27 January 2006

Haibane Renmei: Thy Pedestal is High

The more I contemplate on what I might have not liked about this series, the more I realize that there isn't anything... I sound like a crazy fangirl for this series...but the raw truth is that I think I am!

What's so good? I explained a little already, but let me elaborate. Opening and closing sequences have great animation and music. The entire series has wonderful animation and music. (Have I mentioned that I question the budget for this series? No wonder it's only 13 episodes!) The plot line is not confusing, but it is intriguing and kept my interest throughout. The characters are lovable and unique, and I empathized and related with several, felt joy when they were happy and felt pain when they were hurt. I wish I had more or better words to express my feelings.

The whole series watches more like a movie really than a series. While there are opening and closing sequences, there is no preview for the next episode. It might sound weird that I mention this, but think about how much more professional it seems when you take away that preview. The animation is stunning, more like the 3 episode Read or Die movie than a regular anime series. I looked my hardest for re-used sequences, and if there were any then they fooled me pretty well. The soundtrack by Kow Otani is full of beautiful instrumentals and feeling.

What also is different about this anime is that there is no "evil guy". The only evils that any of the Haibane must combat are their own inner demons. The plot actually shifts focus slightly in the middle of the series, but it is not awkwardly conceived. It is obvious that the makers of Haibane Renmei the anime planned and organized the series very well before creating it. It's a story. A beautiful story that made me cry.

There ARE unanswered plot questions. However, unlike NGE, these leftover mysteries do not leave me feeling empty or jipped. They are proper mysteries that would ruin the experience of the anime if they simply explained it all to me.

This anime shocked me in a good way as much (or more) as Noir shocked me in a bad way. I'd like to own this anime as well as the soundtrack. I highly recommend this to anyone. It's not necessarily an action packed thriller, but it deserves your time. I'd say that the only thing I regret is the short length, but then again that's what makes it good.

Now that I've hyped it up, I hope you don't take it home and hate it. I'll just hope that others can find as much enjoyment in this series as me.

Do I really have to give it grades? Straight A's for Haibane Renmei. I'm spoiled now.

25 January 2006

Addicted to Angels: Haibane Renmei 1

I've mentioned I'm a sucker for angels. Angel stories, angel paraphernalia, etc. I had a neighbor once who was addicted to all things elephant: pictures in the bathroom, ceramic elephants in the living room-- that's going to be me when I'm older, except with angels. I think you get it.

I rent from Netflix and love it, but don't particularly trust the recommendations they give me, so when they suggested Haibane Renmei I had to pause and think about it. The cover has a girl with a halo and wings. So I said..sure, why not? I got the first disc, and by the end of the first episode I was hooked. It has religious philosophy in a non-forceful kind of way, instantly lovable characters, a wonderful plotline and absolutely stunning art. The opening and closing songs/sequences to anime also tend to be important to me (maybe I shall do a whole post on this), and Haibane Renmei has a moving opening and closing.

I know. I'm gushing about an anime I haven't finished. As far as I know, though, it's only 14 episodes so I'm halfway through. I have not noticed any re-used sequences, just some beautiful animation work (can we say expensive?).

If you want a little bit of a teaser about plotline, the Haibane Renmei are an isolated group of angel looking creatures with a halo and wings, surrounded by a town of humans which is promptly walled off from the rest of the world. The Haibane Renmei provide services for the town but are not allowed to accept actual money. They work through a tally marker system of payment instead and accept used clothes from a local goodwill kind of store. The opening sequence shows a seed "planting" itself in a room at the Haibane Renmei's home, which grows into a cocoon and eventually breaks, and thus the main character Rekka is born into this new world with no knowledge of her prior life. She looks around 10 years old and is born this way. The other Haibane are anywhere from toddlers to 20 year olds. Who are the Haibane and why are they there? Why are they isolated? Each Haibane is named for what they dream while they are in their cocoon. What significance do these dreams have? I have many questions and am interested to see how they are addressed through the series.

One of the more recent episodes I watched had a "beginning of the world" story which was a partial fabrication based on a rotting book of that title, gaps filled in by two of the Haibane. The story they made up to fill it out went as follows: In the beginning there was nothingness. God took his halo and cast it above him and made the sun. Then he tore the nothingness in two making the sky and the land. The line wasn't perfect, so valleys and mountains were born. Then God drew and drew and made the landscape and animals. Then he created a creature in his own likeness, only with a hole in their halo and charcoal wings; these are the Haibane. God didn't like these creatures because they were too much like himself, so he put them in the back of his mind and created man without any halo or any wings. He was sufficiently happy with this and so went to sleep for a long time. The Haibane escaped from his head while he was sleeping and took refuge in the small town of Glie. God figured they couldn't do harm in their small vilage existance and thus let them be.

