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, December 31, 2014

Queen's Blade: Beautiful Warriors (Kuīnzu Bureido Utsukushiki Tōshi-tachi)

Quick warning: Queen's Blade contains material that is for mature audiences only. You've been warned. Progress at your own peril....

So there I found myself looking at my blu-ray of the six part OVA series Queen's Blade: Beautiful Warriors, thinking there's just no way that it was really that extreme. My last review of an entry in the Queen's Blade series was on the first day of this year and here this review is arriving on the final day of 2014. A lot of anime has been seen since the last time I had stepped into that world. Surely, my memory had failed me a bit. Surely, I told myself, that Queen's Blade wasn't as over-the-top as I remembered. 

My memory was not wrong at all. After five minutes of the most extreme fan service I've seen all year outside of hentai I just sort of paused and took a moment to smile. I had missed my time with the likes of Leina, Echidna, Tomoe, Airi, and all the rest. Sure, I didn't mind the revisit to the overabundance of booby scenes, but it was nice to see some characters with names I could remember. 

I watch so much anime that it really is hard to remember all of the names. Most of the time I can't. Yet I can remember a lot from this anime and this OVA only enhanced my memories of it. Yet Leina and Echidna have become a bit of a mainstay in my mental anime character catalog with the likes of Luffy and Goku. I don't understand how my brain works, either. 

Torn articles of clothing revealing nipples (because all battles have that), viscous white substances covering certain female characters (battles have that, too), and camel toe (again, perfect in a battle scene), are all the characteristics that signify Queen's Blade and at no point were the characteristics skimped on. 

There's actually a beach scene with bikinis and everything in this OVA, but I thought that was silly. Even for this show. That's always the fan service episode for most anime, but for Queen's Blade a beach setting seems almost like restraint. I mean, what are the chances of running into some sort of rapey tentacle monster on a beach? 

Damn it, I forgot all about Nyx's staff, didn't I? Well, forget I said anything. 

Dear God, what incredible fan service. It's just a thing of beauty after a while. Boobies, boobies, boobies, boobies... There is no end to it and while it probably signifies some sort of deficiency in my brain I found myself enjoying the series for the silliness that it was. 

The OVA was probably even more pointless than the previous two entries in the series, although there were definite connections that still made it seem like a fitting sequel. So I'd say it's worth splurging, so to speak, money on for the blu-ray. 

Animated boobies have never looked so good in HD before. 

Each of the six episodes were about a half hour in length and each one spent time with a different set of characters for the most part. Echidna and Elina were the focus of the first episode while the second episode featured Nowa, Alleyne, and Nyx with her rapey tentacle staff. The next two episodes featured Airi and Melona of acid-nipple fame. After that we are treated to a silly Nanael journey that again featured Airi and Melona before we end with a Tomoe and Aldra sendoff. 

That's about as plotiness as I'll get since I doubt anyone can really write too much about the plot of this short OVA without talking out of their ass. This isn't a life-changing experience or anything and it certainly won't make a best-of list, but if you like the show then this is definitely a must-see. 

Just watch out for sticky stuff. And don't ask why I have this on blu-ray. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu)

Horikoshi Jiro is not a name that is common knowledge to the modern Westerner. I would certainly have no idea who he was without this movie. Oddly enough, a person could watch this movie and still have no idea who Mr. Horikoshi really was and what his life was like. 

Allow me to explain. 

This 2013 film was billed as Miyazaki's swan song and it is indeed a great film to go out on, but it is not the historical part of it that will be remembered so much. Much of the history in this film with regards to Mr. Horikoshi's personal life is a fabrication. 

This film, to be more accurate, is an amalgamation of different sources. Tatsuo Hori's novel Kaze Tachinu about life in a tuberculosis sanitarium, the aforementioned true life of Horikoshi, and even a bit of Thomas Mann's 1927 German novel Der Zauberberg are thrown into the mix. So while this film probably contains about as much historical importance as Braveheart it is nonetheless a better constructed film with regards to its overall theme and is a much more peaceful and unselfish film despite the backdrop of war. 

