Ever since the earliest days (and nights) of humankind we’ve always delighted in scaring the daylights out of one another, whether gathered in a dimly-lit cave around a flickering fire, or in a cavernous theater with scratchy black-and-white images on the silver screen, or in a darkened den accompanied only by the storyteller behind the television screen or computer monitor illuminating the pitch of the night…
Welcome to the 21st Century: We’re still at it!
It’s that time of year again, when ghosts and goblins roam the land looking for unsuspecting victims lured to them through trick-and-treatery. And then there’s the spooky little kids with bags half-stuffed with candy running around too! So be careful out there. Or you could end up just like them (and I don’t mean the kids)! And so, for your consideration, this Halloween-themed Alastor’s entry
But first, how about a little song for Maria, since Halloween is her favorite day? Er, night. She’s one of the stars of Umineko no Naku Koro ni(“When the Seagulls Cry”), which is a follow-up to Higurashi no Naku Koro ni(“When the Cicadas Cry”). Both of the shows serve as fine examples of the most chilling, horrific, and mind-fucking animes ever produced. I kid you not. Don’t believe me? I’LL SHOW YOU!!! *shakes fist at you* …in due time. Heh. I mean MWUU-HAHAHAHAAAAA~~~
Maria’s the youngest cast member, but also the most heavily into/exceedingly aware about Occult matters. In fact, she’s something of an expert. Don’t let her innocent little facade fool you! At times she behaves almost as if “developmentally disabled,” and is in the habit of saying “uu-uu” at the most inappropriate moments. Maria is a downright creepy little girl, but at other times, so cute! You just never know what the author of these two seminal works will throw at you next. Ryukishi07 whips up distinctive characters, multiple paths, and twisting plots mixed in with random perspective shifts and extra-dimensional realities along with witches and pinches of Shroedinger’s Cat for good measure. He removes your brain and plays with it without mercy!
But you wouldn’t expect mercy on Halloween…
So, Happy Halloween for Maria! This is Maria’s Character Song, and sung by her seiyuu Yui Horie (in character, duh), who is one of my favorite Japanese voice actresses (she also did Ayu from Kanon, and a slew of other roles). Those of you unfamiliar with J-Pop might want to pass on this syrupy-sweet (yet strangely sinister) offering and head straight to the horror-show.
Okay, now that that’s over, time to put the kiddies to bed! Seriously. Because we’re going to look into both Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, and Elfen Lied, two of the most chilling, gory, and bloody animes ever shown. But here the pathos is secondary; the truth of the matter is that these are two great stories. With blood on them. And dismemberment. A bit of (tame) nudity. Some uncompromising scenes of child abuse. What can ya do? It’s not like they’re the only horror-show in town, am I right? And horror stories are horriffic… especially the ones which poses the question of just who, really, are the monsters?
It won’t do any good whatsoever in attempting to describe Higurashi beyond its ANN synopsis above. I recall actually being pissed that I didn’t get what was happening. I was just advised to “keep watching.” The story is told in a series of arcs that range from about 4-8 episodes, in which one of the characters somehow becomes deranged and ultimately psychotic. The “somehow” is constantly changing as each arc is told from a different character’s perspective along with several key “pieces” of the puzzle being added with each one. And wow… after a deceptively simple beginning, it really takes you on a hell of a ride. And one that you won’t easily forget.
