Daniel Robson forks out for a “classy” dining experience
As you know by now, the Japanese love nothing more for Christmas dinner than a bucket of KFC, and Colonel Sanders is so revered that when a life-size statue of him was vandalised by a fan of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team in 1985, it led to them suffering a two-decade losing streak known as the “Curse Of The Colonel”. But now Japan’s obsession with the Rolf Harris lookalike has gone one step further, with the opening of Route 25 – a finger-licking new bar in the studenty Shimokitazawa district of Tokyo.
Yes, Route 25 is a Kentucky Fried Chicken bar. It occupies the third floor of a KFC on Shimokitazawa’s main drag, opens from 5pm till 11pm (and till 3am on weekends) and aims to re-create the deep American South. Southern Comfort and Jack Daniel’s take pride of place on the drinks menu, while the food offerings include chicken staples alongside pizza, pasta and nachos.
As theme bars go it’s relatively low-key. A stylish wooden counter takes pride of place, with glass cabinets housing the bottles and tumblers behind it. Rather than the usual white tables and chairs found in a KFC restaurant, here everything is wrought iron and hardwood. Light jazz trickles from the speakers as a mute flatscreen TV shows some sports game or other.
As is common in would-be high-class bars in Tokyo, the bartenders wear smart black waistcoats and trousers/skirts with spotless white shirts, and serve you at your table. You pay not when you order but on the way out.
The Americana fix comes not only from the dishes and drinks but also the red, white and blue menus (with the English text more prominent than the Japanese), and the good ol’ Dixie-whistlin’ photos on the wall – alongside an enlarged history of KFC overlord Colonel Sanders.
And then out comes the chicken: exactly the same as the stuff you buy in a regular KFC, but served on a dainty china plate and eaten with a fork. Actually, KFC in Japan tastes slightly different than in the West: It seems to be higher quality and not as greasy. Will Route 25 bars roll out across the rest of Tokyo, or indeed the world? No idea. In a city like Tokyo, where there are already more bars than there are lard-arses in Texas, it’s hard to work out why anyone would want to spend a whole evening there.
And that’s because what really sets Route 25 apart from other American-style bars in Tokyo is the faint but inescapable smell of secret recipe chicken. It permeates the place, and while this may be an inviting aroma when you walk past a KFC with an empty stomach, it’s quite another thing after a few hours’ boozing.
Still, there’s no question that KFC tastes better when you’re drunk, and at Route 25 you have the means to become exactly that.
Roving cameraman Paul Jacques snaps a Bleach cosplayer
Rajan Patel suits up as Toshiro Hitsugaya, the ice-cool captain who is the youngest in the history of the Soul Society. Best known for his leading role in the Bleach movie Diamond Dust Rebellion, Toshiro is a popular cosplay character. In 2008, Japanese fans actually voted him as the most popular character in the series, beating the supposed lead Ichigo Kurosaki.
Bleach 9.2 is now available on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.
Roving cameraman Paul Jacques finds an Expo homunculus
Tanya Taylor cosplays as Envy from Fullmetal Alchemist, the androgynous killer, war-starter and occasional shape-shifter who plays such a... pivotal role in the original series. Our very own Paul Jacques snapped this pose at the London MCM Expo.
The next instalment in our character guide for Dragon Ball Z
Yamcha. One of Goku’s oldest friends – even if they did first meet as enemies! A reformed desert bandit and an ex-boyfriend of Bulma, Yamcha is one of the strongest human fighters in the world. Having regularly entered World Martial Arts Tournaments and fought against a multitude of foes, he’s earned his place as one of the core Z-Fighters. However, he was overpowered and killed by one of Nappa’s drones in the Saiyan invasion of Earth. Luckily, death is rarely the end in the world of Dragon Ball, and Yamcha’s path continues as he trains under King Kai in the afterlife, preparing for a return to the living world to help his friends against the threats they’ll face on the distant planet Namek.
Tien and Chiaotzu. Another rival turned friend, Tien is a triclops trained in the Crane school’s more violent style of fighting, before seeing the light and joining Goku at Master Roshi’s academy. Chiaotzu is his best friend, a small human with mental powers. The pair are inseparable, and frequently employ co-ordinated attacks. Both warriors are able to copy others’ moves after seeing them only once, but even such a useful technique couldn’t save them from the Saiyans. Like Yamcha, they are allowed to train even beyond their death, hoping to prove a valuable addition to the team upon their resurrection.
