Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Kids On The Slope (Sakamichi no Aporon)

Jazz. I admit I don't know a lot about jazz. I do know that I like it on occasion. Mostly the older instrumental stuff. Although I admit that I am growing more comfortable with the genre. Sure, there's the blues, but I'm talking about jazz. While blues can be considered jazz or some jazz might be considered blues there's also jazz doesn't fit the blues category. It can be tough to describe, but you'll know it when you hear it. It's pure jazz. 

Watanabe Shinichiro has proven before how essential music can be to a visual medium like anime, but if anyone ever needs another reminder then please consult his 2012 masterpiece Kids on the Slope

Of course, Shinichiro's first flirtations with a jazz-infused anime came in the form of Cowboy Bebop. To date, it's an anime that few can rival in terms of story or soundtrack and the soundtrack is thanks in large part Kanno Yoko, the very same genius responsible many of the greatest anime soundtracks. 

So it shouldn't be any surprise that Kanno Yoko is in charge of the compositions on Kids on the Slope

Kids on the Slope's episodes are named after jazz songs so at the very least you'll be exposed to twelve songs you might not have heard before or you might be able to hear in a different way. 

Of course, the most impactful song for me was the excellent rendition of Art Blakey's Moanin'. It's one of those songs that you'll get introduced to first and hear last and each time it will hit you in a different way. 

I could go on and on about the tunes and how good they are, but one thing that did strike me a bit odd is how the opening and ending themes weren't all that jazzy and didn't really fit the vibe of the rest of the soundtrack. It's a small complaint, I suppose, but it's one worth making because the rest of the music in the show really is excellent. I'm not sure I really understand the reason for the contrast. 

Now for the story itself. My first thoughts bring me to an anime I watched in 2013 entitled White Album 2. While I believe Kids on the Slope to be infinitely superior, I do believe that the basic story has more in common with White Album 2 than Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo. So essentially this particular anime is unlike anything else in Mr. Watanabe's repertoire, but it is consequently similar to a lot of other anime out there if only from a summarization standpoint. 

If anyone else had been behind this anime I would have believed that this anime would be another ho-hum anime designed to pull at those heartstrings. Of course, I don't mind ho-hum anime, but I'm always on the lookout for great ones. Kids on the Slope is a great one. Not an all-time great, but definitely a great one. 

The story primarily follows three friends as they make their way through high school. Of course, there friendship got off to a rocky start with one of the lead characters almost beats the snot out of the other, but that's just the joys of being young, I suppose.  

The year is 1966. Nishimi Kaoru is the quiet bookish type with a background in classical piano music. He is ready to begin yet another school year in yet another school. After moving multiple times he has become rather introverted and doesn't seem the type to play such free-flowing music as jazz.

It isn't until he meets the school's thug Kawabuchi Sentaro that one of the more odd jamming duos form. Sentaro isn't really the thug he appears to be, but he is indeed a good deal more wild than Kaoru. He also plays the drums in a way that would make Art Blakey proud.

Kaoru, curious about jazz, decides to pursue a friendship with Sentaro and the two of them begin to jam frequently with Kaoru becoming a better jazz pianist with each session.

However, their fellow friend Mukae Ritsuko might just unintentionally derail their friendship with her presence as Kaoru begins to fall into the Big "L" with her. However, he isn't sure if she and Sentaro have a thing. This impossible love triangle becomes an even more impossible love pentagon when saxophonist Brother Jun and lady in distress Fukahori Yurika enter the picture.

That's a lot of drama for a bit of jazz.

I was afraid this anime would become something terribly predictable. Or worse, boring. Lovey-dovey, lovey-dovey, broken hearts, and then somehow everyone lives happily ever after. Or maybe someone ends up getting royally screwed while everyone else ends up happy.

I've seen them all and can normally guess fairly accurately.

Things didn't quite happen that way, though. Or, rather thing did happen that way, but the journey was a lot more realistic and restrained and the ending wasn't a perfect and neat package meant to please everyone or make everyone hate it. It wasn't a forced thing. This anime came across as quite natural and it moved at a quick pace without being too quick and the ending was a worthy conclusion without being too conclusive. Shinichiro has done that type of ending before with Cowboy Bebop and it works for him in Kids on the Slope, too.

Quite frankly, the ending leaves the audience wanting more while being satisfied with what they have. That's probably the most difficult kind of conclusion that can be executed in any genre or in any medium.

Things never got over dramatic with the exception of maybe one or two train scenes and the anime never quite lost focus of the music, either. It was always there even when the story got more focused on the lovey dovey stuff. Although I admit the musical approach to the story was when the story was at its best, but the dramatic stuff wasn't shabby, either. It's just that, without the music, I'm not sure Kids on the Slope would have been quite so well received since the story is a bit on the normal side.

Anyway, this about concludes my take on this anime. I certainly enjoyed it and I think plenty of other will, too. It is a modern day great anime. It could have been a bit better, but for what it was it is miles above its competitors and worthy of the talents that helped create it. Definitely recommended. Especially for the wintertime.

P.S. - Here's a cool compare and contrast between the anime settings and the real-life settings that inspired them:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Manga Collection

Is having a manga collection on Kindle cheating? If that is the case then I am a cheater. However, I've been thinking about actually collecting manga in a physical format. Mostly because a collection just looks so much nicer on a bookshelf then on a Kindle where you can't really show off.

I admit I have made a habit of listing and posting things I collect. That's always a popular thing on forums but each time I feel like I have to do research in order to find out just what I do have. So I make blog entries and generally cut and paste or link when someone enquires about my collections. I've done the same for my movies and my anime, but now is time for my manga. Admittedly, I don't have a lot to show off.

