Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop opens in the year 2071, a time when Earth is damaged from a warp gate accident and mankind has terraformed and colonized the inner planets. The series follows the mishaps of the spaceship Bebop and a group of bounty hunters. The show blends the wild west with science fiction where bounty hunters are the cowboys. Episodes revolve around attempts to net a bounty by the Bebop’s crew. Throughout their misadventures Jet Black, the owner of the Bebop, and his partner Spike Spiegal pick up additional crew members and mouths to feed. Despite their best efforts to live in the moment, each member of the Bebop has a past they cannot avoid. Particularly Spike’s past as a syndicate enforcer causes trouble for the crew.

The series is a pleasing ride on the battered steel stallion Bebop throughout the wild west of space. From crazed bombers seeking television time to millionaires keeping boredom at bay, the bounties and characters the Bebop crew encounter are just as varied and eccentric as they are. The cowboys gallop from the new earth of Mars to the distant and barely habitable moons of Jupiter. Now if only food and fuel wasn’t so expensive or if some members of the crew would just leave…

Cowboy Bebop follows the exploits of the 5 crew members. While there are central characters such as Julia and Vicious to the storyline, they make only a handful of appearances.

Characters

Faye, Spike, Ein, Ed, and Jet

Spike Spiegal is a former member of the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate. Trained as an enforcer, his skills in combat, firearms, and as a pilot are vital to the few successes the crew has with bounties. Despite his carefree attitude, he is haunted by this past in the syndicate and his relationships with Julia and Vicious.

Jet Black is a former Inter-Solar System Police officer who left the force out of disgust. He chose the life of a bounty hunter to mete out justice in a world of corruption and red tape. Jet is also haunted by a past, particularly the memories of his girlfriend Alisa.

Faye Valentine is a mysterious gambler that joins the Bebop uninvited. Slowly she becomes attached to the crew and often leaves only to return. She remembers nothing of her past but is chronically pursued by debt collectors.

Edward is the genius computer hacker. Despite appearance, Ed is a girl. Ed offers her expertise in return for becoming a member of the crew. She quickly begins looking up to Jet as a father and Spike and Faye as older siblings.

Ein is a “data dog.” Equipped with enhanced intelligence and computer abilities, Ein subtly assists the crew throughout the series. With the exception of Ed, everyone considers Ein an average mutt.

Cowboy Bebop deals with the themes of camaraderie and avoidance. Most of the characters grow to appreciate the friendships they establish with each other. Although, no one on the crew freely admits this. Each of the characters have a past they thought they left behind. Despite their efforts these pasts return and force a confrontation. Cowboy Bebop teaches that pasts, particularly troublesome ones, cannot be ran away from and must be resolved at one point. One other theme that is a comedic source is chronic lack of money and hunger.

Cowboy Bebop is considered a classic. The blend of Wild West and Space Age creates a pleasing and believable world. While the animation is becoming a little dated, it still stands up as one of the best. The characters are painfully human and identifiable. The planets are harsh and nicely varied. In short, Cowboy Bebop is one of the pinnacles of anime.


Valentine’s Day in Japan

On Valentine’s Day in Japan, girls give chocolate to the boys they like. Girls also buy inexpensive chocolates for their friends (girls and boys).  If they have a crush on a boy they might make their own chocolates and wrap them in pretty paper. Gift giving is important in Japan thats why it is important to wrap a gift nicely.

But what about boys? Don’t they have to give stuff to the girls they like? Boys don’t give gifts on Valentine’s Day. They have to wait til White Day arrives on March 14th to make their move. So ladies, that means that the ball is in our court.
On White Day boys are obligated to return gifts of white chocolate to all the girls who gave them chocolate on Valentine’s Day. Quality counts. The type of gift tells the reciever if the guy is interested or just wants to stay friends. Boys don’t have to give white chocolate, the gift can be anything as long as its white. I remember a cute manga in which a boy gave the girl he liked a white hair ribbon. That is good news for those of us who don’t like white chocolate.
Remember that Valentines day is not just a holiday for love but also for friendship, so share the chocolaty goodness with your friends.


Chobits

Every college student needs a computer who can carry on a conversation.

Chobits, created by Clamp, tells the story of Hideki Motosuwa, a student trying to qualify for college. Hideki dreams of a girlfriend and a persocom, an android used as a personal computer. One evening he finds a trashed persocom with long flowing hair. He lugs her home, turns her on, and discovers something is wrong with the apparently custom built system. She can only say “chi” which is what Hideki promptly names her. At the advice of his neighbor, Hiromu Shinbo, he takes the newly named Chi to Minoru Kokubunji, a persocom genius. Minoru suspects Chi may be one of the Chobits, a legendary series of persocoms programmed with free will and emotions. But Chobits themselves are little more than rumors and whispers on the Internet.

The major part of the story involves Hideki attemping to teach Chi how to speak, concepts, and social behavior. Over time, Hideki discovers his feelings for this lifelike machine. Chi also shows and emotional depth she isn’t supposed to possess as she slowly reciprocates Hideki’s feelings. Just what is Chi? How can a machine feel emotions? What does it mean to love a machine anyway?

Chobits is set in the same universe as Clamps’s Angelic Layer. It takes place a few years after events in that story and continues Angelic Layer’s exploration of human machine relationships. Chobits also has some crossover branches with Clamps other works: Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle and xxxHolic.

Chobits, despite the comedic and uncomfortable situations the innocent Chi places Hideki, focuses upon the serious theme of love. Although sexuality is a source for laughs, the love of Chobits is not sexual in nature. Chobits examines what it means to love someone for who they are. In the manga but not so much in the anime, Chi is unable to have intimate relations. Such action would cause her memories to be erased, essentially destroying who she is because of the placement of her “On” button. Although there are hints that it is possible for Chi to be intimate with her “one just for me” after she achieves full self realization, she can only achieve that self realization in a relationship with someone who cares for her well being as opposed to a purely sexual relationship.

Chobits also examines how machines can replace relationships with other people. In several scenes, people are walking along side their persocoms and only speaking to them. Persocoms are programmed to imitate desirable human behavior, becoming the ideal companion. This ideal can prevent people from making efforts to establish true human relationships.

Characters

Hideki Motosuwa is a 19-year-old student attemping to get into college by studying at a cram school. He struggles to make ends meet in addition to his studies. He is an honest and kind person who thinks more about others’ well being above his own. In particularly he cares for Chi’s well being.

Chi is a persocom Hideki finds in a pile of trash. She remembers nothing about her past and is completely helpless when Hideki finds her. Hideki spends most of the story teaching Chi how to be human. The story takes a turn when Hideki buys Chi a children’s book series that interests her: A City with No People.

Peppered with awkward, funny, and often sexual situations, Chobits nicely balances comedy with its more series themes of love. The series is enjoyable and touching. The second half of the series is stronger than the first as it explores the moral implications of relationships between humans and artificial intelligence and exactly what it means to be human. The series has high production value: beautifully colored and detailed with smooth animation throughout.


Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

One thousand years after a war devastated much of the Earth, humanity clings to existence at the fringes of a vast, polluted forest inhabited by monstrous insects. Only Nausicaä, the princess of the tiny realm of the Valley of the Wind, grasps the environmental significance of the forest. She sees beyond petty wars and national rivalries to the only viable future for the planet.

Hayao Miyazaki’s work examines how asinine human conflict can become when it more effective to be cooperative. Animated with Studio Ghibli’s beautiful liveliness, Nausicaa lives in a peaceful valley that comes alive on screen. However, quickly the other kingdoms of humanity express their jealousy at this peace and abundance. Those kingdoms seek to take the valley for themselves and stir up the consequences of conflict.

Nausicaa wraps together Miyazaki’s favorite themes of environmentalism and anti-war. He speaks through Nausicaa, but in the movie the message falls on deaf ears. The animation holds up very well despite the age of the movie (1984). The English version features actors Patrick Stewart and Uma Thurman among many others. Like other Studio Ghibli films, what it lacks in detail it makes up for with lively animation. Magical and deep, Hayao Miyazaki’s life work is a modern day fairy tale.


Wolf’s Rain

The world dies a slow freezing death. Long thought extinct, wolves know of a legend that just might save a few lucky souls. When the Lunar Flower blooms the gate to Paradise shall open.

Wolf’s Rain is set in the far future during the next Ice Age. Humanity is secluded to a harsh short life in the few remaining cities.  Outside the protective confines is an icy death. Wolves have evolved to survive their human hunters. Able to hide themselves in the illusion of a human, they eek out a living among the impoverished remnants of humanity. In on city a lone white wolf wanders, following the scent of a flower. The wolf draws more of his kind into a pack and discovers humans have managed to create the key to Paradise and salvation from the dying Earth. Her name is Cheza.

Characters

Kiba is a white wolf who vowed to find the Lunar Flower and open the way to Paradise. He is rash and instinctual in his actions. He is proud of his wolf heritage and is disgusted to how wolves are degraded to using human illusions to survive.

Tsume is a gray battle hardened wolf. Self reliant and rough, he joins Kiba out of sheer boredom. He believes Paradise is just a myth.

Hige, the carefree tan wolf, is comfortable living with humans. He has the strongest nose of the pack and just goes along with the crowd.

Toboe, the youngest, is a brown wolf raised by an elderly woman. He is protective and friend toward humans. He has the best ears of the pack.

Cheza, the Flower Maiden, is an artificially created human. She is empathetic and distraught by the scent and sight of wolf blood

Wolf’s Rain is about the power of faith. The promise Paradise is the only thing keeping the wolves going. Kiba in particular believes the legend with his entire being.  The series suggests that humans were the cause of the Ice Age through their consumption of resources. Over time the characters become friends and sacrifice themselves for each other and the idea of Paradise.

Wolf’s Rain is a bit muddled with the entire thread of the Lunar Flower. Plot holes are gaping at times. The character development and interaction is appealing and believable. The art is dark, brooding, and lonely – excellent for a lonely ice encased world. Yoko Kanno’s soundtrack is excellent and adds to the sorrow and loneliness that prevails the series.  The series is wounded by 4, yes 4, recap episodes out of 26. The series is emotive and worth the watch, just don’t think too hard on the storyline.


Heiress of the Phantom Thief

Chizuko is a young heiress living with her aunt and uncle, who are plotting to inherit her fortune. She is rescued by the mysterious phantom thief, 20 Faces, and becomes part of his family of thieves.

Chizuko is an avid mystery book reader; if it wasn’t for the skills she picked up from these books her aunt and uncle would have long ago succeeded in poisoning her and stealing her fortune. One day the Phantom Thief appears to steal one of the jewels of her fortune. Seeing no other alternative to escape her aunt and uncle, she convinces the thief to take her on as a student. She quickly earns a place with the Phantom Thief’s gang. A gang that feels like it came from the Robin Hood legends. However, even the great Phantom Thief has a past that cannot be escaped.

Heiress of the Phantom Thief is an enjoyable romp through a story like you would see in a Nancy Drew novel. There is some action and plot twists speckled throughout. The mystery is just enough to keep you guessing and wanting more. The soundtrack is unremarkable, and the animation is solid but not up to the quality many anime viewers now expect thanks to studios like Production IG. It is essentially a coming of age story as Chizuko develops the skills and knowledge to live in the gray world of 20 Faces.  The supporting cast is the usual motley assembling of quirky characters. Only Chizuko and 20 Faces receive extensive development. 20 Faces has various ethical challenges to his practices, but comes off as mostly a modern day Robin Hood. Her aunt and uncle are too one dimensionally greedy.

This anime is also known as Daughter of Twenty Faces. Unfortunately both title versions reveals the outcome to the overarching plot. If you enjoy Nancy Drew flavored mysteries you will enjoy this anime.