King Kai. Short, dumpy and laidback, it’s hard to believe this blue skinned dwarf is actually a god! Having trained Goku in season one, he now applies his unique brand of tuition to the heroes who perished fighting against Vegeta and Nappa, reforging them into even stronger combatants. His training methods may seem odd and he may spend more time laughing at his own bad jokes than anything else, but he’s the finest teacher in this life or the next!
Frieza. The most terrifying enemy Goku and his allies have ever faced, a despotic alien conqueror who enslaves his subjects into his ever-expanding army. Frieza is so powerful, entire planets have fallen before his might – including the Saiyan homeworld. While he may look frail to begin with, he is capable of shape shifting through numerous battle forms, each one more potent than the last. When he arrives on Namek, the fearsome space emperor is in search of that planet’s Dragon Balls, putting him in direct conflict with our heroes.
Ginyu Force. A team of five brutal mercenaries in Frieza’s employ, and some of the strongest fighters in the Dragon Ball Universe. While each member – body-switching leader Captain Ginyu, energy manipulator Jeice, hulking Burter, matter-erasing Recoome and time-freezing Guldo – is deadly in their own right, they’re actually less effective when working as a team! Akira Toriyama based the group on the colourful Super Sentai heroes that have been part of Japanese pop culture since 1975, working the unusual team poses and combination attacks popular in that series into this villainous quintet’s moveset for comedy value. Laughs aside though, these guys are bad news for the heroes of Dragon Ball Z....
Dragon Ball Z, box 2 is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.
Jonathan Clements on a book that dissects Pokémon (what a thought)
On the 16th December 1997, in the big finale of the Pokémon episode ‘Cyber Warrior Porygon’, Pikachu defended his owner by delivering a blue and red jolt of electricity. It alternated swiftly in a hypnotic pattern, and made several hundred children throw up or have seizures. Thanks, anime! But as two of the writers observe in Pikachu’s Global Adventure, the notorious epilepsy incident of 1997 did little to diminish the appeal of anime’s new hit show. Far from it – for many people around the world, it was the first they had heard of the phenomenon that would all too soon be bearing down upon them.
Pikachu’s Global Adventure offers a collection of essays on the ‘rise and fall of Pokémon’, including studies of its origins, the campaigns against it, and the efforts made in localising it for foreign markets.
The book is impressive, at least in part, because it represents a true convergence of disciplines. Far too many such collections swiftly accrete an inertial gunge of cultural theorists and solipsistic drama llamas, wittering about peripheral issues in a vain attempt to justify an undeserved grant. But contributors to Pikachu’s Global Adventure come from anthropology, pedagogy, and media studies. Two are Japanese. One is a primary school teacher. Some elements of the book are personal, but are focussed resolutely on the observation of researchers’ children as they watch Pokémon, play the game, and in one case, drag their stock-trader Dads down to the swap-meet in order to get tips on card exchange values. Such an emphasis could have all too easily backfired into wittering about whatever someone’s kid did at school today, but thankfully remains tightly focussed on what Pokémon means to the kids. We have, presumably, editor Joseph Tobin to thank for this, who comes to the task from a background in Early Child Education.
Ever since Liliane Lurcat’s ground-breaking study A Cinq Ans, Seul Avec Goldorak, the academic world has had plenty of opportunity to investigate what it is that kids actually get out of their anime. The toy industry certainly does – I have seen massive, brick sized collations of commercial-in-confidence documentation by Child Psychology PhDs, amounting to racial profiling and empirical data on the world’s children. When I once worked for a well-known toy company on the idea for a new cartoon franchise, every one of my ideas was run past a panel of accountants and a panel of seven-year-olds. In other worlds, when it comes to the business of selling to children, the industry players do not screw around whereas academia often forgets about the kids altogether. For this reason, Tobin’s inclusion of child-focussed studies is to be commended.
There’s some great stuff in here. Christine Yano has a whale of a time chronicling the anti-Pokémon backlash, citing criticisms from concerned parents, religious nutcases and racist bigots. Julian Sefton-Green puts his own son in the spotlight, and chronicles a year in the life of a Pokémon fan. Dafna Lemish and Linda-Renée Bloch cover the history of Pokémon in Israel, to which the brand stumbled as late as 2000. And Gilles Brougère asks ‘how much a Pokémon is worth’ by examining the way in which French kids assign value to pieces of (theoretically) worthless card. Perhaps most fascinating to readers of this blog is the coverage of the localisation of Pokémon, and the arguments over the ways in which the original had to be compromised in order to make it truly huge.
