Illumi Zoldyck – Hunter x Hunter

illumi

Illumi is not one of the main antagonists in Hunter x Hunter. He’s more of a sideline disturbance, and whatever he is he’s certainly not one of the good guys.

ILLUMISCARYScary.

When he first comes into the story he looks like someone else, but to change his appearance is just one of his talents. He’s a professional assassin, from a family of professional assassins. And I’m humming “he’s just a poor boy, from a poor family” from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” right now. He kills people, lots of people, and is extremely good at it. He can change his appearance and control other people by placing pins in their brains. More than that, he seems to divide other people into two groups, those that might be killed and immediate family.

543794-killua_being_manipulated_by_illumiShowing his brotherly “love”.

And then there is his little brother Killua. Don’t dare to threaten Killua or Illumi will go bonkers. Well, he’s not hesitating to hypnotize his little brother into murdering someone or controlling him like a puppet. Twisted. Loving, in a way, but twisted, like in committable twisted. But he’s somewhat funny and shows a dry sense of humor.Except he might not know that. And cute, well as cute as the slightly crude drawing style in Hunter x Hunter can be. When I first saw him I thought it was a waste to draw him like that and wished that he were done more realistic. Well, I’m not particularly sane either, when it comes to drawn characters. “You do know that they are drawings, right?” one of my sisters said to me once. Of course I said (and crossed my fingers behind my back) since characters I like and really good story settings feel real to me. No, I don’t believe that they are real, I’m not that much of a nutcase, but if you love books, movies and stories and good characters you know what I mean. I won’t say that I would like to meet Illumi in real life, though. And I can’t believe that there are so few good Illumi/Hisoka fanfics (I’ve had a hard time finding even one). In my world there should be a lot more. There is lot of fanart, though, so maybe I just have to look harder.

Hisoka_and_Illumi_-_141
 Hisoka and Illumi: A striking pair (pun certainly intended). 

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The rowdy bunch – Fairy Tail

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It took a long time and several try-outs before I really started to watch Fairy Tail. First I was somewhat disturbed by the extremely cutesy and simple characters and the seemingly gag-driven dialogue. That was a mistake. Even if it is gags galore a pretty part of the time.

The longer I watched the more depth and personalities everyone got, and they became more likeable too. The gags are not too disturbing (except the fart joke episode, that was just nasty, or maybe my kind of low humour isn’t so Japanese). I love most of the music choices, though. Like every time there is a rowdy fight in the Fairy Tail hall (and that happens a lot), they fight to Offenbach’s Cancan music. And the time Lucy thinks Natsu is in love with her some small parts of The Maiden’s Prayer is played, and a little Vivaldi springs up here and there. Pun intended. Not to forget the theme song of the Magical Council, The Habanera from Carmen. And among the strangest soundtrack choices, like ever, when Land of Hope and Glory suddenly breaks out in strange places. Wonder why?

The Fairy Tail bunch is certainly both quirky and rowdy; loves to fight and break things, but they are fiercely loyal and never give up.

The story is somewhat predictable. I mean, male protagonist, MP, meets bad guys, get pummelled, stands up, tries again and wins. Or female protagonist meets bad guys, gets pummelled, loses half her clothing and gets rescued by MP. Or rescues MP. That could happen – well, I’m sure it did, maybe, but I can’t remember. Or Erza rescues everyone.

But the magic and the world itself are cool, and the characters very loveable. Of course everyone loves the cuddly, nutty Natsu and Grey who suddenly takes off his clothes all the time. In the manga he’s wearing less and even strips naked sometimes, but in the anime he’s wearing long shorts, which lessens the funny side of it, since there is no real shock value in someone suddenly appearing in knee-long shorts. Or Elfman who tells everyone who does something cool that they are a real man (even women). And Ezra, who is the strongest female character. Lover her huge wardrobe of different armour and weapons (that she of course carries around and changes into in a split second). Even if the armour often seems to lack midriff protection. Zodiac spirit magician Lucy is another story. I found her quite annoying in the beginning. But she doesn’t come along as quite as retarded as many shojo girls.  She’s starts off a fairly weak leading character (but fortunately grows stronger and more likeable as the show goes on). There are lots and lots of characters, so it took a while for me to keep them apart. Otaku fact: sometimes I make lists of the characters in anime or manga I like.

I love the magic, though. Magic is always good. And the magic is not the same for all, there are lots of different kinds of magic, from Lucy, who makes contracts with spirits of the zodiac and get them to help her, Natsu, who uses dragon magic and eats fire, Gray who uses ice and Ezra, who calls forth a multitude of weapons (and outfits to match each).

