Anime Blast Chattanooga 2014 quickpost!

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obscure anime panel flyer

Origins flyer tba final

My third year at Anime Blast Chattanooga is in the books and by far my favorite year yet. Met some great people, gave out a bunch of zines, and put on some of my best panels. Obscure Anime had well over 40 people and since I had a few people asking me for a list of titles, I thought I’d do a quick post of those titles here. Also to keep up on the zine please head to animechatta.tumblr.com I forgot to put that in the second issue which I handed out a bunch of.

Inferno Cop

Flowers of Evil

Star Blazzers 2199

La Maison en Petits Cubes

Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor

Mobile Police Patlabor

Legend of the Galactic Heroes

Blue Blazes

Kyousougiga

Next A-Class

Death Billiards

Sword Art Online II review… so far (Episodes 1-6)

"My feelings exactly."

“My feelings exactly”

Sword Art Online is back with a second season of one of anime’s most polarizing and talked about shows of the last few years, and with good reason. While the show’s first season capitalized on a fanbase of viewers who were excited to dive into a sci-fi future where game worlds match the real world, the show’s weak plot, hollow characters, and alarming views on gender roles made the show an agonizing watch for anyone digging under the show’s admittedly pretty surface.

Sword Art Online II starts just a few months after the events of Alfheim Online. After the mysterious deaths of two players of the virtual game Gun Gale Online by the shadowy figure known as “Death Gun” Kirito is sent in as a spy to figure out the identity of this masked killer because he is the world’s greatest gamer or something and apparently not scared off by being almost murdered in these virtual games several times prior.

This second season further confirms that the series is not interested in exploring the ramifications for being imprisoned in a video game or the moral quandaries of a youth finding refuge in near perfect virtual worlds. By finding loose narrative reasoning for now a second time, the show is more interested in setting up adventures in its newly crafted game worlds. While themes and plot points may be frustrating to anyone who cares to look at the show past a surface level, what has always made SAO shine is the presentation of these various worlds. The show, if nothing else, is compelling and gorgeous. While none of SAO’s three game worlds ever get nailed down to specifics, the worlds do allow a story that relays heavily on cliffhanger endings and plot twists from episode to episode to keep its compelling, albeit, flawed story going.

Pacing continues to peg its ugly head in as a hindrance to even caring about the big grand new world they create in a polar opposite to its first arch. While the initial 14 episodes SAO’s first season franticly jumped around its two year time frame like it didn’t want to bore you with any details outside of major plot points, SAO 2 is more than happy to spend as much time as possible on every little thing that happens early game, spending an entire episode on one group party fight and another on Kirito choosing a character class and load out. This turns out to be just as interesting as watching someone play with the character customization options in a real mmo for 25 minutes, which is to say not very much.

While the theme of escapism is never directly addressed in narrative, it sits on the surface like a loud beating drum for anyone who cares to ask, “why is Kitito (or anyone for that matter) continuing to go into these worlds after the events that transpired during the first season?” Kirito is a blank slate, free for any fan to project him/herself onto, and why wouldn’t they? With his lack of real problems or personal flaws as well as his overpowered video game skills that go beyond him just being good at a game, but so good that he can beat the game’s rules all together, he makes a perfect escape for people who would try to contribute skills at playing a video game to real world satisfaction and personal strength.

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“Strong female characters.jpg”

One of my several complaints concerning the series is its use of female characters, which is quickly doubled down on in these first few episodes as a new character “Sinon” takes the place of our imprisoned heroine Asuna as the on the surface strong and independent main female character who evidently needs the help from our perfect male protaignist Kirito in order to conquer any personal struggles. Asuna is merely swept under the rug in the first few episodes, and, outside of wanting to continue a relationship with her hero Kirito, does not seem to have any meaningful desires or goals in her new life outside the game.

