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.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dangerous Characters: Krad

We've got a real Jekyll and Hyde case here. There's no way around it, today's initiate is really crazy, and his alter ego knows it. It's kind of hard not to notice when every once in a while you lose control of your body and suddenly all hell breaks loose. Allow me to present Krad. No surname. And we can't have any thing being said about his name being Dark spelled backwards. This white angel's black-winged counterpart might take offense,. He's chaotic good after all. Krad on the other hand is quite solidly Chaotic Evil.

Krad originates from the anime D.N. Angel, and though he doesn't show up a whole lot, when he does, you can guarantee that things are going to get bad. Most of the time Satoshi Hiwatari, his alter ego is able to keep him under wraps, but when he does come out, his desire to destroy Dark for some unexplained reason makes him nigh impossible to control. That's when the furniture starts flying and collateral damage starts piling up. Another factor that makes Krad dangerous is how little regard for the body he inhabits. Satoshi's power does have limits, but Krad goes through energy like Hummer goes through a tank of gas, leaving the poor kid beyond exhaustion when the fight's over. Bystanders aren't safe around him either. So if you ever find yourself in New Metropolis (wherever the heck that is) make sure you steer clear of Satoshi and Krad, especially in the event that Dark and Daisuke are in the near vicinity. Otherwise, you may have a problem. You might want to get out of the way of any nearby tall buildings. Roof ornaments are especially prone to collapsing in this angel's presence.

Image taken from D.N. Angel

Monday, September 26, 2011

Shaman King: Part 2

Due to the length of this series, there maybe some spoilers in this review and it's subsequent related review. read at your own risk, you have been warned.

Well, after the last review, I'm really glad to return to some lighter fare. It's good to be back in the shonen fold. As with the Inuyasha review, if you'd like to backtrack to part 1, the link can be found here. Either that or go down to the list and find the tab labeled "Shaman King" in order to see both. In keeping with copyright obligations, Shaman King was produced by Studio Xebec, based on the manga by Hiroyuki Takei and was formerly licensed in the United States by 4Kids Entertainment, though elsewhere it is still licensed by Madman Entertainment. There's a long way still yet to go, so get your prayer beads, and make sure your connection to  the spirits is strong, because the search for Patch Village is under way as we return to our review of Shaman King.

Hey, Ren's Dad? Love the beard, man, but did it really
mean that much to you  to be big?
When we last left our heroes, the first round of the Shaman fights had just ended and the gang were on their way to save Ren and Jun from their manipulative parents in China (read "manipulative" as "do what we say or we'll chain you to a wall in a room full of torture devices"). After a very short fight and a rescue, Ren decides to face down his old man (who at this point looks like a giant), and Jun goes through a very short period of indecisivity before being reuinited with Li Pailong (who I still think should have a grudge against her, but at this point, whatever). The fight is pretty short as the gang takes Ren's old man down a peg, as well as a several robe sizes (apparently his being a giant was an illusion of his oversoul...   erm...   chi...   stuff), and then quite unexpectedly, everyone meets the rest of the family, and has Chinese food. I say that with complete seriousness. Yes after all that build-up to get to China and storm the castle, the family offers them a meal and they go home. Well, at least Ren's grandpa and mother seem sorta nice, aside from the whole "don't trust anyone, they'll stab you in the back" mentality and the affinity for working with zombies...  and the husband with the size complex...    ahem, moving on.

If Patch village is based off all the traditional Native American
stereotypes then greetings for Hao were probably a difficult
thing to get the hang of. Especially since every time someone
said hello, it sounded like they were calling for him. ^^
After the gang returns to Japan, they make preparations to go to America to find Patch village and participate in the next shaman fight. Already there are hints that something big is on the move as the night before the group leaves Manta and the other non-combatants in Japan, Manta and Yoh discuss current events (to an image song no less), such as the recent encounter with an adversary who calls himself Hao, and is almost the spitting image of Yoh, except with a cloak and some tricked out shoes. We also get some foreshadowing about these Knight Templar-type guys who call themselves the X-laws, but until the guys actually get to the U.S. of A. we don't hear much more aside from Hao bragging about how he can fly to America without a plane, until everyone actually gets across the pond.

Forget the police! I'm surprised they haven't sent the military
after this kid yet!
Where do I start about this portrayal of the United States? Well, for one thing, there's not a police car in sight. That's a fortunate thing for Yoh and his friends, because even back at the time the manga was published you couldn't get away with riding in the back of a flatbed truck (seatbelt laws) much less doing half the stuff many of the other shamans do without any consequences. Like Allen, for instance, the hippy shaman that's apparently also an eco-terrorist. (Why else would he use his powers to attack the power shovels?) Although perhaps and even better question there would be, why do the guys driving the power shovels and dump trucks attempt to drive directly at a small boy who has apparently been doing that for weeks (you'd think someone would have called in some sort of authority to deal with him by that point). Other examples could include the many many times the characters create public disturbances  such as when Lyzerg, one of the new characters whom we'll talk about below, walks up to other shamans and attacks them in public just off hand to see how strong they are. They might get away with it the first time, but if they manage it repeatedly without police interference, especially in a post-9-11 world, either the cops don't exist, or there are some incredibly addictive doughnut shops in the immediate vicinity. I could get started on the Japanese style onsen they found...   somewhere in the Midwest?... since I have yet to find any evidence of that having caught on to any degree (especially the part where you have to be nude while taking advantage of a traditional onsen. Western culture isn't generally so keen on that.) but if there is that one place hidden in the Rockies that I somehow missed, I'd rather not get caught generalizing. (If you happen to find it, I want to hear about it.)

That's right kids! In this universe, Morphine is your friend!
We also get a couple of new characters introduced. First there is Lyzerg, a British kid (though the name suggests otherwise) who has it in for Hao due to said adversary murdering his parents, who travels with the nakama for a while (after the attacking everything that moves phase he went through at his introduction) until he decides that it's better to have a strong nakama even if they are knight templars, and goes off to join the X-laws. He is fodder for so many bad jokes, though seeing as in the Japanese version his primary spirit is this fairy looking thing (wait...   the absinthe fairy from Moulin Rouge?) who, I kid you not, is named Morphine. After he joins the X-laws, we also get this African American New Yorker who is quite politically incorrect, as the name he gives is Chocolove. Yeah...   there was no way any of this made it into the 4kids dub. We also get a group of about seven girl shamans (one more reason I say Anna should be the one to get the title, the glass ceiling doesn't exist, girl!) who follow Yoh and the gang around because they think he'll lead them to Patch Village, and really, they act more like a version of Team Rocket that doesn't blast off again every time they lose, but just runs away. (In other words, not audaciously funny, just annoying.) Much of the show at this point can be bottled down to the gang gets in trouble, they get out of it, Lyzerg has doubts, they get into more trouble, solve it, Lyzerg leaves, enter Chocolove, and then meanwhile Anna brings Yoh a dangerous power-up that involves Hao. (I won't reveal what that was for now, because it kind of spoils this part of the review, so I'll save it for next time.)

 Anna! Why are you even talking to him?!
Manta is clearly so terrified he can't even move!
However, otherwise Anna has not been idle. While the gang travels the Southwest USA, Anna and Manta took a trip to this place called Mt. Terror in order to get the power-up, and when they arrive, they bring Jun, with them as well as someone I had hoped I would never see again. Remember Faust from last time. Yeah, Anna recruits him in this part of the show as extra muscle and she hopes as a doctor for the ryokan she wants to open. I don't know who would WANT to have him, especially after what he did to Manta! The nakama had some rough encounters with the X-laws before, but after Anna shows up with this powerup and Yoh refuses to join them in their quest to destroy Hao, this part of the show ends with a curb stomp for the X-laws, some back story for Yoh, and an interesting change for Amidamaru. That's all I'm going to say here.

As to how I'm liking the show so far, it's still just been okay. Some of the jokes are funny, some of them even come close to Yu-Gi-Oh! territory (in other words, a bit narmy) though not quite. On the other hand, some of the drama, while okay and sometimes even dark enough you're tempted to take it seriously, isn't consistent enough to quite bring it over that desirable line to suspension of disbelief. Another thing that kind of got on my nerves is that they use an insert song for everything in this part of the show! And it's the same one! Up until the very last fight, there's this song called "Brave Heart" by Megumi Hayashibara that they play almost every episode after it's intro. There's any kind of fight going one, they play it. Someone's having a deep conversation, they play the song. The gang has an enlightening moment, they play it. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with the song, it's just, they use it way too much. They have a different one, finally, Silent Weapon by Yuko Sato (Yoh's voice actor by the way) which isn't half bad either near where I stopped, but by then the damage was already done. We also get a new intro "Northern Lights" and a new ending theme "Omokage" both by Megumi Hayashibara. The English dub, being from 4kids, has not shown any improvement at all, sorry American fans, you are still out of luck. So far, I'm still reserving my judgement overall in case the end turns out to get better, but we'll see. When we come back we'll wrap this up. Catch ya later.

Images taken from Shaman King.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Tiger's Top Ten: Most Badass Characters in Anime

Akai: This is just the daily ride to work for me.
Whether your specialty is taking on armies, or standing up to pyschopaths, there are plenty of characters out there that are unequivocally badasses, and whether they be good or evil we can't help but cheer them on. We love them for their ability to face down their opponents and tell anyone foolish enough to give them the odds of success to do go do something unnatural with their hindquarters. This article is to showcase a few, whom I think deserve special mention, either because of their exploits or their sheer tenacity in the face of danger within their chosen fields, either that or their just really really cool, like Shuuichi Akai who has been known to try sniping enemies from across townships in the anime Detective Conan. So strap on your pistols and prep your epic swords, today we're going to look at the top ten most baddass characters in anime.

Say what you will about his appetite and lack of brains,
Gourry helped take down Shabrinigdo with the rest of them.
#10. Gourry Gabriev from Slayers

Why so surprised? Well I can understand because he's not the obvious choice from the show. Some might say Zelgadis, Xellos, or even Lina Inverse herself might be a more obvious choice, but here's my argument. Sure Lina has faced down more monsters and god-beings then any of them, and the other spellcasters are definitely quite powerful, but it takes a special kind of normal guy to be able to keep up with them and be relevant when all he can do is swing a sword around even if that sword is usually the Sword of Light. He may be an idiot, but Gourry's raw strength and determination in the face of often impossible odds while still being able to match the others in power is awesome, and that's why, even though most of the other characters in the nakama are worth mentioning for sheer awesomeness, Gourry actually gets the #10 spot.

Ashitaka: Get me angry enough and I can even defy the
laws of physics! Just look at what I did to that
guy with my bow about  fifteen minutes back.
#9. Prince Ashitaka from Princess Mononoke

This guy is pretty incredible. In the beginning of the movie, he kills a giant boar that's at least 10 times his size, and spends the rest of the film running around trying to stop a war between man and nature. He manages to stop two very competent female warriors from fighting, bending swords and throwing people out of the way to get to them, walks out of the settlement where it happened carrying one of them, gets shot and keeps going, only collapsing when he succumbs to the pain about a mile or so out, and spends the rest of the movie fighting everybody while trying to prove that fighting doesn't have to happen. All of this happens while he's dealing with a curse that (even though it gives him super strength) not only causes him intense pain, but is eating him from the inside out, and he's only keeping himself together by sheer will. That's impressive enough to get my attention, and enough to put him at #9.

