Angel Cop – Repulsive, Uncomfortable, Anti-Semitic

Growing up as an impressionable teenager in the mid-90s meant that my first taste of anime came through Manga Entertainment’s infamous VHS releases; sex, violence and science fiction were the orders of the day and as cheap and nasty as this kind of anime often was, I must admit I still think back on that time of my life quite fondly.

Angel Cop is the epitome of everything Manga (at least in the UK) used to stand for; it’s sinister, bereft of moral fibre and overflowing with such uncompromising violence. And when I say violence, I’m not talking about your sweet Elfen Lied rag dolls. Here is a morbid attention to detail which often forces some quite repulsive and uncomfortable scenes of murder and mayhem. I can best describe it is truly visceral gore. The titular lead character is Angel; a harder, nastier version of Matoko Kunsagi with a hatred for terrorists so deep that she is willing to kill a young kid if it means taking down her unenviable target.

Reading up on Angel Cop shows that it caused quite the controversy when first released in the West due to (according to Anime News Network) “… a rather blatant anti-Semitic slant, however both the dub and the subtitles were altered to a certain degree to cover this”. I am yet to see anything approaching racism in these first couple of episodes, though such an offensive subtext would hardly surprise me given the director is Ichiro Itano, who has previously worked with such questionable content in Violence Jack and to a lesser extent, Gantz.

Based on these opening episodes, I must admit that I am quite enjoying my look back at Angel Cop. Nostalgia often has a way of making things seem better than they actually are (imagine my disappointment when I realized Transformers: The Movie actually wasn’t the greatest film of all time, for shame) but this is still holding up today, despite being produced as an OVA series way back in 1989. The action is fierce and shocking and the visuals are reassuringly striking, combining those wonderful (read: ugly, Brian May-esque) hair cuts from the 80s with an exciting science fiction plot involving special government agents fighting psychically-powered vigilantes and pumped up cyborgs. What more could an action junkie want?

The declining Western anime industry

The imminent bankrupsy of Central Park Media (CPM) forecasts a bleak year ahead for the US anime industry, but given there are more fans now than ever before, one would assume that the opposite should be true. The Anime Almanac has an answer, though I’m not sure whether they are right; it seems fansubs are to blame.

The internet is a great tool for sharing information and this is especially true for the anime community. People are now able to watch new series months (sometimes years) ahead of their local releases and later even share opinions with other like-minded fans (e.g. the anime blogsphere). From the fans’ perspective, this is great, though looking out from say ADV’s base in Houston, it must be frustrating.

ADV US recently licensed “This Ugly Yet Beautiful World” – a 13 episode TV series from none other than Neon Genesis Evangelion and FLCL maestro’s GAINAX. Coming from GAINAX, it should be a license to print money, but “This Ugly Yet Beautiful World” is actually a complete load of rubbish, and there-in lays the problem. Suffice to say had I not watched this show fansubbed a few years back, I would be a lot more interested in it than I am today.

For many of us newer fans, simply being anime is no longer good enough; in this rapidly maturing community, companies can not just go out and license everything under the sun because now the fans won’t have it; we now know what is good from what is bad.

The boom of the early 2000s has led to another problem too. The Japanese companies noticed how successful their anime was becoming in the international markets and decided to bump up the cost of licensing. Now we are in a situation where the US companies are less than willing to throw around their money and the Japanese are asking for too much anyway. Stalemate.

Fansubs are still at the forefront of a newer generation of fandom, while the DVD industry is stuck years behind floundering in the past. The music industry recovered from the MP3 revolution by embracing it; and if it wants to survive, sooner or later the anime industry will have to do the same thing.

Tobira O Akete (Open the Door)

Being a big fan of the works of Koji Morimoto (Memories: Magnetic Rose, Animatrix: Beyond), I was quite pleased when I managed to track down one of his lesser known shorts – Tobira O Akete (Open the Door).

Imagine a decidedly more colourful version of British animation classic The Snowman; a young girl is swept from her bedroom and taken on a magical flying journey through an amazing fantasy world of vivid colour and odd creatures.

The drawing style, as you would expect of these experimental OVAs, is quite unique. As if to mirror the imagination of a young kid, there is more emphasis put on shape and colour than strict detail, evoking a potent mixture of magic and wonder.

Given just how surreal and vivid Tobira O Akete is, it is hard to know whether or not everything that happens was just a dream. It is fun to watch though and took me back to a time when the world really was a kaleidoscope of wonderful colours and impossible shapes.

One Piece – Episodes 78 through 91 – The Chopper Arc

Much like a snowball rolling down a mountain, my outright love of One Piece is now out of control, ready to smash anything that dares stand in its way. I’d seen images of Chopper before this arc, but never did I expect his history to be so frightfully tear jerking, so utterly heart breaking and magical. This is no doubt a big reason why I so enjoy anime like One Piece; every character, even a talking reindeer with a blue nose like Chopper, is fleshed out as a brilliant, larger than life personality, dogged with tragedy yet still content, nay determined, to move on with life, to achieve his own personal dreams.

No doubt this will go down as my favourite story arc of One Piece (so far). When an endearing character like Doctor Hiruluk dies out to a beautiful rendition of Ave Maria, it’s hard not to get swept up in the moment, overcome with the tragedy Chopper’s loss yet filled with admiration for the deceased final words, a speech filled with the kind of optimistic philosophy that fills your heart with a such reassuring warmth and hope for life.