One thing I always find fairly disturbing is the unnecessary panty flashes and boob views. Fairy tail has a lot of those. Not that unexpected in a shounen manga, where it’s more rule than exception. There is even a special term for those things (panchira, a.k.a. panty flashes in manga). Well, it can be done in a slightly respectful way or just be damn creepy. It’s not creepy here. And it follows a lot of cliché tradition (hey, Hollywood) in the way girls fight and somehow manage to lose more and more clothes, while the scraps of cloth still manage to cover the important parts. Sometimes I stop watching anime where the sexist crap is too blatant. Highschool of the Dead was one of those, even though some of my fav voice actors were in it. But it made me feel a bit queasy. Maybe it was the zombie theme, though. A story where you have to kill your classmates since they suddenly try to eat you doesn’t mix well with trying to look up the skirts of the still living…

Apart from a relatively sexist presentation, Fairy Tail clears the Bechdel test with a good margin and has a lot of strong female characters.

Some of the fillers eps in this one are quite funny, strangely enough. If you, like me, have followed Bleach and Naruto slavishly for years, fillers can be something of a red flag. But then again, some of the regular Fairy Tail eps are a little bit long-winded and quite frankly just boring. I mean, there must be more ways than one to do fighting.

In the arcs where the story is quite good, it might had been better with not as repetitive and a bit shorter fights. But the anime took off again in the last arch where there is a huge tournament (I love games, competitions, and development/training in anime) and now, in season 2 it’s much better.

Still, Fairy Tail is not one of my absolute favorites but it’s fun to watch when you’re in the mood for something light and cheerful.

Not just a pretty face – Uchika Itachi in Naruto

tumblr_mebys15SRa1qb0z99o1_500Can something this pretty really be evil?

Itachi isn’t the standard bad antagonist, evil genius or psycho. But he´s a genius, and the most good-looking guy in all of Naruto, imho. Well, it’s not just me, like all bad boys he’s got lots of fans. At least he doesn’t transform into a heap of snakes now and then, but stays his pretty self all the time. He do disappear into a cloud of crows sometimes, though. Well, not actually transform, he’s just very good at illusions. And his name means weasel, btw.

itachi_by_rokkx-d53pckh

When he first is introduced he certainly seems like nothing but a psycho. A mass murderer and someone completely without empathy. I mean what’s up with killing your mother and father, not to mention your whole clan, except the little brother you presumably loved? In all those flashbacks when he genuinely seems to love and take care of Sasuke. And then he kills everyone, except little Sasuke. And when he shows up, standing over the bodies of his mother and father, sword in hand, he only explains himself by telling Sasuke that he’s to weak to kill right then. He also taunts Sasuke to get stronger to come after Itachi and kill him. It doesn’t sound like something a loving brother should do, right?

itachi_uchiha_anbu_render_by_lwisf3rxd-d7ay6ut  What is it with telephone line poles? Itachi prepares for murder.

But was the big brother thing just an act? Is he completely insane? Or is there something else behind it all?

Aside from that grisly story the grand speech that Itachi makes to Sasuke is of course epic in its own way, and fairly often quoted or referenced to, not just in Naruto, but in other anime and manga as well. Here is the original:

[Itachi’s famous speech]
Since Sasuke is greatly traumatized by this event his greatest ambition becomes to kill his brother, and he will go to any lengths to accomplish his goal. It doesn’t sound like a very brotherly thing to do. When we finally meet Itachi outside flashbacks, he’s torturing Sasuke a little bit more by hypnotizing him to make him relive the murders, breaks his arm, and leaves. I think most of us believed that the story just couldn’t just be that simple. (Maybe it was “he’s so cute I can’t believe he’s evil”…) I think that Itachi is interesting every time he shows up and I won’t spoil anything here if you haven’t seen the whole thing.

Sasuke-and-Itachi-Young-uchiha-sasuke-28917054-640-409Pre-murdering days, taking care of his little brother.

Itachi is too smart for his own good, finishing the ninja school only 7 years old (when most start their education) and becomes a part of the secret ninja force at 10. When he’s 13 he’s a captain in said secret force (probably doing assassinations, spying and other clandestine things) and already a double agent for both the village leaders and his own clan, respectively.

