Monday, July 25, 2011

Inuyasha: Season 6

Due to the long running nature of this show, there WILL be some spoilers in this review. Read at your own risk, you have been warned.

Well folks, we've made it, this is the final installment. It's been a long time in coming and I'm sure you're all excited so let's jump right in. For the very last time, if you'd like to see the older parts of the review, from season one to now, you can check it out by clicking the entry marked "Inuyasha" in the tab showing the list of shows I've already reviewed. Also for the last time on this review, to make sure that we meet our copyright obligations: In the extremely unlikely event that you forgot, Inuyasha is produced by Sunrise, based on the manga of the same name by Rumiko Takahashi, and is currently licensed in the United States by Viz Media. Naraku's been causing even more mayhem and the final countdown has begun (though whether it actually ends is up to you). So once again, slip on that awesome heirloom sword and prep that nigh invulnerable fire-rat kimono, because here there be demons that desperately need exterminating.

If it tells you anything, that is a guy and he's creepier than Jakotsu.
I'm going to need brain bleach for this. ><;
So when we last left our heroes they had been engaging in a stint of plot derailment in which they were horribly distracted from what they were actually supposed to be doing by an immigrant character from one of the films (Akitoki, Houjo's ancestor) as he had been charged with purifying this demonic blade and wanted them to help him take it to Furai shrine, since Mount Hakurei had been evaporated (see last season). At the end of last season, things had gone to hell in a hand basket. And even now they continue to get worse. Kagome's been kidnapped, Houjo's ancestor is still useless, and of course, the Nakama's walking into another trap. What else is new? Fortunately this mess only lasts a little while longer no thanks to the flamboyantly but ambiguously (and sometimes not so ambiguously) gay henchmen of the villain of the month (a weird Inuyasha parable whose Samurai/miko girlfriend betrayed him in order to separate him from this possessed naginata, half of which Akitoki's carrying around right now). I was glad it was over mainly because even though the back story was pretty dramatic, it was already kind of the backstory of the main plot (Kikyo pins Inuyasha to a tree to prevent him from having the Sacred jewel as opposed to Tsukiyomi sealing Hoshiyomi in some medallion thing so she can get rid of his demonically possessed naginata which is apparently eating his soul. Both girls die.) but especially because...  well, let's just say that Akitoki and Inuyasha end up taking the brunt of a whole lot of uncomfortable innuendo on the part of some of Tsukiyomi's henchmen (not unlike Jakotsu did last season.) Even Shippo gets some which makes it even worse!

Kagura's creator didn't raise no fool. She knows
that being 'stoned' is not conducive to wind sorcery.
Fortunately, the plot get's back on track fairly quickly after this train wreck, because we pan back to Kagura as she has apparently been ferrying that baby around so he can kill various monks and mikos with the hope of being able to see into the border between this world and the next because the last shard's there. But suddenly, one of these monks proves more formidable than the others and manages to slice Akago in half. What? Kagura flees, with the pieces after which Kanna takes one half leaving her with the other which morphs into a new incarnation of Naraku called Hakudoshi (who is definitely at least as much of a jerk as Naraku is) who subsequently goes after a fiery horse called Entei, which he then starts riding around to collect demon heads for a while. The Inu-nakama is pretty much reduced to figuring out what the heck he's trying to pull off as they follow his trail of mercilessly beheaded bodies. Soon after this, they find a young otter carrying a head Hakudoshi missed in hopes of reattaching it to his body which is currently running around on a mindless rampage. In the course of this, they find Sesshoumaru who is willed by Tenseiga (and Inuyasha's appeal to his arrogance) into saving the otter's life with  the sword, and they learn that Hakudoshi's trying to get to the spirit world (which just happens to be the location from which Inuyasha and Kagome recovered Tetsusaiga (or Tessaiga, take your pick) from. the grave of Inuyasha's father (waaaaaay back in season one). After discovering that the black pearl they used last time (no not that Black Pearl) was a one use item, they decide to find the guy who made it in hopes he'll make another own. Unfortunately, Hosenki, the clam demon who made it, has kicked the bucket and there won't be another one for another hundred years. Since the Nakama can't wait that long, they decide to find a different route. After a failed attempt to enter through the front door and discovering that unless they want to be turned to stone (as aptly demonstrated by Kagura who bailed in the nick of time) they'll need a second alternate route. Really, there is a front door and it's guarded by Gozu and Mezu Rasetsu, the guardians and tormentors of hell, though they are a lot nicer looking in the IY version then as they are traditionally portrayed, I think.

