A journey into Fate/stay night begins

Until Fate/Zero appeared, I’d never planned on watching Fate/stay night. At the time of its airing back in 2006, it’d always seemed a tad too pandering for my tastes. I knew nothing about it and was happy to keep it that way, but then, last year, I tried watching Fate/Zero and realised that I wanted to know more about its underlying story, that of the Holy Grail War. I’m a fan of shounen anime, after all, and one of the finer traditions of the genre has always been the tournament arc.

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Pumpkin Scissors – 1 – Faith in humanity after all

I’m getting worried about the fall anime season; there is too much to watch. Putting aside the immediate favourites like Death Note and Black Lagoon (these two are unmissable in my eyes) the likes of Pumpkin Scissors and D.Gray-man have proved just as fun and action packed, so where does one (desperately trying to be a ‘casual’) anime fan draw the line? Because at this rate I’ll be signing pink papers down at the Akihabara mental asylum by the end of the month!

Paranoid rambling aside, Pumpkin Scissors cut an impressive debut. Set a few short years after a hard fought and debilitating war, civilisation is left in ruin. Law and order is spread thinly, and vicious soldiers turned sadistic bandits roam the land, exploiting the weak without a care in the world. Pumpkin Scissors follows the people willing to stand up and defend what good is left in their world.

Although I’m somewhat at odds with cliche teenage pretty boys and girls posing as our heroes, Pumpkin Scissors is evocatively set within a post-WW European landscape; crumbled buildings, muddy grass and depressed villagers fill the screen with their dank green hue. Running with this realistic tone, the brief skirmishes between soldiers and bandits are notable for their distinctly painful and violent aethetic.

Interactions between the characters are as interesting and natural as you would expect, there are no laugh out loud jokes but man mountain Randel Orlando has a face covered with scars and a chilling, excited look in his eyes when its time to take down a 3-manned tank; he is a bad ass. I’m interested to see how the budding relationship between he and the idealistic female lead (nick named Pumpkin Scissors no doubt due to her cute appearance) develops and whether they survive the mass of human darkness drowning them.

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.

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.

Night Head Genesis – Psychic bishounen, brotherly love

Psychic bishounen, brotherly love – Night Head Genesis is quite clearly aimed at the yaoi fan girls, yet an over abundance of melodrama and an almost laughably over the top collection of villains fails to render this completely unwatchable. It’s trashy, homo-erotic and somewhat dull, but for now I do intend to watch more of Night Head Genesis. At 24 episodes in length, something genuinely interesting must be set to happen, right?

There are a few things I quite enjoy about this. I complained above about the larger than life — often insane — bad guys, but it’s still quite fun seeing them kick ass and hop around acting totally evil (like being crazy enough to abduct and murder any girl wearing purple clothes) only to get their comeuppance in gruesome or disturbing ways. That’s right; I’m in it for the violence! Night Head Genesis sets a dark (sometimes extremely moody) tone and it can be impressively harsh – seeing these psysic powers used to cause damage is very enthralling and brings back better memories of Tetsuo going ape shit in AKIRA.

Unfortunately the two brothers and their whole melodramatic history (being abandoned by their parents and forced to live their younger years stuck in a special hospital for the mentally "enhanced) fails to illicit any kind of empathy from me — there is no subtlety to their characters; they lack personality and humour, share no rapore with one another (or anyone else for that matter). What does interest me about them is their purpose in the story — why are they important? I have many questions and to get answers I’m happy to sit through another couple of episodes before deciding whether or not Night Head Genesis is limited to merely offering trashy eye candy for the fan girls.

Mushishi – 21 – Animalistic tragedy

Since the last few episodes of Mushishi left us in upbeat and melancholy moods, this was a timely reminder as to just how heartless a series it can be. I don’t mean heartless in a sadistic sense, rather how a mushi can cause such great tragedy to a couple of people who are quite clearly already at their lowest ebbs.

On its own child birth is hardly a pleasant spectacle, but to give birth to a glob of green goo would be utterly horrifying. Mushishi is filled with this kind of grotesque horror, but within the context of each episode (and as it is here) it’s usually a tragic, sad sight.

In many episodes previous we have seen that Ginko has an underlying passion for his patients; those usually stricken with life-threatening mushi, but here he is almost too clinical. When he tells a couple of budding parents that they will have to murder their mushi-infected kids, you can’t help but feel sorry for them, but Ginko comes across as a bit too detached from their peril and it’s no wonder that he ends up getting stabbed by “their” desperate mother.

Episode 21 of Mushishi is a sad, cautionary tale though this time there is no strong underlying moral. Instead we are again shown the darker side of Ginko’s travels and meet a animalistic mushi that will do anything to survive.

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?