UPA Shorts, 1944-1950

In 1941, an animators’ strike at Disney emerged from discontent with Walt Disney’s business practices; although the company enjoyed the best pay and benefits in the American animation industry at the time, it suffered layoffs following the respective failures of Pinocchio and Fantasia in 1940 (which were affected by the war in Europe), and discrepancies existed among employee payroll (with some in the company receiving only $12 a week for their work). As a result, Disney animators joined the recently-formed Screen Cartoonist’s Guild, petitioning for better pay conditions; Art Babbitt, especially, spearheaded agitation for improvements, but Disney refused to allow unions within his studios. Friction between animators and Disney resulted in the latter personally firing 16 employees, including Art Babbitt, prompting the strike; many former Disney workers joined the strike, with many more leaving the company outright to pursue other ventures. While the strike was eventually resolved, it left a profound impact on Disney’s relationship with his employees, as well as on American animation in subsequent year – specifically, Disney grew resentful towards unionization, perceiving union members as ungrateful.

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Slayers Episode 1: High Fantasy Shenanigans

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Slayers is an iconic ’90s high fantasy anime, based on a light novel series by Hajime Kanzaka and Rui Araizumi, which began serialization in Dragon Magazine in 1989 (and is currently ongoing); it follows the exploits of a group of companions led by Lina Inverse, a powerful teenage sorceress capable of defeating even the mightiest dragons. Since it is a comedy, Slayers parodies many of the conventions of high fantasy works – the typical high fantasy production (whether it be a book, television series or film) features tales of chivalry, with usually male protagonists fighting against villainous knights-errant, dragons and other antagonistic forces that populate the genre. While Slayers does adhere to genre conventions for the most part, it upends some of them; for example, Lina Inverse happens to be a major character, a sorceress with a penchant for treasure and a self-assured, confident personality. Magic users typically played supporting roles in high fantasy, secondary to the more prominent warrior character who undertakes a mission to save a princess or country from encroaching villainy; thus, seeing Lina in a primary position as a lead character is unique, as it presents the story through the lens of a character who may have been secondary in nature in other works. The first episode introduces Lina in her element, attacking a bandit encampment; she shows no hesitation when attacking, using a powerful explosion spell to ignite the encampment and scatter the bandits. She gathers some of the treasure that the bandits stole, revealing her to be rather opportunistic – Lina does not turn down the opportunity to become rich, and is willing to anger a bandit group in order to achieve her goals. This illustrates how in Slayers, even the main characters have their faults; Lina has a mischievous, conniving personality, where she wanders from place to place in search of wealth, and she will antagonize some spurious people in order to satisfy her desires.

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Mushi-shi Episode 1: A World of Mushi

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Japanese folklore abounds with encounters with the unusual – numerous tales of humans meeting yōkai, specters and other beings can be found throughout literature from Japan, from the earliest records to the modern day. Such non-human creature depicted in these tales can be mischievous, malevolent or benign towards their human colleagues, depending on the tale; in any event, they are treated as aspects of the natural world, as humans can encounter them in any setting (from their own homes to remote forests). Mushi-shi adopts the vignette format shown in these tales, and adapts the yōkai encounter narrative to a more unique prospect – the series’ protagonist, Ginko, travels across the country as a mushishi, someone capable of seeing (and interacting with) mysterious life forms known as mushi and treating people afflicted by their presence. The Japan of the anime exists more as its Tokugawa-Meiji analogue in real life, with semi-remote villages not connected to one another physically through roads (unlike today, where modern technological conveniences such as mass transit and the internet allow for much easier contact with the outside world); as such, the people Ginko meets in his travel do not really move outside of their home villages, at least not often, and Ginko must meet them there instead of inviting them to another location. This contrasts with similar shows such as GeGeGe no Kitaro, which heavily feature yōkai traveling across Japan as a means of answering various summons for assistance; shows like Kitaro depict a more modern Japan, where massive cosmopolitan cities such as Tokyo and Osaka exist, while Mushi-shi exhibits far more isolated centers that can’t easily connect with one another yet.

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GeGeGe no Kitaro (2018) Episode 1: Yokai in Modern Times

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GeGeGe no Kitaro happens to be an older manga, with its origins in the kamishibai tradition – between 1933 and 1935, the kamishibai storyteller Masami Itō traveled around Japan, relating the original version of Kitaro as a grotesque-looking humanoid yōkai, and the tale eventually was redesigned into the more familiar version in the 1960s by manga author Shigeru Mizuki (whose adaptation of the tale was initially offered as a “rental manga”). Six anime adaptations followed, with the most recent debuting in 2018 – each version follows the same basic format, with Kitaro and his yōkai brethren being summoned via letter to resolve some sort of conflict between their world and that of humans. The first episode of the 2018 anime begins with a scene where a boy records himself on smartphone wandering into traffic, causing mayhem for the drivers on the road; from the outset, we’re presented with a modern-day setting, with omnipresent modern technology shown through the lens of a child who seems to want to establish himself as a YouTube-style star without regard for safety. Ultimately, however, the boy transforms into a giant tree at the hands of a mysterious yōkai (whose identity will be revealed in the episode’s second half) – the supernatural world reveals itself in spectacular and aggressive fashion, attacking humans left and right and triggering an unusual pandemic that can only be resolved through the intervention of another yōkai.

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Sailor Moon Episode 3: Love Letters and A Mysterious Radio Program

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The Dark Kingdom’s continuing effort to gather energy from unsuspecting humans motivates them to target love, a key emotion, by manipulating the time-worn shōjo tradition of the love confession; many shōjo works set in a hit school feature the now-common image of a female student leaving a love letter within the shoe locker of the boy/girl they wish to express their feelings towards, and that iconic desire to express love informs Jadeite’s scheme in this episode. By encouraging listeners to his mysterious Midnight Zero program to submit love letters to be read on the air in exchange for a flower-shaped brooch, Jadeite has the opportunity to draw upon the wish of many girls to demonstrate their feelings for another; it sounds rather cliche now to present such a common element in shōjo as exclusive to women (and it very much is), but it does speak to how shōjo works such as Sailor Moon focus primarily on interpersonal relationships, whether it be love or camaraderie. After all, Sailor Moon itself is structured explicitly around such relationships – the Scouts themselves (as we shall see in subsequent episodes) protect each other from Dark Kingdom encroachments, and two Scouts themselves, Uranus and Neptune, are in love with each other. One can see this motif of love clearly with Usagi’s fascination with Tuxedo Mask; ironically, she shows frustration with Mamoru Chiba, unaware of his dual identity as the man she fell in love with. By contrast, the Dark Kingdom has a rigid structure of subordination, nominally towards Queen Beryl; Jadeite submits himself to Beryl’s will, rather than exerting his own ambitions (at least not so explicitly). Love and affection are seemingly irrelevant in Beryl’s estimation – she requires her minions to exact her own desires, specifically increasing the strength of the Dark Kingdom by preying upon human victims.

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The Ambition of Oda Nobuna Episode 1: History is Altered

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Many anime fans would likely be familiar with some of the names of prominent figures in Japan’s Sengoku period – for approximately 150 years (roughly between 1467 and 1615), the country was engulfed in constant warfare, culminating in a Tokugawa victory that would set the stage for the subsequent Edo period. The three most important figures of this era (Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu) gradually united Japan, with Ieyasu cementing his family’s rule for generations; their fame as warlords remains to this day, and numerous pop culture productions dramatize their respective histories, as well as those of other notable officers and soldiers who fought during the various battles. The Ambition of Lord Nobuna changes the formula somewhat by altering the gender of numerous daimyo and other figures; instead of men, many of the famous persons become women, leading their respective armies into battle in a feminine form. Their personalities remain consistent with their historical forebears, however – Nobuna is as headstrong and accommodating to new technology as her historical forebear, for example – but the most dramatic change comes with the presence of Yoshiharu Sagara, a high school student from the 21st century whose knowledge of the period stems from video games. Because of his familiarity with key events in Oda Nobunaga’s life, he has the opportunity to inform Nobuna of important points in her life that would be in the immediate future for her; however, this would be difficult to accomplish initially, as he would need to gain the respect of Nobuna and her subordinates in Owari.

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One Piece Episode 2: The Nature of Authority

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The first episode introduced audiences to the world of One Piece, where pirates roam the sea for fame and fortune – Gol D. Roger’s statements immediately before his execution drove innumerable men and women to the open ocean in search of an enormous treasure he purportedly accumulated and subsequently buried in a heretofore unknown location. Piracy became an appealing occupation to many people, allured by the notion of fabulous wealth left behind by one of the most notorious pirates in recent memory; this also presents a dichotomy between those who operate outside of the law (pirates) and those who enforce the law (the Marines), an ongoing rivalry that informs the interpersonal relationships throughout the series. This episode, the second in the series, explores some of that dynamic – it introduces the third major character (after Luffy and Nami), the bounty hunter and master sword-fighter Roronoa Zoro, a man who opposes injustice in the world and would intervene to prevent corrupt officials from flaunting their power against those they are supposed to represent. Here, his interactions with the arrogant son of an authoritarian Marine captain establish the scene – when Luffy arrives, he discovers Zoro tied to a crucifix, the result of him agreeing to be punished as such for a month in exchange for protecting a girl and her mother from persecution under the Marines’ legislation. This political dynamic shows how the Marines abuse their authority – the town’s leader, Captain Morgan, especially propagates such injustice against his own men and the townsfolk, all for the express purpose of presenting him as the authoritarian figure whose rule is absolute.

 

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Vaporwave: A Brief Overview

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When it comes to music, few genres ever began exclusively as an online phenomenon – the Internet certainly made access to centuries of different songs and compositions easier, but it wouldn’t be until the 2000s before Internet-specific musical trends emerged. Genres that appeal to (and sing about) particular subcultures such as nerdcore definitely began around the time the Internet became a ubiquitous piece of American culture, and AMV production grew considerably thanks to online communities – however, vaporwave established itself as a microgenre that originated on the Web, very much an online phenomenon. But how would one begin with tracing the genre’s history? Who pioneered the trend, and how has vaporwave developed since its origins? In order to understand vaporwave, it would be pertinent to begin with its influences, specifically the comprehensive catalogue of songs from the 1980s and 1990s heavily sampled in vaporwave albums; the 1980s had numerous styles, but the synthesizer had special prominence in the decade as a popular instrument. Models such as the Yamaha DX7 (introduced in 1983) and Fairlight CMI (introduced in 1979) enjoyed popularity among musicians such as Peter Gabriel and Alan Parsons – the DX7’s use in songs such as “You Belong to the City” (written specifically for Miami Vice) and “Take On Me” helped the instrument achieve great success in the decade, and establish a distinct sound found in such genres as synth-pop and new wave. To give an example of synth-pop, Diana Ross’ 1983 album Swept Away contains her rendition of “It’s Your Move,” first recorded by Doug Parkinson the same year; Ramona Xavier (under the pseudonym Macintosh Plus) sampled the song for her 2011 album Floral Shoppe, specifically the song “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー”.

 

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Serial Experiments Lain Episode 2: A Social Tragedy and Accela

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The first episode established the sense of seemingly paradoxical alienation that comes from a world now interconnected through the Internet – Chisa’s suicide that opens the episode makes a poignant visual remark that although the world may have an instantaneous means of communication through Internet protocols (cell phones allow for texting, and computers can communicate across great distances), it can still be an oppressively lonely environment where few people have the inclination to reach out. This reflects the life of Lain herself; she rarely communicates with her father, aside from a somewhat curt short conversation where the father helps set up her Wired computer at home, and that alienation makes Lain feel alone, abandoned in a world where technological advancements allow for greater communication between individuals and cultures but people do not capitalize on it. She is a bit of an enigma narrative-wise – the only people she speaks to regularly are friends from school, and her reserved nature contrasts with the outspoken and brash “Lain” seen attending the club Cyberia early in the episode. That “other Lain” who appears briefly during the initial Cyberia scene can be seen from the perspective of an unnamed man who consumes a mysterious substance called Accela – comments displayed in the episode describe Accela as something that has the same legal restrictions and difficulties for access that drugs have, but is technically not classified as an illicit substance.

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Haibane Renmei Episode 3: Life Lessons and The Temple

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Episode three introduces more of the town of Glie as Rakka further adjusts to life as a Haibane – the world seems rather closed and insular, thanks to the omnipresent wall that surrounds the town, but Glie remains lively and active. The previous episode introduced a key element of the world, that only a select few (known collectively as the Toga) can enter and leave Glie through the gates; they cannot communicate verbally with anyone, only allowed to speak through sign language with the Haibane Renmei’s representative, the Communicator. This individual, like the Toga, covers his face with an unusual mask; why he cannot reveal his face to others remains a mystery, but he effectively runs the Haibane Renmei as the council elder. He makes a formal appearance here, but before that, we see how Reki reacts to what appears to be a particularly bad recurring dream – Rakka quickly befriended Reki, and the two become confidants in Glie, but Reki hesitates in expressing her own doubts. That the dream recurs shows she may have some unfulfilled desire nagging at her subconscious – from the beginning, dreams have a rather profound significance to the series, as each Haibane receives their unique name from the memory they had immediately prior to waking within the somewhat decrepit housing complex. The Haibane all have a connection, that of some previous life that they forgot upon entering Glie; I mentioned rebirth in my blog post covering the previous episode, and it bears repeating here. The world of Haibane Renmei is one of melancholy and longing – no one knows what previous lives they led, with only a faint memory to guide them along, and Glie represents a sort of purgatorial existence as they transition from an earlier world to this one.

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