Say what you will about Sesshomaru, he has his priorities.
Instead of going after Naraku first as any normal heroic person
 would do, he instead goes straight for Inuyasha to punch him out
 for disturbing their father's grave again.
(Never mind that he did it first way back in season 1.)
Naraku and Hakudoshi's search for a way into the border to the next world eventually leads them to Princess Abi, the cruel bird mistress and daughter of Tekkei an ailing demon bird from hell (literally). Naraku helps her to collect blood as a means to dilute the poison Tekkei as been exposed to with the intent to kill her once she's taken in enough of the stuff which should open the door somehow. As the Nakama hunts around for clues as to whats with the sudden increase in bird related deaths, they soon discover rumors that someone named Hijiri-sama is apparently protecting the refugees from other villages at a nearby settlement, but even crazier, there's evidence that Hijiri-sama might be Kikyo! Yes, Kikyo, the one who supposedly died...  again...   last season (even got an image song for it!), yeah, so is she gonna fall off a cliff this time too? Anyway, after a while it turns out that Kagome has to save her from Naraku's miasma which nearly killed her at Mt. Hakurei, and she does it without question (pointing out how good and pure she is, while Kikyo just takes a level in meanness by going out of her way to say she won't thank Kagome for it). During this part of the arc, Abi also attacks a nearby castle where the baby happens to have been hiding out along with Kanna and Kohaku which reopens old wounds for Sango, again as Naraku orders Kohaku to kill everyone to take the baby out of there. In the process, Kohaku gets his memory back and he decides that Naraku needs to die so he'll just play along until he can figure out how to kill Naraku himself. Kikyo gives Kagome a special arrow through Inuyasha before Tekkei dies and the door opens. Sesshomaru eventually follows to take part in the fight by going through the gate the others couldn't go through (because Tenseiga allows him to do so without being turned to stone). After an epic battle with Naraku as well as Hosenki within Inuyasha's father's remains, Inuyasha's party emerges with Tetsusaiga having acquired a shiny new power from Hosenki, and a shiny new jewel shard they prevented Naraku from stealing (Naraku also gets blown to pieces by Kikyo's special arrow and if he didn't let Hakudoshi take the brunt of it it would have been the end for him). So things look pretty good for the moment and they may even have Naraku on the run. Until...

Inuyasha on bike repair: EPIC FAILURE.
Yeah, Hakudoshi is ordered to go after Kikyo with Kohaku and he hatches a plan involving demon rats. They fail to actually get Kikyo, but Kohaku finds himself a whole lot of conflict as he is forced to confront his sister with full faculties while still pretending to be Naraku's lackey. It's pretty heartbreaking, but only serves to strengthen his resolve. After a brief and hilarious respite in present day, where Inuyasha finally meets Kagome's friends (after an unsuccessful attempt to repair the bicycle he broke on the way in), we get some nice relationship highlighting for Miroku and Sango as they work through a sticky situation with one of Miroku's old flames and a local catfish kami (we learn you do not piss off Miroku, or "touch his woman"). We also once again enter into the realm of filler for a little while as Sesshomaru has to rescue Rin from a combination of a demon that kidnaps children and the monks that have been sent to get rid of it (where we also learn that you do not piss off Sesshomaru or harm and/or make Rin upset), and Kohaku engages in some back to back badassery with Kirara against some demons near the demon slayers deserted village while reminiscing about the past and nearly crossing paths with Sango if he hadn't hid at the right moment before we get back to the plot again and start moving towards the season's climax. Naraku decides he wants to steal some crystal ball thingy, which turns out to be a aura purifier that had prevented it's previous owner from having to fight any demons because it was a mountain demon and all it wanted was to just be an ordinary mountain and sleep.

I've heard some stories about folks who moved mountains,
but I wasn't necessarily expecting a mountain that moved.
After Shippo gets possessed by demonic parasites (which surprisingly, are nothing like Myoga) that were dislodged from the mountain demon when went looking for it's crystal, the Nakama find the demon, Gakusanjin, who gives them some of his crystallized youki (demon aura) so they can find the the stone and bring it back. Gakusanjin doesn't live long as he is killed by some local ascetics who turn out to be followers of this guy named Goryomaru (coincidentally sounding a lot like Mouryomaru, a creation Hakudoshi unleashed on the world recently). After not finding anything at this guy's temple except the kids and a weirdo with a demon arm, and fending off an attack by Kagura, they find they have to return because Hakudoshi attacks, killing everyone, and they discover that the baby was actually there after all before Kagura leads them to a cavern (which turns out to be an oni's stomach. Eww...) in which they have the final battle, which is actually relatively short. The Inu-nakama returns to Kaede's village to recuperate before continuing the journey as they keep searching for Narak....   wait a second?! That's it?! Where's the rest?!!! I came all this way! I invested so much in these characters and now their just walking off into the sunset with a smile?!!!

Lets go over the checklist for story completion:
1. Did we reclaim the sacred jewel? Nope.
2. Did we defeat Naraku, freeing Miroku from his curse
and getting revenge? Nope.
3. Did Kikyo find any peace, allowing
Kagome and Inuyasha to live happily ever after? Nope.
4. Did Kohaku ever get his memory back?
Well yeah, but Sango's still miserable.
This is not an ending!
The first time I saw this non-ending, I was devastated and furious, because for one thing, I didn't know how to find the manga, and for another, I had actually hoped that would be the end of it. (Not that I didn't like the story, it's just eventually you want your happy ending.) Fortunately for the anime fans, and those too lazy to go pick up the manga, they finally did finish the anime, in the series Inuyasha, The Final Act, in 2009, but at the time, I didn't know that was gonna happen and I was not pleased. Thankfully, in spite of this, the show did go out about as well as it came in, with only a little bit of filler, and mostly sticking to the story (once it got over the main hurdle of Akitoki's sidetrip at the beginning. There was also a nice little expansion, midway on the romance that developed betweein Inuyasha and Kikyo in the beginning which helped create a little more subtext to the already tense Kagome-Inuyasha-Kikyo love triangle, but I was okay with that since it also explained how Kaede lost her eye as well as a couple of other things. But even so, that so-called final battle was no way to end a popular series, and I am glad Sunrise finally realized this. There aren't too many more significant new voice actors this season, though there is a new opening, "Angelus", by Hitomi Shimatani, which I don't think fit the show at all, and "Brand New World" by V6 which I don't think does much better. There's a reason they still use an instrumental version of "Dearest" for some of the better moments of the show. But I digress, the season was okay, even if it didn't end the series properly.

So where does that leave us in terms of the whole show? Well, overall, I stand on what I said at the beginning, the characters are interesting, the overall story is epic, and even though it succumbs a bit too much to the Siren's songs of filler, creepy gay characters, and narm,  and ends at a terrible place (not the ending), I'd still list it as a classic, especially now, since they fixed it by making The Final Act as a coda. It's got some of the most memorable background music ever as I'd recognize it anywhere, and for many viewers, along with shows like Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, and Fullmetal Alchemist, it was their first exposure to more mature titles. It's a must watch, but I caution you in terms of the filler, in that it can be safely ignored, and I encourage ignoring it mostly, in favor of the meat  of the show. So, am I ever going to do an extended review again? Well...   no. I have learned my lesson. I am never doing this again, ever. If it's longer than three seasons, I'll just say I rolled season one on the D20 and if I happen to find I roll season two later down the road, so be it. Extended shows like this one are ridiculous in this format and take forever. But I don't regret it, and that's the tiger's two cents.

Images taken from Inuyasha.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Anime on Location: The Japanese Rail System

Rails? Who needs rails? It's a train...   IN SPACE!!!
Unlike the rail system we have here in the United States, which got replaced mostly by the highway system back in the 1950's, the Japanese rail system is huge, and spans the entire mainland. You can get practically anywhere by train with the exception of some of the really rural communities, and many of them are at least close to a station connecting them to the rest of the country, so is it any wonder that you'll have many pivotal scenes in anime take place on or near trains and at locations related to them? It's so intrinsic to the Japanese understanding of their popular culture that even some works that take place in clearly fictitious worlds like the one seen in Leiji Matsumoto's Galaxy Express 999 will have some very train-specific elements (though as you can see, not always rail-specific). While a complete tour would be impossible without making this article way too long for a blog post, today, we're going to at least give a brief overview of Japanese railways, and how the places shown in anime relate to reality. It's all aboard as the train whistle blows. Let's ride the rails and see where they take us.

The crossing guard is generally the first sign that you've
reached the train station. There's also a good chance there
 will be a coffee shop or a convenience store nearby.
If not, then at least a vending machine. 
So where do we get on? Most urban Japanese end up getting on at their local stations which run on local train lines that connect to the more major ones. Many small towns have even grown up around trains stations and therefore they are a central part of smaller urban districts. For instance, when I studied abroad, I was housed in a smaller town within the greater city of Tokyo that was off one of the main lines. In order to get to the train station I would walk down a couple of narrow streets to come to a slightly wider thoroughfare that took me to the station itself. Depending on which direction I wanted to go, I might have had to cross at the railroad crossing, which itself is often used as a major metaphor for separation or maybe the shock of seeing someone across the tracks that you weren't expecting (or maybe even catching a glimpse of someone just before a train comes by and they disappear when it's gone) all the time, such as in this scene from the opening to the anime Nabari no Ou where the main character, Miharu spots future sick friend Yoite on the other side of the tracks just before a train flies by between the crossing guards.

Actually the train already left,
Shinji just decided not to leave with it.
Another popular general location that anime likes to use is the platforms where people get on and off the trains. Usually, once you've bought your tickets and you've made it to the platform, you wait for the train, and that often gets used metaphorically and dramatically at times where a character is undecided about going somewhere or leaving an established plot (you can still turn around before the train comes after all) such as in this scene from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Of course there's always the more mundane uses of seeing friends off when they leave to return home or getting on the train itself. Whatever the scene the platform is a gateway to a network of rails that spans the country. It could be a crossroads in itself, or simply a way point before the journey continues.

A lot of the time, the trains rent advertising space on banners
hanging from the ceiling. You can see them in the
 upper right corner.
Throughout Japan there is a vast network of local and branch lines, and as mentioned above, it isn't unusual for whole towns to have grown up around the stations that have been erected. As a result there are a huge number of scenes that take place on them. While I was in Japan, I noticed a number of interesting things about the local lines. For one thing, you're a lot less likely to find signs in other languages besides Japanese. Another common thread (and this only gets worse once you get to the major rail lines) is rush hour. During rush hour, the trains get so crowded as everyone is trying to go from home to work or work to home, that there are even employees on some lines specifically hired to help push people into the cars so everyone can fit. Unsurprisingly this circumstance does have some serious drawbacks. For instance some women have reported being groped by perverts while in the compromised position of being shoved into a car with other people like sardines in a can. For this reason some lines have resorted to having a car set aside for female passengers so they can avoid these characters (called chikan in Japan). However, that shouldn't be the main focus here. The main significance of the local rail lines is that they are transition points that help the local populous get from point A to point B, or maybe even to point C, D, and even E if the person traveling is planning to transfer to one of the major rail lines or even a bullet train, like Takaki who is on his way to see the girl he likes in the film 5 Centimeters Per Second.


