Editorials Reviews

This anime fan forever looks back on 2007

Jesus, it’s the end of another year. I’ve had fun in 2007; being a part of the anime blogging community and writing for you, dear reader. I’m not sure I’d last long if it wasn’t for your comments, but here we are, almost two years on and still talking, ranting, in love with anime. Back during September, I was wondering if I’d ever just suddenly grow out of all this, stop blogging and disappear, but deep down, the truth has never been in doubt; I’m an anime fan forever and you’ll take this passion, these feelings, when you pry them from my cold dead fingers. This review of 2007 begins now.
bokurano.jpg13. Bokurano
For all my hyping of Bokurano, the anime adaptation ended up being woefully mediocre. Much like their similarly soulless treatment of other good horror manga like Gantz and Hellsing, Gonzo’s vision of Bokurano was poorly animated and depressing, almost completely lacking in the "beautiful tragedy", truth and innocence that permeates Mohiro Kitoh’s brilliant original story. For an anime studio capable of producing epic series like Gankutsuou and Last Exile, 2007 was an utter failure for Gonzo, but don’t worry, Afro Samurai 2 will be here soon; that’s going to be good, right?
claymore.jpg12. Claymore
Claymore is an inferior clone of Berserk. The Awakened Beings are Apostles, Isley looks a lot like Griffith and Rigardo is a replica of Zodd. That being said, I like dark fantasy and Claymore was good enough on a superficial level to entertain and occasionally capture my imagination. It was violent and harsh, but I rarely felt like I cared about the characters, and by the end, the rushed climax had further degenerated into a predictable sequence of grunts and power-ups. Berserk is amongst the finest anime of all time, this isn’t.
mononoke.jpg11. Mononoke
I really want to love Mononoke; it’s beautifully animated, artsy and daringly creative, but still, I find it somewhat elusive. I feel like it exists simply to be as elegant, surreal and weird as possible; 23 minutes later, the episode has finished and I’ll move on to something else. It’s a lot like Mushishi; episodic and few-to-none recurring characters, but where that’s magical, reflective and relaxed, Mononoke is an ultra-violet and ambiguous puzzle.
dtb.jpg10. Darker Than Black
Nothing’s worse than wasted potential. For Darker Than Black, Studio Bones reunited a lot of the staff involved in the mesmeric Wolf’s Rain, including maestro Yoko Kanno and director Tensai Okamura, but other than brief glimpses of former glory, this was just another "good" series which never really found it’s own identity. The story arcs would pointlessly leap between hard-boiled drama, stupid comedy and comic-book horror, but without any of the comradery or personality seen in the likes of Cowboy Bebop, it regularly came across as false and ultimately, a forgettable disappointment.
code-geass.jpg9. Code Geass
I’m a tad embarrassed to admit I enjoyed watching Code Geass. Let’s get something straight, it’s an utter mongrel of an anime series ripe with cliche fan-service, mecha and an anti-hero ripped straight out of Death Note. Hell, it’s even sponsored by Pizza Hut. With all that said, I won’t deny that this show had me riveted from start ’til end; much like watching a giant train wreck, I simply enjoy seeing it all go off the rails (that’s a metaphor, I don’t actually watch footage of train wrecks). No doubt, Code Geass is a sensational failure, but sensational none the less.
genshiken.jpg8. Genshiken 2
I’ve always liked Genshiken. It’s perceptive and funny, and certainly fits being labeled as "slice of life", as it’s also meandering and aimless. Its quality and its failing is that it’s a quite literal depiction of otaku life, and in general, life is aimless and meandering; there is no grand design we’re all following (if you haven’t guessed, I’m not especially religious), we simply are, and that’s it. Genshiken 2’s beauty is in depicting this transience, there is a palpable realization amongst the characters that they’re growing apart the way we all do; they are prepared for it, this parting of the ways, but it’s sad to see none the less. You won’t quit on me yet, guys?
sei-rei.jpg7. Seirei no Moribito
The third episode of Seirei no Moribito is probably the singe best episode of anime I’ve seen all year. The action, intensity, music and animation were all top notch, but gradually, everything slowed down and the story moved in a completely different direction. Within ten episodes, we had traveled (quite literally) from an utterly compelling sequence of cool action scenes to something more akin to an intimate family drama. Of course, Seirei no Moribito remains a beautifully animated fantasy, but it feels over-long and ultimately, strikes a slightly uneven balance between big explosions and quiet sentimentality.
shigurui.jpg6. Shigurui
The thought of violence in anime almost immediately conjures fountains of bright red blood and contorted screams, yet there is little in the way of genuine sadism. Step forward Shigurui; a series that takes pleasure in lingering on impact, ensuring we flinch with every punctured eye-ball and severed nipple. This is animation madly in love with the human body and almost sadomasochist in its intent to contort, scar and rip the flesh. Set in a time when traditions and morals were twisted and forced, it’s hard to recommend something as outright disturbing and serious as this, yet it’s so fascinating and meticulous; humanity at its basest level.
