Anachronism as an art form – Saiyuki

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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.

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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.

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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.

Boybands with violins – Corda d’Oro: Blue Sky

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It’s nothing more than your average reverse harem anime, like the first season. Except with music, classical music. And that’s the most forgiving aspect of this season. There is a huge timeskip of eight years from the first season, so none of the original characters are in the story, except in three short cameos.

Everyone is exceptionally good-looking and talented. It follows the usual Snow White and the 7 dwarfs boyband formula. The boys are as follows: cute, serious, dangerous, surly, obnoxious, smiley, delinquent and glasses. Sorry, Serious is the one with glasses. All are beautiful and have hair colors sparkling like rainbows, one color each, though. And I really cannot keep all of them apart. There are also megalomaniac, granny glasses with extreme mullet, their butler, the dark lord wannabe, slightly psycho, the death metal cellist and suicidal ditto. Everyone is thoroughly smitten with the protagonist (who actually seems a bit retarded, sorry, I mean just your average shojo lead) except death metal cellist, who’s obsessed with dark lord wannabe. But it’s not for the girls we watch r-harem anime. And certainly not to imagine ourselves in the protagonist’s place. Far from it. It’s for the overabundance of slashing opportunities, and it’s the sole raison d’ètre for the genre. At least the reason I (and my fujoshi brethren) like these kinds of things.

There are a lot of clichés and stuff, but also pretty boys who might be making out just out of camera. In my head. And now in yours too.

Since it is centered on classical music, it is extremely irritating is that I can’t find the music listed, and believe me, I’ve looked. I might have missed some, but I acutally made a Spotify playlist of the pieces I recognized or were mentioned: Corda d’Oro Blue Sky

It was cute and all, but to be honest I liked the first season better. Except for the backstory of slightly retarded shojo character since the story in the first season was a little bit too much (and to say that the storyline in an anime is too unrealistic is really something in this world of completely crazy settings).

Country Life – Barakamon

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One of the new animes this season. I wasn’t sure about this one but started watching since Daisuke Ono, who also does Sebastian in Kuroshitsuji and Midorima in Kuroko no Baskue, voices the lead character.

It’s a cute and lovely little gem where a young calligraphy master, while participating in a calligraphy contest, gets snubbed by a prestigious curator. (His calligraphy is described as bland and mediocre). He promptly punches the curator in the face. Everyone is shocked (and rightfully so, since the man is quite old and walks with a cane). So he leaves and regroups in a little village on an island, far out in the country. And then it’s the all about the small village life, finding yourself, getting friends and all that jazz. But it it’s the kind of story that makes me feel happy and calm.

It reminds me a little of Doc Hollywood, where Michael J. Fox is a plastic surgeon wannabee who gets stranded in a small village and comes to enjoy the village life where everyone is quirky and nice. Except with calligraphy instead of medicine and not so stereotypically Hollywoodish in the characters.