Anime, Misc.

A farewell to legends

Animated works have a magical potential to let our imaginations unfurl in far greater ways than live-action. This was proven with irrefutable force when, in 2013, two of the founders of Studio Ghibli took their final bows with two films that were extraordinary even by Ghibli’s standards.

The Wind Rises follows the tale of Jiro Horikoshi, who is driven by his desire to build beautiful airplanes. But his dreams are cursed by the prevailing war where his creations are used to slaughter countless humans. This personal conflict is tackled with care in the movie by the masterful hands of Miyazaki.

The story keeps oscillating effortlessly between dreams and reality while also exploring a beautiful lovestory between Jiro and Naoko. It is a well-executed attempt to provide a glimpse into the life of the man behind the infamous Japanese Zero fighters which created havoc during World War II. Although some aspects are fictional, this is probably the only animated documentary till date.

In looking at Hayao Miyazaki’s filmography, we find works that have ranged from the whimsical to the fantastic, but all touch deeply upon humanity’s capacity to soar to great heights as well as the frailties that lay them low. The Wind Rises is a culmination of all these elements. It leaves us with a profound sense of loss as we keenly feel the tragedy that Jiro bears. But it also instills a sense of sorrow as we bid farewell to a master of his craft.

– nihonreview

The Tale of Princess Kaguya is based on the Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, and is a timeless story of a girl’s effort to overcome parental and societal expectations while figuring out what she really wants in life.

The film was drawn over eight years, with a unique art-style that immediately captures the wonder and attention of the viewer. Colors bleed over lines as if in a child’s painting, and at moments of heightened emotion, scenes dissolve into a frenzy of color and charcoal. Accompanied by Joe Hishashi’s music, it is nothing short of a masterpiece.

It’s a world of charcoal lines and water-coloured hues; you can almost feel the brushstrokes upon fibrous paper as the proudly hand-drawn action unfolds.

– theguardian

The void left by the retirements of these two legendary animators will never be filled. Their films made us laugh and shed tears, and taught us that beauty perseveres happiness and sorrow alike. The Ghibli movies shine as rays of hope, providing deep and meaningful insights into life rather than resorting to forced happy endings and casual comedy that dominate the mainstream animation industry of the West.

Anime, Music

Chiaki playing Rachmaninoff – one of the best TV moments ever!

Chiaki has been my role model in more ways than one for quite a long time now. Here’s his chilling performance of the first movement from Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto 2.

When I watched Nodame Cantabile for the first time, I found it a bit odd that so much focus was being given on the performances for once, instead of the dialogues and thoughts. I didn’t have much exposure to classical music back in those days, but I loved the show nevertheless.

Few years later, after getting more and more pulled into classical, I decided to re-watch all three seasons and it was a completely different experience! Especially, this particular scene, which continues to give me goosebumps no matter how many times I watch it.

I have heard many famous performances of this particular piece (Kissin, Anna Fedorova, Matsuev, etc.), and this undoubtedly ranks among them. Kudos to the Nodame Orchestra for giving so much effort behind the music of this wonderful anime!

Listen to the uninterrupted audio here.

Anime, Lists, Music

Beautiful soundtracks #3 – Ghibli

This particular post is dedicated to Studio Ghibli music only. Each of their films is accompanied by a great score. I’ve handpicked few tracks which often send me spiraling into the world of wonder and magic.

• Legend of Ashitaka, Princess Mononoke

• Requiem, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

• One Summer’s Day, Spirited Away

• Carrying You, The Castle in the Sky

• Become the Wind, The Cat Returns

• Dragon Boy, Spirited Away

• The Merry-Go-Round of Life, Howl’s Moving Castle

• Yasashisa ni Tsutsumareta nara, Kiki’s Delivery Service

• Inochi no Kioku, The Tale of Princess Kaguya

• The Path of the Wind, My Neighbor Totoro

• Dream of Flight, The Wind Rises

• Always With Me, Spirited Away

Click here for part 1.
Click here for part 2.

Anime, Misc.

The Wind Rises

I had been waiting for a proper moment to watch The Wind Rises. And I finally watched it last month.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

I can’t emphasize my love for Miyazaki enough. I tend to agree vigorously with all the ideals and philosophies portrayed in his films. The world needs more people like him. Naturally, watching his last movie was a sad experience.