The physical editions are as follows:

  1. Ajin: Demi-Human 1
  2. Akame Ga Kill 1
  3. Attack on Titan 1 - 24
  4. Battle Angel Alita 1
  5. Black Clover 1
  6. Claymore 1
  7. Clockwork Planet 1
  8. Deadman Wonderland 1 - 3
  9. Devil Survivor 1
  10. The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan 1 - 9
  11. Dragon Ball 1 -16
  12. Dragon Ball Z 1 - 26
  13. Dragon Ball Super 1 - 2
  14. Fairy Tail 1
  15. Final Fantasy Type-O
  16. Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma 1
  17. Hunter X Hunter 1
  18. I am a Hero Omnibus 1
  19. Gangsta 1
  20. Jojo's Bizarre Adventures: Stardust Crusaders 1
  21. K-ion 1
  22. Konosuba: God's Blessing on the Wonderful World 1
  23. Mobile Suit Gundam 00 1 - 3 
  24. Mobile Suit Gundam 00 2nd Season 1 - 4 
  25. Mobile Suit Gundam 00F 1 
  26. Monster Musume 1 - 3
  27. My Hero Academia 1
  28. Mysterious Girlfriend X 1 - 6
  29. Naruto 1 - 42
  30. Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project Omnibus 1 - 2
  31. Nisekoi 1
  32. Noragami 1
  33. One Piece Vols. 1 - 8
  34. One Punch Man 1 - 3
  35. Parasyte 1 - 4
  36. Prison School 1 - 9
  37. School Live 1
  38. The Seven Deadly Sins 1
  39. The Testament of Sister New Devil 1
  40. Soul Eater 1
  41. Tokyo Ghoul 1 - 14
  42. Trigun
  43. Trigun Maximum 1 -5
  44. Uzumaki 

The Kindle editions are as follows:

  1. Dragonball Vol. 1
  2. Dragonball Vol. 2
  3. Dragonball Vol. 3
  4. Dragonball Vol. 4
  5. Dragonball Vol. 5
  6. Dragonball Vol. 6
  7. Dragonball Vol. 7
  8. Dragonball Vol. 8
  9. Jaco the Galactic Patrolman
  10. Dr. Slump Vol. 1
  11. Dr. Slump Vol. 2
  12. The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan Vol. 1
  13. The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan Vol. 2
  14. The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan Vol. 3
  15. The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan Vol. 4
  16. The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan Vol. 5
  17. The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan Vol. 6
  18. The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan Vol. 7
  19. Bleach Vol. 1
  20. Claymore Vol. 1
  21. Attack On Titan Vol. 1
  22. Attack On Titan Vol. 2
  23. Attack On Titan Vol. 3
  24. Attack On Titan Vol. 4
  25. Attack On Titan Vol. 5
  26. Attack On Titan Vol. 6
  27. Attack On Titan Vol. 7
  28. Attack On Titan Vol. 8
  29. Attack On Titan Vol. 9
  30. Attack On Titan Vol. 11
  31. Attack On Titan Vol. 12
  32. Attack On Titan Vol. 13
  33. Attack On Titan Vol. 14
  34. Attack On Titan Vol. 15
  35. Attack On Titan: No Regrets Vol. 1
  36. Attack On Titan: No Regrets Vol. 2
  37. Attack On Titan: Junior High Vol. 1
  38. Attack On Titan: Before the Fall Vol. 1
  39. Naruto Vol. 1
  40. Neon Genesis Evangelion Vol. 1
  41. Neon Genesis Evangelion Vol. 2
  42. Neon Genesis Evangelion Vol. 3
  43. One Piece Vol. 1
  44. Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. 1
  45. Sword Art Online: Aincrad, Vol. 1
  46. Higurashi: When They Cry (Abducted By Demons Arc Part 1) Vol. 1
  47. Yu-Gi-Oh!, Vol. 1
  48. Yu-Gi-Oh!, Vol. 2
  49. Yu-Gi-Oh!, Vol. 3
  50. Yu-Gi-Oh!, Vol. 4
  51. Yu-Gi-Oh!, Vol. 5
  52. Yu-Gi-Oh!, Vol. 6
  53. Yu-Gi-Oh!, Vol. 7
  54. Yu-Gi-Oh!: Duelist, Vol. 1
  55. Yu-Gi-Oh!: Duelist, Vol. 2

And I might as well add my light novels on Kindle:

  1. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya - Tanigawa Nagaru
  2. The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya - Tanigawa Nagaru
  3. The Boredom of Haruhi Suzumiya - Tanigawa Nagaru
  4. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya - Tanigawa Nagaru
  5. The Rampage of Haruhi Suzumiya - Tanigawa Nagaru
  6. The Wavering of Haruhi Suzumiya - Tanigawa Nagaru
  7. The Intrigues of Haruhi Suzumiya - Tanigawa Nagaru
  8. The Indignation of Haruhi Suzumiya - Tanigawa Nagaru
  9. The Dissociation of Haruhi Suzumiya - Tanigawa Nagaru
  10. The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya - Tanigawa Nagaru
And hey, let's toss in my Japanese literature collection from the Kindle, too:

  1. No Longer Human - Dazai Osamu
  2. I Am a Cat - Natsume Soseki
  3. A Personal Matter - Oe Kenzaburo
So my collection isn't exactly awe-inspiring, but it is a start. 

