Hello again! Its time for another edition of Anime Update, this time detailing the cool anime-related stuff coming to North American shores for the month of July. I hope you’ll check out some of the sites discussed herein and consider buying in the otakudom through the unique merchandise and/or experiences on offer this month.
My usual go-to manga distributors for the North American market are Viz Media and Seven Seas Entertainment as they release large numbers of manga each week. Unfortunately, there is little of note coming through their stores this month. Regardless, I recommend you put their names on a list somewhere and keep them in mind for the future.
On June 1st, Kodansha Comics is releasing a new 4-volume omnibus edition of the original Sailor Moon manga entitled Sailor Moon Eternal Edition. These four volumes are each around 300 pages and of a larger size than your typical manga. So pick ’em up if you ever felt the desire to read the source manga in its entirety. On the 16th of July, Kodansha is releasing a new Ghost in the Shell graphic novel entitled Global Neural Network. Although not a new work by GITS originator Masamune Shirow, it contains four new stories by younger manga-ka inspired by Shirow’s cerebral subtexts and kitschy iconography.
Dark Horse Comics’ manga division is releasing many interesting omnibus editions of some of the most gritty manga on the market. But their coolest new release, set to hit shelves on the 31st, is Start Blazers 2199 Omnibus Vol. 1. Again, this new story is not the work of Star Blazers’ (Space Battleship Yamato) creator Leiji Matsumoto, but instead it is comprised of new stories by younger manga writers and artists inspired by Matsumoto’s monumental influence.
The boutique anime home video release company, Discotek Media, has been experiencing some major technical difficulties as of late regarding their releases. They moved warehouses earlier this year and have been having trouble getting back into the swing of things. This is very apparent during this month when a new Cutey Honey release and a new Lupin III acquisition have both been scheduled for release and subsequently shelved until late August. Bummer…
Luckily, there’s always Sentai Filmworks as an alternative for the best in home video anime releases of classic and cult anime. On the 23rd, they are releasing the Cutie Honey Universe: Complete Collection on Blu-Ray. And exactly one week later, they are releasing a definitive steelbook edition of Elfen Lied: The Complete Series on Blu-Ray complete with tons of extra features and an artbook.
Where theatrical anime is concerned, Funimation Films is really slacking off. They typically show a film in the U.S. once every two months. However, they currently have a number of films slated for release with no tentative date attached. Since February, Funimation has been touting the release of Eureka Seven: Anemone , and is no closer to releasing it now than all those months ago. In April, they announced the acquisition of a Cyberpunk anime adaptation of an Osamu Dazai story called Human Lost that seems currently lost in the fray of planned releases. And now, they’ve released information regarding the premiere of a pop idol film called Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow. The former two of these prospects are at least vaguely interesting to the common otaku, but the latter seems so asinine as to turn away any but the youngest, greenest audiences from the theater. If they ever get around to releasing any of the films theatrically that is…
But thank Ohirume-no-muchi-no-kami that we have GKIDS! Together with Fathom Events, GKIDS is screening Studio Ghibli classics’ Whisper of the Heart on July 2nd and Kiki’s Delivery Service on July 28th and 29th nationwide. Also on July 2nd, GKIDS is releasing Ghibli alum Kitaro Kosaka’s new film Okko’s Inn on a DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack. On the 16th, they will be releasing a new French animation (from the studio that brought us Ernest and Celestine) called The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales. Finally, as of July 1st, GKIDS has announced its acquisition of Masaki Yuasa and Studio Science Saru’s new film Ride Your Wave set for theatrical and home video release in 2020.
Although I’ve already mentioned Fathom Event’s work with GKIDS on the Studio Ghibli Fest showings above, there are two other notable anime films being release through their cinema circuit this month. The first, playing on the 11th and 15th, is Sound! Euphonium: The Movie. The film is a sequel to a popular series by Kyoto Animation and is helmed by some of the same artists in the studio who produced great films like A Silent Voice and Liz and the Blue Bird. The second film, set for release on the 23rd only, is Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?: Arrow of the Orion. Unlike Sound!, this second film is more kid-fare than anything else and probably not up the alley of anyone who has made it thus far into this review.
Finally, in the last section of my monthly anime update, I like to take a few sentences to introduce the anime conventions coming up this month in my region: the South-Eastern United States.
Cosplay America, July 5-7th, Cary, NC
Anime Blues Con, July 12-14th, Memphis, TN
Blerdcon (a classic), 12-14th, Arlington, VA
Banzaicon, 19th-21st, Columbia, SC. I’m a regular at this one.
GalaxyCon, 25-28th, Raleigh, NC
& Otakon, 26-28th, Washington D.C. One of the largest anime conventions in the country.
Ciao for now
As always, this is my update for all the notable and important goings on with manga releases, anime home video releases, and theatrical anime coming to North America this month, as well as a short rejoinder about the anime conventions happening in my own region of the USA. So without further ado…
Seven Seas Entertainment, usually a goldmine for classic collection releases by manga-ka auteurs like Go Nagai and Leiji Matsumoto, is not releasing any new manga of note this month, but are always an interesting indie to keep an eye on in the ever-increasingly-burgeoning field that is North American manga distribution. So keep them on your radar.
