Yugo: The Negotiator (Yuugo: Kōshōnin)

Yugo: The Negotiator (Yuugo: Kōshōnin) 2004

I think all lists that include ‘smartest anime character’ should probably have Yugo in them. And maybe lists ranking ‘most resilient’ ones too for that matter.

Because boy, Yugo really does get put through some tough times here – especially in the first negotiation (episodes 1-6).

But before I continue I’ll include a quick premise from Wikipedia:

The series follows Yugo Beppu, a hostage negotiator, in various cases around the world. Having both a very tough body and determination, and his keen insight, Yugo often goes to great lengths to rescue those he was asked to help.

Yugo doesn’t feel like a typical anime to me. Perhaps it’s due to the settings and its lead character, Yugo, or the overall tone.

I think there’s a carefulness to the show, or a sense of deliberation; the action is often (but not always) more a battle of wills and mental resilience, which sometimes translates to a more static camera but that’s not a drawback for me at all. It allows for extra focus on character, on motivation and even ideology.

All of which I really enjoyed!

Another thing I loved about Yugo: The Negotiator was the fact that the anime gave me a glimpse into other places and times – Pakistan and Russia in the 1990s, though due to the subject matter, it certainly won’t come across like a travel show.

Based on the manga from the 1990s by Shinji Makari and Shuu Akana, Yugo: The Negotiator is basically historical fiction now, so it addresses specific conflicts and events from the past.

It seems very well-researched too, although I didn’t search long and hard on that note – but I did find this great post which talks about representation in the Pakistan arc, which left me curious about thoughts on how the anime depicted Russia too*.

To switch to things that stood out in a less positive way, I did find the OP and ED perhaps a bit too upbeat but maybe that’s a purposeful contrast?

If you get a chance to watch Yugo, you’ll note that each arc is handled by a different studio – G&G Direction and Artland, resulting in a fair contrast in art styles between negotiations.

On one hand, with G&G Direction in Pakistan there’s a real sense of intense, oppressive heat with a lot of overexposed-looking shots and more washed out colours, whereas the episodes by Artland in Russia are more vivid. There are subtle differences in design too.

Those things weren’t enough to hamper my enjoyment but they’re definitely noticeable.

I finished Yugo very keen to see more negotiations too but that’s probably impossible, whether in anime or manga form… unless I learn to read Japanese. Maybe one day!

Big thanks to Curtis at Iridium Eye Reviews for reviewing this here because without it, I doubt I’d ever have come across this seemingly little-known anime.

5 Stars

*Curtis’ review has a lot of great insights and also some interesting analysis of differences in the details of the script/dub too.

Mushi-Shi: Next Passage (Mushishi: Zoku-Shō)

Mushi-Shi: Next Passage (Mushishi: Zoku-Shō) 2014

Nine years passed between the release of Mushi-Shi (2005) and Mushi-Shi (Next Passage) and I’m glad I didn’t have to wait that long myself 🙂

For me, having come to the first series late, I was lucky to be able to watch both reasonably close together… but now, after having finished, I’m also sad that there’s only a few specials left for me to seek out. Still, I can easily re-watch an episode here and there because both seasons are truly episodic.

Lazily, I’m going to quote from my first review for the premise:

Mushi-Shi is full of fable-like episodes that seem to draw on equal parts Japanese folklore and creator Yuki Urushibara’s fantastic imagination, exploring the lives of regular and remarkable people in an almost-Edo-period-setting that includes lots of supernatural elements mixed in with the natural world.

There are plenty of similarities between the two series – for one, Ginko is still the central character but not a character that needs to hog all the screen-time; you’ll get to know the people whose lives he changes too but no storyline drags. You’ll also get an ending with each episode and usually, meet a new and fantastical mushi each time.

Next Passage is still quite calm in many ways, often sombre too, but that doesn’t mean the anime is without tension. Mostly, I guess I’m referring to production techniques and pacing when I claim that it is ‘calm’. Again, once more the natural world dominates the screen, both beautiful and disconcerting as Ginko travels through the seasons.

One change I did notice seems to be the colour – this season feels a little more vibrant and even more picturesque; it’s usually very soothing. Even the darker episodes seem almost ‘warm’, like ‘The Hand That Caresses the Night’ for example, with the yellows, greens and browns.

If you enjoyed the first season then this will satisfy on every level I think – there’s even an episode with a little more about Ginko’s past, so I was pretty happy to see that. It’s hard to choose a favourite few episodes this time around, but ‘Floral Delusion’ comes to mind for sure.

4 Stars

Mushi-Shi (2005) [Boxing Day Review]

Mushi-Shi (2005)

Mushi-Shi is a series that had been floating around the edges of my awareness for a long time it seemed, and one I finally sought out specifically only last year.

As part of my research I looked at blogs and posts from various sites that discussed the show as ‘underrated’ and it seems that over the years, Mushi-Shi has grown a lot more popular in western fandom. So much so that I think it’s no longer underappreciated and overlooked but instead it appears in more lists without the word ‘underrated’ attached at all, which is awesome.

And maybe I’m putting too much stock in what I’ve found online, but I think even before the second series was produced, that the popularity of Mushi-Shi was climbing steadily. And I’m obviously more than happy to recommend Ginko’s travels to nearly anyone reading this… that is, unless you have a hard time with episodic storytelling. However, if you dig that structure then you can also enjoy a beautiful, at times really pastoral and poetic series to go with those self-contained plots.

Mushi-Shi is full of fable-like episodes that seem to draw on equal parts Japanese folklore and creator Yuki Urushibara’s fantastic imagination, exploring the lives of regular and remarkable people in an almost-Edo-period-setting that includes lots of supernatural elements mixed in with the natural world.

For a change today I want to try a couple of different things, nothing drastic, but here’s five things I wanted to highlight, ranging from fairly micro-level to bigger picture stuff:

  • I hope Yūto Nakano, Ginko’s voice actor, is getting heaps of work, because I think a lot of his performance; it’s both calm and commanding. Superb change of pace if you’ve been on a shounen binge, for instance.
  • In terms of our hero’s costume you’ll notice that it’s almost anachronistic… but it is an alternate Japan, not a historical one. The obvious effect that choice has for me is that the coat really helps Ginko stand out – it’s a brilliant piece of costuming when most other people dress reasonably similar from village to village, yet it’s still unassuming which suits him so well (a quick comparison is below).
  • I’ve read reviews here and there that bemoan a ‘lack of character development’ in Mushi-Shi but I think that’s not a fair assessment of a series that often plays out like Detective Fiction. In such mysteries, the crimes/stories/settings change but the main character doesn’t because that’s not the purpose of an episodic show. Instead, I’d argue that Ginko has to appear ‘fully formed’ and stay stable, stay as much ‘himself’ as possible in order to help connect the episodes and add that extra cohesive element to the viewing experience.
  • Mushi-Shi is at times quite sombre, which isn’t to say it’s depressing but on the other hand, not every story has a happy – or sometimes even a completely happy ending, and so some fans tend to space out their viewing, and I certainly found that I watched it at a similar pace.
  • Finally, I think it’s possible that you won’t always be able to predict the way Ginko solves some of the problems he faces, which is a real gift in storytelling of any type.

Okay, so there’s that section sorted – and I wish I had more to say about Mushi-Shi actually. I perhaps don’t because, like a lot of well-known favourites out there, it feels impossible for me to add much in the way of new analysis or discussion. Even so, I found that I had to include my thoughts anyway, that’s what the blog is for, right? 😀

Some storylines and characters will stand out more than others for different folks, a bit like an anthology really, but here’s my favourite five episodes to finish off this write-up:

2 – The Light in the Eyelids
5 – The Travelling Swamp
12 – One-Eyed Fish
20 – A Sea of Ink
22 – The Sea Shrine
  • 2 – The Light in the Eyelids
  • 5 – The Travelling Swamp
  • 12 – One-Eyed Fish
  • 20 – A Sea of Ink
  • 22 – The Sea Shrine

5 Stars

Okay, make that my 7 favourite episodes perhaps:

  • 4 – The Alley Through the Pillow
  • 17 – Picking Empty Cocoons
(Comparing Ginko’s costume to the characters above)

Appleseed (Appurushīdo) (1988)

Appleseed (Appurushīdo) (1988)

I think you could argue that some classics hold their status by virtue of reaching certain storytelling spaces early, by being perhaps more influential rather than brilliant in their own right.

I’d argue that the 1988 OVA adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s manga fits that mold pretty neatly, since so many tropes, settings and ideas have carried forth well into the present, yet the film itself has its limitations.

Of course, the Appleseed manga is probably more key in terms of the influence I’m talking about (and obviously Akira before it) but the OVA is still part of the storytelling tradition that puts certain conventions and characters into the fore.

And while there’s certainly cyberpunk elements re: technology, rebellion in oppressive societies and augmentation, the film reads more like a Hollywood action blockbuster if you strip away those typical cyberpunk or science-fiction elements.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing either, that’s part of the fun for me when I watch it – it’s not unlike Lethal Weapon set in the 22nd Century!

So for me, what can I say represents Appleseed’s best parts?

Maybe the ‘time-capsule’ aspects – that ‘old-school’ anime character design which was usually a little rounder of face, with visible noses and sharper use of shadow, along with what I consider the wider, more generalised US influence – the big hair, 1980s workout-costuming, a montage sequence and a saxophone and light synth-soundtrack.

Add to that robotics, guns and explosions and a clear, linear ‘police-hunt-terrorists’ storyline and you’ve got Appleseed. Even Briareos and Deunan have a bit of a buddy-cop dynamic going on – though any such character interactions/development (or exploration of the social system in Olympus) tend to take a back seat to the action and tech. (There’s bits of humour here and there too but again, it’s not the focus either).

In fact, another joy for me tends to be seeing how the future is imagined both in terms of how society is organised and how technology might evolve – and Appleseed has both fascinating ideas and amusing moments common to a lot of 80s and 90s cyberpunk: especially when it comes to the office settings or communication technology.

Here, computers are massive, police still print on paper and phones have only reached ‘video’ and yet military tech and cybernetics are light years ahead. Audiences probably appreciate a good deal of familiar things in future-settings though, and predicting the future must be so, so very difficult. I tend to think speculative fiction writers do get it right pretty often too.

Where the OVA suffers in my opinion is due to some truly clunky dialogue and the missed opportunities to reveal more detail about the world and characters, something a series might have solved, but the movie still packs a lot into its runtime and I tend to prefer it over say, the 2004 adaptation, though nostalgia clearly plays into that feeling.

If you’re curious about the film’s place in the timeline of cyberpunk or maybe Shirow’s work in general, then you’ll probably pick up a few familiar themes and ideas – I remember feeling like the multi-leg tank was a clear precursor to GITS’s spider tank.

And speaking of that robot design and influence, I think some Boomer designs from Bubblegum Crisis might be a nod to Landmates and other robots in Appleseed, which is the kind of detail I tend to enjoy noticing because it reminds me just how interconnected storytelling tends to be!

4 Stars