Anime Review: Zoids

I remember watching this as a kid, and enjoying every bit of it. Giant, animal-like robots are piloted in team-based battles, fighting for glory and prize money? That’s my kind of show! 🙂

Zoids is one of those shows like the Digimon or Gundam franchises: it has a number of distinctly different shows to its name, which may build on each other, nod to one another, but aren’t actually connected to one another at all. Obviously, I am only talking about this one, here, with the single word as its title.

Partially episodic, but with recurring elements that create a basic, overarching story, Zoids follows the adventures, and battles, of a young man named Bit Cloud. A scavenger of battlefields, Bit barges into a match as it begins, and inadvertently alters the outcome of it. This little twist of fate brings him into contact with the Blitz Team and a most unusual, temperamental Zoid called Liger Zero. An unusual bond forms, and Bit joins the team just in time to help them out. From there, the team fights together, facing an array of capable foes, and coming into direct conflict with the shadowy Backdraft Group.

There’s not much in the way of an overall plot, and yet everything in the climactic finale is set up over the course of the series. It’s one of those series that tells pretty episodic stories, but with frequently recurring guest stars, most of whom return in some capacity for the final act.

What really sells this show are the characters, the battles, and the music during said battles.

Bit, of course, is the usual diamond-in-the-rough rogue with big dreams and lots of guts, which does not always work out well for him. Brad is the stoic, cool-headed lone wolf. Lina is the feisty loudmouth of a girl with big attitude and a love for things that go boom. Jamie is the reliable nerd with an unexpected cool side when he’s flying fast enough, though his tactics tend to never really work. Lina’s father, Dr. Tauros, is an eccentric mad scientist who manages the team. Among their friends and enemies are capable warriors who are so very cool in a variety of ways, and noble warriors who are far too good for the nefarious organization to which they belong, some genuinely dangerous fighters, and at least one rich boy whose fascination with Lina makes him an adorable joke.

The battles explore various niches of possible match-ups, including when they face a skilled sniper, or duel at super-sonic speeds, or face aerial, aquatic, or just plain overpowering enemies, as well as those with special skills in melee combat. The episodes tend to set up how formidable the enemy is, what sort of fight it’ll be this time, and then the heroes have to strive mightily to overcome some sort of severe disadvantage. And you always know when the pivotal moment arrives, because of the soundtrack. A bit stereotypical, perhaps, but plenty of fun. If football matches were half as good as a proper Zoid battle, I would be much more interested in them. 🙂

The characters all shine on the battlefield, but they’re most lovable, in my opinion, in their everyday lives. I think my favorite episode has to be the one where they go to the beach and just horse around. Heh, it’s especially hilarious as the villains in the area have to keep hiding themselves lest they be discovered! I laughed so hard during that!

Zoids is a fairly short, simple, straightforward anime, great for the whole family to enjoy together, provided the whole family is into mostly action and explosions and some lovable heroes. And, yes, it is almost entirely geared towards making these robotic animals cool so they can sell action figures of them forever. Still a fun way to spend a few hours! 🙂

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Grade: B-Plus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #253: The Line Must Be Drawn

“The line must be drawn here! This far, no farther!
– Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: First Contact

When Picard says this, it must be admitted, he is not at his most rational. He is leading a desperate fight to stop a terrifying enemy, one which has hurt him, personally, on a most intimate and disturbing level. If they lose, everything he has ever cherished will be gone, like it never existed. As losses and frustrations mount, he is not thinking clearly, not entirely. He cannot tolerate what seems to be another retreat, after a long string of many such retreats, even if he knows, on some level, that it’s the only way to stop the enemy and win the fight. It is, after all, an enemy that just keeps on coming.

Yet, for all his flaws, Picard is right about this much, at least. All he’s failing to see, for the moment, is that the proposed plan is a line drawn in the sand to stop the enemy’s advance at last. But, then again, the plan ends up not working anyway, so, taking that for what it’s worth, he may have been more right than even he knew.

Now, I rush to make clear: sometimes those unpleasant things we call “losses,” “defeats,” “retreats,” and “compromises” really are, in fact, necessary. We cannot bull our way through everything in life. Balance is key, and balance is not found without a bit of flexibility. We do need to give ground in some ways, sometimes in very painful ways, in order to get through this life together.

However, giving up some ground is not the same as giving up all of it by refusing to ever stand firm.

Retreats are sometimes necessary… and sometimes they are the one thing we must not do.

Sometimes, crazy though it may be, the only sane thing to do is stand, stubborn and immovable, against anything and everything coming against us.

It’s a question of priorities. If a middle ground can be found and built upon, it requires a bit of give and take on all sides. If the core of what we protect, be it beliefs, people, or ways of life, can remain preserved with only some peripheral losses, then it is not so bad. But when that core is threatened, when appeasement, compromise, and cooperation fail, and when something keeps advancing, step after step after step, against what we hold most dear… well, that cannot be tolerated.

Tolerance only works when it’s mutual, after all.

There comes a point when retreat is no longer an acceptable option, and it comes long before we are unable retreat.

Then, the line must be drawn and, for the good of what we love, we must win, here and now.

Many people may balk at that, because it risks everything. But when that “everything” is already at risk, then what are we really risking?

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5 Sad Anime Moments

To know the sweet, we must know the bitter, and to comprehend joy, and love, we must know sorrow.

Nobody walks this life for long without knowing what it means to lose, and grieve for it. Even Disney does not avoid this, in fact, they are rather notorious for it. If there is one thing which can prove that anime is not just for kids, it is the honest depiction of loss, and grief.

I have said it many times: quality storytelling involves a bit of sadism. You have to make your characters and your audience cry rivers of tears sometimes. 😉

I had no shortage of such moments to choose from. I think I only picked the ones I picked because of the impression they left on me, personally.

In, as usual, no particular order, I present five sad moments from anime.

…heh, I feel a bit like I should be saying, in a voice like Inigo Montoya, “Hello. My name is Merlin. You read my blog. Prepare to cry.” 😉

1) Yusuke’s wake
Yu-Yu Hakusho

Yusuke Urameshi thought he had nothing, that his life was a complete waste. Then he gave his life saving a kid from a car, and learned otherwise. As a ghost, he attended his own funeral, and he saw that he did, in fact, have a place in people’s lives. His friend (and romantic interest) cried her eyes out. His rival, and unorthodox best friend, howled in misery. His teacher shed tears, mourning the greatness that could have been, when Yusuke thought he had been worthless. And his mother was all but wordless with grief. And if that’s not enough… the child who he saved, he liked him, and didn’t really understand that he was dead yet.

How does this not tug at the heart-strings?

You never know what you got until it’s gone. And when Yusuke sees the hole he’s left behind, his attitude finally fades, and he wants to live again.

(sniff!)

2) Last Song of the Rumbar Pirates
One Piece

One Piece has a lot of very sad stories within it. Each backstory that has been explored thus far has been rife with tragedy. It’s anyone’s pick for which one is the saddest, and which moment in those stories is the saddest. For me, it tugged my heartstrings in every direction when we see the joy of triumph and hope in the present mixed with the incredible loss of Brook’s past.

He is the only one of his friends to still be alive, and even he died before coming back. He has spent fifty years in absolute, and almost completely uninterrupted, isolation. I don’t think he would have survived that, so to speak, if he hadn’t had his crew’s lingering joy and defiance to carry him. And the moment they die… they choose to go out swinging in the only way left to them: singing.

It’s a final act of courage, and love. Their last, fleeting hope is that a dear friend of theirs will hear this song someday. It is their last gift to him, and they smile in joy even as they die, even as each voice, their song, falls silent.

No, I did not need a tissue when I saw this… I had my sleeve on hand.

3) Orson’s Sacrifice, and Shiris Grieves
Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight

I wanted to share videos of all my picked moments, but YouTube blocked everything I uploaded. That sound in the background right now is me, muttering curses at them under my breath. But, moving on! 😉

This was one of the first deaths that I experienced in anime. And the friend who already knew it was coming, the first time we watched it together, skipped the entire scene so I wouldn’t see it, and the entire next episode as well. He did not want to deal with me tearing up. I only saw it later, when I finally purchased the series for myself. And… ok, yes, I teared up, and I am not ashamed.

This actually has two parts to it. The first part is Orson’s death itself. He makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the woman he loves, and it is very, very tragic, though also triumphant. He gives himself back to a destructive spirit, becoming a berserker, and slaughtering everything in his path, but his wounds are too grievous, even for him. There’s a moment when it’s clear that he’s about to die, and Shiris offers to die with him, but he falls dead before he can deliver the blow. The episode ends with Shiris grieving.

The next episodes begins with that same moment, and this is what made me even sadder than Orson’s death itself: her grief is overwhelming. She knows he died for her, and she is screaming at him, over and over, “You died for nothing!” That is how low she feels, utterly bereft and worthless.

And that… that is truly sad.

Again, no tissue… I was young enough that I didn’t bother with that when wiping away my tears.

Speaking of…

4) Naruto mourns Jiraiya
Naruto Shippuden

That silence, as his popsicle melts… yeah, that completely did me in.

Curse YouTube and copyright and such for not letting us share these moments in all their unabridged glory. …then again, perhaps there are enough tears being shed in this post as is.

The scene follows after Naruto learns of the death of his teacher, Jiraiya. He never knew his parents, making Jiraiya the closest thing to a parent that he’s ever known. Jiraiya died in battle, trying to scout the enemy and unravel mysteries, and he managed to leave one last encoded message, a last help for his friends, but that is of little comfort to those left behind.

Naruto has people to support him, and a friend eventually pulls him out of it, but, well… grief is something that is inevitably endured alone. We always process it within ourselves, and feel its weight, and the ache of those who are gone. In Naruto’s case, he can’t sleep, very late, or very early. So he gets up, goes to the store, and gets a popsicle. And then he just sits there, in the night, under a light. He sits there so long that his popsicle melts, dripping slowly to the ground. Like the tears that soon flow freely from his eyes. He weeps, quietly. He is the loudest loudmouth on the show, but he mourns so very quietly.

It’s heart-wrenching, not only for the loss and the sorrow, but also because of how stark and real it is.

I didn’t cry when watching this one. I just breathed. And sniffed. A lot.

5) Kenshin leaves
Rurouni Kenshin

Finally, what might seem like the most mild example. After all, I’ve chosen four instances which revolve around death, and the grief of those who are left behind. But there is another form of that, and it is when someone literally leaves and literally leaves their loved ones behind.

Kenshin has been a wanderer for a decade or so, but after all that time, it seems that he has finally found a home. He’s also found a woman he cares for so very deeply, which, this is another thing he thought he’d never have again. All this time, he has been fighting his own demons, trying to suppress his own violence. He has been a monster on the battlefield, cheered by his allies, feared and even respected by his enemies. All that killing took a toll on his soul, and he has worked ever since to avoid being such a monster again. But now… now his hand is being forced.

When he says goodbye to Kaoru, he is leaving her behind with virtually no hope of returning. Even if he survives, he fears that he will be his worst self again, not truly the man that she loves. So he tells her goodbye. And then he turns around, and walks away, into the darkness, leaving her behind. He leaves her to weep for losing him even while he’s still alive.

That is a parting unlike most, and perhaps even more painful than a death. Death is the end of a life, but until one is dead, one can have more moments of living, and loving, and being with those one cares for. But to say goodbye and leave forever before one is dead, that is to lose all of those moments, even as what might have been, and what could still be, dangles like a carrot in front of a our nose. Time passes, and are they still alive? Are they dead? Will they ever come back? Can they be found, and brought back to themselves? These are the questions which plague people who have parted ways. There is no such solace as is found in the words, “They’re in a better place” and “We’ll see them again.”

That makes for a whole other level of broken-hearted.

Small wonder Kaoru hurts so much that she goes into shock afterward.

And that’s my five picks for sad anime moments. How about you? What moments in anime have ripped your hearts out?

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Anime Review: Fairy Tail

I remember, clearly, when I first encountered this anime. It was right when it began airing, and I proceeded to apply my one-episode rule. I liked it almost immediately, and what really hooked me was the very first moment we see Natsu eat fire, much to the astonishment of his enemies, whom he proceeds to wipe the floor with, with the Celtic-flavored main theme roaring to life. I liked that moment so much I shared it with my roommate (after making sure he was alright with anime) and that was pretty much it. I was hooked on Fairy Tail.

It did take two or three dozen episodes for my appreciation of it to develop into entirely loving it, but it became the first anime in my life that I ever called “my favorite.” Needless to say, I have pretty favorable opinion of it. 😉

Fairy Tail follows the adventures of the titular guild of wizards, famed for their strength, loyalty, and a particular proclivity for collateral damage. They are much more an unyielding hammer than a precise, flimsy scalpel. As Natsu puts it, “Breaking things is a Fairy Tail specialty.” 🙂

The story begins with a young girl, Lucy Heartfilia, joining her favorite wizards guild, the titular Fairy Tail, after a tumultuous first meeting with Natsu Dragneel. From there, the cast gradually and continually expands, but revolves most around those closest to these two. It follows their adventures as they take jobs and face down gangs, monsters, and especially other wizards.

The primary drive of the show is the action, the fights. Said fights display the magical skills of everyone involved, and a great deal of effort clearly went into the magic system, what with all the unique and intricate spell circles and the vast array of mystical talents. There are elemental abilities, with some nuance to be found among such, and enhanced special skills, and written magic, and magic involving contracts with spirits… the list goes on, and it is fascinating.

But the real entertainment of the show, for me, is the characters. Be they good or bad, or somewhere in between, or villains on the road to redemption, they are a colorful, endearing bunch. Their antics are hilarious, heart-warming, inspiring, or, in the case of the villains, properly horrifying. It’s easy to feel sad when the characters are sad, or angry when they’re angry, or happy when they’re happy. That is no small thing.

We just love these people! 🙂

With generally thrilling fights and lovable characters, the overarching plot is fairly straightforward. The wizards of Fairy Tail go about righting wrongs and beating bad guys, and they stumble their way through a plot involving the legacy and machinations of the most fearsome of all dark wizards in the history of the world, while also touching on ancient conflicts that eventually bring them into battle with the greatest and most terrible powers in the world. All of this, while exploring themes of loyalty and friendship, love and power, and the magnitude of what it means to stand in judgment of others.

It’s a thrilling, exciting, generally uplifting ride.

And the music is great! I love this soundtrack! 🙂

But there are a few things which could be improved. For one, while the magic and technological system of the world might be riveting to behold, it seems to be designed more for the thrill than for the sense it makes. People have their abilities, or not, just because, with not much rhyme or reason applied. Similarly, the plot suffers from extending for too long and accomplishing fairly little, and getting a bit monotonous. Heck, even the fights get repetitive, especially when so many of them are decided by “THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP!” My favorite fights actually lack that notion completely, and are decided by one’s wits.

Finally, from what I understand, that sense one gets that the author is just making it up as he goes is rather well justified here. Not only are there smaller examples of such (an early fight features a pair of combat wizards boasting of how so many wizards ignore physical power, yet 99% of the wizards we see in the series are entirely physical in their power), but the manga’s conclusion, from what I hear, was pretty much just made up on the spot. It fulfilled very few of the promises the series had made, completely ignored many of the couplings the audience was rooting for, and left many fans disappointed. I am actually hoping that the anime departs from the manga in that regard, at least.

That said, I still absolutely love this show, and there’s plenty to love about it. Fantastic fights, powerful magic, epic triumphs, touching drama, endearing characters, beautiful music… it’s easy to love Fairy Tail. 🙂

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: A-Minus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #252: Accepting Truth

“The one certain thing in life is that no one can make the truth untrue simply because it hurts.”
– Admiral Bernard Yanakov, Honor of the Queen, by David Weber

Some quotes are just too good to pass up, ya know? They don’t come much better than this.

This actually comes from the same chapter, and same conversation, as the quote I shared last week. David Weber’s work is apparently full of quotable passages. 🙂

In this scene, two men from very different cultures are becoming friends. Said cultures are clashing and the two men have not been particularly warm with each other. However, they are letting their guards down and looking at each other, and themselves, in a more frank and honest manner. One, the host of the evening, is explaining to the other, his guest, much of the history that has made his people, his nation, and himself the way they are. Based upon that history, the less-than-friendly immediate reactions of his people are understandable, even forgivable, if also no less frustrating.

It’s very complex and intricate, but it boils down to how his guest’s culture innately brings proof that the host’s culture is wrong, and has always been wrong, for centuries, about something very important, and, if they do not change (which is never easy for an individual, much less an entire society), they will continue to be wrong.

But, though it has taken Yanakov (the host) some time, he is able to face the pain of that with maturity, grace, and humility.

He does not rail against it. He does not cry and kick his legs in the air. He does not collapse in a trembling, screaming heap, or bellow in mindless, red-faced outraged.

He has a quiet, civilized conversation, wherein he examines himself and his people. He removes the beam from his own eye, and does not bother with the mote in his neighbor’s eye. He wrestles with the truth, yes, but he also accepts it. The fact that it is inconvenient to his previous world-view is irrelevant. The fact that change is painful does not negate that this change is also necessary.

Where many people try to change the truth into something more convenient for them, he adapts himself instead. He conforms to the truth, even if that truth is painful.

If only everyone did that.

I know, that’s easy to say. Especially since I have not always been successful at doing so myself. But I try. I try real hard, and I have changed my stance on many issues, even if I have done so very slowly. I imagine that will continue for the rest of my life.

It is a fact, we do not know everything. No one is special in that regard. What matters is what we do when we learn that we may be mistaken about something important.

It’s physically impossible for us to always be right, so how do we deal with being wrong?

Truth hurts, but we can’t change it. That way just lies more pain.

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5 Angry Anime Moments

If there is one thing that I think we can all understand, it’s the overwhelming fury of righteous anger.

When we are threatened, when what, and who, we love has been taken from us, when we see the evil of horror inflicted on the innocent, we get angry. We need to get angry, in order to respond appropriately, holding nothing back. Passion is the fuel which drives us forward, and our love for others demands a reaction when they are hurt.

It’s not always what is needed, but sometimes it is exactly what is needed. And it is very, very human.

Anime is famous for playing into that. There are countless moments where the character is us, our anger personified and unleashed on the wicked. Picking five of them was less a matter of looking for examples than it was of making those examples meaningful, and somewhat diverse.

In no particular order, here are five moments of anger in anime, and my thoughts on each of them.

I am indebted to YouTube for having these moments in video format for me to share them. Be warned, this may be intense, in more than one way.

1) Roy burns Envy
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Everybody loved Maes Hughes. It was impossible not to love him. He was a good man, loyal, capable, wise, and cunning. He was a devoted husband, and father, and friend. His death is among the saddest in all of anime. Thus, everybody cheered when his best friend, Roy Mustang, hunted for Hughes’ killer, and when he finally got the despicable, murdering monster called Envy in his grasp, he did not let go. It was epic, and long-awaited, and utterly glorious to see how all of Envy’s tricks completely failed to save him.

But there was another side to this. Mustang got to burn and burn and burn the creature that murdered his best friend, and so many others, but the more it went on, the uglier it became. If it were possible to make it quick and clean, perhaps that would have been avoided, but to kill a homonculus? That is never quick or clean. The more Mustang burned him, the more it became clear that he was on the point of being consumed by his own rage. Justified though that rage might have been, thoroughly, it was still leading him swiftly to the precipice of darkness.

Had he not been stopped by the better voices of those around him, there is no telling the damage this vengeful justice might have done to the man dishing it out. It might have burnt him all up in his heart, leaving only a blackened ruin in its wake.

2) After the Diablo massacre
Trigun

I believe I cued this up at the appropriate moment. It’s that moment when Vash the Stampede is standing over the corpses of the innocent bystanders who have been brutally gunned down by the assassin trying to kill him. The man is laughing, crowing over his victory, not a spit-wad’s worth of caring for the people he just murdered. But he just angered the wrong outlaw.

Unlike when Mustang finally corners Envy, Vash’s fury is cold and quiet. He does not scream and burn on the point of madness. He looms quietly in the shadows, picking his shots with precision. Up until this point, he has mostly been a fun, hilarious, donut-scarfing doofus. But not now. Not when people’s lives have been stolen from them. Now… now, he is angry.

His mere approach terrifies his enemy, who flees at the sight of him. The girls near him, but he pushes them away, and they are left in shock by the person they see in the place of their comical friend. And when he catches up to his enemy (or draws him into a trap, really), it is clear that his cold fury is for the sake of the dead, of perfect strangers whom Vash loves anyway as fellow beings. What this man has done, it is unforgivable. But it isn’t just anger driving Vash. It’s sorrow.

Sorrow is the most enduring fuel of rage.

3) Naruto goes Nine-tails for Hinata
Naruto Shippuden

Speaking of love, sorrow, and rage, Naruto’s fullest fury is unlocked in the midst of absolute, horrifying shock. He cares for others and they care for him, none more so than Hinata, a girl who loves and is inspired by him. Seeing her beaten and bloody, and finally thrown about like a rag doll and impaled, her blood slowly spreading all across the ground… well, that is enough to push Naruto over the edge.

And the rage of a young man unleashes the rage of the beast within.

So it has always been: our rage, unchecked, turns us into monsters.

4) Celestial Dragon meets Luffy’s FIST
One Piece

There are few things which anger me, personally, more than the dehumanization of others. As I see it, we are all people, end of story. It is the founding principle of almost all I hold dear that we are all created equal. No one is above or below anyone else, no one is worth more or less than anyone else, and no one is “special.” Unique, amazing, and remarkable, yes. Special… no.

So there are few villains I truly love to hate more than those who try to order us into a heirarchy, with themselves at the top. That is the Celestial Dragons and their ilk in a nutshell. “I can do anything I like, with no repercussions! Don’t you dare even think about touching me, because the world will come crashing down on you! Nobody else matters, only me! Defy that, and you defy the order of the world!”

To Hell with that.

The order of the world meets Luffy’s fist in this clip, and it is glorious. It is right. And it is… human.

Occasionally, every once in awhile, due deserts can be served without forfeiting one’s own humanity.

5) Seras Rises
Hellsing Ultimate
FAIR WARNING! …this one is bloody.

(this is one of those times where I hate YouTube for taking down the video I originally found of this moment, in full, and then made it so we can’t watch another video I found, and so on, so I just have to make do with a fraction of the moment, right when it begins)

Speaking of rage both hot and cold, of men and monsters, of love and sorrow and anger, of humanity, and of delivering just deserts, here we have a combination of all of the above in the moment a former police girl rises as a most formidable vampire in the midst of battle. In a storm of horror and bloodshed, Seras finally becomes a full-fledged monster. There is a powerful element of true love in her ascension, as it is the eternal joining of her soul with Bernadotte’s that empowers her so. The result is an unrivaled fury for the atrocities her enemies have committed against her allies. It is an absolute slaughter, and her enemy’s final demise is poetically gory.

Hell hath no fury like a woman!

And that’s my five!

Assuming you are still reading and I haven’t put you off your lunch, what are some of your favorite angry moments in anime?

Posted in 30-Day Anime Pick 5 Challenge, Anime and Cartoons, Challenge Accepted | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Anime Review: Eden of the East

If you were given a pile of money, how would you use it to improve your country?

That is the question upon which Eden of the East is built.  A dozen individuals have been selected (and thus they are called the Seleção) by a mysterious, powerful individual in the shadows. They have been given a fortune, and an unusual phone with which they can interact with a personal assistant. Everything they do with these tools will cost money, and they must use it to improve Japan, to save it, like a messiah. When they use up all their funds, they are out of the game, and… permanently removed from play.

That last sounds an awful lot like being killed, but it turns out that their memories of the experience are just erased. The puppeteer behind all of this is genuinely interested in saving his nation. He may meddle with people’s lives, but he does not take them. (whew!)

All of this is learned gradually, and my apologies for spoiling this much, but as the show and its two concluding movies began airing back in 2009, I’m not going to feel too bad about it. 😉

Now, into this complex and potent situation, there come two unwitting individuals, and the people around them.

Rather, one of them, a young girl named Saki Morimi, is unwitting. The other, Akira Takizawa, is a Seleção who had his memories erased prematurely because apparently he couldn’t deal with some people thinking so badly of him, or something like that. Considering that his first apparent “plan” was to mobilize the NEETs (adults who are Not in Education, Employment, or Training) of Japan by kidnapping them, stripping them naked, and locking them all up together, followed by, for their safety, shipping them out and back into the country in shipping containers… yeah, I think he ought to have already been beyond what anyone else thought of him. But that version of him is gone, apparently, with the mind-wipe, and in his place is a man with the same outside-the-box cunning, but also a few more scruples.

The amnesiac Takizawa meets Morimi in Washington DC, saving the girl from some potentially severe consequences for spending her vacation time entirely by flying from Japan to DC, and then flying from DC back to Japan, staying just long enough to throw a rock onto the White House lawn. Secret Service and local authorities take that kind of thing rather badly, ya know? So, he is a tall, dark, mysterious (even to himself), handsome man who swoops in and rescues her in a foreign land, and he apparently has more money than he knows what to do with. Perhaps it’s no great surprise that she becomes infatuated with him, but it still felt a little forced, and selfish, even crazy, when he basically swept her up into such a tense, exciting adventure, and she went along with it.

Not a coupling of real equals, this, yet it dominated the runtime.

Obviously, it was not their coupling which kept me invested in this show. No, what intrigued me was the setup, the characters in general, the unusual way that Seleção could conflict with or support each other in their various schemes, the overall themes, the surprising emotional weight, the intrigue, and the social commentary. Oh, and the opening song. Seriously, the way it drew me in was trippy.

Speaking on the themes and commentary, however, part of what makes the story so grand is how simple the messages it relays are. There’s an actual point to this show! It talks about the potential of the NEETs, for instance, to do and be more than they are, which speaks to the potential of all human beings to do the same. Almost every wondrous idea has a humble origin, does it not? This speaks to an even deeper theme, about who truly holds the fate of a country in their hands. It’s not the powerful and the wealthy. It’s not some grand, majestic figure who will be the messiah of a country. It’s the ordinary person. You and I and everyone around us, we are the messiahs of our country and our world. We just need to put in the effort, all of us.

That, right there, is absolutely what I love most about this show.

And the message is carried forward with such an interesting story! It has suspense aplenty and interesting humor, and it’s intricate enough to keep us riveted as everything plays out, and with how slowly it plays out, that is quite the accomplishment.

The usual technical praise can be offered, as well. My sincerest compliments on all the crafting that went into this show, including the voice work. It can be a little odd to suddenly hear English instead of Japanese, but that was exceptionally well-done work! Most times, that sort of thing just comes out as mangled Engrish, but not this time. And that is just one example of the attention that was paid to every detail of this anime. It’s very well put together, and carries the story within it quite well.

Eden of the East is a dramatic social commentary with suspense and humor, and lovable characters, though the central coupling could have used a little more work. All in all, I really enjoyed it, and it’s pretty far forward in my favorites. 🙂

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Plus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #251: The Meaning of Tolerance

“This was a side of Grayson he’d never imagined, and he was ashamed. He’d condemned their parochialism and congratulated himself on his cosmopolitan tolerance, yet his view of them had been as two-dimensional as their view of him.”
– from Honor of the Queen, by David Weber

I am officially hooked on the Honor Harrington series, and you may expect a review once I’ve devoured the first several books. 🙂

One thing I’m enjoying is how it deals with very complex, intricate issues which are tied into various cultures and, indeed, with human nature itself. It is exceptionally well done, I must say.

In this particular scene, two men, both wise and experienced within their own cultures, are coming to terms with the clash of cultural differences between them. They are sitting down together in a casual setting, enjoying good food and drink and honest, civil conversation. Even more, they are approaching the experience with an attitude of humility, being frank and open, and letting go of their judgments. They are acknowledging that what each has found intolerable in the other is nothing more than the result of their respective histories. Most especially, they are admitting that they have only seen the surface of each others’ worlds, and are open to the fact that there are depths they have not yet seen.

Now, one of these men has shared the perspective of the audience, in meeting these people with very different customs for the first time. The audience has also probably shared the moral high ground this man has set himself on. But now he learns, and teaches the audience, a lesson in what it means to truly be tolerant.

The virtue of tolerance is generally good to have, of course. Yet, the act of praising oneself for one’s own tolerance, in comparison to another person’s perceived intolerance is, in fact, the opposite of tolerance. It is intolerance, and it is pride.

Tolerance is an aspect of humility, which accepts that no one is above or below another, not really.

That holds true even, and most especially, in such a case where we might be tempted think ourselves, and our very culture, superior to another for some moral reason. “We are so good,” we say to ourselves, “Perhaps not perfect, but so much better than them.”

And therein lies the danger, the trap of pride, which slowly corrodes our ability to see the other side as humans, as people, with the same rights as us, including the right to live however we like… so long as we do not prohibit others of the same. And when we come in all high and mighty, noses turned up, because we see the sins of another culture while dismissing our own… well, that is a form of such prohibition, and it never ends well.

Interestingly, the clear distinction between the heroes and villains in this novel is pretty obvious: one side is willing to accept the existence of other cultures, no matter how they might clash and argue and be forced to address the flaws within their own culture… and the other side wants to wipe out what is different from them.

How poetic is that?

And how appropriate is it, for our day and age?

I see people fighting over our differences every day. I have seen an alarming surge in the attitude that those who are different, those who disagree and do not conform, are somehow undeserving of life. And I see that the people who do this claim that it is so because of some moral superiority.

People… and we are all people… we need to stop thinking like that.

We have to stop using “tolerance” as an excuse for our intolerance.

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5 Anime Soundtracks

The power of music is amazing, isn’t it?

Words are my bread and butter, and, to paraphrase Albus Dumbledore, they do have a special magic that is all their own, able to do great harm or healing with just the slightest twisting of the tongue. But before the magic of music, I must humbly bow in all but complete impotence and ignorance. The crafting of words into lyrics, the use of melody, the voice  of the instrument, these are not just one language, but many, all rolled into an audible form that speaks to our very hearts and souls. It is amazing, and beautiful, and magical.

There are countless stories which have been told, and felt in their meaning, with music. Everywhere from campfires to concert halls, from theaters to cathedrals, and from radios to the internet, there is music. We had songs even before we had words, I think, and the society that is without music would  be truly devoid of joy.

In cinematic form, there are movies, TV shows, cartoons, and more, where, all other things being equal, it has been the soundtrack which has made or broken it. It enhances action, love, sorrow, horror, tragedy, joy, and everything else. Heck, even the choice to forego music in specific scenes can be powerful.

Thus, it must be said, music is an integral part of what elevates these cinematic stories into art.

And anime has some pretty great soundtracks! 🙂

Picking five soundtracks was less a matter of preference and more a matter of practicality. IE, finding clips on YouTube to share this beautiful music with you, my wonderful audience!

In no particular order, I picked five anime soundtracks which are among my favorites, and linked to a handful of songs from each. Fairy Tail was decidedly left out because I could never pick just a handful of songs to share, but, otherwise, I am just hoping that you can enjoy this music as much as I do! 🙂

I’ll be a bit less wordy from this point on, but there’s plenty of music below, and I won’t be offended if you don’t have time to listen to all of it. If you do, I hope you enjoy it! 😀

And feel free to share some of your favorite soundtracks in the comments below! 😀

1) Record of Lodoss War

Representing some epic fantasy music, in a classical style! 🙂

For the background music of an ancient war between gods, this is pretty perfect!

Listening to a good soundtrack can be like watching the show over again in your mind, and I will always remember the moment where Ghim braved sorcerous fire, stepping ever forward, and freed Leylia from Karla’s control, even at the cost of his life.

Whether they’re fighting a dragon or being overwhelmed by a dark wizard, this music gets your heart racing, as danger closes in on our heroes.

It feels almost operatic, I think. I remember it most from the scene where the dark wizards are taking Deedlit deep underground, past the black dragon, to the very roots of the island, and performing the ritual, complete with sacrifices, to awaken an insane goddess and end all of Lodoss.

Ah, the serene, melodious piece which accompanies the climax, as Parn steps forward, through arcane lightning, carrying two mystical swords, even throwing himself into the abyss to save Deedlit, the woman he loves. One of my favorite pieces ever. 🙂

2) One Piece

There are a number of epic moments in this show, and they need an epic soundtrack! This is a very small sampling, but, I think it captures a lot of the spirit of the show, everything from defiance, to fun! 🙂

How do you say, “We are the best, we have had enough of this nonsense, and we dare you to take us on,” in music form? This way, that’s how.

And this one says, “We are the badasses come to challenge the powers that be.”

I recognize this from the epic moment right after Robin declares her newfound desire to live and go to the sea, and her friends stand ready to challenge, in even greater earnest, the entire powers of the world. Heh, I wasn’t as weepy as Franky was, but I was absolutely psyched. 🙂 Oh, and the second half is just plain, “We are ruling at this” fun. 😉

Something light and bouncy and free! Much like Luffy! 😀 And it leads into a piece that radiates danger, and another where the heroes are soaring free and victorious!

“Let’s see how much trouble we can cause our enemies before we make our escape!” That’s what this one says. 🙂

3) Attack on Titan

This soundtrack is not simply music. It is straight up emotional warfare, that’s what this is! 😀

You know that moment, where Mikasa finds hope? I love that scene. It is my favorite. And this is the song, so soft and tranquil like still water, and so deep and powerful and turbulent as the rising tidal wave.

This is also from that scene. The first portion of it, where Mikasa is so low that she is waiting to die… but then she keeps fighting, and at first even she herself does not realize why. But in the dark and light, she finds it: hope. She finds the strength to keep going. This song, it brings a tear to my eye and goosebumps to my arm even now.

…the second part is where that hope becomes the fire of retribution, including when a giant’s head gets knocked clean off and soars into a church steeple. 🙂

From the scene where Eren plugs the hole in the wall, and the elite human warriors make clear his path. Have you noticed how well they use vocals in these songs? It’s some strange combination of elegant and primal, and it’s fantastic.

The second piece is a general fighting sort of song for this anime.

He is a whirlwind of death descending on his enemy, and even giants would do well to fear him!

4) Outlaw Star

Wonder, mystery, danger, sorrow… this show has it all!

You can find a playlist for pretty much all of it here, but, for my personal favorites from an outstanding soundtrack…

A perfect song for taking off into space and triumphing over one’s enemies! 🙂

She is mysterious and dangerous and her theme song is perfect for her. 🙂

This ended the first arc of several episodes in the series. This is when their friend and comrade can do nothing but look up at her friends leaving her to die, and there is nothing they can do without dying as well. But, wait… she is able to keep one of the pirates dying alongside her from harming them. She dies fighting, and the weight of all this death falls on the young, inexperienced shoulders of the survivors.

5) InuYasha

This does not actually do justice to the entire soundtrack. Rarely have I come across anything so perfectly ranging from action, wonder, and romance to the nefarious nature of the villain and the horror he inflicts. But, still, we have both pulsing action and heart-breaking beauty here! 😉

And it fits, even more than most, with a texture that is distinctly Japanese, to chronicle a tale that is mostly told in a time of their warring feudal states.

The main theme of the show, and, yes, it’s largely thundering drums and blaring trumpets, and flutes! 🙂

A faster version of the main theme, the one that plays at the climax of a battle, when the final, decisive blow is flying, carried by the power of what the hero fights for, and the nefarious demon is finally falling forever to their might!

I love the female vocalizing at the heart of this. It’s tender, and sad, yet hopeful.

…(sniff!) I am not crying! You’re crying!

…I am still not the one (sniff!) crying!

(ok, maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to listen to all of these back-to-back in rapid succession…)

I kid, of course. 😉

I would never really be ashamed to be the one tearing up. 😛

Posted in 30-Day Anime Pick 5 Challenge, Anime and Cartoons, Challenge Accepted | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Anime Review: Baccano!

This is one of those times. The times when I have so much to say about this anime, yet I find that I can only say so very little. If I said everything I wanted to say, not only would I spoil everything but it would become the size of a novel. Ah, it is such a happy thing, and yet so sad! (and I am channeling one of the characters when I say that, heh!)

So, instead of long and detailed, brief and oblique, it is! 😉

I saw the trailer for this, but still had no idea what to expect. Said trailer makes more sense after watching the show, but it’s plenty of fun anyway! 🙂

Baccano is set in America, mostly in the very early 1930’s, during the days of Prohibition and the Depression. It follows a large cast of men and women, almost every one of which plays the lead at some point, because, after all, everybody has their own story to tell. It tells a few series of events, all out of order, not at all chronological, but in a way that combines everything into an intricate story, very well-crafted and told in a riveting, thoroughly entertaining way. It combines action, intrigue, humor, love, villainy, and unusual heroism, with a bit of alchemy thrown in, all to create one of the best stories I’ve yet found in an anime. 🙂

That said, the shifting, non-chronological format can be a bit jarring at first. It takes the first episode or so to get used to it. Heck, it takes them that long just to introduce most of the characters in some way. The story itself wrestles with the question of how it can best be told, through the discussion of two characters who are talking about all of these events that we are about to be shown. All of this, however, just makes the story feel more alive, even sensible, in the way it shines its spotlight on each of the characters in turn.

Said characters are a diverse range of personalities that I don’t think fit into any of the usual tropes. There are too many to comment on specifically, so I shall simply say that they are easy to love (or hate, if they’re a villain), they are compelling, and they feel real in a very human way. They often aren’t simply good or bad, but most of them, with a few notable exceptions, fall on the better side of the line. Even those that don’t can have a perverse charisma to them, in certain situations. Thieves can be compassionate, criminals can be loyal gentlemen, and supposed gentlemen can be cold-hearted, murdering monsters. Inane depravity can dress itself up as if it were civil, while honest class can be found wearing most anything at all. There are no classic heroes here, but that just makes the heroes we find that much more fascinating.

The stories of all these characters ends up being a zany, wild ride, filled with thrills and chills, twists and turns, and some romances. Said romance is every bit as unusual and human as is the heroism, so, my cup of tea! 🙂

The environment feels like something grounded and real, with a bit of the fantastic added in. The design is vivid, the animation is fluid, and the action is realistic. The voice acting is all top-notch across the board and the music is nothing short of fantastic! The stories are intricate, interwoven, well-paced, and driven by the characters. Seriously, everything about this anime is exceptionally well done, and I struggle to name one which is better-crafted!

One does need to keep in mind, of course, that some of the content here is definitely not geared towards children. With some language, disturbing scenes, disturbing characters, and notable bloodshed, I would rate it PG-13, easily.  Yet, my only real  complaint is that, with enough source material to keep going, it’s relatively short at only sixteen episodes. I want more! 🙂

In short (and this is a very short summary of what I love about it), if you want something absolutely great and unusual, then I cannot be too strong in recommending Baccano!

Rating: 10 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid A-Plus!

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