Tuesday’s Top 5: Girls in a Shonen Anime

I was inspired to write this list after watching My Hero Academia episode 22 on the weekend and then seeing this tweet:

Tweet - Shonen.JPG

It got me thinking about all the female characters in shonen anime and how usually they get sidelined or end up in support roles (healer, archer, etc). So I started thinking about my favourite female characters in these shows who defy the odds and actual get to be a front line fighter (even if only in the lead ups to final battles where the male protagonist of course steals back the show – it is shonen afterall). My other criteria for a spot on the list was I actually had to like them as a character. Just being a crazy fighter didn’t quite cut it if I couldn’t stand them whenever they were on screen.

Anyway, this is my list and I’d love for you to tell me who you would have included on yours.

Please Note – There will be spoilers below.

Honourable Mentions: Mikasa from Attack on Titan and Morgiana from Magi.

Number 5: Lenalee from D Gray Man

I really wondered about Lenalee and whether to include her or not. Mikasa was looking fairly tempting given she’s undeniably a better fighter, but Lenalee wins in terms of mostly having an actual personality other than save Eren. So what makes Lenalee awesome? During the early half of D Gray Man, she’s a very active fighter. She shows Allan the ropes of being part of the order and she holds her own in some pretty horrific fights. The first battle Lenalee and Allan have against Road Camelot takes a massive toll on both Lenalee and Allan but Lenalee is in that fight all the way. The second half of the original 103 episodes Lenalee gets a couple of exceedingly cool moments with a fight that literally destroys her innocence and ends up encasing her in crystal. She’s pretty much out of active combat at that point until we get to the final battle of that particular run of episodes where Lenalee’s innocence evolves and she gets a brand new power up just in time to help Allan win the fight. Admittedly though, you are just as often going to see Lenalee serving various characters cups of tea.

Number 4: Rukia from Bleach

Rukia is another strong female character that suffers from having her power broken/stolen/whatever in order to allow the male character a chance to actual grow and catch up. It would be lovely if we could just a female character strong and not need to be crippled for a good chunk of the plot for narrative convenience but apparently that is asking for a little too much (back to Mikasa, she hasn’t been crippled physically but emotionally she’s pretty stunted). Anyway, Rukia doesn’t get to show us how amazing she is for pretty much the entire first three seasons given Ichigo takes her power at the end of episode 1. Still, if you make it past that point, when Rukia comes back into the show you see the very capable shinigami that she is and her sword definitely does have one of the prettiest attacks in the show, if freezing your enemies solid can be considered pretty. What I really like about Rukia is her versatility. She uses her sword but she also uses a range of other attacks and thinks through her fights.

Number 3: Uraraka from My Hero Academia

Okay, one tournament fight does not make her an awesome fighter but seriously, Uraraka has been hanging in there right from the beginning. Despite a pretty timid personality she has stepped up to every challenge so far. She’s also a nice person. We’ve recently learned how fierce her desire to be a hero is and yet she still tried to give away her spot to Midoriya after the entrance exam. That’s a pretty impressive move for someone who is desperate to succeed. However, nice or not, hanging in there through every challenge including villains attacking the school, none of that is the reason for her place on the list. That one tournament fight is enough to show us that this girl is deadly serious about becoming a hero one day. She may not be there yet but her tenacity, skill, and focus were amazing and this girl really needs more attention on her.

Number 2: Akari from Hitsugi no Chaika

This one might be a weird choice and I will admit her weird brother focus does kind of make her a weird character at times, but Akari is fantastic. As a saboteur she’s got a fair range of skills at her disposal. I know most of the focus is on Toru, but Akari is in pretty much every fight and the majority of them wouldn’t have succeeded without her presence given the two siblings plan and one acts as bait or a distraction while the other usually either sets up the trap or pulls off whatever goal they are currently working towards. Also, there are two occasions where Akari turns on Toru (once for fun and once after brain washing). Both times, Akari pushes Toru hard. If you think Akari is just there for comic relief or rival love interest, think again. She’s a cold fighter and you better not be her opponent.

Number 1: Maka from Soul Eater

Okay, this was a given from the get go. Maka is not only an awesome fighter, hard worker, and academic, she’s also one of the few girls on the list who doesn’t lose her powers midway through a series and gets to be the main character and doesn’t lose out to the main guy in the show. Admittedly, she does go a little mad during one of the story arcs, but crazy Maka is kind of fun too (and a significantly stronger fighter due to a lack of care for personal safety). Actually, Soul Eater gets a double hit here because I’d love to also add Tsuabaki (Black Star’s weapon) to the list. She doesn’t get the spot light much but when she does, she really shines (plus she deserves a medal for putting up with Black Star).

