Posts Tagged ‘anime’

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*Ajikan! One Reason to Love J-Rock

September 2, 2008

For most of us in the English-speaking world, our first introduction to J-Rock/Pop is via anime opening and closing songs. Occasionally you might stumble across a few artists other ways (found Shiina Ringo and Gackt via youtube, and Ellegarden and Bump of Chicken thanks to a Pillows tribute album), but I’m not ashamed, nor should we be, to say we found an artist because of anime. (I think FLCL is enough said).

I plan to review my other favorite J-Rock/Pop artists in the future–some being mentioned above–but lately I’ve had nothing short of a rabbid infatuation with Asian Kung-Fu Generation (Ajikan or AFKG for short, depending on which language you speak). My first introduction to Ajikan was with Naruto and Haruka Kanata, the second opening song. I had it in my anime list on my iPod and liked the song, but thought nothing much more of the band. At the time I was more obsessed with the Pillows and Bump of Chicken (well, still am).

After hearing the full version of Haruka Kanata some time later, I fell in love with the style and vocals and needed more Ajikan. (I was also looking for more Orange Range at the time, Ajikan won out–not that I don’t still love Orange Range). Ajikan is a bit well-known in the anime world, currently for After Dark, the seventh opening for Bleach. Ajikan’s music can also be found on other anime, such as Fullmetal Alchemist, the fourth opening Rewrite, the theme song for Tekkon Kinkreet Aru Machi no Gunjou, and of course as mentioned Naruto.

But don’t think anime is all they’re good for.

The albums I’ve been listening to currently (as I like to take a few at a time) are:
Feedback File
Kimi Tsunagi Five M
Sol-Fa

Feedback File (2006) is probably my favorite of the list. It’s a mix of studio and live–the live portions being what really sold me on this album–though a great album overall. My favorite song on this album and current Ajikan favorite overall has to be Re:Re: I’ve heard it live and studio, and I have to say, get it live, it’s loads better. Sometimes you’ll get artists who sound good studio, but terrible live, this is definitely not the case with Ajikan. Often you’ll find they’re better live.

From Kimi Tsunagi Five M (2003) and Sol-Fa (2004) I’m loving the songs No Name and Yoru no Mukou. But it’s not like those are the only good ones. Ajikan just makes your listening time fun (and the commute by car or train less annoying).

Something else I admire about Ajikan is the fabulous album art. They recently did the Nano-Mugen festival album compilation art (and you can easily tell it was their art). And by the way, if you’re in Japan, you may want to check out the Nano-Mugen festivals in the future if you haven’t been going. This year (July) they had Third Eye Blind, Stereophonics, our boys Ajikan, Ellegarden, Phantom Planet and Art-School to name a few. This year it was held at Yokohama Arena.

So Ajikan comes highly, highly recommended. If I were going to name American bands to compare, I’d have to say Weezer meets Jimmy Eat World meets Stone Temple Pilots with a little bit of A Perfect Circle thrown in. I’d probably put it one or two notches above the Pillows in a “hard rock” scale, so not head banging, but not super light either.

And if anyone knows where you can get some sweet Ajikan shirts, bags, etc., please post a comment and leave a trail. I’m frequenting ebay, but none too successful as of late.

HOW TO LISTEN:
Pandora has one album. iTunes has got none. Amazon and ebay are probably your best bets album-wise, and there are a few of the songs around the net available to preview streaming. Friends from/in Japan are helpful as well, but however you do it, give this band a go. It will be worth it.

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*Death Note does Anti-Hero right

August 12, 2008

Mac of Visual Crack was the first to introduce me to Death Note, but really only in manga form. I read the first volume in English and decided the anime series was worth a look. Netflix sent me the first disc and I was hooked.

Death Note is the story of a kid stumbling upon a strange Death Note (as the Japanese word for notebook is noto or “note” basically. So when you hear the word “note” just substitute “notebook” in your mind). The notebook has the power to kill simply by writing the name of the victim in the book while picturing him/her. Believing the world is too corrupt, the kid takes it upon himself to rid the world of criminals–and anyone who gets in his way.

THE CHARACTERS:

Light Yagami
A 17 yr old, attractive, things come to me too easily, high school student who soon goes to college to study law and basically become a cop like his father. He stumbles upon the Death Note and becomes the owner and the anti-hero protagonist of the story. He is also referred to as “Kira” (a japanese version of the word killer) by the police.

