Monday, April 25, 2011

Inuyasha: Season 3

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.

So here we are gang, after season 3, we're halfway to the end. For those of you just tuning in, it is recommended that if you haven't seen seasons one or two you may want to backtrack a little bit and start with them. The links to those reviews are attached to their corresponding season mentioned in the previous sentence. Or if you want to see them at the same time you can go below and click on the label in the review list marked "Inuyasha." As before, Inuyasha is produced by Sunrise based on the manga by Rumiko Takahashi, and is licensed by Viz Media in the U.S. Naraku's starting to get a little frisky, so ready your weapons and prepare for battle. 

I'll grant that you're trying Shippo, but we know this is filler
and nobody's going to care!
When we last left our heroes (Inuyasha's barely even trying to give lip-service to villain-hood by this point), Inuyasha had just gotten the crap beaten out of him in the fight with Ryukotsusei, had once again gained mastery over his sword, Testsusaiga and was more than ready to test out his shiny new powers on just about anything that might be unfortunate enough to cross his path. So with that sort of epic conclusion to a season, one would expect that the next season would start with him trying to find Naraku and engage in some extreme butt-kicking, right? Well guess what? We don't. Instead we start off with...   Filler! Don't we love filler? It has absolutely no relevance to the plot and nothing will happen during it that anyone will care about ever again! What an awesome concept! Okay, okay, we're moving on. After this brief interlude where Shippo learns about how bad it is to lust after the jewel even if it is to help a pretty girl, we get somewhat back on the rails as Miroku and Sango continue to get closer, Kagura gets a little bit of development, and Naraku sends more baddies after them. But I am afraid that we're getting into a part of the series where filler has invaded, horribly as there are almost as many things that don't matter to the plot as there are things that do.

Yeah, this guy keeps jewel shards in his navel. I'd hate to
think of the belly-button lint that collects in there. ><;
That's not to say that some stuff doesn't happen. There are several major points that do occur. For instance, the Inu-nakama actually does locate an extra jewel shard early on. In another point of interest it happens in the show's first two-part story, in which they happen upon a village of tiny people who are being held prisoner by this demonic sage who wants to train them in sagery so they can be used as fertilizer for a tree that can produce a fruit that grants immortality. To add to the problem, it's the night of the new moon and Sango's off making repairs to her weapon so the nakama is not at full strength to begin with. As a result, things get very muddy (not to mention nasty, see the picture), and we see why Inuyasha doesn't like fighting as a human. Very painfully. There's a point where the Sage body slams him and you can't help but wince and think that had to be a couple of cracked ribs, at the very least. Ouch! It's becoming more noticeable that there are fewer shards to go around at this point though as it seems to be the only shard they actually grab during this season, and later we see that Naraku's part of the jewel is almost whole. 

Naraku must really like having Inuyasha getting shot at
by his would-be girl-friends, seeing as he tries to make it
happen so often.
Speaking of the sacred Jewel, Naraku also seems to be getting tired of waiting around giggling maniacally about how awesomely evil he is and has realized that his lackies alone are not enough and that it's time to start sending out more disposable characters. To this end, he seeks to have Kagome and Inuyasha killed by their own hands by introducing Tsubaki, a dark priestess who is proficient in curses. He lends her the jewel and she uses it to try to control Kagome to shoot at our favorite half-demon in order to force a difficult choice. Apparently she had a beef with Kikyo, because she was given the sacred jewel when Tsubaki thought she should have gotten it. (Now there's someone who can hold a grudge!) To add insult to injury (at least from her point of view), she had even tried to curse Kikyo and the attempt had resulted in Kikyo throwing the curse back at her. When did all this happen? 50 years ago...  hmm...   It also results in Inuyasha getting a pounding by her demons before they manage to dispatch her and move on, but not before she manages to send Kagome into a dreamtime experience where she imagines life if it had been normal, escape once, and go through some monologuing while unsealing a powerful oni in order to control it. (You're not the main character lady! Get over yourself! The monologues are Kagome's job!)