Strangely enough I haven’t been that keen on Itachi fanfic. Maybe because the only logical love I can picture for him is Sasuke, and in a fanficky BL way, that’s just not my thing. I’m more of a Narusasu girl, ok. Well, I have a ton of OTPs in Naruto, that’s for sure. But none seems to include Itachi when I think about it. He’s cute and fascinating and ambiguous, since you can’t really tell if he’s good or evil, in spite of what he does. He’s in the story a lot more in Shippuuden, the second part of Naruto, but it takes a long while for him to show his true colours. And yes. You get the answer to the Itachi quandary finally. And I can’t finish without mentioning the voice actor, Hideo Ishikawa. I love his voic. He also voices Ukitake in Bleach. 

One tip: if you haven’t seen it and want to watch Naruto from the beginning: stop after episode 135, skip all the fillers and go directly to Shippuuden. That’s where the Naruto story really takes off, grows and becomes truly interesting. Except you probably have to see the first part or be completely lost. I started watching all the fillers while waiting for Shippuuden, but they are not necessary and I found the abundance of gags a bit boring and was mostly irritated.

Rewriting reality: Hakuouki

There is a lot of rewriting history going on in anime and manga, generally you would call it alternate universes or alternate realities. The what-if approaches where you take real historical figures or events and make something completely different happen. But that’s not enough. What about rewriting geography too? Like in Meine Liebe, where a huge Germanic-Prussia-like island is placed somewhere in the vicinity of England, in the turn of the 19th century, or a time slightly resembling that. No problem. Making historical figures, like war generals, female instead of male? Placed in a high school setting? Or making them vampires? Or robots in space? That limitless fantastical approach to history, religion and fairly tales is so great.

hau4 Pretty boys, katanas and cherry blossoms…

Hakuouki is following that tradition. Taking real historical figures and follows the actual history in some ways, but adding characters and events that have nothing to do with reality. And doing it well. The historical figures are the Shinsengumi. Sword-fighting heroes going against overwhelming odds and prejudice in the last days of the samurai. The Shinsengumi are portrayed in numerous movies and a lot of anime and manga. I have only watched the different parts of Hakuouki, Peacemaker Kurogane and Gintama (where the names are slightly changed). I got Runroni Kenshin a while ago, but haven’t watched it yet.

Hakuouki Hekketsuroku - 13 - Large Snapshot 02Wearing the Shinsengumi coats. 

Hijikata-Toshizo- Hijikata, not hard on the eyes.

Hakuouki is based on a video game, a so-called otome game, directed at a female audience, where the goal is romance. It’s a romance, all right, but with swords, battles and whatnot. It’s really stunningly drawn, though, both the characters and their surroundings. The protagonist girl is really likeable and there are some other good female characters too. I would have liked it more if Chizuru, the protagonist had been a real member of the force, but hey, I can’t always get what I want. (If so I would have liked it to be full out BL. well, it probably is, but not just shown…) Obviously the Shinsengumi men are all charming and stunningly pretty. Even the antagonists are stunning in some cases and fun to watch in others. Fanservice fact: Almost all of the leading characters have really long hair, flowing in the wind… while the rest have the traditional samurai chonmage, shaved on top and the rest long and twisted into a topknot. 

And there are vampires and demons too. Here, the vampires here are kind of a failed making man-made demon experiment. And it’s a really cool backstory, both the real one and the fantasy parts. It’s not a peaceful part of Japan’s history (the battles mentioned are mostly real, except for the demons participating) and it’s not one of those stories where people aren’t really dead until they die, no matter what, and probably not even then. People are actually dropping off like flies, even main characters, especially in the second season. It doesn’t really follow actual events and deaths but if you know the real history you will get some hints. Let me just say this, your tear ducts will work overtime when you watch this one. At least if you are like me, easily moved.

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These are the series so far (I’ve added the Japanese names, since I’ve found it really hard to keep them apart):

Hakuouki (Shinsengumi Kitan) 12 eps

Hakuouki: Record of the Jade Blood (Hekketsaroku) 10 eps. Season 2. This tearfest follows the first season.

Hakuouki: A memory of snow flowers (Sekkaroku) 6 eps OVA taking place between ep 6 and 9 in the first season). It’s good to see this one after Sekkaroku.

Hakuouki: Demon of the fleeting blossom – Dawn of the Shinsengumi. (Reimeiroku) 12 eps. Prequel. I like this one, it’s before the first one and the Shinsengumi is still called the Roshigumi. The protagonist is a young boy in this one (not a historical person). But the others are in it. I watched this after all the others and it felt like a good choice.

There are also two movies, which I haven’t seen yet:

Hakuōki Dai-isshō Kyoto Ranbu (2013)

Hakuōki Dai-nishō Shikon Sōkyū (2014)

Bad boys listing

I’m going to make a theme with some cool bad boys in anime here. Bad boys are fun, and seems to be very popular too. When I started to watch anime that was a little bit surprising that the coolest characters sometimes were real psychos. Sometimes they are not, merely pretty villainous. But I came to appreciate the charm points of the bad boys more and more. I have a short list right now, but it will probably grow, or maybe change. I haven’t ranked them and will try not to put in too much spoilers. I will make a post about each of them and my idea is to write about what I ilke and enjoy with each of the characters (and some things about the anime and manga they are participating in) in the list.

The participants in my list so far:

Uchika Itachi in Naruto

itachi

Illumi Zoldyck in Hunter x Hunter

illumi

Ichimaru Gin in Bleach

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Light Yagami in Death Note

raito

Makishima Shogo in Psycho-Pass

makishima

Aizen Souske in Bleach

aizen

Hisoka in Hunter x Hunter

Hisoka_PR_Movie

Sesshumaru in Inuyasha

sesshomaru

Tyki Mikk in D.Gray Man

tykimikk

Kabuto Yakushi in Naruto

KabutoYakushi

Lelouch Lamperouge in Code Geass

lelouch

 

Ayanami in 07-Ghost

ayanami

Unholy fathers or merely really cool ones

There are few things that cannot be incorporated and twisted around for fun purposes in anime. One used fairly often is western religion, mostly Catholicism. I can totally see why: the symbols, rituals and paraphernalia, the powerful but secretive organisation and not to mention the clothes: I mean, men in long flowing robes, funny hats, strange ornaments all that jazz. There are a lot of anime series with churchly elements, and I have only stumbled upon a few, but I like it a lot. And the priestly fathers I list here are hardly the meek and mild sort, more like seriously disturbing (or disturbed)…

Frau in 07-Ghost

Frau

Frau in his bishop garb with the cute little hat and perky veil. 

You could watch this for the clothes alone, if there was a best-dressed award for anime this one would take the cake. Everything from the stylish black uniforms of the imperial army with their gold trimmings, shiny boots and long coats, to the bishops’ even more sweeping robes and tiny hats with little perky veils is lovely.

Other things that makes this a great watch is the bishops’ fighting with magic through their croziers (bacculus)! And there is even a bishop’s exam where you not just have to know the Holy Scripture by heart – it’s not just one book, more like a hundred – but also fight the evil with your bacculus.

07_Ghost__Frau_by_OmgItsKarinFrau fighting.

Then, you might be a bishop and get a pretty back piece tattoo of a churchly cross. There are evil priests, and good ones, and quite a lot of grim reapers (western style) and then there is bishop Frau, who is hiding porn magazines in the church library, drives an airborne bird-scooter like a bat out of hell, smokes, flirts and drinks. He’s of course one of the good guys, and more than he seems (almost everyone in the story is). The anime is only 25 episodes, sadly enough, but the manga goes on much longer (and is much funnier too). And almost everyone is too pretty, even the bad guys, who are cuter, cooler and prettier than most. But none as much as Frau, who stays number one in my book (the holy bishonen one).

Abel Nightroad in Trinity Blood

Abel Abel in his priestly and vampiric forms.

Father Abel Nightroad is not only a priest; he’s also a (Vatican-enabled) vampire-killing “super vampire”. And in the world of this anime he’ll never get out of work, since vampires have taken over more than half the countries. This is a perfect mix of steampunk and religion. And then there’s the pope, a somewhat oblivious little cute boy, and his sister, the cardinal Catharina Sforza (!), who is wearing fantastic hats. Yes, sister. The normal biases of Rome does not exist here, or maybe it’s just going back to the historical roots where popes had children and conflicts often were solved with poison. There is intrigue, politics, powerful vampires, quite a bit of blood and fighting. I like the both the background story and the premises.

 

Marian Cross in D.Gray-Man

CROSSMARIAN.

It took me two attempts to really get this one. And I’ve re-watched it a couple of times since. Still don’t like the monsters, they feel too simplistic and crude and could be more demonic, at least in the beginning. Later on, they are maybe a bit too destructive. But the premises are ok. It’s steampunky, with lots of Victoriana, machines and such. The exorcist organization the Black Order working under the Vatican or possibly running the church, Japan completely overrun by demons, and whatnot. The most charming and unholy of the holy exorcists are protagonist Allen Walker’s drinking and womanizing master, General Marian Cross. He often vanishes, leaving droves of charmed women in his wake and his apprentice (Allen) has to cover his considerable drinking tabs or gambling debts (Allen got better at it when he learned how to cheat at cards). Marian also has a tendency to throw Allen into fights against huge monsters without helping him. The story also has cool magic, called “innocence” and a quite complex background story. And lots and lots of adorable characters, not least the cute protagonist Allen Walker, surly samurai Kanda Yu, hammer-wielding Lavi and his boss Bookman, who fights using acupuncture needles and about one million others. The bad guys are the Noah family, yes that Noah. I do love this, does it show?

Alexander Anderson in Hellsing

17426-439583_anderson_in_flight_super_superThat’s not a very holy look, father.

It’s been a long time since I saw Hellsing, and I don’t really remember much except that I thought it was really cool. But I hadn’t seen much anime by that time. I did remember that the church is a big part of this one too, except the Vatican are the antagonists in this series, and the main protagonist is Alucard, a vampire, working for the Hellsing organization, led by a formidably cool woman. And Hellsing is of course named for the old Dr. van Helsing of Bram Stoker fame. Anyway, the main antagonist is Father Alexander Anderson, who throws out bible quotes and hates Alucard almost as much as he hates protestants.

Genjo Sanzo in Saiyuki

sanzoAnger management through gunfire.

I could write books about my love for Saiyuki, and I did actually write a little bit more here. But this is about Genjo Sanzo. He’s a highly ranked Buddhist monk, but I think he’s comes out as something of an atheist too during the series. He’s a highly irritable, chainsmoking, drinks constantly and has a dangerous habit of shooting bullets in all directions to make people shut up or listen. He’s a darling, of course, somewhere down under the abrasive (but oh so pretty) surface there is a heart of gold. But he might threaten to shoot you or possibly swallow his own tongue rather than admit it. Or if he really likes you he might hit you over the head with a paper fan or tell you to get him another can of beer. 

Kevin Cecil in Makai Ouji: Devils and realist

KevinAngelic face.

The realist in the story is young William Twining, and it takes place in a British public school for boys. Kevin works at William’s estate, managed by his uncle since he’s an orphan. He also a descendant of Solomon who had power over 72 demons. William now has to decide the next ruler of hell, since Lucifer is asleep. Different demons come to William and try to make him elect them, some of them even poses as students. William, the realist, doesn’t believe in demons, even after eating really delicious cake in Hell, made by Baphomet, the goat-headed butler of the charming demon lord Dantalion. Kevin Cecil is not a real priest, in fact he’s not even Kevin Cecil. But he poses as a school chaplain. And there is nothing unholy about him, since his real identity is Uriel, the archangel of repentance. Why is he on this list? The angels are not the good guys in this anime, far from it. Uriel has only one wing; the archangel Michael, who seems more like the villain than the demons, ripped the other off. Of course the demons are not so good either. And Kevin seems to have a good heart, but does some pretty shady things in the name of heaven (or by Michael’s orders). When I look at my anime collection I think there will be an angels and demons anime list soon.

Making Manga – in anime

I like manga; I like drawing and work in the publishing business, so anime about making manga should be right up my alley, right? Most of the time it is.

This season I started watching Gekkan shojou Nozaki-kun, strangely enough, since seemed like a fairly typical shojou staple. But it’s about a mangaka, and that made me give it a go.

   Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun - 02 - Large 04 Mangaka and assistants.

At first it seems like the typical shojou school thing. A girl confesses to a boy he likes, but instead of running away/ignoring her/blushing or whatever they usually do he gives her an autograph. Then he invites her to following him home. When she does she realizes that he’s a popular mangaka, drawing shojou manga for a weekly magazine. She gets roped in to help him drawing backgrounds and gets to know the other people helping him. There is a bit of gender stretching (I won’t say bending, since it’s really not that), since the mangaka’s heroine inspiration is a boy and some of the other females aren’t exactly traditionally feminine (one is called the prince, for instance, and is fawned over by all the girls, well that’s not unusual, another is fighting and running away). One thing I don’t get is why the protagonist in this case is so smitten by Nozaki, since he’s about as charming as a block of wood, well he can draw, but that shouldn’t be enough. But he’s completely clueless in many ways and that’s a tad charming. Funniest thing so far, when Nozaki and his best friend stay up all night drawing a BL manga for the best friend of the protagonist in a dating game. Well, I guess you had to be there.

 

Sekai-ichi-hatsukoi Making manga, not all about the drawing stuff, mostly about the publishing side. I do work in the publishing business, and I can relate to much that is happening (the cyclical stress, the ranting on people not delivering the material on time or perfect and things like that).

sekai1 Realistic stress levels in publishing…

This is somewhat in the same universe as Junjou Romantica, one of my all time favs. Some of the characters show up in this one too, but only as extras. And yes, it’s BL (or Yaoi if you make that distinction where yaoi is more explicit). But as usual the manga is much more explicit. And like in some of the most enjoyable fanfic everyone is gay. Everyone on the shojou magazine staff is gay (well, one hasn’t been partnered off in the manga or anime – at least not yet). The mangaka. The only male assistant. The staff on the shounen magazine. The sales staff. The literature department. The CEO. Especially the CEO, Isaka, but we know that only because we’ve watched Junjou and his story isn’t included here. The people working in manga stores (even when they don’t know it). Everyone except the girls (well, they might be, but this is Yaoi, not Yuri).

sekai2This is what it’s all about

Well, I can’t say I watch this only for the portrayal of publishing, since I’m all about the BL, and the story isn’t called “the world’s greatest first love” for nothing, but the well thought-out industry portrayal is an extra plus in my book.

 

The mangaka and his assistants. I’ve watched half an episode and that was enough. I hated it, even though it supposedly is about making manga. Supposedly, since all I could see were tits and ass gags. Or tits and pants since this is Japan, where pants are more sexy than derrieres. PWP is a fairly common term in fanfic, for those short stories with lots of sex without any semblance of storyline, hence PWP, or porn without plot. This is worse. Pants without plot and more juvenile than any childish manga I’ve ever watched. I won’t give this a second chance.

mangaka_san_to_assistant_san_to___01___large_34Level of jokes in this anime

Bakuman – I can’t believe I didn’t find this earlier, since it’s by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, who did Death Note together, and Obata did draw another all-time fav of mine: Hikaru no Go. Well, I guess I’ve wanted Hikago to go on, and couldn’t really accept that the manga was over and by some stupid principle refused to watch or read anything later. But now I’ve changed that, and I’m glad I did.

Bakuman - 01 Making manga.

 In Bakuman the main character Mashiro Moritaka, called Saiko, is convinced to try being a mangaka by a classmate, Tagaki Akito – who happened to see his drawings. Saiko is very good at drawing and the classmate is going to write the story. There is some romance going on too, but not too disturbing, more on the cute side, actually. And he inherits his late uncle’s studio (the uncle was a sometime popular but later failed mangaka), which his grandfather has kept intact for three years, just waiting for the grandson to want it. The anime is about their struggle to get published and serialized in “Jack” (badly disguised Shounen Jump). And there are a lot of other quirky mangakas too (not the real ones, though), like adorable little wingnut Eiji, who, like several of the others, seems to have some kind of psychiatric diagnose. I think I have to do a chart… or a list of those soon. There are a lot of other manga mentioned, with real names, posters and drawings, not only barely concealed made up names (like in Genshiken, where I get less than half of the manga mentioned). Their editor, who at one point mentions that he’s taking over editing One Piece. And when they show the “Jack” issues there are lots of pretty covers with Ichigo and Naruto. This is one of those series where you seriously root for the main characters – and quite a bit for the others too. I like that it’s not super short: Three seasons with 25 episodes each is enough for a while, and probably very rewatchable too.

Anachronism as an art form – Saiyuki

saiyuki-reload-episodes-online
The story behind Saiyuki is a 16th century Chinese novel where a monk gets a mission from God, well Buddha, to go to India to find some sacred text. It’s been filmed and adapted in numerous versions, but this manga and anime is very loosely based on the original. The story is supposedly taking place in ancient times and starts with humans and demons living happily side by side, until something makes the demons lose their minds and attack the humans. Genjo Sanzo, a highly ranked Buddhist priest, receives a mission from the three aspects of Buddha to go to India and find out why. He is to take three companions with him on the journey.
The companions are three demons who aren’t affected by the general craze. Son Goku is a young boy, at least in appearance; in reality he’s an extremely powerful entity who has been captive in a mountain for more than 500 years for causing a disturbance in the heavens). But Sanzo set him free and has more or less adopted him. He’s always hungry, maybe since he didn’t eat for 500 years, but that’s a standing joke. The other two are Cho Hakkai, a mild-mannered scholar who was a human, but he slaughtered 1.000 demons when his lover was kidnapped and committed suicide, and turned into a demon himself. And then there is Sha Goyjo, half-demon, womanizer semi-professional gambler and all around bad boy. Wasn’t this ancient China? No, not really.

saiyuki2

The anachronisms start fairly right away. For example: the case of Cho Hakkai’s pet dragon who can turn into a jeep. Yes, a car.

sanzo

The bic and zippo lighters that Sanzo and Sha Goyjo use to light their cigarettes. Cigarette packs and cans of beer aside, there is Sanzo’s reading glasses and newspapers, not to mention the gun he wields and frequently fire bullets to make people shut up, when he’s irritated, at walls or at his companions. Not to mention the credit card he uses, presumably let to him by the three aspects of Buddha. This is one reason I love Saiyuki, it is so silly it’s wonderful. And Sanzo doesn’t just fight with a gun (filled with spiritual bullets), but when he’s really serious he’s using a holy text roll that otherwise hangs around his neck. Other than that it’s the usual fights, friendships, enemies becoming sort of friends and enemies that are too bad to even consider. Not to mention the backstory 500 years ago, taking place in heaven. I won’t spoil that, since it’s really one of the best parts of the whole thing.
It’s completely enjoyable, from beginning to end. There are four different parts: Saiyuki, Reload, Gunlock and Reload: Burial, with backstories of the four main characters. There is also a couple of OVA:s called Saiyuki Gaiden and two movies. Don’t miss the omakes called Urusai (shut up), they are completely silly and even more anachronistic than the real thing (answers to questions like “why didn’t the Sanzo gang go by airplane to India?” and other things like it).
Mangaka is Kazuya Minekura (I’ve seen her Bus Gamer or the fairly recent OVA Wild Adapter, a very bloody yakuza-yaoi mix.) Minekura’s drawing style is very distinctive and not everyone likes it. I’m not one of those. I can truly recommend the Saiuki art books too, with drawings of the characters in lots of different settings.

Habitually Breaking the 4th Wall – Gintama

I know that there are a few anime out there who habitually breaks the so called fourth wall (speaking directly to the audience), but the one I know best is Gintama.

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Gintama is brilliant in many ways and has a total disregard for almost anything resembling reality. It takes place during the Meji restoration in Japan, middle 19th century, last of the samurais etc. Except not since it also seem to take place in modern times. Aliens have invaded Japan, using the locals as cheap labour and has forbidden the samurai to wear swords. The leading character, Sataka Gintoki, is instead wearing a wooden bokken (Internet purchased…) that sometimes feels more effective than a real katana, well, sometimes not. He is that he takes on anything as , almost always with abysmal success, at least monetary-wise, even if he of course saves the world now and then. His sidekick, Shinpachi, is a teenager and heir to an abandoned dojo. Then there are Kagura, the strongest girl in the universe, and Sadaharu, her gigantic and cute dog/demon or whatever it is. Since it’s the Meji restoration, the Shinsengumi are there too, as the Shogunate police force, with a little different names, though. They are completely nuts, mostly, especially Okita Souji, who tries to kill Hijikata whenever he can. Hijikata, on the other hand is obsessed with mayonnaise and Shinsengumi captain is an obsessive stalker, oh, and another of them often cosplays as Echizen Ryoma from Prince of Tennis. One of my favourites is Katsura, the terrorist and former friend of Gintoki (his name means wig), and his pet Elisabeth, who may or may not (well, may) be a man dressed in a giant white penguin-like costume. Also the ninjas, Hattori, who suffer from haemorrhoids and Sa-chan, a masochistic female ninja who is completely obsessed with s&m and constantly tries to get Gin to tie her up.

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Breaking the 4th wall, as usual.

Hard to follow? Not at all and it’s not so complicated to get, once you start. The story is full of manga and anime references and sometimes the cast from other animes show up, like Bleach and Prince of Tennis. And they break the fourth wall constantly. Like Otose, the landlady, who suddenly has a wriggling snake tongue for a short while, since her voice actor also does snakelike villain Orochimaru in Naruto. She also jumps out and kills the director since a gorilla ranked higher than her in a popularity poll. He is then replaced by a robot. The cast often refers to the viewers, Gintoki complains that they didn’t wake him up in time for the show and so on. And after the first season the leading characters get together and make suggestions of how the story should develop, mostly blatant ripoffs or parodies of other manga/horror movies.

The episodes are often stand-alone, but there are some longer story archs. It is better to watch from the beginning anyway.

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A little gender-bending with Gintama and Katsura.

The fujoshi-friendly part:

I can totally see the slashability of this series (where the most popular pairing is Hijikata/Gintoki, strangely enough, I would have thought Katsura/Gintoki, but what do I know?) I don’t really feel the need to seek out doujinshi/fic, since it’s parody and fun all the way. I wouldn’t want to read serious stories about the characters, and if the stories are comedy I think just to watch it is enough. And you don’t have to get the manga, movie or historical references to appreciate it.

There are lots and lots of episodes (I think 264, plus a couple of movies).

Magical Athletics

I am completely uninterested in sports. There are no words to describe how uninterested I am. That’s why it came as a complete surprise to me when my anime collection/watching started to include one sports-themed manga/anime after another.

I won’t count Hikaru no Go, or maybe I should, since that was the first one with a competition theme that I watched. But Go is an intellectual effort, not athletic, so I don’t count that as a sports-themed anime.

But then I got interested in Prince of Tennis, or PoT as the fandom names it (or Tenipuri if you’re a hardcore otaku). Normally it wouldn’t have interested me, I mean sports, yuck. But there were quite a lot of people I respected in my usual fandom raving over it (and since I was late in viewing it was really long, always a plus in my book). And the people raving over it were completely right. The characters were really likeable, if not loveable, and the story caught me and I couldn’t stop watching and I read the complete manga too. Of course it’s completely ridiculous in some ways, but that makes it even more likeable.

I wouldn’t want to watch something realistic (or actual sports) that would take seconds. I love the philosophy discussions, flashbacks, or explanations lasting five minutes while people are hanging in the air/rushing towards the ball/racing the last meters before the goal/drawing their swords.

And the magic sparkles and coloured auras always present when the characters do something remarkable. And that they name their own techniques and shout out their names whenever they use them.

I don’t particularly crave it, but it’s nice if some of the guys are good-looking. Or cute. I don’t mind cute. Some the best animes have cute protagonists. And they have to be fun to watch. I don’t watch anime with ugly characters, who are too chibi-like or badly drawn. Maybe that’s why I stay away from shojo in general (or maybe I’m too much of a hardcore fujoshi and at least want the possibility to find some BL fandom goodness in the things I watch. And there are plenty of opportunities for that in sports-themed anime. Lots of guys, sweating, locker rooms, fierce competition, adrenaline (& testosterone) flying. Phew, except from pure yaoi, could it be any hotter? Well, in some of the ones I’m listing there are mostly cute and adorable and budding friendship and so on. And it’s really all about the drawing.

I’m digressing. The sports themed anime I’ve watched and liked so far and liked:

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Prince of Tennis: Completely adorable characters. Extremely magical tennis with strange names and extraordinary talents. I think most of the things are real, except in real life they don’t jump 5 meters up in the air or glow in different colours. I like that you get to see the main characters outside the court though. If there is one thing I don’t like it’s the girls. I don’t know why they changed one of the few girls in the anime to be extremely bad at tennis, she isn’t in the manga.

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Kuroko no Basque: This is maybe my favourite sports-themed anime so far. Basketball-themed to be more precise. And it has everything. Good-looking, loveable characters, magic movements, thrilling games, as well as psychological plotting and character depth. I’ve read all the manga too.

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Free: The first episodes felt more like fanservice than a real story, just showing off muscular bodies in speedos. Well, fortunately more of the long-legged kind than the minimal versions (the mini-speedos are one of the most unsexy things I can imagine whatever the one wearing them looks like). It really got me when one of the water-obsessed main characters took off his clothes in a department store and tried to immerse himself in a fish tank…) That’s the kind of silliness I appreciate. And the story got a little bit better too.

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Yowamushi Pedal: Another completely unexpected favourite. I mean biking, what could be more boring? But it is totally compelling and I’m completely in love with the cast. I’ve learned a lot about bike racing as a sport, but I can’t imagine myself ever looking at races. This is not a bishounen anime, not however you stretch it, but it doesn’t matter. I follow the manga too, and it gets better and better. It’s got no magical tricks or things in it, just bikes. They do not sparkle or shine or change colour, but they do discuss things, talk, comment, and encourage each other in the middle of a race.

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Haikyuu!! I think I started to watch this as a Kuroko substitute. It’s not really up to par with that one, but I enjoy it nevertheless. It’s not basket, but volleyball. Completely incomprehensible sport, but somewhat cute.