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Fantastic Mangas and Animes


’Mushi-shi’; original artist/creator Yuki Urushibara; drawing by Sunnie LaPan

Having come from the Flintstone age of comic books and Saturday-morning babysitting cartoons, I didn’t know that the world west of the United States had been producing their own brand of books and animated features quite unlike Mighty Mouse and Top Cat.
Shortly after WWII, Japanese authors began writing black and white graphic novels with full story lines called "manga."
Nowadays, there are several styles of manga, and not all of it is written in Japan.  Two of the most popular are "shojo," which is written for girls and women and "shonen" for boys and men.

The term “anime” refers to Japanese animation.   Sometimes anime is based off a manga story and vice versa.
Anime and manga are extremely popular.  
Conventions are held.  
Fans can be obsessive.       - AEL



  • Alternate Title: Anohana, Ano Hi Mita Hana No Namae Wo Bokutachi Wa Mada Shiranai
  • Genre: Slice of Life, Paranormal, Fantasy
  • Number of Episodes: 11
  • HfC Watched It In: Japanese (highly recommended)

  • Jintan, Menma, Anaru, Poppo, Tsurumi and Yokiatsu are childhood friends who have always done everything together. They even have a secret base located in an old shed in the woods, where they often get together to play. It seems that the group will be together forever. However, when they are still young, tragedy strikes and Menma passes away.

    Fast forward to the present, when the kids are now teenagers in high school. The group has drifted apart and mostly don’t speak to each other anymore. Each person is still feeling some kind of guilt over Menma’s death, even though it was an accident. Yokiatsu is hiding some really odd secrets. Tsurumi has an idea that Yokiatsu is suffering but doesn’t know how to help- or if she wants to. Poppo is living in the shack where the group once played and has very few real friends. Anaru is letting her mean friends control her life. Jintan has it the worst, though. His guilt over his last argument with Menma has been building for years, and things come to a head when he starts to see Menma’s ghost.

    Ano Hana At first, Jintan is convinced that he is hallucinating. However, Menma, who is now grown up, although she still has a little girl’s personality, is pretty convincing. She tells Jintan that she’s come back to see him because she needs her wish granted. The problem is, she can’t remember what her wish is.

    Jintan brushes her off as best he can, but when he runs into Poppo, the story comes out. Surprisingly, Poppo believes him. He gets the rest of the group together, uniting them after so many years, and asks them to help figure out what Menma’s wish is. Unfortunately, not everyone is as willing as Poppo to believe Jintan’s story.

    What really drew me into this anime is the incredible character development. The story about granting Menma’s wish is there, but the heart of the anime is the characters and what they’ve been going through. Getting to know what each character was feeling and how they’ve been affected by Menma’s death was mesmerizing. It seemed so plausible, but at the same time was really fascinating. It was totally absorbing to see how kids grow up and apart or together in the oddest of ways.

    Along with the characters, I rooted for Menma to discover what her wish was. What really kept me watching, though, was to see what crazy idea Poppo would come up with, how Anaru would react to Jintan, how Yukiatsu would lash out.

    Ano Hana The art for this anime was quite good, I thought. The music was good, too- I really liked the ending song. I thought the voice acting was great as well. I watched in Japanese and couldn’t get enough of Jintan’s voice.

    Although I enjoyed the series all the way through, I was really surprised by how moved I was at the end. It kind of creeps up on you. I expected this to be a light, fun anime. Instead, it was intense and kind of dark. But it was fun, too, and had quite a few comedic moments. Even though I would consider this to be a more shojo anime, I would recommend it to guys and girls alike, since it really has something for anyone who loves a great story.

    ‘Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day’ is eleven episodes long and is available as a complete set on either Blue-Ray or a Blu-Ray/DVD combo. You can also catch it on the legal streaming sight, Crunchyroll. ‘Anohana’ is based off of a manga, and there’s supposed to be a movie coming out sometime in 2013 that tells the story from Menma’s perspective. I haven’t delved into either of these and, since I was more than satisfied with the anime, I probably won’t.      -SEL

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  • Genre: Slice of Life
  • Number of Episodes: Volumes: 12, Ongoing
  • HfC Watched It In: Japanese (Highly recommended)
  • Formats: Manga and anime are both good

  • Handa
    I just started reading the fourth volume of ‘Barakamon.’ I was going to wait and read the whole series before I wrote a review- I almost never end up doing this, because I get too giddy, but it does seem like a better way to do things, just in case things go horribly, horribly wrong at the end of the story. But this new volume of the manga is just so good, and I already saw the anime, and that was fantastic, too. So I’m doing the review now.

    ‘Barakamon’ is about Handa, a young calligrapher who is having a rough patch in his work and his life. In Japan, calligraphy is more than pretty writing, it’s an art form that attempts to tie tradition and creativity together, so Handa is really an artist. But his calligraphy has been criticized as not being original enough, and he’s kind of shipped off to a relatively remote village island by his friend, who thinks it might be a good idea for him to get away for a while. Barakamon

    So here’s Handa, pretty depressed, a total city boy, stuck on a very rural island in the middle of a tight-knit community, and it’s nothing like he’s ever experienced before. And while he’s there, he meets this group of kids, which includes a few teenagers but is mostly a bunch of younger kids, who just won’t leave him alone. At first, Handa’s totally confused about how to deal with all this, but then he kind of finds himself fitting into the community and gaining a sense of his own style when it comes to his calligraphy, like he’s finally figuring out who he might be.


    There are a ton of reasons why I loved this anime and then, not long after, started reading the manga and loved that too. It’s funny. I mean, it’s really, really funny. I think maybe the anime has a little bit better timing than the manga, but both of them make me laugh out loud. And it’s relatable- no matter who you are, I think you could probably see yourself in Handa-sensei. He’s struggling so hard to find himself and become his own person, and at the same time create something that will let him continue living his life the way he wants and supporting himself. But as someone who is a writer and a musician, I think I connected to it just that little bit more. Finding that inspiration, staying in the lines between what you need to make and what will work, keeping yourself motivated… It’s not even just an artistic thing, but something that’s a challenge for many people. And it’s presented in a very honest, raw way here that I found believable and endearing.

    Barakamon That’s the thing- there’s comedy, but it’s tempered by a lot of thought and emotion and, if you think about it, kind of a heavy plot. I mean, I love comedy, but I’m not a big fan of things that are entirely comedic, without balance. But this is completely balanced.