Kodansha Comics is releasing a very interesting compendium on June 25th: the Princess Jellyfish Complete Manga Box Set. For anyone (like myself) who watched the short-running cult classic anime series of the same name, loved it, and wanted to learn more about the story, this box set is your answer. And if I had more money, know for certain that I’d be getting this box set myself.
Viz Media is releasing, amongst a large sleight of titles, three extremely interesting items in the month of June. The first two of these are to be released on June 4th (the day of this posting): the Dragon Ball Complete Box Set and the Dragon Ball Z Complete Box Set. These are obviously classic series and the list prices ($140 and $220, respectively) are very reasonable for the sheer number of volumes in each work. The third notable release from Viz comes to us on June 11th: Evangelion Illustrations 2007-2017. Unlike many art books, which seem to be little more than cash grabs from dated franchises looking to cash in on nostalgia instead of producing new content, this book attempts to cash in by selling readers a book of pictures of past merchandise and merchandising campaigns. And because I’m a mark for anything Evangelion, I might bite this time around (don’t be like me if you can help it).
Finally, Dark Horse Comics- a name more typically associated with Western comics than manga- is releasing the first of a two-part omnibus by Gou Tanabe entitled H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. Gou Tanabe is a masterful artist whose work bridges the gap between the Japanese manga style and the Western graphic novel and his adaptations of Western literary classics are known for their sumptuous artistry and attention to detail. This first half of the story will come in a 320-page book for only $20 and is set for release on June 12th. If you were to pick up only one of the manga recommendations listed here thus far, this would be the one.
Anime Home Video Releases:
Discotek Media is, as they do each month, releasing a small number of highly curated material. And in June, two of their releases deserve mention here. The first is the 1986 anime series The Wonderful Wizard of Oz set for release for the first time in North America on Standard Definition Blu-Ray Disc. The second is Cyborg 009: The Cyborg Soldier also set for an Sd Blu-Ray Disc release. Both of these home video releases will be available through the Discotek Media website or from one of their booths at an anime convention near you on June 25th.
Sentai Filmworks is releasing a number of interesting titles in June 2019, the most important and critically-acclaimed of which is their Blu-Ray release of Studio Gainax’s classic Space Opera Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise. Hitherto, I’ve only been able to find this film on a decade-old DVD release from Sentai, so this new release (June 4th) comes as a breath of fresh air, especially since Gainax (or more correctly, their subsidiary Gaina) is currently working on the film’s sequel Uru in Blue set for a 2022 release (if we’re lucky.
The third and final company to mention here is GKID’s who are known for releasing most of Studio Ghibli’s film library to the West (minus many early Isao Takahata classics). On June 18th, they will be releasing a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack of the Studio Ponoc anthology film Modest Heroes. But that’s not all. GKID’s has also recently acquired the North American distribution rights to four anime films: 2 Studio 4°C anthology films entitled Genius Party and Genius Party Beyond; the coming of age story The Case of Hana and Alice; and the 2007 minor classic Summer Days with Coo by acclaimed anime director Keiichi Hara (Miss Hokusai). That said, keep an eye out in the coming weeks and months for more news about how GKID’s plans to handle these films and whether and which ones will receive home video release and theatrical releases through Fathom Events.
Funimation Films is one of the few distributors of theatrical anime in North America that shows its films in more than a few select cinemas. As such, it is always an interesting and promising prospect for those like myself who like to see their animated features on the largest screen possible. Unfortunately, they have no features set for theatrical release in June of 2019. Fortunately, they will have a number of interesting features set for release later this year including the Osamu Dazai adaptation Human Lost and the new Eureka Seven film Anemone.
Fathom Events is typically the theatrical anime distributor you can trust to have at least one release in theaters in any given month. And unfortunately, they too have no films sleighted for release this month! Luckily, next month there a number of great Ghibli films and otherwise set to reach their theater distribution chain including Yoshifumi Kondo’s mesmerizingly beautiful coming of age story Whisper of the Heart in theaters July 1st and 2nd.
Last but not least, there are three notable conventions in my region (the South-Eastern USA):
Gamga Con in Greensboro, NC on June 8th.
Anime Ink in Richmond, VA from the 14th-16th.
& Rangerstop and Pop Con in Atlanta, GA from the 21st-23rd.
Ciao for now,
Though I’ve been largely absent from the reader for the past month, I wouldn’t miss this day if I can help it: the first day of the month. That means it’s about time I send out an update here regarding all of the cool new things going on with theatrical anime, home video releases and manga coming to a North American audience, plus a review of my region’s best upcoming Anime and Otaku Conventions. So, without further ado, here I go.
For starters, Seven Seas Entertainment is releasing a very important Classic Collection title that all true manga nerds will want to get their hands on immediately: the Space Battleship Yamato complete collection in one volume, set for release on April 9th. This tome contains Leiji Matsumoto’s legendary space opera series in its entirety for what I believe is the first time in the West. Author of series like Galaxy Express 999 and Space Captain Harlock, Matsumoto is one amongst a godhead of classic manga-ka including names like Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy), Go Nagai (Devilman), Shirow Masamune (Ghost in the Shell), and Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma 1/2) who have helped to influence and shape the current form and content of manga like none other. So I hope you check out this manga when it becomes available.
Viz Media is also releasing some pretty exciting books this month such as The Art of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind on the 16th and a hardcover Nausicaa Picture Book on the 30th. Most interesting, however, is the publication of a new series of everyone’s favorite horror comics artist Junji Ito. Smashed: Junji Ito Story Collection is set for release on April 16th and will assuredly be filled with spine-tingling macabre art and head-trippy surreal concepts in spades.
As for home video releases, Discotek Media is back in the game this month after a short hiatus brought on by their distributor moving house. On April 30th, they have quite a few releases slated. The ones that most piqued my interest include a DVD of the 1988 Cyberpunk OVA Appleseed (based on Shirow Masamune’s classic manga) and an HD Blu-Ray of Episodes 1-26 of Lupin III Part IV The Italian Adventure.
Sentai Filmworks has a ton of releases set for this month, but the most important of these, historically-speaking, is their Gatchaman Collector’s Edition slated for release on the 30th. This includes the entirety of the over-100 episode series, the OVAs, the film, and a large artbook. This is THE definitive version of this classic series, and thereby deserving of its $99.99 price tag.
Then we have theatrical anime to consider for April. Funimation recently released some interesting material in February and March, but is currently not announcing any films for April. However, keep them in mind for the summer as they have two interesting films already set for release during that time period: Anemone: Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution (The newest Eureka Seven project) and POLYGON Pictures Human Lost based on an original story by famed Japanese author Osamu Dazai and directed by Fuminori Kizaki (Afro Samurai, Psycho-Pass). The latter of these two films looks to be an intense and arresting cyberpunk-tinged tale of future dystopian society, and thereby a film this anime reviewer will not be missing out on (if he can help it).
GKIDs is releasing two films they hold the North American distribution rights to through Fathom Events. The first is the long-anticipated 1st feature-length film by Studio Ghibli-veteran Kitaro Kosaka entitled Okko’s Inn. The film is produced by Studio Madhouse and thereby retains a high level of executive quality control in the process of choosing scripts and in releasing a film with their name on it. As Kosaka’s previous short film efforts Nasu and Nasu II were fantastic and even milestones in the history of anime (the former was the first anime filmed premiered at Cannes Film Festival), Okko’s Inn ought to be a great film. Catch it in theaters on the 22nd or 23rd of this month.
The second film being released by GKIDs through Fathom Events is the first film in this year’s Studio Ghibli Fest: Howl’s Moving Castle. As this is the 15th Anniversary of the film, expect to see some interesting bonus content about the film before or after its airing. Plan to catch this film on the 7th, 8th, or 10th at a theater near you.
And finally, GKIDs is releasing Mamoru Hosoda’s new film Mirai of the Future on Blu-Ray, DVD, and digital on April 9th. So pick that up when you get a chance to continue rounding out your collection with great films by anime’s auteurs.
I’ll conclude this update with a quick run through of my region’s upcoming anime cons of consequence. The first is Nashicon in Columbia, SC from the 5th-7th. Nashicon was the first convention at which I ever presented a panel and it means a great deal to me. I would be there myself this upcoming weekend if not for the fact that my band is releasing our debut EP in Charlotte, NC on Saturday night. If you live in the area and are interested in attending that, here’s a link to The Boron Heist EP Release Show.
From the 13-14th, TigerCon is going down in Valdosta, GA. From the 19th-21st, Middle Tennessee Anime Con is happening in Nashville. And on the 20th, a one day convention entitled KiraKira Con is being held in my home city of Charlotte, NC at UNC Charlotte!
This concludes this month’s anime update. If I left out any pertinent media companies, events, or types of information you wished I had covered here, please let me know and I will do my best to incorporate said information in future Anime Updates!
Ciao for now,
It’s about that time, in fact a few days past that time, when I review all the cool things going on in the world of anime, manga, theatrical anime, and the monthly convention schedule for the Southeast U.S.
For starters, I searched through the monthly manga releases by Viz and Seven Seas Entertainment and found no new series being released that really piqued my interest in any way this month. However, I am open to suggestions for other North American manga re-publishing houses to cover in the future (this also holds true for home video anime release companies I may not mention and groups who release theatrical anime on a nationwide scale).
That said, there are a few anime home video releases to keep an eye out for this month. The first is the classic sci-fi stop motion series Star Fleet, which is being released in full along with the complete X-Bomber series by Discotek Media on March 26th on SDBD, or Standard Definition Blu-Ray disc.
Sentai Filmworks is also releasing an important series in complete collection form this month. That series is the Armored Trooper VOTOMS TV Collection on SD DVD. So check that out and the rest of Sentai’s upcoming release schedule HERE.
This past month, the GKID’s licensed Studio Chizu film Mirai of the Future was honored at the Academy Awards by becoming the first non-Ghibli anime film to ever compete for the Best Animated Feature Film category. To celebrate, GKID’s decided to re-run the film a second time in theaters. So if you haven’t seen Mamoru Hosoda’s fifth film on the big screen yet and thought you had missed your chance, use the opportunity asap while its still a possibility. And also keep updated on fellow Ghibli alum Kitaro Kosaka’s new film Okko’s Inn, set for release in April, at the GKID’s site.
As always, Funimation is an important name to keep in mind regarding monthly theatrical anime. And this month, they came through in a minor way. Funimation will be releasing the first two episodes of the new Fruits Basket anime theatrically on March 26th and 27th in select theaters nationwide. So keep that feather in your cap and stay updated on their projected release of the new Eureka Seven film later this year HERE.
Finally, I would be extremely remiss if I didn’t mention the best distributor of theatrical anime in the nation, Fathom Events. These cats were the ones who got me into watching anime in theaters in the first place and on every given month, they will have multiple titles coming to major theater chains near you like the AMC in my hometown, for example. This month you can catch Fate/Stay Night [Heaven’s Feel] II. Lost Butterfly in theaters on the 14th; as well as an edited theatrical version of the Made in Abyss series on the 20th and 25th in support of the projected second season set for release later this year.
Moreover, Fathom finally announced its 2019 Studio Ghibli Fest on Valentine’s Day last month and we’ll start off in a big way with Howl’s Moving Castle in early April. And as always, don’t fret if (like myself) you have already seen every Miyazaki film on the big screen. There will a variety of great Ghibli classics playing throughout the year like Yoshifumi Kondo’s classic Whisper of the Heart, Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s The Secret of Arrietty, and Isao Takahata’s final film The Tale of Princess Kaguya. Check all of that out and more (like boxing events, classic film series, and operas) HERE.
Finally the con schedule for my region this month is as follows:
Agama Con from 2nd-3rd in Aiken, South Carolina.
Murfreesboro Anime and Comic Kon from 2nd-3rd in Murfreesboro, Georgia; Savannah Animazing Con from the 30th-31st in Savannah, Georgia.
Madicon from the 8th-10th in Harrisburg, Virginia; KigaCon from the 15-17th in Newport News, Virginia.
MidSouthCon from the 15th-17th in Memphis, Tennessee.
And finally, Triad Anime Con from the 15th-17th in Winston-Salem, of my home state North Carolina. At this convention I will hosting a panel on the ‘Other Studio Directors’ beyond the Studio’s founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. So, if you know anyone in the area, alert them to that and if you yourself are planning to attend, hit me up!
Ciao for now,
It’s that time again. The beginning of the month when I collate all the cool stuff happening with Anime, Manga, and Conventions this month.
As always, Fathom Events is the group bringing the most theatrical anime to North American Theaters this month. On February 7th & 10th you can catch the American Premiere of I want to eat your pancreas, which is a pretty highly acclaimed coming-of-age romantic drama that has little to do with the guro its name implies. The second film you can check out in local theaters through Fathom is Mobile Suit Gundam Narrative on February 19th. This is an adaptation of the 11th Gundam Unicorn novel and is directed by Toshikazu Yoshizawa, who also directed the acclaimed Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt anime series. Third piece of news here is that neither GKIDS nor Fathom have announced a Studio Ghibli 2019 film series though this event began in March during the past two years it ran. So keep an ear to the ground for that one.
Next up, anime home video releases. Starting with Discotek Media, there are three announcements that are particularly interesting, all set for release February 26th. The first two are Blu-Ray releases of famed Madhouse director and anime auteur Rintaro’s films Galaxy Express 999 and Adieu Galaxy Express 999. The second is a little-known cult classic anime film, again from Studio Madhouse, called Twilight of the Cockroaches that is set for DVD release in what I believe is the first such Western release of the film.
Second, is another three films set for release through Sentai Filmworks this month, all on Blu-Ray. The first, Space Runaway Ideon: The Complete Collection, is the brainchild of director Yoshiyuki Tomino (the creator of Gundam) slated for release February 5th. Second, Parasyte- The Maxim: Complete Collection out on the 19th. Third, one of Ryutaro Nakamura’s masterpieces Kino’s Journey: The Complete Collection out on the 26th. If none of these titles interest you, however, these are just a few amongst dozens of films slated for release in February by these two boutique anime home video companies. More titles and their back catalogs can be found at the links above.
Manga! There aren’t as many February releases that sounded vital to me in this comics medium as in the anime medium, but nonetheless there are a few titles that I thought worth mentioning here. The first is from Viz Media. It’s a classic Rumiko Takahashi manga that was later adapted into one of Mamoru Oshii’s first directorial jobs as an animator, and became the gift that kept on giving as that great director of films like Ghost in the Shell and Angel’s Egg was given the chance to direct two of his first features from it. That’s right! Urusei Yatsura is getting a new American manga release on February 19th.
Seven Seas Entertainment is also releasing a few interesting manga and light novel titles throughout February. The Boogiepop Omnibus Vol. 4-6 light novel series is being released on the 5th to support the new Boogiepop anime Boogiepop and Others. Two more classic collections of material are soon set for release through Seven Seas as well. These include Captain Harlock: The Classic Collection Vol. 3 and Space Battleship Yamato: The Classic Collection on February 26th. To round out your collection of early Leiji Matsumoto and Go Nagai, I suggest checking out their prior Classic Collection editions of Devilman, Cutie Honey, and Captain Harlock as well.
