As you know, it's June Month Madness and that means no comic-book reviews or discussion or anything for the whole month!!!
Insane, but true!!!
Of course, this raises the eternal question: If you can't talk about comic-books, what else is there to talk about???
And the answer, of course, is anime!!!
Now, lemme tell ya... I have steadfastly avoided anime all my life. It simply doesn't appeal to me.
The big eyes, the speed lines, the whole thing. I don't like anime and I don't like manga.
That said, a couple of weeks ago I suddenly--for no particular reason--decided that I wanted to try out the best that anime has to offer.
So, I searched that world wide web that the kids are always going on about and looked through various anime review sites to see which shows/movies might be of interest to a non-anime-lover such as myself.
[Incidentally, I feel I should point out that if you have any interest at all in anime, or simply want to see how well-organized and user-friendly a web-site can be, I strongly recommend that you check out THEM Anime Reviews.
I visited a lot of anime review sites, but this one definitely impressed me the most. For one thing, they have their reviews cross-referenced so that you can look them up by genre, by alphabetical order, by the year that the anime came out, or by the rating. Besides which, their reviews are very well-written; they give a good plot summary but without giving away any surprises-- which is key to good review writing, I think.
Also, the reviewers are extremely articulate about why they like or don't like various anime, so that I could easily figure out which reviews I would most likely agree with and which I wouldn't.
I can't help thinking that it's too bad there isn't a site of similar quality for comic-books. If I were a newcomer to the wonderful world of comics, where would I find out which series are worth looking at and which genres are out there? I can't think of a single place that comes anywhere near the THEM Anime Review site in terms of being easy to navigate and full of good information.]
[That was a lengthy parenthetical aside, wasn't it?]
[Other excellent sites include The Anime Review and Akemi's Anime World. These two are also super easy to navigate, feature extremely helpful reviews, and just plain rock!]
As it turns out, there is quite a world of anime out there.
On the negative side, roughly 90% of it can be put into one of four categories:
1) Mecha - big robots fighting each other.
2) A girl falls down a well or some damn thing and ends up in a fantasy world of dragons and magic thingies and she discovers that she's a princess and... oop... I just threw up.
3) A teenage boy finds a robot girl or an alien girl or some kind of not-human girl and she's really beautiful and she falls in love with him. Hijinks ensue.
4) Samurai. Lots of swords. Takes itself very, very seriously. People use the word "honor" a lot.
So, I tried very hard to avoid all of the above genres because none of them particularly appeal to me.
[In all fairness to anime, however, it's worth noting that more than 90% of all American comic-books can be placed into exactly one category: Super-heroes.]
Anyway, the first one I decided to try (through the magic of Netflix!!!) was:
It's hard to spell, hard to pronounce, and ultra-hard to understand.
Every review I found about this show talked about how totally incomprehensible it is for the first several episodes. Those who liked it said that it all comes together brilliantly toward the end. Those who hated it said it was too artsy and slow.
I figured this was as good a place to start as any.
I've only seen the first four episodes of Texhnolyze so far, and I'm just beginning to get a sense of what it's about. It's sort of a dark sci-fi story about a futuristic society where they can create amazingly real prosthetic limbs.
One of the main characters is a boxer (Ichise) who, at the very beginning, gets on the wrong side of the mafia and so gets an arm and leg chopped off.
Another important character is a guy (Yoshii) who spends most of the first episode climbing down this vast stairway to visit the world of Texhnolyze (from where?). When he arrives, someone asks him how the journey was and he says it took him four days longer than he expected.
So, we're talking about a lot of stairs.
Also, while he's climbing down these metal ladders he's wearing a gas mask. It's kind of creepy looking.
Upon arriving in the world below he encounters a young girl wearing a fox mask (Ran) who leads him to her father's house/castle. They drink tea and are attacked by mobsters. Then the girl with the mask (who barely speaks) and Yoshii take a very long train ride together into the city (I think the train ride lasted about two episodes, if I remember correctly).
None of this probably sounds terribly interesting, but the art is absolutely beautiful in parts and the music is very creepy. If you look at their web-site, you'll get a sort of sense of the thing, although even that doesn't quite capture it.
Texhnolyze definitely isn't for everyone. It's probably not even for 1/4 of everyone. It's long and slow and in the first episode (each episode is about 25 minutes long) there are maybe six lines of dialogue in the whole damn thing.
If you're willing to put a bit of time into it, this looks to be a very intriguing series. After I finished the fourth episode, I went back and watched the first two again. And they started to make some sense.
There are art sequences that are simply amazing. At times, it's like looking at a Dave McKean cover... sort of. I don't know. I don't really know what to compare it to. It's not really like anything I've seen before.
And that's part of what I like so much about it.
Anyway, if you're up for a challenge, I highly recommend Texhnolyze. It's not quite like anything you've seen before.
2) Gunslinger Girl
Gunslinger Girl has a terrible title. There's no getting around it.
It's frequently described in the anime review sites as a sort of cross between Luc Besson's Le Femme Nikita and The Professional. That is absolutely true. And I would argue that it actually holds its own against either of those movies.
Gunslinger Girl is about a government "welfare agency" that's actually a training ground for assassains. The catch is that each of these assassains is a young girl.
Sounds absurd? I know. But it's actually incredible good. And uber-melancholy.
One facet of the series it that these girls are "conditioned" to become assassains. The conditioning involves cyborg parts and a bit of brain-washing. Each time they get conditioned, they lose a little bit more of their personality and their memories. Oh yeah, and it shortens their life-spans, too.
By all rights, this series shouldn't work as well as it does.
But the stories are superb and the series really sucks you in quickly.
Of the anime I've watched thus far, this is the one that I'm very seriously considering buying a copy of. I highly recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind a bit of action and a whole lot of tragedy.
[Here's a link to a trailer for Gunslinger Girl. It's dubbed in English, which I hate, and it doesn't totally capture the mood of the thing, but it'll give you a sense of what the show looks like.]
Azumanga Daioh reminds me of Charles Schultz's Peanuts. Only, the characters in Azumanga Daioh are all girls.
And instead of being sort of slow-paced, Azumanga Daioh is completely hyper-active.
If the Peanuts is heroin, Azumanga Daioh is crack. Japanese crack.
Azumanga Daioh is a slice-of-life kind of story about six girls in high school. There's not really much in the way of a storyline; the series just follows them through their four years in school.
Parts of it are super-cute. Other parts are hilarious.
And other parts simply make no sense at all.
If you hate things that are cute, this anime will probably drive you insane. The girl you see above, Chiyo-Chan, is almost painfully cute. Even the other characters can't stand it at times.
But my favorite character is Osaka:
[There's a better picture of her at the top of this column; it's the second from the top.]
She's sort of spacey and... well, you really just need to see it to understand.
If you like your humor with a very surreal/cutesy edge, Azumanga is the real deal.
Here's a link to a pretty good trailer (though again dubbed in English) and this is a link to a very short cartoon (about five minutes?) of Azumanga Daioh that is a perfect sampler of the series.
As a matter of fact, if I have accomplished nothing else with this particular installment of Hoopla!, I hope I can persuade you to click on that link to the five minute cartoon because, really, I think it's hilarious.
You may not agree, of course.
But then you'd be wrong.
Anyway, if you like what you see at these links, you will love Azumanga Daioh. If you don't like them, however, I can't do nothin' for you.
[Note: If you're planning to watch Azumanga Daioh with young kids, which I highly recommend, I'll just caution you in advance that the one kind of icky thing about the show is the one male character, a lecherous male teacher who is always staring at the girls. I guess in Japan, that's considered funny, but I found it disturbing and I certainly wouldn't want to have to explain to a young kid why the man teacher wants to watch the girls swim in the pool.
Fortunately, he's hardly in the show at all. So, just skip the fourth episode, "Pool, pool, pool" and you should be safe.]
Still to come:
My, how the time does fly! June Madness Month is almost over and I still haven't done my reviews of the Republican presidential candidates, the Employee motivational tips, and oh so much other good stuff!
Well, be here next week when I try to get to as much of it as possible before June is over and we are once again legally permitted to discuss comic-book related stuff.
In the meantime, go watch some darn anime!!!