Top 5 on The Strip: Anime pop off edition

1. Avatar Aang vs. Fire Lord Ozai
Listen, we’d been anticipating the final fight between the Avatar and the Fire Lord just because it was built up and hyped for the entire run of the show. It didn’t disappoint, either. Aang finally mastering the Avatar state and absolutely obliterating Ozai’s bending abilities was epic. Specifically, seeing the Avatar state in a state of mastery for the first time is what did it for us.

 


2. Goku going super Saiyan for the first time
Goku reaching super Saiyan for the first time against Freiza was boss for so many reasons, chiefly because it was the end of a long-drawn out arc. But this was also ham because we’d been teased with it so many times in the first arc of Dragon Ball Z that you knew it was going to be beyond great when it finally did happen. Seeing Goku’s hair turn golden with rage for the first time and then demolishing Freiza was simply awesome.

 


3. Ichigo vs. Ulqiorra
Even though Bleach peaked with the Soul Society arc, seeing Ichigo achieve his Hollowfied form against Ulqiorra was one of the highlights of the entire Hueco Mundo arc. This signified that Ichigo wasn’t even in his final form, and he was suddenly more powerful than most of the boss characters that Aizen could throw his way. And the crazy part was, he STILL wasn’t done yet.

 


4. Midoriya reaches faux 100% One for All
My Hero Academia is great at pacing Midoriya’s steady increase in power and him reaching the faux 100 percent of One for All is a crucial development. Not only did he reach the max limit of his power with the quirk, but also he stayed in the state without adverse effects. That was only because of Eri’s quirk rewinding the damage, but it was fascinating to see what One for All could be capable of in the future.

 

5. Naruto turns into Nine Tails versus Pain
Naruto enthusiasts will point to this fight as the beginning of Naruto’s ridiculousness and a glimpse into his true potential as a Jinchuriki within the series. Pain was no joke and the fact that Naruto embraced the Nine-Tailed Fox’s ideology if only briefly meant that he was ready at all costs. He manifested all nine tails but was stopped by his late father. Imagine if had he manifested all nine and been allowed to keep manifesting them.

Anime Lounge #23: Avatar: The Last Airbender Book 1

Series: Avatar: The Last Airbender

Episodes: 1 to 20

Premise: The Avatar, a being who can channel the four elements – air, water, earth and fire – is missing, and the Fire Nation is dominating the world in their absence. Teenagers Katara and Sokka stumble upon the mythological teenage boy Aang, who had been thought lost 100 years earlier, and free him. He joins with the brother-and-sister duo to master the four elements and save their world from the Fire Nation’s tyrannical leader, Fire Lord Ozai. Along the way, they must dodge the Fire Nation’s crown prince Zuko, who struggles to regain his honor under pressure from his father.

Is it worth watching?: Yes. Avatar is stunning in its world building and investment in character depth. You’ll get hooked quickly on the mythology of the Avatar and how Aang will save the world.

Breakout character: Zuko. Though he struggles in a fruitless quest dealing with honor that he didn’t lose, you come to realize that the fire-bending master is not the true villain here.

Where it’s going?: Aang will learn to master all four elements and will struggle to save the world while dealing with the grief of losing his people. It’s a fascinating journey to see just how much all the characters will grow in bending and otherwise.

Otaku Corner: Outlaw Star Ep. 1-26

Outlaw Star shines among anime of early aughts

I’m paying homage to an anime series that has made a major impact on otaku culture as well helped in the renaissance of anime in America.

First, I’ll give a little background. Sunrise Beyond Inc. is well known for its globally acclaimed series Gundam. It has also helped contribute to and worked with Cartoon Network with its Toonami/Adult Swim blocks, presenting new classics such as The Big O, Cowboy Bebop and Inuyasha. But Sunrise brought a series to Cartoon Network that helped anime rebound in American pop culture. That series is Outlaw Star.

Licensed by Bandai Entertainment in 1999 and broadcasted on Cartoon Network in 2001 and 2002, Outlaw Star tells the story of Gene Starwind and best friend-business partner James “Jim” Hawking, who run a jack-of-all trades business on the planet Sentinel III. Their lives are changed forever when an outlaw named Hot Ice Hilda hires them as bodyguards while recovering a stolen spaceship — later known as the Outlaw Star — and its navigational system to find the “Galactic Layline,” a fabled place which holds immense treasure, knowledge, and power. Outlaw Star has some similarities to Cowboy Bebop in the theme of a Space Western type of anime. Early on, I was introduced to the main characters, but I learned later that the makeup of the cast would change. When Gene, Jim and Hilda reach the hiding place of the Outlaw Star, they’re attacked by the Kei pirates, who are after Hilda for stealing the ship. Hilda battles the pirates, stalling for Gene and Jim to escape with the ship and its navigation system named Melfina. Hilda dies, unfortunately, when she activates a hidden bomb that vaporizes her and the pirates.

The series continues with Gene and crew taking on various jobs to manage maintenance and gaining new crew members, such as assassin “Twilight” Suzuka and former Ctarl-Ctarl government officer Aisha ClanClan. In addition to the Kei pirates, Gene must deal with the bounty hunting MacDougall brothers and the scheming Professor Gwen Kahn while uncovering the mystery surrounding Melfina and the Galactic Layline. Gene and company are always looking to make money while spending it and sometimes laugh at the escapades they get into while trying to do so.

The character designs are very good, but the stars of the show are the actual ships designed by Juniya Ishigaki and Shoji Kawamori, who designed the Outlaw Star. The show’s main and ending themes begin with a strong masculine theme then change to a child-like lullaby and a slow pop song that can calm the most frustrated otaku. The voice dub cast is excellent with Bob Buchholz as Gene, Brianne Siddall as Jim, Emily Brown as Melfina, Lenore Zann as Aisha, and Wendee Lee as Suzuka. Outlaw Star also benefited from having Beau Billingslea as the narrator and Mary E. McGlynn as Hilda. Another voice actor that contributed was Barbra Goodson, known for her work on “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers as “Rita Repulsa,” as a guest voice. This series showed that Sunrise employed excellent voice actors with high quality designs and strong storytelling to bring a show that would have been overlooked to the forefront with enthusiastic fan support.

Outlaw Star is a show among the Toonami/Adult Swim lineup that kept the programing blocks alive in addition to reviving anime passion in America. Fortunately, you can find this classic series on the Funimation now and Hulu streaming services.

If anything, Outlaw Star teaches all otaku like me: Go forth, seek your fortune and do not fear failure.

Brandon Beatty is editor-at-large of Gaming Insurrection. He can be reached by email at brandonb[at]gaminginsurrection.com

Anime Lounge #22: Horimiya Episodes 1-12

Series: Horimiya

Episodes: 1-12

Premise: An outgoing girl (Kyouko Hori) notices a shy boy (Izumi Miyamura) in her class and wonders why he doesn’t have any friends. At the same time, they meet outside of class when Miyamura looks completely different. Their friendship blossoms and eventually they confess to having feelings for each other. Where their relationship and that of their friends and acquaintances takes them is the meat of the story.

Is it worth watching?: Yes. Outstanding visuals and a mature story about the feelings of young people becoming adults makes for a compelling anime. The intro theme is also fantastic.

Breakout character: Izumi Miyamura. He goes from super shy guy to outrageously cute pierced and tattooed guy every day and settles somewhere in between. His glow up is amazing once he develops confidence.

Where it’s going?: The relationship between Hori and Miyamura intensifies, and it’s obvious this will lead to marriage down the line. The fun will be in getting there. There is a second season announced, so we will see more of their relationship progress over time.

Anime Lounge #21: Cowboy Bebop Episodes 1 – 12

Series: Cowboy Bebop

Episodes: 1 to 12

Premise: Space bounty hunter Spike Spiegel is always in search of his next target, and he finds unlikely helpers in retired cop Jet Black, the mysterious Faye Valentine and later legendary hacker Ed and the scientific genius pupper Ein. Spike must confront his past — running around in the mafia — in order to move forward with his future. How he does it to start leads to more questions than answers, ending with his first confrontation with former friend Vicious.

Is it worth watching?: YES. This is one of the god-tier anime that every new anime enthusiast should be required to watch. Production values, voice acting, cool characters and an awesome soundtrack … this anime has it all.

Breakout character: Faye Valentine. Yes, it could be all of the characters, but Faye definitely stands out. You want to know her deal, why she can’t remember anything and how she will ever get herself together. And then you find out later in the series, and it’s like, wow. The payoff for Faye is amazing, and you still want more.

Where it’s going?: Spike has to take on Vicious once again, reclaim his honor and handle unresolved business. He’s taking the crew along for the ride, and where they end up is the mystery.

Otaku Corner: Death Note Vol. 12

The Death Note saga comes to an end in Volume 12

Here we are, at last. The last volume of Death Note is here, and I could not be any happier to close the chapter on manga’s most self-righteous and sadistic character, Light Yagami. From the very beginning, he weaved a great web of deceit by utilizing a weapon of mass destruction. From test killing various criminals to intentionally killing international police officials (including this millennium’s Sherlock Holmes) and having the audacity to play God while wielding absolute power over every well-known police and security agency on Earth, Light has done it all. Rest assured, I will soldier though Mr. Yagami’s foolishness while doing this review.
After a successful attack on NHN studios, Mello and his partner, Matt, were able to capture Takada, bringing a slight interruption to Light’s and Near’s decisive battle set to take place in days. Mello, being clever, forces Takada to undress herself to remove any tracking devices, preventing her bodyguards and the police to find them. Mello cleverly places Takada’s outer clothes in a shipping box and leaves it at a package delivery company. Unknown to him, however, that Takada had a piece of the Death Note, a pen and a secret cell phone to contact Light.

Once Takada contacts Light, she tells him that she killed Mello, and Light fiendishly acts concerned in front of the task force members by asking where she was. At the same time, the news reports Matt’s death as he was shot by Takada’s bodyguards while attempting to fire smoke bombs at them. On the way to rescue Takada, Light uses a hidden piece of the Death Note to kill her after she calls Mikami to tell him to text her two days’ worth of criminals to kill. Near also tries to help with the search but is too late when the task forces find Mello and Takada dead after a fire, thanks to Light.
While Light and Near made their final adjustments for their last battle, NHN and other television stations begin to plead Kira to host his messages. On the day of the final showdown, Linder of the SPK drives Misa and Mogi, dropping the former at a deluxe hotel suite while driving to the meeting site. After arriving at the Yellow Box Warehouse and checking for wire taps and hidden camera, Light, Near and their allies met face to face. Near then asks everyone to wait 30 minutes for Mikami to show up and instructs everyone to act normal should he try to peep in on the meeting. Unknown to Mikami, Near has tampered with the real pages of the notebook. Once Light figured out that he was exposed as Kira, he first claims Near is setting him up and finally confesses that he is Kira.
As Light continued to bask in his “victory,” Near interrupts that he not only tampered with the Death Note Mikami had on him, but also he messed with the other one he kept in a bank deposit box. Light, still delirious, tried to kill Near with a hidden piece of the Death Note, but Matsuda shoots him multiple times. Light asks Ryuk to kill Near and the others with his Death Note. Ryuk refuses, stating that Light is near death because of his wounds; he would take Light’s life and did so without a second thought.
A year later, Matsuda and Ide talk about the case, and Matsuda stated that he believed that Near controlled Mikami. At that moment, Ide gets a call from Aizawa, who is now deputy superintendent of the NPA. Aizawa states that Near needs help investigating a drug syndicate’s deal in Japan occurring at the Yellow Box Warehouse. Once arriving, they join Mogi and the task force’s newest member, Yamamoto, joins the meeting with L. Meanwhile, a gathering of Kira worshippers convenes in a secluded area where their priestess (looking like Misa) place places a candle and prays for Kira’s return.
From beginning to end, Volume 12 of Death Note did not disappoint. All the writing and artwork surpassed previous editions, giving a great series a well-earned sendoff with hopes of continuation in the future. Ohba-san’s writing was spectacular in building suspense. Obata-san’s artwork was brilliant, keeping the suspense and action alive and allowing readers to see the aftermath of Kira’s (possible) demise. I am giving well-deserved praise to Viz Media’s Tesuichiro Miyaki for translation and adaptation that perfectly told the story, making this final volume — like the other English releases of Death Note — re-readable from beginning to end.
Death Note Volume 12 did not disappoint. I would like to thank you, Otaku Corner readers, for joining me through this series. One piece of advice: Be wary of shinigami and always leave out juicy apples for them.

Brandon Beatty is associate editor of Gaming Insurrection. He can be reached by email at brandonb[at]gaminginsurrection.com

Otaku Corner: Death Note Vol. 11

The light at the end of the Death Note tunnel is clear

Light, Light, Light. I keep finding more reasons for confining Mr. Yagami to a high-level mental health facility than having him in ANY level of employment in public safety. Throughout the entire series reviewing this manga series, the question of “How can one justify killing innocent people in order to make a better world,” keeps popping back in my head, with no credible answers.

Volume 11 begins with Light, Misa and the task force headed back to Japan to avoid capture by Near, the SPK and Mello. Light’s return to Japan provides him breathing room to set up his plans in controlling the Kira investigation and control Mikami’s movements as Kira. However, Near correctly deduces Light’s escape to Japan and follows suit to capture Kira in his own domain, using Hal Linder as a potential member of Kiyomi Takada’s female security team. At the same time, Misa is asked by Yoshida Productions to perform at the annual New Year’s show. Once Near arrives in Japan, he contacts Light to inform him that he is also in Japan to lure Kira out of hiding. Both L’s decide to use that call to begin preparations for their final plans to battle each other.

Further in the story, Light continues to use Takada to his advantage by exchanging written notes to avoid detection by the task force and communicate with Mikami. Takada is OK with the plan, but she began her own plan to secure her position with Light by asking Misa to join her for a late dinner. At the dinner, Mogi and Linder are present, but Linder was ordered by Takada to stand by in case Misa got belligerent. For the sake of time, I’ll say that the dinner didn’t not go well. Meanwhile, another SPK agent named Gevanni starts his stake out of Mikami and has noticed that he has killed a subway passenger for harassing a female passenger without using the Death Note. Acting on Gevanni’s report, Near and Rester began the final stages of planning to capture Kira/Light.

At the New Year’s show, Takada announces that Misa has not yet arrived, forcing Light and the task force to search for her and Mogi. At that moment, Near contacts Light stating that he has taken Misa and Mogi into protective custody. Light, inwardly enraged, acts concerned in front of the task force by telling Misa and Mogi that they are free to leave at any time they want.

At the same time, Gevanni follows Mikami to a local gym and was able to touch the Death Note that was in Mikami’s brief bag. With Gevanni’s report, Near decides to make a replica Death Note and set the date, time and place for the final battle: a warehouse near Daikoku Wharf in Yokohama. On the day of their meeting, Takada arrives at NHN Studio for her news program when Matt arrives firing a smoke grenade at Takada. While the security team surrounds her, Mello, disguised as a motorcyclist worshipper of Kira, tells Linder to place Takada on the bike. When Takada is on the bike with Mello, Linder has two security units to follow them while the remaining security team goes after Matt. When Takada was out of danger, Mello ignored requests from the security detail to hand her over to them and escapes into a narrow alley with Takada as his prisoner.

This volume is a nice way to setup a climatic end for the series. Every detail from artwork to storyline was strong enough to create their own impact without losing plot focus. I applauded the chess-like moves that Light and Near employed with Swiss clock-like precision in each of their plans giving them flexibility in each situation. Also, the development for each character was not stale, especially for Misa, Takada, and Linder, who all got equal scene time in each chapter. I found the dinner scene with Misa and Takada hilarious when Misa tells Takada that she and Kira will be killed when he is captured, and Takada counters with host authority of the New Year’s show to prevent Misa’s engagement to Light. Also, Linder was featured in superb multitasking as a most trusted bodyguard while being a double agent and referee between Kira’s two suitors. Ohba-san and Obata-san again showed their mastery in creating a worthwhile series. Credit is also owed to Tetsuichiro Miyazi, who performed adaptation and translation duties.

This is it. The battle that we waited for, dear readers, is here. L’s heirs and Light Yagami fighting to the death, not for praise but intellectual superiority. As I ready myself to write the final review of Death Note, I cannot find any reason why I should not re-read this series or re-watch the anime. Do shinigami really exist? Only time will tell. I can offer this analysis, though: A battle of anime and manga’s most intriguing intellectuals will end, with ONLY one left standing.

Brandon Beatty is associate editor of Gaming Insurrection. He can be reached by email at brandonb[at]gaminginsurrection.com

Anime Lounge #20: My Hero Academia Season 1

Series: My Hero Academia

Episodes: 1 to 13

Premise: A young boy, Izuku Midoriya, from Japan lives in a world where at least 80 percent of society is born with some type of extra special ability, called quirks. Quirks are used by a segment of the population to fight crime, and Midoriya idolizes the world-famous All Might, the No. 1-ranked hero. After a chance encounter with his idol, quirkless Midoriya begins to train with All Might to gain his passed-down quirk One for All. Midoriya’s journey to becoming the No. 1 hero is chronicled as he joins U.A. High School and learns the true meaning of becoming a hero.

Is it worth watching?: YES. We love the X-Men, and My Hero Academia is basically an anime version of the Marvel staple. If you love super-powered antics, compelling heroes and villains and tight, deep writing, My Hero Academia is a phenomenal choice. It starts a little slow, but once it gets going, it gets GOOD.

Breakout character: Todoroki Shoto. In the first season, it’s all about the dual-natured boy who wields fire and ice as one quirk. He seems frosty at first but his introduction is nothing short of dazzling, and he quickly becomes a favorite because of his power and stoic expression. Iida Tenya and Midoriya are close in terms of engaging. You want to root for both characters as they grow. All the teachers are top-notch characters as well, but Shota Aizawa aka Eraserhead is our favorite. He stands out from the pack in terms of his cool but basic costume and the sheer strength of his quirk Erasure, which nullifies quirks within his vision range until he blinks.

Best episode: Episode 5: What I Can Do For Now. Midoriya has already entered Class 1A by passing the entrance exam, but now he’s in the big leagues and has to demonstrate what he knows about One For All. The cool thing about this episode is, while Midoriya knows he doesn’t have control over the quirk just yet, he doesn’t give up. In fact, he tries hard enough that Aizawa-san realizes that he’s trying to get the quirk together. Aizawa has enough foresight to realize that Midoriya doesn’t have control because he likely wasn’t born with it like the others in his class. Thus, he starts becoming suspicious but curious enough to allow Midoriya to continue in the class. This shows growth for all involved in just five episodes.

Where it’s going?: As Midoriya gets more comfortable with having the ultra-powerful One for All, look for the stakes to ramp up for Class 1A as they train to become heroes.

Otaku Corner: Gundam Thunderbolt Vol. 1

Gundam side story delves deeper in the mecha ethos

“Only the dead know the end of war.” — Plato

As many of our readers know of my love for the Gundam series, I have mentioned the series’ legendary mark on anime and pop culture many times. Manga is no exception since numerous Gundam series were printed out and read by many Gundam fans and big robot lovers, alike.

On a recent trip to 2nd & Charles, I found one of a few English-translated adaptations of Gundam manga that was a side story set during the events of the original series. While the main characters were not present in this series, it nevertheless told of the widening conflict between the Principality of Zeon and the Earth Federation as seen through the eyes of two destined individuals, each with their own views of justice. “Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt “was my ticket to this latest chapter of the Gundam Universe.

Set in the Universal Century year 0079, the space colony Side 3 declared independence as conflict between Zeon and Earth began. One year later, both sides engaged in a battle for an area of destroyed space colonies known as the Thunderbolt sector. During this period, Daryl Lorenz, top sniper for a special unit known as the Living Dead Division, has enabled Zeon forces to control Thunderbolt sector without loss. However, his luck changes when Io Fleming, ace pilot for the Earth Federation’s Moore Brotherhood fleet, ambushes a Living Dead member, killing him and taking an enemy Zaku suit. As a result, Io is given a new mission to further disrupt Zeon control but with a new mobile suit: Gundam.

As the Living Dead discover that a Gundam is being used, the battle between Io and Daryl intensifies amid the wreckage of Io’s home colony, Side 4: More. With both sides hellbent on each other’s destruction, a new rivalry is set in the Gundam saga with various music types providing the soundtrack to a battle where there is only one victor.

Reading MSG: Thunderbolt is a new take on the battle between Earth and space. While Hajime Yatate and Yoshiyuki Tomino provided the original story, Yasuo Ohtagaki provided a fresh perspective via story and art. I felt invested in Daryl and Io because tragedy has taken away happier times in their lives. Both characters were born in affluent families who prospered as merchants, but war upended their lives. Daryl became a solider but was severely injured losing both legs, which gained his family the right to resettle on a Zeon colony and other benefits. He also had to adapt to using prosthetic legs to regain his ability to walk and to use a mobile suit.

Io lost his father, who was mayor of Side 4, to suicide during the Zeon assault. Fortunately, Io’s friends Claudia Peer, who is his commanding officer (and lover), and Cornelius Qaqa, the fleet’s engineer, are there with him to carry the task of avenging their lost home. Daryl also has the support of his unit, who are also dealing with the hellish results of war. Ohtagaki-san’s detail to story and art was excellent from start to finish, especially with the designs of the Gundam, Zaku and Rick Dom suits.

The in-between drama for Io and Daryl is also accurate in showing the types of problem that military servicemembers may deal with during and in between battles. At these points in the manga, I felt that pulling for both characters is justifiable as they are fighting a physical and psychological war on all fronts. Finally, the music selection closed the deal for me while reading Thunderbolt. Jazz and pop music set each chapter tone as if I was part of the battle. Viz Media did a great job on adaptation and translation of Thunderbolt with praise going to STAN! And Joe Yamazaki for carefully presenting Thunderbolt. They presented the side story carefully without compromising what Gundam is about.

MSG: Thunderbolt is one of the few Gundam manga adaptations I felt did justice to a series without sacrificing its crucial parts to tell its story. As Daryl and Io continue their battle, I plan to review their battles in the future.

Brandon Beatty is associate editor of Gaming Insurrection. He can be reached by email at brandonb[at]gaminginsurrection.com

We remember Kirby Morrow, 1973-2020

I’m dedicating this review to the memory of Kirby Morrow. Morrow — best known for voicing Trowa Barton from Gundam Wing, Billy Katagiri from Gundam 00, Teru Mikami from Death Note and Miroku from the Inyusha series and its recent spinoff Yashahime: Princess Half Demon — passed on Nov. 18, 2020. Rest in peace, Kirby. You are forever loved. You are forever remembered. You are forever Gundam.

Anime Lounge #19: Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi Propose Hen OVA

Series: Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi Propose Hen

Episodes: 1

Premise: This is the OVA follow up to the goings on in boys’ love series Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi. In this short episode, one of the crew working at Marukawa Publishing is getting married and the entire shojo manga department, Emerald, is invited. During the proceedings, Onodera and Takano interact with guests and each other. It comes to light that Takano has a certain thing on his mind.

Is it worth watching?: Yes. If you’ve watched all other seasons of Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi — which you should have — this is a delightful treat. It’s a cute sort of wrap up showing just where everyone is now.

Breakout character: Takano Masamune. He always stands out as one of the main characters but here he is just too delicious in his hinting.

Best episode: N/A

Where it’s going?: Even though it’s not what you’d expect for Takano and Onodera after some time away, it’s obvious that their relationship has progressed. Hopefully, in the future we will see something along the lines of Onodera and Takano getting married as well.