I was once denied this in ’04 when the sleaze in charge of the NY office actually stole and hid my ticket that the board bought and paid for, so that he could go by himself in order to skip the fair and go to soapland. So I up and went to the Ingram show in Nashville on the same days… oh goody.

Anyway, I shall soon be reporting the goings on of the epicenter of all things anime. If anyone is interested in the exhibitor list, it can be found here. That’s a lot of booths to hit up in 2 days before the place gets really crowded after the general admission begins. This event is part showcase, part trade show, and part p.r. extravaganza, all designed to both show the world that anime is doing fine, and secretly find a way to stop the ever impending doom that is haunting the industry by finding this year’s holy grail full of money.

Stand by for some video and other kinds of stuff at !PoN. Should be some good stuff.


According to an article I read in the last week of February in the daily Yomiuri, it would seem that there is going to be a live action version of Fruits Basket. Now this is more than what you think a live action would be, because this is actually a stage show. Now I don’t know if this is because of Fruits Basket director Akitaro Daiichi’s penchant for doing Chambara on stage (I don’t think he’s involved), but it does follow a Japanese tradition of sorts of bringing anime titles to the stage. While not exactly the same as the atrocious Disney musicals we are seeing on Broadway at the moment it does exemplify a kind of osmosis of how popular culture, entertainment, and fandom, all work. The membrane between what, by American otaku definitions, is anime and what is not anime in Japanese culture is a very busy two way street. The concept of what makes anime unique, is much more imbedded into the American market since there is a huge sprawling domestic creative landscape to compare it to. Such is not so in anime’s home stadium, where Hana Yori Dango or Maison Ikokku are still Hana Yori Dango and Maison Ikokku when made into a live action TV show.

It’s an all male cast. I will not be checking that out.