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!

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Sunday’s Wisdom #250: Unselfish Problem Solving

“Sometimes the best way to solve your own problems, is to help someone else.”
– Iroh, The Legend of Korra
Season 2, Episode 10, “A New Spiritual Age”

Uncle Iroh, as most of us know him, was a very wise, and very compassionate, old man in Avatar: The Last Airbender and the sequel, The Legend of Korra. He was a constant source of guidance and strength to those around him. There’s one episode where they show him helping complete strangers all over, including a mother with her upset child and a guy who tries to mug him. As a spirit, after his death, he is able to help the next generation as well, including, in this scene, a young woman, who is having such a difficult time with the weight of the world on her shoulders that she’s at the end of her rope.

That’s when he gives her this bit of wisdom, among several others, and it rings true.

It’s even more powerful when one recalls the terrible things that happened to Iroh himself, all the problems he faced, including horrible betrayals and threats to his life from members of his own family, not to mention the devastating loss of his son in battle. Many people, under similar circumstances, would become hard, embittered, and selfish in the extreme. But not Iroh. No, Iroh looked outward, beyond himself, and he helped and saved many people, including his nephew. And, somewhere along the way, he not only found inner peace, but a happy life, and a happy afterlife.

Now, the advice he gives to Korra is applied a bit more directly and immediately than usual. She helps a lost little bird get back to its nest, and the bird then helps her get to where she needs to go. A bit of help in exchange for a bit of help. Sometimes it might work that way, but, more often, it’s not quite so literal, yet still absolutely effective.

Many of the world’s problems stem from people being selfish, sometimes on a massive scale. Even in the best of circumstances, our troubles, very valid troubles, can feel overwhelming. It’s easy to get lost inside that. But we have to remember that we are not the only ones with problems. We all need help, from time to time.

As a certain song says, “What the world needs now is love.” Love is unselfishness, and unselfishness is manifested in acts of kindness and caring.

It is the act of helping, of giving something selflessly, which strengthens the soul to face any adversity. It lifts us up from the mire of our own problems, to gain a fresh perspective, with a revitalized spirit.

It might not seem so practical, at first glance, but if we can keep from looking only at ourselves, then practical solutions can make themselves manifest in surprising ways.

So… let’s do some good, eh? 😉

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What I Want From Sony, and What I Want From Disney

Sony, Sony, Sony.

…and Disney, Disney, Disney.

There is a fair bit of disappointment, in both of these big companies, going around right now. I’m certainly feeling it.

Eventually, I paused and asked myself why. Disappointment is what happens when reality falls short of what we want or expect. So, what, exactly, am I wanting from Sony? And what am I wanting from Disney? Those are actually two very different questions, albeit with similar answers and a bit of overlap in one particular area.

Well, what I’m disappointed over is is fairly simple: I hate when corporate politics (or anything else) gets in the way of telling good, quality stories. Said stories are what I really want from both companies, so the difference is how I want each company to provide them.

We All Know What I Want From Sony

Spider-Man.

Yes, of course that’s what I want.

The last couple of weeks have been very rough for fans of Spider-Man, or at least the iteration we got of him in the MCU. He’s in, he’s out, he’s not-quite-out, wait is he back in and better than ever, no he’s out, all the way out now, oh crap.

It shouldn’t be too surprising, really, but it’s still sad.

Sony, it must be said, did great with their first two Spider-Man movies, and they definitely helped push superheroes into the spotlight properly, as real, developed people with riveting stories about humanity. This helped to pave the way for Marvel Studios’ current success under Kevin Feige.

But then they misstepped. Three times in a row.

Spider-Man 3 was terrible enough that the best part of it was when Peter was getting a beatdown from both Venom and the Sandman.

This was followed by Sony’s answer to the MCU: a cinematic universe based entirely around Spider-Man, including the Sinister Six. But both Amazing Spider-Man movies, whatever their virtues, still left something to be desired. Spider-Man, in Sony’s control, was fading terribly in terms of popularity.

And the fans… oh, the fans really, really, really wanted Spidey in the MCU.

There were whoops and hollers of celebration all over the internet, some including myself, when Sony agreed to share Spider-Man with Marvel, and just in time for him to be introduced in Captain America: Civil War, too! Ah, such great times we’ve had since, with two solo movies and a strong presence in three others. And we were so looking forward to everything that was to come, especially as Peter Parker was just barely set up for a huge role as a pseudo-successor to Iron Man himself! Not to mention how Far From Home ended, putting him firmly in the crosshairs of all his enemies and the public! Excitement abounded!

