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Posted March 12th, 2012 at 5:05 PM by Mr Cat Dog

OK, so about a month ago, I decided to go on a lil' anime binge. Partly to help kick-start my Japanese revision - of which it failed miserably; the only two words I now know are that 'renkinjutsu' = alchemy and 'niisan' = older brother - but mostly to actually dip my proverbial toe in the vast ocean that is the world of anime. And as of now, the binge is complete!

As an introduction to the world of anime, it was certainly an interesting one. None of the shows I selected were massively bad, and the majority are what I'd call good (and in some cases, very good). They all offered something different from one another, and all had a degree of accessibility to a devout Westerner... and yes, that even includes FLCL. Below are my general thoughts on each of them as well as a 'grade' and favourite episode, which is just for funsies. :D

It's still my favourite, and by a large margin as well. Everything about Bebop just seems to fall into place for me personally: its definitively episodic structure; its characters that are massively relatable despite being ciphers; the amazing animation; the continuously changing tone with each episode; the music OMG THE MUSIC; the fact that it was a space opera-cum-thriller-cum-comedy-cum-horror-cum-anything you want it to be... and so much more.

Watching it again, I came to appreciate Faye a lot more; her origin story was easily my favourite serialized element of the show. Jet remained the anti-effervescent straight man. Spike's back-story - which I didn't care for the first time watching - hit me on a new level this time around. And I even came to appreciate Ed (who I hated upon a first watch), who had her moments... as she walked the tightrope between endearing and annoying. Ein, of course, remains my favourite television dog. Mainly for this. But also because he's so cute! :D

Maybe it's just me being casually racist/xenophobic, but I can't imagine that I'd like Bebop as much if it weren't so influenced by the West. From noir to case-of-the-week procedural to blaxploitation to outright horror, it'd defiantly and decadently different from any of the other shows on this list, and it has Hollywood to thank for much of its success. But instead of being a mere homage, Bebop manages to transcend all of them and become its own miraculous, glorious thing. Bravo.

Favourite episode: Pierrot le Fou
Grade: A

I was planning to do one of these blog entries about halfway through the binge, to see if my perceptions about any of the shows would change dramatically. While that obviously didn't happen, the one show that improved considerably over the course of its run was that of Steins;Gate. Starting with a first episode that I hated (but would probably admire if I watched it back now) and assumed took everything at face value, it slowly emerged into a thematically rich, wonderfully characterized, tense and enervating thriller revolving around time travel. And it ended up doing it in a novel way, with barely a mention of time paradoxes and butterfly effects (though, ultimately, it couldn't completely escape the tropes).

Indeed, at the halfway point, it turned into a virtually entirely different show. What had started off as an animated Big Bang Theory with even more obnoxious characters and a sci-fi premise turned into a combination of Groundhog Day/Inception/Terminator with a real emotional heft at the centre. Characters became multifaceted where stereotypes once existed, and the plot itself became wonderfully abstract.

Indeed, if the whole of the series had been on the level of quality as the second half (those who have seen the show will know what I'm referring to), it would be an absolute fave. That being said, it is verrrrrrry slow to get fully going, and even when it is firing on all cylinders there were times when I wished that the characters could be a little bit more grounded in reality. Also, the animation is as infuriating with its use of light as it is impressive with its shading... but I imagine that's a more personal qualm.

Favourite episode: Dogma in Ergosphere
Grade: B+

FMA ended up having the opposite effect on me than Steins;Gate: I went from devout admiration up until its halfway point, in which I slowly lost interest. Its finale went a few ways to solve the problems caused by its second half, and it ended well, but thinking about those episodes about three-quarters in don't bring back good memories.

However, on the positive side, the episodes before the 'problematic period' were really well done. The animation was solid, the plotting was tight, the characters were ridiculously memorable, the series' arc was well thought through, the pacing was top notch...

And then it just kinda went off the rails towards the home stretch. Dubious characters were introduced (Archer/Kimbly), the plot felt more rushed than before, twist on top of twist on top of twist was brought in, the philosophical themes stopped being subtext and just started becoming 'text' (OMG EVERYONE HAS ISSUES WITH BROTHERS!). If this were done in a lesser series, it might have ruined it, but because of the strong foundation of great characters, FMA managed to hold off terminal decline and eventually land well. From what I've heard, Brotherhood is supposed to be a lot better than FMA, and from viewing the final couple of episodes, I can definitely envisage that. Maybe another 64-episode binge will be in order... :D

Favourite episode: Created Human
Grade: B/B+

I still don't know if I'm ever going to thoroughly like this show, but I respect is so much more now that I've seen more anime than I had when I first watched it. FLCL is still completely schizo, and I imagine each viewing will bring added perspective to the fragmented and elliptical narrative, but I think I liked it more... I think.

That being said, I don't really know what to say about it. It's ridiculously wacky and yet has a greater philosophical insight than a great number of these shows; its sexual politics are remarkably nuanced and yet one of the main characters hits people in the face with a guitar; it's a show about maturation and yet most of the 'mature adults' are nothing of the sort.

I guess that's a fair bit to say about it, but watching FLCL is such a visceral experience that words don't really seem to do it justice. It's not a perfect show by any means - the ending, in particular, is a bit of a let-down - and I still don't think I entirely get it... but this is the one I'm most eager to revist by a large margin. And that must say something about it... right?

Favourite episode: Brittle Bullet
Grade: B

I knew the last two episodes were controversial but wowzers! Not even a marathon of The Tree of Life and Melancholia (which, incidentally, was also about clinical depression) could prepare me for that double whammy of navel-gazing philosophical ********! And I normally LIKE navel-gazing philosophical ********... but the way it was done here almost made me regret watching the series...

Which would have been ridiculous, as the first three-quarters of it - the bits where the ******** Biblical/Freudian overtones weren't friggin' talking points amongst the characters and remained on the level of subtext - were really good. And surprising, too, as I never thought I'd be emotionally invested in 14-year-olds beating up aliens inside robots. But Evangelion worked its magic by focusing on the real lives of the pilots, and only resorting to robot fighting when necessary (and then making each one gripping and emotionally resonant in the grand scheme of things).

But then it goes and spoils it all by doing something stupid and reverts up its own ass and starts spouting God and Freud to anyone who will listen. And it did this even before the final two episodes (which I sorta admire for the balls-to-the-wall out-there approach that the creators did with it) so those who were pissed off just about the finale should re-evaluate their feelings towards the episodes immediately preceding it.

Favourite episode: Ambivalence
Grade: B-

Oh my, this was a disappointment. In fact, Champloo was the only anime out of the binge that I can say that I outright didn't like.

It started with such promise - the first episode is one of the best ones out of this collection of shows - and then slowly devolved into Cowboy Bebop-lite in virtually every way. The animation was so much poorer; the character designs were really fugly; the characters themselves were simply ciphers with little-to-no shading; the central conceit was laughable; the episodes varied widely in tone while still being repetitive (and unlike Bebop this was never in the show's favour); the music, while distinctive, was not for me; the amount of bloated two-parters was way too much for a series of only 26 episodes... I could go on.

Indeed, the main points in its favour are that the fight scenes were relatively well choreographed and that the ending was sort of tolerable. But this was the show that felt like a chore to watch, for the most part. Which is never a good sign.

Favourite episode: Elegy of Entrapment (Verse 1)
Grade: C/C-


Aaaaaaand done! If you've read this far, maybe you'd like to suggest some more anime for me to watch. I can't guarantee I'll watch it straight away, but I'll probably be more receptive to it now than I would have been a year ago. :D
Posted in Culture... meh!
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  1. Old Comment
    Her's Avatar
    i literally read none of this i'm just here to tell you that we need to discuss the upcoming kill bill film
    Posted March 12th, 2012 at 8:57 PM by Her Her is online now
  2. Old Comment
    Esper's Avatar
    You write such good reviews. :D
    Posted March 13th, 2012 at 8:03 AM by Esper Esper is offline
  3. Old Comment
    TwilightBlade's Avatar
    Ooo I like FLCL! I've been wanting to start on Steins;Gate too. Shame you didn't like Samurai Champloo. It's probably one of the first anime I've ever seen (dub, though). Good memories. :)

    As for recommendations... Watch Gode Geass, Darker Than Black, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Blue Exorcist, Pandora Hearts, xxxHOLiC, or Bakemonogatari? That should keep you busy for a while, lol. o3o;;
    Posted March 13th, 2012 at 1:23 PM by TwilightBlade TwilightBlade is offline

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