Archive for the ‘Ongoing Sereis’ 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Rokujou (see picture, center) is a withdrawn, silent kid who leads a quiet, solitary life and he likes it that way.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.)


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

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