Black Lagoon – 1 through 3 – Adrenaline Rush

It took me a few weeks to catch onto Black Lagoon, but now I’m fully convinced of its (loud) qualities. I had avoided it up until this weekend because the reviews I’d read gave the impression that it was another typical girls with guns anime. I was wrong and it’s much more than that. I’m sorry for doubting you, Madhouse.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though- Black Lagoon is a purely action driven series, but (like Gungrave) rather than simply wallowing in style, the story sprinkles enough compelling character development to really capture the moment. The star of the show is Levi- an absolutely badass mercenary capable of killing her enemies by the dozen. So far, she has shown very little in the way of emotion- preferring instead to swear, get drunk and basically kill anything that moves. Her foil (and opposite lead) is Rock- a Japanese “salaryman” whisked away from the boring world of corporate business. He’s still searching for meaning in his life and opts to become a sailor of the Black Lagoon rather than go back to his boring old life of monotony. Rock is living the epitome of every salaryman’s dream.
The rest of the Lagoon crew are just as likable- particularly captain Dutch, who defines macho cool in very 1980s Schwarzenegger way.
It’s notable just how immoral the story has been up until now. Given this is about modern day ‘pirates’, the action is not so much as case as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, rather how much Dutch and crew will be paid – there is no respect for human life. The characters are criminals, but remain sympathetic because of their honourable warrior-code and a strong sense of comradery and friendship.
The animation is very physical and kinetic; when combat kicks off, there is a real bite to every bullet, every punch and every torpedo. It’s consistently exciting because the presentation maintains a palpable sense of danger where anything and everything is a possible weapon.


My long winded countdown of the top 8 spring anime

It’s been a while since I’ve watched so much anime. This spring season is quite remarkable in that not only is there an unprecedented number of new series, but also because a lot of them are actually quite good. And I’m not a fan of harem, loli or whatever other genre is “hip” right now.
My top 8 spring anime
8. Tokko
Undeniably this is a terrible series. Why I’m watching it, let alone blogging it is a mystery fit for Columbo. So yeah, big guns, big monsters, big breasts and dismembered corpses. That’s Tokko; it’s so damn badly animated too. I guess those are the reasons why I’m watching it. Approach with caution!
7. Kiba
Utterly fan pandering shounen adventure escapades, yet I’m bitterly enjoying it because despite the lead character Zed being the worst “hero” ever- the rest of the cast and the generally bright, expansive setting envelope me in a finely built universe, ripe for escapism. Given the sheer number of good shows airing this season, I’m not sure how long I’ll stick with Kiba but the fact I’m still around by episode 5 suggests there must be something I like enough to keep watching.
6. Good Witch of the West
Yet more frilly medieval melodrama featuring only pretty characters with mad hair styles; the Good Witch of the West has an interesting fantastical take on the days when teaching and explaining science was banned, but I’m not a fan of the way every character is so damn cute and as soft as a pillow. Certainly, the fairy tale premise suggests potential, though I may wait for a few more weeks and watch this in batches.
5. Witchblade
The first GONZO series since Basilisk that isn’t utterly mediocre tripe, Witchblade; starring an impossibly large cheated female avenger akin to Devilman\lady is a surprisingly heart-rending tale of a woman fighting (with strange supernatural powers) to be reunited with her lost daughter. The action and animation have so far been disappointly below average, but the story retains some strength thanks to a mysterious plot and the fractured relationship between mother and child.
By rights NANA should be higher on this list but I can’t hide the fact that the characters simply don’t interest me enough. Being as it is a series by and for young ladies, it’s not terribly surprising I’m not totally into it. That said, the particularly slender and stylish character designs are wonderful and the drama is very well… dramatic; lots of passionate kisses, tearful eyes and sad goodbyes.
3. Utawarerumono
So like everyone already knows, Utawarerumono (worst series title ever) is based on a porn game, but rather than having tons of fan-service (so far, there has been none, thank god), the story seems to be heavily spiritual and environmentalist- a Studio Ghibli style rural fantasy in which violent forest spirits and other mysterious apparitions exist.
2. Jyu-Oh-Sei
The fantasy and action in Jyu-Oh-Sei is deep enough to suggest an interesting story is on it’s way, though the strong homoerotic undertones are slightly detracting from what I hoped would be a completely dead pan science fiction show.
1. Black Lagoon
I watched the first episode today and I feel ashamed to have ignored Black Lagoon for so long. The action is stylish and fluid without falling into boring poses, while the characters themselves are interesting and mysterious enough to forecast some compelling drama ahead. Black Lagoon is vaguely reminiscent of Gungrave in that it stars compelling adult characters capable of pulling off some cool kick-ass moves. Very impressed.
Stuck in backlog hell

