Sunday, January 20, 2013

Melody of Oblivion

Another older series, and one that I’ve been re-watching lately, is Melody of Oblivion, and I’m reminded how confused I was by this series when I watched it originally.  I’m also reminded how much I like the music from this series. 

Melody of Oblivion takes place in the future, a future after a massive war has occurred between humans and “monsters” and the monsters have won the war.   Humans are living a relatively normal existence, except for the tribute of children which is paid to the monsters.  These children are food for the monsters, and the tribute is carefully not discussed by anyone in order to maintain the status quo.  The story begins with one young high schooler, Bocca, realizing and objecting to the tribute being paid, and at the same time realizing that he himself is a “Warrior of Melos”. 

Warriors of Melos are humans who can hear the “melody” of the fight against the monsters and can see a young girl who sings it.  Warriors have bonds with special semi-sentient or sentient “Aibar” machines, most of which can take human form.  In addition Warriors have special abilities which allow them to kill the monsters – something your average human cannot do.  Thus the Warriors of Melos continue to battle against the monster’s rule, despite the fact that they are few and far between and the monsters are powerful.    Bocca discovers his own abilities and begins traveling with a girl named Sayoko who is tracking another Warrior of Melos.  Bocca originally joins her to find this warrior to get answers to his own questions.  As they go along, the answers are revealed to him and to the people watching the series, as they run across various scenarios and other Warriors of Melos.   

Along with fighting the monsters directly, the Warriors are up against the Monster Union, a world-spanning group of humans that work directly for the monsters.  Each individual member of the Monster Union runs his or her own territory as directed by the monsters, and tries to destroy the Warriors and their Aibar machines. 

The Warriors of Melos and the Aibar machines begin to collect and work together, trying to get to the Monster King and defeat him and also trying to stop the Monster Union from destroying a space station that’s purpose is to provide the energy that allows the aibar machines to function.  Along the way, Bocca and Sayoko discover they love each other, but Bocca must fight as a Warrior of Melos.  He leaves her to go into space for the final battles, not knowing if he will live to return.  

Bocca and the other Warriors fight off the Monster Union long enough for the space station to be activated, ensuring its survival and the survival of the aibar machines with their abilities. At the time of the final battles, Bocca meets the Monster King, who is himself a former Warrior of Melos.  The Monster King tries to get Bocca to join him, but instead Bocca kills him and returns to Sayoko.  Bocca turns out to be the only Warrior who can return to earth, essentially becoming the last Warrior of Melos.  Bocca and Sayoko live happily ever after, wandering and fighting the monsters and encouraging a new generation of Warriors to carry on the battle.  

And if you think the plot was presented in this nice straight-forward manner, think again.  It was often hard to determine what was happening, what was illusion versus 'real', and how any given scene fit into the grand scheme of things.  Also the series is pretty sexually-oriented.  For example, the Warriors essentially have an orgasm whenever they use their powers to super-charge their arrows, and in scenes late in the series they slather bio-gel on each other's naked bodies before going into space, etc.   Often it seems the sexually-oriented scenes are irritatingly inserted just when you're waiting to find out what's going to happen, or the point of the scene is confusing, like the milking the maids scene.  Still, I liked the story and music enough to buy the DVDs so I consider it worth watching.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Kamisama Hajimemashita

I’ve been trying to decide what series to blog about, and I think I’ve finally settled on one that I just finished watching, Kamisama Hajimemashita, or also known as Kamisama Kiss.    This is a short, 13 episode series that was developed from the manga.

This story is about a high school girl named Nanami who is left homeless and penniless when her father flees his debts.  While sitting on a park bench with nowhere to go, she comes to the aid of a man trapped in a tree by a small dog.  In gratitude the man invites her to stay at his home and kisses her on the forehead.  The “man” turns out to be a land god named Mikage whose home is a temple/shrine. Unknown to Nanami, when Mikage kisses her on the forehead, he makes her the new land god of his shrine.  Since she has nowhere else to go, Nanami goes the shrine and meets Tomoe, Mikage’s fox demon/familiar, who has been waiting 20 years for Mikage to return.  To say he’s unhappy about Nanami showing up rather than Mikage would be putting it mildly.  Tomoe leaves the shrine, but returns later when Nanami traps him into becoming her familiar in the usual way . . . by kissing him.

