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, 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... ;)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Number 10: Kamina!

Top Ten Countdown - Number 10: Kamina

AMV showcase video here.

On the one sword-wielding hand with the firm manly grip, you couldn't ask for a better way to kick off a Top 10 Countdown List than with the legendary Dai Gurren Leader Kamina. On the other more relaxed yet preparing for combat hand, I suspect that this will be a controversial pick; not because he's in the Top 10, but because of the fact that he's not at, or very near, the very top. Simply put, I think that Kamina is one of those characters that tends to be either at the very top of fan favorite listings like this one, or not there at all. You either love his attitude and his fire and his relentless ruthless rampaging race to pierce the heavens with his mighty drill... or he's too much for you. He's like the strongest of alcoholic beverages. Not everybody can hold this liquor, but those that can generally won't settle for anything less; since after you've drank from the blood released during Kamina's sacrificial swashbuckling steamrolling of the Beastmen, everything else seems mild in comparison, and may not give you the desired buzz.

I guess that for myself, Kamina is right on the borderline. If he was any more outrageously cool in a surreal way, I couldn't take him seriously at all, and I'd probably relegate him to the spoof world of Nabeshin, and Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo. That is, to say, I'd probably like him for pure comedy value and astounding amusement, but that's it. However, Kamina is just realistic enough for me to take him a bit seriously, and hence I gain a real sense of meaning and worth from this character, and also from his penultimately powerful philosophy.

And what is that philosophy? Well, just look up (or, rather, down ;) )

The above is Kamina's trademark pose, reflecting Kamina's philosophy that you should always aim for the top, and strive for boundless liberty and freedom, even at all costs. I imagine that for American anime fans, it's not hard to see much of the philosophy and spirit of the forefathers of America made incarnate within the bold bombastic brash brawn of Kamina. Kamina is the ultimate indomitable human spirit, grasping for free will, and refusing to allow himself and his friends to be forced underneath the ground by defeatist oppressors. People of a libertarian political persuasion must profoundly admire a character, and a man, like Kamina, I think.

However, Kamina is also a man of deep and abiding camaraderie, as his heartfelt friendship with Simon, and his alliance with Yoko and the rest of the Dai Gurren, also resounded gloriously with me. As a hockey fan, the Dai Gurren often made me think of a tightly knit hockey team, committed to the core to each other and to the cause that they were competing for. They weren't doing it for the money or the prestige, but simply for the love of the game, the worthiness of the cause, and the unbreakable bonds that they had forged. Kamina is like the perfect player coach and Team Captain; he'll lead by example, and push you onward with zesty encouragement and enthusiasm. He'll believe in you, so that you don't have to. Believe in Kamina who believes in you. Such a great way of inspiring others who doubt themselves: don't see yourself through your own doubting eyes, but see yourself through the eyes of those who love you and believe in you.

In an age of frequently dark and grim, cynical and jaded,
angst-ridden and emo, characters, Kamina is the amazing antithesis that will pierce them all, and show them a better way to be. Deep down, I am an optimist who often finds myself chafing under and against the frequently cynical post-modern philosophies of our time, and hence Kamina is a character and a man that can lift me out of those doldrums of depressing deterministic diatribes. Like the AMV linked to above says, Kamina is "15% concentrated power of will".

In fact, Kamina is the single most unblemished, unparalleled, unrestrained carrier of one of my favorite characterization elements: The Determinator

While I wouldn't want Kamina to have Ahnold's Austrian accent, I'm glad that he has the same refusal to quit that the T-800 brought to every fight. And as such, Kamina's mecha battles are some of the most eruptive and stunning through out all of mecha anime. They are like a double quarter-pounder with cheese and loads of condiments and toppings, for the eyes. Just such masculine meaty,
testosterone-thumping, goodness.

All of the above makes Kamina a most memorable character and sight to behold. He is pure, raw force of determination and will. He is the iconic inspirational image that every army simply dies for, both literally and figuratively. So why isn't he higher than 10th given such a rousing review?

Because while Kamina is the alpha of his character class, he's far from the omega. He starts the fire going, but he's not the one that keeps it ablaze. He's the originator, but not the man who has to carry the ball. He's the Star Quarterback, but he'd be lost with out the best Wide Receiver in the business... and Kamina himself knows it. As great a man as Kamina truly is, he's an even greater image and symbol.

One of my favorite moments in those first eight episodes of Endless Exuberance, better known as the first eight episodes of Gurren Lagann, was when Kamina let his emotional guard down ever so briefly to Yoko, confiding in her about just how much faith he really did have in Simon. Kamina revealed to her that while he was courageous... he was not fearless. He might sweat under the pressure, but he'd never give in to his fear. And one big reason for that is how much he believed in and trusted Simon.

Kamina wasn't just sounding off some pleasant pretentious platitudes for the benefit of Simon; he truly believed in them. Kamina really did believe in Simon. Kamina quietly admired Simon just as Simon admired him. Kamina had the guts and glory, but Simon had the know-how and skill. And this is what made them the dauntless dominating duo of anime. It also helps to explain why, though, Kamina isn't higher on this list.

When it comes to people leading armies into battle, or people flying mechas, I tend to like to see a certain degree of tactical brilliance. I like to see a charismatic cerebral champion who lifts his legions to victory by equal amounts of intelligence, integrity, and intensity: pro wrestler Kurt Angle's (in)famous Three Is. ;)

Kamina has the integrity and intensity down pat, and in flying colors, but his intelligence at strategy and tactics was just about average; perhaps slightly above if I was to be generous. This is nowhere near enough to deny him a spot on my Top 10 Favorite Anime Characters of All-Time list... but it is enough to deny him a higher placement on it.

Nonetheless, Kamina is startling in how he is both iconic and iconoclastic. Within his own universe, he is the iconic determinator; a hero of virtually mythical proportions. Within our universe, though, he is the iconoclast. Within his own universe, he is an irresistable force for change, and within our universe, he is an immovable colossus standing astride against the jade waters of attrition, cacophonously crashing down at his glimmering diamond form.

Who the hell do I think Kamina is?!

I think that Kamina is a diamond in the rough, and that he pierces the heavens like a diamond drill, and that he is a diamond that can't be worn away by cynical criticism or jaded jeers.

So kudos to you, Kamina, the dashing determined diamond of anime. May you always shine like a diamond in the sunset...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Top 10 Countdown!: Honorable Mentions

It's the Final Countdown! ;)

Well, not really, but I felt that this awesome AMV above could serve to get my readers pumped and primed for my Top 10 Favorite Anime Characters of All-Time Countdown!

