The 2nd Dimension

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Viewing Journal: Pumpkin Scissors (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= D+
Story = D
Video = C
Audio = C

Journal

After a long war with the Republic of Frost, the Empire abruptly signs a cease-fire, ending the war. Three years later, the Empire is in ruins with starvation and plague. Former soldiers have become bandits. Former Anti-Tank Trooper, Randel Orlando, unexpectedly runs into and joins the Pumpkin Scissors platoon, an Imperial Army relief effort led by Alice L. Malvin to restore order to the war-torn Empire. (Source: ANN)

The first few episodes of Pumpkin Scissors seem promising. It takes place in the aftermath of a war where a small band of soldiers is trying to protect the commoners from the corruption and abuse of the upper class. The group includes a gentle-giant with a mysterious origin who turns into a ruthless killer whenever he lights is blue lantern. There is a driven noble woman who goes against her family's wishes in order to work for the common people. There are all kinds of ironic characters, relatable themes, and intriguing mysteries that should have made for a compelling series. But it ends up either not cashing in on this potential, or cashing in too much, or waiting to cash in until just before the series ends.

Let's start with the "Anti-Tank Trooper" Randel Orlando. In the beginning, this is the character that makes you sit back and say, "This is going to be such an awesome show." He's huge with a scarred face and lives under a bridge with the other homeless people. He's kind with a quiet, gentle demeanor; but when he lights up the lantern that hangs on his hip, his eyes go blank, he pulls out his gun and nothing -- not even a tank -- can stop him from taking out his target. Power, compassion, and mystery all come together with this guy. So what happened?

First of all, the show never delves into Orlando's past. We learn that there is this scientist lady who apparently made him the way he is. We also learn the reason behind why he was created -- that being to wield the large anti-tank gun that can only be affective against a tank at close range; thus the person using the gun had to have no fear of death. But we never learn the specific past of Orlando himself. Where did he originally come from? Why was he specifically chosen to be an Anti-Tank Trooper? What kind of brain washing had to take place to make that possible? And of course, I couldn't help but think that there was a greater conspiracy behind it all. For instance, why would Orlando be sent to the Pumpkin Scissors unit in the first place? There had to be a story behind that, but we never learn what it is.

The other thing about Orlando is that he lights his craziness-lantern way too much. In every single episode for most of the series, that is how the Pumpkin Scissors unit gets out of a jam. That tank coming after you? Light the lantern. Guys coming at you with guns? Light the lantern. Kitten stuck in a tree? Light the lantern. After a while it lost it's meaning and intensity because it became predictable and seemed like overkill for most of the situations.

The other character that has a lot of potential is Alice. She is just the opposite of Orlando. She is outgoing and aggressive, but lives with her well-to-do noble family. And just like Orlando, she has her own set of mysteries that never pan out. These mysteries mostly have to do with her fiance.. what's-his-name. He is all suave and easy-going, but he is obviously just using her for some scheme of his own, but we never lean what that is.

I think that overall the reason this show is such a disappointment is because I was expecting all this character development and unraveling conspiracies over a long story. But about three quarters or of the show involve stand alone episodes that do not contribute to any grander story arc. So you never get the feeling of the story progressing or the scope of the story growing. And when we do finally get a string of episodes that show potential for a larger story, the series suddenly ends and we wind up with all kinds of loose strings.

The animation does not even make the show worth watching. The first few episodes have some quality animation, but after that it ranges from average to poor.

So I can not recommend this show at all. It has a lot of poential but nothing develops to any satisfactory degree.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Viewing Journal: Bleach (episodes 121-143)

Series Overview
TV Broadcast Info
DVD Info
Trailer

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

Journal

As quickly as the battle between the Soul Reapers and Arrancars began, it comes to an end. Having learned that Aizen and the Arrancars are planning initiate a large-scale attack on the world of the living, the Soul Society orders the Soul Reapers to begin preparing for the battle. In the meantime, Ichigo meets up with the Vizards in order to learn to control his Hollow-side, and Chad and Uryu go through their own training. To the Soul Reapers' surprise the Arrancars attack early and again leave unexpectedly, but not before convincing Orihime to come with them back to the world of the Hollows...
I've been following this series for a while now; so I thought this might be a good time to look back and see if the show is still as good as it was when it began. When I started watching Bleach, I loved it for its character development; balance of action, comedy, and drama; and the way that the characters would analyze each others' fighting styles. So how does this season compare to the first?

To start, in these episodes we do learn more about the different characters. Specifically we learn that the Soul Reapers have some kind of limit on their power when they are in the world of the living, which they then are able to remove provided they get the proper permissions. Then we have the bald Ikkaku Madarame, who reveals that he really isn't allowed to use his bankai because it's too powerful (or something like that). There isn't quite the exploration of characters' backgrounds as there has been in previous episodes, but at least there's some degree of character development.

As for the battles, they can be intense as each character reveals new fighting techniques and increases their levels of power, but there isn't as much analysis of technique and strategy as there was in earlier episodes. This is disappointing because as much as I like to see intense fighting, seeing the mental side of the battle makes them more engrossing.

Although there is still action, comedy, and drama in this show; it isn't as balanced as it was when the show started. Now an entire episode might be dedicated to either action, comedy, or drama, but you don't see all of them all together as much. I was even getting worrie because for a good while there was a lot of action but not a lot of drama. But then the whole part about Orihime getting kidnapped came up and totally got me excited about the show again.

For the filler episodes there was some good and some bad episodes. The first filler arc dealing with the brother trying to save his sister from the Arrancar was dull. But then there is a series of stand-alone episodes that ended up being the best filler yet. They are more character-focused and if you don't like the story in one, you don't have to deal with it for more that one episode. The final filler story about the rebel Arrancars surprised me because I originally through it was part of the regular storyline. The character designs and quality of the story had me convinced and it wasn't until I looked it up online that I realized it was filler.

On a final note, I'll say that Ichigo's dad does show up as his Soul Reaper self near the end of this collection of episodes. I know I said in my last review that I was wondering what ever happened to him, so I thought I'd mention that.

So overall this is a nice mix of episode of varying quality, and includes both filler and regular episodes. Even though it isn't as good as the first season, the last few episodes re-ignited my excitement for the series. Hopefully the next set of episodes can justify that excitement.

Related Posts:

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Viewing Journal: Sky Crawlers

Movie Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= B-
Story = B-
Video = A-
Audio = B+

Journal

The story unfolds in another 'possible' modern age. The main characters are youngsters called "Kildren", who are destined to live eternally in their adolescence. The Kildren are conscious that every day could be the last, because they fight a "war as entertainment" organized and operated by adults. But as they embrace the reality they are faced with, they live their day-to-day lives to the full. (Source: ANN)
It's hard for appreciate a Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell, Avalon) film the first time through. His movies are filled with weighty silence and philosophical characters and deep themes; and usually it's hard for me to understand what it's all about, especially when all I want and expect is something entertaining. Sky Crawlers is no exception to the rule. Sure, it's more accessible that some of Oshii's recent work, but that's mainly because it has some visually dynamic, intense, and innovative aerial battle sequences and the relatively smooth and detailed character animation. But when it comes to the rest of the story there is still that deep, moody character interaction. Usually it takes me a couple of viewings to fully appreciate it and pick up on the subtleties and story details I might have missed the first time around (although I'm not sure I'll get that chance).

