Since I have not covered this particular person since my original column, now seems a suitable time to look back into the anime archives and examine the work at the most influential of all people in the history of anime: the “Godfather of Manga” Osamu Tezuka.
The first “Beginner’s Guide” covered the series Astro Boy, the first manga ever to be given an anime adaptation back in 1963. But this is just one of a huge range of different works made by Tezuka. He wrote action, drama, comedy, sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, crime – just about anything and everything, and made series for everyone. For example, Astro Boy is “shonen” series aimed at boys. This week’s column covers a “shojo” series aimed at girls.
Princess Knight is best described as a fairy tale. It began as a manga which went through several retellings between 1953-66. The series was then adapted for television as a 52-part anime between 1967-68 that was directed by Tezuka, as well as a film in 1994. The series is notable for being one of the earliest anime to be made in colour.
The tale begins in heaven, where God is giving out blue hearts to baby boys and pink hearts to baby girls before they are taken down to live in the world. A mischievous angel called Choppy (also known as Tink in some manga versions) gets into trouble when he gives a blue heart to a baby who is then given a pink heart by God. Choppy is punished by being sent down to Earth, wings removed, in order to get the blue boy heart back. The baby, who is a girl, is born to the King and Queen of Silverland. However, in Silverland only men can rule. Therefore the parents declare the baby is a boy, with them and a select few having to hide the baby’s true gender.
The story then fast-forwards several years. The heir to the throne, Prince – or rather Princess Sapphire (often referred to as Prince / Princess Knight in the dub, despite the character being called “Sapphire” in the credits), is a refined young girl and skilled with her sword. She then encounters Choppy but refuses to give her boy heart back. Choppy realises that Sapphire needs the heart and thus decides to help her in all her endeavours on Earth.
Princess Sapphire is constantly worrying about her true gender being revealed because if the people find out she is a girl, she and the King will be deposed and control will be handed over to the next-in-line, the evil Duke Duralumon. Duralumon meanwhile is constantly trying to get proof that Sapphire is a girl so that he can put his idiotic son Prince Plastic on the throne and he himself can rule as regent. The Duke is always assisted by his long-nosed assistant Sir Nylon (for some reason pronounced “Nee-lon”), and often the two are helped by fellow evil fiends, from despotic rulers to Satan himself.
As mentioned before Princess Knight is notable for the reason that it was one of the first anime to be made in colour. It should be pointed out that it was not the very first colour anime. That goes to another title by Osamu Tezuka, Kimba the White Lion, a series most famous today due to constant claims it was the victim of plagiarism caused by Disney. Notice the similarity between the early “Kimba” and the later “Simba”.
The central character and themes are also interesting. The central theme is feminism, with Princess Sapphire trying to fight against the prejudice in her society so that she and indeed any future woman can rule Silverland. She fights using both her sword and her kindness.
Princess Knight also deserves to be noted for its influence. It was one of the first successful anime to be aimed at girls. As a result it influenced women who later made their own anime and manga. One of the first was The Rose of Versailles (No. 18), which like Princess Knight has a period European setting, although The Rose of Versailles is set in a real place (pre-revolutionary France).
The early episodes consist of individual plots, but as the series moves along, especially in the second half, the plots becoming longer and more interesting. There are also interesting relationships with Sapphire and other characters, particularly with the one who becomes her love interest, Prince Frank (Prince Franz) of Goldland – and like a fairy tale prince, this anime is utterly charming.
Princess Knight is available on Region 1 DVD in two parts from Right Stuf, as a dub only. The first two dub episodes can be viewed via the Right Stuf YouTube channel.
Having reached a significant landmark, and having written this column for around a year, I think it is only right that the fiftieth article covers the one series that I have watched that has had the most impact on me. A series best described as “big”. It has huge personalities, gigantic machines, and massive drills.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, better known as Gurren Lagann, is a 27-episode long series broadcast in 2007, with a pair of films over the next two years made mostly out of old material from the series, with some new bits thrown in. It is a mecha series, which as covered before features people controlling bipedal machines. Most of the mecha I have written about have been pretty realistic shows or “Real Robot” series as they are known. But Gurren Lagann is a more fantastical “Super Robot” series.
Gurren Lagann is made by Gainax, a company that has been covered considerably in past columns. They have made many of the most influential mecha series such as Gunbuster (No. 24) and Neon Genesis Evangelion (No. 21), as well as some unusual over-the-top comedy shows such as the surreal FLCL (No. 7) and the adult Panty & Stocking and Garterbelt (No. 19). Gurren Lagann combines the best of all this.
The series is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which humanity has been driven underground, and tells the story of the destiny of a boy called Simon (pronounced “See-mon” in Japanese). Simon is a digger, using a conical drill to expand the size of his underground village. He is looked down upon by the village elders, but he does have some companions. These include a small pet “mole-pig” named Boota, and passionate delinquent Kamina, who dreams of going to the surface. Together they form their own group, Team Gurren, to achieve this. One day Simon finds a drill-shaped key whilst digging, called a “Core Drill”, and then finds a small mecha, shaped like a big head called a “Gunmen”. Kamina names the mecha “Lagann”.
Later on, another huge Gunmen breaks the ceiling of the village, comes crashing down and starts causing havoc. Then a buxom young woman named Yoko Littner follows and starts attacking it with a large rifle. Simon uses his Core Drill to activate the Lagann, which appropriately for him is armed with drills, and together Simon, Kamina, Yoko and Boota defeat the enemy Gunmen and reach the surface. Kamina later steals a Gunmen himself, names it “Gurren” and learns that multiple Gunmen can combine with each other to become more powerful. Thus Kamina and Simon fight as the combined “Gurren Lagann”.
Simon and Kamina also learn from Yoko that the surface is mostly controlled by an animal/human-like race called the Beastmen, who serve the mighty Lordgenome, who desires humanity to remain underground. As the story folds the heroes battle against them the Beastmen and gather more allies, including the camp, gay mechanic Leeron; intelligent and modest Rossiu; and Beastmen hunters the Black Siblings.
There is so much going on in this series it is hard to know where to start. One area is the way it mixes action, drama and comedy. At times it is serious, even tragic, but elsewhere it is like watching a Carry On film. You will be watching a battle, and all around is chaos, blood, terror and death. But while this is going on little Boota is taking shelter from all the hurt and destruction, and hides… in Yoko’s massive tits. It goes from engrossing action to Sid James style lewdness in an instant, but it does it really well.
But perhaps the best aspect of Gurren Lagann is the scale of the series. Everything about it is so big. Simon may start of small, but with his big-faced mecha things soon grow. You have buxom Yoko, who carries a rifle so large you wonder how she is able to carry it. The only thing small about Yoko is her hot pants. Then there is Kamina who wears big pointy sunglasses and is probably the most over-the-top yet inspiring character in all anime. He says marvellous phrases to Simon like: “Don’t believe in yourself. Believe in me! Believe in the Kamina who believes in you!” and “Who the hell do you think you are? Isn’t your drill the one that will pierce the heavens, the earth, and through to tomorrow?”
But this is only half the story. Gurren Lagann is told in two parts, 13 episodes each, with a clip show in the middle dividing the two halves. In part two, set several years after the first, things are even bigger, including the mecha. Episodes are set in space and the mecha becoming colossal. They become the size of planets, stars, even galaxies. In the film version Simon’s Gunmen is about the size of, and I feel that going into bold and block capitals is appropriate here, THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE!
The series is very popular in the anime community and the popularity has been shown in odd ways. The oddest occurred in 2007 when a Welsh MP complained that the British flag did not represent Wales enough, so the Daily Telegraph held an online competition for people to redesign the flag to represent Wales more, the winner being chosen by an online public vote. The contest gained lots of attention abroad and as a result the winning design came from an anonymous Norwegian who created a Union Flag displaying the Gurren Lagann logo – a flaming skull wearing Kamina’s pointy specs.
Gurren Lagann is funny, dramatic, gut-wrenching, passionate, and so bloody big. It is the sort of show that should ideally be watched projected onto the wall of a large building, with the volume turned up to 11, while shouting at your neighbours: “Stop gawking at The X Factor, Bake Off and all that fucking awful reality TV crap, AND JUST WATCH THIS!!!”
Gurren Lagann will be released by All the Anime as an ultimate collector’s Blu-Ray edition in June, with a normal Blu-Ray collection and DVD collection in October. Older collections can be found second-hand from the now closed down Beez Entertainment label.
When Flight of the Conchords star Rhys Darby began devising his first solo project, he might not have imagined it would end up on Netflix alongside global hits like House of Cards. Yet last month it was the zeitgeist-altering media company that snapped up Short Poppies, his new show, and added it to their increasingly diverse portfolio of original content.
As it happens, the partnership is an ideal match. Darby tells me he and his wife had already joined the cult of the binge-watcher created by Netflix’s model of releasing entire series in one go, consuming three or four episodes of House of Cards in a single sitting. “It feels like the future. It’s great that people across the globe see Short Poppies with the flick of a switch, rather than having to wait for it to be sold to another television network, and then watch it once a week.
“That whole model seems so outdated now. I think it’s how art should be consumed. It’s like paintings – you put them up there and take them in in one go, rather than having to come back every week.”
Short Poppies, an eight-episode mockumentary focusing on the eccentric inhabitants of a small New Zealand town – all played by Darby – was conceived almost as soon as his role as Murray Hewitt, the hapless consulate official-cum-band manager charged with promoting the musical talent of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, came to end when Flight of the Conchords’ two-season run on HBO finished in 2009. In the subsequent years he took parts in other shows without ever finding the right fit, whilst maintaining his stock trade as a stand-up comedian and developing a roll call of new characters.
All the while, the influence of Flight of the Conchords was never far from his thoughts. “I wanted to do an improvised comedy that felt very real but was also combined with the very ridiculous. We did a lot of it in the Conchords, acting to make it seem very real but talking about subject matter that was ridiculous. Those moments made me realise that’s my favourite type of comedy – I want to be there on the spot creating comedy with whatever’s around me.”
An example of this ‘on the spot’ approach is evident in the scenes Darby shares with fellow comedian Stephen Merchant (“Probably the most insanely funny times I have had,” he tells me). Merchant, who happened to be in New Zealand with his own stand-up show at the time and agreed to “come and play for a day”, isn’t the only famous face to feature in Short Poppies – he’s joined by adventurer Bear Grylls and Hollywood actors Sam Neill and Karl Urban.
I ask if Darby thinks he was able to get these names on board because they were Flight of the Conchords fans?
“I think they are. Ever since Conchords finished I’ve been surprised by the things that have happened to me. When Richard Curtis brought me over to do The Boat The Rocked I found myself working with Emma Thompson, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Bill Nighy. I’m sat there thinking I was out of my league, but then Bill Nighy came up to me, told me how much he loved Conchords and said it was an honour to be working with me.”
“It’s funny the impression that show has had on people, so we just reached out. We told them they could improvise a lot and just have fun, and I guess some of these actors really don’t get that sort of offer very often. Or maybe they just thought nobody outside of New Zealand would see it.”
With Murray Hewitt recently receiving the ultimate millennial accolade in the form of a BuzzFeed listicle, I broach the much-rumoured topic of a Flight of the Conchords reunion and/or film. Darby isn’t so sure. “At the end of the day it’ll be up to the boys, and I think they work individually on so many things that it hasn’t struck them as something they want to do just yet. But I still say never say never.”
Short Poppies is available on Netflix from today.
This week we are covering rape. That got your attention, didn’t it?
I should stress at this point that this is only one reason that I am covering this particular anime – the most controversial animation ever released in the UK. Urotsukidōji is a series of Original Video Anime (OVA) made between 1987 and 1995, spread over six series. The most famous of these was the first series, which in the west was re-edited into a film subtitled Legend of the Overfiend.
It’s not just shocking in this country, but even in Japan too. It’s this series that gave anime its bad reputation in Britain, with the press denouncing anime in general for being violent and pornographic. Urotsukidōji is very gory and very graphic. But oddly, the rape depicted can be argued to be as a result of censorship.
The series mixes erotica and the supernatural. The story opens with a monologue which says that every 3,000 years our world, the human world, is united with the demon world and the man-beast world by the arrival of the “Chojin”, a kind of god. The central character is the man-beast Jyaku Amano, who seeks the real Chojin and hopes for a safe future for all the worlds. However, violent monsters from the demon world are constantly trying to kill the Chojin and stop the unification. It is up to Jyaku and his friends to stop them. Amongst the vile things the monsters do is rape women using tentacles.
Interestingly though, this anime differs rather considerably from its source material. Originally Urotsukidōji began as a manga created by Toshio Maeda in 1986, but the manga was more comedic and much less violent. It was only when it got animated the following year by a man named Hideki Takayama that it became so notorious. Also, while it is mostly remembered for “tentacle rape” as it has become known, it does not appear that frequently in the series. But it is the thing that is most remembered. So how did it come about?
While censorship is officially forbidden under Article 21 of the Japanese constitution, anime producers did agree to certain rules amongst themselves. One of these is that you could not show genitalia. While nudity is less of an issue and is more frequent in anime than it is on British TV, you could not show a penis or even pubic hair.
To get around this, at first producers of pornographic anime made series in which nudity was not the key to the eroticism, such as bondage. But then they can up with an idea: instead of showing a penis, they would show something that just looked like a penis, such as a penis-shaped tentacle. Not only did this legal loophole get around the rules, but it also had other benefits in terms of production. Because all you see is the tentacle instead of an entire human body, they discovered you could get better camera angles and see more of the action.
The big problem though occurred when the series was first released in Britain. When it came out newspapers, politicians and other people condemned it, both left and right-wing. Having said that, it was this kind of media coverage that some distributors were keen to attract. Many wanted to be seen as edgy and controversial. Some companies practiced something called “fifteening”, where if a series would have been given a “12” rating they would add extra swearing in the English dub to boost to a “15” in order to make it more controversial than it really was.
Regarding the impact the media coverage had, it actually totally backfired. According to Jonathan Clements’s book Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade, at the height of the scare in 1997 the average attendance at anime conventions in Britain was 500 people. In that same year Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend sold 40,000 copies, way more than many anime series even today. That meant people were buying it to experience the gore and sex scenes the papers told them about.
Since then other Urotsukidōji titles have been released, but they have been heavily edited. The original one is also rather shoddy. The animation is poor, over 45 minutes of footage has been removed, and it is only available with an English dub. Not only that, but the dub for the whole series was split across three different companies, used different actors and the scripts contradicted each other. Perhaps not surprisingly because of all these changes the series is very cheap. I have seen copies being sold in HMV for just £3.
Is it worth watching? Well, it is arguably one of the most important anime due to its impact, but the quality of the release is so poor. If you do watch it you should embrace yourself for the fact it has been messed about with and there is a lot of content which is highly objectionable.
All the Urotsukidōji titles are released on DVD by Manga Entertainment.
Children, parents, and families have a lot to look forward to in television this year. After a decade of producing successful children’s programmes, Turner Broadcasting has released their 2014 kids slate including new comedy shows and revamped classics.
Chief Content and Creative Officer for EMEA Patricia Hidalgo introduced a round of three new long form shows for Cartoon Network and an extension of an original show under Warner Brothers Animation Studios.
‘Uncle Grandpa’ airing on 14th April, is a new animated show involving an eccentric uncle and grandpa with magical powers.
‘Steven Universe’, airing on the 12th May at 5.30pm follows a young boy whose character contrasts the mythical members of the Crystal Gems – forming an odd yet amusing team.
‘Clarence’, airing later this year, focuses on an awkward boy who finds excitement in even the most ordinary aspects of life. The fourth separate show,
‘Teen Titans Go!’ airing in April, is based on the original Teen Titan series but presents the characters outside of their heroic trials.
Returning to classic cartoons dating back to the 1940’s, Turner is launching a redesigned series of ‘The Tom and Jerry Show’ for its channel dedicated to reruns of popular animated shows, Boomerang. The modern take on the classic presents the cat-and-mouse game in high definition, almost appearing as an entirely different show.
Another comeback is not only the three petite crime-fighters of ‘The Powerpuff Girls’ but with special guest Ringo Star in the episode “Dance Pantsed”, which features the animation version of the Beatles drummer performing an original single, “I wish I was a Powerpuff Girl’.
A final addition to the programming slate is The Amazing World of Gumball airing on Cartoon Network this September along with returning hit series ‘Adventure Time’, “Regular Show’, and more.
With the aim of appealing to parents along with their children, Turner Broadcasting’s 2014 slate displays a range of new shows to entertain the kids and classics to bring the inner-child out of the parents.
While some series are important because of their situation, characterisation or theme, in Durarara!! location takes precedence, and in this case a particular district of Tokyo. Although it’s very unlikely that this place really does contain people akin to those in this show.
The onomatopoeically named Durarara!! (it is the sound of a motorcycle revving) or DRRR!! for short, began as series of light novels in 2004, followed by a manga adaptation in 2009 and an anime version in 2010. However, a second series was announced just over a week ago. It features lots of different genres such as action, mystery, romance and the supernatural, and is one of the more popular recent series, partly due to its ensemble cast of characters.
The series starts with schoolboy Mikado Ryugamine, who has just moved from the country to study in a school in Tokyo district of Ikebukuro (it is where The Strand is in the Tokyo version of Monopoly). Welcomed by his old friend Masaomi Kida, a guy with a terrible scene of humour, Mikado is introduced to some of the locals. These include Simon Brezhnev, a black Russian who helps run a sushi restaurant; anime obsessives (otaku) Walker Yumasaki and Erika Karisawa, as well as their van-driving friend Saburo Togusa and old pal Kyohei Kadota.
However, Masaomi also warns Mikado of the people he should avoid. There are the Dollars, an online gang who are making their presence felt in Ikebukuro; Izaya Orihara, an atheistic information broker with a sadistic streak; and his bad-tempered enemy Shizuo Heiwajima, a man who is always dressed as a bartender and who over the years as built his strength to almost super-human levels.
But the strangest resident of all is something of an urban legend. Celty Sturluson, the “Black Rider”, is sometimes seen riding her black motorbike around town, wearing black leathers and large helmet with a tinted visor, so no-one sees her head. There is a reason for this: Celty is a dullahan – a headless horsewoman. Originally from Ireland, her head was stolen and she has tracked it to Ikebukuro. After getting her ghostly horse to possess an old motorbike, she travels to the city and now works as a transporter. She lives with Shinra Kishitani, who was a young boy when they first met but now works as an underground doctor and is totally in love with Celty.
This whole range of these characters, as well as other ones, is what gives Durarara!! its appeal. Mikado meets and becomes friends with most of these characters and more, including a buxom bespectacled girl in his class called Anri Sonohara who also has an important role in the show. The storytelling is clever, because the episodes are narrated by a range of different characters, who tell the story from their own viewpoints. So Mikado will talk about his experiences of Ikebukuro, then Celty will continue the search for her head, or Shizuo will discuss why he is so easily angered and strong. The location of Ikebukuro also acts a nice backdrop for the whole the thing.
There are various different plots which played over the 26 episodes broadcast so far. Aside from Celty’s search for her head (the viewer actually learns of its location rather early), there is a mystery concerning a slasher attack, and rivalry between the Dollars and the other gangs in the area.
The way all of the plots intertwine with each other, and how the characters bring everything to life, make Durarara!! a fun and rather cool series. The story is enticing, the animation looks great and the soundtrack is grand. It all works together wonderfully.
Also, due the first series being made by the same company and the same director, this anime also surprisingly features a cameo appearance from some of the characters from Baccano! (No. 45), but I will not say which ones to avoid spoiling both series too much.
The first series of Durarara!! is now available as a limited edition Blu-Ray from All the Anime, with a DVD version to be released in May. The second series is in production.
FILM OF THE WEEK: Fight Club
ITV4, Friday March 21, 9pm
A sure sign of the lasting power of David Fincher’s Fight Club is that even when rendered as two minutes and 44 seconds of retro video game, it remains as radical as ever. It received the ultimate affirmation of its place in millennials’ affections when given the 8 Bit Cinema treatment this month by CineFix, a YouTube-based film fan collective that re-imagines movies as the blocky, pixelated fare that Nintendo pumped out in the 80s and 90s. 8 Bit Fight Club was their best effort yet, perfectly encapsulating the anarchic essence of Fincher’s film – including (at 2:20) the X-rated frame the Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden splices into children’s movies.
With all the hype that surrounds Fight Club, it’s easy to forget just how subversive it is. On its release, the conservative right-wing and sensationalist media decried it is senselessly violent. Its anti-capitalist theme upset Rupert Murdoch so much he ended up firing the head of 20th Century Fox, the Murdoch-owned studio that had financed it in the first place. But more than anything the film, like the Chuck Pahalniuk novel on which it’s based, is an expression of the overwhelming confusion that can develop amongst a materialistic, externally-directed society.
As Tyler Durden, the seductive ying to Edward Norton’s frustrated yang, Pitt gives possibly the most electric (and definitely the coolest) performance of his career. The Social Network aside, Fight Club may also be Fincher’s finest work to date. Be sure to watch, but as you do so from the comfort of your catalogue-bought sofa, remember: this is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time…
SET THE RECORDER FOR:
Film4, Saturday March 22, 12:50am
While comparisons to The Godfather are unhelpful, A Prophet is easily deserving of its place as one of the best received crime/prison dramas of recent times. BAFTA members clearly thought so, making it their overseas film of 2010, and it also picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film in the same year. Gritty in its portrayal of a young street hood’s rise to prominence without ever resorting to standard genre tropes, A Prophet is remarkably refreshing.
BBC Two, Saturday March 22, 4pm
While Psycho, Rear Window and Vertigo may be the Alfred Hitchock films that pop culture lauds the most, Notorious is the one that many true fans of the Master of Suspense will list as their favourite. The presence of screen legends Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, he a secret agent who recruits her to spy on a group of Nazis, gives it glamour, but the elegance of Hitchcock’s visual style is the real standout. Watch out for one of his most renowned shots, as the camera leaps over a bannister high above a party in full flow and embeds us within it, roving amongst its guests until it settles upon the smoldering Bergman.
Channel 4, Sunday March 23, 12:40am
With the five-Oscar-nominated Nebraska adding to an already impressive CV, Alexander Payne has cemented his place as one of the most distinctive directors currently active in Hollywood. Back in 1999, when still an up and comer, Payne took the high school comedy and used it to make an acute satire of US politics in Election. Pitting the naked ambition of Reece Witherspoon’s manipulative student campaigning for school president against Matthew Broderick as the teacher trying to thwart her, its barbed humour is deliciously cutting.
Past pieces in this column have covered the “harem” genre of anime, the most basic form of which sees one character being surrounded by lots of other characters of the opposite gender, most normally a man surrounded by many women. As stated, these can often be bawdy and sometimes downright pornographic. This series however is not really bawdy. Instead it is kinky.
MM! began as a series of light novels by Akinari Matsuno in 2007, manga versions of which were made the following year. This anime, the only version of the series in English, was made in 2010 and lasted 12 episodes. There is quite a bit of kinky activity in this series. It contains sadomasochism, cross-dressing, implied incest and someone who you could argue is a paedophile. Not only that, but the series is set in a school.
Oddly though when it comes to nudity there are certain things off limits. A girl might topless, but you will never see a pair of nipples, which is something I fail to understand. Why are nipples rude, given that most of us have seen them, and will have suckled on them as babies? Even male characters like those in Free! Iwatobi Swim Club (No. 17) have their nipples removed for seemingly no reason.
The hero of MM! is Taro Sado, a teenage schoolboy who describes himself as a “super masochist”. Whenever a girl physically or verbally abuses him, he cannot control his urges and goes into a state of perverted ecstasy. However, he hates his masochism, so he goes to a club in his school called the “Second Voluntary Club”, which devotes itself to solving any problem. The head of the club is Mio Isurugi, a girl with a superiority complex and proclaims herself to be a god. Mio has an odd way of trying to cure Taro’s masochism: inflicting Taro with as much pain as she can, in order to make Taro stop associating pain with pleasure and instead to use it as a survival mechanism. What actually happens is that Taro just gets more aroused.
The club also has other members. One of these is Arashiko Yuno, who suffers from androphobia, the fear of men. Whenever a man touches her she lashes out violently, resulting in Taro getting even more painful pleasure. However, the two do slowly manage to become closer romantically.
As the series progresses, we discover that just about everyone Taro comes into contact with has some sort of odd sexual habit. He is shocked to discover the first girl that he loves is in fact his best friend Tatsukichi Hayama cross-dressing; Michiru Onigawara the school nurse is constantly trying to take photos of people in costume; Yuno’s best friend Yumi is a skilled masseur with lesbian tendencies; Noa Hiiragi, a lonely school genius with an IQ of over 200 looks like a preadolescent and her assistant Himura is into “lolicon” (sexual attraction to prepubescent girls); Taro’s boss at the shop he works at loves anime and “2D Girls”; and even Taro’s own sister and mother’s extreme love of him borders on the incestuous.
Reading this you may be understandably worried about the content. But when watching it you can see that there are some hidden depths amongst all the lewdness. For example, Taro may be a masochist, but he is on the whole a kind, helpful guy. The series also touches on some serious subjects. For example, the reason for Yuno’s fear of men is because she was once the victim of an attempted sexual assault. When her attacker re-appears on the scene Taro, with help from Mio, beats him up in revenge.
Another reason for why there is more to MM! than just being sex comedy is that the humour plays on more than one “level”, to use the rather annoying term. First, there is the cartoonish slapstick. Much of the way Taro’s pain is delivered occurs in deliberately over-the-top cartoon-like manner. In one episode he is put in a huge pot and boiled, in another he is pummelled by baseballs. Taro Sado is probably the only animated character who would like a 16 ton weight dropped on him. Then there is the issue of parody and referencing. If you watch other anime you will see a lot of other series mentioned. There are references to The Rose of Versailles (No. 18) and Martian Successor Nadesico (No. 23) amongst others.
Most of MM! is slapstick and sauciness, but it can be clever and surprisingly serious at times. There only major problem is that no-one will ever know the true ending. Author Akinari Matsuno sadly died in 2011, so the series will forever be unfinished.
MM! is only available on Region 1, released by Sentai Filmworks.
What attracted you to the part of Malcolm Webster?
I felt it was a huge journey to be able to go on with a person, and a real horror to be able to play the innocence of his reality as he saw it. He’s not doing it with a twirl of a moustache – the entire thing is just a means to an end. Every step of the way he’s justifying his actions.
Is this role a departure for you, particularly as it’s a factual drama and you’re more known for black comedy?
Playing the role of Malcolm Webster was a great opportunity for me to show people another side of my work. It’s a slow process though, people generally have me pegged as the man who does the grotesque characters so it’s nice to do something with a bit more subtlety.
How did you feel about playing a real person and convicted criminal?
As an actor you do feel a sense of responsibility on your shoulders when you play a real person. I recently played Patrick Troughton in Mark Gatiss’ Doctor Who. For that part I had an extra element of responsibility because people can easily say, ‘That’s not right…he wasn’t like that’.
How did you approach your portrayal of Malcolm Webster?
I talked to Paul [the director] constantly about not playing a cod Hannibal Lector-style psychopath or someone you’d find in a deliberate serial killer story. I wanted to get across the ordinariness, the blandness, and the mundanity of the evil.
I only ever drew on the perception of Malcolm Webster given by other people who encountered him. Everyone I discussed this with said there was never even a glimmer of evil and ironically, all the women felt completely safe with him. On the whole, the person they spent a lot of time with wasn’t evil to them in the slightest. They find it really hard to square that with what he did. We also show the evil side of Malcolm Webster, a side that was completely alien to the world and only about greed.
Was it ever suggested that you meet Malcolm Webster? If not, why do you think the production took the decision not to seek his involvement?
There was never any consideration that I should have met Malcolm Webster. I don’t think I would have gained anything from meeting him other than seeing his utter conviction. The depiction of him via the facets we’ve managed to gather from everyone who encountered him when he was free, is what we needed. To ask to go and see him would have been a voyeuristic exercise and that’s to be avoided.
This isn’t a drama about him as an innocent man. Our version of the person I play is, quite rightly, presented through the eyes of the women. That’s the way it should be.
What research did you do for the part?
I spoke to Charlie Henry, who’d had a lot to do with Malcolm Webster as the net closed in on him. I researched a lot about the sociopathic mind-set of someone who is not really engaging with the world but appears to be. There’s a lot of source material on that.
I also met Simone and Peter Morris. Peter came on the day we filmed Claire and Malcolm Webster’s wedding. He watched me do Webster’s speech. He came up to me and said, “You’ve got his arrogance”, which I thought was good! I felt awful meeting him because I was playing the man who murdered his sister, but he was lovely.
In one scene you shave off your hair. Can you tell us about that?
You wouldn’t normally shave hair from that length but they wanted the proper tramline through the hair. I asked, ‘What if the razor jams’ and they said, ‘Just keep going – we’ve got one take for this’. My legs were shaking when I did it and I didn’t sleep that night. My head was on the pillow with a new feeling of no hair. But that’s the commitment to the truth of the story. It felt right and I was very pleased we’d done it.
What is it about The Widower that will appeal to and fascinate an audience?
I think it’s endlessly jaw-dropping. I was really pleased with the level of tension within the scenes. Firstly you’re with Webster, seeing his lies and how they ripple out into the world, but then as the drama unfolds you’re with Charlie Henry as he’s slowly working towards capturing Webster. The element of cat and mouse is gripping.
Do you think it’s important to dramatise real life cases and stories?
I think stories like this should be told as you can’t pretend that terrible things don’t happen. If you do, you’re letting that person get away with it. I remember talking to Andy Serkis about playing Ian Brady. He was frightened of doing it but said, ‘of course I have to do it, as you’ve got to confront things by showing these evil people’.
Recce Shearsmith’s TV and film credits include: Inside No.9; The World’s End; A Field in England; Psychoville; Eric & Ernie; New Tricks; Shaun of the Dead; The League of Gentlemen
The Widower starts on ITV on Mon 17 March at 9pm
There are plenty of really popular anime series around, or at series that are popular with anime fans but are not known to the general public. Sometimes it’s good to see a series which is more cult-like. One that’s short and not mainstream, but may be of interest to some people.
A typical series is Iria, a six-part sci-fi Original Video Anime (OVA) that was released in 1994. The series is actually known by the full title of Iria: Zeiram the Animation, with this Zeiram being a 1991 live-action film that the anime is based on. This film is not released in Region 2, so this at first might put you off watching Iria, but the anime is actually a prequel to the film, so it is not a spoiler, and you can then watch Zeiram with a better understanding of it.
Iria is the name of the anime’s title character. She is a bounty hunter of somewhat masculine appearance, most noted by the beads she wears in her hair. She works on a distant planet, acting as an apprentice to her older brother Glen, alongside jaded hunter Fujikuro and under the orders of Bob, an agent for their organisation called Ghomvak Security & Investigations.
Iria, Glen and Bob are given a job that involves rescuing the high-jacked crew of a spaceship called the Karma. When they arrive they eventually discover that the high-jacker is something called Zeiram. Zeiram is a seemingly immortal, indestructible alien. Iria tries to help the victims, but in the mist of it all Zeiram attacks and starts to eat Bob. Iria escapes the scene, but as she flees she witnesses the Karma being destroyed, taking everyone, presumably including Glen and Bob with her. The rest of the series follows Iria’s attempts to discover if Glen really did die, as well as trying to figure out a way of stopping Zeiram from causing more destruction.
This sextet of episodes does have some things to commend it. One is the soundtrack. Both the opening theme; “Tokete Iku Yume no Hate ni” (“At the End of the Melting Dream”) sung by Yayoi Goto, and “Yume wa Toi Keredo” (“Although the Dream is Far”) sung by SAEKO are performed wonderfully.
The animation could be said be criticised by some anime fans for being “typical of its time” in terms of slightly poor appearance in this day and age. However, surprisingly, the art style was actually inspired by the films of Terry Gilliam, like The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, according to The Anime Encyclopedia by Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy (a book I strongly recommend, listing just about every anime ever made. The latest edition of which is currently being written and expected to be released later in 2014).
The same encyclopedia I should point also criticises the English dub. The subtitles in the latest UK release of Iria at times also have their own issues. At points the subtitles are slow and appear somewhat later when the characters are speaking. At other times the subtitles appear on screen too quickly because more than one character is talking. For some reason they do not show two separate discussions simultaneously.
Iria makes for a short and yet fun series. While there might be better known and better made anime, it has its plus points.
Iria is released on DVD by MVM Films.