Thursday, November 24, 2005

Fullmetal Alchemist

Genre: Action / Adventure / Shounen / Supernatural
Parental Guidance Recommended
2003 Hiromu Arakawa, Seiji Mizushima, BONES, Animax, Bandai Channel, Mainichi Broadcasting, TBS, Aniplex, Square-Enix

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MarkPoa's Description:
The principle of equivalent trade governs the practice of alchemy: for everything gained, something of equivalent value should be given up. Two young brothers find themselves giving up more than they expected when they tried to perform a taboo: human alchemy. Now, trying to regain their lost humanity, the brothers search for the Philosopher's Stone, a treasure that would allow them to perform alchemy without giving up something of equivalent value. But finding the Philosopher's Stone might end up costing them a lot more.

(51 episodes)

It won't cost you an arm and a leg to enjoy this! >>> by skysenshi
Over the past few months, I had lost interest in catching up on the latest anime series. Generally speaking, the last few series I've managed to catch were pretty crappy, featuring nothing more than rehashed plot threads, harem-comedy antics, and uninspired storylines.

Then, I was introduced to Fullmetal Alchemist.

Suffice it to say, this series was one of the best anime series I've seen during the past year... possibly ever. It's not often that a series just does almost everything right.

Art-wise, Fullmetal Alchemist boasts of gorgeous character designs and a distinct world view style. The world of FMA mixes visual design styles from European locales and speculative historical fiction. It's a pretty nice original take. The art appropriately changes depending on the mood: colorful and bright during light moments, appropriately dark when needed.

Sound-wise, Fullmetal Alchemists' opening and ending themes are quite apt and highly addictive. The series background music, while sometimes sparse, helped accentuate the storylines.

Fullmetal Alchemists' plot and storyline is also very engrossing, surprisingly intelligent, and, best of all, interesting. The concept itself was already unique, though obviously inspired by "alternate history" fantasy stories, that it came out as quite refreshing in the current crop of anime stories. There are quite a few twists and turns during the series' run: at times poignant (e.g. the day the brothers left their home), at times shocking (the action of the alchemist Tucker who created a human-like chimera stands out in particular) and at times quite surprising. Action fans would also love the way the fights are presented: frenetic, furious, and often fatal (hey, alliteration). The series doesn't skimp on the gory details as well. Best of all, actions in early episodes and the past of the characters have an impact on events until the end of the series. Even though there are 51 episodes, it really feels like a single epic storyline.

The series theme is surprisingly complex and a great many ideas are presented for rumination... without giving the series a preachy tone. The principle of equivalent trade is discussed at length, though the series wisely didn't provide any conclusions... just the points of both sides of the argument.

And with its characters, Fullmetal Alchemist scores a homerun. This series sports some of the more complex multi-faceted characters I had ever seen. The characters, protagonists and antagonists alike, were given enough time to shine. While the Elric brothers, Edward and Alphonse, were given the most exposure, I was interested in the motivations of Scar and the mysterious past of the homunculi; I was repulsed by the actions of Archer and Tucker; and genuinely amused by the antics and actions of Roy Mustang and his men.

Personally, I found it hard to pick a favorite character, but in the end, the clear leader is Alphonse. Though trapped in a metal body, Alphonse, at times, acts with all the innocence and naiveté of the thirteen-year old boy that he is. This is someone who has every reason to brood and act all angsty. It's nice to see him be the voice of reason and compassion during many of the series' key points.

Overall, Fullmetal Alchemist was a great breathe of fresh air for anime fans sick of the recurring themes of maids, love comedies, and feeble male protagonists. Equivalent trade doesn't come into play when you watch this series: you're liable to be surprised and get more than you're expecting.

Individual Rating: Art: 9; Story & Plot 9; Characters: 10; Sounds: 8

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Inuyasha Movie 1: Affections Touching Across Time

Genre: Fantasy / Adventure
General Audience
Credits: 2001 Toshiya Shinohara, Kyoto Animation, NTV, Shogakukan Productions Co., Ltd., Sunrise, TOHO, Yomiuri TV

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Cover Description:
200 years ago, InuYasha's father sealed away a powerful demon from China named Hyoga. A Shikon Jewel shard awakens Hyoga's son, Menomaru, inspiring him to absorb the remains of his father's power to take control of the world. It's up to InuYasha and his friends to stop this nearly invincible foe!

Transcending fandom. >>> by skysenshi
There isn't much to see in this Inuyasha movie that fans haven't seen in regular episodes. Somehow, this seems like an extended filler chapter, although the general plot is pretty interesting. Hyoga is a demon that came into Japan 700 years ago — if you're counting from our timeline. I suppose this happened during the Mongol Invasion in the 1200's. Hyoga is slain by Inuyasha and Sesshomaru's father and is succeeded 200 years later by his power-hungry son Menomaru. Menomaru's motives are simple and clear: first he must exact vengeance for his father's death, and then he must rule the world. Once he inherits his father's force, all he needs to do is absorb the souls of people across time in order to make himself more invincible.

