An anthology series with the lofty goal of exploring the personal successes and failures of modern Japanese people, Human Crossing is a gentle dramatic series about everyday life, brought to R1 courtesy of Geneon. Matt Shingleton investigates.
Human Crossing is a collection of thirteen short stories that aim to examine modern Japan in a frank and understated manner, showing the highs and lows of everyday people in everyday situations and the ties that bind them. There’s not much more I can say about the synopsis, the show’s modus operandi is simple enough even if it is a rather daunting task to try and represent modern society in just thirteen twenty five minute shorts, but you don’t come across an awful lot of anthology anime shows these days, so as soon as I heard about Human Crossing I decided it must be worth a look – yet I have to admit to being just a teeny bit disappointed by the final product. Nevertheless the series is peppered with deep recurring themes and genuinely affecting human drama to be worthy of a lengthy discussion, but I’ll have to break with the usual format and go through each episode individually to do them justice.
Episode 1.The Wound: After defending his World Super Lightweight Boxing Championship title, Akira Noguchi starts to reflect back on his unhappy childhood. Raised by a single mother who was too busy working to take a more active role in his Akira’s life, a deep irreparable distance was forged between them. Now he has achieved great fame and success, but a part of his life has always been missing. The Wound follows this championship boxer as he seeks an answer for the disappointments and regrets of the past.
Opening an anthology series is always a tough gig, but The Wound does a reasonably good job of introducing the major themes of Human Crossing: an examination of the traditional family unit and the difficulties and responsibilities of maintaining a successful career at the same time. Akira only ever wanted the love and attention on his mother but she took on too much work, believing the common comforts were all a growing boy needed. In later life the adult Akira has grown up to be a rather cold and artificial man, pandering to the image of what he believes a famous sportsman should be, but inside it’s all a petulant attempt to rub his success in the nose of the one person whose attention he has always sought. As such, the central subject of The Wound isn’t particularly likeable – sympathetic, yes – but not too likeable, which is surprising because they brought in one of the most charismatic stars from Japanese TV to provide the voice: Takeshi Sorimachi, who has starred in many great shows like Beach Boys and the live action adaptation of GTO, not to mention his leading role in the HK action thriller Fulltime Killer, but despite him putting in a fine performance, I still consider The Wound to be the weakest episode on the disc.
Episode 2.The 25th Hour: Tsuruhashi, a talented young lawyer is losing clients left right and centre because of his idealistic belief that the law should be used to help the needy. What’s worse is that the love of his life, Kyoko, just happens to be the daughter of his boss, and this boss doesn’t particularly care for idealism in the workplace, so if Tsuruhashi doesn’t start playing ball soon he will lose both his job and the boss’s permission to marry his daughter. However, before he can make any definitive decisions about the future, Tsuruhashi bumps into a very young woman called Midori. Her boyfriend Kazuya has recently died in a motorcycle accident, leaving behind a teenage mother with no job and only the love for her baby, Taro, to keep her going. However, when Kazuyas parents forcibly take the child away, deeming Midori too young to raise a child alone, the gymslip mum is forced to take matters into her own hands to get her son back, but she’s going to need legal help to do so.
With a horribly clichéd synopsis that could flesh out a John Grisham novel, The 25th Hour is easily the most plot-driven story in volume one, yet the basics still remain the same; we have a family torn apart by tragedy and one that’s struggling to even get off the ground. Strong parallels are drawn between Midori and Tsurahashi, who are both seen as extreme idealists; him in the duty of the law to help the weak and her believing deep maternal love is all she needs to successfully raise a child. Indeed, in exploring these themes, The 25th Hour is almost the exact opposite of The Wound, which featured a mother who believed materialistic comfort was all her child needed and a son who had become so clinically motivated within his chosen career that he regularly pandered to corporate media bigwigs and projected an extremely false image of himself as a person. These parallels and thematic inversions help make The 25th Hour a more interesting companion piece to the first, but just when I was starting to enjoy it, the conclusion was delivered with a real sentimental sick-bag of a speech from Tsurahashi that made me very grateful that I hadn’t eaten beforehand.
Episode 3. A Promise: A hard working department store manager with fond memories of the day his father brought him his first bike decides to recreate these happy memories for his own son. So, one day after work, Mr. Someya pops down to the bike shop, picks out a swanky yet old-fashioned bike, and comes home expecting to be met by his son’s euphoria and a wave of sweet nostalgia. Instead his son greets the news with a shrug of indifference, distracted by the latest video game he’s playing. This plants the seeds of doubt in Someya’s mind, is there a growing generation gap between him and his son? Has he been trying hard enough as a father? Why are his memories of this first bike so fond in the first place? And he starts to re-assess his own goals in life.
