Review- The Irresponsible Captain Tylor: The Tale of an Unconventional Man

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The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is a 1993 series done by Tatsunoko Productions who is best known for japanese superhero series such as Casshan, Yatterman and recently Gatchaman Crowds. The story takes place at some point in the distant future and depicts a war between an military group known as the United Planet Space Force and aliens known as the Raalgon who want revenge due to the Space Force supposedly being behind the death of their emperor. Meanwhile a mysterious man named Tylor sees an ad for the Space Force and decides to enlist, thinking it’ll lead him to an easy life. After a few bizarre incidents he eventually ends up becoming the captain of one of the Force’s ships known as the Soyokaze and travels with his crew to participate in the war.

Despite the vague sci-fi plot mentioned above that’s not really what the show is about. The show is really all about Tylor as the viewers along with his crew members slowly start to understand exactly what kind of man he is as he’s a bit of an enigma. At the start of the series he comes across as a clueless idiot, strolling along and doing things for seemingly no real reason and luck being the primary factor in his gradual rise to fame/infamy in the force.

However as the series goes on it slowly becomes apparent that Tylor may not be quite as stupid as he seems or perhaps pretends to be (it’s purposely left ambiguous which is to the show’s credit as painting him as one or the other would kind of ruin things). There’s a lot of things he does that he clearly couldn’t pull of if he were really an idiot and at the same time there are situations he’s put in that he wouldn’t always be able to plan himself out of if he were secretly a genius. He does things his own way and while a lot of it seems to be pure madness there’s a method to it and by the end it becomes apparent that Tylor’s own words are the way he operates: “Do the best you can and let the rest take care of itself”.

Of course while Tylor himself his pretty much the show’s main draw his interactions with his fellow crewmembers also drive the story as they slowly grow into a group of loyal companions and learn a little from Tylor’s way of thinking. The most notable instance occurs in character involving the ship’s nurse Harumi whose real identity plays into things in a large way and brings us the first real instance where we can see that some of Tylor’s shtick may be an act and that he can take things more seriously than he lets on. Some other characters such as the First Lieutenant Yamamoto grow a bit too as he starts off as a by the book solider but gradually learns to bend the rules a bit as the show goes along which eventually ties into the final couple of episodes where the show’s main lesson is more or less spelled out.

While the characters are the show’s greatest strength, the narrative does suffer from some minor issues. The major battle between the Raalgan the Space Force, while done in a rather glorious manner, is done kind of anti-climatically and though the series is mostly clean of clear-cut villains, the one really notable villain, the Raalgan empress’s advisor, never actually gets to accomplish much of anything and eventually thrown into the backburner by the time the finale arrives.

The production values for the show are pretty typical of 90’s series and the animation is generally solid though the character designs are a bit aged. The orchestral music for the series is also pretty good with a few notable tracks here and there and the opening theme song “Just Think of Tommorow” is pretty catchy and sets the mood for the show well.

The english dub of the series houses one of the first notable roles from legendary voice actor, Crispin Freeman as Tylor, and though it was before the time where his career took off and and he became popular, he does a solid job contrasting Tylor’s goofiness with some of the depth underneath. The supporting characters provide decent but mostly forgettable performances but the dub is servicable enough to get by and worth listening to if only to hear Crispin Freeman act like a goofball for 20 minutes.

How much you enjoy The Irresponsible Captain Tylor will largely depend on your assesement of the lead character himself.  Is he a idiot? Is he a brillaint mastermind? The show never fully answers that question but it’s an enjoyable experience trying to find out exactly which it is and it makes more a pretty interesting ride along the way.

Overall: 8.5/10

Available on Hulu

 

 

Review- Okami-san and Her Seven Companions: Doesn’t Quite Bear It’s Fangs

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Okami-san and Her Seven Companions is a 2010 series done by JC Staff. The story depicts the tale of a girl named Ryoko who’s also known as Okami-san (the wolf) who is a member of the Otogi Academy’s, Otogi Bank, a club designed to handle student requests in exchange for favors (no not that kind) to be repaid later on. One day while returing home from the club she encounters a boy named Ryoshi who’s known for not particularly standing out and has a fear of being stared at by other people. He confesses his love for Ryoko and though she rejects him on the spot he soon ends up joining the club in an attempt to get closer to her.

The show is mostly a comedy and a fairly self aware one, as the narrator frequently comments on some of the pandering and zaniness that occurs. Though the show is rarely laugh out loud funny it manages to be a pretty fun romp in that aspect. It also balances the growing romance between the two leads fairly well as Ryoko slowly starts to become attracted to some of Ryoshi’s better qualities.

Drama and characterization are also a fairly big thing for the show. Though the show is called Okami-san and Her Seven Companions only a a few of the group members are given some serious focus but the focus they do get is handled decently as we learn some of the reasons behind their individual quirks and they do grow a little bit although not too much as it’s a comedy and status quo has to be maintained in some fashion. However while the serious moments are mostly alright it’s also where some of the shows problems lie

It’s made apparently very early on that though Ryoko maintains a tough girl image , it’s mostly a facade to hide some of the deeper issues she has going on. This mostly works as the show gradually alludes to the trauma she went through in middle school with her supposed (?) rapist ex-boyfriend (the exact nature of the relationship isn’t made that clear) and why she  shuts herself off from other people but the the show never goes into full detail over the incident. Additionally though a good half the show is spent on developing a conflict between the Otogi Bank and a rival school run by rapist-ex boyfriend the conflict is never fully settled and though his actions over the course of the show include kidnapping, assault and most likely attempted rape (again it’s not terribly clear) he doesn’t receive any serious comeuppance for his actions and the final episode of the show is devoted to an entirely seperate plot.  There are also some occasional issues with balancing the serious and comedic moments as the narrator, while mostly funny, can sometimes be a bit too intrusive  and it can take away from the episodes a bit, even during some of the comedy scenes.

The production values for the show are fairly solid as the show delivers on some surprisingly well animated action sequences by JC Staff standards though the show doesn’t stand out much otherwise as the character designs are fairly average for a comedy series. The music is also a little forgettable though the opening theme song by May’n is pretty good and the  ending theme song is a little catchy.

