Giant monsters have existed in film ever since King Kong fell in love with Fay Wray in 1933. Japanese cinema has been the prime producer of giant monster, or kaiju media, from Godzilla in 1954. The Godzilla franchise has produced a rogues gallery of kaiju, including Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. Godzilla isn’t the only kaiju; Gamera has his own franchise and gallery of fellow kaiju. Other nations have tried making their own kaiju works; the 1961 Danish film Reptilicus is such an example. Giant robots are also a mainstay of Japanese media, through live action sentai works and anime. The mecha can range from large but still human scale, such as in Armored Troopers: VOTOMS and Bubblegum Crisis to towering units such as those from the Gundam franchise.
Naturally, works will inspire creators. Guillermo del Toro was inspired by the various kaiju and mecha productions, including Godzilla and Neon Genesis Evangelion, and HP Lovecraft’s At the Moutnains of Madness, leading to the 2013 film, Pacific Rim. The cast includes Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket, Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori, Idris Elba as Marshal Stacker Pentecost, Charlie Day as Newt Geiszler, Ron Perlman as Hannibal Chau, and Burn Gorman as Dr. Hermann Gottlieb.
In the film, the Earth is under assault. Kaiju are coming through a breach in the the Pacific Ocean, wreaking havoc and destroying coastal cities. Conventional weapons are ineffective and the use of nuclear weapons would destroy more than just the kaiju. To combat the kaiju, giant mecha called jaegers were developed, capable of standing toe-to-toe with the monsters. However, the jaegers are too much for one pilot to handle. Two pilots must mesh in the drift, a merging of minds, and each handles one hemisphere. The nature of the drift means that a pair of pilots need to be close. One of the jaegers, a Mk III called Gipsy Danger, is piloted by brothers Yancy and Raleigh Becket and is dispatched to stop a Category-3 kaiju codenamed Knifehead from destroying Anchorage, Alaska. Gipsy Danger‘s victory is Pyrrhic; Knifehead is stopped, but Yancy is pulled out of the cockpit, leaving Raleigh to finish the fight on his own.
Five years later, and the battle isn’t going well. A new defense is in the works, known as the Life Wall. The idea is that with the Life Wall in place to stop the kaiju, the jaegers would no longer be needed. Raleigh, though, is already out of the service, his brother dead and Gipsy Danger too damaged. He’s now one of the labourers working on the Life Wall in Alaska. Before his latest shift begins, a military helicopter arrives with Marshal Pentecost. Pentecost has an offer for Raleigh, a return to action.
In the Shatterdome in Hong Kong, the last four jaegers are waiting for their standdown orders. Three have crews – Crimson Typhoon piloted by Chinese triplets, Cherno Alpha piloted by a husband and wife team, and Striker Eureka, piloted by father and son Herc and Chuck Hansen. The fourth, Gipsy Danger rebuilt, has no pilots but Pentecost is hoping that Raleigh can find a partner. After testing several potential partners, Raliegh chooses Mako Mori, a survivor of a kaiju attack on Tokyo.
The Shatterdome is also the home to kaiju researchers. One, Newt, has figured out a way to drift with the hindbrain of a kaiju. After a somewhat successful first drift, he discovers that the kaiju are planning on moving to Earth en masse, to destroy all life here and then to find a new home to invade. Pentecost is informed of the breakthrough and tells Newt to get in touch with Hannibal Chau, a black marketer dealing in kaiju organs and parts. It’s Chai that realizes the problem with Newt drifting with the kaiju brain; the kaiju have a hive mind. What Newt knows, every kaiju knows, including the plan to use a nuclear bomb to seal the bridge between the kaiju‘s world and Earth.
Two more kaiju attack, the target being Hong Kong. All four jaehers are sent to stop the Category-4s. Both Crimson Typhoon and Cherno Alpha are destroyed in the attack. Herc in Striker Eureka is injured, but the attack is stopped, with one kaiju laying dead in Hong Kong. Newt grabs the opportunity to get more information and, with Hermann as co-pilot, drifts into the the dead kaiju‘s hindbrain.
The plan to seal the bridge between worlds is still a go, though. Gipsy Danger and Striker Eureka are repaired and re-armed. Since Herc is out of commission, Pentecost steps up to co-pilot with Chuck Hansen. The Marshall had been a pilot of a Mk I jaeger, having been the one to stop the kaiju stomping through Tokyo. The two jaegers head out to sea, marching underwater to the breach. During the trip, Marshall and Newt return to the Shatterdome to pass along new information – the bridge won’t open unless there’s kaiju DNA.
Fortunately, a third kaiju attacks, a Category-5. Gipsy Danger barely survives, but with damage to oxygen tanks. Raleigh hooks his oxygen supply to Mako’s, then sends her up. He then pilots Gipsy Danger into the breach. Once through the dimensional barrier, Raleigh sets the time on the bomb, then escapes himself.
