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.

Game of Death

 Anime, Mawaru Penguindrum, Mazinkaiser SKL  Comments Off on Game of Death
Mar 292011

Sorry about the whole “not posting shit” thing. That kinda happens when all that real life stuff we all hate decides it’s more important than meaningless anime nonsense. Without going into too many details, let’s just say my past few weeks have revolved around funerals, obnoxious relatives that need to learn how to grow the fuck up, and traveling to the northern wastelands of the US to teach stupid people how to do shit.

Anyway. Kaiji. It was awesome, for the most part. Let’s talk about that awesomeness.

I dig the way the series plays manages to (in a relatively organic way) go through three of the traditional “conflicts” within the context of its whole “gambling to save your ass” storyline. The Restricted Rock Paper Scissors bit plays out the whole Man vs. Society bit, where Kaiji has to deal with and manipulate various social/game rules and the way people interact to his advantage. The Race bit is all about Man vs. Himself, where it’s people’s fears and hubris that lead to their defeat. Then the final bit, with the E-Card game, comes down to the classic Man vs. Man, where Kaiji has to deal with one man’s scheming to keep from getting a drill shoved into his brain.

All pretty damn obvious stuff that doesn’t really need to be pointed out, but I dug how these conflicts seemed to be segregated on purpose. And if you wanna get all haughty and shit you can start comparing Kaiji’s plight to the sort of shit that classical heroes from Greek tragedies would have to put up with. It’s really does feel like Kaiji’s a modern-day gambling equivalent to Oedipus and his buddies– all dealing with ridiculous trials in a seemingly hopeless quest to make his meaningless mortal life halfway decent. All he needed was a third act where he has a daughter and she gets roped into a lethal game of Hellish Hopscotch or something. Then the trilogy’d be complete. Maybe that happens in the second season.

That said, I think the series pretty much peaks with the Rock Paper Scissors game. The RPS deal is pretty damn brilliant. The game’s rules are set down from the get-go, and they’re complete enough that you could actually recreate it if a bunch of deadbeat dudes owed you some serious scratch. And that arc nails down all of the traits that we see repeated in the next two: Kaiji’s frustration with being in a situation he can’t control, the way he can scheme up some brilliant plan on the fly, and the way he finds ways to come back from the brink of death. We get that same cycle of events during the other games he plays, and in that regard the whole thing starts to feel like a shounen action series– all repetitive events repackaged with different rules and villains to fill out a storyline.

But whatever. There’s a hell of a lot of sadistic glee to get out of seeing people squirm on a ledge, literally inches away from plummeting to their deaths. And the whole ear drill thing was great. Way more interesting than your usual shounen glaring at each other and talk about power levels and energies in your belly and souls in your sword or whatever. Sure, it’s just a silly anime cartoon thing, but there’s real stakes on the line– the sort of shit that actually kinda makes sense. It’s probably hard seeing yourself being some super powered super hero dude (Unless you have delusions of grandeur like me, but we all can’t be me.), but it’s totally plausible to see yourself being strapped to a table with a giant blade ready to whack off your fingers. Maybe not the strapped down to the table bit, but the bodily harm and financial ruin at play in Kaiji feels more real.

This shit’s pretty much Dragon Ball Z for adults. And that’s kinda cool.

But I don’t care much for how we’re getting a second season. I rather liked Kaiji’s story arc in this series. He “comes back from the dead” in the RPS game and finds himself even worse off than before. He manages to survive the race game only to find himself cheated out of his prize. He manages to foil the rich dudes’ scheme and win some cash money in the E-Card bit. He gets arrogant and tries to stick it to the man one more time only to have everything come crashing back down on him twofold.

In all of this Kaiji really does change as a character. He goes from being a punkass kid with entitlement issues to a down and out bum to a man who grasped “greatness” only to have that victory destroyed by his arrogance. He’s genuinely grown over the course of the series. Maybe for the better, maybe for the worse– or maybe it’s just a sidestep sort of development where he’s where he’s always been, just with a different view– but he’s had the sort of arc that few anime characters seem to get. He’s come to an epiphany at the end of the anime, and I’m pretty damn satisfied with him with him coming to this realization.

Do we really need to get another 26 episodes or so of the same manipulative games with the same peaks and valleys of drama to only come to what I’m assuming is a victory for Kaiji over these rich scumbags? Does we really need that moment of victory in order to feel satisfied?

Does the main character have to win before we feel the story’s been told? Sure, that’s cool and all, but this is one story where I don’t think we’ll need it. I’ll watch the sequel, and I’m sure it’ll be cool and all, but sure as hell don’t need it. Kaiji’s a pretty damn good series as is. Not quite inserted into my top list, but it’s close.

And dude, I totally wanna learn how to slam down cards like the peeps in this series. Those are the real mad gaming skills right there.