While it’s true that Studio Deen doesn’t exactly do Ryukishi07′s work any favors with its animation, the studio did improve over time, and honestly I think they got a bad rap overall. It’s one of my all-time favorite works despite its flaws. The story really towers over all though… I needed two forums in order to decrypt it all! In fact, bookmark the following for later if you want any further info. You’ll need to investigate the Q&A and TIPS threads for sure, once you get involved: AnimeSuki’s Higurashi Sub-Forum But be careful about what you read! Spoilericious, donchaknow. Great anime forum, by the way (my favorite) :-)
Anyway: One of Higurashi‘s secrets is that it juxtaposes sweetness with evil, and hi-jinx with mayhem; one moment you’re at a Cotton Drifting Festival and the next witnessing a brutal murder that just doesn’t get explained easily, or to your satisfaction. Because it’s made to get inside your head, and get your brain to working, you never really know what’s going on until the pieces start adding up. Season One is 26 episodes long, and even then at its end you don’t have a full sense of closure. It’s comprised of the Higurashi game’s “Question Arcs” plus one “Answer Arc”; Season Two (Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai) has the rest of the Answers, and while much less bloody, keeps building in intensity and complexity until you almost have all the pieces of the puzzle in your hand. It doesn’t really close until Season Two’s last episode, and even that last scene opens up a whole new can o’ worms, best taken with some Umineko as a chaser!
Gotta admire a writer who doesn’t make it easy for you but makes your journey so worthwhile and rewarding. So, I’ll present to you the first episode (in three parts) of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, in all its YouTube “glory”. Bear in mind that if you BUY the DVDs that the clarity is of a quality magnitudes higher than these, which are just to whet your whistle So make sure that the kiddies are out of the picture (that is, secured for the night); the following is all for Mature Visitors…
…and make sure that you watch it in the dark. And in FULL SCREEN!
If you insist upon watching it after all that, then make sure you watch through at least episode 5, where the story’s devices become a little bit clearer. It’ll help just a bit. Just.
And now we come to the anime that pretty much changed my life: Elfen Lied. I’ve probably already gone into detail about how this show shattered my preconceptions about how childish and cartoonish anime was; that it was just fodder for children on their Saturdays home from school. So. Very. Wrong. Well, that’s only because what we do get over here on network TV is only the most marketable series on offer (Pokemon and Naruto and the like, dubbed in typical over-the-top English), and that the more mature and diverse shows simply don’t get aired as they should. That’s changed somewhat in recent years with Adult Swim and other channels offering a smattering of episodes (usually out of order or aborted runs), and now, finally, streaming anime is bringing more and more into our caves. Er, dens. Um, “homes”. Yeah.
From the first moments of Elfen Lied though, from the OPs beautiful “Lilium” sung in Latin, to the Gustav Klimdt-inspired paintings it plays over, it had me firmly in its grasp. I almost couldn’t believe what I was seeing! And then the SHOW started… and… wow. It’s obvious why Elfen Lied’s opening ten minutes are considered among the most disturbing and provocative segments in all of anime history. Be forewarned, that’s all I can say. Don’t come cryng to me later.
Similar to Higurashi in that it contrasts scenes of domesticity and silliness with those of absolute violence and decapitation as if it was its second nature, Elfen Lied tells a deep and complex story of a mutant strain that is on the verge of wiping out humanity: the Diclonius, a horned humanoid who is anything but, and the efforts to contain it. Kept in captivity and in isolation for years, and cruelly experimented upon, the 13-episode series asks that question: Who are the monsters? And when we consider the possibilities inherent in every human… the scenes are all that more believable. And disturbing…
The heart of the story is between Kouta (the male lead) and Lucy (whom you’ll… “meet”). I can’t give away anything else because it’s full of spoilery material if I even hint, and this story is best discovered on your own. And in the dark. Every character is clearly and cleverly motivated; Lynn Okamoto really crafted such a compelling story, and he filled it with sympathetic (and malevolent) people who deal with things as they must, however grim they might get. And they do get quite grim… Also of note is Mamoru Kanbe’s excellent direction; there are many superb flourishes and touches that manage to convey much more than the scene shows. And when the scene needs to show something, he doesn’t pull any punches…
But why don’t I let you get on with it, if you dare. And don’t say I didn’t warn you! IT’S GRAPHIC, MM-KAY? It’s got nudity, violence, and uncomfortable situations! So don’t complain! I hate whiners and handwringers, jeez… Anyway, now that they’re gone, please “enjoy” this first episode (in three parts) of Elfen Lied. Lights out and FULL-SCREEN; c’mon, I dare ya!