Funimation’s dub of the series more or less delivers and is as solid as you’d come to expect from their work. Joel McDonald’s Ryoushi works and Briana Palencia pulls off Ryoko’s tough girl act well enough as is her standard typecasting. The rest of the dub cast is fine as well although some of the voices do occasionally sound a bit too deep for what are supposed to be teenagers.

Okami-san and Her Seven Companions is a mostly fun little romp but some of its issues prevent it from being as solid as it could have been since  the larger story at hand isn’t really resolved. It’s not highly recommended from me  but if you want a mostly cute romantic comedy it works out enough in spite of it’s looming problems.

Overall: 6.9/10

Available on Hulu, Funimation.com and Netflix

Animation Talk- Snydar’s Departure: A Retrospective

So for those who are unaware it was announced a little earlier today that the current president of Cartoon Network, Stuwart Snydar will be resigning from his position at the end of the month. His time at the company has been an interesting adventure and though we’re all pretty glad to see he’s gone, now’s a pretty good time to take a look back at some of the good and much of the bad that happened during his reign

Syndar first took over Cartoon Network roughly six years ago and his appointment to the position brought a lot of changes to the network. One of his first and perhaps most notorious changes was the axing of Cartoon Network’s original Toonami block (recently revived by Adult Swim almost 2 years ago) which ran for about 11 years due to the ratings being in a slump as a result of Naruto, which had become the ratings pillar of the block running into it’s infamous 86 episode filler run and hitting a massive decline (which kinda stung since the cancellation occured during the final season of filler and before the sequel series Naruto Shippuden could air). This caused a lot of controversy and backlash with long time viewers of the network and this would not be the last instance of this happening.

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Syndar sure didn’t

Around the end of 2008 he started what was perhaps the most significant shift in Cartoon Networks programming: the introduction of live-action programming. The first instance of this came with the series Out of Jimmy’s head which was a spinoff of the movie Reanimated. For the most part this was somewhat tolerable as the show had a mix of live action and cartoon elements but the show was very short lived and only lasted for about 2 seasons before getting cancelled. Despite this, Snydar continued the push of live action shows in an attempt to directly compete with Nickelodeon and Disney and this eventually lead to the creation of the CN Real block which had it’s own series of bizarre live action programming that aired on and off until very recently where it seems to have more or less gone away outside of airing movies on Saturday and Sunday evenings.

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We hear ya man

Adding onto some of the controversy surrounding some of his decision making regarding CN’s move away from third party anime content,  he was also known for being very unsupportive of some of CN’s own original action shows and valued toy sales over ratings which led to the cancellation of well acclaimed shows such as Young Justice and Green Lantern the Animated Series, which were strong ratings performers, but weren’t as strong on the merchandising front.

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We’re still bitter

It’s perhaps unsurprising that as a result of much of the controversy and changes that happened during Snydar’s run as president. the network has seen a pretty sharp decline in it’s ratings as compared to it’s prime, and it’s due to this that the network has gradually lost some of it’s airtime to the more popular late night Adult Swim block, and has been pushed back from it’s original 10PM end time, to 9PM and later on in the month, 8PM.

Despite much of the bad that happened during his reign there was some good to be had. CN’s original comedies over the course of the mid 2000’s were mostly forgettable and weren’t quite able to create as much of a following as the classic “Cartoon Cartoons” of the late 90’s/early 00’s which are still remembered to this day, but around 2010, CN began having a renaissance of sorts with their primetime comedies as we were introduced to Adventure Time which has become CN’s most popular and iconic show in recent memory. This was followed up by the creation of other strong comedies such as Regular Show and mostly recently Steven Universe which have seperated themselves from the norm in terms of children’s programming and have offered experiences a bit more adult than some of CN’s other properties.

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This probably one of the least suggestive jokes made in the show

So what’ll happen now that Snydar is gone? Well seeing his replacement has yet to be announced there’s a lot that’s up in the air but we could see some significant changes occur. I’m not expecting to see anything as drastic as non-toyetic anime return to daytime programming (those days are long over) but I’m personally hoping we can see CN shift back to action programming (which they’ve been severly lacking in as of late) and possibly see the creation of a new action block though I imagine that wouldn’t happen anytime soon. I’m also hoping we’ll see a bit more variety to the channel in terms of having female oriented shows as that’s been a notable issue for them as of late.

Syndar’s departure brings about new winds of change and it’s hard to be certain of where exactly things will be headed next. Though, as Snydar’s reign brought about what many have considered to be the network’s darkest age, there’s much to be optimistic about. While it’s very unlikely the network will make a return to it’s glory days, hopefully we’ll see some grand changes for the better.

Review- Rurouni Kenshin Live Action Film: Blade’s Still Sharp

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Okay so I know this isn’t technically animation and that’s what I was going to stick to as far as reviews go for this site(otherwise I’d have to change the name to something else) but it’s an adaption of something based on animation so we can make an exception right? Right? After all it’s friggin Kenshin. Now that that’s settled let’s move on.

Rurouni Kenshin is a 2012 movie adaptation of the manga/animated series of the same name . It tells the story of a samurai named Himura Kenshin who was once as assassin for the revolutionary army. However after the revolutionaries won the war and a new era arrived he became a rurouni (wanderer) vowing to never kill another soul with his blade. The movie covers the first 4 volumes of the manga including everything from the beginning of the  series to the end of the Kanryu arc while adding in Saito as a bonus and for the most part it blends the arcs together very well. Kanryu takes up the lion’s share of villany in the film(somehow managing to be even worse of a human being than his manga counterpart) as several of the other iconic opponents from the early parts of the manga serve under him though some of the villains are blended together into one character for the sake of convenience.

Kenshin’s character arc is the main focus of the film as he is constantly questioned as to whether or not he can still be capable of protecting others while still maintaining his vow and his resolve is tested more than once as he tries to overcome the memories of his past sins.  The arc is given a pretty meaningful resolution with the Jin-e fight and in a lot of ways it works better here than in the manga and anime versions of the encounter since there’s a lot more buildup on Kenshin’s struggle.

Though the film mostly maintains it’s focus on Kenshin there are some issues here and there. Yahiko and Sano are kind of awkwardly added into the film and while Sano specifically is initially introduced as a minor antagonist his shift towards becoming an ally is downplayed and mostly seems to happen for the sake of convenience as do a few other story elements which are handled a bit awkwardly, but these are thankfully minor enough that they don’t totally drag down the film.

One of the greatest strengths of the film however are the fight scenes. The action sequences are very well choreographed and deliver on all of the action you’ve come to expect from the series though since Japan’s live action films typically don’t have the same budget as that of a Hollywood film there are a couple of instances where the theatrics look a bit too over the top and almost come across as silly. The film also has issues keeping Kenshin’s design consistent since while his hair is usually bleached orange like in the manga/anime there are a couple of scenes  where the bleach isn’t there and his hair is black instead which can be a little weird.

Despite some minor story problems the film mostly delivers on everything it needed to and provides a solid adaptation of the original series. It’s a solid example of how a live action manga adaptation should be done and hopefully the upcoming sequel films will follow in its footsteps.

Overall: 7.8/10

Available fansubbed

 

Animation Talk- 10 Essential Western Animated Shows for Anime Fans

It’s can sometimes be a difficult thing to recommend some western animated shows to a hardcore anime fan. While the two sides of the ocean aren’t as stylistically different as some claim, each does have their own set of elements that work for them. Of course as with anything there are some instances where these elements borrow from each other so here are some essential shows that maybe worth checking out for the average anime fan:

10. RWBY

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Synopsis: The world of Remnant,  is filled with supernatural forces and shadowy creatures known as the “Creatures of Grimm”. Mankind waged a battle of survival against the Grimm before discovering the power of a mysterious element called Dust, which allowed them to fight back against the monsters. In the present day, Dust is used to power magical abilities and weapons. Those who use these abilities to battle the Grimm are known as Huntsmen or Huntresses. The story centers on four girls, each with her own unique weapon and powers. Together, they form team RWBY at Beacon Academy in the city of Vale, where they are trained to become Huntresses alongside team CRDL (Cardinal) and team JNPR(Juniper).

Why it’s essential: This series made a pretty big splash last year with it’s heavily anime influenced artstyle and it’s unique animation. I’m personally pretty neutral on the series myself since while I did enjoy it I could never really quite understand all the massive praise it got. Nevertheless the show made a noticeable impact on the western anime fandom and even enough so that Crunchyroll took a chance on adding it to their lineup (and a gamble that was well rewarded). The story and the characters are fairly basic and though there is some minor character development here and there but it’s greatest strength is it’s sense of style and it’s got a lot of it.  Plus it has some pretty well choreographed fight scenes.

 

9. Green Lantern: The Animated Series

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Synopsis: The series focuses on the adventures of Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern of Sector 2814, and his partner Kilowog. Hal Jordan travels t “Frontier Space” the region of space at the edge of the Guardians’ territory, where Green Lanterns are being picked off by the Red Lanterns and they must make their return back to central guardian space to bring news of the threat

Why it’s essential: This is the only actual superhero show on this list, but it’s also feels the least like a superhero show out of the many DC animated works made over the years. The show is much more an adventures in space thing a la Bebop though it’s a lot more plot focused and it occasionally veers into full on space opera territory (especially in the second half)as the threats escalate. The show also puts a lot of emphasis on the relationships between two of the crew members and the group as a whole slowly grows into a family of sorts. Sadly there’s only one season of the show, but the ending is solid and enough plot threads are closed that you’re not left with a massive thirst for more.

 

8. Steven Universe

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Synopsis: The world is protected from evil threats by the Crystal Gems, a group of intergalactic female warriors who use the power of special gem stones embedded on their bodies to summon magical weapons. Steven is a young boy who inherited a gem stone from his mother, a Crystal Gem named Rose Quartz. As Steven tries to figure out the secrets to using his gem, he spends his days in Beach City doing activities with the other Crystal Gems, Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl,  whether it’s helping them save the universe or just hanging out.

Why it’s essential: Though the show has just started out it’s hard to ignore some of it’s anime influences. It provides a pretty interesting twist on typical magical girl fare as Steven has many of the personality qualities of a magical girl show protagonist and is surrounded by them but doesn’t have a full handle on the abilities. The series also features some pretty heavy fantasy elements and though it starts off in media res it’s a bit more grounded than it’s sister series Adventure Time. It’s greatest strength though is that it’s a pretty heartwarming tale as Steven grows into a true Crystal Gem though when exactly that’ll happen is anyone’s guess.

 

7. Code Lyoko

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Synopsis: Jeremie Belpois, a gifted child attending boarding school at Kadic Academy, one day discovers a supercomputer in an abandoned factory near his school. Upon activating it, he discovers a virtual world and Aelita, a young girl trapped inside Lyoko. After unusual events begin to occur at school, Jeremie learns of X.A.N.A., a malevolent destruction-bent artificial intelligence/multi-agent system running on the supercomputer whose goal is to take over the world. Jeremie soon forms a goal to materialize Aelita into the real world and stop X.A.N.A. in his tracks. With the help from Jeremy’s friends and classmates, Ulrich Stern, Odd Della Robbia, Yumi Ishiyama, and Aelita, the group goes to Lyoko in hope to saves the world.

Why it’s essential: France has a lot of love for anime (possibly even more than the US) and it shows in this series as it takes a lot of cues from anime in terms of its artstyle and character relationships.This show is by and large a character driven work and the main cast is pretty interesting in that there really isn’t a “lead” character per se as most of the emphasis is placed on the group becoming well…a group and they’re all given a solid amount of focus with one never really outshining the other as they all grow a bit. As for the main storyline itself if you can get through the repetitive first season the  show pays off in stronger story arcs and the ending is pretty satisfying. Additionally for all you young guys out there the show offers a surprising amount of genuine fanservice (how it all slipped past Cartoon Network’s radar is something I’ll never know). It also has a pretty sweet theme song

6. The Powerpuff Girls

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Synopsis: Sugar, spice and everything nice. These were the ingreidents designed to make the perfect little girl but Proffesor Utonium accidentally added an extra ingredient to the concoction: Chemical X. Thus the Powerpuff Girls were born. Using their ultra superpowers Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup have dedicated their lives to fighting crime and the forces of evil.

Why it’s essential: When the Powerpuff Girls first came out it was a cultural phenomeon in the US and it’s still pretty well remembered even today (recent special by CN non-withstanding). The show provides a unique blend of magical girl show elements and superhero fare (though the Kaiju esque monsters and villains the girls tend to fight lean it towards the former half of the scale). It’s influenced a lot by japanese monster movies  and 80’s anime in many instances and in some ways the show itself is kind of a prelude to modern moe anime as the girls generally do act their age and there’s just as much emphasis on them being adorable little girls as there is them punching out giant monsters

 

5. Xiaolin Showdown

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Synopsis:  Set in a world where martial arts battles and Eastern magic are commonplace, the series follows four young warriors in training that battle the forces of evil. They do this by protecting Shen Gong Wu (ancient artifacts that have great magical powers) from villains that would use them to conquer the world.

Why it’s essential: Admittedly this is probably the weirdest thing to have on this list but there’s no denying this show had a pretty strong impact during its intial run. It mostly functions as a blatant parody of martial art movies and also shonen anime to an extent as it frequently plays with and lampshades many of the tropes and cliches associated with both genres. Despite being mostly a comedy however the show does have some actual depth to its main characters as they learn various lessons over the course of the series and the ending does  a pretty interesting twist on the group dynamic that you wouldn’t see coming at the start of the series. Unfortunately the currently airing sequel series Xiaolin Chronicles so far doesn’t seem to carry the same level of writing and comedy (and it also screws with the continuity of the original constantly) but the original still stands as a pretty solid work.

 

4. Megas XLR

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Synopsis: In the distant future , Earth is fighting a losing war with an alien race known as “the Glorft”. In order to save the planet, the human resistance steals a prototype giant robot from the Glorft  renaming it MEGAS . The idea is to use a time-traveling device called a time drive to send MEGAS and its pilot, Kiva, back in time to defeat the Glorift

Before the plan can be executed, however, an attack by the Glorft sends the now-crippled MEGAS all the way back to the 1930s. It stays in a  New Jersey junkyard until it ends up in the hands of a slacker mechanic, Coop, and his slacker best friend, Jamie, around the year 2004.

Kiva goes back in time to retrieve MEGAS, and when she finds she is unable to pilot it because of Coop’s modifications, she grudgingly decides to train Coop, who is now the only person who can pilot it. However, the Glorft have followed her through time and, much to Kiva’s chagrin, it is now up to Coop to defend Earth from the Glorft and other various threats.

Why it’s essential: Despite the rather lengthy premise the show doesn’t take itself that seriously. In fact much like Xiaolin Showdown above, the show is a massive parody of it’s genre (mecha shows) though it takes its parodies to much higher levels as it proceeds to make fun of as many giant robot anime as it can get it’s hand on (sadly it didn’t live long enough to parody Evangellion). Destruction and mayhem are the norm and through it all the show is pretty much out to say what’s advertised in it’s theme song: That giant robots are pretty flippin’ awesome and it won’t rest till it proves it. It’s definitely a show worth seeing for any mecha fans out there as it’s one gigantic love letter to the genre.

3. Samurai Jack 

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Synopsis: Long ago in the distant past, Aku the shapeshifing master of darkness unleashed an unspeakble evil across the world. But a young samurai warrior wielding a magic sword stepped forth to oppose him. Before the final blow was struck however, Aku tore open a portal in time transporting the warrior to the future in which Aku’s evil is now law. Now the young warrior, taking on the alias of Jack, travels the world seeking a way to return to the past and to undo the evil that is Aku.

Why it’s essential: Series creator Genndy Tartavosky has been known for numerous anime influenced works but this is by far his most prevalent and iconic. The series pays homage to samurai films as a whole and each episode functions as it’s own mini-samurai film as it delivers on solid fight scenes and a slick artstyle. It’s also a fairly violent show though in a way that’s a bit unconventional as it ducks around the censors in some pretty creative ways. Though the show never really gets to a definitive conclusion, it’s more about the journey itself as the show becomes more of “who will Jack fight next?” rather than “will Jack ever make it back to the past?” and it’s certainly a fun ride. Hopefully the movie that’s been teased for years will eventually get made but until then what we have of the show is pretty great and if you like swordfights then there’s fun times to be had here. 

2. Avatar: The Last Airbender (plus The Legend of Korra)

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Synopsis: Long ago the Four Nations of the world were at peace, but everything changed when the Fire Nation declaired war on the others. Only the Avatar master of the four elements and spiritual guardian of the world could stop them but one day he vanished. 100 years later the Fire Nation is nearing victory in the war when two youths from the Southern Water Tribe discover a young Airbender named Aang. This airbender is the long-lost Avatar and now he must fulfill his destiny to end the war and restore balance to the world.

Why it’s essential: Well there’s pretty much nothing I can say about this show that hasn’t been said already as to why anime fans should watch it but that pretty much speaks towards its quality. The show is very heavily influenced and isn’t ashamed to admit it as the series creators have admitted to being huge fans of Hayao Miyazaki and Shinichiro Watanabe’s works (which might be why Jet looks a heck of a lot like Mugen from Samurai Champloo) and the show has a pretty well constructed fantasy setting as it slowly fleshes out its world.  Though the series is generally a staple of the battle shonen genre, it stands out even among some of the most iconic shows of that genre and in many ways it’s a much more fully realized story than as it’s 61 episode run allows it to have a tightly scripted story (though one particular plot thread is purposely left open to mess with fans).

The sequel series The Legend of Korra mostly continues in the footsteps of the original in terms of storytelling and characters while being a bit darker in some areas though it struggles a lot more (especially in Book Two) which is part of why I didn’t give it it’s own entry.

 

1. Gargoyles

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Synopsis: 1000 years ago, superstition and the sword ruled. It was an age of darknesss, a time of fear, it was the age of Gargoyles. Stone by day, warriors by night, the Gargoyles were eventually betrayed by the humans that they had sworn to protect and were frozen in time by a magic spell for 1000 years. Now in Manhatten, the spell is broken and the Gargoyles as brought back to life as they adjust to the modern era and become its new protectors.

Why it’s essential : I know what you’re all thinking: “Something in front of Avatar? You must be out of your mind!” but please hear me out. While Avatar the Last Airbender is artistically closer to what anime fans want, Gargoyles is closer in terms of writing as it leans towards somewhat darker storylines.  Though technically a kids’ show (and one made by Disney no less) the show carries itself with a level of sophistication that leans it more towards an older audience as it delivers on great character arcs, solid continuity and a surprising amount of violence given who it was made by all while generally straying from getting too dark for it’s own good and remembering who its target audience is. The show also borrows a lot from Shakespear as it uses some of his characters and themes to drive its storylines and though it drags a little in the later half of the second season it stays strong throughout everything. Gargoyles’s adult appeal is what has allowed it to remain legendary even today and it has enough fantasy element and continuity to keep anime fans well entertained throughout.

And here’s the list. Some of these are obvious but their significance is hard to ignore.  Honorable mentions go to Sym Bionic Titan and Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go (both of which were pretty heavily anime influenced but ended on too large of a cliffhanger) as well as Adventure Time (which does have some of the necessary elements but it’s weirdness can make for a difficult barrier to entry). There’s a lot more in common between western and japanese animation than some fans want to admit as some of these shows prove and while the individual strengths of both sides are good, it’s always great to get things with crossover appeal between fandoms so while these shows are some of the most prominent examples, hopefully they won’t be the last.

Animation Talk- The State of Animation Culture

Last night I watched a video by the PBS Idea Channel on YouTube asking if Avatar the Last Airbender should be considered “anime”. (I recommend seeing the first 4 minutes of the video before reading this). Though I consider myself to be a fan of animation in general, my first thought was a simple “no”, and that’s the answer you would expect from most fans based on what we consider to be anime. However, the video then went on to question how exactly we define what anime is and it got me thinking about exactly how animation culture as it were, has kind of neatly categorized animation into certain labels that we’ve all generally come to accept as fact. I think it’s important however that we do occasionally step back and look at these labels and whether or not they hold up to be as absolute as we’ve come to terms with and to do so I think it’s best that we look at each of them individually starting with the biggest elephant in the room:

What is “anime”?

If we were to look at just the technical definition of anime as defined by Japan itself, anime is simply a term used to describe animation in general and not just animation made in Japan. As far as the japanese are concerned whether it’s The Simpsons, Disney films or Evangellion it’s all one in the same as far as the medium goes. Of course to fans across the rest of the world, anime has a different meaning and how exactly one would define it tends to vary from person to person. For some anime is defined soley by whether or not an animated show was “made” in Japan. This is the definition I personally use as well but as time has passed it’s become difficult to define anime as being by that alone. Several “western” animated shows, even dating back to the 90’s have had the bulk of the show animated by Japanese studios. The Thundercats reboot in 2011 was done by Studio 4C in Japan (the same studio behind the Berserk trilogy films) and the most recent season of The Legend of Korra was primarily done by Studio Pierrot of Naruto and Bleach fame (or infamy depending on who you ask). Similarly while many have come to define anime as stuff animated in Japan the reality is most of it is in fact done by lesser known Korean studios (as is the case with western animation today as well) so it is questionable if that definition alone is really enough.
Some who understand some of the grey areas above have come define anime by the fact that the targeted audience is Japan, stating that if the show wasn’t intended to air in Japan then it shouldn’t be considered anime. This definition has generally held up the most over the years though that too is a bit questionable. While not every show is made with an international audience in mind some do stretch out far enough to eventually be targeted towards Japan. My Little Pony (which I’d rather not bring up but it’s hard not to) has a japanese dub that started airing a few months ago and it’s the same deal for several other western animated shows including The Simpsons, The Boondocks, and Adventure Time (interestingly enough Avatar was supposed to get a Japanese dub as well but talks on that apparently fell through). The argument can of course be made that Japan has to be the audience targeted first for the show but even that occasionally can occasionally be questioned. Space Dandy for instance which is currently airing on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block is unequivocally defined as anime and yet new episodes air in the states before they do in Japan. Not to mention the fact that the show was quite clearly made with a western audience in mind and the producers seem to be banking on the western audience providing a large chunk of support for the show (especially since director Shinichiro Watanabe isn’t quite as popular in Japan as he is here in the states).
Lastly there are those who define anime by style alone, where if it has an ongoing storyline, handles itself seriously enough and has good art it qualifies as anime. As thus shows like Avatar are included into the mix and are considered to be “above” other western animated works (I’ll go into this a bit more later on). Of course this defintion is often the most frequently challenged as it goes against the “purity” of anime as it were(I’m covering that next) but even putting that aside, such a definition can leave certain japanese animated works out of the mix such as Panty and Stocking which borrows heavily on the style of western animated works and doesn’t really seem to have a definitive plot until the last couple of episodes of the series. Such could also be said for Space Dandy, but it’s a bit too early in the run of the series to make that kind of call.
Now it’s not really my intent to get anyone to change their definition of “anime” as what it means to us individually does differ greatly as we can see above, but the definitions we’ve come to accept for them do all have their holes, and there really is no absolute definition of it other than the one Japan had made for it to begin with.

