The Taisho Report of the Week
Pokémon Sun & Moon (Manga), Douman Seiman, Ergo Proxy, The Big-O, Twinkle Park
I am still experimenting with different formats for this newsletter and here is a more newsletter-ish summary of what I enjoyed this week (well, and the weeks before in some cases). It’s divided into manga, anime, games and music, so feel free to jump to the media that catches your interest the most.
Thanks for reading The Taishō Café! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Pokémon Special Sun & Moon (Volumes 1-6)
Pokémon Special (also known as Pokémon Adventures) is that one Pokémon manga known for its explicit depictions of Pokémon getting cut in two, characters dying or other extreme depictions unimaginable in the more child friendly Pokémon anime. But Pokémon Special is more than that. It’s world is closer to the games, referencing mechanics and real Pokédex entries. At the same time it introduces its own story and gives the characters from the games unique (sometimes excentric) personalities. Every story arc is based on a new instalment of the games and the characters are named after game titles (Red, Blue etc.).
This arc starts with Moon, a girl from Sinnoh who is a poison-Pokémon expert, pharmacist and archer, meeting Sun, a courier and whose goal it is to save 100 million yen (no, it's not to buy a Porygon). Both are not originally from the Alola region in which the story takes place, which gives a larger sense of the world, these characters inhabit. The six volumes rush through the game stories of both Sun & Moon and their sequels Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon, while giving every single character their time to shine. This is an impressive feat, logistically speaking, because this arc has a giant cast and a lot of story and places to cover. Yamamoto Satoshi and Hidenori Kusaka did a fantastic job at elegantly weaving everything together. What this also means is that no character or Pokémon gets too much attention. Lillie's past, which is central to the plot, gets covered in one chapter and a few flashbacks. The protagonist's Pokémon teams don't get as much attention as they get in other arcs. Moon hardly captures any new Pokémon and the final evolution of the starter Pokémon, usually an important moment in the story, does not fill much space. Sun & Moon might not have the emotional impact the Diamond, Pearl & Platinum arc had, which took more time to develop its characters (with the training arc being painfully slow).
On the other hand, this speed makes it feel like the early arcs of the series, that condensed a lot of story into a few volumes. Sun & Moon starts with a tournament, that takes up the entire first volume and introduces many important characters like Lillie, Gladio Nanu and Guzma. After that, we jump from island to island, new characters get introduced almost every chapter, everything leading up to the climactic battle that will decide the fate of the Alola region. While the danger posed by the Ultra Biests, that started to invade the peaceful islands, is palpable, Sun & Moon feels a lot more lighthearted than XY. Maybe its because most of the cast instantly work together for the greater cause.
I have only played Pokémon Sun, and only years after its inital release. But when I played it for the first time in 2021 (or was it 2022?) it quickly grew on me. The part when you reach Team Skull's hideaout is one of my favorite segments in a Pokémon game, as was the Champ battle. It's my favorite cast of characters in a Pokémon game by far. There are so many charming characters in these games that I'm surprised how the manga manages to incorporate all of them into the Pokémon Special universe and giving them their little twists: Lana, for example, is extremely pissed off. Guzma's dilemma is explored in more depth. The manga reminded me of how much I love him as a character. Finally, Moon became one of my favorite protagonists of the series in the course of the first volume alone (while the manga makes it clear she is the sister of Platinum, it never directly says so).
Pokémon Special is, I am sorry, a very special series to me. I loved every arc until Black & White, which I dropped early on. I picked up the series with XY again, in which the protagonists have to navigate through a world that has conspired against them. The darker atmosphere felt like a return to the early volumes (in the first arcs, the main villains were Gym Leaders who worked for Team Rocket and the Elite Four). I dropped the Sword & Shield arc after 2 volumes, despite its female lead being a computer nerd with ADHD and the glorious name Shirudomiria Tate. I thought, maybe there is no need for this manga anymore, as the games have become more story-driven. Actually, I only checked the Sun & Moon arc out because I read on Bulbapedia that Moon being an archer was based on Bae Doona's character in Bong Joon-ho's The Host (and because it's available for free on Kindle Unlimited in Germany), and I'm glad I did. These six volumes were a pure joy from start to finish and made me fall in love with the series again.
Breakfast at the Vivarium (Volume 1)
Douman Seiman is manga's Wes Anderson. Let me explain. There are many quirky indie artists with their own style and unique sense of humor out there, but Douman Seiman is an artist I can always instantly recognize. He clearly has a past as a dojin artist and did some pretty NSFW works (some of them not even save outside of work). There are few artists I want to own every single volume of and Douman is one of them (It helps that his longest and most famous series The Voynich Hotel, is concluded in three volumes). The story of Breakfast at the Vivarium is not too complex: Three girls try to uncover the mysteries of their town. They meet strange characters like time travellers from the 22st century with Doreamon-style tools and a cat-creature that can become infinitely long. Douman's manga are crammed with pop culture references that are not exactly niche, but more niche than what the average person consumes. For example, his two-volume short story collection Melancholia refers to Lars von Trier's film of the same name. In this volume I could spot H.P. Lovecrafts At the Mountains of Madness and a poster of Space Odyssey 2001, which is not that that much compared to some of his earlier works. Then there is his typical sense of humor. I had a good laugh when one of the protagonists said she refuses to go to the library, because reading books might worsen her eyesight and thus destroy her dream of becoming an astronaut. In said library there is a hidden underground area in which all Shonen Jump issues, including future ones, are stored. From this point in the second half, the story picks up momentum and towards the end I got more invested in the story than I initally expected to. Not his best work for sure, but like with Wes Anderson, even his less good works are still incredibly charming. Remind me to get volume 2 of Oddman 11.
