Boku no anime no omoide: Toppu wo Nerae! Gunbuster!

Boku no anime no omoide: Toppu wo Nerae! Gunbuster!

To start in on Gunbuster, I’d need to talk about Ken Lau, first.  Ken was someone I’d met while working at Acer America back in 1995; we both worked the grave shift in the technical support department, though he was in a smaller group that handled online requests, while I was in a larger group that handled phone calls.  Anyway, we met, we hit it off, and thus began a friendship that I still tell stories about to this day.  Ken introduced me to a wide range of anime, and I recall that he had a love for one particular anime: Mamono Hunter Yohko.  But I’ll talk about Yohko some other time.

Gunbuster title card

I didn't know it then, but this was going to be burned into my memory forever...

Toppu wo Nerae was one of those series that I had little to no information about beforehand.  This had a lot to do with the fact that I trusted Ken’s tastes in anime.  Nearly everything he put before me to watch, I ended up liking.  Gunbuster was no exception to this, in fact, it might be the defining moment.  And before I continue on, as I dive back into my memory, I remember how close he and I were before I got married to my first wife, and I regret that we drifted apart.  I was in a horrible place then, and I thoughtlessly pushed him away and never heard from him again.  It’s one of those times I wish I could go back and change, but I’m sure he’s doing well for himself.  But, if he ever happens upon this site and reads this, I want to make sure he knows that I miss him.

Anyway, if you’re completely unaware of Gunbuster, and it seems the Naruto Generation generally is, then let me begin by saying that this is, for all intents and purposes… a parody.  A parody of what?  Pretty much every giant robot/space pilot story I’d seen to that point.  This includes Gundam, Macross, a handful of others.  This is a story about a duo of space pilot girls (right away I hooked) of differing ages.  The youngest is the lead, Takuya Noriko, the daughter of a famous spaceship admiral who died in combat against a ferocious enemy named only as “Uchuu Kaijuu,” (Space Monsters) when she was eight years old.  This story gets going as she’s attending the Okinawa Space Pilot Girls’ High School in order to train and follow her late father into space.

So far, the plot sounds pretty pedestrian, right?  Nothing to write home about, and with the additional information of it being a parody (ie: it probably won’t take itself seriously), you’d probably pass on watching it.  Well, not so fast.  In six episodes, Gunbuster manages to tell a compelling story with surprisingly dynamic characters without resorting to a breakneck pace.  If you’ve never seen it, I wholeheartedly recommend that you do.  And to prove that it can speak to younger anime viewers, I showed it to my young nephew (20 years old), and he loved it.  Head to Bandai’s site and find it, buy it, and enjoy.  Tell them I sent you.

Of course, back then, the version I saw was the one released by U.S. Renditions, which was translated by Trish Ledoux & Toshifumi Yoshida.  The reason I mention those names is because I had actually met Trish then Toshi on separate years of the same convention (Anime Expo).  Crazy as it may seem, I was astonished that both of them remembered me years later (especially Toshi when we ran into each other at Kumoricon in Portland a couple of years ago).  I had kept up a lengthy email dialogue with Trish while she was working on Ranma at VIZ.  Thinking back on that, I don’t know from where she must have summoned the patience to put up with my incessant questions about anime production and translation work, but she did… and even now, I shake my head and chuckle to myself as I remember months of talking about Ranma and Gunbuster.  I honestly don’t know if she remembers those emails or not, but I do.  It was amazing to get that perspective on how anime is produced and really opened my eyes.  So, a special thanks to them for being so kind to me when I was 18 and learning about anime.  It heightened my appreciation for the work done on both sides of the Pacific.

Noriko meets Kazumi

When Noriko (left) met Kazumi (right)...

Back to the story of the anime itself… Noriko’s sempai is Amano Kazumi, whom everyone refers to as “Onee-sama.”  They meet, and Onee-sama gives some very encouraging words to Noriko, after she’s been mistreated by some of the closed-minded students who think less of her because of her father.  Kazumi is considered a shoe-in for one of the two slots for a special space program (The Machine Weapon Advance Assault Squadron, aka the “Top”).  And to choose those two lucky students, is Coach Ota.  He appears on the scene in dramatic fashion, with his sharp, no-nonsense tone and his strict regimen of exercising the students.  When Noriko fails to execute his command, he shuts off her RX-7 machine and makes her run laps on her own two feet to the amusement of the rest of her class.

The conflict for the first episode comes when Noriko is selected along with Kazumi for that special program.  The entire school is turned on its ear as no one can figure out why Noriko was selected.  Then, the accusations fly: Obviously, because she is the daughter of Admiral Takuya, she got special treatment from the Coach.  Even Kazumi’s surprised that Noriko was chosen.  Kazumi wanted Kashihara to go with her.  But Coach is adamant that Noriko was the right choice, and tells Kazumi to shove it.  After all, he decides who goes and who stays, not her.  But it’s clear from the scene, their discussion alludes to a deeper relationship than instructor and student.  More on that later…

Noriko (with her friend, Kimiko) is now training harder, but simply being there is difficult enough.  The other students have marked up the announcement with libelous remarks about her, they covered her RX-7 machine in graffiti with unkind things, and to put the cherry on the sundae, a sharp thumbtack was waiting for her scantily-clad rear end when she sat down to pilot said machine.  This drives her tears and she approaches Coach to reconsider his selection.  It’s one of those pivotal character moments, when Coach convinces Noriko to stay the course.  He uses Kazumi as an example of how hard work and disciplined training could turn her from an inept pilot to a skilled one.  He even shows her how Kazumi trains, and then Noriko gets the determined shine in her eyes.

Noriko and Coach training

This is all set to a thinly-veiled homage to the music from the movie Chariots of Fire.

Coach helps her train and soon she becomes skilled enough in her RX-7 to do pretty anything she could do with her own body.  She does push-ups, lifts things, and runs along Coach on his little scooter against a scenic sunset on the beach.  She has grown into that selection of being sent into space ahead of her peers, and Coach is proud of her accomplishment.  But, Kashihara isn’t too happy and she tells Coach that she feels she’s superior to Noriko.  Coach tells her he doesn’t answer to her, and even Kazumi says that Kashihara is acting unseemly.  Well, Kashihara with the crazy eyes and unseemly behavior decides to take matters into her own hands and challenges Noriko to a straight-up fight between their RX-7 machines.

In the beginning, Kashihara is wiping the floor with Noriko using some strange tactics.  At one point, she even slaps the head of Noriko’s RX-7 machine as though it were a bare-fisted match.  Anyway, Noriko’s machine is now down in a supine position, and Kashihara is just stomping the shit out of the chest of Noriko’s robot.  There’s a kind of a “Use the Force, Luke” moment with Noriko whiles she’s being rattled inside like a pea in a tin can and she decides to turn off all of her monitors so she can’t see what’s going on.  This impresses Kazumi, Coach is dispassionate, and for some reason this totally enrages Kashihara.  In a dick move, she decides that now is the time for the Mortal Kombat “Finish Her” move and whips out a long blade with the intent of totalling Noriko’s ride.  Noriko, on the other hand, somehow senses this and when Kashihara’s blade comes down, she jumps up with her machine out of harm’s way and does an acrobatic maneuver.  Noriko rights herself and brings the leg of her machine down while screaming, “Inazuma Kick!”  The kick is the deciding blow, as Kashihara is now sitting in the remains of her machine with the realization that Coach was right.  Noriko’s selection is now no longer in question and she and Kazumi board a shuttle to take them to the orbiting space station where they will be working from now on.

I don’t do the actual story justice, and if I seem like I’m belittling the anime it’s not because I hate it.  I guess, while rewatching the first episode I forgave a lot of the absurdities of the parody part of the show.  I feel that you have to in order to let the story take you where it wants to go, but trust me when I say that the show will not disappoint you.  By the time I got tot he end of the sixth episode, I was a mess.  I was crying openly, and just left there to try and compose myself.  Any story, written or acted, if it invokes an emotional response then the production has reached me.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the seiyuu.  Noriko and Kazumi were played by seiyuu from Ranma Nibunnoichi, Hidaka Noriko (Tendou Akane) and Sakuma Rei (Shampoo), respectively.  Coach Ota’s voice came from Wakamoto Norio (Oskar von Reuenthal from Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu, among many many others).  If I were to use any anime to state my preference of why I love the Japanese seiyuu over North American voice acting, Gunbuster could quite possibly be my Exhibit A.  I cannot imagine any English-speaking actor to pull off the passion and emotion equal to the Japanese voice track.  There are rare occasions where I might prefer English over Japanese (Ranma, Taihou Shichau zo!), but that’s about it.

Gunbuster was directed by Anno Hideaki, who needs no introduction.  But, just in case he does, he was the creative force behind several Gainax projects, including Fushigi no Umi no Nadia and Kareshi Kanokyou no Jijyou, but most notably, Evangelion.  I should also point out that he worked as an animator for the original Macross series, and was the animation director for Oritsu Uchuugun: Honneamise no Tsubasa (The Wings of Honneamise).

Kouhei Tanaka composed a brilliant score for Gunbuster.  In my opinion, I think he’s as good a composer as Kanno Yoko (Escaflowne, Macross Plus/Frontier) or Shiro Sagisu (Kare Kano, Evangelion).  Maybe not quite as spectacular as Hisaishi Joe (of Studio Ghibli fame), but nonetheless, his score for Gunbuster lives in my memory as helping to make the whole show as powerful as it is.  If, by chance, you get a chance to watch Gunbuster, I invite you to pay special attention to how stirring the music is as the scenes play out.  There is no question in my mind that the ending would be as impacting without that gorgeous track, “Toki no Kawa wo Koete…” (“The End of the Endless River”) playing underneath it all.  Like so many other anime, the music is essential and necessary to everything the story is trying to do here, and I can point to that last episode and present it as an essential example of why I love the music of anime as much as the anime itself.  Of course, personally being a musician helps my appreciation of that aspect of any visual media, not just anime.

Toppu wo Nerae Science #6

Sailor Noriko shows off her fandom! (click on the image for the animation)

In addition to being a great story, Gunbuster also had a series of shorts to explain the science behind the technology and the history of the war between the humans and the Uchuu Kaijuu.  It was hosted by super-deformed versions of Noriko, Kazumi, and Coach and managed to make me laugh as Noriko played the dunce and Kazumi the straight man of the duo.  I especially loved the part where Noriko’s going through the planets of the solar system and changing costumes to the various senshi of Sailor Moon as she does so.  Obviously, Sailor Stars hadn’t come out, yet, because she only does the inner senshi.  When she moves to naming the planets of the outer solar system, thee’s no Sailor Jupiter, Saturn, etc.

The point of the shorts is to flesh out some of the reasoning behind why Noriko and Kazumi would never grow as old as their peers that remained on Earth, thanks in part to Einstein’s theory of Relativity.  During our email chats, I recall Trish telling how difficult it was to translate those shorts because of all the heavy technical talk (I think).  Even now, after my brief Japanese courses at Foothill, I could hear some of the language used and try to sound it out, but it was way way way above my level of understanding.  So, thanks Trish and Toshi, for all that hard work!

In summary, Gunbuster remains one on a list of anime that will be with me until I die.  I just wish that I held onto my original U.S. Renditions version… but along with several other tapes I had in storage, it was damaged beyond repair when a storm of mice ate several boxes.  Apparently, our next door neighbor in the storage place was keeping food and it attracted vermin for miles until he got evicted.  I lost a box of old anime tapes when they chewed through them and actually managed to chew the cases up pretty bad, rendering them unable to play.  I nearly cried when I was informed.

Anyway, this ends yet another post about anime from me.  If I have time, I’ll try to work on another one.  I would love to hear from you all on your thoughts on Gunbuster, in the comments here or on Facebook, where this will get cross-posted.  Thanks!

The Summer So Far…

I know I haven’t really posted anything lately.  I sort of fell out of the habit of blogging, and things have been a little hectic as of late.  Needles to say, I’m not entirely certain who knows what, but Julia and I have had a rather interesting summer so far.  Read on if you should want to learn what exactly happened.

It all began with the loss of my job at Teneros.  We’d just returned from Danyel’s wedding in Las Vegas, and I had to go to sleep to prepare for my shift that Monday night.  I woke up a little earlier than I had planned, but it turns out that it didn’t matter one way or the other.  I had a voicemail from the Vice President of our division, asking me to return his call as soon as possible.  This is never a good thing, let me tell you.  I hadn’t heard or seen this guy in months, and getting a phone call from him out of the blue was highly unusual.  My sixth sense was screaming big time, and I went out into the living room to tell Julia that it was resume-updating time again.  This, of course, did not make her feel any better.

I took a quick shower, grabbed the work-issued BlackBerry phone and its charger, told Julia I’d be back in an hour or two, and headed out the door.  I pulled into the parking lot at work, and I was curious to see if maybe they’d already pulled the plug on me.  Interestingly enough, my badge and secured door access were still in place, so I had this fleeting thought that maybe something else had happened… like maybe someone else got the axe and they were telling me in person that I might have to switch shifts this week.  But then, I thought, why wouldn’t they have called me ahead of time to let me know?  Nah, I was definitely getting laid off tonight.

I walked in and the only other person in the building was my swing shift co-worker.  He looked up in surprise… maybe because he wasn’t expecting me to show up so quickly.  I said hi, and grabbed the empty box I’d left underneath my desk when I arrived for my first day there.  I started packing up my speakers, keyboard, mouse, books, the picture of Julia and me from Valentine’s Day, and then the VP walked into the NOC and saw me.  I was all smiles about the whole thing, because I guess I had seen it coming… but not this soon.

There were a lot of little changes they were making at Teneros.  They switched CEOs a few months back, which was a huge shock since the CEO we had when I was hired… I mean, the company was his baby, you know?  It was really weird to find out one day that he stepped down and we got this other guy in there.  Talk of the corporate reorg came through and everyone was worried about their jobs (of course).  I spoke with my manager, and he assured me that support would be untouched, since we were one of the hardest working departments in the company (true).  I was satisfied with that, but there was that inkling in the back of my mind that said to take it with the grain of salt.  I had no reason to doubt his word, though, so don’t get me wrong.  But that didn’t mean that he wasn’t lied to, you know?

Shortly after that announcement, the kitchen stopped being stocked so frequently.  This really sucked for me, because I was there during grave shift and a bare kitchen meant I had to either bring in lunch or go hungry.  One of the great perquisites of working at Teneros was the awesome kitchen, and now that was gone.  Sure, they tried to bluff their way through it, but I told my swing guy that when a company stops stocking the kitchen, then it’s time to start looking for work elsewhere.  It’s one of the warning signs of something big on the horizon when the little things suddenly disappear.

But back to the meeting with the VP.  Now, I really liked my VP.  He was a really nice guy and I didn’t bear him any ill will about the decision he had to make.  I knew it was a numbers game (I was one of the highest paid techs, if not the highest paid) and they needed to cut someone’s salary.  Add to the fact that the grave shift was probably a luxury at that point, in spite of the day guys really enjoying their sleep being uninterrupted during the week.  It made sense from an executive standpoint, but it still sucked the big one dry.  Plus, the people I worked with were a great bunch of guys, and I’d miss seeing/talking to them on a daily basis.  My soon-to-be-former VP and Manager explained the logic and I was sitting there nodding my head.  My manager looked grief-stricken and I tried to keep a positive attitude about it.  I did make a few jokes when the stock issue question came up, considering that they were laying people off (I was one of many, apparently).  I laughed and shook my head, passing on purchasing anything that put money into a company that was showing signs of failure.

I signed my papers, took my “generous” two-weeks’ severence pay and final check, grabbed my box and walked out to my car.  My now-ex Manager walked out there with me and promised to keep in touch (he hasn’t) and also said he wanted to have a lunch with the whole group sometime (no joy, there, either).  I took his consolations with a grin and shook his hand.  I pulled out of the parking lot for the last time, and headed home.

I enjoyed unemployment for a good three weeks.  I had a large number of leads, folks, going into the first week.  I posted my updated resume on DICE and my cell phone rang so much, I blew through my anytime minutes on my phone plan within the first week and half.  Julia was pissed.  I got calls from StubHub, Yahoo (3 different positions), 2 startups not worth mentioning, and Netflix.  The Yahoo interviews were all on the phone, and StubHub never called me back.  Adobe called (as usual), but they were offering twenty bucks below my asking price, which was a deal-breaker (why would I take a 40% pay cut to work there?).  I also got an email for a job in Japan that turned out to look fucking awesome on paper, but that phone interview was a complete and utter disaster, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying.  Let’s just say that it sounded like there was an active resistance toward hiring someone in America for a job in Japan, and the guy on the phone was doing everything he could to sabotage it.

In the meantime, my nephew flew in from Arizona to stay with his mom for the summer.  I usually get him for a week in July, but since I was not working… it made sense to have him sooner rather than later.  I got to spend a week and a half with him and we hung out, played a metric shitton of Halo 3, watched a season and a half of The West Wing, and took him to Pac Bell Park for a Giants game.  We even got to play some D&D at my buddy’s house along with his nephew so we had a decently sized group to play with this time around.  He had a blast, and I had a lot of fun having him around.  I’m hoping that next summer, we can arrange for him to stay a little while longer by getting him a paying job for the duration so he’ll have some experience in the industry.  He wants to work with video games and has a keen interest in it, so I figured if I could swing an EA game tester job for him, it’ll work out great for him in earning and saving some money.  He’ll be 18, and not subject to work permit law, so I’m hoping for the best.

While I had him with us, I was going out on interviews and feeling some places out for possible employment.  In the third week, I got this call from a recruitment house.  All they do is recruit for other companies, but instead of doing it by contract, they actually place people for regular employment.  I didn’t have anything to lose at this point, since this was a longer stretch of joblessness I’d experienced in the last two years.  One more week and I was going to have to file for Unemployment Assistance through the state.  I went in, met with the really young guy who was telling me how to interview (look, kid… I’ve been interviewing for jobs since you graduated elementary school).  I smiled and nodded, took their advice and walked out feeling like my time had been wasted.  Then, I got pulled back in at the last moment to sit with a guy from a company who was already there to talk to someone else.  It was for a position at a company I’d heard of, Mimosa, but it was for a position totally not my area of expertise (if I even have an area of expertise).

Mimosa sounded cool, but I was reluctant to entertain going back into Windows/Exchange support.  I felt like I had moved on from Windows and wanted to get back into Unix support or operations again.  Nine months of bashing my head against crappy Microsoft products felt like a lifetime, and even though the job was pretty cushy, I really didn’t want to continue to lose my Unix street cred that much.  Anyway, I figured that since the job wasn’t a match, I would move on and find something else.  By that time, I was emailing my resume at least three times a day to various job listings I’d find on DICE or HotJobs or wherever.  Then, Mimosa called back.  Apparently, they were hiring for customer support positions, and they wanted me to go in and sit down with them for a few hours and talk things over.

Like I said, it was nearing the end of the third week.  The interviews thus far had not proven to lead anywhere, and the phone interivews I’d completed until then hadn’t panned out as well as I hoped.  So, I went in with no expectations whatsoever, figuring that if I didn’t go in, all I would do is watch TV, play on the Xbox or waste time in some other fashion.

Funny thing about interviews with no expectations.  After all, that’s how I got hired at Teneros.

I sat down with them, and right away I really liked these guys.  They had a good sense of humor (rather closely aligned with my own, which is saying a lot), they were pretty damned smart, and they were really driven toward their goals.  Further, they prized several things I always look for in a new company.  I was intrigued by the notion of actually going to work for them, and out of all the itnerviews I’d been on, Mimosa was the only one where I got that feeling that I could really work there.  After the interviews were over, I got the offer the next Monday and I signed it that afternoon and faxed it back in.  I would start the next week and my period of unemployment was finally over (for now).

I’ve been at Mimosa for two and a half weeks.  I really like the people.  I feel like I’m learning a lot while being there.  I appreciate the straightforward nature of the group and I like that they don’t beat around the bush when they talk to you… it’s all out there for you without having to read between the lines, y’know?  This is a very rare thing here in Silicon Valley (or possibly anywhere).  Since Mimosa is one of Teneros’ direct competitors, it’s pretty funny seeing alot of clients from Teneros show up as clients of Mimosa as they’re dumping and running toward my new employer.  The other day, I was looking through our tickets and I noticed familiar names and companies listed as customers and laughed.  I guess things are getting worse over there.

Anyway, that’s my summer so far.  How’s yours?

Netflix’ing the Night away…

Like most new toys, one plays with them pretty incessantly upon arrival.  Christmas morning growing up, I think once all the presents were opened, the rest of the day was battle between parent and child, over getting ready for the family dinner and playing with the new toys.  Well shit, folks, you gave me the damned things to play with.  It’s pretty cruel to just say, “Here you go, now put them away and don’t play with them.”  Christ… kick me, too, while you’re at it.

Uh, anyway, Netflix I’ve had for a while now (the new toy), and lately I’ve sort of gotten into a cool cycle here on the graveyard shift at work, where it’s really quiet during the night.  I have DVDs I take with me into work and listen to them in the background while I’m taking care of business.  Recently, I’ve cycled through a couple of gems that I wanted to bring to your attention…

The first is Cashback, a British film starring Bionic Woman’s Michelle Ryan and Harry Potter’s Sean Biggerstaff.  It’s about an art student who suffers from insomnia following the break-up of his relationship and ends up taking a night job at a local supermarket, where he meets a group of varied personalities and an attractive girl named Sharon who’s caught his attention.  I picked it up at a Netflix suggestion, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take a chance on it, but hey… what the hell, right?  I wasn’t disappointed and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The second is the Academy Award-winning Juno, starring X-Men 3’s Ellen Page as the eponymous protagonist.  A girl has sex with her best friend and it results in her pregnancy.  Since the abortion clinic scared the shit out of her, she decides to keep it and put it up for adoption.  She meets a couple that suits her unborn child’s needs (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) and befriends them, all the while having to suffer the social inequities of high school life as a pregnant student.  In spite of all that potential morose drama, it was smartly written and the performance of Page as Juno was amazing.  I was laughing my ass off at this movie, because the character of Juno is nothing short of an amalgam of most of the women in my life.  Sharp wit, acerbic sense of humor and blunt force trauma when asking questions.  Not to say that you all are bad, but there were times when Juno spoke that I remarked to myself that she reminded me of Tap or Julia or one of my sisters…  It made the movie more enjoyable, although the ending was a little out there.  Plus, it was an Arrested Development reunion, pretty much, with Michael Cera and Jason Bateman, although they never had a scene together.  And surprise, Allison Janney and Rainn Wilson’s in it, too!  Highly recommended, if you haven’t already seen it.

What’s next on my list?  Since I’m now an Ellen Page fan, next up is Hard Candy.  Check my queue on the sidebar for more information about my list.