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Highlight – Heroic Legend of Arslan

Arslan Senki As some of you might have noticed, much to my embarrassment, none of the shows that I have previously recommended under this category called ‘Highlights’, have ever turned out to be astoundingly impressive. And, of course, by astoundingly impressive, I mean, absolutely, inequivocably worth your time. Kindaichi Returns was marked as an excuse to watch the original series, Zankyou no Terror turned out to be artistic fluff and nothing else, Amagi Brilliant Park was good fun, and the ongoing Magic Kaito 1412…I’ll get around to dishing out my thoughts on that one soon enough. So here I am, once again putting my sore lack of predictive judgment on the line, and telling you to give Arslan Senki your fullest attention this summer season.

Here’s a brief synopsis; copied, pasted and modified from Wikipedia (because I was lazy). As the title of the show suggests, The Heroic Legend of Arslan follows the tale of an exiled prince called Arslan, whose late father surrendered their kingdom of Pars to the invading armies of Lusitania. Now an ambitious young man with a host of loyal subjects, Arslan’s goal is simple – to reclaim his country and bring freedom to his people. Politics, fighting, politics, fighting…that’s what it looks like we are in for.

Now, all I’m here to do, is give you two reasons to watch this show. Most of you already know the first reason – the most recent manga adaptation of Arslan was done by none other than Hiromu Arakawa, whose name I have personally mentioned on this blog more times than I can count on both fingers. For the uneducated, this woman has succeeded in putting most other anime to shame in both the shounen and slice-of-life categories, all thanks to the immensely popular Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, as well as Silver Spoon, a less intense but nevertheless heart-warming series which I hold in equal (if not higher) regard to FMA:B. So, this show has Arakawa-sensei’s name pegged to it – reason alone for most people to give it a shot.

But here’s the lesser known reason – the original novels of The Heroic Legend of Arslan, were penned by Seiun Award-winning writer Yoshiki Tanaka, otherwise known as the genius who created Legend of the Galactic Heroes. And I might or might not have indicated, not too long ago, that my love for Gineiden goes far beyond anything possibly imaginable. All you have to know at this point is – if Arslan stays close to its source material in terms of plot, then there shouldn’t be any doubt that it’s going to be pretty darn epic. Because Legend of the Galactic Heroes is pretty darn epic, no? (We’ll save that for another time.) Until then…I’m hedging my bets on Arslan to be one of the standout series of the summer season. Considering Digimon tri, Fate/Stay Hype part 2, Trigun-sibling Blood Blockade Battlefront, and the Disappearance of Yuki Nagato are but some of the extremely promising titles coming out in April…it’s a risky bet, but one that I’m more than willing to make.

Highlight – Horimiya

Horimiya

[Horimiya (manga), Hori-san to Miyamura-kun (OVA)]

If I had to give an award for Most Imaginative Anime Genre, shoujo would win hands down. I don’t know why; shoujo mangaka in particular, have a knack for dreaming up every conceivable premise, to incite the most unbelievable romantic plotlines. Take Fruits Basket for example. It features cute boys who turn into animals when you hug them, so our ray-of-sunshine protagonist Tohru Honda has to keep her hands off her potential love interests, while being the best waifu she can to all of them. The whole Zodiac thing was probably nothing more than a grand idea, developed with this start in mind. Is that blatant or what? I love Furuba with an undying passion.

In the same way that it’s always frustratingly impossible for fellow academics to outdo each other in their respective fields of research, so it’s becoming harder and harder to find a shoujo premise that hasn’t already been done before. Males in shoujo have already been known to appear as sportsmen, robots, musicians, aristocrats, vampires (why, Twilight, why), and today’s male in question is a friendless, nerdy looking, megane-wearing introvert. Who metamorphoses into a punk when the after school bell rings. Yep. That’s Hori-san to Miyamura-kun for you.

