JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders I

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The glass ceiling shines gloriously bright here. Isn’t the trouble with glass ceilings that they’re invisible? Yet the flaws here are so obvious. The series is no major experiment. Creators who fall to such obvious flaws often can’t get the basics of storytelling. I haven’t seen an anime that gave up so miserably since Sword Art Online. There’s no other way to describe what happens to the series halfway through. You literally see the band members running out of ideas, but the concert is still rocking.

It’s not a major disaster like Sword Art Online because the nature of giving up is different. That anime hinted at psychological and philosophical insight only to deliver a boring monomyth about an asshole and a helpless princess. Stardust Crusaders simply gives up on pushing its idea further. It’s content with sitting in the same place, offering good variations but never breaking out of the mold. I’m not sure what it says about the creator that they managed to create 10 episodes that barely add anything, yet are still a lot of fun.

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The improvement over the first installment is that this one lives up to the title of ‘bizarre’. The previous season gained its energy from pushing archetypes to the extreme. Nothing about it was weird, thought. It was all archetypical, tough guys posing and using battle startergies. Stardust Crusaders throws the same passion for archetypes into bizare-ness.

There are about 15 villains of the week here, and each of them is a puzzle in its own. Anytime you think they ran out of ideas, something new comes up. No villain is truly like the other. The creators use this to play with genres and story types. You get the dream narrative, the killer car, the hostile creepy-looking town and the ghost ship. It’s a prime example of why people who whine about good guys winning miss the point. Of course the good guys will win – there’s no reason for them to lose unless ‘the world is unjust’ is something you explore. The fun thing about these stories is how they solve the puzzle. Just like the first series, it’s never about shouting and brute strength. Each villain is a puzzle to solve. In a way, it’s a mish-mash of mystery and battle shounen.

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Yet this successful formula is exactly what keeps the series down. The series’ ideas never progress. There’s no gradual change in tone or characters. Events happen, but they’re too self-contained. It’s a heroic journey that’s told as a Slice of Life anime. The disconnection between the events lowers their meaning. An anime about a band of heroes fighting a different enemy every time can be fine, but it clashes with what the series is at heart. The result is something that’s stuck in-between. It’s too Slice-of-Life for the journey to feel like it actually progresses, and too journey-like for the episodes to truly deviate from each other.

It doesn’t help that the series gives up at some point. What’s worse, sitting comfortably behind your limits or trying fruitlessly to break them? The Stands eventually lose their meaning. They carry Tarot card names but their powers have little to do with it and the creators don’t even try to come up with names. What started off as using Tarot and colors as inspiration for villain was dropped in exchange for weird superpowers. They’re entertaining superpowers, but it only reinforces the disconnection between the events.

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The series stops halfway through the actual arc. You’d think that would be a problem, but the lack of conclusion comes more from the format rather than splitting up the series. It’s these aforementioned flaws that make the last episode feel anticlimatic. All these events and enemies, and in the end nothing changed. Our heroes arrive in Egypt, so what?

Stardust Crusaders is never bad. What’s frustrating is that it always threatens to be way better than its predecessor. The characters are way better – distinctively quirky and silly. They each contribute something to the group but have enough agency to create as much conflict as they solve. The focus also never locks in on one character. They each have equal screen time. It’s so balanced it’s easy to forget Jotaru is kind of meant to be the main character. Both the enemies and the characters are more bizarre, sillier, more mythic and lifelike than the predecessor. The art is also more colorful and varied. While it doesn’t play so much with colors, the scenery is varied and the characters suffer less from Same Face Syndrome.

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The glass ceiling is tough to break. Maybe the series didn’t even try, but chose to sit under a different ceiling. It’s still recommended to anyone who’s into fighting and macho dudes. The genre hardly gets better than this unless you’re going full retard with Kill la Kill. It dodges all the problems long-running shounen shows have – there’s focus, no babbling, no info dumps and it actually ends. Despite doing pretty much everything right, the result is only a good anime and nothing beyond this.

3 stands out of 5

 

 

 

 

 

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Big Order

 

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Sakae has a bizarre, messy mind. For all the flaws in Future Diary, it’s a masterpiece. The low points – and there are many – are there because there’s few anime like it. Future Diary had no main tradition to draw from, no main road to follow. A lot of great anime follow clear traditions, building on obvious flaws and emphasizing strengths. Even the abstract Serial Experiments Lain belongs warmly in pre-millenium tension art.

