Monday, December 31, 2007

Brilig and Slithy: A look at Galaxy Express 999 and Seirei no Moribito

Sorry that I've been absent for the last week or so, real life decided to rear its ugly head. I should be up and have my review all set by the end of the week. But that's not what this post is about.

I do have a confession to make though. I broke down and got BitTorrent, mostly because of iknight's post on Seirei no Moribito. Since I don't know if it'll ever get released here, I decided to download it. But then I got a great idea, I've wanted to watch Galaxy Express 999 since I first heard about it., so I found a torrent and downloaded that too. Now watching the two series at the same time leads to some interesting juxtapositions.

The thing is that they're both fantasies. Sure, you could say that 999 is really a space opera, but in the end the space opera is a lot closer to fantasy then it is to hard sci-fi. Let's face it, there are points where the kid rides around with the window open... in space... without getting sucked out. Unless we're talking about 50s pulp science fiction that stuff doesn't happen. (Unless you’re in Matsumoto land).

Now the defining characteristic about fantasy is the world. Generally it's one of the things that really pulls me into a good fantasy story - and I think both of these worlds work for completely different reasons.

The world of Seirei no Moribito is a pretty standard, somewhat Asian fantasy setting. By standard, I mean everything follows a set of rules. Now this ranges from the most basic (gravity works) to the most fantastic (there is a spirit world that has an effect on the 'real' world.) Granted, the world isn't quite as interactive as I could hope for, but overall it's an expected world. The average viewer isn't going to be jarred because things suddenly change. Chagum doesn't suddenly turn out to be as good of a fighter as Balsa. Even Balsa needed to practice to get as good as she is.

In fact, it's hard to really go on about it, because it is expected. Fantasy stories create a world, and the rules of that world remain consistent throughout the story.

But Galaxy Express 999 goes in the completely opposite direction. There are no hard and fast rules. For those people who aren't familiar with the series, the idea is that there is a boy - Tetsuro - who is trying to get to a planet where they give mechanical bodies away for free. So he can become a cyborg. He's accompanied by Maetel, a mysterious woman. (I kind of wish I could add in the mysterious sound effect there.)

In fact, there are only two rules in the whole of the show. The first one I'll call the rule of relationship. Basically, if there is a related item or event that should occur because of the setting then it will occur, no matter how ridiculous it might seem. For instance, they establish pretty early on that the 999 is run by an "ancient alien technology" (cue mysterious sound effect), which is cool. I mean the space train has to be run by something. So you'd figure that if it's run by an "ancient alien technology" that there'd be some really neat power source. Perhaps they've found a way to move away from fossil fuels and maybe it's running on nuclear power or something. So what does the space train run on?

Coal.

Yes that's right, coal. Because of course a steam train would run on coal. I mean that makes perfect sense. There are a lot of those moments, like the fact that Tetsuro rides around with the window open... in space... and his hair gets ruffled by the wind. I mean WTF? But in the end, it's because these things would be expected if you're riding a steam train on earth. So since they're related the space train would have to run on coal.

The second rule is the rule of dramatic expediency. Pretty early on the series establishes that cyborgs are close to indestructible. And Tetsuro is just a normal flesh and blood human. He doesn't have anything that makes him special, besides the fact that he's a Matsumoto hero, which gives him special powers. But only when it serves the story.

Still early in the series, Tetsuro gets into a fight with some cyborgs in which he wastes them all. Now there's really isn't any time wasted explaining how a twelve-year-old kid can suddenly handle a gun well enough to kill, but I was okay with it. But then when the last cyborg is begging for his life, he destroys its head with the butt of the rifle.

And what's worse is that he does it in one swing. Why? Because it's dramatically expedient to do so. He doesn't need to train, or be enhanced to be super strong. And in fact later on he can't even break out of the grasp of another cyborg because again, it's dramatically expedient.

But all of that said, the series works. I know, I just spent a whole bunch of time punching holes in it, but it really does work. Now, I'll admit. I'm a bit of a Matsumoto fan. Not to the level of saying that his stuff is the best stuff and no one's ever done better stuff, but mostly to the point where I'll forgive him his more egregious sins.

But it's more than that- it's the fact that he doesn't try to explain himself. We don't get long drawn out reasons why there's coal on the space train. Either you accept that there's coal there, or you don't. We never find out why Tetsuro has super powers occasionally. We either accept it or we don't.

That's what makes the show work. Is the fact that it doesn't try to justify itself. It just throws out these ridiculous situations and says, "Well there it is." In fact, the only way I can think to describe it is - what if Lewis Carroll wrote space opera?

And I suppose that's enough for me to enjoy the series.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A tale of two studios: Bones and Gonzo - An analysis

For me, it really is the best of times and the worst of times. It isn't Madhouse or manglobe or even Production I.G. that epitomize anime for me. I realize that they're all good production companies, but when I pick up one of their boxes I don't know what I'm going to get. Each of their series are too divergent from each other. I don't see any central vision to their stories. No similarities between their series. They are all good studios, but to me there are only two studios that will make me buy a series without thinking about it: Bones and Gonzo.

The funny thing is that no two studios could be more disimiliar. Bones focuses on telling an intricate story, revolving around a central theme or two. The characters are all rich and tend to walk on that moral tightrope between good and evil. I've never watched a Bones series with a true villian. Even Darcia at his most insane is completely understandable in Wolf's Rain. The Peacekeepers in Scrapped Princess defend their positions with a cold logic that is both understandable and actually empathetic.

The animation and artwork seems to focus on this. Generally the characters remain central to the story. It's rare that we get and epic scene of ships approaching each other in a Bones series. Even in the establishing shots, we see the characters moving through the landscape, whether it's a city street or a snowy wasteland. Armies never stand face to face, milling over a muddy hillside, instead we see the generals agonizing over their decisions, hoping that they were the right ones. No matter how epic the series should be, the directors will find a way to make it intensely personal.

Of course, that's why Bones sucks at epics. Their style simply can't capture the vastness of the struggle. It's one of the reasons why Scrapped Princess was good but not great. Instead of focusing on this monumental struggle between man and their alien occupiers, it shows that struggle through Shannon and CZ. The war is too personalized to really feel that the stakes are high enough for it to be truly epic.

Gonzo on the other hand, up and to recently, could do an epic like no other. Mostly it's due to how beautiful their animation is. I still get chills thinking about Vincent standing on the bridge of the Urbanis as it's pinned to Exile. The snow blowing in as he shouts up at the Sylvana to "give them hell." The villians are truly atrocious. The good guys may be flawed, but are generally noble and heroic (or at least fighting on the side of good and right).

Even their more personal shows, like Gantz, Kiddy Grade and even Shana manage to capture that sense of epic so well that it causes a visceral response in me. The heroes seem like they're in real danger. The stakes seem like they could be the end of the world. Even the establishing shots in The Count of Monte Cristo move away from the main characters, showing the grand vistas and the true immensity of it all. They're more inclined to show the thousands of soliders on the muddy hill shuffling around rather than the generals. They will show dozens of ships squaring off, rather than one or two piloted by a particular character.

But even a show like Last Exile has soft spots when it comes to characters. In most Gonzo shows, the characters tend to be more flat. They're pretty divided into good and evil. Even a show like Gantz, with its social commentary, is a show about epic characters doing epic things.

The problem is that one of them knows what they're good at and the other studio doesn't. Bones seems to always comes out with projects that are suited for their style. Even Scrapped Princess fits their style in a way, since the majority of the story focuses on Pacifica, Shannon and Raquel's journey rather than any epic war. There are a few exceptions like Mars Daybreak, but generally they produce solid character driven shows.

But for Gonzo, they seem to be forgetting what makes them good (epic shows about epic people) and trying to diversify. The problem is that the work comes out uneven. Granted both Speed Grapher and Solty Rei had their high points and overall were good series. But they weren't as good as they could have been.

On top of that, Gonzo seems to be losing their edge when it comes to artwork. While some of their shows are still good, a lot more of them are just okay and a few of them are really bad. I don't know if their losing their talent pool, or if they just have been bringing in new directors. But it seems like they're becoming just another studio.

And if you'll pardon another literary reference, is enough to try my soul.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Beating the horse dead, Anime Network Online needs to hurry up.

Okay, so I don't know if it's just me. But for the second night running, the Anime Network Online site has been down. Now I didn't have any problems when I used it during the day, so I don't know what's up. But they seem to be getting really bogged down during PrimeTime. Or is it just me?

It bugs me because I want to support the service. But if the service isn't going to work consistently... well I don't know why I'd waste my time watching the same old ads for the 15th time. It wouldn't be so bad if they had some sort of report about an interruption in the service. But nope. No dice.

Are any of the other NA viewers out there having problems during 8 to midnight EST time?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Anime Bloggers Unite! Strange Warnings, The Bah Humbug Spirit and Pedantic Posts abound

Okay so I haven't picked out a rotation for this, but for the people who read this blog regularly, you know the deal already. I'm going to pick out some posts I thought were good and not so good and give my opinion. And I'm probably going to pick up some hate today, but it's all good.

