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

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

New Blog Project: Itadakimasu!

A while back, I approached the lovely Pat and asked what he'd like to see me write about on my blog - since I had make a request of his awesome feminist anime blog *shameless plug*. However, instead of asking for a thousand words on the "wonder" that is Yui or twenty reasons why Sawa-chan would make the perfect wife (which, because it's him I'd likely have written), he offered advice and an idea. Unluckily for him, I loved the suggestion and so the ship has now sailed on the moe adoration front and I am instead embarking on a new project: blogging about food in anime.

From the moment Pat suggested it, I knew it was perfect for me as outside of the nerd realm, my main interest is cooking, and I personally find that these two interests coincide more frequently than you would think. The main way this tends to happen is that I'll spot some tasty looking morsel in an anime I'm watching and get the desire to try it, which is the main reason that I now own a rather sizeable number of Japanese cookery books.

So now, amongst the shounen babblings, and other anime and manga related ramblings, I intend to look at food in a variety of ways. I will likely take a glance at the importance of food within a given anime, and possibly blog an entire food-related series as I watch it. I also will likely focus posts on particular dishes, and maybe even share a recipe or two from my own experiences. Basically, if it's food-related and in anime (or manga) form, then the chances are I'll find something to write about it.

So, to start things off and tie this all in with the unofficial Bleach month I've got going on, I wanted to share one of my favourite food-related omake. In the Shinigami Illustrated Picture Book at the end of episode 183, Renji comments on how hungry he is, and Hisagi proclaims that he will take him somewhere where they can eat well and for no cost. Cue the Gotei 13's resident punching bag and joke of a vice-captain, Omaeda, who allows the oher two to finish off his "leftovers" for free much to Hisagi's joy and Renji's disgust.

What I like most about this omake is that the promise of free gourmet food really brings out a more fun and lively side of the usually calm and serious vice-captain. Having served under justice-obsessed asshat Tousen for so long, Hisagi generally has a sense of dignity about him, so when faced with a bowl of complimentary rice that turns him into a human hoover and causes Renji to question whether he even has any pride, you can't help but giggle. Thus is the power of food, especially upon a cash-strapped shinigami.

The moral of the story: there's no room for pride when you have the the promise of a free meal!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Cassie's Character Corner: Kenpachi Zaraki

Since March has essentially become Bleach month on here (mainly thanks to my marathon catch-up putting it to the forefront of my mind) I figured that my second character corner should be given over to another of my favourite individuals from Kubo's series. This time around it's the turn of 11th Squad Captain, Kenpachi Zaraki.

What sticks out most about Kenpachi is his overwhelming love of battle. His entire driving force is to fight, and while most see combat as means to an end, or a last ditch resort, Kenpachi actively seeks it out, specifically hunting for the strongest of the enemies he faces. Likewise, in a similar vein to Kurotsuchi, he often acts for his own personal satisfaction over any sense of justice. He'll obey orders given to him, but when he enters into a bout with an enemy, it's not necessarily because of duty, but because he wants to have fun - and luckily for him, the two frequently coincide.

Kenpachi is in his element when it comes to powerful and capable opponents.

Kenpachi is essentially a crazed beast who will hack away at his opponent. There's little finesse to his fighting style, his blade is tattered, and he hasn't even bothered to learn his zanpakutou's name. In that sense, his total sense of disconnect with a weapon that is essentially part of his soul, goes against the mantra of the other shinigami. He doesn't use fancy kido, or think out a strategy, instead he wins out with pure brute force and incredible inate spiritual pressure. That his entire attitude differs from his peers, is what makes him most fascinating to me as a character. Well, that and knowing that when he arrives with his blade drawn, you're in for a damn good fight.

Another thing that I find intriguing about Kenpachi is the juxtaposition in his character. Despite his thirst for bloody battle, Squad Eleven's captain is - in a sense - a fair and almost honorable fighter. He won't resort to dirty tricks. If you're too weak, he'll just kill you and/or leave feeling unsatisfied. If you're strong, he'll fight you in a one-on-one duel and give it his all in order to enjoy the bout. Likewise, though he's the most brutal and fierce of all the captains and while his enjoyment of combat almost borders on the sadistic, his relationship with his vice-captain, Yachiru, is a stark contrast. That he acts like big brother and protector to his tiny subordinate, accords Kenpachi a certain amount of humility. It goes to prove that he isn't all bad even though he may seem like little more than an out-of-control monster.

Less rabid beast, more loyal companion, Kenpachi is more than just a wild animal baring his fangs at anyone who walks past.

If I were to sum up Kenpachi, I'd say he's like a rather sizeable family dog. He growls, barks, and bites, but only when trying to assert his rank in the pecking order and test himself, or when protecting those that are threatened. However, he's loyal, especially to those he calls friend and will act as their companion and guardian. And while he may jump up and bark at those he respects (such as the way he "attacks" Ichigo), all he really wants is to play and have some fun.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Cassie's Character Corner: Mayuri Kurotsuchi

Despite it not being my favourite shounen series ever, Bleach contains quite a few characters that I really like, in fact the range of personalities within the Gotei 13 is one of Kubo's biggest strengths. Granted when it comes to Bleach finding them attractive is generally about as strict as the criteria for liking them gets. However, there are a couple of exceptions and one of those is captain of the 12th squad and Head of the Shinigami Research Institute, Mayuri Kurotsuchi.

I'll say it, my main reason for liking this guy is that he is a complete freak, but that's what makes him such a strong character. Let's face it, nine times out of ten, the messed up or evil characters are far more interesting to watch than the "nice" ones and that's precisely what happens here. At his core, Mayuri is distinctly unlikeable. Despite essentially being on the side of the "good guys", he often seems to put his own interests above that of anyone or anything else to the point where you often wonder where his loyalties actually lie.

Additionally, he is wholly callous towards other beings. He doesn't see people, just subjects. Even his own artificially created daughter, Nemu, doesn't escape his cruelty as he both mentally and physically abuses her to the point where he will even consider discarding her if she no longer proves "useful". Nice guy, huh?

Mayuri's design during his early appearances in the show.

More than anything though, it's the "Mad Scientist" aspect of his personality that shines above it all. He's a sadistic git who you wouldn't want to meet on a dark night, as he'd likely try to dissect you or at the very least inject weird substances into your veins. He lives for experimentation and no one is exempt from his studies, least of all himself. As Bleach has gone on, even more of Mayuri's bodily alterations and various fighting mehtods keep coming to light, to the point where watching him fight is like going to a carnival freak show. He has crazy detachable body parts that he can instantly re-grow if severed, a whole host of dangerous poisons at his disposal, one of the creepiest zanpakutou going (seriously, all those baby-ish giggles from Ashisogi Jizou creep me the hell out) and to top it all off, he has the last-ditch solution of dissolving into a puddle of liquid to escape a fight that he is unlikely to win.

What's more is that as the series has gone on, his appearance has changed and he's become even more deranged!

Creepy enough as he was, Mayuri has now morphed into possibly the most terrifying member of the Bleach cast.

Whereas before he was just kind of odd-looking and a bit creepy, now he's full on nightmareish. When you look at him as a person, there's no way in hell you'd want to know him, and you'd pray to god that you never became his enemy. He's a messed up creep that if he actually existed would have been locked up in a tightly secured padded cell long, long ago, probably after having been on a crazed killing spree. But as a fictional character in a series, isn't he incredible to watch? He brings a whole world of colour to proceedings, and even if that palette makes you feel a bit ill or just plain disgusted, no one could ever claim that Mayuri Kurotsuchi is dull.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Bleach Anime Catch Up Marathon: Week Two

Here comes my second week of Bleach catch-up.


March 8th: Day eight of the catch-up
I have to say that I am quite enjoying the whole Gotei 13 vs Gotei 13 thing, I just can't help but shake the feeling that this is all a bit reminiscent of the zanpakutou arc. Of course instead of the shinigami fighting against the very weapons that are a part of them, they're fighting against themselves. Both are very much... internal enemies instead of some completely outside presence going on the offensive. In other news, I do quite like Chad, but damn does he need shorter attack names!
Watched: 2 Episodes


March 12th: Day twelve of the catch-up
I have majorly sucked over the weekend and didn't watch ANY anime whatsoever, so I have some catching up to do. OK Nozomi calling Kon a pervert and repeatedly kicking him was getting old quite a long time ago, now it's just plain boring. Also getting a little weary of the poor fragile Ichigo losing his powers thing. Yes, it has the potential to be heroic, but it kind of feels like the anime is milking the loss of his abilities. At least in the manga it was instant. He used the technique, now that's it. No more. Still, it's nice to see a little more Kenpachi and definitely, Kenpachi v Kenpachi is gonna be goooooood!

So here's the main problem with filler arcs. If you're manga current then ALL of the shock content in an anime filler that relates to one of the canon characters is lost entirely. For example, have just seen actual Kenpachi get run through by fake Kenpachi. We all know that real Kenpachi is going to live, so any of the tension the anime could possibly create in making the audience think "Oh shit, he's dead on the floor" just fades away. Huh. I totally only just realised that Kenpachi has NO EYEBROWS! (Yes people, this is the kind of quality analysis you have been waiting for: Newsflash: Kenpachi doesn't have eyebrows.)
Watched: 2 Episodes


March 13th: Day thirteen of the catch-up
Oh that is totally fake Hinamori. If it isn't I'll eat my hat! Knew it; my hat lives to see another day! And while I'm on the subject of Hinamori, she is one of the most piss-weak, annoying characters I've ever met. So Aizen betrays everyone and she basically has a freaking breakdown. I know you could give the excuse of love, but that doesn't have to make you so damn lame. Look at Matsumoto, she loved Gin and he betrayed Soul Society, yet did her brain go to hell? No. She dealt with her feelings and continued to kick arse. Yet even when Hinamori attempts to be "strong" and fight back, she's still a pathetic excuse for a shinigami. She may have combat ability and be damn skilled at kidou, but her personality severely oppresses her fighting prowess and the constant doe-eyed look on her face makes her seem like little more than Soul Society's resident punching bag. Even her more agressive reigai in this arc is kinda pitiful, full of apology and devoid of resolve. My god girl, just grow a pair already! I was actually just about to take all that back when Hinamori #2 turned up and actually looked like she had some kind of definite intent to fight and protect someone, but then she ended up just yelling for Hitsugaya to help her like a pitiable damsel in distress again. If characters in Bleach fall into two categories - those who protect, and those who need protecting - then Hinamori is the type whose parents never told her the nasty bits of fairy stories and to this day she still believes that Snow White is simply a happy tale about a girl who befriends some dwarves and marries a prince after dozing off in the forest.

Anyway, enough of the Hinamori hate, now onto another episode. I have to admit, so far this arc has some pretty decent battles and it's really nice to see the captains (both real and fake) getting their fight on, particularly some of the ones that don't normally get as much screen time - like Kyoraku, Ukitake and Komamura.
Watched: 2 Episodes


March 14th: Day fourteen of the catch-up
So this guy basically has a Tardis zanpakutou... Gimme the Doctor's wibbly wobbly timey wimey over Inabas twirly space manipulation any day. OK this fight is pretty damn awesome. Watching the captains working together in a fight is impressive to say the least. Although it still looks like it's agiven that Ichigo will come save the day as he always does, it's still nice to see what the otehrs can do for a change. Definitely enjoying this arc so far, and that's something I never thought I'd say about Bleach filler.

Oh man, I love Kurotsuchi as a character. The crazy sadistic bastard adds some colour to the proceedings every time he shows his warped face. I had my doubts about Kageroza as an antagonist but he's totally got the whole mad scientist role down pretty well. I want to watch more, but I really should go to bed. Maybe I'll have to watch extra tomorrow.
Watched: 2 Episodes

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Gintama: Am I Missing Something?

How many times has it happened that someone has told you that you just have to watch something because it's so incredible, but then you've gone in, watched it, and come out the other side feeling distinctly "meh"? For me, this is what's happening with Gintama. I've seen countless people praise it to the heavens, and telling me that it's hilarious and that I just must watch it, but I'm currently 42 episodes in to the first series and frankly, I just don't get what the big deal is.

Now, I'm not saying that I can't see the appeal at all, as I have found myself almost in tears with laughter at some episodes and that's what's kept me watching for so long. Unfortunately, the humour content is varied to say the least. While some storylines clearly demonstrate the genius that it's so famed for, the others all swing and miss, and when it's not being pant-wettingly funny, I honestly find it rather dull.

Some of the most recent episodes that I've watched sum this up for me perfectly. Episode 38 saw the gang enter a snow sculpture contest, and I swear my parents thought I was insane, laughing away to myself as I watched it on my iPad in the middle of the holiday cottage. It took crude humour, extreme competitiveness, and oodles of snow to create one of the funniest pieces of animation I've seen in a long time.

Conversely, episodes 41 and 42 focused on a storyline surrounding Kagura, her long-lost father, and their strained relationship. While there were odd instances of Gintama's comedy gold (such as Gintoki leaping into action with a battle cry of "I'll pee on you! I'll pee my sweet urine on you!"), I spent most of my time clock-watching and waiting for it to get entertaining. In a weird way it's kind of like the reverse of Bleach. Ichigo and co. are better when they strip away the ultra dumb comedy and focus on more serious plotlines, whereas Gintama is better when it doesn't attempt to be serious, sentimental or have some kind of deep meaning and instead centres on the wacky, crude and violent humour.

I love self-referential and fourth wall humour at the best of times. This is one area that Gintama truly excels in...

... well that and rude, crude gags!

That I'm still not in love with this series leads me to question: am I missing something?

Maybe it just takes a while to get going? If that is the case however, then I'm sorry but 40+ episodes is WAY too long for a warm-up. By now it should be in full swing and I should be contemplating in investing in some "Tena Lady" products to control my laughing-induced "accidents". But still I'm not.

Perhaps its comedy just doesn't match with my sense of humour? Well, maybe, but that wouldn't explain why I find half of the content hilarious.

Don't get me wrong, I don't hate the series by any stretch; in fact I generally quite enjoy it. I'm just a little disappointed and somewhat perplexed. I genuinely want to love it and half of me does. I won't give up watching it, because I'm sure that somewhere down the line, something will click and that'll be it, I'll fall in love with it. But for now, I just don't quite get it.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

When Bleach is Good...

Since I'm currently in the middle of a marathon catch-up session for Bleach, it's been pretty much at the forefront of my mind. I soon got to thinking that I've written many a post about why Bleach (in particular it's anime) fails on so many levels. But what I've yet to really do is actually look at the good in the series. It's an incredibly popular series, so it must be doing something right, and frankly, I'm beginning to feel a little bit guilty about ragging on it so much, so here we go with a genuinely positive post on Tite Kubo's hit series.

Warning: Spoilers Ahoy!

Bleach is my first shounen love. And much like that first crush you had at school that never quite goes away, I will always have some lingering affection for this series no matter how many times it disappoints me. Even when I've sat through godawful episodes of Karukarizer or Hitsugaya playing soccer, I can still remember the time when I first discovered it. I distinctly remember sitting in my room marathoning my way through the first seventy odd episodes marvelling at the Soul Society arc, and wondering how I could have lived so long without seeing something so grippingly awesome. It was one of the first anime that I encountered and without any shadow of a doubt in my mind, is a large part of why I became so entranced with anime in the first place.

Undoubtedly, that Soul Society arc was Kubo's strongest moment. The characters were fresh, the world was well built and the intrigue of the plot was brilliant. I remember being semi-distraught when Aizen "died" (only semi since although he seemed nice, we didn't know him much), but then the revelation that he was the mastermind behind everything and was a genuinely evil git hit me and goddamn it was good. For me, that was Bleach's finest moment. That twist gave me such an incredible rush that I was drunk on the pure storytelling. With every twist and turn I was on the edge of my seat, and frankly, when it came to the big battles I could have wet myself with excitement - and that's something that's not changed (the kick-ass fights, I have perfect bladder control, thank you very much). It quickly became something that I immediately recommended to my male friends, and was actually one of the series that properly got my best friend into anime - though he has since fallen out of love with the franchise after the excessively bad filler and would probably rather forget enjoying it at this point.

Bleach may not have been able to live up to the consistently epic nature of its two closest shounen bretheren (Naruto and One Piece) plot wise but when it's good, damn, it's good. I've stated in the past that essentially Kubo is more about style over substance, and while from a narrative point of view that may not be ideal, it makes for some pretty awesome and action-packed battles. Story wise, Hueco Mundo was kind of weak. It was a rehash of the Soul Society arc and Ichigo kept powering up out of basically nowhere. However, the focus was more on the clashes with the espada, and it made for some exciting combat. There are some incredibly engaging fights in that section of the series, especially when it runs into the Fake Karakura Town arc and they DO keep you really engaged and wanting more.

For me, it feels like the Bleach fights are like a night of heavy drinking. You watch them at the time and start dancing on the sofas as you get that incredible buzz from seeing some epic crap go down. But then, in the cold light of day, you look back at it and see the reality: in that when jumping around you fell off the furniture and took half the bookshelf and a precious antique vase with you. Yet, despite all of that, you'd do it all again in a heartbeat because the buzz was just that good.

As Ichigo and Ulquiorra battled it out, I got chills down my spine.
That was one epic battle.

Take the Ichigo vs Ulquiorra fight. It was coming, and we all knew it had been for some time. We'd had the teaser clashes that served as a measuring stick for Ichigo's abilities, and then we finally got to the main bout. Watching Ichigo go all out to the point where he goes into full on berserker mode and destroys his opponent was some epically awesome viewing and gave that rush of pure adrenaline-fuelled awesome that every shounen series should present to its audience. However, looking back now, you can't help but wonder where the hell that power-up came from. Since Kubo currently flat out refuses to explain exactly what is going on with the flame-haired teen, it all seems like little more than a convenient power up requiring zero training, at a time when he suddenly needed it. But despite all of that, if I could watch that fight for the first time again and feel that high, I'd totally take it, plot holes and all!

And that is exactly why I have managed to keep watching and reading Bleach. No matter how many times I look at it, shake my head and tut, that rush, that gorgeous, glorious, shounen rush keeps me coming back for more each and every time.

My name is Cassie, and I am a shounen junkie.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Bleach Anime Catch Up Marathon: Week One

With the announcement that the final episode of the Bleach anime is to air on the 27th March, I decided that it was about time for me to finally catch up. At the climax of the arrancar saga, I stopped watching the anime as the infamous filler was to follow and I had little inclination to watch. That was a little over a year ago and now, fifty-three weeks later, here I am about to start catching up on the anime in time for the finale in just under four weeks time. I've worked out that to catch up in time, I need to watch about two episodes a day, and what follows is... well, frankly, I don't know. Simply put, I'm going to write this as I watch, so who knows what the hell will emerge from this. I could end up loving the filler and praising the anime, or (the more likely scenario) this could end up as one long rant. One day I will actually write a positive post about Bleach as for a long time, it was one of my favourite anime out there, and I do have fond recollections of it. But this is about the here and now, a semi stream-of-consciousness wall of text, and the final year of Bleach anime.


It's currently 8pm on March the 1st, and after having accidentally had a little too much wine with dinner, I am sufficiently tipsy enough that I figured it would be a good idea to commence my Bleach catchup marathon now. 5 seconds in to episode 311, and I already know that I'm not drunk enough for this to be a pleasurable, or even tolerable experience. Am I really depriving myself of the fun of Lego Harry Potter on my xbox for the (mis)adventures of Karukarizer?! On the upside, I'd forgotten that Bleach has some pretty decent opening songs. On the downside, this is really butt-awful filler. Like, I'd rather be watching Naruto getting his ass handed to him by an ostrich right now kind of terrible filler.
Watched: 2 Episodes


March 2nd: Day two of the catch-up.
Tonight, I have also imbibed a significant quantity of alcohol and am now determined to focus on the small pleasures in each episode. Oddly enough, while hot sweaty Renji doesn't play a big enough part for my liking, this episode isn't actually too terrible.

Oh crap... next episode in and Kon's back. I used to like him, now he simply signifies the beginning of godawful filler. Yup... this is gonna be bad. Jesus, why I am I watching this?!  Wow... Patches could have a field day with this episode. Guy tries to get back with his girlfriend on the premise of "I like your food" and girl accepts without question. What. The. Freaking. Hell?! Damn you Pat, now I'm thinking all feminist because of you!
Watched: 2 Episodes


March 4th: Day four of the catch-up.
Yesterday I didn't watch any Bleach, so I now have extra to watch in the next day or so. Now starting episode 315. Oh crap, it's a Yachiru episode. Huh, that actually wasn't bad, Bleach is definitely better when it's being a bit more serious, and this one actually made me like Yachiru a little more than I did.

OH. HELL. NO! No freaking way, not another Hitsugaya footbal episode, please dear god, anything but that! Oh thank heavens, not a football episode, though it is painfully obvious where this is going. Dead kid wants to see snow, oh look, the most powerful ice zanpakutou user just happens to be around.

Ooo, new opening! Plus the beginning of a new arc. Intriguing. If the OP animation is anything to go by, this might actually end up pretty good. Then again, it's still a filler arc, so I don't hold out too much hope.
Watched: 3 Episodes


March 5th: Day five of the catch-up
The new arc isn't looking too bad, though it seems to be moving fairly quickly at the moment. Hopefully it won't burn out too soon or turn out to be like the zanpakutou arc: interesting at first, but soon turning to crap. Worryingly, I think I'm warming to Rukia.
Watched: 2 Episodes


March 6th: Day six of the catch-up
Soul society is in crisis, so Orihime organises a barbeque... Seriously. Guh, it's crap like this that's why she's one of the top hated characters on Anime-Planet, well... that and shit like "Oh my, you're a bad guy trying to kill my beloved KUROSAKIIII-KUUUUUUUUN and you're injured. Must. Heal." Oh man this barbeque just gets worse. As much as seeing Kon get tortured is amusing, Ishida getting pissed over a shiitake mushroom is just stretching it. I mean... really?!
Watched: 2 Episodes


Since this is getting long, I'm going to split this into weekly chunks. Stay tuned for the next part soon!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Bakuman: The Manga Within the Manga

Warning: This post is discussing content, which will possibly contain spoilers for those who are not manga current.

There are many reasons why I enjoy Bakuman, but one of the biggest is the plethora of different manga within the storyline. Each week I lap up the latest chapter and many times, particularly when the focus is more on creating the manga more than everyone's social lives or the rankings, I find myself really wanting to read some of the stories that this fictional young bunch are creating.

For my tastes in particular the series that I most want to read are Eiji's. As much as I love some of the more offbeat tales, my heart truly lies with good old mainstream battle manga, which is more Niizuma's forté. I'd love to be able to sit down and power through Crow, or wait anxiously for the next chpater of Zombie Gun. I confess that it does make me feel like somewhat of a failure as a Bakuman fan that Mashiro and Takagi's works aren't top of my "wish I could read if it existed" list.

Speaking of the Ashirogi Mutou manga, I think the one I most want to read is P.C.P. closely followed by Detective Trap. For me the ingenius twists, turns and pranks in these two are what would really get me hooked, kind of the like the clever deductions in Detective Conan, but with that more adult flair that Takagi and Mashiro bring to their work. Incidentally, Tanto is one of their works that I'm really not interested in in the slightest, which is odd as the idea of a kid with numerous comical gadgets and inventions would normally be something I'd at least consider. It does lead me to wonder if maybe the lack of passion within the tale bled through into my own consciousness.

Of course outside of the central authors, there are again a plethora of works to choose from. While Fukuda's Kiyoshi Knight doesn't necessarily appeal to me, the likes of Hideout Door and to a certain extent Otters 11 do. I almost imagine Otters being something like Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei but with an otter guy instead of a suicidal teacher, meanwhile the gorgeous art on Hideout Door and the more light-hearted fantasy element intrigues me. In fact, when looking at all the different series that appear, from Panty Flash Fight to +Natural, there's something that could potentially appeal to everyone and to me, finding myself wanting to experience so many of the manga within this series, is the mark of a successful story. Tsugumi Ohba has not only managed to come up with an engaging manga, but also several highly interesting concepts to play alongside it, meanwhile, Takeshi Obata gets to showcase his wide variety of drawing styles, and to do both of these so well is no easy feat. Well done, and keep up the good work!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Monthly Round-up: February

Well, I've been a bit more prolific this month with any anime watching, and am slowly getting back into the swing of things.
Anime I've Watched:
  • Working'!! -Along with Bakuman. and Chihayafuru, Working'!! has been one of my favourite series of Fall 2011. With a more balanced depiction of thecast, it's been fa more entertaining than the first series. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and was genuinely upset to watch the final episode knowing that I wouldn't get to look forward to watching the next episode. Now All I can hope is that they license it over here.
  • Shinryaku!? Ika Musume - I'm not sure why, but I lost a little steam when finishing off this series. It's good easy fun, but I reckon that I may still be suffering from withdrawal of season one's ultra catchy opening. It's just not quite Ika-chan without the Shinryaku! Shinryaku! Shinryaku! Shinryaku! at the beginning to make you brain melt out of your ears. 
  • Ben-To - So I finally finished watching this series, though by the end it was a complete struggle and I enjoyed it about as much as a dog crap donburi. While it initally seemed like a fresh and enticingly quirky series it soon became stale and once the humour of the supermarket battles waned, there really wasn't all that much left to tune in for.
  • Poyopoyo - Oh my god is this cute! I can't honestly say that I'm as enamoured with this as I was with Chi's Sweet Home, but I'm certainly enjoying it. Poyo himself is an enigmatic ball of awesome even though the poor bugger keeps getting sodomised by next door's cat. Light, entertaining and above all, fun. Definitely can't wait for more of this. 
  • Kill Me Baby - I started the Kill Me Baby manga last year and quite enjoyed it, so when I saw that there was to be an anime, I quite anticipated it. I have to say that it's not bad. Not brilliant, but not bad. I find the manga more enjoyable, but I don't think it's quite as awesome as it could be. Little bit of a disappointment. 
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos - Thanks to Conqueror of Shamballa, I have a fairly low quality bar when it comes to what makes a good Alchemist movie. Essentially, if it doesn't mess with and ultimately ruin the end of eier series, then it's all good in my book! Luckily Sacred Star of Milos didn't ruin anything. It's not one of the most spectacular shounen franchise movies out there, but better than most. For me it sadly fell into the trap that most other films do, it may have awesome action, but somehow the original vibe gets somehow lost along the way. 

Ongoing Anime I've Watched:

Manga I've Read:
  • Working! -While suffering from withdrawal of the anime, I decided to start the Working! manga. I have to say that I've been thoroughly enjoying it, though the artwork looked a little odd a first. Definitely an ideal read for
  • Shinryaku! Ika Musume - Oddly enough, I found myself enjoying the Ika-chan manga more than the anime. It's nice, light relief and a really easy read. I did find that it was comfort reading, which is why I powered through the majority of it while I was ill this month. Also the short chapters make it ideal for picking up if you only have a few spare minutes.
  • Onani Master Kurosawa - This was an odd manga. I've already gone into this in more depth in a previous post, but it was an odd one. To this day, I'm still not sure whether I actually enjoyed it or not. It was odd and I found it interesting, but to say like or enjoy is something I'd find difficult to ascertain. Aditionally, I also read the light novel, which continues on after the events of the manga. It provided a fairly stark contrast to the unsavoury nature of the manga, and frankly not much happened. The novel basically felt like a fluff filler DVD special that can be taken or left. 

Ongoing Manga I've Read: