The 2nd Dimension

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Viewing Journal: Blood+ (complete)

Series Overview
TV Broadcast Info
DVD Info

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


Throughout the passage of time and the shifts in backgrounds, a particular war continues to leave its mark on history, extending its influence into the modern world. There are two major groups involved in the ensuring war. The first group consists of monsters known as Chiropterans who can change their appearances into that of human beings. They are actually immortals who feed on the blood of the living. The second group is an organisation known as the "Red Shield", formed to track down these monsters and exterminate them. Otonashi Saya is a high-school girl who lives a peaceful life with her family. The only problem is, she has no recollections of her life beyond that of the past year. However, her happy life will be destroyed by an event that will lead her to her destined fate. (Source: ANN)

Going into this show I had a specific set of expectations. First of all, it is based on an OAV from 2000 called Blood: The Last Vampire -- a short video about a bad-ass school girl/vampire slayer who goes in to a military base overrun with beasts called Chiropterans and takes them all out. It was heavy on violent action, but more interesting was that it hinted about Saya's dense background, even though it left the details to the viewer's imagination. So with the Blood+ TV series, I was hoping to learn more about Saya and was expecting similar dark, brooding drama, mystery, and action. Other than that is the fact that Blood+ is produced by Production IG -- a studio known for making high-quality animation. Unfortunately, given all of these expectations, I was gravely disappointed with the TV series.

If there is one word to describe this series, it would be "weak". From the story to the characters to the animation, the show promises powerful drama, intense action, and quality animation that it never delivers on.

To start with, the tone of the original OAV and this TV series are like night and day. Don't let the first episode, where you see Saya taking out a village in Vietnam, fool you. The plot here focuses much more on characters trying to cheer each other up than blood-soaked action. The theme is "family means more than blood" (Blood+), so in service of that there is a lot of "I'm no good" "No, you really are good" "Why would you say that" "Because we're family!" kind of dialogue. In some shows that can work, but here the characters are like that so often that it ends up seeming superficial and contrived, if not downright annoying. The version of Saya from the OAV may have been brooding, but at least she was strong. Here she's just depressing and weak.

And the characters aren't vindicated much with their strength on the battlefield. First there's Saya herself. When her sword is supplied with her own blood and she is surrounded by the enemy, her eyes will glow red and she will go from shy school girl to battle-hardened warrior -- at least that is what you would expect. But more often than not, her red-eyed self will be the same as her blue-eyed self. And -- equally annoying -- she constantly forgets to power-up her sword with her own blood... which seemes moronic given that her blood is required for her to be able to kill Chiropterans at all. And she may cut down one or two of the beasts, but more often than not she gets her own butt kicked. Equally annoying is Saya's Chevalier Kaji. He's supposed to be her protector, but he is constantly getting knocked down or throw aside or stabbed through the gut (he's lucky he's immortal). Seriously. It's pitiful.

As for the animation, I was really disappointed in Production IG here. The quality of the visuals is average at best and at times drops to below-average. Given this and some of their other recent works I have to wonder if the studio has simply lost its touch.

So maybe it's not fair to have such specific expectations going in to this series, but the fact remains that for me this show is a major disappointment.

Reading Journal: Tekkon Kinkreet / Black and White

Manga Overview
Book Info

Overall= B+
Story = B+
Art = B+


In Treasure Town, orphans Black and White rule the mean streets through violence and terror. These lost boys are direct opposites: Black being a streetwise punk who embodies everything wrong about the city, while White is a innocent dope, out of touch with the world around him. Together, they're unstoppable as they take on petty thugs, religious fanatics and brutal yakuza. But when a corporation called "Kiddy Kastle" tries to tear down and rebuild Treasure Town to fit its own goals, the boys must save the soul of their beloved city, that is if they can save themselves from inner demons. (Source: ANN)

I started reading the Tekkon Kinkreet manga because -- like so many other manga -- I had seen the animated movie and wanted to see how the original compared. And as visually and dramatically gripping as the movie is, I think the manga actually works much better due to the art style as well as the medium of manga itself.

The actual story of the manga is nearly identical to the movie: Two orphan boys -- Black and White -- living on the streets of a city call Treasure Town go up against a shady redevelopment group who want to build a theme park atop the decaying metropolis.

The story itself is solid and easy to follow with genuine characters and relatable drama. But even so there are plenty of qualities of the show that are pure fantasy -- like Black and White's ability to jump from the rooftops and land at street level unscathed, or the supernatural fighting abilities of Snake's assassin squad.

And certainly anime is a better medium to portray these kinds of fantastic elements than live action, since the stylized nature of anime keeps it one step removed from reality. But the medium of manga allows even more creative flexibility and potential for abstraction because it doesn't necessarily require the artist to maintain consistency between panels. In anime it would be odd and confusing to have seemingly random anthropomorphic animals and objects appear in the background, but the Tekkon Kindreet manga does so successfully and with minimal confusion or effect on the plot. And instead said random visuals add a sort of imaginative dreamlike quality to the story. That is especially important because it shows that despite the violence and torment that the story portrays, Black and White are still kids and still have that childish innocence. The anime certainly has lush and imaginative visuals, but lacks that dreamlike innocence from the manga.

But even though the art certainly makes for a more effective story, I think that most manga fans will pass this one by because the art is so nontraditional. It is more influenced by European abstract art (specifically French art from what I've read) than Japanese. But I think if you are open minded enough to try something a little different, this manga will be well worth the time invested.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Viewing Journal: Bleach - Memories of Nobody

Movie Overview
DVD Info (To be released October 2008)

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

In Karakura Town, there has been a sudden outbreak of unidentifiable spirits called "blanks" (vacant souls) while in the skies of Soul Society, the real world has been reflected. A mysterious female shinigami called Senna has appeared before Ichigo along with a man named Ganryu, leading a group called the "Dark Ones". (Source: ANN)
I'm watching the Bleach TV series on Adult Swim, and right now I'm into the first set of filler episodes (ie, original stories unrelated to the manga). So I'm starting to get accustomed to the idea of story arcs that don't advance the overall plot or the characters' powers. But even given that, this first Bleach movie -- which is essentially a 2-hour filler episode -- has such an uneven distribution of character development, plot development, and action that it was hard to get into; but almost makes up for it in the end by showing all the regular-series' characters at their best.

I'd read online that the movie takes place around the point where I am in the TV series (episode 67) so it shouldn't have any spoilers. And for the most part that's correct save for two things: First, when the movie starts, Ichigo and Rukia are chasing after a hollow in the World of the Living. But the last time I checked, Rukia was still in the Soul Society, and Ichigo and Renji were the only Soul Reapers hanging out on earth; so how Rukia got there I have no idea. The second thing is that near the end, during the show's climax, Rukia show's her Bankia technique which I haven't yet seen in the series.

Other than that though, everything is original to the movie. The story revolves around a plot by the villain -- an original character named Ganryu -- to destroy both the living world and the Soul Society by making the two world collide.

This is where my first issue with the movie comes into play.... The method by which this massive destruction takes place is way more complex than it needs to be. The pseudo-logic used to explain the events is clear enough to get a general understanding, but there is a ton of detail and terminology thrown at you in a short amount of time, and it seems like it is way too complicated for a simple villain-destroys-the-world story. There's an attempt to make light of this overly-complex explanation by way of some comically bad illustrations by Urahara (something that was originally done much more effectively early in the series) but I couldn't laugh too much because I was focused so much on trying to understand the explanation.

The other issue I had is with the character development. Almost all of the movie except for the final climactic battle involves Ichigo and the other new character, Senna, developing their friendship. As a result there is little action, and even less development of the other characters. The villain Ganryu is hardly ever seen until the end, and almost no time is spent on developing his personality or motivation. So even though he's the key to the events in the movie, by the end he seems like a minor character, which makes the fight between him, his minions, and the Soul Reapers not nearly as dramatic as it could have been.

The one thing that does make this movie worth watching is the grand finale, which is a non-stop Bankai-fest as each Soul Reaper displays their most powerful fighting techniques. This was especially cool when watching the movie in a theatre crowded with other Bleach fans, because as each character made their entrance, everyone in the theatre would erupt with applause.

As for the visuals and music, they were about on par with the TV series. The animation was more smooth and a bit more dynamic, but the artwork wasn't much different. And much of the music was recycled from the series.

One thing that I was especially disappointed with was that the theatre I watched it in didn't seem to have the stereo sound on, so all the sound was coming from the front. So at times you couldn't hear what the characters were saying and some of the sound effects were barely audible when they should have shaken the seats. I'm guessing that had more to do with the theatre than the movie itself, but even so, it did have a big effect on the viewing experience.

So in the end, I'd say that this isn't the greatest anime movie, and certainly isn't as good as the original TV series, but was still fun to watch in a theatre full of anime fans, and is especially crowd pleasing in it's climactic final battle scene.