Saturday, March 23, 2013

Anime-zing: NRA Tweens, Deadly Teens and Dominating Frogs?

The last time I wrote an Anime-zing article, I was feeling upbeat about finding Toriko, which is set to have it's own anime movie this year, and a crossover special with Dragonball Z and One Piece. I've gotten further into the series, and so far I like Rin. When I wrote the article, she hadn't debuted in the episodes I had seen yet, but not that I'm further in, I like her and I hope Toriko can figure out she likes him.

I've only been able to catch a few more titles since then. But before I get to two great things I've seen, I want to get two specific titles out of the way. Think of this as a public service announcement.

I want to like Kenichi. I reeeeeally want to. And right at the start, there's a few things that easily drew me in.

For starters, this is the first anime I've seen in ages where the females are drawn healthy. Gone are the anorexic waifs I so often see in anime, instead the females look like they've actually enjoyed food. They're curvy, and the main girl Miu is kind, smart, an incredible fighter, and is completely devoid of any emotional outbursts that would otherwise mar her character. If there were more girl oriented programs with characters like Miu (pictured), we'd see a positive, global attitude change in young girls. She's self-assured and strong, without jamming "Girl Power" down your throat.

Kenichi (also pictured) starts off as a wimp, but unlike other anime wimps like Tenchi in Tenchi Muyo, who end up being controlling and whiny, Kenichi actively tries hard to do the right thing, even when he knows it could end in his swift demise. His only downfall is that he over-thinks things and worries too much about what everyone thinks of him. Too much social pressure for a high school student.

And unfortunately, half of the cast takes advantage of that.

If I could re-edit this show, I'd erase Kenichi and Miu ever attending school. The people at Miu's family dojo are pretty cool, minus the brooding swordswoman Shigure, lecherous Kensei and Shio ~ who has a nasty attitude. Apachai is very sweet and brings out the best in Kenichi. Hayato and Akisame are perfect parodies of every martial arts teacher I've ever seen in films, and help to round out an eclectic cast for a show that should be an action comedy. I'm even starting to like Kenichi's mother, who tries to keep the rest of the family out of his way.

... But the other half of the cast ruins it.

For starters, Kenichi's baby sister and father have sincere control issues. They both want him to be stronger and independent, but when he complies with these desires and enters the dojo to better himself, they try to butt in and control him. His father especially wants him to be a more obedient version of himself, and every time he doesn't get his way, he reaches for a gun.

His sister Honoka is 13, but looks like a 9 year old and acts like a 3 year old. She has an awkward jealousy towards Miu that seems to suggest that Honoka wants to keep her brother for herself. EW!!

But it's his school I detest the most. Kenichi is endlessly bullied and being stalked by people he has never even met before. Every episode, there seems to be a new group of assassins, trying to murder him, simply because they see something in him. I suppose this is realistic in the sense that real life bullies and stalkers start off this way, choosing a random target to turn into a mortal enemy, but when it's being thrown in your face every five seconds, it detracts from what could be a good comedy, and just turns it into a stressful drama. And just when you think Kenichi has problems, Miu starts having issues of her own. Everything from a butthurt gymnast creating an imaginary rivalry by which to base her plot to kill Miu on, to a snake-like stalker, who also gets creepy-close to Kenichi, to creepy boys in the back of the classroom, trying to bully and manipulate Kenichi so that they can have sex with Miu. The school system plays virtually no role in trying to stop murder and rape attempts, and Kenichi seems to be the only high schooler with concerned parents. It's too stressful to watch, and after a while, you just wonder why the two kids don't just abandon these people and stay put at the dojo.

A few years ago, I was at a bookstore and read about a then new series coming to America, called Gunslinger Girl. The premise seemed intriguing. The government starts taking in tween girls, just as puberty strikes them, and turns them into human weapons. It sounds like a Hollywood film just begging to be made.

I finally saw an episode on Hulu, and I have to say... this is one of the creepiest, darkest, most unemotional Noir shows I've ever seen. I felt unclean seeing this.

Triela (pictured) is one of the elders in this group of assassins. And trust me when I say the weird factor is driven home when I say elder. She's about 10 or 11 when she's rescued from being the victim of a snuff film, but as payment for the rescue, she's turned into a cyborg and ends up with an arsenal of guns taller than she is. At the time of her reconstruct, she was about to have her first period, so now she's almost always PMS'ing, only she has about the same total of emotions as a robot ~ making her all the more creepy. She dresses like a man, distrusts adults and when not cleaning her gun, collects teddy bears.

The series doesn't really let you get too attached to these girls either. As a result of becoming weapons, each girl ends up with a tween version of Alzheimer's Disease and ends up dying horribly. Triela dies in a nuclear plant, and her eggs are later harvested by the people who turned her into a killing machine. Because of this, she ends up having a daughter postmortem, carried to term by a woman Triela saved. Gunslinger Girl is actually so dark, hopeless and depressing, it makes Big O look like Sesame Street:
I went there. An entire show done in dark grey and black is actually more CHEERFUL than Gunslinger Girl. And speaking of dreary, underage members of the NRA in pigtails:
It's not every day you see a real person, let alone a WWE wrestler that looks so much like an anime character come to life. But when I first saw NXT's Paige (who actually is an incredible wrestler) I remembered seeing a 30 second ad for a new anime called Black Rock Shooter, with a theme song "sung" by a computer, using the Vocaloid software Miku Hatsune. So I gave BRS a shot.

FYI: Do not attempt to watch this without caffeine.

On paper, BRS seems like it would make for a fun show. Mato is a 14 year old basketball playing girl, who is linked in an alternate world to a creature known as the Black Rock Shooter. Every single time Mato befriends another girl her own age, an alternate of often psycho version of that girl, appears in BRS's world, and ends up becoming the protagonist's enemy. Reading a premise like this, I expected the OVA and 8 episode show to be an action comedy. The trailer for it even looked exciting. There's even a video game!

... Upon watching it, I see why it ends at 8 episodes and an OVA.

The OVA should have been billed as a movie, because it feels like one. I'm pretty sure it clocks in at 50 minutes but this feels like 3 hours. Most of the film is just Mato living a very boring and ordinary life, while BRS is fighting another underage gun owner named Dead Master, who is linked to a 14 year old named Yomi. The action segments are decent, except for two very obvious issues:
1. The colors are FUGLY

2. There is ZERO explanation given as to why these two girls are fighting.
The full anime series adds a sub-plot with Mato and a children's book, and the video game turns one of the evil (should I say that?) girls into a lover for BRS in one of the alternate endings, but the series is largely without a plot.

Karate-Robo Zabogar isn't an anime, but is based on the 1974-75 series Denjin Zaborger, and is strange yet also very funny.

The adult comedy focuses on Yutaka Daimon, who controls and operates his "brother" the robot Zabogar. Initially the film follows a violent and funny "good vs. evil" concept, with Yutaka and Zabogar killing members of an evil syndicate, and the movie has a distinct "Power Rangers" feel to it ~ largely due to much of the cast also being in Super Sentai and Kamen Rider. Even the original TV show actor for Yutaka was in Kamen Rider in the 70's. 

But soon the film introduces heartbreak, when Yutaka falls in love with Miss Cyborg, a tool being abused by the syndicate's ring leader. Just as she tries to leave and prove to the police she is not a bad woman, she and Zabogar are blown up, leaving the evil boss to abduct her uterus, which contains the twin children of Cyborg and Yutaka.

The film picks back up after the children have grown, and Yutaka must rebuild Zabogar and finally take down the man who cost him everything.

It sounds much darker than it really is. For every bit of tragedy, there is a very adult but goofy comedy behind it. At one point, Yutaka and Cyborg's daughter is turned into an evil mecha against her will, and she destroys a town, just by answering a cell phone call. The film is on Netflix and worth a few viewings.

I saved the best for last. I recently went on a SGT Frog binge, and this bright, colorful and violent anime is well worth a watch.

SGT Frog follows Sergent Keroro and his team of misfit frogs, as they try to take over Planet Pekopon. Their mission is complete world domination, but they fail at every single turn.

Their base is set inside the home of an ordinary family, and seemingly the eldest child (Natsumi) is the only person who cares about the frogs trying to take over the world, and trying to stop them. Her mother and brother are just fine having the frogs as friends.

Keroro's other weakness, aside from Natsumi's temper and attacks aimed at his soft, unprotected face, is his sincere love of everything Gundam. He loves to spend money on Gundam models, often at the expense of the world domination budget ~ which is small to begin with.

The five movies are long and a bit creepy at times, but the TV show is endlessly funny. The Japanese version relies more on at-home humor, while the English version is loaded with American pop culture references. Both have writing that is on par with Samurai Pizza Cats, only less insulting and with more violence.

Another thing that endears me to SGT Frog is the music. While I can do without the first season's opening theme, the ending themes are catchy, and done in a 70's soul vibe. Just listen to Afuro Gunso:
Other songs mix joke-filled lyrics with lyrics about the series objective. If you're looking for a nonsensical laugh, I recommend SGT Frog.

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