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Monthly Archives: December 2010

Happy December! I will post again the first Monday in January.

Look forward to it!


It happened. Tokyo passed the ban on anime and manga that will change the face of the industry. Welcome to the future, kids, here, anime that is “likely to interfere with the healthy development of youth” will be banned. Anime that features virtual crimes will be banned. Anime that features overt sexual themes? Banned. Loli pantyflashes?! Banned… maybe?! The major problem with talking about how this will affect the industry is that we just can’t tell. Some titles are being reworked as 18+ so as not to be banned outright, others are cutting away content that might fall victim to the ban… I’m just wondering how much they will cut to avoid the chopping block.

Personally, I have a tiny glimmer of hope in this entire mess… this might be a good chance for us to find some anime that focuses less on moe nonsense and overt fanservice and more on depth and story. At least, that is my hope. Chances are, however, it will just deny us our moe nonsense…

If you are interested in reading more about the ban, you can do so here.

I had a reader who commented on last week’s post saying that they liked the post but “One Piece isn’t a very good show, though.” I decided that this week I would explain exactly what it is that drew me into One Piece (despite the 4kids dub’s best efforts to keep me out) and what holds me here. One Piece is a great show. It is the embodiment of what a shonen anime can be. Shonen is a dying art, these days. The yelling of special moves and the defeating of evil… how can that ever get stale? Well, over the years, we’ve seen a LOT of shonen anime. Right now, the three big names of shonen and One Piece, Naruto and Bleach. Of the three, I watch one religiously, have casual disregard for one and outright disdain for the third. Let me explain why.

First off, we need to address the world. When an author creates a world, he has to figure out the way that different pieces of it fit together. Generally, good authors will have a very good sense of how their world functions and, therefore, their characters’ places in it. One thing that keeps me coming back to One Piece is that the author presented to us, from day one, a complete world. It was full of mysteries, wonders, strange happenings, adventure… and the best part was that all the characters felt like denizens of this world. They talked about current events, they recognized big-name people, they were generally engaged. Early in the anime we get to meet the world’s greatest swordsman and he gives us a glimpse as to how far the crew still has to go to get to the world stage. He appeared within the first season! So much for the DBZ power curve, Perfect Cell just annihilated the Red Ribbon army! It made the world feel a bit more dangerous. The One Piece crew isn’t just on some sort of linear adventure with progressively more difficult enemies, they are in a wide and wonderful world full of amazing people. Sometimes, they win over an enemy hands down. Sometimes, they barely escape with their lives. Even if you say to yourself “This is shonen. They are going to win,” it keeps the shonen formula interesting.

Naruto, likewise, had a world that was complete before its introduction to the audience. We had a balance between countries, we had alliances based off of previous wars, we had high-level ninja that would WTFPWN main characters. Everything felt like there was enough little pieces being dropped into the conversation that you could figure out greater parts of the whole. Unfortunately, the world of Naruto has lost luster. Filler arc after filler arc added needless amounts of extra countries onto the map. The Country of Tea, the Country of Squid, the Country of Iron… but filler arc aside… at some point Naruto forgot a key point in its premise. Naruto sold us a dangerous world full of ninja. Naruto told us that you had to protect people who are important to you, because otherwise you might lose them. Then the show decided to conflict its theme. It started with Chouji. Chouji was one of my favorite characters. He stayed behind to fight a ninja more powerful than he. He won, but only after eating a special secret weapon that burned his vital organs for power. After having an extremely touching death scene, he slumped against a tree and lost consciousness. Don’t you worry though! MEDICAL NINJAS ARE FOLLOWING THAT TEAM! Yes, indeed, they are even carrying an antidote to his family’s secret weapon! Cracks began to form… “If such an antidote exists, wouldn’t he have it to avoid dying?” Neji died, a free man… finally, released from the weight of his destiny, he was at peace. MEDICAL NINJAS! Garaa- OLD LADY! Hinat- RESSURECTION JUTSU! Oh, THAT must be awkward. “Naruto, I love you…. now I’m dead… now I’m alive… and we never really talked about the entire ‘love’ thing…” After a while, it just felt like Naruto had gotten out of touch with the world we’d been presented in the very beginning. If not conflicting with the way the world was built, certainly we began to develop thematic issues.

Bleach… I’m not entirely convinced that Kubo isn’t just making it up as he goes along. Possibly with a dartboard. He has these plot twists that feel like they must be preplanned… but they also feel as though they just came out of freaking nowhere. When it was revealed to us that there was a hell, we accepted it. Sure, there is, after all, a soul society we send the butterfly souls to for their eternal rest… why not a hell for eternal suffering? When the death gods dragged Rukia back for desertion, we accepted it, hesitantly… I mean, who did they think was responding to all those pager hits from earlier in the series? Did they send her down with a monster-locater and say “Okay, if you don’t call back, no matter how safe and well protected this city is, we will drag you in for desertion!” Ah, but then it is revealed that… heaven… isn’t… good. Soul Society has a slum in which the majority of souls cluster in eternal poverty. Wow. But forgetting that, there are a bunch of captains and subcaptains, cosplay for everyone, and one of them is actually after the secret mcguffin that was hidden inside Rukia. It is a special magical whatsit that lets you turn into some sort of half hollow/half deathgod. And here we have the main character turning into such a thing! “OH! I KNOW,” I screamed at my monitor. “Ichigo pulled it out of her when he took her powers! That’s why he was so strong and that’s why he is now turning into a half-hollowy thing! WRONG! Not ONLY is Ichigo becoming a half-hollowy thing without the aid of the mcguffin, he shortly encounters an entire platoon of previously unmentioned half-hallowy things. This is around the point at which I gave up any hope of having the world make sense. There is no inherent rhyme or reason, only excuses. Why do shinigami send souls to soul society and kill hollows? Why was it a big deal that quincys destroyed souls? With the slum out there, do the shinigami really care about souls? What about hell? What happens if you die in soul society? Why was Ichigo leaking super powers back in the early stages? Do all shinigami leak super powers? There were questions being raised, but not in a good way. The more I studied it, the less sense it made.

So, back on track here, One Piece has a world with fully foreshadowed events as part of a greater tapestry of human existence beyond the main characters. That’s groovy. “But Tom,” you might say, “that doesn’t necessarily make it a good show! What about character development?” One Piece has character development in spades. It is one of the true strengths of the show. The author started off with some complex issues for his characters… and he buried them. He buried them deep down inside the characters as a method of growing the people they would be. The character’s upbringings and personal tragedies are the foundations of the people they are today. That is the way it works with everyone, really. Some of the characters have gotten closure on their personal demons and are free to pursue their dreams. Some of the characters pursue their dreams as a method of putting their demons to rest. Only recently, in the anime, have we finally come face-to-face with what conflicts rest at the heart of our main character… and we’ve been with him almost 500 episodes! The author takes character development very seriously, I think, and treats it with the respect it deserves. The Usopp of episode 400 is not the Usopp of episode 100… but he isn’t someone else entirely. He has just grown a little.

Naruto used to be all about the character development… I guess it burned itself out, though. It used to be, we had like 4 teams of ninjas, all of them with dreams and personalities, advancing and growing and… yeah, fuck that. Now we have Team Naruto and Team Sasuke and the creeping feeling that Sasuke was always the main character. Most of the background folk have gone more-or-less static. There was a time I thought that Shikamaru was going to be Hokage at the rate he was going… I guess he hit a plateau the moment he walked off screen. Moreover, I’m not even certain the characters are developing, it kind of feels like they are just going through the motions. Hinata finally revealed her love. Great. That’s a big step to being a stronger, more confident Hinata… but… wait… what happens then? Is she able to hug him in public? Has she even been seen since then? I have no memories of Hinata after being brought back to life… could it be that her character might as well still be dead?

Bleach… Bleach actually seems to have character degeneration. When characters are first introduced, they appear to be interesting deep people… but the longer we know them… the less interesting they become. Orihime, for instance. She used to be a fragile girl trying desperately to be strong despite all the tragedy in her life. She was weird, but lovable. Now, she is yet another princess in a tower “Kurosaki-kun… kurosaki-kun…”

*twitch* *twitch* It is as though Bleach characters slowly reveal themselves to be cardboard cutouts the longer you watch the series…

Actually, placing Naruto aside as a middle ground for a moment… Lets just talk about One Piece and Bleach. One Piece is a well crafted but ugly show about dreams, humanity and fighting for what you believe in. Bleach is a poorly crafted but pretty show about swords, lion-elf-men, and power-up sequences. Both of them are shonen anime… it is just that I watch one for more than just the immediate value of stylized shonen battles… Sure, there are some great fight scenes and power-ups in One Piece… but the fights have a greater context. Sometimes, the lack of fighting is more interesting. One Piece uses the fighting as a necessary evil when people’s dreams and desires collide… it is really more a story about human beings. That is what makes it, at least more than “not very good”. It goes that step beyond all the forgettable shonen anime that have come and gone before.

I love pirates. There is something about the right combination of the iconography of the sea and a scruffy band of outlaws, screams FREEDOM! Even if they aren’t necessarily pirates, per-se, the spirit of freedom is there in the series. Be they outlaws hunting for a legendary lost location or mercenaries scraping from paycheck to paycheck, there is something fantastic about their journey that captures the spirit. There is something wonderful there and, no matter how bad it gets for the characters, they never seem to want to give it up. It is a romantic ideal.

There are four anime that, in my heart, hold this spirit of romance to a higher level. Two of them are set upon an actual sea; two of them are set on a sea of stars. Two of them are a journey to a far off destination; two of them are wanderings around home. All four of them are a tale of a group of unlikely companions who, as the crew of a ship, forge a bond that makes them a family.

The most realistic of the four, Black Lagoon is a story that could have happened. Black Lagoon is a story that we wish had happened. It is a story about how ugly people can be in such a beautiful world, and how beautiful people can be in such an ugly world. The characters are amazingly well built and feel like real people, each with their own hangups, mysteries and surprises. Black Lagoon doesn’t spell out character development, nor does it hand you character backstory. Much like real life, each of the main characters has things they don’t feel like discussing and you only find them out through glimpses and references. Little peeks at the bits that make up a complex whole, that is one of the things I love most.

As for their freedom, well, they are a group of delivery boys that brush against the law from time to time. Their office in Roanapur isn’t really home so much as it is a place to wait for work. True home is on their little torpedo boat, with their companions. Do they get paid for their work? Yes, they are the single one of the three that seem to get paid on a regular basis. Will it ever be enough that they can all retire wealthy? Maybe so, but that isn’t the point. This isn’t a show about them making a living, this is a show about them living a lifestyle.

One of the themes of the show is the power of choice and, by extension, the value of choosing. When we are first introduced to our male lead, he has no real power over his life. He is a cog in a machine, moved, maintained and disposed of at the will of others. It is only when he chooses a life for himself that he can cast aside the life that has been forced upon him. He gained a sort of freedom then and it persists throughout the show. Even as the pains of his chosen way of life mount, the moments of guilt, doubt and regret he experiences, it is the life he chose to live. I doubt that very many viewers would say that he would be happier if he’d never chosen it. The pain is just the price of his choice.

One Piece is a great story about romantic ideals. It is about a journey to a legendary location containing a great lost treasure… on the surface. In truth, this is an anime about hopes, dreams and the bonds that connect people’s hearts. There is an amazing amount of One Piece out there and only more to come, so the characters have been given large amounts of time to develop. Throughout the series, we’ve learned about as much as there is to know about their past, one way or another, and we’ve gained a lot of insight into who the characters are as people.

The journey that they are on is really a metaphorical journey of the spirit. Each crew member is chasing a dream, not matter how small or big. They have a vision of a future that is better than their present and they are doing their best to reach it. They aren’t fighting for their dreams alone, however. Throughout the series, we’ve seen them fight for each-others’ dreams and hopes. We’ve seen them believe in one-another even when that crewmate didn’t believe in their self.

It hasn’t been an easy path, they’ve faced stumbling blocks and perils. Forces both external and internal have sought to tear them apart. In one sense, they even succeeded. Still, though the crew might be cast to the far corners of the earth, they are connected in their hearts. They work hard to find one another and rebuild what was lost. One Piece is an anime about trying for a brighter tomorrow, no matter how dark today may be.


Outlaw Star is about a crew that sails on a sea of stars rather than a physical ocean. That doesn’t diminish the imagery though, within our hearts space and the ocean are free and limitless. Their spaceship isn’t any less of a vessel for their journey than their ocean-going counterparts.  The difference lies in the meaning of their journey. Whereas One Piece was a story about the journey of striving towards a dream, Outlaw Star is a show about moving beyond broken dreams.

Throughout the series, things don’t go as planned. Whenever the characters feel that they almost have something worth holding on to, it shatters. What we keep seeing here, though, is them picking up the pieces and putting them together in a different way. They keep moving on from one broken hope to the next heartbreak. Their journey keeps ending and then starting anew. They keep arriving at their destination, only to find it isn’t what they were looking for.

Though that seems to be such a harsh fate, the characters don’t seem to get bogged down in the tragedy. As the series go on, again and again things don’t go the way they’d wished, but they don’t stop trying. No matter how many of their hopes shatter, they keep making new ones. It is a testament to the power of the human spirit. Even though they never seem to find their destination,  no man could say their is journey for nothing. The feeling of freedom, it’s still there. It is waiting, just beyond the horizon.

Cowboy Bebop is similar to Outlaw Star in a lot of ways. They are both series about a group of unlikely comrades, bound together by coincidence and gathered on a single ship, roaming space from paycheck to paycheck. They even share a similar theme. They are both shows about people who find that there is a large difference between what they hope for and what they receive. The major difference is in how they handle that theme. Cowboy Bebop isn’t a story of a journey.

The story of Cowboy Bebop is, like Black Lagoon, a wandering. The crew visits Mars in the same way the Lagoon Company visits Roanapur. It isn’t their home, it is just a place they find themselves between expeditions. Taking that into account, the Bebop isn’t so much a story about answering dashed hopes and dreams with a vision of tomorrow as it is a story about living in the day. Things go wrong and sometimes they can’t be fixed. Sometimes you find out that things aren’t what you expected them to be. This is a fact of life and Cowboy Bebop is there to remind you that it is in dealing with these losses that you define who you are.

If you examine the Bebop story, it is actually a tragedy, told in comedic form. We are led through a series of events, comings and goings. Our characters are disappointed again and again, but they never give in the that void in their hearts. Even in the end, when you would think that despair would consume him, Spike fires a shot to our hearts. “Blow away those feelings of pain. You’re stronger than that.” That is the feeling that I get from Cowboy Bebop. Whereas Outlaw Star is an anime about taking the next step after a fall, Cowboy Bebop is the story of rising back to your feet.

None of the four stories here were without pain or trouble. Certainly none of them could be called “easy” lives. Still, there is something about them that calls to the human spirit. There is something about them that shines, even through all the grime, tears and blood. When you ask a romantic “What did you see there,” they might answer…

“There lies freedom.”