Anime Review: To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts

We send our people to war, and our soldiers into the Hell of battle. We strive to win, to defeat the enemy, and we often resort to unsavory methods. We win, maybe, but what happens after? What happens to the soldiers? How are they repaid for their sacrifice? Are they the same person they once were when they return, or does someone else come back? Does the monster they became on the battlefield stay there, left behind, or does a bit of that monster come back with them?

These are weighty questions, with dire implications, and the story of To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts explores that in a wash of blood, loss, and tragedy, as if searching for that tiniest glimmer of hope and humanity within the horror of it all.

The setting draws quite obviously from the time of America’s Civil War. A northern Union, a southern Confederacy, a western frontier, cannons, rifles, revolvers, etc. There’s a bit of mad science thrown in, which provides the framework on which the story is built.

Said story follows Hank Henriette, a man who bears a terrible burden, alongside a girl, Nancy Schaal Bancroft, who is attempting to understand the “why” behind a tragic situation, and the unfolding drama of multiple factions with their many ideals colliding in bloody confrontation.

Hank, was the captain of a very unique and dangerous battalion, among which was Schaal’s father. They were not truly soldiers, most of them, but civilians drawn from every corner of their nation. They consented to not only join the army, but to undergo something involving mad science and possibly something mystical, a rather grueling experience which literally turned them into monsters of legend and myth. Specifically, each of them is now a different legendary creature, such as a dragon, a hydra, a gargoyle, a siren, or, in Hank’s case, a wolfman. They’re called Incarnates. Each of them is very dangerous, and they were truly fearsome as a unit on the battlefield.

“We are your worst nightmates! All of them!”

It’s easy to see why the people in charge thought this was a good idea at the time, but there is a severe, unexpected cost to this. Though the “why” has not been explained as of yet (I am hoping for a second season to shed some light on this), it would seem that every one of the Incarnates is doomed to eventually go insane, their humanity overtaken by the Beasts they become, putting everyone in their path in great danger. There is no known method to prevent this, and the damage these Incarnates will do when they become Beasts is incalculable. They could well prove even more dangerous and devastating than the war itself, with mountains upon mountains of corpses left in their wake, and no distinction made between the innocent and the guilty.

The decision is made that the Incarnates must be killed before that happens, while they are still human.

They came from all walks of life, many of them having no place in a war, and no business on a battlefield. They allowed themselves to be experimented on, and turned into something other than human, an outward representation of what happens to soldiers in battle. They forfeited the normal lives they once knew. And for all of that, they are repaid with death, in the name of protecting the people they themselves fought so hard and endured so much to protect.

That is a terrible way for the Incarnates to be repaid, of course. Yet, they have seen, for themselves, the truth of it, and how dangerous they are. They’ve already seen it happen, as one of their own went mad and just started killing anyone in his path, and that event inspired an oath: those of them that “lose their humanity,” as they call it, will be put down by their own. It is the Incarnates who bear this burden, after all, so they swear to bear it together, even if they have to kill each other. But things do not go according to plan.

To make this even more heartbreaking and personal, Hank fell in love with one of the mad scientists in question, a woman named Elaine. She is the one to decide that all of them need to be put down like rabid dogs, even before they go insane, and she begins by shooting the man who loves her. Then she means to go with his second in command, Cain, to kill all the rest, but he has already lost his humanity (whether it be through the Beast within, or the war, or just his own lack of character), so he shoots her instead. The next thing that the captain knows, he’s waking up, having been betrayed by his love for the greater good, and having seen his love betrayed and murdered by one they both trusted, and now reports are coming in of the Incarnates going mad and killing people. So, Hank takes it upon himself to fulfill their vow and kill his former comrades, all of them, right down to the last, most especially Cain, the traitor who unleashed them all, and who now has grand designs of destruction and conquest.

What then follows is a none-to-delicate, and none-too-subtle, discussion of what humanity really is and what it truly means to lose it.

It reminds me of something I read in a book once, that the defining characteristic of demons is that they have no inhibitions, no self-control, being governed entirely by their desires. Whether those desires be for wealth, safety, power, justice, or just giving one’s mother a comfortable life, or even just singing a song, each of them grows grossly and wildly out of control, turning people who were once decent into murderers and serial killers.

Even more pointedly, though, is the loss of compassion and respect for human life. That is what makes a monster, and monsters can look very human. For all their brutality and madness, the Incarnates do not resort to using corrosive poison gas on both their enemies and their own soldiers. The humans do. Yet, for all their aggression and betrayal, it is humans who are willing to understand and forgive, which we never saw from the Incarnates. Even the most sane Incarnate was unable to forgive, while even the most stubborn human demonstrated the possibility of doing so.

The story is obviously unfinished after only a dozen episodes, and I hope that they continue it fairly soon. It’s an interesting take on monsters in an unusual setting, as well as a riveting discussion of war, humanity, love, revenge, etc. The animation is pretty good (take note: we do not need to CGI half of a show), and the music… honestly, I don’t remember it, but it certainly never felt dicordant. The fights were largely well-done, though the climactic season finale ought to have done better than going the route of the shounen yell and emotional power up. Pretty much nothing about the show was subtle, but still enjoyable.

All in all, not half bad.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid B.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Tuesday Review | Tagged | 1 Comment

Sunday’s Wisdom #260: A Soldier’s Reasons

“They know how lords and generals talk of battle. The men are chess pieces. But we don’t see ourselves that way. No one risks their life for some lord’s strategy. We do it for those we love, for our brothers-in-arms, and so we don’t look like cowards.”
– Leith Bayard, Reign
Season 1, Episode 20, “Higher Ground”

A particularly famous general is known for saying to his soldiers that it’s not their job to die for their country, but to make the other poor bastard die for his. Nevertheless, about the only guarantee in battle is that someone is going to die, and there’s no telling exactly who. It is stupidly idealistic and a mental paralytic for anyone to try and conduct a battle where no one dies. Thus, anyone who sends soldiers into battle must come to terms with the fact that they are sending their own people to die. The good of any one soldier must be balanced against the good of an entire army, not only as people, but as numbers on a sheet of paper.

I can only imagine that is a bit unnerving for the soldiers, most especially if the generals issuing orders are of questionable character.

At this particular moment in the show, Reign, a young prince is leading a small group of soldiers in a desperate fight against a terrible enemy. The prince, he knows that this enemy will not let them live, and if they do not defeat them, then it will prove most harmful to the greater army he and his men are part of. He mistakenly appeals to his strategically at first, but that gets them nowhere. These men, they know that their lords and generals don’t value them much as people at all, but more like pieces on a chess board. But soldiers aren’t chess pieces.

Soldiers are people.

They don’t move just because they’re ordered to. They don’t follow an order just because it’s part of someone’s plan, especially if they don’t even know the person or the plan! No one wants to die for a plan! It could be a stupid plan! A self-serving plan!

No, whatever the circumstances that brought these men into this battle, their motivation is not “the plan.” They fight to survive. They fight for the people behind them, the ones they want to protect. They fight for, as someone else put it, the man on their left, and the man on their right. And, of course, they fight because, whatever the situation, they can either be brave, or they can be cowards. No one wants to be a coward, or called one.

Oh, “And for money.” The hope of some reward is a powerful motivator, but that generally comes last on the list of reasons to fight, and it’s one that usually makes soldiers chuckle at the improbability of it.

Bottom line is, whatever the reasons of those in power, it’s the men in the army who do the fighting, and those men have reasons which don’t include “it’s necessary for the plan.” They fight for their own reasons, their own values, their own goals, and their own people.

A general risks his men’s lives, and loses some of them, as a matter of course.

But it is the soldier who chooses to let his life be risked, and lost.

Those who fall, we honor.

Those who survive, we ought to honor.

Posted in Sunday's Wisdom, TV Shows | Tagged | Leave a comment

Let the Sun Shine Again! The Sunshine Blogger Award

Once upon a time, I never entertained being tagged in these award things more than once. That seems to be changing, as this is the third time I’ve been tagged as a Sunshine Blogger, and the second time this year. Oddly, I think I’m rather enjoying this. 🙂

I owe this to Keiko, thank you! I enjoyed your questions! 🙂

Now, The Rules: 

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you in the blog post and link back to their blog.
  2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
  3. Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions.
  4. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or on your blog.

Her Questions: 

1. Is there an anime you’ve always wanted to watch but have yet to?

Yes. So many. So very many. 😉

I would have to say that the one that’s been most on my mind of late has been Great Teacher Onizuka.

2. What genre of anime have you not tried out yet? Why?

…hm, I can’t really think of any sort of specific genre I haven’t tried yet. I’ve been a bit more like Luffy at the table of anime feasting: if it’s there, it gets inhaled! 😉

There is one genre, one where I generally don’t get very far into the shows it produces, most of the time. I do try it, but that’s not the same as lingering very long on it, because it’s generally not my thing. And that is: sports anime.

No disrespect intended to anyone who likes sports, but I just… well, I don’t. Is boring to me.

3. Is there an anime ending that frustrated you? If so, which one?

Again, so many. 😉

There are a number of anime endings that have frustrated me. Most especially, those that don’t actually finish the stories they tell. Pet peeve of mine, that.

But if I had to pick one… Juuni Taisen: Zodiac War. I absolutely hate that ending!

4. Currently, what’s your favourite op/ed?

Thank goodness you said, “currently,” or my brain would have exploded again! 🙂

Let’s see… I’ll leave the last few I chose off the table, and go with…

5. Which three anime characters would be the worst to get stuck in an elevator with?

Bacterian from Dragonball, Black Star from Soul Eater, and Gluttony from Fullmetal Alchemist.

Stinky, loud, and wants-to-eat-me. Dante did not fair so well with that last one, and I doubt I would.

6. What do you enjoy the most about blogging?

Writing.

I would go absolutely bonkers if I couldn’t put my ideas into words and write them down.

Of course, the part where I get to basically hang out with a bunch of cool people online isn’t bad either! 😉

7. Do you plan your posts or are they more spontaneous?

A bit of column A, and a bit of column B.

I do have a basic framework to work with, to look ahead and organize things, and I plan out some seasonal things, or special occasions. For the most part, though, I’m usually just making it up as I go. This last year required quite a bit of planning, more than usual. 🙂

8. Do you have a notebook dedicated to jotting down blog post ideas? (I find it quite helpful to have one)

I do not. I use my computer to keep my ideas, which is pretty similar, but not a notebook.

9. What’s your favourite season? Why?

WINTER!

To quote a certain older musical, “Snooow, snooow, snooow, snooow, SNOOOOWWWW!”

I grew up in Alaska, and one either comes to love or hate the winter up there. One of my sisters hated it, but my other sister and I love it! It’s so much fun to play outside, so relaxing to curl up by the fire inside, so pretty, like the world is covered in silver diamonds under the moonlight, and it is MUCH easier, in my opinion, to warm up when it’s cold than it is to cool off when it’s hot. You can always put more layers on, but you eventually run out of layers you can take off.

Not to mention, it has all the best holidays in it! 🙂

10. Are you a coffee or a tea person?

Neither. I do not drink coffee or tea. It’s a religious thing, and also an I-have-no-idea-how-anyone-tolerates-the-smell thing. If you like it, more power to you! I’m more inclined to drink water, juice, and soda, like root beer, sprite, or anything fruity. 🙂

11. What’s your favourite type of food?

PIZZA! SPAGHETTI! LA-SA-GNAAAA! 😀

I love Italian food! …well, ok, I love the Americanized versions of Italian food! I’ve never had anything genuinely from Italy, but I have had plenty of pasta and pizza over the years. My mother jokes that there must be some Italian somewhere way back in my ancestry that manifested with just me, because while everyone else in the family enjoys it, I am the only one to really love it so much! Well, me and my little nephew, that is. 😉

I Tag:

Irina
Moya
Derek
Megan
Lynn
Tcrow
Lita
Scott
Krystallina
7mononoke
Keiko (back at ya! 😉 )

My Questions:

“Answer me these questions free!”

1. Who is your favorite celebrity crush, real or fictitious? By all means, include a picture. 😉

2. What would your Patronus/spirit animal be?

3. If you suddenly had superpowers, what would they be (you can pick up to three of them) and what would be a practical day job to use them in?

4. Be it the Shire or the Federation of Planets, storytellers tend to make up some society which is their ideal. Mine is an extended clan of half-demons who prioritize honor, compassion, freedom, and strength. What would yours be?

5. You are captain of a starship that has discovered a habitable planet. What did you name your ship, and what would you name this planet?

6. You can visit three worlds from anime/books/TV/etc., for twenty-four hours each. Which ones do you visit and what do you do while there?

7. What is a book, comic/manga, or game you’d love to see in a cinematic form? Or the other way around, what is a movie, TV show, or cartoon/anime you’d love to read in written form?

8. What is your favorite color?

9. Your favorite supernatural creature is real. What is it, and can humanity coexist with it?

10. What would love to get for Christmas, or a birthday?

11. What are your most and least favorite parts about blogging?

Cheerio! 🙂

Posted in Blogging Awards, Challenge Accepted | Tagged | 17 Comments

Arifureta: From the World’s Tamest to the World’s Lamest

It’s an isekai anime that doesn’t even bother to begin it’s story in our world. It has fantasy, action, adventure, a harem, dragons, vampires, alchemy, shadowy conspiracies, betrayal, demons, a goddess, and so much more… and yet it is so very, very, very BORING.

Seriously, I began watching Arifureta just as a matter of course, but soon I was utterly fascinated at how it could really, truly manage to take such epic, fantastical ideas and somehow make it so entirely dull anyway. That’s the only reason I kept watching it to the end of its first season, and I’ll probably watch its second season as well, just to continue examining how it stays so bland.

The story mostly follows Hajime Nagano. He and his entire class were apparently called to this fantasy world to be its heroes, to clear the labyrinthine dungeons of monsters and defeat the demons who command said monsters. It’s the usual “protect humanity in the name of our god” thing. (Minor note: they did not make it very clear early on that the teacher helping them is a goddess of the harvest or something like that.) Between them, Hajime and his classmates fill out most of the typical stereotypes: a knight in shining armor, a healer, a cleric, a ninja, etc.

