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 Outer Limits (Of Screwing You Over)

 Anime, Level E  Comments Off on The Outer Limits (Of Screwing You Over)
Apr 052011
 

Level E’s easily one of the best sci fi anime series ever made. Mainly because it doesn’t let the anime get in the way of the sci fi.

Level E has its fair share of animeisms. We have the sentai parody with the Color Rangers. We have… well… actually, that’s probably the only real anime-like bit that got shoehorned into this series, along with the RPG jokes that accompanied said storyline. And I think that’s part of what made Level E work.

The series plays like a parody of shit like Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. It plays off some short subject sci fi scenarios, like “what if a kid comes across a beautiful alien and helps her escape her captors” or “what if some teens get sucked into an alternate reality formed by their anxieties over qualifying for a baseball tournament.” These stories may play out over a handful of episodes and include a small group of semi-reoccurring characters,  but the scenarios themselves are exactly like the sort of things you see in these old school sci fi anthology series.

The only thing that makes the series diverge from that “tradition” is the snark. It isn’t just the Prince that adds to the sense of humor (Although he’s easily the epicenter of all that shit.). All of the characters share in his self aware but not self referential style of humor. They’re fully aware that they’re getting down with some weird shit (Or starting some weird shit if you’re the Prince.) and react accordingly, but they aren’t jumping up and down and reminding you what stereotype they represent (So we aren’t getting any bullshit from the Prince about how pretty he is and how he’s a trap. He just dresses in drag and let’s that say everything.).

And that’s a sign of the times. Level E’s a 90′s manga, and that sort of hit-you-over-the-head-with-the-obvious bullshit wasn’t in favor at that time. Peeps may complain about past trends and wonder why people like X or Y when it was clearly cliched at the time, but the sort of “look at me I know I’m a tsundere” humor we get nowadays is gonna be just as dated 10 years from now as the “hawt” and trendy character designs from shit like Saber Marionette from the 90′s.

So yeah, while everyone was gawking over Kore wa Zombiewhatever, the kiddies that’ll follow you will mock you for liking its style of humor. They won’t be able to do the same about Level E. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Level E’s “timeless” or anything stupid like that, especially since it’s fantasy RPG parody during the Color Ranger arc is a product of its time, but it’s kinda ironic that it’s avoiding dating itself by playing off older source material.

But the Prince’s style of “fuck you” is timeless. And, no, don’t call it trolling. Way to date yourself by using trendy internet jargon. Your unborn children are already snickering at you the way you snicker at people who say “rad.”

A Twilight Zone that wears its cynical nature on its sleeve– that’s pretty much what Level E boils down to. It might be a bit uneven as a whole, since not all of the stories rock to the same degree, but it’s a pretty damn refreshing series. Then again, I’m kinda hesitant to call anything “refreshing” nowadays, since we always seem to get at least one series that bucks trends with each season. Panty and Stocking did that during the fall, Occult Academy did it last summer, Tatami Galaxy and Cobra and… well… yeah. We always get shit that avoids being the same old shit. “Refreshing” isn’t the best way to put it when there’s plenty of options out there.

Let’s call it Optioning. Level E was Optioning compared to the me-too zombie masses. Roll on with your Lonely Bad Katamari Self, Prince Baka.

RPG Making

 Anime, Games, Level E, RPG Maker, Video Games  Comments Off on RPG Making
Feb 142011
 

Ugliness, mean-spirited comedy, hot space alien assassin teachers with green skin, and now RPG Maker references? Level E is my Valentine this year.

Back in the day, around 2000 or 2001, I downloaded that legendary PC program known as RPG Maker. Being a college dude who never did his homework until it was absolutely necessary and had a measly part-time job that didn’t take much time out of anything, I had plenty of time to fuck around with that program. Same with a bunch of my online friends, so we had a short-lived RPG Maker party going on.

Being the kind of person that I am, mine ended up being one part Earthbound (I used the fanmade Earthbound tile sets.) and one part cynical , bitter comedy. The game starts with the main character, who just happens to be based on myself, getting sucked into an anime-like fantasy world. He ends up in a suburban neighborhood in this anime world and runs into a tentacle monster. The monster tries to be friendly, since he’s just a dude that lives in the neighborhood, but the main dude passes out in fear. When he comes to, the main character finds himself inside the tentacle monster’s house. Thinking he’s been kidnapped and is about to be raped by said tentacle monster, the dude lashes out and gets into a fight with the monster. It’s only after he murders the tentacle monster that the main dude realizes he just killed some innocent dude off the street. He feigns sadness as the tentacle monster dies in his arms, only to steal the dude’s wallet after he dies and runs off. He spends the rest of the game on the run from the law while picking up his friends (Who have also been sucked into this anime world) and trying to find a way home.

Or at least he would have gone on said quest if I got past the first few major encounters. I got distracted by other fanboy nonsense after I did a major encounter where the main dude and his party take down a mob boss who was a giant slime. I’d go back and screw around with it, but that was ten years and three computers ago. The game’s long since lost in space and time.

So yeah, the Prince has good taste. He’s no sissy forcing the kids into a dating sim, and he’s no lameass modern gamer who thinks he’s cool and tough for playing the latest iteration of Call of Modern Halo Theft of War. Old school, grindfest, 8-bit, princess-saving RPGs are where it’s at. We just need metal slimes instead of balls-out Moai statues with legs. Are you telling us something there, Prince? Is that what you like? Oh my.

