G…lee…COOOOOOOO

When it comes to the musical arts, I have to admit that I am quite lacking. I’m a novice in regards to musical theatre, and I am far from knowledgeable about popular music from my own era, let alone from decades prior. So it might seem unusual that I consider myself among the many who enjoy Glee, a show about a high school glee club populated by misfits which combines both of those elements and adds a large dose of teen drama to boot. But not only is Glee fun, it appeals to me on both artistic and intellectual levels as well.

The vast majority of fictional TV shows and films attempt to mimic reality. This does not necessarily mean that they are realistic or that they could be confused for anything but fiction, but that they attempt to create a simulacrum of the real world to facilitate their audiences’ suspension of disbelief, whether it’s Law & Order, The Expendables, or The Andy Griffith Show. Glee is different. Whereas most other shows want you to ignore their existence as “television programs,” Glee revels in the fact that it is fiction first, a portrayal of high school second. The method of characterization, the cinematography, the storylines, the acting, and, yes, even the music, all work together to create an experience where the viewer can practically see the strings and enjoy it for that reason. Its candor is something I can really appreciate, and when watching it I can feel myself picking up on the clever elements of its production while also engaging its story and characters.

Going back to how Glee fosters its self-image as fiction, I want to highlight how characterization is handled in particular. Let’s take Rachel Berry, the talented singer so driven by the pursuit of perfection that she can be incredibly abrasive even to the few friends that she has. In one episode, you learn that she is so constantly focused that she wakes up early every morning to the tune of Matthew Wilder’s “Break My Stride” and jumps on an elliptical for half an hour while staring at a self-made motivational note. Here, you can see how the show really exaggerates her personality traits almost to the point of tangibility. Other good examples include Sue Silvester, the cheerleading coach so Social-Darwinist in her beliefs and so ruthless in her methods that she practically comes across as a supervillain, Emma Pillsbury, the attractive guidance counselor whose neurotic obsession with cleanliness leaves her incapable of eating her own lunch without wearing gloves, and Kurt Hummel, a male soprano so accustomed to being bullied that he can plan his day around it and still remain outspoken. However, while these aspects make up a good portion of their characters, it doesn’t dominate their portrayals. They’re still allowed to grow and develop over the course of the series, and maybe learn an important lesson or two along the way.

If anything, the characterization in Glee reminds me of how many anime and manga approaches characters. There is a similar sense of over-the-top portrayals that are still able to create strong emotional connections and give room for genuine character growth that you might see in 70s sports shoujo (Aim for the Ace!, Swan) or the works of Imagawa Yasuhiro (G Gundam, Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still). In fact, I think that if someone were to adapt Glee into an anime, they would barely have to change a thing, and I mean that in the best way possible.

So despite the fact that I can’t recognize songs 9 out of 10 times unless they’re anime-related, I can recommend Glee. Well, at least the first season. I’ve yet to experience the second.

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An Ally of Justice, a Subordinate of Evil, a Symbol of the Past and the Future: 2004’s Tetsujin 28

Yokoyama Mitsuteru’s Tetsujin 28 is one of the landmarks of anime and manga, a classic among classics and a significant influence on the history of comics and animation in Japan. It is widely considered the “father” of the giant robot genre, being the first notable manga to feature a towering humanoid behemoth of steel and jet engines in a heroic role. It rivaled Tezuka’s Tetsuwan Atom in popularity, bringing with it a more base thrill than Tezuka’s stories. One thing Tetsujin 28 did not do, however, was really look at its own contents and try to incorporate them into a greater story, which is where the 2004 anime adaptation of Tetsujin 28 comes in.

Tetsujin 28 2004 was directed by Imagawa Yasuhiro, who is known for his work on shows such as G Gundam and Giant Robo the Animation: The Day the Earth Stood Still. The latter is of particular significance, as Giant Robo is adapted from a manga/live-action show by Tetsujin 28‘s creator Yokoyama, and acts not only as a story of gaining maturity and forging destiny, but also as a tribute to Yokoyama’s works in general. So Imagawa, being no stranger to the works of Yokoyama, approaches this adaptation by putting a subtle, yet profound spin on the story of Tetsujin 28, using in the 21st century what was not available to Yokoyama back when he was creating the original manga: hindsight.