But putting aside the thematic depth or dark mood of the movie, I think the story suffered a bit due to its lack of explanation for some key plot elements. For example, the movie the pilots talk about this unbeatable enemy pilot called "Teacher," but no further explanation of "Teacher" is provided. And then, near the end of the movie we are told that the pilots are eternally young and are created purely for the purpose of taking part in battle. But I can't help but think that there might have been greater opportunity for dramatic impact if I had known that closer to the beginning of the movie.

So in the end, this is probably among the more accessible movies that Oshii has made, and it is certainly praiseworthy for its mood-building and action sequences. But the story itself, while full of meaning (I think), suffered from either misplaced or a complete lack of plot explanation -- although, maybe that was the point.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Dead Fantasy 3

Compared to the first two this one is still a well choreographed, but far less epic girl-on-girl battle sequence. And the credits take up like a quarter of the entire movie! Still fun to watch though.

[HQ Version]

Monday, September 21, 2009

Naoki Urasawa interview

Here's a great interview with the creator of Monster, 20th Century Boys, and Pluto -- Naoki Urasawa. He talks about his major inspirations (Osamu Tezuka and Bob Dylan). He also goes through a time when he had to stop doing 20th Century Boys due to an injury from drawing too much! I don't usually spend the time to go through lengthy interview videos like this, but I thought this one was worth it. (Although I would have been interested to hear more about his work on Pluto.)

Part 1 of 5


Part 2 of 5


Part 3 of 5


Part 4 of 5


Part 5 of 5

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reading Journal: Trigun / Trigun Maximum (complete)

Manga Overview
Book Info

Rating:
Overall= D
Story = C-
Art = D

Journal

Vash the Stampede is a gunman on the run with a 60 billion double dollar bounty on his head which has made it difficult for him to go anywhere without being chased and shot at. Because of the bounty, every town he ever visit ends up being destroyed because of his pursuers, and miracliously, no one ever gets killed. Meryl and Milly are two insurance agents that have been sent to find Vash the Stampede and keep him under surveillance so no more damage is caused. Meryl, who leads the pair, can't believe that the man they have met can possibly be the legendary gunman. This spikey haired, gangly, and blonde young man is extremely friendly, a pacifist, hates blood and suicide, absolutely loves donuts, and is a dork and a crybaby...there is no way he could he be Vash the Stampede, a notorious outlaw. However, there's more to Vash than just smiles and dounuts. (Source: ANN)

I -- like a lot of anime fans out there -- loved the Trigun anime. So I started reading the original manga because I heard that it went more in depth into the story and characters. And it does. It gives more detail about the origin of Vash and Knives and gives more information about Wolfwood and the people from his group the "Eye of Michael." Plus it gives more background behind the planet that the story takes place on. But unfortunately 90% of the time I couldn't glean much information at all from the manga because the artwork was so confusing.

That's not to say that the art isn't cool, it is just messy and difficult to interpret. The character designs are incredibly cool, and individual panels during fight scenes are frantic and energetic. But there is a disconnect between the art and the story -- most notably during any kind of action (which took up a good majority of the manga). Something might happen like an explosion, but there there may be no reference in the art to show where that explosion is taking place. Or there may be a group of panels showing a fight scene or one of Vash or Knives' many odd transformation scenes, but it's hard to tell what is happening because there's no way to know how the different panels are related. You can't tell how the fight goes from point A in panel 1 to point B in panel 2. It would have been just as effective to have a page with a big scribble for all I could glean from those action scenes. And the dialogue is no help because after all this incomprehensible action takes place a character would say something like "Oh my gosh, I can't believe that happened." But I would have no idea what they were reacting to, so I was constantly thinking that I was missing vital pieces of the story. It really got frustrating and annoying at times.

In truth, if it wasn't for this manga's connection to the anime I probably would have stopped following it a long time ago. I'm positive that all kinds of cool stuff was happening during the 16 volumes (2 volumes of Trigun and 14 volumes of Trigun Maximum). But since so much of it was lost one me, my whole reason for reading the manga -- that is to get more information about the story that I'd loved so much in the anime -- was lost too.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Viewing Journal: Flag (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= C+
Story = C+
Video = C+
Audio = B

Journal

In 20xx, a civil war broke out in a small country in Asia in spite of the dispatch of UN forces. But a picture taken by accident in the battle field accelerates the peace process. It is a picture of a flag which became the symbol of peace. However, just before the peace agreement is achieved, the flag is robbed by an armed extremist group in order to obstruct the truce. The UN decides to send SDC (Special Development Command) and a cameraman to record their activities. That cameraman is Shirasu Saeko - the cameraman who took the picture of the flag. Armed with the HAVWC (High Agility Versatile Weapon Carrier), Saeko documents their journey. (Source: ANN)

There's no doubt that Flag used an original concept -- at least for an anime. It tells its entire story through cameras, photographs, security videos, and news clips. But mostly it's told through the camera lens of the main character Sirasu Saeko and occasionally that of her "senior" Keiichi Akagi.

And this gimmick is pulled off with surprising believability. The camera might just be sitting on a cafeteria table or hanging around Sirasu's neck, so you might just see a hand or leg or even just the ground while a conversation goes on. This adds a good deal of realism to the story. That sense of realism is supported by the complexity of the storyline and the culture of the fictional country in which the story is taking place.

Unfortunately, a number of elements disrupt that sense of realism. First of all, the whole concept of a single flag being critical to a country's peace negotiations was hard for me to accept. But even given that, the worst flaw of the show is the fact that it throws mecha into the mix. That totally disrupted any sense of realism that that it might have been otherwise shooting for. Not that I expect total plausibility in my anime, but it just seems a waste for a show like this that is so successful at using realistic camera angles, to essentially negate that by bringing in a concept like humanoid mecha.

Although, even if it didn't have the mecha, I think the whole gimmick of using the camera to tell the story started wearing on me after three or four episodes. After that point I had gotten over the novelty of the concept and it started to get downright annoying because it seemed like it was getting in the way of the storytelling instead of enhancing it. It was frustrating because it seemed like I wasn't getting the whole story. Although I guess that was kind of the whole point, but it still doesn't do much for the series' entertainment value.

As far as the art and animation, it was pretty average. The only thing that really stands out is -- again -- the realism of the camera angels and movement and video quality. So the camera might be out of focus, or jittery while the cameraman is running, or other things like that.

The music also really sticks out in this show as enhancing that sense of realism. There isn't a lot of music here, but when there is -- from the opening to the closing credits and everything in between -- it's subtle but often packs an emotional punch and enhances that realism.

