Let’s Make an Anime About Vampires and Werewolves, Except Without Vampires and Werewolves

 Anime, Darker Than Black, Games  Comments Off on Let’s Make an Anime About Vampires and Werewolves, Except Without Vampires and Werewolves
Nov 282011
 

Kinda surprised that I hadn’t seen this Darkstalkers anime before now. I love the video game it’s based on, since it’s a mash-up of Street Fighter and old school monster movies. I guess I avoided it since it’s one of those dreaded video game to anime adaptations. Those things almost always suck.

And you know what? This one sucks too! Way to keep the trend going, Darkstalkers!

It isn’t a completely suckfest, though. There’s some genuinely cool bits in this series. The fights, which are few and far between, are well animated. And they’re especially cool in that they lift moves straight from the fighting game without making it feel forced. It all melds together into generally cohesive action scenes, with Morrigan, Felicia, Demitri, and the like tossing fireballs and doing their versions of dragon punches and all that. Unfortunately the best fight comes right at the beginning of the series, where Morrigan and Demitri face off. After that, the fights slow down, and when they do happen they tend to be pretty abrupt. They still look good at least.

And while the actual plot behind their motivations is all but non-existent, the main villains are pretty cool. The Huitzil robots were placed on Earth by an alien civilization, and they awaken whenever life on Earth reaches an apex. When they awaken, they basically act as an extinction event, wiping out most life on Earth and allowing it to effectively “reset.” And I always dug their Mesoamerican look. They’re, like, fertility god robots that shoot lasers.

Pyron, the big bad, has a cool backstory as well. He’s another alien entity, and it’s implied that he’s the mythical “sun-god” that all of said deities on Earth are based upon. His arrival on Earth is essentially his “second coming,” and he’s here to judge us… through what amounts to a Dragonball Z styled fighting tournament of sorts.

This is one reason why this OVA sucks. Pyron has this cool story to him, but he devolves into Cell from DBZ. He’s on Earth to find a worthy opponent, so that he can experience a genuine, satisfying victory before he destroys the planet. He goes around, challenging the various Darkstalker characters, and kills them. It all plays out exactly like a DBZ arc.

If that were the only problem with the story, I probably wouldn’t mind. If we got to see this pseudo-tournament play out over the course of the OVA’s four episodes, it’d probably be silly fun. But Darkstalkers has more on its mind. It doesn’t want to be a mere fighting anime about aliens and vampires and werecreatures. It wants to touch on the human condition. Or, rather, the demi-human, half-Darkstalker condition.

At least half of the series is devoted to Donovan. He’s your Vampire Hunter D/Blade sort– half-Darkstalker, half-human, all angst. He’s supposed to be some badass monk type, decked out in huge Buddhist beads and carrying around a huge sword that he can fly on like the Silver Surfer, but he spends all of his time spouting variations of the same monologue. His Darkstalker blood is bad, but he wants to be good, so he kills Darkstalkers, but he’s still hollow, oh woe is Donovan, why can’t he just be human. The only thing keeping him from being straight out of Twilight is that he only has fatherly feelings towards his underaged companion, a little demon girl named Anita who has whatever super power the story finds convenient at the moment.

So while the world is falling apart at the hands of two invading alien forces, we ignore all of that and follow Donovan around as he waxes philosophically about his existence. Sure, he fights Bishamon, the samurai zombie ghost thing from the video games, but that fight ends with Donovan’s altruism confounding the spirit. Yeah, Donovan is SO DEEP that he makes ghosts blow up with his thoughtfulness.

What makes all of this even worse is that the series begins with some promise. Not only was the initial fight between Morrigan and Demitri cool, it also sets things up to where Demitri is going to invade the Demon World and claim its throne. It’s a simple set-up, but it was the perfect platform to allow for all sorts of crazy Darkstalker on Darkstalker combat. The monsters could have chosen sides, with some going with “I’m just M. Bison as a Vampire” Demitri and the others going with Morrigan. Instead, the series brought in the two bosses from the original video game to act as antagonists and completely dropped the Morrigan/Demitri conflict in favor of Donovan’s mope quest.

And I wanna talk about Morrigan for a moment. Considering that she’s the sexpot poster girl for the series, I was shocked at the general lack of fanservice centering around her. The series portrays her as a soft-spoken but dignified leader who can kick ass. She could have been a genuinely compelling heroine if the series didn’t choose to forget about her.

So yeah, I was expecting this to be an orgy of vampire-on-frankenstein-on-succubus-on-mummy-on-whatever fighting. Instead, the series focused on all the wrong things. It isn’t incompetent the way some other fighting game anime can be. It sucked because it didn’t want to be a fighting game anime.

Dec 312009
 

2009. Let’s call it The Year of the Anti-Hero. Or something like that.

Really. Let’s just call it “The Year Where the Villains were the Heroes.” Because most of the peeps in these series aren’t nice people, even when they’re doing The Right Thing.

Also: Hamyuts Meseta is the most moe anime girl ever. If one’s “moe quotient” was measured by body counts. And it is.

 

12. Trapeze

Trapeze is a matter of style as substance. The actual gist of the series is kinda mediocre: exploring and solving people’s anxieties. If this were done in a more conventional animation style, it’d be a fluff piece that I’d have quickly forgotten. But it’s an anime with rotoscoping. Rotoscoping. It looked like something Ralph Bakshi would have done in the 70s. His shit may not be the most brilliant stuff ever made, but I love his visual style, and I loved seeing something similar utilized in an anime series. And that’s about it, really. This series beat out the likes of Eden of the East and Bakemonogatari purely for its visuals. I’m totally shallow like that.

11. Ristorante Paradiso

Ristorante ain’t really my sort of thing on the surface. It’s a straight-faced drama for the most part, dealing with the everyday problems of a group of waiters and chefs working at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Rome. But the series manages to have a good sense of humor to it, avoiding the sort of melodrama I was afraid it’d devolve into over time. The cast is pretty damn likable, and their issues are far more relatable than that of your average slice of life moemoldooze. It might be a bit on the light side, and the humor might not be downright hilarious, but it was surprisingly charming. It’s pretty much what slice of life anime should be.

10. Umineko no Naku Koro ni

First things first: the last story arc revolving around Ange fucking sucks. It took everything good that transpired in the previous arcs, threw it out, and replaced it with an obnoxious lead character who couldn’t carry a paper sack home from the grocery store, much less an entire storyline. But the first two-thirds of this series is damn near perfect. It starts off as your typical murder mystery, but once you discover the twist to the whole thing, it starts descending into the sort of dream-logic madness of Dario Argento and shit like that. And the ending to the third arc, where Beatrice reveals her master plan from that “game” to Battler, was brilliant. This is the sort of surrealist shit that I dig. Pity it was tarnished by that Ange arc or else this’d be considerably higher on my list.

9. Canaan

Canaan suffers much in the same way as Umineko: there’s one insufferable character that brings everything down. That one character happens to be Maria, an obnoxiously happy photographer who’s the polar opposite of every single character in the series. Canaan’s all about badass assassins and terrorists and how they’re trying to kill each other in cool action sequences. Then Maria comes along and acts like she’ belongs in the latest anime with tildes and hearts in the title. It’s a shame that she brings the series down, because everything else that goes down in Canaan is assassiny goodness. You get some good gun fights, you get some crazy government cover-ups, and you get an awesome villain the form of Liang Qi. It’s probably the best girls with guns anime since… no, it’s even better than Noir. It’s probably the best one since Dirty Pair.

8. Darker than Black: Gemini of the Meteor

Ending the trifecta of “series ruined by one character but are still awesome enough to make it on this list” is the second season of Darker than Black. Suo basically plays Short Round to Hei’s Indiana Jones in this season, pulling everything down with her annoying moralizing and hesitance. Darker than Black is all about people with super powers whose sense of morality and conventions have been twisted by an unknown supernatural force. The whole thing comes off like a Cold War spy drama, with Contractors replacing the ever-present threat of nuclear war, and the second season plays off of this just as well as the first. But then Suo starts to cry about how she might have to shoot someone to save the world. Boo Hoo. Fortunately, the actual story is pretty cool, going off into some crazy stuff about creating alternate realities and shit like that.

7. Hipira-kun

Probably one of the best short anime series out there. It’s a cute kids show with a Tim Burton-like aesthetic, and it doesn’t hold back its punches. We’re talking about vampires and other monsters here, and despite this being a kids show it still manages to do some freaky, demented shit. Hell, the series ends with Hipira and his friends being devoured by a papercraft/crayon dinosaur. This is the perfect sort of children’s show, all cute and sweet and reveling in the horrors of real life.

 

6. Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei

Is it the same old Zetsubou shit? Yep, pretty much. Is the same old Zetsubou shit superior to most anime comedies? Yep, pretty much.

 

 

 

5. Astro Fighter Sunred 2

I want to be Vamp when I grow up. I want to be that fusion of badass world conqueror and polite, neighborly chef. Vamp is the standard that we should all aspire towards– both cunning and culinary– nefarious and noble. He’s the Metrosexual Dr. Doom, and that’s a totally awesome thing. Yeah, and the series he’s from is pretty awesome too, what with all of the sentai hero parodies and matter-of-fact humor. But it’s Vamp that elevates the series from “pretty good parody” to nearly sublime.


4. Cobra: Time Drive

It’s all of the goodness of Cobra packed into a two episode OVA. It has a batshit crazy villain in the form of a giant lava walrus dude who has slave girls dangling from him like pimp chains. It has Cobra traveling back in time and creating all manners of paradoxes, and he’s so badass that his actions don’t fuck up the space-time continuum. It has man-eating water. It may not reach the blissful heights of 2010’s space piranhas, but it’s awesome stuff.

 

3. Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance

I forgot to insert the second Eva movie when I did my initial revision of this list. Had it in my head that it came out in 2010. That’s when the DVD release was, but let’s go by the original theatrical release. Just because. This is where the Eva movie remakes finally became true remakes rather than simple retreads. It isn’t just a matter of tossing in a new character, it’s a completely different worldview being explored. The original Eva was all about personal failure. Shinji refused to act. Asuka was filled with personal issues. All of the adults were fuck-ups. With Eva 2.0, a lot of those issues are no longer as pertinent. Failure comes from the outside. Shinji seems to overcome all of his problems and saves the day, only to have all of his hopes crushed by godlike forces from the outside. Failure is no longer self-created and avoidable. It’s wholly inescapable. That shift is what’s making these movies worthwhile as true remakes.

2. Shin Mazinger Z Shougeki Z-Hen!

Ashura is one of the greatest heroes of all time. You heard that right. Hero. He/She is fighting for the will of the gods. They may seem to be malevolent beings bent on humanity’s destruction, but who are we to question the will of the powers that be? It is but one of the mysteries of the universe. But what isn’t a mystery is that Shin Mazinger is a masterpiece of mecha action. The only mecha series I like more than this is Evangelion, and Mazinger’s awesome ending may even trump Eva’s.

 

1. The Book of Bantorra

I’ve talked about Bantorra a lot. I’m one of the few bloggers to champion this fucking awesome series. It has one of the greatest anime characters in Hamyuts Meseta. It has some of the bests twists and surprises I’ve seen in a series. It doesn’t pull its punches. It doesn’t cop-out. It doesn’t give a fuck what you think or whether you love a character or not. It isn’t safe. It isn’t pretty. It’s everything I love about anime.