Archive for May, 2008

Zombie-Loan (Complete Series)

May 31, 2008

The stereotypical zombie is kind of boring. It is slow-moving, doesn’t think, likes eating brains way too much, and is pretty ugly to look at. Thankfully the stereotypical zombie has been harder to come by in recent years, what with the speed-demons of Dawn of the Dead, the intelligent bastards of Resident Evil 4, and with the anime Zombie-Loan the undead can seamlessly integrate with society.

Chika Akatsuki and Shito Tachibana are both in debt to the Zombie-Loan, where they must kill zombies and other such undead who are not supposed to be on Earth. Each kill leaves money (kind of like in a video game) and with this money they pay back their loan. Nothing is that straightforward, though. They are both zombies themselves and the debt they owe is the one which allowed them to cheat the afterlife in the first place. Zombies killing zombies? That is pretty much the greatest concept ever, right?

In the mythos of Zombie-Loan everyone has a ring around their neck that turns dark the closer they come to death. Naturally for the zombies, whom are technically dead, this ring is black. Only Shinigami (Death Gods) can see this ring, making the chore of sorting out the living from the dead somewhat difficult for Chika and Shito. And then they meet a quiet, diminutive girl at their school, Michiru Kita. Michiru happens to have the eyes of a Shinigami and can see the rings. In exchange for not killing her, Chika and Shito allow her to spot rings for them.

Zombie-Loan is a series that just seethes coolness. The aura of ridiculously awesome drapes every scene. Unfortunately there is a big problem: Zombie-Loan fails to present an engaging plot. And the characters aren’t engaging enough to truly carry the series. As a result it flounders for twelve episodes (rumor has it that will be bumped up to fourteen for the DVD releases) and does little to create any lasting impact.

Thankfully a twelve (going on fourteen) episode series is just short enough that it will survive on style alone. It will sell its dvds as well as any other short niche series. But it won’t create that feeling of “wow!” that a series like Soul Eater does (another highly stylized series). Watch it and enjoy it like me, but watch it and enjoy it before making a purchase* to find out if it is something that will click with you beyond “hey, this is cool!”

*DVDs are not yet available in the States, but it would surprise me if it doesn’t cross the ocean before too long.

Title: Zombie-Loan
US Distributor: none yet
Number of Episodes: 12
Availability: fansubs can be found
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 73

Yoake Mae Yori Ruri Iro Na -Crescent Love- (Complete Series)

May 29, 2008

Yoake Mae Yori Ruri Iro na -Crescent Love- (as Anime News Network refers to it as, and henceforth referred to as simply Crescent Love for the sake of space and my sanity) is akin to the previously reviewed Onegai Teacher. It is a romance that is based around a common romance genre theme: princess and common boy. It is, of course, not generally accepted by everyone that they should be together and all kinds of political intrigue ensues.

It is in two areas that Crescent Love succeeds. The first is with the fun characters who are easy to root for. It wouldn’t be much of a romance if we didn’t like both of the main protagonists. It gets conveyed to the viewer that they truly are in love and want to overcome the obstacles in their way.

It is in the second area where Crescent Love takes on its own personality. Beyond fairytale-style romances the main obstacle to overcome is the personal sort between the two characters. This is especially evident in the aforementioned Onegai Teacher. With Crescent Love, however, the obstacles come from outside forces, and this tension is what keeps this show interesting during the second half of its twelve episodes.

The princess is from the Moon. The moon is populated and has separated most ties from the Earth following a rather brutal battle many years in the past. Princess Feena goes to Earth as a diplomatic exercise. Tatsuya lives under the supervision of his sister, who works as an assistant to the President. It just so happens that the same sister has agreed to let Princess Feena stay with them for the duration of her stay. Surprise, surprise… it just so happens that the two fall for each other. It is at the moment that the two realize their feelings (a moment that takes them too long to realize) that the exterior forces start getting in the way.

Feena’s father had promised her hand to an arrogant, biased captain–someone Feena already rejected several times. To find out that on Feena’s trip she got engaged would feel like Earth manipulating the Moon and trying to reassert their power over them. Not to mention the assassin who experienced the first war between Earth and Moon and wants to avoid any more unpleasantries of such nature by killing Tatsuya.

It all culminates in a whirlwind of activity with gunfire, deaths, and the viewer left with mouth agape and wondering if they really saw what they saw. It is activity not commonly associated with the romance genre and it really strengthens the series. Recommended for those into romance animes.

