Friday, December 31, 2010

Winter Sonata

This series is one of the more unusual series I've watched in a long time, and it took a long time to watch it. That's only partly because the subbers were slow. It's also because I had to steel myself to watch new episodes. This series isn't just tragic. It's TRAGIC . I judge this 27 episode series to be about a 10 kleenex box series, a new personal best over the front-running Tegami Bachi, two-kleenex box series. Seriously, I am totally amazed that they can twist people's lives to the extent they did, and pack that much tragedy into one series, and it essentially all stemmed from one lie.

Let's see, where to start.
First of all the series takes some getting used to. I've mentioned this in an earlier blog, but the voices are in Korean with the roles being reprised by the original live action Korean actors. There are both Japanese and English subtitles and the sound of the language takes a while to get used to. Once you get past that though, and can see through your tears, the animation style is good and the music is outstanding. The plot goes like this:

The main characters are a girl named Yuujin and a boy named JunSang. They meet in high school and fall in love. Another boy in their class named SangHyuk is also in love with Yuujin. JunSang's mother is a famous concert pianist, but she's never married and won't say who JunSang's father is, so JunSang is trying to figure out and find his father. One day JunSang finds out that Yuujin's father is also his father and he agrees to leave Korea with his mother. At the last minute he decides to run back and speak with Yuujin one last time rather than leave her without saying anything, and he's hit by a truck and dies. Yuujin is devastated and tries to go on, eventually agreeing to marry SangHyuk.

In the meantime we find out JunSang didn't die but has a bad head injury and is tormented by thoughts of Yuujin. His mother arranges to have his memory erased through hypnosis and he leads another life as MinHyung. Years later, on the night of her pre-wedding dinner with SangHyuk, Yuujin sees MinHyung on the street and freaks out. She is sure he's JunSang, but he has no memory of her or of JunSang. Yuujin says she cannot marry SangHyuk and she goes to work for/with MinHyung. They get into trouble on a snowy jobsite, he has another head injury, almost dies and begins to remember Yuujin and that he loves her. He finds out his mother had his memory erased as pieces of it begin to return. He asks Yuujin to marry him and then discovers/remembers that they are brother and sister. He also finds out that unless he has an operation the head injury will kill him. He goes though with the wedding and then leaves her without telling her why. He intends to let the head injury kill him rather than having an operation that may cause him to lose his sight, and he doesn't tell Yuujin ANY of it.

Yuujin looks for him and finally finds out from SangHyuk's mother that Yuujin and JunSang/MinHyung are brother and sister. She gives up looking for him and goes to Paris to study architecture. In the meantime JunSang is dying in New York. He finds out that he's NOT related to Yuujin, that SangHyuk's father is his father, not Yuujin's. However he's gotten so bad that he won't go back to her because he's dying. Eventually he gets so bad that he collapses and they operate on him. His life is mostly spared but his sight is only barely there. He's basically blind, and he goes back to Korea. Yuujin works in France for quite some time and finally realizes that she needs to speak to JunSang one more time, so she traces him to New York. There she meets a woman who knows him who asks her why she stayed away after finding out they were not related. Yuujin's devastated again to know that they could have been together all this time. She eventually traces him back to Korea and they meet again, get married and live happily ever after.

So did you follow all that? It's twisty, I admit. I also admit that I was amazed that this anime ended happily. In fact I would have bet my life that it wouldn't have, but it did. It's so massively tragic all the way through that a happy ending is just hard to believe. Plus they tie everything up, which seems impossible given all the twists the plot takes. But they do it. Another unusual aspect of the series besides the Korean language is that the final episode is live action. The Korean actors perform the final episode and their characters are easily recognizable from the anime characters. The story really sucked me in and kept me coming back to watch more, even when I was crying and surrounded by piles of tissues. One of the things that irritated me about the series along the way was how everyone kept Yuujin in the dark about everything, for her own good. She was the last to know about JunSang being her brother, and then the last to know that he was not. And I was irritated by JunSang's mother telling one lie, about who JunSang's father was, and twisting everyone's lives so much.

Overall, since it had a good ending, I'd have to say that I'm glad I watched it. I'm not sure if I'll watch it again though. Can't afford that many kleenex.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Seirei no Moribito

If one has a three day weekend, one should spend it however one wants, right? Well, I did. And one should also find time to write a post about it, right? Did that too. I got a wild hair and decided to re-watch all of Seirei no Moribito. That's right. The whole series. Good thing it was a three day weekend, ne.

Seirei no Moribito is one of my all-time favorite series. It's way, way up there. It has so much going for it, all the elements that make a great series. The graphics and scenery are absolutely gorgeous. Vibrant colors and when possible, fantastical colors and shapes. The character design is great. The plot is unique and well-written. The music is way beyond awesome. Two of my all-time favorite soundtracks are the two from this series. Kenji Kawai did the music, and along with Yoko Kanno, he's one of my favorite composers. He did the music for Sky Crawlers, Eden of the East, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni and Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai, to name a few. Sorry, I tend to get carried away about music. Anyway, if you haven't seen this anime series, you should. If you haven't and plan to, consider this a warning. Don't read farther because I'm going to disclose basically the whole plot in the next several paragraphs.

Seirei is a story which takes place in a normal universe (Sagu) that interacts with another, fantastical universe (Nayug). The two are intimately connected. For example, Sagu has two moons, one of which is Nayug's sun. Most people live normal lives in Sagu, totally unaware of the existence of Nayug. The exception to this rule are the shamans of the Yaku people who can occasionally see and interact with Nayug.

The story takes place in a land (Yogo) which is ruled by an emperor who has two sons. The setting is feudal-Chinese-like. The two main characters in the story are Balsa and Chagum, shown to the right. At the beginning of the story, the life of Chagum, the emperor's younger son, is saved by a woman named Balsa, who is a wandering warrior/bodyguard. Come to find out Chagum's father the Mikado (emperor) has given orders for Chagum to be killed because Chagum is possessed, and no prince of the realm can be tainted by possession. So, in repayment for saving Chagum's life, Chagum's mother begs Balsa to flee with him and protect him. Balsa agrees because her own life was saved in a similar manner when she was a child, and the story begins.

The plot of the story is unique in that it goes well beyond the woman bodyguard protecting the prince plot line. The "demon" possessing Chagum turns out to be the egg of a water spirit from Nayug. Every 100 years the Nayug water spirit who provides all rain for Sagu lays an egg and dies. The egg must hatch or Sagu will never have rain again. Yet the hatching of the egg has not ever been accomplished without killing the child bearing the egg. This is problematic for Balsa who has promised to keep Chagum alive. On top of this, for almost the first half of the series, the servants of the emperor believe that the drought will come if they DO NOT kill Chagum.

The plot is intricately interwoven. The characters and their actions are real and believable, even when Chagum is suspended over a miles deep cavern surrounded by winged creatures larger than he is, as he carries the egg and is pulled between Sagu and Nayug. Surrounding and aiding Balsa and Chagum are a Shaman named Torogai, her apprentice who is also a Yaku healer and friend of Balsa's named Tanda, and two orphan kids named Toya and Saya. Arrayed against them are the Mikado, his main star seer and his eight secret warriors, two of which are with Balsa in the picture to the left. Chagum's tutor and friend, Shuga, starts out on the emperor's side, but along the way he works to find the information necessary to prove that Chagum must not be killed but rather protected while the egg hatches. He convinces the Mikado and his minions of these facts, aided by the fact that the first prince, who is physically frail, dies. The necessity for the empire to have a living prince aids Shuga's cause.

With Torogai's help, Balsa stages her and Chagum's deaths early in the story, so they are free to live a relatively normal life at first, with Chagum learning to be a commoner. About the time Shuga realizes Chagum is still alive and must be kept that way, Torogai realizes that the hatching of the egg will probably kill him. Both groups scramble to find more information from 100 and 200-year old tales and records.

In the end, everyone ends up working together to save Chagum. Balsa and the eight warriors, Shuga and Torogai and Tanda. Shuga is pictured to the left here. One of my favorite things about this series is that nobody dies (other than the frail older prince). They actually find a way to keep Chagum alive while allowing the egg to hatch. Another favorite thing is Tanda. Tanda is the guy in dark green at the top left side of the picture at the top of the post. He's a very down-to-earth, dependable guy who discovers the important answers they need to save Chagum at the end. He's also known Balsa almost her entire life and is still patiently waiting on her to give up the warrior life and settle down, which occasionally makes him comic relief.

The end is wonderful, and bittersweet enough to make me cry. Not that hard, I know. Still. Chagum goes back to being the Crown Prince, losing all connection with the commoners that helped him. Balsa goes back on the wandering-warrior road, to lay one last ghost Tanda says as he prepares to wait for her again.

It's really a great series. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Another New Season

I just love April and October. That's when most of the new anime series start, and it's always fun to see what's going to be out there. Especially since I finished most of the series I was watching, I've been looking forward to some new ones. So I figured I'd do a short post about the new series that began in April and that I've started watching. I'll start with two that I really didn't expect to enjoy, but I am so far.

Angel Beats!: The picture to the left is from Angel Beats! This series has a really unique premise and plot. High school age kids who die, end up in a high school (which has got to be fairly depressing anyway). If they behave and accept everything, they disappear ... presumably passing on to that great heaven in the sky. However, if they rebel and act out and fight against the system (God), they remain in the high school. So the plot follows a group of kids who are not ready to accept what fate has handed them and are fighting against the "Angel", who is apparently the system's way of getting kids to toe the line. It's a rather unique plot, and has some excellent music, so I'll continue to see where it goes. I think it's a short one anyway, maybe 13 episodes.

Kaichou wa Maid-sama: I seriously didn't expect to enjoy this one. It's a high school romance story between two mismatched kids, which is a plot line that's roughly older than I am. But this series is FUNNY!! Occasionally, it's hysterically funny. I catch myself laughing out loud while watching it, when the plot takes an unexpected turn. And they're rather good at throwing in the unexpected. The hard-assed, male-disliking Student Council President of a school with a less-than-stellar reputation has a part-time job in a Maid Cafe. It pays well and her family is poor, but she desperately wants to keep it a secret from everyone at school. And so it goes. Doesn't sound like much, but it's totally enjoyable to watch.

Hakuouki Shisengumi Kitan: I pretty much had to watch this one, given my fondness for historically based anime and my fondness for vampires. It's okay so far. It was adapted from a game, which is really up there among my least favorite types of series. Plus it's a otome game, like a love adventure game or dating sim. So I both wanted to see it, for it's possible plot lines, and dreaded seeing it, considering it's origins. I will say that the verdict is still out. It's a reverse harem, which I don't mind as much as a regular harem, but without a decent plot, this one may not be worth watching. I'll have to watch some more and see where it goes.

Uragiri wa Boku no Namae wo Shitteiru: I've been looking forward to this one arriving since it's an anime adaptation of a manga I've been collecting, and the manga it comes from is gorgeous. As you can see from this picture, it looks like the series will have that in common with the manga. It is ... pretty damn gorgeous. I'm not sure about the plot because I haven't read the manga, I'm just collecting it. So far a young orphan guy with BIG, just emerging, mental powers discovers he's not really an orphan ('family' conveniently appears around the time his powers do) and he's being protected by a guy who seems to be more demon than human. Now we'll just see if the plot makes it worth following as well as just watching it for how pretty it is.

There are two other series I began watching in April. One is called Senko no Night Raid and the other is Saraiya Goyou. Both seem to be moderately good so far. Senko no Night Raid follows the exploits of a team of four . . . 'spies' for lack of a better word. However, spying is the least of their talents. These four, shown in the picture to the left, each possess an extrasensory power. The powers are quite impressive, and together the four work to achieve whatever their higher-ups tell them to achieve. I'll be interested to see if the plot goes deeper and where it takes the series. It's basically fun to watch right now.

Saraiya Goyou (House of Five Leaves) has an animation style that reminds me of Samurai Champloo, so it's not pretty. Something about the story attracts me and keeps me watching though. And I love the OP theme song. It's awesome. The story is about a down and out samurai who gets entangled with a group who makes their living by kidnapping people and holding them for ransom. Probably one of the attractions for me is the time it's set in, but also, although it's just being hinted at, I think the plot goes way deeper than the simplified overview I just gave, which is coincidentally all the poor samurai knows too at this point.

So those are the new series I've started following. And of course I'm still watching Bleach, Durarara (awesome!) and Fullmetal Alchemist (waaay beyond awesome), plus a few random things here and there. Basically I'm still watching enough to keep me entertained.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Way too long

I am soooo overdue making a post on this blog. Time really gets away from me. That and I haven't been watching all that many series lately. Compared to the number of series I used to watch, I've really cut down. Of course, that doesn't mean I'm not watching a lot of series. It just means I'm not watching as many as I used to. The series that started in October were okay, but there wasn't a really outstanding series in the bunch.

I did really enjoy watching the new season of Inuyasha. It was incredibly nostalgic and fun to watch Inuyasha again. Plus it was really beautiful, with the same character style, etc. I will say that this season of Inuyasha was really different from the first 165 episodes in a couple of ways though. For one thing, in all the rest of Inuyasha they never killed any characters, even Kikyou . . . who was dead to begin with come to think of it. In this season, it seems as though they killed off around half the cast. None of the main characters die, but a good portion of the secondary cast does, including Kikyou as well as all Naraku's annoying incarnations. Another difference is the pace of this new season. The whole 165 episodes of the original Inuyasha was slow moving and pretty unchanging. Gather the Shikon fragments, lose them to Naraku and battle demons along the way. And I suppose there was some slow evolution of Inuyasha and his sword. On the other hand, this last 26 ep series was extremely fast paced, with characters dying and events happening rapidly. All in all it was entirely enjoyable, and managed to tie up everything with a happily ever after ending.

Of the October series, I also enjoyed watching Tegami Bachi, although the "end" of the series wasn't an end but a cliffhanger for the second season. I'm looking forward to watching more of it though . . . hopefully soon. Tatakau Shisho: the Book of Bantorra was another series I watched that kept me interested all the way through. Mostly that's because I was trying to figure out what was going on, which took essentially the whole series. Unfortunately I didn't like the end, or the number of main characters they killed off, so it won't go on my list of good series, despite having quite a unique plot and good music.

Another series from the October group that I really enjoyed was ToAru Kagaku no Railgun. This series surprised me because it's not the type of series that I'm usually attracted to. Plus it's a spin off of ToAru Majutsu no Index, which wasn't one of my favorite series either. But Railgun not only held my attention, it had a good plot line which it tied up very satisfyingly. Railgun has essentially no male characters, which is why I say it's not the type of series I'm usually attracted to. And it follows 4 middle school girls about their daily life. Also not something I usually enjoy watching. But of course these aren't just any middle school girls. *laughing* This is Japanese Anime after all. No, no normal middle school girl falling through a time/space warp. This is 4 girls who go to schools for people with powers (scientific vs magic powers ... see ToAru Majutsu no Index for the explanation of the difference. I confess I didn't really get it). One girl controls electricity. One is a telekinetic telepath. One has flowers growing out of her head ... not sure of her skill but she's a computer whiz. And the fourth girl has no powers. The series starts out as random, everyday-life-type episodes and just when you think that's all the series is going to be, they throw in an under-lying plot line that ties up random things and makes the series fun. As I said, I was surprised to find myself enjoying the series.

I guess I'll quit here for now. Maybe if I write shorter posts I'll be more inclined to do them more frequently. Worth a try.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I just finished watching this series, and I have to say, it's been a long time since I had so much fun watching a series. Baccano! is a total romp! It's a series that's unique in so many ways, and you know how I'm always drawn to the unique. Still, it surprises me that this series satisfied me on so many levels because it's not at all like what I'm usually attracted to.

I didn't watch this series when it was coming out. I bought the complete series (16 episodes) on DVD the other day on a whim. It's also been quite some time since I've done that. I used to pick my anime that way when I first started watching anime. Fushigi Yuugi and Rurouni Kenshin were random, whim picks that worked out. As was Trigun. Texhnolyze was an example of a less-than-great whim pick. Can't win them all, right? Still, since I was shown how to download anime, I've pretty much only bought anime DVDs of series that I've already seen and liked. Buying random anime DVDs is fairly rare for me now. I'm not sure what drew me to Baccano! Just lucky, I guess.

Baccano! is unique in a bunch of ways. For one thing, it really doesn't have one or two major characters. Most of the cast gets about the same amount of screen time, and it's a large cast. So no one gets a lot of screen time. My favorite character is the guy in this picture, Firo. He lives! Yes, a favorite character of mine actually survives the series. Sugoi, ne? Actually the vast majority of the cast lives. The other character in the picture is Ennis. Like the rest of the cast, these two appear infrequently enough to be considered minor characters in any other anime series, and yet they play a huge role in the plot. The two characters that appear most often in Baccano! are Miria and Isaac, a pair of totally clueless, totally inept, petty thieves, who manage to accomplish things quite by accident and just generally make everyone around them happy. They are childishly silly, and should have no more role than occasional comic relief, and yet they end up as central to the plot as any of the rest of the gang. Plus they provide an added bit of continuity by appearing frequently.

The series needs that added bit of continuity because it is FAR from chronological. The story is told in bits and pieces, flashbacks and flash-forwards and flash-sidewards. Something that makes no sense when you see it, is totally important to the story later. Usually I don't like things quite this scattered, but this is really well done. From the perspective of looking at the whole series, I'm amazed by their ability to dance around as much as they do, and still tell a coherent tale, and also make it fun to watch. The plot is also far from predictable, and this is aided by the way everything is presented. This back and forth presentation of apparently random scenes is another of the unique things about Baccano!

Baccano! is a story about immortal gangsters, so the plot is a tad unique in itself. Or I should say, it's a story about immortals who happen to be living as gangsters during the early 1930s, and being immortal has a decided advantage in that role. Parts of the story are relatively bloody, and it has it's share of seriously deranged characters, but it's only briefly gross. For example, madman concocting the immortal elixir tests it on a rat and then smashes the rat with a hammer. (Ewww!) Luckily the elixir has been perfected and the rat draws back together and lives. And the wacko characters in the series are often as not pretty amusing too. Plus Baccano! is a love story, or rather several of the subplots are love stories.

I really think one of the reasons I enjoyed watching this series so much was partly because I wasn't overly concerned about character death. Because of the timeline jumping around that the plot does, often when the characters are facing imminent death, you know they've survived it because you've already seen them in a scene that occurs in time after the one you're currently watching. It's very comforting not to be all tense about whether a character you like is about to bite the big one.

Another unique part of Baccano! is that they successfully tie up ALL the loose ends in a sometimes incredibly scattered plot. Which also makes it very satisfying to watch. I didn't have to wonder about what happened to any of the characters. It's all in there. And there are MANY subplots going on, with all the characters having specific stories that intersect with the larger plot.

And the most amazing thing of all, which also made me laugh my ass off. The last episode, one of the characters gives a treatise on "why stories should not have endings"!!!! All good stories don't end. They continue on. I just died. How could a series like this appeal to me on sooooooo many levels? It's like they pushed every button I have, and made me enjoy it. After all my rants about non-ending endings, I watch a series that actually gives me a lecture on why stories shouldn't end. I was nearly crying, I was laughing so hard.
Is it obvious that I liked this series? I think I'll watch it again.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Best Friend / Best Enemy

Best Friend-Best Enemy (BF-BE) is a theme that's pretty common in anime. It's not particularly one of my favorite plot devices, but it's so common I thought I'd just talk about it. With this theme, two best friends, usually childhood friends that have grown up together, end up fighting each other. They fall out onto opposite sides in the grand scheme of things. The reason it's not among my favorite types of anime is because usually a LOT of angst is involved in them having to fight each other. Plus it seems like there's often a LOT of character death in this type of anime. Plus I always get frustrated and want to knock their heads together and tell them to get over it and just TALK to each other.

A classic example of this type of anime is Fushigi Yuugi, with childhood friends Miaka and Yui fighting against each other in a series of world-spanning battles for supremacy. Of course they don't fight each other directly. They both have seven protectors/fighters/minions who spend the series slowly killing each other off ... after you get to know and like them of course. This series is a good example of the extensive character death often seen with this this type of plot.

Other examples of BF-BE anime include Trigun and Dragonaut. Dragonaut is a pretty messed up series, as well as being overly fan-service-y, but one of the basic premises of both these series is two central characters who grew up together as best friends and then the best friend goes bad and spends most of the series trying his best to kill the main character. In Trigun this theme doesn't become apparent until later in the series, but it's there. The main character's best friend in these two anime series becomes a total whacko, but in both cases and in Fushigi Yuugi as well, that best-friend-gone-bad (BFGB) is essentially redeemed in the end. Redeeming the BFGB is always the best possible ending for this type of anime, but unfortunately it doesn't always happen.

Sometimes the main characters and their 'Best Friends' just aren't that lucky. In Garei Zero, the BFGB ends up being killed by the main character who never stops loving her even when forced to kill her. This is another reason why this isn't my favorite type of anime. It often ends up being really tragic. Code Geass is like this also, although they do leave you feeling in the end that Suzaku didn't really kill Lelouch, that Lelouch survives in some form.

A series that is totally tragic (2 Kleenex box series), essentially from beginning to end and is probably the ultimate example of the best friend - best enemy type is CLAMP's X. Not only are the main characters childhood friends who must battle each other for the future of the world, but the BFGB (Fuuma) actually kills the main character (Kamui). Fuuma also ends up redeemed in the end. And on top of that the theme is repeated in lesser characters. Subaru, a character from Kamui's group kills his counterpart in Fuuma's group, Sheishirou. The plot is complex here because Sheishirou is a figure from Subaru's past, who Subaru both loves and hates for killing his twin sister. Of course, CLAMP are masters of the twisted plot, as well as the tragic anime. Sometimes it's hard to believe they also did Card Captor Sakura.

Sometimes the BF-BE theme is not such a major part of the plot, but is still present in some form in a series. Often it's just that people on the opposite sides care for each other to some extent. Examples of this include Nabari no Oh with Miharu and Yoite, Withchunter Robin with Robin and Amon, and Saiunkoku with Shuurei and the red-haired guy. In all these cases, the two characters are on opposite sides in the main plot battle, but they care about each other and it affects their actions.
Occasionally the BF-BE theme appears in a series in a slightly different form. It comes up as a person the main character cares about and trusts betraying him/her. This is my least favorite form of BF-BE. I'm not fond of the betrayal theme. Examples of this are Third in Jyu Oh Sei, Durant in Chevalier D'Eon, Yuuya in Bakumatsu and Mansairaku in Otogizoshi. Even Bleach has an element of this although Byakuya's 'betrayals' have all been logical. Hmmmm. Byakuya would make a good Mr. Spock come to think of it.

In the end I suppose I'm not fond of the BF-BE theme because you shouldn't be in conflict with people you care about. Still it's prevalent, and I've enjoyed watching most of the anime I've mentioned here. I like it better when it's a smaller part of the overall series and not the main theme itself.