Another trip to hell…

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Enma Ai or Hell Girl (Jigoku Shojo) is back for a third season. In “Jigoku Shojo Mitsuganae”, Ai enters the body of middle schooler Yuzuki Mikage and continues her business of exacting people’s revenge by ferrying their tormentors/targets straight to Hell.

Ai was killed in the second season so I suppose they had to find a way for her to come back. Hence her spirit (a blue butterfly) alighting on Yuzuki who dreams she is kissed and embraced by Ai. This is not that kind of anime so keep your hairnets on.

Poor Yuzuki carries Ai’s spirit inside her so whenever Hell Girl goes into action, Ai comes out of the girl. This time, Ai has five assistants: Wanyudo, Honne Onna, Ren Ichimoku, the devilish little girl Kikuri now inside a doll and Yamawaro, a boy who tags along after Kikuri and calls her “princess”.

Anyone familiar with seasons one and two knows the drill by now, Each episode is self-contained and deals with someone who feels they need the services of Hell Girl because they’re being bullied or they really hate someone or just want to get rid of a person for whatever reason. At midnight, they access a Web site, enter the name of their target and send their request to Ai.

If she accepts, she will offer the person a straw doll with a red string tied around its neck. Pull the red string and the target goes to Hell. However, Ai’s price is that both the target and the person making the request will end up in Hell. The one making the request just goes to Hell after he or she dies. If they enter into a contract with Ai, they will bear a mark on their chest.

The animation is still crisp and sharp in season three. But unless something interesting happens in the third season, this is just same ole same ole for me.

When the dead refuse to die

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“Shikabane Hime: AKA” or “Corpse Princess: AKA” is action-packed and tackles a weird subject. Makina, the heroine, is already dead but she still exists among the living. She hunts down the living dead like her and blasts them to Kingdom Come using two guns. It seems she needs to whack a certain number to achieve her goal which isn’t revealed in the first episode though.

But fighting the undead can be a tough assignment and she gets the stuffing walloped out of her in more than one instance. However, she gets revived by the priest who runs a local orphanage. He and other men back up Makina during her hunts.

Ouri Kagami, a teen who was raised in the orphanage, sees one such resurrection when a talking cat wakes him up and takes him to the temple where a beaten up and unmoving Makina lies. He later moves out of the orphanage and on his way to his new apartment witnesses Makina plummeting to the ground. She was fighting with a serial killer who turned into some vampire/monster hybrid.

Copying what he saw at the temple, Ouri holds the still form in his arms and Makina awakens. Does this mean Ouri will later be involved in her later adventures? Well duh Sherlock. It’s called foreshadowing.

No one stinted on the making of this show so the animation, the background and the music are top notch. Here’s hoping the show won’t disappoint later on,

Of fairies, charming rogues and a fairy doctor

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An anime season wouldn’t be complete without a shoujo show or two. And this fall’s offerings include the shoujo series “Hakushaku to Yosei” or “Earl and Fairy” as the fansubbers called it in English.

Lydia Carlton, who has huge green eyes and masses of red hair, is a fairy doctor which is a term used for those who act as liaisons between humans and fairies. It seems Lydia inherited the ability to see and talk to fairies and assorted spirits from her late mother. Her companion is Nico, a spirit who takes the form of a talking cat. He drinks Scotch and walks on two legs when he can.

But Lydia lives in the Victorian age when many people don’t believe in such things anymore and just see her as some kook. She leaves her Edinburgh home to visit her father in London. On the way, she is waylaid by some men and ends up on the run with a charming rogue who calls himself Lord Edgar, the successor of the legendary Blue Knight Earl.

The Blue Knight held titles in England and the Fairy Nation. Edgar wants the Knight’s Noble Sword of Merrow which would allow entry into the fairy world and so recruits Lydia to help him in his search. He also lies shamelessly to others about why they’re traveling together and flirts with her at every opportunity. And like many other shoujo heroine, Lydia blushes, gets annoyed, tells him to stop but somehow likes the attention. ( I would have kicked him where it hurt already.)

But blonde, mauve-eyed Edgar is not a good man. He is the scion of a nobleman who when accused of treason, kills his family and himself. Edgar, the lone survivor, gets sold into slavery and does everything to survive. He is a thief, a liar and a suspected killer.

The one who actually did the killing turns out to be his servant, Raven, who has fairy blood and a bloodthirsty sprite inside of him. Raven’s sister, Ermine, also served Edgar but it seems she was killed or died.

Edgar tells Lydia he isn’t a descendant of the Blue Knight but believes if he gets the sword, he can turn an impostor into the real thing. However, there are hints he is the successor since why else would Raven be able to obey him and there’s two other characters following them around who are definitely not human.

Their nemesis is Gotham, the son of a doctor who experimented on criminals and took their brains. Gotham also wants Lydia to get the sword and much of the problem is caused by him planting false stories about Edgar and trying to capture the couple.

I don’t mind watching the show but it really doesn’t rank very high on my list right now. Edgar knows he is cute, poses a lot and lays on the charm too thickly. And like all bishounens, he gets surrounded by sparkles or flowers. The series also appears to be a reverse harem which means Lydia will have a bevy of beaux to choose from.