The “Purity” of Animation

As addressed above, anime fans (though typically the most extreme ones) tend to often view anime with a sense of purity in terms of how it’s defined. If one so much as utters Avatar and the like in the midst of an anime discussion there will almost always be at least one person trying to dismiss those shows as “childish” or saying that they shouldn’t ever be compared with the likes of anime. While not everyone thinks as such, it generally seems to stem from a belief that associating those shows with anime will to some effect, lessen the value of anime as a whole and thus it becomes a defense mechanism of sorts where anime has to be put on a pedestal in order to maintain the perception that it’s art.
Now this leads us to the question of why we feel the need to do this. Though some will give different reason it mostly comes down to the perception caused by the Animation Age Ghetto (I recommend reading up on that if you find the time) where animation is considered to be “for kids” and got more and more targeted towards them over time. Since anime does often have material aimed at older viewers, we’ve created a barrier of sorts where we have completely seperated and categorized western and japanese animation into two main viewpoints: anime= “mature and thought provoking” while western animation= “childish and stupid”. These viewpoints have been the driving point of discussion for many a “east vs west” debate but both have their set of problems as we’ll examine next.

“Silly Rabbit, Cartoons are for Kids!”

Ah, cartoons. Things have gotten to the point where the word itself has become a slur and is pretty much only ever used to immediately dismiss a western animated show as being only for little kids and nothing else. Even those who do consider themselves fans of western animation are quick to categorize shows such as Avatar, Young Justice or Sym Bionic Titan as being something completely different from the so-called childish cartoons such as Spongebob, My Little Pony or Adventure Time. This again comes from the mentality brought about by the Animation Age Ghetto where shows with such a look are almost immediately cast into a little dark corner of animation culture to be mocked and dismissed as not being worthwhile in terms of mature themes
The reality of it is of course a bit different. Personally while I do admittedly sometimes watch such shows as a reminder not to take myself that seriously, these kinds of shows can occasionally tackle some interesting subject matter. My favorite animated show of all time is Ed, Edd n Eddy and while it’s a fairly goofy show, it’s also the only animated show that I’ve felt accurately portrays pre- adolescent childhood for what it really is.  Of course, Adventure Time is probably the most notable example at this stage as show has a fairly tight continuity and frequently addresses serious themes. One of the more notable examples in the show is the episode “Princess Cookie” which (to my surprise) is a subtle yet fairly obvious story about a character dealing with gender identity issues and there’s also the entire saga of Ice King and Marceline episodes which are a pretty depressing and fairly realistic depiction of what it’s like to have a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (and that’s not even getting started on what the backstory of the show really is).
These kinds of shows are capable of addressing deeper themes and should be acknowledged as such, yet we’re quick to dismiss them as having nothing to offer. These kinds of shows can be a slow burn (Adventure Time in particular is a show I’ve found that has to be marathoned in order to be properly understood and doesn’t fully come into it’s own until the third season) but there is some gold to be found somewhere.

Anime is all “art”

On the other side of the looking glass we have the view that all anime is mature and deep. Or more accurately the idea that all anime is mature and deep when compared to western animated works. Now if you were to ask me which I prefer between anime and western animation I would undoubtedly say anime, and though I’m frequently a defender of western stuff I’ve always maintained that standpoint. This is mainly due to the fact that as mentioned earlier, anime is capable of tackling certain themes in a way western animation currently can’t and is occasionally capable of producing masterpieces that can be considered high art such as Evangellion, Penguindrum, Revolutionary Girl Utena or Fullmetal Alchemist.
However while anime is capable of reaching these kinds of heights, it has also been known to go to extreme lows that can make some of the dumbest stuff out there look like gold in comparison. OniAi which has been recently released by Funimation is one such low. While I generally don’t mind watching the occasional goofy harem show the show makes little sense, goes absolutely nowhere, and has just about every joke being about the girls trying to get in the male lead’s pants. It’s a pretty silly show, and many would acknowledge it as such and yet when compared to some of the higher quality western shows it’s still considered to be superior by some and often for reasons not pertaining to the quality of the story itself.
Similarly while some of the more serious western animated shows are occasionally categorized alongside the “childish cartoons”. Anime that is targeted at a younger audience, and clearly accepts that it is such as Pokemon or Beyblade are occasionally given the label of being “mature” works in some fashion compared to Avatar and the like, in order to maintain the idea that anime is completely unaffected by the Animation Age Ghetto and that viewers of these shows aren’t labeled as “immature” for watching them.
As a medium anime has a lot of diversity, but it’s because of that diversity that it can also display some serious flaws and thus the illusion made by animation culture, of anime being a perfect medium of artistic talent is one that is worth calling into to question

Changing the culture

 
The culture we’ve established as fans of animation is one that has it’s share of problems but those problems are capable of being changed. While I’m not seriously expecting anyone to suddenly change their stance on things it’s definitely time that we come to terms with how our need to perpetuate the culture has lead  to viewpoints that are either outdated or were never really the case to begin with. I’m hoping there will come a day where the shadow of the Animation Age Ghetto is completely gone from and all animation can be viewed as just animation, but until then it’s at least good to recognize that the some labels we’ve created for ourselves are only hindering and not helping how the world views what we love.

Review- Gargoyles: From The Dark Ages

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Gargoyles is a 1994 animated series created by Disney and is the show that brought now legendary producer Greg Weissman to fame. I’ve seen bits and pieces of the show as a kid but I could never remember the details of it and after seeing the level of praise it has maintained over the years and finding out the whole series is available to watch on Youtube, I decided to do my first full on dive into the show.

The storyline kicks off in 994 AD, Scotland during the ages of myth and superstition. In those days humans lived alongside humanoid looking bat creatures called Gargoyles, who turn into stone by day and are ferocious warriors by night. The Gargoyles protected the people from outside threats but were eventually betrayed by them having most of their clan slaughterted and the survivors frozen in time by a magic spell. 1000 years later, genius billionaire David Xanatos breaks the spell and relocates the Gargoyles to Manhatten, New York where they soon find themselves in conflict with him and forced to adapt to a new era.

In many ways the show feels as though its a product of a different era itself. The show doesn’t shy away from showing serious violence when the time calls for it and it generally carries itself in a very sophisticated manner as the characters often act and speak in the way their roles should(though the show does embrace more typical action show dialog as time goes on) and it avoids dumbing itself down for its audience. The opening episodes of the series even feature some minor swearing and the relationship between lead Gargoyle, Goliath and the group’s human companion Elisa is played off very subtlety unlike in modern shows even including some japanese animation. It does remember who its target audience is however so it typically strays from getting too dark for its own good though disturbing things certainly happen from time to time.

