Monday, July 24, 2006

I'm in the midst of an anime binge

I started with my all-time-favorite, Akira, progressed through #2, Ghost in the Shell, and finished with Steamboy. I'll probably watch Ghost in the Shell: Innocence tonight, and maybe even Perfect Blue. I've seen them all before (and in the case of Akira and GITS, over and over), and they're all great touchstones.

If you have any love of animation at all you cannot help but be left slack-jawed after watching Akira. For the most part it is completely done in classic, painted cell animation style. There are moments you can tell where something computer generated helped create a given movement or prepare a framework, but by and large it is a massive labor of love with ink and pen. It is a singular film that puts all other animation to shame. Period. End of debate.

It is also an exploration of the human psyche, what we are often willing to do in the pursuit of knowledge and power. As a Time Magazine review once said, there are no "good guys" in Akira, just differing levels of bad. It takes a couple of viewings to really understand who is "bad" and who is "good". And at the story's end, it all comes down to fellowship, friendship, even love. Brings a tear to me one good eye every time.

GITS, on the other hand, isn't as well animated but is much more grounded in where the world may be headed. While Akira is essentially metaphysical, GITS explores how technology is and will force an evolution of not just mankind, but human intelligence. In the end you have a merger between a human mind and soul ("ghost") and an aritificial intelligence that created its own "ghost". Heady stuff.

Steamboy is both a triumph and a disappointment. A triumph because it is so goddamn gorgeous to look at. While Akira is, to me, the zenith of traditional animation, Steamboy is a fantastic blend of the traditional and the new. "Eye candy" is such an understatement that it's an insult.

Disappointment because the story can, at times, be shallow and murky. In essence it is the conflict in science, between the pure quest for knowledge and the application of science. It flops into a pedantic and lecturing tone from time to time, but there is enough rousing adventure to save the day.

There is also Ray Steam, our hero. He is a young lad of science, caught up in the pure thrill of discovery. He isn't concerned with purity and he's not too worried about application. He just wants to play and discover. As one adult character says of him, he's a young boy who can look at a complicated machine, understand its function in a glance, and then improve upon it. He also has the hero's spirit of never giving up, never giving into panic. Throughout the film you watch him see a problem and work his way through it, even at the risk of life and limb. He's great.

Any of these films would make a superb live-action film and would probably, in that form, garner a larger US audience. It's a shame that most American filmgoers put animation in the "kid's only" pigeonhole, because these three films, and the others I mentioned, are most definitely not kid's films. (Well, Steamboy is okay for kids, but the higher details would be lost of them.)

Rumors persist of an American live-action production of Akira, but I'd be afraid that such a production would feel compelled to wrap it up with a near, explain-it-all ending. That would just ruin things.

Ah well, enough for now. Back to the screen, time for Innocence.

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