When things are not what they seem

A young woman rarely speaks to spare her fellow villagers from the sickness spreading in their mountain village. Huts, people, pottery etc are covered in what looks like rust. It immobilzes people and makes living a misery.

A white-haired traveler who drops by the village is astonished at the way the rest of the residents shun and treat the girl. He is more astonished when he hears her speak. Her voice sounds like metals scraping together. But unlike the others he proposes a solution. And it works.

The traveler is none other than Ginko, the protagonist of “Mushi-shi”. The title refers to what Ginko does for a living. He deals with Mushi, those creatures of varying forms that very few see but definitely affect animals and people. Several Mushi are parasitic, some kill while a few can endow people with certain abilities.

Unlike his fellow Mushi-shi (which apparently translates to master of Mushi), Ginko tries not to automatically kill the creatures unless there is no other solution to the problem.

“Mushi-shi”, which is based on a manga of the same title, is an unusual anime. There is no ending song, no main story line, no major explosions, no cutesy characters and no fanservice. What you get are Ginko’s adventures which are usually wrapped up by the end of the show. The story why he ended up with white hair and only one green eye is explained earlier in the series.

This was one of my favorites last year because of its uniqueness and the otherworldly elements it contains. You get a sense that this is reality viewed through a different lens. The characters are drawn like normal people (you won’t find rainbow-hued hair here) but they seem to exist in another time period although Ginko wears modern clothes. Many of the villages he visits are found in places like the mountains, the forests and on islands.

My father is a big fan of Akira Kurosawa and Japanese literature so I spent a considerable amount of my childhood being exposed to such works. All this blather just means that I am very comfortable with something like “Mushi-shi” and easily accepted the premise about the Mushi.

When I first started watching the series, I was strongly reminded of a book I read called, “John the Balladeer” because of the way the hero dealt with bizarre creatures in mountain settings complete with mists and weird incidents. The book chronicles the adventures of John, a wanderer with a silver-stringed guitar who helps the folks living in the Ozarks fight supernatural beings. I think Manly Wade Wellman wrote the short stories. Loved those tales.

But I digress. Don’t watch “Mushi-shi” if you need a dose of things that go kaboom or angsty teens who must save the world with the latest, greatest giant robot. But if you want to try something slow-paced almost dream-like and very different, give this show a chance. You just might like it.

The show has been licensed by Funimation but I don’t know when the release date will be.

Both the manga and the anime are popular in Japan. There’s even a live-action movie. According to Anime News Network, the film is being shown at Sundance and has drawn the interest of companies who want to distribute it outside Japan. Let’s see if that actually happens. Hope they change the English title by then because I don’t like the current English title of “Bugmaster.” Geez how terribly pedestrian and how wrong since a Mushi isn’t a bug though some may look like it.

The Witching Hour

When an anime not only entertains but also leaves you with a catchy song to add to your favorites list, it is well worth the sticker price.

I like “Witch Hunter Robin” a lot from the opening song, “Shell” by Bana to the uncertain ending. My only complaint is that we don’t get into the real story arc until after a dozen or so episodes featuring witches targeted by Robin and the gang.

The show begins with 15-year-old Robin Sena arriving at the headquarters of STN-J, which is the Japanese branch of the SOLOMON organization. Robin is an orphan raised in Italy and trained by the church to fight witches by conjuring fire. She knows nothing of her parents or her family. She was sent to Japan reportedly to replace a member of the STN-J.

Being a witch is frowned upon in this society and anyone deemed one has their name in SOLOMON’s genetic database. It is the task of SOLOMON to deal with witches gone bad but we later find out that witches who awaken to their powers also get into trouble with the STN-J whether they did anything wrong or not.

Unlike the other members of SOLOMON, the STN-J hunts witches using orbo, a greenish liquid that counteracts witches’ powers. The source of orbo doesn’t get revealed until nearly the end of the series.

Robin’s partner is the brooding Amon, who like all serious, moody anime heroes wears black all the time. He doesn’t think much of her skills and would often say something dismissive. But he has a change of heart as he gets to know her and as she grows in power.

She later uncovers her past and finds out the secret of orbo. The former witch hunter now becomes hunted by the very group she once served. There are double dealings and hidden agendas aplenty in this show. Apparently trust is a rare commodity among these folks.

If you squint hard enough, there’s a faint Amon and Robin pairing. Some fans point to the animation in the opening sequence as an indication that Robin likes Amon. Well, she’s hugging a television set showing his image and says something to the screen. But who wouldn’t swoon over Amon? Other fans insist she’s sweet on Michael, the STN-J computer expert and hacker who was “persuaded” to work for the group after he was caught hacking into their system.

The romance is not that clear cut in the show so don’t come crying to me later.

