Preliminary Review: Invader Zim

I am ZIM!!! Fear me…or rather, the diagnosis of a cult classic.

The Lowdown:

Show: Invader Zim

Network/years aired: Nickelodeon, 2001-2006; movie pending

AniB’s thoughts: I was initially planning to sit on this show’s review until October, but with the recent surprise announcement of the series’ return via a movie, and the Fairly OddParents review that I recently wrote, here’s a week of Nicktoons, for better or worse.

Surprised is really the most apt descriptor I have for Invader Zim’s unlikely return. The first show I thought of that may have spurned the move by Nickelodeon to do so was Samurai Jack, which after 13 years of being “finished,” is now airing an absolutely brilliant 5th and final season on Adult Swim on Saturday nights at the time of this writing. Zim, while a completely different show in terms of substance, style and writing does share two things in common with Samurai Jack: a early to mid 2000’s original run, and an incomplete story. And while I’m fine seeing the adventures of Zim and GIR again in movie form, featuring  their ham-handed attempts to take over Earth and do battle with Dib, their archrival, it’d be nice to have a tightened narrative focus, a refresh on the visuals, and some cleaning up of certain “gross-out” elements that figured prominently into the otherwise dark fantasy and science fiction tones of the original series. I do think that a movie might not be enough to do whatever justice the series really wants for a conclusion…but then again, how many times do cult classics actually get new life?

Changing gears a little bit, the original series is rather overrated by its core adherents, but it is a very unique show in the Nickelodeon pantheon at least: its pervasive darkness and science fiction-heavy elements are mixed with a type of kid-friendly black humor that in turn, is also diluted with slapstick and the usual “idiot ball” trope of some really dumb adults (and kids, for that matter); in the case of Zim, it’s almost a prerequisite to make the entirely convoluted plot-lines work, and to that end, it’s really the characters of this show that give it an odd charm. The closest comparable show I can think of in terms of style, era, and substance (to an extent) is Courage the Cowardly Dog: If dark and weird is your cup of tea, or your store of choice at malls is a Spencer’s or Hot Topic, you probably loved both or either of these shows…

Zim may hold the distinction of “cult-classic,” but nobody will mistake it for a masterpiece, and in the case of this production, it’s probably best. Its originality, particularly when it came to characters, shone through- but in equal measure the animation style, with its dark palette favoring purples and greens, and the style of writing overall also had the potential to throw people off. It’s overall an original effort that does more right than wrong- enough so that I’d say it’s at least “above-average” but whether it’s “good” (or “great”) is terribly hard to pin down. At the very least, the movie will hopefully answer a good deal of questions…and give us all a few more laughs.


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D cel animation. Using muted colors and lots of greens, purples, blues and blacks, Zim’s colors leaned towards its off-kilter version of Earth and the strange universe the show exists in. The character models are very cartoony, but they work well for the show, and there’s only a few models that are truly off-putting. 3.25/5 points.
Characterization: The heart of the show lies in its zany and memorable characters, which in turn catapulted the entire enterprise forward.

Zim serves as the overzealous titular anti-hero bent on proving his worth as an Irken Invader; despite his puny size, big mouth and impulsiveness, his will is stronger to succeed than anyone else in his race…except he’s a menace to them to through sheer bad luck.

GIR, Zim’s dim-witted robotic assistant with a flair for human food, TV and pigs, often makes nonsensical comments and interrupts Zim often, especially when he monologues. Despite being deemed a “defective model” by Irken standards, GIR is actually quite loyal (for the most part) to Zim and contains a powerful array of weapons and modes, though he rarely utilizes them.

Dib, a boy obsessed with the paranormal serves as Zim’s archenemy and is the only human who consistently views Zim as an alien and a threat; this is in contrast to his younger sister Gaz, a dark, gloomy little girl with seemingly terrifying powers and wrath who holds little concern for anything or anybody aside from pizza and video games.

The characters tend to follow a similar line of thinking in each episode they appear in; however, the series does change up the plot lines to keep them fresh, and there is some character development, though not complete. 3.5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Episodic, with loose continuity. Zim was beginning to build a mythos and backstory in its second season before it was cancelled, which means it was incomplete in the story the show wanted to tell. However, most of the show’s episodes could stand alone. Featuring a blend of trademark humor that blended black comedy, slapstick and some randomness, Zim’s storytelling tended to usually be entertaining and unique, but sometimes strayed into uncomfortable and unsettling. 3.5/5 points.

 
Themes: Surreal and futuristic, the show’s thematic elements tend to focus more on its trademark humor and Zim’s mission. Therefore, it excels at what it does… but lacks depth thematically otherwise. 2.5/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Dark and creepy are two aspects that happen in Invader Zim. There’s a couple cringe-worthy moments, but it’s a decent watch at the end of the day. 4.25/5 points.

 
Total Score: 17/25 (68%). Truly the definition of a cult hit, Zim is a unique show with sci- fi and vaguely dystopian themes running through its run. It’s very different, but worth a look if you’re into the types of themes and humor the show peruses, it can be very entertaining. It’s a flawed show, but a good deal of that had to do with its cancellation and the inability to finish the narrative that was developing. Hopefully, these issues can and will be resolved in the movie.

Review: The Fairly OddParents

A longtime cartoon has both positive attributes and glaring weaknesses.

The Lowdown:

Show: The Fairly OddParents

Network/ Years aired: Nickelodeon/ 2001- now (though there were shorts as early as 1998)

AniB’s thoughts: After a lot of recent pieces on Japanese anime, my focus now swings back to the West with a well-known show to most- the long running Nicktoon that has been SpongeBob Squarepants’ running mate on the network for over a decade and a half.

Technically, this is a preliminary review, seeing as FOP is still going in a 10th season, but at this point, it’s a formality given that the general form and context of the show is well-worn and well known. Therefore, from my perspective at least, it’s a show that started with some really original comic creativity and humor while also doing parody of other major cultural touchstones quite well, and then age began to set in as far back as 2008, when the show was only 7 years old in its full-series format (11 if you go back to the first shorts on Oh Yeah! cartoons) I actually talked at length about the “seasonal rot and zombification” of The Fairly OddParents in another piece that was from St. Patrick’s Day, so rather than rehashing that entire conversation, I’ll do my best to just focus on the show actually starring in this article and less so the meta-commentary further out around it.

If Butch Hartman’s masterpiece was Danny Phantom, this show was and still is his baby. (Mind you, it’s an enormous cash-making baby whose soul might have gotten sucked out at least going back 5 years, but still something he clearly cares about, if nothing more than as a tool for what I’d presume is a very comfortable livelihood.) It’s got all the elements of later Hartman shows including the spontaneous humor, the sound effects in conjunction with action (and while this is a technique as old as time in animation, FOP has a distinct feel to this idea), and the fast-talking, slice of life episodic format with its trademark convoluted premises, all honed down to a “T.”

Overall, The Fairly OddParents is an enjoyable, if zany experience in its earlier seasons and a retread milquetoast disappointment as it continues to wind on into what very well could be eternity with the way Nickelodeon hangs onto old franchises. In favor of the franchise, its parodies still hold water even from early episodes, and are often quite well done (i.e. the character the Crimson Chin. Definitely a reference to comics and certain heroes.) On the other side, recent episodes have opted for dated references, retread plots, uninteresting characters thrown in simply to “keep things fresh” and some of the gross-out and downright strange humor endemic to many a Nicktoon over the past decade. Graded on its entire body of work, the show comes out as pretty average- a viewing experience you may or may not want to see, but if you do, the episodes from 2001 to around 2007 are pretty solid on the whole (and the TV movies are a lot of fun as well- Channel Chasers anyone?) but after that, you’re on your own. (And Sparky, the magical dog from season 9 can die in a fire. Thankfully the writers  canned him after severe backlash…only to introduce a literal Mary Sue in the form of Chloe season 10. Zombie show indeed.)