The Wind Rises is about the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the aeronautical engineer who designed the infamous Zero fighter planes during World War II. Jiro was driven by his desire of creating beautiful aeroplanes, and the film emphasizes the innocence in the act of following one’s dreams. The war itself is ignored for the majority of the movie but its cold, lingering presence is often felt in the undercurrents. Several hints are dropped throughout about the conflict in Jiro’s mind, such as his expressions of anguish upon witnessing power-dive tests by pilots, which might have been a reference to kamikaze.

The perspective keeps shifting between dreams and reality, and manages to hold onto the old Miyazaki magic, in spite of being a very realistic movie. In his dreams Jiro keeps meeting his role model, Mr. Caproni, who was an Italian aircraft designer. Caproni’s character is masterfully made. He is a personification of Jiro’s own thoughts and aspirations, and motivates Jiro to keep going despite his doubts.

Dreams are convenient. One can go anywhere.
— Caproni

Throughout the film I kept thinking how much I want to be like Jiro. He is an almost flawless, yet a very realistic character. He perfectly defines the type of person I want to be. Another major plus of this movie is the love affair between Jiro and Naoko. It is simple, unpretentious and adorable, and very characteristic of Studio Ghibli.

The ending of the movie hit me hard. It pulls you down to reality with a brief glimpse of the outcome of the war. It is clear that Jiro never found happiness in achieving his life’s dream. The movie was an apt ending to such an illustrious career. None of Miyazaki’s other films describes himself more vividly than The Wind Rises.

Be careful, this may be a dream but you can still lose your head!
— Caproni

Overall, The Wind Rises is a beautiful film and I highly recommend it to anyone reading this.

Anime, Journal

Anime days

I haven’t been watching anime lately.

I think I haven’t watched any anime at all this year. Sure there are my old favorites, which I revisit every now and then when I’m bored, but I don’t feel like starting anything new. Maybe it’s because of how the mainstream anime industry has changed over the past few years, resulting in all sorts of genres and stereotypes like moe, harem, etc. which I find utterly unappealing. I’m sure there are still good stuff out there hidden under the pile of garbage, but I lost the interest to seek them out. Too little time.

Anime is one thing I don’t want to grow out of. I remember how Pokemon and DBZ used to feel back when I was a kid, and I want to re-experience those feelings every now and then. For few years I had started believing that it was impossible, but then Fate/Zero came along and proved me wrong. Sure, the extreme excitement lasted for a short time, but it was enough. And now they are remaking Fate/Stay Night, so I guess I’m pretty excited about that. I am also a little sad though, because the old Fate/Stay Night was one of my favourite shows back in its day. Obviously it feels bland now that Fate/Zero showed us a whole different level, but lets not forget the awesome music which kind of defined FSN.

What I really want now is an anime which is made for our age group, which appeals to our maturity rather than the child in us. There are enough beautiful anime that I like because they are so innocent and sweet (Ghibli movies come to mind), or because they are cool (Cowboy Bebop, Death Note), but very few truly adult and mature anime. I guess they are not targeting that demographic anyway, but they definitely should. I mean, we were among the first few generations of anime fans, and now we are grown up and we expect grown up stuff in order to keep going. Not the same plot about a guy being the center of attraction of ten girls. Unless the industry shows some drastic changes, I’d be just a guy who used to watch anime. And that would be very sad because anime days used to be fun days.

Anime, Music

Hyouka : Openings and Endings

Anime provides an infinite scope for symbolism, which is something that got me hooked to it in the first place.

Take Hyouka for example. Now, this is a series about small scale detective work and one can expect it to be factual rather than philosophical. It is indeed just that, but I really enjoyed the fun hints of symbolism they put into their opening and ending sequences. Now I don’t speak Japanese, so lyrical references might be lost on me.

If you’re planning to watch these, or the anime, please pick 720p at least. It deserves every pixel.

1. Opening 1: Yasashisa no Riyuu

The first opening just sets the mood for the entire anime, letting the viewers know that they’re in for a visual treat. Lots of ripple effects, which I think is sort of a signature for this series. You get to see Oreki living a grey life and occasionally glancing at pink flowers by the roadside, or being thrown into a new world consisting of nothing but a bright blue sky. Quite fitting, especially since the first few episodes is mostly about the clash of the rosy and grey lifestyles of the characters. [On a side note, I found the rosy-gray stuff a little childish, but meh, they used it well.]