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Bleeding from a gunshot wound. You know. For the kiddies.

The show also encompasses several different genres over the course of its run as it functions as an urban fantasy, a gritty crime drama and a Shakespearean tragedy (the show actually borrows pretty heavily from Shakespeare as Weissman has admitted he’s a huge fan of his works). Despite this it maintains a tight continuity with almost every episode directly tying  into another and though it gets slightly more episodic in its later half, it makes sure to never contradict itself and foreshadows its future events relatively well.

Its also largely supported by its cast of characters who come across as strong yet flawed and many of them undergo their own individual character arcs over the course of it’s run. The villains of the piece are also executed very strongly as the show general averts cliche villainy and gives each of the villains sympathetic or relatively understandable motivations for their actions. Even Xanatos who would normally be portrayed as a typical rich evil mastermind, actively learns from his mistakes, tries to be as pragmatic as possible with his plans and is slowly humanized more and more throughout the series to the point where you can almost question how evil he really was to begin with. The characters themselves are largely supported by top-notch voice acting from the voice cast (many of whom you may know from the original Star Trek) and the show delivers some pretty powerful performances in some of the more dramatic scenarios in the show.

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There’s a reason it’s called the Xanatos Gambit

Despite the shows many strengths however, it is flawed. Though the series maintains its continuity  and it does feature some character development throughout it, the Avalon Journey arc quickly becomes a bit too episodic and dragged out to the point where it feels like it could have been half as long as it ultimately ended up being. Additionally the series lacks a complete conclusion due to the third season known as The Goliath Chronicles being considered non-canon by Weissman  due to him having little influence in it though the season two finale is relatively satisfying.

Gargoyles is a product of an age gone by and though it has its flaws the show deserves to be acknowledged as a prized relic, demonstrating a level of storytelling and characterization that many shows today can learn from. It stands today as one of the greatest pillars of western animation and hopefully more shows will follow in it’s footsteps.

Overall: 8.9/10

Available on Youtube

Review- Psycho Pass Premium Edition: Law and Evil

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Psycho Pass is a 2012 series helmed by Production I.G. who has brought us series such as Ghost in the Shell and written by industry superstar Gen Urobuchi who brought us the masterpiece Madoka Magica. The show has pretty solid production values though the animation falters here and there and the soundtrack for the show is pretty memorable as are it’s two opening themes Abnormalize and Out of Control (the latter of which has surprisingly good english). I first saw the series simulcasted during it’s run in 2012 and thoroughly enjoyed the series. I’m happy to say that I enjoyed the series even more in my second viewing of it than in the initial run as seeing the whole picture allows for a bit more clarity on certain aspects of the story’s themes.

The storyline centers around a future where people are judged by a creation known as the Sybil System which can read people’s minds and determine if they have the mentality of a potential criminal or not. Once judged a potential criminal, a person becomes an outcast destined to either be imprisoned or executed. To track down actual criminals, the law enforcement of the series decides to use people who have been deemed as potential criminals to hunt them down and  bring them to justice. The first half of the series slowly explores this world and its characters as we’re introduced to various cases with different motivations and each discussing certain themes about society at large and how those themes affect individuals. One particular case involving a criminal who killed people whose online avatars were famous and then assumed to take their online identities and flawlessly imitate them asks the question of whether or not the internet brings people closer together or further apart and this is just one of the many questions the series asks in its run.

The second half of the show is more  centralized in its themes as it specifically questions the concept of law and order in general through dealing with criminal mastermind Makishima(who also happens to be behind most of what happens in the first half as well). The characters are forced to choose between protecting the law itself and exacting justice and the show eventually questions whether or not the law is truly capable of protecting people. The ending to this conflict plays out surprisingly realistically and though its grounded in cynicism it also provides a slight nudge of hope that society may eventually get to the point where people can someday live up to the ideals that the law embodies.

The series is in many ways like its leading female character Akane. The good and evil of every concept it observes is looked at in great detail and it comes to understand how to accept them for what they are. Though the show doesn’t hesitate to show how evil the Sybil System is (and it’s true nature is quite disturbing) it also demonstrates that simply removing it won’t make society better and it’s existance is one that people have come to depend on. Similarly though Makishima’s views are mostly shown to be correct the show is also quick to note the evils behind his actions as well. It maintains a cynical yet neutral stance on things and its intent is more to open ones views on its subjects rather than directly challenge them.

The characters of the show help to lay out the show’s stance as we see Akane slowly change her viewpoint over the course of the series from an idealist to a well intentioned cynic.  Some of the other cast members are also pretty strong as we have the male lead Kogami whose conflict between the law and his personal sense of justice drives the final confrontation along with Ginoza and Toyomi whose respective character arcs play off each other and ends up leading down a similar path. The main villain Makishima is also a bit of a show stealer as you can occasionally find yourself agreeing with his arguments even though he’s clearly a sociopath.

The show does have it’s issues though as two of the central characters in the series Yayoi and Shion don’t actually come across as being terribly important despite having an entire episode devoted to the former’s backstory and their largely left in the background. The series can also occasionally get a bit too over the top in terms of its graphic content  and can sometimes seem as though it’s trying too hard.

Despite my initial skepticism over Zac Bolton directing it, Funimation’s english dub for the series delivers a series of solid and strong performances across the board. Long time veteran, Robert McCollum brings just the right amount of grit for Kogami and Kate Oxley successfully captures Akane’s progression from a naive rookie into a hardened detective. Newcomer, Alex Organ  also delivers pretty strongly as Makishima and though he initially starts off a little rough around the edges compared to his seiyuu counterpart Takahiro Sakurai, he grows into the role very quickly and delivers a satisfying performance.

The release itself is also pretty nice. The box the set comes is good looking though not perfect material and some of the extras include the soundtrack CDs for the show and interviews with some of the creative staff behind the series at Sakura-Con which can provide a little bit of insight as to what their intentions for the series actually were.

