Monogatari Series Viewing Order

tumblr_meb302Gd8O1r4v7zro1_1280“In what order do I watch the Monogatari Series?”

This question gets brought up a lot.

Answer: Most people go with the airing order.

  1. Bakemonogatari (my review)
  2. Nisemonogatari
  3. Nekomonogatari: Kuro
  4. Monogatari Series: Second Season
  5. Hanamonogatari
  6. Tsukimonogatari
  7. Owarimonogatari
  8. Kizumonogatari
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Robot on the Road

tumblr_nvkw4ni72M1r3rdh2o1_1280Hiroyuki Okiura, the director and master animator responsible for some of the most beautiful and hyper realistic scenes in anime, has apparently turned to the dark side. After working on such classics like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Jin-Roh, and Paprika, Okiura has written and directed what could be arguably classified as an ecchi anime.

With the exception of Bakemonogatari, Prison School, and a handful of other titles, ecchi anime are often produced with tight budgets, have average or below average art and animation, and their stories are rarely good enough to warrant a rating over a 6. While the story in Robot on the Road is about a low 7, the art and animation are exceptional, and are the main redeeming value of this 10 minute short.

Character designs are crisp and clean, similar to those used in A Letter to Momo, which was also written and directed by Okiura. Moreover, as is the case with much of Okiura’s work, the art and animation quality is often so good that it looks rotoscoped. When the female protagonist gestures quickly or jumps, not a motion in her hair or breasts is overlooked. When the camera cuts to a close-up of her underwear, every detail is drawn out for maximum awkwardness.

The fanservice and gags are propelled by the antics of a perverted, cowboy hat wearing robot. The female protagonist spots him hitchhiking on the side of the road, and she picks him up because—hey, why not? Very little that follow makes much sense outside of ecchi comedy logic, but it’s probably not meant to since it is a comedy afterall.

You can watch Robot on the Road on animatorexpo.com. An option for English subtitles is available on the page. NSFW: contains nudity.

Mushishi Zoku Shou: Drops of Bells

8UVg2gdOur journey with Ginko, which started in 1999, draws to an end with an adaptation of Suzu no Shizuku (Drops of Bells), the last arc of the acclaimed Mushishi manga by Yuki Urushibara.

In the first half of Suzu no Shizuku, a girl leaves her family behind when she’s summoned to be the next lord of a mountain. Thriving lands, called “Rivers of Light”, require the presence of a lord to maintain the balance of life around that area. Choosing a human as a lord is an unusual move, however. Such a task is usually delegated to animals since they live with fewer emotional attachments.

Several of the introspective themes that were explored in previous arcs are summarized here—most notably interconnectedness, the indifference of nature, and the necessity of letting go. All life—plants, animals, and humans—are dependent on each other, and influenced by the ripples of cause and effect. Nature, which is personified in Suzu no Shizuku as the mountain lord, acts as the unbiased mediator. The overarching lesson is that we should appreciate what we have, and not cling when the time comes for us to move on.

The second half concludes this story without quite concluding the series. The ending leaves some of the questions that were raised in the previous arcs unanswered, but it ties up enough to provide a mostly satisfying conclusion, which I’ll refrain from detailing here. It’s something that really should be appreciated without any spoilers.

The art, animation, and sound design have remained remarkably consistent over the years. The backgrounds in Suzu no Shizuku are just as gorgeous as they’ve been since the first season aired in 2005; the character and special effects animation are fluid and precise; and the soundtrack features the subdued and ambient melodies that have become hallmarks of the series.

When you think about it, it’s kind of a miracle that Mushishi, which is essentially about life experiences and nature, was made with such a substantial budget in today’s impatient, thrill seeking, climate. I’m grateful that ArtLand was willing to take a chance on such an esoteric and spiritual story, and that it’s been successful enough to adapt in its entirety. It’s been a truly remarkable experience.

Wolf Children

6711A person falling in love with an attractive werewolf or vampire is a familiar theme in shapeshifter stories. What’s less familiar is for this story to extend beyond the relationship, and detail the hardships of raising “half breed” children in a prejudiced society. 

On the surface, such a premise may seem absurd, but Wolf Children works thanks to the decision of writer/director Mamoru Hosoda to take a fantasy story and package it as a coming-of-age drama. There’s a lot of wonderful humor here, but the characters and their experiences are taken with the utmost seriousness. 

Hana is the quintessential altruistic mother who’s always acting for the benefit of her lover and children. When she has time to herself, she spends it idly and alone. There’s a niceness and a sadness to this. It’s nice how helping others seems to be her biggest motivator. However, it’s also sad since she does so little for herself. Perhaps providing for her family is enough? 