A few ground rules before I begin...

This is, of course, just my own list of favorite anime characters. It primarily reflects my own taste in fictional characters, particularly those presented in an animated medium. This list is not designed to convey which ten anime characters are the most influential of all time... although a case can be made that at least two or three characters on my list are influential. This list is also not meant to determine which ten anime characters are the most complex, multifaceted, and unique of all time... although, again, a case can be made that many of these characters are complex, multifacated, and unique. Certainly, I tend to very much like prominent, unique characters that stand out for me in a good way... but, at the same time, characters that do a truly outstanding job of representing a particular archetype appeal to me as well. For example, my conception of the perfect tsundere is in this Top 10 list.

So, in a neat and tidy nutshell, this list is only to display to you, gentle reader, the ten anime characters that have most left an indelible impression on me through out the dozens upon dozens upon dozens of animes that I've watched. Needless to say, many excellent anime characters never made the cut. To help explain why one or more of your favorites may not be on the list, let me introduce you to a few criteria that I used in rounding down the vast array of anime characters that I have to choose from...

1) The character has to stand out for me, over and above the broader cast that he or she or it is a part of. While it's true that I loved the Sailor Moon anime and its cast, neither one or two of the Sailor Scouts fully stood out to me as being particularly more notable or enjoyable to watch than any of the others. It is a strong and stupendous cast, and I like them all, but I just don't like them enough to put them all in my Top 10 list, and at the same time neither one of them (including Sailor Moon herself) strikes me as more deserving of the honor than either of the others. At some level, I'm inclined to think that truly great characters will shine a bit more brilliantly than their fellow cast members.

2) The character needs to have significant screen-time. I like Akasaka (Higurashi) and Gihren Zabi (Mobile Suit Gundam) a lot, but neither received much screen-time. Each was displayed prominently in one of my favorite anime scenes of all-time. However... I can't really justify putting into my Top 10, characters that may be completely conspicuously cool for a short stretch of time in one episode, but aren't fleshed out a great deal beyond that. By extension, this also means that characters in brand new, yet unfinished, animes (such as Bakemonogatari) aren't on the list. I will say, though, that there's at least a couple of Bakemonogatari characters that may very well challenge for Top 10 spots in the future.

3) How much I like the anime that the character is from is important. Dragon Ball Z was one of the first animes that I ever watched, and I liked it a lot at the time... but looking back on it now after watching much more fast-paced shonen fare, I can see where it has considerable weaknesses, primarily in the pacing department. Due to how DBZ doesn't appeal to me like it once did (the linked AMV above notwithstanding), its characters probably suffer from that. On the flip-side, one of my favorite animes is the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and that helped to lift one particular character into my Top 10 list. You'll have to wait to find out who that character is. ;)

4) The character has to be known primarily as an anime character (at least for me). Captain Falcon is astonishingly incredible, and M. Bison can make you gleefully shout "Yes! Yes!" while watching him fight, but both are known better for their video game roles than their anime roles.

So, all-told, those are my Fantastic Four Filters (provided by the always malleable Reed Richards; him being such a great guy who'll stretch to great lengths for just about anyone's sake ;) ). There are other factors playing into the precise ordering of the characters in my Top 10 list, but you can be assured that each and every one of them survived (or mostly survived, anyway) this screening process.

However, in piecing together my Top 10 list, I found that there were actually close to twenty characters that I had to make some tough choices amongst. Even the Fantastic Four Filters weren't able to totally make this an easy selection for me. As such, I feel compelled to honor five particular characters that just missed the cut, but nonetheless deserve some special spotlight moments, in my opinion.

So... here are five honorable mentions, in alphabetical order, with a brief blurb on each, explaining why I like him or her or it...

Éclair (Kiddy Grade)

Tall and voluptuous is my favorite female form, red's my favorite color, and I love wavy brunette hair. So, on sheer character design alone, Eclair appeals to me quite deliciously. ;) She also has perfectly sized breasts, in my estimation. Eclair was also one of the first leading ladies of anime that I came into contact with after I started watching anime heavily a few years back. Up to then, my exposure to anime was unwitting (i.e. I couldn't distinguish anime from other cartoons), and limited to DBZ, Pokemon, and Sailor Moon. Eclair was the first buxom bodacious broad, of a non-magical girl type, to be a female main protagonist, that I came across.

And she was as luscious in that role as her trademark lipstick whip was... and really, what a cooler weapon for a female than a lipstick whip can you get?! She also had a personality that I found alluring for the most part, and her backstory frequently intrigued me. In the anime, she ends up being a supremely stylish heroine that consistently fights for what is right, even if it forces her to go against her superiors and to take a stand that throws her life into quite dire jeopardy.

Why didn't she make the Top 10 cut then? Her character, for me, was undermined somewhat by gratuitous fanservice; for example, you wouldn't believe just how long it took me to find a non-fanservicey pic of her like this one above. I don't mind some fanservice, especially for a fine feminine fighter like Eclair, but Kiddy Grade (the anime with Eclair in it) sometimes took it a bit too far. Another knock against her is how vaguely defined her marvelous metahuman abilities are. This is a problem that plagues the entire Kiddy Grade cast, in fairness. That, combined with Eclair being virtually immortal, made her somewhat difficult for me to relate to. Finally, there's also the fact that Eclair simply has fewer fascinating character relationship dynamics surrounding her, in my opinion, than some of the similar leading ladies that did make my Top 10 cut.

Still, Eclair is an early favorite of mine, and she definitely deserves a honorable mention at least.

Ifurita (El Hazard: The Magnificent World)

Ifurita, much like Eclair, is here in part due to character design reasons. I simply adore Ifurita's character design, which is one that helped me make the transition from western comic book fan to anime fan. El Hazard: The Magnificent World OAV, as a whole, served as the ideal gateway anime for this Batman, Superman, and Marvel Comics fan. It had several prominent characters with personalities and/or outfits that reminded me a great deal of the costumed heroes and villains of western comics. This is particularly true of Ifurita and one other El Hazard: The Magnificent World OAV character that is in my Top 10.

Perhaps no anime character personifies "mysterious" to me as much as Ifurita does. Even the most diehard of El Hazard fans do not know for certain how organic, or how artificial, she is. She is, in fact, a living weapon of mass destruction, designed precisely for that purpose. And yet, her soft subtle beauty, and magnificent melodic melancholy and style contrast so impeccably with that status. Then there are her epic powers that include creating huge blast radius' that can consume large towns, the ability to copy the abilities and powers of others, dimension dumping, and time travel. Taken altogether, this serves to make Ifurita one of the most intriguing characters in all of anime. As I said, she is mysteriousness personified. :)

So why, then, didn't she crack the Top 10? Because this strength is also a weakness. Like Eclair, she is a bit hard to relate to; perhaps even moreso than Eclair is since Ifurita's personality is more esoteric than Eclair's. There is also the fact that this version of Ifurita simply doesn't get that much screen-time; five episodes in total (eight if you

count her duplicate in the second El Hazard OAV). She simply isn't as fleshed out as much as I'd like.

Still, as Katsuhiko Jinnai says, she is an ultimate weapon that is excellent! ;) And her unusual romance with Makoto Mizuhara is one of my favorites in all of anime.

Jail Scaglietti (Nanoha Striker S)

One area where I would give western comic books and fiction a bit of an edge over anime is in the prominence and quality of antagonists and villains. I know that many will probably disagree with me here, as they may prefer the more understated 'shades of gray' sympathetic antagonist or villain. That's all fine and good, but every now and then I find it very exciting and fun to see the protagonists go up against a cackling, colorful, dynamic, scenery chewing, and theatrical villain. And there's very few in anime that actually surpass the good Dr. Scaglietti in fulfilling such a role.

Of the 'mad scientist' villain type within anime, Scaglietti just edges out Professor Tomoe (Sailor Moon), and Dantalion (Shakugan no Shana) for me. Perhaps the main reason being that, as it pertains to the anime versions of each of those three anyway, Scaglietti gets directly involved the most. He actually shoots blasts and hacks into TVs to make big announcements. Now that's my kind of impacting intense intelligent villain! And then there's the fact that perhaps no villain in all of anime has a larger harem of almost entirely loyal subordinates. I doubt that even Professor Tomoe had the numbers that Jail had. ;)

But even bad puns aside, Scaglietti stands out to me for his funny facial distortions, his reverberating laughter, his wearing of a lab coat over a business suit, and his purple bishi hair. His look is distinctive, but streamlined.

So, why doesn't he make the cut? Largely due to how the anime handled him. He ultimately goes down more with a whimper than with a bang, and he was so hopelessly outmatched that I actually pitied him frequently... and it's probably not a good sign when you pity a shamelessly diabolical villain before he even goes down to defeat. If Scaglietti had just had more punch behind his attacks, or had a subordinate like, say, Ifurita, maybe he would have cracked my Top 10. As is, though, he's still very deserving of this honorable mention.

Sakai Yuji (Shakugan no Shana)

Sakai Yuji is my favorite character of his anime character type. That character type being what I would call "The fairly straight-laced Japanese teenager everyman central protagonist". This character type is always at least a bit meek and mild, typically with a solemn stoic side, frequently moved around by the plot rather than driving it himself, usually has dark hair, and almost always wears a student uniform. He's a very common anime character type; all-female casts aside, it's a rare anime that doesn't have a character like this.

And for me, Sakai Yuji is the best representation of this character type, just edging out Makoto Mizuhara (El Hazard), and Kyon (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya). He is also, of course, leaps and bounds ahead of the typical harem anime lead. What makes Sakai Yuji stand out for me in this fashion?

The main reasons are that he's not downright whiny (a frequent annoying aspect to characters of his character type), his actions and decisions typically make good sense to me, his powers are actually rather neat, and most importantly he really undergoes an impressive character evolution during the second half of Shakugan no Shana II. Simply put, Yuji becomes a man; moreso than any other character that he shares his character type with, imo. After a lengthy period of being a push-over and riding on Shana's coattails, Yuji eventually takes control of his life, and much like Prince Adam of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe fame, holding aloft and wielding a magical sword makes all the difference for him. ;) :D

Yuji is also a deeply reflective character, and, I believe, a much more reliable narrator than Kyon is; this being my main reason for putting Yuji ahead of Kyon here. Yuji seems to truly care about others, and that isn't drowned out in either whiny words or snarky sneering. He is an eminently likeable and relatable character. So why didn't he make the cut?

While he's great in the 2nd half of Shakugan no Shana II, his breathtakingly blind and oblivious behavior in the 1st half of Shakugan no Shana II hurts his character a bit for me. He's probably not as indecisive about romances as many of his character type are, but he nonetheless could be better here.

Still, his romance with Shana is my favorite in all of anime, and thus he deserves a honorable mention at the very least.

Sango (InuYasha)

The four main protagonists of InuYasha (Kagome, Miroku, Sango, and InuYasha himself) are all great characters, imo. I like all of them a lot. So what lifts Sango just a slight touch above the rest of them for me?

Mainly the fact that she's such a sweet and perpetually pure in heart protagonist. She doesn't have InuYasha's boastful abrasive ego, or Miroku's lecherousness. And her fits of tsuntsun strike me as slightly less frequent than Kagome's, as Kagome can strike me as being a bit too quick to anger at times.

Sango strikes me as one of those characters that you'd love to have as either a friend, or as a girlfriend. She is so dependable, firm, and resolute. She has real class and a sense of personal pride. She also brings out the very gallant best in Miroku on a few occasions. When Sango manages to make this happen, it serves to have Miroku become one of my favorite anime characters as well. And when Miroku is at his best, the Miroku/Sango romance is one of my favorites in all of anime. It really resonates with me during those moments when Miroku is at his best.

For whatever reason, Sango is also one of those anime characters that simply exudes Japanese culture for me. And in doing so, she helps me to greater appreciate the cultural heritage of that lovely oriental land, as well as to help me realize why I became an anime fan to begin with. Her fighting style, her choice of weapons, her flying pet cat that can change size and shape... there's a lot surrounding her that's quite nice.

Her outfit is cool and stylish, but while being modest and utilitarian. Sexy with out needing fanservice to accomplish it; now that's a woman who knows how to carry herself.

So why doesn't she make the cut? Sango is a bit understated. I don't mind that in some anime characters, but in Sango's case, I wish she'd get involved in the action and dialogue just a bit more than what she does. Still, she is a character that has earned her place in this "Honorable Mentions" list.

Well, that's all for the Honorable Mentions list.

I hope all of my readers enjoyed this Blog entry, and that people gained a bit of a better understanding in my taste in anime, my taste in anime charcters, my taste in villains, and my taste in romance especially, because of it. As always, any and all comments are appreciated.

Soon... the Top 10 part of the Final Countdown begins! >:)

Monday, September 14, 2009

You Will Have Them Both!

The poll results are in! And just like so many recent Canadian federal elections, it's a nail-biter of a conclusion with out anybody, or any option, gaining a majority. However, instead of making passionate calls for a majority much like Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently did, I'm instead going to take a page from Tatewaki Kuno's book: You will have them both! ;)

With "Bakemonogatari", and "Top 10 Anime Characters", each capturing 39% of the vote, and an identical vote total, I'm going to start doing blog entries on both soon. You will get your 'tsundere'...

And you will also get your pigtailed girl!

I don't think that it's giving away too much at this point to reveal that Haruhi Suzumiya is in my Top 10 anime characters of all time. ;)

So just like the Blue Thunder of Furinkan High, my faithful readers... you will have them both! :D

Ah, but what's that you say my faithful readers?

There's actually three girls in Kuno's ultimate wet dream picture above?

Indeed there are!

And that's because I'm also going to watch 3rd place finisher Umineko, and at the very least, do a blog on its entire season once it is completed. :)

Thanks to everybody who took the time to vote. Before the end of the week, we will begin counting down my Top 10 anime characters of all time! And, also before the end of the week, I will be doing a blog on Bakemonogatari.

Right now, I'm leaning towards reviewing each of Bakemonogatari's arcs - perhaps doing one such review for every three character countdowns on the top 10 list.

So, please stay posted for more on both of these upcoming blog themes!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Haruhi 2008 Episode 14 (The FINALE!) Review.

Haruhi Suzumiya certainly has a skill at looking sensuous and sexy with out even trying to. Nice posture that emphasizes some of her most... appealing features, shall we say. ;)

My goal with this episode review is to make it in-depth and detailed, but... I'm in much more of a contemplative and reflective mood than in a boisterous bombastic bountiful mood so... you've probably already seen all the alliteration and hypetastic commentary that this blog entry will provide. ;)

That being said, episode 14 was a gratifying and relishable conclusion for both this particular arc, as well as for this year of new Haruhi episodes. Some, of course, speculate that we may get more new Haruhi episodes before the year is out, but... I remain considerably skeptical of that. I do think, though, that a Disappearance movie in December is a distinct possibility. Such a move on KyoAni and Kadokawa's part would make sense, certainly.

Anyway, let's wrap up this review of Haruhi's inauguration as a movie Director who will one day take Hollywood by storm!

The first thirty seconds or so picks up precisely where the last episode left off, giving me a bit of a start with seeing Yuki answering with "I do" at the very beginning of this episode. Hearing Yuki say that with out a question being posed beforehand can't help but to make me think of her getting married. I suppose that the KyonYuki shippers may emerge victorious after all, he he! ;)

Of course, Yuki was answering to Haruhi's query pertaining to knowing where to get a cat; a query made at the end of last episode. And so, with the first thirty seconds of this episode, we see a quick but smooth sequence of events in which Haruhi tracks down a veritably adorable congregation of cats all meowing melodically at the approach of the SOS Danchou.

Haruhi's voice acting here is pleasant and sweet; making it a welcomed change after the intensity of the last two episodes. It was also nice to see Haruhi accept something a bit less than what she had hoped for, by relinquishing her earlier demand for a black cat, and instead settling for a mostly white cat with some dark and light brown spots on it. Kyon gets upset at Haruhi "changing the scenario again" when he probably should be pleased that she was actually willing to make due with the best cat that she could find instead of selfishly insisting upon only the ideal.

Aaahhh... poor Kyon. If only he could see the glass as half full at least every once and while. It can't be easy for Haruhi to spend so much time with the enternal pessimist.

After being treated to a captivating screen shot of Nagato and Shamisen looking each other face to face, we have a couple short credits screen shots, as Super Driver will not be driving today.

Shortly thereafter, we're back to filming, and Haruhi commands Yuki once more to attack Mikuru-chan. Watching this shows me that if directing doesn't work out for Haruhi, being a military field commander might be the next best route for her to go. There's little doubt that US President Obama could use another Commander with her passion and zeal over in Afghanistan right now. ;)

Then we're treated to some genuinely improved acting on the part of Yuki and Mikuru. Nice to see that all the practice is starting to make better actors out of them. I can think of a few Hollywood actors that could really benefit from watching how Yuki and Mikuru improve over time.

Haruhi then exclaims that she wants the cat to talk, and say some cynical lines. If Haruhi had full awareness of all of Kyon's cynical narration, I wonder if she'd still make the same request, lol. :D

Haruhi, according to the sub work, names the cat after a three-string banjo, making me wonder if banjo-playing is something that Haruhi would be interested in. Perhaps Kyon should dress up as Robin Hood one day, and play a romantic banjo tune to her after stealing cameras and guns and dynamite from the rich and giving them to Haruhi. ;)

The three-string banjo (i.e. Shamisen) eventually ends up meeting Haruhi's request, only with the poor girl, as usual, not getting to view the results of her wish-making. Still, that doesn't seem to bother Haruhi, as she's back in tune-humming mode, this time humming a tune that I've heard played during Montreal Canadiens games before. So maybe Haruhi is a Habs fan. Now I have evern more reason to consider her to be the ideal girlfriend for my teenaged self, lol.

With Haruhi leaving the scene, Kyon decides to show us his nice guy side, and hence starts petting the cat and offering to buy him food. This leads into the cat talking to Kyon in a deep imposing voice, leaving me in jocular jolliness while a gleeful grin of shock sticks to Kyon's face. Kyon then makes this section of the episode even more amusing for me as he gets out-philosophized by the cat. While I think that the cat places a bit too much faith in coincidences, Kyon doesn't make that counter, showing how easily he continues to be shocked by the supernatural. Oh, Kyon, will you ever learn? ;)

We're then treated to the SOS Brigade, sans Haruhi, gathering once more at the infamous restuarant of E8 fame. Being such insanely regular customers (over 15 000 visists don't forget!) at that restaurant, one wonders why they don't get more in the way of special treatment form the manager. Ah well, at least we're not bombarded by the schmaltzy show tune this time, lol!

Koizumi goes on at length with his usual theorizing, and in the process actually suggests that Haruhi choose the most cliche ending of all time... it was all a dream! Now I now Koizumi's real goal here; to stop Haruhi from ever being a successful movie maker! :D

Great background music for this scene, with a nice mixture of playfulness with steadily shortening and loudening beat indicating at least some level of real potential danger here.

Next we see Kyon shopping and carrying boxes again, all for Haruhi's sake. How funny that one of the ways that Haruhi annoys Kyon is a way that most girlfriends tend to annoy their boyfriends. ;) I guess that even I have to admit that Suzumiya has her 'normal girl' side.

Kyon and Shamisen walk side by side away from the store, accentuated by a luxirously done setting including solidly detailed extras and nicely set up flower stands and shops. KyoAni certainly deserves credit for how it tends to fully flesh out and realistically fill backgrounds and settings. They're not like the laughable car commercials where the only car on the road is the one being sold in the commercial, ha ha!

Kyon's little sister makes her first non-"Kyon-kun, denwa?" appearance of the season, and it is definitely a memorable one! Such a delightful smile and cry of innocent pleasure from the cute girl. It's "neko neko neko" time, much to Shamisen's own pleasure, although how innocent that is, I'll leave up to my blog commentators to decide. ;)

However Shamisen's pleasure is cut short, as he's put out in the rain by Kyon... one wonders if Kyon is still smarting from getting outdebated by the cat, he he!

We're then treated to an amazing array of admirable background and setting scenes, including a cameo appearance by the K-On band in their ENOZ disguise at 7:06. Makes me wonder if Haruhi's love is like a stapler, and if Kyon can ever hope to avoid getting pinned down with it. ;)

At 7:10, we get an even more epic cameo appearance as Lord of the Rings' Aragorn and Gimli race through the hallways of North High looking for the crystal crescent held by the One Girl to rule them all! How appropriate that Kyon's courage tends to go invisible when that One Girl is around him.

As an aside, I'm sincerely impressed with how KyoAni handled the fantasy warriors. It's quite the departure from their more typical artwork flare, but they still do it as much justice as Aragorn and Gimli running cold steal through the hearts of the Orcish Hordes of Isengard. Truthfully, I'd love to see KyoAni try to tackle a Record of Lodoss War sequel, or something along those lines.

"For Ruin, and the World's End!"

Theoden's battle cry is quite a fitting one for the animation studio that gave us Endless Eight, *chuckle*. Theoden's battle cry does not bestill my heart like the clarion charming calls of Tsuruya-san, though!

When Tsuruya said "Come on Mikuru, give it to him", I have to admit that rather dirty images flashed through my mind. ^_^; And, in complete seriousness, I thought it might be romantic. As it was, it was merely a discount coupon. Even more shopping for Kyon. I guess this is how the Japanese gear up for Christmas, he he!

Well... as with the last time I did an episode review, it's starting to dawn on me just how long this is getting, so I'll cut to the chase by making a few key points...

1) I loved the sublime character intrigue and character relationships that came out in the three dueling dialogues - Kyon with Mikuru; Kyon with Nagato; Kyon with Koizumi. It was fascinating to see how the SOS Brigade is not the camaraderie club that Haruhi envisions it and imagines it as. It was very interesting to see the differences of opinions between Mikuru, Nagato, and Koizumi. I also found it telling how each of the characters presented himself or herself in the way that Kyon tends to like to see them presented - Mikuru was kawaii and moe to the heart melting extreme, while Nagato was the captivating technomage of cool and sharp, while Koizumi was the flamboyant forecaster of frolicking chaos if Kyon didn't continue to abide by his every suggestion. Of the three, I liked Nagato's explicit take on things the most. I simply like the idea of Mikuru, Nagato, and Koizumi being special by their own accord and merits than merely by the wondrous whimsical wishes of Haruhi. The lighting and shading of each scene was exemplary as well... aside from how the shading for the Kyon/Koizumi scene often seemed to give one or both of them Hitler mustaches... ^_^;

2) I also very much enjoyed the scene of Haruhi forcing Kyon to edit the completed filming into a highly entertaining finished product. Haruhi offering to help out was a nice touch, showing that she's already learned a bit of a lesson from her showdown with Kyon in the previous episode. Them deciding to pull an all-nighter together was a cute scene I have to admit, and Kyon's drolling-on-the-keyboard awakening was quite funny as well. One special note I'll make for this scene was how the video editing work shown on the computer screen was so realistic. It instantly made me think of my own experiences in editing videos in Windows Movie Maker, although Kyon's program of choice here appears to be a bit more advanced than that. Still, the look of the editing work in progress was perfect, and easy to relate to for anybody (like myself) who has done such video editing before. Of course, it also made me empathize with Kyon as such editing is frequently a several hours project. I would imagine that this is especially true for an outright live-action (within the Haruhi world itself of course) movie production.

3) Love Itsuki's fabulous moment at 12: 56. "Hey", indeed. :D

4) I also loved Haruhi's enthusiastic and encouraging words towards Mikuru on the rooftop after filming was completed. That was a neat scene; it made me think of Kamina trying to encourage and pump up Simon in Gurren Lagann... and it's rather fitting given Mikuru's explosive water gun blasts and eye shooting sharp pointy objects attacks that were done earlier in the episode; attacks that Kamina would almost certainly give a thumbs up too. ;) It was nice to see Haruhi truly show compassion and caring for somebody other than herself or Kyon for a change. ^_^

5) I laughed a lot over Kyon getting Haruhi to voice-over all those advisories at the end of the filming. Ha ha! Kyon should be a copyright lawyer, lol.

6) Also about the end of the filming scene... I really liked the stunned shinning eyes look on all the students faces.
It reminds me of a certain scene in Sailor Moon during which Professor Tomoe pulls off his big tour de force to begin the climax of the season. I may try to get a screen shot of this Sailor Moon scene later to show how it relates to this scene in this Haruhi episode.

7) While I wasn't fond of having the prologue for Sighs put at the very end of the arc, it was nonetheless a scene with great artwork and animation, and it was pretty funny... even if I found Haruhi's chuckling smiles towards Kyon leading into her emotional outburst a bit hard to swallow.

All told, this was an excellent ending to an awesomely done arc. I have some minor quibbles overall, but not a whole lot. In particular, the artwork and animation for this episode was lovingly luscious, and it leaves a sweet seductive sensation on my tingling twirling tongue. A great end for this year's roller coaster ride of Haruhi Suzumiya; I'm sure that Haruhi herself would want it this way. ^_^

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Meaning and Moral of Sighs

I hope that my first Blog follower, fellow Haruhi fan Janette, doesn't mind me borrowing this picture taken straight from her blog. I use this picture since it relates a great deal to what this blog entry will prove to be about.

First, the 15, 532 million dollar question; the question on every anime blogger's mind that has been following these latest episodes of Haruhi...

To Punch, or Not to Punch?: That is the Question! ;)

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of Haruhi's abuse;
Or to take arms against her acts of trouble, and by opposing, end them?

It's not everyday that paraphrased Shakespeare can apply to this anime, but I believe that this day is one of them. ;)

And what are the various answers offered up for Kyon's ethical dilemma?

Some, like a friend of mine from Anime Suki named Chikorita157, have put up blogs strongly condeming Haruhi and supporting Kyon. Others, like RabbitPoet have put forward defenses of Haruhi that would make Phoenix Wright blush while effectively critiquing Kyon. And, of course, there are many blogs and comments and votes that fall inbetween these two opposing views.

So, after reading all sides of this pressing issue... an issue controversial enough that it causes me to miraculously forget a certain arc that wondrously fades into the ether of endless past... what conclusion have I come to?

Well, as Shakespeare would probably point out, taking arms against a tyrant's abusive slings and arrows can come at a deadly price. The rebellion may succeed (likely with Pizza Hut's support of course ;) ), or, in this case, it could bring the world crashing down.

Personally, I don't think that enduring a punch from Kyon would cause Haruhi to destroy the world. Or, at the very least, I certainly hope not. Because if such a thing would, then that means that Haruhi must be continually handled with kid gloves. The SOS Brigade are like four followers walking on eggshells placed precariously on the tips of a bed of a nails, while their fearless leader is able to walk directly over the nails with out any bloodletting or notice of pain at all.

And, perhaps as much as anything, this is what irritates Kyon. The situation he finds himself in is an intensely infuriating one.

In a way, Haruhi's powers are both a blessing and a curse.

They are a blessing in how they allow the possibility of even her grandest dreams becoming reality, but they are a curse in how they make it almost impossible for her closest friends to treat her like a normal human being that they care about and like to share time with. This perverts Haruhi's maturation process in ways that even a father as poor as Gendo Ikari could scarcely manage.

Speaking of Gendo Ikari, though, I think that I know what the idea behind Sighs is.

What Sighs does is put the SOS-dan, and their associates Tsuruya, Taniguchi, and Kunikida, through a NGE-esque realism meat-grinder.

Think about it... for each of these characters, what we assume to be true about them runs crashing into how a situation like theirs would play out in real life...

Haruhi always gets her way, right? Well, look at the picture above. She's not getting her way this time, clearly. Not in any remotely timely fashion, at least.

Kyon is the always cautious, cool, calm, and collected subordinate who internally snarks but externally keeps his composure at all times, correct? Not anymore...

Itsuki is the shady figure that never lets his guard down or shows us what he really thinks, isn't he? Not going by his own words this time, as the veil is lifted ever so slightly as the Defender of Earth shows us a glimpse of his real side...

Mikuru is simply there to be comically abused, and that's all just good harmless fun, huh? Quite the contrary; it's coming off as rather dark and serious now.

Yuki is perpetually smart and wise, and always there when you need her, right? Hardly in this arc, as she helps Haruhi out in creating situations that gradually builds to Kyon's explosion on Haruhi.

What Sighs does is take these five characters, and their situation, and show how they and it would likely play out in a realistic setting, free from the genre conventions of a slice of life, otaku focused, school based, anime comedy. In some ways, then, you could perhaps even argue that Sighs is a deconstruction in the Neon Genesis Evangelion mold.

I think that most people in Kyon's position would find it unbearable, and untenable. The constant need to restrain oneself. The ever present fear that the slightest wrong word or act could throw the entire universe into jeopardy. The inability to correct a dear friend who's regularly getting out of hand and doing that which she shouldn't.

Being told time and time again by Itsuki Koizumi that you have to let it all slide; that you dare not risk raising forth the wrath of an out of control teenage girl with the powers of creation and destruction.

It has to be insanely infuriating. I get infuriated just imagining myself in Kyon's shoes; how much worse it must be to actually be in them.

Don't get me wrong... Haruhi's a great friend in many ways, and at many times. She can be a blast to hang out with. But having a friend who constantly holds the ultimate trump card over you, and who can incessantly make the most outrageous demands of her 'subordinates' and friends, would prove taxing to the best of us, I think.

That's partly why I can understand why Kyon throws his punch. And most people, from what I've seen, agreed with the act.

But was it right?

Well, my initial objection to it was that Haruhi is a girl, and it's wrong for a guy to hit a girl except in necessary self-defense. That is, though, an admittedly old-fashioned idea, likely born out of the fact that I'm an old-fashioned romantic. If Haruhi was a guy... if Haruhi was Haruki, would Kyon's punch then be right?

At first, when I discussed this with a friend of mine over AIM, my feeling was yes, I'd have to admit that I'd support the punching if Haruhi was Haruki. But upon further thought...

In real life, discipline should come in stages. It should gradually escalate from one stage to the next to the next. Even job discipline for adult workers typically operates this way.

So... at what discipline stage would throwing a punch at Haruhi (or at Haruki, for that matter) fall on? Certainly, such a potentially damaging act wouldn't be on the first discipline stage, would it?

No, I don't think that it would. And yet, for Haruhi, that's what is happening here - her first real dose of discipline is a punch. Seems a bit excessive, and naturally shocking to the recipient, I think.

So what should Kyon (and the SOS-dan) done?

They should have notified Haruhi's parents. Haruhi's parents are the ones that should be taking care of this, not Kyon. That's not his responsibility, or at least, it shouldn't be.

And if Haruhi's parents don't act on it, then Kyon should perhaps stick strictly to trying to reason with Haruhi.

The setup of this anime and novel puts too great a burden on Kyon. That's what makes the anime and novel so frequently dramatic and intense and intriguing, of course (and hence I wouldn't actually want it changed)... but it's also what causes situations like the one in Sighs that seems so out of whack for many of us. It means that, in canon, Kyon shouldn't be the solution every time, though he is for thematic purposes.

Haruhi needs to be disciplined, but punching her (as a first act of discipline) is wrong, but punching her is the only real thing that Kyon can personally do to try to straighten Haruhi out, since mere argumentation is failing him. He doesn't control her allowance, what she can have in her home, whether or not she's grounded, or any other lesser means of discipline... but Haruhi's parents, presumably, do.

So, then, I ultimately come down against the punch, as much as I totally understand why Kyon went for it.

Haruhi needed to be put in her place.

It shouldn't be Kyon's job to do it.

And perhaps that is the meaning and moral of Sighs.

George Orwell wrote a famous novel called "Lord of the Flies". It delves into what kids can be like when they try to mimic the world of adults, discipline themselves, and govern themselves.

It inevitably collapses and falls apart... because this is what adults and parents are for.

And that is the meaning and moral of Sighs: In the real world, the SOS-dan would go through exactly what they went through here. They would fissure and split for a time, with out a calmer experienced respected adult hand to guide the ship. They need adults... for even Haruhi respects adult authority, as she has shown in many anime episodes.

Haruhi is the Lord of the Flies... and she needs a parent to come in, cut through the cosmological situation, and gently discipline her into sound adulthood.

Any and all comments would be welcomed. :)

Monday, September 7, 2009

What Should I Do Next?

Here's a shout out to any and all people who follow this blog!

Now, sadly, Haruhi 2009 likely comes to an end this coming Thursday/Friday.

After that, I probably should start blogging on a new topic. To address what that topic should be, I've put up a short five-option poll on the right side of this blog. Please take the poll! :D

One idea I had was sharing my list of Top 10 Anime Characters of All-Time with my blog readers: Putting up a blog for each one as I count down through my Top 10, probably over the span of two to three weeks, and explaining why each one comes in where he or she does on that list.

However, that would lead to me delving into a lot of anime characters that haven't been seen in awhile, so it may bore the cutting edge denizens of Anime Suki who check out this blog. On the other hand, you may get to learn a little bit about anime history with at least a couple of my selections... so that may be interesting to you as well. ;)

Still, I've provided some other alternatives.

First, is that I could do blogs that try to evaluate and break down Bakemonogatari. This is one anime that I'm currently following and enjoy quite a bit.

The other three options, my awesome readers, are three ongoing animes that I've seen some of, and truly enjoyed some of, but have lost interest in: Bleach, Valkryia Chronicles, and Umineko.

So... if one of them wins, you'll be bringing a fan back into the fold for one of these animes! So if you're an Umineko fan, and you want to force me to watch Umineko, here's your chance! ^_^;

So, long story short, please tell me what you'd like me to blog about next, after Haruhi rides off into the Endless sunset after a Summer of discontent... ;)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

My Take on Kyon X Haruhi.

So... as a big fan of the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya anime, and as a big fan of the character of Haruhi Suzumiya, what do I think of the popular, and likely canon, pairing of Kyon and Haruhi?

Well, if you've actually read all of my posts on the matter over on Anime Suki's Haruhi subforum, you know that I've kind of wobbled on this; moved back and forth on it a lot. I'm certainly not a KyonHaruhi shipper, but nor am I passionately tied to either of the possible in-universe alternative pairings (by "in-universe" I mean characters strictly from this anime, novel, and franchise).

From what I can gather, Anime Suki's Haruhi subforum is overwhelmingly pro-KyonHaruhi. So much so that I was once mildly flamed on that subforum for the mere suggestion that the novels could conceivably end with the establishment of an alternative pairing. So if Anime Suki is any indication (and it probably is, I think), then this is the preferred pairing of the anime's fandom by far.

So, why then, do I feel... uneasy about it? Why do I not quite get the appeal to this pairing in particular? Why am I pretty 'meh' over it?

Well... let's see if I can explain.

I do like Kyon and Haruhi a lot as close platonic friends, and as a comedic duo. On that level, they resonate nicely with me. There's a sharp contrast between the two that helps both grow as individuals, and which also makes them anime's version of the comedian (Haruhi) and the straight man (Kyon). However, while the comedian and the straight man are nice to see as crime fighting duos in law enforcement movies (Lethal Weapon, Men In Black, etc...), I don't quite picture two such personalities as making a good life-long romantic pairing.

One image that I simply can't shake from my mind, when it comes to this pairing, is the image of a thoroughly emasculated, whipped, and submissive adult Kyon getting bossed around day and night by an unmatched adult Haruhi Suzumiya. That's simply not my image of a good long-term relationship.

Sighs Part 4, which I've chosen not to review in a minutia review since Ascaloth did a better job of it than I think that I can do, does in fairness provide one possible point of light to shine through that horrifically one-sided relationship darkness. That being, of course, the famous scene where Kyon stood up to Haruhi and actually managed to get her to stop mistreating Mikuru, if only for a brief respite.

And, if we get to see more of Kyon effectively reigning Haruhi in (as opposed to his numerous ineffectual attempts to reign her in) then perhaps I'll see this pairing in a more positive light. As is, however, that image of a monstrously mismatched marriage is persistent within my mind.

Now, I don't actually fault Kyon for being the way that he is when it comes to Haruhi. Due to Haruhi's powers and Kyon's awareness of them, and due to Haruhi having a more assertive and domineering personality than him, and due to Haruhi's frequent mood swings and emotional instability, I can't really blame Kyon for not taking Itsuki up on his suggestion to hug Haruhi from behind and say "I love you" to her. It's not hard to see why Kyon would be more than a bit hesitant to romantically confess to Haruhi even if he does hold deep romantic feelings for her. One false move could be disastrous, and Kyon knows this.

... But, still, that is the problem. Kyon is holding back, and for perfectly legitimate reasons, but... he's still holding back. The only exception, really, being the one time he kissed Haruhi... and even that can be explained away within Kyon's mind as a necessary action to get Haruhi to not destroy the Earth ("Snow White"... nice subtle hint there, Mikuru, lol). And for Haruhi, it happened in a dream, meaning that it doesn't signify to her that Kyon has romantic feelings for her.

Kyon's understandable restraint towards Haruhi has two effects for me - nice subtle moments, but also awkwardness. It means that there's not really any sparks flying between these two. There's just no chemistry there, for me. This is compounded by the fact that the two have such widely diverse personalities; Kyon frequently strikes me as almost having a wet blanket effect on Haruhi. That's fine to a degree, but what makes Haruhi such an awesome character to me is, in very large part, her bold and relentless personality.

And while I can like nice subtle moments (such as the frequently referenced pony tail scenes), a good romance has to be more than just subtlety in my opinion. You need some real bells and whistles to compliment the subtle moments.

The episodes most frequently sited as providing good KyonHaruhi scenes are Live Alive, Someday in the Rain, and the one with the kiss in it.

Live Alive has some splendid friendship moments between Kyon and Haruhi, but there's nothing there that strongly stands out as romance to me. It's just more of the same subtlety that can be taken as cute friendship as easily as it can be taken as serious romance. Put it this way: If these were two girls acting and talking to each other this way, would it strike you as yuri, or just as good friendship? I believe that K-On has the answer to that. ;)

As for Someday in the Rain, I recently read it raised over on Anime Suki that Haruhi giving an umbrella to Kyon for the two to walk under has a very strong romantic 'Oomph!' to it within the Japanese culture. Kaisos and Ithekro even seemed to suggest that this one small gesture on Haruhi's part (and Kyon's acceptance of it) means that KyonHaruhi is a done deal. Well... I have a couple issues with that...

1) If so, why aren't Haruhi and Kyon talking to one another as girlfriend and boyfriend in later novels? Someday in the Rain doesn't seem to have altered the standing of their relationship at all from where it stood before

2) I'm sorry but... this is an awfully lame way to establish a romance, in my view. For Heaven's sake, if KyonHaruhi is the way that the franchise goes it better involve a spoken romantic confession at the absolute least.

It's a charming moment to be sure, but real romance goes farther than this.

All of the above being said... it's not easy to go against the flow, and it's not easy to feel like you're taking away from a passionate shipper's enjoyment of a particular pairing. So, to any KyonHaruhi shipper reading this, don't let my words detract from your appreciation of this pairing. I'm mainly trying to explain why I'm personally still not sold on it... mainly as a seque into what I like in a romance.

So, what is it that I like in a romance? ;)

These are the seven key elements...

1) A good developing stage. It should involve more than love at first sight, but it shouldn't take forever either. Some bashfulness and hesitancy is cute, even for strong-willed characters like Haruhi. But after a year or two of being friendly with one another, it really is time to get on with making it an established romance. The developing stage is a good point for subtle scenes.

2) Two characters with similar personalities but complimentary skill sets. If the personalities are too different, it clashes nastily for me. If the skill sets are identical, it makes the characters seem redundant to each other to me. Thankfully, Haruhi and Kyon do have complimentary skill sets. Their personalities, however...

3) A particular hook. Say the guy is really good at being upbeat and cheerful, and the girl needs added self-confidance in her life. Or say the girl is great at school and the guy needs help with his studies.

4) A good romantic confession scene. See Hitagi in Bakemonogatari for a modern example of a good romantic confession.

5) Some real sparks flying. Dancing with one another. Sharing laughs with each other. Kissing each other. Energetically celebrating shared successes. Each showing real congratulations and happiness for the other's successes. Being cheeky. Acting like an item. You don't need to actually show sex, but you usually need to show a lot of the above.

6) And, finally, after sparks have flown for awhile, you can have them settle into 'casual love' (or you can have 'casual love' flow into 'real sparks flying'). For 'casual love', I again reference Bakemonogatari with Hitagi and Araragi (man, that is such a good canon pairing - a lot can be learned from it). Check out how casually Hitagi calls Araragi her lover, and shows concern over his future. Folks, this is how real people talk to one another once they're firmly in a committed, long-term romantic relationship.

7) An equal partnership, and strong mutual respect.

If a romance has five or more of the seven, I'm game. Six or more, and I love it. Four or less... and I'm not sold yet. Which is why I'm not sold on KyonHaruhi yet. Maybe one day.

So, am I a shipper for any alternative pairings?

Definitely not in Haruhi's case.

Itsuki? Too fabulous. ;) In all seriousness, too much of a yes man.

Taniguchi? Taniguchi loathes Haruhi, and it shows. ^_^;

Kunikida? They're about the same height, which is neat, but aside from that, no way.

The CCP? Maybe if I was really heavily into S&M... ;) ^_^; Heh!

Either of the girls? ...I've played around with the idea of Haruhi/Mikuru, but I can only see it working long-term if Mikuru grows a spine.

So, yeah, in-universe, Kyon is definitely Haruhi's best option, I have to admit that. But as for Kyon...

I kind of like the idea of Kyon and Mikuru (big).

I get a chuckle out of the idea of Mikuru (big) going back in time to help the teenage boy that eventually becomes her husband. It kind of would explain why Mikuru (big) told Kyon that he could steal a kiss from her sleeping younger self too. ;) However, until Mikuru (normal) grows a spine, I'm not really that interested in her with anybody.

Kyon and Yuki had some really nice cute moments in Novel 4. Yuki is an exception to my "sparks must fly!" rule, because her personality is so reserved in general. So, I'd be willing to forgive an understated romance of subtlety between her and Kyon.

"Laws of Tsuruya" really made me like Kyon and Tsuruya. But that's such an unlikely possibility that I don't know if it's even worth considering. I'm totally game with any fanfics that go with this pairing, though.

Right now... I kind of like KyonYuki best. No one pairing is totally sold on me yet though.

I should clarify that "sold on me" doesn't mean "I accept it". I accept that KyonHaruhi is the most likely course for the novels to take. But I'm not sold on it in the sense that I just don't find it compelling on a romantic level yet. Sorry, but I don't.

Here's one final reason why. My conception of Haruhi's ideal boyfriend is...

1) Somebody with a personality to match her own. Somebody charismatic and dynamic. Somebody who's usually upbeat and in high spirits, like Haruhi herself is. Basically, somebody who Haruhi can revel in exciting activities and past times with. Clearly having fun together. That's the key.

2) Somebody, though, that's a bit more focused than Haruhi, and can help her refine her energy, so to speak. This is the hook that I'd like to see in Haruhi's boyfriend - not somebody that simply holds her back and keeps her in line; but rather somebody that shares her enthusiasm and zest for life and shows her how to channel it in logical and productive ways.

3) In turn, it would be nice if Haruhi could do something to help her boyfriend out in his maturation process.

4) Somebody who shares Haruhi's interests, at least to a degree.

5) Somebody that Haruhi truly likes and respects and would consider an equal partner in a romantic relationship with her.

6) Somebody that conveys Number 5 to me. I see them in a scene together, and I can tell that they're on an equal footing with each other.

In Haruhi's universe, there's nobody even remotely like this sadly.

Through out anime as a whole?

There's a few. Anybody who's read my The El Hazard of Haruhi Suzumiya fanfic knows one person in particular that I'm thinking of (don't attempt to read that fanfic unless you have a lot of spare time on your hands, lol ;) ). For a more modern example... Battler from Umineko comes to mind.

Can Kyon eventually fit the above six, or at least most of them? Well, he has 3 and 4 in spades, and a little bit of 2. That's all for now, though.

KyonHaruhi is close to good for me, but it's not quite there yet. Maybe one day it will be.

Any comments would be appreciated... even flames from KyonHaruhi shippers, lol. :D