Pacific Rim delivers on the promise of giant robots fighting giant monsters. The effects show the mass of both, with plenty of collateral damage. Del Toro’s influences are obvious, but don’t get in the way of the story. Pacific Rim remembers that the key in a work featuring giant mecha is the characters. The audience is given a reason to root for the mecha over the kaiju. The worldbuilding is set up in the first fifteen minutes. Everything else is a visual feast with depth that one wouldn’t expect in a movie with giant robots and giant monsters.
Pacific Rim was popular enough to get a sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising, and a mockbuster, Atlantic Rim. There was enough interest that Netflix produced an anime series, Pacific Rim: The Black in conjunction with Polygon Pictures and Legendary Television. The work began in 2018 with the series released in March 2021.
The series begins with Australia under attack by kaiju. The Pan Pacific Defense Corps, or PPDC, orders all coastal cities are evacuated and the inhabitants moved inland away from the Pacific Ocean. The last of the evacuees are students, including Taylor and Hailey Travis. Their parents, Ford and Brina, are jaeger pilots who are covering the evacuation; they also trigger The Black, a way to try to stop the kaiju from going beyond Australia. The bus with the last of the survivors is able to escape to a hidden base. Ford and Brina, though, need to leave to fight kaiju and find more survivors.
Five years later, Ford and Brina have not returned. The base has grown into a community, with farms to feed the inhabitants. Scouts are being sent out to various locations to look for other survivors. Taylor, though, isn’t one of them. He is still waiting for he and his sister’s parents. Hayley is the more adventurous one. She explores and during one of her explorations of the base, she finds a jaeger, Atlas Destroyer that had been left behind when the base was evacuated. Activating Atlas and its AI, Loa, Hayley begins a very quick training. The activation of the jaeger also summons Copperhead, a Category-4 kaiju. Copperhead destroys the settlement, leaving only Taylor and Hailey as the sole survivors. They only survived because they piloted Atlas to fight the kaiju, but the jaeger is set for training and is unarmed. The fight is a draw.
With no home, the siblings decide to look for their parents and begin a journey to Sydney. The trip is dangerous. A stop to get a new energy cell for Atlas leads to finding Boy in a lab in an abandoned PPDC facility. Hayley insists on rescuing him, breaking him out of the glass tube holding him. An encounter with more kaiju leads to meeting a black marketer, Shane, and his right hand woman, Mei. Shane has his own designs on Atlas, but his machinations leads to Mei questioning her own memories. Taylor and Hayley escape and continue on towards Sydney, with the threat of Shane behind them. The final battle against Copperhead reveals more secrets, ones that have no immediate answers. The season ends with a victory, a loss, more questions, and another group of humans watching the siblings. A second season has been announced.
Like the original film, the animated series has several themes. Some it shares with the original; including not letting the past hold you back. The series also introduces the idea that humanity can be more dangerous than the kaiju. The story in the series is also personal, like the original. While there are battles between Atlas Destroyer and kaiju, the characters are the ones driving the story.
Taylor and Hayley are young, and their inexperience does lead them to make rash decisions. Loa provides a sober second thought, sometimes through snark. The supporting cast is three-dimensional; their motives dictating their actions. Even Boy, whose secret is foreshadowed through the series, has an arc.
Overall, the series adds to Pacific Rim, expanding the world laid out in the film. Animation allows for a lighter budget, especially on a streaming service, which then provides for more time spent on exploring the world. Pacific Rim: The Black builds on what came before, leading to a fuller experience of Pacific Rim and the dangers of the kaiju.
Pacific Rim: The Black expands the setting, showing more of the world introduced in Pacific Rim and the effects of the kaiju invasion on people. The core characters are young, venturing out from their safe home into the wilds of Australia, already a dangerous place to wander in even before giant monsters are added. The series adds to the overall setting of the film, expanding it, adding another layer of worldbuilding on top of what the movie provided. The animation style may not work for everyone, but that’s true of all animation. The result is a series that is worth watching for Pacific Rim fans.
Lost in Translation usually handles English-language adaptations, in part due to a lack of fluency in other languages. The culture differences can make it difficult to determine how an adaptation is or isn’t working. Serdar at Ganriki covers Japanese works, original and adapted, far better. However, a new Netflix series came up, one that deserves a look here.
