Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mini-quests: types of series

When I was posting about Bleach the other day I got to thinking about the type of series it is, and that made me realize that series can be classified into two basic types. I love to classify and sort things, so of course I decided to sort my series and write a post about one of the two types.

The two main types of series are these: 1) the whole series has a single main plot line, or single quest to be accomplished and the story line moves from point A to point B over the course of series without any, or very many, side plots except occasional flashbacks to supply character background. 2) the series itself is a sequence of small arcs, episodes, or "mini-quests", with or without a larger over-arching story or plot line. It's the second type of series that Bleach falls into and the type I'm going to post about today. Along the way I'll give brief synopsis of a few series and their characters.

There are a lot of series besides Bleach that fall into the multiple mini-quest type of series. A good example is Rurouni Kenshin. Rurouni Kenshin does not really have a major over-arching plot. It follows it's main characters, Kenshin, Kaoru, Yahiko and Sano, through their everyday lives in early Meiji era Japan. Along the way they get embroiled in various events which become "mini-quests" and thus story arcs, in the series. For example, the Shishio Makoto arc is a mini-quest, as is the arc about the Christians and Amakusa Shougo, the other Hiten Mitsurugi user. Mini-quests may be an episode long, or they may end up being 310 episodes long, like the Aizen arc in Bleach.

Another everyday life series that contains many mini-quests is Kyou Kara Maou, although 'everyday life' in Kyou Kara Maou is a little different from your usual 'everyday life'. Kyou Kara Maou follows the life of a teenager named Yuri who is sucked into an alternate universe where he is apparently the demon-king (Maou). The main characters of the series include his companions and officers of the Demon kingdom of which he is now king, including Conrad, Gunther, Wolfram, Gwendal and Murata Ken. This series is long and filled with mini-quests that Yuri accomplishes as king of his country of demons. Examples of mini-quests from this series include the episodes spent retrieving the demon sword and the demon flute, and a long arc retrieving Conrad after he 'dies'.

Occasionally the series mini-quests are cases to be solved and the series main plot device is around a business of some sort. Ghost Hunt is this type of series. In Ghost Hunt the story is about a genius-level teenager, Naru, who runs a business which exorcises ghosts and spirits and solves cases involving the occult. The cast of characters beside Naru includes a trusted retainer type, Rin, and a teenage girl helper, Mai, who happens to be easily influenced by and able to sense spirits. Other cast members who help with the business include a monk, a priestess, a christian priest and an onmyouji. Mini-quests in this series are the cases they solve, including a case involving a haunted old school building, and a church where children periodically disappear.

Another case-based series is Get Backers. In this series two friends, Ginji and Ban, (G & B, Get Backers) set up a business to find lost items and to recover items and return them to their owners. Along the way Ginji and Ban draw in many friends and acquaintances to help them with their mini-quests. One of the big mini-quests in this series is the recovery of the component parts for a nuclear weapon from a lawless no-man's land known as Mugenjo. Another quest is to recover the arms of the statue of Venus de Milo. This series is not only full of mini-quests, it manages a very large cast of characters without killing off any of them, which is an amazing and almost unheard of feat in the world of anime.

Gintama is another series that fits into the mini-quest category. There is definitely no main plot or over-arching quests to Gintama. It follows the antics of Gintoki, Kagura and Shinpachi as they move through their daily lives. It can be considered case-based because Gintoki-tachi have a business as general handy-men. This business and the interactions between Gintoki-tachi and the Shinsengumi provide many of the mini-quests in the series. Examples of the more major mini-quests in this series would be the arc where Hijikata becomes an otaku, and the arc where Gintokai and Katsura face off against their former comrade, Takasugi. Gintama also has a lot of one and two-episode mini-quests, so the series is very full of them.

One of my favorite series, Cowboy Bebop, also falls into the case-based series type. The various bounty hunts the members of the Bebop, Jet, Spike, Faye and Ed, take on make up the mini-quests in this series. Cowboy Bebop does end up having sort of a deeper over-arching plot, but you don't realize it until later in the series. And it is made up of mini-quests because essentially every episode is a new bounty hunt. One of the things I like about the series though is that the bounty hunts aren't the important aspect of the series. The deeper plot is really the story line with the mini-quest hunts being the window dressing rather than the centerpiece of the series.

Some mini-quest-type series do have obvious over-arching major plots, and still encompass a lot of mini-quests on the way to getting there. Inuyasha falls into this type of series. The characters, Inuyasha, Kagome, Miroku, Sango and Shippo have major quests to fulfill, which are to reclaim and purify a powerful item called the Shikon no Tama, and to destroy the bad guy, Naraku. However along the way they deal with many smaller quests, because the Shikon has been shattered and even pieces of it cause men and demons to be powerful. They must confront all these entities and gather the shattered fragments.

D.Gray-man can also be fit into this category. The main over-arching quest of the Exorcists, Allen, Lenalee, Kanda and Lavi and their colleagues, is to stop the Millennium Earl and his minions, but along the way they deal with many, many mini-quests. In the course of the larger quest, Allen-tachi must deal with demon after demon after demon, as well as some of the Earls' more powerful minions known as the Noah. These dealings make up the mini-quests. One of the longer mini-quests in the series is the search for Allen's master/teacher. Another is the quest for Allen to regain his powers after he is 'killed'.

So those are some of the series that can be classified as episodic,or made up of multiple story arcs, which may be very short or very long. In most of these cases the story arcs or mini-quests are the reason for existence, or basis of the series, rather than embellishment of the main plot. And like most of my classifications, not all the series mentioned fall neatly into this type of series. Most of them fit it fairly well though.

Maybe next time I'll post about the series that fit into the other main class of anime series.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bleach 4 - end of the Aizen Arc

Yes, the end of the Aizen Arc.  Enough time has past since it ended for me to be able to look at it somewhat objectively. Strangely, to me the arc ending was seriously anticlimactic. But I'll come back to that thought.

If you haven't read this blog before or haven't watched Bleach, I'll start this post with a synopsis. It won't do justice to the really epic nature of this series, but at least it will provide background. Keep in mind that this series has probably 50+ characters are that are fairly major characters. And the Aizen arc started at the beginning of the series and ended at episode 310. Even with 100+ episodes of filler arcs, that's a lot of story to try to synopse.

Starting with a few basic concepts of the series: the everyday real world is watched over by shinigami (soul reapers, gods of death) who exist in their own world, Soul Society, and come to the real world for two reasons: to help the lost souls of people who have died move on to the Soul Society and to protect people of the real world from souls who have gone bad and become evil creatures called Hollows. A shinigami's strength is determined by his or her level of reiatsu (soul power or spirit power - if you will) and that reiatsu partially manifests as a weapon, most commonly a sword, called a zanpakto. Zanpakto can be "released" twice. The first level of release is called 'shikai', and it increases the sword and user's powers. The second and ultimate level of release is called 'bankai' and the amount of power released by bankai is phenomenal. Of the hierarchy in Soul Society, all of the Captain-level shinigami can release bankai, and some of the vice-captain and lower level shinigami can also. One of the things I like about this series is that Bleach has a huge cast of characters, including the Captains and Vice-captains and lower level shinigmai of the 13 Protection Squads of the shinigami. All of them are individuals with stories and backgrounds.

So that's the background. The basic story of Bleach is about Kurosaki Ichigo (shown in the first picture above) and his friends, Ishida, Inoue and Chad (Ishida with glasses, Inoue the girl with long orange hair and Chad being the tall guy at the back of the picture to the right above). Ichigo is an orange-haired teenager who can communicate with ghosts. Ichigo also happens to have a tremendous amount of reiatsu, and early in the series he begins interacting with the shinigami, primarily the protector for his home town, a girl named Kuchiki Rukia (dark-haired girl in the picture with Ichigo's friends). When Rukia is sentenced to death for the crime of giving Ichigo her reiatsu, which she did to allow him to protect his family, Ichigo and his friends go to Soul Society to rescue her, with the aid of a character in the real world named Urahara. In the course of the rescue Ichigo battles his way past Abarai Renji, a vice-captain, and two captains, Zaraki Kenpachi and Kuchiki Byakuya. In the process Ichigo achieves bankai with his zanpakto and also discovers that he has a Hollow side, with the ability to wear a Hollow mask and increase his fighting powers. Ichigo with half the mask is shown above and to the left. After many battles the friends manage to save Rukia, but in the process a vastly larger plot is uncovered. Enter Aizen.

Aizen (picture to the right) is one of the 13 Captains and he is masquerading as a mild-mannered Captain who helps everyone and who wouldn't harm a fly. In reality he is a megalomaniac with an unquenchable thirst for power, who ends up stabbing his vice-captain. It turns out that100 years before Ichigo-tachi arrive, Aizen had been working to perfect a device to increase his power. The device, called a Hougyoku, was also being worked on by Urahara, who at the time was Captain of one of the 13 Protection Squads and was turning it into a research and development squad. Among the things the hougyoku does, it converts shinigami into Hollow, a process called Hollowfication. Aizen experimented with it on a group of shinigami captains and vice-captains, converting them to Hollow. Urahara (picture to the left in his real world form) stops him before he destroys them completely, but Aizen manages to frame Urahara for it. During his sentencing, Urahara is rescued by another captain and friend, Yoruichi, and the two of them rescue the hollowfied shinigami and take them to the real world. There the hollowfied shinigami learn to control their hollow aspect, and they can call the hollow masks to increase their power in a fight. They become known as the Visored.

Back in Soul Society, the innocent-seeming Aizen continues his machinations for 100 years until Ichigo-tachi arrive and disturb everything. At that point, Aizen and his two other traitor captains take the hougyoku and leave for Hueco Mundo, the world where the Hollows live. In Hueco Mundo, Aizen begins creating Arrancar, extremely powerful Hollows, using the Huougyoku to create them and to increase their powers. The ten most powerful Arrancar are called Espada, and various Espada are shown in these two pictures. In pursuit of his schemes, Aizen sends one of the Espada, Ulquiorra, to the real world to abduct Inoue, ostensibly for the unusual power she has to reverse time. Ichigo, Ishida, Chad, Rukia and Renji go to Hueco Mundo to rescue her and the battles begin again.

