Category: Reviews

Review: Moretsu Pirates

When I first saw the previews for Moretsu Pirates I was instantly excited. Space! We get so little anime about space these days that I will take anything I can get. Of course, being deep in the moe era of anime we can’t have an anime about space that isn’t also about cute high school girls doing cute high school girl things, but it’s also about space so it’s going to be different, right? Space is awesome. Statement of fact. 

Well, yes and no. Moretsu Pirates suffers from the industry’s attempts to chase after a duality, create the perfect anime that will appeal to not only moe fans but also a larger audience. The goal is to break the anime industry out of their small group of a few thousand dedicated fans but at the same time not alienating that audience. Because of this goal, the show suffers from balancing its two opposing sides. Time spent with Marika Kato in school and at her job at a maid café is standard high school anime fare, enjoyable because the character is a ball of energy but avoids any interesting narrative steps. The show will go from those school scenes and jump right into semi-serious space pirating, where Marika has to deal with intergalactic conspiracies, lead massive fleets, and make split second combat decisions. The two sides of the show collide when it is “necessary” for Marika school girl yacht club to take control of the pirate ship. The merging of the two sides becomes the most enjoyable arc of the show. The original crew, unable to join with the ship, panicky had to prepare documentation for the inexperienced crew to man the highly customized pirate ship. The use of the girls was fine, again far too silly for the overall tone of the space parts of the show. Watching the mostly serious crew freaking out over the new crew of teenage girls attempting to figure out how their precious space ship worked and becomes a good analogy for the show. The serious side of the show bends to serve the moe aspects of the show, to facilitate its existence.

The costume design also harms the shows chance of being taken seriously. Marika has one awesome outfit which radiates her authority as a Pirate Captain and that appears in the series finale. The outfit she uses the most is a stylized 17-18th century era pirate outfit with her school uniform miniskirt prominently displayed. Again, this serves to highlight exactly how the show is designed: Moe with a space pirate skin overlaid on top.

The “piracy” that Marika and her crew are involved in walks in line with the light tone of the show. This isn’t a group that goes out and maliciously attacks innocent ships. They have a letter of marque and with that are technically a part of Sea of the Morningstar’s military, but they are allowed to pillage ships at will if they wish. With no war currently being fought pirates may lose their letters of marque if they do not engage in piracy. The answer comes in entertaining cruise liners. They ally with insurance companies and set up mock pirate attacks in order to entertain the upper class who can afford cruises through space. This justifies their letters of marque without having to do actual piracy, allows the audience’s perception of the characters not to be muddled by brutal and illegal action but justifies them being in space when they are called into actual jobs that involve real combat. Again, the tone remains light while they are going through the actions of space pirates.

I’ve hammered the moe criticism home, and due to the moe Moretsu Pirates will never be taken seriously, but that isn’t what the show wants. The show is out to please its duel audience and I think it fails to even start appealing to that broader audience. Unlike some shows that attempt to walk into the duality model non-moe fans will find little to love about Moretsu Pirates. The first four episodes of the show feels like school girls playing space captain. Afterwards, the show becomes much better, but someone looking for space drama and not moe is going to find it difficult getting past those episodes. After the first serious arc, the show bouncing back and forth between its two modes is jarring at best even for moe fans.

While I enjoyed Moretsu Pirates I wanted there to be more of the serious arcs. Using so much moe to appeal to the hardcore anime fans dragged the show down and obscures some of the interesting ideas that it set up for Space Pirates in an otherwise peaceful world. I hate to conclude a review this way but Moretsu Pirates is simply fun. In most places the show is horribly hyperbolic and silly, but it justifies itself so well and takes itself seriously while becoming completely self-indulgent. It wins on pure entertainment value, even if it’s empty on an intellectual level.

Review: Chihayafuru

There are so many barriers to entry in Chihayafuru that if it wasn’t freely available streaming I doubt that I, and many others who have been singing its praises, would have even attempted to touch it. It’s a sports anime that is about a card game rooted in ancient Japanese poetry, and that doesn’t sound like it would have much appeal outside a small number of specialized hobbyists. However, Chihayafuru is an anime that transcends it’s subject matter, and even it’s genre, to become something truly spectacular.

The way Chihayafuru is constructed feels like the perfect combination of all popular anime genres. Chihayafuru is based around a card game, which is treated like any other sport. So, it is essentially a Sports anime where character interaction is based around and connected too the single sport. It’s also a romance, with a flavor of the “separated childhood friend” trope that pops up so commonly in Shojo romances. The tournament sections of the show remind me of Shonen tournament stuff especially when the “Master” and “Queen” characters, the best Kurata players in the world, are fleshed out. Their super human ability and the constant stress at how large the skill gap between them and the heroes barrows heavily from Shonen tournament and fighting shows. Finally, Chihayafuru features a group of friends focused around a school club which has become a popular trope in Moe anime after the rabid popularity of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. 

Do all these elements coming together in a single title imply that Yuki Suetsugu sat down and crafted Chihayafuru to be the ultimate manga? No, I think she simply told the story she wanted to tell and the combination of all the elements listed above are each individually solid tropes that capture an audience and keep them coming back for more. Which is why each of them have traditionally been enough to serve as the basis of a show. Chihayafuru does each of them with such skill and precision that the result is a show that doesn’t allow you to become bored for a second, even if it is about a card game that no one outside Japan can even play. Karuta is based on 100 chosen poems that were written throughout Japanese history. A reader reads the first verse of the poem and the players must take the card on the field that has the second verse written upon it. The first player to capture the majority of the fifty cards in play is the winner.

Part of the fun of Chihayafuru is how unfamiliar I was with the game and the culture surrounding it. The audience watches Chihaya as she makes her way through the world of Kurata; making her way up the ladder to class A, playing in tournaments trying to each national levels, and finally attempting to challenge the Queen and become the best player in all of Japan. Even though the story follows Chihaya quickly working her way up the Kurata ranks her advancement never seems rushed or unrealistic. Chihaya is a skilled player, but she doesn’t win all of her matches, in fact many of the matches towards the end of the season she ends up losing handedly. It’s in these moments that the strategy and complexity of the game comes out. The different ways to position your hards, the way the players sit, and even the point the player begins to move towards a given card are all calculated and must be perfected in order to play with top level players. Chihaya spends a large portion of the second half of the season learning about her shortcomings as a Kurata player the hard way, by suffering a series of crushing defeats. However, each one she walks away with a taste of how difficult becoming the best Kurata player in the world actually is, and each time she walks away with a small tip that she is determined to work into her game and slowly overcome her shortfalls. 

The romance in Chihayafuru starts off as standard Shojo fair with Chihaya being torn between two boys, both of which were her childhood friends. While she has known Taichi for longer and they have been closer, she shares a connection with Arata because he is the one who inspired her to pursue Karuta. The dynamic becomes more interesting considering that Arata and Taichi know they are rivals yet are still friendly with each other, yet Chihaya doesn’t seem to have any interest in romance. The love triangle formed plays off of mutual respect and is hindered by the complete obliviousness of Chihaya. The audience is toyed with as it seems like Chihaya is slowly getting closer to Taichi, that the two of them might start to develop a serious relationship, and then the mention of Arata puts a glow in Chihaya’s eye that totally crushes any confidence that Taichi had gained. It is a difficult and exciting romance to watch, yet it doesn’t hit the audience over the head with what it’s trying to do. It remains subtle and in doing so has a larger affect than any pure romance anime has had on me. The most impressive part is I don’t know which guy will end up with Chihaya in the end, and I don’t have a preference. Both of them are good for her, for different reasons. I can’t imagine having to choose.

The secondary characters are all strong and serve to aid Chihaya’s story while being fully developed characters in their own right. Each one of them approaches Karuta in a different way and in doing so helps Chihaya see the flaw in her game. Kanade loves ancient poetry and teaches Chihaya the meaning of the poems, which is the first time she thought of them as anything but a matching game. Tsutomu shows Chihaya that the game can be analyzed and that keeping a record of your matches can help pinpoint strengths and weaknesses. Yusei brings a sense of physical competition to the group, showing that by building up ones body in other areas that physical endurance will help Karuta players hold up during the long tournaments. While they bring these aspects to Chihaya so she can evolve her own game they each have their own character arches and goals within the Karuta world that drives them forward. They serve to support Chihaya through their diverse skills but also to highlight the difficulty that Chihaya has to go through, how much better Chihaya is than the average player, and also to show exactly how far Chihaya has to go in order to capture the title of the best player in all of Japan. 

Chihayafuru is a difficult show to approach but I can’t see anyone who enjoys Japanese Animation not enjoying this show once they get a few episodes in. Yes, the subject matter is difficult to digest at first, and yes the poetry is completely unfamiliar to a western audience but the narrative does go through a lot of trouble to catch people up on the game and the poetry, and from that a western audience learns section of Japanese literature that they never would have encountered before. Above even that the show contains elements of a solid character drama, a compelling romance, and a gripping Shonen tournament show. There is something for every type of fan to latch onto in this dense, amazingly constructed masterpiece. Chihayafuru is a must watch for everyone.

Review: Char’s Counterattack

 After the horrors of Double Zeta Gundam I was excited to watch the final chapter of Tomino’s Universal Century Gundam franchise. Char’s Counterattack takes place three years after Double Zeta and about thirteen years after the original series. Char returns from hiding with a newly created Neo Zeon force carrying an asteroid with them. With the goal of rendering the Earth uninhabitable, Char sets to drop it on the planet but Amuro Ray, Captain Bright, and the elite Federation Forces team Londo-Bell are dead set against stopping them.

The movie doesn’t waste any time getting into the action. The first scene shows the unveiling of Nu Gundam, whose construction had to be accelerated because of the appearance of Char and his Neo Zeon army. Following that, Amuro Ray battles against Char’s forces while attempting to stop the astroid from falling on Earth. While the conflict rages just above the planet, the Federation Forces admit to being powerless against the oncoming asteroid. 

The set up of this movie contains most of its problems. That opening scene doesn’t quite make any sense. For starters, this is the first we’ve heard that Char is alive! He was assumed dead at the end of Zeta Gundam, killed in the final battle against the Titans. Second, Amuro Ray was retired from military service, which was covered in an arc of Zeta Gundam. If Amuro wanted to fight again why didn’t he just return to the Argama when Kamile was put out of commission, or even before, and pilot the Gundam? It feels like the movie begins twenty minutes after it should have because the audience is missing some important pieces of information.

The film disguises plot devices with some serious commentary on politics. The Earth Federation doesn’t want to get into another war after what Earth has been through during the Zeon conflict from the original series and the Neo Zeon conflict in Double Zeta Gundam. This blinds them and they completely believe and give in to Char’s demands after he drops the initial asteroid on Earth. However, the deal feels more like satire than desperation because in exchange for Char agreeing to disarm, Earth gives him the massive asteroid base Axis. They give a man who just dropped a giant rock on Earth an even bigger rock which he can drop onto the Earth! That’s exactly what he does, too. He barely hesitates! He sends a a handful of dummy ships to where the Federation was waiting to disarm Neo Zeon and then tosses Axis right into planet Earth. So while yes, Tomino is commenting on politics and how desperate the Federation was to stay out of the war it also works as a plot device to give Char the weapon he needs to destroy Earth. I’m not quite sure which way the scene favors.

The film goes on to introduce three new characters Chan Agi, a female pilot under Amuro who becomes the main love interesting in the film, Quees Panya, the daughter of a high ranking Federations Forces officer, and Hathaway Noa the son of Captain Bright Noa. Chan is a capable pilot who grounds Amuro emotionally and she is quite enjoyable to watch. However, the other two are plain annoying. Especially Quees, who quickly sympathies with Char’s goals and betrays the Federation Forces to join him. She is a Newtype prodigy, and Neo Zeon takes advantage of her to pilot a new Mobile Armor.

I don’t have much to say abut Quees except that she doesn’t serve much in the film except to fulfill a theme of corruption. She sympathizes with Char using fuzzy logic. This line appears in the Bandai subtitled version:“I’m with him! People on Earth are so stubborn and conservative but don’t have a problem changing wives or husbands! And that’s why I think Char is trying to do what he can to bring out the potential of humanity.” Which shows that the character really doesn’t know what she is getting into or why exactly she was getting into it. Once that is established, the audience is treated to Char just taking advantage of this naive girl. Beyond that, it’s annoying that she enjoys being used by Char and gets away with whatever she wants. At one point in the film she steals a Mobile Suit and finds Char out in space, then opens the cockpit and rolls through open space while holding her nose with no space suit. At that point, I just declared Tomino was using this character to annoy the audience. In reality, she is supposed to be another Lalah Sune, a young girl corrupted by Char, but this time Char has no emotional attachment to the poor girl. 

Hathaway Noa had become attached to Quees during the fifteen minutes they spent together and makes it his goal to make her see reason. During the final battle above earth, he ends up getting in the way and causing far more damage than doing help. His actions end up killing allied pilots who would have survived otherwise and doesn’t help in saving Quees, who pays the ultimate price for her betrayal and naiveté. Hathaway Noa becomes the standard Gundam character. This film is filled with veteran pilots and soldiers where the themes of Gundam traditionally come from inexperienced soldiers going into battle. Hathaway goes into this war as a child and comes out having seen one of the most horrible battles in human history, seeing someone he cared about killed, and being responsible for the death of a comrade. He becomes the audience stand in and, even though he lacks much characterization, is relatable because of that.

The question why we needed to have the novice soldier in this film is what bugs me. This should be a film filled with people who have survived through the previous two wars and are ready to put everything to rest, or not in the case of Char. Instead Tomino uses Hathaway Noa as a tool to continue telling the one story he seems to recycle over and over again, that of a young man walking into the horrors of war. It isn’t needed in this film, and it distracts from the main point of the film, the final battle between Amuro and Char.

Char’s motivation is never really made solid to me. Most of the options given as to why he is attack Earth are speculation, and in terms of narrative consistency there are no details on how he produced an army of mobile suits or gained control over Neo Zeon after they were all but destroyed at the end of Double Zeta. He always had the “Space should rule over Earth” aspect of his character but I would have liked to see how exactly he became such a radical. A slight hint that Lalah’s death was eating away at him and driving him crazy isn’t enough. Amuro suffers from the same problems. He is simply Amuro. He pilots the Nu Gundam, which he also designed, he is legendary and awesome. I never got a sense of the man he became after all these years. Zeta Gundam did a good job of moving the character forward and now we see him again and it feels like even the development exposed in Zeta Gundam is ignored.The film presents Char’s motivationit matter-of-factly, I never really buy it considering the history with the characters. Char wants Amuro dead because of the death of Lalah Sune. Even after all these years he still loves her, and still resents her picking Amuro over him at the end. He also goes on about how human being’s souls are tied down by gravity and how Earth will always ignore the needs of people in space, and all of this justifies mass genocide, apparently, because once the Earth Government is moved to Space they won’t be bitter that their home and families were annihilated by a radical splinter group.

