One of the things about watching a medium as talentless and unoriginal as anime is that you constantly have to qualify things. Yeah, sure, Hayate the Combat Butler is funny—for anime, where you occasionally have to be familiar with the formulas of Japanese “comedy” to even understand that something was even intended to be funny. And Toradora’s female characters are pretty well-realized, because they behave in a manner consistent with real girls rather than doing what was precisely calculated (by male anime directors) to appeal to their (predominately male) audience in just such a way as to get that audience to purchase a full body pillow adorned with that character’s figure.
You end up creating a kind of mental ghetto, a protective barrier to justify your interest in such flawed creations. If you can only evaluate anime against itself, you get used to the relentless mediocrity of most of it. You begin to make excuses for the shows, and for why you’re wasting so much of your life on mindless drivel when you could be filling it with so many other worthwhile things.
So when something comes around that’s actually capable of standing on its own merits, it completely floors you.
This very last show to premiere this season, Tatami Galaxy, is just such a show. It’s not just good for an anime; it’s brilliant regardless of how you feel about the medium. It’s the kind of show that can draw in people who otherwise wouldn’t care about anime.
Celty Sturlson is a Dullahan, a headless fairy spirit from Ireland who travel on horseback holding their heads. Except Celty has lost her head, and has travelled to Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Japan to find it. There she acts as a courier using her motorcycle, which is secretly a horse.
Celty lives with Shinra Kishitani, an unlicensed underground doctor who has been in love with Celty ever since he dissected her naked, immortal body at the age of 8, at the insistence of his father.
Shinra was friends in middle school with Shizuo Heiwajima, a man capable of superhuman feats of strength when angered. He works as a debt collector in Ikebukuro, always wearing sunglasses and the suit of a classy bartender, and he is frequently seen throwing vending machines.
Shizuo has been mortal enemies for years with Izaya Orihara. Now working as an information broker, Izaya is dedicated to exploring the mystery of Celty and her circumstances.
Most TV shows and movies take place in worlds that, although they may look or sound like real life, really bear very little resemblance to it. The world doesn’t have a lot of good-looking 20-somethings who have crazy adventures, suave advertising executives with troubled pasts, secret agents with superhuman abilities or sinister ancient conspiracies in service of alien horrors beyond our ken. It’s part of what makes television so entertaining: the escape from everyday reality.
I think one of the things that makes anime hard for people to get into is the sheer unreality of it. Even for a population born and raised on unreality, there’s still something uncomfortably alien about the medium. I know most anime apologists get really defensive about calling them ‘cartoons’, but they really are. They may be free of anvils and painted doors, but they still operate according to the alien logic of an unreal world. There’s something very foreign about a lot of anime. And, although Japan produces a lot of weird, foreign stuff, I don’t think it’s because it’s Japanese, per se. I think it’s the fact that a lot of anime is made by people in a close-knit subculture for people in a close-knit subculture, or another, equally close-knit subculture across the ocean.
You see, you can learn a lot about people from the kinds of escapism they prefer. And, I’ll be honest, the kind most anime has on display is strange and perverse. It’s not like there aren’t exceptions—ones that I hope I can write about here—but your typical anime targeted at otaku is a constant, nonstop barrage of bewildering or crudely exploitative conventions that make no sense out of context, and very little in it.
And the core of it, the part I’m most interested in talking about now, is a warped sexuality that celebrates and glorifies its disconnection from actual sexual intimacy.
I realized I wrote an entire article about last week’s episode without explaining what a maid cafe is. Oh well, I think both the people who read this know what one is, and if not, it’s not hard to guess. A maid cafe is a cafe where people go to order drinks from waitresses who dress and act like maids.
It originated as an otaku thing, catering to the fetish of complete female subservience that runs as an subtext to most otaku culture, but they’ve apparently become slightly more mainstream. Whether that invalidates my previous assumptions about otaku or means they are a part of the broader Japanese culture is outside the scope of this article.
Being slightly mainstream doesn’t mean that working at a maid cafe wouldn’t be embarrassing, especially for someone with as hardcore a reputation as Misaki has. But then again, the tension of the show is her trying to cover this up, so you can probably guess that.
So I’ve been a pretty big fan of the noitaminA block of shows for as long as they’ve been airing. It’s a time slot dedicated to expanding the audience of anime beyond your typical young, male otaku, which makes it perfect for a site like this. For the last 5 years, they’ve had several spectacular successes, a few hilarious failures, and some less exciting stuff in the middle. Honey and Clover and Eden of the East, two of my favorite shows of all time, both aired in the block, so I make it a point to always check out what’s airing.
After coming on a little strong in the first episode…okay, after terrorizing the object of her lust for the entire first episode, Yamada has decided to calm down and take things slowly. Whether she decided that before or after running screaming from his erection is another matter entirely.
Anyway, what this means is that the manic pace of the first episode is gone. Instead of four quick stories, we now have two longer stories that unfold more like a traditional romantic comedy.
Except Yamada is still far too unstable and crazy to be a traditional romantic comedy lead. Kosuda winces in terror at the sight of her, and has to be convinced by Yamada’s friend, Takeshita, to go on a double date with her boyfriend to a water park.
This must be the season for historical dramas, because right after Senkou no Night Raid comes RAINBOW, a prison drama about seven teenagers in a boys’ detention facility in 1955.
Now, 1955 was not a good time to be a troubled teenager in Japan. It had only been ten years since the entire country was devastated by fighting a losing war, and while reconstruction had begun, the country was nowhere near the industrial boom of the 1970s that would make Japan a global economic powerhouse. Things were grim and bleak all around.
But not as grim and bleak as they are in RAINBOW. The first scene with our heroes has them, hooded, on a public bus en route to the prison. A little girl accidentally drops her beloved doll into the aisle, so one of the hooded boys bends down to pick it up. When he tries to give it back to her, the girl starts bawling. After the prisoners get off the bus, she throws the doll out the window into the mud. Then, the boy is beaten by the guards. In the rain.
And that’s the second happiest moment in the show.