“Osamu Tezuka was… well, 99% of the time he was a nice guy. At Mushi Production he’d say to us: ‘You’re creatives! Go and create, draw your hearts' desire.’ So we’d draw whatever we wanted and we’d be nearly finished, and then he’d say: ‘No! Do it again!’
“We worked so hard. There would be times when we wouldn’t even go home. But we all had footrests under our desks, and you could put your coat on it and use it as a pillow. There was one time when I crawled under my table, just to get a little nap. I opened my eyes, and saw that Tezuka was sleeping under the next desk.
“Tezuka was the life and soul of Mushi. Mushi without Tezuka was like North Korea without Kim Jong-il. It fell apart.
“The Sunrise studio was founded by people who had been middle managers at Mushi, who’d seen what went wrong. At Mushi Pro, the animators were on a salary; in a sense, it didn’t matter if they worked or not and many abused that system. A lot of them had no sense of loyalty; they’d be freelancing for Toei under the desks, and at Toei, they’d be freelancing for Mushi! At Sunrise, everyone got paid for what they did.
“You ask me what the difference was between Mushi and Sunrise. Largely, it was that Tezuka wasn’t there. He had a real faith in artists and animators. The trouble with artists and animators, is that they often don’t like to work! Artists weren’t salaried at Sunrise. They had to produce work in order to get paid, and that made a big difference. All the companies in the 1970s were set up, to some extent, in reaction to the failure of Mushi, but it was only Sunrise that perfected it.
“Toy tie-ins were important to them. They had Yoshiyuki Tomino working on Gundam. If Tomino is a star, then I’m… well, I guess I’m just a street lamp! They said to me: ‘Gundam has done well for us; we want something like Gundam, but different. We don’t much care what it’s about, just make sure there are robots in it!’
“Gundam had robots fighting, but they were in space. They didn’t really have to touch the ground. My earlier Fang of the Sun Dougram had robots fighting on the ground, but they were big, stompy, slow machines. For Armored TrooperVotoms, I wanted something faster. I made them smaller. I put skates on their feet. That wasn’t about budget; that was so they could really zip around. Then one of my animators suggested that we could get them to slalom, like they were skiing… and we were off!
Of course, toys became even more important. In the 1990s, a lot of the founders of Sunrise were approaching retirement. In order to protect their staff, they sold their interests in the company to one of their clients: Bandai. It kept everyone out of trouble.
“The ‘Japanese’ animation business today sustains maybe seven thousand employees in Japan, but maybe another fourteen thousand outside it, in Vietnam, Taiwan, China and other places. I teach three days a week, at the Osaka University of Arts. I teach the students how to make entertainment animation. By which I mean commercial stuff. Not art-house cartoons, but animation that they can actually make a living on: anime that can actually help them survive! I don’t have time to write a book. I am 68 years old and professors retire at 70. Maybe then I’ll write down my experiences in the industry. Maybe…
“I’ve got a place in the countryside. It’s a little house out in the middle of nature. What do I do there? Absolutely nothing! Drink a little whisky, walk around dressed like a British gentleman… Play golf. I look out in the garden, and I think it could do with a little statuette of a nature spirit. A Moomin or something like that. Yes, I worked on the Moomins, too.
"Why did I do it? I did it to survive!" (laughs)
Ryosuke Takahashi was talking to Jonathan Clements at the Scotland Loves Anime film festival.
Andrew Osmond interviews Cecile Corbel about the music of Arrietty.
“The beginning of my history with Ghibli resembles a fairy tale, starting with the innocent sending of my album,” says French harpist, singer, songwriter and musician Cecile Corbel. “The story pleased the Japanese very much.”
Corbel hails from Finistère, in the far west corner of Brittany. Growing up with a love of Breton culture and landscapes, she began learning the harp as a teenager, seduced by the sensuality of its strings. By the time she was a university student in Paris, she was singing in bars and as a street musician. Music demos led to albums, festivals and tours round the world, from France to Australia. Corbel insists she had no ulterior motive in 2009 when she posted a copy of her third album to Studio Ghibli. For the Breton musician, it was a gesture of respect from a fan, a thank-you from one artist to another. It was pure chance, Corbel says, that the CD found its way to Ghibli producer and former president Toshio Suzuki.
