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Special – My Top 10 Favourite Legend of the Galactic Heroes Characters

Legend of the Galactic Heroes

[Not spoiler-free]

I guess I just had to do it for Gineiden, because Gineiden is one of those shows which literally exists in a universe of its own, and kind of deserves its own separate…thing.  Back in my favourite male characters special, I said Reinhard von Lohengramm would flat-out trump anyone else on a Coolest Characters list, and while that’s still entirely true for me, the more I thought about it, the more I felt that justice couldn’t be done to Gineiden as a whole, if that was all I was going to say on the subject. This definitely won’t be the last time I’ll be writing on Gineiden, and this post is very much prompted by my skittish excitement about the latest upcoming Yoshiki Tanaka work to hit anime – The Heroic Legend of Arlsan (and yes, I’ll be also spazzing about that soon enough).

Before I begin, here’s a disclaimer – I do not recommend continuing to read this, unless you have actually completed all 110 episodes of Gineiden’s OVA series. For fear of ruining the experience for anyone, I need to stress that Gineiden is a journey you only take when you know you’re ready. I promise to do a proper un-spoilered review on it in the near future, but until then…this post may not be for you. You have been warned that there are massive spoilers ahead, not only for Gineiden, but some other shows as well. And that’s enough said – time to give due regard to all these honourable heroes. Starting off with…an honourable mention.

Honourable Mention – Paul von Oberstein

Oberstein

Okay, I admit I’m partially conflicted about whether or not I even like Oberstein. Oberstein’s a little like Severus Snape, but without J.K. Rowling’s last minute trickery at yanking heartstrings through a bombardment of feels-flashbacks. You either allow yourself to be led by the nose with everyone else’s accusations about Oberstein being the Machiavellian evil of the entire show, or join the utilitarians in worshipping the ground he walks on – and if you’re the really generous, tender-hearted sort, you might even volunteer yourself as tribute to feed chicken meat to his dog…because even Machiavelli deserves to be loved by something, right? At the end of the day, I guess I feel more grateful to Oberstein than anything else – because without his frustratingly indestructible logic and blatant ruthlessness, the rest of the characters on this list would have long died before I had the time to appreciate them.

10. Walter von Schenkopp

Schenkopp

Think Schenkopp, think the amalgamation of every testosterone-loaded warrior to come out of anime, squeezed and crammed into one human being. And that’s what you get – one crazy rampaging monster who simultaneously holds a deadly reputation as leader of the Alliance’s Rosenritter regiment. You’d think that with bombastic fleet battles forming the bulk of Gineiden’s action, puny men charging at each other with spindly axes would never match up, right? Wrong – every time this beast is in battle mode, expect Gineiden to descend into one of the most R21 gore-fests you have ever seen. Not that Schenkopp’s a mindless Neanderthal – when not pulling a Jason Voorhees or having drinks with his BFFs, he likes to spend his free time being a lady-killer…reuniting with long-lost illegitimate children…teaching them life lessons…

9. Annerose von Grunewald

Annerose

Considering Annerose’s appalling lack of screentime, it’s a miracle she even made it onto this list – but that says a lot about what she brings to the story. Strip away her relationships and she’s an archetype of the gentle, beautiful onee-chan (or as Reinhard would say, anee-ue); but strip away Annerose from the entire of Gineiden, and everyone on this list might still be alive (ahem). No, I didn’t bring this up to pin the blame on her or anything – I just think it’s fascinating how her very existence drives so much of the plot, and how she’s the only one in the universe who can tame her feisty little warmonger brother, simply by fluttering her eyelashes and caressing his golden hair. Also, Annerose may not have been a soldier on the battlefield, but she had a non-combative war to fight in navigating the dirty world of aristocratic politics. Factually, Gineiden doesn’t have many female characters. I’ve seen feminists rise in affront over this numerical sexism, and to me, that’s just ridiculous – the females in this show fight their own battles with grace and dignity, and Annerose is living example of that.

8. Siegfried Kircheis

kircheis

[SPOILER ALERT] Before there was Kamina, there was Siegfried Kircheis – and while the two are as different as chalk and cheese, I like to think that Kircheis had more of a haunting presence in the entirety of the second to fourth arcs, than Kamina ever had in the second half of Gurren Lagann. Since it was pretty much sorted that Simon could fill Kamina’s shoes, Kamina simply continued to linger on as an inspiration to his followers – but boy, hardly a day goes by without someone insulting the living by musing that Siegfried Kircheis could have done a much better job in their position. No ghost has ever been as wanted for the position of Chief of Military, Chief of Internal Affairs, Secretary of State, Head of the Kaiser’s Personal Counselling Office… But jokes aside, losing Kircheis was my first wake-up call to the Game-of-Thrones nature of this show, and shocked me more than any other death did. That, despite the fact that the person who wrote the Narrator’s script deserves a Golden Raspberry for all the spoilers they leaked in the episode previews.

7. Oskar von Reuenthal

Reuenthal

[SPOILER ALERT] Ah, Reuenthal. I hate to say that he’s here because of how sad his entire life was; but it’s true if you don’t take it the wrong way. With Reuenthal and his demise, there was always an overarching sense of fate and inevitability; because having witnessed him and his sado-masochistic nature over the course of 80-odd episodes, anyone could see he was a ticking time-bomb about to go off. Reuenthal’s tragedy is a fine example of Gineiden’s trademark writing – taking a cliché, almost commonplace device like a betrayal, and turning it into something wholly unconventional, yet so real. Typically, characters who betray their allies are evil backstabbers disguised as angels, or misunderstood anti-heroes with some tear-wringing backstory – when it comes to Reuenthal, please, Gineiden doesn’t do black-and-whites. Reuenthal was a man betrayed by his own pride – but as is the case with every other soldier in this story, their pride is something you look at and feel awed by, isn’t it?

6. Hildegard von Mariendorf

Mariendorf

Like I mentioned, Gineiden doesn’t feature very many women – but for a show of its time, it’s still probably the least sexist anime I have ever watched, precisely because it doesn’t resort to patronising stunts to show off its females. Karin aside, there are no Black-Lagoon-ish tough chicks with bombs and bazookas, no Olivia Milla Armstrongs to make the men cower in the shadow of their impractical hairdos – just one harmless-looking Hildegard von Mariendorf with her astute wisdom and immaculate pantsuit. A big part of why I like Hilda so much, is precisely how I am nothing like her, and will never understand her. Seriously, who falls in love with a whackjob like the Kaiser? Normal women would be pulling up their skirts and running in the opposite direction. But nah, Annerose and Kircheis could win Reinhard over by virtue of their childhood bonds; Hilda had to fight it out with skills and smarts, and she got there in the end, didn’t she? You don’t need an Ezra Scarlet or Kill La Kill to empower the women of anime – you just need Hildegard von Mariendorf to open her mouth and put every High Admiral and Commander in the room to shame.

5. Dusty Attenborough

Dusty

Honestly, when Gineiden gets funny, nothing else comes close – and I normally find Attenborough at the centre of it all. Most people might prefer the goofy Olivier Poplan, and that’s perfectly fine – for me, though, the girls and booze jokes grow tiresome real quick, and I like a little something more…clever. Gineiden is chock full of quotables and meme-worthy moments; and if anyone remembers the call to “win this war on foppery and whim”, or the musings of “if this were a third rate anime”, then I’ll have you know that you’ve already been charmed by the glib tongue of the swashbuckling Dusty Attenborough. But that’s not all there is to Attenborough – like many other nobles subordinates, he’s best contented being a follower, and what a wise move, because that’s probably where he shines the brightest. After all that stiff-necked shouting from the uptight Imperial army, it’s nice to engage in battle with a smug, good-natured tactician executing orders from above…and Attenborough never fails to keep me at the edge of my seat.

