For New Year's, it was about not-so-good things. A day later, for Jan. 2, it was about the technical stuff. And now for the 10th, and closing out this trilogy of-sorts of Ani-Journal entries, let's get down to some more anime!
--(But really…I was trying really to get that Jan. 2 one completed on the 1st. Just missed it…)
--I've already touched on this on Twitter, but I can't really see why Sword Art Online has elicited the kind of emotion that it has among fans. Either it's a popular, great show, or a steaming pile of putrid crap. Personally, cliche-sacked second half and all that hate over that one character aside (see Jan. 2 link), the first half at least was a pretty good, albeit imperfect, one. On the negative side, it skipped time a bit too brusque in certain spots and the "die in the game, die in real life" hook lost some of its edge as the series drifted away from the intensity that was present in the early episodes. Additionally, Asuna, the main heroine and Kirito's main squeeze, is inconsistently portrayed throughout (even in the second half). She's either a strong, independent and very capable warrior and woman, or she's a helpless damsel-in-distress that gets into avoidable binds (at least, for someone at her level) so Kirito can fulfill his role as the requisite heroic male--sometimes in the same scene.
On the plus side, though, the life-or-death trappings gives the series a distinct feel to it above other similar survival shows (i.e. BTOOOM! (see below), GANTZ; .hack//SIGN in a distant way). Even more interesting is seeing how all of these people adapt to being locked inside a game, as some just slip into their new lives (and stay out of life-threatening dangers) and others forming into guilds and armies to clear the game and leave it. SAO makes some clever use of RPG mechanics, as well, and it does rather well in laying out its erstwhile world. However, the series truly shines in some of its mega-slick fighting scenes, which feature remarkably fluid animation for a TV series (a perk of A-1 Pictures being backed by Sony Music and this being a high-profile project) and superbly choreographed & storyboarded action, which can be downright breathtaking in its intensity.
The first half was very good and its conclusion was powerful and final-enough to make you wish they just ended it right there. I say this especially in light of the pauper of a follow-up act that came after, and hopefully in the end, I'll be among those that have something more positive to say about it.
--Hunter x Hunter didn't catch my eye at first, beyond it having a previous adaptation years ago and legendary hiatuses of the source's mangaka, but I have to say, it's an entertaining show through the early episodes. There's much more substance to it beyond its shounen-like veneer and main character Gon is not your usual loud, annoying boy (I liken him more to the level-headed Mamoru of GaoGaiGar). Madhouse doesn't look like they are cutting any corners on the long-run series, though that's usually the norm.
--Possibly my favorite series this past season has been From the New World (Shin Sekai Yori). Veteran character designer Masashi Ishihama (Welcome to the N-H-K!, Read or Die) is making perhaps the most impressive full directorial debut for a designer/staff worker since Yutaka Izubuchi (2002's RahXephon) and Mitsuo Iso (2007's Dennou Coil). I tend to liken his accomplishment more to Izubuchi's, as both this and his series possessed an artistic, high-quality look to them and a real sense of purpose to its total package, from its visuals and world setting to its appropriately atmospheric score and artistic flourishes.
In respect to Mitsuo Iso's masterful pet project, however, FtNW shares that series' engrossing sense of mystery and wonder, albeit with a more understated and eerie tone (in terms of "eerie", think the latter arc of Coil…). It is perhaps of little wonder--and with a good dose of irony--that both Dennou Coil and the novel that FtNW was adapted from were honored with the coveted Nihon SF Taishou Award in 2008.
I also have to give From the New World some major credit not only for adhering to a carefully-crafted (read: slow) narrative style, but primarily for having the balls to sticking with a particularly controversial aspect of the story that plays a role in its second arc, rather than ignoring or changing it for more palatable tastes. It's not my sort of thing and it was a shock when they actually went with it, but it made sense in the scope of the narrative. But for those that thought it came out of nowhere and had no place in it, you haven't really been watching the series…
Even as a big fan of his design work, Ishihama being tapped as a director was a big surprise, especially as a first-timer on a major title like From the New World. But so far, he's proven his chops mighty well…
--And now I must pose the customary question that must be asked by any Dennou Coil lover: where the **** is the series?! North America continues to get the shaft on it (and no, that poor iTunes app doesn't count, though I do like the series guide that came with it)…
--I imagine it was not by coincidence that Madhouse chose a woman--first-time director Kotono Watanabe--to direct BTOOOM!, especially after a look at the rather sexist manga it is based on. The anime manages get to the essence of what occurs in the killer survival game manga without having to travel down its route of gratuitous fanservice & nudity or its objectification of women. It's still gritty and some of the more salacious scenes and camera angles still exist, but it's not as explicit as in the manga.
Even its main heroine, the scarred, but strong-minded Himiko, fares better in the anime version. In it, she retains her looks & curvaceousness without as much T&A focus or that added appearance of helplessness and weakness present at times in the manga and in its fluff spreads. As Himiko's image duality highlights, the manga wants to have it both ways with its fanservice and introspect, with the former often overshadowing the latter. The anime leans more towards the other way and is more focused for it. All-in-all, not a bad show (or directorial debut) either, and it has a distinct visual accent to it, as well.
--The other show I'm digging quite a bit is Blast of Tempest (Zetsuen no Tempest), the newest joint from BONES and frequent partners Masahiro Ando (director) and Mari Okada (series compositor, co-screenwriter). I did a few write-ups about Okada's work last year, and while I can't say I'm a big fan of her's, she can write some good stuff and BoT is perhaps the best I've seen out of her in some time. The snappy, biting dialogue and characterizations give additional life to Ando's kinetic action style, and the series makes great use of BONES' HQ production capabilities (another trademark of Ando's work). But even as an action-suspense show, it doesn't really feel like one of his shows, either. There's more thought and careful in how the story is told, and while I'm not sure if that's due to the source manga's style or Okada, it still feels as if Ando has grown well as a director since his CANAAN days.
Little surprise that the combination of character designer Tsunenori Saito (Sword of the Stranger) and co-animation director Hiroki Kanno (RahXephon) has rendered some simple, yet gorgeous character designs. And while I can see how some could be turned off by back-to-back episodes filled with critical thinking one-upsmanship, not-so-heroic characters, and twists upon twists, I think BoT has handled itself and its crazy lore very well, and the intertwining of Shakespeare's work is clever in both concept and homage.
…But c'mon, let's admit it: Ando's ogling of Hakaze's body--slow pans, close-ups, an' all--gets pretty ridiculous after the 105th time, almost to the point of comedy.
This 10-second long pan shot from Ep, 10? Right about the time the fanservicing jumps the shark…
Thank you for reading, and until later…