Go forth and do battle

I fancied myself a chess player when I was younger until a college editor demolished my ego by defeating me in 10 moves. It was a sad day for me. And if I were the heroine of some coming-of-age anime, I would have wept my eyes out while sitting on a swing at some playground with rain falling softly in the background. Cue appropriate sad music.

But of course I live in the real world so I dealt with it by admitting I really sucked at chess and the game was better off without me. The decision was bolstered by the fact I’ve never even beaten my brother at the game let alone won a school chess tournament.

Imagine how far I would have gone if I had a mentor like Hikaru Shindo did in “Hikaru no Go”. It’s a shonen or boy’s show about a student, a Heian Go master and the ancient board game called Go. Hikaru finds a Go board at his grandfather’s place and somehow the ghost of Go master Fujiwara-no-Sai awakens and appears before the boy.

Hikaru doesn’t know how to play Go but wanders into a Go parlor where he ends up playing Akira Toya, the son of a high-ranking professional Go player and a whiz at the game. Hikaru beats Akira because Sai actually tells him what moves to make. Akira, who could easily turn pro, becomes obsessed with defeating Hikaru going so far as to join a middle school team so he could meet his rival again at a school meet. This time he beats Hikaru but he thinks the boy isn’t playing seriously. Actually Hikaru could have won if he just let Sai play Akira again instead of playing by himself.

Hikaru isn’t a good Go player but he’s trying to improve his skill. He wants to catch up to Akira’s level. In the fourth DVD volume, Hikaru lets Sai play Internet Go where he bests players all over the world and gains a reputation as being an excellent player. Everyone is looking for Sai.

I like watching the show despite the shonen cliches. I find the game interesting and Hikaru not a bad kid at all. Akira on the other hand, needs to lighten up.

There’s a lot of anime cliches that appear in “Hikaru no Go”. Players weep and clench their jaws, every game is treated like it’s the battle to end all battles, the hero also learns new skills/moves as the show goes on and there’s the rival always in the background. There’s a lot of close ups of the Go board as each game is played perhaps to entice the viewer to play along.

Each DVD also contains a segment featuring a lady Go teacher and her two young pupils so the viewer can learn Go along with them. “Hikaru no Go” isn’t a bad show and certainly kid-friendly. I even thought about learning the game at one point then reality hit me upside the head. I didn’t want to lose anymore games by 10 moves and last time I looked, no ghostly Go master was trailing behind me.

“Hikaru no Go” is available on DVDs and via www.toonamijetstream.com

Playing God

I saw the first three episodes of “Death Note” and “D. Gray-man” last night. Hmm. “Death Note” is certainly very faithful to the manga.

Like I said before in an earlier review of the manga, “Death Note” has an interesting storyline and great art. The show also looks great. I like that the show uses a chorus as background music whenever the protoganist, Light Yagami, dispatches another criminal using a special notebook called the Death Note. It fits his God complex.
This straight-A student found the notebook lying on school grounds which actually belongs to a death god or Shinigami. Writing the name of a person in the Death Note while keeping their image in your mind causes that person to die. If you don’t specify the cause of death, the person will die from a heart attack. There are other rules.

The original owner of the notebook is Ryuk, a Shinigami who dropped the Death Note in the human world because he was bored. Light is the only one who sees or hears Ryuk unless of course another human touches the Death Note.

Light thinks the world is rotten and starts killing off criminals. His plan is to create a utopia where he will rule as God. People call this killer of criminals, Kira. But the police and L, a secretive man who cracks unsolved cases, vow to capture Kira/Light. L narrows the search down to the Kanto region of Japan and convinces the international law enforcement community to make Japan the HQ of the task force.

But Light has an ace up his sleeve. The man leading the Japanese detectives is his father. The battle between L and Kira/Light commences.
I’m not so sure about “D. Gray-man” though and am wondering if I should continue watching. The show, which is based on a manga, tells the story of the exorcist Allen Walker whose deformed hand turns into a weapon that destroys Akuma. An Akuma is a weapon created by Walker’s nemesis, the Millenium Earl from someone’s soul and despair.

The Earl seeks to destroy mankind and also the substance known as Innocence which Walker and the other exorcists wield in their fight against him and his minions. Walker belongs to the Dark Religious Organization that was created to stop the Earl.

Somehow the show didn’t wow me and I even found the funny moments strangely jarring. Maybe it will grow on me later on.

To buy or not to buy, that is the question

This isn’t anime-related but what the heck.

One of my friends was raving about this new role playing video game called “Okami” which was a huge hit in Japan. You get to play a white wolf that solve puzzles, fights, the works. The graphics are amazing. It looks like an ancient Japanese painting. He gave it a 10 and he’s picky. Game reviewers also give it a thumbs up.

I am so tempted to buy a PS2 next weekend just to play this game.

I haven’t played any games since last summer because someone who shall remain nameless – you know who you are – dropped our PS2 and damaged it. I thought I could just save money and wait for the PS3 this year. Doesn’t look like I’ll be able to swing that so …..

Anybody know of a place where they sell a Playstation 2 for less than $100?

There are no coincidences in this world

What would you do if you were born a spirit magnet? You not only see spirits, these disembodied beings also try to attach themselves to you. Some even try to attack you.

To Kimihiro Watanuki of “xxxholic”, this is not a hypothetical scenario but a daily occurrence. The high school student often solves his problem by running away from them – literally. While fleeing one day, he happens to stumble and touch a fence. The spirit chasing him vanishes because the fence is actually a barrier.

He takes a peek and sees a house. His feet takes him of their own accord inside the place where he meets the beautiful space time witch Yuuko Ichihara. That’s not her real name by the way, as she tells him later. This is her shop where she grants wishes for a price. He doesn’t want to see spirits anymore and she has the ability to make that happen. So they make a deal and he becomes her cook/housecleaner/errand boy. He will work off the price of the wish.

But Yuuko’s shop exposes Watanuki to more weird events and unusual companions. And he seems to be destined for something. As she said, there are no coincidences in this world just hitsuzen. The word has been translated to mean “inevitability”.

The 24-episode series, which is based on a manga by CLAMP, aired its final episode Sept. 28 in Japan. FUNimation reportedly has picked it up for the U.S. market.

“xxxholic” deals with the supernatural hence stories about the consequences of wishing on a monkey’s paw. The quality of the animation is inconsistent with three or four episodes looking quite ugly. The way the characters are drawn with elongated limbs and bodies in the manga doesn’t translate so well in animation. There are some boring episodes I could have done without as well. And unlike the manga, no characters or events from “Tsubasa Chronicle” appear in the anime.

Watanuki for all his short temper and whining is a likeable character. He’s an orphan who has learned to fend for himself at a young age. He hardly has any friends and the girl he likes seems to keep him at a friendly distance. He views another student, Doumeki Shizuka, as his rival and gets irritated with him easily. But the poker-faced Doumeki has the ability to repel spirits and shoot spirit arrows so Yuuko usually solicits his help to protect Watanuki.

As payment, Watanuki makes him lunches grudgingly. Doumeki also makes lunch requests which further annoys him.

I have no complaints on the latter half of the series. The story about Watanuki bonding with the lonely woman who lost a son is the basis for episodes 22 and 23. It is faithful to the manga and touching enough to make you reach for the tissue box. The barbarian who borrowed the tape with the last three episodes returned it this week to the anime store so I finally got to see it.

Suga Shikao’s “19sai” which serves as the opening theme also grows on you. I have it playing on my MP3 player right now.

The grim future

Here’s something for the science fiction crowd. Geneon will release the first volume of “Ergo Proxy” on Nov. 21 which contains episodes one to four.

Geneon was promoting the show to the anime crowd this summer at the Anime Expo in Anaheim and even had a model dressed as the lead character. If you saw her, she was the one in the black-and-brown semi-leather outfit posing with a futuristic weapon.

I first heard about “Ergo Proxy” earlier this year from a friend who raved about it. So I watched the first four episodes and wasn’t interested enough to rent the rest.

The character designs and the backgrounds are done well although I don’t understand why the lead character, Re-l Mayer, wears makeup that makes her look like a raccoon. My friend insists the show is deep because it has a lot of references to the work of a famous science fiction author and a philosopher.

The story takes place in Romdeau, a future domed utopia of sorts where robots and humans live and work together. The head of the government keeps a close eye on everything and he answers to a group that is the actual power behind the throne.

But there are cracks in this society. The powers-that-be fear the awakening of something. Re-l Mayer is a detective from the Civilian Intelligence Office called in to investigate a murder. At her apartment, she is attacked by a deformed entity that is powerful. A second figure appears in the apartment and I guess saves her because our heroine survives.

The viewer is also introduced to a low-level citizen of Romdeau who gets tangled in these events and ends up outside the domed city. There is life outside Romdeau but you won’t get to see that in episodes one to four. There’s a lot of hinting in these episodes and if you don’t buy the premise of the show, you won’t stick around long enough to see what all the mystery was about.

It will happen to you!

As you get in more involved with Anime you will find that hundreds of titles are released each year. You dig through the pile, watching the first couple of episodes to see which gets the ax.

If the title makes the cut, it will become one of your favorite shows, and you will stick with it until the end, no matter how many episodes you have to watch (One Piece, 279+ episodes, Naruto, 200+, Inuyasha 167). This is huge investment in terms of time and possibly money.

But sometimes you get tricked! At least I felt that way. You find a series that starts with a great premise, lots of action, interesting and unique characters. You watch the first episode and you are hooked! You impatiently wait for the second episode, and it’s just as good. You can’t wait for the third one, OMG, even better than the last two! It has become one of your favorites, and then…FLOP!

That was my relationship with Tsubasa Chronicle.

I fell in love with the series at first glance. The CLAMP characters looked like nothing I had seen before and together with the action sequences and the love story it was a powerful combo.

Then they added some Pokeman looking thing, which did NOTHING but ‘look cute’. Everybody has to carry the freaking thing around even though it has huge feet.

Somehow I managed to get through this first hurdle. However I found it increasingly hard to watch and the story deteriorated into a ‘lets see who they are going to fight in this episode”.

I had to stop watching it.

From time to time I would read the reviews on the Internet forums. Most people still loved it. Others like me hated it. Still others watched because they had invested too much time to stop now.

I wondered if those people were still in their teens or just liked bad stories.

Gun-toting monks

According to Anime News Network, cable channel Encore Action will be showing “Saiyuki Reload” starting Nov. 8 at midnight. The show is worth a peek.

“Saiyuki Reload” is the second installment of the popular “Saiyuki” series and both seasons are out on DVD. The third season, “Saiyuki Reload Gunlock” is sloowly coming out on DVD. I saw the third “Gunlock” DVD not too long ago.

The series is a very loose re-telling of the Chinese story, “Journey to the West”. In this anime version, a monk and his three demon companions are heading west to find out why demons who used to live in harmony with humans in Shangri-La are now attacking and killing people. They’re not going of their own accord but were ordered to do so by the Three Aspects of the Buddha.

Genjyo Sanzo is a blond high-ranking Buddhist monk who wields a revolver, smokes like a chimney, gambles and drinks. His traveling companions include Cho Hakkai who became a demon after killing 1,000 demons, Sha Gojyo a half-demon whose stepmother tried to kill him and Son Goku a monkey demon with enormous strength.

They haven’t reached the West yet. And many of their adventures are one-off episodes.

The show’s episodes can be pedestrian and the quality of the animation suffers in “Saiyuki Reload” but thankfully improves in “Gunlock.”

“Saiyuki” and its two sequels remain a guilty pleasure for me. I watch it mostly for the interaction between the four main characters. The moody Sanzo usually smacks the bickering Goku and Gojyo with a big fan or shoots at them to make them shut up. He is not above threatening his companions with death either. Hakkai puts up with their slovenly habits and acts as a referee most of the time. He has his limits. But you know they care about each other. Well, maybe not.

It’s not a show that makes you think about the nature of man or his place in the universe. So park your brain, take out that bowl of snacks and settle in for a fun ride with Master Sanzo and the gang. And try not to annoy him too much. He has a hair trigger temper and a faster trigger finger.

Parting is such sweet sorrow.

I’m in the middle of an “Ouran High School Host Club” withdrawal. The final episode aired Sept. 26 in Japan and I saw it the next week via a fansub. Since then, I’ve watched all 26 episodes three more times.

Waaaah! I can’t believe it’s over! My only consolation is that the manga is still ongoing.

“Ouran” deals with Haruhi Fujioka’s life at the affluent high school and with the all-boys Host Club who spend their time flattering and entertaining the ladies. Haruhi is a scholarship student who broke an expensive vase the club would have auctioned off. She ended up becoming a member of the club and pretending to be a boy to pay off her debt.

The characters are a hoot from the overly dramatic club president Tamaki Suoh to the unflappable Haruhi. Yes it is shojo anime which means Haruhi gets romantic attention from the boys in the club. There’s drama since some of the characters have experienced personal tragedies while others carry emotional baggages of their own.

But “Ouran” is also a hilarious show. A couple of episodes were a dud like the spoof of “Alice in Wonderland.” The manga version of that was brilliant though.

Some fans also groused whenever the show veered away from the manga. Personally, it didn’t bother me since the show was pretty faithful to the original source.

SPOILER ALERT. DON’T READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING. The last two episodes introduced a character who doesn’t appear in the manga. Eclair Tonnere (I’m not sure how you spell her last name) becomes Tamaki’s fiancee and he announces that the club will disband after the two-day school festival. Eclair’s ace is that she knows where his mother is. The Tonnere company is also buying Japanese businesses so Tamaki’s nasty grandmother is using him to become part of this rich French family.

