Monday, January 31, 2011

Fun with Japanese: The Language of Love

It took Daisuke 19 episodes to tell Riku how he felt.
When it comes to anime relationships, that's not so unusual.
Until an admission occurs, be prepared for a lot of awkward moments. 
So Valentines Day is coming up in a few weeks and your looking for a way to impress that special person in your life. How best to do it? Some anime characters use chocolates, others, bold declarations of their feelings, and sometimes they'll just make something for them. Of course, some might even break into a pop-song (I hope it won't come to that for most normal folks, but I know it'll probably happen somewhere. ><;) All of these gestures are indeed romantic, and the awkward comedy that often comes with them can be entertaining, such as the misunderstanding that almost occurred just before this scene in D.N. Angel here, but how about we take a look at some of the phrases and mannerisms that come with them. Yes, it's that time again. Here's five more Japanese words and phrases this time related to the language of love.

I guess it would make since that as a doctor, Black Jack would have
a lot of patience. ^^ Pinoko can require a lot of it, as she will sometime try to
 get his attention by flirting with the neighborhood kids.
Dai suki.

This phrase is a staple in anime. Which is interesting once you realize the literal translation. You see, "suki" literally means that the speaker finds the subject of the sentence pleasing. Dai, as you can see above is written with the kanji for "Big" and therefore serves to intensify the meaning. This brings us to the fact that the Japanese aren't necessarily the most direct linguistically. While there are ways to say that you love someone more than just as a close friend specifically, most of the time this meaning gets relegated to being a secondary meaning for an adjective that is usually used to describe anything from friends to one's favorite foods. It's usually the context that determines whether or not it actually means "I love you" rather than just "I like you." Such a contextual usage takes place in this scene from Black Jack where one of Pinoko's friends is asking her about her feelings for the titular physician.

I dunno why they say the line about the time
Aoshi is walking deliberately across a bridge in the moonlight.
Maybe because Misao is waiting on her crush in the next frame?
Ai suru.

Now we're kicking it up a level. This is the direct way to tell someone how you feel, however, you will almost never hear it being used by someone who is actually voicing this sentiment to someone else in an actual scene. Thus far, I think I may have only seen one Japanese dub for an anime where a character ever came close, and I'm not sure because the sentence remained unfinished. (Granted, I will admit that it could be I'm watching the wrong anime for spotting phrases in this category, so, if I'm wrong about this, call me out! We can discuss it in comments, I'll love it!) In my experience, you'll see this much more in relation to anime in areas that are not directly linked to the content, such as opening theme songs. Never mind that as JesuOtaku from "That Guy With the Glasses" points out, it seems kind of odd that a series about samurai would have a predisposition towards bubbly pop songs. Whatever the reason, it gives us an opportunity to spot an instance of this phrase's usage in the second opening theme song for the series Rurouni Kenshin, 1/2 by Makoto Kawamoto. To be more specific they use the verb suru in the form shitteiru which made it the state of being in love, but considering that Kaoru is definitely in that state in relation to Kenshin, it works.

Just an observation, but aren't these kids a bit young
to be thinking about who loves who, just yet? I'm just sayin'.
Koi shitteiru

This one has basically the same meaning, with this particular usage being "I'm in love" (usually with some contextual indicators as to what the speaker is in love with.) However, it's probably used even less often than "Ai suru." It's that tendency to be indirect again. Even so, once again, it will pop up once in a while in an anime theme song, such as the opening theme for Card Captor Sakura. (Once again, comment and call me on it if you find another instance worth noting.) Since the show always seemed to have an eye out for who likes who, I guess it's fitting that a bubbly love song would be the first thing you hear.

What's really funny is that Sonoko only instigated this trip
 because she wanted to get her loyal
though oft-abroad boyfriend to notice her.
Chocoretto wo tsukuru.

It is a recent tradition in Japanese culture for girls to give the guys they like a gift, and often this turns out to be chocolate (somewhat in reverse of how we do things in the states but that's how inter cultural exchange flies). This little favor is returned on March 14th, which is called White Day, often because the preferred gift is white chocolate. As this institution has largely been instigated by the candy manufacturers of the country, this tradition, understandably indicates that if a guy gets a present of a certain value, he's supposed to return affections by getting a gift of greater value, which supposedly indicates interest while a gift of the same value indicates cutting the relationship. (Or so I've heard.) Regardless, this tradition pops up occasionally in anime and sometimes the more thoughtful characters will put even more effort into their gifts by making them. One of the three-part mysteries in Detective Conan revolves around this past time, as Conan goes with Ran, Kogoro, and Sonoko to a chalet in the mountains that specializes in teaching folks how to make these little treats. Naturally variations on this phrase are batted around quite a bit before they get into the nitty-gritty of finding out whodunnit. Seems even detectives need a little romance now and then.

