Saturday, February 22, 2014

Arpeggio of Blue Steel

I just finished watching this short anime series, and contrary to expectations, I kind of liked it.

Arpeggio of Blue Steel takes place in a near future in which much of the earth land mass has been lost due to rising sea levels, and an alien race, for reasons never explained, drive humans off the sea with an inhuman fleet of unbeatable and sentient ships called the Fleet of Fog.  Humans throw everything they have at the Fleet of Fog and are incapable of so much as scratching them.   The aliens also disrupt world-wide communications so that humans are confined to their own local continents and all sea travel and communication between countries is impossible. 

The story starts with a teenage boy named Gunzou Chihaya in a military (naval) academy, bemoaning with his small circle of friends what the human race has been relegated to, and how useless the naval academy now is, etc.  Gunzou is something of a loner, partly due to the fact that his father is rumored to be a traitor who went over to the Fleet of Fog.

At the beginning of the series, Gunzou is approached by a young girl who tells him she is there to follow his orders.   It turns out the young girl is the human-seeming avatar (mental model) of the Fog Fleet submarine, I-401.  Her name is Iona and she only knows that she has been sent to find Gunzou and to follow his orders and only his orders.   It’s never stated in the series, but the implication is that somehow Gunzou’s missing father managed to turn her into a Fog Fleet renegade and send her to Gunzou.  So Gunzou becomes captain of a Fog Fleet submarine and he and Iona and his friends begin their own private war against the Fleet of Fog.

The Fleet of Fog in turn cannot just let this renegade submarine go and so they send ships after her to sink her.  Thanks to Gounzou’s tactical skills and Iona’s technology, Gunzou-tachi manage to survive and win these encounters.  In addition, as each ship confronts and battles Iona-tachi, the female mental model of each ship is “corrupted” and joins Gonzou’s fleet.  This is a harem anime essentially, but it's one with such a unique plot.  

Although Gunzou-tachi basically work for themselves on their own agenda, picking up allies and making rescues along the way, one of the main story plots is the job they undertake for the Japanese government to deliver plans for a new superior weapon to the US.  The US is the only nation left with the resources to manufacture this new weapon, which will allow all of humanity to fight back against the Fleet of  Fog.  Much of the series is the I-401’s battles to cross the Pacific despite the Fleet of Fog’s efforts to stop her.

Overall, I liked this series.  I would be hard-pressed to say exactly why, since I’m not that fond of any of the individual elements here, like naval ships and battles or harem anime.  And yet the series just appealed to me, perhaps also because it was short enough that it didn’t have extraneous episodes and I didn’t feel like I wasted time with it.  And I probably have a soft spot for characters like Gunzou that have a strong moral code and do what’s right because it’s right, not for any other reason.  I’m glad I watched it.     

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sky Crawlers

In general I don’t blog about movies except Miyazaki movies.  I’m going to blog about a movie today though because this one made me think about it for a while after I watched it. 

Sky Crawlers follows the lives of several people stationed at an airbase between the raids and battles they fight.  The base’s commanding officer (CO) is a woman named Kusanagi.  Kusanagi is unfriendly and fairly cold to everyone, including the newest ace pilot to be stationed at the base, a guy named Kannami.  Kusanagi also has a daughter at the base, who actually looks to be nearly her own age and is initially introduced as her sister.   As the movie progresses, Kusanagi even occasionally seems out and out insane, as she threatens to kill Kannami.  
Kannami is the newest fighter pilot to arrive at the base, and he’s essentially learning the ropes and meeting the other fighters and support staff.  Much of the movie involves the interactions between these people, while you’re trying to figure out what’s going on with the commanding officer.  There are several mysteries centered around Kusanagi, like whether she’s a Kildren, whether she personally killed Jinro (the pilot who was there before Kannami), why she has a child, why she apparently hates Kannami, etc. You also get to see some of the bigwigs planning battles and raids that the fighters will be sent on. 

Here’s the kicker and bottom line of the movie:  The fighter pilots are all clones, manufactured humans called Kildren, who are created to never age beyond their teens. The world is actually at peace, but because of people’s aggressive natures, private corporations hire out to fight battles using the Kildren.  It doesn’t matter to the bigwigs if the Kildren die, because they’re entirely replaceable.  Whenever one is killed in battle, his clone is commissioned and arrives at the base.  Kusanagi, the CO, is a Kildren and a fighter pilot, but she is apparently such a good fighter pilot that she’s the only Kildren who has lived long enough to see the same clones over again and figure out what's going on.  Plus she became pregnant and had a child.  The Kildren are not supposed to have children.  It seems that when that happened she was given the base to run.  The movie never says so, but her one-time CO was a normal human pilot called the Teacher, and she hates him and tries to shoot him down whenever possible, so you wonder if he is the father of her child.
The rumor around the base is that Kusanagi killed Kannami’s predecessor clone, Jinro, and it turns out she did, at his request.  Kusanagi learned the secret of the clones, including their reason for existence and the sum of their existence.  Now all she can do now is watch the same people arrive, and be killed and re-commissioned and arrive again.  Most clones don’t realize it because they are killed often enough and stationed at different enough bases not to run into the same person they knew before as a new clone very often.  Her daughter is essentially the only naturally born human on the base.  Kannami’s predecessor clone, Jinro,  and Kusanagi fell in love and Jinro asked Kusanagi to kill him to try to break the pattern that rules the lives of the Kildren, but that approach obviously didn’t work.

Freaky, huh?  On soooooooooo many levels.  For instance, that the bigwigs are keeping a war going by growing their own soldiers to continuously fight in it.  And the way they let you figure all this out is interesting.   Letting you get to see characteristics of the various pilots and then pilots are killed and their somewhat look-alike shows up with their same mannerisms.  The bottom line is kind of horrifying and disturbing, and makes you feel bad about thinking the CO was a nut-job all along.  
After Kannami and Kusanagi come to terms and start liking each other, he flies off to battle and is killed by the Teacher.  You get the feeling that any clone that begins to learn too much will come up against the Teacher and be eliminated, which probably also explains Kusanagi’s hatred of him.  The movie ends with Kannami’s replacement clone arriving at the base and being greeted by Kusanagi.  It’s not a comfortable or satisfying ending.  In fact the movie is disturbing enough to keep me thinking about various aspects of it for a long time after I watched it.  But the music is wonderful (by Kawai Kenji), and I do like anime that makes me think, so I suppose I’m glad I watched it.  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Peacemaker Kurogane

Peacemaker Kurogane is an anime series based on a manga that is set in one of my favorite time periods in Japan, the turmoil surrounding the end of the Tokugawa shogunate and the beginning of the Meiji Era.  It’s another one that I watched some time ago, but none of the newer ones seem worth blogging about yet.

This series is the story of a boy named Ichimura Tetsunosuke, or Tetsu for short.  Tetsu is 15 years old, but he’s short and looks much younger.  He is determined to join the Shinsengumi, gain strength and avenge his parents’ murder.   So this story is based completely around the famous Shinsengumi story about Ikedaya, where the Shinsengumi captured rebels and prevented Kyoto from being burned, basically during the time period at the height of their fame.
Tetsu and his brother Tatsunosuke arrive in Kyoto looking for work, meet Okita Souji by accident and become part of the Shinsengumi.  Tatsunosuke is hired by the Shinsengumi as a book-keeper and Hijikata agrees to take Tetsu on as a page, after being pressured to do so by Okita.  The story basically introduces Tetsu to all of the historical Shinsengumi, and to the dichotomy between their fun-loving regular personalities, and their blood-thirsty, serious killer sides.  Okita especially has a complete personality switch when he’s killing.

As the story goes along, back story on Tetsu comes to light.  His parents were murdered in front of him when he was several years younger and he was left to die along with them in their burning house.  He saw their killer who happens to be a high ranking member of the rebel forces arrayed against the Shinsengumi, a man named Yoshida Toshimaru.  Tetsu struggles during the series to overcome his terror of Yoshida.
Tetsu has an out-going personality and makes friends with everyone he runs into.  One of these people is a young mute girl his age named Saya.   To add a plot twist to the series, Tetsu also befriends a boy his age named Kitamura Suzu.  Suzu resists at first, but then they become friends.   Tetsu doesn’t realize that Suzu also happens to be Yoshida’s apprentice and wants revenge against the Shinsengumi for killing his brother.   Suzu doesn’t realize Tetsu is associated with the Shinsengumi.  Suzu ends up caught between conflicting emotions when Yoshida orders him to kill Tetsu later in the story.