Blazing Transfer Student (Honō no Tenkōsei or 炎の転校生) began as a manga by Shimamoto Kazuhiko, running in Weekly Shōnen Sunday from 1983 to 1985, running 118 chapters. In 1991, Gainax produced a two-part adaptation of the manga that went directly to video, covering the first chapters. The manga followed Takizawa Noboru, a transfer student to Honjakuniku High. Late on his first day, Takizawa had to deal with the overzealous hall monitor, Jonichi Koichi, in the manner that all conflicts are dealt with at Honjakuniku, a fight. With help from the lovely Yukari, Takizawa deals with not just the hall monitor, but other students, transferring from school to school, as he develops his ultimate attack, the National Railway Punch!
The manga was a parody of shōnen tropes, turning them all to 11. Every attack was called out. The characters treated the situations as if they were life and death. The anime followed in the same vein, with Takizawa winning against his rival, Ibuki Saburo, because “Takizawa Railway Train Punch!” was the shorter phrase. Blazing Transfer Student was, first and foremost, a comedy. Gainax followed in the same vein with the anime.
An older series doesn’t seem likely for adaptation, yet Netflix dipped into that well. Blazing Transfer Students Reborn, released for streaming on Netflix in 2017, stars the boy band Johnny’s West – Shigeoka Daiki, Hamada Takahiro, Kamihama Tomohiro, Kotaki Nozomu, Kiriyama Akito, Fujii Ryusei, and Nakama Junta – as the title characters, each keeping his name, sort of. Kaga Takeshi, Chairman Kaga from Iron Chef, voices Takizawa, now the principal. Kawashima Umika plays Hikari, a fellow student and Takizawa’s assistant.
At the beginning of the series, Shigeoka arrives at his new school, wondering about the nature of his transfer. The moment he steps foot on campus, he is whisked away by othger students and taken to a boxing ring, where the rest of the transfer students are already fighting. Most are already fighting. Kamiyama is trying to escape while Fujii just poses. Several of the transfer students already have special attacks; Fujii has his Shining Wink, capable of blinding people; Kotaki has his pompadour, which can grow when he needs it; and Nakama has a HUD in his eyeglasses, though it’s not as useful as one would expect. Kiriyama, a weapons master, pulls out a tiny katana. Hamada is versatile with martial arts. Shigeoka turns out to be average. Very average. Nothing special about him at all average.
The fight last long enough for the audience to wonder why the students are fighting. The episode is well aware that this would happen and asks the same thing. Turns out, none of the transfer students know why. They plot an escape. The school locks down, with teams of students hunting the newcomers, some with butterfly nets. One by one, each transfer student is captured and taken back to the ring. Shigeoka, though, has fallen for Hikari, and will do anything for her, including fighting. She encourages him to develop his own special attack, the National Railway Punch!
Back in the ring, Shigeoka tries to summon the National Railway Punch! However, the other students also have that ability. As it turns out, they have something else in common than just the Punch. They are all called Kakeru and have been recruited by Takizawa to clean up schools infested with bureaucratic evil. Each episode following features several of the transfer students being sent to another school to end the evil there. From zombification curry to a girls school that would give St. Trinian’s a fright, the Kakerus are pushed to their limits. All is not right at their own school, though. Takizawa has an ulterior motive. He, with Hikari’s help, is looking for the true blazing transfer student.
The new series may be live action, but it takes its cues from the manga. Sound effects are also written on screen. The fighting is over the top, using wire-fu to hold characters in place in the air as they monologue. Each of the students is a different shōnen archetype: the gangster, the beautiful one, the weapons master, the martial artist, the uber-brain, the crybaby, and the totally average guy. The narrator, Wakamoto Norio, provides the inner thoughts of the characters as needed, along with explaining the unexplainable and occasionally providing snark. Takizawa is exactly as he looked like in the manga and anime, being represented by a statue with holographic projectors in his eyes.
Blazing Transfer Students Reborn doesn’t take itself seriously, though the characters do take their missions like they were life and death situations. The violence is toned down from the manga, in part because what an artist can do with a still picture or an animated sequence for laughs becomes not so funny when done to a real person. Technically, the new series is a sequel, but it makes the jump from manga to live action, bringing along the conventions of the drawn medium to the screen without shame. With a few decades having passed since the end of the manga, the series has some room to play in, yet keeps to the tone of the original.
Well it’s not generator related, but it is creativity related, and ties into Scott’s considerable work – my first pop-culture book, co-authored with my good friend Bonnie, is out!
It’s called Her Eternal Moonlight, and is a look at female Sailor Moon fandom in North America. It was pretty interesting to study this; interviewing people, finding common patterns, then communicating it as a book. It definitely gave me a lot of insights.
It’s also getting reviews here and there, and we’re also discussing it on podcasts:
Now with that done, maybe it’s time to get to some generators and creative writing – but there is going to be another study coming up starting next year . . .
