Saturday, June 26, 2010

Yu Yu Hakusho Vol. 3

Toguro versus Yusuke was quite an impressive way to kick off the volume. Toguro himself turned out to be much more of a cross between a Noble Demon and a Death Seeker, which left me kind of dismayed, especially when it resulted in an elaborate ruse on the parts of Kuwabara and Genkai. Still, the final confrontation turned out to be satisfyingly suspenseful and our fair-weather, weary wunderkinds were allowed to return home in peace.

Or not as Yu Yu Hakusho makes it clear that breaks in the intensity are completely unacceptable. But unlike a spectacle fighter like Bayonetta or Ninja Gaiden, Yu Yu Hakusho went the God of War route with a puzzle-oriented, cerebral crisis plaguing our heroes mere minutes after touching down in whatever-the-city-is-named-ville.

Funnily enough, thanks to Yu Yu Hakusho, I finally understand all the fuss surrounding Bleach’s shameless plagiarism when creating the Bount filler arc. I’m going to lay out the general progression of the Bleach filler and then the outline of the material from Yu Yu Hakusho. See if you can spot the similarities:

Yu Yu Hakusho

Anyway, Yu Yu Hakusho actually succeeded at making the subplot intriguing as opposed to fielding pointless, simple-minded puzzles. I loved Kurama’s brilliant, but not unbelievably so, method of besting his fellow classmate at a game of taboo and found Yusuke’s reckless and flimsy rationale for choosing the imposter somewhat amusing.

Enter Shinobu Sensui, who alighted once armchair highroller Sakyo had met his fate at the end of the Dark Tournament. To be honest, Sensui’s grisly, mind-fragging start of darkness already pins him as a much more compelling villain than Toguro ever was and all the fights with his henchmen have been nothing short of exhilarating, even the gimmicky ones.

The Gamemaster showdown, for example, was heading down the path of droll and skippable, but it finished with an unexpectedly brutal heartrender that shook the usually calm and composed Kurama to his very core. In fact, I’d say that Kurama stole the show this season as his merciless (and well-deserved) incapacitation of the Elder Toguro brother as well as his solemn execution of the Gamemaster made for an absolutely chilling conclusion to the volume. Even I didn’t expect Kurama to turn into this complex of a specimen, but he’s far and away my favorite character now.

One more thing of note about the Yu Yu Hakusho as a whole: I’m not sure if it has to do with the dub, but the humor in the series is much, much better than it needs to be, especially for a shounen-action series. Most of it has to do with Yusuke’s snappy and surprisingly well-written taunts, but his bickering with Genkai is typically priceless as well. Most shounen series’ fail miserably at humor (I’m looking at you, Soul Eater), but Yu Yu Hakusho even dwarfs series’ that have comedy listed as one of their subgenres. Mind-boggling, to say the least, but in a positive way.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Boring Invincible Hero

After finishing off Cross Game a few weeks back, I went digging for more baseball anime to see if I could really get into the sub genre en totale. Big Windup! was certainly a fun diversion, but I was craving something more edgy to balance out the wholesome delicacy of Cross Game. Enter One Outs, a series that fuses psychology and sports so naturally that physical prowess seems like it ought to be an afterthought.

Best described as the outcome of Light Yagami stumbling across a baseball mitt instead of a Death Note, One Outs tells the story of one hardcore gambler’s ascension through the ranks of professional baseball by means of prestitdigatatory pitching and devilishly mental manipulation. And Toua Tokuchi is in fact the devil; so much so that he’s lounging way out in the middle of the territory known as Invincible Hero. It’s a topic I’d like to touch on for a bit.

The name of this particular trope used to have Boring tacked-on to the front of it because having a hero who always wins without ever getting flustered the slightest is as dull as it is indulgent. God Mode Sue is the more cynical term for a hero who not only never tastes defeat, but also never sees, smells, or becomes aware of it at any point in time, primarily because he knows it will never come for him. And no, there’s no schadenfreude-subversion slipped in as one might expect. I’m talking about flat-out, flawless curb-stomping from start to finish.

