Saturday, September 28, 2013

Gin no Saji

Gin no Saji, or Silver Spoon, is a story about a fish out of water.  Well, actually it's about a city kid who attends an agricultural school.  Hachiken  is a high school student who is quite obviously totally out of his element from the first day of school.  All  of his fellow classmates are farm kids who have plans to take over their family farm business in the future or otherwise have agriculturally-related careers, like becoming a veterinarian.  They are all totally dedicated to their goals and have a lot of basic farming knowledge. Hachiken by contrast, has no motivation and no goals in life, and it quickly becomes apparent that he’s only at this agricultural high school because he’s running away from something.
Surprisingly, Hachiken begins to learn the various aspects of agriculture, and even more surprisingly, he fits in with his fellow classmates.  He has a lot to learn, some of it fairly painfully, but he also has some natural leadership ability, and is smart.   In addition, he has no qualms about rolling his sleeves up and pitching in, whatever the task may be.  His willingness to do all the jobs alongside everyone else, and sometimes his unique perspective on the job, helps him become easily accepted by his peers.  And his ability to come up with schemes and to help his classmates out, helps them all become friends.  He quickly falls for one of his fellow students a girl named Aki, and he joins the equestrian club to be near her since she loves horses.
Hachiken struggles with the usual farming conundrums, including how do you stop seeing a cute little piglet and realize that this animal is bacon and pork chops?  How do you butcher and eat an animal you’ve helped raise? He names one small piglet Pork Bowl (ButaDon) and helps this runt of the litter reach market size during the series.  Along the way he also begins to come to terms with his lack of a goal in life.

They never clearly explain exactly what it is that Hachiken is running from.    He obviously has problems with his family since he's very unhappy when his older brother shows up.  He also apparently had problems with being picked on and isolated in school.  One of his former counselors/teachers who was concerned for him follows him to the agriculture school and witnesses how he's changed and his camaraderie with his classmates and instructors. 

Silver Spoon is another series of a type that I call “educational”.  The story is interesting enough to keep you watching, but they use the series along the way to teach you about the topic.  Examples of this type of anime include Moyashimon, which teaches you about microbiology and fermentation, Spice and Wolf, which teaches you about merchandising and trade, Ghost Hound, which teaches you about neuroscience, and even Nodame Cantabile, which teaches you about classical music.  Series are better or worse at how they handle this.  Sometime the teaching interferes with the story, and that’s unfortunate, but sometimes it’s all pretty well done.   I would say Gin no Saji does a good job at it.  The characters are likable, and you can certainly empathize with Hachiken’s struggles.  The story is entertaining enough to keep you watching, and along the way, you may pick up some information about agricultural science.    It's a good series, which I suspect will have another season coming.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


It’s always hard to decide what series to post about next, unless I have one that’s really making (or has made) an impression on me.  I’m getting close to finishing up some short series so I’ll probably post about them in the near future.  In the meantime I’m falling back on older series again.  Today I thought I’d post about PandoraHearts.

PandoraHearts is about a rich kid named Oz Bessarius (or Vessalius).  Oz has it all, a huge mansion and servants, a boy his age named Gilbert who is his best friend as well as his servant, and a younger sister who worships him.  In the first episode, during the rite celebrating his coming of age ceremony at 15 years old, everything goes wrong.  For no known reason, weird people in robes show up, and attack him.  In trying to defend himself, he accidentally kills Gilbert, and Oz himself is thrown into Hell, which is known as the Abyss. 

Oz wanders around the Abyss for a bit and finds other entities, including a young girl named Alice who is a “chain”.  Chains are entities from the Abyss that try to make pacts with humans in order to access the human world.  They also have powerful abilities when attached to a human, but the bad news is that the chain uses up the human’s life force each time it acts.  

Oz discovers that he can leave the Abyss if he makes a pact with a “Chain” and he decides to go for it and makes a pact with Alice.  In their pact, Oz and Alice agree to find out why Oz was thrown into the Abyss and to find Alice’s past, which she has no recollection of.  Although Alice is a young girl in appearance, she becomes a frigging huge, powerful, black rabbit in her chain form.  She and Oz together return to the human world.

Oz discovers that a lot of time has passed in the real world.  He did not actually manage to kill Gilbert, and Gilbert has become a man who goes by the name of Raven.  Raven has been working with an organization named Pandora, and especially a man named Break, and they were about to venture into the Abyss to retrieve Oz when Oz and Alice manage to return on their own.

The rest of the series is basically Oz, Alice and Raven trying to find Alice’s past and the reason for Oz’s banishment to the Abyss.  They are helped or hindered along the way by various members of Pandora, by Break and his chain, by Raven’s seriously insane brother Vincent and Vincent’s servant Echo, and by Oz’s disappeared ancestor, Jack Bessarius.

The things I loved about this anime series:  It’s pretty.  It has a unique plot which is unique enough to occasionally be hard to figure out where it’s going.  The music is waaaaaaaay beyond awesome.  The two soundtracks from it are high up on my all time favorite music list.