Tetsujin 28 is the titular giant robot of the series, and in the story’s premise it is a product of World War II, a super weapon designed to fight the Allies that finds a new purpose in post-war Japan. Its “master” is 10-year old boy detective Kaneda Shoutarou, the son of Tetsujin’s original creator. With his trusty remote control, Shoutarou uses the iron golem not to wage war, but to protect peace and stop crime. With these essential ideas, that of a weapon of destruction finding a new identity as a guardian of good, and the young boy at its controls, Imagawa transforms Tetsujin 28 into a story about the relationship between the people of post-war Japan and the demons of their past, tying the characters and stories from Tetsujin 28 into actual historical events and paralleling the development of Shoutarou and Tetsujin with the development of Japan.

Though Tetsujin 28 is most certainly a giant robot series, it is not as much of one as you might think. Many times the episodes feel more like detective fiction, and in a great number of instances the antagonists don’t even utilize giant robots. Instead, the recurring theme among the villains in Tetsujin 28 is that they are all relics of World War II and the weapons developments that were going on at the time, ranging from artificial intelligence to hideous disease to genetic manipulation and a host of other mad sciences. Shoutarou must constantly confront the past and the horrors that came from the very same war in which Tetsujin itself was created. That’s not to say that giant robots are out of the question, of course. The series takes Tetsujin’s greatest rival, the Black Ox, and increases its role in the story. This is actually a hallmark of director Imagawa, his interest in fleshing out villains, and he ends up giving a somewhat similar treatment to Ox as he did Baron Ashura in Shin Mazinger.

The strength of the visuals in Tetsujin 28 are perhaps best exemplified by the show’s portrayal of Tetsujin itself. While Tetsujin’s face is completely static, it is still able to convey a sense of mood and emotion by utilizing a technique from the No plays of Japan, where the apparent expressions on No masks change depending on the angle at which they’re seen. Viewed from below or straight on, Tetsujin’s eyes appear large and friendly. From above however, the visor on Tetsujin’s head turns its expression into a vicious glare, a look often enhanced by changing the color of Tetsujin’s eyes from a bright yellow to a menacing red.

The show’s visual direction isn’t all good however. Tetsujin 28 has this odd tendency to use these extremely awkward digital transitions which can really jolt you out of the show. They really do stick out poorly, though it’s my only real complaint in terms of visual direction.

There is a near-constant gravity in the 2004 Tetsujin 28 series, and it can be a lot to take in, especially if you expect the series to be as lighthearted as its source material, and doubly so when you factor in the potential incongruity of the tone of the series and the character designs. Everyone in the show, from Shoutarou to Police Chief Ohtsuka to scoundrel Murasame Kenji are drawn to resemble the original manga’s look, with only slight updates to their designs. The animation looks new, but the characters look very old-fashioned, and Tetsujin 28 thus potentially runs into the same problem that Tezuka’s work does in front of a modern audience. To the show’s credit however, while the character designs are old-fashioned, almost none of them take on the useless slapstick roles that characterized older series. Ohtsuka in particular benefits from this transformation, as his role as police chief is greatly expanded upon and he is shown to have an iron resolve fitting his position. Many other elements from the original series are taken as well, such as the fact that the 10-year old Shoutarou not only drives a car but also carries a loaded gun and isn’t afraid to bust a few heads to reach his goal. Again, it can be a difficult pill to swallow.

Overall though, Tetsujin 28 is a very intelligent show that asks a lot of good questions, and is thoroughly entertaining throughout, though it can get depressing at times given the subject matter. At 26 episodes, it’s a bit of an investment but I think it pays off very well.

Tomino vs Imagawa, NYC vs Atlanta

Anime Weekend Atlanta has announced that one of their guests of honor will be Imagawa Yasuhiro, acclaimed director of the Giant Robo OVA and the currently-running Shin Mazinger TV series. AWA is running this year from September 18-20.

Meanwhile, New York Anime Festival, running September 25-27, has already announced famed Gundam creator and director Tomino Yoshiyuki as its guest of honor. If you’re a fan of giant robots and you don’t have the time or resources to go to both, this can be a very painful decision to make.

