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Anime Reviews

[One Piece] Through hard times, and fun times… Yohohoho…

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Some anime are dark and depressing, others are romantic and heart-wrenching. One Piece is a story of friendship, chasing dreams, and smiling; honestly, it is a joy to behold, to listen as Brook plays his favourite song; the music has a feeling of nostalgia. The Straw-Hats’ celebrations are always moments of sublime happiness, which is something that One Piece has always captured so well, as after such a long, hard journey, it’s only right to reflect on the adventure, and, of course, to smile.

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But Brook cries instead, because his dearest Laboon has waited nearly 50 years to be reunited with him. Meanwhile, just a matter of days before, Zoro and Sanji offered to trade their lives in return for their friends. All of them were unconscious, Zoro nearly dies, and few know why. It’s a secret. Yohohoho.

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Anime Reviews

Casshern Sins: You looked as if you were dancing

It’s hard to explain how I feel about Casshern Sins. It’s way beyond anything else I’ve seen this year. More than just another good anime series, more than just entertainment, I find it is engaging, evocative and inspiring, perched somewhere in-between the surreal, fable-like quality of Kino’s Journey and the philosophical melancholy of Mushishi. After every episode, I’m excited, my mind is filled with possibilities and ideas, and I really feel like I’ve just seen something wonderful. I can only hope that I’m capable of relaying those feelings to you. For over two years I’ve been writing on this anime blog, all for anime like Casshern Sins.

Thoughts after: Episode 6

Venturing deeper into the dystopian, decaying depression of Casshern’s strange situation, those that surround him are petrified of dying, but without knowing death, can one ever feel truly alive? Just like how a flower so pretty can only be that way in comparison to an ugly weed, one can only grasp the value of his life after realizing that, some day, he will die. After all, without death, life has no meaning, thus, regardless of Luna’s end, and whether or not it was against her will at all, by dying, she has seemingly graced her people with a gift so precious, mortality. Suddenly, the immortal feel a thirst for life and a desperation to live, and this, I think, is the point of Casshern Sins. It can be so sombre and nostalgic, but it’s hard to deny that the end of the world has rarely looked as beautiful. Ironic, really.

Episode 7

Somewhere in-between this endless expanse of desert and open blue sky is a place without rules and purpose, it is where we find the woman of the tall tower. She wants to think that in this place, in this dying world, her aimless life is still worth living. She rings her bell, where the view is wonderful and the Earth is really pretty, and it resounds with her will to live, as if screaming, “Look at me! I am alive!” Like an artist, she has built this expression of her spirit on the horizon, it’s her tower, the proof of her existence for all to see, and it’s wonderful that people may finally understand that feeling, that this dying world is still beautiful.

Episode 8

When life is tough, to hope and dream can be the hardest thing, yet all it takes is a passage of writing, an episode of anime or a two-minute song; such a tiny moment in our lives, so fleeting, yet it can unleash such a potent feeling. Do we all have a reason to live? And a dream to follow? Like a theatrical performer, Casshern elegantly runs, jumps and dives through an army of hopeless fiends, inspired to protect someone precious, the singer Janis. People wait in the music hall to be inspired, for just a few minutes, to escape into imagination and to dream of an exciting future. Her performance is art at its most vital, more than mere entertainment, to be inspired is to find nothing less than a reason to live.

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Anime Editorials Reviews

Autumn ’08 impressions: week 1

This past weekend was spent watching anime, lots and lots of anime, and below you can read my findings. Having come perilously close to losing my sanity at several points over the last few days, the scariest thing is that there is still so much I’m waiting to see, not least of all the majority of what was included in my autumn preview.

The mediocre anime

9. Kannagi
Listen up, otaku! Do you want a girlfriend, but struggle with the ladies? Perhaps you’re having trouble meeting that perfect girl? Yes? Well, here is my advice.
Make your own!
It’s really that simple! All you need is some wood and a chisel! Craft her image on the wood and plant it in the ground, wait a few minutes and that’s it! The rest should take care of itself! Added bonuses include that she doesn’t have parents, loves to watch anime and is really cute, so, no doubt you’ll be screaming ‘MOEEE!!!’ for the rest of the week. Of course, if you don’t like her, you can always plant another one and start collecting a harem instead!
Short review: Really nice animation ruined by a thinly-veiled, leering observation of the fairer sex.