Koichi Iwabuchi talks of two kinds of difference, a ‘cultural odour’ that needs to be damped down a bit, and a ‘cultural fragrance’ that can add to the appeal. A quote from one of Pokémon’s producers admits that the Japanese had observed the rise and plateauing of Sailor Moon, and determined that one of the many reasons it didn’t quite take the world by storm was that elements of it were too Japanese. Unlike, say Astro Boy, which Tezuka was persuaded to render ‘stateless’, Sailor Moon retained Japanese street signs and tatami-mat family settings, all of which served to put some of the mass audience off. Instead, Hirofumi Katsuno and Jeffrey Maret in Pikachu’s Global Adventure speak in a mixture of awe and fear of Gail Tilden, the ‘dragon mother of Nintendo’ (now its US vice president), who pushed for a deeply invasive but demonstrably populist re-versioning of Pokémon in the overseas market. There are stories here of soundtracks ripped out in their entirety, of massive alterations to dialogue and character and of the infamous ‘lost episodes’, but all such considerations are discussed in blunt and business-like terms. Pokémon the anime is merely a tool to sell Pokémon the Everything, and there are strong arguments in this book that it’s this very lack of respect for the ‘integrity’ of the original that made it possible for it to sell so well. Other authors get to grips with the world-beating Japan rhetoric of the period, and note that Japanese media companies have often tripped up when trying to deal with foreign clients, and that the real success stories are to be found among those Japanese companies that find a foreign partner who can do their work justice. Such as, it says here, Manga Entertainment, a company which made such a success of Ghost in the Shell. Which is nice to hear.
Nobody can really quantify Pokémon’s success. Trust me, if they could, then there would be another phenomenon as big, already. So it would be unfair to wonder why the academics spill so much ink over Pokémon, without offering much practical advice about why it worked. They don’t know, but then again, neither does anyone else. A few reviewers online have carped that Tobin’s book has missed the point, and that Pokémon is ‘still popular today’. In claiming this, they rather miss Tobin’s point, which is that the demonstrable, quantifiable Pokémon explosion was already fizzling out by 2001. Ten years on, Pokémon still has a residual appeal and a long tail of dedicated fans, but it is nowhere, nowhere near the global phenomenon that it was at the turn of the century. Tobin actually welcomes this fact, noting that academics should be just as interested in the decline of a phenomenon as with its rise, and that often one helps explain the other.
The main character in this plucky little SF drama belongs to a profession that anyone reading this blog should cheer. Gaia, a young woman living in Rome, is a translator of Asian media. Specifically she’s a Chinese speaker, who’s subtitling a film at home when the phone rings. She’s offered another, much more lucrative job, acting as interpreter in an interview so urgent she must come at once. Her contact insists on blindfolding her before driving her to the interview, which rings alarm bells, but luckily she’s as curious as we are.
Arriving to a drably anonymous building, Gaia is led downstairs to a darkened room to commence the interview with the mysterious and unseen Mr Wang (voiced by Li Yong). At first the atmosphere is cordial, but after a couple of questions, the Italian interviewer – the heavy-set, pugilistic Curti – becomes aggressive, making barely-veiled threats. It’s obvious this isn’t an interview but an interrogation, though the questions take bizarre turns – “Why the Chinese language?” demands Curti out of the blue. Gaia finally insists on seeing Wang for herself, reckoning the situation is so surreal that nothing more could surprise her. The lights go on, and Gaia realises how wrong she was…
(Warning – in a moment, we’ll give away one of the film’s surprises, though it’s not much of a surprise if you've seen the trailer or even the DVD box art, and we’ll try to spoil as little as possible. If you don’t want to know any more, then click away now!)
Okay, so Mr Wang is an alien, and rather obviously so. It quickly transpires that he speaks Chinese on the grounds that it’s the most-spoken lingo on the planet, though presumably he hadn’t prepped enough to realise it might not be the most widely distributed language. Wang’s message is “We come in peace,” but Curti isn’t buying that, insisting the visitor has a hidden purpose and Curti has ways of making him talk. As an innocent and ignorant witness, Gaia plays audience surrogate, her sympathies sliding more and more as the situation intensifies.
One phrase that comes to mind watching this film is “bottle show” – an episode of an ongoing TV serial where the budget is squeezed down to the bones, often by confining the actors and action to a single room (a prison cell will do nicely). A big percentage of Wang’s running time is set in the interrogation room, plus some equally drab corridors, with three core characters and a smattering of support players. Luckily the two humans - Francesca Cuttica as Gaia and Ennio Fantastichini as Curti – are compelling, their conflict crackling with a furious chemistry. The film also gives each character some moments alone, making them believable presences.
As for the translation device – a novel solution to the hoary SF problem of conversing with aliens – it means the average non-Chinese speaking Westerner is immediately distanced from Wang’s statements, hearing everything second-hand from Gaia, and adding a layer of enigma. Of course, it’d be fascinating to hear the response of a Chinese person for whom the Italian of the “viewpoint” characters is as opaque as Mandarin is to most of us. One might reflect the Chinese language wouldn’t be quite as opaque abroad if China develops, say, an animation industry with a devoted foreign fanbase picking up the subbed colloquialisms and merrily misusing them. There’s also an unexpected reference to anime in the dialogue, where Gaia is trying to translate Wang’s techno-speak and apologises to Curti for using phrases (like “Cosmic communicator”) that sound like they come from “some Japanese cartoon.”
Either Wang turns out to be good or Wang turns out to be bad (for humans, at least), though there are riskier options, such as not answering the question at all. Which way the film-makers choose can invite blowback from the audience. For many critics and fans, this kind of SF drama isn’t just speculative storytelling but a real-world statement, whether about McCarthyism in the 1950s or asylum seekers today. Fans of Doctor Who may recall a heated spat over the Dickens episode, “The Unquiet Dead” – if not, it’s on Wikipedia. Personally I’d suggest that Wang’sonly implicit statement is there’s no ordained “right” answer to the film’s dilemma – if there was, the film wouldn’t have been worth making.
In the event, The Arrival of Wang becomes less interesting in the third act, which leaves the interrogation room for dark and sinister corridors. The ending is a squib, letting the directors show off their modest effects budget, but stopping the characters and story rather than concluding them, without any great shock or surprise to compensate. Nonetheless, Wang is an enjoyable little piece, well worth its 80-minute watching time, though it begs one great question. In a film where translation is central to the plot, didn’t the directors (brothers Antonio and Marco Manetti) think to check what a word like “Wang” might mean in some foreign territories?
Tom Smith on the London-bound rock god Tomoyasu Hotei
In his home country, he’s the alpha and the omega of guitar. No other solo star has ever come close to touching his career. He’s collaborated with the world’s most influential musical figures, and has had his music featured in some of the last decade’s biggest blockbusters. Some go as far as saying he’s the original driving force in establishing J-rock (and yes, it is a genre). He is Tomoyasu Hotei, and he will be holding a very special live show in London on 18 December 2012.
The chances are that you’re already familiar with one of his songs; “Battle Without Honor or Humanity”. It became the star’s international claim to fame when a director known as Quentin Tarentino used it as the theme to his film Kill Bill Volume One, instantly shooting Hotei back into western pop-culture.
It wasn’t the first time the now iconic track has been used in film. At the turn of the millennium it featured originally in Junji Sakamoto’s yakuza flick Shin Jingi Naki Tatakai (also released as Another Battle), alongside Hotei himself, co-starring with Etsushi Toyokawa (20th Century Boys, Moon Child). This film was a remake of the 1973 film Jingi Naki Tatakai – or directly translated into (American) English; ‘Battle Without Honor or Humanity’, from which the instrumental track received its name.
These weren’t the only films to include the piece. It also appears in Michael Bay’s Transformers during Bumblebee’s transformation sequence. Notice anything familiar about the robot in disguise’s colour scheme? It’s exactly the same yellow as Uma Thurman’s infamous biker suit in Kill Bill – it even has the stripe!
Long before Kill Bill, or even his solo career, Tomoyasu Hotei was part of the pioneering rock act BOØWY during the 80s. The group caused one of the biggest spikes in musical instrument sales that Japan has ever experienced, inspiring a whole generation of music lovers to pick up a guitar of their own, long before Yui and the K-On! crew had girls running to the shops to start bands.
