Archive | February, 2007

a late note on Fruits Basket

25 Feb

fb1.jpgFive minutes into the pilot episode, i knew i was going to love this series, without prior knowledge of how the story was going to unfold. What prompted me to buy the series (26 eps) though was the consistently good buzz it generated from various sources — reviewers, fans, etc.

The series starts on a funny-bittersweet note. You just can’t help but instantly empathize with Tohru Honda, a recently orphaned 16(?)-year-old high school girl who unwittingly sets up camp (literally!) in the wooded vicinity of the Sohmas’ house. After a series of interesting events, she eventually became part of Shigure Sohma’s (an author of steamy romances) household, which consisted of Yuki Sohma and Kyou Sohma, who went to the same HS as Tohru. In exchange for room and board, she worked as a housekeeper for the colorful trio.

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It wasn’t long afterwards that she stumbled upon the family’s well-kept secret (and what a funny scene that was — you ought to see it to appreciate the slapstick humor), and — in the process of interacting with the mind-boggling, fascinating members of this chaotic family —  manages to teach everyone that there was more to strength than stoical toughness.

However, the road is not smooth for our slightly ditsy protagonist. In the course of the 26-episode story, Tohru learns to cope with jealous schoolmates (Yuki’s rabid fan club) and judgmental relatives, and to survive the chaotic, mind-boggling and hilarious reactions of various ‘cursed’ Sohma clan members. Her major stumbling block is Akito Sohma — the frail, but bitter and manipulative leader of the Sohma clan.

fb51.jpgFortunately for Honda (for all her quiet resilience and unquenched optimism), she has two protective and devoted friends, Hanajima and Arisa, who are both a study in mental toughness themselves. She also forms an unlikely but strong bond with Yuki and Kyou, who in their own touchingly awkward fashion, try to help and shield Tohru from the worst of Akito’s vengeful wrath.

This is one series where the characters are sharply delineated; despite the huge cast, it’s easy to single out and identify a character, mostly due to the concept of Jikkan-Juniishi (based on the Chinese zodiac, which comprises 12 animals that each ‘cursed’ Sohma clan member correspondingly personifies), and the way the show’s creators deftly handled the story. The fact that it is based on a hugely popular manga series (still ongoing, i think) in Japan also works hugely in its favor.

Other factors that contribute to its appeal is the art and the music it employs to complement (but never gratingly overwhelms) the scenes being portrayed. The opening and closing songs are  also appropriate for the series.

miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro

16 Feb

this is a fond glance at a well-loved anime classic…

The other day, while I was rearranging my CDs, I stumbled across an old anime favorite (Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro) that got mixed up in the pile by mistake. Without further ado, I popped it in my player.

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As the familiar strains of the upbeat opening song wafted into my tiny living room, I was once again gently reminded why I (and thousands of other viewers) like his films so much. As nostalgic trips go, this film is note-perfect for its insidious charm that soothes you down like a comfortable pair of slippers.

Among Miyazaki’s animated films, I’ve always found My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro; 1988) the easiest to relate to because, notwithstanding its supernatural elements, the story is essentially grounded in reality (with subtle autobiographical brush strokes) and takes place in a sleepy rural setting.

The movie has no overt violent scenes, which should make this animated feature fairly suitable even to young children, although it does deal with the threat of loss and pain as only a child can sense it. The film teems with childlike wonder, discovery and ready acceptance of extraordinary incidents. Basically, it’s one anime title that I’d be pleased to recommend to anyone regardless of his/her age.

hayao31.jpgThe animation, as expected for a Studio Ghibli offering, is top-notch, and the characters are well delineated. The story focuses on two young girls who, along with their father (a college professor), move into an old country house — a quaint, rustic structure complete with cobwebs, rotting posts and rattling windows — in order to be near the hospital where their mother is being treated. In one of her rambles, 4-year-old Mei (and later, along with the her older sister Satsuki) stumbles into the slumbering guardian spirit of the forest — a huge, cuddly, bear-like creature called Totoro, who’s apparently only visible to young children…

Without giving away the rest of the story (I really don’t want to spoil the experience for those who still haven’t seen it), there are several items in this film that should be fairly obvious to a Miyazaki enthusiast. The main protagonist is a young girl (or in the case, girls) who’s learning to grapple with the complexities of life (a recurring theme in many Studio Ghibli films such as Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Laputa Castle, Porco Rossi, etc.). There’s also an endearingly clumsy young boy, Kanta, who shows an abiding interest in planes/aviation (Kiki’s Delivery Service, Laputa Castle), a trait that Miyazaki shared as a child. This movie likewise highlights, in unobtrusive but touching instances, the way the Japanese show respect for their old and the ‘natural’ spirits around them.

totoro31.jpgI don’t know how much of what is shown in My Neighbor Totoro actually reflects Miyazaki’s childhood, but I’ve read somewhere that he was quite close to his grandmother and that his mother had also suffered from a serious ailment (TB) which required a lengthy hospital treatment. He’s known to care deeply for his female relations and I think it shows in the way he presents his female characters, even those who are initially perceived as the villainess of the piece.