Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010: A Monolithic In Memoriam - Part 5

 2010 Cleanup

Stray musings about what I may have missed over the past 365 days.

Hanazawa Kana

Whew!  It’s sure been one hectic year for this talented starlet as she seemingly managed to voice a character in every series that aired this year.   I’m not going to say whether the HanaKana overload was good or bad; just that it was doubtlessly noticeable. 

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
Not worth talking about.  Seriously.  With the impending DVD release, there are about to be a billion reviews flooding in.  Let’s just say that “masterpiece” is an understatement and that Endless Eight x 8 would still not have been enough to diminish the grandeur of what will surely stand as Kyoto Animation’s magnum opus for years to come.

Star Driver
Why yes, I do get a very strong Utena vibe from this series, but the problem is it continues to lack focus and coherence.  Even from the beginning of Utena, there’s the feeling that something ominous is on the prowl, but in Star Driver, everything is just chucked to the wind haphazardly.  If the series manages to successfully coalesce by the end, however, I will watch through all of it, but for now, it’s a feeble, whispering string-quartet to the majestic symbolic-symphony that is Utena.

Since Bakuman is an incredibly slow series it’s probably better to give it time to marinate before making incisions here and there.  The premise of breaking into the entertainment industry is, oddly-enough, shoujo at heart, but here we see it tackled with a shounen¬-bent.  Again, Bakuman hasn’t really had a chance to leave the ground, so we’ll have to wait and see.

The World God Only Knows
A very solid entry to the Fall lineup that sadly received a lukewarm welcome due to the eclipsing behemoth that was Oreimo.  And solid is definitely the perfect word to describe TWGOK; the plot is charming and original enough, but aside from that, everything else is several steps displaced from outstanding.

House of Five Leaves
A very curious, dialogue-heavy period-drama drenched in an air of disarming tranquility.  There was simply far too much on my plate during the year for me to give this series a chance, but it certainly looks like it’d be right up my alley. 

Onward to 2011!


The Yorozuya are back, baby, and better than ever!  Rumor has it that the series will air in 26-episode “seasons” starting in April from this point in order for there to be some breathing room.  The return of Gintama is accompanied by the epic Four Emperors arc so expectations are soaring.

Hayate no Gotoku! 
It’s been over year since the second season ended so this was a pleasant surprise for Hayate fans.  Everyone’s been clamoring for the Athena arc and I’d be shocked if that wasn’t the centerpiece to this silver-screen adaptation.  In any case, film-adaptations of anime satirical/parodical comedy are quite scarce, so this offering will be a fun little experiment.

And that’s really all I have to say.  Farewell, 2010.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

2010: A Monolithic In Memoriam - Part 4

Welcome to the dark side.

Fastest Reversals of Fortune

Instead of reminiscing about the year’s big stinkers, which can easily be happened upon by playing roulette with the lovingly-constructed seasonal airing charts, I figured I’d focus on the series’ that were built-up to be some of the year’s greatest hits, but turned out to be colossal disappointments.  Stealth-stinkers, if you will.

A show about a group of prisoners banding under one mentor to escape the confines of an abusive reformatory.

You know how some of the younger-oriented shoujo fare can come off as having ingested so many packets of sugar that a technicolor deluge of vomit is what ultimately spews forth?  Well, Rainbow is like that only with gluten-free, angst-ridden melodrama replacing sugar, sweet-and-low, and everything nice.  If you can bear imbibing the heavy amounts of rain-soaked brooding, however, then there's bound to be at least a bit of inspirational goodness at the end of this grime-encrusted rainbow.

Dance in the Vampire Bund
A show about vampires stepping into the limelight of the world and all of the political and societal hoopla that comes with it.
I actually didn’t make it past the first three episodes of this series because while I love Studio Shaft, I’m not a fan of having my time wasted.  Maybe the captivating Kon-esque opener set my expectations unreasonably high, but Vampire Bund seemed to have all too quickly fell prey to nervously puttering about instead of plunging deeper into, well, the wellspring of political and societal drama that it had drawn a course for. 

Occult Academy
A show about dabbling with matters of the occult by casually rubbing shoulders with the local supernatural phenomena.

Speaking of putzing aimlessly about, Occult Academy similarly busted out of the gate by presenting itself as the pitch-black, whimsical Sam Raimi-esque counterpart to Highschool of the Dead, and then suffered from a plot that was so unfocused that it felt more disjunct than a traditional episodic series.  I’m pretty sure that locating the key to the destruction of human civilization and stopping it from going critical falls under “fire-under-ass-lightingly urgent” so why was it that the paranormal crisis management crew were busy spelunking or helping ghost girls find their way home, à la Bakemonogatari?  And yes, treating the occult-loathing tour de force of a heroine progressively like a bland, one-note lump of paper-maché reeked heavily of betrayal, Occult Academy.

Black Rock Shooter
An OVA about an inexplicable, psychedelic showdown in a dimensional-milieu designed by MC Escher punctuated by incongruous scenes of pedestrian high-school life.

Describing what went wrong with the animated adaptation of the skull-stompingly popular Black Rock Shooter phenomenon is actually quite simple, for there exists an excellent analog.  This little cream-of-the-crap OVA can be likened to your run-of-the-mill fighting game or FPS.   It’s no secret that the vast majority of game developers have treated and continue to treat writing, dialogue, and the integration of a proper narrative like an optional feature which receives less development time than ensuring that the main character’s rugged, sweat-slicked facial stubble is rendered in all its glistening glory.

BRS, on the other hand, lacks the whole game aspect that acts to triage the story-marginalization.  What do these two stories have to do with each other?  Who are these characters and wherefore are they fighting each other?  Sure, this yuri-subtext-laden throwdown is pretty, dazzling even, but without even the slightest bit of context, it’s not too different from watching two A.I. opponents duke it out in Guilty Gear or Blaz freakin’ Blue

And it’s sad, really, as this whole endeavor has once again proven that X-to-anime adaptations, where X is something inherently ill-suited to a narrative-reimagining, will continue to flounder until those in charge learn to allow their stories to be composed by writers rather than a room full of fingerpainting pre-schoolers.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2010: A Monolithic In Memoriam - Part 3


Heck, why not?  In an era overflowing with characters having as much personality as a sheet of drywall, we may as well look to the few gems that break the mold.  Divided by gender for the sake of convenience.

Kumashiro Maya (Occult Academy)

If you find matters of the occult interesting in the slightest, I would suggest running for the hills, because this formidable, temperamental bombshell is going to shove those mystical artifacts where the mana don’t regenerate.   Assertive, imposing, and razor-sharp, Maya doesn’t take crap from anyone, alive, dead, or otherwise.  She’s a force to be reckoned with as her mere physical presence is enough to send cracks in the Earth slithering towards and cleanly-bisecting the nearest mountain range.

Well, that is, until the series decides to tone her down by replacing her alluring, bitter dark-chocolaty core with the bland oversweetness of white-chocolate. Essentially, she went from dominatrix to doormat over the course of a few episodes.  Shame, really.

Ayuzawa Misaki (Kaichou wa Maid-sama!)

It wouldn’t be too farfetched to suggest that Misa is the sole driving force behind Kaichou wa Maid-sama! as the juxtaposition of her merciless drill-sergeant persona and the serene, submissive façade she puts on for part-time job is where the series’ gets most of its comedic and even narrative mileage.  Spunky, spicy, and downright destructive, Misa is refreshingly not one to turn to mush at a moment’s notice, nor is she in need of a guardian angel as anyone who attempts to confront her would attest to.  The fact that she looks stunning in a maid outfit is merely the personalized-decorative ketchup on top.

Celty Sturluson (Durarara!!)

A svelte, sexy motorcyclist clad in a skintight leather jumpsuit that sports a kitty-cat-ear helmet and wields scythes made of shadow?  I’m think I’ll side with Shinra here in that I find the lack of a head only adds to Celty’s mystical allure. 

But the coolest thing about Celty is that there’s so more to her beyond being a badass biker babe.  For one, she’s a creature of folklore whose origins are shrouded in mystery.  For two, she’s oh-so-adorably terrified of space aliens.  Most importantly, however, in searching for her missing head, she’s fighting to cope with her identity, her place in society, and how others perceive her, giving her character dimension and depth.  

Okay fine.  For four, she’s half-tsundere and all-S when it comes to her relationship with her kinky co-habitant.

 Heiwajima Shizuo (Durarara!!)
‘Nuff said.

Katsuragi Keima (The World God Only Knows)

Having long since discarded the need for three dimensions when two are more than sufficient, Keima has become what most gamers can only dream of: God.  Asocial, withdrawn, and coldhearted, Keima’s wake-up call comes when he is forced to act as the conduit between the real and the virtual. 

What’s great about Keima is that each successful capture slowly chips away at his critical disillusionment as a part of his own galge-infused soul is similarly-purified.  His significant, gradual character growth may signify the end of his reign as the Divine Overlord of the immaterial, but all that really means is that girls of the real world had better watch their back.

Watashi (The Tatami Galaxy)

The Edward Norton of anime, the narrator of The Tatami Galaxy wants nothing more than to suck every morsel of opportunity out of his college experience from the moment he sets foot on campus.  It is this over-ambition that sends him spiraling down morally-questionable routes that inevitably lead straight to the underbelly of the university. 

Watashi is quite remarkable in that he fits the definition of a “walking-contradiction” to a T.  He’s simple and ordinary on the outside but a bizarre labyrinthine underneath.  He has total control over his desires and priorities while simultaneously being unable to make up his mind about any of them.  He acknowledges his feelings of love, but refuses to acknowledge that he’s…refusing to act upon them.  He regards his only friend as a duplicitous demon in plain sight, yet accepts him as a staunch wingman.  And what’s more, the audience is exposed to his every illuminating thought through his light-speed dynamo of internal-dialogue.

He isn’t the easiest character to pity, but, in keeping with his contradictory nature, he manages to be perfectly relatable despite being a waffle-factory that’s clicking on all cylinders.  Without Watashi at the helm, the journey through college could not have been the unforgettable voyage into our own personal 4.5-tatami galaxies that it was.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

2010: A Monolithic In Memoriam - Part 2

The Good

While they didn’t exactly fly under the radar, 2010’s cream-of-the-crop admittedly did little in the way of making themselves known in the moe-saturated landscape.  And that’s a shame really, considering the creaminess of this year’s crop.  In any case, here is my list for 2010’s Top 5, joining the ranks of so, so many more.

Kaichou wa Maid-sama!
A show about a misandrogynistic student-council president whose secret of working a part-time job at the local Maid-Café is discovered by a flawless Casanova whom she considers a perverted space alien.

Quod erat demonstrandum because naming your series “The Student-Council President is a Maid!” is advertising it as schlock that is so unabashedly cheap and exploitative that you run the risk of even the target audience being offended.  Actually, come to think of it, that’s kind of ingenious in a satirical sort of way.

But seriously, this romantic-comedy is invitingly fresh and sunny, sporting solid humor, a slightly-contrived, yet nonetheless-engaging plot, and lead characters that are much, much stronger than they need to be.  Maid-sama! is truly a worthy addition to the shoujo hall-of-fame alongside hits such as last year’s overlooked Skip Beat! 

A show about a family-restaurant and the day-to-day exasperations faced by the members of its eccentric staff.

I’m well-aware that the fanbase for this show is diminutive, but teeth-bearingly devoted and that its appeal is rather niche.  But it’s such an adorable, energetic lil’ firecracker that I couldn’t help but smile contentedly at the goofy, wacky antics of the spaceiest group of co-workers around.

I can see why the mainstream market wouldn’t regard Working!! as anything more than an amusing, dispensable little time-waster, but, as mentioned, those who do embrace the lightweight, colorful, totally-off-the-rails sitcom for what it is have a hard time letting go, myself included.  To all the naysayers, Working!! might neither be popular nor good, but to us, it’s good because it’s Poplar.

Durarara!! is like Baccano! all grown-up.  It takes Baccano!’s raw sandstorm of energy and distills it into something more textured and sophisticated, all while allowing its chaotic heart to shine through the lacquer.  And like Baccano!, Durarara!!’s strength lies in its eclectic cast of cuh-razy oddballs from all walks of life, all of whom are just as lovable as they are lovably unhinged. 

The rough edges may have been smoothed out, but like the chaos, the gnarl is here to stay, as proven by a sinister and thrilling narrative dealing with what goes on behind-the-scenes in this bizarro version of Ikebukuro, all to the rhythm of snapping spines, clanging blades, and fiery-mouse clicks.  And yet, the magic of Durarara!! is how the series  pulls it off so casually and humbly, with a suave smile that somehow manages to thoroughly captivate while simultaneously screaming ‘stepford.’

A show about a circle of reclusive, obsessive female shut-ins and how their lives radically change once a crossdressing man enters their lives and attempts to liberate them.

There’s not a damn thing about Kuragehime that I don’t love, but let’s just go with the most obvious.  Kuragehime is pure genius for the fact that it completely and enthusiastically shatters the illusion of women in anime.  Just look at how the series so unconcernedly eschews conventional beauty as if to say upfront, “Let’s cut the crap; this is what’s really going on.”

This is a series about laying the issues of societal withdrawal, severe escapism, and otaku-obsession bare for all to see without dabbling with all of the distracting, wanton nonsense that exists only to curry favor à la Oreimo.  Yes, Kuragehime is a lighthearted affair, and yes, most of its cast is composed of loony, overblown caricatures, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s consistently meting out some very enriching and illuminating ideas about femininity, isolation, otakudom, xenophobia, and the realization of one’s potential in life.

Also, those silly little exploratory jellyfish intermissions are the cutest things.

The Tatami Galaxy
A show about the exploits of a starry-eyed, fiercely-determined college student and his attempts at making something out of his college life.  The twist? He seems to have been given the real-life equivalent of 1Ups.

Surprisingly, it’s not all that difficult for me to convey just what it is about The Tatami Galaxy that has propelled it all the way into my top ten five FOUR series’ of all time!  I’ll just jump straight into the run-down.  For one, it’s got a wicked, anachronistic narrative style, the likes of which have been glimpsed elsewhere (Higurashi and ugh… Haruhi '09), but have never felt so natural and ungimmicky. 

For two, it’s intellectual without feeling inaccessible, pretentious, or mind-rending, partly due to the subtle nicking of the heartstrings in order to stimulate emotionally as much as mentally, but mostly thanks to the fact that it actually makes sense and savvily invites interpretation without being too abstract or murky.

Most importantly, however, The Tatami Galaxy is relevant.  As a university student, watching Watashi’s struggle to find and grab hold of that ethereal sense of belonging is a plight that I can relate to without even trying.  And even if college isn’t up your alley, Watashi’s journey is a very pointed look at life in general as well. It’s about discarding those rose-tinted glasses, taking a withering look at the gray panorama of reality, and realizing that to succeed you must color not your vision, but the world around you itself.

And it is the point at which a series can be dubbed “life-changing” where choosing to add it to the zenith of what one has experienced is met with a resounding “Duh!”   Make no mistake, The Tatami Galaxy is indeed 2010’s best offering by a landslide.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

2010: A Monolithic In Memoriam - Part 1

The turn of a new decade can be a scary thing, but anime fandom has been doomsaying from the top of Mount Fuji for years now so the wholesale heralding of the apocalypse is nothing new.  “Grizzled” fans continue to espouse the halcyon pre-2000 era and even newer fans can easily see how the post-2005 moe-boom has transformed the landscape of the industry into something nigh-on unrecognizable from its early-2000’s-counterpart.  It all seems to have gone downhill after the powerhouse that was 2006 with each successive year consistently dipping in terms of overall quality.  Truly, these are the end of days, no?

Well, if 2010 is any indication, I’d say that the future for anime has never been brighter.  And this is coming from someone who would be the first to call 2009 a putrid, stagnating cesspit.  2010 turned out to be such a dizzying one-eighty that even I was wracked with disbelief at the sheer brilliance of some of the stuff that was coming off of the assembly line.

Without further ado, let’s put all the alarmist notions of the death of cutting-edge, quality anime to rest.

The Popular

Simply put, this is precisely where most of the disparity stemmed from.  Almost every innovative, exceptional, and just plain kick-ass series’ that aired was flattened under the heels of the populism brigade as they proudly marched forth, waving their banners of controversy.  Not that there’s anything wrong with mainstream appeal in general, just so long as it doesn’t cross the line into shameless pandering; a line which 2010 did, in fact, toe on more than one occasion.

A show about a bunch of high-school girls who are purportedly part of a light-music club, when, in reality, all they do is meet up to scarf down sweets.

I’m sure Kyoto Animation’s stance on the moe-boom is fairly clear; K-ON! is nothing if not a license to invest in an Olympic-sized swimming pool full of money.  We all knew that K-ON! wasn’t going anywhere after the franchise crossed the realm into animated-territory back in 2009, but a full-blown 26-episode sequel in under a year guaranteed it a spot on the controversial chopping-block, specifically from disgruntled Haruhiists.

But was K-ON!! any good?  While I’ll still chastise the franchise ‘til my dying breath for not actually being about the music, the second season was a significant improvement on the first as it decided to flirt with solid, realistic, yet charming character development to the point where the occasional whiff of genuine emotional fragrance emanating from the depths of the music club room no longer came as a shock.  Admirable, really.  Sure, barriers aren’t being shattered and sure the series has never truly deserved the stupid amount of exposure it’s gotten and continues to receive, but just the fact that K-ON!! started to smack of Azumanga Daioh towards the end is worth more than however many strawberry parfaits one is unable to stop.

Highschool of the Dead
A show about the zombie-apocalypse from the perspective of a motley group of Japanese high school students.  Oh, and there are lots of breasts.

You’re telling me that a series centered on oodles of panty shots, gratuitous, gooey violence, and shambling corpses being sent corkscrewing through the streets of Japan served on a slice of slick animation somehow managed to hog the spotlight for the entire summer season?  Okay, okay, here we have a case of a series that’s fairly decent fanservice fare mixed with not only electrifying evisceration, but a shockingly sturdy cast of characters that are infinitely more likable than the your typical crew of thick, hapless tossers.  Highly-enjoyable, but should have been tossed aside as the piece of diversionary fodder that it was.

A show about a bevy of supernatural elements clashing in present-day Ikebukuro, Tokyo.

It’s worth remembering that once in a while, something will, in fact, stand as proof of the increasingly-defective adage “It’s popular because it’s good,” and Durarara!! still proves that a series  need not forfeit artistic integrity nor originality in order to fan the flames of hype.  Indeed, this was one of the year’s most talked-about series’, because nothing stokes conversation like snappily-dressed bartenders launching vending machines at deranged parka-clad, parkour-certified trolling demigods as a headless motorcycle-riding fairy attempts to unravel the mystery behind a legion of mind-controlled, psychopathic knife-wielders.

Angel Beats!
A show about an ordinary high-school student suddenly waking up in the afterlife and joining a brigade of other similarly-deadified high-school students to take down a petite, villainous albino girl.

Studio Key does Neon Genesis Evangelion meets The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in Purgatory on the eve of the invasion of the Heartless from Kingdom Hearts.  Seriously.  Is a more eminently-curious-sounding, anime-related threesome even possible? 

