Anime Review: Bleach

In Japan, voice actors, or seiyuu, are pretty much required to act, sing, be idols in a band, and a whole lot more that western people just don’t think to expect of them.

In the USA, voice actors are exactly that: voice actors. And nothing else. Usually. Ok, while they can do other things, like live acting, or music, or heading a studio or whatever, we Americans tend to think of voice actors as only voice actors. Nothing more is required or expected for them to be voice actors.

Why do I begin this review with that comparison? Because it illustrates a difference in the cultures. One seems to expect that if you are good at one thing, you should be good at many things, while the other tends to expect that if you at good at one thing… you are good at only that one thing, and anything else that you are good at is entirely independent of it.

For instance: if one can draw exceptionally well, people in the West might expect this person to employ their skills in partnership with a skilled storyteller, while Japanese people seem to expect the skilled artist to be the skilled storyteller. That’s what everyone seemed to expect of the man who created Bleach, after all.

Let this lesson be learned: to draw with exceptional creative ability is not the same thing as to tell a good story effectively.

I rush to make it clear that Bleach is highly enjoyable, in its way, and a great deal of thought and effort clearly went into it. But it also earns some fair criticisms, and serves as an example to aspiring storytellers with both the accomplishments and the mistakes found within it.

The story primarily follows Ichigo Kurosaki, a human with a bit of spiritual awareness, and his friends. A twist of fate brings Ichigo into contact with Rukia Kuchiki, a shinigami, or soul reaper, whose job it is to reap wayward souls and strike down those who have lingered so long that they have become monstrous, a threat to both the living and the dead. In a moment of dire need, Rukia shares her power with Ichigo, turning him into a substitute reaper, unleashing a vast, untapped reservoir of spiritual power within him. This fateful encounter sets into motion events which will alter the course of their lives and determine the outcome of pivotal confrontations to come as nefarious conspiracies are brought to light.

The major selling points of Bleach, much like those of Zoids, are the battles, the characters, and the music, all of which are superbly crafted. The major points against it are the shoddy overall plot and the lackluster world-building. Oh, and way too many characters.

To start with, the battles are among the best I’ve seen, in their way. They use fairly unique magic systems to create a variety of special abilities which are all thrown against each other in gripping battles that are both flashy to behold and riveting to witness in their significance to the characters. It’s a fairly intelligent way of fighting, though fairly dramatized and drawn out a bit, much like in many similar stories like Naruto, or One Piece, or Fairy Tail. There are better fights, and worse fights, and some fights that are just there to be flashy and take up some time. For the most part, it’s pretty fun.

The characters are all very well designed, and interesting to watch. There is a truly diverse range of appearances and temperaments to be found here. Mind you, it can get to be a bit much, as there are entirely new sets of characters, heroes and villains alike, introduced in each new arc, but everything about them is exceptionally well-crafted. Their history, their abilities, their appearance, their demeanor, everything. Superb. And, especially, their interactions.

The reason we watch or read stories as long as this is because we come to care about the characters, and that is accomplished in how they interact with each other. Whether they be honorable adversaries, albeit ruthless enemies as well, or friends and comrades, or captains and subordinates, I love watching these people. My single favorite moment would have to be when one captain made his introduction to his foe while having his lieutenant sprinkle sakura blossoms from a balcony overhead, which she did, and then poured the entire basket onto him, and threw said basket straight down onto his head, all without a word. Heh, somehow that just always made me crack up! 🙂

Funny moments, happy moments, tender moments, shocking moments, sad moments, inspiring moments of loyalty and triumph, moments of mutual tragedy and sympathy… basically, whatever is happening, these people are brilliant.

And then, like many a classic anime, there’s the music. Seriously,  I don’t think this anime would have lasted nearly so long if not for its soundtrack. Whatever moment we are in, the music is pretty much perfect. 🙂

So, that’s what it does well. As for what it doesn’t…

“Get ready for battle…”

I can scarcely think of a show in more dire need of rewriting and streamlining.

The earliest part of the show, the first season, was clearly making things up as it went along, things being much more dramatic than functional. Soon enough, it delved into an overarching plot that left almost everything from the first season behind. Then it extended that plot long enough to chronicle a small war between the reapers and a traitor who rallied their enemies. It ends with a sacrifice on Ichigo’s part, which they then immediately undo in the show’s final season, and leave things there, just shy of the final arc of the manga. As all of this occurred, there was often a sense that things were happening “just because.” The plot of having to go rescue a girl after she was kidnapped and whisked away to an otherworldly stronghold was used at least twice. The villain’s role, and power, were very overdone. Also, Ichigo is apparently a motley of every kind of creature mentioned. And did they have to resort to entire filler seasons? I mean, it covers little enough ground already, especially for being so long.

Then there’s the world-building, which seems to be made up as they went along, from start to finish. We have an afterlife where people are still born, live, and die, and even those human spirits which are brought into the Soul Society, as it’s called, are basically just living a life where they don’t age and can never find their previous loved ones. Any soul which does not make it to the Soul Society goes to Hueco Mundo…

ADD moment: super props for how the author managed to incorporate Japanese and Spanish so perfectly.

…so,  they go to Hueco Mundo, where they are all monsters, and they fight forever, and congeal into massive monsters, which fight and devour each other, becoming more developed monsters, until they eventually become beast-like lords of death and destruction. Good or bad doesn’t matter, that’s what the afterlife holds for everyone: either an ongoing existence in Soul Society, a hellish existence that annihilates you in Hueco Mundo, or one is either devoured entirely by the monsters of Hueco Mundo, if not simply destroyed outright, ceasing to exist, by a breed of ghost-killing humans.

There are very few imagined afterlives which are more horrific than this one, I think.

“You ever get the feeling that our afterlives suck?”

Now, dealing with spirits of the dead and such, the reapers are sent forth to slay monsters, thus retrieving the souls which became those monsters, and sending them to the Soul Society (or Hell, depending, because apparently that exists, too, though it’s barely mentioned). So, the entire enemy force of monsters which is led against them can pretty much be chalked up to their failures, on a massive scale. But that’s never mentioned.

Indeed, things are either mentioned and forgotten, or dwelled on forever, but the ramifications of nearly every aspect of this world are almost never elaborated on. Things are the way they are just because that’s the way they are.

Yeah, world-building problems.

I say again, the selling points for Bleach are the entertaining fights, the lovable characters, and the music. Not so much the overall story or the world it’s set in. And with so much attention and loving detail going into what was good, it’s a shame that whatever could have been better, wasn’t.

And this is why artists and storytellers are partners more often than they’re the same person.

That said, I still enjoy Bleach tremendously, especially, like most fans, during the arc where Ichigo and his friends invade the Soul Society in order to rescue Rukia. That is absolutely the best part of the show. The rest isn’t “bad,” but it could have been so much better… and so much shorter.

Rating: 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: C-Plus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #256: The Unacceptable

“Five was better than five hundred, but that didn’t make it acceptable.”
– Julie Shackleford-Pitt, from Monster Hunter Guardian, by Larry Correia

The number referred to here is that of children taken by monsters. (so this may be my most heavy-handed post yet)

It’s part of what Julie is thinking as she, a mother and a defender of humanity, is conversing with a minion of monsters (who turns out to be a monster himself, in disguise). The man boasts that he has saved more children than any monster hunter like Julie has, because where there used to be five hundred children taken by the local monster population every year, now there are only five. In a purely quantitative light, that might be a significant step forward, but those five children who are still taken? They, and their entire lives, are written off as an acceptable loss. That is what Julie disagrees with.

