Anime Me! #9: Crest of the Stars

Anime Me!  #9: Crest of the Stars

Crest of the Stars was released in Japan in 1999 and re-released in the United States by Bandai in 2001.  What makes this anime a bit different is that in most anime, it usually is an adaptation from a manga.  In this instance, the anime was born out of a trilogy of space opera science fiction novels written by Hiroyuki Morioka.  Beginning in 1999, the novels were adapted into multiple anime series.  The first of which ran for 13 episodes.  The initial trilogy was followed by another, ongoing novel series called Banner of the Stars, which in turn was also adapted into three sequel anime series, two recap movies, and an OVA called Crest of the Stars Lost Chapter.  A fourth anime series, adapting the third novel, Banner of the Stars III is an OVA released in Japan in 2005.

See sometimes I get in the mood for a good old fashioned space romp with battle scenes reminiscent of WWII, alien conquerors, and upheaval.  What you get is Crest of the Stars.  Surprisingly I was introduced to the sequel series first (Banner of the Stars).  I came into this anime not knowing it came first and actually tells the story of the 2 main characters first meeting.  Silly me.  In any event I was still not disappointed.

Crest of the Stars and it’s subsequent series follow Jinto Lynn, a young count whose world is taken over by the space-dwelling race of the Abh.  Through some back room dealings by his father, Jinto gains a position within Abh society and is sent off to school to learn the ways of Abh nobility.  The story of Crest of the Stars continues as he meets the young Abh princess, Lafiel as they are about to travel to military school for Jinto’s further training.  This is basically an origin story for the main characters.  Where both, in the midst of their travels, find themselves at the very beginnings of a huge war between the Abh Empire and the Four Nations Alliance of humankind.

One aspect that must be praised is the writing.  Not only did this anime begin life as a novel, the series are particularly notable for the fact that Morioka created an entire language (Baronh with an accompanying alphabet, Ath).  This language is utilized by the Abh when they speak, read, and write through out the series.

Crest of the Stars is by far a great ride.  At one point of the story you really do not know who the bad guy is.  As in most wars, each side believes they are right, and with this story it is no different as we are treated to both points of view.  Yet in what really is about the friendship between two people from two entirely different worlds.

Even for an anime, the music selection just works.  It has an orchestral reminiscent of the 1970’s Battlestar Galactica, or vintage Star Trek.  In this day and age of just throwing together the hottest flavor of the month for a soundtrack, it is relaxing to still hear theme music with as much emotion as the story it is representing.

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Anime Me! #8: Love Hina

Anime Me!  #8: Love Hina

Love Hina is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Ken Akamatsu.  A 24 episode anime version of the manga was produced by Xebec and aired in Japan from April 2000 to September 2000.  So popular it was soon followed by a bonus DVD Christmas and Spring television specials.  One draw back was the lack of a proper ending for the series.  A new OVA series was created Love Hina Again, originally rumored to be a complete sequel, this series was only 3 episodes long, quickly introduced new characters and a plot that slightly confuses the original.  It ultimately resolved everything rather quickly, due to the short length.  But it still gave a proper ending to the series.  Oddly enough, this anime is still considered one of the best selling anime, manga, and critically popular series worldwide.

The series itself is listed as a Shonen title, but is never recomended for anyone under 16 years old since there is many sexual innuendos littered through out.  So for this purpose I have listed them as both a Shonen and a Seinen.

The series follows the daily life of Keitaro Urashima, the manager of an all-girls dorm, as he attempts to pass the Tokyo University entrance exams and find the girl he promised to enter Tokyo U with when he was a child.  While it seems to be a Harem series, with the girls in the dorm all having personal opinions about Keitaro, some eventually have crushes on him.  Even with the initial main female character Naru, it doesn’t truly become a Harem until Keitaro meets Mutsumi and the debate starts as to which girl he really has made his childhood promise to.

While there is really never any doubt who Keitaro will end up with.  It is wall to wall comedy, as each time he either gets the nerve to approach Naru, or one of the other girls try to approach him there is always one thing or another that seems to get in the way.  The main running gag in the series has Keitaro trying to approach or say something to Naru, just to have it misunderstood or completely missed, usually resulting in Naru punching Keitaro (which sends him soaring into the sky).

When I initially heard about the ending before I started watching this series, I was hesitant.  I do not like anime which doesn’t resolve the story arc, nor if the ending is a cop-out.  I was happily surprised with the ending to the original series.  Without giving anything away, I felt the series did have a satisfactory ending.  Even with the Specials and the extra OVA.  That being said, you have to take this series for what it is.  A light hearted comedy.  It’s not hard to follow, and each female character in the dorm are very interesting.  Each has there own quirks and style.  Each has there own reasons for “liking” Keitaro, some bizarre, some funny, some down right sweet.  You start to have your favorites as the series progresses, and you even seem to root for different girls, even though the one he’s destined for is rather easy to predict.

I personally found myself yelling at my TV.  This is how I know for sure, that this anime is a keeper.  If you can be that invested in an anime where you can lose yourself, it’s a good one!

Anime Me! #7: Toradora!

Anime Me!  #7: Toradora!

Originally a Japanese  light novel series by Yuyuko Takemiya.  The series in total are ten novels released between 2006 and 2009, published by ASCII Media Works under their Dengeki Bunko label.  A manga was then adapted by Zekkyō and started serialization in the shōnen manga magazine Dengeki Comic Gao! formally by MediaWorks.

After a run by an internet radio show in 2008 hosted by Animate TV, a 25 episode anime adaptation produced by J.C.Staff aired in Japan on TV Tokyo starting in 2008 running through 2009.  The title Toradora! is derived from the names of the two main characters Taiga Aisaka and Ryūji Takasu. “Taiga” sounds like “tiger” in English, and tiger in Japanese is tora. “Ryūji” literally means “son of dragon” in Japanese, and a transcription of dragon into Japanese is doragon.  Thus Toradora!

Toradora! is one of those stories that just hooks you and never let’s go.  Now like most “high school dramas” it follows the lives a few characters and their interactions between them.  They go through normal everyday events and their daily struggles through high school.  A love triangle story develops and becomes interestingly twisted as each character finds their true feeling for the one’s they truly love.  At one point you actually do start rooting for certain characters to find each other.

We find Ryūji Takasu, the male protagonist and absolute neat-freak, who is becoming more frustrated by his own looks as he enters his second year of high school.  He has a very gentle personality, but his looks, mainly his eyes, make him look at first glance as an intimidating delinquent.  He is at a time in his life where he is looking for a girlfriend, but he is utterly hopeless about going about it.  From his constantly hungover mother, to his best-friend (Yūsaku), to the one girl (Minori) he has a secret crush on.  He unexpectedly knocks into “the school’s most dangerous animal”, Taiga Aisaka.  Who just happens to also be in his class, and is a good friend of Minori.

Taiga has a negative attitude towards others and just about everything (except Minori).  She will not hesitate to snap at anyone.  After meeting Ryūji, she takes an instant dislike of him, and literally smacks him upside the head.  Now here is where the story gets interesting.  As it so happens, Taiga has a crush on Yūsaku, and Taiga finds out about Ryūji’s affections towards Minori.  Both Ryūji and Taiga decide to team-up for the purpose of helping each win the hearts of the ones they love.  At first Taiga exploits the fact that Ryūji will do anything to get closer to Minori.  But along the way they open up to a side of each other that neither ever shows.

I won’t spoil anymore, and there is a lot more to view, side plots, and an added love triangle, not to mention much more to have laughs with.  On a side note the opening theme Pre-Parade by Kugimiya Rie & Kitamura Eri & Horie Yui is very catchy, and very appropriate for the series.  By far it is one of the most enjoyable themes in any anime.  Now to be truthful, I was very hesitant about this anime.  At first glance it seems like a Shojo type romance story, and in some regards it is.  But ultimately the story itself is what keeps this anime going.  It is a very interesting look into why you should never judge a book by it’s cover, as you never know what is inside, until you look.  Lesson learned…lol.

From the many, many comic gags and situations throughout the series, to the touching scenes towards the end.  There is no doubt Toradora! is one of the best stories I have seen.

Anime Me! #6: Fullmetal Alchemist

Anime Me!  #6: Fullmetal Alchemist (Brotherhood)

For the sake of this review this week, I am combining the 2003 anime (known as Fullmetal Alchemist) and the 2009 anime (also known as Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood).  They are both based off the 2001 manga of the same title.  The only difference being, the 2009 anime follows the manga story arc much closer and is currently still ongoing, as the 2003 anime was altered due to being produced at the same time as the manga itself.  Thus there are some major changes in the story arcs.  Believe it or not this was done on purpose and with permission from the creator, Hiromu Arakawa.  In an interview she explains that “…she would not like to repeat the same ending in both media, as well as to make the manga longer to work more in the development of the characters…”

Simply put I felt the original anime, even though it differed quite a bit from the finished manga, was one of the top notch Shonen anime of all time.  The 2003 anime spanned 51 episodes, and even culminated in a theatrical film that ended the story arc.  It was very engaging and exciting through out.  That being said, I was hesitate when I learned that a “reboot” of sorts was planned in 2009.  I was worried that the reboot was going to altered too many things, as is the “new” wave of Hollywood remakes in this day and age.  I was gladly and pleasantly surprised to find that the 2009 anime was following the manga much better than it’s original did.

The series itself, in both versions, follows the story of two alchemist brothers, Edward  and Alphonse Elric, who want to restore their bodies after a disastrous failed attempt to bring their mother back to life through alchemy.  You see, in their failed attempt, they paid a heavy price.  Edward loses a leg.  Alphonse on the other hand loses his entire body, nearly dies, and is only saved by his brother quick thinking.  Unfortunately by saving his brothers life (by affixing his soul to an empty suit of armor), Edward also loses his arm.

As you can tell, this anime is not exactly for anyone young and the scene above is very graphic and may not even be for everyone.  Such is life, and I am glad this pivotal scene remained as the common running theme of having consequences for every action (even well intended ones) still rings true.  As we pick up the story we find that Ed has equipped himself with metal prosthetics with the help of his mechanic and childhood friend Winry Rockbell, and Al is still affixed to the suit of armor.

Speaking of the suit of armor.  A common running gag within the series is Ed’s reactions to people calling him short, or people mixing him and his brother up.  Some people they meet already know of the Elric brothers and know that Ed is the oldest of the two.  But when they see Al’s very tall suit of armor, they just assume he is Ed because of his height.  Since Ed has a short fuse when it comes to his height, there is always an argument over the subject.

A few years after their failed attempt, the boys get involved with the State Military, because of their talent with Alchemy.  In this world, you soon realize that Alchemy has become much more prominent and relied upon scientific technique.  They take the opportunity to learn as much as they can in order to discover a way to return their injured and broken bodies along with their deceased mother.

Now if you are watching both anime, you will notice quickly that exact scenes and characters are changed in Brotherhood, but pretty much remain identical to the 2003 anime.  That is until you start reaching the 17th-18th episode.  You will then be treated to an entirely different story arc.  Some seemingly minor characters from the 2003 anime become much more prominent in Brotherhood, and some others are killed off.  After the stories diverge it really does become 2 separate animes, both very enjoyable.

As of today’s date, there are 57 episodes (60 that I know about) in the 2009 anime version, with many more to come.

Anime Me! #5: Angelic Layer

Anime Me!  #5: Angelic Layer

Officially marked as a shōnen style anime, this weeks review is Angelic Layer.  It is the anime I introduced my own daughter to, and she cannot get enough.  First off, originally developed by CLAMP. an all-female group formed in the 1980’s.  They are one of the most acclaimed group of artists in Japan, and very rarely make appearances.  Due to their work, they are credited as part responsible for the manga explosion in the United States.  They have an uncanny ability to write towards male and female readers and because of that will always straddle that line between shōnen and shōjo manga.

This title is CLAMP’s first work to use a different art style.  There is less emphasis on detail and more on posing and gestures.  This kind of artwork would be used on later titles, and become some of their most well known and popular series.  The manga was adapted into a 26-episode anime series produced by Bones which aired on TV Tokyo from April 2001 to September 2001.

Angelic Layer introduces us as the viewer to a universe that CLAMP will go to again and again in different and later series.  This notion that multiple titles and characters exist in the same world becomes part of the charm for most of their titles involved.  Some of CLAMP’s other works which are interconnected include Chobits, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, Cardcaptor Sakura, Clamp School Detectives, as well as one of there current running anime Kobato.

The primary character and protagonist of the story is Misaki Suzuhara, a seventh grader who just moved to Tokyo to live with her aunt.  She is inspired by a video she sees on a jumbotron outside of Tokyo Station and becomes infatuated to learn as much as she can about the popular live game called Angelic Layer.  The game itself is based on dolls, called “Angels” that can move and fight via mental control across a stage/ring called a “Layer”.  She meets many different characters, who all seem to be interconnected throughout the story.  While all this is going on, the meat of her back story takes shape, as she deals with not only adjusting to her new surroundings and budding relationships, but also her past about her mother, whom she has not seen in years.  Like other manga and the anime based on them, Angelic Layer’s ending as well as relationships were changed.  So I’ll stop there to avoid spoiling you any further.  LOL!

What I do extremely like about CLAMP’s work is the interconnection of the different series.  For instance Angelic Layer is a de facto prequel, without actually being one, to another CLAMP work called Chobits You can pick up each of these titles and understand the story with out the other, but can be happily surprised when certain characters or places make appearances.  The manga shows much more of this, but the anime has some information about certain characters as well.

For Angelic Layer specifically, it was the first opportunity to show my daughter something I enjoyed watching and she, enjoying it along with me.  The story itself is easy to follow, even with all the character relationships, and back story weaving in and out of the main plot.  Most of the “Angels” and trainers (called Deus) are female with one or two exceptions.  While the over all moral of the series is “believing in yourself is essential in accomplishing your goals”, there is more than enough action as the game itself can be a combination of boxing, wrestling, and video games all rolled into one.

By far Angelic Layer was exciting, emotional, action-packed, and hilariously funny as any anime can ever get.  It was the first CLAMP anime I watched, and it set me on a path to find more of their works to view.

Anime Me! #4: Chrono Crusade

Anime Me!  #4: Chrono Crusade

This week, I bring to you Chrono Crusade.  Easily one of the best presented anime on my all-time list.  The shonen manga was written and illustrated by Daisuke Moriyama.  The individual chapters were published in eight tankōbon volumes by Kadokawa Shoten from December 1999 to September 2004.  The anime itself first aired on Fuji TV in Japan on November 23, 2003 and ran for 24 episodes until June 10, 2004.

Of quick note, you will sometimes find the spelling of the name to be different.  Sometimes it is “Chrono”, and others “Chrno”.  In a bit of an embarrassment, Moriyama’s publishers during the original serialization apologized for the typo.  It has since been corrected as well as the logo itself has gone through a rehaul to be less confused with other stories that use the word “Chrono” in the title.

After the first few episodes you start to feel like it’s the same story.  It starts to have a “villain of the week” type plot in every episode.  As anyone who knows me, knows I don’t look fondly on “villain of the week” stories.  But the moment you feel this, it switches up and give you a swerve.  An actual story, lol!

Chrono Crusade is set in 1920’s.  The division between rich and poor is growing day by day during WWI.  At this time, a darkness is rising influencing the choices of mankind.  A fictional organization known as the Order of Magdalene fight demonic forces across America.  The main characters of Sister Rosette and her demon partner Chrono are part of this organization.  The main story arc that is revealed breaks up the seemingly “villain of the week” episodic nature, and starts driving that arc right through the end of the series.  We see that Sister Rosette and Chrono have more of a past than we are led to believe and they are connected spiritually as well as “physically” (I really do not want to spoil any further).

Sister Rosette Christopher is an impulsive, 16-year-old, and the protagonist of the story.  She seems like any other 16 year old, considering she is a demon hunter.  Except the swerve I mentioned earlier, involving her “contract” with her partner.  Again, I will not spoiler any further.  But from the moment we learn of the contract, the series switches from a “villain of the week” type story to more of a character driven one.  While her character is altered more in the anime than in the manga.  I feel it, in no way changes her character for the purpose of the story.

