5 Anime Ending Songs

Wherever there is a beginning, an ending is sure to follow.

Like the anime opening songs, I had a huge plethora of songs to choose from. Unlike the intros, however… well, I don’t generally pay that much attention to the endings, ya know? Don’t get me wrong, they can be astoundingly beautiful, but they’re a bit less thrilling, and they’re the thing that gets between me and the next part of the story, so I tend to skip over them. 😛

As such, I had a much easier time of picking five, and only five, ending songs.

If you have any you’d like to add, feel free! I am always interested in more beautiful music! 😉

As for my personal five picks, here they are. I hope you enjoy them. 🙂

1) Don’t Be Discouraged
Slayers Try

I had a video of it, and then Youtube took it down. The only other genuine (not a cover of it) video I was able to find can be viewed here.

This is the first ending I ever sat through on a regular basis, because I loved the song. Exactly like the intros of this franchise, it made me excited to watch more! I just wish I’d found the full-length version of the song to share! 🙂

2) Sentimental Moment
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

The full-length music video of this particular ending song! Obviously channeling a rock vibe, it’s a great wrap-up to each episode, and it, also, made me want to watch more! 🙂

3) Hey! Smith!
Monster Musume: Everyday Life With Monster Girls

If the show had been about this team of badass monster girls, instead of the crazy harem antics, I would so have been totally on board with that! And this could have easily been an opening song (they actually did that once) psyching us up for the action to come! 😀

4) Life is a Boat
Bleach

This one is calm, and simple, and beautiful to listen to, not least because this Japanese singer actually pronounces the English correctly! She switches between the languages smoothly, and gracefully, and it is great! 🙂

5) Fantasia of the Wind
Record of Lodoss War

I debated between the Japanese and English versions of the song. It’s from a classic series, and lives in that zone between being calm and being exciting, and I love the vocals, especially in Japanese.

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Anime Review: Assassination Classroom

It’s nothing new for students and teachers to be at odds with each other. Exaggerate that idea as only anime can, and you get Assassination Classroom.

The premise is, basically, that a significant portion of the moon seems to have been destroyed by a super-powerful being who promises the destruction of the Earth on a specific date, but in the meantime he wants to teach a class of outcasts at an illustrious school, whom he permits to attempt to assassinate him with the special tools provided them by the government.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this idea when I first heard of it. It seemed way too far-fetched, even ludicrous. Then I saw the sample OVA (note to everyone in marketing: “the first hit is free” is a sound business practice), and it left me laughing and wanting more, even if I didn’t much understand the context of it at the time. Thus, I was more than willing to see how the full-length anime was.

And I have to say, it’s pretty fun!

At the obvious forefront of the story is the mysterious creature which is credited with destroying the moon: Koro-sensei. He is a large creature that has a large, round head and a lot of tentacles. He is very skilled at whatever he does, a surprisingly good teacher, and he is very fast, smart, and tenacious. In normal circumstances, as a human, he’d probably pass for a wildly eccentric genius. But there is more to him than is immediately obvious, and the mysteries of his past actually explain a great deal about him, including his many skills and his passion as a teacher.

Surrounding Koro-sensei are the students of Class E, comprised of the misfits and rejects of the most illustrious and influential academy in Japan. They’re a remarkable, lovable group of kids, all distinct and important characters in their own right, and they soak up everything Koro-sensei teaches them. But despite how amazing they are, they are the outcasts, the lowest level and the lowest caste of their school, which is entirely structured around the hierarchy of winners and losers, with Class E being the losers that everyone else is authorized to bully because they’re supposedly worth less than their superiors.

So, in addition to a story about trying to prevent the end of the world, we have a story of people, and their relationships, and especially a commentary on systems of education. Japan is a strong country partially because their culture demands a great deal more of everyone within it, including kids in school, but there are flaws and perils to any system. Assassination Classroom exaggerates some of these (or at least I hope this is just exaggeration) in order to discuss them.

On which note, one thing that was a bit unbelievable to me was just how committed the school principal is to his profane approach to education. The world, all of it, is in danger, and he not only bothers, but focuses the whole of his will, to crush the fledgling improvement and confidence of Class E? His behavior was eventually explained, but it’s still pretty unreasonable, if not outright insane.

For the most part, however, the story is about how all of these kids grow and develop. There’s no single defining moment of this, but it is obvious that they are very different, more capable people at the end of the story than they were at the beginning. This year they have under Koro-sensei’s tutelage changes their lives and their outlooks. They grow so much, and it’s fantastic, and adorable, and hilarious to see.

The thrust of this, however, rests on the effort to kill Koro-sensei. That is what the kids, and the government, and loads of assassins and bounty hunters, are trying to do. It is made clear early on that, however lovable he may be, his very existence threatens the planet, and everyone on it, with imminent destruction. That is something which cannot be overlooked.

When the kids do it, it’s fairly remarkable, even morbidly hilarious (when they’re trying to stab him while he’s tutoring them). They get to know Koro-sensei inside and out, and so their efforts tend to be the most effective of them. There are other, more nefarious people involved in this, however, and they pose a danger to not only Koro-sensei, but to everyone around him, especially his beloved students. Thus, we get drama fueled by suspense and action as much as the pressures of life and school.

And when the truth is out, about Koro-sensei and the true villains of the show, the action is absolutely riveting, because now the audience knows the whole story behind it. Which, that story is surprisingly intricate, and it crescendos in one of the most breathtaking conclusions ever, both happy and sad at the same time.

That is some quality storytelling, with quality plot, themes, and characters, brought to beautiful, animated life, with a great soundtrack.

In short: Assassination Classroom is pretty awesome, and far forward in the ranks of my personal favorites.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: A-Minus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #248: Facing Our Problems

“All right. Fair or unfair didn’t really come into it just now. She had a problem. She could either screen the captain and tell her she couldn’t make her deadline (and that thought wasn’t attractive at all), or she could decide that she was chief engineer aboard this bucket of bolts and figure out how to solve it.”
– from On Basilisk Station, by David Weber
Book 1 of the Honor Harrington series

I’ve just started in on this book, and the series it begins, and I am enjoying the experience.

This quote comes from a pivotal moment in the story. Up until this point, a new ship commander and her veteran crew have basically been given the short end of the stick again and again… and again and again and again. Morale has been low, performance has been wanting, and they’ve been given an impossible task, the inevitable failure of which will ruin them even more. Most people, it is fair to say, would collapse and give up. But not this commander. No, she conjures up solutions, ways to use whatever she has in order to accomplish the so-called “impossible.” And it works. It’s extremely demanding, but it works.

The crew, and their officers, all have moments like this (though we only need to see a few of them to get the point across). Their commander had one, too. Whatever the problem each of them faces, it all boils down to one choice: either give up, or face the problem.

From that moment on, the crew begins to regain their dignity, collective and individual, through hard work, creative thinking, and, most of all, their attitude. These breed success where failure was assumed, as they adapt and overcome. They were handed a most unfair situation, one they did not remotely earn, and they not only made the best of it, they worked miracles. And it all has root in their attitude.

How well we face a problem is determined by our attitude towards facing it.

I remember this one moment, years and years ago. I was riding my bike on the way to a public transit station, on my way to some task involved in getting a specific job. I was pedaling across a street when the metal piece that held the seat in place under my butt suddenly broke, coming apart with a snap. How I managed to stay upright, with the seat suddenly tilting straight back, perpendicular to its previous position, I do not know. I just remember holding on tight, staying up, and pedaling very awkwardly for a few heart-racing seconds to get to the other side of the street before any oncoming cars decided to make a pancake out of me. I made it to the sidewalk, very carefully and awkwardly got off the bike and onto my feet, and considered what to do now. It did not get any simpler when I rounded the bend and saw that the sidewalk I would need to be using was undergoing some construction work.

I remember that I began to come up with a bunch of options, and then sweeping them all aside in my head. First, I had to choose: either go forward, despite current and future problems, or go back home. And I am notoriously stubborn. 😉

So, I went forward, navigated all the problems, succeeded in my mission that day. I still wasn’t able to get the job I was after at the time, but I still gained something valuable from the experience. From that day to this, I have tried to approach my troubles with an attitude to persevere and adapt. Or, yes, it is sometimes necessary to pull the plug and start again. But whether one goes forward or back, one has to make the choice and stick with it. It is the middle ground, the limbo between those two choices, which breeds the misery of unaccomplished tasks.

Fairness does not enter into it. We have problems, of every sort. We can either give up on them, or we can solve them. But we have to choose, the one, or the other.

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5 Anime Opening Songs

This is my brain right now:

There are so many anime.

So many of which have amazing intros.

And many of them have more than one.

So, all of the anime out there, hundreds of them, thousands of them, all of them, put together, are literally outnumbered by their opening songs.

…and I have to pick… just… FIVE.

Easier to pick twenty, or a hundred, than five! And, thus, the state of my brain. 😉

I make one small distinction for this category: it specifies the song, rather than the intro to the anime in its entirety. Keeping entirely audible actually helped me weed out some very strong candidates. And you may rest assured, there were many, many, many strong candidates! Possibilities that ranged all over in terms of genre, texture, rhythm, lyrics, instruments, everything.

A lot of my own favorites went straight to the discard pile long before I ever got to a short list, so I am positive that a number of yours did too. Feel free to mention them in the comments below! Let’s have some fun with this! 😉

Speaking of fun, since we’re focusing on the songs, instead of the sequences, I figured, why not go for broke and use the full songs which the intro sequences abridge? 🙂

I also tried to make my five picks a little diverse, since there’s such diversity to choose from. Not sure how well I succeeded on that count, but, either way, I hope you enjoy these five anime intro songs! 😉

1) Through the Night
Outlaw Star

For a dangerous adventure in space, featuring ships fighting hand-to-hand, mystical space pirates, cat-man warriors, deadly mercenaries, and fierce outlaws, all bound up in the search for ancient and powerful treasures, you know they needed somethin’ rockin’ to get the blood pumpin’!

2) Crimson Bow and Arrow
Attack on Titan

Also gettin’ our blood up, a relentlessly fast-paced, partially choral, and surprisingly poetic and accurate song about the brave, defiant humans who hunt giants!

3) I Don’t Need Promises
The Vision of EscaFlowne

Bringing the pace down a bit, here, with something more calm, soothing, and enchanting (there’s a slower version that’s practically a serene and beautiful lullaby, but I digress).

4) Falling Down
Eden of the East

One of the more trippy opening songs I’ve heard, it lures and ensnares the audience, riveting our attention on the story to follow.

5) Sea of Miracles
Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight

A classic from my youth, in a more classical fantasy style, this song has always absolutely hooked me. 🙂

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Series Review: The Nemesis Saga

Project Nemesis, by Jeremy Robinson, was one of my experimental reads. I’m not usually into stories where everybody dies (or so I keep telling myself), and this one was obviously going to have a very large body count, but the idea of a kaiju thriller, as the term has been coined, was… intriguing.

I ended up enjoying it so much that I got the entire series, including Project MaigoProject 731Project Hyperion, and Project Legion, and the side-story Island 731, which tells an important part of the overall narrative.

The main storyline follows Jon Hudson, director of a paranormal investigative agency, widely regarded as a joke at first, under the Department of Homeland Security. He and his crew are much more capable than they might seem, though, which is handy, considering how he stumbles onto a massive military and corporate conspiracy that is not shy about leaving disappeared bodies in its wake… oh, and a monster that quickly grows and grows to become a full-fledged kaiju, like Godzilla and such, which rains absolute devastation and slaughter upon everything in its path. This is Nemesis, which was created by cloning the DNA of an ancient monster, labeled a goddess of vengeance, and mixing it with the DNA of a young girl who was murdered, alongside her mother, by her own father. Toss in an insane army general and a cold-blooded warrior with an unusual form of nobility, and you have a basic setup for the first novel.

Said first novel was entertaining, though the continual cycle of meeting someone who dies, then following the main plot, then meeting someone who dies, then following the main plot, then meeting someone who dies… yeah, it got a little repetitive by the end. However, it was still an interesting adventure, and one which highlighted the good and bad points of both mankind and the monster. It was vivid, visceral, and deeply emotional, not to mention highly suspenseful. It was also surprisingly well-paced, thrilling, and riveting, albeit sometimes in a morbid way.

It’s just begging to be made into a movie! 😉

The sequel kept most of that up, and added in the characters of Hawkins and Lily, who have their original adventure in Island 731. It explored new ideas and wrapped things up pretty neatly, and dropped quite a bombshell at its conclusion. The overall plot began to take shape in the third novel, bringing in remnants from the side-story and setting up the main conflict which dominates the last two novels. From there on, things are mostly unending fireworks, which is thrilling, but I can’t help but think that the development of the characters, new and old, began to suffer at that point. They were being driven to physical extremes, yes, in the face of overwhelming odds, but people began to drive the plot less than the plot was driving them. Heck, some of them were all but written out, and that was before the finale’s big crossover.

On which note, while cinematic universes are a thing now, Robinson has officially created a literary multiverse. Drawing characters from several/most of his previous works, set both within and without the Nemesis-based universe, Robinson unites several of his protagonists in a war where all of their homes are under imminent threat. It’s explosive, but… well, imagine if you had seen only the first two Iron Man movies, and then saw the Avengers assemble for the first time just in the nick of time to fight Thanos. It’s a bit like that. The characters are entertaining, as are the fireworks, but the explosive climax does not leave much leeway for getting to know and care about them. Without being familiar with the rest of Robinson’s library, there’s just something missing, ya know?

Mind you, this experience does leave me wanting to read said library in due time, so I suppose it still works, in its way.

The themes were far-reaching, contemplative, and intriguing, ranging everywhere from the complexity of human nature, to the nature of good, evil, and freedom, to our role in the universe, to the value of human life within said universe. The action was thrilling and exciting. The monsters, large and small, were interesting, as was all the mad science on display. But easily the best part, in my opinion, were the characters.

Hudson’s wit, will, and determination were great, though he had a colorful tongue. His romantic interest, Collins, was a delight to read, especially as she was such a badass, and I loved their relationship, especially with how he respects her, completely, no matter how wildly attractive he finds her body. Now that’s a man! 🙂

Maigo, once she’s able to be her own character (spoilers), is likewise endearing, being small, but powerful, as she heals from a tremendous trauma, and becomes whole again through her relationship with her adoptive father, Hudson. And her surrogate sister, Lily the cat-girl, was just plain fun and cute!

Hawkins was strong and noble, Joliet was fierce and fearless, Watson was quiet and smart, Cooper was a stern force of nature, and Woodstock was a lovable surly old codger of a pilot!

Finally, the character of Katsu Endo was the first real example of the nuances found in good and evil, even before Nemesis. A strong, largely-silent warrior, he was entirely focused and driven towards his own ends, and loyal to an extreme. He exemplifies how people can do both good and bad things, and how the latter can forever isolate one no matter the good that one does later.

In short, every character had their own story. That’s why I was a bit disappointed to see so many of them become a bit diminished in the face of the plot. It began to feel like watching the cliff notes of a proper series, hitting all the highlights, but with significant gaps in how the characters developed.

Which makes it all the more odd, I suppose, that I am not sure if I am happy or disappointed with how few of the main characters die in the end. I mean, so many other people die, but this little nucleus of people emerges almost entirely unscathed, without one fatality among them? I mean, I didn’t want any of them to die at all, but, really? Plot armor, much?

One minor detail: they used an array of flying drones that concentrate laser fire. It was a genius idea, but they only used it once. Why? Because a hundred drones didn’t get the job done, but they did have a distinct effect on a giant monster. So, naturally, the answer should have been to up the numbers and maybe the power, too. If a hundred didn’t get the job done, then maybe a thousand would, or ten thousand, especially once the person controlling them knows where to aim. But they didn’t. They went to the trouble of introducing this idea and then immediately wrote it out.

On a personal note, I have to wonder if Robinson doesn’t like my religion for some reason, based on how he specifically mentions us, and only us, a couple of times, and how he seems to be slightly misinformed, and how he took the time to destroy our single most iconic building within his story.