It’s hard to decide whether Future Diary falls more on its good side. Expecting Big Order to fulfill that series’ promise is silly, since there can never be another one like it. If the premise sounds familiar to you, you’ll be disappointed. The structures aren’t similar at all. Still, the little you can expect is that the anime will fail in a spectacular fashion.

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The crucial flaw in Big Order isn’t the lacking characters or the plot. The bad traits of Future Diary are amplified, but at least they have the same energy that one had. The problem is that the core of the anime is generic. Remove the layers, the odd designs, the violence and the messy plot and you’re left with some kind of a battle shounen about saving the world for this one person we love so much because we’re related to them by blood.

I never wanted to say this about a work by Sakae. Big Order is normal. Everything good about is just a cover on a generic story.

The beginning is good enough. The power of Orders is close to be symbolic rather than battle skills. There’s a little exploration about the nature of wills, how our wills are limited and they could even do something the concept of losing loved ones. Two characters get completely different wishes despite losing their family. The conflicting nature of wishes is addressed and by the time the antagonist is revealed, he’s given some time to express himself.

The character design isn’t as expressive, but Sakae still goes wild with it. There’s a nun with bunny ears, a twintailed girl with a flower in hair, two long-haired dudes and a square guy. Everyone wears weird outfits and the design plays with body structure and size. Characters who appear for barely 10 minutes in the whole show get a memorable design.

The highlight of the show is DAISY, a bizarre creation that deserved a better anime or at least a cameo appearance in the revamp of Future Diay, whenever someone gets around to make it. That little touch of having her hang upside down adds a lot. It emphasizes the distance she views humanity from. Although she’s meant to be a fairy who grants wishes, she’s always distant and slightly cynical towards the whole thing. It gets nowhere, but every time she appears she injects some life.

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Oddly enough, the most normal creations in the anime are the main characters. People who wanted a Future Diary copy were disappointed. In fact, it often feels like the anime tries too hard to distance itself from its big sister. Why is that? Future Diary is unique enough to be worth revisiting. If Sakae wants to do something new so much, why is he falling back on cliches?

Yukki/Yuno were deeply flawed human beings. People disliked them for their nature, but they missed the point. They were supposed to be imperfect. Everyone in that series was imperfect, was full of desires and selfishness. This gave them humanity and made it believable at its most surreal. Eiji is a likable guy who only wants to live happy with his sister, but he has no desires, no motivations whatsoever.

He’s responsible for humanity’s worst horror, and that concept of guilt is explored for a while but abandoned. Scenes showing how much everyone hates Eiji are that type of deep moments Sakae can conjure. How everyone gathers around televisions, how they wallow in their hatred for this one person is frightening. Even if he is that horrible, what about this hatred? It’s the cult of anti-personality, and even if you think it doesn’t exist just look at how everyone reacts to Trump or Hitler.

Since Eiji is, at his heart, a generic moral hero who only wants to defend his loved ones this means nothing. His only drive in the series is protecting his sister and the guilt kind of drives him, but was it necessary? He’d want to keep his sister safe even if he didn’t cause a great destruction. We never see the psychological effect of guilt, of knowing everyone hates you. Occasionally there are hints Eiji is actually working alone, but that’s never expanded upon. The whole ‘one man and his sister against the world’ could work even just as a fun show, but it never goes there. The guilt is just another element in the many tired speeches about protecting Sena.

As for her, she’s an object. Everyone cares deeply about her happiness, but why? Her connection to Eiji is only by blood. It’s not that we don’t know how their relationship is. It simply doesn’t exist. Whenever they interact, she’s simply being cute and he’s being nice. If her cuteness was integral, if that charm was emphasized, exaggerated and played with then fine. She’s never portrayed as a character that captures people’s heart. Rather, it’s the lifeless trope of hapless girl who’s convenient to rescue.

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It doesn’t help that the few times we get insight into other characters, it always has to do with protecting loved ones. The Future Diary had the ‘dark past’ cliche, but at least each character had a slightly different past and reacted to it different. Characters may have different Orders, but they all wish they could’ve rescued their friends or family and they don’t gain different conclusions out of the loss.

Loss is one of the worst experiences you can go through. If we all experienced in the same way though, it wouldn’t be so harrowing. Misery loves company, and by listening to how others felt when their parents or friends or spouses died would’ve helped us through. Loss is such a harrowing thing, and how you lose someone affects how you react to it. Big Order only plays with the emotional weight it has. It gives the characters a convenient excuse to do what they do. That’s better than making them plain evil, but it’s not enough to make them wholly human. They’re not given motivations, but batteries in different colors.