Finally, there are quite a few notable anime conventions running throughout February. In fact there are more than I could hope to list here without driving you, and myself, to utter and complete boredom, as there are something like 3-5 anime conventions going on in North America every weekend of February at this point. So instead, I’ll just list a few that are in my general area and look promising:
Virginia: Star City Anime Con in Roanoke from the 1st-3rd. ODUCon in Norfolk from the 8th-10th.
Georgia: Seishun Con in Atlanta from the 8th-10th.
Florida: NotCon at Sea. An anime convention on a Cruise Ship! Departing Miami on the 15th and returning the 18th. I can sense debauchery and excess all over this one!
Tennessee: Con Nooga in Chattanooga from the 22nd-24th.
[Postscript: I’ve been devouring anime this year and have seen 22 in the past 19 days. I’m getting a decent sense of what anime might just be contenders for the best anime of the year already. So keep an eye out for Boogiepop & Others; The Promised Neverland; Carole and Tuesday (directed by Shinichiro Watanabe); and Blade Runner (produced by Watanabe and directed by Kenji Kamiyama and Shinji Aramaki). Cheers!]
Anime still may not be mainstream in America, but with its presence on practically every streaming platform, tons of TV channels, in large theatre chains, most large retail stores, and with multiple anime-themed conventions for just about any weekend in the year, we’ve got a good thing going, eh?
Personally, I’ve been attending anime conventions since 2011, and have been watching anime as long as I can remember. I have also been running this blog with a mostly anime theme for about two full years thus far with over 400 unique articles on my favorite anime series and films. So, while I may be no real expert in the field, I am a pretty hardcore fan well in the know.
Over the years, I’ve drawn up a long list of groups releasing the best anime and manga in the states and would like to present that information here on a month-to-month basis in order to keep my followers on WordPress, and my friends at home, updated and inundated with reminders about anime so they won’t miss out on all the cool stuff I brag incessantly about seeing on the reg.
First off, the anime film every one was talking about at Ichibancon 10 this month: Dragon Ball Super: Broly. This new Dragon Ball film has been out since last Thursday (compliments of Funimation), but as far as I can currently tell, will continue screening in theaters nationwide until this Thursday. So if you can’t get enough of the classic Shonen Series, but don’t want to watch the interminably long Super TV series, check this out ASAP!
Second theatrical film to mention is the theatrical re-release of the critically-acclaimed and widely popular commercial success that was 2016’s A Silent Voice. The film will be in theaters for two days only on Monday 28th and Thursday 31st, compliments of Fathom Events. If you’re not familiar Fathom, definitely check these guys out. For the past few years, they have released high-quality anime to theaters nationwide including the North American release of Mirai of the Future last December and Studio Ponoc’s Modest Heroes just a few weeks ago. Fathom Events has also hosted a 9-month, 9-film Ghibli Fest for the past two years, which focuses on presenting Western audiences with both beloved and obscure works (and has allowed me to see all ten of Miyazaki’s feature films on the big screen). No details for Ghibli Fest 2019 have been released yet (the event has started in March in years past), but Kotaku reports that a new lineup of films is in the works.
As for anime home video releases, my favorite indie company in the field, Discotek Media, has a few releases up its sleeve, all slated for a January 29th release. The three that most piqued my interest were Tetsujin 28: Morning Moon of Midday on a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack, Shin Tetsujin 28 Complete Series Blu-Ray, and a Lupin the 3rd: Series 2 Boxset 3 (Episodes 80-117) on DVD. If you’re a fan of classic anime series and films, you will find old Madhouse, Lupin III, and pre-Ghibli Takahata and Miyazaki works in spades amongst their modest catalog.
Second up for anime home video release is GKIDS release of Masaaki Yuasa’s 2017 masterpiece The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl. If you think you recognize that name, it’s because Yuasa is the director of top-tier contender for 2018’s G.O.A.T. (G.O.A.Y.?) anime Devilman Crybaby. Also available at GKIDS is Yuasa’s 2004 film Mind Game, and in early February I discuss GKIDS’ third slated Yuasa release.
This time around I couldn’t find any manga set for release in January that has not already been released by this time in the month, but suffice it to say that I’ll be checking into Viz and Seven Seas Entertainment to bring classic manga, or anything by Junji Ito, to your awareness. And for those who live in Southeast like myself, I’ll be keeping everyone updated on good regional anime conventions to keep an eye out for as well as passing along any information about panels I may or may not be delivering at said conventions.
Well, that’s all for now. As always thanks for checking out this blogspace. Likes, comments, and especially shares would be most appreciated from anyone who found this guide to the remainder of January and Anime in America useful.
Ciao for now,
[Postscript: I am not endorsed by any of the brands or media companies listed above. However, I wouldn’t complain if any of them offered their support :1. Or if Kotaku needs another staff writer? Hey, I did live in Japan for three months not too long ago after all…]
(Check out my prior Ghibli essay here: The Cat Returns)
Ursula Le Guin’s fantasy cycle ‘Earthsea’ is a six-volume series set in a high fantasy atmosphere on par, at least, with Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The world’s physical and metaphysical structures are elaborated on so well and so unobtrusively as if to guide the reader immediately there, and as such it has been a delight to readers (like myself) since the series’ inception in the mid-60s and the publication of the first book A Wizard of Earthsea in 1968.
