Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wolf's Rain and re-watching anime series

I seem to be having trouble posting more than once a month lately. I'm going to have to see if I can find something to blame that on. Or should I be glad I can get to it once a month? Hmmmmm.

Sometimes I'll just randomly watch an old series for the fun of it. Lately there hasn't been a lot of great new anime out, but even when there is I'll often pull an old series on a whim and watch it again. The nice thing about doing that is that you know what to expect. You can just sit back and enjoy the music or the animation style, the details of scenery or plot, anything about the series without having to concentrate on the subtitles, or worry about who's going to die next. Plus in the case of Wolf's Rain, you know which episodes to skip.

I'm not an episode skipper as a general rule. I'm anal retentive enough that I have to watch a series through from episode 1 to episode whatever, in order, as they come. Even re-watching, I usually watch the whole thing in order. (Ask me how many times I've seen Nuriko die in Fushigi Yuugi.) But Wolf's Rain is a little different for some reason.

I'm not sure what they were thinking when they made Wolf's Rain. I have to say up front that I like this anime series, but it did make me crazy in several ways. First of all, there are four entire episodes in the middle of Wolf's Rain that are unnecessary. They are total flashback/rehash episodes from the perspective of the four main characters. Hello. We just saw all that. Then, to add insult to injury, they stop the series at 26 episodes but release episodes 27-30 on the DVDs. So you're thinking, okay you could have left out those four recap episodes and used 27-30 and still ended with 26 episodes. Then, to add insult to insult to injury, although ALL the characters are alive at the end of episode 26, when you actually get and watch episodes 27-30, they kill off the ENTIRE cast in those last four episodes. So I ask you, what were they thinking?

For all that, Wolf's Rain is a good anime series. The story centers on four wolves, Kiba (Fang), Tsume (Claw), Toboe (Howl) and Hige (Whisker). Kiba is determined to find Rakuen (Paradise) and he ends up dragging the other three with him. Along the way they come across Cheza, who is the human incarnation of a moonflower who will lead them to Rakuen. The plot premise is completely unique, wolves who can appear as humans, searching for Paradise as the world is coming to an end. I really like unique plots that aren't the same predictable story over and over again, and this one meets that criterion perfectly. The series' music is beyond awesome. Yoko Kanno of course. She is superb in the soundtracks from this series. The animation style is extremely good. Everything about it is good, except that they drop the plot at the end and they kill the whole cast. As you know, the end of the anime makes or breaks it for me, and this ending broke this series. It went from a great series to a good one. Still I liked it enough to buy the DVDs and to re-watch it.

Interestingly Wolf's Rain is a reverse-harem-type anime. I know, I know, the main female character is really a flower not a girl, but that also adds to the series' uniqueness. And I do have more tolerance for reverse harems that regular harems. I suppose any type of harem anime can be done well with a strong plot, or it can be too focused on the character surrounded by his/her opposites to have a good story line. In Wolf's Rain the harem is subtle enough to be missed, not only because the girl is a flower, but also because there are other character side-stories on-going besides the four wolves finding the flower girl and trying to escort her to Paradise.
Basically Wolf's Rain is one in a long line of anime that I've found it necessary to alter reality and find my own, much more satisfactory ending. Like: At least some of them survive and find Rakuen and all their struggles weren't totally futile. Doesn't seem like too much to ask.
All that being said, I've watched the series a number of times and will no doubt watch it again, although I may watch eight less episodes than the full series. You can do that when you're re-watching.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

New season

It's always amazing to me how fast the time passes. It's been almost a month since my last post, and November is almost over. Where does the time go?

I've started watching some new series from the group which started in October. I usually have great expectations for the October series because it seems like some of my favorite series have started in October. This year, I'm not so sure about. I'm certainly watching fewer series now than I have in a long time, and that's at least partly because I'm not that excited about the new series. There are some that are drawing me in though.

Tegami Bachi (Letter Bee) is one of the series from this season that I really like .... one of those that are drawing me in. The first picture here is from Tegami Bachi. This series has got a unique plot and the setting and characters are pretty cool. Interestingly, the character in the first episode that I thought was the series' main character turns out not to be, but they continue to introduce interesting characters, so it's keeping me entertained and coming back for more so far.

Another series that's got me really intrigued this season is Tatakau Shishou: The Book of Bantorra. Yes, I know. The name is too long. This series has really kept me intrigued, and after seven episodes I still haven't figured out all of what's going on. I like the characters, the music, and what I can figure out of the plot. In fact, one of the things that keeps pulling me in is trying to figure out what's going on. What I've got so far .... when people die their lives become books, which are saved in a library and protected by armed librarians. Which doesn't really do justice to describing what the series is like or what it's about. Maa. When I figure it out I'll let you know. I'm a little crazy with this series currently because for whatever reason, I have trouble with files from the only group that's subbing it. The timing on the audio is off which is hugely irritating. One episode I re-downloaded, and another I got through by jumping back and forth which would make the audio sync for a while. Irritating. Despite that, I keep watching Bantorra. The only thing I'm not really happy about in it is a fair amount of fan-service. Lots of breasts.

I've also started watching one called Winter Sonata that I find interesting. This one takes a significant amount of tolerance to watch. It's disconcerting because the voice actors are Korean. This anime series is based on a Korean live action show, and they've gotten the actors from that to reprise their roles as the voices in the anime. So the series is subtitled in Nihongo, and underneath those subtitles, the subbers have put English subtitles. Watching it, I find that I have a disconnect with the sound of the language, especially when you can read "arigatou" in Japanese, and "thank you" in English and the sound is completely different from either of those. Add to that Korean character names and no Japanese honorifics. Plus it looks as though a significant portion of the series may be a long flashback. I like to watch two episodes at a time when I'm watching new anime and each time I watch this one it takes the better part of those two episodes to get used to how it sounds. The story interest me though, so I keep watching it.