2. Ending 1: Madoromi No Yakusoku

One word, FANSERVICE. If it means anything, I didn’t get it. But it sure is pretty, and the song is good.

3. Opening 2: Mikansei Stride

This is the best of all, and certainly my favorite. Oreki falls asleep during a conversation among the four, and finds himself in a dream in which he is trapped inside a whiteboard. He can move along glasses and water surfaces, and can see everyone, but no one can see him. Finally he is sitting on the water beneath a cherry tree and suddenly sees the glimpse of an opening umbrella which sends him crashing through lots of colors (you won’t get it if you haven’t seen the last episode). He runs away and ends up in the Classic Lit club room, where Chitanda and the others promptly see him inside the glass. Finally Chitanda pulls him out into the real world and that’s where the dream ends.

I think this falls back on what Oreki said in episode 2: “They live in a world different from mine. What makes us so different? What is it?”

So it takes people to know who you really are to save you from yourself, huh?

4. Ending 2: Kimi ni Matsuwaru Mystery

This one is very funny; I laughed SO hard! The girls are dressed up as detectives and the guys are the criminals, and the entire package comes with floating titles of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie mysteries in the background. I think they made this because both the guys were scared to commit on the inside and looked like ‘Coldcases’ on the outside. Man, this surely cracked me up!

If you haven’t watched Hyouka, I certainly recommend it. It is a gem of an anime, especially if you like insights into logical deductions, and something off-beat.

Anime

Rurouni Kenshin – Anime Review

Review of the anime Rurouni Kenshin aka Samurai X.

“I’m a wanderer, Miss Kaoru, and I must wander again.”

– Kenshin

Episodes: 95
Genres: action, comedy, drama
Themes: historical, samurai, martial arts, politics

For a child growing up amidst a bloody battlefield, war becomes the way of life. The child’s dreams get limited to becoming stronger; strong enough to fight off the constant threats to his family and loved ones. Consequently, he does become strong. After the lengthy process of coming of age and training, he enters the battle, already a veteran, and begins the daily routine of defending and taking lives. But what happens to him when war suddenly gives way to peace? His skills and strength become useless, and all of a sudden he finds weaker people ruling over him just because they are more ‘qualified’ on basis of education and riches.

Rurouni Kenshin tackles this aspect of human nature, which makes it quite a unique watch. All this is hidden under a mask of simplicity, though, and there lies the beauty. A person may enjoy the show just for its action sequences, which mostly dominate the storyline, and the delicate Kenshin-Kaoru romance, which adds a sweet touch. In fact, the hints of something really mature in the backdrop are so subtle, that for most part of the series I felt I was thinking too deeply into a show meant for children.

The main storyline revolves around Kenshin Himura, a wandering samurai in the Meiji Era of Japanese history. He had fought for the Imperialists in the Tokugawa war, earning the title of ‘Battosai the Manslayer’ for his rash and skillful executions, and had later become a legend by suddenly disappearing from the eyes of the public. We come to know that presently, he carries around a reverse-blade sword and has vowed never to kill again.

After the Tokugawa regime ended, the Meiji Era brought peace for the first time in many decades. But like I mentioned, peace is rather destructive for the strong. A buzz of an upcoming revolt keeps the air tingly with tension. The first few episodes build up a sort of base and introduce the other important characters. Eventually, Kenshin is called for by a senior minister to help fight against Shishio, a man bent on starting another revolution to overthrow the Meiji government. The story continues from there, accompanied by few fillers now and then. Honestly, some of the episodes get really boring due to repetitive circumstances.

The main characters remain almost same throughout the anime. Nothing much to say about that.

The music is great, especially because they’ve used it perfectly with the scenes, and have managed to bring forth a classic Japanese feeling. ‘Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu’ is probably one of the most famous anime themes of all time. Some other tracks like ‘Kaoru’s Theme’ and ‘Departure’ are exceptionally well composed. The artwork is almost typical to the anime of its time, and it suits the story well enough.

