Friday, December 19, 2008

Fall 2008 anime review (updated)

Michiko to Hatchin
Episodes viewed: 10
Rating: A (Old rating A-) Upgraded after episode 9
- A rowdy mix of orphan-meets-reckless-hot-mama, MtH is sure to entertain you from the first episode on. Although made by Manglobe, the same people who made Ergo Proxy, it looks more like something made by Studio4C (the familiar 4C feel, to those who know it). This anime is set in Brazil and portrays a ROWDY adventure between two unlikely allies. It is visually refreshing, as the colors were way more pronounced than most of the series' I will list. However, the music (except for the ED) was undwerwhelming, thus earning it the -. Think Tekkon Kinkreet meets Cowboy Bebop, and you'll get an idea about what this series is।

Mouryou no Hako
Episodes viewed: 6
Rating: A Further changes unlikely. Possible entry to all time favorites list.
- I like this the best among all series' this season. Cerebral, unforgiving and dabbling with the spiritual, this detective story requires more than a receptive mind. The studio did a very fine job in portraying the 50's feel. This is the anime version of Film noir. To those who want to see Marimite gone horribly wrong and developing into a serial killer case, pick this up.

Jigoku Shoujo 3
Episodes viewed: 13
Rating: A- (old rating B-) Double-level upgrade after episode 13
- Same old Ai, but different stories of "revenge" I won't call some of the cases revenge, because I actually didn't like 2 of them to go to hell this time (something I last felt on ep.23 Season 1). The franchise is getting dull though, as if 52 episodes weren't enough to prove the point that Ai sends people to hell. EDIT: This season is a lame excuse for Ai fanservice. EDIT 2: The real story starts after episode 13...hopefully.

Ga-rei zero
Episodes viewed: 11
Rating: C- (old rating C) Downgraded after episode 11
- I admit that this series went downhill from the beginning. The first episode was awesome, the bloodbath was refreshing and I expected an (early)NGE like action story, but forced yuri-esqe clips and that weirdo downgraded this series. It's not too late to recover though. I could care less about that little girl's love, but please, take that weirdo off the air. Episode 5 was a refreshing new look on this series. At least we get an intriguing plot going.... EDIT: I can't stand Kagura and her whiny voice. She's worthless as a protagonist.

Shikabanehime Aka
Episodes viewed: 10
Rating: B (Upgraded after episode 10)
- This is one of the series' doomed to last only for a short time. The idea of gunning down different monsters every week is something that grows old very quickly. Furthermore, I didn't really like the male lead. He seems to be a pacifist and I don't like that. He just hinders the unnaturally powerful heroine, Makina. The monk's perverted jokes are off poor taste and are apparently forced. Episode 5 reveals the real plot. I will follow this until it ends its run.

Episodes viewed:2
Rating: F (Dropped) Dipshit Alert!
- Pathetic protagonist, pretentious art, stereotypes of otaku. No wonder I dropped this one.

Episodes viewed: 1
Rating: F (Dropped) Dipshit Alert!
- Bad art, bitchy protagonist and general crappiness. I dropped this series before it dropped me with its stupidity.

Identity, artificial sentience and raison d’être in Ergo Proxy

A short summary of the series

Ergo Proxy is a story about Vincent Law, an immigrant worker trying to find a stable life in Romdo city, a hi-tech yet isolated megacity enclosed in a dome. Upon his arrival, strange things such as unexplained killings and scary apparitions happen. These anomalies catch the attention of Real Mayer, a prominent citizen and police inspector of Romdo. At first, she is gung-ho about investigating the unusual events until she too is attacked.

This puts Vincent in the wanted list; however, with the help of Pino, a gynoid, he escapes Romdo and wanders the outside wastelands. Not long after, he manages to find himself a floating ship. Back in Romdo, Real learns about the truth that there is a world outside the city. Despite objections from her powerful grandfather and doctor, she sets out to find the answers she seeks.

The three characters meet and set out to Moscow city, Vincent’s birthplace in search of the truth. Along the way, bits and pieces of Vincent’s real identity are revealed. However, before the reach Moscow, the city is destroyed by a thermonuclear missile launched by a high ranking Romdo citizen. This forces them to go back where it all started, to Romdo.


Basically, the entire series is a continuous search for Vincent’s identity. He is a Proxy, a term used for super specimens (uebermensch) that preserve the post-apocalyptic world. However, he doesn’t know that he is one, the most powerful one. Along the way to Moscow city, Vincent encounters his own kind, the other Proxies. Through them, he comes to accept who he is. But this didn’t come easy for Vincent. He had to endure the trauma of the realizing that the life he led until that time was merely an illusion. Throughout the series, he battles his own denial.

Real, on the other hand is revealed to be some form of creation. In the later episodes of the series, her doctor creates a clone due to jealousy and calls it real. Real’s crisis only surfaces later in the series when they come back to Romdo.

I am amused with the psychological states of the characters, especially Real’s. During the lonely travel, where Real is the only human among the three of them, it is she who had the hardest time adjusting to the new environment considering that she was a prominent citizen of a wealthy city dome. However, when you watch the journey very carefully, you’ll notice that Real’s personality is half unreal. Her best friend and confidante is a robot, and I bet she hadn’t talked to a real human for a long time. Imagine yourself being a rich girl with no one but a machine to talk to, and then suddenly and with no prior knowledge, you venture into the unknown, parting with your old life. You realize that all you know is false, and because of it, you undertake a once-in-a-lifetime journey to learn the truth. Then when you come back home, you see that you’ve been replaced with an exact copy of yourself. That’s Real Mayer in a nutshell. Maybe that’s why she’s named “Real” in the first place.

Artificial Sentience

Ergo Proxy deals with my favorite topic, Artificial Sentience by way of the Auto Reiv. Pino is what the series calls as “Auto reivs”, humanoid machines built to serve (and sometimes replicate) man. However, like numerous auto-reivs like Iggy (Real’s robot confidante), she contracts this so-called “Cogito virus”. This virus, like Descartes’ declaration of existence, infuses the machines with some sort of a soul. When infected, they acquire distinctively human traits such as reason and the ability to feel emotions like happiness, jealousy and love. They also acquire free will and begin to act according to their own volition. Pino, for example would demonstrate this free will by writing with her left hand only, despite being ambidextrous. Iggy, on the other hand, demonstrated his by abducting Real in an “attempt” to “protect” her, instead of following her orders to turn back.

The humans in Ergo proxy view this negatively. In Romdo alone, special extermination squads are employed just to dispose of Cogito infected auto reivs. Of course, this is simply an issue of technological singularity. The machines are beginning to threaten the relevance of humans. Thus, they must be destroyed before they destroy us.

This issue is just as ethical as it is political. First, in the ethical sense, is it right to destroy these beings when they are already as human as they can be? Personality wise, they are just like us. They feel the same things we feel. They think like we do, except that they have metal bodies. The question I want to raise is, “Do they not have rights because they are metal?” , I mean, if we have human rights because we are human, and animals have animal rights because their animals, why not machine rights, especially if these machines are every bit as human as we are? Is it right to just destroy them, if it’s possible that they too, feel pain and suffer in the process?

The next is the political side of this issue. Auto reivs are what Negroes were during the 19th century in America. Negroes are human too, but they are black. Therefore, they are considered property and denied rights until Lincoln emancipated them. In a way, the infected Auto reivs are similar. The question here is “where do political rights come from?”. Is it the physical composition, where whites were distinguished from blacks by color alone and humans from auto reivs by flesh alone? Or what?

I believe that we cannot fully tackle this issue for good until we reach such a technological level.

Raison d’être

The three main characters tackle their own issue of Raison D’être. Vincent as a proxy, Real as a human, and Pino, as a cogito infected auto reiv.

First is Vincent. As the most powerful proxy, he comes to his senses very late. Vincent re-awakens at a time where proxies are no longer needed because humans are progressing again. Proxies act like a sort of god-patron of each domed city. It just happened that Vincent, in the form of Ergo Proxy is the patron of Romdo, and he has the power to destroy it whenever he wants. What is the use of beings like them when humans succeed in controlling their own fates? Much like what purpose deities serve when we ourselves determine the way of the world. The awakening of Ergo Proxy symbolizes a desperate attempt by “the past” to claim a “reason to be” before it is brushed aside by progress. If he doesn’t act now, he might as well not exist as he would no longer have a role to perform. In our context, it is like the “second coming” during a hypermodern age. AS SOON AS WE MANAGE TO CONTROL OUR FATES, GODS WILL BE RENDERED IRRELEVANT! THEY WILL LOSE THEIR REASON TO BE, AND THUS WITHER AWAY! In a sense, Ergo Proxy’s reawakening tells more about the people than the proxy. The struggle is basically something that symbolizes people moving forward on their own while a jealous God is trying to foil their liberation by asserting himself.

Second is Real, her reason to be after being assaulted was to know the truth. Her life became a single-minded obsession to know. After her realization that there is a world outside Romdo, knowing became her reason to be. If she had stayed within the dome, she might as well not exist. In some ways, Real Mayer is the representation of humanity and its insatiable appetite for knowledge. We humans, in our curious nature have historically opened the Pandora’s Box whenever we could, sometimes at the cost of psychological comfort. Look at all those scientists and philosophers. All condemned to open new treasure troves of knowledge for us to toil upon. We are condemned to suffer the uncertainty of present knowledge, which drives us to look for new ones and the uncertainties of new knowledge, which repeats the vicious cycle. This is real. This is what Real stood for, the present. Of what use are we without constant improvement and learning? Without progress, we will stagnate to irrelevance. Knowing is our raison d’être as humans. We exist to know.

Third is Pino, the auto-reiv. As the original auto reivs were built to serve mankind, service became their reason to be. When they lose the capacity to serve man, they lose their reason to exist. That’s why humans destroyed the auto reivs. One would say that she lost the capability to blindly serve man when she got infected with Cogito, and yes she lost her reason to exist as a machine. But Cogito gives machines humanity, therefore making her a de facto human. Therefore she must not be judged as a machine, but as a human. To me, pino symbolizes the future, when the word human will embrace a new meaning. In the age of digital technology, we might have to rethink what being human is and transcend above the concept of the flesh when doing so. There will come a time when the flesh loses its monopoly of consciousness as machines will be capable of having one too.

21st century philosophical questions asked in cyberpunk anime

When we think of anime titles such as Serial Experiments Lain and Ghost in the shell, one would notice the overarching question posed by humankind. "Where am I amidst technology?" This question is timely since this era is an era unlike any other. For the first time, technology enables us to separate identity from our physical body.

In Serial Experiments Lain, the protagonist discovers the world called as "the wired", (which is like an entity similar to the internet) throughout the course of the series, she gradually loses herself (in a real-world sense) and gets more and more into the wired. It would be interesting to note the invitation of her classmate at the beginning of the series to dispose of her flesh and come with her to the wired. In my understanding, the issue raised by the creators of this series is the transfer of consciousness out of the physical body. For a long time, we have associated consciousness with the physical mind. What happens if this consciousness manages to find a suitable (or superior) host? Where is the metaphysical "me", then? Furthermore, if my consciousness can be separated into such hosts, does it imply that we don't need physical bodies anymore?

Ghost in the Shell, on the other hand, focuses on the question, "Does the real "I" exist amidst these cybernetic body parts?" In this series, heavily cyberized special policemen tackle a formidable hacker. The main character, Motoko Kusanagi is the focal point of the story as she is the one searching for her soul. She is an interesting character since it is said in the first movie that every bit of her is just government property. The characters have "cyber brains", or brains that can access the internet and disposable bodies. It differs from the other series because in GITS, the integration of consciousness into a wired network, and the separation of identity from a single physical body is already given, in fact it's already normal. However, Kusanagi occasionally recieves intuition from her "ghost" and this raises an issue about the existence of a soul separate from her heavily mechanized body.

This presents a new issue different from Lain. In GITS, the question is more than where my metaphysical "me" is located. It is essentialy a question of whether this "me" really exists as a real entity at all, since it is possible that this "me" is just a product of sophisticated technology. In an age where entire consciousness' can switch bodies at will, the boundary between identity and physicality blurs.

The struggle to exist in the anime "Texhnolyze"

Texhnolyze is a series that portrays the struggle of Ichise, an underground fighter who struggles for his everyday survival in the underground city, Lux. He becomes a human guinea pig when he receives new cybernetic limbs called "Texhnolyze" after losing his fleshy limbs as punishment for angering a mob boss.

The backdrop is an especially violent and bleak world. Lux is plagued by a vicious gang war between Organo, a mafia-like entity, Racan, a bunch of ragtag kids looking for trouble, and the United Salvation Front, a cult-like organization that opposes the mechanical Texhnolyze limbs. This war is for the control of a substance called "Raffia", which is needed for "Texhnolyze" production.

Despite the deathly world of Lux (a really ironic name for an underground city), life there is much more desirable compared to the upper world (the normal above-ground world). The people in the upper world are quite frankly, living dead. They are the people who've lost all desire in living and just exist waiting to die. In this world, people have lost their drive, they ceased to be human. Imagine a dead world in which its inhabitants only wait for their deaths. No commerce, no society, nothing. Just a bunch of old people sipping coffee and waiting to die. That's the upper world.

In contrast, the violence-wracked Lux is brimming with life. The chaos is only a manifestation of one's desire, the desire to see the next sunrise. It turns out that the original inhabitants of Lux were banished from the upper world (for some unknown reason). Later in the series, Lux is invaded by mechanical beings which were themselves formerly human. I can never forget that line where a cyborg said that he chose to be turned into one because he wanted to live for as long as possible. This irrational desire to live struck me because in the final episodes, they (the mechs) were just there, planted on the ground, undying.

The contrast between the two worlds is what I think is the main focal point of the entire series. It is not Ichise nor the gang war (and the subsequent invasion of the city) nor the technology that struck me most. I find it interesting because it portrays the people living in daily violence as those most hopeful in life. If life is indeed a struggle, these people are its embodiment. These are people worthy of life. Sadly, there's nothing good for them in their world.

In the end, they all die. Lux disappeared when Ichise killed Kano, the city's human soul.

Life, Death and purification in Haibane Renmei

In the world of Haibane, there are two beings, Human and Haibane. They live in a walled city which they are practically prisoners of. The Haibane are forbidden from using money and new clothes and live in a pseudo-communist environment in which one is handed roles such as jobs. The traditional concept of family is not applicable in Haibane. These creatures come into this world in cocoons.

A Haibane's name depends on his/her experiences inside the cocoon. The protagonist, Rakka, got her name due to her dream in which she was falling. Reki, on the other hand has issues of her own.

The closest thing to our death in the Haibane world is the "Day of flight". In this special day, a Haibane flies away from the walled city without telling anyone. The individual Haibane himself/herself is not aware of this day until the last minute. In a way, it is the same as our own deaths. We don't know when it will happen and if it does, our loved ones usually aren't pre-informed.

It is common for the Haibane to hope to see each other outside the walled city. Because of this, a Haibane's day of flight is greeted not with mourning, as is in humans, but with a deep but subtle form of happiness for the newly departed Haibane. This desire to see each other again is similar to our own desire to see our departed loved ones in the Afterlife. You see, the outside world is the representation of Haibane Afterlife, while the wall represents the separation between the two levels of existence. We also have a barrier, and it's called Death. In the anime, it is shown that an individual Haibane is forbidden to touch the wall in any way, which I think represents the human aversion with death. To experiment with one's mortality, they say, is just plain bad.

However, there are special cases in which the Haibane is unable to take his/her "Day of flight". These Haibane are called "sin-bound" and they can be recognized by black wings instead of the usual grey. Reki is the prime example of this type of Haibane. They are called sin- bound because in one way or another, they have hangups that prevent them from "flying". In Reki's case, it is her inability to remember her dream inside the cocoon.

Reki thought that by being a good Haibane(insert your altruistic good here), she would be cleansed of her sin, Thus, when Rakka came, she doted on the "newborn" Haibane. Aside from that, she also took care of the children at the Old Home. Unfortunately, this did not erase the sin in her. She continued to have black wings and remained unable to take her day of flight. It is only when Rakka saved her from her downward spiral that she was liberated from her past.

I would compare this sin bound state to both the Buddhist concept of Nirvana and the Catholic concept of purgatory. In the former, the sin bound state to the neverending rebirths that an unclean soul must endure. In this example, I will consider the "Day of flight" as the final, definite last stage of existence. The Haibane's inability to take flight and his/her imprisonment in the walled city is similar to the unclean soul's imprisonment within the neverending cycle of birth and rebirth. The way to liberate oneself from both states requires a certain form of purification. Purification for the Haibane, to be able to take flight, and purification for the human, to be able to achieve Nirvana.

A similar form of purification is required in the concept of purgatory. However, in purgatory, one does not seek to purify oneself for liberation. One purifies oneself to progress to another form of existence, which is the paradise stage. Once again, I will change the meaning of the "Day of flight" from a liberating process into a preparatory one. In this case, we can look at the 'Day of flight" as the representation of a Haibane's purification to pass on to another form of existence, as is in the supposed, so-called role of Purgatory. In this example, both processes imply transition to a purer state of being, unlike in the first one, which is basically spiritual liberation through cleansing, two fundamentally different but very similar things.

Fatalism and the girl who leapt through time

About the Anime:

The 2006 anime film toki wo kakeru shoujo is about Makoto, a girl who until recently, lived a boring, normal life. She did the same stupid things with the same stupid friends. However she accidentally discovers a strange capsule which grants her the ability to jump through time. She then uses it to fix everyday mishaps such as failed confessions, burning stoves, fistfights and flying bikes, whose outcomes unfortunately do not conform to her expectations.

This anime deals with fatalism because it drives a single message again and again; “When something happens, it happens”. This means that things occur, irrespective of the people involved, or the manner in which they occur. Yes, Makoto had the ability to “fix” mishaps, but the film makes it a point to show that even though the mishaps were supposedly averted, they happened to somebody else. Examples of these are the case of the exploding sink, in which it was our hero who originally put the matchstick down the sink, which caused it to explode due to the gas leak. However, when she tried to fix it by going back in time, a classmate of hers did the exact same thing and a small explosion happened nevertheless. Another, more emphatic example was the bike accident, in which the main character was the one who originally had the accident and almost collided with a train, but when she went back in time to avoid dying, her friend used her bike and was the one that (almost) crashed.

Such examples imply that for the creator of the film, time moves in a linear way. For every period in time, there is a corresponding event. These events, although abstract, are absolute. Perhaps, it is best explained by the story of Chiaki, her other friend, and the one who came from the future. He came from an era which had developed a time-travelling device, and the reason why he came to the present age was to see a portrait that was destroyed in his present time (which is in the future, for us). He ultimately never sees the portrait as it was under restoration (in our time), another example of the basic message. For him, it was “To never see the portrait, regardless of when he tried to”. It is as if he was fated to not see that particular portrait.

Going back to the bike accident, which was to me the main example of fatalism in this film. Both the main character and her other friend were saved by time jumping on two separate occasions. Both of them should’ve died in that accident. However, during the second one, it was Chiaki who intervened, exhausting his “time leaping tickets” in the process. This means that he saved a person by going back in time, but exhausted his remaining energy to go back to his own time instead. As a result, he got trapped in this world (which makes him as good as dead in his world). However, the film ends with our main character going back in time to go back to the time where Chiaki still had tickets to go back to his time, which he eventually did. I think that the accident was meant to produce a loss in life. First, the main character which should’ve died, but didn’t, then the other friend, who also didn’t, then Chiaki, who can be considered dead twice in two worlds. The message in this entire scenario was simple. “If you are meant to lose someone, you lose them, regardless of whom and how you lose them”. Although no one died and no accident occurred, Makoto lost Chiaki, who went back to his time.


I personally do not believe in fate, as I consider those who believe in it as cowards who do not have the mental conditioning to create their own circumstances. In fact, I mock people who claim that they are what they are because of fate, or because their “God” willed it to them. It seems to me that fate is merely an excuse to do nothing to overcome one’s personal shortcomings, and it’s probably true that those who relied on their fates to guide themselves ultimately stopped living as free humans. I tell you, people. Fatalism will bring us nowhere, because Fatalism requires us to surrender control of our lives to who knows what? This makes us total zombies of ourselves. Instead of making efforts to be responsible for our own circumstances, we merely pass it on to beings whose existence we aren’t sure of. We have this thing called “free will”. It’s about time we start using it, or keep doing so.

Superstitions, Horoscopes, Palm lines, Time travel, Dream interpretations, Eschatology and Religion… These are all manifestations of our primitive desire to be servile and surrender control of our power over our own circumstances. This has led us to nowhere but the most total form of slavery. I call upon all of you to do your own share. Reclaim control of your lives, be responsible for your own circumstances and rid yourselves once and for all of this primitive fatalism. Be free, humans!