Three of the "new" series that I'm watching in this group are actually continuations of old series. Inuyasha, Darker than Black 2 and To Aru Kagaku no Railgun. Railgun is a spin-off of To Aru Majutsu no Index. Two of the characters are from the original series and the plot follows their lives. Inuyasha picks up right where it left off and it's really great to be watching new Inuyasha again. Darker than Black picks up following Hei some time after the events of the last series. They've added new characters and the events that happened between the end of the first series and the start of this one are not clear yet. I'm also enjoying this one quite a bit.

I'm watching two other series in this batch, Kimi ni Todoke and Nyan Koi. Kimi ni Todoke is a fairly typical high school romance between a popular boy and an awkward, unpopular girl, but so far it's been very watchable. The characters are good, so we'll see if the plot manages to stay interesting enough to hold my attention. Nyan Koi ... I'm close to dropping. It's a harem anime, which is not my favorite genre. I thought it would be amusing because the male lead is cursed by cats, and the curse involves understanding and helping them, and he's also highly allergic to them. But it's not really keeping me interested.
Of course I'm still watching Bleach, Gintama and the new Fullmetal Alchemist. That covers all my current anime viewing. Just 11 series, which is amazing come to think of it. Many times I'm watching 20+ series at a time. I must be slacking off.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Non-ending endings

I've finished all the series I was watching that started in April this year or over the summer (except for Fullmetal Alchemist 2 which is more than 26 episodes), so I thought I'd talk about them a little. The main theme for this set of series would have to be "Non-ending endings". I've talked about non-ending endings (NEE) before, so I won't go into that, but the majority of the series I've been watching "ended" this way, and not all of them were good NEE.

One of my favorites in this group of series turned out to be Higashi no Eden, despite being a NEE. They left it as an on-going story, but successfully tied up the current issues, which is the proper way for a NEE to be done. Another series in this group that did the same thing is Canaan. I'm not totally happy with the way Canaan ended actually, but it's a NEE done right. They tied up the major conflict and left the story to continue. So I also liked Canaan even though I wish they hadn't killed the girl with the deadly voice and her lover, and I wish the issues with Alphard had had a little different resolution.

From this season's shows I also liked Shangri-La very well, and it was not a NEE. Unique plot, great music, amazingly unique characters who were fun, unusual and nice to look at, plus the series had a decent ending. More characters survived than I expected to survive. There were only a couple things I didn't like too much. One was Miko's token death. Yes, I know she/he wasn't the only character to die, but that death feels token-death-ish. I suppose it was necessary for the plot, but I didn't like it. The other thing that lost me at times was the carbon market dealings. Huh? Wakannai!! . . . were my thoughts after watching certain segments of several episodes. Still, this rates up there with my good series. Interestingly though, I didn't have a favorite character in this series.

The worst NEE of the season was PandoraHearts. I liked this series but they tied up exactly nothing. And I mean nothing with a capital NOTHING. This series may rival Spiral as the least conclusive ending of all time. If there's no follow-up season, I'm going to forever wonder what the hell happened 100 years ago in Sabrie to screw up everyone's lives so badly. I liked this series right up until they forgot to finish it. It has some AWESOME music though, so I have to give it points for that.

Only a little behind PandoraHearts for bad NEE was 07-Ghost. I had high expectations for this series because I was collecting the manga before the series came out. Unfortunately, to me it seemed that the plot pace was too slow, and the "ending" can't really even pretend to being an ending. Again, without a follow-up season, this one will have been something of a waste of time to have watched ... even though it's quite beautiful to watch and the characters are pretty cool.

Another really bad NEE was Wolf and Spice second season. NO progress at all in the main plot line, although I will admit to some progress in the relationship between Lawrence and Horo. Still, it's going to take another season to 'end' the series, and the merchant talk is getting old enough that I'm not sure I can take another series.

Another series I liked that had a real ending was Tears to Tiara. I have something of a hard time figuring out why I liked this one so much. There's nothing really special about it except the music. The music is awesome, but the characters are okay, plot line is okay, ending is okay. I just liked it. Maybe because Arawn didn't die. Wow. Come to think of it, that's pretty unusual. My favorite character in a series didn't die.

Two other series I watched this season include Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom and Valkyria Chronicles. I can't say that I really recommend either, and not just because in both cases my favorite character was killed. Phantom spent too much time killing off people and resurrecting them. Ein, Zwei, Scythe Master, Cal. These main characters were all killed, but not really, and then finally killed, except for Ein who was the only character to survive the series. So I spent much of the series wondering if a particular character they had just killed would appear later and not really be dead. I will say though that through a lot of the series I wasn't sure where they would go next with it, which is probably why I watched it to the end. Also the music again is really good.

Valkyria Chronicles I also watched through to the end, probably because they didn't kill off my favorite character (Faldio) until very late (ep 25 maybe?), so I kept watching in hopes that he might survive even though I really knew he wouldn't. This series played the emotional games very well, to the point where I consider it a "full box of kleenex" series. Of course, I tend to cry easily, but that's beside the point.
The only other series I watched this season was Sengoku Basara, and it also has a NEE. I liked the series, but geez! Another NEE. So basically I'm still waiting for all these series to conclude, but I did get some totally awesome music out of the season. I guess you can't have everything.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Perfect Series?

Lately I've been thinking about whether there's such a thing as a "perfect" anime series ... one that has no flaws at all, from my perspective. I mean, I've watched well over 200 series since I started watching anime. Surely in all that, there is at least one perfect anime series. So I'm going to see if I can come up with a definition for a perfect series and then see if I've watched any that fit the definition.

Let's see. What requirements would a series need to qualify as "perfect"?

1) No main character death. I'd love to say no character death at all, but that would rule out 99.9% of all anime (*laughing* and 54.2% of all statistics are made up on the spot). Anyway, it would rule out most anime, so I'll say no main character death and let some deaths slide by. However, token death will take a series right out of the running as far as I'm concerned.

2) Awesome music. The music usually makes or breaks the series, so a perfect series should have some pretty great music. It has to be at least good, and the better the music, the better the series.

3) A plot. The series needs to have some sort of a reasonable plot line going, not so convoluted that you don't know who's related to what and why, nor so non-existent that you get tired of people posing while you wait for something to happen.

4) Resolution of the plot. This one's tricky. There are times when a plot is totally resolved and I'm totally unhappy with the end result, so this condition is not simply resolution. It has to be an acceptable conclusion to various plot lines. There's bound to be a happy medium between finishing out the character's life 20 years in the future and not tying up any plot elements at all. Many, many, many series have trouble with this requirement.

5) Pretty is nice. The look of the series attracts me to it in the first place, and though it's just one element, it's still important. This factor is not a make-or-break one. As a rule I just tend to like pretty anime better.

6) Lack of gratuitous violence. I have no real problem with violence as such, but prefer that it's in some way necessary to the plot. And I don't necessarily see the point of spraying blood everywhere as often as possible.

So what does that leave us with?

After consideration, here are some possibilities for the title of Perfect Anime Series:

Noir: This is a series that could justifiably be considered a "perfect" anime series in my opinion. It has really superb music and a great plot which is well resolved. And most importantly, the main characters survive the series. Yup, I have to put this one near the top of the list.

Serei no Moribito: This is another one that's high up there on the "perfect" anime series list. The music is truly awesome and it has a great, unique plot which they wrap up very realistically. Much as I'd have liked Chagum to stay with Balsa, the Crown Prince has to go back to being a crown prince. So even though I might have wanted a slightly different ending, the conclusion was still very good ... which is the criterion. Also this series is very nice to look at. And everyone survives. Just a really good anime series.

Witchhunter Robin: This series also fits all the criteria, mostly. At least you're led to assume that Robin and Amon survive the destruction at the end of the series, so there's no main character death and there's plot resolution. Plus the music is great, and the series is nice to look at.

Fruits Basket: This one is a little shaky on the plot resolution requirement. It's a non-ending ending, and although it's pretty good for this type, I may be stretching it a bit to call it a plot resolution. The rest of the qualifications are pretty solid though. Maybe not outstanding music, but good music.

Natsume Yuujinchou: This one is a little shaky on both the music and the plot criteria. The series music is okay, but nothing special. And there's not an extensive plot although there is a sort of under-plot of Natsume learning to interact with people. The series is gorgeous though and pretty well done overall.
Nodame Cantabile: The first season, not the second. This is a series that meets all the specifications, and does it with class. Of course most of the music from it is classical music, but it's awesome and that's the criterion. It has a good solid plot line which they resolve just perfectly. It's not a "pretty" anime, but not hard to watch. Basically a good solid series.

CardCaptor Sakura: Yup. CCS. It actually meets all my specifications. Hmmmm. Interesting that this was one of the first anime series I ever watched. I wonder if it set my expectations for later series and what I like and dislike?

Rurouni Kenshin: Again, one of the first series I ever watched, and again it meets all the criteria. There are deaths in this one (Shishio Makoto), but no major characters die. The plot is frequently intense, and each arc is resolved as it goes. The larger plot of what eventually happens to Kenshin and Kaoru isn't covered in the series, but for all that I still think it qualifies.

Huh! Surprisingly, there are more series that fit my prerequisites than I expected. Also surprisingly, not all of these "perfect" series are in my top 10 favorite series of all time. Which just goes to show that even with character death, iffy plot, so-so music and/or dangling plot lines, I can still like a series a lot.

Of course, there are a LOT of series that come close and maybe only miss one of the criteria. Here are some of the group of "runner's up".

Close-but-no-cigar series:

Cowboy Bebop: This was also an early series I watched, and it is still waaaaaay up there on my all-time-favorites list. Awesome music, decent plot, fun to watch. And they resolved the plot, but not in the way I would have wanted. They killed off a main character, who also happens to be my favorite character of this series - Spike. That takes them out of the 'perfect series' running, but it's still one of the best series around.

Macross Frontier: So close and yet so far. This one fits all of the criteria except for Michel's token death. Decent plot, which is nicely resolved. Outstanding music. No more violence than necessary for a war series. But they killed Michel, and unlike Spike's death in Bebop, Michel's wasn't necessary. Senseless, token death. No way can this be a perfect series.

Heroic Age: This series actually does meet all the qualifications if you think about it. For me, what keeps this from that perfect series circle is that there were just too many continuous battle episodes for this to be a 'perfect' series. I got tired of battle after battle after battle.

Ergo Proxy: I liked this series. It meets most of the criteria, but the plot is almost overly complex. Even after watching the series multiple times I feel like I've missed nuances. I did like the way they finally tied up the plot though. And I like the music. The series was too dark, though. Not dark as in mood dark, although it was that too. The scenes were often so dark that I had to watch the series at night when it was dark to be able to see what was going on. So it was a good series, but not "perfect".

