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March 19, 2012 / Bradley

GUTS GUTS GUTS GUTS GUTS GUTS: Weekly Press #02

It’s the weekend before spring break, but to be honest, I’ve been on break since Monday, even though I’ve shown up for class and turned in assignments. I just haven’t been mentally “there,” and I’m not the only one- the early warm weather and closeness of a week-long break has made even the most stoic professors and students restless. It has been nice to relax and catch up on a lot of anime I’ve put on hold over the semester- and the break is just getting started. It might be time to finally start watch Legend of the Galactic Heroes, but for now, here’s what I watched this week:

Toriko (BB Corn Arc & Century Soup Arc) 17 – 41

Anime contains a field of genres so vast that just saying “I like anime” says about as much about taste as “I like music.” While I’m curious and open-minded (and perhaps lucky) enough to enjoy nearly every genre, my favorite has always been fighting anime based on boy’s comics. I’ve seen a lot of fantastic anime over the years, but the most sublime experiences have been watching lengthy arcs in Bleach, One Piece and others. I love imaginative and weird powers in lengthy fights between good and evil, I love how those powers are always backed by some weird psuedo-scientific babble, I love the weird locations and exotic creatures,  I love how the stakes are always raised just a little bit higher, and then just a little bit more and a little bit more…. The Soul Society Arc from Bleach, The Chuunin Exam Arc in Naruto, and the Alabasta and Water 7 arcs in One Piece will always be some of my favorite experiences as a fan. These shows usually take a while to rev up to that kind of epic material, though, requiring a time investment that’s beyond most fans. Toriko is still building steam to the kind of epic story arcs that I love, but every other series I listed so far, has managed to be thoroughly engrossing when most shounen series are merely adequate.

Because I enjoy the high of watching a lengthy action arc over a short period, I tend to wait for these story arcs to resolve before watching them. The Century Soup arc is Toriko‘s longest thus far, and its most enjoyable. It expands the world of the comics by fleshing out the villains, revealing a god-like ingredient that both our heroes and villains are hunting, and hints at a new world to explore in the near future called Gourmet World, which much the Grand Line in One Piece, is a much more dangerous world than heroes’ home, and is the only place they can fulfill their dreams. It also heightens the danger, with the longest and most intense fight yet, with new heights of culinary delights as the prize for the winner. In addition to Gourmet Chefs and Hunters, we now have Gourmet Knights, a Gourmet Mafia, and even a kind of Gourmet Greenpeace, dedicated to restoring and preserving the wildlife destroyed by the Hunters, though the ones we’ve seen so far aren’t quite as extreme as that description suggests. Toriko‘s world now feels three times as big.

Part of what makes the anime compelling is that it not only does a great job with its climatic fights, but also has some interesting downtime. Weekly battles with some villain of the week quickly makes for a dull watch. Instead, the series spends a lot of its time exploring its culture, which is stuffed with fascinating details about a world where every inhabitant is dedicated to enjoying the best culinary delights their world happily offers. I had always held One Piece up as the ideal example of imaginative world building, but Toriko might just take its place. Some of the best episodes of those two arcs are just about Toriko and his friends visiting cities like Gourmet City and The City of Healing, simply because of how detailed and interesting they are. This helps Toriko really capture what sets apart good shounen series from the mediocre ones- a spirit of adventure. Discovering the world with the characters does as much to make for an entertaining cartoon as an intense battle for survival. Right now, Toriko encapsulates everything I love about a good fighting anime. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when its storyline fully matures into lengthier material.

Rating: *****

Sailor Moon 24-35

Tim at THEM Anime Reviews is a dyed-in-the-wool Sailor Moon fan, and has been celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the franchise by blogging every episode from the first season. I had seen a few episodes years ago, largely because I felt obligated to be literate about one of the biggest names in anime, but only mildly enjoyed it. Tim’s thread encouraged me to give the series another try, though, and while the last few episodes has contained some of the strongest material from the series so far, it also crystallized a lot of what I don’t like about it.

A lot of what made Sailor Moon popular in the nineties was novelty- its combination of magical girl and sentai superheroes was a fantastic idea. That novelty is gone, though, and the series doesn’t leave a lot for me to latch onto in its absence. It sticks to a fairly repetitive, monster-of-the-week formula that’s almost ritual, which is perfectly fine for casual television, but exhausting for future completionists. The simple characters, story and animation are all appropriate for a series that’s intended to be ephemeral, but somehow has been as immortal as any other titan in the industry.

That impression is the average of all the weak-to-enjoyable episodes I watched to get to this point. But the last few episodes are clearly the strongest material from the series so far. Some of it is simple narrative force- the story arc with the Dark Kingdom is clearly coming to close- and some of it was how the staff played around with the established formula, or introduced new characters or expanded the old ones. Unfortunately, the climatic events in episodes 34 and 35 were undercut with a cheesy backstory and yet another underwhelming fight- the sailors really need to branch out from being one trick ponies and learn kung-fu like the girls in Pretty Cure. As soon as I find reason to get interested in this franchise, I find equally good ones to drop it. I don’t know if I could make it through Sailor Moon R if the same holds true there, no matter how interested I am in what Ikuhara does Sailor Moon S.

Rating: ***

gdgd Fairies 1-13 (Complete)

Most folks seem to remember Lucky Star as a self-indulgent otaku comedy where nothing really happened, which is so unkind it’s almost slander. I remember it as a series where it was actually interesting to watch fictional characters talk about the most mundane topics for a full thirty minutes, which is the kind of concept that might get the series called advant garde if it also didn’t play so closely to otaku stereotypes. gdgd Fairies is Lucky Star‘s warped cousin- it clearly draws inspiration Lucky Star with its meandering, comedic conversations between three pretty girl tropes about life and its petty details. But it’s also a bit avant garde, with humor that would be a good fit for fans of Tim & Eric’s Awesome Show or any of the other weirdness that airs late at night on adult swim. Whereas Lucky Star was dedicated to its characters and tried to make them as likable as possible, gdgd Fairies is more interested in just being weird and funny.

The premise is supposed to be something like, “three novice fairies live together in the forest and practice magic,” and how that works out is something that doesn’t resemble its premise at all. Each episode has three segments, usually opening with the kind of meandering conversation I described earlier, before the fairies go into a room to practice magic. This means playing elaborate games, and leads to some great sight gags, and even though these the most work intensive segments for the animators, the cheap CG ends up adding another layer of humor to those gags. It’s the strongest segment of the series. It’s then followed by the weakest, an improv segment- which is an interesting novelty in animation and possibly a first in anime- where the voice actresses try to make up funny lines for a weird clip of animation. And these voice actresses just aren’t very funny, but it does give Satomi Akesaka a chance to show off some impressive range. She’s the only one who seems like she’d be a good at a party- the rest seem like dead-weights when it comes to snappy humor. Of course, improvisation is extremely difficult to do, and I liked that the series tried it. I still dread having to watch it.

But overall, it’s an interesting novelty cartoon that will appeal to folks to who like to explore the strange outer limits of anime. I’m not sure, though, that will appeal to anyone else but some stoners and them.

Rating: ***

Lee Fields and The Expressions – “You’re the Kind of Girl”

SXSW was this weekend, and while I had no way to get to Austin, I could still reap the benefits of one of the nation’s largest music festivals. Nearly every online music magazine and blog that I follow released a playlist for the festival rich with new artists to discover, and I’ve been digging through them over the last few days. I’d been listening to a lot of folk and country up until last week, so it was nice to rediscover why I like loud rock n’ roll, but the music that stuck with me the longest is some of the new soul music from acts like Lee Fields and the Dap Kings. Lee Field’s Faithful Man has been on constant play for the last few days- it’s a very solid and polished album that perfectly replicates the sound of Al Green and Curtis Mayfield.

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