    I could just really relate to Handa. And I could also relate to the time he spends with the kids, which is pretty weird for me. I am not a kid person. I don’t like them. I don’t want them. I kind of don’t want anything to do with them- they make me nervous. Generally, I don’t like reading about kids either. (I mean, as an adult. I still like most of my favorite kids’ books.) But ‘Barakamon’ has a way of using the kids, especially Naru, as not only excellent characters, but as a way to create a space of innocence and wonder where Handa can kind of find himself and find a peacefulness and get back to what’s important and what matters to him. It has nothing to do with family or anything like that, but more with simplicity, I think- the way Naru and her friends see the world is simple and full of excitement and that in turn shows Handa how wonderful things can be, or how easy, or just how… real. Barakamon

    I think one of the first scenes in volume four, which prompted me to write this review, sums up why I like the series so much. Handa, Naru, and her friends Hina and Akki, are in the local convenience store. Handa’s just decided to enter a prestigious calligraphy contest, and you know he’s nervous and probably ready to start stressing about it, even though he’s excited. But he kind of pushes it aside from the moment and buys himself and the kids each a piece of gum. Hina pops hers all over her face and it’s hilarious, and Handa’s trying to pull it off and at the same time stop Naru from poking her fingers into her own piece. It’s this moment of funny, everyday chaos that’s probably going to wear Handa out. But then he opens his own gum wrapper and sees that he’s won the prize- a little something, a tiny thing that makes him feel good. It’s such a small win, but in the middle of stress and fun, there’s a little something that’s affirming.

    That’s how the series is- a series of small wins and accomplishments that mean almost nothing by themselves, but add up to something bigger and beautiful, when you see it as a whole.

    The ‘Barakamon’ anime is 12 episodes long. The manga is ongoing.      -SEL

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  • Genre: Samurai, fantasy
  • Number of Volumes: 31
  • Alternate Formats: Anime, apparently not anything like the manga
  • Manji and Rin Blade 6

    I don’t really know what to say about ‘Blade of the Immortal.’ When I read the first volume, I was… kind of horrified, honestly. It’s a brutal, cruel, bloody manga about Manji, a… err, samurai, yes, but more a warrior, who’s immortal thanks to magic blood worms that knit his body back together whenever he’s injured. And it’s about Rin, a girl whose father was killed by a man leading a group of truly terrifying and often pretty‐much‐evil swordsmen and killers and just… bad, bad people. So people are always being decapitated and hacked apart, and Manji’s usually missing a few limbs‐ there’s so much blood and gore it should almost be comical, but it never really gets there, so mostly it’s just disgusting and terrible, and the situations these people find themselves in even when they aren’t chopping each other to bits are even worse‐ truly the stuff nightmares are made of, and often just very, very difficult to read.

     Blade7 But god, I love this series. It’s stunning, beautiful, raw, terrible, honest‐ yes, it’s often horrifying, but it’s also just as often filled with kind relationships, intricate stories that explore friendship and family and love, truth, honor… The characters, all of them, are intensely interesting, and although there are a few that are truly, frightening, decidedly evil, most of them fall into a grey area‐ good people doing bad things, bad people doing good things. Sometimes the characters that should be ‘good’ and ‘bad’ even work together, help each other, become friends before turning around to finish whatever they’ve started against each other. And it’s very, very believable.

    Blade And the art… The art is what kept me reading, after the uncertainty of wanting to continue after that first volume. The art is beyond gorgeous. It’s sometimes intricate, sometimes less so, but always seems to be only what it needs to be. Does that make sense? It’s never too much or too little, I guess is what I mean. Sometimes it’s even just pencil, no ink, and it’s so awesome to be able to see every line, every bit of shading, as completely intentional. Every single panel is a work of art by itself. Hiroaki Samura, the author and artist, is pretty much a genius, as far as I’m concerned.

     Blade2 I think I would have kept reading this series for the art no matter what, because it’s just that good. But despite everything, I found myself really feeling for the characters, really enjoying them, even most of the ‘bad guys,’ and I wanted to know what happened to them. It’s surprising how much the brutality of the manga gets mixed with deep, intense, real emotions. And the time period is also a plus‐ I’m pretty much a sucker for anything samurai related, but this is set in a difficult time, when the samurai were being edged out in favor of modernization, and these men (and women, so many wonderful women characters here) are desperately scrambling to find a place for themselves where they can still rely on the skills they’ve been taught and have utilized and honed for their entire lives.

    This manga isn’t for the faint of heart. A lot of times I’ve just closed a book in the middle of reading, put it aside because I couldn’t take any more of whatever was happening. But the series is definitely worth reading. I think it’s even worth rereading. It’s one of the most amazing, unique mangas I’ve ever come across.

    In Japan, ‘Blade of the Immortal’ ran for 30 volumes. In the US, it’s 31. You can get it in, like, a comic format. I like the books. The only downside is that they’re all flipped, meaning they read left to right, instead of right to left like most manga does. I guess this shouldn’t bother me, but it does a little. Still. I think it’s a series well worth owning. The volumes are numbered, but they’re also subtitled, and sometimes only the subtitle shows up on the book which makes things… interesting when you’re trying to figure out what volume comes next. So I wrote up a list, if that helps.

     Blade5  Blade8

    1. Blood of a Thousand
    2. Cry of the Worm
    3. Dreamsong
    4. On Silent Wings
    5. On Silent Wings II
    6. Dark Shadows
    7. Heart of Darkness
    8. The Gathering
    9. The Gathering II
    10. Secrets
    11. Beasts
    12. Autumn Frost
    13. Mirror of the Soul  Blade4
    14. Last Blood
    15. Trickster
    16. Shortcut
    17. On the Perfection of Anatomy
    18. The Sparrow Net
    19. Badger Hole
    20. Demon’s Lair
    21. Demon’s Lair II
    22. Footsteps
    23. Scarlet Swords
    24. Massacre
    25. Snowfall at Dawn
    26. Blizzard
    27. Mist on the Spider’s Web
    28. Raining Chaos
    29. Beyond Good and Evil
    30. Vigilance
    31. Final Curtain


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  • Genre: Paranormal, Action, Shonen
  • Number of Volumes: 63+
  • Alternate Formats: Anime, HfC hasn’t seen it

  • I just finished reading the 63rd volume of ‘Bleach.’ The series is still being published‐ it could go on and on‐ and instead of thinking ‘When will this end’ or ‘How much more of this will I have to read’ all I could think was ‘I hope it goes forever.’

    Ichigo I always think that when I finish a volume of ‘Bleach.’ I’m crazy about this series. Some series, you just want to get to the end, you just want to know what happens. But ‘Bleach’ is genius in that the end is always getting pushed a little further away, and there aren’t a million questions left unanswered‐ instead, new questions arise, so you never feel like you’re being teased or strung along. You just want more. Because ‘Bleach’ is great in a hundred different ways, and it’s a fricking joy to read. Bleach

    There are so many things I love about this manga. First is probably how simply, effortlessly satisfying it is. Right from the first volume, I was invested in the characters and plot, and reading about them was easy and fun‐ lots of comedy, lots of lighthearted moments‐ but it was also easy to become emotionally invested‐ I like the characters, love how different and alive they all are, and it’s so simple to relate to their griefs, their troubles and fears. And each volume is familiar, comfortable, but also throws that same mix of excitement and pauses of contemplation at you, so you just feel really good about reading it.