So on with the fun.

With all the hub-bub and reviews of the new Anime Network player, a geek by any other name had one of the freshest comments I've seen. That the TOS for the player states that you have to 18 to use it. While I understand that it's a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo to protect ADV from liability, I have to agree with her. With the demographics for anime skewing younger, making it against the rules to use the player does seem a bit silly.

And on the silly side of things, Furu Anime Panikku had another fun blog post about whether he would really use the merchandise that he bought. Granted, the stuff he has kind of makes me jealous. Although I really want a TERRA satchel. That's all I want. And I would so use it. Why? Why can't I have that?

And on the why side of things, I came across a couple of pedantic posts that might interest the more culturally inclined. Reverse Theives did one on the differences between popular anime in Japan and popular anime in America. Fair warning, skip the intro. It's really dry reading, and come on, we watch ANIME. I think we realize that there are cultural differences. Also I think the later part is a bit skewed toward the traditional college age anime fan, rather than what has been really popular in anime. Unless you think Pokemon had a dark side? Perhaps that lost episode about the team Rocket bloodbath.

The Anime Blog had an interesting post on what Christmas means in Japan. The only problem is that it starts with a tongue-in-cheek rendition of what Christmas means in America. I could do an entire blog post about how the counterculture seems to be invading my nerdspace. But I'll leave it at this - I like Christmas in America. I like the crass commercialism of it. I like Christmas lights. I like the madness at the mall as I dash through the crowds trying to find the perfect present. I like the idea of sticking a dead tree in my living room and stringing lights and tinsel on it. I even like tinny renditions of Carols through department store speakers. So leave my holiday alone and go pick on Easter or something.

Last but certainly not least, That's Not Kanon had a thought-provoking post about how people associate themselves with particular anime characters. Seriously, I'd love to be Alex Rowe, hell I'd settle for Takuto Kanashiro (from Argentosoma), but I'd probably have to settle for being Krillen.

Anyways, that's all the interesting stuff I saw in the anime blogosphere (that I don't already subscribe to). So I'll leave you with two posts about women, both real and plastic.

And if you want to send some hate my way, leave a comment or email iniksbane@gmail.com.

In My View: On Classic and Popular Anime

Cameron's first rule of Classic Anime: A series will be deemed a classic based on the popularity of the show among the elite when it was released.
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So I've seen a lot of talk around the blogs about what type of anime is cool or good or defines a person as an otaku rather than just a casual viewer. I really wanted to write a post about it, but I couldn't really focus on it. Honestly, it's reminded me a lot of the whole new vs. old debate. And if there's one thing I've learned about anime "classics" much like other classics, generally it's based on what a select group of people think about a series at the time it was released.
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Take a Nadia: The Secret of the Blue Water for instance, the elite seem to think that it's a classic. Hell even Bamboo Dong over on ANN supported the show and generally I agree with her. But, it's a horrible, horrible show. It's long. It's tedious. The characters are okay, but they're pretty predictable. The plot is tired after about ten episodes and decides to take a long nap. The world is pretty cliche (Come on, it's Atlantis?).
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In fact, the only thing the show is good for is giving it the MST3K treatment. And even at that you need to have a bunch of friends to do it with. And I'm not even going mention the quality of the animation. They won't give it up though, mostly because of another trend:
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Cameron's Second Law of Classic Anime (The Persistence Effect): A series or movie will persist to be a "classic" as long as the majority of the elite consider it a classic.
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To be fair, I do like reading a lot of the columns and listening to the podcasts of the elites. Which means that they have the ability to continue to spread their gospel of what is a classic and what isn't a classic. The problem is that once a series enters the Canon it can't get shaken out.
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Mostly, I think it's a factor of an emotional reaction. These were the series that the top dogs watched way back when and that got them into anime in the first place. So they're associated with a happier time, back when they were introduced to anime. So I have some sympathy towards their situation. But, not much.
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Although it's interesting to note that there's another effect that goes on with "classics".
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Cameron's Third Law of Anime Classics (The Degradation Effect): Each new generation of fans will reassess or dismiss classics.
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With as much new stuff that is coming out year after year, those classics are starting to slowly lose their hold. Mostly because I think a new generation of elite is starting to find their way onto the Internet. Granted, I don't think enough time has really passed to supplant the current set, but I have started to see it happen.
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Sure there are classics that deserve to be classics, but there are so many more that don't. In fact, I would even dare to say that a solid majority of the classics out there aren't really all that hot.
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Although this has lead to another phenomenon that I've started to hear about, which is a culture clash between older fans and newer fans. Not so much from the newer fans side of things, but more from the older fans who don't understand why people would like X show more than they like the classics. In a lot of ways, they can't see past their own emotional opinion to really get at whether or not their favorites really are good shows. Or were they just good at the time.
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Agree or disagree? Leave a comment or e-mail iniksbane@gmail.com.

Oh ADV, why do you taunt me so?

So when I heard about Anime Network putting up the first episode of Tengen Toppan Gurren Lagann, I was stoked. Seriously, this is what the anime blogs and the ANN forums have clamored about for the last few months. Now it isn't necessarily as quick as it needs to be to eliminate the need for fansubs, but it's a step in the right direction. Moe Check!, Anime Diet and The Anime Almanac all wrote good posts on it and I'd just be repeating them.

In fact I was so stoked that I NEEDED to see it right then. After hearing how great this series was, I wanted to understand what it meant to have a drill that pierced the heavens. Doesn't everyone want to be in on the joke?

What follows is a transcript of what happened:

12:00 AM - Ooooo. Neat. I can finally see what all this hype is about. First go to ANN - and there's that banner. Hell, they've turned their entire front page into an ad for the Anime Network, which is nice because then I don't have to sort through their news to find the article with the link. All I need to do is click and... there. And it's right there on the front page, all I need to do is hit the banner. It says I need Flash 9 to run this, I don't think it's a problem. Click. And there we are coming into ADV land, time to pull up Gurren Lagann and just watch it. It all seems pretty simple.

12:10 AM - So the first ad, I see is for a home loan? Um... yeah. How come I don't think that's your target audience there, guys? Who do you think watches anime? The nine to five, shirt and tie crowd?

Granted, it's for one of those, "Sure, we'll give you money for nothing. Except that if you miss a payment you're interest rate is going to go up to a million percent. Oh you didn't see that, it's right there in the fine print." companies.

12:11 AM - Okay, that exercise in silliness is done. Now for the show.

12:12 AM - I'm waiting.

12:13 AM - I'm still waiting.

12:14 AM - Um, yeah. I'm going to get coffee.

12:16 AM - Okay, so I'm done with this. I'm going to shut this puppy down and try to reboot Internet Explorer. I get the oh-so-helpful box of death from Vista asking me whether I want to A) Close the program. B) Shove a banana up my butt and dance around like a monkey. or C) Wait until the ice caps melt and use the salt water to channel the signal directly to my brain. I choose A. (Okay so I almost made a Pokemon crack right there, but I figured that it would be a little too groan inspiring.)

12:18 AM - Starting up IE again. I go through all the same steps again. Pull up the Anime Network's screen and wait. Okay so another ad, it's one of those bizzarro ANN ads. Sorry to break it to you guys, the fastest doesn't mean the best. But I've already done my ANN rant. I'm not going to talk about it any more.

12:20 AM - So I'm still waiting. As I'm waiting, I notice there's an error symbol down in the corner of the window. Hrm... I wonder if I don't really have Flash 9. It's possible. I mean the computer isn't a year old yet, but those folks over at Adobe could have churned out a new version by now.

12:25 AM - I go to the Flash Site, and dance around the pages. Hrm... well, it says I've got Flash 9. Maybe I just don't have the latest version. So, I download it and head back to the Anime Network page.

12:28 AM - Now, it's giving me a pop-up window. I'm getting excited, maybe I'm going to finally get to see the show. I'm trembling with anticipation. Okay, so maybe I'm not trembling, but I'm starting to get stoked. Why? Because I want to drill my way into the heavens. Oh yes. I'm started to be able to find the show without even trying. I pull it up and sit through another ad. This time for UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie. I still kind of want to see that show... except that it looks kind of stupid, oh wait, that's done and here we go!

12:29 AM - Here we go?

12:30 AM - We're going any time now?

12:31 AM - Okay guys, this is starting to get ridiculous. I know that this thing works. I saw three, count them, three blog posts reviewing this player. But do I get to see the show? No, of course not. And why not? I'm starting to think ADV has honed in on my computer and is denying me this show on purpose. I can imagine John Ledford has sent out a memo saying, "Yeah, everyone else in America and Canada can watch this show, but you see that guy over in Maryland, I think his name is Cameron or something. Well he can't watch it. Why? Did you just ask me why? To the re-education camps with you!"

Just because I'm paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get me.

12:40 - After not only trying to load Gurren Lagann, but also another random show. I'm pretty sure it isn't going to work for me. So I'm left with only one recourse - to restart my computer. I hate doing it because it always takes forever to restart, but I WILL SEE GURREN LAGANN TONIGHT!

12:50 AM - After a cigarette break, I come back to my computer. This time, yes this time, I will have a heavenly drill that will piece the ceiling that ADV has put above me. Oh I'm going to be on team Lagann that's for certain.

12:55 AM - I'm denied yet again.

1:00 AM - I go onto Netflix and watch an old episode of Saiyuki. Yeah... it sucks, but at least I get to watch it.

Epilogue - I did get the player to work this morning. But there isn't a FAQ for the player. There's no way to troubleshoot it. In fact, if it doesn't work then evidently you're screwed and that's that.

Or John Ledford really does have a crystal ball and is gunning for me. I mean who knows. Maybe I did something to him in a previous life.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Anime Bloggers Unite! Haruhi, Fan Art, Meta Meta and All time favorite series

So I thought I'd do something a bit different. My poll is almost up, and it looks like most people who visit this Site are too ambivalent to vote. But for the majority of people who aren't, they'd like to see me do critique and analysis on blogs.

Well as part of that I thought I'd step out of my shell a bit and offer up some stuff that I came across on AnimeNano. And to show that I'm not a copycat, I'm actually going to add my own thoughts.

Tea Shop Beloved - Defloned talked about the plethora of favorite series that people seem to list. Especially when it comes to all-time favorite series. This post is close to my heart. I'm still struggling with how to define an all-time favorite series. And why, some series that have some problems are on my all-time favs list, but some series with problems aren't.

But I do agree with Defloned. There isn't any reason to have more than 20 all-time favorite series. It's a sign that people aren't really being serious with themselves. They confuse an initial emotional reaction with a series really being good. I do think the initial reaction is important, but I think it's a question of how long a series haunts you after watching it. Do you find yourself thinking about what the symbolism in Wolf's Rain could mean, or that stupid picture in RahXephon. Good lord. That's going to drive me crazy for the rest of my days.

To be fair, it's in part a reaction to a misconception I've heard floating around lately. That an enjoyable series must be great or else it isn't good. Why can't someone just enjoy a series? It is entertainment after all.

The Ramblings of Dark Mirage

So I don't read DarkMirage. I know I should, but it's kind of like picking up the DaVinci Code. Everyone tells you it's great, but because they tell you it's great you don't want to read it. Although I did think this blog post was interesting. Granted, I don't know jack or shit about what he's talking about, but I did think the part about the high price of the dojinshi was interesting. Mostly because it's part of a larger phenomenon, I'm seeing lately - so I'm going to coin a term here: The "I did this" argument.

I've heard this in the fansub debate too. The idea that X people did all this work and should get paid for it, even though they didn't create anything. It's a little more substantial in the fansub argument, but not by much. Granted, I don't draw and I don't do translations, but I wouldn't expect people to pay me more than the cost of materials to make a copy of something that someone else did. That tends to be why I support indie artists at the Artist's Alley. Rather than getting a picture of Ruroni Kenshin dressed up in TERRA gear. Ew... that's a bad thought.

On to the next one.

Furu Anime Panikku - This one was mostly a self-reflective post about the blog. But what I noticed here was an idea about different types of blogs - mostly episode recap blogs. Granted, I don't really read episode recaps myself, mostly because I don't usually watch fansubs. (Except for Blood +, damn you Sony for not making a R1 release yet.)

I do think this is an interesting social phenomenon that we tend to gravitate toward a certain type of blog. Whether it's personal thoughts and reflections, or analysis. To be fair, I do it myself. I tend to frequent the same blogs again and again. And in all honesty, those are the blogs that I try to emulate here with mixed results.

But I do think episode recap blogs do have a place in the anime blogging community. Let's face it, they're in some ways the ultimate expressions of fandom. They're talking about what they're watching and offering up their opinions. In some ways they're the primer for the hype that starts about a series.

And speaking of hype (how'd you like that transition), HappySoda wrote an pretty standard review about Bandai's release of Haruhi. What caught me here was a reference to what I like to call: the curmudgeon-hype formula. The amount of hype a series gets is inversely proportional to how much a curmudgeon will like a series.

Last but definitely not least, the Anime Blogging Collective has launched a retrospective on the last year of anime called the 12 days of Christmas. Seriously, I don't know how many of these guys there are, but check out What is eternity doing tonight?, The Animachronism (who has one of the best titles for a blog ever) and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?! along with at least one post by AnimeOtaku - all of which wrote some awesome posts. Well they always write awesome posts. (I subscribe to all of these blogs) EDIT: AnimeOtaku is not part of the collective, but he did do one post for the project.

And Anime Sophist is having a month of El-Hazard, which is neat too. Considering it was one of those shows I watched way back when. Granted, I still haven't seen the last episode of the OVA, but still he writes a mean review. (I subscribe to this one too.)

Okay, so if you think I missed something, or you'd like to see some more just leave a comment or email me at iniksbane@gmail.com. Also, if you're interested in participating in the blog in review project, please send me an e-mail. I will be starting next week if at all possible.

And as always, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Random Stuff - Paradise Kiss, Geneon and I totally go fanboy

Warning: Fanboy moment coming up.

OMG!!!! I TOTALLY LOVE PARADISE KISS! GO WATCH THIS SHOW NOW!

Whew, I'm glad I got that out of my system. When I got this series, I was skeptical about how much I'd like this show. It's got two things I could really care less about: fashion and really pretty people. On top of that, it's a 12 episode series, which usually means that at best it'll be good, but not great.

And it isn't that the show doesn't have it's problems. Besides Yukari, most of the other characters don't really get the development that they really deserve. And even with the depth that's hinted at to them, mostly they really don't get enough screen time to really shine. On the same note, the subplots in the series are really pretty stunted and get shuffled through too quickly.

But this show does two things, I rarely see in anime (or in most fiction). First it has characters who act irrationally. It isn't that they do dumb stuff, but they actually have contradictory beliefs. Like Yukari, who thinks that she's living her own life, but really she blames all of her decisions on other people. Or Miwako, who is in love with her boyfriend, but feels guilty about talking with another guy, so she goes behind his back. Seriously, even with getting the short shrift, the characters are intriguing.

The second thing this show will contain a spoiler. So if you haven't watched the show, then see the top of this post. Or I'm going to go fanboy on you again. Destiny seems to be a real big part in any show that involves romance. The two main characters were "meant" for each other. But in Paradise Kiss, Yukari and George aren't really meant for each other. They're two people who happen to be in love. This is something I've seen in movies like Prime, but unlike Prime, that love story is really a catalyst for the true story: Yukari learning to be a grown up.

It's also something that I really liked about Planetes, that the real story isn't necessarily the source of the drama, but the arc the character is going through. It's the type of layering that I don't see often in commercial fiction. Generally it's the province of literary fiction, like Douglas Coupeland's Shampoo Planet or Richard Russo's Straight Man. (Both of which are excellent books by the way.)

Not to mention, that the artwork is amazing. One of my main complaints about GONZO's adaptation of the Count of Monte Cristo is that the artwork took me out of the show. I spent more time watching how the patterns changed then I did actually watching what the characters did. But Madhouse used the right combination of animated live action backgrounds, shifting patterns and otherwise stable artwork that enhances the experience, rather than detracting from the experience.

Oh yeah, and the opening and closing songs and animation rocked. Okay, before I go more fanboy, let's move on.

The whole experience made me realize something else. I'm going miss Geneon. I have a tendency to check the coming attractions on the DVD to see if there are any shows that I might miss. But every time I went hunting through the extras menu, I found myself a little sad.

Of all the series I bought this year at least two of my favorites, Paradise Kiss and ErgoProxy, were Geneon titles. It's not that I've loved every Geneon title I ever bought, but usually I liked them. It's a shame. Really.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Why Not Fullmetal Alchemist?

So I've been trying to figure out why Fullmetal Alchemist isn't my number nine. I mean it has everything I could ever want in an anime. It has a multi-layered plot, a great cast of characters (many of whom are pretty morally gray) and an actual Western style fantasy world that doesn't suck.

And to be fair, it's taken me two weeks to come to an answer. It pretty much boils down to two things. First the hype. Oh god, was there hype. I couldn't throw a stone without hitting someone yelling about how stupederrific the show was. And how I was missing out on the Second Coming by not owning it RIGHT NOW. Now I'm a contrarian by nature. If someone tells me I'm going to love something, I'm automatically skeptical. And the more they tell me I'm going to love it, the more skeptical I am.

Then I watched it. And it was good. But, something bugged me about the series and it wasn't the ending, or rather it was the expectation of what the ending should have been. Which leads me down the twisting road to the second thing that bugs me about Fullmetal Alchemist.

Now this second part may have some spoilers. If you haven't seen the show, I'd recommend watching it, just so you know what the hell people are talking about when they bring this series up.

On Edward Elric

So, it all starts with the fact that I read a lot of fantasy novels. I've read all of the new classics and some of the old classics, and in general there are a lot of similarities between the classic shounen hero and the classic fantasy hero. Basically, your classic fantasy hero is usually a young person, who has either some extraordinary power or destiny which will alter the course of the world as we know it. For example, Frodo has the ring which he must destroy to save Middle Earth. Another example would be Arthur and pulling the sword from the stone.

Basically Edward Elric by all accounts appears to be another case of young hero/big destiny. He's got all the traits, he's idealistic, he can perform alchemy without a circle and all the powers that be want him to dance to their tune or want to kill him, whichever is more convenient. In fact, he goes through all the steps of the classic epic fantasy. He finds out the secrets of the world, after being involved in major battles and ends up taking on the big evil of the world.

And wins... kind of.

Wait. That's not right. Middle Earth was saved. Sure Frodo had to leave but that was an afterthought. The long history of classic fantasy heroes like Shea Ohmsford, Garion, Pug, Erik von Darkmoor, etc never ended up losing. Sure things might get dark for them, but could you imagine Luke Skywalker getting banished from the galaxy at the end of Star Wars? Of course not.

So, there has to be something else going on there. Why would Edward just get banished at the end? It had to be on purpose. Why else would a very well constructed story risk losing the viewer at the end? Then it dawned on me. Edward Elric isn't a classic hero at all. He's a tragic hero. And when I say tragic hero, I mean in the Greek sense.

Something that always bugged me about the series was that in cast of morally gray characters ranging from Mustang to Scar, why were the only morally pure characters Ed and Al? Sure they'd attempted a human transmutation, but it wasn't out of an act of malice or greed, but an act of love. Now if Ed was a classic fantasy hero, it'd make sense because he would be the moral pole everyone would flock to.

But as a tragic character, that same idealism turns into his fatal flaw. He didn't just attempt human transmutation out of love, but out of a belief that he could make things right. And again, even after being punished for his hubris, he sets out to make things right by finding the Philosopher's Stone. When he finds out that his search is being manipulated, he sets out to make the world right. And ends up losing his brother in the process. And in a final act of hubris, he makes one final attempt to set things right and ends up banishing himself from the world entirely.

So while ostensibly his quest is for the Philosopher's Stone, really his quest is to find a way to set things right.

On the nature of Fullmetal Alchemist

All of that lays the foundation for what my real problem with the series is because in the end Fullmetal Alchemist is social commentary. And fantasy has a long history of good social commentary. The parallels are pretty obvious. Alchemy is science. The State is America. Ishbal and Lior are the Middle East.

So the question becomes what does Fullmetal Alchemist say, in this case, about what is wrong with the world. The quest starts with alchemy. Now the series pretty quickly dismisses alchemy itself as bad. It's merely a tool it can be used for good or evil. It's how people decide to use it. So does the root of the world's suffering simply come from the darkness of man's heart. Well sort of, but it goes deeper than that.

The biggest type of suffering there is in Fullmetal-land comes from war. So of goes our intrepid hero, like Antigone to her brother, he must find the cause of war. At first, he questions the soldiers, finding out that while they did commit the acts they were under orders to do so. And they did not feel any joy in following those orders.

So down the rabbit hole we go. If it isn't the soldiers that cause the problems, then it has to be the government. After all it is they people in charge sent those troops. But the government is controlled by soulless puppets who serve another master. So who's in control of the government? Why someone with a different agenda entirely. In fact, it seems the root of the war is someone who wants to accumulate more power for herself.

Now we get to the crux of the matter. After all this searching and all this digging, what do I get at the end of it all. That people in power have an agenda that isn't in the nation's best interest? What the hell? With all the gray, all the multiple layers I have to peel away to get at the center, I find a truism that sounds like it came from a Ralph Nader ad.

Not only that, but the central message is: Sure you can challenge the powers that be, but you'll end up with nothing but pain and loneliness.

That's what bugs me about Fullmetal Alchemist. That behind all the smoke and mirrors, what we get is a blanket theme that has no gray in it.

And another one for the pile.

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Agree or disagree? Leave a comment or e-mail iniksbane@gmail.com.

Bargain Bin Review: Peacemaker (TV)

So take one spunky kid, who wants to join the Shinsengumi, add in a dash of drama, a pinch of comedy and GONZO before its animation started to blow and you have Peace Maker.

The story follows Tetsunosuke Ichimura as he joins the Shinsengumi up to the attack on the Ikedaya Inn (the point where the Shinsengumi's popularity reached its peak). Primarily, the story is about how far Tetsu is willing to go to get his revenge on the Choshu, who killed his parents.

Now the whole of the series is steeped in history. We get appearances from all of the major players, Hijikata, Yaname, Okita, Shinpachi and Saito. Now whether or not these characters are really true to history, well... I doubt it. But they do form the core cast around Tetsu. Honestly, I get the feeling that if I knew more about the era, I'd get a better sense of what's going on. Because I thought the Shinsengumi were exclusionists too, but on the other hand I don't know if that was later on or not.

But where this series really shines is showing the dualities of each of these characters. If they would stop saying stuff like, "Would you be willing to become a demon." That would be great, but on the other hand it does provide some great amount of tension in the first part of the series. It's also backed up by some great artwork on GONZO's part. These characters express a lot through their faces, and when they go into killer mode, their face changes subtely and drastically depending on the scene.

And when the story focuses on Tetsu, it's a pretty decent story. The side characters make it shine, like Suzu, Tetsu's rival/friend who happens to want to kill the Shinsengumi or Saya, the geisha girl in training. Even the child-like Okita helps the that central story a lot, showing a possible future for Tetsu.

But that said, the story suffers from a plague of subplots. This is really where I think knowing some Japanese history would really help. Unfortunantly, I don't know enough to fill in the holes that the series left out. In fact, it just seemed like they were leaving openings for a possible second season, but never got around to making it. The problem is that they either rush through them far too fast, or they simply never get resolved.

Which makes the entire second half of the series stumble along like a guy on the three-day drunk. And to make it worse that entire duality question that was asked at the beginning never really comes to a satisfying conclusion. Instead it's just brushed aside during a bunch of action and high drama.

The voice acting was really top notch in this one, with really standout performances by Braden Hunt who did Okita. Seriously, this guy can go from happy-go-lucky to creepy in two seconds in this show. The dubs do have the Americanized representations of the accents, but not to the point where it really upset me. And somehow they all seemed to fit the characters.

Most the music isn't really worth noting except for the opening and closing songs both of which are really catchy. I've found myself humming "Hey Jimmy" at work while I was watching this show.

On the other hand, the visuals are worth noting. While there are the usual shortcuts, the artwork is really pretty stunning. I had forgotten why I used to love GONZOs stuff. This show reminded me. The characters faces manage to express emotion without saying anything, which is actually a pretty rare thing in anime. There is a certain amount of SD that goes on, but mostly the basic style stays the same.

The extras are worth noting. There were about four commentary tracks with the VAs, and they were fun. Also there are two character intros on each disk, which are interesting, but not all that illuminating.

Reccomendation: Overall, it's hard to reccomend buying this show, even on the cheap. As a character study, it's really good. But it's also slow and occasionally confusing. So I reccomend taking it out on Netflix first. But otherwise, I wouldn't spend more than $40 on the whole thing. (It looks liked gohastings was selling it for that on the Amazon.com marketplace. Although I can't reccomend using them, but they were the least expensive.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

An idea in the making: Blog in review, or Watch me be suffer from MPD

So, I've gotten a lot of great suggestions on having a blog review column. I'd like to say that making in consensual is a great idea. The voting so far after 20 votes is 15-5 in favor. I'm going to leave the voting up for the duration, but I'd thought that I'd give a general run down on my ideas because really I care about my readers. And honestly those are some great suggestions.

First - The rules

One: I will send an email to the blogger asking if they would like to participate, or they can volunteer. If they reply, then I'll start. If not, well that's that.

Two: I'm not going to be cruel. To be honest, I run a Review Club for fiction, generally I'm pretty good at knowing the line between constructive criticism and just being cruel.

Three: There will be no prior review, meaning the reviewee will not get to see the critique before it runs. But they will get the chance to comment. And I will not respond to opinions of my opinions, but I will answer any direct questions.

Second- the format

Okay, so I'm thinking about a Q&A to begin it. Then followed by the critique. For demonstration purposes I will use my own blog. None of these comments are meant to fish for compliments. They're just to show that I can pick on myself as well as anyone else.

So Blog in review: In Search of Number Nine

Q&A:

Name: Cameron Probert
Age: 30 (almost 31, eek)
Occupation: I sell furniture over the phone.
Location: Nottingham, Maryland

Q: So when did you get into anime? What was the first anime you watched?

A: Well I have faint memories of watching Star Blazers, when I was really really young. But I didn't know it was anime. Really the first anime I watched that I knew was anime was the Oh my Goddess OVA in 1995. I didn't really start seriously collecting anime until 2003 when I bought my first DVD player (I've gone through three of them so far).

