Author Archives: TWWK

Review: Revolutionary Girl Utena DVD Vol. 1

utena 1

Revolutionary Girl Utena, Volume 1 (Episodes 1-12)
Episodes 1-12
Nozomi Entertainment

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.

Rating: C+

Something More: Kill la Cross, Madoka’s Universal Church, and Sailor Moon Mythology

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.” [2]

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. [2]

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.

Your Lie in April, Episode 19: I Offer Devotion

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.”

april 19b

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.

Read the rest of this entry

Fact Check: Mikasa’s Cruel World

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.

The Claim

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.

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Fact Check

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.

Read the rest of this entry

Shirobako, Episode 19: Straight into the Future

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.

shirobako 19b

Read the rest of this entry

Your Lie in April, Episode 18: The Love You Take…

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.

april 18a Read the rest of this entry

Five Reasons to Give up Anime for Lent

Today marks to beginning of the Lenten Season.  Although I’m not Catholic, and have never observed the tradition of giving up a vice or practice for Lent, I certainly understand that this custom holds significance for many (Medieval Otaku, one of our newest writers, could certainly tell you more).  There’s also an increasing trend of Protestants practicing this custom, including a number of college folks at my own church.  And on social media, a quick search reveals the idea of many perhaps giving up anime for Lent.

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Although mostly tongue in cheek, I would be surprised if many Christians weren’t sincerely thinking of doing so, especially in light of how common media and social media fasts have become.  And although we aren’t separatist in our beliefs here, instead really focusing on all the good there is to be seen in anime, both on a surface level and on a deeper, thematic level, there could be very good reason to dump anime for the next 40 days.  Here are five reasons why you might consider doing so:

1. You Feel Convicted To

Sometimes we’re compelled to take action on things in our life, often without strong rhyme or reason.  It could certainly be that the voice you’re hearing isn’t a simple back and forth in your head, but rather the Holy Spirit convicting you to do something.  Or perhaps a trusted peer had suggested to you that it might be a good idea to let anime go until Easter. Although prayer discernment is always recommended, conviction certainly plays a role in a Christian’s decision-making. Read the rest of this entry

Grave of the Fireflies and the State of the World

I was reminded of Grave of the Fireflies, one of the first anime films I ever watched, when Mark recently posted about his love for Studio Ghibli.  He remarked that the movie “creeped him out.”  For me, it was just massively depressing, especially because of it’s haunting basis in truth.  I think about rewatching it often, but I can never get up the muster to do so.

grave 1Fruit Drops by turtle-rn | used with permission

The suffering of children is something that really hits me.  You of course don’t have to be a parent to feel this way, but I know being a father is what led me to feel more deeply about tragic stories involving kids.  It’s hard not to think about the innocence of your own children and how unforgivable it is when someone would take that away and even do worse.

Of course, tragic and painful events involving children are not just relegated to the past – they occur every day.  Many of us were perhaps reminded of such when a recent report told that ISIS was enslaving children, abusing them sexually, and turning them into child soldiers – and moreso, some were crucified and buried alive.

I literally felt depressed all day.  What could I do to help?  Why aren’t we as a human race doing more?  And how could people commit such atrocities?

It’s easy to get down when reading stories like these.  In my job, I work with the topics of genocide and the Holocaust, so I’m surrounded by such historical accounts; I purposely avoid reading too much, lest I get bogged down in a depressive state, paralyzing myself in making a difference.

For the Christian, there is a hope that the world, no matter what state it’s in, can withhold.  There will be an eternity for believers where such suffering will no longer occur, where goodness and beauty reign and evil has been eradicated.

But that day is long off for most of us.  Until then, perhaps we should reflect on Christ’s words when it comes to children – and remember that in the here and now, we can make a difference to keep children safe and in the state they should be – as innocents.

But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’

- Luke 18:16

Something More: Religion at Katsucon, Hinduism in Death Parade, and Heaven in Wolf’s Rain

Truth be told, this week’s post was intended to be the last regular column of Something More.  I felt that especially with an umber of the writers we feature here having recently joined our site, the column had outlived its usefulness.  That was still my thought this morning, until I realized just how many spirituality-related articles were posted in the aniblogosphere this week.  And so, we continue forward, though it should be noted that Something More may post on more a biweekly schedule from this point forward.

And now, onto this week’s articles!

At Katsucon this weekend? Then you’ll no doubt want to check out Charles Dunbar’s panels on Japan and religion. [Study of Anime]

If you’ve noticed the religious allusions in Death Parade, you’re not the only one – it’s chock full of Buddhist, Shinto, and especially Hindu imagery, and may also have something to tell us in alignment with the last of those three religious philosophies. [Isn’t it Electrifying?]

The first episode of Super Sonico demonstrates to us how fanservice can reveal adulterous desires. [Old Line Elephant]

The concepts of sin and repentance surprisingly find themselves instilled in an ecchi game, Criminal Girls, Invite Only. [Cacao, put down the shovel!]

She’ll spend an upcoming post on religion, but even this week’s post regarding queerness, the first in a series on Kill la Kill, makes some mention of Christian imagery and ideas. [Taylor Ramage’s Blog]

The wolves in Wolf’s Rain seek a literal paradise, but is that what they need? And how does that compare to what otaku seek? [Black Strawberry]

Episode 3 of KanColle demonstrates to us a principle recorded in the Book of James: tomorrow is not guaranteed. [Geeks Under Grace]

Could a solution to the way women are represented in games be found in the understanding of sinful nature? [2]

Adam Ledford completes his series on the history of Christianity in Japan by discussing the Shimabara Rebellion and the faith in Japan following the failed rebellion. [Tofugu]

As part of the Something More series of posts, each week 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 if you’d like it included.

Your Lie in April, Episode 17: Playing for Someone Else

When you’ve shared those sounds with tons of people, when you’ve reached tons of people with those sounds, when your hearts come together, it might be that music transcends words.

If a few of the past episodes of this second cour of Your Lie in April were a mess, episode 17 is the opposite, weaving two storylines together nicely.  Kousei is struggling with the realization that Kaori’s condition is likely terminal, and in his struggle (and through it, growth), he helps Nagi grow, pushing her to prepare with him a special piece for school music festival.

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This entire show sometimes feels rushed – for instance, during this episode, I wondered if the series could have been helped by more episodes featuring Kaori and Kousei simply interacting – but one thing it’s done slowly and patiently is develop Kousei’s character. Though he’s already has his epiphany, Kousei is still growing.  Like a new believer in Christ, you don’t become a lovely person over night – it takes time.  The same is true with Kousei as he learns to trust others and become stronger. Read the rest of this entry

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