Monday, February 28, 2011

Inuyasha: Season 1

Due to the long running nature of this show, there WILL be some spoilers in this review and the reviews to follow related to subsequent seasons. Read at your own risk. You have been warned.

Now here is an anime that brings back some memories. When most of us were young, we had Pokemon, Sailor Moon, and Dragon Ball Z, but as those of us who found anime fascinating began to outgrow daytime programming we began to seek out darker, and edgier stuff to sink our teeth into. And that was when we discovered Adult Swim. Back in it's anime heyday, Adult Swim carried a number of fan favorites, some of which endured for quite some time. One such program told a feudal fairy tale about a half demon, his not-girlfriend from present day Tokyo, a lecherous monk, a demon slayer, and a young fox demon, who travel the land in search of the ultimate McGuffin, and the demise of those who would covet it for evil ends. It is a tale of romance and magic, so let's grab our bow and arrows, and take a jump through that conveniently placed time portal. Today, we're looking at Season 1 of the long-running series, Inuyasha.

The main cast as they travel through the countryside.
 From left to right, Sango, Miroku, Inuyasha, Shippo, and Kagome.
Inuyasha was one of my personal favorites during my late teenage years, and probably one of the anime I followed the most closely out of any of the shows broadcast on cable TV. And is it any wonder? The characters are fun and interesting and the setting is pretty epic. The anime was based on a manga of the same name that was penned by Rumiko Takahashi (Known also for her other long running manga, and the subsequent anime "Ranma 1/2) and ran in Shounen Sunday from November 1996, to June 2008. That on its own is quite impressive. The anime version was produced by the studio Sunrise (getting a lot of those it seems) and it ran on several local TV stations from October of 2000 to September of 2004. In the USA and Canada it is licensed by Viz Media and in Australia and New Zealand by Madman Entertainment.

Get used to hearing about this incident folks.
 By the end of the season alone you'll have heard about it
so much it will be permanently tattooed into your brain.
Our story starts in Feudal Japan, albeit a very romanticized version of Feudal Japan where demons roam freely and monks and priestesses actually have spiritual powers. Surely the titular half-demon hero of the title is already doing something heroic right? Is he rescuing children? Saving a damsel in distress? Nope. Instead, he is very heroically stealing this treasure called the Jewel of Four Souls from a village after apparently having fatally wounded the local priestess that was guarding it. Hmm, maybe anti hero would be a better description at this point in the story? He gets to this sacred tree at the edge of the village before the priestess, Kikyo, let's fly an arrow which combined with her spiritual powers, seals him to the tree, putting him into what is essentially a magical stasis before she dies in her sister Kaede's arms. Her last words to her sister are that the jewel is to be burned with her body so that no one else can be harmed by it.

You'd think someone would have noticed a lump in her side that large
long before now with everyone running scared about cancer these days.
So a few hundred years pass, and we now find ourselves  in present day Tokyo, as our main heroine Kagome Higurashi turns 15 years old.  As she's off to school from her house which is situated on the property of her family's Shinto shrine, her younger brother tells her that he's lost the family cat inside the old dry well that they have on the premises. In the process of looking for the wayward feline, they take a look down the well and end up getting a nasty surprise, as an incredibly large centipede like monster grabs hold of Kagome and drags her down into the well. During the descent, Kagome manages to free herself from the centipede by inexplicably calling on some as of yet untapped mystical powers before attempting to climb back out. Much to her consternation, she finds herself in Feudal Japan. After discovering a sleeping Inuyasha pinned to the tree (and spending some time playing with his dog ears to see if they are real), she is apprehended by the local villagers who don't know what to make of her strange clothes. At the village she encounters an older Kaede who is surprised by how similar she looks to Kikyo, and explains that her sister died 50 years ago. Naturally, the sacred jewel is not far behind, as the centipede monster gives chase again, wounding Kagome, revealing that it was inside of her. In the struggle, Kagome also releases Inuyasha from the tree and after nearly being attacked by him too, Kaede throws a magic necklace around his neck that is bespelled so that when Kagome gives him a special word of command, he is magically (and quite violently) pulled to the ground in a submissive posture. What is this magic word of command you ask? Being that Inuyasha is half dog-demon, naturally, the first thing that would come to Kagome's mind would be the Japanese equivalent of "Sit." Over the next episode or so a series of events take place that result in the Jewel being shattered and scattered all over Japan requiring Kagome and Inuyasha to team up and travel the country in search of the shards which basically amounted to a mega McGuffin.

