Monday, January 2, 2012

Dangerous Characters: Krillin

Well I'm still here, so here's the skinny. One of my resolutions is that I am going to get back on the wagon and have an article every week. However, I'm not going to keep it strictly on Mondays. From now on, it will be as the schedule allows. The tentative date is still Monday, but it might be a day or two after if things stay too busy, so deal with it That being said, I am amazed that the pageview count actually rocketed in spite of my absence the last few weeks. If that's what happened while I was gone imagine what could have happened if I didn't disappear...   whoa, I just don't know what to say. But on to business. It's a new year, and now we've got a new dangerous character to introduce. So let's get to it.

I have an unspoken rule that there must be at least a two year gap between the time characters from the same show are inducted, however, if I held to that rule with the characters from the Dragon Ball universe I'd probably have to wait decades to get to all the ones who richly deserve the nomination. Therefore, as we rang in 2011 with Goku, this year, let's put our hands together for his oft underestimated sidekick. Bald as a pool cue, and forever short, Krillin is the butt of many a joke for being one of the runts of the DBZ litter in the areas of strength and power. However, it should be remembered that even though by the standards of the main nakama, he's not the most powerful in the group (he's probably beaten out for weakest link by Yamcha later in the series) for a normal human he's pretty dangerous. Anyone who can summon a whirligig disk...  thing...    that can slice through anything it touches (saiyan ape tails, potentially someone's hand if they weren't careful, entire mountains) has the potential to do some serious damage. Like Goku, his potential for causing danger is mostly drawn from what he could do, as opposed to what he would do (he could level entire cities if he had a mind to, even if we know he never would). He's also somewhat dangerous to himself with his nearly suicidal tendency to loyally follow his more powerful friends into the fray. A glutton for punishment both given and received, if you happen to find him in your immediate vicinity, in combat gear, than it's time to go. Something much nastier is probably on the way.

Image taken from Dragon Ball Z

Monday, November 14, 2011

Initial D

It's time to hit the races, and I don't mean NASCAR. This is more like Tokyo Drift in the mountains. I can't say I knew a lot about street racing in Japan prior to now though it is apparently a popular, albeit illegal past time along the mountain roads outside of Tokyo. Sometimes events are even planned out pretty well with guys on radios along the route making note of traffic, obstacles, and police units to avoid difficulties. The drivers soup up their cars and do the best they can to have the advantage over there opponents in car design and skill, however, sometimes, it's the driver you least suspect that ends up being the best on the circuit, and that's exactly what happens here. So strap yourselves in and wait for the signal. Today we're looking at Initial D.

Takumi: I don't really care about racing,
my Dad just bribed me with a free tank of gas.
As far as the particulars are concerned Initial D was based on a seinen manga of the same name that is penned by Shuichi Shigeno. The manga began its run in 1995 and is still going. The anime was produced jointly by Studio Comet and Studio Gallop and ran from April to November in 1998 on Fuji TV and Animax. While multiple subsequent projects have also been produced including several continuations of the series as well as a number of OVA's, today we're just looking at the original anime which is comprised of 26 episodes. It is currently licensed in the United States by Funimation. My initial expectations were that I was hoping for it to be good, but I wasn't expecting to be wowed since sports anime isn't generally what gets me excited, much less sports in general. In the end I'm not sure if I was disappointed, or just didn't really care all that much.

Keisuke, sizing up the Ghost of Akina, otherwise known as
the kid who drives the delivery vehicle for the local Tofu shop.
At the beginning of the story we find  the protagonist Takumi Fujiwara being invited to a street race by some of his friends and being totally bored with it. I don't blame him personally, see above.  But after the excitement, it is revealed that the Red Suns, one of the racing groups, wants to race against Takumi's buddies who are also in a group called the Akina Speed Stars in a friendly race. Unfortunately, Koichiro Iketani, the team's best downhill racer has an accident and is unable to compete. After hearing from Mr. Tachibana, the manager at the station where the boys work that his buddy and Takumi's father used to be a street racer and might even be the legendary "Ghost of Akina" that has been sighted multiple times recently, Iketani goes to ask Takumi's dad if he'll be willing to race in his place. However, it is revealed to the audience in an exchange between Tachibana and Takumi's dad that it's actually Takumi who is the ghost of Akina as he's been doing overnight deliveries for his father's tofu shop for the past 5 years or so. Takumi meanwhile has been rekindling his relationship with a childhood friend and now possible girlfriend. Aware that Takumi probably wouldn't take part in the race otherwise, his dad bribes him with a full tank and use of the car for his date, in a clear cut case of black mail. Naturally, his friends are in for a big surprise to see Takumi drive up in his dad's car, and are even more surprsied when Takumi turns out to be a very competent racer who mops the floor with Keisuke Takahashi, the leader of the Red Suns' brother. Soon other racers start coming out to challenge Takumi and with each new victory in spite of his apathy, his reputation builds in the racing community.