Koga's in for a rude awakening if he thinks Kagome is
 just going to let him claim her like a piece of property.
_______ ni horeta.

The last phrase on our list is probably an extreme example of how the Japanese can be direct if they want to be. By the way, those lines and parenthesis indicate that you can insert names interchangeably. It means, "I've fallen in love with you, (so-and-so)." You aren't going to hear this bold declaration in most instances but once in a while you'll come up with a brazen anime character who declares his feelings to the world. A character like Koga from the series Inuyasha, for example. Granted he's a bit of a pushy character to begin with and maybe a bit selfish, especially when the regular cast first meets him, so he's gonna go for what he wants. Unfortunately, it just so happens that Kagome is not the kind of girl who will just go along with amorous intentions. There's also Inuyasha standing in the way, so this really doesn't seem like it's going to work out.

And there it is folks. See ya next week!

Images taken from Black Jack (the 2004 series), Cardcaptor Sakura, Detective Conan, D.N. Angel, Inuyasha, and Rurouni Kenshin

Monday, January 24, 2011

Witch Hunter Robin

So witches are causing chaos in Tokyo's streets. Murderering people every which way and doing all sorts of crazy magic sending normal people fleeing in terror. Who you gonna call? Certainly not the Ghost Busters. Instead, there's the STN-J. A government organization that hunts witches and captures them. And there's a new hunter on the beat. Freshly brought in from Italy, theres a young new craft user named Robin, who, if she'd just learn to use her powers effectively, could send her opponents up in flames. It's gonna be a hot time in Tokyo tonight. So get out your gothic attire and secure your glasses, today we're looking at Witch Hunter Robin.

Robin as she's about to light up an
entire subway line full of candles.
She's scary once she gets those glasses.
What's with the hairdo though?
I saw the first few episodes of the show back when Adult Swim was still running them at regular intervals, though I was constantly frustrated with this show because I never got very far. I knew there had to be something interesting if they would just air the later episodes, but for some reason they'd always go back to the beginning, leaving me hanging. As I had other things going on at the time,  it is only due to this review that I have actually managed to finish it. I am wondering now, why in the hell did I did not do it sooner? Another of Sunrise's incredible productions, this show was an anime original series that ran on Animax and TV Tokyo from July to December in 2002. United States otakus can find it licensed by Bandai. While the show starts pretty slow, and seems like its going to have a "witch of the week" kind of feel as the members of the STN-J stalk witches with powers that remind one of the X-men to a degree, half way through the plot takes a turn that makes the final half of the series an incredibly awesome experience. You'll be on the edge of your seat as Robin goes from being hunter to hunted, comes to terms with who she is, and becomes more than even she can imagine. It is quite the journey indeed.

If you're gonna be a craft user
you gotta know how to make a big entrance.
The story starts off as the hunters at the STN-J are hunting a witch who's started causing trouble around town. They are encountering problems with morale though because of the death of a fellow hunter recently as well as the related issue of being short handed. Because of these problems, Solomon, the STN-J's parent organization has sent them a replacement, a craft user named Robin. Apparently the only real difference between craft users and witches is who they work for, but we're getting off the subject. You may not notice it right away, but things are starting to move underneath the day-to-day affairs, as Zaizen, the head of STN-J seems to think Robin might be a spy for the Solomon organization, though for what reason it isn't initially said. During the first episode a lot of concepts are introduced, such as the Orbo, which is a substance produced at this place called the Factory, and is used to negate the effects of the target witch's powers during a hunt. Apparently there are some key differences in technique between the Japanese STN and the parent organization, such as the fact that STN-J doesn't kill witches but instead sends them to be held at the factory. The first half of the series primarily covers the daily missions the STN-J members go on in order to hunt witches, however, over time questions begin to arise in the mind of the viewers even if they aren't directly confronted by the characters. Questions such as what happens when witches are sent to the factory as well as who the characters can and cannot trust start coming up more and more often as the story progresses until Robin is attacked and forced to go into hiding, even from her former compatriots. The latter half of the series entails the unraveling of several mysteries, including Robin's true identity, why she has become a target, and what is truly going on at the Factory. Danger and politics run rampant in this part which can get a little convoluted, but that just serves to make the plot even more awesome.

STN-J Headquarters. You'd think that most genre savvy folks
wouldn't be willing to take a job with super-elite teams anymore.
They always seem to get back-stabbed
by the organizations that formed them.
The world that Robin seems to inhabit appears at first glance to be a contemporary one, though with some alternate changes. Apparently the period of the Enlightenment in Europe must have had some extra hiccups in this continuity since most people seem to have a very medieval attitude towards people who have special abilities. Either that or someone's been cooking the history books so that the witch hunters have a reason to have an international presence that doesn't violate international law or Japanese law for that matter. I don't know, maybe its just me, but I tend to think most countries would take issue with a foreign organization hunting their citizens without an excess of communication with their government. Further, there is probably a lot of corruption that has allowed the witch hunts to proceed as they have. This renders the world a dystopia in just about any sense. A person can disappear with just the slightest hint of being a witch, and normal people seem to be terrified of these characters, to points beyond reason. Granted, the witches STN-J actually catches don't seem to be particularly innocent of atrocity either, as many of them are if not frigging crazy, at the very least, violent. I will point out that there are exceptions to this, such as Single Eye, the witch who could make a person afraid. He seemed like an otherwise normal guy who just wanted to be left alone. He seemed like he'd have some interesting stories to tell too, if anyone had ever ventured to talk to him. In the latter part of the series, you also get the opposite side of the coin, when Robin learn's that Amon's brother actually helps witches hide if they aren't doing any harm to anyone. From that perspective, it could be that we only got to see the bad witches because STN-J was making them a priority and probably wanted to minimize exposing the hunters to the innocent ones which were hauled off quietly by the Factory for fear that they might rebel. That's my theory anyway. As I noted above, the witches seem to have a lot of attributes similar to the X-men. Their powers are empowered by genetics, and they seem to be a next generation of mutant humans that the population fears, though apparently they have been around for a long, long time.

The main cast, from the left, Doujima, Karasuma,
Michael, Amon, Sakaki, and Robin,
hot on the heels of a new mark.
At first glance, many of the main characters may not seem all that filled out. Especially in the first part of the story, where we don't know as much, however, as we learn more about the team, it becomes harder not to care about them, especially Robin, who is essentially coming of age as she suffers the pain of growing into the person she was born to be. Her growth through the series is truly inspiring. The other protagonists in the series are also interesting. Many of them, like Karasuma, Doujima, and Sakaki are there because they've been given the choice to be a hunter or to be hunted. Rather than suffer at the hands of Solomon and its subsidiaries, they've chosen the path for survival regardless of whether they like the job or not. Michael, the resident technical guy is in a similar situation, as he was a hacker who was captured by STN-J but was given the alternative to work for them instead of being killed outright. He can't leave the facility, but at least he's alive. Amon, Robin's partner is probably the most mysterious early on though we learn that his motivations revolve largely around his loathing of witches and the possibility, maybe even fear, that he could become one. In a sense, everyone in the STN-J with the exception of the management are prisoners within their jobs whether they see it that way or not. Later, when things start falling apart however, we start seeing them act as normal human beings would. When Robin is hunted by Solomon, they are all conflicted about it and unconditionally stand by her, right to the end. Most of the differences in the STN-J's staff tend to be subtle, maybe even a little bit cliche, but that does not mean bad, and sometimes they aren't necessarily what I thought they were. Like there are several points where Amon's protagonist status is called into question. First he helps Robin improve her powers by giving her a pair of glasses to help her aim better, than he attacks her on someone else's orders, then he saves Robin from the hunters, then he disappears and comes back seemingly as one of the hunters after her, then he's investigating something else. By that point I was about ready to strangle him if he'd been real. I'd say more, but...  well... you know...   spoilers.

The bar-master at Harry's, the only place to go for the STN-J member
who needs a good coffee, or perhaps something stronger as the case may be.
The supporting cast is minimal in terms of the amount of screen time they get and that screen time is mostly dominated by two or three key figures. These being the bar-master at a local coffee shop called Harry's who provided something of a father figure to the STN-J members, and Nagira, Amon's half brother and a local attorney who hides Robin at his office. I really liked these two characters for some reason. I'm not sure why, but it was like they created a feeling of...   I don't know...  community, if you will? The bar-master seems like this wise fellow who's seen a few things and therefore would have an interesting story or two to tell. He's also got a personal stake in what the STN-J does because he himself has some witch-related genealogy which has resulted in his son ending up on the hunt list. Nagira is also a pretty neat character. Though he's an attorney, he spends most of his part in the series looking around for hints as to why Robin has become a target and is pretty much her information expert aside from Michael for the remainder of the series. He's unique among many of the more prominent characters because of his attitude towards the witches. He sees them as humans and actively helps them hide. Many of the other transient supporting characters serve mainly to illustrate to us and to Robin the other side of the issue when it comes to the witches. The effect the disappearances have on families and the way that many are torn by the pain of loss is indeed a sad thing and they serve to strengthen her resolve to go forward. It is a job they accomplish well, I think. 

Would you want these guys chasing after you?
Didn't think so.
As I said before, the antagonists are at first just the witch of the week, and while there is some detective work to take them down, mostly their not that important aside from being McGuffins with powers.  Further, once the hunt is on for Robin, Solomon starts sending some real nasty hunters after her and though they don't typically last more than an episode, I'd say the build up to them was more frightening than the actual fight. I guess that's true about most of the enemies. The scariest thing about them is the buildup, and that's okay, because the show isn't so much an action series as it is a supernatural mystery series. The enemies get a much scarier later, especially once we realize that Zaizen's up to something nasty at the Factory and his goons are one the prowl. What is not terrifying about guys advancing on you with radiation suits as though planning to take you off to be a lab rat somewhere, right?

After living on her own for a while,
Robin has learned to make her witch hunters extra crispy.
Unless you count the first few witch hunts, the show has no filler at all. (Personally, I think the hunts serve an important purpose but that's just me.) The plot really starts rolling after a hunt puts Robin in contact with a kind of witch called a Methuselah who grants her knowledge of the suffering witches have endured over the last few centuries. After that point, her powers start becoming even more incredible as instead of just lighting things on fire, she can now aim at virtually anything and reduce it to ashes at will! \^-^/ Then after she goes into hiding, she slowly reestablishes contact with the STN-J as they uncover what their boss, Zaizen is up to. I have to admit that after seeing Code Geass, I was kind of afraid that this would end in another downer, but that couldn't be further from the truth. If you make it past the first half, the answers you seek will come to you. It's as simple as that. While the ending doesn't tie up every single loose end, most of them are taken care of in a way that left me more than satisfied. Things can still stand some fixing up, but there's a lot that's been accomplished, which gives the story a sense of realism, which I really liked.

 In terms of presentation, the show does a wonderful job with the dark gothic atmosphere and though the background music tends to get reused a lot at key points, that doesn't mean the acoustic choices don't totally kick ass. Both the opening theme, "Shell" and the outro "Half Pain" (both performed by Bana) are very well done and fit the series perfectly. The voice acting is very well done, both in the Japanese and the English dubs.  While you won't see many seiyuu that most Americans would recognize, aside from perhaps Jun Fukuyama who is Sakaki's voice actor as well as the seiyuu for Lelouche in Code Geass, everyone else does an excellent job, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. However, the English only folks won't be disappointed either, as we have some American favorites for them as well, including Crispin Freeman as Amon, and Johnny Yong Bosch as Sakaki, along with Wendy Lee as Karasuma (Faye Valentine in Cowboy Bebop), and even Stephen Blum (Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Bebop), who voices a witch who is a doctor with the power to transfer life energy from one person to another in one of the witch hunt episodes. To sum it all up, this anime is an excellent piece of work that I would gladly recommend to any anime fan. In fact, I'd say it's something you should see. And that's the tiger's two cents.

Images taken from Witch Hunter Robin.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Anime on Location: Tokyo Tower

Tokyo tower as seen in the opening from Air Gear.
As prominently as they placed it up front, one would think
the series might actually have a scene or two with it in the show. 
But surprise! There isn't.
Hey gang, today we're taking a look at a famous Tokyo landmark in anime. An incredible 1,091 feet (or 333 meters as claimed by the official website) Tokyo Tower has been a national landmark since its completion in 1958. It is currently the second tallest structure in Tokyo, as it has recently been supplanted from the top spot by the Tokyo Sky Tree which will open for business in 2012, but even so, it still remains a cultural icon, and is often used as a key indicator a story is taking place in Tokyo. So how accurately is it represented in anime, and what sort of place is it really? I guess I'd have to have actually been there to know for sure, but I did some research...    that has to count for something, right? Anyway, let's take an informal tour and see what we can find.

Sakura flying through the tower's girders
 in her final challenge to win dominion over the cards,
in Cardcaptor Sakura.
While I was studying abroad, the school that was hosting us was not far from a street that led directly to the tower. As such, I caught sight of it practically every other day for the six weeks that I stayed in Tokyo. It's definitely an impressive structure to look at, and even now I sometimes find I'm kicking myself for not going to check it out when I had the chance. Why? Because most Tokyo residents in anime have visited it at least once in the course of their various series. Not only is it a popular hangout for Tokyo's young folks, it's also a major plot location for several shows, and even those whose plots are not directly connected to the place may find their way there in some capacity. Phantom thieves have flown off the observation decks, gun battles have taken place inside, it's been bombed repeatedly, knocked over, shot at, had trans-dimensional portals opened inside it, and to top it all off magical girls seem to like having important rites of passage take place along the tower's steel rungs. I suppose it makes some sense from the TV production side of things that this would be an important icon in Japanese television considering that on top of all the crazy stuff that has happened to this tower, it also happens to house most of the analog and digital broadcasting equipment for a majority of the TV stations in the Tokyo area. According to the official website, the tower hosts the airwaves for Fuji TV, TV Tokyo, TV Asahi, as well as a couple of NHK channels, among others. It also plays host to the equipment for several radio broadcasting companies both digital and analog.

There are two of these tower-things running around,
the other one has a blue jumpsuit. In case you're wondering,
in this scene from Detective Conan, Takagi just came on the scene
at the tower (called Touto Tower to avoid trademark issues)
after a bomb blew up.
There are about four primary locations in the tower that are available for regular visits, these are the main building underneath the tower, known as Foot Town, the two lower observation decks and then, you can take an elevator up even further to the highest observation deck which sits on top of the part of the tower with the radio equipment (once again this info is from the official website) though availability certainly hasn't stopped characters from taking liberties, such as a certain crazy kid from Air Gear who uses his motorized roller blades to perch on top of the ring-shaped protector for the digital antenna to make the opening for his anime look cool. Anyway, for most normal people who actually exist in real life, the first thing they're going to see is Foot Town. It's mostly a spot with gift shops and the like, with a roof garden with stuff for the kids to do, but one thing that you can actually spot in one of the Detective Conan specials is a rendering of a mascot character you'll find wandering around. Actually, there are two of them. They are a pair of humanoid-tower....   things who are apparently brothers (whatever they are, they're pink) that wander around to play with the kids and pose for pictures. Interesting what these guys come up with isn't it? You can also find souvenirs themed for these guys in the gift shop. I've previously railed about why the building shouldn't even exist in the show, but you can't fault Code Geass for not paying attention to architectural detail at least. Foot Town is also one of the few remaining parts of Tokyo Tower that are still intact in the series, and it has apparently been turned into a Museum about Brittania's superiority, kinda sad.

I know you can't see Hikaru's face in this
shot from Magic Knights Rayearth,
but I wanted to show you the girders.
The next two levels that most people go to visit are the first and second observation decks and these are the areas that are most commonly shown in anime where a character actually goes inside the building. You can tell that this is where the characters are because of the characteristic steel support girders coming up from the floors in a lot of these scenes. A number of crucial scenes have taken place on this level including the initial one from CLAMP's series Magic Knights Rayearth in which the first thing that happens is that three girls are snatched through an inter-dimensional rift while on their school field trip.There are a couple of interesting things up here, like a cafe and even a Shinto shrine.

It's a real shame this pristine view from
 Detective Conan: The Raven Chaser
is about to be shot to pieces in a few seconds.
On a good day you can see to Mount Fuji from here.
The last area of the tower that is open to the public is the special observatory. I have only seen it used once in the anime I've seen so far (Feel free to comment below if you spot others.) It's a rounded observation area set just below the digital antenna. It's a good bit smaller than the lower ones, for obvious reasons, and the most I've seen it do is provide Conan with cover from a military helicopter during the climax of his 13th theatrical release, Detective Conan: The Raven Chaser. What the hell was he doing being chased up the tower by a helicopter you ask? It's a long story, although you can tell the movie wasn't written by Gosho Aoyama because there's no way in hell the Black Organization should have been able to commandeer a helicopter and shoot at a major landmark without the public noticing!  Forget the police, this would be a situation where the Self Defense Force should have been called in. I don't care if it's dark, there's this little invention called radar, and even without that, people are going to notice guys!...      However, I guess that sort of thing is better left to a critique of the actual movie. I guess this concludes our little exploration of the various parts of Tokyo Tower and how they relate to anime. I'm sure there are plenty of other examples out there, so keep your eyes peeled, trivia hounds and feel free to comment if you want to point them out. See ya next week!

Images taken from Air Gear, Cardcaptor Sakura, Detective Conan, Detective Conan: The Raven Chaser, and Magic Knights Rayearth.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Michiko to Hatchin

So one day you're living with your evil step-family, being abused and not really living that well when suddenly a crazy convict on the run from the police slams through your window on a brilliant blue moped and offers you a chance to reconnect with the estranged father you don't even remember, what are you likely to do? In a perfect world where social services exist, this scenario would probably be impossible. Even so, some folks are probably going to say no simply because they know said convict is probably going to be shot very soon if not captured. However, in this unnamed South American country where it seems like everyone is nearly a criminal (if not already over the line) and virtually no one is a truly friendly entity, this anime explores what might happen if the child faced with this offer gave a resounding yes. So brush up on your Spanish and get out your cheap sunglasses, we're taking a look at Michiko to Hatchin.