The anime follows the manga story through the events of Vol. 4, but it really diverges during a crucial point in the plot and as a result, creates different arcs and endings.  Most anime that diverges from the manga story, I have always felt falls flat.  In this instance, the only aspect that I disagree with is the final confrontation between Aion and Chrono.  While I will not reveal specifics, it feels way too fast for the build up it gets throughout the series.  I won’t reveal anything further, but I will say, it’s not even the end.

Let me say this.  I have NEVER watched a more emotional scene than the final 10 minutes of the final episode.  I DARE anyone, who has sat through the entire series, to watch the final scene…and NOT cry.  ANYONE!

Anime Me! #3: Black Lagoon

Anime Me!  #3: Black Lagoon

This week, I bring to you one of my all-time favorites.  Black Lagoon.  This is one of those rare animes that I have just immersed myself into.  I have the original Japanese manga books, as well as the English translations.  I have the anime DVD’s, as well as the anime soundtrack.  So it’s not going to take a genius to figure out, I love this anime.

Black Lagoon is a manga series written and illustrated by the great Rei Hiroe, and published in Shogakukan’s Sunday GX since 2002.  The anime series based on the manga aired in Japan from April 8, 2006 to June 24, 2006.  It totaled twelve episodes.  The second season was called Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage and ran for another 12 episodes beginning on October 2, 2006.  The third season was just recently announced as Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail, and has been slated as an OVA.

The story follows a team of misfit mercenaries known as Lagoon Company, who smuggle goods around the seas of Southeast Asia.  They are located in the fictional city of Roanapur in Thailand.  Their main means of transport is an 80-foot Elco-type PT boat named Black Lagoon.

Each episode basically consists of the team taking on a variety of missions in various Southeast Asian locations.  What really draws me into the anime is that the stories take on a realistic view.  Such as if cars or other vehicles are destroyed in one episode, they remain destroyed in subsequent episodes.  Even some instances were some injuries will continue on in later episodes.

We begin the anime with the introduction of Rock, your mild-mannered Japanese businessman, and he’s been used by his bosses in a situation he wants no part of.  While you immediately feel sorry for him.  It won’t be the last time he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He joins up with Lagoon Company and immediately gets at odds with most of them because of his moral compass.

While female anime characters are not exactly rare.  You will NEVER find one as tough, or as strong, or as talented as Revi.  She is the muscle for Lagoon Company and the protagonist for the series.  She is of Chinese descent and is very skilled with firearms.  What makes her character rare, is that she enjoys killing her enemies.  While normally calm, she tends to have some sort of internal emotional instability.  You can see this flourish with her interactions with Rock.  You can immediately tell, both of these characters need each other.  Rock needs Revi’s strong backbone, and Revi needs Rock’s moral stability.  This of course causes many fights, some very violent.  One of which almost costs Rock his life.  But it is soon realized that without each other, both characters just wouldn’t be the same.

But the anime doesn’t stop there.  Chock-full of many characters, and all of them are given a sort of depth, especially in the manga.  Some do border on cliche for anime, such as nuns & maids (both of whom are skilled in firearms).  But the characters never show any sign of just being thrown into the story.  Each has a purpose, and each are used to the fullest.  THAT is rare in any story telling in this day-and-age of old, tired, retread remakes.

Another aspect I enjoy is the humor.  A very dark humor that involves adult themes such as drugs, alcohol, guns, sex, and murder.  All usually during very violent scenes and gun battles.  One of my favorite is the Rock, Paper, Scissors game Revi plays with another character.  They are playing to see who will start killing first.  When Revi loses, she begins to whine like a child.

On the flip side, there are scenes of great depth, and thought.  The submarine scene with Rock and Revi comes to mind.  It is the first real instance where both Rock and Revi explain to each other their views.  Some scenes concern themselves with philosophical thought as well as emotions, actions, and responsibilities.

It’s a real treat to find an anime that can satisfy you with action, violence, thought, depth, and humor.  Quite literally you’d be lucky to get one of these with most.  With Black Lagoon, you get it all.