Don't let his short stature fool you,
this guy's dangerous. A later DC inductee perhaps?
Only time will tell.
#8. Hiei from Yu Yu Hakusho

How many guys would have a third eye implanted into their skull so they could do super dangerous attacks that if done wrong can probably kill them? The answer is "not many." But that's just what Hiei did. Starting out as a dangerous enemy turned reformed villain...   uh...   sort of, Hiei has very little that motivates him like his little sister...  well, that and the desire to kick a whole lot of demonic butt in the fight tournaments, and he does a lot of the latter with gusto, utilizing his Jagan eye to destroy any enemies with attacks like Dragon of the Darkness Flame. In contrast to many of the other characters on the list, rather than being known for facing insurmountable odds and triumphing over them, he's instead notorious for unleashing ludicrously power attacks on his enemies leading to his badassery coming more from his raw power, which is enough to get him on the list.

He even looks bad-ass when he's lecturing his opponents!
#7. Kenshin Himura from Rurouni Kenshin

As much as Kenshin has done in his short life (the guy's only thirty when the anime starts) he deserves at least a mention on this list. While fighting in the Meiji Restoration Kenshin was pulling assassinations on a regular basis, but even in the story he does some pretty incredible stuff, sometimes even while horribly wounded, in order to protect the people he cares about. Even when he hasn't gone all battousai on his opponents, he's done things with his reverse blade katana that most fencers would never be able to pull off. Examples include the time he sent on of Gohei's henchmen into the ceiling of Kaoru's dojo. But there have also been times where he's faced down enemies with crippling handicaps and won. Like when he faced down Shishio in spite of being wounded, or the time he fought with the christian rebel who blinded him later in the series and still beat him. Examples like this definitely make a good case for Kenshin being here.

If you thought this was impressive,
just wait 'till you get to Black Jack 21! ^^
#6. Black Jack from Black Jack

A lot of characters got on the list for their fighting prowess, but Black Jack gets on here for other reasons. While he has dealt with attackers before, often using scalpels as throwing stars, and performed miracle surgeries afterward, that in itself is not remarkable enough to get you on the list. A number of people on this list have also faced down crime bosses, blackmailed people and done whatever it takes, but there's something else that brings BJ into top ten territory. Not a lot of guys can say that they've performed open surgery on themselves, multiple times, often without help, and one time, he did it while in the Australian outback and  surrounded by carnivorous dingoes. If that's not crazy badass, I don't know what is. You might not like his prices or his attitude, but even aliens don't question BJ's expertise in the medical field. When the chips are down, he knows how to pull through, which has allowed him to climb his way up to #6 on this list.

Vegita: I'll be #1 as soon as I kill everyone else!
#5. Vegita from Dragon Ball Z

No one can deny Vegita's status as the baddest character in DBZ. Starting out working for Freeza, and eventually becoming a rival and lancer to Goku in a lot of the later episodes, he's had plenty of opportunities where he's had to show off his metal as a fighter and maintain his honor as a warrior. If he didn't establish himself as an evil badass in the first fight between him and Goku's nakama, he solidifies it later when he turns on Freeza and actually holds his own pretty well until he dies (death in DBZ is only just a bit inconvenient but that's another discussion entirely). He tries so hard to catch up to Goku later on that just when he manages to pull even with the guy, it's impressive. In all fairness, many of the other characters in DBZ fit this bill too, but Vegita pulls ahead in badassery by tenacity, which is why I give him the #5 position.

How much do you think that thing weighs anyway?
#4. Sango from Inuyasha

The main reason Sango makes the cut has to do with her entrance into the show, although the giant boomerang is a convincing argument too. It's definitely impressive that she was slinging that thing around for a living prior to joining the Inu-nakama. She enters very traumatically, with the death of her entire family, and it was believed at the time that she didn't make it either. Instead, she digs herself out of her own grave, and with the help of a shikon shard pulls herself along several miles after being convinced by Naraku that her comrades back at her village were murdered by Inuyasha, just so she could attack him out of revenge (while still bleeding to death!). Later, after learning the truth (Naraku did it), she fights tirelessly to bring about his end and protect her comrades. By now you can probably see that I like extraordinary normal people. Consider that even compared to Miroku (human but with special training as a monk and a nasty yet awesome curse), she's the closest one in the group to being normal and yet she can fight it out with most demons and win, reliably. That's pretty impressive, and enough to land her at #4.

Motoko: Trust me boys, you don't want any of this.
#3. The Major from Ghost in the Shell

Unlike Sango, this character personifies badassery from both end of the the spectrum. On the one hand she could be considered to be the most physically handicapped, being that her only living parts are her brain and spinal cord. The rest of her is a prosthetic body. But on the other hand, I'll be damned if she doesn't know how to use that body to do some pretty incredible things (lets keep the dirty jokes to a minimum folks). The gymnastics Motoko pulls off are impressive in their own right, as she regularly jumps off of buildings and pulls stunts that would make most Navy Seals turn green with envy, but when it comes to hacking and heavy combat, the Major is queen. With camoflauge capabilities that outstrip a ninja, (literally in the movies), the ability to capture/kill most opponents, and the capacity to take on a mech (she actually does take on a small one in 1st Gig and though Batou did help a bit, she ends by scaring the pilot senseless!) the Major definitely belongs on the list.

The fact that he's voiced by Crispin Freeman
in the dub goes a long way too.
#2. Alucard from Hellsing

There are many people who would put Alucard at number one, and he's certainly a good example of one on the opposite end from the normals. A super-human elder vampire with guns is pretty bad, never mind the way he uses them. Of course, just wait until he gets really mad and reveals the abomination he really is. At least with the others, you stand a chance. Get Motoko mad, she'll just scare you a little bit and turn you over to the authorities. With Alucard, really get him mad and all you'll get for your trouble is a real short trip to the hereafter. That's assuming he doesn't open the can super-quasi-abyssal powers he has at his disposal. But this is actually why I put him second. His powers mean it's rarely an uncertain thing that he'll win. So who beats out this lord of the night for #1?...

It was hard choosing between Spike and Vicious,
they're both pretty badass, but in the end,
Spike won by a Swordfish. And Steve Blum. ^^
#1. Spike Speigel from Cowboy Bebop

I like Spike. He's a martial arts master, ex-syndicate mook, bounty hunter, with a false eye. Like Sango, his badassery is largely derived from what he does for a living, which is hunt down bounties, and he doesn't always get them. Even so, some of the situations he's been in are still pretty impressive. One of my personal favorites was the chase sequence in the movie where the Martian military chases him through a city in his spacecraft, but some of the better examples of how tough this guy is would be his face-offs with Vicious and Mad Pierout. (His suicide run through the syndicate's headquarters just to get to Vicious at the end also helped.) Though he gets himself beaten up quite horribly in those encounters and also in his encounter with Vincent in the film, he still manages to come out of it looking totally awesome, even in the last fight where we don't know if he survived.  He approaches everything brazenly and confidently, and even when he doesn't win, he still manages somehow to come out if not on top in the situations he's in, he's at least on top in our minds, and that's what makes him my #1 pick for most badass character in anime.

Please note, this list is just based on the anime I've seen. I'm sure there are plenty of characters in anime I haven't watched that definitely have a fighting chance here, but if I haven't seen the show, then I can't talk much about the character without any amount of authority. For instance, I had considered Guts from Berserk as a possible candidate but when it came down to it, I didn't know enough about the character to have a really good frame of reference. Maybe in a couple of years I'll revamp this list (assuming I'm still doing this stuff), but in the mean time, this is what I've got. Also note, that this is just my opinion. If you want to argue the details, you can comment below, but no flaming please. See ya next week!

Images taken from Black Jack, Cowboy Bebop, Detective Conan, Dragon Ball Z, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Hellsing, Inuyasha, Princess Mononoke, Rurouni Kenshin, and Slayers. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Gyakko Burai Kaiji: The Ultimate Survivor

Sorry I'm late again, part of it was that I was out of town last week. The rest of it, well, we'll get into that. The anime we're looking at today appears at first to be a show about gambling, and that is entirely true. However, for those of you who often fall prey to the itch, a word of warning. This show takes it to entirely new levels as the protagonist takes increasingly more risky bets, and not just with money, we're talking lives and even corporal mutilation. This show is not for the faint of heart, and I can't argue if you don't want to go any further. But if you do, then we may as well get this over with. So get out your playing cards, and be ready to psyche out your opponents, today we're looking at Gyakko Burai Kaiji: The Ultimate Survivor.

Attention duelists! I swear, if some of the show were cut
out this could have been Yu-Gi-Oh! EXTREME!  If the stakes
were less harsh, these might just be adult card games.
If Yu-Gi-Oh! somehow went through a trans-dimensional warp and ended up cross-pollinating with the Origami Killer's challenges from the video game Heavy Rain, and maybe a little bit of the movie Saw, not only would that be royally screwed up, but it might be somewhat close to what this show is. And that's not a good thing, especially for someone who didn't go in expecting such extremes. Most people who know me know I don't do so well with horror and extreme shock value anyway. But to the nitty gritty. The anime is based on the manga Tobaku Mokushiroku Kaiji (lit. Gamblin Apocalypse Kaiji), which was written by Nobuyuki Fukumoto, and has been running intermittently in Young Magazine since it's first publishing in 1996. The anime was produced by Madhouse and ran on NTV between October of 2007 and April of 2008, though it has not seen any licensing over here. Along with this anime, which covers the first half of the series, it has produced a live-action film and a second season which is currently airing in Japan.

Funny. Espoir apparently means hope, and yet the ship which
carries that name is such a hopeless place. The guy who runs
this place is not without a sense of irony.
The story begins with a situation many an American has become sadly familiar with. The main character, Kaiji Itou, is a down on his luck waste of humanity. Unable to find gainful employment because of the Japanese recession of the 1990's, and reviled by everyone around him, he finds himself down an even deeper hole due to the fact that he'd cosigned for a loan that one of his friends had taken out. Because his friend disappeared, he gets landed with paying the full cost of the loan. Seeing as how you can't draw blood from a turnip, he's offered an alternative by Yujii Endou, the Yakuza-connected loan shark who gives him the news about the debt. In the near future, there's a gambling ship where people can go to try and win enough money to get their debts paid off. But there's a catch. If you lose, you end up disappearing, possibly off to a shady work camp to pay your debts off through labor. Ignoring the sane path of realizing the whole thing is probably horribly rigged and not going (which admittedly would make for a very short series), Kaiji boards the ship, determined to win at any cost.

