I finally got a chance to check out one of the highest-ever rated anime (at Anime News Network and elsewhere), Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal. Ever since determining to choose which anime to watch based on the ANN Top Ten, I’ve been frustrated time and again by either not finding this perennial #1, or when I do find it discovered that the series these OVAs are based on ran over 90 episodes. So, not having the time to locate and download (or buy) the entire series, I finally decided to just watch this 4-OVA standalone prequel on its own. The real kicker was Koopiskeva’s superlative Anime Music Video “Gravity”; once I saw it I was hell-bent on finding the OVAs. And that’s what a great AMV should get you to do!
Also referred to by the name of the television series, Rurouni Kenshin, its setting takes place in the Meiji-era Japan (roughly late 1860′s), and runs the genre-gamut from romance to reflection to ultra-violence to psychological drama. I can easily see why this is considered such a masterpiece; the direction and animation, character development, plot twists, soundtrack and settings make for one helluva ride, and one that will stick with you long afterwards. These four half-hour episodes will definitely keep you riveted to whatever you’re watching it from!
From the wiki (which I won’t link to because of spoilers) is this summary of the reception it got: “The OVAs of the series have had several good reviews. In a review from Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal Mike Crandol from ANN noted it as one of the greatest OVA series of all-time, celebrating the new characters designs as well as the fights scenes which were also noted to be “terribly bloody” and beautiful at the same time. Although DVD Talk reviewer Don Houston mentioned the OVAs were very violent for teenagers, he found the story and music to be “solid”. The director’s cut version received positive comments by how the four OVAs were arranged with Houston commenting it “seems more like a movie that stands alone, rather than just the precursor to a long lasting series.”
During my neck-deep foray into the world of anime, I’ve wanted to choose the best of each and every genre in order to experience the finest that each had to offer. The samurai anime is one of the last ones to uncover; I was saving this most-Japanese of genres as a sort of dessert of this most-deliciously animated meal of art-work. Being a history buff and yet fairly ignorant of feudal-era Japan this two-hour “movie” hit all the right spots. I am now pretty-well-sated (I do still have Sword of the Stranger as an aperitif, however ) It really reminded me of a western in some ways, and I can see how some westerns have used the samurai epic as a point from which to interpret universal themes common not only to both cultures, but to elements inherent in the human makeup and psyche across all borders. A good example would be how Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai was used as an inspiration for John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven.
My understanding is that the Rurouni Kenshin OVAs serve as a major “reveal” of several mysteries that the TV series presents the viewer with. During its televised run the central character Kenshin Himura is shown in quite a different, and more beneficient, light, and the OVAs show how he came to become the way he is, from his beginnings as an assassin and a merchant of death. There is also the matter of that x-shaped scar on his cheek, and how it got to be there…
As a synopsis (and for those disinclined to follow the above link), I’ll borrow the following from ANN’s encyclopedia entry: ” Taken by slavers when he was a child, Himura Kenshin is rescued only when an encounter with bandits kills off everyone but him. He is found by a master of the Divine Justice School of Swordmanship, a school so deadly that to train in it, means death for either the master or student, there can only be one master. Taken by the master, Kenshin is trained in this school, only to leave before finishing so that he may join the Meiji restoration and help prevent further tragedies like his own. Thus is born the Battousai, the greatest strength of the Ishin Patriots, a boy of 15 who kills for the sake of building a new, better world. One night, he comes across a mysterious woman, Tomoe. He must hide with her when the revolution stumbles. They marry for appearances, but soon fall in love. Tomoe has another reason to be with Kenshin, one she regrets but cannot stop. Revenge must be satisfied, and only blood can do that.”
Okay, it might not be very well-written but it does sort of sum up the main plot. The above-mentioned master, having left Kenshin behind at the scene of that slaughter, returned to find that the boy had buried not only the corpses of his fellow slaves but also the bandits, and determined that the compassion and wisdom that the youngster showed was a clue to his deserving his tutelage. But later on, in leaving the teaching prematurely, the now-teenaged Kenshin undergoes a parting of the ways, and The Way. He forgets himself… and disaster follows him like a bloody shadow, dragging his lost ideals behind him.
…okay. After an hour of trying to find a suitable AMV to share, several discoveries made themselves apparent: (1) The animation and character designs in the OVAs far surpass those of the television series; (2) sword-fighting is up-close, gory, and so very personal; (3) YouTube has all sorts of (crappy-quality) episodes of both series and OVA to watch; and (3) Koopiskeva’s “Gravity” is still the best Samurai X AMV out there! So, even though I only recently posted it, here it is again
WARNING: Even though the first-time Samurai X viewer watching the following won’t know who is who, or what is flashback, reverie, imagery, or reality, this AMV contains SPOILERS, and has very bloody swordplay violence. If you’re okay with that though, here you go, featuring Enigma’s excellent “Gravity of Love” as a most-fitting background:
Hopefully that’s High Quality; I’ve been having trouble embedding them as of late despite having the HQ up on YouTube. Oh well. It’s pretty awesome any way you look at it! (And by now you ought to know how to watch in Full Screen and High Quality, hm? )
So if you’re in the mood for the finest historical samurai anime out there, look no further! Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal left me wanting more, and I suppose there’s a pretty damn good (AND LOOOONG) series to follow this story with exactly that
…and so it’s come to this: After submitting well over a dozen job applications and getting no call-backs due to nobody hiring, an unemployment rate of over 16%, and a general tightening of belts and new hires, I’ve decided to SELL EVERYTHING.
Well, not everything, exactly, but… most of it. “It” being a large collection of sports and non-sports cards from the ’50s through the ’80s, various magazines, an extensive Silver/Bronze Age comic book collection, and assorted and sundry items such as Fillmore/Avalon posters & handbills, weird bakeware (hah?), and anything else I can uncover. Really, I’m only keeping my record and CD collection, as music is the one thing I can’t do without. Maybe I’ll part with some books I’ll never read again, but those and movies/VHS tapes and etcetera really aren’t worth the time and effort to post sales for, or so it seems. Selling something for four dollars is hardly anything to get excited about. Or buy a sandwich with.
I suppose it really depends upon how hungry I get
So, for the past week I’ve been looking into it in depth, and even though it seems that general eBay sales are sluggish in the areas that I have to contribute, I do have enough materiel to get started. And some income is better than none. Or so I hear. But what a learning curve! Man… brain = drained.
Anyway, I might post an article/link to the sale(s), once I decide on whether it’s a good idea or not. I’m not very anonymous here LOL Not that that matters. Or does it…
More thoughts on this experiment to follow as they occur, assuming they can transmit through the wailing, rending, and the gnashing of teeth.
And now for something completely… darker. The four remaining Summer Season series that I’m watching consist of stories that are decidedly more sinister and, while containing a few laughs, definitely tend more towards violence. And what is not violent skews into the outright bizarre!
So, we’ll start with that fine representation of the uncanny, unusual, and un-sane (sic but not-quite-sick), Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. This third season of “So Long, Mister Despair” (along with a trio of OVAs) is a completely random assortment of satirical sketches and riffs of observances on the despair of modern life, Japanese or otherwise. Believe me, words cannot suffice in relaying the utter whack of this show! Scatter-shot and shotgunned flashes of scenery and walls-of-text right into (and right past) your face (and likely over your head) are all-too-commonplace. Depending on which fansub group decided to tackle this huge amount of dialogue, your enjoyment will be wholly dependent upon their skill in translating the insane amount of text and dialogue. It’s no surprise that very few groups are brave (or talented) enough to take this series on.
The show’s main character is Itoshiki Nozomu, the appropriately-titled “Mr. Despair.” ANN’s description puts it thusly: “Itoshiki Nozomu is the world’s most negative person. To his way of thinking, there is no hope or meaning in this existence. Even the three kanji of his name become the two-kanji word zetsubou, “despair”, when compressed. What an ironic twist of fate, then, that he becomes teacher to a class containing his precise opposite, the invincibly positive-minded Fuura Kafuka.”
What this overly-simplistic paragraph doesn’t reveal is that his class consists of well over a dozen students, among them a litigous flasher, a friendly psychotic, a girl who obviously looks like a psychotic (but may not be), a stalker, a mute girl who communicates only via cell phone, a recluse, an immigrant identity thief, a normal-looking girl who hates to be called normal, a constantly bandaged and banged-up victim of supposed domestic violence, a bland-looking guy so bland that he’s essentially invisible, and on, and on, and… well, the cast is virtually endless LOL
Here’s the EnDing Theme (ED) for the current season of Zan SZS, featuring most of the cast in what is probably the most coherent sequence of scenes spanning 1:30 anywhere in the history of this franchise:
I suppose that the tone of this show was set in the very beginning of the first episode of season 1, when Fuura Kafuka comes upon the hapless teacher attempting to hang himself from a tree. It’s not the last such attempt for him, either. He’s alternately doggedly persistent, consistent, and resigned to his fates, which through the unwrapping/unravelling of the shows are many! Incidentally, Hiroshi Kamiya, the voice of Itoshiki, won a seiyuu award last year; I believe as best male performance, and he deserves it fully. SO MUCH DESPAIR!!!
As for plot… well, aside from the first season which did have a shred of continuity to it, each successive season became more and more… extreme, both in randomness and any semblance of Story. Studio Shaft is completely untethered (and obviously on laughing gas); their technique and style are both rendered in extremes of grace and crudity, often following close on each other, like a mad dog chasing its tail. AND I LIKE IT! The director, Akiyuki Shinbo (seen in the following OP), has a reputation for outlandishness that is unparalleled; I believe that he must firmly grip the other end of that leather tether and is whipping the animators into a frenzy with it. Like so:
Casual viewers should be warned though, that this show is heavy with Japanese-oriented humor and references, aside from the kanji-combination jokes, and will need a good fansub group that has taken the time to provide notes. Prediction: your arm will be permanently positioned over the “pause” key so you can read everything (I got a pinched nerve in my neck from that, so beware!)… (Of course, I HAD to keep watching!) Do try to start this from season 1, if you dare! There is no madder cap
Director Shinbo and Studio Shaft are also responsible for the second entry, Bakemonogatari, which somehow translates to “Ghostory”. Don’t ask. The series director, Tatsuya Oishi, seems to have quieted down Shinbo’s more extreme tendencies, but still, the studio presents a dynamic world, though largely surrealistically static, against which the characters play, and, mostly, speak. Lots of dialogue here, but at this early stage, helps in providing some much-needed exposition. Because what is going on is quite un-apparent!
The gist of the story, again from ANN, because they put it better than I can and I’m feeling a bit lazy : “Bakemonogatari centers on Koyomi Araragi, a third year high school student who is almost human again after briefly becoming a vampire. One day, a classmate named Hitagi Senjōgahara, who infamously never talks to anyone, falls down the stairs into Koyomi’s arms. He discovers that Hitagi weighs next to nothing, in defiance of physics. After being threatened by her, Koyomi offers her help, and introduces her to Meme Oshino, a middle-aged homeless man who helped him stop being a vampire.”
This makes no mention of the fact that she attacks him with a stapler to his face! She’s a bit… dangerous, let’s say. Even in her quieter moments, there’s no telling what she’ll say next. And where Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei has a huge cast, Bakemonogatari‘s cast is miniscule. But getting very interesting I should also mention that Sensei’s award-winning Hiroshi Kamiya portrays Araragi, and my favorite seiyuu, Yui Horie (Ayu from Kanon), has a part that I hope will be expanded, in the person of Tsubasa Hanekawa (who’s seen first in the second video clip below). Such a great, versatile voice (both of them)!
An unsubbed Promotional Video that features many of the cast follows, since the OP is kinda unremarkable:
But this series is typical Shaft; they really put forth a superb effort in animating and creating storyboards that are in no way typical or borrowed from other series. And that makes them quite unique among all studios. They also produced the ef animes, which goes to show that they can really put on a story of depth alongside the above-mentioned forays into the bizarre and atypical. Where ef wonderfully jumped back and forth all over the world (even though you didn’t know it), Bakemonogatari’s recent “playground” episodes were practically one-scene one-location wonders; you’re so taken with the dialogue and character-reveals that you don’t notice that you’ve been staring at the same set for half-an-episode!
