Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Otona Joshi no Anime Time - Life's Best Ten

Life's Best Ten-16 Life's Best Ten-23 Life's Best Ten-28

I really wish they'd make more Josei anime, because it satisfies in a way no other genre typically does.


The "Otona Joshi" project is a series of ten episodic anime adapting works by prominent Japanese female authors, brought to life by a variety of studios and directors.  As you can imagine it's going to offer a product quite a bit different from your typical LN adaptation with a 14-word title.  The first episode, "Supper", the story of an unhappily married woman who falls in love with a garbage man, was quite good.  This episode, based on a story by Kakuta Mitsuyo, ratchets things up to a significantly higher level.

I wholeheartedly support everything about this project, from taking anime into areas it doesn't normally venture to giving new directors a chance to show their stuff. In this instance that would be Miura You, who seems to be a rising star in the BONES stable.  He directed three superb episodes of Eureka Seven: Astral Ocean - including the "Bruno" episode (#6) and the fantastic episode 12, where Ao met Eureka - and the blockbuster episode 20 of Zetsuen no Tempest, where Hakaze ventured back in time and stared down Aika on a rooftop.  It can be hard for young directors to get the big job taking charge of an entire series, but projects like Otona Joshi can prove a great opportunity for them to make an impression.

I liked pretty much everything about this tale of a single woman about to turn 40 who's getting ready to attend her middle-school reunion.  In many ways this reminded me very much of a French animated feature, with it's jaunty Latin jazz soundtrack and pastel color scheme.  The themes are very French too, more than typically anime: angst at the approach of middle-age, nostalgia, and an obsessive idealizing of one's first romance.  Nakatani Miki (who's had a career much more full of live-action roles and working as an animator than doing voice work) plays Hatoko, the woman in question - almost 40, working in a decent but boring job, never married and never close.

To say Hatoko is the sort of main character we rarely see in anime (outside this project, anyway) would be a wild understatement.  As an adult myself I appreciate that her concerns are so real-world - dealing with stupid young people, wondering why marriage hasn't come along and if there's something fundamentally broken about her that's the reason, being glad not to have a spouse and kids and feeling guilty about being glad.  The only guy she's ever loved was the boy she dated in 7th-grade - for three weeks - and gave her first kiss to.  He's also listed as being on the organizing committee for her 25th middle-school reunion, which is why she attends - and the reunion itself (and aftermath) is a hoot.  I won't spoil the surprise, but to say it takes an interesting turn would be an understatement.

It's more than just the concept behind Otona Joshi that I like about "Life's Best Ten" - there's plenty that  stands out about the art in itself.  I love the music, the whimsical visual style, the maturity, and the clever little touches like the way Hatoko's friend describes the act of trying to spot a middle-school friend inside a middle-aged stranger as a "horror movie" (and the visual conceit chosen to illustrate it).  I'll be keeping an eye on subsequent episodes of this series as they become available, and cover them on a case-by-case basis.

Life's Best Ten-6 Life's Best Ten-7 Life's Best Ten-8
Life's Best Ten-9 Life's Best Ten-10 Life's Best Ten-11
Life's Best Ten-12 Life's Best Ten-13 Life's Best Ten-14
Life's Best Ten-15 Life's Best Ten-17 Life's Best Ten-18
Life's Best Ten-19 Life's Best Ten-20 Life's Best Ten-21
Life's Best Ten-22 Life's Best Ten-24 Life's Best Ten-25
Life's Best Ten-27 Life's Best Ten-28 Life's Best Ten-29
Life's Best Ten-30 Life's Best Ten-31 Life's Best Ten-32


23 comments:

  1. Ahah, this looks interesting. Also the relatability potential here on a few things is almost scary high.
    The chara des and color palette are giving me faint Takyo Marble Chocolate vibes (I happened to enjoy TMC quite a lot), although that was Production I.G and the story is altogether different.
    Alright, on the watch-list it goes.

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  2. The production is handled by BONES too right? It's so unlike BONES to venture into Josei, but I sure glad they took on the project! Now I need to go see it.

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    1. Yes, BONES produced. Not their usual sweet spot, but they're one of the very best, and always capable of emotional maturity.

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  3. I've thoroughly enjoyed both episodes of Otona Joshi so far. Part of it is the relaxing quality of the adult voices in the show, after so many squeaky little girl voices in anime. Part of it is the themes that they are centering on, giving a different insight into Japanese culture (particularly the situation that Mimi was in).

    And the visual styles have both been well executed so far. I really liked the melding of 'real' footage and animation in Mimi's story, and then the bright colors of Hatoko's story (which I tend to associate with Sakurasou) were used nicely.

    Since you didn't spoil what happens, I won't either, but I will say that I was pleased to see Hatoko's attitude at the end of the episode.