4. Julian Mintz

Julianmintz

Why won’t any other long-running shounen series learn from Gineiden? If you have a show that’s abnormally long, then the best way to introduce your main character is never through the first episode, let alone flamboyantly announce “THIS IS THE MAIN CHARACTER” (yes, Naruto?). Now wait a minute, you say, are you calling Julian Mintz the main character of Gineiden? What pills have you been taking? Well, I’ll concede that Julian doesn’t necessarily start out as the main character – but hey, look what Madoka Magica did, and tell me Gineiden didn’t do it first. If I could have it my way, I’d describe Gineiden as a story of Julian Mintz’s growth; a story of how  he comes to learn and appreciate the true nature of the conflict between democracy and autocracy, and indeed, the true nature of war and peace. Being thrust into a world of accomplished yet messed-up adults, Julian matures a whole lot faster than any kid his age – and has to come to grips with feelings of ambition, hope, grief, regret, and even love. By the end of it all, if you don’t at least look back on Gineiden’s EDs (especially the third one) and feel like your heart is being skewered with feels, I wonder how you even made it through the fourth arc, since that’s where Julian Mintz becomes the new author of the legend. Unless you’re a diehard Galactic Empire fan…which is possibly the case.

3. Reinhard von Lohengramm

Kaiserreinhard

[SPOILER ALERT] Yes, Kaiser Reinhard is so cool…at least, up until he allowed Emil von Selle to poison his food and courted his own steady decline. Beyond his own loyal retainers, I like to think the whole Gineiden team pledged their undying allegiance to him right from the start of production – since you can really tell how back in the 1980s, the studio bombed the bulk of their allocated frames and colours on animating Reinhard’s hairflips alone. Many of us live in an age where the rise of modern democracy would make anyone denounce dictatorship as archaic and the mother of all holocausts, but here comes Reinhard von Lohengramm to turn your world upside down and champion the cause of autocracy. The craziest thing is that he actually succeeds at swaying our hearts – is it his confidence? His charisma? His compassion? At his peak, Reinhard’s character is one to be experienced, not described. And yet, as is the case with all great leaders, Reinhard’s a desperately lonely person, and it’s hard not to feel a strange sympathy every time he tugs at his locket. And of course, as is the case with all youthful prodigies, there’s also the kick you get out of seeing an inexperienced lover turn moe over a bouquet of roses. Well, whatever it is, I think we can all agree that there’s no one who can even come close to touching the magnificence of the Kaiser who turns his back on his allies and faces his enemies – and what more can I say, other than Sieg Kaiser!

2. Yang Wen-li

yang

[SPOILER ALERT] Somewhere out there in this world, this man exists. I had the same feeling with Monster’s Kenzo Tenma, and every time I see Yang reclining in his chair, cap over his face, I get that same fuzzy feeling that humanity has hope as long as such good people remain amongst us. Some might point out that the Alliance has their own Kamina, too – but no, I just can’t see it that way with Yang; everything about him is not in appearances, but in the liquid-gold wisdom that gushes forth from his mouth. It feels incredible to think that I learnt more from Yang Wen-li than many other 3D mentors in my life – but that’s how it goes. I don’t have much else to say about Yang, other than the fact that long after the series ended, I still can’t accept the fact that he’s passed on. This is probably the saddest thing I have to say of any character here, but Yang Wen-li betrayed me, somehow, when he departed. To that extent, he confuses me as much as Oberstein does, in a different sense. How could someone so good and humble deserve an end like that? Like Frederica says, he’s the kind of guy to live long into old age, gradually forgotten by the world, surrounded by his grandchildren and his books, peacefully plodding on with each day until he no longer awakens. Because of him, I adamantly refuse to touch any of the other movies and series in the Gineiden franchise – because once I see everything there is, he’ll disappear forever. Sounds pretty sad but profound, doesn’t it?

Moving on from something so depressing, we’ve finally come to my favourite character of Gineiden…which you can probably already guess through a process of elimination, but here goes anyway.

1. Wolfgang Mittermeyer (and Evangeline Mittermeyer)

evawolf

Alright, I cheated, Wolf and Eva are two characters – but hey, I wouldn’t have loved one as much without the other, and boy, do I looove both of them. Together. But let’s talk about Wolf first.

[SPOILER ALERT] I put my hands up in surrender, and confess I love Wolf because my gamble with declaring him as my favourite character paid off when he survived to the end (ha), but nevertheless, up until the final credits rolled, I never got tired of fangirling whenever the Gale Wolf appeared on-screen. If Yang Wen-li personifies humility, then Wolfgang Mittermeyer personifies honour through and through. As a Fleet Admiral, Mittermeyer is one of the rare gems who walks his talk, starting off his career by getting court-martialled and detained for all the righteous executions he’s eventually going to commit again at the height of his power (only this time no snobby aristocrat can say anything about it). I mean, sure, he can get a little short-tempered at times, and he’s certainly no Yang or Reinhard in terms of intellectual prowess, but who needs to have brains spilling out of your ears when you wield a heart of integrity? Also, this man turns the entire concept of loyalty right on it’s head and echoes the words first enunciated in the cult-hit Akira – if anyone’s going to kill someone, it’s got to be his friends, not his enemies; and it’s partially thanks to Mittermeyer that Gineiden starts its closing arc on one of the most heart-wrenching battles of all space history.

If this isn't honour in the highest degree, I don't know what is...

(Episode 72) If this isn’t honour in the highest degree, I don’t know what is…

Military affairs aside, he’s pretty much the only gentleman in the entire show who knows how to do a marriage proposal right, and once that’s over and done with…the greatest fairy tale romance of all time begins. I mean, seriously, Admiral, what’s up with chastising Bayerlain for his lack of flirting skills when your waifu literally got delivered to your doorstep?

Comes in new animation, too...

Aww……

While I’m on a roll here – does anyone else realise that none of the top anime waifus are actually, er, real wives? Enter Evangeline Mittermeyer, my personal pick for the greatest anime waifu of all time – she cooks (bouillon fondue), sews, is a natural with children… I don’t care if radical feminists think she’s some archetypal oppressed Angel in the House; her marriage with Wolf is the cutest thing I have ever seen, and reminds me that more anime need to tell the other side of the story: you want a good waifu, first be a good hasubando. In closing, I guess watching these two gave me the happiest feelings I could ever have in a show about warfare and conflict. For fear of regressing into gloom, I shall avoid quoting what Frederica Greenhill says of democracy and Yang, and simply say this – really, beyond the blood and battles, there’s an unparalleled joy in leaving it all behind, returning home to the ones you love. Gineiden gives us exhilarating battles, but it gives us sweet moments like this as well. I don’t know how this show does it. Long live Wolf, Eva, and Felix Mittermeyer.

And that concludes my top 10 favourite Gineiden characters. I’ll probably say this again in the future, but here’s the thing – with characters as noble and righteous as these, it’s my firm belief that people who watch Gineiden just to put down every other show learnt absolutely nothing from it. Gineiden and its phenomenal cast are something I can never fully put into words, and for me to even try to do that here…I probably haven’t done justice to anyone one of these legendary heroes. But then, how does one even begin to express the depth and power of a legend? I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t driven insane by anticipation of the rumoured remake…if only just to see these people again.

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Special – My Top 5 Favourite Anime of 2014

FSNUBW

A very happy new year to one and all! Here’s looking back on last year and reminiscing about the best times I had with last year’s shows. In the wake of 2012’s Sword Art Online and 2013’s Attack on Titan, it’s interesting to think that 2014 doesn’t come attached with its own monstrously pre-hyped show that stands as the year’s hallmark anime…yet, I think I like it that way. It gives one more space to approach everything with an open mind.

