It was about time!

If you feel guilty sneaking around, downloading those illegal fansubs, you can now join ADV Films’ ‘Digital Universe’ website and download all you can… for a fee.

Still in its infancy, the site offers about a dozen different series to download, and for a limited time you can even get one “Guyver” episode for free!

According to the website, all episodes are DVD quality or better, and you will need Windows Media Player to watch them. If you have a Mac you might get away with just using the free plug-in for QT, flip4mac, to play your “PC files”, however, the files are encrypted so there’s a chance you might not.

Now that you know, quit that Bittorrent and your Limewire, and start paying for some of your Anime.

Hinata cold remedy

As I sit here in front of my trusty computer battling some kind of flu that hasn’t let up in 5 days, I wonder what would Keitaro do.

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I know I don’t live in the famous Hinata House, and the cutest girl around me these days happens to be my 2 year old niece, but still I wonder, would Naru make me some hot tea and boil my troubles away? Or would she simply give me her infamous right handed punch and send me flying into oblivion? In any case, I’m sure I’d rather be totally out of it and not have to struggle with my stuffy nose.

I don’t think Shinobu would be of any help. With her crushes, and her cooking, all I can expect is a heart shaped rice ball, if there is such a thing.

Don’t even get me started on Motoko. Sure, she kicks butt and fights ghosts. She can carve a figurine out of wood without even looking at it. That’s the problem. I need someone more delicate. She has a big sword. Not a good idea to confront her in my condition. My kung-fu grip is not as strong as usual.

Kitsune? hmmmmm, she is always fun. No! Alcohol can cure many things, unfortunately colds is not one of them. Although some people disagree. Anyway, I would probably end up without my wallet. I think I’ll pass.

Kaolla is definitely out of the question. With all her brains and her inventions, she is no medic. I don’t think I could trust her. Are you kidding? I don’t want to end up strapped to some super mega extra special edition fighting robot turtle.

…I guess my cold is not that bad after all

Wreaking vengeance a la Alexandre Dumas

Im still sniffling after watching “Gankutsuou” tonight. It’s a re-telling of “The Count of Monte Christo”, Alexandre Dumas’ tale of love, betrayal and vengeance.

Albert de Morcerf and Franz d’Epinay are young Parisian aristocrats on a holiday in the anything-goes Luna when they encounter the wealthy and mysterious Count of Monte Christo.

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The Count lends a hand when Albert is kidnapped and held for ransom by local crooks. The teen is soon under the spell of the blue-skinned and fanged Count and willingly agrees to introduce the man to Parisian society once he and his retinue arrive.

But as Albert would later learn, there are no coincidences when it comes to the Count.

In this version, the story is set in the future so there are spaceships, other planetary societies and giant suits of armor that fight duels. The show is about Albert and what happens to him, his family and friends because of a betrayal in the past.

Yes, several things in the book get changed in the anime especially two major plot points. But it is a re-telling so purists needn’t get their knickers in a twist. Hollywood has done so much worse in its versions of classic literature. Don’t even get me started about that.

Anyway, back to “Gankutsuou”. What sets this anime apart from the pack is how unique it looks. For instance, the clothing of the characters and their hair are rendered in designs and patterns. Anna Sui is credited as special costume designer for the show.

Everything else looks lavish and colorful. Beautiful backgrounds, nice CGIs.

A pal of mine considered the style of the animation distracting. I suppose some people might think that but to me, animation is a medium that lends itself to experimentation. Why not push the boundaries? When it succeeds, the results are worth it like “Gankutsuou.”

It also helps that the story is such a classic. Edmond Dantes was framed for a crime he didn’t commit, got sent to prison, lost his fiance plus his father suffered and died penniless. It was Dantes’ friends who betrayed him. Old sins would cast long shadows on the next generation.

Now if you can’t feel anything for what befell poor Dantes, then you’re not human but a hunk of rock.

Perhaps as a nod to its literary source, each episode begins with a short intro by a man speaking in French. Who this narrator is becomes clearer as the show progresses. (I watched the show in Japanese with English subtitles. If you watch the English dub, the narrator speaks in English.)

The opening song grates on my nerves though. The lyrics sound too hokey. It would have worked better as an instrumental piece. The closing song isn’t too shabby though and fits the revenge theme of the anime.

Anime is more than just cutesy school girls sporting unreal hair colors or giant robots smashing each other, it also serves to expose people to literature. Who knows? They might be enticed to read the original versions.

Fullmetal Xmas presents

If you can’t get enough of Fullmetal Alchemist, rejoice!.

Destineer’s Fullmetal Alchemist: Dual Sympathy game for Nintendo DS is scheduled to ship this fall.