So as you can tell, the theme of this review is "realism". If the show would have taken that theme and carried it throughout the story and maybe cut down the episode count (even thirteen episodes seemed to be too much), then it could have been a phenomenal show. But despite the flaws, the extent to which the show takes "camera" concept really is impressive.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Viewing Journal: Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion & R2 (complete)

Series Overview
TV Broadcast Info
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= F-
Story = F-
Video = F+
Audio = F


Journal
The Empire of Britannia has invaded Japan using giant robot weapons called Knightmare Frames. Japan is now referred to as Area 11, and its people the 11's. A Britannian who was living in Japan at the time, Lelouch, vowed to his Japanese friend Suzaku that he'd destroy Britannia. Years later, Lelouch is in high school, but regularly skips out of school to go play chess and gamble on himself. One day, he stumbles on terrorists 11's who've stolen a military secret and is caught by a member of the Britannian task force sent after them, who is Suzaku. As the rest of the squad arrives, Suzaku is shot for disobeying orders, while the military secret, a young girl, gives Lelouch the power of Geass, which makes anyone obey any order. While Suzaku is secretly made the pilot of Britannia's brand new prototype Knightmare, Lancelot, Lelouch becomes the masked Zero to lead the rebellion to destroy Britannia once and for all. (Source: ANN)
This is the worst show I have ever seen. It is absolute crap. There is nothing good about this show, and in fact it gets worse as you go on.

Now for those of you who have never seen it, go watch the show for yourself -- despite my hatred for it (like you listen to me anyway) -- and DO NOT READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW. You have been warned.

Okay, for the rest of you, forget all that. (See the end of the review if you're confused.) This show is awesome. In fact, it is one of the most entertaining and unpredictable shows I have seen in... probably ever.

Although, for the first few episodes I was not sure what to think of it. First of all, the whole story revolves around an empire called Britania taking over the world, which essentially seems to be a commentary on how Western civilization is overtaking all other cultures. So right off the bat, I was put off by what essentially seemed to be a criticism of the US. Then you are introduced to all of the characters who all seem like typical anime stereotypes in both design and personality, complete with cheesy dialogue and melodramatic relationships. Of course, you also have the giant robots -- another typical anime staple. So given all this, it's not surprising that the show did relatively poorly in the ratings when it aired on Adult Swim in the US.

But if you can get past all of that and watch more than the first couple episodes, you are in for a wild ride with twists and turns and where each episode is more epic than the last. This is one of the few shows where I genuinely did not know what was going to happen next. And I don't mean unpredictable as in "random chaos". Each twist is actually a reasonable extension of the characters' personalities and is consistent with past events within the story. I don't think I've seen a story filled with so much strategic play between characters, where each character is trying to out-think and/or out-maneuver each other and ends up bringing out a surprise trump card to eliminate the other guy's trump card in a way that makes you jump out of your seat and scream "Yeah, take that bitch!" (which I think I literally did on a number of occasions), since Death Note. But where Death Note's unpredictability ended up causing it to loose focus (although it still kicked ass), with Code Geass, what made it great at the beginning is what makes it great at the end.

Of course, saying that the story stays consistent within it's plot twists does not necessarily mean that it's realistic. In fact, this is a show that is as much about over-the-top grandiose melodrama and action as anything else. Before watching this show, I always thought that the only way to pull off melodrama to this degree was for it to be a sort of self-aware type that is a sort of parody of itself or to balance itself off with subtle genuine drama. But this show pulls the over-the-top version off with to such an uncompromising and unforgiving extreme that it's blown my theory right out of the water. I think the reason that it can pull it off is because it's the type of melodrama that never slows down the story, but in fact spurs the characters on to act and pushes the story forward. Characters' emotions are extreme, leading them to take extreme actions. They know exactly what they want to do and they don't hold back in their effort to achieve what they want regardless of trail of bodies they leave behind them.

And there are stacks of bodies left in the wake of this show. No character is safe. The violence is not horribly graphic, but there is blood a-plenty and there is little build up to when a character dies. People get shot (or whatever) when you least expect it, adding all the more to the unpredictability of the show.

And speaking of consistency, the quality of the art and animation never wavers throughout this show's two seasons -- something that just blew me away. The character designs are as dramatic as the characters themselves. And everything from the lines to the colors are crystal clear and clean. I have not seen a series look this good for this many episodes -- well, probably ever. It's certainly not ground-breaking artistry, but it's not meant to be. It's the kind of visuals that support the story perfectly.

The same with the music. I'm not going to rush out to buy the soundtrack individually, but it does it's job of supporting the emotion and action of the show itself perfectly.

So with all this perfection, does the ending of the story hold up. I say, hell yes. There were so many times where I THOUGHT the show was going to end disappointingly (because I thought there would be less episodes then there actually were) but it just kept on going until it reached its final appropriate and altogether satisfying conclusion.

And honestly, I could go on and on about the different elements in Code Geass -- like the mecha and their increasingly more powerful weaponry, or the origin of the power of Geass or the key relationship between LeLouche and Suzaku and whatever else I'm forgetting. But this show is just so chalk-full of awesomeness that I could not believe that it went on for as long as it did. Although I'm sure I'm building it up way too much for anyone that has not seen it yet. Obviously I had low expectations when I watched it so I'm sure that contributed to the level of surprise that I experienced throughout it's run. So I suppose I may have just ruined the experience for anyone who has not seen it yet. So forget everything I said, this show sucks. In fact, maybe I should put a disclaimer at the beginning as a warning to those who haven't seen it yet. And I should change my "grades" up there too. And speaking of which, here's my real ratings:

Overall= A
Story = A
Video = B+
Audio = B

Cheers.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Viewing Journal: Irresponsible Captain Tylor OVA (complete)

OAV Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

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

Journal

The shooting war is over with both the Raalgon Empire and the United Planets Space Force able to declare victory. Both sides have withdrawn their massed fleets and everything should have settled down to normal. It should come as no real surprise that it hasn't. The Raalgon Empire have taken the opportunity to secretly deploy a new weapon. Learning of this the UPSF has no choice but to send the Soyokaze on a secret mission to find out what this new weapon is. The scariest part of all, though, is that Justy Ueki Tylor has a plan. (Source: ANN)
I enjoyed the Captain Tylor TV series, so I picked up the OVA series hoping that it would continue the in the wacky fun of the crew of the Soyokaze. But unfortunately this set of extra Tylor episodes failed to capture much of what I liked about he first series.

First of all, I was hoping that all 10 episodes would tell an extended story, but as it turns out the first two or so episodes are related, then most of the middle episodes focus on individual characters, then the final three or four episodes tell another complete story. Plus, most of the time the crew is not even aboard their ship, and they are seldom even together. So you don't get to see much in terms of space adventure, or the character's dynamic.

The other problem is that the story in the few related episodes never comes to satisfying resolutions. The first story arc has Captain Tylor and Azalyn meet up again and supposedly discuss a way to help the Raalgons and humans achieve peace, but we never learn what the details of those plans are. And the final episodes has the Raalgons and humans going up against a third enemy, but although we finally learn who the enemy is (sort of) we never see the enemy fought or defeated.

The middle five or so episodes are mainly about the individual characters. Some of them are better than others, but again, I enjoy watching the dynamic of the characters interacting as a group more than as individual characters, so these episodes didn't do much for me.

The animation and art are on par with the original TV series. I still enjoyed detail in the show's old-school animation which was one of main reasons that I started watching this show to begin with.