Okay. NOW you’re all set for Halloween! And hey, if you’re intrigued by this series, the 13-episode set is available for a pretty good price if you look around. Ditto for Higurashi, although Kai hasn’t been released yet. The only way the art-form can survive is by buying those shows that you like in order to support the creators, as they should be. But until they provide the newer shows though… get ‘em where you can (the unreleased ones that is). They’re made to be SEEN, not sat on for two years until interest has passed. THEN they release them and wonder why they don’t sell. Duh.
DAMN THAT SLIPPERY SLOPE!!!
Don’t eat too much candy now
And Happy Halloween, Maria!
If you’d like to leave a comment, please feel free; I don’t bite! (Much.) Heh. Heh. Heh…
Coming soon will be the monthly (or so) update on Unbound, but for now we’ll continue with pleasant diversions worth your time and (emotional) investment. I was going to write a post on how job-hunting sucks donkey balls but really, who wants to read about depressing shit anyway, right? In fact, anything I could write about worth reflecting on would be wayyyy too sober for my liking. Not to mention something of a buzzkill for you. I mean, if you had a buzz. I’m a lover, not a killer
So I’ll share something I love, how’s that? Yes, ANOTHER ANIME POST!!! Because I know what Visitors come here for (aside from Lily‘s story, anyway, which’ll very soon get another chapter added to the excerpt of Chapter 1.1already up and waiting for you to read it)! How’s that for clever pimping -er, promoting?
Anyway, striving for some sense of normalcy regarding the buying of (any) entertainment since I’ve been so cheapmiserly “prudent” over the last year or two, I recently bought and received a couple of DVDs of animes that I’ve been waiting for since last year when these two series aired:True Tears and Sola. While they aren’t considered classics or masterpieces by the masses, both of these shows really connected with me on deep levels, and so I rated them highly (both 9s on the MAL 10-scale). Convincing characters and emotionally deep stories can elevate an anime beyond its weaknesses, as long as they aren’t too glaring. These were series that I wanted to own, and support their studios’ efforts by buying their delicious product. The industry can’t survive if people just take what they find for free without ever compensating the creators. However, this is indeed a slippery slope, which I’ll explain about later, along with a few examples… I guess it can’t be helped!
Sola‘s character designs grated on me at first, with their “chins of doom” and larger-than-usual (for anime) eyes, but a funny thing happened… as soon as the story got my attention (i.e.: right away) those inconsequential and cosmetic flaws melted away, and I allowed the story, written by Kanon‘s Naoki Hisayato, to simply take me, especially after being so enchanted by the first episode’s Opening Theme, “Binkan Na Fuukei” (which you’ll hear later if you stick around ). The story transported me to places no other anime has, and that speaks highly enough of the series’ rough-edged but fantastic tale to elicit the highest regard, at least to my liking. And the basic character designs, by Naru Nanao, were actually very good despite a somewhat quirky animation. True Tears, on the other hand, had great-looking and realistically behaving characters and settings, and more than anything else was a “typical” love-triangle story; the wonderfully quirky Noe being the touch-of-fantasy that this straightforward story needed. So, let’s begin with that one, shall we?
Okay: first let’s take a step up that slippery slope. I’ve purchased and bought the official DVDs, but only after watching the series via fansubs, which are not official. But how can you know if you want to buy something if you haven’t watched it? Thankfully, the anime companies are beginning to grasp this concept and are now streaming select series in various places on the web. Emphasis on “select.” Venture forth at your own risk, as some streaming sites require registration or have episodes in lower quality or are ad-interrupted. But at least you can watch some of them now, probably for free. And that’s (pretty much) a Good Thing
So! I’m going to start off with the first section of True Tears’ first episode posted by a fellow on the Tube of You who has both True Tears and Sola up in their entirety (for now anyway). Since this video takes awhile to load (nice quality), what I’d suggest is to start it up, pause it, and let it load (i.e. allow the red bar to fill) while you’re reading the following, and then play it in Full Screen after you’ve read more here and possibly watched the others. Dunno how that’ll work out, but it beats waiting for that damn little “loading” spiral to stop interrupting your viewing pleasure!
And goddammit, a nasty surprise: “embedding disabled by request”!!! FFS!!! Sorry. Well, here’s the link to it anyway; you can still watch all the remaining eps (and the rest of this one) by clicking on VtownX7′s playlist or personal page. Remember they’re in thirds, right? AND DON’T WATCH ANY OF THEM OUT OF ORDER!!!
I’m going to try to present the following AMVs in something of a logical order, giving you more information with each one. But I’ll let the videos speak for themselves, as I’m sure you can only take so much reading If you’ve read the above Anime News Network encyclopedia link for True Tears (you did read the entry, didn’t you? tsk!) then you’ve got the gist of the story. Shinichiro lives at home with his parents who are allowing his childhood friend Hiromi stay with them after her father passed away. They had a little bit of history between them as children but not as much as he’d like, especially now that she’s older and attending the same school as he. He daydreams about her and sketches her and wonders about how reserved she is now and why she seems so sad, in contrast to his memories of them as children.
Also attending his school is a curious girl named Noe, who can best be described as somewhat eccentric. She talks to the chickens in the pen and especially one whom she is certain wants to fly. Shinichiro is somewhat skeptical of (a) the fact that her chicken will ever fly (because they can’t), and (b) her ability to cope with reality. It has something to do with capturing tears… but that’s for you to discover. This story has some very dramatic and heart-wrenching scenes, and very well-directed, in my opinion. My kinda anime I’ll confess to really liking Noe; she’s independent, marches to her own drummer, and definitely a free-thinker. Yeah. Very free! Maybe I’m just naturally attracted to that kind of girl; suffice to say that I do care for her a lot, and her backstory/subplot in the story is really involving…
So, here’s the first video, a very short one (barely 2 1/2 minutes) that uses a perfectly-fitting instrumental as background, ”Gypsy” by Ronan Hardiman that ends just as it really gets going. It’s quite fast-paced but serves as a good visual introduction to the characters. And that Muhiga dance… one of my favorite things about the series; Shinichiro is training for it throughout and when it’s finally performed it is breathtaking! Of course it happens at the highest pitch of the drama… Full Screen and turn it up! DANCE!!!
A treat for you: A great AMV done to the amazingly talented and lovely Vienna Teng’s gorgeous “Recessional”; this one focuses more on the dramatic elements involved, and the contrasts between Hiromi and Noe:
I think I’ll finish up with another AMV that imparts a little more info through what normally is a no-no for anime music videos: subtitles. You’ll also get a chance to see some other characters, most notably the third girl in the Shinichiro Sweepstakes who pretty much gets lost in the shuffle between Hiromi and Noe, Aiko. She works in an eatery, and is probably the most level-headed out of the bunch! This video incorporates Gundam Seed Destiny’s “Life Goes On”. Well, it kinda does, until you die, but whatever
Okay, now for something completely different! Sola really impressed me, despite the opinions of those who disliked it or found fault with various minor things that simply indicated it wasn’t their type of anime. If the story is hard to believe or understand, it’s because it’s a fantasy! Its real-world setting led some to believe that those fantasy elements were “unrealistic” or something. Jeez. It’s called “suspension of disbelief” for a reason! A Japanese poll voted sola (lower-case intentional) as the number one anime to air in 2007, so 300,000+ voters can’t be all wrong!