Miyazaki has proven that he isn't afraid to break free from the template and exercise his own visual quirkiness and he does it here time and again despite this film being a historical drama. Horikoshi is a dreamer in this movie and his dreams are incredibly vivid and they could stand alone as their own short films. Of course, this sometimes causes a bit of a disconnect between the scenes of reality that are often more bleak and silted. That's probably an intended effect, but it could serve as a bit of a drawback, too. The entire film is beautiful, though. So I can't imagine it being too much of a drawback. 

Purists of historical fact probably wouldn't appreciate this film very much. Although the bits about how Horikoshi helped make Japan take flight in WWII (much as he didn't like his planes being used for war) are truthful enough just the simple fact that Horikoshi's wife never had tuberculosis can be a deterrent. 

Here the condition of his eventual wife causes an excellent and breathtaking ending, but when you consider that such a thing never happened in real life it kinda defuses the effect a little bit. Whereas Horikoshi's own real life battle with pleurisy is not given a mention in the film. 

However, Miyazaki's vision takes flight seemingly of its own accord and it doesn't really matter what is fact and fiction by the time it is over. Knowing the facts certainly couldn't hurt you on the education front, but I don't think it would greatly diminish the enjoyment of this film unless you really are one of those previously mentioned purists of historical fact. 

This film was controversial from the get-go because of it depicting an engineer of Japanese WWII planes as a good guy, but in real life Horikoshi Jiro disproved of their usage in such a way and the same is true of his counterpart in this movie. At least that much Miyazaki kept true. 

Mr. Horikoshi was an artist and he didn't have much say-so how his art would be used. The same can be said of all artists to a degree, I believe. 

I think that fans of Martin Scorsese's The Aviator and/or Grave of the Fireflies would enjoy this film. It's definitely an anti-war film, but it isn't one of those that gets too overly involved in the politics of difficult times. This film is about human struggle and ingenuity and how dreams can sometimes cause bad nightmares. 

I have no idea how the man whose life this movie is largely based on would feel about this movie, but I'm sure he'd approve of the message. As much as I can be sure of such things, I suppose. 

Excellent movie. If Miyazaki never makes another film no one can say his last one was a flop or unmemorable. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Irregular at Magic High School (Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei)

Well, it looks like another year is coming to a close soon. I certainly hope everyone is doing alright this time of year. Christmas time can be a stressful and dark time for so many people so I do hope everyone tries to be a bit more thoughtful. Personally, I could have cared less about celebrating Christmas this year. My heart and my wallet just weren't in it this year, but I gave the old college try anyway. I'm just too nice, I guess. 

One guy who probably wouldn't have such problems would be Shiba Tatsuya, the largely unfeeling protagonist from the fantastic Summer 2014 anime The Irregular at Magic High School. Things like guilt, anger, rage, and even depression don't seem to have an impact of Tatsuya. That could be because his feelings were removed in order for him to gain the powers of magic. However, even after such a transformation he still doesn't gain the respect he deserves and is discriminated not only by his own family, but by his school as well. Ouch. Good thing he doesn't have feelings, I guess. Of course, many of his fellow students don't know his personal history, but they probably wouldn't care anyway. 

In this anime the year is 2095 and magic is the name of the game. Rightly or wrongly, magicians are trained to be weapons of war and when they go to school they are separated into two courses. Course one is the more talented of the two and they are unofficially referred to as "Blooms." Course two is unofficially called the "Weeds" and that isn't really a good thing. It's kind of an insult. I mean, would you like being called a Weed?

Tatsuya seems uniquely able to deal with these difficult situations, though. Not only doesn't he not feel, but he also is quick to shut up his naysayers. He proves that Weeds can be stronger than Blooms. Much stronger. 

Tatsuya isn't just a magician with a few inadequacies that are incredibly overanalyzed by the critics because he's also a genius, a strategist, and a military warrior known as Mahesvara. I'm getting ahead of myself, though. 

The only remaining thing that Tatsuya can feel is a devotion to his sister, Miyuki. This often causes some rather humorous interactions with Miyuki's and Tatsuya's classmates. Being a bro-con or a sis-con are things that only otakus like myself can understand or find funny, but anytime a brother and sister seem to be overly close in anime the sister is the bro-con and the brother is the sis-con. I'm not sure if this is humor for the Western world, but it's been a pretty popular topic in anime lately. And the humorous bits that are caused by the scenario are actually quite funny. When Miyuki herself begins to wonder if she's falling for her brother or Tatsuya wonders about his sister's affection it only gets better. This is anime is surprisingly funny for one where I was expecting more action than anything.