Let the fangirl squealing commence.

The woman in red

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I don’t think I’ll be getting much sleep from now on since there’s a bunch of interesting shows that came out this fall in Japan. This includes “Kurozuka” which is based on a 10-volume manga by Takashi Noguchi that is not for kids at all. The manga is an adaptation of a novel.

I saw the first episode and was wowed by the animation, the CGI and intriguing storyline. The anime version also toned down the graphic content of the manga and I think the story still stands.

“Kurozuka” opens with Minamoto no Yoshitsune or Kurou being chased by armed warriors he thinks are minions of his older brother, Yoritomo, who wants him dead. His brother is the first shogun of Japan.

Kurou and his underling, Benkei, end up in the mountains where they stumble upon a cottage and a beautiful woman in red. Kuromitsu, as the woman is called, doesn’t question their cover story that they are a monk and his assistant seeking shelter for the night. She allows them to stay as long as they want with the caveat they stay away from her room in the back.

She seems to be taken with Kurou and he certainly likes what he sees.

But there comes a time when he looks into the room and discovers Kuromitsu’s secret. She is a vampire and an immortal. She offers him a chance to be with her for eternity. End of episode one.

The story spans a 1,000 years so we will see the characters in modern times in other episodes. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

Hell-bent on solving mysteries

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Yako Katsuragi, 16, is known for eating like a pig and solving mysteries, The public refers to her as “the high school girl detective” or sometimes “the piggish detective.” Her mother is abroad as far as she knows but the elder Katsuragi is actually in South America trying to unravel the mystery of her husband’s killing.

Before she became a detective, Yako’s father was found killed and decapitated in a bloody room locked from the inside. The cops labeled it a suicide. Uh how is that even possible? The poor man killed himself then cut off his own head?

Anyway, Yako is not really the one who solves the cases in “Majin Tantei Nogami Neuro” or “Demon Detective Neuro Nogami.” The teen is merely a front for Neuro Nogami, a demon who eats mysteries. He devoured all the mysteries in hell so he came to earth looking for more.

Anyone who sees this show would wonder why the public would think Yako is a detective since all she does is say, “And the culprit is … you!” and points out the guilty party. Neuro posseses her and makes her do the pointing too, As her assistant, he also explains how she solved the mystery. And people give her all the credit? Duh.

The evildoers are then gobbled by Neuro in his bird form, Well at least their evil intent is what he eats.

Yako learns to be a detective of sorts later on. And the show doesn’t get really interesting until midway when a serial killer/thief named Sai pops up. But I won’t spoil it for you by telling what happens the rest of the series.

A brief but magical life

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In anime, the guy sometimes doesn’t get the girl in the end and not everyone lives happily ever after. People get hurt or abandoned. Love doesn’t conquer all. The hero dies. Some series end like it was just another day in the life of the characters.

When I was young I favored shows that had a happy outcome or at least promised some sort of happiness in the future for the protagonist. I’m not a kid anymore.

Life can be tragic, brief yet still beautiful.

“Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto: Natsu no Sora” or as Wikipedia translates it “Things That are Precious to a Mage: Summer Skies” was one of two series shown in Japan this summer which caught my interest.

The animation is done in an unusual way as you can see from the three scenes I included here. It’s as if someone drew on photographs. The characters are simply drawn but they move in a world that looks very realistic.

The short series focuses on Sora, a teen living in a small town who gets accepted to a summer internship program in Tokyo. She is a mage since her late father was also a magic user. Mages are part of this world. They get trained by the Bureau of Magic which sends them out to fulfill requests by ordinary folks.

This is not a world like Harry Potter’s so don’t expect to be awed by the effects or requests. It’s all quite boring actually. Kinda like having the city repair the pothole in front of your house except the workers use magic to do it.

Sora is a country gal awed by the big city. One can imagine she’d be easy prey for any grifter. But she has plenty of magic powers and tries her best to make sure the clients are satisified with the job she’s done.

She befriends several people from the program which include Gota, a teen who didn’t realize he had magic powers until his father admitted he gave up being a mage. His mother left saying she could not live with a liar and Gota was thrust into a world he knew nothing about. His magical abilities seem close to nil until Sora helps him out.

They also fall in love but Sora carries a secret.

SPOILER ALERT. DON’T READ BEYOND THIS POINT IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE PLOT TWIST

She is dying which explains the sometimes extreme reaction she has when she feels she has failed or not lived up to the client’s request.

Sora graduates with the rest of her class, returns home to Biel and dies after she fulfills a promise she made to her dead father.

Gota finally visits her town years later wearing as a necklace the stone Sora gave him. The viewer is shown how the others have fared as well.

Some folks might just groan at this series and find something else packed with action or fanservice. Consider the show a snapshot into a girl’s short but memorable life. Sora made her brief existence count by helping others or making them happy, For her, it was enough.

Naruto, Bleach and Death Note: uncut, original and online

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VIZ Media announced that original uncut versions of “Naruto”, “Bleach” and “Death Note” will be available on Hulu.com. For free.

