There are actually three main characters in Berserk. Guts and Griffith are two, but the other is Casca, the fiercely loyal female commander of the Band of the Hawk.
One Piece begins with the execution of the Pirate King, Gol D. Roger. His death was intended to symbolize the power of the World Government, but had the opposite effect instead, conceiving the Golden Age of Pirates!
One Piece is full of mythology. What happened in the Void Century, anyway? What about the meaning behind the Poneglyphs? Gol D. Roger plays a massive role in this same mythology and is regarded more as a deity than as the fallible man he actually was. His first mate (Silvers Rayleigh, in episode 400 of the anime) provides us with a differing account of the Pirate King, a perspective not as much concerned with the legend as the man himself.
We learn that Gol D. Roger was dying of an untreatable disease at the time of his execution. He wasn’t caught in the prime of his life, but rather, just wanted to go out with a bang, in the words of Rayleigh, “In the last moment of his life, he (Gol D. Roger) turned his fading “flame of life” into a huge fire that enveloped the world.”
Time to champion Ookiku Furikabutte
Living in ol’ Blightly, we aren’t taught the delights of baseball. For us, it’s either cricket or rounders, and the latter’s enjoyed mostly by girls anyway. So I sat down to watch Ookiku Furikabutte knowing basically zip all about the game, except that the Americans (especially Bobby De Niro) are mad about it. Why bother then? I love sports anime; the genre might be cliche, but for me, you can’t beat seeing an underdog battling against all the odds, trying their hardest to compete and eventually winning the respect of others through sheer guts and determination. For me, then, sports anime is a reaffirming and inspirational journey. A constant, heart-warming reminder that success and talent is always a curve-ball within our range; we just need practice and strength enough to know when its time to swing away.
Our journey, then, kicks-off when we meet high school new fish Ren Mihashi; though he’s unconfident and shy, Ren’s blood flows with an unlimited passion for baseball, and baseball alone. All he’s ever wanted to do is stand on that mound in the middle of the pitch and throw strike after strike to success. So, belying his timid nature, Ren dreams of being his team’s ace, their number one most important player, but he’s often struggling with his own (lack of) self belief as much as his opposition’s swing.
That’s really the basic outline of Ookiku Furikabutte, Ren starts the series by transferring schools and joining a newly formed team just in time for the summer competitions; we follow them, all strangers at first, from their early morning training sessions right through to the marathon matches themselves. Ren might be the main character, but several other strong personalities on his team shine through too; catcher Abe is a down-to-earth and tactically astute friend, Tajima is your typical hot-blooded shonen hero with immense natural talent and finally, their coach, Maria, is a no-nonsense, big breasted 23 year old woman with an absolutely wicked swing.
Seeing it all come together in Ookiku Furikabutte is a joy to behold. With everyone fighting for a common goal, they bond together and battle as one. They believe in each other. If it ever looks like someone’s feeling down and out, a team-mate is there, almost instantly, to shoulder that pain. Writing this now, I know it must be sounding cliche, but when you’re seeing it on screen, and you’re so invested in these characters, it’s heart-warming to sense this comradery between friends. That, for example, Ren can smile when he’s pitching, considering he’s basically a broken-heart in the beginning is really quite moving. Just like its great when Ren’s female cousin calls him “Ren-Ren” in front of his team-mates and they all burst out laughing at him for having such a “cute” rapport with her.
If Ookiku Furikabutte ever does come close to losing my attention, it’s probably because there’s been a sudden burst of complex baseball tactics that went way over my head, but this sense of confusion is often tempered by some amusing scenes involving the shrieking mothers of the players, all of whom are huddled together at the back of the stands, positively beaming with pride watching their children on the field.
At this point, I should note that despite this being a 25 episode TV series, it contains only two actual baseball matches, both of which are multi-episode, tense epics of inner-strife, clever tactics and brinksmanship. Because things progress at such a slow pace, I’m left wishing for an as-yet-unannounced second season (I could quite happily watch another 100 episodes just like this) or will have to resort to reading the original manga instead, but regardless, I’ve loved watching this.
It might be formulaic, but this is a story bubbling with positive energy and emotive characters. If you feel sad, in need of inspiration or just lacking a bit of self-confidence, don’t be afraid to have a swing at Ookiku Furikabutte. It’s ostensibly centred on Baseball, yes, but for all its sports-talk, it’s a true champion of friendship, team-work and fun.
