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Tonori no Totoro

Over ten years ago I watched my very first Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli movie: Kaze no Tani no Nausicaa. Since that shining moment over 10 years ago, there has not been a Miyazaki movie which did not move me to varying lengths of inspiration and emotion. There are certain movies which have a magical effect on my person as I experience an almost childlike innocence and naiveté. I am transported to a time and place of magic, mystery, the mystical and the fantastic. Barefoot and carefree, I frolic through the woods in search of Makkurokurosuke and Totoros.

Tonori no Totoro; aka My Neighbor Totoro is Miyazaki’s 2nd theatrical production after Kaze no Tani no Nausicaa. Totoro premiered in a theatrical double-bill with Grave of the Fireflies, also from Studio Ghibli but produced by Miyazaki’s partner, Takahata. My first introduction to Totoro was after watching Grave of the Fireflies, and I can see how after such a dark and somber film one would need a carefree magical pick-me-up which Tonori no Totoro is, and more. Another theory is that Totoro wasn’t seen as a movie which was going to do well.

Au contraire.

To this day, Totoro is arguably Miyazaki’s most popular and recognizable work. Besides creating a merchandising phenomenon unseen since the creation of Gundam, Tonori no Totoro touched all hearts young and old, male and female. It touches on the traditional roles of mothers, husbands, and children in a traditional Japanese home and what happens when roles are reversed. An unspoken concern throughout the whole movie is the mother’s pointedly quiet absence from the story. Mei and Satsuski’s mother is seen but a few times, and only when the girls and/or their father visit her in a small country hospital just outside the town. Otherwise it is the father and the two girls who open us to the magical world of Totoro.

Their mother’s illness aside, who cannot love the adorably fluffy, poufy, cuddly, and glompable Totoro’s of the forest. There are three: a small white totoro, a medium blue totoro, and the king of the forest, largesse gray Totoro himself. The new home Mei and Satsuki have moved into is in a small and quiet country village surrounded by Japan’s natural splendor. Right next to their home is a giant tree, and the home to Totoro himself. From there he watches over the woods and the lands of their new home-town, creating the winds, bringing good fortune, and inspiring mischief when the mood strikes. As tall as a catbus and almost as wide, Totoro is a gentle and wise spirit and develops an affinity for his new neighbors, Mei and Satsuki.

Not to be outdone, there are a plethora of cute forest sprites alongside Totoro. From the Makkurokurosuke to a very Cheshire-like Catbus, it seems as if the whole forest is keeping a watchful eye on Mei and Satsuki during their time of need. Whenever they are down or feeling depressed and forlorn, Totoro and his friends show up to relieve their worries and offer friendly support. They cannot speak, but their actions and their gentle presence speaks far louder than any words ever could. While I don’t think Mei and Satsuki really understood the why, they truly enjoyed their time with Totoro and friends.

Even the viewer becomes enraptured by the magic of Tonori no Totoro and forget their own troubles, if only for a short time, along with Mei and Satsuki. No amount of concern, stress, or woes can ever triumph in the face of unabashedly cute forest spirits. It is no wonder that Totoro and Catbus plushies galore have sold like wildfire since Tonori no Totoro’s theatrical premier in 1988. Such adorable children and endearing spirits create a feeling of youth and wonderment in all of us.

Tonori no Totoro is deeply rooted in rich Japanese culture and tradition. From the various shrines and deities that appear, to the simple life of a small agricultural village, to gender roles and family responsibility, Totoro is steeped in the heart of Japan. During the movie, Mei and Satsuki are seen seeking shelter by two different deities at two different times. One symbolizes a safe return home for travelers and another is a guardian for lost children. These unassuming everyday items reassure the viewer that although Mei and Satsuki are in a difficult spot now, they will be OK in the end.

At its heart, Tonori no Totoro is 100% cute. There is so much cute in Totoro a grin the size of Japan will be permanently adhered to your face during the whole movie. Mei and Satsuki are perfectly captured by Miyazaki and his staff in all their childhood innocence and wonder.

Waiting at the bus stop with Totoro who finds great enjoyment in the plip-plop of rain droplets as they fall on the umbrella’s top.

A wild and crazy chase after one of the tiny white totoros transports you to Totoro’s den where you promptly tease his tail and engage in a yawning contest.

Performing a magical dance in the moonlight around your newly planted vegetable garden with Totoro and friends to make them grow.

Sitting atop an ancient tree and playing woodland flutes under the warm glow of moonlight.

Riding the Catbus over hills, through rice fields and atop power lines, rushing with the wind to your final destination.

Tonori no Totoro weaves a magical spell over its viewers. Time is infinite and youth recaptured. Joy and Hope abound. Cute reigns supreme while nature envelops you in her spell.

It was many years coming, but Tonori no Totoro has been licensed and released on DVD in the US through a partnership with Buena Vista and Studio Ghibli. Totoro is a timeless gem for all ages to enjoy. When life gets you down and you feel lost, alone, and hopeless, escape to the world of Totoros, Catbuses, and Makkurokurosuke with Mei and Satsuki to recapture that lost vigor for life.


Hataraki Man

Career Woman. Girlfriend. House Wife. Mother.

If one had to choose, which would it be? Could you choose one or two over the other, or would you want all of the above? Is it even possible to achieve and maintain all the above along with your sanity?

