Well, it really has been a year since I blogged here. It's been a very interesting year since then, but I am now finding less and less excuses not to write here. The amount of anime I've watched in the past year has left a lot of tittles to be reviewed. While I may refer to the titles I watched over that lost year, I don't think I'll try to review everything I've seen and mostly focus on what I'm finishing right now. However, here are a few titles that I finished fairly recently. Let's start with the most renowned.
Naruto (220 Episodes)
Reviewing a long running, shonen/action/adventure series is a different challenge than simply covering a standard length series, especially Naruto. Things tend to go all over the place so maintaining consistency for such a long period of time is pretty impossible. Nevertheless, I have finished the series (FINALLY!) so I shall try to review it as a whole.
As for Naruto itself, you'd have to be pretty new to anime to not know anything about it. Even so, it does have all of the anime formulas in line. Naruto Uzumaki is an orphaned boy who seeks attention and approval by committing pranks and practical jokes. He claims that he'll one day be the Hokage (leader of his large ninja village) and everyone will have to look up to him. Of course, like any anime action hero, he has a ridiculous amount of potential, specifically in the form of a massive demon, the nine-tailed fox, sealed inside of him. As he graduates from the Ninja Academy, he begins his ninja career going on missions, fighting villains, and generally being heroic, all the while getting stronger and stronger. Before long, he becomes the inspiration of those who meet him with his die-hard attitude and contagious cheerfulness.
Of course, you can't get into Naruto very far without also explaining the main rival. Sasuke Uchiha is about as dour and condescending as the hero is bright and friendly, and arguably he has every reason to be. His older brother killed everyone in their massive, prestigious clan, and he is compelled to avenge them. In the meantime, he is forced to team up with Naruto and they tackle missions together with Sakura Kinimoto, a shy but intelligent girl, and Kakashi Hatake, their stoic team leader and coach. At first, Sasuke's dark demeanor plays a great foil to Naruto's exuberance, but as the series goes on, he finds himself moving away from the team and the values they hold. Eventually, he betrays them and Naruto feels responsible, going out of his way to find him and stop him.
Based on a manga from Shonen Jump, all of this feels like Dragon Ball Z all over again. Granted, I would say that it's better than DBZ, but it doesn't do anything all that different. It's more like an upgrade, like DBZ version 1.5. Shonen Jump really has been notorius for taking the basic formula that they established with DBZ and reusing it in different contexts (YuYu Hakusho, Rurouni Kenshin, One Piece, Bleach, etc.). Maybe it even goes back further than that because I find similar themes and conventions in older SJ series like Saint Seiya and Fist of the North Star. In any case, Naruto takes an unique ninja spin on it, all taking place in a fantasy land with occasional anachronistic technology as opposed to traditional ninja locales like historical Japan.
Then there's the infamous filler episodes. For 85 episodes, the story leaves the manga and starts running on a loop like a hamster wheel, throwing Naruto and his wide cast of buddies into mission after mission, none of which really advancing any of the established subplots. They're like the Naruto Movies, except not quite as well written and no where near as a well animated. However, as I was grinding my way through them, I actually started to enjoy them. There were some funny segments and decent action, but most of all it took on a very old-school-American-comic-book feeling of sending out the heroes to defeat the quirky villain of the story. It wasn't great but it worked and I admit I was entertained. Sure, the stories aren't that interesting or integral to the story and the animation suffers some, but I would argue that they didn't descend that far because the main story wasn't isn't mind-blowing anyway and the animation was merely adequate from the beginning.
There is one element that I haven't touched on yet and it's the one that got five stars for me. While it eventually got pretty silly towards the end, I could still enjoy the music. As I watched the series, the music seemed to improve for me. Perhaps it simply stood out more as the series got worse but I'm going to insist that's beside the point. Naruto's music takes two music styles that would seem to fit and blend them together in a way that is absolutely incredible. One is tsuguru, which, if I recall correctly, is based on traditional Japanese music and uses traditional Japanese instruments, but the compositions are more contemporary. The other style is 80's rock. By combining heavy metal riffs with traditional flutes and shamisens, the soundtrack is all at once heart-pounding, epic, fun, and headbangable. I personally consider Naruto's soundtrack one of the best in all of anime.
But music is not everything. Naruto is hard to recommend to anyone because most anime fans have either seen it or seen as much of it as they wanted. I would insist that One Piece and Bleach are better, but Naruto certainly isn't bad. Of course, I've started Naruto Shippuden and, given how long it took me to get through the first series, it may take me a while. But I figure that I might as well continue watching the story.
Black Cat (24 Episodes)
Another Shonen Jump classic, I really loved the manga for this series. Its atmosphere and character interactions reminded me of Rurouni Kenshin (which is my favorite manga of all time, by the way) so I had been looking forward to the anime adaptation. I had heard that they changed a few things but those changes didn't look like they'd be that much of a hurdle.
And to be honest they weren't. The story only gets 3/5 for a different reason entirely.
Black Cat is the nickname of Train Heartnet, an assassin for Chronos, a secret organization that runs a majority of the world. Known for his deadly accuracy and incredible fighting skills, he became notorious, even becoming one of the Chronos Numbers, their elite group of assassins. Number XIII to be exact, perfect for a black cat.
However, as he is off duty, he is caught off-guard by a female sweeper (read: bounty hunter) in a yukata named Saya. At first he doesn't know what to think of the cheerful girl but before long, she rubs off on him, changing his dour and hateful disposition of one more laid back and joyful. Unfortunately, another Chronos assassin named Creed Diskense happens to be looking on and is horrified by the changes in Train.
In the meantime, Train takes on a job that gets tangled up by another sweeper named Sven because of a little bio-android girl named Eve. Originally designed to be a human weapon, Eve has an unusual run in with Sven where she begins to appreciate the joys of the outer world (she having been sheltered most of her life). After seeing this change, Train decides to leave the girl alone, going against orders and eventually leaving Chronos entirely, a treasonous crime punishable by death. In an effort to bring Train back, Creed kills Saya, but his plan backfires, as the tragedy compels Train to go his own way instead.
From there Train teams up with Sven and Eve (and Rinslet, a professional theif) to take on various jobs and enjoy life. However, Creed bungles up their lives when he declares his own personal war against Chronos by establishing the organization Apostles of the Star. Creed desparately wants Train at his side, but Train is only bent on revenge.
While the changes from the manga are obvious (Train leaves Chronos and partners with Train long before either meet Eve), they aren't what keep this series from reaching greater heights. The problem is actually in the direction.
Let's talk about the animation for a moment. I gave it a 5/5, and it deserves it. Full of style and slick fights, Black Cat is one good-looking anime. But there also lies it's problem. Very little of the animation actually supports the story, making it visually hard to follow. It's all style and no substance. As a result, the story suffers, especially when it decides to have a ending not from the manga only to make a huge mess of things. The new ending (and any of the other changes) were good ideas, they just weren't executed very well.
To go along with the style-over-substance, the music adds all the right touches, being cheerful and nuts when the anime is, but throwing in an iconic choir for the more epic moments. It's well done and memorable.
Still, I can't get over how much it fell flat. It had everything else lined up but in the end the series is just merely adequate. Even at just 24 episodes, it's hard to recommend when there are other series that do the same thing better (Trigun immediately coming to mind). I guess it's for those who like slick animation that doesn't go anywhere.
Requiem From The Darkness (13 Episodes)
Before I begin, I must admit that I'm not one for horror. I've only seen a handful of horror films, and I don't want to see those ones again. Maybe I'm just a wimp, but I didn't let that hold me back from watching a series that recently showed on the new Syfy Channel (the less said about this name-change-stupidity, the better).
Requiem From The Darkness follows the frightening adventures of a struggling writer named Momosuke who wants to compile a collection of scary stories. In his investigation, he runs into a trio of peculiar characters that have strong ties to the spiritual world and wonder the world of the living looking for beings that have sinned against their particular order. Sometimes the writer tries to help the trio find who they're looking for, other times he's attempting to protect their target. In any case, as the writer travels to find stories, he keeps running into the trio and eventually develops a crush on the voluptuous Ogin.
While the series is very episodic, it does a good job of creating a pretty freaky atmosphere, usually involving people doing horrible things to each other. This series is not very uplifting and each episode usually ends with several people dead. Sometimes the villain is one of them. Sometimes.
While everything else is mostly mediocre, the most memorable part of the series is its unusual animation style. It's filled with characters half in shadow and bizarre backgrounds where straight lines have been slightly warped. Even a simple door frame will be drawn with S-curves instead of a rectangle. Another interesting trick this series uses is some computer animation. Those paying attention will pick out fairly easily, but I still found it fascinating because it coordinated with the overall style, essentially masking the short-cuts they were making in an amusing way. One episode toward the end took place on a small island, so all the ocean water was presented as 3-D graphics, but the water was made to look weird and iconic enough that the cheapness of the computer effects was diminished almost completely.
Perhaps if you're into horror anime, you could kick the overall up a notch and give it shot. There's very little anime like it as far as I've seen. It's not going to change anyone's ideals in anime but it is a peculiar gem that stands on its own.
Not much else to say, really. However, I'll definitely be able to review more anime in the near future, especially some big name titles like Mobile Suit Gundam, Monster, and Neon Genesis Evangelion.
As for the fall season, I've decided to watch Bakuman, Star Driver, Shinryaku! Ika Musume, and Super Robot Wars OG: The Inspector (gotta watch the mecha stuff!). I'm also following Digimon Xros Wars, Dragon Ball Kai, and I'm catching up to Fairy Tail. However, it looks like none of these series will finish by the beginning of January, so I don't know if I'll follow any of the Winter season series. Fractale does look interesting, though.
In any case, expect another post sometime soon. Hopefully, next week. At least I'm gonna try.