Saturday, November 13, 2004

What I'm Watching Part 1

As most of you are probably aware I likes a me the anime lots. :-D I don't really watch a lot of live action TV anymore, in fact, I'd estimate that anime/cartoons are 65%-70% of the stuff I watch. [Yes, I'm aware that I'm a freak. But that's why y'all love me.]
I do watch, or TiVo and then watch, the original CSI, Cold Case (it's set in Philly and doesn't suck), the Daily Show, Chappelle's Show, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Monk and All My Children. (What?! Yes, I said All My Children. Bite Me!) I was watching Enterprise, but it's so bleh now that not even the deliciously scrumptious Jolene Blalock can make me sit through 43 minutes of tired stories. TiVo records them for me and I spend most of the time in fast forward waiting to see if something interesting happens. Sundays are, of course, reserved for football and getting fatter lying on the couch. (Go Eagles!) And were it not for the inanity of the NHL and the NHLPA, I'd be watching Hockey. Thanks, guys. (Go Flyers when and if the league ever resumes play.)
Generally, the TV is either tuned to Comedy Central or Cartoon Network, since TiVo thinks we are either kids or like to laugh a lot. Which is probably not that far off, now that I think about it.
I'm going to start talking about anime, since it's less available than general TV stuff, but I'll eventually cover things like Justice League Unlimited and Teen Titans down the line. Anyway, I'm presuming that most of you are aware of what anime is, if not check here first.

[Just a little note: Any DVD links will point to Amazon as I'm sure they have everything listed, and I'm not sure about the other places. And as I'm pro-capitalist and pro-anime, it would warm the cockles of my heart to have people buy licensed, legitimate copies of shows and keep the cycle of consumerism going. ;) But, if you want to try before you buy, go to They work like Netflix, but are anime only (though Netflix has anime too, but I'm not sure their selections are as comprehensive) and I highly recommend them for those of you who don't feel like emptying your bank account trying to acquire every title you like, but want to keep the money flowing to the right people.]

So, before I start my list, I want to share with you a couple of observations: First, saying you like anime has certain connotations in the States, either people have an idea what you're talking about or they look at you like you've got two heads. (Which is happening less and less I've noticed, as anime becomes more mainstream). But saying you like anime in Japan is like saying you like TV, which is usually followed by a "Duh. What shows do you watch/like?"
Second, seasons in Japan are slightly longer than here in the states, a full season is usually 24-26 episodes and half a season is usually 12-13, compared to 22/11 episodes in a full/half season here. There doesn't seem to be any sweeps weeks and ratings seem to only determine whether a show warrants a second season or more, as I haven't really heard of many shows being cancelled. Most shows, however, only last for a single season, as they are planned that way from the start, some shows are planned for more the 26 episodes to start off with, and may end up running the whole year, 52 episodes.
3rd, the Japanese favor a style of serial storytelling, in that most series will usually have a plot arc running through the series that starts off in the background, and slowly reveals itself over the course of the season to resolve climactic and usually definitively in the last episodes, much like how Buffy, Angel and Babylon 5 did. Though there are few more episodic shows, these tend to run for very, very long times, as any resolution of the background plot would mean the end of the series. [The longest currently running show, at 370 episodes and counting, is the the detective show Matantei Conan, known as Case Closed here in the States, and shown on Cartoon Network and available on DVD. Other long running shows, include the pirate show One Piece, Pokemon, and Yu-Gi-Oh.)
So what bearing does this information have on my list? I'm not sure, other than requisite background information and perspective and I felt like sharing it, because I'm a geek like that.

Ok, so onto the list:

Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex 2nd Gig: I figured I'd start with this TV series, because some of you may be aware of the movies. (The original Ghost in the Shell released in 1995 or Ghost in the Shell: Innocence released just a month ago. if you haven't seen either of them, the original movie is available on DVD while the sequel "Innocence" may still be in theatres, and will be released on DVD at the end of the year.)
Both the movies and the TV series are derived from the same original work by Masamune Shirow. (And being a huge Shirow fanboy, naturally, I just lap it all up.) But the movies and the TV series occupy different universes. Whereas the movies are heavy on existential philosophy and literary references, the TV series is more down to earth, favoring more action and political intrigue, though those existential questions still come up, they're more appetizer as opposed to full meal. The TV series also presumes that the events of the movie and the manga didn't happen.
The TV series centers around the Japanese government anti-terrorism department Section 9 and its cases of cyber-terrorism and political corruption that eventually threatens that same department. It's part police procedural and part actioner, extremely well written, better than most live-action shows, but like most police procedurals the character development is filler, not the focus.
The central character is the female cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi, though her subordinates Batou and the Togusa get a lot of face time in this series. (Especially Togusa since he's only a got a handful of minor implants, he's the most human of all the Section 9 members, he's even got a wife and kid.) The Major, as she's called, is your prototypical hyper competent, ass kicking, tough as nails woman, though, being all cyborg except for her brain and spinal cord kinda blurs that definition. Though, like the movies, the Major is pretty much asexual, but she's not nearly as emotionally distant, she even has a sense of humor. (To be honest, though, the movie Motoko is probably more accurate of how a nearly 100% cyborg would behave, more machine=less humanity. In the manga, however, the Major retains a lot more of her humanity, including her sexuality. [Sorry, boys, none for you.;) which is another reason I like this series, as I'll explain in another post.]) The TV series also has more humor than the movies, though not like the manga. Which is better, in some ways, as the face faults and wackiness that mark Shirow's work, became more jarring, the more hyper-realistic and technically complex he got.
So the first series is being released on DVD by Bandai and began airing on Adult Swim on Nov 6th at 12:30am, be sure to check it out. (Don't worry if you missed the first episode, you can still pick it up in later episodes, plus they'll re-run it down the line.) I'm currently watching the second series, which picks up after the events at the end of last season. While the series is considered licensed, some naughty fansubbers are still, slowly, releasing fansubbed episodes of this series. Which is ethically questionable on my part as well, as I like to encourage people to buy domestic releases, but as there is no domestic release yet, I think I can rationalize my behavior with a simple pledge to purchase the domestic release when it's available, and not tell you, my dear readers, where to get it.
Sketchy, I know, but on the Aristotlean scale of Virtue, I'm merely a Continent man with occasionally fits of Incontinence. ;)

Legend of Galactic Heroes: This title, currently unlicensed for US distribution, could probably best be described as Babylon 5, minus the aliens and the space station. Or maybe Star Wars, if George Lucas could actually write political power struggles with any skill or nuance. Humanity has colonized the Galaxy, leaving Earth a distant and dim fragment of collective memory. The majority of space is ruled by the Empire, which in its style and look is reminiscent of World War I Germany or 19th century Prussia. And they are opposed by the Free Planets Alliance, a poorly run democratic (actually more socialist, now that I think about it.) entity rife with corruption. The show follows a couple of young men as they rise through the ranks of each side to positions of power against corruption and enemies within and without and trying to steer their nations on what they believe to be the best course.
I don't really think I'm conveying the epicness or the coolness of this show, though. Between 4 seasons (110 episodes) and a couple of OVAs and movies, I think there's something like 60+ hours of animation, but I've only seen about a tenth of this so far.
This show while not heavy into character development, is heavy on the characters. New ones keep getting introduced and looking the Cast list is like looking at a Japanese phone book, but there are no throw away characters, each character they introduce will have some bearing on the overall plot either for that episode or for the series as a whole. The intrigue is top notch, schemes and machinations and nefarious plots abound, especially on the Empire side of things.
Which brings me to another observation, Legend of Galactic Heroes goes out of its way to muddy up the sides quite a bit. The Empire is declining, and the Alliance is rife with corruption, but I suppose that's done out of necessity since you're supposed to root for the young guys on both sides.
Anyway, the first 20 episodes are available here using Bittorrent. (As a client I'm now recommending Auzureus.)

So that's Part 1. Part 2 will cover some more sci-fi stuff, including the new Gundam Seed series. Because you can't watch anime without running into Giant Robots at some point. Stay Tuned


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