11.10.2009

Chaotic Updates! Karin, FMA OVAs

Aah-hahahahahahaha! My classes have taken over my life! How long has it been since I updated? Over a month? Geez . . .

Sorry, everyone. This is long overdue, considering the back-logue of anime and manga I've since watched. I'm only following one series for this fall, the aforementioned Fairy Tail, though Book of Bantorra has peeked my interest. However, I think I'll wait for it to end and see what people say about it as a whole.




Karin (24 Episodes)
Animation: ***
Story: ****
Music: ***
Overal: ***

I remember seeing a "preview" for this on some other Geneon disc, which was basically the opening animation and theme. Therefore, I couldn't draw any conclusions as to what it was about. I only saw lots of conveniently censored nudity and a girl who has nose bleeds. I decided it was some fan-service-heavy rom-com and forgot about it.

Some time later, I decide to pick up the first volume of the Chibi Vampire manga, thinking that it looked kind of cute and had some potential. Before long, I burned through what my library had, having endeared myself to the characters and their problems. It was later that I realized that Karin was the original Japanese title and there was an anime series that had the previously described opening sequence. I haven't finished the manga (my hold at the library hasn't come through yet), but I was able to get my hands on the anime's boxset and burned through it, and found it was good fun, like the manga.

Karin is the name of the main protagonist, the eldest daughter in a family of vampires, the Markers (Maaka in Japanese). However, he vampirism seems to work backwards as she has the tendency of creating blood instead of a craving to steal blood from others. In moment's of high blood pressure, she loses control and bites whoever happens to be nearby to pass the excess blood from her to her victum. Naturally, this causes her family no end of worries, simply because they don't know what to do with her. She's a teenager, well beyond the age of maturity for vampires, and yet she has no problem with standard vampire banes. She can walk in daylight, go to school, and hold down a part time job just like any human teenager. Her only problem is the once-a-month blood explosions, which she's been able to keep a secret this whole time, even from her closest friend, Maki.

Enter Kenta Usui, recent transfer student whose family has had quite a share of bad luck. He doesn't know his father and his mother can't hold down a job to save her life (entirely because she's an attractive woman who keeps getting in trouble with lecherous, middle-aged men; she's a complete victum). Because of this, he always seems down and his disposition leads others to think he's always angry (unfortunately, it's just the shape of his eyes).

Well, things get sticky when Karin meets Kenta and her blood starts to boil, curious because her monthly blood problem had recently happened. Turns out that Kenta has Karin's blood affinity, a characteristic or condition of humanity that excites vampires to feed. For example: lying, stress, lonliness, etc. For Karin, it's depression, something Kenta has in spades. Upon realizing this, Karin goes about trying to make Kenta happy so her blood doesn't go haywire. Her first idea: making him lunch.

From there it blossoms into ridiculous and cute romantic comedy as the characters discover each other (Kenta finds out about Karin and her condition quite quickly). It follows the basic premise of the manga, but for its dramatic ending, it takes a different route. Instead of dealing with other vampire families, the Marker family is trouble with a family of vampire hunters. While most manga adaptations that have their own endings can lead to mixed results, at least in Karin it's one of the more creative ideas I've seen, primarily found in the character of Winner Sinclair, the current heir to his vampire hunting family and another transfer student to Karin and Kenta's high school.

I personally consider Winner to be one of the best characters I've ever seen. While he takes vampire hunting seriously, his delivery (at least in the English Dub) is straight up melodrama, resulting in having the rest of the school thinking he's completely insane. As luck would have it, he falls desperately in love with Karin, completely oblivious to the fact that she's a vampire. More romantic hijinks ensue. Basically, Karin doesn't want anything to do with him (because he's a vamprie hunter), so she gets the help of Maki, who happens to be in love with Winner, to get rid of him. Unfortunetly, his obliviousness and devotion to Karin wears them down to the point of simply ignoring him. Probably the greatest result of this is whenever Winner talks to or refers to Maki, he calls her "Karin's friend and sidekick," every time. And for me, it never got old!

While the story is entertaining, I find everything else about the series merely adequate. The music doesn't really stand out, either being standard rom-com suites or old-school horror scores. The animation is decent. The story doesn't demand much action from the animators, but for the climactic ending, the combat strikes me as only being slightly stiff. The character designs are appealing and distinct and for a rom-com, that's all you really need.

I'm looking forward to the end of the Chibi Vampire manga (weird title change, by the way). I'm one volume away, so don't tell me anything. In the meantime, the Karin anime was a fun diversion, using the same characters and situations to present an entertaining anime series. It's not earth-shattering by any means so those unfamiliar with the story may feel either way, but I would recommend it to fans of the manga only for the sake of being introduced to Winner. Seriously, he fits right in like he was meant to belong.





Fullmetal Alchemist OVA Collection (4 "Episodes")
Animation: *****
Story: ***
Music: ***
Overal: ***

I knew that FUNimation had finally grabbed this, but when I saw it in Hastings for about $12 I figured I had nothing to lose. While I wasn't completely blown away, I felt this was a decent package to fans of the series like me.

The four segments have nothing to do with each other (and little to do with the main property) but provide some fun ideas that Studio Bones decided to animate. First is a wrap party by the characters after the "filming" of Conquerer of Shamballa, proving some goofy gags. Second is a side story that treats the audience as a character, resulting in an interesting fight scene between the alchemists and homunculi (it leaves me with the impression that it was orginally part of a ride or event). Third is a curious flash-forward, showing a trio of kids (who look very much like Ed, Al, and Winry) wandering around a modern Japan before returning to their great-grandpa Elric. The fourth is a live-action segment featuring Alphone's armor as he wanders around Tokyo, trying to find Studio Bones.

I don't think I've said this on the blog yet, but I find Fullmetal Alchemist's music to be a bit bland, which was used for the OVAs. Sure, the character themes are alright and the lullabies and comic tunes strike the right chords, but all it amounts to is decent background noise that barely stands on its own. The animation is impressive, though. I'd say it's equal with what Conquerer of Shamballa presented. Slick, immersive, even when everything is chibi-styled it looks nice.

Clearly, this stuff was for the fans, as most OVAs based on bigger properties are. They expect a certain familiarity with the Fullmetal Alchemist story, specifically the anime continuity (though I would suggest that the second segment would be an ideal introduction to FMA). In any case, the set provides some fun chuckles and nostalgias for fans.




This should be good for now, but I've got quite a bit in the future. I finally finished Revolutionary Girl Utena (I was three episodes away for months!). I also wrapped up Gundam 00, which was interesting, and I've got Shangri-La almost done, so there's certainly more to cover. Here's hoping it doesn't take me a month to update this blog, eh?

9.17.2009

Struggling to get back in line! FMP Fumoffu, KuroKami, Kieli

As I expected, things got rather hectic once college picked up again, but I can still find moments to talk about my anime watching and manga reading. By the way, I finally got around to reading Hayate the Combat Butler and I AM LOVING IT!!! A total nerd fest that I imagine I'll be enjoying for quite some time now.

I've been kind of keeping an eye on the upcoming Fall Season of anime and I have to admit that I'm only really interested in Fairy Tail. I don't think that it's going to rewrite any rules of anime or anything, but it should be fun. To be honest, I'm surprised no one has jumped on it yet for an American lisence. I don't think it's the next Naruto, but I think it would still do well.

Ah, well, time to get started!




Full Metal Panic! Fumoffu (12 Episodes)
Animation: *****
Story: ****
Music: ***
Overall: ****

As I had explained before, a friend of mine insisted that I watch this and The Second Raid, so I rewatched the first series to hype myself up for them, which I have since reviewed. Now I've finished the comedy/romance side note of the series and I have to admit that it was straight-up hilarious. Taking Sousuke Sagara's hyper-military perspective on even the most mundane things makes for some very funny stuff, and it takes a lead role for this short but sweet series.

Drawing more from the funnier pieces of the manga and light novel series, there really isn't main plot so much as it is a sitcom, taking our familiar cast and watching them muck about the high school. Kaname and Sagara generally go about solving high school level problems with the expected mixed results. Tessa comes back for a stint as a high school student, effortlessly driving up Sagara's blood pressure and stress.