A Promise is a little different to the other three episodes in that the family unit in this story is pretty stable and happy. This one is more about re-affirming what’s important in life before any major problems set in. There is some exploration of the difficulties of balancing a successful career with quality family time in a Japanese society that has horrendously long working hours, but the tale manages to remain upbeat and optimistic. There’s also a nice, easy-going retrospective vibe to the episode that evokes the style of Yoji Yamada and add to this a lovely little acoustic score and you have perhaps the best episode in volume one.
Episode 4. Direction: Ryoko had a miserable upbringing thanks to her hard drinking, womanizing and gambling father who regularly made his wife and two children’s lives hell. Now that the mother has long passed on and the children are approaching middle-aged, Ryoko’s past comes knocking on her door when her brother informs her that he is unable to look after their father anymore because his own son has moved back into the family home and they’re out of space. This news upsets Ryoko greatly, she’s at a crossroads in her own life, her long term boyfriend is desperate to get married and her work has become increasingly monotonous thanks to the new computerised systems in place, but her main problem is that she just can’t stand the thought of spending time with the man who made her own mother’s life such a misery. Reluctantly she agrees to take in the old man on a very short-term, temporary basis and father and daughter are forced to get to know each other after a prolonged period of non-communication, but is it too late to heal the rift between them?
We’re right back to the subject of the first episode here: a broken family trying to heal the wounds of the past, but with a more complicated family dynamic this time round. Direction is a hard tale of living with regret and learning to forgive, yet this time round the lead character is likeable and certainly easier to relate to and there aren’t too many horrendously didactic speeches, although one or two still creep in, but overall it’s quite a touching story.
Volume one of Human Crossing offers up an enjoyable slice of gentle melodrama, but I can’t help feel a little disappointed by a show that brags to explore real life so effectively, because it’s far too derivative and sentimental to truly do so. I’ve seen enough Japanese TV dramas in my time to be all too familiar with Crossing’s plot devices, the clichéd storylines, the running character narration, the heavy social commentary and the slightly didactic manner with which the remarkably sentimental conclusions are reached. The general style of Human Crossings is deliberately understated and flat, no doubt in an attempt to capture the essence of reality but the stories are so unoriginal they could do with being told with a little more flair. Paranoia Agent came out not long after Human Crossing but manages to cover all the themes on this disc in a much more imaginative and stylish manner, infusing wry commercial satire into an ongoing narrative that inter-wove individual short stories as it trundled along. Human Crossing just does what it says on the tin, it tells short, touching human tales, but ones which are ultimately rather disposable. It’s a shame really because this should be a great show, not merely a good one.
However, I want to close on an optimistic note because the final two episodes on volume one were a marked improvement over the first two, so there’s still hope that the subsequent volumes will convince me that Human Crossing is more than just another standard J-drama in animated sheep’s clothing.
Presented in the original 4:3 ratio, Human Crossing has a slightly muted pallete in comparison to most new shows, but the colours are very clean and generally look very pleasant, similarly contrast and brightness levels are pretty much spot on. Again down to the understated animation style there’s not a tremendous amount of detail in the images – it’s by no means a soft transfer, just not quite as sharp as today’s CG infested shows. One consequence of this very slight softness is a lot of shimmering and jaggies across areas of fine detail during camera pans, another couple of niggles that will displease videophiles is the constant, yet mild Edge Enhancement present and (surprisingly for a recent Geneon title) there’s even instances of dot crawl in foreground and background objects throughout Episode 3: A Promise. Nevertheless Geneon have provided a very nice transfer that should please the vast majority of anime lovers out there.
Considering the restrained nature of the show, I was quite surprised at how aggressive the Japanese/English DD2.0 tracks are. Both give almost the exact same audio reproduction and very good ones at that. Dialogue is load and clear whilst bass is deep, the result is an impressive fullness to the character narrations that run through each episode and when the audio becomes more dynamic, like during the brief boxing scenes in The Wound, the soundstage opens up quite admirably, immersing you fully into the setting. Likewise the mellow string based score sounds warm and involving. Geneon have done a top Job here.
The English dub itself does the job reasonably well, but the voice actors do struggle with the understated tone of the show and tend to drearily deliver their lines with all the zest of a dead fish at times. Still, if you prefer to watch your Anime in English you should enjoy it.
Optional English subtitles are present with no spelling or grammatical errors I can recall.
The usual fluff features: Creditless Opening, Translated Opening and Closing credits, trailers for New Getter Robo, Patlabor WXIII, and the new Appleseed movie.
There might not anything exceptional about Human Crossing, but the understated style and gentle melodrama combine well to produce a series of shorts that are both moving and thematically consistent across the series. Action fans will no doubt find it dull and uninteresting, but anyone looking for more adult dramas should give it a try. Geneon’s DVD presentation provides a surprisingly rich audio experience and solid video, but as usual the extras are threadbare. It would’ve been nice if they had included at least an article on the guest voice actors that appear across the episodes.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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