Ok! Let’s do this in a cool way! Soul Eater!

There is no denying it; for Soul Eater and me, it was love at first sight. Bursting with an adorable “look-at-me” style and eccentric attitude, it’s probably the coolest looking anime I’ve clapped eyes on since Gurren Lagann. 6 episodes in and every single one of them has been weird and wonderful, just one surreal trip after another, and naturally, being such a shameless action junkie and all, I’ll never tire of seeing such beautifully animated battles. Considering its over-the-top, scythe-swinging choreography and fun-loving attitude, there’s no denying I’m extracting some immensely good, hot-blooded entertainment from Soul Eater, but still, and it’s important to note (because I know this is a big issue for some), this series is (traditional) shonen fighting anime. There, I said it.

It may look unconventional, but if you can’t enjoy the likes of Naruto, Bleach, One Piece or D.Gray-man, you won’t last long with this either. Soul Eater could be construed, at least at first, as a parody of those other anime; Black Star is probably the most blatant joke; he is a complete rip-off of the original noisy ninja, Uzumaki Naruto. But it’s clearly a loving parody, like Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle, because as much as it is knowingly poking fun at the cliched ‘shonen fighting’ anime, it obviously wants to be taken seriously as ‘shonen fighting’ anime too. Interestingly, this is another point of comparison with Gurren Lagann, because, early on, it was just as self-aware and over-the-top, being so referential of the mecha (super/transforming robot) genre. Starting a story with these archetypal ‘raw materials’ is very much akin to planting flower seeds and waiting for them blossom, as with every passing episode, the archetype, by virtue of its own experiences, takes root and grows into a unique personality. Already, Black Star is Black Star.

Soul Eater is, in many ways, very superficial. At this point, it has been looking great, the jokes are quite funny and the characters are likable, but there has been no real conflict. What I really love about a lot of my favourite shonen anime, like One Piece, is the heart-warming, strong bond of friendship shared by the characters, and we see, time and time again, that they will sacrifice everything, or die trying, to protect that bond. I’ve been looking for signs like that in Soul Eater too, something that suggests these relationships between meister and weapon amount to more than just plot convenience, and indeed, when pushed to their limits, I think there is definitely that kind of sentiment between Maka and Soul. I’m reflecting on a certain moment in episode 5, when the defeated Soul senses danger and covers Maka’s body with his own, growling “I won’t let you lay a hand on my Technician!” It just goes to show that there are deeper feelings there; that Soul Eater isn’t just parody and action, but has something quite inspiring to say about comradery and sacrifice too. I think that’s important, or at least, it is for me.

When bunny boilers attack

Ahh, my saviour is the weekend! I know my last post wasn’t exactly beaming with enthusiasm for all things animated, but with two more weeks under my belt, the gloom has lifted and I’m now tucking into tasty helpings of spring stuff on an almost daily basis. Surprisingly, there’s a lot of new series I’m feeling; in particular, Kure-nai and Macross Frontier, both of which I wasn’t expecting to enjoy quite as much as I am, while the likes of Soul Eater and Kaiba remain, as ever, firm favourites.

Anyway, this weekend is special in that it’s an extended one. Come Monday morning, I won’t be dragging myself out of bed for another draining shift at work, but instead, will be feasting on the varied fruits of Japan’s lovely pop culture. Sorry, that’s probably gloating, but the thing is, whenever I get the time to relax for much longer than a few days, I often gravitate towards manga. I’ve never been much of a manga reader, but every now and then, usually during extended, lazy weekends, I get an urge to read something. Like how this morning, I woke up with a vague interest in tracking down the nice looking (in a weird way), post-apocalyptic Dragon Head, but once that proved a little too hard to find, I turned to ZashikiOnna instead, “Regularly chosen as “the scariest manga ever” in magazine horror specials.

ZashikiOnna, creepy girl

ZashikiOnna is definitely chilling. It’s not scary in a violent or supernatural way, but it’s realistic, believable horror. The story revolves around college ‘player’ Hiroshi, a relatively normal, love-sick young man living a regular student’s life. One evening, he wakes to the sound of someone banging loudly on his neighbour’s door. It’s clear he isn’t in, but the loud knocking continues for a long time. Hiroshi pops his head outside, into the hallway, to find that the knocker is this rather odd-looking girl; messy hair, dirty clothes, tall and thin, she sees him too, her gaze is strange, intense. Saying nothing, he retreats, but suddenly, the banging starts on his door too. It’s the beginning of her deadly obsession with Hiroshi.

It’s a creepy situation to be in, to have someone you don’t know, have never seen before and looks a little unhinged, invade your life. The darkness, ambiguity and mystery surrounding the girl’s fascination with Hiroshi is chilling, there’s no logic or no past connection, she’s an absolute stranger, no life of her own and hell-bent on his constant attention. The worst thing is that, despite being only 1 volume in length, ZashikiOnna is unreleased outside of Japan and only partially scanslated, hence, we’re left hanging in the midst of terror with no end in sight.

If you’re looking for some atmospheric and imaginative scares, I have to recommend ZashikiOnna. It’s the kind of horror best read on your own in a darkened, silent room with nothing but shadows and street-lights for company. For my part, I’d love it if you could recommend to me some one-shot/short manga (of any genre), I’ve got a lot of time to waste over the next few days and I’d love to fill it with some unique reading.

When the sky turned blue

Gone a bit quiet around here, ain’t it? Last update was a couple of weeks ago, so I figured I’d pop-in a quick “Hello, not dead yet”. The truth is that, since finishing Ghost Hound, I’ve not been watching nearly enough (good) anime, so, aside from a few sarcastic paragraphs, I don’t have much to say about anything.

Being an anime blogger and all, that’s kind of a problem. May be it’s that I’ve committed myself to watching so much that I’d rather not watch anything. There’s still 8 series, including Soul Eater and Kurenai, which I’ve totally avoided just because I’ve also wanted to take fair shots at, for example, Allison and Lillia. It’s hard watching all this stuff (especially when it’s so bland), but I’d be disappointed to miss out on series like 2007’s Toward the Terra just because it’s not the flippin’ otaku du jour.

That’s only half of it, though. Macross Frontier is a good example of what I’m feeling; we have the same old teenage characters, the same old dumb romances, the same old mecha and the same old artificial JPOP music (my apologies to Yoko Kanno). There is nothing there for me any more. The same goes for Code Geass, too. I’m pretty much done with this whole ‘sexy’ high school vibe. It might be fun on a transient, superficial level, but 25 minutes later, I’m not interested in these characters or excited by their stories. I graduated in 2005.

The thing is, I really thrive on that emotional connection. All my enthusiasm for writing about anime stems from this strong sense of empathy. That’s why, despite seeing the likes of Naruto constantly mocked by others, I’ll always adore (and defend) it. I’m on a journey with those characters and it’s beyond objectively saying whether it’s good or bad, it simply is. To that end, as long as Masashi Kishimoto continues writing, I’ll always be his reader. The same goes for Eiichiro Oda and One Piece. I’ll never give up on them, they might not be the most subtle, well animated or original stories, but most important of all, the characters have soul, and, to put it bluntly, that’s more than I can say for their contemporaries.

Thank god for Kaiba, right? Think on this for a moment: in the spring season of 2007, the following anime premiered.

  • Claymore, Darker than Black, Dennou Coil, Ookiku Furikabutte, Seirei no Moribito, Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann and Toward the Terra.

For me, that’s almost a renaissance, and comparing these series to my reaction to 2008’s generation is a bit, well, underwhelming. Being optimistic and all, hopefully I’ll see something (Soul Eater, I hope) that changes my mind. Until then, I guess.