The Exiles Trilogy – Kickstarter!

Time for something a little different today!

While I usually post writing stuff on my other blogs and never here, I’m pretty deep in ‘promotion-mode’ with this campaign at the moment, and so I wanted to mention my current Kickstarter 🙂

If you’re curious, you can take a look by clicking the banner image below:



But more importantly, if you know anyone who reads the fantasy genre and you had a moment to send them my way, that would be great!

The Exiles Trilogy is a multi-pov epic fantasy series with a connected story that follows four main characters on their struggles after being exiled from their homes, their loved ones and even their nations too – more detail can be found over on the campaign page!



Above, I’ve shared two out of the three covers that my amazing cover artist has created, Rebekah from VividCovers.com 😀

Thanks for taking a look at the Exiles Trilogy!

Ashley

Rhapsodise! (Quick Preview)

This is just a little follow-up post for now, but I want to share a short list of some of the anime that will be featured on the blog.

As to which show/episode I should start with, I still don’t know… but that’s part of the fun, perhaps!


  1. Cowboy Bebop
  2. RahXephon
  3. The Big O
  4. Natsume’s Book of Friends
  5. Sound! Euphonium
  6. Samurai Champloo
  7. Trigun
  8. Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water
  9. Aria: The Animation
  10. Assassination Classroom
  11. Ergo Proxy
  12. Ghost in the Shell: SAC
  13. Ushio & Tora
  14. Witch Hunter Robin
  15. Black Lagoon

The list above includes anime that I’m writing about but also anime that guest bloggers have graciously offered to cover.

If you’re familiar with some of the WordPress bloggers writing on anime – want to take a shot at guessing who might be writing on what? 😀

Ashley

New Blog – Rhapsodise! (Anime, One Favourite Episode at a Time)

This year I’m launching a second blog 🙂

It’s the worst possible time for me to do so – I am working extra jobs, have five books I have to finish and release this year, and other things going on etc etc etc

But I’m stubborn. I need to fit in something else that isn’t work.

And so this idea is launching!

At this stage, I’m not sure about the frequency of posts at the new blog, but I’m excited nevertheless – for at least two reasons:

  1. The tone – it’s called Rhapsodise! because I want to write (& feature) posts and reviews that showcase favourite episodes, episodes people really loved, episodes that just blew them away with how great they were, episodes that they have never really been able to stop thinking about.
  2. The focus on each post will cover just a single episode from an anime, which is something I haven’t seen across dozens and dozens of blogs. That could mean that this new blog will meet a need that isn’t being met at present. Maybe 😀

And as I mentioned above, the Rhapsodise blog isn’t only going to be my writing – it’s also open to guest posts etc.

So please click on the banner image below, and take a look at the submissions page on the blog if you think you might be interested!

Ashley

Hatarki Man [Boxing Day Review]

Here’s something I haven’t really experienced for a while – a series where I really enjoyed the characters, the setting and the individual stories, but deeply disliked the message.

Now, whether I’m actually correct about the message – is there a message at all? – or whether I’m wrong, might certainly be up for debate.

I would like to be wrong actually…

Hatarki Man (2006)

In any event, here’s the premise (as per Wikipedia):

Hiroko Matsukata is a woman who works for a magazine company. She puts all she has into her work, and is known as a strong, straightforward working girl, who can at will turn herself into Hataraki man (working man) mode. Despite Hiroko’s success at work, her life lacks romance. Even though a hard worker, she would leave early anytime to go on a date. Too bad her boyfriend is an even bigger workaholic than Hiroko.

Okay, so what makes the anime work for me?

Well, aside from the almost ‘too-close’ character design of Hiroko (that was nevertheless compelling), I think it is the characters themselves. They’re all stronger than their flaws, and more, they’re able to reflect. And there is variety in both their look and personalities, their problems and the solutions they come up with. I wish it had a been longer anime.

For fans of episodic + overarching plot lines, Hataraki Man should satisfy too. And if you’re like me, with little idea of how print publishing works(ed) in Japan, then you’ll probably learn a few interesting things about the industry too – especially in the ‘Reward Man’ episode.

Throughout, the writing verged on dark comedy, but overall it’s a work-drama. And while I could very easily relate to some of the central struggles both Hiroko and Shinji faced, especially when they were doubting the value of their work, this point brings me to my problem with the message or theme (at least, as I see it).

And it seems to be something like “work is more important than anything else”.

Again, maybe I’m performing a bit of a shallow reading of the text here – I’m very curious to see if anyone else has seen the anime/read the manga?

Soon, I’ll finally present my ‘evidence’ as it were, but first I want to note that I’m basing a large part of my response on the final episode especially, and two moments in particular. (Okay, and a quote from the author, but I’ll include that at the bottom).

Okay okay again, I’m also basing it on a few other general things I’ll outline now:

That ‘work above all else’ thing that I keep harping on about in this review seems to be echoed in just about every character onscreen, since so few seem permitted to/able to make time for anything but work, and if they do, it is not shown to us very often.

Spoilers below:

More, the main long-term romantic relationship in the anime decays week by week in favour of work, and meaningful conversations between characters usually happen jammed in between other events or during periods of exhaustion.

The one character in the office who dares to draw a line between work and the rest of his life is scorned by our main character, and management is so void of compassion that even a water leak that destroys the MC’s apartment doesn’t seem to be relevant. (Of course, folks like that are a dime a dozen in management, but it’s always sad and ridiculous to see someone fight so hard for a company that will immediately discard and replace them the second they burn out).

And burn-out is a vital theme in the anime, and one that I reckon is handled really well too. I could probably recommend Hataraki Man for that aspect alone.

But at last, the notion of burn-out leads me to the concluding episode.

When finally Hiroko and Shinji drift apart enough to call it quits (initiated by Shinji who seems to have given up on the relationship first) Hiroko is stunned into something of walking-coma. Of course, she’s unequipped to process her emotions, but gets some advice from a colleague, which seems to boil down to “it wasn’t your fault you put work before your relationship”.

Which is not true. Both Hiroko and Shinji absolutely put work first, and that’s why everything falls apart for them.

The ending of the episode basically lets Hiroko snap out of her depression thanks to work, and Hiroko’s voice-over even tells us that she will be okay… because she has a job.

Now, obviously after something deeply painful, pouring yourself into another facet of your life can be great – necessary even.

But for every scene of Hiroko working until 2am or slumped over her coffee table in her day-clothes after having stumbled home from work, every time she rang to cancel a date, or was stuck at the office long after others left, it was clear this work ethic left her with nothing else, not even a fun hobby – especially since by end of the series, Hiroko doesn’t even had a boyfriend anymore either.

Once again, maybe I’m being somewhat unfair – many times the series is committed to show us the awfulness of a ‘work is everything style’ culture, yet after I finished the anime, I stumbled across this quote from the creator of the manga, Moyoco Anno:

“The traditional virtue of Japan was that people took everything very seriously. As those traditions have been eroded, the quality of Japanese work has been downgraded.”

https://web.archive.org/web/20080706032642/http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/markets/japan/article2806731.ece

The full quote contextualises the comment more around accusations of laziness, which struck me as rather thoughtless when I apply it to Anno’s own industry, one that seems rife with creators working themselves into the ground etc.

I have to note that it’s obviously incredibly risky for me to take one quote (or even a full passage) and use it as evidence of ‘what the anime was saying’.

Even supposedly saying.

And it’s also risky of me to claim the quote as evidence that the anime conformed to more than it critiqued the dominant attitudes toward work that I tried to identify above. Again, I’d like to be wrong.

Because in the end of course, I obviously don’t (and couldn’t possibly) have a handle on what’s going in Japan right now, nor when the manga was written for that matter, or the anime aired, but the stories about burn-out that do reach me today certainly don’t fill me with happiness.

Obviously, overwork is a problem that’s not going away (not just in Japan but anywhere in the world) without radical change – and this rant from me won’t make any difference. Even so, I enjoyed getting it onto paper, as it were.

So… to crawl back to the review itself at long last, I still really liked this anime.

In fact, I love that it gave me pause and made me think. And I will definitely watch it again one day, but I find myself wondering now, weeks later, am I supposed to be happy for Hiroko at the end of the series, or worried that she’ll work herself to death, just like her poor interview subject from episode 9: “Full-Fledged Hataraki Man”?

4 Stars

This resolve and drive is more typical of her as a character, actually – I probably should have taken more similar screencaps for the review.

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners: (Saibāpanku Ejjirannāzu)

If anyone out there hasn’t heard of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners yet, and you happen to be looking for something new and something that is aimed at more of a seinen audience, and you also like sci-fi, then take a look.

Maybe even if you don’t like the sub-genre all that much, still give it a try, I reckon. Especially if you’re a huge Studio Trigger fan in general, or perhaps you just love bright, fast-paced anime?

Because as I keep saying, I reckon Edgerunners is worth your time.

(Even if you’re a bit gun-shy after the disastrous release of the Cyberpunk 2077 game, I believe that should you start and finish this anime, you won’t find it to be ‘unfinished’ or ‘rushed’).

[Spoilers from here on in]

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners: (Saibāpanku Ejjirannāzu) 2022

Actually, to keep jamming descriptors into my lumbering introduction, and also to go out on a limb a bit with this recommendation stuff, maybe consider trying this anime if you’re into the ‘doomed romance’ thing too.

Especially if you’re not adverse to gore and nudity, since Cyberpunk has a lot of one and some of the other. But to sneak back to my comment on its audience, about it being more seinen, I’d argue that not only due to the visual content, but the themes.

I’m making that claim for a couple of reasons, I suppose.

For one, it feels like the way Cyberpunk: Edgerunners uses revenge almost as bait-and-switch might bug an immature audience (which is not the same thing as a ‘young’ audience). Or the way that communication (or lack thereof) remains a very human theme, and one entirely distinct from the amazing technological advances in the setting.

And further, the anti-corporate, anti-capitalist bent is so clear – perhaps some of the more pointed ‘punk’ aspects to the series.

Body modification is another main theme in the anime, though Edgerunners spends most of that aspect on related violence rather than identity. No surprise, I guess – since the anime is an action-thriller too…

… and I’m suddenly back on ‘genres’ and ‘conventions’ once more 😀

Well, for me, that stuff is almost always interesting at the very least.

And in Edgerunners, I remember the first few episodes setting up what seemed to be an underdog-revenge story. By the end, it’s clear that it fits in a whole lot more.

I finished the anime wondering if, in addition to everything else I’ve mentioned above, there isn’t a bit of Psychological Horror included, with a touch of the ‘last girl’ trope thrown into the pan too.

Connected, perhaps, are Splatterpunk elements, both in terms of story and visuals, which feed into the action and horror as much as the cyberpunk.

That’s the beauty of really effective stories though – they can easily fit more than one aspect from more than one genre. Sometimes, the mix results in something that escapes the bounds of any one genre and either creates something new or at the very least, something that will last.

Having said all of that, the guts of the Edgerunners story does have a single focus, it’s the relationship between leads David and Lucy – and to a lesser extent, between David and his sort-of mentor, the imposing but flawed Maine (not that he’s the only one with flaws).

That core relationship between David and Lucy keeps all the moving parts of the anime together, and each thing I learnt about the setting and world seemed quickly or eventually relevant to David and Lucy’s struggle to survive, and to protect one another.

I’ve already mentioned the range of genres, but another I could see an argument being made for is that of tragedy – well, kinda.

And I’m not talking about the fact that pretty much everyone dies but Lucy, instead it’s that David destroys himself well before his futile (yet understandable) battle with Adam Smasher occurs, even after seeing Maine destroy himself in nearly exactly the same way.

The more I write on this anime, the more I’m thinking that Edgerunners is not precisely a Tragedy. Or, the more I can’t decide how well it follows the classic conventions of a tragedy. So maybe it could be, after all.

Could be that the show is simply not a tragedy in a somewhat narrow sense, wherein a character does all the right things and yet is still punished/made to suffer/fails.

Because I believe that the narrative perfectly shows that our main characters don’t do all the right things, that they aren’t at all ‘unfairly punished by circumstance’. Instead, they make choices themselves, and those choices just don’t work out.

Not that the choices they make are easy ones.

After finishing the anime, I wonder if I missed something or not… because I’m still doubting the idea of it being a tragedy.

For instance, Lucy is shown to be able to hide extremely well. Could not she and David have fled the city? And maybe they wouldn’t have been able to hide forever, but the simple fact that they were (perhaps understandably) too afraid to be honest with each other about who was protecting who and from what, I’d argue that they were doomed by their own failure to communicate.

And so perhaps character flaws (or fear) drove their actions as much as anything else – but whether I’m off the mark or not about genre doesn’t really matter in the end, because that doesn’t change the fact that the characters were written really well.

In terms of an actual issue at last, the first thing that came to mind was that a certain amount of prior knowledge about the Cyberpunk77 universe and world-building would probably help a little. Still, I was never lost.

I kind of hinted above that the body modification theme wasn’t explored all that much, so that felt like a bit of a missed opportunity.

But moving back to a couple of positives to finally wrap up this review, I found it refreshing to see actual daylight in a cyberpunk story! It seems far too often that low-level lighting is the default for the genre, the predictable fall-back for production design (of course, you’ve got to show off all those neons, but still, I really enjoyed the variety here).

And finally, I think that the ending was very, very effective. I was so happy to finish an anime with a conclusion that really worked… but I’d argue it was not at all bittersweet – it was only bitter 😀

5 Stars

Paperman (2012)

This is a sweet short from Disney that I really liked – a perfectly simple story about trying to find someone after a chance meeting.

Paper links the two characters, and it’s both a tool and an impediment for a main character on his search. There’s lots of unity between that and the colour scheme, and the little touches of red are great of course.

There’s always a part of me that has a feeling that a short is often going to be an exploration of a new visual technique, and that the story will come an at times distant second, but I didn’t feel that here.

And so if you have about 7 minutes up your sleeve and maybe want to see some nice CGI + 2D blends, great composition and a sweet story, then take a look at Paperman.

4 Stars

Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (Rupan za Saado ~Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna)

Thanks to its position as sort of a prequel series, the first thing you might notice about The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is how it features character designs hearkening back to the manga (and the 1971 Lupin too), something I really enjoyed.

Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (Rupan za Saado ~Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna) 2012

The design (and pretty much everything else in this series) is a little grungier, perhaps, thanks not just to the ace visual style – but also smaller things like visible body hair on legs and wrists/knuckles. And also, of course, the storylines themselves.

If you haven’t come across The Woman Called Fujiko Mine before, it basically explores how ‘the gang’ first meet.

Well, a little more specifically, it’s focused mostly on Fujiko and Lupin as they uncover the truth about her past.

There’s a complex undercurrent of unease and unhappy secrets that link the episodic aspects, and it all comes together in a pretty satisfying way, but I think what was of most interest to me was the fascinating glimpse of ‘before’ all the main characters meet.

I won’t spoil those moments, but a few stand out – especially a particular ‘Goemon episode’.

Another aspect that sticks in my mind whenever I think about this series, is the menace to the owls – maybe I could say it hearkens back to the motif of birds from stuff like Pyscho at a stretch perhaps, but the use of the Owls definitely has a few layers, wisdom, secrets, silence, unblinking villains; it’s all good.

But to jump back to the visuals for a moment, I think if you like the original Lupin or perhaps just the 1960s and 1970s in general, then you’ll enjoy just about everything about what Sayo Yamamoto and Takeshi Koike have done here, as it’s very evocative of the era.

I also tend to enjoy the heavy hatching look too. (Actually, on that note – if you don’t like much about anything I’ve mentioned so far, then The Woman Called Fujiko Mine might seem relentlessly dark). 

There’s also a lot of fan-service, some of which you could call stylish. I’d also say that it’s less of the male-gaze variety (though that’s incidentally present), after reading this quote from director Sayo Yamamoto:

Because if the character of Lupin is going to be the protagonist, you would get a better product by having it directed by someone who is more attached to Lupin than me (laughs). And well, I also wasn’t very interested in creating 12 episodes of that. My favorite Lupin character is Fujiko Mine. To the point that when I was little I basically used to watch Lupin just to see Fujiko’s sexy scenes (laughs). I thought that if the theme is “I want to look at Fujiko for the whole time”, then I would be able to create that. (Interview here)

Despite what that quote might suggest, the story is just as focused on Fujiko’s character.

Writers Mari Okada and Dai Satō (among others), spend plenty of time giving the audience a chance to see and wonder about exactly what makes Fujiko tick.

The rest of the gang aren’t ignored either, but sometimes it’s a sub-character that makes a big impact – one of which is Lieutenant Oscar. There’s some stuff going on with this guy, too much for me to even try to go over in one review. Or even understand, I think. (I remember being left with conflicting emotions about poor, broken, evil Oscar too).

It’s been a long time since I finished the anime now, and so I wonder if I should attempt a re-watch one day, because I’m sure I missed important details here and there.

Above all, I think The Woman Called Fujiko Mine would still have things to offer me if I did watch it again, and so I’m sure I will.

5 Stars

(Images sourced from google)

Lupin III: The First (Rupan Sansei Za Fāsuto)

I guess this Lupin film had the capacity to upset some people, since it’s full-on CGI, but for this fan, there were no missteps.

Lupin III: The First (Rupan Sansei Za Fāsuto) 2019

Everything looks fantastic and the translation of 2D characters into CGI works really well. I think that’s in part to the original designs naturally lending themselves to exaggeration, which in turn helps things along when the characters and their stories are adapted to different forms (as I see it, at least).

Having said that, my favourite part was actually the heavy Indiana Jones feel to the story and settings.

Without spoilers, I’ll just note that Nazis and prop planes, deserts, caves and secret treasures, archaeology and mysterious powers do feature in the film enough to evoke that Indiana vibe, without also taking over. It definitely felt like a fond tribute to me, and contains a lot of classic Lupin hi-jinx too, as most of the gang still get to play their parts.

New character Laetitia is a nice contrast to most of the gang, considering her earnest nature, and her ‘grandfather’ is a slimy bastard indeed. Probably a better villain than Geralt the Nazi, actually. (And on that note, it was pretty satisfying to see Hitler as a prop, used as an object of ridicule, a prank to be played on Geralt, and of course, it’s always great to witness the Nazis lose).

(And just quickly, the OST by long-time Lupin composer Yuji Ohno fit perfectly too).

Lupin himself in this film slips into a bit of a mentor-like role at times, offering as much advice to Laetitia as he does quips to everyone else. I guess you could argue that other cast members could use a bit more screen-time, but that’s not a small task, considering the large cast and a running time of a single film.

Most definitely recommended for fans of the franchise, and possibly perhaps even for sceptics of CGI… so long as you’re also a fan of Indiana Jones, perhaps.

4 Stars

Guessing Game (16)


Guessing Game is back again, this time it’s Round 16!

As most often with these posts, I haven’t gone for any theme here, it’s just some random images from a variety of eras.

In one image in particular, I’ve hidden the show as best I can by avoiding characters – but it’s a pretty famous series 😀

Recognise any?