Unknown to Corbel, Ghibli was developing its version of The Borrowers, and Suzuki was quickly convinced that Corbel’s music fitted the film. Soon after posting the CD, Corbel received an email out of the blue from Ghibli. Initially, she was invited to contribute one song, the main theme called Arrietty’s Song. However, the project soon snowballed. After emailing the first song to the studio, Corbel found herself invited to write another, then another, until she and her collaborators found themselves creating the whole Arrietty score.
Much of Arrietty’s music expresses the feelings and experiences of the title character, meaning Corbel had to stay with her a long time, teasing out the different sides of the Borrower teen. “I was almost living with Arrietty for a year!” says Corbel. “There were many drawings on the walls of my studio, posters of the film... My house became the house of the borrowers!”
The music was recorded in Corbel’s Paris studio, then sent to Ghibli where Japanese music director Koji Kasamatsu cut it to the animation. As well as Corbel on her harp, her fellow musicians played bagpipes, a Bodhran (Irish drum) and an accordion. There was also a bass, a string quartet and an acoustic guitar. The arrangements were handled by Corbel’s collaborator, Simon Caby.
While much of the collaboration was through email, Corbel visited Ghibli in person, comparing her first visit to being a child on Christmas morning. “I felt very emotional at the idea of discovering the intricacies of this magic place,” she says. “I could really understand how the studio’s films were created. My main impression was of a place on a human scale, almost a family, with the energy and the incredible passion of the people who work there.”
Although Corbel met Hayao Miyazaki, she worked primarily with the director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, and the producer, Toshio Suzuki. “Yonebayashi-san is one of those people who is very thoughtful, always listening,” she says. “Because Arrietty was his first film, he was attentive to the advice of everyone, particularly Suzuki-san, and that’s reflected very much in this film. Suzuki-san is also someone who is very creative, always with a new idea. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Corbel soaked up Japanese traditional music (she also claims she was advised to learn Japanese by visiting bars and karaoke clubs). “There is an obvious connection between Celtic and Japanese music,” she says, noting they share the pentatonic range of five notes, as used in parts of the music for Princess Mononoke. “That sometimes gives them the same melodic colours. Equally, many of the sonorities of Japanese music please me. The players of the koto or shamisen (two traditional Japanese stringed instruments) can recognise the chords of the Celtic harp.”
Corbel sees a Celtic Far Eastern connection that runs through Bob Dylan, who’s popular with Japan’s older generation. Dylan familiarised the Japanese with the violin, guitar and harmonica, as well as the traditions of the Irish ballad. Corbel’s Japanese experience culminated in a fifty-day summer tour, in the build-up to the film’s Japanese premiere in July 2010.
“It is difficult to choose a memory of the tour; there are so many!” Corbel says. “If I were to keep one moment, it would be the concert on the first of July, which was to launch the promotional campaign and ‘give a blessing’ to the film. That took place in the Zojoji Buddhist temple in Tokyo. It was one of the most beautiful places that I have ever played in my life.”
Arrietty is out now on UK DVD from Optimum Home Entertainment.
The chances are that many anime fans who visit Tokyo – even those who know their way round every maid café and dojinshi dive – may have overlooked the Suginami Anime Museum. It’s certainly a modest establishment, far smaller than some of Tokyo’s anime and manga megastores, and it doesn’t have the cachet of, say, the Ghibli Museum. Nonetheless, it’s well worth a visit and its location on the same JR line as the Ghibli establishment (just a few stops down the track), means you could easily take in both in a one-day double-bill. And if that doesn’t encourage you, then the Suginami Museum is free!