Animation Quality: 2-D animation, about as average as it comes. It was this way back in 2001, and still is this way in 2015, obvious improvements in computer shading non-withstanding. It’s generally bright and colorful; the color palette is pretty easy on the eyes, and is still eye-catching enough, and despite the simple style, it usually augments the frenetic comedic action of the show quite well. 3/5 points.

 
Characterization: Two words: genre stereotypes. Before I delve into this idea though, a quick rundown of the main trio:

Timmy Turner stars as the “fairy godchild,” the 10 year old who receives fairies in order to improve his lackluster life, as far as the basic premise goes. He’s got buck teeth, a “silly pink hat” and shirt, and is remarkably reckless about a variety of his actions, particularly when it comes to wishes, and so, while Timmy solves most of the show’s episodic problems, he’s often the cause of them too.

Cosmo and Wanda are his “Fairy Godparents,” the magical creatures sent from the whimsical Fairy World to serve at Timmy’s beck and call. Aside from their wands which can grant any wish that does not violate the in-universe “Da Rules” (supposedly), the pair can shape shift, disappear and teleport long distances, and fly (they have tiny wings.) Overall though, they are silly creatures. Wanda and Cosmo in particular are foils: a husband-wife team with opposite personalities- Cosmo is “an idiot” in Wanda’s words, but knows how to relax, while Wanda is the smart one of the pair, though very uptight…meaning their dualism is something that’s been done many times before in other places and shows….which in turn leads back to my initial point in this section.

 

Cosmo is the most unpredictable thing on the show; Timmy becomes more formulaic as the seasons roll on, especially after you watched more than 5 episodes at any point during the show’s run. The supporting cast is mainly static but certaintly still has some of its own charms, from the Timmy’s insane teacher Mr. Crocker, to the massive ruler of Fairy World, Jorgen von Strangle (who is a parody of Arnold Schwarzenegger); character development is not a major focal point in the show but a certain predictability is. Overall not anything special, but also not anything particularly displeasing. 2.75/5 points.

 
Story quality: There’s a story? The show is episodic, and there only seems to be a very loose canon, involving mainly Timmy, his fairies, and Da Rules. Everything else seems to contradict an earlier event at some point, so you learn to ignore too much continuity fast in this show. As for its format, the canon can be partially excused, but not wholly. Later seasons bring down the score of originality in plot choices on the show. 2.25/5 points.

 
Themes: Wishes, be careful what you wish for, magic should not be abused… fairly harmless stuff, but perhaps the greatest virtue this espouses is that one simply cannot wish their problems away in life. Other than that, it’s typical plot of the day fluff. 2/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: The Fairly OddParents is standard animated fare for the most part, but the general scattershot direction of the writing can be slightly irritating. Other than this, it’s not particularly demeaning in any way. 4/5 points.

Total Score: 14/25 (56%). A completely average show in most ways, The Fairly OddParents is still one of the longest running animated shows on TV. Perhaps it’s the comfortable familiarity with the source material at this point, because the show’s biggest shortcoming is the stench of seasonal rot. For its length alone it will likely get an annotation in the history of animated shows.


Like what you see? Love the Fairly OddParents? Leave a comment!

Hunter x Hunter 1999 vs 2011 Part 2: The Hunter Exam, Pt.2

Welcome to the second part in a series of pieces about the Hunter x Hunter franchise; more specifically, a in-depth analysis between Nippon Animation’s original adaptation of the show, from 1999, and the more recent brilliant 2011 adaptation from Madhouse. Today’s focus will continue where the first part left off, detailing the remainder of the Hunter Exam arc and its characters. (If you missed Part 1, here’s the link. Also, to reiterate an important point from the overall introduction of the series- this is NOT about “which series is better”- that’s a different conversation and a totally subjective one at that.)

 

The Hunter Exam Phase 2- Gourmet Hunters, Picky Palettes (aka Menchi) (1999, Episodes 9-10, 2011 Episode 7)

Immediately you’ll notice one of those episode discrepancies that’s noticeable in the overall episode count for this arc between Nippon’s adaptation and Madhouse’s. While 2011 only spends one episode with this specific phase, 1999 takes a little more time with it…and there’s a probable explanation for it, concerning the judging of food and Menchi’s pickiness, which I’ll get to. But first, our examiners and one other very special character make their debuts here:

MENCHI

1999                    2011

Image result for menchi 1999 http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/4/4c/Menchi.png/revision/latest?cb=20140707091212&path-prefix=fr

BUHARA

1999                   2011

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CHAIRMAN NETERO

1999                   2011

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/2/26/Netero99.png/revision/latest?cb=20120804203417  http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/9/9f/Netero.png/revision/latest?cb=20140828073047&path-prefix=fr

In a notable change in appearance, Menchi’s hair is blue in 2011 but pink in 1999. Even more curious is that this change mirrors that of Machi, the Phantom Troupe member- she had blue hair in 1999 and pink in 2011. Go figure. She keeps the same hair style and that fiery sense of pride about being a Gourmet Hunter though.

Buhara is mostly the same, save that 2011 may have made him even slightly more massive, and to accentuate this, gave him a very ill-fitting yellow shirt. The first version of Buhara from 1999 had a far more form-fitting blue shirt, but either way, he still likes to eat a lot.

Finally, the eccentric chairman of the Hunter Association makes his debut on the request that the phase needs saving from Menchi’s overly discerning palette (and don’t worry, we’ll get to Beans, his trusty secretary, a bit later.) While the general design of Netero is nearly the same in both versions, the aesthetic is completely different: His hair is gray rather than mostly white as in 2011, and the newer version swaps the beige coloration of ’99’s robes for the flowing white garments, accented with blue edges and cuffs.

So as for the actual phase itself, there’s a variety of slight differences here, with the major plot points left intact. Here’s a bit of a rundown:

The food tasting test in the 2nd phase starts with the capture of the Great Stamp, a vicious carnivorous pig living in the swamp forest the applicant finished running through. In 1999, this beast is black-colored, but pink in 1999. Same weak spot though- right on the forehead.

-Both series are noted for Menchi’s unreasonably high standards for the cooking the applicants are asked to do, but in 2011 the only dishes she tastes are the pork from the aformentioned Stamps, alongside Buhara. In 1999, Buhara alone tastes the pork (and passes everyone); Menchi instead asks for everyone to make sushi, which goes disastrously, to great humorous effect. The ’99 version in this scenario is actually more faithful to the original manga.

-Also exclusive to 1999 is Menchi’s demonstration “of what it means to be a Gourmet Hunter.” She runs off into the wilds, uses her knives to nab a rare ingredient from an animal (a rare moss from a rare bear in the mountains), comes back and showcases the fruits of her labor via a rice dish. This was in response to the accusation of Todo the wrestler that “Gourmet Hunters aren’t real Hunters!” In 2011, she accomplishes the same goal of placating Todo with the retrieval and cooking of a spider eagle egg, the same task used in both versions to eventually pass the applicants onto the 3rd stage of the exam.

The Airship: Ball Game x Family Revelations

The “in-between” 2nd and 3rd stages of the Hunter Exam take place in both versions, but once again, 1999 has an additional element present that simply does not exist in 2011. There is a filler character- one named Anita, an applicant who failed the 2nd phase of the Exam and stowed away on the airship. She holds a grudge against the Zoldyck family for killing her father, but Killua eventually reveals to her the truth that he in fact was a notorious drug dealer. As part of her bit plot, the examiners on board also realize she is the stowaway that they’re looking for, and so her little side-plot adds an extra element to this slight pause of the Exam.

More famously, this section of the arc is noted for revealing the first substantial amount of information about Killua and his family, the first serious conversation that he shares with Gon since their introduction in the tunnel portion of Phase 1, and finally, the ball game Netero challenges the boys to. While very similar in both versions, there are some slight differences:

-Anita watches the game in 1999. As she doesn’t exist in 2011, it’s solely between Netero and the boys.

-The ball Netero uses is yellow with a black stripe through the middle in 2011. 1999’s has the same design, but is white with a red stripe.

-In 2011, Killua unveils his Rhythm Echo assassination technique at the start of the game causing Netero to remark about his mastery of the art (“What a dreadful child!”) In 1999, Killua never uses any such technique, instead relying on speed and agility to try and take the ball. When Netero bounces it off his face, he remarks it “was a pass [to himself.]”

It should be noted in both versions, Gon uses his boot as a tactic to try and get the ball, and the boys both dive for the ball, only to have Netero use his Enhancer abilities to get there first. Killua gives up at that point, while Gon continues on, his goal switching to get Netero to use his right hand, which succeeds. Gon then passes out. Finally… Gon wears a white t-shirt here in 2011, and a blue one in 1999; Netero has white pants and a dark shirt on in 2011 while he wear olive-colored pants in 1999. Killua essentially has the same outfit in both versions.

Here’s a video of the 2011 version to illustrate the scene. (Guess what- it’s the English dub!)

I know it didn’t work, but the Rhythm Echo technique looks really cool.

Phase 3: Tenuous Teamwork in Trick Tower (1999, Episodes 13-17, 2011, Episodes 8-12)

I’ll start here by comparing a certain chatty ninja side by side here, as well as the latest examiner, Lippo:

HANZO

1999                                                          2011

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/f/fa/Hanzo99.png/revision/latest?cb=20140808122037&path-prefix=fr http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/f/ff/Hanzo.png/revision/latest?cb=20140808122119&path-prefix=fr

LIPPO

1999                                                              2011

http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterx/images/e/e4/Lippo_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20120131195812 http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/b/be/Lippo_%282011%29.PNG/revision/latest?cb=20120108064856

Hanzo is remarkably similar in both his appearances; easily the biggest difference is the red scarf he wears in 2011 around his neck area. His wrapped forearms and ankles are gray instead of white in 1999, and his shoulder “pads” are slightly rounder in 2011. Finally, his eyebrows are slightly more stylized in his more recent appearance.

Lippo also maintains most of his appearance. He’s a short man, with the main distinctions between his two anime iterations being the color of his mohawk (black instead of purple in 1999) and the tint of his sunglasses (orange instead of clear). Either way, he loves watching the intrigue of Trick Tower unfold… especially Majority Rules.

It is during this stage the main four characters of Hunter x Hunter are together for the longest period of time alone (along with Tonpa), and the most famous part of the tower challenge is the 5 v 5 challenge match between applicants and prisoners. A few things to note here:

-Maijitani is pale-skinned in 1999, and blue in 2011. Either way, he gets anchor-punched by a vengeful Kurapika who sees the fake Phantom Troupe tattoo, and threatened by Leorio over the edge in both versions.

-Gon’s win in the candle challenge, as well as Tonpa’s surrender and Leorio’s weakness for women are replicated in both versions quite similarly, and the team loses 50 hours either way.

And since we’re talking about a big moment for Killua as well, might as well throw in Johness as well:

JOHNESS

1999                                                        2011

http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/5/5b/Johness_99.png/revision/latest?cb=20120716080447 http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/7/70/Johness_tries_to_kill_killua.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20120615110051

Notably, Killua’s assassination of the mass murderer slightly differs: In 2011, after removing Johness’ heart, Killua holds it out tauntingly until his adversary collapses, “giving it back” in his dead hand afterwards after he had begged for it. In 1999, it’s decidedly more brutal as Kil opts for crushing the heart in his hand as Johannes looked on. Definitely a bit more graphic for sure.

The last big moment for Trick Tower occurs in the final room, where Lippo had set a trap for the time-starved applicants (they only had 1 hour left to finish at this point:) The long path or the short path to the finish, with a catch-22: The short path could get to the bottom in under 3 minutes, but only 3 of the 5 would have been able to go, while the other path allowed passage for all 5, but was stated to take 45 hours. In both Nippon and Madhouse’s animes, Gon’s idea to choose the long path and break through the wall to the short path in order for all 5 members to pass is inspired by Leorio and Tonpa’s bubbling dispute and the latter’s use of a heavy battleaxe, which smashed the floor tiles. What differs is how they show this final act: In 1999, the act of breaking through the wall and the journey down the shaft to the finish on Killua’s skateboard is shown as it happens; in 2011, it’s shown in a flashback after the group emerges from the passageway with no time to spare (and Leorio and Tonpa jousting with each other.)

The “Bonus” 3rd Stage- Shipwrecks, Treasure Hunting, and Teamwork (1999, Episodes 18-20, 2011 N/A)

Perhaps the single biggest divergence between both versions, the Nippon Animation adaptation has a mini-filler arc that sees the Exam applicants in a “bonus 3rd phase” that in turn actually gives us some interesting character interactions and some depth to side characters that in turn, actually adds some heightened emotional tension to their outcomes in the 4th phase of the Exam that follows. Interestingly enough, it also is the first time Illumi is revealed in his true form for the 1999 anime, when Kurapika, drifting into unconsciousness during the 20th episode (they’re in a cyclone), sees the eldest of the Zoldyck children take the wheel of the ship (though he does not know his identity as Killua’s brother yet.)

A Most Dangerous Game of Tag- 4th Stage on Zevil Island (1999, Episodes 21-25, 2011, Episodes 14-18)

The 4th stage really puts the abilities of the applicants to the test in a “real-world setting,” and so we’ll give a cameo appearance here to the man who tracked Gon as he followed Hisoka: Geretta. It’s also time to give a nod to Ponzu, known for her big poofy hat full of bees:

GERETTA

1999                             2011

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PONZU

1999                                    2011

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Another character who’s remarkably similar between the two adaptations, he’s definitely got a unique flair and some skill with a blow-dart gun, but stands no chance against Hisoka…but then again, who usually does?

Ponzu underwent some heavy changes. Her hat is bigger in 2011 and yellow with a white brim; she’s got a pink shirt but cream-colored pants and a lighter blue shade of hair. In 1999, the hat is smaller and pink-colored, as is the rest of her outfit. (She still faces the same dilemma in both versions though, with the cave and Bourbon’s snakes.)

Killua’s scene where he screws around with the Amori Brothers and Hanzo goes largely the same way in both adaptations, with some minor differences. Kurapika and Leorio team up to take down Tonpa and the monkey tamer in both versions- however, in 1999 Kurapika sets the monkey free from his master, and Tonpa makes his last stand trying desperately to get a badge as time expires rather than staying tied up the whole time. (And thus ends the legend of the Rookie Crusher…until next year.)

Finally, there’s the entire issue of Gon’s quest to get Hisoka’s badge and confrontation. Notably, the process to learn the skill of casting his fishing rod at the precise moment goes about the same in both versions, but when he follows Hisoka’s bloodlust, it’s at dusk/night in 1999 as opposed to day in 2011. Nippon’s version also shows Gon stewing over his first real letdown/scare in the series after Hisoka clocks him; the 2011 anime doesn’t really linger on the scene as much. Still, the badges will be held onto for another day…

Finally, the Ponzu escape scene happens much the same, and with that, the 4th phase concludes, leaving only 9 applicants left for the last stage after the grueling tests (though according to Killua, he doesn’t think so.)

