Animé &
(plus some other Japastuff)

Last updated: 30th July 2009 at 00h40 CET


Real live Japanese TV!
For satellite viewers, those of you with a Digibox or Freesat package will find NHK World is now listed in the EPG.
For those with a generic satellite receiver, NHK World is available on 28.2°E (the British platform) at 11681 V 27500 VID2317 AID2318 PID2317 and it on 19.2°E (the French/German platform) at 11508 V 22000 VID0714 AID0734 PID0714.
Some of the programmes are broadcast bi-lingual on Astra 19.2°E, use your receiver's audio selection to choose Japanese or English dub. On the other hand, Now&Next information is only provided on 28.2°E! It helps to have a dual-LNB setup with DiSEqC switcher.


Introduction and index

This document began life as my write-up of the series being broadcast on the new digital satellite channel Anime Central (launched 2007/09/13), but as you can see it has expanded far beyond that to cover animé in general, manga, and Japan... Hopefully there'll be a little bit of something for everybody!


DISCLAIMER: I have never been to Japan. I don't speak any more Japanese than the stuff given in the 'teach me' section (on a good day, when I don't forget half of it). I also have not knowingly spoken to an actual Japanese person in, like, the last decade.
One day I hope this will change. One day I hope to visit Akihabara while flashing lights and cute robotic toys still excite me; rather than somebody reading this in an archive and taking me out of some sense of sympathy 'cos I'm a senile old cantankerous git... If/when I do make to to Japan, I'll be sure to take lots of photos and then downloading this document will make your computer explode, even with broadband! :-)

NOTE: This document looks best in MSIE or Opera. There are some formatting oddities regarding forced flowing around inserted tables with Firefox, so if you are using Firefox you may see some stuff appears odd or some content overlays other content when it shouldn't.



Japanese and romanisation

This document contains an amount of Japanese. For example, "good afternoon" is konnichiwa or, in hiragana, こにちわ

Japanese in your browser.
Japanese in your browser.
This section is a bit geeky and, frankly, if you saw the Japanese writing in the line above (as shown on the right) and you have seen Japanese words written in Latin characters before... just skip on to the next section!

System support
Unfortunately, this will not work on all systems. You will need a Unicode compliant system with support for Japanese, plus a browser that can make use of both.
On my Windows 98SE machine (called 'Angelique'), I use MSIE 6 and I have the Japanese IME installed (you can download this from Microsoft). It works equally with Firefox and Opera.

Adding Japanese support to XP.
Adding Japanese support to XP.
On the Windows XP Pro machine at the library, it is bizarre in that sometimes it works and sometimes it does not. It isn't my computer and I only have half an hour a week on it, too short to work out what is going on there.

On my own XP machine (called 'Aiko'), I installed East Asian language support so that Japanese ideographs will be correctly displayed (additionally Chinese and Korean as they share various large 'font' files with the Unicode "CJK Unified Ideograph" mapping).
To do this, open the Start menu. Follow Control Panel (either a link or menu depending on your setup) and then open Regional and Language Options.
Under the Languages tab, select the option Install files for East Asian languages (itty-bitty picture to the right). Click on OK.
(you'll probably need your XP installation disc, and be warned that if you have a smallish harddisc (say, under 15Gb), this will add a bunch of stuff)

Sadly, the situation under RISC OS is less hopeful. There apparently was a Japanese Unicode font created (a Pace spin-off I think?) but it was not to my knowledge released publicly. Newer versions of RISC OS use a Unicode rendering system (I believe this is available as a part of RISC OS Open?), but without the ideographic font...?
In short, as far as I am aware none of the RISC OS browsers (of any vintage) will correctly display this document. Here are the (scaled down) results of a test on the main browsers available for RISC OS 3.70, with MSIE 6's output for comparison:

Click the picture for the full-size version. RISC OS enthusiasts can click here for a more detailed analysis.
In addition to this, most RISC OS machines cannot display the macron (the line over the 'o', etc). RISC OS can (I believe it is Latin2? (check!)) but this never got implemented into web browsers due to the various problems involved in swapping font coding in the middle of a line of text. Shame... For you, in-lined JavaScript is used to replace macron letters with a circumflex so it will look mostly correct. Refer to "Tokyo" in the examples above. Likewise, the <noscript> tag uses circumflex on the assumption that if a browser cannot provide JavaScript, it is probably too old to do extended characters as well.

I would assume that the situation is not a problem for Macs or Un*x variants; but it probably will be for those using DOS/Amiga/Atari and anything else 'old'.

Content blocking
Under Windows XP (or later), you may see the message "To help protect your security, Internet Explorer has restricted this file from showing active content that could access your computer".
I have tried to remove all scripting and CSS as I get this message when loading from "file://". If you know what is triggering this, or - better - if you know how to turn off this annoying message (for file:// only, preferably), please let me know. It's quicker than using a local http server!

From your point of view, if you keep getting this message and you feel you can trust me (feel free to peruse the document source), you might be able to turn this off by adding this document to your trusted sites zone. Refer to MSIE's help to see if you can add single documents to this zone. There is some JavaScript that changes the "Konnichiwa" text (here) depending on the time of day; and code that also outputs Hepburned words with macrons or circumflexes (if RISC OS). I permit this document to run this "potentially unsafe content" (why can't MSIE be a bit more precise?) and it looks like I expect it to.
For you... the choice is yours. The best option is probably not to use MSIE... ☺

The Japanese in this document is romanised using the Hepburn method. This has not found favour with Japanese officialdom due to it doing based upon the English way of speaking, however it is widely used outside of Japan and quite a lot within Japan, because it is the system that provides an English-speaking person with the best approximation of a Japanese word.

Consider the word for governor, and thanks to Wiki for the example. It is 知事 in Japanese. This word may be pronounced chiji using the Hepburn system, or tizi using the Kunrei-shiki and Nihon-shiki systems favoured in Japan. I think the difference here is that the Japanese systems allow the best translation of the kana to roman lettering (and back again) with little regard to how to speak the word, as they'll already know. The Hepburn system is lossy in that you cannot go directly from Japanese to Hepburn and back again. On the flip side, however, a word in Japanese is more likely to be said correctly by an English speaking person with Hepburn. So, does governor sound most like 'chee-jee' or most like 'tizzy'? There's quite a difference.

Likewise there are differences in Hepburn according to use, preference, etc. The fairly standard system uses the macron (i.e. Tōkyō), with fallback to the circumflex (Tôkyô) for those older systems that cannot do the macron properly.
Common English usage uses neither - Tokyo, arigato, and sayonara are all examples of words readily understood by many English speakers, but this method of spelling does nothing to aid correct pronunciation. The only reason most Brits correctly pronounce Tokyo is our speech patterns would tend to emphasis both of the 'o's. Conversely we would probably emphasis the first or second 'a' in sayonara (usually like sigh-onaara) which is not correct. The macron/circumflex guides this.
Other versions are "passport Hepburn" which uses an 'h' to mark the longer vowel (Tohkyoh) and "wordprocessor style" which uses an 'ou' sort of construct leading to Toukyou. You'll see this quite a lot, and it must be spotted because using the correct Hepburn rules would lead you to perhaps say too-kyew or try to-oo-ky-o-oo or some other mess.

Pronunciation guide
In numerous cases, I also provide a personal "Rick" style of how to say stuff. For example the girl in Planetes is Ai Tanabe (say like eye tah-nah-bay). Here, each syllable is usually broken with a hyphen and you just say what you see.
The problem with this is it relies upon me correctly hearing, plus being able to transcribe it (IPA would be simpler but most people cannot read nor render that!), plus my accent is likely to get in the way. For example some Brits say car, bar, far, and path with the same 'a' sound. I would say the 'a' in path like the 'a' in math or abstract.
This is further compounded by non-British conventions. I remember Hayley Westenra talking (on GMTV I think) about a concert that she was doing in "wimblee" (The Wembley Arena).
In addition, consider leaving your message at the bip. If you're a Frenchie, bip is to you what beep is to Brits.
So, take it how you will, and remember I welcome corrections and suggestions!



Words to forget

Let's try to forget the words "comic" and "cartoon". I make reference to them by way of explanation (try explaining a "comic strip" without using that description!), however these words and phrases have built in connotations. In the preparation for this document I asked a friend the first thing that came to mind when I said "comic" and "cartoon". He replied "Spiderman" and "Bugs Bunny" respectively, and informed me that "Spiderman" is one word, not two.
Need I say more?

Prepare to have your horizons broadened.

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My introduction to animé

Early days
My first proper introduction to animé came in the 1995-1997 thanks to the Sky subscription channel The Sci-Fi Channel. One of the first films I saw was one of the best - Ghost In The Shell. This, along with Armitage III introduced several important sociological concepts rarely considered outside of William Gibson and Isaac Asimov novels - namely the degree to which being human can be considered human. In Armitage III, the protagonists are a male policeman with a dislike of robots (his wife was killed by one) who is reassigned to Mars (which had been colonised 'recently'), and a robotic woman who is unsure what exactly she is and is frequently hated simply for being what she is; which is something of a paradox as it is easy for the biological humans to say "non-human" while she has more difficulty with the distinctions. This is tied up with a new (illegal) type of robot that is virtually indistinguishable from humans.

Deeper issues
These are an extrapolation of issues that affect us today - I can imagine in the future a possible (and illogical) stigma for, example, a child adopted by homosexual parents or the child of an IVF birth. It may seem bizarre to view this in the setting of a 'bot, however humans are naturally very able to apply discrimination: Blacks, Whites, Asians, males, females, blondes, short people, Muslims, Christians, the impoverished, those with disabilities... It may sound like "the usual lineup" for cranks, and perhaps it is. That doesn't mean such discrimination does not occur. Wherever there is a difference, there is always somebody willing to exploit this difference to distinguish superiority. Even with children, the social standing within their group could be determined by something as ridiculous as which Saturday morning magazine programme they watch. Swop Shop or Tis-Was in the '80s? Live & Kicking or... whatever... in the '90s? I used to like AirWolf. So uncool. KnightRider (which I happen to think is a bit naff) was the trendy thing to watch. It's utterly idiotic, but not really that different to saying "you're stupid because you're blonde". A pointless discrimination and nothing more.

Actually, the disabilities example is the most interesting of all if you recall those disabled runners with the spring-leg-thing outperforming their non-disabled competitors. Many of these modifications of our own selves will not just be repairs and replacements, but actual functional enhancements.

If we cannot come to terms with the natural variations within our own species and the choices we may make, how can be possibly be able to cope with artificial augmentation? Not only will it lead to discrimination, but this discrimination will be coupled with a serious inferiority complex...

The technification of the human race is already occurring - pacemakers, disabled runners, hip replacements. While these things are currently provided on medical grounds, how long will it be until body mods are performed in order to enhance the body's abilities. Imagine a boxer or football player if you replaced a number of the brittle human bones with strengthened carbon fibre. In a way, is this not really that much more than a somewhat severe continuation of the likes of the "dopage" problems that have blighted the Tour de France in recent years?
This isn't to say that replacing bones with stronger materials is 'cheating', per se, but it is fairly simple to draw a direct comparison between steroids which attempt to push the body beyond what it is naturally capable of and part-replacement to take the body beyond that which it is naturally capable.

So while this technification is primarily for medical reasons, today, it will slowly gather pace and be applied for performance enhancement. Egotistical mankind attempting to better the design and counter the inherent fragilities of the human body.

Sure, it will be a while before we see cyborg bodies with a biological brain, and it may be a while before we see human-realistic AIs; probably not in my lifetime... but the time will come. Look how far the Honda Asimo has come, a walking human-shaped 'buddy' that you can interact with.

Asimo and a hoover-bot.
With some digital trickery, we can see Asimo leaving the cleaning duties to a vacuum cleaner 'bot.
Images from a programme on BBC FOUR hosted by Michio Kaku.