I can't wait to finish the series. After this I will be watching Grave of the Fireflies (movie) and then Nightwalker (series). Stay tuned.

24 January 2006

Noir: A Surprising Disappointment

I'm sitting here watching the 7th episode of Haibane Renmei and wondering why I spent the last 2 months renting the 7 discs of Noir from Netflix. I just finished watching the last episode the other day, and had been waiting anxiously to post until it was all over. Well now it is.

I had heard from several sourced that Noir was a good anime, which is why I decided to watch it in the first place. It starts out pretty well, very Bourne-identity "Hey I'm a great killer but I don't remember ANYTHING"-esque. You follow 2 main characters: Kirika Yuumura, a teenaged girl who wakes up one day and doesn't remember anything about herself and wouldn't even remember her name if she didn't have an ID card (Oh did I mention she has this uncanny ability to kill people? Think River from Firefly), and Mireille Bouquet, a blond female assassin for hire. The beginning is very interesting; Kirika wakes up and all she can remember is the name "Noir", and Mireille finds her and decides to help Kirika figure out who she really is. Mireille ends up taking "Noir" as her codename as an assassin and Kirika helps her out with her gigs. Oh if only she realized what that codename really meant....

Babes, guns, mystery, intrigue...Sounds cool huh?

I thought so too! However, after watching maybe 10 episodes my interest turned to boredom. I took a gander (without peeking at spoilers) at episode ratings online. It seemed to me that the ending episodes were rated very well compared to the mire that I was stuck in, so I persisted and kept watching. By the time I got to the 20th episode or so I was almost ready to give up, but by that point why stop if there's only 6 more episodes? Banking on the hope that the last few episodes would pull everything together, I finished it up. It was a weak ending, though very "anime". You find out early in the series that Noir is the name of two women who are basically crazy powerful assassins. As I said, the position is for two, no more, no less. By the ending episodes there are 3 characters vying for those 2 positions. You're forced to choose favorites. My favorites didn't win, which is fine, but (I apologize for my vagueness, I don't want to ruin it), the way they came about not winning was lame. Parts of the ending were good for sure, but it was not as strong as I had hoped.

So what made me so bored? Well the re-used sequences became sufficiently annoying after a few episodes. You know the bad-anime staring contest that's so popular in those such as InuYasha and Naruto, where they cut to a character's face for over a minute as if to show emotion, then cut to the next...then back...and so on? Lots of that in Noir. If I was supposed to see anguish in those shimmering drawn eyes of Mireilles', I could have probably figured it out without having to stare at her for 30 seconds. Also, I feel that the entire story could have been squashed into a great miniseries, maybe 3 episodes like Angel Sanctuary. The music, which was appreciable in the beginning, turned sour after they re-used it throughout the whole anime.

There were up-sides. The plot IS good though drawn out. The characters (my favorite was Kirika) were recognizably humanistic and relatable, maybe except for that whole perfect killer problem Kirika has going on...

Time for grades?

Plotline: Very Good
Characters: Good
Music: Fair
Animation: Poor

Despite the plot, I'll have a tough time recommending this one because it's so frustratingly drawn out.

08 January 2006

Angel Sanctuary: Incest + Power = Revelation

When I first heard of the series "Angel Sanctuary", I was immediately drawn to the title. I am addicted to the concept of angels, and not just in the traditional Christian sense. NGE makes reference to angels, as they are the primary "enemy" in the series. I am also in the middle of watching a series called Haibane Renmei which is about angels. So yes, I am addicted, and so I was drawn to the concept also of an Angel "Sanctuary". Why would they need a sanctuary?

Angel Sanctuary apparently was cancelled, because there are only 3 episodes. They are pretty conclusive, so I'm not sure how much of a plan there was to continuing the series.

The series focuses in on a human character Setsuna Mudo and his sister Sara. You find out early that this series is about God vs Demons, Heaven vs Hell. Rosiel, a beloved Angel of God, is obsessed in "waking" his twin sister Alexiel. Alexiel led a revolt against God upon his disappearance, and was eventually punished for this by having her spirit imprisoned in a human body: Setsuna Mudo.

This series, like the movie Dogma, gets you thinking about which side is "right". Even though Rosiel is the beloved of God and works for Heaven, he's twisted and sick. The Angels are portrayed as monsters when they are shown slaughtering demons.

What also makes this anime unique is that Setsuna has an "unnatural" attraction to his sister. The both of them love each other deeply, more than any brother and sister should love each other. So not only does Setsuna have to deal with his incestuous sinning, he must now deal with the fact that he's the reincarnation of one of the most powerful Angels in existence: The three winged Alexiel.

I could spend a lot of time trying to explain all the backstory to this series. Fortunately, there are sites that have summarized much of the information already such as Fallen Angel and this site which is complete with pretty music, but I don't agree with some of their information such as Rosiel working for Hell.

Please don't shy away from this series because it involves incest and an argument against conventional Heaven and Hell. It is beautifully illustrated and well presented. There aren't any blatant incestuous sex scenes; the series instead focuses on the love that exists between these two people and thus the struggle that they are going through because their relationship is not accepted. There is also a hint of that anime-esque philosophy, where Setsuna must choose between a fake world where he can live life as he dreams it versus a real life of struggle.

This is a 3 episode, 1-disc series that I would definitely invest in and own. I highly recommend this series.

A note on the animation: Some repetition for emphasis, but they did well in not falling into the pit of reusing shots. There are also some still shots and artwork that are positively beautiful.

Plotline: Excellent
Characters: Excellent
Music: Good
Animation: Good

06 January 2006

Just A Note on Mecha

Me and mecha (pronounced like mecca, mechanical anime) don't usually mix. Mecha is anime that usually involves large robots of some kind (like Gundam), and is also typically futuristic since we don't yet have anything like them.

The fact that I loved NGE is kind of extraordinary, since I usually have little taste for mecha. Actually, I very rarely watch any series that involves guns either, except for Noir and Cowboy Bebop. It's just not my style. Unfortunately, until I run out of other animes to comment on, I probably will not get to watch series like Gundam, Patlabor, or Full Metal Panic! Sorry! I have many other animes to review which I've already watched. I really do hope to someday watch these series and hopefully fall in love with them as I know many of you have.

For now, many of my reviews will be the more fantasy kinds of anime like Inuyasha, Magic Knight Rayearth, Saiyuki, etc.

Also, if anyone who actually reads these reviews have any suggestions for anime that I may not have heard of and might like, feel free to comment!

Neon Genesis Evangelion

For those of you who have watched this series, you will understand me when I say that it's one of the hardest animes to comment on for several reasons. Neon Genesis Evangelion (NGE) is one of those 1-season philosophical animes similar to Wolf's Rain. However, what makes NGE unique and difficult not only to comprehend but to watch is the fact that the makers of NGE ran out of money at the end of the series. The original series was made in 1995 and was 26 episodes long.

NGE is about a boy named Shinji who is summoned to the city Tokyo-3 by his father who was never there for him as a child, and is employed with a company called NERV to pilot giant robot like mecha called the Evangelions (EVA series). He meets two other NERV pilots, Rei and Asuka, and together they pilot the Evas against "Angels" who are coming to destroy Earth...

If you take the time to sit down and watch these original 26 episodes, you will go through a slurry of emotions. I feel that NGE is a catchy anime in the beginning; I even got a friend of mine who doesn't watch anime to sit down and watch it simply because he was hooked after a few episodes. As the series progresses, though, it becomes harder to understand and becomes a dark, disturbing series. This is by no means a bad thing, but the audience starts yearning for that penultimate ending to what has been 20 odd episodes of build-up. With a dwindling budget and time constraints, the producers of NGE could not complete the ending properly, which left a lot of people burned and confused at the end of the original series.

When I watched the end myself, I did feel unsatisfied, but I did not turn away from the series. I was attached to the vibrant characters that NGE presented to me, and was determined to find my own ending to what might be called the most ambiguous "zen" ending of any anime I've ever seen. It takes some deep thought to comprehend NGE, which is what I love about the genre as compared to the typical American film that outlines the ending for you (Vanilla Sky as an extreme example).

I mentioned that NGE was difficult to watch. I mean this in the most literal sense; it is hard to get your hands on all the different things requires to fully understand NGE. After the original series, the producers KNEW they left their audience short handed, so went on to make a new ending in a movie form, "End of Evangelion"(EoE). They also made "Death and Rebirth" which features highlights from the series. I have not watched "Death and Rebirth", so am unable to tell you what this movie is like.

EoE did give much needed closure to the series. My friend who I coerced into watching NGE I think hated the movie...this closure was obviously either not enough or not typical enough for him. I do not blame him for giving his honest opinion, but as I mentioned before, NGE isn't really a "sit down have fun and giggle" kind of anime. It takes time to sit down and figure out what is going on. Friends that will watch the series with you are helpful. This is a series that deserves to be brought up in philosophy class.

The music isn't anything special in this series. The animation is somewhere in the middle. While they employ some interesting flashcard techniques and in EoE there's some brillint artwork-like animation, for the most part they do a lot of re-using of sequences, etc.

This series deserves much more discussion, but it's too much to put in one post, and I fear giving spoilers.

It's hard to rate this one, since the opinions on it are all over the place. In my feelings, however, it deserves these ratings:

Plotline: Excellent
Characters: Excellent
Music: Poor
Animation: Fair