News from the land of purple-haired school girls

Anime News Network, which I think is an essential source of anime info for every fan, is reporting that Viz Media will release “Death Note” on DVDs as well as have it available via digital downloads. No date yet when this will happen. Also no details on how this thing is supposed to work.

I guess the company is catering to fans like me who can’t wait to watch fansubs of the latest anime from Japan because we MUST see it now. Of course, when the official licensed versions come out on U.S. shores, I do rent or buy them.

According to ANN, fans will be able to download to own or download to rent soon after an episode is shown in Japan. It’s supposedly a first.

I highly recommend checking out Anime News Network for all things related to anime and manga. A friend asked recently what manga was. I guess you could roughly call it Japanese comic books.

Anyhoo, ANN is at www.animenewsnetwork.com

Confession is good for the soul

OK I confess. I haven’t seen a “Naruto” episode since last fall. I just couldn’t take watching episodes that had nothing to do with the main story arc anymore. The last show I saw was episode 145. But my brother said they made Naruto older now and the real storyline picks up soon. Yeah yeah. Heard that before.

I also stopped watching “Bleach” after episode 80 because it became such a chore to sit through the story arc featuring the Bounto. But the Bountos are finito so maybe I can see something good again. I might use a weekend to see the other episodes I missed – if I feel like it.

So there. I admit it. I am no longer the dedicated “Naruto” and “Bleach” fan that I was. Feel free to flog me with whatever magical girl wand you have lying around the house. I would even refrain from nibbling on Pocky for a week as penance.

When your teacher packs a mean punch

I’ve noticed that several cable channels are now showing anime late at night and I’m not just talking about Adult Swim on Cartoon Network. Starz Action, Imaginasian and I think even the Independent Channel air anime.
Of course these are the versions dubbed in English.

Starz Action recently finished showing “Gokusen” or “Gokudo no Sensei” which is the tale of an heiress to a Yakuza family who teaches high school. A lot of folks have dismissed it as a lame rip off of “Great Teacher Onizuka.” “GTO” as it’s more commonly known, is about a former gangster who decides to be a teacher and gets handed a problem class.

I like “GTO” but Onizuka’s behavior and his unorthodox teaching methods will never fly in the real world. This is not to say that “Gokusen” is grounded in reality. It isn’t.

Consider that the Japanese mafia members in “Gokusen” are portrayed as rough characters who are really decent guys. Excuuuse me? The Yakuza? Anyway, you have to suspend a certain amount of disbelief when watching the show. It is anime after all not a documentary.

Kumiko Yamaguchi is the granddaughter of the current head of the Oedo clan, which is a Yakuza group. Her parents died and she was raised by her grandfather. Right now she is the acting head of the clan because her grandfather is ill. She also just started her new job at Shirokin High where she becomes the home room teacher to a classroom of punks. She hides her Yakuza connections because it would mean the end of her teaching career once it becomes known.

Most of her students look like they were beaten with an ugly stick as babies which I guess is a cliche in anime. The ugly boys are juvenile delinquents. The only exception is Shin Sawada, the red-headed leader of the class who is smart but ended up at this no nothing high school because he punched a teacher in middle school. Shin smells something fishy about the new teacher who the class nicknames, “Yankumi.”

Kumiko believes that every student deserves a chance and would not hesitate to pound someone who harms her students. Of course she does this on the sly since most of them don’t know she’s a good fighter.

At 13-episodes, “Gokusen” is a short series. I didn’t much like the ending and would have wanted to see more character development. But it’s worth a look.

Of addictions and obsessions

Hello. My name is Ruby and I’m an anime/manga addict. I think Pocky and Pretz need to be a food group and Jrock needs to be played on everyone’s car stereos.

If this was rehab, this is the part where the other addicts welcome me into the circle then reassure me with Pocky or free viewings of my favorite anime.

I knew I had it bad when the highlight of one day was finding out that the latest fansubs for “Ouran”, “xxxholic “and “Blood+” were in and I was able to show up at the store six minutes before it closed. And the cherry on this sundae was the knowledge that they got the earlier volumes of Ouran on the shelf! Geez

And that was just last year. Right now, I’m mulling over legal ways to get my hands on the latest episode of “D.Gray-man” because some thoughtless, heartless fiend borrowed the store’s only copy and spent the entire holiday weekend hogging it. A pox on your house, sir. A pox on your house!

I once saw a bag that had, “Anime. Crack is cheaper.” on the front. Too true. I wanted that bag but never saw it again. Grrr.

I didn’t watch the parade this year. Had no wish to. Once was enough for me even though I am a “Star Wars” fan. But I do not consider myself part of the hard core faithful.

Now if the Tournament of Roses folks were holding free anime showings, I might reconsider and camp out on the sidewalk. Anime is another matter.