It is one thing to sacrifice a few in order to save many more, but it is quite another to accept that choice, and to such a degree that one makes a lifestyle out of it. It is when such sacrifices are normalized, when we stop even trying to save those who are doomed, that we become monsters ourselves.

One does not gain victory by surrendering

And choosing not to even fight for those taken children, because of some “agreement,” in the name of some facade of “civilized, non-violent behavior,” is definitely a surrendering of humanity.

I recall reading in another book, something akin to, “When it becomes acceptable to kill another human, childhood dies. When it becomes acceptable to kill children, humanity dies.”

The same thing happens in the story, and in real life.

Now, in the book, that happens a bit more literally. The monster within the man soon reveals himself. Where the man would have happily given an inch and declared that he had gained a mile, the monster took that inch, and everything else. The man died trying to make a costly “peace” with the monsters that prey on humanity, and then his murderer wore his skin and used his resources not to diminish the number of children taken, but to keep them from being noticed. The number, which the man would have bragged about, is just a lie told by the monster within.

Some “peace,” huh?

Give an inch of humanity to the monster, and the monster takes it all. Try to make deals with them, and they eat you. Try to placate and appease them, and they take over your life. Dine at a monster’s table long enough, and you become either the monster or the menu.

Julie, on the other hand, refuses to give that inch, or anything at all. Not ever. Not when her child is at stake. Not when any child is at risk. She won’t look for some “civilized,” “rational,” solution, to save some children at the cost of others. No, she’ll just shoot the monster in the face until it’s dead. She fights to save all children, no matter the odds.

In short: she does not accept something so wrong. She fights against it, with everything she has. She tries, and never stops trying.

Mind you, sometimes we do need to endure what is wrong with the world, because it is a great rarity to be able to change the world overnight, but that is not the same as accepting it.

True, losses are inevitable. True, sometimes we must make impossible choices about who to save, the many or the few. True, we cannot save everyone. But that is no reason not to try.

To fight against what is wrong, and evil, and inhumane, and unacceptable, is merely the choice to retain one’s humanity.

How does the old saying go? You only really fail when you fail to try.

And who knows? Who really knows? It may just be that, in the end, no matter the odds, and through all the loss and pain and sacrifice, maybe, just maybe… we just might win.

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The Would-Have-Been Big Bad: A Digimon Fan-Theory

I have been a fan of Digimon since I was a kid. I love the first season, highly enjoy the third, and even the second, for all its flaws, has its charms. I had the opportunity to watch all three of these seasons recently, alongside my nephew, and I could not help but notice a few things.

In particular, I noticed some clear indicators about a certain menacing final villain – the “Big Bad,” if you will – sprinkled throughout the first two seasons.

Or perhaps I should say, they would have been the true and final villain, the ultimate Big Bad, of the original Digimon series, the Adventure saga. The third season, Tamers, departed wildly from what they were planning, and they clearly were planning something. They laid some pretty solid groundwork over the course of two seasons, and just never got to finish building on it. All of their work is directly tied to the Big Bad, the one behind many of the other villains we see, a being so powerful and dangerous that they took two full seasons of other, lesser threats just to indicate his (or her) existence.

I could not help but file a bunch of these hints away, and I believe I have a pretty good idea of what they would have done, and who the Big Bad would have been.

Starting From the Beginning

First, a quick review.

The first season of Digimon had the Digidestined getting swept off to the Digital World, where they found both friends and a multitude of enemies. Both the Digital World and the Real World were in crisis, and most of that centered around the activities of dangerous, villainous Digimon, but there was something much bigger happening: the boundaries between the two worlds was blurring, with Digimon appearing and causing catastrophe all over the Real World. But the Digidestined defeated all the villains, and the Digital World was both destroyed and reborn again, the barriers coming back firmly into place.

The second season saw an expansion in the ranks of the Digidestined as they traveled back and forth between the two worlds freely. New villains arose, as well, yet they were mostly connected, like puppet strings or dominoes, to a single, previous villain who made his return just in time for the finale. Once again, both worlds were devastated, and restored, and this time the story ended with the two worlds interacting freely, instead of being separated once again. Still, the blurring between worlds was a significant problem, and they added in new worlds as well, such as the one that grants wishes and, more infamously, the Dark Ocean.

The ending of these two seasons obviously rushed to tie up the story, but there were plenty of dangling threads that would have been tied up in what would have been a third season.

How Connected Are the Seasons?

The fact that the first two seasons were connected, as part of a much larger story, is well-established by the characters of Azulongmon and Gennai.

Azulongmon is a mega-ultimate level digimon, one of four ancient protectors of the Digital World. This concept was recycled in Tamers with the four Sovereign Digimon, but we only got to see Azulongmon in the Adventure seasons. The exposition he provides links the events of the second season with the first, especially by way of mentioning how, “after a long battle,” each of the four were sealed away by the Dark Masters, who were the second-to-last villains of the first season.

Gennai is… well, he has a human appearance, but he’s certainly not human. He and his comrades are disciples of a force of light, one which briefly communicates with the Digidestined via the conduit of Kari, who bears the Crest of Light. In that sequence, we see that he and his brethren helped to create the digimon and sync them with the energies of the Digidestined, after such had been chosen, as well as the crests which proved pivotal to helping them Digivolve. Then Piedmon, chief of the Dark Masters, attacked them and cursed Gennai, when the man stood in his way and got the eggs, crests, and Digivices out of harm’s way.

Afterward, Gennai appears frequently to guide, protect, and aid the Digidestined. He and his brethren are even able to impart a bit of power from Azulongmon, their ally, to the digimon in the second season, to help them digivolve at critical moments.

So, Azulongmon, Gennai, and some sentient force of light are all clearly working together, an alliance of various creatures forming a faction aligned with the light, whose activities span both seasons as well as events set before the story begins, with the chosen Digidestined and their digimon partners standing at the very heart of their efforts. But what are they all allies against?

Following the Puppet Strings

Azulongmon and Gennai’s brethren demonstrate an ability to enhance a digimon’s ability to digivolve, and this is actually what they do in partnering humans and digimon together. The same ability to digivolve is suppressed by the Control Spires, which Azulongmon explicitly states were created in order to suppress him and his comrades.

The Control Spires were constructed by Ken, when he was corrupted as the Digimon Emperor. Yet, despite building them, he knows next to nothing about them. It turns out, they weren’t even his idea to begin with. He was under the influence of a Dark Spore, which Oikawa planted in him whilst, in turn, under the influence of the spirit of Myotismon. So Myotismon used Oikawa who used Ken to build the Control Spires… but where did they come from?

The answer may be indicated the first time Kari is swept up out of the Real World and onto the shores of the Dark Ocean. There, she meets some wretched, desperate, vile creatures who want her to be their queen, and use her power to lead them against their king, the King of the Dark Ocean. We barely catch a glimpse of that figure, rising from the depths after she escapes, but that only happens after they discover and destroy a Control Spire.

It’s quite a surprise, finding one there. But, then again, Ken only became the Emperor after he, too, had been taken to the Dark Ocean, and his Digivice, a holy talisman of empowerment within the Digital World, had been bathed in its waters, corrupted into a Dark Digivice which did the opposite: it suppressed the digimons’ ability to digivolve. That power was then relayed out through the Control Spires, which he built.

That is both a circular and a straight line between the Dark Ocean, and its king, and the Control Spires which suppress the power of Azulongmon and all other digimon.

Connections Between the Villains

The power of the Control Spires and the Dark Digivice are tied straight to the Dark Ocean, but they only came to be through the machinations of Myotismon. Interestingly, he becomes an entity of darkness itself, feeding on people’s misery and negativity. He also states, “It is my destiny to plunge this world (meaning the Real World) into darkness and become king of the Digital World.” That phrasing always puzzled me. How would destroying the human world make him king of the digital one? But it is perfectly explained if the darkness he referred to was that of the Dark Ocean, and rule over the Digital World was some sort of promised reward.

Yet, the Control Spires most directly suppress Azulongmon and his comrades, who were sealed away by the Dark Masters. The Dark Masters didn’t seem especially “dark” to me, for the most part, but they certainly had dominion over the Digital World. That is, first they defeated the four guardian digimon, then they tried to prevent the Digidestined from coming, then they waited until the Digidestined had come and gone (in pursuit of Myotismon), and then they reformed the Digital World into Spiral Mountain, and then, only then, did they challenge the Digidestined… and lost.

So, is there a connection between the Dark Masters and Myotismon?

Well, they both interfered with the Digidestined, trying to corrupt or kill them and their digimon even before they came to the Digital World. Myotismon was the more successful on that score, corrupting Ken, enslaving Gatomon, and trying to kill Kari. He also, through his servant Demidevimon, tried and somewhat succeeded in corrupting each of the Digidestined in turn, suppressing their respective virtues and stifling their strength.

There is one other being who tried to stop the Digidestined when they were still relatively weak: the first major villain, Devimon. He used the power of the Black Gears, as well as his own Touch of Evil, to take control of benevolent digimon all across File Island, trying to destroy them. Much like the Digimon Emperor later used black rings to enslave digimon to do his will.

Devimon appeared only one other time in the series, after his initial defeat. Ken, as the Emperor, found him in the depths of the Dark Whirlpool. This is described as “the source of all evil in the Digital World.” Is it merely a coincidence that both of them are found in the middle of the ocean? Perhaps it is, in fact, a place where the Digital World and the Dark Ocean are connected to each other?

And speaking of second appearances, we see a servant of Piedmon, Ladydevimon, in the second season as well, this time amongst the Daemon Corps. Daemon is leading them to try and obtain the Dark Spore from Ken, on behalf of the “the forces of darkness.” They couldn’t even destroy Daemon, merely exile him to the Dark Ocean, whose king he obviously knows of, and counts as being extremely powerful.

So there are connections running between Daemon, Devimon, Myotismon, and the Dark Masters. They all seek power, seek and become darkness, and try to kill, corrupt, or otherwise stop the Digidestined at various stages, as early as possible. They have similar goals, similar abilities, and similar allegiances.

Even Apocalymon, whose advent is only made possible by the destruction of the Dark Masters because they remade the Digital World. He can purportedly use all the powers of all the evil digimon that the Digidestined defeated up until that point, yet he only uses a few of them. And all of the digimon he mimics are part of this recurring theme of serving the darkness.

One could easily theorize that they are, in fact, all loosely connected with each other. Perhaps they are competing servants of a single, greater power, with Myotismon merely going rogue in due time. Certainly, there is a likely connection between them and the Dark Ocean, as well as its king: the true antagonist of the show.

Who is the King of the Dark Ocean?

Yes, who is he, really? And why does he obviously send his servants not only to wage war against the Real World, and the powers which protect the Digital World, but, most specifically, against the Digidestined, again and again?

There is something there, something that could very well be… personal.

Yet, to have something personal against the Digidestined, he would have to have previous experience with them… and there is only one entity I can think of which fits that description.

Gennai tells of a being (a digimon or whatever) that came to the Digital World from beyond its boundaries. This enemy was the very reason the first set of Digidestined were called, long before Tai and the others from the first season. They were called to fight alongside digimon partners, who were empowered by their connection to a human, and they won. But it was quite a long, terrible conflict.

Much like the one Azulongmon refers to having endured before the Dark Masters pounced on him and his friends, sealing them away one by one, they being wearied from the battle, and then actively suppressed by the servants of darkness, via the Control Spires. I almost wonder if the four guardian digimon were the original partners of the original Digidestined, or if they were simply part of the overall struggle.

Either way, all it would take for this ancient enemy to become the nefarious, much-feared King of the Dark Ocean is simply for him to survive. It would certainly explain why he hates the Digidestined, having been defeated by them, or their predecessors, once before. Maybe he, like Daemon, was too powerful to be destroyed, so they exiled him instead, back beyond the barrier between worlds he had crossed once before.

He certainly did come from beyond it the first time. And he certainly had tremendous power. So much, in fact, that his mere presence warped reality, even time and space, and blurred the barriers between worlds.

Which is exactly the real problem that the Digidestined were always facing: the blurring of worlds with one another.

Coincidence?

In Summary

The same, underlying problem persists from the start to the finish: blurring barriers between worlds.

The Digidestined were called to fix this problem, but that only continues to make sense if there is a specific being behind it, one whom they can face and defeat. And that seems to be how it began in the first place.

The original Digidestined were called to fight one powerful digimon in particular. Why should it really be any different now, with the latest crop of them?

The various enemies they face are continually targeting them, trying to kill or corrupt them or simply prevent their coming at all, almost like the enemy knows the true danger they represent, which would be easily explained with previous, firsthand experience.

Many of their enemies are connected to each other, to the powers of darkness, and to the Dark Ocean, whose king is purported to be extremely powerful, and is certainly gigantic.

And how much sense does it make for an alliance of the light, whose activities span both seasons and beyond, to be allied against a king of darkness, whose activities also would span both seasons and beyond?

Thus, I humbly submit that the would-have-been Big Bad is, in true storytelling fashion, the original villain of ages past, returned again as the King of the Dark Ocean.

Thoughts? 🙂

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5 Anime I Want to Watch

…there are probably a couple hundred of these.

Meaning, anime on my extended To Watch list. Said list is compiled of anime which I’ve not only heard of, but which have passed my one-episode rule: I watched it, liked it enough to maybe watch later, just not right then. I am still interested in them, but I just haven’t gotten around to them as of yet. So, if I listed all of them… yeah, we’d be here awhile. 😉

Fortunately, in the interest of picking only five of them, I had to consider a little.

I obviously can’t judge what I haven’t seen anywhere like I can judge what I have seen. But I know what I’ve heard, and I can still recall some impressions from my one-episode experience. There are some titles which I might get around to eventually, and others which intrigued me more. Some are older, some are newer. But most of all, I still wanted a bit of variety in my picks.

I mean, with a couple hundred possibilities, it would be way too easy to pick five anime that were all practically the same, ya know? I wanted to have a little more fun with this! 😀

So, as we end this Anime Pick 5 Challenge with a look to the future, I present my five picks for anime I want to see! 🙂

1) Black Jack

If I understand correctly, this is basically the anime version of a medical drama. Meaning it has some anime gimmicks, like a lead character with a tragic past that explains his distinguished face and why, having been raised by a doctor, he knows so much of medicine. And, of course, the nurse who looks like a kid until she temporarily transforms into an adult… and she’s his wife. But it also has the protagonist dealing with rare and dangerous medical conditions in order to save lives, which makes it stand apart from the crowd. I’m not sure I’ve heard of any other like it, and I very much enjoyed the first episode I saw, so… yep, this one is definitely higher on my list! 🙂

2) Dororo

A newer title, one that has the feel of a traditional Japanese epic come to life. It’s about a young man whose body parts were taken by demons even before he was born, as part of a deal made by his power-seeking father. When he’s grown, he goes about slaying the demons to reclaim what is his, much to his father’s outrage. I haven’t had the time to watch this one yet, but I’ll probably get to it sooner rather than later, I hope! 🙂

3) Great Teacher Onizuka

A former delinquent becomes a high school teacher, and he is truly dedicated to helping his students. The first episode illustrated that he will definitely not be your typical teacher, not ever, certainly not when dealing with troublemakers. You give him trouble, and he will give you Hell. If his students are suffering because of someone’s idiocy, he will punch straight through that crap. It was comical and endearing and fascinating to watch. I really do need to get around to watching this one. And I particularly liked the contrast, in the pilot episode, between Onizuka’s sincere concern and another new teacher’s lecherous motives. As much as Onizuka is a man of passion, he is also a man of honor and compassion, albeit of an unorthodox nature. Yeah, I really need to get to this one soon. 🙂

4) Kino’s Journey

There’s an older and a newer version of this show, I believe, and both live up to the title. The main character is a wanderer named Kino. He (at least I think Kino is a guy) goes from place to place, stays in each place for about three days, and moves on. He’s learning about the entire world, and he has many experiences, with many lessons. I think the only reason I haven’t watched it yet is because of how episodic it must be, so it got knocked lower on my list of priorities. One thing I absolutely must find out, though, sometime, is why his bike apparently talks, and nobody finds this unusual. If nothing else, I very much enjoyed the first episode of each series. Must definitely get around to this one in due time. 🙂

5) School Rumble

Another school-based comedy? Yes. But unlike the tale of a teacher, this one is a tale of true love… I think. It features a delinquent doing everything in his power to attract the girl he is in love with, who is, in turn, doing her best to attract the attention of another boy, who is every bit as oblivious of her as she is of the delinquent. The first episode had me laughing so hard, and I think we have established by now that I am way ok with anime that make you laugh! 🙂

And that’s it! My five picks, out of a much larger pool of potential picks. How about you? Any anime out there you’re especially interested in seeing?

And that’s the end of the 30-Day Anime Pick 5 Challenge! Done just in time to celebrate five years of blogging, and next week, the long-awaited, much-promised, finally-delivered countdown of my favorite anime! 😀

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Anime Review: Yu-Yu Hakusho

It begins with the protagonist dying. And it’s not a reborn-isekai story.

Yu-Yu Hakusho is a shounen anime from my younger days. It starts out with the drama surrounding the death and resurrection of the lead protagonist, Yusuke Urameshi, but then it quickly goes the way of a fighting-based anime as Yusuke and his friends, both humans and demons, face down dangerous menaces to the mortal world, also both human and demon. The first few smaller arcs introduce the major characters, then there’s a long, exciting, tournament-based arc, then there’s the arc with all the crazy psychics trying to destroy the world, and, finally, an arc in the demon world that culminates in another tournament.

That might be a bit oversimplified, but that’s basically it.

Though the show, in all honesty, loses quite a bit of steam by the end, it’s still pretty entertaining. The characters are lovable, the villains are either tragic or detestable, the action is epic, the music is grand, it’s plenty funny… yeah, it’s a classic. 🙂

Not a masterpiece, perhaps, but a classic. 😉

Yusuke begins the story as a delinquent, and a delinquent he remains for most of the story. He’s so mean-spirited that when he gives his life saving a little boy from being run over (or so he quite reasonably thinks at the time), it actually surprises the powers that be of the afterlife, who arrange for him to come back to life within a few episodes. In exchange, he becomes a “spirit detective,” hunting down criminal demons and protecting innocent lives.

Alongside Yusuke are some colorful allies: Kuwabara, also a delinquent, who sees himself as Yusuke’s rival, and a man of impeccable honor; Kurama, a fox-demon with plant-based powers and a precise, cunning ruthlessness that makes even other demons feel their blood run cold; Hiei, a fleet-footed fire demon with a magical third eye, absolutely the arrogant bad boy of the group, and a savage, brutal enemy; Botan, a cute, bubbly, ditzy reaper of souls who is mostly there for moral support; Kayko, paragon of virtue, Yusuke’s significant other, the only one who can keep him in check through sheer, overwhelming attitude and a strong slap; Genkai, wise, acerbic, and immensely good at curbing Yusuke’s attitude as his teacher and mentor.

The boys of the group, no great surprise, take the lead in all things combative. Even as a teenage boy, I must admit that it was a little disappointing to see most, if not all, of the girls (Botan, Kayko, and others) relegated to little more than cheerleaders in distress, as they are quite engaging and enjoyable in their own ways. Seriously, it’s easy to love these girls, and sad to see them rather under-utilized as characters in their own right. Still, it’s also easy to love the guys, and it’s great to see them step up and shine on the battlefield. They tend to do that individually, in one-on-one matches, but an undeniable bond of mutual respect and loyalty eventually forms. It may be a boys club, but it’s an admirable, honorable one, at least.

Speaking of honor, and the ties that bind, that is a recurring theme throughout the show. The good guys have it, and show it, and the bad guys don’t. There are a handful of opponents they face who are also honorable, and while they don’t take it easy on each other, they do manage to avoid killing each other.

On the subject of the fights, there’s a bit of variety to be found here. Some, especially those featuring Kurama, are battles of wit and cunning. Others are matches of overwhelming power. Still others dig steeply into emotional depths more than anything else. Some do all of the above and more. Very few of them are easy, but most of them are actually used to develop the characters bit by bit, in the fire of battle, where the stakes are high and the soul of the warrior is both refined and revealed.

There’s something to that idea, simple though it may be. It’s one reason why so many fighting-based stories have always been so popular, when there’s more to the fight than just the fighting. That is what Yu-Yu Hakusho plays to the most, and it does so effectively for most of its run, just over a hundred episodes.

Give us characters we like and show us why we should like them. A bit oversimplified, but that’s storytelling in a nutshell. 😉

Yu-Yu Hakusho is fun and funny, packed full of fights, and surprisingly tender on occasion. They censored it a bit when it aired on Cartoon Network, so it can be a bit graphic and disturbing at times, but it’s nothing extreme. It’s PG or PG-13 in my book. The first half of it is, in my opinion, more exciting, while the second half tries to be more poignant. And it’s fairly geared towards the boys, more than the girls, though they could still have let the girls kick some butt, too. All in all, it’s a pretty good show.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Plus.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Tuesday Review | Tagged | 3 Comments

Sunday’s Wisdom #255: Because I Was Saved

“I want to save someone, just as I was saved.”
– Masami Iwasawa, Angel Beats
Episode 3, “My Song”

Masami died as a teenager, yet, in the limbo she finds herself in, she considers herself as having been saved while she was alive.

She came from a bad home. Drunken, abusive father beating on his wife, that sort of thing. Her life was filled with pain, and she suffered beneath it. Then she found a song. She learned that the artist behind it also came from a bad home situation, but it was the song, the music, which spoke to her. It gave something to her soul, and lit a spark of living, instead of just existing, within her. It inspired her to learn how to sing and play an instrument, to become a musician herself. She was only barely beginning, and there was no way to tell if she would ever go anywhere, but she devoted her life to it. She was… happy. More than she ever before, she was happy.

Until that horrible night when she got between her father and her mother, and he hit her so hard that her skull and brain were terribly damaged, and she soon died in the hospital from resulting complications. Her life ended before she could do the one thing she wanted to do.

She wanted to save someone, just as she had been saved.

It is the failure to do that, to save someone, which keeps her in limbo for awhile, until she is able to gain that feeling.

That quote speaks especially to me. I can’t claim to have had a particularly hard life. Yet, even with such a life as mine, I have needed saving. And I have been saved, by loved ones, family, good friends, the adorable critters in my life. I have also been saved by the stories I have consumed. The lessons they teach, the feeling they gave me, these have helped to save me, and teach me. That is one of the major reasons I have long aspired to be a storyteller myself. While I can’t claim any success, at all, I still want to pass on the light that was passed to me.

I want to give what I was given, share what was shared with me, and help as I was helped.

That is one reason I persist with this humble blog of mine, and why I have shared some quote, with some sort of lesson in it, every single Sunday, without fail. I may not have gone anywhere as a storyteller, but I can still share some of what I have learned from the multitude of stories I have absorbed.

It is a wonderful feeling to know that even one person out there may have gained something from all my effort. Even if it’s just a momentary smile, even if I never meet you, I am glad to share what I have with you, my wonderful audience. 🙂

On that note, I wish you all a most happy and wonderful day! 😀

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged | 1 Comment

Marvelous Villainy: My Top Twelve Favorite MCU Villains (Except Loki)

Loki is the best villain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We all know it, and we all love him for it. 😉

But what about everyone else?

The MCU has often been criticized, even by me, for having some rather lackluster villains. Loki is almost always everyone’s favorite, but the rest get written off a little too easily in my opinion. In recent years, especially, and expanding beyond the films to the shows on Netflix, Hulu, and television, I have found that there are a plethora of decent villains for us to love to hate. They have become, quite often, much more developed and well-rounded both as characters and in their philosophies. Not to mention, of course, how evil they are! Mwahahah!

In honor of the end of Phase 3, with an eye to look forward to the future, I decided to round up a dozen of my favorite MCU villains and share some thoughts. And what better month to discuss evil than October, eh? 😉

Here are my top twelve favorite MCU villains (besides Loki). Enjoy! 🙂

12) Bullseye
Daredevil

Starting things off, we have a classic antagonist of Daredevil fame (he was in the movie with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, after all). His is a very simple superpower: he hits whatever he wants to hit, with whatever he is using to hit it. It may be a small, subtle ability, but one with surprising potency. It makes him a physical threat unlike most others. This single skill enables him to wipe out entire teams of enemies, to mow his way through anyone in his path, and to defeat, handily, fellow supers like Daredevil, despite the latter’s lifelong sharpening of his body and skills.

I suppose that’s why I had to include him. He’s more than a little unhinged, mind you, and his display of such, as well as how malleable of an underling he is, make him come off as a little weak in the mind and heart, but dang if he isn’t dangerous physically! With the right tools and timing, he could easily pose a threat to super-people far out of his own weight class, not to mention everyone around them.

11) D’Spayre
Cloak and Dagger

Andre Deschaine. He is one of those wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing villains. He appears, at first, to be a selfless, giving soul, but, in truth, he is the very worst sort of parasite. He literally feeds on people’s misery, like a psychic vampire, robbing them of all hope and leaving them in despair. And he does it so easily, so nonchalantly. He wears such a carefully-crafted mask, and luring in his victims with promise of psychological help and healing, but delivers horror and devastation to his unsuspecting prey.

Not only is he evil and treacherous, but the harm he does can, in its way, be even more devastating to his victims than anything merely physical. Physical injuries either kill you (and can’t hurt you anymore) or they don’t. They can heal, or, if the damage is permanent, they can be adapted to. (Not to diminish the suffering and courage of those enduring such hardship, of course) But injuries to the soul, meddling with a person’s mind and heart, is a whole other level of intrusion. Physical obstacles can be met in a variety of ways, but they always require the force of one’s own will. But what can one do when that very force of will has been harmed?

The Scarlet Witch once beat the Avengers by assaulting them in their minds, but D’Spayre utterly devours the minds and wills of ordinary people.

10) Aida
Agents of Shield

Aida begins as an android, and an ally of Shield’s agents. But, over the course of the fourth season, she becomes one of their most formidable enemies, leaving devastation in her wake. She outwits and outmaneuvers the agents, and her own creator, driving them past their limits in every way, and that’s before she becomes more powerful and independent. It takes the Ghost Rider, one of the most powerful beings in the multiverse, to take her down.

In addition to her power, her insanity, and the devastation she leaves in her wake, Aida is also fascinating.

She provides excellent fodder for discussions of humanity, intelligence, and more. Her behavior is, at first, directed by her programming, even when she appears to be in pain, but she learns and incorporates ideas from the humans around her. She begins to think, in a way, and work around the limits of her programming. She and those like her display various degrees of awareness, behaving in ways which conform to their programming, but also deviating from it once their instructions have been fulfilled, in ways which we normally associate only with fully intelligent life forms. They’re so convincing that normal humans have to wonder if they aren’t robot copies as well, thrusting the audience into the heart of the age-old question: “Who am I?”

And Aida’s answer to that question is to become something more than she was made to be. The problem is, first, that she does so with no regard for who gets hurt and, second, when she gains godlike power at the very same moment she loses whatever self-control her programming once gave her, alongside a complete inability to deal with her emotions. Result: even worse devastation.

9) Vulture
Spider-Man: Homecoming

This iteration of the Vulture, one of Spider-Man’s classic enemies, is a man trying to provide for his family when the world seems set against them. He has access to exotic technology and a brainiac in his employ, and with this he leads his operation into illegal waters, arming everyday criminals as well as himself, all right under the Avengers’ noses. When things go bad for him, including the part where the tech he is meddling with is highly dangerous, he gets bolder and flies higher, nearly pulling off the heist of the century, one which would endanger more and more innocent people as a result. It’s pretty much a miracle that Peter Parker is there to stop him.

What I love so much about Vulture: he is what many real-life villains are: a good man, gone bad. What he wants isn’t bad, but his pursuit of it is warped. He fails to think of all the people who are hurt in the fallout of his actions, telling himself that it’s all for his family. It’s terrible, but relatable in a way most supervillainy isn’t. And still, through it all, there is some honor left in him. When he fails, and goes to prison, he does not pursue revenge, though he certainly could. He even protects Spider-Man’s secret identity, though it profits him nothing to do so. He loses, and he is guilty of serious crimes, yet he retains a certain dignity. That, right there, makes him one of the most complex and human villains in the MCU.

8) Cottonmouth
Luke Cage

Speaking of honor among thieves…

Cornell Stokes, aka Cottonmouth, was a primary antagonist of Luke Cage. Prior to his untimely death, he was Harlem’s local crime boss and a major player in New York’s seedy underbelly. Born and raised to it by his family, especially his aunt, Cottonmouth became a criminal practically by default, forced into it by his family’s legacy. He did well at it, though, and there was a certain peace in the community under his reign. He was brutal and unforgiving towards those who crossed him, but he carried himself with a degree of honor and dignity.

I really hate that they killed him off, and so soon. He had only half a season, but he was  great. To see a villain with some actual honor and caring to him, especially considering how he had been forced into his role for his entire life, was a refreshing change. Had his life been just a little different, he probably would have made a life out of his love for music. Instead, the story of his life is entirely a tragedy, from beginning to end.

I just really liked him, you know? His actions may have been intolerable, but he was a bad guy… who wasn’t really an entirely bad guy.

7) Kingpin
Daredevil

As we move up, we move deeper into the abyss. Unlike the previous two, Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin, has no honor whatsoever. He does whatever he does solely to suit his own agenda.

Kingpin is a classic enemy of both Daredevil and Spider-Man, the ultimate king of New York’s criminal underworld. In the MCU, he is at first a shadowy, ominous figure, and we only begin to know him from the moment he meets the woman he eventually marries. Over the course of three seasons, he proves to be a cunning, dangerous, calculating man, made even more terrifying by murderous fits of temper against those whom he perceives as having wronged him or threatened those close to him in some manner. He is beaten, and gets back up, slowly rising even higher than before, and turning the lives of all the heroes who would oppose him into bloody, living nightmares.

The fact that he can be so zealous in protecting and avenging his own at the same time he is so cavalier in threatening and murdering others is staggering. He even justifies himself in the first season by saying he was trying to make the city a better place, with not a care that it would be atop the bodies of its own people. The third season portrays him as even more dangerous and destructive, and more honestly evil, as he ascends to his throne without any pretense at all at being good.

6) Ward
Agents of Shield

Initially introduced as a specialist attached to Coulson’s hand-picked team, Grant Ward was soon revealed to be an agent of Hydra under the command of one of their senior members. Over the course of two and a half seasons, he was demonstrably one of the most dangerous enemies that the remnants of Shield would ever face. He was a highly skilled operative, smart and lethal, and mentally unstable, highly so. He left a wake of destruction a mile wide behind him, wriggling his way out of countless tight spots like an eel, until, finally, at long last, Phil Coulson got a grip on him, and crushed the life from him.

The thing about Ward is that he is so complex. We see him first as a good guy, then we learn he’s a bad guy, then he’s a bad guy who might, possibly, maybe be redeemed a bit, and then he’s straddling good and bad in an intriguing way, and then he’s straight-up evil and insane, and then he’s a vile villain with a warped cause, and, finally, he’s dead, with his face stolen and worn by something much worse. And through it all, he’s very personal. We know this guy. We’ve liked him, and hated him, and rooted for and against him. It’s a wild, interesting ride, more so than most villains provide.

And, in his final appearance, we see him as he might have been. With just one, small difference in his life, he could well have been a magnificent hero, and a leader of men. It’s hard to entirely hate him, knowing that.

5) Pierce
Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Alexander Pierce, one of Hydra’s heads, and the political official set in charge of Shield as a whole, alongside Nick Fury. Indeed, he, himself, appointed Fury to the role of Director. Fury considered him one of his closest friends, allies, and confidantes. But when Fury finally got a whiff of the truth of Hydra lurking within Shield like a cancer, Pierce tried to have him killed without hesitation or remorse, just like he shot his own housekeeper, whom he’d known and employed and smiled with for years on end. He directed Shield, and Hydra, in the hunt for Captain America and Black Widow, and guided Shield to the very cusp of its destruction, with Hydra poised to conquer the entire world in one fell, bloody swoop. He murdered the World Security Council, fomented chaos across the world, slaughtered and traumatized countless innocents with Shield’s name. A villain for the record books, this one.

To top it all off, just before his death, he stood against Fury as if he had some kind of higher moral ground. That’s what’s so interesting to me about him. When he makes his case to Fury, it’s a “for the greater good” appeal. “Our enemies are your enemies,” he says. He offers a means to bring order and safety to the lives of billions of people, “By sacrificing  twenty million.” It’s an argument we would later find magnified by Thanos himself, and ultimately flawed, severely, in both cases. I wonder if he didn’t believe in something better at some point, but if he ever did, it became warped at some point.

Basically, he is a cold-blooded, two-faced murderer who appears to believe what he’s saying, that what he’s doing is actually good for humanity. That, I would argue, makes him a much more dangerous enemy than a villain who is just interested in power for the sake of power, as so many are.

4) Killmonger
Black Panther

Killmonger is the cousin of T’Challa, the king of the African nation of Wakanda. He manipulates things a bit so he can make a grand entrance and lay claim to the throne. He takes revenge for a father murdered by his own brother, the previous king, T’Challa’s father, by defeating and seemingly killing T’Challa in ceremonial combat. He ascends the throne, and is barely prevented from unleashing chaos and destruction across the world, all in the name of throwing down the oppressors in power and making Wakanda a worldwide empire.

Part of what I love so much about Killmonger is how he, in just a slightly different light, could be considered a cultural hero, or at least a pivotal figure, in the annals of history, if his plans had succeeded. He would have been much like Vlad the Impaler, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Sun Tzu, Genghis Khan, and George Washington: all leaders, with competing virtues and flaws, whose accomplishments on the field of battle would turn the world on a hinge. Killmonger’s arguments are compelling, though also very flawed, and, whatever else might be said, he did not hesitate to risk himself for his plans, and he met his end with more grace and dignity than most others.

In short, he had a certain charisma to him, and a powerful backstory, and grand dreams. It was just unfortunate that he was also a brutal, savage murderer, and that his cause was as unjust as he himself was.

3) Zemo
Captain America: Civil War

Zemo is apparently making a return in the upcoming Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. For now, however, he has appeared only in the one movie, and, it must be said, he is the only villain thus far whose scheme was an unqualified success. He succeeded in delivering exactly the right blow, at exactly the right moment, to shatter the Avengers as a unit, turn the world against them, drive most of them into hiding, and those that remained had little more than the name to their credit. All of this, and he was practically a nobody.

Much like Odysseus was “Nobody” to the cyclops whose eye he poked out.

And that, in a nutshell, is why he’s one of my favorites.

Oh, there’s also the part where he is consumed by vengeance, in the worst way, because he lost his entire family (father, wife, and son) in the midst of the terrible conflict of Avengers: Age of Ultron. There’s how patient and precise he was in pursuing his revenge, with skills he acquired and used in service to a corrupt government before his country was practically wiped out alongside his family. We are sympathetic towards Hawkeye, who also lost his entire family and then went around murdering bad people, but Zemo? Zemo is still practically a nobody, despite being one of the most sympathetic and successful of all the Marvel villains, ever.

I rather look forward to what they do with him. 🙂

2) Thanos
Avengers: Infinity War
Avengers: Endgame

Speaking of villains who win, Thanos is probably the most famous example of such right now.

The chief, overarching, and final antagonist of the MCU’s first three phases, also known as the Infinity Saga, Thanos is a being known and feared throughout the stars. He is even hailed by some as the most powerful of all, and that’s not even including his vast armies, the Black Order, and the Children of Thanos. He is on a mission to annihilate half of everything alive in the universe. In the comics, this is a tribute to Death, whom he wants to court and copulate with. In the movies, it is because of some mad, insane drive to supposedly save all life in the universe with a massive cull.

It completely ignores all reality, but it’s what he believes, and so he seeks, and obtains, the Infinity Stones, and does battle with the Avengers and the armies of several worlds, and, finally, he succeeds. Then, when that doesn’t work out, he alters his plan in favor of simply annihilating the whole of the universe and all life within it and starting anew, making a universe that will forever praise him. It takes everyone working together to stop him, and it takes the sacrifice of the very heart of the MCU, even the life of the first Avenger we ever met: Iron Man.

All things considered… well, there just isn’t a villain badder than the Mad Titan, as of yet.

So, who is  my number one pick, and why?

1) Mysterio
Spider-Man: Far From Home

No, it’s not just because he’s the latest one. 😉

Mysterio was once an employee at Stark Industries. He created a technology most useful for making illusions, which, while clever and useful in its way, is inherently dishonest. Small wonder Tony Stark, a man of honest action, discarded the idea, and even publicly spurned the tech. Offended by this, by being deprived of his chance to enter the spotlight, he would eventually rally a group of fellow employees who felt stepped on, underappreciated, and entitled to more. As leader, he made to abscond with Stark’s legacy and become acknowledged as a great hero, though it would all be a lie. Mysterio and his followers did a lot of damage, hurt a number of innocent people, nearly took out some of Earth’s best protectors, and did not hesitate to specifically target children, all in the name of petty grievances at a time when the world had already been severely upset by apocalyptic events. And it was all based on the lie of their own self-entitled importance.

Mysterio represents everything which is fake and false. He also represents the sin of pride, which is often the source of the lies we tell, that we are somehow greater (or lesser) than we really are. He has a charisma and a force of will to him, both when he is deceiving others and when he is leading his little cult. He manages to strike at the very heart of a young hero, and nearly defeat him with what amounts to little more than a mountain of lies. It’s just glorified smoke and mirrors, yet he is surprisingly  formidable.

Oh, and even when he lost, like most villains, Mysterio delivered a final, parting shot to Spider-Man which has serious ramifications for the young man’s life and well-being. How many villains manage to ruin the hero’s life from beyond the grave?

…not counting the one who can’t seem to *stay* dead, I mean. 😉

“I will *always* be the best!”

Posted in Countdowns, Discussion, Miscellaneous, Top Picks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

5 Happy Anime Moments

Let the good times roll! 😀

No story is entirely complete, I think, without adding a bit of happiness to it. Even if it’s a tragedy, it needs to be seasoned with happy moments. That is what makes us care, as an audience, about what happens. Because if there is no joy, there is no hope, so why bother caring at all?

Even if there is next to nothing good that happens, still, it needs to have joy within it. Otherwise, it comes off as just something depressing and soul-sucking. At least, that’s my take on it.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of such. It was just a matter of picking ones I really liked, for whatever reason. 🙂

And I have to say… it’s good to be closing in on the end of this Anime Pick 5 Challenge with some happier notes. 😀

In no particular order, five moments from anime that made me smile! I hope you enjoy them! 😉

1) Friends reconnect with Jazz Medley
Kids on the Slope

Actions speak louder than words, and music is the language of the soul.

A small rift has formed between two friends, but they manage to reconnect through their music. The result is joyous, both for them and for their audience. 🙂

2) Racing back home for Tohru
Fruits Basket

Lacking the appropriate YouTube clip, I shall have to describe this moment instead. My apologies for how this will inevitably fall far short of the real thing. 😉

The three Sohmas of the household are off to their family’s New Year’s celebration, as is tradition. Kyo and Yuki are obviously preoccupied with thoughts of Tohru, who assured them she would be fine on her own. The elder member of the trio can’t help but have a little fun with them.

“I’ve heard there’s been a rash of burglaries. Culprit’s still at large… Oh, well, let’s go.” As the younger boys twist with what they imagine Tohru’s reaction to a burglar would be: invite him in, serve tea, and get his life story. The humor is interrupted by the arrival of Tohru’s friend.

Said friend laments the fact that this will truly be a sad, sad New Year’s for Tohru. It is, after all, the first one since her mother died, and they used to celebrate New Year’s together. Now, to hear the same bells, to see the same sunrise, but to be alone… that will truly be sad for her.

The Sohma men are shocked by how they failed to realize this, and the younger two immediately, and in unison, take off running for home. For Tohru.

Off they go, cursing themselves for not realizing, when it’s so obvious. She always puts everyone else first, and she’s always smiling, but how could they miss the fact that she was suffering so? She assured them she would be all right… but not a person in the world would really feel that way in her place.

And they arrive. They arrive, out of breath, having run furiously all the way back home. They arrive, and find her having a humble meal with the portrait of her mother, her eyes lined with tears on the verge of falling.

Of course she tries to pass the tears off as something else entirely, but the two boys collapse in exhaustion, and relief that they did the right thing by coming back.

They are where they should be: where they can be there, for Tohru.

…yes, it brings a little tear to my eye every time, but it’s a good tear. A happy tear. 🙂

3) Vash triumphs, and grows up
Trigun

I believe this is cued up for, basically, the very end of the series. It’s been a long, bloody road, with friends and enemies and countless bystanders put into their graves, all culminating in a final showdown. Through it all, Vash has held to an ideal he inherited from a woman who was like a mother to him. That ideal has been tested, thrashed, and broken, and here he stands, at the pivotal moment, where he will either hold true to it… or not.

I have always enjoyed this scene, and the poetry of it. The triumphs of a battle won, a well erupting with water in the desert, a decision made, a casting off of the past to step forward into the future… what’s not to love? 🙂

4) The Cutest of Mutual Confessions
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Honestly, this just makes me smile every time I see it, and every time I think of it! 🙂

5) Rest Your Bones
One Piece

Ending on a quiet, serene, and musical note. This is one of my favorite scenes from the show. It’s just so peaceful and beautiful, a calm moment of happy, hopeful rest. 🙂

And that’s five anime moments that made me smile. 😀

How about you? Any favorite moments that made your lips turn inevitably upward?

Posted in 30-Day Anime Pick 5 Challenge, Anime and Cartoons, Challenge Accepted | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Anime Review: Angel Beats

I saw the first few episodes of this anime years ago. It was easy to tell that it was going to fall on my soul like an emotional mountain, so I held off. I put it on my “To Watch” list. I bought it on DVD, and left it on my shelf, for years. I became rather familiar with how it ended, thank you, Wikipedia, and even saw the last episode at one point. But I knew, very well, that when I saw this anime in its entirety, start to finish, it was going to have to be all in one, single go, and it was going to be extremely emotional for me. So I waited, and waited, for a long time, for that moment when I was going to be in the mood.

Then I found, with the long-awaited countdown of my favorite anime due this month (in honor of my fifth blogging anniversary), that the time for waiting was over. I simply could not leave this one out of the running just because I was being a big, soft wuss about it. So I picked a particular Saturday, sat down, and watched it. All of it.

I am glad I did. This one is really going to stay with me for a long, long time.

I was exactly right in my expectation of the emotional weight. Even now, merely contemplating my experience with it, my emotions threaten to choke me up… again. (Have I ever mentioned that I could easily be accused of being a big softie?)

Be warned, there’s no way of exploring that properly without spoiling at least a little bit, especially the ending. So:

Spoiler Alert!

“From here on, they’ll know what happens in our show…”

Angel Beats tells the story of a group of teenagers who are dead and trapped in a limbo that looks like a modern high school. As they died so young, their life stories tend towards the tragic. Indeed, that is the very reason they are in this limbo of an afterlife: because the hand they were dealt in life was unfair, often extremely so. They can only move on, into the next world or into the cycle of reincarnation (whichever), when they’ve dealt with it and obtained peace within their souls. That is the purpose of this limbo: to help their souls find that peace and move on. That is why each and every one of them is there.

…except one.

The story is told mostly from the perspective of Yuzuru Otonashi. He wakes up within the afterlife, with none of his memories. The first thing he sees is a girl, Yuri Nakamura, called Yurippe by most, taking aim with a big gun. She gives him a quick, haphazard rundown about being dead, and how she leads the fight against the God they blame for their lives and deaths, as head of a “Battlefront” group whose name they keep changing because their original name wasn’t perfect and none of the successive names they’ve picked have been any better. As for what they fight, that is “Angel.” Her real name is Kanade Tachibana, and she’s the student council president, who shepherds the students through their daily routine in order to help them move on, and has abilities that the name-changing Battlefront can’t match.

As all of this is a bit much to take in for the amnesiac Otonashi, he goes and talks to the white-haired “Angel,” rather than the gun-toting Yurippe, and gets himself a firsthand demonstration of how people don’t die in the afterlife when Tachibana stabs him straight through the heart, and then he wakes up awhile later.

That’s a first encounter which would sour most anyone on anything, ya know?

Otonashi joins Yurippe’s Battlefront group more because he has nothing else to do with his time, rather than for any other reason. Until his memories return, at least, hanging with them and opposing the girl who stabbed him seem like not-the-worst ideas ever. Little does he know, but soon realizes, that he just signed on with a most colorful bunch of rambunctious morons. Some very good, funny times follow, not the least of which rely on the rather morbid humor which comes with telling a story where nobody dies (for long) from any sort of physical trauma. Heh.

But laughter is only part of the journey towards eternal peace. There are tears, too.

As Otonashi becomes more familiar with this world and the people in it, he learns, as does the audience, the tragic stories of their lives and deaths. Without going into too much detail right now, I will say that the amount of pain that these youths all died with is substantial, and extremely valid. Say what you will about stiff upper lips, but they endured a lot of truly terrible crap. Small wonder all of these young souls needed more time to deal with it, to process and live, so to speak, before moving on.

And they do.

They do move on, each one of them in their turn. It is both heart-wrenching and beautiful to behold. They could not do it, really, without the support they get from each other, but they do it. All of them. Each and every one.

…except one.

“Look at all of us finding peace together! Except for one!”

Otonashi is, in many ways, the best of these youthful souls. His story is riddled with tragedy, as surely as anyone else, but he ended it on such a good note that, really, he already found peace in his final moments. He dedicated himself to helping others, to doing good for others, and that carried over into the afterlife as well. It is fair to say that he gets the lion’s share of the credit for helping everyone else, all of his friends and acquaintances, move on. He is, absolutely, a hero in this story.

But he should never have been there. He got sucked in, and there are strong indications that he is now trapped there, in the end, for all eternity. All of his friends, and the girl he loves, all gone, and he has no hope of ever seeing them again. He, alone, bears the cost that all mortals bear, that of being parted from his loved ones, but he bears it eternally, with no hope.

The happy ending becomes a terrible, agonizing tragedy at the last moment.

Now, if I was conflicted enough about that, on it’s own, I become even more so when we include the epilogues.

The first epilogue has what appears to be Otonashi, free of limbo, living his next mortal life, running into a familiar girl, and, voila, happy ending. It’s nice, and it’s what we all want to happen, but, directly on the heels of the tragedy of his entrapment and separation from her, it also feels a little like back-pedaling to avoid backlash, ya know? Particularly since it apparently was not included in the original story.

The second epilogue, included as a bonus feature in at least one version of the show available for purchase, features Otonashi still in limbo, and still helping people move on, selflessly. I sort of hate it, but I also sort of love it, because it rings true to his character, it turns his tragedy into an unusual triumph, and it shows that he can still keep going, no matter what he has lost. Heck, doing this, maybe he just might find peace again and move on after all. And, apparently, this is more in line with what was originally intended for the show, or so I heard, at least.

Either way, looking at the anime as a whole (and I tried to spoil as little as possible outside Otonashi’s personal story), it is deeply emotional and significant. It deals with issues of life and death, and how one must learn to deal with and accept the both of them if one is to continue functioning. It takes a number of the usual tropes of high school anime, like some group of teenagers with weapons fighting in some kind of war, and turns them on their head. It makes us laugh, yes, but it’s not a feel-good anime, it’s an inspiring one. It takes the entire theater of life, which is neither fair nor free from tragedy, and compresses it together, digging down to find happiness, hope, and peace.

Personally, I cannot think about this anime without thinking to myself, “What could I do better in my life, so I have regrets in the end?”

All of this is conveyed with beautiful animation, riveting music, fantastic voice acting, and every other technical aspect of an anime that, when well done, is so easy to take for granted. Basically, this is a superbly well-crafted anime!

There are ways in which it might have been changed, especially in regards to the importance of various supporting characters and how well we get to know them, but “changing” is not necessarily the same as “improving.” It walks a fine balance between delving deeply into tragic stories against the very real possibility that too much tragedy could become either overwhelming or monotonous.

From the first note to the last breath, Angel Beats is one of the most powerful stories I’ve ever encountered. I highly recommend it, and I am quite happy to own it.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid A.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Tuesday Review | Tagged | 4 Comments

Sunday’s Wisdom #254: Learning from the Painful Past

“The slave quarters had been part of the history of this place, and even the ugly parts of history shouldn’t be forgotten. All the people who wanted every reference to the bad things we’d done in the past removed were fools. They were just trying to signal that they were better than their ancestors, but in fact, we’re no different. We’ve just got hindsight and their mistakes to learn from. If we forget the atrocities of the past, we’ll repeat them in the future, just with prettier names and new justifications.”
– Julie Shackleford-Pitt, from Monster Hunter Guardian, by Larry Correia

I usually try to keep things of obvious potential for political diatribe off my blog, but I make an exception this time. Politics are driven by human nature and human behavior, after all, and these words provide me a valuable, if also unflinching, insight.

There was a time, when I was a rebellious kid, when I wanted to grow up, get married, have kids, and then show my dad how he ought to have done things, because, like most kids, I thought I knew better than my parents. I mean, I was told how smart I was, and I was told how mature I was, and I was certain that I knew better than him how he should have been raising me (typically in ways that were more centered around the things I liked). So I was determined to be a better dad than my own, because I was already so much better, right?

Yes, I was an idiot, of mind-numbing proportions.

I mistook the potential for doing one thing better, through the lens of my perception of what was “better,” as an assurance that I already was better, so there was nothing left for me to learn from my parent.

Perhaps that is the sort of spirit which drives the effort to erase the reminders of a painful past, and rewrite the histories into something more “comfortable.” Or maybe not. Either way, it is a tremendous and terrible mistake.

Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

My dad did far better than I ever gave him credit for as a kid, but, yes, he did make mistakes. If I try to forget those mistakes just because I don’t like them, then I can’t learn from them. I would just end up repeating them, or worse. But if I take what my father did right, and learn from his mistakes, then maybe, just maybe, I can be as good of a parent to my children as he was to me.

That’s the entire effort of humanity, really: to learn from previous mistakes, and do better.

But to learn from the past, we must keep it preserved as it truly was. We must see it.

If we tear it down, we can’t see it.

Out of sight, out of mind, as they say.

And thus we race towards repeating the atrocities of the past, just with new names and new reasons for the same old tragedies, all while judging the past that our ancestors, for all their flaws, gradually improved, to create the society we enjoy today.

The past teaches us everything we know. Let’s make sure we see it clearly.

That starts with remembering: we are no more or less human than any of our ancestral parents.

We are not “better.”

We are not “worse.”

We are the same, with the same lessons to learn.

Posted in Books, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged , | 3 Comments