Title: Yoake Mae Yori Iro Na -Crescent Love-
US Distribution: none yet
Number of Episodes: 12
Availability: fansubs, though I forget the group that I watched. This doesn’t strike me as a show that will get brought over to the US.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 55

Bleach (Episodes 1-109)

May 28, 2008

Bleach (and Naruto for that matter) is an anime I swore I would never get into. After all, serious anime fans tend to look down upon both series. And yet here I am, writing about Bleach (while wearing a Naruto shirt), and life is good. Bleach is fairly flawed, yet it certainly have this magnetic factor to it that is hard to fully explain.

For me, the thing that attracts me to anime and any other form of media/entertainment is usually the characters. If I can connect with the characters, then it is a big win in my opinion. For me, plot can be a part of the enjoyment but I have enjoyed long books with just about no plot to be found (see Martha Grimes’ The Old Silent and Madeleine L’Engle’s The Severed Wasp) as long as the characters are interesting and, in a way, become a kind of friend for me. It is in this way that Bleach became interesting.

The first 109 episodes cover the first two main arcs in the series, as well as the necessary introductory episodes to bring everyone into the picture and allow the story flow to be brought into focus. The initial catch is fairly standard: slightly uncommon boy (Ichigo) who doesn’t view himself as overly special suddenly gets powers to bring his life into focus. In fact, the plot is quite bland and derivative, so the series sole attraction for me is the characters.

The first major arc is the Soul Society adventure (what I fondly dubbed “Go Save Rukia! Yes!”). Rumor has it that it follows the manga pretty closely. The second major arc is the Bountou saga (which I call “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along, Huh?”) is from what I hear basically filler (aka, non-manga material). Unsurprisingly the first arc is the most consistently interesting as we get to know characters, see them battle for the first time, and see them grow in their skills. The second arc starts off really slow, with the first 20 or so episodes (of around 45) being pretty tedious and uninteresting, but eventually hits an interesting stride which it then builds upon.

The basic plot format seems to be to thrust fairly predictable situations upon the various characters and battle ensues. Both arcs follow that pattern, so why does the Bountou arc feel especially bland in comparison? Sure, the Soul Society arc has a lot of interesting firsts to it to give it a natural advantage, but there is more to it than what I listed in the prior paragraph. The biggest problem is how in Soul Society we get to know many of the captains and lieutenants, whom are interesting and very enjoyable characters. All of a sudden, after that arc ends, it is as though they no longer exist since Ichigo and clan leaves Soul Society. There is this sense of emptiness within the first half of the Bountou arc since it feels like half of the necessary players aren’t in play. This is fixed when the Bountou transfer to Soul Society and all of the characters can come back into play. But that doesn’t make the earlier Bountou episodes any easier to deal with.

While both Bleach and Naruto are flawed series, and highly overrated by those who merely dabble in anime, it seems a bit rash to totally write off the series and pretend like they don’t bring anything of interest to the table. Particularly those like me who judged them before watching them.

Title: Bleach
US Distributor: Viz
Number of Episodes: 195 (and counting)
Availability: While the series is still in production in Japan and, thus, can’t all be in the US, Cartoon Network is airing the dubbed episodes and will soon be to the point covered in this review. Still, the first two “seasons” (however Viz decided to designate a season) are available in reasonably priced box sets, although the singles stretch further than that.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 80

Akira (Full Length Movie)

May 28, 2008

To put it simply, Akira is a classic. Unfortunately, just because a movie or anime is a classic, that doesn’t mean I will like it. I actually have a deep sense of distaste toward Akira, starting from my first viewing back when I was 18 and continuing through now, where I endured my fourth or fifth viewing. Of course back in the early days I couldn’t pinpoint where this distaste was coming from. But now I’ve got some good ideas.

I was going to start off with some things that Akira does right… but upon thinking about what they could be I realized that they all sound pretty far-fetched and like I’m grasping at straws. So I’ll just get right into bad points. No point in trying to force the movie into some pleasant points, just so I’m not harping at for the full length of the article.

