Thursday, July 14, 2011

“A Little Bit Of Life” – Four Shoujo Stories (manga) – 7/10 Beach Balls

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending. ~Maria Robinson

Genre: A mix of Shoujo and Josei stories. Other than that, it’s in the review for each one-shot.

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US. However, it is out of print, and due to when it was brought over (’96), the art is flipped in the US printing.

Art: The art is slightly dated, though still pretty typical for shoujo series. The lines aren’t always clean, but you have long-haired girls and big eyes. Some of the art is better than others. The one-shots collected in this are from all different time periods- They Were 11 was published in ’75, while some of the others date from the 80’s and 90’s.

: In the review for each one.

This collection of stories is was the first shoujo manga published in the US. It’s a bit of a shame that it’s now out-of-print. Four stories from various mangaka that sprawl various genres and situations, this collection shows the roots of shoujo. However, I regret that they didn’t always pick the best stories to be published and really show Shoujo’s abilities. Two were very good, but the other two were poor in execution and story. However, the two that are good are worth seeking out on their own.

‘Promise’ by Keiko Nishi (Slice-of-Life/Drama/Supernatural)
A girl’s who’s become lost in life meets a stranger who is strangely familiar, and helps her gain back some understanding and happiness in life. Reiko always knew her mother wasn’t going to stay a widow forever, but when her mother suddenly introduces her to her husband-to-be, it comes as a shock. Reiko’s feeling as confused and as in turmoil as many people do when their parents decide to remarry- something that’s far from uncommon in today’s society. She has a hard time coming to terms with it and wishes she were dead so that she wouldn’t have to deal with it all- like her twin brother who never got a chance to live. Of course, the mysterious stranger who becomes friend and confidant expresses the idea that perhaps her brother is the one who is jealous of her. Perhaps in dealing with all the stress and discomfort of family life, Reiko is the lucky one. This was nice because it’s so relatable for so many people. While it’s not the best one-shot I’ve read, it most definitely is one for when you’re stressed by family and feel like giving up. 8/10

‘They Were 11’ by Moto Hagio (Sci-fi/Psychological/Mystery/Shoujo)
Only 10 students were sent out in on the mission into space. So why are there 11? Who is the extra, and why are they there? This is by far the best one-shot in the volume. This slowly explores the mystery of the ship- why it was abandoned, what happened to the people on it- while getting into the psychology and suspicions of the students. Tensions start building from the beginning as they can’t verify who is and isn’t a student. Accidents begin to happen and things start centering on one student who has empathetic abilities. Whether these students will survive is questionable, and will keep you on your seat! Good enough to have had a movie version made of it, this is a great story for anyone who enjoys thrillers! 10/10

‘The Changeling’ by Shio Sato (Sci-fi/Shoujo/Drama)
Lin has come from earth to contact and research a civilization started a thousand years ago. What she finds is a civilization that had a revolution 70 years ago, destroying a decadent noble class and establishing a virtual utopia. But why did it happen only 70 years ago and no sooner? What’s the secret behind these people that have genetically engineered themselves to no longer be able to breed with humans? This story is pretty short and to-the point, written in the vein of ‘I, Robot’ or ‘Bicentennial Man’. It isn’t half as sophisticated as those stories, though, and fails to have much dramatic emotional impact when the secret is exposed or when the explanation for everything is given. With such weak characters and a rushed pacing, this is a very weak addition to the volume. 6/10

‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ by Keiko Nishi (Josei/Drama)
The second contribution to this collection by Keiko, this story is about a man who’s been visiting his mistress when an earthquake hits. Enticed to stay, he starts reminiscing about how he met and fell in love with his wife. But was it really love? Or does he love his mistress? What does each woman really mean to him? It’s not as well put-together as her other work in this, ‘Promise’, is. It only shallowly explores his feelings for his wife and how they got together, and his relationship with his mistress is downright annoying. His mistress behaves like an immature child, while his wife lives out-of-touch with the world. The plot is pretty tragic, though, since when he realizes who he truly loves that person ends up dying. Overall, though, this is another poor story. 5/10

Overall, the four stories in here do manage to convey the range of shoujo and josei stories out there, but are of mixed quality.

: 14+. There is a little language, I remember the d-word being said twice. There are two instances of Barbie-doll nudity or where the genitals are covered up. ‘They Were 11’ had alien races involved, and two of them are hermaphroditic until maturation- one never matured and lives an extended life as a monk among his people, another will gain the ability to become fully a man if s/he passes the test they are on. S/he and another guy develop a somewhat romantic relationship, and s/he states that s/he would become a woman for him. In another story, a man is having an affair. No nudity or sexual situations are shown, just his bare chest and some of her legs. Any and all deaths are either offscreen and/or implied.

Other titles you might enjoy
They Were 11 (anime)
Solanin (manga)
Watashitachi no Shiawase na Jikan (manga)
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (manga)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

“The Yellow Brick Road” – Dorothy of OZ (Manwha) – 8/10 Beach Balls

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware. ~Martin Buber

Genre: Comedy/Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Ecchi

Review Status: Incomplete (4 Volumes/5 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manwha is licensed in the US. However, Udon cancelled it at volume 4.

Art: Bold lines for everything- there is rarely a weak or non-existent line to be seen. This isn’t a bad thing- the art is bold, and it suits. The colored pages are brightly colored, and there is great contrast between the blacks and the whites.

Summary: When Mara Shin’s dog Toto gets lost one fateful day, she goes in search for him along some yellow brick road and ends up in the wonderful land of Oz! Everyone starts calling her Dorothy, but these aren’t the cowardly lion, scarecrow, and tin man adventures you remember! This fantasic fairy tale features familiar characters… but with a definitely action animated twist! (from back cover of the first volume)

Review: Mara has been to this land once before as a child. She no longer remembers it, though she has seen the Yellow Brick Road. As her dog Toto decides to go barking down the road she follows- and finds herself in a world that she could never have imagined. This is not the Oz that most people are familiar with- the Witches are actually advanced scientists, at war with each other. Each witch has their own forces and ways of trying to take over, from the clones from the South that have psychic powers (one of which is codenamed “Scarecrow”), to the androids from the North (one of which is codenamed “Tin Woodsman”), and the magic boots of the witch of the east, which age her body ten years but help her access her magic.

It’s a dark, funny, twisted take on the tale. OZ is being ripped apart from the inside and attacked from the outside. All the witches of the Four Points are at war with each other, using their armies, while a force from the outside is insidiously gathering power from others that want to rule. And the Wizard is the worst of them all- someone with real magic and the original owner of the glove that Mara brought back from OZ when she was a child.

It plays with things that we know from the story and other common anime tropes. For instance, Mara -nicknamed Dorothy early on due to a belief that she is the key to a prophesy that isn’t really explained- ends up with magic boots when the Witch of the East dies (and she definitely does not die from a house on her head!). Those magic boots give her a Magical Girl transformation, one that she is fully aware of, as are her enemies and friends. Mara’s friends are all bishies, which is played with since she seems to have a small crush on Abee (the shortened version of “Scarecrow” in Korean). Jokes and crazy situations abound. In the first volume, though, we get a glimpse of the darkness that is taking over OZ, and know that things won’t be pretty. People die left and right, some of them innocent, others not so much. Interesting and violent creatures abound, putting our hero’s lived in danger.

Through it all, they manage to keep a brave face on. I deeply regret that this manga was cancelled early in Korea, at 5 volumes, and wish that Udon would have printed that last volume.

Overall, this was a great twist on a familiar story.

Recommended: 16+. There is some rare language (no f-bombs). There is some perversion from side characters, and of course Mara is self-aware about the magical girl transformation. All the important bits are covered by strips of floating cloth or her hands, though you might see some bare bum. Other characters obviously see the change, though. Some of the outfits for women can be pretty stripperiffic. Tick-Tock ends up in the hands of dwarves, and she starts getting stripped due to the dwarves planning on melting her down for scrap metal. The violence is pretty solidly there, though. People are stabbed, shot, crushed with stones… most of it is off-page, but it’s obvious what happened. You do see dead bodies, but it’s never graphic- just them in their clothes with some blood around them.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Toto: The Wonderful Adventure (manga)
Yureka (manhwa)
½ Prince (manhua)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

“The Final Frontier” – Planetes (anime) – 10/10 Beach Balls

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity..."
- extract of a T.E. Lawrence quote

Genre: Sci-fi/Romance/Slice-of-life/Drama

Review Status: Complete (26 Episodes/26 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US

Art/Animation: Very nice. This goes for a more realistic look to the art, and the animation holds up to standards. There’s some absolutely wonderful CG work thrown in, and while it can be rather obvious where it is, it’s not an eyesore.

Dub Vs. Sub: Dub is pretty decent. I overall preferred the sub merely because the voice actor for Hachimaki puts such energy into his performance, but both are watchable.

Summary: In 2075 AD, regular commercial flights can take you to cities on the moon or space stations orbiting the Earth. But there exists a thread that may seem trivial but left unchecked can prove fatal: Space Debris. This is the story of the Debris Section of the space station ISPV-7 who diligently collects orbital debris to keep space travel safe. Hachirota “Hachimaki” Hoshino, an experienced EVA (extra-vehicular activity) worker, toils away at his thankless job, hoping to one day own his own spaceship. (from back of DVD cover)

: I had read the manga a while ago, so I came into this thinking I knew the story. I was wrong. These are different enough that I cannot compare them on any level, and so will not be doing this review with any comparisons.

The members of Debris Section, or “half-section” as they are oft referred to due to a lack of a full crew, are all working hard to fuel their hopes and dreams. We follow Tanabe as she meets and gets to know them, the perils of the job revealing themselves to her the longer she stays and becoming more than she could ever have imagined. Tanabe herself is a rather naïve newbie in Half Section. She believes in love- that everyone should be cherished, that tributes to it should be admired, that people want nothing more than to be together and love one another deep down. Her idealism is brought down a notch in the first episode, but throughout it morphs into a deep faith in people and into doing the right thing- and she is a strong character for it. Hachimaki is an unrepentant dreamer. He manages to hold tight to his dream of having his own ship for a good long time, and must face demons of an accident in order to cling to them. He goes down the wrong path in trusting and loving others, but manages to make it back. The rest of Half Section are almost as deep and complex, from Fee, a rather mysterious smoker that is willing to face down terrorist attacks to get a smoke and has friends in high places in the system, to Ede, a temp worker that almost never talks, but has a drive and determination to overcome her past that puts many to shame. Even minor side characters manage to come across as multi-dimentional, real people. The first half of the anime is spent developing them, rarely taking itself too seriously, but with undertones that more serious stuff is afoot.

Character development is blended beautifully with the plot. At first it seems like the daily life of the debris collectors- sharing in their lives and loses, discovering the things that keep them in space or away from Earth. It seems very down to earth, with realistic situations involving the hierarchy of the company and various company politics. It soon grows into more than that. Internal and national politics come into play early on- the same episode that Tanabe’s idealism comes against a wall. An early forewarning of a more serious plot is the bombings of the smoking rooms on the Moon- as funny as the episode where this is introduced was, it’s terrorism nonetheless. As the crew of Half Section is pulled into these events during the regular course of their duties, they find themselves mixed up into planetary politics and company politics that have far-reaching consequences for everyone on and off of earth. Friends become foes, conspiracies and double-dealings abound, and subtle maneuvering wins the day though it might not be a perfect happy ending to the situation.

