Revolutionary Girl Utena, Volume 1 (Episodes 1-12)
With the widespread availability of so many current series these days, older anime – even classic ones – seem to be ever drifting into obscurity. Thankfully, production companies like Nozomi Entertainment are still releasing many of these shows on DVD. And with Kunihiko Ikuhara now directing Yurikuma Arashi, it’s as good a time as any to revisit, or as in my case, watch for the first time his opening work as head director for a series, Revolutionary Girl Utena.
The first 13 episodes of Utena, entitled “The Student Council Saga,” introduce us to the incorrigible Utena; the himesama, Anthy; and the gaggle of not-quite-fully-antogonistic student council officers. Symbolism and mysteries are built and some slowly unraveled as the season progresses, with Utena finding herself drawn into duels as she fights for Anthy, whom she regards with humanity, but whom others see merely as a means to some powerful end.
It is the themes, symbols, and and unknown elements that keep the viewers gripped as we wonder what all these elements mean (if anything). Certainly, we get few answers in the first arc. Self-contained, it’s frustrating, because apart from the Ikuhara’s cleverness and unique approach to anime, we’re left with a season that’s mostly boring, with generally unremarkable characters and tedious fight scenes.
But even without knowing how the entire story pans out, this saga shows us some of what perhaps makes Utena a classic property – most of all, the revolutionary way it works with gender roles. Utena is the “prince” of the series, dressing as and playing the role normally reserved for a male character. She’s also a kick-butt heroine, more common now, but much less so when these episodes originally aired in 1997. The undetermined relationship between Utena and Anthy also places the series in the yuri genre, which Ikuhara fully embraces with Yurikuma Arashi.
Noizomi’s DVD release is excellent for fans of the series, containing lots of little nuggets in the form of TV spots and trailers as extras, plus the remastered visual and audio for the series, which perhaps those who watched the show long ago would appreciate more than I could. The neat little booklet that’s included contains a lot of great insight from Ikuhara himself, and even for newcomers to the series, it’s a wonderful addition as an in-depth look at the creation of and remastering of the show.
It’s these “marginal” pieces, both in terms of the DVD extras and imaginative flourishes in the show, that must be embraced to enjoy these first thirteen episodes, because the story itself won’t do it. But I’ll reserve the right to rethink my rating of this arc upon completion of the show, as it is apparent that the structure of the series demands it.
Welcome to the first of our more sporadic version of Something More. The blogosphere has been resplendent in it’s spiritual-related articles the last couple of week, regarding anime series both current and classic.
Christian symbolism runs rampant in Kill la Kill, as do opportunities to discuss Christian themes and ideas, particularly as they relate to clothing, in the series. [Taylor Ramage’s Blog]
The Spice and Wolf light novels paint God as malicious, but does this really to his true character? [Medieval Otaku]
Christianity plays a role, at least superficially, in countless anime series, as Eugene Woodbury states:
At the same time, in terms of theology, the suggestively Catholic Haibane Renmei can stand beside any of C.S. Lewis’s work as a powerful Christian parable. The same is true of anime such as Madoka Magica and Scrapped Princess, though you may have to look harder to see through the metaphors.
But he also goes on to suggest that the Japanese view toward the faith may rather reveal a positive view for many of the country’s feelings toward religion as compared to western ones. [Eugene’s Blog]
Speaking of Madoka, Woodbury recently explained that the series is “an exploration of the doctrine of universal reconciliation.” 
Is Mushi-shi a fatalistic series? Perhaps quite the contrary… [Organizational ASG]
To the tune of Christian themes, there’s more to A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd than meets the eye. [Cacao, put down the shovel!]
Sailor Moon draws more than merely character names from Greco-Roman mythology. [Lady Geek Girl and Friends]
And continuing with Sailor Moon, episode 14 of Sailor Moon Crystal emphasizes the power of prayer…even if it is to the Crystal Tower. [Geeks Under Grace]
The dividing of the girls in episode 5 of KanColle brings to mind the discomfort the early Christians must have felt as they started their mission. 
