Monday, May 30, 2011

BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad

Beck has surprised me. It's different from other anime series in that it follows a band trying to make it in Japan and beyond. It has a heart that doesn't start beating until a couple episodes in, or maybe even further than that. It has its cast of characters, each unique with their own personality. Not one character feels like another, and although some may root for a favorite, I did not until closer to the end. Instead I found myself rooting for the band and the characters who make it up as a whole throughout the series.

Beck, also known as Mongolian Chop Squad... Wait let's hold on right there. Just so everyone knows, Mongolian Chop Squad is the name of the band in America. A young boy named Koyuki enters Junior high with only a couple friends. He's a bit awkward and shy, until one day he meets Beck (the dog) and his owner Ryusuke.



Ryusuke has been in bands before and has a rivalry going on with a former bandmate/friend. Trying to form a new band, he eventually inspires Koyuki to pick up the guitar and learn. Although Ryusuke can seem harsh towards Koyuki at times, he notices Koyuki's efforts and lets him into the band. It's named "Beck" after his dog.

Other members of Beck are the cool martial arts punk rapper Chiba, the mature bassist Taira, and the easy-going drummer Saku. Including Koyuki and Ryusuke, they come together to try and create a new sound in Japan that's both rock and punk.

Koyuki first learns to play the guitar by swim-teacher Saitou. He's absolutely insane and a pervert to boot, and I'm pretty sure he has multiple personalities or something... At the pool he's a hard ass who will push any student to their breaking limit, but at home he's quiet and calm.

Saitou teaches Koyuki how to play and Koyuki repays him by helping out around the house by moving boxes and such. Basically, Saitou teaches Koyuki out of his own will and is a great example of a character that doesn't just care about himself.

One of the best story elements that I enjoyed with Beck is its love story. It's not really love, though, as it follows Koyuki and the girls who enter his life. There are three in particular, most especially Ryusuke's sister Maho.

Maho shows interest in Koyuki and he instantly gets pulled into a series of uncomfortable situations. Because Maho and Ryusuke lived in America for a long time they know English, and have English-speaking friends. Koyuki gets lost in translation as Maho's friends tend to disregard his Japanese presence.

As with any teenage relationship there is conflict and feelings get hurt. For a time things seem to go well between Maho and Koyuki, and she completely supports him and Beck up on stage. Yet eventually a famous actor comes into the picture and gets a little close for comfort according to Koyuki. He gets jealous and pushes himself away from Maho.

He hangs out with other girls thinking Maho really doesn't want anything to do with him, which leads to more conflict. Oh the teenage love! Koyuki and Maho separate apart and come together again, with one such moment caught in an awkward sleepover.

The creators of Beck really did a great job at not pushing the relationship stuff too much. You sit and watch the story unfold, and although at first I wanted more romance, that's not what this anime is about. If you look at it from Koyuki's perspective, this is a coming-to-age story about a young boy as we follow him into his high school years. If we look at it from Beck's perspective it's a story about band members struggling to come together and make it big, encountering a series of challenges along the way.

If there's one element of the story I really didn't care for, it was that of Ryusuke's guitar "Lucille" and the consequences surrounding his possession of it.

Sure it brings in a nice blues element to the series, but I never felt as if Ryusuke was truly threatened by the bad guys from America. Relationships and real-life conflict were much more believable than gangstas roughing up Ryusuke and at times unnecessarily threatening him with a gun. Really? Maybe it's more believable in the manga.

Enjoying teenage drama and serious relationship stories in general, of course I like Koyuki and his story more than the other characters. At heart, he's just a teen trying to find his place in the world, and maybe trying to figure something out with Maho :)

Beck is incredibly commendable in animation quality and style and. It honestly looks great in so many scenes I often wondered what the budget for the show was. Some series don't take that risk in animating constant new locations and instead craft the plot to familiar surroundings. Yeah that may work, but when creators go that extra step it really stands out. The band plays at a range of live stages, we follow Koyuki and Saku at school, and other locations take presence throughout.

I may not be musically-inclined myself, but musical artists can certainly find something to enjoy. One of my friend's who is a musician told me that no, the fingering isn't correct all the time when the characters are animated. But sometimes they are and that gives a feel of authenticity. It also gives me the sense that the animators did their best to replicate live playing in animation, something that's incredibly difficult to do. Just a a look at the quality of detail in a guitar shop for example.

And although Beck is the kind of band I don't really listen to that often, I eventually found myself humming along and sometimes singing along! It's seriously that addicting! I think it's also the anime forming a relationship with the audience. I don't know that much about musicians, but after some research I discovered the manga and anime are chock full of influence and homage by and for many artists. Some are obvious like Freddie Mercury, John Lennon, and Kurt Cobain, but the series is lined with at least 30 other references.

Of course the soundtrack is amazing, and it's always great to hear Beck perform. The better they get live, the easier it is to root for them. One of my favorite songs for the series is "Moon on the Water", especially when Koyuki and Maho sing it. It's just a beautiful song, originally sung by the Beat Crusaders.

This brings me to one of the most interesting elements of Beck. The Japanese voice actors attempt to sing in a mixture of English and Japanese, usually resulting in Engrish. The translations are mostly accurate and being a primary speaker of the English language myself, it's very easy to notice. It's comical at first, but then it becomes a part of the show. Even the opening theme "Hit in the USA" has the line "I was made to hit in America", but I sang along anyways and I think it's awesome. I hear the folks over at Funimation cleared up the translation when they dubbed it in English, even rewriting the songs so they made sense in English. This is very interesting and I've yet to check it out, but the English voice actors also sing! So props to them for putting in the extra effort.

Beck is a series that forced me to go a little out of my comfort zone with anime, but I'm really glad I did so. It might've taken 10 episodes for me to really connect with the story and the characters, but once I did I knew it had potential to get even better. The character-driven story is superb and makes for a good time, and with music at the constant background it appeals to a larger audience. I don't know how successful Beck was in the United States, but I remember hearing about it when it was released. Probably due to the redubbing or something and people complaining. But hey, that release is hard to find now and even the re-releases don't seem to be in print... It was on Hulu, Funi's Youtube, and AnimeNewsNetwork, but just recently they took it down from streaming. If it comes back to streaming check it out because it's totally worth it!

As Beck (the dog) would say: "Woof!"

-Jared C.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Final Fantasy IV (DS)

Final Fantasy IV (FFIV) for the Nintendo DS handheld system is unique because of its complete 3D polygon overhaul. I must start off by stating that I had never beat FFIV before until I played through the DS version of the game. I had tried playing it before on the PS1 but never got too far. Considering many, many people have already beaten FFIV in some form or another, I will not be holding back on spoilers in this analysis.

I have never played FFIII, so I don't know exactly what Squaresoft had in mind at the time when working on FFIV. But I do know the result is a well made, challenging RPG that lacks a bit in story development. Yet by the end of the game you have traveled to so many locations and defeated your antagonists that the story feels larger than what is written. It is that experience that makes this Final Fantasy so special.

As for this release, FFIV DS was developed by Matrix Software and published by Square Enix. Nothing wrong with that, as members from the original team helped to supervise production. Personally, they did a great job with rendering the game in 3D, as it almost has a PS1-era feel in the graphics. Some of my favorite Final Fantasy's come from that generation, so FFIV DS felt right at home. Also, it's worth mentioning that additional story line has been added to the DS version of the game. This is apparently because when FFIV was originally released on the Super Nintendo, large sections of the script were cut out due to text limitations.

Let's have a look at what Matrix Software did with FFIV (sorry about the watermark on these first 3 images):

First we have Cecil standing outside a completely rendered 3D Baron.

Cecil takes a stroll in town.

The top and bottom screens of a battle on the Nintendo DS.

As you can see, all of the environments are in 3D, including the nice backgrounds that appear during a battle. But just for fun, take a look at this comparison screenshot between old and new.

Cool huh? The battle system is Active Time Battle (ATB), meaning enemies will attack you at will so you need to be on your feet at all times. An auto-battle feature has been added but I think this feature is lame. It's nice to constantly think and plan your battles out, so why would you want to use auto-battle? I read up on some interesting gameplay techniques, and some people prefer to assign very specific abilities to their characters and use auto-battle as a further strategy in gameplay.

Field battles aren't too difficult until the end of the game where the final dungeon is a huge pain in the ass. Some boss battles still remind me of the pain! The Dark Elf and Dr. Lugae battles were some of the worst. I will never forget all of my characters falling and having only Cecil alive to fight the Dark Elf. Hermes sandals to caste haste on myself, heal, attack, attack again if I'm lucky, heal, attack, etc. Eventually I won and it was such a glorious moment that I clapped! Alright enough of that... Basically, any boss battle that seems too hard means you need to level up some and try again. Taking 30 minutes to an hour of training is usually all it took for me to blow through a formerly difficult boss. Speaking of levels, by the end of the game my main party was kickass:

Cecil - 88
Kain - 82
Rydia - 87
Edge - 84
Rosa - 87

The areas where this theory doesn't hold up are the final dungeon and the king's lair where Bahamut idly waits. At this point it comes down to searching out superior equipment, most of which comes from the final dungeon on the moon itself. Crystal armor, dragon armor, special Masamune and Muramasa blades for Edge, Ragnarok for Cecil, Holy Lance for Kain, and status-nullifying Ribbons round out some awesome loot. With these items equipped the moon is a piece of yummy pie! Oh yeah, also having Rydia's Bahamut summon is a really good idea. 9999 damage helps A LOT in this game.

A large and important addition to FFIV DS are augment abilities. These are abilities that can be inherited or found within the game's world. In basic terms they are abilities commonly found in other RPG's such as auto-potion and multicast. Augments are a neat addition to the game, but I wish they were explained a little bit better. Characters can only learn an ability once, and then you need to equip that ability. What frustrates me is the way in which you attain a large number of augments in the game. Characters such as Yang, Palom, Porom, Tellah, Edward, Cid, and Fusoya require that you give them a certain number of already available augments in order for them to give you augments in return. Some of the best augments in the game are acquired this way, including Phoenix, dualcast, multicast, focus, darkness, cry, and counter. I wish I knew from the start about this system of getting augments... it would have been very helpful later on!

I mentioned earlier that the story isn't very strong, but as a whole it comes together nicely and it feels as if you've been on a grand adventure. What I mean by this is the quickly cut pieces of dialogue that occur after a character dies or something really bad happens. Anna's death, Tellah's death, Yang's supposed death, etc. Although Anna's death is explored more with Edward and his cowardly story line. In Final Fantasy IV we are taken from the surface of the planet across mountains, deserts, and oceans to the underworld and to the moon. Crazy I tell ya! Who would've thought I would be fighting up on the moon in order to save the planet? Well I guess FFVII and VIII had us go in space but that's another story...

Our main characters are presented fairly well with Cecil, Rosa, Kain, and Rydia coming out on top. I understand that Edge is part of the main party in the end, but he's a pain in the ass kid who's also a NINJA. So yeah, no wonder he stays in the party. Cecil and Rosa like to get it on like donkey kong (oops copyright) and Kain gets jealous along the way.

Cecil and Rosa before they get it on. Although Cecil won't get anywhere with all that armor on.

"Darkness" inside Kain's heart takes over and the main antagonist Golbez uses him as his pawn. Cecil sort of expresses sadness for destroying at least two villages, but makes up for it all by burying his past and becoming a paladin.

At this point he is reborn, maybe like Gandalf, and uses white magic and gets super cool bonuses when using Holy weapons. Rosa plays the role of getting captured and so we need to go save her because she and Cecil are in love. Yay! Rydia has her own cool story where she falls off a boat at age 6 (or something), presumably dies, finds her way to the land of summons and ages rapidly because that happens when you hang out with Leviathan. And when she comes back she's at least 16 (or something), and although none of the characters come out and say it (Cid and Edge, I'm talking about you!) we all know they think she's a hottie.

Just sayin'...

As for our main character Cecil, we learn Golbez is actually his brother and their father was a Lunarian, meaning they're from the moon! Golbez realizes he was being controlled by Zemus, a Lunarian that was sealed away by the 8 mighty crystals of the world to prevent destruction and such. So they team up in the end and take him out! The ending is fairly nice with a wedding and all, but Kain still has issues with Rosa and Cecil hooking up. He seems to try and distract himself by stating he will become a better Dragoon than his father, which I have no clue where that came from but hey it's motivation...

Sometime in the recent future Square released a sequel of sorts called The After Years, where Cecil and Rosa have a son and events unfold and such. It was released on the PSP in a Final Fantasy IV: Complete Collection package but I currently do not have a PSP. I'm not sure if FFIV really warrants a sequel, but it's cool nonetheless.

Final Fantasy IV is a fun, traditional RPG with a classic story that takes you far enough to fight on the moon. Having never gotten very far in FFIV in the past, it was simply a treat to be able to play through the story on the DS with 3D graphics. I can guarantee that this release will bring joy to those who played the original game all those years ago, feeding on the nostalgia factor. Although I didn't have such a feeling of nostalgia, it now almost feels nostalgic having played it; familiar story, characters, music. And let me tell you, Uematsu's score is well done and I'm so happy to have learned where particular themes come from. Theme of Love, Rydia's Theme, Troian Beauty, etc. are all beautiful without a doubt. I highly suggest checking out the Celtic Moon release of FFIV music. The DS version of the game has its own special recording of the original sound track.

I would recommend Final Fantasy IV DS to anyone who loves traditional RPG's and the Final Fantasy series, both to those who have played and who haven't played FFIV in the past. The 3D overhaul, cutscenes, and additional story elements make up for purchasing a game that has already been rereleased. Fortunately, none of them boast a fully rendered environment like this one.

Title: Final Fantasy IV DS
Developer: Matrix Software, Square Enix
Genre: Japanese Role-Playing Game
Year: 2007
Platform: Nintendo DS (played on Nintendo 3DS)
Completion: Played through FFIV DS in 50 hours, 40 minutes. Leveled all final party members to mid and upper 80's. Gained extra equipment and completed some sidequests.

- Jared C.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Clean-up! (Super Meat Boy and Romeo x Juliet Included)

I just finished another successful semester in college! The bad thing is I don't get to do more of my own personal writing, so it's time to play some catch-up!

Here's how I see things. I'm going to cover some anime and video games, spanning all the way back to January. I don't think it's completely fair to judge something when I haven't touched it for months, so I will be giving a more brief analysis on those particular items.

Titles for clean-up:

-Super Meat Boy
-Romeo x Juliet

Coming soon!

-Final Fantasy IV DS
-Eternal Sonata
-Donkey Kong Country Returns

Without further ado!

Super Meat Boy:

Super Meat Boy is most definitely last year's indie hit. For a mere $10 you have over 300 levels to play, and many of the later levels are challenging. Death is a theme in this game, or maybe it's because you die. All the time. Death and rebirth then. Yup that's the theme! Oh, and to rescue your beloved Bandage Girl from Dr. Fetus.

Each level has a recommended time in which you should complete it, scoring an awesome A+ where you can enter a tougher, "dark world" version of the level. Levels are composed of spinning saw blades, guided missiles, and other contraptions that kill Meat Boy along the way. Each time you die it starts you back at the beginning of the level with the timer restarted. The only thing that remains from your last jaunt out is a trail of blood that Meat Boy leaves behind.

The first day I played Super Meat Boy I played for hours. My hand cramped and it was sore because of the way I held the controller. With how short the levels can be, I think this goes to show that the game can be consumed in segments. A fair warning though, the later levels may only require 15 seconds to get an A+ but they may take upwards to 30 minutes to beat in such a time.

This is the most frustrating and rewarding aspect about Super Meat Boy. It's all about being spot on with your jumping and landing abilities, and sometimes having a lot of luck. You scope out a level, finding the best places to not die along the way. After playing a level 20, 30, or 50 times and you finally save Bandage Girl and get an A+, you know you did something awesome right there. And then the next level pops up and it's time to start all over again.

I could go further into Super Meat Boy but I haven't played it in months. It's a great platformer, made for those who don't get too frustrated if they need to replay a level multiple times. It can be beaten by going through the majority of standard levels, but has the dark world for those who want an extra challenge. It hosts characters from other indie games and has cool retro levels to boot.

It's $10! C'mon, go get it!

P.S. I hear the PC version now has a level editor. That's wicked cool, and I wonder what people have cooked up. Check it out!

Romeo x Juliet:

This one's going to be brief. Romeo x Juliet is an anime series that came out in 2007 and was picked up for release in the U.S. by Funimation in 2009. It's an adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, although maybe saying it's heavily inspired by the classic play is a better choice of words.

I'm not going to go into many of the story's plot devices, but I do believe it is one of the series' largest flaws. I enjoy when Juliet plays up the Red Whirlwind masked-fighter bit in the first arc of the show, but when she ditches the costume the series literally splits in two directions. Romeo goes to one location while Juliet goes to another. These episodes are used to build their individual character separately, but unfortunately it loses that longing of "I want Romeo and Juliet to come together and save Neo Verona".

Overall the story is good and clear to follow. I just wish it captured that charming love story like it did in the first 7 or 8 episodes all the way throughout the series. It's fairly natural and believable, even with flying Dragon-steeds, until the ending where we learn the truth about the characters. I remember reading someone's comment on Hulu stating "they (the creators) had to go the more anime route", literally because special beings and powers are brought into the fray. I think if these elements were left out and we had a more natural Romeo and Juliet story, I would find the series to have greater strength and a more satisfying ending than the one I received.

Of special note, I watched the series in English and Funimation did a great job. They attempt Old English in the dub, thus the adapted script is impressive. It was fun listening to the voice-actors, so props to them!

At the time Romeo x Juliet was streaming on Hulu for free, so it's fairly easy to watch the series. It's captivating at first but struggles half way through. If you are connected to the characters and want to know what will happen in the end (because let's face it we all know the ending...), then it's worth the watch. If anything, check out the opening theme. It uses an adaptation of "You Raise Me Up" and fits the series perfectly.

-Jared C.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Akira and Its Existence in Japanese Cinema

The following is an aesthetic analysis of Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira. It focuses on Japanese cinema and culture, particularly emphasizing Japan's historic past of being the first true, post-apocalyptic society.

Cinema has been in existence for over a century and it doesn’t seem as if it will be leaving us anytime soon. Starting with simple photographs put in order of succession to tell a story, the revolutionary concept of rapidly spewing these images one after another was born. With the help of technology, people, objects, themes, etc. were able to grace the screen in real time, thus providing an avenue for artistic creation and original direction. Today, seemingly anyone can pick up a digital or film camera and make a film of some sort, leading to the fact that “film can speak in a universal language” (Asian Cinema VII). As Tom Vick points out, cinema has the ability to create “windows into culture” by different filmmakers who pull from a “global web of influences”, thus creating both “artistic achievement” and “pure entertainment” (VII, XII). So what does this mean in overall terms of art? It means that cinema is yet another avenue for any single individual to create their own, personal work of art. Whether this is represented in capturing the most simplistic elements of human nature in engaging realism, or teleporting a viewer to the most surreal and fantastic world imaginable, Cinema is the creation of “the separate parts of a film that join together to create a higher level of visual meaning” (Buckland 4).

In this evaluation of the artistic purposes and functions of cinema, I have chosen Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira to be essential in providing a closer look into Asian cinema and Japanese culture in particular. Akira, adapted from a series of graphic novels spanning over 2,100 pages, was both written and directed by Otomo and released in Japanese theaters in 1988. This condensed, two-hour long animated epic relates the tale of a “disjointed, almost incoherent narrative” that is multi-genre in nature (Broderick, Freiberg 95). It is an anime film that contains elements of science fiction, horror, surrealism, action, disaster, drama in teen romance and rebellion, suspense, spiritualism, and social criticism. It follows main characters Kaneda and Tetsuo and the experiences they encounter throughout the film. Tetsuo comes in contact with a scientifically mutated child who has psychic powers, which then leads to Tetsuo’s eventual realization of his own powers. He becomes infatuated with learning what or who Akira is, and in the meantime uses his powers for destruction. On the other hand, Kaneda is Tetsuo’s opposite. Even though they have been close friends since childhood, Kaneda believes that he must put a stop to Tetsuo’s reign of unnecessary destruction and tries to kill him in doing so.

“Tokyo and Japan have been endlessly subjected to a historical process of scrap and rebuild” (Grenville 169). In peering into Japan’s culture, this seems to be true in terms of it’s layered past and representations of new media. One fact that we all know and understand is that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were both leveled by nuclear bombs in 1945 near the end of World War II. With thousands and thousands of casualties, losing the war and being occupied by America changed and shaped the nation over time. Japan has not simply forgotten its past, but the dropping of the atomic bombs seem to have taken some sort of new meaning with the newer generations of today. The closest similarity I can think of in relation to this sensitive representation of the past is how the American youth of today does not know of a time called World War II. This doesn’t stop filmmakers or game developers from creating their own versions of history for entertainment purposes, but one must question: Do these producers of art actually understand what World War II was like?

This is why, in terms of Japanese animation, the concept of “second death” is a common theme (Grenville 169). It’s so common and used throughout that one would believe it’s part of Japan’s acknowledgement and handling of the tragedies at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After the bombs dropped the nation changed forever, and Japan is and always will be marked by such events. With a culture imbued with such a past, creative forces are surely going to create their own representations of familiarity. In a number of countless anime that I have seen, cities, planets, and people have all been destroyed but this doesn’t stop human beings from giving up. People are reborn and societies rebuilt. In these essences, Japanese cinema provides an avenue for looking into the past and sifting through the pieces of anxiety on a postnuclear, national scale.

Japanese animation usually includes imagery of an “ecological rebirth” in a post-nuclear wasteland (Broderick 7), but this is simply not the case in Otomo’s Akira. Akira takes place 31 years after World War III, with the event of Tokyo being destroyed by Akira’s incredible force as the opening scene of the film. In 2019, Tokyo has been rebuilt into “Neo-Tokyo” where the city went through a period of vibrant reconstruction and a boosting economy. Otomo leads us to believe that people had a purpose in working and going to their jobs everyday: To create a new society and rebuild from the ashes. Neo-Tokyo is presented to us as a glowing city of neon lights bursting with technology. One may argue that Akira is in the genre of tech noir, which according to John Treat, is a “paradoxical genre that excoriates technology at the same times as its sophisticated special effects are implicit celebrations of technological achievement” (Contemporary Japan and Popular Culture 245). This theory is related to Akira in that technology sure can look pretty but it also makes society lazier in certain aspects. Scenes of Neo-Tokyo are very similar to what Tokyo looks like in modern day Japan. It’s a noisy, neon-lit high-rise metropolis with video screens everywhere (Broderick, Freiberg 96). Was this intentional on Katsuhiro Otomo’s part? I do believe so.

Otomo purposefully highlights some of the most obvious problems of contemporary Japan in Akira. The aimlessness of youth and repression of resistance in schools and the work place display themselves throughout the film (Contemporary Japan and Popular Culture 246). This is true in that students don’t pay attention in class and schools are trashed. Teenagers walk the streets doing whatever they want, and characters such as Kaneda and Tetsuo recklessly ride in a bike gang. As Freda Freiberg points out, Akira is a piece of social criticism in that “all figures of authority – teachers, policemen, military men, and politicians are represented as oppressive tyrants” (Akira and the Postnuclear Sublime, Hibakusha Cinema 97). This is certainly true as Otomo shows us an education system that is boring and brutal. In one instance, Kaneda and his classmates skipped school and the principle allowed for a teacher to slap them all in punishment. Doesn’t violence just encourage more violence? Social control seems to occur without input from citizens, and people are in an uproar of political rebellion. The state responds with military force and firing upon its own citizens while people either run for their lives or fight back.

As pointed out by Freiberg, Kaneda and Tetsuo are both orphans who don’t have a home structure. Naturally being boys, they take on adult roles and fight for power and leadership. “Akira is a postnuclear, post modern fantasy of liberation and empowerment for Japanese youth” (Broderick, Freiberg 7). Tetsuo’s condition can be read as an allegory of Japanese youth:

“…caught between impotent rage at the social straitjacket imposed on their lives and powerful feelings of aggression unleashed by liberal access to the toys and games of technology and consumerism, between masochistic feelings of victimhood and sadistic urges to dominate and destroy…” (Hibakusha Cinema 100).

How does Otomo use Akira as a way to handle the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? In a way he doesn’t quite show the immediate effects, but rather the long-term effects are theorized and presented. With Otomo’s guidance, we need to understand that he is crafting a statement on society and its youth in contemporary Japan. In this understanding, a particular word has formed for those affected by the atomic bombs, “Hibakusha”. Technically, Hibakusha means to be directly affected by the bombings, meaning being in Hiroshima or Nagasaki when the bombs went off or getting radiation sickness over time. I personally believe anyone can be a Hibakusha in mental concept, but Japan specifically holds the right to declare themselves as such.

Regarding Japanese cinema, Broderick questions if there has ever been “adequate and appropriate responses” in result of the atomic bombings (Hibakusha Cinema 1). In what has been provided, “the films provide a reinterpretation of the past that allows Japan to examine repressed anxieties within a historical context” (7). He goes further to state that “the monster surfaces only when – as in the case of the rapid postwar industrialization and the new cold war – the lessons of the past are overlooked in writing the future” (7). This statement can be directly related to Akira. Only when major political leaders of Neo-Tokyo decide that Akira is no longer a threat, does the threat come back and the city is partially destroyed once more.

According to author Roland Kelts, anime with atomic bomb themes is something Americans will not understand because we tend to view the event as a positive thing (Japanamerica 84). What Kelts means is how dropping the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki aided in concluding World War II… and the Americans won the war. Taking a look into this even further, Donald Richie states that Hiroshima and Nagasaki have become symbols for the Japanese (Hibakusha 20). If we were to bring this into communication theory and the structuralist critical perspective, we would note how language is built of codes encompassing signs, signified and signifiers. So for America, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are symbols of winning and defeating the Japanese, but for Japan symbols of rebirth and reconstruction.

Akira is a symbol in Otomo’s Neo-Tokyo. For most of the film Otomo does not reveal exactly what Akira is. I found myself questioning “Is he human? Is he still a boy? Is he power? A bomb? Destruction?” My belief is that Otomo has taken Akira and crafted him into a symbol that has been created to represent the change in youth’s perception of rebirth and forgetting one’s past within the film’s world. As one of the psychic girls who had similar testing done to her in relation to Akira’s testing, she states that “Akira’s power exists within everyone” and “Akira is absolute energy”. These two lines, directly from the film, help to define Otomo’s intention of creating a statement of Japanese society. They are all a part of the Hibakusha, as the atomic bombs in one way or another have affected everyone in Japan. How the bombings have been perceived and brought to the status of symbols over the years are the sole responsibilities of Japanese society.

It’s almost as if Otomo is trying to say “do not forget what happened to us in the past”, but he certainly wouldn’t be the first to try and do so. Back in the 1950’s the first Godzilla movie came out in Japan. Godzilla is one of the first symbols to come from Japan in representation of the bombs. A large, lizard-like beast tramples through Tokyo and leaves a path of destruction in its wake. In relation to Akira, who is to say that Godzilla is not the same concept as Akira? What helped bring Akira into the “art-house cinema circuit” and to “rental shops in dubbed English” with “enormous popular success with young people around the world” (Hibakusha 79, 92) is Otomo’s concept that Akira is within everyone instead of just one villainous entity. This is what separates Akira from Godzilla, thus creating an audience for people who want to know what Akira is on a more human level.

In searching for a possible answer as to why Japan revels in its reborn past, it may be because “Japan is nation prohibited by Article IX of its Constitution from possession or deployment of any military force” (Hibakusha 80). So what does this imply? Considering that nuclear arms are banned and the Japanese can’t maintain a military, there is no law prohibiting works that reflect upon fantasizing for such realities is there? It’s almost as if Japan has a romanticized image of war (Hibakusha 80). These themes can be seen throughout not only Japanese cinema, but in Japanese television, animation, consumer products, etc. Giant robots are almost a staple to the anime genre, specializing in large and destructive mechanical machines with the power to destroy cities and fight wars. It’s always interesting to see Japan produce a film or animated feature that has a “modern day Japanese military” built into it. Akira does the same thing, as the Japanese military does its best to put out the fires of rebellion throughout Neo-Tokyo. Their objectives shift to putting a stop to Tetsuo’s new rain of destruction, but their efforts prove futile against a power that represents a society’s culmination of forgetting their own past.

“Japan became the first truly post apocalyptic society” (Kelts 26) where “Akira is a product of the apocalyptic imagination, a particularly interesting version because, being made in Japan, it is a post nuclear version of the apocalypse rather than a prefigurement of the End of the World” (Broderick, Freiberg 95). Katsuhiro Otomo may not technically be a Hibakusha but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the right to express his opinions on a society that has been formed by the Hibakusha. One thing to keep in mind is how Akira was finished in 1988 “by and for a generation of Japanese who have no personal memory of Hiroshima or Nagasaki” (Broderick, Freiberg 92). In these ways, Akira lends itself to a prime example of what defines the most essential purposes of filmmaking. Otomo, and all of the people he worked with on Akira, came together to create a window into Japanese culture for the world to see. Expressing elements of human nature, Akira was able to speak a universal language that anyone could understand, thus perpetuating it to a level in which a succession of images become something more grand than just that, cinema.

Works Cited

Broderick, Mick, Donald Richie, Freda Freiberg, and Ben Crawford. Hibakusha Cinema: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Nuclear Image in Japanese Film. London: Kegan Paul International, 1996. Print.

Buckland, Warren. Teach Yourself: Film Studies. London: Hodder & Stoughton Educational, 2003. Print.

Grenville, Bruce, Tim Johnson, and Will Wright. KRAZY!: the Delirious World of Anime Comics Video Games Art. Berkeley: University of California, 2008. Print.

Kelts, Roland. Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Print.

Treat, John Whittier., and Susan J. Napier. Contemporary Japan and Popular Culture. Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1996. Print.

Vick, Tom. Asian Cinema: a Field Guide. New York: Collins, 2007. Print.

Originally completed on 12/16/2010 for an Undergraduate level course titled "Asian Cinema Studies" at Fitchburg State University.

- Jared C.