To wrap it up, I would like the readers to keep in mind that this is best watched if you are around twelve years of age. Older people might get bored, since most of the anime has lengthy fight sequences, kind of resembling the likes of DBZ (though not as long). However, every otaku should see this once, it being one of the classics that paved the path for anime to what it is now. Also, it is largely based on Japan’s historical background and will entertain all Japan lovers.

The series also has 2 OVAs, out of which ‘Trust and Betrayal’ was simply mind-blowing. More on that in another review.

Overall: 7/10

Anime

Honey and Clover – Anime Review

“We never did go to the beach. All that planning for nothing. But somehow, the fake memory of the six of us bathing in the sun burnt into the back of my eyelids, as if we were really there.”

– Takemoto

Episodes: 36, divided into two seasons
Genres: slice of life, romance, comedy
Themes: college life, art, growing up

Highly Recommended.

Not often do you come across something artsy and about art, and at the same time gives you a taste of cherries. Honey and Clover is a romantic comedy revolving around the lives of five art students going through their college life. This is definitely a benchmark anime for the slice-of-life genre, finding just the right balance between joy and sorrow.

There is no proper story-line; rather the entire plot is based solely on the characterization. The characters here are few of the most lovable ones ever to grace the screens of animated television. Each person is a three dimensional human being with reasonable flaws, having a unique perspective towards life. There is no stereotypical ‘dumb guy who makes you laugh’ or anything of that sort. Everyone is complex, having reasonable intelligence and emotions, and plans which stretch out further than the activities of next week. Sometimes few insignificant characters, who are mere cardboard cutouts having single purposes in life, do turn up, but they add to the flavor of the entire anime. A vague analogue would be Lestrade from the ever so great Sherlock Holmes.

You’ll find a lot of melodrama and energy, all for the sake of comedy, and trust me; it gets seriously funny at times. But Honey and Clover is not just another dramatic show. It ranges from belly-aching laughter to tearful insights. The transition between these happens smoothly and continuously throughout the series, leaving no phase completely sad or completely happy.

Like all college students, the air surrounding the five is scented with young love and dilemmas. Two love triangles pop up. But I guess that’s a gross over-simplified way of saying things. Don’t go on thinking that all the serious issues are related to love though, because there is just so much more. A heartfelt despair about lack of talent, for example.

The series has soft pastel shaded coloring throughout, unlike the typical bright tones you find in most anime. This compliments the steady flow of incidents to perfection. The expressions conjured with sudden changes in eye/face/body shapes often leave you mesmerized. I have a few complaints regarding the second season, in this respect. Though they maintained the same soft pastel shade, somehow the rough beauty of the expressions didn’t match up to those of the first.

In fact, the entire second season is a bit disappointing, thanks to the tremendous expectation set forth by the first. The proper balance between separate story-lines is somewhat lost, and you don’t get to see anything of Shinobu, Takemoto and Hagu for about six episodes or so. I won’t say it’s bad though (hell no!), it’s still awesome and makes up for all the aforementioned minor flaws with a fabulous ending sequence. What awes you most, is that in spite of being melodramatic throughout the season, no one gets any special hype towards the end, even though the precious characters might never see each other again.

The soundtrack is one of the best ever (in my opinion). The voice acting is good, but, as usual, the English dub is a bit disappointing. They managed to ruin some important scenes with change of tone and complete change of dialogues. Hence I’ll recommend Japanese audio with English subs. In case you are new to anime, you might as well stick to English dub.

I feel that this is best watched between the ages of 16 and 18, although there is no reason why older people won’t like it. This is a must watch for all anime and/or art lovers. If you want something rare and precious, Honey and Clover is one of the best there is.

Overall: 9/10

Anime

Fate/Stay Night – Anime Review

Fate/Stay Night will be my first anime review. If you are actually planning to watch it, I warn you; this will be full of spoilers.

Name: Fate/Stay Night
Genres: Fantasy, romance, action
Episodes: 24
My rating: 7/10

It was no coincidence that we met,
For it’s a fate arranged long ago.

Like most fantasy animes, this one has rules of its own. A war is going on among seven masters in order to attain the Holy Grail. Each master can summon a servant for themselves, and these servants are spirits of epic heroes from the pages of history (here history means legends, since this is a fantasy anime). The sole duty of a servant is to protect his/her master at all costs and help him win the Holy Grail. In case you’ve been wondering, the ones (the master and the servant) who win the Holy Grail will both have one wish fulfilled. The reason to fight, for most of the servants, is to amend something about their own life which they regretted after their death or to get a second chance at living, whereas the reason for the masters vary greatly from each other. In any case, though it is called a war, it is actually an organised tournament where a master has to kill other masters to win.

The lead character, Shirou Emiya, is painfully stupid and has an extreme talent of getting himself into trouble. He is always striving to seek out the most noble solution and flushing practicality down the drain. Whereas the main supporting character Rin Tohsaka with her no-nonsense type of attitude is quite more entertaining to watch. This brings us to the starting of the story. Shirou accidentally witnessed the battle between two servants. According to the rules of the Grail Wars, all witnesses must be executed immediately. So Lancer, one of the servants, kills him. But he is revived instantaneously by Rin. When Lancer came to know about this, he decides to kill Shirou for the second time. Out of self-defence, Shirou unintentionally summons Saber, a servant of his own, thus becoming the seventh master of the war. (Saber is female, by the way. Servants use names of their clans and Saber is not her real name.) Saber turns out to be the second lead character of the story.

Bloody battles follow, as one master after another fall prey. Rin loses her servant, Archer, in a battle. Archer is the most interesting character of the story in my opinion, though his past identity never came to light. As the spiritual bond between Shirou and Saber gradually increase, Shirou starts visualizing Saber’s past and discovers that she is the manifestation of none other than the great King Arthur of England. Yes, legends hint that King Arthur might have been female (see page: “Was King Arthur female?“), and this anime has grabbed it. Personally, I loved this anime mainly because it made me aware of few legends which I found quite interesting.

There are subtle references now and then about Rin being in love with Shirou. But true to her character, Rin never utters a word about it. Another girl, Sakura, who has a significant side role is also in love with Shirou, but that is more of an immature possessiveness. The characterization is the main thumbs down, as each character is totally predictable and not one-of-a-kind in any way, thus ranking this anime far behind the likes of Death Note.  Further, it lacks the refined actions of Bleach, and this anime is no good when it comes to catchy dialogues. What it is good at is keeping secrets. Make sure you read about the characters from various websites, after watching the anime, and you’ll be surprised at how many hidden facts you’ll find.

Coming back to the plot, Saber reveals that her wish on attaining the Holy Grail will be to redo the selection of the king. She regretted pulling the sword Excalibur out of its stone, as ultimately she could not fulfill her duties. But by this time, Shirou has fallen in love with her (predictably), and wants her to use the wish to remain with him after the Grail Wars end. Saber is obviously also in love with Shirou, but her royal ego forbids her to act like a “love-struck young girl out of a fairy-tail”. In the end, she sees the futility in changing the course of history, and Shirou realizes that he can’t make a legendary being stay with him. So they decide to destroy the Grail, which has been the cause of lots of bloodshed and dilemma. They do so after defeating the other masters, thus ending the war along with Saber’s existence in Shirou’s world.

I felt the best part of the entire anime was that King Arthur’s past life was actually affected slightly by all this, in spite of no wish being made. All these battles and incidents of the Grail War, and Shirou, flashed by her mind in her last dream (my interpretation, could be wrong). When she woke up, it appeared that she had fallen off her horse during a battle and passed out. She summoned Bedivere and handed over Excalibur to her, asking her to throw it into a lake which lied across the battlefield. And then she breathed her last breath.

The overall music and lighting of the anime is great, and brings out the scenes efficiently. For people of my age, it might be a little hard to digest all the thick, magical beams striking each other, which this anime had in store for the battles towards the end, much resembling the old and familiar Dragonball series. But the animation being good, most of the battles are nice to watch. Though there was an awful 3D scene somewhere in the middle, which stuck out like a dark blotch.

I say this would be a really good watch, though it probably won’t be for you if you have read this far. My advice: don’t judge it by this review; I just blurted out points, the anime tells you the story in a much more interesting fashion. Recommended to almost everyone, though there’s obviously some blood violence and dark imagery.

You also get to see Saber’s naked back for about a second. This show is the work of Satan.” – http://www.themanime.org

Oh yes, one more thing. This anime was actually developed from a video game and follows one of its many story lines.