This anime fan forever looks back on 2007

Jesus, it’s the end of another year. I’ve had fun in 2007; being a part of the anime blogging community and writing for you, dear reader. I’m not sure I’d last long if it wasn’t for your comments, but here we are, almost two years on and still talking, ranting, in love with anime. Back during September, I was wondering if I’d ever just suddenly grow out of all this, stop blogging and disappear, but deep down, the truth has never been in doubt; I’m an anime fan forever and you’ll take this passion, these feelings, when you pry them from my cold dead fingers. This review of 2007 begins now.

Jesus, it’s the end of another year. I’ve had fun in 2007; being a part of the anime blogging community and writing for you, dear reader. I’m not sure I’d last long if it wasn’t for your comments, but here we are, almost two years on and still talking, ranting, in love with anime. Back during September, I was wondering if I’d ever just suddenly grow out of all this, stop blogging and disappear, but deep down, the truth has never been in doubt; I’m an anime fan forever and you’ll take this passion, these feelings, when you pry them from my cold dead fingers. This review of 2007 begins now.

bokurano.jpg13. Bokurano

For all my hyping of Bokurano, the anime adaptation ended up being woefully mediocre. Much like their similarly soulless treatment of other good horror manga like Gantz and Hellsing, Gonzo’s vision of Bokurano was poorly animated and depressing, almost completely lacking in the "beautiful tragedy", truth and innocence that permeates Mohiro Kitoh’s brilliant original story. For an anime studio capable of producing epic series like Gankutsuou and Last Exile, 2007 was an utter failure for Gonzo, but don’t worry, Afro Samurai 2 will be here soon; that’s going to be good, right?

claymore.jpg12. Claymore

Claymore is an inferior clone of Berserk. The Awakened Beings are Apostles, Isley looks a lot like Griffith and Rigardo is a replica of Zodd. That being said, I like dark fantasy and Claymore was good enough on a superficial level to entertain and occasionally capture my imagination. It was violent and harsh, but I rarely felt like I cared about the characters, and by the end, the rushed climax had further degenerated into a predictable sequence of grunts and power-ups. Berserk is amongst the finest anime of all time, this isn’t.

mononoke.jpg11. Mononoke

I really want to love Mononoke; it’s beautifully animated, artsy and daringly creative, but still, I find it somewhat elusive. I feel like it exists simply to be as elegant, surreal and weird as possible; 23 minutes later, the episode has finished and I’ll move on to something else. It’s a lot like Mushishi; episodic and few-to-none recurring characters, but where that’s magical, reflective and relaxed, Mononoke is an ultra-violet and ambiguous puzzle.

dtb.jpg10. Darker Than Black

Nothing’s worse than wasted potential. For Darker Than Black, Studio Bones reunited a lot of the staff involved in the mesmeric Wolf’s Rain, including maestro Yoko Kanno and director Tensai Okamura, but other than brief glimpses of former glory, this was just another "good" series which never really found it’s own identity. The story arcs would pointlessly leap between hard-boiled drama, stupid comedy and comic-book horror, but without any of the comradery or personality seen in the likes of Cowboy Bebop, it regularly came across as false and ultimately, a forgettable disappointment.

code-geass.jpg9. Code Geass

I’m a tad embarrassed to admit I enjoyed watching Code Geass. Let’s get something straight, it’s an utter mongrel of an anime series ripe with cliche fan-service, mecha and an anti-hero ripped straight out of Death Note. Hell, it’s even sponsored by Pizza Hut. With all that said, I won’t deny that this show had me riveted from start ’til end; much like watching a giant train wreck, I simply enjoy seeing it all go off the rails (that’s a metaphor, I don’t actually watch footage of train wrecks). No doubt, Code Geass is a sensational failure, but sensational none the less.

genshiken.jpg8. Genshiken 2

I’ve always liked Genshiken. It’s perceptive and funny, and certainly fits being labeled as "slice of life", as it’s also meandering and aimless. Its quality and its failing is that it’s a quite literal depiction of otaku life, and in general, life is aimless and meandering; there is no grand design we’re all following (if you haven’t guessed, I’m not especially religious), we simply are, and that’s it. Genshiken 2’s beauty is in depicting this transience, there is a palpable realization amongst the characters that they’re growing apart the way we all do; they are prepared for it, this parting of the ways, but it’s sad to see none the less. You won’t quit on me yet, guys?

sei-rei.jpg7. Seirei no Moribito

The third episode of Seirei no Moribito is probably the singe best episode of anime I’ve seen all year. The action, intensity, music and animation were all top notch, but gradually, everything slowed down and the story moved in a completely different direction. Within ten episodes, we had traveled (quite literally) from an utterly compelling sequence of cool action scenes to something more akin to an intimate family drama. Of course, Seirei no Moribito remains a beautifully animated fantasy, but it feels over-long and ultimately, strikes a slightly uneven balance between big explosions and quiet sentimentality.

shigurui.jpg6. Shigurui

The thought of violence in anime almost immediately conjures fountains of bright red blood and contorted screams, yet there is little in the way of genuine sadism. Step forward Shigurui; a series that takes pleasure in lingering on impact, ensuring we flinch with every punctured eye-ball and severed nipple. This is animation madly in love with the human body and almost sadomasochist in its intent to contort, scar and rip the flesh. Set in a time when traditions and morals were twisted and forced, it’s hard to recommend something as outright disturbing and serious as this, yet it’s so fascinating and meticulous; humanity at its basest level.

baccano.jpg5. Baccano!

Anime tends to specialize in characters and relationships, but the pleasure in watching Baccano! is simply in seeing a particularly intricate story gradually reveal its labyrinth of secrets. Every episode is consistently dense with mystery and intrigue as we are dragged back and forth in time to reveal untold depths of supernatural power and immortal betrayal. The rather slapstick humor is often at odds with surprising levels of cruelty and gore but best of all is an exciting sequence of action escalating on-top of a moving train.

death_note.jpg4. Death Note

I sat down with Death Note having carefully avoided the manga spoilers for what felt like an eternity and was rewarded with a thrilling and addictive story that’s constantly asking questions of its viewers. Between his infamous games of brinkmanship with L and the rest, we’re regularly questioning Light’s motives for using his Death Note. Though he’s striving for, and even getting close to world peace, does that justify his mass-murdering spree? Or rather, is he just another sly megalomaniac enjoying his pointless power trip? It’s a great feeling to discover a story like this, something that’s still capable of creating new ideas and playing with our concepts of justice and heroism without ever resorting to a tacked-on happy ending. Light is the main character, yet he is a villain; an insane bastard who’s playing with lives simply because he’s bored. He deserves his end, and yet, when everything inevitably crashes down, I feel pity, I don’t want him to die. I liked the second opening, too!

toward-the-terra.jpg3. Toward the Terra

I never really expected to like (let alone love) Toward the Terra. Though I’m always willing to give honest science fiction a fair crack, this didn’t have the best of starts. I stopped watching Heroic Age because it was stupid and boring, but around about the same time, my opinion of Toward the Terra was changing; perhaps it was the use of time-leaps — we see these heroes and villains grow over time, how they change from whiney children into strong and conflicted adults; with each passing episode, there is a sense that we know these characters, understand their grief and desires. Aside from some positively epic genocide (exploding planets), the heart of what’s great about Toward the Terra is this compelling battle of wills between Jomy and Keith, we’re constantly wondering whether or not Keith can cast aside everything he’s been taught and embrace the Mu for what they are, while Jomy continues to struggle with his thirst of revenge and perpetuating the cycle of violence. Toward the Terra has a lot to say about racism and discrimination, but it’s also exciting, action-packed and riddled with tragedy; a great story, set amongst the stars, that plays out over decades of time.