While Izumi Miyamura has a secret hobby of piercing his face and getting tattoos, his beautiful, popular classmate Kyouko Hori has a secret hobby of being a housewife. Well…sort of. Despite her stellar grades and outstanding reputation, she returns home to a family of working parents, and spends much of her free time babysitting her baby brother Sohta, and sniffing around for supermarket discounts. By a mandatory twist of fate, punk-Miyamura encounters an injured Sohta while taking a mandatory walk in the park, and decides to escort the kid home. He rings the doorbell, Hori answers, he sees her face without make-up, she sees his lip with a stud and chain stuck through it, and thereupon their mundane acquaintanceship mandatorily spins into a deeper friendship.

Horimiya is as entertaining as your typical shoujo tale can get. It intrigues me, though, because it’s one of the more curious psychological fantasies I’ve come across. Let’s face the sad truth, if the dude dresses like a punk, chances are he’s going to act like one – and come on, is that wholly unfair an observation? There’s only so much you can stretch the ‘never-judge-a-book-by-it’s-cover’ rule, but Horimiya stretches it to breaking point. I mean, seriously…a man who is sweet, awkward, bakes great cakes and yet wears enough metal to paralyse airport security? Who’s kidding who?

But then again, that’s pretty much what the wonderful world of anime and manga is for. So, as much as Horimiya is hilariously unrealistic at times, it’s a cute story that most shoujo fans will get a little kick out of. Currently, it’s mainly serialised as a manga, but also comes in the form of an OVA series, which is released in parts – with the third episode looking set to be released sometime this winter season. I can’t help rallying along with the rest of the fanbase, though, in the hopes that a proper 12 episode anime gets made. Because really, who doesn’t want to see 300 glorious minutes of a cute punk who bakes?

Highlight – Amagi Brilliant Park

Amagi Brilliant Park

In the wonderful world of art and entertainment, there exist creators whom you agree to associate yourself with for a single work, then stay far away from for the rest of your life. It’s typically the case with M. Night Shyamalan and The Sixth Sense for the masses, and on a personal note, it’s just about every modern day celebrity singer for me – although Psy generally takes the cake. And in the world of anime, it just so happens to be Kyoto Animation. For reasons expounded below.

I always approach a KyoAni show with that “I see where this is going”-type preconception; which is a result of my experience with their recent work. I admit that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was entertaining in a twisted way; it was just plain fun to see Haruhi throw her weight around like the boss of the world – and we all already know my position on Free!. Yet K-On! was one of those shows which bored me to death without trying, and because I realised early on I wasn’t the target demographic, I ended up saying a premature sayonara and departing with the general consensus of, “I see what you’re doing to the mindless fanbase and I’m out of here.” In short, I wasn’t prepared to give anything else KyoAni did a chance, for fear that I would wind up being brainwashed by them into subservience.

But good gracious, has Amagi Brilliant Park changed the game and exploited me once again. It’s like KyoAni’s managerial team sat down in a ring and dumped files of fan profiling onto the table, and at the end of the meeting established a consensus, “90% of our fans have a weakness for theme parks. Let’s turn Amagi Brilliant Park into an anime.” Seems like the scheming studio discovered my undying love for both Disneyland and Roller Coaster Tycoon, and decided to make a show out of both things.

About Disneyland. The thing I love about Disneyland, is that going in, you kind of switch off your mind about the entire fact that it’s a money-making enterprise, and that the girl pretending to be Snow White must be laughing at all the children behind her back. You just go in there, and enjoy it for all it’s worth. Then Amagi Brilliant Park comes along and decides to throw even that enterprise concept out the metaphorical window, and instead dishes us the ridiculous proposition that the sustenance of the theme park in fact is the life source of the very actors who run the park – and the costumed mascots aren’t real mascots, they’re living plushies!

See, Amagi Brilliant Park is about a high school narcissist called Seiya Kanie, who possesses a knack for understanding the dynamics of entertaining crowds. And so he’s coerced into becoming the manager of a dying theme park, so as to save it from being closed down, and extrapolating that, to save the lives of the little creatures and humans that live within its walls. It’s hardly anything more than 25 minutes of whimsical colours and fanfare, but for now, it’s probably my greatest pleasure of the season (behind Fate/Stay Hype, of course). I’ll be watching to see how the rest of it pans out, but so far (only two episodes having aired), the premise of Amagi Brilliant Park is doing little wrong to put me off, and that’s a feat considering the more-than-obvious fanservice elements littered throughout the show. If you love theme parks as much as I do, then switch your mind off and hop onto the merry-go-round of guilty pleasure!

