(Catch my review of the first Nasu film here: Summer in Andalusia)
Kitaro Kosaka, the long-time Studio Ghibli animator and animation director, created his first feature film as a full director in 2003 for Studio Madhouse. The film was an adaptation of a short story found within a three-volume manga entitled Nasu by the manga-ka Io Kuroda, recommended to Kosaka by Hayao Miyazaki, and about a professional cyclist named Pepe Benengeli who rides for the struggling Pao Pao Beer team. In that first film, he rides the Vuelta through his hometown in Andalusia and ultimately proves his merit to his team, his sponsors, and his friends and family by gaining a lead in the first half of the race and holding it till the end when he finishes first by the skin of his teeth.
From 2003 until his production began on his next OVA film in 2007, Kosaka worked sparsely providing character designs on the television series Monster for Studio Madhouse and working as animation director on Studio Ghibli’s 2004 film Howl’s Moving Castle. Information is hard to come by regarding the full animation cast on Kosaka’s second Nasu picture, but it seems that he did not retain the editorial talent of Takeshi Seyama and instead used a Madhouse employee to cut the film.
However, as a trade-off of sorts, Kosaka enlisted the aid of the famed animation director Ken’Ichi Yoshida to help him create his film. He and Yoshida had worked together on many an occasion for a Studio Ghibli throughout the 1990s when Yoshida was a Ghibli employee. Before becoming freelance in 1999, Yoshida contributed in-between animation on Only Yesterday, and key animation on Porco Rosso, Ocean Waves, Pom Poko, Whisper of the Heart, the Hayao Miyazaki directed music video On Your Mark, Princess Mononoke, and My Neighbors the Yamadas. After this period, he began work on numerous television series including highly esteemed modern classics like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Wolf’s Rain, and Eureka Seven. Needless to say, his help was indispensable and can be seen firsthand in the increase in production quality between the two films whilst keeping character designs and animation style (of the Lupin III mold) stable across time.
In Nasu: A Migratory Bird with Suitcase, a few years have elapsed since the last film. Pepe’s teammate Gilmore has since left Pao Pao Beer’s cycling team to join up with a different group in which the legendary rider Zanconi is employed. Pepe’s win at the Vuelta has since been forgotten, though his sponsorship is now relatively stable due to his constant decent performances coming in at second or third at races (and hence, racking up points in the process). But the team as a whole has suffered immensely and been unable to claim first in any race for some time, which has led Pao Pao Beer to consider disbanding the team the following year if they don’t shape up quickly.
Further, Pepe’s best remaining teammate Ciocci has been having something a third-life crisis and is questioning why he continues to race, to stay in shape, to diet, and to forego starting a family and gaining a lucrative career. His performance has begun to suffer because of his doubts and his doubts have been reinforced by his bad performance in what has become a vicious cycle leading nowhere but downhill if not stopped soon. Add to this, the complication of the great cyclist Marco Rondanini taking his own life toward the beginning of the film and becoming a legendary figure of sorts in the process of death and cultural glorification of his memory, and the immense enigma of Zanconi, and Ciocci begins to wonder whether he could even become a great cyclist in principle as all great cyclists have some je ne sais quoi that makes them almost gods among men. Ciocci worries that this is an attribute he does not possess and can never possess, and finds that it must be fueled by an almost religious drive to cycle as one’s Sisyphean end game.
All of this uncertainty in Ciocci, the second best rider on the team, and in the team’s continued existence, negatively effects all riders on the team. So, when they are flown to Japan for a big race against Gilmore and Zanconi’s team (amongst others), they seem totally demoralized. Luckily, Zanconi is no longer on a quest as a mere cyclist. He has taken up the Buddhist faith in a mystical vein, eats traditional Japanese foods when he arrives, speaks to no one (allowing himself to meditate through every waking moment and movement as the great Zen Buddhist Dogen might advise), and visits an ancient temple to the thousand armed Kannon: the Bodhisattva of Mercy derived from the Chinese Guanyin, herself derived from the male Indian Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.
