Black Lagoon 23-24 (END)

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Impressions (SPOILERS)

And so the most intelligent and exciting action anime to come along in a while closes its most extensive arc yet, with plenty of room for more seasons to come. (Though my hopes that Yukio, the schoolgirl Yakuza boss, might become a recurring character were, alas, not to be.) The reflective dialogue in this and the previous episodes lifts Black Lagoon into the ranks of the more intelligent action genre films like Michael Mann’s Heat or Collateral. This is also a show that isn’t afraid to develop characters very well, only to kill them off –arguably, Yukio is better sketched than mainstays Rock and Revy, though here we get to see a very, very vulnerable (for her) side of Revy. She’s back in character by the very last scene but we get the impression that when she says “If it were anyone but you, I’d have put two or three holes in you” it is as close to a love confession as she will ever come to.

Some of the broader issues Black Lagoon brings up are very interesting. Rock throughout the show, though more at the beginning, represents “civilian” values or perhaps more precisely the point of view of someone accustomed to comfort and unused to the brutally utilitarian underworld. The show, usually through the voices of Revy and Balalaika, works hard to undermine that viewpoint as being naive and arbitrary (though I wonder: Revy, ostensibly a nonbeliever, blurts out in episode 23 that the only thing that saved Rock’s skin was “God’s grace” and Balalaika’s surprising mercy). Eventually Rock adopts many of the values of the underworld, though never without completely losing any sense of compassion. It’s as if he has come to some sort of balance, of a sort, able to act decisively and coldly when necessary, but without becoming a war addict like Balalaika.

If one wants to push it a bit one can see a little of the realization that the pacifistic attitude among many modern Japanese is based less on principle and more on denial. I certainly agree, if the naive pacifism of many an anime is any indicator of general attitudes in Japan. Now I’m not sure the violent cynicism that passes for cool in this show–a very American attitude, I might add, and one which will make this show very easy to swallow for fans of films like Pulp Fiction and The Boondock Saints–is any better, but it certainly has a better claim on reality, I think. (The characters, Yakuza schoolgirl and Revy included, are also self-aware enough to admit that part of them longs for the flabby tranquility that Rock’s Japan stands for.) I also find it interesting that the prevailing attitude of most of the characters in the show is that they are beyond help, beyond any point where they can change their paths. This fatalistic attitude, laden with notions of “destiny,” is what seems more “Japanese” about it; Americans are more inclined to think that “it’s never too late to start again!” But everyone in this show already considers themselves as living in the twilight, as living dead. The Sartre quotations are oddly appropriate; the existentialist despair that pervades this show demands nothing less. There’s nothing left except to make one’s own meaning and go all the way, guns blazing.

More excellent analysis of this final episode is here.

So: Black Lagoon ends fittingly, with a gun shot, with the characters returning to their posts and ready for more adventures. May they go on many more than we otaku fanboys can see. Preferably with her:

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Continue reading Black Lagoon 23-24 (END)

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.
Continue reading Afro Samurai 1

Since Mike did his list…

I’ll do mine, simply because I’m bored as hell and I don’t feel like translating all these shitey documents I got right now.
My kick ass show of 2006: Black Lagoon.
My comment: Duh. Yeah. Revy.
My suck ass show of 2006: Ergo Proxy
My comment: stupid flashback, stupid philosophy that doesn’t work, stupid silent story that bores me to death.
My laughed my ass off show of 2006: a tie between school rumble and Azumanga Daioh (I don’t give a shite that season one of school rumble and the whole Azumanga Daioh wasn’t made in 2006, or I could be wrong but again, I don’t give a shite)
My fanboy cheesy school girl show of 2006: High School girls/Girls High.
My comment: Nabatame Hitomi-chan, Shimizu Ai-chan, Noto Mamiko-chan, and lots of girlish things that a guy wants to know about. Quote the show’s self intro screen: “girlish comics for boys and girls.” And a little cheesy but fun comedy doesn’t hurt.
My MOE show of the year: gee, would that be BInchotan?
My comment: if you don’t know it, then you don’t know MOE. Don’t argue with me, dammit!
My feel good but if you didn’t finish it so what show of the year: AA! Megami Sama TV2
My comment: watch it if you love Kikuko-sanma, or if you think this sort of romantic (maybe)comedy isn’t outdated and is fun, oh and if you love the manga so much ( I have every volume and I didn’t bother finish this show).
My surprisingly good show unless you’ve already seen the manga and know that show of the year: D. Grayman.
My comment: better and not cheesy like Chrno Crusade. And if you like the show, keep watching!
My “why the f$#$^$#%$ didn’t you watch it” show is another tie: I’ll go with Gintama and Welcome to NHK. (Well, why the f^@*&#$% didn’t you watch more of it, Ray you moron?)
My comment: for Gintama one laughs his ass off one second and become shonenly touched the next. And yes, I just invented that word. For NHK…well I didn’t watch enough, so yes, I’m a moron.
My “freaky medical show of the year” goes to Ray the animation.
My comment:yeah, good plot but freaky cases.
My “gee, that’s a cheesy way to play a pun on a song and I didn’t even watch this anime!” is: sin in the rain.
My comment: I’m sinning in the rain, I’m SINNING in the rain! $#%$^#$^and I’m happy again!
My favorite yuri(girl love girl) show with shojo-ai flooding throughout the show:strawberry panic.
My comment, Shimizu Ai-chan and Nakahara Mai-chan actually do kiss in the first half ending video! It’s that they just didn’t show it in the show!!! MOE!!! Oh, and I love Nabatame Hitomi-Nakahara Mai pairing…I mean Shizuma and Nagisa pairing.
My “um, I just lost interest because it just got boring” show is Witchblade.
My comment: it just got bland on me.

Finally, my “wow!” show of the year: HARUHI!
with my most MOE seiyuu of the year: Hirano Aya-chan! Her real life voice and looks are just so freakin’ cute that I’d scream MOE all day if she were to stand in of me!

NOTE: the above comment doesn’t represent this station’s opinion. He’s just nuts and probably drunk and trying too hard to be funny…oh, you actually read this far? Otsukaresanma desu=you must be tired!

Michael Huang’s Year-End Roundup

2006 was the year I joined an anime club and got caught up with newer shows again, kicking off what is for me the Second Age of Anime Indulgence (the first was my first years of fandom in college). I’ve never downloaded and watched and been involved in the anime scene as much as I did this past year. With that in mind, here’s the shows that I discovered this year and thoroughly enjoyed. Rather than pick a single favorite or rank them by number, I’ve broken them down into categories.

Note: this list doesn’t even pretend to be comprehensive, and not every show is technically from 2006. These are just shows I saw in 2006. I obviously haven’t watched a great deal, and I’m pretty picky in what I choose to sample. Any complaints/suggestions about what I missed are welcome as it gives me a whole list of more things I can watch. :)

With that–here we go!
Continue reading Michael Huang’s Year-End Roundup

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.

Dubbing…Yeah.

Gee, there’s dubbing, and there’s hell. For me that is. Only the American Duo Maxwell did a great job, because the character was supposed to be American to begin with! Sheesh, other than that, dubs are atrocious.
You don’t think so? Well, which American voice overs for Japanese animes (for ghibli works don’t count – Disney gets these big time actors for that) took at least 4 years of voice training for voice over? Name one, tell a name to a foolish and knowledgeless person like me (who also can’t spell, but hey, I’m Asian!) And listening to something that just isn’t authentic makes me wanna puke my guts out.
I guess it’s true that these American voice over (I wonder what the voice overs in other countries sound like) tried hard. But they just sound so flat and no feelings. There’s a reason that the Japanese anime characters come alive – the seiyuus made them sound alive. If the seiyuus were dead, and novices (unfortunately, they use them too many times these days) are all of the sudden used, we may get some really enthusiastic people (think that lock out season for football – oh wait) voicing hard. But I’d shoot myself in the head before finishing listening. Art is attached to the culture, and blasting it with different voice is just atrocious. I hate Robotech and love Macross. So flame me, shoot me all you want. I welcome it.
Oddly enough, I’m all for the Americanization of the entire world. That would make my life easier everywhere. So sue me.

The Disturbingness of Haruhi Suzumiya…English Auditions

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On the official American Haruhi Suzumiya website, there is a hidden link where you can actually vote on four different English renditions of Mikuru. (The original Japanese audio is included for comparison.) The scene being played, of course, is one of the many “costume assault/rape” scenes where Haruhi forces Mikuru into various otaku fetish getups. The scenes, of course, are played for laughs in the show, and this is clear in the original Japanese audio through the music more than anything else.

It apparently hid it well enough that it only hit me now, as I listened to these musicless auditions in a language I understand, just how…actually disturbing the words and the scene actually can be. It’s not called “costume rape” for nothing, it seems. Take away the music and the comedic patina and that’s what the audition sounds like, the prelude to an assault, as filtered through porn. It was actually painful to listen to, which is both a compliment to the voice actresses and a question to raise at the writers of the show and what kind of subtext was going through their heads. (And it’s not just because I have a dirty mind! :) I really do think, stripped of its comedy context, a lot of people would hear the same thing.)

Come to think of it, Kyon in one particularly nasty harassment, wonders out loud “this is supposed to be a comedy?” while acknowledging how turned on he is at the same time. I suppose this is their way of tipping their hat at this dilemma, though without really resolving it (or perhaps coming down on the comedy side, what with lines like “If I become ruined for marriage, will you still take me?”, which is simultaneously appalling and hilarious.) Yet more evidence that however charming a character in an anime, Haruhi may not be the greatest person to have around in real life–she behaves, for one thing, an awful lot like real cult leaders do, dragging poor hapless saps into her schemes for causes only understood to her. :)

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.

Scattered Cels Podcast #2

This week, Ray and I tackle the Haruhi licensing and the depredations of viral marketing, Japanese Academy Award nominations, and review School Rumble!

Notes/Errata

  • Kadokawa Pictures USA, has actually also actually licensed Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid, another Kyoto Animation property. My guess is that they might become KyoAni’s house licensor in the US? (Source: AnimeonDVD.com)
  • The original Transformers toys and TV show came out in 1984–after Macross. (Source: Wikipedia.)
  • Brave Story is not based on an h-game, but on an award winning novel. The film screened at Cannes. I have yet to find out exactly what game Ray is referring to; it’s likely that a lesser-known game has the same title, given how generic it is. (Source: Anime News Network)
  • Sound quality issues: hopefully an improvement over last week, though some authentic city noise from Taipei and a running TV can be heard in the back. :) Ray was recording with a built-in laptop mic, and I was recording with a really inadequate microphone not made for computers and giving low output. Next time, we will use real headsets and mics!

No podcast next week, since I’ll be flying back to school, so this is the last episode of the year. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The Phenomenon of Haruhi Suzumiya

It’s strange how badly companies want to emulate, through viral marketing, the natural process that is “word of mouth.” What makes “word of mouth” marketing work is precisely its spontanaeity and its lack of connection to those who might do such a thing for the money. Anything less is, well, marketing. (Look what happened to Lonelygurl13 or whatever her name was, when she was revealed to be a professional actress.) I would give this particular effort by Kadokawa/Bandai an above average grade though–they succeeded, at any rate, in setting the anime blog world atwitter prior to the initial announcement with genuine speculation. But surely, no matter how clever and winsome…a certain kind of spell is broken the moment the words (C)2006 Bandai appear.

I do have a question: who are the Japanese-speaking actresses in the promo video? They’re definitely not the seiyuus from the anime. Are they simply the actresses who will act those roles for the live action promo videos? I know none of these people are going to be the dub actresses….

As for Haruhi itself: it’ll probably win my originality award for 2006 along with Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni, and I’m really surprised no one has seen the similarities between Haruhi and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. That was the first thing that came to my mind in the way it mixed sci-fi, comedy, absurdism, and more than a dash of philosophy by the end. Mmmm….philosophy. Red meat for theology majors like me.

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Is Haruhi Suzumiya acknowledging the existence of a different god by wishing you a Merry Christmas?

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.
Continue reading Review: Welcome to the NHK!

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