Tuesday, May 31, 2011

“The Greatest Story Ever Told” – The Manga Bible (manga) – 7/10 Flowers

"Great men are not always wise" ~The Bible

Genre: Christian/Drama/Action/Romance

Review Status
: Complete (1 Volume/ 1 Volume)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US

Art: Very sketch-like, with harsh lines and angular figures. Pictures tend to be undetailed. Backgrounds are plain. In some places it comes off as harsh and dramatic, in others somewhat lazy.

Summary: The creation of the earth... The rise and fall of God's chosen people... The mysterious stranger who brought about a new world order... And the ultimate showdown between the forces of good and evil... This is the greatest story ever told... as you've never seen it before. (back of the cover)

Review: For any Christian who enjoys anime and manga, one of the best things that can happen is The Manga Bible- something to meld the two things that they love. This does a nice job of condensing the Bible into easy to understand stories, though some seem to be disconnected to what happened before, and gets to the important stories that most Christians consider to be at the core of their faith. This traverses the history from the Old Testament (Adam and Eve, Sodom and Gomorrah, David and Goliath, the wars over Jerusalem) and gets to the New Testament about 2/3 way through the volume.

Some of the stories might be a bit too condensed for readers, which the mangaka solved by helpfully giving the book, chapter and verse of the story or the backstory that was glossed over.

The stories were also told decently well. I appreciated that most were told with time-period appropriateness, except for a few disconcerting moments where they decided to put the story to modern images. This could backfire- on a personal note, with family that has both vets and victims of World War II, I didn’t appreciate a Fat Boy being thrown into the story. It seemed to be both disproportionate to what was being told, and disrespectful to what happened then.

There is also a question of accuracy. While most of it was accurate to what is in the Bible (a few liberties with language aside to make it relevant to the modern reader), there were some instances of Christian legend and lore being illustrated that are most definitely not. The most egregious of this was the story of 2,000 baby boys under the age of 2 being slaughtered in Jerusalem. There is no support for this either in historical records or within the Bible. This could be found to be offensive to some readers.

As something to entertain, the Manga Bible does decently well. The action is good and often, there’s deception, war, and revenge. It can drag in a few places, and the pacing occasionally seems off. As something to supplement faith or be used to illustrate it, it also does decently well. It manages to be both easy to understand and highlights the important events.

Overall, this would be a neat gift to a believer who was into anime and manga.

Recommended: Maybe. As a rental from the library, yes. For ownership? It would depend on the person. For any age you wouldn’t mind seeing the bloodier bits of Biblical history, rather than just being told it. This does keep in mind that the stories, like that of David and Goliath, weren’t exactly bloodless as children’s versions are wont to have you believe. You have some partial nudity (men can go shirtless, Adam and Eve are unclothed but either shown in shadow or behind bushes). Rare Barbie-doll nudity. There is very little language.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Manga Messiah (manga)
Shelter of Wings (manga)

“Break Out Of The Shell” – Ghost in the Shell (manga) – 8/10 Flowers

Technology... is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other. ~C.P. Snow

Genre: Sci-fi/Action /Psychological

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US

Art: Very 90’s, with big hair. More mature hairstyles for the time, since this does feature adults and not children or teens. The clothing also shows it, with big pants and shoulder pads. The cars are also pretty throwback. The characters have slightly more cartoonish designs than what some may be used to in comparison to the anime. The edition I got my hands on was flipped so it read right-to-left.

Summary: Deep into the 21st Century, the line between man and machine has been inexorably blurred as humans rely on the enhancement of mechanical implants and robots are upgraded with human tissue. In this rapidly converging landscape, cyborg super-agent Major Makoto Kusanagi is charged to track down the craftiest and most dangerous terrorists and cybercriminals, including “ghost hackers,” capable of exploiting the human/machine interface by re-programming human minds to become puppets to carry out their criminal ends. When Major Kusanagi tracks the cybertrail of one such master hacker, the Puppeteer, her quest leads her into a world beyond information and technology where the very nature of consciousness and the human soul are turned upside-down and inside-out.

Review: The future is an amazing place. Humans can get cybernetic upgrades, machines can take over complicated jobs that humans have trouble with. It can be hard to tell the two apart- except for one thing: The “Ghost” that marks out humans from non-humans. Call it what you will- Ghost, Soul, Spirit, they are all different names for the same thing. This manga explores the crimes that can be committed when there might be a little too much mechanizing going on with people. They can be hacked into, manipulated, even have their souls erased from their bodies and replace with someone else’s. The ultimate goal of Section Nine is to stop it, while minding international and national politics.

The politics can get a little complicated, but when aren’t they? There are heads of corporations and nations behind the worst of it, and sometimes you only get hints of who may really be behind things. The bad guys aren’t always punished. The victims can’t always be fixed or recompensed. It doesn’t take an idealistic look at the world.

For the most part, the stories are stand-alone, until the last three chapters. Those revolve around the “Puppeteer”, a cyber-criminal of immense skill. However, all may not be what they appear with this being. It is really a sentient being? Was it a person in the first place? Is it all a hoax on those who would come into contact with it?

The characters you might be familiar with from the movies and tv series are so very different here. The characters all feel more like people- they have more fleshed-out personalities. The Major in one chapter is in a relationship- a touchy-feely, loving one. Batou is even more of a joker, and Section Nine’s leader is a little more hot-headed and forceful than he ever was. With more stories covered, more detail given, this really shines as showing the personalities and quirks of people that make up Section Nine.

The one thing that I must note is that while this was made in the 90’s and is a bit dated in terms of clothes and hair, it is still solid-sci-fi. Bad sci-fi goes against what is known when it is written. Good sci-fi can last for years in terms of what’s scientific probable or possible. The science and technology that is shown within, and in one place detailed a bit, isn’t too far off from what’s being explored at the moment or is similar to technologies that we have. It makes for a pretty impressive read.

Overall, this was a fun ride into the world of cyber-criminals and future technology.

Recommended: 16+. I don’t recall a single f-bomb being dropped, and swearing is at a rate of less than one per chapter. Most of these are the d-word and h-word, but once ‘son-of-a-b*’ is used. There is one very brief, vague reference to drugs being used by one of the main characters. There are only two instances of what could really be called ‘gore’, one panel where a man is blown up and another two where you see a young man being shot (you see half his face gone, but not in CSI detail). For the rest, you see blood spatter, some injuries, and the bodies that are shown destroyed are those of robots. Human gore/death tends to be off-page. The worst the nudity gets is in one chapter where a robot, fresh off the line, escapes. As it was meant to replace someone’s actual body, it is nude, but the reader only sees it from the waist-up. The rest of the time, it’s no worse than Baywatch, or Seven-of-Nine’s bodysuit (Star Trek). Barbie-doll nudity when dealing with the “Puppeteer”.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Ghost in the Shell (movies, several series)
Ghost in the Shell 1.5: Human-Error Processor (manga)
Ghost in the Shell 2: Man/Machine Interface (manga)
Appleseed (anime or manga)
Pluto (manga)
Akira (manga)
Serial Experiments Lain (anime)
Real Drive (anime)
Kaiba (anime)
Time of Eve (anime)

Monday, May 30, 2011

“What Are Magical Girls Made Of?” – Puella Magi Madoka Magica (anime) – 10/10 Flowers

Love is more than a noun -- it is a verb; it is more than a feeling -- it is caring, sharing, helping, sacrificing. ~William Arthur Ward

Genre: Mahou Shoujo/Drama/Action/Psychological

Review Status: Complete (12 Episodes/12 Episodes)

: As of the beginning of July 2011, this anime is indeed licensed in the US.

Art/Animation: While the animation may not always be the smoothest, it is consistently good. The colors are bright, the style is distinctive, and the art can get downright trippy at times. This was created with a variety of different styles- you have fairly normal, recognizable designs for the ‘normal world’, but the Witches and their worlds (and occasionally some flashbacks) are more roughly-drawn, like crayons and paper puppets, or cut-outs over static patterned backgrounds. This in no way detracts from it- it brings the contrast between them into focus, and can also be downright disturbing in some parts.

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub for this.

Summary: Beloved family, good friends, laughter and tears - these things make up the ordinary life of Kaname Madoka, a second year student of Mitakihara City Middle School. One night, Madoka dreams of a mysterious dark haired girl struggling against a terrible evil; the next morning she discovers that the girl, Akemi Homura, has transferred into her class. This encounter will lead to an incident which will alter Madoka's fate forever. (MAL.net)

Review: Nothing in this world comes without a price. It’s an integral truth for us, and in the world of magical girls. Yet, in magical girl shows, everything is totally fine when they make a contract- they get to sing or play games, use their magic for whatever, maybe only having to fight an occasional monster to do so. It seems almost disproportionate. Why should a young girl be given immense magical powers for essentially no reason? Madoka takes that question and runs with it. How is it possible? Why is it possible?

And what if it wasn’t?

There’s magic, time travel, aliens, all used skillfully to bring us this what-if of the mahou shoujo world. And off of it makes sense in the grand scheme of the genre. By that same token, the things that we are familiar with are twisted and subverted, sometimes in the most horrific of ways. This is an anime that doesn’t go for gore for a cheap thrill, no- this goes for the psyche. It’s amazing as the most innocuous or happy statement can, under the right circumstances, become a most horrific one.

It’s great to see how this plays with symbolism. The double-scythe pendulum is perhaps the most obvious one. You have themes echoed throughout the story, from mere side characters that don’t know what perils our heroines are facing: “You can’t have everything you want”. Not everything is as it seems- sometimes it takes two revelations to figure out what type of person (or being) someone is. All in all, if you’re looking for an anime that will make you think and keep you guessing, this is it.

What makes it great is how it works so well with the plot and characters. The plot is typical of Mahou Shoujo, and yet made into epic proportions. Madoka is faced with saving the world. Most of the story is taken up with her indecision of whether to go through with it, unable to decide what she really desires in turn for agreeing to become one. Of course, that’s part of the subversion. How many magical girl shows have you seen where the heroine doesn’t take the opportunity eagerly? But save it she must, and her decision is a bittersweet one. The how is both saddening, and yet brilliant.

Madoka really would be rather shallow if it weren’t for the characters within it, though. Madoka seems like most magical girls- she loves others with all her heart, and wants the best for them. However, she doesn’t make decisions rashly, as is shown in her actions throughout the series. Her friends are fully fleshed-out figures, all of them people who want nothing more than the happiness of the people they love, and yet make mistakes along the way or fail to do so regardless. They have all been hurt in some way, but continue to fight. They never truly lose hope for the world. It is through the trials and their tribulations that you see Madoka grow as a character. She watches, but takes everything in and learns from it, making a decision that is more than any mahout shoujo show before her has dared go.

Overall, this was a brilliant take on the genre, and definitely something every fan (and even non-fans) should watch.

Recommended: 13+. The nudity is never more than your standard magical-girl nudity, and most episodes only shows up in the opening sequence. The language level is low, with a bare minimum of cursing, the worst of it being the word for illegitimate child being used once or twice. There are perhaps two instances of swearing besides that. The worst of the violence is when you see one person’s head being bitten off- this is NOT shown in graphic detail, you merely see the outline of it happening, and it is brief. Besides that, you have blood spatter, some cuts, and see girls’ dead bodies which are left intact. Most violent stories are told with what looks like animated puppets, and the violence is merely implied, though you see the aftermath (but as it’s shown symbolically with those puppets, it isn’t as bad as one would think). Some of the worst violence happens to Kyuubei, who is shot full of holes (no blood or gore), shot so he explodes (again, no blood or gore). During one brief scene, two adults are drinking in a bar.

For those who have religious sensibilities, think of Madoka as a Christ-figure.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Princess Tutu (anime)
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha (anime)
Mai-Hime (anime or manga)
Revolutionary Girl Utena (anime)
Bokurano (anime or manga)
Serial Experiments Lain (anime)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

"Country Boys" - Popcorn Romance (manga) - 6/10 Flowers

Summer Lovin', Happened So Fast! ~Grease

Genre: Slice-of-Life/Shoujo

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the UShttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

Art: It’s so very 90’s- super-big eyes, dated styles for the hair and clothing, and overall doesn’t seem that clean or sleek.

Summary: A pair of metalhead brothers were psyched. They made their onstage debut when disaster struck… one of them collapsed. So to recuperate they decided to rest at their grandfather’s farm in the country… but now the farm might be turned into a golf course… what are they going to do… and what’s to become of the love they left behind in the city?

Review: When I opened this up, I could tell how old the manga was by the look of the art. Once I got past that and was able to focus on the story, I discovered a sweet, short little romance. The premise is believable- a boy with a genetic disorder, that could potentially kill him, needs to go to the countryside to recuperate. His brother comes with, leaving his girlfriend that he loves behind in the city.

They’re immediately put to work, harvesting potatoes, dealing with a few fans that live in town… and discover that they really enjoy the countryside, with its beautiful views and unspoiled wilderness, and try to find a way to keep the golf course from being made.

It’s the execution that sometimes is downright silly. Zenta has a talent for singing the wild beasts to him (a reference is made to this being like Sleeping Beauty). He’s thoughtless and has a tendency for forgetting his medicine. Overall, though, even though it’s incredibly idealistic, it’s not a bad story. The only things that I really had a problem with were some very regional and historical references- for instance, one of the women in the forest is freaked out by Zenta and thinks that a Russian soldier is roaming around. This would require some knowledge of history to really realize why it is funny.

I think that I preferred the bonus one-shot that was included in the manga, ‘The Magic of Love’. It dealt with something that you rarely see in manga or anime- a girl who’s self-confidence is wrecked by her bad acne. What was really nice was how the guy who liked her was able to look past her acne and see the sweet girl that was underneath. With more modern-looking art, and dealing with a very common subject and problem with teens, I really thought it was a great little story.

Overall, it was a nice, short read, but not something I would ever buy.

Recommended: 5+. No language, no nudity, the only thing that might be an issue is one of the brothers is very girly (and I mean, looks really girly and has a penchant for girl’s clothing). This is played for laughs, since he doesn’t like people thinking that he’s a girl… although even though he’s pretty manly when he’s all grown-up, he does wish that he could pull off a wedding dress like his brother’s bride does. At one point, just to have some fun, he does dress up in a dress to sing to the animals. One of the weasels is hit by a car, though there is no blood or gore, and the animal does live.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Yotsuba (manga)
Train Manga: A Shoujo Manga (manga)
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (manga)
Baby & Me (manga)
Aishiteruze Baby (anime and manga)

Monday, May 23, 2011

"Fight For Home" - iDOLM@STER: Xenoglossia (anime) - 3/10 Flowers

The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses - behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights. ~Muhammad Ali

Genre: Mecha/Action/Romance/Sci-Fi

Review Status: Complete (26 Episodes/26 Episodes)

Licensed: No, this anime is not licensed in the US

Art/Animation: Decent. It’s slightly better-than-average. The CG blends in decently well, too. But the art is very typical, cookie-cutter designs.

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub for this anime.

Summary: 107 years ago the moon shattered, the earth has flooded, and giant robots called iDOLs (Made in Japan!) are used to save the earth from stray meteorites. Highly trained pilots are needed to pilot them, and so periodically they search for new candidates. Who else is suited to pilot them better than cute teenage girls?

Review: *Sigh*

*Bigger sigh* Okay, having been a fan of anime and various review sites for a long time I knew the perils of randomly downloading anime. Did I listen? Consider this show my slap on the hand. My way of looking at it? This could have been worse.

Haruka Amami wants to be an idol, so she goes to the local tryouts and – SURPRISE! She’s recruited by an agency to be their newest idol. Little does she know that the agency is a front for another agency that controls the Idols (the mecha, not the girls) and uses them to save the world. (And just out of curiosity, why does Japan always control all the big machines? Couldn’t they crash-land in, say, Australia? Or Costa Rica? Canada?! Nooo….). In any case, she moves to the big city and must learn to pilot an Idol while becoming one herself. (P.S.- The robots can only be piloted by females. Echoes of Mai Otome?)

Probably my favorite character in this series was Haruka’s best friend Yayoi, a rising idol herself, who dressed up as a penguin (Haruka’s favorite animal) to greet her when she arrived in the city. That was sweet. However, wearing the penguin suit for nearly the entire series did become rather tiring. My second-favorite was one of Haruka’s mentors who kicked butt in a skintight suit. The rest of the characters were a rather bland bunch, with average personalities and standard character designs. Not that the bad guys were much better, though. Of course, my favorite butt-kicking character just happened to have an evil twin *gasp*. Then there was the mandatory evil little girl who was really just a spoiled brat. My one joy was that she walked around with a permanent swirly, which I deemed divine justice for having her in the show in the first place.

