Monday, August 29, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carry on folks. Tune in next week!

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shaman King: Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images taken from Shaman King.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Postponement Notice

Due to an unusually busy weekend and an unplanned trip today, the first part of my review of Shaman King will not go live until Tuesday evening at the usual time. The tiger most humbly apologizes for the wait, but it can't be helped.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fun with Japanese: The Language of Genres

The kids at episode 1 of Neon Genesis Evangelion:
"Wow, this is awesome!"
The kids at episode 5 (assuming they made it past
the blood and violence): "Mommy, what is Shinji doing?"
There's a surprisingly large number of genre's in manga and anime. Mainly it stems from the fact that the Japanese use comics to write about everything, while over here, we're still trying to move comics past the age ghetto. As a result of this, when manga and anime have seen imports over here, there have been some unfortunate mistakes made when it comes to where this stuff belongs in the rental shop. Parents have come home with movies for their children that they wouldn't even be willing to show their teenagers, and shows have been put on the air in a children's demographic time-slot without knowing that, at least with the case of Neon Genesis Evangelion, it wasn't just a show about teenagers that fight aliens. People have been burned, and horror stories are the ones that spread the fastest. While many of this learned this the hard way, hopefully now, many of us have enough friends in the know who can steer us towards the shows we want to watch. But for those of you who discovered your passion alone, out in the deep dark recesses of the internet, this is for you. Whether you don't know the difference between shonen and seinen, or you simply want to know what all those funny words mean, this article is for you. Instead of five phrases, today we're looking at five specific genres that are prevalent in anime and some of the shows you can find within them. Before we start, it should be noted that many of these have subcategories within them. This is really just a general overview.

Yankumi, the heroine of the anime Gokusen, as she and
her students try to  ind a thief to clear their names in a theft case.
女性
じょせい
Josei

Manga and anime that fall under this category are generally directed towards young women, that is to say, in the 18-40 year-old demographic. We've reviewed a couple here. Notably Gokusen and Amatsuki. The thing that sets them apart from other categories is that many of the stories that make up this genre and demographic have more emphasis on plot, with a greater interest in everyday life than in going off on adventures and kicking butt. That's not to say characters don't. After all, in Gokusen, the main point of the plot was that Yankumi, the main character was the daughter of a Yakuza boss who wanted to be a teacher. Violence has to happen in that scenario. However, you also get more traditional slice of life stuff as well. Another thing that sets this genre apart is that it tends to have fewer ideal character types and a more realistic art style. You are not very likely to find many stories with those wide moe eyed characters here, so if you're looking for them, you're in the wrong place. You can find a list of other Josei titles here.

While some Seinen anime can have a lot in common with anime
 found in shoujo and shounen categories, a lot of the time,
seinen anime like Outlaw Star, shown here, tends to be a bit grittier
and honest about the hard truths of the characters' lives.
青年
せいねん
Seinen

This is actually most of the stuff you will see on Adult Swim (with a few exceptions, like Bleach and Inuyasha), and the reason should be pretty obvious. Most seinen shows and manga are geared towards the male 18-40 year old demographic. As a result, much of the anime in this genre is devoted to plot, and character development, like it's josei counterpart, though with more attention to the male viewers in the audience. As a result, there tends to be more action stories, strong leading characters...   and um...   well endowed females. We've reviewed a couple of these here too, and have mentioned characters in several more. For instance, we've looked at Outlaw Star, Witch Hunter Robin, and Black Lagoon, but there are a whole lot of characters that we've highlighted in the Dangerous Characters articles that are seinen through and through. These include Spike Speigel from Cowboy Bebop and, Alucard from Hellsing. A couple of things that are interesting to note, is that Seinen, surprisingly also has a couple of things in common with shoujo, which we'll be looking at next, what with some of the more exciting elements and focus on plot and as a result, there have been an influx of more shoujo-esque titles such as Kanon which we also looked at here. The other thing to be aware of though, is that since it's geared towards older viewers than shonen and shoujo, there are more adult elements in the stories as well. Viewer discretion is advised. A more detailed list of seinen titles can be found here.

In shoujo manga, a common technique is to use softer,
 thinner lines for details, and use more toner for backgrounds.
This is harder to do in anime, but it still follows the trend of
 making heroines cute, even in dramatic situations.
少女
しょうじょ
Shoujo

Did the world suddenly go pink, or is it just me? While there are exceptions, there are plenty of stories in shoujo that feel this way, the most blatant example being Cardcaptor Sakura. In the realm of shoujo, as I mentioned up above in the paragraph about seinen, there's a lot of emphasis on plot and character generally, but you've also got a lot more emphasis on things being cute, primarily the (usually female) protagonists and their friends and family pets. This is where we start to get into the unusually large eyes that has made anime famous, along with the magical girl subcategory, as well as moe, and all that fun stuff, along with a normally huge emphasis on romance (just think of Tuxedo Mask, the guy who's always coming to help Usagi in Sailor Moon and you'll get the idea). Another less well known part of shoujo is that you can have implied relationships here, if you can slip them past the radar. I'm not going to get deep into the explaining of shounen ai (for the curious, that's boys love, don't worry, it's usually only implied) here, but it's a subcategory that exists and thus it is good to be aware of it when you are looking at shoujo titles. We haven't done a whole lot of straight up shoujo reviews here, but we have looked at D.N. Angel, which in spite of the male protagonist and the premise, is actually in this category. Other shoujo titles include Vampire Knight, and The Rose of Versailles, but you can also find a more titles here.

Shonen stories are notorious for
 headstrong lead characters with spiky hair.
 Yugi Moto, we're looking at YOU!
少年
しょうねん
Shonen

This is probably the best known genre and demographic in anime, and it's primarily aimed at young boys, aged preteen through teenage years. This is also where you get most of the stereotypes for which anime is famous (or infamous, take your pick). It's where we get most of the adventure stories, like One Piece, and martial arts shows like Naruto and Dragon Ball Z. It's also where we get shows like Yu-Gi-Oh! and we know what that means. This is the genre of strong male protagonists who fight powerful evil villains, whether it be for the fate of the world, to decide a children's card game, or both. As a result, you'll generally see this category being shown in daytime anime programming, and though some shows may be a little more violent then their more politically correct and less risky American counterparts (shounen in general is a lot less afraid to show blood), usually, if you allow the younger kids to watch the American Indiana Jones movies, you'll probably be okay with most of these. As with the others, you can find a more complete list here.

Hamtaro may be for kids, but don't those
hamsters just make you want to go "Awww..."?
子供向け
こどもむけ
Kodomomuke

These are the titles for the little kids up to 8 years old. That's not to say older people can't enjoy the titles mentioned here, after all, Astroboy was a classic. but it means that this is a lot more family friendly even then shounen and shoujo which are still indicative of violence and suggestive themes. If you want the kids to be completely safe, this is where you go. Here we have titles here like Doraemon (incidentally the second longest running anime series ever), and Hamtaro, that even the youngest in the family can enjoy. Happy viewing, but don't expect a lot of drama. There's a list of titles here, but since the site I'm referring to is geared more towards older viewers there aren't as many listed.

Until next time!

Images taken from Cardcaptor Sakura, Gokusen, Hamtaro, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Outlaw Star, and Yu-Gi-Oh! 
Special shout-out to TV tropes for their helpful information on genres and demographics. Check them out!

Monday, August 8, 2011

B'tX

 Looking back shows in the 1990's  could be pretty campy, whether in Japan or the United States. While there were plenty of shows for which this strategy may have worked on both sides of the Pacific, there were an equal number who didn't know what the hell they were doing, either that or they were playing it straight and not realizing how ridiculous their product was. The show we're looking at today falls into the latter category. This anime follows the story of a young man who is bravely trying to rescue his genius older brother (wait, that's different, normally it'd be the younger one) from an evil empire that worships cyber technology with the the help of a mechanized self-aware robot/cyborg/biotech...   thing called a B't. Together they must fight their way to the center of the Empire and save his big bro before it's too late, but troubles are on the horizon that aren't going to make this rescue mission simple, so strap on your pretentiously named fist weapon and prime you're B't's Engrish superpowers, we're taking a look at the anime B't X.

Teppei and X as they search for the next villain of the week.
The anime is based on a manga by the same name which was penned by Masami Kurumada and ran in the magazine "Shonen Ace" between the years 1994 and 2000. There were also two light novels and an OVA but for the purpose of the review we're just focusing on the anime. The show was produced by TMS which had done titles such as Ashita no Joe, Lupin III, and it continues to produce Detective Conan.  B't X ran on TBS in Japan between April and September of 1996, and it ran for 25 episodes, however it has seen no licensed release in the United States. That's okay though, after having seen it, I think I can kind of understand why.

Considering that Kotarou just got attacked by a well endowed fem-bot,
he seems to be doing pretty well to still want to give the presentation.
Our story begins with a reunion as Teppei, our young hero, comes to see his older brother Kotarou at a robotics convention in China. It seems Kotarou, being a boy genius, went away to school in Germany for a time and has been a pioneer in robotics development. However, the happy reunion is totally ruined when Kotarou is kidnapped by goons from the evil Machine Empire, who apparently have some dastardly plans in mind and intend to use Kotarou to put them into practice. They are using some strange robots of their own, and as they ride off on these animalistic looking things, Teppei grabs onto one using the pretentiously named Messiah Fist weapon that he wears on his arm and is dragged along for the ride. After being shaken loose in a junk yard on the outskirts of the Machine Empire, he is wounded and some of his blood is absorbed by one of these strange robots and he not only discovers they are called B'ts, and that they run on blood donations from their designated partners, but that X, this particular B't used to belong to his own mentor, an escapee from the machine empire known as Karen. Together the two new partners must get past countless obstacles in order to get to the center of the Machine Empire so that Teppei can save his brother.