I could go on, but I guess I'll stop there for this post. Ja

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bleach 3 - and filler arcs

I've talked about filler arcs before, and how much I generally dislike them. Filler arcs are the ultimate 'necessary evil'. If you don't want the series to diverge from the manga, you've got to kill time until the manga gets ahead of the series again. Usually the only good thing about a filler arc is that you know that they can't kill off any characters. The characters will have to come out of the filler arc not much different than they went in ... so that the plot can be resumed from the point where it left off. As a rule, filler arcs are tough to watch because they tend to be fairly insipid, and because they are interrupting a plot line that you really want to know what's going to happen next in. Especially in Bleach, I found these things to be true. (Don't get me started on the Bounto Arc).

All that being said, Bleach is currently doing a really entertaining filler arc. I was dismayed to know we were going to have another filler arc, but was steeling myself for the inevitable, when lo, and behold! A FUN filler arc. Considering the massive size of their cast and the unique setting, this arc has been a long time in coming. With all the material available to them, a Soul Society arc was just waiting to be done. So .... Meet Muramasa. Muramasa is a renegade zanpaktou. For those of you keeping up, that'll sort of make sense. If you don't watch Bleach, zanpaktou take a little explaining. Each shinigami has a zanpaktou. It is their sword, but it is also a part of their soul. As they grow and become more powerful as shinigami they develop a relationship with their zanpaktou, and also develop the ability to "release" their sword. The first level of release is 'shikai', and it causes the sword and owner to be more powerful, but the sword is essentially still a sword at this level. The ultimate release is called 'bankai', and at this level the zanpaktou has a personality and the wielder and sword are REALLY powerful.

In this arc, a renegade zanpaktou named Muramasa (fitting!) has killed his wielder, and has gained the ability to pull the zanpaktou souls free of their shinigami owners. The zanpaktou acquire humanoid forms and independence from their shinigami, and the shinigami are left with just a sword and pretty much no power. For the bankai-level Captains and Vice-captains, to say this comes as a shock would be a small understatement.

The fun thing about this arc is meeting the individual humanoid zanpaktou from each shinigami with bankai-level ability. Bleach has essentially almost doubled their already massive cast. I've posted pictures here of a few of the freed zanpaktou. On the left above is the materialized, independent form of Kuchiki Rukia's zanpaktou. Her name is Sode no Shirayuki. And on the right is Hitsugaya Toushiro's zanpaktou, Hyourinmaru. Down below are two zanpaktou, Renji's Zabimaru and SoiFon's Tsuzumebachi. They're all too cool, and all have personalities that seem not to reflect their wielder's very much, despite the zanpaktous always having been considered part of their respective shinigani's souls.

Muramasa has plans to free all the zanpaktou from their bondage and destroy Soul Society and the cruel shinigami masters who have kept their zanpaktou in slavery for so long. Currently, battles are going on between shinigmai and zanpaktou. I'm looking forward to where this goes and to meeting each zanpaktopu and watching the struggles between them and their individual shinigami counterparts. I'm seriously hoping that they'll run this filler arc for a while. I mean if they can do the Bounto for 50 episodes, why can't they do a good arc for that long?

Along with the struggles between the shinigami and their respective zanpaktou, the arc is also having fun with Ichigo's unique position. His zanpaktou is 'freed' just like everyone else's, but unlike everyone else this doesn't leave Ichigo powerless. Ichigo has a couple of things going for him still. One is the fact that he's human, not just a shinigami. Another is the odd fact that he has a half-Hollow soul. If any one person should have a multiple personality disorder, it's Ichigo. Luckily, his good-guy, human heart always manages to stay dominant, but his really powerful Hollow side has saved his bacon a good number of times. Probably you have to be watching this anime to follow all that. Let's just say that Ichigo has done pretty much everything the hardest way possible and often somewhat backward, so he's ended up with some 'traits' that have been both detrimental and totally necessary and useful along the way. A lot of Ichigo's power comes from the dark side of himself, which he manages to balance most of the time. In this arc, they have fun exploring Ichigo's other personality. Muramasa is trying to figure Ichigo out, totally unaware that Ichigo will probably be his ultimate downfall.
I never thought I'd say that I hope a Bleach filler arc lasts a while, but I do hope so with this one. It's pretty fun.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Valkyria Chronicles - and character death .... again.

Lately I've been watching some series that didn't really hook me hard in the beginning, but the plot and characters are interesting enough to keep me watching. Valkyria Chronicles is one of these series, and it's been something of a surprise to me in several ways. For one thing, as a rule I'm not that fond of series that are derived from games. They tend to be disjointed or derivative or require you to have played the game to know the back story and inter-relationships between the characters. So I wasn't expecting much from Valkyria. I began watching it for my usual reason .... I liked the way the characters looked.

Another reason I wasn't expecting much is that it's a war series. *laughing* Hai, hai. With my penchant for liking historically-based anime, I'm bound to watch war series. Human history is defined by periods of war and events are described in relation to it. We call something "post-WWII" or "pre-Civil War", etc. Humanity is described as a war-like race and we've managed to saturate our history with blood. We're still doing it. In my more delusional moments I like to think that we can eventually evolve beyond it. Oops, got a little philosophical there. Anyway, the problem with war-series, is that they are pretty much guaranteed to kill off characters. So I go into them expecting less over-all survival. Unfortunately I never seem to get the hang of not getting involved in the characters lives.

So, along the way in watching Valkyria, I've been slowly drawn in by the plot. On the surface it's fairly typical, with a nice love triangle going among the three main characters, and various side-characters interacting more or less happily, and a sub-plot that is hinted at in the OP, but not developed much yet (which in itself is a little scary, given that we're on episode 20 of 26. They may never really develop the sub-plot, which would be a shame.)

In episode 17 they kill off Isara, one of the main characters. I'm not sure yet whether this is the start of character decimation, or if she will be the series token death. Since everyone who's read my blog knows how I feel about token death, I won't go there. Where I want to go with this blog is this: WTF is the point of rubbing our noses in the death for TWO ENTIRE EPISODES!!?! Yes, the up-coming death was obvious. Episode 16 was a warm and happy episode showcasing the growing love relationship between Isara and Ramal. You just knew one of them would die, and sure enough in ep 17 Isara is killed. Take my advice. If you're watching this series, skip episodes 18 and 19, and go immediately to where the plot resumes in episode 20. 18 and 19 are excruciating, agonizing detail of how people live on and deal with the death of everyone's favorite. Of course Isara is the most non-threatening, lovable character in the series, so the whole cast is filled with guilt and despair, which the creators drag us through for two episodes. It took me half a box of Kleenex to make it to ep 20. 'K'sou. Was that really necessary? Her death was bad enough. Why waste two episodes of plot time on it?

*exasperated sigh* Given how much the Japanese like to kill off their characters, I'm going to have to accept that characters die, and stop ranting about it in this blog. Actually, that's not it. It's not that I can't accept that characters die. I just don't get why they have to die in the worst possible way. Yes, I know horrible, senseless death is a part of life. Maybe I want my anime to be a little less life-like. Somewhere there's got to be a happy medium. I'm not particularly fond of anime that's all sweetness and light fluff, with nothing more pressing than the next school day and confessing to one's boyfriend/girlfriend. Still somewhere between drag-everyone-through-anguish and don't-have-a-plot-to-speak-of, there's got to be reasonable anime. Right? I'm sure I'll be able to think of plenty of examples .... later when I'm less frustrated.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Still here!

Wow. I am so far behind in my blogging. I knew this summer was going to be bad, as far as free time goes. Hopefully it will get better.

You'll notice that I now have a second contributor to this blog. I invited "y" to be a guest blogger and post whenever, so hopefully there will occasionally be more from "y". We're both pretty busy, so we'll see. *laughing* With any luck it won't turn into a free-for-all. Occasionally we don't agree on certain aspects of anime. And of course I'm always right.

I'm still watching anime, of course. If I ever don't have time for that, better check for a pulse. I'm still watching the series I started in April and enjoying them. I tried out a few new series which started this summer but really wasn't interested in any of them except the second season of Spice & Wolf and one called Canaan. I'm only watching 12 series right now, which is probably an all-time low for me ... since I started watching anime seriously with Inuyasha back in 2002. Usually I'm following around 20 series at a time.

Higashi no Eden ended of course, and I will place that series firmly in my 'good series' category. It was a non-ending ending in that the story continues, but they tied up some major plot lines and nobody died. Two 'must haves' for a series to achieve my 'good series' list. I really enjoyed the characters which were done by the same person who did the characters for Honey & Clover. Takizawa Akira and Morimi Saki are in the picture to the right. Plus the music was good and the plot was really unique. I'm looking forward to the two movies they will be doing as follow-up.

I'm also following the new version of Fullmetal Alchemist. I've been struggling with this version because I liked the original version really well. I didn't realize though exactly how far from the manga the original series was. I've been faithfully watching this version and noting all the divergences from the original series. Now that they've introduced characters that were never in the original, and the plot has diverged completely, I went back to the manga (which I'm collecting but haven't read yet) and looked. Whatta ya know? The new version is faithful to the manga!! So I've finally given up on the comparisons and am enjoying this version as a separate anime series. I'm a little slow to come around sometimes, especially with a favorite anime.

So I guess that's enough to get this blog restarted. I'll put more in later.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Complete Closure- not always good

Hello! In my inaugural post on my friends anime blog I will step up onto the the soap box of closure in series and the japanese propensity to overuse it. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!

An excellent example of this is Kurokami THE
ANIMATION - a series I just recently finished watching. Overall, I would say the series vacillated between being very original and disconcertingly derivative. The universe in which it is set has an interesting premise - the doppeliner system. Every person is kept alive by their amount of 'tera' (which I suppose is a sort of life force or matter). The doppeliner system states that every person has two other people who share their face. The catch is that the amount of tera is divided unequally between them and the person with the most, the so called 'master root', has the greatest amount of luck. And the even more disturbing catch is that if an unlucky substitute meets either their root or the other sub they individual with the least amount of tera will die - either by accident or illness. The series enjoys hitting people with cars in the most brutally shocking way (spraying blood an all). OK. Still with me? Next up, you have a species called mototsumitama which are supposedly keepers of the balance of tera. Incidentally they also have insanely high amounts of tera and so live very long lives. Mototsumiatama can also exchange hearts (literally) with a human to form a contract that allows them to be even stronger in battle assuming they can synchronize properly with their contractor. As I mentioned - an interesting premise. Unfortunately the series too often devolved into the main character, Kuro, and her contractor Keita fighting pointless battles over and over again. The writers seems to enjoy seeing her being beat up over an over again by a never ending stream of seemingly random people.

And so this brings me back to my original purpose for this posting. Closure. In the end of the series Kuro leaves the human world to isolate herself (for reasons that will become apparent should you watch the show). Keita, who we had been led to believe could live a happy life with Kuro, is shown marrying another main character, having kids, growing old and then dying. ?? Ooookay. Was that really necessary? I mean. You watch an entire 23 episodes of a show filled with magic and tera and other possibilities with the two main characters essentially being young people with their whole lives ahead of them. What is the purpose of ruining all that hope and optimism with fast forwarding and showing you the end of Keita's life? I'm not sure if it's a cultural thing or just a 'me thing' (The Notebook ring a bell?) but I despise the circle of life. And I plan to break it if I can.

