Saturday, 25 January 2014

Knickers Up In A Twist: Colorful (1999)


Dir. Ryutaro Nakamura

Over sixteen episodes lasting six minutes each, Colorful explores a situation that can be pretty awkward for heterosexual men, or awkward for the women depending on what happens. It can happen in any situation, but this anime concentrates on men obsessed with women. Sat across the other side, walking past, on the bus or cramp train. Sexual objectification is a potential issue, but it's as much an issue of code of conduct, and also how one reacts in such a situation too. The male notices the woman. The human eye has to see a person in their entire figure to make a picture of them, but it does so in fragments too to get a full image. Sexual attraction to the other person, male or female, could be involved. It also depends on one's reaction to areas of the human body that are considered sexual. And what one can image in your head when an image suggests it to that individual onlooker. The woman's legs are bare under a skirt or shorts. They may be voluptuous and/or wearing very revealing clothing. Is it okay to notice? Ignore it? Is it ok to look? Is what my sister once said, that a brief glance at a person's figure is okay, gawking at them too far, or is it more complicated than this? Colorful is about the even more potentially awkward situations. The main trope, although amongst others, is the accidental glimpse of a woman's underwear - sat or getting out of a car, at the top of jeans crouched, a gust of wind. There are other situations too - the sight of a person's bra, of their cleavage leaning over, accidentally brushing against them, a strained skirt button. Also in this series the men are flat out gonzo for these sorts of situations, or perverts, looking out for these moments like hawks. How, when the situation happens, they discombobulate with all the facial distortions of a Looney Tunes character, the absurdity of it revealed.

Anime is pretty notorious for its sexual pandering, especially now as it's taken to an extreme level, discomfortingly so at times as an anime fan as this sort of thing is now getting the front pages of Netflix and is becoming what anime is perceived to be. The near-nudie shot - ironically actual nudity not that prevalent despite the era of ultra-adult anime of Ninja Scroll (1993) - has been around for decades. The gag where a male character falls on a girl and has his hand on her breasts by accident, only to get his head kicked in has been bread-and-butter in sex comedy humour for as long. The schoolgirl with breasts bigger than the pumpkins you can get in supermarkets in October is getting nearly as old. The accidental exposure of a girl's knickers by various means too. The border between harmless sexuality and just crass sexism is up to debate in most cases, some shifting to the latter pretty quickly, and that's not including those that cause you to frown at how lifeless and just un-sexy they. How they make sexuality and erotic desire, in their lameness with these jokes, a commercial regurgitation when animation should allow for some of the wildest and imaginative sexual fantasies, and the most beautiful romances, to be depicted. Yet the clichés are still being used because, to use that old phrase, if it ain't broke, why fix it? I'm faced in the medium, as a fan, with how much this is a sellable commodity, for good and the truly abominable, the beautiful, sexy and fun with that which makes me find my male gender unsalvageable in their misogyny. Colorful at first is wonderfully hysterical in kicking this aspect in the teeth. A male sees a woman, or goes out of their way to see one in a compromised position without them noticing, and react in a way, whether they see anything or are thwarted, that is utterly comical in how rubber faced they are drawn in reacting. That and how they can be thwarted or compromised themselves in the various sketches, when the woman realises what's going on, if they're flying low, or claimed by a haunted lamppost.

Originally made for segments for a television program, the work is also presented as a series of abstract vignettes with reoccurring characters. Two male friends obsessed with women, particularly their English language teacher who does amazing things with her tongue when showing how to pronounce the letters "L" and "R". A female athletics student and her male coach, who views her with pride in her abilities and holding back his lust. An American tourist who desires to be a film artist and to see "the upside down Mount Fuji", which doesn't leave much to the imagination when I finally realised the metaphor after the viewing of the series. The tone of Colorful is abrasive structurally. Segments over each episode's six minutes involve repetitious and distorted imagery between them. Multiple animation styles and aesthetic presentations co-exist together, and the music is drum-and-bass and electronic. The series doesn't match at all to the director's more famous work Serial Experiments Lain (1998), but the willingness at improvising and mixing different artistic styles, while staying in a consistent tone, is there between them. The results in the first few episodes are rambunctious, bawdy and manic.

The major issue with the series is that even over sixteen episodes, that are only six minutes long each, less than two hours, it wears out its key joke and premise quickly, never going anywhere else with it. It stops being about the absurdity of heterosexual male sexuality but just an excuse to see hand drawn women's underwear with them not being a willing participant in the erotic side. Most are just one dimensional background for jokes, and the reoccurring female characters don't get to be in on the joke. There's also a lost potential in flipping this idea on its head and imaging a heterosexual woman taking the position as the voyeur that's never considered. The jokes, like those in the West about this sort of thing, also eventually get to punch lines that may be offensive to some or at least eye rolling depending on how you view what a situation like this would be like in reality. A male inadvertently eyes up a fat or old woman, and is viewed as a joke, whether its sexist not even needing to be touched upon because the joke is lame already. One joke even goes as far as a different type of person wearing women's panties, a lame joke before you even consider if its offensive or not. By some time, the abstract tone of the series sadly becomes repetitious as well - it plays with the same notes, never expanding them into more bizarre and imagining flourishes. Moments in the last episodes do shine. The reoccurring characters help, especially when the American's final segment, with a friend from his country, becomes an image within an image and a bickering argument, of accented Japanese that even namedrops Woody Allen you can only hear. Ideas fall into the best of psychotronic imagination, that was part of reason why I feel in love with anime in the first place, where the truly unexpected takes place and is used to its potential even if more to the idea could have been done. Such as a high school girl the size of a kaiju appearing from Tokyo harbour; the obvious underwear joke is there, but its more funny for the matter of fact tone and details like what happens when a phone the size of a monument starts vibrating. It's a shame that the series doesn't play in this sort of area more often and just continues the same joke over and over again until it become tasteless or unfunny.

The episodes were probably not meant to be seen one-after-another, but each time the programme slot was on in Japan, but the joke is still one note the more its repeated and the original laughs are lost. It's a fascinating curio, with some great laughs, but it really doesn't live up to its premise. An entire level of satire or goofball humour with the idea of the male libido that it doesn't take advantage of. You don't even see any actual nudity or sex either, which adds a strange note to this criticism. It teases, in the sex and humour, but eventual you call its bluff as somewhat repetitious and get a little bored with it.

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