Yes, the site is ugly. If I had any design talent, I would draw anime, not write a blog in my underwear.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

始まる: Cowboy Bebop

Rewatching a classic. I usually watch everything with my serviceable speakers and that gets me pretty far, but for Bebop I am pulling out my delux headphones for the full audio experience.

This show has excellent dubbing, and is one of the few shows where I prefer the dubs to subtitles, just because the audio component is so important.

I will be taking this one slow, because like a fine wine it should be savored.

Available on Hulu, Netflix, and also Youtube, but I don't know if that last one is legit.

Mini-Review: Magi Season 1

So I didn't post a little thing when I caught up with Naruto (this arc has been pretty weak, though the last episode I saw, Shiro vs Torune, was unexpectedly good, probably because Naruto shuts his stupid fat mouth and lets the interesting characters take the lead), but then I went on to Magi. I hadn't heard much about it, just saw that it was being highly rated, and so I didn't realize that the show hadn't ended yet.

Bottom line:
Season 1 avoids a lot of the more irritating shonen tropes and has a good amount of complexity. The characters are all typically heroic, but even down into the supporting cast there aren't a lot of "stock" characters. Probably the stand out feature that really pushes the story in a unique direction is Aladdin's commitment to pacifism that is neither absolute nor dropped at the first pretext.

Season 1 is a solid 8/10.

Reviewing half a show:
I don't like to watch incomplete shows because I can't stand waiting. I don't like to review incomplete shows because I view an anime series as a single body of work, like a book. To offer a full review of Magi at episode 25 would be like reviewing Lord of the Rings halfway through Two Towers and couldn't possibly do justice to the work as a whole. Season 2 is confirmed for this fall, though, and looks to be in a good position to wrap up the story, so expect a full review this time next year.

In the meantime, if you are a normal person who can watch just one season at a time an not get frustrated, Magi is definitely a cut above your usual Shonen fare.

Recommendations:
The expansive adventure of Magi is captured more maturely with the two Fullmetal Alchemists and less maturely (as in, targeted towards a younger demo) with Avatar: Last Airbender (and probably Legend of Korra, but I haven't seen that yet). Also, for some reason Pandora Hearts comes to mind as a more character focused show that might be of interest if you can get past (or appreciate) the more goth setting.

Assorted Extra Thoughts:

  • I am an economist by training, so the fact that the middle portion of the show was essentially a leftist coup explicitly underpinned by neo-reactionary mercantilism was very interesting. For those without such a background, know that our storytellers don't quite understand why inflation, paper money, and fiat money are problems. They certainly do have drawbacks, and inflation is one of them as is benefits to the politically connected at the expense of the rest of the nation, but the proposed mechanisms by which they damage the economy are very confused. And it is implied in parts that part of the Kou domination of Balbadd is the coerced entry into a free trade regimen, prohibiting sovereign control which usually consists of nothing more exotic than the imposition of tariffs and regulations which for all the damage this may do to the state should enliven, not enervate, the docks. Of course this is accompanied by a regime of sanctions, so all together we have a realistically nonsensical muddle of economic policies. Go watch Spice and Wolf for an example of how to do these things right.
  • Most of the animation is high quality, but those teeth are just so weird and bothersome. I don't know if this is how they are always drawn and I am just now noticing, but something about them was just distracting.
  • Here is a show that demonstrates how to have attractive female characters without crass fanservice. Ten points to Aniplex.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Meta: Bingeing, Weeklys and Naruto

You might have noticed that I am not the sort to watch anime on a weekly basis. Instead I binge, and indeed I am waiting for Attack on Titan to end before I even start it. This is because first off, I have way too much spare time, and when I am completely caught up on something and I cast around for something to do I feel all listless. Second is that I have a terrible attention span, and while I can remember what happened week to week, it gets real hard for me to care about that cliffhanger for seven whole days. Thirdly I have too much going on to reserve the mental space to care about ten shows simultaneously for a year, in addition to whatever book I am reading and whatever video game I am playing, plus Dr. Who and Elementary when in season.

For all these reasons, I have only ever watched the long running shows on a weekly basis. For a while I watched Bleach and One Piece, then after Bleach ended I caught up to Fairy Tail and watched that and One Piece, and now I watch One Piece and To Aru Kagaku no Railgun because I have an unhealthy obsession with Misaka Mikoto. All these shows are pretty exceptional, and except Railgun I never felt the need to worry that the would end or even seriously advance, and exist mostly as a pleasant and consistent place to go each weekend.

Naruto, for me, is the big outlier among the long running weekly shows. Because instead of slowing down or adding filler to keep from outpacing the manga, Naruto does flashbacks. Watched in large chunks, the flashbacks are sort of Ok because they are skipabble, but when you tune in for the week and roll the dice to see if this will be all, partially, or only a little bit flashback, I don't do well with that kind of crapshoot. So I let it build up a backlog and watch it once or twice a year. Which is also good because then I remember that it wasn't actually that good a show, so I move over to catch up on my Gintama backlog.

Moral of the story, no reviews for a while because I am catching up on my Naruto and Gintama backlogs. There won't be any reviews of these, because I have a problem reviewing partial stories and want to keep my reviews only of cohesive wholes. More on that when comes the dreaded day that I start reviewing the 100 - 200 episode shows like D. Gray Man and Legends of the Galactic Heroes (I probably won't do a review of Monster, because as good as it is it doesn't make for good rewatching and does get depressing and drag a lot).

Review: Tower of Druaga

Facts:

Dragon Quest-inspired Adventure. 24 episodes in two seasons; first season is called the Aegis of Uruk, second season is the Sword of Uruk. 

First, a note:

Regardless of the rest of this review, the first episode of ToD is worth watching for any fan of anime or video game adventures. It isn't really intelligent enough to be called a satire, but it is at the very least an amusing send-up of common adventure tropes and is good for a laugh. It stands well enough on its own, not really introducing us to any of the characters, who are all pretty stock tropes in any case, and takes us up through the most cliched possible D&D adventure. Because the first episode is so disconnected from the main plot, this review covers basically the rest of it.

Bottom Line:

This show is pretty much crap. It is never offensive and rarely goes all the way to full on boring, but can probably serve as a fine standard bearer for low quality dialogue, storytelling, and animation  that stands firm atop the cliff of unwatchability and boasts proudly that it will take not one more step forward. I will say this, the producer of this show has some serious testicular fortitude to make the entire first episode a send up of cliched adventure tropes, and then to make all twenty three of the next episodes an unironic parade of those tropes in action. This is not a show that has any redeeming qualities to bring to your attention, except for the fact that it never got so dull that I tabbed away from it (a pretty high barrier for me) and doesn't have anything at all that I will likely remember a week from now. Bottom line is, don't watch this show. If you want to have fun you won't have much here and if you hate yourself it doesn't hurt enough.

Reasons after the jump.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

始まる: Tower of Druaga

I have very little hope for this one, but will watch it anyway.

Note that Crunchyroll has split up the two seasons. Season 1 is ToD: Aegis of Uruk, and season 2 is ToD: Sword of Uruk. As is usual policy I will be reviewing them together unless they really, really deserve separate reviews (and I suspect they will be of such a quality that even the one review will be overlong. 13 episodes per season, for 26 total episodes.

Watch along on Crunchyroll.

Programming Note: Life is coming in. It may take two weeks or even more for me to get through both seasons. Not that anyone is visiting anyway.

First Episode Update: So, having watched that first episode, I think I no longer need to watch any more hero's journey shows ever again, because that pretty much covered all the bases. Seriously, if you aren't watching along, do watch that largely self contained first episode. I really don't know where the show could possibly go after that, and I suspect the answer is downhill, fast.

Review: Mouretsu Uchuu Kaizoku (Bodacious Space Pirates)

Facts:

Upbeat Space Adventure! With Pirates! 26 episodes, available on Hulu, Crunchyroll, Netflix.

Bottom Line:

Some anime exist to tell profound stories and explore the depths of the human condition. Some exist as works of auditory-visual art. Bodacious Space Pirates, on the other hand, is twelve hours of non-stop fun. It is physically impossible not to be grinning like a demented chimp through nearly the entire show, and if you aren't carried away by the sheer levels of enthusiasm, then you are probably in a coma. Despite the raunchy name, there is absolutely nothing raunchy in the entire show, though it is a closet-full of moe cosplay material. The fine details of the plot fall apart under really any scrutiny at all, but that's ok, because the fantastic implausibility of the scenarios only adds to the frenetic, dreamlike atmosphere of wonder. If you prefer being happy over being sad, Bodacious Space Pirates is a must watch. 

Madcap Nonsense:

BSP is not a masterpiece of intricate plotting. Why on earth anyone thinks it is a good idea to give a spaceship and a small business to a high school girl is never adequately explained. But that doesn't really matter because her main qualification seems to be that she is super exited about absolutely everything, and thus she can face down any pirate challenges with raw power of gumption. It does get remarked upon later in the show that, for pirates, they don't do a whole lot of rape, pillage, and/or plunder, and the show answers that by saying instead of these non-pirate things that we do, how about we do other non-pirate things that are slightly more heroic. But, again, that is part of the thrill. No one wants to watch Marika become grizzled and embittered, that would be a completely different show.

Endless:

I like to call this show "endless" rather than admit it doesn't have an ending. I think it got cancelled from ratings, which makes me all kinds of sad. Plenty of shows finish out the character arcs and then leave us with "but their adventures continued" instead of "and they all lived happily ever after", and I am fine with that, which is why I am conflicted about the ending. On the one hand, Marika's character arc has ended in a pretty safe place, and while I can well imagine what a second season would look like, it would be an addition to, not a completion of, the arc from this season. On the other hand, there was clearly a second season in the works, and one might exist in the manga, since the last few episodes were all about introducing the "vaster space" and the galactic empire and throwing out all sorts of character twists that all looked set to pay off next season. But there won't be a next season as far as I know, so now that we have spent 12 hours being happy, let us spend some time being sad.

Recommendations:

I am having trouble thinking what else is quite this happy. Honestly, if you saw the schoolgirls and were hoping for some "bodacious" then go run off to Vividred Operation, you pervert. For a more contemplative and deliberately paced version of BSP, there is a show whose name I have forgotten but is listed on Crunchyroll as "humanity has declined", which I am pretty sure is not actually the name, though I could be wrong. Really, though, if you liked this sort of high action fun the best place to get more are the big weekly shows Fairy Tale and One Piece. Fairy Tale is more fun and One Piece is more adventurous, though both have plenty of both.

Finally:

BSP is the distilled, concentrated essence of high energy fun. Also, if you are a cosplay fan, BSP is both a great source of concepts as well as being a grand dressing room for moe cosplay. The plot is simple and laughably implausible, and this adds to the exuberant joy that fills the show. And I would be remiss to not note that the animation quality is pretty excellent, especially during some of the loving pans of the space ships and the music is the right kind of loud. It doesn't quite make it into my top five, because for all the noisy excitement there really isn't a lot there, but it is definitely getting an honorable mention because for all that, I have a serious weakness for happy shows.

Based on how much I personally enjoyed it, I give Bodacious Space Pirates a 10/10

Monday, June 3, 2013

始まる: Moretsu Uuchi Kaizoku, or Bodacious Space Pirates

That was too heavy. The next show is Bodacious Space Pirates. Don't let the title fool you, bodacious is almost certainly a mistranslation (from the original of Moretsu Uuchi Kaizoku), I suspect they were going for something more along the lines of vivacious or spunky. There is very little overt fan service, though it does trade heavily on cute moe. This is probably the most fun you will have with anime, and is probably going to knock Code Geass off the top five list, if memory serves. This show is non-stop epic fun.

The full OP theme, 無限の愛 (infinite love) is the very definition of epic, so have you some

Available on Crunchyroll, Hulu, Netflix, and, apparently, youtube, though no idea if that is legit or not.

Review: Angel Beats!

I can't do it. I can't watch it any more. Angel Beats! isn't a bad show, but the grand reveal in episode 9 is too morally repulsive for me to continue watching. I daresay if I didn't get so upset about religious issues, or was raised in the Buddhist cultures of East Asia it would all wash past me and I would find this to be a rather high quality show overall. I will contain spoilers to below the jump, after the brief review, but can hardly avoid them altogether.

Facts:

12 episodes, of which I have seen 9. Very emotional drama with comedic action elements. Available on Crunchyroll, Netflix, and Hulu.

Mini-Review (No spoilers):

My moral issues aside, I would recommend the first eight episodes to anyone. There is a sense that this was designed very much by a committee of old studio execs sitting around a table asking each other what "the kids go for these days", except that they then roll up all those elements into a pretty damn slick package. The core of the show is the life stories of all the dead students (Literally the second line is something like, "Hello, you are dead") as they run around the vaguely Buddhist purgatory trying to figure out what it all means. But while they do that they spend a lot of time spouting comedic banter and engaging in poorly motivated, over-the-top violence which is all pretty enjoyable, especially when set to the music. The music in Angel Beats is much more composed and mainstream than what you will find in Durarara, Cowboy Bebop, or other shows known for excellent soundtracks, as befits the heavily produced tone of the show. But as I mentioned, the emotional core is the life stories of the dead people, all of them pretty unfortunate and if you are a crier, you will definitely be crying (only to burst out in wet, teary guffaws as it cuts back to some humor to keep you from spiralling into depression) and even non-criers are not immune to the carefully calculated heart string tugging. Hanging over the whole thing is the mystery of how the world works, which is never really kept secret so much as not openly discussed.

