Category Archives: Reviews

Afro Samurai 1

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Impressions

The first episode of Afro Samurai, the Japanese-animated and Samuel L. Jackson-voiced Gonzo production, is now available for viewing for free on the Spike TV website. It’s a fairly safe bet that the project rides almost entirely on Jackson’s name recognition (Ron Perlman also has a voice too). But how does it stack up, as an anime? If this were any other anime with standard Japanese voice seiyuu, would this stand out?

The answer is, unfortunately, no. Jackson, for one thing, hardly has any lines in this episode, so those watching who are mainly hoping for him to redo his Pulp Fiction routine in animated form will have to rent The Boondocks instead. And while it’s hard to judge too much from just the first episode, the story feels cliched and unsurprising, a rehash of animes like Ninja Scroll and (you’ll see in the story summary) Jubei-chan and the Secret of the Lovely Eyepatch. (It should be noted that the screenplay was scripted by Japanese then translated into English, so it’s their cliches we’re working with. It’s actually based on a doujinshi by Takashi Okazaki.) We learn very little about the title character other than the facts that 1.) he watched his daddy die; 2.) he’s a BADASS MOTHER (shut yo mouth), but this time I’m talking WITH A SWORD (we can dig it).* In other words, exactly what he appears to be, so far. (And right off the bat, he gains an annoying Eddie Murphy-like sidekick, the Ron Perlman character.) There’s also a Fuu-like girl who works at a restaurant, but she only appears in one scene.

The animation quality is, as one expects from Gonzo, predictably high, with a overreliance on flapping clothes in the wind and a rather limited color palette. RZA’s music is actually decent, or at least fits the scenes.

On the whole, it’s not really anything beyond what one would expect from the title, Afro Samurai. Time will tell whether it will match the greatness of its most immediate competitor, Samurai Champloo, or past greats like Ninja Scroll and the Rurouni Kenshin OAV, but so far…yawn.

* Note: Jackson does not actually swear in the show, yet. I’m sure he will eventually…if they were willing to reshoot “Snakes on a Plane” to add profanity, they certainly can do it to an anime where people’s heads get sliced open.
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The Third – Aoi no hitomi no shojo

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Now what the freaking hell is that? It’s a nicely written show that’s based on a novel. Shows based on that usually comes with great plots. Think Crest/Banner of the Stars, which they got Ayako to play Lafiel. For the The Third, it’s Toyoguchi Megumi, who also played Revi in Black Lagoon. But that’s not the reason why I bothered watching it.

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It’s got an average beginning – a planet’s civilization (the planet is just Earth, I mean come on it just look so much like it) is destroyed because of a great war. Then a group of people called the third, because they have a third eye on the middle of their forehead comes and rules the whole planet. They instituted a law called the “Technos Taboo”, which says that regular humans cannot use or manufacture technology that’s superior than what the “Third” allow.

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That’s the background. I’d say it’s not even as deep as the original Gundam’s background. What makes the show interesting is that there’s so much going on behind the foreground story and the rather obvious mysteries are interesting enough to keep me interested. For example, why the technos taboo? How did the Third take over? What’s with Honoka anyway – oh, she’s the main character who does just about every kind of job except killing somebody. The voice actress’s voice is not my favorite, but she does a great job portraying Honoka. I do have to say though that now I think about it, comparing the story with Scrapped Princess, Crest/Banner of the Stars, and other shows, the only advantage of this show is the same as these other shows, that the plot is tight without me losing interest. One does have to go through at least 5 eps in order to be interested in it. Other than that, it’s a decent watch so far and keeps me interested because the story isn’t going all over the place and there isn’t any psycho bubble and Toyoguchi Megumi and Tanaka Rie sanma is good enough to keep me watching it. It is true that I would watch any show with Tanaka Rie sanma in it.
But anyway, it’s intriguing enough to keep me interested. The characters are interesting enough and the plot isn’t boring. So give it a shot if you want.

Black Lagoon blows me away

When I first watched the show I was only impressed with the fact that there’s a main girl with two large guns IN HER HANDS, a probable high body count, and just about everyone in the Lagoon Co. is bad ass of some sort, except Roc, who’s sort of a wuz.
As time went on, I realized that I was wrong about a few things.
1. The body count in Black Lagoon isn’t as high as I thought it would be. Noir had a high body count.
2. Black Lagoon had great character developments. I mean, I thought bad ass villains are usually just that, bad ass villains. And even if there any reasons, they are usually pretty lame.
Not so with Revy. It wasn’t like her story was a weepy story that made anyone sympathize with her. Her story simply showed what could happen when bad/evil things happen to normal slum people.
3. There may be some touching redeeming points in the show. Again, not so. The world that Roc, the real protagonist is in, is evil without any redeeming possibilities, and we really see that at the end of eps 24. Of course, people smarter than I probably already guessed that, but I never did guess it.
Roc is probably the only person in this show that shed some good light to everyone around him. But his light is dim and weak.
Anyway, for an overall package of great action, plot, character without any cheesy touching emotional moments, give this one a shot.
Oh yeah, and Revy has a deep side that isn’t cheesy or crappily made up at all. A real pleasant surprise.

Review: Welcome to the NHK!

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I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of recent anime have been about, or targeted directly to, otaku. Genshiken and Comic Party are about fandom; Haruhi Suzumiya and other “moesploitation” shows cater to otaku fetishes (even if it’s with a wink and a nod); the Densha Otoko phenomenon has even glamorized otaku for a moment in the general culture. Into this increasingly crowded field steps Welcome to the NHK, a show that introduces itself as a darkly comic variant of the first type of show, but only as a wedge to open up bigger, more universal issues. I came in expecting to laugh, perhaps in pity or contempt, at the patheticness of shut-in Satou and his mountains of porn and crumpled tissues. I ended up seeing a group of ordinary, lonely people struggling and often failing to make real connections. People who frequently give up entirely because that’s what lots of people do, but people I grew to care about enough that it hurt to see them fail, and for whom even a small triumph is a cause for minor celebration.
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Welcome to the NHK 23

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Impressions

Though the show comes to an end with the next episode, I still marvel over how far it has come since it started. Today I was rewatching the early episodes (1-6) and while the seeds of all that has happened in the show’s second half are clearly there, the emphasis on black humor and cynical social commentary seems a long way away from the straightforward, earnest, and heartfelt drama that it’s since become. This particular episode holds few surprises, really, for anyone who’s been following the show up to this point–the revelations about Misaki’s past and her subsequent actions, if anything, are almost mundane given the air of mystery that she herself and the show tried to surround her with. We almost expected something more spectacular or strange…though, of course, there is still one more episode to go, and so we may find out more yet.

But that isn’t really the point, is it? All I know is that I feel for these characters, in the midst of their failure and despair–and it’s rare, even in these post-Evangelion days, to see a major studio anime portray all of its main characters as such broken failures–or even their few successes. (Often, it seems, brought about by the threat of starvation!) And I don’t mean “feel” in terms of pity or condescension; this show cuts deeper to my nerdish self and its logical end than anything I’ve seen since Evangelion, because when I see the thought processes of Misaki and Satou I find them all too accurate to my own feelings in different situations. Like Evangelion, this show can be seen as a cautionary tale about the dangers of otakuism and social isolation. This one dispenses with the convoluted metaphors and allusions, though, and goes straight for the gut–and the heart.

I’m really hoping that we get a redemptive, but bittersweet ending: not just because it would be fitting for such a bittersweet show, or that it would be better storyteling, but because it seems that no other kind of redemption will suffice for these characters. A glib wrap-up would feel like a betrayal of their struggles and pain. So far, Gonzo has handled it remarkably well (though I haven’t read the manga; manga fans will probably disagree), and I’m really hoping they neither give us a neat Hollywood ending or the nihilistic wallow that I ultimately thought Saikano became.

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Summary
Misaki and Satou are doing one of their last counseling sessions–and, having been badly hurt by seeing Satou leave a hotel with his former sempai, Misaki soldiers on remarkably well (on the surface). She quizzes Satou about famous last words of various celebrities, with mixed results. Satou is able to guess, importantly, the last words of a famous athlete who returned to his hometown and ate his favorite foods before committing suicide. Misaki seems pleased by his correct answers, and then announces that there will be a “graduation” test for the course. The test, of course, turns out to be more or less a date: they go out to see a movie, sit together on the train, and move through crowds. At their final meeting, she announces that he passes with “flying colors,” and–to Satou’s shock–presents him with another contract. This one stipulates that Satou must grow to like Misaki, and stay by her side forever, with a fine of 10 million yen. Satou rejects her proposal, denying that he is lonely and spurning her entreaties…only to be haunted by her parting accusation, that he is lying about not being lonely.

When he returns to his apartment, in the shadow of the giant Purin statue, he sees visions of the main characters (Yamazaki, Sempai, and others) admonishing him to admit that he is a failure. He is able to admit, too, that he is lonely. It does not, however, prevent him from beginning to starve, especially when his parents, Yamazaki, and Misaki, stop sending him money and food. This, at long last, spurs him to leave his apartment and find work as a traffic guide. He has, at long last, recovered from his hikkikomori ways–which Misaki observes, sadly, from her high window.

One day, as he comes home from work, Satou discovers an ambulance parked outside Misaki’s house. Misaki, apparently the victim of a bathtub accident, is being taken to the hospital. Concerned, Satou hitches a ride with her uncle–who turns out to be his landlord, thus making sense of how Misaki was able to know his personald data–who reveals her history with her suicidal mother and abusive stepfather. It turns out that she was only happy and cheerful after she met Satou. Moved, Satou and her uncle go to the hospital, only to find that Misaki is gone; she left behind a train schedule, however, and inside is a suicide note that parallels the one by the famous athelete. She intends to return to her hometown and jump off the same cliff that her mother did. In the final shot, we see her riding on the train, bandages on her wrists, revealing that her bathroom “accident” was really an attempt to slit her wrists.