Fall 2009 Roundup 1: Letter Bee, The Book of Bantorra, and Kobato

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Mike emerges from his wormhole of work and busyness and finally gets around to watching the new season shows, starting with ones that haven’t been reviewed yet on this site by others. The first of 3 parts.

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Letter Bee

We start with a classic “Lone Wolf and Cub” type setup which is so common in anime–an older person and an unusual child traveling through a land together, on the way to some destination. Variations on this kind of setup are a favorite of fantasy-type series in particular (think of Claymore, Spice and Wolf, Scrapped Princess–and there are surely many more), and the world this one introduces is not particularly original. The Gaichuu bugs are reminiscent of the Ohmu in Nausicaa, though when I first saw them I didn’t think they were really biological–they looked like robot bugs with their filigreed armor. They are almost surely the creation of some kind of magical force rather than natural occurrence, since they supposedly drawn to “human hearts” the way sharks are drawn to blood. The magical 3-d snowflakes that fill the screen every time they are destroyed are probably heart fragments of some kind. Maybe of insects long dead, similar to the spirit amber that powers that gun main character Gauche carries.

That leads me to how this show seems so completely committed to literalizing that metaphor of “hearts.” Similar to the next show I’ll be discussing, The Book of Bantorra, memories and feelings are literally embedded in objects–a bullet in this case–and the entire magical system of this world is dependent on “heart energy” so to speak. This is already rather annoying, especially in the way the show, by necessity, has to spell everything out in a dry expositional fashion. On the other hand, such explanations are actually somewhat refreshing in their clarity, leaving time to focus on real storytelling later, a problem that Bantorra has a bit of.

With a mailman at the center of the action, one is tempted to think of the post-apocalyptic story The Postman, though unlike Nausicaa, there isn’t evidence of an apocalypse yet in this world. The prominence of insects in this world seems to be a given, with them being named after bees and their guns powered by insect fossils–fossil fuel in the most literal sense. I suppose I’ll give this a shot for a few more episodes on Crunchyroll and see whether this leads anywhere interesting.


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Armed Librarians: The Book of Bantorra

Those expecting a book-filled, librarians-as-heroes romp along the lines of Read or Die or Library Wars will be disappointed. The “books” in question are magical tablets containing the full memories of departed human beings, and the plotline begins with a standard ragtag-crew-vs-evil-cult-organization setup, adding zombified suicide bombers into the mix. The storing and the commodification of memories (and their erasure) was a theme very successfully exploited by Kaiba, but this one focuses more on the action and establishing the world.

I wonder who named “The Church of Drowning in God’s Grace” (Crunchyroll translation). From a Christian standpoint it’s not a bad expression of theology, really, at least in the way God’s grace is supposed to be understood, but it seems that this church’s main doctrine is essentially a form of hedonism–which for translates in this show into terrorism. Their main job is to destroy the leader of the library that contains people’s soul memories, and presumably the library itself. I suppose their doctrine and their practice make a certain kind of sense; their goal, as stated in the beginning of the show in an ominous manner, is to rescue people from suffering, and the memories of the dead can sometimes be a source of suffering. The Church probably subscribes to some kind of futurist doctrine where the past not only doesn’t matter, it ought to be destroyed in order to pave the way for a future with no regrets. They sure don’t come off as being sympathetic in the least, though.

The characters are rather non-descript at this point, and the most interesting aspect really is this world (just as it is in Letter Bee). In this show and in the last one there are tantalizing hints of the origin and history of the world and I suppose as an old fantasy writer, that sort of thing is Relevant to My Interests…but the feeling that I came away with at the end of episode 1 was a bit cold. At least with Letter Bee we had the crude grief of a child longing for his mother, and a brother looking out for (once again) a crippled younger sister. Here there is mainly the horror of stuffing people’s bodies with bombs and the rather graphic violence at points.

Again, I am intrigued without being entirely captivated.


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Kobato

This show was clearly not made for me. The adaptation of the most recent CLAMP manga, it comes off as being similar to Card Captor Sakura–there’s even an homage to it in the first few seconds of the show in the way Kobato lands on earth. Once again, we have a sarcastic stuffed animal, who is admittedly rather amusing (he breathes fire and regularly roasts Kobato when she does something outside of “common sense”), and a sugary-sweet, innocent girl who at times is as much playing for the moe audience as much as the younger girls this NHK-broadcast show is primarily aimed at.

Kobato, actually, appears to be some kind of angel in training. Her job, after all, is to be able to go “some place” (it’s not specified), by “collecting the pieces of broken hearts,” but first she has to prove she can make it in the human world like a normal person. Everything she cooks and sings turns to gold, so to seems. While it’s unlikely a show of this sort is going to explore this theme of an otherworldly angel trying to live among humans the way Wings of Desire or even City of Angels did, the plotline is undoubtedly going to head to a somewhat similar place: she will fall in love with a human and there will be problems. Which human is telegraphed very early on, obviously, and for some reason without the usual sly CLAMP genderbending and queerness that even CCS had. At least not yet.

Probably the most entertaining part of this fluffy show are Kobato’s expressions in chibi mode. I don’t know–I just like them, they’re actually pretty cute. Objectively speaking they’re probably overdone–I imagine I’d get sick of it in short order. Still, it helped make episode 1 watchable.

If I want to continue watching this I need to know whether the story starts heading someplace more than Fruits Basket territory–cute innocent girl solves people’s emotional problems with a smile and clumsy yet heartfelt insight. (Note: this is the plot, essentially, of the actual book called Pollyanna.) Anyone who’s read the manga fill in without too many spoilers?

6 thoughts on “Fall 2009 Roundup 1: Letter Bee, The Book of Bantorra, and Kobato”

  1. >>We start with a classic “Lone Wolf and Cub” type setup which is so common in anime–an older person and an unusual child traveling through a land together, on the way to some destination
     
    I think you’ve horribly misjudged where this series is going. I think you need to watch the pilot.

  2. digitalboy: well, a little googling and yeah, it does look like the story is not really like what the first episode seems to be about. We’re just watching a prologue so it seems. To tell you the truth, I never even heard that it had an OVA prior to this, as it turns out it did–I assume that’s what you mean by pilot. In either case I’ll still try to keep up with it.

    rayyhum777: or it could be that. :) If angels had helldogs at their side, that is!

  3. About 1/2 of Kobato is her trying to learn about humans and how to understand their hearts (so she can heal them and get to that all-mysterious place she wants to go) while trying to help her human friends with problems she doesn’t entirely understand, and the other half  deals with the mysterious Ioryogi (the blue dog thing) and his involvement in a conspiracy concerning a feud between heaven and hell.

  4. It’s disappointing that Bantorra is not evocative of Read or Die, but I am nursing some interesting thoughts on what the greater meaning of the Church may be.

  5. I’m glad someone mentioned the CCS homage. It was nice and subtle about it.

    “…the other half [of Kobato]  deals with the mysterious Ioryogi (the blue dog thing) and his involvement in a conspiracy concerning a feud between heaven and hell.”
    Yeah, I was expecting something like that. Wouldn’t be CLAMP without the patented CLAMP twist.

    Book of Bantorra seems like low-cal superhero action fluff. If it works on themes of religion and death without insulting my intelligence, that’ll just be a bonus.

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