Of the new characters never before seen in animation, we have the Student Body President, who may not even have a name (not that he needs one) and his assistant. Let me just say that I consider the SBP to be one of the best characters in the series. Totally on board with whole Sousuke's-here-to-protect-Kaname-mission thing, he doles out assignments to Kaname (as she is the Class President for her class) and her bodyguard-cum-assistant Sousuke, ranging from helping serve rolls at lunch to resolving issues with the Martial Arts club, and the SBP does it with such style and command you can't not respect the man for all that he can do.

Despite being comedy-driven and not focused on a major plot, the animation is spectacular. Even if it's just Kaname hitting Sousuke with her paper fan yet again, it seems to be done so well that it is impossible not to get caught up in all that goes on. The well animated slapstick and antics really keep the show moving at a ridiculous pace, proving that Full Metal Panic can be just as awesome when it's telling jokes as when it was telling an intense action/thriller.

The music is the same set of pieces heard from Full Metal Panic: standard and adequate, with a few memorable tunes that excited you before. At this point, I would also like to add that the ending animation is contagiously cute. The song itself is decently punchy, but seeing chibi versions of the cast marching to it for no reason is one of my favorite parts of this series.

This series, while still relying on its source material, is a very different show from the first series. Sure, it had its moments of slapstick but they were merely bookends to get viewers into the characters and circumstances before launching into the real storyline. There really isn't any kind of major villain or even Mecha action, leaving the robots in the shop for TSR.

Fumoffu has great moments, from Sousuke training a rubgy team filled with pansies to the SBP speaking street slang to get the right message across, to Kaname voluntarily being kidnapped just to see if Sousuke will really come to her rescue. While I don't know if this will properly set me up for the latest series, it is great material that allows the viewers to sit back and relax before the next string of explosions and plot twists.




KuroKami: The Animation (23 Episodes)
Animation: *****
Story: ***
Music: ****
Overall: ****

You have to admit: Bandai had some real guts trying to pull this off. Trying to one-up the fansubbers, they helped produce the series so that it could be broadcast in three different languages within 24 hours of each other. I remember reading that the voice actors were dubbing over line-art and sketches of the show, before the color was put in and stuff. However, I'm afraid KuroKami will only be remembered as a massively ambitious and experimental because, as an anime, it comes across as rather corny.

KuroKami is about a boy named Keita whose mother died in a traffic accident. Due to this and other events, he lives alone and generally doesn't try to make friends, afraid that anyone he makes friends with will get killed. However, as he attends high school, he suddenly hears about the idea that if people meet another person who looks just like them, they will die. Putting together some of the things he remembers about his mother's accident and wonders if it's true. As if answering his question, a little girl he knows from his neighborhood happens to mention that she saw a girl just like her then crossed the road too soon and gets hit by a huge truck.

At the same time, Keita befriends a girl by the name of Kuro by giving her ramen at a ramen shop. While she's grateful, she also explains that she is on a quest to kill her older brother. She also explains that she is a Terra Guardian in charge of the Doppleliner system. Every person starts with two dopplegangers of themselves throughout the world and their terra, or life force, is divided between them. If one should die, the other two gain the dead one's terra. However it has come to the Terra Guardians' attention that someone is abusing this system, with Kuro's brother at the head.

While Keita doesn't seem to show much interest, he gets wrapped up with Kuro's battle for revenge and dies. Kuro leaps to save him the only way she knows how: by forcing Keita into a contract with her. Now as a Terra Guardian's Contractee, his concentration has an impact on Kuro's ability to battle. Before long, other evidence arrives to show that perhaps Keita's mother was caught up in this mess as well. Keita finally comes on board and Kuro takes him on a quest for the fate of the world.

There are a lot of great ideas presented here, but before long it declines into the massive rut of generic shonen-style action. People seem to battle for little to no reason and by the end, the dialogue and motivation for the characters, as they rally to fight a common evil, grows cheesier by the episode. As a result, I found myself not really trying to raise my expectations anymore. Instead, I focused on the animation.

Which was CRAZY!! While the character designs take some time to get used to, the action is unbelievable. If I had to describe it, then imagine you were watching Dragon Ball Z with a massive subwoofer and EVERYTIME some landed a punch, the whole house shook. Despite all of the attack-name shouting and superhero-like powers, everything seems to hit with great weight. You feel every crack and crunch, and quite often, I felt myself wincing. Perhaps I should be giving credit to the special effects guys. In any case, the action is the real star of this series and is worth seeing just for that.

The music may seem tacky at times, but I rather liked the whole rock/metal motif they had. It got the blood pumping as characters crashed into each other. I particularly like the second opening theme, "Trance".

Overall, it was a fun show, despite the characters being almost forgettable and the plot getting shallower as it went along. Perhaps it was a safe series for their multi-dub experiment, but I think the ride was worth it.




Kieli (2 Volumes)
Rating: **

It's really hard to review a manga series that is so short, especially with one as dynamic as Kieli where there certainly was more room to explore within its distinct world.

Taking place in some far future where people have since colonized other planets, Kieli is teenage girl going to a church school in what looks like a recreation of 1930s Europe. Supposedly several years ago, there was a horrible war where super soldiers called [immortal] were created to end the war, only to have their creators turn on them when they were no longer needed. Now, they are used as a kind of boogeyman and generally considered as a myth.

Meanwhile, Kieli goes to class, continually isolating herself because she is the only person she knows that can see ghosts, that is until she meets Harvey, a strange man who doesn't seem to want to hang around much, especially. After a small adventure in helping Kieli's ghost-roommate finally move on, she becomes infatuated with Harvey, thinking that me just might be an [immortal], decides to use her school vacation to travel with him and his companion, a ghost called Colonel with a harsh tone of voice possessing a radio. Their quest: to help the Colonel find peace.

The story doesn't have much to tell, mostly showing how this adventure helps Harvey become human again by letting this girl fall in love with him. Perhaps the light novels have more to share, I don't know, but it's hard to really get into the series when it ends so quickly. The pacing is fine and the art is nice, pleasant when it needs to be, haunting when it calls for it. But the series seems mostly content with not having much of an impact. It might make a nice movie someday, but I would have really liked to see more of the setting and scenario.




Once again, I can't promise when I'll be able to write up a new article, not that I have any decent excuse: I've recently watched the Karin anime and I'm still just a few episodes short of finishing Utena. However, I've also got a set of classes that may not seem like a lot, but they're very demanding in their own ways. I'll get back to writing as soon as I feel I can.

8.11.2009

Madness Ensues! Tsubasa, Eden Of The East, Gun Blaze West

Once again hit by the uncertainty of my future, I am not writing on time. However, despite my particular circumstances, I still have things to talk about at least for the near future. In fact, once school does start, I may get myself in a far more regular routine, compelling me to be more consistent as a whole, thus including my reviews of anime and manga.

And speaking of manga, what happened? Seriously, go check out Shonen Sunday and Sig Ikki. Are we seriously considering serialization of translated print manga for the internet? This could be huge, especially since Viz has the rights to publish Rin-Ne in English at the same time as the Japanese version. We'll see how this really goes down as I think this is massively ambitious, considering that they just lost their Shojo Beat magazine. In any case, it's something to keep an eye on.

Moving on!



Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle (52 Episodes)
Animation: ****
Story: ***
Music: *****
Overal: ***

The idea of a CLAMP manga getting an anime adaptation is certainly not something new by now, but the results seem to vary, at least for me. While I am a fan of how Card Captor Sakura and the X Movie turned out, I felt that Magic Knight Rayearth took a real weird turn at the end that really makes me wish they could have taken the manga ending instead. (I still have yet to see Chobits, xxxHolic, or Angelic Layer, though I have high hopes for the last one; it's Studio Bones after all.) So now we come to Tsubasa's adaptation.

To begin, I absolutely love the manga series. As derivative as it is, CLAMP has done some pretty inventive and exciting things with this bizarre spin on their own works. So when I decided to sit down and watch the anime, I had some pretty high expectations. While there were some highlights, I must say that I felt ultimately disappointed.

To be fair, the animation does the series justice, painting lush atmospheres and locales that set the characters where they belong. However, for an action series, the actual battles occasionally seemed stilted and unnatural, quite often satisfied with slowly panning dynamic poses and relying on flashes of light and other still pictures for the blows, and not really bothering to animate much. It's the same kind of things I found in the King of Bandits Jing series.

