Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Theme Spotlight: Wareta Ringo

I'm usually drawn to the anime themes that work the best as stand alone pieces, but From the New World (Shinsekai Yori)'s "Wareta Ringo" was one I enjoyed specifically based on context. When I listen to it on its own, it's a good song, but nothing too spectacular when you consider that most anime themes released recently have been A) By female singers/seiyuu and B) J-Pop. But when placed next to an episode of From the New World with its almost soul crushing world and dark atmosphere, the sounds reminiscent of a broken video game cartridge at the beginning of "Wareta Ringo" just make sense. The whole series carries what Diana Wynne Jones refers to as the "reek of wrongness," and I love that little bit of offbeat-ness to Rise Taneda's vocal. But without From the New World giving me the right mindset and atmosphere, the song doesn't always do it for me on its own. That's why anime and music often make the perfect pair in how they help each other out when necessary!

The cast looks moe, but they'll stamp on your heart and kick it to the depths of despair. Just sayin :)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Song Spotlight: It's You

Super Junior is probably best known by casual fans for their super catchy singles "BONAMANA," "Mr. Simple," "Sorry Sorry," and "Sexy, Free & Single," and while all of these tracks are dance-pop gold, Super Junior's true firepower lies in the almost ridiculous amount of vocal talent they have to their name. I won't get into the debate on how many members SuJu actually has factoring in-and-out members in the army, the ever absent Kibum, and M members Henry and Zhou Mi, but with their sizable roster being what it is, they've got so many strong vocalists that it's hard to squeeze them all in one track. Kyuhyun, Sungmin, Ryeowook, and Yesung generally get the most air time, but Siwon, Donghae, Kangin, Leeteuk, and Heechul are no vocal slouches, and Shindong and Eunhyuk are worthy rappers on the faster paced tracks. "It's You" is the track I feel best taps into the broad range of talent of SuJu while packing a punch that will appeal to both power ballad and SuJu single fans. Here's to hoping they bring their Super Show to the US soon!

Oh-oh-only for you

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Out of the fire and into the Abyss

Since anime is watched by a broad range of audiences of both genders, all ages, and many different nationalities, there's quite a few series out there that are meant to target a specific age group or gender. Terms like “shounen” and “shoujo” work to specify which audience is most likely to enjoy the title, and although some titles fit neatly into these categories, the greatest and most memorable anime series are the ones who push these classifications aside and reach out to many different viewers at once. After all, if there's so many of us otaku out there, what's the point in limiting the audience where you don't have to?

Oz, Alice, and Gil

Pandora Hearts is a title which manages to grasp a widespread audience with one simple trick: it tells an entertaining story using an enjoyable cast of characters. There's a healthy dose of action, mystery, bishounen leads, tsundere heroines, supernatural twists, drama, darkness, and complex emotional dilemmas, and the premise itself is interesting and unique enough to set itself apart from other titles in the fantasy/mystery genres. In other words, it's got a little something for everyone, and is held together by a strong narrative that will hook all kinds of fans into its world.

Our memory-less chain, Alice

The story begins with the coming-of-age ceremony of the fifteen year-old Dukedom heir Oz Vessalius, a bright and easy going boy who has enjoyed a life of relative luxury in spite of internally suffering from the rejection and absence of his noble father. However, when Oz's ceremony begins, something odd happens: a host of cloaked figures emerge, declare him an unforgivable sinner, and thrust him without further explanation into the hellish realm of the Abyss.

The Alice in Wonderland inspired Abyss
In the Abyss, Oz meets a former human named Alice who has been transformed into a “Chain,” a creature who resides in the Abyss and cannot escape. Desiring to protect her, Oz forms a pact with Alice and returns to the surface to find out that ten years have passed, the girl he rescued has no memories of herself and who she is, and that the two of them are at the heart of solving the mystery behind a tragedy that happened to their world 100 years ago.

Though we've all seen the memory loss trope used before for better or for worse, Pandora Hearts' complex world of conflicting factions, uncertain loyalties, and deadly secrets give the familiar theme a fresh twist to keep it from coming across as overdone. The viewer is rarely certain of who to trust and what the motives of each of the characters and organizations are, so there's never a sense of security in which direction the plot will take. While this may frustrate some viewers, it's definitely a benefit for those who want a story they've never watched before.

Pandora Hearts is an incredibly complicated title, on the other hand, so unless you're willing to focus on the story and work on keeping the universe rules straight while you're watching, you're probably going to end up quite lost. This is not a good title to watch while multi-tasking or over a long period time, and if you don't invest fully in it, it's going to seem like a whole lot of fantasy gibberish. Unfortunately, the fact that the anime does not cover the continuation of the manga, several things don't ever get fully explained.

The action and mystery plotlines are well-done and interesting, but Pandora Hearts is also a story very much focused on the relationships between the characters. The supportive friendship between Alice and Oz is particularly beautiful, as is the mutually trusting master-and-servant bond between Oz and his attendant Gil. Though there are a lot of bittersweet emotions behind both of these relationships, there's also quite a bit of comedy sprinkled in to keep things from getting too heavy. They may have tough pasts, but Alice is absolutely hilarious when she's scarfing down meat like an animal and Gil is having a dramatic freak out over his fear of cats.

Gil and Oz
Another bonus? Yuki Kajiura and FictionJunction, the musical masterminds behind stellar OSTs such as Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle and Madoka Magica, produced the soundtrack, and it is absolutely beautiful. If you haven't had the chance to listen to Kajiura's work, I'd recommend all three OSTs in a heartbeat. It's truly amazing how much better a scene comes across when the music compliments it perfectly.

Is Pandora Hearts worth checking out? Definitely. The title will probably make the most sense to fantasy fans who love new universes and their intricate workings, but it's just once of those shows that works well across several different target audiences due to its diversity and unique narrative. The fact that there wasn't enough manga material at the time to stretch into a longer series is a bit disappointing, but with 20 volumes now out following the show's conclusion, there's still plenty of room to get your fandom fix!  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Song Spotlight: Everybody

Sweet holy hell, what happened to my baby Taeminnie? He grew up... he can take his shirt off without making us feel like pedophiles... it's all too much for my maiden heart to take! What if he starts turning into a beast idol?
In any case, SHINee has been evolving with every new release, and with The Misconceptions discs from this year, we've been hearing a very mature SHINee that has fully embraced R&B and even some enjoyable throwback sounds such as those in "Why So Serious?" and "Queen of New York." They've always had two of the best vocalists in the industry on their side-- Jognhyun and Onew-- but now I think they've tapped into their full potential, as well as that of Taemin, Key, and Minho, who have spades of talent of their own. The dubstep in "Everybody" I could do without, but I'm digging this latest maturation of SHINee. Even if it means I have to face up to the fact that K-pop cutest cutie Taemin is growing up, too.