baccano.jpg5. Baccano!
Anime tends to specialize in characters and relationships, but the pleasure in watching Baccano! is simply in seeing a particularly intricate story gradually reveal its labyrinth of secrets. Every episode is consistently dense with mystery and intrigue as we are dragged back and forth in time to reveal untold depths of supernatural power and immortal betrayal. The rather slapstick humor is often at odds with surprising levels of cruelty and gore but best of all is an exciting sequence of action escalating on-top of a moving train.
death_note.jpg4. Death Note
I sat down with Death Note having carefully avoided the manga spoilers for what felt like an eternity and was rewarded with a thrilling and addictive story that’s constantly asking questions of its viewers. Between his infamous games of brinkmanship with L and the rest, we’re regularly questioning Light’s motives for using his Death Note. Though he’s striving for, and even getting close to world peace, does that justify his mass-murdering spree? Or rather, is he just another sly megalomaniac enjoying his pointless power trip? It’s a great feeling to discover a story like this, something that’s still capable of creating new ideas and playing with our concepts of justice and heroism without ever resorting to a tacked-on happy ending. Light is the main character, yet he is a villain; an insane bastard who’s playing with lives simply because he’s bored. He deserves his end, and yet, when everything inevitably crashes down, I feel pity, I don’t want him to die. I liked the second opening, too!
toward-the-terra.jpg3. Toward the Terra
I never really expected to like (let alone love) Toward the Terra. Though I’m always willing to give honest science fiction a fair crack, this didn’t have the best of starts. I stopped watching Heroic Age because it was stupid and boring, but around about the same time, my opinion of Toward the Terra was changing; perhaps it was the use of time-leaps — we see these heroes and villains grow over time, how they change from whiney children into strong and conflicted adults; with each passing episode, there is a sense that we know these characters, understand their grief and desires. Aside from some positively epic genocide (exploding planets), the heart of what’s great about Toward the Terra is this compelling battle of wills between Jomy and Keith, we’re constantly wondering whether or not Keith can cast aside everything he’s been taught and embrace the Mu for what they are, while Jomy continues to struggle with his thirst of revenge and perpetuating the cycle of violence. Toward the Terra has a lot to say about racism and discrimination, but it’s also exciting, action-packed and riddled with tragedy; a great story, set amongst the stars, that plays out over decades of time.
denno-coil.jpg2. Dennou Coil
Good animation goes a long way to attracting my interest in a series and what’s immediately apparent about Dennou Coil is that it’s vibrant and full of life. It’s like everything moves, everything is considered, and you’re watching someone literally imprint their thoughts and dreams onto a frame. At its best, that’s how it feels to watch Dennou Coil, it’s like someone’s vivid memories of childhood suddenly sprung to life, the neon colors and honest fun of those days, the half-formed hints of emotions fraying between friends and mingling with some pointless adventure. There is that sense of not really being able to express yourself, despite everything about you; the way you look and the way you sound, even the way you stand, making it seem so obvious how you feel.
gurren-lagann.jpg1. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
To be honest, it seems like everyone loves Gurren Lagann, and though I didn’t want this countdown to be that predictable, the truth is that, almost from the first episode, I was head over heels in love with this show too. No other series would so consistently leave me burning with passion after every episode; leave me feeling like I just had to write about it, as if it were my duty to report how I felt. All you need to see is that opening minute of the first episode, "so all the heavenly lights are the enemy?" This one moment encapsulates so much of what’s good about Gurren Lagann; the impossibly epic scale, the insurmountable odds facing the Gurren-dan and Simon’s brash, unbeatable confidence. It’s mind blowing, and just seeing that, I knew I’d love this series.
I’m desperately trying to keep this short, but there is still so much to say, like how "Libera me from Hell" is such a weird yet great song, or how the story delivers heart warming ideas of friendship, comradery, love and even sacrifice. It ends perfectly, too; bitter-sweet and sad, time having taken its toll on our heroes, yet it just feels right, like everything that needed to be said has been screamed from the highest mountain, and now it’s time to step back, stop fighting and embrace the future. Gurren Lagann is, by far and away, the best anime series of 2007.