What I learned from Initial D:
1. Don't worry about other drivers, that's your friend's job.
2. Never ride in the car with fellow racers.
3. When in doubt, drift.
Since the world is pretty much contemporary Japan there really isn't all that much to say about it, although the show does provide some information about the street racing community in Japan, and while I'm no expert, it sounds like the author knew his lingo when writing the story. Otherwise, there's not much different from what one would expect in the 1990's. The only real difference from today is that there was less developed technology and fewer, less flashy cell phones. In terms of geography, the locations seem to be somewhere around the Gunma and Saitama prefectures where there are a lot of mountains and it's far enough away from most places as to have minimal police interference in races, but close enough to civilization that there are still plenty of cities nearby. The relationships most racing teams seem to have with each other while sometimes tense, are never portrayed as going to violent extremes and seem to stay strictly on the level of rivalries, as it seems to be perfectly understood that there's danger enough on the roads, especially on the mountain passes where the teams seem to enjoy racing, and handling a hairpin turn the wrong way could easily lead to a crash, or worse.

When Itsuki talks I can only imagine the other
characters thinking "Just get lost, now, please."
The main characters are okay in terms of beliavability and characterization, but it could have been done a lot better, and the art style doesn't help. Maybe I'm just being picky, but a lot of the characters were portrayed with these overly large lips or with lips that looked like they were going to fly right off the faces of the characters which made it very distracting. Takumi wasn't so bad about this, but his apathy issues were still a major pain in the butt. On the other hand, paired with an incredibly annoying personality, such as the one possessed by his friend, Itsuki, and it's a recipe for disaster. No wonder none of the girls liked him, and it didn't help that he was made out to be hideously ugly too. It was so bad, even his redeeming qualities couldn't make him likable. Iketani wasn't so bad about this, but near the end of the show he had this issue with a female racer named Mako that Takumi raced against where it was clear that she liked Iketani and that he liked her, but for whatever reason, he's convinced that she's out of his league and he can't even get himself together long enough to seal the deal. While the plan was somewhat dubious as she had wanted to do so by giving him her virginity (practically throwing herself at his feet) I'd like to think, based on how he'd presented himself thus far in the show that it wouldn't have gotten that far out of hand. But whatever. I was annoyed.

The main reason the antagonists exist seems to be to
stand around and look ominously cool until Takumi's ready
to face them behind the wheel.
It was about the same deal with the antagonists and supporting characters. They were all pretty much bland, even the Takahashi brothers, the older of which got so much buildup leading to his race with Takumi, that I had trouble remembering everybody's names. Even Natsuki Mogi, Takumi's love interest was pretty much just...   there. Yes it does say a little bit about her that she did go to the trouble of seeing his last race, but other than that, she was just a face, and we know virtually nothing about her, aside from the fact that she may be doing some Enjo Kosai on the side. (Eh...   creepy....) It's the same with most of the racers. I barely remember half of their names, and mostly I just remember them by what races they ran. Like the duct tape guy, who we'll talk about when I get to my serious gripes below. The only antagonists that were really interesting were the girl Iketani liked and Ryosuke, the last racer, and even they were only there so Takumi could beat them. There was something kind of cool about Mako's character concept, a quiet type who changes personality behind the wheel and is secretly an ace driver, but there really wasn't much beyond that to give the viewer much to care about, aside from her little flirt with Iketani, which turned into a big disappointment because he couldn't just get over himself.

Sorry Keisuke, but you and all your fellow racers
have been reduced to straw antagonists.
I know, I had hoped for better too.
So is there anything positive about the show plotwise? I haven't figured out anything yet, but maybe it's because I don't get racing, or it could just be because there are a number of dumb things that happen in the plot.  In the first race alone, Takumi basically drifts past the guy he's racing, which I'm not sure should even work (I get that it's rule of cool! I know! It's an anime!). I suppose if it does work, it could be taken to show his skill at driving, but later he drives against the guy who insists that he and Takumi both have one hand duct taped to the wheel for the race. Do I even need to point out how stupid that is? Furthermore, I found myself wishing just once for Takumi to actually have some trouble one in a while. I mean, in the beginning, sure he had some trouble getting people to believe that he was the Ghost of Akina, but after that, it's basically smooth sailing in terms of the races. Up until the end of the show, the conga line of antagonists only marched up to him to be knocked down by his Mary-sue-esque ability behind the wheel. Even in the final confrontation with Ryosuke Takahashi, the worst that even happened was that he ended up falling behind for a few minutes, and had some doubt about whether he'd win or not, which was more annoying than anything else. Why couldn't they be creative, like maybe have him lose once and then have to make up for it, or win his honor back or something? That at least might have been interesting. But I digress. As I said, the rest of the show, while it's pretty well paced to avoid a street race of the week situation, and the buildup isn't done poorly (aside from being bland), it's still pretty much set up so that there's a new contender introduced, then Takumi wins, right up to the end, no surprises. 

In terms of presentation, like I said, the lip flaps in the art style were really distracting, but the level of detail was still not bad. The cars are all pretty obviously CG graphics in the races though I was surprised to find a couple of scenes where a character walks into a room and finds his friends watching a live action shot of a real race. Even so, for a 1990's anime, the animation overall isn't terrible. All this being said, I was impressed with the voice acting on both sides of the Pacific.The Japanese dub is very nice, with Shinichiro Miki (Shannon Casul in Scrapped Princess) as Takumi and the current English dub is also equally well done. While initially the English dub was done by Tokyo Pop (and I found the opening for it and was very disappointed) when the company became defunct Funimation got the rights to it, and they have redubbed the episodes. In terms of what I have seen, I am impressed. Led by Joel McDonald, the cast seems to have caught the feel of the show pretty well. I've heard dubs that were a lot worse than this one. The music is...  just okay. While I have to admit that the electronic stuff the show likes to do for the races can definitely invoke the since of speed and movement, at the same time, most of it sounds so similar between the different races that it gets old. The most interesting audio in the show was the theme for the duct tape guy, and that was because it started with Tocatta and Fugue in D before going back into the usual theme. (And that was just because it was funny.) The actual opening and ending themes for the show weren't bad either, but the problem is that none of them seemed to stand out to me except the first opening, which was "Around the World" by move. Even then, I've heard better. In conclusion, while as a whole, the anime is okay, and I understand if you're a race fan and think it's genius, but I wouldn't say it's a must see. And that's the tiger's two cents.

Images taken from Initial D.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sights of Nekocon

Well, I am back from Nekocon now and I had a blast. There were so many interesting panels to see, and goodies to check out in the dealer's room. It was awesome, but the best part was wandering the halls. I have a sample here of some of the cosplayers that were running around. So many of them were so creative with their costumes it was a real treat, and I hope I'll be able to go back next year.

Here's the link to photobucket. Until next week Minna-san!

Dangerous Characters: Gene Starwind

Hey everyone. I'm glad to be back. Unlike a lot of our latest characters who generally start trouble. This guy is more like some of our earlier entries, who seem to attract it. Nothing wrong with that, unless said trouble is hazardous to your health and that of the people around you. When space pirates and bounty hunters start coming after you, that's when it starts getting a bit dangerous. But this guy never lets that get him down. So let's give it up for one of my personal space-faring favorites, Gene Starwind.

The protagonist from the series Outlaw Star, Gene is definitely a bit of a hothead, though he's also got his sensitive side, which often shows in the way he treats the other members of his crew, particularly Melfina, the Outlaw Star's bio-android/navi-computer. Though violence can be his job sometimes, he's more at home defending people from it. The problem comes when he has to fend it off in public spaces. That's when things really start getting hot in the kitchen, and bystanders really need to get away from the oven. Fortunately, he's not without resources, like his skills in bar-room brawling and his gun that shoots caster shells (for the uninitiated, they basically shoot magic). However, those can be a double-edged sword, especially in regards to the ones that spread the damage over a wide area. Some of them are so dangerous they can even create craters. So while he won't actually try to hurt anyone who isn't in the fight, even if he's careful with his weaponry, his opponents usually aren't. If you happen to be in his neck of the woods, caution is advised.

Image taken from Outlaw Star.

P.S. I'll have my pictures from Nekocon up very soon!

Friday, October 21, 2011

I'm still alive.

I guess it seemed like I dropped off the face of the planet recently. But everything's okay, real life stuff has just been keeping me a little more preoccupied than usual. Even so, I'm probably going to back up the schedule a little bit. The regular schedule will resume at the beginning of November with Dangerous Characters as usual and a special article about NekoCon. After that, you will get to see the Initial D review and we'll continue where we left off. Thank you for your patience.