Sunday, March 25, 2012

Guilty Crown

I said I'd post about this one when it was finished, so here I am.  As usual, I'll be telling the story, so if you haven't seen it and plan to . . . SPOILERS AHEAD.

Guilty Crown is the story of a boy named Ouma Shu.  Shu is a high school student in a Japan that has been devastated by a virus known as the  Apocalypse Virus.  This virus causes a type of cancer that kills people by turning them into crystal.  The virus arrived on a meteor and spread across Japan on a day now called Lost Christmas.  From that day, Japan has been ruled under martial law by a multi-national organization called GHQ which keeps Japan quarantined and runs its government.  Opposing the multi-national government is a rebellious group variously translated by subbers as Funeral Parlor or Undertakers.

Shu is as oblivious and apathetic to the world around him as is possible for a teenage boy, spending his time floating through school and mooning over his favorite idol, Yuzuriha Inori.  Shu and Inori are in the top picture.  Inori uses being an idol as a cover.  She is a member of Funeral Parlor and at the start of the series has stolen an item called the Void Genome from the government, with the intention of giving it to the leader of Funeral Parlor, Tsutsugami Gai, shown sitting in the picture to the left.  A "void" is a tool that is created from a person's basic personality or heart or substance.  The Void Genome allows one to extract the "void" of anyone around and use it for your own purposes.  On the run after the theft, fate leads Inori to Shu.  Through a series of events that really can only be attributed to fate, Shu ends up with the Void Genome and it's abilities, and he can extract everyone's voids with his right hand.

Gai, Inori and the gang at Funeral Parlor then spend episodes more or less successfully recruiting Shu into Funeral Parlor, and using him to achieve their ends.  At the same time, forces within the government are working to re-activate the Apocalypse Virus and spread it across the whole world to speed the evolution of humans by destroying all existing humans - or something like that.  Midway through the series, battles come to a head.  During them Shu remembers his past - that his older sister Mana was infected by the meteor virus and was the source of the virus that erupted on Lost Christmas, and that Gai and Shu and Mana had spend time growing up together.  He remembers that Mana died on Lost Christmas and Gai left to follow his own destiny.  At this point in the story, the battles result in the deaths of Gai and Mana, who had been re-incarnated from the crystals.  The remains of Funeral Parlor are scattered and some of them and the students from Shu's school gather at the school.  Shu leads them and they attempt to survive the GHQ's drive to eradicate the virus by wiping out everyone left in an area which includes the school.  Shu, Inori and some of the students ruthlessly classify and use people's void and Shu discovers that if a void is damaged, it's owner dies.   

Because of Shu's ruthlessness, the student's rebel, and at a critical juncture, a re-incarnated Gai reappears, cuts off Shu's right hand and takes his Void Genome power, leaving him for dead.  Inori sticks with Shu but is eventually captured by Gai-tachi to be used to re-incarnate Mana again.  With Inori taken, Shu regains his will to fight destiny, and through another series of events, gains the last copy of the Void Genome.  He reconciles with his friends and goes to recover Inori and stop Gai and the people trying to destroy the world.

Massive battles ensue and Shu arrives where Inori is just after Mana takes over Inori completely.  Shu and Gai battle with various voids, and in the end Shu wins and survives, but Gai, Mana and Inori are ultimately lost. 

As usual, this is pretty much the bare bones of the plot line.  In the interest of space I didn't go into any of the interactions between the characters, nor even talk about the lesser characters, including the important members of Funeral Parlor,  like Ayase and Tsugumi, the important students, particularly Hare and Yahiro, and Ouma Haruka, Shu's step-mother and a virus researcher.  So much of the plot involves these people that it's almost a crime not to include them in the plot line, however this post is already long enough.

Did I like this series?  Sort of.  The body count was too high.  If Inori at least had survived I would have liked it better.  If Inori and Gai had survived, I would have liked it a lot better.  On the other hand, I would have hated it if Shu had died also, so there's that.  The music from the series is really exceptional, especially Inori's songs.  The plot is fairly unique, especially the plot devices with the voids and the Void Genome.  Wackos trying to destroy the world to allow it to evolve is not that unique, nor is the reluctant hero, but there is enough new here to be interesting.   Character styles are good and the animation is good. 

Overall I would recommend watching this series.  If the body count were lower I would like it better, but I'd say it's worth seeing.         

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Body Count

This morning I was reading a preview of the soon-to-be-released movie, Hunger Games, and the reporter was comparing it's premise to a Japanese movie called Battle Royale.  Among his comments he said, "Something about Japanese pop culture makes the sight of a uniformed schoolgirl wielding a bloody sickle seem like the most natural thing in the world."  Don't even get me started on the whole skimpily clad girls in battle situations.  I'll post about that another time.  What caught me this morning was the tendency of the Japanese to kill off their characters.  I've talked before in this blog about my feelings about senseless deaths of characters, so today I'll stick to talking about series with high body counts.  For the most part I really dislike series that end with most of the cast dead.

The series that probably takes the prize for this is Gilgamesh.  Gilgamesh kills off their entire cats in the last episode.  I was so mad I deleted the whole series from my files and have never felt the need to watch it again, like I do most series.  Other series with really high body counts that I've never re-watched and never will (although I didn't delete them from my files) include Soukyou no Fafner:Dead Aggressor and Tatakau Shisho:Book of Bantorra.  Both of these series end up with few survivors and take out main characters.  It's bad enough re-watching series that kill off one or two favorite characters.  It's impossible with series that decimate most of the cast along with favorite characters. 

There are a few series with high body counts that I can't help liking, even if I wish the body counts were significantly lower.  I suppose other aspects of the series attract me enough that I have to get past the body count.  At the top of this list would be Wolf's Rain.  Wolf's Rain kills off all the main characters in the last 4 episodes.  I like the series enough otherwise that I can skip the last four episodes and create my own ending (twist reality a bit.  Why not?  This blog is Alternate Realities after all.)  Another series like this is Shiki.  Shiki has a massive body count, but the plot left me so ambivalent about who I considered the good guys vs the bad guys that I ended up liking the series. 

Two older series that I hate the body count in are X and Fushigi Yuugi. Fushigi Yuugi is almost redeemed by keeping the two main characters alive, but since most of the rest of the cast are not living it's hard to like the ending.  X even kills the main character.  I hate the whole "his death was necessary to redeem the world" premise.  That and the whole "you cannot escape your destiny/fate" premise.  Those are two plot devices that will immediately cause me to be, shall we say, 'less than happy' with a series.   

Another series I disliked because of the death of the main characters in the end was Chrno Crusade.  I hate that the two main characters die and the bad guy lives.  If the series creators do that kind of thing to make it more like real life, please stop.  I don't watch anime for it to be like real life.  Other series with main character deaths at the very end include Katanagatari, Phantom:Requiem and Terra e.  These series are why I never decide if I like a series until I've seen the ending.  I really dislike the killing of a main character in the last or near to last episode.  It usually makes me feel like I've wasted an entire series.  There are exceptions of course (Cowboy Bebop), but the series has to be pretty exceptional for me to like it after a main character death in the final episode.  I think Cowboy Bebop may be the only one I've ever found. 

So that's my take on high body counts.  In general I won't like a series that kills too many characters.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Shinsengumi, ka?

I was thinking the other day about the Japanese penchant for using their history as the basis for a fair amount of anime, either as the basis of a series or as the backdrop of one.  And of course, high on the list of eras that they focus on is the period of time around the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the beginning of the Meiji era.  The list of amine which contains the Shinsengumi, or refers to them is pretty long.  Interestingly creators of anime series are not at all shy about playing fast and loose with actual historical events and actual historical characters, twisting and changing them to suit plot lines and the need for certain character types.  Series involving the Shinsengumi range from nearly purely historical, to romantic, to comedy.

At the top of the historical list I would have to put PeaceMaker Kurogane.  This series follows the exploits of a boy who joins, or tries to join, the Shinsengumi to avenge the death of his parents.  The series uses all the main historical figures who were actual members of the Shinsengumi, including Kondou Isami, Hijikata Toushizou, Okita Souji, Saitou Hajime and Yamazaki Susumu, to name some of them. This picture shows the series main character (red hair) standing in front of Okita on the left, Yamazaki on the right and Hijikata in the back.  The series adds the main character and other random side figures and the plot revolves around them, but it loosely follows actual events.  The plot climaxes at the famous battle between the Shinsengumi and the anti-Tokugawa forces at Ikedaya.

Another series which is more or less hisorical and follows actual events loosely is Hakuouki: Shinsengumi Kitan.  Again actual events are followed and all the historical figures who were real Shinsengumi are present, but in this series the extraneous main character is female and a possible love interest of several in the group.  In order to create more plot, a group of demon youkai are included and the Shinsengumi become vampires by drinking a concoction intended to give them strength. The picture shows, from left to right, Okita, Harada Sanosuke, Hijikata and Saitou, with Todou Heisuke in the center.  The series was created from a game, which no doubt explains its limitations.

Samurai X is also historical and follows actual events and characters involving the Shinsengumi around the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate.  The main character in Samurai X and in the series Rurouni Kenshin is a charcater loosely based on one of the assassins who worked for the anti-Tokugawa forces at the end of the Shogunate.  Samurai X mostly follows the hsitoric events and characters, but Rurouni Kenshin is generally only touched by the Shinsengumi peripherally, mostly through the character of Saitou. 

One series that is also touched by the Shinsengumi peripherally is Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto.  This is a historical series that occurs in time in the early Meiji period.  It doesn't follow Shinsengumi-based events, but two of the people who were part of the Shinsengumi, Hijikata and Okita, make appearances in the series.

A series that makes use of all the Shinsengumi characters buts twists them almost beyond recognition is Gintama.  Gintama is a unique series that falls into the category of 'historical science fiction'.  It takes place in fuedal Japan, but a fuedal Japan that has been taken over by aliens.  The Shinsengumi are acting as a police force for the alien conquerers and the people in power.  The four Shinsengumi pictured here include Yamazaki (badminton racket), Kondou (running), Hijikata (with mayonaise) and Okita (katana).  The series is a comedy of course, and it's main character, Sakata Gintoki, is frequently at odds with the Shinsengumi characters.  Nothing here follows real historical events of course. 

So there you have it.  There are other historical periods and figures that anime creators like to play with, but the Shinsengumi is apparently one of their favorites.  I suspect I'll see them again in other anime.