Highlight – Magic Kaito 1412

Magic Kaito

Since everyone’s already going to be watching Fate/ Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works this anime season (which, by the way, you should), here’s something else you might want to try out this fall…Magic Kaito. If you’ve never heard of Kaito Kid before, then you’re probably not a Detective Conan fan, and good thing too if you’re not into long running series, because I’m estimating that Shinichi will naturally grow back into his original age at the rate things are going with that show.

Anyway, if you have minimal knowledge of Detective Conan, you might be aware that it follows the adventures of a 7 year old prodigious boy detective called Conan, who lives with a hot chick called Ran (or Rachel, if you only recognise the series when I say ‘Case Closed’) Mori and her amateur detective father. Except that Conan isn’t his real name, and 7 isn’t his real age – he’s really a teenager called Shinichi (or Jimmy) Kudo, who was morphed into a child through the administration of drugs by a criminal syndicate. Shinichi bides his time in his alter ego as Conan, while he uncovers the truth behind the villains who ruined his love life – and by extension, the love life of his girlfriend, the aforementioned hot chick Ran Mori.

As always in anime, you get side characters outshining the main protagonists, and Detective Conan’s inordinate length occasionally tarnishes the shine of its main cast, whom its loyal fans have followed for just over 2 decades. So fans tend to turn their attention to the less-frequently appearing side characters, who receive just enough screen time to warrant a second look, but hide away just enough to keep themselves enveloped in a healthy blanket of mystery. Which brings us to Kaito Kid, an arguable star of the Detective Conan franchise – whose manga I always maintain deserved the development that Conan did.

Magic Kaito, surprisingly enough, was first published all the way back in the prehistoric era of 1987. It follows (or would have followed, had it gotten past volume 4) the shenanigans of a gentleman thief in a white top hat and cape, the magician Kaito Kid. Kid’s actions are baffling to the local police, and especially to their head honcho Inspector Nakamori – for Kid enjoys announcing the time and place of his next intended robbery, showing up at the said time and place, and then artfully navigating his way through a web of police traps, and eventually making off with some timeless artefact. We as audience know that Kid is the alter ego of a high school mischief maker named Kaito Kuroba, whose father was killed in connection to the mysterious Pandora Gem, a jewel rumoured to shed a tear when exposed to moonlight. And thus Kaito Kid’s real goal is to lure out his father’s killers and expose the truth behind his death, even if it means dabbling in a little criminality…

I hope my plot summaries haven’t been written in any biased way, but back when I was a young anime fan, Kaito’s story hooked me a lot stronger than Conan’s, and it still does, to this day. Both have an equally strong starting premise (brownie points to their writer Aoyama-Sensei), but Kaito edges out Conan by a slim margin, because already we see the potential of a moral conflict like in Code Geass – how far is our hero prepared to stain his hands in order to fulfil a personal motive? Coupled with the fact that our magician protagonist has an alter ego that dresses in a suit and monocle, rather than a preschool uniform, and you get a story that shouldn’t go wrong if decent effort is put into it.

One episode in, and it’s clear that Magic Kaito 1412 is by no means the best anime of the season, but at least it looks set to do what Conan can never do – finish in 24 episodes. And of course mention must be made of the fact that its basically a reboot of the sporadic collection of Conan specials that gave sole focus to Kaito’s story…the original Magic Kaito series, if you will. Episode 1 of 1412 is a tweaked retelling of the original’s first episode, and already it’s already doing a few things right – cutting out some of the illogically juvenile magic tricks that blemished the credibility of the original plot, scrapping the saxophone pieces that plagued the world of the original (and Conan, too) and getting a proper soundtrack composed, and giving this series a well-deserved OP and ED (rather than tossing the privilege of opening the show over to Conan Edogawa). Like Kindaichi Case Files R, there’s a Kaito fangirl in me that badly wants this show to succeed, and with A1 Pictures hemming the project, I’m not as worried as I could have been. Now, I just have to get over the sight of those Pinocchio noses…

