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Darkest Before Duskmon (Digimon Frontier: Episode 21)

(Check out my previous Digimon Frontier episode review HERE)

This episode begins in media res as Duskmon, the H Spirit Legendary Warrior of Darkness, faces off against the five Digidestined in their Beast Spirit Evolutions. In the past, the Beast Spirits of Earth and Wood, Gigasmon and Petaldramon, were no match for the Digidestined when in their own Beast Spirit forms. As Duskmon is only in his weaker H Spirit form one would imagine that this battle would go relatively smoothly and he would be defeated rather quickly. However, Duskmon lays waste to his opponents without breaking a sweat. He is within his domain and as we will later learn, his Spirit of Darkness is not the true form of the Legendary Warrior’s power that he commands.

No, Duskmon has been corrupted by darkness and the evil within his heart preys upon his senses and emotions in its all-consuming manner, which makes his H Spirit form stronger than even a Beast Spirit (which is a Mega-equivalent form). Duskmon’s H Spirit is even stronger than five Beast Spirits, which means his power level is well above that of your average Mega and would presumably, therefore, challenge even the Dark Emperor Cherubimon’s strength if they ever came to blows.

The Digidestined fail to make a dent in Duskmon’s defenses even with coordinated attacks and teamwork, and as such, Takuya gets annoyed and rushes in to fight on his own, which only gets him knocked out. When he comes to, his friends have reverted to their H Spirit forms to capitalize on increased agility and BurningGreymon rushes in and uses his strongest fire attack to toast Duskmon. Takuya believes he has defeated Duskmon, but Koji went sword to sword with their enemy and knows he has been holding back throughout the entire battle, so he suggests they run away for the time being to regroup and come up with a better plan. Everyone listens to Koji, much to Takuya’s chagrin as he believes, illicitly, he has defeated Duskmon for good.

After the Digidestined escape and bed down for the night far away from where they encountered Duskmon, J.P. lights a fire and talks with Zoe for a time about their team dynamics. He recognizes that its a good thing to have a hot-head like Takuya and a cool, calculating figure like Koji on their team as it helps their team to be dynamic like the very fire beneath his feet, which would go out if smothered by too much wood or if the wood was packed too closely together. The moment serves as romantic sort of character development meeting between himself and Zoe, as well as a counterpoint to Koji and Takuya who still don’t understand that their team’s strength lies precisely in its multitude of voices and opinions.

During this time, Takuya has been making a plan for a new attack formation against Duskmon. Tommy finds Takuya in the woods after his planning and learns of the new objective, which he immediately champions to the others. Tommy does this because he looks up to Takuya as a brother figure more than any of the other Digidestined and even hero-worships the guy to an extent. When they emerge from the woods, Takuya presents the plan, which involves a well-thought out flank attack with elements of surprise thrown in. Koji, however, requests a private audience with Takuya where he reminds his comrade that this is no game and that if they fail in their fight against Duskmon that could spell the end for them all. Koji’s focus on death is important here as the kids really could be killed in the Digital World and are not necessarily bound to win just because they are Digidestined. Takuya counters by saying he trusts in their ability to work as a team and that Duskmon will track them down no matter how far they run anyway.

This argument is compelling and almost sways Koji, but he has the firsthand knowledge of actually battling Duskmon hand to hand, and is thereby sure that they could in no way defeat him given their current power levels and the vast differential of that power versus Duskmon’s. The argument ends when the two hear their friends fighting in the distance. It seems Duskmon appeared at the least opportune time possible.

Tommy, Zoe, and J.P. Spirit Evolve into their B Spirits as Korikakumon, Zephyrmon, and MetalKabuterimon before holding off Duskmon long enough for their friends to arrive and join in. Koji arrives as KendoGarurumon and Takuya as Agunimon. The latter approaches Duskmon and finds his attacks wanting just as did Koji before him. He instead holds Duskmon in place long enough for his comrades to launch their most potent weapons toward the Legendary Warrior of Darkness. And again, not a dent to his defenses, Duskmon returns the blow by striking his sword across the mid-section of Agunimon, but Koji shows himself to be a true team player by jumping in to intervene and take the blow himself. This nearly cleaves him in twain, leaving his friends thumbing in awe and terror that Koji has almost been killed. Takuya, especially, is upset and expresses his fear and sadness at his friend’s current state by calling out his name.

And then an odd thing occurs. Duskmon, after hearing the name ‘Koji’, begins speaking it to himself. He finds some part of himself, deep within rebelling against all his attempts to finish the battle. And he understands not why his mind recoils so to this name, which means nothing to him as far as he can tell. Duskmon ceases his attacks and a ring of darkness escapes from around his body, enveloping all those in its perimeter. Takuya falls into a deep state of depression and self-loathing in the knowledge that his actions may have killed his friend and brother in arms Koji. And as if in the Dark Ocean, he is transported to another area of the Dark continent where a voice speaks to him and tells him he is being delivered to the the Dark Terminal where a DarkTrailmon waits for him if he wishes to return back home to the Real World.

Takuya seemingly takes this option and leaves his friends behind so as to avoid responsibility for jeopardizing their lives ever again. The irony is that without one of the Legendary Warriors of light, the Digidestined team is all the weaker and may in fact be at a dangerous disadvantage without Takuya, no matter how haughty and hot-headed he can be.

 

Ciao for now,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

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I want to eat your pancreas

Through Fathom Events previews online and in theaters, I’ve been hearing about this film constantly for around four or five months. And during that entire time, I was probably- like many of you- very confused about what this film was. The title’s implication brings to mind immediately concepts like cannibalism and horror, while the previews show a seemingly innocent high school romance between two kids with no violence or guro aspects at all. The film’s theme song seems cheerful, inspirational, but with a solemnity hidden deeper therein and the tears that abound throughout the trailers demonstrate this darker side of the romance hinted at therein to be true. So when I went in to watch the film a few days ago, I was definitely in for a surprise.

But first, the specs. The film was released in September 2018, so the American theatrical audience is getting this film pretty quickly for an anime. It is based on a 2014 novel by Japanese writer Yoru Sumino and has hitherto been adapted into two other mediums before becoming an animated film. These include a long-running manga adaptation from 2016-2017 and a live-action feature film in late 2017. The property proved popular and lucrative, so Studio VOLN bought the anime adaptation rights and set studio director Shinichiro Ushijima as head director on the project.