Let's see how much I can add to it. Expect this list to be updated. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

In 1844 Alexandre Dumas published a novel known as Le Comte de Monte-Cristo. 170 years later I watch an adaptation of this epic and sweeping tale told in the anime form that I enjoy so much. However, I truly did not expect to watch this entire anime in less than four days. I didn't expect it to be all that good. I knew virtually nothing of the epic novel that has inspired so many people and I opted not to read the abridged version in school when it was on the required reading list because I had my own books I wanted to read.
So what made me watch this anime? Well, I have a very long queue and sometimes stuff gets put in that queue simply to change things up a bit. This anime was one of those odd left turns that I came across and I finally got around to it.

I went into this anime as blind as a bat. I knew it would be some sort of revenge tale, but that was it. I knew the name Edmond Dantes and the name Count of Monte Cristo, but I had no idea who they were in relation to each other. I probably knew less about this story than I should have. It makes me a little uncomfortable admitting so. 

I have since started reading this novel on my Kindle, though. I really want to read it now. The real mccoy and not that abridged bullshit.  This epic tome doesn't seem so intimidating when it's on Kindle, that's for sure. But enough about that. I will talk about the novel eventually. This time let's talk anime. 

Leave whatever you might know about this book at the side for the moment. This may sound like hypocrisy considering that I single out films all the time for not being like the books at all, but in this case I can present a fairly valid reason for why I state that you should just put it aside for a moment. 

You will not find a true adaptation here, but you will find an excellent adaptation all the same. This anime is set in the 51st century and there's space travel and mecha fights and demons and all sorts of stuff that might make Alexandre Dumas scratch his head a bit if he were alive today to see it. Actually, this anime came out in 2004 so he wouldn't literally need to be alive today to see it. 

The animation is also as jarring as it is stunning. I've never seen anything quite like it, really. I've seen artsy anime before, but this one takes the cake. I think most people might find it a bit off-putting, but others will find it absolutely gorgeous. I thought the animation could have been a bit more conservative in the beginning, but after a while it grew on me. A lot. Although I still think the mechas and the space ships could have been done a bit better. 

So what makes this anime so insanely good in my eyes? Well, the story, of course. Regardless of mecha fights or futuristic settings or animation style, Gankutsuou succeeds in telling The Count of Monte Cristo in a way that really got to me. All of the characters seemed strikingly real for the most part. Even the more minor ones like Andrea Cavalcanti and Bertuccio. 

While I am sure the book has more characters, I think it is safe to say that the anime has plenty of its own. With their names being French and their voices Japanese it is tough to recall exactly everyone's name and title, but I remember most of them. The anime, while going about its own way, made me hate the characters Dumas wanted me to hate and made me like the characters that Dumas wanted me to like. With a few exceptions, I think. 

In this telling Viscount Albert de Morcerf is the main character and the primary protagonist. Through some user commentary I unfortunately discovered this means that the tale begins at least a hundred pages into the book, but as I said you want to keep the book on the backburner. Conversely, the Count of Monte Cristo seems to be this story's version of Count Dracula. He's the bad guy. Although certainly a sympathetic bad guy and by far the best of the bad guys in this anime. 

When Villefort's family was falling into ruin I couldn't help but be a little bit glad. The Danglars getting their due was also dreadfully entertaining to a degree because Baron Jullian Danglars was probably the biggest repulsive piece of shit in this anime. It wasn't until  Albert, Baron Franz d'Epinay, and Eugenie de Danglars seemed caught in this web of deception that my support for the Count and his actions was questioned. Although, in true ironic fashion, that seemed to be the case from the moment Albert first met the Count and I just didn't know it at the time. 

I don't want to spoil this particular's anime's take on the story any further, but at one point you will intensely hate the Count of Monte Cristo with all of your being. Then you'll find your loyalties in question as you watch the final confrontation take place. Who is right? Who is wrong? Well, it's a gray area. I don't know about the novel because I'm not that far into it, but this anime conveys the toll revenge takes on both the betrayer and the betrayed as being a very harsh one. It's downright depressing and bleak and things only get bleaker as you continue toward the ending. In a way I was reminded of The Great Gatsby. Since Gankutsuou is more or less a story about doomed love and false power as much as it is about vengeance I thought of Jay Gatsby at certain times while watching this. Of course, I thought of Count Dracula as well. Probably more so Dracula because of this anime's penchant for doom and gloom. The way the Count dressed reminded me of that, too. Not too long after I started this anime I thought, "This won't end well for anybody," and I was as right as rain. 

This anime's tale really is riveting. Obviously, there are quite a bit of differences between the novel and this anime. For one, Edmond Dantes gets sent to prison for 25 years and discovers a demon that is willing to grant him revenge in return for his health and body. This demon is known as Gankutsuou and it is because of this demon that Edmond returns to Paris as the Count of Monte Cristo and with all of the wealth and power that Danglars would kill for. Of course, one might wonder why he calls himself the Count of Monte Cristo since Monte Cristo isn't mentioned at all in this anime, but that's one of those small things that won't really matter much in the end. 

The futuristic setting and the mecha fights at first seem odd and in direct contrast to the very much out of date behaviors of the main characters, but that somehow makes this anime really work. Only people in the future or in the past can seem to get away with acting in old fashioned ways in media. If anybody of today's time does it is odd, but when we have visions of the future don't we generally think of some sci-fi utopia where people act in a chivalrous and honest manner befitting that of aristocracy? Even the dishonest characters, of which there seem to be nothing but dishonest characters at times, seem somehow refined. It's all a charade, but it works quite well until you really get to know them. 

The ways of the old and the ways of the future are united and it works because of the characters. You could argue the purpose for all of these changes, but because the characters make this an excellent story you really won't mind much. The interpretation this story tells is good. And this anime doesn't feel stretched out or compressed at all. At 24 episodes not a single episode was wasted. 