In a way, the visionaries of the manga and animé are trying to prepare us for the possibilities, in much the same way as the science-fiction programme The Prisoner introduced us in the '60s to concepts that are commonplace today... ...all of these being problems that appear to affect Britain in start of the 21st century.

By imagining the future, they can make stories about it today, so maybe when these dreams become, it won't be such a shock.

The Major and a big gun!You may have read the above paragraphs and be thinking "phew! bloody hell!". Rest assured, however, that most animé/manga is designed to be an entertainment. You can look for the meanings, you can "read between the lines", you can ponder the existential nature of things... or you can watch an underdressed cyborg chick blow hell out of some bad guys.
You can even, gasp!, do both!

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Then and now

Prehistoric days
This isn't to say that I'd never heard of Japanese-origin drawn media before. I recall back in my childhood the likes of Battle Of The Planets, Dogtanian and the Three Muskahounds (I loved that, could some FTA channel repeat it please!?!?), and The Mysterious Cities Of Gold. I was not aware, at the time, of their origin, but I was aware that the visual styling was rather different to the likes of what I would associate being Western animation (Roadrunner and The Smurfs, for examples). Also, despite being aimed fairly squarely at children, the stories were serialised and more literate.
Consider, for example, the Mysterious Cities Of Gold which had a strange array of characters on a continuing quest, using various gizmos which harvested and utilised solar energy. Now consider any of the Roadrunner cartoons which were basically the coyote trying to snare the blue bird for his dinner using a whole host of weird and wonderful ACME products - and something would always go wrong and the result, be it a bomb or a thousand ton weight, would always end up being inflicted upon the hapless coyote. [an uncomplimentary person could perhaps argue that this is a good definition of the American mindset - if you want to get the job done, blow up something...]

After a while it gets monotonous. It is like watching Star Trek: TNG (namely: something happens, the "Away Team" investigate, something really bad happens, somebody comes up with a solution like re-aligning the di-Lithium crystals (how many times did they dump the di-Lithium core moments before it blew up?), crisis over, they can fly on happily...) in that there is only so much of it you can take. Okay, perhaps unfair to compare Roadrunner with Star Trek as there were a number of small subplots ongoing within the latter while the cartoon was stripped to the bare essentials... In any case, it got repetitive.

Cartoons are for kids
In terms of printed media, I had no idea about manga until about the same time I saw Ghost In The Shell - and went to Woking library to see if it was available on tape. It wasn't, but they had it in printed form...
Previously, I had been used to the likes of The Beano and the various supplements and strips in newspapers. While some (i.e. "Love is...") tried to aim for a more mature reader, the most of it was targeted towards children, either as a few pages, or a three to five frame strip essentially setting up for a punchline. Note, as in common with a lot of this genre, the drawing is highly minimalist. For example: no backgrounds and little use of dimensions.

My cartoon strip.
An example three-panel cartoon strip, © 2005 Rick Murray (2005/09/23).

There has been in Britain, for a long time, a totally erroneous assumption that "cartoons" are for children - the exceptions being either political (such as a lot of high-brow '80s drawn satire) or pseudo-pornographic (such as Viz).
Indeed, this "cartoons are for kids" mentality is why I began this section with the odd phrase "Japanese-origin drawn media". Anybody who has ever watched Genocyber will know that it is bordering on the überviolent, and not at all suitable for children.
Perhaps the British censors and a lot of the general public have been unable to comprehend that as live-action productions can be The Borrowers or some porn movie... so too an animated feature can be The Borrowers or some porn movie... The equation that "cartoon = kids" is simply not valid; and perhaps we can thank The Simpsons, Daria, South Park, Family Guy and Beavis & Butthead for pointing out animations aimed at more mature audiences.

Wai-wai! Welcome Anime Central!
.hack//SIGNIt is with some degree of happiness that I see the birth of Animé Central on British satellite TV, along with the various Studio Ghibli films on FilmFour. I cannot say how the state of manga and animé are in Britain as I've not been there since May 2002. I hope that these small things are in some way indicative of a growing acceptance of animation as a medium for all sorts of different age groups. It is especially good to see the likes of Planetes and .hack//SIGN on television, as they are both intelligent series that make you think.

The situation at Home Farm
Over here in France: I cannot receive any French animé because not only the technical reasons (PAL vs SÉCAM), but also that a lot of this is PPV. It seems the French are more used to the PPV model thanks to the "ethics" (debatable phraseology!) of the likes of Canal, who look to be trying to make it as difficult as possible to receive the French "terrestrial digital" channels off satellite (some are available on Atlantic Bird at 5°W, the whole line-up to be made available on Astra at 19.2°E will be encrypted and require a special decoder) which is, in deep irony, the polar opposite to the British model where the BBC plan to bring the DTT channels to satellite "in the clear" (somewhat following what the Germans have been doing for over a decade). This decision means that, because where I live now is out of the broadcast zone for DTT and most analogue channels, I am very unlikely to watch anything French unless it is being broadcast on British television (i.e. Manon des Sources). In addition, I don't have a phone line but if I did, TV is not available on broadband here. This is a great shame as I think watching and enjoying French television would help my comprehension of the language and also keep me up to date with topical issues.
On the plus side, animé has quite a following, so maybe some day...

As far as manga is concerned, it is widely held that France has the highest consumption of manga outside of Japan. So I'll talk about this next...

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What is manga?
If animé is an animated story, then manga is the comic-book-like strip-based format.
All sorts may be found. A local e. leclerc (think "Tesco") has an adjoining bookshop with a whole row of manga books, and it seems the manga choice in other supermarkets is slowly growing - though I note that some of the girls stocking the shelves haven't quite got the hang of the back-to-front layout. ☺

The word itself is 漫画 in Japanese, which translates to mean "whimsical drawings", a fairly accurate description. The Japanese themselves have also created their interpretation of the English word, arriving at komiku. This is somewhat ironic, given that most of the Japanese-style 'comics' are called by the Japanese name outside of Japan!

How does manga differ?
Manga can be usually be differentiated from Westernised comic strips by three main points:

What's with those big eyes?
Manga 'moé' big eyes exampleManga 'moé' big eyes exampleThe moé style is a style prevalent in a lot of manga and animé. Basically the characters are overly cute and with really big eyes. People will readily tell you that the eyes are enlarged to allow them to be more expressive, and while a small enlargement can work (refer to the Appleseed and Angel Heart scans below), moé takes this to an extreme.

While this is not an absolute rule, and a lot of more serious manga tries to be more realistic in this respect, there is a lot of moé around - take for example the two scans either side, which are from fruits basket (Natsuki Takaya).

A rather amusing side effect of this is that a number of the more extreme moé characters, drawn in long shot, look like greys (as in the aliens).

It seems manga (even serialised manga) is more often published (at least here in France) as individual books which typically contain one story (i.e. xyzzy volume 2, volume 3, etc) although some books contain several shorter stories. I think the Beano-like thin multi-story comic-like layout is rather rare for manga. The reason for this is products such as the Beano tend to set the characters up for a punchline. A scenario, followed by an amusing payoff.
Manga books, on the other hand, are typically 150-250 pages. In Japan, some manga publications contain multiple stories and can run to 500 or more pages.

Much of the stuff on sale at this e. leclerc seems to be manga (stuff like fruits basket (Natsuki Takaya) aimed at girls), and I did come across something that looked suspiciously like yuri manga (girl-on-girl action), but there was stuff to occupy my empty mind as well. I am currently reading Angel Heart (Tsukasa Hojo), having entered into the story at episode 17. I like the drawing style.

My current manga reading... I purchased all of this in a local bookshop (not the supermarket), with the exception of fruits basket that I got from a boot sale for €0,25 (about £0.18?). Not really my 'thing', but nevermind - live and learn, eh?
If you have any suggestions (from reading this document) of manga I should look out for - let me know!

Additionally I am reading Quartier Lointain ( Taniguchi), on loan from the local library. I don't know the English title, it is apparently "Harukana Machi-e" in Japanese - the story of a middle-age salaryman who goes back in time to when he was a young teenager. The drawings are sublime and must have taken ages. There are so many little cultural references that I'm not entirely certain if this was a sci-fi story on behalf of , or simply a reminiscence wrapped in a story. In any case, it is a hard slog appreciating the nuances of much of the dialogue (remember I'm reading in French!). Some of what is said has more meaning than just the obvious word-for-word translation.

Manga vs animé
Bleach, as a manga.
"Bleach" in its manga form (#14 p144), click for larger version.
It is very important to consider manga, not just as a rival art form, but also often as an origin. Such wonderful films as Ghost In The Shell began life as a manga - in this case by the not-very-prolific but technically-skilled Masamune Shirow.
The series Bleach is an ongoing manga with 23 books available in France (29 in Japan; Sept 2007). Likewise the series Planetes that I discuss later on started as a manga. It has evolved quite a bit in the transition between page and screen, but the same could be said of any number of Bronté sisters adaptations and Agatha Christie novels once you've seen the “sexed-up” ITV versions!

Problems with translation
One of the main points of contention with manga fans is not whether there's an animé-of-the-manga, or even if it is a manga-of-an-animé. They aren't even concerned with the Hollywood rip-offs or attempted rip-offs of either (you'll see a lot of similarities between The Matrix and Ghost In The Shell). No, the point is much closer to home.

If your eyesight is up to it, consider the following (they are from two separate stories):

Appleseed. Angel Heart.
Appleseed, vol 1, p14.
By Masamune Shirow. English version by Studio Proteus.
Angel Heart, vol 18, chap 194.
By Tsukasa Hojo. French version by Panini Manga.


How to read mangaTry this. The French one (on the right) reads a lot better if you do it right-to-left. Japanese manga has, traditionally, been written in a style that would seem to be "back to front". This goes as far as the book is actually read completely in reverse (i.e. the spine is on the right). If you look really carefully at the crappy picture of the four manga books above, you may notice that the spine and binding is on the right of all of them.

The English one, however, has been 'doctored' to read in traditional Western style. Purists would argue that this is an abomination, and I do wonder what is changed in the translation - while each 'cell' typically fits within the rectangle and rejigging the rectangles is pretty easy with computers, however you cannot help but wonder what happens in the case of things that extend beyond the normal boundaries (sound effects are notorious for this) or more difficult cases where the cells are oblique shapes.
Below you can see a quick'n'dirty reworking of Angel Heart. On the left is how it may appear if the frames were cut out and moved around. On the right is the worst case scenario. As the original Japanese text will be erased from the speech bubbles for the translation, all that needs to be done is a simple optical flip. Ugh! Ugh!

Angel Heart, repositioned. Angel Heart, flipped.
Angel Heart, reworked for
left-to-right reading.
Angel Heart, flipped for a
quick change to left-to-right style.

It could be argued that the optical flip version is graphically nicer: in the middle left frame Mademoiselle Shindo is looking into the page and not out of it, likewise bottom left shows Xiang-Ying (driving) looking into the page. It is a more pleasing layout. However doing this introduces its own inconsistencies. So Mlle Shindo doesn't know how to drive and they are teaching her to use the brakes. Something that is fairly universal is the pedal ordering in a car - so in the flipped version it appears as if she is stamping hard on the accelerator! The more observant of you will have noticed that the Japanese drive on the left, like the English, however the optically-flipped version puts Mlle Shindo sitting on the left of the vehicule, which would be wrong.
This could logically be fixed in this instance by flipping the page, then flipping again the problem frames. But surely it is no great hardship to read 'backwards'? It may seem odd at first, but it is like sudoku, either you get it or you don't...

What's "mangaka"?
Mangaka - 漫画家 - is the name given to a professional manga artist. It is not the 'full' name for manga.

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What is animé?
If manga is the paper based medium, this is the film-cel based version. Essentially "cartoon" in form, it is either an original story or an adaptation of a manga.
I can get away with a much shorter description as a lot of the notes about manga apply to animé, and anyway this is a large-referencing work based upon the Anime Central channel - so it is hoped you will have seen some animé...

MewMew Power
"Mew Mew Power" (PopGirl). A good example of animated moé.
It is widely understood that animé refers specifically to animation of Japanese origin or something that tries to mimic the visual style. Some people also refer to this as Japanimation, but this phrase sort-of died out in the mid eighties.
It is fairly unusual, outside of Japan, to refer to animé as manga; however within Japan it is more common, roughly akin to using the word "cartoon" for both print and animation.

There are a number of ways to pronounce "animé". The Japanese 'e' is roughly equivalent to an Italian 'e', so I think the best pronunciation is "ah-nih-meh". I accent the final 'e' (this is a common optional variation of the spelling) to show that the word is not said like "ah-neem", as it might otherwise seem. This leads some to pronounce it according to French, ending up with "ah-nih-may" - and I must admit that I do tend to say it like this myself from time to time. This is not unreasonable as the word was originally a Japanification of the word "animation".

In any case, something of importance is that each part of the word is said with equal stress. It is not aaah-nih-meh or ah-niiiih-meh or even ah-nih-maaaay.

The stress is something that you must get right. A word common in manga is which means "young girl" and is often used to specify content for young female readers.
A much less common word in manga is , which means "orangutang". You see the difference?

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What we really should have is a new word that refers to both manga and animé; specifically to those stories (of which there are many) which are available in both formats. In the absence of finding anything in my limited on-line searching, I would like to suggest the word "aniga" (i.e. animé + manga).
If such a combinational word already exists, please email me!
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Studio Ghibli

Founded by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata in 1985, this film studio is a Japanese institution, created to bring a "new wave" kind of change to the Japanese animation industry.

Trademarks of Ghibli productions are:

It is perhaps fair to say that there are some great non-Ghibli films out there (Ghost In The Shell being a good example), however it is perhaps also fair to say that the majority of the Ghibli films are masterpieces.
You see, there are a number of films with a story and a message and lots of detail and action. I would put Akira into this arbitrary category. However once Akira has finished, it has finished. You and your friends might order pizza after the film and talk about it, but that may be it. Try giving such light treatment to the haunting Graveyard of Fireflies. Even more fantastical material such as the OSCAR® winning Spirited Away (frequently translated internationally as "the journey of Chihiro") is likely to linger in your mind for a considerable time.

While Nausicaä is not strictly a Ghibli film, it was following Nausicaä that the studio was founded. Since then, they have been the driving force behind such films as:

The ones in bold are ones that I have seen, with the language of the soundtrack (if Japanese, assume subtitled). Mononoke was, nicely, shown by FilmFour in both versions, the English dub and the subtitled Japanese original. I had the pleasure of seeing Tales from Earthsea (Les Contes de Terremer) at a local country-town cinema! (French dubbage)
Entries followed by a '*' are ones that I have taped but not yet had time to watch. I think both are Japanese/subtitled.
Note that I have spelled "neighbor" the English way. It is a fact of life that much Japanese animated output is repackaged and dubbed or subtitled by Americans, basically because they have a much larger target audience, more money, and more resources. Because of this, we'll have to put up with a number of Americanisms.
As an example, the opening explanation dialogue of Gundam Seed says Year seventy of the cosmic era... but to an English person it sounds as if she is saying Year seventy of the cosmic error!
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The "sailor outfit"

No discussion of anything Japanese (except perhaps Samurai vs Yakuza, or the philosophy of Zen?) would be complete without making a mention of the "sailor outfit". So here goes...

The "sailor outfit" is the Japanese girl's school uniform. Properly called the (or セーラー服 in Japanese); fuku is the word for 'uniform' and is the closest the language would allow to the word 'sailor'.
Sometime shortly after WW2, somebody introduced rather militarised school uniforms. The boys tend to wear all-over black (or nearly black) with no collar ("mandarin" style). The girls wear a uniform that is a stylised version of the uniforms that were worn by the British navy at the turn of the century - hence the Donald Duckness.
I'm not certain why these styles were chosen, but one thing you cannot argue is that it is highly distinctive; you may be able to consider the as much a symbol of modern Japan as, say, sumo wrestlers or Hiro Nakamura!

The sera-fuku (back), picture from 'Whisper Of The Heart'.The sera-fuku (front), picture from 'Whisper Of The Heart'.The 's main points are a rectangular sort of thing hanging partway down the back, which is gathered together at the front and tied with a sort of a cross between a scarf and a ribbon, to make a tidy bow; you can see this in the pictures either side (from the film Whisper Of The Heart) and in the picture below; either is better than my lame description! If we compare with a generic British "junior" school uniform (below right, scanned from a recent IXDirect catalogue and tidied (price markings removed)), you can see that the is not only distinctive, it's a lot better looking!

Some teacher once told me that if you take pride in your appearance, this will spread through to all parts of your life. I can't say I ever really followed this advice, but I do feel that the British take on school uniforms (in my day, -1990) were pretty blah and uninspiring. And as for when I left England (-2002), a local school's big thing was for girls to wear black bras under a very thin white blouse; especially on days when it was raining - they'd sussed that a wet blouse goes sort-of see-through. They hadn't sussed that the whole slag-look would be attracting totally the wrong sort of person.

In any case, I think the is nicer, tidier, and more stylish than most school uniforms I've seen.

Japanese school uniforms British school uniform
Quartier Lointain, vol. 1, p102
by Jirō Taniguchi. French version by Casterman.
Generic British school uniform.
Scanned from IXDirect catalogue.

The sera-fuku in Kill Bill.
The in Kill Bill (vol. 1).
A "schoolgirl" in a pop video.
While some people might think the turns up for all the wrong reasons (and sometimes it does...), to have adolescents in school uniform is really no different to that which appears in British, Australian, etc, programming - such as Neighbours, EastEnders, The Worst Witch, the various Harry Potter movies, the British Eurovision entry in 2006, that H Two 0 feat. Platnum (sic) song...
Anyway, that whole dress/red-tie/square-down-the-back thing... Get used to it, it turns up a lot in one form or another - even in Kill Bill, as seen on the left...

And, well, sometimes something very similar turns up as a 'fashionable' item, that girl from The Ting-Tings wore something similar for her 2008 Glastonbury gig. Pictured below is Jennifer Love Hewitt in episode 2 of "Ghost Whisperer". I think, with the stripes on the arms, it is a naval-inspired outfit. Looks kinda familiar though, doesn't it? ☺

Various shots of Jennifer Love Hewitt's outfit in Ghost Whisperer 1-02.
Various shots of Jennifer Love Hewitt's outfit in Ghost Whisperer 1-02 (broadcast on E4).
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Cuteness / Kawaii

Japan Vibes cover, scaled down slightlyIt can be said that the Japanese do "cute" like nobody else. The word "kawaii" ( 可愛い ) is quickly entering other languages as a way of describing Japanese cuteness; such things as pokémon, Hello Kitty, Doraemon, lots of manga/animé characters with big eyes, etc, etc, etc... On the right is cover of Japan Vibes issue 39 (from the website, scaled 75%, was easier than scanning it!), showing big-eyed cute characters... And, Oh look! That again!

Miss Ebihara and the donuts!
Miss Ebihara and the donuts! (from YouTube)
This is not to forget Yuri Ebihara (left) who is considered by many to be a real life big-eyed idol of extreme cuteness. She once said "If someone doesn't find me cute, I want to know why because then I'll work on it to get better at being cute". I'm afraid I have no suggestions as, well, yeah... she's cute.
That advert she made to promote the Japanese release of "The OC" - who'd have known you could have so much fun with a donut!

In fact, so innate in Japanese is the concept of cute that it turns up in places where it might be considered peculiar or just plain inappropriate in the West. For example the mascot of the police force is Pipo-kun, a sort of flying superhero mouse-like thing, as we can see here (scanned from Japan Vibes #39):


As if that wasn't enough, there are small local police stations called "koban", which - for some - an attempt has been made to liven them up. Of the selection given in Japan Vibes, the one I've scanned and included below is my hands-down winner. How awesome is that?!?

They say the official reason for the big eyed characters is because a lot of emotions and expressiveness occur with the eyes. To a degree it is true. But, let's face it, it is also cute. Would Bambi have been as cute if it wasn't for those big eyes? Would Orihime be as cute without the big eyes? All this cuteness and no need to toss cookies!

One final note on cuteness, Wiki has a brief list of loan words which ends with the amusing:

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"Cosplay" is a contraction of costume playing. Basically you pick your favourite hero and dress up as faithfully as possible to the look of that character.

The newspaper Ouest-France covered Cosplay in their 2007/07/05 issue. Here is a scan of that article:

Cosplay article
(click picture for a large version - warning, it's nearly a megabyte!)

A rough translation is as follows:

Living in the skin of their manga hero.
During the week, they are a lawyer, programmer or nurse. On the weekend, they put on their costumes and imitate their manga hero. The phenomenon is called "cosplay" and it hits the mark.
Playing the hero; and parading in order to entertain, it's all in the spirit of cosplay.The Japanese school outfit is a pattern often imitated by the cosplayers.Sometimes sumptuous, the costumes require hours behind the sewing machine.

Julia Degorce is a serious student. But on the weekend, and sometimes in the evening, this Parisian swaps her faculty outfit for a costume distinctly more rigolo, the one of "Gigi", heroine of the Japanese manga of the same name. "I make my own clothes and accessories. The goal is achieving the most faithful possible imitation. I became a pro of the sewing machine!"
Julia Degorce practices "cosplay", contraction of "costume" and "playing".
In France, the second homeland of manga (a type of comic) behind Japan, she is not alone. Kat, for example, based in Nice, has been a cosplayer since 2000. She adores to "mimic the Japanese school-girl style with short skirt and big socks". Practically becoming professional, you could see it on the Disney cosplay website. She doesn't forget anything, "especially the pink candy coloured hair". [don't they mean blue? cf. middle picture above -Rick]
The family of cosplayers (those who practice it) has grown since the year 2000. It is all rather urban, young and relatively comfortable, in searches of things to do. Tsubasa, the association of Julia Degorce, united "some data processing consultants, a photographer, some store-keepers". The Cosplay Factory, which is integrated with the Parisian association Tengumi, counts among its members a lawyers and a journalist.
All these Goldoraks, Nanas, and Narutos become real on the weekend. "You could call it a convention, a big gathering-competion where everybody parades on stage in their disguise. They are judged on the result. The ambiance is often very good", assures Julia Degorce.
Cosplay might have been born in the United States, the other country of heroes - those who save the planets in the comics, those which appeared in the fifties. But in reality it developed in Japan, all beginning during the nineties, with the fringe of Japanese youth fighting the attitudes of the conformist society. An outfit is 'de rigor' at work as in school - in a way it has become an identity of life.
In France, cosplay remains a pass-time which provides a taste of Japanese culture. This weekend, this happy little world meets to contest at the Japan-Expo 2006 in Paris. For the first time, the French selection of cosplay appears on a global cosplay venue.
Written by Christelle GUIBERT and translated by Rick Murray.
Links (probably in French): /

An interesting aspect of cosplay is that in Japan there does not appear to be any specific stigma to cross-dressing. This could perhaps be a reflection of a recent(ish) trend where boys dressed as girls (and vice versa), perhaps as a statement against the society seen as overly conformist? And also to really upset their parents, no doubt!

Japanese cosplayers tend to find Western cosplay 'interesting' because, let's face it - stereotypically the Japanese have a particular body shape and size, while us Westerners have a different shape and size. While neither is ideally suited to exactly mimicking a style which frequently includes long legs and no waist whatsoever, I think - height issues aside - a Japanese person is more likely to pull it off than an average Westerner who may have the legs but will also have a waist to contend with.

