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Noragami Might Just Be The Best TV Series From Bones Studio

[FFF] Noragami - 01 [3B59E3E2].mkv_snapshot_11.41_[2014.02.25_02.15.35]Noragami was, very nearly, the best series that aired this winter 2014 season and that includes the carryover series. The only series that were able to beat Noragami were Silver Spoon 2 and Hunter x Hunter.

I was thinking about how good this season turned out when the thought came, unbidden, that in all my years of watching series from Bones that I’d never seen one of theirs that was as strong and perfect as Noragami. I felt the gears in my brain grind to a halt. I thought to myself – That cannot be! Surely there has to be something better. However, I checked their list of works out and couldn’t find that something better. Now, because of my past rocky relationship with Bones there are a number of earlier works I never watched; so I inserted that degree of uncertainty in the title to reflect this. :)

In the last 10 years, which is an eternity in anime fandom, the only major Bones work that I’ve not yet seen and could impact this discussion is Darker than Black. (Which tempts me to change the title to narrow the time frame down and increase the certainty shown.) Based on opinions of people I’ve read and heard, earlier Bones works that I’ve yet to see and could change my assessment of Noragami include: RahXephon, Wolf’s Rain, and Scrapped Princess.

I’m assuming there will be disagreements to this assertion; so, setting those titles I just mentioned aside, lets run through the list to see where I’m coming from.

The first group I’m going to remove are those series that are complete failures, these are:

  • Heroman
  • Gosick

The next group that gets removed are those series that fall apart at the end (the most common problem of series done by Bones), they include:

  • Fullmetal Alchemist
  • Eureka Seven
  • Chiko, Heiress of the Phantom Thief
  • Xam’d: Lost Memories
  • Tokyo Magnitude 8.0
  • No. 6

I realize the love Eureka Seven has by many fans which might one day get me to try it again but, for now, I really disliked how weird the story of the second half of the series became.

The next group are those series that have other pacing issues:

  • Soul Eater
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
  • Un-Go

Soul Eater started really slow, taking about 20 episodes to really get good, and the anime original ending was rather wobbly. Not as bad as the prior group but still a detraction to the series. FMA: Brotherhood starts off with the story horrendously compressed as it attempts to get through the material already covered in the first Full Metal Alchemist series with extreme haste. A good series, much less a superior one, shouldn’t require one to watch something else to fill in the story it doesn’t want to spend time on. Un-Go is probably my second favorite Bones series. To reach that point, however, it required watching the OVA – which was released well after the series – to explain just what was happening in the series. And, once again, a good series should not leave important back-story to a separate OVA (and releasing it after the fact was a double whammy). Even with the OVA, Un-Go cannot beat Noragami because the mysteries that are the center of Un-Go are rather lame. A decision to spend more time on fewer mysteries or to add more episodes could have made the mysteries more compelling.

The series of the next group suffer from other types of issues, they include:

  • Eureka Seven: Astral Ocean
  • Blast of Tempest
  • Space Dandy

[Commie] Space Dandy - 08 [F1A2DF6A].mkv_snapshot_15.31_[2014.03.11_01.57.30]Eureka Seven: Astral Ocean told it’s story much better then the first series but the main characters weren’t that interesting or likeable which weighed the series down, as did the couple of plot turns that could have been handled better. Blast of Tempest displayed streaks of brilliance but was overall a bit too uneven. Space Dandy has been even more uneven. Each episode could be anywhere from unwatchable to pretty awesome and it’s hard to really like a series that is that unpredictable. The second half of Space Dandy might be a completely different experience and it could challenge Noragami, check back in the summer to find out.

This leaves one series – Star Driver – and Noragami was an all-around better series then Star Driver.

Now, there are a few series that I did not account for yet. My impression of those are they, most likely, are not good enough to rate a mention. If fans of these series think I’ve done a disservice to these series then, please, leave a comment explaining why I’m wrong. I don’t mind if it means I discover a good series. :)

So, that leaves Noragami at the top of a rather sizable heap. The question could be asked, why Noragami? What makes it the best.

[FFF] Noragami - 01 [3B59E3E2].mkv_snapshot_19.08_[2014.02.25_02.21.18]For starters, Noragami has the quality animation one would expect from Bones. The series is plotted perfectly to fit in it’s run length. It has a good ending which is even more impressive for a series that is ongoing. The ending is anime original and it’s as good as the rest of the series. The music is stellar. The characters are compelling and full of depth and drive the story. The setting is interesting. The story is interesting. The seiyuu did top quality work.

Basically, Noragami did everything right about as perfect as possible and that’s why I can say that it might just be the best TV series from Bones.


Filed under: anime, anime rants/views, series review

Reflections on Classic Doctor Who from a New Who Fan

Posted by Author | Anime Review, Doctor Who, Manga Review, Matt Smith, Tom Baker, science fiction | Monday 24 March 2014 8:13 am

DoctorWho_Vincent

With Doctor Who’s Christmas episode signaling the start of a new era for the show I decided the best way to prepare for a new Doctor and to show my appreciation for everyone who, over the last 50 years, worked so hard to keep Doctor Who going was to watch as much of classic Doctor Who, the original 26 season run of the series, as I could stand and/or easily get my hands on.

Even with this resolve, as a person who’s only seen the new Doctor Who, I had worries; what I knew of the original run is what I read from comments and articles. I was expecting a show that bore little resemblance to the new Doctor Who based on the vehemence of comparisons made between the two by fans of the old. I was expecting a show with such truly horrible production values that it would impact the enjoyment of the show. I was expecting padded, questionable writing to be the standard with only a couple serials good enough to compete with the new series.

In short, I wasn’t expecting to particularly enjoy the task I’d set out to accomplish.

Read on to see how I fared or infer the results from the pile of current airing anime I’ve let accumulate from the last couple of weeks.

For a post like this, I think I’m going to try a different format out to better organize my thoughts.

What did you watch?

Between Amazon Prime and Netflix streaming this is what I watched:

Season Serial Name Doctor Companion

1

The Aztecs First Doctor Susan, Barbara, Ian

5

The Tomb of the Cybermen Second Doctor Jamie, Victoria

6

The Mind Robber Second Doctor Jamie, Zoe

7

Spearhead from Space Third Doctor Liz

10

The Three Doctors The First 3 Jo, the Brig, Benton
Carnival of Monsters Third Doctor Jo
The Green Death Third Doctor Jo

12

The Ark in Space Fourth Doctor Sarah, Harry

13

Pyramids of Mars Fourth Doctor Sarah

14

The Robots of Death Fourth Doctor Leela
The Talons of Weng-Chiang Fourth Doctor Leela

15

Horror of Fang Rock Fourth Doctor Leela

16

The Ribos Operation Fourth Doctor Romana, K9
The Pirate Planet Fourth Doctor Romana, K9
The Androids of Tara Fourth Doctor Romana, K9
The Power of Kroll Fourth Doctor Romana
The Armageddon Factor Fourth Doctor Romana, K9

17

City of Death Fourth Doctor Romana II

18

The Leisure Hive Fourth Doctor Romana II

19

The Visitation Fifth Doctor Adric, Nyssa, Tegan
Earthshock Fifth Doctor Adric, Nyssa, Tegan

21

The Caves of Androzani Fifth Doctor/Sixth Peri

22

Vengeance of Varos Sixth Doctor Peri

26

Ghost Light Seventh Doctor Ace
The Curse of Fenric Seventh Doctor Ace

Any general conclusions?

Yes.

The supposed problems of classic Doctor Who were widely exaggerated. Even from the very first serial, The Aztecs, from the very first season, what I watched was Doctor Who. Yes, some of sets and props were a bit dodgy but no worse then the dodgy CG of the new series. Yes, some of the writing was questionable but no more so then the new series. And yes, some of the writing was truly inspired but no more so then the new series.