denno-coil.jpg2. Dennou Coil

Good animation goes a long way to attracting my interest in a series and what’s immediately apparent about Dennou Coil is that it’s vibrant and full of life. It’s like everything moves, everything is considered, and you’re watching someone literally imprint their thoughts and dreams onto a frame. At its best, that’s how it feels to watch Dennou Coil, it’s like someone’s vivid memories of childhood suddenly sprung to life, the neon colors and honest fun of those days, the half-formed hints of emotions fraying between friends and mingling with some pointless adventure. There is that sense of not really being able to express yourself, despite everything about you; the way you look and the way you sound, even the way you stand, making it seem so obvious how you feel.

gurren-lagann.jpg1. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

To be honest, it seems like everyone loves Gurren Lagann, and though I didn’t want this countdown to be that predictable, the truth is that, almost from the first episode, I was head over heels in love with this show too. No other series would so consistently leave me burning with passion after every episode; leave me feeling like I just had to write about it, as if it were my duty to report how I felt. All you need to see is that opening minute of the first episode, "so all the heavenly lights are the enemy?" This one moment encapsulates so much of what’s good about Gurren Lagann; the impossibly epic scale, the insurmountable odds facing the Gurren-dan and Simon’s brash, unbeatable confidence. It’s mind blowing, and just seeing that, I knew I’d love this series.

I’m desperately trying to keep this short, but there is still so much to say, like how "Libera me from Hell" is such a weird yet great song, or how the story delivers heart warming ideas of friendship, comradery, love and even sacrifice. It ends perfectly, too; bitter-sweet and sad, time having taken its toll on our heroes, yet it just feels right, like everything that needed to be said has been screamed from the highest mountain, and now it’s time to step back, stop fighting and embrace the future. Gurren Lagann is, by far and away, the best anime series of 2007.

Speaker for the New Layout

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It’s nearly 2008, and the new year wouldn’t feel proper without a new look for Bateszi Anime Blog. I’m not sure how long you’ve been visiting (today might be the first time), but I’ve actually been blogging since March 2006 and this new layout is the sixth incarnation of my humble corner of the internet. I wonder, can anyone else remember all those different new looks? Anyway, here’s a quick rundown of what has changed:

  1. At the top of the right menu, you’ll find my shiny new “Article viewer”. Basically, it’s a rather fun “mini-browser” allowing you to quickly guide through my blog archives instead of having to marathon through pages and pages of text. I’m really proud of this, mainly because it is my first ever practical use of AJAX, and hell, it beats constantly scrolling up and down a page.
  2. The other major difference is that I’ve dropped my rather convoluted use of categories and literally classified everything as either a “review” or an “editorial”; anything more specific than that will be separated by tags, the end result of which is my fluffy new “cloud” floating in the footer of the blog. Isn’t she pretty?

That’s about all I wanted to say. I hope you like the new layout. If nothing else, at least it isn’t pink, right? Or green? Anyway, once I’ve caught my breath, normal service will resume with my (or should I say the OFFICIAL) BEST ANIME OF 2007 COUNTDOWN.

Naruto Shippuuden: The return of Orochimaru, stuff happens

There is perhaps no anime I want to love more than Naruto. I’ve been following this story since 2003 and even if it drags on for another decade, I’ll still be camped out all night waiting for its end. I know full well it’s far from perfect, but by now I’m too caught up in these characters to actually care whether or not Naruto is objectively good or bad, that it simply is Naruto is good enough for me. I suppose this is a lot like being a Star Wars fan, you have to be willing to completely invest yourself in the story, kick reason to the curb and accept what you’re seeing. If all you can do is complain about the damn ewoks, you’re completely missing the point.

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There is perhaps no anime I want to love more than Naruto. I’ve been following this story since 2003 and even if it drags on for another decade, I’ll still be camped out all night waiting for its end. I know full well it’s far from perfect, but by now I’m too caught up in these characters to actually care whether or not Naruto is objectively good or bad, that it simply is Naruto is good enough for me. I suppose this is a lot like being a Star Wars fan, you have to be willing to completely invest yourself in the story, kick reason to the curb and accept what you’re seeing. If all you can do is complain about the fucking ewoks, you’re completely missing the point.

The last few episodes of Shippuuden have been good. I’m not sure if it’s simply because the Gaara retrieval arc was a little too long, or if I just wasn’t as engrossed in it as I thought, but only now is it feeling like Naruto is recapturing that exciting and compulsive feeling. All this is connected with the return of Orochimaru and Kabuto and a sense that we’re getting closer to that inevitably awesome first encounter with bad Sasuke.

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To be honest, I still don’t completely understand the motivations behind trying to "save" Sasuke. Naruto obviously believes that if only he were stronger when they originally clashed, he could have stopped Sasuke from leaving by force and everything would have been fine, but this is ignoring that Sasuke clearly wanted to leave everyone behind, ally with Orochimaru and chase down Itachi. Fundamentally, we’re yet to see if he is capable of committing evil and, knowing how Naruto will never give up on a friend, it remains to be seen whether or not his heart can be sufficiently moved to change perspective.

All that said, you can’t help but honestly and utterly cheer for Naruto; the depth of his feeling is unquestionable and his complete willingness to sacrifice everything is aptly symbolised during his murky internal dialogues — drowning in helplessness, Naruto, knowing full well he is shortening his life span, does the only thing he can do to try and save his friend; combine with the demon fox and embrace his cursed power. It was disturbing to see that his final transformation literally burns off his skin. Naruto, with his blood red eyes, is fast becoming a monster.

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I loved how he so nonchalantly tossed aside an attack from the ever condescending Kabuto, but of course, I can’t wait to see how far he will push Orochimaru too (that is, before Yamato is inevitably forced to seal Naruto’s escalating power). Here’s hoping for another beautifully animated and big budget smack down.

Immortals and non-Immortals both Enjoy Life Equally, so says Baccano!

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It bothers me to say I took a while to realize the quality of "Baccano!". Aside from boasting no less than 18 main characters, the Pulp Fiction-esque narrative would constantly fracture and leap back and forth in time. I didn’t like that I had to make an effort to constantly focus and be forced to remember so many names and faces; three episodes in, I was feeling frustrated and close to losing interest. Something needed to be done and in a last ditch attempt to salvage the series, it became clear I’d have to wait it out, build up the fansubs and spend a long weekend working my way through each episode; allowing time to fully immerse myself in the story. And now that weekend is past; the end result is? What the hell did you expect? Awesome!

Many desire immortality, yet the key to eternal life has forever eluded man. The story of "Baccano!" begins in 1711 when a group of sea-faring alchemists capture this most desired of gifts. Nearly all of them become immortal there and then, yet, as fate would have it; only one is granted the knowledge to recreate the potion. Of course, he quickly decides not to tell, wisely realising the folly in allowing such power to leak out into the public domain, but his brave decision quickly incites murder and ultimately, a struggle that’s raged for over 200 years. We join the story as it reaches its climax during prohibition-era North America; this was the absolute height of organised crime in the US, a violent and cruel time to live, or indeed, die.

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Despite its frequent lapses into light comedy, squeamish readers should be warned that this is a deceptively violent (and often, sadistic) series. Without going into too much detail, lets just say that bones break, arms get sliced, faces explode and children are tortured. Of course, this refreshing lack of moral compunction inevitably climaxes in some breath-taking and unpredictable action scenes, including several sequences of beautifully animated hand-to-hand combat, fought on the windy carriage-roofs of a moving train. Just so you know, it turns out that knives, guns, grenades and even flame-throwers aren’t much of a match for blood-thirsty gymnasts. "Baccano!" is a lot like "Black Lagoon"; it has that same delirious hunger for gruesome carnage.

On its own, the action wouldn’t be enough, but as I’ve already mentioned, this is hardly a conventional series. Aside from the fact that the narrative will regularly interchange years and events in a matter of seconds, many of the characters provoke empathy and romance despite having splattered the brains of an adversary all over the wall minutes earlier. I loved the playful dialogue, and the character interactions are remarkably fun and natural; you believe in their fear, sadness or anger. You can see a love affair unfolding and it’s almost heart-breaking. By the end I was completely riveted by the story, lost in the characters.

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There is so much to say about "Baccano!" but I’m afraid I’ll lose your concentration if I keep going. I’ve already had to completely scrap the first version of this review since it degenerated into a bloated rant. Obviously, I absolutely loved this series, and if I ever get around to writing a review of 2007, it will easily make my top 3 of the year. The best decision I made was to push through it over a quiet weekend; as expected, the jumbled jigsaw of a plot and all those unique characters are so much easier to remember this way. The only problem is that now I’m having trouble letting go, I’m still stuck in the world of immortals and trying to fathom out the few remaining mysteries. Hints are made at characters and storylines beyond the anime narrative and quite frankly, I’d die for a sequel. If you’re yet to watch "Baccano!"; I envy you.

When merely good anime is good enough

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I’ve just spent the last few hours messing around on MyAnimeList. The result? This is the closest I’ve come to realizing how much anime I’ve actually consumed over the years. Apparently, I’ve completed 70 TV series, 51 OVAs and 61 movies, and out of all that, I’m dishing out an average score of 7.9 out of 10. I’m not sure how to feel; I’m totally satisfied to finally have a decent gauge on all this anime “stuff” I’ve been watching, but at the same time, it’s rather like an alcoholic discovering the depths of his addiction… Well, it’s not that bad, but you get the point.

Anyway, ripping my way through the MAL anime archives, I came across a couple of series I’d loved for a few weeks and then, for whatever reason, had just totally forgotten. The one that struck me most was “Infinite Ryvius” (1999). I must have watched it back during 2004, because while I have these vivid memories of the show, I discovered it around about the same time that my interest in anime had ramped up into overdrive. I was grabbing as much as I could find (probably working my way through the AnimeNFO.com top 200) and as a result, almost everything from that period was great, but whenever I try to reel off my favorites, I can only recall the familiar names like “Berserk” and “Cowboy Bebop”; the rest is forgotten, almost like fading in the noise of time.

I don’t want to forget Infinite Ryvius. It’s by no means a masterpiece, but it’s fascinating and excellent, none the less. Sometimes, I find it hard to go back and watch my absolute favorites; recalling all that emotion you felt first time around, will it be the same on replay? I don’t want to invalidate those feelings by going back and realizing that, actually, my favorite anime sucks. Something like Infinite Ryvius is safe ground; it doesn’t have that sentimental weight of being the “BEST ANIME EVER!!” but regardless, I remember it being good; that’s enough.

This is perhaps as good a testament to my love of anime as I can offer. As much as it may seem like I’m swinging between love and hate, or constantly searching for the next big thing, I really don’t need any of that to feel the warmth and fondness I have for these stupid shows. I can’t really explain exactly why I’m an anime fan, but I expect that answer lies in my continued attraction to series like Infinite Ryvius.

Sex, violence and samurai; introducing Shigurui

Please note this post is heavy on images of an “adult nature”; though I understand many of you might be unsettled by such blunt depictions of sex and violence, the truth of Shigurui lies not in words alone, but its unrelenting presentation of old Japan’s institutional depravity. Basically, you’ve been warned.

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Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of “fluffy” anime; series with heart-rending love stories and elegant ballet dancing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but from time to time, I like to taste the other extreme too; I mean a bit of the old “ultra violence”. It’s natural, then, that Shigurui fits the bill; the kind of anime many of us like to pretend doesn’t exist. So, before going any further, please note this post is heavy on images of an “adult nature”; though I understand many of you might be unsettled by such blunt depictions of sex and violence, the truth of Shigurui lies not in words alone, but its unrelenting presentation of old Japan’s institutional depravity. Basically, you’ve been warned. Continue reading “Sex, violence and samurai; introducing Shigurui”

Attention Yoko Kanno & Steve Conte enthusiasts!

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A Gabriela Robin Site have posted an awesome acoustic live set by regular Yoko Kanno vocalist/collaborator Steve Conte. Performed songs include “Heaven’s Not Enough” (my favorite), “Living Inside the Shell”, “Words We Couldn’t Say”, “Rain” and “Call Me Call Me” – so that’s some of the best music from Wolf’s Rain, Stand Alone Complex and Cowboy Bebop. Light those lighters and head on over there right now.