Sunday, May 25, 2014

Angel Beats!

Angel Beats! is a short (13 episode) series with a really interesting plot concept.  A teen-age boy named Otonashi Yuzuru dies, and finds himself in high school.  The afterlife he finds himself in is a high school populated with other teenagers.   Otonashi is approached by a girl named Yuri who invites him to join her group of students who are fighting against God.   As she tells it, if you just accept this high school life and stay out of trouble, you eventually disappear.  Yuri and her gang don’t wish to disappear.  They want to know what’s going on, and why they died, and are just basically rebelling against God because they died with unresolved issues.  Otonashi has no memories of his life or how and why he died, so he joins Yuri’s group.

The person Yuri’s group battles the most in the beginning is the student body president, a girl called Tenshi (angel) who has supernatural powers, and whose job it is to keep the peace and keep the students like Yuri’s group in line.   Yuri-tachi attempt to find ways to best her and run various missions, using a girl-band made up of their members as a distraction during their missions.  Tenshi fights against them and always manages to foil their missions. 

This series has several surprise points to it – points where the series turned my thoughts around, switched bad guys and good guys, just basically did the unexpected.  One of the first was that I thought they were killing off cast members awfully early on, only to find that the students don’t die for good.  Members of Yuri’s group who are ‘killed’ in action, return later with no injuries.  Which I suppose makes sense since they’re technically dead anyway.  The only escape from the high school seems to be to behave and disappear.

Another surprise was the bottom line plot, which is this:  The afterlife high school is where kids go who can’t accept their death or are struggling with unfinished business from their life.  Once they come to accept things, they move on and disappear.  Tenshi isn’t a bad person, but is actually a girl named Kanade who is trying to help the students resolve their issues and move on, and has an unresolved issue of her own.  So about midway in the series , members of Yuri’s group begin resolving their lingering issues and disappearing – which is almost as jolting as the earlier episodes where they were getting killed in the battles.

Along the way Otonashi befriends Kanade when she loses her position to the student body vice president and even invites her to join Yuri’s group.  Eventually he remembers his life and death and begins working with Kanade to help the others resolve their issues and move on.   At the end he discovers Kanade’s issue was being unable to thank him for the heart she gained as a transplant from him when he died.  So in the end everyone happily passes on without too much regret, although Otonashi and Kanade probably love each other.

I had really mixed feelings about this series because it essentially ends with everyone dying.  Although I’m not sure I can actually say that since it starts with everyone already dead.  The premise and plot twists were definitely quirky enough to keep me interested, and the music is beyond gorgeous.  I’ve always been partial to piano music.  I’m glad I watched it, despite the ending.     

Saturday, May 17, 2014

New Series - April 2014

I know, I know.  We’re already 6 - 7 weeks into the new season.  I’ve been sorting them out.  A lot of series start in April every year and I’m always excited to try the new ones, always on the lookout for the next great series.  So these are my current picks of the new season. 

Mekaku City Actors – This one is hands down my favorite so far.  It’s bright, colorful, and pretty much all the way through the first two episodes, totally incomprehensible.  I was intrigued trying to figure out what in the world the series was about.   Then in episode 3 they tie it all together so seamlessly, it’s jaw-dropping awesome, and everything sorts itself out perfectly.   Sou ka!  It’s about a group of kids with super powers!    Okay, that one sentence totally sells this series short.  The series has the potential to be an awesome series about a group of kids with super powers.   Plus it's just fun to watch.  I look forward to each new episode.

