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The Gap of Four Months, or: What I Have Been Doing

I have not posted in approximately four, maybe five, months. I have good reasons for this, depending on your definition of “good reasons”: the Grad School is a Timesink reason, the I Haven’t Watched Much Anime Lately reason, the I Am Probably Just Being Lazy reason, the Writing a Single Post is Five Hours of Grueling Blood Sweat & Tears and Not of the Musical Variety, &c. &c. &c.

Also, I haven’t actually watched many “fansubs” (and certainly not recent ones) lately, for which I would cite Support the Industry rhetoric like everyone else who did this, except I really can’t (and so therefore I will never win brownie points with this club of cool cats) but rather the fact that I have an ancient computer that can’t handle this newfangled h.264 HD nonsense and I got sick of episodes stuttering and desyncing the video and audio streams, and the fact that watching something in HD required about a half-hour prior to watching to make sure it was going to play decently, and occasionally watching my computer reboot itself in the middle of an episode (this was my favorite). Also I just don’t care about HD in general, although I will admit that I care a great deal more about HD than I care about the silly 3D movie gimmicks.

Of course, I’ve managed to squeeze in some things here and there, and those who have Other Methods of eStalking me no doubt know of some of these, but because I feel I ought to stick SOMETHING here eventually, here, then, is the Recap Episode for the past four to five months.

ANIME I HAVE WATCHED:

HERE IS A PICTURE OF A SUN CRASHING INTO A PLANET

Space Battleship Yamato, which I rather liked, despite it having a great deal of flaws common to 70s space opera-type things (the characters! I liked them but they were plot devices with emotions at times!), but this is also largely because I enjoy space opera-type things, flaws and all. It is not terribly hard to entertain me with space opera: some politics, some scientifically inaccurate explosions in space, some heroism, and I’m good.

Also, the series is incredibly serious and grim and depressing, except for the parts where Analyzer is flipping up Yuki Mori’s skirt, but eventually they made that serious and grim and depressing with an episode about how Analyzer can feel and love like a human, except he’s a robot who finds it amusing to expose the underwear of the alleged love of his life. I was going to write a post about some of the symbolism of it (and may yet, when I get a chance to watch season 2), but I am sure that anything I had to say on that matter has been done by A Professional.

HERE IS A PICTURE OF DUSTY ATTENBOROUGH IN A PIRATE OUTFIT

Part 3 of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, or Legend of the Galactic Prussian Pederasts, or Legend of the Galactic Drunkards for Democracy, take your pick and define your allegiance! Legend of the Galactic Heroes is considered one of the best things ever made in the history of anime, which is no small praise or feat.

I think it proper and pointed to mention here that I’m not entirely sure I believe that Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a 110-episode treatise on the amazingness of autocracy; while I haven’t seen Part 4 and considering that the Free Planets Alliance has been continually and gradually grinded down to nearly nothing, I think that Legend of the Galactic Heroes might be better viewed as a 110-episode treatise on the strengths and flaws of both autocratic and republican forms of government. Even if it is pro-autocracy (and it probably is), it poses some very important questions and quandaries for fans of democracy.

The only problem I really have with Legend of Galactic Heroes thus far is that, despite how likable all the characters are, I still think the majority of them exist simply to wax philosophic a lot, and to also demonstrate philosophy in action. Which is one of the selling points of the series, so I don’t actually mind but I can (and will!) grouse about it.

And speaking of characters: I have determined (hilariously so, if you have seen through Part 3 by now) that Yang Wenli is basically me, except in space, with blue hair, and with more of an alcohol problem. He is constantly in doubt! He does not hold many things to be unwaveringly true, except the idealistic beliefs he holds dearest (i.e. the Power of Democracy)! He is a historian! If I was made of money and awesome I would just go around dressed like Yang Wenli a lot, but I am not, and so I probably won’t. But I want his cravat.

HERE IS A PICTURE OF KATEROSE VON KREUZER BEING SHY

Also: Katerose von Kreuzer is awesome, and I am mad that the first time I started watching Part 3 I just barely made it past the part where she was introduced and did not manage to get to the part where she reveals how awesome she is. Maybe “awesome” is perhaps too early an adjective for her (I hear she is Important in Part 4 much more often), but at this point in time all I want to do is give her a hug, because she needs a hug, and if she and Julian don’t hook up before one of them dies I am going to be Angry on the Internet.

I would ask people not to spoil Part 4 too much for me but I am pretty sure that the narrator will do that anyway.

