Mardock Scramble

“I wish I was dead.”

Spoken by 15-year old prostitute Rune Balot, these are the first words that set the dispirited tone of the anime movie trilogy Mardock Scramble. The story is set in Mardock City, a cyberpunk world where the skyline is filled with skyscrapers, cars glide on fluorescent green roads, and everything sparkles like champagne. It’s a stunning place to look at, but it’s also a savage place where cruelty and crime are often left unpunished.

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Homicide has become so rampant that the government has authorized a controversial procedure to resurrect victims from the dead to help track down and testify against their assailants. This is one of the several unusual, and perhaps implausible, concepts in Mardock Scramble, but it’s presented with such conviction that it’s not too difficult to get caught up in the moment and suspend disbelief.

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The central plot-line, which is essentially about Rune’s revenge, is likely just a catalyst for weightier themes. There are some fantastical action sequences, but the series tends to be more of a character study than a typical action-adventure. The conversations are philosophical, covering a wide range of topics such as the nature of memories and regret, free will, finding a purpose in life, and rebirth.

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There’s a lot of hidden symbolism to keep your mind busy if you choose to look for it—such as the egg references that frequently appear. The doctor who performs the resurrection procedure is named Dr. Easter; “scramble” is, of course, one of the ways in which eggs are cooked; and there’s a yellow shapeshifting mouse named “Oeufcoque”, which is French for “soft-boiled egg.” What all these egg references mean, I’m not sure.

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Mardock Scramble has a consistently abrasive aesthetic. The art is usually intensely bright, shrouded in shadows, or textured by noise that must’ve been hell for the video encoders to deal with. GoHands doesn’t appear to have cut any corners or expenses with the animation, which, especially in the action sequences, looks painstakingly detailed. And an electronic and ambient music soundtrack rounds everything off.

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If you like science-fiction fantasy with a psychological twist, strong and stylish animation, and don’t mind scenes with graphic violence, mental and physical abuse, and nudity, you should definitely check out Mardock Scramble. If you haven’t read the synopsis yet, don’t. The less you know going in, the more surprised you’ll be. Just sit back and get pounced by it.

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Anne no Nikki

46771lOn June 12th, 1929, about ten-years before the start of World War II, Annelies Marie Frank was born to parents Otto and Edith Frank in Frankfurt, Germany. Rendered stateless by the Nazis in 1941, and without any means to flee the country, Anne and her family were forced into confinement for two-years in a cramped attic to avoid persecution. While staying there, Anne documented her life in a now famous diary, which has since been adapted into movies, plays, and even an anime.

It was surprising to learn that an anime of Anne Frank’s diary had been made—by Madhouse, no less, one of my favorite studios. I’d known about Anne’s story for a while, but I avoided it because I feared that it might be too depressing for me to handle. Regardless, my curiosity for this especially unique adaptation eventually got the best of me, and I relented.

As expected, this story was difficult to watch. Even seemingly peaceful moments are underpinned by anxiety and melancholy that keeps you from ever feeling at ease. The presence of the Nazis encroaching the lives of Anne and her family are always felt even when they’re not seen. And Anne and her family weren’t the only victims of this time. There were countless other families and individuals across central-Europe who were made to endure similar struggles. It all ultimately begs the questions: Why did this have to happen? How could such paranoid hatred develop?

A lot of care was put into the production of Anne no Nikki. The character designs matched their real-life counterparts, and the animation was often inbetweened on twos, resulting in a lifelike fluidity atypical of anime animation. The soundtrack was minimalist, lightly enhancing the atmosphere of particular moments without being a distraction.

Furthermore, I appreciated the subtlety of the directing. People are portrayed as historical figures rather than as characters. A naturalistic approach is taken that resists the temptation to exaggerate for the sake of dramatic effect. The sedate pacing might be trying for less patient viewers, but a more energetic portrayal wouldn’t have rung true to the actual events that this adaptation drew from.

If I had to dig deep for a flaw, I’d say that there was an occasional tinge of sentimentality, which, considering the strong emotions that were already present, didn’t feel necessary. Despite this, the heart and salient moral lesson that Anne no Nikki paints more than compensates for any apparent flaws.

