Free download of first episode of Blue Dragon

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As part of a promo, VIZ Media announced that the first episode of “Blue Dragon” can be downloaded for free on the iTunes Store until March 10. Go to www.itunes.com/tv/bluedragon.

The animated series is based on the Xbox 360 role playing game. As the company describes it: “Seven Soldiers of Light must awaken the Shadow within themselves in time to overcome a despotic power and bring peace to their land. Their ensuing journey through a rich fantasy world is also an internal journey to awaken the great power within each of them.”

The Xbox 360 game “Blue Dragon” was developed by Hironobu Sakaguchi who is the creator of Final Fantasy. The anime aired on TV Tokyo in Japan on April 7, 2007 and was produced by Studio Pierrot.

For more information on the show, head to Bluedragon.viz.com, which features trailers, character descriptions, artwork from the animation and news related to the show.

The return of the piggish cat and boy who sees spirits

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A powerful spirit masquerading as a gluttonous cat that loves to drink and an orphan with the ability to see spirits are back this winter in “Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou.”

Yes, Nyanko-sensei and Takashi Natsume are back for a second season. Viewers first met them in “Natsume Yuujinchou” which chronicled how Takashi ended up living with a kindly couple in a small town, met the cat who wasn’t a cat and learned that his late grandmother possessed the same ability as he did.

Reiko Natsume could see spirits but unlike her placid grandson, challenged these otherworldy beings. When they lost to her, she would take their real names and jot it down in what would later be called “The Book of Friends.” Takashi inherited the book and much of season one dealt with him returning the names of the spirits.

I loved the first season because I’m a sucker for supernatural anime that doesn’t fit the norm. Some folks might find the show too slow. Consider it a break from shows where middle schoolers carry weapons that blow up half the town or giant robots stomp all over the bad guys.

In the second season, Takashi is more comfortable with his power and continues with his fair treatment of spirits and non-humans. He found a dragon egg, helped it hatch and protected it from a spirit who wanted to eat the young. It didn’t look like a dragon though when it grew up, more like a bird. And when it hatched, it adopted a humanoid shape.

Takashi doesn’t tell his foster parents about his ability. He fears he will lose the only stable home he ever had.

His supposed bodyguard, Madarao or Nyanko-sensei, is still with him. Everyone sees Nyanko-sensei as the fat cat that tags along after Takashi. He claims he’s only around because the teen promised him “The Book of Friends” after he’s gone. But you know he is fond of the human boy. And Takashi likes having the fat furball around too.

Watching the series for me is a weekly treat. And just when I think that animators are churning out more and more crappy anime just to please fanboys and fangirls, along comes a show like “Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou” to change my mind.

A wily and always hungry protector

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In “Wagaya no Oinari-sama”, we are introduced to Noboru and Toru Takagami as they are heading back to their ancestral home. They were told their maternal grandmother is deathly ill so the boys’ destination is a town far from the city and definitely home to a hill or mountain.

But it seems the deathbed tale was only a ruse since grandma, a humorless small woman with the face of a toad, is very much in good health. They were sent to the Mizuchi family home in order to protect Toru who is being targeted by a demon who wants to eat him.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. So grandma tells the 16-year-old Noboru that because he is technically the head of the Mizuchi clan, he must free the family’s guardian deity, Kugen Tenko. Kugen is a wily fox that was sealed because of pranks and misdeeds committed hundreds of years ago.

Ya see the family has never told the Takagami brothers that the Mizuchi family has the power to ward off demons and certain women in the clan become the Water Priestess.The last one was Miyako, who was the boys’ mother.

While the clan’s power has weakened and the boys cannot succeed to the title of Water Priestess by reason of their gender, they still carry the Mizuchi blood which demons really really like.

And Toru has more yin than his elder brother so he is often targeted by spirits and demons.

Kugen agrees to protect Toru not for the Mizuchi clan but because he is Miyako’s son. Seems Kugen was fond of Miyako who called her Ku-chan like Toru. She defeats the demon who turns out to be some low-class snake spirit.

Kugen can change into a male or a female depending on her whim but retains the blonde hair, blue eyes and cute furry ears. Now that she’s free, Kugen ends up being a bodyguard of sorts to the Takagami brothers. She moves in with them along with the clan’s sentinel called Ko, a young lady dressed like a shrine maiden who is great at fighting spirits but horribly inept with housework. Kugen has a wolfish attitude toward food. She pigs out when offered free food.

“Wagaya no Oinari-sama” has about as much depth as a bowl of oatmeal. Episodes usually deal with spirits targeting Toru and getting beaten by Kugen. The enemies are often some poor shmuck who Toru forgives. I have yet to see the baddie get annihilated for good and I doubt if that will happen anytime soon.

This is light entertaining fare. If anime were a banquet, this show would be a canape.

Walking among spirits

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One of the reasons I enjoy anime is the variety. The genres range from magical girl shows to horror. And there are subgenres within those sections as well. But sometimes you have to wade through a sea of dreck to discover a gem though. Luckily for me, I found two new shows this summer that look promising. One of them keeps surprising me with each episode.

“Natsume Yuujinchou” is both a fantasy and a supernatural anime but it’s not scary at all. Think “Mushi-shi” but wilth a younger protagonist and a simpler storyline.

Our hero, Takashi Natsume, is an orphan who just transferred to a new school set in a bucolic-looking town with green fields, clear blue skies, a shrine and a horde of spirits.Takashi has been able to see spirits since he was a child which made for a lonely, isolated childhood, The various relatives and people he stayed with thought he was weird and treated him accordingly.

Now he’s staying with a nice couple in a town where his grandmother, Reiko, once lived. And the spirits are pestering him more than usual. In the first episode, we meet Takashi as he’s being chased by a one-eyed long-haired monster that only he can see.
He makes a run for the nearest shrine for safety but trips over a rope and snaps it.

The rope is part of a barrier around a small shrine that houses a spirit in the shape of a cat charm. You’ve seen what this charm looks like if you’ve ever been to an Asian market or souvenir shop. It’s a white cat with one paw raised.

Anyway, the cat charm thingy is the size of a very fat cat and speaks as well. Takashi is less than impressed since he’s seen weirder things before. The cat’s true form is of a shaggy white beast (looks like a dog actually) with red markings. The spirit’s name is Madara but he prefers Takashi call him sensei or master. Our hero also refers to him as Nyaanko sensei (don’t ask me what that means).

The teen finds out that the spirits want their names back from him and calls him by his grandmothers’ name. It turns out Reiko Natsume could see spirits and also had a lonely existence. So she went around challenging spirits and taking their names after she defeated them. She kept the names in a journal called “The Book of Friends.” It is this book that the spirits are after.

Takashi agrees to return the names of the spirits who come to him and promises sensei he can have the book when he’s gone. Nyaanko sensei despairs that the book is getting thinner since Takashi keeps returning the names.

Having power over someone because you know their true name is a concept not restricted to Japanese folktale. Several cultures also believe in this.

The show’s pace is slow, almost languid at times. But it’s interesting and can be touching. Case in point episode two, which is about a local spirit who has shrunk since only one woman is left who remembers him and makes offerings. She is dying but still painfully makes her way to his small shrine to pay her respects and leave him a peach. The spirit could have left years ago but he chose to stay, knowing he would vanish once the woman dies. The reason why he stayed made me teary-eyed. Sniffle sniffle.

When Takashi returns a spirit’s true name, he sees the spirit’s memory of its interaction with his grandmother. He is getting to know who she was and starts to feel some empathy toward the spirits that progress and people have forgotten.

I’ve seen four episodes of this show and I’m always waiting eagerly for the next one. I like shows that make you think and feel.

And you think your teenage years sucked


I found the opening song on YouTube to “Scrapped Princess” which has been licensed and is readily available in the U.S. Sorry forgot the name of the YouTuber who put it up there. But many thanks to this person.

“Scrapped Princess” is one of the more interesting and moving fantasy animes I’ve seen. The title refers to 15-year-old Pacifica Casull, the youngest in a family of three. But there’s a reason why Pacifica doesn’t resemble her older brother, Shannon, who is a skilled swordsman or her older sister, Raquel, who is a powerful magician.

The blonde-haired blue-eyed Pacifica was adopted. To be more precise, she was hurled from a cliff as a baby by a knight and saved by the Casulls.

Ya see, Pacifica is the daughter of the King and Queen of Leinwan. But while her fraternal twin brother was kept in the family, her father ordered her killed because of a prophecy that said she would destroy the land once she turns 16. The prophecy referred to her as “the poison that will destroy the world.”

And some teens think they have it rough.

Pacifica remained safe among the Casulls because people thought the “Scrapped Princess” died as a baby. When it came out that the “Scrapped Princess” could be alive, the hunt was on. Pacifica’s foster father was killed and she fled with her foster siblings who would die to protect her. The love between the siblings is a major theme of the series and leads to many a heart wrenching moment. But just when you think you’ve figured out the show, a major plot twist surfaces.

I won’t say what it is. That would be cheating you of the pleasure of watching the series. Suffice it to say that things are not what they seem and the competing religions of Mauser and Browning has ties to an intergalactic war between humans and aliens.

Pacifica cannot wield a sword like Shannon or do magic like Raquel. It isn’t until midway through the series do we get a hint that she harbors something powerful inside. She is a sweet girl who acts like a brat sometimes but genuinely cares about people. She feels guilty for being the “Scrapped Princess” because people are getting hurt and killed during the hunt to find and wipe her out.

One thing I didn’t like about the show was the way the female characters were drawn. Why oh why do they all look like they got breast implants? Some were so top-heavy, I’m surprised they didn’t topple over. I’m sure fanservice was the only reason for such a sexist move.

Slaying demons and holding on to one’s humanity

Claire is never welcome in the villages and towns she visits. While the people fear her and don’t think twice about saying insulting things as she walks by, they also need her services to survive.
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The silver-eyed woman who carries a big sword and usually talks like all emotion has been drained out of her voice is a Claymore. Claire is a demon/human hybrid created to kill the shape-shifting demons called Youma who prey on humans. Hers is a harsh existence. Claymores must fight to keep their demon side at bay because once they lose their human will, the organization they work for will hunt them down using other Claymores.

“Claymore” is one of the new shows this season and is based on a manga by the same name. But I’ve learned my lesson. I’m not going to read the manga until I finish the anime. That’s how my interest flagged in “Death Note” and “Bleach”. Keeping up with both the manga and anime storylines were just too exhausting. Well, it’s not as if these are the only shows I watch.

So back to “Claymore”. It’s an intense series which I doubt will have any characters around just for comedy relief. The main protagonist is Claire whose past hints of the reason why she decided to become a Claymore. The viewer is introduced to her as she goes to one of her assignments. A demon has been terrorizing a village and its desperate inhabitants hired a Claymore to slay the demon. Claire arrives and is met with both dismay and relief. Only one boy in the village seems to express genuine interest and admiration for her. Raki’s parents were killed by the demon which resulted in him and his older brother living with their uncle’s family.

Fate doesn’t smile on the boy.

SPOILER ALERT. DON’T READ BEYOND THIS POINT IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE REST OF EPISODE ONE PLUS PARTS OF EPISODE THREE AND FOUR.

The boy comes home to find his relatives slaughtered by the fiend who was pretending to be his brother. His older brother was slain along with his parents but Raki never knew that since the demon assumed the form of his sibling. Youmas aren’t dumb demons. They can assume the memories and forms of the people they killed and devoured. Claire dispatches the demon soon enough and tells the others that she followed Raki because the scent of demon lingered on him. She tells the semi-grateful villagers that someone from her organization will come by to pick up the payment then she departs.

Raki, the sole survivor of his unfortunate family, is soon cast out of the village by the others who fear he might become a demon too. He wanders without food and water but stumbles upon Claire. She takes him in as her traveling companion after he admits what the villagers did to him. She tells him he can cook for her but the boy later finds out she requires very little food and can last without food or water for days. From flashbacks, we see that Claire went through the same thing Raki did and this may have led to her decision to take in the orphan boy.

Episodes three and four are equally sad and poignant. Raki asks Claire at one point why she would lead such a life after she kills a fellow Claymore and friend who is becoming a demon. The friend, Elena, sent Claire a request to kill her. Claymores who reach their limit can ask a specific colleague to slay them by sending a black note with the symbol of their name. Elena sends such a note to Claire.

Claire and Raki later pose as siblings when they enter a holy town where a demon is killing/eating priests and guards. No “unnatural being” is allowed by law into the holy city so Claire takes pills that change her eye color and has the unfortunate side effect of damping down some of her senses. She cannot sense the demon and gets severely injured during a fight against this strong and wily opponent. She resorts to relying a lot more on her demon powers and realizes after she finally kills the demon that she will soon lose her human consciousness. She asks one of the guards to kill her before then and tells Raki farewell. She had earlier requested from their priest client that the church take in Raki if she gets killed.

Raki flings himself on Claire and tells her she was the kindest person he’s met. If she dies, then he dies with her too. I got such a headache afterward from all the crying I did watching this episode. Of course they didn’t die. Otherwise this would have been the shortest show this season.

Honestly, I didn’t think I’d be watching this show when the lineup for the fall anime season came out. I decided to give “Claymore” a look after “Darker than Black” left me cold. I had expected to follow that show this season but the first three episodes disappointed me.

However, Claire and the gang impressed me and now I’m hooked. Hooked I tell ya! Hooked like a fish pulled from a lazy river and tossed into the bottom of a rickety wooden boat crammed with beer-guzzling pals out for the day. I think you get my drift.

Woman Warrior

I found a really good show in the newest batch this season. It’s called “Seirei no Moribito” and tells the tale of Balsa, a warrior trained in the short spear who hires herself out as a bodyguard to atone for her sins. She killed eight people and vowed to protect the same number of lives as penance.

She ends up being hired to protect a young prince whose father the Emperor plus the head of the religious order of that country have decided to kill. They believe the boy has been possessed by a water demon who was slain by the first emperor of the land when it took over a child’s body. I know the plot is a common one in the fantasy genre but this show comes with high production values, The animation is gorgeous. And unlike “Noein” where the CGI was used extensively for the background and the character designs looked like crude sketches, “Seirei” ‘s characters are rendered as good as the rest of the scenery.

I’ve seen up to episode three and hope the series maintains the same quality throughout. I heard Geneon has already licensed the show even before it finished its run in Japan. I can’t wait for the DVDs to be released here. I’ll buy them for my collection.

I saw the opening song on YouTube. Although it’s a bit grainy, it should give you an idea of what the show looks like. Plus I’m a sucker for female characters who don’t need to be saved by a prince and who can fight their way out of any battle.