Anime Review 32: Grave of the Fireflies, Ouran High School Host Club, and 20th Century Boys
Grave of the Fireflies
Grave of the Fireflies
Grave of the Fireflies is about an older brother and younger sister, Seita and Setsuko, who struggle for survival in a Japan torn apart by World War Two. Though this movie is a Studio Ghibli film, it doesn't have the magical idealism that others from the same studio have had; instead it's a dark, tragic, tear-jerker film.
TV Tropes noted correctly that this is one of few movies that succeeds in portraying war without glamorizing it. I think a famous critic once said that there's no such thing as an anti-war movie because movies that depict war also tend to make it look cool, or at least heroic, this movie shows the true heart-wrenching brutality of it.
The children have their lives torn apart when their mother is killed in an air raid. Their father is at sea in the Japanese navy. They go to stay with an aunt, but because of the war she has little to spare in the way of food for extra people, and treats the children harshly because of her own hardships.
Driven from her care, they embark on a journey to try to contact other relatives and get money and food. Seita turns to scavenging and stealing to help his sister, who at this point is suffering from malnutrition.
When I first heard of this movie, I think it was in a review from Anime Insider magazine. The review was short and boiled down to "this movie's sad so have a box of tissues handy". However, I think this movie teaches important lessons and I would go so far as to recommend that it be shown in high schools. My reasoning is that if the future leaders of the United States and other countries will grow up and someday, possibly, be in the positions of power that determine if and how we go to war. I really want those people to have seen this film, taken a good hard look at those children, and asked themselves is it worth it.
It's absolutely horrifying to watch this, and more so to watch this as an American. We have a lot to be proud about but so much also to be ashamed about, things we never talk about like internment camps or the Trail of Tears or the fact that we've had a policy of bombing civilians during and ever since WWII. I think that being the victor in a war doesn't necessarily mean we were right. I also think as a nation we need to face our mistakes and realize that no country on Earth is infallible. We also need to stop trivializing our atrocities and making excuses for them just to ease our national guilt, so that this sort of thing does not happen again.
In short, I urge you to see this movie, not because it's pleasant, but because it's important.
Ouran High School Host Club
Ouran High School Host Club
About as opposite from Grave of the Fireflies as one can get is this show, Ouran High School Host Club. It features a high school for the beautiful elite. Everything is ornate and glamorous. Roses and sparkles abound. The main after-school activity, the Host Club, involves little more than pretty girls sitting around drinking tea with pretty boys (the Host Club members) who entertain and flirt with them.
Apparently, in real life Japan has Host Clubs, which are the counterpart of Hostess Clubs. In both, men or women are paid to be (nonsexual) company for customers of the opposite sex. The deal seems to be that women who work at Hostess Clubs spend money going to Host Clubs in their spare time, and the same company usually runs both so they get some money out of the Hostesses salaries this way.
At Ouran High School, girls flock to the beautifully decorated rooms to be waited on and charmed by the debonair and adorable members of their Host Club. All is going perfectly shiny until Haruka, a rare poorer scholarship student, enters the room looking for a place to study. She breaks a vase that's worth a ton of money, and the host club decides she can pay it back by joining them as a host. Although she's a girl, she's very frumpy and looks like a guy, so they make her over so that she looks like a beautiful boy and teach her in the art of being a Host.
Which basically amounts to throwing lavish parties, weeping and displaying strong feelings on cue, and giving the girls the royal treatment. Haruka predictably thinks all these people are nuts and only grins and bears it to repay her debt, but I believe that over time she grows to like the Host Club and its members as she gets to know them.
It's a lighthearted comedy show, but never crude or raunchy like many comedies. There is definitely a lot of guy-candy to ogle, which I think is mostly the whole point of the show. The show is about people overcoming class differences and forming strong friendships regardless of these differences. It also includes some predictable teen romance stuff and some cat-fighting girl-drama. However, part of the fun of this show for me is in speculating who Haruhi might end up involved with romantically.Overall, it is a sweet, fun, charming show overflowing with cuteness and laughs.
20th Century Boys
20th Century Boys
This manga, unlike Ouran, has very little in the way of cute, and a lot more in the way of weird.
It's a story that goes all over the place time-wise, focusing on events surrounding this particular group of boys who were all friends as children when they grow up, the main perspective character being a convenience/liquor store manager who seems melancholy as he reflects on his childhood dreams.
When he was a child, his friends and him had this meaningful symbol of friendship they drew once a log time ago. It resembles an eyeball with a hand inside it, and the hand is pointing up towards the sky.
I didn't get very far in the manga but it looks interesting and I want to know more about what happens. Since it's written by the same creator as Monster, I expect it to be dark and tragic and also have unexpected plot twists. I would recommend it if you're like me, a fan of hardcore psychological thrillers with suspenseful and interesting plot development.
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