Tamaki also thinks that his selfishness is causing problems for the other members. And it is up to them to convince him otherwise. The ending includes a chase, Hunny and Mori beating up the Ohtori private police force and Haruhi/Tamaki moments. However, the epilogue hints that Haruhi is still a free agent.

My personal preference is to see her paired with the club’s vice president – the brilliant, manipulative and cute Kyoya Ohtori. But alas, the pairing is a long shot in the manga. In the anime though, Kyoya’s father tells Tamaki’s dad he wants to marry Haruhi to his son in the future. The other man wants the same thing for his son.

The show ends with a seated Haruhi surrounded by the other members extending an invitation to the viewer to visit the club.

Humming to Jpop/Jrock. When you really don’t know the words to that song.

Jpop and Jrock have taken over the CD player in my car, booting out Maroon 5 and Green Day. Funny. I didn’t use to listen to songs with lyrics I can’t read nor understand.

But I found myself humming certain tunes after watching anime. From humming I went to buying anime soundtracks then checking out other songs by this singer or that band. And while I’ve picked up some Japanese words and phrases along the way, that hardly qualifies as knowing the language.

It’s actually common to hear an English word or phrase pop up in many a Jpop or Jrock ditty. Don’t ask me why they do this. Let it remain one of the world’s unsolved mysteries.

Then there are bands that actually sing in bad English which fans call “Engrish”. The songs are catchy but the lyrics are bound to give your fourth grade English teacher fits. And the singer usually puts the wrong accent on the wrong syllable. (That borrowed joke is better heard than read.)

Don’t get me wrong. There are Jpop songs in decent English like “Life is Like a Boat” by Rie Fu which was used as the first ending song for “Bleach” and “Wind” by Akeboshi which was the first closing song for “Naruto.”

Spitz is my current favorite Japanese band. I like many of their songs and their lead singer has a nice clear voice. Too bad I have no idea what he’s actually singing about.

Here’s a list of songs from the Land of the Rising Sun you might want to try:

“* (asterisk)” by Orange Range, the first opening song for “Bleach”

“Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” by Beat Crusaders, used as an opening song for “Bleach”

“Hit in the USA” by Beat Crusaders, opening song for “Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad”

“Salva nos” and “Canta Per me” from “Noir”

“Ichirin no Hana” by High and Mighty Color, used as an opening song for “Bleach”

“Days” by High and Mighty Color

“Shell” by Bana, opening song for “Witch Hunter Robin”

“Movin” by Takacha, used as a closing song for “Bleach”

“Fukisabu Kaze no naka de” by WAG from “Saiyuki Reload”

“Don’t Look Back Again” by WAG, opening song from “Saiyuki Reload Gunlock”

“19sai” by Suga Shikao from “xxxholic”

“Like a Foojin” from “Beck”

“Cherry” by Spitz

“Sugar Guitar” by Skye Sweetnam for Trapnest (fictional band in “Nana”)

Waiting for Death

Can’t wait to see the animated version of “Death Note” which aired Tuesday in Japan. That and “D. Gray-Man” which I also want to watch are part of the crop of new shows this fall. I’m crossing my fingers that both are faithful to their manga versions.

A fellow geek recently recommended the manga when I whined that I wanted a new series I could sink my teeth into. You know, something I would use more than two brain cells to read.

So I bought the first volume of “Death Note” and was blown away by the art. And the story is definitely interesting. To summarize, Light Yagami regularly brings home As, studies hard to get into college and is a model high school student. But he is bored out of his gourd. He finds a notebook called the Death Note which was purposely dropped in the human world by Ryuk, a bored Shinigami or death god.

If you write someone’s name in this notebook, they die. But you have to know what the person looks like and how they spell their name. You can also write down the cause of death and even details on how this person dies. If you don’t specify the cause of the death, the person just keels over from a heart attack.

There are other rules associated with the Death Note which Light later finds out.

Light decides to rid the world of crime by killing off criminals and plans to eventually rule over this utopia. The Internet denizens christen whoever is killing the crooks as “Kira”. But the international law enforcement community isn’t just going to sit back and let this vigilante be. They call in “L” who cracks unsolved cases but hides his face from the police he assists. The public becomes aware of their clash when “L” uses the media and a convicted man to test a theory.

On the strength of the first volume, I ran back to the store and bought the rest of the six volumes currently out. Hope I don’t regret this later.