So you liked Classic Doctor Who?

Generally speaking, yes. It wasn’t completely smooth sailing, though. There were a couple incarnations of the Doctor I didn’t particularly like, ditto the companions, and wow, where do I begin with K9. Fans of new Doctor Who know this drill, though, because it’s essentially the same thing with new Doctor Who; it’s near impossible to enjoy every part  of the show all the time. Sometimes the companions annoy, the plot of an episode is bland, the Doctor acts like a jerk and you want to throw something at the TV as a result. So to sum it up, if a fan of new Doctor Who loves the show, warts and all, then there’s no reason not to watch classic Doctor Who.

Wait. You didn’t like a couple incarnations of the Doctor Who, which ones?

Numbers 5 and 6.

The Doctor is (almost) always the smartest one in the room but these two crossed the line and seemed to revel in their smug superiority. I didn’t like it and I could see myself drift away from the series as a result if I had been old enough to catch these seasons of Doctor Who as they aired.

What did you think of the episodes offered?

I was extremely happy to get the chance to watch several of the top classic Doctor Who serials, according to this; however, there were serious gaps from what I’d expect – there was only one regeneration covered, Fifth to Sixth; there was no episodes of persons becoming the new companions; there were only two episodes of companions making their exits from the show; and, of the iconic alien species only the Cybermen make an appearance. For Doctor Who, where these linkages provide the narrative backbone of the series, I’m truly surprised more attention wasn’t focused on these episodes. I’d also would have liked more episodes featuring Gallifrey and it’s people because of where new Doctor Who might be heading, story wise.

What were your favorite serials?

  1. City of Death
  2. The Talons of Weng-Chiang
  3. Vengeance of Varos
  4. The Curse of Fenric
  5. The Caves of Androzani
  6. Horror of Fang Rock
  7. Pyramids of Mars
  8. The Mind Robber

Of the serials I watched, these were my favorite.

I notice there’s a strong preference towards stories set on Earth on this list. In general, if asked, I’d say I love seeing the Doctor explore alien planets more then hanging out on Earth. I wonder, then, if using the Earth with it’s familiar backdrop gives the world-building of these serials a deeper context and emotional weight which the one-off alien worlds often lack.

Where there any serials you did not like?

Not really. The biggest disappointment was with the interconnected storyline of season 16. The Doctor, along with a female Time Lord (called a Time Lady) companion, had to track down the six parts to the “Key of Time” before the Black Guardian did. There was nothing wrong with the individual serials; however, the climax and conclusion of the overarching storyline was rather underwhelming.

Now that you’ve seen every Doctor in action, which one was the best Doctor?

Everyone has their Doctor, the one that defines who and what the Doctor is, and this imprinting is almost always permanent. For me, Matt Smith is my Doctor. I’d seen a couple episodes of Christopher Eccleston as number 9 but there were other series on the SciFi Channel that drew my attention away. I’d caught a handful of episodes featuring David Tennant as number 10 but I still didn’t bite. A little later I saw Matt Smith as number 11 and it was like the planets aligned, something clicked, and I fell hard for the show. Matt Smith’s Doctor will always be the one I first think of when I think of the Doctor. I become a blubbering mess every time I rewatch Matt Smith’s regeneration scene; I feel like I’m losing a very good friend and will never get the chance to seem him again. (Hopefully, the series is still running in 10 years time and I get the chance to see Matt Smith return.)

So, on a personal level, number 11 is my Doctor but, after watching these classic Doctor Who episodes, I have to say there was a better Doctor.

DoctorWho_RomanaThe best Doctor is number 4, played by Tom Baker.

If you distill down what makes the Doctor, the Doctor, Tom Baker’s Doctor just flat out exceeds everyone else. He has the face and personality that could quickly earn the trust and respect, no matter the circumstances, of the people he encountered on his travels, even the villains. He was always the smartest one in the room and always knew how to get out of a jam; however, instead of being pretentious about it, he solved problems in a relaxed, semi-whimsical manner that felt respectful of the people around him. If I had to sum the fourth Doctor up, I’d call him an eccentric imp.

You mentioned earlier about disliking some of the companions. Which ones and, on the flip side, who was your favorite companion?

Companions I disliked include Ace, Peri, Adric, and a couple of the early female companions who seemed to be there only to scream in horror a few times an episode. Of those, I think the one I most disliked was Peri because her function seemed limited to being eye candy in an attempt to raise ratings. As for companions I liked, they include Sarah, Leela, and Romana I/II. Of those, I think Leela was my favorite classic companion (Rory’s my overall favorite).

Did you gain any insight into Doctor Who from watching the Classic episodes?

Some of the ideas I had about what I’d like to see in the new Doctor Who were already tried in the classic episodes and the results were not, necessarily, what I’d expect. For instance, after loving every moment of young Amelia Pond with the Doctor, I was convinced having a kid/teenager as a companion was a good idea. Turns out this was done already and I disliked the result; neither Adric or Ace made good companions.

I generally like having multiple companions because it opens up the show. There’s different types of dialogue, not just the Doctor educating the companion which is prevalent when there’s only one companion. Multiple companions can be used to increase the complexity of a storyline. It also cuts down on the fannish impulse of matchmaking the female companions with the Doctor. (I’m not necessarily against romance in the show but having the Doctor become a couple with every female companion makes him come off as a playboy perv who enjoys tooling around the universe picking up chicks from less advanced civilizations that will fall for him because he promises them all of space and time.)

Also, the success or failure of a serial/story of Doctor Who relies heavily on how interesting and well-acted that serial’s one time only characters and villains are. All of the serials on my favorites list are there not because the Doctor or the companions were so much better in those episodes; but, because they encountered a deliciously evil villain or memorable compatriot.

And finally, how would you suggest watching Classic Doctor Who?

I watched classic Doctor Who in chronological order and this is how I’d suggest other potential viewers to do as well. The near constant abrupt changes of the Doctor and companions between serials destroys a lot of the continuity of the show and chronological order does the best towards preserving what little sense of continuity there is. It’s also interesting to see the show mature over the years. However, if this is too much of an initial commitment and an trial run is first needed, then watch the serial City of Death. There’s no better advertisement for classic Doctor Who and Doctor Who in general then this serial.

-

Comments are appreciated, particularly about other classic Doctor Who serials I should watch. And, I’m really going to try to publish my next post is a slightly quicker manner, these month long pauses are really too much.  :)


Filed under: science fiction

Space Dandy’s Lazy Animation

[Commie] Space Dandy - 07 [0D16F18D].mkv_snapshot_02.39_[2014.02.26_02.34.29]Or maybe Space Dandy’s lazy storytelling is the more appropriate title. Either way look at the above screenshot, what’s wrong with this picture?

Even with 8 episodes under it’s belt Space Dandy has been rather sparse with the characterization of it’s main character, Dandy. One point that the show did drill into the viewers about Dandy, however, is that he likes visiting the in-universe Hooter’s knockoff restaurant chain for all the reasons you’d expect him too and that he has made it his life mission to visit every one to bask in the local variations of each restaurant.

So what have we seen in the episodes since?

We’ve yet to see Dandy go to any other restaurant; instead, he’s continues to return to the same restaurant that we saw in episode 1. Why?

If there was a plot-related reason that would be one thing. For example, if the female government agent was instead the manager of Boobies – the Hooter’s knockoff – and she was the one issuing the bounties in a bid to have the most unique employee staff to boost revenue from patrons looking for something new then it would make sense that Dandy would keep returning; but, that’s not the case. Or if Dandy had fallen hard for one of the employees and was trying to wheedle a date out of her; but, that’s not the case either – he doesn’t seem all that interested in any of the employees, even the blond one who keeps reappearing.

And speaking of the blond employee, let’s return to the original screenshot. Why does a restaurant like Boobies, with the clientele it has, situated wherever it is in the galaxy, have nine women employed there who look exactly the same except for slightly different hair cuts and color? Did only fair skinned humans reach the stars? Where are the near human species, like a Vulcan knockoff or a Cat girl named C’mell? Where are the aliens?

The answer I keep going back too in my head is that the animators at Bones were too lazy to be bothered with this part of Space Dandy. Nor has this aspect of Space Dandy added anything to the series, even as a source of fan service it’s been weak – they could have had special events like Cat Girl Day or Maid Day or whatever to draw Dandy in and entice DVD/BD sales to boot. I actually had hoped that it would be revealed that the women that worked at Boobies were actually all really smart and would find subtle ways to take digs at Dandy without him realizing it.

Like I said, nothing about the Boobies restaurant has added anything of value to Space Dandy and if Bones does not want to put the effort in to make it so then it should have been cut completely from the series.


Filed under: anime, anime rants/views

Winter 2014 Mid-Season Anime Status Update

[Underwater] Mikakunin de Shinkoukei - Engaged to the Unidentified - 06 (720p) [8560F530].mkv_snapshot_04.19_[2014.02.13_22.31.49]

Actually, if it wasn’t for the Olympics pushing a few shows back a week this would be more aptly called the 3/4 season report. :)

Well, the anime apocalypse that this winter season was supposed to bring turned out not nearly as bad as people feared. The sequels are holding their weight and the seasonal surprise hits arrived on time, like they always do, and there’s plenty of assorted goodness spread around the other shows to keep the wolves at bay. Anime is not dying yet. The placards and rhetoric can be put away for a future season.

That said, my attention is starting to drift towards spring. Dangle the promise of a series directed by Masaaki Yuasa  (Kaiba, Tatami Galaxy, Kick Heart) and you’d have to be an idiot not to get excited.

But let’s not get sidetracked.

Below the fold are my thoughts about each of the 21 anime series I watched that began airing this season. They are ranked from best to worst and grouped into six broad groups ranging from superior to poor. Before we start I wanted to quickly mention all the carryover series I’m watching and how they’re fairing: Hunter x Hunter > Kill La Kill > Nagi no Asukara > Space Brothers > Golden Time > Magi 2 > Tokyo Ravens > Samurai Flamenco. Oh Samurai Flamenco, how far you’ve fallen.

Superior

Noragami

7 episodes – 11.5/12 Near Perfect

noragami11463The other series from Bones this season – the lesser one which was not named Space Dandy – has become the surprise hit of this season using the classic formula of having an interesting story and characters, combined with solid writing and directing, and told in an efficient and pleasing manner. I say classic formula but it’s seems like only a handful of series a season can actually pull this off. Credit definitely go to first time director Koutarou Tamura, especially with Bones’ A Crew working on Space Dandy, for getting the most out of what was invested into the show. Two names attached to the production side of things should have told me that this was a series to look out for. The first, Taku Iwasaki is responsible for the music – known from Gurren Lagann, Ben-to, Katanagatari, Jormungand, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (second half), Gatchaman Crowds  – and the second, Deko Akao, is responsible for the writing – known from Arakawa Under the Bridge and Mysterious Girlfriend X. A real shame this is a single cour, hopefully Noragami will get a sequel.

Gin no Saji: Silver Spoon 2

6 episodes – 11/12 A+

[Commie] Silver Spoon 2 - 01 [2D6F045C].mkv_snapshot_21.35_[2014.02.25_03.44.05]The first season of Silver Spoon was one of the top anime series from 2013. It told a very good story full of heavy duty character development for the main character while remaining an entertaining watch with a relaxed sense of lightheartedness that made it the star of the Summer 2013 season. The second season has very high expectations to fill and it hasn’t quite met them. The director change to first timer Kotomi Deai would be the knee-jerk reason why but I don’t think that’s necessarily the reason. I think the first season was helped out by the overarching question of what the main character would do with Porkbowl when it came to slaughtering time plus the newness of the series for the viewer. This second season does not have either and, as a result, feels a bit more unfocused and content to coast along on the inertia built up from the first season. Don’t get me wrong, Silver Spoon is still a superior series and one I’d dearly like to see a sequel for.

Houzuki no Reitetsu

5 episodes – 11/12 A+

[FFF] Hoozuki no Reitetsu - 03 [2EAC7B0E].mkv_snapshot_07.14_[2014.01.29_20.42.19]Watching Houzuki no Reitetsu remains me of watching Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei in that I know I’m missing some of the show’s entertainment value because I’m not a native Japanese viewer (and no matter how good the translator is, it can’t be translated in full) but there’s still many reasons to love the show. One is the level of polish applied to the animation, animation style, and character designs. Wit Studio’s second anime series suffers from none of the issues that plagued it’s first – Attack on Titan. Another reason is that it’s essentially an office series that just happens to take place in Japanese Hell which is a nice change of pace from all the series that take place in school and feature school kids as the main characters. A third reason is that it’s pretty funny and almost always is very entertaining to watch.

Very Good to Great

Sekai Seifuku ~ Bouryaku no Zvezda

6 episodes – 10.5/12 Strong A

[Cthuko] Sekai Seifuku Bouryaku no Zvezda - 01 [720p H264 AAC][A12A2CB1].mkv_snapshot_09.20_[2014.02.25_03.48.48]The ultimate fate of this anime will depend on if it keeps it’s focus on world conquest or will it settle into being a mere school life rom-com. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a school life rom-com but this anime has most impressed when it focuses on the world conquest aspect and, so far, it seems like it’s serious about following our band of “villains” bent on world domination while they accomplish this goal. I’m glad I gave this series a shot. I almost didn’t after reading the hubbub – which turned out to be completely exaggerated – surrounding the clothing choices of a couple of the characters.

Tonari no Seki-kun

8 episodes – 10.5/12 Strong A

tonari_no_sekikun07454An anime short series that’s actually good?! Yes, it appears that Tonari no Seki-kun is set to break the pattern that so many other anime short series fall in. Namely, it matches the amount of content to cover to it’s episode length, paces itself correctly to fit in it’s episode length, and it’s genuinely funny. And it really doesn’t hurt to have Kana Hanazawa play, essentially, the only speaking role in the show or that this character gives HanaKana enough material to show why she’s one of the top vocal actors in anime. I’m waiting to see if the ultimate joke of this series is that, even though Seki-kun screws around in every class, when it’s test time Seki-kun aces his tests.

Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha

6 episodes – 10/12 A

[Anime-Koi] Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha - 03 [h264-720p][4F8C6976].mkv_snapshot_11.54_[2014.01.30_03.03.16]Why, oh why, did this series only get 10 episodes? A slice-of-life series needs space to breathe and 10 episodes just isn’t long enough. I knew this going in but I hoped for the best. When I saw someone comment how the anime has been skipping chapters all willy-nilly that confirmed the impression I have of Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha so far; which is, it’s a strong slice-of-life series with solid characters and an interesting dynamic between these characters but the pacing feels a bit clipped, like it’s trying to reach a point in the story that will function as an “ending” for the series. Maybe it’ll get a sequel with a full 12/13 episode run, it definitely deserves one.

Good

Mikakunin de Shinkoukei

7 episodes – 10/12 A

Mikakunin_de_Shinkoukei10528Sometimes I think it’s a very good idea to have low expectations for an anime because it leads to a more honest assessment of said anime. If I went in thinking that Mikakunin de Shinkoukei was going to be a good, almost very good, series then I know I would have felt let down by it. Instead, my initial impression of “hey, this doesn’t suck” became “hey, this isn’t half bad but it’s going to lose steam very soon” which became “hey, why isn’t this show falling apart yet” to finally “well, it’s time to accept Mikakunin de Shinkoukei is a legitimately good series”. The reason for this anime’s success is three. The first is having enough arrows in it’s quiver to have the ability to keep the content of the episodes feeling fresh. The second is having a writer – Fumihiko Shimo who wrote Air, Kannon, Clannad (the good Key anime series) and the Full Metal Panic franchise – that can get the most damage from that quiver of arrows. The third is not relying on fan service as a crutch to prop up the series. Actually, that was one of the earliest things that told me this series is a cut above – not what it was doing right but what it wasn’t doing. There’s been no hot springs or beach episode, nor scenes of the boy accidentally tripping and falling face first into the main female character’s bosom, nor accidentally walking in while she’s changing, nor accidentally walking in while she’s bathing.

Chuuninbyou Demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren

7 episodes – 9/12 A-

[FTW]_Chuunibyou_demo_Koi_ga_Shitai!_Ren_-_01_[720p][9172389F].mkv_snapshot_10.34_[2014.02.25_03.54.41]My sister summed up the issue facing this sequel to one of the best series of 2012, the main conflict of the series was resolved in the first season which leaves this season with nothing really to do. I have to agree with her assessment, though, I have a higher opinion of this slice-of-life second season then her. I like the characters so I’m happy just following their slice-of-life antics. (By the way, apparently in 2010 there really were a series of professional napping competitions in Spain.) With KyoAni’s best director, Tatsuya Ishihara, behind this series there’s still plenty of time for this second season to develop a meatier story which would propel this series upwards.

Witch Craft Works

7 episodes – 8/12 B+

[FFF] Witch Craft Works - 01 [BB1EA347].mkv_snapshot_09.18_[2014.02.25_03.56.12]The amount of flak JC Staff receives for it’s plethora of subpar series is most assuredly justified; however, when it does something right, it also deserves praise. Witch Craft Works is another series that has had plenty of time to show if it’ll drop off but still hasn’t. The biggest hindrance has been the two main characters; the boy is boring and useless and the girl has the personality and emotional range of a rock. What’s keeping this series afloat is the comedy, an absurd story that’s not afraid to go in crazy directions, and good supporting characters. I’m normally not a fan of CG animation but I’m glad to see JC Staff experimenting with overhauling it’s tired animation style that’s remained the same for over 8 years now.

Space Dandy

8 episodes – 8/12 B+

space_dandy19937I am not going to write off Space Dandy yet. The first half of Shinichirou Watanabe’s Samurai Champloo was pretty forgettable, living off it’s funky great style, and was saved by an excellent second half. That’s not to say I wouldn’t prefer a Space Dandy that started strong and just got stronger. It’s hard to really get into this series with the story being a complete mess right now, the comedy is forced and unfunny, and the lack of a single interesting character; Dandy is an okay lead but the cat and robot bring nothing to the show. The animation has been great which really helps me continue giving this series the benefit of the doubt until – I hope – the real series starts.

Decent

Nobunaga the Fool

7 episodes – 7/12 B

nobunaga_the_fool15221Speaking of trying too hard, the first few episodes of Nobunaga the Fool were definitely trying way too hard to be over-the-top crazy and the result was over-the-top confusion. I love the idea of the series with it’s two planets, one for the Eastern civilization and the other being the Western civilization, and the mash-up of historical figures like Joan of Arc, Leonardo da Vinci, and Nobunaga but it was only in the last couple of episodes, when the series stopped focusing so much on the novel setting and started to focus on the story, that this series’ true potential started to appear. It’s still too early to see if this series will finish higher but, of the remaining series, it has the best chance of doing so.

D-Frag!

7 episodes – 7/12 B

[Vivid] D-Frag! - 01 [F0D3C74F].mkv_snapshot_14.24_[2014.02.25_03.59.50]There was a time when Brain’s Base was one of my favorite animation studios but it’s been many, many seasons since I’ve even finished one of their series. So, in that light, this decent comedy series is a big step forward for Brain’s Base. What has kept this series afloat is the quality of the voice acting being able to infuse the generic characters with enough vitality that the inconsistent comedy works as much as it does.

Nisekoi

5 episodes – 6/12 B-

[FFF] Nisekoi - 01v2 [8284823B].mkv_snapshot_13.54_[2014.02.25_04.01.11]Many years ago Shaft joined a small cabal of animation studios whose animation output will always be on my “to watch” and “will finish” list, even if otherwise I’d have no interest in the show. This is the only reason why I started watching Nisekoi and, if it wasn’t for Shaft’s involvement, I’d probably have dropped this already. It looked generic and boring going in and it’s turned out, surprise surprise, to be generic and boring. The central aspect of the series – the supposed fake relationship between a boy and girl who hate each other – is completely unrealistic; the girl is practically ready to jump the bones of the boy after only a few episodes. This leaves Nisekoi being a standard teenage school-life rom-com featuring three flimsy main characters who are instantly forgettable. Thankfully, for this show, Shaft was given a bigger budget to work with then they had for Bakemonogatari 2 which allows Shaft to include actual animation in their trademark style which keeps this series from falling into the mediocre category.

Mediocre

Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta

7 episodes – 6/12 B-

At the start of this season it seemed like there were going to be only a few anime series worth watching; and of those few, most were sequels or Space Dandy. So I was sure that Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta was going to be huge because it had all the parts of a potent, serious drama. After my initial highly positive first impressions, I’ve watched this anime sputter and strain as it struggles to reach the heights that it’s components suggest it can reach. I don’t know which is more to blame; the poor writing or the poor directing. Whichever it is, the distance this series is failing continues to increase with each episode. For example, why did the scout plane feel the need to continue to drop flares “to illuminate the sky ships” when the sky ship’s anti-aircraft barrage were illuminating themselves just fine?

Nobunagun

7 episodes – 5/12 C+

Speaking of anime series who continue to sink lower after an impressive start we move on to Nobunagun. With each passing episode the promising elements seen in episode 1 fall away so, at this point, the only reason left to watch this series is it’s visual style. Turns out there’s not a single interesting character, even when our band of heroes call forth their historical personas. The budget and/or talent is not there for compelling action scenes. And the final nail in the coffin is the poor execution of the idea of having an alien invasion threat that evolves with every encounter to become smarter and deadlier. (Figure 17 did a much better job handling this idea and is well worth watching, even with its slightly dated animation.)

Poor

Magical Warfare

7 episodes – 4/12 C

What does it feel like to work on an anime that’s complete garbage at an animation studio knowing that elsewhere at that animation studio people are working on one of best anime currently airing – Hunter x Hunter? Is there a more exquisite form of torture for people in the anime business? Probably not. The worse offense of Magical Warfare is that it’s just generic enough that there’s no unintentional humor that would make a lower quality anime more bearable. Or is the worse offense of Magical Warfare that it doesn’t realize for a story to be taken seriously it needs to earn it; one can’t just self-proclaim it. Either way, this anime isn’t worth further reflection.

Saikin, Imouto no Yousu ga Chotto Okaishiin Da Ga

8 episodes – 3/12 D

You know that feeling one has to gawk while driving past a car accident? That feeling is why I started and continue to watch this anime. At least I know there’s no redeeming qualities to this anime. If I tried to stick up for this anime, then I’d have to start worrying that anime has really started to warp me.

Maken-Ki Two

5 episodes – 3/12 D

As anime blogging has pushed me to widen what anime I watch, the decision to drop an anime has evolved such that if an anime can succeed in not doing one of a handful of things then it won’t get dropped. Maken-Ki Two has somehow continued to dodge the pit traps strewn all around it, which is a pity because I’d like to drop it.

Sakura Trick

3 episodes – 3/12 D (Dropped)

How long can you watch two girls kissing? This season I have found the answer to this deep philosophical question – about three episodes. That’s all Sakura Trick sets out to be, a series of changing scenes to allow the various girls to kiss each other. The fact that I lasted 3 episodes was helped by the novelty of having actual kissing in an anime.

Pupa

2 episodes – 2/12 F (Dropped)

Pupa is (probably) a victim of it’s circumstances. I say probably because I didn’t stick around long enough to make a definitive judgment about the show’s content. The decision to drop Pupa came from it’s episode length – less then 5 minutes – and it’s pacing (like it’s episode length was actually a half an hour long). With this disparity it would be impossible to actually tell a good story; after an entire season of shows it would have covered as much territory as the full length anime series covered in two episodes.

Wizard Barristers: Benmashi Cecil

1 episode – 2/12 F (Dropped)

If I wanted to play it safe I’d say that I’m dropping this anime because of the hideous character designs, the mess of elements that were shoehorned into the show, the utter disregard of getting these elements to work together, and how badly the legal system was depicted in a show that’s supposed to be about lawyers. These are all problems with this anime and would have gotten me to drop the series by themselves. The reason I dropped this as quickly as I did stems from my dislike of the main character. I disdain lawyers who represent obviously guilty individuals because these lawyers are working to see justice is not done and in the first episode we saw the main character offer to represent a berserking wizard even as he was assaulting her.

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Filed under: anime

Hunter x Hunter 116 – You Won’t Believe How Far Back You Need to Go to Find a Better Single Episode of Anime

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My brain broke a few days ago and I hope talking about the cause – Hunter x Hunter episode 116 – will start the healing process because I have a slew of mediocre to good anime series I’m watching right now that I’d like to finish and, right now, I have utterly no desire to do so.

Much like Artemis over at Otaku Lounge, I have a pretty strong prejudice against long form shounen series after watching and dropping Bleach, Naruto, and One Piece; give me a focused 13 or 26 episode series and I’m a happy clam. There was one series that didn’t follow the pattern of the other shounen series for me – Yu Yu Hakusho – a 113 episode series based on the manga of Yoshihiro Togashi that managed to start strong and just got better and better. Fast forward to 2011 and Madhouse started a reboot of the Hunter x Hunter anime also from the manga written by Yoshihiro Togashi. You’d think I’d be more enthusiastic for Hunter x Hunter since it was coming the pen of the guy who did Yu Yu Hakusho and Level E, a great little comedy series; but, I just couldn’t get excited over a series that was going to use a little happy-go-lucky kid as it’s main character.

When Hunter x Hunter started, the main character, Gon, was as bad as I feared. At the age of 12, he just wasn’t an interesting character in the slightest. I would have dropped Hunter x Hunter and added it to list of reasons why long shounen series are a bad idea if it wasn’t for the decision to watch this series with my younger sister, a shounen genre fan, and not wanting to stop the weekly sibling bonding time.

I was dragged along though. After the first 20 episodes I figured I had the show pegged and gave it a score of 5 on MAL.

A funny thing happened. Interesting characters began to populate the show and the story started showing signs of creativity. Episode 35 rolled around and we got to the fight that the viewers had been looking forward too, Gon vs. Hisoka. Even though we knew it was coming and knew it was probably going to be a cool fight, the fight still blew past all expectations. It was truly one of the best animated, best choreographed, best paced fight I’d ever seen in anime. This was the break even point for me; the amount of goodness I  received from this show now equaled the amount effort I’d put in at the beginning to get through it.

I bumped it’s score on MAL up to 6 afterwards. If the story didn’t deteriorate in quality and a cool fight happened every so often, I was okay with Hunter x Hunter now.

The series chugged along. The story began to regularly display a level of depth and complexity that I didn’t see in Bleach, Naruto, or One Piece. The supporting characters, antagonists, and out-right villains further developed depth and gradations to their character that made them a joy to watch. During the Yorknew story arc I bumped the score on MAL to a 7. Then during the Greed Island arc – a story arc that I would have hated in lesser hands – I again bumped the score of Hunter x Hunter. This time up to an 8. At this point Gon had grown on my a bit; I no longer found him annoying but still wished one of the supporting characters – Killua or Kurapika – had, instead, been the main character.

As the latest story arc began playing out, the Chimera Ant arc, I marveled at how the storytelling, plotting, and characters improved yet again. The Chimera Ant King, this arc’s big bad who leads an army that could wipe out humanity if the Hunters cannot stop him, could have been left the type of purely evil villain that’s easy to hate and this arc would still have been a super great arc. Yoshihiro Togashi was not content with good enough – the modus operandi of so many other manga/anime writers.

Instead, he has the King cross paths with a young, blind, bushy eyebrowed girl who happens to be the world champ at a board game called Gung-gi when the King decides to master and beat the reigning champs for a slew of board games as a way to kill some time. He’d been able to learn and beat the other games with ease but cannot beat this girl. This infuriating and frustrating turn of events begins to change the King; it’s slowly humanizing him and it’s this character development, with the future resolution, that was going to push this show up to a 9. Or so I thought.

Enter episode 116.

The young  Gung-gi champ was accidentally injured quite severely during the opening moments of the Hunter’s attack on the Chimera Ant palace and the King had instructed one of his chief lieutenants to stop everything else and heal the girl. This same lieutenant had earlier sadistically tortured and broke someone very dear to Gon and Gon, with Killua, were tasked by the Hunters to confront and ensure, with extreme prejudice, this lieutenant remained separated from the King to help the Hunters tasked with killing the King.

Episode 116 is the episode were Killua and Gon find and confront the lieutenant.

It’s almost criminal how little a summary like this actually conveys about episode 116 even for people who have watched Hunter x Hunter up to episode 115 and think they have a good idea how episode 116 would play out. Even pouring forth a torrent of words, as I’m doing, will not do it justice. I could expound at length about every element of the episode that was done so perfectly perfect. How the young woman voicing Gon, Megumi Han, set off my fight-or-flight responses as she snarled and tore through Gon’s dialogue like she was a rabid junkyard pit-bull whose been whipped up into a frenzy over the stench of meat. Or how completely glorious the animation was as seen by this gif …

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Or the crazy attention to detail by the sound effects people. For example, in the above clip every time it flashes over to the black-and-white frames the sound of thunder crashed which just reinforced how electrifying this moment we were experiencing truly was. But, like I said, I could try to use words to express how deeply this episode seared itself into my brain and I wouldn’t do it justice.

Instead, I’m going to compare it to the other 12,133 episodes, according to MAL, of anime I have seen. Doing it this way I can concretely and conclusively say that Episode 116 is the second best episode of anime I’ve ever seen. There’s been a few amazing episodes nearly on the same level of Hunter x Hunter’s episode 116 during the last several years: episode 3 of Kaiba, episode 12 of Bakemonogatari, episode 11 of Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei, and episode 10 of Puella Magi Madoka Magica – however, the only episode I would rate higher is episode 26 of Gurren Lagann. That means that one has go back to September 23, 2007 to find a better single episode of anime.

That’s 7 years, 1 month, and 10 days or 371 weeks or 2,597 days since there’s been a better episode of anime. Not bad for an anime that failed it’s initial 3-episode test.

And it’s entirely possible that there’s an even better episode of Hunter x Hunter coming soon – please no spoilers – since this story arc is still just approaching it’s climax. At this point I can only guess at how Yoshihiro Togashi plans to resolve the various unfinished plot threads and this guess will pale in comparison to what actually happens, I’m sure. Needless to say, I bumped up my MAL score for Hunter x Hunter to a 9. I’ve been overlooking Gon’s character development because I still considered him the cute 12 year old boy who left Whale Island in search of his father. It took the jolt of episode 116 to remove the plank from my eyes that’s been blinding me to the dark places that Gon’s soul has been sojourning through and how it’s stained him.

I almost raised the score to 10 but that would have left me no room to show my future appreciation at the conclusion of the expertly crafted character development that the King is currently going through.

Well, after nearly 1500 words, I think I’m feeling better, like I can move on now. Of course, episode 117 of Hunter x Hunter is out soon; so, I might be back in a few days talking about Hunter x Hunter, instead of working on my Best of 2013 posts. :)


Filed under: anime, anime rants/views, episode review

Samurai Flamenco – Went Far Beyond

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Manga Review, Samurai Flamenco | Sunday 9 February 2014 8:45 pm
Samurai Flamenco (Samumenco) was one of many anime I didn’t pick up when the Anime Fall Season ’13 started. I was interested in it, but I was prioritizing other anime first as I don’t have much interest in super hero anime. It wasn’t until about four weeks after the start of the season that I […]

Leveling Up The Null Set to Celebrate It’s Sixth Anniversary

alpha_jumpIt’s time to fess up on something – I hated reading my own blog. This vexing feeling started off as a vague, insidious whisper that I couldn’t shake and it only strengthened over time. Upon examination and reflection, I was able to sum up the problem as The Null Set was “taxing” to read. Puzzled, because I had picked a theme that steered clear of tiny 8 pt. and 10 pt. fonts as well as poor color choices like grey text on a black background, I finally decided it was probably a fault of my writing. Not a particularly uplifting thought and a less stubborn or optimistic me probably would have decided it was time to stop blogging, if only to ease the suffering of those who continue coming back.

 

Fast forward to this January 21st, The Null Set’s sixth birthday, and I happen to stumble upon an article talking about improving the readability of web pages. One point this article makes is that line lengths of 50-75 characters is optimal for reading and a sneaky light bulb flipped on in my brain – and not one of those CFL bulbs with their insipid light but a real incandescent bulb. I opened up The Null Set and started counting. As I had guessed, my blog blew past the upper limit of 75 with ease. At an unhealthy ~98 characters per line, it started to look like maybe my blog theme was, at least partially, to blame for my problem.

Further reading also convinced me that a 12 pt font, while great for paper, really is too small for a blog. The obvious solution was to find a better theme; but, after 4 years with the same theme, I was already cringing at everything that was going to go wrong in the switch.

I’ll spare you the theatrics, including how I spent 20 minutes with the mouse pointer posed over the activate theme button – yeah, first world problems – to say the switch was actually pretty painless and I could tell immediately that reading The Null Set was going to be a less “taxing” affair. Now, I have to improve the quality of the content and the quantity. :)

I took this opportunity to carry out a couple changes I’d long wanted to do. The archive page was entirely too unwieldy to be useful so I broke it down by year, hopefully that helps. Which was the easy one compared to the other change. The first ~2.5 years of posts on The Null Set were not full justified and it has irked me every day since I switched to full justifying my posts (the last 3.5 years). Well, 30 hours of work later, I fixed that and many of the most egregious spelling mistakes from those first 2.5 years.

Add a spiffy new banner – Yotsuba and Alpha appreciating a sunset over Lake Erie at Conneaut Township Park (which hosts the largest D-Day enactment in America) – and The Null Set is ready for another 6 years.

This sixth year saw an up tick in the number of posts I finished and posted (60 posts vs 53 posts in 2012) but a decrease in number of hits for the year (100,828 vs 246,086 in 2012) which I blame in large part on Google changing something with their search results. I know it was on Google’s end because the drop in traffic happened in one day early in 2013 and never recovered the rest of the year as well as Glo at Eye Sedso noticing the same thing (link very NSFW) for his site. I’m not really blogging for the numbers but it does sadden me that fewer people are finding their anime related needs met by this site. :(

Speaking of numbers here’s a few more:

My Top 10 most viewed posts of 2013:

Post Views
My Top 20 Anime of All-Time – #20 to #11 6,282
My Top 20 Anime of All-Time – #10 to #1 3,104
Dear Aniplex, You’re Setting Puella Magi Madoka Magica Up to Fail In America and You Probably Won’t Even Know Why 2,840
Film Review – Pixar’s UP 1,737
Soul Eater Wallpaper 3 1,484
Clannad Wallpapers 3 1,218
Spring 2013 Anime First Impressions – Mushibugyou, Dansai Bunri no Crime Edge, Yuyushiki, Hentai Ouji to Warawanai Neko – Last Minute Additions to the Team 1,193
If Anime Is Dead Then Death Has Never Looked So Good 1,126
The Top 15 Anime of 2012 – #15 to #11 1,088
The Top 15 Anime of 2012 – #5 to #1 1,079

In six years The Null Set has had:

  • 549 blog posts
  • 1,443,265 views
  • 2,370 comments
  • 179,266 spam comments

Anime related projects that I participated in this year included Reverse Thieves’ Secret Santa Project and the 12 Days of Christmas Project on The Null Set. Elsewhere, I was also a voter for the Weekly Anime Power Ranking (now, sadly ended). I was an enthusiastic follower of the Anime Music Tourney, discovering many great anime songs, and tried my hand out on the Bracket Challenge for the Anime Music Tourney, which I happened to win. This year also saw an improvement in how well I did in the Fantasy Anime League over at MyAnimeList. In 2012, I placed 94th out of 199 in the fall contest and this year I finished 32nd out of 230 in the spring and 9th out of 354 in the fall.

And, last but not least, to everyone who reads and comments here on The Null Set – you have my most heartfelt thanks – maintaining this blog these six years has been a most gratifying experience.


Filed under: anime, meta/office keeping

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

Secret Santa Project Review – Break Blade Movie 1

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With over 500 anime series and 200 other anime items watched, picking good anime that I haven’t seen for me for this Secret Santa Project is a tougher-then-average task if you’re not a super-completionist who’s gone back and watched everything or a longer term anime fan that can pick older titles that I’ve missed. (Especially given the restrictions on length of series.) So, it wasn’t a surprise when I received my Secret Santa recommendations back in November that I wasn’t floored by the three choices: Break Blade movie 1, Darker than Black S1, and Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai kara Kuru Sou Desu yo?.

I had some passing familiarity with all three. Break Blade movie 1 was the first movie of a multi-movie project which probably meant I would need to watch all 7 for the story to be finished. Darker than Black came from Bones and, as I’ve said during my 12 Days of Christmas post, Bones and I have had rocky relationship. Without spoiling myself, which I didn’t want to do, I didn’t want to sink the time into something that would disappoint me at the end and I didn’t want to write a negative review for this project. The third choice, which must have some cute why to shorten the title, was a very recent show that did not interest me in the slightest when it aired and I didn’t remember reading anything that changed this opinion.

After giving it some thought I decided on Darker than Black with the other series as back-up if I had to bail on the first. Before I could implement this plan I had to go to the dentist to have a tooth pulled and 10 days later I had another tooth pulled. This meant November was filled with eating restrictions and pain and discomfort and, thanks to a certain duck, worrying about getting dry socket. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to give any of these three picks a fair shot, which was a problem because I always watch and write-up my secret Santa reviews in November.

Decembers are busy so Christmas got nearer and nearer and I still hadn’t found the chance to get to Darker than Black. Finally, a week before Christmas, I realized that if I didn’t watch Break Blade, I might not get anything watched before Christmas.

