The 2nd Dimension

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Flashback Video: Venus Wars

This was one of the very first anime I ever saw (at least where I actually understood that I was watching an anime). I remember it was 1994 or there abouts and this movie -- Venus Wars was airing on Sci-Fi Channel's Anime Week marathon. I recorded it and remember watching this particular scene over and over again. The battle was just such a detailed and dynamic piece of animation that I couldn't get over it. You don't really see this kind of detail in animation anymore though because so much of the artwork these days is streamlined and digitally colored and animated.

Unfortunately, this video cuts off a bit at the end, but you get the idea... I definitely recommend watching the whole movie for anyone who hasn't seen it.

Takami Akai pulls an Imus

Takami Akai— one of the founding members of Studio Gainax — recently resigned from the studio after a harsh exchange of words with some critics of his latest anime Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann on the 2channel online forum. His name has even been removed from Gurren anime starting with the fifth episode.

According to the article:

The controversy started with the premiere of Gurren Lagann on April 1. After a few members of the 2channel forums criticized the first episode, a Gainax production staffer identified as Keiko Mimori posted an entry in her journal on mixi, a social networking site. According to her April 4 journal entry under the name Kani@Drill Tamashii ("Crab@Drill Soul"), she wanted to survey the reaction to the series premiere. She found a 2channel thread that said the first episode of Gurren Lagann had "C-level animation" and wrote she could not understand the complaints. She then wrote that she "despises 2channel from the bottom of [her] heart" and these "stupid, stupid, disgusting otaku should die!!" Akai, under the name Magi no Suke, responded that personally reading the comments on 2channel was "like putting [his] face next to an anus and breathing deeply."

On April 22, episode 4 of Gurren Lagann aired with pronounced artistic differences from the previous three episodes. Negative reactions filled 2channel's anime boards, the official Gainax blog, and the BBS of that episode's new animation director and storyboarder, Osamu Kobayashi. This led Mimori to post in the mixi journal under the Kani@Drill Tamashii alias that the animation quality had not dropped and that only the characters' appearances and faces changed. She then said that the staffers shouldn't listen to comments from amateurs who don't know better, but only those from anime industry people.

Members of 2channel discovered this later comment on mixi, but their reaction wouldn't develop into a full uproar until after Mimori and Akai's earlier comments from April 4 were discovered. This and the resulting surge in negative responses led to the removal of comments and eventually even main site content from the sites of Mimori, Akai, and Akai's private company Nine Lives. Finally, on April 27, Gainax posted Akai's open letter announcing his resignation, and Mimori and Akai posted additional statements of regret on mixi.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Whoa! Death Note, 2nd opening

I was taken aback when I first saw this new opening for the Death Note anime series. I don't think I've ever seen such a hardcore heavy metal theme in an OP before in my life. I mean, they say "f***" I don't know how many times... And mixed in with those wild visuals, it's just... I don't know what to say... I... I just don't know... I may have to watch it 20 more times to find out if I like it or not, because I'm still in shock a bit.

Viewing Journal: Gunslinger Girl (complete)

Series Overview
TV Broadcast Info
DVD Info

Overall= C+
Story = C-
Video = C+
Audio = B-


I'm having a hard time making up my mind about this show. There are certain things that I like about it, but overall I don't know I'd recommend it or not. Well, how about I just write the review and we'll find out together if I like it or not...

Gunslinger Girl is a slightly more moody and character-driven variation on the girls-with-guns anime genre. As the story begins, Henrietta, having been left for dead after the brutal murder of her family, is saved by the Italian government's "Social Welfare Agency". But, far from being your run-of-the-mill orphanage, the Agency is actually a covert assassination squad. They collect young orphan girls who are on the verge of death, implant their bodies with artificial strength-enhancing prosthetics, then brainwash them and condition them with an unfeeling efficiency for killing. Each girl is then paired up with a older male "handler," who monitors them and doles out their orders, and to whom the girls are conditioned to be intensely loyal.

At first glance the show seems like it's going to be violent, action-oriented thriller; but as it turns out, the main thrust of the show focuses on the relationship each girl has with her respective handler. Sure there is violence, but really just enough to establish the girls' role as assassins and their efficiency -- or lack there of -- at performing their job. Each episode is a character study of a particular pair of handler and cyborg. Each handler reacts to their cyborg differently; some view the girls as tools, others take on a more paternal relationship with them, while still others are not quite sure how to react to them at all.

