Saturday, May 23, 2015

Death Parade

Death Parade is a unique series.  The basic premise is that when people die, they are transported two at a time by elevators to a bar, where they play a game against each other with their lives at stake.  The people don't remember their pasts or their deaths, so they think they are playing with their lives at stake.  The choice of game is decided by a roulette spin, so many different games are played during the series.  The fact that the participants’ lives are at stake brings out all the hidden intentions and flaws in their personalities.  The bartenders judge them based on their responses to the extreme games, and then one participant goes to hell (the endless void and becomes nothing) and the other participant goes to heaven (is reincarnated back into the world).  The bartenders refer to themselves as arbiters, and they have no human feelings or emotions, being essentially puppet judges.

The story follows a few of the different bartenders, most specifically Decim, the tender of the bar “Quindecim”.   Decim is new to his arbiter position and just learning it.  Assisting Decim in his work is a black-haired human woman named Chiyuki, although she doesn’t remember her name or past until very late in the series.  Besides assisting Decim, Chiyuki is learning how the arbiters judge humans by observing Decim, and seems to be there because Decim could not judge her.
The person in charge of Decim and several other arbiters is a senior arbiter named Nona who looks like a little girl.  And the being in charge of the entire afterlife system is an old man figure, or alleged god, named Oculus.  Oculus spends his time playing galactic pool and keeping an eye on the system.  The background story that you pick up as the series progresses is that Nona has decided that the arbiters need human feelings and emotions in order to judge humans.  Oculus is completely against this, stating that arbiters must be non-feeling puppets.  

So Nona has been secretly creating her arbiter puppets with the ability to have human feelings, including Decim and Ginti (another arbiter in another bar).  Oculus doesn't know, but Nona talks about it to other senior arbiters, including one named Quin, who was the original arbiter in Quindecim before Decim came along and now runs the afterlife information bureau, supplying people’s memories to the arbiters.  Nona is also responsible for Chiyuki being present with Decim in his bar.

As the human feelings and emotions take hold in Decim and Ginti, they start having difficulty making judgments, as they begin understanding human foibles and feeling human emotions.  Chiyuki exacerbates this in Decim, by herself judging on the basis of her own human feelings and emotions, and questioning his judgments.
Eventually Oculus discovers Nona’s plans, but then he tells her to go ahead because it won’t make any difference.  Decim struggles with judging Chiyuki until the very end, but he must judge her because being a dead human she cannot survive forever in the afterlife setting.  The arbiters can survive because they’re non-human puppets.   Decim gains enough human emotions to understand Chiyuki in the end and to send her to be reincarnated, even though it turns out she killed herself in life.  So the series leaves you feeling that even though gaining human emotions may make judging harder, it probably makes the arbiters better judges, and that Nona will continue with her experiments.

I wasn’t sure about this series at first, mainly because the first couple of episodes I totally disagreed with who went to heaven and who went to hell.   But I stuck, and began to realize the back story and what was taking place.  Overall, I liked the series a lot, and the OP is awesome.  Even though it started out confusing, I recommend it.      

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Akatsuki no Yona

Akatsuki no Yona, or Yona of the Dawn, is a harem anime series adapted from a manga.  It follows the story of a spoiled Princess with bright red hair named Yona.  On Yona’s sixteenth birthday, her childhood friend and beloved Suu-Won comes to visit.  During the visit Yona sees him murder her father the King, and then he attempts to have her murdered.  Yona is rescued by her other childhood friend and bodyguard, Son Hak, and they run for their lives while Suu-Won takes over the kingdom.

Hak and Yona flee to his family village, where they learn of a seer/sage named Ik-su that may be able to advise them.  They leave to find the seer, are pursued by Suu-Won’s allies, fall off a cliff and are saved by a boy named Yun, who is the Ik-su’s friend and assistant.  Ik-su tells them the story of the Yona’s ancestor, the original king of Kouka, who built the kingdom with the aid of four dragons.  Yona, Hak and Yun set out to find the descendants of the four dragons, and ask for their help.

The rest of the story is about searching for and finding the four dragons, and also about the people they meet and help along the way.  It’s also about Yona growing up and learning to fight for herself.  Yona is not your typical harem heroine, in that she's not helpless and useless, letting the guys surrounding her fight for her and protect her.  Oh, they do that, but she’s determined to protect them also as well as defending herself.  She practices night after night after night to become better with the bow and arrow, and at the end of the series, she’s determined to learn the sword as well.  She’s a heroine worth following basically.  And the best part is, she dresses appropriately – not in a short-skirted school uniform.

In the order they come across them, the four dragons are:  the white dragon, Ki-ja, whose right arm is a dragon arm and claws with the strength of a dragon; the blue dragon, Shin-ha, who has the dragons eyes and can see far distances;  the green dragon, Jea-ha, who has a dragon’s leg and foot and can leap far distances or great heights and seems to fly; and the yellow dragon,  Zeno, who doesn’t have any apparent talents but is immortal, basically cannot be killed.

Toward the end of the series Yona and Suu-Won bump into each other accidentally in a town they both happen to be in, and Yona discovers that she still loves Suu-Won even though he killed her father.  Suu-Won for his part hides her from his forces and lets her escape.  You are left with the feeling that he cares for her, but cannot let that interfere with his overall goal, which is not clear.  It’s clear that he feels he can run the kingdom better than Yona’s father was running it, but it seems there’s more to Suu-Won’s goal than that.  And of course that’s left hanging when the series ends. 
At the series end Yona decides that even with the four dragons she’s not ready to retake the kingdom.  She’s seen a lot of suffering and misery that occurred during her father’s rule, so Yona decides to go about with Hak, Yun and the dragons, helping the people in her kingdom whenever she can and protecting the kingdom.

So not much resolution of issues occurs at the end of the series.  She just finds the dragons, grows as a person and carries on.  But the series is pretty and the music is good.  For a harem anime it’s not bad at all and to me it was worth watching.  That’s especially true when Yona seems to channel her fierce dragon ancestor.  It would be nice to have another season of this series to see where they could go with it.