The big million-dollar problem is the flow. The movie starts off with a bang, despite its confusing parts. People racing around on motorcycles? Awesome. The action goes a long way in connecting with a viewer. However, it isn’t too long before the action grinds to a halt and we are faced with another hour and a half of agonizingly slow developments. Slow can work when there is great characterization taking place. However, the characters of Akira are disappointingly dull. The best fix would be to split Akira into four episodes and make it an OAV. Giving it the pacing of a short episode series would go a long way in correcting its issue with flow. Less appealing, but perhaps simpler to execute would be editing out a half an hour or so. The end battle by itself could see ten minutes removed without any tears. Squeezing another 20 minutes into the ol’ rubbish bin shouldn’t be too complex. Both of those ideas are now a moot point considering that Akira is out, and has been for 20 years. You can’t go dicking about with a classic like this and expect to live. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the flow not a flaw.

The other big problem is that the ending feels horribly anti-climactic after such a long investment. The first time I watched it I was too overwhelmed by the whole experience to really have any real thoughts about how it ended (beyond “thank God it is over now), but in each subsequent viewings I am left thinking, “Wow, that’s it? We went through all of that, just for a lame excuse for an ending like that?” The ending, perhaps, is not on par with Neon Genesis Evangelion, but it comes close.

Akira is an important movie in anime and should be seen by all big anime fans. However, its status has rightfully diminished over the years and will probably continue to do so as people stop placing it on a holy pedestal to be untouched by criticism.

Title: Akira
US Distribution: Pioneer/Geneon
Length: 124 Minutes
Availability: Readily available, both used and new. I bought my DVD for, like, $2 online.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 35

Onegai Teacher (Complete Series)

May 23, 2008

Onegai Teacher (known more commonly in America as Please Teacher) is one of those weird little animes that does way more than the initial promise would suggest. From the outset the viewer is presented with several improbable occurrences which require the viewer to suspend all kinds of belief:

1) The main character is 18, even though he looks 15, due to a super rare illness.
2) An alien whom he saw land on Earth starts teaching at his school.
3) Said alien moves next door.
4) Upon being found in a compromising situation, the only “logical” solution is for his parents to pass them off as already married… and to then make said marriage happen.

It is a situation that preys upon the same erotic fantasies that pervades online erotic fiction: it touches upon the student/teacher taboo and the older woman/younger man taboo (all the while trying to sidestep any moral issues by calling him 18). It is, honestly, a show that just should not work. Period.

And yet, despite this cheap lit premise, the writers manage to breathe life into the story by making it one of the most realistic portrayals of the ups and downs and absolute awkwardness of a relationship that I have seen. Sure, in most of the world these days you don’t get married and then get to know each other (although in the days of arranged marriages it certainly wasn’t a foreign concept), but the growing pains don’t feel idealized. Kusanagi Kei, the kid, had friends beforehand and he can’t just ditch them when the secret marriage takes place. These friends include females, one whom has open interest in Kusanagi Kei, and the Sensei gets jealous. Perhaps what most gives the show a credible air is how they don’t just jump into bed with each other. No, they both have to figure out that they love each other and that they want the relationship to work long-term.

In the end, though, this show works beyond the sum of its parts. The creators managed to capture something that can’t be quantified and bottled. And that is hardly a bad thing.

Title: Onegai Teacher or Please Teacher
US Distribution: Bandai
Number of Episodes: 12 (plus an OAV on certain DVD releases)
Availability: Quite readily available both new and used as singles or a set.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 85

Requiem From the Darkness (Complete Series)

May 18, 2008

One of the hardest genres to find in anime is horror. The excuse that I usually hear to explain this is that the medium of animation removes the viewer too far so they can’t engage closely enough to get that deep, unsettling sense of horror. On this I call bullshit. If the creators of horror regardless of medium (be it a live action movie, a book, or a painting, or, yes, an anime) utilize the viewers imagination properly, it doesn’t matter that animation is being used instead of a live cast. In this way, someone looking to create a horror anime would have to look at it more like writing a novel and construct the anime to wholly engage the viewer’s imagination. Dark imagery and crazy, gory, supernatural happenings don’t hurt. But if you engage the imagination then anything is possible. One of the few attempts at a horror anime is Requiem From the Darkness. It succeeds in a lot of ways to be interesting… unfortunately, its element of interest is largely in aesthetic and artistic arenas. In terms of actual storytelling Requiem From the Darkness fails.

The above image, while cool looking, fails to accurately give a sense of just how cool this series is in the visual sense. It feels really modern in its fluidity and really old in the way they give the sense of patterns seeping through the background. I can’t describe it better than that, but it feels akin to an old Japanese painting or something. To use an American analogy, it is an intentional antiquing like the lines and missing reels of 2007’s Grindhouse film.

The characters and general story behind Requiem From the Darkness is rock solid. The story follows Yamaoka Momosuke (usually just referred to as the Author) through his quest to write 100 ghost stories for a book he wants to publish. And yet he keeps on encountering phenomenon that are real-life examples of freaky stories. With these encounters he runs into a mysterious trio who is investigating these things. With a storyline like this, and great characters, and a beautiful visual style, it seems that they would have to try really hard to screw this up.

But unfortunately they do. There is a line between giving the viewer too much information that you are boring (or, even worse, insult the viewer’s intelligence) and being too obscure than you are just confusing. It isn’t even that fine of a line. Most programs error on the side of giving too much information… but not Requiem From the Darkness. It revels in fragmented episodes that have interesting elements, but no strong conclusion to bring them together so that they make sense. The few episodes that do make sense don’t actually satisfy in any way. The sense of bewilderment only serves to disconnect the viewer.

Now, I am willing to accept the possibility that I just stumbled upon a bad sub. If it sounds interesting to you, check out a few episodes and see how you feel after them. Or maybe I am just crazy. But that was my general feeling.

Title: Requiem From the Darkness
US Distributor: Geneon
Number of Episodes: 13
Availability: Readily available in both singles and as a thinpack set.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 77

Death Note (Complete Series)

May 14, 2008

Shonen Jump gets a fairly bad rap among anime fans. I can understand this, despite my love of Naruto (see my prior post for more info) and my recent enjoyment of Bleach. Death Note, however, doesn’t feel like a Shonen Jump anime, despite all other facts to the contrary.

Death Note is like a 39 episode chess match, except the one side is doing all the killing and the other side is trying to prevent said killings. There is very little action to be found, just calculated moves and distant killings. Whilst this sounds boring, it really isn’t.

One the one side is Light Yagami, bored and idealistic. He finds a Death Note, a blank notebook that will kill anyone whose name appears in it (within certain rules and limitations, none of which are really crucial to this review to go into any kind of depth about). Despite trying to only kill dastardly criminals, people notice and the notorious L (pictured above) goes on the case. They are both about the same age, both absolutely brilliant, and (oh, by the way) Light’s father is one of the head policemen on the case. Fireworks are guaranteed. Unexpected twists abound! Who shall win?

One of the great, intriguing aspects to Death Note is how it blurs the line between the concept of protagonist and antagonist. Light as a protagonist is too evil and it is hard to truly root for. On the other hand, the anime still portrays him as the lead character. Even though L is good and given practically equal screen time, the mysteries surrounding him are stronger than those that surround Light. L is all of the things a protagonist should be, yet it is hard to truly root for him as well. The tension of constant flip-flopping between who is right and who is wrong drives the series and makes it much stronger than if it stuck with one of the characters, clearly made them the protagonist, and allowed the same events to unfold. That would be boring.

Yet the series is flawed. It is great, fist-clenching, and exhilarating. And very flawed. Very few people in the world are as smart as Light and L are supposed to be, and the ones that are are not writing manga and anime. So anytime someone writes a character that is smarter than they are, there will be a certain amount of bullshitting involved. People who pick up on the BS factor will find themselves conflicted as to whether they can like a show that puts up the occasional illogical facade.

It is still refreshing to see a darker anime like become more of a mainstream phenomenon (or as mainstream as a non-Pokemon/Dragonball Z anime can get). At 39 episodes Death Note isn’t a huge commitment for a Shonen Jump offering (to contrast, I’m on episode 53 of Bleach and I don’t think I’m even a quarter of the way through…) so I would definitely recommend giving it a shot.

Title: Death Note
US Distributor: Viz
Number of Episodes: 39
Availability: Singles are still coming out, and the first box is forthcoming
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 85

Elfen Lied (Complete Series)

May 11, 2008

Elfen Lied is one of those names that has been floating around in my consciousness for a while, but just recently picked up the slimcase boxset on the cheap on the ebay. And I am really glad I did. Elfen Lied might be one of the greatest things I have ever seen in any media.

The series is twelve episodes long, which works out to be about the perfect length for such a series. It is the gruesome mixture of blood-spurting violence, punctuated nudity, and emotionally charged situations. I found myself, in merely the first several episodes, shaking my head and saying, “Did they really do that?? Oh my god…!” It is the sort of series that that just absolutely shell-shocks the viewer.