I also have a few problems with how the story was told. I thought that drawing from such a great manga as its source material, there would be nothing to fear, but there certainly is room for some improvement. For starters, there several moments when the show is simply satisfied with needless camera panning. It will move from one picture to another, with nothing being said or done, as if the director is simply trying to stall for time. I remember that frequently the end of an episode would simply drag on, providing nothing new to the plot or action. I guess I could label it as faulty and uneven pacing, as this was evidenced throughout the whole series. While the story arcs based on the manga are fun, the filler stories start to creep in by the end of the second series and I really get the impression that the writers couldn't come up with something new. It felt like I was being told the same story they told in the first season.

A bit of a spoiler, but the series essentially ends as a cliff-hanger. The main objective doesn't get solved by the end, but what could the animators do when the manga hadn't finished yet? At least there's room to add on (and they have with OAVs).

However, there is one bright, shining star in Tsubasa, and that's the music. This has got to be one of the most original and epic soundtracks I have ever heard. It's like a subway sandwich with a bit of everything and it tastes great because of the variety inside it. You get some techno-driven ethnic drums combined with a great sounding choir and a serious infusion of jazz. While you get the basic variety of soft pieces and action pieces, it never really loses that bizarreness, helping set the scene for Tsubasa's varied locations. However, having the music as the best part of the series can be both a good thing and a bad thing.

I guess I would recommend this series to those who haven't read the manga yet as a kind of teaser for the manga series. The anime really does nothing to add to the story or it's dramatic questions, but rather seem satisfied with giving the manga some color and an impressive soundtrack, followed by tacking on some rather pointless stories. As a whole, it's decent, but forgettable. As I've said before, I'm critical of anime adaptations the first time through, but even so, I feel no incentive to re-watch the series when I can just re-read the manga.



Eden of the East (11 Episodes)
Animation: *****
Story: ****
Music: ***
Overall: ****

Ever wonder what Lost might be like as an anime? Okay, I've never actually seen an episode of Lost, but I think I'd feel the same way I felt about Eden of the East: confused, but enjoying the ride.

The show begins with Saki Morimi on a trip from Japan to Washington D.C. when she suddenly meets with a completely naked man who is carrying a gun, a bizarre cell phone, and has completely lost his memories until just a few minutes ago. She gives him coat only to realize that her passport is still in it, so she ends up chasing him down to his apartment. In the meantime, the guy looks into his cell phone and learns that he can contact a certain person named Juiz who can grant any wish he desires. He gets back to what seems to be his apartment and finds a small armory as well as several different passports for different identities. He takes the one named Akira Takizawa and decides to burn everything else. He runs into the girl and the two of them decide to go back to Japan together, only to learn that Japan has been hit with missiles (suffering no casualties, strangely enough).

Before long, Akira learns he is a Selecao, one of twelve people chosen to help “save Japan,” whatever that may mean to these individuals. Each of them were given a cell-phone and ten billion yen for their task, the money spent for their demands to Juiz. However, one of the twelve is called the Supporter who has the right to kill any of the other members if the Supporter feels like they aren't doing their job.

All of this conspiracy-like head twisting gets further complicated by the current economics of Japan and the concept of NEETs, people who currently aren't employed, in education or training of some kind; I guess there are quite a few of them in Japan. Saki happens to one who, with a few other people, created the namesake of the series: a bizarre internet program that sort of combines Google maps with a forum. This allows people, for example, to hold up a cell phone camera and the video screen with suddenly get pop-up information for the various locations or people you may be looking at.

In short, the story's pretty convoluted, an impressive feat for only having eleven episodes. To be honest, there are still a few things that still aren't clear me, perhaps a downside of fansubs. I'm hoping now that FUNimation has the rights to the series, they'll make a dub that'll make things fit together a little better. Of course, there are still a pair of movies yet to come out to finish all the loose ends, but those are a little harder to fansub, I believe. I'll just have to be patient.

The animation is pretty slick, but that's to be expected from Production I.G. Still it's pretty neat to see how they made the characters interact with their hyper-realistic environments. The music is alright, the highlight being that the opening is actually from the band Oasis. Has that been done before: a popular western artist having a song for the opening of an anime?

As I said before, it's confusing, but a fun ride that will make you smile more than once. With all of the dark and creepy cloak-and-dagger moments you get an instantly lovable cast of realistically goofy characters. At times you'll wish the series would decide if it's a shojo manga or a Bourne rip-off (they actually allude to it in the series!), but it certainly isn't one people should miss out on.

Gun Blaze West (3 Volumes)
Rating: **

To say that I like Nobuhiro Watsuki is an understatement. I seriously consider Rurouni Kenshin to be the greatest Japanese comic ever made. It's a great epic story with great characters, great pacing, and a good sense of action. However, since then, his works have been lacking. Gun Blaze West was his next attempt and, given some of Watsuki's liner notes, you can tell that things weren't going well from the start.

Gun Blaze West basically takes the standard Shonen action/adventure formula and plugs it into a wild west setting. You get a spunky hero with unlimited potential, a mentor to help him get started, a pair of companions to keep him in check, and a cast of villains and opponents to test his strength against. The fact that all of this takes place in the wild west quickly becomes its best quality. Instead of martial arts or chi blasts, you get guns and some good old-fashioned brawling.

The story kills out just as things really get going and the point of Gun Blaze West is made fairly clear. Apparently the series got canceled rather quickly, but Watsuki blames himself for this as he explains that he was doing everything by the seat of his pants and with a bad illness on top of that. To be honest, I don't know if we miss much. While the idea of Naruto with a six-shooter may seem appealing (and Watsuki did have some pretty interesting character designs along the way), it's clear that he's done better work. He lost the decent pacing that he had (a problem that I think he continued with Buso Renkin; that series moves way too fast for its own good) and his characters don't have the fresh chemistry between each other like in Kenshin.

Simply a sputter of bland story-telling that looks rather pretty, I think I can only recommend this to Watsuki fans like myself and anyone who is curious about a Japanese perspective of Western Films.



Ended on a bit of a downer, didn't I? Oh well, not everything in otaku-dom can be warm-fuzzies and robots. I'm not sure when I'll get the next article up, but I'm fairly certain that I'll have Kurokami and Full Metal Panic! Fumoffu finished by then. I've also got Revolutionary Girl Utena almost finished and a few other short manga series on my list, so I can only blame myself for not getting things posted.

Just as an after-thought, is anyone else getting a bit overwhelmed by all of the anime and manga that's hitting the web? I brought up Viz's manga sites earlier, but when I look over FUNimation's video portal or CrunchyRoll, the number of titles available on those sites is absolutely baffling. Anime is hitting the internet hard and I think we need to be right there with them so they don't regret all of the efforts they've made.

7.27.2009

Missed A Week, But I'm Back! Tenchi, Hyakko, Fruits Basket

Waagh! Sorry I'm late! I had a really apathetic week last week and things got kind of bad. I even had this article planned in my head and I just decided not to write it. I'm going to blame hayfever. It's a good scapegoat. In any case, no more excuses. I can do this! So here we go.



Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki OVA Set 3 (7 Episodes)
Animation: ****
Story: ****
Music: ***
Overall: ***

The Tenchi franchise is about as old as the hills now and the formula is pretty much the same here, just simply picking up where the first two sets of OVAs left off. Tenchi, in his house filled with hot alien girls, is suddenly visited by even more hot alien girls. What starts off as Tenchi's long lost family pouring in and telling him he's already engaged turns into a crisis that could destroy the universe. Basic Tenchi stuff and yet quite fun if you've already enjoyed everything leading up to this series as I have since it was broadcasted on Toonami.

However, I do have a few complaints. I don't talk much about the whole issue of subs and dubs and that kind of thing, but here the dub bothered me. It wasn't that the dub was bad as it was that FUNimation didn't (or couldn't) get some of the original voice actors and that was a little depressing. I had heard that they were using a different voice for Ryoko, but I figured that a sexy space pirate wouldn't be hard to recreate, and I was wrong. Not that the voice was bad, but the original voice actress who played Ryoko certainly was better. Mihoshi's voice actress was different as well, but I didn't care as much. Airhead is airhead and I've never cared much for Mihoshi anyway. One thing that did puzzle me is how they got the original voice again for Tenchi, but didn't have him do Tenchi's grandfather, Katsuhito, like he did originally. Oh well.

My other complaint actually is in the animation. Don't get me wrong, it was still good, but it wasn't the same quality and smoothness that the original OVAs had. Even if they're older, they certainly were slick and had a lot of fluid motion, whereas this third set has the standard stickiness you expect from television anime. I thought OVAs were supposed to by better in the animation department.

It's still a fun series, though. I don't know if it's ideal for someone to pick it up on its own; they do spend a lot of time referring to material brought up in the earlier series. Sure, the first episode is sort of a recap, but there's still other details you wouldn't really get unless you had watched the series from the beginning. At least we don't have to wait and buy each episode individually!



Hyakko (13 Episodes)
Animation: ****
Story: ****
Music: ****
Overall: *****

WILL SOMEONE PLEASE LICENSE THIS!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!

. . .

Lemme back up. When the Anime News Network was doing their Anime preview for (geez, I think it was) last fall, they didn't seem to care much for Hyakko. It was four high school girls simply being the kind of silly you'd find in anime. Yet, as I picked which series I was going to try to follow, I couldn't get it out of my mind and I decided to give it a shot.

I have since been left on the ground rolling in laughter. This series absolutely KILLS me! I don't know if it just fits in with my sense of humor or what, but I loved almost every minute of this series (I'll get to those other parts later)!! The character design is immediately striking, the character interactions are incredibly dynamic, and the music keeps everything pumping full of life and energy. Even when they toss in a few anime in-jokes, the show doesn't necessarily expect you to get them, which allows you to join in with the rest of the cast in being pleasantly baffled. Of course, when you do get it, it's just as great.

The premise is simply enough: the campus is one of those K-12 schools, but the first character you meet is Ayumi who transferred in just for high school, which becomes apparent when she gets lost five minutes into the first episode. Plagued with a timid nature, she tries to find friends but can't find the courage, so when she stumbles across Natsumi, the snooty girl, Ayumi can barely get across that she could use some help, only to learn that, despite being a student at this school since the beginning, Natsumi is lost, too. As they wander around, they come across Torako leaping out of a building as plan to not loose her own sense of direction because she and her friend Suzume are lost as well. Torako is the gung-ho reckless type (almost like a shonen anime hero) and Suzume fills the personality-of-a-alien-robot type. From here, the four girls (who are all in the same class, as it turns out) become close friends simply by happenstance and it's great to see them clash against each other over this and that. Mostly, Natsumi practicality compels her to scorn Torako for every nonsensical thing she does while Ayumi trembles in indecision and Suzume eats everything. They also seem to be the central focus as they befriend/harass the other girls in their class.

My only criticism is what happens at the end of the series. After being a rather off-the-wall comedy, it suddenly strikes a large vein of seriousness that almost seems uncharacteristic. While the series does a good job of diving fairly deep into the various characters' problems and personalities, it suddenly dives a little too deep into Torako's family life and troubles which are rather complex and dark in comparison. And the final episode is a little disorienting as it takes everything back to before the series got started. Maybe if I had read the manga, this whole thing would make more sense.

That aside, the series was a lot of fun and I would love it if some company could pick it up and bring it here. I don't care if it's just a subtitles-only complete box set a la Media Blasters (though I wouldn't turn down a dub if someone feels like it would be worthwhile), I just want this series on DVD without having to pay through the nose for an import. I really wouldn't know where to look anyways.

I may not have seen every anime comedy under the sun, but I enjoyed this and would recommend it to anyone who likes their comedy a little on the off-beat side.



Fruits Basket (23 Volumes)
Rating: ***

I reviewed the anime here on this blog before and found it to be a fun, light-hearted comedy concerning a rather frightening family. However, the anime could only go so far as the manga hadn't finished yet, so they decided to make their own ending, bringing everything to a reasonable close.

Fruits Basket is a fairly well known property by now, as it is the number shojo manga in America (or is that just TokyoPop hyping things up?). I imagine most everyone is familiar with the premise by now, and if not, I've done a decent enough job with the anime review that I don't feel like re-typing it.

In comparison to the anime, the manga starts out just as light-hearted, but then dives deep in rather serious situations and material. It spends a rather long time on each of the other zodiac members that I wouldn't really consider to be main characters, sort of like how Kare Kano got away from the main couple for some of those later graphic novels. However, to Fruits Basket's credit, it still focuses on Tohru and her interactions with the various members of the Sohma family, even if they seem tangential. In fact, as the series progresses, it seems to wax more and more philosophical, almost making it seem long-winded at times.

Toward the end, Fruits Basket remembers that shojo manga tend to have romantic parts as well, and Tohru finally decides she in love with one of the guys (I won't say who simply because I didn't think it would be him, so I'll leave it a surprise for those who haven't read it) and helps him over come his Zodiac curse.

After running for 23 volumes, we finally have the happy ending we've been waiting for all this time. Things get sorted out, negativity is replaced with smiles, and all is well. It just took a really long, roundabout way of getting there. Maybe it was just the release schedule of the volumes from TokyoPop, I don't know. However, I feel satisfied with how the series went as a whole and I don't think it as a waste of my time. (Again, their version of Cinderella for their school play is the most hilarious play-in-a-manga I've ever seen.)



Well, as I warned, things may get more complicated as I get closer to the fall semester, but I've already got a plan for next week's article: I'm almost finished with Eden Of The East (wow, what a trip) and I've got the rest of Tsubasa Reservior Chronicle handy. Also, there are a few short manga collections that I could have finished by then as well, so at least I'll have something to write about.

I wonder when One Piece will become available online again with FUNimation . . . .

7.12.2009

Summer Blues! Code Geass, Tower Of Druaga, Astro Boy

I apologize for not getting this posted yesterday, but the pollen of the world decided to give a massive headache along with an itchy nose, and I'm afraid to say that things may not get better, according to the big picture. While it has been great to watch all of this anime, my summer is starting to turn back towards worrying about school, which means finding tuition money and then spending time on homework or, in short, less time for anime. I don't know how often I'll be able to update from here on out, but I'll try to be as often as I feel I can.

At least I've got a few titles to get things started for now.



Code Geass: Lelouch Of The Rebellion (25 Episodes)

Code Geass: Lelouch Of The Rebellion R2 (25 Episodes)
Animation: *****
Story: ****
Music: ***
Overall: ****

Yes, I have finally finished all of Code Geass and, boy, is my brain tired. I remember when this series was first starting to get all of sorts of attention from all sorts of fans and I thought I'd give it a shot when it rolled around on Adult Swim's online video player and found myself ensnared in a tangle of plots that I could pull my eyes away from.

In an alternate but not too distant future, the Empire of Britannia (located primarily in North America) begins expanding its territory across the world, including Japan, taking it over completely and turning into Area 11. The people there are now called Elevens and treated as a lower caste by the Britannians. Lelouch is a Brittanian prince who is living as a high school student in Japan under the surname of Lamperouge in order to hide from potential assassinations. However, he still holds a personal grudge in his heart against whoever killed his mother in an assassination, a trauma that left Lelouch's little sister, who is “hiding” in Japan with him, blind. Lelouch figures that it's someone else within the Brittania family and vows to get revenge, but having been dumped in Japan, he feels powerless to do so.

Meanwhile, even though Japan has been a part of Brittania for 10 years, there are still resistance groups trying to fight for their Japanese heritage. They get wind of some chemical weapons are being transported and try to prevent the Empire from using them. Lelouch happens upon this act of terrorism and decides to follow up on what's going on, thinking that he can make a dent in Brittania. However, instead of finding chemical weapons, he finds an incapacitated girl in green hair and tries to take her to safety away from the terrorists violence. Along the way, he runs into Suzaku Kururugi, his childhood friend and native Japanese, fighting as a soldier for Britannia. Without having time to catch up, they try to get out of danger, but end up getting separated again, with Lelouch being caught by a platoon of soldiers. They fire, but the green-haired girl suddenly jumps in front, saving Lelouch's life. As the green lies on the ground, she suddenly starts talking about giving Lelouch “power.” Finding himself up against a wall, he accepts and is granted the power of Geass, where upon eye-to-eye contact, Lelouch can alter the will of anyone. He uses his power to escape the soldiers, by ordering them all to commit suicide, and begins to help the terrorists in their efforts against the Empire, later becoming their leader under the guise of Zero, a masked hero for justice. He begins to figure that, with his own cunning, his new power, and the terrorists' resources, he can finally topple Brittania and find out who killed his mother.

What happens from then on is a convoluted tale that warps between political intrigue, high school antics, supernatural powers, and personal anguish, as Lelouch and the others feel the weight of their new responsibilities and try to defeat their enemies and fears. The green-haired-girl, simply named as C2, returns as an immortal being capable of granting Geass power and willing to Lelouch with his rebellion as long as he fulfills his end of the contract, a detail that remains unrevealed for quite some time. Suzaku ends up climbing through the ranks of the Brittanian military, quickly ending up as a test subject for a special proto-type mech.

