Archive for October, 2008

Kino’s Journey (Complete Series)

October 30, 2008

What could possibly be better than an episodic show that features a girl with deep thoughts and deadly guns who rides a motorcycle? Try adding in a motorcycle that thinks and talks. It is a crazy, out-there idea that spells insta-win for just about everyone. In fact, it works so well you might almost think that every series would be greatly benefited by having a motorcycle with a personality.

It might be tempting to write off Kino’s Journey as a show that simply rides its intriguing concept for all that it is worth. But the series doesn’t really treat its motorcycle (named Hermes) any different from any other character. At the same time, it isn’t so disconnected from reality that it doesn’t throw other characters for a loop when he talks. It is a great mix and one that should be made note of by those who want to use non-human characters effectively.

Kino’s age is never really stated, nor is the gender made a point of until a sudden, surprising flashback episode. All we know initially is that Kino is on a journey with a talking motorcycle. More-or-less each episode takes place in a different locale, each country acting as an isolated area that seems like a different world from its surrounding areas. Thus Kino is able to visit a wide variety of places with different kinds of people. They go around talking to the people to find out what the country is about, enjoying the local color.

The interesting thing about the show is that it rarely tells the viewer what they should think about the way other countries do their thing. Instead, Kino asks questions and discovers, but unless the country directly affects their journey (like the one that takes all visitors and puts them in a Rome-esque Gladiator tournament), they tend to not pass judgement or let things prevent them from having a good time. That doesn’t mean they don’t ask tough questions of the inhabitents. While they could be constrewed as being indictive of a certain moral judgement on Kino’s part, they tend to come across as more logical curiosity–they let the countries make their decisions without interferring unless it is thrust upon them to do so.

A few clunker episodes during the first 1/3 of the series can make this a slow one to get into, but it is definitely worth it. Seems like the sort of series that would do better on a replay, too. Still, it is slower paced and a lot of viewers might get impatient with it. However, it is a work of art that is a must-have for anyone who likes ponderous anime series that asks some deep questions.

Title: Kino’s Journey
US Distributor: ADV
Number of Episodes: 13
Availability: Quite available as both a reasonably priced thinkpack (especially when a RightStuf sale rolls around) and singles.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 83

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Fullmetal Alchemist (Complete Series)

October 24, 2008

When a series at 51 episodes feels shorter than most series at 26 episodes you know you’ve got a treasure on your hands. Time melts away as episodes fly by and all of a sudden you realize that you failed to write that paper for English and it is already past midnight. That is what all-nighters are for, right?

Lets just get this out of the way right away. Fullmetal Alchemist is epic. It is so well put together that you can just watch a short clip and tell that the series has serious epic-potential. In fact, I should just end this review right now by saying “see this now.” Seriously. Just do it.

…Are you still here? Well, ok. I applaud your desire for a more in-depth review. So lets have at it, ok?

I have long been of the opinion (and have probably stated as much in at least half of my reviews) that characters are the most important part of a series for me. I can handle crappy plot, mediocre animation, derivative concepts, and just about anything else that can go wrong with an anime… as long as I find interest in the characters. Everything else an anime does right is a bonus in my book. Fullmetal Alchemist does characters very well and builds up relationships in such a way that they feel genuine and urgent.

At the same time, the plot is top-notch. Random things that happen in the first few awkward episodes wrap around and become important in the later 1/3 of the series. Almost everything seems to happen for a reason so that it can be recalled later for use. So not only does the series engage on a character level, but also from a plot standpoint.

Brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric discoverer early on in their life that they have the skill of alchemy that their long-gone father had. Their mother encourages them, savoring the memories of her absent husband. When she dies, however, the brothers use their skills to perform dark, restricted alchemy. Their transgression transforms their life forever as, in Alchemy’s equivalent exchange law, Al loses his body (Ed quickly rescuing his soul by attaching it to an empty suit of armor) and Ed loses his right arm and left leg. And thus the stage is set as Ed is driven by one goal- restoring them (particularly Al) to the way they were. The solution Ed sees as most viable is the quest for the ever-elusive Philosopher’s Stone. With the stone the law of equivalent exchange would become moot and such an exchange should be possible.

I could spend all day summarizing this show and failing to do it justice. But that little set-up should suffice. Still, the show goes heavy places that most anime–or any other form of media–don’t go. These areas left me shouting noiselessly at my screen, shocked at what the writer(s) did. Do not be decieved… this is not a children’s anime. There are dark issues and unspoken taboos crossed. Then they take the taboos and cross them again. They left me (me!) feeling queasy (and I didn’t even know I could feel that way anymore). And that, in my mind, is awesome.

Of course, as with any series 51 episodes in length, there are some flaws. However, they cannot dampen my enthusiasm for this show. Everything else is done so well that the show rises way above any flaws and becomes a work of art near unequaled by anything else anime has to offer.

Title: Fullmetal Alchemist
US Distributor: FUNimation
Number of Episodes: 51
Availability: In print in both singles and Naruto-style sets of 3 discs each. Though rumor has it that early next year there will be a reasonably priced complete box set releasing.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 98

Haibane-Renmei (Complete Series)

October 22, 2008

Haibane-Renmei is a show that has haunted me since I first found out about it by browsing the used anime at my local CD Warehouse. The cover art was highly attractive and caught my eye. They only had two volumes, so I refrained from making the purchase, but read up about the show and decided it a must-see. RightStuf still had copies of the box set, however I wasn’t about to put down $100 for a series. Still, when RightStuf had one of their patented 40% off sales I decided the time was ripe and struck. (A good thing too, considering the title is out of print and RightStuf sold out.) A week and a half later I get the package in the mail and I excitedly sat down.

I watched the whole first volume (episodes 1-4) in one sitting without even thinking about it. Never before has the first four episodes of a series gone by as quickly as those four episodes did. In fact, the only other time four episodes have been so easy to watch is last year when I marathoned Naruto– some of those canon arcs fly by. Haibane-Renmei was, from the opening sequence to the ending credits, one of the greatest things I had seen. I tried to space out the remaining discs in an appropriate manner (forced more by my busy schedule than a desire to save the experience), but only found the series more and more engaging as it went on.

Imagine, for a moment, that you wake up with nothing more than a vague sense of a past life and a dream. You are in a world different from anything your hazy sense of the past can pinpoint as normal, however, a group takes you under their wings and guides you. Such is the scenario Rakka is presented with: a rebirth, a strange land, and the need to relearn what it means to exist.

The series starts off feeling very comfortable in the slice-of-life genre (with the assumed fantasy twist) before suddenly spiraling into something darker–a change both blessed and cursed. On the one hand, 13 episodes that were as happy-go-lucky as the first four would continue to go down as smooth as the first four did. Still, the sudden turmoil brings about necessary change in the characters which gives the series depth.

The series is chock full of great characters, from those who are in Rakka’s immediate group to those whom they interact with. The storyline is engaging and well written (albeit with a few a few minor plot holes). Just about everything about this series says “win.” The only people who might be put off by the series are those who overload easily on cute–but if they stuck around beyond the first handful of episodes even their minds might be changed. Definitely a landmark series in the annals of anime history and a must-see.

Title: Haibane-Renmei
US Distributor
: Geneon
Number of Episodes
: 13
Availability: Out of print, although the singles are still available off RightStuf for a pretty good price. Used are readily available, too, though be prepared to pay an arm and a leg for any edition with an art box.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 95

A few words on my new review layout…

October 21, 2008

What I was doing before was good. Nice write-ups on anime. Hard to go wrong. But you know what is even better? That’s right… Rankings! Distributor Info! Links galore! Oodalaly! I will still write (albiet ridiculously spordically… amazing how Univeristy manages to suck my time into the netherworld….), so view this not as a change, but an improvement. More info for the same price of admission. Can’t go wrong! Here is what the format will look like:

Title: Bleach or Azumanga Daioh, for example
US Distributor: Like, Viz or ADV, or if not yet in US I’ll put something like fansub (group: dattebayo). No links to downloads, but I’ll give the fansub group- just for the record.
Number of Episodes: Because it is good to know, you know? For series that are still going on, I’ll put whatever is planned (assuming it is listed on ANN). For movies I’ll just list the time.
Links: Whatever I feel like linking to… usually something like this or this.
Availability: US availability should be answered by the US distributor part, but this will answer whether the series is complete or on-going, or if it is out of print (and if so, how hard is it to get). So, to continue with the Bleach/Azumanga Daioh theme… “The first two “seasons” are available on DVD as sets, although VIZ also releases individual DVDs which are farther along than the sets. The sets are Uncut, which gives them the edge.” and “The thinpack is in print and easily obtained.”
Rating: 85 and ? (Bleach gets an 85 and I have only seen one episode of Azumanga Daioh so far, so can’t comment there… although it is in the mail via RightStuf so soon… soon!

At this point I am unsure whether I’ll put that kind of information at the beginning… or at the end. So when I write up the first entry with this format I’ll see what looks best.