Aside from being able to play as Edward or Alphonse Elric, Roy Mustang, Alex Louis Armstrong, Izumi or Scar and stealing moves, the game will also include voice-overs from the English version of the series as well as cinematic scenes to keep things authentic. More than 10 touch screen mini-games have also been added between the main battles just in case you start to get bored.

Destineer is known for publishing titles such as Age of Empires III, Halo for the Mac, Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45, and Starship Troopers.

So, before you run to the store and get your new ‘Tickle me Elmo’ you might want to check this out.

High school was never like this

I have a soft spot for high school anime even though many of these shows have tired plots and feature characters who need to have some sense slapped into them. Nevertheless, Ive found several gems while rooting among the dung heap.

One show that will be wrapping up soon in Japan is Ouran High School Host Club. It’s cute and funny although a relative wailed that the episodes were pointless and lacked an overall plot. Puhleez. The show is character-driven.

In order to pay off an expensive vase she broke, Haruhi Fujioka pretends to be a boy and entertains girls as part of the host club at Ouran High School which is a place of learning for the ultra-rich. She attends said school on a scholarship. The clubs members first treated her like a gofer then they realized she cleans up well so she became a host. But she’s a girl so they hide that fact from their clients.

Haruhi actually doesn’t give a rip about being a girl and seems to be dense when it comes to boys. I like her because she doesn’t fit the mold of the shoujo heroine who talks like a squeaky mouse and who blushes or stammers whenever a boy calls her name.

I must admit, a host club was an alien concept to me. I guess it’s like being an escort at a club where you entertain the ladies. In this case, the setting is a rich high school and the host club members are good-looking affluent boys who fill a niche the girls fawn over like the “cool guy” or the “silent type”. They flirt but thats all they do.

I find it ironic that I like Ouran because it can be viewed as a reverse harem – theres a heroine and several potential suitors. However, the heroine is anything but typical. Just watch it for fun. There are a few episodes that are heavy on the angst since it deals with the back story of the characters.

Another show worth a look is “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya”, which is based on a series of novels. Its only 14 episodes and like Ouran, has drawn quite a following.

Haruhi Suzumiya is pretty, can play a lot of different sports, breezes through tests but can be very eccentric. She forms a club to look for aliens, time travelers and those with ESP. With the exception of Haruhi and the narrator, a boy in the same class as her, the other SOS club members aren’t human. Yep, you guessed it right. One is an alien, one a ditzy time traveler and one a boy with ESP.

Haruhi doesn’t know that though. And these beings view her as either a God, a crack in the time space warp or someone who can create data out of nothing. In short, she’s a special being who can recreate the world to her wishes. She doesn’t know that either and heaven help them when she does.

The show is funny most of the time and part of its charm is the way the narrator, a boy nicknamed Kyon, views Haruhi, the club and her crack-brained schemes. The show also jumps around a lot so the timeline is confusing. Hint. Listen to Haruhi in the previews and not to sensible Kyon.

One show that has been out on DVD for years is His and Her Circumstances which tells the tale of Yukino Miyazawa and Souichirou Arima who meet in high school, opt to change themselves and become a couple. They are smart, athletic and viewed as model students. But they are hiding behind masks.

Miyazawa is addicted to praise from teachers and other students so she studies like a maniac and runs laps in secret. She also claims to listen to classical music and pretends to read literature while using the books cover to hide a financial magazine.

Arima was abused by his mother and abandoned by his parents. He was raised by his aunt and uncle but the rest of the family thinks hell turn out bad just like his biological parents. So he strives to be the perfect son and student. Yet he harbors deep insecurities.

His and Her Circumstances is about first love, family, friendships and the choices we make. I recommend the show even though it ends with a whimper because the anime concluded long before the manga did. There are also a couple of episodes that came out of left field.

Another oldie but goodie is Fruits Basket. But Im not sure if Fruits Basket can be called a high school anime since the story is primarily about Tohru Honda and the Sohma clan. She and several of the characters are in high school though.

Tohrus mother was killed in an accident so she ended up living with her paternal grandfather. When the house underwent remodeling and Tohru needed a place to stay temporarily, she pitched a tent in the woods rather than impose on her two friends.

She was found out by her classmate, Yuki Sohma, who lives nearby with his cousin, Shigure. She agreed to cook and do household chores in exchange for room and board there. Kyo Sohma also joined their household.

The twist is that the Sohmas are cursed with the spirits of the Chinese Zodiac and a cat. If they fall ill or get hugged by someone of the opposite sex, they change into their animal forms. They revert back to normal but sans clothing of course. The show is at turns funny and dramatic. The writing is solid and many of the characters are complex.