L
A world famous detective no one has ever seen before the “Kira” case. L is odd, smart, and a sweet-aholic. (And no, he isn’t sucking his thumb, he’s pressing it against his bottom lip, a habit when he’s thinking hard). L’s my favorite character of the series. I think the chibi version of him in plushies and what not are chou kawaii!

Shinigami: Ryuk and Rem
A shinigami is like a grim reaper, literally translated as “death god.” I’ve also seen it translated as “soul reaper” (see Bleach). In the series they are the owners of the death notes, and Ryuk in particular likes leaving them lying around for unsuspecting humans to pick up. Ryuk probably comes second in my favorite character of the series. I like his “whatevs” attitude.

Misa Amane
Hey, what’s anime without an annoying character? Very much typical teenage Japanese girl–well, that and a pop star–Misa has a super mega crush on Light and wants to help him in anyway she can. One of those self-sacrificing girls, but in a pathetic way. She’s probably my least favorite, but she makes for some interesting moments between the three of them (L, Light and Misa).

Mello, Near, etc.
There are quite a few other players that impact the story significantly, mostly being Mello and Near, but also Light’s dad and members of the police team to catch Kira. I can’t say I really cared for Mello or Near, though Near I like more, since he’s kind of like a little brother version of L. (If you think an L obsession is weird, watch the series and tell me if you feel differently! I dare you!)

ANIME SERIES & EPISODE GUIDE:

Well, this is really more of a warning. It’s interesting how like the villain the movie Seven, you almost find yourself agreeing with Light. It’s also kind of disorienting to have the main character really be the bad guy in a sense (I’m trying not to spoil too much here).

Since the show isn’t hardly as long as Naruto, nor Bleach, this guide will be short. Without posting spoilers, once again, you should know you’ll likely be addicted to the show like crack until about episode 25. Some major plot changes are implemented, and in my opinion, the anime becomes less good–at least I didn’t care. In fact, I was affected so much by the change I had zero motivation to keep going with the anime and it took me a couple of weeks to get myself to finish it off.

Episodes 26 and on (up to 37) do contain interesting plot points and are worthwhile if you’ve enjoyed the series thusfar. There is also a bittersweet ending to the series, in a Shakespearian way, so the end was worthwhile for me, but it’s ANIME, 9 times out of 10 it isn’t going to end the way you’d want. 😉

So is it worth it? Yes. You’ll love it, well, if anime is your thing.

Anime series: A

LIVE-ACTION MOVIES:

Sometimes you wonder how a live-action movie will translate from manga, but if it works for Nodame Cantabile it’s gotta work for others, right? (*wink*) In this case I think it added to the Death Note universe. A warning to the animation fans… They will deviate from the manga and the series, but I think a lot of the deviations work.

Ryuk and Light argue over the philosophical issues of the Death Note. ;)

Ryuk and Light argue over the philosophical issues of the Death Note.

When we join Light in the first movie he’s already discovered the Death Note and is off-handedly discussing it with his girlfriend (aka he’s talking about Kira and his opinion of Kira without actually connecting the dots). And yeah, GIRLFRIEND. For the movies (since let’s be honest with ourselves. There is no, no, no, no way you can put EVERYTHING everybody wants, let alone yourself into a two-hour movie, especially with a series with enough material to make 37 episodes. 1/2 hr x 37 = 18.5 hours of material which equals at least 9 movies worth of time. Keep this in mind when you’re hating on Harry Potters or Twilight or other book adaptations.) …as I was saying, for the movies, his having a girlfriend worked. There just wasn’t enough time to develop the characters as well as the series did, even with two, and the girlfriend factor helped Light arc quickly.

L reveals he's the real brains behind the Truman Show.

L reveals he's the real brains behind the Truman Show.

But don’t get the movies wrong, for the most part they stick to the plot. My only qualm with the movies was the seemingly lack of time spent on developing L and a non-existent friendship between L and Light we got to see in the series. (I’m an L fan, ya know). However, the actor who plays L (Ken’ichi Matsuyama) I thought did a fabulous job. He had a lot of the mannerisms down and I thought was a little more interesting than Light.

The actor who played Light (Tatsuya Fujiwara), did a good job, but there was just something lacking. I think I prefer the voice acting job (Miyano Mamoru) did as opposed to Tatsuya’s performance, but it works for the movie.

