Saturday, May 31, 2008

Total Recall

Huh? What? Senile has finally lost it. He's referring to cheesy Schwarzenegger movies now.

Maybe. I almost titled this post We Can Remember it For You Wholesale, which is the Philip K Dick story that inspired the movie. But then I decided that, since nobody in the anime/manga fan world seems to pay attention to anything but anime and manga, I might as well title it with something from pop culture in hopes that somebody would get the reference.

At this point, you're bound to be wondering what I am writing about. Relax: It's all new stuff (currently airing anime) and it all relates to the theme of moving memory and identity around technologically. I'm going to order these by personal preference - most to least favorite.


Madhouse/Yuasa Masaaki

Ever seen Fantastic Planet, or any other eastern-bloc animation from the '60s or '70s? Nah, I didn't think so. Well, if you had, you'd say "Wow, this looks a lot like animated Eastern-European formalism from the '60s or '70s!" As it is, you'll just have to take my word for it. Since Madhouse did the animation and production, you can rest assured that it looks exactly how it is supposed to look. I think they were warming up for this when they were making the dream world sequences in Paprika...

At Left: Kaiba awakens knowing nothing of who he is or why he is here.

This is one of those shows that keeps me looking at anime. It seems that for every thousand shounen fanservice fests out there there is only one show like Kaiba, but that one is so worthwhile that it justifies all the crap. You just never know when you're going to stumble across the concentrated results of creative imagining. Kaiba is bright, beautiful, dark, puzzling, on the surface and deep and mysterious all at once. It involves space travel, mind control, thought transference, the definition of self, and the ethics of terrorism...and that's just in the first four episodes.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the enigma that is Kaiba. It's bright, colorful, complex, and it (unlike nearly everything else this season) even has good OP and ED music. Be forewarned: everything you see in episode one relates to everything else, so even if you don't understand what's going on, pay careful attention. It'll all be explained later on...probably.

RD Sennou Chousashitsu
(Real Drive)
RD 潜脳調査室
Production I.G/Shirow Masamune (yes, that's the pair that did last season's Ghost Hound)

This show has two things in common with Kaiba: 1. It deals with the abstraction of intelligence in a virtual world, and 2. It throws you into the plot already running at full speed.

The differences are just as significant. While Kaiba is set in some measurelessly distant future, There's a date explicitly set in the middle of the 21st century for Real Drive. Likewise, while the art of Kaiba is formalist and fantastic, Real Drive is set in a world so real and literal that you can almost taste the sea foam when the 'camera' pans across a shoreline. Beg, borrow or steal enough computing horsepower to watch this one in High Def if you must - there's a lot of detail, both painted and rendered on the screen. And if you wait for the DVD, you'd be well-served to see it on Blu-Ray.

At Left: The years have not been kind to Haru Masamichi. But at least he has great views.

Meet Haru-san. He's got a problem. He went for a dive one afternoon and woke up fifty years later. Luckily for him, and for his world, the nursing home he inhabits these days is fully wired. Also lucky for him, he draws a smart and genki candy striper (Aoi Minamo) to help him in his dives into the Meta-Real Network (usually known as 'Metal'). Extra points to those who bother to parse Minamo's surname kanji, btw.

At Right: Is 15-year-old Minamo-chan Shirow's first genki girl? She gets extra points for the brown eyes, hair bow, and lack of idealized features. She even has chubby thighs, just like the real thing. Think "Matsuri from Kamichu! meets GITS".

I haven't watched a lot of this one yet, but Shirow's plots seldom disappoint. There's some talkiness at the beginning, but once Haru wakes up from his dive, the show gets on with it and the talk is driven by the plot, instead of vice-versa.

Himitsu - The Revelation
秘密 〜The Revelation〜
Madhouse/shoujo manga by Shimizu Reiko

If you find Real Drive a little too futuristic, there's always Himitsu. The idea here is a pretty simple one: Cops in the near future do the Law & Order thing by sucking the memories out of a dead person's head with a computer. Since the last thing a murder victim saw is often the murderer, it helps a lot with criminal investigation.

At Left: Uke, meet Seme-san, your new boss. But who's who?

Our protagonist is the 'new guy' on the detective squad. He has been hired in to replace a detective who died of unnatural causes. His special ability is lip reading, which turns out to be very useful to the detective team for the simple, if unexplained reason that the computer sucks visual, but not auditory memory out of dead (but not too-long-dead) brains.

But wait, it gets better: In order to get all the memories out of somebody's brain, you have to crank it up to 120% of neural function, as indicated by dramatic bar graphs that go into the scary red zone right before stuff starts happening. Huh? Try running this idea past a research psychologist. For extra amusement value, make sure that the boffin is taking a drink first... Let's just say that this show has the same relationship to neurological science that Star Trek has to nuclear engineering.

Since it's based on a shoujo manga, there's a lot of hand-wringing involved about the ethics of knowing a dead person's innermost thoughts and the basic 'yuck' value of the whole thing, at least in the first show. Our protagonist doesn't exactly show himself as a shining example of intestinal fortitude. The super-plot is all about solving murder mysteries. There are sub-plots involving some light yaoi themes and the aforementioned hand-wringing.

At Right: Seme-san is revealed by his important posing in front of racks of blinkenlights. That is, unless he really wants to just give it all up to the new hire.

The storytelling is rather conventional murder-mystery stuff. Frankly, Arthur Conan-Doyle did this better more than a century ago in “The Boscombe Valley Mystery," and thankfully spared us the boys love angle. The 'thrilling climax' failed to thrill me. It had the feeling of an Agatha Christie story: All the chess pieces move around on the board with just the endgame shown to the audience, and then Miss Marple recites the game for you at the end. Meh. I watched one episode and haven't looked back. If you have read enough actual detective fiction to know good from bad, you'll do the same.

If you want to see a better version of this same basic plotline done with genetics and the paranormal instead of technology and the mental, consider watching Witch Hunter Robin.

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