As part of the Something More series of posts, Beneath the Tangles links to writings about anime and manga that involve religion and spirituality. If you’ve written such a piece or know of one, please email TWWK to be included.
What can you give to someone who’s dying?
Kousei, who’s still merely a boy, doesn’t know what he can give to Kaori – but he knows he needs to give her something. Sometimes, he brings her a treat; on a grander scale, he delivered her hope in the form of a song in the last episode. And yet, in episode 19 of Your Lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso), he still wonders what he’s able to do for Kaori – in fact, Kousei doubts he’s done anything for her.
And Kousei’s father gives an interesting response to Kousei – he reaffirms what the boy feels, that he hasn’t done anything at all. But then he quickly follows up by saying, “All you did was show devotion.”
Devotion - what a powerful and weak thing. It can be given by the smallest of children – perhaps presented best by them. It can be given freely. But it’s not quantifiable. Sometimes it’s not even wanted.
But for Kaori, it is wanted. And it is meaningful.
The last month or so has revealed something that I once knew, but had long since forgotten: Reading is awesome!
Honestly! As much as I love anime, there is nothing quite like sitting down and flipping through a good book. Visual novels and, to a lesser degree, light novels count, of course… but limiting your diet (your “otaku diet”?) to merely one avenue of media consumption serves only to, consequently, limit your perspective.
Recently I had the pleasure of reading through 893: A Daughter of the Yakuza, by Dr. Robert Cunningham; Silence, by Shusaku Endo; and Shiokari Pass, by Ayako Miura (yes, I know, I know, they’re all about Japan). While all three are great reads in their own rights, Shiokari Pass had a particularly unexpected impact upon my life and my perspective after completing it. I won’t get into detail, as you should go ahead and read the book if you’re interested, but one of the major themes I gathered from it was this: Christianity is at its most fundamental level, counter-cultural.
Particularly in the context of Japan, where else are you going to here themes that clearly drive against the “common sense” of self preservation? The world says, “Love your friends, but seek revenge against your enemies” (Donald Trump is famous for admonishing people to get pre-nuptial agreements and, more importantly, “Get even!”), but the Bible says to pray for your enemies (Matthew 5:44). The world says, “Everything ultimately boils down to self-interest, even philanthropy,” but the Bible says that the truest for of love is to die for another (John 15:13).
In the Western world, where Christian principles permeate every facet of everyday life, it is easy to forget that Christianity is, in all truth, extremely controversial in its lack of emphasis on self-preservation.
It is because of Shiokari Pass that I had this process of thought reignited within me, and thus, my frame of reference for everything I intake. So, speaking of intake, how does this fit into the anime I’m watching this season?
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was one of those shows I was a little unsure about watching. I mean, I watch anime, play video games, cosplay, go to conventions, etc. but…My Little Pony…Really? REALLY?
I didn’t get into the show until after one year at Anime Weekend Atlanta. We were hanging out watching all of the formal cosplays go into the gala. While we were watching, I really and truly saw some of the most breathtaking My Little Pony cosplays. There is so much creativity in the Brony community. It really impressed me and made me curious about the show.
After the con, I watched all three seasons that were available on Netflix and LOVED it. The writing was pretty good, the characters were so likable, and the show did a good job of telling an interesting story without having a whole lot of drama. It was refreshing and encouraging to watch a well done show where characters were building each other up instead of tearing each other down for entertainment value. The show is so positive without feeling forced or fake.
The pony I admire most in the show is Fluttershy.
She represents kindness in the elements of harmony. I think I am so drawn to her because she has so many qualities key to Christianity that I personally wish would come easier to me. She is patient, understanding, merciful, compassionate and, of course, kind.
In the two most recent episodes of The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls, the focus shifts back to the main trio of Uzuki, Rin, and Mio as they work on their CD debut and prepare for a mini-concert to promote their new CD. Mio is particularly excited about their upcoming concert: she invites all her friends at school and tells them that they should get to the concert site early so they can get good spots. When the concert site turns out to be a stage at a shopping mall, she is worried that all the noise from their concert would disrupt the nearby stores.