Sword Art Online II continues to be frustrating to watch, while it is silly to wish for something more than what the show has already showed that it is, the idea of its virtual worlds carries with it potential that I wish it could capitalize on. But with several other similar shows popping up with the virtual world motif, including “Log Horizon”, “No Game, No Life”, and the classic “.hack” franchise, SAO is fortunately no longer the sole source for this interesting idea.

Highschool DxD review

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Ecchi. Harem. Fanservice. Highchool DxD falls into these categories of shows that Funimation loves to scoop up so they can sell replacement soft core pornography on Xbox Live for 13 year olds who have their parent’s credit. These T&A focused shows are the bane of most advocates of artistic anime out there since they tend to be the anime punching bag for most conservative straight arrows who like to ridicule anything different by using its most provocative qualities. While most shows of this type try their best to hide their sex filled fantasies with some simple action, convoluted  plot devices, and dry humor; DxD comes out a step above the rest by being both undeniably drenched in sexiness and a fun and un-embarrassing watch.

Issei is an ordinary high school boy who has only one thing on his mind: sex. Actually it is more that he is really into boobs because he is so juvenile and innocent that I am not sure he would even know what to do with a girl if he got one. After suddenly being asked out on a date by one his classmates, he is one step closer to making his dreams of having a girlfriend come true. That is until she turns out to be a demon, puts a spear through his heart, and leaves him to die; you know the typical first date stuff. His life is soon saved by a beautiful red haired girl from his school who is another demon from a rival faction. An heir to the devil’s thrown actually, and he soon becomes a part of her court of chess pieces (or lesser devils) and now must use his life, as well as a great power only he possesses, to carry out the whims off his new master… and blah blah blah we get it… this a fantasy light novel adaptation, the formula hasn’t changed much since Shakugan no Shana.

Story wise DxD does falls into a great number of genre convictions that have been well treed territory by similar fare for the past decade. But what makes this show work is that it rises a step above the rest in both its shonen style action and slice of life humor while not being afraid to take itself less serious. The story is easy to follow while keeping with these genre trappings and even offers an interesting and vaguely original concept in the way it uses its devils vs angels motif. The devils being the good guys (or at least the faction we follow) is a weird divergent from how most stories handle this rivalry. This is echoed by a chorus of new to the group characters (including a once devout nun of the church) who find out that god doesn’t really care for devils that much; a concept that is established through a running gag of praying to god leading to a horrible headache in return. The show recycles many running gags other shows of the genre have done, but always in innovative and funny ways, even Issei’s typical male mc “Baka! Ecchi!” moments of running into girls in provocative situations are less infuriating and mind numbing than other series. The humor stays consistent and genuinely funny as tasks to fulfil mortal wishes to gain a contract of the person’s soul (another play on the devils motif) turn into hilarious and bizarre misadventures, and a battle with a dreaded tentacle monster is less of a commentary and more a bizarre parody or homage to an old established trope.

The character archetypes run the gambit from sweet masochist, clumsy moe bait, and bishonen hottie, but also have a few refreshing takes. Mainly Rias Gremory who ventures out of tsundere territory, and her noble aristocrat manner of behaving makes her an actually compelling love interest as her character develops through the series. Some characters achieve more development while the side characters with less screen time back up events just enough to be notable additions and are set up well enough to have interesting arches in the second season. While the show goes to great lengths to treat its primarily strong female cast with respect, it does fall victim to the male power fantasy “got to save the princess” trope near the end of the first season. It at least does not dive into complete misogyny like other series that have done the same plotline such as Sword Art Online. It is funny that a show that gets off on female nudity handles female characters better than a popular show like SAO that tries to hide its hideous portrayal of gender roles.

As you may have noticed thus far, Highschool DxD’s nudity brings in a very deserving mature rating and not something I would suggest for viewers who would find this offensive. That being said, as someone who has unfortunately set through a good deal of this fodder, the art and animation of the show has some great um… angles… of … the ladies. Okay let’s not dance around this, if you like fanservice than the camera work and art direction is second to none, sure to leave no one wanting on this side.

When it comes to sound design, DxD comes through with an impressing opening and closing performance while the show’s score does its best to capitalize on both the tension and shenanigans found in the series. A worth-while English dub produced by Funimation features a diverse cast of old guard and new talent, that does not disappoint in terms of its script. Jamie Marchi as Rias Gremory lends an elegant performance, would be hard pressed to find a better fit. While Jad Saxton as the petite but strong Koneko Toujou delivers some great and punchy one liners. The English adaptation is not afraid to play around with explicit language, and for a show that already has mature themes in other departments, this is a welcome addition.

The ecchi genre is by far one of the more popular genres of anime today. The top anime of many streaming services like Netflix tend to have these shows in the top spot, while companies like Funimation and Sentai spend a good deal of marketing on them. While the genre can be over-run with weak and embarrassing shows, Highschool DxD finishes a step above the rest and is must watch for anyone interested.

Highschool DxD continued through two additional OVA episodes, aired a second season titled “Highschool DxD New” in 2013, and the home release in both Japan and North America feature a half dozen additional mini side episodes.

Story: 7

Characters: 7

Art: 8

Animation: 6

Sound: 7

English Dub: 8

Overall: 7/10 (Good)

Interview: Anime Blast Chattanooga Co-chair “Zippy”

(Originally published in Anime Chatta issue #2)

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Anime Blast Chattanooga is the city’s sole anime convention, and as a regular convention goer, I wanted to talk about it on here. So I reached out to the staff of ABC to answer a few questions about the event. Michael was kind enough to take the time to talk with me about the history of the event, convention culture, and what is in store for next year’s show.

Q: Who are you and what is your role with Anime Blast Chattanooga?

A: My name is Michael Miller, though I’m better known as ‘Zippy’, and I’m one of the 2 convention co-chairs that serves as execs. for Anime Blast Chattanooga.

Q: Tell me a little about the history of the event.

A: Back in 2010 we were notified by Andrea Morgan that JAMPcon, a local anime con that preceded ours in town, would not be returning. So I felt like between myself, the friends I had made thus far through our local con circuit, and especially through the anime club Scenic City Anime & More (then Boogie BAM Anime Jam), that together we had the know-how and willpower to keep a vacuum from forming in our area by creating and running our own anime convention. I may have been a bit wrong on the know-how, as I’ve learned you never know enough at first especially, we certainly powered through and have kept trying to adapt what we continue to learn and what fans want to keep improving Anime Blast Chattanooga every year since.

Q: Anime Blast Chattanooga has seen a rather large up take in attendee in its 3 years running, up from 690 in 2012 to 1,850 this year alone. What can you attribute to the increase in interest?

A: Yeah so that jump in attendees from 2012-2013 was a bit crazy for us, though thankfully all positive crazy. There is a certain point where too large a jump can stretch a con’s resources, i.e. staff and volunteer’s sleep hours especially, but we did well I’d say all considering.

Now as for the why? Well it’s hard to attribute that to any one thing, so maybe if I had to summarize I’d say: Johnny Yong Bosch and his band Eyeshine, our biggest guest yet I’d say, extensive PR campaigning on our part, as I alone went to 10+ cons and other staff members branched out even further, and then just 3rd year cons probably don’t have the same ‘assumed’ uncertainty as 1st year or 2nd year cons do, at least in the mind of fans, vendors, and guests. We of course love 1st year cons, 2nd year cons, and on up, but for people paying money to attend we understand they’re not certain if it’s a ‘for sure bet’ to support a smaller, newer cons. To those doubts though we say every con had a year one, and every con started somewhere smaller than they are now, and without support those cons would’ve stayed tiny instead of growing into the MomoCon’s, the Anime Weekend Atlanta’s, and the Anime Expo’s that we know and love today.

Q: What events do you offer at ABC and what should newcomers to the anime convention scene expect when attending?

A: We try to offer a variety of events at Anime Blast Chattanooga, certainly including familiar ones, but hopefully some new ones too. Sort of the base for any con really is: guests and all the panels they host, as well as their autograph sessions, a cosplay contest and tied in with that would be cosplay panels, both Q&A and workshop panels, evening or late-night panels, that don’t have to implicitly always be just ‘yaoi/yuri/hentai’ for instance though that’s certainly a common theme, concerts when we have musical guests, so every year thus far, and definitely gaming rooms which for us means both digital and table top/analog rooms. Add in a viewing room to that list and I’d say for any new attendees that is certainly the core not just for us I feel but for many anime cons.

While not uncommon as much in the con circuit we have had maid and butler cafes each year, and we try to put our own style into hosting those to make them truly a special experience. Probably our most unique function right now that we have for VIP members is a special reception where our VIPs are able to mingle with our convention guests, in a more subdued environment with some snacks as well. Really we hope that our VIP package as a whole is really unique and one reason why we limit the # of VIPs to about 30 is so we can take the time to really make it a truly memorable experience for the VIPs. I know as we started out, as any con does, with a smaller crowd the distinction between VIP and non-VIP may not have seemed as obvious to the attendees; however, especially when it comes to personal time with the guests as we expand and get more and more attendees it’ll be harder to meet all the guests you might like at our con, and the VIP package will serve as that unique opportunity to again do just that.

Q: Out of personal experience I have noticed smaller cons offering less in terms of programing but ABC has the feel of a large convention featuring everything you’d expect out of a major con (Dealers room, artist alley, screening room, a wide array of fan panels, Voice Actor guests, music, AMV contest and much more.) Was it a conscious decision to offer so much programing from the start or did this blossom out of a more conservative approach?

A: I don’t even think we considered ‘less’ or ‘fewer’ of anything to be an option really, as we ourselves had come to expect a certain level of content at the cons we attended and we assumed that con goers would expect that from us too. So while it was certainly hard year 1 especially, as many of our staffers had to run more panels for instance in addition to their ongoing jobs throughout the weekend, we just felt it was what we had to do. Thankfully though all our awesome attendees have stepped up more and more and decided ‘hey I want to host this panel’, which is great because while panels really are the heart of the con experience for so many people, I think attendees often confuse the con’s panel selection with a menu of options that the con execs. has to choose from. As we’ve grown and grown yes we have more panels submitted and can be more selective, and have had to be with the panel choices, but as we started out certainly we were just happy to have people submitting panels at all. Just remember if you tell a con ‘hey could you guys make [name here] panel to occur’ many times I’m sure they’d love to have such a panel, but if the staff/volunteers don’t have the know-how or the time to host said panel then it really comes down to the attendees to host that. Part of a con’s job I feel is to give people the opportunity to discuss/share their passion through panels, but so much of that is reliant upon the panelist(s) to want to do that in the first place and then prepare said panel for the audience. So we play more of a supporting role in some ways for panelists, though we do our best to support as needed and hopefully that’s something we’ll improve on every year as well.

Q: The one honest complaint I’ve had about the event is the same I’ve had about most other anime conventions, and that is the large presence of non anime or Japanese pop culture related content offered in the programing. Mostly coming out of the panels. What is ABC’s stance on other types of “geek” content at an anime convention?

A: So I’d like to start this response out by saying I don’t see Anime Blast Chattanooga ever taking the direction of MomoCon in terms of their broader focus. We love MomoCon, and are excited to visit in a few weeks actually, but MomoCon has always been sort of that anime con that does so much more than just anime. Now they’ve branded themselves for years as an convention that loves anime, video games and American animation, but many might still say “let’s go to that anime con” MomoCon leaving off the rest of what they do. If that hasn’t already changed yet though this year will be the year, as MomoCon’s bringing such a diverse group of guests that it’ll be hard for people to forget they’re so much broader with their focus.

So that being said while we position ourselves as more of an anime con, collectively none of us just likes one thing I’d say. I love anime certainly, and I love J-Pop/Rock, but K-Pop is now a huge part of my life and while it is a part of Asian culture it might seem a bit odd to con goers to see K-Pop at cons (though likely not anymore).

Probably 2 more clear examples though would be Homestuck and Doctor Who. So many anime fans these days especially have grown up with and on the internet, and if you live in a small town with few other if any anime fans that you know in person then you connect online with other anime fans. That’ll lead you to many more worlds I’m sure, such as WOW, LOL, web comics, and for many the world of Homestuck. Now Homestuck is certainly not anime, but I’d argue that if you made a venn diagram of Homestuck fans and anime fans you’d have a large % of Homestuck fans also identify as anime fans. So we know from a convention perspective that many Homestuck fans will be attending, or want to attend, and while they may want to attend a Naruto panel, or see this voice actor or that voice actor, they may also want an outlet to express their love and appreciation for Homestuck. Is it for everyone? No. But we will not ignore a large percentage of our attendees who want an outlet to share their passion.

Doctor Who has also really caught fire more than ever these past 5+ years, and I know for me personally I have come to also love Doctor Who. So again while I’m happy going to a Bleach panel, a J-Pop concert, or other traditional anime con panels/events, I do love Doctor Who and while it’s a smaller % I’d say there’s crossover certainly between anime fans and Doctor Who fans. So if I can even just for an hour share that passion with friends old and new in a panel than I’d love to do that, and I appreciate convention schedulers who give me that chance.

Q: Where do you see Anime Blast Chattanooga growing in the future?

A: Well we’ve especially wanted to see cosplay flourish at Anime Blast Chattanooga, which may seem like an odd idea as cosplay is so attached to anime cons already, but we want to really be a con that gives you more workshops, more helpful Q&As, more outlets to challenge yourself such a cosplay contests, and more cosplay guests each year to help teach and inspire. So I really hope that we grow in this realm and that our attendees like this push of ours to do so.

My main hope personally, aside from merely being able to grow into the larger rooms at the Chattanooga Convention Center, is to be able to have more main events and then to make the main events we have more and more grand each year. One example of a new main event I’d like to add is a cosplay chess match, so hopefully that’ll be a new addition to our programming soon.

Q: When is Anime Blast Chattanooga 2014 and do you have any big announcements in store for the event?

A: Anime Blast Chattanooga takes place Nov. 7-9, Friday to Sunday, at the Chattanooga Convention Center. We’re excited to welcome back Vedetta Marie, Laugh Out Loud Improv, Greggo’s Game Shows, and then returning as a listed guest this year we have ScatterDOTFashion!

In addition to those awesome guests we can actually make 3 new guest announcements starting with the epic cosplayer Shinrajunkie! We’ll also be welcoming the voice actor Darrel Guilbeau, who is known for such roles as Mikado Ryugamine in Durarara!!, Viewtiful Joe in Marvel vs Capcom 3, Amaimon in Blue Exorcist, and Ren Hakuryu in Magi: the Labyrinth of Magic just to name a few. Lastly we’re excited to welcome Trina Nishimura to Anime Blast Chattanooga, who is the voice of Mikasa Ackerman in Attack on Titan, Lan Fan in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Kurisu Makise in Steins;Gate, and many more awesome characters!

We’ll have their official announcements and bios up on our website in the coming weeks, at http://www.AnimeBlastChattanooga.com, but we figured you’d want to know as soon as possible!

Big thanks to Michael for the interview and especially the announcements. I am personally looking forward to meeting both Darrel Guilbeau and Mikasa Ackerman at this year’s event.

-Justin

“The Wind Rises” on The Late Late Show.

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Last night star Joseph Gordon-Levitt was interviewed on CBS’s The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson regarding his role in the English dub of Hayao Miyazaki’s final theatrical feature film “The Wind Rises” which opens in limited format Today, and in wide release next Friday, February 28th.

The interview which starts at 20:00 features a clip of the film, Gordon-Levitt providing a quick plot summary, a few jokes about it being anime, and a good 10 minutes of nothing about the film.