These are just some of the choices and decisions in life facing our modern heroine, Hiroko Matsukata. A 28 year-old editor for the magazine Weekly JIDAI, Hiroko is a modern workaholic in what was once a traditionally male dominated role. In a once very patriarchal society which is still fighting stereotypes and gender roles, Hiroko storms ahead of all who would question her work and her ability as a professional in her field. When struck with inspiration, Hiroko transforms into “Hataraki Man” which literally means “Working Man”. Consequently, as a career woman, Hiroko is very passionate about her work. The hours, dedication, commitment, and pride she has in her work is akin to her male predecessors.

Hiroko will put in overtime when needed, but also tries her best to maintain a normal life outside her work while balancing her relationship with an equally workaholic boyfriend. Hiroko is very good at what she does, and many of her articles have garnered the magazine awards and public attention. Her work reflects on the company so any mistakes she makes are doubly shameful. While Japan is much modernized, modern Japan is still Japan, which means tradition, respect, and responsibility are still sacred values.

While Hiroko is the main star of Hataraki Man, her fellow cast of Weekly JIDAI range from a seasoned veteran of the industry, disgruntled cameraman, witty senior editor, sly and sexy sports writer, food and porn critic, and so on. Maiko Kaji, Akihisa Kobayashi, Mayu Nagisa, Kimio Narita, Yumi Nogawa, Fumiya Sugawara, Kunio Tanaka, and Tatsuhiko Umemiya. Together with Hiroko, they create the heart of Weekly JIDAI through their blood, sweat, and tears.

Single women want to be in a relationship, and women in a relationship want to be single again. What does that mean? It means that whichever is your current state of relationship, unhappiness is the ruling. That doesn’t mean Hiroko can’t be a professional editor and have a successful relationship at the same time, but in the real world, not everything comes so easily. Striking that balance between work and personal has been a lifelong challenge of both genders for as long as creation. Unfortunately for Hiroko, her boyfriend Shinji Yamashiro is even more of a workaholic and often travels long distances for his job. While he tries to be there for Hiroko, Shinji often misses the finer unspoken details of caring for a relationship.

The Weekly JIDAI staff and characters that make up Hataraki Man are all adults just trying to make it by in life. Working to live. Living to work. A daily burden or a daily blessing? Their struggles, scandals, heartache and heartbreak are just as personal as ours and so the viewer can relate not only to Hiroko and friends, but also the various human subjects of their articles. No one is perfect, and perfect moments in life are even harder to come by. Hiroko’s personal goal is to always respect and show the humanity of her subjects, even when their humanity is pitiable at the very least. It’s a rather refreshing take on journalism, albeit a sometimes unrealistic and taxing standard to uphold. Ultimately, it is also what has earned Hiroko the respect of her peers and readers.

Does that mean that perfection is not what one finds or dreams of but what one makes for themselves?

Hataraki Man explores these modern-day soul searching questions and at its heart is Hiroko. An amateur writer myself, I found a lot I could relate to in Hataraki Man. It is a rare find when I come across an anime made for adults by adults and it doesn’t feature any tentacles. We have all been there, struggling to try and find our place in life, in work, and in a relationship while finding a way to balance it all. Phew! Who knew growing up would be so much work! Life is for living, and you aren’t living unless you are moving forward.

Based on the manga by Moyoko Anna which ran for 4 tankoubans, Hataraki Man is an easy-to-please 11 episode TV series. Neither the manga nor anime are licensed at this moment, though the anime has been fansubbed and is available for download. Hopefully someone will pick this grown-up anime for release in the states, but in the meantime, let us all embrace our inner Hataraki Man.


Elfen Lied

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

A wholesome concept at the heart of acceptance, forgiveness, and belonging. But who are the forgotten, the tired, the poor, and the humble? When there is nowhere and no one to call home, then consequently there is an absence of hope. Without hope there is no light. Without light there is no warmth, no life.

Elfen Lied has unfortunately suffered a harsh and critical reputation do to the very graphic visual elements of blood splatter and dismemberment, abuse and suffering, physical and emotional torment, and utter despair. Their brutally honest depiction is the driving force behind Elfen Lied’s exposure of human depravity. There are no kids’ gloves to be found here or any censorship to spare the viewers from an oft ignored and sad truth – people are cruel.

Your father and little sister are brutally murdered right in front of your eyes, literally torn apart limb-from-limb. Such is the shock of the trauma that the young boy suppresses all memories of the incident and a large majority of the events surrounding it.

A mother curses her daughter’s existence for being a burden to her life, and ignores her cries for help as the girl’s step-father continues to sexually abuse her in the silence of the night. Terrified, alone, she finds her only friend in a fellow run-away puppy.

The crush of your childhood remembers nothing of your childhood promise or his shy confession of love. Years pass and when he finally comes back into your life, he is already attached to another young girl.

Brainwashed. Raised almost her whole life in captivity, she had at one time been free, and yet a prisoner of hatred, racism, prejudice and fear. Despised by everyone who knew her for being different, she happened to meet one lone boy who gave her the open acceptance and love she had never known her whole life. He was her world. And then betrayal.

