GUNNM, Alita’s source material, is just as cinematic as in any other medium

I went to see Alita: Battle Angel this weekend. I’m not going to add to the deluge of hundreds of other reviews of the movie coming out on the internet right now, but I will say this: it’s entertaining, groundbreaking, totally worth your time, and you should go see it, if only to reward filmmakers who are actually both passionate about, and hyper-competent with their craft, something that’s far too rare these days in the American movie industry. What I actually want to cover here, is my experience with the source material, which originally went by the name GUNNM, written by Yukito Kishiro.

From the start of the story, GUNNM is pretty upfront about its themes and allegories. This world’s privileged upper class literally lives in an untouchable, pristine mega-city floating in the sky; they literally dump their garbage on top of the town of the ‘underlings’ below, who sift through the junk in order to find anything useful; and we find out later, there are even people under the city (as revealed by one particularly distasteful villain), in the sewers, who live off what the people above have dumped there.

A scenario for class warfare if there ever was one, but the warfare of this world is instead mostly between the have-nots below (echoing real life, I might add), and particularly ultra-violent in nature. The floating city of Tiphares (or Zalem, depending on which version you read) is a complete mystery to most, and it is revealed that it is near impossible for someone from below to enter or live in this city.

The story begins with a cybermedic by the name of Maisuke Ido, who finds an advanced android’s head and torso while rummaging through the endless heaps of garbage. He takes it back to his lab with his partner, Gonzu (who for some reason is written out of the movie, and replaced by a female nurse), where they set to the task of rebuilding her. Ido names her ‘Alita’, or ‘Gally’ as she is known in the original manga, and in the anime OVA (more on this later), after his cat, who died. There’s also a side story in the manga detailing this period, where Ido also meets and falls in love with a young girl called Carole, who dies tragically. It isn’t crucial to the overall narrative, but goes a long way in explaining Ido’s motives, emotional state, and his immediate attachment to Alita. The movie alters the backstory to one where ‘Alita’ was actually Ido’s daughter, who also (surprise) dies tragically, and the body he later gives cyborg Alita was originally for her (the writers probably did this for more emotional weight). It also changes the story to include Chiren, the original Alita’s mother, who now works with the antagonist, Vector. Chiren originally appears in the OVA, but isn’t in the manga.

It becomes very clear over some time, that Alita is a highly powerful centuries-old battle cyborg. By her very nature, she sets about seeking battle, in order to help the victims of the merciless, dog-eat-dog world she has been thrust into, something that doesn’t sit well with Ido, but eventually he has to accept what she is. She registers as a ‘hunter-warrior’, which is basically a bounty hunter hired by the authorities to do peace-keeping, and dispatch violent criminals. Ido is also a registered hunter-warrior as well.

Let’s talk the OVA, how influential is it?

The new movie closely follows the anime, in terms of content and structure, which in turn, adapts the manga fairly accurately, but also makes a couple changes. Both the movie and OVA roughly cover the first four manga chapters. The main changes are, as stated before, the presence of Chiren, and the premature death of Vector (in the manga, he lives quite a bit longer). The first four manga chapters largely covers the arc involving Alita’s love interest, Yugo/Hugo, and his downfall, and is mainly what the plot of the OVA and the movie concerns itself with. It’s basically a tragic romance. Alita quickly becomes infatuated with Yugo after meeting him, but knows nothing of his shady after-dark activities, which consists of attacking cyborgs and stripping them for parts. He works for the previously mentioned Vector, who has sold him the pipe dream that he can enter Tiphares if he works to eventually accumulate enough money. Yugo becomes pretty obsessed with Tiphares, which, of course, leads to his literal downfall, and a pretty devastating emotional lesson for Alita. I suppose you’re seeing a pattern here; yep, this story has a penchant for death and tragedy.

The OVA is well-animated and produced, but at only two half-hour episodes, is way too short, and leaves viewers wanting more, which is my main issue with it.

Motorball

The sport of motorball, which is key to later arcs, is only touched upon very lightly in the OVA. Which brings us back to the manga.

What I think this manga does particularly well is its world-building and its portrayal of action. Basically, the fight choreographers for the movie already had all their work done for them in panels of the manga. All the fighting and various acrobatic moves are clearly and intricately drawn, and are almost shot-for-shot in some parts of the movie. The sense of speed in the motorball scenes are palpable and truly breathtaking at times, almost like actually watching a high-speed movie chase, and the movie greatly benefits by them. What also adds to the cinematic feel are the numerous sound effects, which Kishiro uses, for even small gestures, that are sometimes used to amusing effect, and which I admittedly took some time to get used to.

The motorball stories only truly begin in earnest later during the fourth chapter. The movie touches upon it briefly, but many of the new characters and plot points, like the rift between Ido and Alita, are not present. Most likely, they are saving this stuff for the sequel, if it gets one.

A good day for Gintama

Gintama’s three MCs: Gintoki, Kagura and Shinpachi.

I’m taking some time out of my busy(?) schedule of binge-watching Gintama┬░ (note the ‘ ┬░ ‘, it’s important) to make a public service announcement: if you’re a fan of anime, or just a fan of comedy in general, then you really, really, really should be watching/reading the Gintama franchise.

With almost 400 episodes aired, it was a bit imposing getting into it, especially with several warnings I got that it takes some time to get going, and that I should absolutely NOT drop it based on my impression of the early episodes. However, I liked it from the start; while not side-splitting, I appreciated the humor from the jump. As I get farther into it, it’s becoming dangerously close to being my favorite anime series ever.

For me it was hard to ignore the amount of acclaim and popularity this series gets. The first thing I noticed was that there are no less than eight Gintama entries on MyAnimeList’s Top 50 Anime Page, three of them in the Top 10. Also it was impossible for me not to already have a passing familiarity with the instantly iconic characters that I’d already seen on just about any anime-related website, page or message board on the internet; Gintoki, the white/silver-haired samurai character; Kagura, the cute girl in red riding a giant white furry animal (for the longest while, I thought Sadaharu was a cat, lol); I don’t really recall seeing Shinpachi before watching the series (no surprise there).

However, while the series is supposedly wildly popular in Japan, it never really caught on like it should have with western audiences. This may well have to do with the fact that there are a lot of confusing things concerning Gintama, at least to uninitiated or casual fans.

What’s with the seasons?

The first thing to mention about this is the varied partitioning of the series, which varies according to the source; on IMDb, for instance, the show is separated into 11 seasons, partitioning according to every year it was broadcast. This is very different from what are assigned as seasons by, say, MAL, which, for example, has the first 201 episodes as just one season, which would comprise the first four seasons as defined by IMDb (amounting approximately to 50 episodes per season). Making it even more complicated is the seemingly random naming of the different seasons. The previously mentioned first 201 episodes are referred to Gintama. After a hiatus, the series returned as Gintama’ (note the punctuations in the title, it becomes a running theme from here on), with a run of 51 episodes. Then there’s a short 13-episode run called Gintama’: Enchousen, which I just completed (up to this point, there are also two very good movies that were released). I’m now watching Gintama┬░, which runs for 51 episodes. After this are a series of short 12-14 episode runs, going, in chronological order, by the following names: Gintama. , Gintama.: Porori-hen, Gintama.: Shirogane no Tamashii-hen and Gintama.: Shirogane no Tamashii-hen – Kouhan-sen. Told you it was confusing.

What’s with the Japanese references?

Now on to the series content itself, which relies quite a bit on reference-heavy humor, those references usually being to Japanese culture and history, and Japanese popular culture in particular. Gintama has quite a habit of doing parodies of other popular anime ( Gundam, Dragon Ball, etc.), so getting into these jokes shouldn’t be a problem if you’re a seasoned anime/manga fan. However, much of the references will go over the heads of casual fans, and might be a bit off-putting. Imagine watching a western show like Family Guy, and having little to no knowledge of western popular culture, and you might see what the issue is. Even with this in mind, most of the humor is absurdist and/or slapstick in nature, so anyone, regardless of cultural background, should be able to understand and appreciate most of the jokes.

What sets Gintama apart

It’s very difficult for long-running anime series with hundreds of episodes to not get stale, and actually improve over time. Gintama actually pulls it off. It’s primarily a comedy series, but also incorporates action and drama, and does so in a way that doesn’t feel forced, which is no small feat in itself.

What also makes it unique are the lack of long story arcs, which are par for the course in long-running shows like this. While there are multiple-episode arcs, most of them only run 2-3 episodes; the longest ones I can recall so far go for no more then 5-6 episodes. However, being just shy of 300 episodes in, I’m not sure if the show bucks the trend somewhere along the line. I suppose I’ll find out, but so far I find this creative decision to be refreshing.

Which brings up the one-episode stories, or ‘filler’ episodes. This is the other thing that stands out with this series; while filler in most other anime is usually mediocre and regarded by fans with derision, most of the filler in Gintama is actually awesome, and has some of the funniest, most entertaining moments in the entire series.

Then there are the characters, and how the way they are handled is fundamentally different than just about any other long-running shounen, in that they don’t grow or change much, if at all. The main character, Sakata Gintoki, for instance, is a samurai, but most of his character growth (if any) remains in the past and is kept mysterious; in the present, he’s an impertinent drunk who picks his nose, but also happens to care deeply about his friends and his community. All his character development has already happened. This is just about true about all the other main and recurring characters (there are way too many of them to get into all of them in just one post), who, for the purpose of some glorious running jokes, have weird character tics, traits and flaws that absolutely do not change. In spite of this, there isn’t even one of them that feels like a one-note, cardboard cutout character.

