AnimeNEXT 2011: Production I.G

 Lucky for us AnimeNEXT has hosted people from the esteemed Production I.G studio back to back. Last year it was director Kenji Kamiyama and for 2011 key animator Satoru Nakamura along with storyboarder and episode director Koudai Kakimoto visited the New Jersey convention. They are key parts to what makes the studio unforgettable and known for good quality. While they weren’t announced till very close to the con, that didn’t prevent them from being a bright spot in the weekend.

Just like Otakon recently always has someone from Madhouse every year I wonder if we will regularly have a guest from Production I.G at AnimeNext. Production I.G is a great studio so if this remained a trend I would hardly be upset. Satoru Nakamura may not be as flashy a name as Kenji Kamiyama but he has a celebrated career in the animation industry and has worked on titles as diverse as Macross Plus and Steamboy to Hyper Doll and the U.S. cartoon Galaxy High School. Plus we got some amazing news out of the Production I.G panel that put Narutaki into a state of pure orgasmic bliss. One line alone was enough to make it all worth while.

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #127

Taking another item from our Seven Seas review pile I am so glad to be able to recommend one of their books without the qualifier “as long as you into this rather bizarre fetish.”  A Certain Scientific Railgun is a fun spin-off from the main A Certain Magical Index universe. Unsurprisingly Mikoto Misaka turned out to be one of the most popular characters from A Certain Magical Index but what was a little shocking is she got spun off into her own series. The Railgun series revolves around her involvement with the student run police organization called Judgement in the city-wide psychic school known as Academy City. Although she is not officially a member of Judgement Mikoto often gets involved with cases due to her roommate Shirai Kuroko. The first major story arc involves a mad bomber who is targeting members of Judgement but that soon leads to a much bigger mystery of a strange item called the Level Upper. Supposedly the Level Upper can exponentially increase your psychic power but it may have sinister side effects as well.  For better or for worse the Railgun series focuses entirely on the science side of the Index universe. Considering how certain people tend to dislike parts of the magical side this might be a strong selling point for the series. The stories are light and fun with Mikoto infusing any story she is in with her energetic and strong-willed self that made her popular enough to get a spin-off in the first place. Saten Ruiko and Kazari Uiharu are good supporting cast who are colorful enough to be distinct without being too loud even if they occasionally come off as the most interesting refuges from all girls slice of life manga. Shirai Kuroko’s over the top crush on Mikoto Misaka is silly enough to either make you chuckle or groan whenever she is on the page depending on if you enjoy her shtick or not. The series wears is yuri undertones on its sleeve. They are strong enough that they are mistakable but not enough to turn anyone away from the story. If you have watched the anime the stories are pretty similar but the manga is all killer and no filler. We there are some breathers most of the time we jump from plot point to plot point pretty quickly. You can tell that the anime threw in quite a good deal of filler material or extra complications to the story. You still get to know the girls of Railgun but they remove most of the slice of life manga feeling that the anime added. So if you liked the anime but wish they just got on with it then this is the version for you. The art is pleasant and captures the characters and action well. Overall it is a welcome addition to Index universe. It just makes me wish that someone would license the light novels but considering the light novel market in the US I realize that is tantamount to asking a company to go out of business. Such misfortune.

Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society was the obvious next title to watch once I finished 2nd Gig. I didn’t realize it would take place two years after the ending of the second season with the Major (mostly) MIA from Section 9. A conspiracy involving missing children, dying elderly, refugee suicides, and a hacker called The Puppeteer combine with the Major right in the thick of things to once again take us on an intense ride to an unexpected end. Both Battou and Togusa are stepped up a little in this movie, which is only a good thing. The scenes in the hospital with Togusa’s daughter are great. And I gave a big thumbs up to the last moments of the film with Battou and the Major looking out the window together. After finishing this I more than ever want a Stand Alone Complex 3rd Gig.

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #126

I finished up Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig rather quickly after my mention of starting it last week. Because, yes, it was as stupendous an achievement as I was promised it would be. Almost every episode ties into the main plot so it has a lot of momentum as it unfolds. Since I was watching it quickly, things were able to connect in my head better than it probably would have otherwise. The ending was wonderfully set up and intense and I liked that we didn’t totally know for sure if Kuze was the man we thought he was till that final moment. The scene of Battou digging with that piece of steel that looked like a cross was nice too because while the symbol itself is obvious it made me ponder the idea of the Major being Battou’s cross-to-bear. And the main story ending story ending with the Major doing what she did, very satisfying. I also loved the couple of side stories, especially Saito telling the tale of how he met the Major. And of course the Tachikoma’s rocked it like always! Most people say this is the better season, and I loved it, but the first I still hold as the best.

If anyone remembers we did a little article about the Rough Guide to Anime awhile back so I decided to check out it’s companion piece the Rough Guide to Manga as well. They are clearly in the same line as the format of the books are almost identical. It starts with a brief history of manga, the influence and spread of manga in Asia and America, 50 recommended titles, a look at manga publishers, and books and websites to help you continue your journey, and a glossary. The thing is while both a great introduction to the material, especially for anyone just getting into the hobby, I know I was learning little things I did not know from the manga guide all the time. The history of manhwa and the myths of Osamu Tezuka stood out as particularly interesting.  Apparently the manhwa industry was so strictly regulated in the 60s that men and women could not be depicted in the same panels together. Craziness. The canon section is a fairly good mix. Nothing extremely obscure but that is not the point. A decent mixture of old and new with classics like Lupin III and To Terra along side Peach Girl and Vagabond and of course Akira and Naruto. Paradise Kiss was the only josei tittle but at least they had one although I myself would have wound a way to sneak in Nodame.  But it has Maison Ikkoku so I can’t complain too much. There was no individual manga-ka section but there were some important artists like CLAMP, Leiji Matsumoto, and Rumiko Takahashi mentioned in the canon section. The book it a little outdated especially with the recent shake ups as it still list Dr Master and Aurora Publishing as functioning companies. Still it is a great resource for anyone just getting into manga who needs a guide of where to start digging deeper or where to begin looking in the first place. More experienced fans can give it a look as well as even luminaries like Ed Chavez are occasionally learning something new about the complex world of manga.

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