Archive for the ‘fansub’ Category

Nabari no Ou (Episodes 1-8)

June 8, 2008

Anime typically has both an opening and an ending theme song. As a big music fan I generally find these songs pretty mediocre and skip them. There has been a few random opening songs (generally referred to as the OP by the anime community) that I have enjoyed, namely a few of the Naruto ones. But even of the ones that I enjoy there has been only one that I view every single episode: “Crawl” by Veltpunch as featured in the opening credits of Nabari no Ou. It is a song that starts off like a standard guitar rock tune ala the Foo Fighters, except when the vocals come in they are really bad. LIke, bad emo bad. However, after the first awkward, horrible line a female voice kicks in and all of a sudden the song stabilizes. The lead male voice sounds good and the backing female voice? To die for.

Nabari just started airing in Japan this season (along with the previously reviewed Soul Eater) and sparked my interest due to a friend calling it a smoother, less silly Naruto. After viewing the first eight episodes I have to admit that there are a lot of ways in which Nabari is comparable to Naruto, but somehow it feels like a completely different show. The tones and settings are just so vastly different that it marks it for two different crowds. It is a lazy comparison, but I like lazy comparisons, so I will liberally use Naruto as a point of reference in this little write-up.

Rokujou (see picture, center) is a withdrawn, silent kid who leads a quiet, solitary life and he likes it that way. He is none too ecstatic when he finds out that hidden within him is a great power that would make him like a god to not just the hidden ninja community, but the world. A team forms around him to protect him from competing ninja clans. His teacher, Kumohira, leads the group with Kouichi (see picture, right) and Raimei (picture, left). Rokujou at first blush might seem to bring to mind Naruto himself (due to also having a great power sealed away within his body), except that Naruto’s personality is the polar opposite. The closer, more satisfying comparison is to Gaara, who’s quiet, detached demeanor, aligns quite a bit closer to Rokujou.

There are several really satisfying elements to Nabari no Ou. Unlike in Naruto, where many of the squad leaders/teachers feel just about invincible, Kumohira is portrayed as extremely flawed and weak. He is leader due to his position and age, not because he is a Kakashi-like genius.

The other impressive element is how the sides aren’t shown as being black and white, good vs evil the way just about every other show of this sort is. The side of the protagonist has obvious ulterior motives and one of the leaders they consult even admits as much. The side of the antagonist has one of the most sympathetic, interesting characters of the series. The lines blur and you root for people, some on different sides, more than the sides themselves. No side is morally superior than the other.

The setting is much more modern than Naruto. While Naruto occasionally makes use of modern technology, as a whole it feels like a different world. Nabari feels set in the current era, with cities and phones and computers and such. As such, the artistic style takes on a more modern feel. It uses a more muted palette as opposed to the flashier Naruto. It is a thoroughly moody, industrial ninja world.

Through eight episodes, a fairly remarkable amount of stuff has happened. This is no slow developing show. A show like Naruto or Bleach would have burned through 15 – 20 episodes to reach this point. This speed serves it well as it keeps entire episodes from being battle-oriented. Fights are fluid and happen in a more realistic speed, without pausing for testosterone-fueled shouting matches.

Without a doubt, Nabari no Ou is one of the highlights of the current season. Its modern setting and fluid flow serve it well. Hopefully it can keep up the pace.

Title: Nabari No Ou
US Distributor: none yet
Number of Episodes: 26
Availability: Fansubs, and a whole mess of groups do it.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 80 (this rating, since it was applied after this review, is probably more indicative of my overall feeling of the episodes that I’ve seen. However, as I don’t plan on doing another review of this until a complete US release, I have no qualms with that.)


ef – a tale of memories (Complete Series)

June 7, 2008

ef – a tale of memories (yes, it is capitalized like that–or more accurately, not capitalized) is an intertwining tale of romance. There are two main romances involved coming from two different sets of characters and which largely do not intersect. These two stories are the emotional tug to drive the series.

The first character is Hirono Hiro (pictured), a manga artist who skips way too much school to try and meet deadlines. No one but his best friend, Shindou Kei, knows about his job and he wants to keep it that way. His life suddenly goes topsy-turvy when his bicycle is stolen by Miyamura Miyako, a feisty girl who goes to his school. Somehow she manages to skip more school than Hiro, and this common element (plus Miyako’s outgoing personality) turn them into friends. Kei sees this increasing attention to Miyako as an unwelcome intrusion, and thus the triangle is formed.

The other sphere of characters centers around Asou Renji, a quiet spoken boy who lives with his mother. He encounters a girl, Shindou Chihiro, sitting on the platform of an abandoned train station. They strike up a conversation and enjoys it, asking if she will be back the next day. However, a warning comes to Renji from Chihiro’s caretaker telling him not to pursue the friendship. Failing to heed the advice, Renji is flung into a whirlwind that he can’t quite define or grasp. By the time he figures out what the caretaker’s warning signified, he is too emotionally attached to back out.

The two story lines, by themselves, are too common and simplistic to be of interest by themselves. But they are interwoven in such a way that keep things moving nicely through the twelve episode series. The lion’s share of the attention goes to Renji and Chihiro, probably due to the more romantic, less definable obstacle. But what really drives the series is the stunning visuals that are crafted for the viewer.

The first three or four episodes are jaw-dropping as the viewer becomes accustomed to the artistic style presented. It is a style that refuses to remain static, switching from a full palette of colors to black and white. From watercolor skies to complete silhouette. Each scene in the series is a treat as lines go from wavy to angled. Furthermore, and perhaps more impressive, is that this show in flexibility doesn’t distract from the story, which makes it all the more beautiful. Definitely one of the most impressively animated series I have seen.

In the end, though, the story is merely adequate and will probably only be of interest to those who already enjoy romantically-themed animes. However, everyone should check out at least one episode to get a taste of the visual delights which are presented. As a romantic anime there is enough going for ef – a tale of memories to make it quite memorable and pleasing.

Title: ef – a tale of memories
US Distributor: none yet
Number of Episodes: 12
Availability: fansubs (if I remember right, conclave-mendoi did a pretty bang-up job)
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 90

Soul Eater (Episodes 1-8)

June 2, 2008

Soul Eater is a brand-spankin’ new anime for this season, hence the reason I can only comment through episode eight. Thanks to the joys and marvels of fansubs, we in America can keep up with the new series without too much lag from when they first show in Japan. By my calculation, Episode 8 was first shown last Monday and it was subbed and online last night, so that is about a week. Considering that someone had to translate the whole episode, sync the subtitles, and so forth, a week’s delay is really pretty good. The downside? Well, since the show is just starting in Japan, that bodes ill for seeing a stateside DVD release in the immediate future. Doubtlessly one will come, there is about no way a series like this doesn’t get localized.

Soul Eater might just be about the coolest looking series you will ever see. It seems to be what might happen if Tim Burton was the artistic director of Bleach. Except Bleach was never this exciting from the outset, and there seems to be fewer characters in Soul Eater to keep track of. The early reports are plans for a 51 episode run, which would fall 121 episodes short of the current number of the still on-going Bleach episodes.

At this point there seem to be four teams. Each team is made up of a technician and a weapon. The technician is technically the fighter and takes the role of, say, Ichigo (from Bleach). The weapon is a human who has the ability to transform into a weapon. What sounds like a rather cheesy idea turns out, in execution, to work rather well. It isn’t as though the weapon is just a weapon. They are still a human and can interact with the technician at any time. Thankfully they avoid the tempting trap to give a mouth to the weapons when they want to talk and find other ways to do it, usually by showing a reflection of the weapon’s human form on the blade. In addition, the weapon can go out of the weapon form at any point for any reason and we’ve seen weapons do their own combat from time to time.

It remains to be seen how the different teams are given screen time, and whether one team will be considered the “main” team (like in Naruto where Naruto’s team is the team, but there are a lot of other major teams involved), or if each will be considered fairly equal. At this point, though, things seem to lean towards one specific team being the team. Partly because they’ve had the most screen time and partly because the name of the series is named after them. Soul Eater is Maka Alban’s weapon. As a technician Maka is quite capable and they were one of the more accomplished teams before a grievous error causes their stock to drastically drop. (For a picture of Mika and Soul just take a gander at the banner up top. They are the ones on the far right.) Yet the other characters are just as interesting, if not more so. You’ve got Black Star, a character who is more talk than results, due mostly to his complete disinterest in actual mission success. There is the OCD-plagued Death the Kidd, whose two female weapons transform into guns. And then there is the mysterious Dr. Stein, teacher at their school, and technician for Maka’s father. Maka’s father is a disaster of a man who can’t keep his eyes or hands off women, who can’t understand why Maka despises him, and thus constantly grovels for her attention.

The series starts off with a three episode prologue, each episode dedicated to one of the kid teams. You see their abilities, where they are in life, how the technician and weapon work together, and what obstacles need to be overcome, in addition to some great action. After the third episode the series then launches more into the actual storyline. And yet, if I have one complaint about the series, it is that after the great prologues in the beginning of the “storyline” we are back to more introductory kind of crap. Sure, interesting and great things happen in episodes four through six, but it is just now in episodes seven and eight that the meat of the plot seems to be emerging. So did those prologues really save us any time? Oh well, in the end those first six episodes were entertaining and didn’t lack action, so no harm no foul.

Go and check out a fansub of at least the first episode. Due to its cockeyed visual style and great action everyone should at least give Soul Eater a try.

Title: Soul Eater
US Distribution: none yet
Number of Episodes: 51 planned
Availability: Readily available on fansub (tadashi recommended).
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 90

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

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, 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)