Anime Review: Gunslinger Girl / Gunslinger Girl II: Il Teatrino

Note: This review is spoiler free as all my reviews are–you may discuss specifics in the comments though.

One of the frustrating things of anime is finding people to watch with, or getting buy-in.  It is such a kick-ass type of entertainment, I really wish everyone I knew would watch.  And there’s something for everyone–girls, guys, sci-fi, etc. None of my inner circle of friends watch it.  I have convinced the wife to watch Clannad.  She also marathoned Nana right with me (that’s chick crack, there is no female on earth that will be able to resist that one).  But back to this anime, you see the posters of the movie and it’s ‘cute’ girls, with giant guns, and then one immediately rolls their eyes. I’d never be able to get anyone to watch this, I’d lose them as soon as they saw that official poster below. Too be honest, I’ve been overlooking it for a while, it wasn’t even on my to watch list, I only stumbled on it because I’m running out of stuff on Netflix to watch.  After watching this I’m learning that for Anime, never judge a book by its cover so to speak.

Gunslinger Girl Official Poster

Yes. This would be a hard sell to non-anime fans, but it’s really not what it looks like.

The idea here is that adolescent girls nearing death through various tragic circumstances are given a chance on life as their bodies are rehabilitated–and actually they’re physically improved.  It comes with a price–a mind wipe.  Each of the girls are assigned an agent, who trains them and on whom they go on on various missions for the agency.  The cyborgs get, well, lets just say they tend to get “attached” to their training agents. So this anime is really about those relationships. In the second season we also get some insight into the motivations of terrorists that again raises the moral issues without answering them. This is depicted through a group that’s working for a political party going up against the agency (there’s political stuff, but the particulars are not important here).  There is also the implicit issue of the morality of all of this that is going on in the background–but actually it’s not addressed and that’s actually a good thing, as it lets you enjoy the series without having your mind biased ahead of time.  As you can see from this description, the violence and shooting of guns–which is there–is actually the background, not the focus.  I’d hesitate to call this an action anime actually.

Other than the plot, I like the attention to detail in the setting of the series.  It takes place in Italy, and you get lots of lush visuals and even background voices in Italian. Visits to Castello Saint Angello, discussions of paintings, and that sort of stuff.  Even more impressive on the detail front is that apparently, the guns are ‘real’ guns in that the design and names of the guns in the series are real–I wouldn’t know anything about that, but those of you into firearms might like that.   Lastly on the background is the outstanding score, lots of piano keys, and opera sounds, and classical compositions, fitting of the setting in Italy.

What’s great about this series is that given the large cast, everyone gets treated well.

Lastly, I’ll close in observing two ways that I differ from most other reviewers of this anime .  First is I think Il Teatrino (Season 2) was just as good as the first.  Same good music and great character development.  With the large cast here–there is no main character–it is a chance for everyone to get the full treatement. Second–and I think many people get this wrong, it is not all romantic relationships from the cyborgs towards their handlers. There’s clearly master-servant, brother-sister, father-daughter, teacher-student, etc dynamics.  In some situations though, yes, there is the romantic overtone.  See if you can figure out which are which.

Anyway, outstanding anime, with high rewatchable value.


Anime Review: Fate/Zero

[Note: My intention is for my reviews to be spoiler free, I’ll avoid saying anything specific about the series or film itself, however if you’d like to discuss specifics you are welcome to do so in the comments.  So be warned comments contain spoilers!!]

Take some of Final Fantasy VII, the first ‘modern’ role-playing video game, and mix it with a more classic, fantasy based Final Fantasy.  Throw in some legends and historical figures, and that is the setting with which Fate/Zero (F/Z) is produced. It’s outstanding, and I’ll briefly explain why.

Before moving into the review, know that F/Z is based on a Visual Novel. I have never read a Visual Novel before, and the first time I heard about it was when reading about Clannad.  Also, F/Z is actually a prequel to another series–Fate Stay/Night (F/SN) that was adapted by another anime in 2006.  I haven’t watched F/SN and didn’t even know about it until I was in the middle of watching F/Z which is unfortunate, as I tend to like watching series or movies in production order rather than chronological order (see: Darker than Black, in which you really should watch season 2 (Gemini) before it’s prequel (Gaiden)).

Saber, one of the main protagonists.

The premise here is basically that there are individuals (billed ‘masters’), who get assigned spirits (‘servants’) that they can use to win the “Holy Grail”, which grants the victor whatever they wish (Some of the individuals are from families that have been involved in this war for generations).  The main protagonist depending on how you look at it is either Emiya Kiritsugu, a stoic, brooding character that’s actually more anti-hero than hero, or Saber, one of the spirit knights who is pure and full of conviction and virtue–she’s more of a conventional hero for sure–and the contrast of her uncompromising principles with Kiritsugu’s relativism is one of the running themes of the series.

This sounds like a  tournament type series Dragonballz style, but trust me, it’s FAR from that.  There is a lot of talking.  There’s so much subtlety, philosophical debates, etc in this series.  The first episode alone is one hour of…talking.  For me that’s a good thing, but apparently from the forums, many found that annoying.  Another thing to keep in mind that even though most of the focus is on the two aforementioned protagonists, there are A LOT of other characters, all across the spectrum in personality and morality.

Kiritsugu himself has ambiguous morals depending on your world view, and that’s what I like about the anime.  Lots of shades of grey here.  Some of the stuff he does like how he gets rid of a rival will just blow his mind, it’s something a lot more ruthless than most villainsdo.   Another way that ‘shades of grey’ is in the servants–you’ll have guessed by my description of Saber, that the servants have independent personalities and motifs on their own right.  Some of them are not even interested in the Holy War.  This makes for an intriguing web of relationships between the servants, but also between the servants and masters–there is a debate in one of the episodes between three of the servants on what it means to be a King which is so deep it would not be out of place in a philosophy lecture class.

Kotomine Kirei, one of the central characters in the story

Anyway, I  like epic, fantasy related stuff, but it’s hard to find good ones–that includes books, comics, etc.  This one was top quality from the production to the storytelling.  The pacing was a little off sometimes, and there was an event towards the end that was supposed to have high dramatic effect that kind of came out of nowhere and fell flat.  I’m glad I watched this–it was actually my second choice after Steins; Gate (which I still haven’t watched–is that any good?).

So for those of you that watched Fate/Zero, what did you think? Should I watch Fate/Stay Night?  What is the perspective of those that watched the anime?Rating: 5/5

The sometimes uneven pacing is forgiven for the outstanding visuals, the complex philosophy and the great dialogue and diversity of characters.  Also best “final battle” I’ve seen yet.

Entertainment Review scale:

5=Outstanding, Classic, etc.   4=Very good   3=OK    2=Not good  1= Horibble

Note: Most reviews I put up will be 4s or 5s, very few OKs.  You’ll almost never negative or low-scored reviews from me as I don’t waste time watching stuff I don’t like.

American kids are not stupid

It is often said that for example Americans are dumb, stupid , and superficial.  Schools here get criticized for the wrong reasons in my opinion—kids failing tests or not getting into colleges, or you’ll hear someone lamenting how, “our kids don’t do Algebra like the Japanese do”.   This is wrong thinking for two reasons.

First , figuring things out, and creative thinking are very much part of intelligence.  America is one of the few countries in which there is some appreciation in middle class society for the arts as a profession. As far as figuring shit out, America by far has more self-made millionaires than anywhere else—some of this is cultural, but nonetheless you can’t be “dumb” and create wealth and success. There’s more to enabling a kid to be smart than memorizing formulas or being able to name random capital cities.

The second way that this is wrong thinking is that it causes kids to be labeled as dumb, stupid, or lacking because of SAT tests, or what college they’re getting into.  This is an area in which I hope that the United States doesn’t become like the rest of the world.  In some countries if you tell your parents that you want to be anything other than a doctor, accountant/corporate manager or something related to computer engineering, it will be a family crisis.  Many African men consider anything that is not a hard science “foo foo” (direct quote).

This is unfortunate, and I hope that the USA doesn’t follow in that direction.  It would be the wrong model. Sir Ken Robinson put it best, and I hope you can spare 20 minutes to listen to him:

Liverpool FC in the USA and why you should keep dreaming

Finally got to see my beloved Liverpool football club live this past weekend.  Liverpool, the most decorated club in English football (yes, it’s NOT Manchester United) actually came stateside, so I headed out to Baltimore to watch the game.  Watching the team has been a dream of mine for the longest time, I’ve wanted to go to Anfield in Liverpool to watch them.

Liverpool still has a large worldwide fan base. I was surprised by the number of reds, especially given the hapless opposition.

Legend Steven Gerrard.

M&T stadium is not Anfield, but still this had me thinking about how pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted has come true.  I don’t mean stuff like wanting a Ferrari or a million dollar mansion (and in any case most people that say that’s what they want don’t really truly want those things).

See I work regular daytime nine-to-five office job, and at this time I’m still a grad student.  I’m not “rich”, I don’t have any real savings. And yet in the past couple of years I’ve:  Flown in first class, gone bar hopping in Italy with glowing monuments in the background, had my first real American camping experience, and done some stunts on ATVs by the Pyramids.   None of that should be possible given my profile.

Three takeaways here are the importance of a burning desire, the irrelevance of “your situation” in order to enjoy your life, and the importance of actually having things you want to do or accomplish.

Having a burning desire is when you really want to do something and it consumes you.  I originally read about the concept in Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, and the idea is that whatever your fixated in eventually manifests in your life.  That has certainly happened for me, thing is it won’t necessarily—or usually for that matter, happen exactly when or how you imagined but it will happen and you will enjoy it just as much.  The irrelevance of your situation is basically not deciding a priori that it’s impossible for you to do whatever you want to do.  Chris Guilleabeau (a fantastic blogger who you should all be reading) talks about this much better than I can in a recent post.  Lastly, it is good to enjoy these peak moments in life and to plan for them.  Watch videos, take pictures, talk about, write about and think about anything and everything that you’d like to do!

Camping at Cedar Rapids: An All-American Experience

Here’s the soundtrack for this post.  Heard this jam for the first time at the camp, it’s my summer anthem for 2012.

So I recently I went to Cedar Rapids, which was my first time camping in North America.  It was actually my first time camping in Africa as a teen, where I’d gone to Mombasa, Kenya and to Mount Kenya, also in Kenya. I do not know what took me so long, but for me I imagine it was a taste of an all-american experience, even if it was only for a weekend.  There were bonfires, fireworks (it was the weekend before July 4th), barbecues, etc.  There was an interesting juxtaposim of modernity and wilderness, as someone had brought a disco setup, so there was booming music all-night on Friday and Saturday.  This was complete with the disco ball, the sub-woofers, and the massive hand held torch–I’m talking about the one that signals planes.  Earlier on in the nights, the music blaring was rock-n-roll, blues, metal and disco—mostly american classics.  You would hear tunes form Aerosmith, Nirvana, Bee Gees, Red Hot Chilli Peppers.  Later at night, when the “normal” people had gone to sleep, the modern dance hits took over, your typical Pitbull, your Guetta, and your Gaga.  This was an all-night experience–and also keep in mind that copious amounts of alcohol are flowing at the camp at all times. Basically you either stayed up all night mingling with other campers, or you slept through the thumping music. I didn’t sleep much myself, was too excited meeting others and visiting rival bonfires.  There were so many kids and cool people from other neighbouring camps that I bonded with and got to meet.  A pity that we weren’t able to exchange contacts (more on that later).  Now this was a CAMPING trip, and lest you think that it was just a big dance party, I can assure you there was a primitive element to it too.

Ok, it wasn’t EXACTLY like THIS but I swear there was fireworks, a bright moon, a river, and a clear night sky.

Thing about the camp was that it was that it was in such a remote location that there was no cellphone service, which isolated us well from the external world. Even if there would’ve been a satellite signal, there was no electricity (the DJ used a generator), so most people were out of signal by Saturday morning. This is lamented earlier that people were unable to make contacts, as there was no cellphones (interesting how nobody had pencils and papers–these days we make contacts by facebooking on the spot on the phone).  No phones meant no alarms! No instagraming on facebook instead of just enjoying yourself in the moment!  No checking the streaming flow of extremely extremely urgent e-mails in faux-urgency every other second! The isolation was so complete that there was no light pollution in the sky…the camp was located at a riverbank, and the sides were foresty hills, think of a smaller scale of the Fjords in Norway–which I want to visit one day by the way. Now what was so charming about this was that when we were playing with the fireworks, the moon was the brightest I’ve ever seen, and it wasn’t even a full moon–it was probably about 3/4. That was truly one of those times when your soul just smiles, I was living life.   We were playing with sparkles just like little kids, and some campers even had the REAL fireworks that explode in the sky, and everyone had these grins plastered on their faces.  So to add to fireworks with the bright moon in the background, there was this guy who was playing a guitar and going around taking requests and serenading groups at their request. Awesome.

All the action wasn’t at night though, we did do some rafting–it took four hours to row 10 miles!! Our group in specific did it in a unique way as we had a giant DOG that kept threatening to leap over the raft with us in our raft.  In addition, we tied our raft to two other rafts, so that’s how we got down the river at our leiseruley pace.  Really, we had all the time in the world, and it did seem like all the time in the world.  All in all a great getaway, even if it was short, and I look forward to returning and sharing laughs with familiar faces, while touring various rival bonfires at Cedar Rapids.