Air Gear

Air Gear follows Itsuki Minami and his friends as they form a gang to compete against other AT gangs. AT stands for Air Treks, special inline skates that allow the rider to do impossible things. ATs let people scale vertical walls and even fly.

It all begins when Ikki is beat senseless by a gang called the Skull Saders. Soon after he sees Simca, a talented A-T artist. Simca is the main source for this anime’s fanservice. She spends a lot of time naked or provocatively dressed.  She pushes Ikki to strive for kinghood in the AT world. That pretty much is the plot. There really isn’t much there.

Ikki is an orphan taken in by a group of sisters. He’s a smart guy – he even builds his own set of ATs. However, he is impulsive, a bit perverse, and short sighted. When he puts his mind to it, he won’t give up till he achieves his goal.

I enjoyed the urban chic of the characters

Air Gear stuck me as a bit silly. It is shonen, but the premise I found difficult to enjoy. The skates give people almost the ability to defy gravity, but mostly it was the attitude that turned me off to the anime. The story encouraged reckless impulsive behavior and “punk” attitudes. Ikki is a smart guy, but he doesn’t use that intelligence to curb his behavior or to even perform his tricks well. I don’t care for characters with attitudes and lack of thinking. Ikki struck me as flat.

Some episodes were action packed with good characterization. Other episodes were stale and dull. Air Gear yoyoed between them; unfortunately it spent more time on the stale episodes.

Air Gear has pretty good animation at times. Although it breaks down into action lines and inconsistent styles. It does encourage friendship and striving toward a goal. The urban feel is interesting.

Air Gear just didn’t appeal to me. I got halfway through before I lost all interest and couldn’t ignore my annoyance with the attitude. I think perhaps it’s because I never cared for sports of any type, and this anime is focused on a different audience than mine. It is probably pretty cool for those who like skates, rollerblades, and the like. For me it was boring, annoying, and uninteresting.

Dance in the Vampire Bund

Dance in the Vampire Bund often left me feeling…uncomfortable. Funimation ended up releasing an edited version for the American anime audience. If the version I watched was edited, the full version would leave me feeling very uncomfortable.

Vampire Bund opens with Akira, the stereotypical highschool student, suffering from amnesia. The world is in an uproar: vampires, or what claim to be vampires, have revealed their existence. There is also a new girl in school who seems to know Akira and look like the self proclaimed Vampire Princess…

Vampire Bund has a lot of political intrigue and layers as the Vampire Princess, Mina attempts to build a small nation for vampires to live within.  Vampires in this anime have very strong emotions and desires, often sexually oriented.

That said, Mina has the body of a 10 year old girl as the anime often emphasized. Granted, she is centuries old, but the per-pubescent nudity- and scenes of grown men rubbing an anti-UV lotion on her left me feeling dirty and uncomfortable. The lolita fetish was in high swing.  In fact, in a few early scenes even Akira mentioned how weird it made him feel. The anime pushed this uncomfortable view a bit too hard. There is even a scene of a highschool girl feeling up a young boy.

Vampire Bund is a political love story about different worlds and the not so different desire for friendship and companionship. Vampires have very long lonely lives, especially those in the Tepes family. That’s right. Bund ties everything back to Vlad Tepes.

The story is a bit slow; that’s to be expected for a story that focuses on political intrigue.  Moments of action are well placed to keep things moving. Vampire Bund suffers mostly from the tired plot device of amnesia in the case of Akira and the focus on the high school setting.

Another one of Mina's...uncomfortable viewer moments

The animation often breaks down. Characters are drawn with different styles and look inconsistent across scenes. This anime looks like a vampire in sunlight compared to the likes of Bones and Studio Ghibli. This is unfortunate consider the subtle plot and good characterization.

Oh, I didn’t mention: Werewolves are evolved wolves; vampires are evolved humans. Vampires aren’t monsters in the usual sense- they are a branch of the human tree.

Dance in the Vampire Bund has a good story and refreshing view of vampires if you can get around the uncomfortable feeling of pedophilia that streaks the anime.  Mina is older than she looks…but she still looks far too young. Of course, that also has a point in the political games vampires play; one that helps Mina keep to the path to a life she wants.

Dance in the Vampire Bund challenges us to look at social norms and sexual expectations. Vampire lore has always been streaked with sexual themes. This anime doesn’t look away.

Chan, Kun, Senpai? Japanese Honorifics

I am often confused about all the –kuns, –chans, and other name attachments in subtitles. These are called honorifics. They are roughly the same as our own Mister, Miss, Madam, and Sir. Although for the Japanese they tell a lot more about the relationships between people.

