Thursday, 17 January 2013

Slumps are Evil

So there's been total radio silence for over eight months, and for that I apologise. There's not much of an excuse, just one simple reason. I fell prey to a slump. That horrific enemy of any geek hit me at my weakest. From a combination of being manga-ed out after my 24 days of manga run, the discovery of a whole new world of games after getting an xbox that christmas, and developing an OCD-like annoyance at the noise my computer fans were making, I kind of disappeared from the fandom last year.


Last year was an odd one for me. I went from being immersed in the anime culture to going full on cold turkey. From everything to nothing. Yet for the most part, I didn't miss it. I was too busy discovering and rediscovering other fandoms. And that part of me held me back from attempting to dig myself out of the hole I'd plunged headfirst into. Saying I missed nothing would be a tremendous lie. I missed blogging about anime; the wealth of ideas that had flooded my mind all pitifully dribbled away. But more importantly, I missed the social side of things. Something strange held me back, and friendships I'd forged in the anime community, felt like they were slipping. I missed chatting with my best friends about the latest anime I'd watched, and I felt like I was drifting. Yet still, I couldn't just delve back into the fandom. It felt too daunting, and I was enjoying what I'd been doing in the absense of anime and manga. I finally started reading more books, I was re-watching tv shows I loved, but had abandoned in favour of anime.


Finally, however, something clicked and with the introduction of a crunchyroll app for xbox (that doesn't suck donkey balls like the iPad version) I finally started to reconnect with anime. And boy, have I missed it. I'm still taking it easy, so I started with Natsume Yuujinchou San, the third part of one of my favourite franchises. Between that and a little Poyopoyo, and my discovery of Oshiri Kajiri Mushi and I finally feel more like myself.


That was the biggest evil of the slump; by suddenly being separated from something that has been a huge part of my life for the best part of a decade, I didn't feel quite myself. I felt broken. Hell, I didn't even enjoy Expo as much as I used to. But I wasn't completely gone as I continued to buy DVDs, Blurays and other merchandise. It was honestly a bizarre experience, and not one I am keen on repeating, so here's to coming back, and hopefully I should have a new post soon. One that isn't quite as lame as this. ;)

Friday, 4 May 2012

Monthly Round-up: April

Not much in the way of anime again this month, but a decent amount of manga.
Anime I've Watched:
  • Bleach - Still not finished this yet. Really should as I only have about 12 episodes left to go.
  • Recorder to Randoseru - Meh. I reviewed this recently for Anime-Planet and summed the whole series up in one word: average. It was funny at odd times, but relies too much on one joke, which soon wears out its welcome.

Ongoing Anime I've Watched:

Manga I've Read:
  • Mononoke -Finally managed to finish reading the last few chapters of this. As much as I enjoyed this arc while watching the otherwise less-than-stellar Ayakashi Japanese Horror, I never quite got into the manga. I mainly put this down to only having one chapter every couple of months. Maybe I'd have liked it more had I read it all in one go. Likewise, I think the visuals worked better in the abnime, at times some of the manga looked a little... messy by comparison.
  • Old Boy -This is unlike pretty much anything I normally read, but I really enjoyed it. I loved seeing how the conspiracy slowly unravelled and became more complicated. Definitely well worth a look.
  • Monster Hunter Orage - This wasn't too bad, but a bit on the disappointing side for two main reasons. Firstly, the story was really rushed and all of a sudden it was at the final battle after little build up. Secondly, while reading it, it felt like an older Hiro Mashima work, with shadows of what would become Fairy Tail characters; except it was actually created a couple of years AFTER Fairy Tail began, so instead it feels more like a cheap knock-off of better works.
  • Bakuman -I confess, I'm kind of bummed that Bakuman ended, but only because I'm goign to miss my weekly dose of this excellent series. In truth, it's better they stopped it when they did as otherwise I think it'd be going too far - a little like Bleach after the Aizen stuff, though annoyingly Kubo's new arc is getting pretty good. I really could gush about this series all day, btu I'll save that for another time.

Ongoing Manga I've Read:

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Um... Excuse Me But Girls Can Like Ecchi Too

I'm female, but I'm no feminist. OK that's not technically true. I believe in equality between the sexes and that women and men shouldn't be discriminated against purely because of what is (or isn't) in their pants, but by no stretch of the imagination am I hardcore feminist. In fact, I'm probably less of a feminist than my very much MALE friend, Patches. I'm not bothered by the objectification of women in anime, nor, for the most part, does it even register as such. However, what DOES annoy me is having my personal opinion demeaned or entirely dismissed because of my gender.