The Final Phase: Tournament Showdown (1999, Episodes 26-30, 2011, Episodes 18-21)

Finally, the end of  the Hunter Exam is upon us, and with it, three final characters get a profile:

BODORO

1999                   2011

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POKKLE

1999                   2011

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterx/images/5/58/Pokkle_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20120109105919 http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/0/0a/Pokkle_HxH_11.PNG/revision/latest?cb=20120323055002

ILLUMI ZOLDYCK (AS GITTARAKUR)

1999                   2011

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterx/images/6/69/Gittarackur_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20120109105917 http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/e/ea/Illumi_Gittarackur_HQ.PNG/revision/latest?cb=20120108073227

Pokkle actually has a similar appearance, but his clothes colors are different and more muted in 1999, and his hair color’s brighter in 2011. He still passes the 4th phase in both versions by using a poison arrow to incapacitate his target.

-In 1999, Leorio, Pokkle, and Hanzo initially believe the final test is going to be a written exam. While Pokkle insists on studying fairly, Leorio lines his clothes with cheat sheets, while Hanzo conspires “to steal the answer sheet.” Regardless, all are wrong when Netero reveals the tournament instead.

-Also in Nippon’s version, Gon and Killua share another friendship moment when the former reveals his technique for gaining Hisoka’s badge; Killua in turn practices with Gon’s fishing rod and masters the the skill rather quickly, much to his friend’s dismay.

-The building in which the final exam takes place in appears to be the same in both versions, but the lighting of 1999’s makes it seem far darker inside than 2011’s, which is very bright by comparison.

-Notably, Kurapika and Hisoka face off first in 1999, unlike 2011 where Gon vs Hanzo takes place. It is the only full-length fight between the two series that only is shown in full in Nippon’s adaptation, whereas in 2011, it is Satotz’s recollection of the fight to Gon, only showing that Hisoka “said something” to Kurapika and conceded the match to the latter.

Gon and Satotz have the same discussion after he’s KO’ed by Hanzo in both versions. However, because the order of the Hisoka-Kurapika fight and Gon’s bout with Hanzo were swapped in Madhouse’s adaptation, Gon never sees the fight in this version, whereas he’s present for it in 1999.

Speaking of the Hanzo fight, it’s interesting to see how hard it is for Kurapika and Leorio to restrain themselves during the fight, as they’d become quite attached to Gon. Kurapika’s scarlet eyes actually appear here, one of the very few times it happened outside of Phantom Troupe -related incidents and a sign that he cares very much for his friends.

-The tournament bracket in both versions is directly inspired from Togashi’s first manga, Yu Yu Hakusho, where Team Urameshi is forced to fight their way through an uneven bracket to win the Dark Tournament. Unlike that scenario though, Hunter x Hunter’s tournament here has it so only one applicant will not pass if the tourney reaches the final stage, which it does not, because…

-Killua’s confrontation with Illumi is actually remarkably similar between both versions. In 1999, it was impossible to realize that he was actually influenced by Illumi’s needle implanted in his brain (as that version never reached the Chimera Ant arc), but aside from that, Killua’s burning desire for a friend and his internal conflict come to a head (which both anime do a nice job of.) Leorio also bursts in and comes to the defense of Killua, reminding him “You and Gon are already friends!” in entirely the same way both times.

-Finally, here’s Killua’s despair and the untimely murder of Bodoro from 2011:

Needless to say, Gon is not happy. Not happy at all. He want to know where his new best friend is, and whether it’s Nippon Animation or Madhouse, he isn’t stopping until he gets answers…and he know just who to ask.

With the Hunter Exam over and the licenses handed out, Gon obviously has some unfinished buisness with Illumi Zoldyck. The 3rd part of the series will focus on his journey to save Killua and paying the family a visit at Kukuroo Mountain with Leorio and Kurapika. In other words, get ready for the Zoldyck Family arc- 1999 vs 2011 style! In the meantime, check out the 2011 show review or this character piece on Killua for your reading pleasure.


Like what you see? Is the Hunter Exam your favorite arc of Hunter x Hunter? Leave a comment!

Review: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

The journey of two brothers deep into the mysteries of life itself is gripping.

The Lowdown:

Show: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Network/ years aired: Adult Swim-Toonami/2009-2010 (dub 2010-2011)
EDITOR’S NOTE: While originating from the same franchise and manga, this show is completely different from the 2003 anime titled “Fullmetal Alchemist,” being a far more faithful and fleshed-out adaptation of the manga. That said, the ’03 show is still excellent on its own merits; just don’’t expect a ton of story overlap save for about the first 10 episodes.

AniB’s thoughts: One of the best anime from the first decade of 2000, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is actually the second adaptation derived from the original manga, coming about 6 years after the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist, which diverged onto an anime-exclusive storyline with original characters and a far different ending for our heroes, the Elric brothers. While it is a beloved show by anime fans, for those who are unaware, FMA: Brotherhood is an absolutely terrific choice to check out in the genre even for the most casuals of fan for a variety of reasons: stunning animation, dynamic characters, a intriguingly crafted fictional world, and a dark quest that serves as the undertone to the entire show.

In the last decade while the anime industry on the whole has seen a downturn, this show shone brightly in 2009, in the wake of global recession and animation worldwide slumping. It was not entirely surprising that Bones (the Japanese studio behind it) would want to revisit the franchise with a more faithful adaptation of the manga, but what was surprising was how well the show came off to viewers. It was like a warm glove retelling the story of Fullmetal Alchemist essentially in the first 10-14 episodes, with some minor differences, mostly pertaining to emphasis on certain characters, but after that point took off into its own story, introducing new characters like May Chang, a princess from the far East country of Xing, who was skilled in a particular form of alchemy (which in this show serves as a major plot point and unique skill endemic to a few) and Ling Yao, also from the same country, who (spoilers!) was in search of the secret of immortality. The story also traverses along a far different and frankly much darker path than 2003’s version; a journey that has plenty of unusual twists and makes great use of all the details and locales it takes place in.

While my thoughts here hardly do justice to the entirety of the show (especially the main villain and his massive scheme), it is an absolutely fantastic outing that does live up to the high praise and hearty recommendations of many a fan. I think the grading below does a nice job of explaining the rest to both seasoned viewers and newcomers alike.


Animation Quality: Modern 2-D anime, with certain 3-D elements in spots. Gorgeously animated, the country of Amerstris and its people are brought to life with vibrancy, detail, and fluidity. The character models are well-detailed and pleasing; a good number of key characters maintain their appearances from the 2003 anime, but some do receive some slight changes in model as well. The action sequences are truly outstanding- the fights are fast-paced and fluid, and the story narrative blends well with what the animation is doing, enhancing the overall effect of drawing the viewer in. Truly a fine job. 5/5 points.

 
Characterization: Once again, FMA: Brotherhood stars the brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric in their search for the Philosopher’s Stone in a bid to regain their bodies after a horribly failed human transmutation (a taboo form of alchemy.)

Ed is the older of the duo; sporting long golden hair, his distinctive automail arm and leg, and a pet peeve for being called “short,” he’s a prodigy at alchemy and the titular “Fullmetal Alchemist,” having become the youngest state alchemist in Amestrian history. Despite his short temper, Ed has a close relationship with his brother and childhood friend Winry Rockbell, and a relentless determination and promise to Alphonse to meet their goal of regaining their bodies.

Alphonse is his younger brother; having lost his body, his soul is bound in a hulking suit of armor, which belies a kind and gentle boy inside. Even more highly skilled in hand to hand combat than his brother, Alphonse looks to protect Ed and fulfill the same promise, looking forward to the day he regains his human form.

Winry is their close childhood friend; a skilled automail mechanic, she is the proud inventor and maintainer of Ed’s arm and leg, and cares deeply about the two. She improves her skills over the course of the show, finds herself more and more involved in the thickening plot of the Elric brothers’ adventures, and might have a thing for Ed…

Colonel Roy Mustang is the Flame Alchemist, the man who recruited the Elrics to the military and who secretly is launching a bid to become Fuhrer of the country in an attempt to make positive change. Using special gloves with alchemical symbols emblazoned on them, Roy can create huge explosions, hence his name. He has a loyal team devoted to his goal; this is headed up by his loyal right-hand, Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye, an expert marksman and all-around military specialist who in fact hides a secret on her person…

Maes Hughes is Mustang’s best friend; he is a keen investigator and busybody who is hard not to like and dotes on his family excessively, but his tendencies can lead him into some trouble… The rest of Mustang’s team is Jean Havoc, a unflinchingly loyal and competent soldier, Kain Fuery, a young soldier with incredible skills in communication and tech, Vato Feldman, his intelligence man, and Heymans Breda, an information gatherer. (While more can be said, FMA: Brotherhood has a huge cast.)

Van Hohenheim is the mysterious father of the Elric brothers who left them at an early age; a man who rarely shows what he is planning or thinking, he travels from place to place, though not without reason… Scar is a vengeful warrior from the city of Ishval, where a bloody war of extermination wiped out most of his people. His arm is engraved with a unique alchemical tattoo that allows him to utilize a powerful destructive alchemy upon contact, something he uses initially to wreak havoc on state alchemists in a revenge tour…

Ling Yao is a crown prince of the country of Xing, having traveled across a huge desert to Amestris in search of the secret of immortality (to become the next emperor). His absent- minded introduction belies a smart, fierce, and highly skilled warrior who is relentless in what he pursues. Attended by his loyal guards Lan Fan and Fu, the three of them are a force to be reckoned with… May Chang also come from the East; a crown princess of Xing in pursuit of the same goal as Ling. She is highly skilled in the art of alkahestry, a form of alchemy practiced in her native land, and travels with her tiny pet panda, Xiao-Mei.

While this is a somewhat good-sized listing of all of FMA: Brotherhood’s main cast, it is a huge, diverse pool of characters, many of whom are not mentioned here (such as the Homunculi, the main group of antagonists), and of the ones talked about, there is much more to say, but I will ultimately note that overall, the characters of this show are outstanding, receive great development, and it is much more satisfying to watch then to try and explain it all here. 5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Revolving around the Elric brothers’ quest, the show becomes much more complicated than you’d initially think. Fans of 2003’s Fullmetal Alchemist will feel a very familiar, similar story progression for about the first 10 episodes; however, the shows begin to greatly diverge after that particular point, and the manga-centric direction Brotherhood takes is in fact more fleshed out and satisfying than ’03’s anime-original plot, which was very good in its own right. Expect plenty of action, expertly played emotions, and big questions to play themselves at the right time. 4.75/5 points.

 
Themes: There is a massive play about the role of “God,” “Truth,” and morality going on in FMA: Brotherhood. There fundamentally human questions are explored in unique, albeit symbolic and literal ways through the show, which is fueled by the backdrop of “alchemy” as the show and universe it’s set in portrays it. Does it get weird at times? Definitely. For the most part though, it’s a uniquely gripping take on questions not always explored in animation, or many other mediums for that matter. 4.5/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: There are certainly some hair raising moments, quite a bit of blood, and some fights that get quite violent. However, they fit so well within the scope of what this show is going for that it really does not affect what it’s looking to achieve at all. 5/5 Points.

 

Total Score: 24.25/25 (97%). A terrific anime that improves in every way from the franchise’s first animated series, FMA: Brotherhood takes the series in a whole new direction, pacing itself with engaging characters, a gripping story, and a powerful thematic message about morality itself. Definitely a must-watch.


Like what you see? Love FMA: Brotherhood or the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist? Leave a comment!

Hunter × Hunter- 1999 vs 2011: Part 1- The Hunter Exam Pt. 1

Welcome to the first in a series of pieces about the Hunter x Hunter franchise; more specifically, a in-depth analysis between Nippon Animation’s original adaptation of the show, from 1999, and the more recent brilliant 2011 adaptation from Madhouse. Today’s focus will start perhaps the most comprehensive comparison of the two versions to date. (Also, this is NOT about “which is better”- that’s a different conversation and a totally subjective one at that.)

 

Hunter x Hunter. Just thinking about the show brings a rush of memories and moments to my head, not coincidentally involving a lot of Killua Zoldyck, one of my personal favorite characters, and his best friend, series protagonist Gon Freeccs. However, this article is not primarily about character building, themes, or the usual potpourri entailed in our reviews, both written and filmed, but rather, the most (or is it the first?) in-depth journey of both anime adaptations that exist for the franchise- the original 1999 adaption from Nippon Animation, and its subsequent OVA’s, or original video animations that only saw release in Japan, and Madhouse’s highly acclaimed, well loved 2011 version which retold the entire story from the ground up, and added two additional arcs as well- the Chimera Ant and Chairman Election.

 
To start with a bit of a primer: If you don’t know this series, turn around now if you wish to avoid spoilers. If you fall in this category and wish to continue, know that Hunter x Hunter is a franchise created by Yoshihiro Togashi, initially as a manga series, which has the unusual position of being adapted into two high quality anime (and that I’ve wrote a review of the most recent version). If you haven’t watched it, either version is fine but this author’s suggestion is the 2011 version, which you can find on Netflix and across the Internet, with an excellent English sub, while the dub is still coming out on Toonami as of this writing (and recent episodes can be found on their site.) If you want further information, you can also reference the graded review I’ve linked above for 2011, and if you’d like to get a better grasp on the characters, I wrote a piece about Killua.  As for everyone else, you know what happens, so we’ll dive in for real now.

 
The 1999 anime from Nippon is not quite as well known, but covers the same territory as the 2011 version, stretching from the Hunter Exam to roughly three-quarters of the Yorknew City arc in its initial 62 episode run. The OVA’s, or original video animations, which were released after its initial Japanese run at the turn of the millennium, finished Yorknew and added the entirety of Greed Island. However, these OVAs ended in 2004, and with them, so did Nippon’s involvement with Hunter x Hunter. As a result, the focus of this study will be from the Hunter Exam to Greed Island, which is covered up to episode 75 in Madhouse’s version. While this covers a great deal of territory, don’t expect (spoilers!) Knuckle, Palm, Morel, Ikalgo, Meruem, or any other characters exclusively from the Ant arc onward to appear here… but most of HxH’s major players appear by the end of Greed Island as it stands, and the material that is comparable turns out to be a very fulfilling comparison as is.

 
While there are some key differences (which we’ll be covering most, if not all of them), and a slew of smaller ones (mostly pertaining to aesthetics and animation), the two versions largely follow the same track through the arcs that will be focused on. However, one of 2011’s defining hallmarks was its tighter focus on the original manga material, and so some sneaky “filler” in ’99’s adaptation was either omitted or never came up. Aside from analyzing the episodes themselves, one way to know this is the episode count: It took Madhouse 75 episodes to cover the exact same ground as Nippon, whose entire adaptation topped out at 90 episodes with OVAs included. So the question begs itself: What changed in 15 extra episodes? As you’ll see, the answer will become quite clear.


ARC 1: THE HUNTER EXAM
(Nippon ’99, Episodes 1-30, Madhouse ’11, Episodes 1-21)

Ah, the place that started it all- the Hunter Exam. Fraught with danger, a whimsical sense of adventure, and the first glimpse into the expansive world and cast of Hunter x Hunter, it also boasts the distinction of being the most classic to form shonen arc in the entire show. Immediately, you may have noticed the episode discrepancy in the beginning of the section. There’s a answer to that, but the first comparisons to make are with our main cast. Being the start of the entire franchise, the arc gives us our four main characters- Gon, Killua, Kurapika, and Leorio- but it also introduces a slew of other notable and important recurring characters as well, from Hisoka and Illumi, to Hunter Chairman Issac Netero. So to begin, we’ll start with pictures (Hey, this is an animated show- it matters!)

GON FREECSS

        1999                            2011               

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunterpl/images/0/02/Gon_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20141129200718&path-prefix=pl   http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/b/b4/Gon-2011.png/revision/latest/scale-to-width-down/200?cb=20120115022050

KILLUA ZOLDYCK

1999                                 2011

http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/d/db/Killua_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20130530141716&path-prefix=es  http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/7/7c/Killua-2011.png/revision/latest?cb=20120115021804

LEORIO PARDKNIGHT

1999                  2011

http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/e/e5/Leorio_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20120606094316  http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/0/08/Leorio-2011.png/revision/latest?cb=20120115021510

KURAPIKA

1999                            2011

http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/b/b1/Kurapika_1999.png/revision/latest/scale-to-width-down/200?cb=20120606093759  http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/2/25/Kurapika-2011.png/revision/latest?cb=20120115022414

From top to bottom, you can see the main foursome have retained their distinct characteristics and identities in the transition from ’99 to ’11, though there are varying degrees of differences. Compared to some of the other cast members though, the differences are rather minor, as you’ll come to discover.

 
Starting with Gon, you’ll see his basic design hasn’t changed too drastically, but he is actually a tad shorter in the ’99 anime (picture notwithstanding), and his shorts are actually a bit longer…or is it his legs? Another thing to note about Gon and the rest of the characters in their style comparisons is these of far brighter colors and slightly thinner looking models. Ultimately, the change in art direction made everyone in Hunter x Hunter look sharper, but at least personally, I like the style of both anime adaptations, as it’s also one of the main factors that sets them apart. Gon also has spiker hair that seems a bit taller in his 2011 model against his ’99 one, and this slight change also seems to work just fine. Gon’s outfit remains mostly the same, but his boots are solid green and white in Madhouse’s version, removing the brown laces and tops, and his jacket no longer has black cuffs and collars.

 
Next up is Killua, who out of the main cast received the biggest overhaul from ’99 to 2011. Aside from the palette and general model shifts that are present in all 2011 versions of the characters, Killua has been updated in a way that makes his character a little fluffier, starting with his hair. It goes more evenly around in its distinct, messy style instead of out like in ’99’s version, and while still detailed, is less so comparatively. His eyes have also been altered too, making them more expressive, and his face thinned out a little so he’s a more believable 12 year old. Killua’s signature outfit that he wears during the Hunter Exam is fundamentally the same, but the colors have been altered to a brighter palette, and his shorts have been made gray, longer and slightly baggier, and his legs appear thinner as well. Finally, his shoes are roughly the same design, but received the same brighter coloration in line with the rest of his model. Of course, Killua wears more distinctly different outfits than anyone else over the course of Hunter x Hunter, but for his basic model comparison, we’re sticking with his signature appearance, which is from this very first arc of the show.

 
Following the two boys is Kurapika, who of the four received the least amount of tweaking model-wise. While Kurapika shares the newer brighter colors and slightly thinner body notable in Madhouse’s version, there’s not much different aside from his feet (where he has socks in 1999, and a slightly different shade of blue for the shoes), and his eyes, which also get slightly more expressive in the newer version. Kurapika may in fact be the least changed character, model wise, from 1999 to 2011, perhaps a testament to great design in the first place, or that there’s only so many ways to do the distinct outfits he wears. However, the biggest change isn’t pictured: the representation of the scarlet eyes in animation between ’99 and ’11.

 
Finally, Leorio receives some slight tweaking from his 1999 version, his hair being noticeably more spiky, and his suit a little more form fitting, accentuating his height. His briefcase, which in the picture here only can be seen in Nippon’s version, was also redesigned in 2011, sporting a red a black checkered pattern on the front. Overall, Leorio’s appearance can be described as “sharpened” between the two versions.

 
Admittedly, a lot of aesthetic differences can easily be spotted just by looking at the main cast. The most noticeable is that the original ’99 anime was at the tail end of the era where shows were mostly hand-drawn, and the shading and lines are distinctly different than a modern 2-D anime with computer shading. There is more detail in some ways from the original anime, be it the individual strands of Killua’s hair to the wrinkles in clothes, and while some nuances are lost in transition, other positives are gained as well; 2011’s models have a much brighter color palette compared to the relatively muted tones of 1999, which is typical of the overall transition in the industry from hand-painted cels to computer shading.


As for the Hunter Exam arc itself, there are several differences between the two versions; 1999’s could be considered more “substantial,” featuring an entire (well-done) extra leg of the Exam, while 2011’s remains more faithful to the manga version, save a few instances. Let’s dive in.

Gon’s Backstory: The First Appearance of Kite (1999: Episode 1, 2011: Episode 76)

In the 1999 anime, the first episode starts by featuring a younger Gon in danger from a adult foxbear, a larger predatory animal. As he is about to be killed by the creature, a mysterious man appears, and using a katana takes out the foxbear, sparing Gon. It turns out to be Kite, a Double Star Hunter who came to Whale Island searching for someone… This scene is actually faithful to the first issue of the Hunter x Hunter manga, whereas it occurs as a flashback in 2011’s version in episode 76, the starting point of the Chimera Ant arc. Because chances are that we won’t be revisting Kite in this series, here’s a quick comparison of his character models:

KITE

1999                             2011

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/1/1e/Kite_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20140520230533&path-prefix=es  http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/9/93/Kite_mainpic.png/revision/latest?cb=20130424051614

We can continue to compare the scenes. In 2011’s, Gon is slapped by Kite afterwards, an action that is praised at a different point by Ging Freeccs, his dad. Ging’s Hunter License is left in the care of Gon (as Kite had been carrying it), but in ’99 is specifically wedged in a tree. Finally, Gon protects the orphaned foxbear cub in both versions, but only in 1999 do we get to see the efforts of his results as he raises the cub; the fully grown foxbear is incredibly fond of Gon, who obviously spent a great deal of time with it growing up (and considering he didn’t have a human friend until Killua, this makes lots of sense.)

Journey To the Hunter Exam Site (1999: Episodes 1-5, 2011: Episode 1-3)

In both versions, Gon travels with Leorio and Kurapika on the captain’s ship from Whale Island to the next city. However, in 1999, two entire episodes are spent on the island, including a filler episode where Gon meets Leorio at the port instead of on the ship (and also showcased Leorio arm-wrestling, and Gon’s connection with animals.) As with many of the supporting characters, the captain also has different colors for his clothes and model than 2011:

CAPTAIN

1999                                             2011

http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/5/5f/Captain_99.png/revision/latest?cb=20120818125251  http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/0/08/Captain_2011.PNG/revision/latest?cb=20120110035309

(In both versions, the trio bond on the ship after a rough night at sea.) Upon arriving in Zaban City, Leorio turns around and heads up the mountain with Gon and Kurapika after momentary hesitation. In ’99, he actually gets on the bus at first, only to realize it’s going in circles.

In both versions, the trio must pass the trivia test, though in 2011 it shows the aftermath. (Leorio also goes ballistic in both.) The mountain guide scene goes relatively the same, as does the initial confusion over the fact that the restaurant and not the church is the actual entrance to the Exam. The 2011 version also gets to the actual Exam quicker; it only uses 3 episodes for the journey as opposed to 5 for 1999.

The Hunter Exam: Part 1 (1999: Episodes 6-8, 2011: Episodes 4-6)

Ah, Tonpa the “Rookie Crusher.” (I know that’s what y’all were waiting for- he’s the real threat to everyone.) Model aside, he’s peddling spiked laxative juices in 2011, something that immediately makes Gon and company suspicious, and that Killua actually drinks with no ill effects, thanks to poison immunity. In ’99, Tonpa instead plays coy to begin, has no juice, and deceives the the trio initially. Killua also does not speak until he talks to Gon in the first phase, simply eying him in his first-on screen appearance. He also does not intially give his name to Gon, but in both versions dismounts his skateboard. The 1999 version also has an extended part to the first leg of the exam: a booby-trapped passage filled with poisonous sap. Tonpa brings an exhausted Leorio and Nicholas (remember him?) here to die: while the latter is driven insane, the former, along with Gon and Kurapika who cam back to check on him, are saved by flash grenades from Killua- actual tools of the trade.