Oh, yeah. There's robots throughout the whole thing. All the battles are straight-up mecha army action.

Code Geass is a very ambitious story, trying to weave together so many plot threads and still make sense, and, to its credit, it mostly succeeds. While my head spun with each plot twist, each piece finds its resting place by the end of the long series and felt satisfied by the end. Things went well, even if I felt like everything was stumbling through mud from time to time.

The animation was incredible, not only with the vivid scenery and memorable character designs by CLAMP, but with the action and combat as well, a crucial element for mecha anime. The robots all seem to have wheels on their feet, so the battles feel like over-the-top roller derbies with guns, and somehow they made it work. The music was more of a downer. It had its moments, establishing easy-to-recognize themes when things worked or didn't work in the story, but it didn't stand out much and I felt more could have been done with it. Even the opening and ending themes were rather mediocre.

When I got a few episodes in, I gathered the sentiment that this was going to be Death Note but with mecha instead of mind games. Sunrise has had all sorts of experience with their Gundam franchise in combining a political drama with robots and so adding in this supernatural twist could make or break the series. While it stumbled around getting there, it did come together in the end, resulting in one of the most renowned series Sunrise has produced (I think it even won some awards in Japan a couple of times). In the end, my sentiment was right. Code Geass is Death Note with robots. You have webs of character relations, sudden plot twists, supernatural surprises (especially when Lelouch runs into other Geass users!), and a wealth of memorable moments that really makes this title stand out. I can now see what all of the hubbub was for and I don't regret it.



The Tower of Druaga: The Aegis Of Uruk (12 Episodes)
The Tower of Druaga: The Sword Of Uruk (12 Episodes)
Animation: ****
Story: ****
Music: ****
Overall: ****

The Tower of Druaga was an old Japanese arcade game where the heroes had to climb a 60 level tower in order to save the world. I don't think it ever made it to America, but it was quite a hit in Japan has since spawned a handful of games in the same world. In this anime series, Gonzo takes that game and turns it into a very entertaining romp through the tower and the personal struggles of those who climb it.

The story primarily revolves around Jil, a young Climber, who is sincere about getting to the top and defeating the great demon Druaga. However, the other Climbers don't want to listen because they're satisfied with how much money they can make Climbing the tower. He tries to join his older brother Neeba's group, only to be kicked out for his incompetence. He finally gets his own party, consisting of Ahmey, a female spear-wielder, Kaaya, a cheerful priestess, Melt, an eccentric mage, and Coopa, Melt's personal assistant that happens to have her own bag of tricks. They all decide to follow Jil up the tower in order to defeat the evil that lives at that top.

However, as they climb the tower, they begin to notice some of the connections between the tower and the condition of the king of the land, Gilgamesh, who supposedly defeated the tower the last time. Because it has come back and the past is slowly being revealed, the tower's true purpose becomes revealed and the heroes have to find the truth on top of it all.

While all of this is a very engaging Babylonian fantasy epic with it's own innovations (Melt's magic is swinging clubs like he's golfing, making Coopa a sort of caddy for him; it's brilliant), it is more than willing to take some time to put its tongue in its own cheek. The first episode is almost entirely a dream, spoofing itself and other action series and fantasy tropes (even going so far as a Monty Python reference and a sudden shift into Gurren Lagann mode) and not developing very much plot. Later on, the characters stumble into a series of bizarre traps that the heroes spend an entire episode walking into. They even take the time to send Jil into a life-size reenactment of the original video game, the other heroes controlling him with a joystick and buttons and having to restart every time something goes wrong. The moments of comedy brighten things significantly. Even if very little progression is made, it helps the viewers get to know the characters.

The second part of the series is much more serious, though, as things turn uglier, though it does take time to show the ski resort Melt builds within the tower. However, as it builds suspense and goes deeper into the secrets of the tower, I felt that the final showdown was rather light-weight compared to all the momentum it had been building. While I won't go into detail for the sake of those who haven't seen it, I thought there were some darker themes and heavier material into which they could have delved. Instead, they decide to pass over it and simply bring an end to everything.

The animation was great. Having many characters involved for massive battles with monsters and other Climbers went well for the most part. The biggest problem I had how the CG elements didn't blend into the 2D animation as well as it could have. It stood out and seemed somewhat distracting. Gonzo has always messed around with combining 2D with 3D, but they seemed to make it work so well ten years ago with Blue Submarine No. 6. It wasn't a major bother in Tower, but it was reoccuring. The music was nice, drawing on the themes from the video game but giving them a Lord of the Rings quality by giving them an orchestral feel. The opening and ending themes weren't bad either. Also, it should be noted that I watched this series subbed, for once. It'll be interesting how the series will sound after FUNimation dubs it.

The Tower of Druaga was a fun ride, even if it lost some steam at the end. And it's still available online (Thank you, CrunchyRoll!) so go watch it. It's worth it. It even led me to a discovery. I was in my local Hastings with some money to burn and I stumbled across the PS2 game The Nightmare of Druaga. Not only was it in the used bin for only four dollars, it was still shrink-wrapped after I tore off the used-wrap Hastings puts on its used materials. I primarily picked up simply because I was watching Druaga at the time. The game happens to be a wonderfully merciless dungeon hack that I imagine I'll be playing for years to come. I've become a fan of the Druaga series and look forward to where it'll pop up in the future.



Astro Boy (23 Volumes)
Rating: ***

Osamu Tezuka's genius has gone unrecognized lately, in my opinion. Especially in America. While I'm sure that most anime and manga fans are aware that he brought those two very mediums to the heights of popularity they enjoy now, they fail to realize that he himself is a great writer and artist, full of his own impressive ideas. Maybe some time I'll talk about his Phoenix series.

I recently finished Dark Horse's run of Tezuka's breakout hit, Astro Boy. He had some success with Kimba but Astro Boy is what got everyone's attention back then and the title propelled Tezuka to be the Godfather of Manga as he is known today. However, reading it now is a bit of a challenge. The layout and narrative style haven't aged well, coming across as very wordy and thick for a simple action series. Most of the time, Astro Boy is simply caught up in an evil plot or scheme and has to beat up the bad guys in order to save the day. General old-school superhero story-telling. This leaves the reader with a heavily episodic series that rarely refers to other stories. The particular collection that Dark Horse has translated doesn't even have the volumes in any kind of chronological or narrative order. You could pick up any volume and begin reading without having to read the others before it (except for two or three that collect a newspaper run, but even then, the story would be hard to follow).

So why do I give Astro Boy 3 stars? Well, even though Tezuka had to keep the story simple and action driven to please his editors, throughout his stories he was able to delve into more complicated material, even if it was merely subtext. The story begins with a brilliant robotics scientist named Dr. Tenma. However, he was so caught up with work that he neglected his own son. When his son got into a car accident, he felt the need to turn his life around, so he coerced the robotics department to help him create a robot version of his son and succeeded. Unfortunately, Dr. Tenma grew upset that the robot couldn't grow like a normal child and abandoned it, too, going into seclusion. Sometime later, Dr. Ochanamizu found the robot's body and rebuilt him with super powers, turning him into Astro Boy, who would eventually become the poster child for the ideology that robots deserve to have rights just like the humans.

I find it interesting that Tezuka is a contemporary of Isaac Asimov and his three rules of robotics. While they have their similarities, it's interesting to see how each of them consider the possibilities of robots with progressive artificial intelligence, and that's what makes Astro Boy such a remarkable work. The out-dated elements of the story can be compensated by the speculation and vision Tezuka offers for our future.




As for what to expect in future columns, I don't know what to tell you. I was expecting Shangri-La (which is has been pretty cool) to finish with 13 episodes but it's probably going to finish in the mid-twenties now. I do have Hyakko and Eden of the East fansubs sitting on my computer that I could finish up quite quickly. There are a couple of other anime series that I could really dive into that are just sitting around.

Another possibility may not be reviews of a specific title but a focus on broader topics within anime and manga. I'm not terribly industry savvy, but I could delve a bit into that as well. I'm just not sure. You'll just have to come back and check out what I've got to say!

7.04.2009

Happy 4th of July! DBZ, Sky Crawlers, Dragon Drive, Clover

Hey, I'm actually getting in an update on time!! Another reason to celebrate! In any case, I hope you all have a fun and safe Independence Day. It'll be a good break from all that anime, right? So let's get started with one of the most loved anime epics in the world.



