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This week in Extra Punctuation, Yahtzee is discussing the anime that he actually enjoys and why.
Extra Punctuation Transcript
There’s a couple of records I need to set straight. See, what you might not realise is that I have nothing to do with the visual element of Extra Punctuation. I do all of Zero Punctuation myself, but for Extra Punctuation, I only do the writing and the narration. That’s how it can fit into my work schedule without making me pop a bollock. It’s Matt the editor who does the visuals, I don’t usually get to see those until final release. He could be literally doing anything to my avatar at this very moment and I’d have no idea. Have I mentioned how much we all appreciate your work, Matt?
Occasionally this does leads to confusion. In my Persona episode, I mentioned that the only animes I’ve liked have been unlike what anime is usually like. A couple of examples of animes appeared, and many commenters assumed that those were the animes I was talking about. That was not the intended meaning. I’ve never seen any of the animes that were shown, I don’t know what they were. I’m sure Matt does. I’m sure he’d love to talk to you about them. But now we’re on the subject, I thought I might run you through some of the animes I was talking about.
While I spurn the weeb label, I’m certainly no stranger to anime. If you don’t count the occasions as a teenager when I’d stay up til 1am ‘cos I heard channel 4 was showing some weird foreign cartoon full of gore and titties, the first time I really engaged with anime culturally was when I watched Neon Genesis Evangelion. I got all of the VHSes from a video rental shop, which should give you some clue as to how fucking long ago this was. I don’t know if I’d say I liked it. I don’t feel terribly inclined to rewatch. It was certainly a fascinating glimpse into a new sphere of culture. And with the last few episodes, into what happens when someone simultaneously loses their mind and their animation budget.
In my bachelor days I spent a year or so living with a dude who was a big anime fan. Like two bookshelves full of DVD box sets big. And most nights he’d put on anime to watch and it was from this period that I gained the sense that I generally don’t like anime. Because what he put on tended to go over the same tropes a lot. Giant robot fights, teenage angst, ladies turning around so quick that their boobies continue animating for several seconds after they stop.
Now I know what you’ll be saying at this point: “Oh Yahtzee anime is just a medium there are so many different ones all with vastly different themes and settings.” Yeah, I realise that, but you have to admit, some themes are a lot more prevalent than others. *I* know that anime isn’t just giant robots and rampant male gaze, but you couldn’t blame the layman for assuming as much based on what has the most visibility, could you. So, I am now going to discuss three animes that are animes what I have liked. Incidentally, please don’t take this as an invitation to recommend more animes. I know you weebs are an evangelical lot but fuck’s sake, I’ve precious little time in the day for the things I actually give a shit about.
Number one. Cowboy Bebop. Yes, I know, everyone likes Cowboy Bebop. But that’s for a reason. It is still the daddy. I’m always fond of cowboys in space as a theme. It’s a very natural combination. Whether western frontier or final frontier, it’s frontiers all the way down. I don’t want to say Cowboy Bebop was the first to do cowboys in space but you can certainly see its influence in most of the cowboys in space things that came later, from Firefly to Borderlands.
But as well as cowboys in space Cowboy Bebop also embodies another of my favourite sci-fi subgenres: bums in space. I’ve always liked works that counterpoint the usual Star Trek thing of brilliant people at the peak of their careers on highly advanced spaceships with very clean lighting, by focussing instead on a bunch of misfits and losers exploring space on clapped out rustbuckets. Stuff like Red Dwarf, Lexx, John Carpenter’s Dark Star. It’s something I very deliberately invoke in my Will Save The Galaxy For Food books.
I like Bebop’s central cast for their quirky misfit status, their complex backstories, their constant struggle to get by in an uncaring universe. And I appreciate this specifically in an anime context because so many other animes and Japanese games seem to build their casts by plugging in a load of standard archetypes with slightly different hairdos. The boyish serious hero, the slacker friend, the energetic girl with no filter, the shy mysterious girl with lovingly animated hooters, etc.
Number two: Gankutsuou. Gankutsuou is a sci-fi anime adaptation of the Count of Monte Cristo. Which already gave it an unfair advantage because Count of Monte Cristo is one of my all time favourite books, but even so, I’d go as far to say Gankutsuou is my favourite adaptation of it. Not that it had stiff competition if you compare it to the Guy Pearce movie or that French one I once saw starring Gerard Depardieu, where at one point they had him disguise himself with a false nose, but Gerard Depardieu already has a notoriously large nose so the end result looked like a fucking proboscis monkey. But I digress.
Gankutsuou puts an interesting new spin on the story by focussing on as its protagonist a relatively minor character from the book. I enjoy the dramatic irony as of course we the audience know who the Count of Monte Cristo is but we experience the mystery and intrigue that surrounds him through the eyes of this poor unsuspecting knobhead as he pieces it together. It’s not all good, there are several eye-rolly moments when it, well, when it starts doing anime stuff. I.e. certain treatment of female characters, the ending’s a bit lame, and at one point they crowbar in a giant robot fight for no particular reason. But that aside I found it thrilling and intriguing and melancholy in all the right places. Plus the animation has this unique texturing thing going on that lends it a nice Bohemian air and brings back fond memories of Stan the Salesman from Monkey Island.
And finally number three: Cromartie High School. Horror and comedy are two things that can both be enhanced by a surreal atmosphere. And when it comes from a foreign culture, the sense of cultural distance adds an unintentional extra dimension to that atmosphere. That’s why Silent Hill only really worked for me when Japanese people were making it. And Cromartie High School is a Japanese surreal comedy. It’s about an idiot who accidentally enrols in a high school for delinquent idiots, and his fellow students include a robot, a gorilla, and a mute shirtless dude who looks like Freddy Mercury, none of which ever gets explained.
I’m fond of surreal humour anyway. That could be a British thing. Here we tokenly mention Monty Python, but also the vein of even more surreal humour that almost nobody outside the UK seems to understand, embodied in acts like Reeves and Mortimer, which almost enters the realms of dadaism. But the other ingredient that Cromartie adds to create a combination that knees me right in my specific comedy testicles is totally deadpan delivery. Every single character is a really buff dude with a fixed deadly serious expression on their face. Part of which probably comes from the show being animated on the cheap, but they play that up a lot. Characters will randomly grow and shrink and appear in parts of the frame or in front of random backgrounds in ways that make no rational sense. Gives it that Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace deliberate jankiness that adds to the anarchic vibe.
Again, it has issues. There are zero regular female characters, so it’s a bit uninclusive, but the silver lining of that is that I can watch it safe in the knowledge that I’m probably not going to have to watch anyone get inappropriately sexualised. Again, I know not every anime does it but I feel like if I were to watch a random sampling of popular animes it wouldn’t be long before a teenage girl got sexually assaulted by the camera. Or. Just sexually assaulted generally.
So there you go, three animes I like. I’ll even chuck out some honorable mentions: Planetes, Excel Saga, One Punch Man before season two. Hopefully this has cleared the air between me and the weebs and you’ll all stop jumping up my butt about any future misunderstandings caused by Extra Punctuation’s visuals. Like in the immersion narrative episode when I brought up games being adapted to Netflix, and an image of the Witcher came up. Yes, that set off all the butt-seeking missiles, didn’t it. IT WAS A BOOK, FIRST, MATT.