Night Head Genesis – Psychic bishounen, brotherly love

Psychic bishounen, brotherly love – Night Head Genesis is quite clearly aimed at the yaoi fan girls, yet an over abundance of melodrama and an almost laughably over the top collection of villains fails to render this completely unwatchable. It’s trashy, homo-erotic and somewhat dull, but for now I do intend to watch more of Night Head Genesis. At 24 episodes in length, something genuinely interesting must be set to happen, right?
There are a few things I quite enjoy about this. I complained above about the larger than life — often insane — bad guys, but it’s still quite fun seeing them kick ass and hop around acting totally evil (like being crazy enough to abduct and murder any girl wearing purple clothes) only to get their comeuppance in gruesome or disturbing ways. That’s right; I’m in it for the violence! Night Head Genesis sets a dark (sometimes extremely moody) tone and it can be impressively harsh – seeing these psysic powers used to cause damage is very enthralling and brings back better memories of Tetsuo going ape shit in AKIRA.
Unfortunately the two brothers and their whole melodramatic history (being abandoned by their parents and forced to live their younger years stuck in a special hospital for the mentally "enhanced) fails to illicit any kind of empathy from me — there is no subtlety to their characters; they lack personality and humour, share no rapore with one another (or anyone else for that matter). What does interest me about them is their purpose in the story — why are they important? I have many questions and to get answers I’m happy to sit through another couple of episodes before deciding whether or not Night Head Genesis is limited to merely offering trashy eye candy for the fan girls.

Welcome to the NHK! – 7 – Is Misaki Real?

Although it’s not nearly the “best” series airing at the moment, I often watch Welcome to the NHK! as soon as it’s downloaded. I have the first 6 episodes of Bokura Ga Ita stocked up, another four of Legend of the Galactic Heroes and even the most recent Honey & Clover- but it seems (whether I like it or not) NHK! comes first. It’s not that I find it easy to watch – it’s actually the opposite, Satou scares me. His deluded fantasies, wild pipe dreams and attempts to cover up his “NEET” life style are morbidly close to the bone. Many people move through life like him; escaping reality by depending on impossible dreams, only to wake up 10 years later and wonder what the hell happened. I hope Satou snaps out of it by the end; no, I’m not talking about him and Misaki getting it together or some Hollywood bullshit like that, however he must (or I hope that he will) at least turn the corner.
Episode 7 was totally about characterisation, and it’s all brought on by his mum; she is set to visit Tokyo and in usual style, Satou lies through his teeth to cover up the Hikikomori situation. The saddest thing about this scene is that his mum buys it all, about him having a girlfriend and everything; it puts her mind at rest, knowing her son is “normal” now. Satou’s despair after the call “Don’t be so happy” (more like relieved) says it all.
The rest was fairly cute fun; Misaki ends up playing as Satou’s girlfriend and they go on a pretend date that raises just as much questions about Misaki’s situation. Who is she? Is Misaki -or the Misaki being seen by Satou- even real? Notice how she isn’t clocked by Yamazaki when she enters his room, and how we only ever see her talking to Satou. It’s worrying and distressing to think she could well be a figment of his imagination. Obviously that would explain why she knows Satou’s phone number (and all the rest) – but for his sake, I hope she is real. And for my sake, I hope I haven’t just guessed the big plot twist of NHK!

Kemonozume – 1 – Delicious gut-munching innovation

The moment I clapped eyes on its highly evocative promo art, I knew I’d love Kemonozume. It just looks so damn cool, completely in another league to the typical “doll face” anime style; here characters look and move like real people, the fluidity of movement and facial expression oddly fascinating. Forget following the narrative- simply watching Kemonozume in full flow is enough of an immersive experience, the animation is wonderful. Like Noein, where the sheer visceral speed of the moving characters somewhat deforms their cliche anime “beauty”, Kemonozume plays with some raw but undeniably vivid art to evoke a thick, gritty atmosphere, sparkling with gems of fleeting beauty amidst an other wise grimy, street-wise setting.
I’ve said a lot about the art of Kemonozume because it is that important. The story is interesting if a little predictable- a male demon hunter falls in love with his beautiful “prey” and they have passionate forbidden sex (yes, actual sex in modern anime, who would have thought it?!)- tragedy surely awaits them. I hope I’m not the only one to notice how similar the premise is to Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s erotic horror Wicked City. Masaaki Yuasa’s colourful, hyperactive and quirky directing style elevates Kemonozume above mere gothic territory and offers up some truly (monkey loving) zany moments, offsetting the grim horror with important touches of light (offbeat) humour.
Though its unique style won’t be for everyone, Kemonozume is an experimental horrific delight that completely shuns the contemporary anime style in favour of delicious gut-munching innovation.

