Wednesday, June 19, 2013

2000, Part 1: Last Stop of the Millennium

Patrick Stoeckel began his anime life with the Toonami line-up, then moved on to the unedited DVDs. After that, it's been a steady stream of writing about it (via The Anime Discussion Corner before moving the blog to Anime Commentary) and occasionally teaching an informal class on the subject. His passion for anime runs deep, and his blog is his outlet for commentary. You can also find his commentary on Twitter at, appropriately, @AnimeCommentary.

I chose the year 2000 primarily because it lay within my early years of anime-watching (and, to be honest, it was one of the few remaining years available that I had any real knowledge of). My first real exposure to anime came through the significantly edited broadcasts of shows like Sailor Moon that made the rounds on Cartoon Network back in the day. That first experience got me hooked, and I began purchasing DVDs when I could. The unedited DVD releases of these shows informed me of how diverse Japan's animated fare could be, and I remained a fan ever since.

2000 was an interesting year for anime. Toonami still broadcast edited versions of shows that remained popular; the debut of [adult swim] the following year will change the broadcast dynamic for Cartoon Network. With Toonami, it would broadcast old favorites (such as Rurouni Kenshin and G Gundam) throughout the upcoming decade. As should be noted, Pokemon's popularity in the 1990s saw the emergence of the controversial 4Kids releases–controversial because of the "Americanization" and censoring elements prevalent in their broadcasts.

The dawn of the 21st century (and the new millennium) marked a surge of popularity in the Dragon Ball franchise, as well as other titles such as the various Gundam shows and Pokemon (all of which remain major pulls). The U.S. market proved very receptive to anime, ever since the previous decade, and the upcoming decade would see more shows being released (particularly on the Adult Swim block). As far as television in general goes, a few live-action dramas debuted (including Ikebukuro West Gate Park, which received a manga adaptation), and TV viewing had been astounding from the 1980s onward. But what did the anime scene look like in that year?

Well, that's what we're going to examine with this article. Sit back and enjoy; 2000 had some great releases, and this article looks at three.

A graduate of Gekiga Sonjuku, Rumiko Takahashi received the Shogakkan New Comic award in 1978 for the one-shot manga Katte no Yatsura, a science-fiction tale where a young boy unwittingly has small nuclear devices implanted in him. Those responsible realize their mistake, as their bumbling could cause the destruction of the universe. However, as they cannot remove the devices, they're forced to protect the boy as he delivers newspapers. Nowadays, Rumiko is one of the wealthiest mangaka currently working, and success began with her first serialized work, Urusei Yatsura.

In 1996, Inuyasha's first chapter appeared among the pages of Weekly Shōnen Sunday. Nearly four years later, the manga received an anime adaptation. The manga is darker in tone than Urusei Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku, with life, death and reincarnation being major themes. This darker presentation extends to the anime, where Inuyasha and Kagome must locate the fragments of the "Shikon no Tama" in a hostile environment inhabited by yōkai. In the anime, Inuyasha begins as a self-serving individual, troubled by his half-yōkai identity; he searches for the Shikon no Tama in order to become a full yōkai. The series delves into a crisis of identity; Inuyasha feels inadequate, due to his human blood, but he retains fond memories of his mother. His half-brother, Sesshomaru, looks down upon him for his human heritage; for yōkai, humans are scum of the earth, and only so much means to an end. This mentality appears throughout, with antagonists like Naraku pursuing great power.

The presence of Shinto shrines and Buddhist concepts make Inuyasha complex, and a full analysis of this would likely take more space that I give it here. Nevertheless, the two religions infuse the anime. Reincarnation, a key tenet of Buddhism, surfaces with Kagome. As the reincarnation of Kikyo, Kagome holds Kikyo's powers, and she can keep Inuyasha at bay with a single word. Naraku carries the heart of Onigumo, a human bandit who traded his body to demons in order to retain his strength. Thus, reincarnation becomes a means of social continuity, both for good and evil.

Buddhism sees reality as being divided into three worlds: Desire, Form and Formless. Collectively known as trailoyka, the Three Worlds presents reality in terms of an ambiguous blending of three spheres of existence. These three spheres, separated into several different planes, return us to reincarnation–where one resides depends on one's actions in a previous life. Humanity occupies the world of desire, along with preta and ghosts. Arūpaloka, the highest of the three worlds, contains the superior beings with no physical body. Inuyasha deals primarily with the two lower worlds, especially the world of desire, where emotion can corrupt creatures and have them stray from the path of enlightenment. Sesshomaru and Naraku show the possibility of corruption quite clear; their desire for power blinds them to the path of rebirth into a high plane. Inuyasha, on the other hand, gradually comes to realize his love for Kikyo and Kagome, and he can derive true strength from his friends and loved ones.

A note should be made of Sunrise, the studio behind the anime. Sunrise began in 1972, by former employees of Mushi Production, Tezuka Osamu's own production studio. Sunrise has numerous studios to its credit, with Studio 1 being responsible for the enormously influential Mobile Suit Gundam franchise. Inuyasha marked the first anime adaptation of a Takahashi work not overseen by Kitty TV, and Takahashi took an active role in the casting of the series. Michiko Suwa, the producer, stated in interview that he saw Inuyasha as a perfect show for the new millennium, a time for Japan to forge ahead to the future, but also an opportunity to look at its past. Suwa himself had established himself as a major producer; his credits include Detective Conan and Magic Knight Rayearth. Inuyasha carries with it the distinction of being the first of the Takahashi-based shows to debut on American television when it crossed the Pacific.

Inuyasha had two directors throughout its 167-episode run. Masashi Ikeda served in the capacity for the first forty-four; he would go on to work as director for Cluster Edge. He previously acted as director for Gundam Wing and worked on numerous other anime prior to this (including Yoroiden Samurai Troopers and some storyboard work for Infinite Ryvius). When he helmed this anime, the production team was concerned about adapting the dark elements that typify the series. Takahashi wanted to express Kikyo's passion and emotional release; this emphasis on Kikyo became an integral part of the story.

Although it did not originate as a televised anime, FLCL remains one of the most popular OVAs. The first episode alone contains plenty of innuendo about sexual maturity–Naota's "horns" represent sexual awareness, and Haruko comments that it derives from "trying too hard." This open sexual communication and playfulness makes FLCL unique–anime can examine human urges with both facetiousness and seriousness. Naota's reactions to the world around him show his awkwardness, as he doesn't quite know how to handle an emerging sexual consciousness. Such awareness coincides with Naota's age; he's at that awkward transition from childhood to adolescence, and his body responds in new and mysterious ways. The show presents his ordeal as the result of an alien encounter, but his reactions ring true with many teenagers struggling with life on a "new frontier" as they age. Naota's "empty head" (as seen through an X-ray) in episode two provides viewers with a glimpse into his formative state; Canti represents the "opening" of his mind to the world, and his first steps into adulthood.

The characters in FLCL interact in various ways, and these relationships drive the plot. Continuing the theme of sexual maturity, Canti (a robotic entity) is the result of Haruko and Naota's collision. Canti acts as a sort of mediator and guardian for Naota, and his appearance belies the technological age he inhabits. Technology becomes an extension of the world at large; viewers are bombarded with images of robots, vehicles, video games and advanced extraterrestrial electronics. Naota's entering a new world, filled with symbolic representations of the maturity he will soon receive. Haruko is the instigator of all this, an alien "force of nature" who forcefully triggers Naota's troubles. She thus represents Naota's first real exposure to sexual feelings.

Mamimi, former girlfriend to Naota's brother (whose presence is primarily spoken of), has the interesting position of being a high school student who commits a series of arsons after playing the fictional game Firestarter. Technology's pervasiveness in the show trickles down to her, who becomes so fascinated with Firestarter that she is willing to start fires herself. Since she was influenced by a video game, this gives technology a rather sinister edge; it's an extension of people's lives, and can influence them to do strange things. Going back to symbolism, Mamimi's perception of Canti as a god shows that technology can be advanced enough to make people see robots as supernatural entities. She sees technology as a stand-in for her former boyfriend, who has moved on; with nowhere else to turn, Mamimi vents through video games.

The series shifts art styles regularly, even within an episode. The story feels disjointed at times, but it contains the overarching narrative of a boy coming to terms with his own identity and dealing with the world around him. This variation in aesthetics has a minor American analogue in Ren & Stimpy. The production team behind Ren & Stimpy purposefully went off-model to allow the characters a wider range of emotional expression; they can distort their faces in ways live actors cannot. With FLCL, the director went with a music-video approach to the series; throughout the episodes, one can notice numerous divergent art styles used throughout, including a shout-out to South Park. This off-beat approach to animation gives FLCL a great flair, showing that a studio does not have to rely on a single aesthetic for one production. The show also provides another unique aesthetic choice–the primarily rock-driven soundtrack, provided by The Pillows. Major scenes, in particular have their own songs to underscore the mood; unlike Inuyasha (and many shows before it), FLCL's soundtrack includes rock music as a means of emotional and artistic expression.