Before producing the manga, and then the animated film, of Nausicaa in the early 80s, Hayao Miyazaki too was enamored with the story of Earthsea. He asked Ursula Le Guin then if he could adapt the story for animation, but was turned down on the grounds that she hadn’t heard of him (he had only directed one feature by that point in 1979’s Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro). Years later, after the success of Spirited Away (which was the highest grossing anime ever at that time as well as a worldwide phenomena that put Ghibli on the map in a much bigger way than previous endeavors), Le Guin gave her permission to create the film. However, Miyazaki was by that time already working on Howl’s Moving Castle at that time and instead gave the project to a completely untested figure in a nepotistic decision he, and many critics, would come to regret.
This person was Miyazaki’s son Goro Miyazaki, who by this time had never worked in animation and had only even proved his interest in Studio Ghibli by managing the layout for the Ghibli Museum where he handled the architectural designs of the gardens and the layouts for exhibits. Goro, not being as familiar with the Earthsea cycle as his father, and not having done his homework on the series’ most important elements and themes, set out to adapt the stories of the third and fourth books in the cycle, whilst peppering in elements from his father’s manga The Journey of Shuna, which was influenced by the tone of Earthsea (though characteristically Miyazakian).
The third novel, The Farthest Shore, depicts the Archmage Sparrowhawk (also known by his true name Ged) who travels throughout the lands of Earthsea as sickness ravages the world and darkness threatens to wipe out all magic power. Wizards are mostly powerless, madness takes hold in the populace, and the old songs and names of things are forgotten to most as the Wizard Cobb uses the Pelnish Lore (an unbalanced, dark magic developed by the world’s most sinister wizards of old) to prevent his own death and ensure his shade never reaches the other shore where it will become doomed to everlasting depression and torment (the afterlife of this world is much like the Jewish Sheol or Greek Tartarus). The end of the world is nigh as the dragon Orm Embar works to right the balance, while Sparrowhawk tries to achieve the same end in his own way whilst simultaneously trying to save the young Prince Arren from the darkness in his own heart, a darkness fueled by his fear of death that mirrors Cobb’s fears and threatens to develop one day into a second Cobb if not dealt with now. The final altercation is the destruction of Cobb by Ged and Orm Embar, and the salvation of Arren who resigns himself to life and death, deciding to revel in his time, and returning home to become crown prince of his kingdom.
The fourth book of the cycle is Tehanu. Tenar, the one-time high priestess of the Tombs of Atuan, who was saved by Ged from this arcane religious cult unwittingly worshiping demons, in the second book of the series Tombs of Atuan, lives as a farmer in the countryside. She finds a young girl who has been burned by her nomadic family and left to die on the side of the road. Tenar names her Therru, meaning ‘fire’ in the Hargish language. As the girl grows into young adult age, Ged, evading the king’s men who are after him at the time, comes to Tenar’s farm to help with the harvest and to hide out. After a series of events involving political intrigue, we will find that Therru is the daughter of the great dragon Kalessin and that her true name is Tehanu. As the world is still unbalanced, Ged goes on a voyage to meet the dragon of Earthsea, who are coming closer and closer to the human domain of Earthsea and farther away from their own domains, causing havoc in the empires of Earthsea. Tehanu is able to help assuage the dragons and communicate their problems with Ged.
Finally, The Journey of Shuna elements present in Tales From Earthsea are relatively sparse, but notable insofar as they muddle the plot. There are slavers in both properties who enslave young children who have run away from home or are left unattended by their parents. One of these children is named Thea, who becomes one with the character of Therru/Tehanu and is almost enslaved in the film, but saved at the last moment by Prince Arren, who should be king already by the time that in the chronology and not merely a young boy still troubled by darkness. The slavers are made to coincide with the characters of the king’s men who are after Ged in Tehanu, except they are not exactly the king’s men in Tales From Earthsea, but are instead Cobb’s men who are tracking Ged in an attempt to lead him to Cobb’s palace where his magic will become useless due to powerful Pelnish spells cast in the area, this way he can be contained and killed by Cobb who will claim his title as Archmage of Roke Island (and of Earthsea). Finally, the only other Shuna element in this film is the presence of Prince Arren’s mount (in the Earthsea cycle very few people have horses or any such thing as they are almost useless in a land of archipelago islands and thereby boats and one’s own two legs are the best means of travel) which is a red elk-like being similar to the one in the manga and to Ashitaka’s red elk in Princess Mononoke.
The whole things is entirely too complex for one film as it crams in story ideas from three separate pieces of epic literature in a way that makes it inaccessible to all but those who have already read the the Le Guin books. For such viewers, the film can be a visual feast and the fun of the voyeurism comes in identifying story ideas as it progresses and trying to correctly identify where they originated. But for the average viewer unequipped with the requisite readings, the film is a huge mess and nearly impossible to follow.But this distinction is not unambiguous either. Goro Miyazaki strips some of the most important elements of Earthsea in the process of depicting it in such a condensed manner. The archipelago nature of the world is left out as all of the travels of our protagonists is by land, which is impossible in the original cycle as each island is relatively small (the largest being an anomaly something akin to the size of Ireland, while the rest are minuscule in comparison.
Second, and most important to the novel’s ideological structure, is the physical appearance of the inhabitants of Earthsea: they are all of dark complexions except for the insane brood of northern brutes in one of the northernmost islands where Tenar was born and lived in Atuan. These pale skinned figures are devoid of magic ability and secondary to the rest of the inhabitants of Earthsea who are more civilized and cultured. Goro Miyazaki makes the fatal flaw of white-washing his characters and changing one of the most fundamentally important points about Earthsea: its radical approach to race in a genre with traditions of leaving out non-whites entirely or depicting them as brutes. In this sense, Goro Miyazaki’s film is not only almost unwatchable for those without a knowledge of the books in the first place, but also immoral, unconscionable, and unthinking to those who do know the books and appreciate what they have done ideologically and in terms of shifting generic conventions. As such, the film has no real audience (except maybe for those who have read the books, but did not like their ideological re-configuring of generic conventions for one reason or another and would prefer Earthsea as Earthland proliferated by only Caucasians).
However, being a Ghibli film and having the marketing power that that studio provides backing the picture, it made $68 million USD at the box office (making it the fourth highest grossing Japanese film of 2006) on a $22 million USD budget. As such, in the future, Ghibli would take more gambles with Goro as a director at the helm of projects. However, critical reaction was staunchly against the film, even on the part of Ursula Le Guin who did not even recognize the world pictured therein as the one she created in her Earthsea cycle, and Goro’s own father Hayao who saw the film as extremely flawed and regretted giving his son the opportunity to make the film instead of hiring someone else to do it. Over the next five years, Goro would study diligently in the ways of narrative and scripting to better learn how to create a good work. This would pay off in his next endeavor, which would be masterful, focused, accessible, and ideologically progressive and affirming, in a word, everything Tales of Earthsea was not.
[Next up: From Up On Poppy Hill]
(If you haven’t already, check out the previous Isao Takahata essay on Pom Poko!)
My Neighbors the Yamadas is the tenth film by Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata, and is notable as his first film to be animated in a non-traditional manner. Previously, the careers of Takahata and his friend Hayao Miyazaki had been marked by beautiful, often poetic or elegiac animation styles created as cels by artists working in a physical medium. Takahata had always pushed farther than Miyazaki in experimental animation techniques- though 1997 Princess Mononoke was notable within Miyazaki’s oeuvre as one of his first works to incorporate elements of computer generated imagery.
On Yamadas, Takahata had his animation team create the film completely digitally in a turn that interested critics as well as annoyed Miyazaki in equal measure. The film’s animators worked with digital palettes and even the watercolor backgrounds were rendered using computers and digital processing techniques. when one first watches the film, none of this is immediately apparent however. The characters and locations look hand-drawn, even rough hewn and incomplete. The watercolor backgrounds also reveal nothing of their digital origins when seen by a viewer of the film, whether one particularly discerning or no. This is due to the digital animator’s work to program rendering programs to add in imperfections, bleed, roughness, and other naturalistic factors traditionally viewed as ‘mistakes,’ which ultimately help to create in a painting those elements we feel are human, and consequently, relatable and meaningful to us.
Miyazaki has a certain prejudice against the use of CGI in animation. He believes that CGI should look invisible if used and if one is able to render the proper effect without it, then one should dispense with the digital effects all together. As such, Takahata’s choice to go off the veritable experimental deep end on Yamadas was seen as a slap in the face by Miyazaki. When the film failed in the box office, Miyazaki took the opportunity to chastise his partner’s work whenever possible, to downplay Takahata’s creative talents and to basically call him washed up. Because of this bad press, and the quiet box office of the film (a first in Takahata’s otherwise monetarily prolific career as a director), Miyazaki was able to keep Takahata from producing another work for 14 years until 2013’s ‘The Tale of Princess of Kaguya.’
Despite Miyazaki’s critique of the film, it is closer to hand-drawn animation in style than anything Miyazaki himself has ever directed, and is more experimental in style and in the production techniques used than anything Miyazaki has ever produced. The film follows a typical Japanese family, The Yamadas, comprising a father, mother, grandmother, son, daughter, and family pet dog. They live their lives as a series of vignettes playing themselves out over the film’s 100 minute runtime running the gamut from comedic to dramatic to idyllic to surreal and fantastical. The film’s visual style bears some resemblance to Takahata’s earlier film adaptation of Miyazaki’s manga ‘Jarinko Chie’ as well as to one of the forms the Tanuki take in his previous film ‘Pom Poko,’ thought the sketchbook look and approach of ‘Yamadas’ is even less filled out with places and sets built more from the absence of objects and presence of empty space than the proliferation of world-building technique. In this manner, the art direction is more akin to a manga work than to an animated film and its vignette structure is usually found in that medium more often as well.
As we see the lives and developments of the characters, we view their pasts as well. Takashi and Matsuko go from betrothal to wedding ceremony to snow sled trips and steam boat rides along the briskest period of their days. Through cabbage patches where they figuratively find their son Noboru and bamboo groves where their daughter Nonoko is nestled within a stalk of the thick plant (showing Takahata’s interest in the ancient Japanese story of the Bamboo Cutter that will later appear in The Tale of The Princess Kaguya). They ride atop sea slugs and delve into the seas of memory of times as a family. The vignettes begin here to show domestic life: forgetting groceries, studying for school, the trials and tribulations of life as a salary man, losing ones memory as an old woman (the grandmother Shige), and serving nabe night after night to prevent oneself from having to cook all of the time.