Then, this crap.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was successful. So was Venom. Though neither was nearly so successful as Marvel’s movies, they proved that Spidey was a hot item again, alongside the characters around him. It’s perfectly natural, then, for Sony to believe they can make money off him on their own, now.

Thus, when Disney came along, wanting a bigger share of the profits, things went south very quickly.

What I Want From Sony and Disney

A little team-work, please?

Different people working together? What a novel concept!

Now, I must admit that my initial reaction was entirely in Disney’s favor. Mostly, that was because they own Marvel Studios and it seemed, by all appearances, that Sony was being very greedy, wanting to keep all the money while putting less work into it. That may have been terribly short-sighted and small-minded of me.

I forgot, for a moment, a very simple lesson I once learned, years and years ago: there are two sides to every story.

While it is easy to blame Sony, one should not forget to hold Disney every bit as accountable as well.

Disney wanted more money. Of course they did. That’s their thing these days, isn’t it? More money. Shameless cash-grabs with sequels, reboots, remakes, mining the better memories of our younger days… that’s what they’ve been doing of late, for the last several years, and they aren’t slowing down at all.

So while Sony’s comment about Disney choosing not to have Feige be involved in Spider-Man’s future for now might seem like some pithy, petty spin at first glance, perhaps that’s exactly what happened. Perhaps Sony disagreed with reworking the deal over Spidey, so Disney cut ties, throwing their weight around, leaving Sony to hold the bag. Sony has certainly seemed interested in trying to come to some agreement, and they’re obviously scrambling to keep from getting capsized by rushing (relatively speaking) to make the next Spider-Man movie with Tom Holland in it.

As I consider this, I know what I want from Sony: I want them to come to some sort of agreement with Disney where they can share Spider-Man.

But I also want the same of Disney: I want them to come to an agreement with Sony, one that is mutually beneficial, to share Spider-Man.

Heck, I wouldn’t much mind, at all, if they managed to use Spidey to tether the MCU with Sony’s MU, make them adjacent to each other. But either way, the two companies need to work together on this one.

Which brings me to…

What I Really Want From Disney

In summary: a little less cash-grabbing, and a little more bang for our bucks. That latter part, especially.

“I am supposed to represent great stories, not great greed!”

I can point to all the live-action remakes as the laziest effort of all, doing little more than copying and pasting the story, without making any worthwhile alterations to it (let alone making new stories at all), just making the visuals appear more realistic (not necessarily “better”). I can point to cheesy sequels and reboots galore, though, in fairness, that’s a staple of Hollywood now (which, really, it shouldn’t be). I can point to how they’ve bought so many studios and are heavily driving them to produce more content, the kind of content they want, financing instead of creating. I can certainly point to the soured relationship with Sony, with Marvel caught in the crossfire. I could even argue that Disney, overall, seems to have entered a stage that is much like their animated movies were in before their personal renaissance.

I can point to all of it and say that Disney’s pursuit of our hard-earned money is leaving much to be desired.

But the one thing, above all, which leaves me nonplussed, and a bit conflicted, is their upcoming, much-vaunted streaming service: Disney+.

What is it which concerns me?

Basically: what they are offering.

Or, rather: what they are not offering.

Disney owns Pixar, LucasFilm, Fox, Marvel, and who knows what else. You look on the Disney+ website, and they certainly do not fail to sensationalize what’s available, including National Geographic. They have shows for kids and adults, they had an entire segment at D23 devoted to demonstrating how to use it, and they have deals for Hulu and ESPN in the works, too. They are offering a lot… or, rather, enough to momentarily turn one’s head.

I notice something about almost everything I’ve yet seen available o Disney+. Perhaps I am wrong, and I’m only seeing the surface level. But it seems to me…

They’re only offering the newest, and the most popular, items in their library.

Am I wrong?

I would not mind at all if I am!

While a great deal of entertainment is promised, with regular additions and a number of original series and movies, somehow it just seems all so… paltry, by comparison. Not nothing, but so much less than it could be, if they simply chose.

I did not realize this, but apparently Walt Disney left his hometown to go and found what would become Disney as we know it, in 1923. That’s almost a full hundred years ago. A hundred years. A full century of history to draw on, which has resulted in a truly vast library.

Even discounting all of their recent purchases, Disney, alone, on its own, with nothing else to it, has a massive archive of all sorts of works, many of which are absolutely beloved classics.

All the old cartoons with Mickey Mouse and his friends. The original Duck Tales, Chip’n’Dale, and even Tail Spin. Every cartoon they ever made. Everything they ever made for theaters or for any channel they owned. Countless movies, shorts, and television shows, both live and animated.

Zorro. Swamp Fox. Davy Crockett. Swiss Family Robinson. The Monkey’s Uncle. The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. The Absent-Minded Professor. Son of Flubber. Pollyanna. Escape to Witch Mountain. Return from Witch Mountain. In Search of the Castaways. The Gnomemobile. No Deposit, No Return.

On and on and on it goes.

Nearly a full century of history to draw on, not to mention anything Fox has in their library, and everything else they own.

And what do we get?

Enough to dazzle, for a moment, but, in relative terms… not really that much. It’s flashy and fun, but somehow a little disappointing once you start thinking about it, ya know?

What Do I Want?

Stories. Quality stories. Classics, and stories that can become classics, well-crafted, and well-told.

The companies that sell us these stories – not limited to Sony and Disney, though they are foremost on my mind at the moment – could do a whole lot better than they are.

To paraphrase Black Panther, “They can do better. They must do better.”

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5 Anime Character Songs

I am going to be honest: I had no idea what it meant by “character song” until I looked it up.

If I have it right, and I’m not entirely certain that I do, it refers to a song by the characters (thus the name) and credited to them. This excludes intro songs, ending songs, and mere background music, I think. I’m not sure if they must be sung withing the anime’s continuity or not, but I am proceeding under the assumption that they can be, at least.

This is a fascinating little aspect of the culture of anime vs most other mediums of entertainment. In Japan, the seiyuu, or voice actors and actresses, are expected to be able to sing, and when they sing, it is entertaining, and beautiful. Thus, anime characters are also able sing whenever the occasion calls for it. There is a great deal of work that goes into this, on the part of the creators, the animators, the writers, the actors, but it pays off more often than it doesn’t. Much to the chagrin of everyone who works on the dubbing in other languages, I’m sure! 😉

This one was easier than picking five opening songs, but more difficult than picking only five ending songs. I thought of about a dozen, narrowed that down to seven, and had one heck of a time picking the final two to cross off the list. All that, and then I realized that one of my picks was more of a background soundtrack than a character song, so I replaced it. But, it’s all done now, so, I hope you enjoy the music! 🙂

Here are five character songs (I think?) from anime!

(oh! and don’t forget to add your own chosen songs in the comments below! the more, the merrier! and feel free to correct me if I got the definition of character songs a bit wrong! 😉 )

1) Crow Song
Angel Beats

Performed by GirlDeMo (Girls Dead Monster) in the first episode, it really gets the blood pumping, channeling a full rockin’ vibe, and you just can’t help but get caught up in the excitement, ya know?

2) Hiru no Tsuki
Outlaw Star
FAIR WARNING!
Video begins with an image of full frontal female nudity!

Performed by Melfina, it is the anime’s first closing song, and it is equally beautiful in both English and Japanese (a rare thing, I only went with the English for sentimental value). She sings it at least once within the anime itself, towards the end, and this is the prologue of one of the final episodes, showing some of her experiences to the heart-rending melody of her voice. I love it. 🙂

3) Lonely Spaceman
Cat Planet Cuties

I have issues with this anime, but I have none with this musical moment. Performed by most if not all of the cast, this is a tribute to a classic space-faring story of yester-years. There’s an English dub, of course, but the original Japanese is so much better, more beautiful and more professional. It is calm and serene and sad all at once. I do not mind saying that I teared up a bit (because, as a friend in my youth put it, I’m a big softie).

4) Bink’s Sake
One Piece

This version is performed by the Straw Hat Pirates, and there’s another by Brook alone, and the original in the anime is performed by all the available cast across two generations of pirates. It is my most favorite of the character songs, and one of my very favorite songs in all of anime, and all of music! And that is all I’m going to say about it! 😀

5) My Mai Tonight
Love Live! Sunshine

Performed by Aqours(?) somewhere in this shows second or third season, I think. I haven’t actually seen this show, but I came across some YouTube videos of this group and another, A-Rise. Now, I think I like how A-Rise performs on stage better, but I like this song more. It’s just so plucky and upbeat and entirely perfect for a show about a bunch of girls dancing and having fun, ya know?

Posted in 30-Day Anime Pick 5 Challenge, Anime and Cartoons, Challenge Accepted | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Anime Review: Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

I went into this show without knowing or hearing anything about it beforehand. It immediately showed itself to be crafted rather well, in every technical sense. The visuals, the backgrounds, the design, the animation, it was all very fine and fluid. Then the first bit of music began playing, softly at first, and I was officially enchanted.

That’s the sort of feeling I got while watching Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit. It was like peeking at another culture, magical and rich with wonder. Oddly, though, some things were just a little bit too wondrous. Rather, they defied my capacity for suspension of disbelief, because it felt realistic enough that one can expect things to make sense, but they didn’t always.

The story primarily follows Balsa, a highly-skilled warrior woman with a spear. She’s a mercenary body guard, and, because of events in her past, she is resolved to save eight lives and do so without killing anyone. As it happens, she saves the life of a young prince, which lands her in the middle of an unfolding intrigue, because said prince, Chagum, is apparently inhabited by the egg of a water spirit. Though the spirit world, Nayug, is close enough that apparently its sun sometimes appears in the night as a second full moon, there is very little known about it, so the local scholar, called a star priest, assumed the spirit egg was an evil possession and recommended killing it by killing the prince in order to avoid a catastrophe. The emperor agreed to this, to killing his own son, so when Chagum’s mother asks Balsa to protect him, she is, in fact, hiring her to keep him safe from the highest authority in the land.

From there, Balsa takes Chagum under her wing, becoming a sort of surrogate mother as they flee, and hide, and live humble, quiet lives. They are assisted by a medicine man, whom Balsa is clearly being set up to couple up with, and Madame Torogai, a venerable old woman of generally blunt and sour disposition. Chagum learns a great deal throughout this, and it’s a time of tremendous personal growth for him. Both the people protecting him and those hunting him are on a search for answers, however, as much knowledge of the past has been forgotten. These answers carry tremendous weight, however, as veils are slowly lifted off the lies of the past and the horrible dangers which now threaten Chagum’s life.

It turns out that pretty much everything about this situation sucks.

And guess whose job it is to deal with it?

Though Chagum’s life was originally threatened out of sheer ignorance, the truth is arguably worse. It turns out that all the water in this particular region, sustaining an empire of a couple million people, is supplied by a great water spirit. This spirit lives for a hundred years, blessing the land with water, before sending out its eggs, soon followed by its death, and with its death comes a drought. The eggs reside safely within the bodies of mortal creatures, usually including a human and some others (we see a young bear, for instance), until the time comes for them to be removed. After said removal, a particular kind of bird carries the hatching egg somewhere it will mature and grow and become the next great water spirit. The removal from the mortal host, however, is absolutely horrific.

The spirit within the egg possesses the host, taking them to a specific place, making them eat a flower that increases their connection to the spirit world. This lures deadly predators from the depths of the spirit world, which the possessed host draws to another nearby location. If it all goes according to plan, then the predator grabs the mortal host with its tentacles, devouring them as they squirm and scream in fear and agony, savoring the meat that is flavored by the egg inside, and then shooting the egg upwards, towards the birds which are theoretically overhead. If there is no bird in the right place at the right time, then the egg falls and splatters on the ground.

If none of the eggs survive, then the entire land dries up and millions of people and animals die. But whether the egg survives or not, the host is doomed to a terrifying, gruesome, painful death. And this has apparently been the way of it for as long as there has been water in this land, so, a very long time.

How would you like to be a young boy, or his protectors, facing that kind of odds, eh? Where the boy is apparently guaranteed to die, and it’ll be a miracle if his death secures the lives of millions of innocent people.

Chagum’s not even really a guardian of the spirit within him. He’s just an incubator.

Pardon my language, but it would seem that the spirits are either a bunch of savage animals or a bunch of assholes.

“The spirits suck.”

Setting that aside, however, especially as no one in the show ever comments on it, the story is about the people involved in this. They might be constantly laboring under mistaken notions, but they are always doing their best, and doing their duty the best way that they can see to do it. Even when that duty is painful, they are driven by the belief that it is what’s best for the people of their nation. There is something noble about that, and the show delves into both the virtues and dangers of such selfless service. Even the decision to care more about others than for oneself can become a vice when taken too far. Men and women have become monsters in the name of helping others. Yet, it is also the dominant virtue of any true hero. Heck, growing up is arguably all about learning to balance oneself with one’s community.

I would say that this is what Moribito is really about: growing up.

Balsa may be the lead protagonist, and she is awesome, but she develops very little, even as we learn about her past. Chagum, on the other hand, matures tremendously through his experiences with her and, as he puts it, his struggle with destiny. He begins as a boy, weak and imperious and touched by the spirit world, but by the end he has become a young man, stronger, more mature, more grounded in the real world.