    Like I said, I love the characters. I love how complex they are, how the good guys are sometimes the bad guys and vice versa. I looove Ichigo, and how good he wants to be, and how hard he struggles to be the person he thinks he should be. And I love his friends. There are some great girl and guy characters here‐ I don’t usually care whether there are an equal number of girls to guys, but here, I’m glad there are, because the manga‐ka, Tite Kubo, knows how to create amazing, strong, three‐dimensional women characters who are expected to be as tough and righteous, and act in the same dangerous situations as his male characters.

    The plot is great, always changing‐ it starts when Ichigo, a boy who can see ghosts, meets Rukia, a girl who works for the spirit world, hunting down lost, dangerous souls called Hollows. During a battle right outside Ichigo’s house, Rukia is wounded and transfers her powers to Ichigo. The transfer is supposed to be temporary, but it starts Ichigo’s journey toward becoming a Soul Reaper and fighting against Hollows himself. And the plot just expands in a million ways from there. (And it sounds light and a little nutty, but trust me‐ it sometimes get deep and dark and mature, and the balance is perfect.)

    Orihime Orihime 2 I’m also crazy about the art in ‘Bleach.’ This is shonen manga, so it’s designed, technically, to appeal to teen male readers. And honestly, I think this is probably the pinnacle of perfection for the genre. But what’s absolutely spectacular about it is that Tite Kubo seems to be defining the genre at the same time. He has great male and female characters, like I said. And instead of his plot and characters being immature or stunted, like you might expect from a manga designed for younger boys, they’re not. At all. And, unlike some (some!) shonen manga where the art kind of takes a backseat to the action, the art here is beyond gorgeous. That doesn’t mean that Tite doesn’t give in to playful, comic‐y people and situations‐ he does, all the time. But that only serves to offset and showcase the emotional scenes and the absolutely gorgeous way he draws. The stark, heavy blacks he uses are stunning and beautiful. Sometimes it seems like there’s almost no shading, and when there is shading, it’s also heavy and very dark, maybe too dark, but Tite is obviously a master, and the pictures he draws are instead forceful and breathtaking.

    Bleach4 And he has this habit of drawing little pencil sketches between chapters that are… amazing. Sometimes cute or funny, sometimes something that breaks the fourth wall, and sometimes stunningly gorgeous. It pulls you a little further into the story, but it also demonstrates how Tite Kubo thinks and feels while he’s drawing this manga. He’s one hundred percent invested in it, and you can see that.

    So, as I mentioned, as I’m writing this, there are 63 volumes of ‘Bleach’ available in the US right now. And the series is still being published in Japan. And I sincerely do hope Tite Kubo just keeps writing it forever, but he hinted, oh, ten or so volumes back, that the end was drawing near. So we’ll see.

    My only consolation is that maybe, when he’d done with ‘Bleach,’ Tite will finish the series he started before ‘Bleach’ became such a hit, ‘Zombie Powder’. Only four volumes were released (and you can get them in the US) before ‘Bleach’ took over. I read ‘Zombie Powder’ before ‘Bleach’‐ it has nothing to do with ‘Bleach,’ but if you’re interested in seeing whether you like Tite’s style, it’s not a bad place to start, and well worth a read.      -SEL

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  • Genre: Slice of Life, Science Fiction, Space Western
  • Number of Episodes: 26 plus 1 movie
  • Quick Synopsis: Bang!
  • HfC Watched It In: English (highly recommended)
  • Alternate Formats: Manga, not HfC recommended

  • Cowboy Bebop

    If there’s a single series that could make it universally cool to watch anime, it would be ‘Cowboy Bebop.’ The show takes place in the future, where humans have taken to living in space. The government still exists, but it just can’t police the entire solar system. To aid in catching criminals, a bounty hunter system is created.

    Spike and Jet are two bounty hunters who fly their ship, the Bebop, around, trying to catch criminals and make enough money so that they can eat. Along the way, the guys pick up some interesting friends, including a genius dog named Ein, a woman named Faye who’s forgotten her past, and a young girl named Ed who turns out to be the best hacker in the universe.

    Like Spike and Jet, each of the characters has a secret past that’s led them to join the Bebop and become bounty hunters. None of the characters really want to remember these pasts, either, so you only get to see bits and pieces as the show progresses, which keeps you waiting.

    In almost every episode, the Bebop and its crew go after a new bounty. Each bounty also has a really interesting story. And, although they act super tough, Spike and Jet are actually kind of soft, so they usually end up trying to do what’s right instead of blindly capturing whoever they come across.

    Cowboy Bebop What I love most about this series (aside from how freaking cool it is), is how balanced it is. Some of the episodes are just hilarious and I laughed all the way through. Other episodes are extremely emotional and left me feeling kind of raw. Overall, the series just feels like it has the perfect mix of humor and seriousness. At the end of the series, I was amazed by how much the story had affected me.

    In addition to a balanced story and such, you actually get the feeling that, in this future, all the cultures of the world have blended. If the ‘Cowboy Bebop’ creators were trying to make something that was completely unique, futuristic and something that didn’t point to any one country, they succeeded. Lettering on buildings is in Spanish, Japanese and what looks like Russian. Soundtrack songs are sung in English, Japanese and French. The people could be from anywhere, and have actually developed their own cultures. I’ve really never encountered anything like it- anything so free to be whatever it wants to be.

    Not only are the characters and the story amazingly well thought out, but the art is also really gorgeous. The music is fantastic, too. It’s some of the best I’ve heard in an anime. The settings are great. The science is believable. Everything works. Someone really took the time to make the show perfect in every way. In addition, I thought the voice acting was amazing. I watched it in English. I think that the Japanese voice acting was also good (I heard a clip of it.) However, the English actor who does Spike’s voice is able to give Spike a really deep, rough-yet-silky tone which is a-freaking-mazing, and I don’t think the Japanese voice actor could achieve that specific tonality.

    This is one of those rare shows where the anime version is actually the original. However, there are two mangas that go with it. The first is called ‘Cowboy Bebop: Shooting Star’ and is two volumes. It was released at about the same time as the anime, but follows an alternate plot. It’s enjoyable but not anywhere near as good as the anime. The second manga series is three volumes and was released after the anime series. It follows the original anime plot and is basically some extra stories. Apparently, though, the characters look and act differently and the manga doesn’t live up to the anime. Since I was more than satisfied with the anime, I never read them.

    Cowboy Bebop
    There’s also a ‘Cowboy Bebop’ movie, which I really enjoyed. Like the rest of the series, it features some of the best animation ever. The opening song sequence alone has better art than most entire series. You can watch the movie pretty much anywhere within the series, as long as you’ve met Ed.

    The anime series has 26 episodes in it. You can buy it as a set, but the easiest way is to buy it in six ‘Sessions.’ Each Session DVD has four or five episodes on it. The Sessions were ‘Remixed’ a few years after they came out. The Remixes are supposed to be of a better quality than the original Sessions. I own some of each and can say that I didn’t notice a difference at all. Personally, I’d say go with whichever is cheaper at the time.