The idea that someone never dies if you inherit their memories and their will is a message that lies at the heart of One Piece. Gold Roger’s greatest achievement was in his final words, echoed at the beginning of every episode, the words that gave birth to a thousand dreams. Similarly, Doctor Hiruluk’s limitless passion and impossible ambition lives on through Chopper. This was anime at its best, at its most powerful and I love it (to pieces, one might say!).

Naruto – 186 – The episode where Shino laughs

This episode makes a mockery of everything Naruto stands for and as a hardcore fan, there is a guilty voice saying I should be completely offended by it, but honestly, this episode was so off the wall and slapstick funny that I could not help but love every minute of it.

The premise is brilliant. Naruto and Shino are asked to attend a funeral on behalf of a “client”, the catch is that if the other guests at the funeral can make Naruto or Shino laugh, they will get a cut of the deceased’s fortune; cue some of the most surreal, weirdest attempts at humour seen this side of Cromartie High School. Given how serious this show usually is, it makes a nice refreshing change (especially within the confines of such endless, empty filler) to see the likes of Shino and Naruto just cut loose and laugh their heads off.

Episode 186 will not go down as the finest example of the Naruto anime, but right here, right now, I have to admit this is the most fun I have salvaged from Naruto for what feels like years.

Jyu-Oh-Sei – 5 through 6 – Lost Love

To my frank and utter bemusement, we are now over half way through the 11 episodes of Jyu-Oh-Sei and although a part of me is glad to see every episode crammed full with so much story and character development, I can’t help but lament a narrative which is clearly moving a bit too fast for its own good, not least of all Thor’s transition from talented kid to Ochre Ring’s respected Top in a measly two episodes.

It is a shame because the rest of this show is outstanding. The planet of Chimera strikes me as a colourful, vast and dangerous place to live, the main characters convey and conceal their ambitions admirably and the story drives ever onwards with themes of love, betrayal, conspiracy and strength. Watching the likes of Thor and Tiz grow into adults adds a real sense of the depth to their personalities and if only we had 26 episodes to play with, the interwoven character relationships could have crushed us with their climaxes; in particular, it would have been great to see a few more scenes devoted to fleshing out such an inevitably tragic heroine like Chen.

Jyu-Oh-Sei is an exciting and immersive experience, but now I’m doubtful it can become a real classic.

Fan-girl translation of the above:

I love Jyu-Oh-Sei! Not that I seen all the episodes in the anime nor read the manga but it makes me really happy to watch how cute they all are 2gether! yay! And aww, Third are sooooo cute!!! Why aren’t boys in the “real” as cute as him? mwihihi ^^
well to everyone who reads this, just watch the anime it’s worth it!!!

Reigniting the flames of fansubs

In an interview with ActiveAnime, Viz Media’s director of PR Evelyn Dubocq slammed all forms of internet piracy. Despite the generic corporate style of her responses (which show little-to-no knowledge of the anime community as a whole), Dubocq’s remarks have inevitably reignited the flames of debate within the anime community.

On one side we have the hippy-like fansubbers who feel like everything should be free and on the other, there are the hard-line DVD fans, their motto is that “anime is a luxury, not a right”.

Now before we go any further into this entry, we may as well ascertain one simple fact; by downloading and watching anime fansubs, you are breaking the law; irregardless of if it’s “unlicensed” outside of Japan, you are infringing copyright law.

Now that you know this, whether or not you watch fansubs is, and always should be, a question of considered personal ethics. I can only speak for myself, but the reason I download anime is because I am a fan and to put it simply, I just want to watch the latest and greatest shows as soon as possible. I’m not patient enough to wait another year for the US DVD releases and heck, we live in modern times now; we shouldn’t have to wait so long anyway.

Now I’m aware no one is entitled to anime- after all, like the hardliners say, it is a luxury, but my love of anime knows no bounds. I’m not downloading fansubs because they are free, but rather, just because it is anime and I want to watch it now.

By picking up fansubs am I hurting the Western anime industries? No. Given how niche a genre this really is, anime has and always will survive through fan-driven word of mouth. Naruto is the most downloaded anime of all time; at it’s highest point over two hundred thousand people were downloading new episodes every week, has this detracted from it’s runaway success in the United States? Has it even affected DVD sales?

Of course there will always be leechers that only download anime and never buy the real thing, but then, if say fansubs magically disappeared tomorrow, would they suddenly begin investing their hard earned cash in official anime DVDs instead? Of course not, once a cheap skate, always a cheap skate. No money is lost or gained on these people.

The world of anime fansubs is not as black and white as some will have you believe; unless you are 4Kids (in which case; fuck you), they should never be considered a replacement for the official DVDs but similarly, unless a better- and legal- means of previewing subtitled anime becomes available, fansubs will always serve an absolutely vital service to anime fans, something I am very grateful for.

Naruto – 185 – Grotesque Pet

And so begins another 23 minutes of pure time filling anime, Naruto-style. But despite it’s stupid premise, episode 185 wasn’t too bad; at least it was funny. These one-shot episodes are surely more suited to absurd comedy than say last week’s rushed mess of unoriginal drama.

I’m sure we all have a mild fear of wild animals, especially those that drop out of the sky, grotesquely attach themselves to our bodies and then grow bigger over the ensuing weeks. It’s disturbing how Naruto actually takes to his furry mutation (called Onbu) quite well, even if in one particularly gross scene, it pisses all over his back! Not to mention that he gets treated like a leper by his “friends” and of course, there is the smell too, how can Naruto stand the smell?!

