New layout, same person

Developing in the background for a fair few weeks now, I’m pleased (though… perhaps relieved is a better word?!) to finally unveil the colourful new layout of “Bateszi Anime Blog”!

In an attempt to break away from my conventional (boring) grey style, I’ve ended up with a “passionate” red colour scheme – gasp – if just to prove it’s not only the yuri fans who can get away with pink; us Shounen Jump fan boys are in touch with our feminine sides too!

I wish I could say there is some over arching concept behind this drastic overhaul – I could make up something about the “autumn leaves” in the banner, but truthfully, it’s all about as random as the butterflies you can see in the right menu, but don’t they look pretty? If you have any comments, good or bad, I’d love to read them.

Welcome to the NHK! – Anime or manga? Yawn

Anime or manga, one is inevitably better than the other – whether it’s just another case of elitism or not, you can always bet on the jumped up manga fans hating the anime adaptations of their favourite stories. This is because the voices you hear in your head will always sound better in comparison with the efforts of some cheap hack actor, because when reading that “damn slow” story can move as fast as you turn the page (in other words – running times are for losers).

Gonzo’s Welcome to the NHK! was an inevitable travesty in the eyes of the existing manga fans. But it is a train wreck that never happened; of the 11 episodes I’ve seen, this has been an outstanding and unique series, veering from bizarre surrealism to painful reality in an exciting matter of minutes. The characters – and especially Satou – are disgustingly sympathetic personalities, shining in their moments of disdainful human vulnerability. I haven’t read the manga – so my opinions aren’t tainted with deluded expectations based on art and imagination. But I can say that out of everything I’m following at the moment, Welcome to the NHK! is the one series I’ll often watch the same day it’s downloaded.

Can manga ever be compared with anime? Can the personal experiences and emotions felt reading a “comic” be judged against sitting through a TV series? Clearly not – film is by and large a passive journey, a voyeuristic indulgence, but reading invites imagination, essentially the reader will often find himself at the centre of that story, able to invent and fill in gaps for himself. Given this tight personal attachment, a film can never be compared with or subsequently become superior to its written source material and it’s unfair for the so called fans to expect their personal standards – inevitably set as high as possible – to be met by another mere individual. Welcome to the NHK! was not directed by god, so it’s not tailored to your imagination, but it’s a fine, thought provoking and entertaining watch. Enjoy it, anime fans!

Naruto – 201 – Weapons of mass destruction

It’s those damn terrorists again! As we’re all aware, the war on terror knows no bounds, and now, not even our anime is safe! The beloved hidden village of the leaf (known to gurning locals as Konoha) has become the target of crafty suicide bombers – who could have suspected berserk eagles with explosives strapped to their claws, aimed straight at the popular village’s renowned statue? One can only imagine how these ingrates managed to brain wash wild animals. Later that day, a veteran suicide bomber disturbingly hinted that it’s now only a matter of time before these eagles are taught to carry weapons of mass destruction.

Luckily for the civilised world, terror soon became jubilation when a brave group of young peace loving ninja, led by one Uzumaki Naruto, stood up for their love of freedom by beating the [geriatric] terrorist to death. Freedom for the win!

Hunter X Hunter – First Impressions

I make no secret of my affection for Shounen Jump anime, from Dragonball Z to Rurouni Kenshin, by way of Naruto and One Piece, it’s a genre – incredibly formulaic though it is – that I drag myself back to again and again, pumped and ready for another sweaty training montage and trash talking decidedly diabolical villain. The protracted action, the limitless melo-drama, I just love it.

On to my latest adventure then – Hunter X Hunter; acclaimed by a passionate few as one of the best this genre has to offer, my curiosity was peaked by the fact that it remains unlicensed outside of Japan. In an age where Bleach and Naruto are the most popular anime licenses in the world, it’s odd that Hunter X Hunter is fading into the realms of mere otakudom.

This evening I had the pleasure of sitting down to watch the first two episodes and although this isn’t really a surprise given my track record, I enjoyed them. While the action is hardly jaw dropping eye candy, Hunter X Hunter provides a warm and realistic perspective on the “adventuring” story-line. When plucky young Gon decides to become a “hunter” and track down his absent father, the inevitable parting with his adopted mother is met not with an enthusiastic thumbs up but a sad and worrisome hug, set against a dark red setting sun. Later in episode two, Gon’s naive country-boy innocence sees him stray perilously close to the murky world of child slavery.

This attention to realistic human struggle is perhaps what separates Hunter X Hunter from its peers, that Gon’s road to adventure is paved with harsh and elegant truths about life and love means his growth as a character is all the more heartening.

As you would expect of a Shounen Jump anime, Gon’s personal quest – though central to the story – is but a means to introduce us to a massive world of eccentric hunters, wild animals and colourful landscapes. Fantastical and fun escapism. In comparison with say Naruto, there are no cool ninja head bands or crazy killer moves – Gon’s only weapon is his trusty fishing rod, but with such an emphatic emphasis on personality, he could be fighting with a spoon for all I care, the heart and soul is what counts, and Hunter X Hunter has made a fine first impression.

Naruto – 200 – Filling time with ninja

It has been a while since I last caught up with Naruto – still its a series I treasure deep within my heart, but these ever enduring “filler dark ages” are even dwindling the concrete enthusiasm I once felt for master Rock Lee and his “spring time of youth”. True to Naruto’s emphasis on fighting spirit, I will never give up on this show, I won’t read ahead and spoil myself with the manga – instead my fandom is on auto-pilot, navigating the blue seas with Monkey D. Luffy. Only god knows when the fillers will end – but my guess, for what another fanboys desperation is worth – is episode 208, the next true increment if the series is seperated by the anime-standard of 26 episodes per season. Fingers crossed, anyway – its been a year already and I’m starting to feel like I imagined characters like Orochimaru, Itachi and even that damn angsty bastard Sasuke.

As far as the quality of this particular filler arc goes – it’s not too bad. Despite a typical lack of tension thanks to the nagging knowledge that deep down we know Naruto is in no real danger and that Konoha won’t be blown up, in small doses it’s still fun and ever so slightly exciting. It’s nice that the chemistry between the various characters still works; them playing off each others ecentric quirks is shallow but entertaining. In other words, I can’t help but enjoy Hinata’s shy affection for Naruto exposed again and again by his dim witted and innocent brauva. It’s great that ANBU are popping up now and again too; their aggressive and cold presence, though fleeting, rekindles my smouldering faith in the darker side of Naruto and reminds me of how once upon a time, this was actually burning brightly as a quite brilliant action series. I long for those days again.

Sci-Fi Harry – Does exactly what it says on the tin

Uneducated and ignorant, my first taste of this most leafy of seasons is the earnestly dubbed “Sci-Fi Harry”. I knew absolutely nothing of this show before today and the only reason I figured I’d give it a try is because of the wonderfully unprentious name. It is literally what it says on the tin – a science fiction anime with a main character called Harry. Mirroring this complete lack of hype, there is nothing outright exciting or colourful about this show, between its typically bullied protagonist and a depressed colour scheme, this is an intentionally serious and down to earth stab at high school psychic horror.

I could describe Harry as frustrating and unpleasant – after all, he is a beaten, bullied and weak teenager and we take no pleasure in his treatment at the hands of his yobbish school mates. At the same time, he is an under dog worth supporting and provided he doesn’t collapse in a pool of [his own] piss, his development as a brave hero will rouse my heart.

Perhaps the best – or at least the most striking element of Sci-Fi Harry is its artistic approach. The surreal and completely unsettling opening theme aside (it truly is an abstract sight to behold), I was impressed by the angular facial features – the eyes are particularly detailed, beaming and jerking from side to side, and it’s been a while since I saw an anime character with a proper nose. No doubt imagining a view of life from the perspective of a jaded kid, Sci-Fi Harry evokes a lifeless and drab atmosphere just waiting to explode, and for this reason it won’t be for the excitable harem otaku.

Ultimately it’s hard to know which way this 20 episode series will eventually head – given the original manga series was scribed by the same author of Night Head Genesis, I’m half expecting an influx of gay bishounen, yet I can’t deny that this first episode of Sci-Fi Harry is striking and interesting, hardly chilling but edgy and moody, wollowing in dank modern suburbia with a curiously ambiguous and confused lead character.

Welcome to the NHK! – 9 – Sparkling festival fireworks

An unusually positive and uplifting instalment of NHK!, I wasn’t planning on commenting on this episode but the sparkling festival fireworks always get me. So bright, so beautiful, so romantic. Even Yamazaki gets some lovin’.

This is so far the best episode, a dizzy mixture of jilted love and romantic despair, it astutly comments on the fickle defensiveness of macho human nature. Yamazaki had his heart broken by his first love and subsequently hates girls, but the moment he gets a little female attention again, suddenly all that pent up anger just fades. Or drops, like the mask covering his real face.

That Sato and Misaki finally get it together is very much the expected outcome of their growing relationship, but it’s still a heart warming and effortlessly touching moment, seeing two people so clearly confused and unconfident gradually throwing aside their fears all in the name of “love”. Such an overblown sentiment is always accompained by fireworks, the pretty mutli-coloured fireworks.

(Note: Instead of screen capping this episode, I’ve clipped pictures from the opening theme. I love the song “Puzzle”, a happy, hopeful and uplifting tune perfectly complimented by the opening animation’s attractive onslaught of bright and exciting colours. I’m gradually realising this is my favourite show airing at the moment, I haven’t read the manga and probably won’t, but really, this is a great series with an underplayed and wonderful grasp of human nature.)

The sudden realisation of a tired anime fan

I’ve had so much fun watching Giant Robo for the first time this weekend – an impossibly epic, jaw dropping spectacle set against frame after frame of sprawling neon-lit cityscapes and the kind of fluidic action packed excitement you just don’t see anymore in modern anime – it has again sparked that raw enthusiasm for anime inside my heart, you know that feeling you get when you uncover something special. Compare this with my somewhat dulled interest in the current and former 2006 seasons, where I’m enjoying but hardly enraptured by a lot of what I’ve seen.

Around about this time everyone is getting excited about the new autumn anime, but when all people are looking for is the latest and greatest series (and I’m guilty of this myself too), we forget the older, less trendy classics. I’m so glad I’ve discovered Giant Robo – created over a decade ago in 1992, but I’m disappointed it’s taken me this long. I’ve probably been wasting my attention on mediocre eye candy like Ergo Proxy just because it’s fresh and new, been considering previewing the likes of "killer loli" favourite Higurashi and Bokura ga Ita because I keep seeing them pop up in gushing reviews, but since I’m still uncovering lovable, shiny gems like Giant Robo, suddenly a lot of what I’m following these days looks, and more importantly feels almost transparent.

I suppose what I’m trying to say (to myself) is that simply being new is no real substitute for actual quality, and sitting through anime you’re ambivalent about because it’s all the talk on forums and blogs is an easy way to lose interest in a genre you used to love. I’ve been racking my brains trying to come up with the energy to sit down with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in a vague attempt to at least salvage some experience in what’s popular these days, but if truth be told, I’m just not interested in it, so it’s time to get ruthless and drop any illusions that one day I will catch up with this mountainous backlog and again start searching out anime I can actually love. Trust me, it’s taken me a long while to come to this realisation.

Mushishi – 25 – Even without eyeballs, tears run

Although it would be harsh to say Mushishi had been in the doldrums of late, I must admit that the episodes succeeding number 20 have often flattered to deceive. It still looks as gob-smackingly beautiful as ever, but feels like more of a remote beauty, something I can admire but hardly love. I’m rejoicing then that the penultimate fable of Episode 25 is a warm and melancholy return to form.

Mushishi often specialises in a creepy skin crawling kind of horror and 25 plays out as a grotesque and symbolic reminder that our faliure to see into the future — past and present, is a gift, not a curse.

"Even without eyeballs, tears run" utters the female victim of this episode when an eyeball dwelling mushi literally leaps out of her face and into the safe hands of Ginko. I can’t imagine how it must feel to have two gaping holes in place of your eyes, but given our heroine is pleased, one must assume that her powerful ability to see into the future and a hawk-like gift to gaze for miles ahead — even through mountains and trees, yet unable to alter fate, even to avert predicted death, is a painful and chaotic mess to live with. Faced with seeing everything or nothing, she chooses the latter, because with nothing comes freedom.

Elitism within anime circles

For many people being an anime fan is like holding on to precious secret deep within one’s soul – and if said secret were suddenly revealed, it would lose all value and be cast aside like last weeks old news. Mirroring the music scene when the underground trendy band signs for a major record label only for their so-called hardcore fans to (forget the music) then cry "sell out" in disgust, anime fandom is rife with its own detestable levels of elitism and superiority complexes. Is it human nature that people seek out obscure tastes in order to feel different, as if being a part of something unannounced will validate their cultural superiority? In other words, would you still be an anime fan if everyone – even your mum – watched The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya?

Old school anime is better than this new crap!

A particularly classic elitist sentiment that crops up inside many older fans is how anime went bad after Akira and Ghost in the Shell exploded into the global mainstream a decade ago. I’m not sure if it’s simply a case of old age (and therefore, old brains), but many fans over the age of 30 appear to have trouble watching (let alone praising) anything beyond Tenchi Muyo! or the original Macross series, an attitude that smacks of a quite desperate attempt to cling on to an unpopular era long since departed, a hopeless try at maintaining ones superiority over those damn annoying newbies and their stupid Naruto headbands.

Dubbzz Suckz

I’m quite familiar with the dub elitist slant, largely because I am a film purist myself. It’s almost as if there is this silent agreement amongst anime fans that any kind of foreign dubbing of anime is rubbish by default. In worst cases, this ignorance extends itself to the discrimination of dub fans and actors at conventions, where said people are sometimes booed and heckled in public while trying to hold an intelligent and mature panel.

The fansub divide

If you frequent any popular anime forums, you’ll find yourself on one side or the other — fansubs or no fansubs. Both points of view frequently clash – each time with the same baseless arguments cropping up. The American DVD fans would like to see fansubs disappear because they have served their purpose — but what about the anime fans from Nigeria, or India, what do they do when fansubs disappear; import the American DVDs of course! "But I have no money!" "Oh well, anime is a privilege not a right!"

Typically the most hardcore fansub supporters are basically pirates. Bandai have recently asked the community not to distribute fansubs of Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society, and honestly there is no true value in producing a free copy of Solid State Society when it’s backed by such a well known franchise – we all know about Ghost in the Shell, it doesn’t need a fansub. But there will be one anyway, because it’s free. We have no morals.

Forget your domestic DVD market, import away!

Living in the UK we constantly struggle in the shadow of US anime DVDs (and US anime DVDs in the shadow of Japan etc). They have better picture quality, better artwork and more extras. To invest in our domestic DVD industry is a waste of money. Forget the fact that in doing so you are supporting better quality releases in the future, aiding in the development of your own local anime community. It’s all about me, me, me.

This importing issue, and many of the other points raised, relate directly back to whether or not you wish to see your obscure little hobby make inroads into your dumb friends’ DVD collection, in other words, whether you wish maintain your unique, trendy identity as an anime fan and not become one of those "deaf mutes".

Welcome to the NHK! – 8 – Meet the parent

It’s time to meet the parents, only Satou doesn’t have a girlfriend, or a job, or a life outside of his apartment, making the whole arrangement pretty awkward from the get-go. If only Robert De Niro was his Dad – what laughs we would have!

Judging by his mother’s phone call in the previous episode, I wasn’t expecting her to be quite so cool though. She wasn’t the demanding and expectant figure anticipated, instead she comes across as the first thoroughly likable character in Welcome to the NHK!, in other words, a real parent to her son. When she realises Satou is basically lying about everything, she doesn’t throw a fit — rather just acknowledges the fact that she has a weird son. When she surprisingly leaves Satou and Misaki to have a "real date", you get the impression that she is content in knowing that Satou has made friends good enough to help him out with his insecure, paranoid bull shit. For now, a hikkimori Satou is not.

The rest of this episode is notable for how Misaki is warming up to Satou — they engage in a real date and nearly kiss, only to be distracted when Satou’s phone rings — a cliche "rom-com" way of padding out the now inevitable romance? Misaki makes several hints about her troubled home life too — clearly she is hiding some dark secrets about her past and probably needs Satou as much as he needs her. Where the narrative goes next will probably define the true path of the rest of this series.

I’m really enjoying watching Welcome to the NHK!, it has a cast of characters bustling with fascinatingly broken personalities and is completely unpredictable in whatever colourful, dreamy direction it decides to head in next. The art, though the quality varies, often shines with style when emphasizing a moody or emotional feeling – the flackback to Satou’s childhood in this episode being a prime example of this emotive aesthetic beauty.

Trapped in an ice cold back log hell: September

Such is my addiction to the routine of watching anime – I horde a ridiculous amount of fansubs, promising myself I will catch up with them sooner or later, yet knowing deep down that it may never happen. As I enviously cast my eyes across the blogsphere, I usually get the urge to write one of those lists where I can go through and rate what I’ve been watching, but instead I shamefully present to you a list of the anime I haven’t watched. In other words – revelling in my failure as an anime fan.

Encased in deep blue ice

Bokura Ga Ita — Episode 1 onwards — Back log started 24th July

I just can’t bring myself to watch Bokura Ga Ita. I know I’ll probably like it, but still I get the feeling it’ll be a waste of my time — like all slice of life anime; it seems devoted to observing the dull, mundane aspects of life. I like my escapism, dammit. Bokura Ga Ita needs time-travelling monks. Or Monkey D. Luffy.

Ergo Proxy — Episode 15 onwards — Back log started 17th August

I usually have to devote an entire evening to catching up with Ergo Proxy. It’s rare finding the right frame of mind to avoid being permanently lobotomized by the vicious onslaught of pretentious dialogue and absolutely directionless story. What’s Ergo Proxy actually about anyway? I couldn’t tell you, but it looks cool. That’s enough.

FLAG — Episode 1 onwards — Back log started 11th August

Again, this sounds like a mature and sophisticated series — but I’m not sure if I’m ready for such an odd concept. As far as I can tell, FLAG is about a photographer and the majority of the story is conveyed through a camera lens and still images. Like with Ergo Proxy, a certain (preferably coffee induced) state of mind is required to fathom such an unconventional "arty-farty" style without being unfairly harsh.

Starting to freeze

Honey & Clover — Episode 8 onwards — Back log started 22nd August

This is a worrying sign because I’m a massive fan of Honey & Clover — perhaps subconsciously I’m afraid of it ending? Also, I’m getting sick of its melodramatic whining — Yamada being the main culprit, the sight of her crying does nothing for me anymore (except yawn). I suppose it’s getting a little stale and the romantic merry go round does bore me, but irregardless it’s ending soon anyway.

Shopping around for fresh meat to freeze

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

I don’t like the nose-less, bug eyed character designs and obvious otaku pandering but such is the love surrounding The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya that I do intend to watch it (or as is my style, back log it) sooner rather than later!

Saiunkoku Monogatari

Bishounen are rubbish, especially when they just stand around talking and looking out of the corner of their eyes (the evil, or scheming bishounen are particular users of this "shifty eye" technique) but word is good that Saiunkoku Monogatari has more to offer than beautiful boredom. I’ve already been burnt once with the sleep inducing Meine Liebe, so Saiunkoku Monogatari is last chance saloon for the bishounen drama.

Elfen Lied – 8 through 10 – Subverting the cute

Again Elfen Lied defies it’s pretty style and delivers a trio of episodes that are anything but. Subverting the look of its cute characters, it clearly delights in extreme mental and physical abuse — the disgusting bludgeoning of a helpless young puppy aptly symbolises how innocence and weakness is exploited in Elfen Lied, and that’s just the humans. Sometimes it’s hard to watch, but when young orphan Lucy is slowly corrupted by the hate and taunts that surround her, a sense of empathy forms between her and the viewer, or at least we understand that if a young kid is bullied into a corner and has no one to turn to, the inevitable result is tragedy. Lucy just happens to be a Diclonius.

What makes Elfen Lied stand out is the way it delves into characters, explores their relationships and personalities. I’ve already talked about Lucy but I’ll say again that through this flashback to her lonely past, we suddenly start feeling something for this so called monster. She is still dangerous, her power still utterly brutal, but behind the gore now lays sympathy. Lucy is a product of her upbringing — in other words, she is a product of human society, granted she had a particularly tough time at school (tougher than the average kid) but shunned and taunted for her looks, betrayed by her friends, it’s no wonder she grew up with such a hatred of mankind.

Before ending the review, there is something else worth noting. The artistic, evocative opening animation and accompanying prayer-like melody is darkly outstanding, it perfectly sets the sorrow-filled, forsaken mood and looks wonderful too. The art is so layered and detailed but expressive and full of meaning that its well worth watching on its own time and time again.