Saturday, August 31, 2013

D. Gray-man

Another series I watched some time ago is D. Gray-man.  This is an anime series developed from a manga.  It’s also a long series.  Season one was 51 episodes and season two was 52.  This post is a synopsis of all 103 episodes.

The premise for this series is a world where a very powerful bad guy, the Millennium Earl, is working to destroy humanity.  He is aided in this endeavor by his top minions known as the Noah, and by akuma (demons) he creates.  The Earl’s akuma are machines with the ability to evolve, that are created from the souls of people who have died and are called back from death by their loved ones who have fallen into despair.   Arrayed against the Earl and his forces are the Black Order, a group of Exorcists.  The Order’s exorcist members are individuals who can use the power of a substance they call Innocence to destroy and defeat akuma.  The Order’s most powerful members are the Generals or Marshals, depending on your translation.

The story follows a 15-year old boy named Allen Walker.  Allen is “trained” (alternately brow-beaten, tortured and/or ignored) by one of the generals, Marian Cross, and sent to the Black Order.  He becomes an exorcist and is joined in his travels by other exorcists, including the three other main characters, Lenalee, Kanda and Lavi.   Unlike most of the other exorcists whose Innocence takes the form of a tool (katana, hammer) or apparel (boots), Allen’s Innocence is embedded in his left hand which becomes a huge claw which he uses to destroy akuma.  Allen also has the ability to see disguised akuma with his left eye, which contains some element of evil in it.  Allen’s left eye was a curse from his “father”, Mana, the man who raised him.  When Mana died, Allen (who was about 6 years old at the time) called him back from death which turned him into an akuma, and Allen then had to destroy him.

Most of the story is about the continuing battles between the forces of the Earl and the Black Order.  It also entails a lot of the individual exorcist’s battles with overcoming their own handicaps and growing stronger.   The Exorcists are sent out by the Black Order to find more Innocence, as well as to locate the generals, Cross in particular, and to battle the ever-present akuma.  As the story evolves, the Earl calls together the Noah, and both the Earl-tachi and the Black Order work to find the “Heart” of Innocence, which will allow whoever possesses it to win the overall battles.   

Throughout much of the story, the Earl and his Noah have the upper hand.  At one point in the story Allen is killed by a Noah named Tyki.  Allen’s Innocence saves his life but then he spends many episodes coming to an accommodation with his Innocence and re-learning to use it. He finally realizes that something about him makes him a balance point between good and evil, having elements of both sides in his make-up.  This realization allows him to fight on with his Innocence, at significantly increased strength, although some people in the Black Order struggle with his evil side.  Lenalee goes through a similar accommodation process with her Innocence, and at times both Allen and Lenalee are considered as the person who can hold the Heart of Innocence.

The Earl and his forces come very close to winning it all.  They gain the Heart, kill a boatload of the Exorcists and almost destroy all of current existence.  At the last second, Allen rebuilds all of existence, including his friend’s lives, by playing a piano and thwarting the Earl’s plans.  This is one of the more climatic moments of the series but even winning this particular battle does not give the exorcists much breathing room.  It’s quickly followed by the last battle of the series, a direct attack on the Black Order headquarters. 

D. Gray-man has a non-ending ending.  Allen-tachi survive the last battle at the Order, but nothing is really resolved.  They haven’t defeated the Earl or stopped his plans for humanity’s destruction and so still have on-going battles against the Earl’s forces to look forward to.  Plus these late battles and Allen’s abilities create more questions than the series answers.  Somehow Allen is the successor to a Noah position, the “Fourteenth” or the Musician.  So very obviously the series could have just kept going.  It wasn’t a very satisfying ‘ending’ to get to after 103 episodes.  

Still, the series is pretty, the music is good and the characters and character development is interesting to watch.  Overall it was definitely entertaining and interesting enough to keep me watching and enjoying it for 103 episodes, so I'd have to say that it's worth watching.  I just wish it had had a little more closure at the end. And I never did know where the series title comes from.  Maybe it's explained in the manga.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Shingeki no Kyoujin

I’m going to talk about Shingeki no Kyoujin today.  This is a little unusual for me since I usually only post about series that are finished.  That’s because I never know if I’m going to like a series or not until I see the ending.  The notable exception to that rule was Bleach.  I ended up doing about 6 posts on Bleach, 5 of them while it was ongoing.

At any rate, I’m going to post about Shingeki because it’s the first series I’ve watched in a long time that I find myself waiting impatiently each week for the next episode to come out.  So needless to say, I really like this series.