Now, the title of this post itself looks pretty self-explanatory, but hold your horses and pay careful attention to some disclaimers I’m going to throw out. To begin with, I didn’t watch every show that aired in 2014; and to be completely honest I didn’t finish a huge number of them. The shows I considered, simply had to have had seasons with final episodes that finished airing anywhere between 1st January 2014 and 30th December 2014. And…because I use the word “favourite” very strongly, this is in no way a critical appraisal of what I think were the “best” shows of 2014 – goodness knows I can’t give an opinion on that unless I watch more.

Instead, what I give to you are 5 shows which earned a pretty special place in my heart, for personal reasons that I won’t try hard to defend. Be it nostalgia, preference, or a very simple case of having watched the right show with the right mood, these 5 titles are special for different reasons, which I’ll try my best to expound on. In fact, I liked them so much, that I haven’t written a synopsis for any of them, so as to keep their plots completely unspoiled.

Is there any more I can say? I don’t think so. Without further ado, coming in at number 5 is…

5) Free! Eternal Summer

Free Eternal Summer

Nah, this show really doesn’t deserve to be here, but I’m going with my integrity and putting it here anyway. Because so much of 2014 was spent waiting eagerly for each weekly episode to come out, watching it with family and friends, and squealing for hours on end about all the, uh, well-animated strokes, in every last frame of this splashfest. Yes, Free! can be summarised as manservice, manservice, and more manservice, but look, if I had a fetish for headtilts, then Mekaku City Actors would have clinched this place. I like what I like, Free! delivers it in a way which doesn’t make me feel guilty, I give it two thumbs up.

Not that it was all swimming trunks and nothing else. Free! has the same effect as sitting through the It’s A Small World ride at Disneyland – it artificially injects happiness and hope into me every time, psycho-ing me into thinking that all dreams are achievable. I don’t know how KyoAni does it; they just do. Credit goes where credit is due…

4) Aldnoah.Zero

Aldnoah Asseylum

I’ll be honest here, I like the mecha genre in general, but the mecha genre in general doesn’t want me to like it. So it fills its own empty spaces with complicated political space wars that span centuries, and requires having a brain that can hold the Oxford dictionary’s worth of cockpit terminology, in order to appreciate. Yes, I’m looking at you, Gundam. Anyway, Aldnoah.Zero was impressive because it was somehow able to engage me, without weaving a backdrop that was beyond my layman brain.

Also, I’ll be honest about this – I loved season 1’s cliffhanger. You are entitled to find that it was written for nothing more than its shock factor, or for the sake of a mandatory Urobutcher touch – and I am happy to disagree. Regardless of how season 2 pans out, I enjoyed the 12 episodes that 2014 gave us. They weren’t necessarily excellent, and I’m increasingly less inclined to finding Hiroyuki Sawano’s compositions outstandingly original (why is there always that German lady screaming), but hey, you want to watch a mecha show which isn’t Gundam? Here you go.

3) Golden Time

Golden Time

Golden Time is…special. Not everyone will get why. I’ve talked to a few people who are hung up about Linda-senpai; it’s inevitable. But if you’re looking to improve a relationship you’re currently in, or thinking about how you’d act if you ever got into one…then watch this. And be amazed. I know I was; Kouko is now my all-time role model waifu. I refuse to say that Golden Time is unique because of how different it is as compared to other romance anime; since I’m not even entirely sure it’s a romance. There’s none of that blushing and second-guessing, just a whole load of arguing and frustration.

But boy, the light at the end of the tunnel is so rewarding. If you’re one of those who truly get what it’s driving at, then Golden Time repeatedly shoots and scores with every episode, recreating every painful but foundational moment in working through the kinks in a relationship. Above all, it always stresses how imperfect people are, while being equally adamant that everyone’s flaws can be overcome with hard work and communication. Attention all boys with pushy, jealous girlfriends…try this one out, you shouldn’t be disappointed.

2) Ping Pong the Animation

Ping Pong the animation

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s put it out there, but this badly needs to reiterated once more. If you took one look at the promotional art for this show and decided that you were going to avoid it like the plague, well shame on you, because you really missed out. Though I have to say, it’s hard to feel sorry for anyone missing out, when you’re too busy soaking in Ping Pong’s awesomeness to even notice.

Where do I even begin? For me, Ping Pong naturally burst in as the exact kind of anime which I am so attracted to – a mature story with very, very likeable characters. In a twist completely relatable to reality, it gives us no true protagonists or antagonists, just a bunch of equally arrogant young boys who fumble and klutz their way towards achieving their dreams. If Peco and Smile don’t have you tearing yourself silly in the last episode, then boy do you have a brick for a heart! It’s downright appalling to hear of a sports anime which makes you completely indifferent as to the outcome of a match, but Ping Pong does just that. It’s a brilliant character study through and through, and no words can ever explain how completely underrated I feel this show is.

And clinching the number 1 spot is none other than…

1) Silver Spoon

Silver Spoon

Judging by how many times I’ve mentioned this show, this really shouldn’t come as any surprise. And yet, just because I can’t say it enough, Silver Spoon is one of the best things to come out of anime in a long while. Hiromu Arakawa’s other work, Fullmetal Alchemist, is certainly one of the top shounen series out there. But Silver Spoon, while masquerading as a slice-of-life story, manages to exist in a dimension all by itself, and somehow defies all straightforward categorisation. It’s not a comedy, it’s not an adventure. It’s a motivational speech dressed in subtlety and style. It’s hilariously funny without being crude, and horrendously heart-breaking without ever being pessimistic.

You can only say two words to the people who make this kind of show, these being the words thank you. Because it deserves nothing less. This show set my attitude for 2014. Who cares if it isn’t popular or particularly pretty? Because here it is, folks, this was my favourite show of 2014. I know I’ve said that high expectations can ruin a show. But when it comes to Silver Spoon, I think no amount of expectations can ever damage its raw power. If there’s nothing else you take away from this post, I hope you will at least get around to watching the first five episodes of its first season. Warning: just not on an empty stomach…

And that concludes it – my favourite anime of 2014. I think it’s been a great year, not because it gave me some amazing shows, but because it gave everyone something to remember. I saw the Sword Art Online fans praising the skies out of No Game No Life, the old Cowboy Bebop fans revelling in stuff like Space Dandy and Zankyou no Terror, slice-of-life enthusiasts celebrating Barakamon, and others giving love to Akame Ga Kill and Tokyo Ghoul. Granted, there are times when anime like Attack on Titan are able to unite a sizeable number of the anime community. But at the same time, it’s equally fun for everyone to have different tastes, and find different things to enjoy. Isn’t that diversity precisely what we love about anime? Looking forward to 2015 and the exciting things it has in store!

Special – Top 5 Anime Male Characters

Simon

Today, an outrageously long post from me, but probably something more exciting to read about – my favourite male anime characters. Before I jump into the list, I suppose I have to issue the traditional warnings about spoilers, expectations, reviewer integrity and all that jazz, but I’ll try not to waste words on things which should be plainly obvious.

1) With the first obvious thing being, that this is my list. I will repeatedly call it “my list”, as opposed to “this list”, so as to reiterate the point.

2) There may be spoilers, and though I’ll try my best to avoid unnecessary ones, I don’t think that I can do a well-rounded discussion of the characters if certain plot points aren’t brought up.

3) This is a list of male, not female characters. I’ll write a list of my favourite female anime characters soon, although the mysoginistic nature of anime in general, makes it very difficult to come up with a half-decent list for the ladies.

4) I don’t profess to have seen all anime yet, so I’m probably going to miss some characters out, but drop me a comment on your favourites and I’d love to check them out!

5) This may be disappointing to some, but this is not a list of my opinion on the coolest male anime characters ever. I love Vash the Stampede and Spike Spiegel as much as anyone, but to be very honest, let’s admit it, it’s not that hard to write a cool character well. Give him a mysterious past, which he either covers up by being goofy or cold-blooded, give him cool hair and cool clothes and a few love interests, and above all equip him with a cool weapon and have him be the best fighter in the story. And he’ll sell you figurines by the millions. My favourite anime characters tend to be those who are characterised well, have a solid background which gives convincing reasons for their personalities, and who have good development. So don’t expect Izaya or Alucard here, because that’s not exactly what I’m attracted to in the long run. I might do a list of cool anime characters someday, but just to spoil the anticipation I’ll have you know straight up that Kaiser Reinhard von Lohengramm is my bias.

Well, that was short. Was considering an honourable mentions list, but I realised it would make this entire post a miniature novel, so let’s just keep to the list of 5. Here we go!

#5 Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Edward Elric

Before I give Edward his airtime, let me do a spot of unpaid advertising by saying that I can guarantee anyone will like anything written by Hiromu Arakawa. Fullmetal Alchemist was an outstanding piece of art in all respects, and rightfully deserves its popularity, but let’s not also forget that it stands as a testament of Arakawa’s genuine spirit and maturity in her craft – and I will demonstrate what I mean later.

Right, so onto Edward. If you weren’t already familiar with the outrageously popular Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, here’s a casual synopsis of Edward’s background. So Edward and his younger brother Alphonse (well deserving of nii-san‘s spot on this honour roll, if not for my reluctance to award two characters from the same show) grow up in the backwater countryside town of Risembool, estranged from their eccentric and absent Alchemist father Hoenheim, raised by their loving and warm mother Trisha. As children, the Elric brothers fast become Alchemy prodigies, and this prodigious intellect of theirs becomes their ultimate downfall when Trisha dies and they attempt her ressurection via a forbidden practice known as Human Transmutation. The experiment to recreate Trisha goes horribly wrong, with Edward losing both his arm and leg in the process, and Alphonse having his soul affixed to a suit of armour. In stiffening their resolve to further their research into Alchemy and the Philosopher’s Stone so as to restore their bodies, Edward undergoes prosthetic surgery to gain mechanical limbs, and ultimately sacrifices his dignity in becoming a State Alchemist. And as a State Alchemist, there probably couldn’t be a more iconic title to bestow upon him, than that of the Fullmetal Alchemist.

I love the way Edward has been both designed and characterised. He’s both stubborn and seemingly heartless, but unexpectedly compassionate and mature at the same time, often delving into philosphical territory no other soldier nor alchemist likes to go to. It is Edward who pushes and defends the boundaries of what it means to be a human being, reflected in the instances where he reacts to Nina’s plight, or responds to No. 84 by citing his recognition of Alphonse’s humanity. Or even that moment where he buries the failed experiment, and that moment where he feels conflicted in using human energy gifted to him by a monstrous Envy.

And yet, Edward remains relatable because we as audience, are constantly reminded that he himself is very flawed and broken. His mechanical arm is testament of the fact that he underwent a deeply painful lesson, giving even more weight to the moments when he demonstrates his almost childlike fascination and respect for the concept of home and family, or his undying mantra to move forward and not look back, right down to the cruel concept of equivalent exchange as the reason he and Alphonse were punished for their deviance.

I could cite his relationship with Alphonse or his father as being further reasons why he stands out as an amazing protagonist, but here’s the real reason why Edward is on my list. And it’s a personal reason. He’s here because he transcends all other shounen protagonists in terms of depth and substance. And what I mean by that, is that Edward’s values and ideals, not his prowess and powers (impressive as they are), garners our respect and admiration. Fullmetal Alchemist was never once about developing Alchemy skills, or becoming a more skilled fighter – it is really a tale of inner growth, and ultimately, the acceptance that a person really is very fragile and helpless about a good many things. We have never loved Edward for what he could do, but who he is. Anyone who has watched until the beautiful ending of this very beautiful show, will probably best understand what I mean.

#4 Suzaku Kururugi from Code Geass

Suzaku Kururugi

Hold your horses, I know what you’re thinking. What? Not Lelouch Lamperouge, the single most entertaining, suave, devilish, mad genius the world has ever seen? You didn’t like the evil laughs and the masterfully orchestrated plans for global domination? You didn’t like his sister complex and his loyal harem?

So first, let me just say that anyone desiring a nice ramble on Lelouch’s brilliance can head straight over to my Code Geass review; it’s all there. Second, let’s talk about Suzaku now. Suzaku Kururugi grows up as a wealthy Japanese brat, living in the shadow of his father the Japanese Prime Minister, Genbu Kururugi. All is well, until the day the Britannian Empire decides to invade Japan, and his father is murdered during the negotiation process – thus throwing Japan into a state of pandemonium, and allowing it to be conquered by Britannia. A now teenaged Suzaku, believing that the true way to gain independence for Japan is to change the system from the inside, thus takes up honorary Britannian citizenship, joins the Britannian military, and rises up its ranks as an elite soldier. The trouble begins when the movenment for independence for Japan instead becomes spearheaded by a terrorist group known as the Black Knights, who are led by their charismatic masked leader Zero. As a Britannian soldier deployed as a special unit against the resistance, Suzaku thus finds himself battling his own goal, his own people, and ultimately his own friends.

I love Suzaku for complicated reasons, I’ll admit – but let’s try to dissect them here. The first is that he was a fine specimen of a hypocrite I felt didn’t get on my nerves, mostly because I could understand what he was getting at. Suzaku’s all-encompassing mantra, that ‘any ends gained through contemptible means are worthless’, is the driving force of his direction as a character, and serves as a device for the show’s conflicts and moral quandries. In the first season, Suzaku maintains a stubborn naivety about the weight of his creed, doing his best as a soldier while doing a thousand atrocious things along the way – all of which involve being a hindrance to the Black Knights, as well as having a particular knack for avoiding killing as part of his military duties, despite having pledged traitorous allegiance to the Britannian Army. His choice to choose the haplessly idealistic, pacifist route takes a toll on him in the second season, and thereupon he descends into ruthless insanity, himself becoming utterly contemptible in his attempt to use refrain on Kallen, and a rather sneaky attack on Lelouch during a Student Council carnival.

Although Lelouch’s dramatic method of aggression and smarts seemed way cooler during the run, I actually found myself being more grounded in supporting Suzaku’s ideals, and I definitely respected his character’s portrayal of the price of those ideals. This is mostly due to the fact that I felt Suzaku underwent many emotional struggles that went largely unnoticed. While Zero could wear a mask and be adored by his loyal Japanese supporters as a hero for justice, Suzaku Kururugi – first knight to Princess Euphemia and later the Knight of Seven – chose to go without the mask, earning himself hatred and scorn from his own race even while he fought for them. While Zero was surrounded by loyal cronies who would commit kamikaze for him, Suzaku had to live amidst racial discrimination, both at work and at school. And while Lelouch’s motivation for even beginning his campaign was Nunnally, Suzaku had lost his friends and family by the time he began his military career, highlighting the genuineness of his determination. Yeah, and you could say that he rediscovered ‘someone worth fighting for’ in Euphemia, and then, you know – he still shows up in the second season. Hardened, yes, but still present.

You got it, Suzaku Kururugi wins a place in my heart because of the unconventional courage he showed, from his introduction as the heinous traitor cum goody-two-shows, right up to his tragic fate at the finale of the story. In an age which teaches us that courage involves piloting the world’s largest mecha or facing the world’s greatest villain, we must remember that braver yet is the man who stands up to his friends than to his enemies. Suzaku may not have been the true star of Code Geass, and certainly not the most popular, but I suppose it would be fair to say that no hypocrite has ever showed more guts in sticking to his guns.

#3 Yuugo Hachiken from Silver Spoon

Yuugo Hachiken

I said I’d demonstrate why anything Hiromu Arakawa writes is worth reading, and here’s my answer. Has anyone heard of Silver Spoon? Because Silver Spoon is simply amazing, and because will you believe it, she actually created a character who could top Edward! And a nerdy aimless city boy with no Alchemy power at that!

Yes, my number three spot goes to Yuugo Hachiken, a lesser known character in anime lore, but still remarkable nonetheless. So teenager Hachiken hails from the Japanese city of Sapporo, where not all is right with his life. He faces constant parental pressure to do well in his academics, and eventually fails his local high school entrance exams. As a result, he both seeks to run away from home, as well as plonk himself in an environment where he can be studiously outstanding. The chance of a lifetime appears when he is encouraged by his middle school form teacher to apply to Yezo Agricultural High School, which, as its name suggests, is a high school in the countryside which specialises in teaching agriculture. Thus begins the classic fish-out-of-water tale as Hachiken finds himself launched into the bizarre new culture of farming and livestock, where everyday lessons involve milking cows and feeding pigs, and his new friends are seasoned farmhands back on family ranches.

Like Edward, Hachiken is just so well characterised. He is rash and honest, but lovably so, since all the other characters gravitate towards his awkward sincerity. He complains and whines about a good many things, but ends up working hard behind the scenes at most everything he is asked to do. He professes good grades to be the motivation for his driven nature, yet as time goes by, he sheds a competitive exterior in favour of helping others out – his friendship with Tokiwa being ample evidence of an intrinsic selflessness. While studying once became a crippling burden, he recognises that it was an environment which killed his love for knowledge, a trait most youths nowadays might readily empathise with.

But more importantly, I love Hachiken, because his growth as a person is just downright inspirational. His overarching dilemma in the show, is that he does not have a clear goal in life, a problem made all the more clear because of the company he happens to hang out with. With Yoshino bent on building her cheese empire, Komaba wanting the best of both worlds in agriculture and baseball, and even characters like Tokiwa and Nishikawa desiring nothing more than to take over the family business, Hachiken’s embarrassing lack of a direction sets the stage for the plot. I love how he starts the story with a skewed misconception that life is easier for those who already have a dream, only to learn from Aikawa and Mikage that inner demons can be the stumbling block to achieving those dreams, or from Komaba, that unrelenting external forces can well dash dreams too. And I love the fact that while the second season does not conclude with him having found a clear goal, he instead takes things one at a time, finding much joy and satisfaction from helping others achieve their own desires.

All in all, I think Hachiken does what few slice-of-life protagonists do, in presenting a mature picture of everyday struggles. Silver Spoon is certainly not about his struggle with girls (because goodness knows how many times that’s been done to death), nor his struggle with rejection and loneliness (because I think I’ve seen one too many anime characters start out friendless for no convincing reason – case in point, Toradora!’s Ryuuji, Kimi Ni Todoke’s Sawako etc). Hachiken struggles with establishing himself before his parents, finding a true purpose behind what he does, and allowing his life lessons at Yezo to shape his person.  Above all, Hachiken’s journey with the pigs, cows and horses in the farming industry, teaches him that the first failure is not a reason to give up, and that as a human being, it is a blessing to have ample chances to get up and continue. Which is a truth that, embarrassingly enough, brings tears to my eyes when I write this. In short, you should really go watch Silver Spoon right now, and whenever a third season comes out (please!), you know I’ll be a happy girl.

#2 Kenzo Tenma from Naoki Urasawa’s Monster

Kenzo Tenma

Here we go again. I know what you’re about to say. What? Not Johan Liebert? Not the greatest anime villain in all history? You didn’t like his chilling voice and creepy bishounen face? You didn’t like to see his manipulation of young children and flawless impersonation of his twin sister?

Well, first up, I can’t actually argue with the statement that Johan is the greatest anime villain of all time, because I think he totally is, and I can’t say I love the poor disturbed young man (because that would be disturbing), though I’d hedge my bets on Johan if there ever were an epic rap battle between him and Light Yagami, so let’s leave it at that. In the meantime, let’s move on to Dr Tenma. Dr Tenma is a young expatriate from Japan, who works as a rising neurosurgical prodigy at Eisler Memorial Hospital, in Heidelberg, Germany. Kind-hearted and dedicated to his work, he holds an engagement to the hospital director’s daughter and has a pending promotion, with all this looking set to give him a bright and smooth future ahead. That is, until corrupt hospital practices alarm him, and he winds up choosing to perform a surgery on a young boy instead of the town’s mayor. Hereafter, the mayor’s death causes Tenma to lose both his fiancée and his promotion, and his life descends into temporal bleakness. Subsequently, the sudden and mysterious death of the director and his colleagues allows Tenma to rejuvenate his career, and for the next nine years, he continues to work at Eisler, seemingly content and satisfied. Disaster strikes when a murderous mastermind starts to begin a killing spree in society, and Tenma comes to the realisation that in saving a young boy’s life, he has in fact resurrected a monster…

So we’ve had an alchemist, a soldier, and a farmer on this list, and now we have a doctor. In the same way that Atticus Finch is the literary paragon of all the virtues the noble lawyer should have, Dr Kenzo Tenma downright blows every other fictional doctor out the water. And there are just too many ways Monster illustrates this. His choice to save the little boy, his care for the criminal patient Adolf Junkers, his final decision at the climax of the story – everything simply points to the fact that Tenma entered the profession with the very best of intentions, and that he remained grounded in his values to the very end.

This is so important because Monster doesn’t just present Tenma as a do-gooder, but as a very conflicted human being who does a lot of good. Each and every crisis Tenma faces usually ends with him choosing the difficult but righteous path, and yet the journey towards every such decision is downright excruciating to watch at times. I could really feel my heart lift at the very start of the show, where he barges into the operating theatre with the little boy inside, insisting on saving his life, only to have it sink into a bottomless pit when superiors and friends turn on him for his choice. Or how his rejection of Eva Heineman turns from a victorious whoop (she is so awful it’s so fun to hate her) to sombre tragedy when he walks away sadly, shoulders hunched, probably thinking about how he had just chosen to give up a rich, beautiful woman because her true colours were anything but pretty to look at. And while Johan Liebert truly is a dastardly villain, there’s a really depressing sense of “Do you really have to?” when Tenma makes up his mind to end Johan’s life, because there’s injustice that a man who saved so many lives should have his hands tainted with a single murder. His character is just so original, because Tenma isn’t “kind” – as tends to be the case with every bubbly, self-sacrificing anime waifu nowadays – rather, he is just so good. And it’s difficult to watch a good person be in pain, which is precisely what the emotional rollercoaster that was Monster, made me feel.

Dr Tenma wins an honourable second place on my list, because he is an honourable person through and through. His struggles were heavy and real, and every noble choice he made visibly took its toll on him. We see him turn from a respectable surgeon in a pristine white lab coat, to a homeless tramp in a shabby trenchcoat, but this conversely made me root for him over and over rather than complain about him ‘losing his coolness’, as we are always to tempted to do in our moments of shallowness (I will never get over the hate Hei received in Darker than Black season 2). I think that ultimately, Tenma touched me with his genuineness and simplicity, and I look to him as the role model I want to be. Never before has a fictional doctor made me want to shove Monster in the face of all medical students, because his goodness simply deserves that amount of recognition.

And now for my favourite anime character of all time…

#1 Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion, The End of Evangelion

Shinji Ikari

Say what you like, Shinji is first and I’m not ashamed of this. While I think that anyone who would rather stick him on a list of greatest wimps to ever come out of anime is perfectly justified in doing so, I would, at the same time, prefer to seek solace in the fact that at least one fairly respectable site agrees with  me on why he should be here.

So the list ends with a mecha pilot (though not the first), but then again, does it really? The story of Evagelion starts with Shinji Ikari as a teenage boy, abandoned from a young age by his heartless father, Gendo Ikari. Gendo just so happens to be the director of Nerv, an institution created to destroy curious beings who have come to attack Earth. These beings, known ironically as Angels, can only be defeated by sentient monsters just like themselves, the mechas known as Evangelion. Hereupon, Shinji is summoned by his father to pilot his very own Eva unit, 01, and destroy the advancing enemy. All goes well for the plot in the first fifteen or so episodes, where Shinji is repeatedly forced to annihilate Angels, and where it becomes painfully obvious that he is far from the brave, courageous hero the audience is hoping for. Then the second half of the series kicks in, and Shinji’s mental state goes down a merry spiral as he slowly loses his closest companions…

To extricate any semblance of coherence from the mess that is Evangelion, is really a futile task, but Shinji is a pretty decent starting point. Shinji starts off as a reclusive, withdrawn 14 year old, plagued with the ‘Hedgehog’s Dilemna’ of desiring distance from others so as not to get hurt by the relationship. Which, to me, immediately makes it completely believable that he winds up friendless, since it is his rejection of others which causes his loneliness, rather than some uncanny resemblance to a yakuza or vengeful spirit (still looking at you, Ryuuji and Sawako!). This inner conflict has been created as a result of a very traumatic childhood, in which his father abandoned him, and in which his mother was nowhere to be found. I find it fascinating that there are many layers to Shinji’s struggle – his initial aloofness towards Misato being a reflection of motherhood’s foreign nature to him, his relationship with Asuka being his search for that mother figure which warps into the distracted search for a female friend, and his relationship with himself being a very bleak road of hatred and dislike.

Of course, all this is expounded in the metaphor that is Eva Unit 01, his mecha. While most mechas stand as a representation of power, or the gravity of conflict, the Evangelions are a symbol of maternal protection, and the child pilots are often seen crouching within in a fetal position, connected to its life force via a piece of equipment known as an Umbilical Cord. Thus Shinji’s progression of ‘syncing’ with Eva Unit 01, is ultimately a rediscovery of his need to be in the embrace of a mother, and that maternal love and affection is what can heal his wounds. And hereafter, the metaphorical concept of rebirth, and the choice to engage the Human Instrumentality Project, becomes the stepping stone for Shinji to confront the joy and pain of his own existence, and whether he wants to continue or end it.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is nothing short of the world’s most polarising anime, and I’m certainly not trying to start an internet flame war here. But I’ll say this. There are anime which explore what it means to a human alchemist, a human student, a human soldier, a human doctor, a human leader, a human geek, but none come close to exploring what it means to be human. And that is what Evangelion succeeds in doing. It’s hard to truly call Shinji a mecha pilot, because that’s not the point of the show. Instead, in him we see a very ugly reflection of some of our worst qualities – the shame in being too  weak to stand up to pain, the guilty preference to run away from problems and selfishly implicating others in the process, the tendency to label oneself as worthless no matter what our talents may be (here I make a quick reference to Shinji’s cello playing), the instinctive pleasure in receiving praise and the trap of momentary arrogance, the unfathomable insistence on pleasing others despite how weak and disgusting the notion sounds. I could go on and on, but it’s about time to wrap up.

All in all, Shinji is certainly a character who is very unlikeable in a traditional sense. But he is certainly not unlikeable because he is poorly written. On the contrary, his abhorrent flaws are probably what unsettles and bites at an audience who would rather be treated to visions of heroism and victory. I adore him, mostly for the final moments of the original series – and yeah, I am referring to the 50 minutes of cheap animation and excessive voice acting. In it, we see his mind muse the possibilities of a happier reality (tell me who hasn’t done this in the depths of innermost turmoil?), eventually coming to the realisation that a change in his mindset, and not a change in his circumstances, is the key to moving on and appreciating individual existence over Instrumentality. I can’t describe how moving and beautiful it was to me, though it probably was more frustrating than seeing Makoto Itou’s face to many of you. But then, to me, that’s because there’s something very truthful in changing one’s outlook over one’s externalities.

And to me, Shinji stands at the pinnacle of all characters to ever come out in anime, because he brings us back to the fundamentals of human despair and ask ourselves the painful questions we especially hate hearing from others. Are you broken? Are you aware that you are choosing to run away rather than confront? Do you choose escapism and self-dejection to make a point to others? What do you feel about your own flaws? Can you accept them? Can you accept both the joy and pain of your own reality? Evangelion brings up a curious proposition. It posits that the root of our struggles doesn’t lie in our lack of courage, or lack of morality, or even lack of hope. It lies in the lack of love we have for ourselves, which, as Shinji demonstrates, is deep seated in our worst and most traumatic experiences. It is our inability to reconcile with ourselves that cripples us. But you know what? As Shinji tells us, to the one who overcomes that, to the one who says, “I think I can love myself”, here’s one word for you. Congratulations.

And thus we have come to this very very long post, which I hope has made you think about your own favourite characters in anime, and why they are your favourites. Anime, as a medium, is so diverse and expressive, and it’s only through such an art style that raw and riveting personalities can be crafted. Hopefully, good character development never takes a back seat to mass appeal, and that we see more and more memorable figures come out of new titles.

Special: Fullmetal Alchemist – Original or Brotherhood?

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Today, I thought that I’d give my two cents worth on a topic mentioned somewhat sporadically in the anime community – the franchise known as Fullmetal Alchemist. With so much hype and popularity surrounding Brotherhood, and with legions of fanboys lauding the 2009 reboot as the infinitely superior version of the 2003 deviant, I thought that I’d take a step back and address all these claims from a more objective perspective. Is Brotherhood inexorably better than its predecessor?

Bearing in mind, of course, that I watched the original way back before Brotherhood was even birthed, then bought the manga and become horribly depressed when the final chapter was published in 2009 (call it the void), and finally watched Brotherhood twice, first in 2010, and then in 2013. So all my remarks are likely to be skewed, given that Brotherhood was the more recent experience, but here we go.

In any case, this mini ramble is going to be taken in 3 parts. First, I’ll address the reasons why Brotherhood is worshipped on a pedestal the way it is. Second, I’ll address the merits of the original series in a comparative way, although I’m hoping not to engorge it into a review of any sort. Finally, I’ll conclude with a more personal take on what I think about comparisons between the two.

Why Brotherhood?

So first up, there must be some justification upon which people insist that Brotherhood trumps the original Fullmetal Alchemist “in every aspect”, or so I’ve heard. And I can list not one, but several reasons for this statement.

I like to think that the masses adore Brotherhood because of its faithfulness to Hiromu Arakawa’s original work. I say this because the internet is overladen with source-material elitists who bash on movie adaptations that so much as change a single line from the original book, or change the hair colour of a lead protagonist (“Isn’t Sam supposed to have long, blonde hair in Perks?”). In the anime community, we see people snobbishly advocating reading the “manga ending”, or, if we remove it one step, sub elitists complaining of bleeding ears from listening to an English dub. No matter how good an adaptation is, it simply isn’t ‘acceptable’ unless it is congruent with its original material. Or whatever came before it. That’s basically because human territorial instincts kick in when the original fans refuse to accept that newbies are trying to associate themselves with their franchise, based on an ‘adulterated’ adaptation.

