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.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Character styles - manga vs anime series

One of the things that makes or breaks a series for me is what the characters look like, the character style. It's not everything. I'll watch a series with a character style that I don't really care for if everything else is good. But just like in real life, first impressions go a long way. The first thing that attracts me to a series is the looks, followed by the music. And then what keeps me watching is a combination of music and plot. The final piece is how it ends, so that it's the overall product that determines whether I think it's a great series or not. But I will say, pretty anime is more fun for me to watch.

Anyway, a pretty large number of anime series have their start as adaptations from manga. And in
case you don't know what a manga is, it's the Japanese books that are being bastardized in the US as "graphic novels". (Yup. No, bias here!) Okay, okay, not to get off topic, many anime series are adapted from manga. This can be good or bad depending on a number of things, like: whether you've read and liked the manga and whether the series follows it or strays from it. Think of watching the most recent Lord of the Rings trilogy after reading the books. It's fine because it follows the books closely. Now think about the Eragon books and what the movies have done to the plot. So whether you like the manga or the series more is probably going to depend on which one you ran into first.

Another thing that can make you less than happy to have an anime series developed from your
favorite manga is if you really like the character style in the manga, and then it's totally different in the series. This works in reverse if you watched the series before discovering the manga.

I'm always intrigued that the characters in a series developed from a manga can look so totally different than the manga characters. I suppose it depends on whether the person who wrote the manga does the characters, or is involved in the character design for the series or not.
I classify (because in case you couldn't tell already, I love to sort things) these cases into four main types: 1) Close: the characters in the manga and series are so close that it makes no difference, 2) Different-okay: the characters are different between the two, but not enough to make it difficult to switch back and forth, 3) Different-disturbing: the characters are different enough that it's disturbing. If you're reading the manga and watching the series also, you have to make an adjustment and get used to the style when you move back and forth, and last but not least 4) Gyah!: the characters are so different that you can't tell which characters are which when you go from manga to series or vice verso. So! Those are my categories, from best to worst and here are some examples in each category.
In all the pictures on this post , the pics on the left are from the anime series and on the right they're
from the manga. or at least that's what I'm attempting to achieve. Sometimes when I push the "publish post" button, things end up not at all where I intended.

Close: Series/manga that fall into this category include Bleach, Inuyasha, Fruits Basket, Vampire Knight and Loveless. With each of these series, it's pretty easy to move between the series and the manga. There's not much feeling of disconnect and the characters are clearly recognizable.

Different-okay: These series would include D.N.Angel, Rurouni Kenshin, NANA, Death Note, Trinity
Blood and D.Gray-man.These are series that you can make the switch with a little hitch then you forget there's a difference.

Different-disturbing: Among these series would be Nabari no Oh, Fullmetal Alchemist, Get Backers, Natsume Yuujinchou and Ouran High School Host Club. These series not only make you re-adjust to the look of the characters, but sometimes you can't make the adjustment. You keep looking for the characters you've come to expect.

The different-okay and different-disturbing groups are sometimes not that clear cut. On any given day I might move series between those classifications depending on how recently I've watched the series. And no doubt there are people that disagree about which category a series/manga pair should fall into, depending on whether their favorite manga was made into an acceptable series or not. Myself, I tend to buy the manga after seeing the series, with some notable exceptions. I bought Trinity Blood, 07-Ghost and Vampire Knight without knowing they would be made into series. Generally though, I have more trouble adapting to the look of the manga than to the look of the series.

The final group is the worst. These are the 'try-to-guess-which-characters-are-which ones. Good examples of this type of series are Mahoutsukai na Koto Taisetsu Ni and Yami no Matsuei. The two bottom pictures are depicting the same two characters from Mahoutsukai. In a case like this you really want to ask the characters to wear name tags so you don't get confused. Yami no Matsuei is like this too.
Anyway, I've spent too much time on this, re-arranging pics. Hopefully they'll post the way I want them. (Yes, I know. I look at the preview. They don't always post where they show up in the preview.)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Juuni Kokki

Since I'm moving the Juuni Kokki picture, (can't have the blog get boring) I decided to talk about Juuni Kokki. The series is one of my favorites, and is both a great series and an incredibly frustrating series. I'll come back to that.

Juuni Kokki is based on a series of novels written by Ono Fuyumi. The picture on the right is an illustration from the novels and the picture on the left is the main characters from the anime series.

This series starts out with one of the stereotypical themes: high school girl gets transported to alternate universe where she must grow up and accomplish a quest. So the basic premise is common, but the details are pretty cool. The main character is Nakajima Youko, the red-haired girl in both pics. The alternate world she's transported to is one where there are 12 kingdoms (thus the title) situated around a central island. This small picture shows the world map. There are 4 island kingdoms out in the corners and 8 kingdoms ringing the central island with ocean in between. Each kingdom is ruled by either a King or Queen. One of the unique ideas in the series comes from the way those rulers are chosen. Each kingdom has a "Kirin". Kirin are holy creatures that can take human form but their normal form is an incredibly beautiful unicorn. In the two pictures at the top, the main kirin in the story, Keiki, is being ridden by Youko on the right and is at the top back on the left picture. The kirin choose the King or Queen for a country. Keiki is unable to find his country's ruler in his world so he comes to Japan and get her. Youko and Keiki get separated and she must make her own way and become Queen of Kei. That's the main story line, but the series is complex and follows multiple stories.

Another unique element in the series is the way babies are born. When a couple wants a child they weave a ribbon and tie it to a special tree. If their wish is granted, a child grows like a fruit on the tree at the point where their ribbon is tied. All creatures in the world are born from trees, and the kirin are born from a single special tree on the central island. That tree only bears fruit if a kirin dies so that there are never more than 12 kirin, one for each kingdom.

I believe that in the novels there is at least one story for each kingdom, but although the series may originally have had that intent, they stopped early. The kingdoms covered by stories include Kei, with Youko and Keiki and the kingdom of En, with En-Ou and Enki. The series starts the story of Tai and then ends before the story is finished. This is what I was talking about as incredibly frustrating. You never know what happens with Tai-Ou and Taiki.

Beyond that though, the series is very good. They manage to follow multiple story lines and connect people from various different parts of the world and keep a coherent plot. The tales that they finish are satisfying, not overly tragic or sickeningly sweet. I almost didn't watch it because in the first several episodes Youko is such a whiny crybaby it makes me crazy. Not one of my favorite character types. Obviously she grows up with the help of one of the characters I like best in the series, Rakushun. Rakushun is a half-beast. He's the mouse in the left picture. Half-beasts can take the form of their beast or of a human. They're born from the same trees as full humans but are discriminated against in some of the kingdoms. I like his character a lot. He's like a perfect friend, good-natured, kind, really smart but with a lot of common sense. And he expects people to be people. He doesn't expect people to be perfect.

Anyway, it's a good series and I recommend it.