Friday, December 24, 2010

The Year in Anime

So, as one of my little year-end projects, I just made up a list of all the anime I have on dvd, thus replacing an old vhs/dvd list from several years back that was never completed and at any rate wd now be badly out of date. It's a longer list than I wd have expected -- almost a hundred titles -- and it's gotten me into a reflective mood of wanting to re-watch some older titles that had drifted onto back shelves. Naturally, I watch a lot more anime than I buy, thanks to Netflix and a local rental shop, but still it's rare that a month goes by without my buying at least one new series (or half-series, since that's how a lot of them are issued these days). These days there's less coming out than during the big anime boom of a decade to a half-decade ago, but there are still plenty of interesting shows being made, some of which reach us in the US sooner and some, alas, later.

Anyway, as part of a winter-organizing (as opposed to a spring cleaning), I recently shifted around the anime so that older and less-rewatched items went downstairs into the Box Room, old favorites that no longer get rewatched as often stayed on the shelves upstairs, and things I'm likely to want to see again sooner rather than later stayed in the living room, where the tv and dvd player are. I'd thought it might be nice to do a 'year-in-anime' review, quickly running through some recommendations, but ran into a problem of determining just when I first watched something. While I once kept in a little notebook a viewing list of what anime I watched when, similar to the reading list I've kept for years, that anime viewing list lapsed years ago. Hence I have to rely on my memory of when I watched what, and I know that in some cases I'm off by a bit -- for instance, both PRINCESS RESURRECTION and KAZE NO STIGMA, which I planned to included, turn out to have actually arrived late in '09. So I think I'll just write up several posts over the next few days, each sharing some recommendations of things I've seen and enjoyed over the last year or two.

I was reminded of this one by recently picking up a two-volume manga which forms a sequel to this story set a generation later. The anime is altogether remarkable for being cute, funny, scary, and deeply disturbing, often in rapid succession. The first disk is a pretty good example. Our point of view character is the new kid in town, a city kid whose parents have moved to a small town deep in the country, where he quickly makes friends with his new classmates. But after a while he begins to notice that the local kids sometimes behave v. strangely, and he learns that the village has a sinister past no one likes to talk about -- people disappearing (sometimes totally, sometimes re-appearing with the occasional discovery of dismembered body parts), the uneasy legacy of an anti-development group that lynched some pro-development residents, what are essentially men-in-black lurking about in sinister vans, and above all a local god's curse that the residents believe must be appeased at all costs. Things become increasingly sinister and unsettling, suddenly crescendoing into a crisis: by the end of the fourth episode, three of the story's main characters are dead.

That wd seem to be that, except that the fifth episode starts a new story arc. Suddenly time rewinds to the start, all the characters are alive again, and a similar story plays out, once again moving from light-hearted hijinxs to horror -- except this time with a different character as villain and a distinctly different explanation for what's going on. This happens over and over again throughout the series: the hero of the first story even becomes the villain (more or less) in a later story-arc, and we sometimes see the same events from strikingly different points of view (for example, two characters are twins who sometimes pose as each other: realizing which is which in a particular scene can completely change its significance). The overall effect is fascinating, and disturbing, and v. impressive.

Unfortunately, this series was orphaned when its US distributor, Pioneer/Geneon, went under mid-way through releasing it (literally, after issuing the first three of six disks), forcing those who, like me, wanted to see how it all came out to resort to buying an import. Luckily it was eventually picked up by Funimation, who completed the series -- although I hear there's a second season which has not been released over here (apparently there was such a fuss that it didn't even finish its initial run on Japanese television), as well as an ova.

So, impressive stuff, but a word of warning: this in genuinely creepy, and one of the story-arcs (the fifth, I think) is particularly brutal -- you might want to consider skipping that one, even though it retells the events of one of the earlier arcs closely (except whereas there people suddenly disappeared, we get to actually see them die one by one in this arc, and it's not pleasant).

--John R.

--current audiobook: HUMAN SMOKE
--current music: The Beatles Christmas Messages

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