What does it take to be a hero? It’s an age old question that’s been asked just about as many times as it’s been answered, by many different people and from many different perspectives. To some, being a hero means putting the needs of others before the needs of ones self, which can range all the way from the literal sacrifice of one’s life to the offering of ones’ time to help the less fortunate. To some, being a hero means standing up for what’s right and taking whatever measures are necessary to correct injustice. To a certain man of a rather ironclad constitution, being a hero is a series of four or five moments where you’re offered the opportunity to do something right, especially when doing so is difficult. To those who call themselves heroes, it’s considered a passion… A calling to altruism, an irrefutable compulsion to put the talents or abilities God gave you to good use for the betterment of humanity.

To Saitama, a lesser known hero living on his own in a tiny studio apartment, being a hero is a job… One that lost it’s luster over time, and one that’s become boring and repetitive as he’s outgrown whatever challenge it might have originally presented him. He’s not getting paid for his heroism… I’m honestly not sure where he’s getting the money to live off of… He does it as a hobby. See, when he was a few years younger, he was inspired to take relentless efforts to become the strongest hero of all time, and it paid off, but to his detriment. Gone are the days when he could find excitement and purpose in fighting the forces of evil, and in their place are the days when no villain, big or small, can survive the force of a single punch from this blase bald brawler. When his exploits gain him the attention of an altruistic cyborg named Genos, who draws him into the official hero registration, will things finally start looking up for Saitama, or will he never find an enemy challenging enough to make him feel alive again?

Studio Madhouse is known primarily for sticking to characters with more or less realistic proportions, with diversifying exaggerations that swing more toward caricatures then what you’d normally consider an anime aesthetic. That’s not to say that they’ve NEVER put out shows full of color-coded girlies and moe tropes… They are, like any other production company, a slave to the mangaka on any given project… But the trend is still very noticeable, as most of their work is more lifelike than cartoony. One Punch Man, on the other hand, is a jaw-dropping marriage of both aesthetics. It’s no coincidence that Saitama looks more like a real, average person before his transformation and a balloon with overly simplified facial expressions afterwords… the separation between realism and surrealism is used very specifically to mark show’s use of both tones, as the story tends to skew between one part slice of life comedy and one part supernatural waking dream. The juxtaposition can be jarring, because it’s absolutely intended to be.

You may notice, in conjunction with this visual choice, that characters become more and more exaggerated and strange depending on just how deep they are in that separation. A simple citizen may look completely unremarkable… In fact, with the sole important exception of a young Peter Griffin looking boy who helped Saitama become a hero in the first place, they all look unremarkable. As you rise in the ranks of the superhero registry, you may notice a few characters who look like Yugioh cosplayers(Shout-out to anyone who spots the Meiko Tsunami clone), as well as ordinary people in day clothes. Rising further in the ranks, you’ll notice VERY anime-like designs, particularly with regard to the most powerful hero we meet being a little green-haired loli. But what’s especially interesting is the design of each and every villain you meet through the series. They don’t last long, for obvious reasons, but they pretty much all leave an impression on the viewer through their memorable designs and backstories. There is not one character in the show that feels uninspired in the least.

And speaking of inspiration, what can I say about the animation itself without losing my sense of eloquence? Screw the eloquence. The animation in this show is like waking up on a dreary morning to find a bright shiny gift-basket on your table, and inside of it is nothing short of pure effort. I’ve praised shows in the past for having smooth, flowing animation quality with occasional corners cut for the sake of conserving the budget, but with One Punch Man, those corners are apparently non-existent. The animation is fast and balls-to-the-wall during action scenes, as it should be, but it never stops, even when it appears to be slowing down to portray more menial actions. There are moments involving frozen key frames, but they don’t feel like budget cuts… They’re used primarily for comic effect, with the original web comic aesthetic being used as a sight gag, or they’re otherwise used for the sake of mood, with extensive and beautifully drawn shots of destruction, environmental grit and the occasional corpse. Superhero battles are fast and intense, the gore and destruction at the end of said battles is graphic and exquisitely detailed, and speaking of detailed, every inch of background must have taken the blood, sweat and tears of the show’s art crew. Nothing less than maximum effort all around, to the point where I can’t even tell if it had a low or high budget.

Arguably the best thing about this anime… And that is in no way an attempt to take down the rest of the anime, it’s just a matter of comparison… is the opening, which has to be the most exciting and adrenaline pumping opening that I’ve seen since Attack on Titan. The main lyrical content almost seems like it’s song by a full on greek choir, singing about the main character and his exploits, albeit with the passion and force that he likely had when he was just starting out and aiming to be the strongest. This takes place over a rock and roll beat that features outstanding electric guitar work and a percussion you can easily bang your head to without even realizing it. The OST itself is a perfect marriage of rock and roll with the more traditional orchestrations that you’d hear with each epic turn of an anime action series, and this is especially evident in the show’s frequently used main theme. Even so, there’s still room for diversity, as it’s perfectly able to slip into an electronic theme when the Cyborg Genos is the focus. Surprisingly, the ending theme follows absolutely none of this, turning in a more traditional female pop start tune that begins and ends with shots of Saitama’s apartment, as if to remind us that in the end, this is all just a job for him, and he does have to turn in afterwards.

The English dub is still in it’s infancy at the time of this writing, and so far, it’s kind of hit or miss. In all fairness, I haven’t seen very much of it… Nobody really has… but from what I’ve seen so far, there are some positives and negatives to point out. To start with the positives, Saitama’s dub voice is pretty damn good. It’s obviously not going to touch the Japanese performance, but I would go out on a limb and say that it’s about as good as an American interpretation could reasonably be. Max Mittelman is a relative newcomer, and he’s gotta be doing something right, because out of the few roles he’s played, Doraemon is the only show that doesn’t have him listed as a major character. He was beyond outstanding in Your Lie in April, the only performance of his that I’ve seen before now, and with Saitama, he brings forth a lack of enthusiasm so deep and cutting that pretty much every time he emotes, you can tell he’s faking interest in whatever’s going on.

Another positive would be the enemies we’ve seen so far, with several Bang Zoom outsiders showing up for cameos and pouring the darkest parts of their souls into playing some of the most deliciously evil villains they’ve ever had the chance to touch on. I’m not sure how Viz Media got Chris Cason and Chris Sabat to sign up for this show, but I’m glad they did, because their rough, chain-smoker voices sound like they were tailor made to play maniacal supervillains like a human embodiment of pollution and a giant enemy crab. A slightly more familiar voice can be heard in Cristina Vee, who plays the villain Mosquito Girl in episode two, an insectoid matriarch who’s thirst for blood gives her voice an almost subversively seductive edge, and Vee fits so well into the role that I almost thought she was Michelle Ruff the first time I heard her. As for the negatives, we have Zach Aguilar as Genos, and he’s pretty disappointing. Yeah, the Japanese voice had a flat and robotic tone to it, but it still held more personality than Zach’s performance does, and personality makes all the difference with characters like these. He sounds almost like me, and I have Asperger’s syndrome, so that should tell you a lot. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the dub over the sub, but then again it’s really too early to judge the over-all product, so let’s move on for now.

It should be no secret to anybody at this point that One Punch Man began as a web comic by an artist named ONE, and that it was drawn quite a bit more crudely than your average online comic. now, obviously there’s no rule stating that crudely drawn web comics can’t be awesome… Little Monster Girl is a prime example of this… But the original One Punch Man was so simple in both concept and design that you’d be forgiven for wondering why it took off as well as it did. In fact, a close look at Saitama says a lot about the shortcuts that went into it… He was probably bald so the artist wouldn’t have to draw hair as often, his suit was plain and generic so he wouldn’t have to do too much design work, etc. Even the monsters and other heroes looked more like Hellsing sight gags than proper manga characters. The concept was the kind of thing a grade school kid could come up with… I mean, it’s a superhero who destroys everything with One Punch. Before a person grows enough to develop basic story-telling insights, that’s about as complex as a narrative can get away with being. So why did it explode the way it did? Why did it get picked up for a proper manga and crowned the unanimous best anime of 2016 in less than 6 years?

Well, to start, let’s examine the seemingly simplistic concept. At first glance, it’s extremely difficult for a viewer with any grasp of literary standards to get behind a hero who faces no real challenge or apparent threat. The term Mary Sue gets thrown around if a character is too OP, with a prime example being Kirito from Sword Art Online. He is the quintessential Mary Sue; He’s stronger than anyone else he meets on a fair basis, everyone has a high opinion of him, and all the ladies throw their virtual panties at him. This has drawn a serious backlash against his show, which begs the question; Is it possible to write an invincible character that people can relate to and get behind? Does a hero have to have challenges to be compelling? Can you truly stay interested if you always know what the result of every conflict is going to be? Speaking as someone who doesn’t watch alien invasion movies anymore because the humans always win, I can say with some certainty that this is an incredibly difficult thing to pull off, so let’s look at two financially successful cases that almost pulled it off.

Depending on the kind of things you’re into, there are two characters you’ve probably compared Saitama to… Superman, the OG superhero who eats Goku sandwiches for lunch and Batman burgers for Dinner, and John Cena, the professional wrestling golden boy who’s foiled more pushes than the guard rail at the edge of a subway platform. They’ve both proven their staying power, even though they’ve each been the target of criticism about how bland and uninteresting they are. Personally, I’m not a fan of either, but I do understand their appeal. Superman, as it’’s been very expertly explained by the Death Battle people, is interesting because even though there’s no suspense in regard to whether or not he’s winning a fight, there’s still intrigue as to whether or not he’s doing the right thing, which is something we’ve all faced at one time or another. John Cena, another boy scout in his own right, is reviled for burying the careers of countless promising wrestlers just by beating them and bringing their relevance into question, but I just can’t hate a loyal company-minded performer who has a passion for his sport and, according to rumors, will stand in the rain for hours to sign autographs. I don’t personally like either character… I don’t love anything Superman’s name has been on, and I’ve never gotten excited during a Cena match unless I was rooting for his opponent… But I get the appeal.

However, Saitama is more of an enigma because isn’t really bothered by whether what he’s doing is right or wrong, nor is he some passionate role model. He doesn’t possess the qualities that make those two characters almost interesting, so what does he have that makes him so compelling? The short answer is his outlook. Saitama cannot lose… He can’t kill anything with less than a punch, and while most heroes would be accepting of this accomplishment, Saitama is bored by it. He is constantly disappointed by every single powerful looking enemy he comes across, and how no matter what they boast, no matter how many people they’ve killed, no matter how many heroes they defeated before he showed up, he can instantly one-shot them. Considering how hard he worked to become a hero, and how doing so saved his life from the doldrums and uncertainty of being an unemployed salaryman, he should be happy about this, but he’s not. What should have been a dream job for him has become the kind of job that most dream jobs eventually turn into… A boring, mindless slog through the same old routine with the same old results to show for it. This is appealing to most grown-ups who’ve had to leave their dreams behind and settle for something more practical, but it’s also insidiously relatable to anyone who’s ever found themselves bored by a John Cena program or a Superman video game; You hate seeing interesting villains dispatched without any real fanfare, and so does Saitama, the person doing it. For the first time with this kind of story, you want what he wants; A challenge.

But even the best of character studies need the support of a good story, and true to form, One Punch Man has no shortage of enjoyable plot lines and story progression. In only the second episode, Saitama meets Genos, a heroic cyborg whom he just barely saves from literal self-destruction. In most hero stories, Genos would be our main character… He’s idealistic, self-sacrificing, dutiful, and dealing with a mysterious tragedy in his past, and he proclaims himself Saitama’s disciple so that he can become stronger under his new mentor’s tutelage. Having him so close to the central plot adds a richness of depth that, were Saitama alone, would have been sparse. We still go through the formula of Saitama wasting villains left and right, but now we get to see him meeting and battling them under constantly fresh and innovative circumstances. He also drags Saitama into the Hero Registration, which is kind of like a Superhero Tryouts sort of thing, that grades passing hero hopefuls with a grade and rank based on their physical attributes and test scores… And while this is a bit of a spoiler, Saitama bombs the test portion, leading him to be ranked class C, despite his own disciple ranking in the highest echelon of S class.

Now there’s a lot that happens from there that I can’t really get into, you sort of have to experience it all for yourself, so you’ll have to trust me when I say that Saitama’s story never gets boring, nor does it ever seem to drag on. Everything builds, everything intensifies, and for someone who’s life is tragically devoid of challenging enemies, Saitama deals with challenge after challenge in terms of his responsibilities, his public reception, and the idea of what his place in the rankings means for the reputation of the Hero’s Association, as well as a climax that beautifully showcases the duality of his biggest conflict by showing us how the struggle for a worthwhile and satisfying challenge can affect a being of much less pure moral fiber. The series is unfortunately unfinished, and while that does leave a lot of questions unanswered, an issue that can only be resolved with the inclusion of a second season that has yet to be announced, I’d be hard pressed to say it was my only problem with the series. There are tons of interesting character designs that make up the S class heroes, but you never see more than half of them outside of a meeting room, which doesn’t do any of them justice.

Also, this is yet another series that portrays gay men as over-the-top drag queens with predatory tendencies towards straight men, and that’s been REALLY getting on my nerves lately. Tiger and Bunny did something similar with Fire Emblem, and while I guess that guy had at least SOME semblance of awesomeness to his identity to make up for it… Like, he was the only hero rich enough to afford his own sponsor company, and that ain’t nothing… But seriously, Puri Puri Prisoner is introduced after he breaks out of prison, where he was serving time for literally sexually assaulting people. I know the anime medium IN GENERAL isn’t kind to LGBT folk, but that doesn’t make the resulting material any less painful. This is unfortunately a negative side effect of the show’s absurdist comedy style, which is otherwise impressively fresh and inventive. Also, there are a handful of recurring side characters that, without having anything to do with the climax, feel kind of wasted in the end, like Saitama’s ninja rival and a much beloved bicycling superhero. As I said before, a second season could fix all of this… Minus all the homophobia bullshit… Until one actually comes out, I can’t really call this show the masterpiece everyone says it is, but that’s not gonna stop me from watching it again a few more times.

One Punch Man is available from Viz Media, although a stateside physical release has not been announced as of yet. It can be viewed legally at Daisuki.net and on it’s own website, Onepunchman.me, as well as on Hulu. The English dub is currently airing on Cartoon Network’s late night Adult Swim programming block, a brilliant acquisition on their part. Physical media will likely be released after the dub finishes airing, so there’ll likely be no news until then. The original web comic is still ongoing, although it’s a little difficult to find translated versions online. The follow-up manga is also ongoing, and actually is available stateside from Shonen Jump Manga, with the first seven volumes currently available and with more forthcoming.

One Punch Man is, quite frankly, a miracle. It’s one of those anime that shouldn’t, by all logic, exist, but it somehow does because all the planets just happened to be aligned at the right time. The fact that it’s the adaptation of an adaptation is already highly unorthodox, but the fact that it’s turned out to be a series so multi-layered that critics with their brains turned on and casual viewers with their brains turned off can enjoy it on virtually equal footing is what’s so miraculous about it. I’ve heard some people complain that it has an uneven tone, because it takes itself too seriously to be a parody yet still feels too goofy to be a satire, but I honestly just see it as a strongly written show that’s able to stand on it’s own while examining it’s characters and themes from differing levels of sincerity, possessing the confidence to poke fun at itself without losing steam or breaking pace. A second season will probably be enough to elevate it to the status that it deserves, but until then, I give One Punch Man an 8/10.  

Hey guys, I’ve decided to do something different this week, by doing my second pic-drop post.  Last time, I put out a post full of pictures from Epcot Japan, and this week, I’ve decided to peruse my Iphoto files and show you all a collection of the cosplay photos I’ve taken at my local anime convention, Tora-con!  These pictures span from 2012 to 2015, as I decided to skip 2016 for…  Reasons.

But first, I’m going to have to ask for a moment of your time, where I’m going to do something I never thought I’d have to do in the three years I’ve been running this blog.  See, I don’t make any money off of this blog, I have a full-time job, and I’ve done my best to stay in a comfortable situation.  I’ve never expected anything out of this blog other than creative fulfillment, although a surprising number of very generous readers have given endless support through likes and comments.  The support that I’ve gotten, as well as a rapidly increasing monthly view-count, are all I thought I’d ever ask for…  Until I took my car into the shop last week.

In order to pass my inspection, I had to fork over just over 1000 dollars.  Follow that up with a set of badly timed bills, and I wound up hitting a low point where I only had 105 dollars in the bank…  And the only reason I had that much is because I was able to talk my very generous landlord into letting me forgo rent for the month.  I’m not the type of person who likes to ask people for money, and if I got a part time day job, I wouldn’t have time to keep up with this blog as well as I have, so you can call it an act of desperation that I’m writing this message now.  I’m not going to ask you to start sending paypal donations, but what I *AM* going to do is plug my Ebay store, where I’ve listed tons of items from my personal collection, most of which are anime related.  Some of them are a bit expensive, I’m sorry, but A) I’m trying to get back to a sitation where I dson’t have to fear for my life when my next car insurance bill arrives and B) Some of this merchandise has some actual sentimental value for me.

Of course, I wouldn’t do this without offering something in return, so how about this:  Within the next week, if you spend more than fifty dollars in my store, I’ll mail you not only your purchase, but an autographed copy of the review I’m posting next week…  A review of the smash hit, One Punch Man.  Or any other previous review you fancy, whatever, I’m flexible.

You can find my Ebay page at http://www.ebay.com/sch/fullmetal_narcissist/m.html?_nkw=&_armrs=1&_ipg=&_from=

Onto the pictures!

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I asked. The name is pronounced “Kirara.”

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It wouldn’t be a convention without at least one dancing Deadpool.

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You like this giant black Pikachu? You’re gonna be seeing a lot of him.

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“I heard you leik…” Seriously, This is my best friend Drew. Another friend of ours and I talked him into wearing this, and even split the cost to buy it for him. Peer pressure is super effective.

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A walk-by from an Attack on Titan group.

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Just because it’s an anime convention, doesn’t mean Power Rangers should be allowed in.

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Hetalia, on the other hand… Just kidding, I love Hetalia fans! They’re quirky.

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Gotta love the craftsmanship on this Summer Wars costume.

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Do not antagonize Batman. He takes his shit seriously.

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If there’s one thing I genuinely love about Black Butler, it’s the character designs, so the cosplayers are okay with me.

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Domo Arigato, Mr…. Domo.

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There were quite a few Frozen cosplayers in 2014. Here we have Anna, when she was getting… Frozen.

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PikaDrew posing with another pokemon… This time an Umbreon!

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Bubblegum and Marceline? Pairing confirmed!

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Yeah, he’s pretty much posing with every Pokemon cosplay we could find. He got a lot of hugs out of it, too.

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I don’t think I know how to deal with this Crona costume…

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By the logic of the DC Universe, I hereby dub thee… Slenderlad!

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The separation between Western Cartoons and Anime may be hotly contested, but convention-goers are pretty chill about non-anime cosplayers like Jessie here.

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Here’s Armin, shouldering the survival of the human race!

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Sisters reunited!

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Sasha, appropriately hanging around near the vending machines.

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There’s a juicy story behind this one… Ash just happened to be checking out a lovely lady offscreen, and I called him out on it, saying “Eyes forward, Ash.” In the second picture, which I’ve lost to Iphoto corruption, he’s looking forward, and Misty’s giving him a death glare.

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It’s the Riddler!

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More black Butler cosplays, this time with Grell!

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Here’s Lucy Heartfilia, summoning up a pose for us.

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This lovely Sword Art Online couple had their own booth at the Artist’s alley.

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Out of all the costumes I’ve seen, this one really… Delivers.

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Not sure if it’s a Doctor Who cosplay… Or a humanized Doctor Whooves cosplay.

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Considering how customizable The Dragonborn is, this home-made Skyrim cosplay was as bold as it was beautiful.

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What’s that, Navi? I’m listening, but I can’t hear you!

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It’s probably very roomy in there.

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More Sword Art Online cosplayers, looking fine!

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This Poison Ivy cosplay would make Bell Biv Devoe proud.

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This dude, who should NEVER let his hair grow long again, is me! It’s my second time hugging Monica Rial, just as epic as the first time!

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Me again, in my lazy Steins;Gate Duds, this time with Cherami Leigh!

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Drew, no longer adorned in Pikachu onesies, also gets some Cherami love.

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I’ve had this picture of Celty as one of random desktop backgrounds for a few years, now.

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Something’s off about this Fluttershy cosplay…

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Bot not as off as this Rainbow Dash cosplay. I refuse to explain what’s going on here.

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Ah, a V costume with some effort behind it.

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I’ve been told this is Star Wars related. I feel no reason to argue.

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Is it weird that I’ve seen more than enough No-Face costumes to officially rank them?

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This pose makes rainbow Dash look 20 Percent… You know the rest.

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When I called out to this group, I referred to them as Mabel and Double Dipper. I didn’t even realize the joke I was making.

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The evil lord Satan himself, here on break from, his shift at MgRonalds!

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Scott Pilgrim and… I can’t remember, but they were both in the Human Chess match.

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And a Resident Evil character! Perfect way to end off!

Hope you guys enjoyed this pictorial, and as I said before, I’ll be posting a review of One Punch Man next week. But for those of you who spend 50 dollars or more at my Ebay store will be getting an autographed physical copy! Either way, I hope you enjoy reading it!

As you may have noticed from the years of my life that I’ve wasted on this blog, I’m a huge fan of Anime. But what you might not know is that I’m also a huge fan of western animation, and have been ever since my parents raised me on Disney films as a child. Some of the cartoons I grew up on and remember the most fondly are Batman the Animated Series, Tiny Toon Adventures, The Looney Toons, Sonic Sat Am, and the entire Disney Afternoon line-up. Add to that assorted titles from Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, and you’ve got a long, rich history with the medium. On a more recent note, I’ve gotten into Daria, Star vs. The Forces of Evil, Gravity Falls and Roughneck: Starship Troopers, I was a Brony from 2011 to 2013, and I’m planning to watch Over the Garden Wall sometime very soon.