So, here we are.

secret_santa_break_blade_01

Story

In a world without oil and the other fossil fuels, humanity learned how to manipulate quartz as if by magic and built an industrial civilization around quartz. Break Blade opens as one of the world’s major powers begins it’s invasion of a much smaller neighboring country. The king of the smaller nation is willing to capitulate, except the belligerent nation is demanding the death of the entire royal family and the king does not want to see his wife killed. So, he decides to fight; but, all hope looks lost until a strange weapon from an ancient era appears.

Thoughts and impressions

As I feared, the story for Break Blade doesn’t even get past the introductions before the first movie ends.

It’s difficult to review something this quickly; instead, this feels like I should be writing a first impressions post because that better fits my thoughts.

My first impression of the Break Blade is generally positive. The animation is pretty good, though some of the CG is lacking. The world building involves an unusual idea – the lack of fossil fuels – that could make this a very fascinating series. Having a mech’s ability to do something as simple as firing a gun and how far that bullet can go be based on the strength of the pilot’s ability to manipulate quartz was a pleasant change of pace to see. The characters pass the initial scrutiny for depth and potential interest. The inter-character dynamics seem compelling enough that a good story could be built around them. Will it, is a question the later movies can answer.

secret_santa_break_blade_04Like I said, generally positive first impression. There were a few flags thrown-up that temper my expectations of the future movies. The first is the one female soldier who was told the only extraordinary thing about her is the large size of her chest at only 12 years of age. WTF?!? There are so many things wrong with that. I dearly hope the creators explain why there has to be a 12 year old female soldier who’s best quality seems to be the ability to grow a large chest at such an early age. The second  is the very questionable lack of rifled barrels for the guns used by the mechs in Break Blade. The series makes a specific point to show the limited range and accuracy that guns have as a problem armies face. Why have rifled barrels not been hit upon as a result? Once again, I hope they explain this because, right now, it seems more like ignorance on the part of the creators then anything. A third thing that potentially worries me is how they will explain the power source behind the ancient mech that was recovered.

I also understand that the creators want to do something different by creating the world they did but they also have to take into account that they’re straining credibility by leaving a number of things out. There’s gunpowder, it’s not a fossil fuel, and steam power, the ancient Greeks and Egyptians were playing around with it, and seige engines like trebuchets, all they need is rope and wood and muscle power – to name three things off the top of my head. I’m willing, for now, to give the creators the benefit of the doubt in the interests of seeing something different but I don’t have much more spare credibility that I can give this anime before it’s too much.

On that less then positive note, I’ll close this review by saying that I do intend to continue watching the rest of the Break Blade movies. I hope they knock my socks off but I have the feeling that Break Blade will fail to raise to the same level of greatness that I’ve seen in my other Secret Santa Project series from years past. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, I still plan on getting to Darker then Black but it won’t be for awhile.

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Final  Score: 9/12 A-
Rewatchablity: N/A
Ending: N/A
Animation: 3/5 – Good
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This review was part of Reverse Thieves’ 2013 Secret Santa Project.


Filed under: anime, series review

The 12 Days of Christmas – Day 11: Discovering Humanity in the Most Unlikely Places

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Shinsekai Yori was many things but one thing it wasn’t was a lightweight, fluff piece. Rarely do I see science fiction in a visual format, anime or otherwise, that can match the best of it’s print brethren. Shinsekai Yori was just such a work. After feeding the viewers a constant stream of secrets, reveals, and reversals-of-fortune, I was ready for a simple, straight forward final episode where the bad guys would get theirs and the good guys would heal their wounds and look forward to a better tomorrow. That was not to be; silly me, I’d forgotten I was watching Shinsekai Yori.

Before our villain, a member of the race known as Queerats – an intelligent but inferior animal race – would meet his demise as punishment for his heinous crimes, the last item the humans wanted to know was why he had done the evil deeds he’d done. His answer was not what I expected. He answered that he was human like them and he had done what he did to throw off the slavery and oppression his race of humanity faced. The human judge and bystanders scoffed at his erroneous belief; but, my brain began turning.

We hadn’t learned what happened to the non-magic wielding humans during the course of the series, so, it wasn’t an entirely impossible assertion. Later in the episode, our remaining two main characters couldn’t get those words out of their minds and looked for information to disprove the idea that Queerats were humans as well. They discovered that Queerats were originally humans that had enough naked mole rat DNA sliced in so they no longer looked human and could be controlled and killed, even with the absolute inability of magic wielding humans to kill other humans with their magic.

Oh snap!

Suddenly, the Queerat uprising as lead by Squealer took on a completely different character. It was still not possible to wipe Squealer’s sins away; however, his intentions now looked a lot more noble then the anything found in “human” society and it could be argued that Squealer had very few options to free his strand of humanity from the all-powerful magic wielding humans that treated the Queerats as property.

I really commend the original author. To completely upend the story at the last moment like this, in such a flawlessly smooth manner, took real skill. I couldn’t believe it but I fell even more for Shinsekai Yori as a result.

This moment, where Squealer asserts his humanity, stayed with me and kept making me think about all the humans today that are cut off from being considered part of humanity, in part, because they cannot do what Squealer did and remind people of their innate humanity. So, for it’s emotional impact, philosophical component, and complete game-changer twist to one of the best anime series of 2013, I’m picking this moment for today.

So, to pick up from yesterday:

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.

Tune in tomorrow to see what’s next.
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Filed under: anime, general anime interst

The 12 Days of Christmas – Day 10: Winning the Animusic Tournament Bracket Contest

12days_music_challenge

Just like last year, as we get nearer to Christmas, I’m surprised that I’ve gone from worrying about finding 12 moments worthy of being written about to worrying about how to cut things down to only 12 moments with the minimum of anguish about what had to be cut.

I’m tempted to pass this moment over. I don’t have the type of ego that needs or wants the attention (from all 30-50 people who will read this); however, I am proud of how well I was able to intuit the results based on everything I knew about the songs and the voters. So, since I feel being authentic about my personal experiences with anime this year is important, I’m mentioning it today.

Today’s moment is the moment I realized that I had, in fact, won Omo’s Animusic Tournament Bracket Contest. I never actually win contests or competitions. I sometimes place close like when I finished 12th out of more than 12000 high school juniors and seniors who competed in a yearly statewide test on American History. (Which helps explain why I’m a sucker for a good historical anime.) So, I’d be lying if I said winning didn’t feel good.

I won’t gloat though, therefore, I’ll end today’s moment here.

So, to pick up from yesterday:

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.

Tune in tomorrow to see what’s next.

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Filed under: anime, general anime interst

The 12 Days of Christmas – Day 9: Someone Who Understands Me

12days_fireworks01

It’s often said that an anime (or any show/book) needs to have a character that is a stand-in for the audience – someone that’s familiar and they can relate to. Hence all the loser high school male characters.

I’ve never understood this.

One of the reasons to create a work of entertainment is to create a sense of escapism and what better way to escape then to inhabit another point of view. This is what I try to do with each anime I watch; I try to walk a mile in the character’s shoes and see the story from their standpoint. (A side effect of this is my tolerance for bad writing forcing a character to act contrary to character is very, very low.)

This probably helps explain some of my preferences in anime and why I believe creating a cast of interesting characters is a fundamental first step to building good anime.

No maxim is applicable 100% of the time, however. It is possible to create a good anime without creating an appealing cast of characters and sometimes I like to see someone who understands me.

I like to take photographs so Tamayura often skates close to personal experiences but episode 8 of the latest season, aka Tamayura ~more aggressive~ , really hit home. One of the non-photo taking characters mentions that taking pictures of fireworks must be easy. As I’m mentally answering with a big fat negative – fireworks are a royal pain to photograph well – the two photograph club students say exactly the same thing.