The only thing the show has going for it is Sakae’s wild imagination. The little he had left was for wacky set-pieces. There are odd situations and turns all over the anime. Gates open to mental spaces, characters become pregnant by touching their ears, an obstacle course – somewhere here an incredibly fun anime is hiding. But Big Order doesn’t have the conviction Future Diary had.

That one jumped from genre to genre, but it approached each with so much conviction you could create 10 seperate anime out of it. Big Order is more scared of becoming a clone, so it does away with anything resembling Thriller, chucks away most of the romance and piles on the action. There aren’t many tonal shifts and doing away with the death game scenario looks silly with what you have left. If it concludes with people sacrificing themselves to make a non-character happy, what’s the point?

There’s energy and verve here, but Big Order is a mess without directions. Notice the use of plural form. If it was an amalgam of genres that didn’t gel, it would be brave enough to be interesting. Instead, it’s too scared of its big sister. So it pushes forward, one wacky set-piece after another. Without a core, or multiple ones to rely on all it has is cliches. This is a perfect examples of when tropes are a bad thing. The anime uses them only because it has nothing to say, because it’s too afraid to explore its themes and too afraid to pile on the ideas. So yes, there’s a Rock God and a pentagram of some sorts and gates and an upside down fairy, but it’s just another story about protecting the little sister. Try BioShock instead.

2.5 floating girls out of 5

Kemono no Souja Erin (Beast Trainer Erin)

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It’s a curious thing. Good stories tend to come when the creators know their limits and strengths. You cover up your weaknesses and emphasizes your strengths. Some stories know their weak point and still find a way to get around them. Erin is an anime that’s often focused on its weak parts, yet aside from a weak patch in the middle it’s fantastic.

The strength and weakness is in Erin herself. She’s not a psychological portrait but a mythic one. The whole story is, in fact, more mythic than psychological. Characters aren’t complex or odd, but have very specific role they fill.

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It can sound limiting, but it’s not. Giving your characters a certain role gives you focus. Since the series never pretends to be a deep psychological examination of these roles, they manage to breathe life into them in other ways. Sometimes, two characters have the same role but act on it differently. Jone and Esal are two very different kind of teachers.

These aren’t roles that limit characters. They are never moral ones, of villains and heroes. They give them agency and define who they are. The story is often more than about Erin. There are many episodes in which she barely appears. Other characters star them and their viewpoint is explored.

Excluding one power-hungry villain that only reveals himself in the end, Erin is a series full of shades of grey. Almost any character that is introduced as villainous is immidiately revealed have a logical viewpoint. Even when their intentions still side against Erin, the anime expects us to understand them. This goes further than grey morality. Erin is clearly a moral hero, yet we’re expected to understand her enemies.

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As for Erin, she’s a great example of how a moral hero should be. She’s not defined by her morality. Her moral behavior comes from somewhere, specifically her fascination with nature which her mother gave her.

This is also where the series, despite not being psychological manages to accurately display what growing up is. Like any good story for children, it deals with the themes of childhood. Erin has the natural curiosity of a child. The difference between her and others is that her mother encourages it. As Erin grows up and meets more mentors, they keep on encouraging it rather than discouraging for some bizarre reasons that create the contemporary education system.

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When Erin starts to display extraordinary abilities, it’s not a case of Mary Sue-ness. Erin is a moral hero who represents curiosity, and curiosity naturally leads us to develop our skills. Curiosity is also what what makes us reach towards others and understand them.

That’s its answer to the main conflict. The show doesn’t have a central theme but it builds towards an epic climax that’s expressive, rather than a placeholder. The central conflict between the two populations is simple. It doesn’t rival the complexity of real life conflicts and it doesn’t have to.

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Political ‘intrigue’ is often a crutch authors rely on, killing characters off to surprise (Game of Thrones still suck). The root of many conflicts is in disagreements, and violence is what we use when we don’t try or think we can reach out to the other side.

As the best episode displays, it’s easy to love one another when you agree with that person. It’s harder to still love them they take a separate path from yours. The episode that chronicles this divide between two brothers is easily the best one of the show.

While the lack of a central theme and psychological exploration don’t harm the series, they do take its toll on the middle part. It’s almost neglectful of a traumatic experience and the pace grinds into a halt.

