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Hats Top Anime List: Part 3

15. Bartender: While most anime series try to generate interest by presenting stories that are fantastical, or at least over the top Bartender takes a very different and sophisticated approach to storytelling. Bartender is a show presents the experiences of troubled people who end up wondering into a bar run by the genius Sasakura. Through his amazing skills not only as a bartender, but as reader of emotion he is able to present each client with their very own a “Glass of God,” a drink that relates directly to their problems and perhaps contains a solution to them. Bartender is a classy show with a gentle well composed score, smooth animation, and settings, opener and closer that sets a strong sense of the mood. One aspect that really impressed me about this show is that despite having characters from original manga, most of the stories have a much more relaxed and personal feel in this adaption. Most interesting though is series control of prospective that has each episode is narrated by a different character(s) recounting their individual experiences, making the episode seem like a big flashback. This conceptual aesthetic makes this series a unique work among anime series.

14. Master Keaton: Master Keaton is everything you could expect by a work based off a manga written and drawn by the legendary Hokusei Katsushika and Naoki Urasawa, and directed by the brilliant director of the Monster anime adaption. Master Keaton stars the jack of all trade Taichi Keaton a professor archeology, ex-survival military specialist and insurance agent for British insurance firm Lloyd’s. It focuses on Keaton’s wide array of adventure ranging from solving murder mysteries, dealing with criminal and terrorists, trying to encourage the teaching of archeology and protection of archeological sites, and connecting with his family including his estranged daughter and father. The one thing that really holds this entire series together is the powerful sense of emotion and the detail of Keaton’s character, which is surprising considering the variety and episodic nature of Master Keaton. This gives this work a really humanist quality which makes each episode a real treat to watch.

The reason why I place this series so above far above Monster is the fact that it feels much more destined to be adapted into a series then Monster. The episodic nature, variety of concepts and creativity of Master Keaton makes it far more suited for the animated format. Rather than having to present an overarching plot and manga pacing, Master Keaton is allowed to explore new concepts each episode and always does an excellent job with this task. It doesn’t hurt that this show has an interesting opening, animation that is very good for its time, and amazing character designs to back up the fantastic story telling found in this series.

13. Wandering son: Like Bartender Wandering Son is much more interested in presenting the everyday experience of its two transgender leads then fantastic, and differs in presentation from the manga despite sharing characters and major plot elements. Shuuichi Nitori is born biologically male, but wishes she were a normal girl like any other girl. She ends up meeting Yoshino Takatsuki who is born female, but wishes to be seen as male and the two quickly become close friends. Things get complex though as relationships begin to develop, and it becomes apparent in Junior high school just how hard being transgender in highly gender society like Japan. The struggles in this show though are truly universal and can be related to and experienced by anyone, and aren’t limited to just the two transgender leads.

Speaking from personal experience this show does a great job at capturing the struggles faced by transgender children and that children have in general. It is both heartwarming and breaking, by its conclusion and does a wonderful job condensing the story while retaining its core. The story does a great job presenting things on realistic scale, keeping focused on the emotions of the leads and keeping a slow introspective mood which is not usually found in anime. The animation for this show is gorgeous and really helps to create a visualization of the characters situations and struggles. This show is highly sentimental, but is careful not sugar coat or lose track of the sense of realism.

12. Sherlock Hound: Sherlock Hound is full of cartoon fun, mixed with the creativity and heart only Miyasaki could bring. Miyasaki’s adaption of Sherlock Holmes using anthropomorphized dogs is a real treat to watch. There is plenty of fun, whimsy and adventure to be had in this children’s classic as Holmes and Watson are often called in to solve mysterious over the top crimes, which are usually the work of Holmes bumbling rival Professor Moriarty and his two henchmen. Sherlock Hound is a show I grew up with and I have a real personal connection to this work to this day. The bright animation and Miyasaki design make this show look wonderful, especially for its time. This show also has the advantage of feeling extremely British, with the inclusion of an orchestra soundtrack and a genuine British dub track.

11. Le Chevalier D’Eon: Le Chevalier D’Eon is a strange show. After the murder of his sister Lia, the knight D’Eon has his body inhabited by her vengeful spirit and finds that she was on a secret mission concerning the future of France. He soon becomes involved in a secret war and complex web of conspiracies and politics as personal agent of the King of France along with a variety of other knights, and begins a quest to uncover sisters past and to reveal the prophesies foretelling the doom of the nobility. To do this his group most seek out political favor with royals, and battle revolutionaries and alchemist known as poets in search of a mysterious book of religious poems connected with Lia’s death.

Le Chevalier D’Eon is so unusual in that it loves twisting historical fiction and fact together with a bit of fantasy. It presents many important real figures of the time and has a historical setting and style of speech of 18th century Europe, combining them with magical elements and original cast members. This combination of themes creates a Three Musketeers like thrilling adventure that is presented in arcs following the cast as they hunt and manipulate one another behind the scenes.

What really stands out about this anime series though is the quality of animation and the fantastic dub (which is saying a lot providing what I usually think of Foster dubs). This is perhaps one of the most overlooked shows to have what I’d consider a nearly perfect dub cast. Each character feels like they have an interesting personality that is strongly presented by the voice actors and really works well. While the animation isn’t quite as good as what is found in another show on this list by production I.G., this work definitely ranks among some of the best animated work out there. The detail to motion (especially in the fencing), the backdrops of location and character design are all simply top notch and worth of great praise. This work just barely doesn’t make the top ten, but is definitely still among the best anime has to offer.