Lelouch and Light: the era of yuppies with broken dreams

Art imitating life, I’m sure you’ve heard that one before; the idea that the thoughts and fears of our generation are somehow reflected in the art (and therefore, entertainment) that we create. Life now, at least in developed countries like Japan, North America and the UK, is a lot calmer than it was 50 to 60 years ago; basically, you aren’t waking up in the morning and expecting a nuclear apocalypse in the face, yet still, there is an shiver of social unrest.
Two of the most popular anime characters from 06/07 are Lelouch Lamperouge (Code Geass) and Yagami Light (Death Note); both are terrorists – charismatic, dashing vigilantes hell bent on suicidal missions to rebuild civilization according to their own designs; they have no qualms about murdering their way to the top; they are guys who, despite living comfortable lives, decide to take on the “all powerful” government for the sake of an ideal, or remarkably, out of boredom.
The importance of these dark social creations reflects a growing dissatisfaction felt by many people in Japan who have spent large periods of their lives reaching for the sky. When the dream inevitably crumbles and the daily grind sets in, so emerges world changing, embittered characters like Lelouch and Light. They truly are children of the 21st century; yuppies with broken dreams, ready to risk it all to make a difference.
Of course, that’s not all – right now, the majority of first world countries, without a world war to distract themselves, have hit a slump of inward-set paranoia. Basically, no-one trusts their governments anymore. Japan is no different; consider that the heroes of One Piece are law-breaking pirates while the enemies are the bumbling World Government. Claymore is another mainstream Shonen Jump anime in which the mysterious “organization” betrays its own children, while the ruling State Alchemists in Fullmetal Alchemist are riddled with corrupt, shape shifting homunculi. They all resonate with an audience because they feel relevant, important.
What is clear is that we’re just now beginning a new era. After the financial boom-time of the 80s and the electronic revolution of the 90s and early 00s, these are gray and direction less years, saturated by media hype and flooded with pop culture. The underground dissatisfaction is just about ready to boil over; it’s already happening in Gurren Lagann!


The end of Death Note: a poison, creating wicked hearts

Death Note is a “… poison, creating wicked hearts”, said the concerned prudes at Chinese schools after some ‘corrupted’ kids were discovered to be using their home-made murder pages to curse fellow students. This was back in 2005; the first time I’d heard of the now famous Death Note. Since then, I’ve always been interested in the franchise (anything with the power to blacken young hearts must be worth something), and last night, much to my dismay, I watched the final episode of the anime. I’ll miss it.
One thing we can say for certain is that by the end, Light was spiked with ‘poison’ and without a shred of mercy in his ‘wicked heart’. Power, it seems, corrupts. It’s a rather tired sentiment, and yet, Light’s abrupt fall from grace was a painful and disturbing sight to behold. Actually, I couldn’t care less about how he was defeated, it was all about that desperate reaction, the sudden loss of composure when he realizes he has been bested.
Unveiled for the first time, we see that disgusting thirst for power lurking beneath the front of sophisticated cool; a self-proclaimed god suddenly realizing he is but one man, all alone, and about to die. He gets what he deserves, but in his lonely demise, you can’t help but pity him. Suddenly you understand Ryuk’s amused indifference to Light’s lofty ambitions. People die and nothing changes, that’s it, Light-o.
To be frank, Light’s seiyuu Mamoru Miyano turns in an amazing performance for this final episode. Usually, I’m not one to pick out acting, but I must admit to being bowled over by the visceral power and epic range of Miyano’s voice. Similar to Romi Paku’s Edward Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist), Miyano violently swings between polar emotional extremes, perfectly capturing the character’s frantic and desperate state of mind leading up to his sad end.
As befitting of such an excellent finale, Madhouse up the ante in terms of animation. One especially vivid moment sticks in my mind. Mikami stabbing himself in the heart (with a pen! Ouch!), causing his sparkling red blood to explode forth like some sick human fountain overflowing with fluid.
And I can only commend Takeshi Obata too; I’ve really fallen for the appealing gothic look of Death Note – especially the freaky Shinigami, whose odd proportions and bizarre colours capture a genuine horror aesthetic, echoing the demonic Cenobites from the creepy Hellraiser. I wanted to see more of the barren Shinigami world!
It’s amusing to think that Death Note began life in Shonen Jump, so standing alongside the ever-smiling trio of Naruto, Luffy and Ichigo was an evil bastard like Yagami Light. Moral ambiguity isn’t something we expect from our squeaky clean SJ heroes, but in Light we had a refreshingly ruthless anti-hero. You can’t blame him for wanting to change the world.


Death Note – 15 – It's been all sorts of fun, L

It’s around about now that we realise Death Note is becoming more than a very good anime series. It’s becoming one of those “OMFG-WTF-CLIFFHANGER!?!” types. I can feel the hysteria surging within me. 15 episodes in and the twists and turns of the story are still as unpredictable as ever. Watching it makes me a frustrated anime fan. More, more, more, I feel like I need to consume it all at once, knowing full well its immediate beauty is the element of surprise. I have to ask questions, but don’t want the answers.
Episode 15 was a brilliant tease, much like a game of tennis – it swings one way then the next, the crowd silent in awe of the battle, the point eventually won with a deft touch from L, the ingenius bastard having risked it all on pure instinct alone – he who dares wins, or so they say?
L has been a loveable oddity up until now, but his heartless interrogation of Misa introduces shades of grey to his personality. Despite being the supposedly good guy, that he’s willing to squash others if it means getting to Kira leads us to question the value of his crusade to halt "evil", given his own methods can be as barbaric as his prey. This scene was outstanding; it instantly subverts everything we assumed was good or noble about Death Note’s police, any concept of moral favouritism goes out the window along with Misa’s innocence as we watch the naïve become degraded and exploited.
The intricacy of the scheming in Death Note never lets up, at one point in this episode I was ready to witness the death of L, and moments later I’m grinning ear to ear as he’s somehow turned it all around and virtually caught Light. It’s been absolutely thrilling so far, I’m surely addicted.

Music Reviews

MP3 Spotlight: Conquer the world with Death Note

I’m sitting here feeling like I can take on the world, I’m listening to the Death Note soundtrack. This is the music that makes Light scribbling in his notebook"¦, hell, eating a packet of crisps, rock us like it’s an earth shattering moment. Understand then that this music is overblown and melodramatic, and love it for that.

I’ve only had this soundtrack for a few days but I’m already in-awe of its grandiose foreplay. The instrumental rock tunes were created by Hideki Taniuchi, while Yoshihisa Hirano composed the prayer-style orchestral themes. Atmospheric, haunting and ambient — I’ve been totally sucked in by Taniuchi’s first half, drowned under waves of distorted electric guitar and pin-point melody. This is instrumental music suggesting of imagery and emotion, almost totally separate from Death Note — only during Hirano’s somewhat formulaic second half of operatic guff are we reminded that this was indeed attached to an anime series.
At the risk of sounding painfully impulsive, this is the soundtrack of 2006 and I only picked it up 2 days before the end of the year. Even if you’re not into Death Note but consider yourself a rock expert, give this one a listen. Just don’t be surprised if it inspires you to do something positively epic, like let’s say, scrub the world of all evil (or write a melodramatic blog review)!

Editorials Reviews

Observations of Everything: Bye-Bye November

Still hopelessly hooked on…
Black Lagoon (2nd Barrage)
Episode 19 and counting
The bog-standard Naruto fillers would be a lot more interesting if they managed to nab the creative bastards working on Black Lagoon. With that said the 2nd season has often flattered to deceive and appears to be more content to up the ante in terms of fire-power and “phat explosions” than provide any real character development. The end result is a darkly fun but superficial couple of action-packed story arcs. And something needs to be done about the painful Engrish – sorry Balalaika; you can’t be a bad-ass and talk like an idiot.
Code Geass
Episode 7 and counting
It feels wrong writing this but for what it’s worth I’m thoroughly enjoying Code Geass. I’m a sucker for colourful animation and this, mad haircuts and Victorian costumes abound, is so hideously over the top, melodramatic and knowingly fun that it’s become a ridiculous parody of everything that’s cliche within anime, from cloak wearing mecha to ditzy college days romance.
Death Note
Episode 9 and counting
Death Note isn’t an especially clever show but the suspenseful battle of wits and jaw-dropping brinkmanship between an increasingly unhinged Light and the quirky L has had me edging off my seat from the very first episode. I’m totally addicted to this show, and episode 8 contains the most dramatic opening of a packet of crisps e-v-e-r. What with all the Pizza Hut pimping in Code Geass, surely Walkers could have stumped up for some Shinigami flavoured chips?
One Piece
Episode 172 and counting
Well into the Skypiea arc now, but following on from the grandiose adventures of Alabasta, I must admit I’m finding it (“Save the country!”) all fairly predictable, same old music and same brand of narcissistic super villains’ ala Crocodile. Still though you can’t beat the smiling enthusiasm of Luffy and if I’m looking for something purely entertaining to stick on, One Piece has it all. That and Wiper is hella cool.
Welcome to the N.H.K
Episode 21 and counting
No Yamazaki, don’t gooooo! After the lull of the unengaging MMORPG arc, the last two episodes have shown Welcome to the N.H.K is back to its melancholy and border-line suicidal best. Yamazaki’s sad departure and Satou’s subsequently lonely realisation that he’s just lost his best mate rivalled Honey & Clover in its atmospheric reflection on the vital importance friendship. I can’t believe the end is so close now.
Stuck in backlog hell is…

  • 009-1 – Old school sci-fi anime revamped and I’ve read a lot of praise for this show.
  • Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto – Traditional Japanese dialogue is extremely confusing
  • Bartender – Sounds massively boring but because of that, I’m desperate to give it a shot!
  • Red Garden – Stop crying god dammit! No, don’t sing about it either!
  • Tokyo Tribe 2 – The animation looks odd and creativity deserves attention. Also going in its favour is that it isn’t harem.

Death Note – 2 – Hiding behind a notebook

I’m surprised by just how fast Light is losing grip on reality. In only this second episode he coldly considers killing his family if they were ever to piece together his part in the (now world famous) mass-murdering case, while later he shows no signs of regret upon murdering (using the Death Note, obviously) a then “police detective” who is threatening him via a TV broadcast. At this moment Light loses any perceived sense of neutral justice and edges closer to outright abuse of power, killing not for the good of the human race, but merely for himself and his own twisted ideals.
Despite Light gradually growing insane, the convoluted brilliance of Death Note is in not knowing whether to cheer for or to boo at our new age dictator; he may be an idealistic bastard, but the hard truth of the matter is that he is arguably doing mankind a great favour by killing off line after line of unrepentant murderers, raining down an ultimate judgement on those criminals protected behind years of lawful bureaucracy. The issue is complex, but ultimately comes down to whether or not you feel everyone, no matter what they have done, deserves a second chance, or if murder deserves murder in return. Both ideals are paved with contradictions. There is no right answer, merely point of view. Light can make mistakes; he will kill innocent people, but does the end ultimately justify the means? Is a better world worth a few innocent lives?
As if to comment on the herd like mentality of human nature, Light pokes fun at the cult websites springing up around his mysterious murdering sprees, and even goes so far as to dub his online followers cowards; suggesting these are people unable to support his methods in public, so they turn to the safe annoniminity of the internet. Knowingly though, Light is himself hiding behind a notebook, only capable of doing the “right thing” behind a locked door.


Death Note – 1 – Wicked, manipulative and morally deranged

Death Note is a Shounen Jump anime, but forget the generic conventions those two words invoke. Just like Bleach, this is a story that depicts the soul reaping world of “Shinigami” but where Bleach’s version of the afterlife is jammed with pouting pretty boys and nothing else, Death Note’s vision is dark, cold and lifeless. The characters that inhabit this world are surreal, twisted nightmares – imagine a slightly toned down version of Hellraiser’s cenobites.
The shinigami of note is Ryuuku; a permanently smiling, razor toothed man beast. He is growing bored of his job; it seems that these days Shinigami are no longer needed since humans are happy enough killing each other anyway (see: war, murder, terrorism, execution). To spice up his eternal boredom, Ryuuku intentionally drops his Death Note (a book with the power to instantly kill anyone who’s name is scribed inside, including through instructions on usage) into the human world and it’s typically picked up by that worst kind of person, a disaffected and arrogant teenage male (name: Light Yagami) with ideas of grandeur and a clear definition of what’s right and what’s wrong.
Bursting with an obvious social commentary from the very first couple of scenes, Death Note is an involving, elegant and clever supernatural thriller with some stunning gothic artistry. By the end of the episode, Light’s lofty ambitions are bound to crash back to reality. His ideas of creating a better world are admirable but naive and ultimately pointless; to think that he can rid the world of criminals is a denial of (even his) nature, after all he is becoming the very murderous monster he strives to wipe out of society. Star of the show will undoubtedly be Ryuuku – a “wicked”, manipulative and morally deranged personality that represents our (the viewers) presence in the show. Just like Ryuuku, we’re smiling with delight in the knowledge that Death Note is going to get very interesting very quickly.