It doesn’t replicate the serenity of Mushishi. The view of the natural world is different. Rather, the show gets stuck, recycling the same ideas (Erin’s curiosity) and adding characters who only become fleshed out later on. There are worthwhile moments there, but about 8 episodes could have been cut.

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There’s also the odd technique of repeated flashbacks. While some are well-placed, showing them over and over first makes them lose their impact. Then it comes off as lazy and just trying to kill time. The big traumatic event’s repetition is especially bad. Since the series isn’t psychological, the flashbacks don’t make sense and they just make it lose its impact. That said, when they do return in the last arcs of the series they retain their impact.

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The series also teases too much in these episodes about characters who become fleshed out later. Since the series is static during that section, it’s not a slow build-up. Rather, the series feels shy at throwing itself at something greater. What’s weird is that anytime it does become ambitious are fantastic. Nearly every dramatic moment is powerful regardless of Erin’s age. The line “Don’t harm these people with the same hands that can play such a beautiful song” is more profound than any time with realistic design and adult characters wearing suits.

The art style is excellent and beautiful. It’s ‘childish’, but in a good way. There is a simplicity and elegance to it like a children’s drawing. The backgrounds are where the series does it best. They often have a sketchy look to them, relying more on basic shapes and colors to create an atmosphere. It’s not chaotic, though. The sketchiness creates a bare background which fits with the sombre atmosphere. When the series gets dark, it stands in contrast.

 

Erin doesn’t justify its length. It lags in the middle and has too many repeating flashbacks. The varied cast also don’t the development they clearly can. While these flaws can make it tedious at times, the improvement at the second half saves it. From then on, as an example of how deep and emotionally engrossing children’s stories can be it’s perfect. It may focus on a single heroine, but it’s a world of shades of grey, with only one truly villainous character who has a purpose anyway. It fell off the radar because it’s not immediate, but it’s worth pushing through its weak parts. At its best, it’s almost the best anime ever.

4 lizards out of 5

Digimon Tamers

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It boggles the mind why so much anime try to prove their maturity by using bleak colors, adult characters and realistic design. Digimon Tamers has none of that. On the surface, it’s a child-friendly battle shounen about kids and their cool pets.

A surface is easy to copy, though. Putting things beneath the appearance is harder. Like Medabots, Digimon Tamers is a subversive, original and challenging work that doesn’t think children are stupid. This is not the dull Adventure, which was just about beating bad guys. Evil is not being fought here. It’s an anime that imbues its adventure with ideas and emotions, rather than just telling us the bad guy is powerful. It constantly raises questions and it stares suicide, depression and death in the face.

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A truly meaningful and engrossing journey would not consist of only victories. What makes adventures so exciting is because they’re supposed to be a roller coaster of emotions. Tamers uses the adventure not just to have the characters beat up the bad guys by powering up, but by seeing how they cope with breakdowns. In fact, no bad guy is actually being beaten up here.

Every character has a clear worldview, and they modify each scene they’re in. It’s not just the main characters who have differing views on what they should do with their Digimon. The brilliance is not even in how they bring to life side-characters like Kenta, Kazu and their parents. The show’s treatment of its so-called antagonists is where it shines.

Yamaki is first presented as a stereotypical antagonist. He wears a suit, sunglasses (even when inside) and works in a government agent. He’s out there to destroy the Digimon, but he’s not an attempt to sell DVD’s by hating the government.

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Yamaki is a real person. He’s a man of control, who loves order and wants to bring it to the world. We don’t get the false dichotomy of joyful chaos and depressive order. The Digimon who bio-emerge into the real world are causing destruction and mayhem. The children may enjoy their cool pets, but the world suffers because of that. Yamaki isn’t an antagonist but a person with a reasonable worldview. He, like any other character, reaches his breaking point. It’s not a complete 180-turn. Since the show knows that humans are only rational with what they got, Yamaki adjusts and improves his worldview. He doesn’t simply switch sides but becomes a better version of himself.

Impmon is even better. To have such a character in a kid’s show is brilliant. He’s a perfect example of an Antichrist Superstar. Impmon rejects society, which also rejects him. Yet, he can’t truly exist outside of it. He relies on feedback from people, even if the reaction he wants from them is fright.

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He wants to subvert and change things. He needs to power to do that, but his power becomes his objective instead of means. Power alone can’t make him feel any better. You don’t fix a car by just having a wrench. So he goes around, demonstrating how powerful it is only to realize he’s leaving worlds destroyed. Society can reject you for being weird, but it will only hate you and actively try to destroy you if you try to harm it. All his power and data he loaded only worsened his troubles.

