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I did this thing by way of a blogging amusement, organised by Reverse Thieves. So this is a Secret Santa post.
As a result of the recommendation of A Person Unnamed I got Gundam 0800: War in the Pocket, Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight, and Aoi Bungaku, a surprisingly (indeed… suspiciously) good-looking little selection, with a nice enough diversity between them to make me feel guilty about the poor sod I submitted suggestions for.
So enamoured was I from the off by the idea of watching these shows, and since the series were all short’uns, I went directly for the shortest. And, since I liked it, I tried to get through both of the other two, and wilted pathetically before the end. This is a record of my heroic journey…
1. War in the Pocket
Checking out wrl’s "gateway gundam" site, I found that this was in fact my destined introduction to gundams general, and so resigned myself to my first experience of the franchise. And it was very good indeed, albeit in a ‘let us never watch this sadness again’ kind of way. So enthused was I that I’ve since finished The 08th MS Team via a spurt of runnover enthusiasm, and I see these OVA’s as two sides of a rather nicely minted coin.
I’ll happily admit that even after a number of giant robot shows, and even after getting a kick out of both this and The 08th MS Team, I’m still not really much of a mecha fan. What War in the Pocket does so well for a person like me is take the sight of a large plastic toy dominating a battlefield and make it seem appropriate. Feeling that the gundam itself looks mighty stupid doesn’t get in the way of digging this OVA, which tackles the gap between a boyish idea of war as adventure and the desperate and often pointless reality.
When I moved from this to The 08th MS Team that sense of thematic detail and immaculate misery was mildly compromised - with the anti-war stuff less effective and the overall package a tad less elegant. On the other hand MS Team was undeniably a barrel of fun. In my head I have the idea that any full length gundam series will exaggerate that contrast - with still less dramatic mastery than War in the Pocket, but maybe even more in the amusing larks department than The 08th MS Team.
And otherwise? Well, as I mentioned above, War in the Pocket is some good sad stuff, and I don’t really have the background to talk about its role in the wider gundam universe. At only 6 episodes it’s quite hard to talk about at length. The city-in-a-tube(In Space!), aside from being a nice sci-fi amusement, is an interesting take on the suburban environment - a sort of cocooned township, floating aimlessly, reliant on high industry, and menaced by the violent intrusions of human history. Yeah, let’s go with that. I liked this OVA very much.
2. Manabi Straight
Another branch of the dreaded cartoon-world that I don’t really identify with, but wind up visiting now and then, Manabi Straight is pure schoolife moe.
K-On is a music club (cool kids chilling out, they’ll always be together) Haruhi is geek club (atomised wierdos, united in quests for silliness) Lucky Star is ‘not in a club’ (largely bored chit-chat, eventual attempt to do something memorable), and Manabi Straight is the good old student council experience - dedicated work for the community, self-fulfilment, and a persistent concern for practical difficulties. Thank fuck I was never on a student council.
Which means I didn’t identify with the way these lassies live their lives. In fact a short way in I began to get a gnawing sensation of genre fatigue.
Oddly, I do kind of identify with the creators of the show, who did their best to express something here, not least in their slick near-future setting. Manabi Straight is crammed with waking dreams, bold visual devices, and a seemingly genuine concern for the business of how life should be lived. After all, I think a lot of these chilled out anime are, as well as being a simple amusement, actually a chance for a group of grown ups out there in foreignland to make something that’ll reach an audience.
This I suppose is an effort towards optimism encouraged by Manabi’s positivity, but I think it’s necessary to get past the 5 girl band, the tsundere princess, the kooky one, the concert scene, and the sakura so as to try to see something that aims to speak to people and be remembered. Manabi Straight seems to me like a sincere show, and that kept me watching even when I couldn’t remember most of the cast’s names. It’s not a new favourite, but it’s a decent time. Despite that, I backed off watching the bonus episodes in a moment of apathy which, I think, precluded my eventual loss of interest in watching things from off of a list.
3. Aoi Bungaku
If you’d just explained the premise of each of the three shows from this list to me, Aoi Bugaku, a short series of literary adaptations via Madhouse, would be the most immediately intriguing.
Unfortunately the start of Aoi Bugaku made no impact on me whatsoever. No Longer Human was nicely produced, but rather staid, treading over well-worn territory in the ‘novels by dysfunctional young men’ mode. I found it really hard to care about the lead character’s journey. I got to the start of episode 3 then stopped. Maybe if I was more into Japanese history I would dig the thing more. This is the only screenshot I took from those episodes, and I have no fucking idea what I was thinking at the time.
Figuring that I’d just happened on a dodgy arc, I went directly to the next story. Here I felt a bit more interest in the ideas. The basic dude versus woman stuff wasn’t all that, but the adaptation-work was fairly novel.
Particularly interesting was the fact that the lady was a city girl - a corrupting urban influence on the noble savage, and yet, in a cheerful anachronism, Madhouse showed that hunter-gatherer listening to music on his headphones and chewing bubble-gum; he even keeps a Western woman in his harem. Some savage.
And then this manipulative old-fashioned Japanese chick swans in to fuck up the cheerful thoughtless life with her monogamy etc.. In truth the city-woman who confronts the barbarian is, to the 20th century mind, a kimono-bound smalltown relic. Rather than being a strict representative of urbane wiles, she’s also the gender-bound passive-aggressive woman of societies past, a seductive figure who threatens modern-world nomads as much as real wild men.
Which is to say that the goofy introduction by that nimrod in the bookshop succeeded in giving me at least some interesting context for what was, again, a well-produced anime episode (with art by
Kub KUBO). But after twenty minutes I felt no interest whatsoever in picking up the second part of the arc. On a fairly basic narrative level it didn’t connect, so I gave up on the whole thing. I’ve been watching the first season of The Wire lately, that’s a pretty brilliant television program.
Still, I’m quite pleased with the escapade. After all it showed that the things you’d expect to like aren’t always the best to go for, and gave me some impetus to check out some cool things I had neglected. The gundam OVA worked out way better than I’d expected, and Manabi Straight had strengths I didn’t really expect to find in a show of that genre. I do think that whoever my recommendation-master was they did a rather fine job. And so in the spirit of internetmas, I thank you, random nerd.