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.