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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Dororo (1969 Series) Episode 1 – Selfish Ambition and War

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With the recent broadcast of a new Dororo series, a retrospective of the original anime would be pertinent – this series, which ran in 1969, was the first entry in what would become known as World Masterpiece Theater, an anthology series focused on adaptations of works of literature. By this point in anime history, television had become a new medium for animated work, and Osamu Tezuka founded Mushi Production in the early years of the 1960s (following the expiration of his Toei contract in 1961) – Tezuka already established himself in anime with adaptations of his works, including the 1963 Astro Boy (the first televised anime with a regular weekly schedule), and his Dororo manga came out during a time when supernatural manga such as GeGeGe no Kitaro achieved success. The work centers on Hyakkimaru, the son of a corrupt, evil lord named Daigo Kagemitsu, who promises to submit various parts of his son to 48 demons in exchange for control of Japan; the opening scene depicts Daigo consorting with the demons, setting up a contract with them where he would become the ruler of the entire country at the expense of his own offspring. This scene demonstrates the depths Daigo will go to achieve his selfish ambitions – he considers his son disposable, something to be discarded and exchanged for political gain. When his wife gives birth the following day, the demons already claimed their reward; marked from birth, Hyakkimaru is sent adrift on a nearby river, the unfortunate son of a man who regards his own motivations more highly than his own child. The wife bears this burden along with her son; she laments having to surrender Hyakkimaru to the elements, as her husband capitulated with demons without consideration of her emotional well-being. Daigo’s cross-shaped scar acts as a signature to a contract – he must carry this physical reminder of his agreement with him at all times, much like how Hyakkimaru must carry his disfigurements (which he received at birth), but he does not show any compassion or mercy in his actions. The ambitious lord who will sacrifice anything for his goals naturally is callous and cruel – the show presents him as someone shrouded in darkness and surrounded by pain and suffering, inconsiderate to the vagaries of conflict and oppression that overtook the country.

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Zombie Land Saga Episode 1: New Life as an Idol

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Zombie Land Saga begins with the sudden death of one of its central characters, Minamoto Sakura; this even thus predicates the developments of the subsequent episodes. A seemingly tranquil day is instantly disrupted by Sakura being struck by a passing truck – the episode frames the moment from different angles, the final one in slow motion, emphasizing both the tragic nature of the accident and the unusual fact that she is somehow still alive, and in an entirely new location, immediately following the scene. A later scene confirms that she, indeed, died as a result of the accident, but her resurrection ten years later makes it appear that death is a minor inconvenience in the world; the man who recovered her body and brought her back to life seems to treat it as such, and would not provide any elaboration on the subject when prompted to explain himself. The accident scene may be brief, but it establishes the fact that death can be subverted – Sakura now exists in a liminal state, her status as nominally alive informed by her new manager’s magnificent ability to restore life. Her awakening occurs in a parallel to her death – she appears in the same position (lying on the floor), but in different locations, and it helps to transition into her surprise to discover herself seemingly alone in an unfamiliar environment. She may not have awakened instantaneously, however; as the final scene shows, zombies may take a while to have their consciousness restored (if it gets restored at all, as another girl does not achieve that result).

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Galaxy Express 999 Episode 4: Antares, Family and Social Hierarchy

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By this point in Galaxy Express 999, Tetsurō and Maetal encountered three rather prominent examples of how humans and cyborgs struggle to survive in a universe where indifference and outright harmful attitudes prevail – the first episode even included a scene of Tetsurō exacting revenge against the hunter who killed his mother on Earth, in a grand display of bitterness and anger towards a system seemingly constructed specifically for a hierarchy that heavily favors the preservation of financial and social inequality. The protagonists left behind a planet where material wealth (and the desire for it) informed an immense cultural/social division; the wealthiest members of society could enjoy numerous amenities at their disposal, while the impoverished citizens languished in torment. Tetsurō’s desire to obtain a robot body can be understood through this lens – he sees in the robot a sort of liberation, a new life that promises an escape from the hellish landscape of the poorer classes that he once inhabited. A metallic body offers him the opportunity to forego his mortal existence; even though he would still be susceptible to injury (he killed Count Mecha without any hesitation, after all, demonstrating that even robots cannot escape death), his spiritual body remains intact within a new frame that reduces, or even eliminates, the aging process. The promise of immortality would not remove all social ills, however – people can remain prejudiced and thoughtless in their behaviors, as we could see with those whom Tetsurō met on his travels thus far. On Mars, he saw how lives can still be ruined by materialistic desires, even though a robotic form can be achieved – Geronimo still exhibited desires that ultimately brought about his demise, and the cemetery in Syrtis Major contains the remains of innumerable laborers who died constructing the town.

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The Terrytoons Studio: The 1930 Shorts

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Walt Disney’s emergence in the late 1920s and 1930s as the head of the most prominent (and popular) animation studio in the United States developed as the result of various shrewd business decisions, including the employment of various animators (such as those who became known as the “Nine Old Men”) who could produce high-quality animation for his company’s productions and the incorporation of new techniques, such as synchronized sound, that would distinguish the studio’s work from rival companies; the Disney company itself would nearly go bankrupt several times in the following decades (most notably in the immediate postwar years leading to Cinderella‘s release in 1950, as well as the narrow avoidance of a takeover by Saul Steinberg in the 1980s) but it survived each individual difficulty with resurgences in its popularity. Such is the fame of Disney that the company that bears his name remains the biggest individual studio in the United States, although numerous other companies such as DreamWorks produce their own animated fare to draw audiences; however, Disney was not the only studio active in the early days of American animation. In fact, various rival studios existed at the time and even before – John Randolph Bray supervised the first major American animation studio (which he founded in New York in 1914), and through this implemented the assembly line process that eventually became standard practice for many years. One of Bray’s employees, Paul Terry, will be a focus for this post – Terry began his career in animation at Bray’s studio, before establishing his own studio in 1917 (which eventually closed when the United States entered World War 1). His greatest success came with his Terrytoons studio, which he founded in 1929 after being fired by Amadee J. Van Beuren for refusing to adapt synchronized sound into his films; through Terrytoons, Terry introduced the character of Mighty Mouse, as well as the crows Heckle and Jeckle (perhaps the studio’s most enduring legacies).

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Yu Yu Hakusho Episode 1: Sacrifice and Trial

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One of the most popular shounen series ever produced, Yu Yu Hakusho initially ran in the pages of Shounen Jump between 1990 and 1994 – it relates the story of hapless delinquent Urameshi Yusuke as he discovers the world of the spirits and develops mystical powers, opposing numerous monstrous forces along the way.  The term used her to refer to the spirit world, reikai, originated in Shinto theology as a general term denoting the world inhabited by supernatural beings (in contrast to the material world inhabited by humans); Yu Yu Hakusho quickly establishes the duality between the spirit and physical worlds in its first episode by demonstrating how a human could traverse from one realm to the other through Yusuke, and how the two realms interact regularly, even if humans might not realize it. What makes this series fairly unusual is that it presents its protagonist as a delinquent with a reputation – Yusuke performs an altruistic act by saving a young boy from certain death (thus showing him to have compassion), but the brief flashback reveals his place in society as a boy who apparently became so notorious in his community that rumors circulate about his abilities as a juvenile delinquent who leads a rather large gang. Yusuke seemingly speaks to the audience by providing details of his day prior to his untimely death, serving as the episode’s narrator; he struggles to meet social expectations in a world critical of him, although he does disregard school and get into fights with other delinquents (thus cementing his reputation among everyone else as a man not to be trifled with, even though he has done nothing to deserve such a perception). As the episode progresses, however, we see a more compassionate side of Yusuke – his death allows him to reflect on his life after seeing those around him attend his wake, and he has no regrets in his decision to save the boy (even though he learns, after the fact, that the boy was destined to get struck by the car and survive without injury).

 

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Serial Experiments Lain Episode 1: Connecting to the Wired

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Serial Experiments Lain occupies an odd niche in anime – it debuted on 6 July 1998, running until September of that year, during the formative years of the increasingly social nature of the Internet (prior to the advent of popular sites such as Youtube, with Google founded the same year as the series’ initial broadcast). The emergence of the Internet as a social phenomenon in the early 1990s occurred after the globalization of the TCP/IP protocol suite during the previous decade – the 1980s marked the first forays into Web socialization, with bulletin boards popping up throughout the decade, and the 1990s saw further developments with the likes of the first true websites (such as the very first, operated by CERN, which they announced back in 1991). These elements are important, because Lain focuses on the far-reaching nature of the Internet and the World Wide Web and their effects on human society – by 1998, the practical applicability of both concepts became apparent, as major companies such as Warner Bros. (who set up websites promoting films during the decade) opted to incorporate the technology into their marketing, and a handful of anime at the time (such as Lain and .hack//Sign) began exploring the social implications of the technology.

 

Yoshitoshi ABe provided the character designs while Ryūtarō Nakamura directed; ABe later went on to produce Niea 7 and Haibane Renmei, the latter of which examines a mysterious, dreamlike work inhabited by angelic beings known as the Haibane. Lain incorporates numerous themes into its framework, mostly from literature and computing technology; as such, it can be quite complex to understand, and it is quite serious in tone. In fact, the show begins with the suicide of Chisa Yomoda, who attended the same school as Lain, the protagonist – this somber moment ultimately brings us to the core of the anime, that of the social connectivity and ramifications of the Internet. When the show depicts the suicide, it frames it through the imagery of people going about their day, unaware of what’s around them – the world seems a cold, indifferent place, surrounded by numerous reminders of the sort of technological advancement that came to define not only Japanese society, but the world at large. We, as a species, have become more connected than ever before, but paradoxically, people do not seem to capitalize on that ability to connect; much of the first episode, in fact, places Lain in a clearly delineated space separate from those around her. When Chisa jumps from the building, she is framed as alone in the world; her reason for committing suicide is unclear, but individually-framed fragments of what appear to be a text message inform the audience of her emotions – she’s despondent, as one would be in that situation, and she feels like she has no real recourse but to take her own life.

 

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The lingering feeling from these opening shots seems to be one of lost connections, trying to cope with a world increasingly become disconnected with life in general; the world around Chisa either pays her no mind or (in one case, with the women who laugh) doesn’t seem to understand what she’s going through. Chisa cannot rely on the strangers around her to reach out; her suicide becomes more tragic when one realizes those near her could have intervened, but didn’t. This element is reflected in a later scene, but for now, Chisa dies alone, with no one nearby to assist her in her most tragic moment; with her final message spread across the screen, she apparently already decided she doesn’t wish to remain in “a place like this,” indicating a deep bitterness of the world around her. Upon her death, the world seems to absorb her energy; the scenery turns black, with a saturated light emanating from an unknown source, splotches of red (seemingly representing blood) dotting the landscape. One statement is shown, “if you stay in a place like this, you might not be able to connect” – an ironic statement, in that the world now offers a far greater opportunity to connect to others via the Internet, but Chisa could not find any connections in the world.

The entire world seems connected in Serial Experiments Lain – Lain herself observes the power lines found throughout her neighborhood, offering electricity to everyone, and the train she rides connects her to school and everywhere in between. The streets of Shibuya (where the opening is set) further cement the theme of connectivity; humans are more intertwined than ever before, thanks to advancements in culture and technology, but one girl is dead because the potential for social connections didn’t materialize. Lain, the protagonist of the series, seems fairly aware of this fact – one scene, involving her taking the train to school, shows her listening to indistinct, incomprehensible noises that mimic distant conversations, and it bothers her. The world seems ethereal, confusing, as if spirits inhabiting the world are trying to communicate; this ties into the underlying sentiment of the spirit world, where humans can occasionally come into contact with beings who otherwise would not converse with the average person. The emergence of the Internet brought with it a new frontier in communication – shows like .hack and Serial Experiments Lain observe how social organizations such as gaming (in .hack‘s case) and even religion (with Lain‘s case – more on that later) can capitalize on the new platform to facilitate intrapersonal communication, and sometimes people can be corrupting.

 

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At school, fellow students trying to console a grieving colleague (who apparently received a text message from Chisa after her death) inform her that the message she received is some sort of prank – said message spread throughout the school in the week following Chisa’s suicide, but only one person can be seen crying about her loss, which indicates that Chisa didn’t have that many friends or acquaintances in life. Those students who speak in this scene are more interested in the message than the girl whose name is attached to them; Chisa’s legacy appears to be an unusual piece of digital mail, an unusual (and rather tragic) legacy, to be certain. Even Lain is unfamiliar with Chisa – thus Chisa now exist more as a mysterious girl, someone whose memory may not be shared amongst her colleagues. However, her presence is not completely gone – Lain discovers that the world around her warps and distorts, as if reality itself were coming undone as a result of some unknown force exerting itself. This, along with other indications (such as various shadows), informs the audience that the world may not be what it seems, that an external force can influence how it operates; either someone (or something) can alter the senses to make hallucinations appear, or Lain caught a glimpse into a more complex reality that allows for such strange occurrences to happen.

 

The Wired, Lain‘s analogue to the Internet we see in real life, may hold the answers – Lain’s forma introduction to the Wired comes at home, when she brings home a computer capable of connecting to the Internet. When she boots it up, it asks “who are you?” – a philosophically complex question that likely helps understand the world of the show. Chisa is somehow able to make herself known through the Wired and communicate with Lain, indicating that her spirit (or essence) has extricated itself of her physical body and exists in a liminal space between realities; she is no longer the person she used to be, as she may no longer have a physical body to identify with. Her mention of a “god” immediately brings us into the world of the spiritual – does the Wired exist as a means of finding a spiritual existence beyond what is known in the mortal realm, and has Chisa discovered it? What’s unusual is that Chisa has a means of connecting with others seemingly in the afterlife – through her message, she insists that she is still alive, even without a physical body, and that a god is present. Her cryptic statements may show that she got involved with some religious/spiritual society – who is this “god” she refers to, and did she discover something that encouraged her to commit suicide? This ties back to connections; Chisa likely had no deep connections in life, and Lain herself struggles with her family. Lain’s mother is silent at the dinner table – she shows no interest when Lain tries to engage her in conversation. As for the father, he seems wrapped up in computers himself, more so than speaking with his daughter; we see him surrounded by monitors and other computer equipment, smiling as the glow of the computer screen but not looking at Lain as she expresses mild interest in computing. His explanation of how society functions through connections is ironic, as he shows little interest in Lain; the images of headless people on the computer screens shows how he doesn’t truly make connections through his technology, while Lain has a greater connection to it because of Chisa.

 

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The final scenes of the first episode follow Lain as she is followed by the specter of Chisa, whose presence is still felt in the real world – this is predicated on an accident involving the train, where someone else seemingly took her life by running in front of it, the second death in the series. Everything seems unusual and disturbing now, as Lain is now seeing the consequences of lost connections through visions of girls who have unfortunately claimed their own lives; these two girls now have a means of “communicating” with a world that they left behind, and Lain is attempting to understand these events. The Wired now exists as a space for which she can figure out the details of Chisa’s death – Chisa herself seems to be imploring Lain to help, as her ghost’s presence at the end of the episode suggests she wants someone to find her. After all, she suggested outright that she is not truly gone, in her message to Lain; she anticipated that people would consider her message a hoax, and reached out to the one person she felt would understand her situation.