I feel like I know the characters by heart and when I began to read the novel I wasn't missing a beat. One takes place in the 51st century while the other takes place in the 1800's, but I recognize everyone quite well. Whatever other changes were made I am looking forward to discovering them myself. This anime made me want to pick up this big behemoth of a book. 

I can't think of much higher praise. If you can give this anime a shot. You'll be surprised how well a classical French novel from the 1800's translates into a futuristic supernatural anime even if a lot of changes were made to the story itself in terms of subplots and whatnot. I think the ending was changed, too. However, I do think Dumas would appreciate this vision. That's just an inkling I have, though. 

The changes just make reading the novel even more fun if you are like me and never have done so before. 

A++ is my grade for this anime. Way to get me to read classical literature, Gankutsuou. Way to go. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dragon Ball Vol. 3: The Training of Kame-sen'nin by Toriyama Akira

One of the unintended consequences of having to spend four hours waiting in a doc's office is that I got to catch up on my manga and on some of my reading, but I'll admit it that I really spent most of my time on the manga part of that equation. 

I will also admit that I forgot how funny Dragon Ball was as a manga. Mr. Toriyama's humor has always been right up my alley. Muten Roshi is a classic example of what I'm talking about. He's a pervy old guy and one of his first tasks for Son Goku is that he must secure him a "hotty" and bring said hotty back to his island. Son Goku must do that or he will not receive any training. Nevermind that this is really a form of kidnapping that he has been assigned with. 

Unfortunately (or fortunately), Goku is a very innocent kid and his first few guesses of what a hotty are are a bit off the mark. 

It isn't until Kuririn from the Orin Temple arrives at Kame-sen'nin's island to give Goku a run for his money that Goku begins to up his own game. Together they will be assigned with the task of finding a true hotty and thankfully (or perhaps not) Kuririn seems to be on the same wave-length as the Turtle Hermit. 

Together this hopeless duo comes across Lunch. Lunch has always been one of those characters that I wish could have stuck around a bit longer because she was certainly good for a few laughs regardless of which personality she donned. While she certainly meets the definition of a hotty, Lunch's personality changes from a blue-haired angel to a yellow-haired bankrobber whenever she sneezes. 

Personality trouble or not, Muten Roshi now has a hotty living on his island and that means he has accepted both Kuririn and Son Goku as students. Their training will be harsh. What seems like a simple milk delivery turns into a marathon when they find out they will have to do it on foot. Then there's the part about cultivating entire fields using nothing more than their bare hands.

If they survive this training then they will enter the 21st Tenka'ichi Budokai in eight months. There they will find the strongest fighters the world has to offer. Including the likes of Yamcha, formerly known as the Desert Bandit. 

As the tournament begins the boys finally see just how much good their training did them, but that's not to say there isn't someone in the final eight that can beat them. 

Will they make it to the end? 

Stand by for the next installment of... Dragon Ball!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I watched The Lord of the Rings a few months ago for the first time and chose not to blog about them. Mostly because everyone knows about them and doing so would be like reviewing Star Wars. I prefer to review movies I've only recently seen that are either new or are not so well known these days, but every now and then I'll just do whatever the hell catches my fancy. This caught my fancy. 

I borrowed this film from a good friend of mine and decided that I'd tackle it since I did enjoy Peter Jackson's trilogy enough to see what he could do with the backstory. I haven't seen The Desolation of Smaug yet, but I've kind of already pegged my opinion of this trilogy. 

I once read The Hobbit. I stopped pursuing Tolkien's work in high school because my mind wasn't in the right place, but I do remember the world well enough and I'm sure to return to it eventually. The Hobbit is very much a sing-songy children's book and it vastly different in style then the following trilogy of books. The Hobbit was also much shorter at being only 300 pages. Sure, there's a 125 page appendix that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, but even that isn't enough to equate to three movies with each weighing in at three hours or so. I knew that the moment I first heard about the trilogy of Hobbit movies being made that what we'd get to watch would be Peter Jackson making shit up for about two hours each movie. There's just no other way for the runtimes of these movies to be filled. 

Luckily, Peter Jackson is a talented enough dude so that even though he completely eviscerated and diluted J.R.R. Tolkien's popular children's book he still managed to make this prequel movie a towering success in my eyes. I barely even recognized the book in this movie, but I still found myself appreciating Jackson's cojones at essentially remaking The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the form of a prequel series. Same mood, same vibe, and same kind of action. He even completely changed the book's target audience. 

Tolkien's trilogy was vastly different than his first book. The first book was meant for children while the trilogy was aimed at adults and carried a much heavier tone. The Hobbit as a book is meant to make children smile. Not much different than Dr. Seuss, really. But it is intelligent enough that adults who like literature can enjoy it, too. 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is aimed at fans of the first trilogy and sticks to the same formula. This film has an excellent cast and is guided by such capable hands that it is tough to discredit it or dislike it. Yet I still feel that the original book has been abandoned somewhat since its tone was indeed so different than the movies that claim to be based off of it. Its playful atmosphere has been taken away and the endless amount of action scenes added in leave the product unrecognizable. True, Tolkien himself went back and tried to rewrite The Hobbit (a few times, I think) in order to help it match The Lord of the Rings a bit better, but very few of those rewrites really stuck. 

Even when I take that into consideration it is still tough for me to take The Hobbit as a serious adaptation of Tolkien's work, but it is so entertaining in its own right that it is tough to discount this movie's importance on modern day cinema. This new trilogy will be revered as one of the new classics. Peter Jackson will continue to be considered the master of Tolkien's universe even if he isn't even all that true to Tolkien's work. 