Okay, background:  Shingeki (English version of title: ‘Attack on Titan’) is about the human race fighting for its survival.  The setting is a mostly feudal society of humans that live behind three massive, 20+ foot high walls that protect them from the giant, human-looking species bent on wiping them out.  These giants are called “Titans” or “Eotenas” or “Kyoujin”, depending on the subbing group and translations.  These kyoujin prey on humans, eating them whenever they can.  The kyoujin come in a multitude of forms, from the not very tall 5 meter form up to about a 20+ meter form.  “Normal” kyoujin are basically brainless, mostly slow-to-move, eating machines that chow down on humans as often as they can catch them.  Along with these “normal” kyoujin are the “abnormal” or “aberrant” ones.  Abnormals include brainless ones who can move quickly and also include intelligent ones.

The main characters in this series are Eren Jaeger, Mikasa Ackerman and Armin Arlart, who are young kids at the start of the series when a massive, intelligent kyoujin breaks the outer wall, allowing the brainless kyoujin in to attack and eat the humans.  Eren-tachi are rescued but get to watch a kyoujin eat Eren’s mother.   Humans retreat to inside the second wall, and Eren-tachi grow up and train to be soldiers.  For Eren it’s a quest – to kill as many kyoujin as he can, but also to free humans from the restrictions of living behind walls.  The soldiers wear battle gear called multi-axial maneuver gear that allows them to move acrobatically and aerobatically to defeat the kyoujin by slicing a section out of the nape of their necks – essentially the only way they can be killed effectively.  There are three groups of soldiers, the regular city guard type called the Garrison, the soldiers called the Gendarmerie who guard the elite citizens who live in safety behind the third wall, and the group that Eren wishes to join, the Reconnaissance or Survey Legion.  This third group makes raids and forays outside the walls, and has the logo of a crossed white and black wing, which Eren sees as wings of freedom.

At episode 5, Eren-tachi have just completed training when the massive, intelligent kyoujin who broke the outer wall shows up again and breaks the second wall.  Brainless kyoujin flood in and attack the humans and Eren is eaten by one.  Mikasa, who is probably the best fighter in the group and also happens to love Eren, almost loses it but is rescued at the last minute by a massive kyoujin who begins killing all the kyoujin around him.

It takes about 4 episodes from the time Eren's eaten to find out, but the kyoujin-killing, massive kyoujin turns out to be Eren!  Eren has the ability to transform into a kyoujin.  This ability polarizes the humans, some of whom want to kill him immediately and some of whom want to use his abilities to fight the kyoujin.  In the end, Eren shows he can be useful by using his kyoujin form to lift a boulder and move it to block the breach in the second wall.  Humans win a battle with the kyoujin for the first time ever, thanks to Eren.  So after a trial, Eren is taken into the Survey Legion under the direct control of Captain Levi, and they begin to work with him and try plans to extend human’s range and re-take the area inside the outer wall.  This is currently where I am in the series, having just watched their unsuccessful attempt to capture the human inside a massive, intelligent female kyoujin.

There are multiple on-going questions rising up as the series progresses, which is one of the things I really like about it.  Like:  If Eren has the ability to become an intelligent kyoujin, who are the humans inside the other intelligent kyoujins?   Eren’s father injected Eren with substances as a child which probably gave him the abilities he has.  Where is Eren’s father now and what is this kyoujin-creation all about?  Where do the kyoujin come from in the first place?  When the research arm of the Survey Legion gets too close to answers, they are sabotaged by someone, probably among the humans.  Who among the humans is working with the kyoujin to destroy humanity and why?   And who’s the spy/traitor among the Survey Legion?

So many questions.  And if you have read ahead in the manga, don’t tell me the answers!  As I said, it’s been a while since I’ve waited so impatiently for next episodes of a series  to be released.  I’m enjoying it.

At any rate, I’m sure I’ll be posting about this series again.  The story line is totally unique and the music is awesome, especially the first ED.   If you aren’t watching it, I will warn you that there’s a lot of blood, and lots and lots of death in this series.  But the story and characters are worth it.   

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Cardcaptor Sakura

Cardcaptor Sakura (CCS) is another series I watched very early in my anime-watching career, and I still sometimes get the urge to go back and watch it again.  Of course, downloaded files when I watched this series were tiny little things you almost had to squint to see.  Sometimes I watch parts of this series just to fully appreciate how far video graphics have come.
CCS follows the exploits of a young, grade-school girl named Sakura and her friends.  Sakura is living a normal life until she comes across a box of magic cards, the Clow Cards, which she opens.  The cards flee, scattering to the four winds, and the quest of the entire 70-episode series is essentially Sakura’s battles to recapture the magic cards.

Sakura’s best friend is Tomoyo, who happens to sew and likes to make costumes for Sakura and then film her wearing them during her battles.  Other people in her life when the series starts include her older brother, Toya, and Toya’s best friend, Yuki.  Sakura has a huge crush on Yuki.

The series is basically fun to watch.  Sakura is helped in her quest by Tomoyo and by a small magic plushie named Kero (short for Cereberus).  Kero is the guardian of the Clow cards ad the plushie is one of his forms.  Along the way Sakura gains friends and enemies and begins to grow up. 

