Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Durarara!! Anime Review (English)

Durarara!! Review (English)
Durarara!! Review (English)
"I understand how you feel... If you ride the train, people treat you like a molester. If you walk in the streets, you get weird invitations. And when you go home, you encounter troubles with your neighbor. And there's the Dollars and the headless rider to worry about. This is what Tokyo, the jungle made of concrete, is about. But, you must get over it. If you swore to yourself to become an upstanding Ikebukuronese, you must undergo the ordeal, Mikado.... Well, don't worry too much, you got me on your side."
-Masaomi Kida

Durarara!! is an Action/Comedy originally based on the light novel by Ryohgo Narita back in 2004. A manga adaptation by the same author and published by Square Enix was released in 2009. The 26 episode anime comes from Brain’s Base (Baccano!) and originally aired in January of 2010. It’s currently licensed by Aniplex and premiered on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim in July of 2011.

Mikado Ryƫgamine is a young boy who longs for the exciting life of the big city. At the invitation of his childhood friend Masaomi Kida, he leaves home to go to a high school, Raira Academy, in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. Masaomi warns him about people he doesn't want to cross in the city: a violent man dressed like a bartender, an information broker, and a mysterious gang called "Dollars." And, to top it off, Mikado witnesses an urban legend on his first day in the city: the "Black Rider," the supposedly headless pilot of a black motorcycle. The narrative follows all of the characters equally, showing how their lives intersect, creating a greater plot line from what each character knows about a common incident.

The animation of Durarara!! is really clean and sharp. You can tell that a lot of the animation is very similar to another Brain Base/Ryohgo Narita anime, Baccano!. So, in general, I’m gonna be doing a lot of repeating myself here. It’s a modern day story in Tokyo, so, obviously, it will be depicted very faithfully. The animation is very fluid with little to none hiccups in the process. From the dozens of vending machines thrown to the attention to detail in certain moments, the series creates a fun, fresh environment the viewer will enjoy immensely. And just between you and me, Durarara!! hid some little easter eggs in there. Posters of other anime such as Hell Girl and Darker Than Black, a cardboard cutout of Holo from Spice and Wolf, and a lot of posters and even some actual parts from the series of Baccano! are present throughout. If you’re wondering if they all are from the same studio as Durarara!! I’ll tell you now: they are not. Only Baccano! is from Brain’s Base while the others are from Studio Bones, Studio Deen, and Imagin, respectfully (Yes, I know Spice and Wolf II is from Brain's Base. Shut up!). And, if you’ve seen Baccano!, you might even see a couple familiar faces as the series roles on.

The story isn’t the complete jumbled mess like Baccano! was, but there are bits and pieces that are interconnected with all the characters in the series. There isn’t one consistent plot, but there are a few elements that are used throughout. The rest of the plot pretty much revolves around these pieces. One thing Durarara!! does that Baccano! did not, was use narration in every single episode. But the good news is, it’s not one person narrating the entire series. Each episode has a different character narrating the events from their point of view. This makes the story more about the characters themselves rather then the plot as a whole. The story itself is broken into two halves. The first half is about Celty and her search for her missing head, while the second half is about the conflict between the Dollars, the Yellow Scarves, and the Slasher. These plot lines are introduced well and aren’t cramped in there all at once.

Durarara!! Review (English)
Durarara!! Review (English)
Speaking of the characters, Narita has struck gold again. The characters of Durarara!! are some of the most fun characters that I have watched since..... well...... Baccano! Each one has their flaws and the series pretty much exploits them to the n-th degree. For example, Shizuo Heiwajima hates violence, yet he beats the crap (and clothes) out of everyone he runs into. And, of course, here’s some info for you about the opening theme. Like Baccano!, Durarara!! introduces the characters in their opening theme, plus adds little pieces of previous episodes in order to tell you what will be relevant in the upcoming episode.

