It’s not for the first time that cards and combat have gone together. Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokemon, and CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura all revolved around real or imaginary decks of cards, while Summer Wars got viewers curious about old-fashioned Hanafuda, or flower cards. Unlike them, Redakai: Conquer the Kairu (to give the cartoon’s full name) isn’t from Japan. It’s a Canadian-French team-up, tailored for America and other English-speaking markets, though you may notice the name of DR Movie in the credits. This is a hugely important South Korean studio, with credits on anime by Studio Ghibli, Madhouse, Gonzo and many others.
As the trailer shows, the film combines traits from Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! From Pokemon, there is the idea of rival teams, each following the same treasure hunt (or in this case, mystical energy hunt), destined to cross swords again and again. 15 year-old Ky Stax is the leader of the good guys. His wisecracking strong-armed buddy is Boomer, while the tattooed girl Maya is the outfit’s brains, helped by her ESP visions. Early in the series, it’s indicated that Lokar, the show’s chief villain, has a hidden plan for Maya, who looks to be more than the traditional token girl of action teams.
Like Yu-Gi-Oh!, Redakai uses card-based duels. As the characters collect the show’s paranormal power-force – the “Kairu” of the title – so they put particular units together to turn into giant monsters, or launch attacks on one another. Each of the different characters has his or her preferred monster and attack. Of course, fans of the show can do “battle” themselves in the tie-in Redakai card game, which uses plastic trading cards classed as “Characters,” “Monsters” or “Attacks.” Parts of the cards are see-though clear, which affects their value when a card is put on another. The video below explains the “Basic” and “Advanced” rules of the game. (Note that the cards themselves sport 3D animated pictures, as shown at the beginning of the video).
The first DVD volume, released today, contains the first seven parts of the show. It begins with fairly straightforward stories and fights, though with signs of arc plots to come. Among the voice-cast, anime fans should look out for two support actors with anime connections. Katie Griffin voiced Alex in later episodes of the anime-esque Totally Spies!, but she’s best known in anime circles for dubbing Sailor Mars in Sailor Moon. In Redakai, she reportedly voices Zair, a member of the malign Team Radikor. But the biggest name in the voice-credits is Wil Wheaton, late of the Starship Enterprise (he was teen cadet Wesley in Star Trek The Next Generation). Since then, he’s taken supporting voice roles in Naruto, Naruto Shippuden and Mobile Suit Gundam UC, and turns up in Redakai as Quantus, a character who appears further into the story…
“This is definitely one of the most extreme things I’ve ever seen… This kind of takes the cake!” says American voice-actor J. Michael Tatum on one of the episode commentaries for Shigurui Death Frenzy. No disrespect to Afro Samurai, a fine series,but Shigurui Death Frenzy is a samurai show from a very different, and far more frightening, planet.
As the Anime Encyclopedianotes, Afro Samurai can be seen as a successor to Kill Bill, in which violent anime was specifically made for a foreign audience. Indeed, Afro Samurai didn’t even have a Japanese voice-track. Shigurui Death Frenzy is at the opposite extreme. It’s an anime that’s hard to imagine being made, at least by a big commercial animation studio, anywhere except Japan. It’s an uncompromisingly “hard” watch, and shamelessly extreme – a man rips his own guts out in the first minutes. But it’s just as shamelessly artistic, or “arty,” aimed at viewers with a taste for stately narratives, still images, deferred gratification and style as king. It used to be said that the main audience for violent anime was teens swilling beer and curry on a Friday night. The ideal audience for Shigurui Death Frenzy would be Hannibal Lecter, tucking into a fresh liver and fava beans with a fine chianti.
The story takes place in the civilised barbarity of seventeenth-century Japan. It’s a tale of trainee samurai, with much of the action taking place in their wooden “dojo” home, ruled over by their ancient and terrible master swordsman, Kogan. When Kogan makes his first appearance, he looks like some ghastly Frankenstein monster, drooling and pissing; but in his periods of lucidity, he’s utterly lethal. Two rival male students compete to be his heir: Fujiki, a rising star of the Kogan dojo, and Seigen (voiced by Tatum in the dub), who just shows up at the door one day and asks for a fight. Two beautiful women are woven into the drama; Kogan’s mistress Lady Iku, who’s enticed into a forbidden relationship with Seigen, and Kogan’s daughter Mie, whom the patriarch sees as a vessel for his legacy.
As a drama, Shigurui Death Frenzy has parallels with Berserk, particularly the 1990s TV anime version. Both series are manga adaptations that adapt only a portion of the source material. Shigurui Death Frenzy is based on a fifteen-book strip by Takayuki Yamaguchi. Both series start with flash-forwards to later in their main players’ lives, though Shigurui Death Frenzy’s main story completes an “arc” in the final episode, rather than end with a maddening cliff-hanger like the TV Berserk! Both shows are sagas of lifelong ambitions, and jealousy, and self-destruction, and pitiless worlds where hate is the only lasting human emotion.
And yes, it’s a story of extremes of sex and violence. There are several scenes designed to provoke reactions of, “What is he doing… He can’t be… Oh, hell.” (The opening scene of The End of Evangelion was a classic of the form.) But it’s a distanced, clinical kind of extreme. As the people on the DVD commentary point out, Shigurui Death Frenzy is akin to the films of a live-action director like David Cronenberg in its clinical, neutral horror. One of the series’ recurring images, as in many anime, is of insects crawling and buzzing, and the series suggests a disinterested God’s-eye perspective that reduces humanity to a microcosmic level.
The series is overwhelmingly sparse, in dialogue, motion and colour. For readers who explore the fringes of anime, the slow, sometimes oblique storytelling is reminiscent of the stop-motion films by Kihachiro Kawamoto (though Shigurui Death Frenzy is infinitely more gruesome). It’s a series that reminds you that you’re watching drawings, spaced out very like comic-strip frames. The gushing blood and sausage-strings of intestine unnerve you less than creepier grotesqueries, like one samurai’s slit-wide mouth, or the wide fish eyes of another. The show was directed by Hiroshi Hamasaki, who has co-directing credits on Texhnolyze and the recent Steins;Gate. Also prominent in the credits is screenplay writer and art director Seishi Minakami, who scripted Paranoia Agent and Paprika for Satoshi Kon.
Shigurui Death Frenzy is available on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.
Part two of Bleach series ten is a marker in Okinawan pop history. When these episodes originally hit Japan in 2008, they came with a new opening courtesy of Stereopony, a girl band straight from Japan’s very own tropical island paradise.
Leading up to this moment, Japanese girl groups – the kind that played their own instruments and wrote their own music – had lost prominence in the mainstream. In the indie scene, however, it was a completely different story. While Osaka had a group of uniform-wearing schoolgirls named SCANDAL destined for big things (as well as having their first big hit with series 11 of Bleach), Okinawa had its own group of future instrument-wielding-lady-stars going by the name of Mixbox.
Mixbox would soon be on the cover of countless magazines, even more TV shows, and play a massive part in Japan’s girl group boom, but they’d do all this under the very different name of Stereopony. After winning a series of awards and successful indie festival appearances in their first year as Mixbox in 2007, the girls decided to change their name for a much more serious approach. It paid off. With a little help from Tokyo FM’s ‘School of Lock’ show, who coincidently helped launch a number of bands into the public eye, including Galileo Galilei (Anohana) and UVERworld (also from Bleach), Stereopony managed to gain the attention of Sony Music. Within a matter of weeks they were ready to unleash their debut major label single on the world, ‘Sayonara no Kisetsu’.
Now, before any avid Stereopony fans get vocal in the comments section that ‘Sayonara’ was not the girls’ first single, you’re right. It wasn’t. The group had an opportunity to have a song included in Bleach, and ‘Sayonara no Kisetsu’ didn’t suit the setting. Instead, another song was chosen, written by the band’s vocalist and guitarist AIMI, entitled ‘Hitohira no Hanabira’.
The single became a huge success and paved the way for a music career heavily linked with anime, with their songs later being used in hit shows such as Eureka Seven, Darker than Black and Mobile Suit Gundam 00.
Where there’s anime, festivals aren’t too far behind, and Stereopony got to travel the world, meeting fans and musicians alike. By 2012 it was announced that the girls four-year reign, which included 12 hit singles, would come to an end and the band would disband. However, out of Stereopony’s ashes a new band would arise; Evanpony, consisting of the former band’s drummer and bassplayer, plus Avril Lavigne’s former guitarist Evan Taubenfeld. Stereopony’s 12th and final single ‘Namida Nante Mishite Yannai‘, which is also available in full from the iTunes UK store, was a split single with Evanpony’s debut ‘Just Rock With Me’.
If you like what you hear in Bleach, you can pick up the Best of Stereopony compilation album on iTunes, as well as More! More!! More!!!, Stereopony’s final album before becoming no more, more, more.
Bleach 10:2, featuring a closing theme by Stereopony, is out 11 March on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.
Andrew Osmond on Ulysses 31 and adapting the Odyssey
This January, it was reported that Warner Brothers would make a space adventure version of the epic Greek legend The Odyssey. As of writing, the only details to hand are the production and writing credits; the best-known name is that of British co-producer David Heyman, who oversaw Harry Potter from start to finish.
Readers might reasonably wonder if the Odyssey film will be a remake of the 1980s French-Japanese cartoon Ulysses 31. As we’ve seen recently, Warners has a hugely profitable relation with anime, from Pokemon to Animatrix. It turned live-action into animation with Supernatural: The Animation, and transmuted anime into (kind-of) live-action with Speed Racer.
In fact, as far as we know, there’s no connection between this new space Odyssey and the anime. According to the press reports, the Warners project originated with Terry Douglas of 1812 Pictures, and is being written by rising newcomer James DiLapo. Before anyone cries plagiarism, the trick of turning Greek myths into SF goes back decades. Both Star Trek and Doctor Who had stabs at the idea years before Ulysses 31. Nor should we forget Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, which modelled its future-world heroine on a princess in the Odyssey. (Sadly, Ulysses 31 never got round to doing the Nausicaa story; perhaps they were scared people would say they were pilfering Miyazaki!)
More broadly, of course, Ulysses 31 is part of a tradition of putting classic stories into space. See Disney’s Treasure Planet (based on Treasure Island), or the live-action Robinson Crusoe on Mars, or the Belgian cartoon Pinocchio in Outer Space. In anime, of course, the Gonzo studio has specialised in this area, with Samurai 7, based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, and Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo. But again, it’s nothing new – Japan’s Toei studio did Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon back in 1965.
Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see how closely Warner’s approach parallels that of Ulysses 31. If you’ve never seen the older show, it’s still possible to pick up second-hand copies of the Ulysses 31 Complete Collection DVD online – the 26-part series was released a decade ago by E1 Entertainment. It was a French-Japanese co-production between France’s DiC studio and Japan’s prolific Tokyo Movie Shinsha. In Britain, it was shown on Children’s BBC as one of the “hidden” anime imports in the years before Akira. Like many TV cartoons, it’s the opening theme that stays with you:
Though it sounded rather different when it played in Japan on Nagoya TV:
The story, created by DiC’s founder Jean Chalopin, updated the ancient Greek poem The Odyssey. This concerns the endless wanderings of the warrior king Odysseus (Ulysses is his Roman name), who’s endlessly waylaid by monsters and magic as he tries to find his way to his homeland. In the cartoon, Ulysses is recast as the bearded 31st-century captain of a doughnut-shaped spaceship, searching endlessly for Earth.
Fittingly called the Odyssey, Ulysses’ craft was a wondrous anime creation, the envy of any Enterprise captain. The control bridge was awash with flashing lights, overseen by Shyrka, a computer with an eerily calm, mellifluous voice. The show’s design involved French artist Philippe Bouchet, also known as Manchu, along with Japan’s Shingo Araki, whose anime work was especially important for French viewers. As well as his contributions to Ulysses 31, he also designed Saint Seiya, a phenomenal hit in the country.
In Ulysses 31’s first episode, Ulysses falls foul of the ancient Greek gods after saving his young son Telemachus from the Cyclops (a life-draining giant robot in this version, though still with a vulnerable eyeball). The angry deities sentence Ulysses to wander among unknown stars, putting most of his crew into suspended animation. Ulysses’ sole companions are Telemachus, a cute blue-skinned alien girl called Yumi, and the hapless mini-robot Nono. The latter character was hated by some viewers, but you could do far worse in toons of the time (Scrappy Doo, anyone?). Yumi’s elder brother Numinor occasionally emerged from suspended animation to help with the week’s adventure.
