Naruto Shippuuden: The return of Orochimaru, stuff happens


There is perhaps no anime I want to love more than Naruto. I’ve been following this story since 2003 and even if it drags on for another decade, I’ll still be camped out all night waiting for its end. I know full well it’s far from perfect, but by now I’m too caught up in these characters to actually care whether or not Naruto is objectively good or bad, that it simply is Naruto is good enough for me. I suppose this is a lot like being a Star Wars fan, you have to be willing to completely invest yourself in the story, kick reason to the curb and accept what you’re seeing. If all you can do is complain about the fucking ewoks, you’re completely missing the point.
The last few episodes of Shippuuden have been good. I’m not sure if it’s simply because the Gaara retrieval arc was a little too long, or if I just wasn’t as engrossed in it as I thought, but only now is it feeling like Naruto is recapturing that exciting and compulsive feeling. All this is connected with the return of Orochimaru and Kabuto and a sense that we’re getting closer to that inevitably awesome first encounter with bad Sasuke.


To be honest, I still don’t completely understand the motivations behind trying to "save" Sasuke. Naruto obviously believes that if only he were stronger when they originally clashed, he could have stopped Sasuke from leaving by force and everything would have been fine, but this is ignoring that Sasuke clearly wanted to leave everyone behind, ally with Orochimaru and chase down Itachi. Fundamentally, we’re yet to see if he is capable of committing evil and, knowing how Naruto will never give up on a friend, it remains to be seen whether or not his heart can be sufficiently moved to change perspective.
All that said, you can’t help but honestly and utterly cheer for Naruto; the depth of his feeling is unquestionable and his complete willingness to sacrifice everything is aptly symbolised during his murky internal dialogues — drowning in helplessness, Naruto, knowing full well he is shortening his life span, does the only thing he can do to try and save his friend; combine with the demon fox and embrace his cursed power. It was disturbing to see that his final transformation literally burns off his skin. Naruto, with his blood red eyes, is fast becoming a monster.


I loved how he so nonchalantly tossed aside an attack from the ever condescending Kabuto, but of course, I can’t wait to see how far he will push Orochimaru too (that is, before Yamato is inevitably forced to seal Naruto’s escalating power). Here’s hoping for another beautifully animated and big budget smack down.


Naruto Shippuuden rises from the ashes! A dramatic return to form!


After realizing my disappointment in Naruto Shippuuden, I quit watching and renounced my faith in the old girl; for me, the magic had faded. All at once, it felt too slow, too choppy, too cheap and too predictable; my dreams had been lost – the hero’s comeback never happened. In that time, I enjoyed being one of those cool anime fans. Suddenly I had refined taste, people invited me for interviews and guest collaborations as I mingled with high society, yet my true colours, my dirty secret, never faded, and this weekend, the inevitable happened; I relapsed like a hungry junkie and gobbled up the last dozen episodes of Shippuuden"¦ Why does it feel so wrong, yet taste so good? Time to admit the truth, my name is bateszi and I’m a narutard!


Is it the Franky or the beans? One Piece 321


It sounds superficial, but something as stupid as a smile goes a long way; after a tiring week, it’s just a lot easier to relax in front of anime that’s pleasant and funny with happy characters who cheer and smile — that’s a big reason why I love watching One Piece. It’s just so colourful and fun — even the filler episodes, the so-called scourge of Shonen Jump anime, are good for a laugh or two; mindless fun is still, well, fun!
Today I watched episodes 320 — 321, the viewing made me realise how over the last few weeks I’ve utterly missed watching One Piece. I spent two years diving in and out of the series, losing sleepy weekends to Luffy’s adventures, but now the supply’s dried up and I suddenly have to wait in-line like the rest; my point is"¦ argh! The end of 321 is so frustrating. It’s not that I don’t know what’s going to happen — of course, (naked) cyborg Franky is destined to join the Straw Hats — but it’s the way it happens; the nostalgic goodbye, the embarking on a new adventure, the realisation of a dream"¦, I need to see it all right now, while these feelings are still warm.


Demonic rumbles as claymores get squished in episode 21


I’m really digging Claymore at the moment and each episode is ending on the kind of gut-wrenching cliff hanger that so tempts me to gorge on manga spoilers. Episode 21 is no different; Ligardes is one of the coolest awakened beings yet — his intimidating part-lion transformation perfectly emphasizes his quite unfathomable strength and speed; he radiates killer-instinct and I haven’t a clue how anyone, including Claire, can escape his relentless lust for blood.
My main problem with the series is that it hasn’t been great at building sympathetic characters but after episode 20, I was totally rooting for Undine; at first she seemed like a heartless bitch, but it turned out her abrasive personality and pumped up muscles were all superficial fronts. The scene of her cowering in the corner; shivering, crying and completely exposed immediately transformed her personality. That she dies in episode 21; killed so quickly, no fan-fare, just death, felt shocking and disappointing, but also made it clear that this ain’t no picnic. How can anyone beat Ligardes?
I must be one of the few people to like Raki. I like that he’s weak, but willing to learn. I hope he becomes strong or at least capable of cutting down the generic yoma. I’m not sure what to make of his contact with Isely and Pricilla; why haven’t they killed him? I sense they are more than just superficial bad guys and knowing what monsterous power lurks beneath their skin, I’m quite fascinated by their passive attitudes towards him.
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I loved the build up to the second wave of attacks on Pieta. The silence of the Claymores as they sensed demonic energy on the horizon; the sound of the wind and the blizzard while the awakened beings howl in excitement of battle and then the reverberating bass of their gigantic foot-steps as they near their prey — it’s almost Lords of the Rings-esque, such is the tension in the air. In this moment you can’t help but pity Claire and co., they may well be doomed.


One Piece – Finishing Enies Lobby ~ To the ocean, back to the sea of adventure

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.


One Piece – A nostalgic comment, nearing the end of my adventure

I’m up to episode 301 of One Piece; 15 more and I’ll have finally caught up with the current fansubs. It’s taken me nearly three years to get this far and now I’m almost there, I have this weird feeling. It’s been great knowing that if I’m ever bored with anime, if I ever wanted to watch something that I knew I’d love, I could always lose myself for hours on an adventure with One Piece. Yet in a few days time, that’s all going to change. I’ll be waiting each and every week, like all the other straw-hats, for just one measly episode. Maybe it’s just me, but I prefer watching anime in bulk. 23 minutes per week just isn’t enough and having to wait so long between cliffhangers totally fades my enthusiasm. Almost just as much, I’ll miss writing about the series in this way too, I suppose my One Piece posts have largely come to define me as a blogger, so for what it’s worth, thanks for reading! I’ve had so much fun talking with you guys about the show.
Anyway… I started writing this because I wanted to sound off about Enies Lobby. Episode 301 marks the turning of the tide in favor of the Straw-hats; basically, Robin is saved, thank god! I’m not sure how much more I could take of the bastard Spandam’s violent abuse; he’s the first villain in One Piece that I’ve truly come to hate, given his unrelenting and harrowing treatment of Robin. Best of all, the one to save her, at the darkest of dark moments was, of all people, Usopp (or Sogeking, if you want to get technical!); I love that he’s finally done something to be proud of (good job on Sanji’s part, talking some sense into him) and saved a dear friend with his own two hands.
From the various CP9 characters, my favorite has to be Kaku. Not only does he have this cool square nose and an innocent sense of humor (HAHA! Giraffe!) , he was probably the only CP9 assassin to show a little humanity. Once Zoro finishes him off, we see this bitter-sweet flashback to his time in Water 7; I love that scene of him jumping over the city, flying through the clouds at such a speed with that big smirk slapped across his face.
Now, I’m about to embark on my final catch-up with One Piece. I can’t wait to see Luffy beat down Rob Lucci. Until then!


One Piece – I want to live!!

The time of writing this is 00:01; mid-night. I’m up for work tomorrow at 07:15. I should be in bed, but instead, I’m wide awake, filled with the burning passion to write this post, to write anything about One Piece. It’s kind of odd, really, I mean, why? What is it about anime — and especially One Piece — that refills my engine? It’s such an intangible feeling, or passion"¦, or whatever.
I just want to sound off on Nico Robin’s back-story. I want to say that Saulo was a really awesome giant, and his death was totally cool (pun intended?). I liked his fake laugh; it’s kind of depressing (especially when Robin tries it), but heart warming at the same time. His last moments captured an epic, awe-inspiring and cofused mixture of loss and hope. Everything about the Buster Call attack was massive; a chilling sense of chaos is felt when we see library books being thrown from a window; all that knowledge, wisdom, history — to see them burnt to ashes by madness and fear is undoubtedly an unsettling, even creepy, sight to behold.
What else is there to say but "I want to live". To hear Robin finally say it was a great moment, and nearly as good as that was Sogeking destroying the World Government’s precious flag. They declare war on the world to protect their friends, and it’s at this moment, with all their lives on the line for her, that Robin finally decides to stop running, risk it all and believe in her nakama.