This series is interesting to watch and doesn’t focus so much on the historical aspect that the story isn’t any good.  The characters all have personalities that make the series interesting, and the interactions between them all are fun.  This is not a light and fluffy anime series though.  At times it’s intense, and even depressing.  Still, that intensity makes the plot.  The biggest negative I have about the series is the token death.  Yoshida dies in the end, but his death is pretty necessary to the plot.  I’m not sure I can say the same about Ayume’s death.  Ayume is a young woman who is both a spy and a cook for the Shinsengumi, and pretty much loved by all of them.  She is caught spying by the rebels and killed pretty brutally.  And then left in a gutter for her brother to find her body. 
The climax of the series is the raid at Ikedaya.  The ending is bittersweet, because the good guys all survive, if somewhat the worse for wear.  And Tetsu gains enough courage and strength to fight in that battle.  But poor Suzu has not only fallen out of his master’s good graces for refusing his order, he ends up going off in the rain with his master’s decapitated head wrapped up in his shawl.  And of course Ayume is dead, although Tetsu and her brother become friends.  So the series is definitely worth watching, from my point of view, but if you only like fluffy anime without much emotion, you may want to avoid this one. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Nurarihyon no Mago

Nurarihyon no Mago is an anime series adapted from an on-going manga.  It centers around a middle school boy named Nura Rikuo, his family, his friends, and his struggles to be grow up and accept his destiny.
Rikuo happens to be 1/4 human and 3/4 youkai (demon) and his not being a full blooded demon is a problem in the beginning of the series.  He happens to be the grandson of a very powerful youkai who led the Nura clan, a group of youkai also called the Night Parade of 100 Demons.   The clan needs an heir to this leader position, a person to become the Third Head of the Nura clan, but most of the youkai who know him are not convinced the part-human Rikuo can fill this role, and some of them are totally against it.  Even his closest friends among the youkai, who also happen to be his protectors, have some doubts.  This doubt is added to because Rikuo’s youkai side only manifests at night, his night form.  During the day he’s just human Rikuo.

At the start of the series Rikuo doesn’t want to be the Third Head of the Nura Clan.  He wants to be a normal human with his human friends and he avoids youkai-related things around them.  This is a little difficult since he lives in a house full of youkai.  However by the end of the first arc he decides he does want to be the Third Head and begins seriously working toward it. 

Rikuo’s staunchest supporters among the youkai include Tsurara, Aotabou, Kurotabou, Kejoro and Kubinashi.   These five support and protect him throughout the two seasons of the series, including when he’s working to become the Third Head.  Tsurara even accompanies him to human school as his classmate.  She is a type of youkai called a yuki-onna and is often just called Yuki-onna by people other than Rikuo.  She also has a rivalry going with Rikuo’s human classmate Kana, who he’s attracted to. 

Early on, besides not being accepted by all the youkai, Rikuo also has problems with his human friends, trying to keep up normal appearances and act like a human around them without embroiling them in youkai affairs.  His human friends include the girl he has a crush on, Ienaga Kana, and a girl named Keikain Yura.  Yura is the source of some trouble for Rikuo, as she's the daughter of a house of famous onmyouji  who work to destroy all youkai they find.  Her friendship with Rikuo, even after learning what he is, becomes troublesome for her with her family also.

This series is comprised of two seasons.  Both are 24 episodes long, and the second is called Nurarihyon no Mago: Sennen Makyou.   The first season centers around Rikuo gaining the position of Third Head of the Nura clan and then the battles with encroaching youkai clans that gain Rikuo the respect and allegiance of his Night Parade of demons. 

The second season is centered around the resurgence of a Nura family enemy that the Nura clan bested 400 years earlier.  Haguromo-Gitsune is a woman youkai leader who sweeps over Kyoto with over-whelming power, crushing any resistance in her path with her followers.  Yura is called by the Keikain family to go to Kyoto to help, and Rikuo decides to follow, both to help Yura and because Haguromo-Gitsune murdered his father.  Since Rikuo has just become the Nura clan leader and has limited fighting skills, he is sent by his grandfather to an ally clan first to learn more fighting techniques.  Thus this second season centers around Rikuo making new allies, learning new skills and battling the Kyoto youkai.

This anime series has decent music, a nice plot and story line and lots of cool characters.  The one thing that took me the longest to get used to was the shape of Rikuo’s head when he’s in his youkai form.  Despite that, the series is pretty and definitely worth watching.  Rikuo manages to grow up and into his position as Third Head, becoming a powerful youkai in his own right, without getting all his followers or human friends killed in the process.