So in conclusion, I don't think this set of episodes adds anything special to the original experience of the TV series. If anything it detracts from it a little because while the TV series came to a satisfying conclusion, this OVA opens up plot threads that are never satisfactorily concluded.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Viewing Journal: Bleach (episodes 98 - 120)

Series Overview
TV Broadcast Info
DVD Info
Trailer

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

Journal

The Bounts' assault on the Soul Society reaches it's explosive and fateful climax as the extent of Kariya's plans for vengeance finally become clear. In the aftermath, Ichigo returns home only to find new challenges awaiting him. The rebel Soul Reaper Sosuke Aizen is starting to put his plans into action. Those plans involves the use of a super-powerful form of beings called Arrancars who are a melding of Soul Reaper and Hollow. And if that weren't enough, Ichigo is also met by a group of beings called Vizards who, like himself, have their own "inner hollow" and want to bring Ichigo into their fold...
In this set of episodes the Bount filler story arc concludes and the main story featuring the rebel Soul Reaper Aizen and his plot to control two worlds continues.

First of all, we have the story of the Bounts. And for as much as most of the episodes in this arc have dragged on, the concluding six or so episodes seem comparably rushed. As the battles with the Soul Reapers rage, the Bounts start dropping like flies. And that is especially surprising given that the Bounts are supposed to be immortal while in the Soul Society due to their regenerative ability. And while the final battle between Ichigo and Kariya is slightly more intense and flashy, it still comes and goes just as quickly. So in the end, it seems that this filler story really was just that: Something that can be slowed down or speed up depended on how much time the writers needed to waste before getting back go the main story.

Of course, when things do get back to the real story -- ie, the one that follows the plot of the original manga -- we finally get to see the main characters develop and things of actual consequence start to happen.

First of all we find out that Aizen -- the mastermind behind everything that happened with when Rukia was arrested and sentenced to death, and who subsequently disappeared with a host of powerful Hollows -- is gathering and developing a group of all-powerful Hollows called Arankars in order to fight the Soul Reaper squads and eventually take over the universe via the use of the Hōgyoku (which allows him to meld Soul Reapers with Hollows) which he stole back in that earlier arc. (Take a breath!)

At the same time a new student named Shinji has arrived at Ichigo's school. And apparently Shinji is interested in Ichigo's inner hollow. So as it turns out, Shinji has his own inner hollow and is part of a group of spirits called Vizards, all of which can "hollowify" -- ie, bring out their inner hollow to help them fight -- and they are trying to recruit Ichigo to join their crew.

So that's all pretty interesting and cool, but then we also get thrown some rather odd curveballs. For instance, Ichigo's dad is a Soul Reaper now. What? Where did that come from? And as weird as that fact is, after Dad-as-Soul-Reaper is introduced, it's never brought up again. (Note: I'm almost through the season of episodes following this one, and it still hasn't been brought up again.) So I'm not sure what's up with that.

Another thing that bugs me is that Rukia has her Soul Reaper powers back now! I mean, the whole premise of the story is that Ichigo took her powers, and the fact that she now has gotten them back seems to destroy the whole weight behind what Ichigo is doing, especially when when she got them back simply by spending some time in the Soul Society. Part of the drama of Ichigo being a "substitute Soul Reaper" is that he got that way via Rukia's sacrifice, so now he has to carry that burden. But now he's not really even "substituting" for anyone anymore so the everything he's doing now seems pointless. Considering what a significant plot point that is, it seems like they should have at the very least made a bigger deal out of it.

As for the art and animation, it's pretty much the same as it ever was -- average to above average. But of special note are the character designs -- they're just so cool. The Bounts had somewhat original designs I guess, but for some reason the Arrancars and Vizards just look so much cooler and have so much more personality to their visual design. Each one is basically a variation on a them (a hollow-mask and a Zanpakutou) but there is SO much variety on that theme that it makes them so much fun to watch.

For the music, I have noticed that a few new nuggets have been added to the soundtrack, but much of it is still recycled from earlier in the series. It's gotten to the point where I know exactly what music is going to play at certain times depending on if there's drama or action or whatever. I really think the soundtrack could use a major overhaul.

So in conclusion, if you've gotten this far in the series there's no point in stopping now. You (and I) have made it through the tedium of the Bount filler arc and stuff that matters is starting to happen again. Now we just have to see how long it lasts.

As a final note, I just wanted to say kudos to Adult Swim for showing two episodes per week now. I wonder how long that will last before they are caught up to the Japanese episodes. Although, for some reason they have not been showing the original ending animation for the past couple seasons, and instead just show random images from the show during the end credits. Plus they never show the previews for the next episodes! How cheap is that? (So much for kudos.)

Related Posts:

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Trigun movie trailer

...with a totally original story.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Yet another Evangelion 2.0 movie trailer

Well, looks like I'm going have to plan another trip to Japan. (I wish.)

Related Posts

Friday, May 08, 2009

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Reading Journal: Monster (complete)

Manga Overview
Book Info

Rating:
Overall= B+
Story = B+
Art = B+

Journal

When a Doctor makes the highly controversial decision to save a boy's life over the mayor's, it leads to the loss of almost everything he holds dear. His fiance, his career, his social standing. The only thing he keeps is his own feeling of self worth, knowing that he did the right thing in saving the boy, who came in first. Yet even that is threatened when he begins to learn that nothing is as it originally appeared. A trail of bloodshed pointing to the seemingly innocent child leaves him questioning even his beliefs. Whether, in the end, all lives are ever truly equal. (Source: ANN)

I already knew most of this story before I read it. That's because a while ago I watched the Monster anime; and since the anime and manga play out the exact same story, reading it in the manga left little to be surprised about.

So given that, this is a difficult review to write because, since I knew what to expect, there wasn't as much tension or anticipation about what would happen next. So as far as the story itself is concerned, I think you can refer back to my review of the anime to see what I thought about it.

Although, going through the story the second time does give me the opportunity to look at it with a more critical eye. For instance, this time I realized that we never learn much about what all the different organizations were trying to use Johan to achieve. We know that everyone is fascinated by him and want him to be their leader in some way, but to what end -- from either their perspective or Johan's -- I am not sure. And along those same lines, there are parts of the story that seem a little drawn out, with new characters constantly being introduced that did not seem necessary. And although the character development was top-notch, I never did get that feeling of dread that other characters (and other manga reviewers) had about Johan.

But despite that, the reason I wanted to read this story for the second time in manga for was because I wanted to see how such an intricate story and realistic setting and characters played out in manga form. It was more curiosity than anything else. And what I came to realize is just how skillfully the manga writer/artist Naoki Urasawa was able to relay the story. I mean, it really is just a lot of dialogue and very little action, but the manga never gets boring because it is told at such a brisk pace. The art is clearly drawn with equally detailed attention give to both characters and setting. The panel layout makes the action easy to follow -- something all too infrequent in a lot of manga I've read. And the dialogue is written with such efficiency and economy, that it is able to relay a lot of information in very few words while still maintaining character's personalities and intonations. Urasawa is one of the most talented manga artists/writers I've seen and I'm looking forward to reading a couple of his other works that I have sitting on my shelf right now: 20th Century Boys and Pluto.

