Monday, 4 February 2008

Hearts and minds: Death Note, Samurai Champloo and SAC

They are juvenile, sexiest and derivative. So said my significant udder of comics and anime. Like some crazy eyed profit or oil hungry, industrial-military complex spokesman, I managed to convert her, on the first one at least. It’s the same for everything you care to think of; some people just don’t get poetry, others football, some, God. The old strategy of, ‘try it, you might like it’ or ‘all the cool kids are doing it’ doesn’t always work. Instead you need to think deeply about what peoples' conceptions are and how you can offer them something unexpected.


Full of spandex wearing, self righteous, never doubting, muscle bound idiots. This is still the case, you need only venture to the subterranean, B.O den, that is the Forbidden Planet in Soho to see that the best selling comics are still the ones that would make anyone except an adolescent boy, shudder.

However, there is many a comic that is the polar opposite. Alan Moore’s, Watchmen or the same panelled smack I got my significant udder hooked on, Fables, are both examples of what this medium can achieve. I highly recommend the later, for its wit, post-modernity and incredible artistic style as penned by James Jean. These two titles combined should be enough to shift the opinion of even the most entrenched book burner.


Spiky haired, shrill voiced, large breasted, cretins. It’s a cliché because there is some truth to it. Three animes that are, if not completely removed from this stereotype but still manage to stand out: Death Note, Samurai Champloo and Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is based on the feature film from back in the cyber day. It’s still essentially a cyber punk, neo noir, set in a post World War IV Japan. It’s like a cop drama with sharp dialogue and a mastermind villain that uses 'people hacking' and the web itself to inflict terrorism.

Death Note is the typical story of a seventeen-year-old boy. Light is the number one student in his country, bored with his mundane life and sickened with a world he sees as falling into depravity. Who hasn’t been bored or sickened? Thing is, we didn’t find a notebook which was dropped by a Shinigami or death god, that resembles an emancipated Goth.

The deal is you can kill whomever you like as long as you know their name and can picture their face. Just scribble it down in the Death Note and they will die in the next forty seconds. For our anti-hero this a god send, literally. He begins a reign of righteous judgement on criminals with the intention that a new world will be born out of his actions where only the pure of heart will live and he shall preside as a God.

Things are never that simple and soon enough, the MAN in the form of the police, start to see a pattern. Unable to gleam any leads they hire the mysterious L, a freelance detective that has solved some of the world’s greatest crimes. And so the stage is set for a battle of wits that will ultimately end in the death of one of the combatants. Death Note has some of the best deductive thinking employed in a drama I have ever seen. It sets a new standard for what we consider a horror/thriller. Talk about moral ambiguity.

Like a rapper armed with a katana, Samurai Champloo slices its way through Edo period Japan. Samurai Champloo is considerably lighter hearted than the other two. It’s the story of a criminal that employs break dancing into his fighting style, a ronin samurai with verbal barbs that cut as deep as his blade and an ever-loveable protagonist in search of ‘the samurai that smells like sunflowers.’

Champloo, means mash up or mix up so that the title translates as Samurai mash up. This is as good an indication of what the format of the show is than anything. Despite, the technology and architecture both being strongly entrenched in the Edo period of Japan, the language, characters and society is an amalgamation of modern day Tokyo and West Coast hip-hop culture. This connection can be over used at times, like when a scene shakes with the accompanying sound of a record scratching as a means to cut to another character somewhere else. Still, funny lines, excellent action scenes as timed to a hip-hop soundtrack all amount to an nteresting amalgamation. Lets go win some hearts and minds.

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