  • Tags: wish fulfillment, moe, slice of life, school, comedy

8. Ga-Rei -Zero-
Despite ending with such an impressively bleak twist of fate, I must point out that the opening 20-odd minutes of Ga-Rei -Zero- were no more than a pale imitation of Blassreiter, totally bereft of enthusiasm and creativity. Most worryingly, for what is supposed to be an exciting action series, the fight choreography was particularly disappointing, with any number of cliche gun poses and faux-cool characters riding-in on their motorbikes to save the day. It came off as trying too hard to be cool, yet the episode’s conclusion is such a shock that I’m hesitant to completely write it off.

  • Tags: horror, science fiction, action, twist, military

7. Hyakko
A saccharine, light-hearted comedy about a quartet of young girls making their tentative first steps into Japanese high-school. They get lost in-between classes and meet each other wandering around empty buildings.
The first episode of Hyakko wasn’t particularly substantial, but the characters were engaging and pleasant, while the art style was bright and energetic. It’s a typical Japanese slice of life that seems happy to revel in being young and nostalgic. It may be a slightly bland take on fledgling friendship, but I found it easy to watch.

  • Tags: slice of life, nostalgia, friendship, light relief
The good anime

6. Gundam 00 S2
Ever since My-HiME, the much maligned ‘train-wreck’ tag has become synonymous with Sunrise, and though we might complain as if they produce some of the worst anime ever, we all seem to enjoy the fruits of their labour anyway.
It’s time we faced the truth. Sunrise is the Hollywood studio of the anime industry. Their work is fun and entertaining; probably a bit stupid and superficial too, but fun and entertaining none the less.
Gundam 00 is junk food for anime fans, the kind of well animated, colorful series we’ve all decided to love or loathe. Action, mecha, cute girls, pretty boys, politics. It’s an absolutely mass-market formula for success, albeit darker than Code Geass, with much more emphasis on the individual grunts of war, but obviously, that’s all fairly irrelevant in a show like this, where the terrorists have pink hair.
Basically, I’ll be on this train along with everyone else. It should be fun, whether it crashes or not.

  • Tags: mecha, trainwreck, action, eye candy

5. Toradora!
Comparisons to Honey & Clover seem valid, though if anything, Toradora! is much more like Nodame Cantabile, right down to how the lead boy Ryuuji finds himself being compelled, out of a mixture of fear and pity, to cook and clean for lead girl Taiga. She lives up to her tsundere reputation from the start and strikes me as infuriatingly rude. It was really frustrating watching Ryuuji suffer through her constant volleys of abuse without throwing anything back, and indeed, whether or not you can enjoy Toradora! much at all probably depends on your tolerance of her unchecked abrasiveness. All that said and I must admit that I really enjoyed this first episode. The characters felt authentic and heartfelt, and in such a potentially dramatic series, it’s really important to care about the characters. Obviously, I do, and that’s a good sign, I think.

  • Tags: tsundere, drama, comedy, slice of life, school
The great anime

4. Casshern Sins
The first episode of Casshern Sins was fantastic, and after Kaiba, yet another beautifully animated, stylish science fiction anime from Madhouse.
The story? Planet Earth is (apparently) devoid of natural life and now controlled by violent robots, who are themselves fast rusting away into nothingness. It sounds fairly basic, right?
The visuals are inspired, a refreshing synthesis of retro character design and contemporary production values. The dark, lifeless backgrounds are particularly detailed and immersive, decaying yet beautiful, while the story is a straight forward mystery, with some dynamically animated, brutal action scenes along the way.
The varying robots are themselves desperately alive and afraid of dying, trying to find some meaning in the time they have left; they are strikingly conflicted and sad creations, as is Casshern himself, the man blamed for this dire state of affairs.
My immediate comparisons are to Ergo Proxy and Battle Angel Alita. Casshern‘s hopeless concrete dystopia, combined with the optimistic robot girl, are very reminiscent of Rel and Vincent’s adventures outside of the dome, while the lumbering, blood-thirsty robots are the kind of unhinged opposition often faced by Alita.

  • Tags: science fiction, dystopian, robots, action, animation

3. Shikabane-hime
I’ve been feeling a little hesitant about Shikabane-hime, if just because the premise is a tad cliche, but this first episode was very impressive.
The Gainax touch is apparent almost immediately; the dark ambience is fascinating, the character design is as cool and colourful as ever, while the action is fluid and well drawn. Though I’m aware this might be sounding a tad superficial, let us not forget that anime is a visual medium and that Gainax, when on their game, are masters of the art. Everything from the way a character smiles to the way moon-light dances across a bedroom wall, suggests feeling, soul, and attitude. We don’t need incisive dialogue, or fabulous plot twists, because when anime looks this good, our imagination is set free, unbounded.

  • Tags: horror, action, style, attitude, animation

2. To Aru Majutsu no Index
To Aru Majutsu no Index was fun; good, solid, exciting and fun.
This was easily one of the most assured debuts of the autumn season and knows exactly what it wants to be, namely cute, magical and funny. It succeeds effortlessly, and won me over almost immediately. Straight from the off, I really liked the attitude of the characters; they are full of life, or rather, sarcasm, and the banter is tremendous, never feeling forced or manipulative, it’s merely dead-pan and funny. The assured direction is courtesy of Hiroshi Nishikiori, who has helmed two J.C. Staff anime series I’ve previously enjoyed, Azumanga Daioh and The Melody of Oblivion.

  • Tags: magic, action, cute, school, humor

1. Kuroshitsuji
So far this season, we’ve had the demon-hunting girl, the tsundere tiger and the dystopian science fiction. To my mind, it’s all very familiar and, as a result, all very predictable. I’m not to saying that these are bad stories, but when one finds himself being able to predict each plot twist as it comes, that undeniably takes away a lot of the excitement in watching anime in the first place.
Kuroshitsuji feels like something completely new. Such a feeling is as strange as it is exciting, and, with this being animated at A-1 Pictures, their dark realisation of Victorian-era England is sumptuous; even the tea looks delicious. Of course, it helps that the soundtrack is by far and away the best of the season too, and I was going to write that even before I found out that none other than Taku Iwasaki (Gurren Lagann, Soul Eater) was the man responsible.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from Kuroshitsuji. The elaborate bishonen character designs seem to suggest cringe-worthy homoeroticism, yet this first episode was anything but; it’s positively dripping with malevolence. More please!

  • Tags: gothic, horror, butlers, culture, supernatural
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Anime Reviews

A tribute to Soul Eater 18

It’s been a long time since my last foray into Soul Eater. Too long, really. And it’s easy to forget just how fun it is, how exciting, how damn awesome.

I mean, there are certain things that will always stick out, launch it above other series, and these two episodes were no different. Consider the dark, gothic architecture of Shibusen. The landscape has a palpable character, the shade and colour emphasizing a constant, lively feeling. An emotional container for these bizarre eccentrics, this is a world I can feel a part of, along with these characters and their adventures, so colourful and thrilling.

I suppose I’m really just in awe of this show, as the bright sparks fly and the awkwardly dressed kids dance. In that moment. Memories. These episodes, in particular, just really capture that feeling for me, that transient, simple, joyful sense of being young and stupid. If just for a dozen or so minutes, it’s fun, and happy, and perfect.

Then Medusa attacks.

Sometimes it’s easy to take Soul Eater for granted because every episode is so consistently and stylishly animated. But like I said above, I’ve been away from this series for too long. When I finished these two episodes, I really had the urge to just race through the rest right there and then. But you see, I want to savour it, this feeling, this excitement. It’s wonderful, and rare.

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Anime Reviews

A romantic interpretation of Kaiba

I was always going to like Kaiba. Even before it started airing, I had, somewhat dangerously, convinced myself that it would be good. After all, with someone like Masaaki Yuasa directing, I had to expect it would special and well, some five months later, here we are again, I just finished Kaiba this weekend.

Lets allay some fears right now. Despite its polarizing visual style and artsy pedigree, Kaiba absolutely isn’t high falutin or pretentious, it is heartfelt and emotional, exciting and twisted, and most of all, character driven. It’s true that Yuasa occasionally indulges in daunting surrealism, no doubt the last episode is a testament to that, but I really hope that you watch Kaiba, because it is lovely.

Well, that’s a half truth. Kaiba is lovely, and sweet, and romantic, but it’s also tragic, and sad, and harsh. I’m recalling a line from Kino’s Journey that comes to mind, that “The world is not beautiful, therefore it is”. This is Kaiba, I think. An idealistic, almost child-like search for some meaning in life within a universe where human memory, the very essence of individuality, is ephemeral, readily transferred into tiny, fragile metal chips and where dreams are copied, fabricated and deleted.

People are weak little things, really. Our dreams are many, and many of them are impossible, but we strive on anyway. One watches Kaiba and feels this romantic melancholy for life, that every person, all of us, might as well be reduced to a grain of sand on a golden beach, one of countless millions, yet we all keep on believing that we can make a difference, or do something important. Sometimes we find happiness, other times not. Kaiba is beautiful for allowing a human life to blossom, like how a flower might sneak through the cracks of a concrete road, only to then be crushed underfoot. A life that was once so hopeful can be extinguished in an instant, lost forever, just another grain of sand. But if life is so insignificant, what is the point of living? Why not just give up?

