Extra: Bit of motif, please

What do Fairy Musketeers, Princess Tutu and Durarara have in common? Well, if you’ve read the title, you might have a guess in mind and you’d be right. Aside, of course, from the more obvious answer of all three shows being produced in Japan.

So, for the sake of those unfamiliar to the term, what exactly is a motif? Well, a motif is a specific idea or feature that is found in many different kinds of stories. For example, the “evil stepmother” is a motif. You see this one in Cinderella, Snow White and many other fairy tales. In fact, motifs are used so frequently in folklore, there is a motif dictionary for them all and scholars are constantly researching them and adding more. But fairy tales aren’t the only ones that contain motifs. Many contemporary shows and books continue to recycle these elements of story and reuse them in various settings.

In a show like Fairy Musketeers, it’s pretty easy to guess at what motifs show up. Actually, it would be easier to figure out what motifs are not being used. The evil stepmother, three companions (the number three is very heavily used in folklore), magical helpers, quests, evil and good magic, etc. Even direct references to fairy tale characters are made with Red Riding Hood being the lead alongside Snow White and Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty). As for Princess Tutu, again, it’s a simple matter. You have a beast (duck, in this case) transforming into human form, a prince, a knight and a princess. Well, actually Princess Tutu is a story that enjoys twisting these motifs a bit, so instead of one princess, there are two. The prince is powerless, the knight can’t protect anyone and the villain doesn’t like being a villain and one princess doesn’t get a happy ending. Oh and the major villain at the end? It’s not who you think it is.

Even so, those shows are pretty easy motif factories. They are based on fairy tales, after all. But what about Durarara? That’s an odd one to add to the list, isn’t it? Not as much as you might think. Durarara is interesting for many reasons, but one major reason is for its unusual urban fairy tale blend. Thankfully the story doesn’t focus solely on this element, -or I fear it might not have done so well- but instead branches out its plot into heavy character development and a strong critique on the blending of technology, information and gangs in our world. The fantasy/mythical elements are more of a foil, drawing attention to how heavily technology has affected our societies. That being said, Durarara does indeed contain a few motifs of its own. It has a headless rider, a possessed sword, and a journey to retrieve something that was lost/taken. Although these elements are not the main focus, they do contribute to the overall story and make for an impressive urban fantasy setting (though the urban is more emphasized, in this case).

Of course, these are by far not the only examples of motifs showing up in anime. There are many more examples (Fruits Basket, anyone?). If you watch a lot of anime, chances are you run into motifs pretty frequently. So what kind of shows have you guys watched that might contain a motif or two? Were they any good?

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Fairy Musketeers Review

Story:
Souta is just an ordinary elementary school student. Well, so far as he knows. But strange dreams about his mother’s disappearance and a sudden attack by a creature called a “nightmarian,” begin to change his mind. As it turns out, Souta is a “key” that another world wants to have. Thankfully for him, this other world isn’t just a group of baddies. The king of the magical world of Phandavale sends his most loyal guardians to protect Souta from the forces that would use him for evil. Thus Riding Hood, Snow White and Briar Rose are introduced to Souta and his friend Ringo and they all set out for Phandavale in the hopes of setting the now dangerous magical realm right.

Violence:
The violence is at the level one would expect from a kid’s show: low. When monsters die they turn into speaks of light, no blood. A few of the monsters are a bit creepy looking, mainly the spider ones. Nothing too extreme so long as one doesn’t have an unusually high fear of bug shaped things.

Language:
Thankfully the creators of this show kept their audience in mind and thus there isn’t any bad language to be found here.

Nudity:
Again, nothing really to report in this sector. At the very end of the series there are a few hot spring scenes, but these are kids here so there isn’t any nudity aside from seeing some bare shoulders.

Theology/Mythology:
This show opens up with a story that is used as the framework for the entire plot and claims that once magic and science were side by side until the day when God separated them. Because of this, the villain makes the statement that she wants to “get revenge against God.” However, aside from these references, God really isn’t discussed at all. Mainly characters simply question God’s reasons for making the world the way it is. Also, if it isn’t clear from the “magical girl” genre, there is indeed magic in this show. Usually it follows basic RPG fair, attacks, protection during battle, etc. The enemy also uses magic termed simply as “dark magic.” Also, in one episode Souta and co. come across a town that worships a statue of a dragon that saved their town long ago. Since they have a temple and entire religion based around this, it can be uncomfortable for some viewers. It is odd, to say the least, but really only goes on for one episode.

Personal Impression:
Sugar. So much sugar. This entire series is pretty much exactly what it claims. It’s a kid going on adventures in a magical place with other kids, essentially. That’s really all there is to it. Sure there’s a king they have to save from an evil villainess, but really now. Kids on an adventure. Which, so long as that’s what you want, is great. The animation and music all compliment the kid and magic themes, as does the moral messages tucked into nearly every episode. There are even a few places where genius tries to get through, specifically the scene where Riding Hood and Val return to the hilltop where they first met and silently sit together. Considering how horrible their pasts are, the silence speaks volumes about both not needing words around one another. Unfortunately, scenes like this are rare and most of the series ends up in predictable city. Even so, it’s good clean fun, even if there isn’t a lot of brain power involved. Oh and there’s sugar. A lot of it. A lot of sugar. So. Much. Sugar.

Personal Rating: All Ages

Episodes: 39
Languages: Sub
Official rating: All Ages
Genre(s): Fantasy, adventure, magical girl
Website: N/A
Legal streaming: Crunchyroll
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Extra: “Good” and “Bad” Villains

Anime can usually be divided into two camps, those with well written, “good,” villains and those with poorly written, “bad,” villains. Well, actually there are other categories but, for the sake of making my job easier, let’s focus just on the villains here.

So, villains. Most anime contain one or more, though they vary in intensity. But tackling the “bad” first, recall to mind the “monster of the day” villains. Anyone who has seen Sailor Moon or other typical magical girl shows will know instantly what this phrase means, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Every episode reveals a new villain that will be defeated by the end of said episode. Often a “bigger” villain will be behind the scenes, but they too will be defeated as soon as the hero gets to them. The villains have either no reasons for being evil or they have flimsy and predictable reasons (the whole “I was so unloved and thus you must pity me for becoming evil” bit doesn’t often go over well).

This isn’t to say that an old card can’t get a few touch ups. Shows like Natsume no Yuujin-cho may be based on the “enemy of the day” formula, but their characters are more often than not fleshed out. Every enemy will have a back story, often revealing a bit more about the larger plot around the main character’s grandmother. Some side characters are also seen more than once, unlike other “enemy of the day” shows where most side characters are forgotten along the way.

But then there are those villains that are truly scary, in one way or another. They are not there for only one round. They are not easily beaten either. In fact, it seems they can’t be defeated (Gosick, anyone?). The fear can also come from them being unpredictable or with undefined goals, such is the case with Izaya from Durarara (pictured above in his slightly unstable glory). In Izaya’s case, we can understand that he finds unique amusement in the suffering of human beings, but that idea is not only eerie in and of itself, it’s also not well defined. How far will he go to “experiment” on people? And how much power does he have? How much influence? Without being able to answer these questions, Izaya remains a more daunting enemy than Queen Beryl from Sailor Moon.

But what do you guys think? What makes a villain scary for you?

Ouran High School Host Club Review

Story:
Haruhi Fujioka is a smart young girl on a scholarship that allows her to attend one of Japan’s most prestigious schools, Ouran Academy. But when she runs into the Host Club by accident, it seems her gender isn’t as obvious as she once thought. Mistaken for a boy, Haruhi ends up playing the role of a host to pay back a debt she owes for breaking an expensive vase. At first, Haruhi only does her job to pay off her debt, but the longer she remains with the strange members of the Host Club the more she realizes that these rich students are far from what they seem on the surface.

