Saturday, May 18, 2013

Spring Season 2013

I really like April and October, when a lot of new anime series come out.  This Spring I’ve picked up six new series that I’ve begun to watch.  I’ve only watched about 5 episodes of each one, but I’m going to talk a little bit about them here.

The first series in this group is Karneval.  This series is about the exploits of the members of a government agency known as Circus that seems to be hunting down and destroying Varugas (vulgars?), demonic monsters who apparently were once human but were turned into monsters using either genetic manipulation or drugs or both.  I‘m not entirely sure yet exactly what is going on, but two wandering misfits named Nai and Gareki, who have interesting capabilities of their own, have been taken in by Circus and are being protected by them.  And in addition, Nai isn’t quite human, or isn’t human at all although he looks it.  I like this series so far because it’s pretty and colorful and has lots of not-really-normal characters.  The eye colors in particular in this series are striking.  And of course I always like series that I don’t know everything that’s going on. 

My next favorite is probably Suisei no Gargantia.  This series is about a space soldier and mecha driver named Ledo who is marooned with his mecha on a water world in which industry is barely above the feudal level.  His mecha is discovered and taken in for scrap by the people living on a gigantic, cobbled-together fleet, and they are as surprised by him as he is by them.  The world seems to be old earth, which has thawed out from being totally frozen, but no longer has any continents.  Everywhere is ocean, and the humans survive on large fleets by fishing, salvaging things from the sea floor and trapping rain water.  The interactions between Ledo and the rest of the cast are already interesting and will probably continue to be so as they learn to deal with him and he becomes more ‘human’.   Ledo currently only knows fighting, which he's been doing his entire life.  When he's not fighting he only knows how to “stand by”.  So Ledo has been taken under the wing of a young girl named Amy, who is trying to help him adapt.

Another series of the six new ones is Hataraku Maou-sama.  This series is hysterically funny, and for sheer laughs, it’s probably on the top of my list.  The Demon Lord Satan and his number one henchman, Alsiel, are driven from their world by the Hero, Emilia, and her army of humans.  Satan, Alsiel and Emilia jump through a ‘gate’ and end up in Tokyo with no magic whatsoever.   They are mistaken for cos-players, and the two demons are reduced to human forms.  Satan Maou-sama ends up in a part time job at McDonald’s and Alsiel keeps house for him.  Hero Emilia ends up working at a call center.   And they all end up actually helping each other along the way.  I’m not sure where this one will go, but it’s damn funny.

Arata Kangatari is another one I’m enjoying.  This series is about 2 boys named Arata who come from different worlds.  Arata from the magical world is accused of killing the country’s princess and is fleeing for his life.  Hinohara Arata in the modern world is trying to deal with being bullied and ostracized in his high school.  In the first episode, the two boys are switched.  Hinohara must deal with being accused as a murderer and sentenced to prison, and Arata must deal with the modern world.  In the magical world, there are “gods” who are referred to as Hayagami and take the shape of swords.  There are people who can wield these swords/Hayagami and they are called “Sho”.  Hinohara becomes a Sho capable of wielding an unknown Hayagami, and receives a quest to accomplish.   I’m not sure where this one will go either, or how much time will be spent on Arata in the modern world, but so far it’s interesting and keeping me watching. 
Next on the list is Shingeki no Kyoujin.  This is about a world in which humans have retreated to a last enclave surrounded by three, 20 foot high walls.  They are holding those walls against larger than life monsters who look like gigantic humans, but who can and do eat humans like candy.   In the first five episodes the outer wall is breached, forcing humans to retreat to the next wall, and then the second wall is breached, and the main character, Eren, is eaten.   So far this series is depressing as hell as humans keep losing, and it’s extremely bloody as they get eaten.  In spite of that, the series has drawn me in.  I suppose I keep waiting for the humans to turn the tide on the monsters.  Plus the action of the humans fighting looks like it will be cool if they ever get their acts together.  And of course I’m waiting to see if Eren survived being eaten at the end of episode 5.   They managed to get through episode 6 with him being “dead”, by doing flashbacks of two other main characters, including Mikasa, my favorite character, but I’m going to wait and see if they really kill off one of their two main characters in episode 5.   Oh, and I really like the music in this series. 