While this should be standard Inuyasha fare, with team Inuyasha saving the day, there are a few scenes that are worth buying this movie for. All the important characters are given equal exposure. Miroku and Sango share moments that are hilariously romantic, considering this was shown after the first fifty or so episodes of the TV series — when Miroku and Sango's relationship was still quite vague. Mascots like Shippou, Myouga-jiji, and the funny tanuki demon just add to the entertainment without being obtrusive. Even Kirara, Sango's loyal cat demon, has her own big role to play. Kaede, whose powers were never before shown in the series, demonstrates a huge chunk of her Miko skills. And of course, our favorite Kagome-Inuyasha-Kikyo love triangle once again takes center stage. Sesshomaru and Kikyo fans, however, might find themselves sorely disappointed with these two's lack of battle scenes. I expected Kikyo to do a double-miko tandem with Kagome, since she's one of the most powerful humans in the story, but I was kept hanging. Sesshoumaru, on the other hand, simply plays eye candy.

What I love most about this motion picture are the battle scenes. Since the villainous demons came from China, they show off absolute grace, balance and style befitting of talented Wushu martial artists. I must admit that I have gotten so used to Sango's swift ninja movements and Inuyasha's brash attack-first-think-later fighting techniques that seeing flexible swords and flying Wushu moves just took my breath away. Truly, they're nothing short of lovely.

Artwork and animation have been enhanced greatly by 3D CG for theater quality. I also noticed that they paid much attention to the eyes, which they only did during the latter parts of the series. The soundtrack is beautiful! The flute version of the usual background music, which later segues into a cornucopia of various oriental accompaniments, reminded me so much of the classic Wild Arms intro.

For those who have never beheld any of the series' episodes, Kagome provides a brief background of the entire situation: how she and Inuyasha met; who Sesshomaru is; who her Feudal Era friends are; and what Kikyo is to Inuyasha. For those who have been long-time fans, this movie is a nice supplement to your collection.

Individual Rating: Art/Animation 9; Story 8; Characters 9; Sounds 9

Monday, November 14, 2005

Final Fantasy VII: Last Order

Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Parental Guidance Recommended
Credits: 2005 Morio Asaka, Dr. Movie, Madhouse Studios, Square-Enix


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Skysenshi's Description:
Two soldiers are on the run from Shinra Inc. Zack and Cloud battle their way to Midgar, only to be confronted by memories of Nibelheim. The question is, will they survive?

Be still, my heart. >>> by skysenshi
Last Order OAV is bundled with Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (note: applicable only to the original Japanese release). Like the 3D animation movie that this is packaged with, it needs a good Final Fantasy VII foundation. Meaning, you must have played the game and remembered it well, to make coherent sense of what Last Order is all about.

This 2D short features Zack. Many gamers have forgotten Zack and what role he plays in the Aeris-Cloud-Tifa love triangle. For those who have long sold their copies of FFVII, suffice to say that Zack was the "someone" that Aeris had been waiting for. Cloud, in all that brouhaha, had assimilated all of Zack's memories and feelings and had confused himself with Zack. This is the reason why Aeris had once pointed out in the game that Cloud reminded her of someone. Now, Last Order illustrates who Zack was.

I must admit that when I was playing FFVII, I thought that Zack was a wussie. I mean, he was supposedly an elite SOLDIER, but he died in just a snap. Last Order erases that misconception by showing you that Zack was not one who can be terminated so easily and that he has proven himself worthy of the title SOLDIER First Class. His action scenes are so gripping that you just might find yourself holding on to your seat till the very end. He exudes so much bravado and absolute devotion, making it clear that Aeris did not love a useless piece of chicken excrement. I found myself cheering him on every step of the way, awed as I am at this character that got so little exposure during the game.

Aside from Zack's display of delicious manliness, viewers are also shown the back end of Shinra Corporation. If you think Shinra was intriguingly fun during the game, you might think that Last Order has packed an additional dimension to this beloved group of villains. We get a peek at Shinra's masterminds' finest moments, as well as cameos of the other Shinra members. I suspect that you'd get to meet them again in Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus and Final Fantasy VII: Before Crisis.

If you were asking what Sephiroth was thinking about when he went up Nibelheim, attacked everyone in his way, and grabbed Jenovah's head, here's your chance. Sephiroth, in his ultimate bishounen history, demonstrates what it is like to go berserk in pursuit of one critical aspiration. There are a lot of other fun activities to do while you reminisce. You may even hazard a guess as to who the "extra" SOLDIER, whose identity was protected by a helmet and who followed Zack's biddings, was. Can you still remember? What's great about Last Order is that it you'll be able to see how your pivotal characters interacted in ways that you've never seen before. This alone adds value to my memories of FFVII and therefore makes this OAV a wonderful supplement to my memorabilia.

The production values are top notch, with the artwork, animation and sounds living up to expectations. That the colors are nearly monochromatic and dark seem to be intentional on the artists' part, seeing as this is a flashback of the events that transpired before Cloud and party members embarked on their epic journey. The only reason I'm not giving it a perfect ten is that it is still quite dependent on other FFVII elements and cannot possibly stand solidly on its own.

Individual Rating: Art/Animation 10; Story 9; Characters 10; Sounds 8

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