Tuesday, 28 June 2016

#28: Kill La Kill (2013-14)

From http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/omniversal-crosswars
Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi
Screenplay: Kazuki Nakashima
Based on an Original Premise
Voice Cast: Ami Koshimizu (as Ryuuko Matoi); Ryoka Yuzuki (as Satsuki Kiryuuin); Aya Suzaki (as Mako Mankanshoku); Toshihiko Seki (as Senketsu); Hiroyuki Yoshino (as Hōka Inumuta); Katsuyuki Konishi (as Tsumugu Kinagase); Mayumi Shintani (as Nonon Jakuzure); Nobuyuki Hiyama (as Uzu Sanageyama)

Synopsis: At Honnouji Academy, the daughter of the head of a global fashion corporation called Satsuki Kiryuuin (Yuzuki) rules the student body and even the teachers with a velvet lined iron fist; the entire island right down to the homes are set in a class structure where the highest tiers were special school uniforms lined with life fibres, living fibres which allow for growth in superhuman abilities in the wearers. With an Elite Four under her to control the students - Ira Gamagoori, Uzu Sanageyama, Nonon Jakuzure and Houka Inumuta - Satsuki hopes to dominate the entire country of Japan in terms of the school system. However there's a new transfer student to the Academy called Ryuuko Matoi (Koshimizu) out for revenge for Satsuki killing her father; armed with a giant half scissor blade, able to destroy life fibres, and gaining a living schoolgirl's outfit she calls Senketsu (Seki), a living being which gives her greater strength than regular life fibre uniforms, she will be a problem for Satsuki. Helped by the hyperactive friend and personal cheerleader Mako (Suzaki) and an anti-life fibre rebel group of naturalists called the Nudist Beach led by Aikuro Mikisugi (Miki), Ryuuko intends to cut the heads of the Academy down to size.

From http://www.anime-evo.net/wp-content/uploads/
What exactly can be added to the opinions on Kill La Kill when everyone else has already reviewed it, drawn fan art of it, cosplayed as characters from it, drawn erotic fan art of it and much more, something that is already seeb as a cult series that people will still talk of for a few years at least? That it's in hindsight Imaishi, after setting up his own studio called Trigger after leaving Gainax, created something that for all its ridiculous gore and hyper sexuality - famously Ryuuko's super transformation which hasn't put off male and female cosplayers dressing as her and even bringing about a special form of bra padding for sale - is really a tribute to the kind of action programming usually designed for children, usually episodic and can be understood by Westerners and those who even watched live action shows like Power Rangers. The type of show where each episode threw any threat at the heroes - mind control, betrayal and plenty of super powerful minions - only for the heroes to overcome it all through passion, courage and blood-mindedness. It's the kind of thing, slightly betrayed by the J-pop but forgiven in Kill La Kill because of its good music and a great end credits song for the first half of the series, that should be scored with the most bombastic and cheesy eighties guitar rock song possible. In comparison Gurren Lagann (2007), while in the same mould, was far more complicated as it literally split in plot with a drastic time jump forward in the narrative in the centre of the series, whilst Kill La Kill does all its plot twists and dynamics in a straight forward plot, set within only a few settings and the same time frame, which is charged through in its twenty four episodes and bonus ending episode with as much adrenaline as possible.

From http://cdn0.dailydot.com/uploaded/images/
Since Imaishi 's trademark is very fast paced and hyper in pace, this means that the episodic tone of such shows is taken to an absurd extent where a strife can be thrown at the protagonists and be dealt with in the first fifteen minutes of an episode, more strife ready immediately afterwards in constant bombardment as plot twists keep appearing. Far from becoming problematic and eventually desensitizing, the show's tone works because it fully embraces the structure of serial storytelling to an extreme, the personality from the show's quirks and peculiar plot line intertwining fashion and fascism that was the original catalyst for the show. It's helped by the fact that Imaishi has never allowed bad animation into his directorial work, nor accepted anything aesthetically ugly to appear on his animation, unless it was deliberately chunky on purpose. The same kinetic tone of (entry # 23) Dead Leaves (2004), his debut, continues all the way to Kill La Kill nine years later with incredibly ridiculous action set pieces, the tone set by how much the bold, three dimensional red text onscreen in abused to name every character and move that appears and the general sense of deliberate overkill and exhilaration in the story's presentation.

From http://cdn-static.denofgeek.com/sites/denofgeek/files/styles/
It depends on your personal taste whether the tone of Kill La Kill is desensitising to a major fault or whether it's incredibly energising and leaves you on a constant high from all the cliff-hangers. The personality is what helps, Imaishi deciding to create a story based on the idea of clothing representing conformity and doctrine, where the clothes literally wear the wearers rather than the other way around, running with the clothing and sewing iconography in everything from the weapons to super-moves. Within this the characters are the stereotypes of anime giving Imaishi's trademark eccentricities and energy. Ryuuko Matoi is the tomboy protagonist who is blunt and hard-headed, the kind of figure capable of learning from mistakes and weaknesses for the sake of drama and surrounded by people willing to help her in her determined goal, all of them memorable in visual appearance and personality be they the good guys or bad guys. From Mako and her monologues with choreographed hand movements and random tangents to the Elite Four, tough but also mortal with their own quirks, the characters Imaishi has in his work have been the thing that wins viewers over ultimately. This becomes a masterstroke for the plot as well when the story starts to show more sympathetic sides to Satsuki Kiryuuin, the cold figure but one with a humane view of her henchmen, foreshadowing how the show twists the initial plot on its head in the finale in terms of the span of events.

From http://media.tumblr.com/bd5ca0548a2821fcfe552ad2e3ea173b/
If there's any issues with Kill La Kill it's only that, like Imaishi's other work, he could've easily trip over if he wasn't careful and have something in his stories which make little sense or stick out like a sore thumb if you think about it too much. Kill La Kill jumps over plot points quickly and it could've easily devolved into illogical tangents which come off as confusion rather than ridiculous in an entertaining way. Sometimes its scorched earth policy in plotting offers great moments - the cliché of the hero renouncing their position in fear of becoming a monster gets swerved in a great way here. In the opposite spectrum it could've easily fell over something incredibly stupid - the one which nearly raised an eyebrow from myself is when the real villains are revealed to be incestuous lesbians with a fetish for fabric, thankfully side stepped knowing Imaishi has always had a very liberal viewpoint of sexuality - where there is a gay side character on the heroes side of Gurren Lagann whose despite his broad personality can be serious and competent when need be - and it's one of the most kinky anime directors in terms of equal opportunity and liberal fan service and sexuality, exemplified by the fact that the rebel team helping the heroine, Nudist Beach, is literally a nudist group whose leader gladly poses bare chested during his grand speeches with abs and nipples that glow purple when air reaches them. Imaishi has always tightrope walked between being merely tasteless and being deliberately absurd; Kill La Kill gets away with some abrupt plot twists, including outright absurd science fiction by the end, because it's manic tone pulls out the least expected things possible with such a simple plot. Somehow the series starts with Ryuuko and Mako negotiating a life threatening obstacle course to school that needs to be completed in a set time limit, like a more dangerous version of a plot found in a children's cartoon, and then ends over twenty four episodes later with the Earth at risk from living fibres on an apocalyptic level, the twists about who is who, what they are and who their relatives are, piled onto each other abruptly one after another, and manages to get away with it because the tone is dealt with perfectly. Anything that could be utterly clumsy is countered by Imaishi having always been an equal opportunity individual with a taste for the insane.

Because of such virtues, it's great to see such a fun and accomplished series do so well in terms of popularity whilst still being as weird and deliberately silly as it is. The only concern left after seeing this series finally, as I said in the Dead Leaves review, is that Imaishi should consider taking a whole 180 degree turn in tone for his next few projects so that he does not need to repeat himself, Kill La Kill perfect as it is and not needing to be spoilt by something repeating it's style with less interest. Space Patrol Luluco (2016), his latest, is a very short sci-fi comedy series which is hopefully a good start but I feel his next large scale project, if it comes, should be different from the action template as well; even even Panty and Stockings With Garterbelt, whilst an action series, was more of a Cartoon Network cartoon for adults, and if anything emphasising the comedy for a while might be perfect for him unless he decides to step into uncharted territory with another genre like drama. Might be insane to imagine it, but it would also be a shame when, including its bonus twenty fifth episode which ties the show up in a perfect little bow and clears out anything that would've been loose threads in the original finale, Kill La Kill after leaving with an emotional end and a smile on your face was spoilt by a rehashing of its best aspects.

Monday, 13 June 2016

#27: Roots Search (1986)

From https://bludragon.files.wordpress.com/2009/
Director: Hisashi Sugai
Screenplay: Michiru Shimada
Voice Cast: Keiko Han (as Moira), Banjou Ginga (as Norman); Kenyuu Horiuchi (as Buzz); Osamu Kobayashi (as Marcus); Takao Horiuchi (as Buzz); Yusaku Yara (as Alien X)

Amongst the obscurities that were made in the golden age of straight-to-video anime back in the eighties, Roots Search managed to both be notorious amongst older Western fans but managed to dig its way out of the vortex many obscurity is stuck in because of this infamy. A sci-fi horror story, a space station built to research ESP and psychic powers is unexpectedly graced with a deserted spaceship appearing in its dimension. With only one survivor on board called Buzz, the occupants of the station including its sole female member Moira find themselves up against a monstrous alien entity which, prefiguring Paul Thomas Anderson's Event Horizon (1997), changes itself into figures of guilt for each of its victims before gruesomely killing them. Amongst the ghosts the alien plays includes the ex-lover of one of the men and a soldier killed by a giant extraterrestrial dinosaur before one by one disposing of them.

From https://i.ytimg.com/vi/CM2qRd0cStU/hqdefault.jpg
Roots Search is a strange, malformed entity, only around forty minutes or so and managing in such a small space of time to feel like a line of grease and dirt has covered a viewer's eyes with its schlocky tone. In terms of actual virtue, it's a complete failure, too short to really be able to pace itself well and instead a catalogue of strange plot tangents for such a simplistic plot. Instead this is one of those anime that if you have a high tolerance for lack of quality, the virtues (and fun) is to be found in that griminess. For example, that aforementioned giant extraterrestrial dinosaur which Event Horizon could've made work but is a prominent part of this anime's scare tactics. There's also a subplot involving Moira and Buzz falling in love that will either clinch whether you hate the anime or appreciate it, Moira's precognitive abilities allowing her to have a premonition involving them naked running on a field, under a candy floss pink sky, and leading to the creation of what's effectively the star child from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969). Moments like this cannot be taken seriously, so the anime depends on whether you find humour in it or not to find any entertainment within it.

From https://tokyobagero.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/macross2012roots-search
It's quite gristly as well, not only in gore that is gooey and bloody but in general body horror where people explode into tentacles and various forms of viscous dripping alien limbs or the contents of an anatomical book. It's no way as detailed or nasty as some of the more infamous anime of the eighties like Angel Cop (1989-1994) or Urotsukidoji (1987-89) but its veneer of grime is actually the thing for me personally that helps Roots Search have some saving grace to it as it leads to it having a personality. There's also a creepy sexual edge to it by accident or on purpose, such as the alien having, for a lack of a better term, a vagina dentata-like mouth, adding to the level of scuzz. The lurid tone is matched by an animation style which can, honestly, be summed up as a mess, about to collapse into the shambolic. Even on a VHS rip, there's a dirt ridden look which, despite the work of the production staff, cannot be ignored especially when it comes the character designs, varying between looking like many have been visibly devoured by their anxieties from the amount of black lines beneath their eyes to Moira's strangely giant eyes and incredibly large pink beret. It would've been a much duller anime if this hadn't happened as it actually makes the work far more memorable, the generic character designs and bland environments given over to gross body horror and characters who look like an eye is about to drift down to their cheek if they don't concentrate on keeping it in place. Paradoxically it's the mistakes which give some life to the aesthetic of the production if you're not just focusing on the horror aspects.

From http://blog-imgs-65-origin.fc2.com/t/s/u
Plot wise it starts to get ridiculous as it goes along, the alien proclaiming itself to be God and metaphysical dialogue being crowbarred into a running length not long enough for it. Immediately after the station's captain is killed gruesomely, which should cause people to feel at unease or terrified, you have Moira suddenly starting up a polite conversation about the existence of God in the kind of abrupt change of pace that you expect failed live action horror movies from the West to commit, not an anime. The ending is entirely vague as well, sexual and anatomical imagery abound as the survivors suddenly end up in a womb-like, living environment walking optimistically into white light, no real conclusion when the credits kick in with a jazzy J-pop ballad.

Depending on your viewpoint of this anime watching it, it's in some ways for the better practically that an industry like the straight-to-video era where there was enough money about, before the Japanese economic bubble popped, to fund stuff like this doesn't exist anymore. But bad anime is still made in large quantities,  and for all its failed examples this system also lead to good anime and even beloved classics, making one pine for such a system to still exist. A contradiction yes, but that reflects how bad to the point of being charming Roots Search is in a sick way. Hilariously the same studio who made this also created Crystal Triangle (1987), melding Indiana Jones and a crackpot Dan Brown mystery plot into a memorably bonkers feature length anime. That's for another day however...

From http://blog-imgs-65-origin.fc2.com/t/s/u/

Monday, 6 June 2016

#26: Paprika (2006)

From http://pics.filmaffinity.com/Paprika_detective
Director: Satoshi Kon
Screenplay: Seishi Minakam and Satoshi Kon
Based on a novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui
Voice Cast: Megumi Hayashibara (as Doctor Atsuko Chiba/Paprika); Tōru Furuya (as Doctor Kōsaku Tokita); Tōru Emori (as Doctor Seijirō Inui); Katsunosuke Hori (as Doctor Toratarō Shima); Akio Ōtsuka (as Detective Toshimi Konakawa); Kōichi Yamadera (as Doctor Morio Osanai)

This would've been a difficult task - covering an anime by the late Satoshi Kon and explaining my admiration for him - regardless of which of his small filmography I choose, but it does also mean I got to revisit this film again and see why I admire him like so many do. Paprika is the one in his career which is the "flawed" film of his filmography, but you'll also see why I love it if you follow the link to the full review HERE.

From https://canime.files.wordpress.com/2007/11/paprika4.jpg