Q: So how much do you watch in a week?

A: In general, I watch about a series a week. Sometimes more sometimes less.

Q: Which anime do you enjoy the most? What type of anime do you enjoy the least?

A: Well the anime on my top eight list are the ones that I enjoy the most. But generally, I enjoy any anime that makes me think, that makes me root for the good guy, that makes me punch the skip button at the end of the episode so I can get to the next one. I need compelling characters, a good plot and maybe a bit of a twist on the mundane.

Generally, I dislike repetative anime the most. Series that just drag out one plot point to exhaustation. I find that shounen fighting shows and most romance subplots are the worst at this.

Yeah and character growth is nice too.

Q: When did you start blogging? And why do you blog?

A: I started two and a half months ago, mostly because I really wanted to voice opinions about anime and the industry. But really, I've been hunting for my ninth favorite anime for well over a year and I'm just not finding it.

And to be honest, I like picking on "classics" of anime.

Q: If you had to pick three posts that were your best, which ones would they be?

A: To be fair, my personal favs were my ANN rant that I just wrote, I only found one typo in it. My RahXephon versus Evangelion post, and probably my Why not EVA? post.

Q: Any closing thoughts?

A: Mostly I want to thank everyone who reads this on a regular basis. I appreciate all of the well thought out comments, even when they disagree with me.

Okay so onto the show.

Content - the good, the bad and the indifferent

The great thing about this blog is it's ability to provoke discussion. Cameron tends to focus on whatever issues might be hot right now, but he does have enough original content that it isn't completely a response forum. Generally, I think when he hits, he hits. Some of his columns are insightful, intelligent and pretty clear.

The problem is that when he flops, he flops pretty hard. Case in point- his column about stereotypes in fiction. His primary point is pretty well taken - that stereotypes exist in fiction. In general, it's well argued. Where it falls apart is his final point. I mean what is his final point? Also I note that sometimes, he vassicilates. His opinion can change from column to column. Or he'll make a moral note, but then later on dismiss it or undermine it.

I'm pretty much indifferent on the fact that he likes to use big words. Usually they aren't too big that I have to dig out my dictionary.

In general, the blog doesn't really have any central theme. Just whatever he feels like writing, which isn't good or bad. But can lead to a bit of an uneven read.

Format:

It's a standard blogger format, so I'll forgive his long list of tags. Overall, it isn't too special. I do like that he tends to take like material under a particular heading, such as his Why Not columns, or his In My View stuff. But some of the tags are a bit extraneous.

Community:

The comments on his blog are really well thought out responses to his points. In general, he does take the time to respond to comments and rarely attacks commenters who disagree with him. But it doesn't seem like he gets much interaction beyond the initial comments.

Closing thoughts:

Overall, I'd reccomend this site to people who like discussing anime. Who don't mind seeing their classics trashed and people who generally like analysis type pieces. He tends to not focus on newer shows, I'm guessing because he doesn't watch them, so he probably isn't going to appeal to people who want to see episode recaps. He also seems to not have much humor on here. Unless it's unintentional.

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Okay so that was really a lot harder than I thought it would be. So my big questions would be do you guys want the Q&A at the top? What else would you want me to look at?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New poll question

So tj_han actually brought up a good point, and it has been something that I've thought about as well. So I've posted a new poll, and I'd like to hear from you. Would you like to see me do critique and analysis on other anime blogs? Please vote because I'd like to hear from you.

In My View: Is ANN worth paying for?

So recently I came across the suscription link for Anime News Network. Evidently, they've started to sell advertising-light access to their Web site. At least according to this, you can turn off some banner ads and turn of those really dumb Kotera links all for the low price of US$3 a month or US$14 for six months or US$20 for a year.

Which of course raises the question, is ANN worth paying for? Like I've said before, I have a love/hate relationship with ANN. Not because they're really horrible, but because they're one of the best out there and they're still mediocre.

And who am I to call them mediocre? I'm a reporter, or at least I wrote more than 300 articles for my college newspaper. I had the former editor of the San Francisco Chronicle as a teacher. One of my mentors worked for the Asian Wall Street Journal. I've won at least one SPJ award. I've covered budget hearings, tuition raises, local businesses and am honestly a damn good reporter. Whether I'm a good writer may be another story, but I can spot a hole in a story fifteen feet away.

Case in point - The Eric Sherman interview. It's one of the best pieces of journalism that I've seen come out of ANN. And it still has at least three problems with it. First is a general style issue. The Q&A format works great for fluff pieces about people that we really don't care about, or rather we don't need any real background for, like VAs, Directors or any other celebrity. But for an heavy piece of journalism it's actually inviting the person to say whatever, without any moderation or fact checking. Like say, Sherman's now infamous quote about Haruhi (if one-third of the people who downloaded the fansub had bought the DVD, it would have done much better.)

So how many units did Haruhi sell? Um... yeah, even with access to Vidscan we didn't get those numbers. Nor did we get a comparison with a great seller like Fullmetal Alchemist. Instead, we get Sherman's baseless word that it didn't do well. Do I believe Sherman? Sure. Do I believe that Zac Bertschy knows enough about the industry to not let that slide? Sure. Should I have to trust that these two people wouldn't lead me down the merry path? Good lord, no.

Hole number two would have been so simple to fix it would take maybe a half hour of research for ANYONE to do. The same point that I lauded Bertschy on, is the point he fails to provide facts yet again. The point about Anime TVs reviews being focused on Bang Zoom! dubs. He NEVER tells us which shows they were. He simply leaves it to the reader to do the research to make sure he's right.

I hate to say it, but these are rookie mistakes. They're mistakes I saw freshman J-students make. They aren't mistakes I expect out of a professional news organization.

But that said, I cut ANN some slack. Why? Because they're the equivalent of a trade magazine, the AARP magazine of anime, if you will. I want them to do better, but I don't expect them to.

So that said, is having an ad-light version of ANN worth it? Well there's the access to the "Community" forums, which I imagine is pretty much like the regular forums, only with less people. That might be good. But is it worth $3 a month. I don't really think so.

About the only think I can see being worth the money is getting rid of the Kotera links. They aren't really annoying, but they're just so random, like it highlighted "cruise to the Bahamas" in the story about the NYAF cruise con. Why would I care about a Bahamas cruise when I'm reading ANN? It's just bizarre.

But that said, I'm prepared to put my money where my mouth is. Starting this Friday, I will sign up for either a month or six month membership and tell you all about it. Maybe I'll be surprised and think that it's worth it. But I doubt I will.

Monday, December 10, 2007

List o' the Weak: Top Five Hardboiled Heroes

So I've been writing a bunch of heavy stuff, which has kind of left my brain soggy. So I thought I'd lighten it up a bit and write something a little more fun. As always any comments, ideas or questions, you can e-mail iniksbane@gmail.com or leave a comment. So on with the fun.


I have to say I've always liked noir. I like film noir, I like hardboiled detective novels, I like anything that's dirty and gritty where the hookers are angels and the angels are hookers. And anime has its share of tough guys who walk the mean streets. So lets all tip our fedoras in that dark and stormy night to these hardboiled heroes.

Number five: Roy Revant, Solty Rei




So there's something about a ex-cop that I always enjoy, especially when you add loose cannon into that mix. Roy isn't the best out there, but he's one of the few that walks the fine line between avenger and criminal. In some ways, he's one of the closest heroes to really being a bad guy at the beginning of the series. In particular, I really like the crusty exterior he has for the first part of the series. I do think he gets a bit sappy about halfway through, but outside of that he definitely deserves a spot on this list.

Oh yeah, and he has a really awesome gun. And a really neat narration at the beginning of the series. I'm totally up for the effective voice-overs.

Number four: Mirielle Bouquet, Noir




I'll admit it, I'm a big fan of this series and Mirielle is the reason. Mostly I find Kirika to be a bit dull and distant. And while some people might say that's her role in the series, I still find Mirielle to be the more interesting character. Both because she has a past and because she exudes a sense of cool that would rival the Fonz. I could just imagine her walking down the streets of Paris in the middle of summer and the entire street stopping to let her pass. Seriously, she's so cool that ice cream is jealous.

Plus her past gives the series a lot of strength that it would have lacked. And unlike the more contrived Madlax, it's actually somewhat plausible.

Number three: Saiga, Speed Grapher




Okay, so I just need to write this line to explain why Saiga is on this list, "It’s been over a decade since the Bubble war, when the global economy burst. The rich got richer and the poor were out of luck. Welcome to Tokyo, the city where all the winners came to jerk each other off." That's the first thing we hear when we see Saiga. Unlike Revant, he's not on a revenge kick. No he's just embittered, angry and cynical. Basically, the perfect noir hero.

I mention Revant because like him Saiga goes soft about halfway through the story. He doesn't quite lose the edge he had at the beginning of the series though, which is why he places higher in my list.


Number two: Jet Black, Cowboy Bebop




And what list would be complete without a note from the grandaddy of a anime noir series. I know a lot of people would have picked Spike or Faye, but I like Jet more. First because he's actually closer to my age. And I've always liked the disillusioned cop archetype more than the reformed criminal or the femme fatale. Seriously, Black Dog Serenade is one of my favorite episodes.

My only complaint is that he doesn't get enough sceen time. Generally, he's pushed aside by the more sexy characters and regulated to either moments of comic relief or doing research.


And my Number One favorite Hardboiled Hero is:




George Kodama, Kaze no Yojimbo




If Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler had a love child who happened to be Japanese it'd be George Kodama. This guy is a tough guy through and through, from taking on the powers that be to the local Yakuza, he plays them all. And still comes out on top. Or at least somewhere near the top.

After rewatching this series, I'm impressed that the guy never really softens. He's harsh with the people who deserve it, kind to the people who deserve that. And in general ends up being the very pinnacle of hardboiled heroness without any catchy one-liners or voice overs.
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Agree or disagree? Post a comment below or email iniksbane@gmail.com

Sunday, December 9, 2007

I have your bushido right here.

The Devil Himself

So I have a confession to make - I really like samurai shows. I like Samurai Champloo, Samurai 7, Rurouni Kenshin, basically anything with a sword and a guy dressed up in a robe and I'm there. (Well with the exception of Samurai Deeper Kyo, I could have taken or left that one). And if it takes place in Feudal Japan or during the Bakamatsu, I'm buying it. No ifs, ands or buts.

But I've noticed an idea that seems to permeate these shows - that by killing you sacrifice part of yourself, or in the most dramatic (or melodramatic terms) you end up becoming a demon. It reminds me of those tribes that would eat the flesh of their enemies to become stronger, only with the added bonus of becoming less human.

This is an idea that intrigues me, mostly because there aren't any easily analogous counterparts in Western fiction. Sure you might have an anti-hero who does bad things for good reasons (i.e. Wolverine) and is haunted by those things. But generally the idea behind those characters isn't that they become less human, just more hardened. And you have those anti-heroes who are actually bad people who do good things for the wrong reasons (i.e. Edward from the Anita Blake books). But it wasn't like they started the story as good people.

An even more these characters generally on some level are folk heroes. So they've sacrificed themselves, so that they might bring about a better future. In all honesty there's only two closely related concepts in Western thought that I can think of: the noble warrior and the revenge story.

Fire in the hole because hell hath no fury

Like I hinted before one of the closest links between this archetype and Western fiction is the idea of a hardened veteran. This archetype generally pops up in war movies. Most recently, I saw it in Jarhead. The guy who goes off to war to do something good for his country but ends up walking away scarred. Sometimes this shows up more than others, but it doesn't seem to completely encompass this idea I've noticed in anime. It isn't like these characters have thrown away their humanity rather their humanity is still quite intact which allows them to see the general ridiculousness of war.

On the other hand you have the classic revenge story. Generally those protagonists end up throwing their entire life away in the pursuit of revenge. As if that fanaticism sucks away their humanity. But first and foremost, these heroes, no matter how likable, are always undone by their obsession, not by some noble need to protect their way of life. In the end, the idea of self-sacrifice is missing.

So where's the beef?

While the first time I saw this concept played out it was novel, it's really starting to wear thin. I don't mind the moral question about killing, that's fine. It adds a little bit of tension. But I swear if I hear another person say, "Would you be willing to sacrifice your humanity?" I'm going to beat my head against a wall. It's like these shows feel the need to whip out their theme and proceed to beat me over the head with it.

In fact, with the exception of the Kenshin OVA, I haven't seen this theme dealt with maturely in anime ever. And I think it's a shame, considering that for what is a very Eastern theme (the juxtaposition of nobility with committing evil acts), that anime can't seem to deal with it better.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Themes, stereotypes and fiction: An Analysis

So recently there was a big to-do over on the ANN forums about Belldandy and the stereotypes of women in general. Now, just for some background the Oh My Goddess OVA was the first anime series I watched (back in the good ole year of 1996) so I have some fond memories of it.

What people kept bringing up is this idea that Belldandy is a stereotype. In particular the stereotype of the nuclear housewife, who stayed home and made sure the chores were done and was the proverbial doormat for her husband.

And honestly, it bugs me for two reasons. First humans think in stereotypes. When I say, "mailman" in America, it immedeately summons up a picture of a guy lugging around a big bag of mail as he struts down the street in his blue polyester pants and his striped shirt. Not a few years ago, it would have also summoned up the picture of workplace shootings. We have stereotypes for everything, what a rose should look like, what a person should wear in the workplace, etc, etc. These extend to words like trailer trash, geeks, nerds and yes... otaku.

Second fiction is filled with these stereotypes. Mokoto Kusinagi from GitS:Standalone Complex is a classic street samurai; Faye Valentine, a femme fatale; Shinji Ikari, the anti-hero; Amaro Rey, the boy pilot. This list goes on. These archetypes pervade fiction and can get more general than the ones I put out. Let's face it, Vash the Stampede, Claus Valca and Ayato Kamina are all classic heroes on a quest.

So calling Belldandy a stereotype is missing the point. The first question that has to be asked is, "Does she make sense in the world?" My answer is yes. I mean she decides to leave the heavens to become Keichi's girlfriend. She fills an idealized role of girlfriend, becoming a cipher to Keichi. To be fair, it wouldn't be my ideal girlfriend, but on the other hand it DOES make sense given the world we have provided for us.

So the question that people should ask themselves when they're watching this series is what does Oh My Goddess (and its TV counterpart) say about love? Does it say that self-sacrifice is a integral part of love? Or does it say that too much self-sacrifice will end up being taken for granted? Even if the show is simply nerd wish-fufillment, there is an underlying message there. And that is what people need to ask themselves about. Not whether one particular character, taken out of context, is stereotypical.

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Agree or disagree? Leave a comment or e-mail iniksbane@gmail.com.

In My View: On anime girlfriends

So I've got a confession to make. I'm evidently not otaku enough. Well at least in comparision to some of the stuff I've been reading and listening to. I try. I don't go out much. In my free time, I either write, blog or watch anime and movies - all of which are solitary activities. The majority of my free money goes to buying DVDs.



But according to here or here and it's even hinted at here, I'm missing the boat somewhere. And what that boat might that be? The wanting an anime character girlfriend boat. I don't get it. Really, I don't. Maybe it's the fact that anime girls, well, aren't that attractive. Ocassionally there's one or two where the artwork is enough to catch my eye, but in comparison to the earlier issues of Witchblade or Danger Girl, they don't even rate. In most cases, I can't suspend my disbelief far enough to make them sexual objects. Occasionally a show manages to come close (like the shower scene with Aya at the beginning of Tenjo Tenje), but for the most part even the most blatant fanservice doesn't really do anything for me.

But for some people, well they just take it too far. In the rant on Anime Diet (the first link I posted), the guy just went on and on with misconception after misconception (I'm still hoping he was joking). And that's what I've been hearing out of the hardcore otaku culture, is a lot of assuming that women are shallow golddiggers. It's like they've taken all of those stereotypes from off the television and superimposed those on real women.

All I have to say is they aren't real. Seriously, you can't reach through the television screen and touch them. I don't get it at all.

But then again, I don't understand skydiving either. So I'm willing to give their fetish a little bit of leeway. If that's what get's their rocks off, I'll look the other way.

Except that it's getting worse. A quick trip around the blogs and I'm finding that not only is there a subculture of anime fans like that, but a really loud subculture of anime fans. With fetishes so unrealistic that it makes me shake my head. It's starting to make me wonder. Am I the only anime fan out there that doesn't have a fetish for anime girls? Are there other people who feel that anime is great entertainment but taking it beyond that is a little, well, creepy?

Occasionally, I'll see or hear older fans that say the same things I do, but I wonder if we aren't the minority. Or am I just not otaku enough to understand.

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Agree or disagree? Leave a comment or e-mail iniksbane@gmail.com.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Bargain Bin Review: Misaki Chronicles

If I had to sum up Misaki Chronicles with two concepts it would be: quantum physics and big boobs.

Seriously.

The show takes up where Divergence Eve left off. Watcher's Nest has disappeared. The Earth is surrounded by a temporal vortex. Kiri and Lt. Commander Lyar are all that's left of Seraphim. And Misaki has disappeared. (Well sort of, the series reveals that she's on Earth pretty quickly).

Characterwise, the show is still fairly strong. Lyar is still one of the strongest characters in the series, and since most of the series does revolve around her, it's a good thing. The rest of the characters stay pretty stable from the first series. They all tend to be a bit stereotypical, but not so much that they really detract from the series.

The plot really does move. It twists, turns, dodges and goes up the wall and then through the sewers. All of those questions that the first series laid out do actually get answers, although some of them are a little disappointing. There's only a couple moments that get dragged out to increase the emotional impact, but end up getting dragged out so much that they're actually more funny then depressing. But beyond that the series starts in high gear after episode two and doesn't leave it until the denouement.

Oh yeah, and this series actually has a denouement (that section of the story where they wrap up the loose ends) which usually is my big complaint about anime. I did think they did a slap dash job on it, and hurt the tragedy that could have been there. But it definitely has it and it is good enough.

The series biggest problem is the fanservice. Good lord. It isn't as distracting as it was in Divergence Eve, but there are at least a couple times where I found myself asking, "How can they walk around with those things." At least their weren't any shower scenes, or guys trying to stare down the female characters shirts. In fact, everyone was so completely blaise about the fact that no woman was below a G-cup that I could almost buy into it. But it just seemed really incongruous for a series that deals with such heavy sci-fi stuff to have such blatant fanservice.

And that was the problem with it. Much like the bubblegum pop opener and the sad dramatic closer, the series suffered from a uneven tone. It was like someone playing Britney Spears to get people to come to a performance of Hamlet.

Overall, the technical aspects of the show were fine. The CG was still a bit heavy on the space scenes (because evidently it's impossible to DRAW a space station anymore). The CG wasn't distracting though and fits pretty well into the combination scenes. It wasn't seemless by any means, but it didn't hurt the series either.

The sountrack, again, wasn't anything to write home about. But it did help on the dramatic moments and definitely didn't hurt the series.

In the end, Misaki Chronicles is a bit of harmless fun that tries to be something more, but doesn't quite make it there.

Reccomendation: To be fair, I reccomend you rent Divergence Eve first. I wouldn't pay more than $20 for that part of the series. And I picked up Misaki Chronicles for $20. And it was worth it, just to know what happened.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

RahXephon versus Evangelion: An Analysis

So last Friday in his Answerman column, Zac Bertschy talked about how the fandom for Eva has shrunk over the years. And at the end he mentioned RahXephon (still my favorite series) and how it compares. This reminded me of all of the debate surrounding the two series, which basically boils down to one question: Is RahXephon just an Eva clone?

I'm going to offer my analysis on the two series and, hopefully, prove that RahXephon is a work that can be considered on it's own, as well as in the shadow of Eva.

Warning: This will contain spoilers. If you haven't watched these two series, I suggest you do because they are that good. In fact they're both arguably classics and deserve to at least be rented. Okay, so that's done.

Generally when anyone brings up the "clone" argument they use the similarities between the series to prove it. They draw parallels between Misato and Haruka, between Ayato and Shinji, between Megumi and Asuka and between Rei and Quon. On the surface all of these comparisions seem legitimate. And in the case of Rei and Quon they're pretty close. But the fundemental argument relies on one assumption: Yutaka Izubuchi is a hack.

Now let's assume that he isn't a hack and those comparisions are not accidental. They're far from perfect. Let's face it, if Misato and Shinji had the same kind of relationship as Haruka and Ayato, we'd be having a very different discussion here. And while yes, both Megumi and Asuka are foils for the main character, they come to drastically different conclusions. Megumi is able to move on with her life and keep struggling. Whereas Asuka collapses and even in the brief moment that she manages to recoup, she still collapses and ultimately fails. And with Rei and Quon, even with the strength of that comparison, they're still different characters. Rei is cold and distant, a souless copy of Gendou Ikari's wife. Whereas Quon is a stunted child, but more of a spiritual guide for Ayato.

So why are those comparisions there in the first place? Didn't Izubuchi know that his series wouldn't be taken as seriously as Evangelion? The answer is simple: RahXephon is a response to Eva. It takes similiar elements and comes to exactely the opposite conclusion.

The central idea in both series is the question of self? How is self defined? How can people connect with each other in meaningful dialogue? Can the self understand other selves?

Evangelion says that self is defined by two ways. By what the self thinks about itself and what others think about it. This is shown pretty strongly in those scenes where Shinji is sitting in the room with the light across the side. In those vaguely dreamy scenes, when Shinji is speaking with himself or other selves, he's told that there is the person that he thinks he is and the person that Asuka or Rei or Misato think he is. And they can never know each other because of it.

That is the fundamental premise of Evangelion. No matter how well we communicate we'll never really know each other. One of the best scenes with this, is when Shinji is going to leave NERV in the beginning of the series. When he decides to stay he's standing opposite of Misato (his foil) on the train platform, while Misato is standing on the other side of the tracks below him. They're seperated by the fence and the train tracks, like staring into a mirror.

(On an additional note: Arguably Misato's counterpoint in RahXephon is not Haruka, but Dr. Kisaragi, but either argument can be made)

So what does RahXephon say about the self? It says that the self, is the self. No matter what other people say about you or think about you or want from you, the self remains the self. To borrow, Souichi's words, "You are you." Also that just by the nature of being human, we are all connected to each other. There are a couple points where this comes up, but the most memorable is when Quon and Ayato are standing on the bridge in the last episode of the series and they are watching the television and Ayato is hearing what people have to say about him. Even with their opinions, they still accept him for who he is, not what their perceptions of him are.

There is a counterpart scene in RahXephon to the one I mentioned in Evangelion (actually there are two of them, but I'll just go with the first one.) In episode three, when Ayato and Haruka are standing at the edge of Tokyo Jupiter. They aren't seperated staring at each other, but both standing next to each other staring at the thing that connects them.

So there it is. I could go on about where I think the connections between the two series are, and who is a counterpart for who. But I think the comparisions are a bit muddy for that. In the end though, I think they both pose interesting questions and radically different answers. And so saying RahXephon is a copy of Evangelion does a disservice to both series.

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Agree or disagree? Leave a comment below or e-mail iniksbane@gmail.com

Monday, December 3, 2007

List o' the Weak: My top five least favorite anime

Number Five - Spiral

When I popped in the first disk of this series, I was excited, really excited. Here was a mystery, a real honest to goodness mystery, that wasn't going to get solved in one episode. It sucked me right in and I was on the edge of my seat for the first three disks. I knew it. This was going on my list of all time favorite anime. I haven't been this sucked into an anime for a long long time.

And then it just broke my heart. Much like that first date that never calls you back, it simply started showing filler episodes. And then more filler episodes. And what started with such a bang, just went out with a whimper and NEVER solved the mysteries that it proposed.

And now I'm stuck with six disks that I don't even want to give away because I don't want to inflict this series on anyone.


Number 4: Record of Lodoss War OVA


Yeah, so I already wrote an entire Why Not segment on this series. But a lot of it bears repeating. The pacing was bad. The characters were stiff and unbelievable. The plot was trite and predictable. And worst of all, it had Elves. Seriously, for a story based on a Dungeons and Dragons game, I could expect something more, something better than this.

Seriously. If Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman could write the Dragonlance Chronicles based on this game, then it is possible to come up with a good solid plot with believable characters.


Number Three - A.D. Police



So I picked up this series on the cheap a few years ago, and boy did I ever find out why. The two main characters are the stereotypical good cop/bad cop down to a T. Seriously, no show this bad should end their previews with the line "Things are going to get worse." It started to sound like a threat.
On top of that, the stories were just plain boring. There was little imagination put into it. There wasn't any really sense of the cyberpunk future that I've been promised from BGC. On top of that there were more of those changing into monster scenes that really made BGC Tokyo 2040 cheezy. Tonally it was a complete mess. Sometimes it was campy, sometimes it was serious. Basically, it was a nightmare.



(And now for the hate mail.)
The number two and number one slots here contain what are largely considered classics of anime. And yes, I think they deserve these spots.

Number Two - Nadia and the Secret of the Blue Water



When I first considered buying this series, I checked out the reviews on ANN. They usually read like, this is the beginning of the filler arc at X place. Granted it wasn't for every disk, so I thought maybe that there was a section that wasn't filler arc. I'd watched the first two disks and that second disk was really good. It had a bunch of action, really laid the tension on thick, I was excited. It was impossible that my good friends at GAINAX were going to then produce 25 episodes of filler. They hadn't really lead me astray before this.

But that's exactely what they did. For the next 25 episodes, it was one set of filler episodes after another set of filler episodes. I've already said that I don't think anime does well with an episodic format and this series did not prove me wrong. And by the time it did get around to finishing up its story, I'd long since stopped caring.

And my number one all time least favorite anime of all time:


Revolutionary Girl Utena


Yes, that darling of the critics. That favorite of the intelligensia. Oh, how I despise thee. The problem with this series isn't it's fundamentals though. The characters are good. The idea is pretty amazing. No, the problem with this series is all in the execution. Basically, no matter which way you cut it, it's a show that is designed for children.

Take for instance, the lack of overarching character development. Sure, occasionally they get some, but it never really sticks. Much like Cowboy Beebop, the characters simply repeat the same roles over and over again. They have to same reactions to the same stimulus. And while in Cowboy Beebop, it's cool because there's so much more going on, in Utena it's a weakness. Because in Beebop, the characters aren't the centerpiece for the show, the plot is. In Utena, the characters should be the core that holds everything together. And to do that, they have to change, but instead, they just go through the same steps, over and over and over again, like a waltz with a permanent coda.

And speaking of music - the synth rock soundtrack simply gets old as well. I realize that the series is on the older side, but a little variation in the themes would be nice. And the animation looping gets old too. How many times does she need to be walking up those stairs. Can we say stalling for time? Even the fight scenes are weak. Maybe I'm being to harsh, but for something that is hailed as a post-modern fairytale, I expected some meat, some real examination of the issue of gender. But all I got was a brain numbing, hackneyed, piece of trash.


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Agree or disagree? Post your comments below, or email iniksbane@gmail.com.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

Why not EVA?

Take one dead equine, take one stick, apply pressure to the carcass through repeated blows and you have the discussion that has surrounded Neon Genesis Evangelion since it first came out.

But here I am anyway, taking my swing at it.

It's easy to find things to hate about Eva. Let's face it, I can give the basic run down in four basic options: A) Whiny boy pilot B) Obscure (bordering on strange) references to Kabbalah that make almost no sense. C) Giant Robots (because really the world needs another giant robot show like I need a hole in the head). D) And ending that is just plain strange.

Although that hole in the head might be nice. It would definitely give me something to show off at parties.

But wait a second here, I'm going to say something that is going to send up a scream across the desert that is the Internet. I like Shinji. Or rather, I like anti-heroes in general and I don't find Shinji to be horribly annoying. In fact in comparison to a Thomas Covenant or a FitzChivalry Farseer, he's pretty warm and cuddly.

On top of that, I like the bizarre references to Kabbalah - the whole tree of life thing does actually make sense, even if it was probably just slapped in there by a lunatic director. And the mecha designs for Eva are really interesting. In fact, I'd say they're one of the highlights of the series.

No where the real problem with Eva lies is at about episode 20 (and yes does include the ending, but not the ending itself), when Anno evidently forgot all of the conventions of telling an effective anti-hero story. He decided to make EVERYBODY anti-heroes. And if they couldn't bend to his whim, he killed them off (alas poor Kaji, I knew him well).

It starts with Asuka, I mean she's too likable and chipper, so now she has to have some sort of screwed up childhood. And three...two...one... it comes to the surface and she's off to mope around in a bathtub for most of the rest of the series. Score one for Anno. Score zero for the viewers.

Oh wait there might be some pay off with Kaji, and we might get to figure out what's going on. So we get traded a long monologue about the history of NERV, for the ONE likable character dying. Score two for Anno. Score one for the viewers.

And then, oh wait, I forgot about Misato. I mean we can't have her running around being funny and irresponsible, so lets give her some daddy issues too, and kill off her lover. Yep, now she's just as mopey and sullen as the rest of them. Score three for Anno. Score one for the viewers.

In the end, the only character I can root for is the character with NO PERSONALITY. That's right, we're left with Rei. But of course, she's too likable so we have to kill her off and bring her back as even more distant. You get the point now, Anno has decided to beat his viewers over the head with his ideas, and forget why he's making the series at all.

To tell a story, to entertain his viewers. Instead the last six episodes are one extended screw you to the viewers, so that he can maintain his "artistic vision" for the series.

Well Mr. Anno, right back at ya. Because no matter how much people may debate this piece of work they never get past the very basic principles. The interesting discussion about identity and how it's defined, is lost. The pertinent observations about people's need to belong are scrapped. The fact is that there is a lot of interesting things that go on in the series, but we'll never get to them, because we're always going to be too busy with the basic problem.

Whether we like the series or not.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Open the Floor - Fan Service

So after my spetacular failure on this front last time, I thought I would try it again. So I'm watching Mizaki Chronicles for my next Bargain Bin Review. So I'm going to ask you what your thoughts are on fan service. How much is too much? Or is there never too much.

Leave your comments below, please, or e-mail me at iniksbane@gmail.com

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Starship Operators finale - On the Media and War

As a wrap up to these series of posts I've made about Starship Operators, I figured I'd answer my own question that I posed earlier. What is the relationship between the media and war? And if anyone disagrees with me at the end of this feel free to post a comment.

And fair warning the following example contains a three-foot-tall working penis. If that offends you, well get over it, because war isn't hell, it's just controlled unleashed insanity. For the sake of brevity, I'm going to shorten news media to media.

Like I said before. the media and the government make strange bedfellows. A lot of conspiracy nuts on both sides of the aisle would have people believe that the media is in bed with the government. That it's either run by the military-industrial complex, or it's the tool of labor unions, Greenpeace and a bunch of pot-smoking hippies. Well, they're wrong.

The media and the government are like a fifty-year-old couple. The government is the man. He wants what any fifty-year-old guy wants - sex, football and to be left alone on poker night. But for the most part he's pretty faithful to his wife, so he only wants to have sex with her. The media is the wife. She's gone through menopause. She doesn't want sex anymore, but she wants what any fifty-year-old woman would want - for her husband to make sure that the bills got paid, for him to clean up after himself and for him to pay attention to her.

They aren't much different when it comes to war. Back in the good old days of their marriage, when they weren't tired of each other, they would work together to serve a common purpsose. Just take a look at the old news reels that came out during WWII - they are pieces of propaganda garbage.

But now, they have different agendas, but with the same common goal - to meet the needs of their customers/voters. The problem lies in the fact that they don't have the same idea about what meets those needs. To take the metaphor a step further - the public is the teenage daughter of this couple, who's a bit flighty, but loves horses and cute pictures of kitty cats.

So the government wants to protect/control his kid. He has a big stake in selling the agenda to her before she meets some transient biker and makes for the Mexico border. She loves her father, but she isn't stupid. She knows that sometimes Daddy spends all night drinking and playing poker, that he occasionally flirts with the waitress right in front of Mom.

And this is were her mother comes along. She wants to win her daughter over because of some decades long grudge match that she has going on with Dad. So she whines about his drinking, his spending and how much he doesn't do for her. But she knows that her daughter is a bit flighty and won't sit still long enough to pay attention. So she has to make her delivery thrilling or else her daughter is going to go back up to her room and chat with her Myspace friends.

Enter the next door neighbor (or whatever foriegn power you want to put here). So say the next door neighbor just strikes Dad as wrong. So he starts in on the posturing, perhaps he goes over and warns him about his three-foot tall statue of a working penis. But the neighbor just brushes him off. Then he starts talking to the other neighbors about that statue, trying to gain some support.

But in the end, he has to have his family backing him, or else none of the other families are going to buy what he has to say, right? I mean if the guy doesn't even have his own house in order, how can anyone else support him? So he starts with his wife, knowing that she can get her daughters attention. In some cases, he tells a few white lies, in some cases he doesn't have to. But lets keep going with the statue thing, because I really like it.

So he paints a pretty lurid picture for his wife. Well his wife doesn't really trust him, I mean it's only a statue, right? But Dad says he talked to the guy and he blew Dad off and treated it like it was no big deal. Totally dissed the entire family in the process. Well his wife tries to go over to the neighbors and gets the brush off too. So is stuck with her husband's story.

After a bit of hemming and hawing, she tells her daughter the story about the three-foot working penis. She keeps out the most lurid details, but it's still pretty impressive. Well she likes her Daddy, and she's kind of pissed that the neighbor's picking on them. So she joins forces with her Daddy and well Mom's along for the ride right now, because the neighbor's not talking, and she doesn't have any other information.

Now the neighbor starts to get surly. He makes a bunch of counter-accusations. Thing escalate until Dad decides to go onto the neighbor's property to destroy the penis. And then everything goes to hell. The Penis doesn't get destroyed but the fence between the properties does. Lawns get trashed. Statuary destroyed. Maybe the penis even gets chipped. The neighbors who agree are all cheering Dad on, the neighbors that don't are all complaining.

But for right now Dad's got what he wants - a war on the neighbor.

And then Mom realizes that this is all about a three-foot-tall working penis. She starts telling her daughter about all the horrible things Dad is doing to the neighbor. She's kind of ashamed that she originally told her daughter about this stuff to begin with. But Dad's at war, so he doesn't care, except when his daughter comes up to him one day and says, "I want a new Dad because your being horrible." That's when he figures out that he's in trouble, so he tries to backpedal a bit, or tries to bluff his way through, but the daughter's not buying it, Mom's not buying it, but he's at war now, so what's he going to do. So he keeps at it.

And then Fluffy the dog gets killed trying to stop the neighbor from coming over to the lawn. And things really get bad for Dad. Everyone loves Fluffy. (This is not a statement intended to say that soliders are stupid dogs, just to say that everyone likes dogs or they should.)

The question then becomes for the daughter is all of this disaster worth wrecking a three-foot-tall penis?

And that is my take on the media's relationship when it comes to war. Honestly, I think it's the only way the media can go. As long as they do their best to report the facts as they learn them, then there isn't much more they can do. And this is the relationship that Starship Operators showed. Sorry, if this all seems a bit off of the anime topic. You can leave that comment as well.