The Day Heidi was Born

Over at the All the Anime website, I review Kaori Chiba’s new Japanese-language book on Heidi, Girl of the Alps, the landmark anime series that carved out an entire niche in evening programming.

“Chiba deals with the anime’s planning, the shooting of its pilot, and the crew’s location hunt in Switzerland, wherein Miyazaki, Takahata and their long-term collaborator Yoichi Kotabe descend like dervishes on the farmhouse of a baffled local family, demanding to photograph their kitchen table and their cows. From Maienfeld, they head up to Ulm and Frankfurt, soaking up the metropolitan imagery for Heidi’s later adventures in Germany.

“Chiba devotes ample space to the production of the first episode – the scoring of the music, the theme song, and the auditions for the voice actors, the character designs and the backgrounds. It’s only towards the end of the book that her account takes a darker tone, drawing on the complaints of the staff, particularly Miyazaki himself in many later articles and interviews, that television animation was a brutal, relentless, unending task, gobbling up talent and time. The animators put their all into Heidi, only to find that television networks greet its manifest quality with an indifferent shrug.”

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Podcast: A Dingo Stole My Anime

close_ghibliJeremy Graves is joined by Jerome Mazandarani, Andrew Hewson and Jonathan Clements in the 26th Manga UK podcast to discuss last week’s Studio Ghibli news, the San Diego Comic Con, upcoming releases, and your questions from Twitter and Facebook. Includes an inadvisable impersonation of Meryl Streep, commentary track shenanigans, and Jerome’s skateboarding stunts. You can download the podcast here.

01:00. Jerome encounters the Suicide Girls. Notes on the inadvisability of branding the name of your favourite anime show into your flesh.

03:00. The introduction of the swear jar, and its purposes.

04:00. The controversy over this week’s Studio Ghibli news. Is the studio shutting down? The background to Toshio Suzuki’s various plans to keep the flame alive at Studio Ghibli – Plan A, Plan B… Plan F, Plan G.

07:00. Some unconfirmed and entirely speculative things that you might find in Mamoru Hosoda’s One Piece movie. Other people who have worked with Studio Ghibli and never quite replaced Hayao Miyazaki.

10:00. Suspending production; the former Toei staffing policy and how Ghibli copied it. The prospect that what we are seeing now is the return of “Silver Ghibli”. Goro Miyazaki and the power of nepotism.

lotteria-114:30. The prospects of a Ghibli-Disney tie-up, which are remote indeed. The unlikely story of a Berserk happy meal. Ghibli and children’s literature, and what made Ghibli such a good studio.

22:00. Manchester MCM Comic Con. Manga Entertainment’s “Road Dogs”, or should we call them Manga Dingos? Forthcoming changes to admissions policy at the October Comic Con in London.

27:30. Announcements from the Manchester MCM Comic Con. Ghost in the Shell Arise, and the typographic misery of Production I.G’s name.

31:30. Bayonetta: Bloody Fate out on the 24th November.

34:00. Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods coming to DVD on 10th November. Some theatrical screenings coming up, including the chance to demand your own at Ourscreen.com. How does “crowd-sourcing for cinemas” work?

42:00. Harlock: Space Pirate, coming on DVD and Blu-ray in February 2015, but available now on Netflix. The 3D version will be included on the Blu-ray. More on Jerome’s obsession with steelbooks.

45:00. Jerome’s adventures at San Diego Comic Con. The Mondo poster company and their fantastic Ghost in the Shell poster, and the behind-the-scenes concern that make premiering it at San Diego such a cunning marketing decision.

51:00. Jerome’s Hulk sandwich and his karmic skateboarding injury.

54:00. How did you licence Jormungand when you’ve said before that it’s difficult to get Geneon shows?

55:30. Promising recent releases, not necessarily coming from Manga Entertainment.

63:30. Legal streaming sites such as Crunchyroll, Animax, and Wakanim.

69:30. Expanding into streaming services.

71:00. The cost and economics of releasing on Blu-ray. Do some people really not yet know that Blu-ray players will also play DVDs? Why hasn’t Blu-ray been as fast as the DVD to be taken up by consumers?

76:20. How much easier is it to licence anime in the days of email? Face-to-face meetings still required in the modern age.

81:00. The departure of Jerome to another meeting, leaving the lunatics in charge of the asylum.

82:00. Why aren’t there any more UK-based commentaries these days? All kinds of behind-the-scenes shenanigans making commentary tracks difficult and/or expensive.

91:30. No news on Black Butler or K-On Blu-rays. Well, no good news, anyway.

93:00. Changes in the prices of older products. The politics of bundling, and how that leads to crappy releases when the accountants demand you actually release the thing that you never actually wanted to buy in the first place.

98:00. With the world going eco, do you think that the time is right for a release of Marine Boy?

100:00. Some of the past Manga Entertainment releases that we have almost completely forgotten about, including the marvellously titled Red Hawk: Weapon of Death and the problematic Dark Myth.

105:00. And we’re out! Thank you for listening.

And we’re out. The Podcast is available to download now HERE, or find it and an archive of previous shows at our iTunes page. For a detailed contents listing of previous podcasts, check out our Podcasts page.

2010: The Year in Anime Books

After so many positive responses to the round-up of anime reading last year, I thought I would continue with a brief precis of some of the anime books I have encountered in the ensuing twelve months.

Largely overlooked in Anglophone anime studies was Hu Tze-yue’s Frames of Anime: Culture and Image-Building from Hong Kong University Press. For those who have read Hu’s essay on Hakujaden in the journal Animation, this is more of the same, extending her conclusions out of the Toei era and into the careers of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Meanwhile, Toshie Takahashi made a valuable contribution to studies of TV in general with Audience Studies: A Japanese Perspective, which has given me some great ideas about the history of early anime on television. Andrew Osmond placed anime in an international context with his 100 Animated Feature Films for the British Film Insititute. Phaidon’s Manga Impact was actually a book about anime, which says it all.

There were two excellent articles on Grave of the Fireflies and Space Cruiser Yamato, to be found in Stahl and Williams’ Imag(in)ing the War in Japan: Representing and Responding to Trauma in Postwar Literature and Film. This year I also caught up with Ian Condry’s 2009 essay ‘Anime Creativity: Characters and Premises in the Quest for Cool Japan’ in Theory, Culture & Society, worth noting here because it seems to be a fragment of a book-length work in progress. The same issue included Marc Steinberg’s ‘Anytime, Anywhere: Tetsuwan Atomu Stickers and the Emergence of Character Merchandizing,’ continuing to ensure that the Astro Boy era is one of the best documented in anime studies. Mechademia put out another strong volume. Oh, and Schoolgirl Milky Crisis came out on the Kindle.

The 2006 Clements and McCarthy Anime Encyclopedia remains the largest and most comprehensive book in English about Japanese animation. However, if you can read Japanese, there is now an even bigger tome to bend your shelves, the 1000-page Stingray/Nichigai Associates Dictionary of Animation Works: the biggest book ever written on the subject. It’s an odd work with rather short entries, omitting running times, for example, and concentrating instead on the origins of the anime discussed. This makes it an indispensable resource for anyone documenting the source material from which anime is made, as it lists the Japanese editions of Moomin books, the Bible and obscure children’s classics. It also covers non-Japanese animation, with a total of over 6000 little entries. But I can’t help wishing that it spent more time discussing the anime themselves, rather than vast bibliographies of the books related to them — a massive multi-volume list, for example, of Richard Burton’s Arabian Nights translation, in order to point to the origins of Tezuka’s 1001 Nights. Still, very handy, even at the astronomical cover price of $175.

In Japan, this year has been quiet in terms of big new books on the anime industry, although Toshio Okada got in just under the wire with his new warts-and-all memoir, Testament. This year, I have instead been reading many older books on anime history, including memoirs by Shinichi Suzuki, Yasuo Otsuka, Ryuichi Yokoyama, Tadahito Mochinaga, and Yoshiyuki Tomino. Meatiest among them was Eiichi Yamamoto’s tell-all confessional, The Rise and Fall of Mushi Pro (1989). Written as Tezuka lay dying, it is a detailed analysis of the period from the early 1960s to the early 1970s, from the beginning of production on Tales from a Street Corner, up to the collapse of the studio in the wake of Tragedy of Belladonna. One wonders, perhaps, if now that Yoshinobu Nishizaki is dead, Yamamoto will write a sequel about the troubled 1970s in the anime world, during which he worked for Nishizaki on the Yamato series.

I also found much of interest in Nobuyuki Tsugata’s 2007 study Japan’s First Animation Creator: Kitayama Seitar?, a book which pieces together vital pieces of the anime puzzle from the 1920s and 1930s. Tsugata is the best author in the world on anime history matters, and this book is an amazing detective story. So little early animation survives that Tsugata has to piece together Kitayama’s career from old magazine articles, wall charts enhanced and enlarged from the background of staff photographs, and odd sources such as the proceedings of the Federation of Japanese Dentists.

In the interests of leaving better testimonials for the Tsugatas of the future, the Madhouse studio continues to preserve production details and interviews of its newest films in its own rather pricey series. The Plus Madhouse series of creator-specific books have proved to be a mixed bag. Some, such as the volume on Rintaro (Shigeyuki Hayashi), fill in vital historical and personal gaps in our knowledge of the industry. Others… don’t, and risk diluting the brand by becoming little more than puff pieces for someone’s latest film.

Back from Locarno

At last, I’m back from the Locarno Film Festival. Even though anime was only one of several strands, it still saw more incident than several conventions combined across ten-days of multiple screenings and events. There were hundreds of anime on show, including screenings of Summer Wars, Musashi: Dream of the Last Samurai and an open-air screening of Ponyo.
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Swiss Roles

Today I am in Switzerland, at the Locarno Film Festival, which has dedicated an entire strand of programming to Japanese animation. Specifically I am going to be talking onstage with film archivist Akira Tochigi about a subject close to my heart – the modern renaissance in pre-war anime and the problems of restoring old cartoons.
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Grave Mistakes

Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies is one of the pinnacles of modern anime, and arguably the greatest of the war-story sub-genre. Its live-action TV remake is, well… a travesty. Made in 2005 to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, this NTV drama special plays not as an adaptation of the original novel, but as a homage and commentary on the anime classic.

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