So yes, I’ve enjoyed healthy amounts of both western and eastern animation, but I’ve always considered my self an Anime fan first, and a cartoon fan second. I may binge watch an old cartoon if I have the time to do so, but my primary love is Anime, and cartoons will always take a back seat to it. Unfortunately, there seems to be a very vocal minority among the Anime fanbase that takes great offense to that separation. See, if you’re a fan of both Anime and western cartoons long enough, you’re bound to run into a very sensitive topic that, at the wrong move, can turn into a lengthy, heated debate. Should western animation be considered Anime, and if so, what criteria should be used in choosing? Now if you’ve spent more than five minutes in this debate, you’ll know just how intricate and complicated it can get, as there are many arguments both for and against this topic. Well, today, I’ve decided to figure out once and for all what the correct answer is, if there even is one to figure out. So sit back, prepare your angry comments, and take a journey with me through a topic that I wouldn’t even bother with if I had a girlfriend!

To start, I should probably explain how I’m going to approach this topic… On the side of calling cartoons Anime, there are two kinds of arguments; First, there are the practical arguments that one might make when defending an individual series, and to be fair, these actually do make a little bit of sense, so I’m going to be fair to these. But after that, we have the impractical arguments, which will pop up either as an ultimate last defense when all other points have been taken down, or for the more passionate debaters out there, they’re usually the first lines thrown out, and preached about as hard as Biblical canon. For this analysis, I’m going to start by going over some of the more practical arguments, and for an example of each one, I’ll be calling upon three specific cartoons that have become notorious for blurring cultural lines. We’ll get to the muckier arguments afterwards, and by that point, I’ll probably have my boxing gloves out.

I’m not sure when the debate over the definition of the word “Anime” first started, but you can make a definite case for Teen Titans being one of the earliest examples. There have been subtle Anime influences on American cartoons throughout time, but Teen Titans was the first to regularly use(and overuse) cliched Anime facial expressions, like upturned eyes, sweatdrops, headache lines, snot bubbles, etc. There was some nuance to this, as it became one of the major criticisms of the series, but it also brought up our first argument… Should a cartoon be called an Anime if it uses anime-like expressions? Anime fans are used to these expressions, and to see them used on a stateside property does give it a familiar feel for us. Well, to answer that question, let me ask another one…

If a white man were to wear a sombrero and drink Tequila, would you consider him Mexican? No, you wouldn’t. Underneath that sombrero and the litres of chalk-tasting Jose Cuervo, he’s still a white man, who’s simply chosen to adorn himself in the barest essentials that are stereotypically associated with Mexican people. The same kind of idea applies to Teen Titans, who took what can arguably be called not Anime cliches, but full on Anime stereotypes, to try and look like something that it barely tries to mimic in any other way. I don’t personally believe in the idea of misappropriation, as I believe that anything one culture creates should be attempted and possibly even improved upon by any other culture that’s willing to put in the effort, but I also believe that you can’t just throw on a few items collected haphazardly off of the tip of the iceberg and call yourself the entire iceberg. So no, this argument doesn’t really hold up. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but attempting to become someone/something you admire just based on a shallow understanding of them is pretty pathetic.

The next cartoon I’d like to bring up is Avatar: The Last Airbender. I haven’t seen very much of the sequel Korra, so we’ll be sticking to the OG Team Breezy today. Avatar was almost instantly set upon as an American made Anime for it’s eastern influences, but what people tend to point out even more is that it doesn’t stick to the common formula of western animation… That being, the episodic format. Avatar features a continuous story with overarching plot and story arcs, an admitted rarity this side of the ocean, rather than the fifteen to thirty minute mini stories that most American cartoons have used for decades. But you know what medium DOES execute their stories the way Avatar does? That’s right, Anime. Shows like Fullmetal Alchemist, Dragonball Z, Bleach, and even the goofy-as-fuck One Piece tell their stories in long chunks rather than in short segments, so is it fair to call Avatar an Anime on those grounds?

Well, first of all, cartoons that are executed this way are rare, but they’re not as hard to pick out as you might think. Old cartoons like Pirates of Dark Water and Conan the Adventurer used this kind of format, as did the CG animated Starship Troopers cartoon, Titan Maximum, Bojack Horseman… Daria, if you want to go by Slice of Life standards… So yes, they’re rare, but there are examples. What you’ll find even more examples of, and where this argument really breaks down, is episodic Anime. There are tons of Japanese animations that have just as much progression between episodes as The Rugrats. This includes several of the longest running children’s shows, like Doraemon, and Detective Conan, a show about a man trapped in a child’s body who should have grown to the age of thirty anyway by now. Sound familiar? Like, say, The Simpsons? There are also several adult Anime like this, like Panty and Stocking, and even some heavily respected Anime, like Cowboy Bebop, so no, having a series be of a non-episodic nature is NOT enough to qualify something as an Anime.

For our final practical argument, let’s jump forward to only three years in the past, with the Rooster Teeth web-series RWBY. Fans of this show will defend it’s Anime status tooth and nail, and hell, even I relented enough to offer it honorary status(albeit for different reasons). In particular, they use the argument that it’s made in an Anime style. Considering the fact that it’s very American creators were explicitly intending to make an Anime with this series, and they poured a lot of effort into making it look as much like an Anime as possible, should we grant them their wish? Well, that depends on what you consider an ‘Anime style.’ If you’re referring to the characters having huge expressive eyes that take up half the space on their face, with noses reduced to near non-existence to accommodate them, then I hate to inform you that Disney did it first. In fact, Disney was the main inspiration for that style. But that’s not the REASON this argument fails.

Anime is not an individual style. There are numerous different styles attached to numerous different Anime, from those very big-eyed characters to much more realistic characters with believable proportions in more adult-oriented shows. Clannad does not look like Lupin. Pokemon does not look like Cowboy Bebop. Gankutsuou does not look like Shin-chan. I would actually go out on a limb and say that there are more styles in Anime than there are in western animation, so to look at a few certain facial features and say “This looks like Anime” is an insult to the medium. Besides, RWBY is CG. While 3D animation is a style in Japan, it’s also an incredibly rare one, and I can count the ones that I’ve actually seen on one hand… Examples include Oblivion Island and Knights of Sidonia, both of which were fairly cringe worthy, and neither of which looked like RWBY.

The practical arguments don’t really hold up, so what about the impractical arguments? Fair warning, these can be kind of infuriating, especially the one I’m going to throw out first… A cartoon becomes an Anime when it’s good enough. Let that sink in a little bit. I can recall a specific instance where I was asking Gaia’s AMC forum for some insight into why people wanted to call cartoons Anime, and one of the ballsiest responses I got was “It’s not about calling cartoons Anime, it’s about not calling Anime cartoons.” The direct implication, of course, being that to call a show a cartoon was an insult, and in some cases a grave social injustice. As if Anime, in general, is just so much better than cartoons. If a show reaches a certain level of quality, “That’s an Anime, don’t you DARE call it a cartoon!”

I mean, look, I’ve been around the block with this shit, and I’ve seen Anime so bad that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. I’m currently hesitating to review an Anime that is, without competition, the worst thing I’ve ever seen while awake and conscious. Anime follows the same spectrum of quality that American animation does, for better and worse alike. Avatar the Last Airbender, for example, is better than eighty percent of the Anime I’ve ever seen, and do I call it an Anime? No. Avatar is a cartoon. It’s a cartoon that craps all over a sizeable portion of the ‘superior’ medium, and that’s something we, as a culture, can be proud of. It’s not an Anime, it’s an American cartoon, and it’s proof of just how good our side of the pond is able to get when we take our shit seriously. You wouldn’t tell a woman that she’s accomplished too much to be considered female, would you? You wouldn’t tell a black guy that he’s done so well for himself that he’s officially white. So why would you say a cartoon is good enough to be considered an Anime? Boku no Pico is an Anime, people!

And besides, if you’re going to say that the word Anime is a measure of quality, then you have to deal with the unfortunate issue of personal taste. Who’s to say Spongebob isn’t good enough to be an Anime? Or Teen Titans Go? It’s all a matter of perspective. Some people hate RWBY, Avatar and Steven Universe, but love Da Boom Crew, so in their eyes, wouldn’t Da Boom Crew be an Anime? If you’re to follow this line of logic, you’d have to go straight to the next argument, which… Well, it’s a doozy. To be fair, most people throwing out the quality argument haven’t thought it through, and only say “My favorite show is good enough to be an Anime,” without paying much thought to the implications they’re making. Most people. But this final argument is the fail-safe, it’s what they always fall back on when they’ve been pushed against the wall, it kills me a little inside every time I hear it…  It’s the definition argument.

In Japan, the word Anime is the word they use for everything that’s animated. That’s the trump card they use, and really, what can you say to that? Well, for one, you can tell them what Zac Bertschy told me when I posed these questions to a Anime News Network podcast last year; In summary, he said that ‘Anime’ was a borrowed word, like ‘a la mode,’ and that it meant something different in English than it does in Japanese. It’s even listed in our dictionaries as “Animation from Japan.” Of course, if you use this argument, you’ll probably get fired back at with “That’s just because Americans have some ignorant need to categorize and segregate everything. Japan is more enlightened.” I’m not even joking about that. But okay, let’s follow that line of logic… Are the Japanese really more enlightened when it comes to this subject?

I recently watched a video of a Japanese woman watching the first RWBY trailer, the one for the semi-titular character Ruby. You can find the link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrYQYqO37Ts. At the end of the video, Fujikko expressed confusion over what to call what she’d just seen. She guessed she was supposed to call it ‘animation,’ because it was 3D and made in America, but even more striking is the fact that she used the English word Animation, instead of her own language’s word Anime, which implies that no matter what the definition of the word may be, the Japanese are at least aware that there’s a distinct difference between western and eastern animation, and they know something isn’t Anime when they see it. Admittedly, this is just one person’s reaction that I’ve seen, but it’s still really ironic that they’ve borrowed our word “Animation” to refer to western animation, just like we’ve borrowed their word “Anime” to describe Japanese offerings.

Of course, there is ANOTHER way to counter the definition argument. Agree with it. Say that we’ve been committing a grave injustice by not calling every animated entity ‘Anime.’ I can’t believe how far you can stretch this. Spongebob? Anime. Gollum from Lord of the Rings? Anime. The T Rex in Jurassic Park? Anime. The spinning beach ball that makes me want to break my computer over my knee? Anime. This can get a little out of control, especially for people who only really want to watch animation from Japan, but now that the word ‘Anime’ has been redefined, there’s no shorthand term that’s easy to say and catchy to boot. So come up with this compromise; We’ll call general animation ‘Anime,’ and we’ll call anything from Japan ‘Japanime.’ There, that solves the definition problem while still leaving enough distinction for specific fans.

But even if you bring these issues up, you’ll still have people saying that there’s no point in segregating the two animated mediums, but guess what? You can troll this argument just as hard. Because yes, you can consider all animation to fall under the same unifying word. It’s not impossible. But here’s the catch… If you’re going to use a single word for unification’s sake, why would you use another language’s word? I mean, if Anime is a Japanese word, and you don’t speak Japanese, wouldn’t it make more sense to call all animation ‘cartoons?’ Cowboy Bebop would be a cartoon. Trigun would be a cartoon. Attack on Titan would be a cartoon. Regardless of where they take the conversation from here, this is where it ends, because they’ll just go full circle to the first impractical argument… That Anime is intrinsically better than cartoons, and the label of Anime is a prestigious one, despite all evidence to the contrary. They don’t care about the true definition, that’s just semantic bullshit meant to defend the insecurity of believing that your favorite cartoon is too good to be called a cartoon.

So in conclusion, should western animation be considered Anime? No, it shouldn’t. That’s not to say one is any better or worse than the other, but it’s the only solution that makes sense. Anime is Anime. It’s from Japan, although I guess you could make an argument for certain other countries… Other Asian countries, whose works also appear as listed on Myanimelist.com, and France, who, believe it or not, also use the word ‘Anime’ as their language’s word for animation. Go figure. Aside from these few exceptions, the only real argument for calling cartoons Anime that I can’t find any reason to dispute is the argument of “live and let live.” If other people want to call cartoons Anime, just mind your own business and leave them alone… At least, as much as you can help it.

Throughout your tenure as a student, you probably met a diverse assortment of people… You made friends with those you connected with, feuded with those you hated, and largely ignored those that fell by the wayside. However, there’s an incredibly likely chance you met someone you couldn’t easily categorize… Someone who challenged your perception of how a fellow classmate should act and interact with the people around them. Someone like Tokiko Mima, a quiet, strange girl who speaks in a flat, inflectionless voice, carries a broken speech pattern, and seems to have no interest in the world around her. Now, being young, you probably haven’t heard of the word Aspergers, so you’re more likely to use words like weird, creepy or gay to categorize kids like this. Tokiko, or Key for short, has adopted a category of her own: Robot. And no, she’s not just saying that to troll you, or to offer up an easy explanation for her own behavior. Talk to her Grandfather, and he’ll tell you that it’s true… Or he would, were he still alive.

Yes, Tokiko’s guardian has departed this world, and while she’s old enough by Japanese standards to begin living on her own, he’s left her with one final message; If she goes to Tokyo and makes friends with 30,000 people, she’ll finally be able to become a real human girl. She catches the next bus out, but it turns out the big city isn’t as friendly as she was expecting it to be. In fact, the first few people that approach her make it very clear that they’re looking for something a lot more than just friendship. Luckily, before they can take advantage of her, she’s rescued by an old friend who’d moved away a few years before her, and immediately takes her in. It’s when they visit Sakura’s part-time job at a video store that Key catches a glimpse of an idol concert, and decides that in order to make 30,000 friends, she has to become a pop idol! Will her climb to the top see her becoming Japan’s next big national treasure, or will the robot assassins and even more cold-hearted music executives standing in her way prove to be too dangerous of an obstacle for her to overcome?

Key the Metal Idol was an OVA series that was released by Studio Pierrot between 1994 and 1996. There were no deadlines to contend with, and they were able to release the series gradually in single episode VHS chunks, so they were allowed a lot more leniency with their budget than they would have been with a televised anime. This lack of a financial burden shines through beautifully in what I have to call one of the best looking anime of the mid-nineties. I admit that the art style and limitation of movements may immediately give away it’s age, but it’s held up surprisingly well over the years, even well into the modern age when a show as attention-demanding as this one would likely have obscure visuals and camera angles compensating for all the dialogue going on.

Instead of relying on those kind of cinematography tricks, Key has a much more realistic visual style… Well, realistic with a few anime tropes thrown in, like big-eyes female characters and the all-important villain with long white hair… And it goes a long way in making this old-school anime environment look immersive to the viewer. Stereotypical anime expressions are nowhere to be found, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever said in a review, but it makes even the most useless character look relatable in some way. The difference in lighting and color between Key’s mountain home and the big city, along with an attention to detail that captures every spot of grime and turning gear, tells you all you need to know about both locations. Random people in the background don’t always move, but with smart editing, you’ll tend not to notice this enough for it to bother you.

The realism also extends to the character designs, as almost everyone in the series has your typical dark Japanese hair, which helps Key to stand out in contrast, being the only character other than a certain white haired Russian to have a lighter, grayer tone of hair than anyone else, and the choice to have it go back to brown every time she’s unable to control her emotions makes it easy for us to distinguish between her robotic and human selves. The robots roaming the city also look like about what you’d expect them to… Giant, bulky brutes covered in way too much armor, like the original Ironman suit. All in all, the decision to make almost everything look and move in realistic ways is in deliberate service to the themes of the story, which deal with certain facets of humanity, but aren’t really apparent until future rewatches.

The music is also a clear indicator of the show’s age, as you’d probably expect a show about a girl who may or not be a robot surrounded by beings that are definitely robots to be dominated by EDM or Dubstep in today’s market. While there are mechanical sounds in a few of the tracks, particularly the first few beats of the opening theme, this soundtrack is pure rock and roll, with a few slower ballads thrown in for good measure. Being that it’s an anime about musical artists, there are of course a lot of tracks including vocal performances, mostly from voice actor Chiyako Shibahara, who is an insanely good singer, and she takes care of the stark majority of the in-universe songs. The rest of the tracks are performed by Sario Kijima, including the haunting tunes from the opening and closing videos.

Speaking of the themes, the opening is just mesmerizing, and it employs a style where every single dreamlike shot connects in some way to the shot following it. I know that Railgun and Index also did this at one point (each), but it works so much better here in the way that the constant motion relates to the narrative of the series. The ending theme may have equally beautiful music to the opening, but since the series was released episode by episode, the ending is presented as more theatrical than what most anime viewers are used to, with a scroll of text on a black background, and a slide show of images eventually appearing on screen underneath them. There are also a few background tracks that don’t really fit into the rock definition I mentioned earlier, but they’re fairly low-key, and they serve their purposes fine.

Before I start talking about the dub, I should probably take some time to acknowledge the thing that most of you will notice right off the bat… If you’re old enough to have experienced the original Ocean Studios dub of Dragonball Z, you’ll already recognize at least half of this cast. This Canadian dubbing company doesn’t specialize in anime, rather in western animation, but they do have a few anime to their name, and Key was one of them. Moving on, if you’re a brony, you’ll probably do a double take when I tell you that the role of Key, the flat-voiced girl who says everything with an artificial-sounding mechanical tint, was played by Nicole Oliver, who played a very small number of anime roles… the tragic hero Naomi Misora may ring a bell… as well as the duplicitous Princess Celestia, who could be a more different character from Key. It’s difficult to act when playing such a monotonous character, but Oliver makes up for it by exploding with complexity and emotion every time her human side takes over.

In other words, she’s the perfect actor for the role, but her best friend stands in stark contrast to her. Megan Leitch provides the voice of Sakura, and while she does a decent job about a quarter of the time, she can’t nail down the tone of a scene to save her life. Her voice roles can be counted on one hand, and thank god, because she replaces all of the warmth and comfort that Miki Nagasawa brought to some scenes with over-the-top melodrama, and when she tries to give the character an attitude, she sounds like a child actor from an old Charlie Brown cartoon. She does emotional scenes well enough, but she’s still the weak link that the rest of the cast has to compensate for. Two of their male allies are voiced by the original dub actors of Recoome and BOTH Goku voices, and they do just fine, especially with the obscene amount of dialogue they have to soldier through in the abysmal episode 14.

John Novak, Mark Gibbon and David Sobolov haven’t had much credits to their names, but they managed to play exceptionally intimidating villains as the terrifying record executive Ajo and his cold-hearted henchman Sergei. Brian Drummond, who played the original Vegeta and supplied the world with it’s favorite anime-based meme of all time(“Its over 9000!) plays my favorite character in the series, Hikaru Tsurugi, a talent trainer who’s obsessed with raw genuine emotion and disgusted with the idea of people trying to succeed by showing him what they think he wants to see. He saw the human side of Key once, and was immediately hooked by how honest and fragile it was, which led to him targeting her as a pupil… A pupil whom he would stare at for hours on end, cruelly provoking and depriving her in the hope of seeing that face again. In his first appearances, he comes off as slimy and arrogant, the sort of over-privileged man who’s been spoiled by his own success, but as the methods to his madness are revealed,he goes further and further off the deep end until he finally starts resembling the grinning Death Note Shinigami that would eventually define Drummond’s career.

Is there anyone else left who’s worth talking about? Well, you know, nobody in particular, except for Saffron freaking Henderson. If you don’t know who that is, she played not only Goku in Dragonball, but Gohan in the follow-up series DBZ, at least in the Ocean dub. So who does she play in Key? Some little kid, maybe one of the main characters in a childhood flashback? Nope. Not only does she play the idol character Miho that got Key into becoming an idol in the first place, she sings the English version of almost every single song on the soundtrack. And she sounds phenomenal in them. With her primary character, she has to play not only the healthy sounding robot version, but the weak, shriveled up slave version that nobody gets to see behind the scenes, and she never stops being convincing through any of it. While Sakura may be a special exception, I highly recommend this dub.

As you may have surmised from my plot summary, this is a series who’s deepest details are shrouded in mystery, and at times, it can be a very confusing tale for first-time viewers. We’re offered many questions to ponder as Key begins her journey, but thankfully, the first one we’re encouraged to focus on is whether or not she’s actually a robot. This plot point will eventually fade away as the more serious plot elements start to take form, but as a jumping off point, this one is handled really well. In addition to the hair colors that I mentioned earlier, the series is very careful with how much evidence it gives us towards one conclusion or the other. We never see Key eat, and her grandfather makes a point of telling her that he recently made a new body for her… Which is designed to create a small plothole that’s just hard enough to decipher to make the viewer feel uneasy about what they’re being told.

The only definitive detail clue we’re given is that when Key’s hair color changes, she’s somehow able to subconsciously perform supernatural feats, such as levitating people and objects, and making machines go on the fritz. She’s often shown nude, particularly in the first episode, but these scenes are so clinical and cold that they can hardly be called fan-service at all. It feels more like seeing C-3PO with his gold plating off than a seventeen year old girl in her birthday suit. Oh, and before anybody suggests that the animators just don’t know how to create a sexy nude scene, her friend Sakura has a shower scene that exudes sexuality, despite being ten seconds long and fitting into context as a hygienic shower between jobs.

And yes, that’s another plot point that makes the possibility of Key being a robot more apparent… Her best friend is unmistakably human, to the point that I’m pretty sure I’ve known about a dozen people like her, both male and female. While Key just kinda exists in Sakura’s apartment, taking advantage of the shelter being offered to her, Sakura is off working three different part-time jobs to pay for her rent and food costs. And they’re not particularly glamorous jobs, either… Pizza delivery, garbage truck directing, and video store cashier. Most people in that kind of situation would look for some kind of break, right? Well, earlier, I mentioned that Sakura saved Key from some shady individuals that were looking to produce the first ever robot-girl porno. What I didn’t mention is that they made a similar offer to Sakura when they caught up with the two girls later. Now, Key showed a mild sign of humanity when she realized what they were doing and tried to excuse herself, right before being rescued, but Sakura reacts a little differently. She identifies them as the sleaze that they are, and refuses to work for them… Until they bring up the money she’d make. She doesn’t accept their offer, but she does falter, however briefly, as it would be a break from the daily grind.

