Revisiting Dance in Woodward’s “Thought of You”

A couple of weeks ago I found a link to Ryan Woodward’s “Thought of You.” Woodward is apparently a storyboarder for Hollywood movies. This piece, though, is the opposite of what one would expect from Hollywood. An exploration of form and the potential for expression of movement in animation, it looks to maximize upon minimization. Using actual dancers directed by a modern dance choreographer as a guide, Woodward hand drew his own interpretation of the dance. The focus is not on the dancers, though, perhaps most clearly exemplified by their using two pairs of dancers as the basis for the animation. Instead, the focus is on the dancers’ movements ,and the emotions those movements embody. Continue reading

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Pikachu: The Pardoned Turkey and Willing Captivity

Friday was Columbia University’s second Pokemon Nostalgia Night with Pokemon: The Movie 2000 and Pokemon Stadium. Seeing Pokemon: The Movie 2000 for the first time in the 10 years since it came out in was fun, fascinating, and a little bit painful. By far the most enjoyable part was the characters realizing that the villain is collecting Pokemon, an idea which horrifies them. The entire audience was in an uproar. My friend later remarked at how she hadn’t realized until rewatching Pokemon: The First Movie how ridiculous it was that Ash was so upset that the Pokemon are fighting one another. Hearing her say that made me realize that until that moment, I hadn’t thought anything of it either.

Those two lines from the first two Pokemon movies released in the US really capture what’s so complex and convoluted about Pokemon. There are a bunch of cute (or not so cute) animals that you find in the wild, beat to the point of death, capture, then force to fight one another until one or the other passes out. And for what? For money, badges, reputation, and because you “Gotta catch ’em all.” A friend referred to the entire process as similar to cock fighting, but perhaps dog fighting is a more apt analogy. Like dog fighting, these are not animals that naturally want to fight each other, but animals that you train to be angry and vicious. Looking back now, it is astounding that as a child I saw very little problematic in the show. Continue reading

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The Power of Images in The Secret of Kells

Apologies for the late update, and a belated Happy Thanksgiving!

Last week I finally got the opportunity to watch The Secret of Kells. It is the story of a young monk, Brendan, who lives in a abbey in medieval Ireland. In an attempt to keep to keep out evil invaders from across the seas who have traveled across Ireland pillaging, destroying, and burning as they go, the Abbot of Kells has begun building a great wall around the abbey. Yet, in the process everything else has been forsaken, with the wall becoming more important than the monk’s traditional duty of illuminating texts. Continue reading

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Lack of Religious/Spiritualistic Acceptance in Dokebi Bride

Dokebi Bride is a fascinating manhwa work that deals with the rift between traditional Korean spirituality and modern Korean society. It tells the story of a girl, Sunbi Shin, who is the youngest daughter of a line of shamans (a female role in Korean society). Her mother died from being possessed by an evil spirit and being treated by modern medicine rather than by a shaman or priest. (Although how effective spiritual attempts at healing her is called into question by Sunbi later in the series.) She was then raised by her grandmother, the retired shaman of a small fishing village. After her grandmother’s death she is sent to live with her father and his new family in the capital, Seoul.

Growing up, Sunbi’s grandmother both teaches her to live in tandem with the spirits, and teaches her to keep her knowledge of the spiritual realm a secret from those around her. While experiencing the wonders of the spiritual world, Sunbi grows up estranged from her peers, who all believe her to be cursed because of her family’s connection to shamans. The scene of Sunbi’s grandmother’s death is particularly poignant because even as the great gods and spirits of the village gather to bid her spirit farewell, they had to fight with the villagers to allow her body to be buried in the village and only one villager stood up for Sunbi’s grandmother. Despite having dedicated her life to praying for the villagers and the village, only the one villager stood up for her in the end and attended her village.

Sunbi is shown as a complete outcast from society. This estrangement in multifaceted, and is the result of three main factors. First are the preconceptions held about her as being strange and cursed that are passed from the parents in the village to their children. Second is Sunbi’s own dislike of others, and lack of effort to become friends with the other students after this initial estrangement. Finally, we have the estrangement of Sunbi’s world from the world of the students around her. Sunbi sees the world as composed of both the physical and the spiritual, yet those around her see only the physical. Her constant encounters and battles with the spirits around her are seen only as signs that she is crazy and strange, and further widen the barrier between her and those around her.

Sunbi’s own relationship with the spiritual world is complicated. It is her connection with her grandmother, what killed her mother and tore apart her family, it is something she holds dear and sees as an integral part of her life, it is the reason she cannot connect with her classmates, it is something of wonder and beauty, and it is something that plagues her constantly. Primarily we see the spirit realm as being negative: evil spirits constantly follow, torture, and try to possess her, while her encounters with the spirit realm that others cannot see end up further separating her from those around her. Continue reading

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Layers of Fantastic Reality in The World God Only Knows

First off, my apologies for not updating sooner. The past week has been really busy. Sorry!

Last week I decided to start a new anime, and found The World God Only Knows on Crunchyroll.com. Almost immediately I was rolling in laughter at the ridiculous levels of “reality” in this series.

The premise of the series is that Keima is a dating sims fanatic, who only cares for what he sees as the perfect reality and perfect girls within the dating games he plays. He is an outcast, and the laughing stock of the class. Yet, within the realm of dating sims he is renowned as a god, and fellow players constantly ask him for tips and advice. One day he receives a challenge to capture the heart of a girl, which he promptly accepts. At this point a cute demon, Elsie, comes down out of the sky to inform him that he has entered himself into a contract with the devil. According to the contract he must force stray evil spirits out of the hearts of young girls by replacing that space they occupy with love, which is most easily done by kissing the girl.

In short, it’s the story of an otaku who is only capable of (and only interested in) capturing the hearts of virtual heroines, being forced to capture the heart of real girls. There is a assumed disconnect by the reader between virtual courting and real courting, and yet the otaku is forced on penalty of death to capture the hearts of “real” girls.

In actuality, the issue with the real girls, and with reality in general in The World God Only Knows, is that they’re not real at all. Not even vaguely. In fact, the completely impracticable courting techniques, and the ridiculous, simplistic, and possibly offensive stereotypes that dating sims are based on are all valid in the “reality” of this anime. Rather that showing the audience the comic failure of the otaku in his attempts to use dating sim techniques on real girls, we are shown the even more comic success of his techniques. All this is possible only in a anime whose reality is less real than the dating sims themselves. Continue reading

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Simplified depiction allows manga and manhwa writers to play with gender identifiers

Throughout history the story of a girl who dresses as a man, a man who masquerades as a woman, and a person who takes the place of another has been common. This theme is particularly common, though, in manga and manhwa, where the simplified depiction of figures allows authors to play with the standard identifiers used in the manga/mahwa form. Who hasn’t heard someone not familiar with manga/manhwa comment, “That’s a guy!? It looks like a girl!”? Manga and manhwa artists use this simplified form of representation in comic art, and the often gender neutral appearance of characters in their works to play on the classic theme of overcoming standard identifiers to easily change gender and identity. In this case, the guy who looks like a girl actually is a girl.

The potential for simplified portrayal of objects and persons, particularly faces, in comics to allow for a larger number of people to identify with those characters is proposed by Scott McCloud in his Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. Here he discusses how he chose to simplify his portrayal of himself in the comic to allows for the reader to identify him or herself with the writer, and not to feel as if some specific person was telling the story. Many manga and manhwa writers use the simplified appearance of their characters to allows the reader not only to identify with the characters, but also to play on the standard identifiers of a specific person or gender in the medium.

The examples of this are seemingly endless. A couple of works that come to mind are Ouran High School Host Club, Cowboy Bebop, Kill Me, Kiss Me, to name just a few. These works bring up a number of interesting points about gender identity, and the potential of manga and manhwa to create character free of standard gender identifiers that so strongly regulate the potential of persons in Japanese and Korean society.

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Questioning the Current Reality through Reinventing the Past in Princess Mononoke

Below is a paper I wrote in the spring of 2007 for a freshman writing course. It discusses the potential of fantasy media (using Princess Mononoke as an example) to propose new understandings of reality in a way that is perhaps more effective and certainly less likely to be viewed as an attack than media that claims to be portraying the truth. Warning: It’s an older paper and deals with academic media theory, and is just over 7 pages long.

I would be interested in hearing other people’s thoughts on anime’s potential to question mankind’s violent and environmentally destructive actions, and if you see these trends in works outside of Miyazaki’s.

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