It’s all very impressive, but none of that compares to Jeri’s story.

Death, depression and suicide are all connected in a sick cycle. They cause peolpe to question their whole existance. Just read Dylan Kebold’s mother’s essay. How to cope with death, or with your own desire to die is perhaps the greatest philosophical question.

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The D-Reaper is not just a personification of death. He’s a standing symbol for suicide. His whole program exists to reach the conclusion that death is better than life. It was initially meant to get rid of excess data, but any desire to ‘get rid’ can get out of control when no one’s watching.

The D-Reaper distorts every emotion it encounters to turn it into an argument for death. Love is a weakness. It makes us rely on people and we get sad when they go. Hate is terrible. It just makes us want to hurt other people.

The problem with suicide and depression is that almost anything can be distorted to fit the conclusion. Some people complain that a friend is sexually attracted to them. Even such a positive thing can be turned into a nail in the coffin.

The D-Reaper has no choice, though. He’s a program. Humans, at least according to many are not just programs. We have free will. We can distort every good thing to give us a reason to die, or we can hold on to its beauty. It’s no easy to task. Jeri fights hard, but even she couldn’t do it alone. Tamers doesn’t provide an easy, comfortable answer. Yes, we should look for the good things in life, but we should also help each other to do so.

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D-Reaper shares common elements with Terminator‘s Skynet. Both are ways for us to look at ourselves, our self-destruction and question it. Like Skynet, D-Reaper is so frightening because he’s logical. It’s not destruction for its own sake but from a coherent philosophy. A villain is only effective if we understand him and recognize that a part of us is in him/her/it. The D-Reaper is not something from outside that comes to wreck our world. It’s a thought many people have.

There are things to talk about, like animation, pacing and all that fun stuff. Yet none of that is as interesting as what I’ve just described. It’s better in every aspect than the first Adventure. Even the Digivoltuion sequence aren’t as annoying as before. They’re more dynamic now, coming off like a cool music video. The action is still not much to talk about, yet the only two serious fights are driven by their meaning and not movement. Who cares, though, when you got all that D-Reaper symbolism?

It’s worth mentioning that the design of the Reaper and all his agents is also brilliant. They’re similar to Evangelion’s Angels. They look completely alien, but the creators found a different enough style that separates them. Each of the agents’ design is unique and beautiful in a grotesque way. As for the Reaper himself, if I will ever be able to design such a thing my life will be complete.

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The few flaws, like some episodes dragging feel like nothing. A brilliant show is one that overcomes its flaws. Talking about a dull action scene or an unnecessary episode feels pointless when you could instead discuss the characters, the brilliant design of the Reaper and the meaning underneath it all.

5 reapers out of 5

Digimon Tamers: The Deva/Digital World Arc

The first arc had the group learning to form. That’s a story that will never get old, because what drives it are the difference between the characters and how they bridge their gap. The last arc of Tamers has the D-Reaper, where it’s supposed go full-psycho. The Deva arc was supposes to be the weakest. We even get a bit of bland, ‘we must protect our world’ motive to shower the episodes with villains of the week.

The Deva arc is longer and drags a little more than the Hypnos arc. We get the occasional pointless dialogue that made the first Adventure so awful. Characters sayng they must do something, or telling us that they already know. The Villain of the Week structure is also a little tiring by this point. Yet, the creators all use these methods to continue to develop their characters.

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The Digital World section is where it gets intense. The arc is pretty slow until then, but it’s still fun. The Devas are much better designed than the enemies of Adventure. They sometimes suffer from over-detailing, but the monkey and the snake have an elegance to them that suggest careful choice of details rather than piling them. That said, they’re never very interesting. They’re no different than the Villians of the Week from the previous arc, only they talk a lot more.

While the heroes remain the real world, Impmon’s story continues. His degeneration goes on until he reaches his breakdown and succumbs to self-loathing. It’s a heavy subject, but its presentation is fantastic. Impmon is not even presented as a villain with a reasonable motive. He’s just a person who sank so far down into his self-loathing that he can’t accept help from anyone. As the saying goes, if you don’t love yourself no one will love you.

Moving to the Digital World lifts the arc up. The series becomes a response to Adventure, complete with a huge cast. Three more characters join in, but they’re not brushed aside. They’re not even given a token episode so we’ll remember they exist. Kazu and Kenta don’t get the development and breakdowns of the other characters, but they still modify the scenes they’re in. They have their worldview – Kazu is cocky, Kenta wants to be but always backs down – and each scene they’re in is modified by them.

The new center is Jeri. Unlike our protagonists, Jeri doesn’t have a heroic worldview. She’s an ordinary girl who finds wonder in something fantastical like the Digital World. In a way, she’s no different than us. Like us, she expects a fun adventure, hopefully something like the first season.

Adventures are only exciting because they contain a variety of emotional moments, both happy and tragic. Jeri faces these head-on. At some point, Jeri becomes the emotional core of the series.

It’s a bold move. Her optimistic and innocent views may more appropriate for a shoujo romance. Her femininity is the sort of thing that makes other shounen series uncomfortable. Look at how Soul Eater put some boobs, but none of that female softness that make women look like women. How many shounen shows have a female protagonist who’s not an attempt to make women more approachable by making them ‘sexier’ or ‘strong’ (read: making them beat up bad guys)?

Her breakdown goes along with Impmon’s. The final episodes of these arc are intense because of these emotional stakes. The final battle is amazing, but less because of the animation (fighting in Digimon is often boring). Impmon’s, Takato’s and Jeri’s worldviews all come into questions.

Mature shows don’t often put their characters in such positions. Seeing it in a kid’s show is even more impressive. This is not darkness for darkness’ sake. The only reason it’s dark is because questioning your own worldview is an emotionally draining activity.

The darkness is even more effective because of the lighter moments. There are lighter episodes of silly antics, and they are necessary. Constant darkness is often a gimmick and a cover. An emotionally-rich work must address a variety of emotions, and Tamers captures the joy and wonder of childhood when the children are allowed to be children. Seeing the kids having fun at camp somehow feels profound, but that’s because the series invested effort into making these characters seem real. An episode where Kazu and Kenta meet a married Digimon couple that fights because they’re bored out of their minds is hilarious. These are necessary to let us know these are real human beings, and their life contains not only tragedy but joy and absurdity.

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The Devas/Sovereign aren’t much of an antagonist, but it becomes obvious Impmon is the main event. Still, the Devas aren’t allowed to be senseless bad guys. They’re simpler than Yamaki but even in their brief speeches they let on that they have a legitimate reason for what they do. When the big reveal comes in, it turns out it’s true. The sovereign are not evil. They just have a purpose that collides with our main characters’.

I expected this to be just filler until the D-Reaper comes in, but it’s not. In some ways the D-Reaper arc is a little worse. While some episodes can be easily merged, this arc is another reason why Tamers is one of the best anime series we have.

Digimon Tamers – The Hypnos Arc

The D-Reaper is where it’s at. It’s a personification of death in a children’s show. After the disappointment of the first Digimon Adventure, I just hoped this will be good enough until that arrives. I did not expect it to be this subversive, well-written and exciting early on.

The original Digimon Adventure was very basic. It was all about becoming more powerful to defeat a senseless enemy that wants to destroy in order to destroy. They somehow managed to drag it for 50 episodes. It’s a remarkable achievement for such a thin premise where even the action is unexciting. Throughout the first arc, Tamers constantly questions it.

We get Villains of the Weak whose sole purpose is to be defeated, but they are not the center. It’s Yamaki and Impmon – two characters closer to being antagonists – that define this series.

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Yamaki is first seen as an evil, detatched Government Agent who wants to destroy Digimon because he’s cruel and wears a suit. Very early though, it’s shown he’s more than that. Yamaki is not villainous. He’s a person in need of control, but because he sees what chaos does. The Villains of the Weak wreck havoc and cause nothing but panic. It’s only logical to want to stop them.

He’s not like the kids, who got their Digimon and felt like their dream was coming true. He views things from a wider, but more detatched angle. He sees all the havoc that’s going on and doesn’t mind to hurt a few kids’ feeling if it means peace to everyone else.

But Yamaki is a person who wants control so much that this desire controls him. He tries to tighten his control more and more, moving from observing to trying to destroy to trying to eradicate all Digimon. Yet his own technology spins out of control, just like the Digimon are a technology that’s gone out of control (doesn’t it happen all the time?). Yamaki eventually breaks down and even gets a little violent. But what makes it so powerful is not because his violent reaction is cruel (it’s not), it’s because we’ve come to see Yamaki is like us when things go out of our control.

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Impmon is another case. Impmon is a person who found out he doesn’t fit in society. He had his chance, but he couldn’t do it. So now he tries to live outside of it, bragging about his independence and not being a slave like all the Digimon.

He’s like that kid who made fun of you for being a slave for Pop music, when his whole existance is letting people know how special he is. Impmon doesn’t live outside of human society because he relies on their feedback. He pulls pranks and scares them for fun. Without humans to be scared of him, he’s nothing.

He’s an Antichrist Superstar, a person who couldn’t fit into society yet can’t live outside of it. Like Manson’s character, this leads to a desire for power to overcome this. Impmon can’t help but feel weak. His pranks are nothing but a nuiscance. As the series goes on, Impmon realizes how pointless his whole quest is. He’s starting to reconsider his worldview, but not his hatred for humans.

He sees the hero’s Digimon evolving defeating enemies, and he mistakes that for success. Since he has no alternative to society, all he wants is to destroy. This is developed further later in the series, but it’s hinted at early on. Impmon isn’t a buried gun that plays in the background until the series needs him. His downward spiral already beings.

These are the first of many breakdowns that this series will feature. It’s shocking at first to see it in a kid’s show. That’s why it’s brilliant, though. It creates characters and puts their worldview through challenges. Call Mushishi mature all you want because it doesn’t have fighting, but Mushishi never puts his characters through these breakdowns.

The whole idea of power, which the original Digimon and many shounen shows rely on is put into question. Digivolution is not plain getting stronger. The power it gives the Digimon is violent and destructive, and you can’t stay indifferent to it. I remember the first time I held a gun and how it felt.

Power does change people. We all think of changing our environment, but when we’re given the means to do it that’s when we start taking it more seriously. The series gives us three different viewpoints. Takato is a naive kid who, if he’s going to fight will do it for fun. Henry is a pacifist who can’t unsee the harm violence does to others, even when they’re enemies. Rika is a subversion of the Shounen hero. Ash Ketchum wanted to be Pokemon Master. So does Rika, only for Digimon. It’s a violent path to mastery.

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Gargamon’s Digivolution illustrates this best. It’s a shocking episode, one that takes the first series and flips it on its head. Getting stronger, instead of solving the problem creates a worse one. Gargomon has a great design. He’s cute and cuddly, but instead of arms he got two revolver barrels. The series acknowledges these weapons were meant to hurt. How many shows question violence like this?

While these characters don’t experience the serious breakdowns of Impmon’s and Yamaki’s, their viewpoints are constantly being challenged. Henry’s pacifism, Rika’s bullying ambition and Takato’s naivety are all put under constant testing. This will get more serious as the show goes on. Already in the beginning, though, Tamers is brilliant. It makes it look so easy. You don’t need realistic art or no fighting to have a ‘mature anime’. Just continue to test your character’s worldview.

Medabots

Medabots
This is a show where one of the bad guys’ schemes is to redesign every house in a city. They wreck the house and rebuild as a Moai, a Pinocchio or a ukulele.

A little introduction so you’ll know what we’re talking about.

It can be scary to revisit an old childhood favorite. We’re easily impressed when we’re young because we haven’t experienced much. The first chocolate always tastes great, but it becomes ordinary the more types you try. Old favorites can have something cool in them, like battles and explosions but after a few years they made you glad you’ve grown.

I am a critical man who often tires people in discussions. How surprised I was that Medabots was as good as I remembered. Sometimes, it’s even better.

It’s part of the wave of shows that were one big advertisement, like Yu-Gi-Oh!, Beyblade and Pokemon. Yet it tries its best to rise above it. This is not an anime that creates a battle system and a story that’s completely unrelated to it. Medabots‘ story is tied to its setting. You can’t tell the same story in Pokemon‘s or Yu-Gi-Oh!‘s world.

It often feels like Medabots was made by a bunch of guys who looked at battle shounen cliches, and decided to mess with them. Subversions are everywhere. The bad guys often make no sense at all. Their schemes involve building weird houses and a zoo full of penguins. It’s a response to the litany of dull villains who are evil because they’re evil. It points out how goofy the whole world domination is.

The RubberRobo Gang may not have an opposing worldview (although the series gets to that later). They remain evil for evil’s sake throughout the series, but their goofiness gives them humanity. They stop being villains, and become just a bunch of crazies who watched Digimon Adventure and thought they could be Miyotismon.

