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.
Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle (52 Episodes)
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)
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)
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.