The best part of the film are the animation and action scenes. This movie was made in 1988 and the animation and mech battles rival anything made since. The mech designs are fantastic, the fights are breathtaking, and the one on one duel between Amuro and Char is worthy of going down in animation history. That final duel is almost perfect, except for one scene where they both get out of their mechs for no reason. The battle uses everything we love about Gundam and pushes it to an extreme without using any of the silliness that tainted some of the final battles from previous UC Gundam series. This is what the movie was made to showcase, it’s what Gundam fans have wanted since the original series. The rematch finally comes and it’s glorious in every respect. 

Then comes the end. Axis is blown apart but half of it is still falling towards Earth. Amuro moves to attempt to stop it’s descent using the Nu Gundam and its Psyco-Frame. Suddenly Federation reinforcement arrive and all help, then Zeon mobile suits join in to help. But that isn’t enough and all of them are forced to retreat. It’s then that Char realizes the warmth of the human heart, even in someone willing to destroy the Earth. That realization causes him to renew his faith in humanity and that combined with the Psyco-frame’s resonance, pushes Axis away from the Earth. Yet, Amuro and Char never reappear.

So after all that, Char simply changes his mind and that’s enough to reverse everything that he put into motion. Sure, he had the aid of a magical Mobile Suit system but …it’s still a little disappointing. Maybe if I had more of a sense of Char’s character before this realization made the difference in the fate of planet Earth it would have been more believable. It’s presented as epic and rational, but it feels cheap because of my lack of truly understanding these characters.

I wanted to love this movie. But the annoying side characters and subplots just dragged it down, as well as a lack of a cohesive narrative and characters who had proper motivation. However this film is a must see for fans of mecha combat and anyone who has ever enjoyed a Gundam series. In the end, it’s visuals and action are stunning to behold and it’s the that final battle between the original protagonist and antagonist of the Gundam franchise that has made this film a classic. For all its flaws it wasn’t a bad watch and I kind of look forward to seeing the film again not only for the action sequences but to further deconstruct how the themes reflect post-war Japan and Tomino’s ultimate message about war. Through my watching of UC Gundam there has been a duality to the various parts of the franchise. The first is great action and a compelling world on the brink of destruction. The second is incomprehensible character decisions, poor plotting, and Newtype “magic” as a solution to problems. Yes, the second one seems to out weight the first overall, but that is just one of the elements you’re signing up for when approaching Gundam.

The failure of Double Zeta Gundam

I was warned. Cautioned. Told, specifically, that Double Zeta Gundam was not something that I wanted to experience. But I made a pact with myself. A sworn vow. I was going to watch all the Universal Century Gundam! As an anime fan, as someone who has used the screenname “Gundampilotspaz” for the last ten years, I need to at least have seen all of the shows in the original Gundam universe, right? Well, even Bandai must have had better sense than I did going into this series. Double Zeta Gundam is the only chapter of the original UC Gundam that has not been released in the United States. Maybe I should have taken the hint?

After the success of the reedited Gundam trilogy movies the new 50 episode Zeta Gundam series was massively successful. Ending on a cliffhanger, the show needed a sequel in order to conclude narrative threads started at the end of the series. So enter Double Zeta Gundam! However, from the first episode the series takes on an obvious tonal shift. By the end of Zeta Gundam, the show had become exceptionally bleak. In fact, the show ended with Kamile, the main protagonist and Gundam pilot, mentally damaged after his final battle with Haman Karn. While the Titans are defeated in the final battle the return of Zeon promises that the work of the Argama crew is no where near complete. 

Double Zeta begins by quickly having Kamile rolled off to a hospital, leaving the Argama without a main pilot. The damage to the ship and crew looks bleak but we are introduced to an entire new group of young men who have mobile suit experience! Unfortunately for the Argama crew, they are more interested in stealing the Gundams and scraping them for profit than fighting the forces of Zeon. The first six episodes or so follow this pattern: Judau and his friends manage to steal Zeta Gundam and scrap it, Zeon appears and attacks, Judau defeats the enemy, the Argama somehow gets the Gundam back. That is the pattern for the first six episodes! The most puzzling aspect is in most of the battles they keep coming up with reasons to leave the cockpit doors open. Sometimes it’s because Judau isn’t sure how to close to hatch, other times the Zeon officers take mobile suits that don’t have doors installed. For some reason, Tomino decided that for the first few Gundam battles the hatches had to be open. Humor? It might be humor?

Those first few episodes are also filled with the poorest slapstick humor I’ve ever seen. The Zeon commander’s incompetence is supposed to be funny, the fact that Judau is constantly able to steal the Gundam is supposed to be funny, and there are scenes where the Gundam’s themselves are the subject of slapstick humor including one horrible scene where Zeta Gundam gets it’s head stuck in the ceiling of the hanger deck while the audience is treated to a shot of it’s flailing legs. Even after the first ten or so episodes the comedy stays around and seems to be the driving force behind the narrative.

When the more serious piece of Double Zeta begins we’re introduced to a character named Chara Soon who is a high ranking officer in Haman’s new Zeon army. She seems to be a rational, obedient officer… until she gets in the cockpit of a mobile suit. Once piloting a mobile suit she looses her mind with battle lust, caring only about fighting and winning. This, to say the least, destroys any credibility the character had. I’m convinced that it was some kind of meta joke Tomino snuck into the series. Outside a Mobile Suit, Chara Soon hates violence and wishes the war is over quickly. Once inside all she cares about is personal victory. Is Tomino providing commentary on on his own characterization? It’s possible, but the audience has to dig deep in order to come to that conclusion.

Once the series crosses episode fifteen it improves by a good measure by actually returning to the main antagonist of the show, Haman Karn, and working on a huge subplot where Judau’s only goal becomes the return of her kidnapped sister from Zeon Officer Glemy who is using her for …something? Honestly, I never quite understood why he kidnapped her. He seemed to be preparing her for live in the Zeon court but why he would pick a random orphan girl from a backwater colony to be a member of the Zeon court is beyond me. It seemed like Glemy’s obsession with the girl was an excuse to give Judau a reason to continue fighting with the Argama, and nothing more.

Hands down the most frustrating part of the show is that no one learns from their mistakes. Early, the Argama allow a group of kids to steal their highly advanced combat ready Mobile Suits effortlessly …several times! Once Judau joins the Argama crew this doesn’t stop. People seem to just take off in a Mobile Suit whenever they feel like, disobeying orders in the process. Captain Bright’s answer to this is to shrug and have a “boys will be boys” attitude. Does anyone remember what Captain Bright did to Amuro Ray when he took the Gundam without orders? He tossed him in the brig! Yet he allows any member of the Argama Crew to just launch in any Mobile Suit they want while he sits in his Captain’s chair mumbling, “No, stop. Please don’t do that. Hey, be a friend.”

There is so much not to like about this series, but those come from the characters and the narrative. I found the majority of the battle scenes in Zeta Gundam to be paint by numbers and repetitive while in Double Zeta they were more consistently exciting. The animation is also a step up with the Mobile Suit designs taking another wide step forward. Granted, I would have preferred the Double Zeta Gundam not separating into it’s three components quite so often because, at times, it just didn’t make tactical sense and harmed Judau’s chances of winning the battles when it was employed. 

The last twenty episodes have a lot to like in them. The small side stories on the earth are well written and entertaining. They also give the audience a good slice of how much the on going war has affected the Earth as well as what the remains of the original Zeon occupation have been doing since Amuro Ray’s oringal victory. The episodes that are great step away from the crew and do character studies on people who have been affected by some aspect of the war. One such stories follows a woman who lost her boyfriend in the last war and has been outcast from her community for being associated with the Zeon.

The second half of the series comes to a glorious climax at episode 35 when it’s learned the Haman Karn will drop a colony on the Federation base in Dublin. It’s a two part episode which covers characters preparing for the event, trying to evacuate Dublin while an unhelpful Federation celebrates the population decrease the attack will cause and Zeon forces try to prevent refugee ships from escaping. After the colony drop the desolate waste of Dublin becomes the battle ground for an epic fight between Double Zeta and a Zaku 3, then the Double Zeta and an allied Qubeley fight the tremendously powerful Physco Gundam around the crumbling remains of the fallen colony. The battle was exceptionally choreographed, the animation was stunning, and it held some of the few genuine emotional moments of the series. They are perhaps two of the best episodes in all of UC Gundam.

The series then destroys that momentum by inserting some filler where Haman Karn sneaks aboard the Argama for no reason, as well as the return of the Moon-Moon priestesses which appeared in an awful two part episode during the first half of the series. By the time the last shoe was dropped, Glemy attacks Haman Karn and begins a Zeon civil war, the event falls flat. What should be an epic moment and an epic battle is weighted down by bad pacing, poor character construction, and a lack of stake for the outcome of the battle. While the action was fun and exciting, it felt like Mobile Suit battles for the sake of Mobile Suit battles at that point in the series.

So, is Double Zeta an attempt by Tomino to sabotage the Gundam franchise as some fans suspect? Well, I don’t think that’s true. It certainly is an attempt to create a different type of story in the Gundam Universe, to insert some comedy instead of being consistently dark and foreboding. But it just didn’t work because the audience is expecting the series to pick up right where Zeta Gundam ends and conclude that narrative. Much of the series, especially the early part, is filler that was created to fulfill Tomino’s contract so he can move on to what he really wanted to create: Char’s Counterattack. Char is obviously Tomino’s favorite character and without him in this series, it felt like he just doesn’t care. The main story is still as good as Gundam will ever be but it’s hidden behind bad characters and poor pacing.

Should it be watched? Probably not. Maybe the final fifteen or so episodes are worth watching or if one wished to be a Gundam completest for the sake of being a Gundam completest. There is just too much wrong with the series to make the few moments they get right be worth the time investment.

Review: Ah! My Goddess! Season 1

 I was excited to revisit Ah! My Goddess!. It was one of the first shows I watched after jumping back into anime after a burnout period and because of that it had always held a special place in my heart. Even before watching the TV series, I was a big fan of the original OVA and the film, so at the time I was guaranteed to love the series. However, the last time I watched this show was six years ago and it is rare that something matches up with fond memories. Keiichi Morisato is a student at Nekomi Institute of Technology who has always had bad luck. After selflessly helping a little girl find her wallet, he accidentally dials the Goddess Relief Office and is granted a wish. Without thinking he wishes that the Goddess stays by his side forever.

I want to approach this as fair as I possibly could, because I’ve seen this show before in several varieties and knew what to expect from the jump and yet this time watching it, I couldn’t help but feel creeped out by those first few episodes. In essence, Keiichi wishes that Belldandy stays with him against her will. That is the core concept of the show. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t take advantage of her, it doesn’t matter that she learns to genuinely like him. This time it just stuck with me as odd. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen this formula so many times in the last five years that the vail has been lifted. I wrote in my preview of Ano Natsu de Matteru that a show around a girl coming from supernatural place and living with a guy has been done so many times that its lost all meaning. 

Ah! My Goddess! takes that up a level as having the supernatural girl being tied to the main character by an unbreakable magical force. In the first few seconds after the wish is granted she rushes over, calls her boss to ask if the wish had been granted in a panicked voice. Only after that brief moment does she then switch over to being cheerfully sweet at the whole situation. That brief moment of panic is enough to ruin the whimsical nature of the scene and give it a creepy vibe.

The relationship of the characters does grow over the next few episodes. Belldandy honestly likes Keiichi and actively wants to get to know him. Keiichi, on the other hand, just seems happy to be with a girl. Of course, Belldandy is a beautiful and kind goddess. What guy wouldn’t instantly fall in love with her? It is the idea that Keiichi just wants a girlfriend and doesn’t care who it is part that I don’t like, and while I could see Belldandy make an effort to get to know Keiichi and slowly learn to love him over the course of the series, I never got that feeling from Keiichi. The show assumes the audience will just accept the fact that he falls in love with Belldandy because… Belldandy is a beautiful girl who appeared in front of him magically!

The initial conflicts of the series surround two rich, popular kids at Nekomi Tech. Sayoko Mishima is so popular that she believes herself to be the Queen of the school and Toshiyuki Aoshima is a playboy who becomes frustrated when Belldandy shows no interest in him. The plots that involve them feel petty, as the theme of those stories is that being rich and popular doesn’t always get you everything you want. But that plot is recycled in various ways in all the episodes that those character appear as the main antagonists. Once the more intense, magic driven narratives begin those early episodes feel like they don’t even matter. They exist to set a tone, and the two characters become annoying quickly. They might be there to make people who identify with Keiichi feel superior to their “social betters” but watching this now that I’m out of school and far away from the social politics of school life those characters and their episodes are just boring.

That becomes the ultimate problem with the entire series. I never feel like there is anything on the line. I know that Belldandy and Keiichi aren’t going to be broken up by some rich, preppy kid in the eighth episode of the series, so why should I care about this story? Unfortunately, that is what happens throughout the whole show even with the more mythical or magic based plots. All of them can be boiled down to a threat against Keiichi and Belldandy being together and each time the audience knows that it won’t end with the two of them torn apart. When the show moves away from those kind of stories it does get better. The episodes where Belldandy becomes sick and Keiichi is forced to take care of her is sweet, and when Keiichi and Belldandy help build the confidence of one of the members of the motor club for an upcoming race the character becomes surprisingly endearing. Unfortunately, those moments are sprinkled in between stories where Keiichi and Belldandy might be torn apart! Oh no! 

When the climax began, this cycle had just worn on me. Even with a powerful evil being released and Urd turning on the main cast, I just didn’t feel like anything bad was going to happen to these characters and thus I didn’t really care about the story. The climax of the show features three separate epic battles, each time having the fate of the Earth on the line, and I felt bored by the entire exchange.

The best part about the series comes from the interactions of the three Goddesses. Belldandy, Urd, and Skuld are fun characters and their vastly different personalities allow for many interesting clashes. When the show focuses on the Goddesses and not on the Belldandy-Keiichi relationship or any kind of conflict it is far more enjoyable. In that way It works as a relaxing slice of life show. Unfortunately, most of the interactions of the Goddesses come around the Belldandy-Keiichi relationship, which harms it a little, but those bouts of dialogue are a welcome break from the insufferable love story.

I’m a little sad to say how much Ah! My Goddess! bored me. Again, I go back to my preview of Ano Natsu de Matteru and I must say this kind of wish fulfillment romantic comedy just doesn’t appeal to me anymore. What bothered me most is how that even during some pretty serious, epic moments the characters never really feel like they are in danger. Without real consequences, conflict doesn’t really have any meaning. I did like the characters and how they interacted, but it was always framed by the go-no-where romance between Belldandy and Keiichi. As for the creepy factor… it was there through a lot of the show but it ended on a high note, with Haven in chaos Keiichi’s wish had been lost. So Keiichi and Belldandy are free to begin a relationship without any magical interference. The characters had grown together to a point where I accepted that they could mutually agree to start a relationship. Now maybe they’ll actually kiss at some point.

Review: Hanasaku Iroha


With so many Anime drama’s being built around horrible cliches and stock character designs it’s refreshing to see a show that thrives for realism above recycling tired old anime tropes. P.A. Works celebrates their tenth anniversary by crafting a show that is closer to a live action drama then traditional anime drama. Does their attempt to bring a realistic drama to modern anime work or does the show falter? Ohana Matsumae is a sixteen year old girl forced to mature faster thanks to her less-then-ideal mother, Satsuki. When Satsuki’s boyfriend becomes involved in a crooked deal they’re forced to flee Tokyo sending Ohana to stay with her estranged grandmother at a traditional Japanese inn. Ohana needs to work, learn to deal with people, and attempt to repair the relationship between Satsuki and her family.


There is a beautiful simplicity to Hanasaku Iroha. It doesn’t relay on any of the standard anime tropes or set ups, it doesn’t seem to be one of the many shows that wants to appear to the niche anime audience through their fetishes, and it doesn’t seem to care about wish fulfillment. At first glance, I expected all of these things from the show and it surprised me by avoiding all those traps of most recent anime. It has been hard to find shows that don’t reflect some of those problems, even from modern quality anime. Hanasaku Iroha strives for realism and after spending a short time with the characters and living in the world for a bit they’ve definitely hit the mark.

The show centers mostly on Ohana and her move out to her grandmother’s inn where, to her surprise, she is put to work. Quickly the staff challenge her world view and force her to reflect on some of her actions up to that point, especially romantically. Ohana seems like anything but a selfish character, but the tiny flaw that is exposed is exasperated when she is placed in a new location surrounded by new people. Her tiny ability to be inconsiderate is placed in the spot light and undermines her first impression of the inn. The starting point is a flaw, and the flaw is not obvious or overt but simply a normal flailing of an adolescent girl. Something that all children have to grow out of in other to adapt to new surroundings. Ohana is a relatable and likable character because the series captures her as she readies herself to become an adult.


The animation is vibrant and the backgrounds contain an incredible amount of detail. Being the anniversary work of P.A. Works clearly the studio dedicated a large amount of time and resources into crafting the best looking show they possibly could. The animation aids in the immersive feeling of the narrative and the audience gets lost in the beautiful sights around the hot spring village. The contrast between different inns or the city versus the country are enhanced by the amount of care taken to craft specific details. The designs of the main female cast are all cute without falling into cliche and the personality of the entire cast can be deduced by simply looking at them, the goal of all great character designs.


Narrative style in Hanasaku Iroha is a combination of standalone episodes that are united with a unifying thread.There isn’t exactly an overarching story that ties the entire series together, rather there is an overarching theme that is planted in episode two and then is slowly cultivated over time, coming to a beautiful crescendo in the finale. However, there is some continuity that begins in seemingly stand alone episodes and end up effecting later events. It’s a great way to construct a slice of life show where there isn’t a strong narrative, the show is moved by the strong characters, but the author still wants t o create a sense that everything that happens in the series matters. That the events of the show affect the characters in a meaningful way. The fantastic part about the stand alone episodes is the shows ability to use them to craft some fun scenarios within the construct of the show. The best one being where the head waitress is determined to get fired and treats a group of rowdy military otaku guests rudely. The guests, however, being obsessed with all things military loved the harsh treatment. The episode is one shining example of how the formula can be flexible while still crafting a cohesive narrative. In the second half of the series this principal is carried over except standalone episodes before rarer and two or three episode arcs follow this same pattern. They seem like a contained story yet small elements work in subtle ways to aid the unifying narrative.


While most of the characters in Hanasaku Iroha are vibrant and interesting there are some points that subtract from the experience. As with a lot of anime I complain about I don’t think we get to see as much of the secondary characters as we might have, and much of the time we do get to experience the secondary characters it is through the filter of Ohana or one of the other young girls. I wanted to live with the chef or his assistant and really get to know them. With most of the characters the small bits were charming, at least, but there is a relationship between the managers son; Ohana’s uncle; and his college sweetheart that I found trying. On one hand I think Hanasaku Iroha was being realistic in crafting a relationship that seemed to come from benefit rather than love but up until that point I didn’t see the pair has anything more than friends or business partners, even if the young master was a little obsessed with the woman. They never even shared an onscreen kiss at that point and showed no affection for each other. It didn’t feel right and took me right out of the narrative.


The last few episodes, leading up to the finale, are heart warming tearjerkers but is also where the few cracks evident in the series start to show. The manager makes a decision that the staff disagrees with and Ohana accidentally finds herself on the other side of the argument. I thought that most of the characters broke form in those moments. Ohana for not being gung-ho against her grandmother, the staff for being so bitter and hostile, the manager for blatantly ignoring the rational arguments against her decision. In the heated moments it just felt like climactic drama for the sake of climactic drama and ultimately fell flat.

Hanasaku Iroha is a fantastic, realistic, and beautiful drama which is worthy of being P.A. Work’s tenth anniversary work. The animation is some of the best the industry has produced, character designs are exceptional, and the narrative avoids anime cliche’s and traps in favor of realism. While the mostly solid character drama has some detracting flaws and the drama inserted to build towards the end feels contrived, it doesn’t take enough away enough from the series to spoil the experience. It’s a part relaxing, part stressful, part fun, but will leave any audience with a satisfying warm feeling in their heart.

Review: Steins;gate


There are few things in the world I enjoy more than I good time travel story. Time travel offers a unique twist to a standard narrative, in that, events don’t always occur linearly. The events the characters experience are jumbled and due to this the plotting of a time travel story come out far more interesting than a standard drama. Steins;Gate takes place in Akihabara where a group of friends modified a microwave to send text messages into the past. Underestimating the consequences Okabe Rintaro, self proclaimed mad scientist, allows people to use the machine to change the past. What he discovers is that even altering the past slightly can completely change the world.

573830.jpgSteins;Gate is really two different shows. The first half is a Moe show with time travel elements and the second half is a time travel show with Moe elements. Strangely both work, for different reasons, and the transition from the lighthearted and fun atmosphere of the first half of the narrative moves smoothly when Steins;Gate suddenly becomes deadly serious. Such a change in tone is difficult to pull off, yet Steins;Gate manages it by having a fantastic first episode which encapsulates most of the elements that the series will represent going forward. The audience gets the insane antics of Okabe, the wonderful Moe of Mayuri, some of the deep time travel elements, technobabble, and murder. This execution is viewed in hindsight, however, as the first episode’s tonal imbalance may turn away overwhelmed viewers.

The element that really drew me into Steins;Gate was the use of internet culture as a hook, specifically using John Titor as the jumping point for the series. In late November 2000 a man who claimed to be a time traveler appeared on IRC and his claims have been immortalized on the internet. Steins;Gate’s hook is when Okabe notices that the first message they send back in time, accidentally, erases John Titor from existence. Going forward Steins;Gate uses pieces of the John Titor story has important plot points including the search for the IBM 5100, Titor’s explanation of how time travel works, and the year John Titor claimed to have been from; 2036. Prior knowledge of John Titor isn’t required to enjoy the narrative but you get a little extra out of the show by recognizing the references.


Early in the show Okabe recruits Kurisu Makise, a prodigy scientist, and together they develop and test the Phone Microwave and it’s unique ability to send messages back in time, called “D-mail.” Much of the first half of the show is spent on these experiments and on playing around with the show’s moe cast of characters. Being Akihabara, many of the characters are Otaku with classic Otaku tropes. Daru is a brilliant engineer but comes off as a lonely pervert, Mayuri is an adorable cosplay Otaku who works at a costume cafe, Feyris works with Mayuri and remains in her cat persona even outside of work, and various other characters. They’re enjoyable to watch interact and the characters who get a chance to change the world with D-Mail get backstories which crush the heart of the viewer and Okabe in the same fatal stroke. However, I never felt like the majority of the characters received any depth. Most of them simply work as plot devices to drive the narrative forward, provide a reason to alter the course of the world. Even when their backstories were explored I felt more for Okabe than I did for the individual characters because he had to explain that their wishes were harming the course of time, and he felt responsible for them having to undo their changes to the past.


Kurisu Makise is also an interesting character. While she holds many of the stereotypical Tsundere traits she is given enough development to not only to overcome them but to somewhat justify them. Her secret obsession with 2channel gives her an interesting quark and the unintentional rivalry with her father both shows why she seems profoundly sad yet has accomplished so much at a young age. Even her first encounter with Okabe showed her range, at first she took a profound enjoyment out of proving him wrong and yet when he proved that time travel was possible she was humble enough to agree to work for him. I have a respect for characters who command respect and yet can be humble when they’re defeated. Mayuri offers an interesting intersect because while she is a character who exists as a plot device and doesn’t have much development you can’t help but fall in love with her. She is the sweetest, most gentle creature in the world, which works as a nice foil to the often abrasive and rude Okabe. She’s able to bring out a side of Okabe no one else sees which makes their relationship profoundly endearing.

Time travel is the main focus of the plot in Steins;Gate. D-Mails sent into the past don’t exactly change the future but shift the “world line” Okabe inhabits. He has the unique ability, conveniently, to remember all the world lines he happened to inhabit. His friends don’t notice any change because they’ve always existed in the world created by the D-Mail. So “Time Travel” for the majority of Steins;Gate is actually “world line travel.” Altering a small part of the past allows Okabe to jump between the world lines. Although later in the show more actual time travel takes place I enjoyed the plots created by the D-mails because of the mystery around what effect the message would have on Okabe’s world. One simple jump and an element he was relaying on, a driving focus of the plot for the early episodes, would just disappear forcing Okabe to completely rethink his strategy. In total, Steins;Gate uses three methods of Time travel; world line travel, consciousness travel where a person’s present mind jumps back into their physical body; and physical time travel where a character travels from the present into the past. Each of the methods are pulled off well with their own benefits and drawbacks expertly explored.


One aspect of Steins;Gate that I didn’t like is that the science changed when it became convenient to the characters. At one point Kurisu declares that her field of study was in the brain when she is first scene giving a presentation on physics and had, up to that point, only mentioned being a physicist. Another bit of rule breaking that irked me was they changed rules when the plot needed a rule to be changed. At first one Time Machine is limited to only travel backwards through time, which creates a depressing departure that the show spends an entire episode fixated on. Later a time machine of the same make has the ability to travel forwards and backwards through time, which gives Okabe an extra chance to change the past. It’s sloppy storytelling and bad science fiction.

I’ve discussed how well I think the time travel elements of Steins;Gate work, and indeed at its core this is an extremely solid Time Travel narrative. However, the moe elements are going to drive away people who would otherwise find the series enjoyable. The early episodes are light on the Sci-fi and heavy on moe characters doing moe things, the pacing is slow allowing the audience to spend more time with the characters. Each episode reveals one small piece of the plot. When that shift in the middle of the series happens Steins;Gate becomes a serious time travel narrative but getting there is going to prove difficult for someone looking for good science fiction right from the start. It’s unfortunate that by playing to the Otaku crowd who love both science fiction and moe, the audience who would most appreciate Steins;Gate won’t be able to make it through those first few episodes.


This review might feel a little negative but I can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed Steins;Gate. For all it’s failings, Okabe and Kurisu remain interesting characters and the way it employs the standard time travel tropes are always fun and entertaining. The dark, serious tone during the second half of the show is contains some incredible character drama despite the cast of mostly shallow characters. Okabe is forced to carry the burden of the narrative, being remembers world line jumps, that the depth of his character, what he goes through, and how he is profoundly changed by the end is truly moving. So while moe elements hold the show back and some of the science fiction elements are weak, the show comes off as a definite watch for science fiction and moe fans alike. No where near a perfect show, but an entertaining and moving piece of animation.

Review: Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below


Makoto Shinkai has been called the next Hayao Miyazaki, for good reason. In his newest work he creates an adventure narrative in the vain of the greatest of Miyazaki’s films, a departure from his extremely emotional love stories. By making a Ghibli-esuq film he is making a direct challenge to the master of Japanese animation but is it too early for him to be making such bold declarations or is this Shinkai clearly declaring his rightful place in the animation world? Asuna is a young girl who has been forced to mature early due to the loss of her father and the hectic schedule of her mother. She spends her time on the mountain listening to strange music from her crystal radio. One day a mysterious boy saves her from a beast, this starts her on a journey that brings her to the underworld Agartha and will lead her to a power capable of resurrecting the dead.


The film is gorgeous. Known for his fantastic art and attention to detail, Shinkai again creates some beautiful landscapes. There are dozens of frames in the film that deserve to be framed and hung on a wall, moments where I audibly gasped at the landscapes that Shinkai creates. Shinkai is probably the best artist currently working in Japan and he has poured all of his talent into crafting this film. When Asuna descends into Agartha we’re treated to the remnants of a once great civilization, here Shinkai builds magnificent ruins and gives them an unbelievable sense of scale. It can’t be understated how a meticulous use of background detail aids world and character building. Being able to see shelves and books, various containers, and other elements of life make the people of Agartha come alive. The creation of a lived in look to the villages and cities is comparable to Miyazaki’s towns in Nausccia and Princess Mononoke. The audience is immersed in this world completely. It feels alive.

One of the most exceptional images of the film is when Asuna reaches the edge of Agartha and sees a massive crater, the center of which is the gateway of life and death. Clouds hang over the crater and past it lies a flat desert. As the clouds hang above the crater the sun starts to peak over and the light transforms the entire horizon into a brilliant orange. The images shapes itself and one beautiful image transforms into a magnificent image as you watch. This is one of the best visual treats that Shinkai employs and it’s always stunning. He allows the subtle change in nature to tell a piece of the story, to define a bit of his theme, and to imbue the audience with a slight emotion. Again, Shinkai’s genius comes in attention to detail.


Asuna is a fantastic character and Shinkai spends the first part of the movie showing her daily life. Her relationship with her pet squirrel, how she takes care of the household chores, and prepares her own meals. Shinkai’s subtle use of visual narrative gives the audience a ton of information through quick visuals or background noise. Her mother isn’t around and a line is dropped that she’s working at a hospital, which conjures a host of images in the viewers head. During an early scene Asuna is seen praying at her Father’s shrine, so without beating the audience over the head with her circumstances the audience understands and is immediately sympathetic. The same can’t be said about most of the other characters of the film. Mr. Morisaki, who becomes the driving force of the journey into Agartha, has a rushed development and little is known about him before a twist has him on his way to the gate of life and death. Years of research and this life threatening journey are the result of the loss of his wife, who we never see and recieve no information about. We’re supposed to take it at face value that Morisaki would endanger a young girl, recruit a group of commandos, and recklessly journey across a dying world on foot in order to bring her back to life. His obsession is the driving force of the film, he is introduced by teaching the myth of Agartha to Asuna’s class long before we learn that he lost his wife. He also never speaks personally about his wife during the film, even after he becomes close to Asuna. This lack of any sympathetic qualities turns what should be a rich, sympathetic character into a flat obsessive villain.

Makoto Shinkai’s films are traditionally slow, which allows the characters and imagery to take center stage. “5 Centimeters per second” used imagery, narration, and dialogue to tell its story. “Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below,” being an action/adventure film can’t relay on those tropes that Shinkai has mastered. The first ten minutes of the movie do follow that pattern, as I wrote above much of

children_who_chase_lost_voices_from_deep_below_3.jpegAsuna’s characterization comes from Shinkai’s brilliant use of imagery. Once the action starts is where some of the problems begin. The pacing is extremely start-stop, never finding a consistent middle ground. Characters felt less that they were traveling in the epic world of Agartha and more that they were fulfilling plot points as they came along. This is where comparing Shinkai to Miyazaki breaks down. Most Miyazaki films stick to a strict structure which leaves room for great action while winding the pace down smoothly to explore the characters and insert humor. Shinkai hasn’t developed that ability yet, but the shortcomings in the plot and pacing aren’t large enough to ruin the film, it’s one of the failings that arises when attempting to compare Shinkai to the mastery of Miyazaki.

Shinakai’s themes are always fantastic and “Children” is no different. The film is an extended metaphor for grief, the process of overcoming the death of a love one and what happens when someone isn’t able to let go. It’s a beautiful theme and well executed, the characters all come to a point where they have to make a difficult emotional decision and some fail that test. Even with the problems in characterization the desire that Morisaki had to bring a loved one back to life carries an emotional wight which is executed with profound skill.

Shinkai also adds a single sword fight to the movie, a quick minute long sword fight that happens near the end. It is perhaps the greatest action scene ever animated, comparable to the best action scenes from Princess Mononoke. Character movements are extremely fast and fluid, the choreography is exciting, and it feels like there is something serious at stake. Where most anime’s action scenes can come off as flashy Shinkai favors realism, as with his backgrounds, and captures the complex nature of humans in a physical struggle with the same profound skill he uses to craft his stunning landscapes.


Shinkai achieves near greatness with this newest film but by switching from his traditional style to a formula that strongly resembles that of Hayao Miyazaki he now enters an area where he is overshadowed by giants. However, the most exciting part about Makoto Shinkai is his age. When Miyazaki constructed his first “masterpiece” in “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” he was forty-three years old. Makoto Shinkai is currently only thirty-eight. The exciting part about Shinkai is that his art is still developing. He already is one of the best animators working in Japan at this time and plenty of time to work on characterization, plotting, and other narrative failings of this film. So while some elements hold “Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below” back the career that this film foreshadows has me more extremely excited about the future of animation.

I recommend “Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below” as an enjoyable adventure story despite some of it’s narrative failings. However, the artistry in the film and the sheer beauty that scenes are animated make it an incredible visual experience. Even if the narrative doesn’t win you over the few scenes that make you gasp in delight will be well worth the investment.

Review: Tiger & Bunny


Superheroes are a traditionally American trope but as Japan is trying to grow their shrinking animation market they’re making more attempts to appeal to American sensibilities. The first attempt in resent years to create a superhero anime set in America was Heroman, which failed because it felt like anime tropes shoved into an American superhero story. Tiger and Bunny comes from one of the most famous Japanese animation companies that still exist, Sunrise, and is helmed by a man who has worked on Gundam and other serious mech shows. Using talent that has created some of the most memorable Japanese science fiction they have crafted a series that is not only a capable superhero narrative but an exception example of the genre. In a alternate reality filled with NEXT, people with superhuman powers, Wild Tiger is a veteran hero who has been dropping in the rankings of the reality show “HeroTV.” His contract is sold to a new company where he is forced to pair with the rookie hero Barnaby Brooks Jr. The pair has to learn to work together to take down the criminals of Sternbild, gain enough points to win HeroTV, and track down the terrorist organization responsible for the murder of Barnaby’s parents.


The first thing viewers will notice about Tiger and Bunny is their approach to superheroes. The audience is introduced to the heroes through the commentators of HeroTV as they attempt to apprehend a suspect. This first episode enables the audience to quickly learn the main cast and what their individual powers are but it also fills in a lot of world detail that is required going forward. The television aspect of the show makes a whole lot of sense when attempting to create a realistic superhero narrative. With some exception, it takes a lot of dedication and selflessness to go out at night and capture thugs for free. Now if you could monazite the effort without giving up your actual goals than it becomes a way to make a decent living. The sponsorships fall into the same category, superheroes need equipment and want to make money on the side just as much as athletes. There is no reason why they shouldn’t leverage their visibility in a mutually beneficial sponsorship. It may sound cold and greedy, but it’s the way our world works.

Tiger and Bunny is a show about a partnership. From the second episode onward the show revolves around the relationship between Kotetsu and Barnaby, the charm and humor of the show comes from their banter and growth as a team. The personality of the characters clash beautifully with the stoic Barnaby constantly being annoyed by the carefree and impulsive Kotetsu. Watching the two of them conflict and grow is a real treat. The constant conflict works as a mechanism to get some serious character development. The amount of trust that the two put into their partnership and what they decide to share with each other tells a lot about how the character thinks and what they think of their relationship with the other. Due to the amount of time the show uses to distinguish the personality types the moments when the two come to a point of understand are all the more profound.


Tiger and Bunny uses a team style of superheroes making them both rivals and comrades, which creates a great dynamic among the group. All of the heroes have varied powers which fall into the general pantheon of superhero abilities such as, flight, electricity, fire, and ice. Tiger and Bunny doesn’t do anything new with these abilities either, but the abilities of the heroes quickly fall into the background to allow their personalities to shine. Throughout the series most of the heroes get their own character building episode which gave each of them some serious depth. My favorite being the one where Dragon Kid has to deal with her issues with femininity, her relationship to her parents, and to protect the Mayor’s NEXT baby. The episode hit it’s beats perfectly allowing the audience to understand Dragon Kid in only twenty minutes on top of presenting an interesting story, bringing us two NEXT villains, and fitting in plenty of banter between Tiger and Bunny. The development of the side characters gets perfectly integrated into the episode.


The animation in Tiger and Bunny is a great combination of CGI and standard animation. The character designs look more like aclassiclate 1990s style with a little modern influence. The mix of different styles in the main cast highlights the varied nationalities of the Heroes, having been recruited from all over the world to be on HeroTV in Sternbild. The clothing the characters wear is a combination of realistic and a reflection of their personality. Dragon Kid wears a one piece track suit when not in her hero uniform which highlights her reluctance to explore her feminine side which serves as a nice foil to the extremely fashionable Blue Rose. The same rule applies to their hero costumes, with the added bonus that the costumes have motifs based on their abilities. Fire Emblem, an eccentric homosexual, dresses the part when out of costume while his costume is standard superhero garb with the addition of sequence cape to give it that extra flare. Tiger’s dress is especially telling of his role in the series. His casual clothes are a dress-down formal shirt and pants with a vest and matching hat which gives him an old worldly appearance. His superhero uniform, before getting an upgrade, looks handmade when compared to the modern equipment used by the rest of the cast. The audience knows immediately that he belongs to a pervious generation of heroes.


Narratively Tiger and Bunny consists of a good number of episodic stories, most of which designed for character development as I explained above, but the show soon smooths out into two large arcs surrounding Barnaby’s quest for the man who killed his parents. This brings the heroes up against a super villain NEXT which tests the limits of Heroes, who are used to chasing thugs, and helps to break Barnaby of his stoic personality. The second half of the series starts off by laying groundwork for a much larger narrative which incorporates at least four threads started in one off episodes, naming any of them would be too large a spoiler, and weaving them together for a fantastic climatic payoff that is surprising, suspenseful, and overwhelmingly emotional.

If the show wasn’t dense enough one more layer is spread throughout, the concept of justice. This manifests itself in the non-hero, non-villain Lunatic. Lunatic is an extremely powerful NEXT, so powerful that even Tiger and Bunny combined can barely match him, who wants vengeance against criminals. Not content with simply capturing them he gets in-between heroes and their targets to murder the suspect before the heroes have a chance to arrest them. This brings a Death Note-esq question of Justice into the mix. Lunatic himself gets his own character episode which somewhat justifies his rather extreme method of dealing with criminals. At least I found myself being sympathetic towards him. The show does a wonderful job of painting him as neither good or evil, simply a force that dishes out “justice.”


I do want to talk about emotions for a moment, even though this is an extremely subjective topic. I do get emotional easily because I tend to completely invest myself in the characters. Tiger and Bunny, an anime about superheroes, had me emotionally moved in more than one occasion. Not even in large moments or big character events, although I wept like a child through those, but just during epic moments caused by characters working together or going through some pain. I loved these characters and falling in love with them happened extremely quickly. In the second half of the series I was completely hooked on all of the characters and wanted to know more about each of them. It still shocks me how much I’ve become attached to them. The character development is so perfectly mixed in with the narrative that attachment sneaks its way into the audience.

With all the praise I’m tossing on the character development it’s a shame that some characters didn’t even get their own episode. I barely know anything about Fire Emblem or Rock Bison other than the small facts learned through their conversations with the other heroes. The writers went to the trouble of giving the four other heroes screen time but perhaps just ran out of space in what does become a dense and complex narrative. If a sequel comes, I’d hope that they move away from the personal stories of Tiger and Bunny and give the rest of the cast a larger role.


While the main characters are expertly crafted the villains of Tiger and Bunny are flat. The villain of the first half wants to create a world ruled by NEXT, a plot taken right out of the Xmen except with less magnets, and will ruthlessly kills civilians just for the fun of it. This doesn’t make for a compelling villain, although from him we got some good character drama with the heroes because they were forced to battle him one on one and for the first time faced serious danger. Even so, his own personal story or reasons are only explored on a surface level and leave much to be desired. The villain of the second half of the series has a more complex reason for committing his crimes, but becomes cartoonish through the effort of covering them up. He goes from a respectable person who seems to have genuine emotions and becomes a complete psychopath at the drop of a hat. Granted, that is probably the definition of a psychopath but his actions in supervillain mode completely came out of nowhere compared to who the audience knew him as perviously. If there were a few more clues leading to the reveal that might have been forgiven, but as it stands his switch form honest man to supervillain just doesn’t ring true.

The ending also stumbles, following a classic mistake in anime. After everything wraps up in a satisfactory way and has some closure it’s undone so Sunrise can insert a little afterward which reverses the ending and winks to the audience that more Tiger and Bunny is possible. If Sunrise wants to make more Tiger and Bunny I welcome it but if they don’t then this ending will forever ruin a chance to put a nice bit of closure on an otherwise fantastic series.


It’s rare that Japan produces something so perfect for a western audience but I think finally they’ve completed a masterfully constructed superhero story filled with complex plots, amazing action, and deeply moving character drama. What few flaws there are could be blamed on the genre they’re working in rather than any shortfall on the creators part. They’re playing with tropes well established in the west and almost brand new to them, so a fumble or two is understandable. I believe that Sunrise has created a group of characters and, more importantly, a world that has the potential to rival any of the currently sitting Superhero or anime franchises. I’m looking forward to a second season and hope for many more after that.

Review: Sailor Moon Vol. 1


It’d be hard to find someone who doesn’t recognize Sailor Moon, even outside the fandom. The series is responsible for giving Anime it’s first big push into mainstream pop culture and for defining the magical girl genre. I’m happy Kodansha decided to release Moon in the brand new 2003 editions from Japan, potentially introducing this classic series to a new audience. Usagi Tsukino was a normal young girl, although a little on the ditzy side and a bit of a crybaby, who stumbles over a talking cat. This cat, Luna, grants Usagi the powers of the Moon and tasks her to find and protect the legendary silver crystal and protect the Princess of the Moon. To aid her quest she must first recruit allies to her and form a team of Guardians of Justice.


Compared to it’s prequel, Sailor V, Sailor Moon’s art is of much higher quality and much cleaner. It’s stunning considering the series were created at the same time but it’s obvious that Takeuchi had some assistants and a much larger paycheck to help her craft Sailor Moon as opposed to the sporadically published companion piece. The character designs are fantastic with each of the girls getting a distinctive look that suits their personality. Their transformations, although all consist of a similar sailor uniform, have slight differences to help distinguish between the characters. The differences are as slight as giving them all different shoes and slightly different jewelry but it is a nice touch that Takeuchi threw in, it expresses her attention of detail.

I’m coming at Sailor Moon comparing it to Sailor V because Kodansha released both at the same time so I was able to read them back to back. Takeuchi was able to improve on almost all of my complaints in Sailor V in the short time between the two series. Sailor Moon is more contiguous, has a defined goal for the main characters, gives the villains a face and motivation, and Usagi gets a clear character arc in this first volume which takes her from a lazy middle school girl to preparing for the responsibilities of leading the Sailor Scouts.


The most impressive part of the work is how well it combines Shojo with Shonen elements. Sailor Moon is clearly a shoujo title with the romance between Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask appearing early and often throughout this first volume. Even with the relationship budding, Sailor Moon doesn’t know exactly who Tuxedo Mask is or what are his exact goals. Is he a villain? Ally? Why does he want the legendary silver crystal? These questions come into the narrative to create a mystery that adds another layer of plot and character depth. The fighting and team of warriors are nods to Shonen or super sentai, monster of the week type shows. The enemy, although more fleshed out than in Sailor V, still lacks any kind of depth. They are evil people who are doing evil things for evil reasons, and while they are starting to have personalities in this first volume they’ve never around long enough to get any individual characterization. Each of these threads on its own doesn’t make a completely compelling narrative but by interweaving them they build into an entertaining and fun story.


The goal of this volume is to bring together what will be the main cast. Each of the Sailor Scouts gets their own origin story that gives amble background and personality information which explains why they receive their chosen powers. The introduction of the scouts and the interaction between the characters was the most enjoyable aspect of Sailor Moon. Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter are all strong and capable people and it seems odd at first that Sailor Moon is chosen as the leader of the group. It’s in the interactions between action scenes and in the introduction of characters that her leadership is shown. She is friendly and likable, and those qualities draw people to her. So while she is not the most capable fighter of the group she is certainly the most charismatic and perhaps most illustrates the aspects of a “Guardian of Justice.”

Usagi is at first an odd choice for the heroine of the series. One of her biggest traits is that she is a crybaby, which is exploited for humor early in the book, and isn’t really that enthusiastic or driven by her sudden powers. She finds her abilities severely lacking and even requires aid from Mercury, who was recruited by Usagi, to complete her training. Having the heroine start at such a low point gives plenty of room for development, even at the end of this first volume Usagi begins to see her own short comings and dedicates herself to push beyond them. What seems to be building is a unit that can’t work independently but a team that needs to draw from each other in order to fight. Those themes are certainly common in Shojo, friendship and love, so it’s not surprising that I see them plastered all over Sailor Moon.


The path I see the series going down is that Tuxedo Mask will be a crucial part of this group, giving Usagi the confidence and drive that she lacks. Is this a positive theme in a title meant for young girls? I’m not going to condemn the series based on speculation but even if the crutch of the show relies on Usagi needing a man to feel confident the rest of the cast already consists of some strong and independent characters to even out Usagi’s weaknesses. Mars, a shrine maiden who jumps to action without hesitation, and Mercury, a super intelligent girl who spends all her free time studying even though she is already at the top of her class, those two alone are solid role models that balance out Usagi’s failings.

While Sailor Moon isn’t revolutionary or new to seasoned manga fans it offers a good historical perspective on tropes that havebecomealmost universal to the word “anime.” New fans, especially young women, will find what is presented in Sailor Moon new and excited, incredibly enjoyable, and fun. The characters are solid and interesting, there is a developing mysterious that kept me drawn in, and the action is standard shonen fun. Surprisingly, there is something inside Sailor Moon for everyone and it’s necessary read for anyone who claims to be a fan of manga.