Hajime himself is an alchemist, or “synergist” or something like that. He is the weakest of them all, and deemed to be completely useless in a fight (I guess they’ve never heard of Fullmetal Alchemist). Plus he’s not all that eager to be in a fight in the first place, so he’s the tamest of them all, too. Still, he will be responsible for developing and making everyone else’s weapons, so he goes to get a bit of practical experience, to understand what works best for the people doing the actual fighting. But when things go horribly, horribly wrong, Hajime leaps into the fray, saving his comrades with a little ingenuity (gee, imagine that), but then he is betrayed (for some reason…?) and cast into the abyss below, assumed by most to be dead… but he survives.

Hajime survives, partially by luck, partially by wit, and partially by sheer force of will. He survives a hellish experience, and fights his way forward, taking everything the dungeon has to offer and increasing his strength until he becomes truly powerful. And the more he advances through the story, the clearer it becomes that he is a long-awaited killer of gods, capable of liberating the world from the whimsical tyranny of the supreme being behind it all. (not that he actually cares about that, he just wants to go home)

Sounds pretty exciting, right? Well, in a way, it is. But the actual telling of the story was a bit bungled. We were dropped right into the situation without any background, we saw Hajime betrayed without any real investment in his character, and every time things started to get thrilling, we kept flashing to his classmates, who we also did not have any investment in. Add to that the truly terrible CGI, made even worse for how it clashed with the normal animation, and this one barely scraped through my one-episode rule.

Then, we met up with Yue, the first of many girls that will couple up with Hajime. She is a petite vampire, centuries old, and special in a few ways that made it so, when she was betrayed and her throne usurped, she wasn’t just killed, she was sealed inside the dungeon. Thing is, however special she is, for her now-extinct kind, it doesn’t really come into play. She has these abilities, and they aren’t really explored or utilized effectively at all. In fact, her very character isn’t really explored, developed, or even utilized as part of the story. And that is the recurring problem here.

The things that happen, just happen. The characters are what they are, and that’s it.

Hajime goes through the dungeon, getting stronger and stronger, until he has become the strongest warrior in the world, with a wide and diverse array of talents, skills, and weapons, not to mention what is usually a compelling story to motivate him. But it’s all kind of just there. In combat, he almost always just points his gun and automatically kills whatever he’s shooting at. Most of his array of skills becomes mere window dressing, leaving the fighting, which could have been exciting, feeling rather dull and lackluster. His coupling with Yue, and all the other girls, is exactly the same, such that the girls themselves just become animated props, defined by little more than their romantic interest in him. Even the betrayal, which compels him to release and defend Yue, is never fully resolved. He comes to just not care about it, or anyone or anything else. Even when he comes face to face with his betrayer in the first season finale, a man who can be presumed to be a continuing, active danger to his unsuspecting classmates, he does nothing, not for revenge, or justice, or his own personal score, or even – most unsettling – for the safety of those around him.

Hajime just wants what he wants, to go back to his world with his girls in tow, and doesn’t care about anything else, except whoever or whatever he has to kill to get it out of his way.

I know stoic, uncaring bad boys are all the rage, but I could not feel invested in such a flat, bland, apathetic character, especially when his victories were always so easy, so guaranteed, from the instant he got on his feet.

There was no wit, no will, very little in terms of physical effort, and not even the annoying “power of friendship or love or whatever” trope. There were plenty of fireworks, but it was all flash and no substance. In all of the trials and battles, in the expansion of the harem of girls who love him, and even in the impromptu “adoption” of a little mermaid girl, there was nothing, either emotional, intellectual, or even just hilarious, to grasp my attention or entrance me… except for the absolute and astounding lack of anything riveting.

Far and away the best part of the show was Shizuku, the girl with a katana. She was pretty much the only character in the entire show who was actually a character, instead of a prop.  She actually gained my respect for her compassion, her courage, and her grounded sensibilities. Her relationship with Hajime, as platonic as it is at first, and as little screen time as it got, was actually enjoyable, because they were actually allowed to be people, instead of props. I could actually imagine it developing into a real, healthy relationship.

Now, what does it say that best part of the story, namely the only genuine relationship between actual characters in the entire show, was so brief, so small, and only came and went in a flash in the final episode of its first season? I know they’ll continue with it in the second, but, still! I take a look at Hajime and can’t help but think that Shizuku deserves so much better than him, and, for that matter, so much better than the story her character is trapped in.

I say again: it is morbidly fascinating how they managed to have so many fantasy elements that are usually entertaining, and yet crafted a story that was supremely boring. And the reason can be summed up in one sentence:

Hajime goes from being the tamest of his peers, to just being such a terribly lame person.

I’ll keep Arifureta in my memory as an object lesson of what not to do, and as a profound proof of a lesson that much of the entertainment industry seems to have forgotten, or never realized in the first place: it isn’t the tropes the sell the story, it’s the story that sells the tropes.

Rating: 3.

Grade: D-Minus.

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

Sunday’s Wisdom #259: Keeping Even Our Painful Memories

“There’s something I believe. I want to live my life trying to carry all of my memories with me. And even if those memories are painful, even if they do nothing but hurt me, I want to keep them. Even those memories I sometimes wish I could forget. As long as I can carry them with me, as long as I can keep holding on, then someday I’ll be strong enough that those memories don’t hurt me anymore, and I’ll be glad that I have them. That’s what I believe, with all my heart. That’s why all my memories are precious to me. I don’t think it would be OK to forget a single one.”
– Momiji Sohma, Fruits Basket
Episode 15, “There are No Memories it’s OK to Forget”

There’s not much I can really add to the meaning of this, I think.

As for context, Momiji is a young boy whose family suffers from a very old curse. That curse makes it so that a dozen living members of their extended family will turn into animals from the Chinese Zodiac, and another turns into a cat, when held by members of the opposite gender. The curse takes effect the moment they are born, and Momiji’s mother did not take it very well when her baby boy turned into a baby bunny in her arms. She could not handle it. The family has a way to deal with that, because they do have the power to make people forget their memories.

So, when Momiji says this, he is speaking as someone who was deliberately forgotten. He is the memory someone chose to forget.

He is speaking as one who was dubbed a source of pain by his own mother, and cast aside, an act that costs him both a relationship with her, and one with his little sister. He keeps going, a little ball of sunshine in people’s lives, not because he’s naïve or free from pain, but because he knows pain, and chooses to smile anyway. He accepts his pain, and keeps it, and hopes for something better.

His entire jolly outlook on life is defined by a quiet strength rooted within his pain… and his hope.

There is something deeply inspiring about that.

I can’t say that I’ve had anything like a hard life, certainly not as hard as others I have known, but I have known pain of several varieties. Everyone has, or does, or will. Sometimes that pain can make us wish that we’d avoided everything leading up to it. Sometimes it hurt more than we can bear, and we wish that we could just forget it all. Maybe we’d go back and poke holes in our own history, so we didn’t have to feel… so much.

But I am of a mind like Momiji. The pain I’ve felt has, of course, hurt. Memories, some of them very good at the time, have been poisoned by pain. But I refuse to let my sorrow cripple my joy. No, I think I only appreciate the happy times properly because of the sad ones. I’m not such a strong person, but what strength I do have, I have because of what I have endured, and because of what I have cherished. Life, love, family, friends, stories, I have cherished. Loss, loneliness, defeat, frustration, powerlessness, mistakes, I have endured.

I have known pain, and I will know it again, possibly very soon. But even if more of my memories come to make me cry, as they now make me smile, I will still hold them dear. They will simply be a part of me.

Even if they make me weak for awhile, they will still make me strong.

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

My Scooby-Doo Movie Countdown

Ooo-OOOO-ooooh!

It’s the thirteen moooovies of Scoooooby-Doooo!

…ok, not really “the” thirteen movies. There are more, but it just sounds cool, ya know? Scooby, Halloween, the number thirteen… they go together like peanut butter, jelly, and bread! 🙂

To celebrate this spooktacular holiday, I thought I’d share a countdown of my personal favorite Scooby-Doo movies, exactly the sort of spellbinding family fun that is perfect for having ourselves a happy Hooowloween!

Without any further ado, then, let’s get to it! 🙂

13) Scooby-Doo and the Legend of the Vampire

The Scooby gang heads down under in the old-style adventure, wherein they face off with vampires who have been kidnapping rock bands in the outback.

At the bottom of my countdown because it is definitely one of the more lackluster Scooby movies I’ve seen. It’s like they took an episode of the old shows and stuffed in a bunch of stuff, including a massive amount of exposition and campy dialogue, in order to prolong it to the bare minimum length for a movie, and it still feels way too long, while the villains’ plot is just plain ridiculous! Oh well. Still less annoying than the tiki one.

I actually only got this one as part of a bundle with one of the other movies on this list. And I did like seeing the Hex Girls again, but, still.

Moving on.

12) Scooby-Doo and the Goblin King

Halloween is the one time of year where you know it’s all fake! …right? Not so much, apparently! When a fraudulent magician manages to get his hands on real magic, Scooby and Shaggy get caught up in it all and sent on an adventure to the land of all the spooky creatures! If they fail, their friends will pay the price.

My only point against this one is that everything about the climax is over and done with far too quickly and neatly after building it up for an hour. Otherwise, it’s a pretty fun little adventure. Witches, fairies, goblins, the Jack-o-Lantern who gets used as the head of the Headless Horseman, and I just love how they got the guy from Princess Bride to play the old, pointy-eared magician! 🙂

11) Scooby-Doo and the Samurai Sword

It’s Scooby in the land of the rising sun! The specter of a fearsome samurai warlord rises from ages past, and the Scooby gang are the only ones who can stop him! But things are not all that they seem to be in this mystery of samurai, dragons, and… robots?

It might be a bit trite and cheesy, perhaps, but still fun, albeit in something of a more long-suffering way. Really, I think they just got the idea to send Scooby to Japan and had fun with it. The mixture of robots, ghosts, and dragons threw me for a loop, but they had some good intrigue going at first.

10) Scooby-Doo! Pirates Ahoy!

Arrr, matey! It’s Scooby on the high seas, in the Bermuda Triangle! The Scooby gang goes on a cruise with Fred’s parents, and find themselves, as per usual, embroiled in a spooky mystery! A legendary pirate and his crew come back from he grave, abducting the people on the cruise, including Fred’s own mother! Can the gang unravel the mystery in time to save her, and themselves?

It’s a simple, fun, wacky adventure, complete with a cartoony pirate song! There’s a bit of a twist, too, with more than one layer to this mystery, such that even the ghostly pirates themselves don’t know what’s really going on!

9) Scooby-Doo in Where’s My Mummy

Scooby and the gang are in Egypt (they go all over the globe, don’t they?) this time around! Velma is on an archaeological dig near the famous pyramids when they make a startling discovery. Then, when the rest of the Scooby gang shows up, they find Velma and her people are all in danger from a curse, and their only lead is the mystery of the mummy of an ancient queen that seems to haunt the place.

The mystery is a bit obvious, of course, and it makes me wonder why they didn’t just communicate a little better, but it’s still pretty entertaining to see the gang figuring things out without Velma there to hold their hand. Oh, and one of Fred’s traps finally works! Whoo!

8) Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf

It’s Scooby-Doo meets Wacky Races in this older classic. Dracula has a race to host, filled with classic monsters as its contestants, but his werewolf has gone AWOL! He needs a replacement, and soon, and his attention is drawn to a racer named Shaggy, who comes with Scooby, Scrappy-Doo, and a girlfriend attached. With Shaggy transformed into a werewolf without his consent, the stakes of the game are simple, and high: if he wins, the curse is lifted, and if not… well, best not think about that!

If I have one complaint about this one… it feels pretty long! Seriously, they take forever just to turn Shaggy into a werewolf, then to get him working with Dracula, and then the racing really takes forever! On the bright side, the Hunch Bunch can be surprisingly amusing, as are Dracula’s antics as he attempts to sabotage Shaggy, kind of like in the Loony Tunes! 🙂

7) Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School

Another older classic, wherein Scooby, Shaggy, and Scrappy sign up to coach at an all-girls school, hoping for some delicious, free grub in the bargain. Little do they suspect that it’s a school full of the daughters of classic monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman! If they manage to survive that, and a competition with the boys’ military-style school next door, they’ll still have to rescue the girls from the plot of a witch lurking in the shadows!

This was the very first Scooby movie I ever saw, so it holds a special place in my heart. I mean, you just never forget your first, ya know? 😉 I still laugh when Dracula and the other monsters go are so sweet and caring towards their daughters, and then absolutely terrifying towards Shaggy and Scooby. Oh, and the little dragon, Matches, is one of my most favorite adorable and deadly creatures ever!

6) Chill Out, Scooby-Doo!

Scooby and the gang are absconded off to the Himalayas this time, where lie hidden fortunes and the mysteries of eternal youth, and where lurks the yeti, aka the abominable snowman!

The mystery has one of the cuter resolutions I’ve seen, and I enjoy the recurring guest star from a previous movie. The greedy professor makes for a nice, if obvious, villain, and the monster hunter is hilariously over the top. And poor Daphne, always getting her trips to Paris cut so short, haha!

5) Scooby-Doo and the Cyber-Chase

Think they’ve gone everywhere, yet? Well, now Scooby and the gang are headed into cyber-space! When some friends are threatened by a computer virus that can take physical form, the gang gets sent into a game based on their own previous adventures. The only way out is to beat the game… and they have no extra lives!

The answer to the mystery is, once again, fairly obvious, but the adventure is cute and fun. The callback of some of their most famous villains from the original show is cool, and it’s great seeing the Scooby gang interact with the digital version of themselves.

4) Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders

First contact was never so spooky! Passing through the Nevada desert, the gang stumbles onto the mystery of UFOs and strange lights and noises at night. Are their really aliens in town, and what do they want?

Some of the best Scooby movies mix real monsters with fake ones, and they give the characters something interesting and personal to do, like Shaggy getting an out-of-this-world girlfriend! Gotta love it! 🙂

3) Scooby-Doo and the Loch Ness Monster

Aye, it’s off to the highlands of Scotland, now, to face what is arguably the most famous cryptid in the entire world! Joining Daphne’s cousin for the occasion of the Highland Games, the gang encounters none other than the Loch Ness Monster!

It manages to tell a fun, interesting little story, with not one but two monsters in action, in addition to giving an explanation as to why Daphne is so danger-prone. Yet it treats the subject matter with a certain respect, where no one is doing anything for evil reasons, and alluding to the idea of the monster being fake… or is it? 😉

2) Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost

An encounter with a world-famous horror author takes the Scooby gang to a small, New England town, which is said to be haunted by the ghost of a witch. As they delve into the mystery, they find that almost nothing is as it seems, and what they uncover could well threaten not only the town, but the entire world.

Hot on the heels of my number one pick, this one had an excellent story with an unexpected twist (both a real and a fake witch’s ghost!), a dramatic reveal, beautiful scenery and music, and characters who felt genuinely human. Not to mention the introduction of the Hex Girls! 🙂 It only comes in second because my number one pick was the one whose coattails it rode in on. 😉

1) Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island

“This time, the monsters are real!”

Years after they went their separate ways, the Scooby gang gets back together as Daphne, a reporter now, hunts for real ghosts. Their search takes them down to Louisiana, to New Orleans, and there they encounter a mysterious beauty who tells them they can find what they’re looking for on the island she lives and works on. They go, little suspecting the true mystery, and danger, they are entering into, as the dead rise from the swamp.

This was the one that kicked off the resurrection of the animated franchise some two decades ago. It has the best-crafted story, in my opinion, with good music, scary monsters, and the characters feel the most like genuine people in a supernatural experience. It’s great fun! 🙂

Small wonder they just made a  sequel for it!

…wait, what? They did? Scooby-Doo Returns to Zombie Island?

Hmmm, interesting! 😉

And that’s my Scooby movie countdown! It was pretty fun putting it together, and I am certain that at least some of these can still prove fun for the whole family! 🙂

On that note, have a Happy Halloween!

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Countdowns, Movies, Top Picks | Tagged | 2 Comments

Anime Review: Black Blood Brothers

You know what one of my biggest pet peeves is? An unfinished story.

You know what’s even worse? A story that barely even begins.

That is, absolutely, my biggest strike against Black Blood Brothers. We meet the characters, we set up the situation, we get through the opening action of an extended conflict, and… that’s it. No more.

That’s a particular shame because the story has a fairly interesting premise.

Vampires exist, but they are not exactly like the classic vampire. Some are vulnerable to sunlight, and some are hurt by moving water (how they take a bath, I do not know). Some have special abilities, many can use magic, and they are often the source material for the legends of werewolves, witches, and ancient gods. Some can even age, die, and be born again from their own ashes, like the phoenix. What is consistent is that they have died and come back, they drink blood to survive and get stronger, and apparently they have black blood. Not that we see much of them actually caught in the act of bleeding.

Ten years prior to the main body of the plot, a particularly nasty and virulent strain of vampiric bloodline broke out. There was a war to contain and eradicate said bloodline, but, even so, the city of Hong Kong was wiped out. What made it so dangerous was how even one bite would instantly turn a person, instead of a more intricate and time-consuming mutual exchange of blood, and they could even prey on other vampires. Combine that with an unnatural level of aggression, and they were quite rightly dubbed a vampiric plague.

Ten years later, there is a special zone (called, creatively enough, the Special Zone) set up for humans and vampires to live together. It is run both officially by a council of notable figures and unofficially by high-ranking members of the various vampire houses from around the world. Many of the city’s keepers are heroes of the Hong Kong conflict, and have taken it upon themselves to safeguard a dark legacy of that awful crisis, to keep it from being unleashed on the world once again. The survivors of the enemy side, however, are keen on taking what they guard, and have launched an intricate scheme in order to pull off their heist and get away.

Into this situation comes Jiro Mochizuki and his little brother (of sorts), Kotaro. They are the brothers referred to in the title.

Jiro is one of the chief heroes of the Hong Kong debacle, a vampire swordsman whose skills are geared toward cutting his way through other vampires. He is known as Kin-Killer by the vamps, and Silver Sword by the humans. He is the only vampire who was created by a particular source blood (that would be the progenitor of a bloodline, I believe) named Alice Eve. They met by chance about a century ago, fell in love, then something happened and he was dying, so she turned him rather than watch him die. They lived happily until the outbreak in Hong Kong, when a dear friend and comrade was turned by the enemy, and Alice was killed, then reincarnated in the form of a baby boy, Kotaro.

I am going to just say it has to be a little weird for Jiro to be raising the male reincarnation of the woman he loved for a century.

Filled with the sorrow of loss and the rage of betrayal, Jiro successfully cut down the man who began this outbreak in the first place. Then, still devoted to his love, he took the baby Kotaro somewhere safe, and now is moving to the Special Zone in the hopes that Kotaro will be able to make friends and adapt to the outside world. This is critical, because Jiro’s role is to safeguard, and eventually return, the blood of Alice Eve to her reincarnation. This will awaken Kotaro as the vampire he once was as Alice, her “self” and her memories restored, alongside her wisdom. It will probably cost Jiro his life, but he is willing to do it, and that is why he wants Kotaro to have others around him, who can support him through the loss.

Now, if I thought it was weird for Jiro to be raising his lover who is now a boy, it would have to be especially weird for Kotaro to suddenly have Alice’s memories again, including all the intimate moments she shared with the man whom he regards as his big brother, whom he just killed.

…you know, maybe it’s not an entirely bad thing they didn’t finish this particular story after all, eh?

So, we have Jiro and Kotaro, with a cursed destiny, trying to get along in the middle of an ongoing conflict, with ancient vampires and their human allies on one side, and a new, small, but highly dangerous group of vampires on the other, including an old friend of Jiro and Alice.

That, by the way, is the character that most intrigues me, personally.

Cassandra Jill Warlock is another high-ranking, ancient vampire, possibly a source blood herself, as she is the reincarnation of Morgan the Witch. She is sleek and sexy, hot as Hell in high heels, with a wicked sense of humor and powerful magic, including the ability of illusory shape-shifting. She was the very first vampire turned by the plague-like vampire, there are indications she herself killed Alice, whom she had clearly loved dearly, and yet she also guarded Alice’s ashes and made sure she was reincarnated. Now she leads the effort to reclaim what her new bloodline wants from the Special Zone, and does not hesitate to make sacrifices, and yet she seems oddly fascinated by, and perhaps even protective of, Jiro and Kotaro.

(and, bonus, she is voiced by Luci Christian, who also voices my anime crush, Nami, though Cassandra has a deeper pitch, which suits her perfectly)

I can’t help but think that Cassa, as Jiro calls her, is playing a far deeper game than anyone guesses. How was she the first one turned, anyway, when this new vampire plague broke out? The storyteller in me wonders if, perhaps, she is not actually furthering an entirely different plan, perhaps even one concocted by none other than Alice Eve.

Unfortunately, we never know. Because, once again, they barely even begin the story, let alone end it!

Finally, we have the normal human element. Which consists of the following:
1) The everyday bystanders.
2) The people most vampires feed on when they’re not using blood bags instead.
3) The SWAT-style men with guns who fight fiercely and dirtily to protect their home.
4) The scheming puppeteers, with convoluted schemes that they further with any sort of dangerous, underhanded method they deem necessary.
5) The ferocious warrior who can kill a vampire with nothing more than a stake! …or, rather, can kill the human body that a particular vampire is possessing, with a stake the size an average human leg, at least, so perhaps that a bit less impressive.
6) The gossiping side-character.
7) Finally, the female lead of the show, Mimiko Katsuragi, who is mostly there for moral support, and to act as both an obvious potential romantic interest for Jiro, and also as his emergency living blood bag when he’s otherwise too exhausted to fight in a desperate moment.

…I am a strange mixture of intrigued and annoyed at the pros and cons of the roles that normal people play in this story. They have their redeeming qualities, but they seem to tend towards being ultimately helpless.

Deliciously and ecstatically helpless.

It’s even worse when one can easily accuse this anime of making the same mistake that Twilight makes. No, it does not make the vampires sparkle (thank goodness!), but it does make them far too much more powerful than humans, with far too little in the way of weaknesses. I mean, most of them stand in the sun without a care in the world, and that’s supposed to be their absolute kryptonite! Many of them are like gods on Earth, so how is it they don’t simply rule the entire world?

(and what was with the thing where the human senses the thoughts and memories of the vampire that drinks their blood? shouldn’t that really be the other way around?)

I would have absolutely loved to see the humans truly shining alongside the vampires as proper equals, each with their strengths and weaknesses. But I suppose any hope of that went out the window when they ended the anime after the story had barely begun. (Have I mentioned how much that annoys me?) So much epic material to work with, here, and so little actually done with it.

But I must admit, I do enjoy the characters.

Jiro is quite the courteous gentleman, and devotes himself utterly to whatever he sets himself to do. Kotaro might be a touch annoying, but he’s also adorably cute and lovable, and sometimes surprisingly wise. It’s practically a vampiric trait to be a bit proud and arrogant, but they display a good deal of honor and commitment, rooted in a deep compassion for their fellow creatures, human and vampire alike. The humans are likewise lovable for their sincerity, and a surprising cunning which, despite the lop-sided odds, keeps them in the running. The simple caring that Mimiko shows is especially endearing as she tries to juggle normal life with the extraordinary circumstances she  finds herself in. And, really, about the only female even hotter than her is Cassandra, who is my favorite character of the show.

It’s not “great,” and it very well could have been, but it’s not so bad. It might feel a bit lackluster, especially for something that had the makings of an epic, but I enjoy it. Mostly for the characters. (And there’s this one song on the soundtrack that is so perfectly sad I can’t help but love it) I just wish they’d actually finished the story, instead of barely beginning it.

Rating: I give Black Blood Brothers 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Minus.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Tuesday Review | Tagged | 5 Comments

Sunday’s Wisdom #258: Try Again

“You try, you fail. You try, you fail. But the only true failure is when you stop trying. …Try again.”
– Madame Leota, The Haunted Mansion

Everybody knows what it is to fail. Almost everyone learns, sooner or later, what it is to fail when the stakes are high, and real, and important. Not everyone learns what to do after such a failure.

The the Haunted Mansion movie, Eddie Murphy’s character, one Jim Evers, has all of his mistakes as a husband and father thrown in his face. He only meant it for the best, but, however inadvertently, those mistakes have brought him and his family to a place where they are at immediate risk of losing each other forever. As the danger unfolds, he fights furiously to save his loved ones and escape, but his efforts are in vain. Broken by failure and by guilt, he is languishing in misery, when Madame Leota comes and gets him back on his feet.

When he tries once more, trying something a little different this time and holding nothing back, his efforts meet with success, and his family is saved, alongside a number of other innocent souls.

Now, of course, it doesn’t usually work out quite that neatly and quickly in real life. Indeed, sometimes we fail again, and we have to pick ourselves back up again. But as long as we are alive, we can keep trying.

Not necessarily trying the same thing, mind you. Eventually, one must concede defeats in certain areas if one is ever to achieve victory overall. If something consistently does not work, then one must try something else.

To persist in trying something that does not work, again and again, in the hopes of some different result, is not only useless, it is the very definition of insanity.

You know what consistently does not work? Giving up.

Falling down into a little pool of self-pity and despair may be a natural reaction after a devastating defeat, but nothing ever gets done by the people who stay there. No, great things, small and large, are accomplished by those who pull themselves out of the rut and try again.

Failure may still be possible – in fact, failure is always possible – but success never comes to those who stop trying.

So, when you are feeling down and out, when you have tried your hardest and still failed, I hope you will remember these two words, from a spooky kids’ movie:

Try again.

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The Seven Sins of Marvel’s Netflix Villains

You know when you get one of those thoughts? One of those little ideas that buzzes around the brain like a fly trapped behind your eyes, just itching to get out? This is one of those thoughts.

As I was ranking the villains found within the current (albeit fractured) Marvel Cinematic Universe, I found myself pondering what these marvelous villains really were, what they truly meant. Somewhere in this, my brain snapped a connection in place between the villains of the Defenders-based shows on Netflix and the seven deadly sins of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Almost before I knew it, I had a list in my head of these nasty, deadly, insane antagonists and a sin which they could arguably represent.

It needed a bit of revision, but, as ideas like that don’t just go away, I thought I’d satisfy my mental itch and share it with all of you, my wonderful audience! I hope you enjoy it! 🙂

Lust
Killgrave, the Purple Man

“I. Will. Have. Her.”

One of the more obvious choices, Killgrave the Purple Man is a walking embodiment of the violation of consent, and he is obsessed with having the one woman whom he literally cannot control.

Most villains have to fight to exert control over others, but Killgrave can make anyone do anything he likes just with the sound of his voice. He is utterly selfish in every way, taking anything and everything he wants, and if it catches his eye in any way, then he wants it. Naturally, that includes women, whom he can keep and rape endlessly, however he wants, and however much he wants, violating them in every possible way.

And you know what the lustful cannot abide? Being denied what they want.

Killgrave’s eye lands on Jessica Jones when he sees she has abilities, making her the newest, shiniest possession he can have. But when her body develops an immunity to his power, and she becomes the first woman ever who can tell him “no,” he becomes nothing short of obsessive over her. She was already a trophy, and even more so now, and he refuses to be denied. He won’t take “no” for an answer. She’s just too “shiny” for him to give up on.

That is the only reason he wants her: because of her power. That’s why he assumes her affection for Luke Cage is because of the man’s power. He simply cannot comprehend wanting a person as anything more than a possession.

He is especially vicious towards children, taking delight in their pains, including how he can force normally-devoted parents to behave apathetically towards them. It may be for differing reasons, but as lust is inherently selfish and children are inherently inconvenient… well, the lustful are often very cruel towards children, without a second thought.

Greed
Harold  Meachum

“Money makes my world go ‘round.”

The first season of Iron Fist was pretty lackluster, but that had very little to do with its villain, Howard, for the most part.

As half of the partnership which founded Rand Enterprises, and making it one of the most successful companies in the world, he has a brilliant financial mind, an insanely cutthroat attitude, and whatever he wants, he uses every means at his disposal to get. And what he wanted was money and power. He got both of them, in strange ways, and a certain degree of immortality as well.

He is precise, cold, and calculating, thinking nothing of any sacrifice that needs to be made in order to get him what he wants. Self-control was never his forte, but it slips even further as he goes mad. Yet, even at his maddest, most abusive, and most murderous, he always has the same goals of wealth and influence. That is what drives him. That is the core of what he wants.

It says something about him that this his greed and avarice are what he retains when the rest of his mind is slowly stripped away.

Wrath
Bushmaster, John McIver

“You hurt me! I kill you!”

You know what wrath is? It is a response to being wronged, or feeling that one has been wronged. Now, many villains feel that, but few exemplify it in actuality better than Bushmaster.

As a boy, the man who would become Bushmaster lost his father to some disaster, and the family of his father’s partner railroaded them out of what was rightfully their share of most profitable venture. When his mother fought for it, they murdered her by setting fire to their home. Then they tried to kill him, too, and very nearly succeeded.

So, to say he has been wronged, after being robbed, witnessing his mother’s violent death, and being nearly murdered, is an understatement. There are very few with grudges as legitimate as his, and he pursues it relentlessly and without mercy. His anger is his strength… and his undoing.

When one acts in wrath, one becomes irrational and sloppy. Even in the best of cases, it tends to undermine itself.

While I’ve no real issues with Bushmaster’s grievances, he messed up terribly by letting it all be personal. He dilly-dallied, instead of making it quick and clean. He dragged bystanders into a conflict they had no part in, which drew the attention of a local hero. He tried to make his enemy’s end slow and painful, such that they were rescued by the same hero who would not have been involved had Bushmaster not dilly-dallied and dragged bystanders into the conflict. The result was a slaughter, including many innocent, unsuspecting people who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Oh, and he lost, in the end, with his mind and body almost entirely consumed in the process of unleashing his wrath again and again.

Pride
Billy Russo, aka Jigsaw

“You think anyone is more important than me?”

Originally, I thought I’d put Billy under Gluttony, but somehow Pride just seems to fit him slightly better.

You know what makes pride a sin? It’s when you set people above or below each other. Pride puffs one up, beyond the bounds of humility, and drives self-centered behavior because one puts oneself above all else. How does that not fit Billy to a “T”?

He holds others accountable, but not himself. He does whatever he wants, to get whatever he wants, for himself. He commits terrible crimes, betraying those closest to him, those who love him the most, and still he holds himself guiltless. He lies through his teeth, and accuses others of lying. When facing justice, revenge, and punishment, he still behaves as if he has the moral high ground. He plays to the self-entitled attitude of his men, all to get what he wants, and in the end he just uses and discards them, no matter their loyalty to him.

Even when he’s on the brink of dying, he calls an old friend, trying to lay claim on some last sympathetic moments, even knowing he doesn’t deserve them.

Heck, even when he was just enjoying a day with a friend and his family, he was still boasting about himself, making himself seem more than he was.

Beginning, middle, and end, Billy Russo is full of sinful pride.

Sloth
Cottonmouth, Cornell Stokes

“I can’t be any more than this!”

Choosing a villain to represent sloth was a bit tricky. Hardly any villains can be called “lazy,” after all. But the sin of sloth isn’t just laziness and idleness.

In the original language, the context of the word used signifies not just being lazy, but, rather, withholding one’s talents and resources. It means failing to do/be good, and Cottonmouth does exactly that, I think.

He is one of the most interesting villains I’ve seen, and I hate how they killed him off so quickly.

In the present, he is clearly a bad man, but one that has some standards of honor. He keeps his word, he does not engage in mass violence, and he does not hesitate to kill his own subordinate for killing a beloved old man. He doesn’t even trouble himself with beating a man to death until that man acts, for a moment, like a real man in his book. He’s so honorable, in his way, that he doesn’t even think of how to dispose of Luke Cage if he can’t simply shoot or beat the man (as opposed to Mariah, who instantly conjures several more devious methods of doing so).

Yet, for all his honor, he is a crime lord, and a killer. Why?

Because his family trapped him into it.

He could have been a magnificent musician, and a most honorable man. He still loves music, but that path was taken from him by the woman who raised him. He was made to kill his own uncle. He was made to be a crime lord. And he never got out of it, even years and years later. He held on to some little piece of nobility, but he never made the effort to be truly good. He could have. But he didn’t. He held back the good man he could have been.

The sloth of Cottonmouth was in withholding from the world all the good he could have been and done.

Gluttony
The  Kingpin, Wilson Fisk

“I will devour… EVERYTHING.”

The single most difficult sin to find a corresponding villain for, gluttony is defined as excess consumption. It’s typically associated with consuming good food and drink and too much enjoyment of the finer things in life, making it a close cousin of greed, lust, and pride. While the Kingpin obviously enjoys his fine food, I have a deeper reason for equating him with gluttony, namely:

He consumes everything in his path. He feeds on suffering and death, sating his rapacious ambitions on blood and horror. He devours the lives and even the humanity of everyone around him, especially those who oppose him. And his wrath absolutely annihilates anyone who angers him.

First, he became a crime lord, the one feared by all the rest in New York City. He was calculating and ambitious, removing rivals and enemies, and he did not hesitate to kill the innocent. All this, he did, at first, with the goal of supposedly making the city a better place, and he had no qualms with doing so atop the bodies of its current residents. Then, he was brought low and sent to prison, and slowly rose again. He came to rule his prison, and reach out like a master puppeteer, setting up a situation wherein he would emerge with everything, a true king of the underworld, with connections on both sides of the law, and a killer at his disposal which his enemies could never hope to match.

Luxurious living conditions, fine food, art, money, power, and the woman he loves. He obtained it all, corrupted the law, and turned the bonds of other people’s love to his service. And he did it all twice. His appetites, of every form, could not be restrained.

His gluttony was just too great to be contained.

Envy
Gregory Salinger

“If I can’t have it, neither can you.”

Gregory Salinger is a serial killer. By the time he is brought to justice (and faces vengeance), he has killed at least nine people, and tried to kill at least three more. Every last one of them is because of his jealousy.

From what I gather, he was always looked down on by his father and brother. He had a keen mind, and a strong, albeit unassuming, body, but he was always derided, never credited for his successes, even abused, no matter all the effort he put into everything he did. This, while his father praised his brother, dangling the recognition he always wanted in front of his face but never letting him have it.

In his own mind, Salinger was well-accomplished at everything he did, yet everyone else got all the glory, success, and opportunities, just because they were born with stronger bodies and better looks. Things were “easier” for them, so they were “cheaters,” though apparently he never realized that cheating is a deliberate action, completely independent of what one is born with. But I digress.

When Salinger’s brother died, he hoped his father would praise him. Instead, his father nearly killed him. And that was it: he was never going to get what he “deserved,” so he built a grudge against anyone who did get the success and recognition he wanted, especially if they were, in the slightest way, imperfect at what they did, because surely he would never be so imperfect.

He murdered his childhood friend because the boy was recognized as a more talented athlete. He nearly murdered a chef because the chef got one tiny detail of his food wrong. He murdered at least seven others for similar reasons, all while trying to unmask their “true selves,” which were wanting, in his estimation. Again and again, he lashed out, trying to stand above others, to make himself feel superior, for no better reason than his jealousy.

“How dare anyone be more successful than me?”

Envy in a nutshell.

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Anime Review: Inu x Boku SS

A young lady from a prestigious family moves out of her family’s home and into a palatial apartment complex. It is unusual, not only for its luxury, but also for how each resident has their own designated bodyguard, reminiscent of a secret service. She doesn’t want any such guard, but finds herself saddled with one who is not only dedicated to his duty, he is completely obsessed with her. Tall, handsome, skilled, and utterly devoted to her, to the point where he all but literally worships the ground she walks on, the man can, and will, do anything for her. She can’t rid herself of him, so she is forced to deal with him and try to find some kind of equilibrium between them. Little does she suspect how much he will come to mean to her, and the secret he keeps from her.

Oh, and everyone in the complex is descended from some sort of supernatural creature that bred with a human ancestor. They’re half-breeds.

That is the idea behind Inu x Boku SS, in a nutshell.

It’s partially a supernatural slice-of-life story, just showing us the daily lives of these unusual people. It has comedic elements, and a bit of drama, though the characters are developed only very slightly. The most entertaining part of the show is the characters, and they are also the most annoying part, too. There’s a very little bit of romance, but that romance is actually a bit more disquieting than endearing.

To explain all of that from the beginning:

The premise is that a number of wealthy, powerful families have a bit of supernatural blood sprinkled in their veins. Occasionally, this manifests in the form of some member of the family that is a genetic throwback to the original creature in question. They are treated like royalty… or, rather, like possessions. They are seen as belonging not to their immediate family, but to the entire extended family as a whole. To explain the damage that does… well…

I commented awhile ago, in My Angry Otaku Epiphany, about how the fans of idols and celebrities in Japan tend to put them on pedestals and isolate them. They act like they own the idol in question and are, in a way, devoted to keeping them separate from everything in the world, because that would somehow be the same as losing them, as having their idol taken from them. It makes only a very little sense to me, but there you have it.

Applying the same principle here, these atavistic throwbacks are kept isolated and idolized, treated as something other than human… but human is exactly what they are.

In the case of the lead character, a young lady named Ririchiyo Shirakiin, she never learned how to properly deal with people. Having so little experience, she overthinks everything and reacts before reaching a proper conclusion. Result: she speaks and behaves imperiously, and her tongue is far more pointed than she ever actually intends it to be, which, as she is still overthinking things, makes her feel very guilty and self-conscious immediately afterward. It is her desire to fix this habit of hers that drives her to move out of her family’s estate and into the palatial apartments that they and other families have built together, the Maison de Ayakashi. She wants to get along with people better, so she goes off to live alone.

…yeah, that plan may not have been entirely thought-through, but it works out well enough.

Upon her arrival, she meets her bodyguard, a truly handsome man named Soushi Miketsukami. Where the demon in Ririchiyo’s bloodline is unclear (some sort of oni?), he is quite clearly descended from the nine-tailed fox. He is extremely devoted to her, like a dog, or perhaps something a bit more rabid in said devotion. Serving her, looking after her, everything about her is the beginning, middle, and end of the meaning of his existence. He does not say why, at first, but he tells her that he chose to be her servant because he already knows her, and has known her for a long time, and, though she does not know it, she once saved him.

Yeah, that’s not creepy or overbearing at all… right?

“We may look sane, but we are crazy!”

Unable to rid herself of her new guard, Ririchiyo gradually comes to accept and appreciate him, even if she gets annoyed by his excessive devotion. Partially through his influence, she is able to become more at ease around others as well, forming friendships with several people who are, in varying ways, as unique, as distinct, and as misunderstood as she is. There’s a raccoon-dog boy who is so keenly aware of how weak he is that he is constantly trying to be a tough-guy delinquent, though that’s a pretty threadbare facade. There’s a quiet, sincere girl who turns into a HUGE skeleton creature. An older boy turns into a floating carpet or scroll or something (how the heck did his demon ancestor even breed with a human?). An older ice-woman who… ah, let’s just say she is obsessed with cute girls. A man who wears rabbit ears (no idea if they’re real or false) and has a wicked, scheming sense of humor and wit, which cloaks his more benevolent intentions. Oh, and a cousin of Ririchiyo, who is obsessed with sadism and masochism, and is her fiancé.

Yes, Ririchiyo is in an arranged relationship with her cousin. I’m hoping that’s a distant cousin, but it gets even weirder from here anyway.

While the story mostly follows Ririchiyo as she develops into someone who can interact with people more openly and honestly, and less formally, the final episode goes in a wildly less kosher direction at the last minute.

It comes on the heels of learning the truth of her bodyguard’s past. It seems that they have been pen pals since she was very little, and he is, in fact, that same, dear friend whose words helped her be strong at her lowest moments. Even more, after a tragic life wherein his freedom and survival depended on being able to be anything that another person wanted him to be (the first set of which involved sexual intimacy with various women of his own household), it was her words which helped him to gain an identity of his own, and she saw the genuine person he was becoming. That is why he became obsessed with her, because such absolute devotion to another person was the only way he really knew how to interact with people, and as he gained that “self” which we all take for granted, he wanted to repay her.

After that, things could have developed into a genuine friendship, which I would have very much enjoyed. But then there is a little mix-up that Ririchiyo, as per usual, overthinks and gets embarrassed about. It could be misconstrued as if she were confessing love for him, which she did not intend, and he acknowledges and even embraces that. Then, about two seconds after declaring that they don’t like each other that way, they declare that they do love each other that way. And then, as the show wraps up (and we see that he has a shrine to her in his apartment), we see that they’ve gone from not being romantically inclined to planning their future together, including children, in under two minutes of runtime.

Even setting aside the age difference between them, and even forgetting that she’s still only fifteen or maybe sixteen years old, and even setting aside how this is all sorts of weird and creepy and unsettling in ways which I do not have the psychological terms to fully describe… even without all of that, to go from Point A, mutually acknowledging that she does not actually like him that way, straight to Point X, planning their lives and their children while laying on the couch in each others’ arms… it’s all just too much, too fast!

Does the show make me laugh? Yes.

Does it make me feel for these characters? Yes.

But it also completely unnerves me at the end, when we get to the bit where they get together.

Even if I can see why they do so, it’s still very weird, and doesn’t strike me at all as a healthy relationship. And yet, it’s probably the best that these two, whose families claim ownership of them as if they weren’t people, can possibly hope for. Which is even more disturbing to contemplate.

Outside all of this, the anime does a fair job of being entertaining. It’s not particularly extraordinary, mind you, but it’s not terrible either. It’s all right. With exception to the “romance,” it has an enjoyable “average” of quality overall.

Rating: 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: C-Plus.

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