We all have morals, we all have standards, and we all have certain extents to which our dignity can hold out… But when we’re treading water, magical solutions can become tempting. Would Sakura have accepted if her friends hadn’t been there? I don’t *think* so, but the fact that she’s able to choose her own abilities and work ethic over a magical solution that may end up hurting her in the long run is the exact opposite of Key, who doesn’t believe she has the capacity to make 30,000 friends without the magical solution of becoming an Idol, which in this series turns out to be a way more dangerous pursuit than porn. This difference between them plays up not only the robotic elements of Key’s personality, but also the ultimate theme of the series… The dilemma between reality and fantasy.

There are two rather popular topics that Key the Metal Idol likes to discuss in relation to this theme… They’re topics I’ve seen brought up many times before, and they both have a lot of room for different perspectives. The first one is, obviously, the true life of being an Idol. This is far more a Japanese subject than it is anywhere else, as Japan’s Idol culture is a monster in it’s own right. Perfect Blue explored how Idols are subjected to the controls of not only the people managing them, whom they have to do uncomfortable things to please, but by the perceptions of their fanbases, whose acceptance or refusal of the changes they make can have devastating impacts on their careers. A more recent show called Love Live took a different route, showing how hard and sincerely people have to work to become idols in the first place.

The second topic is the relationship between man and machines. Chobits is perhaps the most noteworthy example, as it explores the hikkikimori’s mind set, with a focus on how a computer may be more equipped to offer a man the perfect, idealized woman than actual women are. Other titles like the Matrix franchise have explored the idea of creation, and how the machines we birthed could eventually conquer us and take over the world, turning on their creators as man have with God. There’s also a lot of fiction dealing with artificial intelligence in this way, but shockingly, Key the Metal Idol doesn’t even touch the subject of AI. Instead, it has more in common with the Fullmetal Alchemist idea that you have to trade life to create life, even if it’s just the illusion of life.

Through it’s plot, Key combines these two topics in many intriguing ways, particularly when it comes to Ajo and his business ventures, one of which manages the idol Miho. Key believes that becoming an idol like Miho will help her transition from robot to person, but what she doesn’t know is that(and this is only a small spoiler) the real Miho is locked away backstage, attached to a headset, controlling a robotic puppet on-stage while she withers away, her life itself unappreciated by those who own her. What Key expects is the exact opposite of what’s really happening, because becoming an idol in this universe is a process where a human becomes a robot, and not the other way around. In other words, an object wishes to become a person through means that actually turns people into objects. Add that to the fact that robots can’t move on their own, and are powered by human life force, and you have the perfect metaphor for human beings trying to create life in their own image, attempting to play God and failing miserably at it.

And if you need more proof about the religious angle of this theme, there’s an actual religious cult that plays a major role in the plot, painting Key’s abilities as miracles, and putting every ounce of effort into protecting her from her aspirations to join the world of Idolhood… Which, if read from the perspective I mentioned earlier, is a pursuit removed from God. When in the service of this cult, Key’s powers are used with more benevolence than at any other point in the series… She even brings a sick little boy back from the brink, something she didn’t even try when a far more tragic death occurred right in front of her towards the end of the series. The significance of religion in this equation is established even more firmly by the fact that robots eventually wipe out this cult, as if to say that man, as God’s creations, have created something that kills God… An idea further supported by a metric butt-ton of expositive backstory later on. And thus you have the main driving theme of the series… The reality of humanity vs. the fantasy of created humans. Robots that are built to fight wars for us or even just perform for us need to drink our life force to work, just like how idols that are meant to simultaneously uphold our moral ideals as well as our standards for youth and beauty are just being unrealistically objectified.

Key the Metal Idol brings us a tightly written narrative, flawlessly weaving different topics into a theme that beats at the very heart of the story, all while inviting us along for a poignant mystery as to how any of these circumstances came about, what it means to the world, and just where it’ll all take our adorkable android heroine. There would have to be some serious flaws in it’s execution for me to give it anything less than a perfect score… But alas, that elusive 10/10 will not be reached today. For you see, even though the animation holds up over twenty years later, and even though the plot is dripping with depth, the mystery still needs to unfold properly… And it’s with this element that Key fumbles. See, the final two episodes are each feature-length, at over 90 minutes apiece, and it deeply saddens me to say this, but episode 14 is borderline unwatchable.

In order to justify basically everything that had happened thus far in the story, the writers needed to explain to us who Key was, what she was, and how these life force eating robots came to be. And here’s the beautiful part; They could have done this by airing a 26 minute flashback episode from Key’s grandfather’s perspective. Instead, the entire story… Intricate details, motivations, speculations… Is fed to us in the form of exposition while Grandpa’s story is shown to us in the background. It’s bad enough that the majority of it is revealed in conversation between two supporting characters, but the rest of it is coming from some random old dude who telling his tale to literally nobody as he constructs a new robot. And all the while, the two main characters are huddled in their apartment, hugging each other. How’s that for female lead characters? They don’t need to know what’s going on… They just need to be emotionally supportive while the men-folk work things out for the audience. The final episode manages to improve immensely from there, including delivering a heartbreaking death scene out of the clumsy, stupid set-up that 14 gave it, but at that point, the damage was already done.

Key: The Metal Idol was originally available from Viz Media, but has unfortunately been out of print since 2004. You can find the three individual DVDs online for a variety of prices, or you can find them with the official series box for anywhere from sixty to 100 dollars. Copies with the slim-pack CD Soundtrack still inside of them will run you quite a bit more, although I was able to find my copy at FYE for 26 dollars. It can be viewed legally on Viewster.com, and pretty much nowhere else. Soundtrack CDs can be found in varying online locations as well.

This series came so close to being perfect that it tortures me to see it fall so far short right at the end. I guess you can blame the sudden lapse in judgement on the huge time lapses between each episode’s release… There was a seven month gap between episodes 13 and 14, and I while I have no idea what happened in that time, I have to assume that somewhere along the way, Director Hiroaki Sato must have gotten bags of letters from angry fans that he’d made the mistake of treating with respect and intelligence saying that they didn’t understand what was going on, and wanted him to stop playing coy and lay it all out on the table. I mean, what else could it be? This series was in production for three years, with fans loyally picking up each volume, even though they were coming out at month-long intervals at best, so that in 1997, after going all winter without a solid release, fans just over-reacted and started demanding closure, even at ass-expensive Japanese VHS/DVD prices. I can’t entirely forgive it for this blunder, whatever the reason behind it was, because the unwatchable episode is NOT skippable, but you know what? I can still whole-heartedly recommend this series, even with that small warning attached to it. If you’re looking for a mature anime with R-rated content and deep, complex themes to back it up, and you don’t mind getting over one major hurdle at the end, I highly recommend checking this series out. You’ll feel challenged in a way that’ll have you coming back to it over and over again, just like I did. I give Key the Metal Idol a 9/10.  

So, you’ve watched the Count of Monte Cristo anime, and you’re feeling enticed to experience the original work of fiction for yourself. Or, hell, maybe you’re a long time fan of the book, looking to get into the anime. Either way, you’re in for a series of heavy surprises, as there are a lot of differences between the two versions of the story. No, I mean HUGE differences, some of them great enough for the two stories to almost be considered mutually exclusive from each other.

In light of this, and as a penultimate post for Sci Fi July, I’ve decided to compile a list of 25 differences between the original Andres Dumas classic brick of a novel and the bizarre Studio Gonzo anime series. There are going to be spoilers here, but let’s be honest, if you’ve experienced either version of the story already, then you already know all of the important shit.

Here we go!

1: The anime starts at about the halfway point of the book, skipping Dantes’ backstory until certain flashbacks towards the end.

2: Abbe Faria was the original prisoner who helped mold Dantes into the Count. He is absent in the series. In his place is Gankutsuou, a vengeful spirit who takes over Dantes and makes him look alien.

3: In the book, it’s explained that Lucien Debray sleeps with Danglars’ wife in exchange for stock tips. This is glossed over in the anime.

4: Franz sticks around for the majority of the anime, until he’s killed in a duel. He was absent for most of the book.

5: In the book, De Villefort saw his father’s name in the letter. In the anime, he saw his own.

6: In the book, Franz refuses to marry Valentine because Noirtier killed his father. In the anime, he just acknowledges not loving her.

7: In the book, Maximillien and Valentine had many secret conversations before falling in love. In the anime, the process was much more brief, as well as public.

8: In the book, The Count helped Valentine fake her death to escape her family. In the anime, her friends kidnap her.

9: In the book, Ali is a mute black slave. In the anime, he’s an alien.

10: In the book, The Count meets Albert in Italy. In the anime, they meet on Luna, which is presumably the moon.

11: In the book, Beppo is mentioned in passing. In the anime, the renamed Peppo is a major character.

12: In the book, Fernand and Mercedes were cousins. In the anime, that’s not the case anymore.

13: Book: Hermine de Danglars. Anime: Victoria de Danglars.

14: In the book, Eugenie is a man-hating feminist, and also a secret lesbian. In the anime, her role is changed significantly to emphasize the childhood friendship of herself, Franz and Albert.

15: In the book, Andrea Cavalcanti has no idea of his blood relation to Eugenie. In the anime, he’s explicitly in on the incestuous aspects of The Count’s scheme.

16: The book goes into the specific history of Luigi Vampa, while the anime omits it.

17: In the anime, it’s never explained why Dantes chose the name Monte Cristo. In the novel, it’s explained as the island where he gained his wealth.

18: In the book, the letter is specifically a list of Napoleon’s sympathizers. In the anime, it’s more vague.

19: Albert and his mother exit the story relatively early in the book, while Maximillion and Valentine become The Count’s main focus. This is reversed a bit in the anime, as the story arc of Maximillion and Valentine is resolved early, and the focus remains purely on Albert.

20: Albert and Eugenie are implied to be together at the end of the series, while in the novel, they’ve pretty much forgotten about each other.

21: In the book, Albert challenges Beauchamp to a duel. In the anime, he challenges the Count.

22: The order of The Count’s revenge is different in the books. He strikes the Morcerf’s first, causing Fernand to kill himself. In the anime, he lasts until the end.

23: In the novel, after being confronted about her poisonings, Heloise kills herself and Eduoard. Gerard de Villefort, barely remembering who Edmund Dantes is, shows him their bodies to shame him before going mad. In the anime, they all go mad, and Heloise and her son probably survive.

24: In the novel, having indirectly killed Heloise and Eduoard, The Count psychologically tortures Danglars to teach him the true value of a dollar, and then spares him. In the anime, he traps him on a wayward spaceship full of gold.

25: In the novel, The Count and Haydee end up together. In the anime, The Count dies, and Haydee gets into politics.

Hopefully, this handy guide will prepare you for the shock that you’re likely to face when you jump from one version of the story to the other. Either way, you made a great choice getting into the mythos of Monte Cristo, as it’s a wonder of story-telling in both forms, the anime and the novel. The 1934 movie is also really good, but you’d better be prepared to see Albert wooing Valentine de Villefort. It’s actually pretty jarring if you don’t know about it ahead of time.

Get into this outstanding story while you still can, because as you’ll no doubt hear, Death is Certain… The Hour Uncertain.