Bye MyAnimeList; Hi Simkl

Shin Koihime Musou Otome Tairan - 13 OVA

Long story short: MAL’s staff is inept and their community is awful.

I was already growing tired of MAL for all the stupidity they allowed. Then one of my reviews was deleted for an “implicit” rule that was retroactively added. This was the final straw that broke the otaku’s back for me. Posting a review “too soon” is bad, but being an asshole is kosher? Your priorities suck.

I already had alternate accounts on Kitsu, AniList, and Anime-Planet. I remained on MAL however because it had the option of exporting databases, which these other sites don’t have, and giving notifications for airing shows, which, as far as I know, is a feature that only AniList shares.

This week I happened upon a gorgeous media tracking site called Simkl. It doesn’t have manga lists (I’m not much of a manga reader anyway), but it fully supports lists for Western and anime shows and movies. You can import existing databases from Netflix, Hulu, Crunchyroll, IMDB, MyAnimeList, or a csv file, and export a very readable csv file from the site. Airing notifications is also a feature.

I fell in love with Simkl rather quickly, so it’ll likely become my main media tracker. And I plan to continue visiting some of the other communities when I have time. Anime-Planet appears to have a really pleasant forum.

Casshern Sins

347549-casshern_sins02“Ruin is the salvation of man and machine.” 

Beneath the flamboyant exterior of fast action fight scenes and fancy shot compositions are some deceptively complex themes. The director, Shigeyasu Yamauchi, who has a propensity for stylish psychological studies, uses Casshern Sins as an opportunity to deconstruct death and hope. 

The first episode establishes the premise with a satisfying level of badassery. In the distant future, Robots have evolved sentience, and can feel emotions like humans can. A global “Ruin”—with a capital R, implying that it’s more than an action—was prompted when Casshern, a highly skilled and gaudily dressed fighter, “killed the Sun named Moon.” Now both humans and robots are on the brink of extinction. 

The robots hadn’t appreciated their lives until death became a reality for them. Having been immortal up until the Ruin, being confronted with the realization that their existence would soon end terrifies them. For some, particularly the humanoid robots, this fear is quelled by love, community bonds, or passionately engaging in their interests. For others, this fear is expressed violently through random acts of desperation and senseless cruelty. 

Everyone except Casshern is affected by the Ruin. As the bodies of the other robots quickly deteriorate, Casshern’s body remains new, and regenerates when it’s damaged. There’s a rumor that the one who “devours” Casshern will become immortal. Consequently, when many robots encounter Casshere and learn of his identity, they have no qualms with abandoning their “humanity” to seize an opportunity to regain their immortality. 

By the halfway point of this series, listening to bleak soliloquies on death and hope—but mostly hopelessness—became mildly taxing. To be fair, the trepidation expressed by these robots is understandable when we consider how new of an experience death is for them. Humans have had over 200,000 years to develop coping and denial mechanisms for death anxiety. On this level, I was able to feel some pity for the robots. 

There’s some sentimentality and melodrama that’s usually, but effectively, scored with slow strings or an acoustic guitar. You can see the emotional chords that they’re trying to pull, but it’s not too hard to go along with it. The action scenes are scored more aggressively, often utilizing tremolo strings or heavy horns like those heard in 90s era historical-action films. Sometimes there’s no score at all, and the scene is simply textured with sounds of wind, rain, or debris. 

The overall style is retro by modern standards, which is to be expected from a director who’s been in the anime industry since the 80s. Unfortunately, this old school style is accompanied by some unflattering old school stereotypes that may annoy some viewers. The one unambiguously black character is a lustful degenerate, and the leading female characters are either manipulative or easily love struck. Even Ringo, an overly cute loli robot who looks like a 4-year-old, fawns over Casshern when she first meets him. 

Casshern Sins has brilliant ideas and beautiful animation that are hampered by some repetition, occasional missteps in characterization, and plot holes. The faults aren’t enough to ruin the viewing experience, but they do hold it back from being the psychological masterpiece that it could have been. With all that said, I still recommend this series if you’re looking for something dark and thoughtful to watch.