Above all else, Kaiba is a love story. When Warp and Neiro fall from their lost palace and slip into the amnesia cloud below, Warp’s only concern is for his beloved Neiro’s memories, even at the cost of his own. They roll around in Neiro’s room, drunk, happy, absolutely content within the intimacy of the other’s company, they remain scared, fragile and lost, but they have each other, and that’s enough, I think. Likewise, Popo only realizes the hollowness of his rise to power after his last remaining friend has had her memories erased, “Don’t forget me!” he screams, but it’s too late, everything he strived for has been forgotten. We live for each other, a mother for her son, a boy for his friend, one lover for another. That’s why giving up isn’t an option, our dreams might be hopeless, but they keep us alive long enough to find a friend, a kindred spirit.

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Anime Reviews

Turn off your mind, unwind and see how high the cloudy sky. Xam'd, naturally.

Should I say Xam’d: Lost Memories is good? It’s better than good, and I know it’s not enough to say just that, but I have to be careful. Because I’m about ready to explode. Yes, there’s too much to say. This is what anime is capable of; it’s why I’m writing an anime blog. Ironically, I’m on the brink of incoherence, but I need order, I need someone to understand something; that Xam’d: Lost Memories is good and that I think you might like it too. But that’s still not enough.
Where to begin? How about the trailer. I’ve been admiring this series since reading the trailer’s subtitle of “A nostalgic SF by Studio Bones”. Of course, a lot of anime is nostalgic, but it’s typically nostalgia for youth, for young love. Xam’d is nostalgic for science fiction. Our heroine Nakiami recalls both the rural appearance of Nausicaä (of Nausicaä and the Valley of Wind) and the emotional ambivalence of Eureka (of Eureka Seven). So, right off the bat, those are two of my favourite anime. It seems I was fated to adore this show.

The direction has an air of confidence, the narrative flows naturally, the plot is slow-building and consistent, the characters are light hearted and funny, some concealing their insecurity with a spunky attitude, others with sarcasm, none of it feeling artificial or calculated, just natural, normal. By the time the action kicks in, about three quarters of the way through the first episode, I was immersed, lost in the fantasy, in the characters, their lives about to be torn apart.

The school bus explodes, it’s a suicide bombing. Terrorism. Fear spreads. The twisted wreckage of what’s left behind is more like an open ribcage, bloodied, facing skyward. The seats have a bubbling, organic texture. Strange flying machines float high over-head, launching their organ-like pods of insectiod attackers into the city below. Akiyuki’s arm swells and twists with a strange, alien infection, his trembling body is no longer his own.
It’s a shock to transition so violently from this sleepy, easy-going slice of life into a terrible, chaotic war, a situation that reflects our own fears of terrorism and paranoia of aggression that is indiscriminate and seemingly aimless.
Akiyuki’s mum is a part of an ensemble of likable and interesting personalities. Her marriage is falling apart, but she maintains a strength of character, humour and dignity that’s really quite admirable. Akiyuki’s dad is a workaholic; a popular doctor with time for his patients but none for those most important to him, his family. They both care deeply for their son, but show it in different ways. When he goes missing, they both go looking for him, but at different times. They understand each other, but pretend not to, neither willing to compromise with the other. Little do they know, Akiyuki has embarked on a nostalgic adventure.

Flying high in purple skies, I’m happy just watching this story unfold, like some long lost fable, it’s beautifully drawn, sometimes poetically so, dream-like and awe-inspiring, a world worth exploring, with its many strange cultures, creatures and technologies. It is a fantasy in the truest sense of the word, a world of fantastic imagination, dark and light, nostalgic and exciting, would be perfect if there wasn’t so much rust in the water.

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Anime Reviews

One Piece and why a man is only as good as his word

Brook: “He may think that we’ve betrayed him, but if he’s waiting even now, how miserable must he be? […] I can’t help but think that he’s believed in us all this time.

Luffy: “Your nakama may be dead, but from now on I’m your rival!

I love One Piece. I love how it can make me care, deeply, about such a rag-tag bag of bones and his long lost friend, a giant whale called Laboon. This is a complaint about One Piece that I’m used to reading, that the art-style is too cartoony to take seriously. While I can understand that opinion, isn’t it a tad superficial to rely quite so much on how a character looks in order to feel empathy for their plight? “He’s a man!!” says Franky, because Brook, despite everything that’s happened to him; dying, losing his body, even after having his shadow stolen, he’s a man because he’s still thinking about his dearest friend and the promise he made to him some 50 years ago. All that time has passed and he still cares. I could watch this anime forever. After all, skin or no skin, a man is only as good as his word (or his afro).