Also of note are the use of bold primary colors, repeated and symbolic patterns of shape and form, the various disorienting camera-angles for characters, points-of-view, props, and scenery, and very unpredictable pacing. These ingredients conspire to always keep you on your toes and your attention focused. It’s been said (not by unbiased experts, I should add) that Studio Shaft’s work is often “pretentious” and (what amounts to) “art-school puffery.” This is nonsense. They take great risks in presenting non-formulaic anime that really is of a quality unseen and incomparable to anything else out there. That makes them distinct, courageous, and unafraid to tackle new obstacles and attain new heights. And that is a good thing, as non-conformity is a good thing. And it is.
How about a little action? Where Bakemonogatari is lacking in action, Canaan is full of it. Or, I should type, CANAAN. It’s all in caps. Why? Dunno. But from the first episode’s first moments, I was captivated. Languidly-floating balloons popping over a cityscape from the hidden Canaan’s target practice get your attention, and then when she emerges the real action takes over! And what a ride it is, smooth-flowing and seamlessly blending from scene to scene; the direction is superb. Supported with an excellent and interesting supporting cast, this story of a pair of assassins is rich, colorful, and intriguing in how the story is playing out so far.
Canaan herself is shaping up to become a real fave with her uncanny skills with weaponry, a cat-like acrobatic grace, a quiet-but-deadly demeanor, and aside from all that has a very sexy back! That’s pretty much all you’ve seen of her skin since she favors cargo pants, which is fine with me as I really dislike unnecessarily-exposed flesh (*cough one-pantsleg-girl from To Aru Majutso no Index cough*), and gratuitous nudity. Ungratuitous nudity is fine though But she is definitely sexy; in fact, she reminds me somewhat of Saber from Fate/Stay Night, another favorite, and another creation from TYPE-MOON, as CANAAN is. Hm, maybe that’s why the caps LOL
And speaking of TYPE-MOON, you can’t leave out scriptwriter Kinoko Nasu, who’s responsible not only for CANAAN and Fate/Stay Night but the amazing Kara no Kyoukai as well. With those credits the story of this anime should prove to be fascinating, at least! So far we have the paths of these two contrasting assassin/terrorists slowly, inexorably coming together, a mutated virus that grants strange powers spreading amongst the populace and now political entities, the furtive and delicate friendship between Canaan and Maria, Minoru’s attempt to reveal the conspiracy behind the virus, or at least unearth exactly what it is… and it’s not even halfway through!
The supporting cast is pretty large and diverse, including the cruel assassin Alphard and her severely sadistic sister Liang Qi, the reporter/photographer team of Minoru and the delightful Maria, who is also Canaan’s friend, the mysterious and silent “cat-girl” Hakkoh, the funny, wacky, and morally-ambiguous Yunyun, and an awesome unnamed taxi-driver who Can Really Drive a Cab :-O
Here’s the unsubtitled OP so you won’t get distracted
Hard to believe that there’s only to be 13 episodes, but I’ve read that there will be three OVAs out later this year. Hopefully that’ll be the case
Great fun, direction, story, characters, animation… very enjoyable, and I just hate waiting a week for the next episode!!! Aside from Spice and Wolf 2 (see Part one of this article), CANAAN might be my favorite show of the season. Check it out!
And now… and now. I present to you the odd case of Umineko no Naku Koro ni (“When the Seagulls Cry”). While I’m a huge fan of Ryukishi07, who assembled the brilliant puzzle that is Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (“When the Cicadas Cry”), this anime is kind of turning into a train wreck, no doubt solely attributable to the rush-job that Studio DEEN is putting together. I’ve played through a good portion of the visual/sound novel (also referred to as a “game”) that this series is based on, and even with its sorry graphics it’s light years ahead of its anime in terms of suspense and story. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still a good ride, but very slapdash and uneven so far. The animation is also of mixed quality, and there is no escape from the horrid DEENFACE :-O
The story, reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” (also known as “And Then There Were None”), is on its face intriguing and horrifying mystery fare, as seen through the eyes of its large cast and Ryukishi07′s trademark labyrinthine plot(s) that entangle them. Long before the anime was even rumored, I was reading reports from rabid players of how fantastic the game was. But the anime leaves so much to be desired. In the hands of a larger studio and budget, this could be a great series. Here’s the subbed version of the OP anyway
My favorite element so far is Yui Horie’s portrayal of the little and ever-so-creepy Maria, who has a… “connection” let’s say, to Beatrice, the Golden Witch. And, another Witch, who only briefly appears, who connects this story to Higurashi. THAT was my favorite moment to date, but to say more would spoil it, so *zips lips*
BONUS CHANCE AND HINT-O!!! Since Higurashi is on my mind now, here’s the subbed OP (by Triad Fansubs) from that SUPERBLY HORRIFYING anime which had such a great theme song, wonderful characters all the way down the roster, and a story that takes real time, attention, and dedication to unravel… and where Studio DEEN did such a really great job with Ryukishi07′s twisted tale. Higurashi and its sequel season taken as a whole are in my “sacred circle” of superlative anime. One only hopes that Umineko can salvage itself…
Well, that about wraps it up for Summer Season ’09! I really doubt that the Fall Season will be able to even come close to this season’s excellence, and I haven’t yet checked out many of the titles available that are still airing. I do want to give Aoi Hana a try, and perhaps some others, pending recommendations from people with similar interests. Look for what you like; that’s how you find the good stuff
I’ll be completing the post for the Summer ’09 anime season (or at least what I’m watching of it) in (yet another) few days, mainly because (a) I’m a little tied up around here what with job-hunting, house-cleaning (in-lieu-of-rent), and taking-care-of-business modes, and (b) when not in said modes, I’ve been completely involved in mini-marathonning an older series, Honey and Clover. What a delightful surprise this series has been!
Animax' group shot promo
It’s very much a straight slice-of-life show, with equal doses of romance, drama, and comedy thrown in. But the characters are really what drives this story as we track these starving art students at first through college and then onward into their discoveries of real life and their interactions with the real world, their close relationships with each other and the various shifting love triangles that ensue between them. Even this is oversimplifying it though, and I’d suggest merely watching it without pre-suppositions to fully enjoy it. If you can remember (or are going through) those years, then this series will resonate with you.
The main cast (and friend)
In short, it’s full of heart(s).
And now I’ll tell you how to watch it for free, legally, online! The following link will send you to the ever-reliable Anime News Network’s encyclopedia entry for Honey and Clover where you’ll see a button to “Watch it now!” After reading the synopsis (and noting the rating, so you’ll know that it’s high regard isn’t simply mine), click the button and away you’ll go You’ll probably have to put up with a minimal advertisement or two, but that’s kind of the price you pay to watch it streaming. At the least, you’ll be able to check out a few episodes and see if you don’t get hooked like I did. They only have the first 12 episodes, so be forewarned that to get the rest you may have to satisfy your addiction through YouTube or Veoh, since Crunchyrolldoesn’t have it. Or, through “other means”. *cough*
Over at ETERNAL’S Blog (Memories of Eternity)there’s an excellent analysis of this stellar anime (even though I haven’t read through it yet because of my deep-seated Fear of Spoilers), if you want even more specific information. I’m not sure whether it has spoilers in it, so proceed at your own risk. At any rate, the first page is safe
By the way, if you’re into the darker stuff, they also have the excellent Phantom – Requiem for the Phantom, which is still ongoing since the spring, and one other series I’ve been addicted to. Check out this review at ANN, and then watch it on their streaming site via the right-hand link on their home page. The article is very right on, and the series is gripping, suspenseful, and at times quite intense. And the OP, “Karma” is beautiful, haunting, and very, very apt…
…unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the OP featuring Karma, just an extended version over a still photo So, knowing how you much prefer some action, here’s an official promotional video:
Gotta go; have fun
on the water
"When early youth had passed, he left his cold fireside and alienated home to seek strange truths in undiscovered lands. Many a wide waste and tangled wilderness has lured his fearless steps; and he has bought with his sweet voice and eyes, from savage men, his rest and food." (from 'Alastor, or, The Spirit of Solitude', by Percy Bysshe Shelley,1815)
For info on our novel UNBOUND, please see our website in the Blogroll!