Mushishi 2 – I really liked the first season of Mushishi and this is simply a continuation of that.  If you haven't watched the first season, briefly, mushi are supernatural creatures who interact with humans and sometimes cause harm.  Ginko is a mushishi, a traveler who knows about and deals with mushi when they become troublesome.  This season seems like it may be a little darker than the first season was, with the mushi being more threatening, but  I’ll have to wait and see if that holds true.  I’m also hoping for a little more plot than just the individual cases of Ginko dealing with mushi, but I’ll be happy without the extra plot.  It would just be nice if it were there. 
Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushi – This is a feel-good series.   It’s  about an outgoing princess from a tiny country who happens to be able to control the weather, and who is stuck marrying the king of a large, Sun country.  This king turns out to be a small, arrogant, bratty kid several years younger than she is.  So far there’s all sorts of political intrigue as well as the mismatched personalities of the two main characters.  All in all though, it’s entertaining to watch, and it really is a feel-good series.   Both main characters are smart, brave and on top of things.  It’s also got some nice music and good animation style, so I’ll continue watching it for awhile.     
Sidonia no Kishi, or Knights of Sidonia – This is a mecha series.  I’m not sure exactly what attracts me to this series and keeps me coming back to watch it.   I do like the animation style and the music.  And certain elements of the plot are fairly unique, like: the main character is the only human who can’t photosynthesize – humans having developed the ability when most of their food supplies were destroyed by the race that destroyed the earth and that they’re fleeing from.   Other than those few unique details though, it looks like it’s going to be predictable: oddball main character flies older form mecha and is better at it than everyone in their new mechas, as everyone fights in a hopeless space war against vastly superior forces.    I’m not totally sure why, but I’ll keep watching it for awhile.  
Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei – This series has so much potential and at the same time is so annoying that I’m torn between continuing to watch it or not.   It’s about kids who can use magic attending a high school where there is a sharp dichotomy between really talented, strong magic-users (flowers) and those who can barely manage to use magic at all (weeds).  The focus of the story is a brother-sister pair, both in the same year in school, the sister a flower and the brother a weed.   That’s fine as far as it goes, but the brother-sister thing is annoying.  The two act like lovers and frequently embarrass everyone around them.  In addition, and really more annoying, the sister becomes insanely jealous if the brother even looks at another girl, and that gets old really fast.  The only reason I’m still watching is that they have thrown in some interesting twists.  We’ll have to see if the interest factor is enough to keep me watching despite the annoyance factor.
So those are some of the series I’m currently watching.  I hope for good things from several of them and will probably post on them individually when they’re over.  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Wizard Barristers Benmashi Cecil

Wizard Barristers is a bright and colorful, yet highly weird, short series.  The story occurs in a reality where magic is common, but people who use magic are considered second-class citizens and are tightly controlled.   They cannot hold public office, and crimes committed with magic are dealt with severely, especially if a life is lost when magic is used.  Thus crimes committed by magic-users are tried in a special magic court.  Defendants hire wizard barristers, lawyers who themselves use magic, to help defend them.

The series follows the story of a very young wizard barrister named Sudou Cecil.  Cecil finished her lawyer training at 17, making her the youngest wizard barrister.  As the story starts she’s going to report for her first day of work at her new place of employment, Butterfly Law Office, which specializes in defending magic users accused of crimes.  Cecil actually fits right in with this group, as the members of Butterfly Law Office look and act so far left of center that they tip the universe.  This group could be used as the definition of a “motley” crew. 

The series begins by following Cecil’s involvement with various cases, but quickly brings in the back story, which is that Cecil became a lawyer because her mother is on death row.  She has been accused and tried for using magic to kill a person.  At her trial she was found guilty and condemned to die.  

The plot of the story is actually good, keeping you guessing about who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, and making you wonder what actually did happen with Cecil’s mother.  It’s intriguing enough to keep me watching, even through the annoying things.  And the biggest annoyances are the magic-users "familiars".  Cecil’s familiar is a lecherous frog creature, and the rest aren’t much better.  I’m not sure why the creators of this series felt it necessary to include these familiars because they don’t add to the story.  They have no obvious role and no point in the story other than to be annoying and detract from the series overall.  Can you tell I didn’t like them?
At any rate, the fascinating plot line comes down to this:  Cecil was killed when she was 6 years old and her father essentially made a deal with the dark forces to bring her back to life.  When all this happened, her mother tried to protect her and ended up getting pinned with a murder she didn’t commit when these “dark forces” needed to get rid of someone.  The “dark forces” encompass a group of magic-users who hate normal, non-magic users.  They plan to call Satan from Hell to make themselves vastly powerful and to destroy normal humans.  To perform this calling ritual, they need a powerful sacrifice, and they plan to make the re-animated Cecil that sacrifice.   So they drive her to gain more magical powers herself, becoming a better sacrifice for their ritual. 
At times in the series it’s difficult to tell who’s on whose side, with one of the cops turning out to be a bad guy and another law office who appeared bad at first, actually trying to protect Cecil.  In the end, Cecil and the good guys prevail and at the end of the series Cecil’s mother is going to get a re-trial.  A quirky addition to the overall plot is that Satan had already arrived long before the ritual . . . and joined the Butterfly Law Office as a clerk where he/she can watch over Cecil, who fascinates her.    
 So overall this was a quirky series that was mostly fun to watch and that kept me interested and entertained.  Without the familiars I would have liked it even better.    

