This Week: Starship Troopers, Natsuiro no Sunadokei, and Lupin the Third, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine.
What do a classic science fiction book adaptation, a visual novel animation, and a new exploration of a time tested anime franchise have in common?
Prominently juxtaposing goofy bird imagery around their primary female romantic leads.
Naturally. Because of course.
Starship Troopers (Uchuu no Senshi)
I tend to be a big subscriber to the idea there is a lot of value opening credits sequences can tell the viewer. It can set the tone for what we’re about to see, give hints for the things in store, and can in a pinch give a quick gut read on where the production team heads are.
The primary intro for the Starship Troopers anime is about a seagull, a lady in a swimsuit, and power montage 1980’s music about making dreams come true.
We’re looking at a six episode OVA that had all of its episodes released in a two month period, so time was of the essence somewhere and it shows. There’s an extraordinary amount of frame stutter, and a lot of the animation couldn’t have had more than a once over from the quality assurance folks, as things like shadows often look more like paint was literally just smudged around in blobs on the cels.
Now, the Starship Troopers book is one of my favorites to analyze. As a narrative it’s not really very interesting, but it’s more of an extended essay using a novel as a framing device to mouth off about military ideals and philosophy. I disagree with large chunks of it, but that’s part of why I liked writing essays about it back in university and such, as it does give an astonishing amount of material to work with. And this is the problem many attempts to adapt it into other media have so many snags: while famous for inventing powered armor space marines, there just aren’t many interesting characters in its world to talk about. So producers find they need to get surprisingly creative, as extended classroom chapters on sociopolitical points aren’t exactly what the book gets licensed for.
To its credit, this iteration is mostly focused on training sessions. It’s all very surface level stuff that sucks most of the commentary and introspective monologues out so it wouldn’t bog things down any. As a result though, we’re left mostly with Generic Future Dudes doing Generic Future Basic Training with very little distinguishing them or to think about as viewers. Which I suppose is a sort of commentary in its own right of course. But it is definitely bland to a point where it is a slog to get through. Even when the bugs do show up, they’re hopelessly disappointing fleshy blob monsters rather than a menacingly vicious insectoid hivemind.
Natsuiro no Sunadokei (Hourglass of Summer / Sandglass of Summer Colors)
Dear optical media disc gods in heaven, I actually bought the visual novel of this when Hirameki was doing English translated DVD releases for that sort of thing back in the early 2000’s boom years in the USA. This is not a world I expected to be setting foot back into.
The game I remember being ambitious for the genre at the time, if flawed. The premise is the main character intending to ask the girl of his dreams out at the start of summer vacation. Shenanigans ensue, and suddenly it’s the start of next semester, where a memorial service is being held for that girl, who at some point had indeed become their girlfriend. Queue a time travel story, as that whole affair is unraveled. A primordial-ish Steins;Gate, if it was set in high school and had a serious lobotomy replacing its attempts at science and conspiracy with handwavey technomagic pixie dust, essentially.
The OVA problems are the same I remember the game having; Kaho just isn’t a very interesting romantic lead to watch someone chase. The kind of empty vessel we’re told everyone adores, and our lead already yearns for, but the same effort isn’t taken to show us that. As a result, all the alternate paths in the game have more interesting stories, as while they’re still pretty generic anime girls, they get more characterization to provide context for why our lead would reconsider and select them over the girl on the box cover.
At two episodes, it has to absolutely blitz its way through the time travel romance game narrative. Given, since there’s so much ground it tries to aggressively cover, it doesn’t have ample time for much else. Not much room for characterization, but also not a lot for silly fanservice. So, it’s this sort of rushed, cheap, paper thin romance, but… it could have been far worse, as far as short cash-in visual novel OVA’s are concerned.
Lupin the Third, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (Lupin the Third: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna)
Many folks were happy when the box set for this dropped the other week, so I gave it a spin. I’m actually really surprised I didn’t get to this earlier; We’ve got Shinichiro Watanabe as Music Producer, Takeshi Koike (Redline) as Animation Director, and our Director and most of the scripts are handled by women (Sayo Yamamoto (Michiko to Hatchin) and Mari Okada (Anohana, Aria), respectively) getting to do a fresh take on one of the most classic female characters in anime. That’s an astonishing number of things to bring to the table, and I don’t even follow Lupin the Third that closely.
By and large, this is a show of watching Cool Looking Cool People do Cool Things set to Cool Music. The vast majority of it feels like the atmosphere of a beat up bar from decades ago with an ambiance soaked of velvety old cigarettes and whiskey glasses, even during the action scenes. Fujiko has essentially always been a femme fatale sex symbol, and here she’s really in quite personal control of being able to use that sensuality to her advantages. Lupin has his great one-liners and slapsticky moments, but he also has an edge to him. Jigen and Zenigata fit so well in Koike’s art style; as the series exclusively uses thick black lines for shading and shadows, they feel imposing and dangerous.
It does have its share of issues though; Goemon is usually around just sort of haphazardly and I’m not sure Oscar and his narrative was necessary at all. More importantly though, the series takes a radical shift in the final third, moving away from episodic treasure heist romps to something more focused on head trippy fantasy elements, years old conspiracy and exposition dumps. Lupin spends several minutes flat out explaining the plot both to the audience and to other characters, which I feel detracted a lot from the two part finale.
Those first two thirds are a fun action-adventure time though, it just seems like it tried to shift too late in the game towards an entirely different kind of show it didn’t have the time to do sufficient justice towards.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime series I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.