There’s always something in a first episode that insinuates greatness in an anime. It’s difficult to describe, but it’s akin to a sliver of pain and happiness that touches the heart. I felt that from the very first minute I tuned in to Sakamichi no Apollon. Perhaps it’s because it’s been years since I heard YUKI in an anime series; perhaps because it’s been years since I’ve seen Shinichiro Watanabe direct an anime, or perhaps it is because of a multitude of factors combined.
I had been touting Sakamichi no Apollon as probably going to be the year’s best even before I saw one episode of it because of its staff, and after the first episode, it seems that I’m not wrong. Although quite unlike Watanabe’s previous two series in that it’s not rooted in action and violence, the characters and the dialogue remain to be sparkling yet minimalistic at the same time, approximating Hemingway’s works. It’s beautiful, in every sense of the word, from its fluid ‘action’ scenes to its character build-up.
It’s so good that to even attempt to summarize it would be to do it a disservice as words cannot, at least for me, express how beautiful it coalesced the characters and the plot together. But if one were to watch only one series this year, I suggest one watch this. I doubt that Watanabe would let up with his excellence, as he had never done so with his two previous masterpieces.
I actually finished Ano Natsu de Matteru weeks ago. Sadly, however, I haven’t been able to log on for quite some time due to issues with my connection. It ended very well, save for the Men in Black hijinks, but it was a nevertheless very well done series. The video of the friends spending their summer together despite their separation with Ichika was honestly tearjerking, and the uncertainty and sadness with Ichika being spirited away from Kai was quite overwhelming.
This was my feeling when I finished Ano Natsu.
I was happy with how it ended, though, and how it subtly showed Ichika’s return. I had no expectations whatsoever with the series, but it was honestly one of the best Winter 2012 had to offer. I honestly doubt it would end up as one of the best of the year, however, especially with the strength of the Spring season. It was a series one could say little about, but it was a great series simply because it did everything in its ability exceptionally well. It was great with its handling of its characters; it was great with evocation and although the plot was barebones the rest were enough to carry the series beautifully.
And yes, it was better than Ano Hana. Any dissenting opinions?
I guess I was raised to value the complexity of intelligence and the intelligence of complexity that it reflects in my passions and wishes in life. I have been quite vocal regarding undeserved praise towards pedestrian novels such as the Twilight saga, and I admit that my favorite novels are those that are either ignored or willfully unread by the hoi polloi. I know that what I read are classics, although they are currently rather ignored. Among my most favorite novels is William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom, which jarringly shifts through time and person to tell a story that coalesces upon itself at its end. In the same vein is the symbolist masterpiece, Petersburg, by Andrei Bely.
I think the same could be said with regard to my choice in movies. I don’t seek to be idiosyncratic, but I prefer The Killing to any other movies by Stanley Kubrick, and sincerely wished that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy replaced an undeserving Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in the recent Academy Award nominations for Best Picture. I love watching films that so beautifully invoke the tip-of-the iceberg image by Freud: there is an elephantine mass gurgling and burbling beneath the surface that is up to the viewer to decipher, enjoy, and decode for himself, with so little to see on the surface itself. I was never fond of the easy way out in the things I loved.
Because this show is that awesome
I think that I have been consistent, even in relatively lesser media such as anime. The Tatami Galaxy was a masterpiece of prognostication, multiple viewpoints and intertwining realities, but it took rather astute observers to appreciate its nuances. Steins;Gate was also masterful because of its ability to connect and twist the story to become esemplastic, and it was reminiscent, at least for me, of The Sound and the Fury.
While I prefer the complex and intellectual examples in my favorite media, there are exceptions to all of them, and the most recent one is the series Ano Natsu de Matteru.
The series is not complex: it does not require multiple re-watches to understand the story, but like the simple and yet beautiful Mice and Men novella by Steinbeck, it simply and incandescently gets the job done. It is a bildungsroman of a certain Kaito, who, like most of us back when we were in high school, sought his own identity in the context of his society. While the story is essentially a rehash, the characters that interact with one another make it one of the better, if not the best examples of anime, because it has characters that are essentially human but also essentially good.
While most people would probably be unimpressed with the flow of the plot, I simply found the empathetic characters to be among the best-written among the series I’ve watched. We all have to admit that it was Lennie and George who made Of Mice and Men, after all. Anything can have a barebones plot, and as long as the characters that pepper that story are rife with life and color, it would be at the very least good. I think Ano Natsu approximates that.
It would probably take me a dozen posts and perhaps some tens of thousands of words were I to try and dissect the entire Madoka series. It is a series rife not only with symbolism, but also with meaning that to try and encompass it to a single post would be a sacrilege and a disrespect to its greatness. Other pundits of anime have also spoken volubly on it that I have no desire to reiterate what a lot of them have already said.
I have been almost three years removed from any meaningful study of philosophy or literature that I cannot write intelligently about literary theories any longer. I have also never properly tackled the concept of deconstruction so I cannot give any rational comment on Derrida and Foucault. As much as I would like to analyze the series in those lenses, I have been inundated with only medicine these past few years. Instead, I would like to merely recall and expound on certain points that have resonated within me as I was watching the series.
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From a helpless girl who was always saved ...
Among the recently-aired anime, I’ve really only kept up with Ano Natsu de Matteru. To be quite honest, I did it because I really liked its art; however, I’ve been following it lately because I love how the plot is unfolding. Frankly, I think it’s even better than Ano Hana as of the fifth episode: while extraordinary existences are relied upon to drive the story forward, I like the fact that Ichika isn’t Menma. She doesn’t cry all the time, and is a well-adjusted, human-like alien.
Cutest thing ever
More than that, however, I like the fact that the people in Ano Natsu are more adjusted than the people in Ano Hana. Just because the people in Ano Natsu are more decent does not make them any less realistic is my contention: a lot of people all over the world are decent individuals who, although unremarkable, aren’t excluded from society although they may not be towering examples of humanity. As an observer, one may think that Kaito was slow to pick up on Kanna’s emotions for him, but this is where I think the realism of the series lies: it never really is quite easy, especially when friendship blurs whatever probable hints at romance the lady sends out. First, Kaito is not privy to Kanna’s excursions as we are, and second, it really is difficult to tell whether your lady friend is really interested in you or just treats you as a friend. I myself couldn’t differentiate which was which in the past.
I find it a breath of fresh air that despite their shortcomings and interests in each other there’s really no vitriol towards the other characters. Although Kanna exploded with frustration during the recent episode, she really didn’t hate on Ichika, but on her comfortable and budding relationship with Kai. She then caught herself when she realized she went out of line, and then regretted her actions, striving once more to maintain her friendly relations with both Kai and Ichika.
Do I blame Kai for being indirect with Ichika? On the contrary, while I can’t say I praise him, he’s not being a coward: he’s only protecting himself, just as what Kanna did in the closing minutes of the fifth episode. It’s better to maintain a relationship rather than destroy one altogether by his confession: at least, when the relationship is there, a chance will always be present in contrast to when a confession is made and a rejection is the reply.
Admittedly, Ichika is also out of his league: she’s beautiful, kind, intelligent – and older. I don’t wonder why he doesn’t even try to voice out his feelings, and it will be all the more difficult after the fact that he knew that she would leave later on. Thus, I don’t find his actions contemptible: I find them realistic, and I find his character to be a great example of a human being. Lesser human beings would take advantage of having an extremely attractive lady stay in the same home, but all he does is look at her breasts and ogle.
I can truly put myself in his shoes, because that’s what I would do myself. I’ve grown up to respect women, even the ones with the seductive bodies, and not sully them, even in my mind. It’s not something most men would do, and this idiosyncrasy would sometimes result to people calling me gay because of it, but I find it necessary to respect the women I know not only when they see me, but also when they don’t. I do fail sometimes, however.
The lack of bathos in the series is truly quite pleasing. There aren’t any crybaby ghosts, but only people who are struggling with their emotions toward the people who don’t love them back. I’ve had my share of unrequited love, and to live with such decency as they have is something to truly emulate. I do think that Tetsuro’s brazen honesty at the end of the episode was borne out of his love for Kanna, because had she kept on doing what she did to Kaito, she would inevitably just keep getting hurt, without getting any closure except a dull hope that Kaito will look at her someday. Of course, admixed with this genuine concern is also his hope that she would, in turn, see his feelings for her that have been present for a long time.
Yes, while I do think there will be shed tears as the series comes to a close I also feel that it wouldn’t be as melodramatic as Ano Hana. I really liked Onegai Teacher, and I think this may even be better. Maybe at the end of all this, comparing the series to Ano Hana will be doing it injustice.
I hope this beautiful run continues, because this series is an early candidate for being among the year’s best, and I hope I won’t be wrong.
I changed boarding houses and now have an even more difficult schedule to handle, as in addition to academic responsibilities I now have duty to attend to. That has contributed to the dearth in my commentary; in addition, because my new boarding house does not yet have Internet, I have difficulty obtaining the newest series and updating my site.
I have, however, finally made strides with regard to the anime series I didn’t watch. I’m now halfway through Denpa Onna to Seishuun Otoko, a fourth through Madoka, and have enjoyed the newly-released Ano Natsu de Matteru. Among these three, however, I’d like to talk about Denpa Onna.
Its third episode was one of the best episodes of anime I’ve seen recently, even though I wasn’t quick to warm to the series. Although the plot waned in quality for the succeeding episodes, I appreciate what Niwa did during that episode, sacrificing himself in its climax that she may be enlightened. I still don’t know the reason: perhaps it was because she was his cousin; perhaps it was because she was beautiful; perhaps it was both and he loved her, but he managed to grab her back toward reality, and it was great to watch.
It was a noble thing to do, after all. He looked beyond what reality and others saw Erio as, and recognized that she had problems to deal with and resolved to help her as much as he could. From that point on, I saw him as a great guy. Not many people would risk their lives just to bring their cousins back to reality, but he did it and he did it in such a picturesque way that there’s little I could really offer on that episode but praise.
I love sacrifices made for the sake of love, and despite my shortcomings in it, I love watching love bloom between two good people. That’s probably why I love watching Ano Natsu de Matteru: they’re perfectly decent people who have goodness towards each other. I’m sure I could do better than merely confiding my impressions, but give me time and I’ll do the analyses that I loved to do back when I had a lot more time.
This write-up is not remotely related to anime. But then, as I’ve already paid for my hosting dues, I think I should be given a bit more free rein in the topics I’d like to broach. Although I will never say that I lost my love for anime, I have to admit that my mind has been weighed upon by things rather removed from anime. These two write-ups are relatively polished drafts of mine that address certain thoughts that have pressed upon me over the course of the past month. I’ve had a lot more drafts, but these two seem to be the better ones.
I wrote the two articles on the same topic but tried to be light-hearted in one, and grave in the other. I’m not sure whether this made the intended effect, but publishing it somewhere (anywhere!) would at least give me some closure regarding it. I’m sometimes consumed in the things I’ve overly passionate about, and if I didn’t put an end on it I would probably give ten more renditions on the same topic (not that I haven’t already written ten different renditions).
I hope you guys enjoy this artistic experiment. If not, then forgive me. I do know I’m repeating myself. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been more productive as regards my blogging lately because we had a short, two-week break from class. In that span of time, I read four books, watched some Korean drama series, and watched Steins;Gate, in addition to some episodes of American serials. I think I have been quite productive. I am behind my anime, however, that I still hadn’t finished Ano Hana until today. I realized that I truly preferred [C] to the drama in Ano Hana despite the fact that Ano Hana is the better anime in terms of its technical aspects and tightly-wound story. That’s probably because I’ve been accustomed and conditioned to the plots found in Korean dramas, and the best among them (like My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox) more seamlessly integrate the supernatural to mundane problems such as love and romance. I’m not saying that Ano Hana is terrible or bad: I’m just saying that I find [C] to be a more original series despite Ano Hana’s excellence.
Forgive me for thinking this scene funny.
I think what made me jaded with regard to Ano Hana’s last episodes were the fact that the most well-rated Korean dramas were just a lot more evocative, and these were what I was watching for the past few weeks that when I saw the last episode, I was laughing instead of being in tears when they confided in one another that they had their own selfish reasons for wishing that Menma would go to heaven. In addition to the emotional dramas I’ve seen, I was also finishing up on Saturnalia, which is a collection of excerpts from classic perverse masterpieces. Perhaps that was the reason why I wasn’t affected as I should have been: after reading excerpts featuring the coprolalia of Sade and the perversions of Li Yu, Swinburne and von Sacher-Masoch, romance probably tends to be funny instead of affective.
But in all honesty, the ending just didn’t affect me as much as I wanted. Despite being disappointed with the ending of [C], it attempted to make sense out of its limited time and budget, and did it valiantly despite a multitude of flaws. Ano Hana’s ending wasn’t really flawed: it was just beyond the melodrama that I expected, although I still wouldn’t classify it as bathetic. I’m glad Menma was finally able to go to heaven, don’t get me wrong, but the ending was indeed a wake-up call: I recall that Honey and Clover‘s ending had Takemoto confess to Hagu after he had found himself through touring Japan in a bicycle. I didn’t think that was melodramatic: in fact, the way he confessed to her seemed so natural to me. It was what he simply wanted to say after realizing that he liked her, after all. This was in stark contrast with the saturnalia of tears and crying in the final episode of Ano Hana: I thought that it was a bit overdone.
The series was still a decent show, however, but I stand corrected in even comparing it to Honey and Clover. What did you guys think of Ano Hana?
After seven pages of drafts from my notebook, I decided to scratch all those and just write. After all, this isn’t a literary publication or a research paper: it’s just a place to share my insights and reflections on different objects or people in my life.
James Joyce has been an intermittent topic in this blog. I was introduced to him during my first year of university, in my literature class. We were then tasked to read and analyze ‘The Boarding House.’ Truth be told, I wasn’t too impressed with the story: it was only later when I found out that he had authored two of the top five novels in the 20th century as ranked by critics and editors. It was during this time that my madness for Joyce began: what else could it be called, really? In today’s world, would any young adult willingly dare to read his later works without being a little mad himself?
I have no regrets whatsoever, because reading ALL of his major works gives me the privilege to lambast his works without any hypocrisy. I did read them, after all, so I’m free to hate on them. This is not to say that I think Joyce was talentless as a writer: in fact, I think he remains to be brilliant. Many critics regard Dubliners to be one of the greatest short story collections ever written, and I’m wont to agree with them: ‘The Dead’ alone can make up for the rest of the collection, but the other stories are no pushovers. ‘Araby’ is a great coming-of-age tale, and ‘The Boarding House’ wasn’t too shabby.
Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man was also quite good. It wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it belongs to the category of books I have read more than once, so I have much respect for it. My respect for Joyce has increased after I finished re-reading Stephen Hero: before Portrait came to be, it had Stephen Hero as its predecessor. Instead of the stream-of-consciousness writing that Joyce started to apply in Portrait, Stephen Hero was written linearly, and more formally. Despite being an apocrypha, it does still remain part of his major prose works; in actuality, I prefer it to the rest. While SH is more languid than the leaner Portrait, it explicates upon the philosophy that encompassed Joyce’s life. Because Dublin could not accept him, he had to follow silence, exile, and unbelief. Instead of focusing on the characters, SH focused on the progression of ideas within the plot, and I liked that.
I liked that because it posited questions more directly, and a lot of these were quite thought-provoking. Why, indeed, would Christ be tempted to be the ruler in a kingdom of idiots? I’m just saddened at how his later works turned out, because I frankly believe Joyce could have been universally celebrated. Had he instead focused on writing intriguing and potent stories without relying on gimmickry and the invention of a new language only he could understand, he would be more respected. As it stands most contemporary critics mock his Finnegans Wake: yes, I think it’s utter shit, too.
I think works in general, after all, are only brilliant when they possess some heart in them. Tatami Galaxy was a kaleidoscope of ideas, but it was all about finding oneself despite being thrown into an unwelcoming world; Steins;Gate was, beyond all the science and physics, ultimately a series about filial piety and love. Had S;G been all about physics, I doubt it would have maintained the attention of its viewers until its final episode. It was more about sacrifice for the ones you love and care for.
What would the use of coalescing the languages of the world be if no one understood what you were writing? What would be the use of being so brilliant and yet ultimately soulless? Soullessness, after all, was Joyce’s fatal flaw. His stories had heart prior to Finnegans Wake, although they had become lesser and lesser as he got older. This is an example series should follow: it’s all right to be technically mediocre. Maison Ikkoku was indeed that. It’s a lot more important to tell a story that appeals to the soul of people: the rest will ultimately follow.
Before I start with the article proper, shout-out goes to Conor, Angelus, and Ryan A for sticking with me even though I haven’t been updating much lately. I really appreciate your reading my posts, Conor. I’m downloading Madoka next, Angelus.
One of my earliest introductions to classic literature was Poe’s ‘Casque of Amontillado.’ My father badgered me into reading it, and I obeyed in due time. I’m glad I obeyed, because I started reading good literature at an age significantly earlier than my contemporaries. I was about 10 during that time. When I was 11, I decided to read more of Poe’s works, because I liked the horror stories he wrote. To my surprise, however, I discovered that he also wrote detective stories and was arguably the first auteur of modern detective stories. I had heard of Sherlock Holmes, but the detective that introduced me to the mystery story was clearly Auguste Dupin in The Murders of the Rue Morgue.
Although I moved away from mystery stories and focused on realistic classics, I have never stopped appreciating the sophistication and the apollonian artistry found in the detective story. In fact, through the years I find that the classics I end up liking the most have significant elements of a detective story: there is the initial confusion and obfuscation, followed by piecemeal plot development that culminates in the story fitting everything together beautifully in the end. I certainly think this can be said about Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! and Bely’s Petersburg: while the stories are extremely jarring and disorientating early on, the pieces of the puzzle slowly fit into the big picture. When the big picture is finally seen, the scenery is explosive, moving, and cathartic.
They're so destined for one another, the space between their kiss forms a heart.
I think it’s not coincidental that the two works are also recognized to be challenging works of literature precisely because of the novels’ method of narration. Temporal shifts occur without warning, and the reader is left to figure things out with few guides. The non-linear technique further makes things difficult: much effort has to be expended to understand the flux of the plot, but there is also much reward when one figures it out, as behind the confusion lies a truly potent story.
This is where the beauty of Steins;Gate lies in, as well. I’m actually reminded of one of my most favorite series, Tatami Galaxy. And yes, while eyes of some readers are rolling, one can’t help but admit of the similarities with its methods of narration: both tell the story non-linearly, with highly intelligent and kind female deuteragonists, and initially conceited but ultimately endearing protagonists. There is the Groundhog Day rewinds found in both series, as well. Although there wasn’t a physical establishment of a time machine in Tatami Galaxy, both series tackled the immutable and tragic alternate realities suffered through by its protagonists while seeking for a solution to their pressing problems. Tatami Galaxy was simply more of a series of internal catharsis than Steins;Gate: it focused on self-transcendence and self-realization more than it did on the concept of transcendent filial and romantic love in S;G.
Steins;Gate, given that it had more time for explication, was more patient and deliberate than Tatami Galaxy. It was afforded more time in the development of its world than Tatami Galaxy: I simply prefer the primacy and immediacy of Tatami Galaxy, however; but I do admit that the execution and finesse of Steins;Gate is at the apex of anime series.
The central reason why I think quite highly of both these series, however, lies in the fact that these two execute their stories with such intelligence and sophistication without pandering to its viewers. Tatami Galaxy is the more brusque, artistic entity, whereas Steins;Gate is the more refined, aristocratic one. I prefer the rawness of Tatami Galaxy particularly because its roughness allows more interpretation within established limits: it’s more secretive and mystical than the polished, structured glamor found within Steins;Gate. It simply takes a certain kind of prescience and artistry to properly map out a series so beautifully and so accurately that everything coalesces at the end of it all. It takes even more to execute this beautifully, and both series have done so majestically without foregoing of the emotional drive that is pivotal to any series’s success.