Lost in Translation doesn’t normally touch upon anime and manga. Ganriki covers that field far better. In recent years, though, anime and manga have penetrated mainstream pop culture, leading to Western adaptations of works that have crossed the Pacific Ocean. Today, Lost in Translation looks at the 2008 film, Speed Racer.
Mach GoGoGo was created in 1966 by Tatsuo Yoshida and followed the exploits of Go Mifune, a young race car driver who helps his family keep his father’s designs from rivals. Go was inspired by Elvis Presley in Viva Las Vegas; his car, the Mach 5, was inspired by 007’s Aston Martin in Goldfinger. In 1967, Tatsunoko Productions adapted the manga as an anime series of the same name; a typical path for many manga titles. The anime was then picked up by Trans-Lux for airing as Speed Racer in the US.
Whether the name is Mach GoGoGo or Speed Racer, the characters remained consistent. Go/Speed is a young driver with a love of both racing and his family. His father, Daisuke/Pops, who built the Mach 5, went indie after being forced out of a corporation, keeping the designs for the car’s revolutionary engine for himself. Kurio/Spritle is Speed’s younger brother who, along with his pet chimp, Sanpei/Chim-Chim, gets into trouble by tagging along. Speed’s older brother, Kenichi/Rex, is estranged from Pops after a falling out, but reappears as The Masked Racer/Racer X to help Speed against his opponents. Speed’s girlfriend, Michi/Trixie, is also there to help, and bails him out as much as he does for her.
The series focused on action, especially racing, with gangsters and crooked corporate execs scheming to fix races, steal Pops’ designs, including the Mach 5, or just eliminate Speed himself. The anime lasted for 52 episodes, ending in 1968. The boom in specialty cable channels in the 90s saw the return of Speed Racer, with MTV, Cartoon Network, and the Speed Channel all airing the show. Fred Wolf, of Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, helmed a new series in 1993, lasting thirteen episodes. The original also became the basis of the Dexter’s Laboratory episode, “Mock 5”, and had the theme song sleepily sung by Tom Servo during a dull chase in the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episode, “Danger!! Death Ray“.
As with any series that has been influential and is permeating the pop culture subconcious, studios wanted to turn Speed Racer into a feature film. Warner Bros. optioned the rights to Speed Racer in 1992. It wasn’t until 2006, when the Wachowski siblings took the helm, did production start. The movie, also called Speed Racer, begins with Speed (played by Emile Hirsch) preparing for a race, then heading into a flashback of his much younger self in grade school losing focus from the Scantron test in favour of his brother Rex’s upcoming race. The young Speed (Nicholas Elia) then dashes out of class at the bell to meet Rex and convinces him to take him to the track.
The race itself, the Thunderbird, showcases Speed’s abilities. While all the other drivers try to catch up to him, Speed is keeping up with his brother’s track time, slowing off just enough to ensure that the time Rex, now deceased, put up remains the record. In the stands, Speed’s family – Pops (John Goodman), Mom (Susan Sarandon), Spritle (Paulie Litt) with Chim-Chim (“Kenzie” and Willie”) – watch with Speed’s girlfriend, Trixie (Christina Ricci) and Racer Motors’s mechanic and Speed’s friend, Sparky (Kick Gurry). Speed and the Mach 5 come to the attention of E.P. Arnold Royalton (Roger Allam), owner of Royalton Industries. Royalton wants Speed to race for him. After some thought, Speed turns down the offer, wanting to remain with Pops. Angered by the refusal, Royalton threatens to destroy Racer Motors through having his drivers target Speed on the race course and through legal filings of intellectual property infringement against Pops.
Royalton’s threats come through, leaving Speed out of the Grand Prix. At the darkest moment, two people arrive at the Racer home, Inspector Detector (Benno Fürmann) and Racer X (Matthew Fox), the Harbinger of Boom. Inspector Detector is part of the Criminal Investigation Bureua, investigating corporate crime, and needs Speed’s help to reveal the race fixing Royalton and other firms are behind. To that end, the Inspector wants Speed to race in the Casa Cristo 5000, a two continent rallye race, the one that claimed the life of Rex. The Casa Cristo 5000 is also the only way Speed has to enter the Grand Prix; the winner of the rallye gets an automatic invitation. Pops is against it, but Trixie helps Speed by taking him “skiing”. Speed and Racer X join Taejo Togokahn (Rain), teaming up to race.
Pops has other reasons to not want Speed in the Casa Cristo 5000 beyond the loss of Rex. Rallye racing is a far nastier form of the sport, with teams fielding illegal modifications on their cars. One team, featuring Snake Oiler as their top driver, bribes three other teams, the Flying Foxes, Semper Fi-ber, and Thor-Axine, to take out Team Togokahn. Speed and Racer X manage to avoid the dirty play, thanks to defensive modifications to the Mach 5, but Snake Oiler wins the first leg of the race.
Back at the Racer household, Spritle has caught wind of the deception and is watching the Casa Cristo 5000. Pops forces him to shut it off and go out to get some sun and exercise. When Pops has to leave on an errand, Spritle sneaks back inside. He’s caught when Pops returns almost immediately having forgotten something. To deflect punishment, Spritle points at Speed and the Mach 5 on TV. Pops and the Racer family catch up to Speed during the downtime between race legs. Speed explains what he’s doing and, while not happy, Pops calms down enough to go rebalance the Mach 5.
That night, ninja stalk Team Togokahn. Taejo is given a dose of a drug meant to dull his reflexes. A second ninja tries the same thing with Racer X, who is ready for such treachery. A third tries to inject Speed with the drug and is stopped when Spritle wakes up after falling out of bed. Speed tries to fight off the ninja, but the commotion wakes up the rest of the family. The worst thing anyone could do is try to hurt a member of the Racer family; Pops is a champion Greco-Roman wrestler and proceeds to show the ninja the error of his ways.
The second leg of the Casa Cristo 5000 has Team Togokahn trying to catch up to Snake Oiler. With Taejo still under the drug’s effects, a switch has been made. Trixie, wearing Taejo’s jumpsuit, has taken his place. The plan is to make a switch in a section not covered by cameras. However, Oiler’s boss, Cruncher Block, is also heading there to make sure that Team Togokahn fails to finish the race. Block gets the drop on the team, but Racer X manages to disarm the goon guarding him, starting a massive brawl. When the dust settles, Taejo is back in his car but Snake Oiler has once again taken the lead. With effort, Speed forces Oiler off the mountain road and Team Togokahn wins the race.
Taejo, though, renegs on his end of the bargain. He uses the increase in his father’s company to get a better price for selling his firm to Royalton. Speed is dejected and, once home, tries to burn out his anger on the Thunderbird track. Racer X arrives to speak with him and after a racing duel, resparks Speed’s love for the sport, despite the problems it has. Speed notices that Racer X’s driving style is familiar and asks if the masker racer is his brother. Racer X takes off his mask; Speed doesn’t recognize the face and the Harbinger of Boom says that Rex did die in the accident at Casa Cristo.
While trying to figure out what to do next, Taejo’s sister Horuko (Yu Nan) arrives to speak with Speed. She gives him Taejo’s invitation to the Grand Prix; the chit is a guarenteed place in the race for the bearer. With the invitation in hand, Speed and his family get the Mach 6 prepared in record time.
Speed starts in the last position at the starting line. Royalton places a bounty on Speed’s head; any driver who can remove him from the race will get one million dollars. Drivers try, but Speed is the better racer. He goes head to head with Royalton’s driver, Cannonball Taylor. Taylor uses an illegal spear hook to latch on to the Mach 6. Speed can’t detach his car from Taylor’s, but manages to angle both cars so that cameras can see the illegal device. Once the cars land again, the speed hook breaks away from Taylor’s car as it disintegrates. The Mach 6, though, stalls out. Speed listens to the car and works out how to get the engine to restart. He winds up back in last place, but he finds his zone and wins. Inspector Detector arrests Royalton. Speed finally gets to kiss Trixie under the flashing of thousands of cameras. And Racer X is revealed to be, indeed, Speed’s brother, having undergone plastic surgery to change his looks.
The Wachowskis’ film tried to recreate an animated series, and the movie shows it. In a Full Frontal Nerdity strip, Aaron Williams describes the trailer for Speed Racer as, “Like playing Gran Turismo 3 while wearing glasses made out of LSD-laced Gummi Bears.” Even the studio titles before the movie starts are in a 60s-style kaleidoscope of colour. The movie is far more animated than the original Mach GoGoGo. Speed Racer has been called a live-action anime, and for good reason.
Beyond just the visual style, the Wachowskis put effort into recreating the look and feel of the anime. The cast reflects the original appearance of the characters. Emile Hirsch has Speed’s pompador. John Goodman looks like Pops Racer, and Christina Ricci looks like trixie. The Mach 5 is exactly the way it is shown in the anime. Of special note, Paulie Litt as Spritle not only looks the part, but manages to take a potentially annoying role and make the character fun to watch while acting next to a chimpanzee. The costumes also reflect what the characters wore in the original series, with the exception of Racer X. The Harbinger of Boom’s costume is black instead of white, reflecting Racer X’s work from the shadows of the racing world. Adding to the look of the film is the soundtrack, which uses the original theme as a motif throughout the movie. Added touches include Speed posing in front of the Mach 5 just like in the original opening credits and the use of the original sounds effects of the Mach 5’s jacks.
