Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace



Nothing excites middle-schooler Kobayashi anymore. Except for his friend Hashiba, all other people are the same to him. His dull life became exciting when he woke up holding a weapon and found his homeroom teacher dismembered in the classroom. The investigators suspected him but Kobayashi was more than willing to cooperate. He was even cheerful about being part of a murder. Finally, his life was exciting. All he had to do after all was find the real murderer.

To Hashiba's horror, Kobayashi went to one of the detectives and asked to become an assistant. Akechi Kogorou is a 17-year-old genius detective. Like Kobayashi, he admits to solving crimes for fun. Looking for the homeroom teacher's murderer was just the beginning of their adventures.


Kobayashi woke up to find his teacher's dismembered corpse

Kobayashi and his best friend Hashiba

Akechi Kogorou


The 11-episode series reminds me of Aoi Bungaku in its character development approach. What also seems absurd for the normal viewers is not questioned in the series. Images, sounds, and even the supporting cast create an eerie environment. There's one character who has a paper bag on his head that no one seems to mind. The cases in which Akechi and Kobayashi are involved in are equally disturbing.

I'm not gonna give this a high rating because I don't get Kobayashi at all. Maybe his unpredictability complements the atmosphere of the murders or maybe the effect was the opposite. Perhaps its his effeminate qualities that tick me off because he's something you can't categorize easily. If this was the kind of effect Kobayashi was supposed to have on the audience however, then it worked on me.

One arc in the series might also interest Death Note fans. Twenty Faces is a different take on the idea of vigilante justice. 

Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace is not your ordinary detective series. The characters are deviant (sometimes making it difficult for me to like them) and there are things that have been left unanswered. Some episodes triggered a headache, literally. If there's one word to describe the series, it's strange. It's not a bad series however. If you're not squeamish about blood and violence and have nothing against weird lead characters, then you might enjoy the series. Ranpo Kitan has a dream-like quality to it.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime



Akagami no Shirayuki-hime is a different take of the Snow White story (the series title in English is Snow White with the Red Hair). However, Shirayuki is nothing like the Snow White most of us are familiar with in pop culture. She's independent, resourceful, and smart. Despite her skills as an apothecary, her bright, red locks draws different reactions from people. The prince of her hometown Tanbarun for one wants her to be his concubine because he likes her hair. She refused Prince's Raji's offer and fled the kingdom after she cut her hair. Escaping the prince isn't easy however. When she thought she was far away enough, one of Raji's agents found her.

She was rescued by a guy named Zen and his companions. He was poisoned by the apple meant for Shirayuki, but he able to withstand the effects. She later learned during the confrontation that Zen is the second prince of Clarines.

The two become friends. Shirayuki goes to Clarines with Zen. She now has a chance to start her life over. But her friendship with the prince is not looked upon favorably by the other members of the court.



Shirayuki and Zen

Prince Raji trying to convince Shirayuki to be his concubine

Prince Zen with his aides

The 12-episode series is a typical ordinary-girl-meets-well-to-do-guy. Romance between Shirayuki and Zen is of course to be expected. It has nothing new to offer in the romance genre. Its redeeming quality however is Shirayuki's character. In one episode where she was kidnapped, I was wowed by her actions. It's not often you see a character made out to be cute and attractive to try to defend herself. Granted, we see this type more often nowadays. Still, it's a surprise.

The lead male character however is no different from princes in fairy tale romances. He's a prince with influences and has skillful allies. The only difference however is that he isn't the crown prince. Whether there will be a significant conflict with the older sibling remains to be seen.

I don't like the love-at-first-sight stories but Shirayuki is fun to watch most of the time. There were also some instances where the characters were forced to resolve conflicts by sensible means. It would have been a turn off if Shirayuki tried to solve it by lecturing about what's good for the people and the kingdom.

Rating: 7 out of 10

One Punch Man



Saitama is no ordinary hero. In fact he looks too much like an ordinary guy and not a hero. But don't let his plain features, slightly embarrassing costume and bored expression get you into thinking that this is just another series where a regular guy goes on an adventure to become the strongest fighter. Quite the opposite. Saitama is too strong for his opponents. So far, he has defeated all the monsters and villains that he has encountered with just one punch. Yes, just one super powerful punch, hence the title of the series.

One Punch Man is set in a fictional Japan. The metropolitan district is divided into several sections. These cities are protected by the Heroes Association. Apparently, the cities are constantly invaded by monsters. These villains come in all shapes, sizes and have different set of attributes and powers. But none of these are enough to challenge the bored Saitama. He's so efficient that a cyborg named Genos became an instant fan. Some characters in the series have worked for years or trained so hard to become strong, yet Saitama was able to defeat them in just one stroke.


Saitama defeats a giant superhuman

Genos



What makes this 12-episode series interesting is not Saitama's mysterious strength. It's how he differs from all the other heroes that have been made in the action/superhero genre, and I'm not just referring to anime. A typical superhero's reasons for fighting is to protect people. Others want to be recognized by other people, especially if the hero started as an average (sometimes "loser") type. Others want to avenge a loved one's death. Others end up marrying the prettiest girl in town. But Saitama just wants to fight a strong opponent. His reasons for becoming a hero at first might have been different, but it changed when he learned how strong he was.

The series is like a parody of all the superhero series, movies, books and comics. The genre has been popular in the past several years and I was never really a fan because the stories are predictable. One Punch Man has a supporting cast that show the typical heroes. Men and women who are gifted with powers, strength, charisma, and resourcefulness. Those types of characters might make good lead roles in any other series, but again, it's just gonna continue the tradition of typical heroes. Saitama's ridiculous strength, his humor and his carefree attitude, even his looks mock the heroes pop culture are so used to seeing. And I love it! 

One Punch Man is a breath of fresh air. If you're tired of the supersaturated superhero genre, Saitama's a different breed. It incorporates both the old and new ideas of making a hero. There's also a bit of dilemma in which Saitama found himself in when people started seeing his handiwork. The humor works as well and the supporting cast are interesting.

Rating: 10 out of 10

Death Parade



At the bar called Quindecim, the customers are not the usual guests. Its bartender, the arbiter Decim, invites two souls to play death games and draw out their true character. During these games, the souls are placed in impossible situations that push them to the edge. How they act will be the basis of the arbiter's judgment.

Initially, the souls do not remember that they are dead. They are tricked into thinking that refusing to play the death games will put their lives in danger. As the game progresses, they see highlights of their lives. After these games, the souls will either be reincarnated or sent to the void by the arbiters.

For Decim, it was business as usual until he met a black-haired woman who remembered that she died the first time she stepped into the bar. For Decim, this will make judgment more difficult because the souls are not supposed to remember that they're dead at the start of the game. Decim decides to forestall her judgment. The black-haired woman is later appointed as his assistant. Her presence however changed they way Decim judges the other souls.


Decim

From left: Quin, Nona and Ginti

Decim

Decim and the black-haired woman


I thought at first this series was going to be one of those battle royale-inspired stories where characters are placed in a situation where they have no choice but to fight amongst themselves. But when I got to the part where the souls were judged, it became more interesting. Later in the series, different types of people are pitted against each other. The series evoked sympathy, disgust, and happiness. Some of the meetings were painful to watch, some funny, while one made me question my idea of justice.

It's one of the few series I've seen that I did not only value for its animation (which is great by the way), action scenes or character development. More than anything, I looked forward to how the show was going to address morality and show how the humans are at their emotional limits. The dead brought their values, experiences and precious memories while they played the games (even if they could not remember it all, it still shows in their actions). They were tested in extreme situations, the kind of scenarios that would not be normally questioned while they were still alive. Sometimes they were forced to a difficult choice, a choice that often show what was most important to them and what they were willing to give or sacrifice.

The 12-episode series did not try to be too philosophical in its approach, which is a good thing. It gave the audience freedom to decide for themselves.

The opening theme seems kinda silly to me, almost like a mockery to the inevitability and sadness of death. But if that's the effect it was trying to produce then it's effective. 

Rating: 9 out of 10

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Some Watercolors

I've been trying to improve my watercolor skills by looking at various guides. Here are some sample pieces I've finished (the images are not my ideas, I had guides):






Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Junjou Romantica Season 3




This 12-episode series is the long-awaited third installment of Junjou Romantica. Takahashi Misaki has been living at Usami Akihiko's apartment for three years. He is reminded that his time with his lover will soon come to an end when people start asking him about his future plans. Misaki needs to find a job soon. Usami of course is more than willing to let him stay even after he graduates, but Misaki hasn't made his decision yet.

While lost in thought, Misaki loses a merchandise from his favorite manga series. Toudou Shinnosuke picks it up and asks Misaki if he's also a fan of Ijuuin Kyou's work. The two become instant friends and later went to an autograph signing session to meet the author. Ijuuin recognized Misaki and thanks him for encouraging him when he was down (episode twelve of season two). Ijuuin and Misaki had more encounters after that, making Usami uncomfortable. He chides Misaki for saying "I love you" to Ijuuin too much. It might give Ijuuin ideas.



Usami and Aikawa Eri look on as Ijuuin speaks to Misaki



Misaki and Toudou Shinnosuke on their way to meet Ijuuin

Takatsuki Shinobu and Miyagi You in episode four

Isaka Ryuuichirou and Asahina Kaoru in episode seven


Kamijou Hiroki and Kusama Nowaki in episode 10

My initial reaction was that there seems to be fewer kissing scenes and bed scenes. Misaki and Usami look and act like any ordinary couple now and have the usual concerns. Another thing that I noticed was that Usami is able to control himself much easily when it's about Misaki. He's less forceful and their conversations are normal. There are still some aspects in their relationship that are not explored however (like how Misaki will tell his relatives about his situation).

The dirty humor is consistent with the first two seasons but what I really loved about the third season is that the couples seem to have matured a bit. Their concerns are no longer petty quarrels that can easily be solved by talking. Some of their problems are those which real couples can also relate to.

I was pretty excited when the third season was announced. This series had more to tell. Twelve episodes is too short however especially when I found out that the other pairs only get one episode each. I'm definitely looking forward to the next installment.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Junjou Romantica Season One
Junjou Romantica Season Two

Yami Shibai 1st and 2nd Seasons

Cover for the first season of Yami Shibai

Cover for the second season of Yami Shibai

This picture drama masterpiece of Japanese urban legends mimics the technique used in storytelling called kamishibai. This technique uses figures made of paper to tell stories. Each of the thirteen short features begin with a man in a yellow mask beckoning the children to listen to the stories.

Each episode lasts for not more than 4 minutes. The theme songs from both seasons (by Hatsune Miku) are creepy like the stories. The narrator has the same opening lines every time.

Some stories are predictable, some just funny, but others like Zanbai in season one stand out to me. Season one has more frightening stories than the second season. The latter had more blood and featured strange creatures while the former excelled in psychological horror.

Initially I thought the animation wouldn't be effective but it worked well for me. The only complaint I have is that there are too few episodes. It was over too soon. So if you'd like to see something fresh in the horror genre, Yami Shibai is a gem.

Rating (for first season): 9.5 out of 10
Rating (for second season): 9 out of 10


From the fourth episode of season one "Kami" (hair) features a teacher who stayed late in the faculty room. She wasn't alone.

From the episode "Kakun" (the family rule) in the first season, a young boy and his parents move to the countryside. The family is performing a ritual the boy doesn't know about.

From the episode "Kabe Onna" (wall woman)  in season two, a young man looks out the window and noticed something strange about the beautiful woman across the street.


Lovely★Complex




Known as the All Hanshin Kyojin at school, Koizumi Risa and Otani Atsushi are always at each other's throats. When Koizumi falls in love with a new classmate (Suzuki Ryoji) however, Otani proposed an alliance to help her. In return, Otani wants Koizumi's help to get her friend (Tanaka Chiharu) to notice him. But they both failed when Suzuki and Tanaka paid more attention to each other instead. Koizumi and Otani both give up and soon after Suzuki and Tanaka started going out.

Koizumi and Otani then challenged each other to get a boyfriend/girlfriend. But it seems that they enjoy the same things together and so Koizumi starts to wonder. She begins to look at Otani in a different light, but would their differences be so difficult to overlook especially with Otani's personality?



The short Otani Atsushi (left) and the tall Koizumi Risa

Otani and Koizumi initially worked together as allies

Otani is confronted by friends Ishihara Nobuko, Tanaka Chiharu, Nakao Heikichi, and Suzuki Ryoji


The series is both hilarious and frustrating. Not that I have anything against a woman going after a man, but Koizumi seems so desperate at times. I like her for her persistence but I also want to say a few words to her when it seems like she's losing self-respect going after Otani. She still has pride despite that though. She doesn't have insecurities besides her height.

Sometimes I think the author is a bit of a masochist. The time covered three years, which is quite long for someone who's working too hard. The result of Koizumi's efforts for me is unsatisfactory, although she's quite happy with it. I just wish it wasn't too one-sided most of the time. Also, the jealousy factor could have been explored further. Fukagawa Haruka's (Koizumi's childhood friend) role could have also been improved but after his confession to Koizumi, he had no important roles to play.

The series also had the cliche events you'd expect from high school romance. But the lead characters are a bit different from the usual pair. Just look at the height difference. Both are also loud, average, and definitely not the shy types. 

The humor works. I like Koizumi's reactions and facial expressions. She isn't scared to make faces and look ugly. 

It's also the first time I've seen a series where most characters use the Kansai-ben dialect. It was an informative experience for me.

Overall, the series is slightly average. I watched it twice however just so I could imagine how I'd improve some of the scenes. I did enjoy it and the storytelling was effective because it elicited this kind of response from me.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Kimi ni Todoke Seasons 1 and 2

Cover for season one

The extremely timid Kuronuma Sawako wants to make friends but she is easily misunderstood because of the rumors about her. Nicknamed Sadako (from the Ring), her schoolmates believe she brings bad luck and therefore people avoid her. 

When a lively and popular boy, Kazehaya Shouta started paying attention to her however, Sawako's life gradually changed. One day she worked up the courage to speak to two girls gossiping about her. Her honest nature brought a surprising reaction from Yano Ayane and Yoshida Chizuru. As days pass and as Sawako is slowly coming out of her shell, she gains the admiration of the three. Kazehaya, Ayane and Chizuru help her gain self-confidence and the courage to make friends.

Kazehaya in particular seems to give her special treatment every time. Maybe it isn't impossible for Sawako to become part of the class after all. She looks up to Kazehaya as her model, but gradually she realizes the boy has a special place in her heart. This first installment has 25 episodes.



Cover for season two

The second installment of Kimi ni Todoke has a faster pace and introduces a new character. Miura Kento is Sawako's new seatmate and is also paying special attention to her. Will Sawako finally have the courage to admit that Kazehaya is more than special to her or will her long-held assumptions about herself prevent her from giving a chance at love? Season two has 12 episodes.


From left: Yano Ayane, Kuronuma Sawako and Yoshida Chizuru

Kazehaya Shouta and Sawako with Maru

Sawako with Kazehaya holding Maru


Sawako meets Miura Kento (left)

Rivals Sawako and Kurumizawa Ume

Sawako and Kazehaya


The series is a heartwarming story of friendship, courage and love. The slow pace of Kimi ni Todoke allows for the audience to get to know Sawako more intimately than most female lead characters of this genre. Her struggle to make friends despite her personality makes her a memorable character. She's innocent, honest and sometimes clueless and that is consistent with the overall mood of the series.

Kimi ni Todoke is not marred by typical scenes where the lead male and female characters are forced to spend time together. Such scenes (like Valentine's, school festival, etc.) are introduced in the second season. There are also fewer "accidental" physical contacts (e.g., stolen kisses and such) like you'd expect. I think it was a refreshing take of the shy-girl-meets-popular-guy story because the girl lives up to her character---shy and innocent. The only thing I find unsatisfactory was that Kazehaya seemed to have special regard for Sawako from the very start. Although it can be argued that he was just interested in her specifically and his feelings changed as he had more encounters with Sawako. Love at first sight is still a little too convenient for me.

I enjoyed the story about the three girls and how both Ayane's and Chizuru's stories didn't come off as intrusive to the entire series. I loved the overall mood and animation---it was serene, innocent and beautiful, just like Sawako herself.

Rating (for season one): 8.5 out of 10
Rating (for season two): 8.5 out of 10

Kuroko no Basket 3rd Season




In this third installment of Kuroko no Basket, Seirin High is enjoying its win over Yousen High. They did an interview for Basketball Monthly and received well-deserved attention from basketball fans. But their journey is far from over. With a few teams left in the Winter Cup, the competition is getting tougher.

Kagami Taiga meets Haizaki Shougo of Fukuda Sougou Academy while on his way to visit his old friend Himuro Tatsuya. Haizaki was harassing Alex while Himuro tried to rescue her. During the confrontation, Kagami learns that Haizaki was once a starter at Teiko and played with the Generation of Miracles but was kicked out and then replaced by Kise Ryouta.

As it happens, Kise and Haizaki face off when Kaijou High meets Fukuda Sougou Academy in the second episode. Whoever wins the match will advance to the semi-finals. Despite Haizaki's violent nature however, he is not the biggest threat to Seirin. They have yet to face Rakuzan led by Akashi Seijuurou, the former captain of the Generation of Miracles.

Will Seirin's teamwork be enough to defeat individual genius from the remaining teams? And how good is Akashi to be called the captain of the Generation of Miracles?


Kise Ryouta (left) and Haizaki Shougo

Rakuzan High

Akashi Seijuurou and Midorima Shintarou face off sometime in the 3rd season

The second installment was pretty intense and action-packed and so I was expecting season 3 to be consistent or even better than the first two seasons. The pace is slower however, because there are fewer matches. But that allowed for more court side analyses and episodes featuring back stories of the Generation of Miracles.

However, the story seemed rushed to me because I already know what to expect in the matches. It seemed to have lost sight of the message it intended to show and Kuroko's importance diminished. The third season did try to be consistent with the theme of the series (individual talent vs. teamwork) but it still had that tendency to highlight the best players already featured in the previous seasons. I don't even remember most of the supporting cast from other teams. Perhaps I was wrong in thinking then that this was about Kuroko's search for a team that plays as a team. Instead, it might be Kuroko's search for a team that would prove that what the members of the Generation of Miracles thought about playing basketball was wrong. Kuroko wanted to show that a talented player that overshadows his teammates is not enough to win a championship, and that this message is specifically for the five members of the Generation of Miracles. That was made clear in the episodes where Akashi's attitude towards winning changed. Not only does Kuroko want to prove Akashi that he's wrong, but he also wants to change the opinions of Aomine, Murasakibara, Kise and Midorima.

Sure, the series had all the expected cliche that you'd expect in a sports anime. But what I found interesting are the distribution of abilities among the members of the Generation of Miracles. If you're a basketball fan like myself, I think you'd understand what I'm getting at. At a glance, most professional players that are dubbed the "best players" are guards. What's more, the so-called show-stoppers love the crossover. They gave those characteristics to Akashi and called him the best in the Generation of Miracles. If you're observant, you'd say that's consistent with how real-life pro basketball athletes are in the past few years. Now contrast that to the Seirin team which only has one talented but inconsistent guy (Kagami). Unlike their opponents, they don't have consistent scorers. That kinda reminds me of my favorite team in the NBA and that is why I like what the series is doing.

Still, I was expecting more and season three didn't deliver. The animation is great, the opening and ending themes are interesting like those in the first two seasons and I love the voice acting cast. Perhaps it just wasn't the kind of closing chapter that I expected from a promising sports anime.

Kuroko no Basket Season One

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Monday, November 23, 2015

Haikyuu!!



Hinata Shouyou wants to be like the legendary volleyball ace Little Giant so he starts a new volleyball club in middle school. He worked hard to form a team by convincing his friends to join. But his dreams of advancing in the tournament was crushed when his team was defeated by Kitagawa Daiichi, led by the King of the Court Kageyama Tobio. However this did not dampen Hinata's hopes of playing at the competitive level. He vowed he would defeat this king someday and that is why he is joining Karasuno High School's volleyball club. To his surprise, he learns that Kageyama wants to be on the same team as well. The rivals will now have to work as teammates.

Not only do they have to start working together, but they also have to get along with fellow freshmen and their upperclassmen. 


Hinata and Kageyama were kicked out when they fought on Karasuno's volleyball court

Kageyama and Hinata working together

The new and the old members of Karasuno volleyball team



This 25-episode series is action-packed, hilarious and is an inspiring story of a team. If you liked Prince of Tennis, Kuroko no Basket and Free!, Haikyuu!! is a great addition to that lineup. Initially I thought that Hinata and Kageyama would be the top players of two opposing high school teams. When I found out they were going to be teammates, I expected it was going to be quite a show. And it was. They're both talented, proud and full of energy that there was no dull moment in the series.

One thing I always look for in a sports anime are characters with personalities that make them easily distinguishable from the pack. A series like this will have a lot of characters so I'd like to see how some would stand out. Hinata and Kageyama are an unusual pair of main characters. Usually Hinata's type is tempered by a cool, composed sidekick (like Kuroko and Kagami in Kuroko no Basket). Not that the show didn't have the usual character types. There's a tough guy, a sadist, a joker, and a mother/father figure.

I'm not a fan of volleyball but I know that it's a fast-paced game. Haikyuu!! delivered. I also learned some things in the series but I wish there were more in-depth court side analyses like those in Prince of Tennis. Those little details aside, the series was fun overall. The humor works, the action scenes were good, and the characters memorable.

Rating: 10 out of 10


 
©Suzanne Woolcott sw3740 Tema diseñado por: compartidisimo