After five years of blogging, it’s time to take a hard look at why I became an anime fan in the first place.
I said this in the past, but I didn’t really grow up with anime quite like most of today’s fandom. The childhood part was mostly the same, having Pokemon, Digimon, Yu-Gi-Oh and “whatever I could see of Dragonball since I didn’t have cable growing up” occupy my free time and being astonished by how cartoons could have serialized stories and a certain strangeness you can’t get from Sylvester and Tweety. When it came to buying DVDs, Detective Conan (known as Case Closed in America) was what got me started. And when it came to trying out new anime on Youtube, I’d look at anime adaptations of Shonen Jump manga that I bought when I discovered Yu-Gi-Oh in the bookstore was different than Yu-Gi-Oh the TV show, as well as adaptations of JRPGs, which I got into when my brother introduced me to Tales of Symphonia for the Gamecube. From there on was an inconsistent mix of popular and unpopular choices with my favorite things to watch mostly being from Bones and KyoAni due to their production values combined with my love for romance and action. And then there was the hentai. But let’s keep that out of this discussion for now.
My anime tastes were allergic to mecha and over-the-top visuals, so I didn’t bother with anything Gainax or Sunrise-related with the exception of Code Geass, which at the time I liked because it executed the things I generally hated differently, and I didn’t care about pacing at the time as long as the hero was a likable ass. Didn’t really have an excuse for Madhouse and Ghibli though. For some reason, I just never watched anything they made, although I did see my friends put on Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle whenever I visited them. Around 2010, I finally summoned up the urge to watch these legendary Miyazaki movies myself and I instantly fell in love with them in a manner that went beyond what I felt for Fullmetal Alchemist or Clannad back when I adored them.
My reasons are different now, but back then they were basically the Disney of the East, and I absolutely loved Disney/Pixar films growing up because, well, every kid did. I instantly favored Ghibli though because I’ve always preferred 2D animation and I adored how their stories talked about environmentalism/war without just saying “forest rules, war drools”, along with the majority of their characters all having good/redeeming points whether they be hero or villain. And that’s still true today, but I’ve since gained a new appreciation (well, I always had that appreciation, but I could never summarize what exactly it was) for Ghibli’s output whilst also recognizing how to differentiate the good from the great. At the end of the day, what I really love the most about them is their animation. Even when the plot disappoints like with Arrietty or Howl’s Moving Castle, I honestly don’t mind too much because Ghibli’s animated storytelling is so good that it can carry me through just about anything, including stories that don’t really interest me (Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ocean Waves). Except for Tales from Earthsea. I don’t hate it, but Christ that movie wouldn’t let me into its world.
It’s a little ironic that I do my best to avoid sakuga fandom given how I started off this blog thinking the presentation was the most important of an anime, grew to think of animation as being unimportant compared to what an anime also offers, and have since come full circle into realizing that animation “is” the main reason why I watch anime. Not for the actual quality and unique expressions, although that’s a big factor. I like animation because of how it can accomplish visual storytelling in a way that can’t be done in live-action, and anime is the one medium that really excels at that more than anything else. Some of the craziness is fun too, but in the end, I like animation so much that I can handle some bad visual presentation as long as it’s conveying a worthwhile story. And it has to be the animation that does that, because otherwise I might as well read a book or watch The Sopranos.
In order to reaffirm that stance, I recently got to purchasing the blu-ray version of Castle of Cagliostro and gave it a watch for the first time in a while. I know it’s not really a Ghibli movie despite Miyazaki being the director and all, but it has a lot of his trademarks right down to the environmental message at the end, and it was a big part of what made John Lasseter the talent that he is. Now the plot of the film is basically just a throwaway Lupin tale told on a grander scale than usual, but let’s not pay attention to that for now. In fact, I recommend that anyone going into this movie ignore the plot entirely or the fact that it has Lupin’s name on it. Just watch the movie for the art. The background images. The character expressions. The visual personality that each frame brings.
The Castle of Cagliostro is so much more than taking a live-action film and making it animation. It took the medium and really used it to its full potential – John Lasseter
I present to you an image of the car chase scene that Steven Spielberg lavished on so much, labeling it as one of the greatest car chases to ever be shown in cinemas. Also, keep in mind that this was before those Fast and Furious movies were a thing. Nevertheless, to those of you who watched this movie, what did you think of that scene when it showed up less than ten minutes in? For those of you who say it was just a really cool action set piece except in animated form, I wouldn’t disagree with you, as everything else you could interpret from it isn’t all that worthy of praise. But there’s no denying that it was an exciting way to establish just what kind of characters Lupin, Jigen, and the antagonists were going to be in this iteration, even if it wasn’t what most people expect from a Lupin film. And generally, when you trudge through a fictional tale, you want an idea of who the characters are so that you can ground yourself into their mindset.
There are plenty of scenes near the beginning of film where Lupin is just walking through beautiful scenery and taking in the sights while music plays in the background. No there’s no real plot-related reason for it other than Lupin getting a feel for the environment, but in doing so, Lupin is giving us – the audience – the opportunity to get absorbed by the setting and its beauty.
True animated storytelling isn’t just defined by the script, but by the environment/world-building depicted through the visuals and how alive it can feel, even though you know you’ll never get to experience it for yourself. If you just make your tale nothing but plot points, then it comes off like a checklist, and there are few things as cheap and limiting as the checklist approach to storytelling. Without directly telling us, Castle of Cagliostro is conveying to us through these quiet scenes how beautiful nature can truly be whilst making the audience wish that nothing bad happens in this environment, even though we know it will. And the best part is that by this point in the movie, the conflict Lupin has to face hasn’t really made itself clear yet. We don’t know what’s going to threaten our heroes and the world as of yet. All we know is that thanks to what these pretty pictures are making us experience, we don’t want that threat to succeed.
When we see the main heroine Clarisse for the first time proper after the car chase, we’re treated to ten or so seconds of her sitting in a chair by her lonesome under the night sky before Lupin comes in and livens up her mood. Why couldn’t we just cut those seconds out and let her meet Lupin right away? Because at this point, she hasn’t been characterized as anything other than a fragile rebel, but within that short timespan, we also get a glimpse of how alone she truly is in the world for reasons that are beyond her power to resolve. And we need that angle, because Clarisse is the tragic figure who all the drama revolves around, and no matter how likable Lupin and his group are, they’re ultimately not the center stage of Cagliostro’s plot.
And Lupin is pretty damn likable as a character. As I said before, forget everything you knew about the guy and just look at his expressions and actions in this film. What I saw was a determined heroic man who’s willing to risk his life to do the right thing whilst maintaining a trickster personality. He’s usually got a smile on his face, but he knows when to be charming, when to be mad, and when to be badass. The movie does spell out his actions a bit, but when it comes to his personality, it’s all done through what we can see of him.
I’d be remiss to talk about Castle of Cagliostro’s visuals without bringing up the other famous scene from the film that stuff like The Great Mouse Detective would later tribute: the clock tower act. Like the car chase, it’s pretty much just another action scene where any characterization or story you can draw from it is is plot-heavy at best. But also like the car chase, it’s a really dynamic way to sell both sides of the conflict as their personal philosophies clash for one last time. If you’re just in the mood for straight-up action, I can think of few animated sequences that do it as well as Lupin and the Count jumping on gears in an effort to kill each other, with heavy bonus points given to how the gears’ animation seems to match the characters’. Because if that scene was done in modern anime now, I’m pretty sure heavy usage of distracting CG would be involved.
Why do those sort of technicals matter, you may ask? Because when you don’t care about the presentation of the story, the animators are implicitly saying that it’s a really boring story. Four or five freaks may disagree, but the majority of the audience isn’t going to be on board with a vision if the creators themselves don’t have any faith in it.
Finally, here’s an image of the scene that happens right after the final climax. I won’t elaborate on it because it’d mostly just be a repeat of what I said earlier, but quite frankly it’s beautiful.
There are many other scenes to highlight, but I think I’ve gotten the point across by now, plus still images aren’t exactly the best way to showcase the true majesticness of Castle of Cagliostro’s visual storytelling anyways. While I certainly don’t think that the movie itself is all that great (it is a franchise film), you can’t deny that Miyazaki’s film adaptation of Lupin contributed greatly to the birth of Pixar and other fantastic animators for a reason. And while I’ve definitely noticed its beauty in the past, I think my recent rewatch was the first time I ever truly appreciated that particular movie for what it was. If you haven’t seen the film yet, go watch it right now. Whether or not you like it, odds are you won’t be disappointed the experience, assuming you’re not an anime-hater.
More importantly, watching that film again reminded me why I adored Miyazaki’s works so much when I first discovered him in college, and consequently why I always go back to anime as my preferred medium despite my previous rants on how it wasn’t all that special and that the live-action scene is better constructed and how the movie industry’s brevity is more tolerable than most anime’s longevity and all those “still technically true, but I don’t really care about that anymore” rants I did. Somewhere from the start of this blog to present-day, I feel like I lost/forgot my reason regarding why I became an anime fan in the first place, hence why I recently gave this blog a soft reboot. In order to start anew, I had to go back to the very beginning without forgetting the past. And in doing so, I remembered what it is about anime that makes it so appealing to me despite not sharing in the same attitude towards it that the community does.
Unlike Miyazaki, I think the current anime market outside of his interests can churn out worthwhile products even with all the baggage that comes from not having his high standards, as otherwise all of my favorite anime would be nothing but Ghibli films. Despite how I act online, I do enjoy partaking in the nerdy side of the fandom. I like going to anime conventions, taking pictures of the cosplay, and engaging in in-joke discussions regarding the medium as long as they fall within my interest. However, there’s no denying that I don’t revolve my anime hobbies around the idol craze, the best girl contests, the nostalgia-hungry circles, and the fandom in general.
My love for anime is based on the animation. The artistry. The logic that can weave a compelling tale out of teenagers killing God for the thousandth time…okay maybe that’s more of a video game thing. And don’t get me wrong, I still like western animation like Adventure Time and their are other good foreign animation projects out there like Song of the Sea that give me the same rush if you factor out the cultural differences. But at the end of the day, anime (and anime video games for that matter) is my one true waifu amongst the variety of hobbies I have.
I’m certainly more open to otaku culture than I used to be, but as movies like Castle of Cagliostro as well as my favorite anime of this year have shown, I respect the art more than anything else. As long as that aspect continues to exist, I’ll always be an anime fan. And as long as that artistry continues to get misused, churning out cheap products that lack passion or creating live-action shows that just had a bucket of animated paint dropped on it, I’ll continue to criticize the medium. However, this time I’m going to be more open about my respect for this hobby, and I’m definitely going to make more of an effort to respect my readers since I don’t want to be talking to a wall here.
That’s the new promise I’ve made for myself after rediscovering what truly makes anime special to me. And I hope you guys are willing to stick with me on it.