It was spring 2009. Code Geass had been over for many months and nothing had filled that void: a show which unified otherwise disparate fans. Production I.G. had long since wrapped up the Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex project, following them up with two other Masamune works of varying popularity and polish - Ghost Hound and Real Dive. Kenji Kamiyama meanwhile had completed the respectable Serei no Moribito and was then attached to a new project. Could this be? All the signs pointed to another A-grade production, so was Eden of the East The Next Big Thing?
Coming from the husband and wife team that includes Brian Ashcraft of Kotaku and WIRED fame, Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential charts the rise of schoolgirls in Japan from background to brand, exploring the details and influences that surround them. Printed in a stubby, easily held format, the book is littered with photographs and illustrations that support the content, but is also adorned with a variety of kitschy, gaudy paraphernalia like faux-diamond bordered hearts as image captions and heart stickers in the corners. The format is fitting for the subject matter, keying into the peppy and sparkly façade, but completely at odds with the variety and veracity of content that the book offers from start to finish. The level of research, care and attention that has been put in is gratifying for a book that could easily have been as vapid and frivolous as one assumes the eponymous schoolgirls are.
The greratest triumph of the book is in debunking that mentality: that the schoolgirls, decked out in iconic sailor-suit school uniforms, are a product carried by a society that has a borderline hysterical lust for cute characters and intense consumerism. Subverting that impression to show the girls as drivers behind many of the sea-changes that happened in fashion and product development to moulding gender issues is cleverly done and achieved through example more than a stolid recounting of facts. The book is divided into eight chapters that begin by covering the history of the most obvious trait - the uniform - then moving on to idols, film, magazines, art and wrapping up with video games, manga and anime.
The most innocuous of episodes and off-the-cuff remarks can lead to the most fascinating of rabbit holes. In this case, Sawako of K-On!! and why despite all of her obvious positive attributes, is unable to find a boyfriend and get married. It would seem she has everything going for her: looks, demeanour, intelligence and drive but it's only when scratching beneath the surface that it becomes apparent how much is aligned against her happiness.
The obvious remarks on this: she's fictional and the chances of finding a compatible partner are always slim. The former means that her status of being single is part of the character written for her, however as with other elements in anime, it is reflective of deeper social issues.
First released: July 2004
Just like the taijitu that features so heavily in the plot, Otogi Zoshi is split into two parts with elements of its twin interspersed throughout. The tonal and aesthetic difference between the two parts is arresting, the first favouring a poised and atmospheric wander through a viciously feudal Japan, the latter a collection of modern mysteries scattered around Tokyo and sharing many similarities with the latest two Shin Megami Tensei: Persona video games. This division of themes and story promotes perseverance: if the initial tale of blades and intrigue doesn't engage, perhaps the dark and foreboding march across many of Tokyo's landmarks will. Conversely it threatens to alienate an audience that fell in love with the first story or losing them before the second begins. By and large it succeeds in crafting a compelling story with characters that, crucially, work across the gulf of a thousand years, however even with the guiding hand of Production I.G the series isn't without its flaws.
The Heian era city of Edo is infected by discontent: famine and lawlessness plague the streets while the outlying lands are run by thieves and malcontents. Even the Emperor isn't immune: struck down by a debilitating illness and without long to live, his closest aides, advised by the mystic Abe no Seimei, send word to retrieve the magical magatama stones in order to save the capital. With the eldest son of the Minamoto household, Raiko, bedridden it is up to his sister Hikaru to undertake this task. Disguised as her brother and joined by her faithful bodyguard Tsuna, and eventually the womanising Usui, the enigmatic Urabe and freakishly strong Kintaro, the group hunts out the magatama against foes both weird and devious. On their return however, all is not as it seems and the Emperor's aides have ulterior plans for the magatama, although it will be Seimei whose actions will have the most far reaching consequences, the ramifications echoing a thousand years into the future.