Monday, October 18, 2010

The Tiger's Top Ten: Most Illogical Anime Tropes

Hi folks, we're always looking to expand our boundaries here at the Anime Addict's Logbook, so in this vein, we're trying something new (for us anyway) and taking a stab at a Top Ten List! Today, we're looking at what I take to be the Top Ten most illogical concepts that ever came out of the world of anime and manga. So, without further ado, let's get started, and I hope you enjoy the ride.

Joey: Hey Yug, how'd'ya get ya hair to do dat?
Yugi: The heart of the cards Joey, the heart of the cards.
#10. Never a Hair Out of Place

You really gotta wonder how much hair gel some of these anime characters use to keep their hair looking like it does. Whether it's the floor-length locks sported by the Shinto priestesses, or the incredibly spiky hairdo's often worn by fiery male leads, the management requirements for staying incredibly fabulous have got to be prohibitively time consuming, not to mention, expensive. Most normal folks would never even conceive of going to such crazy lengths...  um, so to speak. Even if you didn't take the hair care expenses into account, how would anyone ever be able to move, much less fight, without their hair getting out of place, or having it catch fire, or getting sliced off by rogue samurai swords, or otherwise being damaged. It might even be an impediment in some cases. I believe I touched on this recently, in regards to the character Nobuto, from Bus Gamer, but how hard would it be for someone more iconic, such as Jessie from Pokemon to run around and actually cause trouble with that long inverted pink chameleon's tail she's sporting? Of course, probably the most flamboyant example of the impractical hair trope would have to be Yugi Moto from Yu-Gi-Oh! Whenever I see a picture of this guy I'm not sure if he succeeded or failed at what he was trying to do. Did he dye it in layers? I don't even want to think how hard it is to do the bangs and not ruin the rest of the do, and this is a kid working on this. Some adults would have trouble putting this together. His grandpa must be rich to be able to afford all the haircare products too. In all fairness, I did find a couple of pictures of cosplayers who actually have pulled it off. Even so, I don't know why anyone would want to permanently wear their hair that way, much less how anyone would have the time to prepare it on a regular basis, which is why Yugi Moto is my prime example of Illogical Trope #10.

Yuuko: I'm so above worldly concerns that I don't even
need to change out of my bathrobe to wait on customers.
#9.   Loose Flowing Clothes are Perfectly Practical (especially if they look like they could fall off.)

The varieties of clothing that anime characters wear are many, from the school uniforms to the bad-ass trench coats and combat suits. However, among these costumes can often be found the most impractical outfits for combat, or just about anything else. Of course cowboy dusters and heavy trench coats or cloaks, such as the one worn by Abel Nightroad in Trinity Blood are a regular gimme.They aren't the most practical in a combat situation as they impede movement (in spite of what anime studios tell us to the contrary). But there are worse offenders out there. One of the more outrageous examples I've seen is the attire worn by Yuuko Ichihara in xxxHoliC and the Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles. Just about all of her outfits are impractical by design, at least the ones she wears around the shop. All those strings and beads, and never mind the various kimonos and such that look like they're barely secure and might just fall off at any second. Then there were some of the heavier costumes, lavish cloaks and even a few corsets in the mix. There were a couple that had me wondering how she could move at all. Therefore, she's a prime example of illogical anime trope #9.

Careful Amelia,
you could put someone's eye out with that finger.
#8.   Overly Dramatic Poses and Gestures

We've all seen this happen. Someone makes some crazy comment and someone else falls over. Or maybe while revealing the culprit of a crime or conferring blame, someone will dramatically point their finger in someone's face. And let's not forget those dramatic poses you see when the protagonists make their grand entrances. Light from the anime Death Note, is notorious for such exaggerated actions, as he writes the names of the condemned flaringly into his book while dramatically chewing his apple. But some of my absolute favorite offenders in this category are the main cast from Slayers. Almost all of them have done every one of the more commonly cited gestures at one time or another, and one of them, Amelia, the princess of Sey Ruhn, routinely does them all in the same scene. It may as well be one of her trademarks that whenever she sees evil being done, she will discreetly climb a tree to pose dramatically while lecturing said villain, pointing at them, and then, because of her clumsiness, falling in a heap in front of the very confused evil-doer. While a lot of these poses are indeed very funny and can even look cool, in real life, none of them would look natural at all. In reality, they'd just be silly. In fact, you'd be more likely to lose your balance and really fall over if you ever attempted them, not to mention, you could easily hurt someone else, which is why this trope takes the #8 spot.

Mikuru: As soon as I get out of here,
 you'll be hearing from my lawyer!
#7.   What Girls do When No One's Watching...

I think this must be some sort of otaku thing, but for whatever reason, in a lot anime with more than one female character, you'll find scenes involving girls groping each other. More often than not, it's the result of some girl being jealous of another female's breasts, and wanting to give them flak about it. You'll see this more often in anime for older viewers but some of it can slip out in venues for younger audiences. The victim of such activities is often a well-endowed but shy character who has everything going for her except for the self confidence to fight back, and though she will often pull away, or express embarrassment, she won't do anything else. The reason this is so impractical is that, most of the time, girls rarely grope each other in real life, for various reasons. For one thing, while it wouldn't be unusual for a fellow woman to be impressed by a huge rack as many such victims have, and maybe even express her awe verbally, she isn't likely to just walk up and start caressing them unless there's some compelling reason, like maybe if the two were really close and the girl with the breasts of note had consented. Most people would imagine a horny otaku who had lost control doing that before they'd imagine one girl doing it to another out of spite or jealously. This is a hard fact of of our psychological reality that Haruhi Suzumiya brutally exploits to get away with doing this to poor Mikuru in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. For another, such behavior in real life has consequences. If a girl doesn't want to be touched in a certain place, she will generally defend her right to be left alone, unless she has no self esteem at all. Further, a lot of this stuff seems to happen in intimate but otherwise public situations such as in a bathhouse, or in a room in a school. If the victim in the situation didn't kick the assaulting party's ass, it's highly likely that she would have plenty of witnesses to back up any potential sexual harassment charges, should a polite (or perhaps not-so-polite) reprimand be insufficient. My best guess is that situations like these exist more often as a perverted fantasy of the authors. Needless to say, if any of Haruhi's hijinks had occurred in a real-life situation, Mikuru would have quickly been convinced by those around her to request a restraining order which is why I have given this trope the #7 spot on this countdown.

Kenshin: Blah blah blah revolution
blah blah don't wanna kill blah blah blah...
Random enemy: Snooooorrreeeee...
#6.   Talking is a Free Action

The title of this trope comes from the practice of allowing players in a tabletop RPG to converse about their combat strategies as a fight progresses (And also as a way to prevent folks from having their characters physically punished by being unable to move if they shout something in battle.) The reason for this being that while a combat is going on, most players don't go in with a strategy and have to figure out what the heck everyone else is doing as the fight goes along, but the premise is that at random intervals during a tense situation, someone will spontaneously stop the action just to talk trash about who is going to get their ass kicked. Sometimes it will go into a more philosophical vein where someone wants to discuss the meaning of life, or perhaps talk about what's going to happen after the fact, or maybe give the opponent some juicy plot development. Whatever the reason, it's totally unrealistic especially in fights. After all, most real life-or-death fights are pretty short anyway, and even if it's more drawn out, once you've traded blows, crossed blades, or dodged each other's bullets a few times, you're gonna be so tired out you'll barely be able to keep yourself breathing, let alone have the attention span to exchange witty banter. Don't even consider talking to your opponent about the meaning of life unless he's weaponless and immobile. He'll kill you before you can say "42." It also shows up in hostage situations, chase scenes, and just about anywhere else that dialog would be inappropriate. Yu-Gi-Oh!, once again is a gratuitous example of this. With as much airtime as is devoted to lecturing their opponents as well as each other about friendship, Yugi and his buddies could probably have kicked Maxamillion Pegasus, Seto Kaiba, and Marek Ishtar's respective butts ten times over.  Perhaps one of the best examples I can think of, is the anime, Rurouni Kenshin. As lovably badass as many of the characters in the show are, they can't seem to have a single fight without someone stopping to engage in dialog. We all love Kenshin and his reverse-blade awesomeness, but he and many of his opponents are some of the wordiest samurai I know of, making his show my prime example of illogical trope #6.

