Monday, February 22, 2010

Bakemonogatari, anime review

In last few days (mostly on last Sunday), I watched "Bakemonogatari", which translates as "Ghost Story", according to AniDB. It is a last year anime, with 15 episodes, although first 12 are broadcasted, and last three will be streamed. I watched 13 episodes; 14th was released just yesterday for Japan, so I will have to wait some time to watch last two. Just a note: this anime is currently in AniDB Top10!

(source: AniDB)

After first two or three episodes, I've got an impression of anime thematically somewhere between "Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu" and "xxxHOLIC", but made in style of "Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei". These anime are few of my favorites, although that doesn't guarantee that mix of them would be successful. In this case it was!!

We follow few days in life of Araragi Koyomi, who is a normal high-school boy (not completely normal, but he acts as one, anyway), who helps various girls to overcame their supernatural problems. This covers similarities to "Haruhi" and "xxxHOLIC". For likeness to "Sayonara...", anime is composed mostly of dialogs and monologues, with sudden cuts in scenes; design of characters is very similar between these two; and voice-actor is same for male-leads of both anime.

Plot and cases themselves are nothing amazing (girl got obsessed by evil spirits or cursed...); one thing that attracted me to this anime (same as to "Haruhi") is romance aspect of story. Of course, every girl protagonist has (at least it's suggested she has) romantic tendencies to main character (it would be too simple to call it a crush). And of course, we know that he likes only one girl (I still haven't watched longer version of "Haruhi", so I don't know how this was settled there, but here is different). All this sounds very naive and simplistic, but I think that in one of older post I already noted that I'm a sucker for romance.

Best episode for me so far was episode 12, where Araragi has a date with his girlfriend, Senjougahara (this is not a spoiler since there is not much of plot). Most of the episode consists of witty and provocative dialog between the two, with a love confession at the end.

From technical side, I already mentioned that series is made in style of "Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei". I admired it much: nice, bright colors, many static images, unique characters (who often wear different clothes)... Sounds are also nice (I notice only bad SFX, or exceptionally good ones), music too; there are five opening and one ending song.

In general, I would recommend it to people who liked "Haruhi...", but also like a bit more adult anime. As I mentioned, dialogs are strongest part of this series (I had to rewind it few times to get it all right), so beware. I found it on Wikipedia that it is based on light novels, so I hope for more episodes in future.

Next, I will do a re-read of "The Black Jewels Trilogy" by Anne Bishop. I have an omnibus edition that I've read year or two ago and find it good. It will be interesting will I change my opinion after I read it again. Next post will probably be after first part of trilogy.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Gantz, manga review, first 20 chapters

Last year or year before that, I watched anime version of Gantz, which covers first 7 and half volumes of manga, but has an alternate end. Many people disliked it, saying it's just sex and violence, without consistent plot and weak characters. I actually liked the anime very much, even thought I was first skeptical, because of bad reviews. After, I checked few times on Internet for possibility of sequel, since there was space for one, but I found nothing.

So, I decided to read the manga, which was a very good decision. I've read first 20 volumes; there 27 for now and it's still ongoing, so I have something to look forward. Story follows a main character, Kurono Kei, is a teenage boy, cynic, with no purpose in life, and with no friends or love for other people. He, and his childhood ex-friend, Katu Masaru, die in train accident and get transported to closed room, which contains a big, black ball and people who also died. They are then forced to fight aliens to death. I know, plot sounds stupid, and since anime doesn't explain much, it probably repelled some people. But in manga, although still many things are still unexplained, reveals much, much greater plot. I don't plan to try to describe it, since I would probably fail, and also, I don't want to spoil it to future readers. But, for now it contains aliens, vampires, SF weapons, international conspiracies, high-school romance, ESPers...

This manga is definitely not appropriate for kids: it often borders with hentai (I wound on Wikipeida that manaka's, Oku Hiroya, favorite thins are "...girls in manga with girlish faces and huge tits that just jump out at you!"). Violence is crucial part of it and there is much of it. Really, much! And not just violence in fights, but also in the lives of characters: gang-raping, massive murders, child abuse... Sometimes I really feel pity for characters. And sometimes also disgust, because main characters are no innocent sunshines.

As I mentioned, beside Kurono and Katu, there are other "dead" people in room. And most of those people die for real. Then come reserves, who also die, and so on. There are main characters that stay alive for longer periods, but don't grow too attached to them (Oku is ever worse that George Martin!). Also, expect surprises.

Main characters are described well and there is much character development, but since this is an action series, don't expect miracles. I liked it because of epic plot primarily, then because of characters. Drawing is very good, although following plot become difficult in places (maybe it's me or maybe I missed some chapters).

