Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

One thousand years after a war devastated much of the Earth, humanity clings to existence at the fringes of a vast, polluted forest inhabited by monstrous insects. Only Nausicaä, the princess of the tiny realm of the Valley of the Wind, grasps the environmental significance of the forest. She sees beyond petty wars and national rivalries to the only viable future for the planet.

Hayao Miyazaki’s work examines how asinine human conflict can become when it more effective to be cooperative. Animated with Studio Ghibli’s beautiful liveliness, Nausicaa lives in a peaceful valley that comes alive on screen. However, quickly the other kingdoms of humanity express their jealousy at this peace and abundance. Those kingdoms seek to take the valley for themselves and stir up the consequences of conflict.

Nausicaa wraps together Miyazaki’s favorite themes of environmentalism and anti-war. He speaks through Nausicaa, but in the movie the message falls on deaf ears. The animation holds up very well despite the age of the movie (1984). The English version features actors Patrick Stewart and Uma Thurman among many others. Like other Studio Ghibli films, what it lacks in detail it makes up for with lively animation. Magical and deep, Hayao Miyazaki’s life work is a modern day fairy tale.


Wolf’s Rain

The world dies a slow freezing death. Long thought extinct, wolves know of a legend that just might save a few lucky souls. When the Lunar Flower blooms the gate to Paradise shall open.

Wolf’s Rain is set in the far future during the next Ice Age. Humanity is secluded to a harsh short life in the few remaining cities.  Outside the protective confines is an icy death. Wolves have evolved to survive their human hunters. Able to hide themselves in the illusion of a human, they eek out a living among the impoverished remnants of humanity. In on city a lone white wolf wanders, following the scent of a flower. The wolf draws more of his kind into a pack and discovers humans have managed to create the key to Paradise and salvation from the dying Earth. Her name is Cheza.

Characters

Kiba is a white wolf who vowed to find the Lunar Flower and open the way to Paradise. He is rash and instinctual in his actions. He is proud of his wolf heritage and is disgusted to how wolves are degraded to using human illusions to survive.

Tsume is a gray battle hardened wolf. Self reliant and rough, he joins Kiba out of sheer boredom. He believes Paradise is just a myth.

Hige, the carefree tan wolf, is comfortable living with humans. He has the strongest nose of the pack and just goes along with the crowd.

Toboe, the youngest, is a brown wolf raised by an elderly woman. He is protective and friend toward humans. He has the best ears of the pack.

Cheza, the Flower Maiden, is an artificially created human. She is empathetic and distraught by the scent and sight of wolf blood

Wolf’s Rain is about the power of faith. The promise Paradise is the only thing keeping the wolves going. Kiba in particular believes the legend with his entire being.  The series suggests that humans were the cause of the Ice Age through their consumption of resources. Over time the characters become friends and sacrifice themselves for each other and the idea of Paradise.

Wolf’s Rain is a bit muddled with the entire thread of the Lunar Flower. Plot holes are gaping at times. The character development and interaction is appealing and believable. The art is dark, brooding, and lonely – excellent for a lonely ice encased world. Yoko Kanno’s soundtrack is excellent and adds to the sorrow and loneliness that prevails the series.  The series is wounded by 4, yes 4, recap episodes out of 26. The series is emotive and worth the watch, just don’t think too hard on the storyline.


Heiress of the Phantom Thief

Chizuko is a young heiress living with her aunt and uncle, who are plotting to inherit her fortune. She is rescued by the mysterious phantom thief, 20 Faces, and becomes part of his family of thieves.

Chizuko is an avid mystery book reader; if it wasn’t for the skills she picked up from these books her aunt and uncle would have long ago succeeded in poisoning her and stealing her fortune. One day the Phantom Thief appears to steal one of the jewels of her fortune. Seeing no other alternative to escape her aunt and uncle, she convinces the thief to take her on as a student. She quickly earns a place with the Phantom Thief’s gang. A gang that feels like it came from the Robin Hood legends. However, even the great Phantom Thief has a past that cannot be escaped.