At some point, you gotta wonder if he's got some
 spare heirloom fire-rat robes lying around somewhere.
He ruins his clothes so much with all this getting skewered
and getting beaten up and stuff he'd almost have to.
Then there's the story arc dealing with whether or not Naraku also has "that time of the month" where he's weak and defenseless. This starts because Kagura finds herself not all that busy while Naraku seems to be out and that Koga the wolf demons nearby. Thinking to blow off some steam by taking his shards, she goes to dispatch him and manages to grab his shards before getting the idea to try and escape from Naraku by appealing to Sesshomaru. The offer fails, but as the Inu-nakama happens to be in the area at the same time, they get some interesting info on how Naraku might actually have a moment of weakness because of his amalgamated form being made up of one human and a whole lot of demons, which somehow (I don't quite know how to justify this) makes him a half demon, and therefore prone to half-demon weaknesses. This is mathematically inconsistent. After all, being one part human and several hundred parts demon does not a half-demon make. It would make someone more like 99.89 percent demon or something, but alas, I am descending into semantics. Naturally Kagura get's a hefty punishment from Naraku for leaving the premises, but the Inu-nakama is left to wonder what the heck is going on. It also seems that Naraku is attempting to kick out the human part of himself so he can go full demon. This results in Onigumo getting the boot as a demonic humanoid being who calls himself Muso. Naturally this sparks a fight because Muso is after the same girl that sparked his interest...  50 years ago. Namely Kikyo. But Kikyo isn't around so he goes after Kagome instead, resulting in more epic fighting (with Inuyasha getting run through the stomach again!) before Naraku decides he actually didn't want to get rid of Onigumo just yet so Muso becomes yet another sadly disposable character. Too bad, he seemed to hate Naraku as much as the nakama did, and even if he was pretty evil, he might have been a useful ally.

Why is it that everything prior to this series happened 50 years ago?
Sure some of these things are time sensitive, but not all of it
has to be directly connected to the point where Inuyasha
got bound to the tree.
This results in some bigger problems though as Inuyasha finds he needs to do some sword maintenance in order to make Testsusaiga powerful enough to break barriers because they've learned that Naraku has one that is just too shiny for Tetsusaiga to handle. This results in them adventuring to a village near a cave of demon bats with a conveniently placed barrier device that works in such a way that if Inuyasha kills the person manning it his sword should acquire the needed ability. The problem comes because there's a little girl guarding it, who happens to be a half demon the son of the tribe's leader produced with one of the villagers, creating a lot of interesting plot development (and the reason I say Inuyasha only pays lip service to villain-hood). He eventually takes a third option that doesn't involve killing innocent children, but you would think that this would give him the necessary excuse to take the fight directly to Naraku now that he has what he needs. Instead we get to see the nakama join Sesshomaru  in fighting off a group of panther demons that have a grudge against the siblings because the tribe lost a battle with Inuyasha's father some centuries before. However, Sesshomaru had to fight them again....    yup, 50 years ago... all by himself because Inuyasha was stuck to a tree. We do eventually get to fighting Naraku in an epic battle where he has to run away because he's getting his ass handed to him, but it only gets two episodes while the panther demon arc and the dark priestess arc got at least three.

To be fair, Richard Ian Cox does a convincing job, but if
you're watching the Japanese dub, Kappei Yamaguchi
sounds sooo creepy when he tries to act like a woman! ><;
The biggest problems so far have been that there are too many disposable characters that nobody cares about. There's been the ones we've mentioned so far, and then there's been the girl with the fake jewel shard from the first episode of the season, Soten, the last of the Thunder brothers, the two ninja sisters who met up with Sango while she was repairing her weapon, Shiori the half demon girl we'll never see again, the samurai that tries to get Sango to marry him... the list goes on and on. Half the season is nothing but filler as they randomly run around searching for Naraku and/or jewel shards and instead find heaps of trouble (it's almost like they were going through an RPG and decided that the queue for side quests had gotten too long). That being said, we do get a decent amount of character development in some episodes. We do get to see a little bit more of the romance between Miroku and Sango blossoming, although I have to say that as time goes on, I'm feeling less and less sorry for Sango for putting up with Miroku. She's coming to expect his lechery more and more, and therefore voicing her surprise when he acts like an adult often causes him to backslide. Not that it isn't hilarious, but it's the kind of thing that she should have expected after all the time they've spent together. We also get a little bit of development for Rin, the little girl who is now following Sesshomaru around, as well as Kagura who surprisingly is turning into a rather sympathetic character in that all she wants is to be free of Naraku. Some of the more comedic filler episodes are also hilariously funny. For instance, in one episode Myoga shows up while being pursued by a female flea named Shoga who is apparently his betrothed and in the process Shoga takes control of the other characters while trying to catch him. This is especially creepy in one scene where she has control of Inuyasha and therefore it looks like he's acting like a woman who is trying to be seductive. There's also the episode where Jaken tries to steal Tetsusaiga by pulling several elaborate but ultimately unsuccessful tricks. The best one though, is probably the last episode in the season where Kagome has gone home and Inuyasha follows her to pick her up, but ends up spending some time there and learning about what life in the modern age is like. This includes eating steaks, taking baths in water that is apparently much hotter than he's used to, eating curry, and dealing with robbers. Given his medieval realm of experience, it's pretty entertaining. (I do wish they would stick to the plot though.)

I still don't have much left to say in terms of style, but on the bright side, we're half finished now, so I'm that much closer to coming out with an overall opinion. We do get a new opening and ending theme song partway through the show. "Owarinai Yume" by Nanase Aikawa isn't a bad theme, and we also get "Every Heart" by BoA (Beat of Angel) which I really like. There haven't been any major new additions to the cast in terms of voice actors, so there's really not that much to add. Both the English and Japanese voice overs are still doing their job although the show is still plagued by narm on occasion and the English dub does have a couple of places where the voice actors just sound like their reading their lines or are being melodramatic, which is a little annoying. At least we're still moving, if not quite as fast as I would like, so I guess the thing to do is sign off until next time. Hope you join us next month when we look at season 4!

Images taken from Inuyasha.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Tiger's Top Ten: Weirdest Attack Names

Now that's a guy who really loves his wife. ^^
So we all know how ridiculous it is when people call their attacks. For one thing, it's not generally a good idea to announce what your doing, and for another, in real life it doesn't really do all that much to improve the attack's effectiveness except perhaps in the scenario where the other guy might be distracted by the mere suggestion of the attack name. A name like "My Wife is the Best in the Universe Swing!" from Tengen Toppa Gurren Laggan (Pictured here) could potentially have that effect on people I suppose. However, if there is one thing we know about anime, it's that such things are inevitable, and in some cases, like in a story centered around fighting and techniques, it is a prerequisite. As a result, every now and then we come across an attack name that for whatever reason, seems a little off. Maybe it makes absolutely no sense in relation to the thing it's describing, maybe it is a name that opens itself to so much mockery that you can't even think about it without bursting into derisive laughter, or maybe it's one of those that makes you do a double-take, and then maybe do one more because the first and second time weren't enough to cover the sheer bizarre-ness of it. To celebrate this phenomena of anime martial weirdness, I have collected ten examples of some of the weirdest attack names I have ever heard. So put on your sweat bands and make sure your gis are secure, the countdown is about to start.

Mazinger as his chest panels are starting to warm up.
I would have captured it as he was actually
firing the thing, but then we couldn't see the robot.
#10. Breasto Fire!
This one is an easy target, but it's not nearly as gratuitous as some of the others. The reason it is called this is because it is exactly was it says. A giant robot fires laser beams out of it's chest armor. Although many people could get the wrong idea if they hadn't actually seen Mazinger Z. (You know who you are, perverts!) I can't say I've actually seen the show in completion but I can tell you it's got a history. Apparently it started the mecha anime boom of the 1970's, so naturally,  there would be a lot of firsts. (You can see all of those firsts at the wiki page if you're curious. Although I didn't expect when starting the planning for this article that it would be the first to be affectionately mocked in this countdown.

So cute, and yet, so bizarre.
#9. Metronome Attack!
We remember Pokemon right? How when we were little we'd sit down in front of the TV every day, (at least, my generation did), and watch the original Pokemon series with Ash and Misty and Brock? If you do, then you probably remember Togepi, that little egg thing that Misty was always carrying around (so that Nintendo could generate excitement about the upcoming release of Pokemon Gold and Silver, come on, we know it's true). We also probably remember that it had this attack called Metronome. I never could get my head around why this attack was given this name. Anyone who knows anything about music should know that a Metronome is a device used by musicians to keep a steady beat so they can practice playing at certain speeds. While older models had a weight on a stick that was attached to a pendulum mechanism, more modern ones just make an electronic clicking noise. I fail to see how the name for such a device would possibly invoke the meaning of "do a random move that could be absolutely anything." That just does not make any logical sense, which is why, I've labeled it number 9.

I guess explosions can be cathartic, though given the job
they've been assigned, blowing up buildings
seems rather counterproductive.
#8. Catharsis Wave!
While viewers don't actually get to see this attack on screen (which is a shame, because I bet it would be incredibly funny based on the overall tone of the show) it does make a person wonder what it does and why it would have such a name. Judging from this image from Excel Saga, it is apparently very explosive which would suggest to me that the person enacting it is working through some pretty intense character issues. Given that Excel Saga is more of an experimental comedy, it's probably better not to read too much into it. The plot is apparently that the city's security force has been given a set of costumes that are intended to spoof the Super Sentai genre. But maybe wearing those stupid costumes was more stressful then this lady at first admitted. I could understand seeing as the boss won't let them take the suits off until they've stopped ten evil deeds.

Apparently "Giant Boulder Throw!" wasn't campy enough.
#7. Earth Mausoleum Dumpling!
In all fairness, this is the literal translation of the Japanese name for this attack from the series Naruto, the official Japanese name for which is "Doryou Dango" but Sphere of Graves, the official Funimation version isn't much better in terms of fitting properly and both would have worked much better as a name for the attack Naruto and his posse escape out of at the beginning of the episode. This looks more like a guy throwing a giant rock. Maybe the premise was that the rock was so heavy it would smash opponents into their graves and be the stone to mark them, but I can't help but think that this guy just wanted to be original and ended up popping an anuerism trying to come up with something creative. Did it really have to be that complicated? Who can say? But that's is why it ranks #7 on this list.

Gotta watch out for those masters of pressure point techniques,
they can apparently make you so sensitive
you''ll never be able to get near a hot bath again!
#6. Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire!/Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken!
This is actually a practice technique used to increase speed, but it counts, because Ranma calls it out the first time he/she uses it for real (in Japanese anyway). Yeah, in Ranma 1/2, Ranma can be either a guy or a girl depending on what part of the story you're tuning in on. At this point, Ranma is a she and she's become stuck as a female because Shampoo's grandmother wants her to marry her granddaughter and is blackmailing her by telling her she won't allow her to turn back into a "he" until she either gives in or masters this technique. And she knows the pressure points to make that a reality. Not only that, but she cheats! However you look at it, it's a pretty wacky name for an technique and deserving of the #6 slot.

Making pacifism kick ass since 1995.
#5. Pacifist Crush!
Ah Slayers. In the original series, Amelia's father, the crown prince of Sey Ruhn likes to go out on his own in disguise and mingle with the populace. There are a couple of problems with this, one of them being that his family is full of power hungry jerks who don't mind if he disappears. The other one happens to be that he claims he is a staunch pacifist. Thus we get the most commonly used of his attacks, the Pacifist Crush, along with All Men Brothers Hand in Hand, Goodwill Towards all Men Smash and so on and so forth. However, I freely admit that this fighting style was designed to be mocked, and the cast of the show does so with gusto, calling the name oxymoronic (which is true) which is why I ranked it somewhat low on the list compared to some of the subsequent ones that are to follow.

That's a Double Sundae? But you didn't do anything! ><
#4. Double Sundae! / Keep Your Eye on the Birdie!
This is why Anime needs better translators, and better localization departments. This attack is one of the first we see used in the series Dragon Ball Z. It is used by Goku's brother Raditz (or almost used anyway, as he kinda stops in mid-swing) after coming to Earth on behalf of the surviving Saiyans to find out why Earth isn't destroyed yet. When Dragon Ball Z first came to the United States, it was dubbed by Ocean Studios, and then later Funimation went back and did their own. As a result we have one dub where this attack is called Keep Your Eye on the Birdie, and one in which the same attack is called Double Sundae. Either way, both attack names deserve to be mocked as they are both ridiculous and nonsensical. For those of you who are wondering why I didn't choose the Kamehameha wave, well, believe it or not, that one actually makes some sense if you know Japanese. Akira Toriyama did name that attack after the last King of Hawaii, however, it gets an extra language bonus if one realizes that Master Roshi (the guy who taught Goku the wave) is the turtle hermit, which is "Kame Sennin" in Japanese. Therefore, it also serves as an extension of his character's theme, which is also why his home is called the Kame House. It is exotic enough to deserve an honorable mention though. On a side note, it is said that Akira Toriyama went out of his way to have his alien characters use English words and phrases to make them seem more exotic and alien. (What does that say about the Japanese view about Americans? That's a question for another time.) As a result, a lot of the attack names are actually spoken in English in the Japanese dub when they are called out. Whatever you call it, it's a good fit for the 4th position.

How about I stick this shining finger
up your...   err...   never mind....
#3. Shining Finger!
If any of you saw Mobile Fighter G-Gundam when you were growing up then this one is probably burned into your brains. While it was a short-lived series on Cartoon Network, it was so horribly melodramatic I doubt anyone could forget it, not mention, can you imagine how hard it must have been for the English voice actor to say this line every single episode without breaking down laughing? I mean, there are so many bad jokes you could make about this move! (Many of them not fit for polite company.) And later when he upgraded the move, we got an extra monologue that we had to watch along with it. Anyone who watched it should remember that. "This hand of mine burns with an awesome power. It's burning grip tells me to defeat you!...   etc. etc....   Shining Finger!" Sure the only one that really tops this one is the attack from the final episode where Domon and Rain do this as a tag-team attack (while standing outside the Gundam's cockpit AS IT'S MOVING, no less) but because the normal mode is the more iconic one, it got the #3 spot.

*Awkward Silence*...   
#2. Star Gentle Uterus! (Star Gentle Creator in the English Dub)
I swear, I could not make this up. Just looking at this attack name, you'd think it came out of some hentai anime that I really should be ashamed of myself for ever even considering watching. The truth is, it didn't. Sailor Moon was intended for teenage girls right? Well, there is clearly no room for ambiguity about this attack name, as it is written and spoken in transliterated English during the Sailor Stars portion of the Sailor Moon series. Naturally, in the English version, they cleaned this up because the moral guardians would have thrown a fit if that had played unedited, but it is still interesting to contemplate the parental conversations that could have been, had this been allowed across the Pacific unscathed.

Hurray for internet memes!
#1. Za Warudo!
So how did this one beat out the last one for the #1 spot? It's quite simple my friend. It has no possible connection to the attack it represents, it has been the source of so many memes it's hard to keep track, and the attack itself is so ridiculous, it's awesome. I don't know how many of you have heard of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, (I only just heard about it recently myself) but that is where this attack originates. It comes from Dio Brando, the villain of the series. Naturally, the name is a Japanisization of "The World" which sounds normal enough. However, I have no idea how "The World" (an incomplete sentence fragment referring to topics ranging from "the planet you live on" to "the plane of existence you inhabit") could translate into stopping time, throwing a rain of daggers at your enemy and then adding insult to injury by throwing a steamroller at them while shouting "Muda Muda Muda" over and over again. (For the curious, Muda is Japanese for useless.) In fact, I fail to see how such a title could be used for an attack name at all. It doesn't sound the least bit threatening to the uninitiated and yet the attack it represents seems capable of doing so much damage. Although this is probably part of why it's held so much of a presence in the consciousness of anime fans and gamers alike. We all know that if a character hears this move called, it's too late to run and for most opponents, it's horrible overkill, in spite of the silly name. And that's my pick for #1.

Well, until next week folks, hope you enjoyed it, and if you have any other weird attack names you'd like to honorably mention, feel free to talk about them below.

Images taken from Dragon Ball Z, Excel Saga, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, Mazinger Z, Mobile Fighter G-Gundam, Naruto, Pokemon, Ranma 1/2, Sailor Moon (Sailor Stars), Slayers, and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann,

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mobile Suit Gundam Seed: Season 1

Due to the fact that we're reviewing this show in two parts, there may be a spoiler or two in this review. Read at your own risk, you have been warned.

Who doesn't love giant robots? Giant robots are awesome and today, we are looking at an anime spawning from the quintessential mold of the ultimate giant robot. It certainly isn't Optimus Prime. I'm talking about the Gundam. There have been a number of Gundam series over the years. Many of us have at least heard of Gundam Wing, and you've heard me mention Mobile Fighter G-Gundam on occasion, but we're exploring a newer sub-universe from the Gundam canon. Kira Yamato is enjoying a lovely day on the space station Heliopolis until an Earth Forces secret weapon sends his world into chaos. His status as a coordinator forces him into the cockpit of this new Mobile Suit in order to defend the people he cares about, at the cost of having to fight one of his best friends. ZAFT is coming in hot, so get on your flight suit and strap yourself in tight. Today we're taking a look at Mobile Suit Gundam SEED.

Because this is is the real reason we watch. ^^
Like a couple of its other non-mecha brethren produced by Sunrise, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED was an anime original. It originally ran for 51 episodes between October of 2002 and September of 2003 on various networks and is currently licensed in the United States by Bandai Entertainment. It was the last Gundam series to air on Cartoon Network and it was one of the last few real anime series in the Toonami viewing block when it started to decline in popularity. I had managed to catch a couple of episodes before, but I remember being totally mad because it seemed like they were unable to decide what order to show the episodes in. (Detailed story lines in a TV show are hard enough as is without trying to put the episode order into a blender. ><) Even so, I liked the premise and I am glad that now I have finally gotten the opportunity to see it all the way through in the right order. Since the show is rather long, we're just covering the first 25 episodes here. We'll be handling the other 26 episodes next month.

Lieuenant Ramius before her promotion,
watching as Kira and his friends are reunited on the Archangel.
The overarching plot in the story is based on an escalation of hostilities between the Earth Forces (led by normal everyday humans) and ZAFT (of the PLANTs which is a series of space stations inhabited by genetically altered humans called coordinators) following the destruction of a space station called Junius Seven. Some time after this, on the space station Heliopolis which is controlled by Orb, an officially neutral nation, Kira, a coordinator, and his normal human friends are living their lives in relative peace. However, it turns out that Orb's military contractors have been using the space station to construct a set of Mobile Suits for the Earth Forces on the sly. As a result, ZAFT sends a detachment to Heliopolis to covertly steal them and the ship intended to transport them. Unfortunately, things go horribly wrong. As the Earth, Orb, and ZAFT forces battle it out, Kira is separated from his friends in the effort to find a shelter, and along with a strange girl, he finds his way to the warehouse where the Mobile Suits are being kept. After finding the girl a safe place, Kira ends up having to get into one of the suits with Murrue Ramius, one of the officers due to it no longer being safe for civilians on the ground. During the struggle, he discovers that his childhood friend, a coordinator named Athrun, is among the detachment that's been sent after the suits. He is eventually forced into a situation where he must pilot the Gundam back to the ship that is supposed to carry it, while protecting his other friends, and preventing ZAFT from retrieving the suit. Unfortunately, Heliopolis is destroyed in the ensuing battle, and the the transport ship, the Archangel, now commanded by Ramius, is forced to make a desperate flight to escape ZAFT and regroup with the Earth Forces without any further assistance except what can be offered by Kira, his friends and the surviving crew.

Speaking of politics, would you believe
everyone in this picture is supposed to be on the same side?
The writers for this series seem to have a pretty detailed idea of how the politics in this universe works, as well as how various alliances and rivalries are formed. For that, I have to say thus far I am very impressed. Though we as the viewers don't actually have the maps in front of us, I really appreciated the level of detail with which Ramius and the other officers and characters with authority describe the plans they make which left me feeling like I really did know what was going on and why at mattered. While in general we do see the Earth Forces as a solidified group, many of the different sub-groups within that alliance have their own agendas and may not necessarily be as solidly united as one might think (not unlike politics in the real world in many ways). Like for instance, there's the Atlantic Federation which is the group that commissioned the Archangel, and then there is the Eurasian Federation which actually tries to steal its secrets at one point and there's apparently also East Asian and Oceanian groups as well, though we have not encountered them yet. Add to those subgroups the various people with differing views on coordinators ranging from not caring if someone is one or not to actively trying to annihilate them (which is the goal of the extremist group Blue Cosmos), and you have a very diverse world already. On the PLANTs side of things, the coordinators also have their own complex set of politics to deal with and of course, there's also Orb. All things considered, this universe is pretty complex. The only peeve I can really think of in this regard would have to be considering the amount of power a Gundam requires, but even that I think I can hand wave (after all, that's almost up there with the laws of physics when it comes to anime taboos). We'll just say it works.

You wouldn't know it from this picture,
but Kira he has so much angst in this story it hurts.
Now that we've looked at the macro level, what about the micro level? As far as the main cast is concerned, so far, it's taken me a while to actually be all that impressed with them. There's Kira, the protagonist of course, who is so full of internal conflict about his position in the whole thing it's brought him to the brink of mental breakdown. It's no wonder, I guess, if we consider his position. He's a teenager who's been forced to pilot this giant weapon because he's the only one who can do it, and if he doesn't, it's highly likely that everyone on the ship he's on is going to die, but if he does, he's forced to shoot at other coordinators and at his friend Athrun, who is often the one leading the charge on the other side. This would be bad enough, except on top of that he also has girl trouble (which we'll go into later), and in this season a huge amount of guilt because through no fault of his own, a shuttle carrying civilians got destroyed on his watch, along with the father of one of his nakama, because he couldn't be everywhere at once. (Hmm, maybe there was a reason Cartoon Network didn't run the whole series during daylight hours. Compared to some of it's other fare, this is already pretty dark.) It gets to a point where in order to cope with the demands that are on him he starts going into a berserker mode when he fights. He seems to be reevaluating this policy at the moment, so I'm not sure what's going to happen with this later. On the other side of the conflict, we have Athrun as a secondary protagonist. While he does get a bit less screen time than Kira does, he's still got his own share of conflict. He certainly doesn't enjoy fighting especially when the pilot of the opposing Gundam happens to have been a good friend at one point, but he's also got to deal with the fact that his fellow pilots for the stolen Gundams are mostly after revenge against the pilot of the Archangel's Gundam, namely Kira.

Don't let her appearance fool you, this girl's a heart-breaker,
in that if she decides to use you,
she will do her damnedest to break you.
When it comes to the supporting cast, there is a lot of them, but on the bright side, not nearly as many of them as in Code Geass. While I was a little confused about who was who for a while, I found I had a lot less trouble keeping track of the sub plots. There are two primary nakamas to pay attention to. These are Kira's group, and Athrun's group. While some of the less central characters in Kira's group have yet to provide a lot in terms of plot, some are incredibly pivotal, and those that aren't still seem to serve a purpose. For instance, Miriallia and Kuzzey (gotta love these names ^^) are often seen helping out on the bridge of the Archangel after being recruited to do so during the battle at Heliopolis. There's also Sai and Tolle, who were also recruited to do the same thing, although Sai gets a major subplot following the reintroduction of his fiancĂ©e Fllay. Poor guy. Fllay joins the crew a few episodes in, first as one of the refugees from a life boat that Kira picks up out of the debris of Heliopolis. She later officially joins the crew (though I have yet to figure out what her job is on the ship) claiming it's to help fight the war. However, she has ulterior motives. At first Fllay is terrified of coordinators and clearly has a very racist attitude towards, them, but after the death of her father (a major source of guilt for Kira) she suddenly starts treating Kira a lot more nicely...   wait for it...   because she wants to psychologically isolate him from his other friends and drive him to kill as many coordinators as he can before eventually dying in battle. Because of this, she officially breaks off her relationship with Sai (causing him a lot of internal conflict and suffering, though he's probably better off without her if she does stuff like this all the time) and clings to Kira for much of the rest of this part of the series, while digging her claws deeper into his psyche. (So far, I am convinced that this chick's alignment has become lawful evil.) When I said Kira had girl trouble, I wasn't kidding. Sometime later, we also get the reintroduction of Cagalli, the girl who Kira stuffed into a shelter before getting embroiled in the mess with the Gundams when we find her working with a resistance movement in Africa after the Archangel crashes. She also seems to be somewhat interested in Kira which makes Fllay jealous. I can only wonder where this is going to go.

Athrun Zala meeting with our masked man of mystery,
Rau Le Crueze.
I have thus far failed to find a true villain in all of this, unless you count Blue Cosmos, or maybe some of the the more racist coordinators. Even so, Athrun's nakama is probably the group that best qualifies for the antagonist group position as they provide much of the interference throughout this part of the series. Yzak and Dearka are probably the scarier of the two since they seem to have much more to prove, (Kira's victories have been sore spots on their records to be sure), though Nicol, the quieter one, also has some skin in the game because they all lost one of their nakama's members in the first episode. Over them, we also have Rau Le Crueze, the mysterious masked military leader who seems to plan a lot of ZAFT's movements and strategy. He also seems to be have a lot of political connections. I have my suspicions about what this all means, but I'll keep them to myself since I haven't seen the whole thing yet. On the side of the coordinators we also get a couple of non-combatants, the most important of which happens to be Athrun's fiancee, and the daughter of an important politician, Lacus Clyne. She is first introduced when the Archangel ends up near the ruins of Junius Seven and Kira finds her life pod after the ship she was on was destroyed. As a person, I think she's pretty interesting. I get the feeling she's smarter than she pretends to be, and though she is eventually returned to the PLANTs, she actually gets somewhat close to Kira before she leaves. Then there's also Andrew Watfeld, the desert tiger, later in this season. He's the primary antagonist for the time the Archangel spends in Africa, and after Kira and Cagalli meet him it gives Kira even more angst that he has to kill him, because he's actually a pretty descent guy. His coffee isn't half bad either apparently.

Gundam Kick!
When it comes to the minor characters though, I'd have to say, I think they made some good decisions for this piece. They keep the focus on the main characters for the most part. Though characters like Murrue Ramius and Mue La Flagga do get their time in the sun, it's mainly to help illustrate the inner workings of the ship and how it all works together, which serves to make the environs more believable. The further out you get, the less you know about the characters involved, which is perfectly okay because you still know what's important. The strongest point the external minor characters have is that they help us to get an idea of what's going on on the macro level, and how this affects what's happening on the micro level where the main characters are doing their thing. It's an important balance, but so far, I think the series has handled it well. Of course the main point of a Gundam series is giant robots duking it out with each other and making lots of explosions, right? Of course it is! So what about the robots? Don't worry, we get plenty of giant robot samurai action. I can guarantee that you will see the Strike Gundam (that's the one Kira pilots) at least once in any given episode, and if it's an episode in space or requiring combat, you will see a lot more of it and the various other Gundams that populate the series. We also have all the other more traditional futuristic war toys that we love, like space ships, and then when we get to Earth, there's fighter planes and submarines and even what I guess would be a salute to the robots from Voltron, in the form of quadropedal desert combat vehicles called BuCUEs.

A barrel roll? With a ship this size? Hell yes!
Naturally, the plot is mostly centered on the fights that take place with the giant robots as the Archangel goes on its desperate flight to try to get to Alaska. ZAFT dogs the ship's every move as they first depart from Heliopolis to retreat to Artimis, which is run by the Eurasian Alliance (who tries to steal the ship's secrets) then they are forced to escape towards Earth and then travel down to the planet itself, still continually chased by ZAFT and its allies. As to where I've left off, they are currently hiding in the country of Orb, thanks to the fact that Cagalli is the daughter of one of Orb's leaders, and are waiting for repairs to be made before the journey continues. So far, it's been a harrowing journey. As I've said before, the nice thing about anime originals is that you don't generally get much in the way of filler and for the most part the show does a good job of keeping things moving. While a lot of the combat is formulaic, there are some moments that are surprising (such as when Ramius orders the Archangel to do a barrel roll while in combat on Earth (and this ship is pretty damn big by the way), and the danger does preserve suspense, especially later when its a lot more clear just what's at stake. The dramatic tension is very well maintained to be sure and there will be plenty of points where you'll be cheering for the characters when they win or do something awesome. However, there was a thing or two that annoyed me (aside from Fllay's behavior toward Kira and Sai, but that was unavoidable because of the plot ><.). For one thing, I'm not entirely sure I like that they wasted a couple of episodes giving an extended recap. We want to see things happen! If it matters to us, we'll remember it. I'll give'em a pass where there's new material coming to light, but when it's just old stuff we already know, it makes an episode rather boring and pointless unless a character sees something new in it. Sure you can make the argument about the people who only started tuning in, but isn't that what the internet and friends are for? The other thing that kind of annoyed me was the song that Lacus sings in a couple of the episodes. It wasn't that it was a bad song, it just felt like it was kind of forced in a couple of places.

In terms of presentation, I haven't had reason to be disappointed so far. The colors scheme is bright and the animation isn't that bad, although it is interesting to note that as the story has progressed I've noticed heavier and heavier usage of 3-D graphics for ship movement. The series has thus far had two opening theme songs and one ending theme song. I liked T.M. Revolution's "Invoke" which was the first opening, though "Moment" by Vivian Hsu and Kasuma Endo, was okay. The ending theme "Anna ni Issho Datta no ni" is also pretty good, though I have heard better than all three before. The voice acting is also pretty tight except in a couple of places which incorporated a little bit of narm, (mostly in the English version but the Japanese version is not totally immune), but otherwise, so far, I have few complaints. The cast is led by Soichiro Hoshi (Makoto from Ghost Hound) as Kira, and Akira Ishida (Kaworu from Neon Genesis Evangelion, Satoshi from D.N. Angel) as Athrun in the Japanese version. The English cast are led by Matt Hill (Kira) and Samuel Vincent (Athrun) though Richard Ian Cox is also among the English cast as Tolle. So far, I'm having fun, and I hope the second half will be just as enjoyable even with the downsides. So see you next month when we wrap this up.

Images taken from Mobile Suit Gundam SEED.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dangerous Characters: Justy Ueki Tylor

It's always a little dangerous to bring unorthodox methods into the workplace, especially when it's a workplace that's actually in a war-zone. Doing things the wrong way, even if it's a well-intentioned effort won't just cost you employee of the month on the battlefield, it can cost lives. Which is a lesson that our next nominee to join the ranks of "Dangerous Characters" could really stand to learn. While to his credit, nobody on his ship has ever died (at least as far as the anime is concerned) one can only wonder about the many thousands of crew members both in the Raalgon Fleet and in the United Planets Space Force, have been consigned to oblivion due to incidents that were caused by him or by his superiors in the course of trying to get rid of him. So without further ado, let's give it up for Lt. Commander Justy Ueki Tylor, (age 20), captain of the UPSF's starship, the Soyokaze (literally, "Gentle Breeze"), and protagonist of the series The Irresponsible Captain Tylor.

Before he signs up for the UPSF, we know very little about Tylor's exploits, aside from the fact that he was a bum, and the only reason he joined was because he wanted "an easy life." That on it's own seems like an oxymoron if you consider what kind of environment the military is, particularly in a traditional Japanese view of a military force. (If you thought our military was strict, read up a little bit on the Japanese military culture before us Americans rewrote their constitution so they couldn't have an army.) To top things off, he carried his easygoing life approach over into the military, first getting a job with the pension department, and then miraculously getting promoted to captain after a hostage situation that he helped resolve...   erm...   so to speak. (There's a story behind that one to be sure.) Over the course of his career in the military, the price-tag he's racked up due to his irresponsible behavior has been astronomical. He started off by inadvertently causing the artificial intelligence that ran the UPSF's computer systems to go haywire because it fell in love with him during the recruiting process, but it is his career as a captain that is especially of note. Because of his irresponsible behavior, entire fleets have been destroyed on both sides of the UPSF's conflict with the Raalgon Empire. It's one thing when you're fighting the enemy and destroy them, even if it is by accident, but considering how many UPSF ships and troops have also been destroyed due to actions he has taken (and actions taken by his equally irresponsible superiors while trying to get rid of him)...   Let's just say one can only wonder how many people may have died on all those exploding battleships. In short, if you ever happen to encounter Tylor, you'd better hope you are actually riding in the ship he's on. It may drive you crazy, but anyone who crosses him seems to be cursed with epically bad karma, which makes him very dangerous indeed.

Image taken from The Irresponsible Captain Tylor.