Sunday, July 27, 2008

Anime/Manga 101 - A "What's What" and "How To" Guide From a Christian Perspective: Anime Formats

In conjunction with the Spiritual Bridges series, I've decided to give a little introduction to the Japanese mediums of Anime and Manga. Why? Because Spiritual Bridges is not simply meant for people who are already fans of anime and manga; it's meant for people who are actively sharing Christ's Gospel with Japanese youth. So some of the people I am targeting with this series might not know how to approach these mediums. I don't know exactly how many entries there will be to the Anime/Manga 101 series, since I plan to alter it based on feedback, but here is what I am envisioning right now:

I. Anime Formats
II. Manga Formats
III. Genres
IV. Vocabulary
V. Common Themes

Let's begin.

1. Anime Formats

Anime exists in three basic formats: Movies, OVAs (Original Video Animations), and Television Shows. Each of these formats is paced differently and needs to be approached differently, just as you would read a short story and a novel in different ways.

Movies - These are the most easily accessible format for anime newcomers. Movies sometimes are released in Japanese theaters, and they always come to DVD. These movies have similar pacing to Western movies; all of the characters and plot points are introduced, developed, and resolved within one to two and a half hours. There are many famous anime movies in existence. Studio Ghibli is the most famous anime movie producer by far, having given us films such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Gedo Senki: Tales from Earthsea. Other famous anime films include Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Ninja Scroll, Beyond the Clouds - The Promised Place, Evangelion 1.0 - You Are (not) Alone, and most recently, Paprika and Tekonkinkreet.

Some anime movies are not as they seem though. Oftentimes, a movie is tied to a television show. Sometimes the movie is a prequel or sequel, sometimes the movie is a gaiden (side story that takes place during the timeframe of the original), and sometimes the movie is an abridged retelling of the show. For the prequels, sequels, and gaidens, you will probably not understand the movie without seeing the original work first. The abridged retellings, though rare, are a good way to preview a series.

How to Watch: Watch anime movies in one sitting. Pay special attention to any flashbacks that are shown, as they almost always are directly related to the conclusion.

OVAs (Original Video Animations) - sometimes called OAVs (Original Animated Videos). These are short series of an undefined number of episodes that are meant to tell a story. However, rather than a movie, which tells the story at the same time, the OVAs are released incrementaly. They often include higher production values than television anime, and they are often much shorter. These are also fairly accessible, since the episode format allows you to take the story in small sections. Recently, there have been some variant and hybrid formats that would fall under the category of OVA. The first is the ONA, or Original Net Animation, which is a series of short episodes streamed online. The second is is a hybrid between the movie format and the OVA format where a series of movies are released to theaters, each following the previous one. Kara no Kyoukai is one example of this. It is a series of 7 hour-long movies that is currently about halfway finished in the Japanese cinemas.

I also want to give a special note here. Oftentimes, OVAs include material that is inappropriate for television, including gratuitous violence and sex. This is not true for all OVAs, as it is simply a format, not a genre, but do be careful when renting OVAs, as it is the preferred format for "adult" series.

And, as before, OVAs are sometimes a prequel or a sequel to a television series. This isn't true for most OVAs, but there are rare exceptions. You should be able to tell these from the back of the box.

How to Watch: It depends on the OVA. If it is a 3-6 episode standalone story, I'd suggest watching one episode a day for 3-6 days. If it is only three episodes, you may even want to watch it all at once. If you are watching the OVA as it is currently being published, your timeframe will obviously be determined by the release schedule.

Television Shows - this comprises the main "meat" of the anime industry. Of the four Spritual Bridges posts that have been done so far, three are from television shows. Anime shows are not like sitcoms or American cartoons, where each episode is separate and can be viewed in any order. Instead, anime shows follow a continuous story from their first episode to their last. When the story finishes, so does the anime (unless a sequel is made). There are benefits and disadvantages to this. The main disadvantage is that anime shows MUST be viewed in order; skipping an episode or two will likely make the story incomprehensible. It would be the same as skipping a chapter or two in a novel. As a compensation, many anime will have recap episodes where a character will review all of the recent events and give their personal interpretation of them. This can help greatly if you happen to miss an episode.

Despite the disadvantages, this format gives a lot of benefits. The reason anime is so popular and powerful is that it becomes like a visual book, with each episode serving as a chapter. Rather than movies, where everything is resolved rather quickly, you may see a character slowly develop in a specific area over the course of ten or twelve episodes. This allows you to really get into their heads and feel each event with them. This relaxed pace makes it so that character development rarely feels rushed. It also allows the directors to throw in small details that create a fleshed-out world.

Television shows, which are aired weekly for their original broadcasts, vary greatly in their length, but there is usually a mathematical format that they follow. Everything is broken down into seasons and half-seasons. A full season is somewhere between 24 and 26 episodes. This is half a year, and allows for one or two breaks so that the network can be flexible with the schedule. Some anime comprise only a half season with 12-13 episodes. Still others go for two seasons, which is 48-52 episodes. Usually, the half-season and season markers (ie - Episode 13, 26, 39) are special episodes with a climax. These episodes also have higher production values, much like a "Season Finale" in the West. Also, if there are any recap episodes, they are likely to occur in the episode after the half-season or season finale (ie - Episode 14 or 27). It's helpful to keep this in mind in case you miss an episode or two. Then, when the final episode rolls around, you know that the storyline is finished. In contrast to American shows, where the show is only really "finished" if it is cancelled, anime usually has it's endpoint in mind from the very beginning of the production.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course. I like to call these exceptions "Interminable Anime", or anime which seem like they will never end. Famous examples of this include Pokémon, Detective Conan (aka. Case Closed), Dragonball, One Piece, Bleach, Inuyasha, and Naruto. For example, at the time that I am writing this, Naruto has 287 episodes, 4 OVAs, and 5 movies. The story isn't anywhere close to being finished yet. (Special Note: I will probably never cover an Interminable Anime in Spiritual Bridges. I just don't like dealing with them)

That being said, many great anime exist in Television Show format. DVDs usually include 2-4 episodes, though in America, boxsets are becoming increasingly popular.

How to Watch: It really depends on the show, whether you are watching it as it is aired or whether you are watching it on DVD, and how long the show is. If you are watching it as it airs, then you will obviously watch one episode every week. If you are watching it on DVD, approach it like you would approach a book. Very few people that I know read a book through in one sitting, or even in a few dedicated sittings. They usually take a chapter at a time and slowly work through the book until they are at the end. Treat anime the same way. Watch an episode (23 minutes long) and then go about the rest of your day. Over time, you'll eventually get to the end. If it helps, think of half-seasons like novels in a series. Watch 13 episodes, move on to something else for a while, and then come back. Unless your viewings are so far apart that you can't remember the previous episode, the more time you spend with an anime, the more you'll grow to appreciate it.

[With Interminable Anime, you really have to watch it as it comes out. Otherwise, your backlog becomes too large.]

That's all for today. In our next episode we'll look at genres (update: this will be part 3). I'll help you to understand why one show has pink cat-dogs and the next has 20-meter-tall robots hacking at each other with swords.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

"The Luminous Sky" Japan Tour

The band has traveling extensively through Europe, Central America, Asia, New Zealand, Australia and the USA, playing at churches, youth events, high schools, conferences, music festivals, cafes, bars and more. The bands original songs carry relevant messages for this generation with the use of impacting visual media behind each song. Natalie, the lead singer, is an accomplished singer, songwriter, speaker, author and model. They are passionate about God and giving him opportunity to impact this generation internationally and would love to partner with you in your vision for your city.

Dates: 17 September - 13 October 2008
Location: Tokyo (and surrounding areas)
Band Press Kit Link:
Promotion Clip:

Please contact me about possible bookings (for the Japan Tour) as soon as possible!

Kind Regards, Beck Waye (manager)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Spiritual Bridges in Anime - Eureka seveN

Good day to you all. After a long hiatus, Spiritual Bridges is back in full force. We were pleased to have Robin White’s excellent post on “Gedo Senki: Tales from Earthsea” last month, and we look forward to including more guest writers in the future. Please let me begin by writing a note about the name of this series. The series name is “Spiritual Bridges,” not “Spiritual Bridges in Anime.” So far, we have covered only anime shows, but future projects may cover manga, light novels, and even live-action movies. I was also recently asked why I didn’t name it “Cultural Bridges.” The answer is that I am not trying to bridge any cultures. I could care less about bridging Japanese culture with Western culture. There has been far too much of that already, which is one of the reasons why people are confusing the message of Christianity with elements of Western culture. For example, look at how Christianity is portrayed in anime. Most of the examples I can think of are either from the vampire genre or include demon-hunting catholic priests/nuns. This is what results when spiritual bridges are confused with cultural bridges. So bridging cultures is pretty low on my list of things to do. Rather, I seek to highlight elements that already exist in Japanese culture to bridge the gap between them and God. A lot of Western anime fans will find things in this series that apply to them, and that’s great. However, that is a secondary goal, not the main one. My main goal is to spark dialogue between Japanese youth and Christ’s ambassadors.

I have been very pleased at the number of positive responses this series has been getting. A little while ago, Paul informed me that we were linked on the Adult Swim forums for the show Death Note. [note: Adult Swim is the late-night block of time on the American Cartoon Network where Death Note is currently airing.] Praise God!