The cards become increasingly difficult to find and catch as the series progresses, forcing Sakura to gain strength and grow.  Along the way a boy her age arrives from China.  This is Shaoran, a relative of the Card’s creator, Clow.  Shaoran is originally Sakura’s enemy as he wants to capture the cards himself.  He gains respect for Sakura though and becomes her friend and ally, eventually falling in love with her.
When Sakura captures all the cards, the card’s second guardian, Yue, shows up in order to determine if Sakura deserves to be able to own them.  Yue and Kero were originally Clow’s companions and Yue loved Clow, so he makes the test hard for Sakura.  Yue does determine that she deserves the cards though and things are fine until the appearance from England of the mysterious Eriol.  Eriol secretly causes Sakura to be unable to use the Clow cards and she finds she must gain new powers and transform the cards to Sakura cards.   Yue is particularly unhelpful in this, but you discover that he needs magic to survive and Sakura doesn‘t  have enough magical energy to sustain him.  Yue normally exists in the form of Toya’s friend Yuki most of the time.  In order to continue the existence of both his forms, Yuki and Yue, he leeches mega-energy from Toya, who loves him and gives it willingly.

In the end of course Sakura converts the cards, gets over her crush on Yuki and discovers that she returns Shaoran’s love. 

Despite all the struggles along the way, this series is so basically light and happy and fun that I’m often amazed that it was developed by the same group (CLAMP) who developed the ultra-tragic X, and Tokyo Babylon.  Still both those series are very much worth watching also.  

The plot of CCS is definitely typically CLAMP twisty.  The characters are gorgeous, the music is good and overall it’s just fun to watch.  It’s a happily-ever-after series so nobody dies and things all work out in the end.  Besides being fun to watch, the plot is quite twisty enough to keep you guessing and watching.  I liked it. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Glass Fleet

Glass Fleet is another older series.  It’s a space opera that occurs within a weird “space” that has an atmosphere.    People can stand outside their spaceships with no protective gear and people live on asteroids that are not possibly big enough to hold an atmosphere if they needed to.  So the premise takes a little getting used to.

The story follows a young nobleman named Michel Volban who believes the ruling class of Nobles have too much power and fights with a group of rebels for the rights of the commoners.  Michel’s chief opponent is another young nobleman named Vetti Sforza, who is a megalomaniac determined to rule everything in existence and is well on his way to doing so.  Michel is also up against a pirate named Cleo who owns a glass spaceship that bears the seal of the Royal family, and who doesn’t care about politics.  Cleo only cares about living his life the way he wants to live it.  His glass spaceship is crewed by a gang of his pirate friends and they go around taking what they need from other ships.  In the process they run across Michel’s disabled ship and get saddled with Michel.

Like most anime, nobody in this series is quite who they seem.  Michel is actually a girl named Racine who has taken her brother’s place when he was lost in battle.   Cleo is actually the son of the previous ruler who was raised in exile by the ruler’s friend when his family was over-thrown and killed.   Vetti was abused and tormented as a homeless child, causing him to wish for some payback.

During the series, Vetti’s forces roll over pretty much everyone in their way, making him ruler of pretty much everything.  To solidify his position, he woos, wins and marries the daughter of the powerful head of the religion, even though Vetti actually prefers males and is doing everything in his power to possess Michel.   Vetti and Cleo resonate to each other and try to kill each other whenever they come into contact, but both are hampered by having some of the universe’s elemental power source embedded in their bodies.   That power source in their bodies reacts badly under certain circumstances, and causes them immense pain and loss of consciousness.

The basic plot underneath all the surface plots is that the asteroids that everyone lives on and the universe they live in are all spiraling toward a massive black hole-type formation.  The very powerful religion maintains that they will pass through the blackness and arrive essentially in paradise.   In reality, they will all die if they reach the black hole.  The asteroids that everyone lives on turn out to be all part of a massive spaceship designed to get them away from the black hole.  The catch is that all this information was lost over the years or covered up by the church, and no one knows that they should be trying to escape.   A lot happens before they figure it all out.

At the eleventh hour, Vetti and Cleo discover that they were a single entity before birth and were split into two babies, each containing some of the elemental power source.   Thus they are at least brothers, if not closer.  They discover that by working together they can save the universe.  To that end, Cleo essentially donates his life force to Vetti to accomplish this.  So in the end a combined Vetti-Cleo (who looks like Vetti, not Cleo) lives and Michel lives and they rule the universe together.

As usual, there's a lot I've left out of this synopsis, including the love story between Michel and Cleo. The series kept me interested all the way through despite the weirdness of space with an atmosphere.  Enough was going on, and keeping me guessing about what was going on, to make it worth watching.  Also, the music from the series is outstanding and the characters are pretty.  I enjoyed it overall, although I could have wished Vetti-Cleo had ended up looking like Cleo and not Vetti.