Tsubaki.gif

So that’s my list this week with my top 5 girls in shonen anime (okay, technically 6). I’d love to know who would have been on your list and which girls stand out to you.


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Fight Sequences

I thought this list would be pretty easy but then I ended up with a short list so long I couldn’t even begin to figure out where to go from there so I’ve narrowed the field. This is my choice of top 5 fight sequences that involve a blade of some description. So magic fights, gun fights, hand to hand fights, and random other weapons are being ruled out before this list even begins (though if one person in the fight is using a blade, I’ve kept it in the running even if the opponent isn’t). I’ll have to go back and do a list of fights that involve some of those at some point but that’s not today. Pretty much what I am looking for in a fight sequence is that it looks good, is entertaining, and serves some purpose in the overall story.

As always, I’d love to know what you would include on your list so please feel free to leave a comment below.

Please Note – There will be spoilers below.

Honourable mentions this week go to Angel Beats (Yurippe vs Tenshi) and Attack on Titan (pretty much any time Levi is actually fighting).

Number 5: Higurashi (Rena vs Keiichi)

For an anime about school children, Higuarshi regularly get’s quite dark. However, there aren’t all that many direct fights as the characters are more prone to acts of torture, drugging opponents, setting traps, and generally go about things in a less direct but still fairly lethal manner. That’s kind of what makes the fight between Rena and Keiichi on the rooftop of the school extraordinary. It is one of the few stand up fights of the series and is an excellent way for the first season to draw to a close. Now I’ll be the first to admit, Higurashi is not a good anime to look at. Characters are off model a lot and the animation is awkward at times. That didn’t interfere with this fight being very cool to watch as it really brought out the characters, addressed some of the ongoing questions about what was going on, and it certainly had high stakes given the situation they were in. All and all, this fight was a great mid-way point in Higurashi’s ongoing story and one I thoroughly enjoy watching.

Number 4: Sword Art Online (Kirito vs The Gleam Eyes)

As much as people like to criticise SAO, I really enjoy it and one of the fights I never get enough of is Kirito vs The Gleam Eyes. Partly its the impossible situation the characters are in. Neither Asuna nor Kirito were looking for a boss fight and it was only because the other group of morons trudged into a boss room unprepared that they get involved at all. partly its because we finally see Kirito use the dual welding skill and the sword that he had made. But a lot of the reason I like this fight is it is just fun and dramatic to watch. Okay, we know Kirito is going to win the fight from the beginning, but that does not take away from the way this sequence builds excitement and tension. Although, from a visual point of view they really do get a bit excessive with the light show at times and I’m guessing if you look at fights for actual technique this one probably won’t do much for you. Mind you, a lot of the credit has to go to the music in this scene. They really nailed it.

Number 3: Soul Eater (Maka vs Jack the Ripper)

The very first episode of Soul Eater delivers one of the best fight sequences I had ever watched (when I first saw the episode). It was the reason I fell in love with the series and Maka as a character. She’s cool, confident, and she is rocking that scythe. Anyway, if you’ve never seen this particular fight, you should check it out (it is literally all over YouTube or you know, watch the anime). Though I still love this fight, Soul Eater is full of interesting battles between characters, and some fairly interesting weapons, and really ends up being visually fascinating to watch.

Number 2: Bleach (Gin vs Hitsugaya)

Alright, you kind of had to know Bleach was showing up on this list sooner or later, and here it is. The reason for this fight over most of the others is that even though both Captains use their swords there are no bankai going on here, no over the top silly powers, just a nice simple fight between two characters, that may or may not end up involving bystanders, Gin really does fight dirty. Part of me loves this fight because Hitsugaya really has lost his cool entirely and part of me loves this fight because even though Hitsugaya has the upper hand most of the way through the fight, because he doesn’t consider that Gin will use underhanded methods, he still technically loses. It is great fun to watch and in a show filled with epic, ongoing and long winded fights, this one is short, brutal, and fairly effective (even if not quite as spectacular as some of the others).

Number 1: DanMachi (Bell vs the Minotaur)

Given the series starts with Bell getting cornered by a Minotaur, the turning point for the story and Bell as a character is when he finally is forced to take on a Minotaur single handedly in order to buy time for others to escape. Eventually other adventurers show up but by that stage Bell is pretty committed to taking the thing down by himself and what follows is one of the best fight sequences I’ve ever seen. Tiny dagger and character against very large and strong minotaur, it literally takes everything Bell has got (speed, magic, endurance, as well as a lot of tenacity) to win the fight and it is so worth it. It is one of those moments you can’t look away from. For all the silliness that DanMachi has littered through it, it is the moments like this one that really make the show shine. This sequence is cool to watch, it has a lot of memorable moments, there’s some real tension and fear for the protagonist’s safety (though you know he’ll live there’s definitely the question of how injured they’ll let him get), and the pace is fantastic. All and all, this is a fight that I love rewatching.

So that is my top 5 fights (using blades of some description). What would you have put on your list? Looking forward to your responses.


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Anime I’d Like to See Rebooted

Clearly this list is just a personal wish list. Essentially, there’s a lot of anime out there with great premises and interesting ideas, but so many anime just don’t make use of that potential or end really badly. Like, incredibly train derailed into mountain pass before sliding into a chasm badly. So this is my wish list of 5 anime I feel could be really amazing if redone (and by that I don’t mean following the manga or other source material more closely, but I mean they actually think about the story they want to tell and just tell it without all the clutter or distractions and with a clear purpose and end point).

I’d love to know what is on your wish list for anime reboots so please leave a comment below.

Please Note – There will be spoilers below.

Honourable mentions this week go to Higurashi, Sword Art Online, and Gilgamesh.

Number 5: Vampire Knight

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As much as I have mocked vampire knight when talking about it (the anime version of Twilight) there is actually something quite interesting about the idea of a vampire hunter starting a school where humans and vampires co-exist. And the pure blooded vampire with his own agenda living at the school is kind of interesting. As is the child of the hunter family who has been bitten by a vampire and is slowly turning into one. I’d love to see this story redone with a little more focus on the darker aspects and a little less on Yuki’s indecisive love triangle (okay, every Vampire Knight fan now hates me).

Number 4: Claymore

claymore.jpg

I really loved Claymore. Until we got to the end which was rushed and inconclusive. Seriously. This is a great concept for a story and the characters are interesting. The world building was well done. Why did we get that ending? I’d love this anime to be redone with a clear focus on where it is going and an actual ending.

Number 3: Fruits Basket

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My issue with this one is I did go and read the manga. The story in the anime was so inconclusive. We still knew nothing about the curse or why Akito was such a psycho or anything. There’s so many interesting characters and the central story around the Souma family is fascinating but the anime is happy to just follow Honda around on her daily life. Reboot please with the focus on the cursed family. It may not be the happy healing experience that the current anime is, but there’s definitely a good story to tell here.

Number 2: Soul Eater

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Soul Eater has been showing up a lot lately. As much as I love this anime, that ending was bad. Inexcusably bad. That and there’s probably a lot of padding that the series could afford to lose. I’d love to see a much tighter focus on the main villain rather than all the other villains they face off against and actually just watch the students and teachers prepare for and fight that battle. It would be different but I think the show could really benefit from a much stronger focus and a conclusion that doesn’t leave people stunned by how lame it is.

Number 1: Bleach

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It had to be. As much as I am in love with Bleach as a series and as much as Bleach is a big part of the reason I became an anime fan as an adult, there are some real issues with Bleach as a story because of its excessive length, scope, and endless rounds of filler. Now that the manga is finished can we decide what the main point of the story is and just tell that story. 50 episodes. Bleach in 50 episodes. Really trim everything unnecessary from the mix and just tell the core story with the characters you actually need. I would absolutely love to see this. Either that or give Hitsugaya his own show. I’d be pretty happy with that (joking – kind of).

Okay, so over to you. What would you like to see rebooted?


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Anime With Action

Alright, I’ve looked at romantic anime before but this time I’m shifting my focus to action. It is really hard to get a definitive classification on whether something is action or not. Does one fight sequence really make for action? And how do you compare action used for comedy with gritty realistic fight sequences, and then how do you compare those to the over the top craziness that is most action in anime? In the end my criteria for this list was that the fight sequences themselves were a strength of the show and integral to the narrative. So yes there are anime out there with more action and maybe even more impressive action sequences, this is the list of anime that I came up with.

I’d love to know what action anime you love and why. Please comment below.

Patrons, be sure to check out my lesser top 5 list. The anime on the list this week are all actually decent anime (in their own way – okay one of them is terrible no matter how you slice it) but the action in them is not so awesome.

Please Note – There will be spoilers below.

Honourable mentions this week go to Full Metal Alchemist and Claymore.

Number 5: Soul Eater

While I’d love to put Soul Eater far higher on this list (because Soul Eater is just plain awesome) when looking just at the action of the series I have to admit there are some really wasted moments and some fairly disappointing outcomes in some of the fights. The reason this stayed on the list at all is Maka. Her fights, right from episode 1, are some of the most amazing fight sequences I’ve seen from a female character in anime. She’s not using a ranged weapon, she’s not moral support, she’s out there in the thick of the fight and swinging around a weapon that realistically she shouldn’t be able to pick up. If we ignore the final fight (which, please do), all of Maka’s battles are just a joy to watch. If you’re interested my series review is here.