In few words, I really liked it, and recommend it for those who like complex plot and violent action series. And don't mind pornography.

I still have few volumes available, but don't plan to read them until I complete them. So for my next point of interest, it will probably be some anime.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mousou Dairinin - Paranoia Agent, anime review

This is a 13 episode anime series from year 2004. I don't know why, but I haven't even noticed this anime until few months ago. Note that I have started regularly watching anime about 3 years ago and at first I systematically watched classics (except mecha-anime). And this anime definitely belongs to classics, so why I missed it until now is a mystery. But, this series is not for everybody, especially not for kids.

It has many surreal elements, much violence and occasional adult scene. It reminded me on "FLCL", but it's much, much easier to follow. On the other hand, although it's fun to watch, you can't do it with one eye and half a brain. In some motives, it reminded me also to "Welcome to NHK" (like suicide-deals and general loneliness).

First 7 episodes follow the plot: there is series of random hit-and-run assaults, where all witnesses accuse a elementary-school boy with baseball bat and roller-blades (Shounen Bat = Bat-Boy). Two cops try to solve the case and discover that assaults are not as random as it was first thought. But, then the surreal elements start! Then follow the three episodes that describe random achievements of Shounen-bat who becomes an urban legend/Robin Hood hero. And last three episodes resolve the plot (or don't; see it for yourself!).

Anime analyzes some psychological problems that modern people and society suffers from, like emotional distancing, violence, running from reality, etc. Although characters at first look evil and disgusting, after you think more about it, they are just regular persons, with some minor flaws in character, that lead them to doing "evil". Example: one of victims of Shounen Bat is a elementary school kid, that tries hard to become best in studying, sports and generally to be respected by his co-pupils. But when he runs into problems, it leads him to extreme... With little imagination, anyobody can end like people from this anime.

From technical side, video is good, for 2004. Nothing special, with good design of characters; reminds me to "GTO". Sounds are very good, and I especially like opening song.

In general, it's a great seinen anime for those who like deep characters and psychology.

For my next interest, I'm not sure what will it be. Although I don't usually read manga, there are two that I would like to read: "Claymore" and "Gantz". They both have anime version that cuts the plot short, so I would like to know what happens after anime ended. Then there is one anime and one book. But it will probably be one of mangas.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Return of the Black Company - She Is the Darkness, part 2; New anime

Today I finished with "She is the Darkness". After somewhat boring first half of the book, second half was much better. There are some revelations and a great ending, which save the book for me.

I'm now clearer about what's been bothering me with this book. Although style is continuation of style established in previous books, I found jokes a bit too vulgar and rude. I mostly enjoy moderately used bad language and curses, but sometimes it goes overboard (like in Joe Abercrombie's "Best Served Cold"). Such was every conversation between Murgen and other Black Company's members.

I was really surprised, but my second objection was actually discussed in book. There is a scene where Croaker reprimand Murgen for being too self-centered as Annalist, and because "he tends to go a lot longer that he need to". After that, I'm much more forgiving for slow pace of story.

About plot itself, it is somewhere between Xanatos Gambit and Xanatos Roulette between Croaker and enemies. Hindu religious motives are big success in my opinion, but that's been seen in last books. Murgen personal experience is sometimes boring, but mostly because of his style, not for content. And One-Eye and Goblin are still funny!

Book is still not one of my favorites, but it's a decent continuation. I plan to buy next installation "The Many Deaths of the Black Company" in next few months, so I can find out what happens next.

In next week or two, I will do no reading. Instead I will watch a 13-episode anime "Paranoia Agent". I've already seen first episode; it looks interesting for now. It's not visually spectacular, but it's from 2004. so it can be forgiven. Judging from comments, its plot is the reason why somebody would want to watch it, but also that this series in not for anybody. In first episode there was already some violence and nudity, but nothing absurd or exaggerating. Next post it will be after I watch it complete.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Return of the Black Company - She Is the Darkness, part 1; Covers

As I said, I planned to post my impressions after first half of this second book. I'm now almost at page 500, so that's somewhat behind half, but close enough.

This book is not fun as last one. I can't pinpoint exact reasons, but I think because of repetitiveness and general feeling that we don't know what's happening. As last one, this book is from Murgen's perspective, and it follows Black Company's invasion of Shadowlands. Murgen is quite confused in this books and that reflects on readers (at least on me). He has great insight on individual events and characters, but he's unable to connect them into greater picture (and neither can I). I hope that later half of the book will be more about explanations and revelations.