What has sparked this post is a comment that I received yesterday on my Anime-Planet review of Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu Ni which simply said:

"go back to the kitchen"

This pissed me off. The comment has subsequently been removed and the user responsible warned that sexist comments are not tolerated under any circumstance. And for good reason. Why should my opinion be so quickly dismissed in a five word sentence purely because I'm female? Sure, I gave the series a bad review, but that had nothing to do with my sex. That I'm a woman didn't change the fact that the show ignored its central premise in favour of dumb jokes. The show is called (in it's English translation) "Idiots, and Tests and Summoned Beings", yet it focused entirely on the "Idiots", completely ignored the "Tests", and only included the "Summoned Beings" occasionally for dumb shit they weren't originally designed for. Now although the series was aimed at male viewers, I don't need to BE a man to notice it's flaws, and had I been a guy, this user may well have decided to simply leave some kind of comment like "you're a douche" or "you have no sense of humour" or a simple "you suck", but no, because I'm a girl I should just get back in the kitchen where I belong, because clearly I don't know what I'm talking about and my double x chromosomes make me incapable of rational reasoning.

But this isn't the first time I've had comments on a review based on my gender. I reviewed Ping Pong Club and totally trashed it. I received several messages of disagreement as the show has something of a cult following, and much like Marmite, you either love it or hate it. Fair enough. I hated it. Others loved it. But one user decided this was only because I was female and left the following comment:

"Holy shit you are wrong, wrong, wrong, and you have no sense of humor. Ping Pong Club is one of the few decent comedy anime in existence; I bet you pissed yourself with laughter watching Lucky Star. How typical of a female anime fan to hate it. You have no taste."

Now this comment, doesn't offend me so much, mainly because it's trashing my view of one specific show, not just me as a whole. But this message leads perfectly to the main point of this post: what the hell does sex have to do with what anime you enjoy?

Obviously, I get that certain series are aimed at specific demographics, but that isn't to say that ONLY those people can enjoy it. Just because I'm a female anime fan, does that mean that I should only be watching shoujo and josei series? Should I be limiting myself to the likes of Sailor Moon and Nodame Cantabile (both of which I thoroughly like for the record) simply because my lack of penis means that I couldn't possibly appreciate or enjoy shows such as Naruto or anything with even the vaguest hint of ecchi in it? No, of course I shouldn't, because that kind of bullshit belongs firmly in the past.

I'm a female anime fan, and one of my favourite genres is shounen. I like... no... I LOVE anime aimed at younger boys. I love the kick-arse battles. Maybe it's because I've always been more of a tomboy than a girly girl. As a child I'd rather pick up frogs than play with a Barbie doll, and as an adult, I'd rather watch a bunch of ninja beating the living crap out of each other than see a magical girl twirling her wand and shooting love beams at her crush. But it's not in shounen that I've encountered sexist attitudes. That joy has always lay in the ecchi camp.

In my experience, if a girl is ever going to get hassle for being an anime fan from a guy, it's when they express a negative comment on an ecchi show. If a woman dares to say that a panty-shot filled series has a crap story, then don't worry. It doesn't mean the show is shit. After all, the person giving the opinion is only a woman, what can she know or understand about it? She doesn't matter. Ignore her.


Just because an anime features lots of breasts, panties, or crude humour doesn't mean that a girl can't enjoy it. Now, ecchi isn't one of my favourite genres, but that doesn't mean I don't like series where the perversion is a prominent feature, as I either just kind of ignore it becuase it isn't that big of a deal (Highschool of the Dead) or I actively enjoy the humour (Amaenaideyo!! and Mitsudomoe). Granted, the shot of a buxom female's breasts bouncing around the screen or her panties being exposed by an errant wind don't turn me on, but I can find them funny if executed well. And I think that last point is the key, whether it's executed well or not. Some girls may enjoy ecchi anime, but they may also be a little more objective. Maybe females can spot a poorly constructed narrative, or a badly executed series more easily because we aren't quite as preoccupied by the lingerie and cleavage. However, that doesn't mean that our opinions or observations are completely null and void purely because we don't have meat and two veg clogging up our knickers.

Newsflash: girls can be perverts too. So don't judge us purely on our sex, because it's not so simple. We can be crude and enjoy vulgar humour. We can laugh at fart or poop jokes without being failures as women. We can enjoy panty shots and exposed breasts and not be lesbians. So next time anyone tells us to go back to the kitchen, remember that's also where the bleach is kept, so try not to piss us off too much, okay?

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Cassie's Character Corner: Rukia Kuchiki

So, I've been considering writing a character corner post on Rukia for a while now, but having heard that a friend who loves her isn't feeling well, I figured this would be an ideal time to post this to cheer him up.

I never liked Rukia. From the beginning of the series I found her mildly irritating and just never really got her. However, recently things have shifted a bit, and while she's still not one of my most favourite characters ever, I do now actually quite like her. Things that I once found irksome are now what make me like her so much (I suspect my intense hatred for Orihime has largely contributed to me opening my eyes to Rukia actually being pretty damn cool).