If you haven’t heard of VOLN, or ‘Visiting Old Learn New’ (a sentiment that reflects the studio’s desire to simultaneously create work within a larger tradition of anime classics while also experimenting and embracing new technology), then you’re not alone. They are a very new studio, which was founded in late 2014 by Mita Keiji, an ex-Studio Madhouse director and producer. And thus far, most of their projects were financially assisted by brother ex-Madhouse Studio MAPPA and Masao Maruyama. VOLN is just getting its legs fiscally, but with I want to eat your pancreas, they have a good first international hit critically and financially that should bode well for the studio’s future if they can keep up the quality of work and their commitment to both the future and the past of anime history.

As for the film itself, it begins in the manner any art film adaptation of the source novel might: with a funeral. By beginning in this manner, the audience is primed toward a solemn, reflective, and emotional frame of mind that carries on throughout the remainder of the film. From here, the events flash back to the time our two young protagonists first meet. The boy, whose name will not be revealed until close to end of the film for certain dramatic, thematic, and narrative reasons (a trifecta of considerations this film really nails) is at the hospital getting stitches removed from a previous surgery: an appendectomy. There, this quiet, introverted, bookish young man finds a handwritten book abandoned on a nearby seat. He picks it up and leafs through the pages of the self-titled tome ‘Living with Dying’. These are the thoughts of a terminally ill person that he has managed to accidentally enter into.

A girl flags him down and tells him that the book is hers. The two just so happen to be classmates and the girl is not known to be ill by her fellows at school. The boy originally thinks this to be some elaborate kind of prank, but she ensures him that it is not. She has a terminal pancreatic condition, a disease of the pancreas that will inevitably lead to her untimely death in a few short years from now. Only her parents, close family, and physician know about her illness, but now the boy knows and the girl feels somewhat relieved. She asks him if he will keep her secret and he agrees, especially since he has no one to tell the secret to anyway. The boy has no friends and has never had a girlfriend. He is a loner, but now this girl has entered his life.

It begins when she visits him in the library where he works part time. She bugs him all constantly to learn more about him. She even starts coming by all the time and eventually tells him the fable at the heart of the film’s title: In the past, it was said that eating the heart of an animal would help someone with a weak heart. Eating a liver would help someone with liver disease. The girl practices this ethos by consuming organ meat like hearts, livers, and offal at her favorite yakiniku, or skewered meat, restaurants in town. Playfully, she tells the boy that she wants to eat his pancreas, of course being tongue-in-cheek, but also reflecting her vitality and will to live. The friendship begins to expand as she drags the boy along with her from place to place and date to date before it eventually becomes a heartfelt friendship that transcends labels like best friend or boyfriend and girlfriend.

They enjoy each other’s company and help to build each other up. The boy by being there for her and doing things with her without an ulterior motive like sexual attraction or the more romantic view towards planning a future together. The girl by bringing the boy out of his shell and making him more outgoing, by seeing him for who he truly is and learning to love him despite his flaws. Events unfold unexpectedly time and again, before the final event which neither saw coming despite the girl’s illness and the boy is left alone once again.

I want to eat your pancreas is a beautiful little uplifting film with large-scale implications about our default modes of behavior toward other people based on the situation. It’s a portrait of love in its many vicissitudes that leaves you feeling emotionally drained, but stronger in your convictions to go forward bravely into this new world where the nexus of social relations and connections is shifting so rapidly that it can lead many to social inertia, to just dropping out of the social game (something I arguably did for around three years until late last year). And it pressures us to treasure all our benign relationships with others, no matter how fleeting, even by design (such as terminal illness, or meeting friends in a foreign country even if your stay is short, or at a local school even if you are moving soon). I loved the film, and I hope you do too.

 

With love,

Cody

Urusei Yatsura: Only You

(Catch my review of Oshii’s early career HERE)

Anime director and auteur Mamoru Oshii began his career at Tatsunoko Productions in 1977 where he was mentored under that studio’s head director before making the move along with him to Studio Pierrot in 1980. There Mamoru Oshii helmed his first anime production as head director on the critically-acclaimed and beloved Rumiko Takahashi adaptation Urusei Yatsura (for its first 106 episodes). By 1983, the Studio decided it was time to make a bold move into the feature film market with an adaptation of a new story within the Urusei Yatsura universe. And Oshii was the obvious choice to direct the film.

The film follows the exploits of Ataru Moroboshi, a young earthling, who is inexplicably the love interest for one of the universe’s most eccentric, powerful, and beautiful woman: the Oni princess Lum Invader. This film in particular begins with an art nouveau sequence in which only reds, blacks, and whites are utilized to animate a sequence from Ataru’s deep past. Therein, he and a mystery girl romp about a playground together eleven years in the past. We learn that the little girl is from an alien planet, like Lum, with its own culture and practices. One of which, and the most important in reference to the events of this film, is the engagement ritual in which a young suitor steps on the shadow of his would-be beloved. This signals his interest in the girl and thereby engages the two, and as luck would have it, Ataru is a very mediocre kid with a very unlikely past indeed as he stepped on this girl’s shadow at that time.

Years pass, and we are thrown back into the current world of Urusei Yatsura wherein Ataru runs about whimsically avoiding becoming Lum’s groom at all costs and through any gambit he can muster up (understandable for any real high school kid being pursued romantically by an alien, but infuriating for any young weebs like myself who can only dream of such a glorious fate!). Where was I again? Oh yeah: a mysterious message is sent to practically every person who knows Ataru on Earth, which relates his engagement and immanent marriage to a girl named Elle. His friends, already jealous of Lum’s affections for Ataru, are incredulous that Ataru would go behind Lum’s back and get himself engaged to another girl. Ataru is confused as he does not remember the events of eleven years ago, and anyway would most likely find them banal and not truly pact-worthy in nature.

And yet, Lady Elle has grown into a beautiful young woman who now reigns as Queen over her subjects as the ruler of the largest and most powerful planet in the galaxy system. Ataru is smitten immediately, which serves as the film’s primary conflict for most of its 100-minute run time of wily adventuring, boisterous action, wry comedy, and occasional musical sequence (which are all done surprisingly well). First Ataru willingly leaves with Elle’s entourage only for Lum and her friends to kidnap him and spirit him away to her own home planet where an impromptu wedding ceremony is planned. Elle’s spies steal Ataru back, almost causing a potentially cataclysmic war between the two planets for love on a scale far more weighty than Troy.

The spies eventually take Ataru successfully and he plans to marry Elle. But when Elle first sees the young man after 11 years, she mistakes him for one of Ataru’s friends in the group named Mendou Shintaru, which later leads to a midnight rendezvous avec les deux that results in Mendou learning about Elle’s secret cache of 99,999 frozen, handsome young men she keeps cryogenically frozen to preserve their youth and their love for her. The Queen is crazy after all. When Ataru finds all of this out, he refuses to wed with such a pernicious and seemingly evil alien broad, and is saved in the nick of time once more by Lum who is now welcomed with open arms as her entourage cause chaos on Elle’s home planet where the wedding ceremony takes place. Unfortunately for Ataru, once again, when he arrives home, he is immediately deposited within a large church where the vows are to be made between himself and Lum on the spot. Ataru runs for his life, and his freedom, out of chapel and prolongs of the saga of Urusei Yatsura once more for an indefinite period thereby.

Mamoru Oshii called Urusei Yatsura: Only You a failure of a film. However, artists in any medium are known to often be overly critical of their own work, and especially of their first work. As this was Oshii’s first feature-length project as a director, we really ought to take his admonitions of failure with a grain of salt and view the film on its own terms.

The first question is what should a film be? If the answer is taken historically and realistically in terms of what films succeed and are remembered, I would say a film is good if that film properly entertains an audience for its full run-time, if a film adaptation of a previously existing franchise fits well into that franchise, if critics like it, and if it is becomes a cult film at some future date. There are, no doubt, many other criterion one might add to this list, but these are at least important ones to reflect upon in the context of Urusei Yatsura: Only You. 

I found the film to be extremely engaging and fun at times as a mere romp, while also aesthetically pleasing and artfully made in terms of animation. While not an intellectual effort on par with later Oshii films, there is a particularly good surreal sequence in which Ataru, Elle, Lum, and various others rewatch the inciting memory of eleven years prior and even interact with its characters: the child Ataru and Elle. This is a novel and interesting melange of reality and memory that prefigures much of Oshii’s later work. The film is definitely of the spirit of the larger franchise and has received favorable critical attention in the years since its release. And while not the cult film that’s its sequel Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer is, there are few anime films from the early 1980s that regularly receive releases in the Western home video market that do not simultaneously have something to do with Studio’s Ghibli or Madhouse. Plus, if you’re really into romantic-comedy action sci-fi series and can’t find a single one other than Tenchi Muyo, here’s a film for you.

 

Ciao,

Cody Ward

[Next up: the first OVA Dallos]

From Dawn to Duskmon (Digimon Frontier: Episode 20)

(Check out my previous review HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

Arbormon finally returns back to the lair of the Legendary Warriors of Darkness, where he commences weight-training to get into the proper headspace for battle. Mercurymon enters the room and begins to insult Arbormon’s intelligence using terminology that Arbormon does not understand and thereby Mercurymon has his fun whilst preventing lighting a fire or provoking the ire of his dim-witted companion. Duskmon, however, understands Mercurymon completely and later picks up on one of the would-be thespian’s exterior monologues reflecting his wishes to hide the Seraphimon Fractal Code from Cherubimon and to later use it’s powers to become the Dark Lord of the Digital World himself.

Despite the fact that Duskmon has not yet fought any of the Digidestined and has remained on the sidelines, presumably planning some machinations for their later defeats, he is still a devoted follower of Cherubimon. As such, he relates the information he overheard from Mercurymon to Cherubimon who later summons his Legendary Warriors and requests all of their Fractal Code. Mercurymon, of course, withholds the Seraphimon code, and Cherubimon intimates to Mercurymon that he knows all about the data and will allow Mercurymon to keep it in trust for the time being, but will take this data anytime he sees fit in the future.

Elsewhere, the Digidestined have come to the end of the line for their Trailmon companion who has plenty of track ahead on which he could travel, but decides to end the journey abruptly. The reason? They are fast approaching the Dark Gate to the Dark Continent, which is an accursed space that no Digimon is known to have entered and escaped. Bokomon’s book of legends has a page about this territory. Unfortunately, the pages are completely blank as if no one had ever been able to fill these pages with a firsthand account. As this route is dangerous, Bokomon suggest they avoid entering it, but Takuya reasons that this path is the fastest one toward the Rose Morning Star and furthermore that they are five Legendary Warriors all with Beast Spirits who probably would be able to handle anything they encountered within the Continent of Darkness. As Beast Spirits are Mega-level equivalents in terms of power, Takuya is right here because they’re most powerful opponent, Cherubimon, is still only one Mega-level Digimon.

They head through the Dark Gate and into a pitch black morass of forested terrain. However, after a few minutes, the Digidestined gang come across a glade with glowing moss, which they investigate and eventually pick up as a light source to help them see their way through the forest. There are Digimon in the Dark Continent that seem to be trailing the Digidestined everywhere they go. And when the group reaches a cave, the Digimon start repeating everything the Digidestined team says, even tongue twisters, to a tee. Koji throws his moss in the direction of the voices and reveals a group of bat-like Pipismon who are adept at mimicking sounds, are known to be docile by Bokomon, and are even somewhat cute by Zoe’s standards.

Just as the Digidestined begin to enter the cave, Arbormon appears and threatens to defeat the Digidestined once and for all. First he destroys the Pipismon and absorbs their Fractal Code for extra energy before Slide Evolving into his Beast Spirit evolution as Petaldramon. And for the first time ever, the Digidestined do the most rational thing in response: they all Spirit Evolve to their highest level. BurningGreymon, KendoGarurumon, MetalKabuterimon, Zephyrmon, and Korikakumon all battle against Petaldramon to greater or lesser effect until the plant dragon Digimon consumes a few trees and thereby expands in size and power to a level beyond the other Legendary Warriors present. The effort all looks for naught as our heroes strain under the bondage of Petaldramon’s vines and malicious attacks until BurningGreymon uses his fire powers to free himself and then slowly the Digidestined combine their efforts to incapacitate Petaldramon at each turn by striking at vines, his tongue, his arms, and eventually flipping the big lizard on his back before doling out a decisive blow.

Petaldramon’s Fractal Code displays itself and KendoGarurumon Slide Evolves into Lobomon to absorb this data along with Petaldramon’s Beast Spirit of Wood. Petaldramon reverts to Arbormon and suddenly Duskmon appears from out of the surrounding darkness. Arbormon welcomes his comrade who is surely there only to help out in the battle at hand. Yet, Duskmon immediately cuts Arbormon in half and absorbs the remainder of his Fractal Code as well as his H Spirit of Wood, which defeats Arbormon totally and leaves only three Legendary Warriors of Darkness for the Digidestined to defeat. The audience is meant to have a feeling that Duskmon will be more powerful than any of the previous Legendary Warriors of Darkness, besides maybe Mercurymon whose reflective powers are seemingly impenetrable.