Though the show isn’t quite perfect it juggles the themes it covers very well and it knows how to address thinking of them without directly challenging your view on them and it understands how to accept them for what they are. I highly recommend checking it out.

Overall: 9.2/10

Available through RightStuf, Funimation.com, Amazon and Robert’s Anime Corner Store

First Impressions- Stealth Symphony

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Stealth Symphony is the 3rd of the 4 new series recently added to Weekly Shonen Jump in Japan and in many ways it was the most anticipated which is why Viz Media was so quick to add it to the English lineup of the magazine. With the story being helmed by Ryohgo Narita of Durarara and Baccano fame the manga has quite the pedigree to live up to and the first chapter generally succeeds in showing it’s potential.

The story kicks off when main character Jig travels to Jinbo-cho a city filled with elves, dwarves and other kinds of magical beings. His goal is to remove a curse he recieved when he got sick as a kid and was forced to recieve it in order to save his life. Since it apparently makes him a disaster magnet and he almost causes a big one on the beginning of the chapter he decides to get bodyguard protection so that he can prevent himself from hurting others with his powers. It’s around then that we’re introduced to the other main character Troma who is invisible save for a mask and becomes Jig’s bodyguard for the duration of the chapter. It’s soon revealed that Jig’s accident in the beginning of the chapter was no accident and that he’s being targeted which sets off a rather cruel plot twist that will likely be what drives the story from here on out.

Those familar with Narita’s works will immediately recognize that the one thing that stands out as being different here is that the protagonist of the story is clearly defined where as Baccano and Durarara functioned off more of an ensemble cast (though there’s still plenty of time for it to go down that route later on) and the first chapter is devoted to his story though it also helps us to dive into one of the other main characters as well. Jig comes across as pretty likeable so far and though his motivations are a bit cliche at first the ending to the chapter suggests his development may go in an atypical direction for a Jump protagonist. The other lead character Troma is the that seems to have the most potential for something cool between the two though since his invisibility is played with in a pretty unique way since he feels as hollow on the inside as he does on the outside so it’ll be interesting to see where his character is eventually taken.

The artwork for the series is also pretty fantastic as artist Amano Youchi delivers on his speciality in that area and the designs look very detailed for a weekly series though it feels a bit similar to Takeshi Obata’s (Death Note) artwork so hopefully it evolves a bit. The setting also looks as though it could lead to some pretty cool setups as the concept of a city filled with magical beings and dragon artifacts could make for some interesting world building.

Overall the series is off to a strong start and though it feels a bit different than Narita’s usual style it has the potential to live up to his other works and could be the kind of series Jump needs right now.

 

Available through Viz’s Weekly Shonen Jump Digital Magazine

Review- My Bride is a Mermaid: Laughing Under the Sea

 Review- My Bride is a Mermaid: Laughing Under the Sea

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My Bride is A Mermaid is a 26 episode series animated by Gonzo and AIC. The production values of the show are pretty standard though the opening song “Romantic Summer” is fairly catchy. It’s helmed by Seiji Kishi who’s been more recently known for his work on video game adaptions such as Persona 4: The Animation and Devil Survivor 2: The Animation, but before he worked on those he was best known for directing comedies and it definently shows here.

The premise of the show kicks off when main character Nagasumi goes to the sea for vacation and ends up getting his life saved by a mermaid named Sun when he almost drowns. However because he saw Sun in her mermaid form he’s forced into marrying her or else he’ll be killed by mermaid law. Did we mention she happens to belong to a mermaid yakuza family?

mermaid1                                               Meet the in-laws

 

This is where the insanity begins. Despite initially having appearance of a magical girlfriend show the show quickly makes it apparent that it’s a pure comedy and it functions by being as off the wall as possible. Nagasumi is constantly forced to avoid the crazy antics of his yakuza father-in-law who’s out to prevent him from marrying his precious daughter and must dodge everything from miniature assassins to weird looking fish men.  The series constantly escalates in its absurdity and constantly throws out parodies and increasingly bizarre situations in an effort get some laughs. The series isn’t afraid to occasionally laugh at itself though alongside the audience as makes a note to be self aware every now and then as it plays with typical harem clichés.

The hilarity of the series is supported largely by its cast of quirky characters. Nagasumi initially comes across as a typical harem lead but quickly demonstrates that he can be as weird as the rest of the cast members and just as much of a ham. Female lead Sun generally stays a bit more true to the magical girlfriend archetype but the show plays it straight enough to make her as funny as the rest of the cast when it matters. The harem side of the characters include pop idol Lunar who has a two-faced personality and is Sun’s self proclaimed rivalval, childhood friend Mawari who wants to enforce discipline but largely fails at it and Akeno a strange swordswoman who generally isn’t as funny as the rest of the cast due to generally being stoic but occasionally breaks character to acknowledge the weridness of a situation. On the other side of the cast spectrum lies Sun’s crazy yakuza family and it’s associates which include a doll sized assassin with a water machine gun and a blatant homage of the Terminator.

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                                                        “I’ll be back”

Though the series is largely out for laughs there is some occasional drama which is where some of the problems with the series lie. Though the series can occasionally be heartwarming with some of its more serious moments (and occasionally touching even when it’s joking around) it sometimes struggles with developing its characters. This is especially true of the mini-arc in episodes 12 and 13 where Lunar’s character arc comes to a head and inferiority complex towards Sun results in her confessing her love to Nagasumi only for the show to later act as though the confession never happened and to seem as though she learned nothing from the experience. Additionally though the other girls are occasionally given the spotlight they don’t progress very much either and the finale (which the last few minutes of must be seen to be believed) is kicked off by a situation that feels pretty forced and features Nagasumi acting extremely out of character in the beginning in order to achieve the desired result.

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                                                 Kenshiro would be proud

Of course though it has some problems its comedy generally makes up for it as it chugs along at lightspeed and rarely leaves you time to dwell on its flaws. The series may not be particularly deep but at the end of the day it’s out to make you laugh and will stop at nothing to make that happen. If you’re looking for a good comedy series this is definitely worthwhile.

Overall:  7.8/10

Available on Hulu, Netlix and Funimation.com