Fist of the North Star

Iconic, violent action from the first half of the eighties. The world’s most dangerous man wanders a post-apocalyptic wasteland, exploding people or otherwise killing them in poetically-just ways by hitting their pressure points.

Fist provides silly fun with its weird one-off villains and absurd violence. But in its serious confrontations the show can also move you in its own naive way. It pays little attention to the nuclear war which ruined the world—this is just an accepted part of the premise—tying its main plot instead to the destinies of a small coterie of martial artists.

I think it was Jason Thompson who pointed out that Fist stands out among shounen action stories in having its hero be immediately and obviously more powerful than most of his opponents. The excitement in the smaller battles is often in seeing just how Kenshiro will defeat a minor villain’s gimmick, rather than in wondering whether or not he’ll win. This makes the real battles noticeably more tense: proper martial artists are rare and clearly differentiated from more humdrum opponents. You know when someone’s a threat.

While I was watching Fist, someone wondered aloud if there’re any guides to its essential episodes out there anywhere. I don’t know if there are, but yea or nay I’m not sure it’s such a good idea. True, there is filler, of sorts, which varies in quality: the ‘Elton John and his zombie army’ and ‘human cannonballs with swords’ episodes, for example, are really quite entertaining. Unusually, pretty much all the filler sits in the story’s first arc. After that most episodes contribute something, however small, to the plot. And I suspect the final chapter only reaches the heights it does because you’ve seen Ken and the other surviving characters wade through blood to get there.

That final chapter kicks in, with new narrative urgency, around the eightieth episode. It brings a new OP, which steps back a little from the excitement of its more famous predecessor and takes some time to remind us of some of the significant characters who’ve already died. Fist maintains quite a small cast, as important people tend to die, and so has little of the onwards’n’upwards feeling you get in a lot of anime which share a similar sense for absurd action. Rather, Fist‘s plot is the fatal working-out of grudges and desires which were instigated before the first episode, often before even the nuclear apocalypse. Loss becomes a dominant theme: the loss of friends, of rivals, of faculties—and at one point, the lived experience of loss as a source of power.

Ultramuscled designs are the order of the day. There are some excellently grotesque giants and mutants and super-obese villains. The show looks cheap but not awful. Stock footage is common, though it’s often intelligently laced in with new animation to keep the fights looking fresh. Characters sometimes seemingly change in size, and I would like to believe that this is to indicate their importance, threat and possession of combat momentum. Although a lot of the more excessive blood sprays are shiny rather than red, the animators didn’t hold much back in rendering the twisting, slicing, snapping, splattering and detonating of the human body. A skilled martial artist is a scary, scary thing!

I enjoyed Fist a lot. I dug all the crazy enemies and their bizarre techniques, and I bought into its story of a few deadly men clashing in a world that’s gone horribly wrong. Its simplicity pleased me. I’m too young to have been around for Fist‘s period of currency among Anglophone fans. Mostly, this was an advantage, letting me come to the show knowing only what little I’d picked up from reflexes of and allusions to it in other anime.

Not sure I’d just recommend this to just anyone who likes anime, though. If you enjoy simple, heartfelt stories with wild fighting, try it. If you’re just interested from a cultural-literacy standpoint, maybe give it a few episodes, but don’t expect it to blow you away.

Spring 2013: The Shows that Matter

Valvrave

Valvrave has garnered lots of attention. I probably don’t need to describe it. I take it as further confirmation of my belief that the CE Gundam opening moves are now so familiar that they can be used as background.

Gargantia

So far Gargantia hasn’t been very good giant robot show, but I’ve been enjoying its fish-out-of-water plot. Mildly. Wouldn’t want to get too enthusiastic about something this forgettable.

Majestic Prince

An interesting one. It’s not very serious and absolutely has a parodic edge to it, but it’s also occasionally sombre. This probably won’t work for that many people, but I’m buying into it for now. Maybe it’s the surprisingly tentative opening song.

3DPD

The present age being one of petty, diminished things, all three use CG for their giant robots. I find the work in Gargantia least satisfying. Valvrave and Majestic have the advantage of setting at least some of their fighting against the more anodyne background of space. And Majestic‘s robots are plasticky, commercialised objects within the show’s own fiction, too.

Southern Cross

Really, the mecha show that matters most to me at present is Southern Cross. It’s fun and there’s no CG. And I like the Southern Cross Army’s body armour.

Jeanne investigates an alien ship

Little Witch Academia

Studio Trigger have now put their delightfully-animated confection on YouTube with English subtitles. There really aren’t many reasons not to watch it, unless you’re allergic to little witches. Or to academia.