All this set to a soundtrack of classical music inflected with pop sensibilities ala the compositional talents of Akiko Yano, an eclectic pop musician known more for her original work than her scanty resume as a film composer. But she pulls off a big trick and created a score for this film which was as eclectic as the film itself. The comedic moments are emphasized with little farces and etudes, the dramatic with Gustav Mahler an Sturm und Drang, the poignant and affective with little pop symphonies reminiscent of the 70s music of Kaze Tachinu. The real gem of the film is a potent little scene wherein everyone recognizes the imperfections of one another, but also that each and every one of them are trying their best to be good people and work together as a family unit. Though they sometimes fail each other, they are always there to support one another. A booming rendition of Doris Day’s classic ‘Che Sera, Sera’ is sung by all as they realize that what will be, will be (a pretty Taoist notion for a Western concept, even if it is French). A sentiment all viewers can really appreciate by the end of the film as we’ve seen a family wracked by occasional minor tragedies, struggles, and arguments, but also fellow-feeling, humor, and love.
What’s more, the rough-hewn ‘hand-drawn’ manga style meets the classical score, realistic vision of life, occasional flights of fancy, and life-affirming message with chapters book-ended by relevant poetic quotations from Basho, that most elegiac and simple emotive poet of the Japanese language whose Haiku add poignancy and power to any well-constructed narrative. This eclectic vignettic portrait would have fallen apart under the observation of any other animator or filmmaker, and as such, the viewer of ‘Yamadas’ really, finally, gets a full picture of the strength of Takahata’s personal vision and unifying force as a director.
[Next up: Tale of the Princess Kaguya]
(To check out my previous Studio Ghibli essay click HERE!)
In 1973, Isao Takahata directed the sequel to his short film Panda! Go, Panda!, The Rainy-Day Circus. During the next few years, he, Miyazaki, and their friends like Yasuo Otsuka and Yoshifumi Kondo worked on various projects. Otsuka directed the first Lupin III film in 1968, while Miyazaki directed the second (his first feature) in 1969. Takahata worked as a pick-up director on Isamu, Boy of the Wilderness in 1974; Dog of Flanders in 1975; Monarch: The Big Bear of Tallac in 1977; and both Future Boy Conan and The Story of Perrine in 1978. He was also series director for Heidi, Girl of the Alps in 1974; 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother in 1976; and Anne of Green Gables in 1979.
So, in 1981 when Toho and Tokyo Movie Shinsha offered him a role as director for a film based on the long-running Jarinko Chie manga, he jumped at the chance and enlisted many of the friends and coworkers he had worked with throughout his career, most notably Otsuka, and most noticeably absent Miyazaki and Kondo.
The story involves a young girl named Chie who works at her father Tetsu’s Yakitori and Kushiyaki (types of Japanese shish-kabobs) bar. Tetsu is a thuggish oafish type who frequents gambling joints, constantly borrows money from his parents, and likes fighting off Yakuza from local establishments. Chie’s mother and father are inexplicably separated, a mystery that makes more surface-level the narrative rather than deepening it in any way. The owner of a local gambling house has it in for Tetsu and sicks his cat Antonio on Tetsu’s cat and Chie’s friend, Kotetsu. Kotetsu beats the cat (I would say handily, but you know) and rips off his testicle in the process. This weakens Antonio and the next day, while fighting a dog, he is killed. The fight and its repercussions eventually lead Antonio’s son to seek revenge on Kotetsu.
This revenge and the reintroduction of Chie’s mother Yoshie into the family are the two main plot points that link together the many gags and slice of life elements that make up this tableau of dysfunctional Japanese life in a quasi-magical realist setting with anthropomorphic animals. The film’s opening sequences set up a landscape of hard-living criminal types co-existing alongside average people in the big city, though the city is sprawling like Kyoto rather than vertical like Tokyo. Incidental and atmospheric jazz scores play lightly behind scenes of light-hearted, though real, struggle. Chie is still in elementary school but must work her absent father’s restaurant without even any maternal support. The scenes here remind of the 70s street works of American animator Ralph Bakshi, like Heavy Traffic and Coonskin. But the feeling is almost immediately dissolved in the following scenes as things turn campy and comic.
I enjoyed the film and can see how Takahata began to become more interested in urban living through this film: an interest that would later be apparent in films he directed like Gauche the Cellist, Only Yesterday, and especially in My Neighbors the Yamadas. The film was successful enough to spur on the production company Tokyo Movie Shinsha to ask Takahata to direct a full series about Chie’s life and quirky circumstances. The result would be a full two years of work from 1981-83 on a 64-episode anime series devoted to pictorializing the manga, making it more popular and widespread, and likewise making money for the company. Takahata achieved all three of these goals, created another film in the interim, and continued working alongside Miyazaki and Kondo sporadically. The scene seemed set to explode outwards as everything Miyazaki, Kondo, Otsuka, and Takahata produced or touched turned to gold and their rise to the level of studio heads and auteurs would come in just a few more years time.
[Next up: Gauche the Cellist]