Another possible tagline for the show: "Dumb people gamble
on doing stupid things for debt relief." I swear, if this
guy hadn't made the wrong choices before, he wouldn't be in the
situation he's in.
At first glance the world this takes place in is your standard 1990's Japan. No one's making that much money and everyone's grumpy about it because their finding their dreams of success slipping through their fingers. (It's not so funny when you're living it, I have to admit.) However, the deeper we get into the show, the more apparent it becomes that it is less realistic and more of a desperate nightmare. The police are no where in sight, the yakuza run amok, and those who are dumb enough to get involved with their desire to see other people suffer are little better off than animals being led to slaughter. It's not a very pleasant world, and there are some very unpleasant characters around. And that unpleasantness starts with the main character. Kaiji struck a very strong nerve with me, though it was less empathy, as it was a reaction of pure and utter revulsion. Maybe it was because the situation he was in at the beginning struck too close to home (I can relate to the not being gainfully employed and always being worried about financial concerns in a recession), or maybe because as crafty as he is, he's still doing some pretty dumb things. I don't know but something about him is like a train wreck. You want to look away, but I guess the schadenfreude-seeker in some of us just can't. Even if at times he had more backbone than some of the supporting cast, it wasn't the kind I particularly find redeeming. The supporting cast is about as one dimensional as they come. Just a bunch of scared guys who are in over their heads. It's true in the first part of the show when they play the card game Restricted Rock Paper Scissors on the Espoir (the ship), and it's true in the later parts of the show as well.

This guy may seem imposing, but Tonegawa is just the
dragon who serves a much more evil master.
The villains are even more ridiculous and one dimensional. Both the obvious villains, Yukio Tonegawa and his boss who remains nameless until right at the end of the show are only conducting these gambles because of some sick desire to watch others suffer for money. In that sense, based on what their history seems to be, and how many calculated unnamed victims they've claimed with their various games, I'd say they're both up there with the Vlad the Impaler. To call them sadists, may be too kind. The events they put together that Kaiji ends up taking part in are often used as entertainment for the parties of the super rich (presumably of the illegal variety) and many of the challenges are quite cruel, encouraging the players to hurt each other, as in the second challenge which involves the participants crossing a steel girder in a race, which encourages them to push each other off, usually with painful and highly injurious consequences when they hit the ground. This nihilisitic view on the world quickly turns many of the participants into little more than violent animals, trying to claw their way to a hopeless victory as the onlookers snicker, and it only gets worse.

At this level, you'd actually survive if you fall. You're lucky
I didn't decide to show any of the worse stuff from later.
There was only one redeeming quality about the show, and that was Kaiji's sense of courage, in the face of adversity, later in the the show. Even that was not enough to save it from the rest of the criteria from which I'm viewing it. I know there are some people out there who love horror and love to see characters receive horrible (maybe even crippling) setbacks, but even so, I fail to understand why some people thought this show was good. It creates a picture of the world where the worst is expected of everyone, and the have-nots are only trying to get back at the haves for what they perceive as their unjust circumstances. And the cost of failure is not only horrific, but at some points, nightmarish. In the latter half of the show, after crossing two of those girder bridges (the second being higher up and electrified) Kaiji is forced to wager first his ear on a card game, (which he eventually cuts off himself to win. Dear Lord, there was blood was everywhere!) and then the fingers on his left hand in the increasingly high stakes gambles. At the point where he wagered the ear, he was given the choice between that and his eye. Thank goodness he opted out of the eye scream. I don't think I could have taken that. It was bad enough watching Tonegawa get his face burned off when he lost. This is after Kaiji faces betrayal after betrayal in the earlier parts of the show, which only ends after his climactic (and traumatic) face-off with Tonegawa's boss, and then, in a very unsatisfactory conclusion involving the loss of his fingers. (Fortunately, they did not show it.)

In terms of presentation, the art is heavily stylized with long noses and very distinctive faces, but they serve as nightmarish reminders of how unreal the whole situation is. Even so, the animation is actually not bad, considering the genre. In terms of the music, it was something of a mixed bag. There were some more dramatic pieces that I liked, and others that were kind of annoying, but nothing outright horrible. That changes with the opening theme song, "Mirai wa Bokura no Te no Naka" by the Rebourn Cherries. While appreciated the sentiment of the song, the title of which literally says "the future is in our hands" I absolutely hated the song, as it was loud, obnoxious and had no melody at all. The ending theme "Makeinutatsu no Requiem" by Hakuryuu, had a much bluesier feel which was somewhat helpful bu not enough to save the show. The cast is led by Masato Hagiwara as Kaiji, and he does a decent job of playing the character, but just because he pulled off the character isn't a guarantee of likability, and Kaiji, from my position has none. I hated this guy's guts, I was wishing he'd just go to the labor camp and disappear, and that he'd stop doing dumb stuff, and there were parts of the show where I didn't want to keep going, which is the other reason I took so long to get this review up. I hated this show, I hated most of the stuff about it, and I hope I never roll the second season because I never want to see Kaiji again! And that's the tiger's two cents.

Images taken from Gyakko Burai Kaiji: The Ultimate Survivor.

Postponement Notice

I hate to say it guys but I'm gonna be late again this week. I'll have the review up tomorrow. I promise.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Dangerous Characters: Dr. Stein

While this guy's definitely a little more contemporary in comparison to our other initiates, this guy is no less dangerous. Anyone who's seen the show Soul Eater, produced by Bones, should already know he's got his share of issues, and he doesn't even need a weapon to be scary. Pair him off with the Grim Reaper's personal Death Scythe, (who is actually a character by the way) and you've got yourself a death wish...    (hehe...  I couldn't resist ^^). So let's give it up for the mad doctor himself, the one and only, Dr. Franken Stein.