The museum “starts” on the third floor of a larger building – as anyone who’s been to Tokyo knows, one building will typically house umpteen different establishments. The first level features a delightful “timeline” display of anime history, featuring a succession of four TV sets showing anime clips, with both the TVs and anime getting newer with time. Festooned with vintage merchandise, the display gives you a snapshot history of how Japaneseviewers experienced anime, as it evolved from a cute kids’ diversion into a multi-stranded medium.
A wall displays the signatures of dozens of anime luminaries, and there are antique animation toys for anyone wanting a spin of the Praxinoscope. There’s also a series of displays showing “How to Produce Animation.” This is a simple but useful walkthrough of the anime production process (English translations provided), including notes on anime’s changing tools, such as the introduction of paperless drawing tablets. It’s further enlivened by a video-screen guide to animation principles hosted by Astro Boy; a booth where visitors can try dubbing an anime scene for themselves; and mock-ups of workspaces of anime legends such as Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino.
At present, though, the museum is focusing on the decade-old film Jin-Roh, a dark alternate-world drama released by Production IG. This is a temporary exhibit; the museum has three or four each year, based around themes, characters or creators. Jin-Roh is topical because its director, Hiroyuki Okiura, has just completed a new, very different, film. Letter to Momo has already started rolling out at film festivals such as October’s Scotland Loves Anime, and it comes to Japan in April.
There isn’t much on Momo in the museum, unfortunately – just a poster and a few character designs. However, there’s plenty on Jin-Roh as you climb to the second level:background art, key frames, character sheets, and an oversized model trooper. The oddest tribute to Okiura’s film, though, is on the top floor, where you find a very cute exhibit of Red Riding Hood pictures, drawn by child visitors to the museum – Jin-Roh revolved round a much grimmer version of the fairy tale. The Jin-Roh film itself is sometimes screened in the museum’s own compact theatre, with a 150-inch screen.
But the real heart of the Sugnami museum is its library, opposite the cinema on the middle floor. If you can read Japanese, then there are anime books galore, and even if you’re not, there are one or two in English if you look hard. And there are also DVDs, gazillions of them that you can watch on site, drawn from the whole spectrum of anime history. Not just anime but world animation, from Czechoslovakia to Aardman. Whether you want to watch Speed Grapher or Heidi, Gatchaman or Princess Knight, they’re all here. True, they’re mostly unsubbed, but it’s hard to imagine a pleasanter environment in which to browse vintage anime, exploring the decades in the country where the medium was born.
In the world we know, the Tokugawa Shogunate lost power in 1868, at which point the capital changed name from Edo to Tokyo. In the world of Akira Suzuki's Samurai Girls, the course of Japan’s history took a significantly different path. The shogunate still exists into the present day, and the nation of Great Japan is still largely isolated from foreign nations. Instead of developing technologically, samurai still rule the day, right down to the school level.
At a school where the children of military families train in the way of the sword, the council mercilessly oppresses the student body. Muneakira Yagyu is one such student, tired of the bullying power plays of the upperclassmen and accidental founder of a rebellion that will have repurcussions far outside of the school’s walls. Luckily, he has the ability to ‘upgrade’ any female into a Master Samurai with a mere kiss, bequeathing them near-superhuman abilities in the process. With a rapidly expanding army of super-powered babes, the movement might just stand a chance!
While real history was markedly different, Samurai Girls takes a lot of inspiration from the actual figures in the 15th-16th centuries, when the Tokugawa Shogunate rose to power. Muneakira himself is based on Munenori Yagyu, who brought the Yagyu New Shadow School of swordsmanship to Edo. Though the school trained many in the style Munenori’s father Muneyoshi had mastered, it’s generally not believed kissing the teacher had any beneficial effect.
Muneakira’s first recruit to the cause is the similarly named but unrelated Jubei Yagyu. In the series, she switches from a gentle, childish innocent to a furious, almost demonic warrior when powered up by a kiss from Muneakira. The name Jubei Yagyu should be familiar to long-time anime fans, as the original samurai has been the inspiration for the likes of Ninja Scroll, Ninja Resurrection and even a light-hearted parody, Jubei-chan the Ninja Girl. The real world Jubei was the son of Munenori, and though actual records of his life are few and far between, he is popularly regarded as something of a Robin Hood figure, rebellious and protecting the common man from the excesses of a corrupt upper class.