To me, that’s not a good reason to worship Brotherhood, because faithfulness often reflects a lack of creativity, rather than a healthy respect for the source material. But here’s a good reason to praise Brotherhood – it genuinely is technically superior in almost every way. The animation is beautiful and polished, the fight sequences are breathtaking and incredible. All five opening songs are more memorable than anything the original had to offer – though I’ll throw in a personal note that I have a soft spot for Rewrite.  The other pieces from the soundtrack are utilised wonderfully, successfully gripping your heart at just the right moments (just watch that scene where Edward and Alphonse quarrel in the hospital). The pacing, having followed Arakawa’s lead, is superb, striking a fine balance of gripping suspense that doesn’t border on frustrating. And needless to say, the whole show is, well, flawless. There’s very little to complain about.

The last reason I could possibly give for Brotherhood’s popularity, is, well, its conclusion. The original TV anime had a hopeful, but bittersweet ending, which leaves a healthy dose of stuff up to the viewer’s imagination. If you watch The Conqueror of Shamballa, the movie ending, you’ll love what happened to the Elric brothers, but you’ll probably hate what happens with Winry. (And Sensei.) Brotherhood gives everyone a happy ending overall, leaving no fans in the lurch of denial nor dissatisfaction. (Except Royeye, but hey, that happens in either adaptation.) It’s a feel good show, all in all. Though I’d like to argue that people who see only ‘happy’ endings as ‘good’ ones, are just being immature – but that’s not really the point here.

So I can cite faithfulness to the source material, a happier ending, and undoubtedly superior production quality, as reasons why someone would prefer Brotherhood over the original. But let’s simply assume that the only credible merit of Brotherhood is its production value. Does this mean that the original can never win its successor?

Why the Original?

Obviously not, and for two reasons. Every work must be evaluated with respect to its time, and maybe even its budget. To say that Princess Tutu has poorer animation than Madoka Magica is objectively true, but anyone can see that it’s an unworthy argument to indulge in, since one was made in 2000, the other in 2011. Similarly, with a span of about 3-4 years between both series, the quality of Brotherhood is unsurprisingly better, and it’s also a good reminder that the success of the first series paved the way for a more generous budget to produce the second.

The second thing to note, is that a good critique spends more time discussing what the show has to offer, rather than pointing out what it doesn’t. Let’s just use my favourite anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion, as an objective example. I can see full well that it has insane budgeting issues, and a plot that could make The Encyclopedia of Mankind look like your average Enid Blyton book, but I’d give it a personal recommendation because, love them or hate them, Evangelion has some of the most unusual characters to come out of anime, so that’s what’s going to leave an impression on a viewer. Similarly, I’d recommend Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo to experience a visual orgy replicated by no other show in existence, or Princess Tutu, to experience the use of a framed narrative. Every show deserves to be represented for its unique quirks and peculiarities, which distinguish it from other shows. And not be dissected by ticking off some checklist.

So, I’m now going to tell you three things that the original Fullmetal Alchemist has, which Brotherhood does not.

The original Fullmetal Alchemist is, to put it lightly, sick and twisted. It’s not for the young, and it’s not for the squeamish. And yes, yes, I know that Brotherhood also has the Elrics perform transmutation, the military manufacturing  immortal soldiers, and Shou Tucker…breeding talking chimeras. The reason why Brotherhood can still scrape a PG13 rating, is because as far as I can remember, while most of the disturbing stuff is gross, only the Shou Tucker episode could pass off as truly sadistic. The original Fullmetal Alchemist has Rose getting tricked into resurrecting her boyfriend as a chicken, the homunculi releasing Fossil Disease on a helpless village, and…Gluttony brainwashed into going on a binge. It has villains performing unspeakable evil on terrified victims, and even other villians, rather than the straightforward death-by-gunshot method of mindless massacre (in no way forgivable, either, but easier on the stomach, at any rate). It does something Brotherhood tried to do by metaphorical imagery, but doesn’t succeed as well in – it creates this dark and suffocating atmosphere, making every character genuinely feel like a pawn in a giant chess game.

I also appreciate that the original Fullmetal Alchemist proves how deviating from the source material can produce surprisingly good results. While Brotherhood has a watertight, well-paced plot, it can’t beat something the original had – the writer’s take on the origins of the homunculi. No, seriously, the homunculi are better villains in the original. They are more than villains to defeat; they are both threats and tragedies. Lust, Sloth, and Wrath, are the extrapolation of Brotherhood’s Greed, in that they just draw your sympathy so naturally; and having them defeated is never a clear-cut victory; more like an emotional dilemma. I always have this nagging wish that we could have the best of both worlds, you know, by incorporating this brainchild of an idea that the original had, but blossoming it under Arakawa’s pen. Oh well. I don’t think that will ever happen.

And now for my final praise of the original series – the character of Edward. Now, I’m not saying that I prefer him in the original, in fact, I almost see both versions of Edward as different characters. If I could praise Brotherhood Edward’s philosophy, and his relationship with his father, then I would praise the original Edward’s vulnerability, and his relationship with…his mother. I think the only time we ever see Edward cry in Brotherhood, is when he is shouting at Hoenheim, so all you Edward fangirls and Edwin shippers out there, go check the Barry the Chopper episode in the original. See what you make of it. Also, to those who actually have watched the original, you probably know that the Elric family is a little more messy there, and that Edward has a wee bit of a traumatic time defeating a certain homunculus…yeah, you know. Basically, original Edward just undergoes so much more torment that it’s honestly painful to watch. But hey, it gives a mature person more to think about.

So, what does all this mean? Am I hinting that I prefer the original over Brotherhood? That its merits are so good that they outweigh its flaws?

Brotherhood or Original?

Well…yes and no. I have to admit that I love the ideas in the original Fullmetal Alchemist more, I’m just bummed that the itty bitty technicalities, like scripting, didn’t allow these ideas to reach their full potential. Here’s where production value is so important – it builds on a pre-existing foundation, and takes a work of art to the next level. The origins of the homunculi, the truth behind the Gate: these were all mindblowing twists that, in comparison, blew Brotherhood’s military conspiracy right out the water.

So yes, I love the original for this, but sadly, I admit that I enjoyed Brotherhood more, and that it’s something I’m capable of watching over and over. It’s easier to enjoy, simple as that. No going to bed at night, with nightmares of Fossil Disease infecting you, no crying yourself silly because you couldn’t accept how lonely XXXXX looks in the end of the movie. Watching the original is kind of like watching Grave of the Fireflies, or 5 Centimetres Per Second, know what I mean? It’s something you do once, be profoundly and deeply affected, and never touch again for the rest of your life. (But you’ll still have that opening sequence with the burning photographs and Aaron Dismuke’s voice haunting your dreams.)

All in all, I can’t personally agree with the statement that Brotherhood is “a hundred times better” than the original, because anyone who insists this is either in denial, or is a shounen geek who only thinks highly of shows with lots of fists eating faces. While Brotherhood has well-deserved mass appeal and popularity, the original caters to a much more mature audience, and as such, should only be viewed by anyone who is above the age of 15. That said, if you loved Brotherhood, and think that you’re game, give the original 2003 adaptation a shot. To miss out on watching something so teeming with ingenuity, just because of misrepresentative or exaggerated comments, would be a real travesty; something I don’t wish on anyone.

(P.S. I know this wasn’t meant to be a real review, but if anyone’s wondering, Fullmetal Alchemist gets a 9/10, while Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood gets my first 10/10. Alphonse and Edward Elric, I’d marry you both if I could.)

Special – My Top 5 Anime EDs

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It could probably come off as odd that I chose to do a list on anime endings rather than openings, but here’s why. As much as strong openings are paramount to the start of a great episode, strong endings are equally paramount to marking the closure of a great episode.