Devil Survivor 2 is the last of the six new series I’ve picked up.   This one is adapted from a game so I don’t expect a lot from it, but so far it’s kept me interested.  Plus it has good music.   In this story, kids have picked up a phone app that shows them the face of their dead friends – right before the friends are actually killed.  And it’s an incredibly accurate app.   Kids who die the first time have the option to live again, but as demon Summoners who must summon their demons to fight battles with the bad guy demons who are trying to destroy the world.  If they die a second time they appear to be dead for good.  The story follows three kids, Hibiki, Niita and Daichi as they become Summoners and try to protect the world and the people around them.  As Summoners they are sucked into the actions of the paramilitary group trying to protect the world.  This group is led by one of those characters you love to hate, an excessively arrogant asshole who moves straight toward some purpose only he knows and often across the bodies of those around him.  His name is Yamato, and the verdict is still out as to whether he’s a good guys or bad guy.

So those are the new series I’ve picked up.  I’m glad to have new anime to watch and look forward to continuing to watch these.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Samurai 7

Samurai 7 is an anime series based on the 1954 film by Kurosawa Akira, Seven Samurai.  It’s the story of a small village of rice farmers who decides to hire samurai to guard them from the depredations of bandits. 

The setting of the anime series is a semi-feudal society but with mechanization, including flying machines and “machine-samurai”, samurai who are crosses between machine and human.  The story takes place some years after a massive war.  Samurai who fought in the war are now scrabbling for their existence, and tend to fall into two camps, those who hire out as bodyguards and maintain an honorable profession and those who resort to banditry – and some who do both.  The farming villages are susceptible to having all their rice stolen by the bandits, so the small village at the heart of this story sends their priestess, Kirara, her younger sister Komachi and a man named Rikichi to the big city with rice.  Their job is to hire samurai to defend their village and to return with them to the village before the current rice crop is ready for harvesting.

Kirara-tachi struggle in the city and originally don’t make any progress.  When they have some trouble, they are helped by a young samurai named Katsushirou, but Kirara doesn’t want to hire him because he has no battlefield experience.  They begin to lose hope of finding good samurai and then they meet Kanbei.  Kanbei was a general in the war.  He starts out refusing to help Kirara-tachi, but ends up convinced to do so.  With his help they find six more samurai who are willing to take on the job.  While in the city, Kirara catches the eye of a minor lordling, Ukyo, and she and the samurai are pursued back to the village by his minions.   

The 7 samurai are Kanbei, Shichirouji, who was Kanbei’s former subordinate in the army, Kyuuzou, who was one of Ukyo’s minions but defected to Kanbei-tachi, Gorobei, an ex-samurai working as a street-performer, Heihachi, a samurai expert in machines, Kikuchiyo, a machine samurai, and lastly Katsushirou, who Kanbei agrees can join them.  These seven return to the village with Kirara-tachi and begin preparing the village to defend itself.  As they work at this task, the samurai learn about farmer’s lives and vice versa.  After some false starts and misunderstandings they all begin working together.

While they are preparing, Ukyo back in the city is found to be a clone of the current emperor, who is dying.  Ukyo is taken to the Capitol along with several other clones, and through his own machinations, becomes the next emperor.  During this time Kanbei goes to the Capitol to free Rickichi’s wife, Sanae, who was taken to the Capitol for the previous emperor.  Kanbei is taken captive, but escapes, taking Sanae with him and racing back to the village with emperor Ukyo and all his forces in pursuit. 

