A look at a soul in despair – not

i-883fa6bff5cb1f835e26fdeda99361cd-sayonara2.jpg Before anyone goes on a warpath and tries lopping off my head for liking this show, let me set something straight.

“Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei” which translates to “Farewell Despair Teacher” or “Farewell Mr. Despair” is a comedy definitely not meant for the kids or anyone pure. We are dealing with gallows humor here folks. The main character, Nozomu Itoshiki, is a pessimist of the first order who thinks nothing of hanging himself whenever life gets him down. In this case, pretty much every day.

The first episode begins with a high school girl waxing rhapsodic about spring. She is surrounded by cherry trees in full bloom and soon spies a young man intent on hanging himself. She somehow “saves” him and her too cheerful outlook on life makes him leery of her. She pooh poohs his suicide attempt, declaring that he was just trying to make himself taller. She tells him her father tried to make himself taller when he got laid off, when the company closed and when the debt collectors came calling at the family home. She even calls a trash can “a treasure chest for the homeless.”

The gal is called Kafuka Fura although that is not her real name. The moniker comes from Frank Kafka. We find out that she is one of Itoshiki’s students.

Yep ya got that right. The man who is a walking black hole of despair is currently a homeroom teacher to high school students who definitely deserve someone more cheerful. i-a902a70877683070429b1d0bca87d2c0-sayonara.jpg

Since this is also a harem anime (gasp, did I just admit to liking another harem anime?) Nozomu becomes the object of affection for several of his female students which include the stalker Matoi Tsunetsuki. According to the Wikipedia entry on the show, her name is a pun on the phrase “always following about.”

Matoi needs to know what her current love is doing every minute of the day so she bugs his room and stalks him. When she switches her affection to Nozomu, she dresses in a kimono and follows him everywhere even to the men’s restroom. Kafuka thinks stalking is just “deep love.”

“Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei” had me laughing out loud and I’ve only seen seven episodes. The show, which has 12 episodes, also pokes fun at other shows be it American or Japanese. While it’s not essential, a bit of anime know how helps too. It would explain why the blonde-haired student often ends up in situations where one can see her panties. She’s the character destined to appease the fan boys.

I repeat, this is NOT for the under 16 crowd or for anyone who doesn’t get sarcasm. You have been warned.

The show just finished airing in Japan and isn’t licensed yet for distribution in America. I’ve only seen fansubs so far.

Star-crossed lovers

Anime isn’t restricted to shows about magical pre-teens with pink hair and cutesy sidekicks. It deals with a wide range of subject matter and uses a variety of animation styles. And yes, there are dreck shows as there are gems out there.

Since I burned out on shows featuring giant robots and spaceships as a child, I seldom watch mecha anime or anything that remotely looks mecha. But sometimes I make exceptions especially if the mecha elements do not overwhelm the entire story.

One of my favorite anime guys is Makoto Shinkai who created “Voices of a Distant Star” which every anime fan should see at least once. i-bd3e0534eec6e1d4ea7e3671fbf6f308-voices.jpg

It is the story of two young lovers separated literally by time and space. Shinkai used his Macintosh to create the anime. The character designs aren’t so hot but the story and the background are wonderful.

Cell phone messages sent between the main characters, Mikako Nagamine and Noboru Terao, play a big role in the story. Yeah, it’s a stretch to believe that a cell phone company would have such a coverage plan but let’s just go with the flow, shall we?

The two last saw each other in middle school. War breaks out between Earth and a group of aliens called Tarsians. Mikako joins the UN forces and learns to fight the Tarsians using a giant robot. Somehow she still wears the same uniform from school. Whatever. She misses Noboru and experiences these moments where you know she’s either dreaming or hallucinating.

Because Mikako is traveling light years away, she ages slower than Noboru and her messages takes years to reach him. He tries to hang on then gives in to the inevitable. He meets a girl called Wakana and it’s hinted that he goes out with her in high school. The manga version further elaborates on this relationship.

Then like a bucket of cold water, he receives a message from Mikako who we last see is in a firefight with the enemy. Lysithea, the spaceship that carries her and the others, is damaged. Her last message ends in static.

Noboru drops out of high school and joins the space armada in the hopes of reuniting with Mikako.

The manga’s ending is more satisfying since it has Mikako scanning a list of people who joined the armada and seeing Noboru’s name.

This is a tear jerker of a show and could be too much of a chick flick for some guys. But give it a try. You might like it. Then give Shinkai’s other works a look. The man knows how to tell a story.

Paging Lafcadio Hearn

A wronged wife. A God with no worshippers. A cat monster haunting a family.