And not in the way that you’d expect. I love anime EDs, because some of them take the liberty to be what I like to call ‘subversive’, which means that an ED chooses to take on a characteristic which is drastically different from what the series itself possesses. Which is why, more often than not, the very best of the best EDs have a reflective, calming and probing quality, and have layers of undertones carefully woven into them. Good animation, a suitable song, and above all, a purposeful and intricate relation to the series itself – those are the things which make an ED worth my watching every time. So without further ado, here are my personal 5 favourites.

#Honourable Mention

Oh, hang on. Before the actual list, I thought I should throw together a mishmash compilation of EDs which I liked but didn’t make it into the top spots. No ranking, because ah wells, who can really dissect an above-than average piece of art in order to give it a number that falls below a 5?

Mosaic Kakera – Code Geass ED 2

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Why do I like this random montage of children’s book illustrations so much? I don’t, actually, I just listen to this for the song. Who wouldn’t? It’s catchier than Evangelion’s opening, and that’s saying something!

Secret Base – Ano Hana ED

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This sneaky little bugger of a song fulfilled a crucial role in the ending of the series; it conditioned its faithful viewers to associate the climax with an air of closure and finality, drawing fat tears from our eyes in the last scenes of the show. I know I said that I didn’t cry as much as I expected to, but it was this number that actually did me in in the first place, so kudos for that.

Don’t Look Behind – Black Lagoon ED

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This is probably the most perfect example of what I mean by a subversive ending. We all know what Black Lagoon is like – guns, chicks, cars, explosions. And then along comes this slow, disturbing instrumental piece, with Revy walking along the beach, shedding bullets and dropping her weapons. Surely there’s something in there for one to ponder over?

I’m Alive – Black Butler ED 1

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And this ED pulls the exact opposite stunt from Black Lagoon’s, by subverting a dark and serious anime with a spunky and light-hearted twist, making you almost believe that it could have been a slice-of-life show, you know, if we could just take away the whole Faustian contract element.

Dango Daikazoku – Clannad ED

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Last on this list of runner-ups is none other than this very simple, almost nursery rhyme-like children’s song. Making Clannad so much more than a visual novel harem, by driving the focus onto human relationships and the dire importance of families and unity. Also, it pulls off the same trick Anohana did, through conditioning viewers for Afterstory, if you know what I mean…

And now, on to the winners…

#5 Splash Free – Free! Iwatobi Swim Club ED

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Yes, this ED deserves this spot. Because it’s creative, and it’s beautifully animated. With water being such an essential and crucial element to the entire show, what better way to reinforce this than to end of each episode with a catchy sounding quest for the search of H2O?

But more than that, I just love Free! because it was so darned smart about how to pander to its audience, in a way that was neither offensive nor degrading. We all know perfectly well that Free! is meant to be the pioneer of the manservice genre, and boy did it exceed expectations. Yet it always did so with grace and style, never verging into hentai territory. And so we have an ED chockfull of bishounens dancing and wearing an assortment of crazy outfits. Whoopee!

#4 Memoria – Fate/Zero ED 1

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What are you supposed to do when you have absolutely no idea who the major players in the Holy Grail war are? Fear not, because this ending is almost a miniature history lesson in itself, and acts as a brilliant titbit for anyone wanting to be convinced that Gilgamesh and Alexander the Great really are who they say they are. As with all of Ufotable’s works, and let alone Fate/Zero itself, the quality of animation is nothing short of amazing, and it’s a pretty apt song for a show about historical warriors clashing in a life-or-death battle royale.

I love it that we get to take a breather from the warlike personalities of the Servants, instead taking time to focus on who they once were as people, living in their respective civilisations. Through this beautiful montage, which is in fact inspired by real works of art depicting the Servants, we get to have a glimpse of their innate characters and quirks. Rider has obviously always been the almighty, charismatic sort. Archer has always liked to chill and relax, while being the absolute prick he is. And Assassin has always been deeply tormented in isolation. This ED always made me feel so much more connected to each of the Servants, reinforcing their humanity over and over again. Nothing less to be expected from a show like Fate/Zero.

#3 Hello Especially – Silver Spoon ED 1

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There’s a lot I can talk about when it comes to this ED. First, the song itself, sung by Sukima Switch, manages to be both down-to-earth yet jolly at the same time, matching the atmosphere of Silver Spoon to a tee. And if you haven’t watched Silver Spoon, you really should.

Second, the sequence of Hachiken being on a journey, as the passage of time is reflected in the changing state of the land and its produce. See, this is life. This is what it means to say that ‘life goes on’, come whatever. I just felt that this choice of sequence was the perfect way to encapsulate the mood of such an earnest story. Hachiken’s journey as a student at Yezo High represented in 1 minutes and 30 seconds of him simply, well, walking.

And lastly, the friends that come, go, and stay. Life may be a journey, but seeing the motley crew of oddballs being at his side just gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling, doesn’t it? Mostly Hachiken walks alone, and then at various points in his journey, different comrades pop up to give him moral support. There couldn’t be a more accurate depiction of life and friendships.

#2 Sora To Kimi No Message – Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet ED

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I’ve read a Youtube comment somewhere, suggesting that this song reflects Amy’s feelings for Ledo, and I might just believe it. I also thought that it would be pointless to try and systematically list what makes this ED so beautiful, and instead, here’s a paragraph of babble on the subject.

The best part about Gargantia is the construction of its vast and sprawling world, and here is the very best of it; an animation of the ocean and Amy on a windsurf, which doubles up as a glider. Steampunk technology aside, this amazing sequence of her surfing down crimson waves, just reflects the sheer giddiness of freedom that is so enticing and bizarre to Gargantia’s lead protagonist, the heartless child soldier Ledo. Funny that it was this ED that made me actually like Amy, because her as the spunky livewire never did much good in the actual series. Here, however, her personality is perfection. The idea of freedom is also artfully executed in the way that the camera zooms in on her as the chorus picks up, moving from focusing on the floating colony of Gargantia in the background, to the endless horizon in the distance.

On a creative note, has anyone else seen an ED which weaves in its next-episode preview the way this one does, by projecting it on a moving ship? I think not.

# 1 Tsukiakari – Darker than Black ED 1

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If anything could be more subversive, deep, haunting, and immersive than this ED, well – let’s just say that I haven’t come across it yet. Just a small explanatory note to say that Darker than Black is one of my top favourite anime, for the most bizarre and unexplainable reasons. See, Darker than Black is that show which makes me take on a different personality altogether, and end up liking all the things I don’t normally like. Shinji Ikari and Asuka Sohryu are my favourite anime characters, but Yin and Hei are also very much beloved, just in a different way. And together, Hei and Yin are probably my favourite anime couple. I love the entire Darker than Black franchise, both seasons and OVAs included. ‘Morbidly beautiful’, would be the word to describe why I love it so. Don’t ask me more than this.

I love this sequence, firstly because I actually picked up Darker than Black after watching it. This gorgeous piano ballad, sung by my favourite singer Rie Fu, made me believe the show had a deeper, more sophisticated quality about it, and I was right. This song set the tone for me to enjoy the anime to its fullest.

I also love how it complements the story of Yin so perfectly. Unlike all the Rei clones in the anime universe, I’ve had a soft spot for Yin, because her development was purposeful and unorthodox. In her story arc in the first season, we see her in her prime as she sits beneath the moonlight, always searching for her lost humanity, silently resigned to her fate as a Doll but searching nonetheless. Of course, this ED is about Yin. And since she doesn’t say anything, the song speaks for her, just as Itzhak’s poetry does in the plot. It’s tranquil, it’s tragic, but it’s a solemn reminder that things that are lost could someday return.

For me, this ED will always be a serene experience unlike any other. It makes me think about life, love and hope. To call it a masterpiece would warp its nature. It’s a fluid work of art, which made Darker than Black what it was. To have an ED influence the experience of a show is a phenomenal feat that no other anime since has managed to succeed in.