As stupid as sounds, I have to admit I was even quite touched when Onbu carried Naruto back home; a nice display of brotherly-love never fails to warm the heart! This was hardly a return to form, but for what it’s worth, the gross out comedy hit all the right notes.

Black Lagoon – 4 – Neo Nazis

The beauty of Black Lagoon is that it knows exactly what it is; pure action, and then forcing the volume way past maximum. If last time flying submarines weren’t enough for you, how do Neo-Nazi’s sound?

The Black Lagoon is after a precious Nazi painting (commissioned by none other than the Fuhrer himself, Hitler) that has been sleeping with the fishes for a good 50 years, since the collapse of World War 2. It’s an easy 50k for Dutch and his crew until a regiment of hard ass Neo-Nazi’s crash the party and decide they want the painting too.

Of course, it’s unfair for me to label Black Lagoon as all action, because while the gunplay surely plays a pivotal role in this show, the characterization and setting is equally as strong. In just 12 minutes, I found myself carefully invested in a doomed Nazi submarine captain and feeling his subordinates’ claustrophobic horror when told they have but 2 hours left to live.

The kid within me just wants to go giddy at the flashy, powerful style of Black Lagoon, but its true strength lies within a compelling ability to weave personal stories within the context of such sheer explosive madness.

Kiba – 7 – Hollow Defeat

As insane as it may sound, the last two episodes of Kiba were actually quite good! If you then stop to consider that they also didn’t feature its main character, there is something undoubtedly wrong.

To keep me interested, a show has to have an interesting, involving and immersive story; Kiba doesn’t have that. Likeable and unpredictable characters can also help too; no such luck for Kiba here either, we gleaned some of these elements in the previous two episodes, but now we are back to Zed’s gladiatorial timeline any semblance of potential has flown out of the window.

Mindless, derivative action is about the only way I can describe this episode. As much as I wanted to see Kiba retain last week’s promising conclusion, I can’t hide from the fact that Zed and his general story is so incredibly cliche, predictable and hollow that watching Kiba is good for only one thing; reminding me how important genuinely innovative and creative anime actually is.

Tokko – 3 – When Phantoms from Hades attack!

The mysteries behind Tokko are slowly starting to unravel amidst yet more greasy siscon innuendo and extreme blood letting. As blunt as Tokko often is, it makes a refreshing change to watch such a traditional horror show for once. It is said that the monsters (or as they will now be known; phantoms) have “literally crawled up from Hades” and are attracted to their victims by the strong scent of survivors (people who, including Ranmaru, have survived previous phantom attacks).

Every episode is bound to have its moment of extreme violence and here, it happens right at the end when a group of doctors are attacked by a heaving swarm of screeching worm-like parasites- the end result of which being that they are all transformed into mindless, rowdy zombies. Cue samurai swords, exploding eye balls and the rest; if nothing else, Tokko is good for a few exploding eye balls.

It’s funny how after all this happens, the characters can still switch back into their playboy modes and head out on the lash; episode 3 ends with Ranmaru and his sister taking part in an utterly horrific-looking group date, a date eventually crashed by the hilariously thick-witted, obviously perverted TOKKI boss, no doubt on his way back from the local yakuza meet.

Jyu-Oh-Sei – 3 through 4 – Nature bites back

Again I get my hit of Jyu-Oh-Sei in double dosage, and again I’m left feeling completely intoxicated by it. It’s the story that I love; so thick with detail, almost every scene contributes something new or shocking, continuously building on the already heavy narrative with yet more helpings of tribal politics, social commentary and romantic entanglement.

The only real problem with Jyu-Oh-Sei is the intense homoerotic undercurrent. Consider Thor’s skimpy clothes and Third’s “friendly” personality and clearly this is a show perfect for the ladies’ Noitamina animation block in Japan (having previously aired Paradise Kiss amongst others). I’m not a lady though, so I’d rather Thor put on some trousers and get a haircut- and undoubtedly, it’s this very camp aesthetic style that has made it easier for people to write off Jyu-Oh-Sei- their loss, really.

By episode four, the story is moving into high gear; Third’s gradually showing his hand as both a callous manipulator and devious liar while Thor’s quest for his return home has only worsened after discovering that his space-dwelling life is limited to but a mere 8 or 9 more years; a side-effect of having been brought up in a space colony and then suddenly dumped on a foreign planet. Conspiracies and back stabbings are all being promised, and don’t be surprised if it turns out that Third’s behind it all.

Animation-wise Jyu-Oh-Sei rivals Black Lagoon for some of the most electrifying action scenes of the spring season. Watching Thor take down an ugly insect-like carnivorous plant was a particularly exciting moment; this was a scene full of kinetic motion, painful collision and gravity-defying ass-whoopery of the highest order that was very reminiscent of Miyazaki’s ground-breaking movie Nausicaa and The Valley of Wind.

Naruto – 184 – Ad nauseam

The filler wasn’t supposed to go on for this long. A black hole of 48 straight episodes, 18 hours of pure nothingness; it would be funny if I didn’t love Naruto as much as I do, but as it stands this is a damn travesty. And the frightening thing is, an end to this utter farce is still no where in sight.