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
The most hyped series since Mai-Otome, I plan on watching Haruhi sooner or later. I admit the extremely loud fan-base has put me off it for now and at the best of times I try to avoid anime based around Japanese school girls. Until the unabated praise slows itself down, I’ll be content to ignore Haruhi.
Apparently Higurashi is disturbing horror, but again, it looks so typically cute and “otaku” that I’m having trouble motivating myself to sit down and watch the damn thing. I had the same problem with Jigoku Shoujo; for so called horror, Enma Ai looked like such a calculated pin-up for fan culture that I eventually just lost interest.


Kogepan – Living the life of a burnt piece of bread

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, a show like Kogepan comes along. This short series follows the everyday adventures of the titular Kogepan, a burnt piece bread that no one wants to buy. Try as he might to be sold, he’s destined to live out his life unwanted, unsold, uneaten.
Each episode of Kogepan is only 4 minutes long and there are 10 episodes, so I was able to find my way through this series in a record time of a measly 40 minutes. For shame. Kogepan is a hidden gem.
Playing out as a high spirited moral allegory, Kogepan is all about learning to accept yourself, warts and all, and enjoying life. It may look like an innocent kid’s anime, but behind each bready character are personalities infected with such a loveable kind of vicious sarcasm, innocence and humour. The laughs are often wry and pessimistic but this is a show that has real heart.
The way Kogepan has been drawn is wonderful. It’s very surreal and innocent looking, yet matches the witty dialogue perfectly. There are some very cute, innocent baby breads that will make your heart melt, yet this is offset by the group of ugly burnt breads who are so down beat and confused that it’s both funny and slightly heart breaking; they get drunk on milk and roll around trying to cheer each other up.
If you’re in the mood for something different, something surreal or something offbeat, Kogepan is worth looking out for. Just like the message that pervades this entire show, don’t judge Kogepan based on how it looks, behind the odd visual style burns a particularly tasty slice of warm bread (.. I mean anime).


Anime Bloggers Need Excitement

The relevance (or rather, lack there of) of contemporary anime blogs has again been brought into question, this time at the core of the blogsphere itself; blogsuki.
The central theme of the discussion is an unstoppable slew of generic episode summaries, the problem being that these dozens of posts all essentially describe the same things; why recap an episode if it’s already been done elsewhere?
I’m torn between both perspectives, as pointless as it may be to reiterate the contents of an episode that has already been echoed countlessly elsewhere, blogging is and always should be a personal labour of love.
If you see an anime series that just gives you that feeling, nothing should stem the ensuing passion; you know what I mean- when you discover an anime series you love, or see an amazing episode, you’re instantly transformed from that moody old seen-it-all-before to an excited kid so full of glee and enthusiasm that you just need to tell someone…, anyone…, about what you’ve just seen. That’s basically why I’m running an anime blog, to capture and share those glimpses of euphoric emotion, and at that point I couldn’t care less whether some other bloke has already said the same things 7 days previous.
Naturally I would love to be listed on BLOGSUKI and see my readership expand. No doubt I’m one of the dozens waiting in line to be granted this “honour”, but I am not going to appease my style just to earn their favour. Writing should always be a natural exercise, free of external pressures or set formulas.
Over the past few days there has been all this talk about how bloggers can do the right things and avoiding doing wrong things, but it’s all irrelevant if you lack the passion to write about anime. That is basically all you need to succeed, for me writing here is about fulfilment. It’s great to get comments, to express and share opinions with other anime fans and that’s all there is to it. To this end, it’s disappointing to be denied entry to a website like blogsuki, but I’ll live.