The thing I hated about it, and that caused it to not be anywhere near the running for one of my favorite series:  No ending!  Not even a suggestion of an ending.  They spend the whole series working up to the fact that everything that’s happening is related to a massive Tragedy of SabriĆ©, which occurred 100 years ago (and yet which somehow Vincent and Gilbert lived through).  And then they end the series without ever saying what happened in the Tragedy of SabriĆ©.  You get hints of Alice’s past, in which she knew and interacted with Jack Bessarius, and hints about the Tragedy, but no explanations.  In addition, very late in the series Oz discovers that not only does his father despise him and consider him “filthy”, it was probably his father who threw him into the Abyss.  Again, no background, no explanation of what’s going on there. 

This is a series where the ending really did ruin the series.  It’s near the top of my all time worst non-ending endings.  If they had done a second season and explained more, it would have been worth watching.  As it is, I don’t recommend it, unless you just like pretty. The story is interesting, the characters are interesting, but they totally leave you hanging with nowhere to go but to buy the manga.   Get the soundtracks though.  They’re wonderful.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


NANA is a slice of life anime, covering ordinary events and ordinary people.  And by that I mean, no magic, no transforming, no futuristic society or feudalistic society.  Just normal, everyday life.

The story line of Nana follows two young women, both of whom are named Nana.  Nana Komatsu is a normal, everyday girl who has a tendency to jump into romantic relationships without much thought.  Nana Osaki is a guitarist/singer, who is very independent and has few friends, let alone relationships.  The two Nana’s meet on the train on the way to Tokyo, as each is setting out to start a new life.  Nana Komatsu is going to Tokyo to join her boyfriend; Nana Osaki is going to find her friends with plans to start a new Rock ‘n Roll band.    The Nana's interact on the train because it is delayed by snow.  Once it arrives in Tokyo, they go their separate ways.

Coincidentally, when separately searching for a place to live, they both end up looking at the same apartment.  They decide that they are fated to share it, since the number on it is 707, nana-maru-nana.  And the adventures begin as the Nana's become best friends.  Nana Osaki refers to Nana Komatsu as Hachi or Hachiko, because Nana K. is so much like a little puppy at times.  For the rest of this post, I’ll refer to her as Hachiko also to make things less confusing.

The Nana's come to like each other very much as best friends and become embroiled in each other’s lives and loves.  This anime is very much about their lives and loves.   Nana’s original four-member band back home broke up when the lead guitarist, Ren, (who was also Nana’s lover), left them to join a band called Trapnest.  Trapnest is a famous band that has made it in the big time world of Rock ‘n Roll.  Nana comes to Tokyo and meets with her 3 friends.  Together they find another guitarist and form a band called the Black Stones, or BLAST for short.  Hachiko becomes their number one fan and supporter. 

Hachiko, for her part, continues to jump between relationships, especially after she finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her.  She has an affair with a member of Trapnest, Takumi, who she has had a crush on since the band was formed.  Because he's gone so much with the band, after their one night affair Hachiko dumps him when she feels herself falling in love with a member of Black Stones, Nobu.   Hachiko is just a fling for Takumi, but he doesn’t take well to being dumped and comes back around, just when Hachiko discovers that she’s pregnant, and doesn’t know whether Takumi or Nobu is the father.  

Takumi, who is established in his career, steps up and offers to marry Nana, and Nobu, who is just beginning and doesn’t yet have a career, steps back.  Through a group of emotionally charged series episodes, Hachiko decides to keep the baby and marry Takumi.  This series of events splits the Nana’s apart, since Nana dislikes Takumi immensely and feels like he’s stolen Hachiko from her and the Black Stones.   

While the Hachiko/Takumi story is unfolding, Nana and the Black Stones are struggling to start their career.  Nana and Ren have gotten back together secretly, but Nana is having blackout episodes, depression episodes and hyperventilation episodes.   Basically she’s emotionally pretty unstable, but Ren and her band and Hachiko all love her and do their best to help her.

As usual, I’ve skipped all the side characters and their individual stories, and unlike a lot of anime series, they develop these side characters personalities and stories without killing them off in the next episode.   The whole story here is much more involved than I’ve included in this post.

Although in general “slice of life” series are among my least favorite genres, I did enjoy this series.  For one thing the music is waaaaaaaaaay beyond AWESOME.   As you can imagine, with two bands and two female lead singers, there is just not enough good I can say about the music.  The singles are sooooooo amazing.

The series ending was a little cryptic for me.  I suppose they meant to give hints about things they didn’t have time to cover in the series, but they never do explain what happened with Nana O., and why she isn’t at the final episode meeting.  I like my endings a little more straight forward.  Other than that, it’s a very watchable series.   I was amused to find when I bought the American version that it was sold in the adult section rather than the anime section, I suppose because of the sex.   A lot of prime time TV has more sex than this series though, so that’s just silly.