Manga: Dragon Ball

It has been a rather busy month so I haven’t had time to make a post until now. What have I been doing? Well, when I haven’t been drilling my way through Xenogears (a really really REALLY long game), I’ve been jumping between RIFT and FFXIV. Also, last week my family went on a Spring Break vacation. During that downtime I managed to get a little reading in. So, as promised I’m here today with my first ever manga discussion: Dragon Ball.

Last month I talked a little bit about my experiences with manga. I was introduced to it during my stay in Japan, but I never really took the time to sit down and enjoy the format until many years later. The first ever manga series that hooked me was Chobits. (I’ll talk about Chobits in greater detail in the near future). When I was done with it, I found myself clamoring for more. Unsure what to read next, I thought back to my days in Japan. Back in those days, the only English-speaking channel was operated by the US military. More often than not, it offered little in the way of kid’s entertainment. So, my friends and I would often flip our televisions over to the local Japanese stations and check out whatever it was they were watching. At that time, Dragon Ball Z was all the rage. Yes, I can claim to have watched Dragon Ball during its initial run – IN JAPAN! (How many weaboo points does that get me?) Now, neither I or my friends really had any idea what was going on, but it was cool to watch nonetheless. With this in mind, I chose Dragon Ball as the next manga series to dive into.

At that time, I read maybe the first five or six volumes of Dragon Ball before monetary constraints put an end to my Manga purchases. But, I enjoyed every second. Recently, I acquired the entire collection. So what is Dragon Ball? Well, it initially starts out as a childish retelling of the ancient Chinese fable “Journey to the West”. But it doesn’t take long for the story to go off the rails and develop into its own thing.  One recurring theme in the story are the “Dragon Balls” themselves. The Dragon Balls are seven magical stones. Whoever can collect all seven of them is able to summon a mystical dragon who can grant any wish. The story begins when a young girl named Bulma encounters a strange orphan boy while she searches for the Dragon Balls. The boy, Goku, is in possession of one of the balls. The earliest stories in the Dragon Ball series focus on the adventures of Goku and Bulma as the search the world for the missing balls. During this time, Goku encounters an old kung fu master, The Turtle Hermit, and abandons his search to become a disciple. At this point, the focus of the story shifts to Goku and his mastery of the martial arts. (Astute readers of this site will undoubtedly recognize that I have adopted The Turtle Hermit referenced above as my avatar on this blog.)

Admittedly, the actually plot line is pretty darn weak, especially in the later volumes. But, that doesn’t detract from the fun. If anything, the shallow story and innocence of the lead character is part of what makes this story so entertaining.

The original series runs for sixteen volumes. After that, the title switches to “Dragon Ball Z”. In Japan, there’s no distinction between Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z in print, that’s strictly a branding that is used here in the west.

Dragon Ball starts out rather childish, but ramps up in maturity level pretty quickly. By the end of the sixteen-volume series, the target audience seems to shift from children to teenagers. That being said, there’s actually a noticeable amount of mature content in the book from the very beginning. This may seem a little strange considering the books are marketed to children, but keep in mind that Japanese culture doesn’t tend to be nearly as conservative about some things.

All in all, Dragon Ball is an addictive enjoyable manga series. I look forward to continuing my way through Dragon Ball Z and finally seeing what all those old cartoons were about.

 

Anime: Castlevania – Season 1

Despite being a fairly mainstream nerd, I actually have a very unusual opinion on anime. As a general rule, I don’t enjoy it. In fact, several years go I made a post about my struggles with anime on this very blog: The Anime Conundrum. To date, the only real anime show that I’ve actually found enjoyable has been Sword Art Online. But, when I heard that Netflix was going to be debuting a show based on the classic video game series Castlevania, I knew that I was going to have to set aside my reservation and give it a watch.

I am a lifelong Castlevania fan. In fact, I have reviewed every single canonical game in the series on this site.  So to say I was pumped to be able to watch a Castlevania story unfold on the television is an understatement. But, I was skeptical. Movies and shows based on video games typically end up being very poor in quality. If you don’t believe me, just watch a few episodes of Super Mario Brother’s Super Show or even the Double Dragon motion picture…. YUCK.   –  Thankfully, this cycle has been broken with Castlevania.

This “series” consists of four 30-minute episodes. So, I really feel like this was one film that was actually refitted into a four-part series. I’ve heard several people comment that this is actually a bit of a test run, and if Castlevania proves to be successful, a longer full length series will follow. If that is true, I fully expect we’ll be hearing news of a second season before long.

The storyline is actually a retelling of events from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse and Symphony of the Night.  The show begins by telling the backstory of “Symphony”, it explores Dracula’s relationship with his wife and her ultimate fate. It then skips forward to events from Castlevania III and covers what is essentially the first half of that game. I was impressed by the level of detail included in the telling of the story. It is very apparent that the people who put together this anime have a deep knowledge and appreciation for the lore behind the Castlevania story. They absolutely nailed it.  I don’t want to spoil the show for anyone who has not yet watched it, but there are many details included from the game that I wouldn’t expect to see on the screen. And their inclusion does not feel forced or cheesy in any way.

My only gripe with the show is that it is for mature audiences only. The language and subject matter are very extreme. I have no problem with this on it’s surface, but Castlevania is a franchise beloved by people of all ages. Kids are going to want to watch this series and I’ll be honest and tell you that they should not. You have been warned. This show is NOT KID FRIENDLY.

All in all, this show holds the honor of being only the second anime that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching. I think I’m going to make a point of finally following up on some suggestions that have been given to me over the years and reviewing them on the site. So, if you’re curious about my opinions or even if you have a suggestion or two, please feel free to drop me a note of leave a comment.

Final thoughts: A surprisingly accurate portrayal of what is a classic video game story. The artwork is vivid and awe-inspiring. The voice acting is simply superb. I was hooked from the first scene. My biggest complaints are that the series is very short and much of the mature language seems unnecessary.

Score:  A

The Anime Conundrum

As this blog will attest, I’m pretty much the complete stereotypical nerd. I like video games, comic books, science fiction, Dungeons & Dragons, etc. But there’s two typical nerdisms that I have always proudly be unassociated with: Anime and Live Action Role Playing. In this post, I want to talk a bit about Anime. The picture above is a poster from a Japanese cartoon called Thunderbirds 2086. This show has the honor of being the first piece of Japanese animation that I was ever exposed to…. and I hated it.

I don’t recall many of the details because I was probably around pre-school age. But I believe this series was being aired on HBO in the early 80s and for some reason, my father taped it for me. Not having anything else to watch, I watched Thunderbirds. I didn’t like it the first time I saw it, and I didn’t like it any better after the 50th time I saw it. But for some reason, I watched it.

Today, I couldn’t tell you what it was even about. I won’t cheat and look it up online either. All I remember are big yellow machines, some kind of underwater expedition and a bunch of starfighters that reminded me of something out of Star Wars. Aside from this show, and a healthy dose of Speed Racer cartoons, I had no other exposure to Japanese animation for quite some time.

I next stumbled into Japanamation (that’s what we called it at the time) with the debut of Voltron on American television. Now this show was cool! Bright colors, robotic lions that could connect into one butt kicking robot! This show had it all. However, shortly after becoming interested in Voltron, the show seemed to vanish from the airwaves. So, my interests returned to more American shows like He-Man and Silverhawks.

A year or two later, I found myself living the life of an Air Force brat on the island of Okinawa in Japan. Back then, there were only three channels available to watch. One armed-forces-ran English channel and two local Japanese channels. 9 times out of 10, it was English-speaking channel that was on in my home. But occasionally, I enjoyed flipping it over to the Japanese stations. Japanese programming was quite different from anything I was used to. Crazy game shows, cheesy-looking soap operas and of course, anime cartoons. Around the time I was living there, Dragon Ball Z was just in its first run in Japan. It was actually quite popular among the American kids, even if we had no idea what it was about. We traded Dragon Ball trading cards, we had Dragon Ball pencils, it was everywhere. I thought it looked cool, but I wasn’t able to understand the storyline because I didn’t speak a word of Japanese. A few years after I returned to the states, Dragon Ball had made it’s way here and I remember being amused by everyone thinking it was something knew. No one believed me when I told them it was at least 3-4 years old.

At this point, I was very indifferent to anime. I really enjoyed the artwork visually, but I had no real love for the shows themselves. My next stint with anime is where I think I really began to disdain the genre. I was dating a girl, and she basically forced me to watch this bizarre sex/alien-based cartoon called Legend of the Overfiend. I didn’t enjoy this show at all. I remember something about giant alien penises tearing apart a city, and monsters with tentacles raping women. It was totally not my cup of tea. It burned me from anime for a very long time. Almost 10 years to be exact.

Flash forward to around 2006, I find myself being an avid player of Final Fantasy XI online. Many of the people I play with are major otakus. In fact, I realize I am slowly becoming the minority with my peers in the game. Everyone is watching anime. Everywhere I turn people are talking about things like Cowboy Bebop and Evangelion. I try watching some of these shows, but to me they still seem slow-paced and boring.

Then one day, I find myself at the book store and I look up to see a shelf of Manga (Japanese comics). I pick up a Dragon Ball book and flip through it. I find myself liking it, so I buy it. I loved the comic so much that I went back and purchased a bunch more. Man, I’m really digging this book! So maybe this is it, I think. I decide to give Dragon Ball another shot and I put it on my Netflix list. Well, the DVD comes, and I fall asleep watching it. It’s just…. too childish. I try again with another Manga that I really enjoy, Chobits. This show is not childish at all, but it still doesn’t click with me.

A few more years go by, and now it seems like everyone is into anime but me. So finally a few weeks ago, I bite the bullet and ask some of my friends in Final Fantasy XIV to recommend a few titles to me. I summarize my experiences and I get quite a few suggestions. One of these is a series called Sword Art Online. It’s a show that’s essentially about a futuristic virtual reality-based MMO. After everyone logs in on launch day, they find themselves trapped inside the game world. It turns out this trap was laid out by the game’s sadistic creator as twisted experiment of sorts. If you die in the game, the VR machine sends a shock to your system terminating you in real-life (think, Matrix). It was fantastic. Simply amazing.

After watching only one episode of this show, I was hooked. I finally found an anime cartoon that enjoy. Thanks to some Netflix suggestions, I have a few other titles on my list that I’m going to try out as well. So I’m very curious to see if this one show is an exception to my rule of “I hate anime” or if it will actually be a doorway that gets me into the genre. I’m genuinely curious. – but needless to say, I recommend this show.

If any of you have some good suggestions, please feel free to either comment or send a message. I will be sure to check it out.

Despite this new development, no matter what, I still refuse to dress up and participate in any LARPing whatsoever. So there’s always that.

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

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Having completed Crisis Core, I was in a Final Fantasy VII sort of mood, so I decided to check out the continuation to the original VII story. Interestingly enough, the sequel to Final Fantasy VII comes not in the form of a game, but rather as a motion picture.

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is the name of the film in question. Now, I should preface this by saying I saw this movie on DVD years ago when it was released and I was not very impressed with what I saw. For today’s viewing, I decided to put all that aside and watch the new definitive version of the film: Advent Children COMPLETE. This new version is available on Blu-Ray in full HD and feature re-done special effects and contains an extra 30 minutes of content. But sadly, the new additions were not enough to change my opinion of the film.

FAIR WARNING: If you have not played the original game, the rest of this post will probably make no sense whatsoever as it discusses details about the original game.

The main plot of the film focuses on a mysterious sickness called Geostigma that has began to affect the population shortly after the events of the first game. It is suspected that the illness is the result of exposure to the Lifestream during the climax of the original Final Fantasy VII. Meanwhile, amongst all this, three strange individuals are on the hunt for the remaining JENOVA cells in hopes to bring about the resurrection of Sephiroth. Naturally, it is up to Cloud and his companions to save the day.

Throughout the film we see cameos by a number of characters from the original game. For this most part this works well, but a few of them do seem a be a bit shoe-horned in. Cloud seems to be a moody mess and very unlike the Cloud we know the original game. Plotwise, the movie is quite frankly a jumble of nonense. At least it felt that way to me. There is really no clean set up for the events of the movie and I spent a large part of it in total confusion. Only through my own personal knowledge of VII lore was I able to piece together what the hell was going on. I imagine that someone who is not a fan would have a very difficult time taking anything meaningful away from this film. The highlight of the picture are the fight-scenes at the very end of the film. I found those to be action packed and very entertaining when compared to the rest of the movie. This movie fan-service in its truest form.

Gripes about the plotline aside, the film is amazingly beautiful. The computer animation ranks right up there anything I’ve seen from Disney or Pixar. In my own personal opinion, the visuals are the main reason to watch this film. It’s nothing short of awe inspiring. In fact, the whole HD experience is quite well done here. I watched this on my home theater with 5.1 surround and was really impressed with the entire presentation.

The Blu-Ray also features a few short featurettes that can help bring viewers up to speed with the background storyline. It shows footage from both FFVII and Crisis Core. It also includes footage from the Japanese-only mobile game Before Crisis. This was a really nice touch.

In a nutshell, I feel like Advent Children makes for a pretty weak sequel to the original game. If you’re a huge fan of both Final Fantasy VII and anime, this might be the film for you. If not, you might be a bit disappointed.  But I can safely say, despite my complaints, I did enjoy this a heck of a lot more than the other “Final Fantasy” motion picture Square released back in the early 2000’s.

Overall Opinion:  Beautiful film visually, but overall it falls flat.

Other Reviews In This Series:

Main Series:

I – II – III – IV – V – VI – VII – VIII – IX – X – X2 – XI – XII – XIII – XIII 2 – XIII Lightning Returns – XIV – XV 

IV: After Years – VII: Dirge of Cerberus – VII: Crisis Core – VII: Advent Children (Movie) – XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s Tale – XV: Brotherhood (Anime) – XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

Misc Titles:

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics:

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia:

Dissidia – Dissidia 012 – Dissidia NT

Crystal Chronicles:

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Mobile Titles:

Dimensions – Dimensions 2 – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight  – Dissida Final Fantasy Opera Omnia