54 of 54 chapters read
- Can love survive the tests of time; can it even transcend death?
- Can one be forgiven for falling in love with another, after being separated from their beloved?
Make no mistake: NG Life should be read with the reader smiling from cheek to cheek. However, understanding the sorrow hiding underneath the laughter is what makes the humour especially touching. There is no joy without pain, and there is no depth to a comedy if it is not grounded by the realistic struggles of life. NG Life is worthy of the highest grade because of the perfect balance between heart-warming comedy and soul-destroying tragedy.
NG Life's lead, Keidai, is a troubled young man. He has always had memories of the days when he was a lion-fighting gladiator/mercenary of Pompeii, some 1,900 years earlier. Married to the most desired woman in the land, the best of friends with a trusted comrade, and with a cute little sister - no man could have been happier than Sirix Lucretius Fronto. However, Pompeii was completely destroyed by a volcanic eruption; everyone dying and poor Sirix not being able to keep his vow to his wife, Serena - leaving her to die all alone, in darkness.
Even more troubling for our most troubled of leads, in his present life as a Japanese high school student, he can not seem to avoid encountering reincarnations of people he knew 1,900 years ago. Whether it is the former whip-wielding, overly-protective older sister of his love (now a womanising man!) or the woman he once loyally served, they are all in close proximity. As happy as Keidai is to be seeing old faces again and finding proof that he is not crazy, he can not help but view his new life as NG (No Good) because of the genders and roles of the people from his memories being altered to the point of mental agony.
His mother? The reincarnation of his little sister. His father? The playboy rival he fought with for the hand of his beloved Serena. His wannabe girlfriend/best friend, Mii? His MALE best friend from his previous life. His next-door neighbor? Naturally, his former wife... who is now a guy called Yuuma, with every intention of developing muscles and winning the heart of Mii. And, of course, it goes without saying that only Keidai happens to remember anything about their time as Italians; Mii listening to (and believing) all of his ramblings, because of the one-sided love she holds for the man who introduced himself to her by crying, hugging and expressing shock over her gender, all at once. (A pick-up technique sure to leave a lasting impression!)
In the hands of another writer, NG Life could very easily have gone in the direction of hard-hitting drama as the present selves of individuals with tragic pasts attempted to avoid repeating the same sins all over again. But that was never the intent of NG Life's author. While the story made me come close to crying and pulled on my heart-strings during some of the sadder parts, the intention was clearly for readers to read with a huge grin on their faces throughout, and - in my case at least - it most certainly succeeded. The only flaw of note is that the story ended rather abruptly; not following the characters as they took their relationships to the next level. But this is a complaint I could throw at practically every series dealing with romance and it would be harsh of me lower my score because of this alone.
Keidai may have good looks and athletic skills on top, but he also happens to be a complete dork; much to the delight of manga fans worldwide. Truly, his likeability factor is through the roof because, even though to the unknowing he may appear perfect, his honest stupidity makes him incredibly endearing--as does the Italian playboy confidence he occasionally displays. His tendency to randomly hug those closest to him in his former life - completely oblivious to his identity in the present - leads to much hilarity. His former wife (Yuuma; now male) was his first 'huggle' victim, and he did the same to his former male best friend (Mii; now female). Mii soon realised he had no huggling hidden agenda after he proceeded to treat her like a guy; openly expressing his fondness of her and even denying that they are lovers by suggesting neither of them is female. He also frequently loses himself in thought over the prospect of being led down the path of homosexuality by his reincarnated wife; making agonised poses on his desk in class and amusing his peers greatly by doing so. The girls in his school view him as some sort of comical idol, and it is easy to understand why: few more entertaining characters exist.
As the above should highlight, the most impressive thing about NG Life is the handling of the characters. With the mostly memory-less present selves of the cast being focused on, and their past as Italians only briefly touched upon until the dramatic latter stages, I had no trouble caring about the tender central romance that progresses, bit by bit, between Keidai and the girl he has shared a "friendship alliance" of five years with, Mii. She is such a lovable heroine, always thinking of Keidai's devotion to his former wife and understanding how hard it is for him to convince himself that 'she' is now a 'he' called Yuuma. Her ability to read him, as well as others she is close to, highlights her intelligence and, when paired with Keidai, the chemistry they have makes her genuinely funny. They play off each other wonderfully and, come the end, I had a huge grin on my face as Keidai used some of his Italian charm on Mii -- forcing her usually poker-faced self to flee, blushing from cheek to cheek.
And the above is saying nothing of the supporting cast, whose role in NG Life is significantly more important than is normal. You see, in NG Life each new character reveals a little more of the Pompeii back-story as they become reacquainted with Keidai. This gives each of them a sense of purpose often lacking from other works, where secondary characters tend just to be there for the sake of it. The series only lasts nine volumes, and with each lovable new addition adding something new, there was never any 'mid-series filler' to get frustrated over. In fact, prior to the resolution of the main love story, the love woes of another pairing kept me completely hooked; their personalities and problems differing so much from the leads' that it was a welcome distraction.
The distinctive sharp-chinned art style impressed me with its variation and the life it breathed into the characters' interactions. Like most shoujo, there was not a great deal of background work; most of the time attention only being paid to the characters once the locations had been established. However, there was never a wasted page throughout, with either a wide-range of facial expressions/deformed wackiness or text (NG Life has more text to read than most) preventing me from caring about the typical issues that plague shoujo works. Keidai had internal conversations with himself on numerous occasions, and even those small chunks of comedy gold entertained, so talented is the mangaka.
When judging any kind of art, the most important thing is to be able to FEEL the emotions of the artist just by looking. Even the most technically brilliant of drawings is a failure if it lacks personality and fails to get an emotional response. NG Life's art was bursting with emotion, from start to finish. Kusanagi's characters acted like they wrote their own dialogue, so natural were their exchanges, and the art suggested the characters moved her hand, all on their own. Such natural excellance is a true rarity.
It is worth noting that NG Life is 110% tasteful. In no way does it pander to those with boyxboy desires, as the read-up may lead some to believe. Whenever Keidai has spaz-attacks over seeing Serena's face through his mind's eye instead of Yuuma's male face, he freaks out in gag-like fashion. Even though his love for Serena is eternal and a source of endless internal conflict for Keidai as he edges closer to the love of his second life, Mii, it is made as clear as can be that he has no interest in men. Not once did my gaydar go off throughout the nine volumes. (In short: fear not, other manly men!)
In closing, NG Life is a fun-filled ride, sure to make most laugh from the bottom of their hearts and - occasionally - cry over the tragedy that haunts characters with memories of Pompeii's final day and all of the betrayal/murder that came with it. It is truly a series with everything; a shoujo that appeals to both genders. The series ending almost immediately after the leads got together was as irritating as ever (typical of a romance story) and Keidai's former self, Sirix, being a gladiator who refused to kill was too shoujoish for my tastes, but these and other minor issues are nowhere near enough to make me reconsider my view that NG Life is the best manga I have read to date. Go read it!
::Extra // Recommendations::
NG Life is an amalgamation of Please Save My Earth (PSME), Maison Ikkoku and "romantic-panic comedy". From PSME, the past-life/reincarnation aspect and theme of love transcending the boundaries of the flesh was taken. From Maison Ikkoku, the suffering one goes through when separated all too early from a loved one. And these two drama-heavy, tear-jerking themes were then coated with the author's unique charm, which can easily make even the most depressing of subjects absolutely hilarious.
PSME could be described as NG Life's spiritual prequel. Not only are their unusual stories similar, they were serialised in the same magazine: Hana to Yume. I loved both PSME and NG Life, and although how the subject matter is dealt with does differ greatly, I STRONGLY recommend that fans of one of the two give the other a chance. read more
23 of 51 chapters read
I am not going to lie: my oh-so-old, 22-year-old mind cannot follow the the conversations of crazy young girls who rave over this 'uke' and 'seme' business. And as a straight, somewhat hairy male, the mental image of one imaginary ladyboy violating the anus of another does not make for pleasant viewing. But, as much as is possible, Fujoshi Rumi has changed my views on yaoi fangirls, and for someone as stubborn as myself I can offer no greater praise than that.
The tasteful person who recommended the series to me had also recommended High School Girls previously; a series that reveals the truth about the shaving woes of females and proved to be a most educational read. And I can fully understand why she recommended Fujoshi to me now because the series is, basically, a love child of High School Girls and Genshiken. When you combine *somewhat* realistic high school girls with Genshiken's often comical exploration of 'otakuism', what you get is Fujoshi Rumi. So, if you liked either High School Girls or Genshiken, save yourself some time by stopping reading my rambling and, instead, starting Fujoshi, because there is a 99% chance you will love it as much as me. Seeing is believing, as they say.
In case you are curious, four or so paragraphs in, Fujoshi's story is about four characters: two male, two female; two normal guys, two yaoi loving young ladies.
Rumi is an otaku girl who cares not for appearances and often loses herself in her own little BL (boy love) world - she cares not for real men. Abe is in love with Rumi and, in order to win her over, he will do anything - even posing with cat ears. Chiba is Abe's best friend, as well as the school stud, and he often complicates Abe's love life by adding to Rumi's fantasies in an attempt to avoid receiving one love letter per day from his own personal fanclub of hotties. And Matsui, my personal favourite and final main character, is the sexiest girl (G-CUP!!!!!) at school, as well as a closet yaoi fangirl, and she is madly in love with Chiba.
The story gets going in a realistic manner. I am sure, at school, some of you guys (sorry girls; guys only here) have found yourself alone in a classroom with your best friend; examining his nipple hairs... No, you say? Well, whatever: that is what happens when Abe and Chiba are left alone in a classroom... and Rumi JUST SO HAPPENS to spot them with their shirts open. Her imagination runs wild, she accidentally gets a knee in the face by a panicking Abe, Abe offers to pose for her drawings in order to make up for his knee, and hilarity ensues.
It would not be a lie to say that the series pokes fun at those in lust with ladyboys deflowering each other but, much like Genshiken, the true purpose of Fujoshi is to show that even people with obsessive interests in disturbing things are lovable. In fact, Fujoshi goes as far as to suggest that otaku are worthy of respect, as opposed to being disrespected, because of the passion they have for life. I know from personal experience how hard it is to move forward without having any passion for anything, and it made me almost envious to see two people SO enthusiastic about something - laughing, crying, and talking the night away. No matter what anyone else thinks, if you have friends who share your interests and are able to live life to the fullest with them, life starts to look a whole lot brighter, and that is what I think the author of Fujoshi tried to convey with her work. Differences make people unique and draw people together, and different does not always have to be a negative thing.
I started this review by highlighting the irony that follows me wherever I go on my travels, and a certain aspect of Fujoshi's story is deliciously ironic, also, and it goes along nicely with the above paragraph.
Matsui, the big-breasted, long-haired, aggressive but very loving BEST CHARACTER EVER candidate from the series (note: any girl who pushes a guy's buttons, testing his manhood, is a-ok in my mind) was once a fat, glasses-wearing otaku - the sort you cannot help but automatically visualize when you think 'otaku'. In order to fit in, she changed herself; pushing her hobbies away and becoming a drop-dead gorgeous stunner. And, in order to complete her transformation into a 'normal' person, she set her sights on the the #1 boy (Chiba) at her school; hoping to enter into the perfect relationship, in terms of looks. But he rejected her because she was too normal. The irony here is that Chiba only fell in love with Matsui AFTER she reverted back to her true self; expressing her love for boyxboy action - Chiba being amused by her eccentric side and it endearing her to him.
Maybe I am reading too much into it, but I think the author was trying to express with the ChibaxMatsui romance that being true to oneself is better than living as a fake for all of your life in order to qualify as normal. And she is on the ball, if that was indeed her intent.
As you have no doubt gathered from my typing thus far, Fujoshi is primarily a comedy. But it also has a LOT of romance; the vast majority of the comedy resulting from the woes of the main four as they come close to getting it on.
Abe and Rumi's relationship is a little difficult to take seriously due to Abe doing all the chasing while Rumi shows no interest in anything outside of boyxboy action. But, on the flip side, Chiba and Matsui's romance is one of the best I have seen to date. It starts out with her chasing him, then he kinda-sorta starts chasing her, then they have a standoff as they compete over who is going to wear the trousers in their inevitable relationship, and then... well, I will leave that for you to discover! But it is pretty steamy; Matsui taunting Chiba into making him do the tongue dance. Also, it is hilarious how Chiba, typically for a guy, struggles to say the 'L' world but does not struggle to go for boobies and Matsui refuses to lose her virginity out of fear of him only wanted her body, because he cannot say he loves her. In a twisted sense, they are perfect for each other.
Aside from the comedy, romance, and realism, what REALLY sells Fujoshi is its artwork. Typically for a female artist, there is an awful lot of whiteness where backgrounds should be, as well as random dots, but the character art adds to the humour AND highlights just why two normal guys would suffer such hardships, risking their anuses, to get with such weird girls. The horizontal v's for eyes and deformed style change works wonders for the witty, reference heavy (if you happen to be a Gundam fanatic, you will LOVE the dialogue!) comedy bits, and the mangaka is also able to draw sexy girls. As a guy, I cannot help but grade art based on how much my lower brain appreciates how the ladies are drawn, and the way Matsui is sexualized pleased Aion #2. Her lips become juicy, her eyes passionate, her cleavage exposed, and she truly does turn from cute to lust worthy. So, a big +1 for the artwork enhancing both the funny and sexy parts in equal measure. Females know how to draw female characters from experience, I guess!
My main disappointment right now is that it is impossible for me to read further than the third volume in English. Media Blasters released the third volume back in 2008, and it seems like they have been forced to drop the series due to no-one buying it, or even being aware of its existence. Worse still, the only English scans on the net are scans of the volumes Media Blasters released; meaning, unless you understand Japanese or do not care about missing out on all of the witty dialogue, not even the internet can save you. It is a real shame if Media Blasters do not continue releasing the series because, at the back of each volume, there is a detailed list explaining ALL of the references to the anime, manga, and various other Japanese things mentioned--I would have been lost without the help of whoever took the time to explain everything. At this point, all I can do is hope that Fujoshi is not set to join Life and GTO: The Early Years on my list of manga that I will probably never be able to complete...
...In any event, there is little else of value to add. Where as Genshiken focused mainly on the more accepted otaku activities - anime, manga, figurines, models, etc - Fujoshi focuses exclusively on yaoi moe, and the way the subject is handled with both delicacy and humour makes me regard Fujoshi higher than even Genshiken. As far as I am aware, there are six volumes out in Japan, and although it is not possible for me to state whether the high level of quality continues past the third volume, I can say that the first three volumes are up there with the best manga I have ever read. It was consistently entertaining and I often had to hold myself back from laughing out loud. The fact that there are only four characters who get a decent amount of time makes it very easy to care strongly about all four of them, and the romantic drama blends well with the yaoi craziness. Considering the story is about yaoi fangirls and even I, being the manly man I am, was able to favourite it, I seriously doubt there will be too many people who would come away from reading Fujoshi unhappy. Heck, even a person I know online who has the worst taste EVER should be able to appreciate it, so I will be at loss if I should receive an angry message, complaining that my review is misleading. Blame God, rather than me.
Short version of my review:
Guys: In volume three, Matsui is shown naked in the bath; nipples and all. And, GOD, does she ever have BIG, lovingly drawn boobies, complete with space saucer nipples. (If you only care about the boobies, I will hook you up. I would never let a brother in need down.)
Girls: If you pleasure yourself at night while looking at drawings depicting young men being ravaged by other young men, you probably need to feel better about yourself. Reading about Rumi will make you feel better about yourself. Trust me.
Extra: Despite being a manly man, I run away from bees. This is a sad but very true fact. That said, I cannot tell you how reassuring it was to see Abe afraid of a cockroach when he was asked by Rumi to deal with it. I think I would honestly need therapy if I was alone in a house with a cockroach... spiders are bad enough. I AM NEVER GOING TO JAPAN!
Unless I happen to find another favourite that lacks a review, this will be my final-final review. DO NOT EVER TRY TO TALK ME OUT OF IT!... Well, ok, everyone needs love once in awhile. A nice message or two would not go amiss. Maybe even three. read more
24 of 24 episodes seen
Before anything else, you need to understand the following: Witchblade is, first and foremost, a character-driven drama, rather than an action series. It has some fighting, yes, but the vast majority of the episodes are spent focusing on character development. Everything else comes a distant second. At first the suggestion is that it's going to be a The Devil Lady, 'monster of the week' type, but that isn't the case.
Whoever decided to market Witchblade as a violent, fan-service heavy title wasn't too bright. Likewise, the person who came up with the idea of taking the title of a popular American comic and then creating an entirely different story, with an all-new cast, didn't make the wisest of moves. By attempting to pass-off a slow-paced, heartfelt and very human drama as a generic action title with added boobs, all Gonzo achieved was getting the wrong type of viewers; pushing away the types who would appreciate a family drama about a mother loving her daughter with all her heart and being willing to do anything for her.
Judging the series based on the revealing Witchblade forms and boob sizes, it's hard not to expect an utterly tasteless anime. But you know what? Sex only occurs ONCE during the entire series, and NOTHING gets shown--the two involved kiss and then it's the morning after. That pretty much sums Witchblade up: there's a lot of cleavage but, that aside, Witchblade is surprisingly tasteful. In truth, there isn't even a huge amount of action once series gets past the introduction period.
:: Story :: 6/10
Six years prior to the start of Witchblade, Tokyo had been left devastated by a catastrophic earthquake. Two people were found alive at the ground zero of the quake: a 17-year-old woman (later named Masane; her having lost all of her pre-disaster memories) and a baby (Rihoko). Only the maternity diary held by the woman pointed towards them being related...
Once the series gets going, the two are heading back to Tokyo on the run; desperate to stay together and not be separated by the child welfare organization (created after the quake, to 'help' children). As jobless Masane struggles to keep Rihoko, she encounters the 'monster' responsible for a string of nasty murders, and that's when what had been sleeping within her for six years awakens--the power of the 'Witchblade'; something that has existed since the beginning of time, selecting its (female) hosts and forcing its hosts to give into their lust and destructive urges. Masane then gets caught between two organizations who seek the Witchblade, ending up working for one (Douji: a major weapons supplier) to support her life with Rihoko and hunted by the other (NSWF: in charge of the child welfare organization and with links to genetic research).
I'll be honest here: the story of Witchblade is full of anime silliness, ranging from fat men disguised as killer microwaves, genetic experiments, and women who use 'Cloneblades'--lesser, copied versions of the ever mysterious Witchblade. It's never explained why the weapons Masane hunts target random females, or why the Witchblade only selects women as 'hosts'... or what the Witchblade actually is. And I couldn't help but see most of the twists coming in advance; the writers actually intentionally spelling out how the series would end in order to impact on the viewers' feelings progressively rather than shock them.
While it does have a B-movie sort of entertainment factor in its favour, if I were to score Witchblade based only on its story, it wouldn't be very flattering... But this is where the negative ends because, like I've already pointed out at the start, the characters are where it's at. The story is no more than a means to an end; the backdrop for lots of excellent drama.
:: Characterization :: 9.5/10
Masane (nicknamed 'Melonie' because of her boob size!), the lead of the story, has nothing going for her apart from her six-year-old daughter, Rihoko. She isn't incredibly sharp, has no skills of note and, really, only has her love for her daughter. The child welfare organization try to separate them; Masane's ability to transform into a scantily-clad, sexulized version of herself (thanks to the mysterious Witchblade attached to her wrist) puts her in danger and powerful corporations involve her in their troubles, but, no matter what stands in her way, she fights to protect and give a better life to the one she loves the most.
Loud, simple-minded, direct type of characters tend to be hard to like and easy to hate, but Masane is very endearing. There are many simple things that made her into a likable character, such as when she went into a blind panic after learning that her daughter had been hurt; Masane ending up running out of her apartment barefoot. She's often called a primate by her 'boss', Takayama, because of how she acts without thinking and says what's on her mind, but that's what's so lovable about her: her honesty, maternal instincts and selflessness. It's little surprise that she eventually wins over even Takayama with her natural personality as the series progresses - she's just impossible to not like and respect.
The supporting cast backing up Masane aren't too shabby, either. Rihoko basically 'mothers' her own mother by shopping, cooking and caring for the more absent-minded Masane, and her being so mature at such a young age makes her have instant likability. Takayama plays the role of Masane's stern and somewhat awkward middle-aged boss, giving her orders to hunt down rogue 'weapons' for money, and it's his banter with her that provides much of the comic relief--the two later also becoming much closer; the writers doing a wonderful job of humanizing him and showing his softer, caring side as the series progresses. The rest of the cast are less developed and involved than the main three but all play important roles; the residents where Masane and Rihoko live, though never getting much time individually, are responsible for the 'family atmosphere' always being in the air during the more relaxing periods, for example.
:: Art / Animation + Sound:: 8.5/10
The first thing that made me think, 'Wow, Witchblade might not be so horrible, despite the title and fan-service!' was its opening. I watched/listened to the opening by chance, and as soon as I heard the fast-paced, exciting beat and saw the visuals that accompanied the music, which included a close-up of Masane's eye and a tear coming out of it, I just knew I had to watch it. The first opening is THAT good--even the 'GIVE ME YOUR XTC!!!' lyrics going with the show itself. Gonzo went on to regret changing it halfway through since they replaced the far less impressive second opening with the first for the final episode.
In terms of the overall art and animation, the best word to use when describing it is consistent. Why? Because Gonzo are known for running out of budget and forgetting to animate towards the end. That wasn't the case with Witchblade, though, since the final episode featured fluid animation; Gonzo not being reduced to showing movement through lines on the screen and actually showing the characters running. Aside from a few instances of laziness where there wasn't animation and a few stills were linked, it was great to watch. Even Japan's obsession with breast jiggling got attention throughout! And, though I can't say Masane's HUGE, could-suffocate-with-ease breasts appealed to me personally, overall the art did look pleasing.
As for the soundtrack, I have to say: it's excellent. One track that stands out is one used for action quite frequently; a track with an eerie edge and... a woman breathing in an 'erotic' manner in the background - the track having an action-oriented beat. I was ALWAYS pumped for the action - my attention focused - simply because of the music. Towards the end, I recall drums starting beating after what had been a nice 'family life' sort of episode, and I just knew some sweet action would be coming my way. If a soundtrack is good enough, it can make something great into something even greater, and that's the case with Witchblade.
:: Overall :: 9/10
Witchblade has its flaws: the story isn't anything special, Gonzo appeared to run out of ideas at the death and just ended it, and the near enough naked girl-on-girl battles might be off-putting for some. However, the good by far outweighs the bad, and the characterization is at such a level that, if you're anything like me, you won't give a toss. Once the introduction was over and time had been given for attachment to the characters to form, I was too engrossed in their struggles to concern myself with negative thoughts about a robotic monster with the head of a bug and the like.
To sum it all up: If you go into Witchblade expecting nothing, you might just get everything in return. It's always rewarding to find a gem, and in my eyes Witchblade is a gem that deserves to have more people look at it. Do yourself a favour and watch it! read more
26 of 26 episodes seen
First of all, let's get the 'My/Mai' explanation out of the way: My-Otome is a 'sequel' (of sorts) to My-HiME, and the start of what appears to be a series of loosely linked 'My/Mai' titles. Numerous characters from My-HiME return in My-Otome to play new roles. Some of the returning cast have considerably different personalities, such as Mashiro, but the vast majority have the same personalities fans of My-HiME know and love. It's close to being described as having an alternate universe setting, but there are more than enough hints that suggest it happens in the same universe, far into the future.
So, is it any good? Well, with My-Otome having a premise involving 14-year-old girls going to an all-girl school for 'magical girls' (the girls wear special gems as earrings, gaining the ability to 'materialize' battle robes and weapons) in the hope of one day becoming 'Otome': virginal, maid costume wearing, servant (most have masters for power activation purposes) protectors of the planet Earl, who are forced to never have sex in order to keep their powers and get pushed towards lesbianism in order to forget about penises, you can forgive me for not having much hope for My-HiME's distant 'sequel'. In fact, before I even knew much of anything about it, I expected it to be a poor cash-in, with the same cast from the 'prequel' copy and pasted for easy money. But, after importing it on a whim and sitting down to watch it, I was actually pleasantly surprised: it turned out to not be too far away from the overall quality of My-HiME.
Much like My-HiME, My-Otome starts out with lots of humour and a good dosage of perverted silliness. One of the early episodes even involves eels and a tentacle rape monster; the comedy that ensued being amplified by Nina, an important character in the story, being so ticklish she practically orgasms when touched. But, very much like My-HiME, it becomes much more serious towards the end, and the early, light-hearted sections that went before greatly assist in getting the viewer attached to the cast; making the melodramatic events that follow far more powerful. It never reached the Battle Royale levels of seriousness of My-HiME, but it certainly had some dramatic twists and a tear-inducing death or two.
I wasn't sold on the series to start with. The story setup is a cliched 'lost princess' one where, during an attack on the kingdom of Wind Bloom some 14 years before, the king and queen were killed and the 'real' princess lost. When the story of My-Otome gets going, Arika, the female lead of the story, arrives at Wind Bloom, expresses her desire to become an Otome because her unknown mother was supposed to have been one and, through a series of comical/lucky events, she manages to enter the Otome academy. The problem is, for much of the series she remains a shallow, simple-minded, easy going type; one who never gives up and never thinks too deeply. In comparison to the lead of My-HiME, Mai, her childish and somewhat annoying personality is quite noticeable. Where as Mai had a realistic love triangle, a believable close brother-sister relationship and a degree of maturity, Arika struck me as being Mai without any of her character development, and with smaller boobs (a huge negative for male viewers, I'm sure!) By the end, I didn't hate her--if anything, I cared for her a fair bit--but her character certainly could've been better.
Up to yet, I haven't been positive about the story, and that's for one very good reason: My-Otome, like its 'prequel', is a melodramatic, character-driven title. The story details remain vague until the end, keeping the viewer interested in the process, but the story is always a means to an end; a stage for the drama to play out on. The early parts of the series focus on developing a friendship between Arika, Nina (an anti-social, serious... yet kind-hearted and caring girl) and Erstin (a quiet, sweet girl, with big boobs and an even bigger heart.) Then, around the middle of the series, a love triangle develops between Arika, Nina and her adoptive father; Sergay (an older version of Tate from My-HiME, and Arika's 'secret' sponsor.) This triangle works surprisingly well, considering Arika's shallowness; mainly because of Sergay being the most mature and well-rounded character in the show, with a taste for sarcasm, and the father/lover dynamic of Nina's relationship with him. The love triangle never quite reached the intensity of Mai's love issues in My-HiME, but the issue did add an... edge to the series it would've lacked without it; intensifying the drama.
Something I haven't yet touched upon in any real detail, which may or may not be the most important part of this review for fans of My-HiME, is My-Otome's many links to its 'prequel'. To start with, pretty much all of the important characters from My-HiME appear in My-Otome in one form or another, and the relationships they shared previously remain very similar to their relationships of old; often near identical. The blue-haired tsundere, Natsuki, returns as a headmistress/Otome in her 20's (like all the MAIN cast from the 'prequel'); everyone's favourite lesbian rapist and the #1 Natsuki fangirl, Shizuru, returns as one of the Otome elite (and a CLOSE 'friend' of Natsuki!); Tate returns as Sergay... and so forth. There are also numerous nods towards My-HiME inserted throughout the series, the series actually opening with a scene reminiscent of how Tate met Mai. My favourite 'repeat' has to be Natsuki's attempt at getting a car to stop for her--I'm sure people most will know what I'm talking about here!... Basically, there's a lot of content inserted that will increase the enjoyment of My-HiME fans immensely.
As for the art, animation and sound aspects, there's nothing to complain about. Sunrise very rarely disappoint when it comes to drawing sexy girls and adding bright, eye-catching colours, and they didn't fail to impress with My-Otome, either. There were a few 'off' facial expressions and whatnot but, on the whole, the artwork remained impressive throughout and, for both an anime fan and red-blooded male whose rather fond of boobs, it was pleasing to look at. The animation also flowed nicely. As expected of a TV series, there were a few 'shortcuts' used, and it certainly didn't have movie/OVA levels of quality, but the consistency of the animation throughout impressed me; putting some of Gonzo's titles to shame. And as for the music, I probably only have to say Yuki Kajiura's name in order to get people interested - she's one of the best at what she does. I will say that I was slightly disappointed with the small amount of heart-pumping, fast-paced vocal tracks since I had expected every track to be amazing going on some of her other work, such as her work on My-HiME, but there are certainly some excellent tracks that helped pull me into the story.
In summary: My-Otome is easy to recommend to My-HiME fans but, because of Sunrise's not-so-subtle attempts to make it more marketable, it's advised that people new to all this watch My-HiME first; it requiring less understanding of... otaku culture. My-Otome has more than enough plus points to warrant any anime fan watching it and should score highly with most in terms of pure enjoyment but, really, it'd be a totally different experience if you watched it without being able to go, 'Wow, I remember that from My-HiME!' So, do yourself a favour and watch the two in the order they were released--you'll end up far happier with your 'My/Mai' experience if you do so.
Before the end of the review, here's an example of how watching My-HiME first can make watching My-Otome more enjoyable: having watched My-HiME in advance, My-Otome's rather poor ending actually impressed me because, in comparison, My-Otome's ending wasn't so bad, despite it featuring a battle in space and two girls surviving breaking through the Earth's atmosphere, naked. One character actually stayed dead, and another survived without fully recovering, and you'd understand why that pleases me if you've seen hate worthy ending of My-HiME! I suppose My-Otome's ending at least suggests there's hope that the endings will, slowly but surely, continue improving in the future 'My/Mai' anime!
Rating: 8/10 read more
13 of 13 episodes seen
The above is what's said on the first Narutaru trailer, and it pretty much sums the show up in a nutshell.
Narutaru begins very slowly; so slowly that most assume it's some kind of kid friendly Pokemon show if they go into it blindly and fail to notice the creepy staring of Narutaru's 'mascot' early on. A young girl goes to her grandparents, finds a star-shaped creature and takes it home. So far, so good on the 'safe for children' front. But, after that, other young owners of mysterious creatures enter the picture, and the other children want more than to just own weird pets...
The animation studio behind it rather foolishly made the show appear even more childish by making the opening into a parody of the show itself; full of smiling faces and complete with a song about sunshine. The opening is rather amusing if you look back at it once you've watched the series and can pick-up on certain things, such as a strong hint towards the bullying arc that the series ends with, but it does little good for people not familiar with the source material...
If you get past the opening episode, it quickly becomes apparent that Narutaru isn't aimed at children at all. Or, to be more precise, once one of the characters pulls out a knife and starts talking about 'shaving' the world rather than changing as a person in order to fit in, it becomes crystal clear that Narutaru is about as far away from being 'child friendly' as an anime about a girl finding a seemingly harmless creature can be.
Children play the starring roles in the story and Hoshimaru (the first 'dragon child') may appear cute, but the children are used to paint a grim picture of society and the monsters are tools for killing. Kitoh's work is among the most disturbing out there because he's not afraid to depict awful things - including rape and murder - happening to children, with children often committing the crimes as well as being on the receiving end. Whatever holds most people back doesn't restrain him as he delves into the minds of unstable children and shows the darker side of humanity.
To start with, Narutaru shows little promise. Compared to Bokurano, Kitoh's more recent work, Narutaru is slow and aimless. In the case of Bokurano, no time was wasted in setting up the rest of the story, and that allowed readers to get some sort of indication of where it was going from the get-go. On the other hand, Narutaru gives no indication and it takes forever for the cast to assemble. And since Narutaru gets progressively darker, rather than starting out twisted, there was very little for me to get my teeth into in terms of the characters. In fact, Shiina's (the lead) simple-minded, overly happy personality and Akira's inability to speak pushed me away more than anything else.
Also holding the series back is its lackluster visuals and forgettable soundtrack. While Kitoh's artwork is copied without issue, the dull colours and general lack of animation make the show a hard one to recommend to those moved more by visuals. The fact that certain scenes had to be executed with much left to the imagination because of how gruesome/disturbing those scenes were in the manga also hurts the anime visually. And, honestly, there's no music on the soundtrack worthy of hunting down the soundtrack to listen to.
Depending on if you're a dub fan, the voice acting side isn't any more impressive, either. The Japanese voice acting is pretty good, as it tends to be in general, with the famous Mamiko Noto playing the role of Akira and making the character slightly more bearable. But the English voice actors quite simply read the lines without inserting any personality or emotion. For example, where as I picked up on Shiina's uneasiness in response to something Akira said to her early on through her Japanese voice actress, when listening to the same line in English no uneasiness was conveyed. Maybe I've just been spoiled by Funimation's dub of late but Narutaru's dub struck me as being quite poor, and I quickly decided to read subtitles rather than letting my ears do all the work.
However, it isn't all bad. Far from it. As odd as it is, Narutaru only really gets going in the last three episodes... and then it ends. For the first time focused, hard-hitting character development took center stage, rather than character introductions and monsters killing soldiers. Two cases of near enough unrelated stories of bullying get told in the final three episodes, the end result being the victims flipping and, in the case one of the girls, lots of brutal murder occurring in retaliation for her parents running her life for her and the severe bullying she endured at the hands of other children in silence (being forced to 'drink' worms, being violated with a test tube, etc.) Unlike in the case of a lot of the previous episodes, time flew by and I was actually saddened when I ran out of episodes.
It's a shame the anime ended there because how it ended made a lot of what went before meaningless. What of Sudo's plan to make the world anew with other children possessing 'dragon children'? Why was there even a standalone episode that... sort of explained how dragons are born? Really, aside from the early episodes and the final three, nothing else was needed for an adaptation that ended so abruptly. It makes me wonder what the intention of the animation studio was... Why even bother starting plot threads they had no intention of finishing?...
...In closing, let me add this: it took me three attempts to finish Narutaru. First the pacing made me on-hold it. Then, months later, the pacing made me 'drop' it when I tried again. Only recently, when I managed to buy the DVDs, did I finish it and see why others rate it highly. I'm now very interested in reading the manga further and I STRONGLY recommend that people stick with it until the end before judging it. If you don't give it time, you'll miss the best part of the anime--simple as that.
Rating: 7/10 read more
18 of 60 chapters read
(The above image is a scan of the back cover of one of my volumes. Every volume has the same text on its back cover. If long(ish) reviews aren't your thing then it alone might pique your interest.)
Ikigami is a surprisingly unknown title about the value of life... or maybe it's actually about how worthless life is. It depends on your perspective. But, whichever way you look at it, the following is true: Ikigami shows how very real characters react when told they're going to die within 24 hours. Some seek revenge, others try to help their loved ones before their time runs out. Just like if people were told their date of death in real life, the reactions of the characters depends entirely on their backgrounds.
After reading the title, you might assume Ikigami is a sort of spiritual successor to Death Note. After all, there isn't much difference between 'Death Note' and 'Death Paper'. But the titles are where the similarities between the two start and end. Where as Death Note relied on a supernatural notebook of death that could kill anyone with ease to power its story, there's nothing mystical about the papers with information about deaths written on them in Ikigami. In fact, the papers are no more than normal, everyday paper handed out by civil servants.
You see, Ikigami is set in an alternate universe where Japan is ruled by fear, similar to the setting of Battle Royale. At the start of school life, every child is immunized against various diseases. However, because of a law called 'The National Welfare Act', 1 out of 1000 of these vaccines contain something else - something that makes a person die at a predetermined date between the ages 18-24. After being immunized, the truth is then revealed to the students - the truth being that not everyone will make it very far into their adult lives.
The National Welfare Act is a very well thought out law. The victims of the law are told only 24 hours in advance to limit the damage they can do, and if those who are destined to die break the law in their final hours, their family is took to court, made to pay a huge fine, don't get their bereavement pension and, finally, they're ostracized by society.
All of the above, combined with the citizens being told to reveal the names of social miscreants to the authorities, means no-one can do anything about the law. To be a good citizen, one has to accept that - no matter how illogical - random people getting killed is for the good of the country because it forces people to value life. Really, nothing changes for people until they're told they're going to die, and all it achieves is creating a society of sheep who only know how to follow.
The story is told from the perspective of Fujimoto; a civil servant whose job it is to hand out the papers of death 24 hours before death. Known as a 'Messenger of Death', he's a man who sees no value in his work but does it anyway. To begin with he struggles to handle the weight of revealing to unsuspecting people that they're going to die, informing them their deaths are for the good of the nation (when he doesn't actually believe it), but the more he does it the easier it becomes. His role is to be the observer, and the reader is supposed to feel the same as him about what's occurring.
But, really, even though Fujimoto is there for the reader to connect with, Ikigami is basically a collection of three chapter shorts. So far (up to the end of volume three), every story has lasted for three chapters, and each story has differed from the one that came before it. Though the series opened as most would expect after reading the description - with a fairly typical tale of a man who suffered severe bullying during his high school years - since then there's only been one other revenge story. There's been a story about staying true to oneself and valuing friendship over fame; there's been a story about a worker at an old people's' home getting a woman, who mistakes the worker for her late husband, to walk again; and there's even been a story about a brother tricking his blind younger sister into having his corneas transplanted into her just after his death. The huge amount of variation between each story, and the circumstances of each new set of characters, has prevented Ikigami from becoming stale.
My biggest fear right now is that, eventually, Ikigami will become stale, though. At this moment in time I can't see Ikigami failing because the art is near enough flawless - showing the natural ugliness of humans (rather than there being a super model cast) and being very detailed - and the stories have all been emotionally moving for differing reasons. But every author only has a set amount of ideas, and sooner or later (assuming it isn't destined to go on forever!) Fujimoto is going to have to become more than just an impartial observer. Honestly, it's hard to see how and when the series will end at this point, so it's hard to determine if the high level of quality on display in the opening three volumes will remain throughout. Only time will tell.
For now, all I can say is that I own the first three volumes, have the fourth pre-ordered and have put Ikigami into my manga top ten list already. With so few volumes out, and Viz releasing the volumes in larger than average, Solanin sized volumes, no manga collector has any real excuse for not assisting me in trying to make this relatively unknown series into one with a much larger fanbase.
If you've become disillusioned with anime/manga because of the vast majority being childish and are in desperate need of a title aimed at adults to reignite your interest, Ikigami might just be it. read more
28 of 28 chapters read
If you've read 'Welcome to the NHK' then you'll have a decent idea how the story goes: a reclusive guy gets helped out of his shell by a beautiful lady, eventually finding himself able to live a more normal life. The big difference between the two is that, where as it's fairly believable for a slightly nutty young(er) girl to want to use a loser for her own interests (NHK), it's pretty... out there for a HUGE breasted, super model type 22-year-old woman to first marry a bald old man (because he looked like her father) and, later, go on to mother/wife his 30-year-old son; a son who has locked himself in his room for 15 years. Where are these selfless 'would die happy after having sex with' women in real life!?
However, if you can get over the basic premise, you're in for something of a treat. Slowly but surely, Haruka - the aforementioned big-breasted lady – attempts to get her reclusive 'son-in-law' out of his room by first trading a notebook that they can communicate with in order to work around his shyness and, later, helping him talk, go out and... well, do 18+ things I'll cover at the end. Early on in particular, there's always comedy preventing the mood from being depressing (just like in NHK), with the reclusive lead plotting how to win the heart of his new 'mother' and, among other things, naming a dog after her in order to practice calling her name affectionately. (Note: The dog and him get pretty close - there's mouth-on-mouth action! If you love your dog more than you should, this is the manga for you!)
Ignoring Haruka's devotion to bald old men and losers, the biggest issue series has is, not surprisingly (for a NHK fan, that is), its ending. It's open-ended and rushed, and it didn't even end very well in terms of the relationship shared by the main two. It wasn't the worst ending known to man, but there are examples of far better executed endings out there. The mangaka working on 'Gantz' at the same time may have played a part in how the story ended.
Honestly, I'd recommend this to anyone not cynical to the point they'd judge it based on its first chapter and/or basic premise. It's a heartfelt comedy/drama, sure to be involving for anyone who can relate to the lead and enjoyable for those looking for something different from the usual romantic comedy offerings. The art is very appealing, which allows readers to fully understand just why the reclusive lead gets tongue-tied around his new 'mother', and the manga is short enough to read in one sitting. What do you have to lose? Give it a go!
Extra: The manga isn't ecchi until towards the end, when a few chapters are dedicated to a sex scene. There aren't any nipples or private parts on show, but there's plenty of kissing and touching, and it's made perfectly clear what's going on. If you're against the idea of cunnilingus in your manga, then this might not be the one for you. But let me repeat myself in order to make this crystal clear: the scene is near the end and there are only a few chapters covering it. The sex scene in question does serve a purpose, meaning it'd be wrong to class the manga as pornographic because of it. read more
1 of 1 episodes seen
Ocean Waves is a story of similar impact; impacting only on three characters locked inside their own small little world. It's a story covering the journey towards adulthood of three high schoolers, where the friendship of two is damaged by the one thing besides hate that can destroy bonds - love.
Often over-looked because the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli and the director of many highly regarded Ghibli titles, had no role in the completion of the film, it's by far the most under-watched and under-rated of the Ghibli films I've watched thus far. Ocean Waves was an attempt at giving the younger staff members of Ghibli a chance to shine - a chance to come from under the shadows of the bigger names - and shine they did, though not as brightly as they would've hoped.
:: Story :: -- 8.5-9/10
In a nutshell, Ocean Waves is a romance, featuring a love triangle, without any supernatural elements whatsoever being included. There are black comedy and depressing sections of the story, leading to the ending being somewhat unpredictable.
Prior to a girl called Rikako transferring from Tokyo to a high school located in a small town by the sea, Taku and Yutaka shared a close friendship; one forged at the back-end of junior high when they were the only two in their school to persist in standing against the school's decision to cancel the school trip. From then onwards, despite being in different classes, the two remained close, inside and outside of school. But Rikako changed everything. Yutaka fell in love with her at first sight, starting with when he - as the class representative - showed her around the school. Yutaka also called Taku to the school on the same day, wanting to show the new girl to his best friend, and that's when their relationship started to become troubled; when Taku also became enchanted by her beauty.
The story is a simple yet moving affair. It's almost certain to be hard-hitting for anyone who has developed feelings for someone a close friend also has feelings for. Watching Taku attempt to sustain a friendship whilst being pulled deeper and deeper into the selfish world of Rikako, it was difficult for me not to get pulled into the world of the characters. Even for those who can't relate to the struggles of the characters, like myself, it'd be an absorbing experience.
The only real story negative is that it's too short, the film only lasting for around 70 minutes. Given that Ocean Waves was a 'youth of Ghilbli' project, with a small budget (which they ended up going over), it isn't shocking that one-third of the love triangle didn't get as much time as the other two-thirds. Likewise, it isn't a shock that the story ended right when it reached the good part; when the story reached its peak. But, viewed as it is, the story has enough quality to justify the 9/10 (rounded from 8.5) score I'm awarding it.
:: Characterization :: - 8.5/10
The main two characters (the two who get the most time - Taku and Rikako) are fleshed out well enough so that I was able to get an excellent understanding of their personalities. Taku is your typical nice guy, willing to help someone work through their problems without gaining anything in return, but he's also honest, being blunt where necessary. Rikako, on the other hand, is a spoilt child, blaming the break-up of her parents' marriage on her mother because she was forced to move away from Tokyo. Where as Taku shows consideration by thinking of the feelings of Yutaka, she thinks only of herself - lying to get money in order to return to Tokyo, deceiving her friend in an attempt to get her to go to Tokyo with her and many other things. But, as they say, opposites attract, and over the course of the story she starts to learn through experience.
My only issue with Rikako is that, because of the short length of the film, nearly all of it focused on her being selfish. Not enough was shown of her other side, or of her growth into a a more mature person - one not locked inside her own little world. If the film had been twenty minutes longer, with some scenes added just before and after the ending, I feel it would've improved the experience.
However, my main characterization issue doesn't lie with Rikako. The third part of the love triangle, Yutaka, quite simply didn't get anywhere near enough time for him to develop into more than a well-used plot device. Nearly all of the film focused on the developments of Taku and Rikako, Yutaka being excluded completely during the black comedy section in the middle. Yutaka being the friend of Taku and making him think twice about his feelings for Rikako made the story work, but it would've been more powerful if there had been three characters to care for rather than two.
On the whole, the characterization is very good. The realism of Rikako's personality in particular is worth noting. But I can't quite give the characterization side a 9/10 score when there could've been added development - development which would've increased my enjoyment.
:: Art / Animation :: - 8.5/10
As you'd expect of a Ghibli title, Ocean Waves is pleasing visually. The animation flowed (though, with it being realistic, there wasn't any fast-paced action or the like) and there were no obvious over-budget issues that caught my eye. The only negative that springs to mind is the trademark Ghibli facial artwork, which is the same except in the cases of certain types of characters. Having watched a couple of Ghibli titles in quick succession, I've noticed how the faces are often identical. What highlighted this to me in the case of Ocean Waves was towards the end, when I noticed that one of the supporting female characters with her hair like Rikako looked just like her (I thought it was her at first.)
To be fair, I'm probably nit-picking. What matters with regards to the faces is that the characters' emotions are conveyed, and the expression side had no issues whatsoever. When Rikako was pissed off and gave Taku the 'evil eye' feared by men worldwide, she looked convincing. When Taku lost his patience with Rikako because of her selfish ways, his feelings were etched on his face. Etc, etc. On the whole, the art impressed me, and I see no reason to mark a drama down because it had no action to be animated.
:: Sound :: - 8/10
The soundtrack has a good range of songs, ranging from depressing piano tracks to uplifting tracks, and the music fitted the mood well. After finishing the film, I couldn't recall an excellent piece I wanted to listen to over and over, but I did appreciate the soundtrack after downloading and listening to it away from the film, with no pretty images to distract me. There's music that sets the mood and music that's wonderful to listen to away from what it played alongside, and the Ocean Waves soundtrack is the former.
As for the voice acting, I felt whilst watching that the voices fitted the characters well enough. Like in the case of the music, I didn't end the film with any of the voices stuck inside my brain, but I didn't end with any negative feelings about the acting.
:: Overall :: - 9/10
To sum it up, Ocean Waves is something for anyone who can handle anime without supernatural elements distancing its story from reality. It's a must watch for fans of romance with a realistic edge.
Don't ignore it simply because of its unknown status compared to the other Ghibli titles. A lot of people go into anime to escape reality - to see something different - and I'm sure that has played a part in it being scored harshly compared to certain other Ghibli titles. It's more than worthy of a place in any Ghibli collection. Trust me when I say that Miyazaki not being involved doesn't make it any less of a film. read more
26 of 26 episodes seen
If nothing else, you have to praise the visual and audio aspects of the series. It has lovely art and very good animation, the character designs (the faces, short skirts, big breasts and super model female cast) and bright colours unsurprisingly reminding me of Code Geass. The soundtrack is mostly stellar, too, with the music Goddess known as Yuki Kajiura pulling out one of her overall weaker (compared to her best work) but by no means poor collections of music. Even the English voice acting impressed me, Mai's voice fitting her fiery yet loveable and cute personality like a glove... However, where My-HiME falls short, and what makes me class it as a trainwreck, is its story.
Put simply, the story is about a group of twelve girls and their loved ones. Each of the twelve girls (referred to as 'HiME') has a different power, some being elemental and others being the ability to use weapons, and each can summon a mecha/monster (referred to as a 'Child' if it obeys a human and an 'Orphan' if it doesn't) to fight with them. Mai, the female lead, moves to the prestigious Fuka Academy (which accommodates elementary-high school ages, and has dormitories for both genders), along with her younger brother at the start, and there she meets and interacts with the other girls with powers and her new classmates.
Sadly, there isn't much actual plot covered in the 26 episodes. The first half focuses heavily on characterization, fan service and comical goings on. The second half focuses on characterization and battles, each battle resulting in a new death. In between all of this, not a lot beyond the basic premise of the story gets a look in. This resulted in very little of the plot making sense, and the final episode was a failure (partly) because of this.
Why were the 'Child' and 'Orphan' creatures in existence? How could they be summoned by certain people? What was the character reminiscent of Kaoru from Evangelion (Naji)? Why did the HiME ritual occur every 300 years?
None of the above questions, or numerous others I have, receive answers within the series. When the final episode rolled around and the world was saved from destruction in predictable fashion, I was left with a blank expression on my face, reflecting on the many questions without answers and with disappointment in the place of the answers I desired.
Apart from its production values, what saved My-HiME, for me at least, was the quality of its characterization. Over the course of the series, you learn all about Mai. Her relationship with her brother is explored and plays a major role, and as a result of an involving love quadruple I came to care about her as a person, as well as her likeable main love interest. And, though the other cast members didn't get anywhere near as much time because of the amount of them - the number reminding me of Negima's never-ending character list to begin with - enough of the personalities and back-stories of those that mattered got covered for me to become emotionally involved with many of them. The characters laughed and cried, and I was able to feel their emotions; never feeling disconnected.
But, switching back to the story, the final episode almost ruined the good that came before. If you're the sort of person that cringes when you see deus ex machina twists, your face won't be a pretty sight after finishing the anime because it's practically non-stop deus ex machina in the last episode. Without wanting to spoil too much, what happened at the end of My-HiME is equivalent to every emotional, heart-wrenching moment of a story being made worthless, destroying any attachment one has to the many moving scenes included. Even though I enjoyed what came before immensely, I felt like time slowed down at the end - it was a sad way to end such an absorbing title.
To sum it up, Sunrise know how to please anime fans; men/otaku in particular. They keep the skirts high, the chests large, the comedy amusing and are masters at pulling away at the heart strings of viewers with dramatic action, or just plain old fashioned drama. They know how to make up for what would normally by anime ruining flaws. If not for the poor excuse of a story and even worse attempt at an ending, if only for enjoyment alone, I'd be rating it higher, but it wasn't to be. Instead, I'll give it a solid 8/10, thinking of it as something of a guilty pleasure. read more
10 of 12 episodes seen
I'm not experienced with Tezuka’s work. So far, I've only watched three or so anime adaptations of his numerous manga titles. However, going on what I've read, this OVA is darker, and far more realistic in its approach than the source material. The character designs, for example, are said to have been altered from cartoonish to a grittier style. But, in the end, different or not, I doubt it'll matter to most reading this; most, like myself, not knowing a lot about it prior to viewing.
:: Story :: -- 9/10
The story is about a man known by the name of 'Black Jack'. He's an unlicensed doctor, said to be the best in the world, who will do almost any job asked of him... for a price. With a black cape he keeps wrapped around himself even in the heat of the desert, he travels the world, being paid crazy amounts of money to find the cure for various diseases and illnesses that normal doctors can find no remedy for. No-one knows much about him, only a basic description: he has a surgical scar on his face, a mixture of black and white hair and, as his name suggests, he wears black.
The best way for me to explain the series to someone totally in the dark is to use Mushishi; a very popular, totally episodic title, with very little development for its lead and few recurring characters. Like the lead of Mushishi, Black Jack is always on the move, attempting solve mysteries in order to save the lives of his patients. Each episode focuses on a different problem, and Black Jack often finds himself in a race against time to save lives. There's isn't much in the way of greenery, the stories mostly taking place inside towns, and there isn't any relaxing music that soothes the soul, but the basic premise of both titles are very, very similar. There are even a number of supernatural cases included, meaning there's no realism/supernatural divide separating the two. Black Jack does try to stick closer to reality, with its lead using the power of science rather than information about supernatural life-forms, though.
In the first half, the focus is heavily on realism. There's a story involving the effects drugs have on people and how they destroy lives; there's a story about a clearly-not-renamed-version-of-America attempting to re-capture the leader of a smaller nation out of greed; there's a story about an actress being unable to eat, edging ever closer to starvation and, finally, there's a story about a young man trying to uncover the mystery behind his dreams, which result in him having spasms and bleeding from an old bullet wound. The first episode involves a supernatural illness, but the majority of the content in episodes 2-5 doesn’t stray too far from what can be viewed as believable.
However, the second half differs greatly, and it came close to making me lower my rating slightly. I won't go through them all, but one episode I can use as an example is the sixth. It involves a box full of money arriving two years late at the residence of Black Jack and a rather bizarre dream sequence playing out, where Black Jack goes back in time and has to try to figure out why a princess is suffering as if a serpent is wrapped around her, with her also going into rages where she attacks others. After what came before, it struck me as being out of place, although the later episodes made it fit in better. Honestly, I didn't get as much enjoyment out of episodes 6-9 as I did out of 1-5, and only the moving and very involving final episode about a 'mermaid' compares to the earlier episodes in my mind.
I wouldn't go as far as to say Black Jack is a tale of two halves. The second half did have some interesting episodes, nearly all of them being entertaining, and the final episode allowed the series to end on a high. I will, however, say that, depending on if you enjoy realistic or supernatural elements more, you'll probably end up preferring one half of the series over the other.
:: Characterization :: -- 8.5/10
The characterization is the main plus or negative, depending on your perspective, though. Black Jack, and his youthful looking and immature assistant, Pinoko, receive no real development throughout the series. Black Jack always attempts to distance himself emotionally from his patients and, while he does sometimes end up becoming close with a number of the females involved in each story (even sleeping in the same bed as one of them), the relationships never advance to a point where you learn more about Black Jack. He's quiet, he's kinder than his the fees he asks for suggests and he's a God with a scalpel - that's all you'll ever learn about him from this OVA. Nothing is shown of his past, and you aren't even told why he lives with the ever colourful Pinoko; a character that wasn't needed and often got in the way with her light-hearted scenes, especially in the last half.
The flipside of this coin is that all of the main characters in each of the stories get fleshed out significantly. More often than not, I was able to sympathize with their struggles... or, at the very least, I was able to understand enough to care. Using the characterization in episode four as an example, a woman was shown to gradually deteriorate until she was close to being a skeleton. From time to time, she dreamed about her childhood days spent with her friend; when they both shared childish dreams. As she neared death, despite her will to live, she wanted her pain to end, and to 'see' her friend once again. Because of the slow pacing and powerful images shown, it was impossible for me not to become emotionally involved, and I felt similarly about a number of the other characters.
While I would've loved to learn more about Black Jack and Pinoko, I don't think it damaged what is a totally episodic title. If anything, knowing little about Black Jack made him more of an enigma; adding to his appeal.
:: Art / Animation + Sound :: -- 7/10 & 6/10
By far, the visuals and sound are the most disappointing aspects of the series. I like the gritty art style, I like the detailed and bloody surgery scenes, I like the dull colour usage and the voice acting is perfectly acceptable. The problems lie with the animation and soundtrack. There's very little animation of note included, sometimes still-shots being used. The openings and endings are both very disappointing, the opening in particular because it flashes between poor quality (video) artwork for around three minutes. And the soundtrack is totally unmemorable, me not even noticing when there wasn't any music during the many parts with only voice acting and sound effects. While far from horrible, this isn't something to go into for eye and ear pleasing material.
:: Overall :: -- 8.5/10-9/10
To sum it up, Black Jack is an excellent, slightly under-rated and VERY under-watched anime. I highly recommend it to fans of Mushishi's story-telling style, or to anyone looking for something not reliant on moe to appeal. Without wanting to sound pretentious, Black Jack is an anime aimed at adults; aimed at those who can look underneath and appreciate stories not needing to be pushed along with constant, attention grabbing plot twists. Unless you believe you need 2000+ flashiness, do yourself a favour and look back in time; you never know, you might just see what I saw when I watched it. read more