Yusuke: Hey Hiei, you sure you don't want any help?
Hiei: Don't be a kill-stealer, you'll get the big villain later!
#5.   There Can Only be Two

Isn't it always this way, you have the protagonist whom you're rooting for and the antagonist and in the end they have to go man to man in order to determine who will emerge victorious. But why does the hero have to go it alone? Surely his friends deserve a piece of the action too, right? Apparently many anime producers seem to disagree, which results in each supporting character either having to take a turn with the villain alone, or sit out the entire fight while making comments from the peanut gallery. The argument could be made that it spawns from that old idea that you shouldn't get involved in someone else's personal battle. It definitely makes more sense in some martial arts series where if someone else were to jump into the ring while the fight was going on it would be socially inappropriate. But, that being said, it happens just as often in situations where everyone has a personal stake in what's going on and should therefore be doing everything possible to get rid of the enemy. If the villain is only barely able to fend off the hero, imagine how hard a time he'd have if he had to deal with the hero AND all of his friends at the same time. Unfortunately, this is not considered by many anime characters, and some of the biggest offenders in this category would have to be the main cast of Dragonball Z. Any time Goku goes toe to toe with just about any enemy in the series, or when anyone else does it for that matter, it always seems a foregone conclusion that they are going to try to take down their opponent without help. Usually, a lot of them will get their butts kicked and a lot of effort is wasted as each character is sequentially defeated until the hero gets there. Thinking about this logically, if the villain of the year (most villains seem to last that long at least) had to keep his eye on like five or six attackers at a time, including Goku, rather than just dealing with one overpowered Z fighter at a time, the Z fighters could probably knock each enemy out six times as fast, and probably with fewer fatalities (not that death matters much in the series after a while, the deceased'll just be wished back with the Dragonballs anway). This is also taken to new heights in Yu yu Hakusho. At least in the earlier part of the series, you almost NEVER see the main cast helping each other, even if the situation is serious. Granted much of the fighting takes place in fighting arenas, but even in the outside fights, the characters are compelled to take turns for no other reason then "It's my turn to go in." Somewhat amusingly, they'll even point it out from time to time. It's so intrinsic to the show that in the original Japanese titles of some of the episodes they'll even tell you whose turn it is. There are subversions to this on very rare occasions, but for the most part, only two there are. A villain and a hero. And that was trope # 5.

Random enemy: Hey Goku, are you sure you're all right?
You are? Okay, I'll just...   wait over here then.
#4.   The Epic Transformation

So the big bad villain is about to unleash his or her most devastating attack. It's almost the end, but wait...   our hero still has some fight in them, and they seem strangely confident. What gives? Suddenly, they take some odd fighting stance and start screaming their head off (are they in pain from constipation?), either that or say something totally ridiculous (usually to the affect of "I've been holding back, now I'm serious!") calling on the forces of...  whatever... to trigger a strange transformation montage that takes forever. Ten minutes later, the character has become more badass. Maybe they've gained more muscles, or a shinier costume, or maybe they even just revealed that they were a robot all along. Whatever it is, they're suddenly much more powerful and ready to take on whatever they're facing. From the perspective of needing to control dramatic tension, it does make some sense, but from the perspective of a pragmatic character it has so many drawbacks they'd be more likely to think of the cons before the pros. If you are a villain and Usagi from Sailor Moon suddenly waves her hand in the air shouting "Moon Prism Power!" in front of you, you aren't going to just sit there, and let her finish transforming into Sailor Moon. You are going to knock her over, and you are going to pound her to a pulp because she was dumb enough to stand still for you (though I really don't condone actual violence in any way, shape, or form, let's make that clear). The same goes quadruple for the characters in Dragonball Z again. I mean, it has sometimes taken a whole episode of them just standing there while Majin Buu or Freeza, or whoever the villain was, transformed without even trying to stop him. Maybe they're trying to be polite? I don't know, but I tend to think ceremony loses its importance when the fate of a planet is at stake. Better to knock out the enemy before he's gone into final phase and has the chance to get scarier. The same thing happens when any of the protagonists go up another Saiyan level. There's a whole lot of buildup and screaming and then suddenly the transforming character has more hair and their shiner. Most enemies have ample time to rush in and stop it, so why don't they? Oh well, whatever it's faults, this trope is one of the things that helps to make anime memorable, and that's why I've picked it as trope #4.

Random enemy: Um...  shouldn't you be resting right now?
Ichigo: What? I only lost my spleen, broke half my ribs,
 and got stabbed about 5 times, this is nothin'!
#3.   Just Put a Band-aid on it, You'll be Fine!

Last episode, our hero got the ever-lovin' crap beaten out of him, and whether he won or not, he looked like he belonged in a hospital. Blood had been pouring out of him like water out of a spilled bucket, some of his ribs were broken, and he looked like he might have damaged some important organs. By rights, he should probably be in the Intensive Care Unit. But somehow, he's not. At most he's got some bandages and he barely seems to feel it. He's probably just chillin' at home or in the locker room, or wherever, waiting for the next fight. In real life, it generally takes a few months for serious injuries to heal properly, never mind the resetting of bones and rehab, and all those other inconvenient things that generally require injury victims to not move around much for a while. The worst offender I've seen so far is Bleach. Now before you start arguing with me about how everyone in that anime has spirit powers and they've got Orihime to save everyone, I'd like to point out how many times Ichigo has walked out on the battlefield with bandages still affixed, and yet he doesn't even look like he's suffering that much. Even a guy with an iron will is gonna be hurting in a situation when there's a big gaping hole in his stomach that hasn't healed to the point where the bandages are no longer needed. Aside from the official members of the soul society who get a pass because they are technically not alive, many of the main characters are mortals, and have mortal limitations, at least earlier in the show (I haven't seen up to current time yet), and yet it's like band-aids cure everything in this series. I'd love a universe like that, but it defies just about any medical knowledge anyone has ever learned, which is why I give this trope the #3 spot.

Final fight with Vicious, Real Life Version:
Spike: *Bang!*
Vicious: *Dead*
Spike: *Having avoided all sword wounds,
returns to the Bebop for bell peppers and beef.*
#2.   Swords are Just as Good as Guns, Really!

This is one should be obvious. There's an old saying that you should never bring a knife to a gunfight, and there's a reason why. If you bring a blade of any capacity to a gunfight, 99% of the time, the gunman is going to win. Why? Shall I start with the fact that a gunman doesn't have to be anywhere near you to shoot you dead without a chance to fight back? (Bullets go a hell of a lot faster than even the most practiced sword arm.) Or maybe I should start with how a gunman can take cover and doesn't have to face his enemies head on. And then I should probably continue by adding that if said gunmen has an automatic or a semi-automatic weapon, the survival ratio goes down to fractional percentage points, unless you can get behind the guy before he merrily peppers the environment with lead messengers of death. The sad truth is that a sword is almost always outclassed by gunfire. Now I say almost because there are limited exceptions, mostly involving attacks from behind (anyone's going to be surprised to find a blood-stained blade skewering them from that angle), but for the most part, there is no other way to defeat said gunman, unless they don't know how to operate their gun or they have horribly slow reflexes, neither of which should be counted on. That being said, characters that do it, are totally awesome. Case in point, Vicious, from Cowboy Bebop. He manages to give Spike the fight for his life not once, but twice with nothing but his katana. It hasn't been confirmed whether Spike didn't survive the second fight. Now if this fight could have taken actually place, Spike probably would have won hands down the first time, as long as Vicious's more conventionally armed friends didn't shoot him first. Now that we're done with #2. The final ultimate illogical trope in all of anime is...

Dude! An arrow did that?!
#1.   The Laws of Physics Don't Apply

There's a running joke among anime fans that whenever you try to apply the laws of physics to an anime, somewhere, a catgirl dies. There's a reason for this joke. Most of the time, even if there is something close to logical physical boundaries in an anime, they are often subverted by not being applied correctly. (Although, the same could be said about just about any cartoon these days, we just selectively ignore them.) For instance, even in anime that are set in contemporary settings, characters can do things like jump too high, or end up staying in motion or halting it in ways they never should be able to (almost as though Earth's gravity decided to switch out with the moon's that day). But especially in less realistic settings your going to see some pretty over-the-top stunts that make you wonder "Wait, what planet are we on again?" This one probably has a hand in a lot of the other tropes we've already discussed for a number of reasons, but the main one is because breaking the rules the right way makes things awesome. When we see characters beating each other senseless in midair like in DBZ, it looks cool! In space battles, we should never be able to hear the explosions in Irresponsible Captain Tylor, but we do. Why? Because it's cool! Ashitaka from Princess Mononoke, should never really be able to behead a guy with an arrow, even if his bow arm is possessed, but who cares! Everyone who has seen the movie remembers it because it was so graphically incredible. Somewhat surprisingly this trope can be incredibly selective, especially when it comes to the way clothing hangs around a persons body, or in the case of more realistic productions where characters actually have some physical limitations, but otherwise it will generally hold true, to the point of creating some amazing visuals. And that is the Tiger's #1 most illogical anime trope.

Well, I hope you had fun, thanks for reading, and join us next week for my review of Gokusen!

Images taken from Bleach, Cowboy Bebop, Dragonball Z, Princess Mononoke, Rurouni Kenshin, Slayers, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, XXX-HoLiC, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Yu-Yu Hakusho

Monday, October 11, 2010

Darker Than Black

When I started watching this series, I wasn't sure I was going to like it. The first episode greeted me with a guy being forced to break his own fingers for a reason I totally didn't understand, and the next thing I know our protagonist shows up in a mask a serial killer might wear and offs him with little more than some "gotcha!" type lines to announce his arrival. Naturally, I was getting worried that this would be another feast of horrific violence such as when I recently reviewed Claymore. I love being pleasantly surprised. This anime may not have a lot of definitive answers, but it's got plenty of cloak and dagger elements thanks to the characters' intimate connections with the criminal underworld, and a plot that will keep you biting your nails. So get out your trench coats and prime your psychic powers. This week, we're looking at Darker than Black.

Like Ghost Hound, Darker than Black is an anime that was conceptualized directly for the small screen rather than seeing print in manga format first. It was created by Tensai Okamura, to be produced by the animation studios Bones and Aniplex, and enjoyed a run of an average 25 episodes during the spring and summer of 2007. A 26th episode was included on the DVD that had nothing to do with the overall plot but was equally entertaining just the same. As with many of the properties that have come across the Pacific, Funimation holds the licensing rights in the USA, and the series is also currently enjoying a run on their satellite and cable channel, the Funimation Network.

The anime follows the exploits of Hei, a contractor who is working for a shadowy organization known simply as "The Syndicate." And no, if you're thinking of some guy that builds houses for a living, or a freelancer doing work by contract for a major company, that's not what the term means here. Here, it means a person who has entered into this agreement where he or she has access to special abilities, but has to pay a price each time he or she uses them. It can be anything, from having to place stones in a certain pattern, to smoking, to eating a certain kind of food, to aging rapidly, or even growing younger. But they have to pay it soon after using their power, otherwise, it will be bad. I don't know how bad, as you never find out what happens if they don't, but it's bad enough to make a guy willing to break his fingers to avoid it, so it's gotta be pretty bad. It's never expressly said with whom such a contract is made. The important thing to know at the moment is that Hei is such a being with the ability to manipulate electricity, and that he and his team of other contractors and their normal human handler are primarily focused on completing missions for their patron, The Syndicate.  He is joined in the main cast by Mao, a contractor whose ability to possess animals has robbed him of his original body and trapped him in the form of a cat, and girl named Yin who is a special kind of contractor called a doll. Most dolls on their own are virtually helpless, and often act like a person who has gone into a catatonic state, but they possess the ability to observe things in spirit form through a variety of mediums, such as water which make them very useful for certain organizations both legal and clandestine. Somewhat ironically, and in a very otaku-esque fashion, it is a sad state of affairs that these contractors are very vulnerable to being taken advantage of and abused because of this permanent condition, but paired off with other contractors they can be infinitely useful. Finally, the group is completed by their human handler, Huang, a bitter older man who is their main contact with the syndicate.

Their adventures take place in a dystopian future in Tokyo where contractors are state secrets, kept that way by the Men in Black...    ahem...  I mean public security, who are apparently authorized to mind wipe people, and the greatest fear of the world is that something is going to happen with this mysterious walled in part of Tokyo that is off limits. Beyond that is this mysterious thing called Hell's Gate, which is being researched at a closed facility managed by the United Nations, which ever so slowly continues to extend it's creepers into the world's governments like an ever spreading infestation of international kudzu. The Syndicate is also vying for power within the overall structure, and is most definitely not a neutral party, as its spies are everywhere. Every time I turn around, Hei's been instructed to back up some spy or sleeper agent somewhere. Most average citizens are kept in the dark about all of these internal power struggles, and are mostly seen as a populous to be controlled. What's even more perplexing, to my mind at least, is what happened to the night sky. Apparently around the time that contractors started appearing, the sky suddenly went through this mind-boggling change. The old stars were all blotted out and replaced by new ones, each one representing one of the contractors. When they died, the stars fell, and when new ones replaced them, new stars would appear. It's a phenomenon that isn't limited to Tokyo either. The stars all over the globe have been replaced. Further, apparently space travel is no longer possible because all the rockets just disappear after they reach a certain height, almost like they've passed beyond some celestial curtain, and communicating with them becomes impossible. Unfortunately, no one ever properly explains why this is, but it sure makes your average observatory a handy tool for the government to keep track of what contractors are still alive and at large, and whether or not they're up to mischief.

The plot seems very remote when you first encounter the group. Their primary objective is little more than completing the current mission, and in Hei's case, finishing as many bowls of ramen as he can consume while masquerading as a Chinese exchange student. In this, it's not unlike a warped alternate reality version of Cowboy Bebop, which isn't terribly surprising since the creator and director was also on Bebop's storyboarding team. But the plot takes a much greater precedence here. While in Cowboy Bebop, the exploits of Spike and his friends technically are the story, chronicling mostly standalone adventures as the crew of the Bebop travels in search of bounties and money, here, the missions are more of a springboard from which we can gain understanding of the overall mystery as to what the hell is going on. There's a lot more emphasis on stealth plot development here too. Early in the series, there were elements being developed for the finale that I didn't even realized were being utilized for that purpose. Like in episode 3 and 4 we are introduced to a young high school girl in the throws of becoming a contractor whose powers involve controlling fire. However, I had no idea that you would later see her under the wing of the syndicate acting as one of their soldiers. As we dig deeper into the series, it becomes less and less clear who you want to root for. We knew coming into this that Hei's organization were the official criminals, but the government officials aren't exactly the good guys either, nor are the folks at Pandora, the UN research facility. The closest we have to good guys are the antagonists with the contractor resistance group that eventually shows up called Evening Primrose, and even they aren't necessarily the biggest humanitarians. Contractors have a reputation for being cold and calculating anyway, but they're plotting to preserve their own overall existence by shutting down Hell's Gate which would result in a cataclysmic event that would destroy most of Japan. Now how's that for an interesting twist? I would never condone the actions these guys are taking, but I understand the logic behind it. The reason they would want to do it is because Pandora, ergo the government, ergo the syndicate (it eventually comes out that most governments in the world are syndicate puppets in this continuity) have been researching a way to kill off all the contractors because they fear them. Should their plan work, every single contractor on the globe will be wiped out, as opposed to the population of most of Japan, which seems like it's starting to be depleted by this point. But it's a risk they only took because they wanted to continue existing.

This overarching plot is underscored by the personal plots that are going on among the characters many of which, on their own are rather deep. There's the sub plot having to do with Yin developing something of a personality (a novelty among dolls because as I said before most of them are in an almost completely sedentary catatonic state, so naturally this causes some questions to be asked about what it means to be a doll). There's a subplot having to do with Huang and why he dislikes most contractors. There are also the subplots and relationships going on with the supporting cast. Among them, police detective Misaki Kirihara works tirelessly to protect the public along with her subordinates. Their secondary story often plays alongside Hei's exploits as Kirihara is constantly working to catch Hei, whom she knows as BK201, the designation for his star in the sky. While she's never successful at this, it provides an interesting counterpoint to Hei's story, especially since she eventually befriends his civilian alias, Li Shengshun. There's the subplot involving three contractors from the British organization MI6, having to do with how human a contractor can be. Another interesting couple of characters are a private detective who calls himself Gai Kurasawa, and his otaku secretary, Kiko. These two run into the main caste at intervals throughout the show, and while the first time they showed up I was kind of unprepared for their more colorful choices of wardrobe compared to the other characters, every time they appeared afterward, they had me in laughing. Kurasawa may be good at his job, but his fear of cats and his other eccentricities, make him a pretty fleshed out character for being in a minor role. Kiko is also of note because of her cosplaying, doujin novel reading, and figurine collecting activities as well as her bubbly personality. Paired together, these two are hilarious to watch. I could just imagine them in a comedy show all by themselves. Ultimately, it is Hei's subplot that carries the main plot, as he finds himself searching for answers about his sister, Pai, who was also a contractor and her connections to the gate explosion that took place in South America. It becomes important to know how it relates to Evening Primrose's actions as well as those of it's leader, Amber, a former love interest and also a fellow contractor. This leads him to having to make a difficult choice about the forces that are operating around him as the resistance group needs him to pull of their plot. I'm not going to ruin the choice he has to make, but its interesting how he comes to it, and what he learns about his sister and himself along the way.

The missions themselves are also pretty interesting, though I have to admit I did get a little worried after the first eight episodes or so because a lot of the stories were plot arcs in which a woman, often charmed by Hei's alter ego Li, ended up getting the axe in various horrible ways. By the time we got to the episode where Li actually meets up with Detective Kirihara while she's investigating another Chinese syndicate called a Tang, I was a little concerned she might be next, but I was wrong (the trend did continue though because the Tang boss's daughter got killed instead.) That being said, there are some things about this show that are rather goofy. For instance, some of the prices that the contractors have to pay range from being horribly prohibitive, say like aging more than one normally would, or having to forcibly choke on a foreign object, to being virtually painless, like having to set down rocks in a certain pattern. There doesn't seem to be any logical consistency in how this works at all. Further, some of the contractors look even goofier than their contracts. Like this one guy who first shows up as the Tang Boss's daughter's evil body guard in episode 9, and has a grudge against Hei for the remainder of the series. I mean, if Elrond's daughter Arwen from Lord of the Rings had decided to marry Count Dracula instead of Aragorn and they subsequently moved to China, their son might have looked like this. Ironically, from that perspective, his contract involves slitting his wrist and slinging the resulting flow of blood onto to things to make them explode. Yikes.

Most of the jokes in the early part of the series are funny, but at the same time, slightly off kilter from the rest of the tone of the show before a certain point. It's like you're talking to someone whom you're used to sounding totally serious and they spontaneously come out with a deadpan one-liner without giving you that hint of a grin people use to tell you they're joking, so it takes you a second to get that it's supposed to be funny. The show becomes more savvy with its sense of humor later in the series, but early on, it's like the writers haven't quite gotten used to the dry wit of their material. It's understandable but slightly distracting. That being said, some of the one liners down the road are leg slappingly hilarious once you get accustomed to the cadence.  One aspect that just begs to be made fun of is the blatant product placement, mainly represented by the fact that in this universe, there appears to be a Pizza Hut on every corner and Camel cigarettes in every detective agency. The Pizza Huts are so prevalent you almost see them more than you see Hei's favorite ramen shop. The last issue is a common one in anime it seems, and that is a lack of important information. Mostly this relates to how in the hell Hell's gate came into existence, or why it blotted out all the stars, or where Hell's gate is exactly a gate to. Using the term 'gate' suggests that it goes somewhere, so where does it go guys? Is it some alternate dimension that's opened up where everything's all foggy? If it's just a walled in area where something weird's happening, that's not a gate, that's a quarantined area. I can kind of understand that most of the characters don't know what this is either, and in the case of the stars, I can kind of understand their confusion when their rockets disappear and they lose contact once they get to a certain height above the Earth's surface, but it opens up a lot of questions to speculate about. Is there like some giant cosmic view-screen with a fake sky on it surrounding the Earth now? What's up with that? I'd even take a supernatural explanation as long as it dealt with the question of how that sky worked the way it did.

