95 of 94 episodes seen
Rurouni Kenshin recounts the adventures of Kenshin Himura, a wandering swordsman struggling to begin a new life in the Meiji era. Once a feared manslayer, Kenshin has taken up a reverse-blade sword and pledged to use it only to protect others.
During the war 10 years ago, Kenshin Himura was known as Battousi the Manslayer, the most-feared swordsman of the revolution, personally responsible for taking countless lives as an assassin for the Emperor. After the Imperialists were defeated in the war against Tokugawa, Kenshin has been attempting to assimilate himself back into society. His enemies aren't so willing to forget his violent deeds, however; and he is confronted at every turn by shadows from his past.
The section of the show leading up to the confrontation with Shishio, known as the Legend of Kyoto Arc, is the best-executed portion of the show, with sufficient action, plot twists, and new developments to maintain viewer interest.
Unfortunately, instead of ending on a high note, the show continues to linger on, feeling sometimes as if it is languishing on life support and no one has the gumption to pull the plug. The final 20-30% of the show feels somewhat unnecessary, and the writers rely more on simplistic action and corny humor to propel the story along. Despite this, there are some entertaining moments, but they are certainly diamonds in the rough.
The characters of the show are lovingly-crafted, displaying a healthy range of personalities. The main cast consists of a stubbornly-independent swordswoman, a wise-cracking brawler/slacker, a street urchin turned apprentice, a young shinobi, and a beautiful druggist. Over the course of 95 episodes we certainly have ample opportunity to get to know and love them, but there did seem to be some inconsistencies in their behavior.
For instance, Kaoru's sudden transformation from an assertive dojo master to a simpering, needy melodrama queen was a bit startling. Kenshin, on the other hand, almost seems to have split personalities throughout the entire series, morphing from legendary swordsman to bumbling homemaker in an unnerving fashion. As much as I liked aspects of Kenshin's character, the dichotomy of his personality was a bit overplayed. It is understandable that he struggles between a need to use violence and a desire to never kill again, but there's really no need to portray him as a socially-handicapped moron in order to make the point.
The enemies that our heroes must face also have the very consistent habit of turning from their evil deeds and joining the circle of friends. While this could be used convincingly in isolated instances, as the show wears on it becomes predictable and unexciting plot device. It is more than a little doubtful that even the most black-hearted of individuals could be so thoroughly rehabilitated by a few words from a known killer, but that certainly doesn?t seem to discourage them.
Regardless of these flaws, the characters are still very distinctive and enjoyable to watch, and this is one of the few shows that contain memorable secondary characters and enemies as well.
The battle sequences and sword techniques are a large part of the show, so it's fortunate that they are managed with such aplomb. For such a long-running series, most of the action sequences convey a sense of action and intensity, although some are certainly more well-animated than others.
I found some of the earliest fights to be the most skillfully done, containing more dynamic movement, fewer still frames, and, in some cases, more brutal action. Some of the later fights in particular tend to rely on Kenshin being beaten mercilessly until he finally finds the wherewithal to end the fight with a single blow. Another gripe I had was that the near-supernatural techniques used by Kenshin and others were often explained away in rather mundane terms, removing much of their mystery and appeal.
Although I'm no historical expert, the setting seemed convincing enough for the era, with a few obvious exaggerations and anachronisms. Throughout the animation is crisp and colorful, and the character designs are excellent. Some of the episodes feature varying levels of quality, with several looking particularly hideous, but this is not at all uncommon, especially among the longer-running shows.
The soundtrack quality was above-average, effectively blending the past and present into a moody and fitting musical score. The voice-work seemed to fit the characters well, but be warned that Kenshin's speech patterns can cause fits of rage. His habit of appending "that it is" or "that it does" onto almost every phrase he utters is an attempt at cuteness that is immensely frustrating.
Humor, action, and romance are all incorporated into Rurouni Kenshin's style, and the show manages to deliver on all counts, although it doesn't particularly excel at any of them. The action was no doubt the high point, and the warrior philosophies espoused by several of the show's characters were often thought-provoking. The comedy was consistently humorous, but I found little of it to be truly laugh-out-loud funny. Romance and drama elements were mercifully infrequent, and although they were sometimes moving and inspirational, they typically tended towards melodrama. Kenshin's personal conflicts marked both the most effective and most frequently-used dramatic theme.
Rurouni Kenshin has a variety of elements that appeal to a widespread audience, making it one of the best-loved anime series of all time, despite its flaws. Its colorful visuals, compelling theme, and lovable characters will leave an impression on any anime fan. It may not become your new favorite, but its quality and longevity cannot be denied.
74 of 74 episodes seen
Despite its daunting length, an exceedingly high standard of quality is consistently maintained in all 74 episodes. And because the writer does not get sidetracked with filler episodes or arcs, a single, coherent storyline runs through. This gives the impression of watching a an excellent graphic novel. Though the story itself is impossibly intricate, a web of intrigue and conflicting motives to tantalize the viewer, Monster manages to conclude dramatically, memorably and without the use of such cheap and overused plot devices as deus ex machina.
Urasawa Naoki clearly left nothing to chance or improvisation in the creation of Monster. His meticulously conceived and astoundingly immersive plot is certainly the result of countless hours of historical, geographical and cultural research. Monster is set against the backdrop of a Germany reeling from its internal division by the Berlin Wall, all the while struggling to cope with the conflicting ideals of democracy and authoritarianism within the same country. This dichotomy between the East and West German governments, along with the long-term consequences for the citizens on each side of the Wall are subtly referenced throughout the plot. Realism on this level is something that no author can fake. The actual plot idea behind Monster is one we have all heard before. A doctor is under suspicion for murder and flees the authorities to find the villain and clear his name. But with Monster, it is not so much the originality of the plot, as it is the masterful storytelling which puts Monster in a category of its own.
Urasawa's style is one of sublime efficiency - not a single scene is wasted and every piece of information revealed to the audience is ultimately significant. A single glance, a dark shadow, the sound of a footstep - these are the precise and parsimonious tools Urasawa uses to tell the story of Monster. His narration is immersive and gripping, but never once does it feels heavy-handed. The flow from scene to scene always feels completely natural, and deftfully avoids any appearance that the writer is forcing the plot in order to create drama or suspense.
If anything, it is just the opposite: the main story is advanced through the exposition of tangential subplots. As a result, the hero is constantly hot on the trail of the antagonist, but only ever able to gain information from indirect witnesses, friends of friends, people only remotely related to the search at hand. Consequently, the antagonist's screen time is so rare that each appearance might even be considered a cameo. And yet, Urasawa's villain is easily the best characterised and most memorable in all the anime I have seen to date. I stand in awe of Monster, for this is storytelling at its finest.
The visual quality in Monster is both superb and unique. Through the creative use of cinematic techniques, Monster is made to feel very much like a movie, because the "camera" viewpoint is often used to focus in on significant moments or details or even facial expressions. In this fashion, the audience's attention is skillfully drawn towards such ominous things as shadows, dark corners and footsteps in order to intensify the atmosphere.
The artwork in Monster carries strong influences from film noir. Even from the first few episodes, the use of darker hues and greyed out tones give the anime a bleak and foreboding feeling. As the story progresses, the anime becomes a showcase for the animator's sublime mastery over the use of shadow and lighting.
Detail levels are quite decent, although exterior scenery is rare, given the dark nature of the story. The few scenic moments I do remember in the anime were well-drawn. I know the following will seem odd for a mystery and suspense thriller, but the food shown in Monster is extremely appetizing; I distinctly recall feeling hungry several times while watching the characters eat. Prior to viewing Monster, I had never craved German food, but I must admit that the anime actually convinced me to seek out a place where I could eat some the things I saw.
Obviously, in a suspense/thriller anime, you would not expect to find highly memorable or catchy tunes. This is the case with Monster, the anime relying more heavily on silence, foreboding sounds, and the occasional eerie music to set the mood. And since sustaining mood is of paramount importance in this genre, the sound selection was appropriate and well-considered. The audio track always complemented the scenes of the anime, and never detracted from the tension of the moment.
Despite being 74 episodes long, Monster had only one opening and two ending themes. From a vocal standpoint, both singers featured in the ending music are quite mediocre. However, the suitability of these two pieces for the overall atmosphere of Monster is ideal. Both pieces are only very lightly orchestrated, with contrasting emphasis on echo and proximity of voice to the microphone, resulting in an altogether unsettling and haunting feeling which is completely appropriate for the series.
It is the voice acting, though, which gives Monster its unforgettable immersiveness. The seiyuu cast succeeds brilliantly in adding to the overall atmosphere. Though the anime involves a wide spectrum of emotion, the seiyuu convincingly convey each emotion to perfection. Sasaki Nozomu in particular deserves special commendation for so vividly bringing to life the role of the main antagonist. It is no easy task to credibly portray the voice of a person who commits brutal murder without a trace of emotion, and yet possesses the gentle charm and seductive charisma to beguile and manipulate countless others.
Urasawa Naoki's indirect storytelling style has a very apparent benefit: it allows him to richly develop the entire cast of characters, including those with secondary roles. I would be hard-pressed to name a single character in Monster with whom I did not feel intimately acquainted and whose motivations I did not understand by the end of the series. Considering that each episode almost certainly introduces at least one new character, it is mind-blowing that Urasawa manages to achieve this level of familiarity among the audience with all of his numerous and colourful characters.
Urasawa pushes the envelope with the characterisation of his main cast and manages to completely blur the lines between fictional character and real person. He recognises that people do not only change as a result of momentous plot events - sometimes, people also gradually change over time. The timeline of Monster spans over forty years, so this slow self-evolution of the characters' motivations, aspirations and values provides a much deeper level of authenticity that I would love to see in other anime.
I also admire the fact that Monster's characters are shown to have a life outside their role within plot. This is a dimension which adds a great deal to the believability of the characters. Often it takes no more than only the subtlest of details, like a family picture in the background, or a quick "in-passing" reference during dialogue, but such are the minutiae which distinguish excellence from mediocrity.
Monster possesses a polish shared by too few other anime. It is truly a finished product, completed and produced with pride. As a viewer, I distinctly felt that every scene was contemplated with care, every detail meticulously reviewed. One would be hard-pressed to find an inconsistency in the story, let alone an unexplained or forgotten plotline. Monster is a lengthy 74-episode anime with no fillers. This alone should speak volumes as to the quality of this anime.
For the lack of a better place to mention this, the ending sequence is well worth the time to watch, in detail, after every episode. The graphical content for the outro is almost never identical, though often the changes from episode to episode are almost imperceptible. Yet, those who have the patience to sort through these small differences are richly rewarded with an additional dose of ingenious foreshadowing and symbolism.
Without a doubt, because of its all-around excellence, and its superb attention to quality and detail, Monster has become the definitive benchmark by which I have judged all other anime. To all lovers of quality anime, if you have yet to see Monster, then you are most assuredly missing out on one of the very best.
43 of 43 episodes seen
What happens when you take a situation comedy, a schoolyard farce, and a stiff shot of hard-hitting commentary on modern youth and the issues facing the Japanese educational system, mix them together in one anime series, and shake vigorously? You get something wonderful, and that something is called GTO. The series tempers itself with a grounding in reality and addresses serious social issues, but by mixing raunchy humor with a bit of an edge, Onizuka's lovable-loser-with-attitude persona, and a collection of wild situations that any prime-time comedy would be proud to sport, GTO distinguishes itself as a creative, enjoyable, and very funny show.
At first, I wasn't quite sure what to make of GTO; the sexual themes come on pretty strong, and between Onizuka's skirt-chasing and torturing his students, this didn't look to be a series in very good taste. Actually, I was missing the point: GTO is less a schoolyard drama and more like a modern-day fairy tale about a very human knight in all-too tarnished armor, fighting against conformity and the "right" way to do things. Once I stopped taking it too seriously, I started having an absolutely grand time.
The characters are what make almost every good anime comedy work and GTO is no exception, featuring an unusually broad range of minor players. With everything from anime-standard biker-gang members to much more normal folks like Onizuka's used car dealer friend and an assortment of dysfunctional parental relationships, the characters run the gamut from broad stereotypes and hilarious anime favorites to surprisingly realistic everyday folk. What stands out in particular, though, are the kids that Onizuka has to deal with--far from the stereotypical blushing anime schoolgirls, the majority of these normal-seeming kids are world-wise and have a vicious streak that can be downright scary, particularly since their tactics are rarely as simple as mere violence. Aside from being a sadly accurate reflection of modern Japan, it does make for an interesting change of pace, as does Onizuka's less than conventional methods of dealing with them.
This eclectic collection allows for plenty of humorous situations while also providing the serious ones that give the series its emotional heart. At the center of all of them, however, is none other than the Great Teacher himself, and Onizuka Eikichi is, more than anything, what makes GTO as much fun as it is.
Onizuka at first may look like a simple skirt chaser, but there's oh-so-much-more to him than your average skirt-chasing creep, even though the TV version has less character development than in the comics. On one hand, his main interest in teaching seems to be the (female) students (and fellow teachers, for that matter), and he's certainly got a wandering eye, summed up in a hilarious scene early on where he surveys a schoolyard filled entirely with high school girls--the pan was captioned with "There are boys, but he only sees the girls." On the other, he's a hard-driving Karate champ badass with plenty of biker gang leader attitude to back it up. In between, he's an emotionally fragile loser with no life, less social skills, a good heart, and an honest desire to give kids a better educational experience than he had.
If you put it all together, you get a dirty-minded punk who's not too bright, but can't help being a good guy from time to time, and more importantly he's one heckuva funny guy to watch. The most memorable (and funny) moments in the series revolve around Onizuka's unending capacity to absolutely freak out--aside from a variety of near breakdowns we're treated to sudden interjections of Onizuka's flights of fancy, usually offset immediately afterwards by harsh reality. He also seems to get that his interest in the students isn't exactly a good thing (but amusingly hard to resist), and his violent outbursts and "unorthodox" (read: "Suplex!") methods aren't something he's necessarily proud of later--he just gets carried away from time to time, and violence is the only way he knows how to solve things. Fortunately for him, his unique style is just what some of the kids he meets up with need, and his determination, street-earned wisdom, and bottomless idiocy are enough to make it work.
Although things settle into more situation-comedy territory once the series is well underway, the early plot of GTO looks like a classic--a teacher who really isn't comes into the "tough class" and busts some heads, whipping the students into shape and earning their respect in the process. But unlike the action movies that make the rounds on late-night cable, GTO brings together wacky anime-style sensibilities, an edgy sense of humor, and enough meaningful drama and social commentary to keep things plenty interesting in one confidently directed episode after another. The more dramatic scenes are sometimes a little on the stereotypical side, but were still well handled and at times surprisingly powerful, and more importantly the series never seems to take itself too seriously--it's all one big romp in the end. Perhaps most impressive of all was how comfortably the series flowed; the episodes effortlessly weave between drama and outright slapstick, and each has a lively pace that keeps you wanting more but never feels the least bit hurried.
GTO was not without flaws, though even the worst of them was only minor for me. My biggest problem was with the dub, but I'll cover that later. More generally, I was bothered by some of the art; the series is stylistically similar to adult male-targeted "businessman" manga (artists like Ikegami Ryoichi), which was most noticeable in Onizuka's frequently exaggerated facial expressions. I personally find that particular style of exaggeration unpleasant to look at more than funny, but in this case the situations were good enough that I was more than willing to forgive once I got used to it, and I wasn't even noticing after a half dozen episodes.
The only other fundamental complaint that comes to mind is with some of the rather dirty-minded subject material; those sensitive to that sort of thing, particularly as it relates to student-teacher relationships, might not be able to see past it. The first two-part episode in particular featured several scenes that seemed to pander to the male portion of the audience that thinks the same way as Onizuka does, but it didn't really bother me. In fact, that was probably the best way to establish his character (and to snag a TV audience), and as long as you don't take it seriously it should all be very funny (Akemi, to offer one female viewpoint, didn't find it offensive at all). In any case the rest of the series isn't all like that, though it doesn't lose its edge either, and it's all tempered by dealing with some real (and often related) social issues.
The artistic style is, as I mentioned, in the same general vein as a lot of other manga series aimed at older males. This means that the characters tend more toward realistic faces and proportions, although in this case the influence is mostly visible in the exaggerated facial expressions. Even so, there is still a wide variety of character looks, made even more impressive by the fact that they all look, more or less, Japanese. Even Onizuka's blonde hair is pointed out as being dyed, and is a distinctive part of his rebel character. The backgrounds tend to be rather bland, but if anything that puts more focus on the antics of the characters. The animation, at least, is smooth enough, and the character animation was extremely expressive, not to mention very funny.
The background music consists of a variety of amusing mood-enhancing tunes, and the intro and end themes were decent modern selections. The first season's intro animation, by the way, is the most artistically creative part of the production--an edgy, hard-edged, black and white montage of scenes capturing Onizuka's bad-boy persona.
Now for the one thing that made or broke GTO: The acting. Let's start with the Japanese, which is, in a word, perfect. The casting and acting in the variety of bit players is funny, but Takagi Wataru truly put the Great in GTO. Covering everything from mildly dramatic to ultra-stud to bad boy to blubbering idiot to near-breakdown hysterics, the quality with which every single facet of Onizuka's personality is portrayed was absolutely brilliant. I rarely heap praise that freely, but Takagi's performance alone was worth the price of admission. The subtitles, incidentally, were translated quite accurately, though the English is a bit stiff and does a poor job of capturing just how rough Onizuka's dialogue is.
The dub is an entirely different matter. Serious creative liberties were taken with the translation, which I was willing to forgive since the dialogue was fairly witty and had some modern flair, although much of it also seemed to be noticeably more gross. More importantly, though, David Lucas's take on Onizuka just wasn't great. Not that there was anything wrong with it, but his range wasn't particularly broad, so much of the humor in the series was based on his antics, and Onizuka's Japanese voice was so good, that anything less than a truly amazing performance would have felt like a major letdown. Slightly choppy directing may have also contributed to this.
I'm an established sub fan, so maybe I'm being too harsh on the dub, but what I found particularly interesting was how much less funny the English version was. Part of it was the acting, a little bit was due to choppy writing, a little more came from the fact that the background music and sound effects were quieter in relation to the dialogue, which drained some of the mood out of several scenes, but more than anything the English version just felt more... embarrassing. Maybe it's just in my head, but it seemed to me that the combination of less broad acting, less noticeable music, and somewhat more crude dialogue gave the whole production a less silly feel, which in turn made Onizuka's behavior less funny and more distasteful. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but at least I'm confident in saying that the Japanese version is much funnier than the dub.
All in all, GTO is not a wildly original series, but like some of the best modern anime it takes tried and true concepts, gives them a good, hard shake, and shoots in a stiff dose of fresh, funny attitude to create a thoroughly enjoyable show. It's definitely not appropriate for younger viewers, and it's going to appeal more to the older male fans, but if you give GTO a chance, almost anyone who enjoys some mature (and relatively intelligent) but silly fun with should have a grand time. Personally, I can't get enough.
24 of 24 episodes seen
Sagara Sosuke may look like a high school boy, but he is anything but your average teenager: hardened by years of battle, he is now one of the most skilled (and humorless) operatives of the secretive and powerful paramilitary MITHRIL organization. All this changes, however, when he, along with the lecherous sniper Kurtz Weber and ornery commander Melissa Mao, are assigned to protect pretty young Chidori Kaname, who may be one of the mysterious and sought-after "Whispered." Trained assassins, mech-piloting psychopaths, and booby traps, Sagara can deal with... it's infiltrating a Japanese high school and trying to blend in that's the real challenge. And he will learn that an enraged girl can be the most lethal opponent of all.
Full Metal Panic takes the well-traveled genres of high school comedy and mecha war drama, mixes them together in the same series, dresses them up in beautiful Gonzo animation, gives them a gritty twist, and wraps them together in a plot hinting at unearthly technology and dark organizations at work. Unfortunately, none of that can hide the fact that in the end Full Metal Panic is just another anime series, never breaking from the cliches of its two genres--the girls still club the hero in a berserk rage at the slightest perception of lechery, even hardened military professionals take time out for a soak in the bath, and you can never, ever use your ultimate weapon until the last possible second. That the plot ends up going nowhere at all (at least until a sequel series) and the two genres feel somewhat uncomfortable next to each other doesn't help, either. It's still well made and a lot of fun, but it isn't half of what it could've been.
Full Metal Panic is definitely at its strongest in the comedy department. The premise--a young soldier who knows nothing but battle forced to try and blend in at an average Japanese high school while undercover--has loads of potential, and Sosuke's deadpan determination and brutal practicality contrast perfectly with a lively cast of more standard anime characters to capitalize on it.
Sosuke is hilarious in his awkward attempts to fit in, and the series also takes the time to put his normal classmates into his world on occasion, providing a satisfying role reversal. Sosuke's foil, Chidori, is equally likable for the opposite reasons--a slight sidestep from your standard high school cutie, she's got a vicious temper and isn't afraid to loose it on Sosuke, but also has an earnest sweet side for balance. Chidori is something of a realistic caricature--you know the role, but something rings true about the way her exaggerated personality traits fit together, making her a particularly appealing character.
The quality assortment of supplemental characters include Sosuke's far livelier (and more mature, a nice departure from formula) military compatriots who themselves have some amusing interactions with Sosuke's classmates. Those classmates range from Chidori's snapshot-obsessed best friend to a shy military geek (ironically, and amusingly, the only one who Sosuke can manage a conversation with). There are also a variety of more hardened military types who make appearances, and they are generally treated relatively realistically.
Unfortunately, those times where the fun characters in the series overlap with the serious ones are one of its weakest points. The biggest problem is that Chidori behaves more or less like your standard anime schoolgirl even in the face of life-or-death situations, cheapening the drama at the gritty end of the story. Complaining about her lack of decency in the middle of a firefight, for example, showed little of the sense of reality or self-preservation you'd expect from her character. There are a few stronger points (a great reference to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, for example), but for the most part the more humorous characters severely hurt the realism and sense of danger of the more serious parts when they interact.
That brings me to my second big problem with the series: the drama. On the positive side, the serious sections of the story aren't bad by anime standards--they've got a gritty feel, Sosuke is if nothing else a competent warrior (a welcome change from all those kids uncertain of their worth), and the handheld-style camerawork gives the action a sense of reality. In a couple of places the tragedy of war also crosses briefly from action movie cliche to something a bit more affecting.
On the negative side, it still feels much more like a cheesy action movie than the military drama it seems to be aiming for (particularly in the grittiest story arc, a desert mission in the middle of the series). In contrast with most of the well-developed characters, the caricatured military folks working with Sosuke feel hollow, and after all the talk about planning, strategy, and loyalty, having Sosuke inexplicably save his ultimate weapon until the last possible second is downright silly. The fact that the giant robots, for all their clunky "realistic" design, end up sporting emotion-powered ultimate weapons (and of course a big mane of hair on the evil mech) struck me as rather silly as well.
That Full Metal Panic is a better comedy than a drama perhaps isn't surprising, but what is is how the two are combined. Or rather, how they aren't: The series is composed of roughly equal parts schoolyard comedy and military action, and although the characters overlap, the two parts have absolutely no interaction. One episode will be a rather silly comedy, and the next will try for straight-faced drama and action. The transitions are a bit jarring at best, and leave the series as a whole feeling somewhat scattered.
One more big complaint before I move on: the plot goes absolutely nowhere. It starts right off with hints of powerful clandestine forces at work, mysterious technology and its connection to the Whispered, and a creepy villain (a worthy rival for Sosuke's dry sense of duty thanks to his cheerful contempt and unstable persona) who seems to be working behind the scenes as part of some dark conspiracy.
Sadly, though the villain comes back again and again as a part of various nefarious plots, there is never any explanation of where he keeps getting his extraordinarily nasty toys or who's backing him. There's also no meaningful connection established between the story arcs, no details about what the Whispered are or where the mysterious technology comes from are ever revealed, and there isn't even an end more satisfying than "We got the bad guy. Yet again."
All the hints of mystery in the story and the creepy villain felt like an afterthought tacked on to try and cover for the fact that the plot as a whole has absolutely no substance, and doesn't go anywhere.
Fortunately, action fans will probably be more than willing to overlook the generic parts thanks to the gorgeous Gonzo animation. As with most of their work, they give even classic mech-vs-mech action scenes a sense of gritty realism by combining shaky camerawork with a lot of perfectly-executed digital effects (motion blur, glows, and various shockwave distortions). The mech fights aren't quite as down-to-earth as I was hoping (there are a disappointing number of energy blasts and flying jumps), but it still ranks among the best in the genre.
The quality art and animation don't stop at the action scenes, though--all the art is detailed and attractive, and the character animation is topnotch. Chidori in particular is amazingly expressive--her face and body language make her character truly memorable. The fancy action techniques aren't limited to the big fights, either--plenty of creative stuff around school, as well.
Last is the vocal part of the series, which is on par with the visuals--very good (at least in Japanese--I can't speak for the dub). The standout performances are easily Sosuke, for his unwavering deadpan delivery through both drama and comedy, and Chidori, for her endless reserve of energy and mix of ornery and sweet, all while staying believable as a character. The minor characters are just as good, though; Mao and Kurtz both have likable voices with a touch of playful realism that breaks them out of their respective molds, the villain has a smarmy evilness in his voice, tinged with just enough crazy to make him scary, and the collection of minor characters all work well. The music, though generally good (including the catchy if unoriginal opening theme), isn't nearly as memorable, but it does the job.
In all, Full Metal Panic is an enjoyable series. It is not without flaws: It's not nearly as original as it initially appears, the transition between war drama and schoolyard comedy doesn't work terribly well, and all the hints at a larger plot go nowhere at all in the end. Still, the collection of likable and creative characters and comedy with an edge are enough to make it memorable and fun. It's definitely worth a shot if the idea sounds at all appealing, and those less picky about details will probably love it.
26 of 26 episodes seen
In the world of Mushishi, there exists a form of life known as "mushi" - strange creatures that are more primitive than animal, plant or bacteria, yet are closer to the source of life than any of the former. Although only a few people can actually see the mushi, they interact with the world in bizarre ways. It is not (generally) in their natures to cause harm, but their entirely alien natures means that when human and mushi interact, neither comes off better. This has led to the rise of Mushishi - people who mediate human-mushi affairs. Ginko is one such mushishi, a man who is constantly traveling from village to village to study these mysterious beings and the effects they have on people, trying to help out where he can. Each episode of Mushishi follows Ginko's journeys through a world that resembles rural, medieval Japan. Although the series is episodic in nature, there are a few recurring characters besides Ginko because Ginko will occasionally return to a village to check up on the friends he has made there.
The series is essentially a "mushi of the day" type of show as there seem to be an infinite variety of the creatures; no two remotely alike. However, unlike hero series where the "monster of the day" always ends up in a battle (with recycled footage), Ginko is not always trying to fight the mushi unless he is given a good reason to (i.e. it is deteriorating the life of the villagers.) Ginko is more of a researcher than a mushi exterminator (although the show implies most mushishi are of the latter mindset) so the mushi battle episodes are greatly interspersed with mushi investigation episodes and help keeps the series from being too repetitious or predictable. This also helps maintain the portrayal of mushi as being utterly foreign to our understandings, not as malevolant beings (with a few exceptions.) Because of this, the story remains relatively peaceful and subdued, and one that makes you think instead of one where you can tune out and watch people fighting crazy things.
Summary: The story is simple and episodic, with each following a general formula (Ginko arrives at village, finds mushi, deals with mushi) but the variety of mushi and people that Ginko interacts with helps maintain a freshness for each episode. As the series progresses, you can see how Ginko truely cares for the people and mushi that coinhabit the world and often gets emotionally involved in events, allowing the viewer to also develop an attachment to people and events. If you're looking for something other than high-school romantic drama or fighting mechas, this is a good series to try out. Besides, with its episodic nature, you can check out a few now, see if you like it, and come back a good time later to see more if you decide to continue with the series.
The art of Mushishi is subdued and simple in nature, which is fitting to how the series is presented. The colors are often in a dull grey/brown/green palette which helps set a somewhat somber (but not dark) nature to the show. There's not a whole lot of variety in character design (except for Ginko, with his surprising white hair and green eyes) or scenery (there are only so many ways to portray a forest or a rural village.) If it weren't for the different mushi themselves, the artwork for the scenery and people in each episode would be interchangable. However, the true variety lies in the design of the mushi. They can be glowing, floating jellyfish, or feathery birds, or a rainbow with the colors inverted, or a white bamboo in a grove of green. Each mushi's form is generally relevant to their nature, and there is plenty of variance in that.
Summary: Simple artwork with a subdued palette, there's not a lot of variety in a rural medieval Japan setting, but the amount of different mushi help address the lack. Effective, but nothing to knock your socks off.
Voice acting: Sort of like the interchangability of the character art (except for recurring characters), their voices are fairly interchangable as well. Although competently done, unless you tie character art + voice + story + mushi together, it can be difficult to tell people from different episodes apart. Thankfully the few recurring characters do have distinct voices (Adashino-sensei is voiced by the well-known Yuji Ueda, who also voiced Honey and Clover's Morita, Love Hina's Keitarou and Kenshin's Sanosuke, among others.) Ginko also maintains a distinct voice, but my favorite performance was Mika Doi's Nui, who portrayed Nui as a reclusive hermit who is old before her time, yet manages to develop a deep attachment to Ginko in the short time they are together. She also does well as the narrator, using the same elderly voice that conveys authority to the narration.
Music: The music of Mushishi is fairly quiet and simple but still very beautiful and haunting. No heavy orchestral workings in these songs - they rely more on simple piano/synth and a lot of traditional Japanese bells and chimes, which helps it maintain the medieval Japanese setting. Most of the music is slow and somber, but then most of the episodes are slow and somber. There are a few fast-paced pieces that are used when Ginko is fighting a music, but for the most part the music is soft and idyllic like the episodes. The opening song is a little ditty that sort of reminds me of a Bob Dylan piece (except the words are more easily understood) with its simple harmony and stylings. The lyrics fit the series well (it talks of traveling) but took me a little while to get used to.
Summary: Relatively bland voice acting (with a few exceptions) but a soundtrack that really sets the stage for the story and scenery.
Mushishi is a relatively simple series artistically, musically, and in the set-up of the plot, but the content of each episode, and the relationship between humans, mushi, and how Ginko deals with them can be very complex. Due to the episodic nature, it's hard to get attached to anyone except Ginko himself, but the degree to which Ginko gets attached to people and places makes you at least want to try. The episodic nature also means that you can go back and watch any episode you feel like if you found any particular village or person or mushi rather interesting. This series is suited for people who want a more thoughtful series at the expense of gorgeous art, action-packed battles, extensive character development and teenaged angst, and is aimed at a slightly more mature audience.
There are a lot of comparisons between Mushishi and Kino no Tabi considering both are episodic series that follow a person traveling from land to land and learning about the people/nature of each place. There are some major differences between the two, which actually makes me enjoy both series better:
Kino is the detached traveler who takes Star Trek's Prime Directive directly to heart; she almost never gets involved in a country's business, and sometimes goes out of her way to maintain her distance. Kino no Tabi is a showcase of different lands, each one with a dark and horrible twist at the end that makes you go WTF and think the author is smoking something serious. Kino's detachment allows you to view each country from an outsider's perspective and see what the locals cannot, what makes their land utterly absurd and ironic.
Ginko is rather the opposite - he goes out of his way to help people in very place he visits, often coming back several months later to see if he had truely been able to help. He can and often does get deeply, emotionally involved in the situations he comes by, even if he knows things will not turn out the way he wants. This makes him an accessible character and one you can emphathize with, and his fascination with the mushi and their endless variety are transferred to you. With each episode, you wonder, as Ginko does, what sort of people and mushi he will encounter, and what he might be able to do to help both.
It's refreshing to get different perspectives on world views, and I like both series because of it.
Summary: Simple, thoughtful series. No action or angsting here. Probably why I like it so much. Am definately interested in checking out the manga.
1 of 1 episodes seen
In this regard, HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE is a perfect epitome of Miyazaki’s work, in all its strengths and weaknesses: it’s beautiful and filled with numerous heart-felt story elements and themes (about greed, cowardice, and the futility of war), but how these elements connect on a plot level is subjugated to how beautifully they are rendered on screen.
The story follows Sophie, a young woman who is rescued from being accosted by two soldiers when the mysterious and handsome wizard Howl intervenes, literally flying her through the sky. Howl has a reputation for devouring the hearts of beautiful women, but Sophie doesn’t feel threatened because she doesn’t believe herself to be beautiful. Unfortunately, being rescued by the wizard is a case of going from the frying pan to the fire, as Howl is being pursued by the minions of the Witch of the Waste. The Witch puts a curse on Sophie, turning her into an old hag and preventing her from explaining what has happened. Unable to face her mother, Sophie leaves home and stumbles upon the titular castle, where she takes up work as a cleaning lady.
Domesticity takes a back seat when war breaks out and Howl is ordered to report for duty. Howl admits to Sophie that, despite his powers, he is a coward; even his magnificent moving castle is just a way to run from trouble. He sends Sophie to turn down the call to arms. Along the way, Sophie meets up with the Witch of the Waste, who has her powers stolen from her (we have no doubt that the same would have happened to Howl had he reported for service as ordered).
When full-scale war breaks out, Howl finally decides to stop running, but when his defense of the castle brings him to the point of death, Sophie destroys the castle so that he will no longer risk his life. More through luck than design, Sophie manages to lift a curse that has been binding him to the fire demon Calcifer that powered his castle. She also lifts a curse on a missing prince (whose disappearance was the cause of the war). And she herself returns to her youthful appearance (although her hair remains silver-hued.
The film is filled with sweeping visuals that pull the viewer along: the castle tromping across the countryside, a fiery aerial bombardment, Howl in bird form swooping through the skies as he is battered by the enemy. But the logic behind these events is frustratingly vague, and you’d be hard-pressed to explain the logic of the film’s happy ending (at least three curses are lifted in the last few minutes, but the details of how this is achieved are glossed over). Howl seems to recognize that the old woman who cleans is castle is the same young woman he rescued, but how or even exactly when is not clear. Sophie seems to regain her youth when she expresses concern for others, but this carries little dramatic weight, since she was never particularly self-centered to begin with. Apparently Howl’s problem has something to do with trading his heart to Calcifer (in exchange for what?), but the exact nature is never clarified, so it’s hard to tell how Sophie figured out a way to undo the damage.
Perhaps detailed explanations are not necessary. On a simple, primal level, it is clear that the characters are being rewarded for their altruistic behavior, even if the exact mechanism for how this works is never explained: if we know the “why,” the how is unimportant. But in some cases, even this emotional attachment is lacking: for example, there is a throwaway “plot twist” wherein Sophie’s mother betrays her, but this thread is cut before it can develop — it might as well have simply been cut out completely for all it contributes to the story.
The animation is all beautifully done. Miyazaki uses the screen lke a canvas, filling it with breath-taking vistas that are populated by amusing characters and bizarre images: including a legless scarecrow hopping about on its wooden post and an asthmatic dog that befriends Sophie. Both of these are the sort of cute characters that are immediately endearing, lighting up the screen whenever they appear, regardless of story deficiencies. Even if the plot points are not always clear, the visuals tell us what’s happening in a way that feels emotionally right (as when the formerly imposing Witch of the waste is turned from villain to victim, reduced to flabby, diminished version of her former self).
The English dubbing is very effective. Emily Mortimer and Jean Simmons seamlessly integrate the two versions of Sophie, young and old. Billy Crystal doesn’t overdo the jokes too much as Calcifer, and Lauren Bacall strikes the properly haughty tone as the witch. In the title role, Christian Bale is suitably enigmatic and ambivalent as Howl, alternating between awesome and alluring on the one hand and childish and craven on the other. Sadly, the look of the character seems to become increasingly boyish throughout the film, until it starts to resemble the familiar cliché of the too-cute wide-eyed anime hero.
Ultimately, HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE is not as impressive as Miyazaki’s
ambitious PRINCESS MONONOKE, but it captures the pastoral beauty and charm that we have come to expect from the creator of LAPUTA: CASTLE IN THE SKY and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO. That’s more than enough to make it worth seeing.
37 of 37 episodes seen
Yagami Light is as perfect a hero as you could imagine--perfect grades, perfect public record, perfect looks--in every facet, his image is squeaky clean.
This all ends one fateful day when the Shinigami known as Ryuk drops his Death Note out of the realm of the afterlife, into Light's schoolyard. Light stumbles across it and reads the directions: write the name of the person you want dead in the Death Note--with their image in your mind--and they will die in the manner you have specified in this supernatural journal. Otherwise, if the circumstance is not specified in writing, the victim will, within minutes, suffer a fatal heart attack.
Thinking it a stupid prank initially, Light puts it to the test when saving an innocent woman from being assaulted. To his horror, it works. Could ridding the world of criminals be this easy?
Inspired with a new renewed sense of justice, Light indulges himself completely in his newfound power, self-righteously declaring himself the bringer of a new, utopian future--
--one name at a time.
Probably the most anticipated anime of the 2006/2007 Winter season, and perhaps of the new year (Nodame Cantabile, maybe?) Death Note carries story elements and an intellectual integrity that is more commonly seen in your collegeate literary classics than your usual Shounen Jump title.
First we have the Platonic "Gyges' Ring" scenario--in a discourse in Plato's Republic, the integrity of mortal justice is questions and sequentially deemed fundamentally flawed by sinful, finite capacity of man and their deeply ruooted sense of pride and self-righteousness. The lead character Light is the incarnation of this discourse, a once seemingly flawless character driven to obsession over the notion of becoming like a god. At first his intentions are decent--rapists, child molesters, serial killers--deserve to die, right? The world would be better without them, right? But putting such power into the hands of a mortal--as perfect as Light might be--corrupts, as history proves time and again.
Accompanying the Death Note is its original owner, the Shinigami Ryuk. Rather than being morally bound to Light or serving as a conscience or guide, Ryuk hangs around simply to be a spectator--proclaiming humans to be "interesting."
While this itself makes for an interesting plot, what really makes Death Note a top caliber series are the characters who cause an obstruction to Light's mission. Topping the cast is the fan-favorite L, whose character is just beyond description. A shady, mysterious, but somewhat eccentric genius, L is probably the only mind that could match the scheming Light. The cat-and-mouse power-play between the two young men is enticing and riveting, making you laugh (not for comedy's sake) and keeps you fixed on every frame, soaking in all the details and anticipating the next move. The adorable, yet tragic Misa is another owner of a Death Note, and becomes pathetically infatuated with Light and obediently does his bidding, while at the same time threatening his immunity to the task force tracking him down.
This is just within the first ten episodes or so. This series is simple enough for anyone to understand, but at the same time deep enough and clever enough for those looking for something really meaty to sink their teeth into. Additionally, this series offers something that not many other series do--a moral conundrum. What if we had a Death Note? Would we use it? How would we use it? Is it possible to use it without turning into what Light becomes?
Its production values leave me with nothing to complain about. A top-selling series like Death Note, like Nana and other popular manga titles, have an obligation to its fans to give them something that is quality work. The animation is smooth, the character designs are loyal and really bring life to the characters. The music is fantastic, and some of anime's top seiyuu are among the cast, including Miyano Mamoru (Tamaki from Ouran High School Host Club) as Light, Yamaguchi Kappei (Inuyasha from Inuyasha) as L, and Hirano Aya (Haruhi from The Meloncholy of Haruhi Suzumiya) as Misa. You really cannot go wrong with this series. And this is coming from a Christian--I am not at all offended by this series, it is a fantastic philosophical and theological scenario.
How about looking at this series as social commentary? Any side of the political spectrum or anyone with any kind of religious affiliation can find hot topic issues that make for excellent discussion. This is a series that will make you think. It's more than just passive entertainment, though it is just what you make it. That's the beauty of Death Note. And fortunately, it shines bright through the ugliness that is undoubtedly to come to its characters.