Akemi's Anime World

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Dragon Warrior Does The Real World

I don’t generally comment on such things, but this year’s Google April fool joke is about as close to an anime reference as they’re likely to get—they’ve added a full-globe 8-bit Dragon Warrior homage to Google Maps, including wandering monsters.

Thus far I’ve run across a Goldman hiding in the mountains near Red Bluff, CA, a bigfoot (not technically a DW1 enemy) near Mt. Everest, A Demon Knight near Dhurkot, Nepal, and a Wolflord near Gretna, UK.

There are also custom icons for lots of famous landmarks—Mt. Fuji, Tokyo Tower, the White House, and such. Japan’s trees are cherry trees, as well.

Amusing unintended reference: For those familiar with the classic NES game Nobunaga’s Ambition (there’s a jazzed-up version for iOS now), you might remember that Shingen’s home town in the region west of Tokyo is Kai. Well, I do, anyway, because I was playing as him having no idea that I’d be marrying into the region fifteen years later. In modern times there’s a municipal area in Yamanashi still called that, although it only shows up at one particular zoom level. When I went to poke around the area, I saw a town labeled Kai, which immediately brought back fond memories of conquering Japan in 8-bit style.

Seeing It On The Big Screen

I recently had the opportunity to (re-)watch AKIRA on the big screen at my local theater-bar.  It’s a big, old-school theater revived into a venue that shows cult movies and live acts with table seating and booze in the back. While I don’t think that their source material was of particularly high quality (I didn’t ask if it was a 35mm print or just a DVD, and the sound definitely had nothing on my home rig playing the blu-ray release), it is certainly a different experience to watch a movie intended for the big screen the way it was originally intended.

Even big-budget theatrical movies like Ponyo often don’t seem to really expect the big-screen treatment; sure, they look better larger-than-life, but the framing and scale are such that you lose little if anything when scaled down to a decent-sized home theater screen. The same is true of a lot of Hollywood fare, as well.

Project A-ko is a particularly good example; I’ve never seen it on the big screen, but I doubt anything other than a few of the shots of the alien ship and battles in the city do much with a large canvas. One of the indicators of this is that they actually painted the cels in old-fashioned-TV 4:3 ratio; if you compare USM’s newer DVD release (which is based off the Japanese home-video release) to their older DVD (which comes from theatrical masters), you’ll see that the TV-format version isn’t cropped from the widescreen one, it’s the other way around. (As for which is the “better” one, looking at the storyboard book I have, it appears that Nishijima did the rough framing intending widescreen, and the initial visual joke with Mari works much better in the wider format since you can’t see her head because she’s so tall.)

AKIRA, on the other hand, has lots of expansive city shots that take advantage of the action being blown up to a scale where you can really see what’s going on in the fully-animated crowds, and you get more of a sense of being in the action than watching it from a distance. I suppose you could get a similar effect by sitting really close to a smaller screen, but it’s just not quite the same thing as craning your neck from the front rows of a theater.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is another one that takes advantage of a theatrical screen for some of the crowd shots and landscapes. But the only anime film I can think of that really owns the big screen is Metropolis. I saw that one in both the theater and on home video, and the experience is completely different in a way few things since the old Cinemascope era have been.

There is, for example, a shot where the characters are walking on a crowded city street with skyscrapers looming above in which the people only take up a small fraction of the screen at the very bottom, and the rest is all buildings. On a TV, even a big one, this does a nice job of making the people look very small in comparison to the scale of the city itself. But from the front row of a theater, the people onscreen are roughly actual size, and are down near your eye level, while the buildings loom far over your head. It isn’t just more dramatic, it changes the shot from being clever to forcefully immersing you in the scene, and that was clearly no accident.

Elsewhere there’s a wide-angle shot with a couple of the characters picking their way through the rubble in the underbelly of the city that for all practical purposes will look like a static shot of the background on all but the largest TVs—the characters are so small they’re barely visible. On the big screen, however, the added size and resolution (blu-ray might remedy that second issue at home, but it’s DVD-only thus far) mean that you can really see the characters and what they’re doing against the expansive landscape around them. Again, the shot feels completely different, and was clearly intended explicitly with the theater experience in mind.

And that’s the thing about going to movie theaters. I, personally, almost never do. It’s expensive, inconvenient, most Hollywood fare is garbage, the MPAA enrages me, the sound is usually too loud and rarely sounds much better than my home system playing a blu-ray disc, and I could care less about 3D. Yet in a way it’s nice to see an artist who isn’t designing for the lowest common denominator, but instead decides to go big, even if most people aren’t going to truly appreciate it.

Which is why, whenever I have the chance, I go to see anime on the big screen—it’s not always a different experience, but the new perspective on things I’ve already seen is sometimes well worth it. And, at worst, I vote with my money to let the theater operator know that it’s worth bringing anime to town.

In other news, I just got back from a business trip to the exotic, but surprisingly less exotic than you’d think, land of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where I got to see the tallest building in the world and the experimental uber-tech city of Masdar, which included a system of electric, self-driving robo-taxis. Why, hello, Cyberpunk 2020, I didn’t realize you lived so close to 2011 already.

I also saw, at the Dubai Mall, one of those cinema replica places that included, alongside Marvel heroes and Star Wars favorites, a human-sized statue of none other than Grandizer (who Wikipedia tells me is quite popular in the Middle East):

An image of a cinema replica store at the Dubai Mall

Yep, that's good old Grandizer there behind Iron Man. Â (The sign says no photographs, but they can't really complain if you're standing on the other side of the hall.)

Animaritime Thoughts

Ah, anime conventions. Despite my interest in anime taking off nearly 15 years ago I don’t have much experience with conventions. Last weekend was the first real, multi-day anime con I’ve been to. Thankfully I’ve read enough about these things to know what I was getting in to. The attendees certainly rose to the challenge in terms of cosplaying; there were some genuinely good costumes to be seen. I wish I had recognized more of them. One person I hung out with was dressed as Madame Red from Black Butler, which meant I had to frequently step aside while people took her picture. While the costumes met my expectations I thankfully didn’t catch a wiff of someone’s nasty BO. That was one anime con stereotype I’m glad I didn’t encounter.

Animaritime is a smaller convention but they had a variety of panels and events to entertain people. Everything from information on manga licensing from Vertical’s Ed Chavez, classic anime discussions, gaming, and even an unexpected discussion on sexuality and gay rights (where I got to learn what the term “sounding” means. If you’re curious, try Urban Dictionary. Let’s just say it doesn’t sound like it would send me personally to the moon.) There was also a Masquerade Show where people got up on stage to show off their costumes, which was fine, but even I felt a little embarrassed when people yelled out their character’s catchphrase or performed confusing skits. I guess there are some levels of nerdom that even I won’t touch.

In addition to Chavez there was another notable guest at the con: Spike Spencer, the frickin’ genius voice actor himself (Shinji in the English version of Evangelion among other roles). He hosted three panels: “What happens at the con stays at the con…?”, “How to Not Kill Your Date and Other Useful Cooking Tips” and “How to be A Frickin’ Genius Voice Actor”. The first panel was a discussion of the crazy nonsense Spencer has seen or heard about happening at conventions. For example, one story involved the meaning of one scantily clad girl’s “Hentai for $5” sign and another story detailed the medical emergency that resulted when an anime convention and a Baptist convention took place in the same hotel. The second panel involved romantic cooking advice and generally blue conversation. I didn’t get to attend the third panel, which is unfortunate, but then again the days when I fantasized about providing voiceovers for anime are waaaaay behind me.

Spike is a helluva public speaker. His commentary is not for the kiddies or faint of heart, but he can be savagely funny. He seems to genuinely enjoy interacting with fans and was surprisingly patient with a few select participants. I didn’t come away with stories that were any where near as good as his. The best I can do is mention one annoying fellow who wanted desperately to try his Joker voice out on Spike. He claimed it was a cross between Mark Hamil and Heath Ledger’s interpretations but sounded more appropriate for a cheesy movie from the 40’s when he gave my ears a sample.

Anime conventions are certainly a unique experience. Watching the bonds people have over their mutual interest in the anime artform is pretty cool. Even I made a small name for myself with a group of Soul Eater cosplayers by kicking a bit of ass at the Anime Jeopardy panel. While the median age of the attendees at Animaritime was a little on the young side, that didn’t stop me from seeing a 50-something woman sporting an “I Heart Yaoi” t-shirt. Too bad I didn’t bring a camera. Maybe next year.