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  4. I really enjoyed this show and echo your sentiment that there needs to be more Josei anime. I found "Supper" to be most memorable for the skilful blending of live action and animation, which worked a lot better than it should have done, although I think most women I know would look askance at elements of the story.

    Life's Best 10 though was absolutely marvellous. Hatoko was a great lead character and the story was great, especially that ending,

    I'm looking forward to seeing what else the Otona Joshi project has to offer, because we need more shows like this one.

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  5. Oh how did I not hear about this before. I definitely want to watch this (I am assuming this can be found in the usual places?)

    Anyways thanks for posting about it!

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  6. Watched it! I must say I feel like giggling right now as there is a brand new set of pots winking at me from the cupboard :,) . Ceramic layer and made in Italy too.
    I watched the Supper one after this and I must say I quite enjoyed both, they work quite well against each other in terms of mood. Life's Best Ten is definitely more entertaining and has the lovely cheecky twist - I quite agree with the visual metaphor chosen about old classmates... that'd would probably be my same feelings if I ever chose to attend a junior high reunion party. Hellish years those - , but I found Supper oddly involving and in some ways more impressive at first watch... at the same time erotic, reflective and borderline disturbing - use of canned beans for minestrone included. Oh the horror - . I couldn't make my mind if the protagonist of Supper was a very strong woman or not, if I liked her or not. But it was very easy to enter her shoes and even foretell her reasoning patterns. Plus there was this keen undercurrent of precariousness highlighted by contrast with RL food and forniture footage...
    If got Supper's ending right she's not going back to her previous situation and given how that sucked royally I'll give her credit for sticking to her pots and worm her way out of that into a mutually beneficial and even loving situation with Hunky Garbage Man&Saviour Of Kittens ;D (take the gargabe out and this bit reminds me of some old school Harlequin 'ode to the plebeian worker lover' romance templates. If only they were ever this subtle and thought-provoking). !

    Back to Life's Best Ten... it left me with a smile and Hatoko was both relatable and funny - with a wicked lingerie taste. I approve of that bra! And an enviable slim figure. Aw - . In this sense I enjoyed this story much more, I'm not sure I'd consider it better than Supper.
    Both have made me hungry though :,).

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    1. Supper was really interesting for the reasons you said. Was Mimi a strong woman? I don't really think so. Strong enough to walk out on her husband, but not strong enough to deal with him after that.

      Your take on the ending is pretty close to what I got. Basically, I got that if she attended her sister's wedding with her husband as if nothing was wrong between them, that would make her sister happy, and also her husband would grant her a divorce, because while he would never forgive her for leaving, he would no longer hold their marriage over her head (basically, leave her to 'that other man').

      The sequence where she remembered the day that Kou was late and didn't call really impressed me also. What is her status? Does anyone at Kou's work even know she exists? Would she even find out if the man she loved had had an accident?

      I enjoyed both stories, but while Ten Best felt very conventional, Supper really moved into different territory, for me.

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  7. I love you so much for picking this up Enzo. When Kawamo o suberu kaze (the first episode) came out almost two years ago, it seemed to me that it missed everyone's radar, which was a pity, because the story was touching, the art beautiful and it was altogether so different from the usual anime titles. I'm so glad they are making more episodes!

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  8. GE is this already out?

    I was so looking forward to it. But I can't find it anywhere. Is it just not subbed yet? or is this from a trailer.

    It looks so amazing and sounds so amazing.

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  9. How are these episodes numbered?
    I thought Kawamo wo Suberu Kaze (Wind Skimming the River's Surface) was the first and Supper was the second?

    Anyway, I preferred Kawamo wo Suberu Kaze. It's one of those you put into "best anime nobody watched" lists. Generally, I preferred it to Supper. It was deeper, more poignant and had a nice "hah, server you right" feel to it (from a dude's point of view).

    Supper tried to be a bit too artsy for its own good, often 'escaping' to shots of food, probably to make up for its lack of content.

    I'll be catching this one shortly. Thanks for the heads up.

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    1. For me Kawamo wo Suberu Kaze from 2011 was also a great watch, and better than the last two episodes so far. Its still nice though, that there are more episodes coming out.

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  10. It's quite a pity that there are so little josei (and seinen) anime around.

    These genres are more present in manga:

    Undercurrent
    Kaikisen - Return to the sea
    Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
    Suiiki
    Harukana Machi-E

    are some nice examples for these kind of short stories if someone is interested.

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  11. Always a pleasure to read you're articles my friend. You have introduced me to many wonderful shows that would have otherwise escaped my attention. A few of which have made it to "my cream of the crop" list as well. The top 3 being Cross Game, HunterXHunter and Chihayafuru. I look forward to reading more of your material.

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    1. Those are three pretty darn good choices... Thanks for letting me know.

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  12. I watched Kawamo wo Suberu Kaze...loved it and was hoping that we could have more stories like that. I wouldn't have known about this series if Enzo didn't write a post on it...so thanks!

    Kawamo wo Suberu Kaze is deeper than the two latest installments -- it drilled deeper in me emotionally. However, both Supper and Life's Best Ten are quite enjoyable and light-hearted. Looking forward to the rest.

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  13. I did like "Supper" but some lines like the one where the guy compares her to an animal was a bit awkward. And it isn't an anime which should be seen when you still haven't eaten.

    Life's Best Ten was wonderful, with an unexpected plot-twist and a relatable main character. I love the seiyuus in this kind of projects, they contribute to the "mature" feel to it. It was nice to know about the director, thanks for that information.

    When is the next one going to be released?

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    1. @beverley-chan (and @Highway too): the third one has been already released, look for it in the usual places :).
      To be fair, in Supper the female protagonist herself compared herself to an animal being 'taken in' and saved just like the kittens her garbage man retrieved from the trash. Actually her worth at the start of the story - chronologically speaking, not narration-wise - is even lower than those of the discarded kittens... from her family and husband's (and her own internalized )POV she is a useless, discarded, invisible existence, valuable only as a tool or a puppet. As such the very moment she left her marital home she became both garbage and a ghost as a) she can't fulfill her social and marital role<--- disappointment for both her blood and acquired family and b) after she leaves her husband and before meeting Kou she is basically vegetating in that miniscule apartment leeching of the money from her husband's credit card... she's in human gargabe limbo so to speak, until she is retrieved both literally and figuratively by Kou. After that she gradually becomes more active and starts to climb up the ladder by doing some trash-picking and screening of her own ( just an example: remember that Kou himself tells her he is seen as socially undesirable because of his job? ), gradually becoming more assertive when it comes to what ad whom are worth keeping, retrieving or discarding :p... her own role and obligations included.
      If anything as arguably akward as some of those trash and kitten comparisons could be they were used pretty consistently... one instance being the aforementioned find trash/garbage/waste(and wasting away)/recycling/new life cycle concept you used 'till the very last scene and lines of dialogue, both in her and in Kou's case :) ).
      I mean it could have been a pretty uneasy watch and in part it was: Mimi's path of passive resistance and approach/borderline ossession with Kou can be justified by culturally-specific context I suspect --- many of us wouldn't find her 'strong', but would a Japanese watcher find her strong instead? --- yet from where I stand it's arguably borderline parasytic and latch-y/clingy 'I need someone to validate my existance and be codependent otherwise I can't live on/for my own self' deal. The story ended well - both the picker and the picked (but who's picking and picked really?) lucked out... they ended up being compatible - and the man not only doesn't die or cheat or is fickle or bored/scared/whatever by Mimi's oh-you're-the-centre-of-my-world ways... he even wants to make it official and brings lovey-dovey recycled furniture! Hubby dearest's de facto gonna leave her off the marital hook after she poses as wifey one last time at sis' wedding! Bingo! Sort of. For now. But it seems more than enough for the lovebirds - .
      I digressed XD. Basically: potentially unpleasant/unlikable watch/characters/themes but Supper managed to make me feel for its characters even if the protagonist's situation, background and character and mine are poles apart. Compared to all this Life's Best Ten starting point and Hatoko herself had much more of an advantage and chance to success with me. That instead I ended up appreciating both stories - actually I recall Supper the more I'm appreciating it - is testament for me to how well Supper's exection worked.

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  14. Hah, now I know that I love Josei anime. This episode was great. So these are adaptations of real books? I might just read up on some of those. The storytelling in this episode was perfect, even though the plot twist was a shocker, I realised afterwards that there were lots of small little hints about it right from the start. Like how he couldn't be disassembled to the younger version of himself and the chocalates, etc. big points for that.

    The Supper story was very refreshing in that it was very truthful where anime tend not to be, but mostly that I liked the visual style, where blending in real video with the animation felt very natural. That's quite a feat.

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  15. I did finally watch Kawamo wo Suberu Kaze, and it is indeed very good - I'd rank it just a notch below Life's Best Ten but excellent.

    I also watched Dokoka Dewanai Koko and I have to say, I kind of hated it.

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    1. @Enzo: 'I also watched Dokoka Dewanai Koko and I have to say, I kind of hated it.' ahah, same.
      KWSK I liked and I liked the ending although the whole matter about her son and his father in the end being dealt (or rather un-dealt) with like that still stings.

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    2. I think Daddy guessed the truth though, don't you?

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    3. I think he might suspect something given her hasty answer about the age of the kid. Mommy knows all too well but I can't recall something more decisive on his part about recognizing the familair shape of those tiny fingers for instance. There's the family photo reflection trick bit too but that might be more to the benefit of the audience and a way to show what could have been... wistful (and wishful) thinking from both sides rather than that other realization.

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