Hana’s children, Yuki and Ame, are opposites of each other. Yuki, the girl, is rambunctious and loud, and Ame, the boy, is introverted and quiet. Over the course of their upbringing, Yuki is encouraged to be more girly, and Ame is encouraged to be more confident. Since Yuki is the more fun character, more screen time is spent on her, and, consequently, Ame isn’t as thoroughly developed. When Ame makes a personal choice later in the film, it feels abrupt and overdramatic. 

Visually, Wolf Children is clean. Characters are drawn with thin outlines, and animated with generous inbetweening. The designs are neither cartoony nor realistic; they’re a mix of the two, leaning slightly more toward realistic. Background characters are in 3D with cel shading, and the background art is detailed without calling too much attention. The score is comprised mostly of gentle melodies played with piano and strings. 

Wolf Children seems to aspire to the greatness of a classic Studio Ghibli film. While it doesn’t quite reach this level, it comes extremely close. There are some aspects of Wolf Children that could be nitpicked, and some aspects that could even be considered troublesome, but the general experience remained a powerful one that I felt long after the ending credits rolled. This is an anime that I won’t soon forget. 

Non-Japanese Anime Characters

Yes, I know Japan is 98.5% Japanese, but it still irks me when I’m watching an anime about the entire world and everyone in the world looks the same. I also think that including characters of non-Japanese cultures could open the doors for a lot of creative story telling possibilities.

A work in progress…

Afro Samurai (black)
Anne no Nikki (jewish) +
Baccano! (several) *
Basquash (black)
Berserk (middle eastern)
Black Butler (indian)
Black Lagoon (black, columbian, chinese)
Bleach (latino, south asian)
Blood+ (?)
The Book of Bantorra (dark skinned)
Cowboy Bebop (black, turkish, native american)
Deadman Wonderland (?)
Durarara (?)
Eden of The East (black, white) *
El Cazador De La Bruja (?)
Emma: A Victorian Romance (indian)
Eureka Seven (several) +
Excel Saga (columbian)
Flag (several, ?)
Freedom (black) +
Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood (several)
Gangsta (?)
Gankutsuou (catalan)
Genesis of Aquarion (hispanic)
Gokudou-kun Manyuuki (dark skinned)
Gosick (arab, mixed)
Gungrave (black?)
Hunter x Hunter (black)
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (2012) (many races)
Jormungand (black) *
Kaleido Star (?)
Memories (german)
Michiko to Hatchin (black, latino, white) +
Mobile Suit Gundam Seed (black, portuguese) +
Monster (german)
Moribito – Guardian of the Spirit (several)
Nadia: Secret of Blue Water (black, atlantian)
Noein: To Your Other Self (dark skinned)
No.6 (many implied)
Phantom Memory Kurau (central american)
Planetes (indian, south asian)
Please Save My Earth (mixed)
Pokemon Best Wishes (black)
Robotech (black)
Rocket Girls (solomon islander)
Rockman.EXE Stream (native american)
Samurai 7 (black or iranian)
Shoujo Kakumei Utena (?)
Space Brothers (several) * +
Taiyou no Ko Esteban (?)
Tamako Market (pacific islander)
Tenjou Tenge (black)
Terra e… (black) +
Tenpou Ibun: Ayakashi Ayashi (aztec)
Tiger & Bunny (black) +
Turn A Gundam (dark skinned)
Yugo the Negotiator (pakistani) +

+ best examples
* some racial stereotyping

Sources:
Characterization Society
ColorQ World
Nerdy•But•Flirty

Style ≠ Animation

Here’s a brief overview on the difference between animation and style, and good vs. great animation.

In simplest terms:
– Animation is about movement.
– Style is about character design, colors, anything not related to movement.

One thing that differentiates good animation from great is the level of detail that’s put into those movements. When the character walks, is their motion limited to simple arm and leg swings, or did the key-animators draw out the motions for their shoulders, torso, hair, and other parts as well? Really skilled animators, if their schedule and budget will allow it, will even add subtle movements to the fingers and face.

An example of great animation that I like to use is this scene from Sleeping Beauty (1958). The level of detail is insane. Everything, the hair, clothes, fingers, feet, everything is moving. And on top of that, their mouths were also animated to match the dialog and lyrics.

Another thing that makes animation look nice is when it’s done on 1s or 2s instead of 3s. Film plays back at around 24 frames per second, and, to save money and time, studios will sometimes only do 8 frames of animation for every second, and then play that animation back at third-speed so it’ll fit the 24 frame space. This is called animating on 3s, which often results in choppier playback than animation done on 2s (12 frames of animation for every second / half-speed playback) or 1s (24 frames of animation for every second / full-speed playback). Sleeping Beauty was animated on 1s and 2s, and most TV shows and anime are animated on 3s.

On a personal note: I think Disney did some of the best animation in history, but anime has far more interesting styles and stories. I’d much rather watch Death Parade again than Sleeping Beauty.