Fairy Tail – Thru 48

Funny thing: if you get to watching long-running series, you begin to watch them out of habit, rather than because of their actual merits. Bleach for instance, had a really good start, and the first couple arcs would actually make a 3 on my Rating scale; individual episodes could warrant a 3.5. But I feel like I watched it for too long. The series developed a tendency to whip up incredibly dull filler arcs that lasted dozens of episodes and went absolutely nowhere.

They couldn’t have permanent effects on either the characters or the story, because the manga material was the only material that could do that. I always wondered what poor soul(s) had to actually write filler material, and why they made it so paralyzingly dull. After 228 episodes, I had to say goodbye to Bleach. There was simply not enough going on, and I felt like it would take another 50-100 episodes to actually get to the conclusion I wanted. That’s just too much.

Now Fairy Tail has come to a major arc conclusion, and after 48 episodes, I still want more. I don’t know why, but it has a lot to do with watching so much of it. Sometimes battles drag out, but on the whole this series has done a good job moving forward, both with characters and with the plot. It’s battles also always strive to be relatively creative. After so many episodes, many enemies have become friends, many wrongs have been righted, and the series remains steadfastly upbeat.

I thought the series was over after 48 episodes, but alas, it was only this last arc. That’s okay, I think I’ll continue sticking with  it for now. I can’t really help it; I’m invested in a good five to ten characters (out of the dozens), and would like to see what will come their way next. It’s too early to tell if Fairy Tail will run out of steam, but it’s been good to me so far, so I’m not giving up on it. It’s not a pointless habit yet. Rating: 3

Kaichou wa Maid-Sama! – Wrap-up

And so ends another high school rom-com in which the focus is on the two most perfect students in the school. Usui is perfect at everything but quickly cracking the tsundere nut that is Misaki, while Misaki is perfect at everything but realizing that someone is in love with her, and she’s falling in love in return. Because why would a perfect guy or girl persue an inferior mate? That would be boring for them and us.

Usui relishes the chase and the constant reproaches. Misaki remains in an agonizing mix of confusion and denial for most of the series, which comes off as denseness to more and more of the side characters (this is appreciated.) The catalyst for her realization finally comes in the final episode, and after twenty-five episodes of turning away, lying, and storming off, she finally leans into a smooch of her own accord. Despite their ridiculous perfection in everything from sports and academics to looks and style, Usui and Misaki stay interesting, and both grow quite a bit, the latter growing more. The series takes its time developing them, with decent results.

Usui essentially knows what he wants from the get-go, and spends the series dispatching rivals and refining and adjusting his charms to suit Misaki’s personality, while knowing when to be firmer and more forward. But Misaki’s transformation isn’t just from an overbearing tomboy to more feminine and mature young woman; due to her role as the perfect backbone of her family, she has never known love period, so it makes sense that it would take a while for her to notice it staring her right in the face.

I had a feeling this series wouldn’t end ambiguously, and in the end, like Usui was with Misaki, I’m glad I was patient with Maid-Sama. The Maid angle is essentially garnish, and always was. The meat of this series is the two main characters, and the steady, measured evolution of their relationship from mutual antagonists to lovers. Rating: 3 (Ending: 3.5)

Nurarihyon no Mago 11

The moment Rikuo announces his intention to succeed his grandfather as the Nura clan’s Supreme Commander, a rival youkai clan comes out of the woodwork to challenge him, dispatching one of Nura’s grizzled veterans with alarming ease. Things are going to get rougher from here on out for our little Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde dude.

In this episode, Yura the onmyogi gets some well-deserved screentime, and doesn’t waste it. Ai Maeda even breaks out of her normally cutesy voice when she gets all serious and kick-ass, and proves more than a match for the wind-weilding youkai. Her whole interaction with the Supreme Commander has a nice dynamic. He clearly excels at concealing his youkai identity, so Yura assumes he’s just her friend’s small, helpless old grandfather. He even admits that of course all youkai are bad, simply because they’re “youkai.”