Some episodes hold up far better than other, but the best are highly evocative, thanks to the funky music, the frequently psychedelic visuals, and the creators’ fantasy vision. Some of Ulysses’ adventures were truly disturbing, including “The Eternal Punishment,” a harsh retelling of the Sisyphus legend, and the haunting, dreamlike, “The Seat of Forgetfulness.” “Before the Flood” saw the characters weather a deluge on a counterpart Earth inhabited by winged beings. “Strange Meeting” paid tribute to the show’s origins, sending the space-age Ulysses to aid his Homeric ancestor in ancient Greece. Unusually for an 1980s cartoon in Britain, the last part (“The Kingdom of Hades”) brought the adventures to a satisfying end.
The show is far better remembered in Britain than in America, or even Japan, though reportedly Japan screened it in two versions with different voice-casts. One had Nono voiced by the famed actress Mayumi Tanaka, who now plays Luffy in One Piece. On the English side, anyone who watched the show alongside Mysterious Cities of Gold, another Japanese/French production, would spot that they shared English voices. Among them were Matt Berman (Ulysses/Gomez), Adrian Knight (Telemachus/Tao) and Howard Ryshpan (Nono/Pedro).
And if all this talk of vintage cartoons has made you pine for children’s TV in an analog age – why, here are two old friends to play you out!
Space Nazis, 007 and the Hulk convene for our new podcast
Your vertically-enhanced host, Jeremy Graves, is joined by the newly-healed, disease-free Jerome Mazandarani, Andrew Hewson and Jonathan Clements for another rip-snorting, fan-baiting, Jerome-bashing podcast, featuring questions from you, yes you, answered by us, yes us.
00:00 JC on the costs of living in China, and the prospects of a Chinese middle class. Singing the praises of Western Phoenix booze. How on earth does that relate to anime? No worries, here’s a picture of Karen Allen impersonating Jonathan Clements.
05:00 Pricing and quality in China.
09:00 parallel importing.
13:00 Why are people still asking about One Piece? The behind-the-scenes panic last month that led to our hasty previous podcast (thanks, Amazon!). JC sleeps like a baby while Andrew and Jeremy run around in ever-decreasing circles. Mark Smith and his human minions. The problems of coordinating announcements and products.
28: 00 Recent releases – what’s out this week and coming soon. Including discussion of the unlikely connection between Oblivion Island and Skyfall.
33:00 Disney’s announcement (or lack thereof) of no new 2D animated films coming, and what people feel about that. Is it really the end of an era, or did “the era” really end some time ago? The controversy over Rhythm & Hues filing for bankruptcy despite Oscar attention.
40:00 Outsourcing in the film business, and the devious actions of accountants who can chase the money around the world. Bob the Builder is now made in Poland… make your own jokes. How can a film about Space Nazis, shot in Germany and Australia be called “Finnish”? And Revolver Entertainment gets shown the revolving door.
47:00 The history of the PlayStation, and what effect it’s had on modern media.
50:00 It’s brand spanking new news. Manga UK new release announcements: Deadman Wonderland and Steins; Gate.
57: 00 The MCM Expo is now the MCM Comicon.
60: 00 The death of Toren Smith and matters arising, including the top five Toren accomplishments. And in his memory, a rehash of the old Oh! My Goddess argument, just for old time’s sake.
75:00 Ask Manga UK. Almost an hour of your questions, yes yours, answered, dodged or otherwise belittled. The fate of Lupin III; the possible return of UK-based dubs and a tangent about looking for work as a voice actor. What links Naruto to Hawaii Five-0, at least next week? A plug for the book Voice-Over Voice-Actor by Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt, and for the scheme to raise money for Peter Doyle.
87:00 Happy memories of Saiko Exciting, and the likelihood of there ever being anything like it again. The recent ratings for Summer Wars on Sky, and how those ratings are reflected in Japan.
94:00 The return of fifteening? A release date for Aria: The Scarlet Ammo? Would you rather have the Japanese market or the UK market? The possibilities for the Macross franchise in the UK.
101:00 Possibilities for Blu-ray releases of things thus far only released on DVD. The possibilities of UK Blu-ray only release. The mechanics of an Irish release, and why we don’t do many. The nature of the subtitles currently used.
110:00 Fate/Zero’s dub; what’s wrong with lending DVDs to friends (nothing). Chihayafuru’s chances of getting licensed. The perils of letting people know when a licence is about to run out. And the plans to have a live recording of the *next* podcast at the Birmingham Comicon. And we're out!