I <3 Green-Skinned Women

 Anime, Level E  Comments Off on I <3 Green-Skinned Women
Feb 072011
 

Back in middle school, I had a dream where my school was infiltrated by a green-skinned alien woman with big pterodactyl wings on her back. She held my school hostage for some vague dream-like reason. In typical me-like fashion, my dreamself managed to escape from being held hostage all John McClane like in an attempt to get outside help. I don’t remember the details of said escape, save for the fact that it involved me jumping off the roof (Not unlike McClane jumping off the roof of the Nakatomi building.). What I do remember, in vivid detail, is that green-skinned alien woman. Guess you can call it my first fetishized dream or something like that.

Green-skinned alien women are hawt.

So yeah, the latest episode of Level E spoke to me on some middle school era primal level. This little kids are living the dream. Sure, it’s kinda annoying that they’ve been kidnapped by some asshole Space Prince and forced into one of his asshole pranks, but they should be eating this shit up. Maybe not to the extent that the asshole class rep nerd is (He deserves every single punch he gets in this episode.), but these kids need to appreciate the fact that they’re getting to hang out with a green-skinned space alien assassin/teacher chick. That’s, like, the best thing ever on so many levels. Not only does she have green skin and is an alien, but she’s a teacher and an assassin. Being a teacher, even in Japan, means she gets all sorts of time off from work, so there’s no worries about having to make time for vacations and shit like that. And she’s an assassin. There’s nothing sexier than someone who kills for money, except an alien teacher assassin.

So kids, don’t spoil this chance to live my dream. I’m fucking jealous of you brats.

And something else I’m loving about Level E. I really dig how the series is willing to be ugly.

More than almost anything else, what irks me about modern anime is its aversion to anything that isn’t clean and pretty. Even the nerds in anime have to be attractive to a certain extent. But Level E doesn’t play by those rules. The class rep nerd is a nerd. He isn’t some implausibly prettyish type like that fuckwit from The World God Can’t Know or whatever that show’s called, he’s a gangly little thing.  And the fat kid has that “hit puberty earlier than everyone else” baby mustache going for him. And the entirety of episode 4, with its cannibalism = love storyline, is the epitome of the sort of ugliness you don’t see outside of throwback series like this or Cobra or Golgo 13. Even grim, violent series like Madoka do their best to avoid the sort of grime and murk from the sort of stuff that has its roots in the 80′s and 90′s, and it’s a shame that we have to look to these “revival” shows to get that vibe. Not that every anime has to strive for that sort of thing, but most series nowadays are so sterilized that many of them have a hospital-like quality to them– all bright and smelling of alcohol.

Anime needs to be dirtier, and with any luck shit like Level E will inspire peeps to go for that a bit more often.

Lonely Rolling Star

 Anime, Games, Katamari Damacy, Level E, Video Games  Comments Off on Lonely Rolling Star
Jan 252011
 

NaNaaaaaaaaaa NaNaNa NaNa NaNa Katamari Level EEEEEEEEEEEE!

So yeah, what do you do when you have all the power in the universe, seemingly god-like parents who will back up whatever choices you make because they rule over vast swaths of the galaxy, and every single alien in space in your pocket? Do you go about spreading goodwill and prosperity to lesser planets or do you go to said lesser planets and fuck their shit up because that’s an awesome thing to do?

The answer should be pretty obvious. No one’ll remember that dude that went about life peacefully doling out the goods and not asking for anything in return. Even messiah figures demand  your loyal obedience to whatever force they represent in exchange for their salvation. If you wanna be remembered, you gotta grandstand, and if you gotta grandstand you may as well go balls out with it.

I kinda saw this coming, but yeah, I decided to put my money on something a bit more sedated and devious. I had a feeling that the Prince was screwing around and deliberately trying to start shit with the aliens on Earth, but I didn’t count on the whole thing being a huge prank/con job (Next time I hear someone refer to all of this as a “troll” I’ll scream.) to alleviate his boredom. Yeah, fucking over his underlings and a few hapless backwater humans is pretty chaotic neutral and all, but hardly sinister or evil or whatever. And that’s what makes this so awesome.

The Prince is like Kafuka from Zetsubou-sensei or The King of All Cosmos from Katamari Damacy– he’s someone gifted with far too much insight and power and has nothing better to do with his power than start shit up. He doesn’t have an agenda beyond his personal amusement, and I find these sorts of “villains” far more interesting than those with personal motivations behind their actions. The unexplainable is far more frightening and troubling than something we can quantify. When a villain poses and monologues about why he’s about ready to start an intergalactic war with Earth as its epicenter, all of the bad shit going down has been grounded in your mind. Yeah, either way you’re fucked, but at least you have that solace in your mind that you know what’s coming and why it’s coming. When you’re dealing with someone that doesn’t it “just because,” you don’t get that relief, and I find that a far more terrifying prospect.

And when you turn all of that existential fear and loathing into a comedy, then you’re rolling in the golden funniness. And really, isn’t all comedy about seeing the misfortunes of others and laughing at how they can’t control said misfortune? By ramping up the chaos with that sense of “what the fuck is going on here,” you’re making it all the more hilarious.

So yeah, the gods fucking with us is the height of comedy. Give us more. Maybe the Prince’ll get drunk next episode and blow up all of the stars in the universe, forcing baseball dude and his gal pal to roll up cats and bikes and houses to create new stars.