To help you with your dilemma, try asking yourself the following two questions.

Question 1: Do you love Gundam?

Question 2: Do you love G Gundam even more?

Fukumotoverse, or “Zawa-rld”

Recently I’ve been wondering, or should I say, hoping that the works of Fukumoto Nobuyuki all take place in the same universe. We already know that Ten and Akagi take place in the same timeline, with the latter being a prequel to the former, but what of everything else?

Can Japan have enough room for the SHADOW PRIME MINISTER OF JAPAN (Washizu from Akagi), the RICHEST MAN IN JAPAN (Zaizen from Zero), and the KING OF JAPAN (Hyoudou from Kaiji)?!

Is there not just one horrible conspiracy controlling Japan, but several, and they all have to be taken down by incredible gambling heroes? Are all of these evil old men actually in competition with one another, vying to see who is truly the ruler of Japan and its seedy gambling underworld? Do they compete to see who is the most ruthless and murderous of them all?

And is there an even stronger hidden ruler above THEM? Could there be a SHADOW DEMON EMPEROR GOD OF JAPAN that would unite the forces of all of our heroes together into 地上最初の賭博軍団, the world’s first Gambling Army?

So basically what I’m saying is, we need to get Imagawa Yasuhiro to make an anime based on Fukumoto’s works.

Imagawa and the Pile of Money in Eternity Island – A Dilemma in Anime Direction

Imagawa Yasuhiro does not have very many works tied to his name in a directorial capacity, but mention the ones that he has worked on and you will tend to get very positive reactions from some very loyal fans. His most prestigious work is probably the Giant Robo: The Animation OVA series, an intense labor of love that took many years and many more delays to complete, while his most famous work in America is probably Mobile Fighter G Gundam. And in my personal opinion, he is an astounding director. Possibly more than any other director, he has the ability to take the endless dreams of childhood and translate them into something mature and complex while still remaining faithful to those childhood notions. So why does he get so little work?

We have his latest work, Shin Mazinger. You look at this series, and see a lot of areas that seem to suffer budget-wise. The opening consists entirely of reused footage. Scenes are repeated over and over, and a lot of shortcuts are used. However, the show is still amazing, and still coming out without too many hitches. Sub suggested to me that Imagawa is so much of a perfectionist that the more money you give him, the more likely your anime will never see the light of day because he’ll be too busy making his animators re-do everything to get that one moment just right. As mentioned above, he took practically forever to finish Giant Robo OVA, but he was also kicked off of Shin Getter Robo Armageddon for taking too long. But with Shin Mazinger, where his spending power is limited, Imagawa is forced to make decisions and the result is something that is both Great and On Time.

Imagawa is thus the kind of director to whom you could give 25 cents and he would make the most astounding animation ever that will challenge your very ways of thinking. Imagawa would take those 25 cents, create GEORGE WASHINGTON AND THE LEGENDARY EAGLE, and when the show reveals that WASHINGTON AND THE EAGLE WERE THE SAME FIGURE ALL ALONG (like two sides of the same coin one might say!!), you will notice that your ass is no longer in your chair.

Money is to Imagawa as Time is to Tomino Yoshiyuki and No Editors is to Kawamori Shouji.

Hey You, Watch Shin Mazinger

Episode 1 of Shin Mazinger aired in Japan, and I am telling you right now: Watch it, watch it, watch it.

Some of you I can convince to watch Shin Mazinger when I say it’s Mazinger Z as directed by Imagawa Yasuhiro, director of Giant Robo the Animation and G Gundam.

For you others who are unsure, or may not be familiar with Mazinger at all, let me explain it this way:

You know how a lot of shows, especially giant robot shows, have like 20 minutes of setup per episode to lead to a 5-minute climactic fight at the end? Shin Mazinger replaces all of that setup with MORE FIGHTING. Or rather, to put it more accurately, every moment in this first episode is SIMULTANEOUS SETUP + FIGHTING.

Things are HAPPENING in this show, and they’re happening on the field of battle where a boy can become a god or a devil. Whether you’re a big fan of Mazinger or you’ve never even heard of it, know that this show has potential to go places and the visionary force to take it there.