Black Lagoon – 12 – BOOOOOM! HEAD SHOT!

So that’s it then, no more Black Lagoon for (at a guess) a couple of years. I really loved watching this series; after a hard day at work, when it’s a tough ask to even keep your eyes open let alone watch and read anime, Black Lagoon shone like a bloodied beacon of hope. I knew no matter how tired, or how jaded, I could enjoy watching this.
That’s what Black Lagoon meant to me. It didn’t carry much emotional weight, but it had episode titles like “Guerrillas in the Jungle” and “Rasta Blasta”. There is something so attractive about its zero pretension; it’s somewhat fun to see when a series is so honestly and passionately devoted to just thrilling the viewer from start till finish. It’s fan-service, but in a broader sense (not in the moe – killer loli – panty shot – harem sense) – taking it’s cues from the Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Van Damme era of 1980s action, Black Lagoon was a consistent, balls against the wall action series with little or no regard for human life. It’s great.
If I didn’t know a second season of Black Lagoon was coming, I would feel somewhat deflated by this final episode. Of course- it pays off with the now-expected-during-every-episode kick ass action; in particular, ninja woman throwing around her giant machete on a rope is a high point, but then it just ends. We don’t even get to see Dutch. Hints are made about the second season (American CIA agents talk to Revy as if she has trained with them in the past, the Japanese Guerrilla survives to fight another day), and basically it ends with the feeling of just another episode. So much so I waited for the next episode preview, but alas nothing appeared. My anticipation of the second season starts now.
I love a lot of anime and technically, so much of it is superior to Black Lagoon – but I just know that if I had to choose one anime series, over almost everything else I’ll happily watch Black Lagoon again and again. BOOOOOM! HEAD SHOT!

Honey & Clover II – 7 – Bleeding with a flickering hope in life

As far as hyperbole goes, this was quite possibly my favourite episode of Honey & Clover II. No doubt I could say that after every episode- but this seventh instalment particularly deserves praise for violently jamming the second season in a completely different (and darker) direction.
It’s not that I was getting sick of the likes of Yamada angsting over the same old melodramatic things, instead I’m simply enthused to see an episode more akin to the first season- a somewhat sad story filled with life-affecting, thought provoking symbolism and philosophy.
Tatsuo cuts an absolutely ambiguous character; morally what he does to Tsukasa Morita is wrong, yet his sympathetic envy is so well emphasized through the use of some touching symbolism. His best friend can fly, so why can’t he? What makes him so damn special? As individuals we’re all brought up to feel one of a kind, destined for greatness. But when the harsh reality of life kicks in, and we find ourselves stuck in the shadows of others, how should we react – after all, realising you live a mediocre life sucks.
Typically the ever changing colour scheme and art work for this episode matched the muted, sombre tone with such whimsical aplomb. My favourite scenes included Tatsuou and Kaoru’s walk through an open expanse of beautiful golden fields; such expressive, emotive style bleeding with a flickering hope in life.

Black Lagoon – 11 – The prelude to carnage

After the previous couple of unrelenting maid bashing episodes, the eleventh instalment of Black Lagoon was always going to seem a tad watered down in comparison. And so it proves- the penultimate “Lock’n Load Revolution” has more talking than shooting, and is almost entirely aimed at building up an initially convoluted race between an ambitious group of idealistic terrorists, a somewhat traditional (testicle cracking) Chinese triad (in cooperation with the CIA!) and in the middle of it all is of course our Lagoon.
If I have a problem with Black Lagoon it is that the characterisation has taken a vacation. It’s now more like watching Hellsing (though a lot better) – wondering who or what monsters will be facing Revy next. As fun as it is to see some crazy Chinese mafia bloke kick a grenade into a group of hapless grunts, Black Lagoon somewhere along its war path has lost that underlying emotional catharsis and is vainly trying to cover itself with one too many trendy gimmicks. In short, it’s getting a wee bit episodic. Still fun, but lacks a human bite.

Noein – And so we reach the end

I feel like I’ve been watching Noein for years now and writing this entry is daunting. Complex multi dimensional time travel, heart breaking tragedy and gut wrenching friendships. Here is a series bursting with ideas and without breaking into an essay length review, it’s hard to do justice to the sheer narrative majesty of Noein.
I marathoned the last 6 episodes tonight and I’m now lulled somewhere between admiration and confusion. There is no denying Noein was heavy on time travel techno-babble and I’d be lying if I said I understood it all, but still – what a ride! I was first attracted to this series because of its unique art and the final couple of episodes are a total blur of world sweeping conflict and hulking gangly monsters. Experimental is a word I’d use to explain how a lot of this looks- there is a real speed and physicality about the action in Noein, often the character designs contort and take on new styles, but it’s always exciting. We feel every punch, fly alongside Karasu and watch his cape ripple in the wind every time he takes on another crazy opponent.
Almost all of the characters turn out sympathetic yet flawed, and essentially human. Of course at the heart of Noein is the relationship between Yuu and Haruka, but the rest of the cast are just as important (if not more so). For example Atori is such an insane, heroic bundle of pent up emotion, by the end of the series he will surely be everyone’s favourite; the lovable eccentric, tinged with a tragic war torn past and an attraction to self sacrifice, his transformation through out Noein encapsulates my growing attachment to most of these characters. The “flashback” to La’cryma’s younger versions of Miho, Isami and Hasebe was a harsh and gruelling example of utterly captivating characterisation.
The underlying theme of Noein- that no one should try to deny their future (or change the past) – was conveyed with fairy tale elegance. Things never get too dark or depressing, and there are enough laughs and stupid moments to lighten the tone and offer up some rest from the sometimes unrelenting onslaughts of mind bending time travelling theories. The story may suffer from spending a bit too much time meandering in the every day angsty lives of young teenagers but this is merely a passing complaint- when anime looks as exciting as this, and grasps your heart as well as your mind, it’s a winner. Noein is a winner.

Mushishi – 24 – Bound for Bonfire Field

Another episode that was only average in comparison with Mushishi’s previously sky-is-the-limit standards, “Bound for Bonfire Field” showcased one of the more deadly mushi Ginko has come across but failed to deliver the profound human empathy I’ve come to expect of this magical series.
The main problem is this episode’s frustrating central figure; a female mushishi who arrogantly spurns Ginko’s advice in favour of brashly burning down a field to kill a poisonous mushi, there by destroying countless trees and massacring the surrounding wild life too. Inevitably she (and her misguided neighbours) pay the price for her ignorance, but her evident lack of emotion by the time the credits roll left me feeling somewhat dissatisfied. The allegory of this episode; that fear can drive people to self destruction and that in acting rashly, you end up doing more harm than good, was an underplayed and subtle theme. Many allusions could be made to the real world’s current political climate.
As ever the art direction was fantastic and revelled in some beautiful (albeit short) glimpses of wild animals. Just as impressive was the sad yet alluring sight of a burning field, an entire night time landscape enveloped in flame and ash.

Honey & Clover II – First and fleeting impressions

Honey & Clover is said to epitomise the ambiguous “slice of life” genre – a typically slow, ambling style of story telling with no true narrative direction. Indeed, Takemoto’s impulsive journey around Japan is all about finding a definitive meaning to his existence only to discover that ultimately, there is no set path for us all to follow; that life and youth is random and fleeting; about searching and wondering, rather than knowing it all.
If Honey & Clover was thick with such philosophical commentary but lacking in conclusive fulfilment for the viewer, then it’s sequel is the opposite; Honey & Clover II has almost done away this cloud glazing ponderment and locked in on the various love triangles that make up its cast. Now it is very much a case of wondering who will end up with whom and sometimes (and even Mayama admits this) suffers from being bogged down with hammy dialogue and a sickly sweet sentiment.
The truth though is that Honey & Clover (I & II) is surely the essential anime for our generation. In being made now, it has captured and expressed every young adult’s profound worries and nostalgic thoughts about life and love in such a contemporary, trail blazing style. The wistful animation is ultra expressive, fluid and engaging while the longing soundtrack is raging with a burning emotion. This is a great series, that should become one of the greats.