2005: A Year Where Anime DID Suck

 Air Master, Eureka Seven, Mars of Destruction, Mushishi, Speed Grapher  Comments Off on 2005: A Year Where Anime DID Suck
Jul 142013

Looking back, it’s some sort of miracle that I was still an anime fan after weathering 2005’s output. I wasn’t totally up on the fansub scene at the time. I was still catching up with things from the previous couple of years as fans snagged fansubs and as things got released on DVD. So 2005 itself wasn’t that bad. And by the time 2006 rolled around I was watching more stuff as it aired (or close enough), so there was always something around to keep me from wandering off completely. But yeah, 2005 was pretty damn dreary, anime-wise.

I don’t think I’m gonna bother with a list for this year. As I was going through the things I had seen from 2005, I found only one series that I genuinely enjoyed without any real caveats: Speed Grapher. I like its Eyes Wide Shut-style secret sex cults mixed with monster of the week villains. It was a fun little series. Then there’s Mars of Destruction. Yeah, Mars of Destruction. Yep. That thing. A thing I consider the second best anime of 2005.

And the thing is, neither of these series even come close to my Top 50 list. Almost every year since 2000 has at least one anime on my list. I usually find at least one new series a year that really grabs me and makes me say “Yeah, this is the shit that makes me love anime.” Neither Speed Grapher nor Mars of Destruction gets to that level, and they’re the only two bits of anime from 2005 I really consider worthwhile. Yeah.

2005 also saw a few other interesting things released. That Final Fantasy VII movie, Advent Children, came out that year. It’s a boring mess for the first half of the movie, but god damn is that final 30 minutes or so of pure action some kind of beautiful kinetic masterpiece. But is a movie composed of CG animation based on a video game something we’d normally call “anime?” Yeah, it’s animation from Japan, but it’s also a commercial product from the video game industry. The animation used in the movie is more in line with the cutscenes from the Final Fantasy movies. It’s a project born out of video games, and in my mind it doesn’t get lumped in with all the TV series and such that get the “anime” label.

Basically, despite it being a pretty interesting movie overall, it’s quality has no real impact on my impression of the anime output of its year of release. The same goes for that little indie monster movie animation thing Negadon. It’s a decent little throwback to old school Toho monster movies, but it didn’t really “feel” like anime.

Yeah, I’m probably being some kind of nitpicky asshole saying all of that, but this is my damn Best Of list thing. I can make whatever damn rules I want.

So I can say a few nice things about 2005. The catch is, most of the really popular output of that year consists of things that really grated on me. Fand0m-ending levels of irritation.

Euerka Seven represents a certain sort of anime that I really kinda despise. It’s in the same vein as RahXephon, Wolf’s Rain, and a few other similar series. It has a decent high concept scenario, but it ultimately chooses to piss it all away for a bunch of dull ” character development” that doesn’t really develop anything. These series ignore everything that’s fascinating about their worlds and choose to focus upon poorly-conceived character drama that takes far too long to go anywhere (or in the case of Eureka Seven, never goes anywhere at all). In a lot of ways, that sequence of similar series in the early to mid 00s dealt a serious blow to my anime enjoyment, because they sucked all the fun out of potentially enjoyable concepts. I’m genuinely baffled as to how those three series have generated any lasting interest.

2005 also all but killed horror/monster anime for me with the three hit combo of Hell Girl, Blood +, and Trinity Blood. Much like Eureka Seven, all of those series sucked any sort of fun out of their vampire/demon/whatever set-ups. Blood + took far too long getting anywhere, telling a 13 episode story in, what, 50+? It spent way too much time focusing on the least interesting aspects of the story and not enough time on what actually drew me to the series to begin with. Trinity Blood pretty much emphasized all of the things I hated about Trigun without adding in all of the things I loved about Trigun. It was literally the withered, reanimated corpse of Vash the Stampede in so many ways. And Hell Girl? Dull. Really, really dull. Barf.

I tried to watch Mushishi for the purposes of this would-be list, and it put me to sleep. I had heard so many good things about it, and the idea of an episodic, non-serialized story really appealed to me. Mushishi really did sound like something I’d kinda like. It put me to sleep. Literally. I fell asleep in the second episode and had to finish it later. There was nothing particularly compelling about either of the episodes I watched, and I saw no signs of anything coming up that would change my opinion.

So yeah, almost all of the major anime releases from 2005 turned me off big time. Had I been a devoted fansub follower at that time, where my fandom was consumed with the “new hotness” or whatever, I very well may have given up on anime. To make me happy, all I need is one or two new shows a season that appeal to me in some way. People talk about how awful the Summer of 2010 was, but the mere fact that Occult Academy was airing that season made it pretty damn enjoyable for me. That’s all I expect out of a given anime season– one enjoyable series. Had I followed 2005 the way I’ve followed anime since 2006/7, I wouldn’t have even had that much to get me by most seasons.

Yeah. 2005 is truly a year where anime sucked. Thankfully every year since has been vastly superior.

And flip to the next page to see Updatedude’s take on 2005.

SHFiguarts: Wild Tiger

 Air Master, Anime, Astro Fighter Sunred  Comments Off on SHFiguarts: Wild Tiger
Oct 292011

Time for a wild review!

So this here is the inaugural exclusive to Mecha Guignol toy review thingy. We’re kicking off with the SHFiguarts version of Wild Tiger from Tiger & Bunny. If you wanna know what’s up with that series, well, just click on that there link. So onto the toy itself.

Alright, let’s start off with getting the bad news out of the way. We have two items of badness. The first is the price, which isn’t cheap, even for an imported toy like SHFiguarts. All in all, this guy cost me about 55USD. Granted, I bought ‘em from a shop that tends to sell stuff a little pricier than most other shops, but at the original retail price (4500 yen) plus shipping, you’ll be paying thereabouts that amount anyway. That is, if you can find this guy online. He sold out on pre-order pretty quick, like, in just a few hours. The point is, he’s expensive and he’s hard to find.

The second thing of note are his hips. They’re both too tight. On mine, the right hip in particular, is/was super tight. The problem isn’t that I don’t like tight hips. In fact, most collectors probably prefer tighter joints. The problem is that they’re so tight that they might cause breakage when you move them. I’ve seen a picture of a broken hip prior to getting my Wild Tiger, so I made sure to check for stress marks on his hips prior to purchase. My Wild Tiger’s left hip creaks when moved, whilst the right hip was nearly unmovable out of the box. Fortunately, I had some WD-40 to lubricate that hip. There’s a little squekiness when I move the right hip now, but at least I don’t feel like I’m putting too much strain on it now. The reason for the overly tight joints is that the sockets for the ball joints are too small, so there’s just way too much friction. Since these are ball joints, in time, wear and tear will loosen the hips naturally, but for now, I gotta lube Wild Tiger up as a preventive measure.

So those are the main bad points with Wild Tiger. Should they prevent you from getting him though? Nope! (Well, unless you really can’t afford it. Don’t be too financially irresponsible kids!)

So here’s why you should get Wild Tiger anyway. One, he’s Wild Tiger. I mean, honestly, that’s a pretty damn good reason why you should get this guy. Not only should you get him simply because he’s Wild Tiger, but he’s a SHFiguarts toy and he’s pimping SHFiguarts on his right shoulder. Save yourself some STDs, skip a couple 20 dollar whores and get SHFiguarts Wild Tiger instead. It’ll be good for the economy, which in turn is good for your financial outlook, which translates to being able to afford pricier but better whores in the long run (or you can use that hypothetical money to buy the upcoming SHFiguarts Bunny instead).

Hips issue aside, this is an excellent toy. The hips issue can be fixed in a variety of ways, WD-40 is just one option. But once fixed, you have yourself an excellent action figure. He looks great, he’s a representation of a character from a terrific if somewhat relatively obscure show, he’s highly articulated and he’s got a good range of extras. I think he also has die-cast, ‘cause his lower body feels rather heavy, but there doesn’t seem to be any or much die-cast on the surface. So it’s possible he has die-cast metal hidden in his lower legs or something, so as to provide a lower center of gravity and better balance in general.

For his extras, he comes with a display stand tailored for his character. He has a pair of gun thingies to represent his Tiger Shoot grappling cables ability. He comes with 2 extra pairs of hands, one pair of which is ostensibly to hold the Tiger Shooters, but totally look like they’re meant for holding motorcycle handles. I’m guessing they plan to release his bike eventually. Last but not least, Wild Tiger comes with his “Good Luck Mode” forearm/fist of coolness.

So the hips can be fixed. But what about the high pricing? Is he worth the price? Well, no. He’s almost worth the price, even as a standalone figure, but unless you’re a huge fan of the show, he’s objectively slightly more expensive than he ought to be. If you ARE a fan and you have enough disposable income for the purchase to be affordable, then yeah, Tiger’s worth it. But if you’re financially responsible, it’s a bit hard to justify the purchase. Me? I’m crazy, I plan to get the entire Heroes line up, but that’s me.

So, Wild Tiger is recommended as a figurebut not necessarily as a purchase. Also, it’s imperative that you be aware and fix the hips. I think there’s a high probability of breakage if you don’t take preventive measures.

Also: updatedude has a gallery with more pics over at his joint: Turquoise Version. Check it out and stuff.

Best of the Decade: 2003

 Air Master, Anime, Cromartie High School, Gunslinger Girl  Comments Off on Best of the Decade: 2003
Dec 222009

2003 was all about schoolkids doing shit they shouldn’t be doing. That phrase describes most anime series, but the exception here is that they were doing bad stuff in genuinely good ways.

Honorable Mentions

Gunslinger Girl

Gunslinger Girl is one of the few “little girls doing stuff adults normally do” series that works. The logic is a bit convoluted, but it comes off as a plausible action anime scenario: Unwanted girls are taken in by the Italian government, worked over Million Dollar Man-style, and turned into black ops types. Yeah, as far as action scenarios go I can buy that.

It’s this situation that leads Gunslinger Girl to its strongest point. I love the juxtaposition between the quiet, character-driven moments and the brutal action scenes. This juxtaposition best compares to Beat Takeshi’s yakuza movies, like Sonatine and Hana-bi. Takeshi’s movies usually consist of slow, dialogue and atmosphere-driven scenes that establish a certain feeling. In Hana-bi, the main character is taking his dying wife on one last trip across the countryside before she passes away. Most of these scenes are quiet and minimalistic. They do a good job of conveying that feeling of impending loss and the attempt to make these last few weeks memorable. This atmosphere is occasionally disturbed by flashes of violence. The main character is also on the run from the yakuza, since he pulled a fast one on them and stole a good amount of money or something along those lines. They want him dead and don’t give a damn about him trying to spend some time with his dying wife. Because of this vendetta, Hana-bi erupts into moments of intense, unforgiving, graphic violence. These scenes are short, but they do a good job of contrasting with the serene moments that dominate the rest of the movie.

This is Gunslinger Girl’s main strength as well. Despite their virtual slavery to the Italian government, the girls try to live relatively normal lives. They like normal stuff. They like hanging out. They like gossiping and whatever else. They do their best to pretend that their lives are like any other kid’s. Then, when everything seems relatively normal, they have to kill people. This gives the action scenes a degree of weight that you usually don’t see in anime. Not only do you care about whether the girls will survive, there’s also a certain degree of uncomfortableness in seeing them fight. While the action is fairy visceral, since the scenes are well-choreographed, you almost feel bad for enjoying the carnage. These girls shouldn’t be forced into performing such acts of violence, but you enjoy watching it none the less. It brings the idea of why we enjoy violence to the forefront and makes you pause to ask yourself if you should be enjoying such spectacle.

Yeah, I have no shame in enjoying it.

Cromartie High School

It’s completely normal for a robot, an ape, and Freddie Mercury to go to a Japanese high school along with all of the town’s delinquents. Yep, nothing out of the ordinary there. That’s the root of Cromartie’s charm: outrageous, outlandish things are presented in a dry, matter-of-fact way. “Yeah, aliens invaded yesterday. What else is new?”

Most anime series would overplay these quirks or have these quirks not be quirks at all by having everything be strange. That’s to say that most anime series go for overexaggeration while Cromartie goes for an approach that’s a bit out of the norm for an anime comedy. It best compares to a British comedy series than most anime comedies. Look at a British comedy like The Young Ones. That series has all sorts of outlandish puppets and characters mixed into a comedy about slacker college students, but these bizarre things are presented to the audience as if this is how things are in everyday life. “So London flooded and there are sharks swimming outside the house. What else is new?”

And much like Azumanga Daioh from the previous year, Cromartie High School has a certain sadistic streak to it. Mechazawa, the signature robot character of the series, is often destroyed, manhandled, and deconstructed into various household objects and no one ever seems to care. He’s just a robot after all, but he’s also a humanized and sympathetic one. Hell, he’s probably the smartest and kindest character in the entire series and he’s abused for our amusement. That’s saying something about people when we find great humor in the most innocent of people being tormented for our amusement. Shoving over a Chiyo in a penguin suit? Essentially killing Mechazawa to turn him into a motorcycle? That’s just plain sadistic. That’s how I like my comedy.

There isn’t that much to say when it comes to straight-up comedy series. You can only say “this is how it’s funny” so many times. So, yeah, it’s funny. Watch it already.

Best of the Year

Air Master

After watching Air Master, you’ll never need to watch another fighting anime again. Forget Dragonball Z, Naruto, Bleach, Yu Yu Hakusho, and all that other crap. You can still care about Fist of the North Star, but that’s an exception to the rule. Air Master is the fighting anime. It takes everything that you’ve seen in these formulaic, tournament-based (even when there isn’t a tournament proper), face-punching series and deconstructs these elements to their base elements. Once these base elements are found, Air Master reconstructs them atom by atom to form the pinnacle of martial arts anime.

There is no other fighting god but Maki. She is the one true god. Goku, Ichigo, and all the others are naught but golden cow idols in comparison.

Air Master’s choreography is on par with the best live action martial arts movies. Instead of relying on energy blasts, esoteric “moves,” flashing screens, and other animation and narrative shortcuts, Air Master utilizes actual fight choreography in its fights. You know where each character is in relationship to each other. When a character punches or kicks, you see what they’re doing. When Maki puts someone into a wrestling hold, you see how she’s grabbing the person. You could recreate some of the more mundane moves just by watching them. You could do a sports-styled play-by-play of what’s happening and not resort to “he’s powering up” styled commentary. This is as “real” as exaggerated anime fights can get, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

Air Master would easily be one of the best fighting anime series ever simply based on the choreography alone, but the series doesn’t stop with that. The characters themselves deconstruct many of the stereotypes you see in such series. The main character, Maki, boils down all of the desires and backstories and motivations of your typical fighting anime leads. She doesn’t fight because she has a purpose or a destiny or anything like that. Maki fights for the most basic and primal reason: she fights because that’s the only thing that makes sense to her. She gets off on punching and kicking people. She’s alive when she’s flying through the air and can’t get that sense of purpose in any other way. And when you boil down any other fighting anime lead’s motivations, that’s what you get. Deep down inside, Goku and Naruto and every other main character hits people because they know no other way to express themselves. They’re simple, basic, primordial creatures, and there’s nothing wrong with this fact. Air Master simply acknowledges this idea as fact in a way that no other anime before or since. Air Master knows what fighting is about and leaves those details out in the open.

Air Master also dissects the concept of the “rival” character in the guise of Sakiyama. She’s the Vegeta to Maki’s Goku. She’s that character that wants nothing more than to see the main character ruined and prone before their feet, but she also wants no one else to have that pleasure. Sakiyama will do anything to ensure that she is the one to defeat Maki, even if that means rushing to her aid in a tag team bout. Maki is her kill, and she’ll do what it takes to be the one to get that kill. And because of this single-mindedness she can weather any foe and any situation. She has the titular iron will that you see in such rival characters, and the series makes no attempt to mask the source of her might. Sakiyama is powered by her lust for Maki. That lust isn’t sexual. It’s an instinctual drive. Sakiyama knows that Maki is her ultimate nemesis, and she draws power from this knowledge. Without Maki, Sakiyama wouldn’t be a force to be reckoned with, not unlike how Vegeta is nothing without the influence of Goku or how Ryoga is nothing without his rivalry with Ranma. These characters are defined by their nemesis, and Air Master again showcases this fact for all to see.

Air Master’s other deconstructions are a bit more subtle. I’m convinced that Renge, the short “mascot” character, isn’t “short” or younger than the other characters. I’m convinced that she’s an actual midget. The series makes no attempt to say that she’s younger than her classmates, and to my knowledge her height was never really used as a gag. Couple this with the fact that the other “short” character in the series, a mad scientist type, is acknowledged to have a husband and acts fairly “adult-like,” I think the only logical conclusion is that Renge is a midget. That’ a subtle jab at kid characters and “characters that are short for no logical reason.” There’s other jabs at fighting anime tropes, but that’s the one that sticks out the most in my mind.

Air Master essentially takes an entire genre’s traditions and condenses them into one season’s worth of episode. In all seriousness, once you’ve watched Air Master you’ve seen nearly every fighting anime ever. That’s the series’ brilliance.

Addendum: I’ll go on the record as saying that Kaori Sakiyama’s probably the greatest anime character from this decade. Second place would probably go to Ladd Russo from Baccano, Liang Qi from Canaan, or Chiri Kitsu from Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, but more on them when we get to those respective years. Notice a trend in my favorite characters?