Revisiting My Neighbor Totoro (On The Rewatch #1)

I remember it more clearly than most things. After working out, I biked across my college campus to meet up with a couple friends I hadn’t seen in a while. I dragged my exhausted body up the stairs to their room on the dorm’s 7th floor, and we sat down to chill out and watch a movie.
But the most interesting thing I remember about that fairly typical day is the movie my friend had put on. It was animated, but not like the mainstream American Disney productions I was used to. I vividly remember how it started: cute little bugs and snakes danced on the borders of the screen as a little girl strode confidently across centerscreen and a glowing anthem accompanied her.
The next thing I remember is these two young girls – one maybe four years old, the other closer to ten – running around a distinctly foreign looking house together. All these little black things scattered in their wake, fleeing the sunlight as they they threw open each dusty door. And I reacted to some degree the same way as them. Initially scared, then unncertain, and finally overwhelmingly curious. I found the film unpredictable, and that unpredictability was fascinating.

Since that day anime has continued to surprise me in new and interesting ways. Even when watching the same anime a second or fifth time. Rewatching My Neighbor Totoro has left me with some of the same but also some entirely new fascinations, and it’s one of my favorite films to put on and fall asleep to. I don’t mean that it’s grown stale, rather the film is ultimately soothing in it’s intricate familarity. The way the characters live their daily lives at first look could seem familiarly mundane, but on closer inspection is as complex as any day in the real world. I think that is a goal in all of Hayao Mizaki’s works, but his 1988 feature captures that sentiment best for me, maybe because unlike most of his features, My Neighbor Totoro was set in a 1950s Japan.
The films starts very grounded – a family man and his two daughters move to the coutryside to be closer to the hospital where their ill mother resides. Immediately, Mayazaki shows us where he shines; it isn’t in the plot or stakes, but rather in how detailed his visual storytelling is. We see are shown key moments on their trip and when we arrive at the family’s new house, we now realize that they are moving in here. The movie didn’t immediately tell us explicitly through dialogue what was going to happen, instead we are allowed to see the trip ourselves and come to the realization through watching the characters interact with each other and their surroundings. Seeing the car packed to overflowing with personal belongings is the first clue, and it builds from there. By the time the father is moving things into the house with a mover, we see the house is in total disrepair. One girl swings around a porch pole and almost breaks the rotten thing off. Cobwebs and dust fill every room that the girls run through while exploring their new home. And their joy fills the house, scaring out the little black things I mentioned before – soot sprites that litterally scatter on the wind.
The rest of the film is an escalating magical journey that has become iconic as the premier anime family film. And all this without a main driving conflict. My Neighbor Totoro captures the magical moments of everyday childhood. Consider how Mei (the younger of the two girls) discovers the Totoros. She is playing in the yard and finds a trail of acorns in the field. This both piques her interest and is a great bit of building after a setup, since earlier as Mei and Satsuki (the older sister) are exploring the house they find acorns falling out of thin air. So, when Mei sees a pair of bunny ears above the grown out grass that soon after is revealed to be a partially invisible, plump, rabbit-sized creature hefting an overflowing bag of the seeds, it isn’t more than a pleasant surprise for her and us. Like any inquisitive kid, she chases the rabbit thing all over until she follows it and its slightly larger counterpart down an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole that leads right to the gigantic “To-To-Ro” as Mei names him after his yawning noises.

My Neighbor Totoro is quick to declare its world’s magic ambiguous. Totoro is as big as a California King Bed, plush, round, and lathargic. He doesn’t even respond to Mei crawling up on his stomach, and even when she seems to get his attention by itching his nose, he scarcely looks at her directly. Totoro continues to ignore human interactions for most of the movie. Is he really there? I mentioned that the first little Totoro that is spotted by Mei appears see-through at its introduction, and later after Mei trys to show her father and sister the giant Totoro, he seems to have vanished along with his rabbithole. This kind of ambiguous presentation adds to the magic of my Neighbor Totoro and is one of the reasons I keep coming back to it time and time again.
Sorry this post took longer than I said it would. This is a bit of a stream of consciousness post, but I hope you like it. Thanks for reading, I’ve been VasA. Until we meet again, enjoy yourselves my friends. It’s a great big world out there, full of Totoros and other magic, but for now I need London dry gin, more than 3 hours of sleep, and meaningful interactions with people.
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VasA’s Days Five Through Eleven Post of The Twelve Days of Anime Twenty Sixteen But It’s Actually Just A Single Post

The Kizumonogatari audiobook was delicious. Or should I say it IS delicious? Well I guess I’ve only consumed it once so far in its entirety, so my intial enjoyment of it is in the past now, however recent. But as I consider it currently, I’m drawing even more enjoyment from renewing my analysis of it. I guess that is what good art can do to us. But with the way things slip my mind so easily, I might have to ingest it again just to remember it properly, that with my inability to make like a vampire and reach through my neck into my brain to physically search for it. But enough of that! I must say that watching the first 10 episodes of Monogatari Series Second Season earlier this yeat and devouring the English audiobook version of the Kizumonogatari prequel novel more recently has left me with a greatly improved appreciation for author Niseoesin’s work. My experience with the Bakemonogatari and Nisemonogatari anime years ago had been relatively fruitless, as at the time I was unable to parse the dense dialogue and constantly changing camera perspectives, especially while trying to read subtitles. On top of that I was not nearly as familiar with the medium of anime and its tropes, trends, and overall culture. I hadn’t yet come even close to the understanding of anime otaku culture I have now. And in as much I didn’t really understand the meta commentary of the characters, or the series’ “mindful self-indulgence” as Digibro over on My Sword Is Unbelievable Dull put it. But now I relish in this type of mildly cynical wit. So when I listened to the first chapter of Kizumonogatari and the English Araragi espoused beautiful prose for minutes on end about the glory of Hanekawa’s panties, and then an English voiceacted Hanekawa asked “So you didn’t just go on for 2 pages detailing my panties?” [quote not exact, I don’t have the audiobook on hand right now to look it up] I audibly chuckled. This kind of occassional 4th wall breaking is what produces some of the best comedic moments in the franchise.

Let me get this out of the way: I highly recommend this audiobook for anyone who is considering getting it. It’s a lot of fun and if you (like me) want something you can listen to anywhere (such as while at work) you’d be hardpressed to beat the entertainment value of this audiobook. It’s 10 hours of interesting dialogue and fantastic character writing delivered by high quality actors. Did I mention this book is fully voice acted? It may have only been three actors (if I remember correctly) but they all did a great job with making their characters believable. So there is your recommendation. It is a prequel to Bakemonogatari and in the afterward Niseoesin even mentions that you could read this book before Bakemonogatari if you wanted to. From here on out in this post I will be spoiling some of the later parts in the novel for the purpose of talking about them. You have been warned.


Whereas watching Bakemonogatari was like jumping into the second episode of the third season of a TV series I’d never heard of, listening to Kizumonogatari was more akin to watching a stand alone movie with an open ending that could easily have more of a narrative added on to it. I felt so much more at home in Kizu than I had in Bake or Nise, although part of that is recency bias, since I haven’t watched the latter two shows in nearly three years, so please forgive any misremberances.  Araragi runs into Hanekawa early in Kizu, and having been aroused by the sight of her panties as the wind blew up her skirt, he goes to buy porn magazines, in the process of which running into a mutilated vampire on the way. The funniest gag in the novel since the meta two page panty description happens when he runs away to throw his dirty magazines in the trash before returning to offer his blood to the dying vampire, all so that he won’t be found dead with a shopping bag of shameful goods. This very telling of his character. Araragi doesn’t mind being found dead, but he doesn’t want to be found dead with dirty magazines. He’d rather not have his name be besmirched and wind up as a headline in the newspaper that would emnarass his family. Of course, he doesn’t die, and instead winds up as a vampire, and from there Kisshot and Hanekawa get massive character developments over the course of the novel. I could write for far too long about them and the other characters, but I’m just going to focus on a few key character moments about Hanekawa so as to keep this twelve days of anime post concise.

“She was amazing. She really was. Honestly. She was so amazing that it didn’t make sense.” – Araragi says about Hanakawa in Kizumonogatari audiobook chapter 16.



If you’ve watched Monogatari Series Second Season, as I think it is safe to assume most anime fans who would be reading me blog about Kizu have, then I’m sure you know there is something deeper behind why Hanekawa acts so kind and amiable all the time. Well, Kizu pretty much does nothing but show us how wierdly kind Hanekawa can be. She constantly comes to Araragi’s aid throughout it, not only bringing him a full set of clothing at one point, but actually using her own savings to buy them for him at a store and manage to get sizes that would work for him.

She also steps up during two battles in the novel, exposing herself to powerful foes in order to give Araragi advice. In one of these fights, Araragi vs Episode, she has her body broken in half and shattered to bits by the impact of a huge cross thrown as a projectile weapon. And yet she still manages to eek out the right words to communicate to Aragi what he must do to win with her dying breath.

In another scene, Hanekawa is strangled while bbeing held captive by madman Guilotine Cutter, and she tells Araragi to not worry about her safety.

All of this characterization may seem like generic overblown movie character heroism, but if we can look through that we will see something different. A broken girl. A girl who is so broken that she doesn’t see any intrinsic value in herself. Hanekawa only sees herself as a vessel good for helping others, and in this she feels her own life is logically worth nothing. She has fantastic grades and a vast wealth of knowledge, and she acts kind to everyone she meets, but none of that matters at the end of the day when she goes home to parents who don’t care about her. And that may be why she seems to purge undesirable thoughts and accepts all of her circumstances without a gripe. This willingness to accept everything and put on this facade of a model student while not embodying the sentiment behind it disturbs a number of characters in the Monogatari franchise and downright scares Meme Oshino. Of course, all of this is just my own subjective interpretation of her character, based on my own limmited knowledge.

I find Hanekawa to be an extremely interesting character and one whose attitudes and actions I’m still trying to parse in my own mind. Thank you for reading.

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This post is part of the The Twelve Days Of Anime, which is an event where over the 12 days leading to Christmas (the 14th to 25th of December), Bloggers and YouTubers share 12 impactful moments they had relating to anime during the year.

By the way, if you don’t know me, then hey I’m VasA and thanks for stopping by! See you next time.

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This Art Club is Embarassing(ly) Bland (12 Days of Anime 2016 Day 1)