    I also recommend looking into the soundtracks. The show is filled with rock, jazz, hip-hop, techno, some interesting chanting, and some songs that defy a genre of any kind. While watching (and listening) I kept thinking to myself, the only other anime where I’ve heard music as good is ‘Trigun.’ So it didn’t surprise me to find out that the composer for the ‘Trigun’ soundtrack is the lead guitarist for the band that wrote and performed all the music for ‘Cowboy Bebop.’      -SEL

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  • Genre: Slice of Life, Science Fiction
  • Number of Episodes: 37 plus 5 OVAs
  • HfC Watched It In: English

  • While in Massachusetts for an extended period of time one winter, I watched quite a few animes in an attempt to keep myself firmly rooted in sanity. Aside from ‘Trigun,’ the series that I loved the best was definitely ‘Darker than Black.’ (I also watched ‘Gun X Sword,’ ‘Gungrave,’ and ‘Mushi-shi,’ which were all good but not, you know, fantastic.) One of the things I loved the most is that a lot of stuff happens in this anime, in a relatively short period of time, and it starts happening right from the beginning, with little explanation. So first, background: Yin of ’Darker than Black,’ created by Tensai Okamura; original animation by Bones; drawing by Sunnie LaPan ‘Darker than Black’ is a futuristic story that takes place several years after a mysterious area appeared in Tokyo. (One also appeared in South America, but you don’t learn this until later. Unless you’re reading this- you just learned it.) This area, known as Hell’s Gate, or simply, the Gate (the South American one was Heaven’s Gate), is pretty much a wasteland, where no one can live, and strange and impossible things routinely happen. No one knows where the Gate came from, or why it’s there.

    At the same time the Gate appeared, humanity split into three different factions, shall we say. You might also say species, although this isn’t quite correct. Some people were left untouched by the powers of the Gate, while others were deeply and permanently affected by it. Those changed by the Gate either became contractors or dolls. Contractors are humans who have developed special powers, different for each person, that must be paid with a price, which also differs between each person. If you want to use your power, you must pay your price, thus fulfilling your ’contract.’ Contractors also tend to be extremely rational, don’t dream, and have fewer emotions than normal humans. Dolls, on the other hand, have zero emotions and no real will. They are considered useful, however, because of their specters. All of the dolls’ brains run on a ’network,’ and the dolls can view events far away from themselves, relaying information, through the use of their specter. Again, the way each doll works is different. (It also seems that some dolls are created like contractors, changing from human to doll, while others are manufactured.)

    Hei of ’Darker than Black,’ created by Tensai Okamura; original animation by Bones; drawing by Sunnie LaPan

    In this anime, we focus mainly on one particular contractor, Hei, also known as the Black Reaper, also known as Lee, also known as BK201. Hei isn’t like other contractors- he feels emotions, although he comes across as a really tough cookie, and he has no price. Hei works for an underground group known as the Syndicate. Hei, along with his team, must do whatever the Syndicate needs done, whether or not it’s really legal. His team consists of Yin, also called Izanami, Huang, a human, and Mao, a contractor who lost his human body and inhabits the body of a cat and a squirrel, depending on what season you’re watching.

    While they’re off running errands for the Syndicate, Hei and his team must lead cover lives in order to dodge the police. They also end up collecting rather a lot of information on the Gate and contractors, as well as what happened to Heaven’s Gate in South America, which is no longer there. They also run into a host of other characters, and get sucked into a nefarious plot cooked up by another group, Evening Primrose. And that’s just the first season. You would think with all this storyline, and the characters always changing their names and personalities (or bodies) depending on whether they’re undercover or not, you would be really lost watching this anime. Luckily, though, this is not the case.

    I don’t mean to say that ‘Darker than Black’ is easy to follow, but if you pay attention, it’s not particularly hard, either. And it’s not hard to pay attention, because right from the first episode, you’re hooked. Mostly, I found I was hooked on Hei, who is an intensely interesting character. His story, along with the stories of his team, are revealed slowly through the first season, but right away, you recognize each character as a fully-developed person. The depth of the characters is just amazing.

    Hei carrying Yin of ’Darker than Black,’ created by Tensai Okamura; original animation by Bones; drawing by Sunnie  
LaPan The action scenes are exciting, the plot is fast-paced and interesting. Although it really is a dark series, as the name suggests, there are also a lot of moments of comedic relief. Overall, it’s balanced and just put together really well. I also really enjoyed the artwork. It’s shonen, which means it’s geared towards boys. But unlike a lot of shonen, where girl features are exaggerated out of any kind of proportions, I wasn’t uncomfortable watching this. And Hei is really hunky. (That’s right, I called a cartoon hunky.) I’m not sure why more girls don’t watch shonen, actually. Don’t you want to look at guys who actually look like guys?

    Anyway. The first season of ‘Darker than Black’ is 25 episodes long, plus a bonus OVA episode. (I didn’t know what OVA meant, so I looked it up on Wikipedia. For all you non- nerds who also like anime, like me, here it is: “animated films and series made specially for release in home-video formats.” Which means they are pretty much a bonus. Not sure why they don’t just call it a bonus episode.) The first season wraps up pretty neatly, but does leave you wanting more, both because it was super, super good, and also because not every single little detail gets dealt with in a satisfying way.

    When you go on Amazon to look for the second season, ‘Darker than Black: Gemini of the Meteor,’ you see a lot of bad reviews for it. I can’t really understand this, because I absolutely freaking loved it, and actually thought it was maybe a teeny bit better than the first season. The important thing to remember, though, is that the second season consists of twelve episodes, plus four OVAs, and the OVAs must be watched before you watch any of the second season. Why they put it out like this is completely baffling, but just trust me. If you don’t watch the OVAs first, you will be absolutely lost through the entire second season, which is probably why so many people disliked it.

    I don’t want to say too much about the second season, for those who haven’t yet finished the first season. Basically, Hei and Yin get separated when Yin becomes Izanami and kind of disappears/changes. While he’s looking for her, Hei meets up with a young girl named Suo who is looking for her mysterious, missing contractor brother. A lot of reviewers complained because Hei grows his hair, and a beard, and becomes kind of a mean alcoholic, but jeez, if your entire world was falling apart, can you really blame the guy? And if you were paying any attention during the first season, can’t you see that his character is totally capable of being violent and such? Anyway, I absolutely loved the well of emotions that the characters fling about while they look for their respective people, and if you liked season one, I highly recommend season two.

    Like most anime, and some manga, this series was released in several different formats. You can buy a set of nine releases, which each contain about three episodes of the first season, if you want, but my advice is to buy the box set of the first season and the box set of the second season. It’s going to be easier to keep track of, and it seems like the last volume of the three episode run isn’t available on Amazon right now, so…

    ‘Darker than Black.’    It rocks.    Check it out.      -SEL

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  • Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk
  • Number of Episodes: 64 plus 4 OVAs
  • HfC Watched It In: English (Super good)
  • Alternate Formats: Manga (HfC hasn’t read it)

  • Alphonse of ’Fullmetal Alchemist’ original by Hiromu Arakawa; drawing by Sunnie LaPan

    Imagine that you watch a show, and it totally blows your expectations out of the water. It’s so good that you want to buy it and make everyone you know watch it. And then, you find out that the writers decided that this series just wasn’t good enough, so they redid the whole thing, and instead of being worse, like you might expect, it’s 100 times better than the original. This is what happened with ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.’

    ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’ began as a manga. When the manga was only partially completed, an anime was created. But since the manga wasn’t finished, the writers had to make up their own second half of the story, which they did, creating the ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’ anime series. Then, when the manga completed, people started to realize that the storyline of the manga was way better than the anime. So it was decided that a new anime would be created, following the original manga storyline. This anime is ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.’

    But let me back up.

    Both animes (and the manga) start with the exact same plot. The main characters are two young boys, Edward and Alphonse Elric. At a young age, they learn the art of alchemy, a scientific process that uses energy and transmutation circles to change an object from one thing into another. Everything’s fun and games until they boys’ mother dies. It’s then that they decide to break the ultimate taboo of alchemy, and bring their mother back from the dead.

    Ed of ’Fullmetal Alchemist’; original by Hiromu Arakawa; drawing by Sunnie LaPan

    Unfortunately, things don’t go well. Instead of bringing back their mother, they bring back a horrible monster. And, due to the law of equivalent exchange that says that for anything gained, an object of equal value must be lost, Ed loses his leg, and Al loses his entire body. Then Ed gives up his arm in order to bond Al’s soul to a giant suit of armor.

    The boys are pretty depressed for a while, which is to be expected. Their friend Winry and her grandmother fit Ed with automail, a mechanical arm and leg. Then, with their urging and a visit from a state alchemist named Roy Mustang, Ed and Al decide to go on a quest to recover their bodies. Ed becomes a state alchemist in order to obtain the information he needs, and, after he does, the two boys become embroiled in a secret world of political and alchemical intrigue.

    This is where the story diverges. The two animes start the same, but then pretty quickly begin to follow drastically different plots. ‘Fullmetal Alchemist,’ the original series, is a great one. If you’ve never seen ‘Brotherhood,’ you will probably love this series. I enjoy how some of the minor characters are more fleshed out and the beginning episodes get more attention, since they decided to kind of cut them back (since most viewers had already seen them) in ‘Brotherhood.’ There are also a lot of great scenes that I really enjoyed. However, the plot of the original anime, which seems great at first, is just ‘meh’ when compared to the plot of ‘Brotherhood.’

    It took me a long time to get around to watching ‘Fullmetal Alchemist.’ Ed and Al are 15 and 14, respectively, when their true journey starts, and I always thought due to their ages, the show might be immature. I also couldn’t fathom watching anything where the main characters had such dull names. But I’m glad I did. The show is actually incredibly mature, especially ‘Brotherhood.’ The depth encompassed in the story is gorgeous. I also found Ed to be rather attractive. Yeah, I said it.

    I loved absolutely everything about ‘;Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood,’ and loved it more than anything in the original series. ‘Brotherhood’ is simply one of the best anime I have ever seen. The plot is absolute genius. It’s tight and makes total sense, but is also very mysterious and keeps you hanging. I also felt that the slightly darker tone than the original series was a plus. In addition, the comedic relief is stronger and funnier. I thought the character development was better, the romances were more realistic, and the story was just overall more interesting and cleaner. Most of the important scenes were also better- sometimes the emotions were so realistic and personal that it was almost embarrassing to watch, like you were witnessing an intense private conversation. You get sucked into the story that much, and it’s that real. I also liked the drawing better. It’s only subtly different, but it’s great. Ed is more mature looking and also runs around without his shirt on more, which is nice.

    Riza Hawkeye of ’Fullmetal Alchemist’; original by Hiromu Arakawa; drawing by Sunnie LaPan

    I also loved the voice acting. A lot of fans were upset that a woman voiced Al in ‘Brotherhood,’ but she’s so good you don’t even notice. And speaking of women, I absolutely adore the way the women characters are portrayed. Even though I’m a girl, I usually feel that most women characters are just not strong or cool enough. I can do without them- just gimme the guys. But here, we have Winry, who rocks, and Riza Hawkeye, possibly one of the coolest woman characters ever. She’s right up there with Sarah Connor and Lisbeth Salander.

    So the question is, as a new ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’ viewer, should you watch the original series? I’ve tossed and turned about this one and I really can’t decide. I’d say that if you feel like you might like the story and you’re really into watching a ton of anime, definitely start with the original series, before watching "Brotherhood." If you watch "Brotherhood" first, you’ll be totally bored with the original series later. The first half of the original series is going to give you a lot more background information, which is more or less just recapped over the first fifteen episodes of ‘Brotherhood.’ This is definitely a nice background to have going into ‘Brotherhood,’ although not strictly necessary.

    However, remember that the plots are totally different. When you start watching ‘Brotherhood,’ you’re going to have to throw most of the plot and a lot of the characters out of your mind. Personally, I know I’ll never watch the original series again, and after watching the end and being pretty disappointed, I would almost rather urge people to just start with ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’ and totally skip the original series.

    Winry and Ed of “Fullmetal Alchemist” original by Hiromu Arakawa; drawing by Sunnie LaPan

    (Also, a side note here: Many Fullmetal fans claimed in reviews that the first fifteen or so episodes of ‘Brotherhood’ are pretty bad. I didn’t find this at all- if you just finished watching the first series, you might be a bit bored, since it’s a recap, but… However, I did find that the first two or three episodes, while still good, weren’t really up to the standards I expected. So when you start ‘Brotherhood, ’ give it a few episodes.)

    There are also two ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’ movies. ‘The Conqueror of Shamballa ’ goes with the first series, and is the true ending. I can’t say I loved this movie. It was really gory and really depressing. The way ‘Brotherhood ’ ends is so far superior — However, if you do watch the original series, you’ll want to see this movie, since it is the ending.

    The other movie is ‘The Sacred Star of Milos,’ and goes with the ‘Brotherhood’ series. I’d say you could watch it any time during the series, but somewhere after the 20th episode or so is probably best. The movie is fun and exciting but nothing really special, so watch or not as you want.

    If you want to purchase ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood,’ (which you do- this is a series I could watch over and over) you can either buy it in a set of two, called Complete Collection One and Two, or in five ’parts.’ Which way to go is really personal preference.

    Seriously, though, I cannot express how great ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’ is. When I finished it, I was absolutely stunned. I had to walk around in a daze. It’s possibly one of the best stories, told in any medium, I’ve ever encountered.      -SEL

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  • Alternate Titles: Hakuouki Hekketsuroku, Hakuouki Reimeiroku
  • Genre: Shojo, Historical, Fantasy, Paranormal
  • Number of Episodes: 26
  • Quick Synopsis: History, with vampires!
  • HfC Watched It In: Japanese

  • When I hear that a book or movie was based off of a game, I stay away from it. I’ve found that most original English language stuff based off of games is total crap- pardon me if there’s something awesome out there that I haven’t come across, but this is really what I’ve discovered. So when I hear of an anime based off a game, I avoid it. ‘Hakuouki ’ is one of these animes, but, luckily, I stumbled across it before I knew of its origins.

    Hakuouki I guess ‘Hakuouki ’ started as a pretty successful game series, and was also a manga, at one point, but the way I first encountered it was as a cute little anime. Chizuru, the main character, has traveled to Tokyo to find her father, a doctor, who also traveled to Tokyo and then went missing. But, while in Tokyo, Chizuru runs into some trouble and ends up being taken in by the Shinsengumi. And the members of the Shinsengumi, a.k.a. the, arguably, most violent, honorable and skilled samurai group in all of history, get all cozy and show their sweet sides by taking Chizuru under their wings and treating her like a little sister – or brother.

    And that’s where the cuteness ends. The time is the 1860s, when Japan was boiling with war, and everyone was trying to kill everyone else. The Shinsengumi were at the heart of this mess, and Chizuru gets tossed into all this chaos. And then, just to make things a little more fun, in this series, the Shinsengumi starts producing a special group of fighters, based on Chizuru’s father’s work, and it turns out that this group is actually vampires.

    The plot sounds cracked, and to be honest, I don’t know why anyone would watch this show after reading that. But the fact is that the story is amazing. I’m not really into vampires, but the whole theme adds a great deal of tension and, oddly, humanity to the series. In addition, I found the show to be very historically accurate, despite the vampires. So, even though I know what happens to the Shinsengumi, I watched every episode with baited breath. In addition, the honest brutality of the war makes the show feel very real. Hakuouki

    The show starts off kind of slow, and the first twelve episodes (the first season) is very entertaining but not the most amazing thing ever. The second season, made up of ten episodes, really ratchets up the drama, excitement and romance, however. It also turns into quite the bloodbath and makes you feel like you want to cry through a good portion of it. Despite this, or maybe because of it, it’s more than worth watching.

    I watched this show in Japanese and thought the voice acting was super good. I also loved the art- a little showy, a little bit dark, and very realistic. I was really blown away by the depth of story encompassed in what, at first, seems to be a light, pass-the-time kind of show.

    ‘Hakuouki ’ actually has three seasons (the first is just called ‘Hakuouki,’ the second is called ‘Hakuouki Hekketsuroku,’ and the third is ‘Reimeiroku’). However, the third season actually takes place long before the Shinsengumi get in touch with Chizuru. The plot of the Chizuru story ends after the second season, so you can watch the third season or not as you please. It adds a little backstory to the Shinsengumi, though, and it is really good, so I recommend it. You could watch it after the first two seasons, as intended, or even after the second season. I don’t think there are any hard spoilers.

    I’d label this shojo, if pushed, but that’s really stretching the definition. Guys and girls alike are going to find things to absolutely love about this series. If you’re patient with the first few episodes, you’ll be hooked in no time.      -SEL

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    Kare First Love

    Kare First Love1
  • Genre: Shojo, Romance
  • Number of Volumes: 10
  • I picked up ‘Kare First Love’ in the library because it was the only manga series they had the first volume of, and I just wanted to read something new. After checking it out and getting it home, I actually stopped to give the cover a look, and I was incredibly disappointed. It looks terrible. It’s like every bad or corny thing you’ve ever heard about shojo manga has converged in one picture.

    Kare First Love1 Despite this, I decided to give the book a try. At first, I guess I was still feeling biased about the bad cover art. But then – about twenty or so pages in, I became completely enraptured with the characters and the drama of the story. I couldn’t put it down and couldn’t wait to read the next books in the series.

    In ‘Kare First Love,’ we are first introduced to Karin, a shy girl who goes to an all girls school. Karin is being used by her friends but can’t find the courage to stand up to them. She is also afraid to talk to or interact with any boys. She doesn’t have much style, and her ’best friend’ is always poking fun at her and crumbling any self confidence she has left.

    One day on the way to school, Karin meets Kiriya, a smart good-looking guy, who is not only immediately attracted to her outside appearance, but is also interested in her personality. It takes quite a bit of hanging around and nagging, but Kiriya is finally able to get Karin to realize that he’s interested in her.

    Kare First Love1 I can’t figure out why I love this manga so much. There’s no plot, except for the relationship between Kiriya and Karin. There are a few side story lines but they take a huge backseat to the drama between the two main characters. Despite what seems like a really weak plot, though, there is a ton of tension and romance. I adored the characters. Karin and Kiriya are extremely well thought-out and very enjoyable to read about.

    ‘Kare First Love’ runs for ten volumes, but the excitement of the storyline never gets boring. I was absolutely captivated and entertained throughout the entire series and will gladly read it again.      -SEL

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    Level E

  • Genre: Science Fiction, Comedy
  • Number of Episodes: 13
  • HfC Watched It In: Japanese
  • Level E

    If you’re looking for an anime that will keep you totally entertained, ‘Level E’ is an excellent choice. The show has almost no plot. It’s just a loose connection of occurrences that tend to involve the same people. There’s no point to the story, as far as I can tell. And it’s absolutely whacked. I mean, I’ve seen some really bizarre animes, but this probably takes the cake.

    The show starts with Yukitaka, a high schooler, who is moving to his own new apartment so that he can attend a special school geared towards baseball stars. When he gets to his apartment, though, he finds that a strange man has unpacked his things and is now sitting, reading one Yukitaka’s books and wearing his clothes.

    Level E The man is the prince of an alien planet. He claims to have crash landed and says he can’t remember who he really is or what he’s doing on Earth. Yukitaka grudgingly allows the extremely annoying prince to stay at his apartment, but soon the prince is irritating everyone and causing all kinds of trouble and generally being a pain in the ass. And the plot carries on from there.

    What makes ‘Level E’ so fantastic is that it’s incredibly funny and entertaining. The characters are very nicely worked out, the art is beautiful and it’s just absolutely hilarious. There are a couple scenes that, if I even think about them, I have to burst out laughing. I also really enjoyed the voice acting. I watched it in Japanese and I thought the actors were really excellent. However, the English dub would probably be great too, since Vic Mignonga (voice of Ed Elric and Tamaki Suou) plays the prince.

    The original ‘Level E’ manga was written by Yoshihiro Togashi, the author of other mangas-that-became-animes such as ‘Yu Yu Hakusho’ and ‘Hunter X Hunter.’ ‘Yu Yu Hakusho’ is one of my very favorite animes (and what I’ve read of ‘Hunter X Hunter’ was pretty good), which is why I decided to try ‘Level E.’ However, the only thing I thought these three series had in common was that they are all really original and creative, have very funny moments, and are overall very well done. The drawing styles are totally different. ‘Yu Yu Hakusho’#8217; and ‘Hunter X Hunter’ are more... well, old school, I guess you could say. They’re very pretty but kind of rough and a little cartoon-y. ‘Level E’ is absolutely gorgeous, though. Totally clean, crisp, precise animation. However, to balance this, ‘Level E’ has almost none of the seriousness that ‘Yu Yu Hakusho’ did. It’s just a mess, but a good mess. It’s also only 13 episodes, where ‘Yu Yu Hakusho’ and, I believe, ‘Hunter x Hunter’ run to a hundred episodes or more.