And now, onto the voice acting. When Aniplex picked it up, they seemed to have gone all out and recruited a lot of veterans to play some of the minor roles, aside from Michelle Ruff. As for Mikado Ryugamine and Masaomi Kida, a couple lesser known actors stepped in, Darrel Guilbeau (Higurashi) and Bryce Papenbrook (Vampire Knight). This didn’t hurt the series much, especially Papenbrook’s performance. He certainly fits the role of Masaomi Kida very well, and I can’t imagine anyone better. Two of the most fun choices of the series in the dub are defiantly Crispin Freeman (Hellsing) as Shizuo Heiwajima and Jonhy Yong Bosch (Code Geass) as Izaya Orihara. I’m very pleased to see Bosch take on a more cunning and slimy character like Izaya since the last time he played this type of character was in Code Geass, and it’s always fun to watch Freeman be the bad ass mother f***er. Other voice actors in the dub include: Michelle Ruff (Bleach) as Anri Sonohara, Kari Wahlgreen (Last Exile) as Celty Sturluson, Yuri Lowenthal (Naruto) as Shinra Kishitani, Patrick Seitz (Monster) as Simon Brezhnev, Steve Blum (Cowboy Bebop) as Kyohei Kadota, Brain Beacock (Digimon Tamers) as Walker Yumasaki, and Mela Lee (Vampire Knight) as Erika Karisawa.

With Baccano! we had a supernatural element in the story, the immortal beings and the elixir. With Durarara!! you don’t have immortals, but there is a supernatural piece in the series. Now, if you’re trying to link together the Black Rider to the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hallow, then you are on the right track. Both of these figures come from a creature from Irish legend known as a Dullahan. A Dullahan is a type of unseelie (evil) faerie. They are headless and are usually seen riding a black horse, carrying their head in their arms. Now, unlike Sleepy Hallow, Durarara!! actually made one of their characters a legit Dullahan. However, Celty Sturluson has lost her head and she is trying to find it. And, unlike the original story of the Dullahan, Celty isn’t an evil being nor do we know if she ever was before she lost her head due to her lack of memory. Despite being a supernatural being, the more Celty lives her life in the modern day, the more she feels human. This makes her more relatable and sympathetic even though she is something that doesn’t actually exist. And if you’re wondering where her black horse is throughout the series, she has it. When she began searching for her head, her horse took on the form of a black motorcycle. To make the connection even clearer, the motorcycle neighs like a horse. Ta da!

At the end of the motorcycle ride, Durarara!! lives up to the expectations the viewer would hope for after it’s predecessor set a really high bar when it comes to it’s story and characters. It doesn’t go above and beyond Baccano!, but it does reach just about the same level. The characters are so much fun to watch, and the story told through each of those characters makes for a much more interesting and good story. The dub is solid, the animation is solid, and it certainly gives the viewers the funny. Highly recommend this series for fans of Baccano! and even for those who haven’t seen or didn’t like Baccano! Trust me when I say, you won’t be disappointed.

If you want something else to take a look at, then turn your attention to Baccano!. The elder cousin of Durarara!!, Baccano! is from the same author and same production studio. The only difference is, it takes place in the 1930s, and it's AWESOME.....ER!! If you're not a fan of Baccano!, then I can't really suggest anything else cause there isn't really anything that even comes close to this and it's younger cousin so you might be stuck skipping it.
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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Kaiba Review

What are memories? Souls? Spirits? This is a world where memories can be turned into data and stored. Even if the body dies, its memories live on and can be transferred to another body. Bad memories can be erased, and good ones downloaded. However, this is something only the privileged can do. In a world like this, our protagonist, Kaiba, is traveling in another body with no memories of his own.

Kaiba is an original SciFi/Romance anime. This twelve episode show is from Studio Madhouse (Monster, Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad) and directed by Masaaki Yuasa, premiering in the spring season of 2008. It currently is not licensed in America, but is licensed in Australia. Kaiba won an Excellence Prize for animation at the 2008 Japan Media Arts Festival.

One day a man, Kaiba, wakes up in a broken room. He has no memories, only a pendant with a picture of an unknown woman. Outside of the room are grotesque floating electrical clouds of disjointed memories. Kaiba is suddenly assaulted, and escapes into space. He travels to various planets, encountering various people and retrieving his memories. (Anime News Network)

The art style and design for this series really reminds me of the design of the original Astro Boy anime. Plus, I can see why it won the animation award in the Media Arts Festival. The movements of the characters are very fluid, and very precise. This makes the series worth watching for the animation alone. Also, Kaiba has a very unique character design asthetic then the typical anime we’re used to nowadays. It coincides with the animation of that episode, and helps Madhouse escape from their reputation for inconsistent animation. Again, reminds me of the old Astro Boy anime, but this isn’t a terrible thing and I’m not gonna knock it down because of that since Astro Boy was from the 60’s and the animation back then probably wasn’t that great. Kaiba just makes it more modernized and helps make the series as a whole completely different then recent anime.

