Anime Ramblings

Mimi o sumaseba (Whisper of the Heart)

I've seen the title translated to If You Listen Closely, which seems a much better one, aesthetically-speaking ^^. Shizuku is a junior high student who lives with her parents and older sister in a tenement or apartment and spends most of her time in the public library where her father works. She's an avid bookworm and checks out many of the books in the library, but she is amazed to find that one Amasawa Seiji had read all the books before her (from his name in the check-out card) - this reminds me somehow of that Japanese movie Love Letter - and Shizuku fantasizes about Seiji, thinking him to be her ideal guy. Apart from that, she also has to help out with her friend's love life which is complicated as Yuko (the friend) has a crush on a boy who has a crush on Shizuku! Predictable, but at least Yuko never finds out. One day, Shizuku meets a fat, gray cat on the train and follows it to a quaint curiosity shop owned by a quaint little old man (another cliche) and becomes fascinated by an exquisite cat figurine. And because this is anime, the old man turns out to be Seiji's grandfather. And Seiji turns out not to be the idealized person in Shizuku's fantasies, but they fall in love anyway. This anime is wonderful not chiefly for its storyline, but for its animation. There is an exquisite attention to detail that one can find only in Japanese animation and nowhere else. The little inconsequential things - such as Shizuku having to click several times on her mechanical pencil after writing - only make the movie richer. The story is realistic and fantastical and idealistic all at the same time. It doesn't really have a down-to-earth feel despite the fact that the fantasy element is only limited to what Shizuku sees in her imagination. In the end, in true coming-of-age fashion, she realizes that she has to give up some of her fantasies in order to achieve her dreams. One notable aspect of the movie is the music, though it is mostly limited to the song "Take Me Home, Country Road". The Japanese version is better ^_^.

Mononoke hime (Princess Mononoke)

The story begins with Ashitaka killing a demon boar and getting cursed by the boar. He journeys to the west to find a way to lift his curse, and gets embroiled in a war between forest denizens and humankind, led by Lady Eboshi. He meets and falls in love with San (Princess Mononoke), a girl raised by wolves in the forest. The art and animation are wonderful, the music successfully conveys the mood of the story, and the story itself is quite interesting. I like Ashitaka's American voice actor but Claire Danes totally sucks as San ^^. The first time I heard her speak, I went, "Ohmygawd, what the hell?!" The movie is definitely better than anything Disney churns out, and not meant for kids (I can't count the times severed heads go flying)... I do, however, have a problem with Ashitaka's moral ambiguity here. I liked him a lot during the first half of the movie, but then later on his characterization started to get on me. His refusal to stand on either side seems to me not something born of wisdom but of weakness. The ending of the movie also seems a tad too abrupt and leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

Slam Dunk

Well, what can I say? Slam Dunk is my favorite manga, by one of my favorite manga artists. I watched the anime dubbed in Cantonese. Let me say a few words about dubs here ^^. I think, if there must be dubs, your best bet would be a Cantonese one (provided, of course, that you know Cantonese). This particular Chinese dialect is very casual, very suited to day-to-day conversations, and very effective in conveying humorous situations or witty dialogue. Mandarin, on the other hand, is a more formal language, and to me, at least, it can get quite irritating in dubs (I watched El Hazard dubbed in this language, and yes, it got on my nerves). English dubs also suck most of the time, owing mostly to voice actors who sound like they're reading monotonously from a script (and somehow, I just can't picture a Japanese character with a Texan twang). Malay dubs, I'm afraid, are the worst of all. It is a very rare occasion indeed when I can sit through an entire anime episode dubbed in Malay. Well. Now that I've got that out of the way, on to Slam Dunk ^_^. The manga, IMO, is better than the anime. But the anime is still very good, with adequate animation, wonderful music, and added scenes that are not in the manga. For example, I believe that Mitsui is better portrayed in the anime, due to some scenes and dialogue that are not in the original manga. Extremely, extremely funny anime, this. Some of the humor may be corny, but it still got me in stitches ^^. Get it for the humor and the music, if nothing else.
Episode synopses are here.


The story is too convoluted to get into its entirety here. Basically, it's about two factions - the Dragons of Earth who (I think) want to destroy the world, and the Dragons of Heaven who wish to protect humankind. The movie begins with a confrontation between Sakurazuka Seishirou and Sumeragi Subaru, which is really very cool, but then they die or something and are not seen again for the rest of the movie. Shirou Kamui, the hero of the story, is much less wimpy here than in the manga ^_^. Why are Clamp women characters so terribly portrayed? Kotori is still irritating... imagine, she can't even scream for help when she's being sucked into a pool of blackness, all she can manage is mouse-like squeaks. Hinoto seems eternally the matyr, Kanoe dresses like a slut, and all the other female charas die in most distressing ways. The guys get to go out fighting in a blaze of glory, but the girls just - die. Yuzuriha dies by jumping in front of Kamui, Arashi dies by being stabbed in the back, Satsuki is slashed by her own computer, even the manipulative Kanoe just gets killed very easily by Fuuma, and of course, Kotori dies in a myriad of ways - stabbed, decapitated, dismembered, having a sword pulled out of her... etc. Furthermore, my favorite X character Kakyou is replaced by someone else (can't remember his name at the moment). And the movie is told entirely from the point of view of the Dragons of Heaven, in the sense that the Dragons of Earth here are definitely the villains, no gray areas about it, while that is not so much the case in the manga. Well, that said, the art in this movie is amazing. The animation is smooth and life-like, though leaning a bit on the ponderous, melodramatic side (as in various tall buildings slowly and majestically sinking into the earth).

Yu Yu Hakusho

This is an anime that I watch only to see my favorite characters in color ^_^. At the moment, I'm only at the beginning of the Dark Tournament story arc, and already the fights are getting monotonous. Having read the entire storyline in the manga, I shudder to think of how many senseless fights and macho posturings I have to sit through. So far, the animation is pretty good, and so is the music, though it gets repetitive after some time. For me, some Yu Yu characters are more likable in the anime than the manga, examples are Hiei, Yuusuke and Koenma - the little god is soooo hilarious! He is possibly my favorite character in the anime, next to Kurama, of course ^_^.

Yu Yu Hakusho: The Movie

The movie opens dramatically with the Reikai (Spirit World) being flooded by torrential rains and soon being completely submerged. Botan looks for Yuusuke for help, but faints before she can explain what's going on except to tell him to find Hinageshi. They bring her to Genkai's temple, and then there's this whole mumbo-jumbo about Yakumo and the Meikai, who are apparently trying to take over the worlds. The Urameshi team sets out to stop 'em baddies, with the required, formulaic one-on-one fights. As with most anime, the art and animation are well done, the story not so. But I'm only saying this in comparison with other anime. In comparison with generic American cartoons, the story here is probably head-and-shoulders way up there.

Tonari no totoro (My Neighbor Totoro)

I think this is one of my favorite Studio Ghibli anime ever. Sweet and charming, this anime seems taken straight out of a fairytale. Its two protagonists, sisters Satsuki and Mei are totally lovable, and so is the rustic house they move into with their father, and so are all the folklorish creatures that inhabit the countryside. The two girls and their father move to the country so they can be near the girls' mother, who is suffering from tuberculosis and is being treated at Shichikokuyama Hospital. The house they are to live in seems to be falling apart, and adding to that, the two girls discover the existence of the "susuwatari", which provide for some of the most magical scenes in the entire movie. These creatures (which look like black dustbunnies) leave the house that very night and set up residence in a tall, majestic tree nearby. Mei soon encounters the "totoro", which come in three sizes - small, medium and big ^_^. And in my favorite scene of the movie, Satsuki is introduced to Totoro as well, while she and her sister are waiting at the bus-stop in the rain for their father. They also get to meet Totoro's ride, the Cheshire Cat-like Nekobasu (Catbus), an absolutely delightful creature with many legs and headlights for eyes. The story gets kinda hazy at this point cos I watched the second part (it came in two vcd's) at my friend's house, and we were yakking too much for me to really concentrate on the movie ^^;. I think Mei finds out that her mom's condition is deteriorating, then she goes missing, but is eventually found by Satsuki with help from Totoro and Nekobasu. This is a great anime, with a simple, quietly poignant story, wonderful characters and breathtakingly beautiful art.

Majo no takkyubin (Kiki's Delivery Service)

Kiki is a witch. When she turns 13, she has to leave home to spend a year away practicing her arts and providing services for the common people. So she packs some stuff and goes off on her flying broomstick, her (very cute) talking black cat Jiji in tow. They come to a quaint town by the sea, and after finding out that the town has no witch, Kiki decides to stay. She runs an errand for the owner of a bakery, and the woman offers her a place to sleep. Kiki also sets up shop in the bakery - a slightly unconventional delivery service. She loses her witch powers somewhere in the middle of the movie, but I haven't been able to figure out why ^_^;. My guess is that all the negative feelings she feels towards the ungrateful girl who doesn't appreciate her grandmother's birthday gift sorta bogs her down, so she can't fly anymore. I also seem to remember seeing on some website or other that it's cos she lost her confidence or something. She is also unable to talk to Jiji anymore. In the end, she regains her powers when she has to rescue her friend who has got himself into a perilous situation. But even with her powers back, Jiji never talks to her anymore. I think it's because she has grown up and has made "real" friends with the other kids in the town, so it's no longer necessary for her cat to talk to her. I was struck by how utterly and staggeringly optimistic this anime was. Y'know, everyone in it is a good samaritan, they live simple, content lives, they reach unceasingly for the stars and often succeed, and pearls of wisdom drop from their mouths in everyday conversations. Do people like that really exist?

Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon

The first anime I watched that I knew was anime. Of course, there were Doraemon, Simba (or was it Kimba?), Voltron and its various permutations, and Gatchaman before that, but I was too young then to realize or to care that they were anime. And then there was this one time when I woke up early in the morning and switched on the TV, and was greeted with blood spattering everywhere and human appendages flying in the air. The first thought that crossed my mind was, "This stuff is for kids?!" (Later found out that the anime in question was 8-Man After). The difference between violence in American cartoons and violence in Japanese cartoons is, I think, that the former consists of "Bang! You're dead" scenes, where no matter how injured you are, you don't bleed at all, while the Japanese likes blood. Lots of it. Or whatever. I'm digressing, aren't I? Sailormoon is about a 14-year-old girl, Tsukino Usagi, who transforms into a, ahem, "pretty soldier of justice" who, in the name of the moon, vanquishes bad guys left and right. I watched the first and second seasons. I really did enjoy the first season of the show, bringing, as it did, a breath of fresh air from the monotonous American cartoons (it is very scary indeed when all the villains in American cartoons somehow manage to speak with a foreign accent - usually supposed to signify evil warlords from tiny Baltic countries, but wannabe-Hitlers from Germany, triad bosses from Hong Kong and fundamentalists from the Middle East would serve as well). I thought Usagi was really funny, and sweet, and kind, and I liked her a lot. Then she went and fell in love with that conceited, self-absorbed, pathetic excuse for a hero ^^;;;. I don't like Capeboy. Enough said. I've heard mention that there are some feminist themes in Sailormoon, but I somehow doubt that a show about a bunch of schoolgirls in miniskirts fighting villains while strategically placing themselves in panty-shot poses are going to strike a blow for women's lib anywhere ^_^. That said, it's an entertaining show... just switch off the light upstairs when you're watching it.


Note that this is Dragonball, with no extra alphabets attached to the end of it. This is a typical shounen anime - hero goes on a quest, fights, meets allies, fights, meets females (one or more of which will become the love interest), joins tournaments to see who will be the strongest, trains so that he will become the strongest, fights, fights, and fights some more. The hero is a kid named Goku who has a monkey tail and is from another planet. Btw, Son Goku is actually the Japanese name for the monkey god in Chinese legend, Sun Wukong, who is in turn, an adaptation of the monkey deity Hanuman from the pages of the Ramayana. I think Chi-chi (the love interest) may also have come from Chinese myth - the Iron Fan Princess whose husband was the Buffalo God. Journey to the West, the mythic arc in which all these characters abound, is a wonderful story... read it if you have the chance. Or better yet, watch the live-action adaptation.

Ghost in the Shell

The thing about deep, philosophical anime is that you get lost about ten minutes into the movie. Or at least I did anyway. At least this is in English and has English subtitles (inexplicably), which is better than watching EVA in Cantonese, which made me even more directionally-challenged than ever. The year is 2029 AD, and Kusanagi Motoko is the no-nonsense, ass-kicking cyborg major of Section 9. Section 9 is currently involved in a case involving the Puppetmaster, who I think turns out to be an entity self-evolved from the, er, net of information or some thingamajiggy. I guess the theme of the movie's got something to do with technology and humanity and how the two coexist together... profound stuff, I'm sure, but I was more fascinated with the visuals than the profundity. The art is really great, but one thing that I seriously object to in the anime is the amount of nudity present. I don't find nudity objectionable in general, but I do find sexist nudity highly irritating. Naked women abound, but you don't even see a bare-chested man. When the guy wants to be invisible, he just has to throw this overcoat around himself, but when Major Kusanagi wants to be invisible, she has to strip. Yeah, right. Not to mention the long, lingering shots on the various parts of her nude body, including her butt, crotch and breasts. Come now, if there must be nudity, let everyone be naked regardless of sex! Even the Puppetmaster, who has a man's voice, somehow manages to find residence in a female cyborg body, whoopee, more opportunity for bare breasts. Even the translator whom the Puppetmaster did something to, is female cos she has to be strapped down and gets wires inserted into her body. Coincidence maybe, but very suspicious. There's a glaring lack of men strapped down unconscious with wires inserted into their bodies, or in any position of vulnerability at all, actually. I do still prefer Cantonese dubs to any other dubs. Kusanagi sounds like she's reciting a textbook in class and, I'm sorry, but her pronounced American accent just gets on my nerves.

Note: Most of the anime I watch are dubbed in Cantonese, some are in English or Mandarin, some are in raw Japanese.

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