Saturday, April 28, 2012

Macross Frontier

A new anime season has started, but since I haven't watched enough of anything to talk about them yet, I thought I'd talk about an older series, Macross Frontier.  I have to admit up front that Macross Frontier is the only one of the Macross-related series that I've ever watched, so I won't be comparing it to other Macross series.  I'll just be talking about this series, and of course laying out the plot line as I go.

Macross Frontier is an awesome series, with only one flaw.  I'll come back to that flaw later.  The "Frontier" is a colony ship fleet containing people who are living their lives out in the colony as it moves through space to find a new planetary home.  The main ship of the fleet is a huge city-dome.  The story centers around a young man named Saotome Alto and his friends.  Alto wants to be a pilot, pretty much to the exclusion of everything else, and he gave up a career in acting to follow that dream.  As the story proceeds he also finds himself the center of a love triangle between a young, out-going, green-haired girl named Ranka Lee and a sophisticated, worldly beauty named Sheryl Nome.  Sheryl is a famous singer visiting the colony and Ranka is an aspiring singer who worships Sheryl as well as vying with her for Alto's interest.

At the beginning of the story, Sheryl comes from another colony fleet to visit the Frontier and give a performance, and while she's there the colony ship is attacked by their enemies, the Vajra.  The Vajra do some damage, and during their attack Alto takes over a downed Valkyrie fighter and rescues Ranka.  He is subsequently recruited by a mercenary organization called the SMS which is run by Ranka's brother, Ozma.  He joins his two schoolmates, Michel and Luca, who already belong to the SMS, and as SMS members they fly fighters and generally help protect the colony fleet.

The story follows these people as they struggle to live normal lives amidst attacks by the Vajra.  As the story progresses, Ranka is found to be part Vajra and Sheryl is found to be dying of a vajra-related virus.  Ranka's singing alternately calms or enrages the attacking Vajra, depending on the machinations of another group of people, including Sheryl's manager, Grace, and Ranka's estranged brother, Brera Stern. 

In the end, this series has a happy ending with the Vajra becoming not-enemies, Sheryl being rescued from death by Ranka's abilities, and Alto getting his wish of flying his Valkyrie in the atmosphere of the new planet that they discover and begin to colonize.  The only flaw in the series is that Michel dies (yes, of course he was my favorite character).  His death is a true token death in the worse sense.  There was NO reason for him to die - it wasn't necessary for the plot, or to motivate one of the other characters.  There was no reason at all, just a token death.  It seriously pissed me off, which may be why I haven't blogged about this series before.

Other than the flaw, this series was an excellent series all around.  Even for a mecha series, they kept the mecha to a reasonable level, focusing on the characters and plot development instead.  The music . . . the music from this series is waaaaaay beyond outstanding.  Thank you, Yoko Kanno!  The music and the singers who do Sheryl and Ranka's songs are so amazing, it really just make this series.  Along with that, there was enough plot to keep it interesting and lots of action, and of course it never hurts to have pretty characters.  Overall, I highly recommend watching it, even if you are not a fan of mecha series.  This one is more than worth it.  You may have to alter reality to keep Michel alive though.    

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bleach 6 - The End

Yes, I know all things must come to an end, but somehow I never expected Bleach to end.  I kind of considered it a perpetual anime series that would just keep going.  Nope.  366 episodes and it's over.  Owari.  Can you tell I'm still coming to grips with that?

What can I say about Bleach?  I consider it one of the all time great anime series, even despite my dislike of a filler arc or two.  It had an absolutely unique plot, a totally massive cast of characters with a minimal body count, and decent music.  Of course, one of my favorite characters did die (Ulquiorrra), but the main cast all survived.

Spoilers ahead for the final arc, and assumptions that if you're reading this you know enough about what Bleach is about that I can talk about the ending arc only.  I started out not liking the final arc, mainly for two reasons.  First of all, they switched character styles.  I had a hard time getting used to the new character styles.  Ichigo's sisters looked like they had aged about 5 years, and the rest of the gang was just different.  On top of that, add the loss of Ichigo's remaining reiatsu resulting in a totally powerless Ichigo, and the new arc was tough to take at first.  When he loses his final bit of reiatsu, he can no longer see and interact with Rukia and the other shinigami, along with being totally powerless against Hollows.  Enter the FullBringers.  Certain people (usually people whose mothers were touched by Hollows while carrying them) have the ability to manipulate the "reiatsu" of inanimate objects, and these people are called FullBringers.  They approach Ichigo and tell him they can help him regain his lost powers in exchange for his help freeing them from their abilities.   Although Ichigo has accepted his loss of power on the surface, he is desperate to regain enough power to protect the people he cares about.   Thus much of the arc revolves around Ichigo working with the various FullBringers to regain and control his power. 

While this is going on, one of the FullBringers has been attacking Ichigo's family and friends.  This FullBringer, Tsukishima, has the ability to insert himself into a person's past once he cuts that person with his sword.  So Tsukishima is becoming a part of the past of all Ichigo's friends and family.  When Ichigo gains enough power to try to stop him, all his friends and family work against Ichigo and think he has lost his mind for fighting their long time, dear friend. 

Once Ichigo regains all his FullBring and Shinigami powers, the true reason for the FullBringer's help comes to light.  Ginjo, the head FullBringer, has the ability to take the power from another and he takes all of Ichigo's newly won power from him, leaving Ichigo powerless once more.  This causes Ichigo to lose it briefly, but being Ichigo, he stands up to fight again, even with not a scrap of power to do it with. 

At this juncture he is pierced from behind by a sword, and as he turns in shock, he finds the sword held by Rukia (who he can now see) and Ichigo regains all his shinigami powers and then some.  It turns out everyone in Soul Society who he has ever interacted with contributed reiatsu to the sword to return Ichigo's powers to him.  Rukia and 5 of them (Byakuya, Hitsugaya, Kenpachi, Renji and Ikkaku) bring the sword to deliver it, and fight the 5 FullBringers other than Ginjo, who is being fought by Ichigo.  The results of these battles are foregone conclusions.

One other interesting plot element at the end of the series is that the 5 shinigami who came  to return Ichigo's reiatsu are also there to act as observers to see what Ichigo will do.  Ginjo was a former subsititute shinigami who turned against Soul Society, and during his battles with Ichigo he tries to turn Ichigo against them also.  Ichigo makes a different decision, and the 5 shinigami witness it. 

The final episodes are very satisfying.  Not only does Ichigo end up more powerful than ever, but he has had an amazing influence on everyone whose life he has touched, including the members of Soul Society.  Once complete outcasts under a death sentence, the members of the Visored who wish to, return to Soul Society, many of them regaining their positions as Captains in the places left empty by Aizen-tachi.  Soul Society has changed many of it's most rigid laws due to Ichigo's actions.  So the series ends up with a happily ever after ending that's really nice.  Overall, it's a really amazing series.  I'm glad I watched it all the way through.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Death Note

It's been a long time since I watched this series so I suppose it's past time that I posted about it. 

Death Note is a unique series in quite a few ways, but the biggest way is this: the main character is the bad guy.  This is the only series I've ever watched that that was true, and you'd think with my tendency to like bad guys, that would make this series for me, but it turns out it doesn't.  Anyway, Yagami Light doesn't start as as a bad guy.  Light is a bored, apathetic honor student who thinks the world is going to hell.  One day while gazing out the window of his classroom, he sees a notebook fall past the window.  That afternoon he retrieves the notebook, and discovers that it is a Death Note.  This black Death Note notebook contains pages of 'rules', the first of which is that if you write a person's name in the Death Note, that person will die. 

Light of course thinks it's a practical joke, but when he sees a news story about a kidnapper holding grade school children hostage, he tries it out.  He thinks of the guy's face as he's writing his name and the guy drops dead.  To ensure it wasn't a fluke, he tries it again on a motorcycle gang member giving a woman a hard time and it works again.  Light realizes what he has, and sets himself up to redeem the rotten world by killing all the evil people with the Death Note.  He meets the owner of the Death Note, a shinigami named Ryuk, and goes on a killing spree of epic proportions.

And that easily, Light becomes the ultimate bad guy, and gains a nickname around the world of "Kira" (killer). 

Another young man, who goes by the name of "L", becomes involved at this point.  L is a more-than-genius-level master detective who everyone in the world goes to to solve unsolvable crimes.  L is also reclusive and eccentric.  He has become aware that criminals in custody are dying, realizes that somehow someone is killing them and goes on the hunt.

The first half of this series is simply awesome.  The give and take between Light and L, even before they meet, is outstanding. The swings back and forth as one gets the upper hand and the other fights for his survival are edge-of-your-seat stuff that makes you hungry for more.  Light goes to unbelievably complex lengths to outwit L and L goes to incredible lengths to catch him.  It's really amazing.  Light is nearly brought down by another Death Note user named Misa, but ends up using Misa and her Death Note's shinigami to help his cause. 

Here's another unique thing about the series.  It's probably the first one that I wish they had made shorter, rather than wishing it were longer.  They could have stopped at 24 episodes instead of going to 37.  And the reason for that is this:

Midway through the series, Light wins.  He kills L.  I was so shocked, and pissed off, that I almost decided not to finish the series.  To me the strength of this series was the interactions between Light and L (besides the fact that L was my favorite character  - so I guess I should have known he would die!).  After L's death, I watched other people, including L's replacements Near and Mello, struggle against Light and watched him manipulate people and it wasn't the same.  I think I probably only watched the rest of the series to see Light die in the end.

So did I like the series?    I liked the premise, which was unique.  I like the characters and the outstanding music.  I would like to have changed the plot, which had the moral: even if you're a good guy and you're right, you still die when someone else is stronger.  I also learned something about myself.  Although I have a tendency to like the bad guys, I only like them when they don't kill off my favorite character.   Plus I like the good guys to win in the end, preferably before the body count is too high.  I liked the series well enough to buy it on DVD, but I still prefer to watch only the first 2/3rds.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Natsume Yuujinchou san

I've posted about Natsume Yuujinchou before, but that was quite some time ago, after the first series.  I just finished watching the fourth season, and I think the series overall is worth another post.  This post will cover elements of the entire four seasons.

Natsume Yuujinchou is a story about a boy named Natsume Takashi.  Natsume was born being able to see and interact with youkai, which are supernatural beings or demons.  The story takes place when Natsume is in high school and he has inherited a Book of Friends from his grandmother, Natsume Reiko.  This book contains the names of hundreds of youkai that Reiko fought during her lifetime.  When she beat them, she required them to write their name in her Book of Friends.  Natsume now owns this book, and a variety of powerful youkai want to possess it. 

One of the youkai wishing to possess the book is a powerful youkai who generally goes around in the shape of an exceedingly fat cat.  This is Nyanko-sensei, who is called Madara when is his powerful youkai form.  The picture above shows both Nyanko-sensei's forms, Reiko when she was Natsume's age, and Natsume releasing a name from the Book of Friends.  Nyanko-sensei decides to be patient since humans are so short-lived, and wait for Natsume's death before taking possession of the book.  In the meantime he protects Natsume from harm, both from other powerful youkai and from a few humans also.  Ostensibly he does this to protect the book that will come to him, but in reality he probably genuinely cares for Natsume.  Natsume goes around returning the name of any youkai who is in the book and asks for its name back.  Nyanko-sensei complains about this, but doesn't do anything about it.   

Natsume had a difficult childhood, both because his parents died when he was very young and because he could see and interact with beings that no one else could see.  He was thought to be strange and a liar, and was passed around to various relatives until a pair of very distant relatives, Fujiwara Touko and Shigeru, asked to take him.  From that time he had a true home, but only slowly during the series does he grow to accept and trust other people.  He learns the value of friendship, and that being a friend means allowing his friends to help him and worry about him, instead of protecting them always from what he is. His friends include his best friend Tanuma Kaname, a student in his school who also has some ability to sense youkai.  Tanuma is the dark-haired boy wearing the cap in the picture above, which along with Natsume and Nyanko-sensei also includes Natori, tipping his hat, and a small youkai chewing on his. 

Natsume is a very kind person, which tends to get him into lots of trouble.  He is kind to people and he is kind to youkai who ask for his help.  His kindness to youkai runs him afoul of a powerful clan of exorcists, the Matoba clan, who feel that youkai must be captured and used as tools.  If they are too powerful to be captured, they must be sealed away.  If they are not powerful enough to be used as tools, they must be destroyed.  This philosophy doesn't work for Natsume who has more youkai friends than human friends by the time he runs across the Matoba. Another exorcist, Natori Shuuichi, also has issues with Natsume's tendency to befriend youkai, but Natori is more willing to let Natsume go his own way.  Natori ends up being Natsume's friend and taking his side in issues involving youkai, although Natsume also helps Natori when it's necessary to exorcise a bad youkai.  Natori and his youkai servant, Hiiragi, are back to back in this picture above and to the left.  Two of Natsume's youkai friends are also shown.  

Natsume Yuujinchou may end up being one of my all time favorite series. The underlying story about Natsume growing up, getting past his fear of youkai and fear of trust that were instilled in his early years, and learning about friendship is wonderful.  The series started out early on as just episodic, with Natsume dealing with various youkai and their problems each episode.  Even this wasn't bad, with small mini-arcs occurring and enough tension in the episodes to keep the series from being boring.  But the real beauty of the series, other than the character style, which is gorgeous, is the slowly developed underlying story.  This last picture shows all Natsume's human friends from school at his house with Fujiwara Touko and Nyanko-sensei and some youkai friends on the roof.  The music from the series was so-so, but the rest of the elements of the series made it very worthwhile.  I highly recommend it.