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Monthly Archives: November 2010

Alright, Death Note, you and I have been putting this off for far too long. The truth is…

I actually enjoyed Death Note.

Woah, hold on a second now. There are a lot of qualifiers that go with that statement. Death Note is by no means a perfect anime… hell, at this point it isn’t even a good anime. I enjoyed the idea of Death Note. I liked the concept. I liked the battle of wits between L and Light. I enjoyed the visual elements, the dramatic lighting effects, that woman walking off to the gallows… Death Note had a lot of really pretty things on the screen and some interesting bits behind them.

The major problem is that Death Note didn’t seem to have an end planned out. With the battle between the chessmasters raging on, you would think that the author would have some sort of meaningful and carefully laid out ending that he was building to, full of symbolism and depth. I mean, certainly, there are moral lessons that can be taught with this! The subject matter itself was a man killing people as a method of executing greater justice, was it not?

Here we have our protagonist (for I dare not call him a hero), Light. I actually have a picture of him that hangs on my wall as part of a dungeons and dragons alignment chart. He holds down the Neutral Evil square. He started off wanting to cull away the evil that corrupts man and save the world, but the moment he killed Lind L. Taylor, he threw away any pretense he had of being a righteous man and stepped into the ranks of deluded serial killers. He is portrayed as some sort of magnificent bastard and, for the first part of the series, he is some sort of vision of the dark side of self-righteousness. It should be noted that he is an attractive, intelligent, upper-middle class, talented elite. If he isn’t set up for some sort of amazingly tragic fall, than I don’t know who is.

With that in mind, surely the question of the series becomes not whether Light will be defeated and die, but how. After all, we can’t let him him build a perfect world once we, the audience, see his imperfections. It goes against the spirit. So, in steps his antagonist (for I dare not call him a villain), L. L was a crime against cosplay, letting anyone with bad posture, ratty jeans and a white shirt call himself “in-character”, but let’s set that aside for the moment. L was a force of law, please note that I don’t call him a force for good, just law. He was the exact opposite of Light’s facade, unkempt, unconventional, unhealthy, but just as smart. I enjoyed their back and forth and I wondered how it would end.

Then, it ended. I thought to myself, “Oh wow… but, he hasn’t brought Light to justice yet… I wonder what is going to happen.” That was episode 25. There was one more episode in the season, I figured that L had some sort of final, beyond the grave gambit going. Nope, episode 26 was a clip-show with a cliffhanger… and then episode 27 came in. Welcome new characters N and M… please check your credibility as an author at the door.

It is like the Death Note author died at some point in late production and his assistants rolled the body into a closet and continued working! What is this crap? N is just as unconventional as L but likes toys rather than sweets? M likes sweets but otherwise shares no personality traits? What’s worse, N appears to be psychic. Not ONLY does he KNOW that Light is Kira, he can pinpoint the exact person that Light would trust with the source of his power (the thought of Light trusting anyone was strange enough) out of 80 televisions playing simultaneously!

“That guy. Watch him for a week and see if he does anything suspiciously.”

“But, sir. L at least had some sort of logic behind his actions, he took things in steps that he could explain to us… why THAT guy?”

“I read the manga.”

Okay, so we’ve watched a game of chess right up until the point where all the white pieces are cleared from the board. Two guys then come in, one sets up Pokemon cards and the other brings in Pogs. Freaking hell, Death Note! Are we expected to buy this crap?

So M dies and no one cares. If L represented justice, then I guess M represented… cauliflower, I dunno. Finally we have a showdown between Light and N, who at this point is looking like L, White Version. I dare say, he is L without any of the flaws or credibility. They have their final battle of wits showdown thing and Light’s great final plan is TO HAVE A GUY PEEK IN THROUGH THE DOOR. *facepalm*

Oh, but wait, it gets better! The door peeking is blocked by a notebook swap! He couldn’t write down the name properly because he didn’t have the proper notebook! Surely, Light could have instructed him to sew a piece of the paper into his jacket and use that for the important ultimate moment… but no.

In fact, the only meaningful thing in this entire exchange was Kira being shot to crap by the only cop who used to think that Kira might be acting for justice. Feeling horribly betrayed, that cop opened up and fired, bullets ripping through Light. As a guy who thought that the first season was decent, I sympathized most with that character. Here we both were, realizing after a lot of stupid events that the thing we had thought might be good was actually crap.

You know the worst part? Everyone knows the second season sucks. Everyone. Everyone. It isn’t a state secret. It is so blatantly apparent that they released Death Note Rewrite: The Visualizing God. In that movie, they summed up all the events from episodes 1-25 and then tacked on a different ending. After L died and Light screams at his headstone for a bit, the deathgod he got his powers from kills him. He dies without ever knowing why. THATS RIGHT. THE STUDIO THOUGHT THAT “ROCKS FALL, KIRA DIES” WAS A BETTER ENDING!

Or the live-action movie. I never watched it, so disgusted was I with Death Note at this point, but someone once attempted to describe the ending to me. Apparently, L writes his own name in the book, giving himself a time-frame in which he can defeat evil and save the world without having to worry about death. He does so and then dies at the end, knowing that the world’s criminals are safe from Kira.

Honestly, that sounds like the best ending of the three… but that is the real problem here… there just isn’t a decent ending to this story. I firmly believe that the author didn’t have any sort of ending in mind when he started and, as such, he didn’t build up to anything meaningful. The fact that the ending can be swapped so easily is evidence of this. I readily accepted a second-hand account of an ending as better than the actual ending because, at this point, anything would do! Forget symbolism, forget signifiers, forget foreshadowed and cathargic death of personified gray morality! As long as the damned thing ENDS.

But the nightmare never truly ends, does it? When I got to Kon, I see them… the L cosplayers, the Kira-fans in their Kira shirts… there are so many fans out there. I once had an argument with a fangirl about how Death Note was the best anime ever made! What is THAT nonsense? Are you telling me that an anime which was rewritten not once but TWICE because its ending lacked meaning is the best ever? What about the anime that get is right the first time? What about shows that can combine beautiful artistic elements with a well-written story about gray morality and bring it all together in a single package? Do they rank lower than Death Note?

Dear readers, I submit for your consideration that if you would like to watch a beautiful and sad story about good intentions gone awry, fallen heroes, gray morality, human nature, hope for tomorrow and you want it all to be perfectly laid out in 26 episodes…

Watch Gungrave.

I’m just gonna get straight to the point here.

Code Geass Sucks.

“I COMMAND YOU TO STFU!”

Calm yourself, LeLouch. I watched all of Code Geass. I even almost enjoyed some of it. As a whole, though, it was pretty forgettable stuff. The main problems I had with it were that the show’s tone was schizophrenic,  the main character was an unlikable mass of elitist ex-machina-infused complex and that despite all the build up and seriousness we end up with a perfect solution that renders everyone perfectly happy forever (Or ARE they? … by which we mean do we think we can crank out a sequel.)

I’ve talked at length about “the fallen prince” characters with my friend Andrew. I love Gundam’s Char Aznable because he is the true heir to a good king who battles evil on two sides while working through his plot for vengeance and justice. He dislikes Char because Char is some sort of divine chosen one, blessed with talent far surpassing other people who don’t just happen to be princes. I love Char because of how great Char allows himself to be, he dislikes Char for how not-great everyone else seems by comparison. It is just that too much awesome has concentrated on too handsome of a man with too much connection to the plot. He is so damned amazing that he lost Andrew somewhere in his radiance. I love him dearly because I view so much of what makes Char a badass as traits that he earned, not things that were simply given to him. His backstory only provides motivation in my mind, it isn’t the source or foundation of his power. All the power he built, he built as himself, by himself, under a false name and beginning as a grunt.

What does this have to do with LeLouch? Well… Andrew and I both hate the fallen prince here. You see, there are just too many convenient coincidences within the premise. We have a disowned prince who hates the king and just HAPPENS to get a super-power that HAPPENS to let him command a revolutionary force against his father who HAPPENS to have a similar super power, oh and by the way, the ace of his revolutionary force HAPPENS to be in his class and his childhood friend HAPPENS to become some sort of super-nemesis. Too much of LeLouch’s power comes from pure coincidence. He is painted as some sort of Chessmaster character  (heck, they even make him a literal Chessmaster!) but the problem is that he isn’t a Chessmaster so much as he is a Gary Stu, a Golden Child of the Author. Even his TRAGEDIES only serve to empower him! It isn’t him bending the world to his will, THE WORLD BENDS FOR HIM JUST FINE ON ITS OWN!

Hell, his superpower… the geass. He has the ability to issue one command to anyone who makes eye contact that they absolutely have to follow no matter what. That is, first of all, an oddly convenient power for a fallen prince to happen upon. I mean, after all, it lets him use his general better-than-you-ness to just take whatever he wants or do whatever he wants. If only he weren’t so stupid with his orders, he would have been even MORE powerful (Heaven forbid.) For instance,  if he issued the order “I LeLouch Vi Britania, command you to unquestioningly and unhesitatingly obey any order I issue beginning in the the phrase ‘Would you kindly,’.” Dear sweet lord! If  only he were that smart. I know the geass has that power, I mean when he tells his rival to “Live!” it causes him to nuke cities… surely the geass can handle the Bioshock programing… but no. He doesn’t think about the long term… which is really odd for a Chessmaster.

Actually, as far as his power goes, I think the author missed a perfect opportunity for something REALLY interesting. You see, there is a wasted character here… “Rivalz” (the Z is silent.) I was thinking one day and I thought “What if Rivalz had gotten the super power instead of LeLouch”… then he would have to manipulate and control Rivalz and use him as a tool of revenge rather than all of the appropriate tools just happening to fall in his lap. At least, with that degree of separation, he would have to convince the innocent and good-hearted Rivalz to turn down a path of war and bloodshed, despite having no personal involvement. It could have been a much deeper and psychologically compelling story. Here you have an innocent boy with amazing power and looming over his shoulder is an evil and twisted man bent upon control. “Cmon, Rivalz… we could rule the world… with your power… and my mind… we can dethrone my father…” Alas.

That’s another thing. I realize that the show can’t stay 100% serious all the time, but by god Code Geass, please decide if you are a happy pizza-loving show for all ages or a dark and depressing drama. We flip back and forth between everything being all sunshine and rainbows, to everything being darkness and LiveJournal and back again before you can say “Karen’s mom has a drug habit?” (Wait, Karen has a mom?) I mean, maybe it was to show how duplicitous and deceitful these characters are… but even the combat scenes do it. One minute we are gunning down civilians and hearing pilot death-screams… the next, all the pilots have names and NONE OF THEM DIE.

It is like the author was trying to work on a political story and said “You know what this needs? Gundam.” So, browsing through the gundam series throughout the years, he grabbed 8th MS team and SEED and said “I want to start off with some of the city combat and seriousness of this one… but I want to turn it into all of the angst and pointless over-the-top robot bullshit of this one.

Actually…

hmmmm…

You know the worst part, though? Despite all the buildup, despite all the pretensions of human suffering… the freaking story wasn’t tragic! In the end, everything turned out perfectly happy for everyone except for three characters that were “acceptable sacrifices for the greater good.” The Chinese guy with cancer? Fine and dandy. The little blind girl? Good to go. The main character is dead though, right? Nope. We had all hoped, but they left the bastard a loophole.

So… is anyone still unhappy at the end of this? Oh, the girl with glasses is still insane, but shes getting better? … seriously? Is that IT? World peace? Good will towards men? WHAT THE CRAP IS THIS?! Oh wait. I know what this is. This is the ending of Endless Waltz. “And the weapons called Mobile Suits were never seen again.”

I don’t know… CG:LotR was an extremely forgettable show and I just don’t know why it got as popular as it did… no… wait. I know exactly why it got as popular as it did. Fangirls. Freaking Fangirls. Oh well, at least, unlike Bleach, this one had the courtesy to DIE!

… or DID it?

Before I get into this one though, Hartxenon reminded me that I forgot a fall anime last week, one I really enjoy. Let me do that first.

Ore No Imouto Ga Konna Ni Kawaii Wake Ga Nai

Or, in English, My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute. It is a good story. We have a normal and extremely likable high school male main character. He comes to find out that his sister is an otaku, not just an otaku, mind you, but an otaku with a little sister fetish. She collects imouto-themed galge, hugging pillows, dvds, you name it. Anyways, she has hidden her obsession for years, as it would hinder her hip and trendy lifestyle. As such, shes become a tsundere… and he has to help her… out of brotherly love.

I’m really enjoying it. The conversations between nerds of differing fandoms are amazingly accurate. They have two made up anime they keep coming back to and if you have ever been in an anime club or had anime friends of differing tastes, the conversations between her and KURONEKO are hilarious. Add in a few well placed side characters and you have yourself a decent show.

A

Now, with that out of the way… Lets move on.

Iron Man and Heroman feel like two sides of the same coin to me.  On one hand we have the realistic and gritty Iron Man. On the other, we have the light and refreshing Heroman. Both are shows about a man who fights injustice with the aid of a robot. Both are animes based on characters designed by comic great Stan Lee. They are some sort of robotic-powered yinyang.

The really interesting thing, though, is so far… I think Heroman is actually the darker of the two. Seriously! It is something I’ve noticed when showing anime to my mother. It isn’t that she doesn’t like anime in which horrible, terrible, soul wrenching, depressing things happen… it is that she doesn’t like anime in which terrible, horrible, soul wrenching things happen in the present tense! I mean, the main character of Heroman is an orphan whose parents died tragically, his best friend is an ex-football player whose leg got wrecked tragically, his romantic interest lost all the love and warmth in her family when the aliens invaded… As long as the tragic event in question is either A: Part of someone’s backstory or B: An important event that makes them learn to treasure friendship, love, hope or other comedic elements, you can get away with almost any level of tragedy. I mean, it seems like the only thing that keeps some of these characters going is hope for tomorrow and Collins-sensei’s sweet ass!

Mmmmm… oh yeah.

Now, setting sensei aside, what we are really looking at here is a sense of the genres. Iron Man, as I said last week, feels like one of the 90s great animated series. The dead seriousness of the ending music kinda reminds me of the old X-Men animated series song somehow. What we have here is a story about a super hero. Every week he saves someone, stops some evil, fights some robot. There are plot threads that get woven in and may not rear their head for episodes to come, but each episode is just that, an episode. The episodes are on different days and, while presented in chronological order, are taken outside of the context of greater time. Episode 4 could take place on a tuesday, episode 5 could take place anywhere from a day to a week thereafter. It doesn’t matter for the purposes of the greater plot.

Heroman, on the other hand, plays like a Shonen anime. We have our power-up sequences, we have our named super-moves. We have the blatantly puppy-crushingly evil enemy with a dislikable name… The fact that Joey Jones is a super hero is just the form of his traditional main-characterness. If he weren’t a super hero, I’m certain he would be the grandson of a prince from space and inherit a legendary lightsaber… or be the son of the thousand master and inherit a legendary staff… instead he is the son of a coal miner and he inherits an obscure hardhat. Time for Joey Jones is a “to be continued” sort of affair. Important things are happening and they need to play out over the course of several episodes… in the beginning. Much like the original Tenchi Muyo! All the important stuff happens fairly quickly in the show… the rest is really just us getting to better know the characters.

Both of them are superhero animes, no doubt about it. Both of them are to my taste and I enjoyed them both… but there is something deeper here. I can’t quite put it into words, but there is a difference in mentality between the two. I mean… there is something here in the nature of comedy and tragedy. Superhero comics, for the most part, are about a balance between the two. Bad things happen, superheros fix it. Superheros do good in the world, they get punished for it. If you lean in one direction or the other, the balances goes off.  Folks notice. One way you can try to get away with going farther in one direction is to also weight yourself heavily in the other direction.

Heroman is just a lot more tragic than Iron Man. I mean the net weight of human suffering is just that much heavier! It compensates by adding on the the comedy side. Life goes on. There is love and laughter and life to balance out the pain. The real difference between the two, I suppose, is how far they are willing to go into human extremes. Heroman has a wider range and, while that isn’t necessarily a GOOD thing, it does allow for some amazingly dark things to fly by under a greater veil of light and happiness.

It reminds me of one of the darkest animes I’ve ever seen… Kaleidostar.