Of course, that’s not the end of things. Not by a long shot. Bad things happen to good people. No one within Half Section is left unaffected, least of all our main characters. And a decision is placed before Hachi that makes fulfilling his dream of going out into space on a 7 year cruise to Jupiter a hard choice to make. It does get a little philosophical as Hachi wrestles with the fears that were left from an accident that occurs during the series, but it’s through this that he’s able to come to terms with leaving and why, and who exactly he’d be leaving behind. He’s lived with his father doing it to his family, and he must figure out how to be at peace with it… or abandon his hopes altogether. The very ending is beautiful- a simple scene of family life that is touching and yet so bittersweet when I realized what exactly it meant.

Overall, this is a realistic and brilliant anime about garbage men in space.

Recommended: 15+. There’s some rough language- I don’t remember any f-bombs being dropped, but at least once an episode someone was dropping a “What the h---“, and occasionally using the alternate word for donkey, calling someone an illegitimate son, and there was one written instance of the word for female dog. Sometimes it was unnecessary and just the way the person spoke (which I can sympathize with as my brother speaks like that), and sometimes it was definitely situation-appropriate. The anime also deals with some heavy themes. One woman was abused and forced into prostitution by her husband, a few characters deal with the idea and consequences of killing another person- when it’s okay, and how one can be brave enough to sacrifice themselves- along with the dangers that come along with their jobs (from being hit with debris, to drifting off into space, to dying of cancer from radiation).

The violence is just a bit worse than Star Wars- most of the instances of death have discretion shots. The first people who die you see some blood fly and then another person moves over so you don’t see the bodies. Many of the shots you see some blood fly and then they fall over. However, there were about three times when the death was emphasized for horror and to show how terrible it was, not by making them gorefests but by making the people fall into another’s arms or other things. There was never anything excessive shown- I actually feel that it was done more tactfully than most PG-13 movies show. As far as sexual content, in the first episode Hachimaki picks up a porn magazine and tells Tanabe (who’s outraged) that it’s a long trip and things could happen between men and women, so it’s necessary. He’s forced to put it back. It does make a cover appearance in two other brief shots in the anime, but one time unless you’re paying attention then you’ll probably miss it. There is some slight sexual tension a few times- they are asked whether they’ve had sex twice, Tanabe is told that having dated for about two months might be the time to do it, and they do end up in a hotel room together. This goes absolutely nowhere, though.

Other titles you might enjoy
Planetes (manga)
To Terra… (manga and anime)
Saturn Apartments (manga)
Eureka Seven (anime)
Moonlight Mile (anime)
Twin Spica (manga)
The Wings of Honneamise (anime)
Real Drive (anime)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Initial Fall '11 Anime Schedule

Sine I'm having some trouble making a thumbnail of this image, THIS is a link to an initial schedule for the anime for the fall!

My early picks on watches are:
Mirai Nikki
Last Exile

All of them look interesting or are related to ones I've already seen/read and enjoyed. However, I would be up for a reader-suggested one if someone has one that they would like me to review! Post your suggestion for it on this post. If I receive more than suggestion, I'll have a drawing for which one I will do.

Monday, July 4, 2011

“Going Back Home” – To Terra… (manga) – 9/10 Beach Balls

We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Genre: Sci-fi/Action/Drama

Review Status: Complete (3 Volumes/3 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US

Art: This looks like a cross between manga and comics from the 70’s. There are some things that could be considered rather shoujo-ish (lots of sparkles, big, expressive eyes), this still manages to stay very close to what we still consider future styles to be like and keeps a nice retro look to it.

Summary: The future. Having driven Terra to the brink of environmental collapse, humanity decides to reform itself by ushering in the age of Superior Domination (S.D.), a system of social control in which children are no longer the offspring of parents but the progeny of a universal computer. The new social order, however, results in an unexpected byproduct: the Mu, a mutant race with extrasensory powers who are forced into exile by The System.

The saga begins on educational planet Ataraxia, where Jomy Marcus Shin, a brash and unpredictable teenager, is nervously preparing to enter adult society. When his maturity check goes wrong, the Mu intervene in the great hope that Jomy, who possesses Mu telepathy and human physical strength, can lead them back home, to Terra… (from the back cover of the first volume)

Review: Humans have a tendency to dislike what they can’t understand. This holds true to other humans, other cultures, and in this future that is depicted, other species. They react to this in many ways, much of them violent and terrible. In this future, humans kill Mu as soon as they are discovered. Since Mu can be found at any age, this means children and adults alike are subject to brutal extermination. All the Mu want, though, is the chance to live life normally back on Earth- even if it’s not among the humans, then at least in peace.

Jomy, a boy who is subjected to many tests for psychic powers over his childhood, is finally captured by the Mu because their leader, Soldier Blue, realized Jomy is the perfect Mu… one born without a disability or weak body as most Mu are, and with strong psychic abilities. Jomy is named the future leader of the Mu- against much opposition and hatred from the rest. At the same time, Keith Anyan, an elite member of human society that has strong anti-psychic abilities, is being raised on a ship that readies humans for their trip back to Terra. He is favored by ‘mother’, the computer that controls the lives of everyone on board. No one knows why he is, but he displays excellent reflexes and very little emotion outside of a drive to get rid of the Mu.

Their stories are told side by side- those of the Mu that want peace and to live out their lives happily, and those of the humans that want nothing more than to get rid of them. There are certain questions that go throughout the story- why does the computer wish the Mu to be exterminated? Why can’t the computer get rid of the gene that creates the Mu? Can humans and Mu really live peacefully together? As the Mu destroy the computers on the ‘educational planets’, Mu children are taken in and cared for by the human caretakers. Efforts are stepped up on Terra to find and eliminate Mu and potential Mu, at any cost. Mu of any age are used in horrific experiments or outright killed. When the Mu finally arrive, there’s a battle of epic proportions- pitting the destinies of both against each other.

This presents issues of being different and change in an interesting light. Neither the Mu nor the humans are always right in their actions- Jomy remains the only character that attempts to treat others with kindness and understanding, though with the pressures and disappointments of command he is not always successful. Other Mu tend to have the same disdain towards humans that humans do for Mu, but never resort to outright murder or violence against them. Humans tend to be shortsighted and easily controlled, except for Keith, who has no past and comes to know he is merely a tool for the computers. How can both end up living together? Can there be peace for humans and Mu?

This answers the question in an interesting way. While the ending is happy in some ways, it is most tragic in others. But both do show that they can live together and help each other when the situation is dire, and that doesn’t change.

Overall, this was a moving story about people who wanted to be accepted.

Recommended: 13+. I can count the scenes with nudity in them on one hand. They are almost all Barbie-doll nudity, except one panel where Physis is in a glass case, and you see her breasts. There was one swear that I recall in the entire 3 volumes. This has unusually graphic death scenes. While there is no gore and the actual injuries are undetailed, people are burned alive, one man dies when he loses half his body to a weapon, another is shot through the heart, and others are crushed with falling rocks. What’s surprising is that as undetailed as the pictures are, it’s the injuries and deaths themselves that are quite brutal.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Toward the Terra (anime)
Time of Eve (anime)
Real Drive (anime)
Jyu-Oh-Sei (anime and manga)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Licensing Updates

Kimi Ni Todoke season 1


Puella Magi Madoka Magica (the mention of this is at the very bottom)

have been licensed! These statuses will be updated on their respective reviews.

Friday, July 1, 2011

“Chess is a Game for Masters” – MAR (manga) – 5/10 Beach Balls

I'm not a fighter, I'm a bleeder. ~Dylan Moran quotes

Genre: Action/Fantasy/Adventure/Shounen

Review Status:
Complete (15 Volumes/15 Volumes)

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

Art: Very typical shounen- large, spiky hair. Clean, strong, straight lines. It reminds me of a better-drawn Naruto.

Ginta Toramizu is a 14-year-old kid who doesn't have a lot going for him: he's near-sighted, doesn't do well in school, sucks at sports, and to top it off--he's short! But Ginta is a dreamer and has had the same dream 102 times, always in the same fantasy world, where he is a hero blessed with all the abilities he lacks in real life.

Then one day a supernatural figure appears at Ginta's school and summons him to a mysterious and exciting new world! In this strange universe filled with magic and wonder, he is strong, tough, agile--and he can see without his glasses! Thus, Ginta begins a mystical quest in search of the magical items known as "ÄRMS," one of which may have the power to send him home. Joining him on this epic journey are his companion Jack and the valuable living, talking, mustachioed iron-ball weapon known as "Babbo," which everyone wants but, it seems, only Ginta can possess! (Source: Viz)

Review: One of my favorite anime starts off much like this one- out of nowhere, something mysterious appears, and the hapless protagonist is taken to another world, much to the bewilderment of their family and friends. However, this is where they diverge greatly. In MAR, the boy is left in the countryside with nothing- no idea of where he is, no way to really protect himself, and no way of getting home.

Of course, he gets caught up in finding ARMS, with his friend Jack, and the memories of a girl that he liked. This being a shounen action title, this takes the main premise behind most shounen titles and condenses it into 15 short volumes- he ends up fighting against the chess masters. The vast majority of the manga revolves around the fighting, and the last few volumes dispense with any pretense of being anything else- it’s repetitive level-grinding fighting, with no breaks in between.

This suffers from cookie-cutter characters and no character growth, to boot. They fail to distinguish themselves in any way! Well, except for Dorothy, a breath of fresh air in shounen. She takes on the guys and holds her own without being fanservice or dirty tricks. She’s just a good fighter. The repetitiveness of the fighting also takes the edge off of any drama or interest that anyone could have in this series. It’s one thing to have a fight where people grow and change. It’s another where fight after fight, back to back happen, that do nothing but show who’s the winner.

Overall, this was a disappointment and a waste of time.

Recommended: Borrow, don’t buy. 9+, as this is a typical shounen fighting manga. No one really dies. People do get beat up when fighting each other, so that means punches and kicks (nothing you wouldn’t see on Looney Tunes). Language is occasional but not very strong. I think the worst that occurred was an incident of the word for illegitimate child. The only thing that might be of particular concern is one incident near the end, where Dorothy’s dress is ripped and a breast exposed. This might be shown in one or two panels- she is covered for the rest.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Hunter x Hunter (manga)
Vision of Escaflowne (anime – series, not movie)
Zombie Powder (manga)
Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle (manga)

“Song of the Ages” – Utahime: The Songstress (manga) – 9/10 Beach Balls

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey. ~Kenji Miyazawa

Genre: Drama/Fantasy/Shoujo

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/ 1 Volume)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US

Art: The art is more airy and sketch-like than, say, CLAMP is. The lines are solid, though, and the shading is done very well, giving the pictures a depth that is nice to look at.

Summary: When the unthinkable happens, it happens in a major way. For centuries, a far-off kingdom has been protected by the nightly singing of the Utahime. This powerful voice is only passed down from one female songstress to another within the Utahime’s bloodline. Then the impossible happens… a male songstress has been born. What follows then is a bitter-sweet and tragic tale revolving around this reluctant Utahime. (from the back cover)

Review: When the natural order of the world has been turned upside-down, what is the nation to do? In this case, nothing- the death of an Utahime has been hidden from the villagers, by the village leader and the brother of the girl who was pretending to be Utahime so her brother could roam the country free. Two years ago he returned in distress at the sound of her voice, only to find her dead, and has taken over the duties of the Utahime. Now the nation’s princess has sought him out, another unnatural birth in this world. They know that never before has this happened, and they are the signs that things should be changing.

The manga delves into the history of the Utahime, the things they must deal with and the pressure they are under. There is a lot of family drama, from Maria who is unable to continue her mother’s work as a songstress, to Kain, who does have the voice of a songstress but is distressed by it, to their friend Thomas who loved Maria and has lost her forever. It also delves into the evils that a country and it’s countrymen will commit and allow when they desire to keep themselves safe.

There is also a one-shot in the back of the manga, titled “Darika”, concerning an experiment to create a ‘child of God’ who brings about enlightenment. The government creates them, attempting to remove negative aspects of their personality, and executing those that find the ‘door’ to those aspects the government doesn’t desire. This is also a very well-told story, quite melancholy, about needlessly throwing away imperfect life.

Overall, though it’s a one-shot, it’s an incredibly touching story of love and duty.

Recommended: 13+. The villagers continue the bloodline by raping the Utahime. An attempt is shown. You see Maria in a pool of blood, though this isn’t a close-up or graphic. In the oneshot, Darika is executed. You merely see the body lying face-down on the ground.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (manga)
Romeo x Juliet (anime)
Ano Hi Mita Hana No Namae Wo Bokutachi Wa Mada Shiranai (anime)
Watashitachi na Shiwase na Jikan (manga)

“Can You Keep A Secret?” – Himitsu: Top Secret (anime) – 8/10 Beach Balls

Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets. ~Paul Tournier

Genre: Mystery/Psychological/Sci-Fi/Josei/Thriller

Review Status: Complete (26 Episodes/26 Episodes)

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

The palette of colors used is dark and subdued, almost dull. It’s a less well-know title by Madhouse Studios, so the animation is quite good, though the CG is very apparent and not always integrated well. Some of the styles look a little dated, but it has been over a decade since the manga came out, and that’s what the anime is based off of.

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

Summary: A newly developed method allows to display the memories of dead people. It is used to solve difficult murder cases. But at what cost? What of the dead's privacy as strangers poke about in their most private memories? What about the effects the imageries may have on the persons whose jobs require going through psychotic murderers' minds and experience whatever emotions and feelings these murderers felt as they skin and disembowel their victims?
(adapted from manga description)

Review: What are the secrets that drive people? Everyone has them. Some just happen to drive people into death and murder. Those are the secrets that this section investigate. By piecing together clues from the memories of those who have died, they discover things about people that are shameful, that are sad, that make them more human and real than just reading a case file.

How does this work? They take the brain of someone who has died in the last two days, hook it up to a machine that can ‘read’ the signals coming from the neurons within the brain, and using those connections they are able to see the things that happened within a persons’ life. It isn’t perfect- they are limited to what that person saw and sometimes heard, and we don’t store our whole life in our memories- there are some random ones, and some emotionally charged ones, and some important ones, but our lives are not stored like movies. However, using the clues within the memories of people, sometimes leaping back years, they are able to piece together most of what happened in a crime. Each case manages to make an innovative use of the machine and what it can do, keeping it fresh and interesting.

However, this isn’t a story about piecing together crimes, although that is a major component in the story. No, this anime is about the people in Section 9. Aoki, our main character, has been brought to Section 9 as an investigator. He navigates the world of Section 9, his own morals, and his family in order to try and find a balance in his life. It’s his questions and thoughts on what is happening that drives the best part of the series- the moral questions and issues that drive the series. The rest of the team all have their own issues and backstories, from Maki, the section leader that has a hard past to deal with, to Amachi, a woman with a slight sixth sense that is brought down in an investigation. Each person gets an episode to get into their characters, and while it does make them more real, they still receive very little character development.

The mysteries, while well done, and the characters, while decently interesting, are merely vehicles for the issues that are presented in the anime. This is all about privacy- how far does one go in investigating using these methods? When is it okay to divulge secrets that may destroy someone’s reputation? What happens when they intrude on another section member’s life? These things extend beyond the cases they work in and into their own lives- Aoki worries about his coworkers discovering his secret lust for his sister should he die and his father has secrets that have a lot to do with him. His coworkers carry similar worries and ideas. And even those issues delve beyond privacy and into things that affect society- you have problems concerning body modifications, homosexuality, and more.

How these are presented and handled creates much of the drama and makes the stories compelling. Everything is well done, but dealing with these is where the anime shines. This has a heavy psychological atmosphere that makes this heavy watching, but a very good show and handles these issues well. However, the anime does have some issues with various plot threads being dropped. The most noticeable of these is Aoki’s love/lust for his sister, which only is relevant for the first 4 or so episodes and then forgotten.

Overall, if you enjoy dealing with moral issues and society, then this is one to pick up!

Recommended: 16+. This is an anime that deals with some very heavy things. One person they investigate is homosexual. Some are having affairs. One deals with body modifications. Aoki is dealing with lust for his sister (this is not exploited or really dwelled on, merely mentioned). This does deal with murder mysteries, so there are deaths. Most are non-graphic, though the details behind what’s happening can delve into gruesome. I don’t recall any nudity, though there was at least one scene where Aoki sees his sister getting dressed and we see her back and the back of her bra.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Mail (manga)
Monster (anime)
Mouryo no Hako (anime)
Aoi Bungaku (anime)
Shiki (anime or manga)
Bokurano (anime and manga)

“Layer Upon Layer” – Serial Experiments Lain (anime) – 9/10 Beach Balls

The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had. ~Eric Schmidt

Genre: Sci-fi/Mystery/Psychological/Supernatural

Review Status: Complete (13 Episodes/13 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US. However, it is out of print.

Art/Animation: This goes for pretty realistic artwork, but with slightly rounder edges. Think Saotshi Kon but a bit cuter.

Dub Vs. Sub: I preferred the sub ever so slightly on this- Lain’s voice was just a tad too high in the dub for me to enjoy listening to her. However, all the other voices were equally good in the sub and the dub.

Summary: Lain Iwakura appears to be an ordinary girl, with almost no experience with computers. Yet the sudden suicide of a schoolmate, and a number of strange occurrences, conspire to pull Lain into the world of the Wired, where she gradually learns that nothing is what it seems to be... not even Lain herself. (

Review: When one thinks of mind-bending anime, Serial Experiments is the one that most people are familiar with, the one that most people will recommend right off the bat. Lain doesn’t start off flashy, nor is it one that goes for strange things right off the bat. It’s a slow build into the strange and unusual. She gets an email from a classmate who supposedly committed suicide… but the email is too recent, too strange to not be from her. In an effort to find out more, Lain asks for a new computer. Though she has no skills, she reads up on them, and builds and modifies. Time progression can be measured in how complex and complicated her computer gets, taking over her room until there is almost nothing left.

While she is doing this, Lain encounters people that say they know her, but she has no memory of having encountered before. She encounters things that were dropped or left by this other Lain, things that allow her to delve deeper and deeper into the wired. As she becomes more involved in the Wired, looking for the other Lain, looking for answers as to what’s happened, Lain begins to open up and make friends. Alice, a classmate, begins to wonder about her, and as she and Lain grow close, things begin to speed up and complicate Lain’s life.

Serial Experiments has spawned a thousand theories- what is Lain, exactly? What are her powers? What is the overall message of the anime? During the course of the anime, many questions are brought up about this. She is obviously more than human- the fourth episode makes that clear. But things are brought up during it that conflict and contradict eachother. Is she an alien? A god? Something more? These are things that the person viewing must decide for themselves.

As those who are close to Lain and come into contact with her fall to terrible fates, and Lain is isolated even more than she was, she must make a decision: Will her presence here make those she cares about more miserable, or should she try to stick it out in the ‘Real World’?

Overall, this was a great anime that threw me for a loop. This is definitely something for those who like mysteries and conspiracy theories.

Recommended: 14+. This has some seriously disturbing scenes in it. A man becomes a creature that cannot be described in words, but is disgusting. There is some drug use. There are several implied suicides and murders that happen offscreen, and one death by fear/psychosis that happens onscreen (non-gorey, just some thrashing around). Because the friendship Lain has for Alice is so deep, this has been accused of having shoujo-ai undertones.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Kara no Kyoukai (anime)
Darker than Black (anime)
Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge (manga)
Aoi Bungaku (anime)
Haibane Renmei (anime)
Ghost Hound (anime)
King of Thorn (manga)
Paranoia Agent (anime)