During the race, Zanconi stays with the pack and doesn’t make his move to leave it until the second the last lap of the race. He cycles at this point like his very life depends upon it and during that one lap manages to speed ahead not only of the pack, but of all of the those at the front of the race, more than a minute and a half ahead. He passes them all and crosses the finish line with dozens of yards of leeway between him and the second rider. And then, instead of carrying on his lead and continuing to win the race, he raises his arms to the sky as he passes the finish line in the second to last lap and seems to transform into a demigod of sorts int he process. He stops his bike and finishes the race, leaving only his teammate Gilmore to beat Pepe and Ciocci.
During the race, about the same time that Zanconi starts his drive forward to spiritual apotheosis, Pepe falls from his bike and loses his lead within a stream of rain pouring down the side of the mountain. He fights to regain the lead against impossible odds, and eventually gives Ciocci the backup to allow his partner to finish the race in first, which reestablishes Ciocci’s confidence, averts the team’s existential crisis, and gives everyone the motivation to fight harder in the future. Plus, Zanconi’s actions seem to be a goodbye of sorts to the sport of cycling, which means that with him gone and Marco Rondanini dead, there is an ego vacuum in the sport, which cries out to be filled by an enigmatic racer like Ciocci or Pepe Benengeli.
The film was a modest success in comparison to the previous Nasu film, which premiered in Un Certain Regard at Cannes Film Festival and won tons of awards from others. This Nasu won only the Best OVA award at the 2008 Tokyo Anime Awards. In the following years, Kosaka continued to work for both Studio Madhouse and Studio Ghibli including as a supervising animation director on Ponyo; as an animation director on the short film Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess, and the features From Up on Poppy Hill and The Wind Rises; as well as a key animator on Ghibli’s When Marnie Was There and Mamoru Hosada’s film The Boy and The Beast.
When I first discovered Kitaro Kosaka for myself, it was in preparation for a panel for an anime convention in which I introduced the guests to all of Studio Ghibli’s films not directed by Isao Takahata or Hayao Miyazaki: the founders of the studio. I continued by pointing out directors who could potentially carry on the Studio Ghibli aesthetic, Ghibli themes, or their attachment to traditional animation methods. Kosaka was one amongst this group that I mentioned, but since his last film as a director was, at that time, Nasu: A Migratory Bird with Suitcase, released ten years prior, and because he had only directed two OVAs and no feature-length animations, I had little real hopes that he would become a director in his own right. But now I am happy to report that he has completed a feature, entitled Okko’s Inn, and set to premiere this year (2018) at festivals worldwide alongside Mamoru Hosada’s new film Mirai of the Future. And if that double-bill, potentially the greatest since Miyazaki-Takahata released My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies together in 1988, isn’t something worth celebrating and getting excited about, then I don’t know what is!
The episode opens with Davis practicing with his soccer/football team and being cheered on by Tai on the sidelines. Everyone is working their hardest to get conditioned for the up-coming match against kid genius Ken Ichijouji’s school club. There are stories being bandied about regarding Ken’s prowess on the pitch and how he scored 48 goals in the previous season. Which is insane.
To put that into context, the best season individual season in pro history seems to be Lionel Messi’s 2011-12 La Liga season when he scored 50 goals for his team. Other best seasons by renowned great players include the 2013-14 Premier League run of 34 goals by Wayne Rooney and the 2016-17 La Liga run of 36 goals by Christiano Ronaldo. These last two come nowhere near 48. The best ever beats Ken’s score by 2. Now, granted Ken is in a junior high or high school league, and the players are not as good or as difficult to score against as in the pro leagues, his 48 total seasonal goals isn’t as impressive, but it will be given some more details on the scanty amount of time he actually spends playing.
When the other Digidestined hear that Davis is playing a game against Ken- who they still have no idea is synonymous with the Digimon Emperor mind you- they decide to go watch his match and cheer him on. Yolei has the ulterior motive of getting Ken’s autograph, as well as capturing his heart (she fails on both counts in the episode, but presumably manages to capitalize on the latter objective at some point after the events of Digimon Adventure 02). The others have the ulterior motive of wanting to see the boy genius in action. But there’s a problem. He doesn’t show up to the game.
Ken’s teammates say that Ken rarely makes it games and is busy today with a soft drink commercial and a soccer ball sponsorship meeting. The match starts and a glorious montage erupts to the tune of the Let’s Kick It Up! Theme. Davis scores the only goal of the first half and puts his team in the lead at 1-0. Then, Ken “The Rocket” Ichijouji finally shows up and gets put in the game for the second half. He quickly scores a goal and by the game’s end has scored a total of 9 goals, which are the only goals his team manages to score at all (a Champion Team mind you). Davis blocks Ken’s final attempted goal and prevents the final score from becoming 10-1. The match ends at 9-1 with Ken as a dominant force on the pitch.
Now, Ken’s team is a champion team even without him and Davis’ team showed itself to be on par or even slightly better than that team at the beginning of the game. Meaning that normally Davis is a champion-level player and that his team are very strong defensively, which is made abundantly clear by the champion team being unable to score against Davis’ team. Ken’s skill level can be gauged by his ability to score nine times in the second half of one game in what would normally be a legendary feet of agility, tenacity, and sheer cardio skill. He is a force of nature.
As to those 48 goals from last season, they are made that much more impressive in the knowledge that he only plays a few games per year. And rarely ever a full game at that. So, in the second half or last quarter of a handful of games, he managed to score 48 goals for his team and bring them from champion level to unbeatable level. This is another testament to his skill, but also to the force of power that the Black Gears of Millenniummon have over him. We know from the WonderSwan console game D-1 Tamers that Ken was once an average kid, though a Digidestined. Once infected by the black gears, his genius became elevated and he became bent on total destruction of all those in his way, both in the Digital and Real Worlds. This extends to his viciousness on the pitch. But the real question for me is whether black gear is a banned substance? And if so, is Ken doping?
But in all seriousness, Ken leaves the game pissed off at Davis for taking his glory during that last attempted goal. He sojourns to the Digital World and sets up a new Control Spire deep within a new sector, the Forbidden Valley of No Return. Izzy registers the new spire and sends Digidestined to destroy it, but once there, everyone but Davis and Veemon are sucked underground beneath the sands. They are captured by Ken and hung from a large cliff where a Deltamon stands ready to consume them with his dragon mouth, his metal dragon hand, and his SkullGreymon hand (why does a champion level Digimon have an Ultimate-level hand?). Davis must choose which three Digidestined will be consumed by Deltamon, but instead chooses to sacrifice himself.
It’s all an illusion however! The other Digidestined have escaped from Ken’s clutches elsewhere and come running to warn Davis that those effigies on the cliff are really disguised, Dark Ring enslaved Bakemon. Flamedramon cracks the Dark Ring on Deltamon, then the rings on the eight Bakemon. Digmon, Halsemon, Nefertimon, and Pegasusmon destroy the Control Spire and Davis attacks Ken directly by tackling him over the cliff’s edge. Neither Davis or Ken are seriously hurt by the fall and tumble, but a scrape on Ken’s knee is revealed, which reveals to Davis the identity of the Digimon Emperor as Ken, who receives the cut on his knee when Davis blocked his shot on the pitch earlier that day, and in the Real World.
As Ken flies away on his Airdramon, the others are confused by the state of affairs and Davis is in disbelief that his one-time soccer idol and adversary could be his digital adversary as well. With eight Bakemon and the Deltamon freed from their bindings, the Bakemon are left to go be naturally evil elsewhere. The total of freed Digimon in the series is now up to 95 and a huge plot point has been unveiled. Next time, the story will begin to move along at a different pace and hopefully pick up some steam in the process.
The Digidestined Cody
The episode opens with Ken once again using his whip on some undeserving, otherwise good Digimon. Gomamon has become the de facto leader in an ice-based area of the Digital World and leads a rag-tag group of Gizamon in rebellion against Ken. But Ken has tracked them down and whips the Gizamon into a pain-filled frenzy. He says he will stop hurting them if they attack Gomamon. The fear of pain slows the rational centers of their minds and makes them become bad comrades. They attack their friend and receive the reward of Black Rings as gifts, of enslavement: A fate worse than that they experienced by the whip.
I’ve noticed that there are more dynamic musical themes playing throughout this anime than in Digimon Adventure 01. It seems that most of the new songs come from the Our War Game! film and soundtrack and help make the series more emotionally gripping during action sequences, Digivolution, and entering and exiting the Digital World, plus the odd scene music that rounds it all out. Gomamon manages to find a TV to transmit his dismay to Joe’s Digivice, and all to an interesting ambient background song from the second Digimon film.
T.K., Yolei, Kari, and Davis respond to the signal and arrive in the computer lab just before the old reliable Joe show up. We find out that Joe is a pre-med student in high school now and is often studying, but unlike in Tri, is automatically ready and willing to help out his friend Gomamon and go with the others into the Digital World to help. Cody, meanwhile, is in Kendo practice with his grandfather. But he cannot practice on the art because he is worrying about Upamon and the distress signal he received earlier in the day. As he loses a practice duel with his grandfather, the old man realizes that something is wrong and suggests that if he has a problem, Prune Juice can solve it. In fact it can solve all of his problems! Cody obviously doesn’t believe that it can and decides to leave the practice to help the others. He arrives in the lab just after Joe does, and the six head off into the Digital World.
Old reliable Joe has brought a bag full of supplies for the trip. The first objects revealed are hand warmers to help everyone acclimate and stay warm in the otherwise sub-zero ice sector of the Digital World. Once he finds Gomamon, he uses first aid on him to help him heal quicker, and later he uses rope to help the Digimon put together a snow sled for travel use across the ice. As the group heads toward the sector’s looming Control Spire, they see six enslaved Frigimon waiting for them along the path. The gang decide to run right past the bulky Digimon, but the sled gains so much speed that they cannot slow down appropriately before they reach a cliff behind the Frigimon. Cody falls from the sled and into the polar waters below.
Gomamon grabs Cody and the rest of the group get him quickly to a snow cave nearby. Joe builds a fire for Cody to dry out and also brews him some herbal tea to make sure he stays warm internally and doesn’t get pneumonia due to exposure to the harsh cold whilst wet. The others decide to go out and destroy the Control Spire and to come back and get Cody and Joe when they’re done, but Cody insists on going. This is where Joe comes in. Old reliable Joe is able to mentor Cody a bit in these scenes and tell him that he mustn’t help the others at the expense of hurting himself, because he needs to be able to help the others in the long run as well. He advises that we are “all here for a reason” and that each Digidestined plays a different role. Cody decides that he is right and stays behind in the snow cave with Joe.
Next, Flamedramon fights off and frees the Frigimon, while a Shellmon shows up at the snow cave and challenges Joe and Cody. Digmon beats him and frees him from control of the Black Ring, but then Ebidramon shows up and causes trouble for the already weakened Digmon. The others smash the Control Spire, which allows Joe to Digivolve Gomamon into Ikkakumon. The Let’s Kick it Up! theme rings out as he makes short work of Ebidramon, and the gang once again defeats and demoralizes Ken, the Digimon Emperor. This time with Ken being actually dismayed as the ice region was a newly claimed territory for him and will take quite some time to reclaim once more with the new guardian, Ikkakumon.
The total Digimon saved by the Digidestined thus far in this series is now 36.
The Digidestined reflect on Cody’s personality and suggest that he is something like both Izzy and Joe in his great curiosity and intellectual ambition, as well as his reliability and always planning, careful approach to life. This gives us a good hint of what his DigiEgg’s crest will most likely be.
The Digidestined Cody
Episode 36 played out like a taut action thriller with many intersecting plot-lines all playing out one after another creating a crescendo of movements analogous to a complex classical music score. Episode 37 carries on this theme, but with all the players moving together into one place for an editing and scenario more closely related to a football match where each action is diachronic, rather than the previous example of multiple actions taking place simultaneously in different places synchronically.