Our vehicle of tragedy to carry the weight of humanities sins and salvation are the mysterious Diclonius. Purported freaks of human evolution and born with natural bone protrusions from their heads in the form of horns in males and cat-like ears on females. The Diclonius also possess an unknown and deadly power known as vectors which are telekinetically controlled manifestations of multiple powerful arms from their being. Capable of reaching varying distances and number of manifestations, they are usually invisible to the naked eye, thus humans seemingly explode and are torn to bloody pieces on their own as the Diclonius watch in cold detachment and sometimes warped pleasure. Despite their singular nature, Diclonius are each different in personality, power, temperament, and intellect.

Any Diclonius born is killed at infancy, or as soon as they are discovered and before their powers manifest at a very young age. The few who aren’t killed are captured, raised in captivity within the confines of a top-secret facility. Suffering an endless cycle of torture, torment, and experiments, their only contact with humanity is one of violence and cold objectification. It is no surprise then, should any Diclonius encounter humans, it would mean their immediate death. There are a few theories that the Diclonius are an evolutionary weapon and they seek to find their perfect mate to create a new race of humans after wiping out the old. But it is only a whispered purpose behind Elfen Lied’s message.

Into this world enters our cast of Kohta, Yuka, Mayu, Nyu, and Nana. Initially unrelated, these five characters meet over a spiraling series of events, all of which began with the Kohta and Yukas meeting Nyu on the beach during a crimson sunset. Alone, with no memories and the mental capacity of a toddler, the lost Diclonius is named Nyu by her new benefactors. Assuming the role of parent, it isn’t long before this ragtag yet tight-nit family grows with the addition of Mayu and Nana. In a world which has cast them aside like unwanted garbage, a thing, one young couple has given them back their humanity which had been denied them.

Suffering a split personality due to a severe blow to her head by a .50MG round during her escape from the facility, Nyu and Lucy vie for stability and sanity outside the lab and with their new family. Eventually the two progress towards a common conscience and goal – to protect their home and the love they have found. And in the case of Nyu, maybe even find possible forgiveness.

A smile and a hug can erase the stain of a cruel past and put an end to a vicious cycle.

The is the heart of Elfen Lied. Grievous sins can only find salvation in honest selfless deeds. Also, there truly is a darkness and depth of depravity that people, that humanity is capable of and whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, the simple truth still remains. I was greatly moved by the straightforward story-telling and the message it delivered. It took great courage to animate and depict in such vivid detail that human depravity and sin. For some it may have been too much to stomach, but I appreciated Elfen Lied in its whole and have found a new gem for my anime collection.

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

How many of us can say that we truly understand, embrace, and live by those values? Can you? Can I?


Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon

In every generation of anime fandom there is one anime in particular that either redefines or creates a new genre, sometimes both. From this anime is birthed a new generation of fans who embark on their journey of otakudom. No matter how many years pass or how much anime is watched, they will always trace their induction with nostalgic fondness back to that one anime which has since been the standard of all its successors to date and to come. There can be only one original.

Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon.

Based on the original manga by Naoko Takeuchi, the manga itself ran for a total of 18 tankoubans from February 1992 to March 1997. An epic romantic drama, Sailor Moon redefined and created a whole new genre of the mahout shoujo medium (magical girl) that to this day is still emulated. Following the manga storyline as accurately as possible and with consultation by Naoko Takeuchi, there were five seasons of anime which ran from March 1992 to February 1997 for a total of 200 episodes. In addition, three subsequent movies and an OVA special collection were also created along with a multitude of live Sailor Moon musicals. Up-and-coming producers, directors, seiyuu, and musical composers may very well not be who or where they are today if it was not for their work on Sailor Moon.

On a personal level, Sailor Moon was discovered by yours truly during my high school years which brought the wide world of anime back into my life, and this time for good. Weekday mornings were spent waking up earlier than usual to ensure I could catch the newest episode. If not, I would make sure the VCR was set to record. It didn’t take long before I was recording every episode no matter what. From my burgeoning passion I turned to the internet, looking at various sites and searches for more information on Sailor Moon. The deeper I delved, my blossoming otaku horizons were broadened and my eyes opened to three things that forever changed my life.

1) Sailor Moon as I was watching it on TV was edited and cut for US broadcast.
2) Sailor Moon was this phenomena called anime which was an infinitely vast creative medium which I had been totally ignorant of.
3) Fansubs aside, anime on VHS could be found in my local brick-and-mortar video store along with online.

Sailor Moon initially follows the bumbling misadventures of your cute and clumsy average 14 year old Japanese school girl. As the story slowly unravels, it becomes readily apparent that the true beginning of the story of Sailor Moon and her fellow Senshi began thousands of years ago in the Silver Millennium in the Moon Kingdom. Alas, a dark and violent tragedy struck at the happy citizens of the Moon Kingdom and the wheels of fate were set in motion. As her family, friends, and subjects fell dead before the invading enemy forces which consisted of Queen Beryl and her Generals from Earth, Queen Serenity of the Moon Kingdom used the last of her strength to seal the dark forces and send her people to the future. There they would be reborn and hopefully be able to live out their lives once more, this time in peace.

From there Tsukino Usagi and cast take center stage, weaving a dramatic tragedy replete with daily monsters and sometimes controversial subject matter. In both the manga and the anime, Sailor Moon broached some rather sensitive issues: homosexuality, transexualism, same-sex families, family division and rife, teen marriage, life and death, fate, true friendship, and hope. For a bishoujo anime geared towards the average teenage girl, Sailor Moon doesn’t pull any punches. Homosexuality in particular was embraced and expressed in a very natural though sometimes tragic fashion. But then, isn’t that just the way of life? Being gay was OK and it was natural; nothing to be punished or feared. The brutally cruel twists of fate that can lead to death and heartache weren’t lessened in any extent to spare viewers. Live can be all things and such denial is a corrosive poison which is harmful to everyone.

In the face of bitter life and death battles is the light of life and hope which will prevail, but sometimes at a price. All things precious and wroth living for must at times be fought for. As Usagi, the Senshi, and Mamoru fight, bleed, and die for us, our everyday normal happy carefree lives continue. Even when youma (demons) attack and the Senshi appear to save the day, there is no personal recognition, no Thank You. Instead, it is their own individual sense of duty, honor, destiny, and love for Earth and Humanity that is the Senshi’s reward. Even the most selfish, cruel, and dismal person is worth saving.

All life is precious.

For all of its seriousness, Sailor Moon has an overabundance of humor and silliness. Part of what sets Sailor Moon aside above all the rest and why it truly is a genre unto itself is the balance between a complex theme and a light-hearted tale of girls growing up while trying to find a peaceful balance between finding love and friendship and protecting the Earth.

The first four seasons and three movies of Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon were previously released in collections and single DVDs by both ADV and Geneon, respectfully. Unfortunately, the DVDs are long out of print. The last season, Sailor Moon Star, and the OVA specials collections have never been licensed. While the releases were for the most part uncut and unedited and for the first time available in Japanese with English subtitles, Sailor Moon didn’t receive the best loving treatment possible. An entire episode was left out of the second season and the original video masters along with the English subtitles were at times rather shoddy. That being said, I consider myself lucky to be a part of this timeless classic. I dream of it being relicensed and rereleased with the love and care that Sailor Moon and tachi deserve, but in the meantime, no matter how many years pass amidst a continuous plethora of anime I watch, Sailor Moon will always hold a very dear place in my heart as the progenitor of my otakudom.



You wake up one morning to find the world has change drastically overnight. Amazingly enough, you go about your routine in normalcy and call it a day as you crawl into bed and succumb to a peaceful slumber. The next day you wake up and that which had been so different was now so boringly normal it bore hardly a conscious thought, blending into the scenery, life, and society as naturally as if it had always been there.

The mothership.

After she crash-landed on Earth at some point in Mayuko’s (Mayu) early childhood, the sudden shock to humanity of not being alone and having to coexist with a human-like alien race all but disappeared. Humanity and society created a place for the displaced aliens just as they would have for fellow displaced immigrants. Years later it is simply business as usual. On the flip-side, because of the new alien residents, NieA_7 also deals with a lot of the rather heavy and pertinent issues of discrimination, racism, stereotypes, poverty, social class, small town vs. big city, etc. If life is business as usual, that unfortunately means one must live with and deal with the darker side of humanity also.

Thrust into this new mish-mash of modern society and its ills are our two main characters, Mayu and NieA, an Under 7 alien which means that NieA is of the lowest class of aliens, an outcast whose existence isn’t even recognized by the alien citizenship board. Mayu is a poor, hard-working small town girl who attends cram school in the city during the day and works at a small family-owned restaurant at night to make ends meet. She lives in one of the upper level rooms at a public bath house which her family used to own when she was just a child. It has since passed out of her family’s hands, but fortunately it is currently owned and operated by the enthusiastic if slightly eccentric Kotomi. NieA is her fun-loving, free-wheeling and free-loading room-mate who set up her home in Mayu’s closet one day, much to Mayu’s initial disgruntlement. The two couldn’t be more dissimilar, and yet a deepening friendship and trust gradually develops between Mayu and NieA. Factor in Mayu’s UFO otaku friend and fellow cram school student, Chiaki, and Yoshitoshi Abe and his creative staff has formulated one of the most endearing and wackiest slice-of-life anime yet.

NieA_7 revels in the boorishly normal by being extremely exotic. Lavish accessories, absurd fashionistas, and consumerism take a back seat to the everyday. The daily bathhouse customers, Mayu, NieA, Chiaki, Genzo, Kotomi and others are just your average young adults trying to get by, find their place in the world, and have fun all at the same time.

That doesn’t mean that NieA_7 is without slapstick humor, gags, and a plethora of insanity. It is, and more. The pure zaniness and incredulity is what brings that natural sense of realism to NieA_7. Each time I watch this 13 episode OVA, there is nothing I cannot personally relate to. I can relate to Mayu’s super-strict budget and almost daily struggle to make ends meet all while trying to maintain a positive outlook on life. NieA’s innocently naïve and free spirit reminds me of my carefree youth, and can make anyone who is tied down by the burden of excessive adult responsibilities think twice about what being happy and being free really means. Chiaki’s bold honesty with her UFO otaku obsession makes a fellow anime otaku like myself grin from ear-to-ear each time she has a major geek-out moment, having had quite a few of those myself.

Is there some great cosmic secret or truth to be told? A mystery of life to be revealed? A great revelation of epic proportions?

No. That is not at the heart of NieA_7. It's place is to raise awareness of discrimination, racism, poverty, social class, and stereotypes without being preachy by allowing her zany characters just to live their lives and thus illuminate these touchy issues naturally. NieA_7’s greatest treasures are Mayu, NieA, Chiaki, and others, living day to day, laughing, crying, arguing, reminiscing, relaxing, and just trying to be. They are the heart of NieA_7.

A crimson sunrise.
Sundaes with your best friends at a local café.
Late nights helping out at work.
Quiet moments of reflection.
Bitter arguments and teary reconciliations.
Battery operated UFO flights.
Exploding bath-houses.

NieA_7 was originally licensed and released on DVD in the US by Geneon. Its license is currently either lost or in limbo to the best of my knowledge, but new and used copies can be found online and in scattered stores. If you happen to stumble across this fabulously hilarious and poignant slice-of-life anime, take Mayu and the gang home with you. Just be sure to watch out for killer man-eating venus fly traps along the way.


Detective Academy Q

Long detective TV series can be done one of two ways: refreshingly successful or boringly unending. I have partaken of both over the years, so I always find it exciting to make a new and refreshingly successful discovery of a long detective anime series.

Detective Academy Q is my most recent success story. Originally animated and broadcast in April of 2003 and through March of 2004 for a total run of 45 episodes, Detective Academy Q features a star-studded cast of who-is-who in the sieyuu industry, both then and now. I recognized seiyuu that I have enjoyed continuously over the 13 plus years of my otaku induction. Their enduring and widely recognized talent raises Detective Academy Q to the next level. Megumi Ogata, Aya Hisakawa, Houko Kuwashima, Koichi Tochika, Tomoko Kawakami, Hideo Ishikawa, Hideyuki Tanaka, Ken Narita… to name just a few. Add a veteran directorial and production staff, and you have a recipe for almost guaranteed success.

Based on the original manga Detective Academy Q by mangaka Seimaru Amagi and Fumiya Sato, the anime stands just as well on its own. Having not read any of the manga myself, I was able to follow the storylines and character development with no difficulty at all. The overall flow was smooth with very little noticeable hitches. Might I have benefited more having read the manga first; possibly, but that was not a personal deterrent from enjoying the anime.

Our main characters are Ryuu, Kyuu, Megu, Kazuma, and Kintaro. Talented on their own, these young aspiring detectives truly shine as they hone their skills through teamwork and mutual support. It is very refreshing to see not just one character blossom and outshine the rest, but instead to see the entire Dan Detective School (DDS) members of Class Q each blossom into fine detectives while overcoming multiple hardships and obstacles along the way. One could argue that Kyuu is the overall main character, but I disagree. Detective Academy Q ends with a successor to the DDS chosen but not revealed. I believe that the producers wanted to leave it open and up to the fans to decide who or whom would succeed Dan Morihiko as the leader of the DDS.

Detective Academy Q has a main antagonist in the form of the evil organization Pluto which seeks to solve your problems by orchestrating the perfect crime for you from the shadows. It was Dan Morihiko’s lifelong mission and achievement in destroying the past Pluto organization before he retired and formed the DDS in search of the next generation of great detectives. As a seasoned detective and man of intelligence, he knew it would be only a matter of time before Pluto resurrected themselves and brought evil once more into the world. Enter our young stars of Class Q (for qualified), the next generation of whom the DDS and the world may very well be placing their hopes and future on. It is possible that Pluto played a minor role in the early cases of Class Q, but more likely than not, Pluto didn’t become active until later in the series as Class Q became ever more skilled and refined and their future potential as detectives would be a danger to Pluto. To ensure their revival, Pluto awoke from its long slumber and once again started dabbling in the lives of the lost, confused, and scorned, all the while issuing a challenge to Class Q to stay out of their way or suffer the consequences.

The anime follows a standard case-of-the-day episodic formula, yet quite frequently that formula is broken into multiple episodes. Allowing a reasonable length of time to complete each case lends a heightened sense of reality to Detective Academy Q that other detective anime fail to grasp. Not everyone case, every puzzle, every mystery can be wrapped up in a neat little package in just one 24 minute episode. A crime may be cut and dry, but finding the road to successfully solving the crime may not be. Sometimes multiple episodes are required to fully flush out the characters, the story, the crime, and the reasons why.

Detective Academy Q is unfortunately unlicensed at the moment, but the complete series is available fansubbed. It is my wish that sometime in the future this excellent detective anime TV series will see a US license and DVD release. In the meantime, grab some popcorn, a drink, and join Kyuu, Ryuu, Megu, Kazuma, and Kintaro as they solve refreshingly original cases. I found it nigh impossible to stop watching as the hours and episodes flew by, bringing me to a very satisfying conclusion before I even knew it. I am sure you will, too.


Photon: The Idiot Adventures

Life is a very serious matter, but that doesn’t mean that life is meant to be taken seriously all the time. If it wasn’t for laughter, for outrageous comedic moments, outlandish parodies, and priceless satire, surely humanity would have gone mad eons ago. While the serious moments of our lives give purpose and drive, the laughter and smiles is the glue that holds us all together and makes living possible.

This is nowhere more evident than in the creative genius that is Photon: The Idiot Adventures. Brought to me by Masaki Kajishima, the same creative genius who was behind Tenchi Muyo and Dual, Photon perfectly bridges the gap between the serious tragedies of life and the gut-busting insanity of our day to day reality. What is life but one big cosmic joke in which taking things too seriously is just as detrimental as being too lackadaisical.

Enter our main characters: Photon, Keyne, Aun, Papacha, and Lashara. In the distant past on a remote planet, there was once a spaceship which crash-landed, thus opening our anime, Photon. During its fiery descent, a mysterious object from the ship fell to the ground, landing amidst the primitive people there. Recovered by one of the natives during its descent, this seemingly mystical and sacred object is help aloft for all too see, and in one single instant, the path of evolution and society takes an unexpected turn. Hundreds of years later, the Holy Object has catapulted the original natives to a civilized agricultural state by giving motion and life to various objects and implements: tools, machinery, modern conveniences, and even producing fire.

So, just what is this Holy Object?

A marker.

Yes. None other than a marker, also known as an Aho pen in the civilization it came from. To truly appreciate the double, triple, and sometimes quadruple entendres of this and other linguistic parodies within Photon: The Idiot Adventures, one must first understand what the word Aho means in Japanese.

Translation: moron, stupid, idiot.

In other words, an all around buffoon. The counter-agent to the great power of Aho is Un-Aho, and the center of all Un-Aho is known as the Singularity Point. This would mean that whoever is the Singularity Point is the antithesis to all Aho in the known universe.

Amidst all the silly hijinks unravels a tale of power and corruption, love and heartbreak, promises made and promises kept, and intergalactic conflict. Thrust into this mayhem is our main characters. While there are multiple important secondary characters, the main character in this tale is Photon, our loveable mascot, or man, for whom this particular OVA series is named. Photon, our token idiot with whom we adventure is simple, quiet, and sensibly down-to-earth almost to the point of simpleton. In summary, Photon embodies the basic principles of chivalry which, unfortunately or fortunately, this also makes him an idiot.

I always find it amazing that the Japanese have so perfectly mastered the craft of pairing absolutely outrageous comedy with very real, very taught emotional human drama and circumstance. In one moment Keyne and Aun are having a no-holds-barred showdown to see who can cook a better meal for Photon, thus proving who is more worthy of being his wife. In another, Keyne battles for her life against Papacha and the Galactic Emperor, both of whom wish to utilize her body which is also the Key to unlocking the limitless power of Aho. Through various turns of events, our heroes will have you laughing vigorously in one moment and on the edge of your seat, pillow clenched in hand the next, as they battle to save the universe and each other.

Photon, Keyne, Aun, Lashara, and Papacha have forever endeared themselves to my heart. Whenever I reminisce about the anime Photon, I can't help but to smile and snicker. Papacha is one of the most selfish, arrogant, and unbelievably stupid villains I have ever experienced. There is no boundary that cannot be crossed and no parody too crazy. From dancing black dots strategically placed in delicate areas to exploding nose bleeds and sake-swilling hot spring mischief, Photon has something for everyone’s funny bone.

Fortunately, Photon: The Idiot Adventures is available domestically from US Manga Corp. Collected on one DVD; Photon delivers three solid hours of Aho hilarity. No matter how much time passes or how many times I revisit Photon and friends, it is always just as good as the last.


Toshokan Sensou

From an early age I was instilled with a love of books and the written word. There was an authority, majesty, mystery, and mystique in the artfully composed word. Capable of tearing down walls, crushing dynasties, and creating fantastic new worlds as real as the view outside our windows, the pen was the sword. For all of humanities accomplishments and triumphs, we would be nothing were it naught for the word of wisdom, most often immortalized in the book.

Toshokan Sensou is the latest creative work to praise the irreplaceable power of books, of art, human freewill and expression. In a world as outrageous as a bestselling fiction, our characters live in a society with a hard-line drawn between freedom of expression and the suppression of dangerous thoughts for the safety of her citizens.

The Media Improvement Act.

In the face of thought suppression, the Libraries were left with no option but to unify and arm themselves to protect books and the rights of those who want to read them. The Media Improvement Act and the new Branch of government which regulated it were also armed. After an early confrontation which ended in bloodshed, the various Media Improvement Act committees left the Libraries no choice but to arm themselves. All out war had been declared and battles were being fought on all fronts, whether it is through the power of politics or military tactics.

Thrust into this reality at a young age, our heroine, Iku Kasahara, vows to protect the books she loves and those who have the desire to read them. Not too long after the Media Improvement Act was passed, the final book in her favorite fantasy series which she had waited 10 years for was finally released. Marked as a dangerous item, Iku clung stubbornly onto her copy which she had stopped by the bookstore to purchase. Refusing to let go, Iku stands defiant in the face of armed officers. Just as the situation was to take a turn for the worse, an officer of the Kantou Library Corp stepped into her life, saving both Iku and her book from future despair. Glimpsing only his highlighted outline in the blaze of the setting sun her “Prince Charming” inspired Iku to join the Kantou Library Forces, becoming the first ever female Forces officer.

Tall and naturally athletic, Iku excels at the training, though she does struggle at times with her instructor and the more academic side of her Library Corp training. Overall, she is quickly accepted and gains the respect of her fellow corp-mates and library staff. The first female member of the Kantou Library Forces, Iku has little trouble living up to expectations, though she does keep her acceptance a secret from her parents whom she fears will not approve of her decision and try to force her to return home. Her instructor and troop commander, Atsushi Dojo, can be gruff at times and they clash often, but one can glimpse a deeper growing sense of support, respect, concern, and maybe even more than a professional interest.

Her roommate and best-friend Shibasaki is Iku’s rock of reason and sanity and quite the amazing individual herself. Shibasaki aims to be the first female Library Corp Commander, and with her natural skills and intelligence network, it is a valid possibility.

While each episode deals with the usual character development and sometimes humorous situations, at the heart of Toshokan Sensou is the very serious matter of freedom. Freedom of speech. Freedom of thought. Freedom of expression. Freedom of the written word. In a free society, these are easy to take for granted, but what if they were suddenly taken away from you for the supposed protection and betterment of you and society. Does anyone have the right of absolute authority over you?

It’s not an all-too-uncommon issue when one looks at history and history often repeats itself, albeit it under various guises. Book burning. Censorship. Arrests, violence, social and civil unrest. At what point do society and/or the government cease protecting our freedom and start suppressing it? To regain and protect those rights, what steps should be taken and to what extremes? Iku, Shibasaki, Dojo and all the other characters of Toshokan Sensou embody the very ideals and conflicts we fought for in the past and continue to hold dear. Even now, is the battle truly over?

A short yet well scripted package, Toshokan Sensou runs for 12 episodes. Much as in real life, solutions to such complex issues don’t come easily and at the end of the day, while progress was made, the road remains long. The difference is in those who give up and those who keep up the good fight for the freedom they believe in.

Toshokan Sensou is currently unlicensed, though it is a prime target for a domestic license. With the success of similarly veined anime such as Read Or Die, Toshokan Sensou already has a ready and willing audience. As an avid otaku, reader, poet, and writer myself, Toshokan Sensou touches very personal issues and reminds me of what is precious no matter what day and age.


Haibane Renmei

Second chances don’t come often in life, whatever that life may be. An opportunity to begin anew with a clean slate and fresh start. No memories or burden of one’s previous mistakes and miseries. A neutral territory to regain that which was once thrown away with nary a care in the world, but only if one is strong enough to face life and embrace it. But even in the face of redemption, a second chance at life is but naught a tortuous ordeal when one is still tormented by disturbingly dark, shadowed dreams.

A quiet voice, tender and shaky, lost and confused as if just waking up from a deep dream.
A cloudy sky full of haze and fog.
A young girl garbed in but a simple white robe falls through seemingly endless skies as a crow follows her decent.

A patron saint? Concerned spirit? Or just a passing denizen of flight curious about this strange visitor to his skies. As the earth rushes into view, a flash of bright white light, then silence greeted by muffled voices. Our young girl slowly opens sleepy eyes. Was it a dream? Is the embryonic filled cocoon she awakens to find herself in a dream? As the excited voices grow ever louder and less muffled, she clumsily claws at the inner walls of the cocoon. It crumbles, giving way to her clumsy touch with no resistance. Reaching through the soft, gelatinous walls, she bursts through the ghostly white cocoon in an explosion of embryonic fluids and cocoon bits, much like a babe through her mother’s womb.

No memory. No name. Only the dream she had of falling while in the cocoon. The young girl is named Rakka, which means “to fall”, by the house mother of Old Home, Reki. All of the young grey feathers, also known as Haibane, who live in Old Home are named according to their dream within the cocoon. It is unknown the exact truth or purpose behind the dream, only that it is significant to one’s new life in Old Home and beyond.

Surrounded by strangers with grey wings on their backs and what appears to an angel’s halo on their head, Rakka is confused and unsure, but Reki is there to reassure the new young grey feather. Reki has been at Old Home for many years, and cares for all the children there, though she may be a bit rough around the edges at times. Rakka has no wings coming from her back, but as Reki forewarned her, they would grow soon and within hours, the painful process of becoming a Haibane began. Rakka eventually passes out in fevered exhaustion while Reki patiently sits at her side throughout the night, gently cleaning the blood and grime from her newly sprouted wings. The next day, the other Haibane at Old Home present Rakka with her halo which unfortunately suffers from a severe case of static electricity for quite a few days. An unusual occurrence, the direct cause of the troublesome halo is discovered later on, much to Rakka’s horror.

As we get to know the inhabitants of Old Home better, their various stories and pasts at since living in Old Home within the walled city of Gile are explained. All citizens and denizens who live and work in Gile may enter, but they may never leave. Only the Haibane who have matured and realized the truth behind their dream may leave, usually doing so in quiet privacy. A Haibane leaving is a joyous occasion for it means they are finally free, but for bonds of friendship and family, the loss is always felt with a mix of happiness and sorrow.

While the other residents of Old Home have their own stories, Rakka and Reki are the two tragic main characters of Haibane Renmei. Finding a common hardship in each other, neither Rakka nor Reki can clearly remember their dream or the significance of their dream within the cocoon. Reki’s dream has haunted her for years. When she was first born at Old Home, Reki lay undiscovered for hours until the previous house mother stumbled upon her limp, prone form on the floor in an abandoned room. Still as death in a pool of fluid and blood from having already birthed her wings, Reki was born “cursed” with blotchy, ink-black wings. Outcast and feared by her fellow house-mates, Reki suffered much both at the hands of others and at the nightly torment of her dream which was quickly turning into a nightmare. It was a tragic accident on a rainy miserable night which brought Reki back to Old Home. The loss of the house mother whom Reki admired and adored humbled her reckless anger and resentment, giving Reki a purpose in life as the new house mother for Old Home.

As Rakka struggles to remember her dream and sinks further into despair, Reki is there for Rakka. For the first time, Reki feels as though there is someone else who truly understands her, but the feeling is short-lived as Rakka reaches a peaceful resolution with her dream. Alone once more, Reki withdraws herself from Rakka, much to Rakka’s desperate objections otherwise. Reki may feel alone and rejected once more, but to Rakka, there is nothing nor no one as important to her then Reki and helping Reki realize the truth of her dream and finding the light back to peace.

Reki’s time is short. For any Haibane who cannot realize or remember their dream before their time of ascension comes to pass, they are condemned to live in Gile forever. They lose their wings, must hide their face and voice, and live out the rest of their lives with other fallen Haibane fettered away from society.

Determined to be there for Reki in her time of need, just as Reki was there for her, Rakka struggles alongside Reki against the impending darkness of her nightmare. In a final showdown of desperation, Reki offers up herself to the nightmare for the last time. As Rakka calls out to her through the growing thunderous din, Reki’s nightmare barrels towards her in unavoidable finality.

Haibane Renmei is one of the most heartfelt, emotionally taught and subtle anime I have seen. Besides being a fan of Yoshitoshi Abe’s soft delicate art style, he has proven himself a poetic genius with Haibane Renmei. Haibane doesn’t hit you over the side of the head with its message, but instead chooses to keep it flowing like a gentle river whispering along through times forgotten. Should one stop to listen, to notice, and to reflect, a whole new world of revelation and resolution opens up before one’s soul. Haibane Renmei opens a new world of reflection in my soul, much as it does all of its endearing and earnest characters.

Haibane Renmei was once released on US DVD by Pioneer, who has since pulled out of the US market. To my knowledge, Haibane Renmei is not relicensed yet. For anyone who loves a beautifully ethereal story guaranteed to pull at your heart and soul, do not miss out on Haibane Renmei. It will change your life in some way, much as it changes mine each time I revisit Old Home.


On Your Mark

A scorched Earth ravaged by nuclear pollution and war. Leftover remnants of civilization eek out their days within domed cities. Hope, fanatical desperation, and rigid authority struggle for dominion over the masses. In the face of mass destruction, despair, and misery, how would humanity as a whole react when suddenly confronted with a glimmer of hope? How would I as an individual react?

Environmental affairs.
Antiwar sentiment.
Pacifism instead of violence.
Hope and reason instead of despair and hate.

Hayao Miyazaki has been a proponent of all the above his whole life and On Your Mark is no exception. A collaborative effort between Miyazaki-san and the Japanese pop duo Chage & Aska, On Your Mark tells an epic tale of hope in the face of destruction and desperation. Within the span of about six and a half minutes, Chage & Aska weave poetic lyrics as Miyazaki-san breathes life into their shared vision.

Chage & Aska are personified as the two heroes in On Your Mark. Average policemen, they find themselves thrust into a bloody and violent raid on a fanatical religious cult’s stronghold. Amidst gunfire and mass suicide, they discover a lone survivor amidst all the silent bodies and stench of death. Lying in a limp, crumpled mass, feathered white wings cover the pale, still body of a young girl. Who is she? Questions are irrelevant to Chage & Aska. All they see is an injured, young girl who is somehow miraculously alive. Unconscious, the only movement is of her chest slowly rising and falling with each shallow breath.

Cradled in gentle arms, Chage & Aska rush the young girl outside and find something for her to drink. Like a suckling babe, she greedily feeds on the offered straw and drink, slowly opening her eyes for the first time much to her rescuers delight. But no sooner does she wake up that strange men in even stranger full-body medical suits take the girl from their arms, thrust her into a body bag on a stretcher, and race off in their airship adorned with “Danger: Radioactive” symbols.

Left to their own troubled thoughts, our young heroes wither the night away, unable to rest or sleep as their conscience keeps drifting back to the beautiful yet frail girl they had rescued earlier that day. As the night grows long, Chage & Aska form a reckless last minute plan to rescue the young girl from the unsavory devices of the organization which had carted her away. A prisoner, she most likely would have suffered for unknown years, all in the name of science, fanaticism, and military design.

Chage & Aska raid the heavily guarded secret facility and with girl in arms, the desperate race to bring her to safety and to freedom begins. Pursued by armed men and armed vehicles, time and time again our heroes struggle to escape, never giving up because hope, freedom, and human goodwill must never be lost. Finally, they pass through the last gate out of the domed city and into the unknown. Lush green fields overflow with wild plants and flowers of infinite variety. Clear blue skies reach beyond the heavens themselves to greet our escapees. A warm breeze rustles her hair and outstretched wings. With a kiss goodbye and an angelic smile of thanks, our young lady soars up into the skies, free at last.

A young girl? An Angel? An arbiter of hope and freedom for a people who have lost their way? When hope is lost and the emotionless daily grind is the only meaning left to life – can one person, one moment of light and freedom open the doors to hope and rebirth once more?

Hayao Miyazaki, with the help of Chage & Aska, asks these very deep, humanistic and soul-searching questions of the viewer. Each of us as a person, as a human being has the ability and responsibility to take care of our home and to each other as equal individuals. Faced with the very embodiment of life and hope, would you as a person be able to let it go, to keep life and hope free for everyone? Or would you want to capture and imprison it so that you could keep it all to yourself?

On Your Mark is not licensed or available domestically, but it has finally gotten a DVD release in Japan for those who have the ability to play import DVDs. Anyone who appreciates a powerful film with a poetically scripted story and matching visuals will enjoy On Your Mark. It always manages to leave me misty-eyed by the end and with a profound sense of my humanity and wonder.