What will really make or break it for most people is the fact that you have cute little girls being subject to extreme psychological cruelties. The contrast can be disturbing at times, but at the same time, it does make for some compelling drama. Still, at other times the show just seems to be pushing the girls' cuteness factor and their "woe is me" attitude a little too much, making it just seem sappy. Part of that is due to the character designs, but I think at least part of it is due to the voice actors (English version anyway) whose attempt to alter their adult voices to sound young and cute sounds forced. The one exception to that rule, and the one character that I consistently liked was Triela. She has a "take it as it comes" attitude to her situation and she isn't as whiny as the other girls tend to be.

The fact that the show is more about character interaction than about action or plot development also gives the show a very low-key tone, which is a nice change of pace. The characters don't have extreme reactions to each other the way you see in other anime. Luckily the English voice actors in this show recognize this and keep their voices relatively quiet, and as a result the acting in this show is better than most dubs. (In my experience it seems that English dub actors tend to overplay their parts relative to the Japanese actors.)

The animation quality varies from one scene to another. During the action scenes when the girls are in full swing, the action is smooth and dynamic. But during most of the rest of the show the animation is as jerky as you'll see in any other anime. One thing that does stick out is the weapons designs. The artists obviously did a lot of research in this area, because the girls' arsenal looks extremely convincing, with plenty of detail and a real sense of weight to the designs. Though it's an odd contrast when you have these big-eye unrealistically cute girls bearing these very realistic weapons.

The music for the show helps to set the mood. It does a good job of complimenting the understated tone of the show with operatic music or piano instrumentals. The music also helped to cushion the action scenes by bringing out the emotional implications more than just the bloody violence.

I really like the opening song, which is in English. I read another review that said it sounds like something from a James Bond movie opening, but I'm not so sure about that... Maybe if Sheryl Crow did a James Bond theme..? The ending is an operatic-theme which was pretty good too, but I still like the opening better.

The show really doesn't have much of an ending, which is appropriate because there isn't any overarching storyline that would need to come to a climax. Instead, all the girls just come together in a nice little poignant moment and they all sing a song together.

So overall I guess I do generally like the show. I think more than anything I like it's understated tone because it's a nice contrast to most of the anime that I watch. Though I do think that it pushes the cuteness factor a little too much at times, and I usually prefer anime with a more involved story lines, but yeah.. it was pretty good.

Well, regardless, I think I would recommend the show if for no other reason than that this review is so ambiguous that you'll just have to watch it yourself to know for sure.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Viewing Journal: Fushigi Yuugi (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info
Trailer (opening)

Overall= C-
Story = D+
Video = C-
Audio = C


I had no idea what this show was about going into it. I had a vague notion that it had something to do with a girl getting sucked into the fantasy world of some book, but other than that I was clueless. I only started watching because it seemed to be pretty popular so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Now that I've finally seen it, I can see why people liked it, I'm just not one of those people.

The story starts out with these two girls -- Miaka and Yui -- getting sucked in the this book called "The Universe of the Four Gods". The world inside the book is comprised of four kingdoms, each of which has an associated god. Eventually Yui leaves and Miaka becomes the priestess of the kingdom of Konan and it's god Suzaku. Miaka then has to to gather up 7 guys who are supposed to be her guardians in order to summon Suzaku who can then send her back to the real world. Along the way she falls for one of her guardians -- Tamahome. This makes Miaka questions whether she really wants to go home or if she wants to stick around the book-world to be with him. Things get all the more complicated when Yui gets sucked back into the book and becomes the priestess of a rival kingdom called Kutou and it's god Seiryuu. Kutou wants to conquer Konan, so Miaka and Yui are now rivals. The one who figures out how to summon their respective god first will gain the ability to grant their wishes and either bring peace or destruction to both worlds.

The first half of the show covers Miaka's search for the Suzaku Seven, and there is a lot of focus on building Miaka and Tamahome's relationship. The problem is that there is just so much concentration on romance that it seemed to slow down the pace of actual plot development. First there is the a love triangle between Miaka, Tamahome and Hotohori -- another one of the Suzaku Seven. Then, once Miaka settles on Tamahome as her one true love, much of the rest of the first season is dedicated to them fawning over one another. I mean, I enjoy romance in a story as much as the next red-blooded American lad, but it's like the show can't go five minutes without reminding the audience how infatuated Miaka and Tamahome are with each other. As a result, each episode seems to drag on forever because so much time is dedicated to sappy dialogue and there was less time for actual story and characters development.

The second half of the series threw me for a loop because both the pace and the overall tone shifts dramatically while the story seems to focus on two overriding themes: death and sex.

Characters -- both good and bad -- start getting knocked off left and right as if the show is on a mission to finish off as many characters as possible before the last episode. As a result, the second half actually feels rushed.

The second half also starts to sex-up the story, as Taiitsukun -- the controller of the book-world -- suddenly tells Miaka that she can't get intimate with Tamahome because it would negate her priestess powers and she wouldn't be able to summon Suzaku. And before you know it, Miaka and Tamahome not only have to keep their carnal urges under restraint, they also have to resist the mind control spells and unwarranted sexual advances of the guardians of Seiryuu. It makes for an awkward shift in the storyline that seems forced and awkward. I mean, how old is Miaka at this point anyway? Like 14?

The story makes other odd shifts in its plot and tone. For instance, during a the more dramatic scenes, the characters suddenly shift into SD form and do some comedy-relief antics. It's intended to balance the drama and release tension, but the comedy is poorly timed and ends up deflating the drama instead of balancing it.

The characters themselves are an odd mix of personalities, but most of them seem like unnecessary extras. Out of all the Suzaku Seven, the story seemed to focus most on Tamahome, Chichiri, and Tasuki. The others are just kind of there and after their introductory storyline, they don't really do much. Chiriko is probably the most pointless character out of all of them. He's supposed to be the wise one in the group, but I don't remember him ever offering any significant nuggets of wisdom, or really doing anything at all come to think of it.

The one thing that I did like about the second half though, was when Miaka's brother was trying to find out about the history of the book. That part was interesting, I only wish that it had gone further into explaining where the book originated. *sigh*

The animation quality is average. Though on the plus side, the quality didn't really drop all that much, so at least it was consistently average.

The music is also fine, but nothing extraordinary. One thing I do have to say though, is that the opening theme is extremely catchy and I still find myself humming the opening line, "Duh duh duh duh duuuuuh... Su-za-kuuuu.... Mi-ri-cu-lu-laaaaaa.... "

The show's ending actually is pretty good. It is a a good climax to the story both emotionally and in the action, so I thought it was pretty satisfying. Though the very end was kind of confusing, but maybe that will get more explanation in the sequel OAV series.

So when it's all said and done, I thought this was a very strange show. Although I can see where it would appeal to it's target shojo audience, for me the story was too slow-paced and/or disjointed in its storytelling. Of course, that's not going to stop me from watching the two OAV series, just to see how everything ends up....

Viewing Journal: Fushigi Yuugi - Oni (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info
Trailer (first 10 minutes)

Overall= D+
Story = D+
Video = C-
Audio = C-


This OAV sequel takes place about a year after the original TV series ended. Miaka and Taka (formerly known as Tamahome) are enjoying a happy relationship, but of course that's not going to last. Someone opens the magical "Universe of the Four Gods" book again and a whole new can of worms emerges. A demon god who feeds on despair has in it for the happy couple and thus they get sucked back to Konan to reunite with the Suzaku Seven and hopefully once again bring peace and balance to both worlds.

On the plus side, this follow-up OAV does a good job of advancing the characters. Since it takes place a year after the TV series ended, you get to see how things have changed. Miaka and Taka's relationship continues to develop, and something I didn't expect is that Yui and Tetsuya are now going out. I tend to like that kind of thing because you get to see what happens after the "happily ever after" ending.

Other than that though, this did little to improve my overall opinion of the series. The plot here gets confusing at times, and little explanation is given for a lot of the stuff that happens. For example, the characters jump from the book-world to the real-world and back again multiple times during the course of the 9 episodes, which was strange in itself, but also made me wonder why it was so difficult for the characters to do before (in the TV series). I was also confused by just what was going on with the the previously-thought-dead characters. The deceased members of the Suzaku Seven can still hang around in spirit form, but they could occasionally gain a solid body, but it's never satisfactorily explained why. And then there is the issue of Tamahome/Taka who has been "reborn" in Miaka's world, but instead of being a new born baby, he appears to be the same age as when he died. In general, the story just seems to go in whatever direction it wants and gives little regard to explaining why things happen.

The cast of characters is the same as in the TV series, save for the demon and a scattering of supporting cast members. And as with the TV series, most of them don't do much of anything (Chiriko is still as useless as ever). One thing that is nice though is that you finally get to see the origin of Chichiri's scar. That alone almost makes the OAV worth watching -- at least it does if you are desperate to find a reason.

The art, animation, and music were about on par with the original TV series: average. So nothing new on that front.

As with the TV series, the ending was satsifying. It was climactic and emotional, and we get to see some change in Miaka and Taka's relationship. And it would have been great if it all just ended there and I could go on with my life, but no. I still have a 4-episode OAV on left to watch and then it will all be done with. I've come this far, so I guess there's no sense in stopping now.

Viewing Journal: Fushigi Yuugi - Eikoden (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info
Trailer (unavailable)

Overall= D
Story = D
Video = C-
Audio = C-


One last little trip into the Universe of the Four Gods. This is the concluding OAV for the series that just seemed to go on forever. It was an interesting little trip throughout it all, but I'm glad that it's over and that I can move on to other things.

The story takes place three years after the end of the previous OAV. Taka and Miaka are now married and Miaka is pregnant. And everyone is happy for them save for one: Mayo Sakaki, a student who would do anything to make Taka hers. And when Mayo discovers the "Universe of the Four Gods", she decides that the only way to make Taka love her is to become the priestess of Suzaku herself. So into the book she goes. Taka goes in after her only to discover that the book-world is on the verge of total deterioration. So now Taka has to gather up the Suzaku Seven again in order to summon Suzaku again and see if he can save the world again.

As with the previous OAV, the one thing I liked about this volume is that you get to see how the characters have changed over the years. Not only are Miaka and Taka married, but once you get into the book-world, you get to see the Suzaku Seven re-born (an odd element that I'll talk about later).

Overall though, the story here just falls flat, even compared to the previous volumes. It almost makes me long for the melodramatic romance and ill-timed humor of the original TV series, which may have made for some awkward storytelling, but at least the gave some quirky color to the series. The only really emotional element to this one is Mayo, who is depressed because she thinks that nobody loves her. But even her character does little to save the rest of the show.

Actually, there is one goofy element to this show that makes it somewhat interesting: all the previously deceased member of the Suzaku Seven characters are re-born. It's not like Taka's instant-aging rebirth either; the Suzaku Seven are actually literally born into new bodies. The strangest of all is Chiriko (who actually plays a significant role this time!). He is a newborn baby, but he remembers his previous life and can actually talk exactly like he used to. So you get to see a normal adult voice coming out of a baby's body, which is humorously unsettling in itself, but add to that the fact that he will sporadically revert to his baby-personality and start crying (with Tasuki there to calm him down). The second oddest reincarnated character was Mitsukake who has a child's body but a very deep, adult voice. It was weird, but, alas, still did little to improve the story.

The animation was on par with the other series. There was some nifty computer-generated graphics, but other than that it was just average.

The music was the same too. Pretty standard stuff.

The ending was not as climactic or satisfying as the TV series or OAV. If it was emotional, it was only because it's been such a long journey through all this and it's strange to have it all be over finally.

Overall this last volume just feels like a half-hearted attempt to squeeze a little more out of a story that should have ended with the TV series. But even so, let's face it... I can't have disliked it that much if I was willing to stick it out through all 65 episodes. So maybe there is something to this series after all... but probably not.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Viewing Journal: Bleach (episodes 1-25)

Series Overview
TV Broadcast Info
DVD Info

Overall= B
Story = B-
Video = B
Audio = B


So I've been watching Bleach on Adult Swim for a while now and I figured that since this is an ongoing series (122-episodes in Japan so far) I'm going to need to review it incrementally. I'm not exactly sure where one season ends and the next begins, so I'm just going to use the opening animation to judge where to cut-off my reviews. And since episode 26 started a new (and in my opinion inferior) OP, I'm going to be reviewing episodes 1-25 here. So here goes...

First I'll start out with the traditional obligatory plot description: Ichigo Kudasaki can see dead people; and as he eventually learns, the spirits of the dead can come in many forms. First you have your ordinary spirits that wander around with a broken chain sticking out their chests; then you have the giant, masked, soul-eating "Hollows"; and finally you have the Soul Reapers who are responsible for fighting the Hollows and eventually sending them to their final destination in the after-life. When Ichigo gets caught in the middle of a battle between a Hollow and a Soul Reaper named Rukia, he ends up putting his own life in danger in order to save his family. Ichigo is seriously wounded during the fight, so Rukia, in an effort to save Ichigo, decides to give him a small portion of her spirit energy. But Rukia gets more than she bargained for when Ichigo unexpectedly absorbs almost all her spirit energy and inherits her Soul Reaper powers. So now Ichigo himself is a Soul Reaper and has to take Rukia's place purifying the misguided Hollows of the world. But with Rukia's actions come drastic consequences; and when the "Soul Society" discovers what she's done, they intend for her to face the penalty for breaking their rules. But Ichigo isn't about to let the girl who saved his life be sacrificed, so, with the help of a few friends, he hatches a plan to bust into the Soul Society and break Rukia out.

That plot may sound kind of wacky, but the actual execution of the anime makes it a lot more fun and interesting to watch than that description alone might imply. And although this show has a lot going for it, for me it boils down to two general elements: balance and development. Allow to expound ... (ahem) ...

First off, like a lot of successful anime, Bleach does a great job of balancing the action, comedy, and drama. That's not always an easy job because too much action can seem shallow, while over-emphasis on drama can seem heavy-handed, and poorly timed comedy can ruin otherwise engrossing drama or action. Bleach spreads these elements out skillfully, making it fun to watch while maintaining a sense of depth in the characters and story.

While I'm on the subject of balance, the characters themselves are pretty well balanced too. It has a well-rounded cast of characters, but very few of them have polarized personalities. So there are hardly any purely evil villains or purely virtuous goody-two-shoes heroes. Most characters have multi-dimensional personalities that you can empathize with. Ichigo is probably the best example because even though he's rough around the edges, he has strong ties to his family and a strong sense of repaying his debts.

The second thing I like about Bleach is how the world gradually unfolds over the course of the series, but always maintains a certain level of mystery. As a result, I am always left anticipating the next episode because I want to learn more about the characters and the rules that govern the world. For instance, when Rukia first talks about the "Soul Society" it just seems like some mysterious concept, but gradually more and more is revealed about it until eventually you get to see the place itself. And even then there are all kind of characters and concepts to learn about that have not yet been explained. And the more I learn, the more engrossing the story becomes.

Along those same lines, I like how the characters themselves develop. Characters in episode 25 are very different people form when they were introduced back in episode 1. Characters get more powerful and mature as the story progresses. I always enjoy watching characters grow like that and it also makes me wonder how much more they are going to develop over the next 25 episodes.

The artwork and animation in are also fun to watch. I love the character designs, especially the Soul Society squad captains. I also love how each Soul Reaper has an original design and functionality to their Zanbakto sword. So whenever I see a new Soul Reaper I can't help but wonder what his his/her Zanbakto is going to be like.

The music for the show thus far is cool. The opening animation for these 25-episodes was sweet. And the soundtrack in the show itself gives the show an edgy vibe.

Now, although I like this show and it's hugely popular in the anime community, I don't think this is the kind of thing that will get non-anime fans any more thrilled about the medium. This is not a realistic drama with deep themes. Non-fans may be surprised by the depth of characterization or the level of action, but it's still essentially a fantasy adventure story and as such probably won't gain much credit from the those who prefer more plausibility in their story lines.

Nay-sayers aside though, I've been enjoying this show so far. It's fast-moving and is developing at a steady pace. Hopefully it will keep that up in the following episodes. I'm looking forward to what's going to come next.