Table tennis, ping pong, whatever you want to call it, is a specialist sport played mostly by an enthusiastic collection of hardcores, eccentrics and oddballs. Examining the game with unloving eyes, all you may uncover is a baffling blur of squeaking shoes and pumped up grunts. So, amidst this boring confusion of pings and pongs, we miss the compelling battle of wits taking place; that moment the winning player realises he can fly, while his losing opponent watches his cherished dreams come crashing down around him.
Ping Pong (2002, YouTube trailer) is a Japanese live action movie penned by the legendary manga-ka Taiyou Matsumoto, and there’s no beating around the bush here, it is one of my favourite films of all time; a charming and philosophical portrait of human nature painted by an eccentric quartet of characters in love with ping pong. Here’s why.
At the centre of the story are two teenaged best friends; Peco (Yosuke Kubozuka) and Smile (Arata). They are both preciously talented table tennis players who seem to struggle when under pressure. Goof-ball Peco dreams of becoming the best in the world, but blows off practice to gorge on junk food, while Smile doesn’t care about the game at all; he only plays to hang out with his best mate. They’ve shared a strong bond of friendship since childhood because Peco saved Smile (so named because he never does) from bullies, thus Smile idolises Peco as his hero; some one who, when the world’s about to end, saves the day.
The two other most notable characters are intense, aggressive skin-heads; nicknamed Akuma (Demon) and Dragon. Akuma is a hack player with no talent, but so desperately wants to be good, while Dragon is the local champion but works so hard at training and practise that he’s lost all love for the game; despite winning it all, he never smiles.
Ping Pong is punctuated with colourful humour, a fist-pumping soundtrack (with a lot of music from SUPERCAR) and a lot of exciting (CG-assisted) action, but its true brilliance lies within its characters, who in distinctive Japanese style, grow to embody their own particular philosophical flavours.
Peco is running from Smile’s admiration, afraid of not living up to the expectations of his friend, while Akuma, try as he might, can’t accept that his talents lay elsewhere. Even Dragon, the champion, locks himself in a cubicle through out tournaments because he gets so envious of players with real ability.
It feels so heart-filled and compelling because these are issues that transcend the sport in question and impact on us all; some of us want to be the best at what we do yet hopelessly fail, others may be talented but flit it all away, we can even try so hard that we lose sight of whatever made it fun in the first place. Ping Pong is about learning to fly, or in other words, growing up and realising your place in the world; it’s a moving, eccentric and funny film that I hope you run out and pick up right now.
When you enjoy something so completely, it’s never easy to write a review about it, and, as if you didn’t know already, I love One Piece. Of course, I could just not bother with this blogging nonsense, but I can’t ignore my conscience. More people need to be watching this anime and, in my own feeble style, I need to tell you why I love it.
Earlier today I finished watching episode 312 and according to Wikipedia, that’s the official end point of the Enies Lobby saga. My initial thoughts are that this was by far and away the best arc of One Piece. That’s a remarkable feat when you think about it; after an amazing 300 episodes, it’s still getting better and better. A lot of the credit has to go to the unflinching vision of Oda-sensei, who has been crafting this wonderful story for nigh on 10 years now. I imagine he draws it with a big Luffy style smile slapped across his face.
Also, it’s worth pointing out that One Piece is the most fansubbed anime ever; every single episode has been translated, encoded and shared by people spread the world over. So through all the tragic 4Kids bullshit, the fans remained undeterred and stuck together, achieving a quite remarkable record. You cannot doubt their dedication! Here’s hoping FUNimation give us a release worthy of such a loyal fan base; even though they will be beginning production at Skypiea, I’m desperate to fill my walls with beautiful One Piece DVDs.
Why is Enies Lobby so much better than, say, Alabasta then? It’s the way the Straw-Hats worked together. In the past, it has usually felt like that as long as Luffy was around, the day would be saved. He beats down Crocodile, and that is that, the world saved. It’s not that simple with Enies Lobby though; Luffy is basically sidetracked by Rob Lucci, leaving the rest of the Straw-Hats to rescue Robin. It takes a real team effort to survive; each person is pushed to their limits, a true test of their spirit to remain together.
My favourite scene was just prior to the final moments of Luffy’s clash with Lucci; Usopp’s looking down on the fight from high above and spots that Luffy is close to defeat. He removes his Sogeking mask and starts screaming and shouting, urging Luffy to fight on, desperate for him not to give up. All this contrasts with Usopp’s earlier fight with Luffy; they are supposed to be enemies, but Usopp’s show of support gives Luffy enough heart and determination to finish the fight. It’s a really wonderful scene, a perfect ying-yang of Luffy’s strength and Usopp’s support; they need each other to survive.