The imagery in this anime is mostly dark and gritty as we spend a lot of time in Tokyo's more shadowy recesses. (After all, there's a reason it's called Darker than Black.) Even the brighter scenes in the show seem suspiciously surreal. It even has a bit of a noir quality to it, as you have much of the romanticized elements that come from that genre along but that's great, because this sort of environment fits the story like a glove. The music has a tendency to fade in the background until you need it, supplementing the action and drama in a masterful way as would be expected of the legendary composer Yoko Kanno. The intro and ending credit songs, all provided by other Japanese musicians are also pretty good, although I especially liked the ending from the first half of the season ("Tsukiakara" from the artist Rie Fu) as it's sweet tones are just the thing to soothe the savage anime fan. The opening to the second half of the anime ("The Hero Without a Name" by An Cafe) fits the situation perfectly for it provides audio cues and visual imagery suggesting that Hei is racing towards some end destination that even he doesn't know, and the series culminates in a largely open-ended but still very satisfying conclusion that I am not going to ruin here. There's also a 26th episode that was released as an OVA which is intended as more of a joke to mess with everyone's heads relationship-wise, which is very funny, but you don't have to watch it to understand the series. Overall, this is an anime I would definitely recommend, as long as you can stand the violence. If you like suspense, action, and uncertainty, then this one is for you, and that's the tiger's two cents.

Images taken from Darker than Black.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dangerous Characters: Spike Spiegel

Now here is a character that deserves to be called dangerous by default. Any character that starts off the anime financially broke because his crazy job has caused ungodly amounts of property damage and hospital bills for bystanders deserves such a reputation. (Let's have a drum roll please?) Hailing from Bandai's acclaimed science fiction anime series Cowboy Bebop, let's give it up for Spike Spiegel. Another veteran of Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" viewing block and a product of Sunrise, this well known space cowboy does not just have a tendency to leave a trail of destruction in his wake, it could be considered his trademark. More importantly, he's crazy enough that he may actually enjoy it.

In contrast to our last addition to the Dangerous Characters list, Vash the Stampede, who was often chased by bounty hunters, Spike actually is one. As such, in our triumvirate of reasons for being dangerous (occupational hazard, danger magnet, or just don't care), the main reason for him is largely that it's an occupational hazard, with probably a smattering of apathy. Just a little bit. As he roams the solar system with his companions on the spaceship Bebop, looking for bounties to collect, you can bet that death an destruction will follow in his wake. There is hardly an episode that features him where gun play or some other form of violence does not occur.  He's also the kind of character that makes being a violent badass look cool, whether he's punching some bounty head's lights out or shooting up another spaceship in the Swordfish (his personal spacecraft for localized travel), you can bet it's going to be explosive awesomeness. Even if he does pay for his bad habits by having to front the cost for the damage he inflicts, his exploits largely end up being a vicious cycle of being intermittently broke. Which definitely goes against his taste for good food, but in a high risk job such as this, it can't be helped. So if you ever see this fellow, make sure you've got the doors locked and no one in the building has a price on their head. In fact, it's probably better to just say "See you space cowboy" and head to the next town. The fireworks should be over eventually.

Image taken from Cowboy Bebop, The Movie (Knockin' on Heaven's Door)