Madames and Monsieurs, good evening. Tonight, we unfold the tale of Albert de Morcerf, a young parisian aristocrat who has yet to come of age, although he has more woe and devastation hiding beyond that threshold than perhaps any of his contemporaries. He does not yet know of the lies his life was built upon, nor has he any comprehension of what the human soul is capable of. As of the beginning of our tale, he has only one issue on his mind; What haunts his dreams is the announcement of an arranged marriage to an estranged childhood friend, young Eugenie Danglars. Desperate to experience his youth while it is still his, he travels to Luna, an extravagant land of partying and debauchery, and just as he’s about to lay in an alley with a woman who’d caught his eye from the float of a parade, he finds himself at the end of her gun… Both of them.

He’s taken captive by street bandits, and it’s by his good fortune that earlier that very night, he’d made a lifelong friend in a mysterious, lavish older man known only as The Count of Monte Cristo… A man who had earlier placed a game of life or death in Albert’s hands now shows up in the nick of time to save his young friend from that very same game. Albert shows his eternal gratitude by inviting the Count to Paris, to meet his friends and experience high class Parisian society. All is not how it seems, however, as The Count’s arrival marks more than just his temporary residency. All at once, families begin to fall apart, secrets begin to find their way into the light, and secrets long since buried and forgotten come back to threaten those who’d long since disposed of them. Who is this strange man, with blue skin and an aura of powerful magic? What is his true reason for traveling to Paris? To what end will he stoop to claim satisfaction for a life he was never able to live? And how far will he go before the living embodiment of vengeance is sated?

The first thing you may notice about Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo is it’s immediately striking visual style, one that I can almost guarantee you’ve never seen before or since. Well, that is, you’ve never seen it to this large of a scale. This series uses an art style called Unmoving Plaid, a style that’s been used many times in American animation to simplify the animation of characters wearing complex patterns on their clothing. To conjure up an accurate visual image, imagine you’re wearing a green shirt in front of a green screen, and the computer replaces the green with Wall-paper. It’s a classic sort of style, and one you wouldn’t expect any animated fiction to get any extended use out of… Which is why it comes as a surprise to many first time watchers when they see the elaborate patterns dancing across the clothing and hair of the characters in this anime.

This choice of art style will prove divisive, and it is a bit of an acquired taste, but it’s used to beautiful effect, even if the necessity of it can sometimes be argued. I would disagree with this argument, of course, because it ultimately serves as the frosting on Gankutsuou’s visual cake. See, this version of The Count of Monte Cristo takes place in a futuristic Sci Fi setting, I’ll say more on that later, and the blend of classic European and space age architecture would look bland if everything looked like your average anime. No, to get the full visual effect, Gonzo employs a lot of very expensive, very smoothly integrated CG backgrounds that are at once both heavily detailed and, on ample occasions, sparkly as all hell. The use of color, particularly in the vast shots of space as well as in a few other surreal settings, is extremely elaborate, and in my opinion, it’s the wall-papery art style that ties it all together. I’ve heard that it’s a curse for viewers with epilepsy, and while I can’t imagine it doing as much harm as a certain notorious Pokemon episode, I can easily see some of you suffering headaches from it.

Of course, we are talking about a Studio Gonzo production, and alas, 2004 was not a good year for them. This was the year they tried to integrate traditional animation with CG in a lot of their shows, and they had some notable failures. 3D water textures in Gantz left the human characters looking like hot garbage, and over eight minutes of Samurai Seven had to be sacrificed to appease the budget, leading to an ugly, ugly, ugly extended sequence where there were no key frames and nothing was on-model. I’d be lying if I said that the more traditional aspects of Gankutsuou didn’t often employ the same style, but it’s used sparingly, and there are only a few times you’ll notice it, perhaps most obviously in a shot where Albert’s friend Franz is sitting up after waking from a night of drunken sleep. The 2D animation isn’t the best I’ve seen, but it’s well directed enough to compensate for it’s worst moments, and the artwork provides ample distraction whenever it needs to. It’s a mild flaw that doesn’t stop the series from upholding it’s acclaim as a visual wonder of the anime medium.

All of the effort and extravagance that went into the artwork and animation also bleeds into the music, which has to be one of the biggest, most elaborate anime soundtracks I’ve ever heard. It informs the story in ways that are both beautiful and purposeful, with every single note proving to be just as important as the words and actions of the characters on screen. The music can stand on it’s own, which is good, because I can’t describe how perfectly utilized it is without gushing about it, so instead, let’s talk about something whose meaning is a little less obvious; The opening and closing themes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a set of closing and opening themes that have encapsulated the yin and yang aspects of show’s main character before.

The opening theme is, to keep with our theme, not like very many that you’ve seen or heard before. Whereas most openings will try to draw you into their story with colorful images, the faces of all the principal characters, a catchy pop tune and a huge focus on visual direction, Gankutsuou takes a different approach, using a crude style of what looks like oil paintings animated on a drab, shadowy background. The English language song, We Were Lovers by Jean-Jacques Burnel, is a simple piano tune that serves two purposes… It not only tells a vague sort of synopsis of the count’s backstory, particularly with regard to his feelings for his lost love, but it also serves as a metaphor for the smooth, friendly exterior that he uses to gain the affections of everyone he meets.

The closing, You Won’t See Me Coming, is also sung in English, and by the same person as the opening. Posing as the yang to the opening’s yin, and it explodes in your face at the cliff-hanger end of every single episode, featuring screen shots and visuals taken directly from the show and then filtered and distorted until it looks as though some demonic entity has been watching the proceedings from afar. It’s sung from the Count’s perspective, but in terms of tone, it feels far more like the theme song to the mysterious being Gankutsuou, although you won’t know to make this distinction in your head until several spoiler-things have happened later in the story. Up until then, there’s no shame whatsoever in being satisfied with the idea that these evil thoughts, these malevolent lyrics, are what’s truly going through The count’s head as he gently smiles at his worst enemies.

The English dub is hit or miss, as it’s perfectly fine in it’s own right, but it still falters a bit in comparison to the excellent Japanese track. The one area where they needed to knock it out of the park is with The Count himself, a sort of overlord character who manipulates people and pulls their strings not only from the shadows, but right in their faces, while they mold like putty in his hands. This kind of character would need to be played by someone with a deep, throaty sort of voice, which can simultaneously be diabolical and soothing, but can also turn the evil maniac in himself up to 11 and let loose with a deliciously triumphant villainous laugh when things are going his way.

In Japan, the answer they found was with Jouji “George” Nakata, otherwise known as Japanese Alucard, and the second I say that, you’re going to guess that the dub cast Crispin Freeman. Now, I’m not going to say that Crispin couldn’t have pulled off this role… He would have slaughtered it, quite frankly… But Geneon actually found someone better in the somewhat less well-known Jamieson Price, and I’ve been a fan of his ever since I heard him in this. Price IS the Count, to the extent that I can’t read the novel without hearing his voice in my head. This phenomenon doesn’t happen with Albert, however, as Johnny Yong Bosch’s performance isn’t quite as magical as that of his Excellency. Albert de Morcerf is a character that could easily be played by someone with a generic voice, and Johnny Yong Bosch… does that. His ability to act does manage to infuse the character with pride and youthful enthusiasm, and I’m not sure how the part could have been played better, but it doesn’t leave much of a mark.

Michelle Ruff does a much better job with Eugenie, whose role has been radically altered from the book. She plays the part as though she’s been frustrated by her station in life for so long that she has difficulty believing in any reprieve, even when they’re right in front of her. She becomes more warm and supportive whenever it’s called for, and carries herself with sincerity through even the most bleak and terrible events. Tony Oliver is excellent as the idealistic Maximillian Morrel, whose role in the story has actually been downgraded, but thankfully not at the cost of his character. On the flipside, Albert’s best friend Franz D’Epinay, has had his role greatly expanded, elevating him from a person who was away for a majority of the events in the book to someone who is not only there for the majority of the story, but actually takes an active role in it. He’s an extremely important character now, which is why it’s so disappointing that they cast Ezra Weisz, the monotonous robot of an actor whom I already tore into in my review of Vampire Knight. Stilted and devoid of personality, he was possibly the worst possible choice for the role.

The rest of the cast do their jobs adequately, pronouncing french words more or less correctly while for some reason not using french accents… Come on, you know they could have done it… But there are two standouts that I have to call attention to. The first one you may have completely glanced over, because this series came out at a time where she was still using her favorite old alias, Jennifer Sekiguchi. Stephanie Sheh plays The Count’s… I don’t know what her title is. Servant? Escort? Pet? Whatever, she plays the character as soft voiced and wistful, like her common typecasting with some angst injected into it, but when her moment in the script comes, she rises to the occasion with a righteous fury that will leave you with chills. The other is Carrie Savage playing a transgendered maid at the Morcerf house, whose dialogue is full of double-entendres and duplicitous comments, as though she’s teasing both Albert and the viewer about where her intentions truly lie. The sub is quite a bit better, but you can watch pretty much either one depending on your preferences.

So, I mentioned earlier in the review that this story takes place in a futuristic setting. Some of you may have read that, and gotten a little anxious while involuntarily recalling the Disney Film Treasure Planet, as those properties, like Gankutsuou, take insane amounts of liberties with classic, established literary masterpieces. I honestly believe that it works in all the ways that those other two adaptations didn’t, but in order to explain why, I’m going to have to explain why this space traveling, alien accommodating world isn’t as futuristic as it sounds. Yes, there’s technology in this show that our society has yet to reach… Voice controlled holograms, robotic horses, interstellar politics… And yet, the principal characters all live in what appears to be 19th century France, from the clothing to the architecture. To make things more confusing, the automobiles that are present throughout the story seem to have been crafted way after the turn of that century.

Even with the year in universe being in the 5000s, I still think it would be more appropriate to call it an Anachronistic setting than a Futuristic setting. While Treasure Planet could also be considered anachronistic, it’s still deeply rooted in the trends and demographics of the time it was released, therefore dating it. Hell, look at all the sky-high skateboarding! Gankutsuou doesn’t pander to the audience in this way, or really in any way, as it’s stark avoidance of anime tropes will prove, and as a result, it’s anachronistic nature gives it an advantage that countless other anime and movies have struggled for… Timelessness. A sense of familiarity in an alien setting. A story that will never feel lame or dated, regardless of how long after it’s release you’ve decided to watch it. And this is a feature that’s unique to the anime, as the original novel contains many elements that will prove problematic to today’s readers. For example, The Count has a mute black slave who’s pleased as punch to be working for him. The anime reduced his role, changed him into an alien, and made another more important member of his posse black instead. The novel contains an outspoken man-hating feminist who’s also secretly a lesbian… A troublingly misogynistic character in today’s world, but she’s completely rewritten in the anime. Part of a good adaptation is to fix these kinds of problems.

A far less fortunate part of adaptation is that you have to cut a 1078 page novel down to a more serviceable length. You could of course go the easy route and adapt the abridged novel, you know, if you want your adaptation to suck, but the truth is that adapting a classic novel to a new medium is a minefield of a task. The Jim Caviezal movie was okay in it’s own right, but it changed so many things… About half of which made any earthly sense, I mean come on, Albert being the Count’s biological son? That it really doesn’t FEEL like The Count of Monte Cristo. Well, Gankutsuou had an answer to that, and it turns out it was pretty radical. They skipped the first half of the book, and made Albert the main character, starting out the tale with his and Franz meeting The Count on Luna..

Before you cry foul on this, I’m going to be perfectly blunt; I’ve always thought the weakest element of the original novel was The Count himself. He starts off as this perfect goody two shoes who has everything going his way, until he gets betrayed because his friends are assholes who want what he has. He’s kind of like Johnny from The Room, but instead of killing himself, he escapes and becomes the fantasy of any bullied kid who ever thought “Wow, wouldn’t it be awesome if I went to the reunion as a billionaire celebrity with a smoking hot trophy wife, and then all those jerks lives just start going to shit around me out of jealousy!” And the reason I make THAT comparison is because, like the reunion fantasy, The Count’s ascension in the novel is a tough pill to swallow. He basically becomes a Mary-Sue through luck and getting rewarded for being awesome, and to make matters worse, there’s no mystery about him. We’re in on the plan from the start, yet the novel still goes to the trouble of reading like his identity is one big secret.

Aside from the Abbe Faria material, I’ve honestly found the first half of the book to be kind of boring, and I never truly feel engaged until The Count meets Albert and his plan starts to go into motion. I’m obviously not some literary expert who has any real credentials to criticize the works that have shaped fiction, but I can’t help feeling like Albert is a better focal point for this story than The Count is. By telling the story from his point of view, there’s more of a solid mystery behind The Count, his actions, and the unsettling behavior of the adult characters whose crimes are completely unknown to the viewer. Not only that, but Albert starts off the story believing hard in what he asserts to be the positive aspects of the nobility that he was born into… He believes the lies his parents told him, and through him, we’re not sure until late in the game whether or not The Count is justified in digging up everyone’s dirty laundry to destroy their lives and families, which helps for the altered story to retain the moral ambiguity of the novel.

I’m not going to pretend Albert isn’t annoying sometimes… He’s naive, and he makes a lot of stupid decisions, but these are the flaws that make him relatable, and they’re addressed in the story. I also won’t pretend that the story as you may remember it isn’t turned directly upside down to accommodate him as the star. His complicated relationship with Eugenie is given far more focus, and two characters from the novel have their roles expanded to aid in his development… The first is Franz, who advises him, may or may not actually be in love with him(it’s implied), and explores The Count’s past to counteract Albert’s blind loyalty to the titular character. The second is Peppo, who’s only mentioned in passing in the novel, but helps to put doubt into Albert’s mind about his parents’ romance in the anime. Of course, it helps that they both exist to give him people to talk to other than himself. His other friends from the novel are present, from Lucien Debray to Valentine De Villefort, and while they’ve all taken smaller roles than originally intended, they still get their chances to shine, and their effects on the story have been largely retained. The Count himself feels far more omnipotent and vampiric, and swapping out Abbe Faria for an actual supernatural entity does a world of difference in explaining how he came to power. There are a few changes that don’t really feel necessary… Two characters who were supposed to have died to make The Count question his motives go insane instead, for example… But for the most part, every change that was made is an important cog in an all new machine that tells the story differently, while still remaining faithful to the themes and tone of the book.

Of course this series isn’t perfect… No anime is, really. There are a few minor flaws, and one of the most famous ones is in the second to last episode, where The Count’s plan finally hits it’s climax in ways that are kind of dumb, and rely on clichés to an uncharacteristic degree. It’s not a bad ending, but the series clearly deserved better. The other, and this is more MY nitpick, is that the villains of the story feel a bit more one dimensional than they did in the novel. Don’t get me wrong, they were bad people, but there was more to their personalities than just their major flaws. Even before they get systematically broken down to their lowest levels, they still feel a tad unrealistic. Also, and this is something that was pointed out to me by an online friend, this society full of futuristic society doesn’t include any cell phones. This doesn’t actually bother me, though… It doesn’t make much logical sense, but their presence would kind of break the story. I mean, Frodo COULD have flown to Mordor on an eagle, but would you enjoy that story? I wouldn’t.

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo was originally available from Geneon Entertainment, which means it went out of print for a while before Funimation rescued and rereleased it as a SAVE edition DVD set. Sadly, at the time of this writing, the series is in the process of going out of print, so I’d highly recommend you buy a copy for yourself before the price starts to skyrocket. The original novel by Alexandre Dumas is available from most reputable booksellers, but make sure you don’t buy an abridged version by mistake. There have been thirteen movies and six TV adaptations throughout the years, as well as a couple of musicals, but I’ve yet to experience any of it either than the anime and the American movie, and the 1934 film that I actually really enjoyed. A three volume manga is also available stateside from Del Rey.

Gankutsuou isn’t just a worthy adaptation of the original novel… I feel as though it actually improved upon it in a lot of ways. The revenge plot is exciting, with The Count toying with his enemies as though he were the world’s most confident chess player, but with a stronger focus on the rest of the cast, you also get a much clearer message about how the sins of the past can return to haunt you long after they’ve been forgotten. The relationship between Albert, Eugenie and Franz is rewritten to run parallel in a lot of ways to the early friendship of Edmund, Fernand and Mercedes, offering a tragic reminder of what The Count could have had, sitting right there in front of his face the entire series. The story is executed in such a way that every single episode has you yearning to uncover more information and experience the next big reveal, and in general, it just works so much more of a fulfilling level that I can easily forgive the few nitpicks I may have had. I Give Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo a 10/10.  

It’s a tale as old as time, and yet it still takes place in the distant future… After space on Earth started to become scarce, the human race expanded to the stars, developing the technology to terraform planets and claiming them for the sake of creating brand new civilizations. As you might imagine, this brought untold chaos at first, as disputes between these super-sized settlements erupted into large scale wars, where an insurmountable number of lives were claimed. Enter the Galactic Union, an all-powerful government that was formed to stabilize the relationships between these warring worlds and unite all of humanity under one rule!

Enforcing this rule and keeping the peace is the GOTT: The Global Organization of Trade and Tariffs, and at their beck and call is the loyal ES Taskforce, a small legion of two-person units that take assignments from the Galactic Union and serve and protect the people unified within! Out of the six known teams, one that stands out is the team of Eclaire and Lumiere, a chipper teenage brunette and an elegant little girl with a blue braid. They don’t look like much, especially when they’re pulling off their second job as corporate receptionists, but if you commit evil deeds while they’re on call, you’ll have to deal with one of the most intimidating duos in the galaxy. They’re more than meets the eye, and as the shadowy secrets about their employers start to come to light, the galaxy will soon learn what it means to underestimate them.

Here it is, my first review for SciFi July, and…  I haven’t ever discussed Studio Gonzo, have I? I mean, I wrote up a Gantz review several years ago, but that was LONG before I actually learned how to write reviews. Well, that’s never seeing the light of day, so I guess my intro to all things Gonzo will take the form of the apparently immortal 2002 classic sci-fi series Kiddy Grade. Now, with your typical Studio Gonzo production, you can expect it to fall on one of two sides of the scale… It’ll either have gorgeous high-budget animation, or dirt-cheap animation that does it’s damnedest to appear as visually pleasing as possible. Kiddy Grade falls very securely on the low side of the scale, but they’ve made a LOT worse looking shows than this.

Yes, I should get this out of the way right now… The fact that it had a low budget couldn’t be more obvious if it was on the street pan-handling. Key frames… AKA, moments when there’s no action on screen other than mouth flaps, brief bursts of movement and embarrassing motion loops… Are everywhere. Even at their scarcest, they’re in every other scene at least. Thankfully, these issues never pop up during the action scenes, so while it’s not a good look per se, it’s somewhat excusable considering how cleverly Gonzo was able to portray the femme fatales kicking villainous ass without having to sacrifice frame rates to compensate it. There’s a lot of CG used for the characters’ space ships and guardian mech robots, and while it doesn’t really mesh with the 2D animation style of the rest of the series, it’s not too bad on it’s own merits.

While the animation is relatively good, at least compared to other Gonzo shows of it’s time, the artwork is a lot stronger. The color palette is bright and diverse, standing out beautifully against the backgrounds, most of which are monotonous and gritty with realistic wear. That’s not to say the backgrounds are never impressive, as there are some very appealing outdoor scenes, but the dullness of spaceship interiors and even space itself complements the characters nicely. The character designs are diverse almost to a fault, as each pair of ES members looks increasingly unique to the point that I could imagine them being pulled out of the sketchbook of a caffeine addict on a 5 Hour Energy binge. Simply put, with it’s highly distinctive art style, there are no other characters that look like Kiddy Grade characters.

The music is made up mostly of electronic tunes, meant to convey the spacey, futuristic feel of the show, and does so in an ambitious fashion. The soundtrack was fairly new for it’s time, but looking back at it fourteen years later, it’s been done a lot better since then, causing what was once a unique sound to feel kind of generic to our spoiled ears. The opening, on the other hand is a lot more standard, and was probably considered generic even back in 2002. Setting aside the video for a moment, you have two options with this opening… A dubbed version and a subbed version. I’ve heard countless people recommend the sub, but is it that much better? The singing is definitely louder and more confidant, but it opens on a pair of cringe-worthy Engrish lines that sound awkward in both pronunciation and wording. The dubbed version fixes this problem, which earns it some points, but it also features a far duller-sounding singer, and the lyrics… Like most anime theme lyrics… Do not translate well to English. I want to recommend the subbed version really badly, but those damn opening lines, though…The Ending theme, in both languages, is a much more pleasant listen.

The English dub is from the very early stages of Funimation, and as such it shows a lot of quirks from that period of Funi’s existence. There are plenty of names in it that you really don’t see as much anymore, such as Dameon Clarke, Scarlett McAllister, Gwendoline Lau, Rebecca Paige, John Myron, Antimere Robinson… Just a ton of names that either haven’t worked in years or only had a brief stint in anime, and for the most part, none of them are really that impressive here. The exception of course is Demeon Clarke as the shady auditor Armblast, but even this role is a far cry from the acting chops he showed as the original Scar in FMA. There are a few modern names sprinkled throughout, such as Eric Vale, Vic Mignona, Alison Victorin in her debut role, Chris Sabat doing a pretty sweet European accent, and Clarine Harp doing something other than DVD design, and yeah, they’re all really good… But none of them can touch Colleen Clinkenbeard and Monica Rial in the lead roles.

Monica Rial is probably one of the most well known voice actors in the business. Her name is almost guaranteed to be on any anime fan’s favorite actor list, and for good reason. She’s a consistently good performer, and has been ever since her first day on the job. In contrast, a name I see disturbingly little of on those lists is Colleen Clinkenbeard, who may actually be the most under-rated and taken-for-granted performer in the industry. Kiddy Grade was her debut not only as an actor, but as an ADR director, and while I’m disappointed to say both jobs amounted to some rough results in the beginning of the show… The acting was somewhat underwhelming, voices weren’t always matching the lip flaps… It improved rapidly on both counts towards the middle, showing off a lot of the latent talent that she had both in and out of the booth.

Yes, the dub takes a while to get off of it’s feet, but that’s mainly due to the growing pains of a duel first timer. Colleen has proven herself since then to be a highly respectful director and writer who can easily navigate the minefield of localizing a dub without bastardizing it, and has shown in several instances that she can hit all the slanginess of a Jamie Marchi dub without suffering from any of the tasteless Jamie Marchi excess. As an actor, she’s shown a surprising consistency across a wide range of voices, giving her a chameleon quality that can make her very difficult to pick out, even when she’s playing a bubbly and upbeat character like Eclair. Pair her with fellow veterans Monica Rial and Laura Bailey, and you’ve got a dub that’s pretty damn good at it’s best moments. It’s not necessarily better than the sub, but if you’re looking for a time capsule of early-2000’s Funimation, I highly recommend it.

Okay, so, let’s set aside my earlier plot synopsis for a second and go over what this show’s really about. Kiddy Grade is the story of two femme fatale law enforcers with charisma and power to spare. One is a hacker that can manipulate and even astral-project herself into any kind of computer system or machine, and the other has super-speed, super strength, and a tube of lipstick that can turn into a razor-sharp whip. They work for a supposedly benevolent organization, but corruption in the upper ranks forces them into political conflicts where they eventually have to engage in space battles and mecha fights against their peers and coworkers.while gradually revealing their own troubled past.

Why am I bringing this up? Because Kiddy Grade has one of the most awesome sounding premises I’ve ever heard. I don’t know a single person who could hear it and not immediately put it on their “to-watch” list. It’s a title that’s endured in the popular conscience for 14 years without fading into obscurity, so one would naturally assume it to be of some quality, or at least a sizeable fanbase willing to overlook any problems it might have. And yet, when I go on Facebook to say it hasn’t aged well, I’m met not with anger, but likes. When I complain about some details that don’t fit right in retrospect, I get responses pointing out MORE inconsistencies related to the plot over-all before anybody comes in to defend it. Keep in mind, this is happening in very similar fan groups to the two that I got booted out of for talking shit about Guilty Crown, so where’s the flame war over this? And while we’re on the subject, why can’t I watch more than a few episodes at a time without pausing to do chores?

To answer this question, I’m going to be dissecting three specific episodes of the show. Depending on how high their respective ep. numbers are, I’ll be using different amount of detail and spoilers for each one. First up, let’s take a look at episode five, Day/Off. I’m going to be running down the entire episode in detail, but don’t worry… This isn’t Cowboy Bebop, here. Important spoilers don’t happen until much later.

To start, Eclaire and Lumiere have the day off from work, so they each decide to spend it differently. Eclair goes out drinking with a friend, and Lumiere goes to the opera. Sounds like a great set-up for some one-on-one character development, right? Well, let’s see what happens. An employee at the club approaches Eclaire, commenting that she looks too young to be in there. His manager comes along and says that he’s new, and not to bother the lady… Not because she’s an ES member, mind you, but just because “kicking people out makes us look bad.” Which makes no sense, because serving alcohol to minors definitely looks worse. She dances with a guy, and when he tries to kiss her, she shoves him through the air and into the table where two criminal organizations are making a deal. They both assume the attack was orchestrated by the other side, which doesn’t make sense, because who plans to have a human being thrown at their table? Even Monty Python wouldn’t come up with a strategy that absurd.

On her way to the opera, Lumiere hears a lonely little girl crying behind some bushes. The little girl kisses her and puts her into a trance so some big men can abduct her. Which makes no sense, because didn’t we just see Eclaire successfully fend off a kiss from a much larger man? Why would her partner just stand there and let it happen? Lumiere wakes up in a storage room with a bunch of other kids who were abducted as well. Which makes no sense because are there really that many kids walking to the opera alone that she just happened to be one of them? Seeing how quickly she escapes her bindings, its fairly obvious they didn’t know about her power, so it would have to be random, right? And how was the trap girl immune to her own lipstick?

The crime organization recruits Eclaire to work on a mission to pay off her debt to them… Which makes no sense, because not only should she have bolted during the confusion, but they were the ones who misconstrued a clutzy coincidence… And she winds up face to face with the ship that her partner has just killed the pilots and taken control of, which makes no sense because not only is she supposed to be elegant, or because an agent who needs permission to make arrests shouldn’t be able to kill so easily, but because coincidence is the tool of lazy writers. Anyway, this leaves a lot of unconscious kids to be returned home, but as it turns out, Lumiere has found an on-board computer with a database of the names of all the abducted kids, past and present. This makes no sense because A: Why would they keep a record of kids they don’t have anymore? B: Why would they need a record of ANY of their names? C: If they’re using it for ransom purposes, they must know names of the kids before trapping them, so why go after Lumiere, who doesn’t come from a rich family? D: What about the honeypot kid? Is she a robot? Was she brainwashed? Did they rescue her as well, or was her part in the story done once the audience got their yuri-loli tease?

If you’re having trouble pinning down my first specific complaint, count up the amount of times I said “Didn’t/doesn’t make any sense” in the space of one single episode. This isn’t an exception, but the rule. The entire series is like that. Out of almost ninety percent of the things that happen in this series, none of it makes any sense. It’s either poorly explained or it won’t be explained until later. Characters make decisions that are not only stupid, but baffling in terms of the logic they use, forming plans that are either overly-complicated or horribly misguided, or both. The freaking white rabbit is easier to follow than this series is at most points. Even an issue as basic as what the characters are becomes confusing. They are just humans with nanomachines prolonging their lives, right? Well how the hell can their consciousness jump into new bodies? A brain transplant? Are they robots?

For my second point, let’s take a somewhat more vague look at episode 14, Steel/Heart. A thing happens in this episode, and while I won’t go into specifics about who, how or why, two of Eclair and Lumiere’s closest allies are… Um, I know this isn’t the right word, but I’ll say “Brainwashed” to avoid spoiling too much… to kill them. Our heroes fight valiantly, but are unable to save themselves without destroying their friends. Now, this should be an emotional moment, yes? There should be feels here, but alas, there are none to be had. I can’t stress enough how important hope is when you’re trying to write a tragedy. In order for a character’s death to make an impact on the viewer, there has to be some sort of hope that they’ll survive, but no, as soon as the “brainwashing” takes place, they might as well have put a big countdown timer on the screen, because we’re never given any indication that our heroes can do anything but delay the inevitable.

And furthermore, their death doesn’t have any feeling of weight to it because despite their constant presence in the story, we’re only given one highly forgettable episode to suggest that they even WERE characters to begin with. But then again, that’s only about half as much time as any other supporting character is given, so why not? There is a huge cast of characters in Kiddy Grade, and while they’re wildly diverse in terms of appearance and powers, they just have jack shit in terms of personality. Oh, they have quirks… There’s a sibling team where the sister refuses to let her brother call her ‘sister’ on the clock, and there’s a child/adult team that’s always arguing about where to eat, and… Other… Teams… And that’s about as far as any of them go. All-in-all, the actions of any given team could easily be swapped out with the actions of any other given team.

Even the two main characters fail to leave much of an impression. Lumiere is probably the most interesting character in the cast, as she can at least claim to be elegant and have refined tastes, but she quickly turns that into a gimmick by constantly saying “A lady should be more elegant.” She’s the precocious loli, which is more of a trope than a trait. Eclaire is of course the main character, so by the tradition of lazy writing, she has to be the perfectly righteous and idealistic hero. She’s a martyr waiting to happen, and it gets annoying really fast. There’s at least one villain who shows promise, but her motives seem confused between altruism and misanthropy. The Noblesse, who are supposed to be the true villains of the show, are native-born Earthlings, and they are nothing… I repeat, nothing… But upper-crust snobs with sticks up their asses and a contempt for all people lower than them.

Speaking of the noblesse, my final example isn’t so much an episode as a plot twist that happens towards the end of the series. I won’t spoil it, but it’s the first step in what might be a huge downfall for the Noblesse, and it has a lot in common with April O’Neal’s expanded connection to the Ninja Turtles that was revealed in the latest TMNT movie. Only in this case, it’s like the turtles were absent and just barely eluded to for four-fifths of the story before coming in like an exposition wrecking ball to tie everything together. Oh, and you’ll also have to imagine that April’s been firmly established to have a lot more important things to do than play nanny through the formative years of a bunch of freaking turtles. Seriously, these are supposed to be warriors with respectable authority, why the hell was one of them on nurse-maid duty? And it’s this final little twist… One that even Shyamalan would have sent back to the drawing board… That proves just how terribly, terribly written this anime is.

The series attempts, at about the halfway point, to explain how all of the events that happened up until that point were part of one interconnected plot, and it’s delivered through status reports to the chief of the GOTT. There are two problems with this, the first of which being that the explanation grinds the pace to a complete halt, and rather than sounding like a canon summary of events, it sounds more like an imaginative fanboy on Reddit tying to connect all the Pixar movies together. The stretching is that bad. Second of all, when you really look at it, this one episode gives away the one thing the creators of Kiddy Grade had been going through all of this BS to try to accomplish.

Yes, there was a legitimate goal in mind, here. These writers had an agenda, and once you start making the comparisons, it’s kind of embarrassing what they were trying to do; They were trying really hard to make Kiddy Grade the Evangelion of it’s genre. That entire sequence was a callback to an episode of Evangelion where the Angels that had been defeated thus far were listed off in a similar report. The narrative is constantly pushing meaningless religious symbolism, like the concept of sacrifice and rebirth, crucifixes, and hell, the organization our cast works for is called Gott, the German word for God. An entire episode is spent on Eclair trying to pull herself together psychologically after a random flashback brought out some erased memories, and the episode is a laughable attempt to copy the mental depth of a show that wasn’t all that deep in the first place.

So after all that, why is this show so well remembered? Why has it thrived for so long in the public consciousness, when all of the best things it has to offer are now dated? How does a combination of pathos, faux complexity and poorly directed fanservice demand so much name recognition in today’s market? Well, it all comes down to Kiddy Grade’s sense of style. I can’t think of any anime before or after this one that had the same kind of aesthetic to it, giving it a weird sort of iconic feel.

People like things that are unique, and that’s one word I can definitely apply to Kiddy Grade. It fails to tell a good story, it fails to build good characters, and in the end, all it really has to offer is spectacle of two good looking girls kicking ass, like it’s the pretentious version of Dirty Pair… Which is all some people want, I guess. That’s not to say it didn’t have any good ideas… On the contrary, I think it had a ton of good ideas, but what it didn’t have was a good enough writer to make them work… And sadly, that’s pretty damn important.

Kiddy Grade is available from Funimation. It was originally released stateside in an 8-disk box set that, despite the hefty price even then, came with a pretty attractive set of trading cards based around the eye-catch artwork of the episodes. If you’re looking for something cheaper, they did recently release the series in Anime classic thinpack form for a much more reasonable price. There have been three movies that were meant to retell the story of the series, but they haven’t been released stateside… After nine years and counting, I think you can give up waiting any day now. There have also been a handful of light novels and manga serials, but these have also sadly not seen the light of day on our side of the ocean.

While Kiddy Grade is a clusterfuck of failed story-telling, with a title that more than describes the level of maturity that went into it, I honestly can’t say I hated it. It didn’t make me feel angry or insulted, nor did it ever make me feel bored. Than again, I’m going to attribute those points to the fact that it just didn’t make me feel anything, positive or negative. It’s not that bad a show to watch if you don’t mind having your brain turned blissfuilly off the whole time, but as I’ve said many times before, I refuse to do that. Then again, with or without my approval, it’s an anime that’s survived for almost a decade and a half, and through whatever black magic it’s strange title has been casting, I’m pretty sure it’s here to stay. I give Kiddy Grade a 4/10.  

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