I ding 45 next month. This is just a reminder that if you’re feeling overburdened by money (thanks, Marcus) you can send a trinket or something my direction…
45 is a good number, right? That’s the RPM of a music single on a turntable! Right.
In space, no one can hear you squee.
This writing project is all about things that give me joy, and sharing that joy in the hopes that you find something along the way which can give you some of the same happiness I’ve found. Or, remembering why you fondly remember some of the same things I have. This week’s installment is located at the intersection of The Hero(ine)’s Journey and The Power of Friendship, assuming that these roads can be traveled via pirate spaceship. And it’s a pure delight.
Mouretsu Pirates started, as so many recent anime have done, as a light novel series. The series runs 26 episodes long, followed by a theatrical film that is essentially a better-produced episodic adventure placed shortly after the series’ timeline.
The show’s official English title is Bodacious Space Pirates and that’s the last time I’m mentioning that fact because seriously, no.
Marika is living a normal school life, with a part time job and hobby time spent in the space yacht club, when she is informed of her late father’s bequest: Captaincy of a pirate ship. The laws state that pirate ships must pass from parent to child or risk decommissioning. Of course our plucky heroine takes up the challenge of space piracy, otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a plot. The point of the show, however, is watching Marika and her friends and her new crew as they get used to the change in circumstances. She has to learn the ropes of the piracy business (and business it is!) as well as grow into her innate talent for the tactics of space combat while maintaining her grades and keeping up her part-time job at the cafe. Busy girl!
You realize very early on that this isn’t being played for heavy drama. There’s no grimdark here. It’s not that kind of show. You can simply relax and enjoy the ride on the fun train.
I’m here for the great characters, the clever tactical stuff, the smart and funny writing, and the overall sense of delight.
The show is almost an ensemble but Marika is at the heart of nearly everything going on. Her knack at befriending useful people is a big contributor to her increasing success. But she’s not one of those characters for whom everything comes too easily. We get to watch her try things out, establish her sense of place, step out of her comfort zones. Yes, she’s the central figure and the show is deliberately upbeat, but it doesn’t feel like her accomplishments are cheap and there’s a good sense of character progression.
Also: Space pirates. I mean, come on now.
If you want something with a bit more dramatic heft, more edge, then Mouretsu Pirates probably isn’t your cup of tea. Also, this is a world full of schoolgirls. The dudes don’t factor in very much or very often.
Maybe you’re allergic to joy. I don’t know your life.
The ending theme song, “Lost Child,” is among my all-time favorite anime-related tracks of all time. The opening theme song, whose title I shall not try to reproduce here, is… certainly several minutes of sounds, yes indeed. Hooboy.
Problems are usually solved, in this show, by clever people figuring out smart solutions. Everyone has a strength that will get played to somewhere along the way, but they’re going to have to work hard for their successes.
The series and movie are available on Blu-Ray, and you can stream the series at Crunchyroll.
Come for the naked wolf goddess, stay for the economics drama and snarky banter! It’s time to get your wagon filled with apples and go on a road trip with Spice and Wolf.
This is a show which started life as a series of “light novels” about a struggling young trader named Lawrence and Horo, the “wisewolf” he falls in with, taking place in a vaguely-Renaissance-Europe setting. He wants to set up a permanent shop some day, she wants to travel back to her homeland. He’s a mid-20s guy with a good head for business but a lot to learn, she’s an ancient shape-shifting wolf goddess with a good head for business.
There are three main layers in Spice and Wolf: It’s a series of musings on the passing of old pagan gods and the rise of Christianity, for good or ill. It’s a charming little romantic show about two people who love business dealings. And it’s a show about business dealings, lots and lots of business dealings. You can make a good story about anything if you structure and sell it just right, and here is a series about a bunch of economic theories and complicated transactions which doesn’t put you to sleep.
The anime goes through a set of episodic story arcs, introducing new places and characters for Horo and Lawrence to interact with and attempt to profit from, generally with the added challenge of keeping Horo’s true nature a secret. That part isn’t made easier by the fact that her “human” form retains pointy ears and a big fluffy tail.
At its core, Spice and Wolf is a two-character road-trip adventure series, and if you can get your two leads to play well off of each other it’s a delight to watch regardless of the actual plots. What’s amazing to me is how much I got into the economic aspect, though. I wouldn’t say I learned a lot from watching the show but you can tell that the writer did a lot of homework. The principles and attitudes feel authentic, by and large.
Horo (or Holo, depending on who you ask) is by turns adorable, annoying, overbearing, savvy, dangerous, and pitiful. You’re never quite sure what she’s going to do next. In some shows that could get frustrating but Spice and Wolf handles it quite well. She’s mercurial, but not wackadoodle.
It’s also nice to find a male lead in anime who is decently competent without being too competent. (It seems like a lot of anime features either Amazing Unstoppable Man or How Does This Guy Tie His Own Shoelaces Man. Sigh.) Lawrence is surprisingly pragmatic, which doesn’t always work out in his favor. There are some interesting nuances in his character and how he interacts with his world.
And every now and then, of course, something fantastical happens.
It’s not that this is a great all-time classic of a show, but it’s kind of warm and fuzzy with moments of surprising grit and integrity.
Also? I really like the first season’s opening and closing songs, even though the closing song’s lyrics seem to be utter nonsense.
Let’s not put too fine a point on it: If the somewhat-“furry” aspect of romance between a human guy and a wolf-y girl is off-putting to you then you might as well avoid Spice and Wolf. While the romantic thread isn’t always very prominent in the show, it’s still there as a key element. You’ve been warned.
Also, if you’re coming into this expecting a lot of action and adventure, or a lot of “power of the old gods” stuff, you’ll be disappointed. What you’re going to get is business dealings, and more business dealings, punctuated with witty banter and the occasional glimpse of fluffy tail.
I’m amused by the fact that when Lawrence first meets Horo, she’s stark naked (in human form) and it’s not even remotely played as titillation. It’s just not that kind of show (thank goodness). They can joke about it later, and that’s about as far as it goes.
Of the two, Lawrence is the big softie. (If you want to call that irony, go ahead.) Perhaps it’s no surprise that the wolf’s instincts are to go for the kill at the opportune moment, so his easy-going attitude and general pragmatism are set up as balance.
For the beliefs and attitudes of its characters, Spice and Wolf goes for a mix of modern sensibilities (most stories created at a time are creatures of their time, after all) and setting-appropriate attitudes. Some of this shows up in how people react to the young merchant and his “traveling companion.” It also appears when the Christian church is a part of the story, where the God of that church is revered but some of those who represent the church are… less savory. I find the blend of historically-accurate and alternate-history and mythical elements interesting.
As of this writing, Funimation’s website has Spice and Wolf available for streaming. There’s a Blu-Ray/DVD combo boxed set of the complete series as well.
Adapting and reworking the classics of storytelling is a dangerous game. There’s absolutely no way you’re going to please everybody, and they’re going to give you no end of flack for something you change, if not everything you change. Facing that certainty, some storytellers figure they might as well go for broke. Change the setting to the Wild West! Or outer space! Or… I dunno, add giant robots!
Samurai 7 is, of course, an adaptation of Kurosawa’s famous, classic Seven Samurai film.
It’s a marvelous, epic heroic tragedy with some great fight scenes and wonderful character beats.
What, you want me to sum up one of the best-known story setups of all time? Be serious!
Fine: Bandits are extorting the crops from a village of farmers. Farmers send an envoy to the city in order to hire samurai. Since all they can offer in payment is rice the samurai will have to be hungry, or at least motivated by more than regular pay. A half-dozen-ish fighters are assembled. Plot ensues. Bad things happen to bandits. Bad things happen to samurai, too. The village is saved, more or less.
Other than the original 1956 Kurosawa movie, this is my favorite rendition of the tale. It’s faithful where it makes sense to be but it takes advantage of having lots of room to expand due to the full half-year series run. Particularly the plot threads involving the antagonists are a welcome addition. We know that a story centered exclusively on the villagers and their desperate band of saviors can fill about, let’s say, three hours of screen time. How do you make that work across two dozen or so half-hour installments? More action sequences, and showing the rise & fall of the scumbag behind the bandits, that’s how!
It’s clever, it’s moving, it’s exciting, it’s tragic, it’s satisfying.
As with the first 3WA installment, Voices of a Distant Star, if you break out in hives at the appearance of giant robots in your heroic action tragedy you may need to give this a pass. The giant robots aren’t there all the time, but they’re certainly a periodic factor and you get a screen full of them right as the series starts. I like them as a worldbuilding detail and they’re smartly used, but there is a strong factor of “I don’t care how strong these guys are, how are they standing up to THOSE” involved. It’s an anime thing, I suppose.
More characters appear in this adaptation than are in the original, which is one possible natural consequence of making a much longer version of the story. You may or may not like the new arrivals. Both the bratty little girl from the village and the scheming bastard behind the bandits can be annoying. At least one of them gets what’s coming to them, so there’s that, right?
This series was my second exposure to an overt, make-no-mistakes rendition of the Seven Samurai tale. The first was… well, the cheesy, outer space one. And I was very young, and had no idea about the movie’s pedigree, for good or ill. I watched the actual original Seven Samurai for the first time only last year.
(Yes, I know. I’ve never claimed to be a film snob. At least I watched it before seeing the new Magnificent Seven, right?)
What I’m saying is… I’m no purist but I totally understand why people hold the original in such high regard. I think Samurai 7 holds its own as a solid rendition that takes important things from its progenitor and adds value along the way.
As of this writing, Funimation’s site has Samurai 7 available for streaming. Otherwise you’ll need to track down the DVD set, which I recommend as it’s entirely worth owning.
It’s three episodes long, it’s our third installment, it has three words in the title. Oh, and it’s a gem of an anime production, delightfully bonkers. Let’s dive right in.
Read or Die, the OVA, is a 90 minute action adventure tale which takes place in a contemporary, somewhat fantastical alternate-history world. The story originated in a series of light novels and manga but each medium’s version is its own independent thing, much like the versions of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Make of this comparison what you will.
Someone is making superpowered clones of random figures from history and using them towards nefarious ends. To stop them, the British Library (go ahead and make your The Librarians jokes, I’ll wait) is sending several of its most capable agents to investigate. Drake (the muscle) and Nancy Makuhari (the Black-Widow-esque superspy) seem normal enough at first, but then there’s Yomiko Readman. “The Paper.”
The Paper’s ability seems to be “make sheets of paper do whatever the plot requires her to be able to do.” Don’t think about it too much, your brain will start hurting. Point being, this story is an hour and a half of wildly inventive magic-powers action with a strong thread of comedy and the occasional emotional gut-punch.
One of my favorite types of adventure storytelling starts with the question, “if people had [whatever superpower], how would they use it most effectively?” We’ll get to one of my all-time favorite expressions of this concept later on in the year, but for now let’s focus on Yomiko’s “bibliomancy” and Nancy’s phase-shift ability.
Nancy falls through floors and walks through walls, sure. But she also uses her ability to sort of… stick… to surfaces in order to get a better fighting position. It’s clever action storyboarding, at the very least. And Yomiko does a lot of things you or I might do with paper, such as making a paper airplane or getting a papercut, only… on grander scales.
The action in ROD is wonderfully inventive, yet rarely feels like it’s too unreal. Which seems odd, considering we’re talking about sheets of paper being used to stop bullets and shield bodies from explosions, but the point is that the powers are used in common-sense ways. You feel, as you watch this, like these characters’ powers are being used in ways that flow naturally from their training and personalities. I love this sort of thing.
It helps that we get a good mixed bag of personalities as well. Nancy and Yomiko are almost polar opposites yet end up working well together at several points. Theirs is the key relationship in this tale. The British Library staff and the villains of the piece stand out very well, too.
It’s weird, it’s short, and it spends part of its runtime indulging in the sort of rambling philosophy rants that anime is often prone to. The plot is a bit opaque and somewhat weird due partly to the condensed run time, a problem that might have been alleviated had this been made into a short anime TV series instead of being crammed into 90 minutes of OVA. Also, it’s not a 100% heroes-win baddies-lose kind of ending. The world is saved from disaster but at a cost.
For pity’s sake do not seek out the 26-episode anime TV series of the same name. It has a great first episode, a long boring middle section, and a very strange way of looping its plot back into this installment’s plot toward the end. Not recommended.
It’s no secret that I love a good heroine, but how often do you get to see a capable action-story lead whose main identifying trait is, “loves books more than anything”?
You’ll probably have to borrow or buy the DVD, if you can find a reputable seller. It’s worth the effort!
(Annoyingly enough, the TV series is on CrunchyRoll. You still probably shouldn’t watch it. Sorry.)
Continuing our march through the calendar year, week by week, showcasing animated stuff that has brought me joy, we touch upon something that should actually not have worked for me at all: A romantic comedy.
Yeah! I know!
Ouran High School Host Club is a 26-episode anime series spawned from a manga. It features a cast of rich weirdos (as any Rocky Horror midnight showing attendee can tell you, those are the best weirdos) and one regular person who is only a bit of a weirdo. Episode by episode, the Host Club entertains its clientele and gets into wacky shenanigans. Along the way an odd sort of romantic story arc emerges. (Very odd.)
Take a bunch of pampered rich boys of wildly divergent personality types. Place them in the orbit of a stupendously odd, mostly self-absorbed leader who has decreed that they shall form a club for the purpose of entertaining young ladies, and introduce a wild-card commoner to kick off the show’s hi-jinks. Extract comedy from this scenario by any means necessary: Sight gags, running gags, verbal puns, visual puns, sleight-of-hand, subverted expectations.
Make sure, however, to show that deep down these are good (if misguided and occasionally clueless) people who are trying (in their bizarre fashion) to make the world better… or at least more fabulous.
For starters, it’s genuinely hilarious. I usually lack the temperament to sit through two dozen episodes of sitcom silliness but OHSHC just keeps delivering the laughs. It helps that the comedy is inventively absurd and rarely mean-spirited, except occasionally when the Hitachiin twins are involved…
Comedy alone might not have kept me coming back for more, so it helps that there’s a wonderful slow-burn friendship-building arc that runs through the show. Haruhi, the poor unfortunate soul who is stuck working at the Host Club to pay off a debt, ends up building a real rapport with the other members. And while there is a romance (of sorts), it’s getting to know the inner lives and interesting backgrounds for each of the characters that really clinches the emotional attachment to the show.
Did I mention it’s ridiculously funny, though? There’s a scene with a singing Haruhi and an equipment mishap that left me gasping for breath I was laughing so hard. Also, light bulbs used as a running gag and a plot point indicator.
There’s a good chance that, even if you’re on board with a full-length rom-com scenario, one or more of the characters might put you off the show completely. Like… well, probably this idiot:
And since he’s the leader of the club and possibly the most delusional character in the series, well, you’re going to see a lot of him. He does redeem himself from time to time, which is what made the experience bearable for me where he’s concerned.
Also, if cross-dressing as a recurring theme is going to bother you… probably best to avoid this show altogether, I’m afraid.
Note that I’m playing a bit coy with the setup of the show in this post. You may already know more about OHSHC than I’ve stated here, but if you’re going in cold, you’ll get to enjoy the full effect of the first episode. Yes, even though I’ve kind of given away one part of it with the “red arrow” pic above. If you get the chance, watch the first episode as unspoiled as you can be, even if you don’t continue the series afterward. Pure comedy gold.
I won’t claim that every episode is superlative. My reasons for loving the show are subjective, and my reason for choosing this show this early in the 3WA 2017 project is to highlight that this entire writing project is about stuff that makes me happy, not about objective excellence in the realm of animated art. With that said… if you could use a good laugh, you could do worse than to sit down with nearly any given episode of OHSHC.
Also, once you’ve watched this show you’ll grok so many more anime memes on the Internet than you could previously. What’s not to love about that?
Currently it’s available in subtitled or dubbed form on Funimation’s streaming site. It also pops up on Netflix from time to time.