The titular characters, Hatchin is on the left.
An anime original series, this show was produced by the studio Manglobe and ran in Fuji TV's "Noise" programming block (a late-night time slot geared towards older viewers) from October 2008, to March of 2009. While it doesn't currently have a release in the United States, the German company Anime Virtual has it under license. I had never actually heard of the show until just recently because of my usual method of deciding on anime to review (which because I am also a gamer involves dice-rolling, and yes this can have volatile repercussions but I am prepared for them). When I saw the first few episodes I wasn't even sure I would like it all that much, as there are many situations in this show that are violently dark and depressing. However, as time went on, I slowly found myself learning to care about the two main characters and their struggles to hold onto hope In the end, I found myself more than satisfied with what the two main characters found, even if it may not have been what they were looking for.

I hope no one choked when the glass shattered.
Our story begins with one of the main characters, the fearsome Michiko Malandro, as she breaks out of prison to search for a child whom she believes to be the daughter of Hiroshi Morenos, an ex-gangster and old boyfriend of hers whom she had believed to be dead until seeing evidence to the contrary. Meanwhile, nine-year-old Hana Morenos is living with her adopted family in some remote town, where she lives a Cinderella-ish existence. She does all the cooking and cleaning and is violently bullied by the children in the house while the parents turn a blind eye as she's only welcome in this house for the government relief check she provides. Then one day, while this unhappy family is having breakfast, the window is smashed open by Michiko, riding on a blue moped. In spite of resistance by the family, she takes Hana with her, whom she wants to use as an excuse to see Hiroshi, saying that she knows who she is because of the unique tattoo on the girl's belly which happens to be the same one she carries. Once away from the family, Hana tells Michiko that she doesn't really like her name, which prompts Michiko to give her the nickname Hatchin, the other half of the titular duo. Over the course of the rest of the series, the two grow close to each other as they face down gangsters, thieves, the police, and less violent matters such as first love and engine trouble, while trying to catch up with the man who left them both behind.

Michiko: According to this map,
we are somewhere between Uraguay and Brazil
Hatchin: But there's no country between Uraguay and Brazil!
Michiko: Exactly!
The world these two characters inhabit is a dark one indeed, as the setting is largely the poverty-stricken, crime-ridden streets of some South American third world country that does not exist. I have to say, I kinda wonder where it lies on the South American map. If I had to guess, I would probably say somewhere near Brazil (although given that practically everywhere in South America borders Brazil except Chile and Ecuador, that doesn't help us much). It's a very vividly imagined world, and yet, perhaps its a little too vivid, as some of the imagery borders on the grotesque, such as the gang violence that takes place in some episodes. Michiko herself is not shy about stabbing guys with the heels of her stilettos at times, but numerous people are shot for the smallest of snubs, and in some places, throwing up with some leftovers on one's face after emptying the contents of their stomach is not uncommon either. Even in early sequences where Hana is virtually brutalized by her foster siblings, and Michiko is beaten into submission at the prison, some of the imagery is nightmarishly brutish (though thankfully not supernaturally so, as with Claymore). Culturally, it's kind of interesting to consider the implications of the world though. For instance, we notice that practically everyone has a Japanese name. This isn't totally unrealistic if you realize that the worlds largest concentration of Japanese immigrants happens to reside in Brazil. But still, it can seem a little unusual to see a black guy with a full blown afro being called Satoshi.

Hatchin: Sure I'm scared, but I also know Michiko
will probably be scarier than he is when she gets here.
The characters themselves are of the kind that earn their likability throughout the series. That being said, they are very complex and well thought out characters at least in terms of background and how they react to things. Michiko would absolutely have to be given all her experience with the gangs and such surrounding the area she used to live. She herself is a very hard-headed individual, driven by this desperate desire to see Hiroshi again, and heaven help anyone who gets in her way, but she is clearly rife with faults, such as a violent temper (often expressed in her saying she'll hand her victims a one-way ticket to hell), and very little patience or self-discipline. She is wolfishly protective of Hatchin, especially later, and the relationship they foster with each other helps to make the negative things that occur in the series a bit easier to bear. Hatchin, as something of a Cinderella character may not be the most original of concepts, however, that doesn't mean she isn't interesting to watch. In fact, it's very gratifying to see her grow as a character over the course of the series, from the beginning when she comes in as a somewhat helpless child, until near the end when she manages to hold her own even when faced with the psychopathic leader of Monstro-Preto, the gang to which Hiroshi used to belong. It becomes even more touching when you start to see Michiko developing in response to Hatchin's development, making their relationship a very dynamic one.