With all the dangers in this universe its really amazing there
were any nihonjin left when Commodore Perry showed up.
The world in which the story takes place feels very general in many ways. Aside from some of the demons whom in many ways are closer to Shinto spirits in that they can chose to be good or bad (most are bad but there are exceptions), there aren't a lot of setting related surprises. We know we're in the Japanese feudal period, therefore, we are going to see samurai, we are going to see feudal lords, and we are going to see the peasants, bandits, and such that all traditionally crop up in period pieces. In terms of the disasters that seem to hit however, one has to wonder if Takahashi didn't guarantee the decimation of countless villages by putting the demons in there.  At this point, most of the core group's journeys are largely local. It's relatively easy to get back to the main village and Kagome can go back through the well to see her folks at regular intervals (they are surprisingly quite supportive of their fifteen year-old daughter going into certain danger with a strange man who's way older than her). It is definitely advantageous, as the main duo and the rest of the five-man-band that joins later on definitely benefit from having that base of operations to work out of.

Ah, Sesshomaru.
Arrogant, racist, and abusive as hell to his younger sibling,
 and we loved every minute of it.
One of the advantages in a long running series is that you can take as long as you want when introducing the main characters, so that rather than having everyone spontaneously show up in episode 1 you can have them spread out over a few episodes or even a whole season. This show makes full use of that advantage giving the writers plenty of time to introduce each new character and allow their story to develop in relation to the others without leaving you feeling like nothing's happening. Inuyasha and Kagome weren't officially even working together before partway through episode 4 and it wouldn't be until episode 9 that we got to meet any of the other main characters. This is totally okay once we realize the importance of the stuff that happens in between and how it serves to establish Kagome and Inuyasha's relationship with each other and introduce some important quest items, such as the sword Tetsusaiga, a family heirloom from Inuyasha's father and some of Inuyasha's problems like his incredibly racist demon half brother Sesshomaru (we'll talk about him later), and his inconvenient weakness of turning human at the new moon (in a sort of reverse werewolf phenomenon). Once the other characters in the main party start trickling into the picture, it's really nice to see the time Takahashi and the subsequent story board people at Sunrise took to establish these characters within the group. For instance, when the third member of the group, the young fox demon Shippo, is introduced, he's got his own problems with the Thunder Brothers as his father was killed by them because of the sacred jewel shards in his possession. After the Thunder Brothers are dealt with and the shards liberated, he stays with Kagome and Inuyasha because he has nowhere else safe to go and he's still just a kid. Kagome is fine with that because she still feels somewhat responsible for the sacred jewel getting shattered anyway, and Inuyasha develops a sort of sibling rivalry with him.

Here's an interesting question: When Urasue revived Kikyo,
she had to pull her soul out of Kagome because
it had already transmigrated. Kagome hasn't been born
yet, so does this mean there's another reincarnated priestess
walking around with a sacred jewel in her side? Hmm...
It isn't long after this (and a small smattering of filler) that the story begins to get complicated. While the gang is away hunting for jewel shards, Kikyo's grave is defiled and her ashes stolen by a demon named Urasue, who then proceeds to use those ashes and Kagome's soul (being Kikyo's reincarnation) to bring Kikyo back from the dead. Naturally, given the circumstances of her death, this does not bode well, as she didn't get the memo that Inuyasha is a good guy now (uh....  sort of), and is still bent on killing him. As a result however, new questions begin to arise as it seems that Kikyo and Inuyasha both are convinced that the other one attacked them first 50 years ago, and it seems that before the incident, they were actually dating (which injects a whole lot of awkwardness for Kagome as she and Inuyasha have been getting closer to each other lately). Kikyo departs, leaving the party to question what the heck is going on. However, this in turn sets the stage perfectly for a new party member.

