Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Aincrad

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Aincrad original story by Reki Kawahara, art by Tamako Nakamura

Disclaimer:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Aincrad

It is the year 2022, and commercially viable virtual reality equipment is now on the market.   Of course, one of the first applications that comes to mind is Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), and the first one out the gate is Sword Art Online.  Kirito (his online handle, real name Kazuto Kirigaya) was one of the lucky beta testers, and is looking forward to the full launch of ten thousand players.

Except that shortly after the game begins, all the player characters are summoned back to the beginning town, remodeled to look like the players themselves, and unable to log out.  A figure who claims to be the game’s designer, Akihiko Kabaya, announces that they’re all trapped in the world of Aincrad, and won’t be able to log out until the 100th level of the game is beaten.  Oh, and the respawn feature has been disabled, so if you die in the game, you die in real life.

And in case you were hoping for rescue from the outside?  If anyone removes the VR gear or tampers with it, it will automatically kill the player, and this has been announced to the media.

Realizing that the area around the Town of Beginnings will rapidly become too overhunted for him to level up quickly, Kirito decides to go solo, as his beta tester knowledge allows him to punch above his weight, so he can go to the next town even at first level.  He does invite along a noob (new player) named Klein, but Klein won’t abandon his friends, and Kirito doesn’t think he can protect more than one ally.

The story picks up again about two years later.  with the Aincrad dungeon about three-quarters cleared, at the cost of four thousand deaths.  Kirito has been very successful as a solo player, but suffers stigma as a “beater” because his character level is so much higher than most people’s that he triggers monster encounters that are lethal to anyone near him.

It’s at this point that Kirito runs into a girl named Asuna, who is known as “the Flash” for her superior sword skills, is highly placed in the powerful Knights of the Blood guild, and happens to be one of the few skilled cooks in the game.  Oh, and she’s very pretty.   Asuna won’t leave Kirito alone, and they’re soon in a relationship.

However, the already lethal world of Aincrad is about to turn it up a notch, and there are secrets not even the beta testers know.

This manga is based on a light novel series, which has also been turned into an anime.   (One of three so far where the basic plotline is a person being unable to log out of a virtual reality game.)  It adapts the first storyline, the Aincrad world.

This version of the story trims out many minor characters, including most of the women (which makes the gender imbalance even more noticeable.)   It also has a tendency to make good characters good-looking and bad characters less so; the most prominent minor villain doesn’t even look human, and remember, that’s his real face.

The main villain is a real piece of work; in addition to what’s already been mentioned, it turns out he’s disabled another important player safety feature, but left it able to feel their pain.   (It’s likely he didn’t realize the full implications of this particular act, he’s very low-empathy.)

This volume is mostly aimed at teenage boys; the female characters are all defined by their relationships to Kirito, and there’s a sequence of Asuna in her underwear with no equivalent scene for any of the male characters.  (We also learn that it’s possible to alter the “moral code” setting to allow in game sex, but it’s not clear if the characters actually do this.)

Kirito is a loner with deep manpain through most of the story, though he lightens up a bit towards the end when he falls in love with Asuna.

The art is generally good, but many of the fight scenes are poorly choreographed, resulting in the manga equivalent of “shaky cam”.

If you are already a Sword Art Online fan, this is a perfectly good addition to your collection.  I’d also recommend it to teenage boys who like online gaming.  Other people might want to flip through it in the library to see if the art style takes their fancy.

Update:  The sequel to AincradAlfheim Online, is considered to be a severe step down from the first storyline, taking all the parts that were problematic and goosing them up, as well as managing to be much more sexist.  From the bits I have read, I strongly recommend stopping at the end of the Aincrad story and considering that the end of the series.

Manga Review: Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit

Manga Review: Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit by Motoro Mase

In an alternate-history Japan, the government immunizes all children as they enter first grade.  But one in every thousand injection also contains a nanocapsule that lodges in the child’s heart.  and somewhere between age 18 and 24, will activate and stop that heart.  There’s a triple-blind system in place to prevent anyone from knowing just which injections contain the lethal capsules.

Ikigami

But just before the capsule is due to detonate, the name of the person is revealed to a government agency that delivers death notices known as ikigami to the victim twenty-four hours in advance.  One such deliveryman is a bureaucrat named Kengo Fujimoto.

The frame story follows Fujimoto as he joins the Ministry, gets his basic training, and delivers the ikigami.   He’s a bland character, which is deliberate.  He’s drifted through his early life without any particular direction, and wound up in this job more or less through inertia.  Each volume covers two deliveries.

This is where most of the action is, as the actual stories are asking the question, “What would you do if you only have twenty-four hours to live?”  The answers are as different as the victims, who range from brilliant creative types who had their whole future ahead of them through average kids to criminals with nothing left to lose.  There is, of course, a part of the law that punishes your family if you take the opportunity to go on a crime spree, but not everyone is deterred by that.

In the volume at hand, #9, the cases are:

“National Welfare Immunization”  A young woman who became a nurse specializing in neonatal care because she was born prematurely and had to struggle for life, discovers that she is one of the Chosen.  She infiltrates a school where the children are being immunized, and takes one hostage so she can confront their parents about the unfairness of the system.  The doctor doing the immunizations is dealing with his own guilt, as he had personally injected one of the Chosen at the beginning of his career and was his personal physician for years.  Can the situation be defused with only one death?

“Two Fallen In War”  Many years ago, two men met in World War Two, and a series of incidents bound them together.  Now, are those same circumstances repeating with their grandsons?  Questions of fate and intention intertwine.   Surprisingly, incontinence is a key point.

In the frame story, war threatens, and the Thought Bureau is finally concluding their investigation.  Fujimoto must finally confront his misgivings about the National Prosperity Law and the injustice inherent in the system.  He makes a decision, but what will that decision be?

One of the  interesting aspects of the series is that other than the dystopian aspects, the alternate Japan’s culture is virtually identical to our world’s, with the same social ills and crime rate.   In other words, the supposed benefits of the ikigami system are in fact pointless.

This series is marketed to the seinen (young men) demographic in Japan and has some intense violent scenes and generally mature readers subject matter.  One chapter contains an attempted rape.  Parents should heed the “mature readers” label.

Many of the cases presented are tear-jerkers, and intensely dramatic.  The art style is suited for the subject matter.  The final volume is due out in August 2014, but tentatively I recommend this series for fans of dramatic fiction.

Manga Review: Rin-ne

Manga Review: Rin-ne by Rumiko Takahashi

Sakura Mamiya is not quite your normal high school girl.  Due to a near-death experience as a child, Sakura can see spirits.  One day, she meets the new boy in her class, Rinne Rokudo.  She mistakes him for a spirit at first, but the truth is a bit more complicated.

Rin-ne #13

Rinne is a ”shinigami” (death spirit), a not so grim reaper whose job it is to move ghosts on to the afterlife.  However, his ancestry is partially mortal human, which means that he is much weaker than normal shinigami and must use artificial means (often expensive ones) to duplicate their natural powers.  Between that, bad luck, and having his name fraudulently placed as a co-signer on his father’s extensive debts, Rinne is grindingly poor.

Sakura befriends Rinne, and often helps him with his cases.  While she doesn’t have any special abilities beyond spirit sensing, Sakura’s cool head and common sense often come in handy dealing with wacky spirit hijinks.  In the standard Takahashi fashion, more and more quirky characters pop up and refuse to go away for long.

This series uses some of the same supernatural folklore as Takahashi’s last work, Inuyasha, but does not have an over-arcing plot as such, featuring individual stories and short arcs instead.  Rinne is considerably less of a jerk than most of Takahashi’s previous shounen protagonists, and Sakura is much less ill-tempered than many of their female leads.  The obstacles to their budding love are more circumstantial.

Rin-ne is a lighthearted series, despite the constant presence of death.  Many of the situations are silly, even if everyone in the story takes them seriously.

In the volume I have to hand, #13,  Rinne’s deadbeat dad needs to borrow money to pay for something, which leads to the question of what he values so much that he’d be willing to actually shell out payment.  Rinne has several encounters with Right and Left, moon rabbit people who run a scythe repair shop…badly.  Then Rinne is framed for robbery.

In addition, there’s a story set in a dessert buffet, and seasonal tales for Christmas and New Year’s Day.

There’s considerably less gratuitous fanservice than Takahashi’s earlier works, and despite the scythes and ghosts, most of the violence is slapstick.  The primary intended audience is middle-school and up boys, but girls should find it enjoyable too.

Open Thread: Inspired Blog Challenge Wrap-Up

Today is the last day of the Inspired Blog Challenge, so it’s time for a wrap-up post.

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

The main objective was to post twenty times during the month, and that was accomplished.

While joining the challenge did not greatly increase the number of pageviews (other things I did during the month were more effective), I did get a lot more comments than usual, a couple of them from people not even in the challenge!

My top ten viewed posts during the last month were:

  1.  Book Review: Narrative Structure in Comics: Making Sense of Fragments (Mostly by fans of Shutterbug Follies, a comic strip featured as an example in the book.)
  2.  Comic Book Review: The Forgotten Man Graphic Edition (A just-published volume based on a best-selling revisionist history book.)
  3.  Open Thread: Inspired Blog Challenge Day One (This one definitely boosted by joining the challenge, as everyone in it gave me one shot.)
  4. Open Thread: Mother’s Day (Everyone loves their Mom, or knows someone who does, right?)
  5. Anime Review: Magi – Labyrinth of Magic (Very popular show among anime fans.)
  6. Manga Review: Vagabond Volume 1 (A biography of famous sword-slinger Miyamoto Musashi, by a popular creator.)
  7. Manga Review: Weekly Shonen Jump (USA) (The most popular ongoing manga series.)
  8. Manga Review: Vinland Saga Book 1 (Exciting, well-researched Viking story.)
  9. Book Review: The Saint: The Man Who Was Clever (Got a big boost from being mentioned on a site for pulp fans.)
  10. Book Review: Blood Aces (Biography of a Texas gangster who made it big in Las Vegas.)

I don’t know that the Inspired Blog Facebook group is the best fit for me, given most of the other blogs in it are “lifestyle” or “artistic.” But we’ll see going forward.

Got a huge increase in spam once I joined the challenge, Akismet seems to be dealing with it.

So, topics for discussion: have you ever been in a blogging challenge, and how did it go for you? Or alternatively, plug a blog other than your own that you really like and people should go see.

Open Thread: She’s Back!

Back in the early 1990s, Naoko Takeuchi  created a character named “Sailor V.”   While mahou shoujo (magical girls) had been around for decades in manga and anime, ever since Bewitched was imported from America, Sailor V was a unique blend of stereotypical girly interests and action heroine.   This attracted the notice of Toei Animation, who told Takeuchi they wanted something like Sailor V, but with a team of girls in the style of sentai shows.

Usagi

So Ms. Takeuchi came up with Sailor Moon, which took place in the same universe as Sailor V’s adventures, but had a new cast.  (Sailor V eventually was brought in to become Sailor Venus.)   It was a huge hit, both in comics and animation form.  There was a bit of a glitch in that the manga came out monthly, while the television show came out weekly.  This caused the anime to have a lot of “filler”, episodes designed to have nothing important happen, or fill in the blanks of minor character’s characterization.

The manga and anime were brought over to America by separate companies.   At the time, it was feared that American children were uninterested in shows that took place in foreign countries starring people with non-Caucasian names.  So a lot of names and cultural references were changed or dropped.  There were also differences in what was considered acceptable for children to watch in Japan and America, so some things were censored.  The most notable example is that two characters who had a romantic relationship in the original were changed to “cousins” for the dub.

Despite the changes, and the poor handling of the marketing by the American distributors, Sailor Moon became a hit in the United States, with a huge secondary market in the original Japanese goods.  Many teenagers, especially girls, were first introduced to anime by this show, and it helped create the market that exists today.

The US dub has been out of circulation for a while, and will cost you a pretty penny for a legal copy.  However, there’s a new Sailor Moon anime coming out this year, supposedly more faithful to the manga, and as part of the marketing for it, Viz Media has been allowed to re-subtitle and soon re-dub the 90s anime.  You can find the subtitled version on Hulu–they’re releasing it two episodes a week, with the first week getting four.

So,  talk about Sailor Moon, or if you’re not a fan, tell me about a girls’ book series you enjoyed.

Manga Review: The Twin Knights

Manga Review: The Twin Knights by Osamu Tezuka

This is a sequel to the classic Osamu Tezuka work Princess Knight (“Ribon no Kishi” or “The Ribbon Knight” in Japanese), about Sapphire, a princess raised as a boy due to strange circumstances.  Queen Sapphire is now married and gives birth to twins, Prince Daisy and Princess Violetta.  There’s a question of succession, as the inheritance rules were changed to allow women to ascend the throne of Silverland, but don’t account for twins.

The Twin Knights

The equivalent of a coin flip makes Prince Daisy the heir apparent, which enrages the Duke and Duchess of Dahlia.  They kidnap the prince and have him abandoned in the Forest of Slobb.  To calm the people while the search for the missing prince is ongoing,  Queen Sapphire and her husband regretfully decide to have Violetta disguised as her brother on alternate days.

Years pass, and when Violetta is in her teens, things reach a crisis point.  She must leave the castle to seek out her brother, who, yes, is still alive.  Many perils await, and not all who begin this fairy tale will be alive at the end of it.

Osamu Tezuka innovated in many areas of Japanese comics, and Princess Knight was one of the first shoujo manga (girls’ comics) in Japan; certainly it’s the first one anyone still remembers.  This sequel was also written in the 1950s  It shares the same simple but dynamic art style and attitudes towards gender issues that were progressive for the time it was written but seem outdated today.

There’s a lot of exciting action, some comedy, and a bit of confusion involving mistaken identities.  Princess Violetta ends up impersonating Prince Daisy,  impersonating himself!   Even though Queen Sapphire is much more ladylike now, she hasn’t forgotten her sword skills.  In the fairy tale tradition, there are several deaths, with the evil tending to die gruesomely (but tastefully–this isn’t a gorefest.)

An important supporting character is Emerald, Queen of the Gypsies.  Although she and her people are depicted sympathetically (and Emerald is heroic when her temper doesn’t get the better of her), it’s still pretty stereotypical.  Parents may want to talk to their children about the real-life Roma and the prejudice against them.

I’d especially recommend this volume (and the series it’s a sequel to) to fans of the Disney princesses, as Tezuka took a lot of his early inspiration from the Walt Disney style.

Anime Review: Urusei Yatsura

Anime Review: Urusei Yatsura

Ataru Moroboshi is not precisely your average teenaged boy.  For one thing, he’s an incurable skirt-chaser, constantly hitting on any pretty lady who happens by.  Also, he’s incredibly unlucky.  So unlucky, that when alien invaders declare that a random person from Earth must compete against their champion in a game of tag, Ataru is that random person.

Urusei Yatsura

The alien champion is Lum, who looks like a sexy version of a Japanese oni.  Ataru is suddenly much more pumped at the prospect of catching her, but the alien girl turns out to be able to fly.   The Earth is on the brink of defeat when Ataru’s long-suffering main romantic target Shinobu agrees to marry him if he wins.

This gives Ataru just the boost he needs to catch Lum and win, but in the process he accidentally proposes to Lum, who accepts, because she’s fallen in love with him.  Soon Ataru’s home suburb of Tomobiki Town is a hotbed of aliens and weirdness.

Urusei Yatsura, also known as “Those Annoying Aliens”, was the first big hit by manga creator Rumiko Takahashi.  It was turned into a long-running televison series, several direct to video features and some movies.  I recently finished watching all fifty DVD volumes of the TV show.  The manga, marketed in America as Lum: Urusei Yatsura, has not been fully released in English due to misguided marketing leading to poor sales.

This romantic comedy series, heavy on the comedy part, is full of zany characters, puns, slapstick gags and amusing situations.  Ataru is a jerk, yes, and deserves about 80% of what happens to him, with the rest being random bad luck.  But he also has his good points, when the mood strikes him.   And it’s not as though the other fellows in the series are much better in their own ways.

Lum undergoes a huge change over the course of the series.  At the beginning, she’s a pretty horrible person, the type who shouts “I’m having your baby!” while Ataru is trying to talk on the telephone.  But she soon becomes much more likable, with her innocent failure to fully understand human culture taking the fore.  Part of this is because Shinobu was supposed to be the main love interest, but the readers liked Lum better, and feedback caused Ms. Takahashi to adjust the story to match.

During the first couple of seasons of the anime, this makes for some inconsistent characterization, as earlier stories from the manga were sometimes skipped over, only to be done later with the original characterization intact.  Over the course of the series, the anime also did a number of filler episodes.  These can usually be spotted by having much less Ataru, and a more melancholy/nostalgic tone.  Takahashi-penned stories often ended with a stinger that restored the status quo or punctured any lingering seriousness, filler episodes tend not to do this.

One pattern Ms. Takahashi uses a lot of is introducing a new zany character whenever the series starts to drag, having stories that pair them up with various members of the existing cast, and seeing if they stick.  This wound up with the series having loads of characters, some of whom only showed up once a year.  The most successful of the later characters is Ryuunosuke, a young woman raised as a boy by her crazed father, who explored gender issues in a way that would be more directly referenced in Ranma 1/2.

There’s a lot of slapstick violence, mostly aimed at Ataru; modern audiences may find Lum’s habit of shocking him with lightning bolts every time he displeases her uncomfortable.  Also quite a bit of fanservice, with Lum topless in the first episode (it’s for plot-related reasons!  Totally legit!)

While the series is massive, it’s very episodic, so picking any random volume or one of the movies shouldn’t be too confusing.  Okay, the second movie, Beautiful Dreamer,  is very confusing, but that’s on purpose due to the  nature of the plot.

Recommended to anime fans who haven’t seen where a lot of the currently used romantic comedy tropes came from, and comedy fans in general.

Manga Review: Vinland Saga, Book Three

Manga Review: Vinland Saga, Book Threeby Makoto Yukimura

Note:  This review will contain SPOILERS for the first two volumes.  If you do not want to be spoiled, see the reviews for those volumes instead.

Vinland Saga, Volume 3

It is the Twelfth Century C.E., the age of the Vikings.  Thorfinn Thorsson serves as a Viking warrior in the band of Askeladd.  But he does so only for the eventual chance to kill the treacherous murderer of his father in an honorable duel.  Askeladd himself holds secrets about his heritage and true loyalties.

In Volume Two,  Sweyn Forkbeard invaded England.  His son, Prince Canute, has fallen into the custody of Askeladd’s band, who are trying to get him back to his father’s camp in the middle of a harsh winter.  They are pursued by the English warriors under the command of Thorkell the Tall, a near-superhuman fighter who switched sides to get better battles.

In this volume, Thorkell and his men catch up with Askeladd’s band.  An epic battle between Thorfinn and Thorkell is the centerpiece, with Thorkell revealing some things about Thors that Thorfinn was unaware with.  Meanwhile, Prince Canute comes to a realization about his fate and makes a decision that may change the course of history.

As with previous volumes, the author’s research really shows (and he talks a bit about it in an interview at the back of the book.)  The art is detailed and dynamic, and the writing is layered.  Thorfinn remains something of a one-note character, but we can see the chips being made in his monomania, and ask what will become of him if he ever achieves his goal.

On the cautionary side, there’s a lot of over-the-top violence, so it’s for older teens and up.  There’s also  some theological discussion as to what “love” is that may be uncomfortable for some readers.

If you enjoyed the previous volumes of Vinland Saga, this one continues to be worth reading.

Anime Review: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood/Battle Tendency

Anime Review: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood/Battle Tendency

This 2012 anime series was based on the first two story arcs of the manga by Hirohiko Araki.  The series as a whole deals with the bizarre adventures of the extensive Joestar family, with protagonists having repeated “Jo” sounds in their names, thus “Jojo.”

Jojo's Bizarre Adventures
Dio and Jonathan

Phantom Blood takes place during Victorian times, as Jonathan Joestar, scion of the wealthy Joestar family, gets a new adoptive brother, Dio Brando.  Dio’s abusive childhood has left him charming but utterly evil; he decides to supplant Jonathan as the Joestar heir.  Dio begins a campaign of cruelty and treachery to render Jonathan friendless and broken.

Things are complicated by a mysterious stone mask, which turns out to have the ability to turn humans into vampires.  The second half of the plot has Jonathan learning a special martial art, the “Ripple”, which simulates the effects of sunshine and can destroy vampires.

Battle Tendency picks up the story in the 1930s, with Jonathan’s grandson Joseph Joestar.   Joseph learns that there are more of the stone masks, and in the process of tracking them down, becomes embroiled in a battle against the Pillar Men.  The Pillar Men, it turns out, feed on vampires the way vampires do on humans, and are out to eliminate their one weakness so that they can rule forever.  Joseph must learn how to fully access the Ripple before it’s too late.

The Bizarre Adventure series is well-known for being over the top even by shounen fighting manga standards.  Strange powers, interesting battle poses, unusual fashion choices and clever battle strategies are all part of the charm.  The anime runs with this, often providing stylized versions of key panels from the manga, and visible sound effects.

The two protagonists provide an interesting contrast; Jonathan is an honorable Victorian gentleman who battles in an upright fashion, while Joseph is a wisecracker who uses sleight of hand and dirty tricks to win his fights.  He’s even willing to accept help from a Nazi cyborg (once the Nazi cyborg stops being on the other side, that is.)

The villains are great, too.  Dio plays the charmer in public, while plotting evil secretly (until he turns into a vampire, but still keeps being pretty charismatic.)  The Pillar Men are both amusing and terrifying, arrogant in their overwhelming power, but each with personality quirks that make them individually interesting.

As hinted above, there’s quite a bit of blood and unsettling violence in this series; Dio kills a dog in a horrific way in a very early episode.  Araki feels no compunction about killing off major, minor and incidental characters, even protagonists.  Younger and more sensitive children might find this series upsetting, parental guidance is suggested.

Currently, a new season of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is airing, featuring the third story arc, Stardust Crusaders, set in the 1980s and starring Joseph’s grandson Jotaro Kujo.

Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans

This last weekend at Minicon 49, I moderated a panel on “Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans.”   As is common at this sort of thing, a lot of series and films were mentioned very briefly, and not everyone had the opportunity to write them all down.  Therefore, I promised to put up a list.  I should note that this list covers a wide variety of genres and styles, so you may see things that are not to your taste.

Wolf Children
Wolf Children

In roughly alphabetical order….

  • Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero:  A story that examines what happens after teens summoned to save magical worlds are returned to Earth.  (Note: the main character is a pervert and the show is heavy on female fanservice.)
  • Akira:  Motorcycle gang members deal with psychic children in a post-World War Three Tokyo.  One of the first anime films to make it big in America, massively compressed from the groundbreaking manga.
  • Appleseed: Post-apocalyptic society building with a heavy emphasis on artificial humans so close to biological ones that the lines are blurred at best.
  • Aria: A very quiet series about gondoliers on a terraformed Mars.  The setting is heavily based on Venice.
  • Attack on Titan:  Action series about humans in a walled city battling anthropophagous giants.  Extremely violent, anyone can die, some fascinating world building.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender/The Legend of Korra: Not actually anime, but heavily influenced by it.  An alternative Earth setting with “benders”, people who can control the classic elements via martial arts training.
  • Azumanga Daioh: A slice of life series about a loose group of friends who go through high school together.  Some mild fantastic elements implied.
  • Big O:  In a city that has lost its memory, negotiator Roger Smith must resort to giant robot battles when negotiations break down.  Noted for a very dubious ending as the third season never materialized.
  • Bubblegum Crisis:  Cyberpunk series about armored vigilantes that fight Boomers, robots that have gone amok (not always by accident.)
  • Chobits:  An impoverished student in a world where personal computers are humanoid in shape, discovers an amnesiac “persocom” in the shape of a young woman lying in the garbage.  some interesting themes of humanity’s interactions with their machines and the effects of computers on society are set aside for soppy romance by the end.
  • Crying Freeman:  A mysterious criminal organization turns an innocent man into their assassin, whose body obeys orders even as his eyes fill with tears.  Quite a lot of sex in this one.
  • Dot Hack: A multimedia series of series revolving around a massive online immersive reality computer game.  Can be confusing, as important information only appears in other stories, not all of which are available in America.  Spawned a number of imitators.
  • Final Fantasy Advent Children:  An animated sequel to the fan favorite Final Fantasy VII video game, demonstrating the advances in computer animation since the game came out.  Cloud and his friends saved the world, but at great cost; can they get together for one last push to keep it saved?
  • Fruits Basket:  An orphaned girl becomes a servant to a big, screwed-up family cursed with animal transformations.  Despite their magical abilities, her compassion may be the strongest power of all.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist/Brotherhood:  There are two series based on the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, as the first one aired while the manga was still ongoing and had to come up with its own ending.  Both series revolve around brothers who practiced forbidden alchemy and paid the price.  They join the military to gain the resources they need to try and make things right.
  • Future Diary:  A young man discovers that his cell phone diary now records what he’s going to do in the future.  which would be cool if there weren’t other people with future diaries who want to kill him.  It seems the last one living will become the new god.  The standout character is Yuuno, the young woman who takes “stalker” to a whole new level.
  • Ghost in the Shell: By the same artist who brought us Appleseed, the cyberpunk tales of a special police unit that deals with cybercrime of all sorts.  The chronology can be confusing, but the themes run deep.
  • The Girl Who Leapt Through Time:  A film about a young woman who discovers the ability to leap to the past and redo events, which she promptly abuses.  But just because you’ve erased an event doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and it turns out there are, in fact, rules and a cost for time travel.
  • Iron Man: Yes, an anime series based on the Iron Man movies, and thus on the comic books.  Tony Stark goes to Japan and fights opponents based on Zodiac creatures.
  • Karneval:  A very new series about a young burglar, a mysterious albino boy, and a government agency they join for protection when a bioaugmentation organization puts them on its hit list.
  • Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya:  The title character is a young woman who longs for excitement in her life, so creates a club to seek out weirdness.  She is unaware that most of the club members are in fact the weirdness she seeks, or that she herself has a hidden power.  Hugely popular.
  • Moretsu Space Pirates: “Bodacious” space pirates in the American market due to the direct interpretation “flaming” being even less felicitous.  A young woman discovers that she is the heir to a pirate ship.  “Pirates” in this future are actually privateers, and it’s mostly for show…but then the politics start happening.  Notable for centering around a good mother/daughter relationship and female friendships without making the male supporting characters useless or invisible.
  • Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit:  A spearwoman becomes bodyguard to a prince who appears to be possessed by an evil spirit.  Things are much, much more complicated than they seem.  Notable for such things as having a heroine that’s pushing thirty, good worldbuilding (the author is an anthropology major) and not having a villain as such–everyone is trying to do the right thing, they just violently disagree on what that is.
  • Nichijou:  The ordinary life of four ordinary high school girls, one of whom happens to be a robot.  The closest genre might be “magical realism”; many strange and wonderful things happen, but it’s all part of the characters’ ordinary life.
  • Planetes: A hard science fiction series about astronauts whose job it is to clear space junk from Earth’s orbit.  Very down-to-earth (pun intended).
  • Project A-ko:  A girl with superpowers and her ditzy best friend transfer to a new school, where they meet a snobby girl with mechanical genius and a grudge against them.  Their battle is interrupted by an alien invasion.  Lots of fun.
  • Psycho Pass:  In the future, the cops have a way of detecting whether you are likely to commit a crime.  And if you detect too highly, they might act pre-emptively.  Dark.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica:  A girl named Madoka is offered a wish, any one wish, in exchange for which she must become a magical girl and fight “witches.”  Her new friend Homura doesn’t want her to do this, and there are a variety approaches to the life of magical girls.  This is a deconstruction of magical girl tropes, so you may want to watch some Sailor Moon or Pretty Cure or other “standard” magical girl show first.
  • Queen’s Blade:  In a fantasy land, several women compete in a tournament to see which of them will become the next queen.   Extremely heavy on the erotic fanservice, but oddly feminist otherwise; the women have varied personalities, agendas and agency.  It’s a love/hate show.
  • Record of Lodoss War:  Essentially Dungeons and Dragons: The Anime.  On the island of Lodoss, a small band of adventurers discover that a secret hand is behind the wars that rack their lands.  There are two continuities, the direct to video version, and the television series.  the latter replaces the last third of the video version and moves on to a “next generation” plotline.
  • Robotech:  An oldie but a goodie, it took Macross and two other mecha series from Japan and edited them together into a surprisingly coherent continuity.    In what is now an alternate history, an alien craft landed on Earth, and was turned into our planet’s best defense against the aliens who had sent it.
  • Rosario + Vampire:  A “harem” series about a boy who mistakenly transfers into a school for monsters, many of whom appear to be pretty girls.  Some exciting fight scenes with the many monsters, but also much fanservice.
  • Samurai Champloo:  In a rather odd version of Meiji Restoration Japan, a samurai, a renegade swordsman, and a young woman search for “the samurai that smells like sunflowers.”  Interesting music.
  • Serial Experiments Lain:  A young woman builds her own computer, and connects to the Wired.  Government agents are not pleased by this.  Very surreal, and a mind screw.
  • Summer Wars:  A young man is dragooned into posing as his classmate’s fiance during her family reunion.  Meanwhile, a hostile program has taken over a major Internet hub.  These things turn out to be much more connected than they might look.  Very much a family movie, though the dub adds extra cursing.
  • Tiger and Bunny:  A superhero story in which the heroes are commercially sponsored and appear on a reality show.  Surprisingly much less cynical than that sounds, it’s very much a homage to American comic books.
  • Witch Hunter Robin:  Government agencies track down and capture/kill mutants known as “witches.”  Robin herself is a witch who serves humanity.  But is she really on the side of good?
  • Wolf Children:  A woman falls in love and marries a man who is also a wolf.  But he dies shortly after their second child is born, so she must raise their kids/cubs alone in a world that hates and fears wolves.
  • Yokohama Shopping District:  A very humanoid robot runs a cafe at the end of the world as we know it.  Humanity is almost gone, but our creations live on.  A very quiet story.
  • Yume Tsukai: “The Dream Master”; the main characters have the ability to pacify nightmares, turning them into restful dreams.  Which is kind of important when the nightmares can manifest in the real world.
  • Zipang:  A modern day Japanese destroyer travels through time to World War Two, and changes the course of history.  No take-backs, no reset button ending, and semi-realistic consequences, especially when the current Japanese try to interact with their historical counterparts.

Did we miss your favorite title?  Want to expand on the descriptions?  Just have some questions about anime?  Let us know in the comments!

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