Pop Culture
Mar 18, 2008, 08:40AM

Japanime Digest

Discover the world of anime for your bright colors and armchair artificial intelligence theory fix.

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After being totally entranced by the first volume of Death Note, I was pretty stoked to pop in the next disc. I was glad to find that it was just as exciting as the first few episodes, but I'm starting to think that Light may be a giant ass. Shocking conclusion, I know.

At first, the series seemed to be centering itself on an interesting moral dilemma—is it okay to kill dangerous criminals if they were sentenced to die anyway? By the time viewers get through part of the second disc, though, it's pretty easy to tell that that's no longer really an issue. Light no longer cares about cleaning up the scum of the earth; by now he's much more interested in playing mind games with L and those around him. After successfully getting rid of all the FBI agents that have come to Japan, Light realizes he may have left a few incriminating traces, which leads him to go through even greater lengths to hide his felonies. From an intricate plan of deceit to slaying innocent people, he uses the Death Note ruthlessly to stay one step ahead of the police, and probably his ego.

While it's somewhat interesting to watch how complex and thorough Light's schemes can be, it's also pretty hard to cheer for him. He's not a good guy, and hardly any of his accomplishments can be applauded. At the same time, L works for the good guys, but his methods are just as risky and have the potential to involve just as many lives.

Death Note is certainly worth following because of its quick pace and sharp writing, and its lack of a clear protagonist (and antagonist) definitely makes it intriguing. At the same time, I feel like the constant cat-and-mouse chase may get old after awhile, but once new characters are introduced, things may get shaken up a bit. For now, it's a captivating show that's worth watching at least once, just to see what all the fuss is about.

Even though the series is almost universally beloved by everyone who's seen it, Mushi-Shi has always received much less fuss. Not too many know about it (compared to Death Note, but I sincerely doubt Mushi-Shi would ever do well on Cartoon Network), but it's a good show, and quite different from a lot of the more popular series out there. For starters, it doesn't follow a story arc, and I'm sure most of the action culminates in Ginko catching something in a jar. Still, it's got a sense of charm about it.

In terms of content, the last volume could probably be interchangeable with any of the previous ones, but it manages to deliver some final new mushi to please viewers. One imparts the gift of sight and foresight, while one causes human limbs to be weighed down by an invisible rust-like substance. Although the last episode doesn't provide much of a real ending, it works out pretty well, effectively showing how important mushi can be to life, and how accepting their presence (or lack of) is the only thing that can really be done.

In the end, I think Mushi-Shi has been a very pleasant show to watch. It's loaded with creativity, and its lackadaisical style of storytelling has a certain magic to it. As nice as it was, though, I don't know how much overall staying power it'll have. I don't even know that I'd ever actually re-watch the series, but I wouldn't mind loaning it out to friends. While I do like the show quite a bit, I would also understand if someone told me it was too slow, or even too boring. It certainly takes a bit of patience to sit through, but I think if you're fascinated with the magical nature of the unseen, realistic or not, then you can appreciate the slow-roasted flavor of Mushi-Shi.

The last volume of Suzuka, on the other hand, does have some finality to it, and allow me to say that it's about damned time. If the series had accomplished what it did in the last episode five volumes ago, the entire series would have been much, much better. I would have also been saved much annoyance and pent-up hatred for the characters.

It's not until the last couple of episodes that things start improving, though—the first two are just as insufferable as the rest of the series. The day of the big track meet arrives, and while it's nice to Yamato so pumped up about being number one, it's irritating to see how rattled he still gets by one of Suzuka's bitch fits. It isn't until he snaps and asks her what's wrong with her that I finally gained some respect for him.

More importantly, though, is that all the other characters finally stepped in and told Suzuka to stop being so unreasonable. Like a geyser that's been blocked for decades, all the emotions finally gush out at once. People finally tell her to drop all her baggage, to stop being such a brat, and it's like everything that viewers may have ever yelled at the TV screen has finally been vocalized. The sense of relief that I felt from the final two episodes was immense.

Thankfully, the two lead characters finally changed a bit, too. Even though it took them 5.5 bloody volumes to do so, they finally went through that character change that would have made them tolerable. I only regret that the series was 26 episodes long. A 13-episode series would have been so much better, and I'm angry that the creators made me sit through so many discs just to get the resolution that should have happened long ago.

Maybe “love is not a spectator sport,” but watching two terrifyingly boring people butt heads for 24 episodes isn't, either. I can only say that this series has been a painful ride, and I wouldn't wish it upon anyone. If you absolutely must sample Suzuka, I recommend (I use that word loosely) watching the first and last discs. Within those episodes, you can taste every single thing the series has to offer, including that irritating da dun dun, da dun dun background track that plays at every dramatic scene. Good riddance.

Delightfully, though, I was able to check out Sony's release of Blood+. I was planning on spacing out the six discs over a few days, but once I started, I couldn't stop until I had marathoned the entire thing (thank goodness for weekends!). Blood+ is one of the best vampire thrillers I've seen in a really long time, and it unfolds itself at just the right pace to keep you begging for more.

The first 25 episodes are included in thin packs, with two discs to a case. Mysteriously, they're packaged inside a much larger artbox, which also holds a t-shirt. Take the t-shirt out, and you're left with a giant gaping hole, which I really hope will hold the second season, because that wasted space is a shame.

Presentation aside,the show is unbelievably fun, and pretty addictive if you're in the mood for some blood. The story centers around a girl named Saya, who can't remember her past at all, but she enjoys being with her friends and her adoptive family. One night, when she goes back to her school to retrieve her running shoes, she encounters a beast and a mysterious man who claims to be her servant. After obtaining a sword from him, she unknowingly transforms into a killer, and takes out the monster with one swing. This quickly evolves into a fast-paced supernatural story about monsters and shadowy organizations.


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