Much like Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be enjoyed by pretty much anyone who hasn't read the book while its popularity will probably baffle most of those that read and love the book.  

I'll give Jackson and this cast credit and even a "Catalog of Greatness" rating. I loved this movie despite being familiar with the book. I'll see if Jackson's skill continues to wow me. His fillers have been pretty good so far and I want to see if he can continue his alterations to Tolkien's work without tripping up. 

Attack On Titan Vol. 14 by Isayama Hajime

I've actually been finished with this volume ever since it was released on November 2nd in Kindle format. I sat down and tore through this volume faster than 1988 era Guns N' Roses could rip apart a backstage dressing room. Damn, was this ever a good volume. 

While I normally try to keep my manga entries short I admit there's quite a bit I'd love to discuss from this volume.

The politics from the previous volume are further discussed in this volume. Commander Erwin's plan to overthrow the current king and place the true heir Historia Reiss into power is one that could end up with the members of the Survey Corps being sent to the gallows, but Erwin is convinced that is the only way to secure future peace inside the wall while also giving humanity the best chance of restoring the wall.

That's only the beginning of this kettle of worms, though. Eren and Historia are very popular people these days and they've been the targets of multiple kidnappings. This time a kidnapping has been arranged thanks to Levi's dealings with the Reeves Company. The Survey Corps is hoping that by following the kidnappers they'll be able to find Rod Reiss and capture him. 

With the man truly in charge of the world in their possession the Survey Corps would be able to negotiate Eren's freedom and the replacement of the current proxy king with that of the true heir Historia Reiss. 

However, the plan goes awry when Kenny the Ripper makes an appearance. And this is where some bombs get dropped. Kenny's last name is Ackerman. So is Captain Levi's. Sound familiar?

With Levi's connections murdered the false kidnapping turns into a real one and Levi is forced to give chase if he wants to keep up with them. Unfortunately, Kenny Ackerman is on his heels and after that we get up and close with what could very well be described as some hard-hitting Western-style action. Guns are blazing, stand-offs are happening, and people are killing people in old school fashion. 

Things also get a bit Pulp Fiction-like during the early stages. 

With things getting tortuous and Levi proving that he isn't afraid of a bit of bloodshed the rest of Survey Corps are wondering just how far they will go to achieve peace within the walls. At least, that's what Jean Kirstein is debating. I hope his loyalty-questioning isn't too contagious. 

The coming insurrection is supposed to be bloodless, but Levi and Hange Zoe aren't afraid to get their hands dirty and remove a motherfucker's fingernails. 

In true fashion this volume ends with a rather shocking cliffhanger. Eren and Historia remain kidnapped and they do indeed meet Rod Reiss (as well as Kenny the Ripper), but Rod Reiss doesn't seem to be the enemy of humanity that he has been portrayed as. Or is he?

This volume was off-the-hook fun. I can't wait for volume 15. I love how this series is expanding into the more human side of the struggles against the titans. The titans can only be used so much to instill fear so portraying the humans frightened by them and those willing to take advantage of others during the situation is a nice change of pace. I love where the story seems to be going, but I do hope Eren gets another chance to go all titan-mode again soon. I sense some serious action on the horizon, but it is nice to see Levi kick some human ass and some suspenseful political play in the meantime. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior (Bokura wa Minna Kawai-sō)

This, good people, is my 30th anime of this year. One part of me is oddly proud by the fact that despite watching at least two extremely long anime titles and having a job I have managed this many, but the other part is slightly disappointed that I've only managed 30. But at the end of the day I have enjoyed just about all of the titles I have seen. That's the important thing. 

I admit I rushed into Kawai Complex, though. I have had it in my queue ever since its simulcast, but I put it off and kept putting it off. Then when I discovered I was only up to 29 titles for the year I began looking at extremely short titles that I could binge out on to bring that number up a bit. Yes, I'm a stat guy. It's hell for me to play Madden because I love running up those stats. True to form I watched this entire twelve episode anime in a period of 24 hours despite those hours taking place on work days. 

I would say that I enjoyed Kawai Complex quite a bit. I suppose the best way to describe this anime would be comedy with a dash of slice of life and romance. When things get too deep or too serious there's always a quick and snarky aside that causes the subject of the entire episode to go off the rails. In fact, there really isn't a subject for each episode. Yes, things happen in a chronological order and there's even some character building happening, but a lot of the events feel almost as random as the jokes. So I suppose you could say the story is secondary to the actual jokes and the interaction between the characters, but those joking interactions are what the story is about. Kinda like a sitcom, really. So there's basically no story at all. 

Anyway, let's get to some summarizing. 

The title is a play on words in the case of both the English and Japanese versions. The Japanese title means "We are all from Dormitory Kawai," but it could also mean "We are all Pitiful." The English title can also mean "Manners and Hostile Behavior" and, while neat, it isn't quite as neat or relative as the Japanese title. 

Usa Kazunari has just moved into the Kawai Complex. It's his first time living alone, but that's not to say he won't have company at his new digs. Shirosaki is his roommate and he likes nothing more than being punished and insulted. Masochist to the core, Shirosaki will even spend too much time under the sun with the hopes of getting heatstroke. 

Kazunari is disturbed by his roommate's behavior, but Shirosaki is not the only strange one living there. 

Nishikino Mayumi is an easy-going girl (emphasis to be placed on the word "easy") with terrible luck in the men department and a knack for drinking and insulting people. 

Kawai Ritsu is an antisocial girl that reads more than I do. She prefers books to real people and reality. I love her already. I want to marry her. We'd never talk to each other, but we'd read together and watch anime together. Or she'd read and I'd watch anime while she read. She'd never ask me to do things and I'd never forget the things she asked me to do because she wouldn't ask me to do them. It would be perfect. Kazunari is a guy of class and taste like me so he is naturally attracted to her, but unlike me he is at a loss because of her behavior and can't seem to make any ground with her. Not that I could make any ground with her either since she is 2D and all that.

They live together and go to school together, but they never seem to communicate with each other. Kazunari wants to change all of that, but he doesn't know how to and his roommates do everything they can to make his journey to her heart even more difficult by being themselves and doing silly things.

The supporting cast in this anime is excellent, by the way.

While this isn't the greatest anime I've ever seen and it won't make my top ten for the year, I did like it. It could have been a bit more dramatic at certain points because that seemed to be the real potential of the series, but I'm just not a very easily amused guy some of the time. Don't get me wrong, I thought a lot of the jokes were hilarious, but all of the sexual innuendos in the world can't really create an emotional connection. An actual story would have been nice. 

Then again I'm glad this anime stayed loose and nonsensical and didn't get all mushy and shit. 

I have mixed feelings as to its overall impact on me, I guess. I loved the way the animation looked, though. I still enjoyed it enough to recommend it, but only to those folks that like their anime goofy and silly. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

R.I.P. - J.F. Gonzalez (May 8, 1964 - November 10, 2014)

If you are a fan of horror then you probably know by now of the passing of J.F. Gonzalez. I read and reviewed Survivor for this blog quite a while ago and I had planned to read a few other books by him in the near future, but that didn't work out for me. In truth, I kinda forgot. I still haven't read anything by him. 

That's not to say his passing didn't really leave me feeling like I had lost another literary hero. In the days of the internet it's fairly easy to run into some of the same people online on different sites. In all of my digital encounters with Mr. Gonzalez he never once came across as anything other than a cool guy. Which made me want to read even more of his books. Something I still haven't done, I'm ashamed to say. 

It's tough to hear about his passing. 

I only read one book of his, but it certainly left a mark on me. A guy that talented dead at fifty? It's a sad world. A sad, sad world. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

New World

It's been a minute since I dived into the universe of Korean cinema. I figured everyone needed a break from me heaping praises upon my favorite Korean actor Choi Min-sik. Well, that time is over. Once again I would like to state that Choi Min-sik is like the Korean Robert De Niro. Whether it is in the form of a lead role or in a supporting one, I have yet to see a bad movie featuring this guy. New World could quite possibly be his best outing yet.

What is New World? Well, I suppose it wouldn't be too outrageous to call New World the Korean version of The Godfather. Of course, I mean that in only the loosest of ways. This isn't a remake at all. What I mean by that is if you appreciate the feel and presentation of movies like The Godfather then New World should be able to please you, too. There are a few parallels here and there. I noticed those moments when I saw them and I appreciated them because they were like winks to the greatest gangster film of all time. This movie didn't rip any particular movie off. Instead it created it's own unique story and really did throw quite a few twists and turns to keep me guessing.

I expected nothing less from Park Hoon-jung, the writer and director of this film as well as the writer of I Saw The Devil.

While this film does contain a bit of bloodshed, it is largely about character development and the shifting of alliances within a fractured crime syndicate. Stuck in the middle of this disaster is undercover cop Ja-sung (Lee Jung-jae in an excellent performance that should go down as one of the better performances in gangster cinema) as he tries to survive a few more weeks of undercover hell after already enduring eight years. 

Aside from Section Chief Kang Hyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) and one other person no one else even knows who Ja-sung really is and after eight years Ja-sung is beginning to forget himself. Ja-sung has since risen in power and has become the right-hand man of the second-in-command Jung Chung (Hwang Jung-min). The Section Chief sees a perfect opportunity for Ja-sung to become even more involved in the crime underworld by possibly becoming attached to the man in charge of it. Of course, Lee Joong-gu (Park Sung-woong) is also in the way of Jung Chung's rise to power since he is the very influential third-in-command and he flat-out doesn't like Jung Chung. 

Ja-sung was supposed to be days away from freedom and a new overseas mission, but now he is involved in a syndicate civil war and his handler won't let him leave without seeing the mission to the end. Ja-sung has a baby on the way and yearns for freedom, but he's not even sure if he'll live another day with all of the chaos surrounding him. 

This movie is extremely well-made and I can believe the rumor that a trilogy is in the works. This film really is fantastic and deserves a sequel. New World deserves to be seen by a lot of people. Since it only came out in 2013, I suppose I can understand how it hasn't really left its mark on a lot of folks but this is definitely a good one. 

If you like films like Donnie Brasco, The Godfather, or The Untouchables then this film should be mandatory viewing. There are certainly a lot of good Korean gangster films, but this is one of the better ones. 

Watch it. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

One Piece (Wan Pīsu) (Season Ten)

It's been a good seven months since my last blog entry about the awesomeness that is One Piece, but ya'll knew I was going to come back to it, right? I took about seven months off from my binge to watch other anime, but I was also waiting for the rest of the episodes to be uploaded on either the Funimation or Crunchyroll channels. Oddly enough I started this series on Funimation, but watched all of this particular season on Crunchyroll since they finally have 99% of the series ready for streaming.

I really do wish I could have gotten this season finished before Halloween since the Thriller Bark arc deals with haunted ships, ghosts, zombies, and even a take on Dr. Frankenstein. At a length of 45 episodes, the Thriller Bark arc almost seems short compared to the Water Seven/Enies Lobby arcs. That's where I left off in my reviews, if you remember correctly. That review was a long one even though I still cut it short. My review came out to something like 2,500 words, I think. That's not my longest post, but between my entries about One Piece and my entries about Naruto, I'm fairly certain I come across as being long-winded. I guess I won't deny that, either. I just like talking about what I like doing.

We last left off on the Post-Enies Lobby arc. I can't even remember if that's the proper term for it because it has been so long, but I'm 380+ episodes into this series and all of that Enies Lobby stuff was about eighty episodes and seven months ago. So I am kind of fuzzy on many of the finer details, but I suppose I should go into some of the Post-Enies arc a bit more before I begin with my ramblings about Thriller Bark.

Previously on One Piece...

The Straw Hats have settled the score by defeating Rob Lucci and the entire island of Enies Lobby. However, the confrontation led to the Straw Hats being wanted world wide and for their bounties to increase significantly. They drew so much attention to themselves that even Monkey D. Luffy's granddad Monkey D. Garp came to visit him. However, it should be noted that Monkey D. Garp is a Marine Vice Admiral. Even Shanks and Luffy's mysterious father Monkey D. Dragon are aware of the Straw Hats and their newfound fame. One of the perks of launching an assault against the World Government, I suppose. 

Now that they've survived that brutal encounter on Enies Lobby, the Straw Hats must push deeper into the Grand Line with their new ship the Thousand Sunny and their new crewmember Franky.

So the Straw Hats going into the Thriller Bark arc are Monkey D. Luffy, Usopp, Nami, Roronoa Zoro, Sanji, Tony Tony Chopper, Robin, and Franky. 

Just after the Straw Hats topple Enies Lobby a serious confrontation takes place between Luffy's brother Portgas D. Ace and rival pirate Marshall D. Teach. This confrontation seems to have little to do with the events of Thriller Bark. In fact, Thriller Bark seems to have very little to do with any of the previous events. On the surface it seems like a filler arc because it just seems so out of place and different. It starts off a bit silly and takes a little while to build up (which could be said of a few arcs in this anime), but it is certainly worth the wait for the action. 

The outcome of the battle between Teach (also known by his nickname Blackbeard) and Ace will have a ripple effect throughout the pirate world, but the Thriller Bark arc makes almost no mention of the outcome of the battle until the very end.

Perhaps one of the most important things about Thriller Bark is that it introduces the characters of Brook, Gecko Moria, and Bartholomew Kuma.

And now without further ado let's get to the nitty-gritty...


BROOK - Meet the newest member of the Straw Hats. Brook is not only a dead guy, but he's a skeleton, too. He's been dead for close to fifty years, but he still manages to keep a good humor by making some rather cheeky jokes. Not that he has cheeks because he is a skeleton. Armed with a sword and a rather impressive afro, Brook joins the Straw Hats briefly when the Thousand Sunny stumbles across the ghost ship that has been Brook's home for the last half-century. Brook's crew has long since been killed off by disease and bloodshed, but what keeps Brook going is that he ate the Revive-Revive fruit long ago when he was still living. After having been killed with most of his crewmates in the aftermath of a battle, Brook revived immediately but his spirit could not find his own body in the foggy water sof the Florian Triangle. By the time he did manage to find his body floating on his rudderless ship a few years had past and his body had been reduced to nothing but bones. Although his treasured afro still remained.

Although why he is a walking bag of bones does not explain why he has no shadow. That is where Gecko Moria and Thriller Bark enters the picture. 

GECKO MORIA - Aboard the island-size ship Thriller Bark that haunts the mysterious region known as the Florian Triangle is the demonic member of the Seven Warlords of the Sea, Gecko Moria. Gecko has only one true devilish ability, but with his minions serving him he proves to be one truly dangerous foe to be (ship w)reckoned with.

Gecko Moria can manipulate any and all shadows under his control. He can also sever a person's shadow by grabbing onto it. Once the shadow is severed it is placed into one of the zombies created by Dr. Hogback and the zombie will be granted with the abilities of the shadow's former possessor. The zombie will also be strictly loyal to Gecko Moria. 

Brook fell victim to Gecko Moria's ability on an ill-fated trip to Thriller Bark years ago, but now that the Straw Hats are there with him he believes he can reclaim his shadow from the samurai zombie Kyuma. 

Unfortunately, Luffy, Sanji, and even Zoro all lose their shadows to Gecko Moria, too. 

Now what losing a shadow means in the short run is that you lose consciousness and then get left out to sea on your ship. You aren't killed because your life span is attached to your shadow's life span. However, not having a shadow means your body will not be able to absorb any sunlight at all. That means that exposure to sunlight will burn up your body the instant it touches you since it can't pass through you. Your life would essentially be deprived of sunlight forever and in all likelihood your remaining days would be spent in the Florian Triangle where it is almost eternally foggy. 

So it is quite imperative for the Straw Hats to defeat Gecko Moria in order to reclaim their dream of sailing to the New World and discovering the treasure known around the world as One Piece. 

Gecko Moria is initially a very annoying character with an annoying laugh. It's tough to take him seriously and he is easily dislikeable since he comes across as one of the more coward-like villains since Foxy the Silver Fox. Although he is quite a formidable adversary for Luffy since his attacks aren't really about strength, but about deception and strategy. It's only when he is pushed into a corner that he relies on strength and that ultimately is his real weakness. Strength, for the most part, doesn't work on Luffy because he is made of rubber. Unless it is strength of ungodly proportions, but we'll get to that later. 

It's only thanks to Dr. Hogback creating a truly tremendous beast to host Luffy's shadow that this arc really lives up to its promising premise. The beast, while certainly stupid like Luffy to start with, gradually becomes a menacing beast and once he starts being piloted by Moria himself the fight becomes just the badassness I've been expecting from One Piece

Of course, victims of Gecko Moria's abuse comes to Luffy's aid and transplant one hundred shadows into his body to help even up the fight. Nightmare Luffy's fight with Zombie Luffy is pretty badass. In some ways it dwarfs the final confrontation with Gecko Moria.

While none of the fights are as epic as the fights on Enies Lobby, I think it is tough to call the fight between Nightmare Luffy and Zombie Luffy a bad fight. In fact, it wasn't until the Thriller Bark that I decided that this could very well be one of my top anime of all time. I think the fights are better than Dragonball Z and the characters are more likeable than in Naruto. The filler doesn't drag on forever, either. While the filler may be a bit boring it doesn't last for twenty or forty episodes at a time like Naruto or Bleach.

I was curious as to how this anime would hold up for me after I took a seven month break from it, but it fit just like a glove when I got back to it. Although I don't think Thriller Bark is one of the more stellar arcs from One Piece it still packs a punch and Bartholomew Kuma's sudden appearance on Thriller Bark makes things even more interesting. 

BARTHOLOMEW KUMA - He is one of the Seven Warlords of the Sea. Up until this point there have never been two Warlords to battle the Straw Hats side by side. That remains the case here, but this is the first time that one of the Warlords battles the Straw Hats immediately after the other was defeated. With Luffy unconscious after defeating Gecko Moria and with the rest of the Straw Hats too weak to move, Zoro and Sanji must face down Bartholomew Kuma by themselves. 

Of course, Zoro knocks Sanji out and takes on Kuma alone and with disastrous results. Kuma is a far more dangerous guy than Gecko. Or course, this could be attributed to the fact that Kuma isn't underhanded and doesn't rely on tricks. Kuma uses brute strength and is physically enhanced in ways that not even Franky can compete. 

Kuma uses an attack called Ursus Shock that leaves all of Thriller Bark completely leveled, but that's not the worst of it. Kuma takes all of Luffy's battle damage from his fight with Moria and Zombie Luffy and transfers it into Zoro. 

It's only because of Bartholomew Kuma's strange sense of honor that that closely resembles Zoro's that the Straw Hats aren't completely wiped out. Believing that Zoro is dead from his injuries and that it will only be a matter of time before the Straw Hats will be wiped out anyway, Kuma relents on his assault and leaves Thriller Bark. 

While the Straw Hats have always made a way of beating their foes, Thriller Bark shows that maybe the Straw Hats aren't really ready for their assault against the World Government or for the New World. Sure, they toppled Enies Lobby and survived a Buster Call, but there were none of the Seven Warlords present on Enies Lobby. 

In the aftermath of Thriller Bark, Brook joins the Straw Hats as a full-time member and we get a glimpse of Brook's days as a living human with flesh. If anyone can remember when the Straw Hats first crossed into the Grand Line about 300 episodes ago, you should be able to remember Laboon. Well, Brook was one of the pirates on the ship that traveled with Laboon before leaving him at the entrance of the Grand Line. It's a pretty touching story as all of the background stories in One Piece are, but it's one that might mean a bit more since it brings a bit of closure to something I knew I had kind of forgotten. When Brook mentioned Laboon I was like, "Oh, yeah, I remember that." 

I think that part in particular is a sign that this story isn't just action, but there is an actual story going on here, too. Even minor characters like Laboon have a significance in this story. They aren't just there for the sake of adding more characters to make the narrative longer. 

I am having a blast watching One Piece. Still. After 380+ episodes. Look for it to be number one on my list of the best anime I've seen in 2014. No, I didn't catch up to the simulcast in six months like I had wanted to do, but I don't care anymore. I'll get there eventually. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Attack On Titan: No Regrets Vol. 2 by Gun Snark and Suruga Hikaru

Well, it seems this prequel series is already at an end. I've got to say that I am a bit unimpressed by it. I almost don't see the need to review it, but I suppose I might as well. It's not that this short prequel series wasn't good at any point, but it really wasn't all that necessary. The story wasn't anywhere close to being as riveting as the main story. It also doesn't do much to make Levi or Erwin any more or less important to me. 

In this entry we continue to follow Levi, Furlan, and Isabel as they adjust to life in the Survey Corps, but there appears to be an ulterior motive to Levi's group. Nicholas Lovof has hired them to steal certain documents from Captain Erwin and if Erwin gets killed in the process... Well, hey, that's fine and good, too. 

Not only do I think this short prequel series is kind of pointless, I also saw through it completely. Furlan and Isabel do indeed get wasted by the titans. It could have been a little sad, but I saw it coming from the second they were introduced. 

It is neat that we get to see a bit of of Levi's previous life as a thug living in the underground, but I felt that his past could have been dressed up just a bit more. Levi seems kind of like a restrained psychopath albeit one with a strong sense of duty. It would have been nice to have seen him be a bit more brutal in his early days. Not just against the titans, either. The primary series is known for being a bit gutsy and violent, but this series plays it a bit safe and that is a bit of a disappointment. 

I mean, it's one thing when a story tries to stand on its own two feet, but this little series felt more like a tribute Isayama's work than an extension of the work. So it's kind of like a reboot of the earlier chapters of the series. Only instead of Eren learning the ropes of the Survey Corps, it's Levi. 

Put this in the "Meh, it's okay, I guess," category.