Dec 142011
 

It’s that special time of the year again, where everyone gathers around the warm glow of the computer monitor and rants and raves about how their arbitrarily ranked list of Japanese cartoon shit is superior to everyone else’s. Some do it passive-aggressively by saying it’s “just their opinion,” while others are brazen and proclaim their will is God’s will and that their God is a better otaku than yours. It’s a true holiday miracle and the reason for the season.

So here’s the only top whatever list you need to read. Because, yeah, my God’s dojin collection is bigger than your God’s.

12. Shinryaku!? Ika Musume

The second season of Squid girl is more of the same. That ain’t a bad thing, since it has the same comedic timing and excellent exploitation of its gimmick. It has the same mixture of awesome gags and middling ones, just like the first season. It’s all about consistency and comfort. It makes for a good sitcom, but it’s lucky to be on this list because I decided to extend it to 12 instead of the traditional 10 for various reasons. I’ll gladly accept another season of Squid Girl come Fall 2012, but hopefully they mix things up a bit next time.

11. Wolverine

Easily the best of the four Madhouse Marvel series. Iron Man was alright, X-Men was atrocious, and I didn’t bother with Blade because X-Men was so horrible I threw my arms up in the air and shouted a stream of obscenities that could probably be heard from Madhouse’s animation studios. But Wolverine was genuinely cool. I talked about it here, but the gist of it is this: it takes the classic 1980’s Wolverine miniseries, expands upon it, adds in some anime conceits, and manages to improve upon the story for the most part. If only they could have done a similar thing with the X-Men anime.

10. Working’!!

Last year, Working was essentially tied with Squid Girl in terms of quality. They both ran with their setting and pulled off some good jokes. The difference this time around is that Working managed to expand upon its premise. We’re seeing the characters change. It might not be drastic change, but it’s a hell of a lot more character development than most similar series. Relationships are maturing, both in terms of characters accepting their feelings and in terms of their dysfunctional nature. All of these relationships feel natural and “realistic,” but at the same time they’re pretty screwed up and worthy of our derision and laughter. It’s that growth that differentiates between a decent sitcom and a genuinely good one. It isn’t on the level of, say, Maison Ikkoku or whatever, but it’s good stuff.

9. Mazinkaiser SKL

Mazinkaiser SLK is trash. Pure exploitative trash. It’s the sort of mecha anime I like– absurd machines smashing against each other in an illogical, chaotic symphony. No pretenses of reflecting upon society like most Gundam series. No romantic undertones like Macross. It’s robots hitting robots– violence begetting violence. It’s the perfect sort of OVA. It sets up the carnage, plays out the ordeal, and gets it all over with in three episodes. Much like my favorite anime from 2011, it’s the sort of shit that made me a fan of anime to begin with, and it’s good to get a few doses of this senseless beauty every year.

8. Ben-To

The best fighting anime since Air Master. It doesn’t quite reach the same blissful levels, since the fights aren’t nearly as well-choreographed and it isn’t coming together as well, but it’s still damn good for the genre. It has the same sort of ridiculous premise that every other fighting anime has (Really, is “fighting for half price food” any sillier than “superpowered ninjas living in themed villages” or “the exact same story as Superman except everyone is named after food and underwear?”) but it revels in its nature rather than try to make you take it seriously. At the same time, it isn’t a parody or anything like that. It just accepts what it is and plays it as straight as it can be, all while having its sense of humor take a more sarcastic nature. And it cracks me up to see how they integrate the characters’ Sega Saturn obsession into the series.

7. Un-Go

Un-Go is everything that the likes of Code Geass, Guilty Crown, Dance in the Vampire Bund, Eden of the East, and whatever other politically minded series are out there wanted to be. Not that all of the above series are bad, but none of them pull off the modern political angst with as much style and wit as Un-Go. It mainly comes down to how Un-Go is far more willing to play around the issue rather than beat you over the head with lingering fears of western imperialism, the existential threat of terrorism, and the breaking down of “traditional” values in favor of almost alien-like trends and values (the fear of AIs, cults, and so on). It gives you the pieces of Japan’s turmoil and lets you piece them together, and that’s the true mystery of the series. It isn’t about the individual cases in each story– it’s the overarching “what in the hell is the overall picture here” that’s at the heart of this series. It’s all about the big picture rather than the minutia, and I love that.

The Reset Button Sucks

 Anime, Tiger & Bunny  Comments Off on The Reset Button Sucks
Sep 182011
 

That’ll teach me to think a popular anime would get a good ending.

I’m not too pissed at the way Tiger and Bunny ended. Despite pulling off the biggest cop-out possible, the ending still managed to do some cool stuff.

But the ending pulled off the worst case scenario: The status quo was reset.

Tiger wasn’t dead. I can live with that. I was amused by how he came back from the dead (“I just passed out. Did you even bother to check my pulse?”). What irks me is that Tiger doesn’t get any kind of closure. He retires, but once we hit the fast forward button and skip ahead one year, he’s right back at the hero game. I dig that he’s been demoted to the second string hero team, but wasn’t the whole point of Tiger’s entire character arc leading towards his inevitable retirement or heroic death? He either fulfills his role as a hero and gets the regular life he’s always wanted or he dies heroically and is remembered as one of the greatest heroes of all time.

Instead of that we this ending. His daughter doesn’t really want him around and he was apparently never really interested in domestic life. One year later he’s back out there doing his shtick. It’s like fucking Brett Farve or something. We don’t need that bullshit. Unless whatever potential second season shows Kotetsu being a pathetic wreck who should have known better than to unretire after a perfect stopping point, everything that’s happened to this point was meaningless.

This isn’t what I want, and it isn’t what the series needed. We don’t need a “same as it ever was” ending. We don’t need that sort of cop-out to feel better about ourselves. We don’t need that safety to enjoy a series. No one’s going to freak out if, GASP, something actually changes when the final episode rolls around. You can still do a sequel with all of the same characters and still allow those characters to be in a different place when said second season rolls around. Maybe Tiger comes out of retirement in the second season. Maybe he’s forced to deal with Ouroboros when Bunny’s life is at risk or something like that. Or maybe he moves on and becomes a mentor figure of sorts– like he’s a teacher at that hero academy or something. He’ll still be in the series and he’ll still have his ambiguous relationship with Barnaby that so many people love, but he’ll have earned that change that should have happened after 25 episodes.

We’re basically back to where we were when the first episode aired. I’m not sure why anyone would be satisfied with that sort of ending. Why watch something if, in the end, you’ll be in the same place when it’s all over. That’s OK in some sort of sitcom or whatever, since you’re just in in for the laughs, but not in a series that attempts to have something resembling a story.

Reset Buttons suck, yet far too many anime series buttonmash it. Fuck you, Reset Button.

That’s out of the way. Let me talk about what I did like about the ending:

  • Liked that Maverick was well aware of that bastard robot-maker’s NEXT prejudice. He was just using the dude, hit his NEXT nature, and then offed the prick when the opportunity came up. That’s very supervillainish.
  • Liked that Maverick all but confirmed the whole “I’m just the tip of Ouroboros” angle. With the Kotetsu cop-out I was worried they were gonna do the same with the villains and have everything work out in the end.
  • Liked seeing Lunatic off Maverick despite Maverick’s self-lobotomy. Was hoping Lunatic would play a more active part in the finale, but I’m glad he got in there somehow.
  • If we’re gonna have to deal with the lameness of Kotetsu living and not retiring, I like that he’s been relegated to lame-ass second stringing. Hopefully they don’t write that off in whatever sequel comes along.
  • Loved Maverick’s speech about how he made the city what it is and how he was the one that made NEXT acceptable in the eyes of the public. As far as we can see, he’s right. Maybe someone else would have come along and made the strides he did with creating Hero TV and whatnot, but he’s the one that did it.
  • If we’re gonna have Tiger live, at least we got it in the most anticlimactic manner possible. No last-minute save or “Kaede had a healing power” ass-pulling move or anything like that. Barnaby and the other heroes were just too grief-stricken/busy getting killed/stupid to even check to see if Kotetsu was alive. “Did you even check my pulse?!”

So yeah, I’m a bit irked at how everything played out, but not as irked as I was with, say, Angel Beats or Madoka. It wasn’t a game-changing fuck-up or anything like that, it was just disappointing. Should have expected the near-worst-case scenario that we got, but I’d rather have actual expectations than be yet another “well, I lowered by expectations so I enjoyed it more than I thought I would” dude. Damn I hate that attitude. It’s like striving for mediocrity. Just because a movie or an anime strives to be mediocre doesn’t mean I should too. Screw that.

It’s The Ending We Need

 Anime, Tiger & Bunny  Comments Off on It’s The Ending We Need
Sep 112011
 

Wild Tiger is dead.

Spoiler Alert.

But before we talk about that, let’s talk about something else: Why in the hell is Maverick working with this NEXT-hating, robot-fetishist asshole?

Seriously, this dude takes every chance he gets to spout his anti-NEXT bullshit. Maverick’s clearly using the dude just for his robotics expertise, and it doesn’t seem like he knows that Maverick’s a NEXT as well, so here’s my last crazy conspiracy theory for Tiger and Bunny:

This guy’s gonna take the fall for everything. Somehow, even if the heroes beat the shit out of Maverick and cause him to slink away defeated, he’s not gonna take the fall. All of the blame will be placed on the shoulders of this anti-NEXT extremist. All of the evidence will point to him, what with the robots and all, and there will be no hard proof of Maverick’s mind control. Maverick has way too much political and financial influence to be convicted of these crimes based solely on the word of a few individuals.

So, barring Lunatic busting onto the scene and murdering Maverick in cold blood, I don’t see this as being Maverick’s downfall. He’s probably been anticipating this as a possible scenario. The dude’s smart enough to have a contingency plan: Put everything on his co-conspirator, take all of his robotics knowledge, use it for future plans, and retreat back into a more opportune position. He’ll probably retire from his position running Hero TV and use his position in society to further the goals of Ouroboros. It’ll lead to something of a cold war between him and the heroes. They know he’s behind all of this, but there’s little they can do about it other than to return to business as usual while working behind the scenes to find hard evidence against Maverick.

But Kotetsu isn’t gonna be there to further this plight against Maverick and Ouroboros. Or, at least, he shouldn’t be there. Now that they’ve gone this far, the writers need to off him. At least until the next season.

Superheroes come back from the dead all the time, so I don’t expect Tiger to be dead permanently. But at the same time, superheroes rarely “seem” to die only to get miraculously healed at the last minute. When Jean Grey dies and comes back, there’s some time between death and resurrection. When Bucky finally came back from the dead, it was decades later. There’s always that time of mourning that lets the sacrifice some semblance of meaning, so given Tiger and Bunny’s heavy reliance on superhero comics contrivances, I can’t see Kotetsu making a miraculous recovery in the last episode.

That, and everything that’s been leading up to this episode has basically spelled out Kotetsu’s fate: retire or die. There was no way that he was gonna continue being a hero after the end of this season. He’s dead set (ahahaha, dead) on returning to his hometown, raising his daughter, and being the man he always meant to be. He wasn’t gonna get a “things go on as they’ve always have” open ending– his life as a hero was over one way or another. If he hadn’t made the sacrifice in this episode I would be perfectly fine with him having a happy ending. He’s earned it. But now that he’s made that sacrifice, he’s earned that heroic death. He needs that heroic death to complete his character arc. If they pull a miracle out of their asses as save him, it’d not only cheapen his sacrifice, it’d cheapen everything that’d happened leading up to that sacrifice.

At least if he stays dead for awhile. If they go through with a potential sequel, I would have no issue with Tiger returning at, like, the mid-season climax.

Here’s how I’d have a second season play out, assuming Tiger goes kaput:

Flash forward several years. Kaede’s training to join the cast of Hero TV, and she’s taken under the wing of the now-retired Rock Bison. It’d be like Wolverine and Shadowcat (Or Jubilee. Or whatever other jailbait X-Man Wolverine has taken in over the years to satiate his father figure fetish.). Hell, that’d be the perfect way to expand his character, by having him talk about the old days with Kotetsu. You could have flashbacks and all that, so Kotetsu would still be in the series despite being dead. Then, at the halfway point, they could reveal that they were able to keep Tiger alive, but barely, and he’s been augmented by technology taken from the anti-NEXT dude’s robotics development. Maybe he’s been brainwashed by Maverick to forget who he is (Completing the whole identity crisis thing he had earlier in this season). Blahblahblah, they’re able to bring him back, restore memores, etc etc. It’d fit the superhero mold without completely cheaping out and saving him at the last minute in the final episode of the first season.

Everyone’d get what they want. The crybabies would get to see Kotetsu alive again while the sadists like me would get the satisfaction of knowing that he did die when he sacrificed himself. It’s a win-win. A miracle would be a lose-suck.

Also: Loved the back and forth Tiger and Bunny had as Tiger died. Those were some good death lines. Pity I hate rice or I’d down me some right now.

Tiger and Bitching

 Tiger & Bunny  Comments Off on Tiger and Bitching
Jun 202011
 

I’ve been on board with Tiger and Bunny since the first episode. I’m still digging the show as a whole. But damn, that latest episode was kinda lame. So let the complaining begin.

Let’s start with Jake Martinez. He ain’t all that great of a villain. He’s likely a decent excuse for a mid-tier super-lackey or something, since there’s no way in hell I buy him as the head of Ouroboros, but he isn’t making for a particularly impressive feature antagonist.

I’ll give him this: While his powers at first seemed ill-defined and ultra-twinked out, they make a hell of a lot more sense now after this episode. He’s basically Invisible Woman without the invisible part. Sue Richards not only turns invisible, she can create “force bubbles” that can act as force fields and can be used offensively. Jake here seems to emphasize the offensive part, honing these “barriers” to laser like precision to use them as attacks. So yeah, as far as super hero powers go, his make sense now. He fits into the dynamics we’ve seen thus far.

Personality-wise, though, he’s a bit lame. He wants to be some sort of amalgam of The Joker and Magneto, doing the whole “I’ll put you into morally compromising positions” thing while preaching about the superiority of mutants the NEXT, but he’s doing it all half-assedly. His grand scheme to hold the city hostage is kinda cool, but he isn’t putting the heroes into a situation that compromises their believes to the full extent. He’s just a glorified terrorist, and not the dark messiah-like figure it seems like he should be. And if he wants to go the “join me and the NEXT side” routine, he should be reaching out to the heroes and trying to convert them to his ideology rather than outright assaulting them. They coulda taken Jake in so many different, interesting directions, but the end result is some tatooed loser with a Harley Quinn wannabe at his side. He just ain’t all that.

Unfortunately that ain’t the only bit that’s annoying me about the recent developments in this series. We’re 12 episodes into this series. The bulk of the character development has been devoted to Tiger and Barnaby’s buddy cop shit. I like that shit, but we’ve also reached several points where it seems like they’ve come to grips with one another and trust one another. At least it seemed like there was enough trust between them that any future tension would be played for laughs. You know, like Danny Glover and Mel Gibson in the latest Lethal Weapon movies or something like that.

Nope. Tiger makes yet another dumbass assumption about Barnaby’s actions and interferes in the whole “rescue Origami Cyclone” bit. Letting Jake get away wasn’t the sucky part about that scene (Although we’ll get to the end results of that in a bit). It’s seeing their relationship revert to square one after 12 episodes of forward movement just so a poorly thought out plot point could be executed. They needed Jake to get away, so instead of having Jake show how super awesome badass he’s supposed to be by kicking some hero tail, they have Tiger fuck things up for everyone. Way to compromise some decent development for a major cop-out, dudes.

But all of that wouldn’t bother me so much if it wasn’t for how the second half of this episode played out. Right when things should have reached their peak tension-wise, rather than following through with Jake making good with his promise to blow up the city or something else exciting, Tiger and Bunny resorts to the anime equivalent of stock footage by having everything boil down to a goddamn fucking tournament.

Now I’m down with tournaments as a concept. I’ve already gone on about how the best part of Naruto is the Chunin exam/tourney, and some of the best martial arts movies revolve around tournaments. The catch there is that the tournament acts as a narrative device to allow other things to happen around it. Not only do you have dudes fighting against each other in single elimination format, you have people sneaking about trying to figure out what’s the true purpose of the tournament and romances growing between characters involved in the whole thing and shit like that.

That’s not what Tiger and Bunny is doing here. It’s playing things out the way they do in your typical shounen fighting series. Rather than having the tournament be a narrative device to act as the centerpiece of the story, the tournament is being used as a convenient way to keep the heroes from ganging up on the main villain and solving the damn thing with greater ease. It’s that Cell Games shit from DBZ all over again or something similar. Sure, it allows Jake to taunt each hero individually in front of a televised audience, but it reeks of the sort of contrivance that we haven’t seen thus far in Tiger and Bunny. We’ve seen some nods to anime conventions, like the whole hairpin/Dragon Kid episode, but we haven’t seen this sort of stuff on this level thus far in the series. I thought Tiger and Bunny was better than this. Whatever.

And to make things worse, the tournament ruins what could have been an awesomely dramatic moment. Sky High was the first hero to be chosen. Since we’ve yet to “get to know” Sky High the way we have with all of the other heroes, he seemed to be primed as the sacrificial lamb to show off Jake’s shit. If the second half of the episode had been devoted to their prolonged fight, resulting in Sky High’s death (Or conversion to Jake’s pro-NEXT ways.), this could have been a brilliant way to lead into the next episode’s showdown between Jake and Barnaby. Instead, Sky High just gets roughed up, followed by Rock Bison being defeated off-screen (LAAAAAAAME!). Tiger gets his ass kicked again, but seriously, does anyone think that he’s not gonna make it? Having Tiger be the one seriously hurt has absolutely no tension to it. He’s gonna be fine after an episode or two and the status quo will be reestablished.

The series not only pulled its punches by refusing to cause any serious harm to the other, expendable heroes, its move was even safer than that by jeopardizing one of the lead characters. Since there’s no way in hell Tiger’s gonna bite it or be severely crippled, there’s no consequences to what’s going down. Jake’s plan will be stopped, all of the heroes will be hunky dory, and Tiger will be back at it after this storyline gets resolved.

None of this is a dealbreaker, since I’m still digging this series quite a bit, but it’s hard to stand back and see all of the different directions things could have gone only to see things play out in the safest manner possible. That sucks, dudes. Hopefully the resolution to all of this will redeem this lack of tension and escalation.

Gloomy Tiger

 Anime, Tiger & Bunny  Comments Off on Gloomy Tiger
Jun 052011
 

On that myanimelist thing (Like how I snuck that link in there?), I’m not one of those dorks that waits until a series is over before scoring it. Nope. I keep a running tab of what my current view is on a series, and I adjust it accordingly with each episode. With C, said score has dropped from my initial “Holy shit this looks to be awesome!” 9 to it’s current “Really? All of this comes down to naive idealism vs I wanna fuck my sister?” 4. I’m all for making rash judgments, and I’m all for changing said rash judgments when they need to be changed. If a show takes a sudden turn one way or another, I got no beef with changing things up. Reserving judgment is for losers.

That said, my Tiger and Bunny score just shot up to a 10 with this week’s episode. Jumped from a 9, which isn’t that big of a jump, but right now it’s pretty damn perfect.

Yep. Ouroboros has made its move. Exactly like I was expecting it to do at some point. You don’t set up some sinister supervillain conspiracy only to have it sit back and never try to take over the world. While this first move isn’t so grandiose, it is a pretty damn awesome splash into the public’s perspective. The whole damn town has been taken hostage so that one of their comrades will be set free.

It just so happens that said comrade happens to be the dude that probably murdered Barnaby’s parents. And not-so-coincidentally he’s being freed as soon as Barnaby was making his move to visit said murderer.

And seriously dudes, do you really think this is just bad plotting? This ain’t coincidence. There’s some bad shit going down behind the scenes. Someone knows that Barnaby was on the move. Ouroboros knew that Barnaby was gonna have his little confrontation today (Or at least knew that it was gonna be happening soon.), and they needed to get him busted out before that could happen.

I have two suspects in mind.

First, the old dude that’s in charge of the hero program. He’s the one that insisted that Tiger be kept on after his company was bought out. He’s also the one that insisted that they continue broadcasting the hero’s confrontation with the mecha-driving Gloomy Bears (More on that awesomeness in a bit.).

He wanted Tiger to stay on to act as something of a counterweight to Barnaby. Barnaby is too much of a natural badass that he’d likely get in the way of things and screw up Ouroboros’ plans quicker if he wasn’t saddled down with Tiger. At least that’s what they’re probably thinking. They likely weren’t counting on the two of them to become buddies as quickly as they have, learning to trust one another and all that shit. But that’s what I’m thinking their rationale was, assuming this conspiracy theory pans out.

My second guess? Sky High.

He’s the lone hero we’ve learned nothing about by this point. We already know that Wild Bull is an old buddy of Tiger’s and that they go out drinking on occasion. Tiger’s also friends with Fire Emblem, even friendly enough that Tiger’s relatively comfortable with Emblem mock flirting with him. And we’ve gotten background info on Kid Dragon, Blue Rose, and Origami Cyclone in the form of “origin” stories.

But we know jack shit about Sky High outside of his cheery personality, cheesy catchphrases, and shiny smile. Narratively-speaking, given the fact that shit just went down in this episode, we should have learned something about him by this point since we’ve gotten to know every other hero by this point. I seriously think they’ve left out Sky High because he’s in on the Ouroboros conspiracy.

Or, y’know, I could be dead wrong. But I’ve been right on a hell of a lot of things thus far when it comes to Tiger and Bunny.

So yeah, no way in hell they’re busting out this dude at this point in time purely by coincidence. If you think otherwise, then Ouroboros has already won. Way to go, dude, letting the villains win. You’ve really let down the world. Some hero you are.

As for the Ouroboros peeps, the first thing I noticed about the one’s we’ve been introduced to is the fact that they prescribe to the rule that villains tend to have powers that are far more “creative” than the heroes.

Look at the Clockwork Orangeish chick from this episode. Based on the whole Mad Bear thing, where she’s controlling plush animals and in turn having said plushies pilot mecha to terrorize the town, she seems to have a very specific power. She most likely has some ability to control anything that she sews/creates herself, since we see her tooling around with some thread during the scene that introduces her in full. Creating constructs and manipulating them isn’t an unusual ability (Green Lantern, anyone?, but the fact that said constructs probably A) have to be made out of a specific material, in this case cloth, and B) are in the form of mascot characters, it makes them far more distinctive than the sort of powers that heroes tend to have.

With heroes you usually get some variation of the standard list of superpowers: controlling an element (Fire, Ice, etc.), super strength, super speed, shapeshifting, etc. They’re basic and are usually what people would call “iconic.” Even with the craziness of mutant powers you see in X-Men, all of the big names have very “normal” powers. Cyclops shoots lasers, Iceman has ice, Wolverine can heal and has claws, Xavier is a telepath, and so on. This is probably because these characters are gonna appear issue after issue, and if they have a very niche power it’s gonna get old pretty quick.

But you don’t have that limitation with villains. Even the most persistent of villain isn’t gonna show up in every issue or episode, but at the same time you wanna have that villain be as distinctive as possible. So villains tend to have stranger and more unique powers than their heroic counterparts. Just like this chick in Tiger and Bunny. She doesn’t just control things that she’s created, they go so far as to have her signature thing be a mascot character known for being kinda unpopular (Or at least considered ugly by certain kids, although I think the thing’s pretty damn cute. I totally want a Mad Bear.). You’re not gonna have a superhero have such a narrowly-defined power, but a villain? Yeah, you’re gonna go that far out there to make this chick distinctive.

So those teddy bear piloted mecha are fucking awesome, and if you rolled your eyes at them you probably suck.

One final note: Tiger’s daughter? I hope she ends up inheriting her dad’s NEXT genetics. I also hope she grows so resentful of her father’s absence that once she learns that she’s a NEXT she ends up going villain and wrecking havoc on the town looking to vent her frustrations and receive the attention she never got from Tiger. That would rock.