This article was written for the Reverse Thieves Anime Secret Santa project.
Your Lie in April opens in a way that suggests it will be a very unremarkable handling of well-worn themes in fiction about musicians; the iconoclastic performer whose playing style disgusts the Establishment and enthrals audiences, the retiring prodigy who has lost their confidence, etcetera. This is not to its detriment; it may not shake the boat in how it tells its story but it nevertheless, in episode 2’s scene of Kao playing her recital piece in a violin competition, depicts in a relatable way the thrill of hearing familiar music in unfamiliar settings. The “different” classical musician, the one who makes a stuffy musical canon fresh and new again, is a real-world phenomenon primarily of hype and PR; artists like Charlotte Church, Vanessa Mae et al come and go, each bringing their own easily hypeable angle to a musical genre that the media wishes to claim irrelevant.
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.
This is the first of three articles counting down my top 15 video games of 2013. It is not supposed to be anything more than those games I enjoyed playing the most – and any omissions are either because I never played them, or I did but enjoyed these 15 more.
The pastime of karuta is a fascinating one; a kind of competition of literary knowledge mixed with a test of reactions, based upon recall and identification of poems from the 100 verses of the hyakunin isshu. It received significant visibility in pop culture – especially overseas, thanks to the growing popularity of international availability of animé – with the airing in 2011 of the series Chihayafuru, which focused on a young girl learning the apparently unpopular hobby. While the series, with its emphasis on presenting how welcoming and inclusive apparently forbidding niche activities can be, and on the importance of persevering with things regardless of how unpopular or difficult they may seem, works as good entertainment in its own right, it drove me towards the hyakunin isshu themselves.