Honorifics are gender neutral, but some are used more for one gender than the other. Kun, for example, is used more for males while chan is for females. Honorifics are generally required when referring to someone, but sometimes they must be dropped altogether. It’s pretty confusing.

Not using an honorific or referring to oneself with one is considered poor speech. It can come off as clumsy or even arrogant. They are generally used when speaking directly to someone or when referring to a unrelated third party. Such as when you are talking about someone. David-san now has a girlfriend.

Dropping an honorific denotes intimacy with the person you are talking with. This is done with spouses, younger family members, very close friends, or social inferiors. They are also dropped when talking about a family member with a non-family member.

Honorifics are usually coupled with polite speech suffix -masa and desu.

San (さん) – this is the most common honorific. It is a title of respect between equals. It is the English equivalent of Mr, Miss, Ms. It can also be attached to animals and objects, but that usage considered childish. usagi-san translates roughly to Mr. Rabbit. It can also be used to refer to someone who works at a certain place. honya-san (“bookstore” + san) translates to “bookseller.”

Chan (ちゃん) – this suffix shows the speaker finds a person endearing. Using chan with a superior’s name is considered rude and condescending. Generally it is used for babies, teenager girls, young children, and grandparents. It can also be attached to animals. It denotes cuteness, lovers, close friends, or any young woman. Young women may use it to refer to themselves to appear cute and childish.

Kun (くん) – used by people of senior status to refer to people of junior status or by anyone when referring to male children or teenagers.  Women may also used the term when referring to a guy they are emotionally attached or known a long time. Kun isn’t male exclusive, but mostly used for male references.

Sama (さま) -much more respectful than san. This term is used to refer to people much higher in status than oneself, customers, or someone you greatly admire. When used to refer to oneself it can either come off as supremely arrogant or self effacing depending on the context.

Senpai (せんぱい) – refers to people with more experience than oneself. Also used for higher grade classmates. So a junior in high school would call a senior senpai.

Kōhai (こうはい) – refers to a person as a junior. So a senpai may attach this to a junior’s name. This generally isn’t used.

Sensei (せんせい) – one of the most recognizable honorifics. It refers to someone who as attained a high mastery of something.

Shi (し) – used to refer to someone a writer hasn’t met. Only used in formal writing. It is used as shorthand to refer back to the person originally referenced as long as there is only a single reference.

Ue (上) – literally means “above”. It shows utmost respect.  It is seldom used, but it is found in some phrases like chichi-ue and haha-ue. Reverent terms for father and mother. Or when referring to a nameless customer, ue-sama.

Here, Kun is used to refer to a guy known for a long time.

Phew. It’s pretty difficult to keep all these rules straight. Japan is a highly stratified society. These suffix help keep status and one’s opinion of others clear. Of course, the waters are muddied a little. Senpai-kohai relations may reverse in context to different clubs or organizations, depending on how long one or the other was in the organization.

Honorifics can be a quick shorthand to show how characters related to each other in anime…if you can keep them straight. However, good stories don’t have to rely on honorifics to show character relationships.

Gunslinger Girl 2: Teatrino

The second season of Gunslinger Girl focuses mostly on the second eldest assassin, Triela. The series also spends more time fleshing out the characters of Claes and Angelica. Henrietta, the focus of the first season, takes a back end role but still sees some character development.

This season has a more cohesive storyline than the first. It mainly focuses on the efforts of a mafia don and an idealistic terrorist group trying to create more equality in Italian society.

There are a lot more flashbacks in this season. Some episodes are mostly memories of the cyborg handlers. Cyborgs have only limited memory.

Gunslinger Girl can almost fit into the world of Ghost in the Shell. The cyborg technology and general feel of the series strongly reminds me of Ghost. It could fit into the period right before the third World War of that universe. Gunslinger Girl is more consistently sentimental and sad than the philosophical Ghost.

As with the first season, the music really makes this anime. The classical movements compliment the scenes and expresses the suppressed emotions of the girls. The animation isn’t stellar. It’s simply solid. The pacing of the second season, with all its flashbacks and character background, feels disjointed. I often had moments when I wasn’t sure what was going on with the main story. Gunslinger Girls suffers from lack of focus. It does an admirable job with character development considering the number of characters it is trying to flesh out in just 13 episodes. I didn’t find myself feeling for any single character, except perhaps for Claes.

Gunslinger Girls is a decent anime.  If it had better focus and fewer characters, it would be a great anime. Or perhaps if it had more than just 26 total episodes. The idea and feel of the series is excellent and poignant. It suffers from lack of focus and cohesive pacing.

 

Spice and Wolf 2

Spice and Wolf has quickly become one of my favorite anime series. It is just so refreshingly different. There aren’t any villains. There are just people with faults: mostly greed.

Like the first season, Spice and Wolf II is a “talky.” There is less suspense than in the first season and more focus on Holo and Lawrence’s relationship. Most of the action is done through back and forth banter and mercantile maneuvers.  That said, the dub has to be well done. Luckily it is.

The series delves deeper into Holo’s feelings and thoughts than the first season. She isn’t as mysterious…although she is still her usual wise-wolf self. Lawrence slowly admits to himself where exactly his feelings and priorities lie.Holo is more vulnerable in this season too. For some viewers, she may seem to act out of character ( there is a different studio producing this season); however, the first season alludes to how her bristly overly capable facade hides a deep seated sorrow and loneliness. Her vulnerabilities in this season develops that part of her character. The very first episode, Wolf and Amber Melancholy, in particular shows her buried concerns.

Holo shows her deep loneliness and fears in this season

Holo isn’t nude very often in this season ( too bad for those who like fan service). However, her moments of vulnerability and fear leaves her more exposed than all the proud nudity of the first season. The contrast is very well handled.

The season is divided into 2 arcs centering around political and money hijinks. Lawrence still hasn’t learned his lessons from the first season or where his true priorities are. The omnipresent church plays a stronger, but still indirect, role in the second arc.

Despite a different studio handling production, the show retains the same feel. The main problem with Spice and Wolf is its all or nothing nature. The entire story hinges on how well you like Holo and Lawrence. If you don’t care for one or the other, you can’t get into the story. However, if you greatly enjoy their characters like I do, you get sucked into the story completely. There is very little middle ground.

Spice and Wolf remains one of the most thoughtful and well done anime I’ve seen. The animation isn’t flashy. It doesn’t have to be. The dialogue is carefully handled and lacks the awkwardness most anime have. Of course, since the anime is all about the dialogue, any fault would shatter the illusion.

I eagerly await the next installment.

Why do I Enjoy Anime Anyway?

Dramas rarely hold my attention anymore. Heck, I don’t watch much of anything except anime and documentaries. So I wondered, what is it about anime that holds my attention better than most live action shows? I am not an otaku by any means, yet I now watch more anime than anything else. I could say it’s because American television sucks, but that isn’t true. Jericho and Walking Dead are excellent shows. I am a huge fan of Star Trek. Yeah I’m a nerd through and through.
So instead of looking at American television and wondering why so little of it appeals to me lately, I decided to look at anime and see why so much of it appeals to me. Here is a short list I came up with:

1) Creative Stories
As I get deeper into anime, I see a lot of stereotypical stories and characters. However, there are a lot of very creative (even weird) stories that you don’t see in American television. American television seems to go for the safe more than anime does. One of my favorite stories is Spice and Wolf. There aren’t any true villains or powers to fight against. Rather the characters are just trying to make enough money to travel home and open a shop. It is very human…and very normal. I don’t think such a talkative and intellectual show would make it on prime time television here in the States.
Anime has odder stories such as the perverse kindergarten Shin Chan. Of course, anime also offers sci-fi Ghost in the Shell and the excellent drama Cowboy Bebop. Both are very creative and set the standards of their genres.

2) No Fear

Anime isn’t afraid to push things…sometimes a little too far. There is a lot of sexuality and very dark themes. Anime likes to explore insanity and even taboo subjects such as child abuse in ways you won’t see even in American movies. It isn’t afraid to be quirky or sickly cute either. Anime also doesn’t fear depth. Ghost in the Shell and many other series get deep into philosophy and life questions.

Unfortunately, it can also be ponderous.

 

3) Suspension of Disbelief

Because anime is animated, it is easier to suspend disbelief than with live action. The frees the genre to do things that would come off as weird, silly, or odd with live actors. Some things are also just impossible. Animation draws American back to childhood. This opens us up to the characters more readily. We accept them at face value. I find myself feeling far more for a character in anime than most live action shows.

The level of expression is also better since anime can exaggerate features to get a point across.

Anime has its problems. It is often unwieldy, ponderous, and too weird. However, anime is an excellent story telling medium that can be as powerful as live action.  Why do you enjoy anime?