The above is just surface, though. The Wachowskis also pulled ideas from the anime. The Casa Cristo 5000 race can be found in the first epsiode of the anime, not by name but by setting. Snake Oiler also appeared in the series as the second head of the Car Acrobats, a team that clashed with Speed. Pops’ wrestling also appeared in the anime. The Racer X background is much like it is in the original, with the difference being that Rex is presumed dead instead of missing. The plot would fit in with the series and takes its cues from the original.
The only problem the movie may have is that it goes a little over the top at times. Beyond that, the Speed Racer movie works hard to reflect its origins in both style and substance. Once the audience gets past the wall of bright colour, the movie has substance to match and brings in the themes of the original work – family, honour, and the love of sport despite its problems.
(Originally published at Ganriki, I thought the crew here would enjoy it!)
And while we’re at it, is light a particle or a wave? That one, we already have (sort of) an answer for: it depends on how it’s constrained. The same, I think, applies to anime too: it’s a genre and a medium, depending on which way the pie is being sliced, and who’s doing the slicing, and who’s doing the serving of the slices.
To me, the main distinction is in which eyes are doing the beholding. If you’re a fan, it’s easier to think of anime as a medium, because odds are you’ve spent enough time up close and personal with it to see how it manifests in too many different ways to be a genre. If you’re a non-fan, looking in from the outside, many aspects of it tend to blur together to present to an outsider the trappings of a genre.
Some of this, I suspect, comes from the way anime — more these days than before — is contrived to serve a certain self-selecting audience that expects to see certain things. Hence the endless parade of harem and moé shows — not that those things are automatically bad, more that what we get is designed more to fit a certain set of preconceptions than it is to tell a story or even be all that entertaining. (I’m glad the worst of those two trends appears to be over, but I’m not confident it’s being replaced with anything markedly better.) A non-fan looks at such things and sees a whole slew of traits that s/he can bundle together into a genre — making it all the easier to identify it on sight and, most likely, consign it to perdition.
Fans on the inside, though, see genres within anime, but they don’t automatically regard anime as a whole as a “genre”. They know that it’s a container, though, one which can enclose any number of different sorts of experiences. Nobody with enough experience thinks the works of Satoshi Kon, Clannad, the various Gundams, or the various Monogataris are coming from remotely the same places. Odds are no two of those things even have the same fanbases within anime fandom — but again, to an outsider, it’s all one big undifferentiated lump of Weird Japan. Labeling it as a genre makes it easier to not have to think about the possibility that it might in fact be not all that undifferentiated.
Understand something: I’m not blaming anyone for taking that approach. Most anyone outside of any highly trafficked fandom is going to feel baffled. But few people that I’ve run into think of Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, and Sherlock in the same “genre” of British Stuff I Couldn’t Be Bothered With. I suspect that’s because the main mode of delivery for those things didn’t necessarily start with its national origin, but with a concept. Anime is set apart first and foremost by the fact that it comes from Japan. If the West put one big label on it to begin with as a way to allow “us” to wrap “our” heads around it, is it really such a surprise that so many of those not deep in the thick of it are able to put it all in a box and sit on the lid?
I suspect the same goes for all those who can’t get into Hong Kong action pictures, or Bollywood musicals. And, while we’re at it, what about all those abroad who might well have the same shelve-it-and-shove-it approach to Hollywood tentpole productions (which might well all be a “genre”, given how formulaic they are), or the Marvel/DC axis of comic books? If people can call anime a “genre”, it’s not because of anything anime alone has done; it’s because of the way many of the mass-market entertainments created by any culture tend to breed in a good deal of uniformity that only falls away once you come closer.
What I’m saying here, then, is that the whole question of whether anime is a genre or a medium doesn’t just depend on who you ask. The very fact that such a question exists is a symptom of how any of us looks at another culture’s cultural products, and maybe even our own as well. (Many Japanese novelists, for instance, give anime and especially manga the same lump-it-together-and-forget-it treatment as Western non-fans.) We have a hard time not looking at such things without needing a label or a box of some kind, in big part because such things are consumption instructions. If we know something is comic-book-ish, we have some idea of how to process the material. If we know something is anime-ish, likewise.
But those instructions are not absolute. They don’t come down from the mountain on stone tablets, as it were; they come from the whole history of viewership for those things. They don’t have to be taken on face value, and most of the history of anime advocacy between fans and from fans to non-fans revolves around this. It’s not just a cartoon, we say to the wholly uninitiated. And to the initiated who already has some territory staked out, we tell them it’s not just a love story or a fight show. We would scarcely need to do this kind of advocacy if the existing labels — harem comedy, shōnen action show, shōjō romance — didn’t already carry such weight.