HERE IS A PICTURE OF THE DIRTY PAIR NOT WEARING A GREAT DEAL OF CLOTHING

Dirty Pair! It is a series about Yuri and Kei, the Lovely Angels a.k.a. the Dirty Pair, who basically do two things the entire series: one, not wear a lot of clothing (and what little clothing they do wear appears to be made of shiny plastic), and two, blow up more things than are strictly necessary to accomplish the objective that they have been assigned.

Other than “it’s a lot of fun” there is not much more to be added to that description, because it is what it is. It is, however, a classic of the girls-running-around-blowing-things-up genre, along with Gunsmith Cats and You’re Under Arrest, and currently has the distinction of being the only one of those three series I mentioned that I have actually seen any of right now! Also Yuri > Kei and you can’t disagree with me.

Also Nozomi Entertainment / TRSI has licensed the TV series, which is what I was watching and which is apparently the best Dirty Pair thing, so maybe you could buy it, sometime, if you feel like it? It’s n-not like they l-licensed it for y-you or anything!

HERE IS THE PICTURE OF SORA NO WOTO YOU HAVE SEEN A BAZILLION TIMES BEFORE

The only thing that was actually produced in this decade that I have seen this year (sadly I am not exaggerating much) is Sora no Woto, which might seem like an odd choice to some but it seemed like a good idea at the time (also I wasn’t sure I wanted to start something like Durarara!! or Aoi Bungaku or whatever series I meant to watch but didn’t, because I was afraid that they would prove too addictive or too HD to be able to watch.

The problem with Sora no Woto, as has likely been discussed elsewhere previous to this, is not that it is a bad series (I liked it alright) but a series that managed to not be good. I felt there were four or five very strong episodes in the series; the problem was that three of these were at the end, and one of them was in the middle. I also felt like it could have used less incontinence jokes (there was only one but did we really need to have it, especially since I have heard that watersports fans will get that in KissxSis most likely?)

MANGA I HAVE READ

I have been reading Please Save My Earth via Interlibrary Loan, and I have been liking it immensely. It’s extremely confusing at the beginning (as Saki Hiwatari wasn’t expecting it to catch on and run for longer than five or so volumes), especially when you’re trying to keep track of which character has been reincarnated into whom, which ones are lying about who they are, who some of the people related to the central seven are, what they do, and all the while trying to figure out what in the name of Hell is wrong with Shion and/or Rin, the latter of which was hilariously cute until he started trying to kill people.

I also read with interest the whole saga of Hiwatari receiving the letters from readers who were convinced that they, too, had been reincarnated from previous lives as aliens, and her shock that her fanbase couldn’t distinguish between fantasy and reality terribly well. It seems sort of prescient for certain trends sweeping an entirely different branch of the manga / anime universe than shoujo, in a way, and certainly illustrates the perceived “reality” of the worlds described in manga.

I felt like mentioning the ILL bit because doing it seems like I am Cheating at the above-mentioned Supporting the Industry bit, even though it seems that only volume one is out of print, and that this is pretty much what ILL is used for: acquiring material unavailable at your library. Note that I feel no qualm when I use ILL to get, say, a fiction novel I really wanted to read but didn’t want to go poke around used bookstores, or even brick and mortar not-used bookstores.

I’ve been reading other manga a bit, too (EDEN: It’s an endless world!, Swan, Black Jack, Kekkaishi) but I’m not terribly far in any of them and don’t have much to say other than Black Jack is awesome, because he performs surgery on a computer. Black Jack is apparently constructed of purest awesome, in much the same way that Pinoko’s The Wife is constructed of a teterogenous cystoma. (This somewhat terrifying fact does not make Pinoko any less hilarious or cute, bizarrely)

OTHER THINGS THAT MAY BE OF INTEREST

I recently (the other day, in fact) finished Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, since in a semester where I have to read thirty-two YA novels, and therefore have the habit of voracious reading imposed on me, it’s much easier for me to switch between different novels than it is to switch between novels and filmed entertainments. (Which is also why I have been doing way more reading this semester, beyond just the required texts: it is kind of hard for me to not read, which drives me nuts for the audiobook requirement). That sentence was mostly about things not relating to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and so this sentence will be more about The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: it was really good, and really weird, and really long, and I really liked it, and I really say “really” a lot. I am a Murakami Heretic who likes After Dark, though, which made me point at it and say “This is why I like Japanese narratives!” when I read it last year, but I claim “second Murakami novel” read as my excuse, so take that purists!

Also of note for the approximately zero people who care, these others things I have read this year I have really liked:
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (I can’t tell if it’s the translator’s fault for the pluralization of mangas in the translation, or Barbery’s fault in the original French, but it amused and annoyed me; also enjoy your Hikaru no Go reference);
Yellow Blue Tibia and Gradisil by Adam Roberts (the former is hilarious and the latter is like A History of the Zabi Family except not really, although it is about politics relating to new colonies; I do highly recommend both, and Adam Roberts in general);
The Third Policeman by Flann o’Brien (which is just plain-out weird; I mean, bicycle people! flat buildings! eternity down the street and to the left! time leaks!);
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (which I read for class and recently finished, but it has been one of the best books I have read for this class thus far; you do not see books narrated by Death very often, especially not a wryly humored Death, and Zusak does a stellar job with it).

I have still failed to read anything from VIZ’s Haika-Soru line yet (to bring things slightly more On Topic), though I will be reading Usurper of the Sun soon.

That seems to be it! That is a LOT of pointless reading of uninteresting and lack-of-depth comments and I certainly do not blame some of you for skimming! I am planning on getting some more post-writing done soon (if not TERRIBLY soon), especially since this semester is almost over and I can get back in the habit of doing that. I know I have been (mostly) quiet for, like, four months, and probably I am the only person who has been deeply disturbed by this. I would have posted more, had it not been for the fact that every post I sat down to write turned into the same post (which I am working on, slowly, mostly mentally, and sometimes at other people), and also the fact that I just haven’t been watching or reading many cultural products from Japan; I plan to catch up when I have time (i.e. break starts).

Maybe I should learn to turn my brain off sometime! That would be useful!

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Secret Santa Project Review: The SoulTaker: Takin’ Souls, Cryin’ Blood

So after watching The SoulTaker for the Reverse Thieves’ Secret Santa project, I can honestly say that it was a much less painful experience than rumor had led me to believe; in fact I rather enjoyed it, or enjoyed the process of watching it, or something. Prior to actually watching The SoulTaker, the most I’d heard about the series ranged from “it’s terrible” to “it’s kind of alright” and the fact that Nakahara Komugi (of Nurse Witch Komugi-chan Magikarte infamy) was a spinoff of SoulTaker. This is not exactly the kind of buzz that is heartening to hear for a series, and so I’d filed the series off in the back of my head as “probably shouldn’t watch” which was exactly what it was until the Secret Santa project came around. Considering that my other two options for the event were Narutaru and Paranoia Agent and while I’ve seen half of the former (it’s no Bokurano manga, but neither was the Bokurano anime) and I intend fully to watch Paranoia Agent at some indeterminate point in the future (that mystical Shangri-la where I have Free Time in which I can read all I want and watch the anime I’ve meant to watch), I decided that SoulTaker would be the more adventurous option of the three, and the most in keeping with the spirit of the project.

“Adventurous” is, of course, a kind of understatement for SoulTaker. It is, after all, an early Akiyuki Shinbo series, and I am fairly sure that, out of the total of 325 minutes of the entire series, exactly seven of them were spent with what passed for “normal” lighting in SoulTaker. The rest of the series was occupied by screens that were mostly black, backgrounds that seemingly escaped from Frank Lloyd Wright Does Cathedral Windows, 45° camera angles, and lots and lots of dark colors. Lots of dark colors.

All the dark colors add to the paranoid atmosphere of SoulTaker, the story (?) of which is the prime driver of the paranoia in the series. I would, at this point, explain what sense I managed to piece together of the plot, except I don’t think it’s actually possible for me to put it in words, as the plot does not exist to make any sort of coherent sense. The generalities of the plot revolve around Kyosuke Date being betrayed by nearly everyone in the series at some point, punching people in SoulTaker mutant/alien form, and crying tears of blood. The point is: this series is paranoid to the max, as it starts out with Kyosuke getting stabbed in the heart by his mother and ends with Kyosuke killing his grandfather. You can call it allegory or you can call it bad writing, the plot is highly abstract and doesn’t cohese well into a sensible narrative; the characters are slightly less abstracted, but they still do not seem to function in the way characters normally do.

The only way I was able to even start to make sense of SoulTaker was through the old standby of the reality/fantasy binary: Kyosuke starts off the series with a strong desire to rescue and locate his sister, whom he loves,although all he ever has contact with are fragments of her personality (or “Flickers” in the parlance of the series). Most of the episodes involve Kyosuke meeting, dealing with, and eventually rejecting (or failing to attain) different fragments of his sister, until the end, where the machinations of other characters eventually re-integrate her personality and reconstruct her. Of course, his sister is both 1) young and innocent-looking and 2) sinister and deadly; long story short, she attempts to kill off the entire human race simply so that she and Kyosuke can have an idyllic existence as the Adam and Eve of a new race of hybrids. Kyosuke rejects this, and eventually “kills her so she can live” by absorbing her into himself before saving humanity.