That said, and while there is a very serious competitive side seeking to exactly and perfectly duplicate their chosen hero, the majority of cosplay is intended as being fun. To design and produce an outfit based upon your favourite manga/animé hero and just dress up as them. Most of us might be able to save a cheerleader, but saving the world is a tall order, and doing it week after week is nigh on impossible. But, hey, we can pretend, right?

Help wanted! If you have URLs of cosplay site within the UK, please send them to me so I can link from here.
Also, if you are willing to let me include a photo of yourself in cosplay mode (especially if you are a character from one of the series shown on Anime Central), please get in touch!
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Tachikoma Wanted

I mention elsewhere in this document that it would be cool to have a little Tachikoma (refer to Ghost In The Shell : Stand Alone Complex) that could be plugged into the USB port for programming, and would then march around the desk (or room) autonomously.
Could this be a reality? It would be nice, and as you can see from the advert below, it comes closer to possibility. Make it blue, we're halfway there! ☺
Advert for "Roboquad", SuperU advert 2007/06/07
(what? did you think you'd only see English and Japanese? hehe...)

There is obviously some sort of microcontroller in the device. All a model Tachikoma needs is a microcontroller with USB capabilities, and some form of FlashROM to allow 'personalities' and objectives to be uploaded. Finally, some software to run on the host computer to set up the Tachikoma, and also perhaps some form of programming support to interface with the core system (think like OPL on the Psion organiser, but obviously not necessarily that degree of complexity). Oh, and the way things seem to be going in England, perhaps working guns as an optional extra...

I am sure that you are reading this and thinking my suggestions have just doubled the price. Look at it like this - I have several organisers but the only one that I use now is the PocketBook II (a rebadged Psion 3A). Why? It is limited in processor speed (a near-8MHz 8088 core) and memory (256K onboard, plus a 128K file storage card) and it is larger device overall, plus it consumes more battery power (AA cells give about 8-20 hours use).
So why do I prefer the older organiser in preference to the others that I have? Two reasons - good applications software that can do some useful stuff (impressive compatibility too), and equally important is the built in OPL programming language (BASIC-like procedural) which allows me to create custom applications. To save space here, you can find out more and see some of my creations.
It is important to apply this logic if a little Tachikoma were to be created. Think of the Lego® Mindset experiment kit - does the thing want to be an expensive cool novelty, or a gadget that can be customised, personalised, and played with for ages...

For now, a standard figurine costs £9.99 and may be found at:



Teach me something in Japanese!

A few differences in Japanese
Japanese is perhaps not as easy to learn as I'd have hoped... A quick'n'dirty crash course on the writing system

As an interesting diversion, it is very much worth pointing out that despite the perceived difficulties with these varying methods of writing and the seemingly illogical (i.e. Katakana doesn't offer anything 'new' as far as I can tell, you cannot write "hello" in Katakana, the closest is "haro", so aren't Hiragana and Katakana sort of doing the exact same thing? Is the benefit of knowing which words are foreign really worth learning a second phonetic alphabet just in order to write those words that are foreign?), and despite the requirement to be able to quickly read and understand Kanji... Japan has one of the highest rates of literacy in the world. The system may seem really complicated to a Westerner used to a mere 52 squiggles, but it certainly doesn't seem to have been an obstacle to the Japanese!

You read a little bit about Japanese numbers.

The final thing I have to say about writing in Japanese:
This document begins with two large Kanji words: which means happy and/or harmonious and is said like "wa", and which means to be happy and is said like "kei".
This probably isn't correct Japanese (I wanted to have "enjoyed pass-time" but couldn't find the Kanji for that!) but, you know, it's the sentiment that counts. ☺


And to say something...
But, as I said, you do not need to be able to read and write Japanese in order to know how to say a few things. In fact, a BBC television course covered only some extreme basics, such as "what '' looks like" and "what 'Japan/Japanese' looks like". I feel in addition it would be useful to know how to write your name in Katakana, and as I have already mentioned, my name would be ムリー リキ and that's not too difficult to remember!


Lost in Japan?

Do I know this?
What you really need to do is learn some of the phrases below, and if you are visiting Japan - take a phrase book for the other stuff you might want to say. Additionally, if you stay mostly within the metropolitan area, you stand a better chance of tracking down an English-speaking person if you get really stuck.
Of course, you might think this is not much use if you go into a shop and want to buy some coffee and an instant chicken noodle meal given that the pack will be written in those seemingly incomprehensible scribbles that represent Japanese writing. Well, actually it might. If you learn how to say "excuse me" and "where is" and the names of the things you want to buy, you can then ask somebody where things are.
The alternative? Poke a hole in the pack and sniff it to see if it is anything you recognise, like Clea Duvall's character in the American remake of "The Grudge", as shown on the right.

Given all of this, and assuming you will want to visit the more touristy parts such is Ginza (shopping mecca), Akihabara (geek central, yay!), or one of the more popular 'spiritual' places outside of , you need only remember a small number of things...

Pronunciation guide: The 'ah' implies an slightly aspirated a vowel, so "wah" is said like the "wa" in wangle, and not like that in water or wash. Same for "kah" etc.
The "ri" is more complicated. It is said a bit like a cross between "ree" and richard.
Other things should be said as they look; like "eye" (the thing you see with) and "shi" like the beginning of the word ship...

So here we go. Useful phrases, in no specific order. The title phrases are written in and the explanation gives a sort of read-it-aloud guide to how to say the phrase.
Note that numerous phrases are actually said slightly differently to the . This, really, is no different to the French saying peut-être like poo-tet, or little complications like English saying wind like the stuff that blows or different like you do to a fishing line. It's just a quirk of spoken language.

Certainly, don't get hung up on incorrect pronunciation. It is my experience in French (and some Spanish) that natives will allow you to get away with all sorts of horrors as they are usually pleased you are making some effort to recognise that they actually have their own language, instead of just expecting everybody to speak English. I have no doubt, given Japan's worldwide reputation for being a very polite society, that any attempts you make to speak in Japanese will be appreciated, and imperfect pronunciation won't mean the end of the world. So long as your acquaintance can work out what you mean, you'll be okay... and if anybody corrects you, pay attention as it is their language after all!

You also read about Japanese numbers.


Given that the Japanese like some incredibly yucky-looking fish meals (I'm so not a fish person), I should also point out food options for the less adventurous food eater.
Or, to put it like this, I nearly had a When Harry Met Sally moment over finding "farmhouse cheddar" in a local supermarket... some people are destined to take their eating habits with them, so within the limitations of Japanese understanding of the weird crap we Westerners call 'edible', here's a match-up list:



Well, that's about all I know (with a crib-sheet, I'm so lame!), so if you wish to know more, I suggest you purchase (or download) some sort of language course.

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Common Terms

Here are a few of the terms you will come across in the manga/animé world:
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Anime Central

Anime Central

The launch and tuning info
Launched at 9pm British time on the 13th of September 2007, this free-to-air channel on Sky Digital - Anime Central - was to be found as channel 199 on the Digibox, or 11642 V 27500, VID 2341, AUID 2342, PID 2305 (new details, changed ~2008/06/11) on other receivers.
Through most of the first half of 2008, the channel showed looped repeats of Cowboy Bebop and Ghost In The Shell - Stand Alone Complex (and the 2nd Gig); and in late Summer 2008 the channel ceased broadcasting and the stream is now called "Showcase TV" and is currently showing bits from Chart Show TV and True Movies 2 (sometimes called True Drama).
This seems odd given that the channel's forums, last Christmas, were looking for ideas of new programming to acquire. I hope the channel, or some version of it, will be back before too long...

Originally broadcasting between 9pm and 6am (UK time), it showed six half-hour programmes three times a night; for example 9pm - 9.30pm (again at 0am, and again at 3am); then 9.30pm to 10pm (again at 0.30am, and again at 3.30pm) and so on.

The following series were been shown, in rough order of my preference:

It's a shame they didn't loop-repeat...

Planetes (couldn't see that enough!), Witch Hunter Robin, and s-CRY-ed?

Rick was there first...
Between programmes, Anime Central ran short 'CosDocs' video sequences where Cosplayers talk about Cosplay. The schoolgirl is quite pretty, the Robin Sena lookee-likee is interesting, and some of the outfits are, well, odd. Still, it's an amusing passtime so why not? I mentioned Cosplay in this review document last year, you can read about Cosplay here.
Also, I wrote about Goro Miyazaki's "Tales From Earthsea". I went to see this in the cinema (dubbed to French!!!) and included my review in this document. It was released on DVD at the end of January 2008, and in conjunction with this, Anime Central had little inserts saying "Anime Central brought to you by Tales From Earthsea". You can read my review here.

On subtitling
I frequently watch French and Japanese films on FilmFour (reviews here), and also living in France I sometimes have the interesting task of watching a film in Japanese or Korean that is subtitled in French! (i.e. The Resurrection of the Little Matchgirl)

What I am trying to say is that some people will scream in agony at the idea of subtitles.
Doesn't bother me. In fact, I have several with-dubbage films on DVD - Nikita and Kiki's Delivery Service to name two - and in these cases I much prefer switching to the original-language audio with subtitles. You can argue that subs can lose some of the context of what is being said. Well, the same is true with dubbage - where the emotion of the dialogue can be lost, or subtly changed. Was the character supposed to be that perky? Is she supposed to speak in non-stop slang? Or are these improvisations by the voice talent and/or the translator?
I shall give you an example mom found. A detective book, main character a hard-boiled New York guy, you can imagine the sort if I say the line of dialogue was: I wouldn't give that dame a dime on a rainy night.
The French translation was hysterical. The translator obviously was unfamiliar with such vernacular and the line ended up as I would not give that titled lady a centime at night when it is raining.
Need I say more? ☺

The bottom line is this: While I think Anime Central may have risked losing some of its audience if the presentations were 100% Japanese, we must remember that these productions are from Japan (and are, largely, Sunrise productions!). Therefore it should be expected that Japanese language will turn up from time to time - and I don't mean at 3am! I really don't like the Transformers series, so I don't watch.
FilmFour hasn't shied away from films in French, Japanese, Swedish, German, etc etc; so if Anime Central was to broadcast five English language programmes and one Japanese language one, the answer is the same - it's only a 6th of the schedule time, just go bake a pizza while it is on if subtitling bothers you that much!

Here were some of my suggestions back in 2007:

It was nice to have a channel dedicated to animé, let's hope it makes a return before too long!

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Wiki warning

It is very important to be aware that while all of these series may be found within Wikipedia, and sometimes with quite a lot of detail (I got some of my info from Wiki)... it is important to know that the Wiki articles are written "after the fact" and will therefore contain spoilers.

With my own write-ups, I may mention some things, but I try not to give away anything related to the plot. This is why there is less mention of the goings-on in the second season of Bleach and Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig. As continuations of the first season, discussing it in detail could mean spoiling the first.
Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a spoiler-free option with Wiki, and thanks to the article, I sort-of know the ending of .hack//SIGN though I stopped reading as soon as it twigged that I was reading a spoiler.

So, if you do not wish to have the plot spoiled for you, do not look it up on Wiki until the series has finished, okay?

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Series: .hack//SIGN

I should have known something was up when the English-language opening song was subtitled. Okay, the girl singing wasn't terribly clear, but I could understand her more than I could understand a heavy-accent such as Scouse or Glaswegian... The first two episodes of .hack//SIGN were in Japanese, subtitled. Following this, it switched to an English-language dub. I'm stuck - I quite liked the subtitled original, but I'll admit that it could be difficult following the dialogue - certainly I couldn't work on the computer and enjoy Anime Central at the same time... I think I'll go in favour of the dubbage in this case not because it is easier, but because the voice talent is sympathetic to the characters - it sounds believable.
The episode broadcast in the 3am-6am slot was a subtitled Japanese version, so you could hear how it should sound!

The next thing you should know is that there is practically no action. You might expect swordplay and sorcery nonsense given the stylised pseudo-medieval role-play world, but if so you'll be left wanting. This animé relies heavily on character development with much dialogue. It also relies upon you being intelligent enough to piece together the clues to work out what happened - what it's all about - and also sorting out all the lies, false information, and red herrings. It is like real life, not all the answers are true and not all the conversations make sense. On the plus side, there are some lovely gothic choral musical pieces within .hack//SIGN.

Lady Subaru and The Silver Knight
Lady Subaru, a sort of personification of system administration, and The Silver Knight, who is the leader of The Crimson Knights, who maintain law and order in The World.

Why? Well, .hack//SIGN is set in a massive virtual world called, uninspiringly, "The World". We follow a person called Tsukasa (say t-sue-kah-sah) who is a "WaveMaster". This means he can do magic. The reason we follow him is because he wakes up in this virtual world, and can interact with other player's avatars, but he himself cannot log out. He is stuck in this virtual world. Why? Can he get out? And what's with the inquisitions from those bizarre knights? In many places, especially around Tsukasu, the scenery has a sombre, almost detached, mood while anxiety and introspection feature heavily. And what's with the floating 'dead' girl? It is like a thinking person's guide to a troubled mind and it asks important questions about those who detach themselves from reality to enjoy a virtual existence, either because they are escaping something traumatic in their real lives, or just because they prefer it.
To illustrate what I mean, look around my site. Read what I have written. You will be able to glean a lot of information about my likes and dislikes and my opinions on things. You will, indirectly, learn a lot about my state of mind.
But can you tell me what I do as a job? Not back in England, but now. Do I even do a job? Have I ever been employed? When? Why? What have I done these last few months? What have I done these last few months that doesn't involve some sort of electronic gizmo? What is the name of my girlfriend? Where's she from? Or do I prefer to bat for the home team? Am I male? Perhaps I'm a female pretending? In fact, am I even real? Are you real?
Of course, you can cheat - my b.log was started after I wrote this, so you'll be able to think you know more about me...
...but again, do you really or is it all a fantasy? Maybe the life I describe is one I am making up? How can you be sure?
You'll find even my 'Frobnicate' magazine that people have descibed as a 'blog' of sorts is highly edited. Not through intent, it is just that I perceive my actuality as mostly boring and mostly useless. I'm no superhero. I'm not even a regular hero. I refuse to be nobody, but if you passed me on the street, would you ever know? Would you particularly care? I have dreams and aspirations, sure, but ones that look to remain imaginary, at least for the time being. I'm cynical but not pessimistic, there's an interesting difference.
By writing things such as this, I can be somebody. I can have a little place separate from my existence within an increasingly unreal world, and I can take part in an idealised community that I believe in, because I think as each day goes by the real world gets suckier and becomes a more dangerous place.
So I would prefer to exist on-line more than in reality. While pervs and crooks exist in the realm of cyberspace as much as in reality, one important distinction is that you are what you make yourself - there's no instant "oh, you're black" or "oh, you're female" or "oh, you're human". You are simply what you reveal, judged by your output and your contributions.
What does this level of social dysfunction say about me? How does it affect my interactions with people? What may happen in thirty years when we have a generation of people who can blow the crap out of zombies with an array of fancy weaponry, but don't know how to have a lasting relationship with a member of their preferred sex because slaying zombies is easy, while talking to somebody, actual face-to-face discussion ... is scary.
And I still have not said what I do for a job. As if would be that easy!
Lady Subaru.
Lady Subaru.
To be brutal, I guess you could say I prefer to exist more virtually than physically because I have failed at my life. I don't see it quite like that. I see it more as not having succeeded, but the important question to ask is "what is success?". I don't see success as having loads of money. I don't see success as getting laid every night. I don't see success as having power over other people. I don't know what constitutes success, so by definition I will never succeed as the measure, the number of points necessary to progress to the next level, is unquantifiable. Maybe I have succeeded, and the success is in finally realising that success. It is recursive logic, but in lieu of any better ideas...
But I have not failed. Failure, to me, is entering off-line mode prematurely. Suicide, if you prefer it non-geek. That's so not my scene.
I know, I know, this is supposed to be about the series .hack//SIGN and not my self-awareness. That's the thing. Some animé is purely entertainment value, but a lot of it, when you scratch below the surface, asks a lot of questions. Makes you think.
Susannah, ITV2
What? Would you rather watch the latest bunch of pseudo-celebrities making an ass of themselves in a jungle? The last time that happened we ended up with the two non-entities Peter and Katie who went on for a string of programmes about getting hitched and then popping out a baby, followed with the sort of chat show that makes Conan O'Brien look seriously high-brow.
Good grief! Isn't it deeply ironic that the last bastions of intelligent programming are QI on BBC TWO, the odd documentary on BBC FOUR, and, ahem... "cartoons" on Anime Central.
Of course, if you'd rather watch Trinny & Susannah flashing boobies on ITV for an hour, you're probably not reading this anyway! ☺
Let me put it to you: Why are you here, reading this? Is it night time? Is it like 3am or something? Are you alone? Some of my readers will be thinking "don't be an ass, I just Googled this on my lunch break". Others will have answered yes to each question. Maybe if you are one such person, you'll understand exactly what I am talking about.
One final thought before I get back on topic (yay! finally!). Bridgwater College, circa 1993. A group of nerds and nerdettes would go up to the computer room (Nimbus 386 systems hooked to a naff 10base2 (yes, the daisy-chain topology!) network) and load up a network chat program that worked sort-of like IRC. The use of the program was not permitted, but we used it anyway. ☺
Picture the scene. Fifteen to twenty people, sitting at computers, in silence, typing away to each other. There is no benefit of miles between us, we were all sitting side by side. Not speaking, just typing. To each other. It was surreal.

.hack//SIGN does not rush viewers. It takes its time. And it is very dialogue-heavy, so you simply cannot watch with disturbances (unless you're a girl 'cos they are supposed to have multitasking brains!). To add to this, the background music is quite quirky, rather incessant (especially in the early episodes), and it actually reminds me a lot of '80s computer games (think of the likes of "OutRun" on the Sega MasterSystem). No, not the style, here it is usually an assortment of nice gothic songs and strings, but it always being there in the background like in a computer game. I know it will probably never happen, but I'm kinda waiting for "The Mass" by Era to turn up somewhere. It's almost that sort of vibe.
The system admin avatar appears to be a rather cute female character (almost an OS-tan) called Subaru (say sue-bah-roo). Isn't that a type of car?!? It is interesting that she, the very-thoughtful-one, appears to be a sysadmin by role yet she refers to the administration. Perhaps, as she is aware she is a game character, she is referring to real people in the real world when she says that?
The reason Tsukasa is a worry to the Crimson Knights and a source of bewilderment to Subaru is that he appears able to bypass numerous shields and defences built into the system. Not just that, but he appears to exist within the game but doesn't seem too willing to play it. A repeated request by Tsukasu is for everybody to go away and leave him alone - hardly the words of a team player.
Some players want to hunt for Tsukasa to figure out his story. A number of players are also on the hunt for Tsukasa as there is a legend of a thing called the "Key Of The Twilight", which provides a sort of back door allowing players to bypass parts of the game. As it appears Tsukasu can do stuff like this, perhaps he has the key? Or perhaps he is somehow involved with it? I guess you could also wonder if he himself is the key. This isn't a spoiler, it is my own thought - a kind of "holy grail being a person, not an object" line on thinking. Time will tell, I guess.
Tsukasa, lost and alone, just wants to be left the hell alone...
Tsukasa, lost and alone, just wants to be left the hell alone...

You will notice there are parts with "noise". Fuzz in the picture, no colour saturation or just monochrome, hissing in the audio. This is not a fault of Anime Central, nor your receiver, nor the original source media. It is a rather amazing psychologically-disturbing view of "the real world", the reality outside of this space in which the avatars interact.

My only criticism so far - if "The World" is supposed to be this big multiplayer game that loads of people are involved with, then I would have expected a lot more players in walk-on parts. For a popular role-play, sometimes it's a little bit vacant...

Aside: It appears that the .hack//SIGN series may have been a television show to expand upon the OVA called .hack//Liminality which supported an ambitious gaming project (for the PSP2?) called .hack. Thankfully this does not appear to be obvious in the series, it stands alone well.

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Series: Bleach

Season One
Starting with an attitude-laden introductory sequence, we know we're in for a treat.
This is the popular series "Bleach", or ブリーチ () in Japanese.

RukiaIn the very first episode, we are introduced to the main characters and the basic situation. The lead boy is a seemingly ordinary schoolboy (Ichigo Kurosaki (say like itch-ee-go)). He lives with his father and two sisters (his mother died when he was younger) in an unconventional household. Father is a doctor, and he regularly fights the children in an attempt to teach them to be able to look after themselves. While it may be frowned upon to have a father beating on the kids, it usually turns out that he gets his ass kicked, even by the younger sisters!
Ichigo, by the way, can see the souls of the dead.
One day a short girl with a bad temper turns up in his bedroom. Surprised that Ichigo can see him, she explains with the aid of some lame drawings (Rukia's primary-school-girl-like drawings are a running gag) that she is a "Soul Reaper" and has been sent to collect the souls of the dead to send them to safety in the "Soul Society". The alternative? Ugly malevolent spirits called "Hollows" will eat the soul, and in turn cause the creation of another Hollow. The girl is called Rukia Kuchiki (say like roo-key-a). In the course of doing her work fighting a Hollow, Ichigo gets in the way and causes Rukia to be injured. She intends to transfer some of her spiritual energy over to him to permit him to finish the fight safely. He takes almost all of the energy (not intentionally), transforms into his spirit form, and lays waste to the Hollow.

Ichigo. Rukia
Ichigo, in spirit form. Rukia, with her 'Hollow detector'.

The following day, Rukia appears at Ichigo's school as a new transfer student. As Ichigo has taken her powers, she has become stuck in her 'gigai' (say like gig-eye), her artificial body. School allows the story to include more characters, the most notable of which is probably Orihime (say like ô-rih-hee-may ('ô' like in october)), who squeezes her rather large breasts into a rather small outfit. It seems to me that Orihime's body is mainly like that to be the subject of a procession of throw-away juvenile jokes, as if to give some of the lesser characters something to say. While this may sound idiotic, it can sometimes be a welcome touch of comic relief. That, and the girl that is completely unsubtle about wanting to make out with Orihime, yet Orihime still hasn't figured this out!

Orihime, a classmate, and a worried soul.
Meanwhile, as Rukia is out of action, it is up to Ichigo to become a soul reaper and save the world - a job that he doesn't want as his life had enough hassle without this added complication. Not to mention that Hollows are best fought in spirit form, and in the beginning the only way Ichigo has of separating his physical and spirit bodies is to be punched really hard by Rukia (later on it's teddy-bear (say like cone) to the rescue!).
Not having a home of her own, Rukia lives in a closet in Ichigo's bedroom. She may look like a teenage girl, but she's a lot older - while I've seen some people take guesses as to her age, she says in the first episode "I have lived several of your lifetimes". Make of that what you will.

Little Rukia and bigger Ichigo.
Little Rukia and bigger Ichigo.
Well, that's a summary of the first few episodes. It is a lot more involved than this, but if I wrote it all down there'd be less reason for you to watch this amazing series!

There are many deep and important touches. The most obvious is that Hollows have a hole where their heart would be; and the whole deal with the spirit chain. There is, obviously, a lot about spirits and life, afterlife, and death - only without religious overtones getting in the way.


Season Two
A squad.
Picking up exactly where the first season left off, this is essentially a continuation of the story. Well, duh! I am not so sure about the "more pensive" opening sequence, it has none of the attitude of the original and actually seems a little bit bleak.
That said, the changing closing sequences for the first half of the season are pretty nifty, and so is the music (Houkiboshi by Yunna - should this be ?). But, as with the first season, they make an awesome credit sequence and then they replace it with a less impressive theme.
I mean, when a fight reaches the critical "By the honour of TicTacs and WineGums, I will kill every last one of you" stand-off, the last thing we want is the "To be continued..." caption quickly followed by a cute moé girl in pink and the soundtrack going "Happy people's in the house!"
It isn't a bad ending song, just... maybe it would have suited Mew Mew Power better?

Rukia with a ball of spirit energy.
Rukia with a ball of spirit energy.
As for Bleach itself? It is an interesting blend of spurts of action and periods where little appears to happen. Given that there is a definite plot and a course of action to be followed, this season (so far) appears to be a lot more scattered, taking in all sorts of extraneous details. This could be an enrichment, but it does break up the flow of things. For example, right in the middle of one of Ichigo's fights (Ichigo swinging his in aggression? there's a surprise!) we break off for an episode which is a reminiscence of the past. While it helps explain character motivation, it is like football players going for a meal during half-time. It's like "no! finish first!".
What I will say is that we find out more about the Soul Society and the assortment of complete oddballs who comprise the higher ranks of soul-reaper-dom.
Oh, and I should perhaps point out that while season one would have made the younger and more sensitive pee in their beds, what with those Hollows and creepy spirit stuff; season two is heavier on the gore and blood and what happens to that woman in episode 43 is sick no matter what the reason...

I found the information on the right in RadioTimes, issue current on 15th-21st December 2007 (and scanned from same).
RadioTimes may feel the premise of this programme is "unwieldy". I find it "spookily familiar"...
Japanese numbers
In season two of Bleach, we are introduced to some groups organised as "squads". Actually, there are thirteen such groups, and they appear highly competitive.
On the back of the squad captain, or an arm band of the squad lieutenant and some of the squad members, is a sort of squiggle. You can see this in the picture below right (look at the cape she has whipped off). The drawing is from Bleach (manga) book 18, p114, French version. Click it for a bigger version.
These squiggles are actually Japanese numbers. While, in Japan, the Arabic numbers are most frequently used, there exists an older method that was liberated from the Chinese about a billion years ago.
  2  Don't confuse with
  5  Don't confuse with or
  6  Don't confuse with or
  7  Don't confuse with
  8  Don't confuse with
  9  Don't confuse with or
Just as the Arabic 12 is a '10' and a '2', in Japanese it is 十二 (a ten and a two). Though, note, in Bleach (as in traditional Japanese), the writing is vertical.
Do not get these back to front. If the smaller number comes first, it is a multiplier of the larger - so 十二 means a ten and a two, or twelve; while 二十 means two tens, or twenty. Just to melt your mind, 二十二 is 22.
Dead Like Me promo
Bleach, manga form.

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Series: Cowboy Bebop

Seemingly heavily influenced by American style, music, and culture of the '70s... this is like Starsky & Hutch meets Lucky Luke meets Hawaii 5-0 meets Star Wars.
The "cowboys" are interstellar bounty-hunters. Their ship is the "Bebop". They go hunting bounty, oozing style all the way. It seems all a bit pretentious, but then I think the '70s were kinda funny anyway (especially what people wore to be 'trendy' - think of The Bee-Gees!).

Each episode is called a "session". I presume this is one of the many (jazz) musical references you may spot along the way.

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Series: Fullmetal Alchemist

Al and Edward.
Al and Edward.
This 51-episode animé, in part based upon a manga (which is on-going and has around 17 or 18 volumes to date), is a fantasy story set in an alternative Earth that seems to be sort of turn-of-the-century (c. 1900) Europe. In this world, the "science of alchemy" is used and abused.
In technical terms, the alchemy may appear to be confused with magic - and this is what I originally thought, however watching a few episodes has shown to me that the "transmution" process (real alchemists tried to transmute elements such as lead into more valuable elements such as gold) is applicable in general in the Fullmetal Alchemist's world; you could transmute water into trees, for example, but there must be some sort of similarity in the conversion, you can't make a sword out of a pigeon.
This makes the story somewhat more involved as "the science of alchemy" can be applied to virtually any cause - raising a house from its ashes? No problem. A big wall to slow down people chasing you? No problem. Basically Edward raises his hands, some coloured light flashes out, and stuff changes. Well, sorry Edward, but Willow didn't give it a fancy name and was a whole lot better looking, so... ☺ (what? you weren't expecting the obligatory Buffy reference? come on!) While there is a good degree of logic to the science of alchemy, the whole waving of the hands flashy-sparky stuff just smacks of magic. Real-world alchemists didn't try doing it like that. They used lots of maths, bubbling acids, and test tubes...

The main characters are Edward (the human-looking one with the metal arm and leg) and Alphonse (the suit of armour). As we discover in the first episode, much to Rose's horror, the suit of armour that is Al is empty. Al is the suit. A sort of haunted suit. It makes me wonder how, exactly, he can speak. Never mind...

I have not watched every episode as I never really got into the whole 'magical realm' thing. I did piece together most of the plot from repeats and the Christmas 2007 marathon. Interesting ending!
Some quick research on-line suggests that the term "fullmetal" in Japanese is used to describe a stubborn person, however most attribute the term to Alphonse's 'body' (which isn't strictly correct as Edward is the alchemist).

Rose, one of the first people the pair help.
Rose, one of the first the pair help.
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Series: G.I. Joe

G.I. Joe is an "all American hero", allegedly. I remember him from when I was young as an excuse to kit out annoying little children with toy guns, and it seemed basically a reckless glorification of the army (even when I was, like, ten myself...); as if the moral was being a good little soldier and shooting the enemy dead is a maxim to live life by.

Joe in this series? I think he is called Duke? Well, if you can cross the films "Rambo" and "Judge Dredd" and then make it animated, you might have a clue about what is going on. There's also a woman, a native-American, a bird, and some other characters. They are battling against the "big bad" which goes by the name of Cobra.

I think what annoyed me is that there didn't seem to be much depth to the series. It was like "He-Man & Masters Of The Universe" with slightly more intricate story-lines (which isn't saying much).



Series: Ghost In The Shell : Stand Alone Complex


The series Ghost In The Shell : Stand Alone Complex borrows heavily from the original manga by Masamune Shirow, however it follows a separate timeline and principal story than the manga and the film.

The English version of the title is very good and quite existential. The Japanese title, 攻殻機動隊 () basically translates as mobile armoured riot police, much less exciting and also somewhat inaccurate given that "Section Nine" are more a covert ops unit than riot police. Anyway, we have the Dominion Tank Police franchise covering that angle!

For what it is worth, I think work will soon begin on a live-action version, which I envisage as something like a cross between The Matrix and Dark Angel. It'd be quite amusing to see the clueless on newsgroups and forums complaining about GITS copying The Matrix when it reality it was actually the other way around!

The Major, in rendered 3D.
The Major, in rendered 3D.
Opening with a beautifully rendered three-dimensional sequence set to a memorable theme song ("Inner Universe" by Origa; in Russian and English, lyrics here), we are introduced to a number of things: the lead character (usually referred to as "The Major") is a cyborg. Her brain and part of her upper spinal column are biological, the rest is machine. This explains how she is able to free-fall from a helicopter like that. We also see the Tachikoma in action. These are four-legged fighting tanks with AI personalities. Lethal, but extremely cute. Oh, and the violence in the opening sequence should suggest that this isn't one for kiddies.

Essentially this is a post-cyberpunk hard-boiled police series, obviously set in the future. We follow the activities of a covert and often-thought-not-to-really-exist department known as "Section Nine" that usually combats tech crime. The leader being a usually-underdressed cyborg woman called Motoko Kusanagi (i.e. The Major).
Some sources say that she is of equal rank and the others tend to defer to her, however she does mention (i.e. ep 21) that she is a "superior".

One of the main points of Ghost In The Shell (in any incarnation) is a deep examination of the ethical points of merging people and technology. For instance, a regular criminal character which may or may not be an actual person is "The Laughing Man"; it can be pointed out that his real identity is only known to two drunken homeless people as they could not afford cybernetic brain enhancements, thus their brains could not be hacked into. Through this, and the frequent attacks perpetrated by people being hacked, we are asked to consider if we permit too much technology into our bodies that it allows an outsider to effectively hijack our bodies for the purpose of committing their crimes for them... what value are we? Where is our identity if it can be replaced? Are we even human any more?
Other points that crop up are the over-development. For example the gun that doesn't work. The character Batou relies upon a little bit of feedback to help him point the gun and use it, however for all of his desire to achieve this feedback, the gun is busy over-correcting and removing it all. Essentially this is like a car driving itself. If it does, what choices would you have as the driver? Would you even be the driver, or merely a passenger?

Assume the position!
Assume the position!
To be honest, all of these questions are not exactly new. The film WarGames raised the issue of leaving a computer in control when nuclear weapons were given computer control (taking the humans "out of the loop") after one human operator hesitated to end the world during an exercise, only to find that some kid hacked into the computer and was running a simulation that the computer seemed to wish to play out for real.
While the film WarGames sets this in an end-of-the-world scenario, the Ghost In The Shell franchise brings this much closer to home. Shifting into the future allows us to get rid of sticky little issues such as the technology not existing yet, and says that if it does, and if we fall for it, what is our uniqueness? When do we stop being human and when would we admit it? What is 'being human' anyway? You'll notice this general theme crops up a lot (i.e. Armitage III) and GITS isn't afraid to jump head-first into the debate and tackle the issues head-on (the manga is even more philosophical than the animé).

It is perhaps worth pointing out the origins of the name. In the original manga/film, the main criminal mind was "The Puppet Master", who tended to jump around different bodies by way of "ghost hacking". This is because the increased technology effectively separated humans into "the shell" (the body) and "the ghost" (the spirit, or soul, if you prefer). Indeed, it is possible to put ghosts into non-human things. In one episode of Stand Alone Complex, a tank contains the ghost of its creator and the Tachikoma make reference to not having ghosts as they are AI units (however one of the Tachikoma Days makes reference to a sleeping Tachikoma losing its ghost).
In the original, ghost-hacked humans tended to be left dazed and confused, sort of "shell shocked". In the series, it seems more as if hacks can come and go and sometimes the hacked human isn't even aware of it.

A 'pet' Tachikoma.
Ghost In The Shell is also full of some rather cool technology. Many of the 'secretaries' are actually robots. They are designed to look like women and are dressed smartly in order to blend into their work environment, interacting with humans - for humans will more readily accept information from a human-lookalike than, say, a coffee maker, even if they are both machines. The secretaries are, however, fairly simple AI units and a self-referencing question (the "if I always lie, am I lying about saying that I always lie?" one) can make them crash.

Then there are the Tachikoma. Little portable tanks that start off as AI units, but following the use of organic oil become self-determinant, with a group personality not unlike a bunch of giggling schoolgirls. By and large, those outside of Section Nine tend to refer to them as "think tanks".
The picture above shows a little girl leading a helpful Tachikoma around with a dog lead! See what I mean about cute?

And while I am not one for the collection of "figurines" as regularly advertised in AnimeLand magazine (with a good example on the right), I wouldn't mind a Tachikoma. In fact, I'd really like one that connects to the USB port so you can walk it around the desk! More about this.

This cuteness wasn't missed on the production team either. Following the end credits is a little tachikoma skit where they get together and do something silly.
I cannot tell you exactly what the title of this additional segment says is as it is highly stylised, however I can say the first four ideograms are タチコマ which is 'tachikoma' in Katakana. In any case, I think the title roughly translates to mean "Tachikoma Days".