Number 4: Gangsta

This one is a bit more realistic than Soul Eater but still goes for spectacle and humans who can perform inhuman feats. Nicolas, as a tag, really shows off what he can do and given he seems to just like the rush his fights aren’t about efficiency, they are definitely about fun. Of course, most of his opponents also seem to be enjoying themselves so while the fight might be about life and death, you can’t help but get caught up in the enthusiasm of the clash itself. Again, I’ve reviewed this series so if you are interested the review is here.

Number 3: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

I know I just heard the sound of jaws collectively hitting the ground but there is a reason for this choice. While Grimgar is a sleepy little fantasy that is focussed very much on the main character’s internal struggle to cope with this life he finds himself in, the action sequences are an absolutely integral part of this story. More importantly, because every fight is literally a matter of survival for both sides and the tragedy of death is introduced early as a central theme, every battle has a feeling of absolute finality. There are no small conflicts when a single arrow might bring you down and hesitating for a moment could be all the difference between life and death. If we couple this with Grimgar’s distinct art style then the action sequences here are not just deadly they are beautiful. So, while this might be a slow moving story, the action is anything but and if you haven’t given it a go you should probably check out my review and then go check out the anime.

Number 2: Owari no Seraph

This one I haven’t reviewed yet but it will definitely happen. I think what draws me to this is it is a vampire story but it doesn’t really try for horror or atmosphere. It really is a straight up us vs them battle for the right to rule and we have some pretty cool weapons and characters thrown into the mix. Certainly there’s a few issues with the story, particularly in the second half of the second season, but if you like humans (or mostly human) fighting against a superior supernatural force with high stakes than this anime is well worth a watch.

Number 1: Full Metal Panic

 

Again, I’ve yet to review this anime but it is a great action anime. You have military conflicts, robot fights, explosions in school shoe lockers, and pretty much any other kind of action you could be looking for in a story. The weird mix of serious narrative and high school comedy somehow works and actually the Fumoffu season which is pretty much entirely focussed on the mercenary’s day-to-day school life delivers some pretty amazing action in and of itself. Season 1 and Second Raid give us hostage situations and dramatic rescues, chase sequences, straight up military fights, and just such a range of scenes to enjoy it is kind of hard to overlook this one. As being a fighter is an essential part of Sousuke’s character and the action is used so much for both dramatic and humorous effect I just had to choose this as the number one for the list.

There we go, my top 5 action anime recommendations, though not necessarily the most action filled anime out there. What would you have put on your list?


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Friday’s Feature: You Have No Power Over Me – Man vs Self

This is my last feature for March and my last feature for now on conflict so I’m ending the month with Man vs Self. If you’ve missed any of the previous posts on Man vs Man, Man vs Nature, Man vs Technology or Man vs Society be sure to check out the posts.

I’m not going to lie, this is my favourite type of conflict. It seldom gets to take centre stage as normally this is a conflict that runs as a B Plot to the main action, but every now and then you get a story that puts a character’s inner conflict front and centre and does it in a relatable and entertaining way. Then there’s Tokyo Ghoul which has a perfect set up for a nice inner conflict and after a few freak outs early on just kind of dismisses any further inner conflict in favour of all the action focussed conflicts they can throw at you.

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Anyway, Man vs Self is pretty much what it says. The character is their own worst enemy. The only thing standing in their way is themselves and their doubts, their fears, their confusion, their inability to take action. These stories are great because with the exception of the superbly over-confident, almost everyone can relate. Even if we’ve never gone through exactly what the character is going through we can feel their uncertainty and hesitation and inner conflict and we know how incredibly debilitating those feelings can be.

Why does this type of conflict work?

01. It pairs well with other conflicts. As I said earlier, there are only a few stories where man vs self is the only focus of the story. Mostly it sits as a character drama or side story as we wait for the character to overcome this personal block before they can take on other conflicts in the story. Its effective and doesn’t feel like padding because it is relatable. That said, when done poorly, it mostly just feels like a character flinging emotions around and dragging the pace of the story. A real understanding of nuanced expression is kind of needed to pull this one off and do it well.

02. Relatability. This is human drama at its most basic. Even if you don’t interact with others or have conflicts within your family or with the society you live in, even if you face no natural disasters or murderous robots, you do have to face yourself every single day. And very few people love who they are every single day. More importantly, we doubt ourselves, we second-guess are choices, we hesitate at crucial times, and we regularly create drama where none exists. This is real life and seeing it play out in stories where the hero doesn’t just grab his sword and run into the fray but actually looks at the situation and feels his own vulnerability have a great deal of appeal. Of course it kind of takes some of the wish fulfilment out of the story.

03. The emotional affect can be enormous. From watching March Comes in Like a Lion I know that each week I’m a little shell-shocked at the end of the episode. It isn’t that anything big has happened as in most episodes very little actually happens. But because of the relatability of Rei as a character (or at least his struggle to keep moving forward in the case of his own depression and doubts) and watching this journey unfold, I find myself remembering a lot of the moments where getting out of bed for another day just seemed too hard or I’ve wanted to escape from a situation regardless of the consequences. The story hits hard and admittedly this impact will be different depending on how well you’ve related to the character and the set-up and your own experiences, but when you find the story that you connect with, this type of conflict is the one that is going to get under your skin and become truly unforgettable.

How does this work in anime?

Case 1: Yuri On Ice

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One of the really interesting points of Yuri On Ice as a story was the lack of antagonist. Even the other skaters weren’t really antagonistic. There was some rivalry but this was not something Yuri was trying to overcome. He was trying to overcome his own fear and lack of self-worth. He was never bad at skating (he made it to the grand prix the year before even if he came last – which still made him sixth in the world). He was never weak. He just couldn’t deal with the pressure and expectations of such a big competition and his perceived failure shattered what little confidence he had.

While Victor becoming Yuri’s coach certainly acted as a catalyst to Yuri turning things around, it can be clearly seen that Victor did not know Yuri well enough, or understand Yuri’s mental state well enough, to actually help him overcome it. Yuri had to find that himself. Admittedly, it was Victor’s arrival and attempts to coach that spurred Yuri into action.

However, because the conflict of the story was Man vs Self rather than Man vs Man, Yuri not winning the gold is still a perfectly fine ending. The point of the story wasn’t to crush the opponents. The point was to see Yuri finally skate the way he knew he could in a competition (and you have to admit taking out a world record is a pretty good consolation prize). Yuri has conquered his inner self and his final performance of Yuri On Ice shows that to the world.

Case 2: Soul Eater

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For a show full of external conflicts, Soul Eater continually returns to the characters themselves and overcoming their own inner weaknesses. Maka demonstrates this type of conflict numerous times throughout the series.

Unlike Yuri, Maka comes off as confident. She studies hard, has a clear dream, and is determined to succeed. Yet, despite her hard work, Maka and Soul hit a real snag early on causing them to lose the souls they had so far collected and sending them back to step one. This gives Maka’s confidence a real hit early on in the series and the few times she is reminded of this failure we see her try to resolve herself but we also see her obvious frustration. Soon after her confidence takes another hit when Professor Stein easily takes down both her and Soul. She is forced to face her own weakness and again this causes frustration.

However it is Soul’s injury that he sustains while protecting her, after she’s engaged in a fight that she could have avoided and if she’d been a bit quicker thinking things through could have escaped, that really hits Maka’s mental state hard. For a long time after this, Maka is withdrawn and struggles to work with Soul or even look at him. It strains their relationship and their partnership as weapon and meister. Because mental stability is needed to bring out their full power, to resonate, and to fight, this inner conflict faced by Maka continues to dominate a lot of screen time as they face progressively harder villains in the story.

In honesty, it is this part of Soul Eater that I love. The fights are cool, the villains zany, the pace works well enough, but it is all pretty typical action anime. It is the character focus, and particularly Maka, that really drew me into this world. Without this inner conflict getting played out across the series, I doubt the show would have left much of a lasting impression on me.

Conclusion

Man vs Self can be highly satisfying to watch as a form of conflict. It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. As many characters have proven it can be highly entertaining when you are at war with your inner voices. However, this type of conflict does allow that exploration into some of those denser topics such as depression and anxiety and it is great to see some of these ideas get a little bit of screen time as it gives people a little insight or gets people talking about the ideas.

That is the end of this series of posts on conflict. I’ve certainly barely scraped the surface of any of these ideas so I guess I’ll revisit them at some point but for now I’m going to move on to other ideas for awhile.

What is your favourite man vs self anime or character suffering from inner conflict?


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Female Characters with Blonde Hair

This was a seriously hard list to narrow down and even then I’m still torn over some of the decisions. The issue is unlike with red-heads and the blue-haired ladies, there are so many different types of blonde characters that it gets hard to decide who your favourite is. I did finally make a decision and unfortunately that mean some really excellent characters got the chop (as well as a lot of cliché ones). As always, feel free to tell me your favourites in the comments below.

And for patrons there is my lesser top 5 list. This week I just went with blonde girls who irritate me to no end.

Please Note – There will be spoilers below.

Honourable mentions go to: Lucy (Fairy Tail), Serena (Sailor Moon), Annie (Attack on Titan) and Lizzy (Black Butler).

Number 5: Triela from Gunslinger Girl

Triela is my choice for being both tragic and incredibly amazing. ALl of the girls in Gunslinger Girl are tragic characters. Suffering sever injuries before being brought back more machine than girl and then being trained to be a killer. While Triela is the oldest of the girls, she also goes through a lot and she’s one of my favourite characters from the show as we see more of her involved in direct combat than some of the other characters. Determined and deadly, this blonde character means business.

Number 4: Amber from Darker Than Black

Amber is a bit of an enigma because she’s only really in flashbacks until the second half and even then she is in and out of the show. That said, I like her character. She plays everything very casually even while she’s probably the only character with the full picture of what is really going on. And she makes some really hard choices and pays the price for them. While I still feel she might have clued some of the other characters in a bit earlier, she has sound reasoning for her actions in the end and she seems to genuinely respect Hei’s final decision in the series. Amber, for taking on everyone and doing it with a smile, you have taken the fourth position on this list.

Number 3: Riza Hawkeye from Full Metal Alchemist

What’s not to love about Riza no matter which version of Full Metal Alchemist you are watching? She likes dogs, she’s the only one who can really deal with Colonel Mustang, she’s a crack shot, and she’s a hard worker. Add to that she’s also a voice of reason and logic and occasionally a motherly figure to the younger characters, and she’s just all kinds of amazing. If I ever do a best supporting character list, Riza is going to be on it.

Number 2: Utau Hoshina from Shugo Chara

She’s an idol with not one, but two guardian characters that take the form of an angel and a devil. Early on in the series, Utau works against our protagonists and only uses Iru (the devil guardian). Later on she accepts Eru (the angel) and she begins building herself up from scratch as an idol and a person. Other than her brother complex, Utau is a fascinating character and a good rival for Amu early in the series. She’s also pretty awesome as an idol even if she does use her powers for evil early on. As a character, Utau experiences the best growth and development in this series.

Number 1: Maka Albarn from Soul Eater

It had to be Maka. She’s one of my all time favourite characters and she’s just plain awesome. She hits the books, fights with a scythe, and is still a genuinely nice person who is able to make a real connection with Crona who is need of human contact. Unlike so many heroes, Maka isn’t just strong because she is. She’s actually probably the weakest in the group we follow, but she is an incredibly hard worker and very determined to succeed. Even Maka going crazy is highly entertaining.  Oh, and don’t make her mad when she’s carrying a book or you will get hit with the dread Maka chop.

And that’s my list this week. As I said at the start, feel free to add your own suggestions to the list in the comments below and let me know what you think of my selections.


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Soul Eater Series Review

Welcome to my 50th anime series review! And it’s a special one: Soul Eater.

Celebration
Yes, I know this image is not from Soul Eater.

Overview:

The DWMA (Death Weapon Meister Academy) operates in Death city and works to train Weapons (people who can transform into weapons) and Meisters (those who can wield weapons) in order to fight against evil souls, witches and whatever else get’s thrown at them. Maka is a hardworking Meister who is trying to succeed at turning Soul (her Weapon partner) into a Death Scythe by defeating and eating 99 evil souls and the soul of a witch. Joining them as they face the various villains of the piece are Black Star and his partner Tsubaki and Death the Kid with his partners Liz and Patty Thompson. There’s a whole bunch of other things that happen but you’ll probably enjoy it more if you just watch.

Review:

Since I chose it for my 50th post, it’s kind of obvious I am a fan of Soul Eater. I’ve been wanting to review it for ages but kept putting it off (as I have a few other series that I want to use to mark other milestones). That said, I am not so attached to this series that I won’t identify some of its flaws. By the way, there are spoilers a plenty below if you haven’t watched the series so be warned.

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The first three episodes of Soul Eater are each kind of stand alone stories. They do connect and lead into the main plot, but essentially their job is to introduce us to the three main pairs that we’ll be traipsing around after for the next 51 episodes. Maka and Soul are definitely my favourite pair and the opening fight sequence with Maka is truly amazing. I actually saw this fight on someone’s YouTube channel as one of the best anime fights ever and that’s what lead me to track Soul Eater down (and yes, this was quite awhile ago). Less thrilling is the episode focussing on Black Star but I’ll admit that is my own personal dislike for Black Star coming through. Seriously, the thought of a ninja who can’t stop himself shouting yahoo and landing in the middle of a table to make an entrance doesn’t do much for me. It’s just good that Tsubaki is such an amazing partner. Lastly we meet Death the Kid, who isn’t yet a student at the academy because he’s apparently Lord Death’s son. He is hilarious and while his obsession with symmetry might seem a little too much to take at times it is definitely a well used repetitive joke within the series.

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Once we’ve met our characters the story get’s moving and this is where I am going to be a little bit critical. These guys are in school and in training and yet world ruining danger crops up time and again and they said students to deal with it. Occasionally accompanied by a teacher. Where are the rest of the graduates of this academy and what are they doing? Seriously? Also, we lunge from the peril of Medusa, to the Kishin, and then to Arachne before back to the Kishin throughout the story. While it makes sense that during the long run time we would defeat some of the bad guys, it really feels like it lacks cohesion. More importantly, it doesn’t really feel like Arachne was needed at all in the story even though she probably succeeded in inflicting more damage than either of the other two villains.

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Also, we are going to have training episodes, side character focussed episodes, and just plain filler episodes. While none of this is actually bad it continues to dilute what is actually a fairly thin ‘get stronger and defeat the bad guy’ plot line. Don’t get me wrong, I love the story and find it highly entertaining, but casting a critical eye over it there is certainly room for trimming it some. More to the point, I just keep thinking Maka and co deserve better. They are such dynamic and interesting characters and being flung around the world to fight bad guys before returning to train before fighting some more just feels like the show was hoping the humour, art style and characters would stop us from asking what are these characters doing.

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Maka wants to be as good as her mother, who was also a Meister. She studies and trains all the time and strives to be the top of her class. despite this, she never falls into the trap of being the stereotypical geek character. It isn’t just that she’s a cool fighter, it is that she does know how to laugh and her interactions with Soul as he tries to derail her focus is at times hilarious. But what do all of these fights she gets sent to deal with have to do with her goal? Some of them are clearly linked to the idea of helping Soul become a Death Scythe. But the others? She has no personal stake in it so she’s really fighting because she wants to be the best? She wants to live up to her mother? She’s worried about her friends? All of the above? It is never made particularly clear and the momentum and tone of the series suffers because of it.

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I’d also repeat the above argument for Black Star and Death the Kid. While both have personal goals, they regularly get sidelined and the characters get caught up in larger events that they have no personal stake in. What is worse, is that their own goals don’t even get addressed for large blocks of episodes at a time.

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Last criticism before I get onto why this show is super amazing and you should absolutely watch it: what on Earth were they thinking with that ending? This anime needs a reboot and a new final episode because while the Maka focus in the final battle was great (given she’s my favourite character), this was one of the lamest ways to end a battle ever seen and coming from an anime that delivered epic fights on a regular basis that was not cool.

So, why watch Soul Eater?

The characters do sell the show. Not just the core group but Stein, Lord Death, Spirit (Maka’s father), the other students, Crona, the witches, the returning Death Scythes, they are all just interesting and dynamic characters. Okay, a few of them are the carriers of one joke but given the range of characters not all of them can be given a full back story.

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Crona and Maka’s conflict and then friendship is one of my favourite to watch in anime. Seeing how Crona develops after being offered that friendship is really delightful.  It’s also a pleasant insertion of a very human and real drama into what is sometimes a very over the top and fantastical series.

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Also, Spirit is getting my vote for best anime father. Not because he is a good father in any actual sense of the word, but because he is totally devoted to Maka even if he is useless at showing it. Plus his flip from comedic relief as an over protective but estranged father to serious weapon at the side of Lord Death is very well handled.

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I have to mention Stein. Stein is amazing as the crazy professor and his relationship with Medusa is intriguing. The two characters both deal in the grey areas between sanity and madness as well as the moral right and wrong and it’s fun watching them both stand as close to the edge as they can go on opposite sides of the line. Also, the fights between these two are pretty amazing.

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And of course on the subject of madness we have Maka and Soul. Early in the series, Soul gets cut and infected with black blood while trying to defend Maka after Maka actually stuffs up a fight (something that weighs heavily on her for way too long but is realistic for an overachiever). As the two resonate (connect their souls) that blood starts to infect Maka. The two of them play a dangerous game of Russian Roulette trying to gain more power from the black blood  while at the same time holding onto their sanity and a number of times one or both of them are nearly consumed. A lot of this plays out as a visual metaphor inside Soul in a room with a piano where there is an imp of sorts and some jazz that keeps skipping a beat. If I am honest, this particular plot line was my favourite out of all the storylines that ran throughout Soul Eater. And Maka when under the influence of the black blood is amazing to watch given her usual controlled nature.

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Visually Soul Eater is either a love or hate affair but for me I found it beautiful. The characters are stylised but each one looks exactly the way they need to in order to convey who they are and to distinguish them from the very large cast, the design of the academy and Death City is striking and my favourite part is the anthropomorphized versions of the sun and moon. I get that some people aren’t fans of the look of Soul Eater but to me it does exactly what it needs to and fits the tone of the show perfectly. And the opening themes are absolutely amazing to listen to.

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For a fantasy with a lot of action this story delivers. We have witches, zombies, mummies, gangsters, ninjas, a samurai, demons, and on the list goes. Maka fights with a scythe, Death the Kid duel wields guns, and Black Star uses an array of ninja styled gear and each fighting style feels really unique to the character. The same goes for the other students in the class who could have just become background but in their few fight sequences get to show off who they are.

This show is fun, energetic, not afraid to deal with the darkness facing each character, or the darkness they harbour inside, and it delivers consistently entertaining storylines for our characters to move through as they try to figure out who they are as individuals and as Meisters and Weapons. This is very solidly one of my favourite anime of all time (even while I’ll acknowledge it isn’t perfect).

Oh, and I’m not even going to touch on Excaliber.

So what did you love or hate about Soul Eater? Feel free to comment below.

Top 5 Tuesday: The Most Fun Titles from Bones

Usually I don’t really care which studio is responsible for an anime. However, Bones is the exception to that rule. I have found time and time again when watching an anime that I think is amazing that it just happened to be from Bones. So in recent years I have actively sought out anime from the studio and I’ve rarely been disappointed. Even the ones that don’t hit the mark entirely haven’t been a complete train wreck and there are some truly fantastic titles.

My criteria for my list today was fun. So there are some anime from Bones that won’t be on the list that I am certain some of you will wonder what I was thinking. That’s fine, feel free to add your nominations in the comments. Eventually I will just have to do a best show list but I’m definitely avoiding that at the moment. Way too hard to make a decision about which is the best anime overall. But fun? That I can rank.

Please Note – There are spoilers below. You have been warned.

Honourable mentions this week go to: Zetsuen no Tempest, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood (yes, awesome but not as fun as some others), Hitsugi no Chaika, Darker Than Black (again, great show but not as fun), and Star Driver (weird but fun).

Number 5: Boku no Hero Academia (My Hero Academia)

It was definitely the fun feeling from this that won me over. I wasn’t looking for a new anime or a show about superheroes and I really only intended to watch a couple of episodes, do a write up and move on. However, there is some great energy in this show and while the characters are serious, the show itself doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Number 4: Akagami no Shirayuki-Hime

While this is a different kind of fun to My Hero Academia, it is a refreshing return to childhood days of classic Disney. It isn’t self-aware, tongue in cheek, sassy modern female takes on the cliches of the past, but it is a strong and very real female lead tackling the trials of being in a classic fairytale setting with dignity and it is just fun to watch. Although, fun in this case relates more to watching the budding romance than to any of the action in the series.

Number 3: Ouran High School Host Club

This is a list about fun, so here they are. The Host Club. Ready to entertain. While you can certainly argue that this isn’t the best anime around, it is fun to watch which a likeable cast, some obvious but amusing gags, and a generally light tone as the club goes about it’s business. There are some genuine moments of human drama (and then there are all the times they just blow situations out of proportion) but mostly it’s great for a few laughs and a marathon watch.

Number 2: Soul Eater

The choice between number 1 and 2 for this list was really hard. Soul Eater is a near perfect blend of goofy, over the top violence, comedic moments and then serious action set pieces and drama. At times it moves at break neck pace through a series of set ups and punch lines and at others it finds ways to include visual humour or some really sharp satire in a more dramatic moment. It’s one of my all time favourite anime and Maka is one of my favourite female characters ever. Yet, it still lost out in the ranks of most fun for two simple reasons. It’s run time as the middle of the series kind of drags before it finds its momentum again to lead to the climax is the first reason. The second is the climax itself. Wow, does this series need a do-over to fix that final battle. Soul Eater, great fun.

Number 1: Noragami

It had to be. I don’t think I have ever had this much fun while watching an anime through the first time. From the opening songs, to the crazy phantom designs, Yato’s everyday personality contrasted with his serious side, the other gods, the weapons, the sheer over the topness of everything, I just fell in love with the humour in this show. Favourite moment is the episode where this guy jumps off a building and Yato shows up and they just have this normal conversation while falling to the ground. I get that it is entirely subjective, but this is an anime I happily recommend to people who don’t watch anime and they love it. The love the energy, the characters, the pacing, and just how enjoyable it is to watch. The two seasons are each only 12 episodes and it doesn’t feel like they finished the story yet, so unlike Soul Eater it doesn’t have that crushing let down of an ending and it’s left us wanting more even while each season resolves at least one part of the character’s dilemmas. Regardless, Noragami is definitely my number 1 anime for fun from studio Bones or anyone else.

So, what would you have had on your list?