Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Pinocchio (1940)

Few, perhaps, would call Pinocchio their favourite Disney film of all time. But even so, it manages to be one of the very best examples of Disney in their golden age, its images and music etched into the consciousness of much of the world far more than anything about the wicked, murderous little imp of the original book, and few can dispute that the film was hugely successful, and far, far ahead of anything else that any other animation studio could produce. Watching it through for the first time since childhood, with hopefully a more discerning eye, I can truly appreciate just how daring the animation here was, not just in realising those signature cute Disney characters, but special effects like lightning, the distortion of a glass bowl, motion underwater and one scene of children going to school that has the kind of wonderful complexity we’ll likely never see in traditional animation again. Then of course there’s Woolie Reitherman at the height of his ambition, animating Monstro with such bravura detail and fluidity that for my money it far outstrips even his work on Maleficent as a dragon.

The character of Pinocchio is of course familiar to almost anyone in a cultural milieu that includes Disney – which is most of the world.  He’s a little puppet boy whose nose grows when he tells lies, who must learn to be good in order for a fairy to make him into a real boy. It’s also quite well-known that this film is one of the weirdest and darkest in the Disney canon – to my mind far more so than The Black Cauldron, which is often regarded as Disney going too far. The film sees a little (wooden) boy carved by a lonely old man getting waylaid on the way to school for the very first time, groomed into becoming an actor by wise-talking ne’er-do-wells, passed between various abusive ‘owners’ until he is in the bad company of other boys who teach him to smoke and drink, all the while guided by a ‘conscience’ who is endearing in part because he is – or wishes to be – a total philanderer. It wouldn’t pass today. And to this we must add that that the story is downright surreal and at times potentially terrifying for a child – getting past the idea of a wooden boy coming to life through magic, we still have a world where crickets, foxes and cats are members of regular society, where boys who are bad turn into donkeys for no other reason than that they are making jackasses of themselves, and where a monster sperm whale goes about swallowing entire boats.

But all of this is thanks to the source material, and in fact Disney have heavily toned down the original’s more surreal content. Even the part with the jackasses comes from the Italian source, presumably without that pun. And unlike Alice in Wonderland, which is similarly surreal, there is of course a genuine journey of growth for Pinocchio, from naïve newly-made little puppet boy to brave young adventurer willing to sacrifice himself to save his father. It his the right emotional points and deftly segues between its different story arcs, and though it would be nice to see some of the villains here get their comeuppance, at its heart Pinocchio has the cautionary tale.

It’s fun to watch Pinocchio and remember that it was made over seventy years ago, when Hitler was still alive, when people could still remember having been acquainted with Queen Victoria or Oscar Wilde. It’s amazing how little the quick-talking character type has changed, or the national stereotypes – listen to those Italian outbursts, that strange idea that the British say ‘hop to it, you blokes’, or that funny little Bavarian outfit on the for-some-reason now-German Pinocchio. It’s also quite amusing to hear that execrable ‘YOLO’ phrase very nearly in complete form here: ‘Lampwick says a guy only lives once!’

The studio’s system of allocating a particular animator to a specific character has never worked better than it did here, and some of the Nine Old Men are on top form. Reitherman aside, here we see Ward Kimball being given a main character for the first time (to stop him storming out after his work on Snow White got cut), and his Jiminy, while having very little to do with a cricket (as he himself liked to quip), is classic Disney expressiveness; Milt Kahl had his Miyazaki moment of offering an inspired revision and suggested Pinocchio become a cute little boy, and from then on was cemented into the studio’s hierarchy; Eric Larson puts his stamp on the cute animals, including the adorable and hilarious little cat Figaro; and Kahl worked with Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston on Pinocchio himself. Though they’re not amongst the Nine Old Men, there was also sterling work here from the creators of the two Disney Dogs Goofy and Pluto – Art Babbitt, who expertly brought Geppetto to life, and Norm Ferguson, who as well as being one of the animation directors took on the anthropomorphic fox and cat Honest John and Gideon, the latter of whom amusingly has just hiccups provided by Mel Blanc, as all his other lines were cut to make him a comedy mute character – putting the performance in line with Dopey, Dinah and the Sword in the Stone dogs.

Pinocchio also, despite its songs all being delivered in snippets, also provided some real musical signatures for the company, and its Oscars were deserved. With this second feature film, Disney established its place as the only studio capable of such spectacles, and though the War put a dampener on initial returns, it’s small wonder that the film has a place in history, and gets frequently referred to – after all, Pinocchio can be seen in Tangled and the Genie uses his face in Aladdin. Classic. 

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Toy Story

Well, since I'd finally gotten around to getting some thoughts on A Bug's Life recorded, it seemed a good idea to finish the full circle and write about the first Toy Story. Now I have a full house of Pixar films, and this was one I'd been meaning to rewatch properly for quite some time. 

Of course, most animation fans know the story of Pixar. Formed of a chunk of Lucasfilm's animation department when a divorce-ravaged George was selling whatever he could (short of rights to Star Wars to Disney or anything crazy like that), Pixar by the mid-90s didn't seem that secure a prospect to their effective owner Steve Jobs. That is, except for that lucrative deal they had made with Disney for 3 animated feature films to showcase just what computer graphics could do. With Disney long-termer John Lasseter providing his signature big-heart style within a quirky setting, Toy Story was of course a smash hit and totally changed what was expected of an animated feature. Today, traditional cel animation is the rarity in America while CG films get churned out, and we have the success of this film to thank for that. As the first feature-length CG animation ever completed, it remains groundbreaking. 

Toy Story, aptly enough, is a story about toys, which builds upon ideas established in Lasseter's 1988 Oscar winner Tin Toy, which put Pixar on the map. Just as many children suspect, their toys come alive when nobody is around to see it, and have their own little societies in kids' bedrooms. One pleasant kid named Andy has a favourite toy, the slightly raggedy cowboy Woody. That is, until a birthday comes along and the all-new multi-functional Buzz Lightyear seems to be taking the top spot, in an inspired bit of contrast: Westerns vs Sci-Fi. A fit of jealous action sends the two on a lengthy odd-couple adventure, where the two prove perfect foils to one another and the unlikely pairing of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen proves utterly perfect. 

As the opening credits rolled to the still-familiar strains of Randy Newman's excellent songs, I reflected on how much more these names meant to me now. There's John Lasseter, who was then unknown. There's Andrew Stanton, not quite co-directing yet but clearly in a position of importance. There's Steve Jobs, many years from a household name still, and not even part of Apple any more when this film was coming out. Hey look - Lee Unkrich was just an editor! There's an example of a guy working his way up quickly. Wait, Joss Whedon is credited as one of the four writers? I had no idea! He hadn't even made Buffy by this point...I'll have to stop saying his being kept under the thumb for The Avengers was the only thing he's made that I've liked except that one episode of Firefly where they find the planet of people who worship Jayne. 

And well done Mr Whedon and others, because when it all boils down to the core, what makes Toy Story the success that it is can without hesitation be said to be its writing. Unless you're a real stickler for coincidence - yes, a Pizza Planet delivery van accessible for toys just happens to pass at the right time, and yes next door neighbour Sid just happens to be at the restaurant at the same time, and yes, a lit firework can be controlled in just that way by a simple toy - what you get is a very well-polished, well-paced and highly entertaining script. It's actually quite a feat that Woody is as likeable as he is, being at first smug, then petty, then malicious, then very belligerent, but thanks in no small part to Tom Hanks' performance but also because he is the butt of his fair share of jokes, he's very easy to root for – though apparently during a low point in production even Hanks thought him a ‘jerk’. Then there's clueless Buzz, whose utter failure to understand his position is endearing, and the fact that the two have such great chemistry as chalk and cheese types. Just having the two sparking off each other makes for good entertainment, but the pace of the adventure also works brilliantly - you have the chase dynamic of trying to get back to Andy, the brilliant surreal moment of the alien toys who are in thrall to 'the Claw', the suspense of future-garbage-guy Sid's house, then the big action finale. The humour is also spot-on, with the wisecracking Mr. Potato Head and Hamm not only getting brilliant one-liners but being part of the utterly inspired gags where they think Woody has become murderous. 

The film ticks a whole lot of boxes - pathos and then relief with Andy, romance with Bo Peep (much missed in the third film!), the foolishness of snap judgements with Sid's toys and even some horror pastiche. 

It doesn't do to think too hard about the toys' world - about how many of them must have truly miserable yet near-eternal existences, about why the rules of keeping still even exist in the first place, about the physics involved - but the film doesn't ask you to. Accepting the magical premise and simply enjoying is very easy. It is also of course a technical triumph, and while it is obviously the most primitive of Pixar's work and technically far behind even A Bug's Life, eyelids and animals in particular being noticeably less developed, but there is such joy to the animation, to making Woody's funny limbs move and Slinky the loyal dog stretch out, from the way toy soldiers have to waddle to Buzz's silly episode after he has an identity crisis, that the sheer amount of effort is demonstrable. 

One of the most important animated films in history, it could also have been a disaster, and what ensured that it was a hit was not the technical achievements or the bold new aesthetic. It was the writing, the concept and the performances, which in all mediums are the things that matter most. 

Toy Story 2: link
Toy Story 3: link

化物語 /Bakemonogatari / GhoStory

Especially considering it’s a Shinbou Akiyuki work for Shaft, the word I’d choose to describe Bakemonogatari is ‘stillness’. Part of that is plot related, with the second mini-arc of the story revolving around not leaving a particular place, but almost every episode largely features its cast standing still and talking at length in extended single scenes, with odd imagery usually based on colours or typography flashing up and plenty of typically Shinbou pastiche stills.

Bakemonagatari’ is a portmanteau combining ‘bakemono’ (monster/supernatural creature) and ‘monogatari’ (tale), which by happy coincidence can be easily, albeit clumsily, mirrored in the English ‘GhoStory’ – and while the entities dealt with here are not necessarily ghosts, the term ‘ghost story’ does tend to encompass various other supernatural creatures like the animal spirits who dominate this story. The anime is an adaptation of a series of light novels, and has been enough of a hit to spawn two sequel series, Nisemonogatari and Bakemonogatari as well as Monogatari Series Second Season and related Katanagatari.

Our main character Hiraragi-kun, whose hairstyle that covers one eye is not the only echo of Mushishi here (listen carefully to the music), is an unassuming but likeable high school student with a colourful past. When he discovers the strange secret of the standoffish but beautiful Senjougahara – that she has no weight at all – he pursues her and eventually breaches her prickly, even somewhat disturbing, defences to offer his aid. After all, he too has been afflicted by a supernatural ailment – he was bitten by a vampire and helped by a strange laid-back mystic. After helping Senjougahara and putting up with her advanced case of tsundere-itis, the two begin to date. But this action only brings him to the attention of various other girls, and his harem begins to gather.

It is undoubtedly a harem, and probably a cuter one than in most series. The girls here are all quite lovely, and all much more to my liking than the threatening and blunt Senjougahara. There’s the adorable loli, who Araragi shows the most personality with when he mercilessly teases her and gets a bit edgy with his molestation humour. There’s the tomboy who not only has the usual bokuko haircut, athleticism and adorable my-pace personality, but is actually an out lesbian, which is refreshing. There’s a quiet cute one, the bookish one who has always admired Araragi from afar, and then the mysterious little blonde girl who was the original cause of Araragi’s ‘condition’…as well as his saviour.

Underneath the witty dialogue, detached and cynical style and relentlessly odd imagery is a rather conventional story of a boy meeting a variety of girls who have some mysterious background, solving their problems and then having them become his close circle, to help out others when they come along or form rivalries. 

I have to say, while I didn’t dislike Bakemonogatari, I struggle to see why it was quite the hit it was. It certainly didn’t charm me like various other Shinbou works, and the style kept every single character at arm’s length.

There’s a fair bit more Bakemonogatari, as well as various related materials. There’s the sequel Nisemonogatari, and then a second season of Bakemonogatari, as well as the strange but fun-looking feudal story that I think is somewhat related called – I believe – Katanagatari. I don’t feel much attachment to the girls here, nor do I much like Araragi, but there was enough silliness, banter and action to keep me coming for another series. 

Just…rather like the other series this reminded me of despite the different levels of humour, Jigoku Shoujo, I expect the viewings of the episodes of progressive sequel series will become less and less a priority for me. 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A Bug’s Life

I have seen every Pixar film as it has come out, but a few of them predate my efforts to write down my thoughts, so those have to wait for me to have a repeat viewing before I jot down any impressions. I was going to have to qualify that with a statement that I didn't actually catch Planes, but that was Lasseter working with Disneytoon, so it turns out I don't have to. One of the films I never got around to writing anything about was A Bug’s Life, which I don’t think I’ve properly watched since the early 2000s. Though it shows its age now, A Bug’s Life still thrives on its heartfelt story, likeable ensemble cast and ambition – and besides, we make allowances for 90s CG. Even if the fact is that if it came out today, it would be called badly-done, we are aware how pioneering it was at the time, how much better than contemporaneous video game intros – and, indeed, Antz – it looks, and as a result make allowances for it. Besides, vibrant older animation looks  quite a lot like some highly advanced claymation in any case.

The story of A Bug’s Life isn’t a thousand miles from Timon’s story in The Lion King, especially if you’ve heard his cut verse from ‘Hakuna Matata’. Flik works in the ant colony, paying his dues, though he doesn’t accept without question the prevailing view that not only is an ant’s life one long grind, but that their lot in life is to not only gather food for themselves but for the big, mean grasshopper gang as well – an option not explored by Aesop, I must say. When one day, just before the ‘offering’ to the grasshoppers is made, one of the crazy inventions Flik makes to try to speed up the harvesting process goes awry and knocks the entire feast the colony has prepared into the water that surrounds the ants’ little island. His carelessness makes him the outcast of the society for a while, but when he seizes on the idea of going out into the wider world to seek ‘warrior bugs’ who will fight off the grasshoppers, the elder council see it as either suicide or a very lengthy waste of time – so agree to let him go.

In the ‘city’, Flik does indeed find some big, tough-looking bugs, but what he doesn’t know is that they’re actually circus performers. They think he’s a talent scout, he sees them getting lucky enough to knock out some flies, and there’s a classic misunderstanding. However, once everyone realises the mistake, Flik still tries to cover everything up by devising a plan of his own. Meanwhile, the grasshoppers debate what’s really at the heart of this film – the fact that when a small minority oppress and effectively enslave a larger group, they end up using fear to avoid rebellion, but how long can revolution be held off? It’s a fascinating mirror to historical events, and gives thought-provoking analogies to racial conflicts of the past.

First and foremost, though, of course this is a kids’ comedy about a misunderstanding, revolving around insects. The most memorable element of the film is the collection of insects who make up the circus – personalities made to reflect or invert expectations about how a particular insect is expected to behave. There’s the beautiful butterfly girl, the rather doddery old mantis who plays a mystic, the ladybird who of course wants to be seen as a tough guy, the big fat ridiculous caterpillar and…well, Niles from Frasier in stick insect form. They work brilliantly together, and Pixar stalwart John Ratzenberger does well making his flea ringmaster likeable despite him being the one to not only fire our heroes but inadvertently messes up their more high-minded plots not just once but twice.

Perhaps the biggest problem with this ensemble is that Flik – quite intentionally – looks a lot like all the other ants (four-legged to look less freaky, I assume). Amidst such a cast neither he nor his princess love interest really stick in the mind, and the everyman hero becomes rather forgettable. But at the same time, there’s a point made there about the unremarkable one being able to be brave enough to stand up for himself…though as histories of war unfortunately show us, most invading forces wouldn’t have threatened so much killing and never managed it.

The bad guys are also well-crafted, with Kevin Spaacey having a marvellous time as the lead baddie and his dimwitted brother in the comic foil role is also not so absurd that he irritates. There’s a crazy feral grasshopper, too, who gets one of the best moments in that sadly now-gone institution of early Pixar – the fake blooper reel during the credits. This one may be the best of them all.

A Bug’s Life doesn’t quite have the universality of Toy Story, the emotional wallop of Up, the cuteness of Wall-E or the frenetic energy and beauty of Finding Nemo, but it has so much of each of them that it still comes near the top of any essential-Pixar list. 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

マギ / Magi / Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic (season 1)

So there’s this animation set in a culture different from that of the creators. It’s about a young but very energetic and likeable young boy who’s been trapped alone for a seemingly very long time but has mysterious powers that mark him as a chosen one. He is joined by a girl born with powers of her own but little training and a boy who despite being quite goofy has great promise and learns to be a gifted swordsman. After a while they are joined by a prince from a warlike country with dangerous ambitions to take over the world who at first looks like he is going to be an antagonist, but soon turns out to be a strong ally – who has a large burn mark disfiguring the area of his face around his left eye.

If you think this sounds a lot like Avatar: The Last Airbender, just wait until you get to the scene in the second series where the heroes watch a play based on their lives with hideously inappropriate casting. It definitely feels as though the managaka here may have seen what is presumably a relatively obscure Western animation and taken some key ideas. But it could all be a coincidence. And despite these similarities, they are really on the superficial side, and Magi is a very different kettle of fish. Also going for the epic fantasy, yes, but in a way that is at once more likeable and more ambitious, and I have to say it’s the first action shounen in a very long time that has actually excited me, made me want to find out what happens next and root for its cast. Magi, which I only discovered while in Japan recently, has rapidly developed into one of my very favourite series, and is certainly amongst the cutest things airing at the moment.

It must be noted that though Magi seemed popular in Japan, it was visible more or less only in Ikebukurou, which is of course where the female anime fans hang out and proliferate lots of BL doujinshi. The manga is ostensibly for boys, but it is written by a woman and has a cast with designs that are the prettiest in anything I’ve seen since Dog Days and a cast of eligible bachelors who become very close to one another. And though the main character is a lil’ perv who likes to go for the boobies and his best friend clearly has a crush on the girl he rescued and became his lifelong guardian, and their mentor figure is a total womaniser, let’s be honest – it’s always to one another that they express the strong feelings of compassion, desperation and indeed, outright love. Though why so many people want Judar in their ships, I don’t know. He’s nuts.

I mentioned that there was an exotic setting here, and much as Avatar looks East, Magi looks West, though not to familiar ole Europe. For its inspiration, Magi looks to Arabia, and the 1001 Nights. Thus, the main character is Aladdin, his constant companion is Ali Baba and their protector is King of the Seven Seas, Sinbad the Sailor. Only glimpsed in this season is Scheherezade, which just about exhausts the household names from the famous stories.

