The end goal of any traditional story of good versus evil is to battle to a point at which good has triumphed and evil has been defeated. The setting returns to or discovers a comparably peaceful status. From there, it can be assumed that peace will persist for as long as it can after the curtain has closed.
But what happens when a story paints that perpetual conflict between good and evil not as a disturbance or ongoing plague, but as the goal? Furthermore, what if a story progressively affirms it to be preferable to another, worse turn of events. While it may not be clear at first, Bungo Stray Dogs is the very thesis of this notion.
On the surface, this show is about the conflict between the simply named Armed Detective Agency and the Port Mafia, set in modern-day Yokohama, Japan. Every main character is named after and based on a popular author or poet, each possessing supernatural abilities based on their works.
Beyond the first season, the story evolves slowly into something far grander in such a way you might not notice it. It’s the kind of stylish show that could be unfairly criticized as lacking, narratively. My purpose in writing this is to parse the purpose of a story that I consider to be the very essence of character-driven storytelling.
International Women’s Day was this past Sunday and ever since my hiatus I have been excited to take the opportunity to praise some of my favorite female characters. Whether they be relatable, funny, awe-inspiring, or simply badass, anime has given us so many iconic female characters there’s bound to be a few gals in every anime fan’s list of favorites.
About three years ago, I ranked the five hottest anime dudes I’d seen, based solely on sexual reasons. As I am not straight, the same can’t be said for this list. I would have called it “anime women who almost turned me bi,” but that wasn’t necessarily accurate either. Regardless, the important thing about any ranking of characters be that the writing produces a character worth giving a shit about, regardless of attractiveness… still though these women are fucking gorgeous.
While not necessarily in vogue among anime critics lately, it isn’t hard to find rankings of very specific subjects within the community. “Top 10 Strongest Anime Characters”, “Top Ten Anime Villains”, “Top Ten Anime Couples”, etc. And of course, who could forget the perpetually memed “Top Ten Anime Betrayals,” which I don’t think I’ve ever seen created unironically.
However, while overdone, it has never felt like the kind of thing that anime critics do begrudgingly out of some unspoken tax as per the job. After all, anime has a lot of cool shit and fights are no exception. It’s only obligatory so far as such a thing is relatively easy to create and an ample excuse to ramble about things we like. That’s half the reason people like me become critics anyway.
So in no particular ranked order, here are a few my favorite anime fight scenes.
Devilman Crybaby wasn’t my favorite show. In fact, about a year after its release, I was surprised to find that I gave it a 6/10 on MyAnimeList.net. I must have been somewhat underwhelmed upon finishing it. After all, I wouldn’t call it a show with an incredibly satisfying ending. But it was an ending appropriate of the source material it was adapting.
Go Nagai’s Devilman taps into the darkest reaches of the human condition and juxtaposes it with the horrors of demonic monstrosities. The story tells of the end of days; the brutal end to an imperfect race consumed by sin, depravity, and hatred. Masaaki Yuasa’s vision of the story modernized the doom and gloom, creating a unique series with far more of an international appeal than many anime.
It had issues, to be sure. The abundance of Engrish lessened the impact of big narrative moments and certain characterizations paled in comparison to previous adaptations. The animation – while lively – could be laughable at times, teamed with some inconsistent artwork that I could take or leave. Despite all that though, I think I was too harsh on this series. I came to that conclusion when I reflected on one scene which has stuck with me to this day.
It says a lot when I can fall in love with a director after just one of their works. Rie Matsumoto stole mine and many others’ hearts after season one of Blood Blockade Battlefront. While at times her chaotic direction could produce scenes difficult to parse, I defend that she has a way of conducting a narrative unforgettably.
I’d always heard that there was one other show that she directed but I never got around to watching it. One day while walking through a movie store, I found a copy of a series that immediately caught my eye. Something about the art and its dynamic composition spoke to me and I thought it looked familiar. Sure enough, when I looked it up on my phone, there she was.
Kyousougiga, a Toho Animation series directed by Rie Matsumoto. Just recently I took the time to dive into it and get a sense of what an original work of hers looks like. Additionally, today I want to look at Matsumoto’s career past and present to get a better sense of her style and where she comes from.
When you take an established property with a certain level of fame in the cultural gestalt and try to do it again, you are asking for criticism. Remakes have these nasty labels attached to them because in principal a worthwhile piece of art should be able to stand on its own. Why remake something when the old work still exists?
Apart from being a cash-grab, maybe to update art that is arguably out of date and hasn’t aged well. Better yet, perhaps the remake signifies an intention to take a work in another direction to use the original’s framing device in a new innovative way. Either way, it’s easy to divide people over a new vision. Too close to the original and it seems pointless, but too different and it could be seen as a betrayal.
But what happens when the same mind behind the original comes back to remake his work, albeit with new help? Hideaki Anno’s classic Neon Genesis Evangelion certainly gained fame over the years despite how infamous it was at the time. The psychological drama fueled by Anno’s anguish made it legendary and yet Anno felt there was more to be done.
Anno split off from Gainax and together with his underling, Kazuya Tsurumaki, he decided to “rebuild” Evangelion. These films have been praised and lambasted in equal measure over the years. Most often people find an issue with the lack of thoughtful psychological pathos that made NGE‘s characters so real despite the premise. You can find plenty who will praise the visuals of the rebuilds, but many who will argue it doesn’t make up for what is lost.
But is there nothing here of value? Are these films not without some quality that is superior to the originals? I like to think that isn’t the case and after finally watching them recently, I think there are plenty of reasons to fall in love with these films. With the fourth and presumably final film coming in 2020, now is the perfect time to ask, what did the rebuilds get right?
Some months back I went on a whole tirade about finding my “perfect” anime and ended up determining my three favorite shows of all time. One of them was Kekkai Sensen, an episodic action series by Studio Bones, which remains to be the closest to perfection I have found. However, when making that decision, I had a significantly difficult time picking between that and one other show: Bungo Stray Dogs.
Bungo Stray Dogs follows the Armed Detective Agency, a group of superhuman detectives who keep order in the port city of Yokohama. Meanwhile, they frequently face off against other supernatural organizations such as the aptly named Port Mafia. All major characters are named and based on real literary authors.
They are somewhat similar in premise. Both shows follow a team of sometimes serious, sometimes whacky superhumans keeping the peace in their respective towns. Kekkai Sensen captures the packed insanity of New York City while throwing in aliens and monsters. Bungo favors a more comparably peaceful and modern Yokohama. Both shows are episodic with a through-line narrative, both straddle the line between dramatic and comedic and they are both produced by Bones.
Eventually, it was no contest that Kekkai Sensen won the battle for being a bit more put-together throughout, whereas BSD was mixed in the first season. It helps that the former has the single greatest season finale I’ve ever witnessed, putting at least the first season comfortably among my top three.
That being said, Bungo Stray Dogs rides much the same line that Kekkai Sensen treads in winning over my heart and could easily make my top 10. It has managed to continue strong, with a feature film and a currently-airing third season. Six episodes in, it doesn’t seem to be losing stride.
So apparently I never shared a video that I made last year on YouTube. Or maybe I did and it was within another post. Either way, I’m sharing it now. I was taking a culture course to prepare me for my trip to Japan (where I currently am). It was the same course for which I wrote my review of Your Name (which oddly enough, I did share here). The story goes, I was asked to make a video about my host culture. Being a weeb, I decided to make a video about sakuga, as it is something I am deeply passionate about. Check it out below.
Ghost in the Shell (GITS for short), the acclaimed manga by Shirow Masamune, portrays a future Japan after a third and fourth world war that has advanced prosthesis to the point that full-body cyborgs exist. The series has existed in animated form ever since the classic from 1995 by Mamoru Oshii and each new entry has taken a different approach to utilize this world to talk about philosophy and ethics through the lens of a post-singularity world. There is one entry, however, that has been glossed over in the past, but which I believe to be criminally underrated.
This is my unedited essay on Ghost in the Shell: Innocence. This will contain spoilers for the film, so read at your own peril. If you would like the SPOILER-FREE review, click here.
The “best” anime of all time is different for everyone. Across all media, in fact, you would be hard pressed to find a unanimously agreed upon “best” thing, outside of the agreements found within one’s own tight-knit group. Even then, there will be differences in taste.
“It’s all subjective,” is the point I’m trying to get across, but perfection doesn’t have to be dismissed in critique just because it’s improbable. If the perfect anime is different for everyone, and no consensus can be reached, then perfection is purely personal taste. It is absent of objective standards of quality and instead panders to the greatest amount of our interests.
I believe most people have not found their perfect movie or TV show, possibly because it doesn’t exist yet. We all have favorites though, so it stands to reason that if I took three of my favorite anime of all time and picked them apart, I could get a sense for what my perfect anime would be. Bear with me, this is going somewhere.