Heiress of the Phantom Thief is an enjoyable romp through a story like you would see in a Nancy Drew novel. There is some action and plot twists speckled throughout. The mystery is just enough to keep you guessing and wanting more. The soundtrack is unremarkable, and the animation is solid but not up to the quality many anime viewers now expect thanks to studios like Production IG. It is essentially a coming of age story as Chizuko develops the skills and knowledge to live in the gray world of 20 Faces.  The supporting cast is the usual motley assembling of quirky characters. Only Chizuko and 20 Faces receive extensive development. 20 Faces has various ethical challenges to his practices, but comes off as mostly a modern day Robin Hood. Her aunt and uncle are too one dimensionally greedy.

This anime is also known as Daughter of Twenty Faces. Unfortunately both title versions reveals the outcome to the overarching plot. If you enjoy Nancy Drew flavored mysteries you will enjoy this anime.


Last Exile

A rate of 7 star difficulty can quickly change the life of a sky courier. Last Exile is a steampunk sky-venture that follows Claus Valca and his navigator Lavie Head through a tough courier mission that killed a more experienced pilot and plunges them between 2 warring nations and the Guild, an organization that seemingly enforces the rules of war.

The Guild ensures the conflict between the two nations Anatoray and Disith continues according to their rules. They hand out just enough technology to each nation to increase the kill count but not to give either nation the edge. Claus and Lavie only seek to keep their cargo, a young girl named Alvis, safe. They soon discover Alvis is the key to something called Exile.

Characters

Lavie, Alvis, and ClausClaus Valca is a 15 year old pilot who works as a sky courier under the Norkia Vanship Union. He accepts the difficult 7 star rated mission and responsibility of Alvis’s safety.

Lavie Head is Claus’s navigator and mechanics. Moody and outspoken, she makes sure Claus knows her displeasure with his decision to become a combat pilot to protect Alvis. She swings between being Claus’s best friend and sibling and to a nagging wife. she keeps her feelings for Claus suppressed, but they surface time to time with jealousy

Alvis Hamilton, an 11 year old, is the Guild’s primary goal. Referred to as the “key to Exile” and simply “the cargo,” she grows close to Claus and Lavie.

The cast of supporting characters and villains is large but each are well designed and memorable.

The world of Last Exile is rich in details. It is a rusty world of steampunk industry, but it just serves as the backdrop and not the focus. Many of the craft in the series was based upon actual drawings from the early 1900s. The animation is rich and smooth. The backgrounds are detailed down to softly billowing steam. The series leans heavily on 3d computer animation for much of its flight scenes. The combination of tradition and computer animation is seamless and well done. The art is just superb in design and execution. The storyline is complex and chock full of questions and dangling threads that the viewers have to wait to be resolved. The pacing is excellent with cliff hangers and just enough reveals to keep the viewer hooked.


Ghost in the Shell

The world survived a nuclear and biological war. Can it survive the cyber war as well?

Ghost in the Shell is a police thriller set in the not too distant future. The world is now driven by cybernetics, and its soldiers are augmented to the point of super human abilities. The series takes place in Japan and follows the activities of Public Security Section 9, a special police force designed to handle the new cyberterrorists. In their world, computer hackers can hijack the cyborg minds of soldiers and citizens to commit atrocities. It is the job of Motoko Kusanagi, the Major, and Section 9 to bring these people to justice.

The series, Stand Alone Complex, Section 9 investigates a series of corporate terrorism and blackmail linked to a previous incident called the Laughing Man Incident. In the Laughing Man Incident a computer hacker uncovers internal memos in the micro-machine industry that seeks to cover up a more effective treatment for the disease cyberbrain sclerosis than their own micro-machine treatment. To keep their profits soaring, the industry covers up the vaccine. The hacker kidnaps the CEO of the industry leader and attempts to force the man to confess of the cover up. The CEO refuses to confess on television, and in desperation the hacker flees the area, hacking all the communications with his logo to cover his escape. This logo appears in the current corporate terrorism attempts. The investigation could mark the end of Section 9.