This is Gordon-Levitt’s first role as a voice actor in an anime. He plays the real life famous Japanese plane engineer Jiro Horikoshi, a role performed by Evangelion’s Hideaki Anno in the Japanese dub.

The film is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature & was nominated but lost for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Golden Globes.

Watch the episode here: http://www.cbs.com/shows/late_late_show/video/E_RqfJS2xEJ7uf1awhoePuyH7CZIoPwV/the-late-late-show-2-20-2014/

I just can’t go on with this show… but I must finish it!

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It has been two month since I’ve posted anything on here and since I have this website I might as well use it.

I really needed to pull myself away from watching Sailor Moon for a little while and write something because I’ve been in a sort of a rut when it comes to watching anime as of late. I wouldn’t call in burn out since I really am still interested in watching more anime on a daily basis. What is really happening to me is more about my compulsion to finish everything, no matter what it is, combined with my viewing habits of marathoning shows. When I first got it to anime I was watching the best shows I could find with gripping plots that made me want to see the next episode that very moment. This led to me finishing 26 episode shows in as little as two days, because they were just that good. I guess I just need to face the fact that not all shows are meant to be watched like that.

This tends to be the case with many of the nostalgia driven titles I pick up. Currently I’m watching Sailor Moon, why? Well because that was a very popular show during its Toonami run when I was growing up and I have fond vague memories of watching it after school in the first grade. That combined with the 4 Dic VHS’s I picked up at a convention pseudo flea market for 5 dollars. I’ve watched all 4 of the tapes, 2 episode a piece, and have seen an episode via a horrible several generation down vhs fan sub from the 90’s that my friend was streaming. So I’ve seen 9 episodes skewed throughout this 46 episode show (not counting sequels right now) and I just have zero motivation to go on. This is a similar experience I’ve had with two other classic shows, Gundam Wing & Astro Boy. Gundam Wing was my favorite show growing up; I had toys, the card game and several other pieces of merchandise that I just wish I had kept of hold of now, so of course now that I am an anime fan I want to track these titles down and watch them for nostalgia sake.

There are a few problems here: First these shows are definitely not meant to be marathoned, which is the how I watch anime. I could definitely see myself coming home every weekday after school to catch the new episode, but when every episode is at my fingertips I have this need to watch it as fast as possible to get to the next show. Also shows now of days are just shorter, most shows have a 12 episode run or 26 with a few edge cases going beyond. So if I’m not feeling a show I can easily get through a few hours and be done with it & since the second season is another entry I can feel good about not going on or putting it on hold since I gave the first part its chance. Sure I sort of liked Hiiro no Kakera, but that’s because it was only 12 episodes and I never have to worry about watching that second season. With older shows that’s not the case, or at least the ones I’m talking about, since they have a much higher episode count.

Another thing to point out is that these shows are not bad at all, they are actually quite good. Newer anime have just evolved like with any medium and have conditioned a more consistent art style and story structure that is better suited to a modern anime fan for the sole reason that they are newer. All of this may not be a problem for most fans since it is easy just to drop a show, but for me and my completionist ways it can be a struggle at times. Enough of a struggle that I just needed to write my thoughts about it really quick, and by really quick I mean 30 minutes with editing. Because I now need to get back to some Sailor Moon so I don’t leave yet another half-finished show on my to watch list.

Funimation accidentally announces Eureka Seven

Eureka Seven is currently unlicensed after its former license holder Bandai Entertainment went under leaving prices for the now out of print dvds to sky rocket. It has been under speculation by fans for a while now that Funimation would be rescuing the series after picking up the show’s sequel Eureka Seven AO.

Early copies of the new One Piece dvd (Season 5 Volume 4) that will be coming out on December 3rd have shown up with a Eureka Seven trailer announcing a blu-ray/dvd combo pack. While the trailer itself has yet to surface online, fans were quick to grab a few screen shots from the disk. Funimation has yet to make a formal announcement about acquiring the show, and though they still have time before the dvd in question hits retailers, it is a little strange to see such a major license rescue slip through the cracks like this.

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Toonami acquires Blue Exorcist

Aniplex of America is looking to keep their Toonami slot filled with the announcement that their show Blue Exorcist will be premiering on Adult Swim’s Saturday night anime block this coming March. Their other show Sword Art Online is projected to be finishing up its run on the block on February 15th while Soul Eater is ending on March 15th, leaving one to assume that Blue Exorcist will be taking the Soul Eater spot with yet another to be named show coming in February. With the announcement Toonami published a trailer for it on their official YouTube channel which can be seen below. Not much to say about the show outside of it being a good match to compliment an already solid line up of shonen action series. Aniplex has released the dub in two limited edition box sets earlier this year.

Source: http://toonami.tumblr.com/post/67805823907/this-weeks-toonami-announcement-hey-guys-over

December is Movie Month on Toonami!

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Adult Swim’s weekly Saturday night anime block Toonami previously announced that they would be taking a break from the normal schedule come the holidays and be airing three movies through December. The full line up of movies for the month was announced today and features a wide array of great films. Previously said to be three weeks of movies has now gone up to four, probably due to a packaging deal considering all of the films are from Funimation. Here is the line up!

 12/7 – Akira

One of the most influential anime films of all time, especially in American fandom, Akira is a perfect fit for the action block with gorgeous and fluent animation that still holds up well considering it is form 1988. It should be interesting to see how they censor a certain scene, if at all, and whether they will take the newer Pioneer or classic Streamline dub. Only time will tell I suppose. The film was recently re-released by Funimation on Blu-ray.

 12/14 – Summer Wars

From director Mamoru Hosoda, of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and the recently released Wolf Children fame, the family friendly film Summer Wars is a wonderful tale of family and adventure with a hint of Miyazaki flare. Not a full on action movie but a great choice to diversify the line up.

 

 12/21 - Fullmetal Alchemist:Conqueror of Shamballa

Sequel to original Fullmetal Alchemist series. A weird choice considering they have yet to air the 2003 run and the currently running remake Brotherhood has its own movie.

 12/28 – Trigun: Badlands Rumble 

The adult swim classic Trigun is back, which I could of sworn aired on Toonami back in the day, with the full length movie that came out 12 years after the original series with some great animation and action.

Also promised are some amazing promos, shirt giveaways, and absolution scenes so it should be an interesting month for Toonami fans.

Exploring the Origins of Anime: Astro Boy

As an enthusiast of several artistic mediums, I have been a part of many varying fandoms and written about them over the years. One common element in these fandoms is an appreciation for the older works in certain genres. This is something I have found very different when it comes to anime fans. Shows become less sought after the older they are and fans tend to stay in their comfort zone gravitating to the newer and more talked about shows whose art styles are clean and modern. Many shows from the early 2000’s that were staples when I first became an enthusiast seem to be lost on newer fans and aside from a few nostalgic titles from the Toonami era the 90’s are hardly touched. So what about the 80’s, 70’s or even the first wave of black & white televised anime in the 60’s? While I complain about this ignorance in the fan base, I have yet to dig too far into this area of anime myself. So I decided to take a journey and explore the origins of this medium I hold so dear.

What gets the honor of being considered the first anime? If you look hard enough there are plenty of shorts dating as far back as the 1910’s all the way through World War Two propaganda pieces that use primitive animation techniques that are by definition “anime”. There are several movies, even some in color, that were being produced by studio giants such as Toei through the late 50’s and early 60’s such as “The Tale of the White Serpent” & one of my personal favorites “Alakazam the Great”. In 1961 there was the first Japanese animated television program “Otogi Manga Calendar”, which aired short 3 minute episodes daily for almost a year. Yet when it comes to anime as we see it now, we have a lot of respect to pay to the original 1963 run of Astro Boy.

Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atomu), which was written and directed by the “god of manga” Osamu Tezuka, founded the base of anime as we see it today. One of the more noticeable of these is the adaptation of an original manga into an animated series, manga adaptations are still to this day where a good portion of our anime comes from. The structure of animation studios and how shows are produced from the idea of weekly episodic stories to opening and closing can see their seeds here as well. While there were a few oddities that had television airings before, after Astro Boy is when you start to see shows get aired on television on a regular basis with several greats airing shortly after such as Gigantor and Prince Planet and anime has continued on television for over 50 years later. For these reasons it can be safe to call Astro Boy in many respects the first modern anime. So now that we got why I’m starting with Astro Boy for this discussion let us get to what the show is.

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Astro Boy first hit Japanese airways on new year’s 1963 and lasted almost 4 years with 193 episodes. Astro Boy also made short work in making its way over to the west by airing a very interesting and faithful English dubbed version created by Fred Ladd for national television on NBC starting in 1964 lasting 104 episodes. The show is more akin to what we see in traditional cartoons in many ways, but has a very dark undertone in many of its jokes that can be both psychological and social commentaries. The first episode deals with the death of the kid that Astro Boy was modeled after (cleverly named Astor Boynton) and the obsessive working of the boy’s father to create a new son in his image. When this new son named “Astro Boy” doesn’t grow or act as the other kids his father sales him into an implied slavery by a circus owner who mistreats his robot workers till the episode ends with civil rights given to robots. The mature themes do not stop there as with episode two Astro Boy has a scene that can be described as a psychological breakdown with him questioning both his humanity and abandonment issues to later on be discriminated against for committing crimes just because he is a robot. While these issues stuck out to me they are still presented in a very cartoony and comedic fashion leaving any dark undertones to be found under the surface. The creators of the English version opted out of several episodes due to being too “cruel or grotesque”, considering what was aired I really want to see what had to be cut. As of yet in my viewing there is no overreaching story arch and each episode keeps with the theme of a standalone adventure where Astro Boy saves the day, sometimes with a cheesy fourth wall breaking line to end the show such as “Time to move on to my next adventure!” or something along the same lines.

Even though the show is very much a cartoon it is one of the best ones I have seen, featuring very artistically creative designs in both the robots and humans he encounters, a trait that is common through most of Tezuka’s works. The settings per episode also feature amazing art direction and range from a journey through space and Mars to a Middle Eastern desert. Characters act wacky and your suspension of disbelief pretty much has to go out the window when people hilariously survive gun shots to the head Looney Toons style. The animation chugs in quality throughout leading to very funny and humorous fight scenes with the bad guy of the week or simply lazy looking still frames. Being a very early analogue show the quality of the digital transfer varies per episode with some looking clean and crisp while others, particular when it comes to audio, are a lot muddier. Yet while mainly being a kid’s show, I can see how the next generation of animators, writers and directors who grew up with shows such as this took the underlying themes presented before to make the more mature style of anime we see today.

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The original 104 episode English run of Astro Boy is currently streaming legally on Manga Entertainment’s YouTube channel and has been released on two limited edition dvd sets by Right Stuf which include several episodes in Japanese including one, the last, non-English run episode. What shocks me the most though is while the complete run in Japanese has had a dvd release, there is no notable complete fansub to my knowledge. For a show that holds so much history one would assume this would be a project worth completing for anime historians especially in a day and age where anything current no matter the quality has at least one group subbing it. The massive 193 episode count can be the reason for this as well as what hinders most fans from checking it out. While the first two episodes took a little while for me to get interested I have since been enjoying a fun adventure here and there. It is by no means a show to be marathoned, but I plan on seeing it in full at a pace of an episode a day or so. It might not be why you got into anime but it is definitely worth at least checking out an episode if for nothing more than historical context.

Astro Boy as a franchise is still coming back occasionally with remakes of the series in 1980 and 2003 as well as an American made cgi film in 2009 that while good unfortunately bombed in the box office. The same English version of the show from 1964 aired in part on Adult Swim through 2007-2008 and had one episode played to end Toonami’s april fool’s revival.

Depending on how things go I am contemplating continuing this as a series of articles, no promises!