Ikki himself is a fairly different hero. He starts off as a loser, and remains a bit of one. He’s not given ‘sheer determination’ or ‘heart of gold’ for defining attributes. He’s defined more by his naive passion towards medabots (who are actually weapons). Sometimes anime love to give a quality like recklessness for a ‘flaw’, but it’s often one that ends up helping the hero and gives him charm.

Ikki is a narcisstic and brat who swings from adoring himself to giving up. He’s an average dude with dreams of glory but who actually has to go through hardship to gain it. He’s never truly heroic. He’s allowed to lose and to be an asshole. Ikki often loses not because he deals with a strong opponenet, but because he thinks too much of himself (or not enough about his partner). It’s the opposite of characters who shoot fireballs because they have enough faith in themselves.

Where the series truly outshines everyone else is when it questions its premise, and presents characters with alternative worldviews.

Rokusho is a pacifist. In a world where everyone is obsessed with shooting missiles at the other’s robots, he just likes to look at insects. A series of events lead him to a breakdown and eventually, to a robattle. This isn’t the fun battles of previous. This is a robot fighting because he genuinaly wants to hurt to destroy. This is also the moment when Robo-Emperor appears, who is classified as weapon-type.

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This is when the series doesn’t just let the premise give us cool battles. It questions it. It forces the viewer to be reminded that, even though these medabots are cool they are in the end weapons. The whole final arc revolves around this theme. Unlike Evangelion, Medabots can explore its themes without having to resort to two episodes of inner monologues.

Its treatment of the subject matter is also very mature. It looks further than the pacifist/violence dichotomy. It’s a series where weapons are both used for fun sports and for destruction. It gives us various views – Rokusho’s pacifism, Ikki’s naivety, Victor’s cynicism and Aki’s greed. Even the way it ends is not by just getting stronger, but by destroying two giant weapons of war. Medabots’ view is that violence is fine, so long as its for sport.

The series doesn’t use this exploration to go slack on any other department. In fact, because everything else in the series is so good that it can be easy to miss this little bit of philosophy.

Before it goes deep, it’s a hilarious slice of life anime full of odd characters. It celebrates the characters’ goofiness. There is a running theme of narcissism here, where everyone thinks of themselves as bigger than they are. That sometimes ruins the halo of even the talented ones, like Dr. Aki. Spike remains a loser who doesn’t progress by becoming a winner, but by still trying. Karin is a love interest who refuses to play the role and remains oblivious to her admirers.

This is why the climax feels so powerful. The series establishes that all these people have a life of their own. These characters don’t just live for the journey. Rather, the journey is what happens between ordinary days. This is the role most of the lighter episodes. Some of them are pretty weak, but they’re an integral part of the experience. The climax wouldn’t be so powerful if the climax was the only thing there was.

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The series also doesn’t forget to let us enjoy the coolness of medabots. Almost everyone of them is beautifully designed. Whereas most Digimon are just exaggerated versions of real-life animals and objects, Medabots has a style of its own. It creates a template and then forces various things – gorillas, beetles, kings – fit it. It’s always interesting to examine every medabot and see how they morphed the original subject to fit the style.

The action scenes are often brief, but intense. Despite the Medaforce serving as One-Hit-KO in many episodes, plenty of time rely on an actual startergy. The oppponent’s medabot has a certain style that Ikki and Metabee have to overcome. It means most opponents are defeated by just one missile, but first Ikki has to get them in a position where he could shoot the missile. The last robattle between team Japan and team Kenya also deserves an honorable mention. A fight so intense and beautifully animated it will keep me coming back.

There is also Mr. Referee, who teleports whenever there’s a robattle. It’s a complete absurdity that everyone is fine with. Then again, isn’t life absurd?

There are some flaws, of course. There are explorations that remain undeveloped, including a weird alien thing that doesn’t feel like it belongs. The battle system isn’t exactly well-thought-out in terms of specifics. There are some useless episodes and the Medolarian backstory needed more screen time. A series’ greatness isn’t measured by its lack of flaws, though. A series that just avoids flaws is like a food that avoids unpleasant tastes. More impressive is a series that overcome the flaws. It’s an anime that could be trimmed and polished on the sides, but the end result is full of fun characters, a deep exploration of a subject, goofy scenarios, intense fights and a fantastic. The last six episodes can only be watched in sitting. Despite the occasional flaw, it’s a rich anime full of many good things. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t so popular. It’s far more experimental. Thankfully, the experiment is more successful than anything I hope an anime can be.

The Wu-Tang Clan logo appears a few times, for some reason.

5 medals out of 5