February 15, 2006

Educational anime

My sister recently commented on DVD commentaries. Like Kate, I question the added value of most commentary tracks. I'm not looking for a podcast of Entertainment Tonight. Classics I think get better treatment because people have had time to think about them and if, say, Criterion is going to bother, they'll get an expert with something to say that 1) isn't obvious from reading the jacket cover, and 2) you would benefit from knowing in an intellectual way.

My nomination for a commentary that may actually be better than the movie is the 1985 anime classic Megazone 23, principally by Matt Greenfield, one of the founders of ADV Films. He essentially treats you to a history of the company and the early days of the anime importing business. And makes note of all the gaping plot holes in the story along the way (and why they're there), plus the eerie resemblances to The Matrix, fifteen years before the The Matrix was made. Fascinating.

Now that I'm on the subject of educational anime experiences, I also recommend Comic Party, Genshinken and Animation Runner Kuromi. The animation in first two is fairly average, much better in the last, but the content in all three more than makes up for any aesthetic deficiencies

Comic Party focuses on the doujinshi manga artist, and how a talented up-and-coming manga-ka begins to makes a name for himself. Like Genshiken, it features a subplot involving a girlfriend who finds herself taking a backseat to her boyfriend's new obsession, but the more important aspect of the story is about artistic integrity. (Comic Party does have a particularly annoying secondary character whose non sequitur outbursts in English must be suffered through).

Animation Runner Kuromi is about the travails of a small animation studio. Fresh out of college, her first day on the job, Mikoko finds herself promoted to production manager and charged with delivering an animated television episode on an impossibly tight schedule. She must browbeat a motley crew of freelance animators into completing their drawings on time. The story, director Akitaro Daichi tells us in another worthy commentary track, is largely autobiographical.

And then Genshiken follows the lives of those hapless but lovable geeks who voraciously consume both. Otaka, to be sure, are easy targets, but Genshiken treats them with good-natured humor and affection, even when documenting the travails of a "real" girl who falls for one of them and can't seem to get him similarly obsessed with her. The results of all three are breezy and informative forays into the nuts and bolts of the industry feeding all the many otaku subcultures.

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