What’s more, neither mode — genre and medium — exists entirely apart from the other, certainly not as long as either viewpoint exists at all. Some anime embody anime-as-a-genre far more specifically than others, and ask to be looked at in that light; some embody it far more as a medium than others, and so that approach works best for the items in question. The genre tells us what kind of story to expect, and how it will be fulfilled. This medium is a way to look at something that empowers it in certain ways, that gives it a certain automatic suspension of disbelief that some stories need to embody as effortlessly as they can.
Knowing that we have these reactions puts us one step closer towards being able to approach these things entirely on their own terms, without needing to figure out first what part of the shelf to put them on. In the end, we don’t need a label of “genre” or even “medium” to justify anything; it’s the labels that need us to justify themselves. Would that we can see so.
(Originally published at Ganriki, by Serdar Yegulalp. I felt his thoughts would be useful here.)
Of all the questions that inspire diverse and deeply subjective responses from anime fans, one of the most prominent has to be the question most every newcomer to anime asks, and finds the answers at least as confounding as the question itself: Where do I begin with this stuff? The evangelical fan, the fan who wants that many more fellow fans to share his obsession with, waits with bated breath for that moment to arise, and may well spend no small amount of energy trying to invite others in. But does introducing people to anime really make them into fans? Or do fans arise a good deal more spontaneously than we’d like to believe?
It’s a good question to ask. I have myself grappled with it long and hard, and for a long time stuck with the argument that for everyone out there not (yet) into anime, there’s an anime for them of some kind. For the Harry Potter fans, you maybe give them Fullmetal Alchemist or Soul Eater. For the CSI and Law & Order crowd, perhaps Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex or Psycho-Pass. Any number of lists like this already exist, or could be drawn up to connect present and future fandoms with present and future anime titles.
What I don’t think any of this does, though, is create new anime fans, in the sense of people who are into anime as a single, broad, overarching subject of interest. And from everything I’ve seen, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
One of the big myths of fandom, any fandom, is that the uninitiated can be made into fans if they are only exposed to the right material. For a long time I wanted to believe that people I knew who were generally uninterested in anime could be made curious about it by exposing them to some of its most creative, maverick, and generally excellent productions. I know better than to think this now, not merely because it’s untrue, but because it presumes things about fandom that aren’t true either.
People not motivated to seek out a given thing may nod and smile if you put a good example of it in front of them, but they generally don’t get primed to seek the rest of the subject out on their own. Case in point: Comic book movies haven’t caused a mainstream surge in interest in comic books, just in comic book movies, and that’s mostly because they represent some modestly novel wrinkle in how summer blockbuster entertainment can be assembled and deployed. The comics themselves are still not part of the picture for most people.
Likewise, if you, a fan, put a given show you love in front of someone else, a non-fan, and they react with polite indifference or nonchalance, it’s not because the other person is an idiot — and it’s also not because you lack for the right pitch to give them, or the right material to expose them to. It’s because the ways we acquire tastes and share them with like-minded others are not so straightforward as all that. It’s better to be an ambassador for the things you love than to be an evangelist for those things, but not always easy to tell the difference between the two behaviors.
From what I’ve seen, people have to really want to be a fan of something, especially when it’s a large and overarching category of things — anime, for instance. You’re better off respecting that for what it is than trying to turn it int something it’s not. And even many people who are fans of a given anime or three are not necessarily anime fans — meaning, their interest in those particular anime is dictated more by their interest in the things themselves, rather than any curiosity for anime as a whole, let alone for Japan itself.
This last insight — that anime fandom doesn’t always translate into curiosity about the culture that created it — was something I had to learn about and get over fairly early on. If someone else liked a given anime or three and that was it, that was fine. If Japan wasn’t a topic of interest for them generally, that was fine too. Demanding a better grade of fan (whatever might be meant by “better”) by insisting that they replicate my path into fandom wasn’t likely to do anything except alienate others.
Besides, the way to have a better kind of fan isn’t about having them duplicate the experiences (and, presumably, the responses to those experiences) that led you, or anyone else, into fandom. If anything, it lies in the opposite path: allowing a fandom to be that much more welcoming of, and interested in, people who have something new to bring to the table. When you open your ears and learn about what it is that brings people to something, it becomes easier to see that you have more in common than you have setting you apart.
What matters most, I think, is not the act of recruitment, but the act of friendship over something found mutually interesting. The now-defunct anime distributor Central Park Media once had the motto “World Peace Through Shared Popular Culture”, a sentiment I think is the right idea. It matters more that you are able to bond as people over something than as fans.
Case in point. Not long ago a friend of mine showed me an episode of Free!, which I had up to that point avoided. I sat with them and watched it mostly to be social. To my surprise, I liked it a lot, and I plan to talk more about it in the future, since I think the popularity (read: notoriety) of the show says a lot about the ways people try to claim ownership of their entertainment. On the other hand, DRAMAtical Murder (which they also showed me) didn’t have anything to offer me, though; it just isn’t my thing. Our friendship was in no way diminished by this revelation.