That said, if you don't get the right reaction in the first three episodes (the first is mysterious and vaguely comical, the second is action-comedy, and the third should make you cry big fat tears of sadness), then you probably aren't gong to get invested enough in the characters for the big payoff and can safely move on. I give the first eight episodes a solid 7/10, and refuse to rate anything after the reveal in episode 9.

Spoilers below the GolDeMo version of the OP theme:

Sunday, June 2, 2013

始まる: Angel Beats

I remember this anime starting out well, but turning out to be such absolute tripe that I couldn't finish it.

But it does have excellent music, so I am going to give it another go


Review: Durarara

Facts:

The story of a city and the stories in the city, with good action, good comedy, good music, and lots of pathos. 24 episodes, with a sort of bonus episode after 12 and 24. Aired in 2010. Available on Netflix and Crunchyroll.

Bottom Line:

It is hard not to compare Durarara to its spiritual predecessor, Baccano, and the overly forced cameos don't help much. But while Baccano is the intensive tale of a single train ride and the circumstances and passengers intersecting on the train, Durarara is the extensive tale of the town of Ikebukuro, which is a district of Tokyo in much the same way that Manhattan or Queens are districts of New York City. The genius of Durarara is the way in which it weaves, and often leaves unwoven, the disparate strands of its large cast. When following the main story in any given episode, we can often see the principle figure of the previous or next episodes running around, their chance encounters being explained by someone else's drama. Every character is unique and special and every character, even the most supernatural ones, feels more genuinely human than most real people I know. And when the show is over, you feel like you could call up Shizuo or Ryuugamine or Shinra and just hang with them like you have been for the last 26 episodes. The animation quality stands head and shoulders above most action shows, with even the supernatural violence being represented in a realistic way that respects real world physics. The music always fits, and is always of the highest quality. Speaking of which, the second intro song is actually a really bad cut of a really good song:
Both of these are "Complication" by Rookiez is Punk'd, a band with a general punk-metal sound, they have two albums on Amazon, and at least one of them is pretty good. The upper video has been chipmunked, but I can't find a better copy on Youtube. The lower video is a variation from their new album.

Surprises:

The second half of the show keeps this out of the top five, since it trades pretty heavily on surprises and twists that, after the first one or two, aren't actually that surprising. This worked out pretty well for me because on the re-watch I noticed that the show shines mostly in the characterization and in the interweaving of the threads of the city, things which can be enjoyed perhaps even more on a second run because you catch all the foreshadowing and you can see that the second act twists have all been laid out even as Mikado walks off the train in Episode 1. But if you are watching it for the surprises, the ending starts to drag because instead of spiraling into more twists as so many anime do it instead folds them all up, tidies everything, and actually resolves the conflict in an intelligent, emotional fashion that relies on neither deus-ex-machina nor improbably sudden realizations.

Magic Realism:

The greatest strength of Durarara is the depth and commitment to Magical Realism, the narrative notion that if the supernatural did exist, they wouldn't act like cartoons but like actual people. From the wholly supernatural headless rider to the fully normal Togusa there is no empty space on the continuum and yet none of the characters seem less real for being less realistic. It is hard to go into too much detail on this topic without spoiling the semi-remarkable characters, but overall it contributes to a very mature narrative that respects the viewer, respects the story, and respects the characters. 

Recommendations:

Obviously you should watch Baccano. And, just like the signs on the movie theater, you should try Darker than Black, a much more traditional narrative that has a similarly mature narrative. For a more upbeat and character driven experience, Stiens;Gate is peerless. Though really the problem is there aren't actually too many shows like this, both in scope and quality. You are probably better off going the complete opposite direction into something like Haibane Renmai before transitioning back into standard adventures.

Finally:

Durarara stands head and shoulders above the crowd as a more intelligent and more profoundly characterized anime. This definitely belongs on anyone's must watch list. As a note, even though the show seems done in episode 24 (or 25, depending on how it is counting), go ahead an watch the final episode, because it makes the thematic connections much stronger. It does drag a bit before episode 20, but it really is worth getting through the slow patch for the finale.

Personally, based on how much I enjoyed it, I give Durarara a 9/10.