It’s a good point…demons are demons. They’re not supposed to befriend humans. But some are clearly worse than others, and so Yura’s struggle will continue if/as she learns the truth about Rikuo and his ‘family’ – can she bend the precepts of onmyogi-hood by befriending some youkai while hunting others? She’s still young, so it isn’t a stretch to believe she may. Rating: 3

Seitokai Yakuindomo – Wrap-up

SYD’s formula was simple: High school slice of life chock full of plays on words, double entendres, and good ol’ fashioned sex jokes, almost always delivered with good timing. The quality of the jokes varied throughout, but the series on the whole was consistently funny, just not laugh-out-loud ha-ha funny, the way Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei was at moments.

According to the ANN, this is only the third anime produced primarily by GoHands, and the first that I saw, and I enjoyed the different character and animation style it afforded. The voice-work was also spot-on and diverse, with even minor characters given very interesting voices. There were also several nice bits that parodied various genres of anime, and they’re convincingly done to the point that I’d probably enjoy a GoHands non-comedy as much as a comedy, if they did one.

Besides the growing hints of romance between Tsuda and Shino (which naturally doesn’t go anywhere; this is slice of life) I initially felt like one could watch these thirteen episodes in just about any order and not miss that much; it was very episodic. Of course, if one did they wouldn’t get the second half of the final episode, which is a recap with a twist; all of the incidents the cast remenices on are either embellished or completely new material, much of which trancends the high school setting, satirizing other genres. Rating: 3

Occult Academy 13 and Wrap-up

Well, that was unexpected! Then again, I really didn’t have a clue how this series was going to end, but in this case being in the dark worked to my advantage. The final episode proved an excellent and novel conclusion to one of my favorite series this summer season, both week-to-week and in general. It wasn’t afraid to not only throw a couple more big twists, but also navigate from calm a calm farewell atmosphere right to the edge of pure global catastrophe. This was a most impressive and satisfying finale that shows that each Anime no Chikara anime-only series has been better than the last.

I must commend the producers of this series for pulling out all the stops, particularly in the last three episodes, which were truly make-or-break. The relationship between Maya and Bunmei had a very nice and varied progression, and its conclusion was handled nicely as well. Other aspects of the series that were consistently excellent were the diverse character design with a nice edge to it, and some really terrific animation, from action scenes to facial expressions.

In fact, my only major gripe is the end-credits sequence, which features two creepy kids sleeping in the grass…this sequence is thankfully missing from the last episode. However, the opening-credits sequence made up for it, brimming with character portraits blended occult imagery, and the stirring opening theme itself was my favorite of the season, with a really nice bass-line and some powerful female vocals. As we move forward to the fall season, this is one series I shall miss. Whatever the next Anime no Chikara series is, it’ll have big shoes to fill. Rating: 3.5 (Ending: 4)

Asobi ni Ikuyo – Thru 11

Yes…that is a big cat bell around the guy’s neck. I know what you’d say: that’s ridiculous. You’re right; it is. But much of Asobi ni Ikuyo is ridiculous. It knows it is, and it’s not shy about it. Private ocean liners owned by cat-ear enthusiast cults, young women running around naked with guns, little dogs who only communicate by laughing through their teeth…and bells that can be used to construct spaceships. If this series were human, it may be inclined to lick windows.

Things in this series simply don’t always have to make sense, and it’s okay with that. Yet despite the rather tired premise of three girls after the same lame guy, most other aspects of this show are actually fairly imaginative and fresh, and the show is exceedingly vibrant and well-animated. It certainly keeps you guessing.

That combination of unpredictability and refusal to take itself too seriously has kept this show consistently fun to watch, even if it’s about as deep as a petri dish. The shit hits the fan in episode 10, and preparations to resolve the conflict take place in episode 11. We’ll see if the last episode can bring home the bacon, or just have us laughing “meh” through our teeth.  Rating: 3

Nurarihyon no Mago 10

After the duel and reconciliation with Rikuo’s betrayer and the political mess was cleaned up, the series could sit back and focus on a underused character, Kana. It wasn’t until this episode that I even noticed she was Aya Hirano (which is strange, considering she’s the lead heroine in Fairy Tail, which I’m currently watching). Chalk it up to how little she’s actually said in the first nine episodes. I also figured out Yuki-onna is voiced Yui Horie (Kushieda in Toradora); her quirky voice works very well for the spirited snow girl.