Tokuchi fits the bill perfectly on all accounts. He’s cocky, calculating, and always in complete control. He never misses a beat, sees through every trick thrown at him with ease, and has the nerve to tell his pitiful adversaries to shove it with an unwavering smile plastered all over his smug, pretty-boy face.

Naturally, the question is: Why don’t we, the audience, care? Tokuchi carries himself as a contemptible reprobate wherever he goes by refusing to bond with any of his teammates and constantly making dribbling fools of his opponents. “Pushing them into Hell” is his way of referring to the latter. And to take the devil analogy even further, he also has no spark of humanity, no backstory, and no sympathetic qualities whatsoever.

Simply put, as much of a prick as Tokuchi is, he doesn’t even come close to the cartoonish douche-y level where the villains are perched. TVTropes describes this delicate threshold as Villainous Valor. Both situations involve a struggle between an untouchable hero and an underdog villain. But whereas Villainous Valor goes the whole nine yards with the role-reversal schtick by showcasing the valiant, uphill struggle of the weak versus the strong, a show like One Outs will simply paint the outmatched opponents as even bigger bastards than our Mr. Vice Guys.

The Owner, for example, is absurdly arrogant, full of corporate conceit, and prone to “oh-ho-ho”-ing every single time he hatches a plan to bring Tokuchi to his knees, which Tokuchi will invariably brush off like an errant speck of lint. While the Owner often comes off as an ineffectual nuisance and never poses a real threat, there’s just something about his over-the-top pompous dickishness that makes it so damn satisfying to see him get all butthurt when Tokuchi screws him over. It’s like he’s begging to be put in his place and who better to force him to grovel like a little bitch than Tokuchi?

An Invincible Hero invocation done right is probably best described as catharsis stemming from karmic retribution, and it’s enough to carry One Outs all the way to the end of its 25-episode run. While the formula does start to wear a bit thin at times, the incorporation of insanely convoluted but ingenious and believable mindtrickery keeps the series fresh and exciting.

That’s not to say the series is without its flaws. Like Tokuchi, the series has no heart or soul, despite being a psychological labyrinth of tricks and traps. While it’s a wildly addictive ride, there’s little nutritional value to be had. Kaiji prevails due to genuine emotional investment, whereas the characters in One Outs feel very aloof and wooden. They’re not bad characters per se, it’s just that there’s absolutely no time devoted to humanizing them beyond marionettes that sway to the rhythm of Tokuchi’s mental metronome. And as for Tokuchi himself, he’s guilty of the same crime; he’s likable and cool, but emotionally, he’s as brittle as a soggy wafer cookie.

But maybe that was the entire point of the exercise. One Outs is a sports series that’s bizarrely not about the sport nor the players and isn’t trying to be. It’s a stealth psychological series that’s coated in spicy sensationalism and has no time for trivialities such as developed characters (Death Note, anyone?).

Let’s just put this way: While I enjoyed the character interactions and lovely cast of Big Windup!, Tokuchi’s deft mental acrobatics put Abe to shame. I found One Outs to be quite a lot of fun, and I’m not ashamed to admit that it’s because I was always on the winning (Tokuchi’s) side.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Girl Who Slings Guns Through Time

As paradoxically retarded as it sounds, Gunslinger Girl is not technically an offspring of the eminently-exploitative “Girls with Guns” sub genre of action, despite being exploitative in other, much creepier ways. Yes, there are little girls and yes, they do tote guns, but the disingeniousness stems from the whole “slinging” aspect being relegated to bench-warmer status. Fortunately, it's not a bad choice in the slightest.

Ostensibly a character study with decidedly little action, Gunslinger Girl focuses on the lives of five prim-and-proper girls who happen to be cybernetically-augmented and mentally-conditioned Swiss Army Knives of assassination. Their tragic backstories, upbringings, and complicated father-daughter-weapon-of-mass-destruction relationships with their priggish “handlers” are slowly dribbled out with as much painstaking detail as heart-twisting pathos and maybe a splash or two of subtlety to satisfy the edu-crowd.

I mentioned that Gunslinger Girl is exploitative, but in an icky, squirm-in-your-seat sort of way. To the series’ credit, it doesn’t go for the barebones, unimaginative juxtaposition of cuddly dolls and deadly assassins. No, this is a series that is well aware that the tips of our mental lightning rods have been dulled by the rampant Creepy Children scuttling about in campy action flicks or horror movies and compensates by packing more moral penetration in its punch.

At its wretched heart, Gunslinger Girl is about the irreparable ruination of innocence-something the very image of a young carefree girl is supposed to evoke. Early on, this gruesome, unflinching annihilation of the essence of childhood itself is the only thing keeping us hooked. And it works remarkably well.

Despite being devoid of personality before their proper introductions, the eponymous Gunslinger Girls are anything but soulless abominations, as the effort of desperately groping for and latching onto the last valuable strands of the childhood that they were denied is etched firmly and painfully in every forlorn expression that graces their cherubic faces. It's pitiful, really, how much they struggle to escape their own self-destruction and you really can’t help but feel for them.

And what would a character study be without character development? Giving each girl her own episode feels like a bit of a cop-out, but the result is functional, if inelegant. Nevertheless, it's quite enjoyable to see these would-be inorganic tykebombs slip naturally into their own distinct, likable personalities.

Henrietta is timid and naive, Triela acts as the grown-up big sister, Rico smiles in that stepford sort of way, Claes is sweet but tough, and Angelica plays tragic foil to the four-man ensemble. Although interactions between the girls are disappointingly limited, they have incredible chemistry and may qualify as one of the truest nakama in recent history, which is more than can be said about the handlers.

The disparity in effort is glaring from just one glance at the character designs. The girls are clean, crisp, and highly distinctive, while the handlers share the same generic faces and suits with colorization serving as the only distinguishing factor. And beneath the surface, well, let’s just say that one line from Henrietta often conveys much more than, say, an entire monologue from José.

Speaking of which, it's a real problem that most of the exposition comes from the adults because their lines come from the most uneconomical of scripts. Much of what the handlers and higher-ups have to say is pointless rambling and the series has much more to answer for its stodgy dialogue than, say, its morally questionable premise.

Gunslinger Girl is certainly a slow, sympathetic burn, but a structurally weak narrative and excruciatingly-equivocal dialogue keeps it at arm’s length. Secondhand leakage is still quite damaging, however, like an oil spill (from BP naturally) seeping into a nearby reservoir. While the immersion factor does crescendo to a tearful, symphonic shower of meteors, everything leading up to it is tragedy for the sake of tragedy, which feels a bit like cheating.

In any case, Gunslinger Girl certainly carries a unique brand of psychological slice-of-life, so it's a hard to pass up for fans of either genre.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Yu Yu Hakusho Vol. 2

An entire volume later and the Dark Tournament has yet to reach a conclusion. It seems that I severely underestimated Yu Yu Hakusho’s ability to contrive a cascading scaffold of fights that stretches all the way to the stars.

There’s really nothing substantial to say about the first half of the volume. It’s your typical onslaught of tournament face-offs that are nonetheless entertaining-as-hell thanks to the layers of strategy and occasional ingenious mechanic (Kurama’s prehensile hair) or unexpected intervention (Hiei and Genkai getting forcibly benched). To be honest, however, Vol. 2 is kind of underwhelming overall due to Yusuke’s fleeting, anticlimactic brawl with the Irish angel, Jin and Kuwabara’s belated curb-stomp battle thanks to the shot of confidence delivered by Yukina’s fortuitous entrance.

And sadly, there was no recalibration in sight as the second round of the tournament began. Speaking of curb-stomp battles, Hiei opened by snapping up an instantaneous victory with cool-minded dismissiveness. Heck, there seemed to be a clearout sale on curb-stomping as the revelation of Kurama’s true form and Genkai’s fighting prowess led to three lightspeed smackdowns in a row. Rounding out the volume were Yusuke’s final bout of training, Genkai’s unceremonious farewell, and Kurama’s suicidal sleight-of-vine making for yet another razor-edge finale as the tournament finals kick into high gear.

Since the volume mostly revolved around tedious tournament matches with the periodic emotional pang to break up the action, I’ll shine the spotlight on the characters for a bit.

“I know as much of games as I do of hugs and puppies, and care for them even less. Wake me for the end of the world.”

While all the characters in our four-man band are enjoyable in some way, I still like Hiei the least. He seems a bit two-note as he is always seen either snarking blithely or mouthing off about how his opponents are hopelessly outmatched. He’s simply the token prick teammate and nothing more.

“Out of this whole plan, you made one stupid mistake. You went and pissed me off!”

Yusuke is undoubtedly a refreshing, compelling lead, but I find him to be completely outshined by Kuwabara’s boisterous bullheadedness and Kurama’s temperate tranquility. If it’s any consolation, I do like the fact that he’s as quick to fire off his foul-mouthed comebacks as his oh-so-kickass spirit gun.

“I'm gonna mess your face up so bad that even kittens won't look at you!”

While it’s true that Kuwabara tends to get annoying, he’s a pretty likable ball of impetuous chaos overall. While he’s prone to blundering, it’s still amusing to watch him pull off victory after victory thanks solely to his unpredictable dumbassness.

“Logic is panic's prey.”

Hands-down my favorite of the four. Smart, sly, and satisfyingly bishie, Kurama is elegantly cunning in both demeanor and fighting style. He actually manages to straddle the line between bishounen and badass; slaying enemies with rose petals and vine whips while deftly sidestepping the landmines of camp FABULOUCHE-ness. There’s no badassery quite like analytical badassery.

But the reason why Kurama comes out on top is that, unlike Hiei, he is unafraid of showing a side that is teeming with realistic vulnerabilities, whereas Hiei clings to his pride with teeth-clenching tenacity. Truth be told, Kurama gets thrown off-balance quite easily and his thoughts often twist into a spiral of second-guessing at the slightest mishap. The enjoyment doesn’t so much stem from a sort of strategist schadenfreude as it does from watching a tactical fighter cope with the unshakable unease and tension that manifests in the heat of battle.

Anyway, here’s to hoping that the Dark Tournament actually wraps up before the final volume.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cross Game Pt. 2

As expected, the back-half of Cross Game saw the series exiting the stadium bathed in sunlight with its head proudly held high. This is a series not to be missed and is among the very best of what anime has to offer.

Much more than the first half, the final 25 episodes all but cement the fact that the characters in Cross Game are so lovable because they are steadfastly anchored to reality. After Seishuu's narrow defeat at the hands of Ryuou, for example, there's no sudden spate of angst strangling our protagonists from the inside and sending the plot on a leave of absence. But we are also spared from the corny kind of pep-talk that kindles a burning desire to prevail in the future. Rather, Seishuu accepts defeat with the humble bow of “there's always next time” as the stadium doors close and simply moves on.

And then there was the return of Wakaba in the form of Akane, which provided yet another golden opportunity for whipping up a hurricane of angst. And again, the series graciously declined and opted for a subtle peppering of pathos in the form of a soothingly bittersweet festival episode where Kou, Akaishi, and the Tsukishima family are reunited with their long-lost childhood friend.

But fret not, because if a thick glaze of emotions is more your cup-of-tea, the ending will leave your taste buds thoroughly titillated.

One of Cross Game's crowning achievements is its staunch refusal to adhere to the perishable underdog, feel-good formula, which feels far too much like coasting to victory on cruise control. With pitching-phenom Kou and show-stopping slugger Azuma leading the charge, the Seishuu team is hardly underdog material and the opposing teams are merely that and far from a group of bigoted bullies begging for a David-and-Goliath-style trouncing.

Cross Game is not about the weak overcoming the strong nor is it even about making to the big leagues on the back of Cinderella's carriage. No, Cross Game's message is elegant in its simplicity: staying true to one's promise as much as to one's self.

Once all is said and done, it becomes apparent that not only has Wakaba's dream been realized, but the mere memory of her has ultimately left a profound impact on the lives of anyone and everyone connected to the Tsukihima's. By fulfilling Wakaba's final request, Kou's heart finally becomes untethered from the past as Aoba's finally opens enough to accept him, just as Wakaba would have wanted. Azuma similarly learns to put his heart into the game instead of simply playing detachedly to honor his brother's sacrifice. It's not just Wakaba's dream that has been realized, but also the dreams of Kou, Aoba, the Tsukishima's and those closest to them.

And it's because the series speaks so openly, humbly, and honestly that the series emerges heartwarmingly triumphant in the end. Cross Game is a modern day classic for all ages; an extraordinary, emotionally-refined journey that's truly as once-in-a-lifetime as Kou's prodigious pitching skills. And you'd best believe that this is a fastball that will leave more of an indelible imprint than one that soars over the plate at 160 km/h ever could.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Anime Marriage Prospects Pt. 2

Sousuke Sagara
An oddly-stunning cross between a bishounen and a rough and rugged frontline soldier. His scruffy hair slightly obscures a piercingly serious glare with a tight-lipped frown slipped in underneath. An X-shaped scar runs down his left cheek.

He has a tanned complexion and a build that is slim and athletic, as expected from a hardened, hypercompetent military specialist. He wears a traditional boys high-school uniform. While Sousuke may appear to be someone who is severely strict and straitlaced, there's the unshakable impression that he's quite gentle at heart.

Quite the disparity. In terms of military knowledge, Sousuke is a walking encyclopedia of technical jargon and military techniques and he is proficient at operating all manner of vehicles and/or giant mecha. On the battlefield, his senses are sharp and his mind is a whirring dynamo of quickfire analysis. High-school material, on the other hand, goes right over his head as does anything involving interaction with other people. In other words, you probably couldn't find someone more competent in military combat and so horrifyingly incompetent in modern society.

Sousuke's duty is as inseparable from his mind as his finger is from the trigger of his pistol. Often described as a “military maniac,” Sousuke's mind is always focused on scanning for possible threats and disposing of them in the most direct of methods, usually involving bullets, smoke bombs, or claymores.

While this may make Sousuke seem like the perfect bodyguard, his lack of experience with social norms combined with a brain that regularly flits between paramilitary and paranoia and an arsenal of military-grade firearms at his fingertips makes him a spectacular, often embarrassing disaster in a social environment.

In a high-school setting, for instance, Sousuke is a Fish Out of Water. Not only will he confront threats, students and faculty alike, at gunpoint, but he'll chuck grenades and dispense tear gas at the slightest provocation.

And the fun doesn't stop there. Not only is he a Chaste Hero, but he is literally unable to comprehend anything that's not at least tangentially related to the battlefield. For example, he understands basketball, but only because he used to play the sport with his fellow soldiers on a makeshift court during downtime between missions. But try talking to him about love and dating or lecturing him on why drawing his pistol isn't the solution to every problem and his brain will hemorrhage just trying to keep up.

The best and worst part of Sousuke's personality is the juxtaposition of genuinely innocent naïveté and mechanical military discipline. He's like a child who's truly well-meaning and desperately trying to make sense of foreign territory that he has been dumped into, except the child has an inveterate desire to incapacitate anything that so much as sneezes in a threatening manner.

Cooking/Home Economics:
While perfectly capable of efficiently consuming rations as bullets whiz overhead, Sousuke naturally has limited experience in the kitchen. You're probably going to have to take the reins on this one.

Fighting Skills:
Of course, Sousuke is at the top of his game here. Although he is skilled enough to dispatch a hoard of thugs or terrorists innocents with his bare hands, he's doubly as dangerous with any sort of firearm and triply so factoring in his proclivity for guerilla tactics.

Sousuke was born to fight dirty and will always resort to underhanded traps and pre-emptive strikes for the element of surprise. It's just too bad that his targets turn out to be innocent students or civilians most of the time.

Special Abilities:
Incredibly proficient in mech combat and has experience with the Lambda Driver, a device that can rewrite reality itself. And in the classroom or nearest civilian locale, his Hyperspace Armory is quite handy for concealing all manner of guns, grenades, and rocket launchers.

Good freakin' luck. Kaname Chidori is the perfect fit for Sousuke as far as I'm concerned, but even if you were to ignore the unbelievable chemistry between the two of them, you'd have to come to terms with the fact that Sousuke is under orders to protect her. Pursuing a romantic relationship would be awkward when he's got his eyes trained on another girl 24/7. Then there's Tessa, who, if Kaname were to be erased from the picture, would easily be able to wring some romantic reciprocality out of Sousuke, given that she's his sweet and ditzy commanding officer and all.

Oh, and lest we forget that the line “I LOVE YOU, KASHIM!” will probably be echoing ominously throughout your nightmares.


Mithril compensates Sousuke well for his accomplishments as they are able to effortlessly cover up any and all property damage incurred by our lovable short-fused Sergeant by waving around sacks of cash.

“I'm aware it's a condom but I can't figure out what possible use a high-school student could have for one. Sure, I've used it a couple of times: I was on mission in the jungle when I lost everything....everything but this! You know they can hold a liter of water, right?

Hoo boy..this is one frightening prospect. Unless you want unintentional Tykebombs at worst or Child Soldiers at best, you'd do well to take over as the authority on parental supervision. Kiddies and guns, particularly standard-issue military firearms, do not mix.

Meh...why not? Sousuke is charming, quirky, a blast to be around, and always ready to brighten the mood with a reassuring “It’s not a problem.” Just don't let him tag along to social gatherings because if he spies anyone acting remotely shifty, well, that backyard barbeque would quickly turn into ground-zero for Armageddon.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Yu Yu Hakusho Vol. 1

Shounen-action is not my cup of tea. While I somewhat enjoyed the bulked-up beefcake blowout that was Dragon Ball Z, I tend to gravitate towards more cultured competition that happens to feature a heavy dose of slick and stylish action (see stuff like Hunter x Hunter). For a series like Yu Yu Hakusho, which promises to be a straightforward beat ‘em up in the same way that Painkiller promises to be a straightforward splatter-with-mountains-of-ammo-and-nail-to-walls-with-meter-long-rivets-fest, I went in understandably unenthused.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself grudgingly admitting that, at least from the first volume, Yu Yu Hakusho is, far and away, the best shounen-action series of its kind. Period.

Yes, it’s a series littered with the traditional foibles of shounen-action. And yes, its conceptual framework has been breached by the typical plot contrivances (tedious tournament arcs, lame excuses for queuing up an unending string of fights, characters always calling their attacks). But in terms of execution, Yu Yu Hakusho has this natural, refreshing charm that sets it apart from the rest of the crowd.

As an example, the first arc is absolutely sublime in introducing us to the main cast. Talk about an impressionable inception because the intro is unforgivably direct in dragging us by the heart on our sleeves into Yu Yu Hakusho’s world. The reaction to Yusuke’s premature death is surprisingly tearful and kicking off the series by letting emotional, indirect characterization do the talking rather than the usual boldfaced prattling means the series refuses to treat its viewers like invalids who need everything spelled out for them. Not only admirable, but quite gratifying.

But that alone is not what pitches Yu Yu Hakusho all the way to the perch of shounen-action perfection. For me, engineering a tactical Kill Sat strike is far more rewarding than prevailing in a straight-up slugfest. It’s why I find takedowns in stealth-games such as Thief to be more rewarding than a game where you waltz into a room and systematically mow down serried mooks with a hailstorm of bullets and no regard for discretion. While Yu Yu Hakusho does boast a fair amount of fisticuffs, it’s peppered with just the right amount of intriguing, strategic warfare. Not enough to overpower the mantle of macho belligerence that shounen-action is known for (which admittedly is where Soul Eater or D. Gray Man have gone astray), but enough so that all sorts of nasty, inventive mechanics can slither their way into fights, preventing them from feeling like clockwork clashes.

Admittedly, some fights, such as the climactic encounter with Suzaku, are resolved by the tiresome trappings of the genre (i.e. courage and friendship are the solution to everything), but for the most part, the series gets it right.

To clarify, yes, it’s a good thing that Yu Yu Hakusho never loses sight of the fact that it is shounen-action because, as I mentioned, D. Gray Man and Soul Eater seem to be increasing the concentration of drama and leaving action to rot on the backburner. It’s not a bad thing; just that said series’ come off as confused and jumbled, like they’re suffering from an identity crisis, whereas Yu Yu Hakusho knows exactly what it is and never lets up on the accelerator for even one second.

The first 28 episodes have been unbelievably fun and I’m eager to see how this “Dark Tournament” arc will wrap up in the next volume, in addition to what other grim misadventures await our intrepid heroes.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cross Game Pt. 1

I know I'm a bit late to the party. A whole year, to be exact. Like everyone else, I was caught up in chasing after Higashi no Eden like an excited Labrador, tongue flapping wildly with drips of saliva rolling off. Pity that the chase ended futilely when the series decided to go the GTA-flying-cars-cheat route, and soar into space, thinking that assimilating moon logic would be the best way to wrap up what was up until that point a stunning conspiracy thriller.

The point is, Cross Game flew under my radar like a well-tossed slider as I'm sure it did everyone else's. Yeah, I was vaguely aware of the positive clamor from critics, but sports and I have always maintained a pleasantly estranged relationship and I would have been damned if giving baseball a 2-D animated makeover was going to wring the slightest curious glance out of me, much less make me want to leap across the lightyear separating us and start caressing it gently.

One episode (and several tissues) later, and I already found myself begging forgiveness for a lifetime of aloofness.

Cross Game is of the best series' that I have ever picked up and I have no doubt that it will finish as one of my top anime of all time. Despite possessing humble roots in slice-of-life and sports, Cross Game nevertheless blossoms with an emotional fragrance that is every bit as meticulous as it is intoxicating, but never too potent. Think Whisper of the Heart with, well, baseball.

For the most part, Cross Game is about simplicity. Simple art, simple animation, simple character designs, simple background melodies, a simple plot, and a simple, quiet atmosphere. The series is quite easy on the eyes and the brain, seemingly making it kids-only territory. That is, until you realize that while kids will find there is plenty to enjoy, older viewers will be sinking their teeth in the juicy layers of complexity at the series' core.

Put simply, the characters in Cross Game are unbelievable. So rarely are characters portrayed in such a realistic fashion that it's hard to pin a single solid stereotype onto their persona without lengthy footnotes.

It would be wrong, for instance, to suggest that protagonist Kou is simply rash and naïve, because while he has impulsive tendencies, he's still just your average, sympathetic everystudent hell-bent on fulfilling a promise. And while Aoba is arguably a tsundere, her striking resilience and the profound emotional conflict that she shoulders with Kou ensure that her tsun and dere rotations (which are refreshingly understated) don't run like clockwork. She too acts like an actual teenager with real insecurities and never once sells out to the puerile fanbase who slobber over every blushingly tsunderific frame of animation.

Likewise, Azuma is technically the stoic, subzero, poker-faced foil, but he also radiates with warm, calming reassurance.

Above all else, however, it is the character development that is truly praiseworthy. Wonderfully nuanced and natural, were this live-action, I would say that it's as if the camera was MIA during the entirety of the series. Characterization never dribbles unnaturally out the mouths of characters and either gathers steadily granule-by-granule through everyday interactions or is delivered like a wallop to the nose in a tremendously heartwrenching or uplifting climax.

And Cross Game is uplifting. These are real characters, driven by genuine determination and the desire to watch them interact, grow, overcome, and succeed is overwhelming.

I'm 25 episodes in and enjoying every minute of the series. If I had to wax anal, however, I would say that it could use a bit more direction as some side stories seem arbitrarily intercut such as the Risa-audition episode. I guess some people may find that the baseball matches get shortchanged, but I've been lapping up every minute of every game, particularly the most recent match as Kou and Seishuu trolled the hell out of Sannou during the first innings. Suffice to say, I am thoroughly onboard as Seishuu moves further along in this second-half.

In summary: The characters are amazing, the backstories are beautifully fleshed-out, the dialogue is judicious and punchy, the atmosphere is mellow, and the baseball matches are actually compelling. So far, so epic.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Anime Marriage Prospects Pt. 1

Posting my contributions to an experimental thread of the same name. It's all just for lulz.

Hitagi Senjougahara


Tall with a de-liciously slender figure, beautiful legs, and long, flowing, strikingly-violet air. Definitely a body worth going to jail for. Her face is equally as beautiful and she usually wears an unamused, pensive expression no matter how much it may clash with her, well, abusive dialogue. She also has a habit of tilting her head in a cute and alluring manner.

She wears a school uniform that is composed of a rather-masculine top (a necktie and trademark office supplies in her breast pocket) and a standard skirt accompanied by lengthy black stockings to achieve that perfect Grade-A zettai ryouiki goodness.

In short, Tall Purple-Haired and Bishoujo and so damn good at it that, as evidenced by Suruga, Even the Girls Want Her.

As far as traditional education goes, well above-average in terms of book smarts, although she can't hold a candle to resident teenage genius, Hanekawa. In terms of common sense and rationality, well, while she's no Cloud Cuckoo Lander, her manner-of-speaking seems to indicate that her thought processes are far from what you would call normal.

Boy howdy are we in for the long-haul. Her personality is like a labyrinth only instead of the Minotaur, there's a giant invisible crab prowling the ominous corridors and warding off intruders. Basically, unless you've got an inhuman (and by that I mean vampiric) tolerance for getting repeatedly perforated by a stapler's tiny metal fangs, you're going to find yourself swiftly reduced to a pile of stammering ice shards by Senjougahara's subzero standoffishness.

And even if you get past the initial cold shoulder (and subsequent X-acto knife lip-tearing), there's a salvo of heart-piercing snark headed your way as you bob-and-weave around Senjougahara's razor-sharp tongue trying to find even a shred of meaning in her thoroughly trenchant teasing. If you're inexperienced with humility, prepare for a crash course as she will slowly, but viciously flay you with every nuanced word, gesture, glance, and sultry sashay.

But fear not, because while the kuu in Senjoughara's kuudere is carved out of a fifty-foot-tall obelisk, cuddling up next to her microscopic dere when all is said and done is worth the torture. Ever believed in the concept that one can't truly appreciate beauty unless one understands pain? Well Senjougahara is pretty much the personification of that idea because, as Araragi could tell you, deep down, she's an affectionate little love-starved ball of intimacy.

Cooking/Home Economics:
Expect cute bento boxes with rather overt admissions of love plastered all over them. Oh, and lots of crabs.

Fighting Skills:
As expected from someone with a figure like hers, Senjougahara is in excellent physical shape and tears up the track with her unrivaled agility. As far as actual fighting skills, she's quite handy with school supplies of all things, her weapons of choice being a stapler and an X-acto knife. She lines her school uniform with pointy classroom implements and even has a whole arsenal tucked away in her sleeves primed for a quick-draw showdown.

Special Abilities:
She used to be weightless, which has rather limited uses. Probably the closest thing she has to some special power is the uncanny ability to transform every single sentence into a poisoned barb that pumps the victim's spinal column full of liquid despair. And she seems utterly incapable of speaking in a manner that doesn't involve impaling people with these.

Ararararagi is front and center which means you're pretty much out of luck since she has him by the yandere-leash after he saved her from the clutches of a crab-God (though he himself is too nice and gullible to be a genuine threat). But even if Araragi were to be hypothetically removed from the equation, there's still her subconsciously psychotic, equally-yandere lover, Suruga, who would treat you to a savage disembowelment (Not kidding) if she even suspected you of being competition. Sleep tight; don't let the furry-appendage sticking out from under the yellow raincoat bite.

None, although she does suffer from family issues.

Modestly wealthy. Definitely raking in enough income for a search-and-rescue party were she to go missing although you would probably be the one in need of rescuing in such a situation.

Okay, there are two ways this can play out. If she's as adept at verbal sparring as sparring in the bedroom, then expect something oh-so-satisfyingly kinky because this S&M session is going to have heavy emphasis on the S. Oh, and she's probably got a specific use for every single one of her school supplies, not to mention the fact that she's probably capable of handling them in...exotic ways.

The other way, of course, is if she stays all sweet and passionate after her emotional barrier has fallen, but while that makes for better romance, frankly, the stapler-under-the-sheets route seems more amusing, especially since she claims to be a virgin.

Seeing as she doesn't like children, this is likely a no-go, although she probably wouldn't be completely against the idea.

If you're still contemplating whether or not you should hook up with Senjougahara at this point, you either:
A) are a masochist
B) are gifted with high-speed regenerative abilities
C) find yourself getting a stiffy only when you step into a Staples.
In any case, we all salute you for your bravery on the battlefield.