Style is unchanged, but constant bickering between characters (that's intended to be funny) becomes tiring after it has been repeated too much. Murgen gave some physical description of characters that really surprised me (especially Croaker's!!!).

In short, book is not bad, but it definitely is not one of my favorites in series.

I found covers of these omnibus editions exceptional, probably the best on my shelves. Here are pictures of them. These, and previous editions can be found here, on Macmillan web-site.

"The Return of Black Company" cover is my favorite.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Return of the Black Company - Bleak Seasons

"Bleak Seasons", first book of this omnibus edition, has slightly less than 300 pages, so I managed to finish it in these two days (of course, it helped that I didn't do anything else yesterday afternoon and today morning!).

Book itself is continuation of plot and style of previous books; someone who had read those will have no problems recognizing people, characters and places. On the other hand, this book is in many ways different from others.

Firstly, it is written from point of view of Murgen, who had the role of standard-bearer (or Standard-bearer!) in last books and now is Annalist. I considered him a minor character (I actually don't remember him doing much) and even after reading this, I still think of him as that.

Secondly, Murgen tells the story from at least two different points in time. One is description of siege of city Dejagore, which happened in last book, "Dreams of Steal" and we already know how that ends. The other is now, which is four years after events in "Dreams of Steal". And more, there is no clear introduction or explanation of missing time, at least until the last part of the book. So, it's a bit hard to read if you are not well familiar with previous books, and even then you keep asking yourself "Did I miss one book between??". Also, it's a bit more complicated than just "two different time-lines", but explaining that would get me close to spoiling book.

Thirdly, this is, I think, first time that the narrator warns readers that his words might not be completely true or accurate! Murgen actually discuss trustworthiness of his predecessor Annalists, Lady and Croaker.

Other than that, book is maelstrom of bad jokes, violence, hardships and hard people. Although plot doesn't advance much (the "now" time-line covers only few days, I think), I found this book a great and easy read (after you recover from first one or two time-view changes). There are even few pages from One-eye's POV, which I found hilarious!

I'm looking forward to next book, "She is Darkness" and I plan to make next post somewhere after first half of this book, which has about 400 pages.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Past posts; future posts

While writing these long posts about Beast Player Erin, that recapped whole episodes, I realized that they probably have no meaning. They can only be interesting to someone who watched this anime, likes it and want to have a discussion about it. This came to my mind during third or fourth post, but since I already started it, I decided to finish it. But next post won't be like that: I plan to write more about my personal opinions and revelations during reading/watching, or make complete reviews like last post.

So, about my next post. I will be reading Glen Cooks' "The Return of Black Company", an omnibus edition that covers two books: "Bleak Season" and "She is Darkness". I already own "The Chronicles of The Black Company" and "Books of the South" and I was looking forward reading next installments. I found these books great. Part of reason I bought them was because I've read that they were one of inspirations for Steven Erikson's "Malazan Book of Fallen". And I wasn't disappointed.

These books are not typical fantasy; they are dark and epic fantasy. Characters in this series are bad and ugly, old and weak, mostly men. Few women in these books are even meaner than men. Also, I found books a bit sad, because characters are mostly old and they are aware that that end is near. Also, after they die, there is no one to continue, for they are last of their kind. This are books about great past and bleak future, at least for our characters. But that doesn't crush their spirit, just leaves it deformed. There are jokes about dying and mutilation, and main characters don't have patience to control their rage. Violence, pain and death are on every page of these books; don't expect much romance and classic happy endings.

I plan to write only few posts during reading, maybe one after each half of each book, to document my enjoyment or disappointment while it's still fresh (I hope for former!).

Also, I'm very anxious to start reading. I haven't read any book for about two months. I was in self-proscribed abstinence, because before that, I spent two months rereading last six books of "Wheel of Time", and after that I quickly finished "Hero of the Ages" and "The Name of The Wind". So, since it was close to Christmas, I decided to rest from reading for a while. I ended without books more that I planned because I order books from Amazon, but not directly, but via my domestic book-publisher and book-seller, to avoid paying delivery fee. And they order books on monthly base. So I timed it bad and had to wait more that I hoped. But now book is finally here and I can say I am happy!

Also, I would like to point to the issue of conflict between Tor/Macmillan and Amazon. You can see more about it here and here (post by John Scalzi). I still don't have opinion who is right and who wrong, but I can tell who will suffer for that: reader and writers. I hope they will solve their problems fast, because this situation helps no one

Beast Player Erin - complete review

There is a detailed description of episodes on this blog, but I think most people would like a brief review with no spoilers, so there it is.

First, from technical side, Beast Player Erin is fifty episodes long fantasy anime (AniDB profile) based on a Japanese fantasy novel. Animation is quite good, although nothing spectacular (though I did saw few beautiful scenes): there are no generic characters, CGI is used only in few massive scenes and there are no sudden quality drops. Sounds, music and voice-acting are also fine, and there are few nice songs in anime. Main strength of this series is its story and characters; I would not recommend it to anybody based just on sound and video. Although there is violence, it's is mostly only indicated, not visually presented; we don't even see blood until second half of show.

This anime covers childhood and life of Erin, a girl who enjoys working and living with animals and later dedicate her life to them. She is raised by only her mother, who is beastenarian in remote village in medieval world and thus is a great influence and role-model for Erin. There are two species of animals introduced which are unique to this series: Touda and beast-lords, which present an important motivator for plot and to Erin's life. Many personal tragedies don't break Erin's spirit and she will grow to have a great influence on future of hers country. Other characters include secret-police members, royalty, teachers, etc.

It is clear that this show was based on a novel, and as anime, I would put it in category of high fantasy; this is no hack'n'slash fantasy. World is detailed and described with no apparent flaws. People and country are showed realistically and dynamically: there are the poor, invalids, racism...

Characters are the greatest strength of this show; they have complex motivations, insecurities, they doubt in themselves. There are no clear bad guys, nor do they act because they are "evil".

Main objection to this show is its length. Fifty episodes are not too long, especially compared to some lengthy shows like Naruto or Bleach, but it's maybe a bit lengthy for this plot. Without repeating scenes, and recap episodes, everything could be shrunk in some 35 or 40 more dynamic episodes. Ending is also somewhat weaker then rest of the show, although there are no lose ends.

I really liked this show, especially because I prefer high fantasy in my literary taste. Also, you can easily connect to characters, and I think anyone can find someone to like here. It is a relaxed and easy-to-watch anime, suitable even for kids, although they will maybe have some problems following more complex meanings and motivations behind character actions. I enjoyed watching it, but I doubt I would ever re-watch it, because it value depends much on plot.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Beast Player Erin, ep. 42-50, spoilers


This post covers last nine episodes of this great anime. After watching whole series, I now think that it could have been easily shrunk to 35-40 episodes, and I see that I'm not alone in this opinion. On the other hand, would creators be able to describe us this world and its character in this level of details? Now, let us see what happens at the end.

In episode 42, Seimya grieves for her grandmother, the late Queen. On the other side of the country, Shunan and his father the Grand Duke are concerned with more practical questions: how to clear the guilt from themselves and how to ensure the future of their country (in not with Holons, then without them). But, Shunan has a plan.

Daimaya comforts Seimiya, the new Queen and tells her not to marry for the state, but for love, because she, as descendant of gods, alone has the right to choose from every man in the world. I must say I again put deeper meaning behind Daimaya's words, and it turns out that I'm right... Ial is in doubt of what course of action he should take, and is not comforted by Kyle's (one of his fellow Sezans) questions.

Shunan arrives to capital to confront the Queen Saimaya and receives a cold welcome. He doesn't bother with refusing the guilt, but concentrates on future of the country and what will the Queen do. He asks her does she really thinks of herself as God and display to her his horribly wounded people, whose wounds are result of fight for their Queen and country. Later, they meet in private and Shunan states his ultimatum: for four month they will meet and if she accepts to marry him, they will together save their country. If not, he will attack with his Touda, and she can use "her Godly" powers on them, if she can. It looks like she would accept if he only showed more emotions and openly admitted his love toward her, but they are interrupted by Daimaya, so we will never find out.

This episode again features that great song about Wayjaku! I found this song best among others in this show.

Next episode shows some more reasons for Kiriku's actions and his conversations with Daimaya. At Kazalm, Erin is worried what will happen next. And then, Queen's messengers (with Daimaya behind the orders) come to take Lilan and Erin to capital. She initially refuses and that leads to some quarrel with messengers (teacher from Lazal beast-lords care center), which again leads to Lilan' attack on them, and Erin's loss of three fingers. She if forced to blow a mute-whistle to stop Lilan, which will have undeniable impact on their relationship. Erin changes her mind and accepts transfer to capital, for her, Lilan, Eku and Owl (primary because she doesn't actually have a choice). Also, she now has some difficulties while controlling Lilan, but she is probably still thinking about her as of her mother, so Erin can use that.