A new beginning

Celebrating the fact BATESZI has been online for nearly three months now, I decided to move the blog over to my own web-space and basically give the whole site a bit of a touch up. Visually, not much has changed but behind the scenes is a totally different matter; I’ve basically coded my own blogging software- so now I can enjoy the miracle of categories and the wonders of an interactive blog roll.
This is the kind of change that won’t mean much to you, but it’s essentially a massive overhaul for me. Expect regular service to resume shortly, once I’ve had time to catch my breath! Thanks for reading.


Tokko – 2 – Guns forever

In many ways, TOKKO is the worst anime series I’ve seen for a while now; the animation (if we can call it that) is cheap and tacky and the characters are about as cookie cutter as they come, but it’s violent, has demons and pulls no punches when the time is nigh to combine the slicing quality of samurai swords with human limbs.
This is a show for the anime fans who grew up with the ultra violent OVAs of the 1980s and early 90s; we’re talking Genocyber, AD Police and Angel Cop here. The story is basically “kid’s parents are killed by monsters, so kid wants revenge”- you don’t need any more information than that, throw in some fleeting sexual innuendo and that’s about got TOKKO covered.
This episode was simply more of the same; a police officer can’t take down a bunch of zombies with his pistol so comes back at them with a military issue anti-tank machine gun. You’ll either love that idea or not and it pretty much sums up why I’m watching TOKKO. This is cheap, so-bad-it’s-funny horror.


Kiba – 5 – Swings & Swords

At a time when Kiba was in real danger of drowning in the true depths of unsalvageable mediocrity, an episode like this comes along and suggests that the story may well have some mileage after all.
Tellingly this was an episode free of Zed; rather the story follows his bespecled old buddy Noa who also seems to be teleporting about the various lands of Kiba. He ends up in a country (Neotopia) governed by the iron fist of a militaristic government where young men are being conscripted into the army. Being as it is an honour to become a soldier, most kids end up willingly leaving, while (much to the obvious distaste of the passionate locals) others would rather stay.
This episode was surprising in the way it handled what would inevitably be a sticky situation; best friends torn apart by war, one wants to fight while the other just wants to have fun, their polar opposite choices inevitably lead to conflict and the way it’s presented here was surprisingly well done; it managed to capture both the innocence and subsequent corruption of idealistic kids. A much improved instalment of Kiba, though this arc’s ultimate success rests on it’s conclusion next week.


Studio BONES' Jyu-Oh-Sei: First impressions

Of all the new anime debuting this season, the one I was most anticipating was always Jyu-Oh-Sei. I’m basically a massive fan of Studio BONES, and despite a few less than stellar exceptions (Ouran, Kenran); I’m worryingly in love everything they churn out. I could cite Full Metal Alchemist or Wolf’s Rain as my favourite series of theirs, but I’ll take the obscure route for now and say their best work is KURAU: Phantom Memory. If you haven’t heard of KURAU, it’s probably because ADV pre-licensed it back in 2004 and have since failed to release it over the ensuing YEARS.
Jyu-Oh-Sei translates into English as Planet of the Beast King. Imagine a cross between Battle Royale and LOST and you’ll be half way to understanding the story. Two twins get unceremoniously dumped on a deserted planet with nothing but brutal criminals and carnivorous plants for company.
The first two episodes are by far and away the best I’ve seen this spring season; the setting is gigantic, colourful and genuinely alive and the story has a strong pace and direction. Said identical twins ((Rai) one a weakling, the other (Thor) a badass) want to get off the planet but must first face a few home truths- in a land where survival of the fittest rules, it’s either kill or be killed. Thor wastes no time killing those who threaten his life, he’s almost talented at it, but Rai is weak and lacks conviction. It’s suggested that Rai is eaten alive by a particularly violent plant, and Thor even assumes he’s dead, but the fact we see no proof of this death is a big hint that Rai will return in later episodes- and in badass mode too.
We’re slowly introduced to the planet Chimaera and the fascinating ways in which it’s governed. People are just dumped there and there is a shortage of water, so fighting for whatever resources are left plays a big part. Tribes have formed based on skin colour (there are four separate groups) and there is a shortage of women too, so rather than romance being allowed to develop naturally, woman are allowed to pick and choose their husbands; the men have no say in this whole process.
To keep this review to a short enough length, I’ll conclude by adding that the artwork; full of expansive, varied alien landscapes is brilliant. If you haven’t started watching Jyu-Oh-Sei yet and you enjoy a good yarn, then look no further, this is show you’ve been waiting for.


Ergo Proxy – 7 – All is full of love

Finally friends, this is the episode where we get some answers. Real’s life is saved by Daedalus. Once recovered they chat about everything, and to my absolute glee, light is shed on the mysteries of Romdeau, Proxy and even the outside world.
About a quarter of this episode is also devoted to Vincent’s flight to Moscow. His other passengers, namely the group of old men left over from the commune, die on the way there.
So this was the best episode of Ergo Proxy yet; despite some off-kilter character designs, the narrative is kicked up a notch and we finally get some solid information to chew over.
What is Proxy
He (or should I say, it) is described by Daedalus as a kind of god, a key to human survivial. Specifically Proxy’s genes (which were used to save Real’s life) act as a cure for the “Cogito” virus that has decimated Earth’s population outside of the Romdeau dome.
There is still the issue of why some autolaves drop to their knees and pray to Proxy; can he be the saviour for both man and machine? Why are machines praying in the first place?
What’s going on at Romdeau, Moscow and elsewhere
The government of Romdeau are biologically manufacturing their citizens inside womb-like machines. The whys are still unknown, though I’m expecting a reason along the lines of “humanity needs to be controlled”.
This leads me onto my next point- the world outside and specifcally, another dome at Moscow. I haven’t a clue where Romdeau is located, but my guess is that it’s either America or Europe. There must have been a world war at some point, in which mankind has not only almost destoryed itself, but also severly damaged the planet. The sky is constantly dark and the land is desolate, hinting at a terrible world war, one that has no doubt involved biological and nuclear weapons.
What lies in Moscow I’m not sure, though Proxy was taken from the Russian capital, so I ‘m expecting something big, or atleast spiritual, about the city.
Is Real dead?
Of course she won’t be dead, but what a cliff hanger anyway; we know that she now carries genes from Proxy- and given Vincent has shown a good ability to dodge the reaper, I’m expecting her to be resurrected or rather, regenerated in some way or another.
A three way tug of war at Romdeau
There are three important agendas being pushed at Romdeau- while Raul’s militant group are rebelling, he strikes me as a man desperate to control everything. At this point, he comes across as a clumsy idiot, blinded by his own arrogance. The shrowded government in place at Romdeau is weak, or is at least hiding it’s truth strength; they are more interested in preserving their own idea of paradise (Romdeau itself). And lastly we have the enigma of Daedalus, who is more than willing to help and share information with Real about Proxy, but to what end and why?
I’m convinced now that Ergo Proxy is the best series I’m watching. It’s mysterious, challenging, dark and full of brilliant science fiction. The story is moving at speed and the next few episodes are bound to be even more telling, I can’t wait to see what happens.


Kiba – 4 – It sucks… but that's cool, because I like it!

So today I had to choose one of three episodes to watch. I could have gone with Studio BONES’ latest masterpiece Jyo-Oh-Sei, the utterly artistic new arc of Ayakashi or be content with the generic shounen delights of Kiba. If you’re reading this, you already know which episode I plumped for! I feel so dirty.
Zed hears about a joust contest and in his typically gung-oh style, decides to enter. It’s a competition that pits one shard caster against another in a gladiatorial arena, minus the death.
As if Kiba wasn’t already reminiscent of the tried and tested shounen action template, this episode sees us revisit the classic tournament format. Yawn indeed, but the thing about Kiba is that the story moves at such a brisk pace, so while this kind of set-up in Naruto would consume say 10 episodes, Zed and company remarkably battle it out in seconds. The episode ends on a cliffhanger with Zed about to unleash hell (in the final, of course) on camp pretty boy Robes and I must admit I’m looking forward to seeing how it all ends, both characters could use a good kicking.
Zed’s still an abject arsehole, but Kiba remains just good fun to watch. The soundtrack is attractive and dramatic, the landscapes are vast, bright and colourful and the animation is fluid enough to cover the action with a enough adrenaline. The story and general intelligence of writing continues to leave a lot to be desired; stuff is just happening with little or no prompting, but irregardless, you can’t underrate enjoyment; that’s the most important part.