The Battle Against Negligence Continues! Hoshin Engi, Dragon Ball Kai, Fractale

Eeeeeeehehehehehe . . . . . . Yeah, I still not keeping this thing up to date. Then again, I've had quite the first half of a year. Let's just say a lot of things have changed. For starters I'm going back to school and I haven't really been watching that much anime. I decided to completely skip the past Spring and Summer 2011 seasons as I saw very little to be interested in. I might go back and watch Tiger & Bunny or No. 6, but there's been very little to be excited about these past seasons. In fact, the few I picked from Winter haven't been complete winners either, as you will see.

I haven't slacked off on my manga, though, so let's start with that:

Hoshin Engi (23 Volumes)
Rating: 5/5

I love this series.

I actually remember that this was the first series I ever read scanlated waaaaay back in 2001 or 2002. I had stumbled upon it in the midst of my Anipike wanderings (who remembers Anipike?!) and was totally in love with a hero who used his brains instead of his brawn. Later, when I watched the Soul Hunter anime several years later, I realized that it was based on that manga I read back in high school. Since then, I decided to use a bit of brains myself and got my local library to pick up the whole series.

And what a great series it is. Taikobo is a sen'nin, a kind of supernatural being, who is given the Hoshin Project to help protect the world from a Demon who has taken control of the Empire. Based on a classic Chinese novel that takes place at the end of the Yin Dynasty (roughly 11th Century BC), Ryu Fujisaki takes several liberties, slowly adding more and more science fiction elements that turn it into quite the epic.

The thing that sets Taikobo apart from his fellow Shonen Jump peers is his way of solving problems. Instead of resorting to brawn and tapping on reserved powers, Taikobo uses his brain, creating cunning plans to outwit his enemies. While this is still a fighting anime series (Taikobo does raise an army and gathers a handful of companions), his methods tend to be so unorthodox that it instantly makes him memorable. More than once he twists the situation to the point that he's the villain just so that the problem can be solved without any casualties. His kind of cunning and meta-problem-solving makes him very reminiscent of other famous Trickster Heroes like Br'er Rabbit and Till Eulenspiegel (or Bugs Bunny, if your not some snobby folklore literatus).

Another element that makes this series stand out is that it never compromises its goofiness. Even to its epic finale, it never takes itself too seriously and is a total blast to read from beginning to end. This series is highly recommended for everyone. Go read it!

Dragon Ball Kai (97 Episodes)
Animation: 3/5
Story: 3/5
Music: 4/5
Overall: 3/5

I know I reviewed Dragon Ball Z already on this blog, but I figured it'd be worth at least talking about the Kai version for a bit.

Dragon Ball Kai covers the first two major story arcs of Dragon Ball Z and while it's cool that they got all the voice actors to redo the dialogue and gave it a new soundtrack, it does feel a bit like a cash cow, given that they're simply reusing old animation and given it an HD face lift.

Unfortunately, I don't know if their "face lift" really helped much. There were times when I watched it that I felt the animation was worse than the original. Never during my run of DBZ did I think some of the frames had been colored win MS Paint by a middle schooler. I understand that they were trying to smooth out some of the faults of the old films but some of those shots just looked terrible. They didn't happen often, but I think I saw almost one scene per episode that was like that.

The pacing certainly was interesting, though, as they decided completely new points on which to end episodes. However, having most of the filler cut down still didn't make the series feel any shorter, and when filler was left in, I was a bit annoyed, but I understood that some of the later scenes wouldn't make sense if side characters suddenly appeared out of nowhere.

I admit that I think the music was an improvement over the original Japanese soundtrack. While all the orchestral scores were still very Toei, it felt fresh whereas the old one was a bit dated.

As for the series ending where it did, I'm okay with that. I never really got into the Majin Buu/Fusion stuff, and having the story end there does give it a better sense of closure without resorting to the ridiculous. I know that FUNimation completely redubbed the series (I remember joking that they could edit up the old dialogue in the same spirit as Toei, so redubbing it is pretty cool), but I haven't watched any of it. Should I ever get the feeling of watching more Dragon Ball, I'll have that to look forward to. To be honest, it's been a bizarre, if minor, trend lately to release/rehash a popular series. We've just had Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Rebuild of Evangelion, and now Hunter x Hunter is being given a second shot with rumors of Rurouni Kenshin making a comeback. At least they're all being reanimated, something that I think could have improved Kai greatly. Oh well.

