Archive for February 17th, 2008

“Who are you calling ultra-hyper-chibi-chan who is so small you just want to step on him?”: Revisiting Fullmetal Alchemist

IMPORTANT NOTICE: I only ever made it to episode 40 of this series back when it was airing in Japan. I forget the reasons exactly why, but I’ve got the first three DVD sets sitting here, so I took this weekend as an opportunity to start watching them again. This makes me feel funny inside.

Fullmetal Alchemist [Hagane no Renkenjitsushi, for the pedants like me) still holds up, even a few years after its airing. I distinctly remember starting to really watch it when it was halfway through its run (I had seen the first episode back when it started, and due to overhype didn’t like it too much. I got over it later. Then I got over the giving up on series because of overhype bit, which is good) and watching the entire run of 26 episodes in 54 hours or so. It was a lot of alchemy.

Rewatching it, I’m finding that same addiction to it, and this time I know what’s going to happen. Most of it, anyway. I think the real reason I’m liking it now, internet centuries after I last saw it, is the strong characters. Edward and Alphonse Elric are extremely likable characters no matter how you look at it: Ed is the brash, brazen, yet kind-hearted one, Al is just plain kind-hearted and nice and forgiving, almost to a fault (kind of like me, which is why I think he’s my favorite). The characters are what carry the series in the early episodes, as well as the sometimes brutal episodic plots (Nina, anyone?). Misuzhima snuck in some really early foreshadowing, too: I totally forgot that Lust was sitting right there in the bar in the first episode.

The brutal nature of the episodic plots also reflect our current times. We’ve been introduced to Scar, a major player in Fullmetal Alchemist, who is effectively an anime Islamic terrorist. We haven’t seen much of his story yet, but even in the brief glimpse we’ve seen of him, he’s already cast in that hazy gray light that he deserves to be cast in: he’s brutal enough to kill Nina-chimera, yet kind enough to do it out of mercy. And Mizushima is really laying on the military criticism thick; aside from Roy Mustang and his Merry Men, the soldiers are all vehemently repulsing people: cold, cruel, and calculating. And the point is really driven home with the “dog of the military” phrase. I had remembered that there was “real-world” criticism hidden in the series, but I didn’t recall it popping up this soon.

Overall, I’m still very impressed by this series, even after forgetting about it for years (and, early on, when I was dumb, hating on it. Oh youth and stupidity ;_;) . it kind of makes me sad in a way that I didn’t finish it back then, but now, at least, I have an excuse to watch it again, and relive the experience all over again. Kind of. I’m certainly having a blast, and that’s what matters in the end, I think.

Dennou Coil: Just How “Real” Is Virtual Reality?

The title of the post is, of course, the major theme of the last eight or so episodes of Dennou Coil, which I have just blasted through at mach speed (homework be damned). These episodes featured the death of Densuke, the finest pet who never lived, and Yasako’s torn feelings over losing what is essentially a series of 1s and 0s. And we can’t, of course, forget Isako, who created an entire cyberworld where she could be with her brother for eternity. The lesson to be learned, then (or at least the one I found most prominent) is that virtual reality and true reality are not entirely separate, or at least not as much as we think.

Consider Yasako: when Densuke dies protecting her from the Null, she is conflicted about what she should feel. Her mother, of course, has old-generation values and sensibilities: “It’s just glasses, honey. The real world is what really matters.” Yet even still, Yasako wonders, why does she feel grief over a collection of data on a computer network? She never held Densuke the way you would a real dog, yet her grief over his death is genuine and, although she tries to suppress it, she can’t get rid of it. The clincher to this mini-arc, then, would be Yasako finally, for the first time, holding and petting Densuke in the Loophole Nexus. It almost seems to say, through the magic power of symbolism (or possibly metaphor), that Densuke may be virtual existence, yet, to the perceiver, he is an existence. Computer programs haven’t gotten to the point where one can develop human-like affection for them, but I firmly believe that here, Dennou Coil is right: they may be cyber-existences, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real.

As for Isako, she learns the negative side of virtual reality: using it as an escape from the real world. The virtual world can be considered real, as we have just demonstrated, but perhaps it is not fully real. Isako, in creating a false Space to hold her grief over the loss of her brother, seeks escape from the reality of pain. Whereas Yasako recognizes her grief as being real, even if the object of her grief isn’t, Isako instead forces herself to reject the feeling of grief, seeking solace in a virtual construct, even though the object of her grief was real. Whether or not Isako’s brother was himself in her created Space (he certainly seemed to be, when he held back Michiko-san to allow Isako time to escape) or a computer program merely emulating human conciousness (which raises further questions, the most obvious being: can a computer actually emulate human conciousness?) isn’t the problem here; instead, she sought solace in the virtual rather than facing reality. The fact that she was manipulated by a vengeful Coil employee only furthers her resolve to escape, requiring friendship from Yasako, who can withstand the torment of grief, to escape…escaping.

For a series that started out fairly silly and episodic, Dennou Coul turned out to have some real depth. I figured it would, though, since it aired on NHK Educational, but the actual depth of the depth surprised me. Japanese kids get Dennou Coil to watch, which only makes me jealous of them, as there’s nothing on American TV that seems to respect that children just might possibly have an intellect in them. The Dennou Coil children themselves are fairly smart and adept, despite being in elementary school, so at least someone recognizes the surprising intelligence of children. But that’s a tangential rant.

I’m kind of sad that I put Dennou Coil off this long to finish it off, but I put everything off as long as I can once I fall behind, because I get caught up in the new and develop massive backlog. Such is life.


I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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February 2008