Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood




The brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric are back in this second adaptation of the manga Fullmetal Alchemist. Like the previous anime series, FMA Brotherhood follows the journey of Ed and Al as they solve the mystery to getting their bodies back by alchemy. After an unsuccessful attempt to bring back their mother from the dead, with Ed sacrificing a leg and almost losing Al in the process, they join the military. Using the military's information and connections the brothers might be able to find the fabled Philosopher's Stone to restore their bodies.

The idea of alchemy is equal exchange. In the first series it was always emphasized that something cannot be created out of nothing. There has to be a pre-existing something to create something else. In FMA Brotherhood, that principle was not clearly stated but those who have already watched the first series will find it easier to understand the idea behind alchemy.

Those who have watched the first anime will find that there are key differences between that and this series. FMA Brotherhood follows the manga more closely.


Alphonse Elric
Edward Elric
Some differences with the first series

As mentioned above, the series does not focus on the idea of alchemy itself. Instead it highlights the struggles of the Elric brothers after they paid the price of tampering with life and death using alchemy.

FMA Brotherhood has a different explanation of the origins of the homunculus and slight changes in Van Hohenheim's image and role.

There's more humor as well. FMA had more emotional scenes while FMA Brotherhood is lighter. The pace is faster and Ed has more fighting scenes. I wouldn't presume that the action scenes are better. The first series built up important events leading to final confrontations, with emphasis on the narrative and characterization. With FMA Brotherhood's pace, the action scenes happen while everything is explained at the same. It's jam-packed with fight scenes especially towards the end.

The deaths of some of the supporting cast are also different. Even the important roles of the antagonists have changed. In the first series, Lust had a bigger role, but another homunculus took that spotlight in this series. FMA Brotherhood also has a clearer ending. The resolution is final and there's almost nothing to add.

If there were any slight changes in Ed's and Al's characterization, it wasn't obvious. Except for some of the supporting cast, there were no major changes in the characters.

Most of the cast of FMA Brotherhood
This 64-episode series lives up to the hype and even surpasses the first series. The battle scenes are something to look forward to, notably those of King Bradley. Although not as emotionally intense as the first series, it's much closer to the manga and the pace has picked up. Lastly, Ed and Al make up an interesting duo. Ed is the more emotional of the brothers but he is smart and quick to grasp opportunities. Al is more calm and focused, which complements Ed's character. The only drawback is that because the series targets a specific audience, the supporting characters in the protagonist's side keep growing and live through battles.


Rating: 10 out of 10



Friday, March 14, 2014

The Saracen: The Holy War by Robert Shea





The story now focuses on events instead of the main characters' background and development. Simon's uncle, Charles d'Anjou, is now a key character. Daoud and Simon's rivalry grows and now they even have to fight over Sophia's love. The pope in the previous book has bad health and the cardinals are set to choose his successor.

Unlike the first book, the pace is faster and covers a longer span of time. However, the main characters appear less as the author tries to develop the supporting cast who play crucial roles in the development towards the final battle. I was worried that the author didn't plan killing off some important characters but the ending did not disappoint. I commend the author for not choosing an easy conclusion by way of a happy ending.

The two-part series has many surprises and events to look forward to. The battle scenes, although not as vivid as I was expecting, weren't dissatisfying either. The best part of the book is the characters of Daoud and Simon. I found myself frustrated, sad or rejoicing for the characters and that alone says a lot about the books.

Rating:
The Holy War: 9 out of 10

The Saracen: Land of the Infidel by Robert Shea




Daoud ibn Abdallah, born David Langmuir, was captured when he was young and sold into slavery. Orphaned and abused, he was bought by Baibars al-Bunduqdari and was trained as a Mameluke (slave warrior) and Hashashin. Set in the years between A.D. 1263 to 1264, the Christian and Islam nations were threatened by a growing power from the east. The Tartars of Hulagu Khan (Genghis Khan's descendant) are seeking an alliance with the Christians by sending emissaries to converse with the Pope. If this alliance is formed, Daoud's adopted religion and new homeland will be in danger. His mission therefore is to meet the pope at Orvieto to prevent this alliance. He was to disguise as a merchant and must first meet with Manfred von Hohenstaufen who is a likely ally to Baibar's cause. There he meets Lorenzo Celino and Sophia Karaiannides who will help him in his mission.

Meanwhile, a knight named Simon de Gobignon was assigned to protect the Tartar emissaries. Young, untested in battle, and carrying a bad reputation because of his father, Simon is determined to see through his mission and uphold his family's name. His uncle King Louis wants an alliance with the Tartars so they can wrest back Jerusalem from the Saracens. His uncle Charles also wants the alliance but has his sights on Manfred's kingdom.

In the first book, Daoud, Simon and the supporting cast are introduced. What at first seemed to be just Daoud's story also became Simon's as he was developed into an important character and ultimately as Daoud's nemesis. There is always a promise of confrontations but it never happens until the last part of the book when Daoud's assassination skills were put to use. Daoud's mission seemed too ambitious to pull off for just one man but the author managed to make it possible as the story progressed. Although partly historical, the readers will not drown in too many names and information. The first book focuses on the characters. Moreover, despite Daoud's impressive background and abilities, there was no hint that he'd be an invincible hero. The author managed to make him still human, with qualities that readers can share. 



Rating:
Land of the Infidel: 8 out of 10

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Prince of Tennis: Eikokushiki Teikyuu Shiro Kessen!


The Seigaku tennis club regulars visit England to represent Japan in a tournament. Everything was going well until a series of attacks on other players force them and the other Japanese representatives to confront the perpetrators. Rumor has it that the attacks were orchestrated by a group of banned players. Ling Xiu, a former member, warns the other players to stay away from Keith and his gang. 

Ryoma decides he needs to test this Keith in a tennis court. He is joined by Tezuka, Fuji, Atobe, Shiraishi, Kite, Sanada, and Kirihara.

This 10th anniversary movie of Prince of Tennis is full of humor and action. With strong opponents as challengers, you'd expect nothing less than explosive tennis matches. Some might not like the lineup of Ryoma's supporting cast but keep in mind that this is a movie made for fans. I don't recommend this to viewers who haven't watched the series. The characters, humor, and exaggerated plays would not make sense at all. As for the fans, this movie is an excellent treat.

Rating: 10 out of 10

Friday, February 07, 2014

Six Centuries of Painting by Randall Davies



Based on the cardinal points of painting, Randall Davies attempted to classify, explain the origins and influences, and present the development of painting in the western hemisphere. The cardinal points he used are the following: basis of religion, development peculiar to the soil, imitation of nature, and approbation of the public.

This volume is quite helpful to art students and even to general readers because of the organization of the information. However, it is more like a list than a study of the distinct features of the schools. Some portions did give useful information about the styles and their differences but it is very rare. Only the well-known artists are given special attention as well. Moreover, the author injects biased comments about the specific artists' styles, putting aside what could have been a more useful general comparison of styles.

Nonetheless, the book has plenty of useful information and is easy to read. The ff. are the chapters included in the volume:

Tuscan Schools
Venetian Schools
Spanish School
Flemish School
Dutch School
Painters of Genre
Painters of Animals
Painters of Landscape
German Schools
The Seventeenth Century
The Eighteenth Century
The English School
Close of the Eighteenth Century
The Nineteenth Century
The Spirit of Revolt
Ruskin Against the Philistines
Manet and Whistler Against the World
The Royal Academy

Rating: 6 out of 10

Friday, January 31, 2014

Shingeki no Kyojin



When humanity was threatened to extinction by the arrival of man-eating, human-like giants, the survivors built a settlement protected by three separate walls. For a century, the humans lived in safety, confident that the walls cannot be breached by dumb titans. The three walls are Maria, Rose, and Shina. These have four outer walls designed to attract titans and prevent pressure throughout the walls; making the task of guarding easier for defenders by concentrating in these four districts. It is in one of these outer wall districts, Shiganshina, that Eren Yeager and his family lives. A passionate young man, Eren's desire to join the Recon Corps was revealed to the family by the Yeager's adopted daughter Mikasa Ackerman, much to the dismay of Eren's mother. However he got encouragement from his father, Dr. Grisha Yeager, who promised to show Eren the research he has done on titans. The Recon Corps is one of the three military divisions created to protect people and fight the titans. They survey the territories outside the walls and gain foothold for humans; while the Garrison maintains and guards the walls. Lastly, the Military Police guards the king.




After meeting up, Eren, Mikasa and their friend Armin Arlert looked on when a loud thunderclap was witnessed outside the walls. As a hush fell on the residents of Shiganshina district, a huge head appeared over the wall. Later named the Colossal Titan, it managed to do the impossible; it towered over and damaged the previously unbreachable wall. The titans finally enter the humans' stronghold and a feast commences. 

Eren's mother was trapped when their house collapsed during the breach. Eren and Mikasa had to leave her to evacuate to the inner wall Maria. While the survivors ran for safety and the garrison debated on sealing the gate to wall Maria, another unusual titan appears. Like the Colossal Titan, the Armored Titan seems to have only one purpose in mind and that was not to eat humans. The Armored Titan breached the gate of wall Maria, forcing the military to evacuate all residents to wall Rose.

Eren's desire to join the military was not dampened by the events. He would also learn later that he not only has to face the titans but he also has to put up with the bickering factions among humans, an equally dangerous threat like the titans. He was joined by Mikasa and Armin in the training so they can fight the titans together.

With so little knowledge about the titans and the technology to bring them down, it seems that humans have no means of fighting back. Worse, there are more unusual titans like the Colossal and Armored Titans to worry about.


Mikasa, Eren, and Armin join the army

Action-packed and with an epic first episode, the series is titanic in so many ways. First, the post-apocalyptic setting is appropriate with the current obsession on themes of humanity in near extinction. Second, there is no magic and almost no effective technology used in fighting the titans which is reminiscent of a premodern* setting. Lastly, the beautiful animation, epic opening themes, and the battle scenes using the 3-D Maneuver Gear are worth watching.

I'm not just copying the usual words used in reviews when I say action-packed because even at the last minute of the episodes, something is always happening. There is no dull moment even when the series follows the usual pattern of introduction and history of characters/background of story/tension.

The characters are easy to like. It also has an impressive lead female character who doesn't fit into the usual female categories. Eren's passionate character is not only complemented by Mikasa's fighting prowess but also by Armin's talent for strategy and negotiation. Not an uncommon combination for a trio of lead characters. The series also has it share of bloody scenes and plenty of deaths.

Although I've heard some complaints about the animation, I doubt that it would work if it was done any other way. I think for the actions scenes to be effective, the animation has to have more depth and detail. I like the attention on scenes with the maneuver gears and first-person views of running/chasing scenes when turning at corners.

(top) Commander Erwin Smith and (bottom) Captain Levi of Recon/Survey Corps

Although Shingeki no Kyojin has nothing new to offer in its narrative and the types of lead characters, the premise of a nearly extinct human population and the fight scenes against titans have more than compensated for those. With 25 episodes, 1 recap, and a cliffhanger ending it's a series that won't disappoint.


Rating: 10 out of 10

*(premodern) based on the invention of 
the cannon (one technology used to fight titans) 
and the accepted timeline of historical eras

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Shiki




In the rural town of Sotoba, mysterious deaths force Doctor Ozaki Toshio and monk Muroi Seishin to investigate. Upon examining the bodies, Ozaki finds that the victims suffered from a rare case of anemia and had mysterious insect bites somewhere in their bodies. Other than those, he has no more clues passing it off first as an epidemic. Coincidentally, the deaths began occurring when the Kirishiki family moved into town, but with so little evidence of their involvement, no one but an old lady suspected the family. As the numbers piled up and an attempt to cover up the deaths was discovered, Ozaki thinks he is up against something more terrifying than a disease.




Meanwhile Muroi meets one of the Kirishikis, a girl named Sunako, who has a disease preventing her from going out at night. The two seem to get along very well especially when Muroi brought up his novels including the latest called Shiki. 

Although Muroi wanted to help with the investigation by interviewing the victims' families, Ozaki disagrees pointing out that Muroi's approach isn't helpful. It was the beginning of the falling out of the two, culminating in a gruesome discovery later.


Natsuno

At the start of the investigation, the doctor believed that the first victim was Shimizu Megumi. Megumi, a girl noted for her choice of outfits, dreams of a life outside Sotoba. She admittedly hates the rural townsfolk including Tanaka Kaori whom she ignores. Her attention is set on Yuuki Natsuno, who unfortunately dislikes her. Natsuno finds Megumi bothersome and creepy. Her death only worsened things. Not only does he suspect that Megumi is still around but that she is planning something against Natsuno's friend, Mutou Toru.



The isolated setting of Sotoba is a perfect setting for the buildup of the mystery of deaths. The characters are slowly and literally trapped until there is almost no solution. The climax is all the more exciting because of that trap set up by the perpetrators of the "plague" and it seems like only three residents have uncovered the truth. What they will do about it is something to look forward to in the 22 episodes and 2 OVAs. The complete turnaround of the situation in the last few episodes to me was epic. 

Ozaki and Muroi

When I read that there would be blood-sucking creatures involved I was hesitant to watch because most tv series/movies/books that have the same theme are predictable, boring, and have nothing new to offer. The genre usually attempts to romanticize the characters and even make them more appealing than their human counterparts. Shiki attempted that as well but it did not downplay the humans. There was an attempt to retain human qualities in the shiki therefore allowing a striking contrast between the humans' reason for survival and the shikis' reason for holding on to their lonely existence.

The Kirishikis

Some of the outfits and hairstyles look really funny considering that this is a bloody, horror and mystery series. The excellent manipulation of multiple characters (an entire village) and the fast pace of the series is no laughing matter however. Based on the novel by Fuyumi Ono, author of the equally impressive Ghost Hunt, you wouldn't expect anything less.

The shiki

Shiki is a gut-wrenching, emotionally stirring series. It's difficult to stop watching halfway through it. Shiki kept me on the edge of my seat. It was the first time in any anime that I literally cheered on for the characters in the last few episodes. Within 23 minutes of each episode I found myself angry or sad or excited with each new discovery. Don't let the genre and oversaturated theme turn you off. Shiki is way better than the current blood-sucking theme trash you'll find these days.

Rating: 10 out of 10

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Katipunan



Set in the Philippine Revolution, this eight-part series shows the rise and fall of Katipunan's founder and  the father of the revolution, Andres Bonifacio. Katipunan follows two main story lines. A young woman's death opens a series of atrocities committed by a new cleric in a small town. Pacquing and Sebastian, Teresa's friends, want retribution for her death but they are powerless. They had to flee and along the way met Andres Bonifacio, who became a friend and mentor to the two young men.


Andres Bonifacio

When Jose Rizal was arrested and later exiled to Dapitan, Bonifacio and colleagues decided to organize the Kataas-taasan, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (Katipunan). The recruitment process alone was tedious. Katipunan was hard-put in convincing some of the ilustrados to support them; some people also snubbed them thinking the revolution will never succeed. The Spanish colonizers are too powerful; while the Filipinos lack the arms and the guts to rise up. However, this is only the beginning of challenges for Bonifacio and wife Gregoria de Jesus or Oriang. Later Bonifacio would have to deal with the bickering factions of the Magdalo and Magdiwang. Moreover, his leadership would be questioned and overturned, finally resulting to Bonifacio's murder.


Oriang and Andres

Andres Bonifacio is often portrayed as an illiterate and passionate revolutionary screaming and waving a bolo. This historical drama however shows an indeed passionate yet well-mannered and educated man. Most historical adaptations tend to drown in detail leaving little room for characterization; the lead character often reduced to an almost fictional god-like icon difficult for the audience to identify with. The series was not a victim of that trend and the first half didn't disappoint. His role in the second half was slightly reduced however as new characters were introduced. Neither Rizal nor Emilio Aguinaldo took the spotlight, an accomplishment in itself.

Bloody and dark, Katipunan did not sugarcoat the Philippine revolution. There are plenty of action scenes beautifully done. This attention to the fight scenes is also seen in the preparation for the costumes, setting, and even the choice of cast.

Although the series does not intentionally support one theory of Bonifacio's downfall, it leaves the audience to ponder on the possibilities. Both Aguinaldo and Rizal have had their spotlight. This long-deserving tribute to the man who had the guts to start the revolution, gives information not usually found in textbooks. Whether there is an attempt to overturn Bonifacio's reputation as the antagonist to Aguinaldo's rise to power, that is for the audience to decide.

What is clear however is Bonifacio's intention to free the country from the colonizers knowing that their chance of success is slim. Anyone without brains for organization and strategy would not have accomplished  the task of recruitment alone. So why is his image of an uneducated, hot-headed man still persistent? Whatever the revolutionaries accomplished, it is clouded by their avarice and longing for power, no matter how insignificant. A power the Magdalo, and later the other factions, thought were theirs by gaining only one province. They not only failed to protect that acquisition but also forgot what they were fighting for. 

Despite the unnecessary death of Bonifacio, the usurpers (for lack of a better word) did not gain anything at all because of intrigue, betrayal, and plain lack of goals and ability to strategize and govern. Whether Aguinaldo's presidency was legitimate or not, hiding the proof of the other party does not change history. The Philippines did not gain independence from the Spaniards because of the revolutionaries. 

The country was doomed from the start. Founded on politicking and in-fighting among factions is not so different from the current government.


Rating: 10 out of 10

Cast:
Sid Lucero as Andres Bonifacio
Glaiza de Castro as Gloria de Jesus
Roi Vinzon as Padre Villalon
Benjamin Alves as Sebastian
Dominic Roco as Pacquing

Written by Ian Victoriano
Directed by King Mark Baco
Executive Producer Jayson Bernard Santos

Aired on October 19, 2013 – December 28, 2013; GMA Network

Photos taken from gmanetwork.com

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

PairPuri

Episode 1: Atobe times Tezuka, divided by Koharu

Prince of Tennis fans will surely enjoy this short series for its humor. The picture drama is made up of eight episodes, each one not more than 10 minutes. The best part is that all the Seigaku members each had their spotlight. Besides Seigaku are a select few characters from other schools. If you like Tenipuri humor, then this is for you. The cute ending song is a bonus.

Episode 2: Fuji brothers after school

Episode 3: Initial A

Episode 4: Kai Para

Episode 5: Beach Side's Popular Watching

Episode 6: I Don't Understand Your Feelings!

Episode 7: Whose Spectacle is This?

Episode 8: The Ocean Festival

Rating: 10 out of 10

Gilgamesh


Although the title refers to the epic of king of the same name, there is almost no connection the Gilgamesh itself except the references to his tomb and the retelling of the epic by the characters.

Siblings Madoka Tatsuya and Madoka Kiyoko have nowhere to run. Forever haunted by their father's reputation as the cause of Twin X that wiped out most of the human population, they were chased by an unknown group with unclear motives. Not only did Twin X caused widespread death but  the explosion caused a mirror-like layer to appear in the sky. Most of the people born after Twin X have never seen the blue sky. Tatsuya is a Dynamis user. Dynamis is a psychic energy that allows the user to control physical objects. 

Tatsuya and Kiyoko

While trying to escape the pursuers, the Madokas meet three men in an abandoned house. Apparently those men also have Dynamis just like Tatsuya. It seemed that the group that's chasing them is opposed to the three men with dynamis. The former is led by Countess of Werdenberg who is determined to acquire the Madokas. She claims that she has rescued three children who can use Dynamis and wants to do the same for the Madokas. However, Kiyoko thinks she has other motives. She also suspects that the Countess is involved in Twin X and their estranged father.

Adopted children of the countess. From left: Tsukioka Toru, Omuro Fuko, and Fujisaki Isamu

The mystery deepens as they learn about Gilgamesh, the name of the group the three men belonged to. Furthermore, they discover two other organizations called Orga and Mitleid, both anti-Gilgamesh factions. Orga is led by the Countess, while Mitleid's chairman is Yuki Toranosuke. Gilgamesh are led by Enkidu, whose goal is to destroy the tower created by Mitleid to restore the mirror-like sky. Enkidu wants a cleansing of the world to create better humans; something that is only possible by destroying the surviving populace.

Despite the siblings' efforts to run away from their past, their father's shadow still haunts them. Madoka Terumichi is more involved in their plight than they'd care to admit. Trapped between opposing factions, Tatsuya and Kiyoko must find out the secret in their identities before the pursuers catch up to them.

The Gilgamesh
The epic of Gilgamesh was retold twice by the characters, but the detailed part about Gilgamesh's search for immortality was left out. Meanwhile Gilgamesh and Enkidu's friendship was told in more detail. The part that was left out, the story of the flood, would have made the latter part of the series more sensible if it was not omitted. Not only that, the pace is slow for a series with a promising story. Set in an almost empty world, the viewer must plod through ineffective characterization, poor fighting scenes, and mediocre animation. Scientific jargon doesn't even make the series the least bit intellectually stimulating. Even the ending is poorly executed. The resolution is unclear and the final scene almost empty of meaning. For most of the series I was waiting for the turning point that would make it worth watching. It never came. What at first seems like a promising 26-episode series turns out to be just unfulfilled promise after all.


Rating: 5 out of 10