Highlight – Zankyou No Terror

terror-in-tokyo

So Zankyou No Terror has aired just about 3 episodes so far, and without gabbling too much about how it is one of the season’s most hyped series, let’s get down to what I personally thought about it. To be fair, though, when a series makes the masses bleed tears of hype before it even airs (I’m casting a side glance at Ufotable’s upcoming Fate/Stay Night remake) there’s a lot to be discussed, and thus a lot of comments have to taken with a huge pinch of salt. Does it live up to its hype? Is it utterly decimated by it? As far as I’m concerned…

The first episode certainly did not draw me in completely, and here’s why. Zankyou no Terror had one of those ambiguous, mysterious, and ultimately pretentious starts which I particularly dislike. Mysterious main characters, who in all honesty, couldn’t be more stereotypical. One dude’s a typical yandere, the other a typical tsundere, and Lisa Mishima as the helpless vulnerable little girl had me thinking immediately of Durarara’s Anri Sonohara, and every other female protagonist in high school visual novels. Because after watching the first episode, here’s what I could gather.

1. The main protagonists are actually the bad guys of the story, and we’re not exactly supposed to support them, more like figure out their tragic past and their assumedly well-meaning goals, whatever they are.

2. Poor helpless Lisa Mishima gets involved with a duo of terrorists…because, well. Is there actually a convincing reason as to why she isn’t simply discarded after being entangled in a terrorist plot? Been scratching my head about that one. She doesn’t seem outstandingly talented, nor useful, and now she’s recruited as an accomplice for something she doesn’t have any real heart to do. But anyway, I digress.

The plot, at that point, did have this air of unknown, and a fair bit of suspense, but the biggest gripe I had with it, was that it lacked a clear premise.

So on to this topic of the ‘strong premise’. When I say ‘strong premise’, I basically mean that a good story is able to make its audience root for a particular end goal right at the start of its run. Notable examples of a strong opening premise would include Attack on Titan, which makes any viewer eager to see the eradication of all titans and freedom for humanity. Or Fullmetal Alchemist, in which, no matter how complex and intricate its plot ultimately becomes, has you desiring the Elric brothers regaining their lost limbs right from the opening arc. And, for good measure, let’s throw in a few more noteworthy titles – Code Geass, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Evangelion.

So Zankyou didn’t have that, but I know what you’re going to say, does a good series necessarily need a strong starting premise? Not at all, I could cite Madoka Magica as starting with a meandering air of mystery, and then morphing into a nightmare of brilliance. Or perhaps Cowboy Bebop, which opens like a space opera about gallivanting across the universe. And Darker than Black, which actually begins exactly the way Zankyou does, and wound up becoming one of my favourite series of all time.

The point I’m trying to make is that Zankyou No Terror, is actually the precise type of series I really, really like. The problem is, that it didn’t become that with it’s first episode. The theme and setting of modern terrorism, while novel enough, didn’t engage me, because there wasn’t a clear enough end goal for its plot, the characters weren’t bizarrely original, and their interactions and relationships were really unconvincing.

Now it’s 3 episodes in, and guess what? It actually got better. Now it’s established that this is Death Note all over again, with mysterious terrorists on one side, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police on the other. There are even some intellectual riddles and mythology thrown in for good measure. But most importantly, now there’s a character I actually like! The dishevelled tramp Shibazaki, who sits on the opposite end of the playing field, is a welcome addition to the vast character cast. To be fair, he was there from the start, but now I know that he’s going to get a lot more focus than I originally thought he would. I like Shibazaki because there’s at least some semblance of where he is going – he wants to stop the terrorists. And that’s all that’s needed to engage me in the plot.

The animation is great, and the music is great, in a Yoko Kanno way. Technically, this anime is nothing to complain about, because it truly has been done very well. If you’re one of those elitist skeptics who enjoy dissecting a work of fiction into both substantive and technical elements, then Zankyou should be given high numerical rankings in the department of sound and animation. Plot wise, I am starting to like it, and hopefully, you will too. Here’s wishing that the motley main crew gets some backstory and development soon, because Zankyou has all the potential in the world to become one of my favourite series.

