Friday, November 28, 2008

The works over at Yahoo really seem to be gummed lately. It makes my browser crawl like Anakin Skywalker, but so does CHUD lately. I was heartened, though, when I read the comment thread for this CHUD article about the English dub cast for Hayao Miyazaki's new movie, Ponyo (one of these days I'll stop reading that as "Porno"). Looks like opinion's finally turning against English dubs for anime, following the simple logic that the English dub track is not directed by the film's director--it has a whole different creative crew.

I'm not opposed to English dubs of anime in theory. It's simply that, with one exception, they're all absolutely terrible, and do reflect divergent or non-existent creative visions. And the one exception is the dub for Princess Mononoke and it's precisely because of what Neil Gaiman created for it--which was inevitably Neil Gaiman-ish, if you will. It's more than just telling you what the words literally mean, it's creative muscle exercised, so naturally when less talented people work on the script, you'll get a lesser product. In any case, it's a different product, and I enjoy the Japanese version of Princess Mononoke as a piece of work distinct from the English version.

Last night I watched the first episode of His and Her Circumstances, an anime series I'd been looking forward to watching for some time. It's a GAINAX series made shortly after the conclusion of Neon Genesis Evangelion and the first half of the series is directed by Evangelion's Hideaki Anno and the second half is directed by Kazuya Tsurumaki, who would go on to direct FLCL and Gunbuster 2. Aside from being GAINAX's first series to be based on a manga, it's also an unusual foray for GAINAX into shojo, or an anime or manga ostensibly aimed at female, adolescent audiences.

It was a really nice first episode, and I look forward to seeing more. It bears a great deal of resemblance, both stylistically and thematically, to the later episodes of Evangelion. Transition shots of traffic lights, sunsets, and low angle perspectives of schoolyard fences feel practically like leftovers from the earlier series. One striking difference, though, is the austerity of much of the imagery--at least, of the imagery that exists exterior to the mind of the main character, Yukino Miyazawa.

The show fluctuates constantly between darkly dressed characters contrasting against washed out, minimalist backgrounds and intensely cartoonish, noisy representations of Yukino's thoughts. Exaggerated illustrations of a character's thought processes is by no means unusual in an anime series, but here the device is used remarkably well as Yukino's obsessive pursuit of success and recognition is coupled with an apparently only vague perception of reality and the people around her, reality apparently having little room in Yukino's conscious mind overloaded with swings of delusions of grandeur over a thinly frozen lake of deep-seated insecurities. It's very easy to see what attracted the creator of Evangelion to this story, and Yukino's drive for success as a reflection of insecurity reminded me very strongly of Evangelion's Asuka.

Mostly, His and Her Circumstances uses this subject matter in a much lighter fashion than Evangelion did, but there was a moment I found intriguingly disturbing when Yukino achieves a higher class ranking in than Arima, a boy whom Yukino considered her academic rival.

Yukino runs through a fantasy of Arima's shame and degradation, only to be astonished by Arima's ease in congratulating her and she's forced to recognise that the relationship she'd perceived has existing between the two of them was entirely a figment of her imagination. But even before this realisation, there's a curiously hollow quality to her victory.

Anyway, remember, there's a new Venia's Travels to-day.

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