An Interview With Artemis of Otaku Lounge

This week I caught up with popular online blogger Artemis, owner and operator of Otaku Lounge. We discuss her life as an anime blogger, her thoughts on various films, and advice for anyone looking to get into the blogging world.

Artemis brings her wit, creative content ideas, and excellent writing ability (not to mention a PhD) to the anime blogging world and really makes some amazing stuff.

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How long have you been blogging about anime?

I first started Otaku Lounge in April 2013, although for a couple of years before that I had been writing about anime on my personal blog on LiveJournal.

What is your overall philosophy about anime blogging? (Why do you do what you do?)

Anime has been a passion of mine for many years, and sometime after finishing my PhD on the topic of representation of sexuality in anime, I decided I wanted a space where I could write about anime in a much more informal and less academic way. I also see anime blogging as my way of being part of a wider community. I was never one for posting on forums or directly involving myself in any specific fandoms, but blogging probably gives me a similar sense of belonging.

What do you like about anime? Like, what sets it apart from other mediums like western television or film?

Even after all these years, that’s still a question I struggle to answer. Part of it is definitely the distinctive aesthetics, which attracted me to the medium as a kid long before I knew what anime even was or that it was a product of Japan. And although this is becoming more common in Western animation, I also like that mainstream anime – sometimes even those aimed at quite young audiences – isn’t afraid to deal with themes that would often be considered too complex or too mature for its viewers. Basically, I like that anime doesn’t try to talk down to its audience.

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Cowboy Bebop is a great example of an anime show with both a unique aesthetic, and very mature themes.

Do you have a favorite director in the medium? Or a favorite studio?

If I listed all of the anime directors I admire then we’d be here a long time, but I think Miyazaki Hayao truly is one of the greatest of all time. I also have an enormous soft spot for Watanabe Shinichiro and Yamamoto Sayo. I don’t have any solid favourites when it comes to anime studios; sometimes studios I tend to love produce duds, and sometimes I’m surprised by how much I enjoy a title from studios I tend to dislike. However, I will say that Production I.G., Bones, and MAPPA have all produced some pretty great titles over the years.

Do you have a favorite sci-fi anime film?

There are a great many that I have a lot of respect for, but purely in terms of personal enjoyment, my favourite to date would probably have to be Time of Eve. The 6-episode series preceded it, but I like the film (same content, just different packaging, so to speak) just as much.

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Time of Eve (Yoshihura, 2010)

What are five anime sci-fi films that you would recommend to my readers?

Many readers may have already seen these, but aside from Time of Eve, I’d also recommend The Place Promised in Our Early Days, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Memories, and the Mardock Scramble trilogy.

What are your thoughts on the original Ghost in the Shell? Have you seen the new film?

I understand that the original Ghost in the Shell, both the anime film as well as the manga on which it’s based, is a classic, and I can certainly see why it’s labelled as such. Personally though, the only part of the franchise I’ve wholeheartedly enjoyed so far is the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex TV series (and a good part of that enjoyment stems from the amazing soundtrack). I haven’t seen the new film yet, but I probably will eventually just out of curiosity. If nothing else, I hear the visuals are pretty good. Otherwise, I don’t expect to like it much.

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Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex is a widely acclaimed anime television series that is a spin off of the films.

What are your thoughts on Akira?

Again, total classic of the medium and for good reason. I should probably watch it again at some point, since the last time I did was probably a good decade ago and my views on anime have changed a lot since then. I wouldn’t list it as one of my favourite anime films of all time, but from a historical and cultural perspective, I can’t help but admire it.

Do you have any advice for any new bloggers looking to break into the medium?

Just do it. Don’t plan it out too much or overthink things – there’s always time to refine what and how you write, but if you get stuck in the planning stages then you’ll never write anything at all. Don’t be afraid of how others will see you, either. It’s fine to write just for yourself at first and then think about how to better appeal to whoever your target audience is later on. And finally, be involved yourself on other blogs that post about similar topics. Not only is this how you’ll get far more page views and comments than you otherwise would, but what’s the point in blogging if you’re only talking at people rather than with them? If you want to be part of a community, you need to be willing to actively participate in it.

It was  great for Artemis to take time out of her schedule to be interviewed, especially considering the fact that she lives in Japan and is on a totally different time table than this Minnesota boy.

If you want to check out her blog, (I highly recommend it, if you even moderately tolerate my blog, you will LOVE hers.) Here is the link to the main page: https://otakulounge.wordpress.com/

Here are a few of my favorite posts of hers:

-This post digs into her top 5 favorite feel good anime, because who doesn’t need a pick-me-up every once in awhile? https://otakulounge.wordpress.com/2016/11/30/top-5-feel-good-anime/

-This post is the first part of a four part series that digs into the history of anime and how I has evolved over time.

https://otakulounge.wordpress.com/2016/02/16/a-history-of-anime-the-super-abbreviated-version-part-1-of-4-1907-1970s/

-As someone who loves to experience the joy of watching something truly horrible, (one of my favorite movies of all time is The Room (Wiseau, 2003), this list was AMAZING, and filled with good recommendations.

https://otakulounge.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/my-top-5-worst-anime-of-all-time/

 

“Akira” A Review of the Godfather of the Anime Industry


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Sometimes a movie comes around that absolutely defines a movement in cinema and changes it forever. For the French New Wave, it was Breathless (Godard, 1961), for the Film Brats’ revolution, it was The Godfather, (Coppola, 1978), and for anime, it is Akira (Otomo, 1988).

Akira is a 1988 film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, the movie was a critical supernova and is all over top lists of critics top animated films, sci-fi films¹, and just top films period, coming in at #440 on Empire magazine’s top 500 films of all time.

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Similar to the way that in 1978, Coppola’s The Godfather bounded onto the screens of cinemas everywhere and announced to the world that the film brats were running things now; Akira sprang into theaters and announced that anime was a legitimate cinematic movement.

The film tells the story of a pair of young men in a motorcycle gang who live in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo where society brink of collapse. When one of them, named Tetsuo, develops psychic powers and goes on a quest to find an incredibly powerful psychic named Akira. The other, named Kaneda, must team up with a group of resistance fighters in order to stop his childhood friend, and save the world.  

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Obviously the plot seems a little all over the place, but I wanted to omit certain spoilers to make your overall viewing enjoyment more pleasureable. But let me tell you, this film is a masterpiece, with a spectacular conclusion that is brutal and guttural and beautiful, all rolled into one experience. (It’s definitely NOT for kids.³)

Akira’s story is captivating, and has managed to engross and inspire Hollywood filmmakers throughout the industry. Akira has also been cited as a major influence on live-action films such as The Matrix (Wachowski Sisters, 1999), Chronicle² (Trank, 2012), and Looper (Johnson, 2012), as well as television shows such as Stranger Things.

Side note: If you haven’t noticed from my posts at this point, the Wachowski siblings took a LOT of inspiration for The Matrix from films throughout the medium of anime.  

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Akira, is, in a sense, the most important anime film in existence, for a couple of reasons. It had a tremendous impact on the industry, by displaying the true potential for spectacle and quality in the anime industry.

It established the fact that a big budget anime film is not only worth investing in, but pushing as the future, because after Akira anime films soon became a massive part of the Japanese film culture.

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Akira isn’t just a great anime film.

It’s simply a great film.

End of story.

 

I love this film so much that I could go on all day about it, so I did. If you click the link below, it can take you to a podcast that I filmed with a  friend and fellow cinefile.

Don’t let the 40 minute length of the talk scare you, after about 15 minutes we start to delve into a spoiler-filled discussion of the content and I mention that you can stop listening in order to avoid them. So you can feel free to exit out of after that, or you can stay if you don’t mind having the film spoiled for you!

 

References:

1) https://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/oct/21/akira-otomo-fantasy-sci-fi

2) https://web.archive.org/web/20140226195315/http://io9.com/5881852/chronicle-is-a-movie-about-every-teens-fantasy-of-fighting-back 

3) https://web.archive.org/web/20131203030233/http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1990-03-30/entertainment/9001260575_1_katsuhiro-otomo-japanese-akira

 

 

 

 

“Ghost in the Shell:” A Revisitation, Sort of…

Now, if you have read my previous blog post about the Ghost in the Shell (Oshii, 1995) anime¹, you will know that it is a film that really spoke to me a lot, as a cinefile, as well as various figures in Hollywood. Now, the Ghost in the Shell franchise has inspired a live action film set in that universe.

And, while I could review that film too, I think it would be more interesting to do a roundup post of several different notable film critics and bloggers to see what they had to say about the film. I tried to pick five different reviews that all handle very different outlooks of the film itself.

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The Guardian Film Blog, “Digital love: Why Cinema Can’t Get Enough of Cyberpunk”

https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2017/apr/03/digital-love-why-cinema-cant-get-enough-of-cyberpunk

This specific post dives into the development of the cyberpunk genre in cinema, the genre is a staple of anime, and some of the greatest anime films ever made are cyberpunk films, including Ghost in the Shell (1995).

The post follows the path of the genre as it winds its way through history before finally settling upon Ghost in the Shell (Sanders, 2017). Comparing the films various traits to the genre itself and discussing how the two intertwine.

This film is interesting because it not only looks into the film Ghost in the Shell (2017), but it provides a foundation for the existence of the genre that the Ghost in the Shell  franchise has come to define.

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Film Jabber, “Ghost in the Shell Movie Review”

http://www.filmjabber.com/movie-reviews/ghost-in-the-shell-2017.html

This post is a review of the new Ghost in the Shell (2017), but what is interesting, is that the reviewer has not seen the original, as he notes that he has only read the Wikipedia article on the character at one point.

This adds a level of interest to the review, as the reviewer, Erik Samdahl, is able to be much more objective in his review of this specific film, as he doesn’t have the standard set by the original film to base his opinions off of.

Samdahl notes that the films visuals are interesting, but the story lacks the substance that a world as interesting and in-depth as Ghost in the Shell (2017) establishes.
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The M0vie Blog, “Non-Review Review: Ghost in the Shell”

https://them0vieblog.com/2017/03/29/non-review-review-ghost-in-the-shell/

This post, written by The M0vie Blog founder Darren, is an in depth review of the various ideas and situations prompted by the setting and conditions of Ghost in the Shell (2017). The title, though odd, is reflective of the fact that the post is not as much a specific review of the film, but a deep analysis, that will divulge information that reviews the film along the way.

Darren also noted the cultural differences between the asian culture depicted in the original film and how it translated to an American screen, while also bringing up the idea of white-washing displayed in the film.

The interesting part of this post the depth in which Darren looked into the cultural divide between both the original film and the new one, as well as the cultural situations between both films and their intended audiences.

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Slash Film Blog, “Erasing Motoko: The Question of Race in ‘Ghost in the Shell”

http://www.slashfilm.com/ghost-in-the-shell-whitewashing-examined/

This post by film critic/analyst Karen Han explores the intricacies of the racial issues of the whitewashing displayed in Ghost in the Shell (2017). Be aware, if you do check out this post, there are spoilers addressed right away at the beginning.  

Through analysis of the plot, characters, setting, and aesthetic styles, is both thorough, well justified, and interesting. One particularly interesting point Han brings up is the strange use of asian aesthetics throughout the film, depicting various styles and cultures that end up creating a society that is devoid of any specific all-consuming national identity.

This blank, vaguely asian society seems to annoy Han, as she calls the cultural genericism of the film “an uncomfortable sort of anonymity.”

This specific look at the film is interesting, as Han’s analysis goes deep into one specific subject, and while this subject has been addressed in the other posts, and her level of depth and clarity makes this article a fascinating read.

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Oh! That Film Blog, “Ghost in the Shell (2017)”

https://ohthatfilmblog.com/2017/04/03/ghost-in-the-shell-2017/

This post is a review of the film from the perspective of someone who has seen the original 1995 film, so it contrasts the Film Jabber review who had not seen the original.

That said, it seems as though the author of this post came to similar conclusions as the previously mentioned post, that the film was very stylized and visually interesting.

However, while the Film Jabber post focussed a lot on the large scale story flaws and ideals, this post goes a little deeper, delving into specifics with plot, character intricacies, and other aspects of the film with pinpoint accuracy.

I love the specificity of this article as well as the voice used in writing it. Overall, the post really brings up a lot of interesting points about the film through the review itself. 

 

Hopefully, these posts help not only give you an accurate depiction of the film itself, and the ideas and situations that surround it!

 

References:

https://ghostinthecel.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/ghost-in-the-shell-the-popcorn-movie-that-makes-you-think/

 

Three Lesser Known Sci-Fi Anime Films That Are Great Starter Films

The world of sci-fi anime is a vast one, with hundreds of films in circulation since the mediums inception in the 1960’s, there is a lot of places to start watching. So, if you are looking for somewhere to start, but don’t know where, look no further. While some people might give you a list of films to see that contain Akira (Otomo, 1988) , The Girl Who Lept Through Time (Hosoda, 2006), or the Evangelion franchise reboots, I am here to give you a list of 3  lesser known films from the sci-fi genre that will not only challenge you and expose you to the best the genre has to offer, but hopefully give you an introduction to some of the key figures of the anime industry. 

 

1. Voices of a Distant Star (Shinkai, 2002)     

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Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0__ctDAL4nQ

The first film I was to talk about is from the mecha subgenre on animation. Basically, what these films usually consist of is massive robots beating the crud out of each other in hype-laced space battles, the american film Pacific Rim (Del Toro, 2013) takes a lot of influence from the anime mecha subgenre. ¹ 

I want to focus on a very different film, that uses the mecha subgenre in a very different, subversive way. Voices of a Distant Star is a 25 minute long short film from my favorite director Makoto Shinkai.

Instead of crafting a deep space battle epic, Shinkai focuses on the relationship between 15 year old Mikako  and her boyfriend Makoto, who are separated when Mikako is drafted to go off and fight in space.

The film digs deep into the struggles their relationship undergoes as the couple is literally separated by space and time, and as Makoto slowly grows into a man, Mikako still remains a young lady as a result of the effects of space travel on her body.

The film is a fascinating concept, and this spin on the genre is really interesting. Shinkai is a quickly rising up-and-comer in the industry and the amazing visuals and touching storytelling displayed in this film do a great job of establishing Shinkai’s bright future in the industry.

 

2. Paprika  (Kon, 2006)

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Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZKXXNCkrf4

The next film that I wanted to talk about has a plot that might sound somewhat familiar. Imagine a world where technology allows people to enter the dreams of others. Thereby giving people the ability to affect other people through their dreams and cause them to do things.

Sound familiar?

This is essentially the plot to Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010), however, the film I am about to talk about tackled this same exact conflict, but did it four years earlier than Inception, and that film is Satoshi Kon’s masterpiece: Paprika.²

Paprika is the animation genre used to it’s full potential. From the lucid, surrealistic dream sequences, to the wide arrange of colors used throughout the film, this movie looks amazing.

Revolving around a dream therapist who is trying to prevent a madman from wreaking havoc in the minds of the sleeping public, this film is filled with just as much tension and intrigue as it is beauty, and that is saying something.

The director of Paprika, Satoshi Kon, is widely considered to be one of the biggest visionaries in the history of animation. His imagination and animation style and talent matched were matched only by his ability to create intense scenes of action and drama. Sadly, Kon passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 46, having only directed four feature films, the last of which being Paprika.

Regardless of this, Kon’s works have had a massive influence on the animation industry, and the american film industry, inspiring many films including Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010).

3. Nausicaa Valley of the Wind (Miyazaki, 1984)

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Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zhLBe319KE

Chances are even if you aren’t a fan of anime, you have probably heard of, or seen, the works of the amazing Hayao Miyazaki. The director of legendary works like Spirited Away (2001), Princess Mononoke (1996), or My Neighbor Totoro (1993) has been tantalizing international audiences since the late 1980’s.

However, while Miyazaki’s main hits like the films listed above have gained various levels of international prestige and acclaim, one of Miyazaki’s earliest and best films is often left in the dust. And that film, is his post-apocalyptic epic, Nausicaa Valley of the Wind.

Nausicaa Valley of the Wind follows the story of a headstrong and adventurous young princess who has grown up on the outskirts of a post apocalyptic wasteland, haunted by giant irradiated creatures that could level whole cities if disturbed.

After the Princess’ peaceful valley is invaded, she is forced to flee to the wasteland, and goes on an adventure that will change the course of her life, and the world around her forever.

This film is a spectacle to behold. Miyazaki’s beautiful animation and use of cutout-esque cel animation for some scenes and creatures was not only revolutionary, but majestic to take in. It really does give a great depiction as to why Miyazaki is the godfather of anime, and why he is considered one of the best of all time.³

 

Hopefully this list gave you a few more movies to watch, as well as expanded your knowledge of some of the key figures of the anime industry’s past, as well as a great example of its future.  Have a great week, and leave a comment down below if you want to further discuss any of the films or directors I have listed above, or anything else pertaining to the anime industry.  

 

References:

  1. http://eugenewoodbury.blogspot.com/2006/03/voices-of-distant-star.html
  2. https://farfromthesilverscreen.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/anime-vs-hollywood-paprika-inception/
  3. https://www.madman.com.au/news/the-influence-and-legacy-of-hayao-miyazaki/

 

 

Ghost in the Shell: The Popcorn Movie That Makes You Think

“And can you offer me proof of your existence? How can you, when neither modern science nor philosophy can explain what life is?” – The Puppet Master

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Every once in awhile, a film comes along and kind of just punches you in the face.  A film that  calls for your attention and forcibly holds that attention for the films complete run time. For me, Ghost in the Shell (Oshii, 1995) did just that.

As someone who has become bored with the same recycled, cookie-cutter plots that the Hollywood system pumps out every year, I was shocked to find a film that deals with complex issues like humanity’s ever expanding dependence on technology and also packs a punch like a good action-mystery movie should.  

Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell is widely regarded as one of the first big anime films to take the world by storm during the nineties. It achieved massive box office success and critical acclaim, and in doing so inspired many american science fiction films, namely: The Matrix (Wachowski,Wachowski, 1996).

Ghost in the Shell is set in a world where cybernetic enhancements have become the norm, where human bodies are simply “shells” which can be cast aside and replaced, and human consciousness has been digitized and transferred to the internet into and contained as a “ghost.”

Thesegits1_04 ghosts contain everything the human mind contains, namely people’s memories and their identity as a whole. However, since ghosts are connected to the web, they can be hacked. This means that people’s memories and identities can be completely altered by “ghost hackers” at any time.

The plot of the movie centers around a task force called Sector 9 devoted to hunting down ghost hackers. This team, lead in the field by a cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi, begins to clash with a dangerous ghost hacker known as the Puppet Master, sinking them into a dangerous game of deception and intrigue.

Ghost in the Shell is a really complex film, it deals with themes of existence similar to the way that Spike Jonze’s Her (2013) deals with love. Both films create an alternative situation that allows them to question the very nature of a complex idea through the facet of technology. Her deals with themes of love from the perspective of a relationship between a human and an artificial intelligence interface, causing us to question what love really is.¹ 

Ghost in the Shell  takes this same idea from the frame of existence as, throughout the film, Major Kusanagi questions her humanity and existence.²  This is reflected in Kusanagi’s  dialog throughout the film, as she questions her existence and purpose with the members of her crew between missions. 

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Ghost in the Shell is beautiful, its background art encompasses the gritty feel of this dark, futuristic, world very well. The animation is fluid and precise, all of the characters movements seem natural and human, and the action is well
choreographed and stylized.  

The soundtrack is also excellent, it manages to capture the atmosphere of the world perfectly while also adding edge and intensity to enhance scenes and emotions throughout.

The film does receive some criticism due to the nudity shown in the film, especially by the main character Major Kusanagi, some of this was even called to question by legendary film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.³ However, I would argue that Major Kusanagi’s nudity throughout the film is a great depiction of her struggles with her humanity, as she doesn’t quite see herself as human, and seems almost unaware of the societal standards surrounding nudity.

This film is a masterpiece.  It is beautiful, thought provoking, intense, and it brings to light a dark and brilliant world that could potentially exist someday. Hopefully, this review compels you to check out the film, because not only is it one of my favorites, but it is an excellent jumping off point to the world of science fiction anime.

References:

  1. http://nique.net/entertainment/2014/01/16/sci-fi-film-eschews-gritty-setting-for-theme-of-love/
  2. http://nerdist.com/akira-ghost-in-the-shell-and-the-humanity-of-cyberpunk/
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Il2l3hEEtdk