Memoirs of a Shounen Jump fan – Dragonball Z

Despite being both loved and loathed by an ever collecting legion of frothing fans, the various anime derived from Japan’s own Shounen Jump are undeniably the flag bearers of anime to our mainstream generation.

As much as I like to think of myself as a serious anime fan, I must now confess that I happen to enjoy the uniquely derivative delights of the SJ adaptation; indeed, my TV recorded VHS tapes of all 261 episodes of DragonballZ attest to this horrifying affliction- intending never to watch them again, I still keep them close by as a reminder of what once was.

Alas, as a means of clearing my heavy conscience, we reach the point at which I introduce this series of articles, my “memoirs of a shounen jump fan”, so join me brave reader as we sink ever deeper into the bowls of these forbidden anime series.

Dragonball Z – My confession

Back during the desolate days of the year 2002 I wasn’t an anime fan but being your typical lazy student and all, I still had a lot of spare time on my hands. One fated summer’s afternoon, I just happened to flick past Toonami on TV… and weeks later, I realized I was addicted to Dragonball Z. That’s literally how it happened, there wasn’t some moment of divine realization, rather I just woke up one morning and subconsciously decided to become a DBZ fan.

To my unfettered eyes, it offered something new. For a start, it was my first true serial story in animated form- I loved tuning in everyday and being able to watch the next part of an on-going story. The characters too were a big draw for me; we see Goku and Gohan grow up, develop and suffer in realistic ways, being affected by everything going on around them. It had just enough maturity to hold my interest, something I can’t say for the majority of teen-aimed American toons.

For that summer, I loved Dragonball Z. It got old for me around about my third time around the block; now it’s drawn out and boring, but for those precious 3 to 6 months, I really loved it- enough to sit through several whole day marathons!

Why people hate DBZ (and subsequently, why I love it!)

As popular as Dragonball Z still is, there’s no point in trying to convince anyone its high art. Its main problem is pacing; DBZ lasted 261 episodes for a reason, the story moves so slowly that (and this is a fact) that when we are told that a “planet will explode in two minutes”, the action is still stretched out over two episodes.

After around about 90 episodes, Dragonball Z has reached its zenith. Goku has completed his fated transformation into the legendary Super Saiyajin and Frieza meets his grizzly end. The series should end here, with everything tied up- but it doesn’t, for whatever reason it lasts for another 170 episodes. Basically, Akira Toriyama’s universe wasn’t built to last this long- and the cracks start to show.

The action, if we can call it that, consists of the now familiar SJ-style face-offs in which opponents spend more time trashing talking each other and trading “power levels” than actually fighting. Characters in battle take on the look of someone squatting with violent constipation, muscles bulge and hair colour changes.

Series highlights

  • At an emotional highpoint- Goku, mourning the death of his best buddy Krillin, goes Super Saiyajin for the first time and humiliates the previously untouchable pride of Frieza.
  • Gohan inheriting his father’s legacy by saving Earth from Cell.
  • Vegeta finally acknowledging Goku and his loved ones by sacrificing his life- blowing himself up- to halt the universal destruction expected of fat villain Majin Buu.

Final words

The most revered Shounen Jump anime ever, Dragonball Z set the standards for long running “fighting” anime. Despite being hopelessly stretched out over an amazing number of episodes, the story retains its power as a weird blend of science fiction and traditional martial arts. Time traveling, androids, space ships and exploding planets are but a few of the many delights DBZ offers and as much as it now looks like a blatantly tired old series, it will always have my respect!

One Piece – Adventure of a lifetime!

One Piece is a brilliant series. I’ve slowly come to realize this over the last few months and indeed, it’s my find of 2006. Void of the macho posturing that dogs it’s Shounen Jump brethren and brimming with such vibrant, colorful adventure- it’s a tragedy to see how it’s being handled outside of Japan by 4Kids. I know it’s beating a dead horse, but treated with the respect it so sorely deserves, One Piece could have achieved so much more.

I’m up to episode 64 now, and the Straw Hat crew have just entered the Grand Line, where muchos adventure awaits. I get the feeling this is when the real story begins, and yet, I’ve already enjoyed watching it so much; that’s 25 hours of pure One Piece goodness and funnily enough, the journey has only just begun.

By this point in a show, things should be getting a little repetitive. We should know what to expect from certain characters and be able to predict how their stories will unfold. This is not the case with One Piece, I daren’t even guess in what direction I’ll be carried next, and it’s this consistently unpredictable style that plays a massive part in dragging me back for more. Like-wise, the characters are wonderful to watch and original creator Eiichiro Oda, who I feel is becoming a story telling legend, clearly loves them too; by developing their personalities, always adding an extra layer of drama, he injects them with such unique dreams, humour, ambitions and talents that I find myself empathising and laughing with each and everyone of them.

Exciting, vibrant and full of life, enjoying One Piece is easy. I hope to blog this show, not episode by episode, but rather in batches; highlighting my favourite moments.

NANA – 2 – Make up the breakdown

An episode I enjoyed much more than the first, NANA episode 2 is a much needed dramatic and character-driven piece. I remarked after the first episode that Nana K is a ditz, implying that basically she is a superficial person with her head in clouds, in love with the idea of being in love.

With episode two, we begin to get under her skin; we see that her typically naive and innocent personality is slowly wearing her down, making her more and more self conscious, afraid of both being alone and getting hurt. Through a string of relationships, everyone of which she makes the earth-shattering claim of love, she evidently puts in so much effort and still- they still end with not an explosion of passion, rather a wet whimper. To say she is emotionally fragile is an understatement, in one particularly painful scene, a fun night out drinking with some new friends transforms into an emotional break down.

This was an important episode for Nana K and I’m pleased to say it is as dramatic as I had hoped NANA would be. Of course, the series is still as fun and quirky as you would expect of any slice of life show- but now we have the character drama to match too.

NANA – 1 – Sisters are doing it for themselves

Setting the scene
Nana has plans to move to Tokyo and live near her boyfriend. On the train journey there, she bumps into another woman called Nana; who also happens to be 20 and is planning to live in Tokyo too. Their fashions and personalities strike such a strong contrast, like night and day; Nana 1 is a sugary sweet and innocent girl, while Nana 2 is a brooding and well, gothic woman. These pronounced differences are no doubt why the two immediately bond and form a natural friendship.

Life’s not going to be easy for Nana 1 in Tokyo though; her boyfriend shows her little sympathy- so it’s either get a job and find your own apartment or go back home. And so life in the big city begins.

My impressions
Before viewing this episode, NANA was my most anticipated show of the spring season. The pre-production art struck me as an admirable attempt at originality and basically, the show looked sophisticated enough to set itself aside from the teen-angst brigade.

I tentatively enjoyed episode 1; clearly, this is a series aimed at young women and while I can appreciate the art and enjoy the super-deformed humour, there is only so much interest I can glean from what is basically a “sisters are doing it for themselves” kind of story. And that’s basically what NANA is right now, it’s about two young woman learning to rely on themselves. The atmosphere is fun, and kooky, and the melodrama is thick with earth shattering narration, though I really need to see more before I can grasp any true direction.

The artwork and animation is very reminiscent of Paradise Kiss, but it’s not as over the top and “camp”. Like-wise, the character designs are attractive and pretty; particularly the females, who all look very glamorous and caked with makeup.

NANA has started out in promising fashion, and has set the scene well for future adventures. It’s pure slice of life and gooey melodrama, and as long as it doesn’t descend into the realms of manicures and hair cuts, I’ll be watching!

Paranoia Agent – Happy Family Planning censored in the UK

For those who aren’t aware, I’m based in the UK. Being an anime fan in England isn’t so bad, though like every country, we have to put up with the occasional scandal; and this week one such scandal has been making waves in our anime community. Basically, the BBFC have decided to censor a section of episode 8 (“Happy Family Planning”) of Paranoia Agent- and it’s not a TV broadcast that’s been cut, it’s a DVD release.

As I have the uncut DVD version of this episode to hand, I figured I would blog it and try to analyze why BBFC feel it’s dangerous for the British public to see.

Now Happy Family Planning is probably the most unsettling episode of Paranoia Agent I’ve seen so far- because not only does it depict a young girl attempting to commit suicide, it also touches on a number of other issues that we Britains are trained to fear. For one- the little girl meets her suicidal compatriots in an internet chatroom (both grown men; one is gay and the other a depressed old fogey). The British media is usually full of stories about how young children are being exposed by old perverts over the ‘net and since this episode alludes to the internet as a means of planning a young girl’s suicide (let alone the other characters involved), it immediately treds on edgy territory- a cartoon making fun of such dangerous things is a parent’s nightmare.

The episode continues and by the time we reach the now infamous attempted hanging scene (this is the section cut by the BBFC), it’s clear that Happy Family Planning is a disturbing black comedy- yes, it features responsible adults who want to die, but still, it’s a satire; an albeit close to bone comedy that really pushes the boundaries concerning the worries of a middle-class modern society.

Happy Family Planning has all of the trademarks of a Satoshi Kon anime; it’s subversive, experimental and downright brilliant, all the way through to it’s sad conclusion. The way the character’s act- all smilie faces and skipping down streets is not in tone with what you would expect of people wanting to die; it’s actually an episode full of life and humour, chillingly so. And this is probably why the BBFC decided to cut out the attempted hanging; the animation genre in the West is still one that is synomonous with young people and a sickly sweet innocence. Seeing three cartoon characters, including one child, trying to hang themselves, and laughing and joking about dying, is just too much for Britain right now. And ironically, unless in the future the BBFC let their guards down concerning these kinds of issues, we’ll never be ready either.

Why am I running an anime blog?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately, and with the recent commentary posted over at “a fairy tale…”, I guess it’s time for me to revaluate the real reason why this place exists.

I’ve long admired anime blogs from afar, enjoyed reading their quick-fire reviews of my favourite shows and always wanted to run a blog just like these people- hence this place- but a quick look at BlogSuki reveals what is essentially a flood of others who feel the same way. I glance at my review of NANA below and feel embarrassed- not because it’s a bad post, but rather because it’s so damn generic. Everyone is watching this show, nearly everyone is blogging it, so what’s the point in me joining the crowd? Will it add anything new, of vital importance? I’ve conformed without even realizing it.

So I guess I’m selling out then; being an ambitious person, always looking at my hit counter and checking my mail for new comments, I want to attract people to this place. Sadly, this is a fruitless pursuit- and a newbie trap- a situation in which you inevitably end up droning on about shows you really couldn’t give two shits about. I’m not saying this is the case with NANA; I honestly did enjoy the first episode, but mere enjoyment is hardly the metal great blogs are made of.

For now, I’m going to try and forget about what other people may want to read here and just focus on what I want to read. I’m going to remove my hit counter and rely on “the force”, Skywalker-style, before self-destructing in a fit of referral statistics.

Fan service to the detriment of quality

I tend to avoid anime with an over-emphasis on fan service, I construe it as a weakness in story telling; a cynical way of appealling to a base number of fan-boys/girls. In other words, I hate being pandered to- and so inevitably, I’ve ended up missing out on some of the most otaku series of recent years; the HiME franchise for one, and just about anything else starring groups of school girls falling over each other.

The latest champion on this side of fandom is said to be The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. I try to check out a lot of what’s popular, if just to understand the hype, but a quick look at the various screen-caps scattered across the ‘net reveal that yet again, Haruhi is no doubt a fan favourite for certain physical reasons.

I know people get obsessed about these series, but has there ever been a great moe/loli series, or rather- is this shallow visual style a reflection of a distinct lack of story. Will fan-service always equal derrivative fanboy entertainment.