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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.
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.
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.
The Third: The Girl With the Blue Eye originally developed from a light novel series dating back to 1999. The anime was originally released in 2006. The show however does feel a bit older than it really is, like a hybrid of a 1990’s environment and setting with an early 2000’s style. The show bounces between the genres of action and sci-fi, but retains a strong and poetic slice-of-life feel.
The series follows a character named Honoka as she travels a post-apocalyptic desert world in a sand tank, fulfilling job requests and helping people. She is an outcast of her own people, who are called The Third. They are a world governing body and a special race of humans with a red eye in the middle of their foreheads. Their goal is to prevent the world from being nearly destroyed again in another great war, so they restrict humans from having any advanced technology.
Even though Honoka is similar to The Third, she lives on earth traveling the deserts for work as a freelancer and nomad. My favorite part of the series is the poetic moments. Often, Honoka’s thoughts are shared by a narrator, but this doesn’t take away from the show like most series of this style. These moments add meaning and depth to the social moments and even more to the action scenes which begin to conflict with the audiences emotions in the same way it affects Honoka’s.
Honestly, this show is not for everyone. If you mainly like deep stories and a carefully crafted plot, you will love this show. It monopolizes on character development and painstakingly reveals the environment of the story. If you like shows like Eureka Seven, Barakamon, or similar shows, you will like The Third: The Girl With the Blue Eye.
My only complaint with the show is that it is a little slow at first. That only last a few episodes, but it does make the show work. Also, I normally prefer subtitles only, but the dub is very good and I like it as much as the subbed version.
Hi everyone, and welcome again to my column, Gaming With God. If you missed my first post, please be sure to check it out. Also, if you have any games that came out of Japan that you would like me to highlight, be sure to mention it in the comments below! I reply and read to every single message I get, and I enjoy interacting with my readers.
This week’s post is all about Star Ocean 3: Till The End Of Time. If you’ve never heard of the Star Ocean series, it’s an obscure series that never really picked up popularity in the USA, but was very popular overseas. Yes, there are many fans, but even the first game never made it to the states and was originally released on Super Famicom in 1996 (PSP remake in 2007). The whole series was developed by Tri-Ace, and there are four entries and international versions which is like a DLC (Downloadable Content) or expansion that has extra goodies. Read the rest of this entry
In December, I watched Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth for Anime Secret Santa. I was struck by the way the main character, Yune, reaches out to those around her. She feels free to love and serve others, while her guardian, Claude, is held back by fear and social convention. Freedom and love are strong themes in Croisée, and for good reason; freedom is connected to how people relate to each other. This just as true in reality as in anime, which leads me to thoughts about Christians. We, more than anyone else, are free to love. In fact, we are commanded to love. So what holds us back? Croisée highlights three of the biggest inhibitors: fear of betrayal and rejection, fear of loss, and fear of what others may think (social convention). I focus on the first two in this post.
Fear of Betrayal and Rejection
Claude, a blacksmith and Paris native, tells Yune to be wary of strangers, lest they take advantage of her. He disapproves of her friendliness toward a little street boy. She sees a hungry child; Claude sees a thief. She sees an opportunity to serve; he sees a threat. Both are technically correct. The boy does steal from them. Yet Yune remains compassionate. She gives him bread two episodes later, much to Claude’s dismay.
When Yune becomes ill, Claude is sure that the child gave her the disease. She still defends him, explaining that she wants to understand how the boy feels. She thinks he’s searching for a place to belong. Claude dismisses the idea… but then he finds flowers the boy left for her.
Claude isn’t exactly wrong to be suspicious. When we extend kindness, people won’t always respond in kind. Sometimes, they may take advantage of us. But defensive callousness is not the answer. We are called to be compassionate, the way Yune is. Compassion is the kind of empathy that moves you to understanding and action—it’s a part of active love.
Death Parade has been a surprise hit for me this season, though I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise since I loved Death Billiards (shame on me for not realizing before the air-date that they were related!). While entirely different from Mushishi, Death Parade manages to evoke some sort of deeper, emotional response featuring a different cast of characters and set of situations each episode. While most of these have been great, I’d like to rewind just a couple weeks to episode 4: “Death Arcade”.
I’m going to take a shot at writing as transparently as I can for this article.
If you have been following my column and my other writing, you may also be aware that emotions are an area of active struggle for me. While I have become much more consistent and well-grounded in the last few years, thanks primarily to a focus on my faith and, consequently, confidence in my existential beliefs (I feel like I at least have a basic grasp of why I exist and how that effects both my present and future existence!), I still encounter moments of mood swings and frustration.
As of writing, just this morning I had a lengthy text conversation with Charles (TWWK) about something that had been eating away at me for the past few months and just came to a head today. In a situation that can best be described as nothing more than a first-world problem (though still an incredibly discouraging one!), I found myself utterly depressed, unmotivated, and a shell of my former upbeat self. For a short time, every piece of good news I heard felt tempered and every piece of bad news felt magnified. Sitting in a public restroom and on my phone, I finally just broke down.
Now that I have recovered from that very short experience, let’s take a look at the episode of Death Parade in question and then rewind to my life just a few years ago…
[Spoiler Warning!] Read the rest of this entry
Welcome to my new column!
I have a few favorite corners where I “hide” to study or write. Sometimes, partway through my day, a friend will join me, and all the thoughts I’ve built up in my corner will suddenly flow out of my mouth and into their ears. This is my corner of Beneath the Tangles. As I watch anime and study throughout the week, thoughts will inevitably build up. I’ll straighten them out into some kind of order and choose a few to share here. Sometimes, like today, the topic will get deep and long. Often, it won’t. And I promise not to write about Kuroko’s Basketball in every post. I do enjoy other anime, really!
Last Saturday, I wrote about how Kise from Kuroko’s Basketball inspired me to imitate Christ. Since then, I’ve continued reflecting on the topic. Two things stick out to me: First, Kise aimed high. Second, he had the discipline to follow through. I realize that aim and follow-through are basic concepts. Shounen heroes, athletes, writers, entrepreneurs—millions of people, fictional and non-fictional, demonstrate what happens when you combine passion and daily discipline. I’ve heard their stories, seen their successes… and pretty much given up on being like them.
I can’t be the only one who gets discouraged. So I’m using this post to examine where I’ve gone wrong and consider what it truly means to aim high as a Christian. I’ll reference Kuroko’s Basketball and other anime, because I think they help illustrate what the Bible says about aiming high. I have been encouraged as I work through this topic, and I pray that this post can encourage you, too.
Where did I go wrong this time?
I have plenty of goals (pray and read the Bible more, complete homework on time, become a professional writer), and sometimes, I make and stick to plans to work toward these goals… for a few weeks, at least. Then I fail. I oversleep. Holidays interrupt my schedule. I waste hours on Tumblr. I don’t focus. Eventually I ask, “How the blazes am I supposed to be a faithful, disciplined anything when the only thing I manage to do consistently is be late?”
I lean heavily on the promise that life in Christ is not about what I do, but about what Christ does—what he has already done. Getting up every morning to pray wouldn’t increase my “Good Christian” standing at all. Showing up to Theology class on time doesn’t ultimately matter, either. I know this, but I get discouraged. My heart must not be in the right place, I think. If it was, if I truly treasured and prioritized serving God, loving him and loving others, I’d do better. I’d keep a healthier, more productive schedule. I’d be as dedicated and motivated as Kise and Kuroko, or Ei-chan, or Sawamura Eijun, or an Olympic athlete. My life would be focused and organized.
Oh. I found my problems. Read the rest of this entry