So, in short, even through the story has some flaws I highly recommend this manga for those seeking a truly mature story. Or of course, you can watch the anime and pretty much get the same experience. And in fact I think Funimation is supposed to start releasing the anime within the next few months free online, so there you go. Although, with a length of 72 episodes, I think reading the 18 volume manga might end up saving you some time. But either way, you can't go wrong.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Viewing Journal: Nana 1 & 2 (live action movies)

Movie Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= B+
Story = B+
Video = B+
Audio = B+

Journal

Two girls, both named Nana and of the same age, coincidentally meet on a train trip to Tokyo. They soon find themselves living with each other under the same roof because of an even bigger coincidence. Even though they share the same name and age, they differ in just about everything else. Even so, through hard experiences in love and life, a strong friendship is born between them, as both Nanas grow through their hardships and struggle to win the odds. (Source: ANN)

I don't have much to say about Nana other than that I like it. I think part of the reason is because it is about a rock band, and stories about bands -- whether real or fictional -- always seem to draw me for some reason. Probably the reason for that is because they usually involves an everyday normal person achieving success by following their passions: basically a feel good, success story with characters you can relate to. It's the same thing here, because Rock-girl Nana is trying to create a successful band. But there's the added twist that she is motivated by the desire to be an even bigger success than her former boyfriend, who is now I superstar rocker. And of course, you have the good-girl-Nana who is Rocker-Nana's biggest groupie, apartment-mate, and friend.

And definitely the Rocker-Nana is the more appealing character out of the two Nanas. Her childhood hardships made her strong and willful, which is always a good way to make a sympathetic character. The innocent-good-girl Nana is less appealing because of her puppy-doggish following of the other Nana, but is also more relatable because of it. She is drawn into the world of the other Nana (confused yet?) and wants to be like her. But because of her naivete she ends up getting taken advantage of and gets into a bit-o-trouble. But even though the two are opposites, they are attracted to each other (as just friends...I think) because each envies the other's life. The dynamic between those two Nana's and their friendship is a big part of what draws you into the story.

The other thing that draws you in is the casual nature of how all these rock stars act. Rocker-Nana's band all meet together in their apartment and BS just like regular friends would. There's conflict here (and a good deal of over-acted melodrama), but mainly in as much as people are struggling to maintain their relationships when their opposing lifestyles are pulling them apart. Sounds kind of cheesy when you put it like that, but even so, it's a big part of what makes these two movies so easy to watch.

That same tone also applies to the plot. There are some stories that seem to just be about the characters doing stuff, without ever having a defined direction, and thus gets tedious to watch after a while. This movie had that same kind of character driven story, but never got tedious to watch. But it does mean that the endings to both movies seem to come suddenly. And even at the end of the second movie it seems like there is more story to tell. But regardless, it's still an over-all satisfactory package, and I guess if you really want to know more, you could always read the manga.

Of course, a big part of any movie about a rock band is the music. It's especially critical because in order to believe that the fictional band deserves the success they achieve, the music has to be especially good. For this movie, I'd say that the music does mostly achieve that, but I guess the success there will all be personal preference.

So overall, I do recommend these movies for those who are looking for a good, easy-to-watch, genuine drama. I also know there's an anime version of this out there too and of course there's the manga too if you do end up liking it and are looking for more.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Viewing Journal: Vexille

Movie Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

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

Journal

In an alternate 21st century, Japan's scientists has perfected the art of biotechnology and robotics, its benefits extending the lifespans of all humans. However, the United Nations deemed the advanced technology a dangerous threat and started strict surveillance on Japan. The government of Japan refused to abide by UN's demands to halt research, in the year 2067 left the UN and isolated itself visually and communically. Ten years later, an American special forces unit by the name of SWORD, led by its female commander named Vexille, are sent to uncover the current status of the isolated Japan, after the country begins its plan to move. The shocking secrets they find will shock the rest of the world. (Source: ANN)

I had no idea what this movie was about going into it, which is why I was able to enjoy it as much as I did. The only reason that I wanted to see it was because it was animated with CG, and I heard in some vague reviews that it was intelligently written. Well, it is CG, and to a certain extent it is smartly written, but it's the unknown elements that kept me interested.

The story takes place in an alternate Earth where Japan has become a technological powerhouse, but has also decided to totally isolate itself any outsiders, even going so far as to block satellite photography. So Commander Vexille and her crew need to sneak in and see what's up.

To me, the best part of this movie is the build-up to the forces trying to get into Japan. The idea of an entire nation cutting itself off from the rest of the world, after being embroiled in such epic events creates a huge sense of mystery and I was dying to know what kind of epic insanity was behind that isolation.

Although, when they actually get into Japan what they find isn't quite as mind-blowing as my imagination had lead me to believe. There is really only one part that was kind of cool, which I don't want to give away, but to me seems like an obvious homage to Dune. But even with that, the concept behind how it came to be seemed really far-fetched, even for a movie like this that's far fetched to begin with. (Vague enough for you?)

But even if it didn't quite meet my own expectations, it is still worthwhile watching and it is somewhat intelligently written. I think that "intelligent" part mostly has to do with the fact that it is referencing Japan's real-life attitudes toward isolationism. So there is more of a meaning behind the story that what is on the surface.

As for the visuals, the CG is similar to the first CG Appleseed movie, although the visuals here are a slight improvement. I'd actually say that it falls somewhere between the first and second Appleseed movies in terms of the quality. But there is nothing particularly original about the designs here, especially for a sci-fi storyline.

So in short, if you are going to watch this movie, I suggest not watching any of the trailers or reading too many plot summaries. Don't even watch the trailer that I have linked at the top of this post; even though the spoilers there are pretty minimal. But in this case, the less you know the better.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Viewing Journal: Appleseed - Ex Machina

Movie Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= B
Story = B-
Video = B+
Audio = B

Journal
Deunan, a young female warrior, and Briareos, a veteran cyborg-soldier, are both partners and lovers. As members of E.S.W.A.T., the elite special forces serving Olympus, they are deployed whenever trouble strikes. The two fighters find their partnership tested in a new way by the arrival of a new member to their ranks - an experimental Bioroid named Tereus. (Source: ANN)

This is a big improvement on the first Appleseed movie in both the story and the animation. That probably has something to do with the fact that this one was directed by acclaimed Chinese filmmaker John Woo. Although I have only seen a handful of his movies and -- other than his tendency to use doves -- can't say that I'm an expert on his style; but regardless, he definitely did a better job with characterization and keeping the visuals and action consistent, especially compared to that first movie.

The plot has something to do with a device that causes people to go out of control (or something like that... it's actually been a while since I saw this), and Deunan, Briareos and the rest of the ESWAT crew need to find out what's going on. But what's more is that Deunan has to take on a new partner: a Bioroid (artificial human) named Tereus who looks just like Briareos did before he became cyborg. It's a pretty cool twist on the story that gives a lot of opportunity for emotionally charged back and forth between the trio, and a good amount of drama -- or at least as much as you can have a in a CG movie.

And that's where the real draw of this movie comes in: it actually does a good job of giving the CG characters enough personality and expression to make seem incredibly sympathetic. The improved CG itself is part of that. The visuals are actually consistent instead of the half-realistic, half-computer-shade that there was in the first movie. The facial expressions of the characters are more natural and not as rigid or awkward as they were in the first movie. Same thing with the body movements. The characters look relaxed and -- well, like actual characters.

Even the costumes add to the their personalities. When you see Deunan in that dress at the birthday party, or Tereus walk in in his tux, or Briareos in his military t-shirts, it seems so familiar for a sci-fi CG-animated movie that catches you off guard.

But it's as much the writing as the visuals that make the characters come alive. The dialogue isn't quite as cliche or predicable as it was in the original. And the interaction between characters is natural. There is a lot of casual back and forth and guys chucking each other on the shoulder, stuff like that makes the interaction more sympathetic, believable, and relatable.

Of course, what you probably are REALLY going to see this movie for is the crazy shoot-em-up, sci-fi tech action, and there is plenty of it here to please. Everything from the landmate robotic armor whizzing all over the place and blasting everything, to Deunan and Birareos in the church doing all kinds of unexpected gun tricks and acrobatics to catch the bad guys. Both in terms of the art and the action, it is all a lot of fun to watch.

The music works well too. Both in terms of intensifying both the action and the drama, it does a good job of enhancing each scene.

My only major gripe about the movie is that the ending requires that you have seen the first movie in order to understand what is going on. And it has been so long since I saw that first one that I couldn't remember who was who or why certain things were happening. So the ending didn't seem as climactic as maybe it was supposed to be.

In a lot of ways this seems like a typical action movie, but it doesn't seem as much like the typical animated action movie because of the smart writing and well-choreographed action. So I'd definitely recommend it, even if you have seen the first one and were put off by the story and visuals, this is enough of an improvement to make it worth checking out. The action is fun, and the characterization really warms up the rather cold medium of CG-animation.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Viewing Journal: Strait Jacket

Movie Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= C-
Story = D+
Video = B-
Audio = D

Journal
It is a world where magic and science coexist. Rayotte Steinberg, a lone wolf "tactical sorcerist", fights against monsters. They used to be human beings, but they have overused forbidden power, magic, to turn into monsters. What he wears is "mold", the straitjacket that keeps him human. He carries an explosive magic wand. If he casts magic, he moves one step closer to being a monster. If he doesn't, he will be killed. Among the harsh battles, he will face a sin he committed in the past. (Source: ANN)

Here's another movie where I like the concept, but am less impressed with how it's executed. The story takes place in a world where magic is commonplace and is incorporated with technology to create new practical tools. I think it would have been cool if they would have gone more in depth in explaining the "science" of magic and incorporating those concepts into the story. I usually like stories that do that kind of thing -- taking a concept (even if it's fictional) and exploring all the details and possibilities of it throughout the series (Mushi-shi, Standalone Complex, and Fullmetal Alchemist are a few examples of shows that do this well). But unfortuneately the writers of this movie never consulted me (damn them), so didn't end up going in that direction.

What it does end up being is a monster/gore-fest, and an unimpressive one at that. The magic-science part is only briefly touched upon as a setup to explain why people all over the world are turning into monsters. Apparently the use of magic poisons people in some way so that eventually they turn into rampaging homicidal mutants. The only people who can stop them are "tactical sorcerists" who don "molds" -- suits of armor that carry giant magic-powered monster-killing guns. Rayotte Steinberg is one such sorcerist who has a strange kid sidekick who looks like he has bug-eyes on his forehead and is somehow tied into Steinberg's mysterious past.

The show relies heavily on two things to attract viewers: the monster/gore-fest, and Steinberg's "lone wolf" character. Personally, I'm not really into gory monster flicks to begin with, especially when such little detail is given for why those creatures exist. Violence is cool and all, but -- just like I mentioned in my previous review on Afro Samurai: Resurrection -- you need to answer the "why" behind the violence for it to have any intensity or dramatic impact. For instance, the biggest question I had was why the sorcerists always say "exists" before firing their guns. If there was more detail into that kind of stuff, it would have been a lot more interesting. It's the same thing with Steinberg's character. There is some explanation into why he is the way he is, but since the rest of the story is so sparse on details, that even that little bit of explanation isn't enough make his cool persona convincing.

I do have to admit that the reason I picked up this DVD was because I thought the visuals in the trailer looked cool. But for some reason they didn't look quite so impressive in the movie itself. I guess when you string together all of the best scenes back-to-back, you can make any movie look good. The best animation was during the parts where the tactical sorcerists would fire their guns, but other than that the animation is just average.

I'd comment on the music here, but I honestly can't remember any of it at all. That's usually a good indicator that it was either so perfectly synced with the scenes and meshed so well that I never noticed it, or that it was so unimpressive that it didn't draw my attention in any way. I'm guessing it's probably the later for this one.

In summary, this anime had an interesting initial concept, that was never fully developed and instead focused on violent monster action. So unless you're into that kind of thing, I'd recommend you save your money for something better than this average-to-below-average anime.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Viewing Journal: Afro Samurai - Resurrection

Movie Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= D
Story = D
Video = B+
Audio = C-

Journal

Late one night, Afro is suddenly attacked by Jinno. However, he is unable to protect himself, and Jinno drags him nearby to his father's grave, where a woman named Sio awaits. She proceeds to take the Number One headband that he possesses, as well as the remains of his dead father's skull. Before leaving, she tells him to seek and obtain the Number Two headband, if he wants the right to take back his father's remains. With that, Afro must once again embark on a path of violence in order to let his father rest in peace once again. (Source: ANN)

This movie could have been cool if they would have focused on telling a bit of the history of the legendary numbered headbands and developing the world that the story takes place in (while still including crazy fighting action of course). But instead what we end up with is a story that includes inconsistent, one-dimensional characters and a cliche plot.

It also has the same flaw as the original series: it takes itself way too seriously for all the goofiness that is going on: a samurai with a giant afro with his loud-mouth semi-hallucination sidekick, a cyborg with a teddy bear head, a rotund lust-filled scientist, and crazy villainess.

It seems like all it is really doing is trying to take a bunch of "cool" elements, throw them together and hope that it results in something super-cool. And it is possible to do that, but you still need to have a cohesive plot and you really need to explain the "why?" behind it all. Otherwise the story will seem forced and pretentious.

Even the high-quality animation did not improve my opinion of the show. The stylized character designs and dynamic fight scenes were enough to distract me from the flaws during the original series; but by the time this movie rolled around, so the novelty had worn off.

The music is almost all rap -- yet another element that attempts to make the show seem all cool and bad-ass. Not that that's a bad thing, it's just that everything is this show is just trying so desperately hard to be cool seemingly without any effort to develop characters or settings, that it ends up seeming pitiful.

So I wasn't crazy about this follow-up movie to the original series. If you really want more Afro Samurai, you're better off just watch the original series twice.

Friday, April 03, 2009

New Fullmetal Alchemist series available in english NOW

[ UPDATE: Watch it now! ]

According to Anime New Network, Funimation will be offering the 2009 Fullmetal Alchemist series, Fullmetal Achemist: Brotherhood, on its website on April 9 at 12:00pm -- just four days after it's Japanese premiere.

This is just another part of a multinational release of the series that includes countries such as France, Australia, and Hong Kong.