It is interesting in how emotionally wrapped up into the series you can get. Everything compliments each other to make the experience all the more engaging. The violence and nudity aren’t just gratuitous (well, usually not). They are there to prove a point and really highlight the horrors experience. As such, Elfen Lied’s MA rating is a no-brainer.

The music in Elfen Lied is outstanding. From the stirring melody of the opening theme to the subtle orchestration that peppers the episodes, it is all pretty much amazing. They capitalize on this later in the series and pull the theme into the story to great effect. It is refreshing to see a series do such wonderful things with the music.

It is true that Elfen Lied has become not just one of the best animes I have seen, but it also ranks above just about any other movie I have seen or book I have read. (To be fair, there are definitely a few books when I might rank above this as far as raw impact goes… but that doesn’t diminish the insane potency this series has.) I highly recommend it to anyone of MA age.

Title: Elfen Lied
US Distributor: ADV
Number of Episodes: 13
Availability: Readily in both singles and a thinpack.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 95

Naruto (The Original Series)

May 11, 2008

Naruto has been one of the more polarizing animes out there. Not only is it brought to us by the highly maligned Shonen Jump, but Naruto is also one of the biggest offenders of the filler syndrome. Yet at the same time there is a charm to it that is tough for me to deny.

I had no interest in Naruto. It was aways just one of those lame animes that Cartoon Network insisted on showing before Adult Swim. And then (and then!) they did a weekend marathon of every Naruto episode that had been released in the States up to that point. It was also the first saturday I had off work in months and all I had wanted to do was watch TV. Somehow on Friday night I got caught on Cartoon Network with the beginning of Naruto… and never looked back.

I have since seen the entire 220 episode series as a fansub (thank you dattebayo.com), and absolutely love it. Yeah, its flawed. But I love its apporach to characters, good and evil. I am one of those weird people who loves characters much more than plot. In books I am drawn to those where the characters are complex and feel real. Of course, in a show like Naruto they don’t feel real in the traditional sense… but they work within their genre. The real strength of Naruto is the way it takes characters and portrays them in a specific way… then it goes into the character’s back history to show why they are the way they are. They do this for the protagonists and the antagonists, allowing for a richly textured tapestry.

Unfortunately, this falls into its own cycle of predictability. Too many of the characters Naruto meets have the inital “I hate you!” reaction, until Naruto tearfully proclaims “I grew up just like you…” and goes on to say what changed him. They really do become Oprah moments. Another big flaw in the series is all of the dispensable filler episodes. Now, I enjoy the filler episodes more than most (refer back to my declaration of enjoying characters more than plot)… but they do tend to drag until the final story arc of the series. Yet I still love it.

Naruto continues after the original series in an series called Shippuuden, which is still going on. But that (and the various movies) are a different post for a different day. To wrap up this post I just want to say that the criticisms against Naruto are usually justified. But there is something about the show that transcends those flaws, ready for those who wish to enjoy.

Title: Naruto
US Distributor: Viz
Number of Episodes: 220
Availability: Viz is releasing the boxsets (with ~13 episodes apiece) at a fairly steady pace. As Cartoon Network is close to airing the final episode (at least, relatively speaking for a series that is 200+ episodes long) it shouldn’t be too long before everything becomes available.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 70 (Canon material- 90, Filler brings it down)

DejaDeux

May 11, 2008

(The Obligatory First Post)

So it appears that earlier this evening WordPress was failing to operate properly. So, being of very little patience, I popped over to blogger.com a registered this same name over there. But I really do prefer WordPress so now that this site is working, I’m doing it here, too. I’ll simulpost on the two blogs until I get a feel for which one is bringing in more traffic… then I might close one.. especially if it is a case of one blog seriously out performing the other.

Anyway, as can probably be gleamed by the name of the blog, this is an anime blog. Because anime has been my recent obsession and I love to write about the stuff I consume. This will be my outlet for that. The “DejaVu” part of the name comes from the fact that I’ll be talking about stuff from various eras. You might read about a new anime you haven’t seen… on the other hand you’re just as (or more) likely to read about ones you’re already deeply intimate with. Feel free to comment, good or bad, or don’t. Just recognize that I do this out of my love of both writing and anime.