Muneakira’s second Master Samurai is Yukimura Sanada, a 15-year-old who favours giant battle fans that she uses as both a shield and a tool to manipulate the wind. When powered up, her powers rage out of control but, unlike Jubei, can transform on her own accord. Her historical namesake was the opposite of her unrestrained nature, known as a keen tactician who led small armies to victory over much larger forces. At one point known as the greatest warrior in Japan, Sanada would die in combat during the Siege of Osaka in 1615, beheaded following a brutal battle.
Many other characters in Samurai Girls take their origins from other pivotal figures of the period – lightning-powered Sen Tokugawa is named for an actual Tokugawa princess, while her retainer Hattori Hanzo shares a name with another lauded warrior. So while the series may well indulge in fanservice to a fair degree, there’s nothing to stop you getting a history lesson out of it at the same time!
Tom Smith challenges Miyazaki to some smartphone wrist action
Hayao Miyazaki, one of the greatest animators of all time, is fed up with the youth of today. It’s not their jive lingo, crazy hairdos or love for hamburgers bringing him down, it’s their addiction to performing ‘masturbation gestures’, particularly on public transport. He’s so sick of it that he went into a rant on the subject in the Studio Ghibli newsletter.
Miyazaki’s curmudgeonly rage is directed at the increasing amount of iPhone, iPad and smartphone users seen rubbing their beloved gadgets in public. But can all this wrist-based fumbling lead to anything constructive? The answer is a big yes, and as the adverts suggest, there really is an app for almost anything.
With such a huge amount of applications on offer (an estimated half a million alone in the App Store for iPhone), it can be daunting to know where to start. This is a quick guide to three applications that could make the great Miyazaki reconsider his opinion, at least in terms of using the devices as an educational tool. So put your masturbation gestures to good use and have a fiddle with these, you might even learn a thing or two in the process.
Human Japanese This piece of language software is simple and fun, and avoids the use of technical terms where possible – so if you haven’t got a degree in English Language or linguistics, you won’t feel alienated or confused. It begins with basic lessons on pronunciation and then takes you through the hiragana writing system first, introducing users to basic words in the process. Once that’s been mastered, Japanese will appear written in hiragana, as well as katakana and kanji, once they’ve been introduced.
Pronunciation is made simple. Where books often rely on a cumbersome CD of lengthy dialogue, Human Japanese goes for the simple method. Users just need to click on a word to hear it pronounced. Dialogue can also be listened to a sentence at a time, making speaking along to the recording much easier than constantly hitting rewind and pause from the days of CD.
In a nutshell, Human Japanese offers a complete learning package and takes users through the basics and concludes by giving them the knowledge and confidence to construct and understand sentences for everyday life in Japan. Its Facebook page also has regular updates in Japanese to put your studies to the test.
The software is available on Android Market, iOS and Windows Marketplace, as well as on the Mac App Store, online or boxed for old-fashioned computer-users priced between £6.50 and £16. The lite version is available for free and contains seven lessons.
Obenkyo If the basics are already mastered and its Japanese script you’re passionate about, Obenkyo is for you. This study tool is simple to use and offers an array of ways to test your knowledge of katakana, hiragana, numbers, kanji, vocabulary and particles – each having their own devoted section. However, this piece of digital kit is purely for revision purposes and as such offers no lessons. If you’ve completed Human Japanese, though, this is highly recommended to take your (digitally) written language skills to the next level. The tests offer plenty of variation to make sure you can work confidently with Japan’s various scripts and also allows the removal of characters you’ve already mastered from future tests. The latest update also include kanji recognition, which is still in its beta phases and can be pretty harsh if you don’t get the stroke order correct – but still, it is free and available from Android Market and Apple’s App Store.
JED – Japanese-English Dictionary Remember when electronic Japanese dictionaries cost hundreds of pounds? Well, they still do, but you and your wallet can now can get the same experience – if not better – for absolutely free, thanks to JED.
The application does everything an electronic dictionary can do (almost) and more. It cannot pronounce the words, but it does offer insight into each entry, including the usual information you’d expect to find in a dictionary as well as details on if the word/character is in common use, examples of it in action, and break-downs of kanji. These breakdowns also include information on the JLPT level of the character, for those taking their studies seriously. Kanji can also be searched by radicals.
JED is available exclusively on Android market, and can work offline once the installation files have been downloaded. iPhone users are advised to search the App Store for ‘Kotoba!’, a similar application based on Jim Breen’s comprehensive Japanese-Multilingual Dictionary.
So there you have it, with these three applications there’s no reason why you can’t have a solid understanding in Japanese, without actually spending a penny! Just make sure not to have a tap when Hayao Miyazaki is about.
Rayna Denison gets lost in the Studio Ghibli Museum
“Let’s Get Lost Together!” said the first brochures for the Studio Ghibli Art Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo. Fans were invited to wander the halls of the purpose-built, Miyazaki-designed spaces. Indeed, only the entrance into the Museum follows a defined pathway, where your pre-purchased ticket is exchanged for a new ticket made of framed cels from a Ghibli movie. But once you’ve walked down the curving staircase to the main foyer, you are free to explore any way you like (though you probably won’t actually get lost).
Going to the Art Museum is fundamentally like watching a Ghibli film – full of unexpected cul-de-sacs, intricately rendered details and beautiful imagery married to obvious commercialism. The Museum offers a good mix of exhibits that should please fans of all ages: there’s a permanent, children-only, giant fluffy Catbus (from My Neighbour Totoro) on the way to a roof-top garden featuring a large Laputa robot; there’s a cinema showing exclusive short films by Ghibli (these tend to have little dialogue, but come with no subtitles at all) and, being a Museum, there are also permanent and temporary exhibitions.
Make no mistake, this is not a theme park. Yes, the short films are perhaps more child-oriented than Ghibli’s feature films and, yes, the food is child-friendly. But, this is an Art Museum. It even has a book shop. Such a status is most obvious in the History of Animation exhibit, where you can see Ghibli-fied versions of the zoetrope and can watch Ghibli film reels on animated movement or human evolution whirring through old-fashioned machinery. There is also a permanent, and hugely romantic (the less charitable might say unrealistic), homage to the animator’s process, featuring cluttered workspaces and sketches from Ghibli’s most famous films. There are occasional moments that wouldn’t make it past a Disneyland designer – like the wall murals showing the all-male key animation staff, separated from their all-female supporting colourist counterparts. This aside, the details displayed are gorgeous, from popular characters depicted in stained glass, to specially designed tiles in the bathrooms, to the Mama Aiuto (Laputa again) shop.
While children have been playing on the Catbus since the Museum opened in 2001, now, for the first time ever, grown-ups can sit themselves inside their own life-sized Catbus in the Museum’s current special exhibition, “The View from the Catbus.” The special exhibitions change regularly, and often centre around Ghibli’s latest films or companies with whom Ghibli has important relationships, like Pixar. This current exhibition is all about Ghibli’s background art, which is brought to life, literally, in dioramas, making it possible to sprawl inside a Catbus, to pretend to eat noodles like Chihiro’s parents in Spirited Away, or to imagine yourself making hats like Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle.
Foreign fans get preferential treatment before they reach the Ghibli Museum. Japanese tickets (from the Lawson convenience stores) are time-limited, whereas we can buy tickets from MyBus London that allow us to stay all day if we want. However, a morning or afternoon should do the trick for most. If you want food at the Museum, the lunchtime queues are long at the Straw Hat Café, so try to dine off-peak. And though there is little actual danger of getting lost while ambling along the well-signed (and Totoro adorned) 15-minute route from Mitaka train station, a lot of visitors take the yellow bus from a special stand in front of the station, which costs an additional 200yen (one way) on top of the 1000yen (roughly £10) adult entry fee.
