The 2nd Dimension

Monday, July 26, 2010

Reading Journal: Twelve Kingdoms - The Vast Spread of the Seas

Book Overview

Overall= B+


When only an eggfruit, the kirin of the En Kingdom, Rokuta, was transported to Japan for his own protection. But he was abandoned soon after birth by his surrogate parents, left to fend for himself in the mountains. It just so happened that at the same time, a young boy in the En Kingdom named Koya was also abandoned by his own parents, after which he was raised by demon beasts. Their similar circumstances aren't the only thing to bind these two boys, though. Twenty years after their abandonment, their destinies intersect, with potentially disastrous consequences for the En Kingdom. (Source: RightStuf)

Aaaaaand here we have number five in my list of stuff that I finished months ago but am only getting around to reviewing now. This time it's the third volume in the Twelve Kingdoms saga: The Vast Spread of Seas. This one I finished around January; and although I can't remember a lot of details, I do remember that it is a fantastic entry in the book series.

While the first two volumes were introductions to the world of the Twelve Kingdoms, this volume is less interested in introducing new terms and concepts than it is in fleshing out a fully-realized, well-paced story. The first two volumes mostly focused on characters arriving at the Twelve Kingdoms and needing to adapt by learning the complexities that govern the world. And while the third volume also has characters from Earth (or "Horai") entering the new world and vice versa; the story really picks up when those characters are well-adapted to the world. As a result, it can focus more on the conflicts between people and and development of the characters.

Of course, even though the book is not introducing a lot of new concepts and the focus is more on the story; it is still maintains a certain level of World development that was part of what made the first two books so great. But it's more like this book develops previously-introduced concepts by revealing new aspects to them. We learn new things about he demons, as they adopt and raise an abandoned boy. We learn about the kirin and things like how to bind their powers. Those kinds of things give the setting depth and keep the story it fresh.

As with the other books, the characters here are complex, as are their interactions with one another. However, where the first two books were more about the main characters' internal struggles or their struggles simply trying to stay alive in the world; this one is more directly about conflicts between groups of people with different ideas about how the world should be run. But even more than that, there are interpersonal conflicts between individual people within and between those groups. As a result, this story is not quite as intensely personal as the first novel, and not as peaceful as the second. Instead, it strikes a good balance and maintains a well paced and well thought-out story.

If there was one conventional character in this book, it would be the King of En. He is the kind of character that seems laid back and irresponsible, but that ends up being just a misinterpretation of his keen leadership abilities, mental prowess, and concern for his people. But just because I've seen that type of thing before, doesn't make him any less compelling of a character. Unlike other characters of that type I've seen in anime and manga, he isn't masking his true motivations with an goofy facade. That goofiness is more of a result of his general attitude toward life, and is actually consistent with his motivations. And that consistency and honesty make him a stronger and more original character.

The one thing about having read this so long ago is that I forget some of the deeper themes and ideas interwoven into the story. For this book probably more than any of the Twelve Kingdoms book so far, I thought that certain parts of the story were supposed to symbolize different things. But now I can't remember what all of that symbolism was! There has always been the themes of working for people or working with nature, but I remember thinking of specific things that scenes were supposed to represent. So I guess my point is that this book has deep meanings, but I don't know what they are, so I guess you'll just have to trust me.

So anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say that all three of the Twelve Kingdoms book have been great so far, but also each of them has been very, very different; with each having a different tone but each also building more upon the world it takes place in. I'm looking forward to seeing what the next four book have to offer.

Related Reviews

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Viewing Journal: Bleach - The DiamondDust Rebellion

Movie Overview
DVD Info

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


A valuable artifact known as "King's Seal" is stolen by a mysterious group of people during transport in Soul Society. Hitsugaya Toushiro, the 10th division captain of Gotei 13, who is assigned to transport the seal fights the leader of the group and shortly after goes missing. After the incident, Seireitei declares Hitsugaya a traitor and orders the capture and execution of Hitsugaya. Kurosaki Ichigo refuses to believe this, and along with Matsumoto Rangiku, Kuchiki Rukia and Abarai Renji swear to uncover the real mastermind of the stolen seal, find Hitsugaya and clear his name. Meanwhile, a rogue Hitsugaya searches for the perpetrators and uncovers a dark secret regarding a long dead shinigami. (Source: ANN)

And now number four in my series of reviews of stuff that I viewed months ago but am only getting to review now. This time it's the second Bleach movie: The DiamondDust Rebellion. This one I actually had to go back and fast-forward through because I couldn't remember much of what it was about. I suppose that in itself doesn't bode well since it means it wasn't impactful enough to be memorable; but even so, as far as Bleach content created exclusively for anime (ie, not adapted from the manga) goes, it's not bad.