To begin, DemiDevimon announces to Myotismon that he has found and captured the eighth child (taking credit for Phantomon’s actual legwork in the process). Myotismon puts all of those in the convention center into a deep trance-like sleep and flies off to his lair in the circular TV Tower station. Mimi, still in the Convention Center at the time, succumbs to the spell, but is awoken by the mysterious power of her Crest: one of the Digidestined devices that seem to always combat darkness and ensure victory in the battle against evil, often in major deus ex machina fashion, though relatively minor and restrained here. Tai and Agumon find her in the Center and the three run off to the TV Tower to fight Myotismon.
Meanwhile, Sora and Matt, who were supposed to be protecting Kari, leave Aqua City and the Warehouse in the direction of the TV Tower. Izzy and Matt’s father come out of hiding in the TV Tower to join Matt and Sora as they see them pass by outside from through their broom closet window. We find here that Matt’s father does not know as much as I once presumed about Digimon and the Digital World as Izzy has to explain to him that there are Good and Evil Digimon and that Digimon can Digivolve to higher forms whilst keeping their identities intact (this last bit of information comes as a shock as he realizes that Garurumon is the same being as Gabumon was earlier). At this point, Sora, Izzy, Matt, their Digimon partners, plus a still-petrified Lillymon, and Matt’s father are all outside of the TV Tower with Tai, Mimi, and Agumon on their way.
T.K. and Patamon, Joe and Gomamon, and Wizardmon show up and explain that Wizardmon is Gatomon’s friend and that Gatomon is Kari’s Digimon partner because Kari is the eighth Digidestined and that Wizardmon and Gatomon are no longer evil and that Wizardmon has Kari’s Crest. This much information is hard for the Digidestined to take at face value as their travels have all but destroyed their innocence and automatic trust response: their hermeneutic of suspicion is here well-founded, but if extended too much farther could push them into the a part of the ideological realm of some of their previous postmodern antagonists. Wizardmon shows his good faith by healing Lillymon of her petrified state.
And then the match begins in earnest. Snimon and Tuskmon appear with the first offensive push as Garurumon Digivolves to the Ultimate-level and muscles up as WereGarurumon in concert with his other already-Ultimate friends Garudamon and Zudomon. The Digidestined on the defensive, Tai and Mimi arrive thereby rounding out their numbers and completing the team (minus Kari and Gatomon still in holding by Darkness Team Captain Myotismon).While the ground-level struggle ensues, Kabuterimon and Lillymon seek a higher vantage point and prevent Myotismon from taking Kari and Gatomon out of the game. Myotismon plays the best defense with a strong offense and expels the two renewing his push for Kari and Gatomon.
Next up, Tuskmon and Snimon are out of commission, sufficiently incapacitated, so WereGarurumon ascends to the higher levels and Kabuterimon raises the ante with his own Ultimate form of Mega Kabuterimon, thereby bringing up the number of active Ultimates on the Digidestined team to five. Outnumbered but not outmatched, Myotismon plays the same hand and stops them in their tracks, handily, before renewing his attack on the eighth Digidestined pair: his goal. Wizardmon appears and attacks Myotismon and passes Kari her Crest. Tai and Greymon appear and pass her the Digivice!
Myotismon is panicked now with few teammates left in the game and all the cards in the opposing teams favor! Just then, DemiDevimon reappears and steals the ball from the Digidestined court: Kari’s Digivice. Phantomon appears to heighten the tension and even out the sides once again, then Greymon Digivolves into MetalGreymon and scares him off. T.K. Digivolves Patamon into Angemon the ambassador of light and hope, the only Champion-level with the power to combat Myotismon’s dark powers. In a last ditch effort, Myotismon makes one more goal attempt, but is stopped by Wizardmon. The attack is powerful enough to bench Wizardmon, but the grief causes Kari and Gatomon to dig deep, the Digivice glows red hot and DemiDevimon drops it, Gatomon Digivolves to her Ultimate Angewomon. The new score: 6 Ultimates, 1 Champion Digidestined v. Myotismon and DemiDevimon.
Angewomon uses Heaven’s Charm, all other Digimon provide a power assist and strengthen up the energy bomb attack, she condenses it into a projectile and lets fly the Celestial Arrow straight through the heart of Myotismon and putting his vampiric play to an end. But Myotismon’s fog is still around in the city and a rematch is already in the works.
The Digidestined Cody