The sequel to Stand Alone Complex, Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG, picks up various threads of back-story touched upon in the first series. This series follows the political realities of the world after 2 catastrophic world wars. Governance of many areas of the world are in dispute, and one terrorist seeks to wrest control of one of these areas from Japan to establish his own nation and potentially spark another world conflict. Sectin 9 must find this terrorist and his organization and stop him.

Characters

Chief Daisuke Aramaki is the administrator of Section 9. Strict but fiercely loyal to his team members, he often puts himself and his career on the line to protect the survival of the team members.

Major Motoko Kusanagi is a computer information specialist and field leader of Section 9. She became a cyborg at a young age after an accident – only her brain and a part of her brain stem remain organic. Her skill with information technology often leads her to doubt her continued humanity. She can easily interchange one cyborg body for another and even upload her consciousness to the internet. Because of this, she feels disconnected with existence and what it means to be human.

Batou is a former US Army Ranger. He is also a full cyborg but lacks most of the conflict the Major experiences as he was cyborized when he entered the special forces. Batou is Major’s best friend. As a Ranger he is capable of information technology manipulation, similar to the Major, but prefers the direct, physical approach.

Togusa, Batou’s partner and a former police detective. Togusa is human with only a few cybernetic implants. At times, this makes him feel inferior to his fully cyborg co-workers. He provides investigative skills and instinct the team lacks.

Ishikawa is Section 9’s information warfare specialist. Like Togusa, he is only slightly enhanced by technology. Laid back, his role is to bring the other characters up to date with new developments in the case as he finds more information in his investigations.

Saito is Section 9’s expert sniper. Saito is equipped with a prosthetic arm and Hawkeye, a specialized artificial eye. Both are necessary for his sniper duties. Saito dislikes grunt work with a passion.

Pazu is a chain smoking investigator. He is a jack of all trades and acts as a field agent.

Boma, the explosives specialist, is a physical match for Batou. He is a cybervirus expert.

The Tachikoma are nine spider-like sentient tanks that assist and transport Section 9 team members. They often provide comedic relief.

Ghost in the Shell asks heavy questions about the nature of existence and what it means to be human. The Major often wrestles with her disconnect with her humanity. She is more machine in many ways than even the artificially sentient Tachikoma since she doesn’t identify herself with a physical body as they do. In a world where consciousness itself can be hacked and manipulated, the question about what constitutes a soul, or ghost as the series refers to the soul, or whether a soul exists at all. Artificial intelligence is advanced enough to be human, further complicating the question. Reality can be manipulated through technology and almost completely avoided. The series often raises the question of just how much power information and communication technology has upon the mind. Even death’s inevitability seems an illusion when consciousness can exist in the electron flow of the internet.

There is some religious tension between those who believe in a natural God given body and the ‘sinners’ who lose their humanity to technology. Although this is a very small theme in the over all scope of the series.

Ghost in the Shell is smart, beautifully animated, and well written. It requires the viewer to pay attention to all the little details to follow the subtle twists in the story. Dark and reflective, Ghost in the Shell challenges the idea of what it means to be human and our relationship with technology. The series and movies stand far a part from the usual science fiction fare. In many ways, Ghost in the Shell presents a future that is entirely plausible.


Eureka Seven

Eureka SeveN: Psalms of Planets begins one boring Blue Monday when the the large Nirvash typeZERO literally crashes into 4 year old Renton Thurston’s life. His first look upon the stoic pilot, Eureka, forever steals his heart. As the son of the late legendary savior of mankind, Adroc Thurston, Renton unknowingly contains the means to unlock the full potential of the first LFO (“Light Finding Operation”) found the same Nirvash typeZERO.

Little does he know, however, that the leader of Gekkostate, Holland Novak, has plans for him.

The series follows Renton Thurston, the strange Eureka, and the quirky crew of Gekko State. Eureka SeveN primarily focuses upon the developing love between Renton and Eureka (which is either pronouced El-rekka or Ee-you-re-ka) set against the larger world changing events swirling around them.

