anime version of Dante’s Inferno

AICN has some trailers of the anime version of Dante’s Inferno coming out in a couple of weeks. They provide some minimal detail, but its enough to raise my interest:

On February 9th, Anchor Bay will be releasing Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic on Blu-ray and DVD. The anthology, with work from and Production IG (Kill Bill animated sequence), Dongwoo (Batman: Gotham Knight), Manglobe (Ergo Proxy, Samurai Champloo), JM Animation (“Avatar: The Last Airbender”), tie-ins to EA’s upcoming Divine Comedy inspired action-adventure game.

Interesting lineage. The Batmanime was in my opinion pretty uneven (I hated the Tekkon Kinkreet animation style used in part of it). But I *loved* Samurai Champloo‘s style (even though I never got around to doing a full review after I finished it).

the shrinking world of anime

An interesting discussion at Pete’s and Steven’s has me thinking that the trend for anime is one whihch basically dooms DVDs to extinction (and why are we even talking about VHS anymore?). The problem is not just limited to titles that aren’t available in North America, but even titles which may technically be available but utterly impractical to obtain. Case in point – my beloved, $5-from-Walmart copy of Totoro has gone missing (unwillingly, unlike last time). I decided I’d buy a new copy – preferably one with all the extras – and guess what? It’s out of print. The only way to get my Totoro fix for my kids is to download a torrent (and watch on our TV via our USB-enabled DVD player). I fully expect to buy a Roku or equivalent device this year to tap into my Netflix on-demand account, which will also open the door to torrent convenience (though the demise of Mininova is a roadblock – I’ll have to start actually participating at bakabt or some other community now). Even titles which are available at Best Buy, like the complete Kino’s Journey, are absurdly expensive and the sad reality is that the pricing of anime makes most of it out of reach for anyone who has mouths to feed and bills to pay. Without torrents, the few purchases I can afford to make – Haibane, Sugar, etc – would never have happened.

Ultimately, anime is a hobby and not a necessity. But if we are limiting anime to only those who can afford to play by the industry’s rules, then anime will die. It’s really just the torrenters keeping it alive right now. That sounds paradoxical but it’s fundamental reality about the new era of digital content. Give it away, build an audience, and then hope some of them will buy for posterity. Assuming you’re making decent quality anime in the first place…

Incidentally, this story about Boxee being forced to give up on Hulu is pretty emblematic of the thorny issues of control being fought out in the marketplace. The anime industry is just a bit player in all of this.

Osamu Tezuka

There’s a lengthy, detailed write-up at AICN on the DVD release of The Astonishing Work of Tezuka Osamu, who was one of the early pioneers of Japanese animation and manga, whose experimental short features really pushed the boundaries of art and expression. His work was clearly one of the major influences for most of the major players in anime today – Miyazaki’s constant naturalistic themes were likely influenced by Tezuka’s Legend of the Forest, for example, wich is on the DVD along with 12 other short works that span the full range of Tezuka’s career.

What are examples of Yokai anime?

At AICN there’s a discussion of yokai manga, which I found interesting:

From the preface of Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt’s Yokai Attack, “written with the Japanese characters for ‘other-worldly’ and ‘weird,’ the word ‘yokai’ has typically been translated in a great many ways, from ‘demon’ to ‘ghost’ to ‘goblin’ to ‘specter’ – all of which are about as imprecise an un-evocative as translating ‘samurai’ as ‘Japanese warrior,” or ‘sushi’ as ‘raw fish on rice.’ Yokai are yokai.” It’s a class of supernatural creatures that encompasses shape changing foxes, tsukumonogami – artifacts that come to life after existing 100 years, kappa – bowl headed, turtle-men water imps, urban legends like the kuchisake anna – “slit mouthed woman,” and many more subjects of folktales and nightmares.

A good yokai story breathes life into a murky corner of perception. It takes the fright of a dark corner, the wonder of a natural phenomenon, some metaphor or word play that sticks in the mind and gives it semi-human form. It might take some ferreting out, but one of the fascinating attributes of yokai is that they generally trace back to some mental hang-up like an unexplainable sound one hears wondering the woods or a coincidence in words and names.

This is prelude to a review of a manga title, Yokai Doctor, which they found wanting in some respects, but as a genre I am curious to see if there’s a footprint in anime too. Off the top of my head, I think Spirited Away and Mushi-shi might loosely qualify. I can’t think of other examples but I am sure there are more. Anyone have any ideas?

revisiting The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

I was really interested in The Girl Who Leapt when I first heard about it via AICN, and I downloaded the fansub a couple years ago, though it was a rough production and I had some trouble seeing the text render properly. VLC hadn’t reached v1.0 either so maybe that was a contributing factor to my technical difficulties; nevertheless I remember being quite enchanted with the story and it’s been on my rewatch list for a while. It looks like the DVD has been out a while now and Pete gave it a shot, based mostly on the positibe otakusphere buzz (to which I contributed) – but found it wanting:

Certainly, Tokikake is not bad bad, just immensely underwhelming and disappointing after all the fawning coverage it received on the blogs. To begin with, the fundamental animation was insubstantial. The story was all emo and no conflict, no struggle; Marimite-like. Characters were ok, I guess. Dudes were much too perfect and cartoony, but it’s not like anyone got much chance to shine. There was barely enough acting time for the lead to show herself.

I guess I am predisposed to maho shoujo so maybe my bar was lower on this one. My taste is probably circumspect because I seem to be one of the few who preferred The Cat Returns to Whisper of the Heart.

Pete if you want to recoup some of your failed investment, I’d be interested in buying your DVD off you for my kids – drop me an email.

anime Iron Man and Wolverine

Following the path blazed by the Animatrix and the anime prequel to the Batman movies, comes word that Marrvel will be commissioning two anime-style series, for Iron Man and Wolverine. Here’s the press release via AICN:

Marvel Entertainment Inc., has partnered with renowned Japanese animation studio Madhouse (Paprika, Tokyo Godfathers) to create four all new anime versions of classic Marvel Super Heroes. Get an exciting first glimpse of two of the planned four series at this year’s Comic-Con International, the country’s leading comics and popular arts convention. The Marvel Animation Panel will be held on Friday, July 24, and will include an exclusive first look at official teaser trailers for two of these new series, hosted by writer and multiple-Eagle Award winner Warren Ellis, who will appear to discuss writing the all new adventures of these re-imagined Super Heroes.

These Marvel Anime TV series are being created as a way of merging the beloved Marvel Super Heroes of western culture with the bold animation tradition of Japan. The resulting product will be four visually groundbreaking anime series featuring popular Super Heroes redesigned and repurposed as emerging from the fabric of Japanese culture. The series is expected to begin appearing on the Animax channel in Japan in spring of 2010.

These are being released for Japanese TV, but I’m sure we can get subbed versions off the torrents. I was disappointed by the Batmanime series, and I’m not that enthusiastic about the anime style of Paprika or Tekkon Kincrete, though – I hate the stylized misshapen proportions technique. I’m more of a classical anime style fan, but still style is secondary to plot as far as I am concerned.

Finding Ponyo

The trailers for Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo on a Cliff are out, and the influence of Disney/Pixar animation honcho John Lassiter is rather apparent from the poster art:


Check out that font, complete with little ocean wave! 🙂 Plus here’s a bonus image still from the movie, which makes me suspect that Ponyo is going to have a very Mai-from-Totoro personality:

Here’s some more info on the film from AICN Anime:

The film hits theatres August 14th.

Noah Cyrus will voice the goldfish who wants to be a human and Frankie Jonas will be her human friend Sosuke while other cast members include Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Cloris Leachman, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin and Betty White.


For hints on how Disney has handled the film, check out producer producer Frank Marshall’s recent conversation with Sci-Fi Wire.

In January, Variety reported that John Pixar’s Lasseter was working with Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy to make Hayao Miyazaki/Ghibli’s Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea “the studio’s biggest hit ever Stateside.” According to the piece, Ghibli has been frustrated that their films have only found a niche audience about anime fans and arthouse goers.

From the Variety piece:

The goal is to boost both the number of screens and the box office take beyond Ghibli’s record for a U.S. release set by “Spirited Away,” the Miyazaki toon that earned a little more than $10 million on 714 screens in 2002 and 2003.

Gurren Lagann: piercing the heavens with a drill

I’ve been watching Gurren Lagann on Cartoon Network’s monday night anime block for the past couple of months, and have been really enjoying it. The design of the mecha are truly unique, gigantic faces as torsos, and the story is your classic young boy becomes a man, along with a big brother role model and love triangle on the side. Throw in your all-powerful (sorta) alien threat and scrappy humanity rising from the post-apocalyptic world and you’ve got a pretty solid series that isn’t surprising in any way, but still manages to be a lot of fun – and the technology deus ex machine that the hero Simon uses is just plain cool. There is a surprisingly mature introspection about Simon finding his identity not in being a flashy hero, but actually in the value of his humble profession (mining and digging) that lends the whole opera some serious emotional heft, too.

Actually the whole series is very evocative of Robotech, which seems so blatant at times that I wonder if it is deliberate.

For more substantive analysis, check out Drastic’s review (along with the iconic image of Yoko from the opener that should be a crowd-pleaser).

Ponyo is coming

Good news – Ponyo on a Cliff will have much wider distribution than most previous Miyazaki films have had thus far in the US market. The voice line-up for the english dub is suitably all-star, including Matt Damon and Tina Fey.

In other news, there’s a lot of interesting anime coming out soon – including Eden of the East:

and Cat Sh%t One, a retelling of the Iran hostage crisis, with animated bunnies:

There’s also a new Fullmetal Alchemist (which other otakusphere stalwarts have been mentioning of late), a sequel to Battleship Yamato, Evangelion 2.0, and a bunch of original stuff that looks pretty interesting. More details at ANN.

Samurai 7 revisited

I burned through Samurai 7 quite quickly a while back and intended to say a few words about it, but never quite got around to it. I am reminded of it now by Mark’s list of anime on his queue to watch, and I can definitely offer a recommendation for S7, though it wasn’t the kind of anime that really grabs you (unlike, say, Death Note). Samurai 7 was simply a good story, with some interesting themes, but ultimately didn’t leave any significant mark. I’d recommend Samurai Champloo far more enthusiastically to anyone looking for a good samurai anime.

Incidentally, now that I am dipping my toe into the Fullmetal Alchemist waters, I notice an interesting parallel between Kikuchiyo and Alphonse. Of course I am only a few eps into the latter but still, the idea of a cyborg samurai seems to be an anime trope of sorts. Are there other examples I am not thinking of?

FYI – the earlier discussion on my previous post was pretty interesting – talking about the influences of Kurosawa’s original movie (which I’ve not yet seen) on this anime, as well as more mainstream movies like Star Wars and The Magnificent Seven.

(aside – my apologies to Mark and Nick for the confusion. I blame my feedreader. This is the reason I created @otakusphere, incidentally…)