The 2nd Dimension

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reading Journal: Trigun / Trigun Maximum (complete)

Manga Overview
Book Info

Overall= D
Story = C-
Art = D


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

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


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

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

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


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Viewing Journal: Irresponsible Captain Tylor OVA (complete)

OAV Overview
DVD Info

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


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

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


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: