Being swept away

I have many a faint and fond memory of Eureka Seven, but wasn’t sure how to feel about news of its sequel. It ended with a quite profound sense of finality, after all. Everything that needed to be said, was, and underscored with probably the finest insert song ever used in anime, too. I’m using a lot of absolutes in this post because that’s just how I feel about Eureka Seven. Holland, Talho, Dai Sato, Supercar and Denki Groove. It was a great series.

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Darker than Black is the new black

Darker than Black is an enigma. The more I watch it, the less I understand how I feel about it. I wanted to write an article extolling its virtues, for example its deep characters and beautiful art. Then I went back and re-watched season 1 and did a double take, was this the same show I remembered? It was like I was back in the 90s when it was okay for a main character to waste half an episode being introspective instead of advancing the plot. I’d still recommend that people watch it, but be aware that this isn’t the second coming of Cowboy Bebop.

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On Wolf’s Rain

I first watched Wolf’s Rain in 2003, just as I was beginning to ramp up my interest in anime. I remember a few things about it: being absolutely traumatised by its ending and being spell-bound by Yoko Kanno’s music. Following on from the similarly fondly remembered RahXephon, it made a fan of Studio Bones out of me, too. Which is to say, Wolf’s Rain became one of my favourites and just last week, nearly 10 years on(!), I finally re-watched it.

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The snowy nights and racing trains of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Choosing the best anime of 2009 is no contest for me, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood wins it hands down every time.

Scar and Kimbley face off

Choosing the best anime of 2009 is no contest for me, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood wins it hands down every time, but we’re past any stabs I could make at being objective about this, the show has everything I look for in anime, yet still manages to keep getting better, so much so that earlier today I even started comparing it to Legend of the Galactic Heroes! I mean, what the hell?! All this was again brought to the surface by episodes 32 and 33.

Firstly there is the unending expansion of mangaka Hiromu Arakawa‘s story into newer countries and climates. She achieves the sheer sense of distance usually exclusive to great fantasy, of creating a living, breathing world, which is why I’m now comparing it to Legend of the Galactic Heroes, because even though it’s now over half way through, FMA continues to introduce exciting new characters into the mix.

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Trying to get back into anime movies / Sword of the Stranger

Action from Sword of the Stranger

Writing this now is probably a bit old hat, but I finally got around to watching Sword of the Stranger at the weekend!

Why the delay? I’ve developed a strained relationship with anime movies; having become so used to watching anime in the 20-min TV format, the mere suggestion of watching anything even slightly longer than normal isn’t attractive at all! I might have been institutionalized by TV!

As such, I’ve avoided many of the most important releases of recent years. I still haven’t seen Mind Game, The Sky Crawlers and Howl’s Moving Castle, and I’m embarrassed to admit I still haven’t seen Paprika, either.

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Turn off your mind, unwind and see how high the cloudy sky. Xam’d, naturally.

Should I say Xam’d: Lost Memories is good? It’s better than good, and I know it’s not enough to say just that, but I have to be careful. Because I’m about ready to explode. Yes, there’s too much to say. This is what anime is capable of; it’s why I’m writing an anime blog. Ironically, I’m on the brink of incoherence, but I need order, I need someone to understand something; that Xam’d: Lost Memories is good and that I think you might like it too. But that’s still not enough.

Where to begin? How about the trailer. I’ve been admiring this series since reading the trailer’s subtitle of “A nostalgic SF by Studio Bones”. Of course, a lot of anime is nostalgic, but it’s typically nostalgia for youth, for young love. Xam’d is nostalgic for science fiction. Our heroine Nakiami recalls both the rural appearance of Nausicaä (of Nausicaä and the Valley of Wind) and the emotional ambivalence of Eureka (of Eureka Seven). So, right off the bat, those are two of my favourite anime. It seems I was fated to adore this show.

The direction has an air of confidence, the narrative flows naturally, the plot is slow-building and consistent, the characters are light hearted and funny, some concealing their insecurity with a spunky attitude, others with sarcasm, none of it feeling artificial or calculated, just natural, normal. By the time the action kicks in, about three quarters of the way through the first episode, I was immersed, lost in the fantasy, in the characters, their lives about to be torn apart.

The school bus explodes, it’s a suicide bombing. Terrorism. Fear spreads. The twisted wreckage of what’s left behind is more like an open ribcage, bloodied, facing skyward. The seats have a bubbling, organic texture. Strange flying machines float high over-head, launching their organ-like pods of insectiod attackers into the city below. Akiyuki’s arm swells and twists with a strange, alien infection, his trembling body is no longer his own.
It’s a shock to transition so violently from this sleepy, easy-going slice of life into a terrible, chaotic war, a situation that reflects our own fears of terrorism and paranoia of aggression that is indiscriminate and seemingly aimless.

Akiyuki’s mum is a part of an ensemble of likable and interesting personalities. Her marriage is falling apart, but she maintains a strength of character, humour and dignity that’s really quite admirable. Akiyuki’s dad is a workaholic; a popular doctor with time for his patients but none for those most important to him, his family. They both care deeply for their son, but show it in different ways. When he goes missing, they both go looking for him, but at different times. They understand each other, but pretend not to, neither willing to compromise with the other. Little do they know, Akiyuki has embarked on a nostalgic adventure.

Flying high in purple skies, I’m happy just watching this story unfold, like some long lost fable, it’s beautifully drawn, sometimes poetically so, dream-like and awe-inspiring, a world worth exploring, with its many strange cultures, creatures and technologies. It is a fantasy in the truest sense of the word, a world of fantastic imagination, dark and light, nostalgic and exciting, would be perfect if there wasn’t so much rust in the water.

I’m one of his twenty faces too

When its first episode finished, I suspect a lot of people probably dropped their interest in The Daughter of Twenty Faces (a.k.a Nijuu Mensou no Musume) right there and then. Going off of first impressions, it’s not flashy at all. The colour palette is subdued, there’s no sensational fan-service and no eccentric personality winking at the camera, it was just a rather straight-up crime-caper that’s a lot like Lupin III. At that point in the series, I suppose I can understand why people might have said that it was dull, cheesy and nostalgic of an era that they have long since lost interest in. I felt much the same way, but something caught my eye (or should I say, my heart?); her name was Chiko, the titular daughter.

The first episode is merely the beginning of her journey. She’s vulnerable, fragile and sensitive, kind-hearted and eager to learn. At the end of that episode, I really felt happy for her, that she deserved this new family, this new adventure. That’s so important for me; nice animation is fine, blazing action is a bonus, but all I really need is that empathy, that desire to cheer on a character or two, and I found that in Chiko. Once you’ve formed that connection, the rest will often fall into place, and now, six episodes in, I’m about ready to say that The Daughter of Twenty Faces (along with Kaiba) is probably the best (and no doubt, most underrated) anime of the spring season.

For Chiko , it’s irrelevant that Twenty Faces is a world-famous thief, because she sees him, first and foremost, as a surrogate father and her savior. It’s a lot like how One Piece‘s Straw Hats are so bound together by Luffy’s charisma; he might be an idiot, but he cares deeply about his friends. Similarly, everything that Chiko’s beloved “comrades” do is for each other, and I can really understand that desire; that contentment shared by the closest of friends is so precious.

We reach an early crescendo in episode 6, as Chiko’s dream-like adventure ends as abruptly as it began, when the harsh reality of living as wanted criminals catches up with her merry band of brothers. It’s a stunning episode, so unpredictable and shocking. Having moments before been sharing their carefree adventures, we’re suddenly dealing with their mortality, watching people, Chiko’s family, die in front of us. As the action explodes within the elegantly painted compartments of a speeding train, the claustrophobia is palpable and I can’t help but think of Baccano!.

To their credit, Studio Bones have done a good job with the production side of things. They absolutely nail Chiko’s agility; her deft movements designed to have all the elegance and poety of a feather in the wind. Depictions of buildings, landscapes and weather are warmly realistic and evocative of a by-gone era; it’s a moody presentation that you can really dive into, almost taste.

Chiko begins the series as a naive 11 year old, innocent, optimistic, trying to grow up too fast. By the sixth episode, she is already 13, having developed into a thoughtful, confident girl with some exceptional physical skill. Seeing her transform into an adult, hampered by emotion, living for and chasing after her friends, is an undeniably compelling experience. She is a nice, convincing person and a character that I want to see smile.