Fractale (11 Episodes)
Animation: 4/5
Story: 3/5
Music: 3/5
Overal: 3/5

This wants to be a Studio Ghibli film so bad it hurts. I imagine going up to anime producers and saying "Castle in the Sky in eleven episodes" may be a great way to get attention from the get-go, I think it's worth remember that a movie is only two hours and a season's worth of anime is around ten.

I'm going to borrow Wikipedia's plot summary. It's not exactly something I want to do, but they're pretty concise this time and I'm feeling a bit lazy. "The story takes place on an island resembling a futuristic Ireland, in a world ruled by the 'Fractale System' that ensures mankind's stability and prosperity. One day, Clain meets a fleeing girl called Phryne, who disappears during the night leaving a pendant. When he is able to activate the pendant (which turns into a 'doppel,' a kind of robotic hologram, named Nessa), Clain sets out for a journey with the girl-shaped avatar Nessa to look for Phryne and discovers the secret behind the Fractale System." From there Clain runs into Lost Millennium, a rebel group dedicated to destroying the Fractale System because it encourages people to lose touch with reality and face-to-face conversation. However, people are so adjusted to the Fractale System that taking it away all at once could cause all sorts of problems. To Clain's credit, he takes neither side and only wants to help his friends Phryne and Nessa, both of which turn out to be fundamental to the Fractale System.

While it certainly does try to raise some interesting questions (pros and cons of virtual reality, etc.), and gives us some nice, sweeping landscapes and epic airship battles, it really can't shake the notion that it's simply padding in filler until the climax. I think that 11 episodes really was too long for the story it was trying to tell; perhaps if they reanimated it as a compilation movie, it'd work better.

Still, it was a pleasant change from the normal anime fare we get these days. Nice pastoral scenes and music, especially the end theme, create a very casual, relaxing feel even as things get turned upside-down and serious. Given the modern trends of hardcore grit or over-the-top moe, Fractale offers and nice third direction that aspires for Miyazaki greatness. It's just a shame that it falls so short.

Hopefully, I'll get back on top of this blog and post more regularly. I can't promise anything too regular, just striving to write more than I have been. I still have my Fall 2010 selections to finish (I'm almost done), and Infinite Stratos and Level E from Winter 2011. I watch all of Zeta Gundam but decided that I really didn't have much to say about it. It was very angsty to a fault. I mean, something must be wrong when I get excited about a character's death simply because it means that I don't have to hear them anymore. I've put ZZ Gundam on hiatus but I plan to get back to it shortly.

Speaking of Gundam, I'm very excited about this upcoming Fall season of anime. Gundam AGE looks to be like no other Gundam before it. While some are concerned about the Mega Man/Digimon-style character designs, I have no problem with them as long as the story can hold up. The second season of Shinryaku! Ika Musume (Squid Girl) is a part of that season as well, and the aforementioned Hunter x Hunter remake by Madhouse (MADHOUSE!) starts in October. I've actually started watching the first anime series to prepare for it as I'm caught up on the manga. However, after watching three episodes dubbed, I've switched to subs, something I've only done once before and that's with Naruto. It's probably just as well, given that all the OVA's won't have dubs.

In any case, look forward to more reviews as I'm trying to get back into an anime watching rhythm!


Struggling to get back on track!! Monster, Mobile Suit Gundam, Shinryaku! Ika Musume

You'd think with the free time I have now I'd be able to do this better than ever. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess, but there really is no excuse for negligence in your own promises. Hopefully, this will make up for it a little bit. Now that the holidays are over, things should settle back down to a normal level of insanity. Anyways, let's get talking about anime!

Monster (70 Episodes)
Animation: 4/5
Story: 3/5
Music: 3/5
Overall: 3/5

I'm sure there are several of you wondering about those scores given Monster was made by the critically acclaimed Naoki Urasawa, but I've got my reasons, and no they don't stem from the fact that I watched the whole series on Syfy. While I certainly don't think this was a bad series, I don't know if it really should be lauded as much as other people say it should be.

The story takes place mostly in Germany, with some later episodes in the Czech Republic, and revolves around a Japanese doctor named Kenzo Tenma who is a genius of a brain surgeon. So much so, in fact, that he is the apple in the hospital director's eye and is willing to let him date his daughter. Things seem to be sailing smoothly for our foreigner when he is suddenly stopped one day by a woman while he is walking down the hall at the hospital. The woman demands that he give her dead husband back. Tenma knows nothing about the woman or her husband's case but when she says that someone of higher political position was given treatment over her husband and he died because of it. This ethical conundrum is enough to make Tenma pause and rethink his life and his work.

When a young boy with a bullet in his head is brought in, Tenma sets to work on him when the director decides to pull him away to treat another high society figure instead, despite the fact that he came in after the boy. Tenma decides to follow his heart and ignores the director, saving the boy's life in the process but letting the other man die at the hands of a less capable doctor. However, no good deed goes unpunished as Tenma's reputation tanks immediately. The director treats him like he's not there and the director's daughter dumps him, dropping the engagement ring onto the street in front of him. When he makes it back to the boy now recovering in the hospital, he rants about the injustice and politics of the hospital environment, wishing that the leaders would just die. Then those very men die soon afterword. Tenma is the immediate suspect, but he's innocent, not really knowing what happened. At the same time, the boy he saved disappeared.

The story then jumps to several years later and Tenma is still working in the hospital when one of his patients happens to be a criminal working for a serial killer that no one can find. When Tenma chases his patient, he runs into the grown version of the boy, Johan, he saved so many years ago. Realizing that he was the one who killed the director and his associates so many years ago, he is instantly crushed by tragedy and responsibility, compelling him to seek Johan out and kill him in order to atone for his mistake.

The story moves around a lot from there, taking its time to introduce many incidental characters and how their situations are related to Tenma and Johan. At about episode 20, the story then dumps another ten characters into your lap that run around this tragedy between the principle two. While it is nice to see that anime is capable of telling a dramatic thriller, it still begs the question as to why it needed to be animated. Sure, Madhouse does a great job and I understand that it is rigidly faithful to the original manga, but it started to get a little too long in the tooth towards the end and it got to the point that I basically stopped caring about the characters. I only wanted Johan to die, no matter who got the shot in.

Still, there were some interesting and well-developed characters, which does show that you don't need off-the-wall character design to make characters memorable and perhaps that's why people like it so much. It's not an anime filled with spiky-haired heroes, ridiculous supernatural powers, and epic space fleets, so it has to take its time to tell a story that can still engage an audience. As for the music, I found it to be mostly forgettable (thought I never did listen to the official ending song; I understand Viz Media couldn't get it, not that Syfy would show it anyway.).

Monster certainly stands as proof that anime can do different styles of story telling but I don't know if it deserves to be in anybody's top ten anime. I guess I generally like anime that is willing to use animation as a principle part of its storytelling and Monster's was stiff in this department, relying on a lot of talking-head dialogue to move the story. However, that does give credit to Monster's story because it was capable of carrying the series most of the way through.

Mobile Suit Gundam (43 Episodes)
Animation: 3/5
Story: 3/5
Music: 3/5
Overall: 3/5

I don't know if I ever said as much on this site, but I am on a personal quest to watch all of Gundam in production order, starting with this one. I've since finished Zeta Gundam (which I'll probably review next time), but I thought I would take some time to discuss the classic original series here.

Mobile Suit Gundam (also known as First Gundam) was a pretty big deal in the history of anime, but it certainly had it's share of struggles. Originally 50 episodes were planned, but lack of ratings pushed the count down to 39. However, the director, the now infamous Yoshiyuki Tomino, was able to extend it out to 43 and the series continued to be a mediocre success. That is, until Bandai came out with the Mobile Suit kits that let kids build the robots themselves which sold incredibly well. From there, Gundam has been an ever-present entity in the world of anime, coming out with series after series over their 30-year history with varying degrees of success and popularity. I became a huge fan with Gundam Wing when it was broadcast on Toonami, but I've never really watched the other series except Gundam 08th MS Team and Gundam 00, so I decided that if I'm going to be a proper mecha and Gundam fan, I had better watch this stuff.

The original Mobile Suit Gundam was made in 1979 to 1980 and it shows. It's filled with all sorts of stock footage and certainly takes it time to show off the various suits to ensure that kids will want their parents to buy them for them. However, it also sets up many of the traditions that Gundam has been known for all these years; a political war-is-hell drama, a villain wearing a mask hiding a scandalous identity, great characterization on both sides of the war which makes you a little uncomfortable to be rooting for the good guys, taking a romp around Earth's surface before having an epic battle in space, the rights of people living in space colonies as opposed to those living on earth, etc.

The first series revolves around Amuro Ray, a fourteen-year-old boy whose father has been working on a prototype Mobile Suit for the Earth Federation for the war against the rebellious Principality of Zeon. When Amuro's space colony gets caught up in a battle, he uses the confusion to take the Gundam and help the experimental warship White Base escape to space with several citizens aboard. As they go around space, and later Earth, trying to get the civilians to safety, Zeon's Char Aznable, also known as the Red Comet, chases after them, trying to take them down. Earth Federation bureaucracy doesn't help either as White Base is ping-ponged from battlefield to battlefield. While the series is extremely episodic in nature, it does hold to its subplots fairly well, even if they are the hormonal hysterics of our hero.

The music also deserves special mention here as it sticks to Gundam and general space opera tradition of having various melodic cues mean specific characters or forces. While the music itself isn't great, it's nice to see that they picked up on that style so shortly after Star Wars.

Mobile Suit Gundam is now a relic to be seen and discussed by old-anime fans and anime critics, so those are the only kinds of people who I can recommend it to, if they haven't seen it already. While I don't see myself ever really watching this series again, I'm certainly glad I saw it at least once so that I can truly enjoy the heritage it has left for its franchise and for anime as a whole.

Shinryaku! Ika Musume (12 Episodes)
Animation: 5/5
Story: 4/5
Music: 3/5
Overall: 5/5

I know I promised to talk about Evangelion, but I decided to hold off on that to talk about something new for a change. I've noticed that I don't talk about recent anime all that much so I thought I'd at least throw a bone in that direction. And it helps to talk about a series that I love.

Shinryaku! Ika Musume is the hilarious story of a humanoid squid dedicated to overthrowing the human race because of their negligence toward ocean waters. She decides to take on the polluting humanity by first attacking a seaside restaurant owned by the Aizawa family. However, when she succeeds in blowing a hole through one of the walls, Eiko Aizawa insists that she work it off and before she knows it, she's using her tentacle powers to serve customers at the beach.

When I first read the premise in the Fall Season previews around the web, I knew that I had to watch this series; it looked to ridiculous to ignore. And thankfully that hunch paid off in spades as this is one of the funniest anime series I've seen, putting it in the same company as FLCL and Kodocha (odd crowd . . .). Eiko works great as a demanding straight man, with the rest of the cast filling in around Ika Musume's life (her name really is "Squid Girl" in Japanese).

There really isn't much of an on-going story as each episode contains three mini-stories, but that works fine for this kind of punchy, Azumanga-Daioh-style comedy as we're introduced to the other denizens of the beach, ranging from lifeguards and other seaside restaurants to an adoring cosplay fetishist and a handful of creepy American scientists. The music isn't quite as memorable as the cast, though, even with a hyper, DDR-style opening, but one doesn't really expect hummable themes with a show like this.

It only takes one episode to fall in love with Ika Musume and only three to feel it's hooks deep in your body. If someone licenses this for US distribution, I'll definitely pick this one up. While I do prefer dubs, creating a comparable dub script might not be worth the trouble. Sub-only is probably the best I'll get with something like this anyway. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a light, fluffy comedy to ease them into pure bliss.

Well, it didn't take a year to get a new post on this blog, but I still have a lot of room to grow. I'm going to try to do better at this (and get back to anime watching; I'm falling behind in my other Fall 2010 series!) but I still can't make any concrete promises. Maybe next time, I'll talk about Zeta Gundam, as I said before, and the manga version of InuYasha that I finished (FINALLY!!!).

As for Winter 2011, I've decided to watch Level E, Infinite Stratos, and Fractale (what a debacle that's been lately). I don't see much else that I'm interested in, and I hope I'm not missing anything this time around. Except for Cardfight! Vanguard. There's no way I'm going to sit through a Yu-Gi-Oh! wannabe.