*grin* This may be my first and last blog entry depending on how it's received. :P
ja ne!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

New series - April 09

I haven't had much time to blog lately and that's going to get worse over the summer between business trips and vacation, so I thought I'd better get a blog in while I can. I decided to talk about some of the series that started this last April. Usually I like to wait until a series is over to talk about it because, of course, the ending often makes or breaks the series for me. That's not always true. I've been talking about Bleach and it's obviously not over, but the shorter series (11 - 26 episodes) I usually wait. Today though I feel like talking about some of the series I'm currently enjoying that started in the April batch. April and October are the two months that a lot of new series start, so I always look forward to seeing what will be introduced.

So far in this group I have some favorites and at the top of that list is 07-Ghost. This series just happens to be another one that I've been collecting the manga for a while now without realizing that an anime series would be adapted from it. So since I found out, I've been eagerly waiting for the series. I'm seriously enjoying it so far. This story is about a boy named Tate (Teito) Klein. Teito has no memory of his past at the story start, and has been raised as a military cadet although he started out a slave. He runs afoul of a very bad military type named Ayanami, runs for his life and ends up claiming sanctuary at a church with three very interesting bishops. This is the point where the story currently is, about 8 episodes along. Teito's about to lose his best friend (Yup, looks like a token death *winces*). I don't know where the story will go from here but I suspect there will be interactions between Teito and the bishops and the military. Also, Ayanami is shaping up to be one of the really great bad guys.

Another series I'm enjoying is Higashi no Eden. This series has got a really unique plot, but keeps the watcher as clueless as the main character is. As he figures it out, we figure it out. He, Takizawa Akira, has had his memory erased, but figures out that he is one of 13 people who have been given 11 billion yen each and been told to use it to save the world in whatever way they can. If they run out of money, they will be killed. Short of that they can do anything they want, including murder. The only way out is to essentially save the world. Takizawa gets involved with Morimi Saki in the first episode and she involves him with others. Along with the unique plot, I like the character style and the music. Unfortunately this series is only 11 episodes, so I'll know pretty soon whether it's a really good series or not by how it ends.

I'm also enjoying a series called Shangri-La. I began watching this one because the characters are done by Range Murata and I like his character style. The broad range of characters, a pretty unique plot and some good music have kept me watching. This is a post-apocalyptic type series following the life of a young pink-haired girl known as Hojo Kuniko. The world has placed a rigid cap on carbon emissions and the world economy is carbon-based. Jungles are taking over civilized areas in attempts to stop the carbon emissions and prevent the further rise of sea level. Besides Kuniko, other main characters include a trans-sexual named Momiko, a military junior officer, a child princess who kills anyone who lies to her by twisting them into crushed pretzels with her thoughts, a child computer genius who plays the world economy like a game, etc, etc. Basically it's an interesting story so far.

I'm also following a series called Tears to Tiara, mainly because of the white-haired character to the left. This is Arawn, the Demon King. The whole feel of this series is somewhat like Utawarerumono, but Arawn is surprisingly (refreshingly) good at maintaining a sense of the ridiculous and serves as a balance for the MANY foibles of the characters surrounding him. This series is adapted from a role-playing game, which generally is not my favorite type of series. Occasionally, I get irritated at the series when the idiots around Arawn are almost too much to take, but then I get over it. It certainly won't be the first series I've followed mainly for the sake of a single character, and he's pretty cool.

Pandora Hearts is another series I'm keeping up with. I really like the three main characters in this series, Oz Bezarious, Raven (Gilbert) and Alice, whose other form is a frigging huge black rabbit with a scythe. Oz is condemned to Hell (the Abyss) for not-yet-explained reasons, meets Alice there and together they return. Except the agreement they made in order to be able to leave the Abyss is illegal in the real world, and they're forced to work for a wacko character in an organization known as Pandora. So far the characters and plot have kept me watching. I almost dropped this one after the first episode and now I'm glad I didn't.

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom is another one from this batch that I keep watching. It has a little bit of the feeling of Noir about it, but that may just be because it's also about a pair of assassins. This pair is a lot more violent than Mireille and Kirika ever were and also have a lot less control over their own fate. A group named Inferno is out to control the underground and all it's groups, including the Mafia. An Inferno wacko called the Scythe Master created these two assassins by erasing their memories and teaching them to be the perfect killers. He started with a girl he names Ein and who is referred to by Inferno as Phantom. The series starts with the creation of Zwei, the guy. He was a Japanese tourist in the wrong place at the wrong time who is made into the other half of Phantom after he almost wins against Ein, even without training. I keep waiting for Ein and Zwei to break free from Inferno, and the series to become more Noir-like as they go up against their former bosses. Or anyway that's what I hope happens. I'll have to wait and see where the series goes.

The last one from this new group that I haven't decided whether to drop yet is Valkyria Chronicles and I'm not sure what keeps me coming back in this one. It has pretty characters, so maybe that's it. It's also developed from a role-playing game and is a war/military series. Two countries are at war, and the son (Welkin Gunther) of a famous general gets sucked into the militia, or actually follows a girl (Alicia Melchiott) into the Militia. He is really a gentle soul who doesn't belong in the military, but keeps coming out on top of situations because of his intelligence, and his half-sister (Isara) who is a mechanic who just happens to drive a modified tank. So far the story follows these three main character plus Welkin's best friend.

Anyway that's my synopsis of the April series that I'm currently keeping up with. It'll be interesting to see how many of them I end up deciding are really good series.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Trinity Blood - and Artbooks

Trinity Blood is an anime series that I have a soft spot for. It's the first series that was made from a manga after I had already bought the manga. I didn't realize that an anime series was going to be developed from it when I started collecting the manga. I just liked the look of it. Add to that, it's a vampire series, and of course it will be one of my favorites. I would have to say that it's definitely a vampire series with a twist though. The third factor in it's favor is a pretty unique plot and world view. Just basically a likable series. Plus they don't kill off any of my favorite characters although they do throw in a token death.

Just to give a very brief story summary, the setting is post-apocalyptic. The population has destroyed itself in some manner and concomitant with that, or shortly afterward, the "vampires" appeared. They are probably originally extraterrestrial because our sun harms them, but the series doesn't spend any excess time going into this background. They don't refer to themselves as "vampires" of course, but are called that by the humans whom they prey upon and whom they mainly consider a distinctly lower life form. The two main Powers in existence at the time of the story are the human-based Church (with a capital Ch), and the vampire's Empire. Certain factions within each group want reconciliation between the two, or want annihilation of the other group, depending on the faction. Also a third underground faction, the Rosenkreutz Order, wants the two groups to destroy each other so that the Order can create a new world.

The story follows the efforts of Abel Nightroad and Ester, a priest and a sister, to make contact with the Empire and try to create a more lasting peace than the current simmering stalemate. Abel and Ester's comrades and their vampire counterparts in the Empire make up the cast, along with various members of the Order.

There are several interesting plot twists beyond this basic story, but this gets the gist of it. This is one of those series that has all the elements that make me put it on my great anime list. The characters, done by Nakajima Atsuko, are gorgeous. The music is outstanding, one of my favorite soundtracks. The series has a relatively unique plot, and to top it off, all my favorite characters survive the series.

I have been thinking about Trinity Blood recently because I just picked up an artbook by Nakajima Atsuko, the character designer not only for Trinity Blood, but also for Princess, Princess and You're Under Arrest. I love artbooks. Not only are they really gorgeous, but you get some pictures of your favorite anime characters that it would be difficult to get any other way. Examples from the Nakajima artbook are the picture on the left above of Ester and the Count, and also the picture on the right above of Abel, which is part of a much larger picture.

I have more than a few artbooks from my favorite series. The difficulty with artbooks is that the pictures are in books. You have to get them out and look at them occasionally. Or I have a tendency to scan my favorite pictures and then use them for backgrounds on my computer, switching out relatively frequently. I've included some pictures from a few of my other artbooks in this post: pics from Shonen Onmyouji, Cowboy Bebop, Witchhunter Robin and Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto. I'm always amused by the length of the title on that last series. Given my predilection for shortening names of series, I refer to it as "Baku". It's a historical anime, which is another type that I'm attracted to. I'm always curious about just how much or how little historical anime reflect Japan's actual history. There are persons from their history that appear over and over again in anime series. Of course, they have a lot of history. The Tokugawa Shoganate lasted longer than the US has been a country. Omoshiroi ne?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Good Women

It's impossible to do a piece on the Good Guys, even though I should balance out my Bad Guy post. Still, everyone that's not a Bad Guy is by default a Good Guy. That covers a LOT of characters. How can I possibly talk about everyone. Or even narrow the list down to several hundred favorites. It's like trying to decide on my all time favorite series. Muri! So I'm tackling something easier. The females!

For a long time I thought that there weren't that many really strong female characters. Maybe I was watching the wrong anime because when I started looking, I was surprised to discover that there are many .... and some of them are among my favorite characters. Of course, there are a lot of anime in which women are definitely an afterthought. They end up as either window-dressing, with essentially no plot involvement, or the series will have one or two token females inserted into the cast. At best they may have minor roles that don't make much impact, or minor roles specifically to make an impact - like a death at the appropriate time. Kyou Kara Maou is pretty much like this. The women in the series are almost extraneous. Bleach does a little better, but beyond Rukia, only Matsumoto has a strong role, and given the size of that cast, that's not very impressive. Tytania, Kuroshitsuji, Chevalier D'Eon and Hikaru no Go have no women at all worth mentioning. PeaceMaker Kurogane has one, who is killed splashily to make an impact. The list goes on. And I'm purposely leaving out reverse-harems where the actual intent is to have one woman and a bunch of men.

Anyway, I got off track here. The point is, there are some incredibly strong woman characters out there. Three names that spring to mind are: Balsa (Seirei no Moribito), Kou Shuurei (Saiunkoku Monogatari) and Nakajima Youko (Juuni Kokki). It's actually amazing to me that I would include Youko in that group because I hated her character in the beginning. I detest poor-me-the-world-is-out-to-get-me-I'm-so-miserably-unloved characters, and when they're crybaby whiny it's even worse. Youko had that role DOWN. That I consider her one of the all time great female leads is a testament to how well they developed her character in the series.

Other characters I consider strong female roles include Rukia (Bleach), Nodame (Nodame Cantabile), Mireille and Kirika (Noir), Sakura (CardCaptor Sakura), Hachi (Nana), Michel (Glass no Kantai), Robin (Witchhunter Robin) and Kyoko (Skip Beat). Actually, the more I think about female characters, the more good ones I recall. Shana (Shakugan no Shana) and Honoka (The Third) were strong characters also, as were Real (Ergo Proxy), Talho (Eureka Seven), Kagura (Gintama) and of course Ranka and Sheryl (Macross Frontier).

There are also a fair amount of strong female characters in lesser roles once you start looking at the women. For example, Best Actress in a Supporting Role I would give to Lenalee (D.Gray-man) or Izumi (Fullmetal Alchemist). And of course it's impossible to completely ignore the harem combinations. Best Harem Leader goes to Haruhi (Ouran High School Host Club), with a strong second by Tohru (Fruits Basket). Strongest Female Role in a Normal Harem goes to Taiga (Toradora). Greatest Comeback from a Whiny Start goes to Youko, but Saya (Blood+) is second, followed by Miyaka (Fushigi Yuugi).

Okay, I'm not sure when this post became an awards show, but it just goes to show that there are a lot of pretty awesome female characters in anime series. Still, the really popular anime series tend to have male leads, not female leads. Ichigo in Bleach, Ed and Al in Fullmetal Alchemist, etc. Series with a true female lead are often about that character, and are named for her, i.e. Nodame, Shana, CCS, Karin, Kaitou Jeanne, Nana, Shion no Oh. See what I mean?

Luckily my favorite anime movie director has no problem with strong female characters. Miyazaki Hayao's films tend to have strong female leads: NausicaA (NausiccaA of the Valley of the Wind), San (Mononoke Hime), Sophie (Howl's Moving Castle) and Chihiro (Spirited Away). *laughing* I'd have to add Chihiro to the group of Comeback from a Whiny Start though.

Just in case I've given the wrong impression with this post, I don't consider myself a politically correct person who's concerned about the "Role of Women in Anime Series". I'm just commenting on things I've noticed. Personally, my very favorite characters are pretty much all male. I do like to see a great woman character though, and there are definitely some out there.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Bad Guys

One of the interesting things about a lot of anime series is that they have pretty impressive evil characters. I always have a soft spot for the bad guys, no doubt because of my Evil Twin. Plus bad guys often are that way for a reason. Something in their past has warped them, and being able to understand their motives goes a long way toward making their actions at least forgivable, if not acceptable. But there are bad guys and there are BAD guys. Like everything else with anime, I have a tendency to classify my bad guys. And of course I have my favorites.

The classes of bad guys I use, from your basic worst-scum-imaginable down to guys who are just mostly wicked, include: 1)BADDEST - these are the love-to-hate guys, the characters without anything even vaguely resembling a conscience. They also usually have no acceptable excuses for their actions other than they're just evil to the core. Usually I reserve this category for those characters who fit into the BADDER category, but have committed the ultimate sin from my perspective: they've killed off one of my favorite characters. It's not always true that characters in this group have killed one of my favorites, but if they've killed a favorite, they will be in this group. In this category I put Yagami Light (Death Note), Sennen Hakushaku (D.Gray-man), Muraki (Yami no Matsuei), Vicious (Cowboy Bebop), Cain (Trinity Blood) and Delphine (Last Exile).

2) BADDER - In this class are those evil characters without a single redeeming trait; totally unlovable; unrepentantly evil; generally plotters who roll over everyone and everything in their path without so much as a qualm. *laughing* Okay this sounds a lot like the BADDEST category, but these guys generally have reasons for their actions and, more importantly, they haven't killed anyone I care about. I have a lot of admiration for these guys. *laughing* Well, I do. They're usually so self-centered that they really believe the world revolves around them and should move to their whim and everything and everyone in the world should worship them. I sometimes have a certain amount of that feeling myself, so I admire their single-mindedness of purpose, at the same time I'm rooting for someone to take them out. In this category I put characters like Aizen Sousuke (Bleach), Naraku (Inuyasha), Keith Anyan (Terra e), Tyki Mik (D.Gray-man), Nakago (Fushigi Yuugi), Knives (Trigun), Suitengu (Speed Grapher) and Johan (Monster).

3) BAD - these guys are usually smaller fry than the BADDERs. Often they're henchmen of the BADDERS, like Ulquiorra (Bleach) or GrimmJoe (Bleach). This category also includes the bad guys that are not quite evil enough to fall into the BADDER group, like the Emperor (Code Geass), Dornkirk (Escaflowne), Furher (Fullmetal Alchemist), Director (Witchhunter Robin) and Dewey (Eureka Seven). A lot of bad guys are this level of evil. I usually also include in this category those people that fell from the good side and became bad, or were bad all along but played as if they were good guys. Characters like Third (Jyu Oh Sei), Jin (Innocent Venus), Sasame (Pretear) and Fuuma (X).

4) NOT GOOD - these are the antiheroes. They're usually not totally evil and it's more that they just serve as a counter to the main characters. Darcia (Wolf's Rain), Hiwatari Satoshi (D.N.Angel) and Akito (Fruits Basket) are this type of bad guy.

Although I'm putting these guys into categories, there are a lot of these characters that it's difficult to fit into a specific category. Maybe they span more than one category, or just don't fit any class very well. I hate to admit that (because of my love of sorting things), but it's true. Diva in Blood+ could fall into the BADDER class, but compared to say, Aizen, she doesn't really fit it that well. Of course, very few bad guys can hold a candle to Aizen.

I also have two special categories: one is the bad guys who are converted and become good, ex-bad guys so to speak. These guys get a special category because they're generally not very long-lived after they leave the dark side. Yoite (Nabari no Oh), Folken (Escaflowne), Solomon (Blood+) and Brera Stern (Macross Frontier) fall into this category. Actually Brera survived, but bad guys turned good usually don't.

My final special category is the obnoxiously, irritatingly arrogant characters whose total disregard of others makes you want to do something to shake them out of their defined worlds. Their actions can be either bad or good depending on their whim and the circumstances. Kuchiki Byakuya (Bleach) and Sesshoumaru (Inuyasha) are the most notable examples of this class of "bad" guys. Both have played bad guy roles, but they have also done good things. Both sets of actions were essentially done without regard for anyone but themselves and their own concerns.

So my all time favorite bad guys? Weirdly, it's easier for me to pick favorite bad guys then it is to pick favorite good guys. Leaving out the two obnoxious guys I love to get irritated by, my current favorite bad guy is Aizen. His henchman Ulquiorra is another favorite, as are Vicious and Tyki.