It’s apt that Merry shows up in the end and carries everyone to safety. Though it may be too nostalgic for some, the boat is symbolic of the Straw-Hats bond to one-another; it represents all those past adventures, their precious memories and the dreams they’re yet to grasp. It’s not just a ship, it’s the One Piece adventure itself, Merry is the reason they are all together and ultimately, it’s the reason they survive.
Now that Harry’s henchmen have been all but vanquished, Millenion’s stranglehold on the city has crumbled into nothing but dust. Looking to avenge his old friends and settle old scores, the scarred and tired Brandon is left searching deserted streets for his arch enemy, while Harry scrambles from place to place, trying to regain control of his “family”; no doubt, it’s a futile effort from a desperate man.
Between all these movements, Millenion’s old guard are planning to oust Harry and wrestle the organisation (a.k.a. mafia/yakuza) from his control; they’ve found a way to fight his supernatural org-men — and so Harry’s last pillar of power begins to shake.
Ultimately, he’s finished. All that’s left is Brandon; his greatest enemy and his best friend.
It’s taken me nearly 7 months to write this review. I love Gungrave, but it’s an emotionally draining and hard boiled series. I first watched it back in 2003 and certain scenes remained with me; namely the horribly fractured, life long bond shared by Harry and Brandon. After what happens in the first episode, you know that at some point in the future, Harry is going to kill Brandon, and yet still, when it finally happens, it’s an utterly gripping and shocking tribute to Harry’s developing inhumanity.
The rest of the series, despite occasionally over-indulging in some comic book silliness with the whole necrolyzation theme, steadily builds up to these last three episodes; essentially the reunion of Harry and Brandon. In a series that’s all about family and life-long friendship, I suppose it’s a little too easy to expect a simple revenge. Brandon comes face to face with Harry, the man that ‘killed him’, and despite all that’s happened, despite knowing Harry is a murderer, Brandon still can’t pull the trigger on his friend. The beauty of this scene is best emphasized by Brandon’s own touching confession; realising that Harry would destroy it all, he still chose him over Millenion.
At this moment, Harry is suddenly overcome with grief and regret; realising that he killed his best friend for nothing at all. And so the two men who once held the world in their palms find themselves back where they started, completely alone and on the verge of death – yet friends again, smiling together; they pull their guns and point at each other, trigger fingers strong. This time they are going to do it.
And then that’s it, the end of Gungrave. One of the best anime conclusions of all time; we never see how Harry and Brandon finished, and indeed, one could argue that they somehow survived, but the truth in my mind is that they finally died — with their grudge lifted, they are finally able to pass away.
What more is there to say about Gungrave; I adore it. It’s a tragic, moving and life affirming story. I’m glad Harry didn’t become a necrolyzed monster, that he remains a man, consumed by ambition and dragged to brink of madness allows his character to retain a strong resonance with the viewer. He isn’t a "villain", just a man who lost control and by the end, has paid the price with his increasingly detached and violent life.
Tsuneo Imahori’s musical score holds up wonderfully, echoing the tragic drama unfolding on screen, while Madhouse contribute animation that is as consistent as ever. Nothing wrong with these three episodes at all; they verge on perfection.
The story of Gungrave unfolds over an entire life time; we see Harry and Brandon rise to the top of the world, only to descend into the flames of hell. Being character-driven and intensely focused on meaning of true friendship, Gungrave’s strongest appeal isn’t so much its over-the-top zombie aesthetic, instead it shines as a heart fluttering drama that is all at once tragic and uplifting. Recommended times infinity; buy this now.
It’s funny how we spend hours upon hours watching anime, often only for but a few short minutes of absolute pay off. I watch One Piece for these transcendental moments; don’t get me wrong, it’s a consistently fun show but every so often, it raises itself to a rare point of pure emotional resonance with me, where for a few scant minutes all of my attention is completely focussed on the screen, emotions lost somewhere between ultimate high and shocking low.
This happened again today with episode 147 – Luffy, Zoro and Nami are sitting at a bar, drinking and joking, when a purely evil pirate by the name of “Bellamy” walks in and immediately starts a fight with Luffy. He laughs in Luffy’s face, calls him weak and bitterly insults them all for chasing their childish dreams. In Bellamy’s mooted new world, there is no need for dreams. By now him and his whole crew are viciously mocking The Straw Hat Pirates, bullying them, spitting drinks in their faces and throwing beer bottles, basically trying to strip them of their dignity.