As a result of his motif being an amalgamation of both the monster and the scientist from Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein", Dr Stein specializes in attacks that resemble electricity, and he has this intense fascination with examining and experimenting with...  live specimens, but that isn't is only characteristic by a long shot. In fact one of his most defining characteristics is that even though he's on the side of the Soul Reapers, (these guys are the protagonists and therefore considered good), he harbors a dark side that if allowed to come out, can drive him totally insane. Throughout most of the show, he's a teacher at the Death Weapon Meister Academy (though even then, it's a bit sketchy just how safe you are around his laboratory), however, for a brief period, when the madness overtakes him, he becomes an adversary. When that happens, that's when the gloves come off, as not only is he really creepy to begin with, but his mastery of martial weapons and hand to hand combat quickly cause things to start dissolving into mayhem. So if for some reason, you find yourself near Death City, steer clear of this guy's lab, unless you want to wake up the next morning and find a couple of suture sights you didn't have before. Just ask Spirit, he's got a record.

Image taken from Soul Eater.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Exploring Japanese Culture: "Why Do You Have to Wear Slippers Inside of a Japanese House?" and Other Housing-Related Inquiries.

Whether you have a full bathroom with a tub,
or just an oil drum outside (like Goku's family in
Dragon Ball Z: The Tree of Might), you are not supposed to
wash yourself in the bath. The tub is exclusively for soaking. 
If you ever get the opportunity to study abroad, or if you watch a lot of anime that has to do with family life, you'll probably spend a lot of time in a Japanese household, whether your own, and for a foreigner, there's bound to be plenty of things that may not seem quite obvious and perhaps even a little strange. These can range from the minor differences, from the rules regarding bathing to larger things like how temperatures are maintained in houses. Even for those of us who aren't overseas, some of this may seem a little strange when we watch our anime from across the pond. For those of us who don't know, I've answered a few questions below relating to the stuff that we see in Japanese houses. So let's get started.

See the way Kaoru's supporting herself with her feet?
Imagine having to do that your entire life.
Why do a lot of families sit on the floor when their eating dinner? Isn't that hard on your knees?

Well, that's how it always used to be. Back when most Japanese only lived in traditional style houses (unless they were peasants living in huts) they didn't have chairs (mostly) until the westerners started coming in, and even after the Meiji restoration, it wasn't likely they'd be found most places outside of western style buildings. Even the Shogun and the emperor sat on diases that were really just raised platforms. As a result, the proper way to sit on the floor is an important part of traditional Japanese etiquette (especially so back when you had to show proper respect to your feudal lord). It's gotten a little less stringent over time, but it used to be you absolutely had to sit on your knees in formal situations, though guys were permitted to sit cross-legged during meals. For women, it used to be especially strict (as shown here in this shot from Rurouni Kenshin), before sitting mermaid style (with your legs to the side) became a viable option. And yes, the traditional position can be very hard on your knees for protracted periods of time.

Granted, most visitors don't come to your house
by attacking you and then collapsing from hunger.
I'm seeing a lot more western style beds in the shows I watch too. But don't the Japanese use futons?

It largely depends on the situation. If a person lives in a house where most family members are permanent residents, it's become more popular to have a bed and a bedroom to put it on. However, the traditional futon does still have a lot of appeal, as it's an excellent space saver and has plenty of utility. For instance, you will often find futons at traditional inns and onsens, where it's easy and convenient to just lay the bed out on the floor so that visitors can sleep on it, and then have the single hotel room cleared in the day time for normal use. It's also popular among apartment dwellers as many apartments don't have a lot of space, since they can just stow the futon in a closet during the daytime. Naturally, more traditional homes are a lot more likely to have futons exclusively, since they are a lot less likely to clash with the ambiance like a mostly immovable western style bed might. Perhaps the most common use for futons is what we use our couches for a lot of the time. A temporary bed for lodgers and visitors to our homes. Like Makoto from anime Kanon when Yuuichi's relatives allowed her to stay with them for a while.

Even in a house where no one wears shoes,
there's still plenty of house cleaning to do.
Why do you have to where slippers inside of a Japanese House?

Like a lot schools require the use of inside shoes, unless you are in a western style home that specifically allows it, outside shoes are not permitted inside. Once again, this dates back to the days when tatami mats were the most common floor coverings and could be easily ruined by carelessly walking on them with any kind of footgear. While it's less of a prevalent problem then in more public spaces, there is still a chance that everyday life will still end up with things on the floor, be it food items from the kitchen, children's toys and who knows what else. Not to mention, anyone who likes to wear socks all the time can see that they will wear out eventually. As a result, slippers are considered the norm in any household, and most houses will keep spar pairs for visitors. Naturally that doesn't mean the house doesn't still need to be maintained as you can see in this shot here from Cardcaptor Sakura

Never hang flammable objects over the stove kids,
otherwise you'll light the apartment on fire
and then your dead soul might be consigned to hell.
This has been an Inuyasha public service announcement.
Why are some houses open to the outside? Isn't that kinda chilly when it gets cold?

Probably. However, back in the feudal period, almost all houses were open to the outside to some degree, be it the little huts that most peasants lived in or the sprawling palaces of the daimyo. During the warmer months that could be quite pleasant especially before air conditioning, but that doesn't mean that they didn't have some way to keep warm. They used to use the good old traditional fire pit. Still, even today, most houses aren't centrally heated, and most folks use kerosene heaters to heat individual rooms. Either that, or they have a kotatsu (a special table with a heating element underneath it and a blanket built into it) that they use to stay warm. You have to be careful with the heaters though, because, as one poor little girl found out in the anime Inuyasha, putting burnable items over a heater can have dire consequences.

The Araide family opted for more decorative panels,
but many families just opt for glass doors or
simply translucent screens.
Aren't those screens all made out of paper? That still sounds kind of cold.

Yes. I expect they probably aren't the most efficient material for keeping in heat. however, back in the day, paper and wood was all most folks had, unless they wanted to rely on more permanent structures, and in a land plagued by earthquakes, it was better to have a house that could easily be repaired and was less likely to hurt someone than it was to have a house built like a rock, that could easily crash down on someone during a natural disaster. That being said, people do have ways of keeping some homes warm. Nowadays it is common for homeowners to put up temporary clear wallscreens or windows along the outer walkways of traditional houses so that they can be sheltered from the outside but still maintain the ambiance. You can see this here in this screen shot from Detective Conan.

Carry on folks. Tune in next week!

Images taken from Cardcaptor Sakura, Detective Conan, Dragon Ball Z: The Tree of Might, Inuyasha, Kanon, and Rurouni Kenshin

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shaman King: Part 1

Due to the length of this series, there maybe some spoilers in this review and it's subsequent related reviews. read at your own risk, you have been warned.

Sorry for the wait, seems we've had a crazy couple of days. But on to the article. For some reason communing with the dead has always had a certain amount of appeal to humanity, especially in cultures where spirits are believed to live in practically everything. Even better, if there are ways to exploit them. However, there aren't nearly as many shows where the main way to exploit such spirits is to allow them to possess you. That is the appraoch taken by this show. Even so, it is very much a shonen series and therefore we are beset by the obligatory fights and epic hair. After all, what else can you do with spirits except use them to decide your petty battles? You'll meet Yoh Asakura, a young and lazy shaman, as he and his group of friends strive to achieve the most powerful possession...   ahem, I mean position, in all of Shamanhood. So strap on that feather-bedecked pager and prep you're primary spirit partner, today,we're taking a look at the first part of Shaman King.

Yoh and his ghostly fighting partner Amidamaru as they are
about face off with some hopping Chinese zombies.
Before now, I had only ever heard of this one in passing, and the kid who told me about it had really liked it. So naturally, I had hoped I'd be in for something good. At this point, the jury's still out. The anime is based on a long running manga series written by Hiroyuki Takei, which ran from 1998 to 2004. The anime was produced by Studio Xebec (Which also did D.N. Angel which we reviewed some time ago), and ran on Animax and TV Tokyo between July 2001 and September of 2003 for a total of 64 episodes. It used to be licensed by *gasp* 4Kids, for release in the United States, however, Madman Entertainment in Australia and New Zealand also hold the rights. Obviously, I'm not going over all sixty-four here. As I said before, I'm not crazy enough to do a six-part review again, but a three-parter, I can handle.

The cast just saw a Bruce Lee...   err...   Li Pailong movie. ^^
The story starts with Manta, a 13-year-old middle school student (who might be a dwarf), from whose viewpoint much of the story takes place, encounters the protagonist, Yoh Asakura in a graveyard. He soon learns that Yoh is a new kid at school, and not only is he a shaman, a special person who control spirits, but that he wants to become the shaman king, a sort of super shaman with the ability to merge with "the great spirit" whether this is god or something else, it's kind of hard to say since we're definitely approaching this whole situation from a distinctly non-judeo-christian viewpoint. After Yoh forms a bond with one of the spirits in the graveyard, a samurai named Amidamaru, and fights it out with other rivals, shaman and muggle alike, they meet up with his fiance (a title that's a little creepy since their only 13) Anna, who plans to train him for the Shaman Fight in Tokyo. (Yes, that's what they call it?) Why does he want to be Shaman King? Because he wants an easy life...    wha...? When did this become Irresponsible Captain Tylor? Anna is a bit stricter though, and she won't let up on him in terms of training because she wants Yoh to become the Shaman king so that she can be the Shaman Queen. 

I think she's a little creepy when she smiles.
Even so, did she really have to be promised to Yoh to be
the Shaman Queen? There are girls in the fight,
why couldn't she go after the King title herself?
Seeing as the setting for the majority of the series is contemporary Tokyo with a couple of twists, there really isn't much to say about the world itself, except that in this universe, shamanism works, and everybody looks like they ran afoul of a maniacal hair dresser (which in a shonen series is perfectly normal). As such, I'm going to jump right to the main characters.The anime starts rather unceremoniously with Manta strolling into the graveyard and finding Yoh, and I don't know if that was the best way to handle it it (probably because that episode runs us through the age-old cliche of having the main character start by standing up to the neighborhood toughs, one of which eventually has a huge change of heart and becomes a supporting character). Yoh's motivations for why he does stuff doesn't necessarily make sense in my opinion. I could see why his family would want to push him to try to be the shaman king, and in a show where they are seriously pushing the "be yourself" motif, that could be played with in more interesting ways, but if not for Anna, he'd be sitting around doing nothing, and loving it. I don't see how becoming the Shaman King is conducive to having a lazy life, but apparently he does want it, because somehow, he's still trying to do it. Manta, on the other hand, being a brainy kid who likes to learn about stuff, is an okay character. Neither of these are outright horribly done, and they did grow on me a little bit once we got out of the early phase and into a little more plot related stuff but even so I still have yet to be totally impressed with them.