Dragon Ball Z (291 Episodes)
Animation: ***
Story: ***
Music: ***
Overall: ***

It's taken me two summers to pull it off, but I finally watched all 291 episodes of Dragon Ball Z. I remembered watching it on Toonami and being bitter at how long it was taking, even at five episodes a week (freaking Cell), but the thought occurred to be that I hadn't really watched it from beginning to end. It's been considered an anime classic, something that I'll get to a little bit later.

Dragon Ball Z (for those of you who have been living under a rock on Mars) is about Goku, a martial artist with incredible powers and potential, suddenly realizing that after all this time (roughly 150+ episodes that constitute Dragon Ball) he's actually a space alien sent to Earth to destroy it. However, he konked his head shortly after arriving, turning into the pure-hearted hero everyone knows and loves. This information spirals the story into an epic that results in saving the universe as a whole.

Trying to summarize the plot of Dragon Ball Z in a short paragraph is hard to do, considering all that happens. Not to say that the story's great, though, it just takes a long time to tell, which is why the new Dragon Ball Kai version is going to be so interesting.

For the music, I decided to listen to the Japanese Soundtrack, which, while orchestral, is simple and doesn't distract from the action. I wonder if the American Soundtrack wouldn't have been better, but I don't want to watch the whole series again just for that! The animation slowly improves over time, natural for a long-running show like this, but never really reaches jaw-dropping levels compared to television today. It may have been great back then, but now it seems standard, perhaps because it set the standard for all shows to follow.

Actually, that's the major reason I watched this series in the first place. Dragon Ball Z's legacy is huge, and now that I've seen the whole series again from this retrospective viewpoint, I'm cemented my opinion that Dragon Ball Z pioneered the modern Shonen/Action/Adventure style of story telling that we now see in the likes of Bleach, Naruto, and One Piece. To be fair, they're all from Shonen Jump, but even so, I think DBZ laid the groundwork for most of everything to follow, including it immediate successor YuYu Hakusho and even series like Rurouni Kenshin, Rave Master, Negima, Zatch Bell, and the three I mentioned before. They generally all do the same thing: set up a massive premise to be lead by appealing characters that will take a ridiculously long time to tell so that, when they reach the climax, the viewers will have put in so much emotional investment on what's going on they will have everyone on the edge of the their seats whether they like it not. All the tropes we know and love started with Dragon Ball Z.

Again, to be fair, there probably were other titles that did similar things before Dragon Ball Z began in 1984. I have already admitted how much I'm loving Fist of the North Star, but it's not be rehashed like DBZ is with the newer titles I previously mentioned.

Dragon Ball Z's impact is huge, and that's what makes it a classic. It may not be very watchable now (though I had to check out it from my library with only a week for each season box set which at such a rapid pace made things a little better; I didn't much else those weeks though), but it does deserve respect for trail-blazing that it has done for later series.

I'll probably watch Dragon Ball GT, despite how little it is generally liked, next summer. I have a tendency to want to like things people normally don't like, perhaps as a way to be more open-minded about my expectations. For example, I don't think St. Anger is Metallica's worst album. They've certainly done better, but it isn't horrible.

Why am I talking about music, let's get back to anime.



Sky Crawlers (Movie)
Animation: ****
Story: ****
Music: ***
Overall: ***

Sky Crawlers is a movie directed by Mamoru Oshii based on a book series about a fictional world war that never seems to end. The plot revolves around a small crew of fighter pilots for one particular side of the war and their philosophical dilemmas about dealing with the endless fighting. Some clearly take it better than others. Add in the concept that the soldiers seem to be clones of some sort, being replaced with frightening similar replicas whenever they die in battle. Of course, the movie doesn't tell you that out right.

The story is good, relying on a sense of philosophical science-fiction that, in the end, poses some pretty interesting questions. However, that sense if very subtle, giving the movie a very slow pace. The trailers give you a sense of action with all the dog fights in the sky, but don't be fooled. They're sporadic throughout the movie, though, to their credit, they don't take away from pacing that the show establishes right from the get go. Don't expect an action flick; it's far too introspective for that. You've been warned.

To be honest, I can't remember the music, and if that's the case, then it probably wasn't much. If it was bad, I would've remembered.

No, my biggest problem was actually with the character design. Don't get me wrong, the animation was slick, but everybody looked like they belonged in the Naruto universe, and that was distracting. I noticed that both anime titles have the same character designer, Tetsuya Nishio, but in reading a lot of the recent Naruto graphic novels, it seems like this guy and Masashi Kishimoto have been swapping sketchbooks. As I watched Sky Crawlers, I kept subconsciously expecting a bunch of ninjas to crash through, not that there was any logical reason for it, but because the character designs reminded me so much of Naruto that I wouldn't have been surprised if it did happen. Hopefully, it's just me.

In the end, it wasn't a bad movie, just a really slow one. It offers some sci-fi pontification and slick visuals, but I don't see myself watching it again.



Dragon Drive (14 Volumes)
Rating: ***

And we move back into dragons. Dragon Drive is the story about a video game that actually isn't a video game, but actually a portal into another world. Villains are trying to use the powers of this other world for their own benefits and it's up to the overly energetic heroes to stop them.

It's pretty standard, as far as story goes. The heroes struggle, find friends, and rely on their virtues to resolve the crisis. Setting that aside, I can't deny that Kenichi Sakura did a really good job getting an incredible amount energy across. It's expected that the hero will be spunky, but I've never seen heroes whose energy is so contagious. You get two of them, one for each major story arc, though the first one steps back in halfway through the second arc. They have various reasons for getting in the game, which is very Pokemon/Digimon; The player gets a monster and orders it to do battle with the other players' monsters. Naturally, the heroes get some weak monster that turns into something incredible later on, due to their bravery and perseverance. And yet, with all of these clich├ęs, you get a story that relies heavily on its own logic and world setting, making it a very believable experience. I was surprised that it wasn't a game first (though I'm sure games came later; I know an anime series did).

Recommendable for being an easy-to-read yet enjoyable adventure, Dragon Drive moves quickly and has few flaws, if any.



Clover (4 Volumes, recollected in one Onmibus)
Rating: ****

A handful of years ago, I was getting into manga just before it boomed big and began controlling massive sections of bookstores and libraries. A friend of mine let me borrow the first box set of Magic Knight Rayearth (my first foray into unflipped manga) and instantly became a fan of CLAMP. I hunted down every series my library had at the time, first finishing off MKR, then finding and loving Cardcaptor Sakura, Wish, and Angelic Layer (I hadn't discovered Chobits yet). X/1999 was rather weird and hard to follow, but enjoyable. Then I happened up Clover. Sitting on the same shelves as their other titles, these volumes definitely stood out with their special dust covers. I grabbed them, read them, and was entirely blown away at what CLAMP could do. Unfortunately, those library copies ended up going missing and I hadn't read the series for a while. Thankfually, Dark Horse picked up the rights and published it as one big brick, with extra promotional artwork in the back. While I haven't had the money to buy one yet, I happened to find a copy at my library this past week and couldn't not pick it up.

Clover is the story that results from a study that the government did to find people with psychic or supernatural powers and ranked them from one to four, four being the most powerful. The problem was that anyone labeled with a four was equal in power to the five wizards that ran the government. They found one of these fours, named Sue, and she volunteered to be locked away for everyone's sake. However, the story begins several years after that, with Kazuhiko, a mercenary for hire that used to be part of the military, is given the job of discreetly taking Sue to a location that only Sue knows. Kazuhiko quickly learns just how far over his head he is, but is intent on taking Sue anyway.

This series is clearly CLAMP's most ambitious (Tsubasa is, too, but no where near as much as Clover). The art style and panel layout offers all sorts of cinematic scenes and story-telling, bearing a resemblance to more independent comics, like Hellboy. The characters and their relationships may seem shojo enough but are presented in such an usual way that they become instantly unforgettable.

As much as I love this series, I can't give it a full five star rating. My main problem is that the story concerning Sue takes place in the first two novels. The third and the fourth go further and further back in time, explaining the circumstances of some of the other characters leading up to Kazuhiko and Sue's story. They're still in there, but I've always felt those two were the central figures. Three and four aren't bad; they carry the same intense art style and help to really establish the world setting, but I've always felt they were rather extra and somewhat unnecessary. Maybe if they re-wrote it in chronological order, I would feel quite so put off.

In any case, Clover is incredible material and highly recommendable to any who reads and enjoys comics. It's CLAMP at their best once again. I still wish someone would do a full length movie of volumes one and two; a nine minute music video just doesn't cut it for me. I wouldn't mind if bits of three and four were slid in along the way, as opposed to tacked on at the end like they are in the collection.



I don't know what I'll review next week; I know I'm close to the end of The Tower of Druaga and I've been loving it. Other than that, I don't know if I'm close to finishing anything else, so I may have to dive deep into my memory and talk about older titles that I've completed, such as all of the Astro Boy manga. We'll just have to see. I'm sure I'll find something to talk about.

6.27.2009

The Great Comeback!! FMP, Digimon, Shikabane Hime, Trigun, Dr. Slump

Boom! Hey, everyone! I'm trying to make a comeback, talking about anime like I've always wanted to. Everything's the same as before, just now I'll be hitting newer titles as they come my way. I've decided to really hit big with several titles, so let's get started.



Full Metal Panic (24 Episodes)
Animation: ****
Story: ****
Music: ***
Overall: ****

Once again, an older title, but I've got this friend who seems to think I'm missing out by not watching Fumoffu and The Second Raid, so I rewatched the original first season to get myself into the mood. I remember when I watched it before, I thought it was alright. Fun, but not much of an impact. However, I've learned that I am less critical the second time through I watch something. It's how I ended up liking the Trigun anime much more than before (more on that later!).

So anyways, the story: A certain mercenary organization called Mithril spends its time acting as a covert police force throughout the world, wiping out terrorist camps and illegal chemical factories for drugs and such. One of their major concerns is a type of person called a Whispered who, as far as I can tell, are born with an innate knowledge of something called Black Technology. Mithril goes out of its way to make sure these Whispered Ones aren't misused and/or abused by those with evil intentions, a big deal considering the major weaponry Black Technology is capable.

A Japanese high-school girl named Kaname Chidori comes to Mithril's attention as a potential Whispered, so they send a trio to watch over her. Two of them take care of basic bugging and surveillance, but the third is supposed to enroll in the school as a student and be her covert bodyguard. This third mercenary is Sousuke Sagara, a perfect military man to the nines and an ace mecha pilot but the emotions of a statue and over-assertive. The beginning mostly deals with Sousuke suspecting everything as a potential attack and making life miserable for Kaname, who turns out to be an opinionated tomboy who finds Sousuke's “antics” to be annoying to the point of insanity.

Of course, things begin to go south in a hurry as Kaname turns out to be a Whispered and thus the target of terrorists. From there, the action moves back and forth from the crazy adventures of Sousuke and Kaname to military mecha action and, most pleasantly, both at the same time.

The series is consistently fun, balancing the bone-crunching robots with Kaname crunching Sousuke's bones for humiliating her in public. This balance really creates a ranged experience not often found on other anime series and, best of all, helps set up the climactic ending that seems so satisfying when it's all over.

An early Gonzo piece, it's easy to see how quickly they wanted to integrate CG with 2D animation and, for the most part, it works. There are a few bits that seem obvious but otherwise it's fairly seamless and doesn't detract. Balance is found here as there isn't a shift in quality between big robot combat and Sousuke's involuntary pratfalls. As for the music, it works. The opening and ending themes seem rather average, but the actual score for the series feels like it came from Hollywood action flick, intensifying the action.

Now that I've had this refresher course, I can finally start on the other shows with worrying about forgetting anything and with a positive attitude. While many of the concepts individually aren't really new, they're brought together in a solid and believable way, and that's why FMP is favorite for many people.



Digimon 02 (50 Episodes)
Animation: 3
Story: 4
Music: 4
Overall: 4

Thanks to Toei and CrunchyRoll making some deals, the world has been blessed with being able to watch some of the classics of animation. And thanks to Toei's deal with FUNimation, they are spread all over for people to see. So why Digimon 02, you may ask, as opposed to Fist of the North Star or Galaxy Express 999? Well, Digimon is shorter (I haven't finished FOTNS yet and haven't even begun GE999) and it is one of my favorites.

You see, I was a Pokemon fan back in early middle school, which meant that Digimon was the weaker version of Pokemon. Same idea, but Pokemon was cooler, by some middle-school-age cool-ometer. You know how that all works. However, as the Pokemon anime was proving itself to be redundant and repetitive with no end in sight (I gave up after Orange League) I found myself more curious about the Digimon anime. So, switching over from KidsWB to the old-school Fox Kids block for a moment, I found myself at the end of the second season and completely enthralled. The climactic ending of that series convinced me to sit through most of the third season, which wasn't bad either. However, since then, I haven't had the chance to watch the whole thing from beginning to end. So when CrunchyRoll got the rights to post them on their website, I jumped at the chance.

Digimon 02 starts off like any other merchandise driven anime series: a group of kids suddenly become the “Chosen Ones” (DigiDestined in this case) and gain digimon partners to help them maintain the balance between the real world and the digital world. They fight off the monster of the day and keep the peace. Simple enough.

However, things don't stay simple for long within the series. Taking place 3 years after the first Digimon Adventure, the old crew has grown up, so the younger ones and a few new characters take over. They start taking on the Digimon Kaiser, who is trying to take over the Digital World. Then they learn that the Kaiser is another DigiDestined that had been corrupted by other powers for their own purposes, who had been corrupted by an old nemesis for his own purposes. As these twists develop, the heroes are faced with some tough decisions. Some of the returning heroes are haunted by the past, while the others suddenly feel the weight of saving the world and the costs it will have to take to do so.

I've always felt that the Digimon anime series have reached for an incredible amount of character complexity for a kids show, which is perhaps why I'm so drawn to it. The animation is standard. Toei isn't trying to blow the kids' socks off as they are making recognizable characters so they can be purchased later on. And there A LOT of transformation sequences. Be prepared to turn your brain off for a minute or two sometimes as they cycle through everyone's upgrades. The music is catchy and I found myself really liking the second ending's theme. If someone can direct me to an OST, that'd be greatly appreciated.

Watching kids' shows as an adult does take some humility, but, with Digimon 02, the payoffs are still there and the ending is incredibly satisfying (an not just because you're finished). I'll always have a weakness for Digimon and should more of it be posted online like that, I'll be there in a hearbeat. I still haven't completely finished the first and third seasons, and I know next to nothing about the fourth and fifth. And, of course, there's all the movies. C'mon, Toei! Snap, snap!!



Shikabane Hime (25 Episodes)
Animation: *****
Story: ****
Music: ****
Overall: ****

GAINAX always has a soft spot for girls with guns and Shikabane Hime is no different. While this take on the motif is quite bizarre, we're still led on a fun and engaging GAINAX-style romp that won't be forgotten soon.

Shikabane Hime delves into the world of the undead and how it relates to Buddhist monks and the world as a whole. You see, when a person dies, if they have lingering regrets, they will come back to life as a Shikabane, gaining incredible powers and generally having a hatred for humanity. However, through proper rituals, a Shikabane can be turned into a Shikabane Hime, an undead entity that assist the monks in eliminating the Shikabane from causing too much damage. Of course, with most supernatural goings on, all of this is generally kept secret from the public as a whole.

Meanwhile, a high-school-age boy named Ouri walks up in the middle of the night and follows a strange black cat to see his “older brother”, Keisei, with a Shikabane Hime (Ouri was an orphan at the orphanage where Keisei works). New to this whole side of his brother, he suddenly is thrust into the forefront of the battles and politics surrounding it all. He learns about the various relationships the monks have with their partners, ranging from deep respect to deep loathing.

Soon, Ouri develops his own relationship with his brother's Shikabane Hime, Makina. Not put off by her aggressive, tomboy disposition (or the fact that she's cold to the teach because she's dead!), he tries to get to know her, despite Keisei's warnings to not bother with Shikabane and Shikabane Hime. As Ouri digs deeper and deeper, not only does he face enormous and destructive monsters, he also learns some frightening truths about the particular sect of Buddhism that deals with these undead creatures as well as about himself. Of course, things don't get any better when a clever group of villains called the Seven Stars enter the scene.

Shikabane Hime is an anime that certainly has a lot going for it: girls with guns, gruesome monsters, inquisitive boys, crazy and bizarre villains, and great action. The animation is great, though it is obvious that they're still in the momentum that FLCL gave them. Seriously, ever since that OVA series, everything GAINAX has done has had flavors of FLCL, especially when the action heats up. Things get angular and disproportionate, showing that combat doesn't need to be realistic to be engaging, and nothing cemented that more than Gurren Lagann. Don't get me wrong, it's great stuff (I freaking love FLCL), but it does tend to stand out. Perhaps I'm more of an animation junkie, but I noticed it and it was slightly distracting.

The music is also excellent. Using a couple of Evanescence-style goth rock pieces for the opening and closing animations and carrying those melodies over into the score really lent the proper attitude for the whole series. It's another OST I'd like to pick up.

The ending, however, left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. I understand that the series had been trying to ask some pretty deep questions all throughout, but for such an action driven story, I felt it ended before it was supposed to, like there was supposed to be one more episode before it finished. Using an analogy that hopefully won't be a spoiler, it's like watching Return of the Jedi and the movie ends just as Luke begins fighting Darth Vader in the Emperor's Throne Room. It felt weird. Certainly, there was an emotional resolution, but I don't think it makes up for the decision to stop where they did. Maybe it's just me.

Finally, I have to admit it was pretty cool being able to watch it legally just a few weeks after it aired in Japan on FUNimation's YouTube Channel and, later, their video portal. I imagine its brave steps forward has helps propel all of the simulcasts on CrunchyRoll and other efforts to bring anime to an international market, though it's doubtless that Kurokami is the most ambitious.

And speaking of FUNimation and streaming: tough luck lately, huh? First One Piece's simulcast goes down the tubes and now Phantom and FMA: Brotherhood. I've been way excited to watch One Piece and FMA online, but this really is a turn for the worse. Good luck to FUNimation on getting all of that turned around.



Trigun Maximum (14 Volumes)
Rating: ****

It's finally over!! After we all saw the anime, picked up Dark Horse's first two graphic novels, things slowed to a crawl as Nightow's publishing schedule went haywire and we didn't know when the next installment would come. Finally, we get to see just how this great saga comes to a close, and what an ending it was.

Trigun (for those who have been living under a rock) is a sci-fi/western action series that takes place on a desert planet that humans have been trying to colonize for several decades. In the midst of this recreation of western America is a man named Vash the Stampede, an outlaw with a massive price on his head and a horrible reputation. People say that he wiped out an entire town, but no one was killed. He wears a red coat and is an amazing sharp-shooter and a walking disaster zone.

Enter Millie and Meryl of the Bernadelli Insurance Company. Their job is to find this Vash and make sure that he doesn't wreck any more insured houses. What they find is a happy-go-lucky party animal who seems to be the least dangerous man alive. All about peace, love, and donuts, this supposed human hurricane spends his time wandering from place to place, eating and drinking as much as possible, and playing with kids. Is this really Vash the Stampede?

Things become clear as Vash's complex and haunting past comes to light and he has to stop his brother from destroying all of humanity. Only time will tell if Vash's message will hold out as he faces opponent after opponent and situation after situation, testing his physical and moral mettle to its limits.

Sorry if that sounds like a commercial, but I really loved this series. I picked it up and found myself engrossed with the characters, especially Vash. Pushing moral limits of a seemingly pure character is always fascinating (to me, anyways) and the Trigun series does that very well.

Trigun Maximum is actually a continuation of the original Trigan manga that had a short run before the magazine that was publishing it went under. The name was changed for the new run and it has finally finished.

Personally, I'm a fan of the art in this series. I know there are other people who find Nightow's work to be convoluted and hard to follow, and I have to admit there were times I didn't really know what was going on, but for some reason, I'm fine with that. To me, it carries the same spirit as a lot of the independent American comics of the ninties. Not necessarily reinventing the wheel for its basic concepts, but on how they were presented. Basically, it just shows that Nightow is a huge Todd McFarlane/Spawn fan. (When a Vash figure as proposed by McFarlane toys, Nightow blew a rod, as recorded in his omake.)

The ending is an interesting one. There is resolution, but things have been left open. Instead of concluding everything by tying all the knots, Trigun comes full circle with its characters almost picking up where they left off before the whole thing got serious. The homage to Dr. Slump is interesting as well (on the inside of the cover), also proving that this whole thing really wasn't meant to be taken all that seriously. And that's just like Vash, when you think about it.

And speaking of Dr. Slump, guess what else just finished?



Dr. Slump (18 Volumes)
Rating: ***

The work of Akira Toriyama has been crunching in America from the beginning of this decade. His world-wide phenomenon Dragon Ball has become on of the greatest franchises in entertainment's history. Seriously, I think it's now bigger than both Gundam & Star Trek combined. It may even rival Star Wars!!

However, before all of that, Toriyama was making a name for himself for a completely different reason. Back in 1980 (four years before Dragon Ball), he created Dr. Slump, a manga about a genius, yet lecherous, inventor, Senbei, and his female android, Arale. The misadventures of these two and the reoccurring cast of Penguin Village's citizens quickly became popular, extending the story all over the place and eventually becoming an anime series that ran for 200+ of its own episodes before Toei picked up Dragon Ball.

It's hard to really describe a comedy manga in terms of story, especially as non sequiter and self-referential as Dr. Slump. Toriyama, his assistants, and his editor make several appearances, either shamelessly moving the story along themselves or outright admitting they really have no idea of what's going on. In fact, the characters themselves are so spontaneous that they appear in Dragon Ball for a short while when Goku needs Senbei to fix the Dragon Radar.

While the comedy itself is fun, it's also rather forgettable. Driven by cheap gags and low brow humor, its entertaining, but I doubt I'll read these again. So why does it get three stars? To be honest, it was through Dr. Slump that I really began to appreciate Akira Toriyama's art style. Dragon Ball really doesn't offer a great variety of things to be seen, but Dr. Slump goes all over the place, including Star Wars. It's easy to see just how good of an artist Toriyama was (and still is).

While Dragon Ball will probably keep Akira Toriyama out of the streets for the rest of his life, he never would have gotten the chance to tell the story of a monkey-tailed boy from outer space if it weren't for the success he had with Dr. Slump.

And speaking of that ridiculously huge franchise, I've been watching the new Dragon Ball Kai (mostly out of curiosity; if they can cram all of DBZ into 100 episodes, I'm in) and I'm surprised that FUNimation hasn't licensed it yet. It may not get television ratings, but I'm sure its more compact storytelling will draw in new-comers who may have missed the glory days of Toonami.



Well, how's that for a comeback, folks. Now let's see if I can keep this up! Currently, I'm making a run on both Dragon Ball Z and Naruto (yes, I'm going to watch ALL of the filler episodes). I expect to be done with DBZ by the end of summer as well as Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle (man, the anime is weeeeiiiirrrrd). I've also got Code Geass R2 almost done and could be finished with a few others quite soon. In short, I have no excuse to keep reviewing anime. I certainly haven't stopped watching it.

2.12.2009

More apologies, again.

Wow, It's been a year since I've reviewed ANYTHING! I could complain about being constantly hit with the busy stick, but writing a blog really doesn't require a lot from the blogger. I mean, really? Yeah.

My anime watching trends certainly have shifted since last September. I'm no longer using the On Demand for my anime and I'm most on the internet now, either torrenting the latest dubs or watching stuff on sites like CrunchyRoll. By the way, I think that the new FUNimation video portal is incredible!! I've been watching Shikabane Hime on it and I've been very impressed! While I would hope that more anime appears on television, the internet now has a plethora of choices now and I'm rather excited about it. We'll have to see what fruits come to bear with this trend.

As for what I'm watching right now, I'm still plowing through Code Geass, I'm almost finished with Gundam 00 (Season 1), and I've been way impressed with the new Kurokami series. Not really groundbreaking, but it's been pretty cool. Onine, along with Shikabane Hime, I've enjoyed the classics from Toei Animation's page on CrunchyRoll: Digimon 02 (I've never really it seen it from beginning to end), Slam Dunk, and Fist of the North Star.

I recently finished Gurren Lagann (which was incredible), Slayers (which was alright), and YuYu Hakusho (which was fun). Since September, I completed Scrapped Princess, Mahoromatic, Jubei-Chan, and others. My anime watching hasn't let up, I just haven't been writing about it.

HOWEVER (and here comes the list of promises), I do wish to get back on track with this blog. I'm still watching anime and still have a lot to say about it. I still hope to start doing videos or a podcast or something, but for now, I've got to keep writing.

Hopefully, you'll see me next week. Hopefully.