My previous article about Patlabor on Television suggested that – much like its feature film iteration – it was a kind of disguised cyberpunk story, replacing explicit reference to transhumanism and corporate unaccountability with an emphasis as much on unequal access to technology, and the inability of some to benefit from the world of the future that is supposedly being built. Yet it is a story, it is worth remembering, from the perspective of the police. The authorities – governments, police and corporations – of cyberpunk worlds are traditionally better-equipped than the “people”, less accountable, and inherently compromised ethically – a self-serving trifecta, often. Ghost in the Shell, another sizeable franchise within the genre, explored this tension directly by pitting its protagonist police against criminals whose motives were often understandable.
The first feature film in the Mobile Police Patlabor series, released in 1989, is a serious, thought-provoking cyberpunk adventure of a sort that is quite different from the norm. The usual aesthetic cues of the genre as depicted in animé of the time are absent, replaced with a kind of near-future setting that feels very much like an idealised industrial-boom Japan – elements such as the floating city/factory Babel are evocative of the grandiose science-fiction worlds depicted in something like Bubblegum Crisis (1987) or even the space colonies of Zeta Gundam (1985) yet there is an unfinishedness to the world; it is detailing the tensions of the transition between the real and the future, and the mad rush to capitalise on an industralising world. Its cyberpunk future is an industrial revolution, detailing the gaps in society as the wealthy profit from progress while the rest of the world has to catch up.
Episode 12 of Rahxephon concluded with Ayato failing to destroy the Dolem; it retreated, implying that it will return but also crucially showing its intelligence. Exactly how much TERRA and the human forces know about the Dolems is unclear; there is little shown in terms of knowledge about how to fight them for the most common strategy, be it one of complacency on Kunugi’s part or genuine ignorance, is “let the Rahxephon do it” – an interesting comparison to the clinical, scientific approach taken by NERV in Rahxephon‘s inspiration, Evangelion. NERV almost always know exactly how to destroy the enemy; the Angels have highly visible weak points or predictable attacks – but at the same time they have an unreliable robot and pilot, and frequently neither the manpower nor technology to properly exploit the weakness. TERRA is always one step behind in Rahxephon, yet this ineffectuality is counterbalanced by the extreme firepower advangate they have – the Rahxephon itself does not need to identify weaknesses in its enemies, it simply destroys them.
In the fourth article in this series I discussed the hyakunin isshu from a literary-critical perspective, and mentioned how my interest was piqued by the series Chihayafuru. The series focuses primarily on the pastime of karuta, a literary game based around memorising the poems and identifying them as they are read aloud to claim cards with the verse on. In many ways, the story is similar to so many sports and school-club animé; the protagonist discovers a passion for karuta and assembles other like-minded students to try and compete at a niche activity, raising awareness of it. Yet among the usual school misfits and passionate types she encounters, one character’s focus episode particularly stood out as showing that the series was something special.
My previous blog post on Giant Robo emphasised how it insisted that the viewer remained resolute in their belief in a simple, good versus evil, conflict – this is a useful lie needed to keep anyone, particularly protagonist Daisaku, from thinking too much about Big Fire’s motivations. The series is set at a point in a longer, ongoing story where the mountain of these useful lies that was necessary to perpetuate a content, prosperous society is beginning to collapse, and the villains’ plan is to speed this along by force. Yet what makes it such a compelling animé – and what adds so much to the storytelling – is the use of the soundtrack to manipulate the audience’s responses, and then undermine them.
Although Bravely Default only ranked No.9 in my Top 15 games of 2013, it remains probably the best JRPG released on consoles this year thanks in no small part to its high level of challenge and in-depth mechanics.
Bravely Default’s story is presented simply and in the vein of the early Final Fantasy games it resembles; while the core console Final Fantasy series has moved beyond the traditional turn-based, four-person-party system in many ways (games like Final Fantasy X/X-2 are probably the most similar from the recent generation, but themselves added certain modifications to the system), Bravely Default places itself firmly within the 16-bit era of RPGs much like Xbox 360 hit Lost Odyssey did. It has a straightforward turn-based combat system based around speed stats, multiple hits per weapon and a granularity between attack speed and damage much like Final Fantasy III did on the NES, and a job system with upgradeable character roles and customisable abilities taken straight from Final Fantasy V).
Kiki’s Delivery Service was a film from Studio Ghibli’s extensive library I came late to, largely because (much like The Cat Returns), I was not familiar with what it was about and so had little immediate interest. In many ways, coming to it after having watched series that could be claimed to draw on its positive approach to the world – like Aria – proved a benefit, for it provided the same kinds of ideas from a purer, more innocent perspective and considering how this was different was interesting. Aria, as I have mentioned in previous articles on the subject of these iyashikei animé (a term generally meaning “healing” or optimistic fiction), presents a world with no scarcity of resources or leisure time, in which society is free to work at whatever it likes and industry has returned – under the guidance of space-age super-technology to provide essentials – to craft industries and small-scale local businesses.
Magic Knight Rayearth represents acclaimed studio CLAMP’s most recognised entry into the science-fiction genre, creating a magical super-robot series in the vein of Aura Battler Dunbine, but with aspects of the fighting magical girl genre popularised by Sailor Moon. Across its two series it gradually moved away from the fantasy adventure aspects and more into the super-robot field, eventually becoming a very standard robot adventure series with themed villains of different specialties and later-revealed overlord and rival figures in Debonair and Nova. Coming as it did at a time when animé producers were seeking to attract new audiences in established genres (around the same time as other mecha series for female audiences, such as Gundam Wing and Brave Command Dagwon, were airing), its first series provided a novel approach to super-robot animé that holds up well today.
This is the final section of my Top 15 games of 2013 – in which the top 5 are counted down.
The Top 15 Games of 2013 series continues with entries 10-6; the final part will come tomorrow, in which my personal favourite game of the year will be revealed.