These 26 episodes are divided into three relatively separate albeit chronological arcs. The first one mostly deals with the discrimination that Course 2 students face from Course 1 students. Tatsuya's abilities, even though he tries hard to hide them and mostly succeeds, only serve as a lightning rod of controversy among the students. 

The second arc showcases Tatsuya's abilities as a strategist as he helps the representatives of the First Magic High School take on the other schools in the Nine School Magic Competition.  

The final arc sees warfare break out and Tatsuya and his fellow students display the lessons they have learned. Trust me, Tatsuya will blow you away. Quite literally. The one thing you really don't want to do is mess with his sister. That's the one emotion he has left and if you push your luck he will destroy your country, your anime collection, and your kitten. Maybe not in that order, but everything you know and love will disappear. 

I'm surprised I liked this anime. Although this one has been in my queue ever since April I just got around to it a few days ago and finished it in just as many. I believe it is on Netflix for the moment. I could think of a worse anime to watch. Rather than go out and get completely 'faced for the New Year you could just stay at home and give this a try. Your stomach will probably thank you for it, too. 

The 26 episodes are adapted from the first seven light novels by Sato Tsutomu, but there are seven more light novels left to be adapted as of this writing so I certainly hope that there is another anime to follow up this one. The finale certainly begged for one. Season two or we riot. Who is with me? 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Infernal Affairs (Mou gaan dou)

Andy Lau and Tony Leung go head to head in this cat and mouse thriller that rocked Hong Kong in 2002. Andy Lau is Lau Kin Ming, a senior inspector in title but in actuality he is mole for triad leader Hon Sum. Tony Leung is Chan Wing Yan, a man who has been living undercover as a gangster for ten years now and has gotten close to Hon Sum. The two moles begin to suspect their rival organizations of having a mole, but they don't know who the other is. Using their resources they try to track down each other without blowing their cover.

Yes, folks, it's taken me almost a decade, but I finally got around to watching the source material for The Departed. Man, what an excellent film. I really didn't expect to like this one so much because I figured The Departed would blow it away, but Infernal Affairs more than held its own and in some ways it was a much better film than its remake.

When The Departed came out in 2006 it became an instant classic. I fell in love with it immediately, too. I thought surely that it was one of the most original films I had ever seen and the classic twists at the end were something only could have come from the mind of Martin Scorsese. Scorsese envisioned a masterpiece and created one. However, I shortly learned after seeing the film that it was actually a remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. Of course, William Monahan wrote the screenplay without even watching Infernal Affairs so the two are similar while also being remarkably different. Still, so many of those shocking twists were not original to The Departed

I don't want this review to become a full-on comparison between the two, but I suppose comparisons have been going on for years now and my two cents won't matter much. The Departed didn't do Infernal Affairs any outright injustices, but it's just that one is far more Americanized and concludes on a "bad guy gets his" sort of thing that doesn't happen in the other.

This movie begins with an abstract credits scene and quotes about circles of Hell and whatnot. So there's definitely a different vibe. There also is not a lot of humor. A lot of the dialog present in the remake isn't there in the original. Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin's witty banter had its origins elsewhere. This movie downplays a lot of the violence and there's no excessive bloodshed, too. There also isn't anywhere near the amount of swearing. This is, by all accounts, a fairly clean movie with the exception of a bit cocaine usage.

Andy Lau and Tony Leung are impressive leads, though. Those of us in the West are largely unfamiliar with them unless we have hobbies that are a bit unusual, but Tony Leung is considered to be Asia's answer to Clark Gable and Andy Lau is probably more like a modern day Frank Sinatra.

The two are talented and it is easy to see. Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio had huge shoes to fill when they stepped into the remake and this movie makes me respect their performances even more. Lau and Leung were just so good in their own right that it must have been tough for fans of this movie to have hope back when The Departed and its cast was first announced. Remember when no one respected DiCaprio? Had I been a fan of this movie back before ever watching The Departed then he would have been the last guy I'd want to be involved, too.

