The Deer King

Mittsual, or Black Wolf Fever, is a deadly affliction passed on by canines. In Masashi Ando and Masayuki Miyaji’s anime feature, it is presented as something that is both magical and physical, a rising storm of black vapours that cloaks an onrush of rabid dogs. For two generations, it has broken out in repeated waves, leading to swift but largely palliative advances in medical knowledge among Zolian doctors. We see them at work, masked up and socially distanced, among the mass funeral pyres of a salt mine, where a mittsual outbreak has killed workers and guards alike.

“Entirely? No, not entirely. Someone has made it out alive, and in an impressive series of deductions like something out of Black Death CSI, Sae the tracker works out that it was a prisoner, who broke out of his cell and somehow clambered to freedom, despite suffering from an animal bite. A man is on the run, and if he is asymptomatic, his blood might form the basis for the long-hoped-for mittsual vaccine… all they have to do is find him.”

Over at All the Anime, I write up The Deer King, which has its UK premiere in Edinburgh this month.

Orienting

“Aiyar is a professional outsider, adept at dropping into an entirely alien culture, and ready to grab hold of it with both hands. She is not some listless plus-one, wearing out a groove between Starbucks and the diplomatic compound, she is an accomplished flaneur and enthusiastic student, flinging herself into cultural pursuits and research.”

Over at All the Anime, I reveal Pallavi Aiyar’s just-published Orienting: An Indian in Japan.

Seurasaari

Off to Seurasaari, the Finnish Open-Air Museum, which is thanked in the credits to The Deer King, and has plainly provided much of the material inspiration for Masashi Ando and Masayuki Miyaji’s depiction of pre-modern societies in that anime. Someone has also plainly taken a lot of reference photos of all the surrounding forest.

Josee, the Tiger & the Fish

“In an era when every single anime out of Japan seems to come attached to some sort of tourist initiative, it’s also lovely to see Osaka finally get its moment in the sun, with loving backgrounds that take the viewer through a year of four distinct seasons. Japan’s ‘second city’, its Glasgow or Birmingham if you will, Osaka itself has something of a chip on its shoulder, not as big as the bustling Tokyo, not as classy as the old-time capital Kyoto, which is so close to it that the two cities share a metro system. When Hayato off-handedly thanks Tsuneo with ‘O-kini‘ instead of ‘Arigato,’ it’s a tiny fist-bump for a dialect and an attitude that is so often sidelined in anime settings that are either all-Tokyo, all-the-time, or some obscure dormitory suburb that’s fronted enough cash to become the next ‘holy land’ for otaku visitors.”

Over at All the Anime, I write up the forthcoming cinema release of Josee, the Tiger and the Fish.

Nahoko Uehashi

“Consistently, Uehashi’s works display a respect for native traditions and pre-modern beliefs, not as rivals to science and medicine, but as systems that similarly seek to make sense of the world, sometimes inefficiently, sometimes with a greater degree of success for incorporating spiritual (or in some fantasy settings, magical) elements outside the purview of modern understanding.”

Over at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, I write up Nahoko Uehashi, author of The Deer King.

Asei Kobayashi (1932-2021)

“The following year, he would win an award for his music for ‘From a Northern Inn’, a weepy tune about a girl knitting a sweater for a boy who will never wear it. The song twice entered the charts and also a later anime – in Isao Takahata’s film Chie the Brat (1981), the leading lady belts it out at her father, in a passive-aggressive way of accusing him of paternal neglect.”

Over at All the Anime, I write an obituary for Asei Kobayashi, an unlikely TV star, quiz-show champion and composer, most notably for Science Ninja Team Gatchaman and Turn-A Gundam.

Nobody Knows Anything

On several occasions in recent months, I have been approached by journalists demanding to have the meteoric success of Demon Slayer explained to them. The film has, after all, become the highest-grossing movie ever in Japan, taking just under 40 billion yen (£266 million) beating not only Spirited Away and Your Name, but Titanic and Frozen.

However, I refused to comment, on the grounds that I didn’t really know. I had some guesses, certainly, particularly regarding unique pandemic conditions. One imagines a weary Dad, on the one day that a family can actually go somewhere together saying: “All right, we can all go out today, but we are not sitting through the last Evangelion movie, and your sister doesn’t want to see Josee and the Tiger and the Fish, and your mother has already seen Fate/Grand Order: Divine Realm of The Round Table: Camelot- Wandering; Agateram twice, and besides, it takes so long to say the title that by the time we get our tickets, the film will be half over…”

And then there are the otaku. When reporting Japanese box office, particularly for anime, it is disingenuous to talk about ticket sales as if each has gone to an individual, because some of those tickets are being bought by the same guy – once for the lucky gonk, once for the giveaway poster, once for the action figure he will keep in its box. And with limited choice in Japanese cinemas, such merch speculators are out in force with more money to spend on a single film.

There has been some talk among pundits of some sort of unique synergy among voice-acting talent (nope), or music (not really). There has been some mildly persuasive commentary on the fact that the manga itself is popular with Japanese readers (yes… but that popular?), hitting some sort of spirit of the age.

But as to why Demon Slayer is the top of the Japanese box office, my honest answer is “I don’t know”. As the months go by, I realise now that I should have said so, in public, much earlier on. Someone should have stuck their hand up in December and said: “No idea, sorry. If we knew how this worked, we’d all be millionaires.”

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #208 (2021).

Daijiro Morohoshi

“His influence upon Japanese fantastika cannot be overstated, and has been cited in multiple creators’ accounts of their inspiration… In particular, it is possible to discern visual and thematic borrowings from Mudmen in Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke (1997), and from Yōkai Hunter in Shinseiki Evangelion (1995-1996)…”

Over at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, I write up the manga creator Daijiro Morohoshi.

Branding Japanese Food

“Foods and local dishes can be a welcome window into history, attached to folklore or some sort of interesting bit of trivia. Staying at an old-fashioned inn in Shimabara, I was once served guzoni, a local dish said to replicate the grim, spartan broth that Christians under siege at Hara Castle scraped together from seaweed and shellfish. Outside the navy base at Yokosuka, I was nearly defeated by a military-grade curry, introduced, it was said, by the Royal Navy. Many such oddities, however, are more like ‘invented traditions’, recent initiatives designed to give local hawkers something to sell to tourists. The authors note, for example, that Atsumori Noodles might be named for a famous samurai killed at the battle of Ichinotani, but actually have sod-all to do with him, having been dreamt up by a couple of café owners near the battle site.”

Over at All the Anime, I review a new book about transformations in Japanese food, including a conspiracy that goes to the highest level… and involves soup.

Kentaro Miura (1966-2021)

“I used to have the final moves planned out, but lately I’ve been thinking I’d rather figure them out when I come to it, so now it’s hard to say what could happen. Being the sort of person I am, though, I actually don’t think I could let such a long grim story end with a grim ending – like, say, having him suddenly die. I don’t really like that kind of entertainment.”

My obituary for the manga artist Kentaro Miura, creator of Berserk, is now up on All the Anime.