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Anime Reviews

Soul Eater 11

If you mess with Tsubaki’s stage…

I saw your trembling soul…

It has a nice scent.

Her brother fades.

This was the best episode of Soul Eater yet. An episode that’s sweeping, burning with feeling, with animation and character as a synthesis of the soul. Such anime is poetic, exciting and inspiring, such is Black Star and Tsubaki. I admire their loyalty, their affection for one another, that Black Star will take a beating for his friend, understands the strength of her spirit, and yet is close enough to know when to offer a hug. Tsubaki is shy; she isn’t often noticed and would rather take-on a little hardship to please another. That doesn’t mean she is arrogant or weak, but she needs someone around her to carry her along, to push her onto the stage, to support her. A friend, to support her trembling soul.

Though it’s something we’ve come to expect from Soul Eater, I have to say the animation in this episode was superb. Not simply in terms of the fluidity of movement, which ebbed and flowed in waves of animated bliss, but the art direction too. The use of colour, the gloomy clouds and rain overhead as Black Star is beaten to a pulp for his friend and anxiously awaits her return. The metaphysical battle against her brother, the dull landscape that transforms with her victory into a tranquil paradise of clear sky and sparkling blue sea. It’s absolutely evocative and vibrant, swings and shifts with the tone and mood of character. It’s lyrical anime, streamlined, perfect.

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Anime Reviews

One does not care to acknowledge the mistakes of one's youth

‘Mockumentary’ Otaku no Video is one of those anime that, even within the anime community itself, is fairly obscure, but every now and then, someone will reference it, often as a comparison to nu-otaku champion Genshiken; for example, the first time I heard about it was when Anime World Order posted a review back in 2006, and considering it was created by animation studio Gainax in 1991, that fans are still talking about it some 15+ years later is surely a good sign, right? Indeed. Here is a fair warning; if you have issues with self-loathing, save yourself the agony and don’t watch Otaku no Video. It will depress you.
As alluded to above, Otaku no Video is a mockumentary of otaku culture. Pasted inside a Genshiken-style anime about a bunch of geeks coming together through their passions for all things, well, geeky is a series of painfully realistic (live action) interviews with real Japanese otaku, all of whom are middle-aged men. Its Wikipedia article suggests that while the anime segment was intended to emphasize the more positive aspects of Japan’s geek fandom (like comradery and friendship), the live action interviews depict the otaku’s lonely reality; several of the interviewees were Gainax employees at the time (though, to protect their identities, their names and voices are changed, while their faces are either unseen or blurred), and because this whole production was helmed by Gainax themselves, their deft, autobiographical understanding of “the truth” cuts right to the bone, so much so this isn’t as much a satirical comedy as a scientific study of the otaku sub-species. They even interview an American anime fan. It’s all in good fun, but a touch evocative too.

One interview in-particular struck me as incredibly depressing; this otaku, sitting in a darkened room, specialises in pornography, and to work around the Japanese government’s censorship of genitalia (they pixelate those areas), he has adapted a pair of glasses to decode the image. It’s just shocking to see that this guy has such talent for electronics, yet uses it in pursuit of… masturbation. They actually show him ‘pulling one off’ by the way! Another interviewee is hunched over his small computer screen, drawing nude images of a character that looks a lot like Noriko from Gunbuster. Again, the art itself is technically brilliant, but it remains a self-fellating fantasy. They ask him “how do you take care of your sexual needs?” Otaku responds “Well, I like computer games.”

The anime itself is up-beat and fun in a style that’s very reminiscent of the likes of Genshiken. One scene I really liked involves fans queuing up for the late-night theatrical premiere of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. A drunk guy, probably just kicked out of a local bar, passes by them in the street and tries to work out why they are all so excited about seeing a “cartoon”, they respond that they aren’t waiting for a “cartoon”, but “animation” (Hayao Miyazaki‘s big break-through, no less). And I agree – there is totally a difference between cartoons and anime.

You know, Otaku no Video is surely worth watching, just don’t be expecting a romanticisation of otaku culture. It swings from pathetic to funny to nostalgic in a matter of minutes and as long as you’re prepared for some soul-destroying satire, it’s a really ‘interesting’ watch.

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Anime Editorials Reviews

No. Not even in the face of armageddon. Never compromise.

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With September in full swing, we find ourselves on the verge of the 2007 fall season. What? Already? I’m not prepared for any of that new stuff yet; it’s still too early for all these fall previews, autumn can go fuck itself. On the other hand, I’m still hopelessly devoted to a number of currently running series; hence this post, so end intro and cue this countdown of my favorites.