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Upotte: Craziest [Thing]-girl Idea Yet

Sometimes you run across an idea that sounds so crazy you figure that it can’t be as bad as it sounds. And sometimes it turns out not only is it every bit as bad as it sounds, the execution is so utterly cracked you cannot believe what you just watched. Upotte is one of those shows.

See, it’s a gun-girl anime. Not gun-girl like Gunslinger Girl, girls-with guns or something—that, I could accept. No, it’s about girls who are guns. Literally. No, that doesn’t make sense. At all. In theory, in concept, or in execution.

Any anime fan is familiar with moe-anthropomorphism, the inexplicable desire to create a cute, female, anthropomorphic version of more or less anything (which totally needs a catchier name, a la Rule 63, which it’s sort of the inanimate-object corollary of… Rule 64 seems to be taken, so maybe Rule 63b?). You’ve got whole genres of anime about cat-girls and wolf girls, plenty of robot-girls, and if you dig a little deeper computer-girls (does anybody still remember Buttobi CPU?), plus the recently-popularized plane-girls.

Now, plane-girls are pretty darned crazy as an idea for anime—the webcomic Krakow actually used one as the craziest [thing]-girl idea possible for a crazed fever-dream girlfriend, but Strike Witches did some logistical twisting to make normal girls (actually, catgirls, which was pretty impressive for doubling up) into plane-girls in a way that sort-of-kind-of made sense.

My previous winner in the craziest thing-girl show, thus, went to Rescue Me Mave-chan, which used random metaphor to turn Yukikaze planes into cute flying girls. Which made no sense, and was stupid, but the logistics at least sort of worked via the alternate-dimension-where-feelings-are-given-form excuse that’s been standard since at least when I was watching Saturday Morning Cartoons in the ’80s, and probably a lot earlier than that. The runner up is Hetalia Axis Powers, but that whole show was a full-on metaphor (a sort of offensive one, but still), so its setting didn’t really need to make any sense.

Enter Upotte. Where assault rifles are, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, actually teenaged anime girls who go to school together where they learn to become better assault rifles in what is apparently an otherwise more or less normal world. Because that makes sense in whatever semi-lucid mental state the writer must have been in thanks to a combination of a high fever, too much dextromethorphan, and a severe lack of sleep. Because you know what? That’s the only way I can come up with that somebody actually sat down and wrote this show.

No, wait, I’ve got one other theory: It was a dare.  Somebody came up with the most utterly crazy, unproducable idea for an anime series ever, then dared somebody else to actually write it, and he did. And then somehow they got the budget and production crew to actually animate the whole thing pretty well.

Is there actually a market for this? I have to assume so, but that’s deeply depressing to me. I’m all for narrow-focus, non-mass-market things, but this is taking that about three and a half steps too far.

What’s so frightening is that the show seems to be taking itself some semblance of seriously, and doesn’t seem to be making any nod to how utterly cracked it is, or what has to be wrong with its apparent target audience. Because honestly, if you’re got enough of a gun fetish to want to watch this show, you need help. Serious help.

I should step back from my rant for a moment here to note that I actually started writing this prior to the tragedy in Colorado, and intentionally bumped the publish date back by a week out of respect and to avoid a bit of “too soon” on the subject matter.  Honestly, though, as sick as it is, Upotte has nothing to do with maniac mass murderers.

It also doesn’t have anything to do with people who aren’t maniacs or mass murders but take the nothing-inherently-wrong-with-it hobby of gun collecting to an unhealthy extreme and end up with a basement full of military-grade assault weapons—it’s targeted at a completely different kind of gun fetishist.

Which is an interesting cultural thing in and of itself, because in the US where I’m from, “gun nut”, when used as a stereotyped epithet, brings to mind images of midwestern white guys in cammo with lifetime NRA memberships and jacked-up pickup trucks, while I’m guessing that in Japan the stereotypical “gun otaku”—and certainly the ones Upotte is targeted at—are probably a lot more like Sagara’s socially inept classmate in Full Metal Panic. Even bolt-action hunting rifles in Japan are heavily regulated and difficult to come by, so gun hobbyists are by necessity more of a theoretical creature—the sort who owns elaborate airsoft replicas and reads magazines.  And, in extreme cases, probably doesn’t get out much and apparently watches this crap.

To be clear, I’m not trying to tar all gun aficionados with the same brush here—I’m saying that when you stereotype extreme gun hobbyists in the US versus Japan you get a very different image. And, more importantly, that this show is, so far as I can tell, targeted at people who go way overboard with the hobby into obsessive-otaku-with-no-life territory.

Anyway, enough social commentary. The first episode starts a little off and just keeps getting worse every time somebody talks. It just doesn’t make sense. In a way that kind of hurts, and is in no way the good sort of crazy. Seriously, what had to be wrong with somebody to make this show?

If you get past… well, pretty much everything, it is a Xebec production, so it’s actually rather well done. The art is cute and the animation is well above average, but then so was Kanokon. I guess the folks at Xebec deserve credit for going absolutely all-in on whatever you give them to work with, be it quality concept or absolute, steaming garbage laced with insanity.

Let me make clear that that’s sort of a negative—there are so many better ideas than this (even some that just had to be more marketable) that either never got made or didn’t get a fraction of the budget or production quality that it’s a flat-out insult when literal gun-fetish-lunacy does. (Yes, I said literal—apparently a central plot point is about the FNC girl having the hots for a human teacher. Ugh.)

It’s also rather impressive how into its source material it is—the actual guns the girls are shooting (which even in context really doesn’t make any sort of sense because… they already are guns, right?) are all kinds of detailed, as are all the factoids and such that you’d expect from anime targeted at some really narrow fanboy subgroup, but then I can’t imagine that you could manage to sell something with this narrow of a target market without getting properly into the details of the subject matter. And I suppose it’s also possible that it actually just sounds well-versed to somebody who isn’t a fanatic about the famed assault rifles of the world.

Basically, thanks (I assume) to Xebec being what they are, the show is about as good as anybody could possibly do this concept.

Given how painful the first episode is, I really don’t want to see any more, but it’s one of those cases (see: Popotan) where morbid curiosity is tempting me to find out just how they can manage to fill 10 episodes with something that couldn’t even stay remotely coherent for fifteen minutes. That’s a lotta suffering, though.  If I ever write a full review, you’ll know, because if I manage to sit through it all there’s no way I’m not getting something out of it.

Incidentally, I forgot the worst part: The whole thing was available nearly simulcast on Hulu. Almost twenty five years and we still haven’t seen a single legit release of Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Code-E hasn’t been licensed. Half of US Manga Corp’s abandoned catalog is still out of print—used VHS copies of The Tale of Genji are selling for $100 on Amazon. Only Yesterday still isn’t on video in the US. But this garbage somehow gets licensed, translated, and released to the net within weeks.

There is no justice in the world of anime production and even less in licensing.

Actors We Admire: Mayumi Tanaka

I have a tendency to surf through the cast of shows I watch to see who played any memorable characters, and/or what unexpected names are in the cast, and/or if I correctly identified familiar voices. Hence the first in what I intend to be an occasional series of musings on favorite actors of all stripes.

This particular one came about when I was looking through the cast of the relatively compact (and decent) shounen action show Kekkaishi, and happened to spot a familiar name as crotchety grandmother Yukimura: Mayumi Tanaka. (She also voiced young Shishio for good measure.)

Now, if you’re a shounen action show fan, you probably recognize her name, and you certainly recognize her voice. Or, more accurately, one of her many—that woman has got range, and skills.

Talk about shounen action chops—there are not many actors who can boast of voicing major characters in two huge franchises and a minor one in another—she’s the star of One Piece and Krillin (plus a few others) in the Dragon Ball franchise, not to mention minor player Koenma in YuYu Hakusho and granny Yukimura (plus young Shishio for good measure) in Kekkaishi.

Let’s hit some more classics, too: She also voiced gender-confused secondary player Ryuunosuke in the Urusei Yatsura franchise and male hero Pazu in in Laputa.

The roles she plays aren’t usually what you’d call dramatically subtle, but there’s still plenty of drama in them, and she’s always front and center with more than enough gusto to carry the character and the scene. And when the role has more subtle emotion—some of the drama in Kekkaishi, for example—she’s fully up to the task despite years of practice chewing up scenery.

Now, Tanaka obviously has what you’d call a traditional “cartoon” voice, and a heavy lean toward male roles, but she still gets credit for a lot of range—somewhat wacky pirate, somewhat high-pitched brawler, very angry high-school girl, normal boy hero, and largely straight-faced grandmother (actually played pretty close to her real fifty-something age). And that’s without even getting into her dozens of smaller or less-well-known roles.

One of which is a personal favorite of mine (and why I actually recognized her name), the cheerful Okinawan brawler Kanna from Sakura Wars. Her trademark high-pitched, boyish voice is on display, but the reason I remember the character is that Tanaka can also, it turns out, sing—and quite well, at that.  Kanna’s theme song, Shakunetsu Boogie, is so infectiously energetic that it’s almost impossible not to smile when you listen to her belt it out, and there’s some technical prowess mixed in with the energy and colorful character voice.

And just to toss in one of those “really?” bits, she’s done a few amusing dubs: she supplied the voices of Babe in the two Babe movies, John Connor in T2, and Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

So yes, Babe, Mokney D. Luffy, and Krillin have the same voice.

GTO Live Action 2012 Version First Impressions

Getting back into the swing of things after a long hiatus—there will be several new full-length reviews posted shortly as well.

Just finished watching the first episode of the (very) new live action GTO adaptation. Based on it, while the casting is pretty good—singer AKIRA is younger and has a better punk look as Onizuka than Sorimachi Takashi in the older live action adaptation—and the action is decent, it’s a definite step down. The writing isn’t quite as good, the acting is noticeably worse (some of the minor characters are particularly bad), the production values look a little lower, the plot makes even less sense, and it’s a lot sappier.  Also, it seems like about half the cast is a singer of some sort, but that’s sort of par for the course in J-dramas these days.  It might pick up, but normally if something starts out that badly it’s not a good sign.

I’m of course most interested in comparisons with the anime version. The previous live action adaptation made a lot of changes, but most of them were actually rather reasonable—they made it work as live action, and more or less made sense as a package so long as you didn’t try to compare it directly.

This one also makes a lot of changes, but they’re different, and in some ways it’s a lot closer to the original. Onizuka, for example, is a lot more obviously an idiot thug than the cooler, older, comparatively level-headed version in the other live action adaptation—much closer to the original, including the dyed hair. Both his buddies are also present this time, and cast well. We again upgrade the school to high school, which is fine since it makes casting easier and they were functionally high school students in the anime anyway. Onizuka starts out as much more of a loser, which is again closer to the original and I have no complaints about (though the cooler, somewhat wiser other live action version worked well enough).

The problem is that the plot is sort of a jumbled mix of elements from the manga/anime that don’t fit in context. The first episode combines the characters of Nanako Mizuki (the girl with dysfunctional parents in the pre-Holy Forest Academy intro plotline) and Anko (the girl bullying classmate Noboru at Holy Forest) and those two plotlines into a single story which is introduced and resolved, along with Onizuka (who starts as a groundskeeper in this version) getting hired, in the space of the episode.

I can accept character merging, but Onizuka’s whole sledgehammer act, and more or less all the human drama that comes out of that part of the story, doesn’t make any sense when he’s not a teacher. When, in fact, he’s just a random thug hired by the kid she was bullying so far as she knows.  That the writers apparently didn’t realize that when sticking lines and scenes from the original directly in does not speak well for their talent.  While it does make Anko a much more sympathetic character, it mostly neuters the bullying plotline of its impact, and the episode ends up having a lot of lengthy, blatantly sappy filler toward the end.

I’ll probably watch more of the show—Akemi complains endlessly about J-dramas, yet still watches them—but it certainly doesn’t start off on the right foot when it comes to what to lift from the manga and anime plot wise, even if it does a better job matching characters and with casting.