So this is basically how every filler arc has gone so far; Tsunade hands Naruto a stupid task under the premise that it’s actually a really important mission, Naruto complains but does it anyway; meets up with random Konoha genin- this time, it just so happens to be Kiba. Two or three Kage Bunshin no Jutsu’s later and mission complete. Throw in some completely redundant character development for Kiba and his pet hound Akamaru along the way and repeat the formula ad nauseam, but next time with Rock Lee, or Hinta, or Neji.

The sad thing is that a lot of what makes Naruto so much fun is still present here. The art direction (no matter how blatant the limitations on animation are right now) is as electric, colourful and bouncy as it always was and Toshio Masuda’s soundtrack never falls to enthral, compel and excite me. I still love seeing the characters pull off their unique ninjitsu moves and kick ass- but honestly, I’m in dire need of a story now, a real story, where when characters get hurt, they stay hurt. A story where Naruto (the character) isn’t such a third wheel- it’s hard to imagine that just one year ago, we were amidst Sasuke’s defection to the dark side.

Ahh well, at least I got to see the slick ANBU elites in this episode, even if they were reduced to abducting a (nin-)dog. How the great have fallen, eh?

Greetings and Salutations

As is the proper tradition for us newbs, here is my belated introduction to the hectic world of blogsuki.

If this is the first time you have come across BATESZI; HI! I hope you stick around! Of course, that’s entirely down to your (and indeed, my) tastes in anime- I’ll give you fair warning though and say I won’t be reviewing Haruhi, Fate/Stay Night or whatever other “cute” series are popular right now. Sorry- we’re all about the mucky gems here at BATESZI, so prepare to gasp at the dramatic highs and gut-wrenching lows of Kiba, fall in the love with the beauty of TOKKO and drown in the deep, dark depths of Black Lagoon. I’m starting to worry I have bad taste in anime, but stick with me anyway.. could be worth a laugh?!

If you gloss over the hypocrisy of actively blogging the semi-popular Ergo Proxy, my main goal for BATESZI is cover the more overlooked and undervalued anime out there, as well as chipping in with the occasional article (read: rant) every now and then too. A long and winding road lies ahead. Thanks for reading and come back, please.

Kiba – 6 – The price of freedom

It’s easy to take kids anime for granted, but compared with Western cartoons aimed at the same young viewers, the difference in conviction and themes is exceptional. Through out episode 6 of Kiba, several (old and young) characters die. It’s not gory, but the intent to kill is clear from the outset. There are no last minute resets, no brave super heroes to save the day; that’s not to say there aren’t characters with good intentions, but (as this episode suggests) sometimes good doesn’t always win out.

Frankly, I was really impressed with this episode. As cliche as Kiba has been up until now, I never expected to see the characters battle like they did here. It was shocking to see Noa envelope an entire town in flames, shocking to see old buddies like Kis and Gale impale each other with their swords.

Episode 7 promises a return to the dumb-luck of Zed and his boring face off with Dumas, but taken as their own separate story, both episode 5 and 6 represent an emotional and unpredictable high point for this series, where the ideology of short sighted adults collides with the untainted vision of youth. I’m in no doubt now that Noa will eventually turn bad and come to battle Zed, but with this kind of compelling back story, who could blame him for giving up on society?

Ergo Proxy – 8 – Larger than life

I read a few weeks ago that somewhere along the line, Ergo Proxy gets a bit like X-Men; mutants against mutants and all that. I guess episode 8 is where it started.

This episode was just weird. The people Vincent meets, the way the monstrous finale plays out- it was just utterly inexplicable in places. What immediately struck me was how much it was like watching a full episode set in the post-apocalyptic hell of The Terminator. Cyborgs roaming the barren land, people dying all around you, skies dark and depressing, and everyone having long lost hope.

It was the most action packed Ergo Proxy has been for while, though any true excitement was offset by my utter bemusement at what was happening, combined with a darkly shrowed presentation; it’s hard to make out what is going on when all you can gather is odd flashes of light and the muffled cries of dying soldiers.

I’m looking at this like the beginning of the second arc of Ergo Proxy. Very head-scratching and frustratingly mysterious, it ends with a larger than life battle between Proxy and an unknown ‘mutant’ adversary. Visually this was a fine episode, though ultimately my enjoyment was tempered by the sheer random style of it all.

Black Lagoon – 1 through 3 – Adrenaline Rush

It took me a few weeks to catch onto Black Lagoon, but now I’m fully convinced of its (loud) qualities. I had avoided it up until this weekend because the reviews I’d read gave the impression that it was another typical girls with guns anime. I was wrong and it’s much more than that. I’m sorry for doubting you, Madhouse.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though- Black Lagoon is a purely action driven series, but (like Gungrave) rather than simply wallowing in style, the story sprinkles enough compelling character development to really capture the moment. The star of the show is Levi- an absolutely badass mercenary capable of killing her enemies by the dozen. So far, she has shown very little in the way of emotion- preferring instead to swear, get drunk and basically kill anything that moves. Her foil (and opposite lead) is Rock- a Japanese “salaryman” whisked away from the boring world of corporate business. He’s still searching for meaning in his life and opts to become a sailor of the Black Lagoon rather than go back to his boring old life of monotony. Rock is living the epitome of every salaryman’s dream.

The rest of the Lagoon crew are just as likable- particularly captain Dutch, who defines macho cool in very 1980s Schwarzenegger way.

It’s notable just how immoral the story has been up until now. Given this is about modern day ‘pirates’, the action is not so much as case as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, rather how much Dutch and crew will be paid – there is no respect for human life. The characters are criminals, but remain sympathetic because of their honourable warrior-code and a strong sense of comradery and friendship.

The animation is very physical and kinetic; when combat kicks off, there is a real bite to every bullet, every punch and every torpedo. It’s consistently exciting because the presentation maintains a palpable sense of danger where anything and everything is a possible weapon.

My long winded countdown of the top 8 spring anime

It’s been a while since I’ve watched so much anime. This spring season is quite remarkable in that not only is there an unprecedented number of new series, but also because a lot of them are actually quite good. And I’m not a fan of harem, loli or whatever other genre is “hip” right now.

My top 8 spring anime

8. Tokko

Undeniably this is a terrible series. Why I’m watching it, let alone blogging it is a mystery fit for Columbo. So yeah, big guns, big monsters, big breasts and dismembered corpses. That’s Tokko; it’s so damn badly animated too. I guess those are the reasons why I’m watching it. Approach with caution!

7. Kiba

Utterly fan pandering shounen adventure escapades, yet I’m bitterly enjoying it because despite the lead character Zed being the worst “hero” ever- the rest of the cast and the generally bright, expansive setting envelope me in a finely built universe, ripe for escapism. Given the sheer number of good shows airing this season, I’m not sure how long I’ll stick with Kiba but the fact I’m still around by episode 5 suggests there must be something I like enough to keep watching.

6. Good Witch of the West

Yet more frilly medieval melodrama featuring only pretty characters with mad hair styles; the Good Witch of the West has an interesting fantastical take on the days when teaching and explaining science was banned, but I’m not a fan of the way every character is so damn cute and as soft as a pillow. Certainly, the fairy tale premise suggests potential, though I may wait for a few more weeks and watch this in batches.

5. Witchblade

The first GONZO series since Basilisk that isn’t utterly mediocre tripe, Witchblade; starring an impossibly large cheated female avenger akin to Devilman\lady is a surprisingly heart-rending tale of a woman fighting (with strange supernatural powers) to be reunited with her lost daughter. The action and animation have so far been disappointly below average, but the story retains some strength thanks to a mysterious plot and the fractured relationship between mother and child.

4. NANA

By rights NANA should be higher on this list but I can’t hide the fact that the characters simply don’t interest me enough. Being as it is a series by and for young ladies, it’s not terribly surprising I’m not totally into it. That said, the particularly slender and stylish character designs are wonderful and the drama is very well… dramatic; lots of passionate kisses, tearful eyes and sad goodbyes.

3. Utawarerumono

So like everyone already knows, Utawarerumono (worst series title ever) is based on a porn game, but rather than having tons of fan-service (so far, there has been none, thank god), the story seems to be heavily spiritual and environmentalist- a Studio Ghibli style rural fantasy in which violent forest spirits and other mysterious apparitions exist.

2. Jyu-Oh-Sei

The fantasy and action in Jyu-Oh-Sei is deep enough to suggest an interesting story is on it’s way, though the strong homoerotic undertones are slightly detracting from what I hoped would be a completely dead pan science fiction show.

1. Black Lagoon

I watched the first episode today and I feel ashamed to have ignored Black Lagoon for so long. The action is stylish and fluid without falling into boring poses, while the characters themselves are interesting and mysterious enough to forecast some compelling drama ahead. Black Lagoon is vaguely reminiscent of Gungrave in that it stars compelling adult characters capable of pulling off some cool kick-ass moves. Very impressed.

Stuck in backlog hell

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

The most hyped series since Mai-Otome, I plan on watching Haruhi sooner or later. I admit the extremely loud fan-base has put me off it for now and at the best of times I try to avoid anime based around Japanese school girls. Until the unabated praise slows itself down, I’ll be content to ignore Haruhi.

Higurashi

Apparently Higurashi is disturbing horror, but again, it looks so typically cute and “otaku” that I’m having trouble motivating myself to sit down and watch the damn thing. I had the same problem with Jigoku Shoujo; for so called horror, Enma Ai looked like such a calculated pin-up for fan culture that I eventually just lost interest.

Kogepan – Living the life of a burnt piece of bread

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, a show like Kogepan comes along. This short series follows the everyday adventures of the titular Kogepan, a burnt piece bread that no one wants to buy. Try as he might to be sold, he’s destined to live out his life unwanted, unsold, uneaten.

Each episode of Kogepan is only 4 minutes long and there are 10 episodes, so I was able to find my way through this series in a record time of a measly 40 minutes. For shame. Kogepan is a hidden gem.

Playing out as a high spirited moral allegory, Kogepan is all about learning to accept yourself, warts and all, and enjoying life. It may look like an innocent kid’s anime, but behind each bready character are personalities infected with such a loveable kind of vicious sarcasm, innocence and humour. The laughs are often wry and pessimistic but this is a show that has real heart.

The way Kogepan has been drawn is wonderful. It’s very surreal and innocent looking, yet matches the witty dialogue perfectly. There are some very cute, innocent baby breads that will make your heart melt, yet this is offset by the group of ugly burnt breads who are so down beat and confused that it’s both funny and slightly heart breaking; they get drunk on milk and roll around trying to cheer each other up.

If you’re in the mood for something different, something surreal or something offbeat, Kogepan is worth looking out for. Just like the message that pervades this entire show, don’t judge Kogepan based on how it looks, behind the odd visual style burns a particularly tasty slice of warm bread (.. I mean anime).

Anime Bloggers Need Excitement

The relevance (or rather, lack there of) of contemporary anime blogs has again been brought into question, this time at the core of the blogsphere itself; blogsuki.

The central theme of the discussion is an unstoppable slew of generic episode summaries, the problem being that these dozens of posts all essentially describe the same things; why recap an episode if it’s already been done elsewhere?

I’m torn between both perspectives, as pointless as it may be to reiterate the contents of an episode that has already been echoed countlessly elsewhere, blogging is and always should be a personal labour of love.

If you see an anime series that just gives you that feeling, nothing should stem the ensuing passion; you know what I mean- when you discover an anime series you love, or see an amazing episode, you’re instantly transformed from that moody old seen-it-all-before to an excited kid so full of glee and enthusiasm that you just need to tell someone…, anyone…, about what you’ve just seen. That’s basically why I’m running an anime blog, to capture and share those glimpses of euphoric emotion, and at that point I couldn’t care less whether some other bloke has already said the same things 7 days previous.

Naturally I would love to be listed on BLOGSUKI and see my readership expand. No doubt I’m one of the dozens waiting in line to be granted this “honour”, but I am not going to appease my style just to earn their favour. Writing should always be a natural exercise, free of external pressures or set formulas.

Over the past few days there has been all this talk about how bloggers can do the right things and avoiding doing wrong things, but it’s all irrelevant if you lack the passion to write about anime. That is basically all you need to succeed, for me writing here is about fulfilment. It’s great to get comments, to express and share opinions with other anime fans and that’s all there is to it. To this end, it’s disappointing to be denied entry to a website like blogsuki, but I’ll live.

A new beginning

Celebrating the fact BATESZI has been online for nearly three months now, I decided to move the blog over to my own web-space and basically give the whole site a bit of a touch up. Visually, not much has changed but behind the scenes is a totally different matter; I’ve basically coded my own blogging software- so now I can enjoy the miracle of categories and the wonders of an interactive blog roll.

This is the kind of change that won’t mean much to you, but it’s essentially a massive overhaul for me. Expect regular service to resume shortly, once I’ve had time to catch my breath! Thanks for reading.

Tokko – 2 – Guns forever

In many ways, TOKKO is the worst anime series I’ve seen for a while now; the animation (if we can call it that) is cheap and tacky and the characters are about as cookie cutter as they come, but it’s violent, has demons and pulls no punches when the time is nigh to combine the slicing quality of samurai swords with human limbs.

This is a show for the anime fans who grew up with the ultra violent OVAs of the 1980s and early 90s; we’re talking Genocyber, AD Police and Angel Cop here. The story is basically “kid’s parents are killed by monsters, so kid wants revenge”- you don’t need any more information than that, throw in some fleeting sexual innuendo and that’s about got TOKKO covered.

This episode was simply more of the same; a police officer can’t take down a bunch of zombies with his pistol so comes back at them with a military issue anti-tank machine gun. You’ll either love that idea or not and it pretty much sums up why I’m watching TOKKO. This is cheap, so-bad-it’s-funny horror.

Kiba – 5 – Swings & Swords

At a time when Kiba was in real danger of drowning in the true depths of unsalvageable mediocrity, an episode like this comes along and suggests that the story may well have some mileage after all.

Tellingly this was an episode free of Zed; rather the story follows his bespecled old buddy Noa who also seems to be teleporting about the various lands of Kiba. He ends up in a country (Neotopia) governed by the iron fist of a militaristic government where young men are being conscripted into the army. Being as it is an honour to become a soldier, most kids end up willingly leaving, while (much to the obvious distaste of the passionate locals) others would rather stay.

This episode was surprising in the way it handled what would inevitably be a sticky situation; best friends torn apart by war, one wants to fight while the other just wants to have fun, their polar opposite choices inevitably lead to conflict and the way it’s presented here was surprisingly well done; it managed to capture both the innocence and subsequent corruption of idealistic kids. A much improved instalment of Kiba, though this arc’s ultimate success rests on it’s conclusion next week.

Studio BONES’ Jyu-Oh-Sei: First impressions

Of all the new anime debuting this season, the one I was most anticipating was always Jyu-Oh-Sei. I’m basically a massive fan of Studio BONES, and despite a few less than stellar exceptions (Ouran, Kenran); I’m worryingly in love everything they churn out. I could cite Full Metal Alchemist or Wolf’s Rain as my favourite series of theirs, but I’ll take the obscure route for now and say their best work is KURAU: Phantom Memory. If you haven’t heard of KURAU, it’s probably because ADV pre-licensed it back in 2004 and have since failed to release it over the ensuing YEARS.

Jyu-Oh-Sei translates into English as Planet of the Beast King. Imagine a cross between Battle Royale and LOST and you’ll be half way to understanding the story. Two twins get unceremoniously dumped on a deserted planet with nothing but brutal criminals and carnivorous plants for company.

The first two episodes are by far and away the best I’ve seen this spring season; the setting is gigantic, colourful and genuinely alive and the story has a strong pace and direction. Said identical twins ((Rai) one a weakling, the other (Thor) a badass) want to get off the planet but must first face a few home truths- in a land where survival of the fittest rules, it’s either kill or be killed. Thor wastes no time killing those who threaten his life, he’s almost talented at it, but Rai is weak and lacks conviction. It’s suggested that Rai is eaten alive by a particularly violent plant, and Thor even assumes he’s dead, but the fact we see no proof of this death is a big hint that Rai will return in later episodes- and in badass mode too.

We’re slowly introduced to the planet Chimaera and the fascinating ways in which it’s governed. People are just dumped there and there is a shortage of water, so fighting for whatever resources are left plays a big part. Tribes have formed based on skin colour (there are four separate groups) and there is a shortage of women too, so rather than romance being allowed to develop naturally, woman are allowed to pick and choose their husbands; the men have no say in this whole process.

To keep this review to a short enough length, I’ll conclude by adding that the artwork; full of expansive, varied alien landscapes is brilliant. If you haven’t started watching Jyu-Oh-Sei yet and you enjoy a good yarn, then look no further, this is show you’ve been waiting for.

Ergo Proxy – 7 – All is full of love

Finally friends, this is the episode where we get some answers. Real’s life is saved by Daedalus. Once recovered they chat about everything, and to my absolute glee, light is shed on the mysteries of Romdeau, Proxy and even the outside world.

About a quarter of this episode is also devoted to Vincent’s flight to Moscow. His other passengers, namely the group of old men left over from the commune, die on the way there.

***

So this was the best episode of Ergo Proxy yet; despite some off-kilter character designs, the narrative is kicked up a notch and we finally get some solid information to chew over.

What is Proxy
He (or should I say, it) is described by Daedalus as a kind of god, a key to human survivial. Specifically Proxy’s genes (which were used to save Real’s life) act as a cure for the “Cogito” virus that has decimated Earth’s population outside of the Romdeau dome.

There is still the issue of why some autolaves drop to their knees and pray to Proxy; can he be the saviour for both man and machine? Why are machines praying in the first place?

What’s going on at Romdeau, Moscow and elsewhere
The government of Romdeau are biologically manufacturing their citizens inside womb-like machines. The whys are still unknown, though I’m expecting a reason along the lines of “humanity needs to be controlled”.
This leads me onto my next point- the world outside and specifcally, another dome at Moscow. I haven’t a clue where Romdeau is located, but my guess is that it’s either America or Europe. There must have been a world war at some point, in which mankind has not only almost destoryed itself, but also severly damaged the planet. The sky is constantly dark and the land is desolate, hinting at a terrible world war, one that has no doubt involved biological and nuclear weapons.

What lies in Moscow I’m not sure, though Proxy was taken from the Russian capital, so I ‘m expecting something big, or atleast spiritual, about the city.

Is Real dead?
Of course she won’t be dead, but what a cliff hanger anyway; we know that she now carries genes from Proxy- and given Vincent has shown a good ability to dodge the reaper, I’m expecting her to be resurrected or rather, regenerated in some way or another.

A three way tug of war at Romdeau
There are three important agendas being pushed at Romdeau- while Raul’s militant group are rebelling, he strikes me as a man desperate to control everything. At this point, he comes across as a clumsy idiot, blinded by his own arrogance. The shrowded government in place at Romdeau is weak, or is at least hiding it’s truth strength; they are more interested in preserving their own idea of paradise (Romdeau itself). And lastly we have the enigma of Daedalus, who is more than willing to help and share information with Real about Proxy, but to what end and why?

***

I’m convinced now that Ergo Proxy is the best series I’m watching. It’s mysterious, challenging, dark and full of brilliant science fiction. The story is moving at speed and the next few episodes are bound to be even more telling, I can’t wait to see what happens.

Kiba – 4 – It sucks… but that’s cool, because I like it!

So today I had to choose one of three episodes to watch. I could have gone with Studio BONES’ latest masterpiece Jyo-Oh-Sei, the utterly artistic new arc of Ayakashi or be content with the generic shounen delights of Kiba. If you’re reading this, you already know which episode I plumped for! I feel so dirty.

Zed hears about a joust contest and in his typically gung-oh style, decides to enter. It’s a competition that pits one shard caster against another in a gladiatorial arena, minus the death.

As if Kiba wasn’t already reminiscent of the tried and tested shounen action template, this episode sees us revisit the classic tournament format. Yawn indeed, but the thing about Kiba is that the story moves at such a brisk pace, so while this kind of set-up in Naruto would consume say 10 episodes, Zed and company remarkably battle it out in seconds. The episode ends on a cliffhanger with Zed about to unleash hell (in the final, of course) on camp pretty boy Robes and I must admit I’m looking forward to seeing how it all ends, both characters could use a good kicking.

Zed’s still an abject arsehole, but Kiba remains just good fun to watch. The soundtrack is attractive and dramatic, the landscapes are vast, bright and colourful and the animation is fluid enough to cover the action with a enough adrenaline. The story and general intelligence of writing continues to leave a lot to be desired; stuff is just happening with little or no prompting, but irregardless, you can’t underrate enjoyment; that’s the most important part.

NANA – 3 – Broken Social Scene

Nana K is living an easy life as a student until her three closest friends decide that they are going to go to study art in Tokyo. It would be harsh to say Nana is untalented, but she isn’t good enough for university yet; and so she faces a future without her friends, on her own again.

This was a really great episode, perhaps too dramatic in places, but ultimately that’s what we expect from NANA.

It begins with Nana K back to her old self; completely reliant on other people, acting like a spoilt kid. It ends with her having made some important realizations about herself, notably her feelings for Shoji but also that she has so far gone through life almost exclusively depending on others. When her friends turn around and talk about leaving for Tokyo, it’s obvious she has no ambition of her own and despite desperately trying to follow them, Nana is forced to confront this fact.

