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Fillers and Timing: Thoughts on Anime Adaptations

In my Gantz review, I lamented the fact that the adaptation occurs so soon (volume eight). I’ve given this some more thought and I wonder if I can do this topic justice. I’ve watched the anime of Gantz but I haven’t read the manga. The same is true of X (although I do really want to read both series at some point). I have seen Nabari no Ou and I possess the first volume. I have volumes one and seven of Fairy Tail (and I want more) but not the adaptation. So, I’m limited to, I think, Naruto, Bleach, and Fullmetal Alchemist. But with Fullmetal Alchemist I haven’t seen the first series in some time. So should I focus on Brotherhood exclusively? To a certain extent, Naruto and Bleach have issues that deal mainly with filler (anime only arcs and episodes that exist to allow the manga to gain more distance) while Gantz, X, Nabari no Ou, and even Fullmetal Alchemist are more limited in their episodes. This raises an interesting problem for me- what is my issue with these adaptations? Can I even talk about them if I haven’t seen one or read the other? I think that the fillers I’ve seen have been on the whole less well developed and generally inferior to the adapted arcs. In some cases, that comes from an adaptation starting too soon, not taking breaks, or the manga is not finished yet.

Gantz‘s ending is unsatisfying, but to end it with the manga’s ending means that the manga itself needs to have ended. But the series continues (although nearing its end). So what choice did the team producing Gantz have but to create an ending? Now, not all original or filler endings are terrible. I love how X and Nabari no Ou end. And they both share similarities to Gantz: All three series adapt a only a fraction of the total series (Gantz has thirty volumes[and counting] but adapts only the first eight, X has nineteen [though unlikely to ever finish] though I’m not sure how many volumes they’ve actually covered, and Nabari no Ou has fourteen but adapts the first seven). In part, these series are limited to a single season’s worth of episodes (twenty four-twenty six) so some condensing of the material is needed.

Fullmetal Alchemist has more room to breath given its fifty one and sixty four episode series. Focusing on Brotherhood, I have enjoyed all the episodes but two, “Fullmetal Alchemist”and “Interlude Party.” The first episode makes no sense, it’s a throwaway introduction with a plot that has no bearing on the rest of the series. I understand that the idea is to rush through the first seven volumes (which are shared with the first series). But that episode makes no sense. My objection to “Interlude Party” lies in the fact that it spills too much information before the big reveal of who Father is. Though a quaint episode, it doesn’t do much besides give Pinako more scenes.

My biggest beef, I think, comes from the Naruto and Bleach adaptations. Both mangas are wildly popular and an anime adaptation is a no brainer. But there is just too much filler! I like Naruto more than Bleach so I’ll focus on it from here on out, but it does relate to Bleach as well. The first series almost avoids fillers up until the final eighty episodes, but the sequel has alternating seasons of adaptation and filler (saving the first two seasons which adapt Kazekage Rescue and Sai and Sasuke arcs). Often these arcs are just silly or don’t really lead anywhere. The problem is, as has been pointed out on various forums, that there is no lag time between seasons. A week may be skipped. If the typical episode covers two chapters, then the anime moves twice as fast. This is unfortunate, I think, because it causes whole seasons to be missed. And if one does not watch a series after a hiatus, one may not want to go back to it (like Naruto Shippuden).

All of this said, I get why fillers and original endings and directions exists. On the whole, I don’t like it. So I just skip it and come back when it’s over.


Kaze no Stigma Anime Review

To begin, Kaze no Stigma (dir. Junichi Sakata 2007) is an adaptation of Takahiro Yamato’s light novel series of the same name. Having just finished the series, I have to say that I enjoyed it, warts and all.

Kaze no Stigma tells the tale of Kazuma Yagami (formerly Kannagi), a wind mage from a long line of fire mages. The demands of the Kannagi family force Kazuma’s disownment and continuing resentment towards his father. Joined by his younger brother Ren and his distant cousin Ayano, Kazuma undertakes a series of magic related mysteries.

The credits to the dubbed version of the series raise an interesting question as to who the actual protagonist of the series is. Clearly, the title implies that Kazuma is the main protagonist but frequently Ayano is the point of view character. In all probability, both are “main” protagonists with Kazuma being Ayano’s mentor/ love interest and Ayano being Kazuma’s foil/ love interest(?). Depending on who the viewer sees as the main protagonist may color how one views the series as a whole.