Episode 44 starts with Erin and Kiriku traveling to capital (Kiriku because of his connections to Daimaya). He doubts his decisions, because Erin reminds him on his late younger sister (scene with bird dying outside of its cage is shown at least 20 times in whole series!). During this, in Grand Duke's province, members of Erin's birth village are getting ready for war. She is still being remembered by her childhood friends.

At capital, Erin is cornered by Daimaya, who is acting like he is the King. He gives her his justification about how Holons are more worthy that Wajyaku and asks her to create him an army of beast-lords. To avoid this, she makes up some story how her Mist-people ancestry allows her to control beast-lords. She "proves" it to Daimaya using her knowledge of beast-lords and human psychology. Although this stops one his plan, using Esal and rest of people at Kazalm as hostages, he forces Erin to accept his plan: she will fly on Lilan when they meet with Shunan and his army, and she will disperse the Touda and help prove that Seimiya is God.

Next episode again starts with Kiriku's doubts and reveals more about reasons he is working for Daimaya. Then, we find out that Daimaya propose to Seimiya and she accepted it (I first thought "incest", because it's not uncommon in royal families, but somewhere is revealed that they don't have a direct blood line). After that, Ial is informed about this by Kyle, who also tells him how Sezans are dismissed and their place is to be taken by those anti-Sezans with masks.

Ial meets with Daimaya, who confesses everything to him, but poisons him at same time (with Kiriku's help). Ial runs from him, but is attacked by anti-Sezans. All the rest of Sezans, except Kyle are already dead. Ial manages defend himself, until he confronts Kiriku. He accuses him of destroying Erin's life and putting her in cage, which brake's Kiriku. Ial leaves wounded and terminally poisoned.

In episode 46, Ial comes to Lilan's shed, where Erin helps him with his wounds. Thanks to his special training and physical state, he manages to survive poisoning. They have some emotional moments and he falls asleep in her arms. Daimaya arrives with anti-Sezans to look for him in shed (although Kiriku tried to mislead him, which earned him being chased away by Daimaya), but Erin hides him with Lilan's help. They again have an emotional-filled conversation and they decide she will try to warn Seimiya about Daimaya's real intentions.

Immediately after that, in next episode, Seimiya is having her night of seclusion before marriage. Erin will then try to inform her about her revelations. While she is sneaking away, she is stopped by that Mist-people guy who tries to persuade her to run away. But she says she won't just watch disaster happening, as he had done, but she will try to prevent it.

She arrives at hot-spring where Seimiya is alone and tells her most of the truth. Seimiya of course has trouble accepting the truth in the beginning, but later she believes Erin. But, she doesn't act as I expected: she tells Erin to decide what to do, at the day of the battle.

Next episode takes time during the night before battle. Ial meets with Kyle, Kiriku with Erin, Shunan with Ngan. Ial will try to come close to Daimaya and kill him. Kiriku tried to warn Erin and talk her into escaping, but Erin has already decided to stay and do what she can. Ngan, contrary to his brother's orders, arrived to battlefield with directly under his command. And during that time, Daimaya is watching a play in the snow. Ial and Kiriku accidentally meet and they get attacked by anti-Sezans, but together they win. Ial takes one of their masks and goes to kill Daimaya, and Kiriku leaves in the night. Daimaya and Seimiya watch sunrise together, and then comes the moment of decision.

First part of episode 49 show various character preparing for battle and moment their life will change. Seimiya decided to raise a blue flag, which will show her acceptance to Shunan's proposal, but she is stopped by Daimaya and anti-Sezans. Thanks to Ial and Erin, flag still get raised, which stops Shunan and his Touda, who had already started an attack. But then, unexpected happens: Daimaya had a backup plan. Ngan attacks his own brother and his people. When it all looks done and Shunan is just to get trampled by Touda, Erin decides to fly with Lilan!

In last episode, Lilan and Erin manages to save Shunan and stop the enemy Touda. She even manages to return Lilan from berserk. But then, a new surprise: she gets wounded by an arrow. Lilan save's her and Shunan meet with Seimiya, who then proceed with saving what they can. Daimaya gets killed by Ial, which is probably for the best, because he would never accept this course of action.

At the end, we saw all of them few years later: Shunan and Seimiya together, happy on the throne, Kiriku as traveling doctor, and Erin in marriage with Ial, and her son.

So, a happy ending and a wish this all happened ten episodes earlier.

I actually did like these last episodes, and in no way this means I changed my feelings about this anime, but last episodes are full of already seen scenes. There are few surprises at the end which keep viewer interested, and I think everybody would like to see Daimaya finally revealed as a bad guy, so I think waiting paid off.

There will be a review of complete series posted next, with no spoilers.