God Is Dead and Men Are Pigs: The ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’ Rewatch, Part 1

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The bird is fighting its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Whoever wishes to be born must destroy a world. The bird is flying to God. The god is named Abraxas.

—Herman Hesse, Demian

Revolutionary Girl Utena, episode 1: “The Rose Bride.” Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. Character designs by Chiho Saito. Be-Papas, 1997 (Nozomi Entertainment, 2011). Approx. 24 minutes. Rated “16+.”

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Anime fans can have short memories. It is to be expected: shows come out, have a brief run, and then go away. Unless a fan snatches up a hard copy during the often short window of its printing, it disappears off the market or its cost rockets up to a collector’s price. Older stuff is on laserdisc or VHS and nigh inaccessible unless there is a re-release.

Probably for that reason, 2011’s Puella Magi Madoka Magica gets credit from a lot of fans for its “deconstructive” character, and they call it the “Neon Genesis Evangelion of magical girl anime.” But there is an earlier title I believe is more deserving of that honor, a title closer to Evangelion in time and theme, and which also had some of the same staff. That show is Revolutionary Girl Utena, brainchild of Kunihiko Ikuhara, who had previously been one of the most important directors to work on Sailor MoonUtena is, in spite of a decidedly uneven presentation and the hampering of a shoestring budget, easily one of the greatest anime of all time.  For reasons I’ll defend later, I daresay it out-Evangelions even Evangelion. Continue reading “God Is Dead and Men Are Pigs: The ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’ Rewatch, Part 1”

‘Magical Girl Raising Project,’ Episode 2

Magical Girl Raising Project. Episode 2, “Collect Magical Candies!” It’s so new I’m not even sure who’s making it. 24 minutes. Not rated. Available on Crunchyroll.

I’ve decided after reading the audience comments on Crunchy that I’m going to say spoiler warning, but seriously, if the end of this episode surprises you, you’re not paying attention.

I wrote my preliminary thoughts about the new, ongoing series Magical Girl Raising Project over here after seeing episode 1. The show’s synopsis on Crunchyroll promises a magical girl death battle. However, the first episode, after its initial glimpse of blood and gore, is pretty tame, and this second episode is surprisingly low-key as well. It gives the impression that, instead of revelling in violence from the get-go, it’s planning to build gradually and then, in the final episode, go full Battle Royale.

Never go full Battle Royale. Continue reading “‘Magical Girl Raising Project,’ Episode 2”

‘Magical Girl Raising Project’: It’s Another One of THOSE Shows

Here we go again!

Magical Girl Raising Project, episode 1: “Welcome to a World of Dreams and Magic.” Genco, Studio Lerche. Available on Crunchyroll.

In my naïveté, I wanted to believe that the magical girl genre’s Goth phase, begun in 2011 by Puella Magi Madoka Magicahad come to an end with Yuki Yuna Is a Hero, which I discussed here.  Yuki Yuna replies to Madoka by giving it the finger, an audacious move that earned my admiration.

And, after all, the last few years after Yuki Yuna have seen titles like Wish Upon the Pleiades and Nurse Witch Komugi R, not all of which are good or likeable or decent, but which at least suggest that creators in the genre are looking back to a previous era when magical girls were about love and hope rather than about dying in a pool of blood after having been tricked by an amoral power. Perhaps, I told myself, the Day Break Illusions are behind us. Continue reading “‘Magical Girl Raising Project’: It’s Another One of THOSE Shows”

Adolescence as Bodily Invasion: A Review of ‘Alien Nine’

Alien Nine, story and art by Hitoshi Tomizawa. CPM Manga, 1999. 3 volumes. Rated Age 16+.

Alien Nine is that deceptive kind of manga I like, the kind that starts out looking cute and then grows darker and grimmer. Although its premise suggests a target audience of children and it has a simple and cutesy style, this actually appeared in a seinen magazine, that is, one for adult men. Originally running from 1998 to 1999 and filling three volumes, it in 2003 saw a one-volume sequel, Alien Nine: Emulators. There is also a four-episode OVA adaptation. The OVA only managed to cover half the story before it ran out of money, but is nonetheless a cult classic.

This is such a common trick that I'm surprised anyone is surprised anymore.
This is such a common trick that I’m surprised anyone is surprised anymore.

The story revolves around three twelve-year-old girls obliged to protect their elementary school from hordes of goofy little aliens by trapping those aliens and then maintaining them in a vast zoo (or prison) on the school grounds. After introducing this absurd premise, Alien Nine grows steadily more gruesome and violent as the aliens grow more dangerous, until it descends into angst and body horror. By depicting creature-catching as less than it’s cracked up to be, it may be considered a subversion or deconstruction—or whatever the kids are calling it these days—of Pokémon and similar brands.

Continue reading “Adolescence as Bodily Invasion: A Review of ‘Alien Nine’”

Anime Review: ‘Yuki Yuna Is a Hero’

This was originally posted in slightly different form on a different site in 2014.

Who deconstructs the deconstructionists?

Yuki Yuna Is a Hero. Directed by Kishi Seiji. Starring Haruka Terui, Juri Nagatsuma, and Suzuko Mimori. Studio Gokumi, 2014. Twelve episodes of 24 minutes (approx. 290 minutes). Unrated. Available online.

I am a confessed heroine addict, and thus I sometimes watch mahou shoujo, that peculiarly Japanese genre of fantasy translated as “magical girl.” I have just finished watching the recently completed twelve-part magical girl series Yuki Yuna Is a Hero, a mostly amusing but sometimes frustrating exercise in audience chain-yanking. Though it is a competent story in its own right, it can’t be fully appreciated without a general knowledge of what’s been happening in the magical girl genre of late, most especially 2011’s Puella Magi Madoka Magica, with which Yuki Yuna is in dialogue, so bear with me.  It is also impossible to give more than a cursory discussion of either Puella Magi Madoka Magica or Yuki Yuna Is a Hero without spoilers, so be warned: spoilers lie ahead. Continue reading “Anime Review: ‘Yuki Yuna Is a Hero’”

Anime Review: ‘Sasami: Magical Girls Club’

Sasami: Magical Girls Club. Directed by Takamoto Nobuhiro. Starring Mana Ogawa, Himeko Shimura, and Momoko Hatano. AIC Spirits Work Collaboration: BeSTACK. English language version by FUNimation. 26 episodes (approx. 640 minutes). Rated TV-PG.

What a weird little anime.

Where to start? The highly successful Tenchi Muyo! franchise is one of the best-known of the so-called “harem comedies” that came out of the 1990s; in fact, some consider it the original harem comedy (though it is not strictly speaking the earliest), or at least the codifier of the genre’s conventions. The franchise includes manga, light novels, OVA series, television shows, audio dramas, and probably other stuff, most of which are independent of one another. Because its history is convoluted and there isn’t really a central “canon,” trying to get a handle on Tenchi Muyo! is decidedly confusing.

I am not deeply knowledgeable of the Tenchi Muyo! franchise, but near as I can tell, it began with an OVA series that appeared in 1992 (OVA means straight to video, which doesn’t have the stigma in Japan that it has in the U.S.). Additional OVAs followed on its heels, with a fourth slated to appear later in 2016. I’m pretty sure I’ve watched the first OVA in the FUNimation dub: it’s awesomesauce for six episodes, featuring lightsaber duels, space battles, humongous mecha, miniature black holes, pocket universes, and explosions.

But after that, it settles down into harem mode, and then it pretty much sucks. Continue reading “Anime Review: ‘Sasami: Magical Girls Club’”

Manga Review: ‘Alice 19th’

Alice 19th. Story and art by Yuu Watase. Viz Media, 2003. 7 vols. Rated T+ for older teen.

Yuu (or Yû, or Yu) Watase is a prolific and influential creator of shoujo (girls’) manga whose work, according to her Wikipedia page, fills over eighty volumes. She has explored a few different genres, primarily focusing on teen rom-coms and historical fantasy. She’s best known for her bodice-ripping, wuxia-inspired reverse harem sword-and-sorcery epic Fushigi Yugi, which broke the mold of the schoolgirl-gets-sucked-into-an-alternate-universe brand of Japanese pop fantasy. It’s a gigantic stew of melodrama, overwrought dialogue, lush costuming, hawt bishie boys, dippy romance, rape, martial arts battles, naked chicks, gay jokes, and rape.

How should I characterize Watase-sensei’s work? Remember the old days before Tivo when people used to channel-surf: you’d be flipping through the channels looking for something to watch, and for a brief moment you’d land upon the Lifetime Network, which was “television for women.” And it was always some guy beating the hell out of a woman. Every. Single. Time.

Reading Yuu Watase is sort of like that. Continue reading “Manga Review: ‘Alice 19th’”

Yotsuba&! Volume 13

Yotsuba&!, volume 13, by Kiyohiko Azuma. Translated by Stephen Paul. Yen Press (New York): 2016.

I have on my shelf a twelve-volume set of Kiyohiko’s instant classic Yotsuba&!, right underneath my twelve-volume set of Sailor Moon. The twelfth volume had ended in 2013 on a more-or-less satisfactory note, and no more volumes came out for about three years, so I simply assumed the series was over.

I am happy to be wrong. The thirteenth volume appeared in Japan in November of 2015 and in America in May of 2016. Continue reading “Yotsuba&! Volume 13”

Magical Girl Dress-Up Games

Good grief, these things actually exist. What can’t you find on the internet?

While the rest of you are playing with your little Pokey Mans, or whatever they’re called, I’m over here designing magical girl outfits like a boss.  Yes, this is what I call a truly immersive video game experience.

Okay, not really, but at least these games aren’t encouraging me to trespass, walk into traffic, get mugged in back alleys, or give away all my Google account information.

So, in honor of dumb but addictive video games, I here present all the free online magical girl dress-up games that I was able to find just now. These games are pretty much like those old paper dolls your grandma used to play with, except now on the computer, and with magical girls. Such games prove, among other things, that I have no fashion sense. And also that I have too much time on my hands.

To test these games’ versatility, I decided my goal with each would be to get the character to look as much as possible like Pretty Dynamo. Let’s see how close I can get. Continue reading “Magical Girl Dress-Up Games”

Review: Sailor Moon: Crystal, Season 3 Episode 7

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: Crystal, Episode 33, “Three Guardians.” Toei Animation, May 2016. Approx. 24 minutes. Available on Crunchyroll.

I think I missed an episode in here somewhere. Hm.

Anyway, in this episode, the pace picks up as the story heads toward its climax. The three outer scouts, Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto, finally explain what they’re doing, though by this time the audience already knows: they were reborn on Earth for the purpose of taking down the Death Busters from the Tau Star System, who invaded Earth through a rift in space-time. Same thing most of us do on weekends. Continue reading “Review: Sailor Moon: Crystal, Season 3 Episode 7”