The final battle between the forces of the emperor and the 7 samurai and villagers occurs, with a significant loss of life.  Several of the 7 samurai do not survive (including my favorite, Kyuuzou), but the samurai and villagers win the battle.  Life goes on.  
This is a good series which explores the divide between honor and greed, and basically teaches the lesson that people are people.  There are both honorable and dishonorable samurai as well as honorable and dishonorable farmers.  And just because a person is a samurai does not make him honorable.  The series covers Katsushirou learning to kill and includes one of the more tragic scenes I can remember from any anime series.  Kanbei spends the series trying to teach Katsushirou about honor and swordsmanship.  One of his lessons includes that killing with swords is honorable, killing with guns is not.  Katsushirou worships the other samurai, especially Kanbei.  In a scene late in the series, Kanbei is about to be killed and Katsushirou, who is too far away, picks up a gun and kills Kanbei’s attacker . . . and at the same time kills Kyuuzou who was standing behind the attacker, about to take him out with a sword.   Katsushirou’s intentions were good.  He may or may not have saved Kanbei, but he definitely killed Kyuuzou, and he has to live with that knowledge.  I may have been almost as upset as he was because Kyuuzou was my favorite character and his death was meaningless.
As usual, this is the bare bones of the plot.  Much more happens along the way and many more characters are involved.  Overall the series is very much worth watching, especially if you like action, and samurai anime.  The plot’s good, the characters are good and the music is good.  I recommend it.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Escaflowne is another series that I watched very early in my anime watching career.   At the time I wasn’t aware of all the stereotypes involved in this series, but even if I had been I suspect I still would have found it worth watching.   I’m going to talk about the series in this post, NOT the movie, which I did not think was worth watching.

Escaflowne is a fantasy, mecha, magic, winged-people, dragons, floating rocks, transformers, love story.   How’s that for a description?   This series follows the exploits a high school girl who is accidentally dragged into the battles of another world.   Kanzaki Hitomi is your relatively normal average high school girl with a penchant for reading people’s fortunes in the tarot cards and being right.   She’s also a little psychic in that she has visions and she’s on the school track team.   While running a practice race which is being timed by a boy on the track team that she has a crush on, she runs into a dragon-hunting Prince from another world named Van Fanel . . . literally runs into him.   He slays the dragon which has appeared with him in her world, and Hitomi and Van return to his world, just in time to see his kingdom destroyed by invaders. 

This is the background of the story.   Hitomi’s world is a blue marble in the sky of Van’s world.   Van’s world has floating ships and magic, and Van himself has wings when he needs to.   He also is the surviving Prince of his kingdom and has the power to drive the kingdom’s special mecha, Escaflowne.  Escaflowne also has a dragon form and can fly in that form.   With his kingdom destroyed Van is a target of several bad guys.   He and Hitomi flee and take refuge in a neighboring kingdom.

The story is a love story that starts out as a love triangle between Hitomi, Van and Allen Schezar, a gorgeous soldier from the kingdom they take refuge in.    Hitomi, being a high school girl, doesn’t understand her true feelings for the two men, so the love story is interwoven throughout the series.   The series does a great job of following the characters as they each wrestle with their own demons and essentially grow up and/or come to terms with their pasts.

Escaflowne has something for pretty much everyone.   It’s an epic saga about fighting to restore a kingdom’s pride, honor and lands, as well as a love story.   It has mecha/transformer creations and people with magic abilities and gifts.  There are battles between individuals and between kingdoms.  There is trust and betrayal between brothers, and sacrificing one’s life for others.    Looking back at it, it really does include an incredible amount in one series.  It also has some negative aspects, including the token death of Van’s brother, Folken.   I really hate unnecessary, token deaths.
As usual, this synopsis doesn’t begin to cover all the details of the plot or even a small part of the total cast of characters.  It’s simply a bare bones description of the basic story and main characters.   There’s so much more detail involved, that a single post can’t do it justice.

The series does a good job of tying up the loose ends and wrapping everything up at the end.  Despite that, I didn’t really appreciate the ending, or rather I would have ended it quite differently.  That and the token death were my two negatives about this series.  Everything else was really well done.  The music is wonderful.  Yoko Kanno did the music, so of course it could be nothing short of exceptional.  The plot is unique enough and entertaining enough to keep me interested  and waiting anxiously for the next DVD to come out, as I was watching this series before I learned how to download anime.   Overall, it’s a good story and fun to watch.