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Monday, April 22, 2013

Why yes, they do still make 'em like they used to.

I just had an experience.

Or, I had one over the span of the last few days.*

Sit down, and I'll tell you about them: two anime, very unalike, and very unusual. Second for second, both of them have more great stuff going on than most any show you'll have seen this last anime season.

So let's not waste time. Mazinkaiser SKL was released in 2011. But that doesn't matter. Where it comes from, time has no meaning, and Mazinkaiser SKL comes from hell!

Or at the very least, from the anime section from your old Blockbuster video.

I don't feel like I can do this. I am not metal. Only the metal can write about something this metal. Can I handle the power? CAN I HANDLE THE POWER?!

Apparently, director Jun Kawagoe could handle the power. Here's why. Metal is not in the things that the characters ostensively do. Metal is not Loudness singing about the Soldiers of Eternity in the opening credits. If you want your anime to be metal, you have to be able to handle that awesome power. Channel it. Cut it. Arrange it. Put it into order. Jun Kawagoe could have just shown us a slideshow of Mazinkaiser doing cool things, and that wouldn't have been metal.

No, Jun Kawagoe understands Metal, and his sense of editing is perfect. No shot is held too long. No shot is held too short. It has a rhythm. It flows, but it is not languorous. It's not hyper, like the lame double-petal attacks of wannabes like Dragonforce. It's 80s heavy metal drumming. Powerful. Effective.

But editing isn't Metal. Yasujiro Ozu was perhaps the best editor to live, but he wasn't Metal. You know what is Metal though? A giant black robot with a skull cockpit that has fists which are missiles and guns which are axes, and can inexplicably rise from fissures in the ashen earth itself! That's metal. A shot of a giant tornado glowing innerly with untamed power, framed between massive stormclouds, as a giant robot with spike nipples that turn into a polearm shoots through the gap at supersonic speed. That's metal.

You ask, though. You ask, what's it about?


...there's, like, an island where everyone is fighting all the time, and there's a massive energy generator there for no good reason, and it's melting down, and it's going to destroy the world, so Japan sends these two dudes there in a giant robot called Mazinkaiser to fix it. And then they fight a lot. Sometimes they fight alongside some warrior chicks in toga robes with some sort of weird techno-magic. Sometimes they fight alongside this engineer who came to do the actual generator fixing along with some other guys who crash land and die at the start of the movie, and she also has a mech because the commanding officer died and...

You know what? Don't worry about it. The plot makes no goddam sense, and the main characters can be described with little lost nuance as "cold gunslinger, hot-blooded sword guy, and engineer chick," so that's not important. The script is shallow and nonsensical, but at the very least, it's well paced and it isn't overly ridiculous in the harmful sense.

There's a bit of a thematic statement about fate, I think. This movie is very anti-fatalism. So if you want to take away something, that's the thing. Your one thing. Fatalism is lame. Hey, I'm down with that.

Anyway, if you're in the mood for some good 75 minutes worth of entertainment, go find this. Now's the time when I should say, "they really don't make stuff like this anymore." Except they do. They just did. It's called Mazinkaiser SKL.

Changing gears a bit, Little Witch Academia.

You know what's dumb? Representing animation with a still frame. I am loathed to pick a picture to represent what Little Witch Academia is. Luckily for you and me, I don't have to. Trigger, bless their divine animator souls, has uploaded the short in 1080p with English subs on their site. Here it is. Don't take my word for it, go watch it. My words will be here when you're back.

Have you watched it?

Yes? No? Either way, you're here for my thoughts and my thoughts are that Little Witch Academia is really spectacular. It's a labor of animated love in the same way as Redline - an animator's animation. One of the reasons animation became viable as a niche industry is the idea of limited animation: that you don't have to exaggerate models, or try to replicate the fluidity of live action, or have so many moving elements in a scene at a time. You could have still frames and individually animated elements and have it still look OK.

Trigger was having none of that.

See, Little Witch Academia is a contribution to a program called Anime Mirai: a program funded by the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs to train and promote the works of new animators (read: help keep the anime industry from dying off because of terrible wages and stressful work). This short is a chance for the new (and old) talent at Trigger to show off all their enthusiasm and talent.

What they made seems to have a foot on both shores. On the one hand, it's easy to say that the super fluid and exaggerated animation style and very closely played magical school tropes make it an homage to American cartoons. It might not even be inaccurate - I'd have to imagine that these guys were watching mid-century Disney in animator's school as much as Miyazaki or Matsumoto.

But this is not a love letter to American cartoons. You can see the anime conceptions of magic in there - the emphasis on bravado and soul. You can definitely see the influence of years of magical girl and moe anime in the characters and setting (all girls, all the time), and in the way they interact. It doesn't feel like almost any other anime I've ever seen, but it still feels like anime.

Don't get the wrong idea. Trigger didn't put this on celluloid because they like drawing cute girls. Trigger put this on celluloid because they like drawing. Certainly, not because they like writing. It would be unfair to call the writing in this short bad. It's not. Some of the banter is quite nice and plays off the animation well. Despite being about as shallow as a koi pond and questionably acted as well, these characters have charisma. All of the other elements are handled competently, and little more.

It is, however, a very trivial anime if you're looking for anything except a light 26 minute visual nosh. However, I must say, if you really are going into something called "Little Witch Academia" looking for Goethe, I question your judgement and sanity as a fellow fan of Japanese cartoons. Little Witch Academia is Shining Chariot: panache and wonder - seemingly shallow and easily dismissed - yet actually deeply important to the continued survival of the anime industry. Anime desperately needs its gene pool mixed up a little.

Seems like our hope for the future just got re-affirmed.

*Actually, weeks. This post got pushed way back. So now I can also recommend to you another Anime Mirai short: Death Billiards. Go check that out too.


  1. I like to imagine that Kawagoe got all the inspiration he needed for Mazinkaiser SKL by listening to a lot of NWOBHM songs and staring at their respective album covers while his eyes were willing hooked open, Clockwork Orange-style.

    When you mentioned the common moé elements present in LWA, it got me thinking about what was going through my mind as I was watching it. I could feel that Yoshinari wasn't putting those elements on display just to pander to a set demographic or because he, himself, has questionable taste in women (the reasons Japan's animation industry is in the shape it's in now). It felt like he took advantage of those elements because he had a story he wanted to tell, and a certain way he wanted to tell it. LWA may have a skin-deep plot, but it has real heart to it, and that's what we need more of.

    1. Was it Kawagoe's idea to give the film a heavy metal motif? I honestly haven't read much on SKL's production.

      I don't mean to say that Yoshinari was consciously thinking about moe when storyboarding or Otsuka while writing. I highly doubt this was the case. I do doubt that they would have wanted to tell this story in particular in this particular way if that substrate wasn't there.

  2. Nice double feature, heh. I think its cool the company that put out Inferno Cop made "Little Witch Academia." I'm not real familiar with Trigger but they seem to be branching out and not just focusing on one style.

    1. This definitely seems to be the case. You may be interested to know, actually, that Inferno Cop was produced partially to help fund Little Witch Academia.

      Apparently, Trigger will be announcing their next project in the May issue of Newtype magazine. Needless to say, I'm super curious.

    2. You know about as much as we do, since Trigger's only put out Inferno Cop and LWA so far.