About Me

Newfoundland, Canada
I've been a big anime fan for about 10 years or so now. My five all-time favorite animes at this point are, in no particular order... Puella Magi Madoka Magica, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Love Live!: School Idol Project, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. However, there are hundreds of anime shows that I like. The main purpose of this blog is to provide meta-commentary on anime, and the anime industry - to try to cast a critical, though appreciating, eye upon this entertainment genre that I believe has tremendous potential, but can also be easily wasted. I have always been a fan of animation in general - in the 80s, I grew up on western cartoons like He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. Through out the 90s, I was a hardcore comic book fan, for the most part. I'm also a big fan of Star Trek. Right now in my life, though, anime is my principal entertainment passion.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Clannd Review: Part 2 - After Story

This blog entry is the second, and concluding part, of my Clannad review. This part of the two-part review will focus on Clannad: After Story.

Note: This review will include a lot of content spoilers. You have been warned! ;)

Since this part of the review won't include much background information on my own personal life as an anime fan in general, it will enable me to get into greater specifics. With Clannad: After Story, I'm going to have a couple sentences (or more) to say about each of the following sections:

Episode 1 Kick-off

Episodes 2 through 4 (Sunohara arc)

Episodes 5 and 6 (Misae two-parter)

Episodes 7 and 8 (Yukine two-parter)

Episode 9 turning point

Episode 10 through 12 (Tomoya becomes an adult arc)

Episode 13 turning point

Episode 14 through 16 (Pregnancy arc)

Episode 17 through 21 (Ushio arc)

Episode 22 Conclussion

However, before delving into the specifics of these ten tremendously
thought-provoking sections, I will make a few general observations, with the first alluding to the picture that I used above.

The "hidden world" underlying subplot involving the lonely girl and her lonely mechanical friend was handled exquisitely well by the Clannad writing team. The appearances of this disturbingly daunted duo were spaced apart between good intervals. They never felt like they were overly encroaching upon the main storyline, but they also maintained a frequent enough presence to foreshadow their eventual importance in that main storyline.

The Clannad: After Story opening is amongst the ten best anime openings I've ever seen, and is probably the best anime opening to be featured during 2009.

The background music was masterfully handled from start to finish. There's little doubt that the folks in charge of that would have made fine additions to Nagisa's Theater Club. ;)

With these general observations made, though... it's time for me to share my thoughts on the ten specific sections of Clannad: After Story!

Episode 1 made for an excellent launching episode for an anime sequel series, as it launched with all the force of a baseball struck soundly by Tomoya. It made for a seamless transition from the end of the original Clannad season to Clannad: After Story. The core cast was utilized well in this episode, and it gave fans of each of the key characters something to be happy about. It served its primary purpose, I think, of reminding fans of the original Clannad season of just why they loved this anime. All-told, I have no major criticism to make of this episode. Well... it might have been better if the celebration had happened after we see Tomoya bat in the winning run, but I can certainly appreciate the theatrical drive behind the plot direction of showing that celebration as a "flashforward" before showing the hit that made it possible.

Next is the Sunohara arc...

Episodes 2 through 4 went a long ways towards fleshing out the character of Youhei Sunohara. It took a character that had been used primarily for comedic relief during the original season, and helped to make him seem much more real, at least to me. While Sunohara certainly had his intense and meaningful moments in Season 1, he was so often used as the butt of the joke that it became hard for me to take him seriously at all. This arc changed all of that, all the while providing added insights to the characters of Mei Sunohara and Sanae Furukawa, as well as insights into the friendship dynamics between Youhei and Tomoya.

While After Story Episode 1 served the necessary purpose of seamless transition from the original season, this three-parter served the purpose of maturing the Clannad anime franchise, so to speak. It represented a bit of a break from the feel and style of the original season of Clannad, and it served notice to the viewer that the ultimately cheerful, happy, and victorious endings of arcs that typified Season 1 may not always be the case in After Story.

In a way, I was actually glad that all of the efforts of the protagonists continually backfired; especially the sports related idea of Mei's that was starting to represent a bit of a Clannad cliche. Some of the backfirings created splendid moments of hilarity, while other backfirings served to make the Clannad universe itself seem a bit more real to me. In real life, lasting solutions to important problems usually aren't as simple as playing a game of sports, or practicing with a sports teams. And here, Mei's idea, well-intentioned and understandable as it was, failed.

But while it failed, it did lead into some powerfully pulsating punching processions that were an unexpected delight for the eyes. I never knew Kyoto Animation had it in them to show brutal physical combat that actually had some slight shades of Kazuma vs. Ryuho from the final episode of s-CRY-ed. Beyond even this, however, it forced Youhei Sunohara to be more honest to himself, more open to Tomoya, and more appreciatory once more to his sister.

While I found myself questioning many of the actions of many of the characters in the arc (specifically, I felt that Youhei took more of the blame for the sibling squabbles than what he should have given Mei's abyssmal treatment of him during her earlier appearances in the two Clannad seasons), I was still impressed in the overall effect of it.

After Story than moves from cries of sibling affection to cat/girl love... ;)

Episodes 5 and 6 presents such a blushing sight for sore feline eyes, does it not? ;)

After this two-parter, there can be little doubt that "Katsuki Shima" is the luckiest cat around, ha ha! :D

These two episodes made for a nice break in the action, and a colorful charming contrast to the much more angst-ridden Sunohara arc.

Misae Sagara had been one of the least featured characters of the original season of Clannad, and hence it was nice to see After Story provide a bit of an added focus to her here, especially in how it helped to show why Tomoyo admires Misae so much and the similarities between the past and present Student Council Presidents.

Younger Misae was very easy on the eyes, as vicious as she was to the poor limbs of "Katsuki Shima". ;) In many ways, younger Misae was like a mixture of all of the "other" girls of Clannad; the ones that "lost" the "competition for Tomoya" to Nagisa.

Misae's younger self looked a lot like Kotomi, had the skills of Tomoyo, had the terrifyingly tumultuous temper of Kyou, and she had a sweetness that could compare with Ryou.

There's not a whole lot, really, to say about this two-parter, aside from what I've already wrote. I will add that it was a very heartwarming and pleasing story; in many ways it was like a modern romance fable. It certainly puts the love between a pet and his owner in a whole new light, doesn't it? ;)

From here we move into the Yukine two-parter...

Yukine pretty much spent all of Clannad Season 1 being a cute human female Yoda to Tomoya's Luke Skywalker. And just as Yoda's wise words, but lack of action, had left Warsies wanting wanton wicked wallops being delivered from Yoda to a servent of the "Dark Side", Yukine's wise words but lack of action no doubt left many Clannad fans wanting to see what the girl could do when the focus shined on her and her own life. And much like Yoda vs. Dooku, Yukine didn't disappoint when it came her turn to hold the audience's attention in Episodes 7 and 8. ;)

I found it funny that the rough gangs of Tomoya's city where honorable and polite ladies and gentlemen compared to a certain scummy school soccer team, but nonetheless, their feud had a fever pitch, and many nice twists helped along by the usual deceptiveness and pranksterness of Sunohara and Tomoya. Getting back to that for a second, I liked how After Story really highlighted the problems that can arise from deliberate dishonesty. This was a subtly casted "moral of the story" for much of After Story, and it was nicely played by the Clannad team to say the least.

So was, once again, the fighting scenes that we have in this anime. It's good to see that Kyoto Animation can handle these at least decently well when the plot calls for it.

My only criticism of the Yukine two-parter is that it would have been nice to have seen a bit more of her brother, even if only in a short minute or two flashback scene.

Nonetheless, Clannad gets props for taking three characters that sometimes got lost in the crowd of romantic conflict in season one; namely, the characters of Youhei Sunohara, Misae Sakara, and Yukine Miyazawa; and doing yeoman work to make them greater than merely the sum of their respective odditities and quirks.

And with that character upgrading complete, we then move... quite shockingly to me at the time, but quite logically so in retrospect... to the major turning point of Episode 9. Here we see the graduation of all the key school-based characters, except Nagisa, Tomoyo, and Yukine.

The Episode 9 graduation episode was a startling turn of events for me on initial watch throw, and it had left me questioning the wisdom of it, to be honest... particularly given how it threatened to divide up the cast into several separate parts. There can be no question that Episodes 9, 13, and 16 were all very bold, decisive episodes on the part of Kyoto Animation. Either one of them could arguably have concluded an entire anime series, at least if altered slightly for that purpose.

Those three episodes, as well as the episodes between them, were a distinctively unconventional approach to a "school life" anime, for in their three broad strokes, this school life anime metamorphosized into a more mature "slice of life" anime, it could be argued.

Beyond that, the most notable element of Episode 9 is how it put the focus squarely on the blossoming romance between Tomoya and Nagisa...

For me, personally, Nagisa Furukawa was the main strength of these "middle third" After Story episodes. Of the Episode 9 through 16 run. Of course, this meant that the events of episode 16 were that much more jarring, shocking, and heartwrenching...

The romance between her and Tomoya was one of sincerely sweet serenity, and I heartily approve of its every aspect, facet, and nuance... with one slight exception. Although, even this lone exception can perhaps be excused due to how Clannad might have had to err on the side of pure innocent love in order for Tomoya and Nagisa's romance to come off as brilliantly as it did.

That exception is that... it might have been nice to have seen a bit more sexual chemistry between the two. However, that may have taken away some of the romance's charm, and Tomoya's romance with Nagisa is still lightyears ahead of where most anime roamnces are. The key reason being that it is a romance that progressed at a healthy and natural pace, involving mutual feelings of caring and love that are gradually made more open over time in a believable manner. I also have to admit that Nagisa's amused and/or shy giggling at some of the softer moments between her and Tomoya is absolutely awesomely adorable... ^_^

Also, and to be brutally frank, it's nice to see a major anime romance where neither half is a tsundere, and where neither half needs a major attitude adjustment.

Another strength of the "middle third" was this guy...

Having Tomoya end up working alongside Yoshino was a stroke of genius on the part of Clannad's writers. It helped set the stage for Yoshino's bodacious bombastic backstory performance, and there was a lot of great content that the viewer could glean from that.

However... here is where my most controversial critiques of Clannad: After Story begin. This is the first of two parts of my review that I expect will meet with the most disapproval.

As wonderful as episodes 9, 13, and 16 were, I found most of the episodes inbetween them to be, well... a bit dull, to be frank. Part of it is purely an issue of taste, I'm sure. There wasn't much wrong with the actual execution of the plotline. In fact, if anything, it was too realistic; which is a disconcertingly odd criticism for me to be making, as I tend to love realism in my animes.

But Clannad: After Story showed me that perhaps anime needs its oddities and quirks as much as it needs realism, if not moreso.

For in episodes 10, 11, 12, 14, and 15, I found myself missing much of the primary and supporting cast a great deal. I missed Kotomi, Kyou, Ryou, Sunohara, and Tomoya.

After Story turned into the Furukawa family story, and while the Furukawa family are all groovy characters, with the amusing Akio antics and the sensuous Sanae sweetness and the nicely neat Nagisa, they still couldn't quite make up for the complete absense of most of the rest of cast.

Simply put, I wanted my Kotomi back... :(

Aaawwww... isn't she so tall and voluptuous, yet so huggably moe? ^_^

Clannad: After Story may have been even better if it had taken an episode or two to focus on the other members of the cast. It might have been nice to see a few scenes of Kotomi adjusting to life in America, or of Kyou beginning her teaching career, or of Tomoyo saving all the trees. ;)

Still... if mature realism and thoughtful execution were the main goals for the makers of Clannad: After Story episodes 9 through 16, I can't criticisize them too much... because it met those goals in flying colors.

Needless to say, though, I was greatly enthused with much of the primary cast returning, en masse, for episodes 13 and 16.

Nagisa's special surprise graduation ceremony, and her ensuing speech, were wonderfully wrapped like a gift under the Christmas tree. It was serious sentimentality that made me think a bit about my own life, and my own high school graduation slightly over a decade ago. Clannad: After Story certainly succeeded in causing feelings of school nostalgia to rise up from within me.

And then there is the utter masterpiece that is Episode 16. Episode 16 was one of the very best anime episodes that I've ever seen. It was flawlessly presented from start to finish, with every scene and scene transition just feeling right to me. It brought the "hidden" or "illusionary" world subplot back into center-stage, and Kotomi did a great job of linking that world to the actual world through exposition.

And the ending... and the drama... and the suspense... and the timing... of episode 16. It was a perfect effort shown from start to finish. Clannad: After Story kept me guessing at the actual fate of Nagisa right to the oh-so-bitter end. Tomoya's emotional displays throughout the entire birth sequence were clear and raw, yet so appropriate. It never felt overdone, or underdone. It was just right, in every respect.

Except, of course, that Nagisa died...

When I finished watching Clannad: After Story episode 16, I was deeply saddened for Tomoya and Nagisa's family, but I was simply too impressed with the sheer showmanship put on display by Kyoto Animation to be brought to tears. I couldn't help but think of the expertise of the craftsman even while the picture perfect craft itself tore at my heart strings.

Oddly enough, though, After Story episode 18 actually did bring me to tears. It brought me to tears for this reason...

Clannad: After Story made me feel... really, truly feel... for Ushio. She was born under the most regrettable of circumstances, and hence she was born to a father that, in some ways, resented her for something that was not her fault. I felt so badly for Ushio... and while I also felt very sorry for Tomoya, I was also angry at him for how he had neglected his daughter for a full five years.

Against this backdrop, I just couldn't help but cry when Ushio confirmed to her father how lonely she had been during those first five years, and how she had missed him. It was so tempestuously touching and monumentally moving.

Here I want to point out that I don't cry easily.

For example, touching as it was in the end of its second season, Higurashi did not bring me to tears. Akasaka brought me goosebumps, but that's a different matter... ;)

Only two or three times previous to Clannad: After Story had an anime managed to move me to tears... and that's with me having watched, in total, dozens upon dozens of animes from three different decades. For After Story to accomplish the feat, then, speaks volumes to just how immersive the anime could be, and how likeable these characters are.

Since Clannad: After Story speaks volumes for itself with the general quality of its content, then, I should try to end this blog entry, which I fear is growing voluminous, as soon as possible.

Let me just say, then, that I liked watching Tomoya make peace with his father, I liked the neat reunion between him and his daughter's sensei, and I particularly liked the return of Starfish Girl! :D

YES! FUKO-CHAN IS BACK, BABY!!! Welcome back, she who uses the third person even more humorously than Dr. Doom does. ;) :D

Fuko's Episode 19 return was very unexpected. It was a nice feel good story after Nagisa's passing.

So, all told, I liked episodes 17 through 21 more than I thought I would. They were all handled well, with Fuko's return coming at just the right spot.

But what I'm not sure I like... is the conclussion.

All through out Clannad: After Story, I detected a grand theme of life emerging. That theme is that change in life is inevitable, and that growth through life depends on adapting to those changes, and making the most of what comes your way; through all the tragedies, toils, and troubles.

The value of family is immeasurable in this grand theme of life that I felt that Clannad: After Story was trying to convey. And, ironically, part of that value of family comes from realizing how the lost of one family member, as painful as that is, doesn't mean that you should ignore other family members.

This is what Tomoya learned from his father, and his father's mother. This is what Akio and Sanae displayed in caring for Ushio after their precious daughter passed on.

But then... Nagisa is... retroactively ressurected, I guess you could say. That is the conclussion of Clannad. And while it is certainly a very happy one, I can't help but feel that it takes a great deal away from the grand theme of life that I felt that Clannad: After Story had been developing.

It also makes me feel like Episodes 17 through 21 are lessened considerably in their value by the turn of events. Do the events of these episodes even exist anymore, outside of the mind of Tomoya?

Overall, Clannad: After Story was an exceptional anime, but I can't help but wonder a lot if it's ending was the right one for it...

It does a reflect a trend in anime, though - a trend of pulling last minute switches that seem to go totally against overarching themes. I saw it in Gurren Lagann, and I saw it in Mai HiME. And, in fairness, those are two of my all-time favorite animes.

So, if nothing else, Clannad: After Story is in good company here... ;)

I hope, though, that one day, an anime will stay true to its grand theme to the very end - be it a happy ending where Nia actually lives, or a sad ending where Tomoya learns to live on with out Nagisa by his side.

And yet... if Clannad's most passionate fans were to argue that After Story actually managed to eat its cake, and have it too, I would be hard-pressed to argue the point with them. Clannad: After Story gives you the bold bitter ending of episode 16... the controversial ending that could have been... and it also gives you the completely happy ending of episode 22.

If there's one final positive note that I can make about Clannad: After Story it's that it's boldness is matched only by the character of its cast; a cast that was admirably kept to a manageable and well developed number of characters; something that the shounen animes of the day could take a lesson from. ;)

And hence, with this one final Clannad picture, I pay a tribute to that cast. :)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Clannad... and what it says about anime: Part 1

Don't worry, I'll get back to my Top 10 Countdown soon.

However, for the time being, I wanted to talk about an anime that may have altered my Top 10 list if I had watched it before I compiled that Top 10 list. That anime is Clannad.

Thanks to the recommendations of my good friend and fellow Anime Suki poster Kogetsu Shirogane, I recently watched Clannad, an anime that I had not bothered with when it first came out due to how action-oriented anime is what dominated my watching habits before I became more involved in Anime Suki's poster community.

With this in mind, I probably should provide some background information on my history as an anime fan before I get into my review of Clannad, to help those who read this blog understand where I'm coming from here.

A few years ago, a close cousin of mine, helped along by frequent discussions on animes and anime characters on the Comic Book Resources site, managed to get me interested in anime. I had watched bits and pieces of various anime shows before then... mainly the big three of Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon, and Sailor Moon... but it was only at this point that I began to watch anime as a somewhat consistent entertainment hobby.

The first ten or so animes I saw, after I became interested in anime, was directly determined by my cousin (and, by extension, by his best internet friends). Those animes were, in no particular order...

1) El Hazard: The Magnificent World
2) El Hazard: The Wanderers
3) Excel Saga
4) Ranma ½
5) Tenchi Muyo!

6) Negima!
7) Full Metal Alchemi
st (the original anime)
8) Neon Genesis Evangelion
9) Azumanga Daioh

10) InuYasha

So, even though I only became a big anime fan during this decade, my introduction to the world of anime included a significant number of 90s animes. Also,
for those familiar with most or all of the anime above, you can probably see how most of the anime I watched in the early going were of a predominantly zany and action-packed nature... with Azumanga Daioh probably being the one closest to "regular" school life, or slice of life in general.

The KyoAni titles, as such, are largely ones that were a bit d
ifferent from the animes that I had cut my teeth on.

In fact, as big a fan of the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya as I am now... I honestly found the anime more than a bit weird in the beginning. Episode 00 honestly didn't help matters when I first saw it, although I n
ow look back on it fondly. However, Haruhi had just enough of the sorts of elements that many of my favorite early animes had to hook me in... and it particularly helped that Haruhi herself slowly grew on me after an early disliking of the character (yes, amazing, isn't it? ;) ), and in fact I now love the character.

Haruhi was likely the ideal anime to introduce me to the KyoAni style of anime... I suspect that the genre transition into Clannad was made easier because of it.

So, in any event, my knowledge of Clannad before the past
two months or so was very, very nil. I was aware of it, of course, but only through its presence on Anime Suki, and also through occassional allusions to it. So, I went in watching it with out hype playing much of a role. I will admit that part of the reason why I took Kogetsu up on his recommendation is that Clannad is one of the more... relevant animes, shall we say... of the ones I have yet to see, but I read no comprehensive reviews on it before I watched it, and basically went into watching it with no preconceptions whatsoever and an entirely open mind.

So... in this blog post I will look at Clannad's original season. In Part 2, I will look at After Story, as I feel that After Story warrants its own posting.

So... with all of this regrettable exposition out of the way (sorry about that ^_^;; ), what do I think of Clannad? What were my first impressions of it? What do I think of its cast of characters, and what do I think it says about modern anime?

Well, first of all, and to get strait to the point... I very much liked the original season of Clannad. In particular, the Fuko and Kotomi arcs (basically constituting episodes 5 through 14, IIRC) were two of the best anime arcs I've ever seen, and certainly the best signal character-focused anime arcs I've ever seen. This ten episode run was one of the best anime runs that I've seen, at least as far as characterization, emotional involvement, and plot cohesion are concerned.

It helps, of course, that I al
most instantly fell in love with the actual characters of Fuko and Kotomi. Fuko's mannerisms and style of speech are too adorable for words, while Kotomi is one of the most endearing and lovable characters I've ever seen.

Kotomi, to me, is like a mixture of some of the best elements of Mikuru Asahina with some of the best elements of Yuki Nagato. However, raising Mikuru here helps to get to a key point pertaining to Clannad.

While Fuko and Kotomi are incredibly moe, irressistably cute, and sweeter than Nagisa's favorite bean bread, they are not helpless or hopeless characters... unlike, well, Mikuru Asahina, to be frank. Don't get me wrong, Mikuru has her appealing qualities as well, but it's nonetheless very refreshing to see a moe girl that can pick up for herself, take the iniat
itive, and gain accomplishments of worth.

This is not only true of Fuko and Kotomi, but also of Nagisa. It also holds true of Kyou, Ryou, and Tomoyo, albeit to lesser extents in my opinion.

So, for me, this is one of the unique charms of Clannad... competent, and hence a touch more realistic, moe girls. And yet, while they are competent, they are still rather good-natured and sweet.

Another one of Clannad's strengths is Tomoya.

Tomoya is one of the most well-rounded anime main male protagonists I've ever seen.

There's an outside chance that him and/or Kotomi would have cracked my Top 10 list if I had watched this anime before I began making it.

Tomoya is like a softer (and hence a bit more relatable, for me) version of Kyon... but at the same time he avoids the dreaded Doormaticus Suckitosis disease that so many anime harem leads seem to be afflicted with. ;)

Tomoya's prankster side combined with Sunohara's principal comedic relief role provides Clannad with moments of humor to compliment its subli
me sentimental spectacle.

While I felt that this humor was sometimes a bit excessive and overplayed, it was probably better to have it there than to have Clannad be a deadly serious show at all times.

What I like about Tomoya, and what I like about most (if not all) of the cast, is how they feel like real people to me. The slapstick comedy moments aside, it's not hard to imagine real life people living lives, and exuding behaviors, much like those of the characters of Clannad. Oh, the characters of Clannad all of their quirks and eccentricities, but these quirks and eccentricities merely add flavour to the characters rather than outright defining them. They're like a real life best friend with an unusual hobby, or a peculiar interes
t, or an atypical talent.

One other strength of the original season of Clannad that I wish to note (and this particular strength is even more readily apparent in After Story) is the overall presentation style. By that, I mean, the OP, the ED, the artwork, the animation, and the background music. All of these synergistically synthesize superbly to help create an anime that's not too polished, but is also very clean and emotionally impactful.

All of the above being said... the original season of C
lannad is not with out its flaws. My first impressions of it were actually a bit mixed, as it felt very much like Azumanga Daioh Light to me in the first few episode. However, the Fuko and Kotomi arcs really kicked this anime into high gear, and done loads to set it apart from other school-life focused animes.

However, I don't consider Clannad the "greatest anime ever", as I've read its widely considered to be by a strong majority of its fanbase. In fairness, though, I should point out that this is coming from an action-oriented anime fan. I tend to like epic struggles and flashy fight scenes, and that is simply not a selling point for Clannad.

Nonetheless, Clannad's major selling point is an uniquely good one, precisely because its unique.

While Clannad is not my all-time favorite anime, it is now one of my favorites, and there is something that I can say for Clannad...

Clannad is definitive anime.

By that, I mean, if I wanted to point to the sorts of characters and narratives that best represent anime as a distinguished entertainment genre with its own characteristic cultural background and flair... I would point to Clannad.

You know the old saying of "A man's man?", which has been extended upon to include sayings like "A player's player", "A warrior's warrior", and "A politician's politician"?

Well, Clannad is an anime's anime. It has almost all of the elements that differentiate anime from western cartoons... and almost none of the elements that western cartoons share with anime.

If anime was to ever die out completely, the first particular anime show I would think of... would be Clannad. And then I would feel very sad over the death of anime given how there's nothing in western entertainment that is even remotely like Clanna
d. If anime was to ever completely disappear, shows like Clannad, and characters like the cast of Clannad, would quite likely completely disappear with it.

And so, somewhat paradoxically I'll admit, I'd like to see anime become a bit more mainstream and hence very vibrant and commercially successful. Because I'd like to see more people become acquainted with shows like Clannad, and I'd hate to see shows like Clannad to die out completely or be thoroughly buried in obscurity.

In its own way, Clannad is actually wholesome family ent
ertainment, with a predominant theme of the value of family and interpersonal connections and relations. It is a story of growth, both on a personal level, and on a community level.

And yet, Clannad does this with out ever seeming overly simplistic or condescendingly cold. It is a warm, friendly, and inviting anime, and I hope that there will be more anime like it in the future... however, I also hope that there may be more mainstream action-oriented fare as well.

Perhaps such mainstream animes could help som
ebody else find their way to their Clannad like I found my way to the Clannad.

In Part 2 of this 2-part review of Clannad, I will look at After Story. I hope that folks who enjoyed this review will come back for that one as well. :)

For now, though... Here's a toast to Clannad Season 1!!!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Number 7: Yuki Nagato!

Top Ten Countdown - Number 7: Yuki Nagato

Moral Alignment: True Neutral

Supporting Quote - "My work is to observe Suzumiya Haruhi and upload the data obtained to the Integrated Data Sentient Entity."

AMV showcase video here.

It must seem like it's been 15, 532 years since I've last updated my blog. Hence, my blog readers should now find it unusually easy to relate to everybody's favorite organic life contact-purpose humanoid interface created by the Data Interface Thought Entity. ;) Hence, it is a fitting time for Yuki Nagato to come up in my Top 10 countdown list, though I still wish to extend apologies to my blog readers for not having wrote anything on this blog for quite some time.

So, the first question many may be asking themselves at this point... why do I have Yuki Nagato listed as True Neutral? While it's true that Yuki seems t
o have a personal preference for lawfulness, and good and fair treatment of others, she doesn't let that get in the way of her work. And her work often means that chaos reigns unoppossed, as it did in a certain infamous anime arc that I'm sure that nobody needs me to remind them of. Her work also allows for evil... or at least callous mischief... as we saw with how Nagato stood by and said nothing while Haruhi Suzumiya mistreated Mikuru Asahina to Kyon-enraging degrees.

In this vein, Yuki Nagato is very similar to Uatu, the Watcher. Like Uatu, there are people and places that Yuki cares about, and has a desire to protect. But also like Uatu, her default state is non-interference, and she can only breech that under the most extreme of circumstances. Novel 4 arguably changes that situation, somewhat, but for the benefit of readers not familiar with the Haruhi Suzumiya novels, I'll try to focus only on what we know of Yuki from her anime appearances.

So, why is Yuki Nagato Number 7 on my Top 10 list?

Well, the following pic helps to explain that in ways that perhaps mere words can not...

Esoterically Exquistely Erudite

E to the power of 3.

And E looks like 3 reflected in a mirror, and then firmed and straightened into a more firm fortitude. A firm fortitude's like Yuki's, you could say. After all, Yuki's intestional fortitude, as the pro wrestling announcers liked to say, is obviously beyond reproach. Her conflict with Ryoko Asakura proves that beyond even an inkling of an interface. ;)

The above is a concise, yet hopefully clever, way of putting in a computer chip, a key reason for why Yuki enjoys an ever growing and subtly spirited fanbase. To elucidate further, however...

Nagato is one of the more mysterious manga, anime, and light novel characters. Even so, there was a time when I viewed her principly as little more than a plot device, to be frank. But, over time, over discussions with some of Yuki's biggest fans, and over paying closer attention to her while watching the anime that she appears in, I began to notice that there is a... profound deepness of character and personality... lying just be
neat the surprisingly soulful eyes of Yuki Nagato.

Just look at her eyes and pose in the picture above. Notice how the starry darkness wrapts itself around her while simultaneously being an accentuating backdrop. An inscrutable ether of black peppered by a maze of slightly shimmering stars. I
n many ways, this is the personality of Nagato. Her mission is often like an encroaching bleakness upon her innermost self, but it doesn't eradicate the light of her personality; a light that floods outwards from her mesmerizing eyes.

'What is she thinking?' you can't help but ask yourself after awhile.

What are her eyes trying to convey which her mouth
refuses to tell?

Yuki Nagato is perhaps the least transparent of characters, and that hence makes her one of the most intriguing. Well, that alone doesn't. But it helps when this typical silence of purpose is contrasted with sudden stark stirrings of action!

This picture above reflects how reflectively brilliant her reflections are. It also demonstrates the forcible finesse of Nagato's fields of force, as well as her atheletic array of assaults and alterations of reality itself.

Nagato's moments of action are always dramatic and intense, for her typical demeanor is as silently serene and quaint as can be. Hence, Nagato is effortlessly theatrical, relying not on charisma as her Brigade Chief does, but rather on flawless timing and execution. Economy of motion executed excellently by the most economical of minds. Adam Smith and Bret Hart would both be left in awe by Nagato.

On a more practical level, though, Nagato's actions and personality and very nature give the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya an element that it would otherwise lack. And that is an element of serious science fiction. Nagato and Haruhi are like the children of Lain, of the Serial Experiment kind, with Lain's personality and power divided meticulously between the two... although Nagato is gifted with great power of her own.

But, that power doesn't mean that she lacks a soft side...

Well... that's quite the list of facets that Nagato is multiplying up with her computer.

Effortlessly Theatrical
The Sci-Fi Element that her anime would otherwise lack, at least to the abundance that it enjoys

And, also, moe. Not as moe as her fellow female SOS Brigade members perhaps, but moe nonetheless.

There is one other key element that Nagato brings to the poker table. And it's a poker face wielding a Royal Flush, which means its typical curtains for Itsuki Koizumi's chance at winning ;) ...


Simply cool.

There's no other word that can describe Nagato in her Witch's Outfit, or in many of her best moments in general for that matter. But what makes her cooler than the common cool is that she's cool with out even trying. Now, that's... COOL.

Other SOS Brigade members are capable of being cool, of course, but they have to work for it. So do most characters through out the whole of anime... yes, even you, Kamina. ;)

Nagato simply has it naturally perspiring from her every pore.

Here, Nagato is like Batman himself.

Well... what more can be wrote? There's clearly plenty of superb reasons to love Yuki Nagato. She brings so many different pitches to the day, and serves as a good contrast for her fellow SOS Brigade members.

She easily transcends any character type class that you care to put her in. Yes, she's like a certain EVA pilot from Neon Genesis Evangelion, but she goes and breaks the mold of that prototype.

She's a supporting cast character with more drawing power than many anime main characters. In many an anime, Nagato would be the star of the show. As is, though, she provides her own anime with the perfect supporting cast character. Don't get me wrong, she is a primary character, but she is there to spice up and add depth to the anime that she's in, rather than making it.

With all of this being said, why didn't she come in higher on my list?

Mysterious is a double-edged sword for a character. It usually makes a character more intriguing, but it also can serve to make a character harder to relate to.

Of my Top Six, I relate to four, and the other two are at least easy to understand. Nagato and "easy" frankly don't belong in the same sentence, unless the sentence is "Nagato is easy on the eyes". ;)

Beyond that, Nagato enjoys a great deal of intellectual investment from me, but significantly less emotionally investment. I cheer for four of my Top Six because they're heroes, in the purest sense of the term. The other two tend to steal whatever scenes that either of them appear in, and they simply make for wonderfully entertaining plot movers and shakers.

Still, Nagato is my favorite supporting cast character, and that alone says a lot. Not everybody can manage to ski above the waves upon waves of anime secondary characters, and for doing that, Nagato is deserving of a place of lasting honor in the halls of anime fandom. Perhaps she can have a trophy for water-skiing excellence on display in those halls... ;)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Number 8: Lina Inverse!

Top Ten Countdown - Number 8: Lina Inverse

Moral Alignment: Chaotic Neutral

Supporting Quotes - "Where monsters rampage, I'm there to take them down. Where treasure glitters, I'm there to claim it. Where an enemy rises to face me, victory will be MINE!!!!!"


AMV showcase video here.

The Lina Inverse image above, done in captivating, coruscating, computer graphics, is truly a case of a picture saying a thousand words... and then making those words violently explode into feverish flickering embers that leave you in lustrous awe as they rain down upon you. As they do so, you are tremendously thankful that you are not the antagonist that Lina just burnt to a crisp with her imposing incantation, especially given her voracious appetite that could lead to her eating that antagonist as shish kabob over an open flame. ;)

Well... not really. While Lina's ability to consume food puts her in a class with Goku of DBZ fame, I'm fairly certain that she's not a cannibal. This is small comfort for her enemies, though. Lina's nickname says it all... "The Enemy of All Who Live."

This nickname is not due to Lina being outright evil, per se. Rather, she is adventuresome and seemingly cares less about collateral damage than former US Vice-President Dick Cheney does. She quests for excitement and gold and knowledge, and will engage in some questionable activities to gain it... let's just say that if a bandit has a choice between running into Lina Inverse, or running into Marvel Comics' anti-hero Frank Castle, the punishment provided by the Punisher might very well be the less painful of the two horrible fates for him to choose between. ;)

Don't believe me? Maybe this picture will change your mind...

Not exactly what you'd want to face in a dark alleyway, huh? You just have to love that scarlet sparkle in her eye that foretells of how some poor sap is about to be dripping scarlet red blood. ^_^;

Mind you, Lina's darker and self-centered side is rarely a serious commentary on what a protagonist should be, and frequently serves simply to provide regular bouts of comedy that hit with all the force of Lina's regular physical bouts with a colorful and impressive array of foes ranging from Rezo the Red Priest to Gaav the Demon Dragon King to Hellmaster Phibrizzo to Valgaav. At the same time, though, it does serve to make Lina an unusual character... and yet, at the same time, perhaps easier for many to relate to than more self-sacrificing protagonists.

There's little question that Lina is chaotic, as she does not respond well to authority at all. She's not completely lawless, perhaps, but 'free-spirited' barely begins to describe her approach to life.
And, in my view, Lina gradually runs the gamut from very close to chaotic evil at the beginning of the first twenty-six episode Slayers anime, to eventfully becoming very close to chaotic good by the end of the third twenty-six episodes Slayers anime, known as Slayers Try. For the most part, though, she's pretty chaotic neutral.

To be precise, she can be a very selfish person in smaller matters, but when her world is hanging in the balance, she puts her selfishness aside to pull out all the stops in order to stop the Big Bad of the heated moment. When the going gets tough, Lina gets Dragon Slaving it! So, in larger matters, she is a heroine of renown, albeit with all the subtlety of a nuclear warhead, which is the approximate firepower of her top two or three spell attacks.

So, with all of that being said, why is Lina Inverse my eight favorite anime character of all-time?

Well, I've already touched on some of the reasons. She, and the anime series that she's a part of, is frequently a match for the likes of Ranma ½ in the comedy department. And like Nabeshin of Excel Saga says, 'explosions solve everything!' :D Lina is simply a lot of fun. Her less-than-noble side can raise eyebrows at times, but it's probably no worse than what Haruhi Suzumiya is...

Speaking of Haruhi, it could be argued that Lina is a lot like what Haruhi would be, if Haruhi was a black mage (with slight red mage abilities) in a Dungeons and Dragons like fantasy world with its own unique laws of magic, and hyper-powerful races, and dark deities of sorts. In fact, Lina's relationship with swordsman Gourry Gabriev often makes me think of Haruhi's relationship with Kyon, and Lina's typical entourage has the balance and complimentary feel of the SOS Brigade.

This titanically thundering troupe typically spoofs the familiar protagonist teams of the sword and sorcery subgenre of fantasy, but also succeeds in carrying over many of the most beloved and endearing of the characteristics of that subgenre, which I myself have always been a big fan of. This makes the Slayers anime franchise a bold and brash revamping of action-packed fantasy, and one which offers charms as powerful as those typically wielded by Lina herself.

This has enabled Slayers, and its more prominent cast members, to remain favorites of mine well over a decade after this anime first aired. Slayers is truly one of the classics of anime, and Lina Inverse herself is a big reason why. Of course, being part of such an enjoyable and long-running anime with few flaws of note is part of why Lina enjoys this spot on my Favorite Anime Characters list.

What also helps Lina Inverse earn the eight position on my Top Ten Countdown list is the fact that her rougher edges enjoy a nice ying and yang affect with the more inherently good-natured cast members like the morally sound Gourry, and the effortlessly cute and cheerful white paladin Amelia Tesla Seyruun. These are the knights in shining armor (and shining Sword of Light, in Gorry's case) to serve as a fitting contrast to the destructive black mage Lina. Collectively, they are greater than the sum of their parts, and create a protagonist team that's both fun to watch, and deserving of cheers.

Lina, however, is the indispensable core of that protagonist cast, and this is what rises her above the rest of that cast for me, as wholly splendid as it is. That, plus a few other key points...

1. Lina's character design isn't a particularly sexy one. But, in a way, that's part of its appeal to me. Slayers differs markedly from most recent anime in that it relies very little, if at all, on sexual fanservice. From being well-dressed from head-to-toe, to having a flat chest that becomes a running joke through out the anime, Lina is a remarkable main female protagonist that relies on everything but sex appeal to sell herself. In other words, she stands on her own two feet as a character, and impresses with her competence in battle and her zany personality and her breathtaking attacks. The character's appeal lies deeper than visuals alone.

That being said, it is an aesthetically pleasing costume that Lina wears, in my view. It suits the sword and sorcery feel of this anime eminently well, I think. The gem-embedded shoulder pads, the purple cape, the white gloves and boots, and the entire color pallet is presented in a way that catches your attention with out being too jumbled.

2. In some ways, Lina Inverse is a magical girl. Certainly, of the common anime character archetypes, that is the one which Lina is the closest to. Compared to most magical girls, Lina's aforementioned competency is startling and rarely ceases to awe. In particular, Lina provided excellent leadership for her team in piecing together a tactically superb multifaceted attack that proved sufficient to defeat the fearsome facsimile foe, Copy Rezo. This totally terrific team effort was great to watch, and made for an original approach to the typical anime climax fights of the time, where brawn and exponential power curves and training tend to trump all. Ahhh... but some may say here that Lina's power is so great that it is in the same overdone vein as those 'other' exponential power curve animes. While I can understand and respect that objection, it fails to be sustained due to the following factor...

3. Lina pays a price, and there's a great danger in using her most powerful attack, the Giga Slave. This, along with Lina's frustration over not being more well endowed in the chest region, keeps Lina from being an overbearing Mary Sue. The price that Lina paid was the rough upbringing foisted upon her by her sister Luna Inverse; such a rough upbringing it was that Lina is actually terrified of her sister; Lina's sister is, oddly enough, about the only person that truly frightens Lina. As for the Giga Slave, it is similar to Galactus' Ultimate Nullifier, in that it's an almost certain one-hit slaughter for the person on the receiving end of it, but if it isn't discharged perfectly it could kill the user herself... if not the universe as a whole. This facet of the Giga Slave plays out nicely in the climax to the second twenty six-episode Slayers anime, Slayers Next. All-told, Lina's power level appears fairly static, and while it does include virtual nuke level attacks like the Dragon Slave, Lina does appear to have a 'hard cap' put on her power levels, which in my view adds a certain degree of drama and suspense to her battles and feuds.

4. Lina's repertoire of attacks did tend to be pretty scant and hence repetitive for awhile, until the following came along...

The Ragna Blade. A slicing energy blade attack with all the potency of the Dragon Slave, but localized to within a giant blade of dark pulsating energy. Simply put, this is one of the most awesome attacks that I have ever seen. Such a pity that Lina didn't use it more often.

So, there you have it... the reasons why this famous anime character comes in at 8 on the list of my Top 10 Favorite Anime Characters of All-Time!

Why didn't she make it higher?

Well, again, she isn't the most admirable of protagonists. There are people with many of her strengths, but none of her drawbacks, higher up on the list.

Still, Lina Inverse is the prosperous prodigious phoenix of anime, arising time and time again, to enliven and bring joy anew. Her luminous orange locks, and her cute chipmunk face, provide a form to this anime phoenix that is immistakable. So, while Kamina is an immortalized diamond, and Tatewaki Kuno is a rapturous rose, Lina Inverse is a phoenix that refuses to be put down...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Secret to Popularity

Take a good, long look at that picture (I'd recommend clicking on it to get a clearer picture). Take particular note of the similarities between these seven mass marketed, heavily merchandised, promotional personas that have each managed to transcend the entertainment medium or genre that they helped make famous.

Can't find the similarities?

Well, if not, I'll get to them shortly. ;)

Through out my life, I have been a part of various different fandoms; moving from one to the next to the next as I grew tired with one and longed for something new. As a toddler and a young kid, I was a cartoon fan, first and foremost, and this guy was my hero...

This guy, the beloved-to-80s-boys everywhere Master of Toys, also shares a lot in common with 'The Majestic Seven' of worldwide entertainment featured in the picture above his here. But, he was different in one key way, and that key difference can help explain why He-Man never completely managed to maintain his apex of popularity like all but one of 'The Majestic Seven' pictured above... and that one is currently at a crossroads, and her name is Haruhi Suzumiya.

Will Haruhi have the lasting popularity of Superman, or the nostalgic but faded power of He-Man? The answer to that question may also have a great deal to say about the long-term prospects of anime as a whole, at least outside of Japan.

However, time to get back to my story...

Along with being a He-Man fan during much of the 80s, I was also a pro wrestling fan, and there my favorite guy was the Immortal Hulk Hogan. My memories of watching pro wrestling back then are fairly foggy, but I still remember being mesmerized by the charismatic champion in 'the red and yellow'. I recognized him by his colors, first and foremost.

After the 80s, and as I entered the higher Elementary grades, I soon turned to a mixture of western comic books and Star Trek: The Next Generation for entertainment. I wanted something a bit more age-appropriate, I guess you could say, but with the same bold, colorful, adventurous excitement of the esteemed defender of Castle Grayskull. On the reading end of things, comic books provided a refreshing break from school textbooks and homework, while on the watching end of things, Star Trek always made me think and reflect, but typically through fun unpredictable stories.

Through out high school, my interests were divided pretty evenly between Star Trek, pro wrestling, western comics, and video games. And for each of the above, certain characters stood out from the crowd, and what mostly appealed to me was the sense of theatrical magic that crackled in the air within each of these entertainment mediums or genres at their height.

However, as I entered adulthood and the 2000s rolled around, my interest in comic books and Star Trek began to wane considerably. Pro Wrestling, and video games, also started to lose me, although to a lesser extent. There were two key reasons for dwindling interest in all four areas...

1) The medium or genre itself started to take itself exceedingly seriously, and it just wasn't 'fun' anymore. In the case of comic books and Star Trek, the focus was increasingly angsty, dark, and emo. In the case of pro wrestling and video games, the goal was now pushing the envelope simply for the sake of pushing the envelope, rather than meeting fans where they already were. And there is some overlap between all four here as well.

2) Each treated themselves more as an industry catering to a hardcore base rather than as an entertainment business trying to appeal to as many fans as possible. They became focused on their internal narrative lore, and making tips of the hat and winks to hardcore fans, instead of on telling fresh new stories. They became bogged down in insider terms and lingo (anybody here know what a 'smark' is, I wonder?) that served to erect walls separating the core fanbase from the wider potential fanbase.

So, what became of my four (largely) previous fandoms?

I'm not aware of the current health or viability of pro wrestling, but I do know that DS9 and Voyager never quite reached the level of success of TNG while Enterprise didn't even reach a seventh season at all. I'm also aware of how small the western comic book market is today when compared to where it was at in the early-to-mid 90s. On the other hand, Superman and Batman-related cartoons, and live-action movies and shows, have done exceedingly well for the most part, largely due to how they have rediscovered what made these characters and their mythos appealing to a mass audience in the first place.

And as for video games, I've recently started reading the blog entries of this fascinating fellow, due to a recommendation by regular blog reader tigermoon, that I thank tigermoon for. From what I can gather from Malstrom's blogs, the 'gaming industry' could be better (or, rather, is getting in the way of gaming being better), and its current weaknesses are due to the same problems that I started noticing within it almost ten years prior.

So... how does this all relate to anime? It relates to anime because, I fear, that anime is starting to walk down the same path that Star Trek, pro wrestling, video games, and western comics walked down before it.

Anime is increasingly rooted in its own insider terms and lingo. As an industry, it appears increasingly inward looking, and attempting to appeal to a core otaku base instead of trying to capture a more mainstream audience. Looking at the new fall line-up, I don't see much, if any, complete crap... but I do see a lot of very derivative shows. It would be better, I think, if anime tried to find inspiration from outside of its own running character types and cliches for a change. This, it could be argued, is what Miyazaki does, and why his animated movies stand out so strongly and consistently do well commercially. At the same time, though, there are some common and seemingly universal (Mario is big everywhere, including Japan) strands that course through the popular characters that transcend and lift their industries.

Haruhi Suzumiya, I believe, may have what it takes to be that character for the anime industry.

Let's revisit 'The Majestic Seven' in my opening picture at the very top of this blog entry. What do they all have in common? Superman is red, yellow, and blue. Hulk Hogan is red and yellow. Mario is red, yellow, blue, and white. Wolverine is blue and yellow. Kirk is wearing yellow, and Picard is wearing red. Haruhi Suzumiya is red, yellow, blue, and white.

Primary colors and white.

These are the colors that, if arranged in a sleek streamlined way, tend to captivate the eyes and entice new fans. So, if you want to create a new superstar character, I'd encourage you to use two or more primary colors, with or with out white, when making the character design for that character. At a visual level, it's a tried, tested, and true method if ever there was one. But there's more than just visuals... the seven characters share certain personality traits in common as well.

First and foremost... confidence. Each and every one of these seven believe in themselves, believe in what they stand for, and have an almost unflappable faith in their abilities. People are inherently drawn to 'strong horses', and these seven are all strong.

Secondly, playfulness. Yes, playfulness. Yes, even Superman, Wolverine, and Picard are playful. Flying and punching bad guys is inherently playful... part of the reason why Superman Returns didn't do better is because Superman didn't throw a signal punch against a signal bad guy the entire time. A guy going around calling people 'bub', and popping long sharp claws and slicing things to bits with them, is obviously having a great time, even if he won't admit to it. And some of Picard's most memorable scenes is when he's quoting Shakespeare and helping Data out in trying to become more human.

Finally, idealism/optimism. Optimism sells. Angst can add depth to stories, but at the end of the day, people want to see their favorite characters succeed, especially if they're living vicariously through that character. I will admit, though, that Wolverine is more grim and dark than optimistic. He is the exception to the rule. However, he makes up for it due to extreme levels of confidence.

You want a brand new character that instantly catches on with the public? Give them a sleek and distinctive character design that incorporates primary colors and/or white, give them an idealistic or optimistic goal, and make them confident and playful while in the pursuit of that goal. Haruhi Suzumiya, when not K-Onified, provides each of the above in flying primary colors. ;)

Beyond that, it helps to have a certain regular sequence that the character is famous for. In Superman's case, it's changing from Clark Kent into Superman (especially if in a phone booth or an elevator). In Hulk Hogan's case, it's hulkin' up, laying some fists down on the opponent's head, launching a big foot into the face, and bringing down a big legdrop for the win... followed up by posing and ear-cupping celebration. In Mario's case, it's jumping on goombas to win and getting bigger from mushrooms. In Wolverine's case, it's popping his claws and shredding things. In Kirk's case it's slow... carefully... enunciated... speech. In Picard's case, it's drinking earl gray tea. And in Haruhi's case, it's the Hare Hare Yukai dance.

And finally, there is the catch-phrase. I'm sure we're all familiar with the catch-phrases of these seven... er, except Haruhi, now that I think about it. Haruhi really could use a catch-phrase!

Let's see...

Look, up in the sky! It's an alien interface... no, it's a nice plane... no, it's SuperSuzumiya!

SuperSuzumiya: I stand for fun, aliens, and the Japanese way!

Or maybe...

Haruhi Suzumiya (with Kyon holding a mike up to her mouth): Well, fleein' Kyon, I have just a few words for the CCP! Whatcha' gonna do when Mikuru's 24-inch breasts come crashing down on you?!

Or maybe...

Haruhi Suzumiya: I'm the best at what I do, Kyon, and what I do is pretty!

Or perhaps...

Koizumi: Maybe if we exploded a piece of dynamite over there it would make the scene better...

Haruhi: Make it so!

Kyon: W-w-what?!

Haruhi: I... said... make. it. so!

Or, to get back to somebody that Skeletor calls a musclebound moron...

Haruhi (holding Mikuru aloft as though she were a sword): By the power of my moe mascot...!


But, of course, it might be good if Haruhi picked up her own unique catch-phrase. For example, I totally think of the word 'totally' whenever the totally cool Wendee Lee comes totally to my mind! ;) Maybe something totally rocking can be made out of that, kind of like how Mario's "Yahoo!" became a famous e-mail and online chat service. XD

In all seriousness, though, a catchphrase would be good for Haruhi. And it would also be good if Haruhi could be successfully marketed to a mainstream audience... much like how Star Trek's latest resurgent movie was. And so, here's a specific idea for that:

The Haruhi-chan anime, and the Yuki-chan manga, is the right way for this franchise to go. Haruhi is too marketable a figure to be held back by novel source material, in my view. What I'm about to recommend here is a bit wild and out there, but I think that it could work.

Have an anime in the vein of Haruhi-chan but with full-length episodes and characters drawn in normal style. And make it episodic, "day in the life of" and fun-loving much like Haruhi-chan is. It could be about anything... Haruhi goes to Hollywood and makes a big production movie! Haruhi goes ghost-hunting and runs into a Skeletor knock-off! Haruhi goes Lara Croft tomb raider, and her and her SOS Brigade have to beat out shady criminals for pieces of ancient lore that might be tied to aliens or time travelers! With a character like Haruhi, the possibilities are endless!

So, perhaps, a non-canon anime original Haruhi anime like this could be totally cool, quite successful, and a major boon for the anime industry as a whole. Consider that Haruhi is to the big eyes and school uniform of anime what Superman is to the cape and tights of super heroes. In other words, Haruhi has come to define the look for wider audiences, in my view. When your average person thinks of a superhero, they think of Superman... and when your average person thinks of a school girl, they think of Haruhi Suzumiya. She has somehow become the iconic prototype of this basic character model the same way Superman is for the comic book superhero character model. Haruhi Suzumiya could totally be successfully marketed to a very big audience.

Or... she could become an intense, but passing, fad of sorts like He-Man was. What partly did He-Man in was a focus on the merchandise and the hardcore fan of the show, instead of on fresh new story content.

Will Haruhi be the Superman of anime, or the He-Man of anime? Will anime itself reach a larger audience or cannibalize itself from being too inward looking and derivative?

These are two questions on my mind right now as I go forward as an anime fan. I remain cautiously hopeful that I will like the final answers...

I hope to get back to my Top 10 Reviews soon, by the way. Apologizes to my regular readers there. ^_^;

All comments and feedback are welcomed!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Number 9: Tatewaki Kuno!