The Ghibli Museum, Mitaka, Japan is open 10:00-18:00, and is closed every Tuesday.
Matt Kamen on the connections between music and cartoons
With the final volume of K-On! rocking its way onto your shelves, we thought it was time to dig out the vinyl from some of animation’s earlier musical collaborations. Brace your ears – the history of animated bands is rooted in an arms race between squeaky-voiced singing rodents. Alvin and the Chipmunks were the 1958 creation of American musician Ross Bagdasarian Sr, finding chart success with a variety of novelty songs, they were beaten to the small screen in 1960 by The Nutty Squirrels, a jazz-infused copycat. The 1961 premiere of The Alvin Show cemented the originals as the public’s favourite though, creating a legacy that persists to the present.
All of a sudden, what would come to be known as ‘Virtual Bands’ were all the rage. A 1962 episode of The Jetsons, ‘A Date With Jet Screamer’, featured one of mainstream television’s first animated music performances (another nonsense song called ‘Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah’ -- below), while the characters of Archie comics formed ‘The Archies’ to release ‘Sugar, Sugar’ in 1969 – a song originally written for, but rejected by, The Monkees. Another spin-off from Archie comics would find fame as Josie and the Pussycats.
However, while animated bands in the US veered towards the comedic or light-hearted, Japanese efforts were frequently deeper in content and featured more varied music. Paramount among these was the Macross franchise, which began with an idol singer used as a human weapon, belting out a love song to shame alien invaders into submission, and in later years would also include a virtual idol with… issues, and an entire rockband singing in space battles. Ever since the late 1970s, anime producers have leapt at the chance to incorporate an excuse for more spin-off albums, with many variants on the idol singer theme, including Fancy Lala, who is granted magic powers by talking dinosaur toys, and Key the Metal Idol, a robot singer who needs an audience’s love to survive.
For the boys, there’s Black Heaven, where an aging rocker facing a midlife crisis, questioning where his life has lead him, is offered one last chance to pick up his guitar – little realising his music governs the fate of the universe.
Japan’s real life performers weren’t going to miss out either, and the Oricon music charts are littered with singles bolstered by gorgeously animated music videos. Two enduring favourites that took advantage of the medium are ‘Rusty Nail’, an apocalyptic short by rock-opera gods X-Japan, and Fukuoka-bred duo Chage and Aska’s 1995 single ‘On Your Mark’ – perhaps best known for its accompanying Studio Ghibli short, directed by Hayao Miyazaki. But French dance act Daft Punk have arguably used the form to its best advantage – drafting in famed animator Leiji Matsumoto for character designs and directorial supervision, for the film Interstella 5555, which contains the band’s entire ‘Discovery’ album, in a dialogue-free yet wonderfully expressive sci-fi parable of the manufacturing, marketing and subsequent destruction of the music industry.
Nowadays, the term virtual band has a very real meaning to it though, as one of Japan’s biggest musical stars is Hatsune Miku – a computer program. Far from a Skynet-style nightmare, Miku is the face of the Vocaloid software, a singing synthesiser allowing users to create their own tracks. Miku is by far the best known and most successful Vocaloid creation, a 16-year old blue-haired android with a predilection for singing energetic pop songs.
Whether the future holds more digital divas, tailor-made to meet audience expectations based on market research remains to be seen, though hopefully Vocaloid will instead lead to inventive users creating unique music with anime-styled avatars. Until then, the girls of K-On! will continue to rock out – manga creator Kakifly is still producing stories, so there’s plenty to look forward to from the girls!
There's still time to book your place in Prestatyn for this February's SFX Weekender in February 2012 -- an extravaganza of sci-fi and fantasy celebrities, events and wonders under the aegis of the UK's premiere sci-fi magazine.Rub shoulders with the great and the good in comics and sci-fi, including 2000ad legends John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, who will be helping Tharg the Mighty celebrate his magazine's 35th birthday party. It's your chance to wade knee-deep in authors, actors and aliens and to catch the explosive Area 51 dance troupe. Suit up, cosplayers, and fly the anime flag!
The first time Studio Ghibli boss Hayao Miyazaki allowed a developer to make a game based on one of his films, the gently haunting Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Technopolis Soft turned it into a shooter. That was also the last time Studio Ghibli boss Hayao Miyazaki allowed a developer to make a game based on one of his films.
Ni no Kuni, however, is different. Level5, fast becoming Japan’s most important games company, understands anime – its Inazuma Eleven game series has spawned a huge anime, which in turn sent the game’s profile into the stratosphere, and the forthcoming Youkai Watch will follow a similar strategy.
But more importantly, Level5 knows what younger kids want (its other franchises include Professor Layton and Little Battlers), and it can certainly handle a high-profile RPG (Dragon Quest VIII and IX). So with Level5 president Akihiro Hino ready to write a brand new adventure game for Nintendo DS and PlayStation 3, no wonder the bigwigs at Ghibli (if not Miyazaki himself) felt encouraged to dip their toe back into the corrupting world of videogames.
Ni no Kuni tells the story of Oliver, a young orphan in the fictional American town of Hotroit. Distraught at the death of his mother, he clings tightly to a doll she had made for him and weeps – and his tears transform the doll into Shizuku, a fast-talking, gruff little pixie with a lantern hanging from his nose. Shizuku whisks Oliver away to Ni no Kuni, or the Second Land, on a magical mission to defeat evil sorcerer Jabo and bring Oliver’s mum back to life.
The references are everywhere. Surreal creatures straight out of Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke inhabit this world as friends and foes, with the half-cat citizens of kingdom of Goronel recalling those in The Cat Returns. The idealised European architecture of Kiki’s Delivery Service informs that kingdom, too, while other artwork brings to life locations similar to those in My Neighbour Totoro and Porco Rosso. Ghibli’s star composer Joe Hisaishi provides a stirring orchestral soundtrack.
The voice acting, too, is of top standard, with excellent vocal work courtesy of such big names as Mikako Tabe, Arata Furuta and Masami Nagasawa.
Level5 brings to the table a deep and involving RPG structure, with a complex turn-based battle system to delight the hardcore gamers and enough side quests to keep you going for dozens of extra hours. But on top of that, it also invokes the spirit of Professor Layton, with gentle but fiendish family-friendly puzzles scattered throughout the game. Oliver must complete various trials on his journey through Ni no Kuni that tax his mind as well as his muscles.
When the game begins, Shizuku teaches Oliver some basic magic tricks that the player can implement either in battle or on the field – the first being a warp from Hotroit to Ni no Kuni. As the game progresses, so do Oliver’s magic skills – various characters you encounter will teach new spells that help attack, heal, unlock and solve. The game comes with a hardcover Magic Master book (no word yet whether this will be translated for overseas, as you also get a digital version in the game) that beautifully illustrates these incantations, and sometimes you need to leaf through its pages to solve a puzzle. It’s like Harry Potter without the teenage angst.
Unexpected anime connections to the notorious TV show
Starz's Spartacus: Vengeance hits the UK tonight, just three days behind its US premiere. The Japanese have to wait a little longer to see the new show, but then again, that’s because they have to dub it all. As so often happens with foreign TV shows in Japan, the actors have been pulled from a roster heavy with familiar voices from the world of anime.
The GITS connection continues with his nemesis Lucretia, whose Japanese voice is provided by Atsuko Tanaka, better known to English ears as leading lady Motoko Kusanagi. Meanwhile, the scheming Roman leader Glaber is voiced in Japanese by Jin Yamanoi, heard by anime fans most recently playing Lucio in Darker than Black. And Spartacus’s fellow revolutionaries, Oenomaus and Crixus, are played in Japanese by Kenji Nomura (Yami Llargo from Bleach), and Shunsuke Sakuya (Ryo Utagawa from Bleach, and Sakon/Ukon from Naruto).
Spartacus: Vengeance starts tonight on Sky1 in the UK.