Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Mind" -> Soul Eater

Okay, I'll admit it.

Soul Eater has to be my favorite anime right now.

Now perhaps you know about anime, and in this case, this post will absolutely no interest to you. After all, you know the beat and what is going on. If you are not familiar with anime, let me introduce you to my subworld.

Anime is nothing more and nothing less than a Japanese cartoon. Anime = animation. Anime has played a pivotal role in Japanese entertainment. While it traces it roots back to USA animation, really the core of anime took off in the 70's and from Manga. Manga is basically a comic book. Similar to the USA cartoon characters--Superman, Spiderman, Batman--what appeared in comic books (Manga) eventually got animated or turned inot anime. What we have today is a very robust manga industry that eventually take popular manga (cheap to produce) and turn it into popular anime (more expensive to produce).

Anime landed many years ago in the USA, for example "Speed Racer" started as part of the first way of anime in the 70's anime explosion. However, taking the chance that a Japanese cartoon could be shown in the USA after being dubbed and distributed was a fairly risky deal. So, for the most part, anime was a very small niche, and then mainly applied to cartoons for children. However, in Japan the entertainment form continued to grow and press the boundaries of what was kid entertainment and what was suitable for people 16 and older.

If the USA distributors were scared to bring over children entertainment, they did think at all about bringing over the more sophisticated entertainment. Afterall, this was too risky.

As you might expect, the internet changed everything. Anime is here in force in the USA, only anime is watched almost exclusively on the internet in the USA.

I am sure that sooner or later, this is going to be shut down for copyright infringement, but until it is, the art of Japan is seeing its way across America. The train is as follows:

1. On Wednesday, Soul Eater is shown on Japanese Television
2. Somebody in Japan records it off the air.
3. They then place this onto BitTorrent
4. The US/Japanese speakers grab the Torrent
5. They put subtitles on the file
6. The file is sent forward in a variety of different formats
7. The movement grows

These subtitling of the anime from Japan TV is called "fansubs" and they can generally be found many, many places on the internet. You can view thousands of hours of "fansubs" of Bleach, Naruto, and others. Some of these are so big that eventually they are bought and dubbed. The Cartoon Network with their "Adult Swim" time slots has caused a much wider acceptance of this entertainment.

Now, there is some very sophisticated anime. As an example of this, "Ghosts in the Shell" and "Death Note" have an unbelieable amount of weirdness and eruditeness about them. Some, such as Blood+ have some very disturbing elements involving things such as rape.

Generally, however, many of the anime show the following:

1. A boy or a girl coming of age. Call it from 13 up to 18

2. Many times there will be a lot of sexual overtones, although not a lot of graph nudity

3. Some bad words, and maybe some inappropriate touching (which always results in the man being slapped silly by the touched woman, which always meant to be humorous. Clearly nothing that would fly in American culture.)

4. And if you think #3 is bad, some Japanese show racial stereotypes that would cause a race riot in America.

But, even with all these problem, the stories or "Arcs" in the various series are amazing in their span and their attention to detail. Each episode will build on each other with stories that are carefully weaved together over dozens of hours of animation.

If it stop there it would be highly interesting.

Now, I have always been a fan of movie soundtracks. The ability of a great composer to help drive a mood is very important to the entertainment value of film.

And what is done on a successful anime holds up against anything that is done for the US cinemas. One of the best composers today for this music is Taku Iwasaki, who is pictured here and is the genius behind the music of Soul Eater.

I was already a fan of his from his music for the anime "Read or Die," and he has really outdone himself for this series. Just brilliant, brilliant stuff. As a composer (read mediocre to bad) myself, I can appreciate his ability to go anywhere he wants: New age. Moodscape. Hard Rock. Rap.

It is all in there. Each track builds brilliantly. These songs are woven into the story. For instance, the current series is up to 26 episodes (there will be 50 in all). If you watch the anime weekly, you will get a point where you notice how well the songs are crafted into the story. Without even knowing what is happening, the songs will carry you along.

Unfortunately, his music is lacking in the US. Luckily, you can go to Last.fm, which is a Brit internet radio station, and you can listen to this type of music. Not perfect, since there is no Taku Iwasaki radio station, but at least you can get some sense.

In addition, the animation art is just wonderful stuff. It is warped and strange, and yet familiar. Really, the art is simply images that can burn into your brain. At first I wasn't sure if I liked something so stylized and strange. Now, I can't get enough. You will be a very short time into the first episode when you'll meet the hero of the anime.

However, one of the non-convential things with the Soul Eater anime is that the hero is actually a heroine. Maka. You can see a picture of her to the left.

She is the central character of the anime, and captivating in her style.

Thing that you love about her is the fact that she is 100% a young woman that has a wonderful blend of personality traits: She is 100% aggressive in her stance as a "Meister" of justice. She is more than willing to give her life in the fight against evil. Yet, she is incredibly insightful into human nature. Although it takes over 20 episodes to get to one of the cruxes of the story, I was very moved when she has brilliant insight into how to reach a person that was hurting. It grabbed me on a very deep emotional level. She is the heroine of the show and while she is very smart, she is not the strongest. This makes her all the more appealing.

Now, the characters go beyond Maka. You have probably heard that the Japanese are all about team work. Many times in USA based dramas we will show a "team" or "essemble" cast. However, regardless off all the characters, we know that CSI is really about Gil Grissom. You know that 24 is about Jack Bauer. Mind you there are some essemble casts, but often one person will rise about the rest.

In anime, it is the cast that pulls it all together most of the time. Each member will often reflect a key emotion. An you need to see all the emotions...because anime is all about emotions.

The Japanese have a very reserved culture, and anime is the way that they express emotions that they other wise can't. In the story you have the young braggart that does nothing but say how great he is. You have the Father that bursts into tears because he believes that he'll never be a good Father.

Personally, for an anime to really strike home, you need to have a character that you really resonant with.

For me, this is Franken Stein. Yes, the name is a clear tribute to the horror novel, and this them is used over and over in the novel. I will not ruin the anime by describe how he is used in the plot, but I can see a lot of myself in him. I can see that if I was not who I am today, and placed in a similar circumstance stance (no matter how unbelievable since it is fantasy), I would be this character.

I will not destroy the anime by describing the character completely, but he is a bit unhinged, extremely scientific, and explodes when pushed too far. A man after my own heart.

Now, I have thought that I would like to show this stuff to my own kids. There are some very valuable lessons in these stories. However, you'll find several issues:

1. There are bad words that the characters say. Sigh, I wish I could find a version that had #$(@*)% as the swear words. Strike one.

2. Somehow, there always seem to be some type of mild perversion in Japan anime. Many times this has to do with inappropriate relationships between older men, fathers or brothers with younger girls. Maddening. Why do the Japanese seem to think so much about incest? Mind you, it is never, never said. It is kidded about. Inappropriate? Sure.

3. Finally, there is almost always some fixation on breast. Why? I guess it is the Japanese way.

So, I won't be showing this to my kids.

In summary, you have all the emotion that you'd never see in real life. Is it over the top?? You bet. And I love it.

1 comment:

chinwe said...

No one seems to notice the christian overture of Soul Eater. Apart from Justine who is depicted with a cross on him, you have the ruler of shibusen who is called Father, his son , and his right hand called spirit. Ergo, the holy trinity.