Anyway, this episode centered on Kana, and was the first to do so; as such, Hirano gets to say a decent amount. So much of the series has taken place from Rikuo’s perspective, it was good to see her get a little more fleshed out. Rikuo’s friends basically have no choice but to deal with demons from here on out, because they’re certainly not going anywhere. What I like is how they react in different ways. Had Yura busted in on a restaurant packed with Youkai she would have gone ballistic – it’s her calling to hunt them.

But Kana plays a more pragmatic role; much like Chihiro in “Spirited Away”, she kinda just goes with the flow. That said, it’s interesting that now she’s suddenly interested in Night Rikuo and not the weeny day version; one wonders if he’ll ever tell her (or anyone else) that they’re both him. I suppose that wouldn’t go over so well in the demon world, but being the boss must have its perks. Rating: 3

Ookami-san – Wrap-up

And lo, the first of the summer 2010 anime series I’ve been watching comes to a close after 12 nice but ultimately unexceptional episodes. After the (fairly easy and credulity-straining) conclusion of “Ookami’s Past” mini-arc in episode 11  (seriously, how much of a past could these teenagers possibly have?), episode 12 actually tells a new story, about a rival for Ookami, a young woman who wants to marry into money (Cinderella?).

This could have been awful, but like most of the character profiles explored in Ookami-san, it’s actually quite well done and nicely encapsulated. The sudden rival who actually has a chance to steal Ryouko away from Ookami finally forces her – somewhat – to admit her feelings for him. Perhaps an obvious and contrived catalyst, but competently executed.

A colorful cast of mostly likable and well-designed characters and their nice moments of development kept me coming back to this series, not its whimsical (if flimsy) tie-in to fairy-tails and fables or its high school warfare premise. The ending didn’t rule out a sequel, but that’s by no means a certainty, and in any case, it may be a year or so off if it happens. Meantime, bring on Index 2! Rating: 3 (Ending: 3)

Amagami SS – Sae Nakata Arc

I continue to enjoy the diversity of relationships Amagami delivers. The first arc involved an “out of my league” girl, the second involved the “childhood friend”, and the third arc involved a girl who was neither. Junichi’s target this time is an underclassman who has a really high cutesy voice and is extremely shy,  reticent, and unsure of herself. Her voice somehow avoids getting too annoying, probably because she rarely talks that loudly. I suppose you’d call her moe.

As in the other two arcs, the feelings of both guy and girl are explored. They both like each other, but both lack courage until the conditions are right. As usual, four episodes is a perfect amount of time for them to get to know and like each other. The student-instructor formula is used well in this case: He builds her confidence by training her, and her resultant success bolsters his.

In a strange move, this arc heavily featured a narrator, telling the story like a fairy tail. I must confess I could’ve done without this, as it was lacking in the previous two arcs and the writing is good enough that the narration usually only spells out points already made…though the way he said “Special Banana Parfait” was pretty damn funny. As for the ‘flash forward’, I’m not sure how filming your girlfriend in a blue penguin suit jumping on your bed with your little sister is an appopriate activity for girlfriend and boyfriend, but whatever floats your boats! Rating: 3.5

Occult Academy 12

Episode 11 was going to be a hard act to follow no matter what, and 12 wasn’t quite on the same level, but that’s not to say it was bad. A lot of the episode involves a battle between a black and white mage, both in costumes worthy of a Final Fantasy boss fight. In the last episode both of these characters underwent complete transformations from what they had been for 9/10ths of the series, and it was fun to see them relishing their new roles just as if they had been hiding them all along. Also, there’s a were-panther; they’re always welcome.

Personally, the white mage was a total surprise, and while I knew something wasn’t quite right about the 911-driving hottie, I didn’t expect her to become so evil so fast. There’s also a great sequence between a suddenly vulnerable Maya and Bunmei, who plays the role of Knight in Shining Dorky Suit just when he needs to.

I went into this episode believing it to be the last of this series, but after a cliffhanger ending, I’m glad it wasn’t; there’s still questions that need answering, and I’m glad there’s one more episode of Occult to look forward to. Rating: 3.5

Occult Academy 11

Episode 11 of Occult Academy was a tour-de-force. It threw so many revelations and developments at us all at once, and the story flowed so smoothly I thought the episode was over after just thirteen minutes, and was plesantly surprised to find my self just at the halfway point.

After keeping us in the fog for practically the whole series, with nothing but suggestive clues and red herrings, at last we get answers, and the timing couldn’t be better; episodes 9 and 10 were so slow and quiet by comparison, and this episode lit the whole series up like a firecracker.

When all is said and done, we’re also presented with two more occult phenomena, the black and white mages. Frankly, I like it when a show all of a sudden dumps a whole lot of stuff on you at once. I was more or less expecting that, since it’s kind of a mainstay of Anime no Chikara series, but I really wasn’t prepared for the awesomeness this brought.  I’m really looking forward to how this ends. Rating: 4

Eden of the East: Paradise Lost

Nine years ago, the words ‘terror’ and ‘terrorist’ took on an entirely new significance for many Americans, including myself. Personally, prior to 9/11, whenever the word terrorist came up, I thought of the ‘bad future’ in Back to the Future Part II, in which Biff Tannen rose to power by using the Sports Almanac to win all the bets. I shit you not.

Who was it, the principal guy, who Marty runs into (and ends up on the wrong end of his shotgun) who refers to these guys terrorists. They were guys who show up in a burnt-out beater, fill your house full of bullet holes, and are gone as soon as they arrive. But neither Marty nor the principal are injured by the attack. The ‘terrorists’ were fearsome, but somehow, they were also a joke. The film Brazil takes a similar, dark comedic tack to terrorists as more of a nuisance to the people than a real threat.

Eden of the East throws around the terms ‘terror’ and ‘terrorist’ in way that makes me recall those other films. In the world of Eden of the East, it denotes individuals or groups who engage more in mischief than terror, or at most, the threat of death and destruction, while delivering only destruction at best. Such was the Careless Monday incident that took place prior to the timeline of the show or its two sequel films: a big hole in Tokyo was made, but no casualties.

It makes you wonder as well as wish that the World Trade Center site had been totally devoid of people when the attacks took place. After all, it is the lives we mourn the most by far, not the structures. Still, New York is and always will be conspicuous in the towers’ absense, even if they’re replaced by newer, shinier, taller skyscrapers. Even if there hadn’t been any people in or around the towers when they fell, their falling would have still caused a shock.

The Seleção, operating under the motto “Noblesse Oblige” share a lot of qualities with terrorists. They operate in secret for the most part, with large amounts of funds at their disposal. They act unilaterally and outside the constraints of the law. They are deemed ‘noble’ by their benefactor, Mr. Outside; all terrorists believe they’re noble. And their goal is to improve the nation and become its messiah. Improving it to their specs, based on their impressions of that nation’s society, mind you. Without their input or consent. All of this is fairly innocent compared with mass murder, but its well within their means to kill lots of people with the resources on hand. Thankfully, this series doesn’t take so dark a turn, and this doesn’t happen.

Whew…sorry about that! Anywho, Eden of the East: Paradise Lost, a film that follows The King of Eden and completes the story begun in the original anime, which not only had my favorite opening credit sequence to date, but had one of the best starts of all the anime I’ve seen. The series and these films never really reached the same stratospheric highs of those first episodes, but remained above average, solid storytelling.

New York of the not-too-distant future. As usual, this film is chock full of surprisingly accurate settings: I’ve visited Tokyo between the two Eden films, and in this second one, I noticed the characters were in Chuo, Shibuya, Odaiba, Toyosu, and Sakuradamon. The detail of the settings are impressive and lend the film the same immersive quality of the series. I also enjoyed the character design of the Eden franchise, particularly the adorable Saki and the fat NEET computer genius. The romance between Akira and Saki gets little play in the film, as the two are separated for most of it, but everything Saki does is for Akira’s sake. It may not be in your face, but her love and concern does show through in the film.

The film also takes a few cracks at modern Japanese society, courtesy of arguably the shrewdest but most cynical of the Seleção. ‘This is a nation of 100 million egoists…prime ministers are nothing but scapegoats,’ he says. To a degree, that’s true. They had just switched PMs the week I visited; not because of any scandal or crime, but simply due to not fulfilling a campaign promise. Our President has used the previous president as a scapegoat for most of our problems, and he will be used as a scapegoat by his eventual successor, so I guess Japan isn’t alone here; but a change of leaders happens more often there than here since ours can break promises for eight years and not step down.