The rest of the series introduces other demons and gods and follows Nanami and Tomoe’s dealings with them, as well as the two of them learning to get along with each other.  Despite how short the series is, they manage to have a nicely developed plot line, with Nanami falling in love with Tomoe (of course), and Tomoe refusing to accept a human’s feelings. 

The back story here is that Tomoe once loved a human woman deeply several hundred years ago and did not want to live any more when the woman died.  Mikage took him in and to keep him alive, both made him a familiar and essentially erased his memories and feelings for the human woman.  Unfortunately that caused Tomoe to have a deep dislike of humans in general and to be unwilling to have anything to do with them.  Mikage tried to change this aspect of Tomoe, but with no success.  I get the feeling that the whole Nanami-as-land-god event is created by Mikage as a ploy to break Tomoe of his hatred of humans. 

And of course it works.  Despite lots of ups and down between Nanami and Tomoe, they end up happily together in the end.   So the plot is somewhat deeper than your average boy meets girl, and the characters are all cool, interesting and fun.   Nanami collects other followers along the way, including a crow demon who takes the form of teenage idol named Kurama and a second familiar in the form of a snake demon named Mizuki.   Tomoe’s reactions and interactions with these strays that follow Nanami is often priceless.  Overall I’d say the series was worth watching, and I kind of hope they’ll do a sequel.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sword Art Online

I’m going to start the new year talking about Sword Art Online.  I picked this series up late last summer while surfing for something to watch.  I didn’t have high expectations for it, and was delighted to discover that I pretty quickly got hooked and thoroughly enjoyed the series, despite the abrupt change in the middle – or maybe because of it.

The premise of Sword Art Online isn’t new.  It’s about people trapped in a total immersion (“full dive”) online game with an awesome virtual reality (VR) setting.   The story begins with the new online game starting and after 10,000 people log on, they discover themselves unable to log off.  The kick is, the insane creator of the game has rigged it so that if you die in the game, you die for real since your headgear fries your brain in the real world.  The only way out of the game is to win it, and the game itself contains 100 levels, each with a boss monster that must be defeated.  And of course, the bosses get tougher the higher up you go.  The game relies on sword skills and involves no magic.

In that setting are the main characters, a boy with the online name of Kirito and a girl named Asuna.   Kirito was one of the 1000 beta-testers of Sword Art Online (SAO), so he has a bit of an edge, but he is also shunned by other players because of it.  He tends to be a loner, tackling bosses and demons by himself.  He and Asuna meet early on and then part, with Asuna becoming high up in one of the bigger guilds that work the game and clear levels as teams.   Along the way, Kirito and Asuna fall in love and marry each other in the game, living happily together.  They gain friends and helpers, including a small AI named Yui who they consider their child.

In the middle of the series, Kirito wins the game.   He and the remaining survivors have been trapped in the game for more than 2 years, and over 4000 of the original 10,000 have died during that time.  When Kirito wins the game, he and the other survivors are released from the game, except for 300 people who still appear to be in a coma, including Asuna.  Kirito visits her in the hospital daily while trying to recover his life, until friends he made in SAO send him a picture of Asuna taken inside a new game called Alfheim Online.  Kirito once again goes into a full immersion online game, to try to find Asuna and release her.  The new game uses sword skills and magic and the personal avatars of the players are elves.  They have the ability to fly in the game.  Kirito is helped in his quest by an online gamer named Leafa, who happens to be Kirito’s younger step-sister, Suguha, in real life (RL).  Suguha has a huge crush on her brother, but realizes he loves Asuna.   In the online game they are unaware of each other’s real world identities until late in the series.

Alfheim Online is set up in such a way as to be un-winnable, since it’s actually being used by another insane owner to do human experimentation on the 300 remaining SAO players.  The series ends with Kirito once again beating the game, releasing Asuna from being trapped online and being reunited with her in the real world and in the virtual world.  All the gamers live happily ever after, in VR and in RL.

As usual, I’ve left out all the characters but the main ones in discussing the series, so a lot happens that I haven’t mentioned.   Overall I liked this series.   The characters and plot line and setting were good, even though the plot wasn’t all that original.  The music was good, and the idea of being able to fly in the game in the second half of the series would have probably enticed even me into a game like that.  When the series shifted in midstream from one online game to the other I wasn’t sure I liked it, but I did like the happy ever after ending, although the second to the last episode was so dark as to be gruesome.  That could have been toned down a bit.  Even so, I’d say it’s worth watching.