Noir: Initial Thoughts

I am slowly making my way through the Anime queue I posted recently. I’m currently watching Noir and am a little less than halfway through the series. In no particular order, a few thoughts on Noir:

  • The series follows Mireille Bouquet, a pretty blond assassin. Her professional career seems to be going quite well… until she is contacted by a young Japanese girl named Yumura Kirika, who asks Mirelle to take “a pilgrimage to the past.” Yumura is quite talented as well, though she also seems to be afflicted with Jason Bourne Syndrome (apparently a common condition among assassins). Together, the two seek to solve a mystery involving an ancient, myserious group called Les Soldats. As of yet, it’s unclear what role the girls play in the plans of the Soldats, but after a slow start, things seem to be unfolding at a good pace.
  • Mireille takes contracts under the name “Noir.” She has built up a good reputation, but there are several hints of old hits that could not have been accomplished by Mireille, leading me to think of Noir as a sorta Dread Pirate Roberts of the contract killer world. Later in the series, Mireille and Yumura meet someone named Chloe who refers to herself as “The True Noir.” Chloe is an intriguing character, and one that has only just been introduced, so I’m expecting much more to happen with her (and her guardian at the vineyard). The word “noir” is French for “black” and is often used to describe dark stories featuring morally ambiguous characters. Film noir was a phrase coined by French film critics to describe Hollywood films of the 40s and 50s. So far, I would not say that this series follows any sort of Film noir conventions, but it’s something I’ve been keeping an eye out for…
  • So the girls are racking up quite the body count. 12 episodes in and I think they’ve already outpaced legendary murderers like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. It seems that every episode features the girls taking on and killing dozens of armed minions. Apparently the regular appearance of 20 or so dead men is a common feature of French society (the series takes place in France). Nothing to get worked up over, even when the dead men are cops.

    Yumura dodges some bullets

    Yumura dodges some bullets…

  • Also intriguing about the people of France as portrayed in the series is that they appear to be bloodless. Of the hundreds the two assassins have killed, apparently no blood was shed. Either their bullets are not very effective against them, or the French have invented a blood substitute that is far superior to our own (but provides no apparent benefit, except for easy cleanup).
  • As assassins, it seems that the only tool in their assassin toolkit is a pistol. Apparently no long-range weapons like a sniper rifle, no hidden attacks like poisons and no “accidents” (unless, I guess, the accident involves someone falling on a bullet with a lot of force – an explanation I suspect the French police would accept). Still, the large amount of gunfights makes the series quite entertaining, though they never quite approach the balletic beauty of John Woo’s double-fisting pistol showdowns… though I suppose we still have 14 episodes or so to rectify that. Also, despite Yumura being much younger, she seems to be more effective than Mireille. At one point, the pair are trapped in a large casino. Their enemies turn off all the lights and wear night-vision goggles. Mireille is largely defeated by these tactics, while Yumura just closes her eyes and uses apparently superhuman auditory prowess to locate enemies and kill them (a neat trick). I guess it’s worth noting that Chloe eschews the pistol and uses all manner of knives instead.
  • So far, the series has posed some intriguing questions. Who is Noir? How does one become Noir? Who are the Soldats? And how do the Soldats relate to Noir? There appear to be factions within the Soldats, which could lead to some interesting developments. I haven’t gone into it much, but there is a lot of tension between Yumura and Mireille, and there are a lot of questions about why the two are cooperating and what will ultimately happen to them. From all appearances, these are questions that will be answered later in the series, and from what I can tell, they are answered in a satisfying manner. It’s easy to create intriguing questions and a lot of series manage to do so (*cough, cough* Lost *Cough*), but many series fall apart once they reach the the resolution (the jury will remain out on Lost until it ends, but I will say that I was quite disappointed with the end of Battlestar Galactica.) So I look forward to the rest of this series!

A few more screenshots and commentary in the extended entry…

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig

I always find myself coming back to Ghost in the Shell. The original movie was among the first anime movies I’d seen, and I revisited it near the start of my current Anime watching regime. As I (slowly) progressed through various anime series, various parts of the GitS series would pop up. I saw the second film, Innocence and eventually moved on to the first Stand Alone Complex series. This past week, I burned through the second series. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t like Trigun so much, but I found myself pouring through this series at a rate I never have for an anime series. In the end, I found it entertaining and satisfying, though perhaps not as much as the first series or movies. Still, it hit the spot just right.

Public Security Section 9

Public Security Section 9

In all honesty, I don’t have a ton to say about the series, and I don’t have many screenshots either, but here are some assorted thoughts on the series:

  • Like the first 1st Gig, this series touches on many of the same existential issues as the films, but in a less direct fashion. The burning questions of identity and the nature of humanity and machinery seem content to simmer beneath the surface of a more straightforward narrative, though “straightforward” in the GitS universe can still be quite obtuse. All throughout the series of films and shows, I’ve speculated that at least part of the confusion has to do with something that is lost in translation. I think that’s still a part of it, but I also think that the show’s creators aren’t afraid of leaving questions unanswered or allowing viewers to work out various plotpoints or themes for themselves (this despite semi-frequent info-dumps and philosophic ramblings by various characters throughout the series). In any case, even though I’m still not sure of every detail in the series, it’s easy enough to follow at a high level and quite entertaining. The one thing that frustrated me was the Netflix’s watch online service had the last three episodes in the wrong order, so I missed one before watching the final episodes.
  • Thematically, this series follows the first series Laughing Man story with a story about what’s called the Individual Eleven. The Individual Eleven is another Stand Alone Complex (a series of copies without an original), similar to the Laughing Man, but different in some subtle ways. The first film focused primarily on the consequences of humanity relying too heavily on computer communications and merging with machinery. The second film plays off the first, pondering how machines could become more human. The 1st Gig series explored the concept of the Stand Alone Complex and how groups copied something that never actually happened. The 2nd Gig explores the same stand alone complex ideas, but it adds a wrinkle or two. The stand alone complex is initiated and manipulated by one character seeking to exploit a political and sociological situation to overthrow the current Japanese government and move on to something different. The 1st Gig seems to focus more on groups, while this series seems to focus more on individuals.
  • Individuality seems to be a key theme in the series and there are some interesting new questions raised here as well. What happens when individuals connect their cyber-brains to a network of other individuals? Are they still individuals? One of the key episodes about this is the second episode. It’s more of a stand-alone story that doesn’t really contribute to the plot of the series, but it follows a disgruntled war vet who dreams of assassinating his boss. The episode clearly takes it’s cues from Taxi Driver, though this man never really acts out his impulses. When the Major and Batou investigate (by going undercover), they find that he is “just one in the long line of pitiful souls who fantasize about fulfilling the goals they can never accomplish.” This idea of how an individual can make a difference in the world is something that is explored in this series and also in the later Solid State Society movie (which is something I plan to cover in a future post).
  • The GitS world has always featured its share of politial organizations and maneuverings, but this series seems more reliant on such elements than previously. A lot of the history of the GitS universe is explore here, namely the two World Wars that took place between current day and 2030, one a nuclear war (whose long term effects were mitigated by the invention of radiation scrubbers) and the other being a non-nuclear war often referred to as the Second Vietnam War. At the end of WWIV, a number of refugees from all over Asia sought to move to Japan, and the tensions between these refugees and the Japanese government are the primary driving force behind the plot of the series. This is clearly a series that was influenced by the post 9/11 world, and there are lots of little references to real world analogs, though nothing particularly overt (the US military shows up in the film and the series isn’t especially flattering). While politics has always played a role in the series, it is more of a focus in this series.
  • Like the 1st Gig series, there are several stand-alone episodes mixed in with the continuity episodes, and in a lot of cases you get some backstory on various characters in Section 9. In my review of the 1st Gig series, I mentioned that the closing credits featured lots of shots of Section 9 staff just hanging around, shooting pool or playing cards. I had wanted to see more of that in the series, and we get a little of that here. For instance Saito plays poker with some new recruits and talks about how he first met the Major (in a sniper duel – though I’m not sure I buy that). Other side characters, like Pazu and Togusa get their own episodes as well, which is something I appreciated (and would like to see more of, as most of these characters are interesting in their own right). You find out more about the Major’s past and how she came to become a full replacement cyborg, though there are some things with this that they try to tie into the main storyline later in the series which struck me as being a bit contrived, but it worked well enough, I suppose.
  • The Tachikomas are back and also get their own episode as well as a rather heroic moment later in the movies (a good cavalry moment). Also, at the end of each episode there are these 1 minute shorts called Tachikomatic Days that can be kinda funny (apparently they were part of the 1st Gig series as well, though I never noticed them…)
  • One of the things that always seemed strange about the first series was the way the Major dressed (her non-combat uniform seemed to be a one-piece bathing suit, thigh-high stockings, and a leather jacket). I was apparently not alone in this assessment, with some people going so far as to call her Major Cheeks. In comments, Steven Den Beste came up with a half-satisfying explaination for the outfit, claiming that perhaps as a full-replacement cyborg, the Major likes to express her sexuality in such ways, if only to remind herself that she’s human. In this series, you get much more variety, including some more explicit stuff and some actual sensible outfits (though I still don’t think she’ll live down the Major Cheeks nickname). Her standard ensemble from the original series seems to have been updated with pants and a different (though still somewhat improbably) jacket, making it less obtrusive (and actually, more attractive – at least to me).

    Major Kusanagi

    Major Kusanagi

    On several occassions she puts on quite attractive and revealing outfits, but they’re more appropriate to the situations at hand (a couple of these are in the extended entry section of this post). She does still retain that odd cyber-sexual ambiguity though, at one point joking around with Section 9 about how if they don’t get an assignment, she’ll take them all out to the nudie bar, or later in the series when a teenager asks her if she can still have sex (her behavior during this sequence is actually kinda strange given that she’s of an indeterminate age and he’s presumably much, much younger, but nothing actually happens, which I think is how she wanted it anyway). In any case, I’ve always had a thing for the Major, and this series certainly delivers on that area.

  • In the end, I enjoyed the series quite a bit, though I think I may have watched it a little too fast, as my thoughts on the series are still a little disjointed. That or after 2 movies and a series, I’m starting to repeat myself. Who knows, I may have more to say about it as time goes on.
  • I suppose I should also note that Yoko Kanno is back, and as usual, the soundtrack for this series is great. It’s not quite Cowboy Bebop, but it fits the series well.
  • I watched the series mostly off of Netflix’s watch online service, though this time around I installed the PlayOn media server so that I could stream the video to my PS3 and watch it on my 50″ screen whilst sitting on my couch (much better than watching the series on my monitor while sitting at my desk). Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite an ideal experience. The substandard quality of the Netflix video (perhaps combined with the additional steps the video had to take to get to my TV) really looked poor at times on my HD TV. Sometimes it was fine though, and it was still easier to watch from my couch than at my desk. The other major issue was that the service was somewhat unreliable, though this may have more to do with Windows Media Player than PlayOn. Still, I was frequently interrupted by “The Data is corrupted” errors and DRM failures, which means I probably won’t be buying the PlayOn software (but I suppose the free trial is worth checking out, if you have a PS3). At this point, I’m hoping that the rumors of Netflix’s PS3 (or even Wii) support are true, and that we’ll get something workable soon.

A few more screenshots (though not as many as usual) and comments in the extended entry…

Trigun Ends

So I finally finished Trigun this week. Ultimately, I wasn’t very impressed with the series and I would probably rank it near the bottom of what I’ve seen. Most of my initial thoughts of the series still hold, with some minor shifts in focus.

  • Vash continued to be a likeable character – a Columbo-esque bumbling gunman – though towards the end of the series he takes on a more whiney emo style. I found this somewhat annoying, especially since the series kept covering the same thematic ground (there is one particularly tragic moment in the 24th episode where this could be appropriate, but even then, they overdo it).

    Vash the Stampede

  • The tone of the series continued to vary wildly from a silly, practically slapstick comedy to a stoic and deadly serious drama to madcap action sequences. For the first 15 or so episodes, the emphasis was pretty firmly in the slapstick realm, while things got progressively more serious and darker as the series ended. As you might expect, the exaggerated and stylized expressions continued to appear, though their frequency decreased as the series progressed (i.e. as the series got darker). The series also strays a bit from its steampunk Western roots and incorporates more and more science fiction into the mix. However, I found much of the SF presented to be just as problematic as the steampunk elements in that I found myself getting caught up in the minute details and missing the forest for the trees.
  • The series definitely contains too much filler, and could easily have been fit into 13 episodes. Indeed, the person I had identified as the primary villain in the previous entry isn’t actually the primary villain. You don’t find out who that is until the 16th episode in the series. Minor spoilers, the main villain is Vash’s brother. It turns out that Vash and his brother Knives are not human, though it’s not clear what they are or where they came from. They seem to me to be genetically altered humans or something, and the flashbacks make it clear that they are superior to humanity in several ways. Vash seems to take this to heart and loves humanity (as he is taught by his primary caretaker, Rem), while Knives seeks to destroy the inferior race… though I’m a little unclear on why he wants to do this. Such villainy is difficult to understand, and the series never quite establishes the real motives behind Knives’ compulsions.
  • There are a couple of flashback episodes, but the series still generally conformed to 1 or 2 episode arcs with a video game style boss-battle at the end of each arc.
  • The animation remained poor, with continued overuse of the single cell panning technique described in my first post.

The series does go for a couple of plot twists, but I found myself somewhat unmoved at most of them. This is probably because the series never really drew me in and thus I never really made a great connection to some of the characters. For instance, there is an unexpected death somewhere in the last few episodes. The death itself didn’t really bother me, but I was somewhat moved by Milly’s grief (surprisingly, Milly seems to have more of an arc in the series than Meryl, who doesn’t get much in the way of closure).

The ending makes a certain thematic sense, but I found the execution be somewhat dull and anticlimactic. It was pretty obvious what was going to happen – it’s not like the theme hadn’t already been established over and over again throughout the series. I suppose there is an element of ambiguity in the ending, but I have to say that I’m not particularly interested in exploring various interpretations.

So this is the first series I’ve watched and pretty thoroughly disliked. It had its moments, and for a good portion of the series, it was watcheable, but something didn’t really jive with me. In the comments to my last post, I said:

I have a hard time articulating what it is that I don’t like about this series. Everything I come up with seems like a nitpick or a rationalization. Nitpicking is almost always symptomatic of a deeper distaste for something, I just haven’t really figured out what that is. It might be the tonal schizophrenia, but then, I don’t mind huge shifts in tone in other things. Indeed, watching a movie like From Dusk Till Dawn, the best thing about it is the tonal shift (IMHBCO). Perhaps I can like FDTD because it’s only one big shift, and the two tones are similar in structure, if not in content. Maybe it’s the combination of things. Tonal schitzophrenia, steampunk, wacky animation, and a story with too much filler. None of these things inherently bothers me by itself, but combine them and I’m not doing so well.

I’ve got no new insights as to why the series didn’t click, it just didn’t. In any case, I’ve got several other series in the queue. I think Noir or Samurai 7 (I’m leaning towards this because it’s on Blu-Ray, and is thus only 3 discs) will be next.

As usual, more screenshots and comments (and perhaps some major spoilers as well) after the jump…

Trigun: Initial Thoughts

Since finishing Hellsing, I’ve been working my way through Trigun. In short, the series has grown on me, though there are some things that just aren’t clicking for me. I expected the series to be much different than it really is, which kinda put me off at first.

The series follows a character named Vash the Stampede (aka The Humanoid Typhoon) as he wanders across a desolate planet. Towns he visits have a nasty habit of sustaining massive amounts of damage, and he has a $$60,000,000,000 bounty on his head (the currency is referred to as “double dollars”). So Vash is constantly being chased by a plethora of bounty hunters and unsavory types. He’s also being tracked by two insurance agents named Milly and Meryl, whose goal seems to be to simply discourage him from destroying towns, as the Bernardelli Insurance Company is apparently taking a bath on property supposedly damaged by Vash. Naturally, much of what is known about Vash is an exaggeration, so at first, they don’t believe Vash is who he claims. As time goes on, it becomes clear that Vash is who he says he is, and that he has a dark past that he can’t remember.

Vash the Stampede

Vash the Stampede

Vash is an interesting main character. At first, he seems like a bumbling idiot, and a naive one at that. He has a silly sort of demeanor and seems to be constantly down on his luck. As the series progresses, you see that he’s not as hopeless as he seems. He’s constantly being thrust into tricky situations, and he always seems to be able to handle the situation perfectly despite still mostly appearing like a clumsy moron. And despite all the damage that happens to towns, it’s usually not caused much by his actions (the bounty hunters who chase him seem to be the worst offenders)… and he never kills anyone either. He’s a very likeable character. A lovable buffoon.

This is helped along by the character design, which looks like your typical Anime art mixed with absurdly stylized exclamations. Honestly, I found this a bit disconcerting. The tone of the series is all over the place. Sometimes it’s a silly, practically slapstick comedy, other times, it’s stoic and deadly serious, and it can switch modes at the drop of a hat.

The setting is reminiscent of a western, but with a distinct steampunk flair, and that’s another thing that I’m not particularly in love with. Steampunk is one of those conventions that can look really cool, but which always make me ask nitpicky questions. For instance, every town on this planet seems to have a giant lightbulb hanging over it. We learn later that it’s some sort of generator, but still, why would you design your generators like that? It’s stupid and not important to the story, but I find myself nitpicking all sorts of stuff like this while watching the show. This usually happens to me when a show or movie isn’t clicking with me.

The experience of watching this show has been odd. I watched the first disc and seriously considered quiting the series right then… but Netflix had already shipped the next disc, so I watched it, and I found the series growing on me. And this seemed to be continually happening. Every disc I’d get, I’d start off not particularly enjoying it, but by the end of the disc, I’d be sucked in. So I’ll probably finish the series, even though it’s not especially my bag.

Milly and Meryl

Milly and Meryl

The story is relatively simplistic, and there seems to be a lot of filler in the series. Every episode or two is a new town with a new challenger, whether it be a bounty hunter or one of the main villain’s henchmen. Perhaps it’s just my recent bout of video game madness, but the series seems structured like a video game – it’s like every episode has a boss battle. This can be an entertaining dynamic, but it’s not especially substantial either. There seems to be something more substantial brewing with Milly and Meryl, but 5 discs in, and it’s still just surface level stuff…

Visually, the series has some neat looking designs. The art is good, but the animation isn’t that great. One of the tricks of low-budget animation is to create one large cell drawing, then pan accross it. This gives the impression of movement without actually having to animate the movement. This series uses that technique a lot. Perhaps too much. The series has good music though. Not as good as Cowboy Bebop, but it’s up there.

I can see why this series is popular, but it didn’t especially click with me. I suppose my thoughts could change after seeing the ending, but I’m doubting that. More thoughts and screenshots below the fold.

Link Dump

For obvious reasons, time is a little short these days, so here are a few links I’ve found interesting lately:

  • Still Life – This is a rather creepy short film directed by Jon Knautz. It has a very Twilight Zoney type of feel, and a rather dark ending, but it’s quite compelling. Knautz went on to make Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer… alas, that film, while containing a certain charm for the horror aficionado, isn’t quite as good as this short.
  • Zero Punctuation: Assassin’s Creed: I’ve seen some of Yahtzee’s video game reviews before, but while they are certainly entertaining to watch, I’ve never quite known whether or not they were actually useful. It can be a lot of fun to watch someone lay the smackdown on stupid games, and Yahtzee certainly has a knack for doing that (plus he has a British accent, and us Americans apparently love to hear Brits rip into stuf), but you never really know how representative of the actual game it really is. Well, after spending a lot of time playing around with Assassin’s Creed this week, I have to say that Yahtzee’s review is dead on, and hilarious to boot.
  • A Batman Conversation: It’s sad and in poor taste, but I bet some variant of this conversation happened quite frequently about a year ago.
  • MGK Versus His Adolescent Reading Habits: Look! I’m only like 2 months behind the curve on this one! MGK posts a bunch of parodies of book covers from famous SF and fantasy authors (I particularly enjoyed the Asimov, Heinlein, and even the Zahn one).
  • Top Ten Astronomy Pictures of 2008: Self-explanatory, but there are some pretty cool pics in here…
  • Books as Games: I realize most of my readers also read Shamus, but still, this faux-review of Snow Crash if it were created as a video game before it became a book but in the present day (it, uh, makes more sense in his post) is pretty cool.
  • “Sacred Cow Slayings” Rumored at Sony… Is PlayStation In Jeopardy?: It figures… I finally get off my butt and buy a PS3 and then rumors start appearing that Sony is about to can the program. I don’t think it will happen, but this news is obviously not comforting…
  • Keanu Reeves wants to make a live-action version of Cowboy Bebop. No comment.

Anime Meme

So there’s an Anime Meme making the rounds, and I figured I’d give it a shot:

What anime are you watching now?

Disc 1 of Trigun just came in the mail today. After that, I think I’m going to watch Noir.

What is your favourite time to watch?

I don’t really have a set time to watch anime (or, well, anything really). Or, to put it another way, I’ll watch anime at any time the mood strikes (unless I’m at work, or otherwise engaged.)

And your favourite place?

On my TV in my living room. My couch is comfy.

Who is your favourite auteur?

I’m not sure I’ve watched enough Anime to have a favorite auteur, but the closest thing I can think of would be Hayao Miyazaki… probably the most obvious choice out there. And even he has movies and themes that I’m not a huge fan of. I suppose another choice would be Mamoru Oshii (of Ghost in the Shell fame), but I’ve only seen 2 of his movies.

Your favourite OST?

Yokko Kanno’s music in Cowboy Bebop is exceptional. I saw the movie and bought a bunch of CDs before I even thought about watching the series. My favorite songs would have to be Rush, Tank!, and Gotta Knock a Little Harder.

What is the most difficult anime you’ve ever watched?

Grave of the Fireflies, for reasons belabored in that post. I still find it odd that most people find this film so sad… I found it infuriating. But then, both of those traits make it difficult to watch. It is an exceptional film though, and it’s one of those films that you could pull out to traumatize people who think that you can’t tell real stories with animation.

What was the first anime you remember watching?

A friend of mine in college introduced me to Akira. It was a crappy VHS copy of the movie, with a poor transfer and bad subtitles, so I didn’t think much of it until I revisited the movie somewhat recently. I vaguely remember also watching Vampire Hunter D around that time (may have been before Akira, I don’t remember). For more of my early experiences with Anime, check out this post. I suppose if you consider stuff like Voltron to be Anime, then that was my first Anime, but I don’t think that counts…

Do you have a comfort show that you re-watch?

Not especially, though this may have something more to do with my tendency to Netflix my anime rather than buy it.

What is the most erotic anime you’ve watched?

To be honest, I don’t even really understand the fan service side of the Anime world, let alone freaky stuff like Hentai. I’m sure some of that stuff could be erotic, but I’m so disinterested in that side of things that I don’t think I’ll be able to answer this question for some time.

Which classic should you have watched?

Given my current experience, it would probably be easier to list the classics that I have seen (or even, all the anime that I’ve seen period). Again, see this post for more of what I’ve seen and check out the Anime archives for other series that I’ve seen since then…

Which series did you never want to end?

One of the things I like about Anime is that most series actually do have an ending. That said, there are series I’ve seen that I’ve wanted to go on. For instance, I wish Cowboy Bebop would have kept going, if only because I found the ending unsatisfactory. On the other hand, I can’t imagine that the creators would take that series where I’d like to see it go…

What is your most overrated anime?

Once again, I’m not sure I have enough experience with Anime to say for sure.

Which character could you have an affair with?

I have no idea, but this question did make me wonder, is there an anime female that isn’t cute or attractive (with the potential exception of evil villains, etc…)? Seriously, even girls who are supposed to be dorky or unpopular are cute.

Who is your favourite character?

I stink at choosing favorites, but the first person that came to mind was Major Motoko Kusanagi from the Ghost in the Shell movies and series.

Which character do you most dislike?

I guess Seita from Grave of the Fireflies. So infuriating.

Which character do you identify with most?

I can’t think of a particular character, but I suppose I have connected the most with the existential themes of the Ghost in the Shell series.

Which anime changed your life?

I can’t think of anything that’s had that sort of effect, unless you take an overly sensitive chaos-theory approach, in which case all anime I’ve watched has technically changed my life (as has every experience I’ve ever had, right down to sitting quietly in the freezing cold (with some rain too!) for 2 days waiting for a deer to pass by but not seeing anything, not even a doe, not that I’m bitter or anything).

Hellsing: Assorted Thoughts

I mentioned the other week that I wanted to try out a horror Anime series. I initially wanted to watch Vampire Hunter D because I’d seen the original and I’d heard it was just as good if not better than that film. Alas, it was not available on Netflix, so I had to find something else. Keeping with the theme of vampires, I found a couple of good reviews of Hellsing. This was an interesting experience, because my usual guides to the world of anime had almost nothing to say about Hellsing. It didn’t even warrant consideration on Steven’s Future Series page (not that he’d like this series, as it easily meets two of his criteria for rejection: “grim and gritty” and “blood and gore”)! In any case, it seems to have good reviews and it was a short series (13 episodes), so I figured checking out the first disc was worth it. Below are some assorted thoughts and the extended entry has more screenshots and thoughts as well…

  • The series follows the exploits of the Hellsing Organization. Run by descendents of Abraham Van Helsing (the famous vampire hunter from Dracula), the Hellsing Organization hunts down and destroys vampires. In an interesting twist, the Hellsing Organization employs vampires for this task, including one particularly powerful vampire named Alucard. Alucard is implied to be Dracula himself (his name would thus be an anagram), and could possibly be the oldest and most powerful vampire in existence. He’s egotistical and arrogant, and rather than merely destroy the vampires he hunts, he often toys with them first, hopeing to break their spirit as well as their life. He seems kinda bored and is always hoping for an opponent who will finally be able to put up a good fight. On the other hand, he is clearly devoted to the current head of the Hellsing organization, Integra Hellsing. He also gets along well with Hellsing butler and armorer, Walter Dornez, and he seems to have a fatherly relationship with his fledgling, Seras Victoria. Apparently in the original Manga, he is somewhat sad and envious of humans. Unfortunately, the series doesn’t really explore this aspect of his personality. Alucard is basically your typical badass anti-hero. He clearly does some evil things, but compared to the pitiful creatures he hunts, he’s a saint.

    Alucard and Integra Hellsing

    Alucard and Integra Hellsing

  • The other main character in the series is Seras Victoria. A police officer who got caught up in a battle between Alucard and some rampaging vampire, she was turned into a Vampire by Alucard. As such, she gives the audience their introduction to the world of Hellsing. She seems to have a little trouble accepting what she has become (for instance, she hesitates to drink blood, even the stuff the Hellsing Organization provides in convenient Capri-Sun style packages), but by the end of the series she’s well on her way. Her relationship with her master, presents an interesting dynamic, as it seems to imply that he has a more sensitive side than you’d typically see. It might have been nice to get a larger character arc here, but this series seems more interested in providing cool action scenes and visuals with people pointing guns directly at the camera (which, I’ll grant, is pretty badass).

    Seras Victoria

    Seras Victoria

  • One of the interesting things about this series is that it’s set entirely in the UK. The english dub of the series actually uses british accents, which makes the dub more desirable than the subtitles (with the potential exception of the voice for Alucard, whose Japanese counterpart seems to have a much deeper and menacing voice). This is something I haven’t seen in any other Anime title, so I found it rather interesting.
  • One of the big problems with the series for me is actually that Alucard is way too powerful. There are several villains who crop up in the series, but most don’t even come close to Alucard’s power, and even the one climatic battle in the series is kinda lacking in suspense because even when it seems like Alucard has been defeated, he always manages to come back somehow. The only villain who seems to have a chance is Alexander Anderson, a paladin who works for Vatican Section XIII, Iscariot. He’s a regenerator, so he seems mildly invinciible too and survived two run ins with Alucard. There also seems to be a strange conflict between Hellsing and Iscariot. Apparently the Vatican frowns on the Hellsing’s practice of fighting fire with fire. In any case, the series ends without really resolving either of these conflicts.
  • Sort of an extension of the above point, the mythology behind the vampire’s powers is not explored in much detail and thus some of their abilities seem rather outlandish. It kinda acts like magic, but there don’t appear to be any bounds on what is possible. This sort of thing is difficult to pull off. Hellsing does a decent job of this, but ultimately I get the feeling that the creators just wanted to show some cool imagery, which this series has in spades. Various abilities are sometimes hinted at, but the series never goes into that much detail. For instance, a vampire who serves a human master seems to be able to take on more abilities than a vampire who lives on their own. This is an interesting idea, one that is mentioned a few times when Alucard battles Incognito (the most powerful other vampire in the series – and he also serves a human master, though we never find out who), but it is really only hinted at. Unfortunately, when it comes to creating suspense, this sort of vague magic makes it difficult to really establish any real tension. It makes for some damned cool visuals though.

    Alucards Magic Hands

    Alucard’s Magic Hands

  • The series presents some interesting threats to the Hellsing Organization as a whole, but ultimately ends with a whimper. For instance, one of the root causes of the problems experienced during the series is that someone has figured out a way to create artificial vampires, and these creatures are not the elegant and civilized villains that “real” vampires are. But this threat isn’t utilized in the series very well. Another threat introduced in the series is the existence of a mole in the Rountable that helps Hellsing hunt vampires, but that too ends abrubtly. Indeed, the series ends with two rather unceremonious text messages stating that MI-5 is still hunting down the people responsible for creating artificial vampires with the freak chip, and also that the mole in the roundtable has been captured. I’m guessing that the Manga has continued on much further than the series went, and that someday there will be another series.
  • All that said, the series is a lot of fun to watch. While I would have liked it to delve deeper into some of the issues or provide more of a character arc to Alucard or Seras Victoria, there’s some interesting material that is implied in various relationships and there’s also plenty of entertaining action in the series. The battle sequences really comprise the series greatest strength. Visually, the series has an artistic flare that successfully mixes victorian horror with modern military motifs. The music is also exceptional – some of th best stuff I’ve heard since the soundtrack to Cowboy Bebop. Indeed, stylistically, this series reminded me a lot of Cowboy Bebop. Ultimately, the series works as pure entertainment. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but I was hoping for a little more.

As usual, more screenshots and thoughts in the extended entry…

Update: Author comments. I must be somewhat frustrating to other members of the Otakusphere in that I’m not constantly posting about Anime and will sometimes go through prolonged droughts while I work through some other obsession (most recently, the 6WH marathon). This time, I was delayed in part because I went back and watched Crest of the Stars and got a little sidetracked while I waited for the final disc from Netflix (incidentally, the final disc did come at some point, and I stand by my recommendation not to skip Crest before watching Banner.)

Fledgeling Otaku also comments. He’s intrigued by Alucard’s invincibility and draws parallels with Avatar: The Last Airbender and even Superman (who is just about the opposite of Alucard in every way except for their theoretical invincibility – perhaps Alucard is more like General Zod?). It’s an interesting perspective…

6WH: Week 6: Japanese Horror

The final week of the Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon (See Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5) kicks off with a two Japanese horror films, one disc of an Anime series, and the usual smattering of shorts and trailers.

  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror IV: The Devil and Homer Simpsons
  • Poor Devil (WTF is this? Franklin Mint Blog has details)
  • Hellbound: Hellraiser II (trailer)
  • Jigoku: The title of this film means “hell,” but unfortunately, only the final third of the film takes place there. The first hour or so is comprised of a tedious, handwringing melodrama about Shiro Shimizu, a good student with a loving fiancee, who seems to have drawn the ire of Tamura. I’m not sure what the deal is with Tamura, but whenever he appears (and I use that term literally), people die. This film doesn’t make a ton of sense, but it’s beautifully shot, and once you begin the descent into hell that the title promises, things pick up a bit. Granted, things still don’t make sense, but then, you kinda expect that in hell. In any case, Shiro is sentenced to an eternity of damnation in the Japanese/Buddhist version of hell… unless he can gain redemption by saving his unborn daughter. Or something, I don’t think it really matters. The only reason to really watch this movie is for its use of gore, as you see various characters from the first hour punished for their sins. Relatively tame by today’s standards, this movie, made in 1960, clearly disturbed audiences of the time and paved the way for gore as a mainstay of the horror genre. Alas, since none of the characters really matter much and since there is little emphasis on story or plot, I didn’t care much for the film. Fantastic visuals though. Probably only interesting for students of the genre. **

    The boiling cauldron level of hell

    The boiling cauldron level of hell

  • The Ring (trailer)
  • Ringu (trailer)
  • Video Dating (Robot Chicken)
  • Ju-on: The Grudge: This Japanese haunted house tale puts an interesting spin on the cliched subgenre, creates an undeniably creepy atmosphere, and produces some excellent scares, but ultimately doesn’t go anywhere. We’re informed by the title sequence that a Ju-on is “The curse of one who dies in the grip of powerful rage. It gathers and takes effect in the places that person was alive. Those who encounter it die, and a new curse is born.” And that’s basically it. A bunch of people enter the house, get cursed, then we see them disappear or die mysteriously. Writer/Director Takashi Shimizu attempts to liven the proceedings by employing a nonlinear narrative structure, and by instituting the rule that it doesn’t matter where you go, these ghosts will still find you and do their thing. The latter is an interesting twist, solving the problem of a lot of haunted house tales (i.e. Just leave the house, dumbass! Well, in Ju-On, that won’t help you). At first, this movie is wildly effective. Shimizu crafts a creepy atmosphere that sets the mood and then manages a few unsettling payoffs. The film is filled with little visual tricks that keep you on edge, constantly looking in the shadows or reflections for an unseen ghost. The sound design and minimalist soundtrack provide a lot of the scares and complement the visuals well. The unconventional narrative structure is engaging at first… a series of interlocking “chapters” that each tell the tale of one individual’s struggle to avoid the curse. Unfortunately, by the end of the film, the novelty of the atmosphere was beginning to flag, and the nonlinear timeline manages to give away the ending about a half hour before it happens, thus taking all the suspense out of the ending and making the seemingly interesting narrative structure essentially pointless. The ending is the one major flaw in an otherwise harrowing movie. That said, this is probably the creepiest movie I’ve seen during the 6WH (the only other candidate was also a ghost movie, <a href="The Others“>The Others), so I’ll give the movie a pass. ***

    It is either a little boy ghost or a cat ghost, or both.

    It’s either a little boy ghost or a cat ghost, or both.

  • Vampire 24: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 (Robot Chicken)
  • Blood+ (trailer)
  • Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (trailer)
  • Hellsing (disc 1): I wanted to get some Anime on here, as horror is a genre not particularly covered by my guides to the Anime world. I actually wanted to watch Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, but Netflix doesn’t have it for some reason, so I had to resort to this series. I picked Hellsing because it got generally good reviews and sounded rather interesting. After the first 3 episodes, it seems to be chugging along well, though I don’t think the series plot has been established yet. There’s no clear villain, except for the hordes of vampires that the Hellsing organization hunts down and destroys. Interestingly, the Hellsing organization employs vampires for this purpose. This actually makes a bit of sense; I’ve always thought that the best vampire hunters would be other vampires. One of the main characters and seemingly the most powerful vampire is Alucard, an obvious hint that he is, in fact, Dracula (Alucard is Dracula spelled backwards, and is even used in Bram Stoker’s novel). The other main character is a young policewoman who chose to become a vampire when she got between Alucard and a rampaging vampire. She struggles with what she’s become, and we get our introduction to the world of Hellsing through her. No recognizeable villain or serious challenge to Alucard’s power has appeared, unless it’s the Vatican’s hunter who has just appeared at the end of disc 1 (The Vatican’s vampire hunting unit, named Iscariot, seems to disagree with the Hellsing organization’s practice of fighting fire with fire). While I can see that Iscariot will show up later in the series, they don’t seem like the primary villain. Anyway, so far, so good. More thoughts on the series (still 10 episodes to go) will be posted separately.



That about covers it for tonight, but the festivities will continue through the week and Wednesday’s entry will be a special Speed Round edition, featuing a bunch of movies that I’ve watched recently but haven’t had the chance to write about. Thanks to NeedCoffee for the pointer to Poor Devil (they’re doing a Halloween marathon as well). Kernunrex’s 6WH is also proceeding well; he’s even been watching Kaedrin favorite Phantasm and it’s several sequels. In an interesting twist, Shamus will be posting about survival horror video games during what he calls Hallowweek. And the usual crowd is up to their Halloween shenanigans: Horror Movie A Day, Quint from AICN is still going strong, The Metal Misfit, Random Acts of Geekery, and Cal’s Media of the Month. It also looks like local horror aficionados are hosting a marathon of their own this weekend: Exhumed Films 24 Hour Horror-thon. The schedule is being kept secret for now, but it looks like fun.

Dear Netflix User With Disc 4 of Crest of the Stars

Judging from the “Very Long Wait” status on Netflix, you’ve apparently had this disc for well over a month now. Please return it so the rest of us can watch. Thanks.

Also, if you’re the same person who has had the final disc of Banner of the Stars II for the past month, you might want to get going on that too. I haven’t started the series yet, so you’ve got some time, but still.



P.S. – Alternatively, if anyone from Netflix is reading, please increase stock of Crest, Banner, and Banner II. It seems like you only have one copy, and somebody still has the last disc of each series. Thanks.

Update: Crest disc 4 has been upgraded to “Long Wait.” Thank you Netflix user.

Crest of the Stars: Initial Thoughts

One of the things I liked about Banner of the Stars was the worldbuilding. As such, I questioned my decision to skip the first series, Crest of the Stars. When I finished Banner, I immediately put Crest in my Netflix queue. Well, I’ve watched the first disc and I loved it. It covers a lot of the things that were hinted at in Banner, and it does a good job explaining many of the concepts (for instance, the 2 dimensional nature of Plane Space) I didn’t know about while watching Banner. A lot of stories that are set in an unfamiliar setting have a character in them that has the same knowledge as the viewer. That way, when this character learns something, the audience does too. For example, in Das Boot, the main character is a journalist who has never been aboard a u-boat. The character basically provides the filmmakers with a reason to have the captain explain things he wouldn’t normally need to explain (thus the audience gets an insight into what it’s like to be on a u-boat). There was no corresponding character in Banner, but Jinto effectively plays that part in Crest. He grows up not knowing much about the Abh and then gets a bit of a culture shock when he meets Lafiel for the first time.

Jinto & Lafiel
Lafiel & Jinto

At this point, if someone asked me, I’d tell them to watch Crest first. There’s enough backstory in Banner to allow someone to watch it without having seen Crest, but I get the feeling it would be a lot better if they watched Crest first. It’s hard for me to tell, because in the comments of my first Banner post, Steven gave a great overview of the Abh, so I knew more than an average viewer might while watching Banner. Granted, I’m only 4 episodes into Crest, but so far it appears to be setting up the characters so that you care more about them by the time Banner rolls around. Still, I enjoyed some of the subtle character moments that establish the relationship between Jinto and Lafiel – for example, when Jinto asks Lafiel what her name is, it seems kinda strange at first, but then you find out why that moment is important a little later. Good stuff. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

A few more assorted thoughts and screens below the fold…