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The 12 Days of Christmas – Day 12: The Reason for the Season

12days_valvrave04

Amidst the hustle’n’bustle of getting ready for Christmas and the happiness, joy, and good cheer that infuse the season, I am often reminded of the true, root reason for this season. It’s not good enough to stop at Jesus is the reason or that He was born. Why was He born? Because He was going to sacrifice Himself to save our souls. Why would He do that? Because He loves us. So, the reason for the season is that He loves us to the point that He was willing to die for us so that we could be saved.

In the spirit of this, I wanted to pick a moment from anime for today that echoed this depth of love. Love enough to sacrifice one’s life for another. The problem with picking one is that I’ll pass over many others from this year. Instead, I’m picking three.

12days_valvrave06The first is the most recent. Valvrave the Liberator has been racking up the body count of late; but, the one that really struck me was Marie and her fall. To those not watching this anime, the super powered mechs feed off of runes – essentially a person’s memories. When a person’s supply of runes is exhausted they die. I wish the creators had built up Marie’s character in the episodes beforehand, instead of waiting for the last moment, like what Gurren Lagann did with Kittan before he sacrificed his life to save humanity. Quibbles aside, Marie had only memories of the past few years for *reasons* so she should not have become a pilot without first living many more years to give her a cache of memories to work with. Instead, she wanted to protect her friends and never stopped fighting to the very end, even as the memories of her friends were lost to feed her mech. Rarely do I feel a burning desire for the villains of a show to get punished – most shows just aren’t that good – but I will be very, very upset if Valvrave ends without seeing the villains die hopefully painful deaths.

12days_gargantia05The second comes from Suisei no Gargantia. Viewers of this anime probably know who I’m going to mention but for the others this anime featured AI controlled mechs that were programmed to assist in any way possible to maximize the human pilot’s ability to fight and kill an alien menace. After our main character crashes on a strangely altered Earth, his mech’s AI, named Chamber, continues to support his pilot though the type of support changes to match the circumstances. At the end of series our main character has to face an adversary that threatens to eliminate everyone he has befriended since coming to Earth. He is willing to do whatever it takes and Chamber knows this; so, before he can sacrifice himself, Chamber ejects the main character from the cockpit and sacrifices himself to end the threat. It’s probably because I grew up reading Asimov’s Robots stories and empathize with ease but it always hits me hard when I see an artificial being like Chamber display one of the most exemplary human actions possible. And don’t get me started on the Tachikomas from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

[Nubles] Space Battleship Yamato 2199 (2012) episode 8 (720p 10 bit AAC).mkv_snapshot_07.50_[2013.05.30_01.05.10] [Nubles] Space Battleship Yamato 2199 (2012) episode 8 (720p 10 bit AAC).mkv_snapshot_07.45_[2013.05.30_01.04.51]The third comes from the criminally under-watched gem Space Battleship Yamato 2199. In this anime humanity faces extinction from an empire that spans multiple galaxies. We have a single ray of hope, a device of innumerable power; but it has to be brought back to Earth within a year. By the eighth episode we’ve had the chance to meet all the big players in this galactic empire. The main race is a blue-skinned humanoid race and amongst it’s second class citizens are a humanoid race that looks like humans. For this episode we meet a ship crewed by these human-looking aliens who are looked down upon even though they’re twice as loyal to the emperor then the blue-skinned race. They are ordered to stop the Yamato but are not a match for our heroes. This leads them to a decision – continue trying to stop the Yamato, which means death, or give-up and live. They choose to continue fighting and die protecting their empire. With our omnipotent camera we, the viewers, know this empire is not a good thing, nor is the emperor a good person; but there are many good people in this empire. After this episode, I put the emperor on the list of people I want to see get taken care of and I have to say I was satisfied later on.

Even choosing three, I’m sure I’ve forgotten others from this year, just like I’ve missed mentioning so many other great moments from the year. If so inclined, I’d love to read what your favorite moments of anime from 2013 were.

One final time – so, to pick up from yesterday:

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: the reason for the season.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: discovering humanity in the most unlikely places.
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: winning the Animusic Tournament Bracket Contest.
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: someone who understands me.
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: the best thing Bones ever did.
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: pearls from amongst the swine.
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: the freedom to go with the flow.
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: anime to get buzzed from.
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: that final musical montage.
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: discovered gems of the Animusic Tournament.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: the Time of Eve Kickstarter.
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: that publicity picture.
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Nearly forgot, Merry Christmas! everyone.


Filed under: anime, general anime interst

Merry Christmas In February (2013)

christmas_group

Long time readers of The Null Set will probably remember that at some point in February I make a post wishing everyone a Merry Christmas in February and today is that day for 2013. Merry Christmas in February! Now, may spring be on it’s way now.

For those that are scratching your heads, permit to explain. Every year my family would have a couple of containers of Christmas cookies left over after the Christmas season and they’d sit in the freezer until we’d get hungry for them (somewhere in February). It would feel a bit odd to just take them out on a random day so we started eating something special (a turkey we got super cheap at Thanksgiving time and froze, a couple of pounds of homemade kielbaszi we bought extra for Christmas, etc.) on one day in February and had the cookies for dessert. Once we started doing this it was only a short jump before my family started calling this meal “Christmas in February” and 16 years ago was our very first Christmas in February.

Then a couple of decorations (bought during the after Christmas clearances) got put up for our meal then a small pre-decorated tree was procured (also bought on clearance). A tree needs presents which led to every family member getting one small, inexpensive gift and when the small tree couldn’t handle the present load a bigger tree was bought (also on clearance).