During the battles in Hueco Mundo, Ichigo begins relying more and more in his Hollow side, and at one point becomes essentially totally a Hollow, shown in the picture below and to the right. In this form he kills one of my favorite characters, Ulquiorra, and even injures his companion Ishida, before coming back to himself. He's then fairly nervous about using his Hollow side and from that point until he levels up again, he's fairly useless. Four Captains end up following Ichigo-tachi into Hueco Mundo to help, but this turns out to be all part of Aizen's plot as he traps them all there and leaves for the real world. Aizen takes his two traitor captains and some of the Espada with him, leaving the rest of the Espada stay and battle the Captains and Ichigo-tachi trapped in Hueco Mundo. Ichigo and the captains eventually win their battles and because one of the captains is the head of the Soul Society research and development squad, he finds a way for them to return from Hueco Mundo.

Aizen's ultimate goal is to be supreme evil overlord of all creation. His plan is to destroy Ichigo's hometown and everyone in it in order to create a key to enter the place where the "king of Soul Society" reigns, so that Aizen can destroy him and become king in his place. Ichigo's hometown happens to be heavy with spirit power so it's ideal for use in creating this 'key'. Urahara and the remaining captains and vice-captains from Soul Society have not been idle though. When Aizen and the Espada arrive, the Soul Society group are waiting, and the battles in the real world begin. Along the way, the Visored come along to help in the battles and to settle their score with Aizen. Some of the Visored are shown here to the left when they were still shinigami.

However, Aizen, it seems, is indestructable. No matter what they throw at him, it rolls off. It turns out Aizen has taken the hougyoku, which is semi-sentient, inside himself and he is evolving into a creature so powerful that just the reiatsu flowing off him crushes everything in his path. Ichigo manages to return to the real world from Hueca Mundo, and faces Aizen, but initally cannot do anything. At the ninth hour, one of Aizen's traitor captains, Ichimaru Gin, turns on him. The whole time Gin has been plotting to betray Aizen because very early on Aizen hurt someone Gin cared about. Unfortunately, Gin has not had the opportunity until this point because Aizen doesn't trust him. Gin is shown to the right. It briefly looks as though Gin will succeed, however he has waited too long. Aizen is just too powerful and he kills Gin. When all hope is lost, Ichigo levels up again and appears in an advanced form with incredible power. He simply destroys Aizen's powers enough for him to be sealed away by a device created by Urahara for that purpose. Ichigo achieves this, but at the cost of his own powers. The price for this level of power is that he will lose all his reiatsu and become a normal person. End of the Aizen arc.

This is sooooooo not the whole story, just the bare bones of it. There are so many more interactions between characters, plus all the battles between Ichigo and his various opponents and between all Ichigo's friends and allies and their opponents. There's simply no way to put it all in a blog post. If you haven't watched the series, I recommend that you do, to get all the nuances. One of these days I'll post where the filler arcs are so you can skip those episodes if you want. You should watch the Muramasa arc though.

Anyway, the ending of the Aizen arc seemed anticlimactic to me. All this time waiting for someone to take out that smugly arrogant, untouchable Aizen, and yet when it's done there's this incredible feeling of . . . wait, what? It's over? That's it? I don't really know how I can be feeling that after all this time, but there it is. Plus I am not happy that Ichigo will lose his powers, although since the series is on-going I suppose that can be reversed in the future. I also wished they hadn't killed Ulquiorra. I really liked his character, which is probably why he died when they have killed off so few characters in this series. You know, the whole death of my favorite character thing. Although, I really didn't like Gin, and they killed him too. Gin was so slimy and treacherous, and so obviously a horrible person, that I guess it makes sense to find out he did it all to try to take Aizen down. I didn't expect it, but my friend was vindicated. She said all along he wasn't all bad. The thing I don't like the MOST about the end of this arc? They should never have left Aizen alive! Maybe that's the source of the anticlimactic feelings. Even though Ichigo took him down at the expense of Ichigo's own powers, Aizen starts healing up right away and is only sealed by Urahara's device because he's in a weakened state. From my perspective, he should have been finished off. Even sealed up, he's not safe. For heavens sake, everyone knows megalomaniacs, especially ones that can out-plot (plot circles around) every other character, need to be snuffed out of existence! Not left where they could possibly make a comeback. Geez!

I think the other reason for the anticlimactic feelings is that I've been waiting for this for 310 episodes. It's a little bit of a letdown that I don't have something to wait and hope for now.

Bleach is still going though, but it's once again in a filler arc. The end of the Aizen arc caught the series up to the manga, so fillers will be necessary for a while. I'll continue to watch the series. After this long, all the characters are like family. I wonder where the manga author, Kubo Tite, will take them next?