E7 is yet another entry in the mecha genre. You have all the usual elements, giant robots, mysterious abilities and world shattering events. However, in E7 you don’t see the tired “zero to hero” motif. Well, sure the main characters become the hero, but Eureka SeveN offers much more.

Eureka SeveN’s main focus is upon the development of Renton and Eureka’s love for each other as they are forced into adulthood by the war that the Gekkostate sparks. Gekkostate is an anti-government organization. Renton’s early teenage self pity makes the viewer wince at the memories of their own teenage years and cheer when Renton finally clasps Eureka’s hand

Did I mention surfing or rather Lifting? In the world of Eureka SeveN, the atmosphere is fulled with energy called Trapar, that allows LFOs and Lifters to surf in the clouds. Beautifully animated and vividly colored, the dizzying air battles streak the screen.

Nirvash vs The End

The larger conflict in the series centers around the military’s efforts to purge the mysterious Coralians, also called Scub Coral, from the planet humans are attempting to colonize. Ironically, the military uses the same Coralians as the foundation for their LFO squads. Nirvash typeZero was the first Coralian discovered. In their work, the military forcefully subdues anyone who stands against their work to wrest control of the planet for humans. Against this war and genocide Renton and Eureka are forced to come of age.

Eureka SeveN’s characters range from the highly developed Holland Novak and Gekkostate pilot Talho Yuki to the roughly sketched characters of Gonzy and Jobs. While it is understandable, the greatest weakness of the series was the lack of development for some of the supporting cast.

However, each of the supporting members have at least one memorable scene where their personalities shine. The main characters of the series are complex and human. Holland has anger and jealousy issues, particularly toward Renton, and in one scene breaks down and cries on Talho. Talho also have jealousy issues toward Eureka’s relationship with Holland.

Even the villain, Dewey Novak, is likable or at least identifiable. Like his younger brother, Holland, he is tormented by the past and expectations. Both firmly belief their decisions are right.

Finally, there is a third love story. Anemone is Eureka’s polar opposite. Conditioned by the military and an orphan of genocide, she and her LFO, The End, faces off against Eureka and the Nirvash. Her caretaker, Dominic Sorel, finds himself falling in love with the poisonous flower.

Now this isn’t the say the series is just tears and soppy emotional stuff.

While love is the central theme for the series, the story also wrestles with religion, genocide, and mankind’s role in the environment. Eureka SeveN has a flower child or surfer view of the world. We live in it and enjoy the Trapar and Lifting. If we fail to take care of it we will lose what we love. Likewise, the series deals with the fallout of genocide. One large city, Warsaw, was leveled and all but a few orphans and people survived the ethnic cleansing. Among the survivors: Anemone, Dominic, and Captain Jurgens.

Finally, religion plays a role throughout the story. A religious sect called Vodarac believe humans and Coralians can live together in peace. They are a mixture of Christianity, Buddhism, and earth religions. In response, the military level’s their version of Jerusalem. Eureka, at the time was part of a special forces squad lead by Holland. The actions they are ordered to take haunt them throughout the series.

E7 isn’t perfect. The series begins in a very ‘mecha’ way and proceeds slowly for a few episodes. Like all mecha, the storyline itself often falls into the silly and incoherent, but not to the same extent as many series in the genre. The dialogue has it’s painful moments, but over all it is well done. The development of Renton, Eureka, Holland and Talho, leaves ever decreasing amount of screen time for the supporting cast, but most of the characters come alive with their limited appearances. The children in the series, Mater, Link, and Maurice, can quickly become annoying. But then that is pretty realistic for children in their age range.Obviously a lot happens across the anime’s 50+ episodes. I don’t want to spoil events, but I will just say this is one anime that actually brought tears to my eyes, from laughter and sadness. While often considered a lesser cousin to the (overrated) Evangelion series, Eureka SeveN explores what it means to be human, the dark and the light.

I am a bit biased as I write this article. E7 is my favorite anime. The vivid colors and silky action coupled with excellent character development sets it apart from the crowd. The love story between Renton and Eureka tugged at me as few love stories can.