So here's a question, how is it that a tin-pot dictatorship,
in which the majority of the territory is dusty desert with
virtually no capabilities for producing anything of value
or even maintaining a satisfactory slave population manage
to do better than even the stuff the United States could
develop in the 1990's? If you've got an answer to that one,
send it on, because I want to know.
While the world itself appears to be contemporary mid-1990's, it's still pretty crazy how ridiculously advanced the Machine Empire is, especially if you consider the way technical development slows under totalitarian rule (see my notes on Code Geass), given their track record with the scientists they kidnap, (sending them to this horrific place called Underhell if they don't cooperate) I would think they'd have problems finding potential applicants otherwise, not to mention, I kind of get the feeling that if other countries were infringed upon in the Machine Empire's blatant kidnapping attempts, the Machine Empire would have been bombed years ago because of all the countries they picked off. The U.S. would have tried remediation, but I'm willing to bet Russia wouldn't have. Within the country itself, it actually seems pretty lawless and corrupt with the various B't riders staking out points as their own, and pretty much running the place as they see fit. The only reasons they seem to follow the emperor with some noted and trusted exceptions is fear, which is odd, because you never really see the emperor. The two kids that represent him almost seem like it's them who are in charge, and that's a problem no matter how you look at it, because one of them, Nasha is really sick, and the other one, Misha, is just a psychotic brat who goes through killing and exiling his subordinates with the frequency that Vlad the Impaler was rumored to go through victims. So basically this empire would be a tin-pot dictatorship with robots and cybernetics that don't really belong.

Hey, wait a second, is that Orphen? Sure the hair, color scheme,
and weapon of choice are a bit different but... 
The main characters have glaring inconsistencies, not just in the realm of science, but also just in the realm of characterization in general. (Hey wait a second, is that ) In the realm of science, we have the whole blood donor issue. You see, the reason blood donors are such a big deal is because B'ts only accept orders from their original donor, however, X, the B't of the title, has accepted Teppei even though Karen was his original donor. Why? Because Karen apparently gave Teppei a blood transfusion some time in the past, therefore he carries her blood. Should that still work? No. Here's why. This transfusion reportedly took place several years in the past. When a person receives a blood transfusion it's only a temporary fix so the recipient doesn't die of blood loss before his own body replenishes the missing blood on its own. If a few years passed, any residual blood cells from Karen would have long since been flushed out in ways with which we're very familiar, therefore that premise should not work. Other than that, Teppei really just your stereotypical heroic male archetype. He's stubborn and headstrong and plays the fiery warrior to X's more calm and collected reason-based approach (more or less).  X on the other hand may actually be more interesting (relatively speaking) seeing as he was left behind by Karen when she fled the machine empire and has been through a lot more than Teppei has. Even though they play this through flashbacks, they don't take nearly enough advantage of this, I don't think, because X has the potential to be a very angsty or bitter character, but the most they do is make him out to be fickle and something of an arrogant jerk who totally melts around episode ten.

Fou: As one of the Empire's spirit knights, normally I'd care about
killing you off, but I'm too pretty...   oh yeah, and I'm not
quite sure I'm on the right side so I'm gonna let you find out for me.
In terms of supporting characters, well, there don't seem to be that many that aren't originally antagonists, with the exception of Kotarou, and the most he does is observe, get abused by the Machine Empires cronies and sit in a cell working formulas. There's also this kid that shows up early on but they don't even bother to give him a graceful exit from the show. They just stop animating him in (so lazy!). There are a couple of random other supporting characters that are two minimal to mention, but the thing about the supporting cast that got me the most, is the total lack of subtlety among the antagonists, in a show that is apparently trying to take itself seriously. Among the big four spirit knights of the machine empire (yes, that what their called) we have Fou, a priest riding around on a phoenix, we have a doctor who has a B't that looks like a turtle, a hotheaded guy with a dragon, and the woman, Karen, rode X, before Teppei ran into him, who was basically a Pegasus/Unicorn...  thing. With some alteration, as X replacing Byakkuya the tiger, we have the four cardinal directions of the Chinese compass. These guys are actually more interesting than Teppei in some ways, as there's a lot of history with Karen and a lot of unresolved sexual tension that's hinted at in the male characters relationship with her. I wouldn't have minded seeing a show about them, honestly. But the subtlety disappears completely when you get to the more outlier antagonists. For example, there's a Sand Pirate named Captain Hook (guess what his personal weapon is? A fish hook.) One of the later antagonists rides a Hydra B't and has a whip with the same properties, except he calls it a Cyber Whip. There are others, but if I went through every single one, we'd be here forever. However, one of the other few interesting points of the show is that the real enemy doesn't seem to be the machine empire, but instead a creation of it. The enigmatic B't called Raphael which Kotarou had apparently been kidnapped to deal with. Apparently it eats things and absorbs them. It's actually somewhat scary compared to the other parts of the show, and actually pretty shocking. I'll get to that later in the article,