Of course, these are only starting points of inspiration, not the basis of the story. In the world of Magi, a fantasy world that has similarities with Arabia, Mongolia, Western China and the surrounding lands, there is a force similar to Final Fantasy VII’s ‘lifestream’ called ‘Rukh’, represented by glowing butterflies. Though many warriors can make use of this force, there are certain ‘beloved of the Rukh’ who can use it indefinitely, called Magi (though pronounced ‘Maggie’, not like the word in English, though that’s what is meant). There have historically only ever been three, but now there comes a fourth, Aladdin. The Magi, in a nod to Christianity, are responsible for seeking out new kings and aiding them to claim the throne, and also for the appearances of ‘dungeons’, areas ruled over by powerful djinn that if defeated grant great wealth and powers. 

Aladdin, with a mysterious past, has emerged from a dungeon with a little golden recorder that can summon a djinn (albeit with his head stuck in the instrument) and a magic carpet that doubles as a turban. Meeting Ali Baba, a streetrat son of a prostitute elevated to royalty in a country in turmoil, the two of them fight injustice and slavery and soon become embroiled in a conflict between Sinbad’s country Sindria and the ‘Organisation’ bent on using the corrupted Rukh of despair to change the course of history to their favour. This will lead the young heroes to face death, despair, corruption, slavery, their own inadequacies and the responsibilities of leadership.

The best thing about Magi is how appealing its central characters are. It balances comedy and drama extremely well, and even dips into SD designs a lot, which is something becoming ever rarer in anime. The characters, good and bad, have their backstories that though often cheesy tend to be compelling and well though-out. And I adore little Aladdin, who is one of those little kids everybody underestimates until they realise he has awesome powers, but who just wants to help everybody and see them all happy. The main thrust of the series is Ali Baba and the troubles his country has on the brink of civil war as a result of a corrupt and inept ruler being manipulated, but Aladdin is the keystone to it all. Sinbad, though at first making me dubious, also turns out to be very entertaining, especially with the assassin-advisor Ja’far at his side (no, not Disney’s Jafar, though possibly an inspiration for a name) as his constant foil. Like so many successful shounen series, it makes the wise decision of having characters seem powerful then introducing a whole slew that make them realise how weak they are, and though there’s a certain amount of suggestion that nothing so far has been even vaguely threatening to Sinbad, how hard the main characters work to improve themselves is very entertaining.

Magi is lovely to look at, tells a good – if basic and unoriginal – story of good against evil and has characters that really appeal to me. For that reason, I loved it and season two is a must-watch. Oh! And I must mention the great music – two great openings by SID and Porno Graffiti and an interesting Supercell ending that sounded like they were trying something new.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Hercules (1997)

Not counting once when it was on in the background around Christmastime, I haven’t seen Hercules since its original theatrical run, since which time it has more or less established itself as one of the group of ‘Disney Renaissance’ films that provided a bit of a latter-day golden era for the studio, although in my opinion it was the beginning of that happy decade petering out, with Mulan and Tarzan rounding out the success story with some weaker works.

But Hercules, which I tend to consider amongst the less impressive of the era’s films, was in every way stronger than I had given it credit for. It’s actually a very solid, likeable and memorable piece, and in every area – story, music, humour, production and performances – it succeeds. It may not have the emotional impact of The Lion King or the outright bizarre genius of Aladdin, but it certainly works, and works well.

Perhaps the best move Disney made with this film was to get Gerald Scarfe in to do the character designs. Scarfe, most famous for bringing to life those wonderful marching hammers and grotesque schoolteachers and judges that are the highlights of the film for Pink Floyd’s The Wall, but is also a very well-known political cartoonist. His strange style can be easily seen in the characters of The Wall, especially the huge pointy noses of the Fates and the little minions Pain and Panic. His aesthetic is darker and more grotesque than most Disney, even when it comes to bad guys, so the way this film stands out somewhat is unsurprising but welcome – and his stamp is certainly on the trip into the Underworld. And his design for Hades, coupled with James Woods’ brilliant fast-talking New Yorker performance, is a triumph.

A fast-talking New Yorker? Yes, indeed, it’s only going to take a few seconds of this film for the Classical Scholar and the layman alike to realise that this film is gleefully full of anachronisms, much like Aladdin is (and never mind silly theories that Aladdin is in fact set in a post-apocalyptic far-future wasteland based on how long the Genie says he’s been in the lamp). In fact, simply the fact that they use the better-known Roman name for Hercules but the Greek names for everyone else probably tipped off most before the film starts filling the screen with references to American Express and a whole lot of soul/gospel music. The take on Greek mythology is somewhat singular – a very faithful father-figure Zeus actually conceives Hercules with Hera, instead of with some mortal woman when disguised as her wife/a swan/some rain. He is made mortal by insidious Hades, who has been told by the Fates that only this new child can ruin his plan to free the imprisoned Titans (elemental monstrosities rather than Cronus and co) and take over Mount Olympus. Well, firstly, it’s fine to muck about with Greek myth – it’s really not as if the Greeks were very consistent themselves, and there are plenty of different versions. And secondly, let’s be honest – this is still Disney, and the old Olympian Gods aren’t that compatible with the family values expected of them.

The voice acting is great, even if Danny de Vito’s predictable turn as Philoctetes – a name chosen, I feel, because it was easily shortened to the recognisable ‘Phil’ – and Rip Torn’s enjoyably warm Zeus are the only big-name celebrities to pick out on the cast list…though the lovely old-school epic opening has Charlton Heston narrating for some authenticity, which was a lovely idea, harking back to not only the big epics but older Disney films with opening narrations. Femme fatale Meg is definitely one of the more complicated and interesting Disney heroines. And the Muses get some of the best lines in their songs, a couple of which – ‘Zero to Hero’ and ‘Go the Distance’ – really stand the test of time. WHO PUT THE HRRK IN HERCULES?

There’s only one thing that holds Hercules back a little from being one of the classics, and that’s…well, Hercules. Both as a kid (with a weird chin) and as an adult, the problem is that he’s just…kinda bland. He has to be the archetypal hero, but that just adds to how uninteresting he is. I root for him, I just…don’t particularly care for him. The result is…a slight hollow feeling. 

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Scanslation release! Psychic Force doujin anthology chapter 4!

Can it be? Yes! After a gap of over three years, I've finally restarted my little scanslation project. I've done other bits and pieces around the net since, but this has always been my pet project I meant to go back to: the official doujinshi collection for the first Psychic Force game.

This fourth chapter is a cute little episode from the lives of the good guys, centred on my favourite character, Emilio. It's a great place to start if you're new to the series, though I also recommend chapter three.

Previous releases can be found here, though I think that their links have likely long expired.

Without further ado, then, here is the release:

Psychic Force Shinseisha Doujinshi Anthology vol. 1 chapter 4: A Reason to Fight. 

Mirror 1: Mediafire
Mirror 2: Speedyshare

Also previous chapters re-uploaded: Chapter 1 (1. 2.), Chapter 2 (1. 2.), Chapter 3 (1. 2.)

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Deadman Wonderland (manga)

There’s only a few manga like this I’m reading – where I started with the manga, then watched the anime adaptation when it came out, and then continued with the manga – but they’re some of my favourites of all time. There’s Fullmetal Alchemist, Rozen Maiden and MÄR, though the latter had a disappointing adaptation. Well, there’s also Death Note and Bakuman, but I never have gotten around to finishing the anime for those.

But Deadman Wonderland was posited a while back as the next big thing, and for a while it was everywhere. But then its anime came out and ended just as it was getting big. OVAs followed, but frankly they were too slow getting a continuation to happen, which may have been down to a delay in the newer chapters materialising – almost coincidental with the ending of the anime, the manga went on hiatus for a good two years, and only recently concluded. Twelve episodes was enough to make a small splash but there was definitely potential to get to a much higher degree of recognition. Alas, it didn’t happen, and as I feared in 2011, the anime will likely never continue, and to see the conclusion, one must read the manga.

But fortunately, that’s exactly what I can do. On the other hand, Deadman Wonderland has never quite been quite as high up in my affections as Rozen Maiden or Fullmetal Alchemist, despite me describing it as a favourite in my review of the anime. When it went on hiatus, it fell out of my regular reading and I never really missed it…and when the final chapters came out, it took me a while to get around to reading them, unlike what happened with Soul Eater. The trouble was that for me, Deadman Wonderland attempted what I described as one of anime’s strengths in my thoughts on Shingeki no Kyojin, but fell a bit short – it started with a truly absurd premise (a themepark prison where for outside entertainment, prisoners take part in games and suffer extremely violent deaths) and then attempted to get very serious and personal. The trouble was that – as was one of my problems with the Harry Potter series – the initial episodes of daft humour, exaggerated cartooniness and plot contrivance were so prominent and memorable that the transition didn’t work. The second part of Deadman Wonderland had its awesome cast functioning outside the context of the Wonderland, but the sheer absurdity that something that ridiculous was allowed to exist in what actually seems a much more grim and normal world never sits well and becomes something of a pink elephant. I just don’t find the last chapter of the characters becoming members of a normal society compatible with the bizarre world we were introduced to where people accept the grotesque entertainment of the theme park-prison. The two elements are just not compatible for me.

Which is a shame, because I really liked the action sequences, the characters – especially Ganta – and the central tension of his relationship with Shiro and the ‘Wretched Egg’. The conclusion of their story, though – which is also the conclusion of the manga in general – feels a bit obvious, though, and rather as if mangakas Kataoka Jinsei and Kondou Kazuma (whose story I already detailed in the anime review) wracked their brains for something clever and ended up with only the obvious conclusion to fall back on. It works, but it feels underwhelming, especially after a hiatus.

Deadman Wonderland was well worth the time I spent on it – but ultimately it feels like an opportunity missed.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Bee and Puppycat

It makes sense. Adventure Time was such a smash hit on the back of its pilot going viral on Youtube, and the fandom became very interested in further works from the creative minds behind the show, so they set up Cartoon Hangover as an online ‘TV show’ as a ‘home for cartoons that are too weird, wild, & crazy for TV!’ What you can read into that is that it’s aimed more directly at the older, internet-savvy crowd of cartoon fans usually also labelled stoners. And not without reason.

While this isn’t the first Cartoon Hangover work I’ve seen – that would be Pen Ward’s other series, Bravest Warrior – that one is ongoing whereas Bee and Puppycat, at least for now, is a single two-part episode of around 10 minutes. You see, the company behind Cartoon Hangover is Frederator Studios, a Nickelodeon partner that basically exists to try to replicate the success of What a Cartoon!, a cartoon pilot vehicle I detailed at length in my impressions of Whoopass Stew! – they have created a string of ‘incubators’ in which creators are given a shot at a hit cartoon. Their first was Oh Yeah! Cartoons, which spawned Fairly Oddparents and My Life as a Teenage Robot, as well as giving Seth McFarlane a start in the business, and later Random! Cartoons saw the inception of Adventure Time, of course back then featuring Penn rather than Finn.

The current slew, Too Cool! Cartoons, is getting the most attention of any, in this age of streaming and worldwide fandoms. And here is where Bee and Puppycat comes in: one of those shorts. Arguably I should watch all 39, but the fact is Bee and Puppycat caught my attention enough that I want to write about it on its own.

Natasha Allegri is a figure who played her cards right in the rise of the Internet’s Adventure Time fandom. As a storyboarder, she put about her designs for the gender-swapped ‘Fionna and Cake’, and the fandom were delighted – especially with the pretty boy versions of Marceline and Princess Bubblegum. Allegri’s designs soon got incorporated into the show itself, much to the delight of the fans, and Allegri herself had made herself known to the public. And thus, it made sense for her to be given a chance for her own cartoon to be put into the ‘incubator’. Step forward Bee and Puppycat.

There’s a lot of Adventure Time here, reflecting Allegri’s work as a character designer – all the characters except perhaps Bee wouldn’t look out of place in an episode. There’s also the same sort of off-centre humour, with people being awkward and saying whatever pops into their heads, doing things in roundabout ways and bizarre riffs on pop culture.

Bee is a bit of a hapless young woman living alone in her apartment but unable to hold down her job. Though her character is in part defined by her ditzy crush on her neighbour Deckard, she is actually one of the most strikingly complex and interesting female lead characters in a cartoon that I can think of. She’s very flawed, her irresponsibility causing problems for herself while at work and for others when she does things like release her umbrella right into someone’s crotch, but in the end she is also caring and likeable and certainly sympathetic. One day, she comes across Puppycat, who definitely looks more like a cat than a puppy despite, we’re led to believe, a dog’s tail. Puppycat helps her find temp work in his strange alternate dimension, though she narrowly avoids incineration by some sort of English-accented administrative ‘Assign Bot’ – voiced by Marina Sirtis, best-known as Deanna Troi. Bee and Puppycat babysit the miserable fish Wallace, who misses his mother and wants a story, but when Puppycat beautifully sings the true story of his life, the hideous monster disguised as Wallace is revealed, and Bee, despite not being able to get her mind around using her sword as a sword, has to come to the rescue. And whatever the outcome, it seems they’ll still be paid.

It’s hallucinogenic and bizarre. It also resonated in particular with me because Puppycat is voiced by the Vocaloid Oliver – that is, the production team apparently bought his program and made him make random noises, which comes out very cute. I’d spent hours looking for decent songs featuring Oliver (eventually only remakes of older Vocaloid songs featuring him partnered with Len appealing to me), and then Puppycat’s Song eclipses everything else Oliver-related in views and…well, has its own very odd beauty. And a brilliant sense of bathos in the telling.

There seems to be a great deal of online demand for more Bee and Puppycat and there are plenty of hints at a wider story, not least of which being Puppycat in the Nanoha / MoeTan etc mascot role. Well, personally I’d very much welcome it.

Additional, 16/10/13: Hmm! Bee and Puppycat, perhaps predictably, has gone to Kickstarter to get funded. The argument is that it can then be done without network interference and bring something new with the female-created but not-for-small-children angle that otherwise won’t get through in pure form. It’s probably more because this way will get them a lot more money for less concessions. But still, it’s clearly working – someone has already snapped up the perks for the $10,000 pledge. Looks like we’re gonna get a whole Bee and Puppycat series to watch, and not in the too-distant future.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

ダンガンロンパ / Danganronpa / Bullet Rebuttal / Danganronpa: The Animation

I really thought I’d made my mind up about Danganronpa halfway through. I had even started mentally preparing what I’d write in this opening paragraph. Not my sort of thing, I’d say – silly designs and torture porn in an anime adaptation of a game that is little more than a melting pot of previously-used ideas. I’d put it with Angel Beats and Higurashi in the pile of ‘cutesy yet violent and largely brainless anime-of-the-week flash-in-the-pans that don’t last long’.

Yet, dammit, just towards the end, once it dropped the formula that had defined it for the first handful of episodes, it finally began to grow on me.

It’s definitely true that Danganronpa isn’t the most original of shows. Basically, it takes the old Battle Royale fixation with kids being forced to murder one another (see also: The Hunger Games), plus the grinning cutesy-yet-creepy mascot that presides over the dwindling cast of Bokurano, then overlays the ridiculous character designs of something very silly like Macademi Wasshoi and packages it into a game that is pretty obviously supposed to be the PSP’s answer to Phoenix Wright.

Thus, we have fifteen highly exaggerated high school kids waking up inside the very prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy. One is a muscle-bound schoolgirl so manly she puts anything in Stephen Chow’s CJ7 to shame; another is a blatant little trap with genius computer skills. One has a yankii pompadour that almost rivals anything in Shaman King, and another has a second personality – a ridiculous serial killer with a long waggling tongue and obsession with scissors. It’s incredibly dumb, but has its charm. In this company, pretty-faced, rather weedy everyman Naegi believes his only ‘super-high-school level’ skill is luck, but he soon turns out to be the detective of the piece – and the bringer of ‘hope’ to counter ‘despair’.

Why despair? Well, strange little psychotic mascot Monokuma – a cuddly bear with a normal, white-coloured side, and an evil, grinning black-coloured side – explains why. They are trapped in the school, and to get out, a student has to murder another student and not be found guilty of the killing by the rest. Despite all the kids declaring none of them will try anything funny, by the morning one of their number has been stabbed, and it’s up to Naegi to sort out the truth from the lies.

These first few episodes were a struggle, I found. The distorted characters did nothing for me, especially knowing they’d likely be dead soon enough. The fact that not only was there a blood-soaked scene, but the punishment for one found guilty was an over-the-top execution sequence conducted by Monobear in odd cutout-style animation ended up being the lamest kind of torture porn that I found very tiresome – and really found myself shaking my head over when one episode had to resort to the execution of a laptop to squeeze the stylised sequence in, as if that were a great emotional moment. Monokuma’s antics were entertaining but I’d seen it all before, and the formula really did nothing for me. Plus the more interesting characters seemed to get killed off far too soon, leaving an increasingly boring crowd.

Fortunately, things do change for the final act – there are considerably more survivors than might have been expected given the set-up, and the increasingly absurd wider reasons for the scenario are slowly revealed. With characters no longer dropping like flies two or three at a time, a bit more development could take place, and the deepening mystery of Kirigiri and the principal adds some grey tones to an otherwise very ordinary mystery. Naegi was a bit flimsy, but his design did appeal to me and I wanted to see him come through it all.

But I must admit it’s possible I would have let Danganronpa fall by the wayside if not for visiting Japan this summer. Apart from Attack on Titan and Free!, and excepting the omnipresent One Piece, Danganronpa was the most heavily-promoted show of the season. Monokuma and the sequel’s pink bunny-based counterpart Usami were everywhere, from UFO machines to T-shirts, and both the Good Smile Café and Namja Town had themed themselves after the show. With the series so popular and a few friends heavily into the series, I kept up with it, and while I put off episode 13 for a little while, it has still only been days since it became available, rather than weeks.

For all its flaws and its undeniable lack of originality, Danganronpa was light, frothy and stupid enough to be an enjoyable watch for 13 episodes. I can’t say I wanted to like it, but unlike Angel Beats or Higurashi, in the end I did enjoy myself. 

The studio animating Danganronpa was Lerche, which while listed as a subsidiary of Hibari would appear to be their major outlet now, and the name will also be attached to upcoming probable-hit Unbreakable Machine-Doll

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Though at the time a surprising flop, not least because critics were even then trying to treat Carroll’s work as haughtily sophisticated rather than as accessible children’s books, Alice in Wonderland is something of a keystone of the original Walt Disney studio. Disney’s first big break was based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as after the very young animator’s first, chiefly local, project Newman Laugh-o-Grams caused his first animation company to collapse under its own weight, he took the last of their works – a never-screened live-action/animation mix called Alice’s Wonderland – and set off for Hollywood. On the strength of this reel, he got funding from Winkler Pictures, and so began the Alice Comedies…and with them, Disney Bros. Studios, soon to become Walt Disney Studios. Without Alice, it’s quite possible there would be no Disney.

So unsurprisingly, Disney pushed to make an Alice feature, initially imagining the same sort of live action/animation mix. The timing was never right, though – when their first feature was being developed, a live-action version of Alice’s Adventures was being made, so they went with Snow White instead, and that changed the world. After Mickey Mouse had an Alice-themed adventure, work continued throughout the 30s and 40s on Alice, but scripts were too dark or too literal (even from a legend like Aldous Huxley) and with war already making things tough with extant productions, the project was only realised in 1951.