An example figurine...
(scanned from an advert)

The ending theme ("Lithium Flower", sung by Scott Matthew, lyrics by Tim Jensen) is also notable for being pretty damn weird. You listen to it and think "am I hearing this correctly?". Well, after writing down my take on the lyrics I looked it up on-line. I was exactly correct. So here are the lyrics of the end theme to GITS:SAC:

she's so cold and human / it's something humans do / she stays so golden solo / she's so number nine / she's incredible math / just incredible math
and is she really human? / she's just so something new / a waking lithium flower / just about to bloom / I smell lithium now / smelling lithium now
how is she when she doesn't surf? / how is she when she doesn't surf? how is she when she doesn't surf?
I wonder what she does when she wakes up? / when she wakes up

You can download a low-quality mono sample of the opening theme recorded from the programme by clicking the link below. This is provided purely so you can hear what it sounds like. (lyrics here)

"Inner Universe", by Origa (low-quality version; 352Kb)

This series is followed by the Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig.

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Series: Ghost In The Shell : Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig

The Major, the team, the pointy-haired boss, and the Tachikoma return for another outing. This series seems darker, more slowly paced, more violent, more politically aware, and a lot more introspective. Although put together by the Stand Alone Complex Committee (like the previous series), it is almost as if this time around they are trying to return to the deeper themes from the original film and, perhaps, the manga?
Ghost In The Shell : Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig
The Major and the pointy-haired Boss.

Something I miss from the first series is the opening sequence. We have, again, a song by Origa (Russian/English, lyrics here) and quite a clever intro. However the intro is drawn. It just looks a bit insipid in comparison to the amazing rendered 3D sequence of the first series. But it's a small criticism, and hey - the Tachikoma have made a welcome return. Yay!
Tachikoma exercising!
Tachikoma exercising!
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Series: Mobile Suit Gundam Seed

Mechas at war!
Mechas at war!
Interstellar war breaks out, and Earth is right in the thick of it. There are five prototype fighting mechanoids, and a bunch of invaders (with their own mechanoids) try to make off with Earth's ones - in order to destroy Earth's defences. They make off with two of them, and a female employee of the workshop powers up another. And this is where the first episode ends...

You may know of my general dislike of the mecha genre. Thankfully these mechas are just dumb robots that require a human pilot, however as you can see from the picture, the mechas are humanoid shape and they carry suitably scaled-up guns and - if you can believe it - swords! This is the most ridiculous shape for a fighting machine, and it is quite common (as in this case too) to provide gravity-defying stunts and the ability to fly. This is to work around the fact that a two-legged humanoid shape is really totally unsuitable for serious fighting. Name me any weapon in the world today that walks like a human being. You can't, there isn't one. Wheels can go faster. Tracks can cover more arduous terrain. And if the ability to climb is required, it is far better to bolt on wings and fly.

This series appears unusual in that the action continues partly into the end credits. Oh, and the theme songs are subtitled (originally in English, the later ones in English and romanised Japanese) in case you'd like to sing along.

Shocked workers witnessing their world shattered.
Shocked workers witnessing their world shattered.
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Series: Planetes

Planetes (which is プラネテス (purenetesu) in Japanese, or ΠΛΑΝΗΤΕΣ in Greek) essentially means "wanderers".

This is a 26 episode animé, based upon the manga of the same name, which follows a team of space debris collectors aboard their ship (the Toy Box, aka DS-12), on the moon, and en-route to Jupiter, in the year 2075.
Although deemed half-section, the lowest of the low, one single bolt can puncture a space craft (especially when it is travelling at a few thousand miles per hour) and cause it to crash killing everybody on board. Thus although debris collection is often looked down upon, it is perhaps one of the more important space jobs.

In reality, however, it is currently thought that debris collection is unlikely to be an actual job because the amount of limited energy expended for such small returns is likely to not make it worthwhile... however if, in the near(ish) future, a Shuttle or Virgin Galactic or somesuch is destroyed by a speeding bolt - perhaps the space agencies will reconsider? A million dollars of fuel to pick up a piece that fell off of MIR may not be cost effective. A million dollars of fuel to pick up a piece that fell off of MIR that would otherwise be a grave risk to a trillion dollar space craft and space exploration in general; now that would be cost effective...
Mission to Mars
Mission To Mars (Touchstone, 2000)
Debris, whether natural or man-made is a real threat to space craft. We can see on the right a frame from the film "Mission to Mars". In this scene, the man was setting up something with a touch-screen. Then a tiny fragment punctured the side of the ship, passed through his hand, through the screen, and out the other side. When you are in a fragile lightweight metal 'can' and a little rock comes at you with that sort of velocity, all you can do is hope and pray. 40cm to the left (as we see it), the girl would have been a goner...

The debris section is a small part of the massive Technora Corporation, which has a home in one of the INTO (International Treaty Organisation) countries; with a company mascot (the "nora") which is a cross between a standing bunny, candyfloss, and a giant pink snot.
Tanabe's first day.
Tanabe's first day.
The INTO thing is is important to know because a recurring theme is how the first world nations reap the benefits of space while the underdeveloped countries are forgotten and usually eventually crushed. In one episode, a Technora boss instructs an employee to go through the motions of accepting a quote from one such country (unknowing that this employee was actually born in the country concerned) but not to do much else as Technora would favour a quote from another INTO country.
INTO forces in a war-torn country.
INTO forces in a war-torn country.
In another episode, a person says that all the INTO peacekeeping forces ever did to help was to sell his countryfolk landmines to kill each other with.
Cropping up with alarming regularity is the Space Defence Front, a terrorist organisation intent on blowing up stuff in space because they feel that mankind (and especially in INTO countries) are making huge amounts of money colonising space without bothering to cure any of the problems of the home planet - such as the growing economic divide between INTO and the rest of the world, not to mention mass famine, civil war, and so on; eventually leading to the "dependency theory" which only serves to make the richer INTO nations richer still.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of this is its relevance today, with a certain superpower (you only get one guess, it is easy!) quite happy to sell F1 (non-reproducible) crops to farmers in third world countries. The crops have been genetically modified to produce better in the harsher environment, but the F1 attribute ensures that these farmers will always be reliant on the superpower. And while our own involvement in space is still in its infancy, we shouldn't overlook the billions regularly expended on weaponry (some of which has no actual definable purpose - such as the British government's desire to renew the aging Trident nuclear missiles... to aim at who exactly? the first lot up in Scotland are quickly becoming a pile of rust!) yet it takes the annoying Bob Geldof and the even more annoying Bono to wax lyrical about starving dying babies before anybody 'in power' thinks of sharing some of the first-world wealth and services with the third-world nations that need our help and expertise and medical advice; and when such help is forthcoming, it is usually non-altruistic, companies looking to exploit an easy deal. Is it a pure chance coincidence that "INTO" is remarkably similar to "NATO"? Unlikely...

Hachimaki and Tanabe
Hachimaki and Tanabe.
The debris collection group are a likable bunch. The lead character is Hachimaki (say like hah-chee-mah-key), sitting down in the picture on the right. Originally one of the main debris collectors, he gets hooked on the Von Braun project to go to Jupiter because he likes spaceships that are bigger, better, faster. This attitude extends to how he acts in general, but there is a conflict between this and his own feelings about life and his position in the world (or even in space). Constantly a dreamer, he has since time began planned to buy his own spaceship.
The cute female newbie (standing up in the picture on the right, and picture below) is Ai Tanabe (say like eye tah-nah-bay) who was an engineer and an infant-school teacher before joining Technora and being assigned to the debris collection. Sweet bright, and sincere, her main problem is a lack of self-confidence and - while it is debatable whether this is a good thing or a bad thing - she believes that pretty much any problem can be overcome with love; indeed her name is a play on this (ai, or meaning 'love').

Tanabe's first day
Tanabe's first day at work.
The pilot of the ship is the American Fee Carmichael, who can get loudly annoyed if people go on and on, or don't do what they really should. But what brings her to a state of shaking anger and violence is not being able to smoke. Smoking is restricted in space, as it is a willful pollution of the life support systems. There are smoking rooms, but the SDF decided one day to blow these up, which really seriously annoyed Fee.
Yuri Mihairokov is a calm gentle Russian, and frequently the only one of the team able to operate without losing his cool. Yuri is driven because he lost his wife in the crash that made debris collection an important issue.
Edel is the quiet temp worker. She is competent, gets on with the job, and doesn't have much faith in the thinking abilities of her superiors, who are...
Philip (the fat one always eating doughnuts) and Arvind (the darker-skinned one who is always performing magic tricks). Together as boss and deputy they are about as effective as the space debris their underlings collect.
Claire Rondo, an ambitious member of Control Section who was born on one of the impoverished non-INTO countries before moving away and eventually joining Technora. She constantly doubts herself (even unsure if her leaving her homeland is selling out), and because of this she pushes herself too hard, takes on too many things at once, and finds one day she is reassigned in a rather serious demotion because her superiors value her ambition but feel disappointed by her overall performance.

As soon as the opening theme begins, we can see a Tanabe-like enthusiasm for the whole space exploration thing - indeed the opening credits provide a rapid history from Greek mythology to Robert Goddard's rocket tests, the V2 rocket, Sputnik (which, incidentally, is the Russian word for "satellite"!), the dog and monkey in space, the Apollo missions Skylab, MIR, the ISS... Those are just the things I recognised. One day I'll step through it frame-by-frame to see if I can identify them all!
Within the programmes themselves, there is a lot of technical accuracy regarding space flight and what happens within weightless environments; coupled with life-like characters and all in all I think I can say that this is my favourite series, with Bleach and Witch Hunter Robin in joint second place.

You can download a low-quality mono sample of the lovely final theme recorded from the programme by clicking the link below. This is provided purely so you can hear what it sounds like.

"Planetes", by Hitomi Kuroishi (low-quality version; 632Kb)

Incidentally, I feel honoured to write this (the first version of the Planetes review) today (2007/10/04), as I celebrate being 12,345 days old.

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Series: s-CRY-ed

s-CRY-ed (say "scryed), or スクライド (sukuraido) in Japanese, is the story of two 'Alter' users set against a much larger backdrop of Native Alters vs tamed and civilised Alters and the organisations behind them.

In the near future, an event called The Great Uprising happens. This is a geological event, not a political one.
Following this, some people (about 1% of the population) are born with genetic mutations which permit them to (de)construct matter at molecular level - an event referred to as "bringing out the Alter". Alter users would usually bring out their Alters in order to fight each other, or do something which requires super-human strength. In the first episode we see a large guy who creates a messy sort of giant mechanoid thing, while his opponent concentrates his powers on creating a powerful solid metal fist.

There are two opposing forces. "Native Alters" inhabit The Lost Grounds - the wastelands and ruins outside of the city complex (which is probably supposed to be some sort of future ?). The primary Native Alter is a rather cocky boy, Kazuma, who seems to enjoy fighting and likes to exercise his Alter just to deliver an ass-kicking.
The others, those Alter users who work for the government (an organisation called "HOLY" which is a part of HOLD). It is a sort of "fight fire with fire" idea, the initial liaison of which is a quirky girl (called Scheris Adjani - said like sheh-ris) with a sense of humour, blue hair, and an interesting dress sense; however there are a number of HOLY Alters, like one with floating balls of energy, one with a whole watermelon thing, one who lives his life in fast forward, and one who narrates the story as he feels it should happen. Then there's a creepy dude with a pressed suit and glasses who reminds me of Doogie Howser MD!

In general, Alter users are feared by normal people. The depiction is that HOLY view themselves as containing and safeguarding Alter users, with the Native Alters being rebellious, violent, non-humans. The Native Alters, on the other hand, see HOLY as a violent vindictive power-happy group on a crusade. From this stems the obvious conflict.

Along the way, there is a young girl who both appears as a character and also narrates part of the story through her dreams.

I don't know what, if any, is the significance to the way the title is written - s-CRY-ed as opposed to sCRYed or even just Scryed.

It sounds like the end theme (called "Drastic my soul"!) is sung by the same man that sung the Planetes themes. Both of the theme songs are subtitled (in Japanese with the odd English word) in case you fancy singing along.

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Series: The Vision Of Escaflowne

Escaflowne title

Called 天空のエスカフローネ () which translates to be "Escaflowne of the heavens".
Note that "Escaflowne" appears to be said like es-kah-fl-ou-nuh, with the "ou" as in "ouch".

Hitomi's best friend, Yukari.
This seemed to start off well. A high school girl, Hitomi, is a track runner (with a hobby of reading tarot cards) and during a practice she finds herself temporarily in a different place. To everybody else it seems as if she had fainted. After a recovery, she decides to run again, and if she can complete the race in less than thirteen swings of her pendulum, she will receive her first kiss in reward.
It doesn't quite go as planned, and during the run this otherworldly person comes into Hitomi's world along with a big dragon. Around all of this, Hitomi seems able to predict future events, leading to saving the person slaying the dragon. The next thing we know they are sucked into the sky, to a world that everybody spells "Gaea", though the pronunciation is the same as "Gaia" (the "earth mother").

Shortly after this, the story gets extremely bizarre with brother against brother and a giant mecha (Escaflowne?). It was this point that I decided not to continue following the series (using the time instead for software/website development - it is on as I write these very words), thought I do see bits of it while waiting for Bleach.

Think yourself lucky. Word on-line is that Anime Central is showing the series uncut, while there have been some appallingly mutilated versions perpetrated over in America. I must admit, though, that I had seen some of Escaflowne before on German Viva back in 2002 - though being in German I didn't understand any of it!

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Series: Transformers Headmasters

Anybody my sort of age will perhaps remember Transformers... robots in disguise. Well, I thought it was stupid then, and with a new live-action movie I think it is stupider. In fact, the movie concept of aliens hiding on earth disguised as various vehicles waiting to defend us from other aliens? That's really scraping the bottom of the sci-fi barrel. It makes Critters seem like a cultured and intellectual film in comparison!

Sorry. I am not into the whole mecha thing. I don't mind robots when they are a part of the story (i.e. GITS), however a story involving super-capable monster robots simply because really doesn't do it for me.
This is doubly confounded when these robots are warring factions with some humans in the middle, with names like "the Decepticons"; and anyway they are planes and cars and things that can change into big 'bots. Typical of mankind to think these big alien robots will want to hide on earth to save us. When the aliens arrive, we won't need Transformers, we'll need Ford Prefect.

For the purposes of writing this review, I watched an episode. The dialogue was excruciatingly horrible - I began to feel that if the Decepticons don't kill the boy Daniel, I would do it first! The "oh daddy, I'm scared, but I will do it if it saves the Earth" phrases were truly vomit-inducing.

I won't write anything more as I think I've made my opinion quite clear; however I would be interested in hearing from a Transformers fan. Am I missing something? Is this some sort of clever parody that I just didn't understand?

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Series: Transformers Masterforce

Having finished the run of Transformers Headmasters, Anime Central went on to show Transformers Masterforce.
I watched an episode, and it seems more earth-bound, yet again full of "vehicles that an change into giant mecha robots". Oh, come on... Don't you think if a robot can change form, it would change form into something best adapted for fighting, rather than a humanoid shape which is inherently unstable?
Think about it... We have had success with multi-legged robots, we have had success with spider-like robots. We have had success with tracked robots. But that cute little walking astronaut 'bot (the Honda "Asimo")? That is special as it is probably the first robot in humanoid shape that didn't fall flat on its face after thirty seconds - and it can walk up stairs. Of course, it took about twenty years of intense R&D to get that far, but then it takes little people time to learn to walk too. But, thing is, look at how carefully it negotiates. The two-legged human shape is not very stable, and we humans (along with primate relatives) are peculiar in evolving in this form. If we (humans) build a robot to fight, there are many many better shapes than human-like, with the stability issues and the rip-offable appendages.
This is my major concern with the mecha genre. The only time it makes sense for a mecha to be sort-of-humanoid is if it is a powered exoskeleton for a person - such as the enhanced fighting suits in Appleseed or Ghost In The Shell. Even so, our best fighting machines (Lockheed's Stealth, all sorts of tanks, etc etc) are machines adapted for their environment.
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Series: Transformers Victory

Yet more of the marauding mechas... I've not been following the story. Comments as for the previous versions...
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Series: Witch Hunter Robin

Robin's outfit. Nifty, huh?
Robin's outfit.
Nifty, huh?
Witch Hunter Robin (or ウィッチハンターロビン in Japanese) is the story of Robin Sena (remember: Robin is a female name outside of Britain).

The text "Three hundred and twenty years have passed since the coven sank in the dark" flashes on the screen, almost too quickly to read. Then a serious theme kicks in - "Shell", performed by Bana - and we can see Robin wrestling with her inner thoughts and a television. You can just tell that this is going to be something different.

♫ To listen to a MIDI interpretation of the theme song, click here. ♫
(I have no information on where I got this file from. If you know
its origin, please contact me so that I can credit it correctly

Robin is 15 years old. Born in Japan and raised by nuns in Italy, she returns to Japan to join an organisation called STN-J. This is a group of witch hunters who hold a database of known witches and those who may have inherited powers, so that they can take out these witches before their powers become a problem. The members of STN-J are protected by a glowing green liquid held in a necklace). Robin - a new recruit to STN-J - is "a craft user", in other words, a witch; although it seems as if she considers herself a user of the craft and not as a witch, I wonder how she makes this distinction. Robin's abilities are pyrotechnic in nature, and we quickly discover that her early tendency for setting the wrong stuff on fire is cured with glasses - a nice concept, if she cannot see clearly than she makes mistakes.

That red tower.
That red tower.
Set in contemporary times or the near future judging by the computers and cars, this series has a dark post-modernistic gothic view of the world. Night shots, the moon, and liberal use of contrast paint an animé as it might have been envisaged by Ridley Scott.

We know it is set in because in the title sequence we fly towards the red tower in the middle of the city, as shown on the left (image from The Grudge 2 (US remake)).

Robin herself, introduced by the Anime Central link announcer as "prettier than Buffy, deadlier than Blade", is something of an enigma. If she is supposed to be joining this covert group of witch hunters, you'd have thought she would dress in something other than a 16th century style outfit and perhaps the strangest hairstyle yet seen on a serious animé character. Don't you think she might stand out somewhat? Isn't there going to be a conflict of a 'witch' hunting witches?

The principal characters are:

As already mentioned, the opening theme is suitably deep. A translation from shows it to be a rather dark song - one might say appropriate for Robin. My favourite line is I vomited up my loneliness, and just lay there, measuring it all up.

To drop in a historical reference, you will see parts of a book during the end credits. This book is the Malleus Maleficarum. This is the 'official' book that was issued in the 16th and 17th centuries during the height of the witch hunts (Salem et al); and it is the book that was used in the process of prosecuting suspected witches and is, I presume, the source of such incredible rubbish as "tie her to a chair and toss her into a river, if she gets free she is a witch, if she drowns she isn't". This, in fact, turns up in episode 12.

Witch Hunter Robin: a world where witches exist. The series includes a fair amount of social commentary - various themes are covered, such as the idea of a 'witch hunter' and how this fits into religion, people living in fantasy worlds, human trafficking, homelessness...
It seems to be a little different to numerous productions such as Bleach, Escaflowne and Gundam Seed. In those series each episode continues from the previous. Instead in early episodes of Witch Hunter Robin is more like Buffy in that there are stories progressing from episode to episode, while the story within each episode is also fairly stand-alone. This is often referred to as the "monster of the week" format. In the later episodes the story takes a shift to concentrate more on Robin and her history and place, rather than her as an accomplice to the STN-J, so the episodes follow on from each other better... and while you may have wondered if the series started to lose its way after the first dozen episodes, it finds its direction again.

Robin Sena.
Robin Sena.
Right from the first episode, I had a feeling I was going to like this series. It has made it into my top three (alongside Bleach (joint 2nd) and Planetes (1st)).
In fact, I would not be surprised if, at some point a live action version of this is produced. Back in 2004 (the animé is from 2002) the Sci-Fi channel had planned a live action version but it appears that the project was dropped. Perhaps they couldn't get Robin's hair just right! ☺
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Series: Wolf's Rain

Set in a future post-apocalyptic world where it rains a lot and poor people (who seem to be everybody except a select few) live amongst rubble in an unspecified city where many of the signs are in Cyrillic,
Punk by day, wolf by night?
this is a story about a group of people who are wolves. I guess it is like a doggie version of Cat People, only without Nastassija Kinsky to look at... instead the main character (in human form) looks and dresses like some leatherised punk rocker.

There is a legend in some old book that says the wolves are mystical creatures who came from a paradise world and one day will find their way back. A legend mostly forgotten as hundreds of years wolves were hunted to extinction. Obviously it causes quite a stir when a wolf walks through the city... In order to return to their paradise, they must find the Flower Maiden, a woman with glowing bits around her that appears to 'sleep' in a giant tank surrounded by scientists that ponder her very existence - especially a female scientist that holds the Flower Maiden as the most important thing in her life.

This is called ウルフズ・レイン (Urufuzu Rein) in Japanese. This animé also has the distinction of being later converted into manga form - usually it is the other way around!

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Film: Tales from Earthsea

Review originally on my FilmFour reviews page.

"Les Contes De Terremer" ("Tales from Earthsea") was played in a local cinema... Sadly, for the British, BBCi carries no reference to this as being released cinematically (listings run until until February 2008 - however Black Sheep (release 2007/10/12) sounds like fun!).

The publicity and my cinema ticket
Cinema publicity and ticket, click for a big version.
Right. Well. This film is a sort of Dungeons & Dragons meets the Middle Ages meets King Arthur meets The Addams Family. A Japanese animé dubbed in French, watched by a Brit. ☺ We follow a young man who thinks he is brave but is really a bit of a wuss, who gets into the company of a magician, saves and meets a sweet girl with a secret, and the whole affair annoys Morticia Addams. It is loud, fast, colourful, and to be honest it is a shame that the characters are drawn so simply as it really doesn't do justice to the amazing background imagery - some of which is almost photo-realistic, only better, more vibrant. It is a nice story. I cannot comment on the quality of the French dub as I've not heard the original - however my mother (who I took along with me) asked if it was voiced in French as the mouths seemed to match the sound. A good dub job? There's also a nice Japanese-language song in the middle, plus the girl is a strong independent female lead - Goro Miyazaki is following the family tradition well.
If I had to make any criticism, there would be two things. Firstly I can understand the vertical 'pan' to go from ground to sky, or vice versa, because the drawings are incredible. However, I feel there were too many. Perhaps some variation, like a horizontal pan or a zoom out? Secondly - and this may just be deficiencies in my translation - the bit at the very beginning with the dragons and the boat in the rough sea... what was that all about? Finally, what the girl does at the end (I say, being careful not to give spoilers). That was simply bizarre, and it seemed a little bit 'convenient'. Perhaps it is something I'd understand better upon reading the original book?
In any case, this is - I feel - 4€50 well spent. I enjoyed the movie, and given the apparent lack of cinematic release in the UK, here's hoping FilmFour picks it up sometime soon.

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Ghibli film reviews

On my FilmFour reviews document, you will find reviews of:
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Thanks to

Information was taken from a number of sources in the creation of this document, so I wish to now thank:

Thanks also to:

Lack of thanks to:


But perhaps the biggest thanks of all should go to Edward Percival for sending me an unwanted digital satellite receiver! My Digibox frequently finds excuses not to receive anything, and it if wasn't for this Silvercrest SL65 that he purchased 'by mistake' while trying to get a DTT box, I probably wouldn't have regular or corruption-free viewing of Anime Central.


But hey, let's not forget what's important. YOU. Thanks for reading!
Any comments, corrections, updates? Email me! heyrick1973 -at- yahoo -dot- co -dot- uk


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