Persona 4 was originally released in 2008 on the PlayStation 2 and is currently available in brilliantly enhanced form as Persona 4 Golden on the PlayStation Vita. While the tale of the nameless hero (Yu Narukami in the anime) and his friends in the small but macabre town of Inaba became arguably the most popular entry in the Persona series of role-playing games, it was far from the first.
The Persona franchise itself is spun off from developer Atlus’ much longer-running Shin Megami Tensei, which dates back to 1987 and the original NES console. The first entry, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei, was loosely adapted from a trilogy of novels by Aya Nishitani, an early attempt at combining elements of Japanese mythology with the then-dawning age of popular computing. The story followed computer adept Akemi Nakajima, who unwittingly contacts the demon world through his computer, drawing its denizens into the real world. Along with his friend Yumiko, who had an unknown connection to divinity herself – not a huge twist given the series’ name translates to ‘Reincarnation of the Goddess’ – the pair must undo the damage caused. The protagonists were carried over to the game, with players controlling Yukiko’s magic and Nakajima’s ability to summon and control demons. It was a modest success, at least enough of one to warrant a sequel in 1990.
Like the Final Fantasy games, most Megami Tensei titles have no direct connections between entries, instead sharing thematic elements. Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei II was the first example of this, abandoning any connection to Nishitani’s books, instead focusing on a post-apocalyptic world where demons ran amok. However, gameplay elements such as summoning and fusing demons remained, becoming a hallmark of the series. Progressing to the Super Nintendo in 1992 with Shin Megami Tensei, the franchise grew in popularity and Atlus began experimenting with spin-offs.
Of note was Devil Summoner for the Sega Saturn, set in the present day and blending a murder mystery subplot into the more familiar RPG mechanics. This would see its own chain of sequels over the years, including two Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha entries for PS2 which saw release in the UK. Another sub-series, Devil Children, tried to tone down the horror elements for a kids’ audience, while the Last Bible and Majin Tensei games introduced tactical strategy gameplay to the universe.
It was 1996’s Revelations: Persona that proved a breakthrough though, bringing the series westward for the first time. Released on the original PlayStation, it abandoned the concept of summoning demons and instead turned to the realms of the human mind for inspiration. Its teen cast called upon persona, aspects of their own subconscious as proposed by psychotherapist Carl Jung. As the protagonists had gotten more cerebral, so too did the monsters they fought, each a representation of some form of psychosis. Sadly, Persona 2 fared less well – released in two parts in 1999, only the second, subtitled Eternal Punishment, saw western release. Both games were heavily edited for American audiences – including changing ethnicities of characters – though subsequent re-releases have restored the censored content.
2007’s Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 was the first title to see an untouched western release, as well as being the first of the Persona series to make it to the UK. For many players, it would be the first time they had experienced such a mix of role playing and dating sim-style relationship management between controllable characters. Coupled with a continuing exploration of Jungian psychology, the unique approach turned the game into a cult hit, paving the way for Persona 4’s breakout success less than two years later. While that most recent game is undoubtedly a sterling release itself, it owes its all to decades of groundwork from some of the oddest, darkest games Japan has produced.
Persona 4, part two, is out April 1st on UK DVD through Manga Entertainment.
Here’s the sixth instalment in our character guide for Dragon Ball Z, filling you in on the heroes and villains to keep an eye on in the latest super-charged volume of the famous action epic!
Mr Satan: Mr Satan is the manliest man of all mankind, a mustachioed, hairy-chested hulk who won the World Martial Arts Tournament while the Z-Fighters were off-world battling Frieza. While he’s the toughest non-powered human alive, he’s still no match for the kinds of threats Goku, Krillin and co. face. His victories against normal people and the celebrity status that followed have given him quite the ego though, and repeatedly claims that the real heroes are merely his disciples! Despite the bravado and devilish name, Satan is a fundamentally righteous man who can’t abide cruelty or injustice.
Chi-Chi: Chi-Chi is Goku’s wife, having met the young warrior when they were both children. The daughter of the fearsome Ox King, she was a sweet but rambunctious girl, one of the few people pure enough of heart to ride Nimbus, Goku’s flying cloud. After marrying Goku and having their first child together, Gohan, she becomes much more formal, insisting her son focus on his studies rather than martial arts training. Despite her aversion to combat, she eternally supports her family as they battle to save the world!
Cell Junior: What’s worse than one Cell wreaking havoc? His seven offspring joining in. Like any invasive lifeform, Cell reproducing is a huge threat to the host ecosystem. When that ecosystem is Earth and each child is almost as powerful as Cell himself, it’s especially bad news. These blue brats can each take on a Super Saiyan-level opponent, and boasts all the skills that Cell absorbed. Time for an extermination squad before they can spread further!
Korin: This cute-looking kitty is actually revered as a god of martial arts – though his reputation precedes his appearance, with most who meet him not believing the mighty Korin could possibly be the tiny talking cat. A key figure in the original Dragon Ball, Korin remains an important ally throughout Dragon Ball Z, dispensing knowledge and advice accrued over his 800+ years of existence. He lives atop the colossal Korin Tower, where he farms the legendary Senzu Beans, a single one of which can rejuvenate a fallen warrior to full strength. Fun fact – Akira Toriyama based Korin on his own cat at the time. The mog was asleep when Toriyama drew him, hence the characteristic ever-closed eyes!
Yajirobe: Although he doesn’t play much of a role in the battle against Cell, Yajirobe is one of Goku’s oldest friends. Introduced as a samurai mountain man, hunting and living off the land, their first meeting quickly degenerated into a fight when Goku accidentally stole his lunch. They soon teamed up, and Yajirobe eventually handed over his Dragon Ball. One of the lower-ranking Z-Fighters in terms of power, Yajirobe was soon outclassed when enemies such as Vegeta started appearing. He can mostly be found living in Korin’s Tower, assisting the diminutive cat-sage and indulging his near-legendary appetite.
Dragon Ball Z, box set 6, is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.
In a great many ways, Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Awayand Production I.G’s Oblivion Islandtell the same story. A modern Japanese girl grows up listless and alienated, something plainly lacking in her spirit. Chance, or perhaps fate, draws the girl through a portal into a fantastic world, a shadow Japan inhabited by industrious creatures. Here, the girl learns that the waste and neglectfulness of her world has profound effects on the fantasy location. There are lost, damaged souls, which it is her duty to heal. But the world has a fearsome ruler who wants to enslave the girl, stealing her memories, her identity, even her name. Can the plucky heroine save both the world and herself?
The fantasy world, though, is very different in each film. The one in Spirited Away is centred round a luxuriant, palatial bathhouse, catering for Japan’s weary gods. More deeply, it’s bound up with Japan’s national heritage, and a nostalgia for a world that the kids in the cinema audience never knew – though the adults did. As Spirited Away’s director, Hayao Miyazaki, explains, “The setting is an older Japan, one of a few decades before. Many (Japanese) adults felt attached to the film, many even cried, just to see that kind of almost forgotten scenery. Perhaps they were reminded of their old childhoods.”
Miyazaki is fascinated by the idea of nostalgia as a tangible force, “reminiscences that can be literally touched and felt.” In his book Starting Point, Miyazaki writes of a childhood experience where he found himself standing in an unknown part of town, “overwhelmed by forlornness and homesickness,” acutely humbled. Think of little Chihiro in Spirited Away’s early scenes, and it’s easy to see how much those feelings carried over.
In Spirited Away, the Japanese people have forgotten who they were. They’ve marginalised their history, their myths and gods and millennia that shaped them. Oblivion Island has a very different focus. Its angle is much more personal; that every person, as he or she grows up, starts to neglect what he or she once knew was priceless, the objects and memories of love. It is these objects which collect in Oblivion Island.
Interviewed on the English-language Production I.G. website, animation director Naoyoshi Shiotani says, “As the (Japanese) title, Hottarake no Shima suggests, this movie revolves around the concept of hottarake. In English you may translate it in different ways, from ‘neglect’ to ‘abandon’ to ‘forget,’ not because of malice but because of unintentional carelessness. We abandon even our memories without realizing it. This movie tells that we should care more about feelings. We should never forget what is really important for us and the people around us, and it is something you can’t see or grab with your hands.”
Oblivion Island starts when 16 year-old girl Haruka realises she has mislaid a hand-mirror left her by her mother, who died when she was a child. “I used to have this old mirror my mother gave to me,” she says early, looking mournfully out of a window. (It echoes the opening of Spirited Away, where a listless Chihiro stuck her tongue out of her car window.) “I treasured it, but now it’s gone…”
Haruka spends the film looking for the mirror, which has sunflowers carved on its back. Shiotani notes, “In the language of flowers, sunflower stands for ‘I’m always with you,’ which is obviously connected with the role of Haruka’s mother.” The mirror itself in an obvious symbol. After all, what’s a mirror for except to show you your face, and by extension the person you are?
Haruka’s hunt takes her to the titular Oblivion Island, a land made of millions of discarded human objects, bodged together in a fantastic multi-coloured theme park bricolage. It looks very different from the palatial bath-house and haunted town in Spirited Away. Miyazaki’s film was inspired by period Japanese buildings like the opulent Meguro-Gajoen restaurant hotel, built in the 1930s and still open today. But Oblivion Island’swas also designed to evoke nostalgia, in a purposely scattershot way.
Shiotani: “I wanted people of any generation to feel nostalgic about what they saw on the island, so we used many object from very different periods. As a first step, we asked the staff to gather all kind of old toys, electric appliances, cars, cans, bottles, flyers, books and magazines. Then we selected those we thought could work to build the island landscape. There are so many objects in any background, that one may just spend weeks trying to locate all of them! I imagined the island inhabitants used objects conceived in the human world to build things according to their sensitivities, in a quite original interpretation.”
In particular, look at the scenes in the home of the character Teo, who’s Haruka’s little-boy ally on Oblivion Island. Teo makes good use of everything he finds – for example, his “mask” is a common or garden bike saddle. He recycles like a good Womble, though Teo looks more like Rupert the Bear. He’s actually a fox, a traditionally magic character in Japanese folklore. The film was inspired by a Japanese legend: if you lose something precious to you, you can pray to the foxes to bring it back in the night. The tale’s beautifully illustrated at the film’s start, with hand drawings more like Russian animation than anime.
In Oblivion Island, fox creatures take objects that humans have discarded or neglected, and use them to build their homes. If that sounds familiar, you may be thinking of Studio Ghibli’s Arrietty, based on the Britain’s The Borrowers, where tiny people “borrow” objects from giant-sized humans. Postage stamps become paintings; a flowerpot forms a fireplace; the girl Arrietty brings in flowers and turns her bedroom into a garden. Home space isn’t something to be bought and assembled, Ikea-style. It takes effort and vision to create, whether you’re a fox, a Borrower or a womble.
As well as the industrious foxes of Oblivion Island, there’s also a cute but dignified button-eyed sheep, called Cotton. He was created to make Oblivion Island truly universal – not just because he’s a cute sheep (though that helps!), but because of what he represents. “Cotton is the stuffed animal everybody has had when he/she was a kid,” says Shiotani. “I wanted everyone in the audience to relate with and overlap his/her own personal childhood memories… Cotton is a neglected childhood treasure who has the chance to meet up again with his owner, the very person that left him lying around and eventually forgot him.” Who, you might guess, is Haruka herself.
One more theme of the film, a little more Japanese, is its concern with uniting generations. The divisions between children and parents were also suggested in Spirited Away, where Chihiro’s parents – while hardly terrible people – seem careless and inattentive of her (she’s better guided by the magic characters.) Oblivion Island takes a very different angle. Hakura slowly realises that she doesn’t understand her father; moreover, that it’s her responsibility to fix things.
In Shiotani’s view, “Many Japanese families don’t have enough time for proper communications between parents and children, because we all are apparently too busy doing something else. I’d be happy if, after watching the film, people would stop for a while and think about their parents, then go home and start to communicate over dinner or any other occasion.” Doubtless Miyazaki would agree heartily. For if there’s one sentiment both Spirited Away and Oblivion Island endorse, it’s Dorothy’s last line in The Wizard of Oz, after her own adventure in a magic world: “There’s no place like home.”
Oblivion Island is available 1st April on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.
Matt Kamen sees what’s on the cards for Tekken Card Tournament
Collectible card games are hugely popular amongst anime and videogame fans, with the likes of Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokémon still enjoying enduring popularity. Japan itself seems to have a national obsession with gaming via little bits of stiff paper; if it’s on TV or in your consoles, chances are there’s a tie-in card game for it. Now, Namco Bandai’s fighting franchise Tekken is getting its own turn in the cardboard arena – but it’s doing a few things differently.
Tekken Card Tournament works on three levels. First is the card game itself, with booster packs released this May. Like its peer products, it will have a dedicated set of rules, with each card representing a specific character, move or ability, with the more powerful examples being harder to find.
