Anime Lounge #17: Junjou Romantica 2

Series: Junjou Romantica 2

Episodes: 1 to 12

Premise: Junjou Romantica is broken up into three storylines: Romantica, Egoist and Terrorist. Romantica is the story of main couple Misaki Takahashi and Akihiko Usami, who are brought together by Misaki’s older brother, Takahiro, so that Akihiko can tutor Misaki for college entrance exams. It happens that Takahiro announces at the meeting that he is getting married. Akihiko and Misaki are upset for different reasons: Misaki, because it means he is losing his brother somewhat after the death of his parents; Akihiko, because he is in love with Takahiro. Romance commences, with a reluctant Misaki along for the ride. Egoist focuses on Nowaki Kusama and Hiroki Kamijou’s developing relationship. Nowaki is considerably younger than Hiroki, who is a classic Japanese literature professor. Thus, their relationship centers on their everyday struggle to be a couple on equal footing. In Terrorist, Yo Miyagi and Shinobu Takatsuki become reacquainted after the end of Yo’s marriage to Shinobu’s sister. Shinobu is in love with Yo, but Yo doesn’t take him seriously. The resulting relationship between the two is interesting and deals with their pasts as brothers-in-law and their age difference. One protagonist in each couple knows of another in another couple. For example, Akihiko was in a relationship with Hiroki and Hiroki works with Yo.

Is it worth watching?: Yes. If you love romantic stories, this is probably for you. A word of caution, though: If you do not like yaoi, do not watch because the series’ relationships are all between men. If you are comfortable with it, you’ll come to love the characters and their relationship struggles.

Breakout character: Misaki Takahashi. He finally starts to come out of shell and become a little more open in his relationship with Akihiko. Instead of super shy and awkward Misaki, he’s a little more comfortable with being in an openly acknowledged relationship with Akihiko.

Best couple: Misaki and Akihiko. Despite their weird quirks, and them being the main focus, they are the most endearing of the three couples. Hiroki and Nowaki are the most serious, and Yo and Shinobu are the most realistic of the three. Misaki and Akihiko also happen to be the most fun of the three couples.

Where it’s going?: The three couples have issues to work on separately, but most importantly, Misaki’s time with Akihiko will be coming to an end now that he’s approaching graduation … or will it?

Anime Lounge #16: Kaichou wa Maid Sama Ep. 13-26

Kaicho wa Maid Sama wraps up love saga

Series: Kaichou wa Maid Sama

Episodes: 13 to 26

Premise: Misaki Ayuzawa is the student council president at a formerly all-boys high school. She also works at a maid cafe on the side to earn money to support her family. Misaki has problems relating to the male members of her class so she comes off a little more than brusque and overbearing. One of her classmates, Usui Takumi, happens upon her by chance as she’s being intimidated by a group of men. It just so happens that he comes to her rescue as she’s working so he learns her secret. Thus, begins the saga of Misaki and Usui, she trying to keep her secret and he trying to get her to open up to him. It’s obvious from the beginning that Usui is in love with Misaki but she’s about the only person in the cast that doesn’t realize it.

Is it worth watching?: Yes. The humor makes up for the slow pace of the story, but the payoff at the end of the series is worth waiting for over 26 episodes.

Breakout character: Misaki Ayuzawa. She’s the lead in this romantic comedy so she should be standing out at some point. Ayuzawa comes into her own by the end of the series, and you see her development as the main character come along nicely.

Funniest episode: Episode 26, “Too Cruel Ayuzawa & Usui the Idiot!” Not so much funny as it is a great way to wrap up the story in the anime adaptation, Episode 26 is one of the best payoff scenes in a recent anime. The way the story comes together to the inevitable finale — which you knew was coming after the first episode — is well done and satisfying.

Where it’s going?: This is the finale for the series but the story continues on in the manga with a nice epilogue.

Anime Lounge #15: Yuri on Ice!!

Get ready to skate

Episodes: 1 to 12 (all)

Premise: Professional figure skater Yuri Katsuki is in a career slump, suffering his worst defeat during the Grand Prix. Yuri’s confidence has hit rock bottom and he’s thinking of giving up and quitting skating for good. But he’s visited by his idol, fellow skater Victor Nikiforov, after a video of Yuri performing Victor’s signature routine goes viral. With Victor’s tutelage, Yuri works to get back into performing with a renewed vigor. Yuri’s efforts to become something better and his work toward developing relationships and confidence in his work and himself are documented.

Is it worth watching?: Yes. The story is hilariously played out, from Yuri’s struggles to stay in skating shape to his awkward attempts at befriending fellow skaters. The serious side of the story is also worth noting as it showcases what pressure to succeed can do to even the most confident of us all.

Breakout character: Yuri Plisetsky. The other Yuri, known as Yurio, is good and he knows it. He manages to steal every scene he’s in, whether he’s impressing with his brilliant skating prowess or creating a new depth of rudeness to everyone around him.

Funniest episode: Episode 10, “Gotta Supercharge it! Pre-Grand Prix Final Special!” The end of the episode reveals the motivation for Victor to come to Japan to train and teach Yuri. The scene is shown through flashbacks and gets increasingly funny as it goes forward. Yuri’s convincing of Victor to train him is right in line with their relationship: Surprising yet obvious.

Where it’s going?: With the end of the first season and Yuri’s move to St. Petersburg, Russia, to continue training, the ending was left open for a future sequel season and there is a movie in production. That season has been announced, so it remains to be seen just where Yuri’s career will take him and what he will have finally accomplished in his renewed state.

Anime Lounge #14: Death Note Ep. 1-6

Death Note-animeAnime-LoungeSeries: Death Note

Episodes: 1 to 6

Premise: A young man named Light Yagami is bored and incredibly gifted mentally. He’s looking for things to do outside of hacking the national police database and is preparing to go to law school for a career in criminal justice. One day, while in school, he happens to notice a strange book appear outside. He opens it and finds a shinigami, named Ryuk, that’s bound to follow the person who finds it. Light’s discovery and subsequent dealings with Ryuk and his Death Note begin the twisted tale of justice as a means to an end.

Is it worth watching?: YES. This is one of the best anime to be released in the past 20 years. It’s got everything you could want: Suspense, drama, several murder mysteries, a plot that makes you question life choices and characters to root for.

Breakout character: There are four: Light, Misa, Ryuk and L. Each of the four is central to the story and yet, all manage to steal the show in their own way.

Funniest episode: Episode 1, “Rebirth.” The opening episode finds Light interacting with Ryuk once he obtains the Death Note, which is hilarious for several reasons. Light doesn’t seem to be that enthralled with a death god near him and he immediately uses his powers of deduction and reasoning to come to several conclusions about the Death Note and its usage. Their interaction is always fun and serves to set up the way the rest of the series flows ultimately.

Where it’s going?: Light is in control for the first few episodes. He’s still learning the ropes with the Death Note and understanding how it works, and what kind of justice he can enact: Righteous or malicious. How Light continues to succeed in staying hidden and not getting caught is the name of the game going forward. It’s worth it to watch to see just how Light stays ahead of the game and avoids suspicion from the most talented investigator in the world, L.

Otaku Corner: Death Note Vol. 8

L continues to inspire justice in Death Note Volume 8

Brandon-2012-cutoutFour years after his death, the world’s greatest detective L continues to challenge Light Yagami in the most intense  game of cat and mouse via his successors. Will L and company triumph or will Light have the last laugh? The answer to these questions awaits in Death Note Volume 8: Target.
Written by Tsugumi Ohba, drawn by Takeshi Obata and published by Viz Media, Death Note Volume 8 lives up to its subtitle. At the end of Vol. 7, we left Light (Kira/the second L) — the newest member of the NPA’s intelligence bureau — unchallenged in making his idea of a crime-free world come to fruition. However, he was unprepared for a two-pronged attack from Mello and Near, L’s true successors. Mello joins with an organized crime group to kidnap Light’s sister, Sayu, while Near gains the support of the president of the United States to form the SPK (Special Provision for Kira). Both parties’ main objective is to capture Kira and the Death Note.
For a brief period, Light and Near cooperate to rescue Sayu while Light’s father, Soichiro, leaves for Los Angeles to deliver their Death Note to Mello’s henchmen. Although Sayu was safely recovered, the notebook fell into the hands of Mello, allowing him and the gang’s boss, Rod Ross, to eliminate individuals who sold various illegal goods without Ross’ permission as well as three senior members of the SPK.
As the psychological warfare continues, U.S. President David Hoope gets thrown into the fray via Mello, whoDeath Note Vol. 8 cover states that his group would give the U.S. Kira’s notebook in exchange for funding, weapons and shared use of the SPK’s satellites. Facing a potential global crisis, President Hoope briefly complies with Mello’s requests but also notifies Light. Light promised to protect the president but also requests use of special forces soldiers to combat Mello and his group. Unfortunately, Mello was able to use the shinigami Sidoh to eliminate the soldiers at the same time President Hoope was eliminated, possibly by Kira (aka Light).
Volume 8 continues the tried-and-true formula that made Death Note a smash success: A great storyline that combines action and mystery with elements of supernatural horror. I still can’t keep my jaw from dropping to the floor when I read about Light and his plans to keep him steps ahead of the task force, Mello and Near while acting as L and Kira. As Death Note continues, you will form a view of Light Yagami: On one side, you admire Light’s intelligence and his just goal to make the world a better place, while on the other side you despise him and root for his downfall.
The art by Obata-san is flat-out awesome, from character design to the locations in America. You will have to give Mello and Near credit; they’ve made some game-changing moves of their own such as Near letting Light take the lead while he still has authority over U.S. law enforcement, while Mello uses the mafia and resources to force the U.S. president to give him money and other support to slow down Kira and Near to stay on top. Viz media, again, did an excellent job of adapting and translating, this time entrusting both tasks to Tetsuichiro Miyaki.
Volume 8 continues the nonstop battle of good vs. evil with the victor claiming the  weapon to END all weapons. While reading, I felt like I got a front-row seat to a three-way battle of devious minds that are determined to be triumphant. Who will prevail?

Brandon Beatty is editor-at-large of Gaming Insurrection. He can be reached via email at brandonb@gaminginsurrection.com

Anime Lounge #13: Free!

Free -- Anime Lounge

Anime-LoungeSeries: Free!

Episodes: 1 to 12

Premise: Three friends — Haruka, Nagisa and Makoto — decide to begin a swim club after a fourth in their group, Rin, reappears in their lives after living abroad and rejects their offer to swim together again. The trio recruit another member, Rei, into their club and begin in earnest to resurrect their old swim club and try to make it to Nationals.

Is it worth watching?: Yes. It’s got competition and friendship, which is standard for most anime these days. Also, if you’re into that sort of thing, the animation used in the muscles in this swimming anime is expertly drawn.

Breakout character: Rin Matsuoka. Rin comes across as a pretty dark jerk, but he’s got his reasons for staying away from the group. He’s interesting and he’s written well because of the realistic way in which he comes back to his roots after a long absence. The struggle is there but the way he manages it makes it worthwhile to keep watching.

Funniest episode: Episode 4, “Captive Butterfly.” It’s all about teaching one of the club members to swim, which is kind of the point of having a swim club in the first place. We won’t reveal which member can’t swim, but the efforts to teach are what make the episode hilarious. Also, searching for the perfect swimsuit in the episode also end in hilarity.

Where it’s going?: The Iwatobi High Swim Club trains hard to make it to Nationals. Their efforts will not go in vain, we promise, and it remains to be seen if they can patch things up with their former friend Rin. How they go about reaching these two goals is the best and brightest part of acquainting yourself with Free!

Top 5 on The Strip: Burning anime questions

Big O

1. Big O

What was the event that caused the amnesia 40 years before?

It’s hinted that an event caused everyone in Paradigm City to lose their memories. Every so often the city resets itself, but it’s also explained that a worldwide catastrophe is the cause of the amnesia, and that reality in the series is a virtual reality that resets because of Angel. Also, there is speculation that Roger Smith aka The Negotiator is a robot, but it is never confirmed.

Oreimo

2. OreImo

Which girl did the main character wind up with? And did his parents ever approve of his sister’s eroge collection?

The main character, Kyosuke, basically enters a harem situation with several girls in his life, including his sister, Kirino. All squickiness aside about the potential incest angle, the situation with the girls proves a point about siblings growing apart and then coming together again with maturity. As a side note, their parents find out that Kirino is an otaku and collects eroge but Kyosuke manages to defuse the situation and save Kirino’s eroge collection. The main question there, however, is did her parents ever realize that the eroge collection was, in fact, Kirino’s and that she still had it?

Cowboy Bebop

3. Cowboy Bebop

Did Spike actually die at the end?

Speculation has run rampant that Spike Spiegel, the main character of Cowboy Bebop, didn’t die in the final duel that he has with antagonist/main rival Vicious. According to some fans, Spike managed to survive his gunshot wounds after being shot down in the climactic clash at the Vicious’ headquarters and lived to see another bounty. Personally, we don’t believe so. He was very clearly shown to be dead as well as Vicious and the woman they were fighting for. Spike knew the battle was going to end one way and there was no coming back to Jet and the Bebop.

Legend of Korra

4. Avatar: The Legend of Korra/Avatar: The Last Airbender

Who is Suyin Beifong’s father? Who is the mother of Zuko’s daughter?

Popular characters from Avatar: The Last Airbender Toph Beifong and Fire Lord Zuko each present some interesting questions in relation to their future offspring. It’s stated that Toph has two children that you see in the series, Republic City Chief of Police Lin Beifong and Zaofu matriarch Suyin Beifong. The women mention separately that they have different fathers that neither knew. While Lin’s father is briefly talked about, Suyin’s is not. Zuko, on the other hand, is shown to be in a relationship with Mai at the end of The Last Airbender and to have a daughter who takes on the Fire Lord throne in Legend of Korra. This begs the question of who is the mother of his daughter, Mai or someone else? These questions are never answered.

Bleach

5. Bleach

Does Aizen actually carry out the full 20,000-year sentence?

While we do know that Sosuke Aizen is sentenced to his long stay in prison at the end of his arc in Bleach, we don’t know if he will ever carry out the full sentence. It’s probable that the villain will, given that souls do not die or age like normal in Soul Society and he was empowered by the Hōgyoku, which renders the person infused with it effectively immortal. Even though he was let out of prison in the final act of Bleach, it’s implied that he was effectively held to serve the entire sentence.

Anime Lounge #12: Special A Ep. 1-12

Special-A-1-13

Anime-LoungeSeries: Special A

Episodes: 1 to 12

Premise: A group of extraordinarily talented students are isolated in their school. The group is comprised of the top seven students from each class at Hakusenkan: Kei Takishima, Hikari Hanazono, Jun and Megumi Yamamoto, Tadashi Karino, Akira Toudou and Ryuu Tsuji, and they’re the best of the best within each class. Kei and Hikari, ranked No. 1 and 2, have a longstanding rivalry dating back to childhood and constantly compete against one another in every thing they do. Whether it’s academics or sports, Hikari’s goal is to one day surpass Kei. What Hikari doesn’t realize is that Kei is completely in love with her.

Is it worth watching?: Yes. It’s a major accomplishment when you can tackle a subject such as class warfare and in the same scene have a hilarious gag that makes a viewer laugh out loud. It’s great at being the serious and lighthearted simultaneously, which makes it worthwhile to follow through with the antics of the smart kids.

Breakout character: Kei Takishima. Kei has it all, quite frankly. So why he continues to persist in chasing dense Hikari, we’ll never know. But Kei is the breakout character here because, try as he might, the one thing he is never successful on the first try is getting Hikari to understand his feelings for her. However, Kei is a smooth talker and one of the funniest characters in the series. He’s that likable, which is great considering he’s the lead character.

Funniest episode: Episode 7: “Sensitive ~ Thickheaded.” Hikari tells Kei that she will tell Kei just what she said about him in the previous episode. Since Kei is keen to hear this info — he’s in love with her — Kei engineers a contest that he knows he will probably win with Hikari’s talk being the prize. How he gets her to open up and the lengths he goes to, to get the information from Hikari are absolutely hilarious. Kei will stop at nothing to get her to tell him how she feels about him.

Where it’s going?: Half of the series is left and there are some obvious questions that need to be answered: How does Hikari really feel about Kei? How do the others in the group feel about their potential pairing? Will they actually get together? And how the others in the group faring in their own lives and with each other? The pace picks up in the latter half of the series and it becomes the focal point of the show how things will end between the main characters and their friends.

Otaku Corner: Tenjho Tenge Vol. 2

Tenjho Tenge heats up in second volume of action

Brandon-2012-cutoutWelcome back to another installment of Otaku Corner. This time, we’re going back to school, which means we’re enrolling again at the renowned Todo Academy where students learn the three basics: Reading, writing and ass-kicking (yes, I said ass-kicking.) So, grab your backpacks, bento lunches and your grappling gear because it’s time to check in with the Juken Club in the latest installment of Tenjho Tenge Volume 02: The Battle Bowl.

Based on the manga series by Oh! Great and released by Geneon Entertainment (USA), Tenjho Tenge follows the story of Soichiro Nagi and Bob Makihara (aka the Knuckle Bombs), who plan to add Todo Academy to their list of conquered territory. Their plan quickly falls apart when they meet Aya and Maya Natsume, members of the Juken Club, which stands against the student Executive Council. After altercations with the council, Soichiro and Bob join Aya and Maya along with Masataka Takayanagi to fight the council, unaware that they are now locked in a 400-year battle that has yet to be resolved.

Tenjou Tenge Vol. 2

Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

During golden week (Japanese May holiday), the Juken Club begins their training to prepare for future attacks from the Executive Council. At this time, Maya has a great idea to go bowling to give the club a break from training. Unfortunately, the council makes immediate plans to send their forces led by its most terrifying members to crush the Juken Cub for good. In three episodes, the Juken Club are separated from each other facing off the council’s most feared “executioners,” who consist of vice chairman Emi “The Black Blade” Isuzu, who hates Maya with INTENSE passion; Shirō “The Last Samurai” Tagami, who gives Aya a major battle; and, Koji “Saga Mask” Sagara, who challenges Soichiro for free passage into the rest of the bowling alley.

Meanwhile, Bob and Masataka deal some serious damage to the Council’s army while protecting Bob’s girlfriend, Chiaki Kounoike. After their separate victories, the Juken Club looked as if they were going to escape a vicious gauntlet, until the Council’s president shows up ready to deal his own brand of justice.

After watching this volume of Tenjho Tenge, I felt that although the battles were drawn out, they still kept the action intact. I personally like the way episodes were written to give the Juken members a chance to test their new skills while allowing the backstory of the executioners to come full circle, showing the reasons why they fight for the council so much. You’ll still get the usual fan service moments, but the stage is set for future episodes that will deepen the story line. Also, adding more punch for the dollar, three new series coming from Geneon and the non-title ending made me feel that I was not getting a case of buyer’s remorse. Geneon USA and Bang Zoom! Entertainment deserve credit as well with a smooth English adaptation and translation as well as having excellent voice acting from Steve Staley (Soichro), Wendee Lee (Maya) Stephanie Sheh (Aya), Johnny Yong Bosch (Masataka) and Jamison Price (Bob). Credit also goes to Kate Higgins, Paul St. Peter and Dave Mallow for their respective roles of Emi, Tagami and Sagara.

Tenjho Tenge continues to keep its successful blend of school drama with intense martial arts action that puts the series in a class by itself. Will the Juken Club survive the wrath of the Council’s president? Keep it here in Otaku Corner to find out.

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

Anime Lounge #11: Cowboy Bebop Ep. 1-13

Anime-LoungeSeries: Cowboy Bebop
Episodes: 1 to 13
Premise: A bounty hunter crew featuring a former syndicate member, Spike Spiegel; a con artist, Faye Valentine; a retired police detective who pilots a ship named Bebop, Jet Black; a genius child hacker, Ed; and a genius dog, Ein, travels around space in the year 2071 in search of their next bounty that will put the food on the table. They also have their own agendas and pasts that come back to haunt them or help them during the course of their travels.

Is it worth watching?: If you consider the fact that Cowboy Bebop is near-universally considered in the top five anime series ever created, the answer is yes. There’s drama, action, perfect voice acting and a history that makes you want to delve deeper into the mysteries of every character in the show. Oh, and the animation is awesome and the soundtrack is amazing.
Breakout character: By the midpoint of the series, nearly every character is considered a breakout character. But if we had to choose, we’d say Ed. She stands out, not because it’s a mystery as to who Ed is, but more about why Ed is even involved. She’s weird but there’s reasons for the madness.
Funniest episode: Episode 11, “Toys in the Attic.” The entire episode revolves around the majority of the crew being bitten by a venomous blob creature. The crew are stalked and taken out one by one, leading to hilarity when Ed and Spike attempt to tackle the mystery of what exactly the blob is and how it got on the ship in the first place.
Where it’s going?: Every episode up to 13 is a build up of the characters and their reasons for coming together on the Bebop. How everyone’s stories intersect and conclude is the basis for the next 13 episodes. Background stories are more fleshed out and characters’ motivations from their pasts are the catalysts for character development.