At the time of this writing, I haven't seen the whole show yet,
 but good god, this scene is really chilling. Light totally
Pwns this poor FBI agent!
To get further out into Tokyo proper, one generally has to transfer out to the JR Yamanote Line in order to get to more areas of the city. Since it's a much busier line than the local ones, the stations tend to be bigger and connect to more well known places such as Shibuya, one of the major shopping districts, Shinjuku, the central corporate district (as well as the location of the Metropolitan Government Offices Building, and Police Headquarters). and even more obscure places such as Takadanobaba (the fictional birthplace of Tezuka Osamu's Astroboy). As one of Tokyo's major landmarks and the key artery for non-automotive traffic, it's also a favorite conduit for dramas and thrillers to mess around with. For instance the extended universe of Detective Conan has made use of it multiple times, using it once in a movie, as well as a couple of times within the manga and anime, though as I have mentioned before, Gosho Aoyama calls it the Touto line in order to avoid trademark issues. However, no such issues occur with the anime Death Note, apparently, since in the scene just before the one shown here, Light uses the proper name freely.

Around the corner or down the Toukaidou, wherever Conan goes,
you can almost guarantee there will be bodies.
Our last stop in exploring Japan's railroads is a brief look at bullet trains. Called shinkansen within Japan, these high speed lines run through most major cities throughout the country providing long range travel without having to use a car. Perhaps the best known out of the shinkansens is the bullet train that runs along the JR Toukaidou line between Tokyo and Osaka. This line has a history in itself because the East Sea Road (which is what the kanji translates into) was the primary mode of transport for vassals during the Feudal Period who wanted to pay their respects to the Emperor and the Shogun (mostly the Shogun). Even today, it's one of the most heavily traveled corridors in the country, and therefore, it's no wonder that a character or two will end up traveling it. Again, in Detective Conan, Conan, Kogorou, and Ran often use this as means of transportation to get to Osaka (the other end of the line) in order to visit Heiji Hattori and the characters he associates with and vice versa.

And that's it for today folks. Check back next week when we review the final season of Inuyasha. Jya ne!

Images taken from 5 Centimeters Per Second, Death Note, Detective Conan, Galaxy Express 999 (film), Nabari no Ou, and Neon Genesis Evangelion

Monday, July 11, 2011

Kanon (2006 Release)

I've always been convinced that by some fluke, I had gained immunity from that strange and frightening phenomena known as "the chick flick." However, with the 2006 release of the series Kanon, much to my chagrin, I have found an anime that has completely ripped my stoic self-image to shreds. When Yuuichi Aizawa returns to live with his aunt after seven years of being away, he connects with five girls and changes their lives in various ways. It's a taste of moe sweetness with beyond liberal helpings of angst and tragedy. So prepare to get emotional and make sure you've got a box of tissues handy (probably more like two). You're going to need them.

Much of the game was originally about interaction with
the other characters. I guess you could say it was something like a
choose you're own adventure story, except that it was more a
'choose your own ideal but traumatized girlfriend.'
Now with an intro like that, you're probably going to be totally shocked when I tell you that this anime was based off of a video game. Much less, a game from the eroge genre (which is based off the premise of having sexual content), but it's true. The original game was released by Visual Arts for the PC in 1999, and later a more family friendly version was released that saw ports to other systems including the Dreamcast, the Playstation 2, as well as the PSP. Clearly, the show is based of of the family friendly version that was released later as there is no trace of the erotic content the original game is said to have had. This is also not the first anime adaptation for the story, as a shorter thirteen episode anime was produced by Toei Animation in 2002. There are a number of other adaptations that have been produced, but for all intents and purposes, this review will focus on the 2006 anime which was produced by Kyoto Animation. It ran for 24 episodes from October 2006 to March 2007 on the BS-i network. For those looking to find it in the states, it is licensed by Funimation. I went into this anime totally blind. I didn't know anything about it and I had heard nothing about it. Perhaps this was why it hit me so hard. But then again, once you've heard a little about it yourself, you'll soon realize that this show doesn't pull punches.

Yuuichi: Yup, that's me, I'm the one who's going to
save everyone else from themselves.
Our story begins with our protagonist, Yuuichi Aizawa returning to the home of his aunt and cousin after a seven year absence. It seems that his parents travel a lot for work and have decided to leave him with his relatives so that he will be able to get through high school in a stable environment. He meets his cousin Nayuki  Minase at the train station after waiting a very cold and uncomfortable two hours past the time she was supposed to have picked him up.  After rejoining his relatives, he spends the next few days acclimating  himself to his new home and meeting his classmates, as well as finding some of the friends he had when he was last here. One of the first he literally bumps into is a short, former playmate of his, named Ayu as she literally body slams him in an attempt to escape from a taiyaki vendor she "accidentally" didn't pay. Over the next two or three episodes he meets the other supporting characters of the story, Mai, a cool and reserved senior at the school, Makoto an amnesiac who's only lead is that she thinks Yuuichi did something mean to her, and Shiori a frail girl with an undisclosed illness who likes to stand in the school courtyard during the breaks.

Walking with Shiori. Just in general,
you're never going to forget how cold it is in this town.
Once again, we don't know exactly where we are in this story, aside from that it's present day in some unspecified town somewhere in (presumably) northern Japan. Wherever it is, it's somewhere that gets a lot of snow in the winter and is more indicative of wintery weather than an American southerner like myself could stomach for very long. There is snow everywhere and you're hard pressed to find a scene that doesn't constantly remind you of this. All the school uniforms are based around this fact, and even when the characters are not in school, you won't see anyone wearing anything that doesn't tell you it's freaking cold outside. That being said, the town itself seems to have been laid out in detail and while you probably wouldn't be able to use the show as a guide if by some miracle you ended up there and needed directions, once Nayuki has shown Yuuichi around a bit, you'll never really feel lost when you aren't supposed to. In spite of all my griping, the scenery is still very nice and pristine, and provides an amazing backdrop for many of the more dramatic sequences as we'll see later. Even so, there was one aspect of the whole story that caught me totally by surprise and this is probably because I came in blind. The beginning of the story leaves no hint of anything going on other than mundane stuff (unless you count a couple of the things shown in the opening which I had originally shrugged off as generic anime opening silliness) until around the time that Yuuichi ends up at the school and finds that Mai likes to run around with a sword at night, claiming she's hunting demons (though we don't really see them...   yet). After Makoto's plot points start moving though, all bets are off, as we get some supernatural antics happening that are really quite surreal especially to someone who had come in believing that this was an everyday universe that was trying to maintain some semblance of realism (seeing as this was an anime, I probably should have known better but I was calling it as I saw it). Perhaps because the characters play these situations so straight and seriously, suspension of disbelief isn't hurt in the slightest, and you find yourself buying it hook line and sinker.

Yuuichi: You want to know what happened to me in this town?
You'll get all the gritty details and more. But after I left...  
ehh...  not so much.
The lynch-pin of the entire series is Yuuichi and the affect he has on the people around him, as such, his character is the one on which the show spends most of it's time. The point of the story is mostly his interactions with the other characters and the effect he has on them. While I'd stop short of calling him a stereotype, he's at least partly the Everyman type character (which makes sense considering he was the PC whose decisions the player made during the game). He does have some other defining traits such as being something of a snarker, but his greatest defining trait would have to be reserve of his inner strength and steadfast devotion to the people around him, which remains unconditional throughout the show. Given the things that come up, he needs every drop of that internal reserve as it turns out that each of the characters in the supporting cast have more than their share of problems. In spite of the generic nature of his character, he does have a pretty detailed history, though only in relation to the town he has returned to. If we wanted to know what his life was like after he left, we were out of luck, but it is of very little relevance to the  present action, so I guess it wasn't considered that important.

Watching Nayuki trying to eat while she's asleep is
pretty funny, which is good because this show needs some levity,
desperately.
On the other hand, the five main supporting characters and their various satellite characters all have importance to the plot in some way. The first character we meet is Nayuki, Yuuichi's cousin. She and her mother Akiko provide Yuuchi with a roof over his head and they are often providing background support for the other characters throughout the story. While I tend to think they might be a bit too understanding at times, (like when it comes to allowing Makoto and Ayu to stay at their house for specific reasons we'll get into later) I'm willing to let it slide for the most part because they are both very kind people as well as because without their understanding some of the story wouldn't really work as well. Nayuki is your typical high-school athletics star with a twist. She's dead to the world on most mornings and has the hardest time getting up, which works really well for comedy. Ayu, the next character to be introduced also provides something of an interesting supporting role for the other characters as a friendly face, but her defining characteristics are being what appears to be something of a ditz who forgets things, and loves Taiyaki. Her child-like mannerisms may be off-putting at first, but start to make a lot more sense near the end of the show. Mai as I said, at first seems like the typical badass emotionless type, maybe with some slight eccentricities at first (like running around a school late at night with a real sword), but she's not without some inner demons. Shiori and Makoto are the only characters who start out seeming to have outright serious problems, as Shiori at first comes across as the quiet ill-girl, while Makoto enters the cast with full-blown amnesia and a fiery grudge against someone (she thinks it's Yuuichi). Each of the main five supporting characters have their own little eccentricities like favorite foods, or verbal tics that make them unique however, one of the driving forces of the show is also the moe aspect, and therefore there is a lot of emphasis on making the characters cute.

Mai's actually a pretty useful girl to have around, she's a
swordswoman, and nearly  psychic when it comes to
supernatural phenomena...   the list goes on.
In terms of antagonists, only one character, Mai, really has a physical antagonist who actually picks fights, and that's only because she's been blamed for damages at the school before and therefore the student council has branded her a troublemaker. However, much of the conflict in the story is drawn not so much from a Man vs. Man situation as it is from the main five supporting characters dealing with Man (or in this case, Woman) vs. Self, Environment, or Fate (take your pick), with Yuuichi being the Man Caught in the Middle with a small bit Man vs. Self worked in. All the other antagonistic forces are circumstantial. For Nayuki, it an accident that ends up causing her mother to be grievously injured. For Ayu, there are a number of issues that pop up but all of them boil down to a personal problem, that manifests itself in her insistence that she's lost something and can't remember what it is. For Shiori it's her Illness. Mai fights demons that turn out to be less external and more of the internal variety. Finally Makoto is clearly in conflict with herself as she deals with the fact that she has no idea who she is or where she came from. One thing that is interesting about the whole show however, is the interplay between all of the girls as they take part in each other's stories. Mai is apparently really good at finding people so Yuuichi occasionally turns to her when someone else runs off/disappears and he can't find her. Nayuki ends up being either the friend or the friend of a friend of a couple of the other characters. Ayu is in the background of practically every other episode running around and looking for her lost item while being a generally friendly influence, while even Shiori has a thing or two to add when it comes to events taking place with other characters.

Poor, poor Makoto, all of these girls have sad stories,
but just thinking about her and Ayu now...    it's just too sad.
This is an anime with no filler period. While the story may seem somewhat slow to start at the beginning, once it gets going with Makoto's main plot points around episode 7 or so, everything that you saw in the first few episodes suddenly explodes with importance and once that happens...   to put it bluntly, you're going to need those tissues for the remaining 17 episodes. This is not a joke. Abandon all hope ye who enter here, the rest of this anime is sad. In ascending order of traumatic experiences: We already mentioned that Nayuki's mother get's hit by a car at one point, but then if that wasn't sad enough for you, how about Mai's friend Saiyuri getting hurt by one of her 'demons' leading her to try killing herself? Or how about Shiori nearly succumbing to depression and attempting suicide because of her illness combined with feeling totally isolated? It gets worse. I'm not going to ruin Ayu's situation because it will give away the last part of the show but I will tell you I was in tears consecutively for the final three episodes (for someone who has worked so hard to cultivate a stoic demeanor in the face of sad stories, this was absolute torture). However, the saddest and most emotionally crippling part of all, had to have been what happened to poor Makoto. To make matters worse, this was the first major event in the series too, so naturally, I went into it without any warning except what suddenly made so much more sense in hindsight after the damage had already been done. You see, it turns out that Makoto is not actually a human but a Fox who has turned herself into a human to be with Yuuichi by way of a miracle. However, it turns out, that this miracle isn't permanent. It took her memory first, and eventually, it kills her. While in terms of actual passage of time, her existence in the show does not linger much more than a couple of episodes after this earth-shattering realization comes to light, in terms of emotional turmoil, it is painfully sad to watch as she slowly starts going downhill from being fully capable of human interaction at her introduction, to becoming more animal like, gradually losing her ability to speak, and eat properly, until eventually, she just fades away. I guess there's a reason this show has earned the nickname "Sad Girls in the Snow." It fits. Although considering how sad these events make the viewer, one can only imagine how painful it is for Yuuichi. He seems to suffer even more than we do, and frankly I'm quite amazed the poor guy didn't permanently crack, considering that all this stuff happened consecutively to the people around him! In terms of the payoff, there definitely is one, but you will have to be prepared to endure so much emotional suffering before you get there that I can only recommend seeking this show out if you like tearjerkers.

The presentation is very well done and the imagery is beautiful, if a little depressing (but please take into account that I hate snow). There are two very conspicuous uses of 3D graphics, but other than that, it's all traditional animation. The music is mostly variations on the theme song ("Last Regrets" by Ayana) which is okay since it's following the motif of the title (a Japanisization of the word Canon) which is supposed to be based off of the concept of a piece of music that is entirely made up of variations of a base theme. The opening theme isn't half bad anyway, as it's a nice though melancholy theme, while the end theme "Kaze no Tadoritsuku Basho" also by Ayana is a bit more upbeat. The Japanese voice acting cast is led by Tomokazu Sugita, known for being Kyon's voice actor in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Chris Patton (Joshua in Chrono Crusade) in the English version as Yuuichi. The Japanese version's voice acting may seem a little silly at times when the moe aspect is played up a bit too much, but in the serious moments, the acting is very well done. English voice acting sounds okay, although some of the more intentionally comedic moments do come across as somewhat out of place in both versions, like they were shoved in rather than perfectly crafted into the narrative. Even, if I didn't know this was a video game adaptation I wouldn't have been able to tell. The story is very well put together, and while it was a little bit boring at first as the various elements were put into place, it grows into itself as the story moves. It's a good story, mostly, though you should expect to cry, and even if I added 'a lot,' it would be a gross understatement. And that's the tiger's two cents.

Images taken from Kanon.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Dangerous Characters: Tetsuo

Happy fourth of July! I hope you'll get to catch some fireworks tonight but in the meantime, as you can see, I decided to celebrate the holiday spirit by introducing a character who is known for his Neo-Tokyo-shattering kaboom. Thanks to him, not only did the city get destroyed a second time (thus the re-christening to "Neo-Tokyo") he also managed to cause plenty of trouble beforehand, destroying anything that got in his way, both as a power-crazed psychic, and before that as a biker-gang delinquent, in the film Akira. It's a call back to a late 1980's cult classic, so allow me to introduce our newest initiate, Tetsuo.

If you aren't familiar with the story, then it can come as a bit of surprise that the title character isn't the one that causes the most damage on-screen. But it's true. At first, Tetsuo is just this bosozoku member who happened to run afoul of the authorities after encountering some strange (and oddly, grey-haired and wrinkled) kid during a motorcycle accident. Because no one figures he'll be missed if they use him for a test subject, the government holds him prisoner and subjects him to some tests that turn him from a troubled teenager into a telepathic, telekinetic, power-crazy psychopath. During the course of the film, he quickly becomes a danger to himself and everyone around him as his power increases. The army is eventually powerless in his wake. Guilty and innocent alike are slaughtered for getting in his way, and the worst part of it is, eventually, he can't stop the carnage, even for people he doesn't want to hurt. Thank goodness he's just a one hit wonder (at least in the movie). Otherwise we'd all be in trouble. If you were unfortunate enough to be in Neo-Tokyo for this film, well...    let's just say you were out of luck in the survival department.

Image taken from Akira.

Hey Vegeta...

Nappa: Vegeta...   what does the scouter say about the Tiger's pageview count?
Vegeta: It's over 9,000!!! Ragghhh!

I didn't think this would happen today, but I'm perfectly okay with it. It's a milestone, and worthy of celebration. The page view counter has logged it's 9,000th page view, therefore, I am obligated by the content contained in this blog to reference tired old internet memes that somehow manage to be famous...   Aww...  who am I kidding, I've been begging to use this joke. Happy 4th!

Image taken from Dragon Ball Z.