Top Ten Countdown - Number 9: Tatewaki Kuno

Moral Alignment: Lawful Evil

Supporting Quotes - "'What Fates impose that men must need abide.'
The course is now clear... A-ha! His hold on you is gone! Come, let us date!"

"'Cowards die many times before their deaths...'
No doubt he feared my prowess."

AMV showcase video here. (This particular AMV I made myself ^_^ )

Before I get into why I chose Tatewaki Kuno, of the immortal Ranma ½ anime, as Number 9 on my Top 10 countdown list, let me explain a new feature that will be in play for him and the eight characters that beat him out in the charge for top spot. That feature is the Moral Alignment focus. Something that I noticed while making my Top 10 selections is how the Top 9 all fit fairly comfortably into the nine moral alignment blocks of Dungeons & Dragons fame. Yes, a couple of the characters have to be exaggerated, or strained, a bit in order to fit their specific slot (Kuno himself, for example, is not particularly evil; although he's more villainous than heroic it could certainly be argued). However, all of those moral alignment selections are at least defensible for the nine characters I picked for my Top 9, I believe. Personally, I found this kind of neat. Like a stockholder going over his portfolio, I very much like how diversified my Top 10 Favorite Anime Characters of All-Time is. ;)

It would be easy to pick nothing but heroic protagonists, or to take nothing but colorful chaos creators, and hence I take a certain pride in having a well-balanced (I hope) presentation of anime characters here. That being said, I suspect that of all of my Top 10 selections that this one will be the most controversial and perhaps the least well-received. This is because, even as an antagonist, Tatewaki Kuno is deeply flawed.

His perception of the world around him is... drastically skewed, so much so that legitimate questions pertaining to his intelligence, and even to his very sanity, can be raised. Furthermore, his competency and suitability as a serious threat to the main protagonist (Ranma Saotome, in this case) is frequently in question. So why then does he actually make my list as one of my Top 10 Favorite Anime Characters of All-Time?

There are several reasons, most of them hitting home for me personally; hitting home with all the force of Kuno's bokken slicing cleanly through a tree. First of all, there's simply his moniker of 'The Blue Thunder of Furiken High'. That's a simply smashing title to actually introduce yourself by, in my opinion. And the fact that Kuno frequently does introduce himself that way reflects another aspect to his character that I like, and that is the sheer comedy value of it. Kuno's unintentionally hilarious stand-up routine almost never misses a beat... ;)

Kuno is a splendorous comedic antagonist; often unsurpassed at arousing gleeful guffawing guttural laughter. While the Ranma ½ anime as a whole remains a celebrated comedic classic for me, the character of Tatewaki Kuno in particular rarely failed to bring a smile and chuckle to my face. If he was on camera, I could be ensured that my diaphragm, larynx, lungs, and vocal chords would be in for a good workout. ;)

To this day, Ranma ½ remains the superlative anime comedy for me. Its cast is as colorful as the Teletubbies in Rainbowland, and it had the feel of Days of our Lives mixed with The Simpsons mixed with gender-bending, animal-rendering, martial arts-sundering, harem anime. For a long time, I'd go over to my cousin's house just down the street every day after work, and marathon a few episodes of this anime along with him. It was such a lighthearted stress reliever. And as I said before, no Ranma ½ character contributed more to that than Tatewaki Kuno did.

But comedy alone doesn't explain Kuno's appeal to me. As over-the-top as he is, I can still relate to him to a significant extent. I say that somewhat embarrassingly, since this relates in turn to one of my odder quirks and failings in life. Like Kuno himself, I am an old-fashioned romantic. Similar to Kuno, I was rarely shy about approaching the girls in school that I had crushes on, and I even wrote much love poetry whereas Kuno recited such romantic rhetoric. And also much like Kuno, my love is almost always unrequited... ^_^;

So, in a very real way, I can feel Kuno's pain...

To be sure, and to relieve the likely concerns of my readers, my attempts at courtship were nowhere near as blind and unaccepting of clear rejection as Kuno's was... but by the same token, I've never been good at picking up on hints, and hence it could sometimes take weeks, if not months, before a lovely luscious lady that I had my eyes on would manage to successful convey rejection to me. And each such time, my heart withered under the melancholic strands seeking to constrain unquenchable fires ironically thirsting for dousing by the sweetly scented dewdrops of love dripping from the leafy lush lips of the woman of my dreams...

So, as you can see, cherished reader, I often share with Kuno his propensity to make utterances in finely flowing flowery language. ;)

And yet, what I admired in Kuno, and what I myself lacked in my teenage years, was the ability to be eternally optimistic in spite of the heart-wrenching, soul-crushing, spirit-debilitating dismisses of desired loves. Kuno consistently overcomes such setbacks, and in so doing, casts the image of a proud man with an abiding sense of honor and a dogged determination for abundant joyous life. Kuno, too, is a Determinator in his own way. And indeed, all of my Top 10 picks are in one fashion or another, this being a common cord that runs through them all and provides at least a silver lining of consistency to the clouds that hang in the bright blue sky overhead my 10 favorite anime characters of all time.

Beyond all of the above, there are a few more short reasons for why I like Kuno so much. As I grew in my anime fandom, two factors in particular caused me to gradually like Kuno more and more, and make him one of the few anime characters of the 90s to remain in my favorites list through even the watching of all the recent animes of renown. Those two factors are as follows...

1) Ghost, of Comic Book Resources legend
, is also a Tatewaki Kuno fan. This let me know that I was not alone in liking Kuno; liberating me in a sense to feel more 'Ok' with my liking of a frequently disparaged character.

2) Kuno's two peculiarities became steadily more apparent to me.

First of all, he is courageous in the ways of romance. This is staggeringly unique for an anime character, a fact that was not known to me during my first viewing of
Ranma ½. Within his own anime, Kuno's willingness to always be open about his romantic feelings for others only stood out mildly... for other characters like Kodachi, Ryouga, and Shampoo were also similarly fearless here. However, over and against the whole of anime, Kuno's approach to romance is marvelously rare.

Secondly, Kuno is a bishonen... and an underdog. Kuno is consistently presented as physically outmatched by Ranma Saotome, and arguably by most of 'The Nerima Wrecking Crew'. An underdog bishonen is practically an oxymoron within anime, yet Kuno is one. The physique and style of the bishonen embodied by a figure that you can legitimately pity... it is a stark contrast that I can appreciate much like I do the gorey moe of Higur

Finally, there are two more reasons that I liked Kuno practically from the moment I saw him. First is how he uses a bokken, uses it a lot, and keeps it at his side at all times. This reminds me of my favorite cartoon character when growing up in the 80s... He-Man. :) For me, Kuno is like the dark mirror image of He-Man; similarly lawful, but dangerously troublesome instead of helpfully heroic, and a man of conspicuous charm instead of understated gentlemanly grace.

And last, but certainly not least, Kuno's English dub actor is one with a manifestly distinct voice to me. I've liked Ted Cole a lot both in his role as
Tatewaki Kuno, and also in his role as Gilbert Durandal in Gundam Seed Destiny. Cole has the ideal voice for the suave idealist, be his ideals romantic (Kuno) or political (Durandal).

So, Ted, this is thanks to you, and thanks to Rumiko Takahashi, for helping to bring to life a character that has brought me much cheering, enthusiasm, laughs, and smiles in life. I can only hope that in some fairy tale land beyond the typical inconclusive ends of Takahashi, that Kuno's final romantic moment leaves him feeling like this... ;)