One Piece – High gears, high drama and why Sogeking is the coolest

Prior to this evening, it had been nearly two months since I last sat down with an episode of One Piece. I’d finally reached the promised land of the Enies Lobby arc but some what worryingly, it wasn’t clicking with me. I found the plot was becoming fairly predictable and excruciatingly slow, while even the soundtrack was still rehashing the old favorites we first heard way back in Alabasta. I felt like I’d seen all of this before; I was bored and needed a break from the Straw-hat gang. Well, now it feels like I just got back from vacation!
It’s ironic that I stopped watching at episode 271, right before Luffy unveils his sensational evolution and goes bad-ass on Blueno from CP9. I loved the moment of his victory; the sudden realisation that he has knocked his opponent out cold. Luffy’s new technique was cool and bad-ass, but then, the rubber-man has always been cool and bad-ass anyway.
The real reason why I’m writing this is that I wanted to comment on the end of episode 274. Having fought their way through literally thousands of marines, the Straw-Hats (including Sogeking) find themselves at the top of a tower directly facing Nico Robin. They walk to the edge and stand in-line with Luffy, looking across the island right into the eyes of their broken comrade. Combined with the swirling and theatrical background music (a new song too!), this is a life affirming and symbolic moment for Robin; perhaps once and for all putting to bed her superficial attempts to escape her friends in order to save them. When Robin shouts across "Leave me alone, I want to die", Luffy simply retorts "if you want to say those words, come over here and say them with us". Us; your friends.
What I love about this scene, aside from what I’ve mentioned above, is that we have characters like Usopp and Nami there too. Luffy, Zoro, Chopper and Sanji are all on another level, they can stand there without feeling consumed by fear and doubt. Usopp and Nami are different though, they must know they have no chance in a fight, but they’re still there anyway, standing tall on the edge of the building, risking it all to win back their lost friend. In this scene, that’s why Sogeking is the coolest and bravest of all. And that’s also why I love One Piece.


Claymore – Searching for humanity in a violent world

I’m really enjoying watching Claymore at the moment (as of episode 4), yet oddly, I’m finding it hard to pin down exactly what I like about it. It’s probably the setting; I just really like the European medieval period — a time when any person; strong in arm and sword in hand, could conquer and control his own patch of land. Everything from that era feels tangibly real; the swords, the armour, the clothes, even the architecture — it’s easy to imagine how life was, or felt, back in those days. I suppose that’s why I’m immediately attracted to Claymore; I understand the gravity and the colour of its environment. Indeed, I’m a part of that world rather than just observing it.
“If you stare into the Abyss long enough, the Abyss stares back at you.”
(Friedrich Nietzsche)
Nietzsche’s famous philosophical phrase must be carved into Clare’s heart. Half human and half demon, every time a Claymore dips into her power, the closer she lurches towards losing control; indeed, perhaps the most thrilling scenes so far have involved Clare wrestling against her demonic side, trying to retain her humanity despite an existence that’s so clearly lead devoid of whatever she is afraid of losing.
Does she willingly dye herself in blood and enjoy the thrill of the hunt? Kentaro Miura’s Berserk has obviously influenced Claymore; both stories are sprawling medieval adventures that effectively explore how one’s personality can be affected by one’s environment — just as Guts struggles against his destiny to avenge old friends, Clare struggles to retain her sane personality in a violent world, to hunt demons is to become a demon. Ambition bleeds into humanity, and like Guts has his love, Clare just needs a reason to hold on, an anchor for her spirit. That’s where Raki comes in.


Naruto Shippuuden – 5 – Keep The Car Running

The massive clash of Gaara’s sand vs. Akatsuki’s blonde bombshell Deidara rages ever on while Naruto and Sakura celebrate with a bowl of ramen having again teamed up with their perverted old sensei; anti-social bastard that he is, Kakashi declines their company, no doubt to finish off the latest volume of his favourite romantic yarn “Make Out Paradise”. In between the action, we glimpse a sun drenched flashback to a pre-Kazekage Gaara and Kankuro, striding atop a cliff that majestically looks over their endless desert, reaffirming their new found desire to work hard, protect the innocent and earn friendship the good old fashioned way – just like Naruto. The episode ends with a devastating explosion when what appears to be a clay-based nuke is dropped in the middle of down-town sand village by Deidara. Civilian casualties are expected.
I can see why people are already starting to complain about Naruto Shippuuden. It’s true that the story is slow going, just as it’s true that the animation has been mediocre since the superlative first two episodes. I’m still enjoying it though. As is the case with Death Note, it seems that reading the manga is key to our ultimate enjoyment of Naruto; I’ve steered clear of the manga for that very reason, I’d rather not spoil the story. I enjoy anime more than I enjoy manga.
Sometimes I wonder why I’m so compelled by Shonen Jump’s “fighting” anime; characters like Gaara are the answer. Over two hundred episodes plus and we’ve seen him dragged through hell; abused and isolated as a kid, lost in life and consumed by hatred, yet he finds salvation through friendship. That he changes so much through out the series and finally discovers a meaning to his existence, only a heart of stone would not feel a pang of attachment to him.
Next week’s episode is an hour long special. Here’s hoping something big and flashy happens!