In short, the show has some good characters, good themes, and good action, including one of the best fights I’ve ever seen in an anime, but it could have fleshed out the plot and the character development a bit more. Still, the world it was set in was entrancing, with the design, animation, music, and voice acting all creating a rich, vivid environment. It was mostly entertaining, just a bit disturbing to think about afterwards.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid B.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Tuesday Review | Tagged | 2 Comments

Sunday’s Wisdom #249: Happiness Without Warning

“I’ve learned that happiness is something like unhappiness: it may strike any time, without warning.”
– Elmer C. Albatross, Baccano!
Episode 14, “Graham Specter’s Love and Peace”

Elmer is a relatively minor character in this little masterpiece of an anime that is full unto overflowing with lead characters. Yet his presence is as strong as any other, in his own way, and his wisdom is profound. Others pursue forbidden secrets, scientific knowledge, or power over their fellow beings, but Elmer’s is the wisdom of happiness. It is a humble piece of wisdom, often overlooked, and yet the potency of it cannot be overstated.

Imagine, if you will, a collection of people who have gained immortality. A cause for celebration, most would agree. But, when you will live forever, what is it that you will live for? One of them almost immediately succumbs to his base desires, and his ego. Another conducts an unending series of experiments with people’s lives, all to gain knowledge. Yet another spends his days tormenting one who trusted him entirely. And still another is burdened with the weight of the world, and of loss, walking the length of eternity almost entirely alone.

Among all of these and more, only one understands that life, mortal or immortal, is only worth living when you can find some happiness here and there.

That is why he devotes himself to bringing smiles to those around him. For all the accomplishments that his fellow immortals achieve, they lead some very long and depressing lives. But one of them can hardly ever be found without a smile on his face, and he brings a little happiness back into their exceedingly dreary world. And that is the secret, the real secret.

What everybody needs in life, regardless of any circumstance, is happiness.

Not just mere, fleeting, momentary pleasure. Not just some good times. Not even just smiles, for even smiles can become false and filled with sorrow. No, real, lasting, genuine happiness.

Some say that such happiness begins and ends within oneself, independent of one’s surroundings. Some say that you can’t be happy without having someone to share it with. Some say that happiness is found in accepting what can’t be changed, and some say it’s the other way around. Some say there is no joy with hope, and that is certainly true.

I say it’s all of that and more.

But most of all, I say happiness is natural. It is as natural as anger, sadness, fear, and everything else. It begins, and it may end, but it happens without being forced, and it is often surprising.

The definition of a surprise is something that happens without warning.

Some surprises are terrible, and shatter our happiness. Others are good, and bring unexpected happiness into dark and dreary lives. That happens often when one least expects it, when one has already given up. But it still happens. And it can still happen, no matter how sad and empty our lives have become. After all, an empty life has lots of room for something good to come into.

So I suppose what I really want to say, what this quote really means to me, is that we should never give up on being happy. It may not be in the way we envisioned, but it can happen. We may not know when it will be, but that just means that it can happen at any time. Try not to give up entirely, ok?

So, in Elmer’s words… go on, give us a smile. 🙂

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged | 4 Comments

A Replacement Anime Ending Song

Hello, my wonderful audience! 🙂

I have gone and edited my most recent post a little. The idea was to share five ending songs from anime, but my very first pick, which I liked the most, first got taken down by YouTube, and then the only replacement I found on some completely different site also got taken down. Which sucks, because I really liked it. However, I’m not about to let that get me down! 😉

SO! 🙂

As I hate to leave anything unfinished, I just got the urge to pick one more ending song, and when I was rewatching an anime, in anticipation of reviewing it, the ending song just suddenly spoke to me very strongly.

I’ve gone back and added this in, but post-publishing edits do not get much publicity, and I just really wanted to share this with you, my wonderful audience! 😉

So, I present, as a substitute for my original first choice…

Calling
Baccano!

It’s sweet and tender and soulful, and just the perfect note on which to end an anime that I wished continued on! 🙂

And on that note, have a wonderful day! 😀

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

5 Anime Ending Songs

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

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

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

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

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

1) Don’t Be Discouraged
Slayers Try

I had a video of it, and then Youtube took it down. The only other genuine (not a cover of it) video I was able to find can be viewed here. (EDIT: …and apparently that one’s gone, too, now (sigh))

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

2) Sentimental Moment
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

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

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

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

4) Life is a Boat
Bleach

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

5) Fantasia of the Wind
Record of Lodoss War

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

EDIT:
As my first choice got lost somewhere between when I picked it and when I published this post, I am adding one that has not been taken down by YouTube as of yet. I present:

Calling
Baccano!

It’s sweet and tender and soulful, and just the perfect note on which to end an anime that I wished continued on! 🙂

Posted in 30-Day Anime Pick 5 Challenge, Anime and Cartoons, Challenge Accepted | Tagged , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Anime Review: Assassination Classroom

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

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

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

And I have to say, it’s pretty fun!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: A-Minus.

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

Sunday’s Wisdom #248: Facing Our Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Books, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged , | 5 Comments