One of those rare occasions where it's best to
NOT eat your B'ts.
There's plenty in the anime that is leg-slappingly laughable. There's the blood transfusion thing for one. And then there's all the Engrish. The anime, is a breeding ground for Engrish attack names which they call out all the time. If the Messiah Fist and the Cyber Whip weren't enough, we also have "Batteru Gea...   ONNN!!!!" as well as "NEO BATTERU GEA...    ONNN!!!!", not to mention "DEADLYYYY  CAROLLL!!!" Not to mention a couple of the other character names are pretty funny,  for example one guy that actually has a number of lines is called Metalface, and he's a cyborg. There's even an antagonist who goes by the name of Balzac, and if you want me to explain why that one's funny, you're too young to know. Even so there was one things that did impress me about the show, in a dark and creepy kind of way. For one, the show seems all too willing to put children in danger and in some cases, even kill them off. While from a moral perspective, it's nothing to crow about, it's very unusual and serves as a tiny bastion of realism in that children are affected all the time, which is quite amazing in a universe that in many ways is quite absurd. For instance, in the fight with Captain Hook, Teppei has to go into the belly of the sand worm B't to save a kid that the sand pirate actually allowed the thing to eat. (This environment is filled with acid by the way, but it doesn't go well for the sand worm as you can see in the screencap.) There's a flashback later where Raphael eats several children and causes Karen's younger sister to lose her memory from the terror of witnessing it, which is probably one of the most frightening moments in the show.

The story carries us through mostly a monster of the week format as Teppei and X slowly draw closer to the area, the country's center of power. While learning the truth about the situation, getting power-ups and dealing with antagonists (read glorified circus clowns) and sadly, at least in this anime, it doesn't really go anywhere, as the show ends before we even get to Raphael which is kind of disappointing. Presumably they fix this in the OVA that was released, but I haven't seen it, so I don't know. The animation is somewhat similar to a lot of shows in the nineties, pretty detailed but not as well animated, and no special tricks or anything. The cast is led by Nobuyuki Hiyama, (Lord Azreal in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED). Kotarou is voiced by Nozomu Sasaki (Yuusuke Yuremeshi in Yu-yu Hakusho.) We also even have a contribution from Kappei Yamaguchi in a minor role (the title character from Inuyasha). There's one opening called "Haruka, Sailing for My Dream", and the end theme is called Boku no "Ikikata." Neither of them seem to be particularly notable aside from sounding like generic theme songs. As far as the show overall is concerned, it's watchable, but I would put it at a little below average in terms of quality. Don't worry, my stateside readers, you aren't missing anything, and that's the tiger's two cents.

Images taken from B't X

Monday, August 1, 2011

Dangerous Characters: Hei

Here's a character that may not necessarily seem an obvious choice. On the outside he's just Lee Shengshun, this mild mannered Chinese foreign exchange student who really doesn't have much to do with anything and only really cares about slurping down as many bowls of ramen as he can possibly get his hands on and cooking as much tasty food in his apartment as he can while occasionally getting a part time job here and there. But you know, it's generally the nice ones that are more dangerous. If you pay more attention you'll eventually realize a few things. For one, he has a secret identity, and for another, he works for a shadowy organization called the Syndicate. Also known by the code BK-201 for the star that represents the status of his powers, Hei comes from the series Darker than Black and is not one to be trifled with. He's notorious for throwing people off with his nice demeanor, but when it gets down to it, his harmless appearance is just that, an appearance.

When it comes to his true nature, Hei is actually pretty cold and calculating. He puts on the front of being so jovial a lot of the time in order to lower defenses and get him in where he otherwise wouldn't. While he is capable of feeling some amount of emotion he can be quite ruthless, and it's a characteristic you need in the environment in which he works. In the cloak and dagger world of criminal syndicates, not having such traits can get people killed. His wits aren't his only weapons though. He also sports a cable he can shoot electric currents through as he swings it around, not to mention he's definitely in excellent physical shape (that slasher mask of his doesn't hurt either when it comes to intimidating opponents). All of these are necessary for the missions he runs for the syndicate along with Yin, Mao, and Huang, his associates and he uses them to great effect, however, his missions often tend to result in fatalities and collateral damage for the police to clean up, also making him a prime candidate for induction into our fraternity of Dangerous Characters.

Image taken from Darker than Black.