With decent animation, somewhat well-blended CG, indifferent OP and ED themes, and a well-worn storyline, I would give the first half of the series a dubious three stars.

Then around episode 17 or 18, things started getting really weird. It was like they had a checklist of ‘things to put in to disturb and/or annoy viewers’! The mentor not only had an evil twin, but was an android and had an affair with her ‘creator’ and father-figure. Android insertion? Check. Creepy incestuous theme? Check. Angsty Sasuke-like betrayal of Haruka’s best IdolMaster friend? Double check! Yet another betrayal of a best friend? If you haven’t got the idea by now, you never will.

As this is also a mecha show, I should say something about that. The robots themselves are decently designed- I mean, there are only so many variations on the same basics that you can make. They also have consciousnesses. They choose their pilots, they reject their pilots, there’s angst between the pilots and the robots, robots feel rejected… And by the end of it all, Haruka and her Idol, Imber, have a disturbing semi-romance going. Don’t ask.

Overall, the ending did make me shed a tear, it was because I realized what a monumental waste of time this was.

Recommended: Not in this lifetime! 16+, though. The first thing you notice in the first episode is you get a good upskirt view of Haruka. This does also have some disturbing themes. There is a massacre of a base, and you do see the guns firing. Some of the people killed are young teens. There are some shoujo-ai themes going on, but these are never taken beyond extreme hero worship and obsession with raising their opinion. There is also some implied incest-while the androids aren’t really blood related to their creator, he nonetheless raises them from child-forms, and this later turns into a sexual relationship with at least one of them. You never see anything beyond them kissing, though. Skimpy and/or tight outfits abound, and in one scene, the little girl is shown to be controlling things from a bathtub. This gets very racy, since at one point she stands up- the most you see is her legs. It’s not the innocent bathing vibes you get from Totoro, it’s much creepier.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Bokurano (anime and manga)
Macross Frontier (anime)
Eureka 7 (manga and anime)
Cowboy Bebop (anime)
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (anime)

"Dancing In The Sun" - Rideback (anime) - 8/10 Flowers

I do my thing and you do yours. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, then it is beautiful. If not, it can't be helped. ~Frederick Perls

Genre: Sci-fi/Mecha/Action

Review Status: Complete (12 Episodes/12 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US.

Art/Animation: Thirteen episode runs usually don't get the budget that they probably should, but Madhouse did it again! With some astounding CG (though it can seem somewhat out-of-place occasionally), and smooth, wonderfully done animation, several scenes in this rival the best- definitely worth spending the time to see!

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub.

Summary: Ogata Rin, an aspiring ballerina, is injured and unable to dance any longer. She joins the Rideback club to try and remake her life, but falls into the crossfire between the GGP and the rebels, and must find a way to survive as those around her are also pulled into the conflict.

Review: Aw, man, what do I say about this one?

I don't really know. Um... Characters! That's always a good place to start. Well, first off the designs were a bit off-putting- until I got used to them. With elongated faces and rather gangly bodies, it wasn't the standard design. But, like with Romeo x Juliet, once I had watched partway into the first episode I got accustomed to them. Now I can't imagine the characters looking any other way. As for the characters themselves, the only one you get to know really well is the protagonist, Ogata Rin, and how she came to be riding the Ridebacks. It was a bit of a shame, though. The series was only 13 episodes, but it could have- should have- run for a few more. Crunching a 10-volume manga into a 12-episode anime rarely works out well.

Music-wise, I want the ED song badly. I want it so badly I can almost taste it. The rest of it, while nothing spectacular, is still quality work. There is no time at which it fails to properly convey the mood, and at the important scenes it becomes ear candy. Soft piano is the name of the game, with a bit of techno-rock thrown in. A bit of a mixed bag, but nice all the same. The sore spot for me? The opening. The first episode didn't have subtitles, so I ASSUMED they were speaking, for the most, part, in another language. And I enjoyed it. Nope! It was just really, really bad Engrish. I cringed and plugged my ears after I saw the lyrics. You might, too.

The story itself is tight. There is no filler. Rin joins the Rideback club, saves a friend, is mistaken for a terrorist... Yeah. As much as I hate to say this, there should have been a few more episodes. I would have liked for the story to go more into the friendships developing in the Rideback club- it seems like everybody becomes friends really fast (though that can happen in times of trouble)- and some more info on what's happening between the GGP and Japan. They tried to make it clear, they really did, but I still did not get the finer points of things- like why the GGP was in Japan in the first place.

Of course, those things really aren’t what the show is about in the end- it’s about Rin and her mother, her struggle with her mother’s memory, and breaking away from those expectations and disappointments to become her own person- essentially what the last episode is saying. It does seem to come out from the background at the last second, but nevertheless is uplifting to see.

Overall, this is one I would highly recommend to anybody- this is one that, had it been less crunched for time, would have been a classic. Still is, in my opinion, if only for the first 11 episodes.

Recommended: 13+. There really is very little objectionable content here- perhaps a glimpse of undies as Rin flies into the sky on her Rideback (once), and later in the series, a dear friend is implied to not only be injured, but killed by the GGP. None of it is shown.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Macross Frontier (anime)
Rainbow (anime and manga)
Planetes (manga and anime)
Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge (manga)
King of Thorn (manga)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

“Bad Girl In Town” – Serenity (manga) – 3/10 Flowers

You can tell the size of your God by looking at the size of your worry list. The longer your list, the smaller your God. ~Author Unknown

Genre: Comedy/Christian/Romance/Slice-of-Life

Review Status: Incomplete (5 Volumes/10 Volumes)

Licensed: This is not only licensed in America, it’s an OEL.

Art: Doujin-quality. Obviously heavy on the computer graphics and colorization. More like American comics than manga, honestly. Plus, the artists have no fashion sense and have her run around in the most ridiculous/ugly outfits they can think of to try and emphasize how ‘counter-culture’ she is. At least, I’m hoping that’s the case.

Summary: Her name is Serenity Harper and she’s one obnoxious little bundle of attitude, anger, and animosity. Can the care and concern of Derek, Kimberly, and the rest of the Prayer Club break through Serenity’s tough shell- and prove to her that true love does exist? (from the back cover of the first volume)

Review: Having seen this manga being reviewed on a blog I semi-follow, I decided to pick it up. I had read this many years ago and recalled being less than impressed. Were my reactions justified?

As you can see from my score, yes. The plots in the volumes are disjointed from the beginning. It jumps from one scene/plot/idea to another with little to no breathing room. When it does that, it really doesn’t give the stories that are there the time or thought that they need. Some don’t need half a volume, no, but others really need some fleshing-out. Still more, such as the story of the abandoned baby, seemed entirely out-of-place. While they were supposed to show her growing/becoming more mature (I think), it really should have been put later in the manga- if it went in there at all. The fourth/fifth volumes are where the author finally settles down and manages to devote an entire volume to a singular plotline, ones that finally flowed well with each other. Since that is about halfway through the series, I was less than impressed.

But what is a plot without characters? What’s funny, is that for all her shortcomings, Serenity is the one character you can sympathize with the most. She swears, drinks, does drugs, has had premarital sex… and yet is depicted as someone who just has problems that need to be overcome, just like anyone else. More of a product of a mix of things, rather than just being bad through-and-through. I wish I could say the same about the rest of the characters. The Christians come off far worse. They outright tell her she’s going to be their ‘pet project’. Who wouldn’t be flattered by that? It’s not like they’re saying they’re going to be her friends, and yet really don’t care about her friendship or anything. They’re obnoxious, blackmailing her into going to Prayer Club. Thankfully, they do get better as the story goes on, but they still remain rather flat characters due to not getting any development. Even so, I couldn’t get that first volume’s impression out of my mind, and that colored a lot of their actions.

The rest of the school confuses me. A lot. I’m very sure this is supposed to be a smaller town in America, yet the kids in Prayer Club are the only Christian kids around- not exactly an accurate picture of small-town America, where it’s not being Christian that will make you an outcast. Serenity shouldn’t have any issues finding friends outside of Prayer Club, even with her drug use, as a lot of those Christians in small-town America are, indeed, also doing drugs. But again, it’s something that gets her cast out or ignored by the rest of the student population.

