Manga to Anime: From Astro Boy to Spirited Away

Part of this years "Japan WOW!," Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art (DC) will feature a day-long seminar featuring leading experts and industry veterans that will explore the development of manga and anime from "humble beginnings" to its massive track record. The discussion will focus on the creative process, styles, characters, and the effect these popcultural creations have on U.S. markets and trends.

Speakers include:
Michael Uslan (Batman)
Ryuhei Kitamura (Azumi)
Mitsuhisa Ishikawa (Blood, Ghost in the Shell, Evangelion, Jin-Roh)
Kazuhiko Kato (Lupin III)
Hiroshi Koizumi (Spiral)

These series of lectures will take place on Saturday, April 21st from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. General admission is $45.00. You can check out the details and buy tickets here.



The end begins...Kratos is back with a vengeance as he sets out to do the impossible - to change his fate and take his revenge on Zeus. "Devil May Cry" has nothing on this, and that's saying a lot. I'll have to admit that I was a bit bummed out when I heard "God of War II" wasn't going to have a PS3 release, but boy was I mistaken.

You are instantly thrown into battle as loyalties are tested and revenge sought. It's a roller coaster ride right from the start and does not ease up even at inch throughout the entire game. The transition between the CG sequences and real-time/action scenes are seemingly unnoticeable. You may miss it if you blink twice. In addition, there are a handful of scenes that usually get the CG sequence treatment, but "GoW II" makes the player actually do whatever action is needed (like running across long distances between islands and dragging yourself as you bleed to death) making you experience the event first hand.

The battle combos are sick and sweet, and the storyline is extremely prominent, balanced, and strong. Plot is definitely not lacking. "GoW II" brings what makes Greek Mythology so awesome. People just observing will no doubt be entertained as well. "GoW II" also has a great soundtrack to match the game. I can't think of any bad criticism to make, so I'll stop looking.

The bonus DVD included is over-stuffed with extra goodies including deleted levels, trailers, behind the scenes, music, interviews, and more. Unlockables include new costumes and more game levels.

Trust me when I say this - Once you start the game, you won't want to stop till you finish it!! It's definitely gonna be a torturous wait until "God of War III." Is revenge nigh for Kratos?


Elder Scrolls on PS3

Right from the moment the first note played after popping "Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion" in my PS3, I felt a tingling crawling through my body. That ominous and nostalgic feeling put me right back in my seat at the "Play! A Video Game Symphony" as the orchestra hall was filled with one of my favorite theme songs, "Reign of the Septims."

After playing for a couple of hours, I could already tell that "Elder Scrolls" most definitely had a home on the PS3. While not overwhelmingly superior to the PC or Xbox 360 versions, the PS3 game no doubt has quite a few perks ofi its own.

The visual and audio quality is stunning. The loading time feels as though it has been cut by more than half. In addition to all the epic quests from the original version, an extra chapter has been added. "Elder Scrolls" is truly one of the best RPG games ever made. No plug-in downloads have been announced yet, but its potential is limitless.

The gates of Oblivion has been opened once again. It's time to unravel the malevolent plot behind it all.


Death Note: The Last Name

"Death Note: The Last Name" continues right where we left of during the first live action movie. This sequel picks up at just about volume 3 of the "Death Note" manga and goes through the entire series. I was able to watch it last night, and its effects still haven't left me. It's a battle of wits and cleverness as L and Light/Kira face off. The final climax will reveal who actually has the upper hand and who will be the Last Name written in the Death Note. A second "God" armed with the Death God Eyes meets up with Light as he tries to create his new world and finally rid himself of the meddlesome L.

The film on its own is mediocre in the same aspects of the first movie, but those already versed in the manga or anime will definitely appreciate the movie and be entertained all the way through. I was on the edge of my seat during the second half of the movie, asking myself, will the end of the movie match the conclusion of the manga? This movie is geared more to the fans and delivers.
The opening and closing songs featured songs from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It's an interesting choice, but as a huge fan of Nightmare, I can't help but wish "Alumina" and "the World" took the place of the opening and closing sequences.
Twists and turns, manipulation, and deceit all build up to the final showdown between L and Light/Kira. Just when you thought you understood all, the rules change and the tables turn. Who will prevail in the end? Watch it and find out.


The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Take 2

Okay, now there's really something to comment on. Episode one was a real bummer and to put it simply, excruciatingly horrific, a colossal turn off for that matter. Episode two, however, provides some relief and somewhat redeems itself, becoming an anime many can get into. I wouldn't call "Haruhi Suzumiya" an excellent anime, but there are some unique qualities that may come close to outweighing the bad.
In episode two, we get into the actual story and meet and learn more about the characters. There's Kyon, the generic character we are used to seeing, with an unfortunate luck. He reminds me a lot like "Love Hina's" Keitaro Urashima or "Tenchi's" Tenchi, getting beat around and stuck with girls that have overarching personalities.
I was tempted to compare "Haruhi Suzumiya" with other "related" anime that leans more to the high school setting, in my desperation to find some strong points. In particular, "To Heart," "Azumanga Daioh," "Boys Be...," "Kare Kano," "Full Metal Panic," "School Rumble," "Gakuen Heaven,"or whatever, the list goes on. But they all have one thing in common, a plot with enough substance to carry them through. Whether the plot appeals to you will determine whether it'll be an anime for you.
We end episode two with the creation of a club with no purpose thus far: The S.O.S Brigade (The Save the World by Overloading it with Fun Suzumiya Haruhi Brigade). It seems that anything might happen with the episodes to follow. I didn't find anything humorous or exciting to the episode, but "Haruhi Suzumiya" has been upgraded from my "Hell No" to my "Hmm...Maybe, But Unlikely" list of anime to watch. I would suggest taking a gander at the series (maybe skipping episode one) if you have time to determine if it suits your tastes.


"Kino no Tabi" Book 1

"The world in not beautiful, therefore it is." Those are the words we first encounter in Book One of "Kino no Tabi (Kino's Journey): The Beautiful World." Book One tells six short stories that follow the journey of our main character, Kino. These six stories are intertwined together as we come face to face with towns that are different, yet the same on several levels.

"Kino no Tabi" is full of philosophical insight and takes a hard look at different aspects of morality. The ugliness and imperfections of the world truly make it beautiful. The tone and direction of the novel reminds me a lot of "The Little Prince" as Kino tries to understand the outlook of life throught the point of view of grown-ups. Traditions, responsibilities, adulthood, feelings, society, technology, idealities, and morality are all examined. "Kino no Tabi" is a wholehearted yet haunting story that leaves you questioning what we do or don't do and how we view life as it stands.

This novel is nice and light, and not heavily bogged down with philosophical reasoning. This makes it a must read for all. Eight volumes make up the series, also an anime. Book Two is tentatively set to be released this July.


Ghost Hound

I.G. Production's "Ghost Hound" will be written by none other than "Ghost in the Shell's" Shirow Masamune. "Ghost Hound" has got a nice hefty staff behind it - "Ghost in the Shell," "Serial Experiments Lain," and "Kino's Journey" - giving this new anime great prospects. We couldn't ask for a better blend of artists.

"Ghost Hound" is set to premiere in Japan this Fall [Source: WOWOW].


SAC: White Maze

Continuing the "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex" novel series, Volume 3: "White Maze," is anything but ordinary and predictable. The plot development was awe-inspiring and beautifully balanced, as if meticulously measured yet natural. Scenes were not overly packed and focused with the Tachikomas like in Volume 2: "Revenge of the Cold Machines." Yet there was enough of everything to please all fans.

"White Maze" returns to the one-story mode as in Volume 1: "The Lost Memory." I find that the one-story mode is more aesthetically pleasing rather than applying the 3-stories-in-1 method. But depending on the individual circumstances, I can't exclusively rule out the multi-story method.

As I mentioned in my review of "The Lost Memory," the english translation lies on the mediocre side. Quality is still left in tact because of everything else it has to offer. Out of the three volumes currently available, "Revenge of the Cold Machines" does to best job as far as translation goes. "The White Maze" is sprinkled with simple errors such as spelling mistakes. I almost feel compelled to take the position of editor.

Be that as it may, "White Maze" has plenty to offer. The cover art for the SAC novels are vividly stunning and so fluid. It would be difficult not to find beauty behind the art which embodies the profound characters and plot.

As far as I know, no word has yet to be announced for a possible fourth volume. As I closed "White Maze," I felt a sense of satisfaction and thrill that was suddenly replaced by a feelings the urge to read more SAC only to be remedied with the release of future novels.


