Black Cat Review

Story:
Train Heartnet is an assassin for an underground organization called Chronos. Or he was until he met a female bounty hunter, otherwise known as a Sweeper, and begins to rethink his life. Mix in hard-on-his luck ex-cop, Sven, a cunning thief for hire, Rins, and a bio weapon named Eve and you can see where the desire for freedom might come up for the infamous Number XIII. Unfortunately, his attempt to run from Chronos’ stronghold of bloodshed is marred by another assassin, Creed, who is planning something far larger than a simple betrayal.

Violence:
Even though this show contains a great deal of fighting, blood is pretty rare. Usually characters are only scratched up or their clothing is torn. There are a few disturbing scenes, however. One criminal has acidic hands and “melts” his victims. Although detail isn’t shown, it can be a scary scene for children. Also, villains further in the series are cut and shot at frequently and, while they don’t die, their regenerative powers can be a bit gross. Oh and two villain characters kinda shrivel up when they overuse their power. It’s not pretty.

Language:
The horrid “illegitimate-son-word” makes a few appearances. Which is why I’m thoroughly confused as to why the official rating is PG…

Nudity:
No outright nudity here, although Rins has a…. um… rack. This is played on a few times (via clothing that shows major cleavage), thankfully not often. Probably the closest to nudity happens near the end of the series with Eve, who is in a capsule of some kind. She isn’t wearing anything. However, all details are covered or her whole body is in a bright glow that obscures any details.

Theology/Mythology:
Most of the heavy symbolism is saved for the tail end of the show. Without giving too much away, Eve is taken to a place called “Eden” and there she meets “Adam.” The symbol of eating an apple (which is often understood as the fruit given to Eve by the snake/Satan) triggers the “end of the world.” It’s clear that these symbols are pulled from the Bible (even though there is no evidence that an apple was what Eve ate as the Bible only says it was “fruit”). These symbols are only used for the story’s sake and really don’t seem to have any ulterior motive.
Note: It’s not in FUNimation’s translation, but the idea of “demons,” which in Japanese is “oni,” is often applied to Eve in various parts of this show. Again, unlike America’s ideas of demons, the Japanese understand it as more of a horrifying monster than for any “religious” purpose.

Personal Impression:
First off, this anime is quite a trip visually. Unlike many animated adoptions of Shonen Jump series, Black Cat had an animation team that wanted to be different. They succeeded. Camera angles, colors, style, scene progression, and more are all far removed from typical animation styles. I personally enjoyed it. But then, I’ve seen so many traditional shows, I find this kind of thing interesting. Nevertheless, there are drawbacks. Fight scenes are occasionally hard to follow. But unlike Samurai 7 (another Gonzo studio release), Black Cat’s strangeness is throughout the show, so there’s not much in way of surprises. The camera angles you see in episode one are used all the way through to the end. So if the visuals aren’t to your liking when you try it, it’s not going to change later.
As for characters, Train is a wonderful contradiction of deadly seriousness and goofy. It’s actually quite brilliant how this is pulled off so well in one character. Eve’s personality also grows over time, which is both pleasant and, at times, hilarious. Even some of the major villains have interesting progression. Although the outcome of many of the battles are a touch predictable, the tone of the show, which is largely positive, makes up for it. Where most shows that star heroes with such troubled pasts as Train often become marred in doom and groom, Train largely keeps things positive, which falls in line with the theme of “freedom” the director was originally going for. As does the plot, which focuses on various factions in and outside of Chronos seeking the meaning of “freedom and peace.”
If you enjoy fighting, a dash of plot, well placed characters and a positive message, this show is a great one to try out. Just be well warned that Creed’s laugh might creep you out for a few weeks.

Personal Rating: Young Adult

Episodes: 24
Languages: Dub and Sub
Official rating: PG
Genre(s): Action, comedy
Website: http://www.funimation.com/black-cat
Legal streaming: N/A
Screen shots:
   

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Extra: Your feminism in my FMA

Just to set the record straight, I’m not big on feminism, despite the fact that I am, actually, female. And before you start crying foul, I am a supporter of equality. I’m just not in favor of supremacy, which is what modern day feminism has sadly become. That being said, there has been quite an interesting discussion on feminist prospective on anime over the past few years. It’s only logical that Fullmetal Alchemist, one of the largest shows to hit America in the past decade, was put under the magnifying glass too. Especially the main female lead, Winry Rockbell.

The two sides are pretty predictably split: one side says Winry is the typical female lead and thus over-rated and the other side claims Winry is the new “feminist” heroine. Oddly, both these sides are right and wrong.

Tackling the idea that Winry is some attempt from Japan to show a more pro-feminism side: probably not. The first reason being that Japan is a whole other nation and thus sees “feminism” differently than America. So applying American standards of feminism is a tricky thing. Secondly, the more modern idea of feminism often (though not always) involves taking ground from men and dominating them in some form. This is not the case. Winry is, thankfully, far more realistic. She knows alchemy isn’t her thing, so she focuses on what is: automail. She works hard at her job and seeks to improve herself in it (something that is more apparent in the Brotherhood version). Winry never forces Ed and Al into her point of view. Nor does she force herself into their world. Often she sits on the side, ready to help when needed (or ready to force help when it is needed), but never taking over.
I will admit that in the first animated version of FMA, Winry is more forced upon the brothers. However, in the re-booted version, Brotherhood, Winry is far more focused and she realizes early on that her calling is with automail and that is where she is most powerful, not to mention happy. And to the joy of feminists, automail repair and construction isn’t really a “typical” female role. So while Winry isn’t every feminist’s dream, she does hold a lot of power and voice, something not all females leads have.

Ok, on the more negative end, Winry does follow some stereotypical behavior at times. Specifically her violent tendencies that often end in Edward knocked unconscious via a steal wrench. So it’s understandable where some have claimed that Winry is a run-of-the-mill female lead. Some of her outfits can lead to confusion as well. When she’s working she will occasionally have her jumper top down, revealing not much more than a thin tube top and outside her job she commonly reverts to a black miniskirt. On the surface, this looks a bit demeaning. However, it’s worth asking why it’s such a bad thing for Winry to wear feminine clothing. While it may not be as conservative as many would like (including me), it’s not nearly as revealing as it sounds. In fact, fanservice from Winry is pretty rare in the series overall (both versions). So Winry is clearly more than eye candy.

Of course, those who believe Winry to be a stereotypical “female” enjoy citing the many instances in the series where she cries. My question being: Why is crying such a bad thing? Crying is neither feminine nor masculine. It’s human. Humans cry. And having emotions like any normal person would makes Winry that much more realistic. Also, in case you missed it, Ed cries in the show, too. As do Roy Mustang and Armstrong. Well, Armstrong isn’t a surprise really, but you get the idea. In no way is FMA pushing its female characters off as “typical women.” In fact, FMA has some of the more complex females seen in anime. Hawkeye and Lan Fan being other good examples.

In the end, the refreshing thing about Winry that I personally have come to appreciate is that she is very realistically female. She has a job that may be considered male-dominated, but that doesn’t stop her or even slow her down. In fact, she never even thinks about gender roles with her job. She just goes for it. But she never fears the joy of being a happy-go-lucky girl either. She wears skirts when she wants, bakes when she wants and then pulls another automail all nighter afterwards. For Winry, gender never fits into the equation. She knows what she loves and she really doesn’t care if society thinks it’s feminine or not. After all, if the world won’t judge you on your gender, they’ll find something else to nit-pick. True feminine strength is not in recreating some system, but living life to the fullest regardless of whatever system tries to stop you.

[C] – Control Review

Story:
Kimimaro is a young college student who works hard to earn his keep and could always use more money. It isn’t long before his wish is oddly granted and he is approached by a figure from the mysterious Financial District. This strange man, who seems to be able to bend basic physics, offers Kimimaro a deal. He will be provided with a new “account” and money, but in return he must participate in various battles with other account holders. His collateral if he loses? His entire future.

Violence:
This show has a pretty large amount of violence that’s at least on par with the levels in Samurai 7. Which is strange because the fighting is mostly contained to just the “futures,” which are like avatars that can be ordered around by the account holders, fighting. Visually it can be a bit graphic though, with money flowing out of wounds in the Financial District like blood. Actual blood is shown as well.

Language:
Common language problems, a few da-ms and b-words flung about. Thankfully, it’s nothing frequent or overwhelming.

Nudity:
Not much here aside from one scene where a female investigator takes a shower and puts on her clothing again. No details are shown, but we do get to see her messaging with the back of her bra strap for no good reason. This same character also likes wearing her shirt unbuttoned enough for the top of her bra to show. Bikinis are worse, but it’s still a tad annoying.

Theology/Mythology:
The “futures” or “assets” of a person in this show often take strange forms. Many are human like, aside from having horns. This could be interpreted any number of ways, but that isn’t really talked about in the show. Largely this show focuses on the economics of its world and thus all symbolism, which is very likely to exist, is left unexplained.

