Subtle Doctor: Welcome everyone to a very special edition of Wave Motion Conversation. Tonight our staff will be selecting the inaugural members of the Wave Motion Canon. …Please, don’t hate me for writing that.
Tamerlane: Canons are both essential and highly arbitrary. You can’t preserve a traditional of artistic practice and consumption without them, but the process of deciding what stays in and what goes out is often muddled and confused. In spending the last couple years watching a wide breadth of world animation, I’ve sort of unintentionally built up a canon of “world animation” (which will eventually be posted to WMC) and what I’ve noticed is that canonical works usually fall into two categories. There are works which are canonical purely for their historical value and there are works which are canonical because of their overwhelming aesthetic merit. An example of the former would be the original Gundam – very few would go to bat for it today but its impact on the anime industry was enormous. An example of latter might be Gosenzosama Banbanzai – the average anime fan has likely never heard of it, but among industry insiders and critics (to the extent that they exist in anime) it’s regarded as a classic. Building a canon requires balancing those two impulses.
Subtle Doctor: Now, I hope you’re all ready for some passion-fueled discussion of several of our favorite works!
Tamerlane: Let’s start with you Josh.
Josh: My pick was really hard for me, just like everyone else I’m sure. At the same time you want to pick Eva you want to pick Yu Yu Hakusho, or this show or that show and I realized I’m kinda just picking favorites. Maybe that’s ok, but it’s a super partial and biased way (I don’t want to say wrong) of going abut things. There’s an Ebert quote I use all the time and I’ll kinda paraphrase it: “We live in a box of space and time. Movies are windows in its walls.” (I remember that part by heart.) But more or less, movies are the greatest tool to get us to empathize with someone else, somewhere else in a life that isn’t our own. And the best movies change us.
And rereading that, I realized that my pick would have to to be deeply personal if I was to suggest it as part of any canon. So I went with Isao Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya. I saw the movie 4 times in theaters and shed tears every time I see it even to this day. It was a religious experience for me, and I don’t mean that light heatedly at all as nerdy as that may sound. I could go on all day about the movie; I’m betting it’s the youngest movie here. But it goes to show you that something so old and well known can still be just as impact if done right. The movie exists out of space and time, just like Ebert said the best films would. And that art! This film being Takahata’s best shows that anime can still evolve and become something more as a medium. There is nothing like Kaguya. It was a classic the moment its light hit the silver screen in my eyes.
Chris Hitchcock: While that’s not my favorite of Isao Takahata’s films (call me old fashioned, but I’m a Grave of the Fireflies guy), I do think that film has what it takes to stand the test of time and I do think it will be a film we’ll continue to examine in the years to come.
Jimmy Gnome: I myself am more enamored with Takahata’s Only Yesterday, but I agree that Kaguya is a masterpiece of its own. I think it’s a very original take for him as a director: most of his earlier works take simple, down to earth stories and sprinkle in some fantastic elements, but Kaguya takes a fantastic story, a fairy tale, and brings it to earth. Takahata’s trademark attention to detail adds so much believability to the characters and their struggles, making the classic story seem as real today as it must have seemed to those who passed it down for generations. It is a truly fantastic work with an incredible amount of skill and talent put behind it, and considering it may be Takahata’s final film, I believe it is certainly worth including in the canon.
Subtle Doctor: I have yet to see Princess Kaguya, but I am greatly looking forward to it and can’t imagine not respecting it at the very least. Takahata’s works feature some fairly down to earth characters that I find easy to root for. And, from an aesthetic point of view, the film looks a-fuckin-mazing. Great design sensibilities. Since I haven’t seen it, I can’t argue for or against its inclusion here, but, again, going on instinct and track record, I can get behind this pick.
Tamerlane: Josh your pick errs more towards “overwhelming aesthetic merit” over historical impact. As good as Kaguyahime is, I’d be surprised if it registers within the larger industry at all.
Which is the point of canons I supposed. The market won’t reward Kaguyahime as it should so it’s up to tastemakers to rectify that.
Josh: You’re right, it’s really the aesthetic that drove me to pick the film, but more than that too, if that makes any sense.
The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is one of the oldest in existence, but Takahata not only modernized it, he made it relevant. Without that I would not have written, seen, or cried over it as I have. Such an amazing film!
