Friday, December 19, 2014

Rewind: Initial D Second Stage

I wrote about the first season of Initial D almost exactly a year ago. I didn't plan this post accordingly, but since I recently rewatched the "second stage," it's fresh in my mind. Last year, I mentioned that I received Initial D Second Stage as a Christmas gift, since I didn't realize it would eventually show up on Hulu. I'm thankful for my mistake; DVDs work a lot better than Hulu when the internet goes out.

Takumi usually has a very placid expression, even when racing,
but as he races a scornful opponent in the third episode, his
intensity shows on his face.
For those of you who don't know: Initial D centers around Fujiwara Takumi, a teenage street racer who specializes in downhill racing. His skill developed when he drove back and forth over the mountain pass to deliver tofu for his father's business. He didn't realize it at the time, but his father, a former street racer himself, was grooming him to be a racer. In the first season, the local racing team convinces him to start racing with them. They use the pass as their course, so Takumi is on familiar ground. He becomes well known by racers in the general area.

Just like with the first season, I enjoy Second Stage primarily for the races. Still, there are a few notable differences between seasons. I'll start with the positives: Takumi, the main character, meets challenges he can't overcome with the current state of his car, an old Toyota AE 86 Trueno. (The car is mostly referred to as an 86, not "eighty-six" but "Eight Six.") Takumi is forced to learn more about automechanics, whereas he relied primarily on experience and talent for victory before. His father continues to guide his growth as a racer, and he helps make changes to the car.

Other differences, I'm not so happy with. There is a big change in animation between the first and second seasons. Granted, the art wasn't exactly pretty before, and the new look is... shinier, I guess. It's probably supposed to be better. But there are a few characters who almost look like different people. One of the Takumi's most respectable opponents, Ryosuke, even has a different hair color, and I don't think it's because he picked up a package of hair dye. His whole appearance is off.

And then there's the romance piece... In the first season, Takumi grew close with Mogi Natsuki, a girl he knew from school. In Second Stage, they still have feelings for each other. However, an anonymous busybody tells Takumi a secret about Natsuki. He deals with the news like the clumsy teenager he is. This part is executed decently, I admit, but I don't enjoy it.

Despite all my negative comments, I've watched Initial D: Second Stage three times now, and I continue to enjoy it. I can't bear to give the season less than four stars out of five. Takumi's development as a racer is fun to watch, and I've grown fond of a few of the secondary characters as well.



Saturday, December 13, 2014

Rewind: One Week Friends

One Week Friends, or Isshuukan Friends, is a gentle drama about friendship. The main girl, Fujimiya Kaori, can't remember any of her friends for longer than a week. Her memory resets every Monday. Still, the gently heroic protagonist, Hase Yuuki, is determined to be friends with her. 

For the second Monday in a row, Hase asks Fujimiya to be his friend. (ep 1)

It sounds slow and potentially overdramatic. That selective memory loss premise is borderline ridiculous, right? But I noticed a few people talking about it online, so I gave it a try. 

I watched most of the episodes on my phone, often during lunch breaks at my summer job, or in bed right before sleep. It was the perfect show for breaks: I was interested, but I didn't care quite enough to wish I had a bigger screen.

The plot wasn't thrilling, but I couldn't help but care for the characters. Hase-kun chose to be friends with Fujimiya, even knowing that he would have to introduce himself again the following Monday. Fujimiya was a sweetheart who spent hours in the kitchen to find out exactly how much sugar Hase liked in his eggs (yes, sugar... maybe it's a Japanese thing). And Hase's friend, the aloof Kiryuu, easily won me over. He seemed introverted (which I identified with, of course), but he gave great friendship advice to Hase as needed. 

In One Week Friends, Hase and Fujimiya explore what it means to be friends. It can be a little painful at times—they are, after all, awkward teenagers exploring friendship, and Fujimiya's memory loss complicates matters even more. But it's worth it for them, and it was worth it for me to watch. I'm getting better at this whole friendship thing (thank the Lord for college!). Still... I may or may not take mental notes when I see a good example of friendship, whether it's fictional or real. 

That's pretty much all I have to say. If you watch One Week Friends, take note of the visuals—the edges are always slightly faded out, which adds to the gentle feeling. I gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars: it's a pleasant watch without glaring faults, but not a favorite. 


Friday, December 5, 2014

Hints of the Eternal Story in Gungrave

Dead week is ending, finals are coming, and I'm more Swamped than ever. Thankfully, a little over a month ago, I had a chance to center my homework around Gungrave, my favorite anime. We were to write a brief paper about how something from pop culture reflected truths about God's story. I'm changing some wording to fit this blog's audience better, but other than that, I'm pretty much posting the paper as-is. And adding screenshots.

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This is a very brief overview of some ways that Gungrave reflects truths about us and about God (most likely without the makers realizing it). Eventually, maybe I'll write in-depth posts about some of these details. Also, I'd like to analyze what the main characters' values are, and how they contrast with a Christian point of view. But not today. Today, I focus on hints and reflections of truth.

*Spoilers ahead!* Pretty much all the important parts of the plot are spoiled. So read at your own risk. If you're interested in a more "typical" review with less spoilers and a little bit of fangirling, see my Rewind post from 2013.

Summary of Gungrave 


Gungrave is an anime that crosses mafia drama with science fiction. It centers around loyal Brandon and ambitious Harry, best friends who, as young men, become involved in a mafia-like syndicate called Millennion. They work their way up, into the leader, Big Daddy’s, inner circle, or “family.” Then Harry prepares to betray Big Daddy and everyone loyal to him. This includes Brandon. But Brandon anticipates this. Before Harry kills him, he makes arrangements for a procedure that allows him to become “Beyond the Grave.” Thirteen years later, Brandon returns to kill his best friend and everyone else who betrayed Millennion. It’s love and honor that drive him to kill, not hateful revenge. This is beautifully illustrated in the last episode, when he and Harry die together in the abandoned cafe they lived in as street kids. 

Brandon is on the left of this screenshot, in the black suit. He is an enforcer
for Millennion, which means he does the dirty work associated with avenging,
protecting, and enforcing a code of loyalty. He works in the dark, while Harry
wears the white suit of budding leadership. But in this scene, Brandon is the one
standing in the light, as his best friend's true colors are finally
revealed. Love the symbolism of this! (ep 14)

Hints of God's Story


Brandon provides an illustration of God’s unconditional love, paired with his justice. He still loves Harry, and he gives him ample opportunity to change. But when Harry won’t turn back, Brandon prepares to kill him. He further echoes Jesus when he is killed by Harry, and when his other comrades join Harry’s betrayal. He dies at the hands of the very people he loves, but he does not resent them. Instead, he returns, to bring “justice” and, to what extent is possible, reconcile relationships. Similarly, Jesus died and rose again without resentment, to redeem us from sin. And, also similarly, Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.

Hints of Creation [Of who and what we were made to be] 


Deep relationships, especially platonic and familial ones, provide a strong theme throughout Gungrave. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve had a pure relationship between themselves and God, untainted by deceit or greed. Humans aren’t made to live alone, and that shows in Gungrave. Brandon is especially good at valuing fellowship, but Harry gravitates to family-like groups, too. First, it’s their little gang in the slums. Then, it’s Millenion. Harry even gets married. Since wives, unlike best friends, are kept out of mafia business, he enjoys a relatively fulfilling relationship. 

Hints of Fall [Of how messed up we've become since the events recorded in Gen. 3]


Death, specifically murder, is an obvious hint throughout Gungrave. But the hints that resonate more deeply come from broken relationships. Sin prevents Brandon from a relationship with his beloved Maria. He is too involved in underworld dealings—and too loyal to Harry—to be a stable man for her. When stated like that, it sounds like an illustration of the separation between God and Man after the Fall. (Now there is a topic I'd like to explore—Maria and Brandon's relationship as a reflection of the human condition.) Most glaringly, Harry does not understand that selfless love and loyalty are infinitely more valuable than power and money. Thus, he accuses Brandon of betraying him by standing in his way. Instead of trusting his friend’s goodwill, he kills him—much like Eve and Adam chose not to trust God’s command. Harry misplaces his trust and confuses his priorities, just like so many of us do when blinded by the allure of sin. 

Hints of Redemption [Of reconciliation, bringing us and the world back into our proper relationship with God]


There is an echo of redeeming love in the last episode of Gungrave. Brandon finally begins to get through to Harry, to remind him of the friendship they used to have. At times, the screen shows them as their younger selves, from before Millenion.  Past and present mix in their last minutes, and they see dead friends. This gives hints of an afterlife, and of reunion with loved ones. With Brandon’s last words right before they shoot each other, he suggests they return to their childhood, to days of freedom. In the last scene, they do just that. We see the day Brandon and Harry meet at the orphanage. It shows restoration of relationships, innocence, and freedom.

Conclusion


This is one of my favorite anime, and I’m sure it’s largely because of the elements outlined here. It shows the broken nature of human life and relationships, but it also values both of them very deeply. God isn’t acknowledged in this anime, but it does acknowledge our ability to love despite the worst, and without letting go of justice. That is something that God created, that reflects him, and is beautiful even in the most broken settings.



Saturday, November 29, 2014

Rewind: Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai!

I watched the first season of Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai!, aka Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions!, a little less than a year ago. I enjoyed it enough to give it 5/5 stars on Anime-Planet, but I dropped the second season after two episodes. Clearly, I have to be in the right mood to enjoy this kind of humor...

Honestly, I barely remember why I liked Chuunibyou so much. I was hesitant to watch it at first, because it sounded like I'd often be embarrassed on behalf of the characters. I mean, it's about a high school boy, Yuuta, who's trying to put his old delusions of grandeur behind him. He meets Rikka, a girl his age who is still a "chuunibyou"—she still fancies herself to be a heroine in possession of the "Tyrant's Eye." So, she's a teenager who still acts like a child who can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Recipe for embarrassment, right?

Actually, the embarrassment was minimal. Mostly, this show was just fun... and sweet. Yuuta wanted Rikka to break out of her delusions. Still, he put his old persona "Dark Flame Master" back on a few times to relate to her on her level. This contributed to some light romance between the two as the show went on.

From episode 12. Aren't they sweet? The eyepatch is part of Rikka's
delusion—a side effect of having the Tyrant's Eye. Her vision is fine.

While the plot of Chuunibyou didn't stick in my mind over the past year, the whole "chuunibyou" idea has endured, and it comes to mind every now and then. Back in January, I wrote my post "Don Quixote was a Chuunibyou," since the classic character reminded me so much of Rikka and Yuuta. Maybe it's a stretch to call a middle-aged man a chuunibyou, but when I set the age part aside, Quixote seems to fit the profile. Thanks to that, I remember both Don Quixote and Chuunibyou better than I would otherwise.

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That's all for now. I hope ya'll had a great Thanksgiving! I did. I've spent a lot of time holding my baby nephew, talking with family... and trying to chip away at the mountain of homework I need to finish before Monday. I'm going to be exhausted, and then there will be the rest of the final papers and exams to prepare for... I strongly suspect next weekend's post will be a simple "Swamped" post, but we'll see.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Rewind: Area no Kishi

Ya'll know how I feel about sports anime. So when Area no Kishi (Knight in the Area), an anime involving soccer, started airing in Winter 2012, I quickly picked it up. It finished airing Fall 2012. I finally finished drudging through it this September.

This anime taught me something valuable: I am a stubborn fool who takes pride in the most inane things. Why did I finish all 37 episodes of this lackluster show? Pride, folks. Pride in my identity as a sports anime fan, pride in finishing what I started, pride in enduring... It was not worth it, but I still, to this day, feel some pride in the fact I finished it.

I'm ridiculous.

Area no Kishi started with drama and ended... oh. I already forgot how it ended. I think there was a game in the last episode. Anyway, I'm not a huge fan of drama. Usually, when I watch that genre, I watch with my Literature Student hat on, or I dust off my Film Class hat from the spring semester. I feel more appreciation than entertainment (with some notable exceptions). The soap-opera-type drama in Area no Kishi? Yeah. Didn't appreciate it.

The characters as little kids. From left to right: Nana, aka "Seven," the
love interests/childhoofriend; Kakeru; Kakeru's heart big brother Suguru;
and random teammates. This photo shows up in multiple episodes. As
you can see by the almost-translucent bar, I watched on Crunchyroll, so
no commercials to prolong the tribulation. Sorry, I'm being overdramatic.

So, what about the humor? Uh... no. Mostly annoying.

The sports aspect? I was excited during a couple of episodes, especially in the first half, before I got too cynical about the whole thing. But a lot of episodes were wasted on drama, hot springs, festivals, beaches, and musings about medical-ish phenomena. Of course, when I say "wasted," I say it from a sports anime fan's point of view.

Okay, you say, at least there were some cute boys, right? Nope. The animation was so-so at best, so even if I were still young enough to comfortably crush on these characters... heavens no. Not even their personalities got my attention. My care for Kakeru, the main character, mostly come from that loyalty that naturally forms between me and any half-decent protagonist.

The theme music for Area no Kishi is going through my head. Again. It's the same OP (and maybe ED? I forget) for all 37 episodes, and key parts of it play throughout each episode, so that adds up to... hearing the same several measures of music over and over and over again. I finally got it out of my head after I finished the show, but now, after writing this, it's come back. What have I done to myself?

So, do I recommend Area no Kishi? If you're not a picky, cynical, somewhat experienced fan who sometimes pretends to be a connoisseur... then sure! I'm really glad people like you are still around to enjoy these anime the way they were made to be enjoyed. I hope reading this post doesn't hold you back from that. I probably would have enjoyed Area no Kishi more in the earlier days of my fandom. And Anime-Planet users rate it, on average, just over 3.5/5 stars, which isn't entirely bad.

If you are picky, but you take pride in finishing mediocre shows, then no. Don't commit yourself to this. It's like committing yourself to SAO, but with less people to snobbily complain to, and without that nice, clear stopping point after two cour. And no pretty animation.



Saturday, November 15, 2014

When the Swamp Clouds my Mind

I forgot to post last night. Now, I could do a normal Swamped post. I could try to spit out a Rewind post really quickly and then get to homework. Instead, I think I'll share some of what I've been pondering and writing lately. I started writing this earlier this week, and sharing it will help me feel accountable to follow up with action.

You've seen me say "I'm swamped" before. But that's becoming more than a figure of speech, and turning into a perfect analogy for my muddied state of mind (more muddied than usual, I mean). Thus, I need some self-examination.

I nearly marathoned Meganebu!, Daily Lives of High School Boys, and a dark reverse harem over the space of a few days. I reminded myself of my last two years of high school, when I watched well over two month's worth of anime. Those were dark years for multiple reasons, and I felt an echo of them when I cuddled in bed, ignoring homework and my messy room as I binge-watched anime that made me laugh… and anime that made me feel horror.

From the end of Daily Lives of High School Boys, episode 12. This
is their take on the running-late-to-school-with-toast-in-your-mouth
trope. Personally, I prefer microwavable breakfast sandwiches or, if
I'm really even later than usual, a spoonful of peanut butter.

It’s one thing to take a break from responsibilities for a bit, to refresh. But, just like in high school, I was seeking joy and freedom in the wrong place. The "joy" I find watching Daily Lives didn't help me in my own daily life. So when I looked up from homework and realized the beautiful weather stirred nothing but cynicism, I stopped what I was doing and grabbed my journal.

I’m feeling echoes of how I was four years ago. Thankfully, I’m more aware of myself now. I have a little Squad of Depression Monitors in me. They often team up with the Anxiety Patrol. My lethargy, binge-watching, and melancholy feelings set off some quiet alarms, and the Anti-Depression Squad set out to investigate.

Am I depressed? No. But I’m not so proud as to believe I’m immune from depression just because we beat it in the past. And my habits are becoming less healthy. I can’t brush it off as “typical college student” behavior and expect to be okay. So when my Anti-Depression Squad recognized gateway signs, it also advised a change of action.

First, I examined my emotional balance. Was there an unusual amount of melancholy? There was, so I examined it before dismissing it. Dismissing an emotion without finding its source is like plucking the head off a weed and leaving the root: the weed will still live, its roots taking over the soil while the head grows back, stronger than ever. This time, the root of my melancholy didn't go too deep. But it was worth looking into.

Second, I read Psalm 136, my favorite psalm. My perspective on life was getting dark and twisted. The sun, which usually makes me smile and thank the Lord, didn't help this time. When I examined my mood and what was going on in my life, I realized that what I felt did not sync with reality. The best remedy? Read truth. So I turned to the Psalms. When I finished reading and praying, I felt a little more in sync with the world.

Honestly, I have not been journalling and reading my Bible as much as I should. I'm not saying this just because daily devotions are the "good Christian thing" to do. I'm saying this because the swamp in my schedule is flooding my mind and heart. Journalling helps me organize and clean my mind. It forces me to look at the root of my anxious or melancholy feelings and keep them from becoming destructive. If my thoughts are getting twisted or out of sync with reality, journalling exposes that. And reading the Bible helps me replace twisted thinking with true thinking. Praying is an important element, too, because I can't keep myself healthy or grow spiritually without God's help (plus, I can tell him anything without worrying what he thinks, so it's always good to spend time with him).

So, once I've posted this, I'm going to get out my journal and make sure my head's on straight. I don't have time or mental energy for much, but any time writing and praying is better than none. Then, it's off to homework, and hopefully some cleaning and exercise. When I step away from the anime and TV, I realize that my life is out of balance. My journal is not the only thing I've neglected between homework and computer time, and it's starting to affect me in more ways than one.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

What I Watch When I'm Swamped

When I'm swamped with homework, anime doesn't always sound relaxing. I procrastinate even more than usual on the silliest of things... including my favorite anime. Instead, I watch something I don't need to have an opinion on, with characters and plot I don't care as much about. My brain is overtaxed as it is; I'd rather not think too hard about my leisure activities. That means I watch more live action shows, since I'm not in the habit of thinking deeply about them. I also watch comedy anime... of varying quality.

Thus, I'm caught up on Shirobako, but not on Daiya no Ace. I'm also enjoying Meganebu!, a fact I might be embarrassed to admit, if my inability to catch up on homework hadn't already taken my pride down a couple notches.

Meganebu! is full of inside jokes for glasses-wearers. But I think
most of us can sympathize with Yukiya's dilemna here. No service
on a deserted island (ep. 9).
What, you ask, is Meganebu!? It's a show about cute boys (as cute as they can be with lower quality animation), all of whom wear glasses. They're in a high school club revolving around... glasses. Their goal? To build X-ray glasses that can see through girls' clothes. As of the tenth episode, all their attempts have exploded, so the ladies are safe.

Really, their goal with the X-ray glasses comes second to their love for glasses. It's ridiculous. Somewhat amusing, but ridiculous. I'll probably rate it 2 stars on Anime-Planet, just because 1 star seems a bit harsh. But I'll still watch it all the way through, because it's fun and brainless, like American Saturday morning cartoons. And I kind of need that right now.

What do you watch when you need to unwind?