TONPA

1999                                    2011

http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterx/images/f/f6/Tonpa_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20120109121546  http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/5/50/Tonpa_2011.PNG/revision/latest?cb=20120110063137

HISOKA MORROW

1999                          2011

http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/c/c2/Hisoka_1999.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20120606081412  Hisoka PR Movie

 

Hisoka also makes his first appearance. Most notably, the ’99 version has Hisoka sporting blue hair during the Exam as opposed to his usual red, which appears from the Heavens Arena arc onwards. In 2011, he gets that amazing Spanish guitar theme and the really flashy trick where he disintegrates an applicant’s arms; in ’99 he merely scares the crap out of a guy with his usual card-throwing tricks. Take a look:

Either way, you can’t say Hisoka doesn’t make quite the first impression.

Finally, there’s the first examiner of the phases: Satotz. Sporting his distinct hair and mustache-without-a mouth combo, he’s very similar in both versions, the most noticable difference being the stride he uses to lead the group of applicants to the next stage. In 2011 he has an exaggerated step with an arm swing that despite its strangeness, covers a lot of ground quickly. In 1999, it’s much more of a very fast walk.

SATOTZ

      1999                              2011

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterx/images/5/55/Satotz_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20120109105920  https://myanimelist.cdn-dena.com/images/characters/10/139775.jpg

In 2011, Gon and Killua have a footrace to the end of the underground tunnel, in which they tie at the end. In both versions, the man-faced ape attempting to deceive the applicants in the swamp is killed by Hisoka’s cards, followed by praise and a warning of expulsion from Satotz. Also true to both is the swamp encounter where Hisoka “plays Examiner,” and becomes acquainted with Gon, Leorio, and Kurapika; notably, this is still one of the only combat scenes in the entire series for Leorio (and he doesn’t do much here except take an anchor punch to the face.) Finally, Gon and Kurapika manage to barely make it to the second phase in both versions- the latter’s sharp sense of smell being the reason they make it.


The next installment will finish the Hunter Exam, starting with Phase 2 featuring Menchi and Buhara, and will also talk about the special “bonus phase” only present in the 1999 anime! Feel free to leave a comment.

Star Wars Rebels: A Farewell to Maul

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you couldn’t already tell, this entire piece, from the title on down is a massive spoiler. If you’re not looking for major plot details about Star Wars Rebels to be revealed to you now, best to turn away. If not, enjoy!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or don’t know animation, a major event in Star Wars history happened on March 18th, 2017- the death of Maul, one-time apprentice to Palpatine. The story came full circle at last as Maul, searching to regain lost power and a sense of self, found the end of his destiny at the hands of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Indeed, his demise came on Tatooine, the place where it all started- and represented a complete narrative arc for the one-time Sith Lord.

Well, you might be asking why AniB would write about Darth Maul. Isn’t he a movie character? Not exactly. To start with, Maul’s death takes place in Star Wars Rebels (and if you haven’t checked it out, it’s well worth the watch); after he falls down the shaft in Naboo in The Phantom Menace, it is Star Wars: The Clone Wars where he reappears, and of all the major characters from the prequel era (and perhaps the franchise overall), none owe more to continued story progression via animation than Maul. While the most casual fans of Star Wars and even those who know little recognize Maul as the acrobatic, devil-horned, growling Sith Lord from 1999, there is a whole legion of people out there who also know Maul now through the voice acting of Sam Witwer and the  two animated shows he appeared in, as well as The Son of Dathomir comics. There is a far more developed tale now to Maul: of Dathomir and Nightbrothers, a Dark side cult; of the time Maul became ruler of Mandalore and Death Watch, only to be personally stopped by Darth Sidious, his old master, and now of the middle-aged man with no real identity, neither Sith nor with any allegiance owed or given. As we see Maul in Rebels, he might have been physically reconstructed, but he was as broken as the day Kenobi sliced him in half decades earlier.

 

https://www.scifinow.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Star-Wars-The-Clone-Wars-Dave-Filoni-Darth-Maul.jpg

When Maul reappeared in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, he was alive, but grotesque, driven to the point of insanity. With the help of Talzin, leader of the Nightsisters, Maul was revived and given real prosthetic legs (he had some kind of spider-like prosthetic prior to made of a mangled mess of metal.) Furthermore, for the first time Maul was given a sort of family- his apprentice, Savage Oppress (in the picture, on the left) was his brother, and Dathomir was a sort of dark home from which Maul could be supported. But one thing remained constant that clouded all this from Maul’s mind: Selfish vengeance against Kenobi. Indeed, as Maul leveraged power, eventually all the way up to the leader of Mandalore, his thirst for revenge proved to a quest doomed in failure: While he beat Obi-Wan at a duel and even killed Satine Kryze, a woman he loved, Kenobi was not broken. He continued to grow over the course of tragic events, following the path of the Jedi, eventually in time becoming the enlightened mentor of Luke Skywalker. However, Maul continued to wallow in the past and self-pity- the final insulting blow dealt when Sidious stripped him of his empire and his brother- and leaving Maul more empty than before, now defeated by both Jedi and Sith.

 

Maul reappeared in Rebels as a older man, trying to cling desperately onto past shreds of glory and delusional dreams of defeating both Jedi and Sith. To that end, he pressed his advantage in Twilight of the Apprentice when Ezra Bridger, a young Jedi Padawan (and main protagonist of the show in question) came with Ahsoka Tano and Jedi Knight Kanan Jarrus came to the planet Malachor in search “of answers”; he used Bridger as a pawn to gain a powerful Sith holocron- an ancient artifact containing knowledge and secrets- and fed Dark Side ideologies to him in an attempt to start swaying him to be his apprentice. However, after several incidents that led Maul to fall further in the bad graces of the Ghost’s crew (which usually involved tricking Ezra through the Force to come to him), he was able to, with Bridger’s help, combine the Sith holocron with a Jedi one, revealing the prophecy of the Chosen One- and while both Bridger and Maul had different interpretations of what they saw, neither knew about Luke Skywalker. Maul believed it to be Kenobi, colored by his past experiences- and set out to once and for all destroy the Jedi Master.

The rest of the details do not need to recounted here, but symbolism went a long way in characterizing Maul in his dying days. On Tatooine, he is literally walking through a barren desert- symbolic of what is left for him in his life. In a revisit to Dathomir, he has a shrine to his Death Watch days, but in turn is clinging to two dead families- his Mandalore one and Nightsisters/brothers. And with Ezra he may have been thinking of Savage the whole time- the one person who Maul truly cared about, though “love” might not be the accurate term. And so when Kenobi slices him down, symbolically baiting him into the same move he used to finish Qui-Gon Ginn on Naboo, there is finally relief for him. Kenobi reveals the Chosen One exists and the decades-long rivalry is settled. Even in death though, Maul seeks the path of revenge in Kenobi’s arms (“[The Chosen One] will avenge us!”) and thus, dies.

 

While this is but a brief summation of Maul’s journey since his debut in Phantom Menace, it is a journey best experienced watching. Witwer gives a voice and personality to the Dark Sider beyond just the acrobatic kick and signature dual-bladed saberstaff that Maul is known for; the culture and people that Maul originated from, the Zabrak is explored, and overall, the continuation of his life in animated form comes off brilliantly as a tale of what the medium can do in taking a well-known character to a new level and breath fresh life into the tale of one of the prequels’ most interesting additions to Star Wars lore. For all the terrible things he’s done, I’m not sure “rest in peace” is entirely appropriate, but it goes without saying Darth Maul will be missed.


Like what you see? Check out Star Wars Rebels and The Clone Wars if you haven’t! Leave a comment!

 

Review: Bleach

The highly popular shonen anime has its obvious strengths and flaws.

The Lowdown:

Show: Bleach

Studio (Network)/ Years aired: Studio Pierrot(Adult Swim-Toonami)/ 2004-2012

(Minor spoilers ahead. Not anything “big-picture.”)

AniB’s thoughts: Ah, another of the “big” shonen anime from the past 15 years- the tale of Ichigo Kurosaki and his friends as they’re plunged into the battles of Soul Reapers- the shinigami of this universe- and Hollows, corrupted souls who devour others and wreak havoc. Essentially, Bleach hit the jackpot in popularity when it first started its run back in 2004; this was the era of the long-format shonen franchise especially when it came to the West, and so three shows in particular defined this idea in the wake of Dragon Ball Z’s dub that made shonen relevant on a large scale in the West: Naruto, One Piece, and this show. While Bleach was key to the era, it also would come to close a chapter too- by the time the show finally came to an end in 2012 after an exhaustive 366 episode run- enough for every day in a leap year- the anime scene had greatly changed, and while one of this blog’s favorite shows- Hunter x Hunter– was techincally an ongoing shonen, the idea was largely exhausted, save for the continuation of already established franchises (the same two already mentioned- Naruto and One Piece), and in the past year and a half, the revival of Dragon Ball with Super coming into existence.

Bleach itself is an interesting show that shows both the good and bad effects of becoming massively popular. While there are generally interesting elements in the show- such as the dynamics between the world of living, the Soul Society (where the Soul Reapers and the souls of the departed reside), and Hueco Mundo- the Land of the Hollows- the pacing and fillers represent the side that prevents it from finding its true peak form. There is in fact, some really decent character development- and a few individuals in particular (especially Kisuke Urahara) have outstanding backstory and more depth than you’d imagine. The problem is getting there. The Hueco Mundo arc of the show, as an example, lasts for around 1/3 of the entire show (including fillers), has battles that often take the span of 5-10 episodes to complete- and contains lots of said battles and long staredowns. (In that regard, Bleach got DBZ syndrome.) In fact, doing a quick calculation of canon material vs. filler (meaning anime-original content/non-manga material here, even if well done), 191 episodes can be considered “canon” to watch the entirety of Bleach– a measly 52.1% of its run time, constituting a bare majority of its episode. Of course, hardly all the extra material is terrible- the first major filler arc (Bounts) is relatively entertaining, and others will point to the Zanpankto Tales arc as another example. Regardless of the quality however, the interruptions to the main storyline can be rather jarring and unwelcome- and while this is a result again of Bleach’s popularity and the need for the manga and anime to align, it also constitutes quite a bit more tediousness to what is already a very lengthy watch.

When Bleach gets going though, it’s got some very entertaining action sequences when they finally do get to the point (such as Ichigo and Byakuya Kuchiki’s fight in the picture for this article), and the payoffs are usually decent for very long buildups. I’ll also be the first to say that I very much like the character design in this show, as it tends to reflect both personality and pleasing aesthetics into one. The mechanics of zanpakto– the special weapons usually in the form of a katana Soul Reapers wield- is also very interesting, as are the distinctions between classes of Hollows as another example of universe-building. Overall, the plot stays straightforward despite all the detours; the usual shonen tropes and power-ups are very much present, and if you’ve got the guts for a very long watch, you ultimately might enjoy Bleach very much despite its predictability at times (and I did, all things considered.) And if you’ve already watched it…I’ll just say I love the way these guys say “Bankai…”

 


Animation Quality: Modern 2-D anime. Bleach is a very comfortable show to look at; it’s got a typical style for a shone anime, good colors, and unique enough character models. Some of the action sequences are also outstanding. However, it is not particularly groundbreaking in any one aspect. 3.75/5 points.

 
Characterization: As is typical for a show of this style, Bleach has a massive cast which it juggles; for the purpose of this analysis, this section will just canvas the main characters.

Ichigo Kurosaki is the main character; noted for his bright orange hair and straightforward personality, he becomes a Soul Reaper, or shingami one fateful night after meeting Rukia Kuchiki. Driven by a powerful despite to protect those he cares about and loves at all costs, Ichigo’s the consummate description of a shonen protagonist: timely powers, generally a badass, naturally gifted and very straightforward as a character, which isn’t to say he’s bad… just fit for the role he plays.

Rukia Kuchiki serves as the Soul Reaper who initially unlocked Ichigo’s shingami powers and set in motion the events of the show. Often showing a mock callous or serious side, she also cares deeply about her friends; she becomes great friends with Ichigo and his human allies (particularly Orihime) and has a special connection with another Soul Reaper, Renji Abarai…

Speaking of Renji, he’s a hot-headed impulsive Soul Reaper not at all unlike Ichigo personality-wise. Determined and stubborn, Renji is longtime friends with Rukia, is tough as nails, and has his own goals to reach, based on events in his past and through his life.

Speaking of Ichigo’s human pals, there are a few, but in this case it’s referring to the aforementioned Orihime, “Chad” (whose actual name is Yastoru Sato), and Uryu.

Orhime Inoue is a kind, gentle soul who experienced great loss at a young age (both her parents and her older brother are dead.) She greatly wishes to become strong, and acquires the mysterious power  “Shun Shun Rikka,” which in turn are 6 guardian pixie..things who allow her to “reject” any phenomenon or injury.

Chad immediately upon his first appearance is noted to be an abnormally strong, big guy for his age. Half Mexican and half Japanese, he develops powers similar to that of a Hollow, which physically manifests on his arm. He’s been friends with Ichigo from a young age and always vowed to have his back…

Finally, Uryu Ishida is a Quincy-  a human who exterminates Hollows with specialized spirit energy techniques manifested usually as bows and arrows. Because of Quincies having a long-held grudge against Soul Reapers (and perhaps rightfully so, just watch the show), Uryu initially starts off as Ichigo’s fierce rival, but quickly turns into a close friend and trusted ally.

The rest of the cast is just as diverse and interesting, if not even more so (the captains of the Gotei 13 and their lieutenants could fill a whole column themselves.) I’ll give special mention to Aizen here- he’s the big bad of the show. (Regardless of whether you watched Bleach or not yet, that doesn’t give away much- and if you have, you know.) 3.5/5 points.

 

 

Story quality: Massive overarching story structure for the main plot. The non-filler material is pretty entertaining, and Aizen makes for a great main villain. The major problem with Bleach’s story-telling is the massive amount of filler (which accounts for nearly half the episodes in the show’s 366 episode run); an agonizing tendency to take its sweet time getting to, and concluding climactic showdowns in the story, and certain major plot holes, that while resolved ultimately in the manga (as the Bleach anime ended prematurely) still exist here. (SPOILER: Also, there is a strong belief Bleach should have ended with Aizen’s defeat instead of doing a timeskip in the anime, but what’s done is done.) 3/5 points.

 

 

Themes: There’s a great deal of focus on the usual tropes: Getting stronger, protecting what you believe in, surpassing your limits, sacrifice… it’s not anything really that new, but Bleach does a relatively good job with these ideas. 3.25/5 points.

 

 

Don’t insult the viewer: Filler, filler, and more filler. Seriously,  the amount of non-canon material is irksome to no end, despite the relatively good quality of some of it. Bleach also inherited DBZ syndrome for some of its battles being drawn out; and the violence was intentionally toned down (whether or not that’s a good thing is probably a personal preference.) Some really catchy tracks repeat through the show- you’ll know them when they play. 4/5 points.

 
Total Score: 17.25/25 (70%). Bleach is a typical shonen anime with some interesting characters and a curious enough story, but mostly suffered from its own massive popularity, due to the obscene amount of filler and the tedious length of certain arcs. However, if you’re looking for a long watch show and like lots of sword fights and battles with a good cast and a decent story, Bleach is a good choice.