While it would have been neat to see Angel Beats! live up to such an inconceivably lofty premise-part of me believes that accomplishing such a feat would result in something that the human race is nowhere near prepared for-this, again, turned out to be pretty good as it dared to dance a jig with creativity and was a commendable little experiment courtesy of Jun Maeda, dodgy pacing aside.  Calling Angel Beats! one of 2010’s best is giving it way too much credit, but  it’s certainly more than worthy of being called the year’s most ambitious.

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai
A show about your average typical teenager who discovers that his otherwise model-student of a little sister is obsessed with anime and all manner of eroge.

By far, THE most hotly-debated series of the year, despite airing not more than three months ago, Oreimo takes discussion and transforms it into something akin to finding the elusive eroge-game in the needlestack.  Swimming in disquieting simulacra may be, but at least Oreimo offers a glimpse into what stirs us otaku from our slothful slumber; it’s nice to see such frenzy, fervor and, dare I say it, passion being ignited over the integrity of our mutual pastime.

But I suppose controversy marches on and anime fandom takes another towards puzzling obscurity as the industry proves that the prospect of being hailed as a girl-capturing God is significantly less appealing than being able to brag about having a cute little sister who’s married to her otaku merchandise and lifestyle.  Oh, Japan.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fate/stay classy

I recently got around to completing the entirety of the Fate stay/night visual novel after countless exhortations.  As I’d heard it, the anime adaptation, which I’m far too familiar with, having seen it in all its mediocrity not once, but twice, only covered the worst of the original novel’s three scenarios and Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel were so life-changingly brilliant that paraplegic patients have been known to regain control of their lower extremities after having witnessed one of humanity’s greatest creative achievements.

For everyone sensible enough to Fate/stay out of the path of the franchise’s sweeping avalanche, here’s the 411.  In the magic-imbued Fuyuki City, a tournament known as the “Holy Grail War” erupts.  Competitors in this tournament, known as Magi, summon Servants, heroes of legend such as King Arthur and Heracles, to slap each other about until only one Magus remains and wins the right to claim the mystical Holy Grail.  Shirou Emiya, a clueless but determined Magus, ends up in control of the strongest of these Servants, the Saber class, and teams up with classmate and experienced Magus Rin Tohasaka and her Archer-class Servant to extinguish the hideous corruption that has crept into Holy Grail War and emerge victorious.

First up is the Fate route and yes, it’s no secret that it’s a letdown, given the breadth of potential in the premise.  Fate revolves around the relationship between Shirou and his Servant, Saber, as they form a rocky alliance with Shirou’s acquaintance, Rin, and try to hold their ground as competitors are picked off one-by-one.   The plot is littered with tiresome clichés about courage and heroism with the final battle being the biggest offender as it boils down to a straightforward brawl against an unambigiously evil antagonist where the forces of good unconcernedly triumph.

Everyone bashes the Fate route for curtailing the protagonist’s character development, but Shirou is not the only one who ends up shortchanged.  The main focus of Fate is Saber and she ends up hoovering up all of the attention that should have been distributed evenly to the rest of the cast.  Every other character feels embarrassingly token and ancillary, serving as nothing more than raw materials to be melted down into the majestic throne that seats our gender-flipped King Arthur.  At the end of Fate, we know the finest details about Saber, from her origin to the source of her courage to her dreams and aspirations, but we know absolutely nothing about Rin, Archer, and, most lamentably, Shirou himself.  It honestly just feels lazy, like the writers couldn’t be bothered to attempt developing a character believably without stuffing everyone else into an industrial woodchipper.

And so, we move onto brighter days in the form of Unlimited Blade Works, which I consider to be the best of all three scenarios.  This time around, Shirou, Saber, and Rin team up to defeat a rogue Archer and a Master/Servant duo that was only glimpsed in Fate.  The conflict is much simpler, the focus much narrower, and the pacing much tighter than Fate, thus making for a more solid all-around package.

Not to give anything away outright, but Unlimited Blade Works is definitely more a case of Man vs. Himself than Man vs. Man.  The Holy Grail War turns out to be just as much an internal struggle for Shirou as an external one and the ideological hoop-jumping contest between Shirou and Archer is a shockingly compelling one indeed.  At first, it seems to just be an over-glorified tug-of-war match along the scale of idealism vs. cynicism, but it’s the inseparable bond between Shirou and Archer than adds the perfect dash of disillusioning irony to the dish.  In other words, it’s a clash of ideals mixed with a coming-of-age parable that’s pulled off just elegantly enough that I caught myself engaging my brain periodically.

The final scenario, known as Heaven’s Feel revolves around the disturbing heritage of the Matou family with Sakura, of all people, taking center stage.   The relationship between Sakura and Shirou is explored and while Shirou ends up teaming up with Rin, Saber is all but absent during the majority of the arc.

Heaven’s Feel is far different from the other two arcs in that it’s much less action-oriented, instead relying mostly on maintaining a creepy atmosphere and a mysterious overhanging plot to Fate/stay intriguing.  Many of the characters get severely shafted as well, with Shirou sharing the spotlight with Sakura and no one else.  Also, there is a lot of talking.  As in, the vast majority of scenes will consist of Shirou and Sakura sitting in a room and desperately trying to have the world’s most inane conversation.  And just to shake things up, sometimes Rin will enter the room and also join in what is sure to be a riveting evening of irrelevant jabbering.

Truthfully, Heaven’s Feel channels Elfen Lied; it’s calm for the most part but the occasional burst of graphic violence is what keeps you on edge since it feels as if everyone is just a second away from a gruesome death.  In that respect, it certainly works, and I won’t deny that it’s built around some interesting themes such as the vicious massacre of Shirou’s overidealized heroic determination to save everyone or the exact point where one can be treated as accountable for the evils that he/she/it has committed, but as a whole, it’s just too unpolished, dialogue-focused, and yawn-worthy to be immersive.

However, at the end of the day, all three scenarios are plagued by the same damn problems that keep cropping up like infant-devouring weeds in the Nasuverse.  Kinoko Nasu is a mediocre writer at best and when the medium of choice is a visual novel, there are going to be some pretty catastrophic defects, no matter how well-groomed the rest of the package is.  But let’s not belabor this issue, because if bad writing was the only thing that offended me, then I’d have just smacked myself for being an unreasonable kvetch and expecting anything more out of the Nasuverse.

Here’s the deal.  Sorrow-kun mentioned in his review of the Unlimited Blade Works movie that, at the end of the day, Fate stay/night is nothing more than a tacky superhero story and nothing could be closer to the truth. It doesn’t matter if FSN is festooned with all the bells and whistles that come with mages toting legendary heroes of yore as their personal, battle-ready familiars if it doesn’t have the conscious leverage to be anything more than a fettered, unimaginative tale of superpowered theatrics taken from pages of an amateur scriptwriter’s doodle-pad.  And Fate/stay night truly is juvenile; it clearly favors “tell” over “show” in the way it unnaturally stops to blurt out exposition unsubtlely, yet still keeps us in the dark by remaining steeped in a needlessly-convoluted labyrinth of a mythos that only the Nasu himself could easily traverse.

Yes, I understand that the cool factor of badass warriors screaming attack calls or chanting spine-tinglingly epic creeds before shredding their opponents into a patch of fluttering giblets definitely helps to balance out Fate stay/night’s perverse puerility, but only insofar as that it turns out simply serviceable.  Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel may prove that Fate stay/night has glimpses of elegant philosophical mincing buried in its heavyhanded instinctual effusion but, in all honesty, it still feels like we’re trapped in Nasu’s personal Reality Marble, where the atmosphere is saturated with the stench of self-indulgent sputzing.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Usurp and Upbraid: Kara no Kyoukai

The Kara no Kyoukai movie series ranks among my favorites and is the zenith of what anime has to offer.  The visuals are rendered in unbelievably sleek, glistening detail and the way Yuki Kajiura's soundtrack punctuates each scene perfectly is a feat that matches some of Yoko Kanno's best work note-for-note.

As remarkable as Kara no Kyoukai is, however, it's still far from perfect.  There are definitely things that not even stratospheric production values and stunning choreography can make up for in the long run.  Keep in mind that the point of U2 is to dig for flaws and get a sense of what’s running through the minds of those who are maybe not so keen on dubbing the series an unassailable masterpiece.

The mere fact that I adore Kara no Kyoukai and could gush about it ad infinitum is, truthfully, quite surprising seeing as I don't think very highly of the Nasuverse in general.  I've read the Tsuikhime visual novel, seen the most-undeniably non-existent anime adaptation, and slept through two viewings of Fate/stay night.  Honestly, I still don't get what all the fuss is about.

Shiki does not approve of being trapped in such an undignified universe.

A good analogue for the works of Kinoko Nasu, Kara no Kyoukai included, would be the Metal Gear Solid video game (movie) franchise.  What begins as a delightfully refreshing spin on a stale concept quickly falls victim to overambition, or, as I like to call it, indulgent inertia.

Yahtzee once said that Metal Gear Solid was a series in dire need of an editor, preferably one armed with waders and pruning shears, and the exact same could be said about the Nasuverse.  There is simply far too much tedious terminology and referential material, most of which has zero relevance to the immediate plot.  And, of course, any terms that do turn out to be relevant are nonchalantly strewn about as if the audience had already pored over the entire Type Moon Wiki.  It's like in Final Fantasy XIII, where you're never told what a l'Cie is, but the word is used about 20 times in the first half-hour alone.  I'm sure it doesn't take a Literature major to realize that this is not good storytelling.

As much as I disapprove of the Codex in Mass Effect, I can at least appreciate the fact that it’s a coherent, professional compendium, whereas the background information found in the Nasuverse has the quality assurance of the majority of fanfics found on DeviantArt.  So much of what has spewed forth from Nasu's head is clutter; it's jumbled, pretentious, and juvenily indulgent and I’m only talking about the stuff that's actually pertinent to the story because sifting through everything else is like filing through a trough of Dead Apostle entrails.

Bringing it back to Kara no Kyoukai, yes, the series is also tainted by its proximity to said bucket of slop.  Here are some pressing questions that I can think of right on the spot:  Just what the hell is a bounded field?  What exactly is the “origin” that Shiki has a connection to and that Araya is seeking to obtain?  For that matter, what's the deal with this unique “origin” that everyone possesses?

It's true that “show, don't tell” is a hallmark of good storytelling and yes, viewers are not moronsBut they're also not geniuses. When “less is more” is taken to such an extreme degree, it forces us to fill in answer E on the SAT Math scantron, i.e. “Not enough information.”  I do appreciate the fact that Kara no Kyoukai is devoid of Nasu's trademark clutter, but the clean-up crew did far too good of a job when they decided to sever certain pivotal plot strands altogether.

Like Metal Gear Solid (2 specifically), Kara no Kyoukai leans not only on the cool factor as a crutch, but mind-numbing perplexity as well.  Granted, there is a lot of appeal in the unknown and a plot shrouded in mystery is inherently engrossing.  But there comes a point where things suddenly turn opaque and impenetrable. Whereas the gimmick in the fifth movie successfully milked its mystique without going overboard, the overall plot of Kara no Kyoukai is guilty of having long crossed said threshold.

More disjointed questions: What was the point of the sixth movie in general?  What's the story behind the Fujou, Asakami, and Ryougi clans?  What are the basic rules governing magic in this universe?  Again, the cool factor and superb presentation are powerful tools, but one only has so many free passes to hand out.  Some may call the narrative undernourishment a result of the series being economical, but shortchanging the storyline to such an excessive degree is not to be applauded.

Naturally, the Nasuverse is not done smearing its blemished pedigree all over Kara no Kyoukai's otherwise streak-free surface.  One trend that the Nasuverse seems dead-set on continuing is the creation of a cast that is stillborn with the exception of at most two stand-outs.  I would say Saber and Rin Tohsaka from Fate/stay night, Arcueid Brunestud from Tsukihime and, of course, Shiki Ryougi from Kara no Kyoukai.  Everyone else is simply flaccid and lifeless; not only are they bland upfront, but they never evolve beyond their neanderthalic archetypes.

It's pretty sad when the minor one-shot characters far outshine the central cast as the likes of Fujino Asagami and Tomoe Enjou put Touko Aozaki and Mikiya Kokutou to shame.  Mikiya gets better during the finale, but remains firmly entrenched in Dogged Nice Guy territory.  So nice that it hurts is a pretty good evaluation.  Touko is cool in that aloof big sister sort of way but receives appallingly little development for her importance to the plot.  Even Souren Araya, who, before his official introduction, seemed like he would make a compelling villain, ultimately ends up as nothing more than a misguided, militant crusader. 

I wouldn't say any of these characters are outright bad, but without Shiki, this majestic vessel would find itself speeding towards the bottom of the sea.  Everyone is an anthropomorphic personification of some crucial plot element; they exist only to underpin the plot and the aforementioned select, spotlight character.  They’re the equivalent of wood polish, which by itself is nothing more than greasy, smelly, oily slime.

Whew, that was pretty rough!  To me, these are all petty grievances, especially when Kara no Kyoukai is compared to the rest of the Nasuverse.  Plot pratfalls and an uninteresting supporting cast are inconsequential flecks of mold on the otherwise sublime key lime pie that is Kara no Kyoukai whereas Fate/say night and Tsukihime are pastries completely coated in fuzzy, teal-white patches.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Riffing Anime

As of recent, I've been finding myself in a very satisfying relationship with Mystery Science Theater 3000, which I'd only just been introduced to a few months ago.  And when I say "satisfying," I mean it's the perfect show for me and, as a comedy, wins a place in my heart.  It's precisely my kind of humor delivered through my preferred brand of deadpan sarcasm.

Naturally, I got around to thinking about other media that would lend themselves to being completely eviscerated by withering retorts and dry commentary and the first stop on the Snark Express was, of course, anime (yet another thing the Devil created!).

The official criterion that RiffTrax provides is rather vague as it's just what I stated in the above sentence.  The real question is, of course, exactly what makes something so damn riff-able?  And the answer is rather straightforward: cheesiness.  Yes, a movie need not necessarily be terrible, so long as it indulges in so many wonky gimmicks, churlish clichés, and melodramatic moments that it's completely lost sight of the fact that it's taking itself way too seriously. 

So, without further ado, here is the Megacheese Mashup; a line-up of anime that aren't so much outright bad, but are definitely so exasperatingly hokey that they're best served with a heaping side-order of snark.

Code Geass
Just glancing at the size of my Code Geass stupid pictures folder could give you good indication about how many things this series tries to pass off as "dramatic" or "cool" but end up at triple-A meme-fodder.  The most flagrant offender is the recurring Spinzaku kick.  While any series with a modicum of humility would have either admitted defeat after Episode 1 saw Suzaku pirouetting through the air like some sort of spaghetti pinwheel or stared poking fun of it in an ironic manner, Code Geass decided to shamelessly flaunt it as the successor to Chuck Norris's roundhouse.  I suppose it succeeded in terms of its contribution to meme-dom, but I doubt that was the effect they were aiming for.

And sadly, Spinzaku is just the tip of the iceberg because the folks in charge of Code Geass seem to be just asking for punishment.  From the absurd, completely over-the-top anguished facial expressions, to the hamminess of Zero's speeches, to the gaudy (and at times, downright disturbingly so) attire of the nobility (not to mention Lelouch's fashion choice for his subordinates towards the end of Season 2), Code Geass should be ashamed of itself for trying to dress up a mature ideological struggle in a rainbow-splattered gimp costume.

So why does Code Geass bring up the rear, you ask?  Well, I must grudgingly admit that, as ridiculous as the series is overall, it still manages to boast a fair number of genuinely intense, emotional, and dramatic sequences that I would hate to see sullied by the deprecating twang of a vicious riff or two.  "Bloodstained Euphie" for one still results in some honest-to-God wincing, as does the final episode's crescendo up to the cliffhanger.  The payoff would still be worth the sacrifice, I think, but just barely.

Fate stay/night

I've heard that the visual novel that this series is based off of is actually supposed to be decent, but if the job of the Fate/stay night anime was to get me interested in the Nasuverse, then it kind of screwed the proverbial pooch so hard that animal services was called to bring in therapeutic implements.  Again, this series isn't half-bad; it's just incredibly dull and overwrought. 

First off, the concept itself is a tad cliché.  The Holy Grail war is like a Pokémon tournament with historical warriors.  Then there's the fact that every other fight is about as engaging, involving, and fresh as shounen-filler.  They all boil down to the stock formula of having the villain:
1. Taunt arrogantly
2. Exposit about something incomprehensibly arcane
3. Cross swords with the hero for all of four seconds
4. Flee to the tune of cavalier mockery.

And as for the climactic encounters that actually are required to have a resolution, you ask?  Just replace the last part of that template with having the hero respond by screaming loudly and then filling the screen with a column of white-light before killing off the bad guy.

Finally, there's the fact that Shiro Emiya is one of the densest protagonists known to man.  Every single movement he makes or action he takes is dripping with idiocy like the misogynistic, pajama-wearing, twig-wielding, jack-jawed, thickheaded bellend he is.  Kudos go to Rin and Saber for at least owning their roles admirably, however.

Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha 
(StrikerS specifically)

Don't get me wrong; I do like Nanoha.  But like Fate/stay night, it seems tragically dead-set on scaling drastic situations that are silly and cliché all the way up to apocalypse on the serious-meter.  I'll admit that the fight scenes are pretty phenomenal, but beyond that, it's just the standard rigmarole of brood, recover, friendship, fight, repeat cranked out assembly-line style strung together with unbearably corny dialogue and camp melodrama.  It doesn't help that there's more yuri subtext on display here than one can even imagine.
But for me, it's the villain that takes the cake. When it comes down to it, Scaglietti oozes so much genericness that it's almost impossible to not to play it for for laughs, what with his obtrusively hammy bravado, loopy pretensions to mad scientist-dom, and harem of female androids. Despite what the series desperately wants him to be, he isn't all that cunning or sophisticated in the least and neither are his nefarious plan nor the supposedly world-rending conflict that he instigates.  By no means is he a terrible villain, but the series would have been better off treating him as sympathetic comedic relief whose laughably ineffectual schemes the StrikerS routinely brushed off like errant pieces of lint.

Toaru Majutsu no Index / Toaru Kagaku no Railgun
Not once throughout the entirety of Index or Railgun did I ever budge an inch in response to the series' feeble attempts to get me worked up about, well, anything that it tried to sell as drama.  Every speck of purported "awesomeness" instantly transformed into a suffocating miasma of hackney;  I honestly felt a bit insulted at how obnoxiously banal and, at times, flagrantly stupid each and every climax turned out to be.  From the instant that Touma "ingeniously" revealed that his plan was to have the water wash off the ink of Stiyl's slips of magical paper and not the paper itself (shock horror!), all the warning alarms in my head went off like an ambulance siren.  And it just got worse from there.

First and foremost, is it just me or does everyone seem to use their incredibly broken powers in the most insufferably retarded of ways?  Am I supposed to believe that a reality warper can't just manifest an insta-kill AoE grenade and be done with the spikey-haired punk in his way?  And Touma's slugfest with Accelerator?  It had me going up until Accelerator "lost it" and started forming a giant ball of plasma through the air particles and was subsequently defeated by reversing the direction of the air currents using energy-gathering windmills.  I hope anyone who read that sentence now feels creatively superior to whichever braindead chimpanzee came up with that idea because I certainly did from just typing it out.  Bravo, Index

What's even more horrendous is that the series actually attempts to make the audience believe that it's built on a scientifically-sound foundation when it's obvious that the writers are just haphazardly inserting words from Wikipedia into the script.  Pro-tip: Having someone fashion a chainsaw out of metal particles is fine just so long as you don't attempt to explain how it works because you'll just end up cocking it up all the way into the freakin' stratosphere.  Christ, at least Strike Witches had the courtesy to pay historically-accurate homage to WWII. 

I could go on about how the stable of villains are stale, the conflicts inane, and the humor droll and unfunny, but that would have me wandering dangerously close to calling the series a wretched pile of cow entrails, which is most definitely not the angle I'm going for.  If the Toaru series hadn't aspired to be the next superpowered drama-bomb and followed in the footsteps of something like Gurren Lagann, it probably wouldn't have so rightly earned the title of uncontested Champion of Cheese.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Strike Witches

Strike Witches is like taking the curious cultural concept of Kawaisa and magnifying it to obsessive, fetishistic  levels.  Ever see that amusing video of Japanese trains backed by K-On!'s first opening?  In case you haven't, here it is:

The idea of anthropomorphic trains adorned in school uniforms forming a music club is clearly ludicrous to all but the most hardcore of lustful mechanophiles, yet somehow melting down fighter jets into panty-girls with propellers for legs made it past the quality control committee?  It all leaves me wondering whether or not the idea was ingeniously pitched as a wry, social commentary on the fundamental tenets of public speaking in that conjuring the image of one's audience in their undergarments to cope with one's nerves should be child's play after one has slogged through a series where imagining all of the characters with a reasonable amount of under-clothing is necessary to avoid wholesale embarrassment.

Additionally, Strike Witches also proves that jumping the Uncanny Valley is a stupidly lucrative enterprise in Japan. I'm sure the series started with the idea of sentient fighter jets engaging in pitched dogfights and then some berk made the suggestion to scrawl some sickeningly saccharine Hello Kitty face on the wing to be "ironic."  Then suddenly the entire design committee finds themselves asking how voluminous their hypothetical pool of money could be if they crammed said macabre Hello Kitty aircraft into the frame of a teenage girl sporting furry ears and an equally furry tail.

Here's the story.  It's WWII and an evil race of beings known as the Neuroi are invading the planet.  They attack in a miasmic fog of sorts so just think of the situation as a mix between Kingdom Hearts and Resistance: Fall of Man.  The only ones who can stop these legions of Chimera Heartless whatevers are the titular Strike Witches, a bunch of prepubescent magical fairy girls with mechanical propeller leg armor instead of wings, high-powered sniper rifles instead of wands, and ostentatious pantslessness presumably to make up for the lack of an incessant, shrill reverberation that feels like a corkscrew is being driven through your ear courtesy of Navi.

The series is about one-third fingernail-gwaningly intense aerial show-stoppers, and by that I mean the fight scenes are genuinely breathtaking, exciting, and all of that good stuff, one-third mundane, adolescent hijinks which probably got old around the time of the actual WWII, especially considering all the characters oscillate sinusoidally between one and two dimensions as they meekly struggle to escape their juvenile stereotypical personality molds, and one-third trying to pass campy melodrama off as something more than bipedal flesh-colored airplanes rubbing their panties-covered exhaust pipes into each other's windshields.

You see, the main problem with the drama in the series is that while its competently executed, the fact that everyone's nether regions are on constant display makes it impossible to take anything seriously.  It's like watching a movie with its respective RiffTrax and expecting to make it through any dramatic climax without snickering so hard that chocolate bars come out of your nose.  There's one scene where a straitlaced officer (voiced by Rie Tanaka) pulls a gun on the beloved commander, Mio Sakamoto (basically a level-headed female Masamune Date with a trademark laugh replacing a bevy of trademark Engrish catchphrases), and I honestly didn't know whether I should have been laughing or getting antsy-in-my-pantsies.  The only thing that could have made the situation any more awkward was if the two of them had suddenly strapped on their leg-attachments and started a blind, caged breakdancing competition where the winner is the one whose head hasn't been hacked off by an errant propeller-blade.

Does the action make up for all of the series' rampant and glaringly obvious flaws?  Well, to its credit, each and every showdown between girl and Neuroi is about as adrenalizing as playing a balls-to-the-wall third-person over-the-shoulder shooter if you replace the words "over-the-shoulder" with "between-the-legs" and cellotape the right-analog stick to the "up" position.  In other words, just pretend that those shots were the result of the office intern having mistakenly left his valuable "art assets" in the animation folder and you should be good to go.

Conversely, remove the action sequences and all you're left with is what Gunslinger Girl would have turned out to be had you pulled the focus out from the compelling innerworkings of a young girl's maturing and delicate brain and shifted it about one meter vertically downwards.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Top 10 Characters: ZA RESTO

In case it hasn't been obvious, I'm kind of on a listing bender right now so why not ride out the buzz while it lasts?  A few weeks ago I posted my Top 10 Characters list in response to the trending topic “On What it Means to Call Anime Characters One’s Favorites” and am already finding said list perilously close to being out-of-date.  As such, I figured I should go all the way by displaying the remaining characters in my Top 10 per gender as doing so would provide an opportunity to shrewdly slip in some retroactive modifications.

10. Harima Kenji (School Rumble) – Admirable

Harima Kenji, YOU ARE THE MAN!  Never before has an unassuming high school delinquent with the face and brashness of a yazuka member been so idiotically endearing.  Perhaps it's because he's an otaku conduit as a closet-aspiring mangaka, but I'm thinking the combination of shortsighted (but well-intentioned) boneheadedness and melodramatic inner monolouging that would make Lelouch Lamperouge blush is why Harima steals whatever scene he happens to be in.

Like Sousuke, Harima fits under entertaining better than any other category, but for the sake of simplicity, I went with admirable seeing as he does try really damn hard to shed his naturally gruff exterior and reveal his hidden heart of gold.  Heck, he even occasionally succeeds, if in the most inelegant and hysterical of ways. 

9. Aisaka Taiga (Toradora!) – Admirable

To me, Taiga represents the zenith of the bitchy tsundere archetype in that she's exhaustively fleshed-out to the point of being genuinely admirable.  Sure, she's a tad precocious, severely short-tempered, and abrasive as sandpaper, but the reality is that she's just misunderstood.  Her interactions with Minorin prove how good and honest of a friend she is underneath all that aloof cattiness and from there, all it takes is a chance-encounter with Ryuuji to get her to gradually open her heart up to and accept the world around her. 

Also, since my friend insists:

Oh, and +1 wooden katana! 

8. Shinn Asuka (Gundam SEED Destiny) – Complex

Oh Shinn.  You had such potential before Kira came along and hijacked the entire series.  I'd go into more detail, but Cagalli is crying right now.

In all seriousness, as much as I like Shinn, there's a lot about him that I absolutely cannot stand.  But that's totally fine because as glaring as his flaws are, they serve to humanize him and make him the one of the most complex characters in a series chock-full of one-track-minded, zombified versions of our formerly-lovable SEED gang.

Shinn is a messed up kid. Maybe he clings a tad too tightly to that silly pink cellphone, but trauma marches on.  Throughout Destiny, it's clear that Shinn follows his heart and instincts over reason and I just couldn't, in good conscience, give him any grief for his rash decision-making when it came to choosing sides in the ultimate showdown.  At that point, having survived all of the atrocities that he'd been put through, he was just a confused ball of anguish and anger and all the more props to him for sticking with what he felt in his gut.  Remember, it's only called Wangst if it's suitably unjustified and Shinn is really..just a tragic result of what would happen if one were to put a high-strung, vengeful, brooding teenager in the seat of a giant robot.

7. Hei (Darker than Black) – Complex

He's Chinese Electric Batman.  In other words, Batman plus electricity and the martial arts prowess of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.  Did I mention that his coat is bulletproof, but only when he's wearing it?! Need I say more?

Okay, okay.  Hei is a treat to watch in action because while he is a Contractor and must maintain a brusque, detached demeanor at all times, there are still lines that he refuses to cross.  In a world plunged into bleak chaos, Hei is driven by his personal agenda to dispatch those who stand in his way without mercy, yet he still retains his moral compass and conscience, which 99% of the population has long since discarded.  While he's ruthless on the battlefield, he still finds time to show subtle compassion to the kindred spirits around him.  In the world's darkest hour, by virtue of managing to retain even a shred of his humanity, Hei alone walks the path of twilight.

6. Onizuka Eikichi (Great Teacher Onizuka) – Admirable

Like Harima, on the surface, there isn't too much to get worked up about with Onizuka.  He's rude, dumb, pugnacious, perverted, and a societal reject in just about every sense of the word.  But under the surface, he just might be society's greatest savior: a teacher who actually cares about his students and sticks his neck out for them when the soulless educational system had long since left them to rot.

And like many of my favorite characters, Onizuka is all about following his instincts.  It's easy to bow your head or grind someone else's into the dirt with your heel when confronted with the “The Man” and Onizuka deals with such conundrums throughout his tenure on a daily basis.   And each time, he tells society to shove it while gleefully zooming away on his motorcycle with the students of Class 3-4 along for the unforgettable ride.  Onizuka is what every educator should aspire to be: someone who holds the needs of his students above all else.

5. Claire Stanfield (Baccano!) - Admirable

Claire is solipsism incarnate and boy does he get his mileage out of his God complex.  Although fellow-nutcase Ladd Russo has more in common with The Joker from Batman, Claire mirrors Joker's theatrics to an admirable degree, hence his categorical designation.

Like Joker, to Claire, the world is nothing more than a stage on which he performs.  Unlike the rest of the immortals in Baccano!, Claire is truly immortal in that, to him, every other person in the world makes up the audience and the stage where he prances acrobatically about is a higher plane of existence that simply cannot be touched by those not blessed by divinity.  Cunning, cutthroat, and cool, Claire is well-aware that the universe is his oyster.

4. Okazaki Tomoya (Clannad) – Admirable

Tomoya is the ultimate everyman.  Far from the traditional milquetoast harem lead, Tomoya is actually a well-rounded human being with dismissive, snarky tendencies wrought by his fair share of crippling vices.  While the majority of Clannad may suggest otherwise, the back-half of ~After Story~ shows that I'm not just talking about his shoulder.

As often as the trope comes up in anime, Tomoya pulls off being a Jerk With a Heart of Gold believably and naturally.  His dry commentary far surpasses the likes of fellow-KyoAni frontman Kyon and his pranks are often side-splittingly hiliarious.  But underneath it tall, Tomoya is kind, caring, and a stalwart friend.  Heck, just reminiscing about all the emotional wringers the series puts him through is enough to get the tears flowing.

3. Reki (Haibane Renmei) - Complex

Reki kind of reminds me of Tomoya, but she's far more of a transparent, beleaguered soul who helps those around her like a nurturing mother under the guise of furthering her own ambitions and leave the cage of Haibane Renmei once and for all.  Whether or not it was a case of Becoming the Mask (and it most likely wasn't), Reki cares greatly about her children so much so that she inadvertently ends up forsaking her own freedom for them.

The complexity-tag was a no-brainer for Reki.  Even she finds it difficult to acknowledge her altruism and her solemn wish to be liberated is buried under the fear of facing the truth and accepting her sin.  It is only through Rakka that Reki discovers who she is and what she wants and it's not until the finale that she finally realizes that not only does she truly care about Rakka and the others, but that she relies on them as much as they rely on her.

2. Holo (Spice and Wolf) – Admirable

Holo is one of the most fascinating specimens in recent memory and it's hard to say whether or not she's more admirable than she is complex. For one, just the fact that she knows it's for the best to remain in solitude and yet chooses to seek a fleeting (at least to her) companionship shows how remarkably fragile she is, despite her years of wisdom.

But in the end, I suppose the fact that she feels so real, yet fancifully fantastical is what makes her admirable. She can be an irresistible flirt, a clump of confused emotions, a sly and confident business accomplice, or even a cute, clumsy wolf-girl. She's got a face and personality for every occasion and, believe me, you don't want to see what she looks like when pushed into a corner.

1. Iwakura Lain (Serial Experiments Lain) - Complex

All hail the one and only Goddess of the Wired.  This hacker-chick is a subtle and delicate creature, spending most of her time entangled in a mass of wires not unlike the movie Pi and trying to piece together her destiny by plumbing the dark depths of cyberspace.  Her introspective journey through the Wired is fascinating and the motif of the revolutionary impact of communication draws her out of her shell and peels back more and more layers of her labyrinthine psyche.

Like Reki, Lain finds herself locked in a desperate struggle to find meaning in her life as well as the world around her and soon discovers that the path she walks is treacherous indeed.  I mean, ascending to the status of de facto digital deity is a bit too much of to ask of a tepid teenager, but Lain, the determined Little Miss Badass she is, steps up to the plate to put technology in its place.