BOØWY even made it to London, with a show at the Marquee Club in 1985. However, by 1988 the band had broken up and Hotei pursued a solo career which led to him collaborating with the likes of Hugh Cornwell from The Stranglers, Andy Mackay of Roxy Music, Jesus Jones, Sugue Sigue Sputnik, Asia, INXS, Joni Mitchell, Ray Cooper, David Sanborn and Chicago. He’s even worked with the Starman himself David Bowie, after whom BOØWY was named.
He also played guitar under the baton of Michael Kamen at the closing ceremony for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and more recently arranged the theme Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. All in all, Hotei is possibly Japan’s most internationally renowned artist, ever. And that’s not even the most exciting news. The star has just relocated to London with his family. The possibilities for his career, which has been going for more than 30 years, are well and truly endless.
Tomoyasu Hotei will perform at the Camden Roundhouse on 18 December. Tickets are on sale now.
Andrew Osmond visits Hideaki Anno’s exhibition of effects cinema
“Why did we love such images so much? I think our hearts were deeply moved by the grown-ups’ earnest efforts working at the sets that dwelled deep behind the images … the various appealing qualities of a visual world not made of three-dimensional images using digital data in virtual space, but that of real tangible objects in physical space, with real light and atmosphere, captured through the optical lens…”
So Evangelioncreator Hideaki Anno writes in his introduction to the ‘Tokusatsu’ effects exhibition, now running at Tokyo’s Museum of Contemporary Art. To give the exhibition’s full name, it’s “Museum Director Hideaki Anno’s Tokusatsu Special Effects Museum: Craftmanship of Showa and Heisei Eras Seen Through Miniatures.” Anno’s name is the big draw – Japan’s best-known ubergeek has adored Tokusatsu movies and shows since childhood, and is now defending their heritage. However, the festival is also of interest to fans of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, who were involved in the planning and production of the exhibit.
Tokusatsu means “special filming” and the word is used to refer to a range of Japanese movies and TV shows that use physical, material effects, be they a miniature spaceship flying on wires, or an actor in a Godzilla suit stomping through a model Tokyo. While they may only be on screen for brief shots, these effects are anything but ephemeral for fans. According to the exhibition notes, Anno was concerned that “miniatures and props of great cultural value are being scattered or lost.” Interviewed by the Daily Yomiuri newspaper, Anno explained that, even in Japan, physical effects are being replaced by CGI, pushing the art of Tokusatsu into decline. The purpose of the exhibition is to collect together as many miniatures as possible, and to add to the tradition, by making a new monster film.
Japan’s monster movies are the best known Tokusatsu titles outside Japan, but the exhibit reminds us that miniatures were used in other kinds of films. Along with the rocket ships and monster suits, you’ll find a locomotive from the 1963 war film Siege of Fort Bismarck, and a huge submarine from the 1973 disaster epic The Sinking of Japan. Given their age, it’s understandable that many of these props have a used, weathered look that only adds to their appeal.
On the fantasy side, you soon come across a huge snarling Mechagodzilla costume from 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla, followed by an equally fearsome Gamera turtle hung up like a gong.As for the mecha… Well, you get the feeling that the Japanese love vehicles with bloody big drills on them (driven home by Gainax’s anime Gurren Lagann!), such as the “Polar Borer” from 1977’s The Last Dinosaur.
You’ll find Tokyo Towers both intact and broken – one stands in the middle of a molten wasteland Tokyo, dangling mid-topple like it’s about to brain us all. There are gorgeously beautiful reconstructions of genteel Japanese houses and impersonal power pylons, begging for a giant lizard to trample them. Keep an eye on the walls, too; as well as vibrant poster art advertising monster mash-ups, there are meticulous vessel blueprints, concept art and dynamic paintings to enjoy.
As well as the movies, Tokusatsu takes in a strand of “hero” TV shows that began with Ultraman, created by Godzilla effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya, a legend to rank with Ray Harryhausen or Gerry Anderson. Foreigners may be struck by the painstakingly restored props from the 1968 TV show Mighty Jack, a creation of the Tsubuyara studio, which Anno loved as a grade-schooler. The eponymous Mighty Jack is a yellow-tipped battleship that doubles as a submarine and a superplane; its debt to Gerry Anderson is obvious, but it also shares the DNA of American mecha like S.H.I.E.L.D’s Helicarriers, which played a star role in Avengers Assemble.
The Ultraman franchise is represented through a whole room full of flying model superheroes, plus their customised planes, masks and costumes, all decked out in Superman reds. The Ultramen lead on into a wider family of TV heroes, among them the masks of pre-Ranger costumed fighters like Mirrorman (1971), Triple Fighter (1972), and the robot Janborg A (1973). By far the most striking mask is that of 1972’s Lionmaru, about a samurai-era ninja warrior who turns into a lion-man. His mask is frankly awesome, even if the screen execution was “frankly ridiculous” (in the authoritative judgement of the Dorama Encyclopedia). Judge for yourself…
The centre-piece of the exhibit is of special interest to anime fans. Famously, Anno earned his anime stripes by realising the “God Warrior” monster at the end of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind. This was a nightmare giant with a triangular head, tusked maw and enough explosive fire to make Godzilla look like a damp candle. Now it returns, in an eight-minute film called Giant God Warrior Appears in Tokyo. It’s effectively a Miyazaki prequel (complete with Ghibli’s Totoro logo!) which shows what Nausicaa’s “seven days of fire” was really like. Anno was involved in the new film, although its director was co-curator and Gainax co-founder Shinji Higuchi, best known for reviving the Gamera monster-turtle franchise in the 1990s.
The film is a weird but impressive experience, with many deliberately stylised (or “bad”) effects shots and no real human characters, just anonymous human crowds, often frozen like toy figurines as they await obliteration. Like the film’s ancestor, the first Godzilla, what’s most impressive about Giant God Warrior is less the Cthulhu-like monster (though it’s cool enough) but the destruction it wreaks. Offices burst in goopy gouts of lava; city districts flame in lovely lines of fireworks.
After watching the film, we get the How They Did It lowdown, a 15-minute making-of video. The ingenuity on display is awesome; wreaths of cotton wool are turned into glowing mushroom clouds, and the filmmakers cackle in little-boy delight as they play back the detonations of model buildings. For the God Warrior itself, blue-screen was used, but not as you’d expect. The monster was a man-sized puppet, but rather than having a human actor inside it, it was driven by blue-suited puppeteers tagging behind, who moved it with rods. The Tokusatsu ethos rings proud: Screw motion capture, we make real monsters here.
The exhibits increase in size towards the end. An Aladdin’s cave warehouse carries a mass of props, including a truly titanic submarine from Shinji Higuchi’s 2005 film Lorelei. Another large section pays tribute to Godzilla, including Eiji Tsubuyara’s drawings for the film and the actual “Oxygen Destroyer” weapon. There are giant forced-perspective model landscapes, video montages of six decades of tokusatsu cinema and the piece de resistance – a scaled-down city centre you can walk through at Godzilla height, glowering contemptuously at civilisation. Tremble, puny humans… Hear me roar!
“TOKUSATSU--Special Effects Museum” runs until October 8 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo in Koto Ward. It is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. It is closed on Mondays and also on particular dates: check in advance. The nearest stations are Kiyosumi-Shirakawa on the Hanzomon line (exit B2) and Kiyosumi-Shirakawa on the Oedo line, taking about 10-15 minutes to walk to the museum from either.
Admission: 1400 yen for adults, 900 yen for students, 400 yen for primary school students and free to anyone younger!
Up from the depths, thirty stories high – no, wait, sorry, that’s Godzilla. While the mighty lizard has proven to be a legitimate threat to mankind on numerous occasions, we probably don’t have much to fear from Squid Girl, the eponymous would-be overlord who’s trying to take over the Earth.
Squid Girl’s cause is actually just, from an environmental view – tired of humanity dumping rubbish in the oceans, the (inexplicably humanoid) young cephalopod marches onto land to make things right. Fortunately for us, her invasion isn’t terribly well planned and she instead quickly gets conscripted into working for a beach house restaurant. Although the Aizawa sisters – feisty redhead Eiko and quiet but ridiculously strong Chizuru – try to keep Squid Girl under control, she learns more about life on the surface, always scheming to subjugate humanity. However, despite boasting all the bizarre powers a human-sized squid might possess (including impressively powerful and dextrous tentacles in place of hair and the frankly disgusting ability to vomit up ink), most people mistake Squid Girl for a cosplayer. Cue comedic misunderstandings in three, two, one....
Each episode typically offers three mini-stories that drop the characters into all sorts of mishaps. From Squid Girl trying to recruit an army on the surface world, to her running afoul of mistaken UFO researchers and finding the one human who’s actually scared with her, the varied and increasingly unhinged cast keep the laughs coming thick and fast.