So there you go. What more could you want in an anime? Japanese school girls, some chuckles, a bit of angst and characters with depth.

- Ruby G.

Still dizzy from Noein

The story revolves around a twelve-year old girl named Haruka and her friend Yuu who one day meet a member of the Dragon Calvary named Karasu.

Karasu is the all around though guy with tremendous battle prowess, brave as lion, quiet as a mouse, and to top it all off, undying love for Haruka (you will find out why later).

Karasu has been sent from 15 years into the future, through time and space by the dimension of Lacryma, which is in fierce battle with the dimension Shangri-LA, to find the Dragon Torque, a powerful yet mysterious object that could save humanity.

As the story evolves more characters are introduced but not too many that you cant keep track of them all. Especially because some of them are the same person, just in a different dimension.

The real headache starts when the dimensions start to converge and the computer wiz character known as Toby attempts to explain the problem using real quantum physics lingo. Call your physics professor, get a dictionary, and be prepared to hit the rewind button more than once if you really want to get the hang of whats going on. I say if because, although it was interesting to me, it is not crucial to understand it all. All you need to know is this: one dimension alone = good, two dimensions mixing = bad, very bad.

Although the story in this series flows very nice, it isnt all perfect. My main issue is the source of Harukas power. She can travel through time almost at will by virtue of the Dragon Torque that is herself? Or is it the necklace that appears and disappears whenever she uses her power? I just dont know, and there is no explanation given.

Also I was very distracted and even annoyed by some of the characters. Yuu, for example does nothing but whine about how he cant do anything at all! It isnt until the very last episode that he finally shows some traces of courage which Karasu (who is Yuu from the future) if so full of. Some of Harukas friends I could have also done without as they do nothing to move the story along, and if the intent was comic relief, they missed their mark as well.

So, unless you want to increase your vocabulary with words youll only use while having a casual chat with Stephen Hawkins about the latest news in Theoretical Physics, I would suggest you skip this one and catch up on all those Naruto episodes you havent watched yet.

Bleach the Movie

For those of you who are fans of this series be glad to know that Bleach the Movie will be airing in Japan this December.

Although little is know about the plot various trailers have made it to youtube and other websites. If you can read Japanese you can also pay a little visit to http://www.bleach-movie.com/ , the official site, and maybe you can get a little extra info.

Rumors are that the movie will only be an hour long, which in my view makes more of a ‘special’ than a movie. Nevertheless I’ll be surfing the web to try and get a peak at this movie.

For those of you in the know, I’m sure you will find a way to watch it, probably the same day it airs in Japan.

Anime is the answer

Sometimes my friends ask, Whats wrong with American cartoons? or What is so great about anime? and the ever present, you still watch cartoons?.

First let me just say, yes. Between school, work and frequent trips to the coffee shop, I do still manage to watch cartoons.

If you have ever watched an episode of The Simpsons, The Family Guy, or Aqua Teen Hunger Force, you do too.

Although I like American cartoons, I must say there isnt much to choose from as they pretty much stick to the same format. They criticize, ridicule, or emulate whatever is playing in the 5 oclock news, from Paris Hilton to Pres. Bush. If anything dramatic happens at all be assured that next week there will little or no reference of anything that occurred in the past.

There is no story to follow.

That is where, at least for me, anime steps in.

Anime can be as simple and humorous as Bugs Bunny, or as complex and artful as Shakespeare.

Most people disagree with me, especially on the beautiful part. Their idea of anime is “Pkemon”, “DragonBall Z” and “Yu-Gi-Oh!”. Good vs. evil all the way.

Let me point out that those shows are geared towards your average preteen child, therefore they lack the complexity and subtleties of more adult series.

Take Neon Genesis Evangelion for example. This series was created in 1995 and it was airing in the U.S. as recently as 3 months ago.

On the surface this is your typical mecha, villain of the week, kind of series. However, the characters are so complex and multidimensional that its hard to agree on what they represent.

Some see it as a philosophical exercise, while others see it more as a psychological struggle within the characters themselves or any of us for that matter.
“Evangelion” has been linked to religion, philosophy and psychology for its references to Freudian theories and use of symbolism. Things that speak to the very core of the human psyche.

When was the last time Homer questioned the nature of reality? and I dont remember Peter struggling with an Oedipus complex either.

Sure, you may say those are comedies, not intended to be deep and philosophical. True, I agree.

So I ask you, what else is out there?

How to block reality everyday.

I dont pretend to be an anime expert and feel free to stone me if I try to come off as one. Im just a fan with very strong opinions.

Aaah the joy of watching anime while nibbling on chocolate Pocky or hotcake-flavored Pretz. But happiness is a fleeting thing especially when the show turns out to be a dud. But since Im a cheapskate, I watch the show to the bitter end because I already spent money to rent the sucker in the first place. And believe me, I have seen a lot of anime I wouldnt inflict on the people I detest.

My taste in anime is pretty eclectic. It ranges from shows targeted for girls like Boys Over Flowers where love triangles and three-hanky moments abound to anime geared for boys like Naruto where the hero runs around fighting injustice with his latest technique.

I also love shows that are bizarre, artsy, complex or feature quirky characters. So these are the types of anime I will be reviewing. I admit, I do have a guilty pleasure list which includes anime that require only two brain cells to watch.

Sorry folks but you will seldom, if ever, read any reviews of mecha or harem anime here.

I dont like anime about giant robots since Ive seen too many of these in my childhood to last me a lifetime.
I also turn up my nose at what fans call harem anime which feature one guy living/working/interacting with a bunch of girls. Why do each of the girls represent a cliche character like the brainless beauty with large bosoms? And why are the female characters often put into situations where they end up inadvertently showing their underwear? One word. Fanservice. And since I am not a teenaged boy with raging hormones, such shows do not interest me. (Sniffs haughtily then hides from angry harem anime fans.)

Rejoice fellow “Beach” fans. Bleach anime finally comes to American shores. I saw a promo on Cartoon Network that says the show will debut there Sept. 9. I was so overcome, I needed a moment to compose myself. (Just kidding.) Oh okay, I squealed like a little girl. I’m just hoping the English dub doesn’t suck.

Im assuming that like me, many U.S. fans have been following the adventures of Ichigo Kurosaki via the manga or via fan-translated copies of episodes that aired in Japan. Yes, I know fansubs are controversial and this is not the blog entry where I will yak about that. Lets just say for now that I dont download fansubs. I rent them from a store which angers some fans since fansubs are supposed to be free. But when a show I like gets licensed, I rent or buy the official DVDs.

Anyway, back to Bleach. Ichigo is a high school student who can see spirits and lives with his widowed father and two younger sisters in a nondescript town. His life changes when he meets Rukia Kuchiki, a shinigami from Soul Society. I won’t tell you anything more of the story. Let’s just say Ichigo ends up helping Rukia somehow and he gets to carry a sword.

It has sword fights, interesting characters and a nice soundtrack. I hope they keep the original beginning and ending songs which they didn’t with “Naruto”. “Bleach” rocks! Ahem. I mean, I recommend it a lot.

- Ruby G.

Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt

Growing up in Asia, I often watched anime about giant robots, angsty boys saving the world and teenage girls in love quadrangles with way too much drama in their lives. Then I grew up. And while I still like cartoons, I thought my interest in Japanese animation had waned.

Until one night when I stumbled across Inuyasha on Cartoon Networks Adult Swim line up.

Inuyasha tells the story of Kagome Higurashi, a 15-year-old middle school student, who was pulled down a well in the family shrine by a centipede woman and transported five hundred years back to Japans Warring States Era. Kagome then woke up a half human, half dog demon called Inuyasha who was sealed to a tree. To save herself from the centipede lady, she somehow dissolved the arrow that pinned Inuyasha to the tree. He killed the monster and went after Kagome but was thwarted.

Did I forget to mention Kagome was the reincarnation of a priestess who was the protector of the Shikon no Tama or Jewel of Four Souls? Said jewel came out of Kagomes body when the centipede woman bit her side. And many demons and humans want the jewel for the power it grants the bearer.

I thought the first two episodes were inane. But I was back two weeks later and have since followed their adventures.

From watching the series, I went into buying DVDs of the show and its four movies to reading the latest manga chapters released in Japan from a fellow fans Web site. I own pins of the Inuyasha characters, the shows soundtracks and a mini statue of his older full-blooded demon brother, Sesshomaru, who many fan girls just adore.

In the past two years, Ive watched 133 different anime shows or movies. Im currently following a dozen shows right now.

The pile of anime DVDs and tapes in my room have been joined by CDs of Jpop and Jrock, manga (Japanese comics), toys and a couple of Playstation Two games based on shows.

At work, I sometimes wear a baseball cap featuring a gun-wielding monk from Saiyuki or a military cap with a ninja pin or my pin of Inuyasha. Characters from Bleach dangle from my car keys and the CD player in my car always blares out a tune from an anime show.

But hey, Im not obsessed with anime.

I havent taken to dressing up as an anime character or cosplaying as fans call it. And while I have the occasional box of Pocky in the fridge, I dont subsist on these cracker sticks coated in chocolate.

Hmmm I wonder if the latest DVD of Saiyuki Reload Gunlock is out already and if the anime store is still open. But I digress.

Im not an anime addict. Really Im not.