The story is simple, yet complex. Simple because, on the surface, it’s about an amnesiac man trying to regain his memories and find out whom the woman in the picture is. The story is complex because below the surface the series brings in the concept of editing personal memories, selling your body for money, and similar cyberpunk “loss of self” concepts that Ghost in the Shell usually tackles. And the transition into the complex story line is done really well. For half the series, you’re dealing with the simpler story of getting Kaiba’s memories back. However, the memory and body thing is visited throughout each episode as you meet characters that are tied into that part of the story in different ways. When you get to the second half of the series, the complex story becomes even more complex. I don’t wanna give anything away, but I’ll say that clones, altered memories, and planet eating plants are involved.

So Kaiba has unique animation and a good story. Now here’s where I kinda tear into it a bit. The characters are pretty good. Each of the characters, major or minor, has their own backstory and, for an anime with only 12 episodes, they’re introduced really well. The downside to this is the major characters aren’t introduced to us until halfway through the series, with the exception of Kaiba. Granted, Kaiba is searching for Neiro and his memories, but it would have been nice to see more of Neiro as he regains those memories throughout the ENTIRE series. Then there’s Popo. What about him? He helped out Kaiba in the beginning of the series and then he’s gone. Then comes back half way through. And when he comes back he’s is the villain, why?!... *sigh*. Bottom line, characters could have been presented better.

The Japanese dub for Kaiba is decent. The only complaint I have is the use of adult voices for characters that clearly looks like children. I’ll admit, this is because of the animation that I have this problem, but still it looks awkward. I have to give a lot of props to Houko Kuwashima (Claymore) as Kaiba, who pulls off the character really well. Starting off as curious and child like, it makes a smooth transition into the mature Kaiba after regaining his memories. Another well done performance is Romi Park (Full Metal Alchemist) as Popo. She has just the right amount evil and innocence put into the role. The third role that was a lot of fun was Hisao Egawa (Mobile Suit Gundam 00) as Vanilla. Both parts caring and flirtatious, Egawa plays them both really well. The one voice that I had a little trouble with was Mamiko Noto’s (Monster) Neiro. Again, it’s the problem with the animation making them look more like kids rather then adults, but the role is a good fit. Not amazing, but good.

Something of particular mention is the dialogue, which is actually really good. Why is that? Because there is little to no dialogue in this series, especially with our main character Kaiba. He’s lost his memories and, unlike other amnesia suffering characters, he doesn’t ask questions and he isn’t a complete annoyance. As the series picks up, there’s more dialogue, but it’s still fairly quiet for the most part. The majority of the story is told through the movements of the characters, and the subtle music in the background. This is very different from most storytelling styles and used to great effect. Another bonus for Kaiba is the level of maturity and dark ideas the series has. There is almost nothing light hearted about this anime, and you would think that with the colorful and child-like animation that it would. But no, the content is very mature and raises some very interesting questions. The biggest one being, what if we lived in this world? A world where you can get a new body whenever you want, where people will steal your body for cash, and people can pretty much be immortal. In this world, memories are the most precious thing and no one wants to lose their memories or those of their loved ones no matter what. What makes you you, and how can you be sure that what you have was even yours to begin with? Very good concept! And pulled off very well!

At the end of the space trip, Kaiba is a unique SciFi anime where you ask questions about your own identity and memories. Again, it’s kind of upsetting that this never reached farther then Australia with licensing, but this is certainly one of those, that I would deem, to be a cult classic anime. Very underrated, very different, but if given a chance would become pretty popular elsewhere. Kaiba is a must see, even though some of it’s content can be a little graphic (ex. episode 2, a woman sounds like she’s having sex, but we never see it).

If you want something different or more commonly known to you as an anime, then I suggest looking toward the 1960's version of Astro Boy. The animation is similar looking to Kaiba, but doesn't quite have the though provoking questions Kaiba gives off.

Thanks to Vaughn Simmons for the suggestion!
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