A lot of what I like about Ultraman is its weirdness, the way it depicts Earth as sitting in the middle of a vast, uncaring and strange universe under the protection of interstellar demigods who come down from the heavens, take human form and generally try to preserve order. And then there is Ultraman RB, which takes all of that and replaces it with a zaniness that escalates within eight episodes into the realisation that by the time you become powerful enough to become Ultraman, a lot of things can seem like a game.
Preview page from MEKA (Magnetic Press, 2014), available on Comixology.
Explorations of collateral damage are not new material for giant robot stories; the most striking examples that come immediately to mind are good sections of Invincible Superman Zambot 3, the first fight in Mobile Suit Gundam that sees Amuro accidentally destroy a section of colony, and Gundam F91’s brutal, scrappy opening battle in a city as people flee the action. But there are other examples – SDF Macross with its Zentradi invasion of the island and even the continued effects of transforming the ship on the people within, or even Space Battleship Yamato’s very first use of the Wave Motion Gun. It is difficult to decouple super robots from superweapon stories and giant monster fighting from indiscriminate warfare.
The Pretty Cure franchise continues to be going strong since it started in 2004, and I have watched small amounts of quite a lot of the different series. One, however, proved distinctly better than the rest; the first. We Are Pretty Cure is very clearly a series trying something relatively new and laying the groundwork for what would become a very longrunning franchise, and doing it in a way that is also very different to what would come later. It is that difference, I think, that makes it so good.
A lot of recommendations of Gankutsuou play up, and at the same time try to excuse, its oddities; it is a strange-looking adaptation of Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo that starts partway in and focuses on a side-character and is in the future, as if these are things that need excusing or offering as some kind of caveat. There is a preoccupation on the fact it is a slightly non-standard adaptation of a classic novel which I think does the series as a disservice, because whether or not one cares particularly for Dumas Gankutsuou is a very solid piece of television. And, indeed, once one gets past the aesthetics, it is not a particularly non-standard adaptation at all and one that abridges ably to tell a focused, thrilling story.
Planet With starts unusually. It looks unusual, it feels unusual, and this elevates its quite usual premise. It plays with visual language in ways that feel smart and slick, and explores more interesting than usual themes than a lot of alien invasion stories; my first impression, from the opening episode, was that it was taking a similar angle to Fafner in its handling of an unusual, incomprehensible alien entity. I liked many aspects of Fafner, primarily its depictions of broken families and the pressures of social achievement overlaid on military service, but something that did stand out was the weird, cloying aesthetic of the Festum, its alien enemies. While the relatively early CGI was ugly and turned their unusual angelic designs into amorphous gold blobs, their whole motif, unnatural movement and particularly their catchphrase – Are you there? – was very unsettling.
A new anime season brings new things for me to start watching and forget about immediately. I am only just getting around to finishing Cutie Honey Universe and I actually liked that. But there is something exciting this season. Something that puts me on the precipice of anticipation, overlooking a terrible bog from which there is no escape. It’s… Tonegawa: Middle Management Blues! Put simply, this is a comedic prequel to the distinctly un-comedic and gruelling watch that is Kaiji, arguably one of the few extremely socialist anime you could choose to watch if you wanted to get very mad about capitalism. Tonegawa replaces – at least, from a first impression – the brutal, gruesome intellectual and physical torture of Kaiji’s world with a whole fresh hell – office work.
I have not seen many Kamen Rider series, least of all Showa-era ones; as a result, any frame of reference I have for discussing the franchise is limited to select individual series rather than the franchise as any kind of whole. Nevertheless, I am currently watching Kuuga, and it is proving highly enjoyable television and quite watchable without any foreknowledge or wider sense of what one can or should expect. Taken outside of its franchise, it is a series that does superhero origins and self-discovery very well, and creates a world that realistically adapts to the sudden arrival of supervillains. It manages to be dark and atmospheric without necessarily being graphically violent or exploitative, in part owing to the understated creature designs and simple, easily-read hero suit.
Full Metal Panic: Invisible Victory had a very strong opening arc that, while it played with quite stock action-film scenarios, did so in a way that was a good payoff for viewers who had come to like its cast. It ended on a strong cliffhanger for the second arc’s setup, introduced a strong villain with a commanding personality and generally was pacy and thematic. The second arc goes a long way in two episodes to undermining that goodwill by taking the themes of the first and presenting them in a significantly less interesting setting and in a fashion that seems predictably reductive.
It took three series and countless Super Robot Wars games before I really came to like Full Metal Panic; it was always a series where the core conceit, a sort of high school anime Kindergarten Cop story about a super-genius schoolgirl being protected varyingly competently by a team of commandos never really gelled with me, where the mech combat didn’t quite work and the juxtaposition of humour and serious action was a little disorienting. Yet there was enough there – the all-comedic second series Fumoffu, with its excellent film parodies including The A-Team, Full Metal Jacket and more, fights like the city fight against the invincible yet unstable Behemoth and the climax of series 1, with charismatic and utterly monstrous villain Gauron apparently having won – to make me convinced it was not a bad series, just an uneven one.
Anyone keeping abreast of the latest news in anime will probably be aware that there is a new Cutie Honey series airing, and it definitely opens with a well-rounded pair of episodes that are significantly more interesting than one might expect from something so self-evidently lurid and lewd.
It’s a big, in-your-face kind of series with everything on display from the start, which I feel does a fine job of modernising the original concept without quite being so trashy as some of the OVA versions. Of course, this assessment is based only on the show’s opening episodes, amply front-loaded as they are with action and also exposition to provide a firm backstory for the hero.
There’s no shortage of foreshadowing, suggesting at least there is the intention of telling some kind of deeper story, and I think the decision to hold off on the exposition and origin story until the second episode works.