Personal Impression:
This is definitely one weird mamma-jamma of a show. It’s short, but pretty packed full. The animation and music is all pretty good. In fact, the animation is really high quality. It’s also interesting to note, however, that the animators decided to integrate some CG into the mix. It’s well done and not too noticeable and actually works well for the world it’s in and the high line count animation masks it well. Unfortunately this blend makes the creepiness of some of the characters and the violence that much more vivid.
On the topic of the story, it’s straight forward enough on the surface, but the mechanics are pretty complex. In order to truly appreciate the show, one needs a pretty good understanding of economy and money exchange and how all of that works in the world. I only have the very basic idea down, so I got lost on many of the finer points of the show. Still, while that angle isn’t for everyone, it certainly made things more interesting than a run-of-the-mill show. It’s too bad the characters themselves were so flat, with any dimensions being seen only at the end and never fully addressed.
Overall this show left a pretty bland taste in my mouth. It’s not bad, but it’s not great. If you’re a proud nerd of economy or just want to taste-test a show that focuses on pressing world issues, this is a good place to look. It’s short too (only eleven episodes,) so it’s not something that will eat up too much of your life. Just don’t expect too much from the characters.

Personal Rating: Young adult

Episodes: 11
Languages: Sub only
Official rating: TV14
Genre(s): Action, cyberpunk, fantasy, economy
Website: http://www.funimation.com/c-control
Legal streaming: YouTube or FUNimation
Screen shots:
   

Extra: What ever happened to…

You know. Those shows that you used to watch back in the day when anime was edited and played for kids on Toonami. Like Zoids. Yeah, what ever happened to that cheesy, yet somehow compelling, robot fighting show? Sadly, it’s here and… not here.

Unfortunately, Zoids is a sad example of how fickle and unreasonable the anime industry here in America can be. Zoids is licensed by Viz Media and back in the old Toonami days they sold DVDs of the episodes. It was early in the DVD days so there was only dub available and it was edited too. But it was something. Now, however, Viz not only doesn’t produce those DVDs anymore, they don’t even acknowledge Zoids as one of their shows. To get a hold of these things you have to cough up huge chunks of money for out-of-print DVDs or borrow them off a friend. As long as the models were selling in Walmart, this show had a spot in the anime world, but as soon as it was taken off TV and the models were out of style, it disappeared. This trend isn’t uncommon for “kid shows” in the anime industry. Which is sad seeing as how some “kid” shows do reasonably well for themselves with older fans (see the excessive My Little Pony craze online for proof). Sadly most large companies think that if their target audience is bored with something then it should be boxed up and thrown out. What they fail to realize is that just because a target audience gets bored, doesn’t mean everyone is bored with it. After all, hundreds of fans would give an arm and a leg for legal copies of Sailor Moon DVDs that really don’t exist anymore (although the old VHS tapes can still be found on ebay every now and again). Another example is Hamtaro, a “kid show” that has DVDs available, but often only as overstock. Thankfully the prices are not nearly as inflated and thus can be bought on the cheap. Zoids, on the other hand, goes for 50+ dollars a pop.

There is a small hope for older shows. FUNimation has been re-releasing some old classics like Kaliedo Star on DVD. Which is good news considering that its original company, ADV films, went down years ago, taking a lot of classic titles with it. Though the show doesn’t have nearly as large a fanbase now as it once did, it has another chance at life. Not to mention at newer fans that have yet to bite into a classic anime. Unfortunately, there is no such luck for shows like Zoids, whose company is not dead but still very much alive. Alive and clinging to a title they have no intention of ever releasing again. And as more shows begin to get streamed here by anime companies, we might see a lot more shows like Zoids soon. Shows that are licensed for streaming only and never see a real release, like Tatami Galaxy. While the overall direction of the industry is good, moving more towards an internet based system, it’s sad to see some of the titles that are dropped along the way, titles companies see as unable to bring a “large enough profit.”

Maybe, someday, companies like Viz will realize that a show makes nothing at all when it’s kept in a dusty box and at least streaming a show is better than hiding it in a black hole. Maybe. But it’s unwise to hold your breath.

Samurai 7 Review

Story:
After years of being oppressed by bandits, the rice growers of Kanna village decide it’s time to fight back. They then send out Kirara, their young priestess, and her younger sister to the nearby city to recruit some samurai for their cause. Unfortunately, all they can hope to pay the fighters is rice. Nevertheless, the search is begun. But with political games being played among the merchants in town and with the honor of samurai being a thing of the past, gathering together a team of fighters may prove more difficult than Kanna village bargained for.

Violence:
It should come as no surprise that the violence level in this show is quite high. Although blood isn’t seen too commonly, it does make a few choice appearances. It’s worth noting though that most of the things being hacked to bits are robots and machinery, as the setting for this show is a strange mix of past and future. Even so, the violence alone ranks this show a YA rating.

Language:
The language in this show isn’t overwhelming, but a curse is uttered now and again, such as the use of a da-m or a “b word.” Thankfully, it’s not gratuitous.

Nudity:
The only “nude” scene in this show is a bath scene with Kirara and a inn keeper. However, details are covered in fog and it’s rather short overall.

Theology/Mythology:
Kirara uses a strange gem stone thing to locate water and “guide” her. Any specifics on this remain very vague throughout the show. Also, closer to the end of the show, the act of “talking/praying” to one’s dead parents is seen, though briefly. It’s not a long or heavy scene, however, as such practices are common to Japan and thus need no explanation. Earlier in the show a legend about “gods” existing in heads of grain and protecting villages is brought up. It’s used as symbolism and treated like a fairy tale. It is worth noting that the only “religious” factor in this show is the reference to “sins.” It seems to refer to killing other people and the guilt involved in that. Kirara gets the strange idea that she has to “pay” for the sins of the samurai, which makes about as much sense as using a pogo stick on a tight rope. In any case, she says this repeatedly, but nothing ever comes of it.

Personal Impression:
I have rather mixed feelings about this show. Overall it’s quite good. It has decent music, good plot and pretty sweet visuals. Well, usually it does. Oddly, this show has a few episodes where the artwork will change drastically. It’s not a good change. It’s an attempt to imitate old Japanese art forms, but it’s quite distracting, messy and difficult to follow. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen often. Overall the characters are interesting to watch, although, sadly, the philosophical stuff common in samurai shows is laid on rather thick. This makes it hard to follow the reasoning of some of the samurai and it makes some characters rather unbearable. Kirara, for example, has a very high standard for fighters and feels that all should fall in line with said standards before they can considered “true fighters.” This makes no sense as her village is in a “fight or die” position. She really has no right to judge. Unfortunately these strange moments of enlightenment, occur randomly and often at times when it’s really hard not to scream at the screen: “Just get your job done!” Aside from that, however, this series is an enjoyable one. Though some characters make little sense, you can’t help but cheer Kanna village on to victory. And the villain at the end is another enigma. The suspense of not knowing the enemy’s reasoning or plans is quite a highlight.
So if you like fights, samurai and a bit of political intrigue in your anime, this is a good show to check out. Just be warned that if the artwork decides to get weird, it’s not your computer, bro.

Personal Rating: Young adult

Episodes: 26
Languages: Sub and Dub
Official rating: TV14
Genre(s): Fighting, fantasy, historical
Website: http://www.funimation.com/samurai-7
Legal streaming: Hulu
Screen shots:
   

Extra: Art of a story

Not gonna lie, anime often depends on a fast production and quick release. So it’s very odd to see a show that’s been in production for over a decade. Yet the difference in the characters and overall story quality can be seen in how much time is poured into a show. In the case of Princess Tutu,  the production took around 11 years and often it looked as if it might never really happen. If you want to get some kind of an idea just how many changes were made to the characters during that time, check out the pre-production trailer on YouTube and then watch the actual show. During all those years, Fakir changed from talkative to secretive and Duck changed from the typical perfect heroine to a doubtful girl unsure of her path.

Of course, not every show can take that much time to mature itself. As I said, speed is an advantage for most shows. Unfortunately, this often causes a horrid repeat of character and story types. We’ve all seen our share of pigtailed and aggressive females that are somehow still greatly loved by the male leads despite having horrid personalities. Or the never ending “I lost my memory, please take care of me” bit. Some shows are lucky enough to have amazing script writers that mange to make things interesting visually or through narration. Or the story comes from a novel or manga, allowing the anime adopters to set a more detailed tone in the animated adoption. Even so, it’s hard to find a good story in anime these days. Every now and again a show can surprise you with unexpected characters that seem to fit a stereotype only to break out later, such as in School Rumble. But it’s more common today to find shows that may have gorgeous artwork, yet come up woefully lacking in actually story. Shows such as Bamboo Blade and Kaleido Star, while clean viewing, are more for the eyes than the mind and often end up rather predictable. And, unfortunately for lovers of good clean fun, most shows that have more unique twists also end up with an embarrassing amount of A) fanservice or B) violence. Although, as a writer myself, I question any show’s desire to contain such items. After all, if a story is indeed good, it doesn’t need a load of violence or fanservice to stand on its own. Shows like Howl’s Moving Castle and the .hack series certainly don’t need such things to make their stories interesting. Even shows that do contain a bit of blood, like Fullmetal Alchemist, don’t require such tricks. They depend on their stories, characters and even their animation to appeal to viewers.

Perhaps the pull of a story and its characters is so important to me because it does not depend on some animalistic craving or desire, but instead on something deeper. Understanding and sympathy.

Or maybe it’s just because I’m a writer and thus highly bias.