Highlight – Kindaichi Case Files Returns

kindaichi

Ever so often, there come anime that are the subject of immense hype and expectancy, with notable examples being Attack on Titan in 2013 and Sword Art Online in 2012. And then there are anime seasons, or anime ‘years’, which seem to be bursting to the brim with  epic titles. Case in point, 2007 gave us Gurren Lagann, Darker than Black (a personal all-time favourite of mine), Higurashi, Clannad, and so on. In the flurry of excitement, certain other titles tend to be passed over as the giant spotlight of popularity sweeps the board. So in 2007, there was Baccano!, which was most unfortunately ignored for the most part, until critics started to recognise its immense originality and flair. Personally, I didn’t like Baccano!, but that’s me being subjective, and objectively, it stands as an example of an anime which deserved more love than it initially got.

So let’s all not make the same mistake, and be sure to catch Kindaichi Case File Returns as it comes out weekly in this wonderful spring season. The only reason I am so hyped about just this one show, is simply because Kindaichi happens to be a nostalgic staple of my youth, and also because the original series, which aired way back in the late 1990s to early 2000s, is nothing short of pure adrenaline and awesomeness.

Kindaichi Case Files follows the miscellaneous adventures of Hajime Kindaichi, a high school slop with the secret brain of Sherlock Holmes and the sense of humour of an eighty-year old bachelor. He and his childhood friend Miyuki Nanase typically find themselves in various situations involving a seemingly normal set-up with a group of people they are just starting to know – these scenarios ranging from anything involving a cruise on the sea to an invitation to a private party. Once the settings and backdrop are established, the thrill of the story kicks in with the death of one of the group. Usually, this death is classified as a humanly-impossible feat, resulting in the group attributing the bizarre event to the work of some ethereal, supernatural being – examples include Hell’s Puppeteer, the Afterschool Conjurer, and Killer Clown. The plot thickens as more and more of the group get killed off one by one, until Kindaichi’s investigations and observations lead him to uncover the true identity of the murderer, and the trick behind each of the locked-room murders employed.

Unlike other anime which employ the ‘arc’ approach to storytelling, Kindaichi goes one step further in grouping its plots into ‘cases’, which span about three to four episodes. There is generally very little continuity with the overarching story, which makes it perfectly easy to follow no matter where you start watching from – provided of course, that you follow the story from the beginning of a case itself. Kindaichi’s brilliance is primarily in its sheer ingenuity of murder tactics, and is arguably the best of its genre – even spanning other mediums such as novels and films. To put it into perspective, I have read Agatha Christie, Nancy Drew, some Sherlock Holmes, watched some Alfred Hitchcock, bought a few volumes of Detective Conan, own almost the entire set of Enid Blyton’s Five-Find Outers (haha), and still, nothing rivals the genius of Kindaichi’s writing. This can in no way be credited to the cleverness of the murder tactics alone, but the entire premise and backstory of each case. The true killer is hardly presented as cold and ruthless, instead, the revelations behind his/her motivations for killing and the relationships with both victims and surviving members of the group, almost invite some form of sympathy for the plight of the villain. Rather than succeed on intelligence, Kindaichi disturbs and prickles viewers with its use of emotion and ethical issues – which made the original run of this series such a twisted piece of good entertainment.

Not to say that the original series didn’t have its disappointments, since the excellence of certain cases would cast harsh light on the comparative mildness of some other ones. I recall many times, in watching the original series, where the case would conclude with me feeling, “So that was it?” But then, I only felt that way because of the inconsistency. From what I’ve watched of this new series, the very first case might well be suffering from this problem, which is a shame. Nevertheless, it calls me into my solemn duty to inform everyone that the subsequent cases have the potential of being so much better than this first one, so stick around and give it a few more chances. I won’t deny that I badly want this anime to fare well, because of my personal attachment to it, but then again, things could go wrong. Until the season’s conclusion, though, you can be sure that I’ll be it’s most faithful follower. So to everyone else, go watch it now!