Artist Masahiro Anbe created Squid Girl in 2005 and, liking the visual but having no story based around her at the time, inserted the character into his portfolio of self-published work. Eventually, publisher Akita Shoten took notice, and Squid Girl made the leap to her own manga series in 2007, in the pages of Shonen Champion magazine. It’s not the first comedy manga to feature inept invaders – Mine Yoshizaki’s Sgt Frog has launched a merchandising and media empire off the back of a handful of pop-culture obsessed alien frog-soldiers, while Rumiko Takahashi’s classic Urusei Yatsura remains for many the benchmark of such stories. Anbe’s take has more of an environmentally conscious edge to it, though remains first and foremost a rapid-fire laugh machine. The series’ reclusive creator is something of an enigma though – little is known of 29-year old Anbe except that he still lives and works in Kanagawa Prefecture, Squid Girl is his only major published work to date and his Twitter feed is replete with Call of Duty tweets!
Responsibility for shepherding Squid Girl from sea to screen fell to newcomer studio Diomedea. Originally an offshoot from the larger (but now defunct) Group TAC, the group honed talents in assistant animation roles on the likes of The Skull Man before tackling Anbe’s creation as one of their earliest in-house efforts. Established comedy director Tsutomu Mizushima helmed the series, bringing with him the same level of surreality that viewers of weird jungle farce Hale+Guu enjoyed. UK fans will have most recently seen Mizushima’s work on the macabre XXXHolic though, so Squid Girl should prove to be a keen example of the director’s versatility.
Squid Girl’s invasion has begun – prepare yourself with the complete first series.
Is it nature or nurture that defines who you are? It’s a deeply philosophical question, and one that Rin Okumura will be asking himself a lot in Blue Exorcist – he’s just learned that he’s one of the sons of Satan. Can this potential Antichrist defy his birthright and become a hero?
Raised by a priest and displaying unusual levels of strength and resilience since infancy, Rin’s upbringing was far from normal. It was actually his good-hearted nature that got him in trouble more often than not, always willing to leap to the defence of an underdog, even if it meant handing out or taking a beating. However, his younger brother Yukio was the complete opposite – frail, shy and studious. Shortly after Yukio leaves on a scholarship to the mysterious True Cross Academy, Rin’s life starts taking a turn for the even stranger. He starts seeing things, impossible creatures that no-one else notices, and soon becomes the target of a powerful demon. Rescued by his adoptive father, Shiro Fujimoto – revealing that his role as priest is largely a cover for his actions as a powerful exorcist – Rin is told the truth of his lineage and presented with the Kurikara, a forbidden blade that seals away his demonic side. When Satan himself tries to manifest on Earth, killing Shiro in the process, Rin draws the blade, awakening his dark powers in full for the first time.
Now permanently marked as a demon, complete with fanged teeth, pointed ears and even a tail, Rin is recruited by the mysterious Mephisto Pheles to become an exorcist to honour Shiro. Charged with protecting the human realm, Assiah, from incursions by the demon world, Gehenna, Rin enrols in the True Cross Academy and is reunited with his brother – now an instructor at the school, after years of secret training in the mystic arts. Overcoming the friction caused by the secrets between them is only the first step the Okumura boys will take on the path to their ultimate goal: destroying Satan and his evil breed forever.
Rin’s struggle to control his new-found powers and dark impulses comes from the twisted mind of manga creator Kazue Kato, her second series following sci-fi action series Robo and Usakichi. Blue Exorcist began development as a planned gothic fairy tale, with a focus on brothers fighting dark monsters. Eventually, Kato dropped the Brothers Grimm elements and reimagined the premise around Christian imagery and mythology. The end result is a series that takes inspiration equally from religious texts and fantasy folklore but puts a modern, horror film spin on both.
Although Kato’s manga is still running in the pages of Shueisha’s monthly Jump Square magazine, the story of the 25-episode anime adaptation closely follows the print version, with early episodes each based on a single chapter. Directed by Tensai Okamura, creator of Darker Than Black, the series blends dark and unsettling moments of crawling terror with brighter high school drama, and plenty of frantic devil-slaying action between.
See Rin and Yukio take their battle to the pit itself in the first half of Blue Exorcist, available in the UK from Manga Entertainment.