Having watched around 150 episodes of the TV series, I've been exposed to countless filler episodes (ie, episodes that deviate from the story of the original manga), and contrary to popular belief, a handful of those fillers are actually pretty good. The ones that are good tend to focus on analyzing and developing a specific character. In that same way, this movie is an improvement over the first movie because it narrowly focuses on developing and expanding the background of a single character: Hitsugaya Toushiro. Focusing on an existing character instead of creating a new complicated plot line involving multiple new characters helps the the story to feel more seamlessly integrated into the series instead of being tacked on. And as a result, I didn't find myself getting distracted by trying to figure out whether or not the new material would have any impact on the original story.

I have to admit that out of all the soul reapers, Hitsugaya is probably one of my least favorite. He seems to not have much of a personality, and his Zanpakto's ice techniques seem generic and cliche. But after watching this movie -- which focuses on Hitsugaya -- I'm starting to understand what his character is all about. Basically, he is supposed to be similar to Ichigo. For one, they both want to avoid getting other people involved in their problems; and two, their harsh personalities mask their deeper issues. And as a result of seeing that relationship, I'm starting to see Hitsugaya in a whole new light. And that is why I think these character-focused stories work so well. They provide the opportunity to flesh out the character by showing deeper and more detailed aspects of their personality, and a result makes them more empathetic and understandable.

The animation for this movie was -- as, by definition, you would expect from a movie -- theatrical quality. I art was detailed and clean, and the animation was fluid. I also liked that the art was a darker and/or monochromatic than the TV show usually is, with more scenes at night or on cloudy days or in the fog or whatever. I really enjoyed it and appreciated how it set a moodier atmosphere.

So overall, I would recommend this movie to Bleach fans, and especially Hitsugaya fans. As original anime goes, this one holds its own as a strong and enjoyable story.

Related Reviews:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Awesome Clips: Hellsing OAV 7 - Seras rages


From Hellsing OAV (aka. Hellsing Ultimate) episode 7. Who needs Alucard? As far as I'm concerned, this makes Seras the new star of the show... if for no other reason than her demonstration of the all-time best method for stopping someone from punching you in the face...

Viewing Journal: Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info

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


Balsa the spearwoman is a wandering warrior, who takes on the task of saving lives, in atonement for a past sin. On her journey, she happens to save a prince, and is tasked with becoming his bodyguard. And he is going to need one, for his own father, the emperor, wants him dead. (Source: ANN)
And now third in my series of anime that I watched months ago is the famously under-appreciated Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit. I watched this one on Adult Swim back when it had broadcast, then canceled, then restarted the series, and finally finishing it back in December 2009.

I say that this show is “famously under-appreciated” because most reviews that I have seen has praised it, but has also said that nobody is watching it. Even Adult Swim canceled its run half-way through presumably due to poor ratings. And I think it’s worthwhile trying to understand why people don’t watch it when it is so good.

I think one of the main reasons people love it in terms of both its art and its story is the same reason that people don’t watch it: its level of detail. This show has an intricate story, deep characters, and lush art; but the time it spends showing these things to the audience means that there is less action and slower pacing.

In terms of the characters, that means that they will analyze and discuss their choices before taking action. That means there are conversation about politics and culture and religion, as well as analyzing the motivations of other characters. I am guessing that a lot of viewers would have no patience for this and would prefer characters to use action to solve their problems. But for others, myself included, the detail helps to maintain the pace because you can understand the setting and the characters’ motivations better and are not constantly distracted by thinking “why did they do that?” or “why didn’t they just do this instead of that?” You get a deeper understanding of the characters and their actions, and as a result makes the story more engrossing.

Another criticism that I’ve heard about Moribito -- and other Kamiyama-directed shows -- is that the characters are dry and don’t show enough emotion. And maybe you could provide an argument supporting the latter, but I seriously contend the former. Instead of “dry” I would say that they are “restrained.” Meaning that there is emotion, but since these characters are so mentally strong, they either choose not to show it or don't show it because of the situation or because of the culture that they live in. And this makes the times when they do show that emotion all that much more earnest, believable, and significant.