Now that is a big frigging boomerang.
The season is half over now as we finally get to introducing Miroku, an itinerant Buddhist monk with a penchant for lechery who is on the trail of a demon named Naraku, who has cursed him with...   the ultimate weapon! It basically amounts to having a black hole in one's hand. Sure there's that little problem of it eventually killing him if he doesn't off Naraku first but it's still a really powerful weapon, especially against lesser enemies. Miroku's troubles with Naraku turn out to be intimately connected to Inuyasha's past as it turns out that Naraku cam into being around the time Inuyasha was pinned to the tree and was actually responsible for the incident because it was his orchestrations that caused Inuyasha and Kikyo to be turned against each other. Soon after, Naraku tries to get at them again by using Sesshomaru, giving everyone a good look at him, and then he goes into hiding. Not long after that Kikyo is alerted to the misunderstanding and then right as we go into the last couple of episodes of the season, Sango is introduced along with her cat demon companion Kilala (or Kirara depending on the preferred pronunciation scheme). Sango probably has the most tragic back story of all given that she comes from a village of demon slayers that was completely destroyed by demons at Naraku's bidding, including her father and kid brother, and on top of it all, Naraku tricks her into believing Inuyasha did it so that she can distract them while he's doing his own thing. Eventually, she learns the truth, but not before being brutally injured multiple times. The season ends with Sango telling them how the sacred jewel originated in her village and the crew continuing their search for for the sacred jewel and Naraku (which works out, because, big surprise, he's collecting the shards too) once Sango's injuries have healed.

Miroku: Naraku...  if those bugs couldn't poison me when I did it,
I'd suck you up like a vacuum cleaner!
The supporting characters in the series so far are usually not that important unless they are recurring. Most of the time, especially in filler episodes which are usually just "monster of the week" in format, you'll have a specific support character or village with a problem which the Inu-nakama has to come in and fix, like in one episode there's a young servant who's looking for a princess on behalf of his lord, and in another, a water god has mysteriously turned evil and started demanding human sacrifices from the local populous. On occasion some of these characters are catalysts for the crew learning important information, but most of the time thier just distractions from the meat of the plot. However, there are a couple of recurring characters that have appeared that are important. From the first village, there is Kaede of course, but then there is also Myoga the Flea-demon who is a servant of Inuyasha's (and rather humorously likes to suck his blood or the blood of anything else living and handy), who is very old and is often the provider of plot information. There is also Hachi, a tanuki demon who is a servant of Miroku's (How that happened with an itinerant monk I don't know), who occasionally helps the gang out with various things. Many of the antagonists aside from Naraku are complicated to explain because aside from being mad at Inuyasha for various reasons (Sesshomaru because Inuyasha's a half-demon, and Kikyo because of that whole betrayal thing), but once Naraku enters the picture for them, it's hard to see them as technically true enemies because if not for their grudges, they'd all be on the same side. Not to mention, Sesshomaru is really kinda hard to hate if you know what's coming for him. Inuyasha already cut his arm off when they were fighting over Tetsusaiga so aside from the rascism thing he's a handicapped bishounen badass, which is why I think a lot of girls went nuts over him when the show was big (including me?..  Well..  maybe...   er...   just a little...    okay yes, I did too, I admit it). However, don't even think for a second that this applies to Naraku. Once he appears, most of the shenanigans go out the window, and no wonder, considering his name actually means "Abyss" in Japanese, and he's already thought up about six different plots to handle the situation before you've thought up one.