Genius Party

"Genius Party" is an anthology of short-animated films featuring a generous helping of "world-class geniuses of animation." Japan's theatrical release will show off Part 1 of the anthology with 7 impacts by 7 directors on the 7th month of 2007. The number seven never looked so good. Here are the fourteen films slated thus far (the first seven represent the line-up for Part 1):

Genius Party (Opening) // Atsuko Fukushima
Space-Time Wars // Shoji Kawamori
Deathtic 4 // Shinji Kimura
Doorbell //Yoji Fukuyama
Limit Cycle // Hideki Futamura
Dream Machine // Massaki Yuasa
Baby Blue // Shinichiro Watanabe
Tojin Kin // Tatsuyuki Tanaka
Untitled // Hiro Yamagata
Nicolas de Crécy // Le manchot melamane
Gala // Mahiro Maeda
"Wanwa" the Puppy // Shinya Ohira
Moondrive // Kazuto Nakazawa
Dimension Bomb // Koji Morimoto

Three trailers are available on the official site,
www.genius-party.jp, Trailer One // Trailer Two // Trailer Three [Source: Catsuka]. Trailer 3 is worth checking out. "Baby Blue" looks to be my top contender so far. But choosing is hard to do with this party of geniuses, to say the least. Four trailers are available on iTunes to download for free.

The news most definitely does not stop there. The world premiere screening of "Genius Party" will take in place in February 2008 at the John F. Kennedy Center in DC!! This international premiere will be part of the Center's two week event (February 5-17, 2008), "Japan!Culture & HyperCulture" [Source: Washington Post].

You might remember about two or three years ago, the John F. Kennedy Center held an event called "Anime Explosion." Voice Actor Chris Patton and Gainax Co-Founder Hiroaki Inoue were among those present. A special screening of "The Old Crocodile" by Koji Yamamura was shown as well. It looks like "Anime Explosion" may mark the beginning of a growing and continuing trend in the US.


SAC: Revenge of the Cold Machines

Volume 2 of the "Ghost in the Shell: SAC" novel series continues the exciting trend readers encountered in Volume 1. This time around, three seemingly separate, yet linked, stories are presented. Section 9 Chief Daisuke Aramaki is a target of assassination. Subsequent events reveal the bigger plot being concocted behind the scenes.

"Revenge of the Cold Machines" is full of action, twists and turns, and never loses steam for the entire duration of the novel. The tachikomas take a much greater role and should no doubt please many fans. A hard book to put down!


Miyazaki's Newest Film Announced

Hayao Miyazki's newest installment has finally surfaced. The first piece of artwork was broadcasted yesterday on NNN news [Source: Ghibli World].

Due Summer 2008, "Gake no ue no Ponyo" (Ponyo on a Cliff), chronicles the story of a five year old boy named Sosuke and a Princess Goldfish, Ponyo, who wants to become human. Miyazaki's character designs often trademark people he knows or has encountered (e.g. "Spirited Away"). Sosuke, as it happens, is modeled after Goro's son, Miyazaki's grandson. Quite remarkably, the storyboard will be painted in watercolor. With the majority of the film setting in the ocean's depths, it will be an interesting treat to see how it all works out.

On another note, it has been confirmed that Joe Hisaishi will compose the film's soundtrack...and I wouldn't have it any other way.


DC 5th Annual Cherry Blossom Anime Marathon

This year markes the fifth installment of the DC Annual Cherry Blossom Anime Marathon, part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. This year's Japanese Street Festival, Sakura Matsuri, will feature their "J-pop Land" as well as many other events (http://www.sakuramatsuri.org/, for more information). The Anime Marathon and Japanese Street Festival will both take place on Saturday, April 14, 2007.

And for the big news, just announced, an extremely very special guest will be in attendance during the Anime Marathon at Freer. Are you ready for this? The one and only Satoshi Kon!!! That's right, Satoshi Kon, director, character designer, and writer for films including "Perfect Blue" and "Millennium Actress." Kon will introduce and discuss two of his films. Tickets are first-come, first-serve (limit 2 tickets per person) at 10:30 AM. Visit
http://www.asia.si.edu/ for more information.

The scheduled line-up is as follows:

11:00 AM - "Yu-Gi-Oh: The Movie" (Katsuki Tsuji, English Dubbed)
Here we adventure to Egypt, where Yugi must defeat the awakened ancient evil spirit, Anubis, to vanquish evil once again. The overall movie is less than mediocre with the dubbing and plot below par. Nevertheless, it should provide some entertainment to more avid fans of the series and card game.

1:30 PM - "Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters" (Mamoru Oshii, Japanese with English Subtitles)
From Production I.G. and the genius who brought us "Ghost in the Shell," Mamoru Oshii, comes an animated feature film that depicts one entire nation's dietary history. This comedic parody is based on the original novel written by Oshii himself. I personally have not seen this movie yet and am anxiously waiting for April to come.

4:00 PM - "Tokyo Godfathers" (Satoshi Kon, Japanese with English Subtitles)

We kick off the Satoshi Kon section of the marathon with "Tokyo Godfathers." This film marks the adventures of three homeless friends: a young girl, a transvestite, and a middle-aged bum, who encounter an abandoned newborn. They run into many obstacles as they set off to find the baby's parents. I always enjoy watching this movie, it brings a smile to my face. Here I go...*clears throat*..."Climb every mountain..." Okay, I'll stop.

7:00 PM - "Paprika" (Satoshi Kon, Japanese with English Subtitles)
Finally, we end the run with "Paprika." I've written several posts on this movie, so I won't go into much detail here. A device with the ability to read dreams is stolen and it is up to Paprika to capture the culprit and save the world. I'm excited to get a chance to watch this again. Last time I saw this was in Paris, France and since then I've been eager to see it a second time. I'm also excited to see what Kon's comments will be. For most, this will be the first time area residents can watch this movie. The movie is set to be released on DVD, Blu-ray Disc, and UMD this May in Japan; and is set for a theatrical release in the US in May.


The "Death Note" Craze Continues

US and Japan are hooked on "Death Note" and simply can't get enough of it. From the manga to the anime to the live action, "Death Note" screams nothing but success in both extremes of the world. Though this comes as no surprise. Everyone wants to know what will happen to the being with the power to control death through a seemingly ordinary notebook. The manga is showing up on the best-selling books and the live action movie is selling out like crazy.

The second live action movie, "Death Note: The Last Name" was just released on DVD in Japan this week and I'm sure everyone wants to get their hands on it. To commemorate this latest release, life-size figures of the shinigami, Ryuk, have been displayed in various locations in Japan. The streets of Japan are also plastered with ads for the spin-off movie, "L." The interest in this series is nowhere close to being exhausted.


Japan Release of "Paprika"

Satoshi Kon's "Paprika" is set to be released on DVD, UMD, and Blu-ray Disc simultaneously this May 23rd in Japan. The DVD will be available in a standard edition and a special 2-disc box set packed with extra goodies including a 760 page storyboard book. The UMD and Blu-ray disc formats will carry only the standard edition. This worries me just a little. Will the US release follow Japan's footsteps? Packaging and all things omake are all just as equally important (or at least very significant) as the movie itself. The fact that most releases come with a regular and limited edition is great in that it satisfies everyone. For me personally, I tend to lean to limited, exclusive, and special collector's editions. Here's where the dilmena rises. Do I sacrifice state-of-the-art optimal visual and sound quality for the special box set? Or do I sacrifice a beautifully packed, goodies stuffed and stunning artwork galore box set for the best technology has to offer? DVD or Blu-ray?? I couldn't choose...I'm hoping this trend is only temporary. But I fear that I'm not so confident that it is.


SAC: The Lost Memory

Extending the hit TV series, "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex," the first volume of the SAC novel gives fans more of what they love best. "The Lost Memory" focuses on a young terrorist group known as the "Good Morning Terrorists." The mystery behind the crimes committed by the Good Morning Terrorists have yet to be solved and it's up to Kusanagi and gang to reveal the truth behind their flamboyant expedition.

"The Lost Memory" is fast-paced filled with the characters we all love like Major Kusanagi and Batou, for example. References to the TV show, such as the Laughing Man, are strategically placed in the novel. It keeps you hooked to the very end. Despite being set in the not-so-distant-future, the balance between future technology and the roots of human thought and action is nicely even, emphasizing the already known fact. The fact being that GiTS is on a higher caliber. Anyone can pick up this book: if you're new to the series or have yet to watch SAC, this novel gives you a nice taste of what you've been missing. If you're a veteran of the series, "The Lost Memory" is done gracefully keeping the integrity of the original plot. You will be in for a treat. And anyways, who wouldn't want more SAC?

Japanese to English translations are always risky, but must be done if we are ever able to get a chance to read these wonderful stories. Some translations have been really bad, but there is a good number of successes. "The Lost Memory" is somewhere in the middle. The translation wasn't flawless, but luckily the plot is so deeply intriguing and integrated that it does not jeopardize the story. The best translation I have encountered thus far are with the "Vampire Hunter D" novels. Nevertheless, this novel is worth picking up.

Volumes 2 and 3, "Revenge of the Cold Machines" and "'White Maze," are now available in stores.


Speed Grapher on iTunes (US)

I remember how excited I was the first time I saw the Final Fantasy section on iTunes. Since then, things have been brewing. We are seeing a steady increase in the genre of Anime. ADV was one of the first to provide anime trailers on iTunes. AnimeNation and Anime Network now has podcasts available, not to mention WOW podcasts. The number of anime episodes are also exponentially increasing. Though all of them are english dubbed, I still view this as a good start. Alas, that does not mean, however, that subs are definitely around the corner. Titles include: Basilisk, Samurai 7, Speed Grapher, Desert Punk, Animatrix, and Gunslinger Girl.



"Mushishi" is a pleasant anime/manga series that looks at the world unnoticed by normal human beings. Mushi are beings that are neither plants nor animals. Instead they resemble the primeval body of life having an ethereal-like, floater existence, some with supernatural powers. The story follows Ginko, known as a Mushi master, as he travels all around exploring the world of Mushi and providing a helping hand to those suffering from Mushi-related problems.

"Mushishi" is rather episodic rather than following a major plot. Nevertheless, it delivers a light and unique world that is unmatched by previous works. The animation quality is appropriate and the mood mixes between all seriousness and comedic elements. A live action movie, by no surprise, was produced in 2006 and directed by one of my favorite icons, Katsuhiro Otomo (known best for his work on "Akira").


Speed Grapher Vol. 6

The final volume of the intensive, electrifying series, "Speed Grapher," delivers a big bang. The truth behind Suitengu's crusade is revealed and the outcome of the final showdown between Suitengu and Saiga holds the key to Kagura's survival.

With the club reopened, the Roppongi Crisis gets underway. Will corruption, power, and money bring the ultimate downfall to Japan and its people? Tragic loss, tragic gain, tragic love, revenge, and lust befall as "Speed Grapher" comes to a conclusion. You don't want to miss it, I guarantee it!! Let the "Burning Crusade" begin...



An Evangelion SD series geared for the younger/teen generation, has been revealed. This new GAINAX Evangelion project, known as "Puchi Eva Evangelion@School," will follow after the release of a line of figurines.

Okay, I'm not trying to project an elitist view or anything, but I wish Eva spin-offs would just stop. I tolerated "Evangelion: Angelic Days," but this "Evangelion@School
" is asking way too much. The plots of both are fine, but would've been even better if there were totally new characters, rather than borrowed.

Create new characters and don't piggyback on the exuberating spirit and essence that is Eva. Even if it is GAINAX, or especially since it is, the creation of new character design and plot should not be impossible. In fact, we can be sure that what is produced will be amazing. So please, stop it already. Yes, I know I could simply not watch or read it, but the mere existence makes me cringe at the thought that these personalities - Rei, Shinji, Asuka, et al. - are being compromised, for lack of a better word.


Death Note Computer

30 limited edition "Death Note" Notebook Computers, equipped within Windows Vista, is being sold online exclusively by the Nippon Television Network Corporation. Each laptop comes a special red apple USB flash drive and is retailed at 200,000 Yen (approximately $1,700). A more economical option would have been to sell the "peel-off" skin that fits on most laptops and to sell the apple USB flash drive as well. Oh well...

Update: 9 March 2007: The Death Note laptops have been SOLD OUT!


The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya - Episode 1

The hype in Japan and U.S. on the new anime series, "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya," has been ground-breakingly tremendous these past months. It's really unbelievable. They hype alone, unfortuately, has confirmed that this isn't a series I first imagined it to be based only on the title. Despite this, I gave the first episode a shot.

It took an excruciating amount of willpower to stop me from shutting off the TV - I just could not stand it. Even knowing the fact that this first episode is showing an anime within the anime. We've seen this tactic done well before, recall "Genshiken." But unlike "Genshiken," this anime within the anime was horrible and took up the entire 27 or so minutes. The opening song was ridiculous and I simply could not watch the episode in one sitting - I think 7 minutes was my max.

It'll take me a while to recover from this atrocity, and when that time comes, I will make the most effort to watch more, but I can't make any promises whatsoever. This anime may be a show-stopping, a one-for-the-ages series, but the first episode, nay, the first couple of minutes is a colossal turn off.


Origin: Spirits of the Past

Three hundred years have passed since the Earth shattering, post-apocalyptic event changed the balance between the forest and humans. This riveting movie is eloquently fused with CGI and original animation, and has a soundtrack to match. I was surprised to realize that "Origin: Spirits of the Past" marks Gonzo's first theatrical film release.

The first frames of the movie immediately capture your attention. "Origin" definitely provides entertainment to the very end. Though I wonder how it would've been if the ending went the other way...There's some familiarity to the movie, maybe some remnants of past anime works, but has plenty to stand on its own. The machines/mecha, in CG format, felt out of place, as if forced in the movie to appeal to the mass audience. Fortunately, those elements were not over used.

Just what are the consequences of living in the past? What are the consequences of discarding the past, and living for the present and future? What side will you ultimately choose?