Sunday, August 24, 2008

Moribito: As it happened

We watched episode one of Moribito on Adult Swim earlier tonight. What did we think? Read and wonder no more:

[01:31:21] neoplatonic: based on a novel?!
[01:31:23] mrLang: Oh-uh.
[01:31:30] mrLang: This intro isn't making me feel good.
[01:31:37] * neoplatonic smacks you
[01:31:52] neoplatonic: that's for this intro
[01:31:57] mrLang: Are you going to shine on me?
[01:32:17] neoplatonic: is this like "spirited away," but not?
[01:32:25] mrLang: No idea.
[01:32:32] mrLang: I know nothing about this.
[01:32:58] neoplatonic: the animation isn't bad
[01:33:04] neoplatonic: but she's wearing too many clothes
[01:33:09] mrLang: I looked it up on Wikipedia when I first found out it was airing on [as]. It only confirmed that it was in fact an anime.
[01:33:21] neoplatonic: even the japanese don't know
[01:33:41] neoplatonic: "this is a shithole of a village. i hate it"
[01:33:44] mrLang: How do you want to start off your anime? "Calm and peaceful."
[01:34:06] mrLang: "My spear needs a lift."
[01:34:27] neoplatonic: stop talking
[01:34:42] neoplatonic: 30? she's practically dead
[01:35:35] mrLang: That cow hates that someone isn't bowing.
[01:37:17] neoplatonic: "I hate kids!"
[01:38:32] neoplatonic: i'm glad that something kinda happened
[01:38:42] mrLang: Is it too early to ask, "What the fuck?"
[01:39:13] neoplatonic: no
[01:39:14] mrLang: "I'll send my giant teeth."
[01:39:19] neoplatonic: in fact, it's too late
[01:40:32] neoplatonic: uh oh
[01:41:13] neoplatonic: if you're going to fight a spear with some swords you better be fast
[01:41:42] mrLang: Wh... What? Was that an act break?
[01:41:50] mrLang: Did something important just happen?
[01:42:16] neoplatonic: her spear still needs a tune up
[01:42:48] mrLang: Where do you want the A-B break in you anime? "Uh... there?"
[01:45:21] mrLang: Was that San Francisco?
[01:45:31] neoplatonic: was she almost naked?
[01:45:50] mrLang: Not really.
[01:46:11] neoplatonic: kill someone already
[01:46:54] neoplatonic: *wink*
[01:47:01] mrLang: The queen wuvs her.
[01:47:09] neoplatonic: that's like my bedroom
[01:47:20] mrLang: Dark and empty?
[01:47:50] neoplatonic: shut up!
[01:48:03] mrLang: OUTLANDER!
[01:48:28] neoplatonic: there can be only one
[01:49:11] mrLang: That knot on her outfit makes me think she's about to join the marching band.
[01:50:41] neoplatonic: sounds like the prince has bad luck, not that assassins are after him
[01:50:51] mrLang: The assassins sent a cow?
[01:51:58] neoplatonic: oh great the prince is an ass
[01:52:11] mrLang: Name five princes who aren't.
[01:52:43] neoplatonic: erm
[01:54:04] neoplatonic: "sorry. all i have is a few diamonds on me"
[01:54:44] neoplatonic: kill them all!
[01:54:58] neoplatonic: KILL THEM!
[01:56:15] mrLang: "See ya'!"
[01:56:42] mrLang: Gee, I'm all excited for episode 2.
[01:56:50] neoplatonic: the prince is a terrible person. he counts as -4 lives
[01:56:51] mrLang: I hope nothing happens again.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Gungrave

What a peculiar series. This review will be a first for me: a full series recap instead of the usual episodic format. Spoilers abound.

Our story is about a crime syndicate, about betrayal, about love and death and zombies. Above all, however, it's about two men: Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowel, childhood friends who grow apart as their goals in life change. Brandon and Harry meet while living in the same orphanage, where Harry first expresses his desire to take as much as he wants and give as much as he wants, to achieve freedom through power. The two become smalltime thugs, teaming up with three others to live poor but free and happy. They might have lived that way forever, but their chosen occupation was a violent one, and they eventually crossed the wrong man. Or rather, his brother, a weasel of a man named Deed. Deed's brother, the infamous "Mad" Radd, gets out of prison and brings Hell down upon Brandon & friends. Radd kills the three others, and is about to kill Harry and Brandon when a member of the crime syndicate Millenion interferes. Seems Radd crossed the wrong man, too. In addition to killing three quarters of Brandon's friends, he also gunned down Jester, the adopted father of Brandon's girlfriend, Maria, and a personal friend of Millenion's boss, Big Daddy.

So Radd gets swept, another in a long line of elite sweeper Bear Walken's victims. For a while, Bear is the baddest mofo in the series, though he's eventually eclipsed by both natural and technological means. With nowhere else to go, Maria consents to live in Big Daddy's mansion, unknowingly sealing her fate. Harry strikes out on his own, or tries to. Brandon, loyal to a fault, follows wherever he goes, continually choosing friendship with Harry and a rough life over going legit and settling down with his love, Maria. Brandon's motto: bros before hos. Before they can run off to the oftmentioned but never seen "somewhere far away," Brandon and Harry are attacked by Deed's gang, still seeking revenge and seeing the pair as easy targets. Again, Millenion saves them, and this time it inspires Harry to join. He and Brandon wipe out Deed's gang and begin to work their way up the syndicate ladder, Brandon as an enforcer and, later, assassin, Harry as a wheeler-dealer who's never without a clean white suit.

That's when the sci-fi hits. Gungrave is like two shows in one. Maybe three or four. For the longest time, it's a gangster show. Aside from characters like Brandon having unbelievable skill in dispatching enemies without suffering harm, it's much like American gangster movies. Dark, profound, tragic. For anyone who breaks Millenion's iron law, for anyone who betrays, there is only death. Friends, family, doesn't matter. Never betray, not even by accident. It might have been a better show if they'd stuck to the gangster stuff, but after all, it's based on a videogame that's light on plot and high on freaky mutant bosses. It'd be like expecting Kanon not to have romance, or Tomb Raider not to have boobs. Still, the videogame elements don't translate well at all. It starts simply enough, with sci-fi bits inserting themselves into the gangster story. A rival syndicate develops Necro-Rise, a technology that, wait for it... raises the dead. It also turns them into unkillable monsters who pose by far the greatest threat Millenion has yet faced. They're led by Brad Wong, an ex-soldier whose purpose in life is to kill lots of people. He's one of those types who are always looking for a challenge, and he finds that in Brandon Heat, now Millenion's top sweeper. Together with his brother-in-arms, Kugashira Bunji - one of three gunmen in the series widely regarded as "pretty much nutbunnies" - Brandon takes on the Necro-Risen soldiers... and loses. Luckily, they had a built-in expiration date. The process, yet in its infancy, was only good for ten days, a minor detail the good doctor failed to mention to his employers. They crumble to dust, and the tide turns against Wong, who, as his final act as a human being, gulps a Necro-Rise potion and shoots himself in the head. The result is a bizarre monstrosity that ultimately fails to cause any lasting damage. Bear Walken and Millenion ride to the rescue again, shooting the Hell out of the monster. For whatever reason, this works where it failed with the normal, less impressive-looking undead, and Wong doesn't get back up. That's a recurring theme in this show: enemies dispatched with surprising ease with little explanation beyond "we shot them a lot." I suppose that, too, is owed to its videogame roots.

The sci-fi goes away for a while. Harry secretly continues the research the rival syndicate had begun, as well as forgiving a friend who had broken the iron law, binding Balladbird Lee to himself through Lee's betrayal. This is where it grows apparent that Harry isn't the nice guy he appeared to be early on, the stalwart friend, the gangster with a heart of gold. He is Caesar, and the world itself may not be enough to sate his ambition. Harry goes further and further down the ends-justify-the-means path, compromising until it's no longer in his nature to do the right thing if it doesn't serve him, while Brandon watches silently, bonding with Big Daddy while at the same time distancing himself from Maria. He's ashamed of what he's become, a mass murderer, yet he's unwilling to leave Harry and the syndicate behind. Feeling he can't have both, he ultimately pushes Maria into Big Daddy's arms, putting her happiness ahead of his own.

Big Daddy retires, naming Random Old Guy his successor after a gut feeling tells him Harry wouldn't be the best choice. Harry responds by sneakily offing Random Old Guy and blackmailing Big Daddy into naming him the new boss. In-between, he makes the mistake of asking Brandon "never betray" Heat to turn on Big Daddy and back Harry's power play. Brandon refuses and pulls his gun on Harry, prepared to enforce the iron law. Only he's not prepared. He can't shoot his friend, no matter what. If only Bear Walken had been there, to be Brandon's second as he was Bear's when Bear's friend had to die for betrayal. Harry, lacking his friend's highminded ideals, shoots Brandon to death and names him "Betrayer."

Of course, Brandon had a backup plan, a secret agreement with Dr. Tokioka, inventor of the Necro-Rise tech, to raise him should he die. He comes back more whole than the earlier undead, albeit with a nasty case of amnesia, and with the doctor's help is able to survive far longer than ten days. Thirteen years pass and Brandon sleeps, or whatever it is he did while "dormant." Then the videogame takes over, and Gungrave truly becomes a different show. Episodes 17-26 are fairly self-contained. Watching the first sixteen adds to them, but you could watch the last ten alone and not be lost. Like Brandon, you would have vague allusions to the past, and everything would have an air of mystery about it. There's something to be said for that, and the sci-fi elements feel less out of place without context. Of course, you'd miss out on many of the series' best parts.

Watching only the first sixteen doesn't work, unless you want to imagine the ending, and in this case I can't recommend that. If you want a straight gangster story, you're out of luck. If you want over the top, cracktastic creatures and action that manages a surprising degree of emotional resonance, this is your horse. Brandon comes back with superpowers, specially designed, oversized guns, and sets to fighting monsters. There are Orcmen, living subjects who've had the improved Necro-Rise process used on them and are virtually invulnerable unless Brandon happens to be shooting them, in which case it takes one to three bullets to shatter them into a million pieces. Though he later gets special bullets designed to stop a certain other type of enemy and another faction develops anti-Orcmen bullets, it's never explained why Brandon is able to kill Orcmen so easily with what appear to be normal rounds. Sure, he has superpowers, but strength and speed can't make you fire bullets harder, and unlike some other characters, Brandon's weapons aren't a part of him. If there's anything supernatural about them, we see it only in results.

The other enemy, the only kind who poses a real threat to SuperBrandon, is the Superior. An advanced version of Necro-Rise that, despite being refered to as "experimental," succeeds on all its test subjects, turning them into Superiors. On paper, they're better than Brandon, but in practice none are a match for him. First up is Bob Poundmax, the glutton, who started out skinny so we could watch him grow fatter as the series progressed. He fights Brandon solo, reasoning that his superior power will make overwhelming numbers unnecessary. And he's supposed to be the smart one. Sigh. He harries Brandon a while, but ultimately goes down by being shot too much, at too fast a rate for his accelerated healing factor to keep up with. Despite this triumph, Dr. Tokioka feels the need to design anti-Superior bullets for Brandon, which admittedly prove quite useful in future battles. Too useful.

His second challenge comes not from a Superior, but his old comrade Bunji, who has his own special weapon: one that fires a paralytic toxin. Keeping him off-balance with carefully placed bombs - and again, going out of his way to fight one-on-one - Bunji defeats Brandon, more or less. Before he can deliver the killing blow, Mika interferes. Mika being the teenage daughter of Big Daddy and Maria, whom Brandon has sworn to protect because that's the kinda guy he is. She yells "Please stop!" at Bunji over and over, which understandably annoys the Hell out of him and causes him to shoot in her general direction. He intentionally misses every time, at point blank range, but since Mika's functionally retarded, she only screams for help. Her cries inspire Brandon to Rise Up and Overcome. Also, to punch Bunji senseless with his one good arm.

That done, Dr. Tokioka informs us that Brandon will only be at "70% power" from now on, thanks to damage suffered from the paralytic toxin. Whether because of the anti-Superior bullets, the fact that his weapon of choice isn't so much dependent on his physical prowess, or the show's writers blithely ignoring Tokioka's proclamation, the only evidence we see of Brandon's reduced effectiveness is occasionally clutching his arm in pain, as though it's an old wound acting up. It is, but it's kinda supposed to be more than that. At any rate, his new superbullets give him a huge advantage in the remaining fights.

Balladbird Lee challenges him next... alone, of course. Technically, he brought along a hundred and fifty Orcmen and some freaky thing that jumps on Brandon and explodes itself, but they scarcely slow him down. It's like placing a wall in front of you and standing there until your opponent finds a way past the wall. It's basically still a one-on-one match, only with a later starting time. Lee uses his hostage, Mika, to keep Brandon from fighting back, and sets to killing him slow-like. But that's not drawn out enough. No, he has to be completely stupid about it, and kill Mika first to add to Brandon's suffering. Because losing everyone else he ever cared about wasn't enough, right? And hey, it's not like Dr. Tokioka will show up in the nick of time to provide a convenient distraction. That never happens.

After Tokioka rides in on a white subway car, Brandon shoots Mika's restraints and she scurries off to relative safety. Instead of staying behind to fight Lee to the death, Brandon hops on the same car and, convinced Lee can't follow, joins them inside. By this point, however, Lee had morphed into a bizarre spidery creature and has no problem catching up, tearing open the subway car, and resuming his attack with renewed vigor. Tokioka ends up getting killed, but not before leaving Brandon with plenty of Superior-killin' ammo. A few shots later, Lee crumbles to dust, disbelieving to the last.

That's it for the Superiors, or would be if they couldn't just make more. The tragically misguided Bear Walken is next. Though he was fiercely loyal to Big Daddy, Bear's first loyalty is to his daughter Sherry. He tries to forbid her romance with Harry, but relents in the supposed best interests of daddy's little girl. Sure, let your only daughter marry an evil bastard because she thinks it'll make her happy. And then betray everything you know to keep them together. To be fair, Harry is always kind to Sherry. He seems to genuinely love her, insomuch as a man like him is capable of love. Still, Bear could've carried out his early threat to kill Harry "if he touches her," though, and Sherry could've damn well found someone else to love. Look at Maria and Brandon. They had adorable puppy love, yet Maria was able to move on with no regrets. Bear's final mistake is to undergo the Superior treatment and fight Brandon... alone, of course. He's rather easily dispatched, causing the least harm of the four Superiors, though he technically comes inches from killing Brandon.

The final superfight is against the newly enhanced Kugashira Bunji, who unlike the others, doesn't transform into a monster before getting shot in the head. I'm not sure why Bunji continues to fight Brandon, except that the plot demands it. He doesn't seem to want to kill him, and in their final battle he acknowledges that he's going to die. That's the tricky thing about the iron law. It sounds good - never betray, because it's wrong andohyeahwe'llkillyou - but who do you not betray? Maybe Bunji realized that Brandon had stayed loyal to Millenion, that by following Harry, Bunji betrayed his "brother" and the syndicate, and being prideful, he wanted to die fighting. He couldn't switch sides because that would imply he could find redemption, and in his mind he was beyond that. Nor would he beg for death, preferring to force Brandon's hand. That's my guess, anyways.

Brandon's falling apart like an old school necro-soldier, but he still has to find Harry. In the end, even Brandon betrays, choosing Harry over the syndicate, which has turned against its bloodthirsty master. With hundreds out to help Brandon bring an end to Bloody Harry's reign, he doesn't want to anymore. There's still good in Harry, and they end up on the same side in the end, fighting to the death. It shouldn't work, as several earlier attempts to make character deaths seem tragic fell flat, but it does. It so does. Harry finds some measure of redemption as he and Brandon are gunned down. More than that, the regret is palpable. He knows he went wrong, and for the first time you can believe he cares. But it's too late now. It's too late. He can't go back.


In addition to the basic plot, there were several things that stood out to me in Gungrave, good and bad. The Good:

The Ending - I cried. With two episodes left in the series, I hated Harry MacDowel. I was convinced he was evil, that any good in him died long ago, and the series as a whole was grating on me due to several factors I'll get to later. I was all but determined not to feel anything when he inevitably died. And yet, when he tries to defend Brandon and gets riddled with bullets, mortally wounded, it hit me hard. I felt bad for him, and the more I thought about it, the sadder his death was.

Loss - A recurring theme throughout the series, and an integral part of the excellent ending. A sequence in the finale illustrates this perfectly: a flashback to the time when Brandon, Harry, and their three smalltime crook buddies were alive and uncorrupted. When Brandon met Maria, and their romance took its first, ginger steps. It's like a third show, a happy show, but in truth it's the same show. Gungrave is about the loss of that happiness, that innocence, through a series of choices that can't be unmade. There are external circumstances, too, like Mad Radd, but mainly it's Harry's ambition that undoes it all. That and Brandon's steadfast loyalty. Gone their separate ways, Brandon might have lived happily with Maria. Without Brandon's support as an elite sweeper, Harry might never have reached the lofty position he did. Millenion would've held off the ten-day Necro-Rise assault without him, and it's possible that Harry would've failed to co-opt the technology for his own means. Had he not been so deadset on rising higher, ever higher, Harry could've had a fine life in Millenion. No one forced him, which I suppose was the problem. Harry was a leader, independent. No one had to motivate him, but he had too much drive for his and everyone else's good. Even once he was atop Millenion, he wanted more. Though he had plenty, he was never satisfied.

Humanity - All the characters were flawed, and for the most part, that was a good thing. They made mistakes like real people and got stuck in situations that no amount of skill or superpowers could get them out of. Bear Walken went from badass mofo to fool, but it made sense. It's hard to deny someone you love, or to abandon a friend, however logical a course of action it is. As a viewer, I found myself chastising the characters often for their stupidity, in that way only an omniscient observer can. They made the wrong choices because they didn't know what would happen next, because it felt right at the time, and because, like you and I, they aren't perfect. When I watch an anime, I always hope my favorite characters will choose well, but it's no fun if they always do. No one hopes that two plus two will equal four. The outcome is predetermined. It's only when failure is possible that success can be appreciated.

The Bad:

Mika
- Why won't she shut up? One of the worst characters in anime history, she exists only to serve as Brandon's bauble, his object to protect, so that his assault on the syndicate isn't motivated solely by revenge. If it were, he could stop. Probably. But as long as Harry was trying to kill Mika for daring to be Big Daddy's child, Brandon had to keep fighting. Mika dutifully gets kidnapped and endangered over and over, displaying all the personality of a cardboard cutout. Not to mention her ridiculous hair. Black on top, gray on the ends? But... she's thirteen!? No one else in the series has hair remotely like that. Nearly everyone's hair is a normal color. Brad Wong had the craziest hair next to her, a rich red that looked like it came out of a bottle. None of this would bother me - I'd hardly notice - if not for Mika's defining... "character" trait. Every time someone dies, she freaks out.

"MOM CAN'T BE DEAD! NOOOOOO!!! EEEIIIIIIIII!!!"
"FAITHFUL BUTLER-SAN CAN'T BE DEAD! NOOOOOOOOO!!! EEEIIIIIIII!!"
"KINDLY DOCTOR-SAN WHO GOT HIS DEATH SCENE OVER WITH WHILE I WAS OUT COLD CAN'T BE DEAD! EEEIIIIII!! NOOOO! EEEEIIIII!!!"
"FATHER WHOM I NEVER MET AND WAS OBVIOUSLY DEAD YEARS AGO CAN'T BE DEAD! EEEEEEEEEEEIII! EEEEAAAA! NOOOOO! WHY DOES THIS KEEP HAPPENING TO MEEEEAAA??!!!"
"NICE OLD MEN I JUST MET AND WITNESSED DYING LIKE FIVE MINUTES AGO CAN'T BE DEAD! EEEEAAAAA!! EEIIIIII!! EEEOOOO!"
*SOB 9000*

I hate her so. Eventually, she resolved to stop crying, and almost kept her word. I wonder if the writers realized how incredibly annoying she was, or if that was some weak attempt at character development. I laughed so hard when Brandon told her "you're strong," as part of his "I'm going off to die and leave you alone" speech. I think they were aware, because in a series where the names Brandon and Harry are used a thousand times, almost no one ever refers to the girl as Mika, instead calling her "Big Daddy's forgotten memento" or something impersonal like that. She's an object, nothing more.

Anti-climactic Deaths - Mika didn't help here, but she was far from the only factor. The series' death toll includes everyone of consequence in the cast, except (sigh) Mika, and it's only twenty-six episodes long, so they kinda had to pack those deaths in there. The writers clearly want you to care about each death, but they often wait until after the guy's dead to give you a reason, flashing back to earlier in his life to show him during happier, more alive times. Add that to the fact that many of the deaths are silly - especially those of the Superiors - and Mika screaming "YOU MUST FEEL SAD NOW," and it just doesn't work. For instance, the old guys who were friends with Brandon in Millenion way back when. They were living peacefully for decades until Brandon dumped Mika on them, then of course, they get brutally murdered while utterly failing to protect Mika in any way. Because they're old dudes who weren't so hot in their prime. One of them is blind. It kind of made sense for Brandon to drop the girl off with someone, and it's true he didn't have anyone else to rely on, but man... The worst part is when he gets back and is surprised that they're dead. Like he expected them to know Blind Old Dude Fu or for no one to find them. The latter would preclude the need for protectors. Might as well have Mika stay at an abandoned house.

Also, I know I spoke well of humanity before, but I was not about to feel sad when Bear Walken died. Too busy being angry with him for his choices. Didn't help that, before fighting Brandon, he admitted to himself that he was in the wrong, that he put his daughter's insane desire to boink Harry ahead of everything Millenion stood for. Not that he'd admit his daughter was anything but infallible, of course. Oh, no. When Sherry was killed by a random thug later and Harry did the old one-eye-crying, I laughed. In retrospect, I suppose Harry really was hurt, but I felt nothing for him or Sherry when he screamed at her death. And one-eye-crying is always lame. How do you even do that? Is his other eye broken? Tear ducts don't work? It's absurd.

Easy Fights - I touched on this earlier. The fights with the Superiors were largely disappointing. Bob kept saying he was better, but he couldn't prove it. Lee acquitted himself well, but as soon as the anti-Superior bullets showed up, it was over. The other two fights were simply exercises in waiting for Brandon to shoot his opponent with a superbullet or twelve. The tension only returned once Brandon had second thoughts about burying a bullet in his target's head, when he confronted Harry and didn't immediately kill him.

Wacky Videogame Antics - Again, the Superior fights. Your mileage may vary depending on how much you like crazy monster thingies. Personally, I thought Balladbird Lee turning into a giggling spider was silly. I don't know what Bear was even supposed to be. Tiny arms and huge fists? Or were the fists floating? Whatever. He was more impressive as a supersamurai. This and the previous two combined to dramatically lower my opinion of the series. If it were just Mika, I'd consider it a great series, but there's too much silliness, too many forced attempts at eliciting emotion, too many empty battles that are over almost before they begin.

May/December Romances - This was a bizarre theme. Depending on how you count, there were as many as four romances in the series. It started innocently, with Maria and Brandon's young love, but we know how that turned out. The remaining three romances all involved a young woman and a much older man. Big Daddy fell in love with Maria and, with Brandon's blessing, pursued that love. He's a nice guy and all, but he was like an uncle to Maria, if not a father. Eww. Then there's Sherry/Harry. Harry wasn't too old when it started, but Sherry appeared to be prepubescent when they met. There doesn't seem to be any reason for their relationship aside from tying Bear to Harry and adding a smidge of sympathy to Harry. The final romance, which thankfully never went anywhere, was between Mika and Brandon. Mika, as is her wont, screamed her love at Brandon, who declined to comment. Mika was roughly fourteen by the time the series ended, while Brandon was dead before she was born, and had to at least be in his thirties before croaking.

It also bothered me that, of the three women with significant roles, only Maria was remotely interesting. Sherry and Mika were plot devices. I didn't mind that there were no female combatants, something that usually bugs me in action series, but more than one female character worth a damn would've been nice. Bonus if she doesn't fall in love with someone who was childhood friends with her grandpa.

Time Jumps - These were worse every time. It got to where I wasn't sure if an episode was taking place shortly after the previous one or x months/years later. They generally wouldn't say how much time had passed, and there were at least half a dozen significant skips, the most major being a horribly jarring thirteen-year jump. Harry kills Big Daddy and vows to wipe out everything he's ever touched, with the camera showing Maria, Big Daddy's wife and the mother of his child, whom Harry could easily find and dispatch given his vast information network. But apparently, Harry blacked out and suffered short term memory loss after that, or something - I'm guessing - because thirteen years pass and he does nothing. Then he's like "Oh yeah, Maria! I remember and still want to kill her!" The Hell was he doing for thirteen years? He could at least kill some of Big Daddy's friends or bust up his favorite businesses. Pollute that river he loved to fish at, break whiskey bottles... Maybe he did some of that, but it's never so much as implied. It's just HATE - thirteen year break - HATE. To be fair, Harry's pretty forgetful. He forgets his old friends for a while, though Brandon never does, and manages to forget Brandon after thirteen years. "Forget" or "block out of his memory."

The time jumps as a whole served to erode my interest in the series' events. You'd suddenly jump ahead and characters would have different haircuts, different voices, more wrinkles and be in very different places in their life. Again, it wouldn't have been so bad if they'd thrown up a little note saying "three months later" or "one year later." I think they did with the five- and thirteen-year jumps, or they mentioned it in dialogue, but the smaller jumps were just, "figure it out."

English Names - I watched the subtitled version, usually my preferred version, but I have to say, unless the dub is very poor, it should easily trump this. I have to assume this was always meant for international release, because the Japanese voice actors' attempts to say things like "Beyond the Grave" and "Balladbird Lee" are laughable. I'm not sure they're trying sometimes, like the producers just want to get the timing down for the more natural English dub. Oddly, when Brandon's name appears in written form, it reads "Blandon," though that's certainly not what anyone calls him. They're only too careful to pronounce English names and words correctly. This sort of thing happens in many anime, with varying results. Tends to sound better when it's a word or phrase than a name, especially since names are frequently repeated. It also helps if the name isn't stupid. Kugashira Bunji beats Balladbird Lee in any language.

Beyond the Grave - Not the character, the name, and this goes beyond pronunciation. Dr. Tokioka dubs Brandon "Beyond the Grave," Grave for short because... Let's not mince words. It was in the videogame, so it's in the anime. Probably why there are so many English names to begin with and stuff like "Beyond the Grave," which I know has a Japanese counterpart, isn't translated. The problem with "Grave" is, it's not Brandon's name. There's a tease that, oh, Brandon isn't himself anymore, he doesn't remember, yadda yadda, but it's quickly revealed that yes, he does. He has a nasty case of amnesia, but he remembers enough. He is Brandon Heat, and it's blindingly obvious to observer and participant alike, yet Tokioka and Mika insist on calling him Grave. Tokioka's hardly around and dies about midway through the "future" part of the story, so whatever. Mika, on the other hand, will not go away, and continues to call Brandon "Beyond the Grave" for no apparent reason. She's one of the first to insist that it's really Brandon under there, yet she takes forever to stop using his idiotic pseudonym.

Pretty much everything comes back to Mika. I was ticked when they jumped ahead thirteen years. Could not believe it. Episode sixteen ends on a cliffhanger, episode seventeen leaps ahead with no resolution... Ahead to Mika, who seemed OK at first but was most definitely not.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Death Note 11

According to KIT, it's been four months since the events of episode seven, where Light made Ray Penbar's fiancee, Misora Naomi, kill herself offscreen. She did such a good job of carrying out Light's instructions that they still haven't found her body. Light's the only one who knows she's dead.

As we watch L and the Kira Investigation Team look befuddled, they turn on Sakura TV to see a live report from... Kira? The rough equivalent of Fox News in Japan, Sakura TV is happily held hostage by "Kira," forced into airing taped messages the same wave a dominatrix forces a submissive to accept his punishment. "Kira" proves his identity by offing a couple captive criminals, then the video airs, and newscasters start dropping. Not the ones on Sakura TV, they're Kira's buddies! The ones who've denounced Kira, though, as the evil bastard that he is, they die. L decides they have to stop the broadcast. Calling doesn't help, so Ukita takes off for the station itself.

"I hate evil and love justice," says prerecorded Kira. He calls the police his allies and pleads for an end to this silly business of trying to arrest him. Let him go about the business of creating a perfect world, free of crime. Yay! Let's all bonk evil on the head and hug the god of death. The best part is when he asks dissenters to keep it to themselves, a reaction typical of a spoiled brat. If you have nothing nice to say about your murderous overlord, don't say anything at all. Speak up and die.

Ukita gets to the TV station and, naturally, the door's locked. He pounds on it and shouts to be let in, but the security guard refuses. Just as Ukita pulls out his gun to force his way in, he suffers a lethal heart attack. What? Kira can't do that! Aizawa is pissed right off and determined to rush after Ukita, but L stops him. He doesn't want Aizawa to die, too. Aww, L's cute when he cares. "Kira" delivers an ultimatum. The police have four days to announce which side they're fighting on, or he'll... show another tape! He'll do that anyways, but there's one for "yes" and one for "no." Not much of a threat, since he obviously can't schedule killings if he thinks they might say yes. Hrm.

It's time for a badass Soichiro moment. Chief Yagami's wife goes to check on him at the hospital, where he was watching the live broadcast. Where he saw Ukita struck down. He's not there. He's crashing through the doors to Sakura TV in a commandeered bus. Hell yes! Once inside, he pops out of the bus in a hoodie, looking like the "You Gonna Get Raped" guy, and unleashes his badass voice on the security guard to ply the location of the studio from him. The scheming producer tries to worm his way out of stopping the broadcast, insisting that "Kira will kill us. Wah wah wah," so Soichiro pulls a gun. Die now or die later, but stop the broadcast. Muahahaha!

Two policemen show up to help, the poor fools. L calls the Deputy Chief, asking him to take control so a bunch of well-meaning police don't wind up dead. He's a little late, as the two on the scene drop dead while they're talking. L dramatically juggles conversations with the Chief and the Deputy Chief, adding cellphones to the list of mundane objects transformed into lively props, along with potato chips and pens. The phone bit's a touch silly, but I can't get enough of Death Note's arguably contrived dramatic scenes. L instructs Soichiro to walk right out of the station, casual-like. Instead of having him sneak out the back, or maybe take the bus back, L arranges for the entire police force to show up in riot gear, surrounding the building, shielding their faces and Soichiro's so he can, indeed, walk casually out, get in a car, and drive away safely. What'shisname from earlier, the KIT member who quit to hunt Kira as part of the regular police force? He's there, and it's all touching reunion styles. They almost hug, but they are manly men, so they don't.

One newscaster comes out in support of the police, inspired by their awesome display to... Well, commit suicide, basically. I couldn't do that. Someone's killing newscasters, and all they need is your name, your face, and a spare moment to end you? That's too much. Maybe I could do the weather instead? Partly cloudy with a chance of death from above. Fortunately, the lone newscaster's courage doesn't lead to a scene where people all over the world stand up to say their names, denouncing Kira and daring him to kill them all. It might work, but god damn would it be trite. So Kira will continue to crusade for "justice," killing many more people for the sake of our entertainment.

Soichiro returns with the Kira tapes, which L has Aizawa analyze. Then he watches them, and we learn what the "yes" and "no" tapes contained. "Yes" is full of childish demands, nothing like the chess moves Light makes. The police cooperate by feeding Kira information on criminals, he may or may not deign to punish said criminals, and L and KIT show their faces on TV. Even if you agreed with Kira, you'd have to be retarded to concede to that. "No" is basically the same thing in different words, which figures. Light hates to lose, but he's only this pathetic when he's backed into a corner. Makes you wonder what his version would've been like, had he been stupid enough to pull such a stunt.

I'm not sure why it was so vital that the original broadcast be stopped. Yes, illegal hijacking of the airwaves in a way. Yes, public executions. The police showing up to stop Kira was very inspirational, and more importantly, exciting. But doing so cause more people to die than allowing the broadcast to finish would have. You'd think the idea was to shut Kira out, to send a message to him that no, this is not OK. You don't get to air your stupid tapes. But then L gives the "no" tape back to Sakura TV and lets them air it. On it is the threat to kill either the Chief of Police, Soichiro's superior, whose identity is surely public knowledge, or L. Poor Chiefy, we hardly knew ya. Should've threatened the whole police force instead, or thrown in some politicians. One for one leaves them with a decision. Start holding phonebooks hostage and you'll smoke out L right quick.

Light is oddly happy about this turn of events. It creates confusion and might lead to L's death. Plus, everyone loves to have fans. But these lowbrow tactics besmirch the name of Kira, and he can't forgive that! He decides to find out what Kira 2 is up to by helping out with the investigation. Confusion's great and all, but this second Kira's clearly not as smart as Light, and anything the police learn from him could lead to Light's capture.

Light surmises that Kira 2 bargained for the eyes of a Death God, which is why he can kill without a name. Don't have to be a genius to figure that out, given what Light already knew. It takes more doing for L to figure out that this is a new Kira, but it's fairly obvious. His deduction would look less convenient if he didn't follow it up by asking Soichiro if Light can join KIT. It's all a bit pat the way Light and L figure things out near simultaneously and do the exact things one is hoping the other will. This one's not even a "three steps ahead" predicted move. It's just Light wanting to join KIT and L wanting him to join. Supposedly, L wants to get Light's untarnished opinion on the "Kira" tapes, so they're not telling him about L's conclusions. Why that requires pulling him officially into the investigation, I don't know. He's already met L and, of course, he knows his own father, but why endanger the rest of KIT? I suppose he figures they're not at immediate risk, since Kira only wants the supercompetent L, and Light can't kill him without incriminating himself.

We finally meet Kira 2 at the end of the episode, and he turns out to be a lovely young woman named Misa, who wants very much to meet Kira. And kill him, if it comes to that. Not too bright, this one. She's stronger, she says, because she has the eyes. That's true, but she still has to write down his name and wait forty seconds. Her advantage only lasts as long as Light doesn't know her real name. She'd be well advised to hedge her bets by carrying a gun.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bleach 168

So I usually write these reviews with the episode running in the background, but I’m think I’m going to forego that right now and just tell you what I remember happening. This may work or it may not. I figure that a filler episode deserves no less.

The episode begins, as all great anime should begin, with breasts. Rangiku’s breasts to be precise, then followed by her face, and she shouts at Captain Hitsugaya that they’ve found a new captain for one of the squads. She gives the squad’s number, but I can’t remember it. It’s the squad that Ichimaru Gin ran, before he turned traitor and left. Hitsugaya knows this already, because he’s a captain. Rangiku says something cute or obnoxious or both, like she always does.

I think we cut right to a big captain’s meeting next. Captain Commander Yamamoto announces the new captain, some guy whose name I completely can’t remember. He’s got tousled hair, a nice smile, a whole joie de vivre thing going on. The captain commander explains that the new guy’s been on an extended patrol hunting Hollows, and he’s returned without losing a single man. I suppose that’s impressive because every other shinigami seems to die right after being introduced. Everyone eventually all splits up and the captains stand around, posing, asking each other who supervised the new guy’s captain’s examination. Seems no one knows. Quite the mystery.

Now we cut to the house of the captain-less squad. Kira, the hapless lieutenant, is trying to tell his men that a new captain will be arriving soon, but, predictably, some of the guys are pretty resistant to the idea. They’ve gotten along fine without a captain so far, right. I sort of get the impression that Kira hasn’t really been doing much, almost as if Gin kept him deliberately hapless. Gin doesn’t seem like he would have been the best mentor.

The new captain shows up, and he has a purple eyeglasses guy with him, who is now going to be the third seat of the squad. There is mumbling and murmuring, and some big meat-headed guy says aloud that they don’t need a captain. The new captain ignores him, says that his only goal is to protect all of his men.

Then something happens that I don’t quite remember. I think Kira goes to visit Rangiku and he’s moaning about how badly things are going. She suggests that they have a drink and reveals that she’s been hiding booze in Hitsugaya’s office. Naturally, he catches them and yells at her.

Kira, inspired, decides to throw a party for the new captain. Everyone is sitting around little low tables, like they do in Japan, and the new captain enters. Kira explains the party, it’s going to be good for morale, see? It’s pretty tense. Awkward, even. Everyone looks to the captain as he mulls over a little cup of saki, hesitating, but he finally drinks it and everything seems to be going fine, until he passes out. Purple eyeglasses guy explains that the captain can’t hold his liquor.

Just then, everyone gets an alert that a clump of Gillian (yes, a group of Gillian is a clump) is heading toward Soul Society through some weird tunnel thing. I’m sure it’s been mentioned before. The new captain’s squad has been assigned to clear them out! But the captain?! Purple eyeglasses says they’ll have to do without him. They have their orders. So Kira and purple eyeglasses and a bunch of other guys head off to the weird tunnel place to fight the Gillian. It’s going pretty well. The Gillian just sort of stand there. One does manage to fire off a cero, but purple eyeglasses deflects it. However, everything turns bad when the giant train monster thing that roams the weird tunnel place shows up. Normally, the train monster would have been turned off, but it’s still on! Why? It’s a mystery!

Kira and the men try to run away, but they can’t outrace the train monster. That’s when the new captain shows up. He whips out his zanpaktou, it turns into some kind of energy cloud, and the train monster is destroyed. The men are charmed by him. Even the big meat headed guy loves his new captain now. He, too, wonders about why it wasn’t turned off, and promptly passes out again.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Code Geass - Lelouch of the Rebellion: Stage 1

The sound of locusts, a girl with green hair, sunflowers, young boys with giant eyes... I'm unconvinced it's anime until I see the giant robots. Two boys climb a small hill out in the middle of nowhere, and so far, there's only the sound of locusts. But as they get to the top, the soundtrack jumps to attention, and they both look towards the camera, surprised at the ominous music.

"2010 a.t.b., August 10th. The New Britannia Empire declared war on Japan." Okay. Evidently, them Englishes took over the entire world, except for most of Asia. The map we're shown has the Britannia attack leaving the US. Either someone was as bad at geography as I am, or there is no United States. At this point, I'm pretty okay with either option. During the attack on Japan, Britannia breaks out their 'Mobile Humanoid Armor Vehicles,' or "Nightmares." We've hit anime! With the Nightmares, the British Empire easily takes over Japan, which has 'its freedom, rights, and name taken away." That's right, just to make sure Japan knows it's been utterly defeated, the Empire takes away the name "Japan," and instead calls the whole country, Area 11. One of the boys from a minute ago is sitting by an army vehicle, while dead bodies are set ablaze nearby. The other boy, a purple-eyed fellow, stands up and says, "Suzaku, I'm going to destroy Britannia!" So, a minute and a half in, Japan has been taken over by tea-drinking, robot-wearing fops; a pile of bodies has been set on fire; and a young boy has set out on a life of revenge. Not that it stops the show from having a typical anime opening theme song that sounds cheery and upbeat, but is probably about isolation and suicide and dead puppies.

It's now seven years after the war, or 'freedoming,' and we're in the Britannia Suburb of Tokyo City. It's very shiny. A flying police thingie chases after a truck. Inside a nearby building, a TV reporter shows us images of a terrorist bombing from the week before. We pan out to see two men playing chess. A chess clock beeps, and one of the players, a scared, old man, is about to explode. He's playing against a noble who is calmly filing his nails. The old man's 'substitute' arrives through the door behind him, only to find it's a student. A purple-eyed student, in fact. "Lelouch Lamperouge," is his name. I hear he's of some rebellion. Lelouch's buddy, Rival, looks at the chess board, and exclaims that there's no way to win. I guess they aren't starting over. There's some banter to show how cocky Lelouch is, then he sits down and makes his first move with his king. The noble laughs, Lelouch smiles, and we're whisked away to a school to see girls talking about their "Lulu-chan." They think he's smart, stupid, and cute. The animators quickly get bored, and take us back to the stolen truck. But after a few seconds where we learn nothing, we get back to Lelouch, just as he's beaten the noble at exciting chess. Rival and Lulu leave the noble's place to see a public address by His Majesty Clovis, the Third Prince of the Britannian Empire, starting on the giant TV that just happens to be on the building across the street. He pretends to be heartbroken over the fighting and terrorist attacks. Blah, blah. Rival and Lulu chat about not crying over the dead, with Lelouch shoe-horning in the line, "No matter how hard you stretch, the world won't change." A slam against yoga, I'm pretty sure.

A camera shuts off, and Clovis walks down from where he gave his speech to rejoin a flippin' party. Very heartbroken. A military dude walks in to give Clovis some information. We don't hear what it is, but it pisses Clovis off. Military Dude tells him, "We've told the police that it was just some medical equipment." So, it's probably not. Clovis orders in some troops and alerts the Nightmares. A few horribly skinny people hop into their robots, and start them up with their ignition USB sticks by Lexar.

Rival and Lelouch are heading back to school in Rival's sort of femmy motorcycle - Lulu in the bitch seat - and talk more about chess. Rival is curious as to why Lelouch started by moving the king. "If the King doesn't move, then his subjects won't follow," Lulu says while reading. The stolen truck comes up behind them too quickly, and veers off into an abandoned building. The two stop to check it out, and Lelouch sees a green mist leak out from the top of the truck. Lelouch sees a crowd form to take pictures with their phones and talk about how someone should help the drivers. Seeing that they're just going to talk about helping, Lelouch runs in to help by himself. A woman with her cell phone out even asks if someone 'could at least call the cops.' Take THAT, modern society! The drivers are fine, but Lelouch can't get to them through the rubble, so he has to climb onto the back. He calls out to them, but the animation shimmers and all he hears is a disembodied voice say, "I found him." As he looks around to investigate the new voice, the truck starts back up, and Lelouch falls inside. The flying military thingies open fire on the truck, prompting one of the drivers to remove her hat. In the back of the truck, Lelouch is stuck with a big contraption that sort of looks like a giant, robotic Easter egg. He's about to pull out his phone to call for help, when the female driver, Karen (or "Kallen" as she's even called in the American dubbed version), walks in and over to a step ladder.

Somewhere, Rival is looking for Lelouch.

Just as the military is about to open fire again, a "smash hawk" flies out and blows up one of the flying thingies. It's basically a big rope dart, but it was shot out of the Nightmare that was hidden in the back of the truck. Karen blows up another flying thingie, just as the Britannian Nightmares arrive. They're using the Sutherland model of killer robot, while Karen is using a piddly Glasglow. Karen's Glasglow loses an arm during her retreat. It's looking bad for the terrorists (aw), but Lelouch got himself a transmitter (yay).

A doctorly-looking guy with purply/grey hair is talking to Military Dude about how they lost something secret to the terrorists. Military Dude is ready to pay off Doctorly for keeping quiet, but it turns out he's there to help. But it'd be nice if they told Doctorly what was stolen. He tells him and Woman Behind Doctorly that it was some poison gas. Of course, he tells them this in a voice-over while we see Lelouch sitting right next to the container.

Break.

The military sends out orders to infantrymen to find the container, but not try to retrieve it themselves. Then they bitch at them cause they're all Elevens looking for Britannian citizenship. Lousy Elevens. The other driver has been hurt, but is still trying to drive. And does so, right into a hole. He opens the back of the truck, revealing Lelouch and the container to an infantryman, who quickly jumps inside. After a quick fight, the infantryman is revealed to be Suzaku from the opening. Evidently, Suzaku is Japanese, working for the Empire, and Lelouch is Britannian, looking like a terrorist. They try to figure out why anything's anything, but don't get far. The container opens itself. Suzaku throws Lelouch to the floor, covering his mouth from the gas he expects to bellow out. However, inside is just the green haired girl we briefly saw in the opening. Lelouch tries to help the girl, but the military bursts in to call Suzaku a monkey then order him to kill Lelouch. He refuses, saying he can't shoot a civilian, and is promptly shot in the back by the commanding officer. As the rest of the military officers close in on Lelouch, the driver reaches for a switch that blows up the front of the truck. Nobody's happy about this. Especially Clovis, who orders the Shinjuku Ghetto destroyed. Nobody can know about... the girl? How badly they all just fucked up? At least one of those. More Nightmares are released, and they start to open fire on anyone they see. Soldiers go door-to-door, murdering people.

Lelouch sort of freaks out. Rightly so. Doctorly complains that since the 'gas' was already released, there's no use for his "Lancelot" and is bummed they don't get to collect data on it. Lelouch is trying to help the green-haired girl out, but runs into the military shooting children. Before he can give a flowery monologue, his phone rings, giving away his position. The man in charge of the local murdering goes to shoot Lulu, but the green-haired girl yells out and runs in front of the bullet, getting shot in the head. Lulu gets shaky anime eyed over the girl's body, and before he can get shot or fully go insane, she grabs his arm. During a vision of some sort, filled with production art, she offers him a contract; "In return for power, I want you to grant one of my wishes. If you agree to the contract, you will live as a human, but differ from other humans. A different source, a different time, a different life. The power of the King will make you isolated." Either as a part of the vision or as a cutaway, a man with his back to the audience says, "The union of Ragnarok." Lelouch binds the contract, stands up over the still dead girl, and addresses the military, a hand over his left eye. "Aren't you going to shoot? Or have you realized it? That those who are allowed to shoot are only those who are prepared to shoot?" He removes his hand to reveal his eye has changed, and grown more anime-like.

The guy in charge shakes, unable to shoot. "Lelouch orders those of Britannia, you guys... to die." The reply from each man is "Yes, Your Highness!" They each put their gun to their own head, and fire. Lelouch takes a moment to pontificate about how stuff sucks. But now, he has power. And he smiles over the bodies.

Welcome to the show.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bleach 167

Remember last time I mentioned how http://www.deviantart.com/ would be filled with drawings of Grimmjaw? I was right. Just go over there, search under his name (or “Grimmjow”), and be filled with horror. Some people trace other pictures, some jerk spasmodically with a pencil in their hand. Some draw Grimmjaw and Inoue in love (oh my Gawd) without regard to anatomy or perspective. Sure, there is an occasional quality piece, but just imagine all the people sitting out there, thinking, I must draw Grimmjaw. That frightens me.

So after what seems like a five minute recap of what’s been going on, we return to see Ichigo slashing Grimmjaw. But good. Grimmjaw falls to his knees, and Ichigo starts to relax, but Grimmjaw curses him. Does he really think this is the end? High up above, Inoue calls out for Ichigo. Watch out! We see blood splatter through the air. There is so much blood that it covers the whole screen, and that serves as a nice little transition to the next scene.

Seems that it’s lecture time on Bleach. Here’s how this works: Hollow eat human souls to feed the emptiness in their own souls. However, some Hollows have a greater thirst, and they start to feed on other Hollow. These cannibalistic Hollow all tend to gather together, and then they do, they all naturally meld together to form Gillian. Gillian are powerful, but have no consciousness. On occasion, though, there are Gillian formed from Hollow with exceptionally strong personalities, and the resulting Gillian might rarely retain its sense of individuality. Now, the narrator is explaining all of this the animation on screen shows, you know, Hollow and then Gillian, but then pans to a weird Gillian with a gate for a face. That could be kind of creepy. I think I saw a guy like that in an alley once, but I was pretty drunk.

These smart Gillian will eat other Gillian, and in turn become Adjuchas. Now we see a leonine Hollow leaping up from the sands of Hueco Mundo. It shakes its head, roars at the weird moon. Adjuchas eat each other, just like everything else in this wretched realm, and if they don’t continue eating, they regress back into plain ol’ Gillian and can never evolve in Adjuchas again. We watch the leonine Adjuchas chasing down other Adjuchas without mercy and eating them. It’s covered with green blood.

A shadow suddenly covers it, and it turns to face a whole slew of bigger Adjuchas. One threatens to eat the lion thing, and we pan over the new group, and they look distinctly familiar, maybe like some of the Arrancar who’ve been wiped out previously. The leonine one pauses for a second, and then attacks quickly, biting three of them in quick succession. They scream in agony. Like little girls.

One of the Adjuchas asks his name. It’s Grimmjaw, naturally. The other introduces himself as Showlong, who did, indeed, die a little ways back when Captain Hitsugaya froze him to death. Showlong and the others are on their way to becoming Vasto Lordes, the very highest level of Hollow, and they need a strong leader, like Grimmjaw, to lead them. They want him to be their king.

End flashback, and we see Grimmjaw skewering Ichigo with his claws. He pulls out his hand and they jump apart. Grimmjaw glowers at Ichigo. He hates Ichigo, especially the way he looks at Grimmjaw, for, no matter what’s happening, no matter how badly Grimmjaw is beating him up, Ichigo always looks like he knows that he’s going to win in the end. He attacks again, but Ichigo blocks his hand with his sword. Ichigo says that maybe Grimmjaw is upset that, he, a mere human, is fighting on equal footing with him.

Too bad that Grimmjaw has two hands! Ichigo looks surprised when he gets stabbed again. Grimmjaw drop kicks him like a football. Grimmjaw doesn’t care who he’s fighting. He’ll kill anyone who looks down on him. I think that Grimmjaw has deep, deep insecurity issues. He pulls back and his claws start to glow blue and…lines appear out of them, stretching up into the sky. They look strange, and not that scary, but this is apparently Grimmjaw’s greatest attack: Desgarron. That means laceration, in Spanish.

Flashback again, back to Adjuchas Grimmjaw and his merry band. Showlong says that they’re giving up. Even after eating three thousand other Hollow, they can’t feel themselves becoming any more powerful. Hence, they have evolved as far as they can. Grimmjaw scoffs and invites them to die in a ditch somewhere. I wasn’t aware that Hueco Mundo had ditches, but okay. He starts to leave, but Showlong begs him to eat them. They can go no further, they accept that, but Grimmjaw can continue to evolve.

In the now, Grimmjaw fires off desgarron. It mainly consists of those shiny blue lines dashing toward Ichigo. It’s not that impressive. Overall, the animation for this episode is of poorer quality than the last one. Yawn. Ichigo blocks desgarron with his sword and gets pushed way back. Grimmjaw laughs and thinks that he’s going to win! He recalls the flashback we just saw, and he says, fine, he’ll eat his companions. They’ll know what it’s like to evolve as part of his own flesh. He’s the king, after all.

Too bad Ichigo interrupts his thoughts, because he sticks his sword into one of the desgarron blades and breaks it apart. He tells Grimmjaw that he wants to win too, and he opens his eye and we can see that it’s his normal, human eye (by now he only has a quarter of his Hollow mask left, mind you), and he moves in to attack! Grimmjaw fires off another desgarron, but Ichigo sticks his sword in it and rides the wave like Mary Poppins riding through the sky with her magical umbrella. Ichigo shouts something about defeating all his enemies and saving his friends as Bleach’s determined-to-win music plays. The desgarron blades all fall apart and Grimmjaw just stands there as Ichigo stabs him.

Grimmjaw stares at Ichigo as he withdraws the blade, and he topples backwards. We see leonine Grimmjaw again, walking alone along the wastelands as he stops to look up at the moon. Mournful cello music plays. Blood pours from Grimmjaw now and he falls to the sand but Ichigo catches him by the arm. Ichigo’s Hollow mask falls away completely and he slowly lowers Grimmjaw to the ground, where he lays on his side with his eyes closed. Ichigo looks at him for a long time before finally turning away.

Frankly, I’m not sure how to feel. On one hand, this is just a cartoon, and these people aren’t real. On the other hand, you look at Grimmjaw and you think, he’s nothing more than a victim of circumstance. He’s vicious and angry because, if he’s isn’t, he dies; but he does have some noble qualities. He thanks Inoue for healing his arm. He doesn’t eat his companions, because they all become arrancar together. In the end Grimmjaw is a pitiable figure. So powerful, yet still terrified of being condescended to, and all he knows how to do is lash out. Point is, complex characters are good characters, and sometimes Bleach does things right. And Ichigo catching Grimmjaw as he falls? Very nice.

Ichigo goes up to Inoue. She’s happy that he’s back to normal; Nel is just happy that Ichigo is alive. Ichigo and Inoue hold hands and look into the sky. Everyone is waiting for them.

Next episode: Seems to feature someone who is decidedly not Ichigo. And the “Shinigami Golden” has Nel saying goodbye for some reason. Rumor has it that we are facing terrible, horrible filler episodes for a prolonged period. I’m sure this will be fantastic.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bleach 166

Last we reviewed Bleach, the gang was heading into Hueco Mundo to rescue someone from Aizen and his evil Spanish guitar music. Maybe Inoue. I’m not sure. I am sure that she has huge breasts. They fight some big Hollows, they meet Nel and some insipidly annoying sidekicks, Rukia and Renji join them and they crash into Aizen’s massive fortress.

Then they start fighting. And fighting some more. Everyone powers up, and powers up again, and it’s kind of like Dragonball Z where everyone yells for half an hour before unleashing a discombobulatingly devastating attack. Now, that doesn’t mean that any of this is very good. It’s entertaining though.

So Ulquiorra stabs Ichigo, our very favoritest protagonist, right in the chest. Grimmjaw frees Inoue, takes her to Ichigo, and tells her to heal him so that he can beat up Ichigo properly, and not in the half-assed manner that is Ulquiorra’s preferred idiom. They exchange tentative blows, and Grimmjaw fires off the greatest cero ever, but it’s not actually aimed at Ichigo. It’s aimed at Inoue and Nel, right behind him. Ichigo has to put on his Hollow mask to save the gals, which is exactly what Grimmjaw wanted all along. Everyone freezes; Grimmjaw has a menacing sneer; Inoue doesn’t know what the hell just happened. Ichigo looks at her, she’s scared, and he tells her not to be afraid, to relax. He’ll end all of this soon.

Grimmjaw is like a kid in a candy store. Do kids still go to candy stores? I assume so. With a cry of “Grind, Pantera!” he unlocks his sword. A huge windstorm whips up, and Ichigo tells Inoue to put up her shield, which she obediently does. The sand blows away and we see Grimmjaw, transformed into a some kind of feline antelope thing with a great mane of blue hair and fantastic eye makeup, and I'm pretty positive that an entire generation of amateur anime artists have been inspired to draw this handsome guy. Deviantart or whatever it's called is going to be overflowing with crudely drawn pictures by fanguys and -girls of this Pantera thing. Whatever. He roars, shaking things up so much with the sheer power of his vocal chords that even Ichigo is impressed.

Grimmjaw goes right on the attack, jumping up and kicking Ichigo through the landscape. Now, mind you, the landscape here consists of massive red columns rising up from the sand, so being kicked through them probably hurts a lot. Grimmjaw meets him at the other end and kicks him some more, and then slashed down at Ichigo with nasty nasty claws, sending Ichigo straight down through a big gray column. There’s a lot of smoke and Grimmjaw floats above looking for Ichigo, and they actually animated his eyes moving around, which is a nice touch. Usually people just blink on this show, or their eyebrows move a bit, and that’s about it.

Before the dust even clears Ichigo flash steps right behind Grimmjaw and fires off his GETSUGA TENSHOU! Grimmjaw just laughs. He hates Ichigo’s eyes, and, now that he mentions it, so do I. Who likes yellow eyes?

Cut away now to a ledge over on the fortress. We see one of the Espada, the large breasted one, and if you read the manga (and I know you do), then you know that her name is Halibel. Three of her hot arrancar lieutenants, Mila Rose, Apache, and Sun Sun, are yapping about the battle they’re watching between Ichigo and Grimmjaw. A huge blast of wind unsettles them all, and Halibel steps forward and says that’s it’s understandable that they’re afraid. Mila Rose and Apache look at each other and pretty much admit that it’s true. Halibel goes on some more about their fear, telling them to remember it, and then muses on how powerful Ichigo is, with his mightly reiatsu and evil aura. It’s almost like watching two Espada fighting.

Back to Ichigo and Grimmjaw. They’re flashing around, explosions abound, huge shock waves rattle the air. Grimmjaw slams Ichigo into one of the big red columns and notices how Ichigo can keep his Hollow mask on for longer now. Much longer. Remember how at first he could only use it for eleven seconds? I’m pretty sure more than that has passed, even in cartoon time. Grimmjaw wonders why, but doesn’t really care. He just doesn’t want the mask to break off in the middle of the fight. He thrusts a razor sharp hand at Ichigo, but our guy catches it and says that he doesn’t want Grimmjaw to release his own form yet. Then Ichigo slashes Grimmjaw right across the chest, and blood spurts all over. Ichigo presses the attack, but Grimmjaw parries his sword with little arm blades, and then flies into a whirlwind of kicks. Ichigo avoids them, but it’s just a feint, and Grimmjaw smacks him right back to the earth. Seems that Ichigo can’t really keep up with Grimmjaw’s speed and agility. Too bad.

He dives down to finish Ichigo off, but Ichigo is waiting for him with his sword. Grimmjaw manages to avoid it, but still manages to get a sword dragged along his arm. They attack and slam into each other and throw up a huge atomic bowl of sand.

More fighting, kicks and blows, and Grimmjaw dashes around to outflank Ichigo. The animation is really much better than usual. The producers should take more time between episodes (there was a two week gap between the last and this one), if this is the kind of quality they can produce when they’re not being rushed. I wouldn’t mind the wait, and neither should you. More blows are exchanged, and Ichigo gets knocked up along a column but manages to skid to a midair stop.

Grimmjaw snorts and aims his elbow and fires off a quintet of weird missiles. Ichigo avoids them, but realizes that (again) they’re heading toward Inoue and Nel. He corrects his mistake and intercepts the projectiles with his back, and they must really hurt because he spits up blood. Ichigo says he’s fine and looks directly at Inoue, who starts freaking out because she has a sudden vision of her brother as a Hollow, from way back in the second episode of the series. Remember that?

Ichigo flies down to face off with Grimmjaw. He notes that Ichigo is breathing prettily heavily. He jerks up his elbow and casually fires off an elbow missiles at a big red column behind him, and it sort of breaks in half. Five of those in Ichigo’s back? He must be hurting, and to prove the point, his Hollow mask starts to crack a little. Ichigo says he’s not even close to his limit. That pleases Grimmjaw to no end, but then his own mask starts to crack! Can’t anyone find a non-crackable mask here?

Inoue watches them fight some more and continues her freaking out. The eyes are the thing, you see. They remind her of her brother’s terrible, terrible Hollow eyes. Down below, Ichigo’s mask is really starting to go to pieces and Grimmjaw finally gains the upper hand, kicking him into one of those big red columns, and it falls apart too. Nel starts to mutter something that I don’t care about, then she begins to cheer Ichigo on, because what he really needs now is a cheering section. Then she starts to yell at Inoue, something to the effect that Ichigo’s using a terrible, ominous power, and being cut and thrashed because of you, Inoue, so the very least you can do is cheer for him. Inoue has an epiphany, naturally, and starts to talk about her womanly feelings. Point is, everyone came to save her. How could she be afraid of Ichigo?

By now half of Ichigo’s mask has fallen off. Grimmjaw makes like a spinning top (awesome) and slams right into him. They even animated the very moment of the hit, with Ichigo grimacing in agony. Grimmjaw says that this is the end, and he even looks a little sad for Ichigo. Ichigo pants and pants some more.

But, “Don’t die!” Inoue shouts from above. “You don’t have to win. Just don’t, you know, get hurt anymore.” Gee, thanks. Ichigo looks amazed, however, but doesn’t have much time for that, as Grimmjaw dives toward him with a cry of “Kurosaki!” Ichigo, I suppose inspired by Inoue, suddenly grabs Grimmjaws hand, says that he can’t afford to take any more hits, and cuts the Espada, but good.

Next week: More Ichigo and Grimmjaw action. Grimmy does the voice over, and his voice is just full of anger and hatred. He's not evil; he's just sad and misunderstood. I feel like I'm the only one who understands that.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Romeo X Juliet 6

Dr. Whirlwind stands atop the effigy and demands the innocent people be set free. "Now that you have the genuine article, surely you've no need for these imposters!" The crowd's all, "Hey, yeah! What the fuck, dude?" The guards aren't having any of that, though. They yell at the crowd and point sharp things at them. When Dr. Whirlwind reminds the guards that their duty is to protect the people, the crowd again goes, "Why, yes. That man has a valid point." Everyone yells at everyone until a guard overlooking the ruckus gets impatient and lets loose a flaming arrow, hitting Dr. Whirlwind in the shoulder. Lord Dipshit turns with a chuckle and says he'll let the fake Whirlwinds go free as 'compensation' for getting shot with fire. Once the innocent men are set free, Lord Dipshit tells Dr. Whirlwind that once he's dead, "we'll reveal your true identity." Knowing that his family would be next on the chopping block if that happens, Doc says that he can't let that happen. He looks down at the still-flaming arrow and gives the famous 'Don't Cry for Me, Neo Verona' speech - which I'm sure is very touching - then drops the arrow on the tinder below the effigy. The crowd looks on, not quite sure what just happened, and Juliet, of course, loses her shit and runs away.

Romeo's flying above the city, as he's doing any time something important is going on, and sees the fire. He sees someone from the crowd being beaten by a guard and asks what's going on. Lord Dipshit (Cerimon) tells Romeo that the Crimson Whirlwind is dead. "He said he was no match for the great Cerimon and set himself ablaze." I'll stick with 'Lord Dipshit.' Romeo does the shaky anime eye before flying away on his magic horse, but doesn't get far before spotting Juliet crying below him. He lands then runs up to her, saying he's so happy she's alive, because he was so sure she was the Crimson Whirlwind, which is just silly, I mean, HER? The Whirlwind? That's just stupid. Right, Juliet? ... Juliet?

... oh. Juliet tells Romeo that she can't see him any more and Romeo asks why. She tells him, as dramatically as she can, that she is the real Crimson Whirlwind. Romeo's eyes get huge and he clearly can't believe it. Despite the fact that mere seconds ago, he was so convinced that she was the Whirlwind. So convinced, that upon hearing of the Whirlwind's suspected death, he was off to cry in a corner with his Dashboard Confessional CD. But now it's a shock, for some reason. Before the silence can get anymore awkward, Juliet flips off a railing to a walkway below where she runs away. I bet all the cool shit is happening off screen. That's why everyone keeps running there.

The next day, Benvolio is expositing that his father considers the whole 'Whirlwind thing' to be done. Adding the understatement of the year, "Threatening to burn innocent citizens alive was simply going too far. My father plans to punish the captain of the police [Lord Dipshit]." For no conceivable reason, Romeo almost lets it spill that the Whirlwind killed last night was a fake. This clown is part of the ruling order?

After the break, we're in court. Because that's where you go to spice up your drama and/or action story. I know I can't get enough of parliamentary procedure. Romeo and his father take a seat high above everyone else, while Benvolio's dad is joined by Lord Titus down below. Lord Titus is laughing like an ass and clearly drunk. [Point of reference, Titus Andronicus was Shakespeare's tragediest tragedy, actually losing popularity in Victorian times for being too bloody; I feel good things coming] The first bit of business today is a decree from His Majesty the Archduke Montague saying, "Martial law is cool; agree or disagree? Also, disagreement means death." Benvolio's dad is the first, and only, to stand and disagree, saying that to continue to let bad things happen will, like, not make good things happen. The Archduke tells the court to shut up. He's not being oppressive, pshaw. "Is it not the father's duty to punish the child when it errs? The father must whip the child, even as tears stream from his own eyes. For a family to live under a single roof, there must be discipline above all else." Turning his back to the court, the Archduke bellows that if the governor wishes to protect the commoners so much, he should become one, and decrees that Vittorio de Frescobaldi (Benny's dad) be stripped of nobility. The court then votes on both the martial law bill and the denoblement of the de Frescobalid name. Everyone in court stands to show their affirmative vote, including Lord Titus, who can't look Vittorio in the eye. "Don't take it personally," he says. Hey, I'm with you. The bearded bitch is scary.

Team Odin rides on a gondola looking sad and pensive. Antonio asks everyone if the Doctor's family knows that he died. But no one answers.

Benvolio and family are being driven out of Neo Verona. Romeo flies down on his horse to see his friend off. Benvolio tells Romeo that they're bffs, and that if he ever needs anything to just pick up a magical, steampunk phone and give him a call.

Mrs. Dr. Whirlwind is telling Juliet that they're thinking about moving to the country. The city's too... the-military-wants-all-the-poor-dead, nowadays, "so my husband wants to leave." And, just to make us sadder, their little girls are in the background playing with Antonio, having the greatest time ever. Juliet tries to say something, but Mrs. Doctor butts in, "He believes in you. He trusts that the iris still blooms." Then one of the kids just has to ask, "Where's daddy?" Without faltering, Mrs. Doctor tells the kids that their father has to stay in town to watch over his patients. Which the kids totally buy. After their cart is full, Juliet tells the family to be safe, and Mrs. Doctor replies, "And may the whirlwind blow again. He lives within you even now, so keep your spirits up."

On their way back, Juliet asks why Mrs. Doctor didn't blame her for the death of Mr. Doctor. Curio says, "Lancelot left everything to you." What? First of all, we're starting to pull from the wrong set of mythos. Secondly, does that answer anything? Does he mean to say that Mrs. Doctor doesn't blame Juliet because she knows Juliet was there to watch, and already blames herself for it? Shut up, Curio. Francisco adds, "Besides, he became the Crimson Whirlwind; the real Crimson Whirlwind." Okay, the both of you are in the expository penalty box; you may only speak when the plot absolutely demands it. As they get closer to wherever the hell they're going, a shadowy figure walks out to greet them. Juliet and Curio get ready to attack, but Francisco stops them, saying he's an ally. Proof of which can be seen by his doofy looking badge.


What's up, mysterious stranger? "Vittorio de Frescobaldi and his family are set to be assassinated. This is presumable by order of the archduke himself. The elite guard is waiting to ambush him on the outskirts of the city. They will attempt to make it look like the work of bandits." Well boy, you are sure full of information it would've taken a full scene or two to dole out artfully. Thanks for getting us to the last act! Hope to see you again when the plot gets bogged down unnecessarily by emotional tertiary characters.

In the Carriage of Imminent Doom, Benvolio is trying to comfort his crying mother. "But we have to leave our home behind and move outside the city..." with POOR people! Dad tries to paint a sunny picture on this crapfest, when the cart hits a pothole and shakes violently. We cut outside to see that the carriage is stopping by some neo ruins... yes, ruins in the futuristic, still thriving, floating, Victorian-like Neo Verona. Aside from the buildings that can be seen past the cliff, they're pretty much in the middle of nowhere. When Dad looks through the peephole to talk to the driver, he's almost stabbed in the face. Dad is ready to stay and fight off the driver-assassin for a few seconds while his family runs, but Benvolio and mother only get a few steps before a small fleet of soldiers come running out of nowhere. Nobody expects the Neo Veronan Inquisition. Just as things look dire, Team Odin jumps down like so much Major from Ghost in the Shell and attacks. It should be noted that Juliet, while still dressed as Odin, is NOT dressed as the Crimson Whirlwind for this fight. While the boys take care of the guards, Juliet squares off with the driver-assassin. She tells the family that, if they wish to live, they'll come with her. They start to run but the driver throws a dagger towards... any of them, I guess. Juliet deflects it with her sword, but falls to the ground as if she's been hit. I'm not really sure what happened there. Pulled muscle? The assassin comes in to finish his job, just as a Ryouma is heard nearby. Juliet, horribly hurt somehow, is just barely able to look up and ask if it's Romeo. But it's not. It's... this guy.
If we're dipping into Arthurian mythos, I'm declaring all bets off. My guess is Zach from the Final Fantasy VII series.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Shigofumi 4

I think this series is growing on me. It’s unique, it’s filled with real emotional depth, and it isn’t afraid to leave things unsaid. The audience isn’t assumed to be stupid, and I respect that. So should you.

It’s a tense tennis match. 40-15. So maybe not that tense, if you know how tennis is scored. The girl tosses the ball up, it hangs in the air an impossibly long moment, and the girl smacks it over the net and right past her opponent. Yahiro wins! Pretty handily, too. The girls shake hands and then face the judge. The judge, another young lady, stares down at Yahiro with something more than admiration. Their tender moment is interrupted by a gaggle of younger girls surrounding Yahiro and calling her “sempai” and such. The judge looks at her and smiles, and a single white feather drifts down from above.

After the intro, we find Yahiro with the judge, Nanae, and they’re talking about all the overeager new young girls fighting for Yahiro’s attention. Nanae tells Yahiro that the best way to get rid of them is to get a boyfriend. Yahiro gets upset and turns around. Nanae tells her that she (Yahiro, that is) likes to be teased, and then she hugs her from behind. With something more than admiration.

That single feather we saw earlier finally falls to the ground and Fumika and her faithful staff, Kanaka (I can never remember her name), stand in front of a house. Yahiro, first name Ran, lives there with her father. Kanaka wants to know about the shigofumi to be delivered this time: it’s especially thick and heavy. Fumika won’t say what’s in it, naturally, so instead Kanaka asks about what we saw happen in the very last episode, with Kaname running up onto the roof after Fumika. Flashback, to Kaname asking “Mika” why she shot her father, and he’s saying that he’s been looking for her ever since. Fumika says a command to disappear, and, after some hesitation, Kanaka takes them away from it all. Back in the animated here and now, Kanaka is curious, but Fumika says that she doesn’t remember the boy at all.

Just then Ran runs out of her house and straight into Fumika, who holds up the shigofumi for her. After explaining what the damn thing is, Ran says, “Maybe next time,” and takes off again. Fumika speaks the sender’s name, and this freezes Ran right in her tracks. She turns around, smacks the shigofumi to the ground, and says that she doesn’t know that person. Oh, but I think she does!

At the train station, Ran is sitting by the window while the rest of her teammates toss candy back and forth. She’s looking pensive, and Nanae comes up and touches her on the face with a cold soda can. Nanae thinks that something is wrong, but Ran denies it, as any sane person would. A shigofumi?! Pfft. The younger girls loudly ask if they want to play “old maid” with them. Nanae (team captain, as it turns out) tells them to have a little more respect for their fellow passengers. Ran is the cool one, and proceeds to joke with everyone. Just then the train leaves, and we see Fumika standing all alone, with her undelivered shigofumi. She says they’ll have to get a pass to leave the city, and Kanaka is pretty excited. So am I!

Now we turn to Kaname and his family. His father, Noji the detective, is pouring stew over his rice, and Kaname tells his father that he saw Mikawa on the day of the incident at school. Last episode, remember? Noji slowly lowers his bowl and mutters, “Mikawa Fumika?” It’s impossible! Are you seeing the connection here, faithful readers? Fumika is pretty clear. The surname, Mikawa, is the same as the writer that Fumika quoted, too. I see plot threads being expanded.

Back with the tennis team. They’re in the country at a training camp. Nanae and Ran are ordering supplies, but Ran continues to look disturbed. She has a vision of people standing in the store’s doorway, and gasps, but the vision ends and a hip, attractive couple walks in. Ran stands rigidly, and Nanae stares at her. Afterwards, they’re riding a bike (Ran in front, Nanae hanging on behind her), and Nanae asks Ran if she really dislikes men that much. Ran says that she lives with her father, but Nanae cleverly rebuts that Ran doesn’t think of her father as a man. Ran scowls, but then she gasps (again), for Fumika is standing right in the road in front of her!

She holds out the letter, says that it’s from Tateishi Naoko. Ran mutters something about abandonment and flies off without taking the shigofumi. Kanaka isn’t really surprised. Getting a shigofumi could be scary, but Fumika vows that the letter will be delivered. Another voice says that young people are so very confident, and we pan up to see another girl, Chiaki, sitting in a tree above them.

Chiaki, a rather cute blonde, is dressed like Fumika: jacket, hat, short pleated skirt, but she has a scarf too. She jumps down from the tree limb. Yes, we can sort of see up her skirt. Woo? So Chiaki is the shigofumi carrier for this particular area of Japan. She has her own staff-thing, Matoma, who speaks in a calm, masculine voice. Have I mentioned that Kanaka sounds like a stupid teenage girl? Chiaki looks Fumika over and explains that shigofumi carriers are dead people, and thus they don’t change, but Fumika, Fumika, she’s growing. What exactly is going on here?

Enough of that. I want to see the tennis girls again, and I am happily obliged. Ran is having a tough practice, and taking it out on the younger girls. Later, back at their big group house, Nanae and Ran stand in the kitchen chopping up vegetables. Ran cuts her finger, and Nanae runs over and sucks the blood away. With something more than admiration. Then she asks who Tateishi Naoko is. Ran confesses that it’s her mother. Nanae thought that Ran’s mother had died a long time ago, but that’s obviously not true now, is it? Turns out Ran’s mother really had an affair and ran off over ten years ago. Ran hated her mother. Hated her even when the man she ran off with beat her up. That’s a powerful hate, but I know that some things can be unforgivable. At least, they can be unforgivable for a very long time.

Night falls, and Ran is alone in her room. The door opens and she excitedly turns toward it and cries, “Nanae.” But it’s only Fumika. She doesn’t say anything, only holds out the letter. Ran takes it and throws it in the trash. Kanaka is indignant. Ran says that she can do whatever she wants with the letter, and Fumika supports her. She leaves, and the shigofumi remains in the trash.

The next morning the girls are all running. Ran keeps having visions of her mother (I assume), and she trips on a rock and falls. Next thing we know she’s on a bed with her ankle wrapped up and an ice pack on it. Nanae is treating her, and she apologizes and holds out the shigofumi. Ran sits up and asks if she’s read it. Nanae asks Ran to read it herself. She will worry and wonder if she never does. Nanae puts the shigofumi into Ran’s hand and leans in close. She knows that Ran is scared, but she will always be with her. Their faces are just inches apart, and we’re suddenly looking outside, at trees, then at bottles of water on a shelf with light streaming through them, and I do believe that we have artfully sidled away from something much more than admiration between Ran and Nanae. I am reminded of Part One, Chapter 30 of Nabokov’s Lolita, where the Author leaves us at the moment of entanglement between Humbert and Dolores to contemplate an image Humbert might have once painted.
[1] This, my friends, is skillful ambiguity, and I tip my hat to the writers.

We see Nanae leave the building. Ran lies alone on her bunk with the shigofumi still in hand. She tosses it to the floor and mutters, “Nanae, you tease.” But what is the tease? The letter, or something more?

We see the bottles of water again. Turns out that the sunlight shining so prettily through them is being concentrated on one tiny point on a shirt, which starts to smoke.

At the tennis courts, the girls are practicing, until one of them sees the house on fire in the distance! Nanae looks on in horror.

The house is burning, quite right. Ran limps along the hallway, but flames and falling rafters are sort of getting in the way. In the distance, Fumika and Chiaki watch from a tree limb. Chiaki tells Fumika not to get involved. She looks slyly at Fumika and says that they are merely messengers, and it is a major violation to do anything more. Kanaka assures Chiaki that Fumika is merely ensuring that the shigofumi was delivered, but Fumika says nothing at all.

Ran manages to make it outside, but now she’s surrounded by billowing black smoke. She may die anyway, and tumbles to the ground. The shigofumi falls out of her hand. She reaches toward it, now wanting to see what’s written. She starts calling for her mother, and a statue in the courtyard stares down at her, in a very matronly way, and something like a tear runs down its cheek.

It’s not a real tear, of course. It’s a raindrop. A storm begins to douse the fire, and soak the shigofumi. A little farther away, the tennis team arrives. Nanae runs to find Ran, who is still prone on the courtyard floor. She looks at the letter and asks her mom not to leave. She has a vision of her mother, with another man, retreating into the distance, and we hear little Ran calling for her. In that tree, Chiaki asks Fumika if she caused the storm. Fumika says that it wasn’t her. Someone else did it. How kind of them. We see the matronly statue again. Fire alarms ring in the distance.

Flashbacks. Ran’s mother is talking, reading the shigofumi aloud. She’s sorry that she left, but Ran turned out well anyway. The woman talks about different matches that she went to watch (apparently without Ran ever knowing). She urges Ran to do her best. Now, Ran and Nanae lie on a rock over a creek. Ran talks about the letter, about how her mother went to see every single match of her daughter. Nanae asks Ran what kind of person her mother was. Ran, by way of answering, takes Nanae’s hand in her own and says, “A tease.”

[1] If you haven’t read Lolita, then go read it.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Blood+ Finale on Adult Swim

This weekend [AS] reached the end of a long, tortuous road: Blood+ reached its fiftieth, and final, episode, and no one cared. Maybe someone liked this show; maybe they cried a little bit at the very end; maybe that person and I could get along and be friends, but I somehow doubt that.

This was, quite simply, a horrible series. So horrible, in fact, that “horrible” is quite frankly too weak a word to use. An atrocious series. An abominable achievement. An abortion of animation. It’s that bad. A storyline that could have comfortably fit 20 episodes was stretched into a bloated 50. The characters were nothing more than cardboard cutout stereotypes. In some episodes, the dialogue seemed to consist of every other line being “SAYA!” The plot, oh the plot. Where did it ever make any sense? The animation wasn’t very good, either. Awful, just awful.

I don’t know what was worse: that thousands of man-hours were dedicated to creating this monument of crapulence, or that I watched most of the episodes, thus letting go of tiny little slices of my life that I could been using to—I don’t know—drink beer or sleep. I’ve been trying to recall some of the better moments of the show, so that I can at least point to one moment or two and say, “Well, maybe this one scene validated all of that,” but I just can’t.

All I can think of was the one episode, maybe 32, where Diva invaded the crew’s cruise liner so that she could molest Riku. However, the scene, the idea—much like they very concept and execution of this entire series—turned out vulgar and crass, instead of achieving the haunting sublimity that we wanted so much.