Any seasoned anime fan has watched their fair share of middle school and high school romcoms. It’s a staple of the medium to the point where it’s evolved into a lame joke among anime fans: “And OF COURSE they are in high school because ‘anime’…” is a tired phrase about a tired topic and maybe that’s why I found myself using “This Art Club Has A Problem” A.K.A. “Konobi” as my go-to fall-asleep show the past couple of weeks.
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But that’s unusual for me, as I typically find shows that revolve around a do-nothing school club to be somewhat irritating. The fact that they have a cast of standardized characters with an over-reliance on one-note personalities and ridiculous misunderstandings between those characters for comic fodder can be infuriating…and all of that is present here. So why didn’t I hate it? Why did I put on a perfectly predictable episode to fall asleep to?
Well, from the moment I started watching my expectations were tempered. The first episode is not narratively impressive. The episode’s introductory three minutes set the bar for the rest of the show.
Light piano music plays us in as slow panning shots establish the setting and time, a middle school art club room late in the afternoon. The flitting light beams of the sun and illuminated dust particles drifting in the hallways already set a calm, grounded tone. Then a young girl named Misaki begins a monologue describing herself and her friend Subaru. At 49 seconds in she trails off and the first comedic juxtaposition of the series occurs. We see that Subaru is drawing an anime girl which we can tell by her cat ears and huge moe-styled eyes, an art style in direct conflict with the more realistically rendered fruit drawing of our our straightforward female protagonist. It’s slightly unexpected and strange, which makes it mildly funny if you can buy into the idea that the show’s anime-styled characters and the in-universe artwork of Subaru are different, despite their obvious similarities. Then we transition to the opening, which shows off the main cast of characters with childlike imagery – twinkling stars and characters smiling as they running across the screen. There are also some otaku pandering shots thrown in, and it’s all backed by energetic poprock. If all this bare bones analysis feels patronizing then stay with me, I’m going somewhere with all this. At two minutes and 26 seconds we are back to the show, now with the most cut-and-paste  goofy flute and xylophone BGM to reinforce that this is a school life comedy. Subaru questions why Misaki is mad at him for drawing nothing but cute fantasy girls and she blushes. Ah yes, the first misunderstanding! Misaki thinks Subaru may be catching on to her romantic feelings for him. But that isn’t the case. It’s funny because she protests fervently and that’s cute and he’s clueless and that’s also cute! In addition she destroys his painting and that that adds lighthearted shock humor! Unless you’ve seen a hundred iterations of these jokes already. We are now just over three minutes into episode one, including the opening. And we can now move on with our lives and forget this show entirely, because nothing has been particularly special about these first few minutes, and nothing will be for the rest of this entire anime. The characters have been on model with a fairly generic anime aesthetic to them, the jokes have been boiled down to their most commonly practiced iterations, every facet from camera perspective to sound direction has has been perfectly middling.
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In the first episode, the main cast is established. The protagonist is an incredibly average middle school girl named Usami, who has very little interest in anything extra ordinary. There is an upperclassman who likes to sleep his days away on a couch in the Art Club room – nothing deep there, his name isn’t even important. And of course we have an otaku artist who is completely self-absorbed in drawing his fantasy waifus, and cares about nothing else. It’s all exceeding overused, yet somehow feels peaceful.
The main setting is also established: a Middle School Art Club room. Boring and peaceful.
And we already talked about how the main conflict is established: Usami is in love with her otaku friend Uchimaki, but he doesn’t realize this as he is absorbed in a single-minded quest to draw the perfect 2D waifu. I call this the main conflict and not the plot, because this is not a plot. This show doesn’t really have a concrete plot, I mean, each episode has it’s own episodic plot. But the whole story is just meandering through school life in a boring but peaceful manner as school and outside life events happen to the characters. And I think to some extent that is what life feels like when you are as young as these characters are – it’s as though things just happen to you instead of you making things happen.
Middle school is like autopilot compared to adult life. You just don’t have the same concerns. Impressing your crush and hanging out with your friends seem like the most important things in the world. You aren’t worried about how you are going to get a job, pay your rent, accomplish tangable life goals, or even shop for groceries. And I think this drives much of the slice-of-life school genre in anime. It’s about capturing the illusive feelings of youthful detachment from the constant worry that comes with adulthood. An ephemeral state of being that comes with having the set constants that living at home with your parents and attending school provide.
And to do a story about this stage of life in film, certain tropes and story beats are often utilized. Many of these typical slice-of-life school club genre trappings are present in Konobi: romantic misunderstandings, heavily quirk-reliant character writing, token senpais and kohais, an indulgence in blissful youth, occasional school events to create the illusion of forward momentum in the storyline – if you’ve seen more than 3 of this type of show then you get the idea.
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And if you can buy into a teenage mindset then you can enjoy these shows. When you are relaxing and winding down to sleep like I was when I watched Konobi, it’s easier to accept the childish worries of 13 year olds as endearing if not all that legitimate.
But none of that is interesting in the context of a story with no plot. What I’m getting down to is that there’s no real reason to watch Konobi. Art is all about communicating a message. Exploring ideas and feelings. The reason we enjoy art is because we can connect with it. The way this show dances around issues and avoids any big ideas by being vague and generic is only useful to let me wind down so I can sleep. So I can avoid mental stimulation and recharge my brain for more important cognitive functions tomorrow. This is “turn your brain off” material at its finest. And that’s not a compliment. A better title for Konobi would have been “This Adolescent Art Club Has An Insignificant Problem That Will Never Be Addressed In The Anime, All While Avoiding Anything Else Thought-Provoking In The Slightest. What could be more affirming as to why these characters and the way they are presented is embarrassingly tired and stale than me literally falling asleep while watching? If I want an interesting show set in school that simultaneously celebrates and lampoons its setting I can just watch Kill la Kill. If I want a show set in school with more believable romantic misunderstandings and better hyjinx comedy I could put on an episode of Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun. There are countless other examples as well. Konobi has no merits I can’t find done better elsewhere in anime. This art club is not interesting. It’s embarrassingly bland. And you don’t need watch it.

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VasA’s Twelve Days of Anime, Day One: I have a problem with This Art Club Has A Problem!

This post is part of the The Twelve Days Of Anime, which is an event where over the 12 days leading to Christmas (the 14th to 25th of December), Bloggers and YouTubers share 12 impactful moments they had relating to anime during the year.

By the way, if you don’t know me, then hey I’m VasA and thanks for stopping by! See you next time.

#12DaysAnime

Registration Form to sign up (I believe this year’s registration is now closed): https://goo.gl/vSs3vn

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