Neon Genesis Evangelion

Neon Genesis Evangelion. One of the greatest anime of all time. The work that made Anno Hideaki famous. The work that put Gainax on the map. The work that changed anime forever.

It holds a special place in my heart. Not because of those things, or because it is very good – or rather, not only because of those things. Evangelion holds a special place in my heart because it is effectively what made me an anime fan. It wasn’t the first anime I watched – that distinction would go to Astro Boy or Voltron or something else like that that I watched as a small child. Neither was it the first anime I watched knowing it was anime; that would probably be Battle Angel Alita or something else that screened on SBS during my teenage years.

No, it was the first anime that I really obsessed over. In my then 18 years of life, I’d never seen any work of fiction that explored the sorts of things it did or make me wonder what it all really meant as much as it did. I craved information about it (and what it all meant), so I took to the Internet in search of that. The Internet was very different then from what it is now; home broadband was a rarity, the best most had was a 56kbit/s dialup modem. (And I had a crummy 33.6k one…) Blogs, Wikis, social networking, none of these things existed yet. Everything was personal web sites, and I browsed as many of those as I could find that had anything to say about Evangelion. Most of the time, the people who had something to say about Evangelion had something to say about various other anime as well, and a lot of the time I found myself saying “hey this show sounds pretty interesting too,” and I’d go out and find them and watch them. And it kind of snowballed from there. But enough about my history; the long and short of it is that it had an immense impact on the course of my life.

A word of warning; I give away some really major plot points here, but by now the spoiler statute of limitations has to be up on this one. If you somehow haven’t seen the series but still want to be surprised, you have been warned.

It’s a big robot show that sits somewhere between Real Robot and Super Robot genre-wise, and deconstructs it all in a very major way. Our hero, such as he is, is Ikari Shinji, a 14-year-old boy who’s called in to Tokyo-3 by his father to pilot the eponymous big robot, Evangelion, and save the world. He takes the responsibility about as well as you’d expect the average teenager with emotional problems to – very badly. He’s constantly having to tell himself not to run away (and does run away from it all twice), really doesn’t get along with his father, has a lot of trouble making friends, the list goes on.

And the rest of the cast are all at least as screwed up as he is. I could go into details, but it’d take too long, and I’d still really just scratch the surface. Really. But some really serious effort went into each of them and their issues. Creator/director Anno Hideaki had suffered from depression, and it really shows, particularly in Shinji. I’ve mentioned before the importance I place on characters, and this show has truly fascinating characters.

Broadly speaking, the show can be broken up into three parts. The first few episodes are setup; we’re introduced to Shinji, the other pilot Rei, the situation (beings called Angels attack, the organisation called Nerv fights back using the Evangelions), and see some hints that there are other things going on in the background. Then about the time the third pilot, Asuka, makes her appearance, the show settles into a kind of status quo; the fights for the fate of the world happen, we get some deeper insights into the major characters and their motivations (and issues), further hints at things happening in the shadows. All seems to be going fine.

And then it all goes to hell in a major way. There are betrayals, major characters going off the deep end, lives being destroyed, shocking truths coming to light, and through all of this they all still have to deal with the ever-increasing threat posed by the Angels. By the end, Nerv has defeated all 17 of the Angels and saved the world, but at great cost. Tokyo-3 is basically destroyed, just leaving Nerv headquarters which was buried deep underground. Shinji is emotionally broken, his friends having left and having had to personally kill the only person he could open up to when things were at their previous worst. Asuka is catatonic following a series of crushing defeats. Rei (or rather a clone of her, the previous two incarnations having died horribly) is no better off than Shinji, for various reasons.

Now as an aside here, many people complain about Shinji as a protagonist, and how much of a wimp he is. It only really becomes apparent once during the TV series, but the truth is that when really motivated, he is capable of some amazing badassery. At one point, the strongest Angel yet seen attacks, easily defeating Asuka who had a fair arsenal at her disposal, and Rei who attacked with a bomb as destructive as a nuke, and makes its way through Nerv headquarters to its objective. Shinji (just coming back from his second running away from it all) shows up in his Evangelion, puts the Angel on the defensive without any weapons, takes the fight back outside with one arm blown off, and is in the process of ripping its face off when the battery runs out. So he lets depression get the better of him for most of the rest of the series; he’s only human. What humans are capable of and what they do is infinitely more complex than either being a hero or a wimp.

One-armed Evangelion

Things are about to get much worse for him

Something else worth noting is that the show is infamous for some of its cost-cutting techniques in the animation. It is true that they did write a couple of new chapters in the book of tricks in that regard, but they do at least manage to make it work for them in terms of dramatic tension. But the upside to this is that they took what they saved there and put it into better animating the stuff that was important to actually animate, and the artwork on it all is very good.

Anyway. As at episode 24 of the TV series, things are in the aforementioned sorry state. From here, there’s two different endings. The first is the TV series ending, episodes 25 and 26. They’re an almost completely incoherent mess of dialogue, images, half-finished ideas and crude animation, with a vaguely uplifting but confusing end.

The other is the movie ending, End of Evangelion. You know how things were bad at the end of episode 24? Well, they get much worse. Nerv gets attacked again, this time by other humans. The whole thing is pretty complicated, but the short of it is that there’s two different plots to merge all of humanity together into a single being; one being that of Shinji’s father, Gendo, and the other being that of Keel Lorenz, the head of the shadowy group ultimately behind Nerv. Gendo’s got some of the key pieces needed to make it happen, so Keel sends in the army.

Nerv fights back, but is badly outclassed by the army until Asuka comes out of her coma and starts trashing military hardware (and personnel) using her Evangelion, and things start looking up. That is, until Keel’s set of mass-produced Evangelions running on autopilot show up. Asuka puts up a downright heroic fight against them, managing to take them all down before her battery runs out… but they get back up again and tear her to shreds. The aftermath of this is the first thing Shinji sees when he arrives on the scene. Ultimately, humanity is all merged together, but things kind of fall apart and at the end there’s just Shinji and Asuka left, with the corpse of a giant Rei that was the single being humanity merged into.

So why am I so fond of a show that’s so depressing? Well, part of it is that I can relate (a bit too well) to that aspect of the characters, notably Shinji. Part of it is that it does a lot of really imaginative stuff that I’d never seen the likes of before, and haven’t quite seen the likes of since. Then there’s how it’s very well done, even if some aspects of the ending (particularly the TV ending) are what you might charitably call unsatisfying. But really, every once in a while you come across a piece of fiction that its creator really poured their heart and soul into. It might have its flaws, but it really draws you in. It might have any number of fantastic or unrealistic elements, but how it plays out feels natural. Neon Genesis Evangelion is one such work.

And then there’s the Rebuild movies, which re-tell the whole thing from scratch. I’ll be doing another post focusing on that at some point later.

Advertisements

Bodacious Space Pirates

I like science fiction, always have. Especially space-based science fiction. So today, I’m reviewing a show about pirates in space, because pirates are always fun.

I’ll start off with a few words about the setting. It’s your fairly typical situation of people colonising a lot of planets, and a central government wanting control of them – and the colonies not especially liking that. As part of the war effort, the various colonies permit ships in private hands to raid commercial shipping and the like. Strictly speaking, this makes them privateers rather than pirates, but Bodacious Space Privateers doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. And as it is, the Bodacious makes it sound like someone trying to be cool in the 80s, though the word (a blend of bold and audacious) is a reasonable (if not quite direct) translation of the original title, Mouretsu Pirates. And in any case it’s better than the original title for the novels it’s based on; Miniskirt Pirates.

Anyway. That whole political situation got (mostly) sorted out, and while some pirates are still around, there are restrictions; the pirating license can only be inherited by the captain’s biological offspring and they must actually engage in pirate work on a regular basis. This consists partly of doing raids for show for cruise liners catering to rich customers, and partly of mercenary work.

The main character is Katou Marika, a fairly ordinary high school girl who has a part-time job at a maid cafe and is a member of her school’s yacht club, yachts in this case being the spaceship variety. In the first episode, she finds out that space pirates are still around, that her mother was one, and that the father she never knew was the captain of the pirate ship Bentenmaru, which she has now inherited if she wants it. She also has a new student who is suspiciously familiar with matters related to piracy, Kurihara Chiaki, transfer to her school.

Kurihara Chiaki

My favourite character in the show; Kurihara Chiaki. Voiced by one of my favourite seiyuu; Hanazawa Kana.

Of course it’s a foregone conclusion for the audience that she will take up the mantle of pirate captain, but Marika is initially unsure about it. Following an incident during her yacht club’s practice cruise (in what turns out to have been one of the “original seven” pirate spaceships), she makes up her mind and takes up piracy. Though largely as a part-time job, since she still wants to finish high school as well. A second part-time job, since it seems that she never actually quits at the cafe. She has a pretty interesting career as a pirate, naturally – it wouldn’t be much of a TV show otherwise. Relatively early on she’s made something of a name for herself, and at the end she’s really made a name for herself.

Katou Marika

The two sides of Katou Marika

There’s broadly speaking two parts to the show; Marika’s high school life and Marika’s life as a pirate. There’s rather more crossover between the two than you might think, too – a princess that Marika does some work for transfers to her school and at one point she enlists the yacht club’s help in a pirate job, to give a couple of examples. Each “side” of her life has a pretty interesting set of supporting characters, too; largely people who are good at what they do and have a few personality quirks.

Bodacious Space Pirates

The cast

At this point, it might start reminding you of Martian Successor Nadesico if you’re fortunate enough to have seen that – and with good reason, both were directed by Satou Tatsuo. It does have its differences from Nadesico, of course – a complete lack of giant robots, for a start. It also starts off being fairly hard science fiction, though getting a bit softer towards the end. Personally I value things like characters and story over how hard the sci-fi is, but apparently it does bother some people. And characters and story it does very well.

So the final verdict? Brilliant show, well worth checking out if you’ve got any interest at all in science fiction.

Tsukuyomi Moon Phase

As evidenced by the existence of a tag for it on my blog, I’m pretty fond of the works of Studio Shaft. One good example of their work is Tsukuyomi Moon Phase.

It’s a comedy. It’s a supernatural horror. It’s some major mood whiplash between the two on a regular basis. Particularly the opening theme and accompanying animation when coming before or after some of the more horror-ish bits.

Kouhei

Morioka Kouhei. The densest thing in the world.

It all kicks off when Morioka Kouhei, a man with zero supernatural abilities or senses working as a photographer for an occult magazine, is investigating a castle with some of his colleagues. There he encounters Hazuki, a young vampire who’s trapped in the castle and wants out. Hazuki bites Kouhei, Kouhei and co fight to free Hazuki, the castle gets destroyed. Kouhei and friends go home. Hazuki follows them. The people who trapped her there in the first place follow Hazuki. Fights happen, comedy moments happen.

Hazuki

Hazuki. Possibly the brattiest vampire in existence.

One of the comedy elements is that having been bitten by Hazuki, Kouhei should be her loyal slave, but isn’t. And Hazuki isn’t very happy about that.

Now being a Shaft production is something of a double-edged sword. You get a good, entertaining show with lots of interesting visuals, but they have a tendency to fall a little behind and scramble for deadlines, which means sometimes they get a little less animated than you really want. In this case, it happens in some of the major fights of the show. Still, for all that it’s still way more animated than something like the Violinist of Hameln TV series, and manages to be good enough.

It’s a very entertaining show, both for the horror elements and the comedy elements. It’s also one of the better examples of vampire fiction, with an interesting and plausible enough take on vampire lore. Recommended for anyone with an interest in vampires.

Haganai (and Haganai NEXT)

So, back once more to my guilty pleasure harem titles. This time it’s Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai (I Have Few Friends), known as Haganai for short. The second season, titled Haganai NEXT, is currently airing.

Hasegawa Kodaka

Our main character. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with him?

Hasegawa Kodaka doesn’t fit in well. Being half-English, he has naturally blond hair that everyone thinks is dyed which leads to them assuming he’s a delinquent. (Not that his social skills generally help much either.) One day, he catches his classmate Mikazuki Yozora talking to her imaginary friend (her only friend, as it happens), and they wind up forming a club to help them make friends and develop social skills.

Mikazuki Yozora

Yozora. Not the least sociable person ever, but not that far off either.

This goes about as well as you’d expect. They get a few members for the club, misfits the lot of them. And aside from Kodaka himself, all cute girls. Harem show, remember? Well, one of them claims to be a guy (and apparently honestly believes she is), though there’s no real way she could be mistaken for one, especially after she’s put in a maid uniform. Just why someone who thinks they’re a guy would agree to that I’m still not sure of, though.

Anyway. They spend their time learning how to do the sorts of things you do in social situations – or at least try to. Each attempt usually fails when the cast – usually Yozora and her archnemesis Kashiwazaki Sena – spend more time fighting with each other than actually trying to do what they’re supposed to. There is a reason these people are misfits.

Kashiwazaki Sena

Sena. See Yozora’s description; the two are more alike than either of them wants to admit.

There are a few rather unlikely elements to the setting, most notably the ten-year-old nun that’s a teacher at the school and the club’s official advisor. But hey, it’s a comedy. I’m willing to let that sort of thing slide if the result is funny enough.

And the show is pretty damn funny. It’s never going to be mistaken for a great masterpiece, but it’s entertaining.

Sasami-san is the best thing this season

Well, “best” might be a bit of a stretch, but Sasami-san@Ganbaranai is certainly the show I’m enjoying the most this season. Episode 5 was fairly mundane compared to previous ones, but relatively mundane in this show is still pretty bloody strange by any other standards. I’m kind of tempted to do something about getting it screened at a convention I’m involved with, if only so I can include the phrase “at which point Sasami told her brother not to put sushi on his nipples” in correspondence.

Anyway. This episode deals mainly with Sasami trying to make friends, and in particular trying to make friends with Kagami, which I approve of. I’ve got something of a soft spot for androids and various other kinds of artificially created beings as characters. I’m also pretty fond of a deadpan delivery, and Hanazawa Kana is doing deadpan very well here.

Kagami and spilled noodles

Deadpan even in situations like this

And the above picture is the least of the problems Kagami has to deal with this episode, but fortunately it’s nothing a heavily armed divinity-powered robot girl can’t handle.

Clannad

Next on the list to review is another Maeda Jun/Key work, Clannad. I’d debated whether or not to include the second series, Clannad After Story, and whether or not to do a really spoileriffic review since there’s some stuff about the ending and later events that I want to talk about. I wound up deciding to just do two reviews; this one for the first series without spoilers and one for After Story giving away everything.

So. It’s a romance-themed series, which for a show aimed at a male audience these days basically means a harem. But it’s not your typical harem show, for a number of reasons. For a start, the relationship with the “main” heroine is a lot more definite than most. Then there’s the major theme of the series; family. The stories of each of the major characters are all ultimately about their family relationships. For the male lead, Okazaki Tomoya, it’s (initially, at least) mainly about his strained relationship with his father.

For the main heroine, Furukawa Nagisa, it’s (initially) mainly about her relationship with her parents. With Ibuki Fuuko, it’s about her relationship with her older sister. With the Fujibayashi twins, Kyou and Ryou, well… it’s each other. With Sakagami Tomoyo, there’s other stuff involved, but it ultimately comes down to her younger brother. For Ichinose Kotomi, again there are other factors, but it’s ultimately down to her relationship with her parents. Even Tomoya’s friend Sunohara Youhei, it’s largely about his relationship with his little sister.

Tomoya’s a bit of a delinquent, and a tremendous smartarse. It’s mostly the latter quality that makes him an interesting character, and drives most of the humour in the show – primarily with him pulling various pranks on people. But he’s not really happy with his life, or the town he lives in. But this changes when he meets Nagisa on the way to school one morning. It’s not an immediate change; these things do take time, but this is the start of it.

Tomoya and Nagisa

A fateful meeting

Nagisa, meanwhile, has been absent from school a lot due to illness and is repeating her last year of high school. She’s feeling a bit melancholy because all of her friends have moved on and everything she liked is changing, when Tomoya gives her some words of encouragement.

There’s also a sequence throughout involving an unnamed girl and a junk robot in a mysterious world, which initially doesn’t seem connected to anything or make much sense overall, but it does become important later.

Like Angel Beats, the show does both humour and tragedy, though less of the latter than Angel Beats. It also has a supernatural element all throughout, but fairly subtly so. It’s also thankfully far less of a storytelling mess than other Maeda works such as Air or Angel Beats. And it’s very, very pretty. Not just the characters either, there’s some very nice scenery porn on display.

It’s a very good show, which I highly recommend, but the sadder elements do put many people off.

One Piece

Today’s review is something that’s both a classic from a while ago and currently airing: One Piece. It’s a title that I didn’t really pay much attention to when it was just starting, and by the time I decided I was interested in it, it had an episode count that was a bit daunting. But recently, the group that I regularly get together with to watch anime with has started watching it, so that’s finally given me the kick in the arse to get started on it.

One Piece crew

Some of the crew

And I love it. The first thing that should be said about One Piece is that it’s utterly ridiculous. Everything about it, top to bottom, completely ridiculous. The setting, the character designs, the fights, the special powers, everything. Any time it even looks like things might get serious, it ramps up the ridiculous. And it’s brilliant. You see, at the heart of all this ridiculous is some really solid storytelling. The characters, while all utterly ridiculous in their own ways, are not just randomly strange: there’s clearly a lot of thought and effort gone into fleshing them out well.

I’ve basically just scratched the surface at this point; I’ve now seen 25 out of (as at this posting) 578 in existence. I’ve seen some of what’s in store for me somewhere in the hundreds; one of my customers at work is a big fan of it and occasionally mentions some of the more odd stuff that happens, and has shown me a few episodes. I honestly look forward to spending years and years watching it. It’s going to be a blast.

Now I’ve already gone on a bit talking about it where by now I would have described the show in a bit of detail by now. I was actually debating whether or not to do so, since it’s been around long enough and is popular enough that the basics are more or less common knowledge among the anime fandom, but nothing is actually universally known, so I’ll at least give a brief rundown.

It’s about pirates in sailing ships. The most legendary pirate of the previous generation, Gold Roger, said just before his execution that his greatest treasure, the titular One Piece, is out there for the taking. So lots of people took up piracy and went in search of it, and to become the king of pirates. One such person is Monkey D. Luffy, who ate the Devil’s Fruit and gained a rubber-like body. His companions include a tremendous liar, a womanising cook, the most mercenary navigator imaginable, a guy who fights using three swords at once, a reindeer-like thing (as the medic), a perverted cyborg, a skeleton, and more.

Many people are put off from the show by the art style, which is admittedly something of an acquired taste, but it really is a brilliant show. Recommended for anyone who wants a shounen action adventure show that’s more than just a series of fight scenes strung together.