It seems this was the conclusion to the Nana K backstory and it ended well, at an imporant turning point for her life.

Ergo Proxy – 6 – Learning about death

I’ll warn you now this entry contains (literally) life-and-death spoilers, so if you haven’t seen episode 6 of Ergo Proxy yet you may want to look away.

Hude and Queen get it in the neck this time, though it didn’t leave me with much of an emotional impact. Perhaps it’s because I expect everyone in Ergo Proxy (with the exception of Real/Lil) to die sooner or later.

It was nice to see Lil when she was younger and happier, pre-blue eye paint. We’re used to seeing Ergo Proxy depicting worlds either bleached in artificial white or decaying in dark urban rubble so it was good to see a brighter, more natural scene for once.

The story is again at an important turning point. Given Raul’s furious orders, we can safely assume the outside commune has been destroyed. Lil is back in the dome, seperated from Vincent and he is still on the run from the Romdeau ‘sentinals’. What the next move will be is anyone’s guess, though Raul dropped an interesting hint about the virus that has infested the outside world- seems it may cause mutations in its victims, enhance their strength in some way?
Everyone has their own agendas too- if anyone stole the show this time around, it was the androgynous Daedalus- she/he seems to be more and more manipulative than first thought and her connection to Lil’s past undoubtedly suggests she will be an important character- whether good or bad is still undecided because like Raul she seems more out for herself than for anyone else.

I can’t totally put my heart into Ergo Proxy because something still feels quite aimless about it; since it’s is so mysterious, it’s hard to get excited about anything. Naturally, it still looks as tastefully dystopian as ever, but I hope that over the next few episodes, the larger picture starts to get clearer and I’m not consistently left with such a vacant feeling. It’s like I’m waiting for some fireworks to go off; the spectacle is bound to be great.

Can an opening theme resurrect a series?

Is an opening theme enough to reignite interest in a series? I guess it is for me because I’ve just seen the third opening sequence for mediocre vampire slasher Blood+ and suddenly I’ve been persuaded to give this show another chance.

First time around I discovered Blood+ was terribly predictable, but if Production I.G devote as much passion to the story telling as they have this vivid opening animation, I’ll happily return.

The OP in question is a wonderful mixture of experimental, gritty gothic visuals with enough cool looking poses and sword slashing, blood dripping action scenes to convince even the most skeptical of fans this so isn’t the watered-down mainstream series it started out as; but you don’t have to take just my word for it- stream it over at YouTube now.

Skewed tastes of the otaku

With blogger hubs like Blogsuki and the AnimeAntenna cropping up, now is as good a time as ever to gauge how the tastes of the hardcore anime fan often differ from that of the general anime buying public.

According to the stats provided by Blogsuki, the most popular shows currently being blogged are Mai Otome, Fate/Stay Night, Shakugan no Shana, Kashimashi and Jigoku Shoujo. And judging by it’s furious debut, I expect we won’t have to wait too long for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya to gatecrash that list too.

On the other hand, typical shounen adventure anime like Eureka 7, Ergo Proxy and Noein appear to be floundering. Perhaps that’s a harsh way of putting it, but these are a shows tipped for the very top, flashbang animated and designed with an obvious broad appeal. What do they lack that turns off the otaku audience?

Is it that obsessive quality that otaku are famous for; no matter how well it’s animated, you can’t very well idolize an emotionless vase of a character like Real Mayer of Ergo Proxy in the same way as the always huggable “cute hell girl” Enma Ai of Jigoku Shoujo. Plushies and wallpapers of the weird looking kids from Noein are never going to be as fluffy as the girls from Otome.

It’s not all about aethetics though- the most blogged series, like Otome, appear to invite fandom, to encourage disection of every facet of their show. Noein and the rest are great examples of story telling- but perhaps too good in that we are often left with little to discuss, such is the quality of story that watching becomes an almost one way experience, there is little to discuss when all the loose ends are everything but tied up anyway.

Tokko – 1 – Horror, gore and siscon (in that order, repeat)

I’m a horror fan, have been all my life and aside from the claret soaked GANTZ, I’ve seen nothing lately that’s been up to quenching my thirst for such sheer bloody antics. That is until I saw the first episode of TOKKO.

Before launching into horror fan hyperbole, I’ll state right now that TOKKO isn’t and won’t become a masterpiece. It’s trashy, ugly, has poor production values and does nothing new with it’s characters, that said- if you’re in touch with the “goretastic” side of your personality, you should check this out.

So let’s run through my horror fan check list: severed heads, messy piles of dismembered body parts, weird parasites (connected to humans) with disturbingly high and distorted voices, zombies, samurai swords and monsters (from hell). The story is basically about a rookie (Ranmaru Shindou) who has just joined his city’s anti-terrorist police force to hunt down the violent butcher of his family. Lucky for him, Ranmaru ‘s first job just happens to involve a wall splattered with body parts and a walking army of the undead.

If you’ve read this far, you should know whether or not TOKKO is for you. It’s violent, jokes about incest and involves hot young men and women jumping around with swords, slashing at puny monsters. The story is moving at a good pace and leaves little to the imagination; there’s enough blunt sexual innuendo and cheesy jokes to fill the time between all blood letting.

TOKKO won’t be for everyone, but it’s gory horror just the way I like it.