I imagine someone somewhere is accusing it of being just animation for animation’s sake, about nothing.

I’m not sure being that is a problem. But thankfully that’s not a discussion we need to have, ‘cos LWA does have a subject. It’s not necessarily clever or (if you ask me) interesting, but it is appropriate to the project: it bounces craft-as-entertainment and pragmatic craft and craft-for-craft’s sake off each other and then synthesises them.

Nostalgia and a Parlour Game

‘Give me,’ says Ghostlightning, ‘something you really want to see’. This exercise sounds amusing.

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Brief Praise of Stock Footage

I’ve said this a couple of times, but because it suits my prejudices I think it deserves its own post.

Recycling material is fine so long as the material is good. And often it is good, especially when it’s a more formalised, expected component like a transformation or combination or launch sequence. I don’t mind watching goodness several times. In my better moments, I rather like the idea of watching goodness several times.

Furthermore, stock footage has a certain reliability. However dull the rest of the episode is, at least I can bank on the manly combination to be great. This is an efficient way for animators to spend money and time.

And if you’re not convinced that repetition has its place, consider the two most commonly recycled elements of your standard anime episode, which we all take for granted: the OP and the ED.

(Would I take much the same stance on grander kinds of re-use, like repeatedly using the same premise? Of course I would. Of course.)

Two Quintessences?

Suite Precure wrapped up last Sunday. It was an acceptable installment for the franchise, with some nice silly concepts and a handful of good fights. It played the revelation of the third and fourth magical girls’ identities well, and Cure Beat’s electric-guitar hair was a brilliant little touch. And for those who didn’t watch it (so, everyone) I’m not talking about her appearance. I’m talking about the fact that her ahoge is strummable.

But it was never much more than acceptable (‘as average as it gets for PreCure‘), and contained little to entertain normal adults, so what I’m saying is, I suppose, that you, dear reader, probably shouldn’t bother trying it.

That judgement makes me think about how we divide up the franchise as a whole. There’s a trend towards what I’d call Heartcatch exceptionalism: the position that Heartcatch Precure is, quality-wise, just better than the other iterations. Reluctantly, I agree. Reluctantly, because while I like Heartcatch very much, it’s not probably not my favourite—I think I prefer the original, which was my introduction to Precure a year or so ago.

Heartcatch is also one of the bits of the franchise most easily enjoyed by more normal anime fans. I’ll put it another way: I’ll cheerfully watch a boring, cheaply-animated, bad episode of Precure because there are things in the franchise’s central concepts which I enjoy, entirely independently of the quality of their execution. You are probably not like this. Heartcatch is better-placed to appeal to you. (The All-Stars DX movies are the other bit of the franchise worth checking, because they are short and endearingly mad.)

Oddly enough Heartcatch‘s position within its franchise reminds me of a very, very different title, Macross Plus. I think Plus is easily the least Macrucian Macross. Apart from anything else it is, as I’m sure a zillion people have said before me, substantially more pessimistic about music, love and transforming mecha, the three legs of the Macross tripod.

Every part of the franchise gets to play a part in deciding what’s Macrucian, true (even Macross II… hell, if you were introduced to Macross via Robotech—I wasn’t—that too will have influenced you…) but, at less than three hours, Plus is too short to much affect the impression left by the TV shows. I suspect there was a time when Plus had enough prominence among Anglophone anime people to counteract that, but nowadays the fan on the torrent tracker thinks Frontier when one says ‘Macross’.

Plus is also good. Like, really good. Solid, good fun, and great Itano circuses. It’s my favourite Macross thing. But! I don’t really enjoy Macross’s central tripod that much. I’m not a Macross fan. Perhaps I should say ‘not yet a Macross fan’, because I suspect that might change as I grow older, but that’s by-the-by. I’m no authority on the subject, but my best guess at the show which is most Macrucian is Macross 7. You will note that it is unusually long for Macross, which (I think) gives it influence as it just wears people down into its way of thinking.

Mecha Declaration of Year Start

I don’t normally follow anime as it airs, Gundam and, lately, Precure excepted. (I’m looking forward to Smiley’s Precure. Apparently the Cure colours will be grey, brown, and grey-brown.) Following a few seasons behind and gleaning up titles recommended by trusted minds more or less guarantees a steady stream of things I enjoy, while trying to catch things as they air would doom me to running into something I dislike. Oh, and, Gundam again excepted, robots seem rare at the moment. However, January brought a bunch of things I’d like to keep up with, and two of them even have robots!

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