Violence:
The violence in this show is pretty much one hundred percent slap stick. Characters are flung around by other characters, but never really obtain any damage, etc. One character is associated with a gang, but it turns out that he is just a scary looking dude and actually a nice guy.

Language:
Unfortunately there is a bit of language, mostly words like cr-p and at least one instance of the “illegitimate-son” word.

Nudity:
The worst this series is on showing skin is what one sees at the beach, guys without shirts, girls in bikinis and such. It should be noted, however, that two characters (they are twins) put on a lot of “shows” in the club, mostly consisting of a “forbidden” love between them. More than once it’s revealed that this is all an act (which consists mostly of them hugging and saying awkward things). A few girls from an all girl school also have something similar going down, though whether it’s an act is left unexplored. Primarily they seem to be there simply to counterweight the Host Club. Also, Haruhi’s father is a transvestite. These topics never go far at all, and are largely there for comedy’s sake, but they might make some people uncomfortable.

Theology/Mythology:
Because Haruhi’s mother died when she was younger, Haruhi occasionally talks to her through narration. Once or twice it’s mentioned that Haruhi leaves “gifts” at her mother’s grave, a common Japanese practice. Other than that, there really aren’t any religious implications in this show.

Personal Impression:
Typically I’m not a fan of these kinds of shows. I do indeed like comedy, but I’m not that into romance. That being said, this show is not exactly what I expected. The music, which is good, isn’t ground shaking. The art is also decent, though typical for this genre. But the characters themselves have far more depth to them than expected. They all have motives for their actions and emotions that aren’t always obvious at first. Tamaki is often played as a moron, yet he seems to have a talent at reading other people. Kyoya has the role of the cool headed overlord, but he has a few more complex motives for his actions as well. And those are just two of the characters. The plot also plays up to the series’ strong point. In fact, if focuses so much on the characters themselves that romance is kinda left to fend for itself. In other words, it’s a story that professes to be a romance but, like School Rumble, seems to only contain romance as a side dish. And then, of course, there’s the comedy, which is fantastic and often gut busting. So if you like interesting characters, a good story that plays them up and comedy, with a bit of romance on the side, this show is a great watch. Just don’t expect a for-sure pairing at the end.

Personal Rating: Young Adult

Episodes: 26
Languages: Sub and Dub
Official rating: TV14
Genre(s): Comedy, romance
Website: http://www.funimation.com/ouran-high-school-host-club
Legal streaming: FUNimation‘s site and YouTube
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Extra: Why High School?

If you’ve been around the anime block a few times (or the manga one), you might have noticed a strange trend. High school. It seems it’s the be all, end all for anime. The ultimate time and setting for anything from a comedy piece to robot wrecking mayhem. But why high school? Why just that age group?

One reason many US fans come up with is that anime fans themselves are in high school. However, this ignores the fact that anime comes from Japan and their anime fanbase is a bit… different. Most fans in Japan are a tad older, college age and up. So, again, why high school?

One possibility is nostalgia. How many times in high school did we wish for the simplicity of elementary school? Or in college, wish for the lighter homework loads of high school? Many people look back at a younger era of their lives, usually the era they just left, wishing to go back. Setting a show in that time provides fans the ability to revisit these “simpler times” (even though they really weren’t as simple as we often remember them).

Another possible reason is the importance of the high school years. During the teen years, people often find they learn the most. Largely they must learn about themselves. What are their own goals? Dreams? Hopes? Values? Not the ones given to them by their parents, but theirs alone. In their teen years, children begin to transform into the adults they chose to be, making those years perhaps the most important ones.

There is yet another possibility. Familiarity. It’s a trick writers often use to pull readers into a world. Yet while familiarity can attach to a reader, it still needs to be interesting enough to keep them. For example, everyone can remember a time when they were waiting to meet up with someone. That’s familiar. But how about the feeling of time slowing down? The panic that begins to rise with the realization that maybe this place wasn’t the right meet up place. Maybe you misunderstood the information. You whip out your cell phone and find the last text message. No, you’re right. This is the place. So where are they?
Everyone has likely gone through that experience or something similar. But taking the time to slow down and describe those feelings makes it vivid, real and, if you squeeze in some witty metaphors in there, you can also give it a unique flavor that makes it stand out. Of course, many shows have lost this angle and make the high school setting nothing but a bland background. Something that might have had a more strategic meaning, but lost it somewhere on the way. Still, every now and again a show will capture the more realistic aspects of the crowded and noisy hallways, old metal chairs and cracked ceiling so many people looked up at during the dreary hours of high school mathematics.

These are all, of course, only a few reasons why high school is such a common theme. There are also the less attractive reasons, like an excuse for frivolous fanservice, drama and general hijinks. But what do you guys think? Why is high school such a popular setting? Is there a reason? Or do you think that whatever reason might have existed is lost and now it’s just some weird tradition?

Sands of Destruction Review

Story:
Morte sees no rhyme or reason to her world, a cruel place where beastmen rule over humans. Ripped apart by her past, she plans on destroying everything around her. At least, that was the plan before she bumped into Kyrie and ended up with his complaining voice tagging along. Then a strangely powerful bear named Toppy joins in following her around and suddenly her journey of destruction starts taking a few detours. But though her companions want nothing to do with such a horrible goal, Morte continues her journey to unlock the secrets of the Destruct Code she poses, regardless of the forces seeking her own destruction.

Violence:
Fighting is pretty frequent in this series, but it’s not graphic in any way. We never see any vast amounts of blood. In fact, the most blood in this show is a few paper cuts. That’s about it. There’s a lot more comic violence than actual violence, such as characters being thrown or smacked.

Language:
This series did very well for itself until the last few episodes. The b-word was used once. Still, for a show that doesn’t seem to be for very young viewers (Morte’s past is quite sad), only one curse in the entire series is pretty good.

Nudity:
Again this show is surprising in that it really has no nudity in it. It has many opportunities, but it never takes them. Morte wears a miniskirt, but we never see farther up than we should. In fact, there really isn’t any fanservice at all in this show.

Theology/Mythology:
There is an idea that is mentioned a few times, mainly in question form, that God created the world with both men and beastmen. Other than this comment in passing, God isn’t really talked about. The Destruct Code is revealed to have been around since the world began, but no creating powers are attached to it and it is never thought of as a god. It should be noted though that at the beginning of the show a group of beastmen try to sacrifice a human to their “god” in the sand sea. It’s not a god, however, just some monster creature.

Personal Impression:
This series is possibly the most vanilla show around. Honestly. Yet for all that, it’s certainly not a bad show. It’s just like a vanilla wafer. It’s good on its own, but often you’re left wanting something with a bit more… well, more (horrid movie quote alert).
On topic however, the background music is decent (the opener is quite well done indeed). And the animation is good enough for a, well, vanilla show. Even the characters fall to typical stereotypes. There’s the angry and short tempered female, the wimpy guy (although he actually stays in characters despite danger and continues to be a wimp most of the story instead of becoming a hero overnight), and a mascot character that kicks butt. …Ok, so maybe they aren’t quite so typical, but it’s handled in a pretty predictable fashion. In any case, only the very end of the series holds some surprising answers and serious development of the characters, where as the rest of the show falls into a “trouble of the day” deal where all is resolved at the end of the episode. Even so, this show is quite clean and fun. Toppy is hilarious, as is Kyrie once one gets used to him. At the very least it’s a good, though short, break from more serious fare. And who doesn’t want to see a teddy bear defeat a giant horseman? …Anyone?

Personal Rating: 10+

Episodes: 13
Languages: Dub and Sub
Official rating: TV14
Genre(s): Fantasy, fighting, drama
Website: http://www.funimation.com/sands-of-destruction
Legal streaming: FUNimation’s site
Screen shots: