Sunday, April 1, 2012
April Fools Toonami Recap
There are a lot of little milestones that have led to anime being a worldwide phenomena, beloved way beyond its provincial home of Japan. Ask pretty much any anime fan where they got started, and the answer almost universally will be Toonami. These guys were the masters of cool, they could make any show look amazing with their advanced promotional skills. Steven Blum played the robot host, TOM, an intergalactic explorer with nothing better to do than to transmit cartoons to Earth's adoring 90s children. SARA was his holographic robot wife. He'd also review video games, fight alien invasions, and just ooze simple machine style. Optimus Prime would voice the promos. Yeah, TOM was so cool that Optimus Prime worked for him*. Toonami had it all, it was three hours of golden television starting at four, exactly an hour after school. I only ever played outside from three o'clock to four from 1999 to 2003 for a reason, by the way. Toonami introduced me to Miyazaki with their month of Miyazaki, their "Final Fantasy X" review filled me with such wonder at the magical possibilities of that franchise**, they even aired the first episodes of "Neon Genesis Evangelion", a show way too dark for kids but still arguably the crowning achievement of all anime. Its no surprise that for the last two years I've been secretly building myself a robot body in the shape of TOM so that I can too can wander the stars and watch Japanese cartoons.
But like all good things, it had to end. Toonami cheesed out big time around 2005, thanks mostly to Cartoon Network meddling. And it died for real in 2008. We all know the sad story. Let us ignore that for a moment and rejoice in the probably brief instance of reborn beauty. It was a magnificent night. So just in case you're a small fry and totally missed out on the Toonami experience due to a deficiency in age, I'll briefly go over the eight shows Toonami ran last night, and why you really should think about buying those DVD boxsets TOM was plugging last night:
Bleach: Unfortunately the first show of the night was "Bleach". Let's move on.
Dragon Ball Z: This is the ultimate standard in kung-fu shonen anime. "Dragon Ball Z" was one of the first, and is still the best. "Bleach" is just the latest in a long line of imitators. Honestly, I couldn't have asked for a better demonstration as to why "Bleach" these days is utterly unwatchable shit, because "Dragon Ball Z" gets it right. This is the show of constantly escalating martial art threats. to the point where the villains are so powerful that they can blow up entire planets. The heroes need to grow massive muscles, acquire so much kung fu power that they erupt into yellow flames, and then fire out blasts of pure blue energy the size of football stadiums. As absurd as all that is, it was all considerably more streamlined and organized than "Bleach" ever was. Yeah, "Dragon Ball Z" had its share of a bloating cast list (what did Yamcha ever do, for example?), but it never got overwhelmed in itself. The core characters of Goku, his son Gohan, the green alien Piccolo, little bald Krillin, and badass anti-villain Vegeta all pretty much stayed relevant throughout the entire show. You came to love all of these characters.
Yeah, they would spend whole episodes just punching ever other and screaming out energy blasts. But who cares? That's what we're hear for! And unlike "Bleach", they never wasted my goddamn time by creating ineffectual minor villains for the ineffectual minor heroes to fight. Every battle mattered, every battle was epic, and had emotional depth. "Dragon Ball Z" is like wrestling done right. "Bleach" is TNA Impact.
Also, "Kai" doesn't count. That uses the original Japanese score, which doesn't have nearly as much electric guitar jam sessions. Compare the intros to Z and Kai. You know which one is the proper one.
Gundam Wing: Last night TOM said that "Gundam Wing" was his favorite of the Gundam franchise. And I totally agree with him. Are you going to argue with TOM? Are you?
Honestly, I think the episode they showed last night was a crappy one, because "Gundam Wing" doesn't really get good until just after this one. The first ten episodes are just overpowered robots fighting ineffectual bad guys, there isn't much depth to it. Later on the real political scene starts to open up. And the main characters become a lot more interesting once they're separated from their machines, like Heero is from Unit 01 here. "Gundam Wing" never becomes a simple battle between Good vs. Evil, its a constantly evolving political plotline with powers rising and falling. Yeah, as a kid I was mostly watching because it was giant robots fighting each other with lasers and motherfucking lightsabers but there really was a lot more to it. "Gundam Wing", shockingly, challenged its audience of little kids. There was long philosophical discussions over whether the instinct to fight could ever be removed from human consciousness. In fact, the final battle of the show isn't between two factions fighting over resources, its a large-scale orchestration to finally put the fear of war in people's hearts, to so frighten them with the consequences of conflict that our petty differences have to be put away. Its not a show you'll understand in just one viewpoint. In fact, even I don't fully understand what's going on all the time in some of the character's minds. But "Gundam Wing" is a lot more impressive than people give it credit. Probably the most sophisticated of all the Gundam series.
And really, the characters are great, the robots are great, the story is great. I own the entire box set to this show, ten discs. And there's a reason for that.
Tenchi Muyo!: Honestly the episode they aired for "Tenchi Muyo!" was the low point of the night for me. First of all, Toonami never aired this particular Tenchi series, of which there are have been something like half a dozen. Each of the Tenchi series take place in basically incompatible universes, so even if you've seen all of "Tenchi Universe" and "Tenchi in Tokyo" (like I have), watching the last episode of "Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki" will make absolutely no sense to you. And I had no fucking clue what was going in last night's episode. Somebody ate the Earth, and then the moon got eaten, and Tenchi became a God, and there this dude Z from Ringworld who has a purple eye and is evil. Its like watching the "End of Evangelion" while drunk, in Japanese, without subtitles.
The real point of "Tenchi Muyo!" wasn't this ridiculous battle in space, though that was part of it. It was a harem anime. I never loved "Tenchi Muyo!" as desperately as I loved "Gundam Wing" or "Dragon Ball Z" but still it had its moments. As you can probably tell, the voice acting was really awful (last night, however, it was worse: Ryoko's voice was all wrong, she sounded exactly like Noata from "FLCL"). But ignoring that problem, it was a tale of Tenchi, an ineffectual high school boy who inexplicably manages to have an increasingly ridiculous array of hot alien babes fall in love with him. That includes a space pirate, a princess, a space cop, a space scientist, and also a totally normal human girl who was pathetically boring in comparison. My favorite was Ryoko, the space pirate, because she was the most insane. And I like insane.
Outlaw Star: Holy crap, how did I forget this show existed? "Outlaw Star" was amazingly cool! Essentially "Outlaw Star" is more cartoony version of "Cowboy Bebop". Its a space opera starring Gene Starwind and his crew of bounty hunters traveling the stars and fighting off taoist space pirates. Slowly throughout the series we run into a series of diverse badasses including: Gene himself, a gunslinging rouge with a gun that fires magical bullets, Twilight Suzuka, a samurai chick so powerful she fights with a wooden katana and makes it work, Aisha, the cat girl, Jim Hawking, the genius, and the amnesiac android, Melfina.
"Outlaw Star" threw together westerns, samurai films, and SciFi together, threw it into a blender, salted it with awesome, and then fed it its audience. Even if "Cowboy Bebop" was generally the better show, "Outlaw Star" deserves its own place as a memorable masterpiece of anime. Its heavily underrated these days, and I really have no idea why. Anyway, thanks to "Outlaw Star", I never ever need to watch "Firefly", because I've seen it already.
Big O: "Big O" was Japan's answer to "Batman: the Animated Series". Both America and Japan need to take more cues from the Batman cartoon, because "Big O" was awesome. It is probably the second most stylish anime next to the legendary "Cowboy Bebop", taking most of its cues from old noir films. Roger Smith works as a hardboiled negotiator in a futuristic city where everybody has lost their memories. Half the episode is spent with him investigating the past and digging up the answers to the mystery. Then the second half of the episode is Roger Smith summoning his giant robot, the Big O, to go fight another giant robot.
By the way, "Big O" is a really unfortunate name for a series. Double-entendres can be a bitch. What's even worse, though, is its technical name: Megadeus. "Everybody, don't go to the bathroom for at least an hour, I just dropped the world's largest Megadeus."
"Big O", unfortunately, has one of the worst endings to an anime series I've ever seen. People complain a lot about "Evangelion" and "Rah-Xephon" as being incomprehensible. Not really, they're fairly straightforward. But "Big O" is the real deal. It makes no sense. None. Zero. Don't try to convince me otherwise, it was utterly ridiculous. Couldn't Roger Smith just have fought a really big robot and then gone on to live happily ever after? Bleh.
Yu Yu Hakusho: This was "Bleach" about ten years before its time. Let's see if you've heard this one before: there's this high school kid that gets into a lot of fights, then he's recruited by Heaven to go fight demons that pray on humans, he is taught to use spirit powers to kill those demons, eventually he teams up with a group of other magical characters, and eventually goes on a series of increasingly absurd and complicated arcs against more powerful villains. Yeah, it was almost the exact goddamn thing. Only "Bleach" has swords and "Yu Yu Hakusho" has the Spirit Gun. Just point your finger in a gun-shape and fire out magic. Easy, right?
Last night's "Yu Yu Hakusho" actually takes place in an arc the Toonami never aired, so I have little idea what was actually going on. Luckily its a shonen anime, and it was pretty easy to judge what was going on. The main villain, Yomi, actually didn't seem like that bad of a guy. Yusuke and Yomi didn't actually seem to be fighting for anything, they were just fighting because of... fun, I guess. Yusuke always was into a good fight. Again, even with no context, this episode was a lot more fun than "Bleach". Which goes to show how much that anime sucks lately.
Blue Submarine #6: Actually, I'm going to hold off making comments about this one. "Blue Submarine" is short enough that I can watch the entire thing and write a review about it in a few days. I have some other business to attend to first in real life and on this blog, but keep a yonder eye out for this one. Just to let you know: its one of the best anime miniseries ever. Right up there with "Macross Plus".
Trigun: This wasn't actually a Toonami anime ever, but whatever, I'll comment on it anyway. "Trigun" was so awesome that I'll let the rules bend a bit for it. Essentially its a space western, where Vash the Stampede, the world's greatest gunslinger and most feared outlaw walks the Earth. He's known as the Humanoid Typhoon, a man so vile and monstrous that he leaves nothing standing in his wake. Whole cities fall in his wake. Just one problem: Vash is the nicest man on the planet. In reality he's a goofball that can never get a date and likes to run around yelling about how the world is filled with "LOVE AND PEACE!" Vash is so nice that he's made a vow: to never kill a soul and to protect everybody, including the people trying to kill him.
That's where "Trigun" becomes a much darker show. In fact, it gets really depressing much later in the show. Vash lives a very hard life, as his villains have nothing better to do than make him suffer and test his unwillingness to take a soul. An entire army of super assassins with gun-swords, gun-saxaphones, gun-crosses, and gun-shields come to take Vash down. This all leads to the ultimate choice, the ultimate suffering. Can Vash get through it? "Trigun" is by far one of the best anime shows ever made. If you haven't seen it yet, what are you?
After "Trigun" I feel asleep. Next thing up with "Astro Boy" and "Gigantor", unwatchable anime shows from the 60s I never bothered to care about. So with that, I'm going to wrap this thing up.
* And you know for a fact that every time poor Optimus Prime gets told by Michael Bay to walk into a shot with Shia Lebuttfuck, that he is sadder than any of us that Toonami is gone.
** You really can't state in words how amazing it is to first discover a Final Fantasy game. You're not entirely sure what you're seeing, but you know its something special, something unlike anything you've seen before. I remember watching a friend of mine playing the intro to "Final Fantasy IX" and being stunned by how much story, how much complexity, how much character that game had. Games could have stories? I never knew. It was a new frontier of possibilities, an entire frontier of amazement. That is the feeling of Final Fantasy. That is the feeling I've been searching after for some many years now.