The mental resilience of the characters may also put off some viewers. By that I mean that many anime shows include at least one character who is unsure of him or herself or has some vulnerability that they have to learn to overcome. The characters in Morbito have vulnerabilities as well, but it takes time for the audience to discover them. And in the meantime, all the main characters seem strong-minded and reasonable, which may make them harder to sympathize with.

Also, the emotion of the characters is more subtle than you find in much anime where characters have intensely exaggerated reactions and emotions whether they be romantic or violent. Balsa is a prime example of this subtle approach. Her main motivation appears to be to save the eight lives to make up for something that happened in her past, and the last of those lives is the prince Chagum. But she insists on not just protecting his life, but also keeping him mentally and emotionally safe. And in doing so she acts both as a gentle mother and a stern strong father-figure. When she fights, it is for a specific purpose relating to protecting someone, and not out of anger. And almost all characters in this show offer the same level of complexity and subtlety making them more interesting to watch.

One thing that may put some people off is the fact that there are not really any good guys or bad guys. There are just people with different goals and a series of different understandings of the facts that cause the conflicts in the story. But there is no real dichotomy of good and evil since all the characters are trying to act for what they think is the best for everyone. And while this makes for fantastic characterization, it makes it hard for those who want to know who exactly to root for and who to root against.

The setting of the story is also complex and believable. This is a fantasy story, but it feels more real than the usual fantasy. The closest thing I could compare it to would be Twelve Kingdoms, with that level of detail and that level to which the fantasy elements are intertwined with the world and its culture. The characters in Moribito are not surprised to when they see something magical happen – at least the magic itself is not surprising, even if the significance or impact of the magic is. In fact the word “magic” is not really an accurate term and I don’t think it’s really ever used in the show. The characters simply accept that the world is the way it is. Like we see a tree and don’t question why it’s there; the characters in Moribito accept things like spirits existing in an alternate world because it is a factual part of their history and ingrained in their culture.

On the flip-side, the setting also may put off some viewers. Moribito is a fantasy, but one that is very eastern in appearance and takes place in it’s own self-contained world without any plot-connections to our own world. So the concepts and elements are not as familiar to western audiences, and as a result, there is little to relate to.

For those who love the show – or at least for myself – the unfamiliarity of the setting and the strength of the characters are part of what makes the show so great. As the story progresses and we learn more details about the world, it becomes more engrossing. The fact that the setting is something new and that we learn new things about it as the story progresses is stimulating.

And for me the strength of the characters is more refreshing than it is off-putting. I can enjoy characters who gain confidence throughout a story, but it is also enjoyable to see strong, competent characters react to one another; and then as the story progresses, discover their vulnerabilities. It makes any changes that they go through that much more impressive.

Of course the visuals in this story are downright incredible. This was animated by Production IG, the studio behind Ghost in the Shell. And keeping in line with the story, the visuals are also detailed and realistic. But you won’t see speed lines or exaggerated action in the animation either. The character movements are very grounded in reality, but still beautiful to watch. But the animation is always in service of the story. When there was a fight scene, there was always a purpose behind it in terms of the character motivations. When there was an action scene I was more focused on why the characters were fighting more than I was getting caught up in the action of the fight itself. That’s not to say that the animation was not stellar, it’s just that – like a good soundtrack – the animation enhanced the story instead of defining it.

At any rate, I’ll wrap of this review (seeing as how this is probably the longest and most convoluted one I’ve ever written) by adding my voice to the others who have said that this show is vastly under-appreciated and deserves more recognition. It’s a smart story with strong characters and beautiful animation. And I would say that it’s probably one of the best shows I’ve seen.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Awesome Clips: Hellsing OAV 6 ending credits

Purely for the sake of awesomeness, I submit to you the ending credits of the Hellsing OAV (aka Hellsing Ultimate) episode 6. There are not really any spoilers here, so if you have not seen the whole show or previous episodes, no need to worry. The song here is Magnolia by Suilen.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Viewing Journal: L Change the World

Movie Overview
DVD Info

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


After writing his own name in the Death Note in order to beat Light Yagami, L now has only 28 days before he dies of a heart attack. But L can't call it quits yet. Sent by F, L receives a mathematical genius child, whom witnessed his home village destroyed by terrorists armed with a deadly virus. Now, L must battle K and her group of terrorists, as they attempt to develop an antidote to save themselves before they release the deadly virus on the world. With the help of Maki, a girl who's father killed himself stopping the terrorists, and Sugura, a FBI agent looking for the Death Note, L must not only fight the terrorists, but also against the clock, ticking down on his life. (Source: ANN)

And now for second title in my list of stuff that I watched months ago but am only getting around to reviewing now: L Change the World. This is the follow-up to the two previous Death Note live-action movies and does not correspond to anything in the manga or anime. It tells the story of master detective L who, at the end of the second movie, wrote his own name in the Death Note (which, in case you've never been exposed to Death Note before, is a notebook in which anyone who's name is written will die) in order to defeat Light Yagami. As a result he only has 28 days to live; but when L finds out about a terrorist plot to use a deadly virus to eradicate humanity, he has to dedicate those final days to saving the world.

Putting aside the connection the movie has with the Death Note franchise; even as a standalone film, this movie is trite and cliche and doesn't take advantage of its potential. Eco-terrorists intend to spread a deadly virus throughout the world -- while saving the antidote for themselves -- and the only one who can stop them is L. It sounds more like a bad James Bond film than anything from Death Note. The movie's title "L Change the World" seems to imply that L causes humanity to go through some epic transformation as his last act in the world; but nothing of the sort happens. And it could have been an epic, especially given that L had all of the genius children at the Whammy House at his disposal. But, even though some of the Whammy House children are involved, their genius isn't used to any great extent. And the whole movie is to be counting down to L's death, so it would have been great if he would have been fighting up until the minute he died, and maybe his death would somehow be the thing that defeated the villains. But instead he defeats the villains with a good couple of days to spare, which totally deflates the tension. So by the conclusion, I found myself anxious to just get to L's death already.

Even though this is a Death Note movie, it has none of the qualities that made the original story so great. I love the manga, anime, and even the first two movies' story because there are two (or sometimes more) strong, intelligent characters who would be constantly trying to out-think one another in order to get the upper hand. There is a lot of strategy involved that leads to exciting and surprising plot twists. But in this movie, even though the main villain is a genius from Whammy House, she does not do anything strategy-wise to indicate that she is any smarter than the average villain.

In fact, neither does L; and that is what really makes this movie sink. L doesn't show any of his genius world-renown detective skills here. The movie is just him chasing after people and using his physical resources to solve the crime, not his intelligence. Instead, the story tries to make up for this lack of personality by pushing his love of sweets and his hunched over posture as his sole personality traits.

Overall, it is pretty blatantly obvious that this is purely an attempt to milk a little more money out of the Death Note name, and a very lazy attempt at that. The writers did little more than take the L character, strip him of everything that made him a engaging and intelligent character, amp up his superficial traits, and then drop him in a cliche destroy-the-world plot. So don't be duped into watching this because you want to be a Death Note completist, since there is little here other than the main character's name that makes this a Death Note story, and nothing that makes it worth watching for anyone who is not familiar with the original story.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Okay, so I lied...

FMA - BrotherhoodSo I said that I wouldn't watch any new anime until I finished my backlog of reviews; but with the series coming to an end, I couldn't help but watch the penultimate episodes 62 and 63 of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood on Funimation's website. And holy crap am I glad I did. Friggin' episodes actually made me cry -- like actual tears. And not just a few either.

So I guess FMA: Brotherhood has officially replaced Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex as my favorite anime of all time. Any show that can actually elicit bodily fluid (from the eyes) can't be called any less.

Review to come after I finish that frigging backlog...

[Edit] FYI.. There's a movie coming too.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Viewing Journal: Freedom (complete)

OAV Overview
DVD Info

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


In the year 2041, mankind created their first space colony on the moon. But after a freak cataclysm devastated human civilization on Earth, the republic of the moon built a domed megalopolis known as Eden. Now in the year 2267, a boy called Takeru spends his time engaging in hover-craft races against rival street gangs, unaware that he is about to embark in the journey of unearthing Eden's origin. (Source: ANN)

So it's been like seven months since I last reviewed anything. That's not to say that I haven't been watching anime in that time, it's just that I have either had trouble trying to figure out how to review things or simply put it off -- but NO MORE! I have a backlog of six or seven shows/movies/manga/books that I want to write about, so I have vowed that I will not watch anything new until I have completed this batch of reviews. Of course, it has been a while since I actually watching these shows, so I'll have to rely on the few notes I took and my unreliable memory. As a result, the next few viewing journal entries may either be brief or vague or downright inaccurate. But at least I'll have them done, right? Anyway, here we go...

The first series on my list -- which I saw I think back in December 2009 or January 2010 -- is Freedom. This is a 6-episode OVA about a teenager named Takeru who lives a restricted life in a enclosed metropolis on the moon...that is until he finds a photo of a girl which was supposedly sent from the long-thought-uninhabitable Earth. Takeru becomes madly infatuated with this girl and dedicates himself to traveling to Earth to meet her. Of course, first he has to find a means of getting to Earth, not to mention getting past the Moon's governing council which is intent on hiding the truth about Earth from the citizenry.

I've always liked stories about teenagers challenging societies and the governments that run them. When I was younger, I liked the idea that a kid can have a huge impact on the world and do things that adults can't. These days it has more to do with a fondness for that youthful optimism where nothing is impossible. Takeru embodies that optimism coupled with tenacity and naive passion, and these qualities make him ignore both pragmatic and paranoid opposition and push him to follow his new-found dream. Overall, his passion is really what makes this anime for me.

Other than that, the sci-fi setting is also impressive. It isn't that the technology is believable so much as it is detailed and expansive. Things like the mechanical details of the motor bikes, and practical considerations like the fact that the government imposes a curfew in order to conserve energy -- all make the storyline seem more real and engrossing.

Of course, the biggest selling point for this show is the animation. It is computer animated, but more like cell-shade animation or something similar. It is still 2-D but you can tell from the fluidity of the characters and the way that they move that it is not hand-drawn. And even though the characters' movements occasionally appear unnaturally stiff, 98% of the time they move naturally and have dynamic facial expressions -- unlike most other computer-animated shows I've seen. I think part of that is due to the Katsushiro Otomo's (Akira) character designs. He does not use the traditional huge-eyed anime characters. His art style is simple, clean, and realistic in terms of character proportions. Plus, unlike a lot of other anime, his character designs don't shift in their art style for comedic or dramatic effect and their facial expressions are not as exaggerated. So since his designs are so solid and consistent, they animate well with computers -- which, by their nature, are not as spontaneous or abstract as hand-drawn animation.

The music is also pretty good. Though honestly I can't remember much of anything other than the opening song, which was done by the same singer who did "Beautiful World" from the Evangelion 1.0 movie -- Utada Hikaru.

Of course, this isn't all sunshine and roses, as there are a few things that bothered me about this show. For instance, although Takeru was a great character and I enjoyed watching youthful passion, none of the other characters were as strong and were mostly uninteresting and passionless cliches. For example, Takeru's friend Bizmarck was the whiny one in the cast and was always telling Takeru that his plans wouldn't work. I can understand his role as an antagonist to the story, but the fact that he seemed to have no personality other than to complain really grated on my nerves after a while.

Also, the story often does a great job of creating a sense of realism by bringing up practical concerns, but then throws those concerns out the window the minute they got in the way of the the story's progression. For instance, when Takeru and Bizmarch finally get to Earth, they need to find this girl that Takeru loves. And at first the story seems to recognize the fact that searching an entire planet for one person is a near impossible task for two kids on a motor bike. But almost as soon as as the characters recognize this fact, they are given a series conveniences that allow them to find her. I'm not sure if you would call that deux ex machina, but regardless it seems like a cheap way for the writers to solve a narrative snag.

Another thing that bothered me about the story which was the fact that the moon's council had told its people that the earth was uninhabitable due to a nuclear fallout from years earlier (or something -- I can't remember exactly). But of course, Takeru discovers that the Earth is alive and well once he sees it in the moon's sky. Now putting aside the fact that no one bothered to look at the earth in the sky before this; the story never tells what actually did happen to the Earth? Was there a nuclear war or not? If so, was the earth ever not inhabitable? If so, how did people survive there? Those seemed like major plot points that could have helped make the story more believable, but were never properly explained.

Of course, you can't talk about this show without mentioning the blaring Ramen Cup Noodle logos blatantly splattered in every episode. The show I think was actually created as an advertisement for Cup Noodle, so it's understandable. But the logo is so blatant and out-of-place that it seems like more like a running-gag than an advertisement. But really you only see it once or twice briefly in each episode, so it doesn't interfere with the story too much.

So anyway, that's Freedom. It's worth watching if you can pick it up cheap on Amazon or eBay. I remember when it first came out there was a huge stink about the fact that each DVD cost like $50 for one episode-per-disc. But now I think you can get the whole collection for less than that. So if you have the time, I think this one is worth watching.