Anime


Perhaps it is pointless for me to first comment on Spice and Wolf after six episodes have already aired, given how everybody is talking about it, but I wanted to hold out until my number of viewed episodes reached a nice multiple of three. Each person is obsessive-compulsive in his or her own special way, and with me, it concerns numbers. “After Five Episodes”, or even worse, “After Four Episodes” simply will not due for this tidy and orderly blog. Moving on to the focus of this perfectly-balanced post, however, the quality of Spice and Wolf as series has really surprised me. It is without a doubt my favorite currently-running anime, causing me to drop everything that I am doing for half an hour every week in order to follow the travels of a little wolf inside a cart.

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When I first heard of Spice and Wolf, I had no idea what the actual story behind it was about. Of course, this was because my first exposure to the series was in the form of a pornographic doujin. While it was no Wikipedia article, it intrigued me enough to download the first episode of the animation, which had just begun its run. Judging by the naked wolfgirl featured so prominently in various screencaps and promo pictures, I was expecting a generic fan-service show that I would enjoy as a guilty pleasure for three episodes before dropping it. Maybe there would even be a cry of “Tail feel so good!” somewhere in the mix. Fortunately, I was sorely mistaken.

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Set in a transitional time period, Wolf and Spice is the tale of Lawrence, a shrewd travelling merchant, and Horo, a companion and business partner that he picks up along the way, who happens to be the mostly-human incarnation of an ancient wolf goddess. Over the centuries, Horo has been witness to a slew of cultural changes that have diminished her stature as a goddess: most notably mankind’s self-sufficiency in agriculture, and humanity’s growing faith in the Church rather than pagan deities. Feeling less than welcome in her current residence, Horo joins Lawrence on a journey to the north, where she will meet up with the other wolves that had long since emigrated. Given that Lawrence is a merchant, the journey is anything but direct, with Lawrence attempting to make profits where he can along the way. The merchant’s trade brings both Lawrence and Horo into contact with swindlers, thugs, and even worse, the Church itself. With their wits, courage, and knowledge of economic theory, both Horo and Lawrence attempt to wriggle their way out of dangerous situations and make it to the north country alive and well.

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Needless to say, Spice and Wolf completely surpassed the (low) expectations that I had of it. While the fantastic setting and complex plot certainly had something to do with my instant attraction to this series, what really struck me was the quality of both of this show’s protagonists. In a medium that is not always known for its deep and multi-faceted characters, both Lawrence and Horo are a breath of fresh air. Unlike so many other male leads, Lawrence is a cool, collected, and clever. If any other man chanced upon a naked wolf goddess, they would have most likely turned red, gotten a nosebleed, and then would have lived out an awkward relationship with Horo for the remainder of the series—or behave in a manner equally cliched and lame as that. Not Lawrence. Simply put, he is the man. If Lawrence is indeed the man, then Horo is the wolf; her charm, intelligence, and experience compliment Lawrence and his trade quite well, providing him with guidance that translates into increased profit. The relationship between these characters is more than a few entertaining exchanges. It is very natural and believable, which is a strong contributor to my enjoyment of Spice and Wolf.

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As a whole, Spice and Wolf is the best anime running this winter. From the moment that the first words of the sweet and mellow opening theme begin to the final notes of the adorable Engrishy ending song, the viewer finds his or herself within a fascinating world driven by a captivating cast of characters. Every single episode so far has left me wanting another one immediately. If for whatever reason, the reader has not viewed Spice and Wolf yet, do yourself a favor and pick up this lovely series.

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I have been following Spice and Wolf exclusively through BSS Subs, who deliver speedy but adequate subs of this series.

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It’s that time of the year again: the moment when some person makes a collage of all the promo pictures for the upcoming season of anime, everybody stares at this giant image, and then we all judge the books by their covers. Well, that’s what I do at least. I rarely follow the production of a series actively. I just wait for shows to come out and watch what looks or sounds interesting. Of course, with all the sites in Japanese, it is hard to tell just what is interesting right away. I usually rely upon friend’s suggestions and word of mouth to compile a small list of shows worth following each season.

There are, however, at least two anime on this list that catch my attention right away. The first item that I noticed was a third season of Gyagu Manga Biyori, which immediately brought a smile to my face. I saw the first season of this wonderful series just last year, and it had me tearing up in laughter with its simplistic art style and obnoxiously bizarre sense of humor. I’m trying to remain optimistic, hoping that some kind translation group will pick GMB up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it remains ignored this spring, considering how the second season was never subbed past the first three episodes. The other show that I am looking forward to is the anime adaptation of Golgo 13, which is based off of an already popular and long-running manga series about a professional assassin. I have not read any of the manga yet, (despite the fact that many volumes have already been released in America) but I do remember catching one of the Golgo 13 original video animations on television once, and finding its main character incredibly badass. I hope that a group picks this up as well, because it has the potential to be a great, mature action series.

There are most likely some other fine shows on this list as well, but nothing else really jumps off of the page at me. I will probably end up watching two or three additional anime this spring, but only after word of each series has made its way to me. If you are one of the three people who reads this entry (hey, I only started blogging here this month) and you are excited for an upcoming series, please leave a comment and let me know. I love getting suggestions.

In my travels across the interealm, I have come into contact with a fair amount of anime fans who are less than pleased with the shows airing in the Winter of 2008. Now I don’t frequent a wide variety of internet communities, (especially not anime-related ones) but the general consensus seems to be that 2008 has been ho-hum so far. I agree with this sentiment to a certain extent; there is plenty of moe garbage out there this season, (including the new Gunslinger Girl—what an outrage) which has required me to put a little bit more effort into finding quality shows. A week or so ago, one of my friends asked me if I had seen Hakaba Kitaro. After telling him that I had no idea what he was talking about, he pointed me to a current thread on 4chan’s /a/ board about the series. The thread contained some screencaps that caught my interest, but I really knew that the show had to be good when one poster complained that the series was hardly ever discussed on /a/. I was torrenting the first episode seconds later.

This was the first that I had heard of the series, but I was surprised to learn that Hakaba Kitaro (“Graveyard Kitaro”) goes all the way back to 1959 in the form of a manga by the same name. Before its current run, Kitaro has previously been broadcast as an anime series five separate times. The story is centered around Kitaro, the last remaining member of an ancient tribe of ghosts, who is reluctantly raised by the salaryman that found him as a baby. For whatever reason, Kitaro’s biological father still exists as well, but in the form of an eyeball with a tiny body. Kitaro’s daily life straddles the normal world and that of the supernatural, meaning that wherever he goes, he is sure to attract some sort of trouble with otherworldly origins.

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What initially attracted me to Hakaba Kitaro and what I still find striking is its unique art style. Possibly because of its classic roots, Kitaro is very cartoonish in nature. While the human characters are drawn in a realistic manner, the majority of the show’s supernatural characters, including Kitaro himself, are given ridiculous physical features, such as bulging eyes and buck teeth. In a medium known for its shiny eyes and tiny mouths, I find the deliberate ugliness of Kitaro charming and refreshing. These purposeful distortions do not mean, however, that the animation in this series is cheap. On the contrary, this show features consistent quality animation done in the most stylish fashion possible. Hakaba Kitaro is the best-looking anime that I have seen this season.

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As a form of entertainment, Hakaba Kitaro is simply a good story. The show has a certain zaniness and contains elements of humor, but I wouldn’t call it a comedy series. The offbeat nature of this anime obviously disqualifies it from being taken very seriously as either. The first three episodes have all contained independent plots for the most part, presenting supernatural situations that Kitaro and his caretaker are confronted with. The otherworldly characters that have been introduced so far are various monsters and demons from both Eastern and Western folktales. I have no complaints with this format for the time being; each episode is entertaining throughout its run, and there is never a dull moment. While Kitaro has the potential to degenerate into a “monster per week” show, I doubt that this will be the case, as the series is simply introducing a cast of characters at the moment. All in all, I am very pleased with Hakaba Kitaro so far. Since being introduced to the show, I have been eagerly checking Tokyo Toshokan daily for fansub updates. If the winter season has you down, I suggest giving Kitaro your attention.

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Both Shinsen Subs and Spoon Subs are subbing this. I’ve seen fansubs by both groups, and either one of them is a good choice for this series. Spoon Subs was the first to release episode three, so I guess they get a few extra points in my book.