Funimation has already released the original FMA series and the concluding theatrical movie.

Whether this new series will be a direct continuation or an althernate re-telling has yet to be seen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Evangelion 2.0 movie trailer

A grainy handi-cam trailer, but better than nothing.

UPDATE: Official ungrainy version is now available. And here's the original preview from Eva 1.0.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter trailer

Tales of the Black Freighter was a "comic within a comic" in the original Watchmen graphic novel. In the book, a boy hangs out at a news stand reading this comic and talking to the stand's owner; all while the world is pretty much falling apart in the background.

That part is going to be left out of the Watchmen movie, but the DVD (when it comes out) will incorporate this animated version into the movie in the same way it was in the original book. But if you can't wait for that, the standalone DVD version of the anime will be released March 6 -- two weeks before the movie is in theatres. You can see the trailer below:

(Source: MTV)

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Viewing Journal: Bleach (episodes 75 - 97)

Series Overview
TV Broadcast Info
DVD Info
Trailer

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

Journal
The soul-sucking Bounts put their plan of vengeance into action as they begin an all-out assault on the Soul Society. It's up to Ichigo and his crew, as well as the whole of the 13 Court Soul Reaper Squads, to stop them.

At this point the story is well embroiled in the Bount-revenge arc, and I hate to say it but I am no more impressed with this "filler" material than I was when it first began. It isn't just because the main story has been put on hold or because the personalities and fighting abilities of the main cast seem inconsistent. It's because even the new characters and storyline itself are underdeveloped and redundant to the point where it feels like filler-within-filler.

The one thing that I liked about the soul reapers' battles (back when they were still any good) was that they would uncover new, more powerful fighting techniques and thus make the fights increasingly more intense. But the Bounts' fighting techniques never change. Even when they claim they are getting stronger, we never see any hard evidence of this because they still fight the same way. So one battle is no more interesting or intense than the next.

And even that would be fine if the battles actually advanced the plot or developed the Bounts' characters or even had a decisive victor. But no one ever wins or looses because the Bounts always run out before the battle is over. Then Ichigo and the gang go back to Urahara's place to recoup, and eventually go out to look for the Bounts again and so the cycle continues. That's what I mean by this seeming like filler-within-filler: you could probably miss entire episodes without missing anything crucial to the plot.

At times, it seems as though the series' writers are trying to do anything necessary to kill time while maintaining the viewer's interest. They'll even have the characters arbitrarily use their most powerful techniques for no apparent reason at all. The worst of it came with one battle when Ichigo was fighting Koga (the guy with that metal spider sphere-throwing doll). Ichigo is on the edge of defeat when suddenly his hollow-side appears and starts kicking Koga's butt. But before a decisive conclusion can be reached, the hollow-side goes back into hiding and Koga runs off. It's a major anti-climax.

My only consolation is that this arc seems to be coming to a resolution. I heard that this story wraps up around episode 110, so I'm just counting down the weeks until we can get back to the main storyline. I only pray that it ends up being as good as I remember.

On a bit of a separate note, I'll add that having made it this far in the series makes this officially the longest running anime I have ever watched, passing Rurouni Kenshin by two episodes. Yay! I'm a geek!

Related reviews:

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Viewing Journal: Tsubasa / xxxHolic movie

Movie Overview (Tsbubasa)
Movie Overview (xxxHolic)
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= D-
Story = D-
Video = B-
Audio = C

Journal

Tsubasa:
In their continuing journey to find the feathers that are the fragments of Sakura's lost memory, Syaoran, Kurogane, Fai, and Sakura move through time and space with Mokona. Here, they visit the "Land of the Birdcage," a seemingly peaceful country where people and birds live together, each person having a bird companion. After a boy named Koruri confuses Syaoran and Sakura for "bodyguards" and attacks them, they learn that the king of the country possesses a mysterious power. Princess Tomoyo, Koruri, and the other oppressed citizens, having had their birds taken from them, live in hiding within the forest. In order to take back Sakura's feather, Syaoran and the others stand up against the scheming king. (Source: ANN)
xxxHolic:
Yûko receives an invitation for the opening of an auction from a mysterious unknown sender. Likewise, fanatical collectors are summoned to an old mansion whose owner doesn't make an appearance. One after another, each collector disappears and a number of other strange occurrences happen during the night. The questions of what exactly it is that's being auctioned and who the owner of the mansion is must be solved in order for Yûko and Watanuki to get to the bottom of this. (Source: ANN)

I purchased this double feature movie for one reason only: the fact that it was animated by Production IG. I've seen about half of the Tsubasa TV series and read some of the xxxHolic manga, and did not like either one. But regardless, I figured the animation studio could pull off something that would make it worthwhile. Well, after this (as well as the disappointing Blood+ series) I may have to reevaluate their place as my favorite animation studio.

The stories for both features were boring -- even more so than what I have seen of the original animes and manga. I really just think it may be that I don't like CLAMP stories at all. The characters are all annoyingly goofy, or hopeless romantics, but in each case they are one-dimensional and predictable. There never seems to be anything to them other than what is on the surface. And it's not that I haven't liked my fair share of simplistic characters, but usually in the cases where I do, they are either strong and driven, or intentionally simplistic so as to be comedic. But CLAMP characters seem to be sappy and weak and even its comedy seems to forced and lame.

The animation is smooth and solid, but there isn't anything that makes it stand out. There was nothing original in the artwork nor was it especially detailed which are the two things I expect from Production IG.

So, whatever. I just didn't like this one. My guess is that only those who are xxxHolic or Tsubasa fans already will be interested in this one. It certainly won't convert anyone who isn't already into the stories.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Reading Journal: The Twelve Kingdoms - Volume 2: Sea of Wind

Book Overview

Rating:
Overall= B-

Journal

Born in Japan and raised as a human, Taiki is overwhelmed when he's brought back to the kingdom of Tai, where he's told he's a kirin. With little knowledge or guidance, he must trust his latent instincts to choose a king for the Kingdom of Tai from among dozens of men and women who seek the position. Will the frustrated Taiki, who can't even figure out how to transform into animal form, make the right choice? And more important, will he discover the kirin that lives within? (Source: Amazon)

This second volume in the Twelve Kingdoms light novel series is a bit of a change from the first one -- at least as far as the tone is concerned. The first volume has a lot more violence and covers some dark emotions like anger and mistrust. By contrast, this follow-up novel has very little in the way of physical confrontations or interpersonal conflicts.

While Yoko from the first novel had to fight tooth-and-nail to make her way in the world, Taiki literally has to do next to nothing when he arrives. He is pampered by priestesses and the only struggle he has is his desire to make them as happy as they try to make him. And that is all well and good, but it really makes for a pretty boring and tedious start to the book.

But if there is one thing that does tie these first two books together -- other than the setting -- it's the fact that the main character in both have very low sense of self-worth and need to overcome that in order to accept their part in the world of the Twelve Kingdoms. Taiki tries his hardest to gain the skills and knowledge to become a good Kirin but is distraught by the fact that he doesn't make any progress. And he fears disappointing everyone who has put their hopes in him.

So Taiki's journey is much more of a cognitive and emotional one. And even though the story is not especially nail-biting, edge-of-your seat suspense; there is a good amount of insight into human nature and the way people think and the role that fate has to play in people's lives; and for me personally there were certain parts of Taiki's character I could identify with. And as I progressed through the book and followed the characters and saw how they developed and their inner complexities, I did start to get more attached to them.

Of course, the best thing about these books is learning about the world of the Twelve Kingdoms itself. In this novel you get more details about how the system of choosing the king works, and how a Kirin is chosen. Learning those details, to me, is what makes this series especially worth while.

So if you are into fantasy stories and have already read the first novel and liked it, you might as well go ahead and pick this one up too. It's certainly different than any other fantasy series in the US, if nothing else. And if the anime series is any indication, there is plenty more good stuff to come in this series.

Related review:

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Viewing Journal: Gurren Lagann (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info
TV Broadcast Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= A-
Story = A-
Video = A-
Audio = B

Journal

In their closed-off underground village, Kamina and Simon chafe at the limits imposed by the village elder. Yet all this will change, when Simon stumbles across a fantastic device - just as the village's peace is broken by a violent intrusion. (Source: ANN)

Anime as a medium has produced a wide variety of stories from every genre, theme, and subject matter imaginable with artwork that ranges from the esoteric to the purely commercial. But when it comes right down to it, what anime fans really want is something with outlandish energy and uproarious fun. And Gurren Lagann is just that kind of show.

Gurren Lagann -- for those who don't know -- is brought to you courtesy of Studio Gainax. That's the same bunch of die hard otaku/animation producers that brought you the classics like Evangelion, Gunbuster, Diebuster, FLCL, and Otaku No Video. The studio has built its reputation on giving fans exactly what they want. With Gurren Lagann they pay tribute to the giant robot genre. And by "tribute" I don't mean that it's the kind of self-aware parody anime that calls attention to different elements by making self-effacing in-jokes. Instead this is more of a true homage to the genre that boils it down to the purest elements, then bumps those elements up to unabashedly unreasonable proportions in order to show just how cool they really are. So, for example, you have the constantly evolving/transforming mecha, characters that aim for the heavens with an unbeatable will, and just a crap-load of really cool stuff.

And more than the stuff of the giant robot genre, Gurren Lagann has those qualities that tend to make all the best Gainax shows worthwhile.

For one thing, even with all that over-the-top action and melodrama, Gainax somehow is always able to create naturally evolving and compelling characters with heartfelt emotions. Other shows that try to pull off the same balancing act between action and drama usually seem awkward and forced, like there's a tangible dividing line between the two moods. But here, that transition is seamless.

The other quality of most Gainax shows -- at least their sci-fi series -- is that the science that they use to explain the mechanics and logistics for how their universe operates is convincing, even as you are watch god-like mecha hurdle galaxies at one another. It adds an odd air of legitimacy to even the most ridiculous circumstances.

Another thing that I like about Gainax shows is their willingness to make a drastic shift to the story midway through the series. I love that kind of thing because when a show ends I want it to feel like the story and characters have changed -- and the more drastic the better. Waiting to see what that change will be and how it will happen gives that much more to look forward to. That same willingness to turn things on their head is here too, though I obviously don't want to give away when it happens or what it is.

As for the art, it's top quality throughout. The character designs and mech designs scream energy. And the action sequences are full of dynamic ... um .. energy. It's like the best part of FLCL and Diebuster put together.

And, well, the music's good too.

So if you haven't gotten the point by now, this show is cool. If you are a fan of anime, you'll love it. If you aren't a fan, you may just get a glimpse of why we fans obsess over the medium so much. Watch it!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Viewing Journal: Batman - Gotham Knight

Movie Overview
DVD Info
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= C+
Story = C
Video = B
Audio = C+

Journal

From the producers of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight comes an original animated movie chronicling the establishment and progression of Bruce Wayne into Gotham City's legendary caped crusader through 6 standalone episodes: "Have I Got a Story for You" (the mythos of Batman from the minds of children), "Crossfire" (the initial distrust and the eventual gaining of it from the perspective of the police), "Field Test" (the compassion of Batman, even towards his enemies), "In Darkness Dwells" (tracking down Killer Croc and The Scarecrow to foil his plot of resurgence amongst the villainous of Gotham), "Working Through Pain" (a look back at Bruce's training to manage both the physical and psychological pains he would later endure as Batman), and "Deadshot" (a race against the clock to protect Lt. Gordon from a highly-renowned assassin). (Source: ANN)

Storywise, there isn't anything new that Gotham Knight adds to the Batman mythos. Each tale in this 6-episode conglomeration has been done before -- and more successfully -- either in other animated series, movies, or comics. Most notably, "Have I Got a Story for You" uses the same concept as that episode for the Batman: the animated series where a kid imagines him as an old man (a la Dark Knight Returns).

I'm not sure if Batman just doesn't jell well with Japanese storytelling, or if the Japanese directors were not given much creative freedom, but I was disappointed with how traditional, if not outright cliche the stories were. I guess I was hoping for to see more Japanese influence in the story, instead of just in the animation.

Of course, the animation was still top-notch. It added a new level of intensity to the fights -- especially the brawl between Batman and Killer Crock in "In Darkness Dwells", and the chase on top of the train with Deadshot (who's he?). It also adds an extra layer of moodiness to the already brooding Dark Knight.

And if I'd never heard of anime and had just assumed that the animation was something created in the US, I probably would have thought that it was all pretty sweet just due the PG-13 rating and stylish animation. But since I am in fact an anime fan I do want to see more of that Eastern influence, even when the story originated in the West (see my previous Witchblade review). So from that perspective I was unimpressed with this DVD.

Although, for those who are really into Batman, you'll probably end up picking this up regardless of whether or not you think it'll be any good out of curiosity if nothing else. If you are, and you don't expect anything new, then it very well may be worth your while.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Viewing Journal: Kaiba (complete)

Series Overview
Bittorrent Download
(Not yet licensed in US)
Trailer

Rating:
Overall= C+
Story = C
Video = B
Audio = B

Journal
One day a man, Kaiba, wakes up in a broken room. He has no memories, only a pendant with a picture of an unknown woman. Outside of the room are grotesque floating electrical clouds of disjointed memories. Kaiba is suddenly assaulted, and escapes into space. He travels to various planets, encountering various people and retrieving his memories. Memories of an inconsistent and decaying world, of his own agony and of Niero, the woman in the picture. (Source: ANN)
The art and animation in Kaiba are unique -- like a mix of Doctor Seuss and Osamu Tezuka. The story is pretty strange -- which is not necessarily a bad thing -- but this is a little too strange. The whole setting and concept are so other-worldly that there is nothing to latch onto in terms of being able to relate to the characters or situations. Plus, the fact that the main character keeps switching bodies without ever talking makes it difficult to give a care about them because for a good portion of the show they didn't seem to have any personality.

Experiencing the story is something like reading The Little Prince in terms of it's tripped-out writing. I'm sure it's meaningful and I can appreciate that as an experiment in animated storytelling it has value; but for pure entertainment value it's hit or miss. There are times when I could understand pieces of it, but most of the time it was so abstract and/or slow-paced that it became a trial to get through.