I just recently began the manga, which seems more focused in introducing the main cast, and has been a blast so far. I’d also like to get into episode-by-episode breakdowns of the series; the question is if I should just start from the very beginning (preferable but very difficult), or have my starting point be Enchousen, which I only recently started. In any case, I would like to post more Gintama-related content in the future. Back to the binge-watching…

Berserk – The Eclipse

So I’ve been reading Berserk for a couple months now. It’s the first manga that I ever bothered to pick up and read, largely because of it’s reputation as possibly the greatest of its medium, ever, and also because I was pretty impressed with the 1997 anime adaptation. It’s been quite a journey so far. But now I am at the moment of truth: The Eclipse.

This is basically the most important and pivotal part of the entire story, the part that fundamentally transforms every one of the main characters, as well as the world they live in; Griffith becomes a godlike entity, and Guts gets his motivation of revenge, which will drive his character for the rest of the series. The Band of the Hawk will be no more.

Needless to say, I’m pretty excited to have read up to this point in the story, so excited in fact, that I decided to post about it. Although I’ve seen the anime version of events, if I’m going by what I’ve read so far, I have almost no idea as to what to expect next, beyond some general spoilers I’m privy to, as to the some of the characters’ arcs.

Going by what I’ve read so far, I unreservedly recommend this series, both the story and the art are spectacular. This is a post that will definitely warrant a follow-up, after I see what transpires

One Punch Man Ep.1 – When fun things become unfulfilling

I started watching OPM, in part, because I wanted to take a break from a lot of the super-serious anime I was consuming, Things didn’t exactly go as planned. While I found the show to be extremely funny and exciting, as expected, it also left me with quite a bit to think about and relate to. Let me explain…

I’ve been in the graphic design field for about 17 years now, and in the advertising industry for just about as long. Before that, I slogged through a generic accounts job. I was just good enough at this that I didn’t get fired, and mediocre enough to be just about invisible. It was about the paycheck, and that was it. All the while I knew where my skills really lay, having been into art and drawing since I was a kid.

I remember around that time, I would mess around in digital design programs like Photoshop and Illustrator in my free time, just for the hell of it. I did it for fun.

Eventually, I summoned the will to take a few courses, and get into the graphics industry, professionally and full-time. This was now my profession, but I was genuinely passionate about it, and much of the time I enjoyed it and regarded my work with pride.

Fast forward to 17 years later. I am super-proficient at what I do, but I’m rarely challenged any more. Funnily enough, getting your work done quickly and efficiently to a fault will make you basically invisible to a lot of bosses and employers out there. Back to square one. Too many 60-80 hour workweeks have basically burnt me out, and the passion, while rearing its head on a few short occasions, seems to have checked out for good. I stay in the biz because I need the paycheck. This is all starting to sound familiar. This is why I can’t help but relate to Saitama and his situation.

We don’t even get to the (uncommonly awesome!) opening credits before we get the first whole manga chapter adapted, which is basically a fight with a generic super-villain (Vaccine Man), who looks a lot like Piccolo. Later on in the episode, an antagonistic giant looking an awful lot like a Titan from Shingeki no Kyojin shows up to cause a ruckus. At this point, one can be forgiven for just mistaking OPM for just straight ahead satire. This guy, Saitama, is so overpowered that he’s frustrated and unfulfilled. This is basically a subversion and a commentary on the trend of overpowered heroes in both shounen and American comics. All of the cities under constant attack are generically named to the point that they’re just identified by letters (City D), making me wonder if this is a deliberate sendup of the trend of generically named cities in comics (Metropolis, for instance).

The episode moves briskly, covering basically the first four manga chapters, where, in basically all of them, Saitama defeats the bad guys without even breaking a sweat, bringing the central theme to the forefront; basically as the main character himself says:

“Overwhelming strength is boring.”

Life is trite and meaningless without challenge. However, the post-end credits show that change is coming for Saitama, as it always comes, and with it, perhaps a chance to make former passions meaningful again, by the passing on of skills and knowledge. But that’s for next episode…

Death Note Episode 1 – Well that escalated quickly

Just look at this guy… look at him.

Death Note is a show that is quite unique to me personally, for two reasons: it was basically the gateway series for where I am now in terms of anime fandom; and secondly, I actually never finished the damn thing.

About two years ago, I remember being a bit burnt out on Western entertainment. One day, I was searching through my list of Netflix suggestions, and there it was. I had heard of it before, and knew that it was fairly well known and acclaimed even outside of the anime community, so I decided to give it a shot.

It was damn good. I binged through about half of the series, but then for reasons I can’t remember entirely, I put it on hold and never went back to it, until now. I do remember that the pacing began slacking a bit, and that there were some other series that caught my attention.

Anyway, here I am on my second attempt to finish the series. Maybe I’ll succeed this time around.

The first episode just about covers the first chapter of the manga. This is basically a story about two very bored and dissatisfied individuals. One is Ryuk, a shinigami (a supernatural ‘death spirit’) who, tired of wasting away his days in a wasteland realm inhabited by his kind, decides to descend to Earth, to find the ‘death note’ that he dropped there and misplaced. It’s implied pretty strongly that he did this on purpose just to shake things up. It’s a classic case of ‘idle hands’ getting up to no good, which is especially bad since this is a powerful supernatural being we’re talking about here.

The first manga chapter is actually named ‘Boredom’.

The second individual, a high school student named Light Yagami, isn’t exactly idle; he spends his days studying and is quite successful at it. As a matter a fact, he’s successful at just about everything he does, from academic to sports to girls and his general social life. He’s the golden boy of his school, and the, ahem… apple… of his doting mother’s eye. However, he doesn’t seem to be challenged, and is therefore a bit restless. He listens everyday to endless reports of violent crime on the news, and is frustrated that he is basically helpless to do anything about it. Not for long, though.

He happens upon Ryuk’s death note, and after confirming, via experiment, that it indeed does kill anyone who’s name is written in it almost immediately, sets to work trying to rid the world of all violent criminals.

I’ve rarely seen a previously morally unremarkable main character get this evil, this quickly. He starts the episode as a somewhat depressed, slightly narcissistic high school scholar. At the end, he’s declaring himself a god, having already killed dozens of people within just a few days. It would be as if Walter White completely transformed into Heisenburg in the first episode. When Ryuk encounters him, he is amused to no end at this outcome.

One of the good things about this show at the outset, is that the pacing moves along quickly. It’s even faster in the manga, where we already see a glimpse of Light’s future nemesis, the enigmatic ‘L’. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. On to the second episode.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is the first manga I ever completed

I’ve been into anime for a couple years now. The dive into this medium inevitably leads a lot of fans to what is the source material for many of the best known, most celebrated anime titles: manga. Apparently, I’m no different, and I’m now diving headfirst into manga myself.

Basically, like a lot of other people, Evangelion is my favourite anime series of all time, and one of the first I ever watched, and one of a key group of titles that encouraged me to give this medium more of a chance.

The manga version basically follows almost all the story beats of the anime, with the most glaring exception being the more upbeat ending. There are also key changes as well, particularly to the characters, and some of the story events that take place. This does not inherently change the story from the anime, though, but instead adds some interesting contrasts that are sure to encourage some interesting discussions between fans.

One of the good things about the manga is that it trims some of the unnecessary fat from the story. For instance, events such as the runaway mech Jet Alone, and the Angel from the Magma Diver episode, are excised from the narrative. I would consider this an improvement, since these are some of the weaker episodes of the show, and don’t add much to the general narrative.

Where things get really interesting is with the changes to the characters. Yes, they’re basically the same characters, but with small but noticeable tweaks to their inherent traits and reactions. Shinji is still whiny and unsure of himself, but also a bit more self-assured and proactive… and even AGGRESSIVE (he actually comes close to decking his dad, in one intense scene)! Many fans seem to prefer ‘manga Shinji’ to ‘anime Shinji’.

The more enigmatic characters are less mysterious, and their motivations are clearer. This might be a good or bad thing, depending on the subjective opinions of the viewer. Rei, for instance is more outgoing and open about her feelings for Shinji. The same goes for Gendo Ikari, as we get a better understanding about his coldness towards his son. Much of this has to do with the fact that the characters’ unstated thoughts and feelings are explicitly stated through thought bubbles, something that the anime obviously couldn’t have that much of. We get more background and back stories about many of the characters, like in the instance of Kaji, where we see many of the tragic circumstances that led him to become a spy.

One of the biggest changes is the character of Kaworu, and his relationship with the main character. He’s portrayed as a lot more sketchy and untrustworthy than in the anime. In his first scene, he murders a stray cat with his bare hands, to the abject horror of Shinji. While Shinji saw Kaworu as a prospective kindred soul in the anime, he outwardly dislikes and mistrusts him in the manga version.

Much like the handling of the characters, the plot itself is also more explicitly defined and explained, and less mysterious. For this reason, I would definitely recommend this manga for fans that watched the series, and the End of Evangelion movie, and were frustrated with just how impenetrable and curtailed the whole story was. I myself was happy with how challenging the story told onscreen was presented to the viewer.

I really flew through the 97 chapters of this series, probably due to my familiarity with, and existing enthusiasm for the story. I’ve been reading other manga before starting this one, like One Piece and Berserk, but there’s a long way to go before I catch up the the latest chapters of those series, which have had decades-long runs, and show no signs of ever actually finishing. Yup, I know I’ve decided to start with some pretty challenging series. Who know, possibly I’ll do some posts about them in the future.