Life Imitating GATE: Diet Votes to Expand JSDF’s Role

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Rambling observational commentary follows.

The fictional Japanese military of countless anime throughout the years have been typically portrayed as serving in a strictly defensive capacity: only allowing the use of arms if directly attacked. And attacked they have been, be it from terrorists, giant monsters, aliens, or other nations.

In the first episode of GATE: Thus the JSDF Fought There!, it’s the same story: a massive enemy force invades Ginza and the JSDF get their SD on. But what happens next is not only a rare(r) occurrence in anime, but also presaged the movements of the government of real-world Japan: Prime Minister Abe wants the ability for the JSDF to go on the offensive under certain circumstances. He wants a JSOF.

Today, it would seem he got his wish, in a contentious vote that caused opposition lawmakers to walk out and spurred large protests in Tokyo. Polls indicate a small plurality of Japanese are opposed to the expansion. The approved measure means Japan has lost its unique—at least for a country of its size—pacifist stance laid out in its constitution, though many anti-militarist opponents believe this vote violates the constitution.

In any case, the timing of GATE’s airing, and the fact it portrays a modern 2015-era JSDF invading enemy territory and mowing down feudal armies of tens of thousands with ease, adds credence to rumblings that it is veiled pro-offensive-military propaganda, even if the creators and producers of GATE didn’t quite intend it that way. Of course, the timing could also just be a coincidence (if anyone has any insights one way or another, feel free to voice them in the ‘ments).

We’ll continue to closely watch both GATE and the developments in real-world Japan, a country whose constitution “forever renounces war as an instrument for settling international disputes”, but currently led by those who believe the country’s best chance of maintaining security and stability in the region is to amend, if not outright abrogate, that long-standing renouncement.

Whatever your personal position on these developments (and we welcome all viewpoints; it’s a free internet!), they certainly comprise a fascinating juxtaposition of anime and real-world politics.

—RABUJOI STAFF

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The Secret of Kells

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Thursday night is movie night in my neck of the woods, and sometimes we want something short and sweet rather than a three-hour action blockbuster. That’s when a friend happened upon the Oscar-nominated The Secret of Kells. As it was his week to choose, we went with it, and I’m glad we did. It’s only 75 minutes long, but it makes full use of that runtime to create and achingly gorgeous world where danger is always lurks but hope endures thanks to the titular book.

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We follow Brendan, a redheaded young monk under the care of his uncle, the stern, stoic Abbot Cellach (voiced by veteran Irish actor Brendan Gleeson), whose Isengard-like Abbey is ringed by the tents of refugees escaping the scourge of the horn-tipped, beast-like “Northmen” (read: Vikings). A thick high wall surrounds the abbey and its grounds, but that wall looks like Swiss cheese, and some aren’t even sure it would keep the barbarians out even if it was completed, which is the Abbot’s one and only concern.

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Because he only wants the wall completed before the Northmen arrive, he is frustrated whenever Brendan is doing anything other than contributing to that goal, like asking the other monks about the Book of Iona, then getting into the practice of making ink and drawing his own pages with brother Aidan. This is a really neat reference to the fact that in the darker ages of civilization in Europe (and likely elsewhere), it was the monks who preserved the history that had come before in the form of elaborately bound and illustrated books, which you can still see in museums and even open up and read in old libraries.

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This surprisingly ambitious little movie is just as lush and imaginative as much of that almost impossibly intricate real-world work; rich in color and texture. Every character has its own distinct look and manner of movement, be it jerky or smooth; lightning-quick or molasses-slow. The film also features one of the best fictional cat’s I’ve seen in a while: Pangur Ban. All characters and animals are full of expressiveness and verve. My favorite of these was the mystical fairy-wolf-girl Aisling, whom Brendan meets when looking for seeds to make ink.

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Aisling is kind of a perfect storm of cuteness (in both appearance and voice) and utter badassdom, who saves Brendan’s life (more than once) and befriends him because, well, why not? Brendan’s nice to her, and also clearly enchanted. When Brendan ends up imprisoned in a tower for disobeying the Abbot Cellach, she breaks him out by singing a hauntingly beautiful song to the cat, transforming it into an ethereal specter that can pass through bars and spring him. The jist of the Irish lyrics:

There is nothing in this life but mist,
And we are not alive,
but for a little short spell.

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When the Northmen arrive at Kells it’s an almost instant rout, and the Abbot immediately regrets such a short-sighted strategy for the abbey’s defense. It’s sad to see the beautiful environs of Brendan’s home go up in smoke and flame, but not all is lost. Years pass, during which he completes the Book of Iona with Aidan, renaming it the Book of Kells, which is a real and very revered thing, incidently.

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After Aidan passes away, Brendan arrives back in the woods outside his home, where the wolf-Aisiling leads him to the abbey. Just as Abbot Cellach is about to lose hope, his nephew arrives and shows him the great book, providing him comfort in his waning days. At once a gorgeous and inventive story steeped in stirring Celtic mythology and a moving coming-of-age tale in which a sheltered boy expands his world and finds his calling, The Secret of Kells is a must-watch for any fan of animation.

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Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

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Like many highly anticipated anime I know next to nothing about and intentionally try not to learn ahead of time, I was very excited about going to see Guardians of the Galaxy. I had a feeling it was going to shake up the monotony of the last few Summer blockbusters I’d paid good money to see, and boy, did it ever.

Yes, this film crammed a bunch of shit on the screen, and yes, since this is the first time the director has done anything this huge before, it isn’t all perfect, but GotG has in spades what so many films—including other Marvel films—have lacked: genuine heart, soul, wonder, and side-splitting comedy in impressive harmony.

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Franchises in the same vein as GotG I’ve cherished, like Farscape and Firefly, put out (relatively) big-budget cinematic romps in The Peacekeeper Wars and Serenity, respectively. But those efforts failed to capture the magic of the TV shows they were based upon, and only served to remind me how how difficult it is to capture said magic.

GotG isn’t hamstrung by a deep and acclaimed canon (at least for me) or abrupt television cancellation, so it feels new and fresh. It has no past failure it tries desperately to redeem here, so it never feels like it’s trying too hard. But it takes some of the best qualities of Farscape (human pop culture in an utterly alien universe), Firefly (cleverly juxtaposed genres).

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The band of underdog misfits becoming the family they all lacked before they met each other is not a new premise, but it’s executed pretty damn nicely here, because for all its eye-popping visual effects, the film never for one second forgets that the characters are the most important thing in this film, and takes care to make each one of the titular Guardians sympathetic, likable, and hilarious.

Some big-budget films are often strained by their own sense of self-importance or dead-serious tone. Not here. Don’t get me wrong, GotG never plays like one big guffawing joke that takes you out of the fantasy. I fully believed the fantastic galaxy and everything in it. The film just found that sweet spot between cheese and awesomeness that so many films fail, often miserably, to find.

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Really, it reminded me most of The Fifth Element, my favorite live-action film, which also combined stylish, otherworldly visuals and barely-controlled chaos with a firmly-grounded human heart. Eric Serra’s score, which ranged from ethereal to zany, brought all its disparate elements (no pun intended) together the same way the 70’s pop music does here.

To conclude, GotG was the most fun I’ve had in the theater in a long time, and I’m elated by the fact that a sequel is already in the works. I haven’t gone into too many details about the plot and characters because I urge you to check it out for yourself. If your recycling bin nets you rewards like $2 off movie tickets, like mine, so much the better!

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2014 World Cup – “Itai!”

Photo ©2014 Ryu Voelkel

This photo kind of says it all. Things were surprisingly promising at the half, knotted up at one goal apiece thanks to a stoppage time equalizer by Okazaki Shinji, but then Colombia brought out the steamroller.

The match was another story of Japan’s impressive technical proficiency being nullified by apparent indecision in the box and physical domination by a larger opponent. Still, Blue Samurai fought hard and with heart.

This concludes RABUJOI’s very brief coverage of Japan at the 2014 World Cup.

(Photo ©2014 Ryu Voelkel/Howler Magazine)

 

 

 

 

2014 World Cup – KUSO!

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Well, Japan was aggressive, hogging the ball a whopping 75% of the time and out-passing something like 5-to-1, but none of their shots went in the goal. Even though Greece was a man down, they seemed to be playing for a hold, which would net them at least one point, and not trying to win for three, while depriving Japan of two more.

After their scoreless draw, Japan and Greece share the dank basement of Group C. All is technically not lost, but Japan missed a crucial opportunity to control their own destiny, and it doesn’t bode well that they weren’t able to deliver a decisive blow to the weakest team in the group.They play Colombia next Tuesday, and they’ll be playing for pride…and a very slight glimmer of hope.

2014 World Cup: “Jitaku iku katsu ka”

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“自宅行く勝つか” is as close as we (with the help of Google) could get to saying “Win or go home”, which constitutes Japan’s remaining choices.

Beat Greece, and they’re still in Group C contention. Lose, and they’ll be eliminated (and we’ll only have one more post here commiserating their quick exit from the tournament, for those of you who don’t care about soccer).

The match starts at 6PM Eastern, or 7AM in Tokyo. Blue Samurai will be looking to play more aggressively, having only managed one goal by Honda Keisuke against Ivory Coast, which just fell to Group C leader Colombia 2-1.

Photo by Javier Soriano / AFP Photo

2014 World Cup: 100 Seconds Short

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At the end of a football-packed day in which Greece fell to Colombia in the first Group C match, Japan got an early goal by Honda to take a 1-0 lead that they couldn’t quite hold, as Ivory Coast equalized and took over the lead in a second half offensive burst in which both goals were scored within 100 seconds, the fastest interval of the tournament so far.

Japanese players and fans alike wore their hearts on their sleeves, as one should at such an event: alternating between the rapt elation of the goal and the deflated dejection of ultimately falling short of a victory.

Now Japan looks to even their record and gain some points against Greece on 19 June. Greece looked physically and mentally up to the task but seemed to lack the creativity to overcome Colombia’s set pieces. We’ll see if Blue Samurai can keep their hopes of advancing alive in what is still an open Group.

Photos, clockwise from top left, by Jamie Squire, Mark Kolbe, Jamie Squire, and Keith Tsuji, Getty Images.

2014 World Cup: Our Team

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A non-anime note: at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, we’ll be rooting for Japan in Group C, because…er…why not? It’s arguably the most wide-open group in the cup. They’ll face their first test against Côte d’Ivoire in Recife tonight. Ganbatte, Samurai Blue!

Monday Music – Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Soundtrack – “Death Game”

We know, there’s still a lot of OPs out there to choose from…but we thought we’d do something a little different to get the week started. Here’s what we consider to be a rippin’ good dungeon track from the Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII soundtrack. It’s called “Death Game”, and it was composed by Suzuki Mitsuto.

We’re of the mind that adamant guitars and power chords are more than appropriate for RPG dungeons, along with the steadfast drumbeats and synth elements. “Death Game” is loud, brash, and highly motivating, indicating that something’s on the horizon and you’d better get to it before it’s too late.

Note that this is an extended version of the track, so it loops at about the five-minute mark.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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We wrote a review of the first HG film, so there was precedent to write one for the second.

“Moves and countermoves”, remarks the hilariously-named head gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee in the second installment of the Hunger Games film series, Catching Fire, suggesting and elegant and ultimately more effective fate for Katniss Everdeen as punishment for her act of defiance against the Capitol and President Snow in particular.

We’re reminded of the last episode of Valvrave, in which the Magius-infused Council of a Hundred and One fought a PR battle against a younger and less experienced foe. New JIOR lost and lost spectacularly. Considering the power Snow and the Capitol possess, you’d think arranging a similar frame-job for Katniss would be child’s play.

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In fact, both the wildly successful Catching Fire ($670 million-plus as of writing this) and its wildly successful predecessor hinge on the audience’s ability to believe that Katniss has a Snow-ball’s chance in hell against the oppressive regime, especially after Poison-Berrygate. On the whole, they have, as did we. The districts are a tinderbox; Snow daren’t make any overt moves against Katniss lest the explode.

Unlike the Magius’ near total-victory on Valvrave last week in turning New JIOR into a globally-loathed nation of immortal monsters, Snow and Heavensbee’s efforts to cast Katniss as “one of them”—uncaring of the poorer districts and thus undeserving of their love—results in far more mixed results, for reasons we won’t go into because of spoilers.

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Like the first HG film, we went into this one having not read the book, and thus without any possibility of being disappointed by the adaptation. But after reading the first book, we’re reasonably certain we wouldn’t have been disappointed anyway. There’s much talk about the film being better than the book it’s based on, if for no other reason than the book’s first-person perspective makes it impossible for us to see what’s going on with Snow and Heavensbee where Katniss isn’t present.

But this was also a more focused, mature, darker film than the last one. The shaky-cam is gone, there’s much more lovely world-building, the fellow tributes are less cartoonish and one-dimensional. And while both films follow similar patterns early on, we were shocked and delighted by the different turns this film takes. Unlike Star Trek Into Darkness, it broke new ground. It was one of those rare good sequels. Also, you can never go wrong with Jena Malone.

The Lion King

When we were ten years old and the Lion King came out, we thought it was the best Disney film we’ve ever seen; surpassing Aladdin the year before. From the gorgeous visuals, engrossing score, and toe-tapping songs, and relatively straightforward, strong story about redemption, duty, and family, it seemingly had everything we could possibly want in a movie. Plus, LIONS. The Lion King came out in theatres eighteen years ago. We hadn’t laid eyes on it for thirteen, until we broke out the VHS videocassette and gave it a watch to see if it was as good as we remember.

It is, and we’re not just saying that with our eyes glossed over with nostalgia; it’s a great little film. One thing we didn’t know way back when was how short it was – just 88 minutes, or three-quarters of your typical Miyazaki flick. But it uses those 88 minutes very efficiently. It never lags, and when it seems like it’s about to, we’re treated to another song. The songs themselves are just as fun and addictive as they were when we were kids; and we still remembered many of the lyrics. How couldn’t we; this is a film we must’ve seen dozens of times in our youth. The film is full of clever dialogue and plenty of rapid-fire, droll repartee among the adult characters. Mufasa , Zazu, Scar, Timon, Pumbaa and Rafiki’s voice work is top-notch.

Watching The Lion King all grown up, we gained a fresh sympathy for Scar, even if the film gives him none; he just happened to be born after his bigger, stronger brother, and a pride doesn’t need two males, so he’s just out of place in the world. It’s not surprising he’d seek solace consorting with hyenas, who seem like a lot of fun. Even when he’s pretending to show genuine concern when warning Mufasa that Simba’s in the gorge, he sells it so well we believe it. As for young Simba, well, he’s much more of a spoiled little shit than we remember. He kinda had to exile himself till he grew up anyway; there’s no such thing as a cub king. The Lion King has aged specacularly, representing the apex of non-Pixar Disney feature films.


Rating: 4