Today, we will be looking at another anime that recently aired on Adult Swim (the original run was in 2007). I first saw this series when I lived in Korea. I didn’t have high hopes for it, but when I read that it was scripted by Dai Sato (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Wolf’s Rain) and animated by BONES (Fullmetal Alchemist, RahXephon, Escaflowne), I decided that I would at least give it a shot. Well, in the end, I watched all 50 episodes in a matter of two weeks, and I currently list this anime as my favorite anime of all time. So, please excuse me if my love for this series gushes forth.


Psalms of Planets: Eureka seveN (交響詩篇 エウレカセブ)

Series Composition and Direction: Dai Sato (佐藤大) and Tomoki Kyoda ()

Animation Company: BONES

English Licensor: Bandai Entertainment

So, what is Eureka seveN? It’s a 50-episode anime series in the Mecha genre. However, it has multiple spinoff projects, including a 6-volume manga series that re-tells the story in a different way, two Playstation 2 video games that operate as a prequel story (and have two manga volumes themselves), and a movie which was recently announced in the Japanese Newtype Magazine. It has also won 8 awards at some fairly prestigious conventions.

Though the name of the story is taken from the female heroine Eureka (pronounced e-u-re-ka, not yu-ri-ka), the main character is 14-year-old Renton Thurston. When he was a young boy, his father sacrificed himself to save the world, and his sister, who was convinced that their father was still alive, disappeared while looking for him. So Renton has grown up with his grandfather, while everyone expects him to act the hero, just like his father. That’s not his dream though. His dream is to join a professional sports group known as Gekko State and become a famous lifter. [Lifting being an offshoot of surfing where the rider reflects off of concentrations of “transparent light particles” in the air. As a special note, there are no oceans on this world.] Then, in the middle of the night, Eureka literally crashes into his house. She has been sent from Gekko State to have Renton’s grandfather repair her giant mecha (LFOs in this series), known as the Nirvash typeZERO. The machine is missing a vital component, and has ceased responding to her. She and Gekko State think that the missing part is a special piece that Renton’s father created; however, they soon discover that the missing part is actually Renton himself. So Renton’s dream comes true, and he is officially invited to join Gekko State.

What follows is a classic coming-of-age story. Renton quickly learns that his dream of joining Gekko State is a mixed blessing at best, as he spends the first part of the series as an errand/shop boy aboard the ship. In this time, he also learns that people are not always as they appear, and he begins to see the flawed people around him in an adult manner; he sees all of their flaws, but learns to love them for who they are. In return, people discover that Renton has a very special ability: He can make people smile, and he can disarm even the grouchiest and bitter people he comes across. He even manages to break open the shell of Eureka’s emotions, which she has never been taught how to express.

In one very powerful scene in the first half of the series, Renton learns from Eureka that she was trained as a child soldier, and that she has killed many people. Renton, having no idea what to do, simply accepts her for who she is and doesn’t hold her past against her. This freedom allows Eureka to weep for what is presumably the first time in her life, and emotional healing begins in her life. With this emotional healing comes the ability to think for herself and make her own decisions. This becomes our first unlooked for spiritual bridge: the power of confession for healing. Confession is not a very popular subject in Protestant Christianity, as it brings to mind the very penance and indulgence system that Protestants tried so hard to break away from. However, confession is a very Biblical principle, and it almost always leads to healing.

Now, let’s look at Renton’s ability a little bit more. Renton’s ability stems from what I consider the main spiritual bridge of this series: unconditional love. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, he talks extensively about love. He says the following: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Never have I seen this so clearly portrayed in any modern medium. Renton loves and forgives everyone around him, but no one more than Eureka. This series does what I have never seen an anime series do before: partway through the series, the beautiful female lead is injured very badly, and she becomes rather ugly. She has scars all over her face, her eyebrows have fallen out, and her hair has been lost. Throughout all of this, Renton continues to love her. Even after he learns that she isn’t completely human (more on that later), it doesn’t change the way he looks at her. His love extends even to his enemies, as later in the series he devises a way to fight his enemies and disarm them without harming them. Because of all of this, Renton provides a very unique role model in the world of anime. Though he makes mistakes while learning to love unconditionally, he learns from them and grows.

Let me give one more note about the love portrayed in this series. It is distinctly split into two parts. In the first half of the series, Renton and Eureka are in the process of falling in love and going through all of the growing pains associated with that. However, when the credits roll for episode 26, that thread of the story is resolved; Renton and Eureka are together. Happily ever after, right? Not quite. The second half of the series depicts how they learn to live with each other; how they argue and reconcile; how they learn to think and live as one. As they do so, they slowly uncover a way to save the world, but it requires both of them to give up their pride and themselves. It is a beautiful depiction of some of the elements that I believe Godly relationships are built upon.

There are many, many more spiritual bridges in this anime, but I’m only going to mention one more: the character of Eureka. As I mentioned before, Eureka is not entirely human. On the planet where this takes place, there are two main forms of sentient life: humans and Coralians—a kind of living coral. The Coralians have a hive mentality, where one thought is shared amongst them all, essentially making Coralians one personality. Humans are trying to destroy the Coralians, but the Coralians are simply trying to understand the humans and form a relationship with them. As a result, they fashion a Coralian with a human body, Eureka, and give her a distinct personality. She is to learn all that she can about the humans and then rejoin the Coralian entity. She is likened to a “blank page” that humans can write anything that they want on. Depending on what is written on her “page”, the Coralians will either sacrifice themselves to support human life, or they will destroy the humans to save themselves. Though it is not a perfect bridge by any means, this can lead the way into a discussion about Christ from the book of Hebrews, where He is presented as High Priest and Mediator, being our perfect advocate before God because He understands everything that we have gone through. Though Eureka is not perfect, she represents the hope associated with incarnation, and it is powerful.

As I said, there is a lot more to cover. This series also touches on racism, the importance of father figures, facing problems instead of running away from them, disciplining in love, and much more. It is not my favorite anime for no reason. How can you get ahold of it? In Japan, it should be available in pretty much every rental store in the country. In America, it stands a high chance of being in rental stores, though Netflix is always sure to have it. Unfortunately, no box sets have become available yet, so the price for purchasing it is still really high. Still, I doubt you will be disappointed.

Here is a trailer from the series, made by a fan.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Introducing (and thanking) Web Site Designer Yuin-Y

We want to acknowledge, and thank, Yuin-Y for her much appreciated artistic contribution to this blog. Yuin-Y is the talented artist who did the banner art work and color scheme for us. Few blogs have a custom design, so we are thrilled with the special contribution of Yuin-Y to this blog.

In one of those "you never know who you are going to meet where" experiences, I met Yuin-Y when my family was on vacation in Malaysia and we were invited by her parents to take part in their church related cell group. Yuin-Y is not only a good artist, she is a delightful young woman with a great attitude.

Yuin-Y's Profile: "I am a classic case of anime-bait, my interest in Japan being first stirred by watching anime several years ago; although now my interest has expanded to manga (translated into English, of course), J-dramas, and a little of the J-pop scene too.

I attended Multimedia University in Kuala Lumpur, with a major in Film & Animation. Since I finished school, I have been working for an advertising firm in Malaysia. I also do lectures on multimedia.

Literature, art, and film, are all a joy to me, and I am very much intrigued by the work that CAN is doing, using media to reach people for Christ. While I can't be in Japan to help them out directly right now, I am glad that I can be involved a little bit from where I am in Malaysia!

Please check out my blog: Ind Elwen Tinuviel, which has evolved into more of an art blog, though it began as a typical what's-going-on-in-my-life blog."

Scot Eaton also contributed a lot to upgrading this blog by giving invaluable artistic input, and by doing the coding -- which was a big job. Thanks Scot for being a part of this effort!

Scot -- this blog's co-author -- lives in Japan, where he is teaching English, editing Manga for the US market, and also finishing his MA in Ethnomusicology from Bethel University in MN. Scot is a good percussionist and is making the most of that talent by connecting with Japanese in his community through joining a local Taiko troupe.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Embracing Accusation

This song is incredibly powerful. I first heard it in December, and it's not lost any of its power since then. It's from Shane and Shane's album "Pages." Shane and Shane have always had a history of putting out incredibly Biblical songs, and I highly respect them.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Mujo No Kaze Wins Inigo Film Festival Award

Mujo No Kaze, The film CAN produced in collaboration with Biola University has won an award!

Inigo Film-Festival in Sydney Australia has chosen our film to receive a significant honor — details will be announced later (we know what the award is, but want to honor their right to make the announcement first). But our film is listed on their site, and we have been told that actress Cate Blanchett is slated to be in Sydney for the awards ceremony on July 18, 2008.

Biola professor Dean Yamada wrote, “I think this is an auspicious start for Studio Re: (the CAN Film Project) and I hope it’s just the first of many great collaborations.”

Right now, I am in the US (Minnesota to be exact). I checked into going to Sydney for the July 18 awards event but the price is around $3,000!! So, as much as I would love to be there, I gave it up. Dean Yamada, and one or two Biola students, are planning to attend.

You can view the trailer below:

Or, a higher quality version here: MNK TRAILER

Our next Biola/CAN film project is in the "pre-production" stage -- which involves what has to happen before you shoot a film including: setting a budget, choosing a script, choosing staff and assigning roles, gathering equipment, and making sure all logistical issues are taken care of. Then, in Jan of 2009, Dean Yamada will bring a group of twelve Biola film majors to Tokyo to shoot our film.