At about 100 minutes, Infernal Affairs is also much shorter. A short montage at the beginning of the film introduces the situations and beginnings of the two main characters and then we enter the main bit of the story. The subplot about Matt Damon and DiCaprio loving the same woman isn't present in this movie and that's kind of a relief. This movie moves much faster and doesn't indulge too much in extraneous story devices like that.

Infernal Affairs is succinct and to the point while The Departed has a bit more flourish to it. Neither is bad, but they are certainly as different and they are similar. It's tough to say which one is better.

Passing on Infernal Affairs would be a big no-no, though. I don't care how many times you have seen The Departed. This movie is an excellent one. Watch it. This is where it all began.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Cowboy Bebop (Kaubōi Bibappu)

"I think it's time to blow this scene. Get everybody and their stuff together. OK, 3, 2, 1, let's jam."

Ah, the Seatbelts and their timeless song Tank! When I was younger I thought that it was an odd way to introduce an anime. Jazz? Loud rambunctious jazz instead of some nice and inviting J-pop or J-rock? Certainly a departure from the rest of a field even for 1998. However, despite being a bit of a musical oddity, the series gained a universal appeal because of its willingness to borrow from international pop culture. The likes of Alien, spaghetti westerns, Star Wars, and film noir are all tossed into this 26 episode anime.

The names are in English on purpose and each episode has a bit of a different flavor. So there's something for everyone, I think. The first episode is called Asteroid Blues and it begins the series in a fairly somber fashion. Spike and Jet, being the bounty hunters that they are, travel the universe in search of a way to add some beef to their frequent meals of "peppers and beefless beef." Despite being a fairly dynamic duo with Jet being the brains and Spike being the daredevil, neither of them can seem to get things to go right. 

In the first episode their bounty is a guy by the name of Asimov Solensan and he sells (and religiously takes) a drug called Red Eye. Asimov is also travelling with the rather attractive femme fatale Katerina Solensan. She appears to be pregnant, but her belly is actually full of Red Eye vials. The two of them want to escape to Mars, but the police and the Bebop crew are on their tales. The Bebop crew naturally want to catch them first so they can get money from Asimov's bounty. 

Now I will spoil the first episode's ending and tell you what happens and if you don't want to know you don't have to. Just skip down a bit or stop reading until you've seen it. I won't mind. However, I believe most people that like anime have seen this series so I will commence with the spoilers now and come what may. 

Asimov and Katerina are trying to escape Spike in their spaceship, but they run into a barricade of police ships. Rather than be shot down or taken in, Katerina takes matters into her own hands and shoots her lost-to-addiction husband in the head before the police completely destroy their ship. Spike, unable to do anything else, watches as two people die pointlessly from the safety of his own ship. Not only do they die but Asimov's death obviously means no money for Spike and Jet. And, although you've got to believe Spike felt bad for Katerina and maybe even Asimov to a degree, you aren't sure just how bad he feels about that compared to losing the bounty. 

That bit of grayness and uncertainty is what makes Cowboy Bebop so damn good, though. Spike is the closest this series has to a good guy, but he's not the go-getter goody-goody like Luffy or Goku or any of the heroes from countless action anime. He screws up a lot and does a lot of reckless things without having any super powers to help him, but he somehow makes it through his ordeals. Not unscathed, though. 

Jet, on the other hand, is the sane man of the group. As a former member of the ISSP, the corrupt and illegitimate police force in the universe of Cowboy Bebop, Jet is a scarred man much like Spike and that seems to be why the two of them get along well enough. Of course, they know next to nothing about each other at the start. Spike doesn't know how Jet lost his arm and Jet doesn't know how Spike lost his eye. I don't think either of them knows at first that their previous jobs would have had Jet chasing after Spike. If that was explained I missed it despite having seen this series multiples times. 

In the second episode the super intelligent dog Ein gets introduced as a member of the Bebop and the damsel in debt Faye Valentine gets added to the crew officially in episode four, too. Although Faye gets introduced into the series in episode three. 

Faye is a lot of fun and she's also freakin' hot.

A lot of the more upbeat episodes involve the hacker Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV who gets introduced in episode nine. For brevity's sake everyone just calls her Edward or Radical Ed. She is the final member to join the Bebop crew and from then on the crew is set. 

All of the characters of the Bebop get their own special episodes or, in Spike's case, an arc that detail their lives before the Bebop. These episodes are especially fulfilling, but the ones about Spike take the cake. Spike's backstory begins with episode five Ballad of Fallen Angels and that's where we meet the series antagonist Vicious. You won't see him a lot because this series is largely episodic and episode six continues on like nothing major had happened in episode five, but he has a profound impact later on in the series with his few appearances. Vicious is definitely one of my favorite anime villains. 

Aside from the excellent bringing to life of even minor characters, the dialog in this series is incredibly sharp and the exchanges between characters is witty. Most lines are easily quotable and the English dub is very close to the Japanese meanings so nothing becomes too lost in translation. I watched the sub on blu-ray and at no point did I really hit my head and say, "The dub wasn't even close on that!" So a lot of the catchy lines come from the source material and that is a plus. 

One of those lines is in the first episode. "Yeah, keep those eyes open." Just a great line in a great situation. Vicious is nothing but good lines, too. 

The music is classic. The series is worth watching alone for the music. Especially if you have an appreciation for jazz. All of the tunes are originals and were made solely for this anime so each piece fits perfectly with each scene. A lot of thought was put into the anime as a whole and it deserves it reputation as one of the best anime out there. Even the ending messages just before the credits like "See you Space Cowboy" or Easy Come, Easy Go" are nice touches that make this anime feel more special than others that just want to blow you away with endless scenes of action. Each episode has meaning even if it seems like some of them have no obvious connection to the others. The message, in this case, is sometimes more important than any specific continuity. Although, as previously stated, continuity does play a big part as the series goes on. 

Cowboy Bebop is kind of like the On the Waterfront of anime. It's kind of become a stereotype to call Cowboy Bebop a classic because anyone into the genre at all hears it being called that all the time.

It's the truth, though. They don't make them like this anymore. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Files of Young Kindaichi Returns (Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo Returns)

I hope this holiday season is finding everyone well and in the spirit. Things have been fairly quiet on the blog front here, but that's not to say that I haven't been steadily occupying my time with good anime or reading. Mostly, I've been trying to catch up on my One Piece, but I'm also halfway through The Count of Monte Cristo and I'm greatly enjoying it. It is a read that takes quite a bit of time, but it is time worth putting into the novel. I'll review the novel on my other blog, but if you haven't read the novel then I highly recommend it. Specifically, the Robin Buss translation from Penguin. 

Now that I've had my say on that I'd like to get the ball rolling with some 2014 anime. The Files of Young Kindaichi Returns is a sequel to an older anime, but this one is updated with things like cell phones and tablets and is much shorter at only 25 episodes. The original series spanned 148 episodes and ended its run in 2000. Slight difference. I have never seen the original anime, but I do know the original anime is frequently mentioned alongside the popular and long-running anime Case Closed because they are both whodunits and there just aren't a lot of those. Case Closed and its astonishing 700+ episodes is probably the clear favorite, but don't count out Kindaichi. Both shows will get your whodunit fix cured. 

Kindaichi Returns is comprised of a series of short arcs that can mostly be viewed independently of the other. The first series was the same way, I believe. You don't even need to watch the first series to enjoy this one although you'll miss out on the familiarity with the likes of some of the characters and some of the recurring villains. Since the short arcs are more about the mysteries than characterization and an overall story development none of the core four or five characters will be given a lot of depth. Basically, you're expected to know who all of the main characters are and some of the villains like the Puppeteer from Hell and the Gentleman Thief. If you don't then hopefully you'll catch on quickly. I managed pretty well going into this series blind. 

The arcs are good, though. 

Murder at 10,000 Meters reminded me of The High and the Mighty and those Airport movies. It might be easy to poke fun at, but I think those types of stories can be fun, too. When the captain of their plane is found dead in the cockpit it's up to Kindaichi and Police Superintendent Akechi Kengo to figure out how he could have died and whether or not those terrorist threats made earlier in the day have anything to do with it. Of course, this arc is only two episodes and doesn't compare to the four-part Alchemy Murder Case or the five-part The Prison Prep School Murder Case

The arcs are designed to get the audience involved in the mysteries and you are prompted to try and figure out the answers before Kindaichi. Locked room mysteries and airtight alibis are prevalent in this series and even in the shorter arcs the answers were more often than not pretty good. Although the longer arcs were better if only because they could add more twists and red herrings to make things more interesting. Some of the mysteries are really ingenious, too. It was easier to figure out who might have done it then how they did it. 

The bad guys in this series, for the most part, weren't actually bad guys in terms of just being cold and ruthless. The bad guys were fairly sympathetic and it was tough to hate them despite their heinous crimes. Which could be really heinous. The Kenmochi Isuma, Murderer arc was certainly a tough watch, at times making me think of Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door. Stories about child abuse just really piss me off, but I found myself at odds with myself when policeman Kenmochi was suspected of killing a group of torturers after they got out of prison with a slap on the wrist from a crime that took place three years earlier and ended in the death of a seventeen year old girl. That was definitely something I wasn't expecting from this show. I wanted him to be the killer of those assholes, but then I didn't because that would mean becoming a vigilante. 
Nothing in this anime was gruesome exactly, but the writing was very good at implying grue and gore when needed. Mostly, this anime is meant in good fun, but it does remind you that people (albeit fictional people) are being killed for your enjoyment time and again like as in The Game Mansion Murder Case arc that serves as the finale to this series. It reminded me of Saw for a second although this was much more tame. 

All in all, I definitely enjoyed this whodunit and I'd like to explore the previous series when I get a chance. I would recommend this anime to anyone that likes a good mystery. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Howl's Moving Castle (Hauru no Ugoku Shiro)

I consider myself a bit of an anime veteran. I've seen lots of titles. Lots. Most of them you'll find a review for on this blog. I haven't seen them all, though. I'm pretty sure that's impossible. In some cases I have a lot of catching up to do because I've missed some serious great works. One of them I've been missing until tonight is Howl's Moving Castle. Yes, I've had the blu-ray forever, but I put off watching it because I was busy watching other anime titles at the time and it's tough to sneak a movie in every now and then because I have a habit of binge-watching. And I actually have to do other things like eat, use the bathroom, and work. If not for that I'd have watched this movie months ago. 

Well, tonight I finally got around to it. I'm glad I did. Every Miyazaki film I've seen to this point always makes my head explode. The same can be said of Studio Ghibli as a whole, but Miyazaki is definitely the juggernaut of Ghibli.  It's tough to get it right in one movie, but Miyazaki has done it time and again. It's still tough for me to believe that he has retired from directing. 

Every movie he touches is a visual wow factor. There are things in every Miyazaki film that I never would have thought could be done in a film, but it seems that there are more of those moments in Howl's Moving Castle than usual. A door that leads to four different places, a castle that walks and changes shape according to the whims of its master, and a lead character that changes age almost every five minutes. Those are just a few neat things that make this movie stand out. 

Howl's Moving Castle could be called his greatest achievement. This film came to life in 2004 and it is based off of the 1986 children's novel Howl's Moving Castle by the late British author Diana Wynne Jones. 

While I've read that the two creations are vastly different I think it would be tough to hate Miyazaki's vision. Unless you are Roger Ebert, I guess. Ebert considered this to be one of Miyazaki's weakest efforts, but I can't fathom that. If Ebert considered this to be one of his weakest then I can't think of that as being anything other than an amazing compliment to the rest of his work. 

Now what was I going to say? Oh, yeah. Let's start with some plot. There's a lot to this film even though it has a runtime of two hours. I believe Miyazaki's films should be seen multiple times to be really appreciated so I'm sure I missed something upon my first viewing, but I will do my best to give a coherent plot description. 

I have no idea where this story is supposed to take place, but I'll call it Miyazaki Land since I have nothing else to go on. Miyazaki Land has a bit of a European flavor to it, too. Just gorgeous scenery with plenty of Miyazaki's trademark supernatural and goofy characters to populate it. 

The main character is Sophie and she gets transformed from an 18 year old hat-maker into a 90 year old cleaning woman after an unfortunate run-in with the Witch of the Waste. 

Unable to cope with this dramatic change in her life she runs away from home and seeks out a new life. As fate would have she runs into the mysterious wizard Howl again and finds a home in his bizarre moving castle. Howl seems to be involved with a war that seems to have no purpose and no end and his use of magic takes a toll on him, but his motivations for the things he does appears to be as unknown as the reasons for the war. 

Aided by the likes of the mute scarecrow Turnip Head and the wise-talking fire Calcifer, Sophie not only tries to handle Howl's castle duties but also tries to find the key to reclaiming her youth. Without getting killed by enemy fire or Howl's foul moods, I should add. 

The English dub consists of the likes of Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, and Jean Simmons, but I'll admit I didn't watch it. The talent attached has me curious, but I chose the original Japanese version for my first viewing. 

Baisho Chieko did an excellent job as the voice of Sophie. The English dub required two different actresses for the young and old voices, but Chieko handled both and did so with gusto. I just read that she was 63 at the time of this movie and I'm beyond surprised. I thought for sure she would have been a younger woman. Damn good job.

The music by Joe Hisaishi is good as always. No surprise there. 

The only gripes I might have about this film is that maybe there's a bit too much going on and Howl himself doesn't quite receive as much character development as I think he should have. 

All in all, this is another whole-hearted recommendation. I just wish I had the region-free import because those blu-rays are no joke. 


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

My Favorite Guitarists

I've never made a post about my favorite guitarists before. Mostly because there are so many I love. Not necessarily just to listen to, but to learn from as well. I honestly believe that I'll never stop learning until I am dead and there are always so many people out there that are way better at I am than playing guitar. Of course, technique isn't everything but it isn't nothing either. The most skilled players on the planet can make a difficult riff sound simple or a simple riff sound difficult. The most skilled players on the planet can incorporate the thoughts and ideas from others to create a completely new idea. The most skilled players on the planet can play death metal one minute and Bob Dylan the next without missing a beat. 

But they don't just play the notes. Anyone can play notes. It's how they play it that matters. The same notes have always been on the guitar since it was made as a six string instrument. Millions of people have played them. The notes have always been there. The effects don't really matter, either. 

It's the subtle things like the actual touch and attack of the human hands that creates the music. The personality of the person creates the personality of the sound and the music. And a lot of people just don't have the magic or personality to make music or play it in a compelling fashion. Learning scales and certain techniques are important, but it doesn't mean anything if you don't know how to apply them to your own playing. 

My thing about learning guitar (or anything in life) is that there are no boundaries except for the ones you put on yourself. Each time you break a boundary then go and break another one. 

However, I am not one of the most skilled players on the planet. I've been playing since I was in the fifth grade and I still haven't come even close to the greatness of Hendrix or Vai. I wasn't born with a natural talent for the craft. I wasn't a prodigy like a lot of YouTube sensation kids are these days. Everything I learned has come with a lot of time and patience and there's a lot I can still learn from those YouTube kids as well. 

That's another one of my little things about guitar (and life). Know your betters and learn from them. If you don't you are a fool. And it doesn't just apply to learning from the guitar. If you ever hear a neat piano riff or a saxophone, why not try to learn it for the guitar? Everything is up for grabs when it comes to getting better. Change it up, mix and mash and don't get complacent. 

I freely admit I'm one of the few who probably shouldn't dish out advice about learning guitar, but that's my say so on that. Take it for what you will. 

Anyway, this is my list of my favorite guitarists. These are the guys I listen to and learn from. These are the guys who are forever enshrined on the posters on my walls. Yes, there are plenty of others out there I have listened to and learned from, but I don't have a bunch of writers and editors at my disposal to make a Guitar World-sized ranking of all 200 or so of them. I'll stick with ten. 

10. Joe Satriani - I've limited my list of strictly shred guys to three. Mostly because that genre really isn't my thing. I'd rather listen to instrumental jazz with piano and sax solos then instrumental shred guitar, but there are a few guys that can make it interesting to me. A lot of the complex stuff is a little beyond the grasp of my fingers at the moment, but my ears do enjoy some Joe Satriani. I enjoy his first album quite a bit.

09. Paul Gilbert - I'm not a big Racer X fan. I don't like Mr. Big, either. In fact, I will hate Mr. Big forever because of To Be With You. I love Paul Gilbert's solo work, though. He also seems like such a cool guy and not the douche that a lot of the "I can play more technical than you" types seem to be.

08. James Hetfield - Hetfield opened my eyes to what you can do by downpicking on rhythm guitar. Downpicking is tough to do at extremely fast tempos and it requires a ton of skill to do right or else the riff will sound like crap. A lot of players alternate pick faster tempos because it's easier although alternate picking isn't the easiest to initially learn, but I'm a student of the "downpicking is heavier" school. Metallica's records from their thrash days made me want to play fast and downpick the first time I heard them.

07. Frank Zappa - If Hetfield made me want to play fast then Zappa made me want to play weird. His arrangements have been something I approach frequently and come away with something new and different each time. While his playing wasn't always the most essential part of much of his music it is undoubtedly what gives a lot of his tunes so much bite. Zappa's playing sounds like none of his contemporaries. Not that I even think he had contemporaries for his style of music.

06. Stevie Ray Vaughan - Vaughan was my introduction to guys like Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Howlin' Wolf. My first blues rock guitarist discovery was probably Clapton, but I hadn't explored much of his post-Cream music aside from the classic rock radio stuff when I discovered Vaughan's music as a kid. Aside from still being popular on guitarist polls Vaughan doesn't have a lot in common with Clapton, but if it wasn't for them a lot of the blues would be lost on young guitarists. Probably me, too. I think Vaughan is the better of the two and it's a shame that he only released a handful of albums before dying.

05. Steve Vai - Vai  is much like his mentor Zappa in that he is a wacky genius. He's also insanely talented because he was taught by Joe Satriani. Add in a stint with David Lee Roth and you'll know that obviously something is off in his head. Ever heard his song Fuck Yourself? Or Bad Horsie? Whatever it is the guy channels it into playing guitar like a god.

04. Wes Montgomery - I was a late bloomer to jazz on guitar. I can't play it worth a damn, but I appreciate it now. Wes Montgomery is my go to guy for jazz. I'm not going to try and sound pretentious and say I know a shit-ton about jazz because I don't. Maybe you know guys who are much better. However, from my limited listening experience I believe that Montgomery is just a better guitarist than most other guys slinging an axe around these days.

03. Tony Iommi - The power riff at the end of War Pigs gave me chills the first time I heard it. So epic, but oh so simple. That was the first moment that Sabbath really impacted me. I remember I was listening to my dad's recorded tapes from way back in the seventies in the old Oldsmobile. It was different then Ozzy's solo work with Rhoads and company, but it just went to show me how much talent Ozzy managed to surround himself with during his career. He went from one of the greatest guitarists of all time to another without missing a beat. I think Iommi's best moment as a lead guitarist is the performance on the first Black Sabbath album and their cover of Warning. It's just ten minutes of air guitar for me because I can't follow it without... you know, actually practicing and stuff.

02. Randy Rhoads - Rhoads and his solo in Crazy Train made me want to pick up the guitar. His other songs make me want to keep playing it. Only a handful of tunes, but that's enough. Revelation (Mother Earth) and Diary of a Madman are definite high points of guitar achievements in my eyes and ears. I frequently ask myself, "How the fuck did he think of that riff?" He was playing with Ozzy, though. It was probably a contact high or something.

01. Dimebag Darrell - I suppose this list is turning into a graveyard with all of the dead guys on it, but I am not in too much of a disagreement with myself by putting Dime at the number one spot. I've learned a lot from Dimebag's tunes. Mostly how to play badass riffs while also playing insane leads. I think he is that great crossover guitarist that helps bridge the gap from the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen to Tony Iommi to Jeff Loomis. And he wasn't an asshole, either. Dime was so likeable that it made me want to like all of his music, too. I do. Whether he was complimenting David Allan Coe or Phil Anselmo, Dimebag could shine with any vocalist in almost any style. He even made Pat Lachman tolerable as a vocalist thanks to his awesome riffs. 

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.