She has many entertaining aspects to her personality, in particular her violent tendencies towards Ichigo and Kon. Her smackdowns for the lusty plushie certainly make for entertaining viewing, after all, Kon is bloody annoying so seeing him repeatedly smashed into the floor or kicked out a window is good. Likewise, although she demonstrates plenty of light violence (whacks round the head, or the occasional flying kick - OK maybe not THAT light), my favourite part of Rukia is her... um... "artistic" ability.

From the very opening episodes her rather unique drawings become a running joke. While she has the right idea of trying to illustrate things in order to make it more simple for Ichigo to understand, combining that with her love of cute bunnies nad her inability with a pencil is a dangerous, dangerous thing.
Look Ichigo, doesn't this make it easier to understand? No? Pfft, what's wrong with you?!

Unlike many of the other higher ranking Shinigami, Rukia doesn't have one defining quirk, she hasn't got the arrogance and pride of her brother, Byakuya; she's not criminally insane like Mayuri; and she's not a drunk flirt like Kyoraku (or Matsumoto for that matter); but this actually works in her favour. Though I personally prefer the more outrageous and wacky characters, I honestly think that Rukia's more normal demeanour is for the best. The series needs a certain number of personalities with more muted eccentricities in order to allow the true freaks to revel in their quirks. In my mind, when it comes to Bleach Rukia is one of the characters who does this best. That she isn't ruled by her oddities means that she can perfectly flip flop between the victim role required for the Soul Society arc and the kick-ass shinigami icing her opponents into oblivion in later stories, all while making us smile with her chibi-sized antics along the way. And it's that versatility in her character that has made me finally appreciate her as a solid and damn good character.

She may be small, but Rukia will kick your arse into next Tuesday if you mess with her.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Video Game Manga: Victory Fanfare or Game Over?

The video game industry is big business, and with the plethora of different games around, it's chock full of different stories for people of all ages and genders to play through. So it's no surprise that the rest of the entertainment industry decides to take advantage of the popularity and adapt the tales we've all come to know and love into another medium. When it comes to anime, there are myriad titles based on dating sims, such as Clannad and Amagami SS. But it's not just eroge that get the anime treatment, one of the most successful and widely known franchises is Pokemon whose games have spawned countless tv series, movies and specials; then there's the obscure OVAs featuring Nintendo's signature creation, Mario. But while I could ramble on about how anime has cashed in on the popularity of these games, in this post I intend to look at the lesser known manga adaptations of some of our favourite RPGs.

What spurred me on to write this post is that I've recently finished reading Hiro Mashima's Monster Hunter Orage, which has its roots in - surprise, surprise - the Monster Hunter franchise. As I was working my way through the final volumes, I kept thinking about what it is that game-based manga bring to the table and whether they're a good thing or not. Unfortunately, I have been unable to come up with a definitive answer myself, but I have noticed that with each video game manga I read, the same things keep cropping up.

The biggest issue with video game manga that I've found is that they're not inclusive and they often expect the reader to be familiar with the game franchise. The two biggest culprits of this I've found have been Kingdom Hearts and Devil May Cry 3. I've never played any of the games in either of these two series so when I read the manga, I knew next to nothing about them. Unfortunately, in both of these cases it's clear that the manga expects the reader to know the basic plot, gameplay and character histories, so they don't bother to fully explain things. In the case of Kingdom Hearts, the story moves so quickly and the dynamic of the world is never properly introduced that I had little idea of what was going on and found it very difficult to really get what was happening and why. To me this is a huge flaw as it not only makes for a poor storytelling foundation, but it also alienates a potential new fanbase who may have gravitated to the games after enjoying the manga - after all if you didn't like the comic why would you want to try the games?

That being said, there are times when game-based manga catering purely to the fans can actually be a good thing. My favourite series of games by a long margin is the Legend of Zelda franchise and undoubtedly the best videogame manga I've read is Wind Waker: Link's Logbook. However, where Link's Logbook differs from the aforementioned Kingdom Hearts and Devil May Cry 3 is that it is a 4-koma gag manga that explicitly states that it has been made FOR the fans. And it really is. The game often pokes fun at itself and the manga continues this and takes it to the extreme, making it one of the most hilarious things that I've read, but that's only because I know the game. Non-fans may smile at the slapstick elements, but by not being familiar with the source material, they probably won't find it all that humorous and all the in-jokes will go soaring over their heads quicker than a frog on a cloud.

To me Link's Logbook is the epitome of the best that video game manga has to offer for the seasoned fan. It takes you through the story and shows what essentially feel like outtakes, but it still wholly encapsulates the spirit of the game. It makes you relive yourplaythrough as you remember doing some of the stupid shit that Link gets up to (such as accidentally jumping off the top of a huge tower), or pokes fun at some of the weirder characters out there - Tingle anyone?

Likewise, for fans of video games, reading the manga does have two other functions. Firstly, it makes for some good geek spotting. With series such as Monster Hunter Orage even the mere mention of fighting Rathians or wearing Kelbi armour is enough to set off a small squeal from the fangirl (or fanboy) inside, which undeniably gives some enjoyment as you read. Secondly, as fans of the franchise it's brilliant to see your favourite characters in print and it does allow for you to rediscover your most enjoyed games for a second time. By reading the manga you can re-experience the story in a much shorter space of time and enjoy it. So instead of playing through thirty or forty odd hours of game, you can follow Link's time-travelling Ocarina adventures in the space of an hour or so.

Now from what I've written so far, it may sound like game manga is exclusively for the fans and only they will enjoy them, but that isn't the case. There are several manga series out there where the mangaka recreate a game story that doesn't alienate non-fans. Sounds great, right? Well, yes it is, except it still comes with pitfalls as more often than not in the quest to make a comprehensive plotline, things shift. Details change, things get omitted, or added and while this makes the stories more universally accessible it can piss off the purists. The first thing to spring to mind for me in this case is Ocarina of Time. As a huge fan of the game, I couldn't wait to devour the manga when I discovered its existence, but when I'd finished reading the second volume, I felt more than a little disappointed because they changed so much. Among the many alterations, the entire existence of the Shadow Temple was skipped, while a scene was added in near the beginning with young Zelda and Link running around the market. Similarly, when Link first ventures into the Great Deku Tree, he isn't alone like in the game, instead Mido accompanies him. While this does make for a better manga story as it shows Mido accepting Link and apologising for all the crap that went on before, the gamer geek in me can't help but yell "THAT'S NOT HOW IT IS IN THE GAME!"

Ultimately, I'd say that adapting a game into manga is pretty damn hard. If you go for a retelling of a game's plotline then it's likely to either confuse or alienate those unfamiliar with the source material, or in order to make it more universally friendly, plot elements will be altered which will annoy or disappoint the hardcore fans. However, there are the games that don't have a linear plotline, such as Monster Hunter, which instead takes the world and its creatures and creates an original plotline. In my mind these have the potential to be the most successful, as so long as you introduce the relevant elements - in the case of Monster Hunter, the presence of the guilds and quests etc - then you can appeal to the casual reader who enjoys a nice adventure tale, as well as the fans who can geek-spot all the game references.

In the end it all comes down to what you want out of a video game manga. If you want something that will be faithful to the original content, then you may be disappointed, as when all is aaid and done, games and graphic novels are VERY different media with entirely different storytelling methods. If you're simply looking for an easy read where you can play "spot the familiar game references" then you'll probably be quids in. And for those of you who don't know the games and just think that the plot sounds interesting, well, just give it a go. Don't let what I've written about prior knowledge sometimes being a necessity put you off, because that isn't the case every single time and you could be missing out as so many games out there have awesome stories that deserve to be shared with a wider audience.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Monthly Round-up: March

March was a fairly busy month for me real life wise, so anime was a little thin on the ground in the end. Apart from all the Bleach - and I'm still not done with that.

Ongoing Anime I've Watched:

Manga I've Read:
  • Good Ending - There are still a few series left for me to catch up on from the 25 Days of Manga extravanganza, and having dipped into a slight manga slump for a week, I decided to make a comeback by reading Good Ending. The more I read, the more it's turning into a harem series, yet somehow I'm really enjoying it.
  • Little Little - Little Little is my first experience of textless manga, and frankly I found myself enthralled. I always find any medium that attempts to communicate without the aid of dialogue intriguing, as sometimes the story can be more poignant. I admit that a couple of times I did lose slightly what was going on, but for the most part, I really enjoyed this beautifully-drawn manga about a sickly girl and her new fox-girl friend.
  • Violet Blossoms - I had been looking forward to reading this oneshot for a while since the artwork is from Kaoru Mori, mangaka of Emma. The visuals didn't disappoint, though I can't help but feel that Mori really shines when she gets to recreate a lavish period world. Plot wise, the whole thing was kinda meh. I'm not entirely sure I got what the final few panels were about, but it was an OK manga, for a short read.
  • Ibitsu - While I'm not normally one for horror anime, I don't mind the odd scary manga, and Ibitsu had been on my list for a while. I confess now, that I probably shouldn't have read it late at night with the lights off just before going to bed, but I genuinely found it quite creepy. The "Little Sister" character is genuinely eerie with her tattered lolita clothes and gaunt, psychotic face. I won't give too much away on this since I may write more on this at a later date. But seriously, if you like horror, go read. Now.

Ongoing Manga I've Read:

Saturday, 31 March 2012

What is Anime?

In my time as a moderator over on Anime-Planet, there's one debate that has come up countless times: what actually constitutes anime? This question normally only arises when someone requests that Avatar: The Last Airbender be added to the database, and our response of "It will not be added because it is not anime" tends to go down like a ton of bricks. So what exactly constitutes anime?

If we go back to the original source, anime is simply the Japanese word for animation. That's all. Much like the word kawa means river, and yama means mountain, it's a general word that encompasses all animation. By this definition, technically anything could be anime, even Disney, Pixar, and Aardman creations. However, that's just looking at it literally. Outside of Japan, the word anime has come to mean something else, and it's this "something else" that causes more friction or confusion. Typically, the western world has two main definitions as for what anime actually is:
  1. Animation originating from Japan.
  2. A style of animation that originally came from Japan.
I am heavily planted in the first definition's camp. If it's not from Japan, it's not anime. To me this is the same idea as if it's not from Japan it's not manga, or if it's not from the UK it can't be Britpop. It's a simple and clear cut definition that's not too difficult to figure out. That's not to say that I can't see where people are coming from. I agree, that yes, Avatar does look like anime since it was created with that design in mind, but it has absolutely nothing to do with Japan other than that. It's an American animation, not anime.

My main gripe with the definition based on style as opposed to country of origin is that the whole style thing is - in a word - bullshit.

For a start, the original "anime style" was adapted from the early American animations. All you need do is take a look at Osamu Tezuka's drawing style to see the heavy influence that pre-war black and white cartoons had on his work. This isn't to say that it's derivative by any stretch of the imagination, as it has evolved and made the big sparkly eyes its own. In fact, the so-called anime style is almost completely removed from its humble roots nowadays, which leads me to my main point. If you define anime purely on the style of animation, then what about all those beloved anime series and films that don't conform to the standard laid out by this restrictive definition? Surely Osamu Tezuka's work is anime, right? Well the Black Jack TV series look closer to westernised animation than Japanese, and in particular, many of Tezuka's shorts look more like they belong in 1960s America alongside Hanna Barbera and the Pink Panther cartoons. And while we're talking about American influence? What about Panty and Stocking? That's an anime series, right? Even though it looks like a slutty, violent, sex-crazed version of the Powerpuff Girls.

Left: Osamu Tezuka's Drop. Right: Classic US animation, The Pink Panther
They may not be identical, but the visual influences at work are fairly plain to see.

What about the Studio Ghibli films? You wouldn't call them anything other than anime, would you? Even My Neighbours the Yamadas the most visually "un-Ghibli" Ghibl film? It doesn't look like your standard anime fare, but you'd still call it anime. So don't give me all this crap about it being "all about the style", because it's not.

Nowadays more and more series try something a little different visually, which is brilliant and beautiful, because as viewers we are getting a whole range of new and exciting experences. Take the likes of House of Five Leaves, Tatami Galaxy, pretty much anything by Akiyuki Shinbo, they push the boundaries of what Japanese animation can look like and they don't just rest on that one familiar and comfortable appearance, but there's no question that they still count as anime. Animation is a constantly evolving medium, so to define anime based on a specific style is, in my mind, offensive.
Natsume Ono's distinctive pronounced noses made House of Five Leaves stand out from the crowd in Spring 2010.
With a very fluid and offbeat design, Tatami Galaxy isn't always pretty, but it's certainly interesting, and certainly ideal for the Noitamina timeslot.
The almost grotesque images of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei's background characters is far from the polished design of "standard" anime fare

I love the simple definition of anime being animation that was made in Japan, because through that definition, I have come to watch a variety of glorious Japanese animated shorts, that had I gone purely on style, I'd have never found. Had I only looked for anything that matched the visual desigm that has come to be familiar to us all - that anime archetype - then I'd never have stumbled upon The Diary of Tortov Roddle, or the gorgeous stop motion puppetry of Kihachiro Kawamoto. I'd never have given a second glance to the works of Natsume Ono, who has become one of my favourite mangaka.

In my mind there's no question that anime is animation from Japan and nowhere else. So for those of you out there who bitch about Avatar not being listed on your favourite anime site, calm down, get over it, and go and experience the sheer variety of what both the mainstream and independant Japanese animation industries have to offer.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Shounen Deaths and Their Impacts

Before I start, given the title of this post, expect that there will be spoilers ahead, BIG spoilers, for Bleach, Naruto, One Piece, and Fullmetal Alchemist.

As anyone who reads or watches a fair bit of mainstream shounen will know, the mortality rate is generally pretty damn low for the amount of carnage that goes on each chapter. Maybe the occasional bad guy will shuffle off the mortal coil once in a while, but other than that, death is a rare occurrence in this genre and for the most part, enemies just get roughed up, knocked out and generally end up bloodied but alive. So, when a mangaka does decide to kill someone off, the implications tend to be much larger and there's generally good reason behind it. Particularly, as much as I love it, one of the biggest culprits of not letting people die is One Piece, though in certain cases - namely Buggy, Crocodile and several Baroque Works members - they've returned to play an important role later on, so really it's best that they didn't head off to meet their maker after all. That being said, both Bleach and Naruto have bumped off a few baddies, but since they're enemies, you kind of don't care so much, or at least expect it (I'm still pissed that Kubo didn't kill of Aizen in the end). However, I'm not really here to discuss the killing of antagonists, my main concern in this post is that of deaths of shounen characters who, for all intents and purposes, are good guys.

Killing off your protagonists is a fairly rare occurrance in shounen and while, with all of the insane battle, it may seem a bit unrealistic, I actually believe it to be a good thing for one simple reason: it allows for any deaths to have a much larger impact on the audience. If good guys dying off were a more regular thing, then you'd get somewhat de-sensitised to it all, but when you're led in to a sense of security that no one dies and it's all hunky-dory, and THEN someone gets suddenly wiped out, it can be a devastating and emotional experience.

My first encounter of anything like this was Fullmetal Alchemist. I was happily watching away falling in love with the story and characters - in particular, my favourite of all the protagonists was Maes Hughes. So when all of a sudden he was killed off for getting too close to the central conspiracy, I was utterly devastated. I remember watching his funeral scene through a veil of tears and to this day any glimpse of his face on screen leads to a yelp of "HUUUUUUUUUUGGGGHHES!!!" Looking at it from a storytelling point of view though it was a genius move. He's a likeable guy. He's not an alchemist, he's relatively ordinary, has a family that he adores and is one of the more comical people in the tale.

To this day, Hughes' funeral remains one of the most heartwrenching scenes I've encountered in any anime series.

Having him die is an immediate and powerful way to show just how serious the situation is. Additionally, that there's no warning of his death and that it's so sudden subconsciously puts the viewer on edge, after all, anyone could be next...

More than any mainstream shounen I've encountered, there's one series that seems to be more at home with killing off protagonists (and antagonists, but I'll save that for another post), and that's Naruto. Out of the main shounen mangaka, it seems that Kishimoto is more willing to dispose of some of his protagonists in order to further the plot. He starts off with the Third Hokage, and while he's old, killing off the head of the village - and its most powerful ninja - is a bold, yet necessary step. He's not a central protagonist, so there's not too much emotional attachment, but it still goes against the general philosophy of shounen manga: that the good guys always win out. It throws Konoha into turmoil and, while not necessarily in the way he'd planned, makes part of Orochimaru's plan succeed. It isn't an instant defeat, more a partial win, but it takes away that feeling of security, that all will be OK and continue as ever, and THAT is one of Kishimoto's biggest strengths.

While the Third Hokage's is the only significant death in the first part of Naruto, Kishimoto continues to bump off some of his other protagonists in Shippuuden. In particular there are two demises that I wish to look at. The first, is that of Asuma, which has the least implications, but still remains poignant enough. That Asuma was taken out by one of Akatsuki, not only cements their position as the central antagonists of the piece, but also facilitates some maturation in Shikamaru by making him step up and graduate from being a lazy genius, to a full-fledged konoha ninja with a true "Will of Fire". Likewise, it also proves that the jounin ninja are fallible. They may be close to being the pinnacle of ninja strength (only being outshone by the kage) but they are not immortal. What they do is dangerous and they can in fact die, and it's this realisation that often makes Naruto seem more realistic than some of its shounen bretheren.

However, while the Third Hogake and Asuma's deaths held some importance in the plotline, the most significant death in Naruto by far is that of Jiraiya

Death of a Konoha legend, Jiraiya's end summed up the leaf village's "Will of Fire" to a T.

Undoubtedly he is the most central character to kick the bucket in the entire series, and it certainly has the biggest impact on Naruto himself. As the series' loveable pervert, Jiraiya's death has the biggest emotional impact on the audience. We know him more than others and like his antics, as well as respect his position as one of Konoha's Three Legendary Ninja. What makes Jiraiya's demise the most poignant however, is not the emotion but the implications it has. On a more general note, it delivers a massive blow to Konoha's firepower. Jiraiya was not only a figurehead with his position as Sannin, but he was a valuable source of intelligence with abilities that allowed him to feed important information back to the village.

But it's the repercussions his end has on those left behind that is the most striking. In particular it serves as the catalyst for Naruto's evolution. By suddenly losing his beloved master who had become like a substitute family to him, Konoha's Jinchuuriki is able to access parts of himself that had previously been locked. During Naruto's battle with Pain, he not only manages to physically power up, but he learns more about himself. On top of that, he matures incredibly as he finally understands that needless hate and desire for vengeance is nothing more than a vicious circle. He tosses aside his desire for revenge and pledges to carry on Jiraiya's will to find a road to true peace. Ultimately, that not only helps him finally defeat Nagato, but also by solidifying his ideals and essentially leaving his heart open to everyone, it lays the foundations for his later power ups and realtionships with the Tailed Beasts.

Then of course there's One Piece, a series that goes hundreds upon hundreds of chapters and episodes before killing off any of its characters. But boy, when it finally does, it does it in style. While death plays a large part in practically all of the Straw Hats' backstories, it's not really until the Whitebeard war that any active characters actually shuffle off the mortal coil and then Oda dishes up not one, but two significant deaths in short succession, both of which have a distinct, yet different impact.

First up to bite the dust is Ace, and his death has much more of an emotional impact. The audience has come to know and love him from previous encounters with him, and when he dies, it ultimately leaves the viewer at least a little upset. However, with Ace, more than anything it's the effect his demise has on Luffy that really proves the most devastating blow. Seeing Luffy break down is what truly gnaws at the hearstrings. That the usually optimistic and bubbly pirate suddenly becomes little more than a broken and hollow shell is such a powerful thing, that anyone who has become even remotely emotionally invested in the series will feel that grief resonate through them. This heartbreak not only serves as the starting point for Luffy's next big power up but it signals a change in the wind.

As much as Luffy's incessant yelling of "AAAACE!" throughout this arc got a bit much, I found myself joining in with him during this scene.

The second of Oda's double whammy of death has less emotional impact but huge political implications for the world of One Piece. Whitebeard's end was fairly incredible, but that this towering presence in the pirate community that had maintained peace for years was now gone, serves as the end of one era and the beginning of another. Nothing will be the same after this. The balance of the pirate world has been shattered and with Blackbeard stealing the Whitebeard's Devil Fruit power, the die have been cast for what will inevitably become Luffy's final battle - well, unless Oda has another card hidden up his sleeve. Since the Straw Hats' next step is to head into the infamously treacherous New World, Whitebeard's death serves to make that already deadly journey even more perilous as the heirarchical system of the pirates has been thrown into turmoil. So, when they Sunny does eventually break into this new territory, not only will they have to cope with the natural dangers, but they will also face more fearsome pirates who are now not only taking over Whitebeard's territory and throwing peaceful lands into chaos, but are also vying for the now vacant position of one of the four Pirate Emperors. This is the perfect point to draw a line and commence with what will likely be One Piece's heavier and even more epic second act.

So, while it may get rather tiresome watching everyone get beaten to a bloody pulp only to have miraculously recovered a few pages - or episodes - later, the lack of fatalities in shounen goes a long way to making the more important deaths all the more poignant, and with this week's chapter of Bleach, I am reminded of this even more. It may only be the beginning of the arc, and he may only be a minor named protagonist, but I found Kubo killing off Vice Captain Sasakibe shocking. Even though I didn't particularly care for the character, that one fatality immediately shows that Kubo means business and that this final arc in Bleach is going to be a seriously big one. It just goes to prove that the impact of having a "good" character drop off the perch at an important moment is only made that poignant, by not bumping off your protagonists at every turn, since if Kubo had been doing so for the last decade, these recent events probably wouldn't have made me even bat an eyelid.

Sometimes less is more, and this is definitely the case with deaths in shounen.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Manga Musings: GE: Good Ending

So my latest read manga-wise has been to catch up on another of my 25 Days of Manga series, GE: Good Ending. Normally, while I don't avoid them per se, I don't tend to actively seek out harem series. They aren't always my favourite of genres, but having been given this as a request, I read a bit and actually enjoyed it.

Initially, Good Ending is a romance story about a regular if not wimpy high school boy, Seiji, who is in love with his upperclassman in the tennis club, Shou. Then in some odd twist, the class beauty, Yuki, decides to help him pluck up the courage to confess to his crush. This section is all rather simple and it's pretty easy to figure out where some of the plot is headed, but it's enjoyable nonetheless. However, as the series goes on, it develops into more and more of a harem series and for me that's when it starts to lose some of its initial sparkle.

My biggest issue with harems is that it always seems to be so wholly unbelievable and Good Ending is no different. Nine times out of ten, the central male is weak and generally naff, something that Seiji fulfils in pretty much every way. Initially, he's an incredibly cowardly and timid guy, and granted in that respect he does mature a little though not all that much. Throughout he suffers from what seems to be a crippling lack of self-confidence and indecision and as a result every little thing gets blown up out of all proportion.

Frankly, I have no idea why all the girls seem to flock to him. I mean, Oonuma clearly has some kind of mental issues given her naivety, her history and the way she clings to Seiji like a limpet purely because he's kind to her. About the only thing our central protagonist has going for him is that he's nice and kind to pretty much everyone, but he's not THAT good a guy - especially when his dithering ends up being harmful - and this is where the central problem lies.

While in the beginning, I was cheering Seiji on, willing him to overcome his shyness and win over his crush, as time went on I found myself getting frustrated and annoyed. There are only so many times that you can watch one guy hesitate and get into so many misunderstandings that set his relationships back two or three steps.

Girls like me?! Yeah, I know, Seiji. I'm having a hard time believing it too.

Outside of the harem aspect there are certain bits about the story that I do quite like. The history regarding Yuki's past relationship for example, I found quite engaging. For a seemingly long time, the mystery surrounding it kept the interest factor up, and I wanted to keep reading to find out just what happened. Then when all was revealed, the effect that past events had on her current love affair kept the whole thing fresh, and judging by the way things are going, her past will likely return once again. I do like that there are several plot threads running alongside each other at once, but this also works as a double-edged blade. There are certain aspects that feel tacked-on and unfocused; the main one that springs to mind is the whole photography aspect with Seiji. It's introduced as a way for him to move forward and seems like it will help to resolve his lack of motivation for the future as well as potentially adding to the list of females after the hapless teen. However, the whole thing seems pretty half-arsed, and it's fallen by the wayside only to reappear once or twice when it's convenient. Likewise, Touru coming back into the picture has been hinted at for a while but once again seems to have disappeared no doubt to return later on. Sadly, this lack of focus takes a little away from the otherwise well-woven plot threads, like dropping stitches while knitting and ending up with a nice yet rather holey sweater.

As much as I personally find Good Ending to have its fair share of problems, I still find it an easy read and when all is said and done, I do quite like it; it's just not one of the most incredibly amazing series out there. I'd say that if you like the harem genre, a dash of good humour and a few panty shots then it's worth checking this out.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Bleach Anime Catch Up Marathon: Week Three

Now onto week three of the Bleach catch-up and I still have a reasonable distance to go. Think I may need to pick up the watching pace a little, especially since his weekend is my birthday and I'm unlikely to get to watching anything.


March 15th: Day fifteen of the catch-up
Bit of a meh episode but I realised that I've been forgetting the end of episode omake. Now having a mass catch up! I must say that despite my general anti-dumb comedy stance when it comes to Bleach, I do love the omake.

I can't help but get the feeling that by the end of this arc, Nozomi is going to end up sacrificing herself. I rather like how the current ending is gradually taking us through the last ten years of the anime. Though it's really manking me want to rewatch the Soul Society arc.

Man, it feels like it's been such a long time since I genuinely enjoyed the Bleach anime, but right now, I really am. Additionally, unless it all goes really tits up in the last part of this arc, I think this is by far and away the best filler plotline the series has ever had. Oh god... I'm actually enjoying Bleach filler. Has hell frozen over?

Now onto episode 333, and I have to say, Nozomi's zanpakutou is rather awesome. Ridiculously convenient, but awesome nonetheless. Ignoring that though, seriously, do NOT mess with Yamamoto. He will burn your arse to the ground. I do love seeing the Captain Commander get his fight on, somehow whenever he gets personally involved in the battle it feels that much more epic. One thing that confuses me though... Yamamoto is incredibly powerful, like, he could probably take out all the other captains single-handedly powerful (no pun intended), so why does Soul Society have to keep relying on Ichigo? I mean if Yamamoto and Ichigo were to battle it out, the flame-haired shinigami would probably end up as just... flames and quite possibly, ashes.

Dammit, I was going to play some more xbox tonight, but I can't stop watching! Oh wow... it's getting a bit soap opera now isn't it? Showdown in the rainy woods, two guys fighting over a girl, desperation, landslides, self-sacrifice.
Watched: 6 Episodes


March 19th:  Day nineteen of the catch-up
Took the weekend off for birthday-related goodness, but now I'm back and still have 30 episodes to catch up on in just over a week, so here goes!

As much as I'm enjoying this arc, I can't help but feel that it's making on big joke out of Ichigo losing his powers. I think I've been sucked into the Bleach machine, as the prospect of an epic and mass captains vs fake captains fight is getting rather exciting - even though there have been many of these clashes throughout the arc. Somehow it's yet to get too old, though I confess that the Byakuya v Byakuya fights are getting a bit dull now.

I really do love seeing Kyoraku and Ukitake fighting, we don't get to see them enough, yet they're genuinely interesting characters. Actually, that reminds me... Kubo had better reveal Kyoraku's bankai during this final manga arc; especially after the mutterings about how it "must not be used" during the Fake Karakura Town arc. OK, screw rampaging hollow Ichigo, Urahara vs Urahara is way more interesting!
Watched: 4 Episodes


March 21st: Day Twenty-one of the catch up
I seem to be getting a bit behind again, what with not watching any last night. I have to say there's an odd little part of me that kind of likes the remix versions of the soundtrack that's going on in the background, though in general, the originals make me feel more nostalgic. Ahhh gotta love the whole "Take my final attack! I saw through your attack from the beginning! Well I knew you'd see through my attack so take this, HAH!" thing. Cheesy, but shounentastic! Oh come on... how dumb can you guys get?! You KNOW his zanpakutou can absorb reishi, don't look so bloody surprised when it swallows up your attack. And while all of this is going on, all the captains bar Kenpachi who's off doing his own slashy thing are having what is essentially a staring contest.  OK Kon's voice coming out of Nemu is just freaking creepy.

Aaaaaaaand Rukia just earned my respect.

You know, despite his large presence in this arc, Kon wasn't quiiiite as annoying as he could be. And so ends the filler arc, now back to canon plotline (hopefully) and what will be the final arc in the Bleach anime, but I think I'll save that for tomorrow.
Watched: 2 Episodes