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Hats Top Anime List: Part 2

20. Baccano: This wise talking, murder happy immortal gangster work sounds conceptually like one of the best anime series ever. While I love the dub, consider the opening for Baccano the best opening of any anime series in my opinion, and feel that this is one of the most revolutionary anime works, oddly enough this series was in my opinion a very slight let down (or it would probably have been within the top ten). While the humor and characters are great in Baccano generally, some of the story elements and the OAV ending arc both failed at times to live up to the promising concept of the show. The format of the story is really interesting and creates a tale that is told from the prospective individual characters that eventually come together as the cast converges. The problems with the story come when dealing with the concept of how the immortality is passed down (which could have been further developed and explained) and the amount of gore presented.

While some gore would have been perfectly acceptable with a focus on characters like psycho-killer Ladd Russo, despite the presentation of these sorts of characters the violence and torture still felt like overkill and sometimes that it was unnecessary. The biggest problem though with Baccano is with the second arc after the mysterious hidden character is revealed (I will not spoil this character for you). The show loses its sense of mystery and motion greatly in this arc and often feels played out. One of the main villains in this arc ends up feeling like an underling to Ladd Russo who is easily defeated, and the immortality plot feels so much less compelling than the previous one and is resolved too cleanly.

Despite all of these problems this show does have a lot going for it on the positive side. The characters in Baccano are generally fantastic, and push the show forward with their over the top personalities. This is especially true of everyone’s favorite Psycho Ladd Russo and the two goofy comedy reliefs Isaac and Maria. The sub is really worth noting as especially good, but this is one of the few shows where the dub is truly something else, with the inclusion an outstanding cast that take full advantage of the 1920’s gangster lingo that one might find in an old Warner gangster picture. The music likewise is totally befitting a work like this and this shows soundtrack ranks as one of the best within a series. While this isn’t one of my all-time favorites it is definitely worthy of its place upon this list.

19. Samurai Champloo: Let’s face it this show pretty much should be called Samurai Bebop or Cowboy Hiphop. That isn’t to this is a bad thing or that Samurai Champloo doesn’t offer its own material, but a great deal of the characterization kind and the style feels a lot like it was pulled directly from Bebop’s model (much in the way people compare the shows Baccano and Durarara). Even the director of the show, the encompassing role of music and some of the voice cast from Bebop reoccur in the fantastic dub (one such example is Mugen who is played like a wilder Spike by Steve Blum).  This work is generally more distractingly zany then Bebop, and although it is definitely well animated it is not quiet up scratch animation wise detail wise.

The setting of ancient Japan mixed with modern street culture adds to form a strange mixture. Samurai Champloo is like samurai film filled with modern anachronism that generally works that well together interestingly enough. The cast works just as well together as the Bebop crew and works well off each other. While the setting doesn’t allow for the same level of flexibility it does offer new grounds to explore, and although many of the episodes don’t quiet feel as fresh or strong as bebop, Champloo proves that more of the same isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

18. Black Jack OAV: I’m sure many of my loyal readers are even surprised to see this OAV series on my list; both do to its obscurity and the fact that it is an OAV series. Black Jack is based off Osamu Tezuka’s legendary and fantastic manga about the outlaw super surgeon Black Jack and his cute assistant created from a tumor as they strive to perform some of the world’s most difficult operations usually at the cost of millions of yen. Just by describing the premise it isn’t hard to see why such a creative work would be among my favorites. What sets this work apart from the other animated adaption of Black Jack and the manga is that the stories are for the most part entirely original. While certain aspects of these stories mimic aspects of the manga, they are presented in much darker realistic way then in the original comics. That isn’t to say this work is better than grandiose nature of Tezuka comics (far from it), but the stories are still extremely powerful and much better written then the watered down adaption of the manga that is found in the other Black Jack series (though this other series is still good).

While some might argue that an hour long OAV shouldn’t be in a series list, I’m going to add this OAV works to my list, because it is more like an extended weekly episode then a singular movie like works like Giant Robo or Read or Die, and because it is my list I can do what I want with it (^>^) This extra time allows for development and to create a complete story, with subplots, drama and mystery.

While the Black Jack OAV has slightly dated animation, not the best soundtrack and a meh dub, it still has a lot going for it both from its original source material and from the material added. The characterization and sub acting (especially for the Doctor himself) are really really dead on and are a large part of why this successful. It is also clear that the director was very careful to capture the realism, impassibleness and suspense involved within the surgical procedures and diseases that are presented. I really feel like this show really adds to the Blackjack lore rather than repeating it, adding to its originality rather than trying to compete with the masterpiece of a manga series.

17. Captain Harlock series: Captain Harlock is another one of those characters that should be described as legendary, and is featured and makes cameos in a number of Matsumoto’s series. While I adore most of Matsumoto’s works the two main series that came to my mind with this character are the original Space Captain Harlock series and its semi-sequel/reboot the Harlock Endless Odyssey. The original series Space Captain Harlock while clearly not having aged well, still looks amazing for its time. The 2nd of the works by Matsumoto to be adapted this work features a much more exciting and developed plot then his previous work Battleship Yamato, and stars the charismatic larger than life lead Harlock and the Tadashi boy fed up with earths lazy corrupt politicians and seeks to avenge his fathers death. This series has a really great opening with a passionate singer and full orchestral score highlighting the older style of music. As for the characters Harlock and his crew are fascinating and unique which lends this show interest. It is this simple and direct but the satisfying story telling style that really steals the show in this serial however.