This year instead of having specific presents for people we decided to have mystery prize bingo. We picked up a bunch of cheap items, wrapped them, and used them as the prizes for games won while the family and guests played bingo.  A couple of games we continued playing until everyone got a bingo so that no one went home empty-handed. It turned out to be a lot of fun doing it this way and we’re all looking forward to next year already :) .

I love how stress-free this homemade holiday is compared to the real one. We even had a nice snowfall the night before so it really felt like Christmas.

Here’s some pictures:

IMG_6683

What it looked like outside.

IMG_6629

Getting ready to play Bingo.

summer201200164

IMG_6778

This still isn’t all the Christmas cookies left.

IMG_6786

Waiting for a bingo.

madoka_christmas


Filed under: anime, general anime interst, other news

Secret Santa Project Review – Ghost Hound

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Fall 2007, Ghost Hound, Manga Review, Production I.G, christmas, secret santa, series review | Monday 24 December 2012 6:00 pm

ghosthound02967

Sure the Secret Santa Project only asks that a person pick, watch, and review one work in any given year but I don’t like the idea of missing a good series and Time of Eve was a spectacular movie; so, I dove into another pick from my Secret Santa – Ghost Hound. Can it continue the string of great anime that I’ve discovered or will it break the chain? Let’s find out.

Story

Set in rural small town Japan – think Higurashi and Shiki – our main character is a middle-school boy whose haunted by a horrific tragedy that happened to him when he was three. Being three he only has a few vague memories but knows the outline of what happened, namely, his older sister and he were kidnapped and his sister died from starvation because the kidnapper was accidentally killed before revealing the location of the kidnapped kids. And this inability to fully remember what happened appears to upset him almost as much as what actually happened. When a new therapist, from distance Tokyo, comes to the little town to start treating the main character, he decides that he will try whatever it takes to remember what happened and get closure. In the course of his treatment, the main character gets caught-up in a series of mysterious events that seem to signal the coming of something big.

Thoughts and impressions

The closer something gets to perfection, the easier it is to find faults in it or so it seems.

Does the word Chaos;Head send shivers down your spine? It should. Watching a very good anime series fall so completely apart at the end like Chaos;Head did scarred more than a few anime fans. It’s the reason so many people were leery of Steins;Gate and Robotics;Note. (Even with Steins;Gate being as great as it was, it alone couldn’t completely wash away the memories of Chaos;Head.) From a blogger standpoint Chaos;Head showed that I needed a way to note a series that flubs it’s ending and by how much. Hence the ‘Ending’ subscore and a peek at the scoring for Ghost Hound below shows some bad news.

Ghost_Hound_04There is plenty of like about Ghost Hound (which is why it earned the overall score it did) but the ending is what I’ve been turning over in my mind these last few days and is also what I first think now that I’ve finished with Ghost Hound. So, I’m going to start with it and try not to spoil the series for potential viewers. One of the reasons why I’ve been stuck pondering the ending is because it’s not a classically bad ending. Ghost Hound’s ending is not one of those open endings that actually signifies the inability of the creators to figure out an ending nor is it an ending that is really just a way to justify a second season nor is it an ending that fails to tie up the plot and story arcs of the series. It actually ties up many of the story arcs, gives the plot a conclusive feeling of closure, does not pull out the deus ex machina tricks, and it does not suffer from running out of a budget with a couple of episodes to go but I definitely felt disappointed by the ending. And it’s bugging me.

I’d be tempted to think that the happier-then-I-thought-possible ending was the reason for feeling disappointment but most of the happy parts were logical endpoints of what the series included before it got to the finale and the other parts didn’t stray away from being plausible. Nor have I been bothered in the past when a darker series works out a happier ending so it’s not a general dislike of that type of ending. If I would have to take a guess, I think having the series run only 22 episodes instead of 24 – 26 forced the creators to compress the ending just enough to make it not quite work and thus feel disappointing but that’s just a guess.

The failings with the ending marred what had been a near perfect run by Ghost Hound.

ghosthound31514

My normal mode of anime consumption is watching shows on a weekly basis. I think on average it deepens my ability to appreciate the very good anime series and lessens my ability to watch the generic to bad anime series. Sometimes, though, watching a series on a weekly basis isn’t the best way to watch a series; Shiki is an example of this. I’ve watched it both ways and when it’s marathoned it became a very excellent, suspenseful series. With Ghost Hound being a slightly older series I had the option to watch it however I wanted and I planned to watch 2-4 episodes a day.

This is what happened.

The first day I watched 2 episodes. The second day I watched 8 episodes. The third day I watched the last 12 episodes. I could not stop watching Ghost Hound; if I had started early enough on day 2, I would have finished it that day.

Why did this happen?

Ghost Hound has many elements in common with other suspenseful series set in rural Japan so I felt like I would be familiar with what to expect but I obviously didn’t plan on getting sucked in as much as I was. One of the reasons for this stemmed from being actually and genuinely creeped out by Ghost Hound. The choice of sound effects and how they were used really contributed to Ghost Hound’s unsettlingly creepiness (and also because I watched this at night in a pitch dark room :) ).

Another reason why I marathoned this as fast as I did came from the tight plotting of the overall series. After setting the series up in episode 1 there are no breaks – no hot springs or beach episodes – nor does it meander aimlessly around – there is no “filler” episodes – to sever the accumulated tension and allow the viewer to easily put Ghost Hound down. I was always ‘1 more episode’ at the end of each episode. I can only guess now but I think Ghost Hound is definitely good enough that waiting for the show on a weekly basis would have about killed me.

ghosthound15000Ghost Hound also did itself the favor of not featuring a loser male main character. I keep hoping this character-type would die out already but the continued popularity of Evangelion probably makes that an impossible wish. Actually, the easy path of changing a loser male main character into a cool male main character probably appeals to slacker writers who just want to create painless derivative or clichéd works populated with one-dimensional characters. Thankfully, Ghost Hound doesn’t fall into this trap; though, the male main character has ample reason to be that way. Instead, he contains an actual backbone and continues to strive towards a positive future while carrying his pain like a normal person would do.

So, instead of relying a very weak way to create “character development”, Ghost Hound works at defining the main character, his two eventual friends, and the other noteworthy major characters and minor as actual people and then lets them organically develop in response to what’s happening around them.

I could ramble on further – talk about how Ghost Hound’s animation style helped make it a more unsettling show, or the great vocal performances, or how the show was able to include a bunch of science and psychology information without bogging it down and making it relevant to what was happening onscreen, etc. – but this a good place to sum it all up. Even knowing the ending was a disappointment, Ghost Hound overall is just too good of an anime series to miss and is a definite must watch if one enjoyed the likes of Shiki or Another.

Ghost_Hound_01

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Final Series Score: 10.5/12 Strong A
Rewatchablity: 3.5/5 – Medium
Ending: 1.5/5 – Disappointing
Animation: 3.5/5 – Very Good

This review was part of Reverse Thieves’ 2012 Secret Santa Project.

-

For a second opinion you can try The Nihon Review, KaminariAnime, OishiiAnime, Organization Anti-Social Geniuses, Paper Chimes, Mono no Aware, and Star Crossed Anime Blog.


Filed under: anime, series review

Secret Santa Project Review – Ghost Hound

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Fall 2007, Ghost Hound, Manga Review, Production I.G, christmas, secret santa, series review | Monday 24 December 2012 6:00 pm

ghosthound02967

Sure the Secret Santa Project only asks that a person pick, watch, and review one work in any given year but I don’t like the idea of missing a good series and Time of Eve was a spectacular movie; so, I dove into another pick from my Secret Santa – Ghost Hound. Can it continue the string of great anime that I’ve discovered or will it break the chain? Let’s find out.

Story

Set in rural small town Japan – think Higurashi and Shiki – our main character is a middle-school boy whose haunted by a horrific tragedy that happened to him when he was three. Being three he only has a few vague memories but knows the outline of what happened, namely, his older sister and he were kidnapped and his sister died from starvation because the kidnapper was accidentally killed before revealing the location of the kidnapped kids. And this inability to fully remember what happened appears to upset him almost as much as what actually happened. When a new therapist, from distance Tokyo, comes to the little town to start treating the main character, he decides that he will try whatever it takes to remember what happened and get closure. In the course of his treatment, the main character gets caught-up in a series of mysterious events that seem to signal the coming of something big.

Thoughts and impressions

The closer something gets to perfection, the easier it is to find faults in it or so it seems.

Does the word Chaos;Head send shivers down your spine? It should. Watching a very good anime series fall so completely apart at the end like Chaos;Head did scarred more than a few anime fans. It’s the reason so many people were leery of Steins;Gate and Robotics;Note. (Even with Steins;Gate being as great as it was, it alone couldn’t completely wash away the memories of Chaos;Head.) From a blogger standpoint Chaos;Head showed that I needed a way to note a series that flubs it’s ending and by how much. Hence the ‘Ending’ subscore and a peek at the scoring for Ghost Hound below shows some bad news.

Ghost_Hound_04There is plenty of like about Ghost Hound (which is why it earned the overall score it did) but the ending is what I’ve been turning over in my mind these last few days and is also what I first think now that I’ve finished with Ghost Hound. So, I’m going to start with it and try not to spoil the series for potential viewers. One of the reasons why I’ve been stuck pondering the ending is because it’s not a classically bad ending. Ghost Hound’s ending is not one of those open endings that actually signifies the inability of the creators to figure out an ending nor is it an ending that is really just a way to justify a second season nor is it an ending that fails to tie up the plot and story arcs of the series. It actually ties up many of the story arcs, gives the plot a conclusive feeling of closure, does not pull out the deus ex machina tricks, and it does not suffer from running out of a budget with a couple of episodes to go but I definitely felt disappointed by the ending. And it’s bugging me.

I’d be tempted to think that the happier-then-I-thought-possible ending was the reason for feeling disappointment but most of the happy parts were logical endpoints of what the series included before it got to the finale and the other parts didn’t stray away from being plausible. Nor have I been bothered in the past when a darker series works out a happier ending so it’s not a general dislike of that type of ending. If I would have to take a guess, I think having the series run only 22 episodes instead of 24 – 26 forced the creators to compress the ending just enough to make it not quite work and thus feel disappointing but that’s just a guess.

The failings with the ending marred what had been a near perfect run by Ghost Hound.

ghosthound31514

My normal mode of anime consumption is watching shows on a weekly basis. I think on average it deepens my ability to appreciate the very good anime series and lessens my ability to watch the generic to bad anime series. Sometimes, though, watching a series on a weekly basis isn’t the best way to watch a series; Shiki is an example of this. I’ve watched it both ways and when it’s marathoned it became a very excellent, suspenseful series. With Ghost Hound being a slightly older series I had the option to watch it however I wanted and I planned to watch 2-4 episodes a day.

This is what happened.

The first day I watched 2 episodes. The second day I watched 8 episodes. The third day I watched the last 12 episodes. I could not stop watching Ghost Hound; if I had started early enough on day 2, I would have finished it that day.

Why did this happen?