Chris Hitchcock: For me, I’m going with a film called Robot Carnival. For me personally, this film is anime. It is everything anime should strive for. Stylistically, Tonally, and all of those other fancy words I can’t think of right now. For those unfamiliar with the film, it is a series of shorts centered around robots. Each short covers a different genre, romance, action, comedy, horror and even the art house film think piece. While each short stands alone well, together this film offers a wide range of topics and themes that you can cover in the medium of anime. That you can tell your super flashy explodey bang-bang story while at the same time cover a deep and thought provoking piece on what it means to be alive. You can cover anything you want to using the anime style of animation and Robot Carnival gives newcomers to the fandom something that’ll beat their expectation on what anime is.
Jimmy Gnome: Robot Carvinal is excellent on virtue of its variety, but its variety can also be a flaw. While there are many parts that I enjoyed, from Morimoto’s dynamic Franken Gears to Kitazune’s upbeat 80s music video Star Light Angel, others hold it down as a whole. Deprive, in all of its hammy glory, isn’t as well crafted or thoughtful as the others. That said, this is a natural obstacle for short collections like Robot Carnival, and I will say that it is the best collection of its nature that I’ve seen, considering how strong the good parts are. I specifically want to single out Cloud, Mao Lamdo’s beautifully personal work of art that nearly made me cry upon first viewing. I would love to see more works like that in the industry, and these short collections are an excellent way to give opportunity for those kind of pieces. Overall, I’d recommend it for canon, despite its innate unevenness.
Subtle Doctor: This makes another fine addition to our canon that I have not seen. Does this mean I’m on some sort of probation for questionable taste? :). I do think it’s good that an anthology made it in. Anime can do this format really well, as each piece can easily distinguish itself from others aesthetically. So, for the theoretical new fan to whom we are recommending this canon, it’s great to showcase this kind of production.
Tamerlane: I’m with Jimmy in that Cloud is a masterpiece and singular best of the collection, though taking an entire anthology together rather than its individual films strikes me as a bit strange. On the other hand, there are plenty of anthologies that we do consider as one work (Fantasia and Winter Days, to name two examples in animation). In any case, it’s a shame Otomo doesn’t do projects like this anymore.
Subtle Doctor: It is a damn shame, Tam. Jimmy, which other anthologies have you seen that you’re comparing Robot Carnival to?
Chris Hitchcock: Memories?
Jimmy Gnome: The Genius Party shorts, Memories, Neo Tokyo, Short Piece, I guess you could also count AniKuri 15 and the recent Animator Expo
Tamerlane: Fluximation, Ghiblies
Chris Hitchcock: Heavy Metal
Subtle Doctor: Again, haven’t seen RC, but it will have to be damn good to surpass Memories in my book.
Jimmy Gnome: I think what makes Robot Carnival stand out is that all the shorts are tied together with robots. Makes it feel more ‘whole’.
Subtle Doctor: Yeah, that’s a strong point,
Chris Hitchcock: If I could add to Jimmy, that’s one thing I do like about it as a collection. It’s like the creators were told, “Do a short about robots” and everyone came to the table with something completely different.
Tamerlane: Morimoto directed a short for Robot Carnival, so it could be argued that it was influential on all the Studio 4C anthologies that followed
Jimmy Gnome: True. Love Rintaro’s contribution
Chris Hitchcock: Agreed
Subtle Doctor: We need a ‘What happened to Otomo?’ column.
Josh: He died with Shinbo.
Chris Hitchcock: Aliens, aliens took them both
Tamerlane: Shinbo’s coming back this fall, believe it!
Jimmy Gnome: Horray!
Josh: So, I have not seen Robot Carnival completely (maybe now I should, given the fact it’s now in the canon) but portions I have seen have stuck out as something I can only describe as ‘more’. Otomo did/has done a lot of good work for anime in his anthologies. I’m not a big fan of anthologies myself, but I cannot deny their place. Nor Otomo’s.
Chris Hitchcock: I do want to defend Deprive for a minute, because I love the cheesy 80’s action vibe of it and I think it gives credit towards the idea that anime can be anything you want it to be. From high art to popcorn flicks.
Plus that music is dope
Jimmy Gnome: I’ll agree to that, but anything it adds in terms of scope or representation of the medium doesn’t add to my personal enjoyment of the short itself.
Chris Hitchcock: Right on
Jimmy Gnome: Alright, my turn
I chose Revolutionary Girl Utena, represented by both its TV series and the film, because I believe it is the pinnacle of thematic storytelling in anime. The meaningful blend of classic shoujo archetypes, theatrical influences and obtuse metaphors result in one of the most memorable experiences the medium has to offer. Its enduring central message of overcoming the bindings of the past envelops every facet of every episode in the series, and its emotionally gripping finale leaves a powerful impact on its viewers.
The film, Adolescence of Utena, goes hand-in-hand with the series and makes for an excellent thematic accompaniment. Far more than just a retelling of the series, it introduces a fresh take on the central themes of the series with significant alterations to the plot, lavish animation, breath taking cinematography, and a driving score. For such reasons, both of these works deserve consideration for canonicity.
And no pun intended on ‘driving score’
Subtle Doctor: If this wasn’t in the canon, I’d revolt. Utena absolutely nails everything it tries to accomplish and reaches heights that not even its own creative staff could grasp again. Everything the show does is technically masterful, thematically coherent and emotionally impactful. Utena is just so damn memorable. It’s one of my favorite anime of all time and, as Jimmy said, represents what the top talents in the anime industry can do in terms of the narrative/literary elements of an anime. Even today, twenty years on, it’s still being mined for meaning. I think it will remain at the forefront of the academic/analytic study of anime for years to come.
Chris Hitchcock: I love Utena. If it’s not in my top ten, it’s in my top five. It’s stunningly beautiful, original, goofy, and there’s absolutely nothing else like it. I’m a giant fan of the first season and I revisit it often. For me, I feel as though it’s an in depth examination on love. How it shapes, corrupts, and betters people. There’s a lot you can dive into with Utena.
Also, I feel as though I should mention, my first video review was on the Utena film and for the love of the Rose Bride, don’t watch. I tried doing a snarky, “I’m making fun of it because I love it” review and it comes across that I’m just bashing on it. Plus it was before I learned what “Audio Levels” are. If I ever get into the swing of video reviews again, I’d loved to tackle it again with the respect it deserves.
Tamerlane: Utena is unarguably canonical. Artists involved in the show who were influenced by Ikuhara include Hiroshi Nagahama, Takuya Igarashi, Mamoru Hosoda, Shingo Kaneko, Nobuyuki Takeuchi, Toru Takahashi, Hiroaki Sakurai, Katsushi Sakurabi, Yoji Enokido, Chieko Nakamura, Shinya Hasegawa, Kazunori Iwakura, Nobutoshi Ogura, among others.
Even if the show were trash, it’s made a significant historical impact. Ikuhara single-handedly revived the baroque Dezaki shoujo and casts a long shadow on the development of TV anime today.
Subtle Doctor: Love the Dezaki influence
Tamerlane: Utena’s art director, Shichiro Kobayashi, was a crucial member of Dezaki’s team during the 70s
Jimmy Gnome: Didn’t realize that
Subtle Doctor: Totally makes sense
Josh: Hosoda was really born out of all of that and look at him now. His films play in American theatres.
Subtle Doctor: Tam, do you know if there is much staff crossover between a contemporary Dezaki project, Dear Brother, and Utena TV?
Tamerlane: Not a whole lot from what I know. Oniisama e had a few of Dezaki’s collaborators from the 70s (Ohashi, Sugino) while Utena was staffed mainly by Ikuhara’s group from Toei
Jimmy Gnome: I’ll just say that Utena represents everything I love about anime as a medium. A lot of people criticize parts of it as being too obtuse or repetitive, but I can put on any episode at any time and get into it. It’s truly one of a kind.
Tamerlane: I’d probably be more critical of Utena if I were to rewatch it today, but I absolutely loved it the first time through
Subtle Doctor: So, I’m not sure my choice would come to most people’s minds when thinking of canonical works, but, for me, it totally deserves a spot on any must-see list. The Rurouni Kenshin‘s Trust & Betrayal OAVs had an enormous impact on me as an anime fan. They began a process that the likes of Evangelion completed, namely showing me the raw emotional depths anime could pull from when telling a story.
I want to emphasize that I’m ONLY talking about these OAVs here, which are perfectly fine as standalone works. That’s how I experienced them, not having seen a single episode of the TV series. Looking back, it’s remarkable how the Kenshin IP was put in different hands and that a work of such different tone and tenor was produced. It’s a work whose technical and narrative merits supersede the preceding TV series by a considerable margin. I’m sure series fans will wring more out of these OAVs, but, again, at the point in my life I saw them, they were this powerful, beautiful, tragic thing that impressed upon me that anime was much more than shounen battle comics.
It may be all time and place in terms of what it demonstrated to me that anime could do, but I think it still holds up incredibly well as a piece of effective, emotional story-telling. Also, it still looks great!
Tamerlane: Trust and Betrayal a good choice. It seems like it used to get talked about more, at least in American anime fan circles. Interestingly Mamoru Hosoda co-directed the third episode and considers it to be his most formative experience as director, moreso than Utena even.
Subtle Doctor: We rightly poke fun of the “Samurai X” rebranding, but, truth be told, if not for that my friend and I wouldn’t have gone in on those VHS copies :).
Tam, it seems like it could be seen as practice for a film. I recall the arc of episode three being…filmic, for lack of a better word? Clear stages of it and progression, etc.
Chris Hitchcock: I haven’t seen this one, but not for a lack of trying.
I bought a copy of the OVA at Goodwill on DVD for $2. When I took it home it turned out to be a Chinese bootleg edition that featured an unreadable menu. Like it wasn’t kanji, just scribbles. I put the disc into my PS3 and the system made this ungodly hissing noise. I took it as a sign to not revisit the series.
Josh: Did your PS3 burn its sweat glands?
I know for me, the Kenshin OVAs are the definitive ‘Samurai Anime’ experience. And I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that it is responsible for the shift of Samurai films into anime.
Look at Sword of the Stranger, 10 years later. In my mind, I don’t see that being made without a deeper, darker Kenshin.
Chris Hitchcock: Oro?
Subtle Doctor: Josh- I didn’t realize in 99, but it was kind of important that it was this samurai anime that wasn’t total schlock. It’s violent, sure, but there is more going on than just the violence. SO many of its contemporaries were schlocky, bloody T&A fests. Which I’m super into, but it’s great that the genre contains other more artistically respectable works.
Josh: Yeah, that and the Escaflowne film have some of the best sword play of the time
Jimmy Gnome: I’ll start by saying it’s been quite a while since I saw Trust and Betrayal, and I think it deserves a rewatch sometime. I tried out early in my anime watching career, and as someone who wasn’t that into the darker, broody samurai series at the time I remember being pleasantly impressed with the non-action elements. The focus on character relationships and powerful themes definitely left a mark on me.
Subtle Doctor: Like an X shaped scar?
Tamerlane: I originally thought of going for something influential like Dokonjo Gaeru or Birth but I settled on The Wind Rises by Hayao Miyazaki.
The reason I went with this was 1) It’s a problematic film, resisting easy interpretation, and is thus likely to be discussed by Miyazaki fans and critics for some time, 2) It is an exceptional film in many ways, with a level of intellectual seriousness that no anime feature in years sans Kaguya has demonstrated, and 3) It’s not an obvious pick for a canonical favorite. Certain aspects of the film, like the last scene, needed some finesse and so it can’t be recommended wholeheartedly like Spirited Away or Totoro. However, I tend to look at film and animation as a kind of open discussion, and The Wind Rises contributes to that discussion far more than, say, The Wolf Children, a film that’s perhaps more pleasant to watch.
Josh: Hmmmm, I’m not sure how much I agree with the film being canonical to be honest. I don’t see (and it may be to early to call, as my pick is) a major shift or change in anime springing out of The Wind Rises. More the opposite, the death of a certain style, more specifically, a certain studio. I suppose on that merit it is canon, but I don’t feel it did anything nearly as impressive as any other random Miyazaki work. Maybe it beats out Porco Rosso, but then again, these things do tend to ripen with age.
Wind Rises did very little to impress me I guess.
Chris Hitchcock: I adore The Wind Rises. I found the film inspiring to watch. It’s a beautiful film about the challenge of balancing dreams against reality. It really captures the director’s passion for flight and the movies main hero. I feel Wind Rises is by far and away Miyazaki’s most personal film and should be examined closely in the coming years.
Jimmy Gnome: It’s interesting that both Miyazaki and Takahata’s “final” films were chosen for this first session. Similar to how Kaguya was new material for Takahata, Miyazaki tackling a film based on real people and events instead of pure fantasy is pretty meaningful. By adding his own trademark imaginative touches, I think it becomes more personal and relatable to viewers in general, not to mention Miyazaki himself.
While I’m not the kind of engineer portrayed in the film myself, I felt the thought processes were beautifully conveyed in a way only someone with a deep understanding of the trade would be able.
Chris Hitchcock: Josh is a doo-do face for not liking Wind Rises.
Subtle Doctor: Like Kaguya, this is a film I own but haven’t seen. I probably have talked my way out of further deliberations on our canon, but who has got time for works by seminal creators when there’s samurai schlock to consume?
I think this film is probably worthy of inclusion due to its autobiographical nature. It is a look into the mind of the most famous anime creative of our time or any other. I’m sure plenty of other Miyazaki movies will make it on the list, and we want our theoretical canon-reading new fan to be able to get an appreciation for who this very important asshole was.
And, with that final display of ignorance, we will wrap up the first Wave Motion Canon inductions. Thanks for reading, folks.. Hope you can join us again for more of this shameless self-importance! Goodnight everybody!