Kagome: Inuyasha!
Inuyasha: Kagome!
Kagome: Inuyasha!
Inuyasha: Kagome!
Sesshomaru: Um...   can't you save this until after I've killed you?
In terms of overall style, I doubt we're going to get to that until the end of this review which I plan on interchanging with a different anime every month so we're not doing the same thing every review week. But at this point in the series, the jokes are funny and even some of the stuff that much anime falls victim to like over use of calling people's names and calling one's attacks are enjoyable both in English and Japanese. The plot is moving at a nice pace, the filler is not overly suffocating, and I'm having a good time, so I can't say I have many complaints this season. It would be kinda nice if Kagome wasn't always over analyzing everything though. Like in the episode where Sesshomaru's introduced, she has this whole internal monologue about Inuyasha's relationship with his human mother and how it compares to her own mother and while some of this is related to the plot, I would have thought she'd have figured out that Inuyasha had a human mother looong before someone came out and told her point blank. It's kinda obvious. Not to mention, some of the dub work in the English version is a bit corny. Enough so that it's quite laughable For those of you who are wondering why I'm not calling foul about Miroku's tendency to flirt with girls and occasionally feel them up when I made such a fuss about Yuuji back when I reviewed Tona-gura!, there's a reason. Miroku's antics are mostly played for comedy, and other characters call him out on it, with repercussions, and they don't completely dominate the plot. Not to mention, he does choose to exhibit self control when it is required of him and he actually does have some real redeeming qualities. Yuuji on the other hand, aside from arousing Kazuki's anger, usually seemed to get away with everything Scot free, was sometimes encouraged to behave that way, and his antics WERE the plot, and even his hobbies had perversion potential.

So far, the art style is fun, and the music is pretty nice. Each character has their own ensemble of musical themes backing them up, some of which are nice enough I catch myself humming them all the time, like Kikyo and Kagome's themes which both sound almost like lullabies at times, but Kikyo's sounds more tragic and regretful, while Kagome's seems slightly more romantic and sweet. It works really well especially since the series is so long and allows the viewer audiological cues along with the visual ones that something character-related is going on. When it comes to the intro and outro theme songs, I guess their okay. "Change the World" the show's first intro which is performed by V6 is a nice upbeat song, but I'm not sure if it's the theme I would have picked given all the stuff that happens. The two ending themes "My Will" Performed by Dream, and "Fukai Mori" by Do as Infinity are also both nice, but I tend to think the second one resonated with me better than the first one. Having thoroughly seen both the Japanese and English dubs for this season now I can fairly say that I like both of them. On the one side, the English dub has some very nice actors for their ensemble. There's Kirby Morrow as Miroku who also did part of Ocean's dub for Goku in Dragonball Z, and there's Monica Stori as Kagome, Richard Ian Cox as Inuyasha and some others the English only crowd may find familiar, but in the Japanese version, they've got Kappei Yamaguchi as Inuyasha (also Shinichi Kudo in another long running series, Detective Conan), Toshiyuki Morikawa as Naraku (would you believe this guy was actually Jonouchi in Yu-Gi-Oh and Sephiroth?) and then we have Sango's seiyuu Houko Kuwashima who has been practically everywhere (Medusa in Soul Eater, Clare in Claymore, Isara Gunther in the first Valkyria Chronicles PS3 game, the list goes on.), not that some of the others haven't. Overall I think it's been a good start to the series so hope you'll come back and see us when we come out with the overview for season 2.

Images taken from Inuyasha.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Fun with Japanese: The Language of Weather

Ah, what a lovely backdrop, too bad it's just a picture.
Welcome back gang. We've had a lot of variety in our weather lately it seems. Not that long ago, at least in my neck of the woods, we were getting snow practically every other week, and this past weekend it's been up in the 60's and 70's. Maybe the groundhog didn't see his shadow this year. However you paint it, I am loving this weather. Though it may not yet be nice enough to go swimming in bodies of water more exposed to the elements than Section 9's indoor pool, there's still plenty of other stuff to do, such as batting around words and phrases in anime that have to do with weather. So let's turn the news to the weather girl, and see what she has for us. Who knows when this nice weather might disappear.