The worst bit is how everyone who isn’t Christian is depicted. They’re all rough, crude, mean, somewhat psychotic people. My issue is that they don’t get better- even Serenity’s mom, who goes through a revelation in the third or fourth volume that she hasn’t been a good mom. My major issue with this is that I know people who aren’t Christian. I have friends who aren’t Christian. I have family that isn’t Christian. I was not Christian for most of my life. These depictions anger and frustrate me on a level that I cannot properly convey with the English language. And yet, there are Christians out there who will read this, who know people who aren’t Christian and yet will completely accept these depictions without question, because of how common it is in Christian literature. They will not question it- they will accept it as truth even though logically they know it’s not. Well, I’m not taking it! I’m saying here and now if that you mindlessly accept these stereotypes, then you SHAME me!

To top off this little joyride, the issues that are presented are shallow, and perhaps the biggest reason why I don’t think this would move anyone over the age of 10. Her biggest issue is how to pray. She is a thinking, rebellious teenager- praying is the smallest issue they have! There is no struggle with how a good God can allow evil to be in this world. Why anyone should believe that a guy came back from the dead. The ideas behind the Trinity, even! None of it comes into play. Even with that shallow, silly question, there is no struggle when her prayers are not answered. Serenity continues to pray and talk to God. She’s Christian by the third volume, whether or not she admits it or realizes it. Any denial is merely pretense to drag the story out longer.

Her own personal struggles are just as meaningless, and resolved with the snap of the author’s fingers. This girl has a drug issue- and yet, we never see her doing them, going through withdrawal, and when she’s offered some after a few weeks of going without? Able to turn it down without a problem. Swearing is solved just as easily by the second volume. It’s merely been days, yet she is able to break or change the habit she’s probably had for years. I’m calling it out on being completely unrealistic. All her little struggles and issues are fixed with the same ease.

This manga isn’t without its own little theological issues, though. One of my berserk buttons was hit in the first volume when the pastor says that New Age beliefs were Christian values, watered-down without any higher moral authority. This isn’t true in the least, though going into that is complicated and wouldn’t answer everyone’s questions, I’m sure. Another thing that bothered me a lot was the sidebar into divorce and how it messes up kids. Obviously, Serenity is supposed to be the poster child for this, but I’m very sure that I know children from broken homes that have fewer issues than I do. And then there was the issue with speaking about religion on school ground. Buzz Dixon, our author, shows exactly how familiar he is with this law (not at all), by making it against the rules to even say you’re Christian or be asked a person question by the students about Christianity.

This isn’t to say that it doesn’t have its moments. It does. Some of the humor does hit, some of the situations are vaguely amusing. But the outdated slang, the unfunny humor, and the numerous other issues I have described made this a series that I would rather not pick up again.

Overall, all these issues made the series a slow, frustrating read.

Recommended: I would only consider borrowing this from the library for my five-year-old neighbor. Consider it- not necessarily do it. This isn’t worth the time or energy to search out unless that’s who you’re going to be giving it to. Any swearing is done with comic-strip symbols. The sex is alluded to, and she merely says that she’s going to have him (he is shown taking a cold shower- waist-up picture, there). It doesn’t actually happen, though. She does end up wearing some daisy-dukes and one of those tops that ties in back with a string.

Other titles you might enjoy:
High School Debut (manga)
Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight (anime)
Gakuen Alice (anime or manga)
Aria (anime and manga)
Aishiteruze Baby (anime or manga)
Train Man: A Shoujo Manga (manga)

Friday, May 20, 2011

"The Magic Of Summer" - Someday's Dreamers: Summer Skies (anime) - 3/10 Flowers

There are no failures - just experiences and your reactions to them. ~Tom Krause

Genre: Drama/Fantasy/Romance

Review Status: Complete (12 Episodes/12 Episodes)

Licensed: No, this anime is not licensed in the US

Art/Animation: For about 75% of the time, they took pictures of various places in Japan, or even a few short clips of video, and animated the characters on top of them. You get to see some beautiful scenery, and somehow it works.

But maybe that's because, with bargain-basement character designs and animation, anything would look good in comparison. The designs were simple and uninspiring- incredibly undetailed (though I seem to recall one close-up where you could read the Japanese on a coke can. Did they blow their budget on that?!). The designers would often pull cheap tricks- focusing on an inanimate object while the characters talked in the background. In many scenes the characters were in the distance, where their bodies turned into shapeless blob. I thought they bore a strong resemblance to the star-people in Howl's Moving Castle, but that isn't a compliment. The animation is also incredibly jerky, with hardly a smooth motion to be seen. If you liked the animation style and overall quality of the original, I'm sorry- this will be a BIG step down.

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub for this.

Summary: Sora wants to be a mage like her father was. So to get licensed, she travels to Tokyo, attends classes, and practices her magic, bringing hope and light into her customers’ and classmates’ lives.

Review: As a fan of the original Someday’s Dreamers, and decently fond of the sequel ~Spellbound~, I figured that picking up and seeing this title might be a good addition to my own little fandom. I regret it with every fiber of my being.

What helped perk up the sorry animation and complimented the scenery was the music. The opening song was appropriate for the general feeling of the first eight episodes- bright and perky. But since low budget is the name of the game, most of the time there is no background music, just every day noises (you know, birds chirping, traffic noise, etc). But when there is background music (usually in the form of one song per episode sung by a street performer), its also bright and really not too bad in a folksy type of way. The ED song was lovely, though. Unfortunately, it's just not enough to save this one.

The story? Well, the generals follow the original. Magic isn't feared, and you have to get the equivilent of a degree to use it, just like for any other professional job. And those who are licenses must grant the wishes of anyone who asks. For the first eight episodes it's light-hearted and sweet, with characters that are, well, stock characters- light. Sora is your average sweet-natured magical girl trying to become a mage. And her dad is dead. That's really all there is to her! There's no depth to her character. None of the other characters are any better- her love interest is struggling with himself, since his father is a mage and he doesn't like his father. The classmates are one-dimensional (though there was a story arc going into one of their backgrounds/struggles, but that was really unnecessary due to the time constraints, and didn't help the main characters at all).

So there's really not much depth to them, but since that's also the nature of the story, well... If you read the synopsis, then you have the plot. They go to class, learn how to help pepole with their magic, fail at some things, achieve others, save a few dolphins along the way- you know, what they normally do in this sort of show. But then the story gets depressing. At episode 9 something happens that throws the whole feeling off and it never really gets better. It was abrupt and unforeseen, and really causes some unnecessary mood whiplash.

The ending is depressing and, quite frankly, you know its coming, they TELL you it's coming, but that doesn't make it any better. Best way to describe it is WTF?! While it may add 'drama' to the story, it feels forced, like the writers decided at the last minute that they didn't like the main character and this was the most logical and dramatic way to get rid of her.

Overall, I would stick with the originals and pass up this terrible excuse for a drama.

Recommended: NO! Ugh. If you must, 13+, as the scene that causes all the unnecessary drama seems sexual (but is not! It just appears that way from the viewpoint of one of our mains), and lasts a few moments.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Someday’s Dreamers (anime or manga)
Aria (manga and anime)
Ballad of a Shinigami (anime and manga)
Someday’s Dreamers ~Spellbound~ (manga)
Kamichu! (anime or manga)
Natsume’s Book of Friends (anime or manga)
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (anime)
Yotsuba&! (manga)

“Who, What, When, Where, Why”- King Of Thorn (manga) – 10/10 Flowers

Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope. ~Anonymous

Genre: Action/Horror/Sci-fi /Psychological

Review Status: Complete (6 Volumes/6 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US. However, as Tokyopop is the licensor, its future status is undetermined.

Art: Crisp, clear, reminiscent of FMA in the angular facial and character designs. Plays heavily with light and shadow, with heavy shading.

Summary: Two twins, separated by fatal illness and a selective cure. Kasumi and her sister, Shizuku, were infected with the Medusa virus, which slowly turns the victim to stone. There is no cure, but of the two only Kasumi is selected to go into a sort of cryogenically frozen state along with 159 others until a cure is found. At some point in the undetermined future, Kasumi awakens to find herself and others who were in suspended animation in an unfamiliar world with violent monsters. Resolving to unlock the mysteries of her current situation and the fate of her twin sister, Kasumi struggles to survive in a treacherous world. (Tokyopop)

Review: What do you do when the world you know is gone? When Kasumi awakens from her sleep, she discovers that they haven’t awakened in a world with a cure for the Medusa virus- oh, no. They are in a world that’s who-knows-how-many years into the future, where nightmarish monsters roam the halls of a crumbling castle that they were encapsulated in, thorns grow everywhere they look, and the virus still spreads through their veins.

This manga wastes no time getting to the meat of the story. With everyone in a panic to discover what has happened, most end up getting killed off the bat, leaving us with our band of heroes: six people from all walks of life, that must now discover what happened and why the world is like what it is.

This manga is full of heart-pounding action and twists that are startling. To discover the answers, they travel all over the castle, to various labs and stations. They must face giant salamanders that spark electricity, a frog-monster that spits acid and hallucinogens, creatures like dinosaurs, and human defense systems that have managed to stay running. Along the way they discover things about each other and themselves. Marcus isn’t all he appears to be. Kasumi and her twin have a backstory that might be key to all the things that are happening. Tim and Katherine, a boy who was chosen but not his mother, and a mother that lost her child and regrets it deeply, find inner strength and courage as they face the trials that the castle holds. The other two, Ron and Peter, have the character development of minor characters, yet still manage to play decently important parts. Then you have the mysterious girl and an equally dangerous opponent.

They all are sympathetic to a degree, and seeing what they went through, how they became who they are and why they are behaving the way they are, is absolutely fascinating. It was nice to see solid character development alongside the main storyline.

Not everything is as it appears to be in this manga, and seeing all the plot threads come together is simply fantastic. The virus itself is more than what they originally thought, and becomes a key element in the story itself at a certain point. There is very little in this manga that goes unanswered- the story is tightly-written, the characters interesting and believable, the art clear and the action scenes done well. You can’t ask for more in this type of story, especially when it manages to put so much into so few volumes.

Overall, this is a great post-apocalyptic action story.

Recommended: 16+. This has the worst of FMA-level violence, all the time. People are shown dying- this usually involves limbs flying. There is very little actual gore- it’s mostly blood-spatter shown, even for the worst of wounds (including the aftermath of someone who committed suicide with a bullet through the mouth). This manga isn’t afraid to show bodies, though they are not fresh and, indeed, look more like mummies than anything. You do see a character attempt suicide, though her twin sister stops her in time. And in one scene, you do realize that a character committed suicide (again, gore-less but there is blood spatter).

Fanservice is incredibly low- the one sure instance of it is in an extras page in the back where the author says that it’s hard to draw nice boobs and prefers butts. A few instances where you get full-on cleavage is after a character transforms using the Medusa. However, this is about as fanservice-y as any classical painting. She has been acting as a mother to a young boy the entire time, nearly sacrificed herself for him once, and when she transforms it’s clear that her cleavage isn’t for kicks- it’s symbolic of her motherly instincts towards him, which is born out when she nearly dies protecting the boy. Any other possible nudity (which is virtually nonexistent), is Barbie-doll, or covered up by water/shadow/what-have-you.

The language level is a little high. Though the majority swears are usually not thrown around casually, you do have about 8 f-bombs, 6 g—d---s, and a handful of other more minor swears. It usually levels out between 5-7 instances per volume, with each volume getting a little more intense with the language and more frequent.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Ergo Proxy (anime)
20th Century Boys (manga)
Full Metal Alchemist (anime, Brotherhood, or manga)
Bokurano (anime or manga)
King of Thorn (anime)
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (anime)
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 (anime)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

“So Far Away” – 5 Centimeters Per Second (anime)- 10/10 Flowers

We're two ships passing/At a distance/Through the darkness. ~”Journey On” from Ragtime

Genre: Romance/Drama/Slice-of-Life

Review Status: Complete (1 Movie/1 Movie)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US

Art/Animation: Beyond gorgeous. This is the most visually stunning anime I’ve seen- the way shadow and light plays on glass and objects, the shimmer of heat waves, the rich, vibrant colors that saturate your tv (or computer screen, depending on how you’re viewing it)… There is nothing that I can criticize in this department! The same goes for the animation. It’s brilliantly smooth and realistic.

Dub Vs Sub: It’s a rare day that any dub studio other than Disney manages to do children’s voices correctly. This was not one of them. Both of our female leads were clearly older women heightening their pitch to sound younger. Same for the boy. Also, the acting was far more stilted in the dub, though it got better as the movie went on. The sub edges it out, though, both for the quality of the voice actors and the fluidness of the acting.

Summary: Witness the story of Tatatki, a young man on a journey from Tokyo to reunite with his childhood best friend, Akari. Feel his emotions superimposed on the gorgeous, heavily researched and impressively animated backdrops of Japan as he travels by train to see her. Join Takaki on three interconnected tailes of love and lost innocence that span the minutes and months of their lives. 5 Centimeters Per Second, the speed at which the cherry blossoms fall from the trees, reminiscent of the pace of life as our lives intermingle. (Back of DVD cover)

Review: This movie is divided into three parts: A Tale of Cherry Blossoms, Cosmonaut, and 5 Centimeters Per Second. Each tells a part of the story of the character’s lives. All have the director’s trademark themes of time and distance weaving through them, and if you’re familiar with his other works, then you’ll also see his fondness for sci-fi come into play.

In A Tale of Cherry Blossoms, you see the first couple- two children, Takaki and Akari, as they go through the later years of elementary school and jr. high together. Childhood friends, their relationships is looked on teasingly by their classmates and they were just friends- until a final move tears them apart for a while. There’s something about first love that’s poignant- we remember it fondly, with smiles and regret, since first loves are usually just those- firsts. This dove right into the relationship, most of it narrated via letters, and from Takaki’s point of view: The one who was being left behind as his first love moved, came back, and then had to leave once more. At the tender age of thirteen, he gives a final push to tell her his feelings and make them clear. It’s almost impossible to be drawn in as his struggle to tell her encounters little problems that soon become hurdles, ones that he does manage to overcome with perseverance but at a great cost to their relationship- one that she pays, too.

Cosmonaut is a slice of life later in Takaki’s years, told through the eyes of another girl that has come to love him. Now in his senior year of high school, Sakae doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life, and desperately wants to tell him how she feels. Takaki, though, has his eyes and heart elsewhere. Sakae’s story isn’t quite as sorrowful as the first one, but it nonetheless allows for us to see where he is in his mind, and how others see him.

5 Centimeters Per Second is where the conclusion is. Through music and montage, we see where they came from in life, the little things that they saw and did, and where they are going in the future. First loves are never quite forgotten, but we still go on to lead our own lives regardless. There may be brief moments of remembrance, but in the end, life is what it is.

One of the interesting things is seeing how all these come together to create a beautiful story- distance is told time and again: 5 Centimeters, 5 kilometers, 8 kilometers, 1 centimeter. Time has clearly passed in each of the segments, and at each stage of his life something is happening. And yet, you see how time hasn’t affected Takaki at all... Or one could say that he’s stuck in time, with that noted in a particular background song played in the third segment. There are little things in this that add to the beauty of the movie, such as the background music (exceptionally beautiful piano scores), and how realistic it can seem. After all, who really forgets their first love?

Overall, this is a terrific film, and anyone who has a fondness for romance and first loves should definitely see it.

Recommended: Um, yes! The content is 13+ appropriate, though those about 13 or so might be bored with the slow pace and story that is told mostly through narration. The worst thing that is in here is one short scene where Sakae is wrapped up in a blanket, with one bare shoulder (and I do mean just her shoulder showing), along with the strap of her bra having slid down her arm. It’s a completely non-sexual scene, and in fact, I mistook her bra strap for the strap of a tank top or spaghetti-strap top at first. Takaki as an adult is seen smoking, and a few cans are scattered around his apartment, though since in Japan those hold anything from beer to coffee to fruit juice, you can just assume they’re for pop. There are two brief scenes of him actually drinking in a bar that last for perhaps two seconds during a montage in the last segment, and in that same one there is a scene of Takaki and a girl (assumingly his girlfriend of 3 years) in bed, though it was so brief that I had to stop the dvd to really see what the picture was of- and it was him and her in the same bed, completely covered by the sheets and facing opposite directions.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Voices of a Distant Star (anime or manga)
Kanon (2006) (anime)
Millennium Actress (anime)
Watashitachi no Shiawase na Jikan (manga)
The Place Promised In Our Early Days (anime)
Victorian Romance Emma (anime and manga)
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (anime)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

“Listen And Learn” – Princess Mononoke (anime) – 9/10 Flowers

He who does not understand your silence will probably not understand your words. ~Elbert Hubbard

Genre: Action/Supernatural

Review Status: Complete (1 Movie/1 Movie)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US

Art/Animation: Fabulous, as always! Ghibli’s usual round-cheeked characters look more sleek and adult, while the animation and art is top-notch: Fluid, smooth, and brightly colored. The fight scenes are astoundingly fluid and a treat to watch.

Summary: Inflicted with a deadly curse, a young warrior names Ashitaka sets out to the forests of the west in search of the cure that will save his life. Once there, he becomes inextricably entangled in a bitter battle that matches Lady Eboshi and a proud clan of humans against the forest’s animal gods… who are led by the brave Princess Mononoke, a young woman raised by wolves! (from the back of the DVD cover)

Review: “You’re under a curse? Well, so what? So is the whole d--- world.” These are the words of one of the characters, a truth that echoes throughout the story of Princess Mononoke. Humans and spirits are converging in a battle around a little village in the West, and it may be a battle to see who survives… and who doesn’t. You see those words describe exactly what’s happening between the two factions- the humans are angry and upset that the Gods do not want them to continue growing and expanding, while the Gods and spirits are upset that the humans raze forests without care and turn good animals into stupid, cruel ones. They are cursed by a deep misunderstanding, an unwillingness to listen to each other, and it almost leads to a great amount of pain and destruction on both their sides.

One of the things that always amazes me is how real these characters seem. The ‘bad’ guys are not necessarily evil through and through. For all the trouble Lady Enoshi causes, she has nonetheless saves women from being slaves in whorehouses and gives them an amazing amount of freedom and equality for that day and age, and shows kindness and care to lepers that everyone else would shun. The wolves and boars aren’t cruel creatures- they are losing their homes and families, and are trying to save themselves. Both sides have valid reasons for fighting each other, none more right or good than the other.

This is part of what makes the story so intriguing and interesting to watch- you see both sides equally, why they feel that it is so necessary to make the choices they do. And that is why it is so nice to see the story develop as the movie goes on. The pacing of the story is slow but sure, with each side eventually coming to a sure conclusion that they must work together in order for them to live peacefully.

There are other small things that add to how great this is- such as how the dub is equal in quality to the Japanese voice actors. The only thing that brings down my score is that the environmental message can come across a little too strongly.

Overall, this was an amazing action anime where man meets and faces the Gods.

Recommended: 13+. There are perhaps three swears in the film, usually the d-word. This has an unusual amount of gore for a Ghibli production- early on, you see a boar killed with an arrow through its eye (just the arrow hitting is shown- no bloodhappened when it is shot), there are soldier attacking a few villagers, and one of the attackers has his arms ripped clean off from an arrow- no blood spurts but you do see the wounds clearly. Some fighting happens, and this includes explosions and some boars dying. Early on, one of the wolf gods is shot. The girl gets the bullet out by using her mouth to suck it and the infectious agents out. A few men fall off a cliff- the implication is that all but two of them die, though their bodies are not shown. Some blood is shown being spat and around her mouth. The ‘curse’ that affects Ashitaka and others can be a bit disgusting- it looks like oily, black worms. The village where this takes place is made up of women that were saved from brothels, and reference is made to this as well as a few flirtatious remarks. Ashitaka does get shot, and he does bleed.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Spirited Away (anime)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (manga and anime)
Origin: Spirits of the Past (anime)
Earth Maiden Arjuna (anime)
Seirei no Moribito (anime)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Guest Reviews are UP!

I have two fabulous guest reviews up an available for viewing. Many, many thanks to Hope_In_Song, a fellow anime blogger, and my brother "A". Both have done great jobs, and I am so honored that they agreed to do reviews!

So here they are:
Avatar: The Last Airbender


Sword of the Stranger

“100 Years Of War” - Avatar: The Last Airbender (Anime)- 10/10 Flowers

- Guest Review by Hope_In_Song

"Now the day has come/We are forsaken/There's no time anymore/Life will pass us by/We are forsaken/We're the last of our kind" Within Temptation - "Forsaken"

Genre: Fantasy/Action/Adventure

Review Status: Complete (58 episodes/58 episodes)

Licensed: This was an American show to begin with, though animated by Koreans.

Art/Animation: The designs of characters, clothing, and backgrounds are done very well. The animation and style is actually quite wonderful. The quality of the art and animation shines it's best during special epic episodes, such as "The Day Of Black Sun" and "Souzin's Comit" that have amazing battle sequences as well as modern-looking war machines that are operated via bending.

Summary: Made in the United States but deeply informed by the graphic style of Asian anime, this animated series conjures up an exotic fantasy world to frame the elaborate saga of a lad born with special powers and a heroic destiny. After Katara and her brother Sokka extract young Aang from his hibernation inside an iceberg, they discover he's the new Avatar: the only being who possesses the air-bending powers needed to defeat the predatory Fire Nation.
(From Netflix.com)

Why is anime so great? It's not just the beautiful art style and the fact that it's awesome 'cause it's from Japan, but also because it's actually a cartoon, an animated series that is frame by frame animation and has a deep storyline to it. You can tell the people who made these anime actually put time and thought into it, writing the stories and doing the animation. Now, check out some of the modern cartoon series we have here in America. I have nothing against American animation. In fact, I am a pretty big fan of the classic cartoons way back when, as well as some of the cool stuff they had in the 80's and early 90's. I just have a problem with modern American cartoons, because frankly, I'm gonna be blunt here....they suck. No plot, horrible animation, ugly designs....need I go on? That's why "Avatar: The Last Airbender" is so refreshing. It's a recent American cartoon (but if you want to get technical, technically it's Korean do to how many worked on the animation) that actually has a good story and looks absolutely beautiful! Sure, it may not be as gorgeous as some anime out there, but I have to say that this series has it's visually stunning moments. Such as the two Earth Kingdoms, Omashu and Ba Sing Sei, and the great epic battle scenes that take place involving tanks and war balloons. And the best part of all....there is actually substance! There isn't just action and visual effect just to look cool, but there is actually reason behind it. This world has undergone a hundred years of war, ever since the last Avatar had vanished.

Our story begins with Sokka and Katara, two siblings from the Southern Water Tribe out trying to catch some fish. They end up coming across a boy frozen in an iceberg. His name is Aang, an Air Nomad, who also is the next Avatar, and sadly the last of his kind. Aang is devasted when he finds out that the Fire Nation wiped out his entire people. The spirit of Roku, the Avatar before him, tells Aang that he must master all four elements before summer's end. Why? Because that's when Sozin's Comet will arrive, giving Fire Benders incredible power. Later they are joined by Toph, a young girl who though is blind is the best Earth Bender in the world! She runs away from home to help Aang learn Earth-Bending. But you can't have heroes without enemies! Our first main antagonist introduced is Prince Zuko, the banished prince. To regain his honor, his father told him that he must capture the Avatar. With him on this journey is his Uncle Iroh, a wise tea-loving old man who is a retired General and has the title Dragon Of The West. He loves and cares for Prince Zuko as if he were his own son, and throughout the series tries to guide him down the right path. Our second main antagonist is Princess Azula, a fire-bending prodigy and Zuko's sister. She is a fierce and dangerous girl who is also very beautiful, and accompanying her are Ty Lee and Mai, though not Fire Benders, have their own deadly techniques.

I am always in awe when I watch this show.

Everytime I watch it, I always say "Whoever wrote this story was a pure genius!" and I'm not kidding. Don't knock it just 'cause it's a kid show. There's alot of action with an epic-size storyline, as well as heartfelt emotion, messages of hope, and never giving up. Plus it is well balanced with plenty of humor, lightening the mood so it never remains in a dark place. I loved watching the characters develope and grow as they traveled through the Earth Kingdom to the Nothern Water Tribe and then sneak into the Fire Nation and eventually face their destiny. Many of the important characters' pasts are shown, adding alot more depth and making the story all the more rich. The character I loved to watch develope the most was Prince Zuko. Though introduced as the antagonist for the series, when you see the episodes that explain his past and how he got the scar on his eye, though he is the enemy you start to care about him and feel sorry for him. You find a young teenage boy who is struggling with the difference between right and wrong and who only wants his father's love. The way his character developes in the story is just amazing to watch, especially by the third book.

Overall, this is an excellent story that I will dare say is a masterpiece. Not only does it have loveable characters, an epic storyline, comic relief, and perfect pacing, but it's really clean and enjoyable for the whole family! I really loved the themes of never giving up, always hoping, and facing destiny, as well as how "Team Avatar" grew to become like a family. I've always enjoyed stories about kids and/or teens doing amazing things, and this one doesn't disappoint. I wish I could say more about why I loved this series, but that would give away too many spoilers. So if you're looking for a series that is fun and clean for all ages, as well as full of stunning action and an engaging plotline, this series is for you!

Recommended: Yes, yes, and did I say yes? This is a series the whole family can enjoy! Very clean. There are alot of action and fight sequences, but they're all bloodless. There are a few flashback instances where it is implied someone was burned or killed, but it isn't shown. The most graphic it gets is when Aang finds out all the Air Nomads were wiped out, discovering the skeleton of the monk he was close to. Romance is kept very innocent, nothing beyond a kiss. As far as religious content is concerned, this is a fantasy and some people have the ability to "bend" a certain element. The Avatar has the ability to bend all four elements. There's also some talk of reincarnation, that when the Avatar dies, he or she is reincarnated into the next nation in the cycle. Aang somtimes journeys into the "spirit realm" via meditation and can talk to any of his past lives when he looks deep within himself.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Cardcaptor Sakura (anime and manga)
Hero Tales (anime and manga)
Heroic Age (anime)
Kaze no Stigma (anime)
Fullmetal Alchemist (anime and manga)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (anime)
Origin: Spirits Of The Past (anime)
Spirited Away (anime)
Thunderkid (manga)
Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle (anime and manga)

Monday, May 16, 2011

“You’re done” – Sword of the Stranger (anime) – 10/10 Flowers

Guest Review by "A"

Power is no blessing in itself, except when it is used to protect the innocent. ~Jonathan Swift

Genre: Action/Historical

Review Status: Complete (1 Movie/ 1 Movie)

Licensed: Yes, it is currently licensed in the U.S.

Art/Animation: In a word-Amazing. It appears to employ a technique of blending the animation onto the background of what seems to be a series of oil paintings. This style serves to provide a sense of antiquity to what you are seeing on the screen as though you’re recalling a past event, and, when combined with the stark detail put into every aspect of the artwork, serves to make for truly stunning sequences.

Summary: The story follows a nameless ronin (a drifting samurai), a young boy named Kotaro and his dog Tobimaru in an epic tale of survival, redemption, ruthlessness, and greed. As Kotaro attempts to escape from Chinese assassins, who seek to use him in a strange ritual to create medicine for immortality, he stumbles across a lone ronin who sees something of his past in Kotaro. And so the two set off together in the hope of reaching safety at the Buddhist temple…

Review: Right off the bat you’re thrown into the intrigue that makes this film more than just your average samurai action flick. The first three-quarters of the movie deal with the mystery and intrigue surrounding the Chinese’ quest to create Xian medicine, and No Name’s past; with everyone maneuvering to either just survive or reap great profit from it it’s impossible to say who will live and who will die.

With nebulous alliances, secret agendas, and enough blood to drown a T Rex, this movie will draw you in hook, line, and sinker. Both of the protagonists had very good and uniquely integrated character development throughout the movie, making for some very interesting story progression. Now, some of the side characters could have had more development than they did, but given that they had to work all of this stuff into a single 2 hour movie the fact that they managed to work even a basic background for each of them into the movie is highly impressive in itself.

As many people who watch anime can attest the quality of the voice acting is the one factor that determines whether you’re turning on those subtitles or going English, due to the industry’s, rather disturbing, tendency to ignore one or the other. However, occasionally you come across one of those few gems that actually put time and effort into making both methods of watching equally enjoyable…this movie is one of those gems.

Overall, it’s about greed, atonement, and a guy with a sword who kicks some ass.

Recommended: Definitely. It’s best for 17 and up, and only if you’re not squeamish about blood and gore. If you are not the kind of person who can handle blood and gore very well then I have just four words to say to you: Stay away from it! Other than that this movie is a ‘Must see’ for anyone who enjoys having mystery, intrigue, and action all in one film.

Other titles you might enjoy:
El Cazador de la Bruja (anime)
Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles (anime and manga)
Macross Frontier (anime)
Seirei no Moribito (anime)

“Time Flies By” – Only Yesterday (anime) – 9/10 Flowers

Growing up is never easy. You hold on to things that were. You wonder what's to come. But that night, I think we knew it was time to let go of what had been, and look ahead to what would be. Other days. New days. Days to come. The thing is, we didn't have to hate each other for getting older. We just had to forgive ourselves... for growing up. ~ The Wonder Years

Genre: Slice-of-Life/Romance

Review Status: Complete (1 Movie/1 Movie)

Licensed: No, this anime is not licensed in the US

Art/Animation: It’s very Ghibli. The characters have babyish, rounded faces and designs. The colors are fairly bright. The animation is fluid and smooth, almost astonishingly so, with a large amount of detail in the tiniest of movements and expressions.

Summary: Taeko Okajima is a typical "office lady" in a big company in a big city. When she takes a sabbatical to the countryside in Yamagata Prefecture, the hometown of her brother-in-law, the journey recalled her memory of her 5th grade year. During her stay in Yamagata, she works hard and happily as a farmer and is surrounded by friendly relatives and villagers, bringing up more memories. Their hospitality makes her to reconsider her choice of life. (ANN.com)

Review: At some point in our lives, we look back and ask where it’s leading. Where are our lives going? And we look back to see how we got there in the first place. Taeko is in such a position, loving her vacations out to the country. This particular trip, starting out with a discussion on how she had turned down a marriage proposal, brings back memories that she can’t seem to shake. From memories of first loves, to how spoiled she’d been, everything brings up a particular point in her life- all happening when she was ten years old.

This film weaves past and present beautifully, with people from her past (including her younger self) running through the present, or signaling that the memory has ended. It’s not as smooth as I’ve seen in other movies, but nonetheless is charming to see the symbolism they present. The memories that are brought up also fit wonderfully with the scene that triggers them. The discussion about the marriage proposal is followed by thoughts of her first love. Hearing a girl talk about how she wants Puma sneakers brings to mind her selfishness. They flow together in a smooth narrative that is a joy to follow.

All the memories make her think about how she was back then, how she loved life. They make her think about where she is in life right now. Things brought up or mentioned in the beginning come into play later on in the story as she makes her important life decisions. The only thing that brings down the score is that, while the ending is very fitting, it almost seems too abrupt or rushed- you see how she and her relative-by-marriage go through mild courting, but the romance in it feels a bit forced in the end. This might be due to cultural differences, since marriage in Japan is treated differently from here in the West, and the way it’s treated today in Japan has changed a bit from twenty years ago.

Regardless, there are few flaws to be found in this film. It’s a rare look at how a woman comes to maturity. The Seiyuu did an outstanding job. The music in the background is used judiciously- about half the film is merely silence and sound effects, while the rest contains various folk music songs that range from the exotic (one is pointed out to be a Hungarian group that plays traditional farmer’s music), to merely upbeat and sweet to listen to. This movie has aged incredibly well, with the issues and themes that it deals with as relevant today as it was twenty years ago, and connects to those in countries across the world.

Overall, this is a wonderful film about growing up and finding yourself.

Recommended: Yes. Goodness, yes. 8+, though this age does depend on how open the family is about the reactions the characters have about learning about periods. Really young children will probably be bored, as there are no magical animals or wild adventures. There’s also one use of the d-word.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Whisper of the Heart (anime)
Ocean Waves (anime)
ARIA (anime or manga)
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (anime)
Planetes (anime and manga)
The Color of Earth/Water/Heaven (manhwa)
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (manga)

May Poll Results!

Wooo! So the poll is closed, and the results are in. I have a three-way-tie between Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Only Yesterday, and 5 Centimeters Per Second. These ones will be up before the end of the month!

Friday, May 13, 2011

“Dreamin’ My Life Away” – Someday’s Dreamers ~Spellbound~ (manga) - 8/10 Flowers

It has been said that we need just three things in life: Something to do, something to look forward to, and someone to love. ~ Anonymous

Genre: Romance/Drama/Fantasy

Review Status: Complete (5 Volumes/5 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US. However, it is licensed by Tokyopop, and it is unknown if it will be picked up by another publisher.

Art: Light, almost dreamy, with soft character designs/expressions. It depends on a lot of shading for its sense of realism.

Summary: In this world, Nami has the power of using magic, but with her clumsy nature she has no mean of controlling it, although it's secondary to the way of controlling her feelings. When she meets Ryotaro Tominaga by crashing his bike, she becomes more and more anxious to understand her first love, while Ryotaro is despising her. Nami has a kind heart and soul, but she lacks courage and spirit to make crucial decisions especially in the last year of high-school. Here Nami and her friends reside in the world of magic, mixed feelings, misunderstanding, unrequited love, hate and passion to realize where they all belong. (ANN)

Review: What draws people together? Shared hurts? Shared joys? The ability to share one’s hurt and joy with those other people? Nami and Ryo are both people who have guilt weighing on their hearts and minds- one of a death, the other of a family gift that brought about a rift in her family. Both are plagued by feelings of inadequacy and the inability to move past these things.

For half the series, this plays out like a high-school drama. While you know that the two mains are certain to end up with each other, and they do end up dating in the third volume, love triangles about around them. Someone Nami simply considers a friend confesses to her, another friend is in love with him, someone is in love with her…. It’s all very typical drama for this genre.

It’s the second half that makes this series shine. From there, they move onto dealing with their issues. With the official couple made official, the friends fall in line with their own love interests (though not all of them end up with the person they wanted. Some don’t end up with anyone at all). The characters then start moving forward with their lives. One of the best things in this is seeing how Nami finds the courage within herself to help the man she loves. It’s not sudden. It’s a gradual build to realizing how much she loves him and his sister, and through helping them, she finds her own path.

It does take a little help from the star of the original series- Yume gets a cameo, as a wise girl who helps Nami know for sure what she’s going to do. And with that, you see everyone moving into the future, no matter what it may hold. While the first half of this may have been fairly unimpressive, the second half made the series very worthwhile.

Overall, this was a pretty dramatic story with a solid, sweet plot.

Recommended: 13+. There are six swears swears (the worst of which is the word a—hole, used once). One instance of Barbie-doll nudity when Nami is in the bath. There are two very short fights, and the worst that happens is a punch to the face in the first. What will probably turn most people off is that one of Nami’s friends (a female one) has a crush on Nami, even going so far as to kiss her once while Nami is sick and doesn’t realize it. The crush goes unrequited.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Someday’s Dreamers (anime or manga)
Kobato (anime or manga)
ARIA (anime or manga)
Kamichu! (anime or manga)
Natsume’s Book of Friends (anime or manga)
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (anime)

“Being Free” – Beast Player Erin (anime) – 10/10 Flowers

In family life, love is the oil that eases friction, the cement that binds closer together, and the music that brings harmony. ~Eva Burrows quotes

Genre: Fantasy/Drama

Review Status: Complete (50 Episodes/50 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US. It's only availible for streaming on Crunchyroll.

Art/Animation: The OP and ED are bright and colorful, with unusual and stylized art and animation. The art through the series uses bright colors, and is simple but effective and well-done. The animation is consistently high-quality.

Summary: Erin is a young girl who lives with her mother in a village which raises war-lizards, called Touda. We see her daily life, which changes as she grows up. Meanwhile, there is growing tension between the two provinces of the country she lives in. (MAL.net)

Review: When I first heard that this was written by the same person who wrote Seirei no Moribito, I knew that I would be in for a fabulous story. I was not disappointed. At first, this series appears like it’s mainly for children. You have a sweet, upbeat heroine, a fairly typical ‘impending war’ scenario…. But you quickly realize that still waters run deep. People are really getting hurt and dying. Politics aren’t as simple as they appear, with double-dealing and backstabbing and double-agents. And in her little village, Erin and her mother face racism and the inherent fear of being different.

I am astounded at how beautifully and well this was written and made. It’s really Miyazaki made for TV (except Miyazaki drew the line at obnoxiously irritating comedic relief. This is for an age set even younger than Miyazaki, as amazing as that seems). The story flows well and builds on itself. The pacing of every episode seems very deliberate, with one filler episode and two recaps episodes out of 50. The rest are used to build the characters, the world, and move the plot forward. The story is surprisingly complex, with a wide cast of characters and political incidents that are happening, but it’s never hard to follow since it has the basic formula of someone trying to take over the throne.

It’s the incidental happenings, such as the Seh-Zan (the world’s version of the secret service) having internal fights over what’s happening, Erin needing to show why breeding the world’s animals a certain way is better for everyone, the love between two rulers-to-be, that give the story richness and depth. Very few side-plots are left hanging by the end of this story, even though there are enough to make one’s head spin if I mentioned them all. It would also seem unlikely that they could be dealt with in a way that was easy to understand and follow, but they are.

A story like this is nothing without the characters. Erin herself stands as a wonderful character and role model. She faces the loss of loved ones, lessons on how life isn’t necessarily fair, but through it all keeps a strong face. This is no Disney show. There is the death of someone near and dear to Erin within the first ten episodes, and it’s not a kind one though it is in no way graphic. You see her deal with grief in a very realistic, sympathetic manner. It tempers her and makes her stronger in her determination and dreams than ever before. And even when she does make a mistake- a very permanent, painful one- she acknowledges that she was at fault and learns from it.

The rest of the characters are fleshed out almost as deeply as Erin, and if not, definitely play a role in filling out the story and Erin’s character. The villagers from her youth are excellent at showing both sides of mercy and intolerance. While there is never full acceptance of Erin and her mother, some villagers are tolerant of them. Some could even consider themselves Erin’s friends. You also have the ones that show intolerance and anger when things go wrong, and see how quick some of them are to change their attitude towards them. Erin’s mother is also a wonderful character. You see how she hides or shields Erin from the worst of the treatment, yet when Erin does question some things Soyon never fails to explain it without anger in a way that is mature and easy for Erin to understand. Soyon’s wisdom and teachings stay with Erin her whole life.

When you have the time-skip from Erin’s youth to young womanhood, you find other characters that are just as interesting, from Iaru the Seh-Zan that doesn’t know which side he’s fighting for, and must face his own mentor in a battle to figure out what’s right, to many others that bring life to the story. While not all the characters are fleshed-out well, they all have recognizable, distinct, and are not cookie-cutter people. This statement does have two exceptions- Nukku and Mooku, the bumbling villains-turned-good-guys that are constant background characters/companions to our young heroine. If there ever were two stereotypical characters, these would be it. Thankfully, they are relegated to the background except in one episode that they have to spotlight on them.

The characters and story combine to create a show that us undeniably an interesting watch. The world itself is clearly defined, with two opposing factions vying for power, potential rivalries within the kingdom, soldiers that are tired of war… and Erin herself becomes key to preventing a horrible tragedy that happened once before, years ago, and may repeat with horrific results. While the ending may seems somewhat rushed to some, it was still a good one.

This was a joy to watch, and I hope that at some point they decide to put this to DVD. I would be hard-pressed to think of any voice actors who could match the wonderful jobs the Japanese Seiyuu did with the characters, though. The only issue I had was with the translation job that the company streaming it did- one of the animals is a female, this is mentioned within the show, yet the subs would refer to her as ‘he’ or ‘him’. Sometimes they would use both genders in referring to the animal, one right after another! This inconsistency was very irritating.

Overall, this is a great show for the whole family.

Recommended: Yes. 5+, or whatever age you think can handle the idea of someone being disabled (not graphically), and non-graphic death. There are also perhaps one or two instances of the d-word being used, though it is when someone is being gravely injured. There is some sword fighting, and very little blood is shown.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Seirei no Moribito (anime)
Princess Mononoke (anime)
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (anime or manga)
Planetes (anime or manga)
Monster (anime or manga)
Dennou Coil (anime)
Summer Wars (anime)
Macross Frontier (anime)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Heaven Bound Update! (5/6/11)

Well, it seems that Heaven Bound is back- revamped into VN (Visual Novel) format rather than in manga form.

You're still able to read the original manga version

But you're able to download the new VN

Sunday, May 8, 2011

May Review Poll Up

With the end of school this coming week, I will be starting up on reviews no matter what! So my question is obvious: Which review will be first up? The one with the highest score will be the first I post. And so on. Of course, since I do know how dismally the last poll turnout was, there's no pressure on me! There will be one or two I will be reviewing no matter what this month. But input is always nice.

You do have the option of voting for more than one. Do not abuse this, or the poll will be taken down.

Other than that, choose wisely!

Your choices for the poll?
5 Centimeters Per Second (anime)
Someday's Dreamers -Spellbound- (manga)
Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica (anime)
Only Yesterday (anime)
House of Five Leaves (anime)
Our Happy Time (manga)
Fractale (anime)
Castle in the Sky (anime)
Chibi Vampire (manga)
Welcome to the Space Show! (anime)
Macross Frontier: The Movie (anime)

EDIT: Scroll to the bottom of the page to view the poll.