Ergo Proxy (Episode 1-7)
This 2006 Cyberpunk Science-Fiction thriller made me gasp several times during the first few episodes: A first time when I saw the stylishly tilted credit text in the ending animation. A second time when I saw the opening, which made me think: "Wow, this is even better than the Serial Experiments Lain opening". A third time in episode 4, where we see a few characters looking up from a small settlement on a hostile earth up to a high-tech city in the muddy sky. The scene felt like looking at a post-apocalyptic landscape painting, like a bleak version of NieR Automata. But more than that, I gasped was when I looked up the total episode count: 23. How did an anime like this, so free and so uncompromising in its artistic vision get 23 episodes? This is probably one of those masterpiece that hardly got any recognition in Japan. Few anime made me want a concept artbook after a few episodes and this is one of them. The background art and character designs, the goth and catholic influences, the fashion, it's all superb and I haven't even written a single word about the story yet.
The Big-O (Episodes 1-10)
From Noir cyberpunk to Noir mecha: In a town whose inhabitants have lost all their memories, Roger Smith works as a negotiator, occasionally piloting the giant robot Big-O. The premise sounds ridiculous, but then the moody jazz sets in and you get sucked into one of the coolest anime of you can find and there are also giant robot fights because its from Studio Sunrise. The whole show is cloaked in an air that makes you feel like you sit in a Showa era cafe. You can smell the cigarette smoke. Did I mention Chikai J. Konata was a writer for this anime? The phrase "there is nothing quite like it" gets used to often, but for The Big-O, it sounds appropriate. Like who wears suit while maneuvering a giant robot?
Roger is supported by his Butler Norman who elegantly wields a machine gun, when necessary, and is voiced by the iconic Motokawa Kiyokawa best known as Fuyutsuki from Evangelion (he passed away last year, rest in peace). Then there is the expressionless android Dorothy, who turns out to be more emotionally intelligent than her “classy” gentleman boss. In the long lineage of female android protagonists (love interests), including Ayanami Rei and Nagato Yuki, Dorothy takes the first place for me.
By the way, long before I learned about this anime's existence, I stumbled upon the far less known manga it was based on. Not on some obscure manga site back in the days, but in a now discontinued German manga magazine called Manga Power, which unsuccessfully published titles like The Big-O, Kitoh Mohiro's Wings of Vendémiaire or the Mindgame-esque ride that is Life of Ichabod. These manga are so niche even in Japan its hard to get your hands on them. While the magazine failed for being too far ahead of its time (I think even today, these titles wouldn’t sell well), reading those manga was a revelation to me about what the medium manga was capable of.
Pokémon Horizons (Episodes 1-4)
Now to the opposite of Noir: Satoshi's journey has reached its end after more than 25 years. He wasn’t the only never-aging protagonist in Japanese animation (don't ask what pills Sazae-san has been taking to stay 24 since, check, 1946). But now it's time for a fresh start and the question on everyone's mind is: What does this anime want to be?
Pokémon Horizons dedicates its first three episodes to introducing Riko, our new heroine, the supporting cast as well as the antagonists. Only in episode 4 we meet Roy, her male counterpart. The story starts at a school in Kanto, which makes you wonder if they follow the same premise as Sun & Moon (anime, not manga). But if so, shouldn't it take place in the new Paldea Region instead? How can Riko attend school while time travelling different regions at the same time? Well, the anime gives a clever answer, one that should resonate with anyone who experienced the pandemic as a student.
The catchy pop opening sets the tone and it gets more fun every time I listen to it. The ending theme sounds fresh as well while being a continuation of the original Pokémon rap. If this music can be read as a statement about what Pokémon Horizons wants to be, I'm sure it will be great.
I like Riko as protagonist who struggles to communicate with others, humans and Pokémon. Her character design is fantastic as well, I love how they use blue as a contrast color inside her hair. I noticed the same trend in the DIY anime. But the true star of the show that makes this anime so promising is not Riko or the handsome antagonist (who I haven't talked about yet), or Captain Pikachu (who I haven't talked about either), but the giant CG-airship which this time belongs to the good guys. That’s how you value tradition!
For someone who watches very few anime in a year, those were a lot of anime. This is partly because both the official Pokémon channel and Sunrise upload the newest episode of their anime for free on Youtube every week. If you live in Japan, that is. Which brings me to the sponsor of this week’s newsletter: Taisho VPN. Browse the internet like a Modern girl (or boy) in 1920s Japan and read all the Marxist literature without fear of the government finding out about it.
Back to Pokémon again: I promise I will talk about different things, eventually. Pokémon Stadium for the Nintendo 64 has been added to the Nintendo Switch premium membership and by Arceus, it was a tough challenge to beat the Master Cup with the rental Pokémon available and their terrible movesets. Many battle mechanics have changed since the first games (You have to wait a turn after Hyper Beam, even when it misses!), but in a broad sense the battles still work the same way as in the days of its initial release and they are just as fun. Slowbro supremacy. Hidden favorite: Jynx.
I do not listen to a lot of new music in general, but when I fall in love with an album, I listen to it religiously. Twinkle Park's very short album Touch or be Touched is such a case. I've discovered it somewhere between 2021 and 2022 and been listening to it on repeat ever since. My favorite is the first track More Rain and the part starting at 1:10 is as good as music can get for me.
I discovered this album on Hazel's Youtube channel. She is the artist behind the it and also does fantastic videos on topics like the surprising success of Elfen Lied in the US (and Europe). I highly recommend checking out her channel.
That's it for this week! This was supposed to be a short newsletter. I really tried.
Thanks for reading The Taishō Café! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.