Sunday, January 30, 2011

Anime Review: Princess Nine


And now here’s part three of this baseball anime blog: Princess Nine.  You might want to check out parts one and two before you read this one, especially if you want background info on this show.
Keiko Himuro, the supposedly cold and unapproachable chairperson of Kisaragi Girls High School, has a hidden agenda which leads her to a controversial plan: form a baseball club for her all-girls school and have them compete in the national tournament which is traditionally all boys.  To achieve this she begins to recruit super players to bring to this new team, her eyes mainly on Ryo Hayakawa, an amazingly brilliant pitcher who regularly strikes out grown men.  As the team of young girls begins to form Ryo and her new teammates set their sights set on one unified dream: to make it to the finals of the tournament at Koshien Stadium within three years.
This anime is in many ways the perfect opposite of Big Windup! as far as a high school baseball cartoons go.  Aside from the fact that the club in this show is all-female Princess Nine focuses on characters over the sport itself and grand sport spectacle over great details and analysis.  As a result the games go much, much faster here.  If I recall I don’t  think any game lasted more than two episodes (As opposed to the eleven episode monster present in the other show).  This is mainly a good thing.  The series is significantly better at grabbing and maintaining my attention and lacks the strong stretch of tediousness present in Big Windup!  There are other side effects as well.  For one, because we don’t go into every minute of their games there are plenty of episodes left over for character development, but more on those episodes’ effectiveness later.  It also kind of sacrifices any real chance to view their opponents as more than the nameless, faceless opposition that Oofuri went to such great lengths to avoid.  I wish there was a middle ground between the two show series in this regard because it seems like one does too much focusing on them and the other doesn’t do enough, but at the end of the day if it creates more opportunity to get to know our actual protagonist I’d go with the latter.
A better show would have been "The Princess of Tennis"
I really like the opening song “Princess Nine” by Miki Nagasawa and Mami Kingetsu.  Shut up, I don’t why.  I just love listening to it.  I even liked it when they play a kind of “midi” version of the chorus during the eyecatch during the more melancholy episodes (So sad, yet so beautiful…).   I spent hours the other day trying to get a copy of the full version to no avail.  I guess that’s what I get for trying to find a song from an anime that ended thirteen years ago.  I’ve depressed myself…I want that song so badly!!!
The animation is dated as hell and looks pretty awful by today’s standards, but that shouldn’t be too surprising since it originally aired in 1998.  I can tell you honestly that it doesn’t look much worse than Kaze no Stigma did despite coming out nine years earlier.  Still this show suffers from a large amount of speed lines to simulate movement and tons of stock footage, especially in regard to Ryo’s pitching and ESPECIALLY when the show reaches its final stretch.  In keeping with its arcade unrealism format the character designs standout more than last time many of the characters designs are purposely bright and just about everyone has a hair color impossible for most Japanese people and also most human beings in general (“You gotta have blue hair”, and all that).  That’s fine.  I’m not one to shy away from such weirdness in anime, plus it helps me to tell the characters apart.  However their uniforms are…odd.  They basically all wear shorts, sometimes drawn as daisy-dukes, with leggings underneath that still leave exposed leg as opposed to every other baseball team in the show.  Now I looked it up and it seems that their gear is some kind of combination of softball and baseball uniforms (I guess.  I’m still not 100% certain that’s true at all) so I suppose it may have something to do with the fact that about the half the team were softball players before the series starts but considering the large amount sliding into bases these girls do it’s a wonder they have any skin left on their legs at this point.  Also their uniforms happen to be pink.  The only girls in the in the league wear pink.  Yeah.  Tellingly their coach wears a different uniform altogether.
Like Spider-Man Ryo only cares about what makes her feel better
Now as I said before there’s lots more space for character development here due to the lack of time consuming black holes games.  So of course they don’t use the time properly.  I mean, why would they?  It’s not like we as viewers are expected to give a shit about the characters we’re watching.   Oh wait…
Basically some of the girls on the team get shafted as far as development goes, sometimes is warranted but mostly not.  If any show would have benefited from a more ensemble cast approach it would be this one.  Unlike Oofuri the writers seem to make a token effort to establish personalities traits for the main cast right away.  The problem is that we barely focus on them enough to consider them more than just two-dimensional figures.  It’s not all bad; Izumi Himuro, Keiko’s daughter and genius tennis player, comes off very well.  She’s deeply flawed but is clearly a complex person that we genuinely feel sorry for and end rooting for throughout the show, despite her confrontational personality.  In fact if I were to say anyone should have been the main character of this show it should have been Izumi: that would have been a far deeper affair than we got.  Ryo obviously got the most screen time, but more on her in a minute.  Our attention is not given to a lot of the other girls which is a shame because some of them seemed kind of cool.
For example Yuki, a near silent former softball star who may or may not be insane, was frustratingly underused until way late in the show and then she faded quietly back in to the background where she came from.  Weak.   In their debut episodes a large deal was made about the recruitment of Seira, a former track star turned delinquent, and Koharu, a talented batter who’s the one person on the team who really played baseball beforehand, but after they join they pretty much do nothing but add background noise, especially Koharu who seems to only have a personality when the camera is on her for more than three minutes at a time…which is almost never.  In fact she has an important character moment within the last two episodes which is supposed to help create tension for the final game. Too bad the show didn’t bother to make me give a shit about her before that episode; otherwise I might have actually been invested in it.  Another girl, Hikaru basically does nothing but spout encouraging words and play straight man to her more interesting/quirky teammates but then, near the finale, she does something I thought was so weird and unique for a Japanese high school anime that I immediately found myself far more interested in her story than the main plot-Oops, the show’s over, sucks to be me.