The episodes carry English subtitles. Hulu is an online video service.

“Naruto” and “Death Note” launched in the United States on Hulu this week. “Bleach” and new episodes of each title will be added regularly on Hulu. (I’m assuming “Bleach” episodes aren’t on there yet.)

Here’s a synopsis of the shows by VIZ Media for those who haven’t heard about these series.

“Naruto” (http://www.hulu.com/naruto) Created by Masashi Kishimoto, the series depicts the adventures of a young boy named Uzumaki Naruto who trains to become a ninja. The boy is cursed with the spirit of a nine-tailed fox demon and is forced to live a bullied life discriminated against by his fellow villagers. Naruto is resilient and undaunted in his quest to become a master ninja and his determination often inspires those around him. Through amazing adventures, the young ninja learns the importance of friendship, teamwork, loyalty, hard work, creativity, ingenuity, and right vs. wrong. Dedicated website at www.naruto.com.

“Death Note” (http://www.hulu.com/death-note) is based on the manga series of the same name. Light Yagami is an ace student with great prospects but is bored out of his mind. All of that changes when he finds the Death Note, a notebook dropped by a rogue Shinigami death god. Any human whose name is written in the notebook dies, and now Light has vowed to use the power of the Death Note to rid the world of evil. But when criminals mysteriously begin dropping dead, the authorities send the legendary detective L to investigate, and he is soon hot on the trail of Light, who must now reevaluate his one noble goal. Dedicated website at www.deathnote.viz.com.

“Bleach” is the story of 15-year-old Ichigo Kurosaki who was born with the ability to see ghosts. When his family is attacked by a Hollow – a malevolent lost soul – Ichigo encounters a Soul Reaper and absorbs her powers. Now he has dedicated his life to protecting the innocent and helping the tortured souls find peace. Dedicated website at www.bleach.viz.com.

Shoujo Attack: Time traveling princess with a magic cane

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A recent addition to VIZ Media’s Shoujo Beat Manga lineup is “Time Stranger Kyoko” which is definitely aimed for the teen and pre-teen crowd.

It is now the 30th century and for some inexplicable reason, earth’s countries decided to band together and just become one kingdom called Earth Nation. It’s ruled by a king who keeps himself young thanks to the latest technology (plastic surgery, I suppose) and has a weird cat/android pet named Chocola.

His heirs are his twin daughters: Kyoko and Ui Suomi. But Ui has been asleep since she was a baby. She’s actually trapped in time.

Kyoko has been attending a local school incognito because she refuses to take the throne. She’s watched over by Sakataki Jin and his older brother, Hizuki Jin, who are the last members of the Dragon tribe. They’re dragon/human hybrids.

We meet Kyoko just before her 16th birthday bash which she refuses to attend because she thinks she won’t be able to go to school and mingle with the commoners anymore. This despite her father telling her people are rioting and want her to take over her responsibilities.

She comes off as very selfish in the first chapter of Volume 1 and I must say, Kyoko did not endear herself to me when her father offered her an out and she grabbed it. If she wakes up her sister Ui, the younger twin can take over the royal mantle and she would be free. In a side note, the author, Arina Tanemura, took the time to explain to readers Kyoko probably sounds selfish but she isn’t really. Uh huh, right.

To wake up her sister, Kyoko must start the giant clock underneath Ui’s bed. In order to do that, she must find the 12 God stones scattered around the planet along with the 12 telepaths who can use the stones. The first stone was easy since it and a pocket watch were hidden undernearth the clock.

When The Destroyers, a band of thieves led by a guy called Witzig, appears outside the school gates, Kyoko finally unveils who she is to protect her classmates. The time stone that she couldn’t activate then starts yakking at her and turns into the Scorpion Cane which can manipulate time. She whacks Witzig on the head and the smitten fool retreats.

Witzig would pop in and out of later chapters often riding his giant pet snake. He’s obviously the comedy relief.

Kyoko learns more of what the cane can do in other adventures and readers learn the history of the Dragon Tribe and why its last two surviving members ended up as bodyguards to this teenage princess.

Our heroine also adjusts her goal from fobbing off her duties to a younger sibling to waking up said sister who she believes is in distress.

The character designs are classic shoujo meaning huge eyes, small mouth and lots of long wavy hair. Except for the chapter about the Dragon Tribe’s demise, volume 1 is mostly light on drama and heavy on the comedy.

So if you’re looking for a soap opera-like manga, this is not the series for you.

News from VIZ Media

VIz Media sent me this announcement today.

“Blue Dragon”, the fantasy action series based the Xbox 360 role playing video
game, is now available on DVD. Volume 1, which contains five episodes, hit store shelves this week and has a price tag of $14.98.

As the company’s press release tells it: The “Blue Dragon” animated series is a classic adventure story of magical Shadow powers, flying air fortresses, and unbounded heroism!

Brought together by fate, 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 game and animated series feature characters designed by Akira Toriyama, the creator of the Dragon Ball series of manga .

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.