Ken Akamatsu began his career at Comiket, where he gained fame as an illustrator. Before long, he won the 50th Freshman Manga Award for Hito Natsu no Kids Game, which he worked on during his college days. This manga foreshadows Love Hina, the work that would establish him as a major mangaka. Love Hina revolves around hapless college aspirant Keitarō Urashima , who wants to enter the very prestigious Tokyo University due to a promise he made with a girl years ago. He becomes the newest inhabitant of his grandmother's inn, which (to his surprise) had been converted to an all-female dormitory. As he tries to settle in, the other, female residents develop a like/hate relationship with him, especially Naru Narusegawa.

Akamatsu's career really took off with the manga, and the anime adaptation soon followed. The show contains a good amount of fanservice, but with Naru, we see a rather self-assured (if flawed) character. She's not willing to accept Keitarō into the inn, as she knows him from school; the two are almost polar opposites on the academic achievement scale. Naru, being one of the most intelligent in her class, easily out-competes Keitarō academically, but she eventually accepts him for his faults.

Unlike Inuyasha or FLCL, Love Hina doesn't quite provide great achievements in storytelling, but the anime’s wonderfully-paced narrative makes it a nice series to watch. Keitarō's helpless bumbling at the beginning of the series sets the stages for his development into a more confident individual. The anime and the manga diverge pretty significantly–for example, at one point in the manga, Keitarō and Naru are stranded on an island, and the former displays his survival skills. This scene doesn't occur in the anime, which focuses solely on the shenanigans of the Hinata Inn. The director of the anime, Yoshiaki Iwasaki, would go on to other projects, including Gokujo Seitokai and Ōkami-san and Her Seven Companions. Influenced by Mobile Suit Gundam to go into animation, Iwasaki helmed Love Hina after he worked on Turn A Gundam. Also for Love Hina, the production used digital animation, a practice that began in the 1990s.

As far as characters go, Keitarō presents the classic "awkward male" forced into a new environment. His life at Hinata Inn proves life-altering, and he eventually develops the self-confidence to express his love to Naru, whom he discovers to be the very girl he made the promise to. This leads into the ideal of validating a childhood dream–plenty of people had their childish goals of attaining something incredible, but growing up shows how difficult pursuing that dream may be. When that dream is realized, however, we feel great about ourselves; even when we feel like giving up and leaving the past behind, life gives you an opportunity to achieve what you've wanted for years. Childhood memories bring us back to a time when we didn’t have much to worry about, and our aspirations for adulthood were based on juvenile interest.

In this regard, Love Hina shares the coming-of-age angle with FLCL; both show a critical moment in a character's time, where he not only has to address new feelings and experiences, but also love. Keitarō, being older than Naota, already experienced sexual maturity, but his awkward and self-conscious personality prevented him from looking for a girlfriend. His first real encounter with love came as a child; when he meets Naru again, and realizes who she is, he now has the chance to feel love once again.

Next time: It's time to cover 2...what? You want more coverage of 2000? YOU GOT IT.

Further Reading:
Inuyasha Companion on the show:

Guitars, Drinks and Eyebrows: FLCL Symbols With Deeper Meanings?:,+Drinks,+and+Eyebrows+-+FLCL+Symbols+With+Deeper+Meanings

Interview with Yoshiaki Iwasaki:

FLCL World analysis:

Interview with Masashi Ikeda, Yoshihito Hishinuma and Shigemi Ikeda:


  1. How was FLCL received in Japan?

    1. I've been trying to figure out exactly how well is "well" when it comes to FLCL's popularity in Japan. From what I can gather from sales of each anime volume, it managed to get average sales over 20K for each volume. Hard to really compare it to TV shows during the same time, but Love Hina got similar sales for its own anime volumes in 2000.

      I will investigate!

    2. Hey, Animecommentary here. I found a post outlining anime DVD sales from 2000 to 2012 - not what you're looking for, but it may still provide some info. According to the chart, only two anime from 2000, Hand Maid May and Love Hina, broke the top 100 for the time period.

    3. I'm certainly not an authority on this but anecdotally I thought at the time of its release that it was very high profile; FLCL graced the front covers of a number of hobby magazines back in the day and there seemed to be a lot of positive buzz. I blind bought the DVDs as they came out myself (each except for the first had English subtitles, a novelty at the time!) and that's certainly not something I'd have been doing if Newtype and its brethren hadn't convinced me it was worth checking out!

  2. The year 2000 is also notable for anime's animation production becoming heavily reliant on the use of computers. Using computers as a less expensive way to colour the frames of animation had first started to be used back in 97/98, but 2000 was the first year to show the balance tipping in favour of computer-assisted animation.. Of the 3 anime mentioned in this article, only InuYasha was still produced using traditional cel animation, and it too eventually made the jump to computer animation starting with episode 100.It was in fact probably the last anime popular with western audiences to have still been produced using cel animation as late as 2002.

    Slight nitpick: 2000 is actually the last year of the previous millenium.