Sunday, May 4, 2014


Noragami is a series adapted from a manga, and it’s about a god called Yato Gami, or simply Yato.  Yato is not your stereotypical god, wearing traditional Japanese robes, living in a shrine and surrounded by shrine maidens.  Yato is a poor god, wearing sweats and a ratty scarf, living on the streets and spray painting his cell phone number everywhere advertising that he does odd jobs for a living.  In fact, give him 5 yen and he’ll take on any job – from slaying demons to cleaning your bathroom.

At the start of this series Yato has taken on an odd job and he's searching for a lost cat.  In pursuing the cat, he steps in front of a bus.  He is pushed out of the way by a high school girl named Iki Hiyori, who is hit by the bus instead and should have died.  Her soul leaves her body, but when Yato makes her notice her body lying in the street, she returns to her body and lives.  Since Yato’s life was never in danger, he goes to the hospital to check on how Hiyori is doing, and the two begin to interact routinely. 

Due to the bus accident and essentially dying, Hiyori now has the ability for her soul to leave her body, at which point her body falls asleep.  She has a tendency to do this without intending to, leaving her body sleeping in various places, which her friends then have to deal with.  Her soul form looks just like her regular self except as a soul she has a fuzzy tail, which is essentially her lifeline to her body.   Hiyori blames Yato for this and demands that he fix her so she stops leaving her body.  She pays him 5 yen and he accepts the task.
Around the time he meets Hiyori, Yato is weaponless.  Gods take and name wandering spirits, who then become their “regalia” or shinki, and can then be used as weapons by the god.  Yato has just released his previous regalia due to personality conflicts with her, so he’s without any regalia.   Because he needs a weapon to fulfill some of his requests and to protect Hiyori and fulfill her request, he and Hiyori search for a new spirit which he can take on as a shinki.  Yato eventually settles on the spirit of a teen-age boy who he names Yukine in boy form.  When Yukine takes on weapon form he is called Sekki, and his form is a katana.    
This series is basically split into three arcs.  The first one introduces all this background and the characters and sets up their interactions with each other.  The second arc is Yato and Yukine coming to terms.  Yukine resents being dead and takes to lying and stealing, not knowing that whenever he does something bad, Yato’s life force takes a hit, becoming more and more defiled.  Eventually Hiyori rounds up Yato’s friends and acquaintances, who Hiyori has met, to perform an intervention on Yukine.  This ritual will either bring Yukine back to the good side and save Yato’s life, or to destroy Yukine in the demon form he’s become and hopefully save Yato’s life that way.
The third arc is related to Yato’s past.  Apparently Yato was once a God of Calamity, killing and maiming and just generally wreaking destruction as he went.  Another god of calamity named Rabou, who was at one time Yato’s friend, tracks him down and wants to fight him as Yato once was, a powerful god of calamity.  (yes, the old testosterone-filled ploy of ‘I-must-fight-the-strongest-to-prove-I’m-the-best’).  Because Yato won’t play, Rabou and Rabou’s shinki Nora (who was at one time Yato’s shinki) go after Hiyori, taking away her memories of Yato and Yukine and eventually taking her life.  Yato and Yukine of course ride to the rescue, but satisfyingly, Hiyori herself is as much a part of the rescue as the one being rescued.  It takes all three of them to beat their opponents.
This is as usual the bare bones of the series without introducing any of the secondary characters or smaller plot lines.  It was actually a fun series to watch, with good music and a good animation style.  I could have wished to know more about Yato – like why he went from a god of calamity to a good guy, saving teen-age boy spirits and granting wishes for 5 yen, but overall the series was well worth watching.