But Luffy refuses to fight back, and he tells Zoro to do the same. They have the shit kicked out of them; they are thrown through wooden tables and have their faces smashed through broken glass. Nami – like the viewer – is urging them to fight back, to stand up for themselves, but still they refuse. Eventually they are thrown out of the pub, barely alive.
Now we are left to wonder why they refused to raise their fists in the face of such provocation. Luffy doesn’t strike me as such an ardent pacifist – if someone needs a good beating, he’ll hand it out. But I wonder if he pities Bellamy, the man’s contempt for chasing dreams and ambitions a sure sign that he himself has lost faith in life. He hates Luffy and the rest of the Straw Hat pirates because they stand for everything he wants (or lacks) in life. Luffy’s pride and dignity never wavers, to fight back would suggest he is afraid of losing something, so he stands tall and embodies everything Bellamy lacks, in turn protecting his dreams with a iron will. Luffy and Zoro win without even throwing a punch.
This was a brilliant, passionate and gut wrenching scene; a fine example as to why I love One Piece, it was worth watching 146 episodes if just to get to this point.
Sato meets with young Misaki to talk about her “how to take the hikomori out of Sato” project. Though with his trademark destructive hiko-nature, Sato immediately tries to deny his shut-in ways by proving to Misaki that he does have a part to play in society after all. In embarking on this mission, he ends up getting involved with his crazy-otaku neighbour and by the end of the episode; they are planning on developing, as a means of doing something (anything) with their lives, their very own porn game… It’s a start, I guess?!?
Despite lacking in the more surreal, vivid moments that so punctuated the first episode, NHK – 2 was still an impressive follow up with just enough self depreciating wicked humour and melancholy reflection on (missing) life to be entertaining without crossing the line into out right depressing. Sato has chosen the wrong neighbour to work with though- after all if you are looking for a helping hand in life, the last person you need advise from is a perverted otaku; I wonder if he has an anime blog?!
The rocky soundtrack is still one of my favourite aspects of this show. The opening five minutes were great just because they are backed by this acoustic band music- such refined sounds can add so much more impact to a scene and NHK! has got this important balance between emotional, sad and crazy music spot on.
The Alabasta Arc of One Piece
The Alabasta Arc of One Piece sees this fine series at the top of its game, juggling dynamic character drama, explosive political upheaval and some eccentric body twisting action. Despite falling into a few classic Shounen Jump cliches (not least of all a super villain in Crocodile who unwittingly reveals his devious plans to his then captured arch enemies) the sheer scale of the Alabasta rebellion unfolding before my eyes was a spine tingling, gut wrenching sight to behold.
There was a lot that I came to love about Alabasta; from the endless sand dunes of its harsh deserts to its mythological architecture. The final battle set in Alubarna combined this giant, compelling feeling of a country at war with such a beautiful collection of rocky, warm and timeless landscapes. The animation- and particularly Luffy’s final battle with Crocodile was earth shatteringly fluid, completely encapsulating a Devil’s Fruit battle with its gravity defying, unnatural sense of power and movement.
Ultimately though, it’s the characters that really made this arc. Be it through Pell’s heroic sacrifice or Vivi’s painful cries for peace, I often felt completely immersed in it all. The tragedy, the philosophy and essentially, the friendship that wins out in the end was touching and heavily emotional.
Having marched across endless miles of desolate landscapes and lifeless desert, Luffy finally snaps at Vivi and in his own unique way, lets her know a few important home truths; while admirable, her selfless pacifism can not save lives. Villains like Crocodile care not for reason and act not out of compassion, but rather their own greedy ambition. Nothing Vivi can say will stop him from trying to destroy her kingdom and take Alabasta as his own paradise, so it’s down to the likes of Luffy to fight the good fight and Vivi to rely on her nakama. She alone cannot save her country.
It’s great how Luffy explains all of this and he takes quite a beating from the Princess in the process. I love how characters like Luffy and Naruto, who act like such mindless idiots most of the time, can flick a switch and suddenly embody such wise and intelligent philosophy.
A clear direction for the Alabasta arc is now firmly set; Luffy is to hunt down Crocodile and I assume Princess Vivi will continue on to meet with the rebel army in the hope of talking them down from going to all out war (I wait in anticipation of her inevitably draining reunion with childhood friend turned influential rebel Leader). At this point One Piece is a truly country-spanning adventure of vast and epic proportions. Between such massive distance, thought provoking politics and compelling drama, I find myself relishing each and every episode.