I have no idea if that previous paragraph makes any kind of sense whatsoever, and I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t, but hopefully it’s not difficult to see the implication that fragments and outward manifestations of a person’s personality are easier to like but deceiving of the true nature of the dangerous personality behind them. A general reading is possible, but it’s hard not to see SoulTaker as a sort of cautionary tale for the modern otaku: even in 2001, the abstraction of character personalities and physical traits, familiar now to all, was well underway, and unease was already beginning to stir. Here we have fragments of a single idealized personality—likable, attractive, and often subtly sexualized on their own—that, when assembled, form a frightening and destructive whole that threatens humanity; here we have the otaku, pursuing the idealized personality suggested by the fragments, then confronted by and eventually assimilating the twisted reality of their ideal.

In the end, I can say with assurance that I liked watching SoulTaker, which is, to me, always the most important thing, and infinitely more important than concerns as to whether I liked a given work qua work, or whether or not I think a given work is good. In that regard, the Secret Santa project is, at least in this instance, a success.

Dear Secret Santa Assigned To Me By The ReverseThieves

I do not know who upon this illustrious list of people you are.

Neither do I know your motives, nor the intricate heuristics you doubtless used to arrive at your tripartite conclusion.

All I know is that you have thrown down the gauntlet, and I am left with no recourse but to accept the challenge.

It might be a torturous path, fraught with untold perils; the journey may be grueling, the summit unspectacular.

Or perhaps I am too pessimistic; perhaps it will be a rewarding journey, with untold pleasures strewn around the path and a summit more majestic than spacious skies or amber waves of grain.

In either case, however, I suspect I might be in need of some drastic medical care at the end of my epoch-making quest.

Glass Mask (2005): NEW ROLES ARE BORN FROM PAIN.

When I started poking around Crunchyroll several months ago, the first oddity I noticed was not that they carried Fist of the North Star or even Galaxy Express 999, but that they were streaming the 2005 anime adaptation of Suzue Miuchi’s classic (and still-running) manga from 1976, Glass Mask. I had wanted to see this particular adaptation (or, better yet, the 1984 version) since I heard about it, but, alas, those were the days when you were required to rely upon the vagaries of fansubbers for semi-obscure series such as this one, and, to my knowledge, there wasn’t a complete set of fansubs out for either the 1984 or the 2005 version (honestly, though, there might be some VHS fansubs of the 1984 Glass Mask floating around). Not wanting to start a series that I had no hopes of completing within a reasonable timeframe, I elected to wait until access to the whole series came about.

Now that I’ve finally managed to start it and get a decent distance into it, I can honestly and objectively say that Glass Mask is most likely the most exciting—excuse me, EXCITING—anything about acting that you will ever see, hear, or read.

I could probably just end this post there, but I realize the audacity of that statement and so I feel compelled to justify it somewhat.

Glass Mask tells the story of Maya Kitajima, a young middle-schooler with the innate ability to memorize and recite lines of a play after hearing them only once. This ability places her in the sights of horrifically disfigured former actress Chigusa Tsukikage, the one actress who has played the legendary role of the Crimson Goddess and the one person with the rights to authorize another person to play the eponymous role for the long-unperformed production. Tsukikage (who dresses entirely in black, has Magic Hair that covers up her disfiguring eye injury delivered from a falling spotlight, and should really lay off her pack-a-day habit) is now an embittered woman, but in Maya she sees the raw potential that she can mold like clay into the Perfect Actress who can finally accurately portray the Crimson Goddess.

This is (was) the most beautiful actress in the world.

There are two things standing in Maya’s path to fulfill this goal, though: one, her family, who collectively thinks it’s a great idea to force Maya to deliver 99 ramen bowl sets in three hours so she can have a ticket to attend a play (this ticket, it should be noted, is promptly thrown into the icy waters of Tokyo Bay by a vengeful sister and Maya nearly catches her death of hypothermia trying to retrieve it); and two, Ayumi Himekawa, an actress of considerable talent who declares herself Maya’s rival (Maya, on the other hand, could care less about rivalship) and generally is part of the villainous director Hajime Onodera’s elaborate schemes to wrest control of the Crimson Goddess play away from Tsukikage by crushing her hopes at every possible turn.

The first obstacle is quite easily dispensed with, as apparently all it takes after Maya is accepted into Tsukikage’s troupe is an incident where Maya’s enraged mother throws a conveniently placed kettle of boiling water upon Tsukikage, following which all letters of apology and/or correspondence from Maya’s mother are immediately consigned to the flames by Tsukikage.

The second obstacle has yet to be surmounted in over thirty years, but experts predict that this might soon be finally overcome.

Matters are, of course, complicated by such pesky things as the fact that Onodera’s producer, the suavely handsome Masumi Hayami, presents himself as an antagonist to both Tsukikage and Maya, but secretly sends Maya purple roses as her secret admirer (ostensibly of her acting skills but c’mon it’s 70s shoujo).

Speaking of 70s shoujo, the 2005 Glass Mask anime remake perfectly captures the particular brand of shoujo that was in vogue in the 70s: the ridiculously over-melodramatic narrative. Glass Mask 2005 does not have the almost joyous panache found in Osamu Dezaki’s adaptations of Riyoko Ikeda’s Rose of Versailles and Brother, Dear Brother, but instead forswears the ostentation of dramatic chords and quadruple takes for a much more subtly grandiose tone. Insomuch as grandiose can be considered “subtle”. In fact let’s just scrap all these giant words and just say that it plays it much straighter than either Rose of Versailles or Brother, Dear Brother.

You know you're a serious, hardcore actor when your irises and pupil disappear for dramatic effect.

Playing it straighter, however, doesn’t diminish the fact that Maya is pretty much the sole practitioner of what I have come to term hardcore acting, which I can only describe as the acting equivalent of the title role in a Sylvester Stallone film. Tsukikage is perhaps the most ridiculously demanding drama instructor ever, requiring Maya to go to such extremes as living as though she were Beth from Little Women for a week so that she would live, breathe, move, think, and act exactly as Beth did, thereby making sure that her role as Beth was pitch-perfect.

That isn’t even one of the more extreme examples either. I have seen 14 episodes out of 51 total and I have yet to see something that could possibly top locking Maya in the storage shed for two days and then spending the next five days straight having an acting battle while standing in the falling snow coughing up blood. I find this rather hard to imagine getting topped later in the series, but my past experience with 70s shoujo instructs me otherwise. In any other reality that isn’t the Glass Mask reality I’d be wondering why the social workers haven’t shown up and slapped Tsukikage with a child abuse charge or eighty, and a restraining order to boot.

Perhaps the only real complaint I’d raise specifically against the 2005 adaptation (other than the lackluster visuals) is that it’s paced at breakneck speed. I often feel that I’ve somehow missed an episode between episodes (even when I’m watching them one after the other), and there is a tendency to engage in some serious summarization (which has only really cropped up around episode 10), even of the pivotal acting scenes. That said, when they do spend considerable time with an actual performance (most notably Maya’s performance of a fourteen-actor play by herself) the result is highly EXCITING acting, replete with shocked reactions from the audience and running commentary by fellow troupe members and other important characters.

There, sadly, isn’t much more I can really say about Glass Mask, because most of what’s good about it is hard to put in words that aren’t mostly comprised of capital letters. It is an EXCITING experience unto itself, and one that must be seen to be properly appreciated. Whether you’re a diehard shoujo fan, or somehow convinced that all shoujo is composed of quotidian romance plotlines, or looking for a way to dip your toe into the waters of 70s shoujo in preparation for a journey to Versailles, Glass Mask is worth a shot. Now if only we could get the manga licensed over here…

If this doesn't make at least a small number of you want to watch this series, I don't know what will.

Onii-sama e…: It’s Exciting! It’s Thrilling! It’s Yuri!

Apologies for a lack of any kind of meaningful graphic for Onii-sama e… (also known as Brother, Dear Brother). There really aren’t any good images out there. The fansubs for it are, as far as I can tell, very bad rips of nth-generation VHS subs (two of them had hideous sound errors all over the place), and the series is practically unknown in the English-speaking world (and even the Japanese-speaking world, but that’s understandable as it has to fight with its sibling, Rose of Versailles, for attention.

Onii-sama e…, despite its title, has almost nothing to do with brothers at all, and everything to do with, well, sisters. I guess. The titles comes from the letters Nanako, the main character, writes to her former cram school teacher and penpal “brother”. The letters act as a kind of “frame” for the story of the series, but only barely, and the letters themselves have repercussions later in the series. But that’s later. The actual plot of the series revolves around the mysterious organization known only as the Sorority, and the drama that occurs when the extremely normal and totally not rich snobby girl Nanako is invited to join it, much to the anger and resentment of all the actual rich snobby girls at the school. This results in drama, of course, and ever so gradually Nanako is sent careening through a series of events that defy the mind in terms of totally-out-of-left-fieldness. Also, as is traditional in Ikeda Riyoko manga, every female character who is not the main character is an absolute bitch. There’s no other way to describe it. The plot essentially exists to pull characters from one dramatic revelation or outrage to another, with barely a moment to gasp for breath in between. “There is no end to my tears…” indeed.

THE SERIOUS TALK

The series itself is, essentially, the proto-yuri series. Arguably the prototypes for yuri stretch far back into the early 20th century with the Class S writers, but yuri (and accompanying feminist beliefs) hadn’t crept into manga until the Year 24 Group smashed into the manga scene in the 70s. Never an actual, formal group, the Year 24 Group (so named because they were all born in 1949, or Showa 24) was a nickname for a group of unrelated, independently-working female manga-ka who were popular in the 1970s (and sometimes beyond) and helped define the market for shoujo that we have today. Undeniably the biggest and most successful of these was Ikeda Riyoko, author of Rose of Versailles and Onii-sama e… I’m fairly certain it was 100% impossible to be a young pre-teen or teenage girl in Japan in the 1970s and not have read Rose of Versailles, as even my totally normal female native Japanese language professor reacted with glee when I name-dropped it. Also when I name-dropped Tokikake, but she thought I was referring to the 80s live-action movie. Oops.

At any rate, it’s quite clear that modern successful yuri series owe quite a lot to Onii-sama e…: Marimite in particular, with its all-girls school setting and penchant for overblown schoolgirl drama, but even something like Simoun shows influence from it. Revolutionary Girl Utena drew more from Rose of Versailles, though.

Okay, enough boring, serious talk.

THE EXCITING AND FUN TALK

Like Rose of Versailles back in the 70s, when Onii-sama e… was greenlighted in the early 1990s for an anime adapation, the talents of legendary director Dezaki Osamu were tapped. Known for directing a large array of highly regarded adaptations (Ashita no Joe, Ace o Nerae) and generally being a pretty awesome guy all around.

For those who watched Rose of Versailles, you probably know what’s in store for you, as, despite coming 15 years after that, Dezaki still uses a quite similar direction style. Which means you’ve got more triple takes than you know what to do with. There hasn’t been an epiosde that didn’t have at least one triple take, and, as I get near the end of the series, triple takes have become so commonplace that Dezaki had to resort to a trick very few directors will even attempt: the quadruple take. If dramatic chords were the excessively cheesy awesome hallmark of Rose of Versailles, the triple and quadruple takes are Onii-sama e…’s dramatic flourish of choice. I mean, anything that makes me want to shout at the charactes while I’m watching it on my mp3 player in the very halls of academia itself, despite no one around me having any clue what I’d be talking about, well, that’s beyond entertaining and it enters a new realm called exciting.

The end result is a series I love to watch (even if I’ve neglected it far more than I should have, due to easily distracted clause). I’m not entirely sure I like it better than Rose of Versailles, but that’s a tall order to fill, and no one can top the awesome of Oscar Francois de Jarjeyes for me, anyway. It is still, however, totally awesome and worth it, especially if you’re a fan of Rose of Versailles. Even if I’m not done with it yet.

NONSENSICAL REAL-LIFE WHINING BELOW, SKIP AT YOUR LEISURE

This semester has unexpectedly bindsided me with, uh, a distinct lack of time to do much of anything. Considering the fact that I leave for school around 8 every morning and very, very rarely make it back home for any appreciable length of time before 9pm on weeknights, and then have homework to deal with, and then off to bed to do the same thing the next day. I barely have time to sit down and do much of anything before I’m off gallavanting around campus yet again. At the same time, I’m trying to clear out my backlog. This is why I’ve been noticably quiet lately, I simply haven’t had the time to watch anime, let alone write about it. Apologies to those used to more frequent postings of varying quality

Soul Eater: Good Resonance, Bad Resonance


Death the Kid understands my pain in trying to write this post.

For whatever ineffable reason, I have found it extraordinarily hard to actually sit down and write things about Soul Eater. I really don’t know why this is. It’s not because I hate the series–I like it, it’s a ton of fun, especially 10/11 and 14 (for entirely different aspects of the word “fun”), I enjoy watching it, and I really can’t think of anything it’s really doing wrong that would merit this. It might not be giving enough material for a post in the vein of previous posts, and, not wanting to flood the otakuhedron with any more senseless, aimless posts than I already have (read: most of them), but that’s not because such elements aren’t there–10/11 masterfully demonstrated the strengths of the series, and I honestly want more episodes like that. (I haven’t watched 16 as I write this, by the way, and I’m really hoping for 15/16 to be for Death the Kid and Patty/Liz what 10/11 was for Black Star and Tsubaki)

The strength of the series, and the direction it’s taking, lies in the concept of the resonance between the meister and the weapon. (I don’t even know how many times this has been said) When it comes to Black Star and Tsubaki, for instance, they have a high rate of resonance–partially because they honestly really do trust each other with their lives. Black Star is, of course, an annoying git (a lovably annoying git, but an annoying git nonetheless), and Tsubaki is annoyed and aggravated by him at times near constantly, but–and here’s the thing–she understands him. Part of Black Star’s personality is due to his family’s past as a cadre of feared, evil assassins, and he’s trying to overcompensate for past wrongs by shouting a lot and being really dumb. And Tsubaki understands this. Way back in the second  episode, we had the infamous accidently-peeking-into-bath scene with Black Star who (unsurprisingly) does not really seem to understand that when peeping in on a girl, however unintentionally, it is not the wisest thing in the world to scream really loudly. Tsubaki instantly chastises him–not for peeping, mind, but for screaming. It might be that she harbors a secret desire for Black Star deep in her heart (the doujin author’s route), but more likely (and less of an indication that your mind is in the gutter) is that she doesn’t get mad at him for peeping because she understands him so well that she was fully aware that he wouldn’t do something like this on purpose for his own titillation. In a sense, they’re probably the most idealistic couple-like group in Soul Eater–for a relationship to last, there must be mutual understanding and mutual acceptance between the two.

By contrast to the mutual faith of Black Star and Tsubaki stands Maka and Soul Eater, who seem to be plagued by their own shortcomings. They both realize that their shortcomings are their own, but, at the same time, they also take out their own frustrations with themselves on each other. I’m not even entirely sure that both of them know that they both feel too weak to be of use to the other–remember the “resonance training”? They were told to tell the other person’s worst weakness to each other, but they argued and bickered instead–not because they don’t like each other, but because both feels inadequate, and thinks that the other is just waiting for them to catch up. It’s a difficult situation that they’re both handling differently–Maka by beating herself up over such things as letting Soul Eater take a blow to protect her, Soul Eater by, well, making a deal with a jazz-loving imp-thing that exists in his head, as a result of contact with Ragnarok. They both want to be strong, but rather than grow strong together (as Tsubaki and Black Star seem to have) they’re trying to go about it independent of each other, which is the very opposite of what “resonance” means, hence why they aren’t very good at it.

Death the Kid and Patty/Liz…well, I don’t know yet, nor can I make a guess. I’m hoping it’s in 16 or shortly thereafter, but I’m pretty sure it’s coming.

I do think that, if I had to fault Soul Eater on one thing, it would simply be that it’s trying to spread itself too thin (at the moment, anyway). That might be because I haven’t really watched/read One Piece or something similar, though. It’s very good at being a hilarious comedy, and it’s very good at the characterization and general dramatic storytelling that I’d expect from a good shounen anime, or a good anime period. I’m just not sure the balance is right, as it may be shooting itself in the foot by being too silly, and inviting consideration of it as just a silly wacky show, which would mean missing out on the dramatically important elements. I think I can make this claim, since even the act of writing this post required a shift from “oh Soul Eater, you so silly and wacky” to a more “normal” mode of thought for me. Which shouldn’t be that hard, really. And for all I know, as the series progresses, it will get progressively more dramatic. Or more comedic. Or something.

One last note on resonance: it is seriously the best-produced T.M.Revolution song ever. I didn’t like his material in the SEED franchise too terribly much, and I’m not a big fan of abignon boys school, but, man, resonance is awesome.

Toradora!, or: A Taiga to Call My Own (and that fits in the palm of my hand)

So, after hearing the news that the highly popular (in Japan, because very few seem to have heard of it over here) light novel series Toradora!, the thrilling and sometimes comical misadventures of one (1) Aisaka Taiga, the Palmtop Tiger (with more bite than bark) and one (1) Takasu Ryuuji, the Dragon (with more bark than bite), I went out and read the first volume of the light novel, and, lo and behold, it was awesome. Clearly from reading that mini-description in the previous sentence, you now know everything there is to know about Toradora!, right?