An entire episode was dedicated to Seira's recruitment
She then does dick all for the rest of the show
So if we don’t spend ten to fifteen minutes hearing long bouts of baseball strategy being mumbled by the main characters every damn episode then where did the free space go if not to develop the cast?  Why it went to the Love Triangle between Ryo, Izumi and Izumi’s best friend Hiroki that was the main focus of the series, of course!  “But Beta,” you no doubt are asking. “If this is a sports anime why would they dedicate so much time to something that’s not the sport in question?”  Hell if I know.  If I were to guess I’d say it’s because they’re girls and, despite a major theme of this show being about overcoming sexism, the writers couldn’t help but write their protagonist as a character defined by her feeling for a dude.  Yay feminism?
The main problem with this is that far too much time is dedicated to it.  They really needed to pull it back quite a bit because it steals a lot of time away from other cast members.  It isn’t wrapped up into two minutes before the show ends meaning the final game, the climax we’ve been building towards the last twenty-four episodes, is second fiddle to Ryo’s boy problems.  Hiroki was actually kind of neat though because, unlike many males in anime, he was completely upfront about his feelings for Ryo from pretty much the second he meets her and never dances around it.  Izumi too is pretty alright partly because of her complexity as a character and therefore her actions are pretty much understandable and fascinating, if questionable.  No, the weak link is Ganmo-chan Ryo.  The main reason this plot goes on as long as it does is that the girl just seems to refuse to believe that Hiroki’s feelings are genuine, despite the fact that he repeatedly tells her to her face how he feels and repeatedly shows displays his affection.  Gah!
Yeah, get excited Hikaru!  You're an important main-
Oh wait, no you're not.  My bad
Speaking of Ryo she sucks the big one.  She’s not as bad as Ren Mihashi but she’s still pretty damn annoying.  There’s the “Love Triangle” bullshit for one, but also it her character.  She is hot-blooded and extremely proficient in a skill that is essential for the team to in; those traits are important for a protagonist of a sports anime.  But unfortunately she’s a very weak willed and selfish little girl.  One time she and Izumi had a batter duel (Izumi on bat, Ryo pitching) with the agreement that if Izumi could avoid getting struck out then the baseball club would dissolve.  However Ryo, sensing that Izumi hated her because of Hiroki, gives her an easy pitch because she felt bad about the whole thing.  So, despite it screwing over her teammates and their dreams she willingly allows the club to be dissolved because she was afraid she had hurt Izumi’s widdle feelings.  Sorry Hikaru and Yuki but it looks like you two just lost your expensive baseball scholarships.  Enjoy dropping out of high school (Izumi later gets the team reinstated).  Much later Ryo spends the last two episodes moping about her love life and goes on to pitch the worst she’s ever done leading her team to a very bad spot score-wise.  It takes TWO DIFFERENT STERN PEP TALKS to get her to wake the hell up and play the damn the game.   You suck, Ryo!  You are the opposite of a Strong Female Lead you weepy asshole!  You’re selfish, you’re a pushover, and you end up defining yourself by a man.   Why wasn’t Izumi the man character again?
Also the ending was disappointing.  It ends in a way that left me very unsatisfied.  I wish there was a dénouement to end things, or at least some actual falling action.  As it is its Love Triangle Resolution-Game Making Play-Credits.  No epilogue?  No sequel either, which really sucks because I think that this is one of those shows that would have greatly benefitted from an additional twenty-six episodes.  That would have likely solved a lot of those issues I had with the show.  Oh well.
Also Izumi has mommy issues.  Just throwing it out there
Phew.  All that said I really did enjoy this show more than I thought I would.  When I was a kid I hated this show, but it grew on me over the viewing.  It has a lot of major problems that keep it from being a particularly good anime but it was still pretty fun to watch.  It certainly was much easier to watch than Big Windup! , especially considering it’s a little on the older side.  Its main character is upsetting, its “Will They/Won’t They Plot” takes over the show, and it might actually be sexist.  Even so it’s something I can stand watching without any real problem, which makes it the clear winner in this little exchange between baseball shows.  The lesson is apparently that being really frustrated is still better than being really bored.
I give Princess Nine 3 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.

Pros
-Some neat, if underutilized, characters
-Decent pacing
-Awesoem theme song!
Cons
-Bad main character
-Terrible romantic sub plot actually the main plot
-Dated animation in conjunction with additional problems
-Not enough character development

Anime Review: Big Windup! Oofuri


As promised here is the review of Big Windup! Oofuri, otherwise known as Everyone Cries All the Time.  For info about the show check out yesterday's blog.
In middle school Ren Mihashi was the ace starting pitcher of his baseball club, a position he likely received because his grandfather owned the school; a fact his teammates merciless bullied and tortured him over all three years he was there.  His slow pitches are attributed to their team’s losing streak but, despite believing this wholeheartedly, Ren refused to give up the mound.  In the end he transfers to a new high school and decides to quit baseball forever, his self-confidence now in the toilet.  However his first day at Nishiura High School his is practically forced to join the school’s newly formed baseball club despite his reservations.  However his new coach, catcher and other teammates quickly realize that there’s more to Mihashi’s pitching than even he realizes.
Let me get this out of the way before I forget to mention it: I was pretty convinced that Mihashi and Abe had some sort homosexual romance thing going on.  I had to check online, which I desperately try to avoid for shows I haven’t watched (At least for the purposes of this blog), just to check whether this was supposed to be a Yaoi Anime (Boy Love).  I’m still not convinced these two won’t eventually hook up.  This is obviously not a negative, as there's nothing wrong with a little "guy-on-guy",  but I was distracted by it in the first few episodes.   They don’t make a particularly cute couple, by the way.
Ren Mihashi: Makes emo kids seem reasonable
The animation on this show is actually pretty decent for the most part.  I feel like the last year I’ve been watching a lot of shows with either dated and/or mediocre art or sometimes ones where the budget seems to give out during certain episodes but Big Windup! stays pretty solid throughout.  It’s not the prettiest anime I’ve ever seen but no news is good news in this case.  Although Mihashi’s bizarre facial expressions are pretty damn disgusting to look at, I’m afraid; I guess it’s not all peaches and lollipops.  I will soon get into the bad side of the characters but I did really like some of the major characters on the Nishiura Baseball Team.   Abe the catcher, the main reason Mihashi can function at all, is a control freak but has a superior strategic mind.  Hanai is the very reluctant captain and straight man/big brother-type to his more eccentric teammates.  Tajima is the batting genius who is the friendliest and most outgoing guy you’re likely to meet, who thinks nothing of causally chatting about his masturbation habits.  Um…yeah.  Look he’s better than he sounds, trust me.  Also their coach, Maria Momoe who is very likely an Author Avatar of sorts for manga creator Asa Higuchi, is also a big and scary fun personality that is a great for a supporting character.   My point is that the cast, at least key members of the cast, are entertaining clash of personalities that would make for an extremely enjoyable Slice of Life story about coming of age that uses baseball as the backdrop and activity that turns them into comrades.  You know, like The Sandlot.
FOR-EV-ER.  FOR-EV-ER
Except that this isn’t a Slice of Life series.  This is a sports series.  Now I’m not saying that just because the main focus is on a sport that automatically makes a show (Or whatever) bad.  I saw a bit of American Football anime (Seriously?) Eyeshield 21 and greatly enjoyed what I saw (And I’ve heard that the manga is actually much, much better) and I enjoy many different sports films (I love Remember the Titans).  But in this case I feel like it all basically falls apart, at least in regards to my own taste.  It comes down to two severe problems.
Problem #1: There’s just too much focus on the games themselves.  After 25 episodes there were a grand total of only TWO games played.  Why only two games?  Because those two games take FOREVER to finish.  The first game, which is a practice game that won’t count, takes about four episodes to conclude which admittedly isn’t that bad.  The second game, which indeed has higher stakes, takes ELEVEN GODDAMN EPISODES!  That is waaay too much for a show of this size.   That’s nearly half the series and is more than half with the first game taken into consideration.  The big problem is that we sacrifice a lot of character moments outside of the field.  I liked a good chunk of these characters but I feel like I’m not getting my money’s worth from them during these games.  I’d much rather see them having Slice of Life hijinks like inabilities to pass tests or bad luck with girls in addition to the baseball.  For example aside from typical “sport movie moments” most of Tajima’s best scenes and funniest lines occur when the team is just hanging out somewhere.   This is a kid who is so happy-go-lucky that he doesn’t understand the concept of shame!  It writes itself, people!
Also the games themselves are extremely boring.  I think it’s partly because I find this particular sport to be boring as shit, though to be fair I don’t find Major League dull at all and it’s the same sport.  It’s just so amazingly detailed in its execution but that may be the point and perhaps it’s great for someone who really likes baseball.  For me it was just a torture session with few and far spots of fun here and there.  It took me a long while to finish this show because I literally was dreading having to go back to watch those boring ass games.  Seriously one whole episode will likely just be one half of an inning, not a whole inning, where nothing significantly relevant to the game, and thus the plot, happens at all.    BORING!
Problem #2: Ren Mihashi is a lousy lead character.  He might have been okay as a supporting character with one of the other guys I mentioned as a protagonist, or maybe if it was just an ensemble piece with no one in specific taking the lead like in Azumanga Daioh, but as it is he is a pain and the makes watching this show painful.  As part of the back-story for the story Mihashi was heavily bullied by his former teammates to the point that it absolutely destroyed his self-confidence and ability t interact with other people.  He is a bag of mental problems who thinks that every single person hates him no matter how much they tell him they don’t.  It’s like this:
Abe: Nice pitching, Mshashi!
Mihashi: [Inwardly] Abe raised his voice at me.  He must be mad about how badly I’m pitching…[Starts crying]
Just like that, except for several looooong hours.  Plus he cries at the drop of a hat.  It doesn’t take much, just a gust of wind, and the guy is balling his eyes out and trying to hide from his new teammates.  I can’t get behind a weak willed guy like that for an entire series.  True enough I liked Ikari Shinji from Neon Genesis Evangelion (Until End of Evangelion, at least.  Then he starts to lose me) and he was similarly messed up at the beginning of his show but in his defense his mother died then his father abandoned him; a least he willingly piloted giant robot to balance it out.   Sure Mihashi gets some important character development over time but his core problems never go away.  It’s the difference of starting off being completely intolerable and then becoming slightly less intolerable overtime.  Sure, he hasn’t taken Ayano Kannagi’s throne of suck away from her but that’s like comparing Michael Jordon in his prime to a real talented kid playing street ball.
"Who'd want to be in your stupid blog anyway, you jerk!"
Speaking of characters one of the other big reasons the main cast don’t get to do much as I’d like and the games take so long is that the show insists on focusing on many, many minor characters appearing on other teams.  The worst culprit is technically Motoki Haruna, Abe’s old pitcher whom he dislikes, but in his defense the guy was the main focus of a one-shot manga Higuchi wrote prior to this manga.  But most of the others seem just like its taking screen time away from the characters I want to see.  I like the idea that the opposition aren’t nameless, faceless jerks who we’re just supposed to blindly hate but I think it’s taken a bit too far making an already uncomfortably long series longer.  Plus there’s a lot of crying in general in this show.  Maybe I just don’t have enough team activities in my life because I don’t get it.  I myself only cry during Pixar films [EDIT: And Hayao Miyazaki films too, apparently].  Weirdly most of the secondary characters are completely worthless as it is.  How worthless?  On the list of characters I liked earlier in the review I was about to add one more name but as I was researching I realized that it was actually two different characters who acted similarly the whole damn time.  They’re all interchangeable: enthusiastic young teenage boys.  Yay. [EDIT: As I now understand it most of the crying is likely due to the fact that a loss in the summer tournament means that third year students, the seniors, most likely won't be playing high school baseball ever again due to graduation.  It would be emotional for anyone.  Except me, of course.  Because I'm too manly for that]
The cast of Big Windup!
(Not too sure who's who...)
Also this show doesn’t end, it stops.  As you may know this is one of my hot buttons.  This is certainly due to the fact that the manga was unfinished at the time the anime was being produced.  Unlike the other shows I’ve bitched about when it comes to this problem Big Windup! has a pretty good reason: more episodes were later made for a second season.  Of course that season wouldn’t come out for another three years and it certainly hasn’t been brought over to America yet, but hey, that still makes finale more tolerable than Kaze no Stigma and Black Blood Brothers.  Therefore I’ve decided not to hold it against them...for now.
Ultimately. this show dulled me to death, but what really bothered me about this anime was that I really liked most of the main characters and wanted to see them do more.  What I got was a ton of analytical mumbo jumbo about a sport I don’t care about.  Hurrah.   I feel like this might be too harsh on the show because, after all, it technically isn’t as awful as most of the other show I gave low scores to but disappointment is a depressing pill to shallow.  This should have been a better series; it should have been more fun and, God willing, it should have been more heartwarming.   Still once Season 2 hits our shores I’ll likely pick it up again.  Maybe next time I’ll appreciate it more.  I’ll recommended it to baseball fans and people who like to watch mundane anime focusing on Japanese life (Though there’s better examples out there), but not everyone will enjoy it.  I didn’t.
Oh Abe; he's not good enough for you
Also…FUNimantion Entertaiment? Your trailer for this show sucked.  Stop making stupid trailers.  I’m seriously getting pissed off by your misleading advertisements.
I give Big Windup! Oofuri 2 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.
Pros
-Some fun characters
-Consistent animation
Cons
-So dull I actually hesitated putting in the DVD
-Awful, awful main character


Don't forget to come back later today for a review of Princess Nine!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Beta Versus Baseball Anime


Koshien Stadium, in all its magical splendor
I really dislike baseball.  I hated it growing up and now as an adult I’m still pretty sour on it.   I find it so dull.  Its one of the few sports that even watching it live doesn’t get me excited.  So of course when I came across a Japanese anime about baseball my first reaction was to throw it in a fire, but for the sake of fair play I decided to watch and review it instead.  Then I remembered that I had access to another, older anime about also baseball.  Therefore, because I apparently hate myself, I decided to watch both series at once in order to compare and contrast.  So obviously this has been the worst month of my life.
Before we get into those two anime I wanted to talk a bit about baseball in Japan.  This may surprise you if you aren’t all that familiar with Japan but baseball is the most popular sport in the country.   Brought over in 1878 the sport grew in popularity over the years until it became the country’s national pasttime.  It’s so ingrained into their culture that they even made their own word for it: yakyu, which literally means field ball.  Today professional baseball in Japan is played in Nippon Professional Baseball, a organization that despite a few rule changes in not very dissimilar from Major League Baseball…except that NPB is apparently a tiny bit more racist/xenophobic.
This popularity extends into their high schools as competition between different schools is a big deal there.  There is a very large tournaments where schools from all over the country battle each other for the right to meet at the finals at Koshien Stadium.  There are two main tournaments apparently take place in spring and summer respectively.  The more important one seems to the “Summer Koshien” which is the largest scale amateur sporting event in Japan.  That’s pretty cool.  I may not be the biggest sports fan in the world but I do love overblown tournaments!
Pictured: The Super Hulk Tournament
Not Pictured: Dignity
By the way the Summer Koshien is where both the anime I’ll be reviewing take place for the most part.
The first show is called Big Windup! Oofuri, though in Japan it was known as just Big Windup! or rather Ookiku Furikabutte (Oofuri is the nickname for the original title).  It was based on a manga by Asa Higuchi starting in 2003 and still running today (Though it’s currently on a year long hiatus).  A twenty-five episode (And one OVA episode) anime adaptation was created in 2007 by A-1 Pictures and licensed for America by, who else, FUNimation Entertainment.  In a surprising show of dedication manga artist Higuchi, a former softball player and a HUGE fan of baseball, actually researched the sport for ten years in preparation for creating this comic.  I don’t even have the patience to research for two weeks let alone ten years.  In any case the hard work shows as Oofuri is one of the most detailed works I’ve ever seen.
The second anime is Princess Nine, titled Princess Nine Kisaragi Girls High Baseball Club (Really? Are you sure it’s a long enough title?) in Japan.  This cartoon won’t count towards my anime experiment because I watched it long ago.  In fact it was one of the anime  first series I ever successfully completed watching beginning to end…though I HATED it back then, probably because I was more than a little sexist as a kid.  Unlike Oofuri this was an original anime.  It aired in 1998 and created by Pheonix Entertainment, reaching America via ADV Films in 2001.  So good luck finding this show now because ADV seems to be out of the anime business these days.
Both these shows have many similarities but some very important differences.  Both shows focus on a newly formed high school baseball club that are depicted as the underdogs in the upcoming Summer Koshien (One because they were made up of freshmen, the other because they were all girls) and both have a very talented pitcher leading them to their surprising victories.  The main difference, other than Princess Nine being all ladies, is that the scale of realism.  With Big Windup! obviously a lot of effort went into making the story as true to real baseball as possible.  Princess Nine on the other hand has a lot more fantastical elements including baseball maneuvers that borderline being super powers (“Lighting Ball”, “Wave Motion Swing”) and possibly aliens.  Maybe.  If I were to compare the two it’d like comparing a licensed professional spots simulator video game to an arcade style Mario sports game.
This is pretty much the same level of realism as "Princess Nine"
I’ll talk more about both these shows in much greater details later, but I can tell you that I feel a strange sense of fascination with the Summer Koshien after dedicating so many hours to fiction depicting it even though I’m still fairly negative on the sport itself.  Tomorrow I’ll be posting the reviews of Big Windup! followed by Princess Nine later that day.  It’ll be a double header of reviews (GET IT?!?!?!?!).
I want to go to there
For more info on Japanese baseball click here and here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Beta's Super Awesome Unofficial 83rd Academy Awards Pre-Blog


"At last I'll have the respect of my self-important peers"
This week the nominations of the 83rd Academy Awards came out.  Since I went to great lengths to watch as many movies with Oscar buzz as possible I figured I may as well write about the show as well.  There’s a lot of stuff to talk about but let me start out by admitting that I haven’t seen the vast majority of the films nominated (Mainly because I don’t go out of my way to watch documentaries but also there’s more than a few films I never even heard of until this week).  Of the ten films up for Best Picture I believe I’ve only seen six of them.  So I won’t be making any real predictions since there’s a lot of unknown factors from my point of view.  Also, as I’ve tried to imply throughout this blog, I’m really just a normal, everyday guy.  I’m not a film student or a movie expert.  Honestly I don’t know what’s supposed to go into making a good film, I just know what I like and don’t like.  So things like cinematography, editing and art direction are totally over my head.  I’ll stick to talking about the “major” awards, I suppose.
Anyway before we get into the awards themselves here are some random thoughts about this year’s show:
-As I predicted there will be no award for Anne Hathaway this year; I guess Love and Other Drugs was more “Romantic Comedy” than “Art” after all.  It’s just as well though, because now she can host the show without the baggage of also being up for an award hanging over her head.  She’s pretty charismatic and likable so I expect she’ll do a fine job as host
-Aaaaand James Franco is nominated for Best Actor.  D’oh!   As the other host he’ll totally have the baggage of being up for an award hanging over his head.  Maybe I’m a dick but I think it’s weird to be hosting the show when you yourself are among those being honored.  In general the whole notion of this award show seems self-gratifying but even more so with this debacle.
-Let Me In and Waiting for Superman didn’t get nominated at all and The Town only got a Best Supporting Actor nomination.  How the hell did that happen?  I heard nothing but amazing things about all three of those movies, especially The Town, all damn year.  Now I’m not sure if this is warranted or not, since I haven’t seen any of them, but Waiting for Superman is literally the only documentary I’ve ever even heard of from 2010 and yet it didn’t make the list.  Weird man, weird.
Best Adapted Screenplay
-I’m a little surprised to see Toy Sotry 3 on this list.  I guess Hollywood has a looser definition of “Adaptations” than I do
-Aside from 127 Hours and Winter’s Bone I’ve seen all these films.  I think as far as screenplays go I prefer The Social Network, but True Grit is an extremely close second
Best Screenplay
-Um, yeah.  I’ve only seen The Fighter and Inception.  Also I’m not sure which script I like better.  Probably The Fighter.  Yeah, let’s go with that.
-Also what the hell is “Another Year”?  I literally never heard of this movie until the nominations were announced this past Tuesday.  Am…am I too pedestrian for it?
Best Animated Feature
-Okay, first of all this entire category is a goddamn joke.  We all know that it was made to keep animated films out of the “gown-up” category.  As you likely are aware I consider animation to be just as valid as live action so I tend to get a little bummed out by this part of the Oscars.  That said what’s the point of having it at all when Toy Story 3 is also nominated for Best Picture?  Doesn’t that, you know, sort of invalidate the whole thing when one of the nominees is also considered one of the best movies of the year and the others are not?
-Both Tangled and Despicable Me were not nominated.  Okay now I’m starting to get pissed off.  Ignoring that both of those flicks were nominated for Golden Globes why in God’s name did the Academy deicide to leave them out of the category when there are only three movies listed?  That’s the lowest nomination count of any category with the exception of Best Make-Up.  I don’t know about Tangled but Despicable Me was certainly a good enough film to stand next to Toy Story 3 (Though I wouldn’t ever bet on it to win).  I genuinely feel insulted.
Best Supporting Actress
-Oh hell no!  They did, they really did.  I prayed they wouldn’t but they did.  They nominated Hailee Steinfeld for Best Supporting Actress despite the fact that SHE’S THE F**KING LEAD CHARACTER IN TRUE GRIT!!!  As I said in my review of the film her character is clearly the protagonist and it is clearly her story that we’re following.  What the hell is the requirement for being nominated for Best Actress?  Seriously!  Apparently I don’t know so someone please explain it to me!   What about Steinfeld’s role in that flick made her a supporting character?   The only reason I can think of for all this nonsense, and this is really cynical, is that the Best Actress category was so loaded that they couldn’t fit her in so instead they shoehorned her into this one so she would still be rewarded for a job well done.  If that’s the case then that means that the Oscars are not only self-gratifying but they’re also politically motivated.  Screw Hollywood.
-Anyway ignoring Steinfeld’s shameful placement on this list Melissa Leo would have been my pick to win except that I haven’t seen two of the movies listed.  And the movie I haven’t seen always seems to win awards like this.  Amy Adams probably won’t win but if she does good for her.  She did a fine job in The Fighter
Best Supporting Actor
-Well…I sure as shit didn’t see any of the movies in this category other than The Fighter.  Huh.  Anyway Christian Bale was super fantastic in this movie, better than anyone else in any other film I saw this year, so I’ll be pretty bummed out if he doesn’t win
Apparently he and I are done professionally
Best Actress
-Well well well, I’m noticing a distinct lack of Hailee Steinfeld in this category.  Regardless like the last section I’ve only seen one of the movies listed, Black Swan, so I’m no judge of what’s what here.  So…go Natalie Portman, I guess
-I didn’t see Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine but I did recently see Michelle Williams in Incendiary.  That’s just as good, right?  Anyway does her appearance here make her the most successful actor to escape from Dawson’s Creek?
Best Actor
-Nothing really to say here other than I hope Jessie Eisenberg wins because, unless he finds a way to gain and/or showcase a greater range of acting abilities I doubt he’ll be getting another shot here.  I earnestly hope he proves me wrong.  Plus if he wins we get to watch him freak out from the attention.  Best acceptance speech…EVER
-Oh yeah, I’m actually surprised that James Franco has earned a nomination.  Not that I have any problem with him it just that the first time I ever saw him was in Spider-Man he was awful in that flick (Though to be fair he was pretty awesome in Spider-Man 3).  Assuming 127 Hours is as good as I’ve heard he may have come a long way
I heard he's some sort of cognitive genius/mutant
F'N Metal
Best Director
-Apparently there’s a list of directors who have been snubbed in this category as long as my arm.  I’m not really sure what goes in to getting nominated for this award.   I assumed, probably wrongly, that if the movie you directed was good enough to get nominated for best picture than you yourself would automatically be one of the bets directors of the year.  Meh
-I guess if I had to choose I’d pick Black Swan due to how surreal it was.  As it’s not up to me I have no idea who will actually win
Best Picture
-Have I mentioned how pretentious this whole show feels?  Not just this year but every year?  Maybe I’m just bitter because the majority of actors I’ve known have treated me like dirt.  Anyway…
-For the second year in a row ten movies have been nominated for Best Picture.  That feels bloated to me, plus I’m feel like Toy Story 3 probably wouldn’t have made it to the list without it.  Hey, I liked it alight but I don’t think it was nearly s good as most of the other movies here
-Unlike damn near every other category I have seen the majority of the films here, but I suspect that one of the few I didn’t, The King’s Speech, may be the one that ends up winning.  Now it’s not because I assume it was fantastic (I haven’t seen it, I don’t know) but it seems that there’s an enormous amount of buzz surrounding it plus it has the most nominations of any film
-If you read my Top Ten of 2010 list you’ll note that Inception was my favorite movie of the ones listed here.  But c’mon; no way that’ll win.  It’s not “artsy” enough.    I’m pulling for True Grit but I’m not sure the stars are in my favor.  Fingers crossed though
Oh.  Oh yeah, Winter's Bone.  Great film, man
(Yeah, Beta's never even heard of this flick)

The 83rd Academy Awards is currently scheduled to air February 27th 2011 on ABC.  I plan on watching and taking notes and uploading them soon after.  The Oscars are usually either really fun or really goddamn boring depending on the host and how long they spend stroking each others' egos (They’re stroking something, anyway).   If you have any predictions or thoughts feel free to leave a comment.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Anime Review: Soul Eater


 Another anime?  [Groan] Okay, let’s do this.  Soul Eater is based on the manga of the same name by Atsushi Okubo.  Studio Bones adapted it into a 51 episode anime starting in 2008.  Bones is famous for such anime as Eureka 7, Wolf’s Rain, Darker Than Back (Which I’m currently watching) and the mega popular Fullmetal Alchemist (Both the original and the new one “Brotherhood”).  So yeah, these guys have a pretty good track record of popular cartoons.  Those guys at FUNimation Entertainment brought it to the US just last year (2010), though their trailer for the show is god awful and they should feel bad about how misleading it is.   Anyway Soul Eater is basically what happens when you mix Naruto and Harry Potter, set it in Halloween Town from The Nightmare Before Christmas, remove any excess logic you might find in the ingredients and then set the blender to “Action Comedy”.   Now that may sound really good to you and if it does God bless you.  For the rest of us this will likely sound like a train wreck of overdone ideas waiting to happen.
By the way if I’m reading this correctly it looks like it took me over three months to finish watching this show.  I had to start and stop a few times sometimes going weeks without watching it.  Part of this is because I was distracted by other shows (Samurai 7 especially).   Most of this was because it was such a goddamn long show.  It’s about twice as many episodes as the longest show I previously reviwed on this blog.  Do you have any idea how depressing it is to try to power through thirteen episodes of anime only to realize you’re only about a quarter of the way through it?
Ahem.  Moving on.
Nom nom nom
Years ago Shimigami/Lord Death (Depending on if which language you’re watching this in) created an academy for weapon meisters and their demon weapon partners (Humans who can take the form of weapons.  Why or how?  Hell if I know) hone their skills in order to battle the forces of evil that populate the world.  Enter: Maka Albarn, a smart, cheerful, but surprisingly intense and determined meister student whose goal is to turn her partner Soul Eater into one of Lord Death’s personal death scythe weapons.  To do this Soul must absorb 99 evil human souls and one soul of a witch, who are the main enemies of their school.
Despite the fact that the show itself looks like a giant bag a of thrown together B.S. meant to cash in on several different franchises Soul Eater is actually one of the best anime I’ve seen since I started this experiment last April.  In fact for almost the entire first half of this show I was pretty sure that, short of any unforeseen disasters, I would be awarding it my second Perfect Panda Score for an anime.  Well….unforeseen disasters did indeed strike.  The show fell for below the expectations I had for it in the beginning and fails to be on the same level as Gurren Lagann.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Six seconds before Maka takes your soul
All things considered this is a really fun anime.  The world presented is wacky but action packed and is extremely bright and colorful.   It follows a similar formula that Gurren Lagann did, mixing slapstick comedy and action while throwing out logic in favor of BECAUSE IT’S COOL.  I really dug the fight scenes for the most part, although I noticed some minor stock footage issues here and there.  Plus the main charcter, despite her partner being the title character, is clearly Maka, a young girl.  How awesome is it that a female is the protagonist of what is basically a shonen anime (Though I will likely get into this subject later, for those of you who don’t know “shonen” is a style of manga and anime that refers to its demographic, “young boys”, rather than subject matter.  I’m not sure why but many of these show send up targeting much older viewers in America than originally intended).   Sure she may be a little insecure for my usual taste and her skirt may be alarming short for such a young girl but at the end of the day she is a strong and determined female lead character and does not play second fiddle to her male co-stars.  That’s really important.  Also one of the main villains, Medusa, may be one of my favorite anime villains ever (I’m still deciding).  She’s just so sickeningly evil. She’s basally the magical version of a mad scientist and she seems convinced that the whole world is part of her experiment.  Her many acts of sadism over the course of show are all completely unforgivable and she herself is an unrepentant and irredeemable monster.  I can’t think of many villains that I wanted to be horribly murdered for her crimes as much as her.
SCIENCE!!!
I also liked the character designs.  Though not everyone is a winner the main cast and the villains all have (Mostly) unique looks that are visually striking and sometimes hilarious.  Though the soundtrack kind of escapes my memory I really liked the various opening and ending themes to varying degrees (Except the second ending.  Yuck) but I’m especially fond of the first ending “I Wanna Be” by Stance Punks.  Unfortunately I was unable to watch the subtitled Japanese version of the show and could only watch the English dub…but what a dub it was!  It’s one of the best one I’ve ever heard and it’s one of those great examples of how much better licensers have become about recording really good performances.  All in all there’s just a lot to like about this show.
There’s also a lot to dislike about this series.
First of all artwork itself is not good.  It’s not as bad as Gurren Lagann was (The reason I keep bringing that show up is because Soul Eater reminds me a lot of it) but it still pretty noticeably subpar.  This is especially terrible on episodes where then animation budget wasn’t in full effect and man did it hurt my eyes.  In addition it suffers from a similar problem as Dojin Work in that background characters are either just colorless forms or sometimes grey blobs.  If you aren’t a named character you don’t even warrant a color scheme; that’s pretty sad.  The result is that the world doesn’t seem very populated.  The weird thing is that this doesn’t happen all the time, usually just at the academy.  I’d think if the creators were going to have actual background models in any point in the series it would be the most recurring location, but really what do I know?  Also some of the weird artistic choices don’t work well. The main example is that the damn moon and the sun are anthropomorphic monsters with horrifying quasi-human faces.  This is never addressed in the show.  And they freak me the hell out.
Characters are a problem too, at least partly.  On the one hand I like most of the main cast on the surface.  In addition to Maka and Soul there are two other teams that make up the main cast; BlackStar, a character who is so similar to Uzumaki Naruto that I can only assume he’s supposed to be an over the top parody, and his partner Tsubaki, a young woman who has multiple weapon forms, as well as Death the Kid, Lord Death’s son who suffers from an extreme OCPD problem when it comes to symmetry, and his dual pistols Liz and Patty (The Thompson Sisters), former hooligans whom Kid wields upside down for some stupid ass reason.   They each have their own distinct, memorable and sometimes outrageous personalities which makes much of the series extremely fun to watch (Such as BlackStar’s constant declaration of being a “Big Man” and “Surpassing God”).  On the surface they mostly fine.  Unfortunately we seem to barely go beneath the surface with most of them.  Even Maka doesn’t seem to have much reasoning behind her goals in the anime aside from her daddy issues.  With a few exceptions the main characters are one joke archetypes greatly expanded upon, which isn’t the same as being fully fleshed out characters.   Now BlackStar surprisingly got a lot of time devoted to explaining who he is and what happened in his past to make him such a loud mouthed idiot but others like Kid and Soul don’t get the same treatment.  Hell in researching for this review I found out that Soul actually has a pretty interesting back story that NEVER gets mentioned in the anime.  Nor do we even find out the details in how Maka and Soul became partners in the first place.  All other side characters and antagonist (Aside from the “Final Boss”, Crona and Medusa, kind of) don’t matter and aren’t very interesting due to lack of development.
Guns aren't held that way, you meat head
In fact the real problem is that the show was made before the manga was finished (Which it still isn’t as of January 2011) and thus when the anime caught up with its source material around episode 30 or so the writers started making up their own story that turned out to be different from the comic.  Many, many anime have this sort of thing happen to them though Fullmetal Alchemist is the closet example I can think of (Being around the same episode count and being done by the same studio), and a lot of people seem to believe that that show was pretty good so maybe it’s not universally a bad thing.  In this case it means that characters, especially secondary characters, are very shallow and what would seem like key story points aren’t explored very deeply.  For example why the world is populated by humans who turn into weapons is not explained very well and I had to look it up on the internet to find a (Slightly) more satisfying explanation.  I have also learned that a bunch of characters in the original manga had tons of character defining traits and actions that just don’t make an appearance in the show.  I feel like I’m watching the "Diet Coke version" of Soul Eater.
What’s worse is that the ending of this show sucks.  I don’t want to give too bad a spoiler but long story short the final boss of the show is defeated by a combination of being “attacked” by a strong emotional outburst and being sternly talked to.  What the hell is this?  Sailor Moon?  Action based shows need action based climaxes!
Hey, a black dude!  I bet he's really important to the story!
(No.  No he is not)
To put it another way I really, really liked this show up until about episode 30 which coincidentally is where the new material starts to begin.  In the end I liked he first half because it was lighthearted yet ridiculous with its comedy-action style but things slow down later and also get a bit more angst fueled and serious.  Now maybe the manga did as well; I don’t know, I haven’t read it.  But I do know that, as its own piece of work, it was a tremendous disappointment that a show stated out so strong was unable to keep that pace up.  Had it done so it would have likely been one of my favorite anime of all time.  As it is it’s simply a good anime.  And make no mistake, this is good stuff.  Themes about friendship, likeable characters (Even Death the Kid who somehow manages NOT to be the spoiled kid archetype), fun fight scenes and lots of laughs; all ingredients for Beta Bait.  I have probably been a little hard on this show but that’s mainly because it’s not as good as I’d like it to be.  That’ doesn’t mean it’s not a very worthy series to add to your collection.  At the end of the day this is one of the better anime I’ve looked at this past year and I’m eagerly anticipating the next time I get around to watching it again.  I wrote a lot about this show but I feel like I barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer.  I highly recommend checking it out for yourself.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention Excalibur.  Well I’m running out of time so perhaps this video will explain things in lieu of me having to type even more.
Pictured: The Holy Sword
Not Pictured: His ability to shut the hell up

I give Soul Eater 4 Adorable Pandas out of 5.

Pros
-Strong Female Lead and fun main characters
-Unique character designs
-Great English Dub
-Good Action
Cons
-Animation has several problems
-Characters are actually a bit flat, especially supporting ones
-Possesses a rate unsatisfying conclusion
-The whole show doesn’t feel very in-depth

Unless I’m wrong this makes the ninth new (Well, new to me) anime I’ve watched and reviewed in under a year.  Am I an otaku yet?   In any event expect the next anime review, unless my plans change which they easily could do, to be a much larger entry as I review not one but two shows about baseball.  This is going to suck.