Hmm...   who would have thought being possessed
could be an asset? On the other hand, I can only wonder how many
of the crazy fundamentalists cried foul when this crossed the pond.
The supporting characters are minimal in terms of importance, there's Anna, who I mentioned previously, and eventually Ryu of the wooden sword (from the gang mentioned earlier, who has a hairdo to rival Inuyama from Air Gear). I pretty much covered Anna above, aside from the fact that she's also a spirit medium who is notorious for her deadpan personality and death glares that might be laser guided. She seems to be Yoh's main driving force since he seems to prefer to goof off. Ryu on the other hand, seems to have a problem with multiple personalities. He starts the show off as a cruel tough who beats up younger kids because they wander onto his territory, as well as the first real enemy that Yoh must face, along with Amidamaru, who I'll talk about next. But later he comes back completely reformed and wanting to become a shaman himself, just because. It's kind of abrupt. After the change, he does act a little more stable though, which I guess was kind of helpful due to the crazier antagonists that come along, but the whole illumination by defeat thing is a bit over used in the series, as we'll see with the antagonists. Yoh also gets, Amidamaru, a ghost that he forms a special bond with to make him into the spirit he regularly takes into himself to fight people, who is a samurai with a notorious reputation but is actually something of a sweetie, but he's little more than a friendly ghost with epic hair and armor. (It is kinda cool how he looks out for Yoh though, and their dynamic is kind of cute).

That's a cow lick that could hurt someone.
In terms of antagonists, the show takes the villain of the week approach, like B'tX, for the most part. There is guaranteed to be at least one fight per episode through most of the series. However, there are a couple of antagonists that are of note. First off, there is Tao Ren and his sister Tao Jun. These two Chinese siblings are both shamans, though Ren fights more like Yoh does, and acts as his darker counterpart through this part of the series while Jun opts for a creepier way to use her spirits, putting them in zombies. Ren, as the stereotypical rival to Yoh, treats his spirit as a tool at first and looks like he's either a conehead pretending to have hair or has the most epic cow lick ever. He also gets an arbitrary change of heart after losing to Yoh, which I think will make him an ally later in the show. Jun on the other hand is where the antagonists start to get a little darker. Her story is that her partner spirit is the ghost of martial arts master, and Bruce Lee expy, Li Pailong, whose body disappeared after he died under mysterious circumstance. It turns out that she's been keeping him as a zombie against his will after he was given to her by her father. I was actually found that explanation to be kinda cool in a dark and creepy sort of way, as the episode followed Yoh's attempt to free Pailong from Jun's control and he turned on her, but then decided to stick with her as a zombie because he had nothing else to do. I dunno, I think I still woulda been kinda mad that someone had the nerve to do that to me. I mean think about it, someone walks in, kills you before you were able to develop your super Kung Fu, and then years later, you come to learn your body was stolen and you've been a zombie under the control of your killers daughter for the last decade or so? That's gonna cause some issues man! There's also another much darker antagonist, who unfortunately has only shown up once so far, whom we'll talk about below.

Manta to Silva: Hey dude, thanks for not being there to
save me even though you knew Faust was a sociopath,
you jerk.
So far I haven't seen anything that I know for sure to be filler, as especially once Anna shows up, the show stays pretty firmly on track. Which is kind of important since the point of the show seems pretty focused. There was one combat that I did particularly like on the one hand for the dark tones it had, but at the same time it made me want to wring some sense into the developers because of how it made absolutely none. In the preliminary rounds of the shaman fights which take place later in the show, Yoh ends up going up against this guy called Faust VIII, and I applaud the writer for having the bravery for doing something different and allowing him to lose. Especially since this guy was particularly evil, in my opinion. He spends a good deal of time before the fight officially starts tormenting Manta with necromantic magic to show Yoh how powerless he is, and considering that Manta is this tiny looking kid compared to this other guy, it is some pretty frightening imagery, bordering on body horror depending on how scared you are of mad doctors. So I found myself on the one hand thinking "Wow, this is really dark for the overall tone we've had so far." But on the other hand I'm thinking "Hang on a second though, Manta's a noncombatant, is this even legal within the context of this fight? Aren't the referee's gonna...  you know... do something?" Later when Manta wakes up in the hospital I couldn't help but think when he had that talk with Silva, the Patch tribe guy who's supposed to be watching the fight that Manta was should have had some choice words for him.

As the story progresses, Anna forces Yoh to train harder and harder so he can get ready for the next fight and this continues throughout the first part of the show (in typical shonen fashion). There's a guy who surprisingly is an Ainu, who shows up at one point, and also a couple of other unexpected things, like the fact that Ren and Jun actually go up against their father after Yoh defeats Ren a second time, and the first season ends off with the protagonists going off on a rescue mission. I honestly hope the show gets better from here, because while I think there's potential in places, I haven't seen it taken advantage of to the fullest extent. I won't talk much about presentation for now, because I'm leaving that to the last part of the review, however it's still pretty obvious that the art style of the show is a bit more cartoony, falling somewhere between Yu-Gi-Oh! and One Piece on the scale of realism. The current intro "Oversoul" and the outro "Trust You" are both by Megumi Hayashibara who also voices Anna in the Japanese dub. They're both nice and catchy (of course, I tend to like her work, so I may be slightly biased). The Japanese dub work is definitely what I'm preferring so far. It's not annoying in the least. The Japanese cast is led by Yuko Sato as Yoh, and Inuko Inuyama as Manta (the voice of Meowth/Nyarth in Pokemon). Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the English dub. To put it nicely, it is quite frankly atrocious, and I blame 4kids totally for that. They changed some of the names, all the background music and totally got rid of Hayashibara's theme music (*Grrrr*)! To add insult to injury, Ryu sounds like a fake Italian and Manta, now renamed Morty, is addicted to ghost stories and sounds like ear torture. I will keep checking a few episodes further in for the next part of the review to see if this improves, but I seriously doubt it, given 4kids' horrific record. At least for this season, the English-only fans are out of luck, unless they don't mind subtitles. That's it for now.

Images taken from Shaman King.