Setting that aside, however, I rather enjoyed the series, for the most part. It may have eventually started trying to keep moving so fast that it actually lost a bit of steam, but even then, it was a fun, thrilling ride, and one which wove a compelling tale about the thin line which separates humanity and the monsters we call evil.

And I love the concept art inserts that show us all these monsters! 🙂

Of course, if this isn’t obvious yet, one should keep in mind that there are a number of violent, disturbing, sad scenes, with a very large body count, and it has a bit of colorful language, added to some weighty themes. The most tactful thing it does is skirt anything outright sexual, though Hudson seems to like camping in the nude for some reason. It is most definitely meant for a more mature audience, not little kids. In a cinematic format, I would definitely rate it R, or at least PG-13.

Fair warning! 😉

Rating: 8 stars out of 10. (9 for the first half)

Grade: B-Plus.

(and since I have discovered the “insert gallery” feature, you can enjoy and get freaked out by the monster slideshow below! mwahahah!)

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Cat Planet Cuties: Part Review, Part Rant

I watched Cat Planet Cuties once before, years ago. I recently rewatched it with the idea of reviewing it. Now I find myself in a position where I cannot, in good conscience, promote it, and yet I feel compelled to talk about it.

I do not know how this happened. The last time I watched it, on Funimation’s website, I believe, was it censored somehow? Was I just really, really good at ignoring the incredibly explicit content? Did the years addle my memory such that I forgot about that? Or has my perspective simply changed to such a shocking degree that I couldn’t overlook it this time, but was somehow able to overlook it before?

Either way, I have now found a new anime which I am ashamed to have enjoyed.

Ok, let’s back up and start from the beginning.

Cat Planet Cuties is aptly-named, as it features alien cat girls from the planet Catia coming to Earth and establishing a relationship with its people. It begins with their scout, Eris, sending a little message, “I’m going to drop by,” arriving, and getting to know some humans. One of the first people she meets, crashing a family reunion for some food, is Kyo. He is more or less a normal boy, though a bit at the dull, wishy-washy end of the spectrum. Naturally (for an anime) he has several gorgeous girls interested in him. Yes, it becomes a harem, though it waits until near the end to make it “official,” ie, the three girls around him – the female leads of Eris, Manami, and Aoi – agree to all have him together.

I’m not sure what annoys me more about that part: the fact that Kyo literally does nothing at all to pursue any of them and gets all three of them anyway, or the fact that these three girls are so strong while he is so weak. Don’t get me wrong, I love strong women, but they didn’t need to make the man weak in order for the women to be strong, ya know?

Gorgeous, and dangerous.

Hmm, looking at Kyo, I can’t help but wonder if this is a bit of what girls feel when the female leads are reduced to damsels in distress all the time, no matter their attitude, ideals, or skills. But either way, the point stands, moving on.

The entire anime is a mixture of comedy, parody, and tribute to the whole of pop culture and science fiction especially. It has some decent, if also cliche, romantic drama, though that is a little diminished by Kyo’s absolute cluelessness about the girls’ feelings for him. It has a bit of action, though the violence is kept perfectly bloodless. It has some touching moments, too, and I was very surprised to find such a sweet homage to a particular science fiction classic of Japanese yesteryears. It also touches on rather significant subjects, like artificial intelligence and the rights of robotic beings, as well as first encounters and how we’ve built up this grand image of aliens in our culture. Add in some smooth animation, witty humor, and excellent voice work, and you have something fairly watchable.

That said, there are such campy moments, the plot can be pretty threadbare, the world-building is… lacking… and what the heck is with having the girls be so obsessed with Kyo that, even when they’re in the middle of a crisis, they’re still fixated on their relationships with him!

Most of all, though, and this is where we get to the crux of the issue, is the fan service.

“Somebody call for fan service, meow?”

Actually, no, wait… it’s not the “fan service” which bothers me. There are plenty of anime, movies, and live television shows which have loads of fan service. Many of them may be explicit, even sexual, in their content, and do not shy away from things which I would deem as inappropriate. Most of the time, however, these can be overlooked, tolerated, excused, or at least expected, for a variety of reasons.

There might be some form of tact or taste applied to it, for instance, to keep things obvious but not entirely explicit. It might even be a little restrained, as with most fan service in anime, so that while the character is absolutely attractive and dressed very skimpily at the moment, and not at all ashamed to show off what they got, it does not actually show them nude, and not from the front, and not without some sort of context to it. There’s a flavor to it as well, something which makes such content “fit” within the texture of the story around it. Heck, there might even be something somewhat relevant to the story or theme. And certainly, absolutely, it usually does not take up a significant portion of the runtime.

None of that can be said of Cat Planet Cuties.

Whatever else can be said about this show, and everything it does and tries to do, this is my particular point against it, one so severe that I hesitated to actually talk about the show at all: it has a great deal of content which is wildly inappropriate, and far more explicit than most ordinary fan service. As in, nudity.

Like this, only full body, no hair in front of the nipples, and it’s all three of the girls, and all the rest of the girls, too.

I have both critiqued and praised such movies as Deadpool and Kingsman, and such shows as Black Sails and even freaking Game of Thrones. I flat-out gloried in the middle finger which No Game, No Life gave to all the censors, a choice which I am beginning to reconsider. But Cat Planet Cuties outshines them all in its own way. It is still not the most “sexually” explicit anime I have ever seen, but that is only because it doesn’t have anything sexual actually take place, unlike, say, Campione, To Love-Ru, and Everyday Life With Monster Girls. Heck, it doesn’t even have any of those creepy sexually-fascinated characters as can be found in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. (except that one time Eris is in heat…)

Barring that, however, it may display the single most explicit fan-service I have ever seen in an anime. Not only do characters talk about sex like its a casual pastime, it has a profuse amount of females, ranging in ages from mature to absolutely-definitely-underage, which are depicted in ways which leave little-to-nothing to the imagination, including outright, full, frontal, female nudity several times. It stops just short of showing the… ah, nether regions, we shall say. But everything else is fair game, and shown rather cavalierly, and frequently, and for extended periods of time.

I’m not sure what I mind about that more: that it’s there, that there’s so much of it, or that it is utterly irrelevant to the story. There is literally no point to making the audience see the naked boobies. They just do it. That’s it. Like it’s no big deal at all. And that is something which goes so far and so hard against my standards that even talking about this show, giving it even this much attention and promotion, feels like a betrayal of my morals.

Two underage girls, one more so than the other, and you see both of them naked.

Indeed, that is the very reason I’m talking about it at all, because this is a discussion that needs to be had. Nothing will change without honest, even uncomfortable, conversation.

Fan service in general is something that needs to be talked about, and which, really, is up to each person to decide for themselves how to approach it, including what to tolerate and what not to. There is a definite cultural factor at work here, too, as other cultures probably don’t think anything at all of the nudity as we do in America. Heck, many a classic painting and sculpture does not exactly hesitate to show off the goods, though I personally shy away from such. There’s also the conversation of what types of content we do or don’t tolerate, like degrees of violence vs. degrees of sexual content. And, of course, there are issues of gender equality at work as well, as reactions to male vs female nudity are not always identical.

So, this is not a simple and easy conversation to have, but it must be had.

For myself, I readily admit, I usually enjoy fan service, if I even notice it at all. Usually, however, said fan service is no nearly so explicit and inappropriate, it’s not nearly so nonchalant, and there’s usually some context where it simply “fits” within the anime overall. And it really sucks, because I actually found myself enjoying this anime, with singular exception to this one, crucial, highly-pronounced aspect of it. But the show as a whole cannot be judged separately from this. The nudity is there, it is absolutely in your face, and it just pops up for no apparent reason other than “boobs are thing.” It can’t just be ignored, overlooked, or justified like it’s nothing.

If not for this, I could have happily recommended Cat Planet Cuties to anyone looking to have some laughs, enjoy seeing some cute girls, and bask in the parodying of all things science fiction. As is, I find that I actually can’t do that. If this sounds like your thing, if you don’t mind it, then more power to you.

For myself, however, I cannot condone it. I can’t truly support this. And somehow, that makes me sad.

Parting is such sweet sorrow.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #247: Hakuna Matata People

“My friends are gone! …and, my hakuna matata went with them!”
– Timon, The Lion King 1½

This side-story of the original animated classic The Lion King is an outrageously funny parody, but it still has some emotional weight to it.

Timon, the primary lead alongside Pumbaa, is a meerkat who always wanted more than he was born into. Specifically, he wanted to live in a better place, without either endless work or endless fear. He wanted it so much that it drove him to distraction and put his entire extended family at risk, and so it drove him from his home as well, out into the dangerous world. Along the way, he became familiar with the iconic phrase, “hakuna matata,” meaning “no worries.” This became his goal, and his lifestyle, once he found a safe, prosperous place to live. But then his carefree days ended when his friends went away, and the prize he had searched so hard for was suddenly gone.

That’s when he says the above line, when he realizes why his happiness is gone. He’d mistaken his search for happiness for a search for stuff, but, really it was who he shared it with that made it so good.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting something better for yourself, and for those around you. Greater prosperity and safety are good things to pursue. But that, alone, does not make for a lasting happiness. You can own the entire world, with no one to threaten you, but it does you little good when you are alone.

We need friends, and we need family. We need love.

Love, by very nature, comes with worries.

Caring comes with cares, and so no happy life is ever entirely carefree. We can aspire to peaceful, joyful, comfortable lives, but not really carefree ones. Not if we want what matters most, because what matters most isn’t stuff, it’s people.

Mind you, I am not a particularly social person, but, still, I consider it the greatest blessing of my life to have so many good people around me, my family and friends. They may not make my life carefree, ever, but they are still my hakuna matata.

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5 Scenic Anime Backgrounds

A picture is worth a thousand words, and all of cinema, anime included, has a lot of pictures. Small wonder we talk about it so much! 😉

For all that I harp on the essence of storytelling (characters, plot, themes, etc.) being what truly makes or breaks an anime, or any other story, it would be remiss of me to forget the technical aspects. Character design, ie what they look like, wear, and own; music, vital to setting the mood, and soon to be talked about in coming weeks; and the animation itself, meaning the style, and how pleasant (or not) it is to look at.

The setting, made vivid and clear and quickly understandable, is every bit as vital to the story as the story itself. It is the vehicle by which said story is transported, carried into our hearts by pleasing our eyes.

I must admit, I have sometimes been less enthusiastic about this. The reason is… well, we tend to forgive or ignore a great deal, both good and bad, in anime (or a movie, or a person, or anything else) because of how it looks. I mean, I have so many qualms with Avatar, but I cannot deny that it looks really good. Unfortunately, that is pretty much all it really brings to the table. And yet, it was wildly successful, and I have the DVD. On the other hand the webcomic Order of the Stick is literally stick figure drawings, and yet it’s remarkable, both for its story and because of how it uses that stick-figure appearance.

Anime is… well, “anime” partially because what it looks like. Yes, it’s also because of where it comes from, and the tropes within in, and the format of the stories it tells, but all of those require watching it to understand. We can usually tells what is an “anime” at a glance, much like how we match a person’s name with their face. The style, design, and such, it is distinct. It is its own thing. And, more often than not, it ain’t so bad to look at! 🙂

So, how something looks really is important. That is why artists and animators have jobs. We enjoy looking at things which are more pleasant to look at. Thus, backgrounds and scenery and such.

The challenge with picking five is, quite simply… there’s so much of it! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I always want my picks to be good, ya know?

A further challenge is in talking about it. I mean, some things don’t really need words, do they? Yet, words can still help us understand, especially when understanding people’s choices. So, I’m just hoping my words don’t take away from these five beautiful images I spent an inordinate amount of time selecting. 😉

Part of what took so much time is… well, I hated the idea of picking five images and having repeats, ya know? So I went with a sort of loose theme of displaying different elements through different settings.

Here goes! Five beautiful background scenery from anime!

1) An Outlaw Starry Sky

Outlaw Star begins almost every episode with a prologue of sorts, giving the background of and adding texture to the show. This is one of the first, and it is brilliant: a young Gene Starwind staring up at the limitless night sky, with stars and worlds uncounted overhead in the infinite sea of space. That is every young boy, or girl, who wonders, “What’s out there?”

2) Forest of the Mononoke

Princess Mononoke is my favorite anime movie partially because it’s so dang beautiful to look at (and listen to). It has such an enchanting story, set in an enchanting land, and none more so than the home of the Great Forest Spirit, and the great Wolf god with their brood, not to mention the tree spirits, the kodama. One can hardly enter such a place without a feeling of reverence, and this image, with the gigantic trees, the glimmering pools of clean water, the green islets, and the radiant sun shining through… well, it is magical.

3) Moribito Snowscape

I wanted a picture with snow, and while there are a ton of anime that have snow in them, somehow I wasn’t able to find the “right” one until I went and got an image myself from Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit. This is practically a throw-away image, too, just  something shown during the montage that covers the season of winter. It’s set to some beautiful music, and it has such resplendent imagery, and I’m glad I remembered it.

4) Wolf Girl in the Setting Sun

Another quick moment, involving the introduction of one of my favorite supporting characters in InuYasha: a female wolf demon named Ayame. And it’s so simple, just her leaping figure, in front of a setting sun. Yet… sunsets and beautiful women are both magical. Combine them, and for all the simplicity of it, it remains stunning.

5) The View from Resembool’s Cemetery

Not a bad resting place, is it? From the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise (Brotherhood, to be exact, I think), this is another quick moment, and do you notice a pattern here, where even the briefest of moments is made magical? I like the peace and quiet of this image, especially. For all that death has a bad reputation, where we lay our dead is hallowed ground for us. From the earth we come, and to the earth we return, to rest in peace, and hopefully leave peace in our wake.

And that’s my five. How about you? Any beautiful backgrounds you’d like to share?

Posted in 30-Day Anime Pick 5 Challenge, Anime and Cartoons, Challenge Accepted | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

The Marvel Countdown: Adding in Phase Three

If one notices a recurring theme of some of my more recent posts… hey, it’s an excellent time for updating all things Marvel-ous! 😉

When I produced the original Marvel Countdown a few yeas ago, ranking my personal favorites of the first two phases of the MCU, I always intended, in due time, to add the Phase 3 movies to the ranking. Mind you, at the time I had thought there would only be eight of these additions, not a full eleven, but, plans change! It’s a been a fun, rip-roaring ride, to say the least! 😀

Now, it must be said, again, that I am not making any statements about the quality of any of these movies. Some may be arguably “better” than others, but they are all absolutely superb and a great deal of fun! 🙂

This is merely a list of how I would rank them as my “favorites,” according to no opinions other than my own.

That comes with double-difficulties, though. Not only was I left trying to arrange all eleven of the Phase 3 movies in relation to each other, but also in relation to the first twelve movies of the first two phases. There was a lot of back and forth and shuffling that went into this list.

Finally, while I won’t bother commenting on the older movies, other than to simply include them in the list, I will comment on the newer ones, and I won’t be holding any spoilers back, so…

SPOILER ALERT!

And now that that’s done, let’s get to it! 😀

23) Thor: The Dark World

22) Iron Man 2

21) Incredible Hulk

20) Iron Man 3

19) Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Man, the lowest-ranked of the new additions is a sequel again. At this rate, one might start thinking that I dislike sequels! 😉

If I had to have any points to knock this one lower than one might expect, I suppose it could be the overdone theme of found families coupled with how Star-Lord’s father is an evil dad of cosmic proportions. But, really, that doesn’t actually bother me.

It’s a fun, funny, tender, touching, action-packed movie that does not shy away from horrific things like Ego’s murder of all his progeny, and a woman he claimed to love, as well as a massive Ravager mutiny, with the better portion of Yondu’s crew being jettisoned into space, like the space version of walking the plank. It was a tragic scene, that was paid off brilliantly in Yondu’s annihilation of his entire mutinous, murderous crew. He died redeemed and had a magnificent, touching funeral.

I also loved the entire relationship of Nebula and Gamora finally coming to sisterly fruition.

It is only unfortunate, I think, that the third installment of this trilogy will include a Gamora that is not Star-Lord’s Gamora. 😦

18) Ant-Man

17) Thor

16) Doctor Strange

The origin story of Doctor Stephen Strange, who will become the Sorcerer Supreme, has its pros and its cons. It tells as riveting and entertaining a tale as any other origin story, with visuals unlike any yet seen in any other MCU movie. The characters are more complicated as well, from the villain to the mentor figure to the parter/sidekick to the hero himself. It’s fascinating to see how it all plays out.

One small detail, though: I think we’ve graduated beyond the need for the hero to start out as an overgrown man-child before being bitterly humbled and then becoming a hero, ya know?

That said, there is very little else to complain about in this movie. 🙂

Though… I am incredibly wary of the horror genre, so to hear that the sequel, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, is going to be a horror story, has me a little… unsettled.

15) Ant-Man and the Wasp

A sequel that truly builds on the thread of the hero’s previous adventures, and presents a solid story wherein a proper partnership between two similar heroes is formed? Now that sounds like fun!

I thoroughly love the story of Scott Lang simply trying to do right by both his family and his friends. It wrestles with questions of right and wrong, of how most people are just trying to get by in spite of past mistakes. The officers of the law may be honorable, and honor-bound to stand in Scott’s way, but the law is not always right, especially once it’s been corrupted. One could even argue that the usual superpowered villain isn’t really a villain at all, just a misguided victim trying to survive.

That is a level of complexity, and humanity, that most films, even in the MCU, do not always explore. And all of this in the midst of zany, wild action, a much-needed comedic relief in the year between Infinity War and Endgame. 🙂

14) Captain America: Civil War

Wherein Captain America spends almost the entire movie just trying to keep his friends from killing each other.

It has one of the best, albeit most humble, of the MCU’s villains, in my opinion. It has intrigue and political discussion, and an exploration of the consequences of heroism. Most of all… it has awesome hero vs hero fights!

The fight at the airport is among my favorite moments in the MCU, hands down. 🙂

I’m actually a little surprised at myself for not placing this one a bit higher on the list. I suppose, as much as I enjoy this movie, it just doesn’t quite hit home as much as the others. The crisis that splits the Avengers feels very contrived, and it ends with the promise that they’ll come back together again. Kind of an odd sort of let-down, ya know?

13) Black Panther

He is not the first black leading character in the MCU, and he is not the first black superhero in the MCU, but he is the first to have the movie named after him. That is not as momentous, I think, as it was made out to be, but it was still pretty great.

A king, new to the throne, must  govern his nation and navigate a crisis as the ghosts of his father’s reign come immediately to haunt him and threaten his nation, his family, and the world. It’s a fantastic action-adventure, drawing obviously on African culture, to create another unique addition to the MCU.

And I really liked Killmonger. Not as a person, of course, or even as much of a visionary, but as a figure who could, with a slight tweaking of the lens, as history tends to do, be considered a cultural and national hero… who just happened to also be a raging, murderous psychopath with a lot of blood on his hands. If he had succeeded, that is.

There were some ways it could have been a little more fleshed-out, though, and it felt a little like the movie had a racial chip on its shoulder, but it was still a great movie. 🙂

12) Spider-Man: Homecoming

Peter Parker’s coming of age story, or at least part of it, as he tries to rise up while the world pushes him down, and even the ground under him can’t seem to stay in place. It’s fantastic!

The Vulture is one my favorite villains in the MCU, simply because they made it easy to connect with him as a person. They did the same thing with Peter, as a person, giving both hero and villain some truly human depths to explore.

Ultimately, in order to eventually soar among the stars, Peter had to learn the value of keeping his feet on the ground, and he made some real personal sacrifices in order to do what was right, for the right reasons.

What’s not to love about that? 😉

11) Captain America: The First Avenger

10) Iron Man

9) The Avengers: Age of Ultron

8) Thor: Ragnarok

The God of Thunder… is thoroughly humbled!

They did so well with both Thor and Loki in this movie. They stripped Thor of his grandeur, and made him magnificent, via his struggles. And they finally redeemed Loki, without turning him into a saint, but, rather, into a brother.

Hela’s part as Asgard’s conqueror may have been the weakest part of the movie, but the principle of sacrificing a place in order to save its people was pulled off brilliantly.

And who could help but love both the redemption of a drunkard Valkyrie, as well as the dual role of Bruce Banner and the Hulk, eh?

It’s only tragic that they escaped one mass-murderer just to flee unwittingly straight into the path of another. Of all the rotten luck!

7) Captain Marvel

Unlike DC, Marvel has no need to make tons of noise over their female superheroes. 😉

The story of Carol Danvers’ origin as Captain Marvel is intricate and complicated. They told it exceptionally well, starting at one point and reaching back to unveil the past as well as make promises for the future. It was a great balance of fun action, witty humor, and compelling drama. Marvelous! (Sorry, I had to make the pun…)

I had feared it might have had some ridiculous, overblown feminist message, but I didn’t notice any such thing. It was simply a strong, beautiful (but not overly-sexualized) woman kicking butt and coming to grips with her own identity.

The villain might have been a little lackluster, though, and the climax felt more like the beginning of the fireworks, with the promise of more to come, rather than the conclusion of such.

Still, I loved it! 😀

6) Spider-Man: Far From Home

Wow. Just… wow.

Spider-Man’s world is turned upside-down, as he tries to be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man while the world wants him to be the next Iron Man. He’s thrust into an epic fight when all he wants to do is enjoy his vacation and tell the girl he likes how he feels. But with great power comes great responsibility, and he can’t avoid it forever.

The villain, Mysterio, is new and unique, with an unusual power set that Spidey has to use his all his wits, power, and will to match. Even more, just when things seem to be settled, he lands one last sucker punch that is sure to have dire consequences for the web-slinger from here on out.

I know they haven’t announced the next Spider-Man movie, but if it’s not the first one out in 2022, if not earlier, then Marvel be slipping up! 😉

5) The Avengers

4) Guardians of the Galaxy

3) Avengers: Infinity War

&

2) Avengers: Endgame

Let’s be honest: these two movies function best as two halves of one extended feature. 😉

Together, they make for the ultimate cinematic crossover event of the MCU! Not only by bringing all of the previous heroes together, but even intersecting with all of the previous movies in surprising ways. It is a fantastic, marvelous, glorious ride, the grand crescendo of all that has come before, and a crucial pivoting point for all that is to follow!

It has all the action! All the plot! All the suspense! All the tragedy! All the triumph! All the epic mastery of the MCU in one place!

And even a good deal of humor! 😉

I absolutely, rabidly love these two movies!

…still, they fell just one inch shy of the top spot, just in my personal preference.

1) Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The winner, and still champion! 🙂

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Jessica Jones, Season 3: The Triumph and Tragedy

The third and final season of Jessica Jones is the last installment of Netflix’s Defenders-based corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Unless some sort of miracle occurs, it will probably be the last we see of any of these properties. I do not hold out much hope for any resurrection of them on Disney+ or Hulu or anything like that. And that, I have to say, is a shame.

Indeed, it’s a rather melancholy truth to note: corporate politics has, once again, gotten in the way of quality storytelling. Not only are the Netflix shows going the way of the dodo, leaving dangling threads forever untied, but Cloak and Dagger has yet to be renewed for a third season, Agent Carter never got that third season either, Inhumans was a magnificent flop, I’ve no idea what’s going on with Runaways, and even Agents of Shield is ending next season, after having lost much of its connection to the MCU movies. It seems the entire standing collection of Marvel’s TV shows has been collectively divorced from the movies, and that saddens me a little, no matter what we might look forward to from Marvel Studios and Disney.

It is, in a sense, the end of a small era, and the first substantial fracture to be found in the MCU.

As far as Netflix goes, Jessica’s final story may have been the perfect swan song. It would have been far better, I think, if they could have finished Luke Cage’s story and Danny Rand’s. Heck, the loose threads from any and all of their stories could have been tied up with one more crossover event… but I digress, and get ahead of myself. My point is, this was a very good ending to the show, and even to a collection of shows. That is no small thing, especially as Jessica’s second season was easily the most lackluster of all the Defenders’ shows.

The plot follows Jessica and those around her as they confront not only what is arguably their most menacing adversary yet, but also the darkness within themselves.

In the case of the former, we have a serial killer who has no special abilities whatsoever, but possesses formidable wits and a terrifying will. Having been constantly overlooked until now, he succeeds in delivering devastating blows to the people trying to bring him down, and then twisting the truth to wriggle out of justice. He drives the heroes in ways they never have been before, and even when he loses, he leaves a lasting legacy of darkness and tragedy.

That goes into the latter theme of one’s inner struggle with the darkness. Some people feel stuck on the wrong side of things until a pivotal moment of decision, when things become clear, and they choose to clean up their act. Others simply deal with it, head-on, without blinking, though there are tears shed and wounds taken. Still others never really turn away from evil, even when trying to do something good. And then there are those who stare into the abyss, and fight it… but blink, and lose themselves in that instant. That is how an angel falls, by trying to shine so bright that they blind themselves to the shadows creeping in on their own hearts.

This villain really likes pictures.

That sounds pretty vague, I know, but I don’t want to spoil the show for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. 😉

I also notice that this season, like the rest of the Defender shows, delves deeply into what it means to be a hero. It questions what separates heroes and villains, what price is paid for heroism, and especially the heavy weight that falls on oneself when one takes justice into one’s own hands. Like it or not, the superheroes are all vigilantes, operating without legal authority or oversight. When the law is ignored and the line becomes blurred, mistakes are made. Terrible, costly mistakes, paid for in blood, pain, death, even sanity itself. We have often glorified such figures as flout the law, but the ramifications of doing so  are very real and very dangerous.

So, it certainly doesn’t hold back on some powerful, compelling themes! 🙂

The narrative which carries this forward is generally tight, well-paced, and driven by the characters. Everything that happens actually matters, with all the threads intertwining intricately by the end, to create the conclusion. That does not mean I necessarily care about all of the threads and the people in them, but there is nothing that comes out of nowhere. No one is just off doing there own thing, and there is no deus ex machina.

Speaking of, I really enjoyed these characters. Most of them, the main characters, we see their development on the screen Jessica wrestles with what she can bear to lose, Trish is put through the wringer as she strives to be a hero, Malcolm takes a winding path back towards a better path to take, etc. But there are others who we only learn about from an outside perspective, and learn that there is often more to someone than most will ever see.

And I loved the partnership between Jessica and Trish, one being strong and experienced, the other being agile and passionate about their work. It took far too long to come about, and it was over far too soon, but it was great while it lasted.

I am left a little puzzled by exactly what Jessica means to do after the final scene, but somehow it still fits with an overall theme of picking oneself up after being knocked down harder than ever. It has been a long, rough road to rock bottom, but all the people we like are at least doing that much, however they can.

This season is, both of itself and within the context of Netflix’s Marvel series, both tragic and triumphant, both having endings which are both happy and sad. As I consider, I think I would personally rank it very high, second only to the first season of Daredevil.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid A.

Cya around, Jessica.

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