What’s even worse is that the Digidestined are all out of their element while Duskmon is within his domain as the principal Legendary Warrior of Darkness. We know he is of superior intellect as he understands the speech and intentions of Mercurymon quite well. We also know that Duskmon is mysterious and may have many powers that could prove surprising and thereby effective against the Digidestined, especially after their battle with Petaldramon that left them somewhat drained and weaker than if they had been going into this next battle fresh. Finally, we do not know if Duskmon has a Beast Spirit. But if he does, it would come as no surprise if that plus his advantage in the domain of darkness gave him the decisive advantage in this particular situation.

And well, we all know who the Legendary Warrior of Darkness truly is because no spoiler goes unspoiled for a series that has been around for over fifteen years. But for the purposes of this particular review series, I won’t give any of that away yet in the hopes that those who have not yet watched this series will do so and follow along with me.

 

Ciao for now,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

You Want Fries with That? (Digimon Frontier: Episode 19)

(Catch the previous review HERE)

Since Petaldramon’s defeat a few episodes back, he has once again been out of the picture. At the beginning of this episode, we get a sense of how tired he is of fighting against the Digidestined because he has seemingly left his old party as a member of the Legendary Warriors of Darkness and has instead created his own legion of Chamelemon and set up a secluded forest hideout within a large mansion on the outskirts of Hamburger Village. His motives have changed from helping Cherubimon to fracture the Digital World further and instead, Petaldramon and his troop’s new objective is to eat as much good food for free as they can by using their brute strength and numbers to thereby live off  of the land through force.

The episode opens as the Chamelemon and Petaldramon enter the Village in the dead of night, seek out and find the town’s best chef, consume all his burgers to taste test their quality for themselves, and then kidnap the Champion-level Burgermon to bring back to their hideout as their personal chef. However, this head chef has a wife Burgermon and many young TorikawaBallmon children who he must support and protect. They plead with Petaldramon to return their father, but Petaldramon merely responds that he will be back on the next night that the Digital World’s three moons overlap in the night sky, and if the mother can create a better burger than the one’s made by her chef husband, then he might consider returning the head chef.

The Digidestined enter town with their previously-won all you can eat burger tickets from the Great Trailmon Race in the hopes of stuffing and engorging themselves to near bursting with hamburgers. However, they learn about the Chamelemon from the family of the Burgermon who was abducted and decide that to eat the best burgers, they must first help out in some way and return the old chef to his home. Zoe decides that they ought to create their own new burger recipes for the Chamelemon to try out so that they can follow them back to their lair, defeat them and their master, and return the head chef back home. Unfortunately, none the Digidestined have any experience cooking and as such, Takuya and Koji’s new recipes are horrendous, and J.P. and Zoe’s are only so-so. However, Tommy accidentally drops the onions he dices for his burger into a boiler, which cooks them in an ideal manner and then he accidentally drops them into salad dressing. The result is a sauce that tastes delicious and unique, which goes perfect on a burger.

The Chamelemon arrive that night., try the burgers, and immediately kidnap J.P., Zoe, and Tommy, while the TorikawaBallmon follow behind in the shadows attempting to help in any way they can. The group eventually arrive at the large mansion in the forest where they are incarcerated into a kitchen with iron bars where the head chef has been preparing food for some time: none of which has managed to assuage Petaldramon’s hunger in the least. What’s worse is that the TorikawaBallmon are captured and also incarcerated within a bird cage. As Tommy teaches the head chef how to prepare his new burger recipe, Petaldramon gets antsy and requests a burger immediately, giving the crew no time to finish their work. As such, Tommy and the others immediately Spirit Evolve into their H Spirit forms as Kumamon, Beetlemon, and Kazemon, free the TorikawaBallmon with whose help they locate the camouflaged Chamelemon, defeat them, absorb their Fractal Codes, and then  watch as they revert to Armadillomon and scamper off into the woods environs.

Next Petaldramon arrives and the Digidestined Slide Evolve into their B Spirit forms as Korikakumon, MetalKabuterimon, and Zephyrmon, which allows them to defeat their foe once again. The Burgermon finishes his masterpiece burgers and tells the weakened Petaldramon to go to the kitchen to consume them. He does so, eats them, and immediately falls asleep for a long nap, which is undisturbed even as the Digidestined destroy his mansion and the rubble falls all around him. The Digidestined return to Hamburger Village with the Burgermon and TorikawaBallmon in tow where they are well-received by their fellow Burgermon and the Digidestined seemingly have a place to stay for the night as well as the possibility of redeeming their Hamburger Village meal tickets at the best eatery in town.

Unlike the town in the previous episode, Hamburger Village is only seen at night and for very brief moments during the day when the Digidestined arrive. Therefore, we learn little about the daily goings on in the town and about the variety and number of Digimon living and working therein. World-building of this ilk is always an interesting matter when watching these episodes of Digimon Frontier that are mostly filler in nature, as not much else is going on. The Digidestined all have their Beast Spirit and Human Spirits, have not yet arrived at their next destination The Rose Morning Star, and are unable or unwilling to finish off Petaldramon, which would be important plot point that they could have easily accomplished in this episode after defeating him. Furthermore, we hear nothing more from Ophanimon over the D-Tectors and learn nothing more about the backstory of the series or about Cherubimon, and our characters don’t even really develop any throughout this episode in terms of character.

It is always cool to learn more about the Digimon native to the Digital World of the Frontier Universe like the Burgermon who have both Rookie and Champion-level forms that are both referred to as Burgermon. And that the previously seen EbiBurgamon is a Rookie-level variant form with Shrimp based attacks. Or that TorikawaBallmon Digivolve into Burgermon and that Armadillomon can Armor Digivolve into things like Chamelemon. This episode also tells us that Arbormon/Petaldramon’s interests lie less in destroying the Digital World and more in living a comfortable life wherein he can have fun through battle and eating. But beyond that, there is very little of interest in this episode that helps move along the plot in any tangible manner.

 

Ciao for now,

The Digidestined

[Continued HERE]

Trailmon vs. Trailmon (Digimon Frontier: Episode 18)

(Check out the previous review HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

This is quite possibly the most fun episode of Digimon Frontier ever made and for years I mistook this episode in my embellished, half-memory for a short film from the Digimon Tamers series called Runaway Locomon. However, this episode is at least on par with that episode for pure entertainment value alone.

The Digidestined have boarded a Trailmon heading in the general direction of the Rose Morning Star where the next episode of their journey will commence. They are all oddly talking to their unresponsive Beast Spirits within their D-Tectors and Bokomon is speaking to the DigiEgg of Seraphimon as if he its mother, much to the confusion of J.P. and Neemon who find themselves currently within the out of place position as the voices of reason. A train salesman enters their train car pushing along a cart full of burgers and candy and other food and snacks for sale. The attendant is an EbiBurgamon (or Shrimp-Burger Digimon) whose wares entice Zoe most of all (despite her having already eaten thirty plates of food in the previous town where the Autumn Leaf Fair was held). As none amongst the Digidestined party have Digidollars, they all must grit their teeth and bear their hunger until they reach the next town however.

Once they arrive in another bustling Digi-tropolis (based upon Monaco), they find that a big event is being undertaken called the Great Trailmon Race. Each Trailmon has an attendant/rider who aids the Trailmon as a smaller partner in the race. As the prize is purported to be cheeseburgers, Zoe jumps at the chance to pilot a Trailmon in the race when she hears that one’s partner has not shown up on time. Unfortunately, a ShadowWereGarurumon and his partner Doggymon get there first and commandeer the Trailmon for themselves. The pair are whimsical with an edge of danger and dastardly tactics, and are obviously modeled on Dick Dastardly and Muttley from beloved Hannah-Barbara cartoon series Wacky Races. This can be corroborated by the fact that this episode’s Japanese title is directly taken from the Japanese name of the Hannah-Barbara cartoon: Chiki Chiki Machine Mou Race. 

As ShadowWereGarurumon and Doggymon take over the Trailmon, all of the other appointed racers at the meet run in fear of being destroyed during the race by this demickey duo of dastardly dogs. As such, all five Digidestined and Neemon are able to pilot their Trailmon as partners in the race. A Piddomon (an Angemon variant with red highlights where Angemon’s are blue) moderates and commentates on the race as it unfolds through straight and curved runways, tight tunnels and turns overlooking canyon precipices, and various traps set along the way.

The entire event begins at a bad start as Neemon falls asleep before the race even begins and is immediately disqualified. Later, J.P. will run into a Raremon on the tracks that halts his progress: potentially because the Raremon is too big to fit inside a Trailmon and was thereby annoyed he could not be a part of the race, so he decided to sabotage a racer instead. Zoe’s cart becomes unusable, and Koji and Tommy’s eventually derail and fall into one of the precipices along the way, leaving only Takuya and his wily foes. As they pass through a tunnel, Takuya’s Trailmon falls into a hole along one of the remaining tracks. DemiMeramon live within the cave, and after the dastardly duo depart its main chamber, Trailmon begins to leak gasoline, which is ignited by the little Fire-spirit DemiMeramon.

All throughout the race, the Digidestined use their H Spirit and B Spirit (as a last resort) forms to aid their progress and prevent themselves from being defeated too early on in the race. This works to greater or lesser effect depending on the Digidestined and on the particular events at hand. However, for Takuya, he is able to use his Beast Spirit, BurningGreymon, to escape the cave, torch the opposition, and thereby win the rally. And don’t worry. If you are interested in watching this episode, but believe I may have spoiled something by giving this information away, knowing the outcome does not in any way lesser the experience of watching this episode, which is about as perfect and as entertaining as entertainment can get (at least in my eyes).

At the end of the race, Takuya and his Trailmon are given a one-year supply of Digi-Lube with which to keep the Trailmon running, as well as passes into the Digimon Hamburger Village for Takuya and all of his friends. Zoe finds this latter bit of information troubling as she was led to believe by onlookers of the race before its beginning that she would win cheeseburgers and hamburgers directly after winning the race. Unfortunately, this is not the case and the Digidestined must travel once more to reach a new destination before they are afforded this opportunity to chow down on all-you-can-eat hamburgers.

Before moving on and ending this episode review, I would like to mention something about this town. As it is modeled on a real European principality, the city feels as if it has a real internal consistency and logic and life of its own. There are tons of Digimon littering the streets here. And unlike the city from the previous episode wherein the Autumn Leaf Festival was housed, most of the Digimon here are Champion-level and below. There are a handful of Ultimate-level and Armor Digimon, but no Mega-level Digimon and no Golden Armor Digimon, which means this town makes sense with the events of the series wherein Cherubimon and his evil forces have been destroying the Digital World and any OP Digimon of conscience ought to be banding together to battle the evil forces that threaten to destroy their world.

Furthermore, this city contains Digimon never before seen anywhere in the anime like the red variant MegaKabuterimon, the red variant Angemon Piddomon, and the dark variant ShadowWereGarurumon. We see the first train workers in the EbiBurgamon and find out that they have a corresponding village all their own. There are tons of Trailmon variants, and a few we have not seen hitherto. And we see a cave wherein the native Digimon are DemiMeramon who we recognize by their Champion-level form Meramon and potentially from some Digimon games previously but never in the anime. These variants and new Digimon help to create a sense of world-building unlike anything we’ve seen thus far in Digimon Frontier and hearken back to original Villages in Digimon Adventure.

 

Ciao for now,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

Bizarre Bazaar (Digimon Frontier: Episode 17)

(Catch the previous episode review HERE)

As the Digidestined travel upon their raft along a rapid river current, Arbormon awakens beneath the ocean where he was left after Grumblemon’s defeat and the subsequent cave-in a few episodes back. Arbormon appears unscathed as if he had just taken a long nap, and he is somehow alive despite having been under water for quite some time. This would make sense if Arbormon were the Legendary Warrior of Water. However, he is the Legendary Warrior of Wood, and there are no trees that can grow and survive whilst completely submerged in water as they require sunlight. And while earlier Digimon shows played a bit with the rules of their series, they were at least internally consistent and did not play so fast and loose. The reasons why this season is considered the worst of the first four are becoming more apparent with each episode I watch.

As the Digidestined reach the Autumn Leaf Fair, the Toucanmon begin to depart with the camera they traded for the D-Tectors. The town is full of Digimon of all levels from Baby to Mega. This is to expected of a large trading fair, but is once again unsettling as the entire Digital World is currently at under threat of destruction by Cherubimon and there are many Digimon present who could easily help in this battle against evil. There are fourteen Ultimate level Digimon at the fair including very powerful ones like Phantomon, Etemon, Myotismon, Lilymon, Piximon, Taomon, and Vademon. There are seven armor Digimon including the Mega-level equivalent Golden Armor Digimon Kongoumon. Finally, there are three Mega-level Digimon: Jijimon and Babamon (arguably not fit for fighting) and the Royal Knight Gallantmon who could defeat any of the Legendary Warriors of Evil even when in their Beast Spirit forms and potentially even Cherubimon himself. The team who helmed Frontier no doubt just populated this event with tons of recognizable Digimon without giving pause to think about this inconsistency or even without explaining it away as a group of selfish Digimon who only care about turning a profit.

The Digidestined immediately begin searching every shop and stall in town as soon as they arrive, but find no leads on the whereabouts of their D-Tectors. J.P. and Zoe take a 30-plate Restaurant challenge that J.P. surprisingly loses as Zoe wins and is rewarded with a handful of train tickets for use all Trailmon lines in the Digital World. Tommy finds a little hole in the wall shop run by a Datamon more obsessed with playing an arcade machine game than making sales. The game is a Space Invaders variant in which the good guy is a Togemon shooting spikes toward enemy Pagumon. And Datamon is absolutely terrible at the game.

As such, Tommy intervenes, reassuring Datamon that he is a great gamer who has had tons of experience playing video games back in the Real World. And Tommy’s no joke after all as he quickly ascends through levels to reach the final mothership boss and manages to beat the game. A cartridge is released from the system as a prize and Datamon immediately stores it away in a locker behind the counter of his shop. A locker wherein the four D-Tectors are spied by Tommy. Tommy tells Datamon that they belong to he and his friends, but Datamon refuses to return them. However, Tommy is persistent and manages to get Datamon to relent just a tad. Datamon promises to hold the D-Tectors for up to an hour while Tommy goes out and searches for something to trade for them.

Luckily, Tommy quickly runs into the Toucanmon on the outskirts of the city and is able to chase them down and take the camera, which they drop when falling through the ice and into the waters below. Tommy is too good-hearted unfortunately and he goes back to save the Toucanmon who reward his kindness by immediately taking back the camera and running away. Neemon saw Tommy leave town and reported this to Takuya and Koji who, as a team, go to the outskirts of town and find Tommy crying. They console him and after learning of his ordeal head off toward Datamon’s shop. But Arbormon, who tracked down the Toucanmon and Datamon arrives first with the Toucanmon in a sack. He plans to trade back the camera to Datamon for the D-Tectors, but Datamon checks out the camera first and finds a short film thereon that shows Tommy saving the Toucanmon from drowning. He refuses Arbormon’s trade deal, so he Slide Evolves into Petaldramon, destroys the shop and beats up Datamon before the Digidestined can arrive on the scene (sans J.P. and Zoe who are still out at the eating competition).

Datamon gives Tommy his D-Tector, which has been upgraded with the data that was within the cartridge from Space Invaders: the B Spirit of Ice! Tommy immediately Spirit Evolves into his new form as Korikakumon and doles out a beating to Petaldramon for a time before losing control of his Beast Spirit and becoming trapped in Petaldramon’s vines. Datamon returns Takuya and Koji’s D-Tectors, and they Spirit Evolve into Agunimon and Lobomon, respectively, to free their friend from Petaldramon’s bondage. Why they don’t just Spirit Evolve into BurningGreymon and KendoGarurumon to help destroy Petaldramon for good? One reason could be that they wish to only aid Tommy and thereby allow him to take all the glory in this battle. The result is that Petaldramon retreats and is not destroyed right there and then. Overkill was the proper decision that Takuya and Koji once again refused to make, and thereby the proper answer to why they did not Spirit Evolve into their Beast Spirits is that they are idiots.

The episode ends as night falls and the Digidestined team have regrouped. Ophanimon speaks through their D-Tectors and tells them that they must make a choice right now to either return home or to continue their journeys as this is the point of no return. Everyone agrees to continue onward and they are advised to head next toward the Rose Morning Star, which is quite some distance away. But the team do have those train tickets Zoe and as such they use them now to get as far they can toward their destination. All five Legendary Warriors of Light now have Beast Spirit Mega-level equivalent forms. They have the egg of Seraphimon. But the Legendary Warriors of Darkness have only four members, three of which have Beast Spirits and one of which (Duskmon) is so aloof as to currently cause no problem for the Digidestined. Things are looking up.

 

Ciao for now,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

The Swiss Family Digimon (Digimon Frontier: Episode 16)

(Check out my previous Digimon Frontier episode review HERE. To go back to the beginning of this series click HERE)

The Swiss Family Robinson is a classic novel, which this episode’s title references. The story of this book is one of a schooner, which is shipwrecked somewhere near the isles of the East Indies. A family onboard decides to craft a makeshift raft out the remainder of their ship on which they sail to a nearby island. There, they work together to collect as many supplies as possible from the ship, including a wide array of livestock and food stuffs they were lucky to have. They build shelters and explore the island until they come to understand it’s ecology well enough to sustainably use its resources and to thereby live for as long as possible there until being rescued at the book’s end (though, notably, a few amongst their number decide to remain on the island).

The tale is a Christian allegory expressing the socialist ethic at the core of Jesus’ message: to share all resources amongst one another fairly to live a harmonious, communal existence without simultaneously pillaging the earth of its resources and instead being good shepherds and retainers of the world’s store and goods. As expected, this episode of Digimon has very little to do with such a message or ethos, and is instead so named merely as a pun on the fact that the Digidestined build a raft in this episode, despite its construction’s purpose being totally different from that of the aforementioned Robinson family from Switzerland.

The Digidestined are still searching for the wily Toucanmon who nabbed their D-Tectors during the last episode. J.P. and the other Digidestined boys are also reflecting on just how creepy they found Calmaramon to be and how they hope profusely that Zoe’s Beast Spirit will not be similarly monstrous and scary to set one’s upon. All the while, the Toucanmon recline on a cliff-side high above the Digidestined, where they debate what to do with the D-Tectors now that they have become disillusioned by Ranamon’s vicious Beast Spirit and have thereby revoked their memberships to the Ranamon fan club: Begone thot! They decide that they may be able to sell the D-Tectors to other members of Ranamon’s club who have not yet seen her new Beast Spirit form, and thereby fly off to a nearby island to deliberate once more upon the best place to seek out a buyer.

Zoe and the others see the Toucanmon flying through the sky towards the neighboring island and decide to swim off in pursuit. However, a group of Gomamon surround the Digidestined and warn them to return back to shore as there are a series of powerful whirlpools near the other island’s approach. These Gomamon explain that they once lived on the other island, but after a mysterious earthquake these whirlpools appeared that threaten to drag anyone who swims near them beneath the waves. What’s more, a few of their friends were still on the island at the time and have no way to escape. Zoe offers the Digidestined’s aid in returning the Gomamon to their island and into the fins of their friends once more. To do so, they construct a raft to approach the island, which is sturdy and big enough to avoid being pulled beneath the whirlpools.

All this time, Calmaramon has been back at her hideout training herself to master her Beast Spirit Evolution so that she can defeat the Digidestined once and for all. It comes as no surprise then that when the Legendary Warriors of Light approach the shore, a tidal wave appears and Ranamon within it who immediately attacks the crew. Zoe Spirit Evolves into Kazemon, but it once again no match for Ranamon who is within her element at sea as the Legendary Warrior of Water. Kazemon is dragged into a whirlpool, but finds a mysterious glowing light that leads her to a large clam shell that opens to reveal her Beast Spirit of Wind. Zoe emerges just as Ranamon attempts to destroy her friends, and then Beast Spirit evolves into Zephyrmon.

Unlike Calmaramon, Zephyrmon is physically attractive and far from monstrous. All the boys, and especially J.P., swoon as Ranamon goes on a tirade about how this new form means nothing because Ranamon still has a fan club who admires her beauty and Zoe has no such club. The argument is petty so Zephyrmon ignores it and instead begins to fight Ranamon who is forced to Slide Evolve into Calmaramon. Calmaramon has a new attack that involves spitting out acid ink toward her enemies. She directs this at the Gomamon and unarmed Digidestined below, which prompts Zephyrmon to block the attack and thereby take the hit. Her weakened state allows Calmaramon to capture Zephyrmon within her tentacular appendages and transform the mise-en-scene of the battle into an eldritch conflict between the sea peoples and the sky peoples.

Luckily, the other Digidestined have realized Calmaramon’s true weakness: her vanity. They insult her with a tirade of verbal abuse about how creepy she looks and thereby manage to distract her long enough for Zephyrmon to escape her grasp and begin her own attacks anew. Calmaramon decides to use her most powerful spinning top attack to diffuse the situation, but it seems she has still been unable to control this power and instead spins offscreen into the distance, once more finding herself ineffective through lack of control.

The Gomamon thank the Digidestined for returning them to their friends: finding the Beast Spirit of Wind stopped the whirlpools. And the Digidestined reflect on Zoe’s beauty in all her Digimon forms as well as her awesome ability (not unlike J.P.) to almost immediately control her power within her Beast Spirit. Finally, our crew questions the native Gomamon about the current whereabouts of the Toucanmon and are told that they left during the previous battle and were presumably heading toward the continent. Specifically toward the Autumn Leaf Fair: a trader’s market where they are planning to sell off the Legendary Warrior’s D-Tectors to the highest bidder.

 

Ciao for now,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

Mamoru Oshii: Career Beginnings

As far as Japanese directors go, Mamoru Oshii is probably the most acclaimed and revered alive. He has won awards from film academies in his home country to France, Great Britain, Spain, and Italy. Oshii has been nominated for the Golden Bear and the Palme d’Or for his animated films: two awards more prestigious than even the American Oscar and more important when deciding if a film is a masterwork that holds a place of importance in cinema history. Oshii has helped to mentor and influence some of the greatest modern Japanese directors including Kenji Kamiyama and the now-deceased Satoshi Kon.

He is a filmmaker of both philosophical anime, and of science fiction and surreal live-action films who finds his influence in the domain of the greatest of all directors to ever grace the medium: Tarkovsky, Bergman, Fellini, Melville. And he recognizes the importance of Science Fiction films like This Spaceship Earth, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Blade Runner as at least fundamental to the grammar of the medium as Birth of a Nation and Citizen Kane. If all this were not enough, his career has given us the first OVA in Dallos, the greatest anime head-trip in Angel’s Egg, an enduring cross-media science fiction work in the Kerberos Saga, and arguably the greatest animated film ever made in Blade Runner’s only true spiritual successor: Ghost in the Shell. 

Over the next four months or so, I will reviewing and analyzing the career of Oshii on this blog, and I had planned to begin with an essay on his first feature-length film Urusei Yatsura: Only You. However, Oshii’s career began long before this film’s release in 1983 and that narrative is an integral part in understanding how he developed into the filmmaker we know, love, and admire today.

Unlike another father of modern Japanese animation, Isao Takahata (who studied French Literature at University, could not animate to dying day, and only lucked into a directing job with Toei that spring-boarded him to an illustrious career of his own), Mamoru Oshii was always a cinephile with an interest in directing films one day. As a youth, his father exposed him to tons of films by European arthouse directors. At Tokyo Gakugei University, Oshii continued to explore his interests in filmmaking and consumed at much as possible. He must of trained as an artist there as after graduating in 1976, he managed to gain a job as an animator for Tatsunoko Productions, which was just over a decade old at the time and had previously scored a big hit with its animated TV series Speed Racer. 

While at Tatsunoko, Oshii worked primarily as a storyboard artist and episode director, while occasionally penning an episode as a writer for many of the Studio’s productions. From 1977 until his departure from the studio in 1980, Oshii worked in some capacity on the following shows: Ippatsu Kanta-kun, Yatterman, Gachaman, Majokko Tickle, and Zenderman. However, the money must have been good or Oshii must have enjoyed working there as he returned on three subsequent occasions between 1980 and 1987 to work on the series Dashu Kappei, Gyakuten! Ippatsuman, and Zillion. One can consider this time spent with Tatsunoko as a period of development for Oshii as he learned the ins and outs of the production process of anime from many different vantage points and built up a highlight reel or resume for himself that he could later refer to in order to promote himself as a director deserving of the helm of series director or head director on a film.

At Tatsunoko, the head director of the studio’s most popular productions like Speed Racer and Gatchaman was Hisayuki Toriumi. Toriumi took Oshii under his wing while at Tatsunoko and when the former made the move to Studio Pierrot in 1980, so too did his protege Mamoru Oshii. There, they worked together on the World Masterpiece Theatre-like Wonderful Adventures of Nils anime for which Oshii storyboarded 11 episodes and directed 18 out of series total of 52 episodes. And later, Toriumi helped Oshii write the script of his OVA series Dallos. During their time together at Pierrot, it seems that Oshii began to come into his own as a director and after Dallos in 1983, the two never worked together again despite Toriumi continuing on as a director of animation until 2001. Toriumi’s career past this split include classic OVAs and Films like Area 88, Lily C.A.T., Like the Clouds Like the Wind, Baoh, and Sohyryuden: Legend of the Dragon Kings. 

For a time, Oshii’s work at Pierrot remained relegated to occasional jobs as a storyboard artist and episode director. From 1980-84, he worked on the following shows for Pierrot: Rescueman, Yattodetaman, Belle and Sebastien, Golden Warrior Gold Lightan, Miss Machiko, and Mrs. Pepper Pot. Most important, however, was Oshii’s work on the exceedingly popular Urusei Yatsura from 1981-84. On this TV anime adaptation of a classic Rumiko Takahashi manga, Oshii created storyboards for 21 episodes, directed 24 episodes personally, and served as the series head director for the first 106 episodes of its run (more than half of its final total run). The anime was so popular that it later spawned 12 independent OVA episodes and 6 feature-length films. On the first two films, Oshii was given the opportunity to direct. It is through Urusei Yatsura that Oshii began to helm big productions as a director, and particularly through the series’ second film Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer that he began to be known as a director interested primarily in the Surreal, the Philosophical, and in how these modes of operation relate to Science Fiction and Fantasy.

From this point forward, Oshii’s work would continue on through production houses like Studio Deen, Headgear, and Production I.G.. He would begin work on his Kerberos Saga through live action films, animated films, and manga, eventually settling on the former (live-action filmmaking) as his favorite way to create narratives. But in every new venture throughout his life, Oshii has given his all to make the production artful, thoughtful, and ultimately, consumable media made to satisfy more than the Society of the Spectacle, but transformative media crafted to satisfy the intellect. This is just the first chapter in my investigation into the career of Mamoru Oshii. I hope you’ll tag along with me.

 

Ciao,

Cody Ward

[Next up: Urusei Yatsura: Only You]

A Silent Voice: Timeless Adolescence

‘They all try to put us down, just because we get around. Things they do look awful cold. I hope I die before I get old.’ This, the rallying cry for youth since the song’s release in the mid-1960s by the unrivaled rock band The Who. ‘My Generation’, as the opening credits theme of 2016’s A Silent Voice,  is the pulse beat that works to immediately draw us back to our own youths as we watch Japanese anime kids stream past upon the screen (hopefully a large one as it continues to run theatrically from time to time in the States).

These dilettantes run and prance along to and from school, home, the mall, and through the streets of Tokyo. We watch them rough house and horse around, we are shown their joyful days before the disruptive and dispiriting death-knell of time that presses so hard upon youth even in high school, well before the brain has even fully developed, and pressures joy into hiatus in the face of such horrendous, insidious forces as exit exams, continued education or training, and the most odious question of all: ‘What do I want to do with my life? With my one shot?’

With the first bars of The Who’s immortal anthem, we are taken back to an innocent time. Our protagonists are young kids who talk and goof off in class, are obstinate in the face of new challenges, and wish nothing more than to escape class and return to play unhindered by study. They write on their desks and fumble with the lead in their mechanical pencils, nod off or have their attentions distracted by their friend’s childish ploys or by the present or hoped attentions of those members of the opposite sex they find interesting for reasons hitherto unknown.

Director Naoko Yamada is a relative newcomer to directing theatrical anime though she has a decade-long history of directing TV anime for Kyoto Animation that reaches back to her work on the acclaimed anime series K-On! in 2009. This series held her attentions for the next three years through a subsequent sequel series, two OVA series, and one theatrical film for the series. From this work, she moved onto direction of another popular series called Tamako Market in 2013 that also produced a theatrical film in 2014. And while Yamada certainly had experience engaging with youth and one’s grade school days through these anime, and though she had some experience crafting theatrical works through these projects, it is an entirely separate beast to create one from scratch without having some hand in the project’s development like she did on previous projects for years before ever attempting such a feat.

But the film succeeds beyond all expectations. The core of the film is a young boy named Shoya and his cast of friends in grade school who bully a new student named Shoko who is deaf and only requires some help, friendship, and understanding to acclimate well to her new school. However, just as youth is often carefree and joyous in a country with a modern economy, so too is it capricious and wont to damage its charges who don’t fit in with the herd. Shoko is mercilessly bullied by most of the members of her class who taunt her often and openly because she is deaf and won’t hear the insults. Her one friend, Sahara, is bullied so badly for becoming friends with Shoko that she eventually changes schools and once again leaves Shoko without an ally. Most viewers can resonate with this feeling of emptiness and alienation Shoko experiences in the absence of a friend (I myself had four friends move away throughout elementary and middle school, all best friends too).

The bullying eventually escalates to kids occasionally stealing Shoko’s communication notebook and hiding it or submerging it in school’s fountain. Others, like Shoya, push her away physically when she attempts to communicate with them. Some students steal her hearing aids and toss them in such a way that they are lost permanently or damaged beyond repair. And one time, when Shoya pulls out her hearing aids during class, he pulls much too hard and blood comes streaming from Shoko’s ears. We all have our stories of physical and mental abuse from our peers throughout school, and this is the dark side of youth that the film expresses so well alongside youth’s superficial idylls. Therefore, we can all sympathize with Shoko and with the emotional pain she experiences: intense and often irrational rage toward our aggressors, self-hatred and suicidal ideation, numbness and emotional distance.

Many of us have also been the bullies at times in our lives. When Shoko’s physical safety is threatened by Shoya pulling out her hearing aids, the class’s teacher who had hitherto avoided addressing the problem (as do most teachers in my experience) is forced by the pressures of Shoko’s mother and the school’s administrator to punish those responsible. Shoya’s mother meets with Shoko’s mother and gives her 17,000 yen (15 to 20 k in U.S. dollars) to pay for the hearing aids her son Shoya destroyed. Shoko’s mother also beats up Shoya’s mother to pay her back for the transgressions of her son. Shoko changes school and Shoya remains behind where he becomes a pariah as the leader of the bullies who forced Shoko to leave.

As Shoya grows up and enters high school, we learn that he has studied sign language profusely to one apologize to Shoko. He has also worked a part-time job and sold all of his comic books and other collectibles to save up 17,000 yen to pay back his mother for the costs she incurred on his behalf. Finally, the damage he wrought to Shoko emotionally and psychologically hung so heavy a burden on his heart that he plans to kill himself after delivering the apology and the money. And again, like so many of us, his nerve and his resolve are too weak and he doesn’t go forward with his plans after all. His mother sees his cryptic messages on his personal calendar at home wherein one day is listed as final day and the remaining months and days in the calendar have been ripped out. She refuses his money and accidentally burns it. Later, Shoya helps a boy named Tomohiro when a bully tries to take his bicycle and thereby Tomohiro earns himself his first friend in years. And what’s more is that his dialogue with Shoko develops into something much more, which helps both the bully and the bullied to overcome their pasts little by little despite the fact that they will never fully escape these spectres.

A Silent Voice won tons of awards and made a sizable return on investment financially for its beautiful portrayal of youth in its multifaceted nature, in both its highs and its lows. Celebrated hack director Makoto Shinkai called the film beautiful, masterful, and an achievement better than anything he could hope to create. And while Shinkai’s 2016 film Your Name topped the box office, it and his entire oeuvre do nothing more than chart the emotional vicissitudes of a particular kind of romanticized-philosophical youth refracted through the mind of a 20-something otaku, while A Silent Voice speaks to all who have experienced youth in an immediate manner that leaps off of the screen and directly into our hearts. Whereas Shinkai analyzes youth, Naoko Yamada merely reflects it and thereby delivers the real thing.

 

Ciao,

Cody Ward

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