L refuses the DoCoMo promotion.

L refuses the DoCoMo promotion.

I prefer the ending of the story in the movies to the anime series, simply because I kept expecting something like what happened in the movies to happen in the anime series. But if we’re talking overall Death Note, then I’d like a mix of the movies and the series. It’s interesting the trend even Hollywood is taking to making anime into live-action. (I just am opposed to Keanu playing Spike Spiegel is all).

Obviously it works, since Death Note was wildly successful in Japan ($28 mil for the first movie $53 mil for the second–tix sales) and will make some good money for Viz here.

Movie: A- (mostly for lack of development for L)

HOW TO SEE DEATH NOTE:

The anime series you can catch it in English (*puke*) on Adult Swim (Cartoon Network for the uniformed) in the early morning hours. It’s posted on the net with good fansubs. Or you can do it the Netflix way (which is the way I started) with your choice of English or subs–they have 6 discs available. I did Netflix + the internet.

The movies they recently screened at select theaters back in May across America, and you’ll be able to pick up the first movie on September 16th at Amazon or the like. I got both on ebay, Hong Kong versions. I’ve heard the dub is no good, so stick with subs.

There’s also a new spin-off movie called L: Change the World which came out in February which I have yet to see, but if it’s got L I’m all about it. Once I see it I’ll let you know.

MANGA:

I think the full series is available in English. It’s good, but yeah, it’s basically the book version of the anime. Still, I’ve been reading it in my spare time and find it worthwhile.

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Gotham Knight-tastic!

July 9, 2008

I watched it. I’ve heard mixed reviews, a lot of people saying they didn’t like it, some that the visuals were great, etc., etc. Well, I liked it.

Gotham Knight, contrary to marketing belief, is not really any kind of Animatrix in the sense that the stories connect us from Batman Begins to The Dark Knight. So remove any preconceived notions about that before viewing. The DVD has more to do with Batman himself than the upcoming film. I think the false expectation of it being related to the Christopher Nolan movies is its release date and the fact that the Scarecrow is in it.

Think additional Batman: The Animated Series episodes with some spectacular Japanese animation styling, and you’ll likely find the short films more enjoyable.

The DVD contains six short films, some of them interweaving into the next, some not, but a worthwhile watch. Let’s run through them.

THE FILMS:

Have I Got A Story For You
And have I got an option for you: skip to the next story. What? Really? The take on the first mini-movie is all these kids telling their different versions of encounters with The Bat. It is kind of interesting, but likely what has put a lot of people off watching the rest of the DVD. Skip it–you can come back to it if you like. The styles are interesting and definitely some great animation, but the story is just so-so. It’s the weakest link, and probably shouldn’t have been first (though it probably doesn’t fit anywhere else). The other problem is the idea has been done–repeatedly–and done better in Batman:TAS.

Crossfire
Batman skeptic becomes believer in this tale of two detectives working under Gordon. The animation is a marked contrast to the first and reminiscent of TAS days. The story is so-so as we’re still not really into Batman perspective territory here. It’s good, just not the best on the disc.

Field Test
Definitely the most anime style take on Batman, with a very young-looking Bruce testing out new technology. I love Kevin Conroy and he’ll always be Batman to me, but for this piece his voice seemed out of place and didn’t match the youngish look of Bruce. I think they might have been better off getting a younger voice for this one piece and leaving Kevin for the rest. The story is what does it for me, as although Batman is the “Dark” Knight, I liked seeing the contrast in his value of human life–even criminal life.

In Darkness Dwells
Probably my favorite stylistically. Batman takes on Killer Croc and the Scarecrow with some of the best visuals of the DVD and really where the DVD starts to pick up its pace. It also sets us up for the next piece (and my favorite story-wise).

Working Through the Pain
We join a younger Bruce Wayne, mostly in pre-Batman form where he learned to deal with pain. I particularly liked this story because it shows some of the real difficulties in being Batman. Although we list him as a superhero, he is the most vulnerable (which probably also contributes to his popularity because of his accessibility). He may have technology to help protect him, but the fact is his work would still scare most of us away from trying it ourselves with out red cape invincibility.

Deadshot
Probably the best action-wise, and likely a favorite for most. The visuals are stunning (well, they have been for most of the DVD, but this one seems more so) and once again shows us Batman’s strength lies in his determination to keep moving. Deadshot works as a 5-minute villain and especially as a contrast to Batman, as when Deadshot is wounded he loses all his supervillain prowess, but when Batman is wounded he shows his strength to overcome.

CONCLUSION:

Batman Fans: If you’re in love with the Batman world anyways, this will be a nice contribution to your collection. The animation is great, the shaping of Batman works toward truly making him The Dark Knight. The stories show us the difficulty in being Batman, which probably is intended to contribute to the upcoming movie and the difficulty Batman faces in facing the worst villain he ever faces. I kind of look at Gotham Knight as a prep course for true enjoyment and understanding of Batman in The Dark Knight.

Parents: If you’re purchasing this for anyone less than teen-aged, you may want to rent it first. It is very much violent, with plenty of disturbing images. Basically, I’d say at least 10 and up to enjoy the DVD.

Average DVD buyer: You’ll probably want to skip out on picking up this DVD. It WON’T have anything about the Joker in it, and it’s only related to the upcoming in the sense that it’s Batman.

2-Disc vs. Single: The recommendation is to get the 2-Disc edition. The extras include documentaries about the Batman rogues, Bob Kane (the creator of Batman), and some bonus Batman:TAS episodes to give you your money’s worth. If you’re going to go Single Disc (which includes just commentary and the films), just rent it.

Rating: B+

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Ghibli and Sky Crawlers **UPDATE**

June 24, 2008


I love Hayao Miyazaki and I’m definitely in great anticipation of Ponyo on the Cliff. Trouble is, haven’t been able to find any trailers around the net. I will keep looking and as of June 20th one was released in Japanese theaters. Hopefully we’ll get a post soon–since the movie comes out next month. If you know nothing about Ponyo, the initial designs made it seems to be more of a water color style, but this news footage (a sort of trailer) reveals it’s more like the standard Ghibli animation.

Ghibli is also doing something with Cheburashka, a famed Russian stop motion animation character. My Japanese kanji reading skills ain’t so great, so anyone who’s got the skill let us know what they’re up to. You can also catch clips of Cheburashka (I think once called Toppy in US) on youtube.

And finally, something else I’m eager to see is Sky Crawlers. Since I’ve yet to watch a trailer with English subs, it’s basically some fantastic Japanese animation with airplanes. For me it was reminiscent of Last Exile. They’re also putting a game out on the Wii, and if they do it right, I’m sure it’ll be great. Either way, I’m sure it will be an interesting summer for Japanese animation.

And if you’re in Japan, I’d highly highly recommend getting out to the upcoming Joe Hisaishi concerts on Aug 4-5. For me he’s a grand part of the Studio Ghibli magic and if I were in Japan I’d be there in a heartbeat. I think Howl’s Moving Castle is among my favorites from Hisaishi, as well as a non-Ghibli score for Kikujiro–a movie I highly recommend. (BTW, Miyazaki drew the promo poster. Fun, huh? 🙂 )

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*Believe It: “Naruto” will surprise you

June 5, 2008

So you’ve seen a spiky-haired orange jumpsuit kid running around lately, and you’re wondering: is this really worthwhile anime?

narutoI was first introduced to Naruto (pronounced NAH-ROO-TOE, with accentuation being on the “NAH” part if we’re sticking to Japanese and not the “ROO,” which you’ll find a lot of English speakers doing) at Comic-Con, seeing the costumes around and some manga and art. So I ordered the first disc up from Netflix and gave it a go. I have to admit, Naruto is obnoxious to a fault, but something about the series intrigued me, so I made it through the first four episodes and was hungry for more. (At the time, 1 disc was all that was available from Netflix).

I started the show with the English dub, which wasn’t too terrible for the first four episodes, but I find “dattebayo” to be less annoying than “believe it.” Besides, I find you lose a lot with dubs, so I’m a firm believer in subs first. (Yes, reading. Get over it!)

(Dattebayo, by the way, doesn’t actually mean believe it, but upon inquiring of a few Japanese friends, the translation works. Naruto is looking for a way to show everyone he’s “cool” and is basically using a catch phrase way of speaking to show them all that. Whether or not it works…. *grin*)

From a character arc perspective, Naruto is very well written, especially if you’ve come all the way to Shippuuden and gone back. Sure, he starts out as an annoying kid, but that’s what he is and as he gains confidence in himself, he sheds annoying layers one by one.

Basically, stick with it. Naruto will grow on you.

But if you’re like me, and a bit impatient with story arcs and “filler” episodes watching it all at once may drive you nuts. So I’m here to give you some recommendations to do a little editing, or at least let you know how long you’ve got until a particular arc ends.

naruto2

The ARCS: (see http://www.narutofob.com/naruto-episodes.html as a source)
Episodes 1-5 Basically an introduction to Naruto and key players in his story.

Episodes 6-19 The first major story arc. Naruto and friends are out to show off their abilities, and we get to know a little more about the 3 (Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura).

Episodes 20-67 The Chunnin exams: which is a three part and where more of the larger plot begins to be revealed. I think this is where I first became annoyed with pacing of episodes. Basically every character and their dog (literally) are going to have a one on one match a couple of times. If you like watching all the different characters go at it, you’ll be fine. If you’re like me, you’ll find the 1 1/2 speed button on your DVD player.

We also get more of an idea of a larger plot arc coming up which basically kicks off in Episode 68.

Episodes 68-80 Trouble in Konoha: the real villains come out to play and reak havok. The show takes on a different sort of persona after this when we say farewell to a major character. I was a little put out, but there’s enough going on to pull you through.

Episodes 80-109 Itachi, Tsunade, and more. Here we get the set-up for the rest of the series leading up into Shippuuden. Villains and training, villains and training. One thing you have to know about Naruto is you’re going to be in for a lot of training episodes. Get used to it, because from here on out you can count on seeing it often.

Episodes 110-135 Naruto and Sasuke. If you’ve been loving Naruto, this is the point in the series you’ve been waiting for. I’m trying to be more general not to post spoilers, but for me this was the best part of the series. Note at this point, however, an arc you’re going to want to see finish won’t happen until the end of Shippuuden. My whole point in making this post was for people like me who might have taken it easier and slower with Naruto if I’d known it’d be several eps down the line before seeing a plot arc finish.

136-220 The much dreaded “filler” episodes. (NOTE: If you don’t know what a “filler” episode is: episodes that have little or no relation to the “actual” story but involve the characters, though often not the main characters. Some describe it as the Japanese writer’s attempts to do their own episodes, which doesn’t always work out ;)). So now you’re hooked hopelessly on Naruto and you’re dying for new eps, well, welcome to about 100 tangent episodes. A lot of these, unless you’re kind of a Naruto purist, are a waste of your time.

My recommendation for filler eps

HIDDEN STAR VILLAGE: 178-183 Naruto and co. heads out to the Star Village with shinobi who have unique powers from a dangerous source. I guess I like this one for the character traits we see from Naruto.

KURENAI: 203-207 Shinobi girl has mysterious painting power. The third hokage’s past is further delved into and I just really liked the idea. I think it kind of foreshadows Shippuuden.

gaaraGAARA AND MATSURI: 216-219 Gaara is drawn out to rescue a student. I love Naruto, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of the reason I watch the show is for Gaara. He’s my favorite character, and I’m still unsure as to why–at least completely. If you’re a Gaara fan, whether small or large, this filler story is worthwhile.

And 220! Why? Because it’s the end of the show. And then you’ll be all ready for Naruto Shippuuden which is far better than Naruto.

Why bother watching Naruto in the first place? Why not just skip to the better series? Well, if you want Shippuuden to mean anything to you and to understand why Naruto is as passionate about his friendships as he is, then use my guide and get through Naruto. It’s all worth it for Shippuuden.

And finally, questions you’re likely to have (without spoilers):

1. Is Sakura always going to be useless? No, she gets tough. By Shippuuden you’ll hardly believe the bad @$$ mamba jamba was ever as weak and useless as she was in the first episodes.

2. Who is Naruto’s father? Well, you can look it up online if you’re that impatient, but it’ll come in Shippuuden.

3. Are filler episodes done in Shippuuden? (-_-) Well… if you don’t count, let’s take a look at Naruto and how we used to be, then sort of.

4. Why is the Japanese version better? Is that a rhetorical question?

5. I’m cheap and I want to watch Naruto 100% for free. Where can I do that? dattebayo.com subs Naruto, but since it’s licensed in the U.S. the Naruto eps might be off the site. They still do Shippuuden. Anime4Fans, one of my links can also show you the way. And if you’re not too cheap and prefer better quality, Netflix will send you some (it is available as of September 23, 2008).

I’ll probably do a comprehensive Shippuuden when it finishes.