Ghost Hound has many elements in common with other suspenseful series set in rural Japan so I felt like I would be familiar with what to expect but I obviously didn’t plan on getting sucked in as much as I was. One of the reasons for this stemmed from being actually and genuinely creeped out by Ghost Hound. The choice of sound effects and how they were used really contributed to Ghost Hound’s unsettlingly creepiness (and also because I watched this at night in a pitch dark room :) ).

Another reason why I marathoned this as fast as I did came from the tight plotting of the overall series. After setting the series up in episode 1 there are no breaks – no hot springs or beach episodes – nor does it meander aimlessly around – there is no “filler” episodes – to sever the accumulated tension and allow the viewer to easily put Ghost Hound down. I was always ‘1 more episode’ at the end of each episode. I can only guess now but I think Ghost Hound is definitely good enough that waiting for the show on a weekly basis would have about killed me.

ghosthound15000Ghost Hound also did itself the favor of not featuring a loser male main character. I keep hoping this character-type would die out already but the continued popularity of Evangelion probably makes that an impossible wish. Actually, the easy path of changing a loser male main character into a cool male main character probably appeals to slacker writers who just want to create painless derivative or clichéd works populated with one-dimensional characters. Thankfully, Ghost Hound doesn’t fall into this trap; though, the male main character has ample reason to be that way. Instead, he contains an actual backbone and continues to strive towards a positive future while carrying his pain like a normal person would do.

So, instead of relying a very weak way to create “character development”, Ghost Hound works at defining the main character, his two eventual friends, and the other noteworthy major characters and minor as actual people and then lets them organically develop in response to what’s happening around them.

I could ramble on further – talk about how Ghost Hound’s animation style helped make it a more unsettling show, or the great vocal performances, or how the show was able to include a bunch of science and psychology information without bogging it down and making it relevant to what was happening onscreen, etc. – but this a good place to sum it all up. Even knowing the ending was a disappointment, Ghost Hound overall is just too good of an anime series to miss and is a definite must watch if one enjoyed the likes of Shiki or Another.

Ghost_Hound_01

-

Final Series Score: 10.5/12 Strong A
Rewatchablity: 3.5/5 – Medium
Ending: 1.5/5 – Disappointing
Animation: 3.5/5 – Very Good

This review was part of Reverse Thieves’ 2012 Secret Santa Project.

-

For a second opinion you can try The Nihon Review, KaminariAnime, OishiiAnime, Organization Anti-Social Geniuses, Paper Chimes, Mono no Aware, and Star Crossed Anime Blog.


Filed under: anime, series review

Secret Santa Project Review – Time of Eve

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Manga Review, christmas, eve no jikan, secret santa, series review, time of eve | Monday 24 December 2012 2:10 pm

Last year was the first year that I participated in the Secret Santa Project and I basically hit the jackpot with the three series that were picked for me – Noein, Figure 17, and Simoun. Noein even earned a spot (#16) on my top 20 all-time anime list; not bad for a series I probably would never have watched by myself. I spent the year hoping for a similar outcome with this years Secret Santa Project which put a great deal of pressure on my Secret Santa, even if the person didn’t know it. Probably a bit unfair to ask so much but that’s how humans seem to operate. So, could Time of Eve live up to likes of Noein, Figure 17, and Simoun? Let’s find out.

Story

Sometime in the near future the twin developments of true AI and perfect human-analog mechanical bodies allow for the creation of lifelike androids to fill a variety of roles in society. To protect humanity from potential harm Asimov’s Three Laws are hard coded into the minds of all robots, including these androids. And to allow humans the ability to differentiate these androids from humans they have to keep a holographic ring glowing above their heads at all times. Time of Eve starts somewhere in Japan as one day a high school student notices that his household android went to a weird location and decides to investigate. Once there, he and his friend stumble upon a café which has a house rule that humans and robots are to be treated equally (thereby forcing all androids to turn off their rings). Neither of these boys are ready for the series of experiences they are about to have as they come to grips with the idea of androids being true independent individuals with their own personalities, hopes, and dreams.

Thoughts and impressions

I won’t lie. I was initially kinda disappointed about my three picks. The one was an anime based on a manga that I bought a few volumes of before stopping, the second was a series that at one point I was kinda interested in but never got enough interested in it enough to actually watch and the third, Time of Eve, was half-downloaded by me three years ago and then never finished or watched. I grumbled to myself for a couple of days until my optimistic side won and I decided to embrace the point of the Secret Santa Project – to try something I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. With that in mind I picked the movie version of Time of Eve for my first review. (I still hope to get to one of the other picks before Christmastime.)

A mere 15 minutes in and I was ready to throw a time-traveling Aquarion Evol style Infinity Punch back to myself at the point where I decided not to watch Time of Eve. To think I had this thought-provoking, emotionally deep, grand SF tale laying around for the last three years, gathering metaphorical dust, makes me angry at myself.

Like all good science fiction, the science fictional backdrop is really just an aid to tell a story. So, while one could watch Time of Eve to marvel at the high-tech society and it’s human-like androids, that’s really a sidelight to the story about the café and it’s customers who go there to relax and express a side of themselves that’s impossible to do so in society and hide a side of themselves that they normally have to express in society. Just like one would imagine happens all the time in cafés around the world today. What’s kinda surprising, at first glance, is that Time of Eve was able to spend almost no time constructing its SF, near future world. Instead, the movie spent it’s mere 105 minute run time on introducing nine characters (and a handful of smaller bit characters), giving us their back story, explaining what makes them tick (figuratively :) ) and having many of them go through serious maturing and character development all while creating a compelling story (expect to find your eyes get a little misty in a couple of places) that also sneaks in a deeper plot then what’s normal for a slice-of-life type show. And I almost forgot to mention the great vocal cast that helped bring Time of Eveto life; to name but a few, there was Jun Fukuyama, Rie Tanaka, Rina Satou, and Miyuki Sawashiro.

I say only initially surprising because it became readily apparent that Yasuhiro Yoshiura (original creator and director) and Studio Rikka are masters at their craft. There was so many little touches that just screams we are in the presence of people who know how to make really good anime. The background music was always spot on in complementing and bringing out the very best in every scene. The comedic bits were genuinely funny and integrated into the overall show without upsetting the flow of the show. The realistic animation style coupled with the live-action style handheld camera effects (jerky pans, zooming, refocusing when changing the focus of the shot, etc.) helped make Time of Eve feel like it was a real place, full of real characters. And let’s not forget the quality storytelling and the way a bigger plot was weaved into the movie (no specifics on this because I don’t want to spoil). Or how Time of Eve doesn’t need to spend time info-dumping about the world or androids because anything we need to know is worked into the story. Heck, even the sound effects were a cut above and helped sale so many scenes.

Of course, if one wants their SF movie to have thought provoking science fiction, Time of Eve does not disappoint either. It’s obvious that Time of Eve was a love letter to Isaac Asimov, his Three Laws of Robotics, and his belief that robots weren’t going to try to kill humanity off just because they were robots but it goes beyond being a mere slavish imitator; it also nails the heart and soul of an Asimov book like I, Robot , the reason why these books are so good. I’d even go so far as to say that Time of Eve is a better embodiment of the spirit of Asimov’s robot books then pretty much anything I’ve ever seen made out of them (do not get me started on the I,Robot movie).

Time of Eve never had to preach about the questions and ideas it wanted the viewer to think about; it told a story and we, the viewers, merrily did the work ourselves. For instance, without trying to spoil anything, at one point in the movie we see one of the androids in society after seeing her behaving and thinking like a person inside the café and I had this intense visceral reaction in my gut – I was seething with anger at a society that’s forcing these androids to act like cold machines when they aren’t. I wanted to climb into the screen to do something about it and that’s the mark of a good movie (or TV series, book, etc.).

The only downside to Time of Eve is that, even though the movie is emotionally satisfying and it has a stellar ending that completes the various story threads, I want more and there’s so obviously more to this world that’s just waitng to get animated. I can easily see a 26 episode series that could pick up at the end of the movie and there’d probably still be plenty of material left over for more.

I guess my secret Santa knew what to pick again, thanks. I highly recommend Time of Eve.

In closing, my final thought is: what is it with great Japanese SF anime series and cafés.

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Final Series Score: 12/12 Perfect
Rewatchablity: 4.5/5 – High
Ending: 4.5/5 – Sublime
Animation: 5/5 – Epic

This review was part of Reverse Thieves’ 2012 Secret Santa Project.

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Seeking a second opinion? Try these other blogs – Mono no Aware, Hanner’s Anime Blog, Ambivalence – or is it ambiguity?, chaostangent, anime/otaku, Major arcana, and last but certainly not least Anime Instrumentality


Filed under: anime, series review

Secret Santa Project – Figure 17 Review

In spite of only needing to watch and review a single title for the Secret Santa Project, the chance of discovering excellence a second time after Noein convinced me to squeeze a second series in. I chose Noein because it’s staff later did one of my favorite anime, Birdy the Mighty Decode, but I lacked such a clear indicator for the second choice. On one hand I had an anime called Figure 17 – which I’ve never heard of – and on the other was an anime called Simoun – which I remember hearing some positive buzz for. I decided that picking Simoun wasn’t in the spirit of the Secret Santa Project and went with the older and unknown Figure 17 as my second pick.

I popped the first episode in and I thought …

… Wikipedia must be wrong; this is a much older series then a mere 10 years old.

A few months ago I wouldn’t let this bother me and would continue watching but recently I’ve been trying to delve deeper into understanding the influence of the staff on an anime and I couldn’t wait for the end of episode 1. So, I stopped the episode and started reading up on staff and the production.

I won’t bore those reading with everything I found but there were a few things that I found genuinely interesting.

The director of Figure 17, Naohito Takahashi, had previously directed Berserk and been relatively busy in the 90’s but after Figure 17 the only thing he’s directed was Agatha Christie’s Great Detectives Poirot and Marple in 2004. I don’t know if the director ended up getting kicked higher up into producing or eventually decided to retire or what. Whichever it is, I find it a shame that’s not more recent anime series that he directed. And it reminded me that I should finally get around to watching Berserk before the new movies come out.

Then there was the case of one of the little animation studios that had the in-between animation farmed out to it. It’s name probably meant nothing to even the more hardcore anime fan back in 2001 though in a mere five years after Figure 17 even the most noobish anime fan knew the name of Kyoto Animation with the release of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. With just in-between animation there’s probably no indelible mark that fingerprints their work in Figure 17 but I wonder: did KyoAni do a good job? did this job help convince producers that they could be trusted with animating a series themselves? was there any lasting influence on the animators of KyoAni after working on this project? Maybe if I had the Japanese language competency I’d go all old-fashioned and write them a letter asking this.

A look of  the voice actors and actresses revealed the now very famous Rie Kugimiya voiced a minor character in Figure 17. At the time of Figure 17 she was just starting out as a voice actress and was still 4 years away from the role that would define and immortalize her (as much as anyone can be immortalized in the ever-changing world of anime fandom). The role was, of course, Shana the red-haired hunter. Nowadays she often gets typecasted voicing a Shana-clone character so I was interested to see what type of character she was voicing before Shana. In hindsight, the answer was an obvious one; she plays a loud, short-tempered, abrasive, fourth grade girl or more simply a proto-Shana role (a Shana role from before she was Shana). Once again I got to wondering if this role influenced her later career.

With my intellectual curiosity sated, I popped Figure 17 back in and started watching.

Story

Figure 17 can be broken down into three distinct storylines. The first centers on the main character Tsubasa and her coming-of-age. She starts the series as a shy, introverted girl that hasn’t handled the recent move to the northern island of Japan, Hokkaido, from Tokyo very well. Her life takes a turn when she witnesses a meteor fall near her house and goes to investigate. She walks right into the second storyline, though she doesn’t know this at first. She encounters a humanoid alien, DD, who has to collect several dangerous alien monsters that escaped his crashed star-ship. His job is made much harder because something about the Earth mutates these monsters into creatures much more deadly then he’s prepared to face. Luckily for him and humanity, our main character shows up to help.

I know what your thinking, what can a fourth grader do to help.

One of the cooler pieces of alien tech our friendly alien DD has is sentient armor suits that encase the wearer in a near indestructible shell, when needed, and stored in a handy liquid state, when not needed. Upon initialization these suits scan the wearer’s brain and creates a digital copy of that person consciousness which the suit then uses in conjunction with it’s superior reflexes and senses to augment the wearer’s combat abilities.

Tsubasa stumbles upon a spare armor suit and activates it by accident. Her being human somehow alters the sentient armor suit and the resulting Figure (which is what the person plus the armor suit is called) is much stronger then DD’s Figure (try not to chuckle too much) and she’s able to stop the alien. How altered Tsubasa’s suit is after coming into contact with a human becomes apparent when they go to separate and the suit takes on the appearance Tsubasa instead of returning into a liquid ball. This creates a problem for DD. He’s not supposed to interact with the locals yet he needs the help of  Tsubasa’s Figure and somewhere to put the suit which is now an almost exact copy of Tsubasa without raising suspicions. He decides to use his ability to erase and add memories in people to make Tsubasa’s family think he’s a friend of the family that’s staying with them and that the suit is Hikaru, twin sister of Tsubasa.

The addition of a more outgoing “twin” to Tsubasa’s life gives her the opportunity to slowly blossom into a more self-assured person that her classmates like.

The third storyline is Hokkaido itself. As opposed to so much anime that takes place in big cities, Figure 17 is set in an area of Japan so sparsely populated that it makes even Shiki and Higurashi look like they were set in urban areas. Throughout the show we see the change that the slow cycle of seasons impart on the characters, surroundings, and the story. And we get to see all four seasons because the aliens monsters present a much more insidious challenge then just the quick roundup that DD initially thought.

Thoughts and impressions

Thank you Secret Santa!

How did you know I love intelligent SF series that don’t skimp on characters and story or that that I was depressed over Steins;Gate ending with no anime this Fall season that could really replace it? Both Noein and Figure 17 were perfect picks.

There is, however, one caveat to my praise of Figure 17 that I feel I should mention. The overall 90’s look to the anime was not that difficult to get into and did not slow my enjoyment of the series but I found the character designs of the kids to be downright ugly from certain angles. The worse was the side angle which made the kids look like bullfrogs getting ready to ribbitt. Kids are almost universally cute, it’s an effective survival strategy on their part and one that should be replicated when coming up character designs unless there’s an artistic reason in not doing so. Someone should have said, “You’re doing it wrong,” and had the character designs redone.

Eventually, the shock was no longer that shocking but it took many episodes to get to that point. I want to mention this because in spite of this Figure 17 is still a very excellent anime; don’t get scared away do to this minor issue.

Past that I have nothing but praise for the show.

I most liked how the creators where able to make Figure 17 work as an alien invasion story and a coming-of-age story and a travelogue of Hokkaido and as an introspective thinking story both independently and weaved together.

To make the alien invasion compelling Figure 17 used alien monsters that could adapt and quickly evolve based on information it gathered about the Earth and how their brethren were killed. This escalated each encounter. The heroes never knew if the new weapons and strategies that they came up since the last fight would be able to defeat the latest and more deadlier monster. There were no shortcuts to victory.

To make the coming-of-age story interesting Figure 17 treated the kids as actual characters and not just as a group of cliches and tropes meant to cover all the bases in anime fandom. The result was a refreshing change of pace that helped me actually care about the characters.

To make the location relevant and engaging Figure 17 remembered to include the small things and also to effectively use it’s unorthodox format. For example, the harsh winters of Hokkaido force the people to build their houses differently then those living down south like around Tokyo and these differences, like sloped roofing so the snow slides off, get shown throughout the series. I’ve yet to mention that each episode of Figure 17 runs for a full hour (with commercials or about 45 minutes without) and was originally released once a month. This gave Figure 17 the time to feature the surrounding and do the character building and include at least one alien fight each episode. If this had been split down into 30 minute episodes the creators would have faced the decision to either try to include a fight into each episode at the cost of everything but the alien invasion scenes or to bounce between “action” episodes and “character-building” episodes and somehow keep the show feeling coherent and paced well.

To make the introspective, thinking angle not boring Figure 17 let the characters and story dictate when the viewers were meant to think about the topics presented. It didn’t try to brow beat us into contemplating the ethics of DD in forcing the family of our main character Tsubasa into believing she has a twin sister or the rights that the sentient battle suit deserves after effectively becoming a person with a lifetime of memories or any of the other questions raised because the creators know if it’s done naturally the viewers will do without a second thought. Fans of Dr. Who might have thought that the story behind the sentient battle suits was reminiscent of the recent two-part story dealing with “The Flesh” and you’d be right. However, it was handled much better here.

I could ramble on but it would probably be a case of diminishing returns at this point so I’ll close by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed Figure 17 and would definitely recommend it.

Figure 17

Final Series Score: 11.5/12 Near Perfect
Rewatchablity: 3.5/5 – Medium
Ending:
4.5/5 – Sublime
Animation: 2.5/5 – Average

This was part of Reverse Thieves’ 2011 Secret Santa Project. Go here for links to other reviews by other anime bloggers.


Filed under: anime, meta/office keeping, series review

Secret Santa Project – Noein Review

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Manga Review, Merry Christmas, christmas, meta/office keeping, noein, secret santa, series review | Sunday 25 December 2011 3:21 am

I know what you’re thinking at this point – “He’s still alive? It’s a Christmas miracle!” Actually, probably not and those same readers probably don’t want some long meta explanation as to why I’ve been absent when you’re just here for an anime review. Don’t worry, I feel your pain; my excuse is related :) . I like to write about anime that excites me in one way or the other and it was difficult to find that spark this season when compared to the two anime series that I watched for the Secret Santa Project.

I can’t tell you how many times I thought, “Gee, I really should write something for my anime blog … Noein was an awesome show … but I have to wait till Christmas eve to post about it … well, ahm … Noein was an awesome show …” repeat to ad nauseam. Of course, what I should have done was taken the time to write my review of Noein during November or any day of December before today but the side of me that demands perfection told me I had plenty of time to figure out how best to convey the sheer epic epicness of Noein. I’m not that surprised that it’s Christmas eve and I’m just starting now without figuring the perfect pitch :) .

This is the best I’ve come up with.

Noein is ambitious, grand science fiction; wrapped in an emotionally satisfying story of love, redemption, and friendship; executed perfectly and featuring some of the best animated and choreographed action scenes ever.

Story

The multiverse exists and it’s a jungle out there. The continued safety of one parallel universe from on onslaught of giant monster mecha intent upon destroying that universe was on finding and returning with an item of great power. At the start of Noein this universe discovered the item in a potential parallel universe. Potential because until observed by an observer it doesn’t truly exist (quantum physics is a weird and funny science – or at least how SF uses quantum physics). A crack team of soldiers are sent to retrieve the item but are shaken when this universe appears to be a mirror of their own universe from 15 years in the past.

Can these soldiers resist the temptation of going rogue and living in the beautiful world of their childhood before the mecha showed up? How will knowledge of a possible future change the characters in the potential – and now real – parallel universe? Can the plans by another parallel universe known as Shangri-La (the ones the made the large mecha) for the destruction of all other universes be stopped? How much of the story can I tease without dropping spoilers tags over everything?

Thoughts and impressions

Noein hit me like a ton-of-bricks; it’s all-time top 10 level goodness that I probably wasn’t ever going to watch because it’s a few years old.

I’d like to say everyone should watch Noein but realistically there are people that Noein isn’t meant for. So I came up with a short three step questionaire for those reading to see if they should watch Noein or not.

Question 1 – Did you watch and like Steins;Gate? If the answer is yes then drop whatever your’re doing and start watching Noein. If you answered that you haven’t seen Steins;Gate continue reading. If you answered that you watched and hated Steins;Gate then Noein probably isn’t for you. And that’s okay if you think that.

Question 2 – What was your reaction to Kyubey’s explanation about entropy and the heat death of the universe for his actions from Puella Magi Madoka Magica? If it was positive, drop what you’re doing and start watching Noein (and Steins;Gate if you haven’t already). If you thought it was confusing but that didn’t infringe on your ability to enjoy PM3 then watching Noein for it’s characters is worth a shot. If you thought it was confusing or stupid and it caused you to dislike PM3 or stop watching PM3 then Noein probably isn’t for you. And once again that’s okay if you think that.

Question 3 – Do you watch anime just for the fan service? If the answer is yes then Noein isn’t for you and though it’s difficult to say, that’s okay as well. If you answered no then Noein should at least be considered as well as Steins;Gate and PM3.

That’s about all I have to say given the time constraints and my desire not to spoil the show for potential viewers and because my other Secret Santa post in nearly 2000 words long itself. I’ll close with a video detailing the work by one of the key animators that worked on Noein. Yes, I read what Scamp wrote over at The Cart Driver but I wanted in include something that displays what I mean by Noein having some of the best animated and choreographed actions scenes ever.  The key animator in this video goes by the name Ryo-timo or Ryo-chimo and after Noein he worked on Birdy the Mighty Decode and most recently got to direct and largely animate the Yozakura Quartet 3 episode OVA series. The first animation studio that gives him a pile of money and solid source material to work with will make a killing.

Noein

Final Series Score: 12/12 Perfect
Rewatchablity: 4/5 – Medium to High
Ending:
4.5/5 – Sublime
Animation: 4/5 – Excellent

This was part of Reverse Thieves’ 2011 Secret Santa Project. Go here for links to other reviews by other anime bloggers.


Filed under: anime, meta/office keeping, series review

Amagami SS Haruka Arc – Idealistic Misogyny

Posted by Author | AIC, Anime, Anime Review, Manga Review, amagami ss, christmas, comedy, drama, lvlln, romance, school | Tuesday 27 July 2010 1:42 am

Last week’s episode prompted me to post and to wonder (or perhaps to predict) if this show was going to be, as they call it, a train wreck. To be fair to the show, it’s only 1/6 of the way through, but that does mean that the first story arc is complete, and I can at least say that this story arc was an unqualified train wreck. That being said, I can’t help but grin from ear to ear as I write this. I have to give it credit. Plenty of shows have sucked and been unwatchable, but it’s rare for one to still make you want to keep watching.

The phrase “so bad it’s good” comes to mind. This is a phrase used appropriately to describe movies moreso than TV shows. When you’re spending a 90 minute stretch to watch something, the phrase makes a lot of sense. But when you’re watching something week in and week out, if something is bad, it’s just bad. It’s a rare breed that can still entertain for such a long period of time, not despite, but because of how bad it is. Amagami SS is one of those special shows.

So why was it so bad? I could point to the extremely poor pacing, which saw almost nothing happen the 1st 2 episodes, followed by a bizarre 3rd and then a 4th that hit us with more shit than the 1st 3 combined. I’ve already written on the awfulness of the 3rd episode and its misogyny, on which the final episode of this arc happily builds. Then there is the 4th episode by itself, which was crammed so full of cliches – not the good kind – that I’m still in awe and wonderment at the enormity of the feat.

Let's look at this abomination one more time, shall we?

Really, if I were to write about every little thing, this post would go far too long. Suffice it to say, I got a good laugh out of the revelation that Junichi and Haruka had met before, at an important moment of both of their pasts, which was also intricately tied to Haruka’s actual dog. And the laughs just kept coming, from somehow sticking a swimsuit scene into a Christmas Eve setting to having Haruka surprise Junichi with the dream date, hotel room and all.

But the moment that sticks in my mind, that offended my sensibilities too much for its own good is just when Haruka came out of the bath, upset that Junichi didn’t try to peek at her. This is, to quote @8C from Twitter, “misogynistic idealism.” The same can be said about the 10-years-later gag that they pulled immediately after. We are never shown the actual difficulties of the romance – the parts that are interesting – and are told that, as soon as you get the girl – or rather, as soon as the girl gets you – everything will be hunky dory from then on. Your “work” is finished.

It doesn't matter that the central theme of this show is Christmas, god damn it! We're gonna have a swimsuit fanservice scene!

Anime in general and especially visual novels such as the one on which this show is based are known for their misogyny. Visual novels get away with this because most of them are wish fulfillment porn anyway. Anime shows get away with this because they tend to be pretty absurd comedies, where multi-dimensional characters and realistic relationships aren’t needed.

But those things are needed in a somewhat serious romance story like Amagami SS. It just doesn’t work when the climactic, super dramatic moment is dependent on the girl acting like what a “misogynistic idealist” believes she should act like. Or if the build up to that involves the girl fulfilling the guy’s weird fetish of being a dog. Let me quote chaostangent from an astute post he made after only the first 3 episodes had aired:

These are not even char­ac­ters but amal­gam­a­tions of the most tired, staid and all-round tedi­ous aspects of arche­types that have mutated into a hideous, cringe­worthy diorama of what sociopaths believe real­istic or dra­mat­ic­ally enga­ging human inter­ac­tion is.

And yet, I must laud Amagami SS for being so bold in its adaptation of a visual novel. Most anime adaptations of visual novels tone down the obviously misogynist and wish fulfillment fantasy aspects in favor of creating a story better suited for the medium. Not Amagami SS. I have not played or read any of the source material, but I’m confident that this anime has embraced its heritage fully.

It took me a second viewing to connect this scene and the previous one and notice that Junichi was hiding an erection here.

That’s why, despite the show’s insurmountable flaws, I enjoyed this first story arc of Amagami SS. Most anime shows tread that misogynistic line shyly, afraid to reference the fact that it’s an overarching theme in so many works in the medium – there’s an entire genre devoted to it – all the while partaking in it. Amagami SS outright celebrates it, and, most importantly, it does it without a hint of irony. In a way, it is a reflection of the expectations of the current otaku community at large.

This is a show that is fully aware of the path to failure that it’s marching down. And far from despairing it, it revels in it, inviting us, the viewers, to join in as well. I won’t be joining it, but I’ll happily look from afar at what other droplets of idealistic misogyny lies in its path.

Girls love it when you try to peek on them while they're in the bath. It almost always leads to a confession and then sex.


A Very Belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year


I guess I owe at least a small explanation as to where I’ve been. My one sister and brother-in-law dragged me into tabletop pen-n-paper RPGs back in June and they like to host Dungeons and Dragons parties around the major holidays so their friends from across the state can drive over and play. They had planned a 3-day bash around New Years and I thought that my own character was going to be low to participate but about a week before Christmas we figured that if we worked at it then I’d be able to play with everyone else. So, long story short, I played a bunch of Dungeons and Dragons so when we got to New Years I could spend 3 days from dawn-to-dusk playing more DnD. And now that several days have passed since then, I’m starting to feel human again.

On top of that, I spent about a dozen hours helping my other sister, who’s home schooled, do the chemistry experiments she needed to do for her chemistry class.

And I got 5 new books for Christmas and I’ve read 3 of them already (over 900 pages total – which I don’t know if I should boast about :) ) And finally, I had to watch anime as well. :)

So, I’m back.

Posted in anime, anime wallpaper, general anime interst

Anime Investigative Reports – What Do You Want For Christmas?

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Manga Review, anime investigative reports, christmas, comedy, investigative reports | Sunday 30 November 2008 5:13 am

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Continuing this blog’s efforts to give you the news, I sent my intrepid reporters out to find what was topping the Christmas wish-lists this year.

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wantchristmas02

wantchristmas03wantchristmas04wantchristmas05wantchristmas06wantchristmas07wantchristmas08wantchristmas09wantchristmas10

There you have it. Remember to keep a look out for the next Anime Investigative Report, you never know what we’ll discover.

Posted in anime, anime investigative reports      



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