Cornell can be a lonely place during winter break, with friends departed and significant others at work all day. On the other hand, no classes or research pressure means time to catch up on things neglected during the semester -- in my case, several metric tons of stockpiled anime. I didn't actually get any new LDs or tapes as Christmas presents, but I had enough else to watch that I didn't really miss it. Some or all of these titles are slated for eventual translation and may even be coming to an anime club near you, so I hope a little advance sampling will hold some interest.
Amazingly, only two of the shows I watched were genuinely bad. The first of these was Carol, an OVA based upon a novel by one of the members of a famed J-Pop band, TM Network. TMN went out with the 80's, but another of its members, Tetsuya Komuro, went on to become one of the biggest producers in Japanese music today. I love TMN's image album for Carol, so I had high hopes for the anime -- hopes that were all disappointed. Carol's plot is paper-thin and vaguely resembles Yellow Submarine with slightly less acid. Character development was nonexistent, genuine coolness factor was absent, and the soundtrack, of all things, was poorly arranged. The only bright spot was the voice cast, which included several of my favorite seiyuu. Seeing this show satisfied some curiosity, but I can't recommend it to anyone else.
The same goes for Master Mosquiton '99, a show about a vampire bound by an ancient blood contract to one of the very most annoying anime heroines in the canon. Unlike the OVAs, which at least had atmosphere, MM'99 goes straight downhill in every episode after a somewhat promising beginning. I found myself totally indifferent to the main heroine's fate and outraged at the lack of growth or even finality in the ending. Watching the latter half of the series was not an act of recreation, but of discipline.
Thank God the rest of the series were better. Two particularly bright stars are Berserk and Trigun, TV shows which clearly target an intelligent and emotionally aware audience. Berserk is a genuinely grim medieval fantasy work which follows a certain swordsman on his quest for maturity and purpose in a very harsh world, a quest that brings him among the most feared mercenary company around -- the Taka no Dan. Berserk shows very realistically how friendship, honor, and even love can grow among a group who must kill for their livelihood and ambition. This series also has one of the most disheartening endings I've seen in a good long time, courtesy of Imagawa "Giant Robo" Yasuhiro; this means that the show was successful in pulling my heartstrings. Which is a Good Thing (tm).
Trigun tugs those strings too, although in a very different way and not until some distance into the show. It is the story of Vash the Stampede, a gunman feared across the world as the Humanoid Typhoon. The 60 billion double-dollar bounty on his head is ample testament to his legend; the reality, of course, is somewhat different. The first four episodes introduce us to a pair of insurance agents whose mission it is to find Vash and prevent him from causing their company any more claims: and they can't believe that the fun-loving, donut-munching man in a trenchcoat they find is the real thing. After the first four episodes, however, the wacky hijinks give way to a more serious story, as Vash's past and relationships to the other characters begin to unfurl. Trigun exhibits a very well-thought out world, colorful villains and allies, and cool fight scenes that would give John Woo a serious run for his money. And great animation via Madhouse. I can't recommend this show highly enough.
A different take on poignancy comes from Vampire Miyu TV, an expanded and retold version the story of a girl vampire whose destiny it is to be the "Guardian" who returns stray Shinma to the Dark. The Shinma, beings who are both god and demon, lurk in the shadows of the world in many forms, and the TV series works like a fusion of the original OVAs and The X-Files: most episodes are one-shot tales of some human who falls afoul of a specific Shinma. Miyu and her companions, tracking down and ultimately extinguishing those Shinma, are the common thread. There is a deeper plot involving Miyu's past and her rival Reiha, but we are shown only snippets at odd intervals, making it feel somewhat disjointed. One constant in the show is that all humans who have dealings with Shinma meet misfortune, and the group of schoolgirls who Miyu befriends is no exception. Miyu TV may not be a good "novel", but as a collection of creative "short stories", it makes for very good viewing.
to be continued in next week's newsletter...