That same cynical Seleção would also consider the American Dream an encumbrance to a nation’s success: ‘citizens are parts for improving a nation,’ nothing more; and be believes individuality is an inconvenience to that nation. ‘It is impossible for everyone to become someone,’ he says, exposing his narrow understanding of society. Japan may seem conservative on some levels, but nobody can doubt that the ambitions of individuals have helped more than harmed both Japan and the states.

Finally, Japan is on the same level of development and prosperity as America, which means, inexorably, there’ll a certain section of society doing absolutely nothing. NEET may be a term coined in Japan, but there may be more NEETS in America. There are probably also more NEETs in both countries than there are ‘chosen’ individuals whose circumstances have in one way or another led them to live lives of privilege and obligation – in other words, nobility. It stands to reason the NEETS would outnumber the nobles.

Seleção IX, or Akira, believes he’s been given the power to shake the nation like a tree until all the NEETS come out, then inspire them to put their NEETness to use improving their nation. The Seleção’s AI concierges may refer to their masters as messiahs, but IX and Mr. Outside seem to agree that losers are the real saviors of society, despite everyone else’s revulsion to them. It’s true that it’s impossible for everyone to become someone. But I don’t want to live in a world where nobody tries. Rating: 4

Gundam SEED Destiny – Retro Review, Thru 9

A couple years ago I got into Gundam. That all the giant mecha battles and man-crying can get a little ridiculous are points that can be argued, but on the whole its always a pragmatic and mature look at why we fight wars and how a human race that ideally should be united as one is always thinking up ways of splitting itself up into factions intent on eradicating one another. A young group of Gundam pilots are always in the middle.

The first series I saw was actually brand new at the time; Gundam 00. It went on for two seasons and 50+ episodes, which was a lot of episodes to get to know the enormous cast and all their pasts, relationships, and loyalties; the latter two often in flux. The battles always contained a lot of strategy, and more often than not ended in stalemates rather than outright victory or defeat, with both parties falling back to fight another day, which struck me as a realistic strategy.

Not satisfied with waiting for the next Gundam to come around (Gundam Unicorn, a OVA series that aired one episode a few months back), I delved into an older series, Gundam SEED. While it isn’t widescreen, HD, and nearly as slick-looking as 00, SEED struck me immediately as even better-written, acted, and immersive than the newer series. There are a lot more instances of enemies becoming friends, lovers becoming enemies, then friends again, and alliances being built and crumbling.

SEED also lasted 50 episodes, but was followed by a sequel taking place two years later, which brings us to SEED Destiny, which runs yet another 50 episodes. Unlike long-running shonen series like Naruto and Bleach, there are few if any filler episodes in Gundam SEED: something important happens in every episode that drives the story forward, and there’s very little stalling or pointless exhibition or recaps that make those shonen series unwatchable on a weekly basis.

It’s been a while since I wrapped up SEED, but after nine episodes SEED Destiny feels tighter and better put-together. There are lots of new characters to keep track of, along with the surviving cast from the first season, who all have new roles two years later. I believe because roughly half the cast is already well-established and I am invested in them from all their battles and experiences, Destiny can spend less time on introductions and more time further developing those characters. Another area where Gundam SEED excels is how it treats romantic relationships and sex in a very down-to-earth ,realistic way.

Destiny begins with an uneasy peace, but naturally history repeats itself, and full-scale war is always one incident away from breaking out between the Earth-and-Moon-based Naturals and the Space-based, genetically-enhanced Coordinators. Both sides have racked up their fair share of sins against the other, and a common theme of Gundam is that even if there’s a reasonable explanation for something, and a person (singular) can understand it, reason and logic are not enough to stop the fear and hatred of people (plural) from dominating an issue and shaping history. A stampede, literal or figurative, cannot be stopped with reason or logic. It takes on the properties of a force of nature like a tidal wave, impervious to human control.

And in most cases, the leaders of those people (themselves driven by grudges and perceived injustices) are more than willing to exploit that collective (if misguided) hate for their own ambitions. Yet Gundam doesn’t forget that both sides are still human at the end of the day, and there are minorities on both sides who won’t follow their leaders so blindly over a cliff.

Some from these minorities also happen to pilot Gundams, the most powerful mechas around, affording them at least a little leverage against those tidal waves. If your willing to sit through a million episodes, with occasional bursts into song and/or tears, Gundam SEED/Destiny is, for the most part, fun and entertaining space opera. Rating: 3.5

%d bloggers like this: