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Samurai Jack – Review January 29, 2010

Posted by Cello in Anime (TV) Series Reviews.
5 comments

Samurai Jack, is a genuine cause to rejoice. Finally, a studio understands the value of an animated series and doesn’t feel the need to suck up every minute of an episode with dialogue, dialogue, and more dialogue. The great thing about this series, is the plot is pretty simple. View the opening credits and they let you know right off the back the premise of the series. On a bizarre, futuristic alternate Earth, a lone samurai armed only with the magic sword of his ancestors, treks through a savage world on his quest to return to his own time. The character of Jack is an immensely charismatic hero. His courage, resourcefulness and ethical code serves as a breath of fresh air in today’s sea of common, immoral TV characters. The series won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program in 2004, and for good reason.

Not really categorized as anime per se, but the series is influenced heavily by asian culture. Each episode in this brilliant series is well written, and amazingly executed. It’s easy to knock American animation. Compared to the robust competition across the Pacific it seems uninspired and shallow, barely able to hold a coherent thought that isn’t about produt placement. But this is not your basic slapped together Saturday morning cartoon. Samurai Jack is high art. There was never anything like it before on television, and there has not been anything to match it since. Some of the best episodes of the set includes one where a gang destroys Jack’s sandals and he goes after them for revenge, while trying to find the right footwear. It’s wittingly humorous as Jack emerges to battle the gang and ends up being laughed at for his ridiouculous footwear.

Samurai Jack is a highly syltized fusion of modern cartooning and traditional Japanese art. The show has a visual strength that allows for long, captivating sequences without dialogue. If you’re unfamiliar with Samurai Jack in general then you’d be in for a visual treat with any of the box sets. The cartoon includes some fantastic action sequences mixed with a grand movie feel. Most people who missed out probably got turned off that it originally aired on Cartoon Network but this should not be a fault at all. You can see the influence of Samurai Jack in the opening credits of the feature animated film Kung Fu Panda from Dreamworks. Series creator Genndy Tartakovsky has done a great deal to raise the bar for quality in TV cartoons. Unlike other cartoons, Samurai Jack is anything but predictable. Jack’s journey into the distant future from his native ancient Japan is heart-wrenching, hilarious and thrilling.

Some particular episodes to watch are the fight between Jack and the Dark ninja, the entire “The Scotsman Saves Jack” episodes, the Noir-style episode of Jack vs. the last and best of Aku’s robot assassins, and the episode where monkeys teach Jack to jump high. The tone hearkens backs to a more traditional Japanese culture, of silence and elegance, and from the antecedents of Japanese cinema as found in American Westerns. Samurai Jack has the perfect balance of moody pacing and visceral action, dreadful seriousness and self-aware humor, playful beauty and important morals.

Phil Lamarr does an excellent job voicing Jack and I have no faults whatsoever.  The only concern I have is some episodes act as filler and we never did receive a proper ending to the series.  There has been talks that a Samurai Jack movie would be devloped to close the series out but we have yet to hear any word back on that. The series didn’t seem to have a polish to it near the end. Also, a lot of the first season’s episodes are kind of repetitive. As a fan of this series, it would be nice for Jack to finally go home to his time. As I hold out for a Samurai Jack movie, in the meantime I can wholeheartedly recommend this series to anyone who wants a good animated series to watch. Most of all, the funny, wicked villain Aku was thoroughly under used. Put down your anime, otaku heads, and give this series a watch immediately. It’s on par with the best of ’em.

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Elfen Lied – Review December 24, 2009

Posted by Cello in Anime (TV) Series Reviews.
7 comments

This was a particular fun series to watch as it was very short, only containing 13 episodes, and had little to no filler material. The first couple episodes will shock you due to the excessive amount of violence, but I pushed myself out of curiosity, eager to await the next round of brilliant hysteria that was perpetuating my overwhelming interest. The story is about a girl named Nyu/Lucy who escapes from some facility where she was held captive & under lock down. She has extraordinary powers and in one last attempt to capture her, a shot was taken to her helmet which skewed her memory somehow and has created a temporary memory loss or dual personality. Nyu/Lucy wakes up on the beach the next day completely unaware of what happened the night before. She meets two young people on her journey to finding out what’s going on.
The sometimes slow pacing will likely turn off younger anime fans who might want Elfen Lied’s first five minutes to continue throughout the series. In my opinion, Elfen Lied has a great deal more going for it than the violence and nudity. The extreme violence allows us to come to the conclusion that the character of Lucy is irredeemable and must be destroyed; on the other hand, the nudity encourage us to see her as fragile and needing protection.  Without being too specific, the violence and nudity are integral to the story, accentuating themes of anger and tragedy against youth and innocence, and playing a huge role in character development.

A big gripe I had with this series though was that the characters have no semblance to reality whatsoever. Aside from the fact that Kohta and Yuka take in a naked mentally ill girl without telling anyone, there’s other examples of this problem. Seeing cheap pornographic grindhouse action in one moment and seeing sappy harem comedy the next just doesn’t work. I wasn’t too big on the character design either. As you can see from the screenshots below the animation is muddled and for the most part the style does not fit the source material. I know there is some debate as to the plausibility of the characters in terms of their behavior and interrelationships, and I have to admit that at times it was challenging for me to distinguish between certain characters whose appearance was similar, but because the plot is both interesting and well developed, I can overlook this.

While the plot does not escape from a weak male lead, which has been overused in the anime genre, there are more than enough strong points to make up for this. It is, for all intents and purposes, a woefully inadequate attempt at a drama which falls far short of tragedy greats in anime such as Grave of the Fireflies.  Although the creators of this show get props for attempting such an ambitious story, they get no credit for execution as the whole plot thing is more disgusting then sad and is not elaborated on during the course of the series.  The music was pretty plain, although the main theme wasn’t bad at all, if a little less impressive then other shows.

Elfen Lied is nothing special, that is unless your looking for animated underage girls taking showers together, in which case I’d suggest you get immediate psychiatric help.  I will say though, that the fact that the producers still managed to incorporate a modest amount of comedic relief into the entire mix really made this series quite unique. If you can overlook my complaints, then I can recommend you watch this anime series as Elfen Lied doesn’t contain that many episodes. It displays the best and the worst of human nature, and does so in amazingly heartwrenching ways. In conclusion, it’s a fun little series that I would watch again but doesn’t rank in my top ten anime’s or anything, and I’m partial to a bit of gore mixed with a bit of cute!

Samurai Champloo – Review November 20, 2009

Posted by Cello in Anime (TV) Series Reviews.
8 comments

The simple plot revolves around Fuu searching for the Sunflower Samurai. The group of ninjas trek through 19th-century Japan in search of the samurai who smells of sunflowers but I’ll admit that most recent shows of note have been visually striking, but Champloo really stands out. The big thing is the fighting, which occurs early and often. Fights are choreographed well with slashes and cutting happening in the blink of an eye. Now I know some people are going to say that while some episodes were good, quite a few of them were bad. In fact, I felt this way as well. In Samurai Champloo the characters are clearly not together for mere convenience because I noticed throughout the series, that they almost constantly complain about the troubles incurred by staying together. Rather, they travel together for almost no reason at all, and find themselves continuing to do so despite each of them repeatedly threatening to leave.

So far the episode structure is like Cowboy Bebop‘s, with a funny episode or two followed by a sadder episode. Unlike Bebop, there seems to be no build-up to a larger plot and there’s little delving into the characters’ backstories.  It may seem at times that Samurai Champloo’s popularity is driven more by its own hype than the quality of the series. I don’t give into the hype and after watching this series I thought the idea is more than just urban beats set against historical fight scenes. From the show’s soundtrack fueled by rap beats, Mugen’s break-dance inspired fighting style, episode themes, and subtle designs on the back of kimonos, the urban influence can be felt everywhere. Included here is a wide array of adventures that range from cool to corny.  No matter what’s going on though, the action remains top of the line, the show is slick, and there’s a certain hip element to everything.

Samurai Champloo is one of those rare, very special shows that you need only to watch once, and right away you’re hooked. Interestingly as well, although the producers made a point of stating that the show bears no historical accuracy, watching it I felt transported back into the past, witnessing the opening of Japan to the West. The Tokugawa era to be precise, during the time of Japanese seclusion from anyone whom they considered foreign, which was nearly everyone. Yet Champloo doesn’t exactly allow itself to fall into the rules of history, or at least it doesn’t rigidly follow it. Some episodes really veer off to the left. For example: There is an episode entitled ‘Baseball Blues’, in which Mugen, Jin, and Fuu are conned into playing in a baseball game against some pushy Americans armed with cannons who will leave only if they lose the game. As usual for this series, all Western characters are portrayed as horrible caricatures of their national identity. This is somethign that bothered me quite a bit.

Samurai Champloo is a show that begs to be watched. It may not be an outright classic, but it offers a great amount of energy, fun atmosphere, and inventive characters. Towards the final episodes drama dominates. All of the characters meet the conclusion of their own personal stories, while wrapping up their story as a group. Jin faces a man directly linked to his past as a swordsman; Mugen faces a family bent on revenge for Mugen’s past life as a pirate; and Fuu finally meets the Sunflower Samurai. The end of Samurai Champloo is both exciting and a bit sad. It’s a perfect conclusion to a perfect anime series, and sufficiently answers all the questions left behind in the previous episodes.

As the two samurai heroes say in episode two, there’s something silly about a samurai who smells of sunflowers. However, this series truly shows off some of the best battles ever seen in an anime, embellished with the gorgeous environment of ancient Japan. It’s easy to tell that the artists worked very hard to create visually interesting and pleasing characters and settings. The animation in every single scene is infused with a sense of care and precision that is never lazy or sloppy. The series has been dubbed in English and will play automatically on this setting, but I recommend going into the setup menu and enabling the original Japanese voices with English subtitles. The series is so steeped in rich Japanese culture and the Japanese actors are so superb that watching the episodes in English seems silly. It is also getting the blu-ray treatment next month, so please, you owe it to yourself to watch this series.  It may not be Cowboy Bebop, but its one of the greatest animes of my generation.

Cowboy Bebop – Review October 23, 2009

Posted by Cello in Anime (TV) Series Reviews.
5 comments

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Cowboy Bebop showcases phenomenal jazz music and exquisitely detailed animation that perfectly captures the mean streets and spaceways of a future world that’s simultaneously strange and familiar, with technology that’s grungy and realistic. It is perfectly believable and you never question the outlandish scenario’s that Spike gets himself into.  The basic synopsis breaks down as such: It’s the future and mankind has developed space gates that allow easy travel in the solar system. Earth is devastated when a hyperspace gate near the moon explodes which forces survivors to move underground. Society has broken down, the police are unable to keep order, and bounty hunters capture criminals to earn bounties. We follow the bounty hunters.

We follow these characters though 26 episodes which range from serious to slapstick, from sci-fi to western. Cowboy Bebop excels in all aspects with fast-paced and engaging storytelling, memorable characters, and a soundtrack unlike any other. The characters of Bebop include some of the most beloved in anime history. The compelling characters at the helm make you interested in their dreams and situations.

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Well over 10+ years later Cowboy Bebop is still the standard as how you make a truly awesome anime series. When this came out, the animation was top notch. But what most impressed me about Cowboy Bebop’s animation was the variety of locals, and the lived in natures of every environment that is visited. Cowboy Bebop also presents a realistic view of the future. Spike and Jet travel in what to us would be a highly sophisticated craft, but to them is the modern day equivalent of a 1976 El Camino.  The concept of Cowboy Bebop is not original, but its execution is outstanding. The characters are not original, but how they interact with the world around them is.

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Finally we have the last few episodes leading to the ending. I won’t give anything away to the people who unfortunately haven’t seen this series, just it will blow you away. A stereotype of anime is that the English voices are never good. However, that is not the case here. Spike’s calm, cool, and collected voice fits perfectly with his character.  There are plenty of serious moments and totally hilarious moments to be had while watching Cowboy Bebop. The series is mainly episodic, but does have a strong storyline that unfolds during the series.

Some people may not like it because of the loose connections between many of the episodes, or because they were put off by an episode, but that’s what made the show great. It’s following a randomly thrown together group of misfits on their sometimes wacky, sometimes sad, sometime’s boring adventures in space while exploring the characters little by little and coming to a good, though somewhat open ending. is a must watch for anime fans as well as those who love a great story. The best thing about this series is it is not your typical anime. The characters don’t have special abilities or powers; they don’t fight demons; they don’t save the world on a regular basis; they live day to day, trying to survive their environment. Few things in life are so entertaining and fresh as this show.
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Devil May Cry – Review October 6, 2009

Posted by Cello in Anime (TV) Series Reviews.
3 comments

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Devil May Cry, the anime series, mainly revolves around Dante who’s still down on his luck as a “devil hunter” that is out to hunt evil supernatural creatures called devils. I originally only watched this anime series because it was short and I thought it would be another of those lame half-assed attempts at milking an established franchise, so what have I got too lose?  I thought it’ll be another of those lame half-assed attempts at milking an established franchise. I wasn’t wrong, but I wasn’t exactly right either. The story is not actually a story, but a collection of mini tales each an episode long, depicting a day in Dante’s existence.

The series strays away from the games so many people knew and loved. I hate to compare it to Final Fantasy but when Advent Children came out, it did not make any attempt whatsoever to appeal to a broader audience than the fanbase, meaning it can rely on its original game to provide the emotional investment. This is just a smart move all around, which this anime didn’t really provide. I’m familiar with Devil May Cry but stopped playing the series after Part 2. Although the series attempts to mirror the game, it thoroughly fails to grasp the concept of using action to offset the lack of depth.

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In other episodes, we see the femme fatales of the Devil May Cry universe, Lady and Trish, make their glorious reappearances much to the delight of fanboys. When I first saw the intro video of the series, I thought to myself that this was a nice touch.  The first episode showcases what is the series greatest strength and greatest weakness: Dante fighting demons. There are a wide variety of the creatures and the series’ animators are endlessly inventive in their depiction of Dante’s battles with them. Action scenes are great, and blood pours by the gallons.

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It’s like in this whole series, he has only been fighting small fry, and no real boss-type level. I guess that’s what disappointed me. Like I said in the introduction to this review, the Devil May Cry universe should have offered a wealth of interesting story concepts to keep us involved.  The cool thing about this series is it’s available on Blu-ray disc for cheaper than the actual regular DVD set. Thats a hard argument to ignore.

Devil May Cry is an unusual anime series. Fans of the video game series may well enjoy seeing the adventures of their favorite characters in a form other than the games but casual viewers who haven’t played the games may be confused by the sudden arrivals, actions, and departures of various characters. It might have helped if I played sequels 3 & 4 on my videogame console, but who knows. As with any anime review, it’s imperative that I discuss the animation style. I’ve been a longtime fan of Madhouse Studio who did the awesome Ninja Scroll movie, and their excellent track record continues with this series. If I had to recommend, I’d say thumbs in the middle, as its a relative short series so it’s not a complete waste of your time.
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