Putting the friendship first, and valuing that most, changes the way this whole process unfolds. If I’m good friends with a great many people, and they all share a taste for something that I don’t (Firefly, Irish reels, what have you), that’s no guarantee I’ll inherit their tastes on anything but the most superficial level. What’s more, friends tend to respect each others’ interests — if they don’t, they don’t tend to remain friends in the first place — and so the shared interests in any given friendship tend to equalize around the things everyone can enjoy without feeling obliged.
Let me put it this way: No fandom deserves to be represented by people who value being pushy over being receptive, and who value their own expectations over someone else’s actual responses. To that end, the best way to get people into anime probably doesn’t revolve around how to get people to watch your favorite show and love it too. It’s more about embodying how anime fans — or fans, period — can be some of the best friends a person could have.
Space opera has long been a staple in science fiction. Sprawling epics, from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars through Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers to Star Trek and Star Wars and the original Battlestar Galactica, where good and evil are easily determined and the stakes are high. Even if the heroes run into obstacles too much to overcome, they triumph in the end.
The past two decades have seen deconstruction of many forms of entertainment, taking the original works and applying a grim, gritty, realistic or semi-realistic filter and showing the results. The remade Battlestar Galactica is an excellent example of deconstruction. The original Galactica, despite the last survivors of the Colonies being on a ragtag fleet being hunted to extinction, left the viewer with optimism that humanity would survive. The remade Galactica, there was the question of who would finish off the fleet first, the Cylons or the humans.
With desconstruction comes reconstruction, the rebuilding of the tropes associated with the genre. In this case, Bioware’s Mass Effect series of video games. In 2007, Mass Effect introduced video gamers to a galaxy where humanity joins a large number of species already capable of faster than light travel. Planets and locations range from the high tech and political centre Citadel Station to frontier colonies like Eden Prime and hell holes like Omega. Into this, eldritch abominations return from beyond the galaxy, intent on destroying all life as part of a cycle of destruction.
Players took on the role of Commander Shepard, a special forces member of the human Systems Alliance Navy, as he or she* investigated an attack on the human colony of Eden Prime. As the investigation progressed, Shepard picks up an eclectic band of supporting characters, including a rogue Citadel Security officer, a homeless pilgrim, and a naive archaeologist, and learned about the threat to the galaxy being spearheaded by a rogue Citadel Council special operative.
The follow up games, Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 continue the investigation and fight against the abominations, even while Council doesn’t believe that there is a danger. Throughout the series, despite the threat, despite the inevitability of the abominations returning and succeeding, the hope exists that Shepard will prevail and unite the galaxy against the threat.
In 2012, Funimation**, in conjuction with T.O. Entertainment*** and Production I.G.**** released the animated feature Mass Effect: Paragon Lost. Part of the goal of the feature was to introduce a new playable character for Mass Effect 3 in case Shepard died during the gameplay of Mass Effect 2 while still succeeding with the mission. Another goal was to introduce the game to new players.
Paragon Lost follows Lieutenant James Vega, a marine in the Systems Alliance Navy, as he and his squad race in to protect Felh Prime from an attack by krogan mercenaries. Vega and his teammates show off the different classes available in the game without calling them out by name. Instead, the movie shows what each class does, and the abilities shown are possible in-game, even by Shepard with the right choice of class. The movie starts shortly after the beginning of Mass Effect 2 after the apparently loss of Commander Shepard, and takes place before the start of the real plot of the game. Through the course of the movie, Vega discovers the abominations and what the race known as the Collectors are doing and works to prevent a tragedy.
As an adaptation of a video game, Paragon Lost needs to be able to tell a good story within the framework of both the plot and the gameplay of the Mass Effect series. As seen with Battleship, getting how a game works into the visuals can be problematic. Working in the Paragon Lost‘s favour is having a common ground with the video game – both are visual. The special moves available to Shepard and his or her team are already shown on screen. Paragon Lost shows the viewer each class and what it can do easily enough, from the flashy to the subtle. The movie also shows the setting, giving a taste of the Mass Effect galaxy despite staying primarily on Fehl Prime.
The other major factor in the Mass Effect games is the effect of player choice. A decision made in the first game will return to haunt the player in the second and third. Movies, with the exception of Clue, tend to have just one ending. Interactive DVDs do exist, but are marketed more as games than movies. Paragon Lost, though, still manages to introduce the idea, giving Vega a critical decision and showing the viewer the ramifications of his choice, in a way that drives home the seriousness not only of the immediate results but the long term war to survive.
Next week, the legacy of early computer animation.