Three tales make up “Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales” which viewers of fansubs knew as “Ayakashi. Japanese Classic Horror Tales.” If you are a fan of old Japanese ghost stories, this 11-episode show just might be your cup of tea.

It actually reminds me of the Japanese tales of the supernatural collected and retold by writer Lafcadio Hearn. Try reading his “Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things” or watch the movie of the same name and you’ll know what I mean.

This is the Japan found in folklore where samurais walked the dusty streets and fox spirits pretending to be beautiful women bewitch unwary men. The show re-tells the well-known play, “Yotsuya Kaidan”.

Oiwa gets dumped by her faithless husband Iemon for a younger woman. Not only that, she becomes disfigured when she drinks the “medicine” sent over by her next door neighbor who happens to be the grandfather of the young hussy eyeing Iemon.

Iemon is a masterless samurai who killed his father-in-law after the old man accused him of stealing from his former lord and demanded he stay away from his daughter, Oiwa. This scum in samurai form then pretended someone else killed Oiwa’s father and promised to help her find the killer. Duh. Look in the mirror, buddy. He tells himself he did it to remain with the woman he loves.

But he soon resents Oiwa when he ends up making umbrellas for a living. And when the granddaughter of a rich neighbor makes goo goo eyes at him, he decides to get rid of his current wife. He orders a servant to rape and kill her.

Now hideous and abandoned, Oiwa dies. In the show she accidentally cuts her throat on a sword Iemon gave the servant. Her faithless husband isn’t satisfied with this but has another servant killed. He has Oiwa and this man’s bodies nailed on both sides of a door which is then flung into the river.

Oiwa comes back from the grave to haunt Iemon which leads him to kill his new wife and father-in-law. This version also has lots of hungry rodents a la that ’70s horror flick, “Ben.”
I didn’t much care for “Tenshu Monogatari” which features a fallen God’s love affair with a human and the fallout from such a relationship. They’re a doomed couple. He has a wife. Her species eats people in order to survive.
No one else supports their love. You know how that is going to end.

The final tale is apparently an original story. “Bake Neko” is about a monster cat killing a family with more than its share of skeletons in the closet. A mysterious medicine seller with an unusual sword unravels the secret. But the family pays a heavy price for a sin committed in the past.

Each of the story is told in a different style. I liked the animation used for “Bake Neko” the most because it appealed to my artsy snooty side. Hey, at least I’m honest about being a pretentious twit now and then.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who enjoyed “Bake Neko.” The unnamed medicine seller got his own show this season called, “Mononoke.” I’m currently watching that and so far, I’m enjoying it. No fanservice here folks.

Anime hits and misses

Here are some of the newest anime to grace or litter the anime landscape this year.

i-2311b22a005626bbc724f51c663aadee-zombieloan.jpg“Zombie Loan” features three teens with an unusual part time job. Michiru Kita can see dark rings around people’s necks which means they’re about to kick the bucket. This skill is used by two of her classmates, Chika Akatsuki and Shito Tachibana, who are known at school as Boys A and B. They are the only survivors of an accident that killed many. Actually they died and are just extending their life because of a deal struck. Characters are drawn elongated and faces are very angular. Everyone looks like they subsist on one lettuce leaf a day. Action show. Has some humor. Nice Jrock opening and ending songs. Title refers to their employer. So far, it’s watchable.

In “Oh Edo Rocket”, Seikichi Tamaya lives in one of the row houses in Edo where the poor congregate. It is the era when luxuries like fireworks have been banned by the ruling government. It is a blow to our hero who is a fireworks maker. A girl who looks like that alien chick Eureka from “Eureka 7″ asks him one day to build a rocket that could reach the moon. One of the ugliest anime I have seen this season. Terrible attempts at humor. Let’s face it. I have less than 100 years on this planet so why waste it on a show this pedestrian and hideous-looking? Next!

i-2e5b49f6c0c4d7b58564aad93fb31aee-princessressurection.jpg“Kaibutsu Oujo” or “Princess Resurrection” tells the tale of Hiro Hiyorimi and how he ends up living in the household of a princess who grants him an immortality of sorts. His sister had invited Hiro to stay with her now that she’s been hired as a live-in maid or housekeeper at a mansion on top of a hill. Her employer turns out to be this young woman Hiro pushed out of the way of falling steel beams. Hiro dies but she brings him back to life. This comes at a price for Hiro. He is now her servant and often puts his carcass in front of her whenever some monster goes after his black-clad mistress. He also doesn’t live long and must continually be revived by Princess. Typical anime character designs. Seen four episodes. Eh. Would do in a pinch if I’m craving anime but nothing special about it. Could easily turn into a monster-of-the-week type of show. Tolerable for now.