At the start of episode 4 of Eccentric Family 2, there is a straightforward summation of one of its morals; “the transformation… is strongly connected to the idea of freedom.” Tanuki lose their powers in captivity. In its own way this becomes a sort of freedom, a kind of mythic superiority over humans; tanuki play at changing roles even when unable to change shape to make a game of being zoo animals. The idea of zoos in an urban fantasy world is not one that I believe much media in the genre considers; fantastical creatures existing within a modern urban society must contend with modern attitudes of animals in captivity, and ultimately a talking animal is something ordinarily non-sapient granted humanlike sapience.
Atom The Beginning is a curious series; unlike the precedent it would appear to follow of socially-conscious updates of traditionally simplistic hero series like Gatchaman Crowds (which like it or not explored the obsolescence of superheroes and indeed government in an internet of things-based society) or Yatterman Night (which was an able if occasionally awkward exploration of the nature of villainy in a simple black-and-white morality superhero narrative) it has yet to properly dig into any of the moral issues it would appear to focus on. The precedent is there for something rich. Astro Boy was a universe that within its child-friendly framework played on ideas of the morality of android technology and machine sentience. But Atom the Beginning is set in that era in a time before the events that led to the creation of, arguably, one of the first super robots.
The returning native as a disruptive presence in a traditional society is the focus of Eccentric Family 2; it brings with it ideas of modernisation and a hermetic society being opened up to foreign influence. Tenmaya, the man who beat the devil, no longer fears demons because he has a gun. Modern technology exists within the setting; it is set in a contemporary Japan. However, Yasaburo complains the use of guns in a supernatural battle of wits is unfair; modern weaponry does not sit nicely within a romanticised – if that is the right word – mythic world. I am reminded in a way of The Wind in the Willows, which takes a not-specifically-folkloric but definitely idyllic world of talking animals and has Toad go mad for novelties such as cars, completely upsetting the pastoral idyll and serving, arguably, as a simple morality-play about the importance of humility and good sense.
It is good to see Eccentric Family back on the screen; its first series was an interesting, whimsical and yet surprisingly cutting take on mythology and family and the second series has set up an interesting dynamic to build on this basis; the second episode sets up a sense of powerlessness and a changed world that feels a more interesting take on ideas of a woeld losing its sense of wonder. Youth rebels against authority as the dandy Nidaime mocks older tengu as “frail, old [things]” spending their “last days meaninglessly” and “reliant on… pity” – and his worst insult is that the father he has rejected is “not worth killing.” Nostalgia and longing for absent things – centrally the woman Benten, so important in the previous series – has created a void.
The Eldran super-robot series is arguably less well-known than the Yuusha series, in part owing to a lack of translation available before the licensing of Absolutely Invincible Raijin-Oh. Before I watched any of the shows, I was aware of them only as younger-skewing adventure series which had largely interchangeable designs and often large casts of principal characters. However, after seeing that Nekketsu Saikyou Gosaurer (1993-4) (according to ANN translated as Matchless Passion Gosaurer) was receiving ongoing subtitles – and having seen a few episodes of the fully translated Ganbaruger – I decided to try it. The series proved highly enjoyable, standing out within a crowded and largely interchangeable genre as being among the better examples.
Prior to watching Rurouni Kenshin I was unaware that Ryosuke Takahashi, a producer of science-fiction anime I greatly respect, had worked on it. And yet, as I watch it, I can certainly see how his experience in working within a very different genre pays off and elevates Kenshin above what I initially expected. Kenshin is ultimately a fantastical period drama, set in an interesting and real period of history and adding supernatural elements to it. Yet on a fundamental level its setup is not significantly unlike Takahashi’s science-fiction works; it is a series, behind its visual comedy and comfortable, sometimes moralistic early episodes, about a confused post-war world and someone who is no less of a supersoldier and outsider than Eiji from Layzner or Chirico from VOTOMS.
It is impossible to talk in too much depth about the plot of Fafner of the Azure at only three episodes in; it is a series that, like Rahxephon, holds its secrets close and plays on the characters’ and audience’s different levels of knowledge for dramatic effect. At this point the viewer knows next to nothing about the enemy, or even about the status quo. Using implication and secrecy for dramatic effect is something an awful lot of anime tries to do, and with highly variable amounts of aptitude; I abandoned my weekly write-ups of Macross Delta because it became apparent that it had reached a kind of stasis of plot; very little happened to progress the story, and the progress of the characters in discovering mysteries was not interesting. Currently it is too early in Fafner to comment on this aspect in relation to the whole series, but there is something its third episode does which I feel stands out as taking the technique in a fruitful direction.
In my previous Macross Delta article I was highly critical of the series’ massive plot revelations, saying they felt hugely unsatisfying and shutting off potentially interesting thematic readings of the franchise as a whole. These were obviously contentious, but reading the very well-put rebuttal posted by a reader of this blog I re-evaluated my position and think my actual response is a more nuanced one. I still feel that episode 19’s revelations are not personally interesting to me, and are indeed in my opinion a little underwhelming as some great explanation of Macross. But I think this is a lot to do with how they were conveyed robbing them of gravity and wonder. I found myself thinking back to Do You Remember Love, which has a similarly immense moment of epiphany for Hikaru and Misa – the discovery of the song Ai, Oboeteimasu ka?, the discovery of the true nature of the Zentradi and the discovery of the ruined Earth. Those are equally earth-shaking discoveries, for sure.
While Macross Delta episode 19 provides numerous answers to the series’ mysteries, it does so in the least interesting way possible; an effective slideshow of revelations divided between Berger talking to Chaos and Roid talking to Keith. This technique of combining both the heroes and villains discussing what they know, and what they think they know, can work; one of the best episodes of Eureka Seven is an early one, just after a significant plot twist, where half the episode is the protagonist coming to terms with events and half is one of the junior lackeys of the villain trying to form a report to his superiors about the same events. That is an interesting episode not because it is expository, but because it provides two distinct takes on a set of events in a deeply personal way that both teach the viewer about the personalities of the speakers and how the different factions perceive their standing.
The thing I most liked about Macross Delta 18’s role in the main plot was that it continued the idea that Windermere will be beaten via empirical investigation of their methods and weapons; while the series’ action is fantastical and supernatural the Macross setting is one where this absurdity is measurable and provable by experiment. After the in-setting events of Macross 7 and the (more relevant) findings in Macross Zero, the idea that the Protoculture’s greatest weapon is probably song-based is not unreasonable at all. There is not the need for a lengthy period of trying to find an explanation that is not song works, because not only is singing proven effective against the Var within the events of Delta from the off, Delta is set so far into the Macross timeline that Nekki Basara has become a legend (admittedly Delta has not directly cited Fire Bomber outside of Remember 16 playing at Messer’s funeral, but Walkure are a competent Jamming Birds and in the previous series chronologically, Frontier, characters were huge Fire Bomber fans).