Ghost Hunt

Ghost HuntGhost Hunt is best described as The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS or better known as the Ghost hunters) meets Japanese folklore. Ghost Hunt is divided into several cases. Each of the cases shows a different aspect and spiritual ability of the cast. Cases range from creepy possessed dolls to demonic entities.

Ghost Hunt can almost be watched in any order. The arcs are stand alone outside of the character developer. The development of Mai Taniyama is what pulls all the story arcs together. Over time the teenager uncovers latent spiritual abilities as she helps Naru (her nickname for Kazuya Shibuya) on his cases. Mai is a bubbly extrovert who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. Although she is easily frightened! That is certainly not a good trait when you are working with yuri, shiki, and other oddities.

Naru is the manager of the Shibuya Psychic Research center. Mai nicknames him Naru because of his narcissistic attitude (narushisuto). Naru comes off as cold and unfeeling, but he actually cares deeply for each of them. There is a bit of a love triangle between Naru, Mai, and Masako Hara, a spirit medium. The triangle is mostly used for comedy relief and is not fully developed.

Ghost Hunt Mai and NaruThe series is interesting and genuinely creepy at times. It focuses on mysteries and circumstances surrounded each of the cases. Many of the cases are predictable. The viewer will have many solved in the first episode of the arc. The situations are interesting. The odd mix of Shinto, Buddhist, Tao, and Catholic spiritual traditions works. Each of the characters in Naru’s team represent a tradition.

This is a “talk” anime. Action scenes are separated by long diatribes about various spiritual entities, ideas, and acronyms. The dialogue itself is uninspired. Don’t expect banter like you see in Spice in Wolf. The characters are generally stereotypical: the outgoing girl who falls for the silent guy, the faux priestess, and other stereotypes.

The animation is sound but not stellar. The soundtrack is forgettable.

Ghost Hunt is interesting despite the problems. The TAPS style investigations mixed with Japanese mythology held my attention for the 25 episodes. The mysteries were predictable, but watching how the characters come to the conclusions keeps the viewer entertained. Many of the case arcs were too long; they could often fit in just a single episode or two. Fans of TAPS should take a look at this anime. As it progresses, it departs from the TAPS investigation model, but the mix of East and West makes for a thought provoking watch.

Welcome to the NHK

Welcome to the NHKWelcome to the NHK is one of the oddest anime series I’ve watched. This head trip follows Tatsuhiro Sato, a hikikomori, and Misaki Nakahara, a strange girl who decides to help cure Sato of his hikikomori.

Sato is convinced that the NHK (which is a public broadcasting company, Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai) is actually a sinister plot to create hikikomori. NHK, to Sato, stands for Nihon Hikikomori Kyokai – the Japanese Hikikomori Association. Hikikomori is a real life psychological disorder that involves people completely checking out of public life. They completely leave behind normal social interactions and forgo work and other normal aspects of life. We have an article that speaks about hikikomori at length.

Sato has severe problems socializing and functioning on a normal level. He has strong sexual urges that are suppressed and escape through vivid daydreams about the female characters in the story. He often falls into hallucinations that involve the appliances in his apartment talking with him. Sato also spends a lot of effort avoiding normal work and interactions. The energy he expends in avoiding normalcy and avoiding work is more than social interaction and work would actually require.

SatoThe anime is an interesting look at disturbed minds, avoidance, denial, and paranoia.
The only “sane” character is Kaoru Yamazaki, Sato’s neighbor. Although, Yamazaki immerses himself into dating sims to the point where he has a distorted view of reality. However, this is discovered later to be a form of escapism rather than a genuine obsession like Sato suffers from.

Welcome to the NHK looks at various Japanese subcultures like maid cafes, dating sims, massively multiplayer online role playing games, and hints at various fetishes like sex dolls. The psychology of the characters made me pity them, feel revulsion, and sympathize with them. Who hasn’t wanted to check out of society, the responsibilities of work, and the headaches of relationships?

MisakiThe animation of this series is pretty poor. It painfully breaks down to rough sketches in various scenes. However, the look into human life with all its paranoia, triumphs (like waking up in the morning), and brokenness makes Welcome to the NHK a gripping story. It takes you deep into tormented psychology, repressed sexuality, suicide, and desperation along with showing the resilience of the spirit. It strongly reminded me of another anime called Perfect Blue because of the focus on psychology and the darker side of the human mind.

Welcome to the NHK is a fascinating and gripping anime. It is full of dark humor and sexually suggestive humor. It is a slice of life with some romantic elements stirred into the psychological froth.  If you are interested in the desperate side of the human character and enjoy thrillers like Perfect Blue or Black Swan, it is a series you need to check out.



Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online KiritoThere are very few anime that left a lasting impression on me: Spice and Wolf, Eureka Seven, and Ghost in the Shell. Sword Art Online is the latest addition to the short list.

Sword Art Online is a Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (phew, quite a mouthful) where people “full dive” into the system. The game console is a helmet that intercepts brain waves to control the game’s avatars and to keep the player from flailing about their bedroom. There is a dark twist: on opening day no one can log out. The game’s creator descends like a god to announce that the game is real. If you die in the game, or someone tampers with the console in reality, the console (NervGear) fries your brain.  The only way to escape is to beat all 100 dungeons.

2,000 people die in the first month.

Sword Art Online

The story follows Kirito as he strives to survive in the “game.” As a beta tester, he knows more about the game than most people.  He uses this knowledge to solo the content. The knowledge also gets people who rely on him killed. Seeing people who depend on him die changes him.

Asuna is the heroine of the series. She is an equal to Kirito and the second in command of the most powerful guild in the game. Her guild is responsible for clearing the most dungeons. She often fights on the front lines. She and Kirito come to know each other through those desperate fights. Over time,the pair develops a relationship that challenges her loyalty to the guild and her desire to finish the game.

SAO is divided into two main arches. The second, on the surface, appears lighter hearted than the first arc. In many ways it is darker because of the subtle undercurrents the happier fascade hides. Whereas in the first arc, everything is clear. The second arc has unseen motives, virtual rape, and psychological damage.

SAO Kirito and Asuna

Kirito and Asuna are both changed for the second arc. Kirito deals with trauma from the events of the first half of the story. Asuna never left the servers.

[Spoiler] Asuna’s character changes from being a strong-willed, capable equal to Kirito to literally being a caged princess. Part of this change in character is hinted at by the villain creating an avatar that makes her easier to control. The avatar is close to the villain’s ideal vision of Asuna. She still plays a vital role in her eventual escape, but the shift in character is jarring compared to the first season. It does suggest how powerful the NervGear technology is to be able to trap a person into a character different from their personality. [/End Spoiler]

Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online is filled with epic fights and lush environments. It does an excellent job creating a believable MMORPG feeling world. Sparks splash from weapons, and cuts are characterized by game-like polygon deformations. The watercolor painted environments are vibrant. The use of CG is subtle and barely noticeable against the fluidly animated characters. The score does an excellent job building tension. This anime has many tense and surprising moments.

Kirito and Asuna along with their friends are nicely characterized. They are fairly stereotypical: Kirito is the dour loner for example.  However, they come to life in ways that few anime seem to accomplish. Kirito and Asuna’s characters remind me of Renton and Eureka from Eureka Seven. Perhaps that is why I enjoyed this anime as much as  I did. The characters’ reactions to their situations was realistic: disbelief, denial, anxiety, rage, and suicide. You find it all in SAO. The deep psychological trauma looks darker against the seemingly peaceful environment.

Sword Art Online - DenialThe series deals with many concepts and questions that I will address in another Sword Art Online post.

Sword Art Online is one of the best anime I’ve seen in a while. It has problems here and there. Sometimes the pacing feels a bit hurried, but that can be purposeful since it feels similar to the pacing a game has. The characters are complex, believable, and enthralling. Asuna is refreshing, even with her character change in the second arc. The battles are lenticular (I was going to use “epic” but the word has lost much of its meaning. The battles are certainly chaotic too) and tense. Even if you are not a fan of MMORPGs there is a lot in this series to engage you. If you are a player, it will resonate.

I highly recommend Sword Art Online.




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.

Requiem for the Phantom

Phantom was a good anime. I dare say great anime….until the final ending scenes. All the lurid character development fell like spent shell casings in the final scene. It left me feeling cold and cheated. I don’t always want a happy ending; I didn’t expect one from this anime. With the characters a traditional happy ending wasn’t possible, but…yeah. I will just say I am disappointed with Phantom’s conclusion.

Phantom opens with a 15 year old boy who find himself without any memories and an ultimatum. Join the mafia organization “Inferno” and learn to be an assassin or die. He is given the name ‘Zwei’ and trained by a mysterious girl named ‘Ein’ (German for the numbers 2 and 1 respectively). Inferno is essentially the United Nations of mafias.  Zwei quickly becomes an even better assassin than Ein.

The story follows the deteration of Zwei and Ein’s humanity as they murder. Ein has lost almost all her humanity when we meet her thanks to her handler and local crazy, Scythe Master. After twists and betrayals, Zwei and Ein manage to escape the syndicate long enough to begin recovering their humanity. There is also a mild love interest.

Ein's sexuality is uncomfortable and bizarre. She is obviously molested by her Master

Despite being based on a visual novel, Phantom has very good character develop and pacing. Zwei and Ein are tormented but resigned to forever carry the atrocities they commit. There isn’t any of the expected “emo wrist slashing” melodrama and whining that some anime falls into. The characters are all mature, believable, and adult. The first opening theme song, “Karma” is haunting and sets the mood for this dark, violent anime.

The story keeps you guessing. Not all episodes, especially the early ones, are related to the larger arc, but they serve as a backdrop to Zwei and Ein’s development.

The animation is fluid and dark. The environments are especially detailed. Generally the environments are believable and convincing. Mafia members act like you’d think they would.

I am mixed about Phantom. I liked the character development, psychology and suspense. The world was dark, violent, and believable. Yet, the ending ruined the anime. If you watch this one, stop watching the final episode about 5-10 minutes early. It will leave you feeling more satisfied than the actual ending.

Eden of the East

What does nudity have to do with terrorism and politics? Quite a bit it seems.  Eden of the East opens with a naked man who calls himself Akira Takizawa in front of the White House just as Saki Morimi gets in trouble with the Secret Service for tossing a coin onto the White House lawn. Akira has no memory of who he is, or what he is doing naked.

The series follows Akira, who has a cell phone loaded with ¥8.2 billion, as he tries to discover who he really is and a game that he is apparently a part of.  The cell phone also connects him to an operator called Juiz, who has almost God-like powers over society.

Eden of the East keeps you guessing; it shares a lot of the same elements as the Bourne Identity. I found the story a bit odd, and convoluted. Juiz has unrealistic power over society.  Saki falls in love with Akira, but that isn’t a surprise since he is a “safe” bad boy.

Akira has no hesitation to unleash the elephant… It’s surprising Saki didn’t go blind from all the exposure

Akira is an interesting character. You don’t quite know if he is putting on his amnesia or is genuinely clueless about his past and who he really is. He comes off as a nice guy, but yet some things point to a perhaps more sinister past. Akira has no reservations when it comes to nudity…much to Saki’s discomfort.

Saki is a pretty normal college girl. She wants to find the right guy to date and just graduate. She is pretty adventurous despite the innocent quiet exterior.

Production IG handled the animation.  Eden of the East’s vehicles look ripped out of Ghost in the Shell. The characters and nicely painted background remind me more of Studio Ghibli than usual Production IG fare.

Eden of the East is interesting. Saki, Akira, and the other characters are believable and appealing. They are older than the usual protagonists (college age); although the designs feel more high school than college.

I never did figure out why the NEETS (Not Currently Engaged in Education, Employment or Training) were naked and could care less about it

Eden of the East has periods of action that seem to come out of nowhere. Mostly the show is full of suspense and mystery.

I am generally mixed about Eden. On one hand, I found the story interesting and appealing. Other the other hand, some parts of it made little sense and felt too unrealistic for the world Eden develops.  I liked how this anime felt modern and present. The series mentions 9-11 and other present day events. The technology is also believable and familiar.

The name of the series comes from a search engine Saki and her friends developed together.

I recommend Eden of the East if you like suspense thrillers or want something different from the usual anime fare. Despite its flaws, Eden is an interesting story and a solid watch.