Rewatching Alice, I realised that my memory had been unkind to it, and it is actually a much better, more technically accomplished and far more enjoyable adaptation than I remembered. Despite contemporary cries of an ‘Americanization’, this is a very English production, with only key Disney voice acting stalwarts really standing out as American, which is a long way from cute American King Arthur in The Sword in the Stone, and a remarkable number of regional British accents to be heard – this re-watch was certainly the first time I noticed Tweedledum and Tweedledee were from Lancashire. Burnley, in fact. And though the film picks and chooses from the two Alice books, looking at extra features and art books, one soon learns that sequences with the Duchess, the White Knight and even the Jabberwocky were toyed with but ultimately didn’t make the cut.

Why was my memory unkind, then? Well, I took issue with the plotlessness, the lack of variety and the sometimes ugly redesigns. But while plotless, the episodes flow neatly and contrast well, there’s a change of pace as Alice loses hope that actually would have been just what the film’s pacing needed if not coming after a rather redundant bit about various different weird bird-creatures. As for ugliness, really it’s just the Cheshire Cat I think was a bit of a mis-fire, as well as those irritating singing flowers – and I really don’t see how they got through the auditing process while the Duchess was cut.

There’s also that ending – the one that you really can’t get away with any more – but it’s part of the nature of the piece, and was at least somewhat more original when Mr. Dodgson did it.

The fact is that Disney were in their prime at this point. They had made several classics, and honed their craft. Ub Iwerks was back at the studio and the Nine Old Men were having the time of their lives – just look at Frank Thomas’ work on the Queen of Hearts. The film’s surreal content allows for great technical sequences, from Alice’s extended fall down the rabbithole to the simple ways of making Alice look vast when she’s inside the White Rabbit’s house, and especially the scenes with all the card soldiers. Though occasionally some animation is overwrought and distracting – particularly with the March Hare – nobody in the world could achieve what Disney were achieving in 1951 and animation of this quality has been very rare since.

The cast is also stellar. There are the aforementioned Disney stalwarts with their American accents – Sterling Holloway (Ka, Pooh) as the Cheshire Cat, Jimmy McDonald (Chip, the second actor for Mickey Mouse) as the Dormouse, Verna Felton (The Fairy Godmother, Mrs. Jumbo) as the Queen of Hearts, Bill Thompson (Mr. Smee, Jock – and in Tex Avery cartoons, the original Droopy) as the White Rabbit and even Mel Blanc doing cat noises (uncredited). But English actors are equally prominent, with frequent Disney bit-part actor J.Pat O’Malley doing all the roles for the deeply distressing Walrus and Carpenter segment, Richard Haydn doing one of the best ever cameo roles in animation with his turn as the Caterpillar and of course the main character, Alice, charmingly played by Kathryn Beaumont, who is remarkably still voicing Alice in the Kingdom Hearts games (and Wendy) over 60 years later. Disney himself reportedly thought the film underperformed because they didn’t give Alice enough ‘heart’, but that has little to do with the expressive and likeable central little girl.

And let us not forget the legend that is Ed Wynn, doing his ‘Perfect Fool’ voice as the Mad Hatter. I hadn’t realised until I rewatched just how close the king in Wreck-it Ralph is to this performance, or indeed the Choose Goose in Adventure Time or Thanatos in Kid Icarus. There’s a vocal performance that has really become legendary – to the extent it’s now archetypal.

There’s an odd decision to make the songs very in-character and very short, though. As such, they lose universality. 

Only with the rise of psychedelia did the film become rehabilitated, unsurprisingly given 60s drug culture. And it is harmed somewhat by its lack of a central quest, or real lessons learned, or any kind of triumph. But it’s a celebration of nonsense and whimsy – and even if there are numerous academic reasons not to be all that impressed by Alice, it remains a whole lot of fun. 

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

げんしけん二代目/ Genshiken Nidaime / Genshiken the Second / Genshiken Second Generation

What a long way Genshiken has come since I started watching it eight years ago. I doubt many of the fans it picked up back in those early days would have expected the 2013 season to be quite like this – a very long way away from the video game tournaments, pornographic doujinshi and figure-collecting of the male-dominated first season and heavily into fujoshi and trap culture for the third. Of course, since Ogiue came on the scene, the comedy involving BL/yaoi was in place, but the Genshiken itself with the addition of a whole slew of rotten women became very female-centric.

This is a good example of why sometimes even as a manga reader it’s a good idea to watch the anime adaptation, especially if there’s a good couple of years between reading the chapter and watching it played out on the TV. The second generation – introduced in chapters several months apart at first – didn’t really resonate with me at all in the manga, as I said in my review of the first seasons. Yoshitake I found lacking in character, Mirei grumpy and uninteresting and Hato, who soon becomes the focus as a real-life trap character – and fudanshi to boot – I found quite sweet but too defined by that one facet, with little indication of the actual personality beneath.

Well, the anime restarting brought those characters to life again, really – and sent me back to catch up with the manga, where I was soon finding Yoshitake absolutely hilarious with her mischievous plans and perversion, Mirei very relatable with her constant bewilderment and brilliant tsukomi moments, and Hato…well, Hato by turns tragic and deeply enviable, most likeable as a boy but still the same character when dressed up as a girl, and with many laughs arising from his admittedly complex and painful situation. 

Then of course there was the wider cast – Sue being mad as ever with her random quotes (kudos to the manga translators for getting all the references), Madarame now all grown up and having to face reality – at least somewhat – Ohno trying to shut out reality and getting herself into a deeper mess and Ogiue now not only a professional mangaka but the voice of reason. They’ve grown up, and it’s lovely. And I’m even looking forward to the third generation, with Yoshitake’s reverse-trap shota-loving sister looking to bring a whole lot more laughs.

Going over to Production I.G. for this new season – presumably the relatively cheap leftovers from whoever is doing the Titans anime – the animation remains functional but is very pretty and the odd character designs really shine through, no longer seeming occasionally disjointed, even when there are characters with dots or fried eggs for eyes. 

The new characters are utterly perfectly cast, and I love that not only do the references from the manga make it (Madoka cosplays!), I.G. add a few of their own, including the rather self-deprecating scene of Kuchiki doing the deviant Titan’s run that I pointed out in my review of Shingeki no Kyojin was so absurd…but has certainly made a big impact. I was sceptical in general about the last episode, which was an anime original hot springs trip – kinda understandable they didn’t want the next sequential chapter, being an extended gag about a misunderstanding over a buttplug – but that scene was well worth it, and they deepened Hato’s dilemma quite neatly without shutting the door on what happens next in the manga.

Nidaime is really Hato’s anime, and since I’m a sucker for traps and reverse traps, that was always going to appeal to me. There’s a deft mixture of the melancholy of Hourou Musuko and the hilarious misunderstandings of Minami-ke in the treatment of gender-bending, and as the series points out with a visual novel, traps remain a big trend in Japanese culture just now. It’s respectable that Genshiken tries to cover that, as well as the ambivalence over sexuality that comes with it, and Hato is so gentle and awkward that I really rooted for him. 

I do wonder how much of the anime audience, especially in the West, is on the same page, though, as after all this is a long way from Genshiken’s roots, and from most other comedies around it.

If Genshiken has closed itself off to some, though, it is their loss, for it remains a brilliant drama and one of the funniest shows currently airing. It is also genuinely very funny, and as soon as I finished it all I wanted to do was catch up on the manga again. I know I can’t recommend it to everyone, but honestly, I rather wish that I could. 

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

進撃の巨人 / Shingeki no Kyojin / The Advancing Giants / Attack on Titan

When they announced the Shingeki no Kyojin anime, my first thought was nah, that’ll never look right. I wasn’t a manga reader – no hipster points for me there – but Titans got mentioned quite a bit before the anime, so I’d seen the distinctive art style. Based on that, I thought that the uncanny way of making the Titans look odd by drawing their faces in a jarringly realistic – yet ugly – way that derives from traditions of horror manga simply wouldn’t translate well to the screen. Anime after all by necessity simplifies manga designs, and having recently finished MÄR, my impressions on that front were not favourable.

But I was being premature in coming to this conclusion – which struck me when I saw that animation was being taken care of by Production I.G., who since Stand Alone Complex and especially with Seirei no Moribito have impressed me by putting out some of the most amazing animation ever seen in weekly production. Strictly speaking, the animation studio is Wit, but unless I.G. later decide on a complete transformation, Wit is basically a subdivision of that studio incorporating a merger with a manga publisher. And I.G. once again have pulled out the stops and made something fluid, beautiful and highly distinctive. And any fears those creepy faces wouldn’t translate well? Dispelled within instants, as the high level of detailing made them just as uncanny to look at in animated form. That said, the one famous sequence of a Titan doing a silly run down a street and kicking an unfortunate human away was so terrible that it has been correctly ridiculed, and really should have been re-done.

What, then, has made Titans the smash hit of the season, the next big thing in anime all over the world and certain to have a continuation within the next few seasons? Well, in my view it has done that unique thing that anime does so well – started with a stupid, exaggerated, crazy premise and then developed it so far, so sincerely and with such earnest characters that it forces you to ultimately take it seriously.

Attack on Titan managed to simultaneously stand out as something quite strange and different in anime and recall many familiar tropes. Of course, giants – and giant robots – are nothing new in anime. Nor are they unusual in wider media – the Jack the Giant Killer film only recently attempted to revive the old fairy tale. But Attack on Titan draws on old mythology to create a tense, Germanic world where humanity exists in tenuous safety from giants (as one fansub group insisted on pointing out, more accurately Ettin / Eoten / Jötunn than the Titans of Greek Myth, being lumbering, man-eating monsters) behind huge walls. There is a direct link here with the mythology of giants being kept outside huge walls, as can be seen in a browse of the complex mythology of Gog and Magog in Abrahamic religions, especially when conflated with Gogmagog. But these are not common elements in anime, and what Titans did so well was to meld the old stories – primarily the Norse myths – with a dark, early steam-age Germanic setting and distinctly anime high-action combat scenes. The result is a strange but instantly recognisable setting with weird but familiar monsters that functions as a remarkable set of allegories – reportedly, youths in Hong Kong have even found it resonates with their fear of their closed community being invaded by monolithic Mainland China.

Why it works, though, is that the human element is not forgotten. The story opens in a prologue to the main action, where our main character Eren Jaeger is given reason to truly hate the Titans. With his childhood friends – delicate but highly intelligent Armin and fiercely protective and highly capable only-half-Asian-in-the-known-world Mikasa, he goes through a terrible ordeal, but it is one that shapes the course of the rest of their lives. Once old enough (yes, sadly their cute kiddy designs are left behind, leaving me similar regrets to Tales of Graces), they join the ‘survey corps’ and begin to train to fight the Titans. But a series of strange memories marks Eren as something special, and he brings a unique weapon to humanity’s arsenal. No sooner is it revealed, though, than it becomes obvious he is not alone in it, and the abnormal Titans who don’t act like dumb animals may have their own secrets, too – but how is Eren involved? What did his father do to him?

The pace is slow, overall. In terms of the greater story, not a whole lot actually happened in the 25 episodes of this season. A lot of major battles took place, and many lives were lost, but generally the show was good at putting distractions in the way of the pursuit of the real plot. Eren knows that he needs to investigate the basement of his old home, but difficult training, invasions, trials, an enemy with the same power as him and long scenes of internal conflict mean that we really need another few seasons to actually get anywhere. Luckily, unlike what happened with possibly the show’s closest kin in terms of mood and aesthetic, Claymore, it’s certain that this adaptation has been successful enough to warrant a continuation – and soon.

Plus, as seen in a recent trip to Japan, the show is very easy to provide merchandise for, because it happily bridges serious and daft. You can have fearsome realistic busts and cutesy, silly Colossal Titan Nendoroids. I enjoyed a coffee mug that as you drink reveals the Colossal Titan peering over the wall at you, and a T-shirt with his face printed inside so that you can pull the whole thing up over your head to have his face there. The Body Worlds-inspired fleshy aesthetic of the enemy Titans is instantly recognisable, as are some of the weirder normal Titans. And the series also easily tapped the fangirl market, with shelves and shelves of yaoi already available over there – though I have to say this whole Levi x Eren thing is a bit…unlikely to me (maybe I identify too much with Eren), and I’m sad pretty lil’ Armin seems to be mostly ignored there! C’mon EruAru!

Titans didn’t do everything right, but what it did was so compelling and entertaining that I was happily swept along.