On top of this is a free app version, available for smartphones, tablets and web browsers. This is closest to what Tekken fans may expect, with detailed arenas, original character models, and authentic music. “The Tekken team, including myself, have been heavily involved in this project,” said Katsuhiro Harada, Lead Producer on all things Tekken. “Not only are the character designs used from the original games, but we also provided all the animation and motion data.”
Gamers will create a deck of 15 virtual cards to support their chosen character, who they will level up through battles. Rather than hammering out furious combos, each round has players selecting from ‘Focus’ to charge up a card for use, ‘Block’, or ‘Strike’, unleashing your focussed stack. It’s short and simple, perfect for portable devices, and progress is saved across formats.
However, play both versions and the game gets more interesting. Each physical card bears a QR code and serial number. Scan the QR with your device’s camera, or enter the serial number into the browser version, and that card will be added to your digital collection. Importing cards into the app will also unlock a ‘Card Fusion’ system, allowing to you merge cards together, creating exclusives and allowing huge scope for customisation. Given Tekken thrives on its strong competitive element, once you’ve built your perfect deck, you can then test yourself against friends or online challengers in globally ranked matches. Also found in the physical packs are augmented reality bonus cards, which recreate Tekken character models in real space for photo fun.
Although Tekken is a series traditionally built on speed and skill, Card Tournament is intended as a way to share the experience with more people. “I had been thinking about a fighting game that didn’t require physical reflexes or have to suffer from online lag,” said Harada. “Sometimes your skills don’t catch up with what you want to do, especially for Tekken games – they demand a lot from players. However, the battle aspect is fun for everyone, the same as it is in Chess, Go or Shogi. This is truly a game where people from one side of the world to the other can experience the fun and excitement of battle, whilst using their knowledge and skill, with a bit of luck, to enjoy it.”
On 17th December 1972, Hayao Miyazaki's first short feature as screenwriter was released. Riding a wave of panda fever after the introduction of two Chinese pandas in Tokyo's Ueno Zoo, Panda Kopanda (released in English as Panda! Go Panda!) did well enough for distributor Toho put a sequel in Japanese cinemas just four months later.
Panda Kopanda (Panda and Child) and its follow-up Rainy Day Circus were directed by Miyazaki's lifelong friend and colleague Isao Takahata, with Miyazaki also taking a hand on design and key animation. Widely considered a prototype for My Neighbour Totoro, Miyazaki later said it was the first anime he made specifically for children, especially his two little sons, and that he made Totoro because he wanted to repeat the experience. The earliest sketches for Totoro show a girl remarkably like Panda! Go Panda'sheroine Mimiko: she later became two sisters. Little sister Mei got her red hair and pigtails, while Satsuki inherited her domestic competence and both had her adventurous, independent persona.
The story is a simple little-girl fantasy of playing house and being mummy, tragically framed by a sense of loss. Mimiko is an orphan who lives with her grandmother. She's left alone when Grandmother has to make a long train trip to Nagasaki, levelled by a nuclear bomb less than thirty years earlier, for Grandfather's memorial service.
No mention of old sorrow creeps into this candy-coloured world; the death of Mimiko's family is a plot device. She's confident and capable enough to look after herself and lives in a supportive community, but her tiny rural village is devoid of playmates and she gets lonely. The arrival of a cuddly, caring daddy Panda and his cute little cub in need of a mother makes her world perfect, providing companionship, an indulgent yet protective father figure, a baby sibling to cuddle and mother, and the ultimate soft toys.
The first movie focuses on the family feeling that grows between Mimiko and the pandas. Initially attracted by food – the bamboo grove around Mimiko's house - they soon settle into a typical Japanese routine, with Papa coming home each evening to his pipe and slippers while the little mistress of the house rushes about taking care of everyone.
The second film ventures into fairytale territory, with circus staff looking for a lost baby tiger. Feisty Mimiko is overjoyed when she finds them in the house, thinking they're burglars, but the adventure of scaring them away is only the beginning of an action-packed mystery taking in a huge storm, floods and a runaway train. The story ends happily, with Mimiko at the heart of her self-constructed family, surrounded by friends and enjoying a day at the circus. Family, Miyazaki seems to say, is what you make it, even if all you have to make it from is a small community and a couple of plush toys.
Panda! Go Panda! is available on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment