April 3, 2007
I've been pretty busy these past few months, and as a result there have been a number of things I've watched or read that I've wanted to write about but haven't for lack of time. So here are a few quick mentions of some things I didn't want to fall through the cracks.

Animation Block Party Mix Tape, Volumes One & Two
When someone says "block party," "mix tape" and "Brooklyn" to me, I think of early hip hop. These collections of shorts from the Animation Block Party animation festival (which hits the streets this year from July 27 to 30) follow the same kind of aesthetic: roughly hewn, sometimes falling short of the mark, but with so much energy you'll be acutely aware of just how overly slick and over-thought other festivals' fare can be. A few arbitrarily chosen favourites: Fin Film's Easy, a look at a strange and slightly disturbing love affair that at times invokes Little Red Riding Hood imagery, with characters mostly rendered as sleek silhouettes; Cunning Stunts, where Jeff Scher colourfully rotoscopes explicit porn footage and sets it to jaunty music (check out his homemade rotoscope stand in the DVD extras); and Andy and Carolyn London's (pseudo-?) autobiographical The Back Brace, a collage film in which the angsty Jewish narrator talks about his unfortunate adolescent experiences with scoliosis.

BoBoBo-Bo Bo-BoBo Vol. 1: Bo-nafide Protector
Believe it or not, the title is actually the name of the main character (Bo-BoBo, for short), a man with a golden-coloured afro, tiger stripes on his arms, and retractable nose hairs that he uses to defend 31st-century Earth from the minions of an evil emperor who has decreed that everyone should be bald.

The best part is, the description alone doesn't even hint at how bizarre this show truly is. However, you have to have the proper mindset for it. BoBoBo-Bo Bo-BoBo is one of those manga adaptations that isn't all that animated, and often has someone posing while saying something ludicrous, which someone else then reacts to with a different, startled pose. Think of it as taking the low-key presentation of Cromartie High School and ratcheting it down a notch.

A note: BoBoBo-Bo Bo-BoBo is, in the tradition of Samurai Pizza Cats, dubbed with only some regard for the original story details. No problem there, but the subtitles are actually just a transcript of the dub—which means those of us who want to get all the Japanese gags will have to, like, learn the language or something.

Mechademia Vol. 1: Emerging Worlds of Anime and Manga
A while back I commented that the book Cinema Anime had lofty goals (scholarly analysis of anime) that were undermined by its execution (too much emphasis on being academic, rather than making new ideas accessible, and not enough familiarity with what's outside of the anime sandbox). The first volume of Mechademia—an annual series of themed critical essays relating to anime and manga—largely avoids this problem, and is a pleasure to read.

As with its subject matter, Mechademia's variety is key to its success. There are twenty contributions in this issue, and they vary enough in tone, length and style that if something bothers you in one essay, the next one will make up for it. Mechademia's explorations bounce between fan culture, Japanese culture, manga history and film studies, providing a rich, textured view of the anime and manga world.

That's not to say there aren't problems. I've long had a problem with anime fans' ignorance of the rest of the animation world (though this is less of a problem now than, say, 20 years ago), and an aspect of this pops up in Ueno Toshiya's essay on the intersections between animation, live-action, and dreams in the aesthetics of Mamoru Oshii's films. Toshiya's jumping-off point is the experience of viewing the storyboards to the second Patlabor movie, but just before he makes his observations on how Oshii's storyboards might reflect his view of the world around him, he confesses that he hasn't seen many storyboards. I had to read the essay (an interesting one, I hasten to add) a second time just to get past the fact that someone would make these comments without first looking at other storyboards to determine what, if anything, is unique about Oshii's.

But this, like the handful of annoyances found throughout the book, is fairly minor; with one exception, none of these problems went so far as to completely derail my enjoyment of an essay. Mechademia's first outing makes for a stimulating look at anime through the lens of culture, and culture through the lens of anime. I can't wait for the next volume.

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