By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Ryōtarō Makihara’s “Hal: The Movie” manages many turns in its hour-long running time: Some bright, some sinister, some funny, some eerie. It starts with some fish being watched through a fish-eye lens, and for the remainder of the brief but beguiling narrative, the script, from Izumi Kizara, casts doubts on who is watching what, and who is being watched.
The fish-eye lens belongs to a robot at play in the not-too-distant future, a robot soon sent on a difficult mission. Hal, a young man, has died in an airplane explosion mid-air, leaving a grieving girlfriend, Kurumi, who mostly hides in a closet weeping. Outfitted with humanoid features, the android, Q01, becomes the reincarnation of Hal. It’s “his” job to help her work through her grief and return her to the world.
The beauty of the physical world pours out through many scenes of rivers, streams, sunshine, and other brightly-colored natural wonders. As the narrative progresses, though, uneasiness comes to the fore. Who was Hal, really? How did he treat Kurumi? What drove them to quarrels and even breakdowns? Little by little, the viewer becomes suspicious of what’s presented as truth. Beauty and lush young love must sit side-by-side with harsh truths.
The long-running “Ghost in the Shell” franchise is no stranger to vagueness of truth. The first two segments of a new OVA (Original Video Animation) series, arrive boxed together, with the final two presumably on the way. This series, “Ghost In The Shell: Arise,” focuses on Major Motoko Kusanagi, and her conundrums through both public and private life, in the year 2027.
Kusanagi, an augmented cyborg-human, stays tight-lipped and wisecracking on the job; she knows computers, detection strategies, and enough of the underworld, to become a rising star in her department.
But she works hard around the clock to keep her impressive-looking world from falling apart. In the first segment, “Ghost Pain,” she’s surrounded by exploding android land mines which look like blonde gymnasts; a huge crab-like robot “bodyguard” which speaks in a squeaky little-girl’s voice; and the specter of her late commander, who may have been corrupt.
In the second, “Ghost Whispers,” she’s out of the armed forces and freelance, but she still has to choose who to trust. And she sometimes choses poorly. Bolstered with plenty of thumping action and intrigue, the new “Arise” still inquires philosophically, on what cyborgs and hybrids might feel and think; how they might fit in, or not fit in, to what surrounds them.
“Cowboy Bebop,” the hit anime series now released on DVD, doesn’t bother with such philosophy. It aims for the gut and it sends shock waves clear up to the palate. It’s set in the year 2071 and human beings have gained the solar system thanks to stargates. But it’s lost the Earth and Earth’s moon due to a massive radiation spill. A new society, on the fly, emerges in the outer planets and their satellites.
The wild criminal adventures of Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine, Edward and Ein the dog, became wildly known in American anime fandom starting in 2001, although in both America and Japan, its frankly adult themes stirred controversy; the show, while not pornographic and not a gorefest, does contain a fair amount of sexual situations and violence.
A “Cowboy Bebop” movie made the mistake of promoting Spike to sainthood and center stage. The series makes it clear that the five of them, however much they may resent each other, however much they try to overpower or even kill each other, all need each other in the end, Ein included.
And their criminal empire sprung from a widening post-Earth gap between haves and have-nots. Maybe its creators were trying to make a point all along… (end)
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.