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[LTTP/WIW] Various anime from the 00s and beyond

Jhiday

Unrepentant Froggie
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First, a warning : this thread is probably going to be unlike most other WIW threads around here.

First, let me explain where I come from.
I've been watching anime on and off since early childhood, but I didn't really jump back heavily into it until 2008. As a result, there are tons of series I've vaguely heard about, but never watched. So I've been working towards making up for that gap, watching anime at a very quick rate (on average, 20-30 episodes per week - I have a long commute and need the distraction).

Now, I really want to comment on what I've watched, but there's no way I can do a "regular", episode-by-episode WIW thread. I don't have the time, nor the wish to go into so much detail. So I will be doing something a bit different : a quick summary of the premise of each show, followed by a retrospective analysis. And hopefully that'll allow to spark some discussion. (It's probably going to be a bit similar to salinea's comics thread, except I'm somewhat less of a newbie to anime than she was to comics at the start.)

There will of course be HEAVY SPOILERS about each series as I cover them. Be forewarned.

In order to make this thread a bit more interactive, I'm going to be very open to suggestions. One of the goals of this, after all, is to broaden my horizons and discover series I've barely heard of. Some caveats :
- Please suggest GOOD series. I know there's some mileage out of eviscerating crap, but I'd like to keep this as pleasant as possible. And there's always the possibility that I won't like your favorite series. I have some wide tastes, though, and I'm game for about any type of story.
- Please don't suggest manga. Anime adaptations of manga are fair game, but I'm not interested in reading manga. That's not what this thread is about.
- Please don't suggest anything from 2010-2011. I've been following those last few seasons pretty well, so I'd be really surprised if I missed anything of note.
- I'm going to try and focus on the 00s for now. I'm sure we'll have time for the 90s (and earlier) later on.
- I prefer short series. 13 or 26 episodes ? Perfect. Series with 50-ish episodes or so are going to need some very convincing arguments to justify me bothering with the time investment. Anything beyond that is probably right out. (This includes any shonen longrunner.)
- I'm purposefully not including here a list of what I've already watched. This leaves open the option of making a short-ish review of such series if there's demand for it.

So, with that said, let's go for our first entry !
 

Jhiday

Unrepentant Froggie
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Monster

Monster
(74 episodes, 2004-2005)

My previous exposure
Well, it's an adaptation of a critically-acclaimed manga, so I'd at least heard of the basic premise well before coming close to it. I've mostly avoided spoilers, although I did hear of a particular thing Johan does in Prague, which thus didn't surprise me when I reached it.

I actually watched the first 20 episodes of this way back in 2009, and only went back to it very recently. The reasons why should become clear below.

What's it about ?

In the late 80s, Dr Kenzo Tenma was a promising up-and-coming Japanese brain surgeon in Germany... until he decided to save the life of a 11-year-old boy called Johan who got mysteriously shot in the head, instead of the mayor he was supposed to operate on. This basically cripples his career... for a few days, until the top management get mysteriously poisoned and the new management give him his status back. Meanwhile, Johan has disappeared...

Flash forward to 9 years later, when Johan re-enters Tenma's life by shooting one of the doctor's patients right in front of his eyes. (The man was an agent of Johan's who was getting a bit too talkative.) It turns out that Johan is a charismatic monster, leaving a bloody trail behind himself, and he's very thankful of Dr Tenma for saving his life. Did the doctor do the wrong thing by saving the not-so-innocent child ?

Dr Tenma soon finds himself accused of the various aforementioned murders, and is on the run from the cold but very clever Inspector Runge (who thinks Johan doesn't exist and is an alternate personality of Tenma's). Can the fugitive stop whatever Johan's up to before it's too late ? And is the good doctor really going to kill Johan, however much of a monster he is ?

Secondary threads of the series follow Nina, Johan's twin sister (who shot him in the first place), who tried to forget it all before Johan suddenly killed her adoptive family ; and Eva, Tenma's former fiancée who entered a self-destructive spiral after she dumped him during his short disgrace. Another big question involves the investigation of Johan's past : how exactly does such a monster come into existence ? Who's responsible ? It's not an easy question, especially considering how Johan is now being quite thorough in his quest to eliminate everyone linked to his past in any way...

What did I think of it ?

It's certainly a very strong story... but I don't think the anime version really does it justice. It's a flawed adaptation that I had trouble to keep watching because of how much it tries to play it safe. It's obviously trying to stick as close to the source material as possible, including every single detour despite how inconsequential some of them may be. The pacing is sluggish, with some very obvious padding techniques carrying the series from cliffhanger to cliffhanger (despite not much really happening between them). That kind of thing isn't suspenseful, it's just irritating. A third of the anime's length could probably have been cut without losing much.

I got the impression that this really wanted to be a live-action series, with all the lack of creative use of the medium this implies. The realization is very pedestrian, bringing absolutely nothing in to make the story visually compelling. I'm not asking for Death Note-style flourishes, but at least something should have been done to keep the series from being so boring (which surely a story like this has no right to be !). Compounding the problem is the general grey-and-brown palette, especially for people ; the bland colors dull the strikingness of Urasawa's angular character designs. Those are not characters with realistic appearances, however much the anime tries to hide that. As a result, the series loses a lot of impact and immediacy.

Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy watching the series ; but there's a lot of tediousness in between the good parts. While I didn't particularly care for Tenma and Johan remained an enigma till the end, there were lots of fascinating side characters that helped carry the story along the rough patches (ah, Grimmer...). The questions the show asks about human nature and how can evil be born are poignant ones, and the eventual denouement is quite clever. The coincidence level is a bit too high (I raised an eyebrow at the background of Tenma's lawyer, which is a bit too conveniently connected to the rest of the story), but it mostly works out. Still, I'm not sure the series completely delivers on explaining Johan's evil (the final crucial part of his background doesn't feel like much of an explanation to me), and there are large parts of his behavior that I don't really understand (for example, why did he protect Grimmer in Prague ?).

But what this series really lacks is energy, as well as writers daring enough to cut the chaff out and make the plot much tighter. That's what prevents it from being the masterpiece of storytelling it could have been.
 
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Q99

Genderpunk
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Re: Monster

Suggestion: Crest of the Stars and it's sequels, Banner of the Stars. Crest is early 00s, and 13 episodes. Each series is a complete story, so you could easily stop after Crest, or go on to the Banners.

Haibane Renmei. '02. Also 13 episodes. A melancholic, semi-slice-of-lifeish well done series, about angel-looking haibane who hatch from cocoons in a walled town, the walls of which they aren't allowed to cross or even touch.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. First season is 14 eps. Second basically has 9 eps, if you count Endless Eight as one ep. It's about a girl who's obsessed with aliens, psychics, and time travelers, who's friends try and work to keep the real existence of such things from her.
 

ru

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Re: Monster

Kaiba. I recommend this to everyone because it's awesome. Transhumanism, dystopia and unique animation. 2008, 13 eps

Sola. Boy meets creature of the night. Understated supernatural romance. It's not to everyone's taste, but the ending is epic. 2007, 13 eps + 2 OVAs

Mononoke. A series of 2 and 3 part horror stories, set in Edo-era Japan, forllowing an itinerant medecine seller and exorcist. I can't even begin to express how awesome this series is. Horror without the cheap shocks, great narrative structure, and art that's quite unloike anything else. 2007, 12 eps, plus it's a spin off of a 3-parter from Ayakashi, but the latter's much harder to get hold of an isn't quite as polished.
 

RedBeardJim

EXCELLENT AND ELEGANT
Re: Monster

Baccano! 13 episodes (16 with the OVAs included). Prohibition-era gangsters, immortal alchemists, petty thieves, journalists, and various combinations of same. Watch the English dub, it's fantastic.

Seirei no Moribito 26 episodes. A woman bodyguard is hired to protect the younger son of the emperor of a pseudo-feudal-Japan-ish land. Jaw-dropping scenery porn.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood 64 episodes of shonen, but it's goddamn amazing. I may be a bit biased here. *grin*
 

Jhiday

Unrepentant Froggie
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Haruhi Suzumiya, Baccano! & FMA: Brotherhood

Some quick answers to these suggestions :

- Mononoke and Haibane Renmei were already on my radar (although not in my immediate list), but thanks anyway for suggesting them. I still have no clue what the latter is about, but whatever : the DVD box set looked so gorgeous I'm considering buying it sight unseen (something I've only done for Utena, Samurai Champloo and Millenium Actress so far... and I'm not sure the latter counts, as I'd already seen nearly everything else Satoshi Kon directed).
- So that's what Seirei no Moribito is about ? That sounds fun, yeah.
- Kaiba has always looked a bit daunting to me, but I'll try to get to it eventually.
- Crest of the Stars joins the bottom of my pile, as it's not a genre I'm particularly interested in right now.
- Never heard of Sola at all before, but sure, why not.



And now, super-speedy reviews for stuff I watched too long ago to make proper write-ups for :

Baccano! I've seen about a year ago, and it's one of my favorite series ever. It's a fabulous joyride, weaving multiple subplots over several time periods and involving dozens of characters with maestria, leaving room for each of them to shine through, while allowing for several masterful plot twists. I do have a few reservations (the time thread with Eve looking for Dallas never really goes anywhere, the OVAs feel more like an afterthought than an essential addendum, and on the whole it's a rather shallow story with very little depth to its characters), but they're nitpicks for a great show with tons of energy and a good-hearted sense of humor (which is amazing for such a gory show where the "good guys" are thieves, terrorists and mobsters).

I'll take issue with the suggestion of the English dub : it isn't my native language, which removes 99% of the point of a dub. Why bother, if I'm going to need subtitles to understand it anyway ? (Especially given what I've heard of Baccano! heavy use of American accents.) It happens that I do have the English dub on hand (I snagged the UK R2 DVD set, as French distributors seem completely unwilling to release the series for some reason), but I have no interest in it whatsoever.

Haruhi Suzumiya : I saw the first season years ago, the second one as it aired (including the whole of Endless Eight), the movie a few months ago, and I've bought and read the first four books. To say I like it would be an understatement. It's been a long while, but I do remember initially finding it above average (aside from that dreadful baseball episode) until I reached episode 10. It was the one major plot point I hadn't been spoiled on beforehand, and it blew my mind. In contrast, the second season was mostly a complete waste of time : only Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody was worth my while ; Endless Eight doesn't need elaborating upon, and Sighs felt completely superfluous at that point. Fortunately, the movie was a welcome return to the heights of the first season, if a bit self-indulgent (I don't see it appealing to anyone not already familiar with the first season).

Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood I dropped after 10 episodes or so. I found the repeated sudden jumps to slapstick, super-deformed humor very annoying, killing the mood so much that I just didn't care anymore. It doesn't help that I had already dropped the original series years ago three fourths of the way through when I reached an episode so stupid it completely killed my interest in it.
 

Bremen

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Re: Haruhi Suzumiya, Baccano! & FMA: Brotherhood

Some quick answers to these suggestions :

- Mononoke and Haibane Renmei were already on my radar (although not in my immediate list), but thanks anyway for suggesting them. I still have no clue what the latter is about, but whatever : the DVD box set looked so gorgeous I'm considering buying it sight unseen (something I've only done for Utena, Samurai Champloo and Millenium Actress so far... and I'm not sure the latter counts, as I'd already seen nearly everything else Satoshi Kon directed).
I can understand why Haibane Renmei would be hard to get a handle on, because it's very different. There's no action to speak of, and the story is mostly about making friends and enjoying life while slowly unraveling the mysteries of the world. There's a trailer on youtube. People who like a lot of action can find it boring, but otherwise it's a series that gets lots of love.
 

yalborap

Well, that’s just Prime.
Validated User
Re: Haruhi Suzumiya, Baccano! & FMA: Brotherhood

How do you feel about hot-blooded mecha action? I've been watching Shin Getter Robo myself, and it is pretty damn amazing. It's also only 13 eps, so it'd be a relatively quick watch.
 

Jhiday

Unrepentant Froggie
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0

How do you feel about hot-blooded mecha action?
I don't really care for mecha action itself - the vast majority of mecha shows I've watched and enjoyed focused on something else to keep me interested. The only "pure" mecha action-show I think I've watched is TTGL, and even then the mecha part was rarely what I enjoyed the most.

(Coincidentally, there's a mecha action show that I've seen recently and am currently in the process of writing up a review for ; but it's not really hot-blooded. And I'm also currently rewatching a 90s mecha show that I may or may not write a review for depending on whether I have anything to say about it.)


---------------------------------------

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0
(11 episodes, 2009)

My previous exposure :
None, besides the notion that it deals with an big-time earthquake in Tokyo (which of course makes for an interesting watch with hindsight). Also, it aired on NoitaminA, so there were good chances of it not being crap.

What's it about ?

The Tokyo Bay is hit by a big one (I'll let you guess the magnitude). Disaster ensues.

The series focuses on Mirai, our de facto middle-schooler protagonist ; she was with her younger brother Yuuki to a robot show on the Oidama island when the earthquake hit. They're helped by Mari, a young delivery-woman in her twenties who took a shine to them and needs to take the same direction to go home anyway. The whole series follows their long trek back home in the aftermath of disaster.

What did I think of it ?

This is a very, very low-key show. Realistic to the utmost, it examines in painstaking detail what the aftermath of such a disaster entails. Some people do dumb or selfish things (especially in the crowd scenes - I'm sure I saw someone getting trampled to death), but there's also a lot of genuine solidarity (and tons of professionalism from the rescue workers). What saves the series from being a glorified PSA is that all this stuff stays in the background, letting the focus rightfully fall onto our three leads.

And that's basically the limitation of the series : a lot of your appreciation of it relies on how much you can bear with Mirai, who starts off as a complete brat and becomes somewhat more tolerable as she suffers through the ordeal. In comparison, Mari feels unreally saintly, with an incredible amount of patience for those kids she's just met. For such a character-focused drama, the characters feel a bit flat, and the show suffers from it.

Still there are moments of genuine emotion that truly work. Episode 5, where we meet a grandfather who's just lost his grandchildren who were visiting him, and still keeps helping as much as he can, is a tear-jerker. And the big twist in episode 10, that Yuuki died two episodes ago but he kept appearing on-screen because Mirai was in denial about it, despite being a hoary old cliché, was well-enough executed that it gave the concluding gravitas that the series really needed. It's transparent emotional manipulation, but it works.

It's not a groundbreaking show in any way, but it's clearly earnest in what it's trying to depict, and it works on that level.
 

Shay Guy

Registered User
Validated User
Re: Tokyo Magnitude 8.0

I remember the arguments bloggers had in the week after episode 8 came out. Not so much after 9, which gave more and more evidence to one side and none to the other.
 
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