The end of Death Note: a poison, creating wicked hearts

Death Note is a “… poison, creating wicked hearts”, said the concerned prudes at Chinese schools after some ‘corrupted’ kids were discovered to be using their home-made murder pages to curse fellow students. This was back in 2005; the first time I’d heard of the now famous Death Note. Since then, I’ve always been interested in the franchise (anything with the power to blacken young hearts must be worth something), and last night, much to my dismay, I watched the final episode of the anime. I’ll miss it.

One thing we can say for certain is that by the end, Light was spiked with ‘poison’ and without a shred of mercy in his ‘wicked heart’. Power, it seems, corrupts. It’s a rather tired sentiment, and yet, Light’s abrupt fall from grace was a painful and disturbing sight to behold. Actually, I couldn’t care less about how he was defeated, it was all about that desperate reaction, the sudden loss of composure when he realizes he has been bested.

Unveiled for the first time, we see that disgusting thirst for power lurking beneath the front of sophisticated cool; a self-proclaimed god suddenly realizing he is but one man, all alone, and about to die. He gets what he deserves, but in his lonely demise, you can’t help but pity him. Suddenly you understand Ryuk’s amused indifference to Light’s lofty ambitions. People die and nothing changes, that’s it, Light-o.

To be frank, Light’s seiyuu Mamoru Miyano turns in an amazing performance for this final episode. Usually, I’m not one to pick out acting, but I must admit to being bowled over by the visceral power and epic range of Miyano’s voice. Similar to Romi Paku’s Edward Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist), Miyano violently swings between polar emotional extremes, perfectly capturing the character’s frantic and desperate state of mind leading up to his sad end.

As befitting of such an excellent finale, Madhouse up the ante in terms of animation. One especially vivid moment sticks in my mind. Mikami stabbing himself in the heart (with a pen! Ouch!), causing his sparkling red blood to explode forth like some sick human fountain overflowing with fluid.
And I can only commend Takeshi Obata too; I’ve really fallen for the appealing gothic look of Death Note – especially the freaky Shinigami, whose odd proportions and bizarre colours capture a genuine horror aesthetic, echoing the demonic Cenobites from the creepy Hellraiser. I wanted to see more of the barren Shinigami world!

It’s amusing to think that Death Note began life in Shonen Jump, so standing alongside the ever-smiling trio of Naruto, Luffy and Ichigo was an evil bastard like Yagami Light. Moral ambiguity isn’t something we expect from our squeaky clean SJ heroes, but in Light we had a refreshingly ruthless anti-hero. You can’t blame him for wanting to change the world.

The difference between original anime and manga adaptations: soul

FLCL and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Both are produced at everyone’s favorite GAINAX, but more importantly, they are original stories (i.e. not based on manga); conceived and animated by the same creative people. Cowboy Bebop‘s the same, Eureka Seven and even Last Exile too. Casting a net over this spring season’s offerings, we turn up arguably the three best shows airing right now – Darker than BLACK, Dennou Coil and Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann. All three are original creations. If you can’t agree that these are the best, you can’t deny that they are at least the freshest; watching them is an experience, there is a striking color and soul to the work that’s often lacking in the typical franchise cash-in.

I suppose you can’t blame the anime industry, the popular manga adaptation is a surer bet. Why waste money on an unknown quantity when you can just pump more sales into an already famous franchise. Ultimately, there is no risk, because, if nothing else, the fans will lap it up. The issue I’m concerned with is quality; all the original anime I’ve mentioned above is good enough to transcend the immediate community and find an audience beyond the typical Haruhi bed-spread otaku, but the majority of manga adaptations are simply mediocre.

I’m watching and enjoying both “Bokurano” and “Claymore“, and yet beneath their undeniably cool concepts, they feel stifled and artificial. The same can be said of Studio Pierrot‘s Shonen Jump adaptations like Bleach and Naruto Shippuuden; they are “animated” to make money, and so, to milk the cash cow as much as possible, the pace of narrative has slowed down to that of a snail. I used to love Naruto and couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into Shippuuden, but the sad truth is that I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch an episode of it for over a month now. I find it an unbearable waste of time.

You know it’s bad when the director of the Bokurano anime declares his distaste for the original manga. Rather than find someone willing to pour their heart and soul into this adaptation, Gonzo hand it to some mercenary looking for his next pay-check. What a waste. Manga adaptations can work, just look at Black Lagoon, Fullmetal Alchemist and Mushishi, but the key appears to be a passionate staff willing to drive the material onwards and upwards. It’s no surprise then that an original production like Denno Coil feels so unique, given that it’s the beloved child of an animator who has been formulating the story in his mind for nigh on 10 years.

Original anime have a certain style; they feel suited to animation, they emphasize movement, color and adventure; they flow naturally and with purpose. By and large, a manga adaptation is the opposite; dense with plot but let down by an inconsistent pace of story telling. There are bad cases on either side, but with the more anime I watch, the more I’m attracted to imagination, color and above all else, soul.

Gurren Lagann (12) – May be now they won’t be so quick to underestimate the human scum

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy episode 12 of Gurren Lagann. Obviously, it’s the cliche beach episode; and even from the preview, it looked like a waste of time. Mostly, the first half of this episode is tits and ass, constantly poking at the otaku, trying to incite moe. It has funny moments, but mostly, it’s colorful yet superficial nonsense.

The thing about Gurren Lagann though is that it acknowledges formulaic cheese, only to intentionally change the flavor. I’m talking about Yoko targeting through Nia’s flowing blonde locks, symbolically trying to deface the beloved moe icon. It’s kind of funny how we can swing from the cliche beach volleyball crap to this in just the one episode, but such is the spastic pace of Gurren Lagann, even the end of the world could flash past in an insane few minutes.

I must admit, I’m loving the villainous Spiral King and his minions of doom. They are just, so, damn, deliciously, EVIL. Also, I was a bit gutted to see Adiane pass; she was one wicked witch and thoroughly deserved her black and white graduation into the after life; sad that with her final words, she even apologies to belovedly-dead ape-man Thymilph, revealing an all-to-late human side. Now, what happens to poor old Viral? I’m hoping the writers have more in store for my favourite tortured blonde bastard. May be now they won’t be so quick to underestimate the human scum?

Digimon Adventure (Movie 1) – Believe me, it really is that good!

It’s brilliant to be in this position. The last thing I expected to be writing about is Digimon, but that’s just typical of life; ever twisting, ever unpredictable. So this morning I was reading about Mamoru Hosoda – a rising star of anime who is just now making an international impact with “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” (having previously quit Howl’s Moving Castle). Anyone who has seen that or the frankly disturbing “One Piece Movie 6: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island” will know that Hosoda is the real deal; a genuine and unique talent.

The excellent (repeat: excellent) AniPages Daily has an informative article on him and raves at length about his name-making directorial debut on the first two Digimon movies. All I thought I knew about Digimon was that it was another of those annoying Pokemon “gotta buy ’em all!” clones, but in truth, I really knew nothing about the franchise at all, and so I sat down to watch Digimon Adventure (Movie 1) with a clean slate. Besides, the movie is only 20 minutes long, so basically, I had nothing to lose.

Put simply, it’s wonderful. The plot goes something like this; one evening, Taichi’s baby sister Hikari discovers an odd looking egg (it magically drops out of the computer monitor). Taichi’s just a young boy himself, but still, he’s spending the whole day at home looking after his little sister. Suddenly the egg hatches and an odd black shape emerges; it’s a monster! They try to catch it but it hides under Hikari’s bed – she blows her favourite whistle and the monster blows back bubbles, they feed it cat food and it poops on the floor. Over the day, the monster completely changes shape; eventually becoming a small tyrannosaurus rex-like animal called “Koromon”. Not before long, it’s storming through a Japanese city, launching fireballs at passing buses and impressing on-looking kids!

The beauty of Digimon Adventure lies in the way the children interact with Koromon. It feels a lot like a Studio Ghibli production because it captures that rare essence of childhood, where almost everything feels like an enchanting dream; so overwhelmingly full of fluffy fun and adventure. The kids almost immediately befriend the monster, despite the fact that it’s gradually transforming into a fearsome looking fanged beast! A particularly brilliant scene comes when Koromon lumbers outside for the first time; he walks through the street with the baby Hikari stuck to his back, ripping up vending machines and nearly getting smashed by oncoming cars. Hikari tries to clean up the damage but it’s an impossible task.

The message is friendship, but it’s not without a sense of sacrifice and loss too. All in all, this is a magical kids movie that inspires and feels like trip into a colourful imagination. Yes, it’s Digimon, but look past that and I promise you will be impressed.

Impressions of Bokurano – It’s alright, ’cause there’s beauty in the breakdown

I’ve seen seven episodes, but I’m yet to pass much comment on the Bokurano anime. Given its rather controversial themes and notably downbeat tone, I’m not sure if it’s right to say I’m enjoying it. I don’t have fun watching Bokurano, it doesn’t inspire me to wax lyrical about it’s quality, in fact, I find it depressing and frustrating, and yet, here I am, anyway.

It’s a brave series that deserves attention for tackling so called social taboos in an ultra-realistic setting. It’s a series about children with real problems surrounded by adults who, by and large, are so self obsessed that they couldn’t give a shit about anyone else. As of episode seven, the latest pilot of giant robot Zearth is Chizuru Honda. On the face of it, she’s the next kid to die saving the world – nothing new about that, every mecha anime has its martyrs, but at home things are a little different. Chizuru is a victim of paedophilia; she is photographed and abused by her school teacher. How is that for motivation?

Bokurano resonates because it delivers shocking drama viscerally depicted within contemporary Japan. It feels like original creator Mohiro Kitoh is wondering whether or not civilisation is worth saving – these children, their personalities coloured by their environments, have all been burnt by society, so why keep on fighting? It’s notable that in the heat of their mecha battles, it doesn’t feel like they are fighting to protect anyone, instead they are unleashing their pent up rage and anger on a selected and faceless target, it’s almost a co-incidence that in doing so, they buy humanity another couple of days worth of existence.

It’s true that the animation could be better; it’s also true that the translation from the Bokurano manga to anime hasn’t been completely faithful. I don’t care, because this still feels like an important series that needs to be seen.

Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie – A thoroughly unpretentious lesson in arse-kicking

Sometimes it’s hard to look at movies objectionably; I grew up in the 90s and during this exciting decade, Street Fighter II was the ultimate beat ’em up arcade game. Not only was it fun to play, it was a great source of competition too; anyone who put their money into the arcade version was potentially subject to a random challenge from a fellow gamer – and if you lose, you can wave goodbye to that £2 worth of credit you just pumped into the machine too. Inevitably, you do lose, ’cause the other guy is an "older kid" and knows all of M.Bison’s special moves! It wasn’t fair then, and it sure as hell don’t feel fair now either!

I first sat through Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie around about ’97. I still remember seeing a trailer for it on Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast. Suffice to say, it looked frickin’ cool, so my brothers and I clobbered together our meagre £5 pocket money (sometimes we join forces for the greater good) and bought the VHS tape that same day. I wasn’t an anime fan back then; but this movie was like a bolt of lightning for a trio of Street Fighter fans. Over the years since I must have sat through Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie 10 or even 20 times"¦ well, you get the picture; this one is tightly interwoven with my adolescence.

Coming from a video game like Street Fighter, this was never going to be Citizen Kane. The plot can be described in one sentence; M.Bison and his evil henchmen want to take over the world, standing in their way are martial arts masters (Japanese) Ryu and (American) Ken, along with a couple of other do-gooders (including Chun Li and Guile). That’s it, folks, not even James Bond is that simple. So, you must be wondering, what fills this 1hr and 35mins of running time? Isn’t it obvious – martial arts; a heck of a lot of martial arts, with all the fireballs, lightning kicks and pile-drivers you can wave your dusty SNES at.

Pick of the clashes (there are many) is surely Ryu vs. Fei Long and Chun Li vs. Vega.

Both are interesting due to their distinctive fighting styles – consider that Fei Long is Bruce Lee, basically, so his moves are fast, elegant and flashy technique driven martial arts topped off with high pitched battle cries. His one fight is a furious and clinical match-up that ends when he is knocked out cold by Ryu’s famous Hurricane Kick. You can feel the impact of each blow, this is one kinetic slugfest.

On the opposite end of the scale is Chun Li’s death match with the sadistic spaniard Vega. Doing away with the friendly vibe, this time the fight is a desperate and compelling spectacle that will end with death. What’s remarkable about this scene is that it all happens in a small apartment, so chairs and sofas are being thrown about in the chaos. Compared with the runaway train Vega, Chun Li is the petrified rabbit caught in the headlights – so in terms of brute strength, it’s a massive mismatch. I won’t spoil it for you, but what ensues is a creative and exciting action set piece that feels incredibly intense.

It’s worth noting that, for nostalgic reasons, I watched this dubbed into English. What is especially amusing is that Manga Ent. not only produced an English dub track, but also spliced in their own grunge and metal soundtrack too – so a lot of the action is set to head-banging anthems from the likes of Alice in Chains ("Them Bones"), Silverchair ("Israel’s Son") and Korn ("Blind"). It’s massively cheesy, but also quite fun. And that’s the point of this movie, really, we aren’t watching it for deep drama or poignant romance, it’s all about dragon punches, spinning bird kicks and sonic booms, and well"¦, it delivers some absolutely knock-out moments. Street Fighter fans – drop everything, this is a must see! After all, you get to see Chun Li naked in one of the most blatant fan-service scenes ever conceived!?

So, what if you’re not a Street Fighter fan? To be honest, this probably won’t win you over. If you love your martial arts, Dragonball Z or Naruto, you might want to give this a try, but at the same time, don’t expect much in terms of character introductions or plot exposition i.e. do yourself a favour and don’t try to work out why characters can use psychic powers or launch fireballs.

If you can accept Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie for what it is i.e. dumb guys constantly beating the crap out of each other in a number of creative ways, all set to classic 90s grunge tunes, you will enthusiastically mosh your way from start to finish. A masterpiece it might not be, but if you’re looking for a thoroughly unpretentious ass kicking, this is one movie worth picking a fight with.

One Piece – I want to live!!

The time of writing this is 00:01; mid-night. I’m up for work tomorrow at 07:15. I should be in bed, but instead, I’m wide awake, filled with the burning passion to write this post, to write anything about One Piece. It’s kind of odd, really, I mean, why? What is it about anime — and especially One Piece — that refills my engine? It’s such an intangible feeling, or passion"¦, or whatever.

I just want to sound off on Nico Robin’s back-story. I want to say that Saulo was a really awesome giant, and his death was totally cool (pun intended?). I liked his fake laugh; it’s kind of depressing (especially when Robin tries it), but heart warming at the same time. His last moments captured an epic, awe-inspiring and cofused mixture of loss and hope. Everything about the Buster Call attack was massive; a chilling sense of chaos is felt when we see library books being thrown from a window; all that knowledge, wisdom, history — to see them burnt to ashes by madness and fear is undoubtedly an unsettling, even creepy, sight to behold.

What else is there to say but "I want to live". To hear Robin finally say it was a great moment, and nearly as good as that was Sogeking destroying the World Government’s precious flag. They declare war on the world to protect their friends, and it’s at this moment, with all their lives on the line for her, that Robin finally decides to stop running, risk it all and believe in her nakama.