Anyway. That ANN synopsis linked above leaves a lot to be desired since it doesn’t tell you much of anything. Ditto MyAnimeList :-/ Well, I’ll help you out: Honestly, I found the story to be really good: Matsuri is in fact a “yaka”; basically a race of light-shunning immortals called “Calamity of the Night”, and can live hundreds of years unless killed by either a mortal wound or excessive exposure to sunlight. Matsuri explains to Yorito (the lead) that a yaka is the embodiment of human agony and pain, and that such creatures are meant to always be alone. So she has been alone for many years, and always avoiding daylight. She longs to see what she once glimpsed: the eternally-blue day-lit sky. She even carries with her an umbrella with which to shield herself from the sun’s rays; its underside is painted blue with fluffy clouds spotting it, so she can always look up and see it, or pretend to…
Yorito encounters her the next day being attacked by a Hunter named Takeshi; it’s noteworthy to mention that even the secondary characters have intriguing backstories, and his little companion Mayuko has a part in his story as well. She enjoys hiding from him in random containers (usually when she’s in a state of pique), causing him to have to go search her out. His devotion to her raises a lot of questions, until their story is revealed… like so: Here’s a little video of their relationship, and it’s done against the backdrop of that beautiful song, Binkan na Fuukei (“Colorless Wind”). This is a shortened version, though you’ll get the full one shortly It’s mainly included because it has the lyrics, which you should read. But… SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER ALERT!!!
Next up is a video with subtitles included to impart a little more of that story… not counting the secondary OP’s lyrics in the beginning, that is (Binkan was only used for the first episode). The song is by Angel Heart, and entitled “My Destiny”:
How about livening things up with Natalie Imbruglia’s “Sunlight”? This one has pretty heavy spoilers, but Batto (the creator of this AMV) did such a great job I had to share it, although its viewing should only be done by those inclined toward not watching sola or who’ve already seen it. If you DO want to catch this series, hang on for a bit and I’ll link you (By the way, the grey-haired girl is Aono, Yorito’s sister, and the brown-haired (cut short) girl is his childhood friend, Mana; also briefly shown is her little sister Koyori.)
Finally, the long version of “Binkan Na Fuukei” I promised you, though it’s against French subtitles. Don’t let that stop you though, it’s a great AMV! Its first minute and a half starts out just as the series does in episode one, with Yorito setting out in the pre-dawn hours to get to the riverbank to shoot his sunrise shot of the sky, where he happens to encounter Matsuri kicking the hell out of a cheating vending machine (have I mentioned yet how awsome a character Matsuri is? Consider it done )…
Okay, for those whose interest has been piqued (yay me!) here’s the link to the first third of episode one. As above with True Tears (same guy) you can watch all the regular episodes, but he doesn’t include the DVD-only eps which you’ll have to buy to see. Or “look elsewhere” for them. One of them is strictly silly fanservice, but the second is wonderful, and with the full version of Binkan to boot, only with Matsuri as the main focus, as it should be. I mean, try to imagine yourself in her shoes… how would you FEEL? And that’s the trouble with most anime fans. They gather together to watch a thoughtful anime and spend their time cracking lame jokes and over/under-analyzing without investing themselves in the characters or thinking about anything deeper than where’s the Cheetohs or how fast they can get the next episode to equally-thoughtlessly gobble it down(loaded). Hmph
And speaking of buying, if you like what you see, please do purchase the DVDs! True Tears was like $24 at RightStuf! recently which is basically 6 and 1/2 hours (13 half-hour eps) of anime, which when watched in a run will be just like watching a movie, albeit an animated one (and long LOL). As for sola, you can find it for around $30 and that’s for 15 eps! Hey, if you can stomach that Disney cartoon stuff, this should be so much more sumptuous a feast
Since we’re being flooded with numerous Number One episodes from the new Fall series that are starting up, it’s time to wrap up the Summer Wrap-Up, and with a few bonus AMVs as well (best viewed in Full Screen)! I would have completed this a few days ago, but I was just too depressed at the passing of so many dearly-departed shows finishing…
Well, for the most part, anyway. I’m really sad that we won’t have any more eps of Spice and Wolf or CANAAN to look forward to; Bakemonogatari still has three more eps to be shown, but I’m not sure in what form (OVA, DVD, Web-cast, etc) or when, since I don’t see it on the schedule. Likewise, Sora no Manimani and Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei are not yet finished, but are scheduled to end soon. Haruhi is… well, I still don’t know what to make of THAT schedule, what with its intermixing of the repeats of season 1 and this new season’s material. The new material is finished with anyway, and in hindsight I’d say that it was as good as its preceding season (which was pretty damned good), the “Endless Eight” arc notwithstanding. But I wouldn’t consider it “over” until it really IS over! You never know with Kyoto Animation; they’re known for being… um, “teases” (<— charitable, huh?). But that’s Haruhi Suzumiya for you though
Jeez, about the only series to end conclusively was Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, and it’s the kind of closure that really closes! Very sad/bittersweet/satisfying ending though. For fans of realism I can definitely recommend it. In fact, I can’t think of any criticisms that would keep me from lowering its perfect “10″ score I gave it at My Anime List. From direction to animation, from character designs to expressions, from background music to backgrounds showing the ruins of a shattered Tokyo, everything flowed together to create a realistic, moving, and at times breathtaking, composition. The character development was thorough and well-thought out; the story well-written and paced despite a few slowdowns that actually served to give the Viewer a breather between beholding tall buildings falling and ruined bridges collapsing. The journeys that all three main characters were on took quite dissimilar and divergent roads, though at the end they all came together. Kind of. Sort of. You’ll have to see it to see
Now for CANAAN… just as in the beginning, they pulled out all the stops at the end of this show. This was most likely my overall favorite of the Summer season; it was full of everything, and well-balanced at that: action, mystery, violence, humor, sexiness, over-the-top characters, a cast that sizzled and worked very well together and apart, a story that twisted and turned and just when you think it ended, twisted once again in a real neck-breaker. So to speak. The direction throughout this series was to die for, and some characters did. Set in Shanghai, the diverse cast was a joy to watch making their varying ways from one setting to another (most often with a riotous Cab Driver who deserves the capitalization), whether scenic or bloody, all of which added to the distinctive beat of each element in this anime. From first scene to last, CANAAN was fittingly merciless. I’m sure that we haven’t seen that last of this bunch (well, those that survived, anyway)! AND… another pure “10″!
Next up is my most-loved series of the Summer, Spice and Wolf II. What can I say about this show that I haven’t already said below? I suppose the ending would be apropos, hm? Since like, it’s over now *cries*
BUT! The ending does leave open the possibility that since “the Journey” didn’t conclude that a sequel MAY be in the planning, since a good portion of the manga hasn’t been animated yet. One can only hope! Horo, the ancient wolf-deity who’s taken the form of a human girl (aside from her ears and her beloved and precious tail), is such a delight to watch, and her ever-pressed and bemused traveling companion, the merchant Lawrence is finally learning how to deal with (and appreciate to her satisfaction) her needs and desires, which, as it turns out, are more in number than you might imagine. Their chemistry is really reminiscent of that of Renton and Eureka of Eureka Seven; you love to see them together. They are the true stars of the show in that they are the most brilliant components of its firmament, and their relationship and gravitation toward and away from one another are a pleasure to behold, and a concern when it goes dark. Tastefully done, full of clever dialogue, very atmospheric (if you can appreciate the medieval-styled sets and soundtrack), and very smart, it should satisfy the romantics out there very well. If they have a master’s in finance and economics, that is. If not, then just enjoy everything else! Check out this wonderful AMV that I found (after scouring YouTube for hours):
And, no surprise, I gave it a “10″ as well
I think what I’ll do is save Bakemonogatari, Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, and Sora no Manimani for when after they finish; don’t want to give you too much to gorge yourself on in this post! Plus, I’m getting tired of typing their damned titles
You’re going to have to wait a looooong time for the report on Umineko no Naku Koro ni though, since it’s a 26-episode series that won’t end until Winter season begins (I’m at episode 14 now). All the more better to string you along (if not up)! Pretty bloody, convoluted, and well… “schizophrenic,” let’s say, so far. “Quadrophrenic” might be more appropriate, probably.Just like me! Which is why I’m liking it despite the curious approach of Studio Deen. But since I’m highly biased toward Ryukishi07′s work, that explains that quite nicely
Until next time then
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!