Wrong. Yes, Toradora! is Yet Another Entry in the long line of series cashing in (or instigating, or otherwise affected by) on the tsundere craze (which, in the light novel industry, are seemingly defined by 2002’s Shakugan no Shana, and 2004’s Zero no Tsukaima; Toradora! hitting the scene in 2006), but, rather than being a hollow clone of our paranthetical examples, it almost seems as if, in just one volume, Toradora! has managed to one-up its progenitors (for lack of a better ten-dollar word). How? Well, we’ll get to that in a bit.

The basic plot setup for Toradora! is quite simple: Ryuuji, your normal, average, everyday guy (who just happens to have these really frightening eyes inherited from his father, who he’s never met, and also a major OCD issue with messiness, and amazing culinary skills) pines after the extremely cute and extremely sweet Kushieda Minori, who has never really paid his frightening appearance much mind and treats him as a human. Minori, however, is friends with the dangerous entity known to her classmates as the Palmtop Tiger, the fearsome bully Aisaka Taiga. Through a series of circumstances best described to the reader of this summary as Wacky Hijinks,  Ryuuji manages to, at 3AM in the morning, while being beaten bloody with a kendo stick, that Taiga has a massive crush on Ryuuji’s best friend, Kitamura Yuusuke. The two exchange crushes, and Ryuuji is roped into helping Taiga acheive her dream of making Yuusuke her boyfriend, and Ryuuji will be set up with Minori as a reward. Many, many exclamations of “Idiot dog!” (sound familiar?) follow.

I know, it sounds painfully generic, but bear with me here. First, the writing (even via translation) is quite good to begin with, as far as I can tell (I managed to read a page or two in the original Japanese a while ago, and it struck me as a quite clever writing style; and, just from looking at the translation, I can tell that it’s stylistic throughout)–it conveys humor, the personalities of the two main characters, and poignancy well.

Yes. Poignancy. I said it. It’s a filthy word, I know, but I said it. And I’m not taking it back.

See, Toradora! could have simply been the aforementioned Yet Another Tsundere Series, except that, instead of tsundere being the selling point of the character of Taiga, it is instead a limited-scope descriptive term, as the author, Takemiya Yuyuko, has taken the concept of “tsundere girl” and, instead of stopping there, used the moetic construct of “tsundere” to develop the character of Taiga around into a fleshed-out character. What I was somewhat expecting to be a fairly simple, lighthearted, enjoyable if forgettable read (which I would have enjoyed anyway, probably) turned out to be something that actually managed to have pathos.

Of course, it takes the whole first volume of the series to fully grasp the varied nuances of both the characters of Taiga and Ryuuji (who are the focal points of the series, virtually every other character is a cardboard cutout at this point), and I’m still not sure if I want to go into specific first-volume analyses of their characters when it’s unlikely you’ve read the first volume anyway, even though I desperately want to. Suffice it to say, Taiga has an actual reason (and a very good one) to be the way she is, and the relationship dynamics, quite similar to those in that favorite of mine, Itazura na Kiss (except with the genders reversed), are handled effectively and realistically (in that way that only anime can make the unrealistic realistic). In fact, I will dare say that Toradora!, after one volume, belongs in the pantheon I mentioned way earlier in reference to the sophistication of moe, because it is happening, mark my words, and this just proves that the otaku of Japan (and America, and everywhere else) may be head over heels in love with cute anime girls of varying physical age appearances, but they aren’t stupid. Not as stupid as some might say they are, anyway.

Of course, the anime version is airing this October, and, like Shakugan no Shana and Zero no Tsukaima before it, it will be animated by J.C. Staff, and our dear friend and pathological phenomenon Kugimiya Rie will (PROBABLY, REPORTS INDICATE) be providing the voice of Taiga, to the immense satisfaction of Toradora! fans all over. I knew something was up when I saw Okada Mari on tap for Series Composition (side note: I am now declaring myself the first and probably only member of the Okada Mari Fanclub. I am going to have to go watch Kodomo no Jikan just for you, Mari. Just for you!) (well, okay, more because I have always meant to, beyond the not-really-too-hot-for-TV OVA episode and the couple volumes of manga I read, just to see what exactly is Up With It. That and to spite all the drama around it), and it’s quite nice to see that her talents are going to be used effectively.

Yes, I know, she looks like a brunette Louise. You can blame Yasu for that. No, really. It’s all his fault.

So, uh, yeah. Now I can add Aisaka Taiga to my list of “really awesome characters who happen to be cute girls.” I hope somehow this gets popular enough to merit someone bringing the novels over here. And I hope the anime gets it right, but it probably will.


NOTICE SHAMELESSLY STOLEN FROM G.K. CHESTERTON

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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