Daisuke: If I were in a real snowscape,
my feet would be soooo friggen cold right now.
雪が降った。
ゆきがふった。
Yuki ga futta.

I don't like snow very much. It's nice when it's falling but then you have to drive in it, and walk around in it and worry about icy patches and shovel it. But it was a reality for this part of the U.S.A. up until a week ago. But to the point. A lot of the time in anime where you see snow, they will use the above phrase or a variant of it to indicate probably unnecessarily, that snow is falling or has fallen. Unless of course their pointing it out to another character who hasn't looked out the window yet. Yuki is the word for snow while the verb furu is a general weather-related verb that indicates the skies are dispensing precipitation. Normally, if the speaker is outside, they will be very cold and/or wet, obviously, except in specific circumstances, as when we're talking about dreams or alternate realities, like this one from a later episode of D.N. Angel, in which Daisuke's been having dreams about a snowscape he painted, and then suddenly found himself trapped in it. Well, at least he doesn't have to deal with the elements like it was a real scenario. In that case, those pajamas of his wouldn't be enough.

With a normal character, it'd be easy to tell her to suck it up,
but all of these character know better than to tempt
Lina's wrath and a potential casting of the Dragon Slave.
寒い
さむい
Samui

This adjective is often used to express the fact that a character or the environs are cold. Naturally, it will also often be used around the same time that winter is in play, but anytime where the temperature can drop to below normally comfortable temperatures is a potential place for its use. You will probably hear it more often from characters that are unabashed complainers. Most taciturn samurai types may register that the temperature has dropped, but they probably won't whine about it. Your a lot more likely to hear it in comedies, and from characters who have a low tolerance for discomfort. Once again, like Lina Inverse, who in this scene in Slayers Try, is being much more vocal about her suffering than everyone else

Most awesome set of goggles ever!
 I want a pair like those!
晴れ
はれ
Hare

This is the kind of weather we really want around here. The sun is shining, clouds are minimal at best, and hopefully the temperature is going to start moving in an upward fashion. Tenki ga ii, guys, (that means the weather is good), and the skies are "clear." You'll hear hare less from folks who are actually in a conversation and more from the local weather report, but it will slip in on occasion. A more traditional usage of it can be seen in the episode that introduces Ed, in the series, Cowboy Bebop when she's sitting out in in the sun while listening to the weather and net diving. I sure hope she brought some sunscreen. Never mind the rock showers, I can only wonder what that gate accident did to the Earth's ozone layer in this universe.

It really is raining in this shot people,
just look close enough and you'll see the streaks from the water.

あめ
Ame

This is a funny word. Not to be confused with the word 飴(あめ, ame)which is pronounced the same way but uses a different kanji and means candy instead of rain. This little noun can be used interchangeably with the verb introduced in the above paragraph about fallen snow to indicate the falling of rain. Depending on the climate the characters currently occupy, you'll hear about it more or less often than you will snow (unless in the desert) but however things roll, it's probably the most common you will hear in general. This is because rain is often used as a catalyst to get two prospective love birds (or character who think they're love birds) together under one umbrella. This happens in this scene from the series Irresponsible Captain Tylor. Though the rain is simulated and Tylor and the character he's with are on the holodeck of a spaceship, it still seems pretty real to them.

This kid must be a pretty powerful goddess
if she can accidentally summon typhoons.
台風は来る。
たいふうはくる。
Taifuu wa kuru.

There are very few weather phenomena that will capture a character's fear and imagination quite like a typhoon, or to most American readers, a hurricane. If someone tells you one of these puppies is headed your way, most folks are very likely to pay attention and get to cover. However, imagine the guilt a person might have if they created one of these destructive behemoths completely by accident? This is exactly what happens in the first episode of the series Kamichu, in which the protagonist, a young teenager named Yurie, woke up one day and realized she had become a Shinto goddess, and in the process of trying to figure out what her powers were, she accidentally set one of these monsters loose. It's unrealistic as all get out, but that's not what we watch anime for, is it? ^^

And that's the lineup, once again language junkies, until next time, keep those dictionaries handy, and have fun!

Images taken from Cowboy Bebop, D.N. Angel, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG, Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Kamichu and Slayers Try.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tales of Phantasia

Happy Valentines Day everyone. I hope today's been a good day for you. We've got another first for this blog as we look at our first anime based off of a video game. We're about to enter into a fictional universe where Earth's civilizations are made up of a number of different races, primarily humans and elves, and enemies are legion. All was quiet in Cress's village until one day, it was destroyed sending him on a journey through time to protect what remains of the world from destruction. Thank goodness it's a short one. So gather your summoning rings and strap on your best boss-killing sword. Today, we're taking a look at Tales of Phantasia, The Animation.

The main cast, from left to right, Claus, Arche, Cress, Mint, and Chester.
Also from left to right, if we use D&D terminology, we'd have:
the druid(summoner), the wizard, the fighter, the cleric, and the ranger.
Amazing how these party archetypes are so reusable.
Most anime inspired by video games don't necessarily have the best record so it's fair to say I went into this one with limited expectations. On the bright side, I have seen far worse. As I said, this series was an OVA that was was produced based off of a Namco produced game called Tales of Phantasia, which has seen a number of releases on about 4 different gaming platforms between 1995 and today, with later iterations even incorporating full voice acting and other upgrades. The OVA was produced in four thirty-minute episodes by Actas Inc., Frontier Works Inc., and Geneon Entertainment over an extended period between 2004 and 2006. Though it roughly follows the plot of the original game, as best I've been able to research it, with a few key differences.

This really inspires confidence.
The big bad villain isn't even here yet
and our heroes are already in trouble!
The story begins...  well, in the middle of something big. A small town has just been razed and we are introduced to our main heroes, a swordsman named Cress (alternately known as Cless in the fanlations that filtered over here after the first release of the game) and Mint, a female cleric, as they are...   wait a second...    naw...    the show hasn't even started and they've been captured? I can tell this is getting off to a great start. So anyway, the guy whose in charge (and who actually had a name but it wasn't important enough to bear much remembrance in the context of this review) has dragged these two off with his cronies and after snatching a pair of amulets that the two are wearing, he starts to use the two stones contained within them to open the sarcophagus of our main villain, King Dhaos, who really, really hates humans for some reason. (Makes one wonder why the guy would even do that, but it was probably just for the chaos factor.)  Meanwhile, this archer named Chester barges in and creates a commotion to kill off all of Mr. Chaos Monger's cronies, and rescue them and an old guy named Morrison who was apparently also taken hostage by the marauders. Dhaos is awakened, but in a split-second decision, Morrison decides to send Mint and Cress back in time to find the heroes who had reportedly sealed Dhaos before and enlist their help. In the meantime, he and Chester plan to hold Dhaos off (assuming they can find a means to travel back in time. Once they have that, holding him off shouldn't be a problem because they'll just show up in a second in relation to those left behind, right?) So Cress and Mint land a hundred years in the past, and then we have a huge flash forward as apparently an entire war is fought off screen. We are then promptly thrust into the war's last battle at a place called Midgard (yes, like the name of our plane of existence in Norse mythology) and we are introduced to the other half of the main team, the summoner, Claus F. Lester, and his companion Arche Klein, the half-elf witch (I think that's what she is. She does ride a broomstick.) As the battle ends, they determine to find a way back to Cress and Mint's time in order to save the future and eventually, destroy King Dhaos.

Cress: That's a big honkin' tree there.
Any idea why it needs you and not any other cleric, Mint?
Mint: Nope.
The world the characters live in feels like it should be a pretty big one. It has a name, Aseria, though I had trouble remembering it because names don't mean anything unless you understand what someone is talking about. There seem to be many varying societies and cultures which are hinted at. Like there seems to be an elven culture and there seems to be ninjas and there seems to be some stratified society for the humans which half elves try to fit into since elves seem to hate them. But none of it gets expanded on. All we get is the gild of a fantasy world that feels like it should have a lot in it, but no one really wanted to tell more about it because, hey, we're in a hurry to slay a bad guy. Yeah we know that Cress and Mint got their village burned to the ground, but I couldn't help but wonder if their people were the same as the ones in Midgard of 100 years earlier, or another people that moved in later. As for the elves, we learn virtually nothing about them. We also know nothing about how the magic works or how Claus's summonings work. There is a subplot about how Yggdrasil is in trouble and that's hampering magic use in the past somehow, but that's never really explained either. Action adventure stories are about seeing things and the journey is supposed to be part of the reward, but if most of the journey is not explained and you have no way of relating it to the story in terms of how geography and culture affect what's going on, it's like someone stole the center of the chocolate cake, something's missing.

Those half elves sure move fast don't they?
There was a similar problem with the characters, and I don't just mean the supporting characters who in the game were very important and therefore I'm sure most people who have played are scandalized that I don't remember any of their names after watching this OVA. I mean the main characters too. Character development is just not there. The character designs are nice and all, and I got the feeling that some of them could be very interesting characters if they were just allowed to shine, but they don't. In fact, it really just feels like they were written to go through the motions. Granted, one of the root causes is lack of space (there's only so much one can cover in about two hours) but that's no excuse for some of the half-assed stuff that gets pulled. Like from the beginning, you have Cress and Mint as the two lead characters and it feels like they are probably going to get together, but nothing happens on that front. You don't even really get any dialog that might set them apart as unique characters. There's a point where Arche and Chester are supposedly "developing a relationship" just by spending a few moments snapping at each other in one scene, and then not five minutes later, they're cuddling just because Chester tries to cheer her up after the local elf population wouldn't allow her into a local village for being a half elf. Claus, apart from having his family name rhyme with Chester, is apparently the designated brainiac of the group, though considering he's from the past, should he really know so much? Hmm, maybe Cress and Mint are from the dark ages? There's also this ninja girl named Suzu who only got slipped in as an after thought near the end who I think might have been part of the party in the game but got dropped from the A-team in the animation for time reasons. She seemed like she had this big story about how her dad had gone all evil and was making the clan do awful things, but it just gets hand-waved. Guys, if your gonna bother putting it in, take the time to explain it, otherwise, viewers are just gonna get confused. We get exactly the same problem with the villains. The first bad guy that comes along really doesn't come across as anything more important than "Random Villain Seeking World Domination #543, and he only gets like a few minutes. The big bad guy is really confusing as King Dhaos is at first a threat, then he's somewhat helpful and then a threat again (I'll get into this below.) Yes he has a pretty interesting motivation once we learn it but it has a glaring inconsistency that needs addressing.

Couldn't he have at least tried asking for help first,
before he decided that it was necessary to kill everyone? 
In terms of the plot as I said before, it is basically a super truncated version of the game. Once Dhaos is defeated in the past, the group determines that they need to go to the tree called Yggdrasil to heal it because of it's ability to grant magical powers because some half-elf guy at Midgard is researching this stuff called Mys-tek and it screwed magic up. This is where Dhaos confused me for a bit because he actually helps them heal the tree, but then promptly goes back to being their enemy and enemy to all that lives once they meet him after returning to the future. However, they don't beat him there. Instead, they scare him off and then someone from the future comes and requests THEIR aid, calling them the "Time Warriors", in defeating Dhaos in the future. this involves them going to the elves in the future to figure out how to forge this special sword for Cress and get this special summon for Claus that will supposedly destroy Dhaos before going to the final showdown.   It turns out in the end (no I don't care about spoiling this one) that Dhaos was an alien who had come to Earth because only Yggdrasil's power could save his world. So yeah, nice job breaking it heroes, you've just doomed an entire race of people by killing it's savior! Don't you just feel great about that? Although in all fairness, if the tree was so powerful, couldn't he have just gotten a seed from it or something, you know, without killing everybody? I'm sure it wouldn't have been that big a deal. I mean, it can provide magic powers to the ENTIRE WORLD! One little seed should not be an issue! Most trees continue their species by producing a lot of them anyway. If he can travel freely through time, it should be even easier. He could even go to a point in history where the tree was at its height and procure one of its healthiest seeds then, or if it only produces one, then he could go forward in time to procure it when the tree died or when the humans no longer needed it, right? I dunno, maybe someone didn't think things through.

Presentation is probably the only place where I have anything good to say and even here, it's tempered with issues. I liked the character designs and the visual atmosphere which definitely has a very traditional monsters and magic type feel. Overall the music wasn't anything to write home about, but the opening and ending themes, "Yume no Hate" and "Priere" which both happen to be sung by Masami Suzuki (the seiyuu for Amelia in Slayers) are both nice to listen to. However, one of the biggest problems is pacing. There is too much going on in too little space and it shows. Like I said earlier, whole wars got cut out or took place off screen because there just wasn't enough time (lazy excuse if you ask me, but what do I know?) Whole plots were truncated into single sentences like plot about Suzu's family which pretty much got whittled down to one sentence about not wanting to fight her father. Honestly, I think if the animators had even wanted to consider the possibility of being taken seriously, they would have given themselves more space, rather than creating for the viewers the rushed feel of being strapped to the front of a shinkansen. Surprisingly, there is also an English dub, and this is yet another production in which Johnny Yong Bosch gets a pivotal role as he gets to be Cress. I don't know why they did one but if it's worth that much to you to watch this OVA in English, more power to ya. The dub work is not bad, but it's overshadowed by the fact that this wasn't S-ranked material to begin with. Overall, there's a lot about this anime that could stand to be better, in many cases a lot better, before I would even consider giving it a good recommendation. I won't say it's the worst anime I've ever seen. but it would have needed to do much better if it wanted to be more than just a mediocre retelling of a video game. I openly admit I know very little of the game itself, so who knows, maybe some of my issues are turned into outright genius when paired with the game as a set, but I really doubt it, and that's the tiger's two cents.

Images taken from Tales of Phantasia: The Animation

Monday, February 7, 2011

Dangerous Characters: Black Ghost

It's the first Monday of February and things around here are quite chilly. Naturally we're introducing a dangerous character who's heart is equally cold. This fellow is an evil merchant of death who can have people disappear at the drop of a hat, and strikes terror in the hearts of cyborgs and normal humans alike. He is known (and feared) both for the power he wields among men, and in the physical sense of the weapons he sells and develops, and for the evil organization that carries his alias. From the manga Cyborg 009 by Shotaro Ishinomori, and the various anime iterations that were spawned from it, allow me to introduce Black Ghost.

Don't let the comically theatrical mask fool you, this guy is one bad dude. Head of the Black Ghost Organization he makes his living by trading and developing weapons to third world countries in order to proliferate technology and subsequently, war. He revels in war and chaos and will do just about anything to spread both. He's kidnapped, tricked, and bribed scientists into his weapons development programs, ordered his cronies to kidnap people off the street to use as live test subjects in cyberization experiments and if that wasn't scary enough, he's got several armies worth of nuclear warheads, tanks, giant robots, and who knows what else to use on anyone who stands in his way. What's even scarier about him is that he's actually got the charisma to have people following him on this maddening odyssey. So if he's your enemy, be careful who you run with, because you never know if one of your own friends might have been turned to his side. Though no one knows his true identity, he is known to be quite vengeful, especially if you were part of the Black Ghost organization even unwillingly. There's a certain group of nine cybernetically enhanced ex-test subjects who can attest to that. So don't get on this guy's bad side. He fits the "totally evil" category to a tee.

Image taken from Cyborg 009 (2001 Series)