Sunday, January 26, 2014

:anime: Free/Low-Cost Anime Pick of the Month:: Dead Leaves

Dead Leaves

Official Site: English (Production I.G Page)
Additional Links: ANN Entry, MAL Entry
Video: Hulu, YouTube

In light of December's Free/Low-Cost Anime (Co-)Pick, KILL la KILL, I was immediately reminded of some people's criticism of or surprise by the fanservice in the show. From Ryuko's outfit (a main critique) to some choice close-ups and antics, some have put off by its brashness. I can understand where they are coming from and am not into fanservice, myself, but in the show's defense, its use has been in moderation and has either been tied to an overall theme, used for unconventional purposes, or in a more lighthearted way, not to mention that it is played both ways (though a relatively few gratuitous moments do exist).

However, there is a question to all of this that looms large: just what were you expecting from a director like Hiroyuki Imaishi? I assume some of those detractors that have expressed shock after watching Gurren Lagann beforehand must have forgotten about that anime's not-always-subtle use of fanservice. It was Imaishi's first smash hit and likely most people's first exposure to his work, but similar, if not greater shock, was paid toward his 2010 follow-up, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, as well. Experience alone with either of those works should not have taken anyone by surprise with KlK, but the truth is, fanservice and other risque elements have always been a staple of the director's repertoire, stretching back to earlier works like 2004's Re: Cutie Honey (Ep. 1) and 2000's FLCL (including those infamous manga sequences). And the building blocks of his trademark envelope-pushing and panache was on full display in his first full-directorial feature, 2004's Dead Leaves (six months prior to Re: CH).

Made at the tail-end of Production I.G's own early experimental OVA era, the 48-min. anime provides a great glimpse of Imaishi at his creative rawness. Granted, though, "rawness" is the keyword, like many an early work. It's unfettered, unadulterated, and all-out, but also not the smoothest or most coherent of titles. The plot, albeit, is relatively simple, centering around an oddball--and amnesic--outlaw couple trying to escape from the moon-based, demented prison bearing the OVA's name. Shock value runs high (enough to "outshine" PaSwG in certain places), but taking that and its archival value into consideration makes Dead Leaves all the more interesting to watch.

There is something about watching the crudeness and lack of polish of a famous artist's first work (however the medium) that is always fascinating, even if its not the best thing in the world. There lies a certain reward in seeing one's early proclivities, such as Imaishi's loose, cartoony look, the prominent drill (located prominently on someone's body and used in a way that may make some of those higher-minded fans cringe), the very eclectic cast of characters (designed by Imaishi himself here), the in-your-face presentation, the shading, the use of multi-paneled shots and other comic-inspired effects, and yes, that wanton, sweet crude and disregard for good taste. That's Imaishi in a nutshell, and though he has since tightened his skills and sensibilities and showed himself to be a great director capable of telling a strong, entertaining story and still be as loose as can be, he still possesses all of those qualities--fanservice/ecchi included--to this day.

So if excessive levels of violence, wackiness, sex, and derelict behavior aren't your thing, Dead Leaves probably won't be yours, either. Suffice to say, it is very firmly in the "mature audiences" category and NSFW. Only the English dub is made available, but it also happens to be a good (and appropriately crude) one, with the two leads voiced by the real-life married VA couple of Jason and Amanda Winn Lee (yes, the same actress behind Rei Ayanami's voice in the Neon Genesis/End of Evangelion dubs). That fact and the chemistry between the two helps give the show a bit of an additional distinct flavor, as well. So, sorry fans of Gurren Lagann that thought Hiroyuki Imaishi wouldn't stoop so low as to employ such fluff in KILL la KILL or even do what he did in PaSwG. That's just how he rolls (and he does it a lot better at it than most others do, too).

P.S.: Imaishi aside, Dead Leaves also features some early contributions from Takeshi Koike (Redline director, Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine character designer), Kyoji Asano (Attack on Titan, PSYCHO-PASS animation character designer), Sushio (KILL la KILL chief animation director/character designer), Yoh Yoshinari (Little Witch Academia creator/director), Shin Itagaki (Black Cat, Teekyu director), and Shouko Nakamura (Penguindrum chief episode director/conceptual designer).

P.S.S.: Ironically, this also happens to be the tenth anniversary of Dead Leaves, which premiered on January 17, 2004 (a fact that did not dawn on me until after I finished this. From his first full-directorial then to his first full-directorial at his very own studio, what a difference a decade makes…

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