[Nishi-Taku] Tamayura ~more aggressive~ - 08 [720P Hi10P][CA95B1DE].mkv_snapshot_04.52_[2013.08.30_21.11.21]

[Nishi-Taku] Tamayura ~more aggressive~ - 08 [720P Hi10P][CA95B1DE].mkv_snapshot_04.42_[2013.08.30_21.09.54]

This surprised me.

Firstly because, instinctively, I think fireworks should be easy to take pictures of and, secondly, because I thought I was the only one that had problems taking pictures of fireworks.

Instead, this moment from Tamayura showed me that someone else out there in the world has the same problem I do. As an occasional occurrence, a moment like this is a nice thing and, since this moment from Tamayura ~more aggressive~  was the best example of this, I’m picking this moment for today. Besides, this gives me an excuse to show off the firework pictures I took this past July 4th.

More bad ones:

12days_fireworks02

12days_fireworks03

I could put up the other 20 bad pictures but you get the idea.

And now, the only acceptable ones I took that day:

12days_fireworks04

12days_fireworks05

Now, let me return to pondering how it feels to be on each corner of a love triangle, White Album 2, how it feels to be a cultural imperialist and on the receiving end of said cultural imperialism, Outbreak Company, and how to make peace with the duel-edged sword that is tradition and community expectations, Nagi no Asukara. To name a few.

So, to pick up from yesterday:

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 during 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.

Tune in tomorrow to see what’s next.
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Filed under: anime, general anime interst

The 12 Days of Christmas – Day 8: The Best Thing Bones Ever Did

12days_sword_ofthe_stranger

The animation studio Bones and I have had a rocky relationship from the start. It began while I was just starting to consider myself an anime fan with the broadcast of Full Metal Alchemist on Toonami. I was thrilled with the story, animation, and characters enough that I began snapping the DVDs up even while it was still airing. In hindsight this became a mistake because the story of the second half just unraveled itself into incoherency and ended with a thud. Next came Eureka Seven and in a near exact repeat there was the great beginning, music, and animation that once again saw it all fall apart at the end.

Not every series from Bones suffered this problem – Soul Eater’s ending was “acceptable” for an ongoing manga adaptation, for example, and Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood had the manga’s ending to crib from, so it was hard to screw that up – but, many other series like Daughter of Twenty Faces, X’amd, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, and No.6 fell apart at the end. (And let’s just pretend Heroman never happened.)

I still give them the benefit of trying their series because they do have such nice animation. Of late, I’ve noticed a new thawing in our relationship. It began with the Un-Go OVA. I had actually liked the main series despite the problems with the story; however, the OVA worked as a prequel and filled in and explained the story enough that I came away really liking the series. Next came Eureka Seven AO. I found myself liking it despite the fans of the original series doing their best to tear it down. Most recently was their series Zetsuen no Tempest: The Civilization Blaster. Once again, I ended up liking it.

This actually puts me into the position of looking forward to their next work – Space Dandy – but that’s not the topic for today.

Instead, all this is preface to help explain my feelings towards seeing this gif:

TIiMR

Even in this rough form I was more pumped up from watching it then from the majority of finished anime I was watching at the time. A couple years ago I wouldn’t have bothered tracking down the movie it went to – Sword of the Stranger – this year, though, I was willing to give it a chance.

Good thing I did because this movie is perfect, utterly and completely perfect. It has the superior animation and action scenes I was expecting – turned up a notch since this was a theatrical movie – and the characters too. Bones also gets the ending right. Sword of the Stranger, aka Stranger: Mukou Hadan, is so good that I won’t hesitate in saying its Bones’ best animation work, movie or TV series, ever. I don’t understand why they haven’t made a sequel movie or series yet.

So for instigating my viewing of The Sword and the Stranger, I’m devoting today to the moment I first saw that rough animation gif from The Sword and the Stranger. And, seriously, if you’ve never watched this movie then do yourself a big favor and go watch it now. This is my early Christmas gift to you.

So, to pick up from yesterday:

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 during 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.

Tune in tomorrow to see what’s next.
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Filed under: anime, general anime interst

The 12 Days of Christmas – Day 7: Discovering Pearls Amongst the Swine

The reasons to start watching and continuing watching an anime are many and various. If it’s a good anime, the reasons are normally pretty self-evident. If it’s not a particularly good anime the reasons could be the strangest thing.

Earlier this year I decided to start watching an anime series because it was being subbed by the group that had done Milky Holmes and they’d earned enough points, feels, props, etc. in my book that I was willing to watch what they wanted to sub themselves.

That series is Lime-iro Ryuukitan X Cross and it’s not a particularly good series. I, however, continue watching because it’s only one cour, the subbers still deserve the time, and I find the setting – very early 20th century – to be interesting.

Those were my reasons to continuing to watch until the ninth episode.

It was a fairly normal episode, by it’s standards until I saw this:

[KiteSeekers] Lime-iro Ryuukitan X Cross - 09 [DVD H264 712x480] [617DFE85].mkv_snapshot_20.24_[2013.09.24_22.24.39]

One of the single funniest lines of any anime that I watched this year. Hands down. This single scene made picking up Lime-iro Ryuukitan X Cross worth it. I’m picking this moment today because it was so funny and because it made me reflect upon why I decide to watch some anime and not others and what I’m missing as a result of these decisions.

Here’s a gif I later made of the Deer King:

deerking

If I included older anime in my yearly best of lists then the Deer King would be a serious contender for Screen-grabber of the Year.

So, to pick up from yesterday:

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 during 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.

Tune in tomorrow to see what’s next.
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Filed under: anime, general anime interst

The 12 Days of Christmas – Day 6: Finding the Freedom To Go With the Flow

free32627

One of the best – or more acutely, entertaining – parts of watching anime is keeping up with the anime blogosphere to see how they’re reacting to the anime I’m watching. The best is when a sizable percentage of writers get fired up over the same anime because, dollars to doughnuts, there will be fireworks. It might be something epic that causes people to put 110% in to displaying their love and admiration. It might be something controversial that causes spirited discussions and strongly worded rants on both sides. It might just be something normal that happens to catch everyone’s attention and pulls everyone together to share in the same experience.

I often steer clear of these events because, either, I don’t feel like contributing and rather enjoy what others are saying, or, I feel like contributing but someone has already made my point better than I could have.

It was a combination of the two that stayed my hand from joining the brouhaha that erupted over Kyoto Animation’s summer series, Free!. At first the conflagration was just to fun to watch to attempt to wedge myself in. Besides, beyond being surprised by the sheer overload of man-service found in Free! when KyoAni had become a fan-service free zone for several years, there wasn’t much I was willing to commit to saying.

After the sixth or seventh episode I had an incandescent 100W light bulb moment.

What I realized was that Free! was still just a pretty standard KyoAni series.

If I drew a Venn Diagram of the characteristics of all the series that KyoAni made over the last roughly 6 years, I’d see a very huge overlap between Free! and just about everything else.

For some, Free! being a standard KyoAni series is a bad thing but not me. It’s one of the reasons why I think I was disappointed with Little Busters after really liking AIR, Kanon, and Clannad.  This lead to a desire to point this out and tell everyone to repeat to themselves, ”‘It’s just a show; I should really just relax.‘” It’s not that big of deal. Of course, by the time I reached this realization, many people had also pointed this very fact out and in a way better than I could have.

That moment still stayed me; so, for getting me to look at shows in new and deeper ways which will further broadened my horizons, I’m picking it today as one of my top moments of 2013.

So, to pick up from yesterday:

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 during 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.

Tune in tomorrow to see what’s next.
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Filed under: anime, general anime interst
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