Atsuko, somewhat perturbed by being demoted,
or perhaps because someone was silly
 enough to draw a tiger in a South American rainforest!
The supporting cast vary in the job they do. Atsuko and her partner Ricardo, the two detectives that follow Michiko to try and bring her to justice are very interesting to watch in terms of their relationship not just with Michiko, but with the gang she used to belong to. Atsuko is especially interesting in the decisions she makes because she grew up with Michiko at a local orphanage and thus she is very conflicted about her pursuit of Michiko's arrest. She even gets her own side plot about how she gets demoted for failing to capture the convict one too many times and takes some time to reevaluate things. (On an off-topic note, I think someone didn't study their biology in high school, because someone drew a tiger into the jungle around the ruins she's been stationed close to in that episode. There are no tigers in South America!) However, outside of these two, the number of characters that can truly be called supportive are sparse. Hiroshi only gets a few lines in the show and he's really just a careless jerk. There are a couple of very likable one-shot characters that turn up, one of them being a child circus performer called Rita, whom Hatchin helps to adjust to the fact that her adult partner, whom she has a crush on is leaving soon. That episode sparks a journey to a statue that supposedly answers prayers and the ending to that episode is very heart-rending. Another very likable character that turns up is this amnesiac boy called Lenine who becomes Hatchin's first love. Outside of these though, most of the supporting cast seems very transient and there are even a few I wished would just go away.

Between this and Black Lagoon, you gotta wonder if
the Japanese aren't secretly afraid of South America.
I mean, in this universe, even the pickpockets have guns!
The antagonists are mostly in three camps, the largest of which is composed of thieves. These are extremely common and will do anything to con everything but the clothes off the backs of their targets. Sadly, this camp is mostly composed of children, but what is possibly the most disturbing about that is many of them carry guns. If they don't they are at least very violent kids, and are so numerous that I was beginning to wonder by the end of some of the early episodes how our heroines even managed to hold on to their clothes, because so much stuff had already been stolen from them. These juvenile delinquents are often organized by leaders who are managed by the second camp, which is composed of adult gang members. These are also numerous, but much more threatening as these are almost always armed, and the leaders are usually psychotic nut-jobs who seem to take the utmost pleasure in torturing their victims. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that they are as sick as they are, considering that based on the flashbacks we see of how Satoshi Batista, one of the primary villains, became the leader of Monstro-Preto, he had a ridiculously hard time of it. Still, Satoshi, and his second in comman/rival Shinsuke are both really really messed up. This makes the point where Hatchin is alone with Satoshi even more terrifying as the viewer even realizes that there may be elements of Stockholm syndrome taking affect. I won't totally ruin how that ends, but it is very interesting. The final enemy camp are of course the police, and though I stop short of saying they are incompetent, I have to say they are horribly hampered by corruption in some ways, and in others are made more of a threat because of it. Like in one of the later episodes there is a police officer who is willing to shoot a hostage and pin it on Michiko just so he'll look good catching a criminal who is clearly unarmed!

Hey, it's a flying moped! Didn't know they could do that!
The story progresses with virtually no distractions thanks to being an anime original and therefore being free of filler. But that doesn't mean that interesting randomness does not occur. Some of my favorite points happened early in the series, one of which was Michiko having to escape with Hatchin on her moped over a series streets and roof tops (never mind that mopeds shouldn't be able to jump at all. I invoke the "Laws of Physics don't apply" trope.) Another really cool sequence takes place after Hatchin's been kidnapped and Michiko has to go into a bull-fighting ring disguised as the matador and try to find the person responsible in the stands. There are a few points of dark humor to lighten the mood in places, though it's not really the focus so it will slip through the cracks if you aren't paying attention. There are a couple of points where the two main characters get separated and then get back together but for the most part, the series loyally charts Michiko and Hatchin's adventures together as per the premise of the show as they trace Hiroshi's movements from the point where he was believed to have been killed, through a hot-house that bio-engineers tomatoes, several cities, to a talent agent, and beyond. There's always the question of where he wandered off to next, however, in the end, it is the relationship that Michiko and Hatchin develop with each other that ends up being the true reward. I'm not going to destroy the ending by telling you where everyone ends up, but if you are patient and you're up for this kind of story, then this one will be well worth sitting through.

The art-style has an unreal quality to it, almost dreamlike in some of the calmer moments and almost nightmarish in places. I think this is mostly due to the lighting choices as sometimes, especially around dusk, when the sunlight becomes slightly dimmer, it takes on a nearly sepiatic appearance, while at high noon, the sun's stark blaze reminds us that we are somewhere swelteringly hot. The characters are definitely much less cartoony than some, falling somewhere between the points on the scale of realism occupied by the original Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop. The music is unique for an anime, incorporating a lot of Latin inspiration, in fact, the writers for the final ending theme for the show "Nada Pode Me Parar Agora" by Aurea Martins and Alexandre Kassin happen to be Brazillian. But even the regular music for the show is very good, incorporating some nice insert songs as well. (It should be noted that Shinichiro Watanabe who directed Cowboy Bebop did the music production for this show.) The voice acting is also very well done, especially that of the two main characters who are voiced by career actresses Yoko Maki (of "The Grudge") and Suzuka Ohgo (of "Memoirs of a Geisha"), rather than regular seiyuu. Overall, I ended up liking this production. It's too bad the show isn't licensed for the the United States, but I guess  given the nature of our country's censors it's not that hard to know why. For one thing, Michiko uses the nickname Jumbo when refering to Atsuko due to her dark skin at times which is Portuguese and translates to the racial slur Zambo in English. Of course the PC police would think this was bad enough, but add the discussions of selling children (though it's never said for what) and they would probably be up in arms. Further, the fact that this is set in South America might have made some companies think there wouldn't be as much of a market in the U.S. With these reasons, and the possibility of it being only of interest to a niche market I can understand why a licensing company wouldn't pick it up, but even so, it's a good story. It's a real shame that they haven't, and that's the tiger's two cents.

Images taken from Michiko to Hatchin.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Dangerous Characters: Son Goku

Once again, Happy New Year folks, though I know it's a little late now. I hope no one has blown their resolutions already. I for one have only just gotten back from a weekend of merrymaking and so I'm planning to get started on a couple of mine today, if possible. Still, as is tradition for New Years, I'd like to open up our new year of articles with a bang, by adding a classic dangerous character to our lineup. And what could be more explosive than a guy who can shoot energy blasts out of his hands (and feet sometimes), and make the planet quake around him when he powers up? That's right guys, this month's dangerous character comes from an alternate earth (once he became an inhabitant of it thanks to a Superman-esque origin story.) Hailing from the franchise surrounding Akira Toriyama's manga, Dragon Ball, and the subsequent anime and many, many, many specials, games and movies, let's give it up for Son Goku.

So your first question might be "Why Goku? He's such a nice guy!" Well, my reasons are two-fold. First off, it's not so much what he would do, as what he could do. In the first anime that featured him, Dragon Ball, he was a ticking time bomb because of that little issue of turning into a giant monkey at the full moon and going King Kong on everyone unfortunate enough to be in the way. Though that was dealt with later, he still becomes very powerful even by the end of that series, as he's able to fly, and use powerful ki blasts during his final fight with Piccolo, even after he was already capable of incredible physical strength. By then, he had already surpassed Master Roshi, his teacher, who himself had proved he could blow up the moon. Goku could probably pull a planet-buster if he wanted to by the end of Dragon Ball alone. If not, then he certainly learns how by the end of the first season of Dragonball Z (spirit bomb anyone?). If go to the end of Z and even into the part of the story mostly rejected by fans, Dragon Ball GT, he gets even more ludicrously powerful, as by then he's surpassed most of the gods, at least in his various forms of super saiyan. Imagine what could happen if someone managed to permanently get Goku under mind control. He himself would never do anything harmful if he could help it (outside of pounding opponents to a pulp), but if someone much less scrupulous were at the helm it would be disaster. The citizens of Earth and possibly the universe, should start saying good-bye to their planets at that point.

The other reason has to do with one of our traditional qualifiers, in that being dangerous is an occupational hazard of what he does. He's a fighter, and often when he beats people up, he makes enemies. Especially later, they are usually incredibly powerful enemies. Several of the enemies he faces in Z wouldn't have been his enemies per say except that they were out for revenge (usually because he didn't kill someone properly the first time, being that he's such a kind-hearted character.). As a result, being around him involves a lot of risk. His family and friends have to be the bravest people in the world seeing as how they stick with him even though many of them die...   a lot...     often because of being caught in the cross fire. Sure, they usually get wished back with the Dragon Balls, but one would think once would be traumatic enough. Some, like poor Krillin, end up biting it as many as 3 times and yet he still sticks around. As we can see, Goku is clearly an excellent addition to our lineup of Dangerous Characters, and that's the tiger's two cents.

Image taken from Dragon Ball Z.