The characters themselves are very well realized save for a few instances. Genma (Kazuma and Ren’s father) shows little emotional growth. Indeed, who really is the “child” in that father-son dynamic? And Ayano herself does not seem to grow as much as she should. She basically stays emotionally the same throughout the series (of course this is needed for the comedic aspects of the series).

The voice acting is very well done save for some of the minor character parts. Robert McCollum is especially good as Kazuma and Cherami Leigh is equally as good as Ayano.

Kaze no Stigma is divided into four or five story arcs (I have some questions as to whether episodes 13 through 16 constitute an arc or a series of filler episodes).  Each arc is very well done and keeps the viewers interest. My personal favorite is the third arc, but the final arc has a lot of awesomeness to it.

I have to admit that there is a fanservice issue (which is made rather ironically hilarious by Ayano’s beatdowns of peeping toms and other perverts). There is quite a lot of fanservice, especially regarding Ayano and other female characters. And for the audience that would prefer Kazuma over Ayano, there are several scenes with him shirtless. Check out the episode entitled “Father and Son.”

So, to conclude Kaze no Stigma is an entertaining anime adaptation. It’s a pity that Yamato’s death left the series unfinished.

Nabari no Ou Anime Review

For my first post of the year, I reviewed the first tankobon volume of Nabari no Ou by Yuhi Kamatani. At the same time, Hulu provided the dubbed version of the series on their website for a limited time (and can be found on Funimation’s website as well). Liking the first volume, I decided to watch the series as well.

To recap the basic plot, Miharu Rokujou is a middle school student living in the small town of Banten. He is the possessor of the Shinra Banshou and the target of every (or just about) ninja faction out there. This is complicated by the fact that Miharu develops a strong emotional attachment to Yoite, a member of the antagonistic Kairoshu.

The series (2008 dir. Kunihisa Sugishima) is a delight to watch. The animation is almost as good as Kamatani’s art is in the first volume. The characters are rendered beautifully, the landscapes are great, and the action is well done.

I am also impressed with the dubbing. The voice actress for Miharu, Brina Palencia, struggles a bit in the first few episodes, but does an excellent job from there as she grows into the role. The rest of the cast does a nice job in their roles, but I am curious about the choice of a male voice actor for Yoite rather than a female one. But I don’t mind it that much because I think that Joel McDonald does a fantastic job of voicing Yoite.

The music is very good, especially the opening theme song and the second closing theme. While I like the music, some of the internal soundtrack sounds borrowed from X.

On the whole, the adaptation is excellent. It does not drag and keeps my interest during all of the arcs that make up the series.  Almost every episodes has me on the edge of my seat with anticipation.

One of my issues with the series is that Miharu is recast into more of a non combatant role. In the first volume of the manga, Miharu clearly knows how to use shinobi techniques and does use them to fight. However, in the anime, he is largely relegated to hiding unless the shinra banshou makes an appearance. I did not find myself liking this.

Reading reviews of the first two volumes of Nabari no Ou on the website of Otaku USA, I found an interesting insight: I was watching Nabari and thinking Naruto. The reviewer pointed out Shinji Ikari. I can see her point that Miharu is rather like Shinji Ikari in that he does not want to engage in the heroics demanded of and forced upon him (unlike other shonen manga in which the young protagonist jumps at adventure). Even so, I do think that the core “team” of Nabari is meant to reference Team Seven.

This difference, this introduction of a different kind of protagonist, makes the series seem so much more interesting and complex. This can be seen in a number of ways: Miharu’s choices, the cute and ultimately bitter sweet relationship of Miharu and Yoite, and the ambiguous question of everyone’s agendas make the series that much better.

In the end, Nabari no Ou is a fantastic series to watch and I highly recommend it.

Trigun Review

I had originally wanted to do an in depth analysis of the anime series Trigun (Yasuhiro Nightow creator, 1998) rather than a review. Instead, I think that I am going to try and hit both.

Trigun is a space western set on a desert planet about a hundred thirty years after humans colonized the planet.  The series protagonist is Vash the Stampede, a “humanoid typhoon” with a ridiculously large bounty on his head. Vash is joined by Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson of the Bernadelli Insurance Society (as his frequent companions) and Nicholas D. Wolfwood (an occasional companion). Together, they travel the world seeking to non lethally right wrongs and create as much mayhem as possible.

Don’t get me wrong, the series is wonderful and I love it. But there are some nagging issues that just weaken the experience of watching Trigun.

The story is a good one with a great built in challenge for Vash: he refuses to kill and will go out of his way, even to the greatest level of ridiculousness, to avoid giving fatal injury. Honestly, this is a great means of making things harder for a perhaps too powerful protagonist. But it also causes as much problems as it solves when the choice to not kill is both shoved down the viewers’ throats as the only way and creates a rather silly (in my opinion) conflict between Vash and his twin brother, Knives.

But the worst, the absolutely most annoying, element of the series lies with the villains. I’m not talking about BDN and some of the earlier antagonists, they were very well done. I’m talking about the Gung Ho Guns and Legato Bluesummers and Knives in particular. They just make no sense to me. Of course Knives does not care about the lives of his subordinates given that he hates humans and they are human (of course that raises the question of why they even work for him or Legato in the first place). Legato in particular comes off as frustratingly puzzling. In the end, what really were they after? Not a whole terribly lot. And the final confrontation between the brothers is disappointment alley.

The strongest and most interesting characters in the series are Meryl, Milly, and Nicholas. The strongest stretch of episodes lie roughly before “Rem Saverem.” The succeeding episodes are on the whole not generally as good save for “Paradise” and “Sin.”

Personally, I think the problem comes down to the series being rushed. The first episodes are largely episodic with a few arcs appearing while the final episodes form a darker arc. Either the series should have been more episodic or devoted more to the central arc of Vash and Knives.

Trigun is the anime adaptation of the manga series Trigun and Trigun Maximum. However, given that the adaptation came out in the late nineties and the series did not end until 2007, it is understandable if the adaptation splits off from the manga story line (X, Fullmetal Alchemist, Nabari no Ou, etc. all have deviated from the manga). To be honest, I think more episodes than twenty six are needed to do the narrative justice.

In the end, I still enjoy Trigun and rank it highly on my list of favorite anime series. But I also recognize that it has numerous flaws that hamper the execution of the show.


Hetalia Axis Powers and Nabari no Ou reviews

Yesterday, I had a very productive manga reading experience and managed to read the first volumes of Hetalia Axis Powers and Nabari no Ou. I have to say that I highly enjoyed both and have every intention of collecting other volumes in both series.


Hetalia Axis Powers by Hidekaz Himaruya

Imagine a world in which the various states, nations, and empires are anthropomorphized into human avatars. What would Italy, Russia, Japan, America, and all the other nations be like as people? That is what Himaruya’s Hetalia Axis Powers explores with an almost psychotic humor.

Originally envisioned as a series of short web comics, Hetalia has, in recent years become an international phenomenon. I myself first discovered Hetalia through its too brief anime series. The tankobon volume (and the anime) are composed of numerous one page comic strips (or skits) with the largest being a few pages (several episodes). This helps to create a frenetic pace in reading (and makes this reader/ viewer at least wish it did not go by so quickly).

The strongest element of Hetalia is the satiric and humorous take on history that Himaruya has. Taking an example from one of my favorite strips (and wars): “Chaos at Daybreak” is about the War of the Austrian Succession. In the strip, Silesia is implied to be Austria’s genitals, which Prussia has captured. The strip ends with Hungary (one of the few female nation avatars, and the only one named in this volume) breaking into Prussia’s house and ordering him to give her back her “happy place.”

The weakest part of the volume is in the artwork itself. To me, the consistency of the art is a little concerning. Some strips are absolutely beautiful, but others come off as being extremely sketchy (literally). It is not a major non buying point, but it can be annoying at times.

The most annoying thing about the volume is Tokyopop’s production of the physical book itself. Occasionally, the text runs into the binding and I found it irritating having to bend the binding to read the notes to the strips.

That quibble aside, Hetalia is great and a must read, in my opinion.


Nabari no Ou by Yuhki Kamatani

I really can’t write a review that states “I love this book” one hundred times. But I do love this book.

Having recently come to its end in Japan (depending how Yen Press schedules its releases, there should be a few more years of new tankobon in the US), Nabari no Ou is a shonen ninja manga. Set in present day Japan, the manga follows Miharu as he unwillingly becomes the target of various shinobi factions who seek the “Shinra Banshou” which is located in Miharu’s body.

The interesting thing about Miharu is that he is indifferent about the whole thing. He really is uninterested and apathetic about the whole situation. At the same time, he is rather devilish in some of his actions (the comedic relief, which is hilarious at times). This indifference seems to recede a little at the end of the volume, but where things go from there, I haven’t read yet.

The artwork is excellent. There is a detail and lushness that is quite powerful. One of the better drawn mangas that I have read.

I can’t wait to collect the rest of the volumes in this series.



That is it for this double review. Expect an analysis of Trigun sometime this week. And after Guns, Germs, and Steel expect the second of my Bas-lag reading project to begin.


January Posting Plan

Today, we got nineteen views. Today marks the most views we’ve gotten in a single day. The previous record has been a few sevens. Thanks everyone.

The most popular posts seem to be my Bas-Lag reading project and my Wizards of Conan. So, I will be aiming to do more with them (and expanding out to other weird/ new weird and sword and sorcery).

So here is what I plan to focus on in January: The first thing is that I am planning on recording what I read over an entire year. Some of those things may get reviewed and others won’t. I am planning my first post to be a double review of Axis Powers: Hetalia volume one and Nabari no Ou volume one. I am also planning on hitting a review of the anime adaptation of Nabari no Ou and of Kaze no Stigma . Also, I plan to start work on The Scar for the Bas-Lag reading project. And I may begin with my Fullmetal Alchemist, Fairy Tail, and Naruto (I want to do that one too) reading projects. But many of those may have to wait until I slog through Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel.

A few days ago, I finished Henry Hodges’s Technology in the Ancient World. While likely out of date (given the amount of new research over forty years), I still feel that it is a valuable research tool for creating a secondary world with an ancient basis. And I am currently tackling Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World (don’t know whether I want to actually finish the damn thing or not though).

And finally, my co-writer is planning on making his come back sometime in January, hopefully to give us more football wisdom and gamer’s perspective.

Review of Gungrave

Over the past few days, I have been watching the anime series Gungrave (dir. Toshiyuki Tsuru 2003). Despite a few issues, Gungrave has been a very good anime.

Based on the video game of the same name, Gungrave follows the life and after life of Brandon Heat. Brandon Heat was a member of Millenion, a mafia like organization run by Big Daddy and later, Harry Macdowell. He is murdered by Harry and resurrected by Dr. Tokioka as Beyond-the-Grave. The series follows two lines: the tale of how Brandon and Harry join Millenion and seek to rise to the top and the downfall of Harry at the hands of Beyond-the-Grave.

The strongest element of the series is the characterization. All of the characters are well round and well realized. Indeed, despite the lack of dialogue on his part, Brandon Heat carries a huge amount of emotional actions in his face and looks. And Harry is equally well done, especially in how the character descents into megalomania and psychopathy as the head of Millenion. The secondary characters are well done as well, especially Bear Walken and Bunji Kugashira. The only problems with characterization are, unfortunately, the female characters.

There are three major female characters: Maria Asagi, her daughter Mika Asagi, and Sherry Walken-Macdowell. Each one is a small variation on the mafia princess trope.  My problem with the depiction of the female characters is that they are all weak and exist solely to support, or provide excuses for heroics for, the male characters. There is some glimpses of strength on Sherry’s part in terms of her father, but she acts as the dutiful wife for Harry. At the end, when Harry is reminiscing over those he lost, he states “and of course Sherry” almost as an after thought.

While the strength of the female characters is sad, their role is key. It is for Maria that Brandon does the actions he does (in addition to Millenion). It is for Mika that he defends her and starts the fight against Millenion. And it is for Sherry that Bear Walken continues to serve Millenion.

Beyond that problem, the rest of the series is excellent. Especially the visuals and the action scenes. The fights between Grave and the Big Four (Bob Poundmax, Balladbird Lee, Bear Walken, and Bunji Kugashira)  are all amazing. As is the visuals of the city itself.

And there is the final scene in which Harry and Brandon reminisce before their deaths. That was beautiful.

All in all, a highly recommended series.


Three Reviews: The Walking Dead, The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, and X

For Thanksgiving, I have three reviews that I want to do. In ascending order, I’ll review my least favorite and finally my favorite. So that means I’ll review AMC’s The Walking Dead, Robert E. Howard’s The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, and X.

After watching the first four episodes of AMC’s adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, I am pleased to declare it my favorite new show of the year (keeping in mind that I do not watch a lot of television).

Taking place in a near present in which something, some virus, has caused the infected to rise again as decaying zombies. The series is amazing with its realistic depiction of the horror of a zombie inspired apocalypse, the struggles of survival, and the conflict of hope and despair.

The acting is superb with even minor characters having wonderful scenes. My only real complaint is that it seems too short.

I know, I know, I said I would not do another Robert E. Howard post for a while, but this is a review and I can’t control when my local library will have a title I want available. Anyway, reading The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane were a joy. Robert E. Howard is a master of the short adventure and fantasy short story. I found myself enjoying all of the tales, although some engrossed me more than others. “The Moon of Skulls,” “The Hills of the Dead,” and “Wings of the Night” were all amazing and enthralling. The pacing, the plot, the characterization, all of it. Reading these short stories reaffirmed my faith in Howard’s work.

But there is a problem. If you are sensitive to racial issues, the Solomon Kane tales may not be for you. While racism plays a part in the Conan tales, it is no where near as prevalent as in the Solomon Kane tales. Kane is a racist character (although one can argue that the events of “The Hills of the Dead” force Kane to reevaluate his opinions of Africans and wizards due to the heroic actions of N’Longa- indeed N’Longa is the real hero of that story).  There is a lot of racist imagery in the stories set in Africa, so keep that in mind.

Finally, X, the anime adaptation of CLAMP’s manga X/ 1999. Over the past few months, I have watched the English dub on Hulu. And I have loved every minute of it. I want this series. I want to buy it. The characters are amazing. The plot is enthralling. All around, I love it. From the visuals to the music, wow.

X is the story of Kamui, a high school student who discovers that in his hands lie the destiny of the world. Will he be a Dragon of Heaven, seeking to preserve the world as it is by leading the other Dragons of Heaven in protecting the barriers of Tokyo? Or will he be a Dragon of Earth, seeking to destroy humanity and bring a revolution to the Earth? It is this tragic choice that provides the impetus for the events to follow as Komui makes new friends and loses his childhood friends to both his and their own destinies.

Komui is initially an unlikeable protagonist, concerned more with getting the Divine Sword than in his duty either as an (initially unwilling) Komui or reconnecting with his friends. But when his destiny can no longer be ignored and he must chose, he steps up and becomes more approachable. But it is not Komui who is the sole focus of the series. The other Dragons of Heaven, and the Dragons of Earth, all have their own moments to shine. All in all, a great and highly recommended series.

A Really Brief Review of Sengoku Basra: Samurai Kings

This is a really brief review of the first episode of Sengoku Basra: Samurai Kings that I watched this past Wednesday. I have to say that while I really liked playing the demo for the game on the PS3, I am not too fond of the anime.

My first issue is the anachronization of the Sengoku Period. I somehow do not believe that the people of the period, including the historical subjects who form the protagonists to the series, dressed in some of the weird clothing that the protagonists sport. While I love Yukimura Sanada’s outfit, seriously, it is ridiculous.

I am also not comfortable with the over acting in the voice department. We get it, you (every character) is overly excitable. Enough already.

I did like the visuals and the fight scenes though. The only thing that really saves (or tries to save) the series.


A note about next week: On Tuesday, expect perhaps a double Conan’s Wizards post featuring Yara and Thugra Khotan (if not, just Yara). And on Thursday, expect a review of the first half of X adapted from CLAMP’s X/1999.


A Very Brief Review of Ghost in the Shell

On Sunday, I watched the film Ghost in the Shell (1995 directed by Oshii Mamoru). My initial reaction to the film is one of amazement. I love the film. And thinking about it a day later, I am still in love with it. It hits so many great points that it is easy to see why the film is so respected and influential.

Ghost in the Shell is classic cyberpunk. Taking place in the mid twenty- first century, the film follows cybernetic security officer Major Kusangai as she and her team try to capture the terrorist hacker known as The Puppetmaster. After a startling twist, Kusanagi begins to question herself as a person and as a machine. Her coming awareness and conclusion about what she is forms the emotional crux of the film. Even though much of the film deals with terrorists and political back deals, the human element of questioning one’s own existence is never far from the surface.

I love the film’s plot. There is almost nothing wrong with it. The only problem I have is the true antagonist revelation. I think that could have been handled better, but otherwise, the plot works fine.

The film itself is gorgeous. The music and visuals meld together and overwhelm the viewer, in my opinion.

My favorite scene in the film is a montage where Kusanagi is riding on a boat, heading to headquarters. Along the route, a haunting melody is played along with images of the city. It is an absolute delight to behold the mixture of image and song.

If there is one problem to the film, it is that it should be a little longer. But that is a minor complaint.

If you are looking for great cyberpunk, anime, science fiction, etc., than checking out Ghost in the Shell is a must.