Then the actual performance happens, and it turns out to really be just a mall performance: the type of relatively small-scale performance that catches the attention of passersby but does not draw huge crowds or large cheers. And after the concert, there seems to be a look of disappointment on her face, even though as far as we could tell, her performance went off smoothly. (The fact that all her friends were there to cheer for her only made things worse.) As it turns out, she was expecting a major concert, similar to the one she participated in as a backup dancer with established idol Mika earlier in the series. Faced with the reality of her modest debut, compounded with the embarrassment of knowing her friends had been there, she says she wants to quit being an idol.
As much as Mio’s expectations and disappointment are just typical teenager naïvete, I can relate to her feelings, particularly from a perspective of Christian evangelism. Several Christians hear about how God is all-powerful and ready to bring about a great revival, inspiring us to have faith in God to do big things. However, even though God can do big things, reality is oftentimes a lot more modest than we might otherwise expect. In my case, I help out with my church’s young adult ministry. As our church is relatively new–the young adult ministry even more so–we decided to start up a special monthly service on a university campus. Our goal was to reach out to as many of the students there as we could; a group of us even went the day before to hand out flyers. We handed out over a hundred flyers, in the hopes that a decent portion of those people would stop by for a look.
The next day, the people at the service consisted mostly of existing members of the young adult group, with the number of new people from the university around five or so.
This can definitely seem like a disappointing result; at the very least, it certainly was not the great revival we are told God is capable of. This is just one example of a situation that many Christians can find themselves in when evangelizing, expecting something great but finding results far below our expectations. And while one solution is to simply lower our expectations, for Christians, lowering expectations can feel like saying that God is not capable of great things, when we know He certainly is. So how can we deal with this disappointment? Read the rest of this entry
Kuroko’s Basketball has been pretty exciting lately. We finally get to watch the Generation of Miracles go toe-to-toe with each other and with Seirin, and it is awesome. Egos inflate and deflate. Kise and Kagami greet each other with slam dunks before their much-anticipated rematch. Fans cheer, squeal, and gasp both on the bleachers and behind their screens while ships continue to sail. Sometimes, I forget why I’m so excited. And then I remember what sets this show apart: the basketball which Kuroko plays.
In season one, we learn that Kuroko isn’t happy with how the Teiko Middle School team turned out. Everyone else sees the Generation of Miracles, an unbeatable team of allstars. But Kuroko sees athletes who prize their individual abilities above teamwork, winning above friendship, or personal challenge above what’s best for the team. They are immensely talented, but they’ve lost their perspective. Kuroko seeks a team that loves basketball and works together, that knows winning isn’t everything—but will try their darndest to win, because they love the game. This is the kind of team he can support.
Maybe Kuroko can keep his perspective because of his own skill set. Unlike the rest of the Generation of Miracles and Kagami, Kuroko can’t score on his own. He doesn’t even learn to shoot until partway through his first year of high school. Instead, he specializes in passing. When his teammates pass a ball, he briefly touches it, sending the pass in a different direction than their opponents expect. Through middle school and the first part of the anime, he rarely, if ever, holds or dribbles the ball for more than a second—and that is part of the “Misdirection” foundational to his play. He already has almost no presence on the court. He appears too weak and small compared even to average players, so opponents naturally focus on the more “significant” members of the team. Add to that his calculated contact with the ball and the tricks with his eyes, and he can easily direct attention away from himself, becoming essentially invisible. By disappearing, he enhances both the individual skills and group coordination of his team. He plays as a shadow, but that only works if he can team with others.
Kuroko and Kagami join Seirin’s basketball club at the same time. Kagami is a tall, imposing athlete who has just come back to Japan after living and playing in America for several years. At first, he doesn’t understand why the pathetically-weak-looking Kuroko plays basketball. Kuroko, on the other hand, immediately recognizes Kagami’s strength and chooses to become a shadow to his light. In other words, while Kuroko does work with the entire team, he focuses on providing Kagami opportunities to shine even brighter than he could on his own.
Meanwhile, when people eventually notice Kuroko, they ask each other, “Wait a second… was number 11 on the court the entire time?”
In order to made Kagami shine and contribute to the team’s victories, Kuroko must forgo his own glory. Opponents forget he’s on the court, but they’re not the only ones. Journalists forget to interview him when they talk to the team. Fans of the Generation of Miracles forget about him… if they ever knew about him in the first place. Only people who have shared the court with him acknowledge his strength, and he’s okay with that.
Now, Kuroko’s gameplay has evolved a bit. He finally learned to shoot, and it’s a pretty incredible, unique shot, one that even Murasakibara couldn’t block. His Vanishing Drive starts to draw attention, too… and I haven’t forgotten Misdirection Overflow, in which he purposefully draws all attention to himself, away from his teammates. Kuroko isn’t just a shadow anymore. He’s spunky and competitive and not afraid to show it… If it’s also in the best interests of the team. In fact, in some matches—like the current one against Kise—it would be pointless to start with his normal disappearing act. Kise and the rest of Kaijo would see right through it. Thankfully, Kuroko’s new skills allow him to play on equal ground with the rest of the team, even when he’s not running his Misdirection. He’s still well aware of his limitations—he’s not dunking anytime soon!—and even when he gets competitive as an individual, it’s more a matter of personal challenge than attention seeking.
Kuroko’s humble approach to basketball has me thinking about my approach to writing and school. I like my abilities to be recognized. Read the rest of this entry
Anime is full of references to religion, which presents a great opportunity to discuss matters of spirituality. And that’s the idea behind this column, Fact Check, in which I’ll investigate some of the claims of anime and manga characters and weigh them against the truth of scripture.
Today’s claim comes from Mikasa Ackerman during a flashback scene in episode six of Attack on Titan, “The World She Saw.” Perhaps the most famous quote from the popular series (well, except for Levi’s interesting remark about trees), these words arise during Mikasa’s fight for survival against a band of bandits when she was young:
The world is cruel, but also very beautiful.
The claim is very straightforward: this world is both painful and stunning.
Attack on Titan is sometimes difficult to follow, partially because we’re introduced to so many significant characters early on and are encouraged to root for them without getting to know them. Among the main characters, the Shiganshina trio – Eren, Mikasa, and Armin – it’s Mikasa that we know least about in the first half of season one. Not until episode six do we learn her back story.
I can’t remember the last time I watched a series that was as consistently excellent as Shirobako. I’ve not been let down by any episode – they’re all terrific. But this week, we might have gotten something a little better, a little more special. There’s some Shirobako-style fanservice in episode 19, in the image of a young Marukawa, Sugie, and Ookura; the return of Yano; and new relationship dynamics, like that between Yano and Hiraoka.
More significantly, we finally get a breakthrough moment for our main character, Miyamori. Though honestly, I was a little confused, as I wasn’t sure what the series was trying to tell us about career fulfillment for Miyamori. Is it that if you go full steam ahead, you’ll find your dream? Or is it that the dream is in the here and now? Or maybe it’s that if you find something you love, like how Miyamori feels about anime because of her connections to it, you’ll learn to love it?
For someone like me, who’s already established in a career, another lesson was most striking: when things are difficult, and you don’t know the way – in the big picture or in the small – there is a reason, and as you make wise decisions, there is a good end in sight, even if you don’t know what that good end is.
Typical shonen series build up a protagonist until he is able to overcome an obstacle, at which point he may be able to save everyone, often at great risk and sacrifice. Even though friends and mentors help along the way, the hero always has something within him, and it’s ultimately through determination, skill, and talent that he brings out his true potential. But in Your Lie in April, the formula isn’t quite the same. Kaori Miyazono is no mere helper along the way – she is the grace that instead of bringing out the best in Kousei Arima, changes him forever. It’s not the inner Kousei that comes out – he’s a new person entirely.
In episode 18, Kousei and Nagi perform their duet for the world to hear, and more importantly in the case of Kousei, for Kaori to witness. When he confronts Kaori later, she tearfully has to admit that he’s done what she had closed her heart to – that he brought warmth back into her life and again made her dreams come alive.