It takes a lot to match the passion found in an original series, especially if that show is as iconic as Space Captain Harlock, but Endless Odyssey pulls this off seamlessly. After having vanished for years (much like the original Harlock Franchise) the world has fallen into ruin and most piracy has ceased. It is during this dark time Harlock returns to once again to resort the balance in the universe. The legendary space pirate comes to bring the decedent of the original lead on an adventure through space and to right the wrong caused by a mysterious zombie planet threatening earth. This series brings back the classic space adventure resurrecting and revising the classic space opera with more badassness from the Harlock then you can shake a stick at. Both shows are truly revolutionary to the space opera genre and are skillfully directed by the legendary animator Rintaro, equally earning their spots on my list.

16. Eden of the east: Eden of the East is the definition of an excellent show driven by a powerful plot device. The lead Akira ends up naked in New York with only a pistol, a wallet and cellphone filled with a 10 million yen which can be accessed to do just about anything money can buy. A mysterious source tell him to use the money in any way he sees fit to save Japan or else be killed by the mysterious Supporter who is hiding among other people who have been given the same task. This leads him to explore his past questionable past, and find out why he erased his own mind with the help of Saki and her group of friends working on a computer database program.

While not fantastical the animation in this show is crisp and solid, and conveys the story powerfully with a nice variety of characters. The score especially the opening by the group Oasis is fantastic, but it is this plot, the mixture of humor and suspense, and the characters that really make this show such a treat. It is so much fun to watch and see how Akira will use his money, and what the others selected by the mysterious Mr. Outside are up to with their own money. The characters also are more interesting and believably conflicted as characters then those found in a work like Death Note, despite having the same grandeur of the premise and plot device. While the series does continue in films, it does end at coherent and solid conclusion leaving the viewer wanting more.

 

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Hats top 25 anime series: part 1

25. Aoi Bangaku: Aoi Bangaku barely edges itself onto this list official list, because of the major ebb and flow of the works quality depending on the director. Certain episodes of Aoi Bangaku are truly masterpieces and can stand with the best anime has to offer. The series starts off with a strong, emotional, but unusual interpretation of Danzai’s dark novel No Longer Human; likewise the interpretation of Danzai’s Run Melos featured wonderful plot, animation and music. The most impressive of all the episodes in my opinion though is the magnificent and moody Kokoro a moody story of love, friendship, jealousy, and deceit which is told from two different and powerful perspectives, each with have very different understanding of the stories events. Kokoro always leaves me stunned and in tears by the end.

The problem is that other episodes don’t live up to the quality of these great episodes. In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom has moments of brilliance and oddly fitting creepy cabaret/traditional style music, but squanders them with stupid and outplace slapstick and anachronism that feels jarring. The slightly connected stories by Akutagawa are sadly butchered and dumbed down considerably, and squander amazing animation potential. The Spider’s Web seems to miss the point of the original tale, and waste most of its time following the uninteresting bandit character as he rebels against a lord’s authority while butchering people, and barely gets to the actual story in the last minutes. While the Hell Screen in some ways is an improvement the animation style wasn’t very appealing and the impact of the story was largely lost in the way it was presented.

If all the episodes were as strong as the good ones in this series then I would have definitely considered it one of my favorites, but this work is sadly injured by the lack of quality in the lesser episodes. None the less the really great episodes are really really good and worth seeing. The quality of these episodes are so great in fact that this series does deserves a place on my list, despite some of the episodes being very poor.

24. Monster: The Monster anime is just about as perfect direct adaptation of a manga that could ever be made. Not only does it follow the manga almost directly episode to chapter, it does so with a fantastic budget and creative team. The story for Monster is a slow intense one, and although it clearly works much better within a manga format it is still a major thrill to watch. The characters retain their signature appearances also, with detailed animation that complements Ursawa’s manga. While the dub is in my opinion clearly inferior to the outstanding sub job, it is clear that a lot care definitely went into it and it is definitely worth hearing at least once. Monster at times can be slow, but generally it is slow by design and the pacing works well for it.

23. Mushishi: Mushishi is an extremely introspective and beautiful work. While fantastical, Mushishi prefers a slow and subtle approach which is unusual for an anime series. What is so amazing about Mushishi is that it maintains such a high quality, despite being a series of short stories connected through a single travelling lead. Every episode of Mushishi feels like it contains a deep meditative lesson, without being preachy or simplistic. The animation in Mushishi is like looking at a journey portrayed upon a beautiful scroll painting, and the music while not always memorable is always fittingly introspective and relaxing. It feels like when you are watching Mushishi that you are travelling on a fantastical and emotional journey alongside the lead Ginko, making it truly worthy a place on my list.

22. Angelic Layer: Angelic Layer is on this list for few reasons, the greatest of these reasons being that it is fun. Angelic Layer is exciting, colorful, creative and surprisingly deep children’s show. While sometimes the lead’s sweetness and ability can seems like overkill, the plot to this arena combat game based upon CLAMPS shojo is surprisingly deep. The questions of love, right and wrong and what true emotional power is all examined within this work. That is not to say that this work is all serious, far from it. There is a lot of cute humor and amazing combat animation with a variety of interesting Angel dolls by studio Bone’s, and a detailed system of how the game works and was created. While this show in comparison to some other shows might not be totally deep (the heroine generally wins after hardship, except when the plot demands otherwise), this heartwarming children work is incredibly interesting and cleverly written. I love the journey it presents and has definitely earned a warm place within my heart.

21. Azumanga Daioh: Azumanga Daioh is one of those rare works that is both hilarious and heartwarming at the same time. Its cast of zany characters, fun opening, cute memorable soundtrack and its simple warm pallet are all very effective. It is this mixture of a variety humor and the heartwarming that really makes this series work so effective and make it on this list. Azumanga Daioh mixes a variety of situation humor and slapstick together to create a truly amazing combination without becoming offensive. It features some silliest and cutest female figures (especially the teachers) ever to bless an anime series, without making them raunchy or ignorant stereotype (though it does love to poke fun at stereotypes). I first saw this show in Junior high and it remains a funny enjoyable viewing experience even to this day. It is also a rare early example of an excellent dub that could match the quality of the original subbed version. For this reason it is one of the few mainly comedic anime series to bless my top anime series list.

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Hats top 25 anime series: The runners up

Sorry for the delay everyone, my new computer broke and I had to ship it off to Texas and pay to have it fixed. Before I start with my top 25 anime list I thought it would be fun to give a list of ten shows that didn’t quite make the cut (including a number of famous works) and I felt were worthy of acknowledged.

10. Yu Yu Hakusho: Let me start this runner’s up list with a real bang. Yu Yu Hakusho is an excellent example of a good modern shonen series. I love how well this work combines elements of shonen with a deeper sense of character than usual, and also gives a clear and detail system of how power works in the universe. To be honest this work is on this list mostly because of how cool it is and how much I love the dub cast. This work still has plenty of shonen clichés and probably there are a number of other series that I should have on this list instead of this one (it barely edged out another one of my favorite shonen series Ruroni Kenshin), but since this is my list here it will remain.

9. Neon Genisis Evangelion: Oh EVA you’d be so much higher on my list if it weren’t for your original conclusion. Besides this problem EVA does has a great concept, contains some really realistic handling of dark Sci-fi subject matter for a mech show. The music and the opening and closing for EVA are great, and I love the hand drawn style of presented in the animation. This series combines a great blend of a mech theme with a science fiction dooms story, and creates a situation that is too perfectly grim to maintain. While at times Shinji is too much like an anti-hero, his realistic obstinacy and fear really make him feel like a real kid with emotional troubles and abusive father. I might enjoyed EVA a lot more if it originally had a stronger ending and if it were shorter (it is hard to maintain the initial scenario and tone), but currently due to its ending puts it lower on my runners up list (especially since I have yet to see The End of Evangelion film).

8. Trigun: Many fans consider Trigun one of the best anime series ever (or at least science fiction anime series). While I really do love Trigun (which is why it gets mentioned here) I feel as though I do not like it quite as much as many other people do. None the less it is definitely a worthy addition to my honorable mentions. While the change in tone is jarring, and I do feel like Legato is much more effective as a villain then Vash’s brother Knives (they only really interact outside of flash backs in a single episode) this is definitely a great series. Trigun as a series is fun, and at times a thought provoking and clever work. It is also excellent when it comes to presenting darkness or humor, though usually not in the same space. Combine these elements with a rocking guitar based score, some creative villains and secondary characters, and some excellent voice work (both in the sub or both) you get a great show.

7. Outlaw star: This series is a really fun combination of a number of fun space opera tropes. Somehow Outlaw star is able to throw in just about every trope of the genre, while making it all work well together. This remains one of those shows from the Cartoon Network I am really thankful I was able to be exposed to when I was younger. It is truly a cool classic, and has really stuck with me as a special show. I starting watching this show at about the same time as another anime that will be appearing on my top list was also showing. While I enjoyed both series I definitely enjoyed Outlaw star less, which is why it is only honorable mention.

6. Lupin season 1: What happens when you combine one of the most raunchy slapstick manga’s with Miyazaki? You get an excellent classic of an anime or it obviously wouldn’t be on this list. Lupin the 3rd practically invented the concept of the phantom thief, and its treatment in the first season by Miyazaki is truly a classic in every sense of the word. It blends a beautiful the sense of action, comedy, classiness and of course heists together with a real 1960’s vibe. This series tones down a lot the really raunchy tone, and some of the slapstick from the manga, in favor for more character depth. While the animation in places has not aged the best, it still remains almost one of my favorites. I feel, however that there have been better works in its genre then Lupin and done by Miyazaki, but this is certainly still a strong and deserving template worth noting.

5. Ouran highschool host club: If you are looking for a slapstick anime to have a good time with then this is probably the show for you. Ouran is without a doubt one of the most humorous of all slapstick anime series, and offers up a wonderful parody/homage to shojo reserve harems. Combine this with an excellent voice cast in both languages and you have a great mixture worthy of praise. While Ouran doesn’t carry much depth, when it does offer up drama it doesn’t feel forced and often this drama leads to a hilarious and heartwarming pay off. I would have included it on my top anime list, but the animation for it is not as impressive as with some other shows (despite still being very good) and its content are not as weighty or unique as some others that made it on my list.

4. Daughter of twenty faces: Sadly this anime is not well known by many anime fans within the US, which is a real shame. Daughter of Twenty Faces is a series that takes an excellent and complex look at domestic abuse and childhood, and is also an unusual take on the phantom thief genre. The music is good, but again it is Bone’s stellar animation and character designs that make this work so appealing. This anime also has some shocking surprises plot wise that will keep the viewer guessing. I would have added this to the main list, but there are a number of Bone’s shows already on this runner’s up list and on the actual list to make up for its absence.

3. Paranoia agent: Paranoia Agent is a very unusual and interesting show indeed. The only anime series created by the acclaimed director Satoshi Kon; this is a series that focuses on surrealism and the nature of reality. This work is both a mixture of the scary and the humorous, as it explores its member cast inner selves and the terms of reality with the personification of insanity. The music (especially the opening) is memorable, and the dub and sub do this show definitely good service. It is the imagery and character design of this work that really make this show stand out. While I love Satoshi Kon this work didn’t make the final cut mostly because I have only really seen it once in its entirety and honestly if I watched it again it might have actually made the main list.

2. Fullmetal alchemist: This is another one of those shows on this list that it pains me not to be on my official list, and that I feel others might like more than me. Fullmetal Alchemist is one of those most see anime series, and features one of the best dub voice casts ever to grace an anime series (along with at least three others that are on this list). The plot combines fun and intellectualism, it can be easy going or face the cast with difficult moral quandaries. While I realize that many fans are more attached to Brotherhood, which has the plot that mirrors the manga, I felt that this anime has many more surprises and a more satisfying and ambiguous conclusion (not including the movie).The main problem I had with Alchemist is that besides some good introductory episodes it takes a bit for it to find it’s pace, and at time can be slow when setting up for the bombastic ending part of the show.

1. Darker than black: It was so hard for me to leave Darker than Black off my list of favorite animes. The animation by Bones is truly stellar, the music by Yahko Kanno is excellent, and the plot is a creative mix of the fun and the thought provoking. Darker Then Black feels like a clever mixture of the supernatural, science fiction and superheroes all into one fluid and neat package. To be honest though the reason why this doesn’t make my actual top list is that while it excels in a number of areas, it is far from the strongest work in any of these features. There are a number of shows where I liked the animation slightly better, the score isn’t really one of Kanno’s best despite being excellent, and subject and style wise there are better shows. None the less as a whole package it is definitely worth seeing and only just barely didn’t make the list.

Stay tune for the first five on the official list in the next few weeks ^>^

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Soul Eater: Eating my patiences

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I don’t really understand the appeal of Soul Eater. A lot of people seem to enjoy or even love this series, and it has even been popular enough to have earned a spot in the new Toonami shonen heavy line up (something that admittedly that caused me to be suspicious). While I feel it is unusual in some aspects, I definitely wouldn’t consider it particular innovative or different from the average shonen work. In fact this work is a great example of how originality can at times be just as bad as or actually even worse than using conventional elements. None the less Soul Eater in a few aspects presents things that are above average and isn’t worth hating either. While this certainly not the worst shonen work I have ever to read, I still fail to see why so many people love this work.

If I were to name one aspect that sets this work apart in positive way from other manga it is the artwork. While the character design isn’t particularly revolutionary, it is still slightly more unique then in most manga, especially within the designs for the more supernatural characters. The details put into the weapon transforming characters are also extremely impressive and interesting to look at. On the downside the combat chorography and movement within the art is at times reduced to posing, a common flaw associated shonen manga. Where this manga really stands out, however is its sense of surrealist inspired backgrounds. It is always fun observe the environment presented in Soul Eater, which can be really immersing and unusual. There are clearly occasions where the backgrounding does fall away, but these instances are far less common then in the typical shonen work. While the art cannot really compare in originality with many masterpieces (such as Lonewolf and Cub or Lychee Light Club), it far exceeded my expectations for a shonen manga and is worthy of praise.

 

While the art is exceptional the story is another matter. The concept for Soul Eater is relatively simple. In the land of the dead (I think, the setting is never really clarified) teams of student from the Death Academy school including meisters and their partners who transform into weapons are trying to collect the souls of evil being in order to earn transforming characters the rank of “Death Scythe.” This rank makes the human weapons worthy of use by the god of death, and brings high acclaim to the meister. Each team are trying to collect the souls of 99 evil beings and of one powerful witch in order to claim this honor.

What is most unusual about this series is its handling of the story. Soul Eater doesn’t really have a central main character, but instead has 3 teams that pretty much equally share the time in the lime light. These teams include Maka the female meister with her hungry partner Soul Eater Evans, Black Star a Naruto like ninja wielding the chain kama Tsubaki Nakatsukasa, and the symmetry obsessed son of Death Kidd Death who carries with him two spirit gun cowgirl partners Patty and Liz. These characters often switch off in team ups and story arcs, but they try to remain loosely connection to a main plot. If I thought the characterization was unusually strong (which it isn’t) I would have liked this style of focusing on a variety of characters more, but personally it didn’t really effect my enjoyment of the story either way.

What I don’t get is why people are so interested in this work’s story? The action portion of this work really wasn’t anything special or unfamiliar. The action presented was pretty standard in its scripting for a shonen work, and the main villain the witch Medusa (who pretty much resembles a female Orochimaru type character) wasn’t particularly innovative. Once again the power of characters in this work like many shonen works seems to be very elastic and based on the story progression, rather than a real logic or boundaries. Suddenly a character can go from losing to winning in a matter of seconds, usually as a result of shonen theme like friendship. This leads to the fights in the manga seeming generally rather anticlimactic, and typically predictable.

Soul Eater tries to make up for some of its conventional action with comedy, and most of the time sadly fails in my opinion. While occasionally the humour got a chuckle out of me, mostly I found it annoyingly distracting. I felt that a lot of the obsessive traits the characters had which were supposed to be enjoyable quickly grew tiresome. These traits were too overblown and made characters seem too stupid and bothersome when it was inappropriate, lacking the appeal or polish of the obsessive traits found in a Takahashi like works such as Ranma or Urusei Yatsura.

The worst aspect of the humour however was its reliance upon gross amounts of offensive fan service, and echii based jokes. This included many sexist and dull staples such as using sex appeal to interrogate or attempt to bride a male character, female characters helpless and slowly being stripped, peeping on female characters bathing, and jokes about Maka’s small chest size. Not only have these jokes been done to death, but they are extremely offensive to both male (by portraying all male characters generally as perverts and/or idiots) and female (having female character being treated like object to ogle) readers. That being said the really offensive moments are few and far between, and this work definitely doesn’t reach harem levels of bad. I feel that the humour in Soul Eater generally is either hit or miss, and I felt usually the jokes missed more often than not.


Once again we have a shonen manga with characters that are almost entirely devoid of any sort of deep characterization. Most of the characters within the cast are defined as the typical loyal friend’s to the end sort of character and/or by their comedic obsessions. The one interesting aspect of this manga is that at least it has one strong female character that felt like a major lead. While there are a number of female weapons, the only female character really felt that stood out as important as a standalone major character was Maka. Sadly besides having an overprotective womanizing father, looking a bit young in comparison to the other female characters, and being a loyal friend to Soul she really didn’t excerpt too much personality. Nothing about her character other than her gender really stood out as important or as an especially remarkable trait. Despite being rather unremarkable, thankfully she is still given much more personality then a lot of other shonen female character’s get.

Her partner Soul is much more interesting then she is. Besides Soul’s physical appearance that includes a modern sort of sweatshirt and beany, and having sharp teeth, he isn’t given many other majorly distinguishing traits. While he has some more generic features such as acting like hormonal teenager (meaning he is stubborn and prove to nose bleeds in front of attractive women) and being loyal to Maka even when faced with death, he isn’t really given a personality that would stand out from most other young male shonen leads or make him particularly deep as character.

Black Star is a really irritating character. While I do realize that he is supposed to be kind of homage/parody of Naruto, I found his behaviour and personality far more grating and unbearable. His rants were irritating, rather than funny and his habit of peaking in on hot springs (usually upon Tsubaki) was just gross. I’m still unsure as to why Tsubaki who is a level headed character, easy going character choose to admire and paired up with such obnoxious dirty loud mouth of character. While not as annoying as Black Star, Kidd Death likewise could be quite an irritating character. Occasionally his obsession with symmetry could be funny (such as when it is pointed out that his own appearance is not entirely symmetrical), but it quickly got to the point where this joke outlived its welcome. The two sisters that act as his weapons, including the more rational busty Liz and her carefree even bustier sister Patty, once again lack any real depth or development.

The other minor characters are slightly more interesting interest, but still far from developed. Besides the cartoonish God of death who wields Maka’s father, there are only three other important recurring characters as far as I read which are the evil snake witch Medusa, her servant the meister Crona, and Dr. Franken Stein a prominent teacher figure and the Death Academy doctor. Medusa is a fairly typical villain character, even taking having an animal affinity to snakes. She isn’t particularly a great or interesting villain except with her involvement with a society of witches, a problem that doesn’t bode well within a shonen manga like this one. Her androgynous servant Crona is the shy wielder of the powerful demon sword Ragnarok pretty much acts as a story obstacle, rather than an interest foe. While Dr. Franken Stein isn’t that well fleshed out, he is more interesting than the rest of the other minor characters and his traits matches his role as a minor mentor character much better. At best the characters in Soul Eater are passable, and at worst (Black Star) they made me want to bang my head against a desk.

I really don’t get why so many people love this manga. While it is far from the worst shonen has to offer, I fail to see why people feel that it is one of the better recent shonen titles. While the art is definitely far above the shonen average and the story does try to do some new things, many of its attempts such as multiple character prospective and humor didn’t really work for me. The story at its core is still for the most rather generic as are its characters. Unless you are huge fan of shonen works (unlike me) then I wouldn’t advise buying this work and in my opinion does not live up to its hype.

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manga, Uncategorized

Genkaku Picasso: Drawing up magic

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What happens when you get a manga creator known for avant garde work, and have them write a shonen title? The answer to this question can be found in the manga Genkaku Picasso. It is odd that Furuya an artist known for works like Lychee Light Club, Short cuts and the adaption of the classic novel No Longer Human would work in a genre so known for its use of conventions. As a result of the creator however, Genkaku Picasso is anything but typical or conventional in tone. While it is not as revolutionary and envelope pushing as many of his other titles, this work definitely stands out from the typical shonen manga.


As is always the case with Furuya the artwork is spectacular. Unlike most shonen works Furuya doesn’t disappoint in any part of the art department and has a truly unique style. While his character designs are for the most part more tame than is normally the case with his work, certain characters designs, such as the one used for the lead Picasso really stood out. Even if a character was more conventional looking they were well designed, and easy to tell apart from other characters. The strongest element of this work though is definitely the work done on surreal pictures Picasso travels into. The immense detail of these pictures and the way two main leads move through them is fantastic and breathtaking. While this work might not always have the unique feel of Furuya’s other works, it is clear that one of the biggest reasons to read this work is his fantastic artwork.

Genkaku Picasso has a very atypical story for a shonen work. Hikari “Picasso,” Haruma is a anti-social nerdy teen who would rather spend his time drawing like his hero Leonardo Davinci then interacting with people. His only real friend Chiaki Yamamoto likes to help people in need, and they often spend afternoons by the river together (Picasso drawing and her reading psychology books). One day, however while at the river a helicopter crashes into both the high schoolers. While Chiaki is instantly killed Picasso somehow manages to survive crash, but not without some odd side effects. It turns out that right before her death Chiaki pleaded to the spiritual higher ups to save Picasso’s life. As a result Picasso now has the ability to draw pictures that mirror the heart of those with problems. To avoid his body rotting away he most now to dive into these pictures (leaving his body temporarily in a coma) along with Chiaki, who has returned to Picasso as a fairy or small angel figure that only he can see.

The biggest weakness of Genkaku Picasso is within its story. The problem doesn’t lie so much with the concepts or problems presented, but with the episodic nature of the work. This manga always involves Picasso finding someone troubled, drawing their heart, and then entering the picture and resolving their problem. This format is limiting, and it doesn’t allow for more elastic or deep plots. While I didn’t mind so much the repetitious nature of the story (I often have a high tolerance for repetition) others may not like how streamlined the stories seem to be and the plot clearly suffered due to this quality.

While Genkaku Picasso is technically a shonen manga, it is hard often to really tell that it is one. Besides perhaps the theme of friendship and helping others, it has little in common with the modern trademarks associated with the genre. As a result the stories seem extremely fresh, and aren’t shackled down by many of these restrictive conventions that are usually found in shonen work. This freedom allows the work to present problems that are more complex and reflect more realistic concerns than those found in many other shonen works within its subtype. I really enjoyed the story, however I felt that it really didn’t add as much to the work when compared with the titles other elements.


This is a work where I believe the characters outstrip the story. While many of the characters are one offs that are linked to their stories (meaning that I will not comment about them in this review), they are still given deep and interesting traits that clearly don’t relate directly to the basic plot. The four leads characters are likewise given more detail in the 3 volumes than most shonen characters get in their entire sprawling series. The most memorable and interesting character thankfully the lead character Picasso. You really get the sense from his character traits that he really is an anti-social oddball. His physical traits such as having a short nerdy appear, humorous body language and habit to bite his thumb nail all add to his personally and help to make his personality convincing by themselves. His obsession with Davinci and avoidance of people also fit well into the reluctant hero archetype, without seeming like additions made for the story’s sake or for fulfilling this character type. I loved the jokes centering around his personality including others viewing the odd drawings of others hearts (not realizing that they don’t reflect his tastes), his interactions with the invisible Chiaki, and his habit of falling unconscious. He stands out as an excellent and surprising lead character.

While Chiaki is mainly used as a plot point her character is well developed before her death. Her desire to help others feels genuine, and makes her optimism and social nature is a nice foil to Picasso’s pessimistic anti-social nature. Despite her patience she often gets frustrated with Picasso’s nature, giving her also a reasonable limit to her kindness which I appreciated. I also loved how Picasso noted humorously that she seems to disappear only during certain awkward times (such as when he is using the bathroom) and can interact with him despite being invisible to others. After Chiaki death Picasso quickly becomes friends with a couple of recurring characters, despite Picasso’s initial misgivings. Sugiura becomes Picasso’s new best friend and Akane ends up falling in love with him (despite his total lack of interest). Both act as good supporting characters, and have help to push the story along. The main focus of the story, however is Picasso, Chiaki and whoever is being helped during the specific story. These troubled characters really suffer from interesting and realistic problems which reveal a great deal about their personalities.

While Genkaku Picasso isn’t the most revolutionary or best manga by Furuya it is miles ahead of the typical material found in Shonen Jump. It is clear once again with this manga that Furuya is truly extraordinary mangaka and one of the best artists. While the story is a bit repetitive and limited, the characters and questions it poses definitely make up for this shortcoming. This comic clearly continues to demonstrate that great a creators can sometimes write in genre’s that are unusual for them, without losing their artistic integrity. Genkaku Picasso is definitely well worth purchasing, especially at relatively low the Shonen Jump price and as a more tame introduction to Furuya’s style.

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manga, Uncategorized

Eden it’s a endless world: Serpent or Angel?

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Eden it’s an Endless world is a great example of the style of work coming out during the big science fiction manga boom, during the beginnings of the American manga industry. While it doesn’t reach the level of excellence found in some other works from this period such as Battle Angel Alita and Akira, it is still very much worth reading for any fans of the genre. While it has a few very noteworthy problems, this work truly deserve more attention than it currently gets. It is a shame that it is so hard to find a print copy of this old Darkhorse comics release, and I doubt it has much of a chance of getting a reprint sadly (though it always could happen). I am thankful I had the sense to picked this series up during the closing of my local anime store a few years ago, despite never having read it previously.

While the art for Eden isn’t presented in my favorite style of art, it is nonetheless extremely impressive and one of the main reasons why I bought the series. I’m generally not fan of photorealistic art, because it can be limiting to character expression and the ability to present the fantastic. The artwork in Eden, however really works well and overcomes these flaws. Its realistic style really added to the power of the science fiction elements and brutality presented, while still retaining a variety of strong expressiveness from the cast. The most impressive aspect of this style though is how much the science fiction elements stood out in a more realistic style, and yet felt natural to the world setting. The backgrounds when around had nice detail, though occasionally there are noticeable blanks areas where background clearly should have been. While I generally dislike more realistic artwork in science fiction works, I felt that in this manga the style and tone of the art worked.

The best way to describe the tone of Eden is that it is like a combination of Stand Alone Complex police drama and a post apocalyptic epidemic tale like Y the Last Man. Elijah is a teenage boy living in a world torn apart by a deadly virus that has killed most of the world’s population and has caused the world to fall into disorder. When his surrogate father figure finally sucomes to this virus Elijah decides to explore the world. It isn’t long though till he is captured and dragged into conflicts between of mercenaries, the police and gangsters all fighting for survival. Elijah begins a search along with his new companions for his place in a brutal and unforgiving world, and the truth behind his famous father.

One thing that definitely can be said for Eden is that is extremely detailed and precise. It revels in building a realistic and complex world. Eden explains just about every detail about the cause of the virus and how it has affected the world in physical and social terms. Another excellent result of this detail is that it treats most of it’s characters realistically and as a result is very morally ambiguous. Even though the focus is generally upon routing for Elijah and/or his friends from the mercenaries they are far from morally clean or likable figures.

I know I have lately described many works as being brutal, but it is definitely worth noting how much sexual and violent content is in this manga, which results in a harsh ambiguous story. To its credit this work isn’t afraid to kill off important characters and have everyone be fighting for their lives. It is also worth noting that this work has many Christian elements and references, though I’m personally not familiar with Christian mythology to understand them and can easily be ignored without confusion.

All this detail and world building comes at the price of story coherence. Often it was hard for me to follow what was occurring within the story, due to all the details thrown at me and some of the pacing choices made. Characters occasionally seem to disappear after their arc and this works use of long complex flashbacks made it hard at times to figure out what is happening in the main story and what the characters were doing before the flashback. Each arc also seemed at best to be loosely connected, and in some cases each arc’s style seemed to contrast drastically. The style of the story really focuses much more upon the world than a central plot, but the world is so interesting that it often distracts the reader from this problem.

The characters are excellent, providing one can accept their vicious natures. Alot of the cast even from an early age engage in violent, amoral and/or high sexual behavior. If you can believe that the setting and the story justifies this sort of behavior then the characterization is excellent. If you can’t, however then the characters might feel like they are a bit too unphased by the shocking violence, sex, and drug use around them. Due to the wandering nature of this series and shear number of characters, I will only summarize some of the earlier important characters introduced in the first five volumes.

The closest character to a lead is Elijah, who I oddly enough felt was the least interesting character within the major cast. He centralizes the earlier story arc, and while he is the weakest of the cast he is also perhaps the most human early on. For a while I found him sympathetic in his search for his kidnapped mother and sister, and I was interested in the mystery surrounding his father who is key player in a resistance movement. Despite being very human and relatively young, he still is unphased by murder even in the early parts of the series when he is supposed to be a teen. In later volumes his behavior seems to move farther and farther away from realism though, and he does becomes much more vicious. For this reason later on I grew to dislike his character more and more, and even the story at times seemed to tires of him later on and to focus for a time on other characters.

His traveling campaigns include a odd band of mercenaries led by Nazar Bajev Khan. Khan is ex-soldier who helped establish the group and acts as the hard mentor character. He helped to train Kenji, who is depicted as natural killer and acts early on foil to the more innocent Elijah. Kenji is depicted as a killing machine who specializes in killing the super soldiers developed in government experiments with a pair of knives. To balance out his psychotic behavior and make him more human they portray him as extremely socially isolated and to have periods of mental breakdown due to his traumatic life. Sophia is a really unusual character who is tormented by her past. She has given away her old human body in favor for an artificial cybernetic one that resembles a young girl, despite her actually being in her 50’s. What is so interesting about her character is that in this new body she begins to regain some of humanity and to take responsibility for the terrible things she did in her past. Wycliffe is another soldier figure who despite having a hard shell develops feelings for Kachua (more on her in a second).

My favorite characters of the group though are the contrasting prostitutes they pick up after a raid. The first of these characters is Kachua who is forced into prostitution after her village is destroyed in a wave of ethnic cleansing. She never loses her hope and faith, and is the one character that has trouble with killing in the group. In contrast to her is Helena a professional prostitute who is fiercely independent, and is strongly atheistic. Their interactions are interesting, due to the fact that they contrast so much with the rest of the mercenaries who are professional killers and with each other despite sharing a similar plight.

One of my other favorite characters is Lane the homosexual caretaker of Elijah during the beginning chapters of the manga. He is wheelchair bound, and slowly is dieing from the virus. While his role in the story is small, it is extremely important to understanding the world. He is one of the best depictions of a male gay character within a manga, and his relationship with Elijah’s father and mother was extremely complex and humanizing. His back-story really helps to explain the workings of the world and set the plot within motion. Though he is only around for a short period he had a profound impact on the story. While the cast can at times can seem too cold, generally I felt the characterization was very strong.

While Eden isn’t a masterpiece that everyone should run out and buy it is well worth reading for science fiction fans. The art is unusually good for it’s style, the world is filled with impressive details, and the characters and plot are solid. While occasionally the cruel actions of the characters can leave them hard to relate to and sometime the plot can get confusing, generally the story is still very strong. It is a pity that this work has been so overlooked, and if you are into Sci-Fi and can find this it is well worth looking into.

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