    Because it’s so short and so good, there’s really no reason not to watch this. You can even watch it online at sites like CrunchyRoll. Or you can buy in one complete set on DVD.      -SEL

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    Library Wars

  • Genre: Action, Science Fiction, Romance
  • Number of Volumes: Ongoing
  • Quick Synopsis: Book war!

  • Library2 Over the past several years, I’ve picked up quite a few new manga series. Although I loved a lot of them, I’d have to say that ‘Library Wars’ is definitely one of the ones at the top of the list. This manga simply has everything you want in it- smart girls who know what they want, really attractive guys, and a war over— books!

    The story takes place in the near future of Japan when, for some reason, the government has decided it would be best to censor and ban books that it finds unacceptable. The government quickly begins confiscating and destroying any books that have even the tiniest thing wrong with them. Soon people can’t buy books anymore because they’re so expensive and because it’s actually becoming dangerous. Luckily, there is a clause that allows libraries to stock whatever books they like, without censoring. Libraries quickly set up a military of their own, teaching people about the libraries and how to fight to protect the books at the same time.

    Library Wars Iku Kasahara is a book lover. As a teenager, she tried to buy a banned book in a store. Unfortunately, the store was raided by government officials just as she went to purchase the book. Kasahara bravely stood up to the officials, but things weren’t looking good for her. Luckily, a man from the Library Defense Forces stepped in and rescued Kasahara and her book. Since that day, Kasahara has dreamed of joining the Library Defense Forces herself. She also continues to seek the man who rescued her. She can’t remember his face, but she feels that she’s in love with him and refers to him as her prince.

    Kasahara’s dream has finally come true, and she’s been taken into an elite group of the Library Defense Forces. Her boss is a man named Dojo who constantly asks Kasahara to work harder and do more than anyone else. Kasahara is always annoyed by Dojo but, as time passes, she also comes to realize that she relies on his presence to keep her going. It’s obvious to readers that Dojo is actually Kasahara’s ’prince,’ but Kasahara has no idea that this is the case.

    I liked the first book in this manga series but I didn’t love it. At first, the premise seems a little farfetched and so much goes on that you feel a little lost. If you give the series a chance, though, everything falls into place. The characters are really well-rounded and very three-dimensional. Each chapter of the books keeps me on the edge of my seat with anticipation. I just can’t wait to see what will happen next. The books are filled with tons of comedy, romance and action.

    What really brings these books to life is the wonderful way they’re drawn. The artwork is super crisp and gorgeous, but also nicely detailed. Great dialogue, perfectly placed sound effects and a great sense of comedic timing make it so that you just can’t put the books down. They’re really balanced also- funny bits sprinkled throughout, but a lot of really touching, emotional scenes as well.

    ‘Library Wars’ is an ongoing series.      -SEL

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  • Genre: Romance, School Drama
  • Number of Volumes: 8
  • Alternate Formats: Anime, very different from manga
  • Yuu and Ginta of ’Marmalade Boy’; original by Wataru Yoshizumi; drawing by Sunnie LaPan

    ’Marmalade Boy’ is a much simpler manga than I usually like, but despite this, it’s definitely one of my very favorite manga series. It starts off with Miki, a teenage girl, being told by her parents that they are divorcing. They met another couple on a cruise, and the two pairs have decided to swap partners. Of course, there’s a bit more to it, but we don’t find out exactly what until later. Since the two couples got a long so well, they have decided to rent a large house, and both families will live together. When Miki hears this, she is shocked. Still, there’s nothing she can do, so she and her parents move in with the other couple and their son, Yuu, who is about the same age as Miki.

    Miki of ’Marmalade Boy’; original by Wataru Yoshizumi; drawing by Sunnie LaPan

    At first, Yuu teases Miki relentlessly, and Miki wants nothing more than to get away from him. She’d rather be at school, hanging out with her best friend Meiko and her old crush, Ginta. Instead, Yuu transfers to Miki’s school, and she realizes there’s no escaping him. Soon, though, after Yuu helps Miki through some tough situations, she realizes her feelings for him have turned in a more romantic direction.

    Meiko of ’Marmalade Boy’; original by Wataru Yoshizumi; drawing by Sunnie LaPan

    Meanwhile, Meiko is dealing with her own relationship problems, and Ginta reveals feelings Miki never knew about. To top it off, an old flame of Yuu’s, Arimi, also shows up. Miki also slowly discovers that Yuu has some secrets of his own that he’s been keeping. Several different plot lines, running parallel to the main story of Miki and Yuu, help to really round this manga out and keep it interesting all the way through.

    I love ’Marmalade Boy’ because it’s a lot of fun to read, but the tension in the story is very real. Also, it takes place in Japan, and the author, Wataru Yoshizumi, is very adept at making readers feel like they’re really there with Miki. It also displays a lot of the interesting differences between Japanese and American culture. For example, instead of a character saying something like “I’m interested in you,” “I like you,” or “I’d like to date you,” when approaching a romantic interest, they always say “I love you!” It’s like this big declaration that comes out of nowhere, and it seems like characters are always falling in and out of love, instead of just moving through relationships. Instead of making it cheesy, though, it makes it really exciting. At first, I thought this was maybe a translation error, but I’ve also noticed this happening in other mangas and animes.

    It’s fun to imagine how differently things work in Japan. And, it’s a lot of fun to read this series. Even though it’s mostly light and playful, reading this again, I saw how this series really affected me in my teenage years. Actually, it kind of explained a lot about the way I thought during that time. You become really involved in the series because the characters are so wonderfully written and you can’t help but become invested in them. At the end, you realize that you’ve just finished a very deep and personal story, although it doesn’t come across that way at first.

    ’Marmalade Boy’ has eight books in its series. At $10 a piece, that seems pretty expensive, but they’re worth it. I remember I read them all in the store, then bought them one at a time, whenever I had the cash, because they were just that good. There’s also a ’Marmalade Boy’ anime, but I’ve never seen it, so I can’t say whether it’s good or not. I know that the story line and characters are a bit different (the author writes side columns, containing fun stories or facts about the series, in each book of the manga. I really enjoyed this because it gave a deeper look into the story and the author, as well as the culture.) but the author was involved in the anime, so it’s probably decent.      -SEL

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  • Genre: Romance, Slice of Life, Yaoi
  • Number of Volumes: 3 (13 Chapters)
  • Michiru Heya Roger
    Reno and Roger are teenagers at an exclusive boarding school. In the middle of the school year, Roger switches roommates, and comes to stay with Reno. Reno is friendly and pretty open minded, but he’s not so sure about sharing a room with Roger– he’s heard rumors that Roger sells himself for money, and when Reno asks Roger about this, Roger admits that it’s true. And he asks Reno if he can have the room to himself for a few hours here and there.

    Despite the very strange circumstances, Reno and Roger start to become friends. As they grow closer, Reno realizes that his feelings for Roger aren’t just the feelings of a friend. He tries to hide these feelings, though– Roger doesn’t ever want to get too close to anyone. Although he cares for Reno, he has secrets he wants to keep buried, and he doesn’t want Reno to get close enough to dig up his insecurities.

    I just finished reading this manga and… and I can’t think. It’s an absolutely gorgeous story. It’s rich in every way, but also simple where it needs to be. It’s one of those stories that you read and feel like you’re sinking into, like you’re right there, at home, in it. It made me smile while I read it. An actual smile appeared on my face at some parts. Some parts I had to read over and over again.

    The whole of the series is breathtaking. The art is stunning– clean, neat, but detailed. The characters are all unique. And Reno… I’ve never seen a character drawn like him. I’m not sure what his age he is supposed to be, but I’d guess somewhere between 15 and 17. And somehow, the author manages to capture a perfect portrait of a boy who’s on the cusp of manhood. In some scenes, he’s childish, overly emotional. He still looks like a boy. In others, you see him get emotional for all the right reasons, or you see his strength, or just… just the profile of his face, and you can see the man in him. I don’t know how the artist managed to capture this– this going back and forth, sometimes in a single panel, so that when you see the struggle to grow up going on inside him, it makes you gasp. Michiru Heya Reno

    And Roger is a perfect character. He’s so strong, aloof, cold– at first. But he’s enormously flawed as a person, and this is obvious. But even when he starts to break out of his shell and becomes someone new to Reno, he’s still in character. He never becomes a different person, so he’s completely believable, all the time.

    There’s a lot of humor in the manga, which is great for balancing, because overall, this book deals with some very, very heavy subjects. Also, this never panders to the stereotypes and tropes of the genre. It was so surprising– it’s like picking a cheesy romance book off the shelf and finding ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ behind the cover. So many of the scenes are just raw– completely blunt in their delivery of information and emotions, and I LOVE THAT. The characters might dance around their emotions or what they want to say, and that’s good, and should happen. But the story, the delivery, never does that. It’s straightforward. It tells you how difficult things will be, or how passionate someone feels, and when it does it in such a straightforward manner, you feel it. You can’t help it.

    Michiru Heya Roger 2 I mentioned Roger’s character development before, but all of the character development is superb. Even Reno’s friends, who don’t make too much of an appearance, are unique, interesting characters with their own personalities– and the author, Nekota Yonezou, did this in 13 chapters. Some manga authors can’t do this in 20 books.

    These two characters, Roger and Reno, could have been cardboard cutouts of concepts. It would have been easy for the author to not put much effort into them, and still have them serve their purpose. Reno could easily have been the silly little boy who falls for Roger, only really there to further the plot and look good. But she (the author) never does this. She puts so much effort into every expression, to tell you that he’s more than this. There’s one scene where Reno… well… I don’t want to say a lot, for so many reasons, but I think you’ll know it. Anyway, it’s a scene that made me realize that even though he sometimes acted like a little boy, Reno was an individual, with strong desires and convictions of his own. It’s perhaps some of the most honest and completely blunt one or two pages I’ve ever encountered in a manga.

    ‘Michiru Heya’ is a romance between two boys, and it does revolve around their romance as a central point… but I wouldn’t call this manga a ‘romance’ in the traditional sense. It’s not fluff. There’s so much more to it. The romance is true and beautiful and… yeah, but there’s so much else going on in the hearts and minds of these characters, that this comes across more as a slice cut from a difficult but also wonderful time in these characters’ lives. As for the romance being between boys… Well, the story definitely does touch on the themes of how difficult that is, and the challenges the characters face. But it’s not all about that, either. This could have been a boy and girl couple, or two girls, or two androgynous people, because it’s more about how the characters deal with their emotions and their hearts. But, how the gay relationship, and the troubles that that, unfortunately, still brings, was handled in a caring, and again, honest, but lovely way. So I enjoyed it immensely.

    ‘Michiru Heya’ is 13 chapters, or three volumes, long.      -SEL

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  • Genre: Modern Ninja, Fantasy
  • Number of Episodes: 26
  • HfC Watched It In: English (highly recommended)
  • Alternate Formats: Manga, not HfC recommended

  • Miharu is a teenager who pretty much cares about nothing. He likes his cat and his grandma, but, after losing his parents at a young age, he kind of drifts through life, never making any friends or becoming involved in anything. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Miharu’s world is shaken up when his classmate, Koichi and his teacher, Tabari, tell him that he is actually the descendent of ninjas. To top it off, they all tell Miharu that he is the possessor of the Shinra Banshu, a huge book containing vast wisdom. It lives inside him and, if used improperly, could ruin the world. Nabari no Ou

    In no time at all Miharu is flung into danger. Rival ninja, or nabari, clans want to take the book or use it for themselves. Tabari, Koichi and a teenage girl samurai named Raimei befriend Miharu and attempt to protect him from those who seek to use him. Miharu, however, realizes that nothing is quite as black and white as his friends would like to think. This becomes especially apparent when Miharu meets and befriends Yoite, one of his enemies.

    Yoite has had a tough life. After being abandoned by his parents, he entered the nabari world and learned the forbidden kira technique. This technique makes him extremely dangerous and powerful, but at the same time drains his life force. Eventually, it will kill him.

    Yoite doesn’t mind that the kira technique will kill him, because he truly believes that it would be better if he disappeared completely from the world. To achieve this, Yoite asks Miharu to erase his existence, once Miharu has gained control of the Shinra Banshu. Miharu agrees, at first because he feels threatened, but later because he actually wants to help Yoite. However, as the two become closer and closer, Miharu realizes that Yoite is perhaps the person who understands him and cares about him the most. Although he wants to help him, he begins to realize that he himself does not want to erase Yoite from the world.

    I originally started watching ‘Nabari no Ou’ because the first episode was really funny. I thought it was going to be a light, fun anime. The first few episodes are good but not fantastic. After the fourth episode, I even stopped watching for a while. Then, it went on sale and I bought the DVD. Still, it sat untouched for weeks. Finally, after watching the fantastic ‘No. 6’ and needing to watch something that might be able to compete, I decided to pick ‘Nabari no Ou’ up again, figuring it would at least be a laugh.

    Wow, am I glad I did. There is a lot of comic relief in this series, but it’s actually quite dark, deep and tragic. It takes a little while to become hooked, but once I was, I simply couldn’t stop watching. At the end, I was surprised by how much the story affected me. It was fantastic.

    Nabari no Ou This isn’t a series without its flaws. The drawing is a little wonky. I mean, I love the way the characters looked, but I’m pretty sure it’s physically impossible for people to be that thin. It was extreme even by anime standards. The backgrounds are kind of halfhearted, too. Still, it’s all quite lovely enough. Also, this isn’t a series where every single question you have gets answered. However, I think these little flaws actually serve to highlight how excellent this anime really is. Any flaws there are are overshadowed by the amazingly deep and touching story and the insanely good character development.

    I think what I love most about the series is, as I mentioned before, how it demonstrates that nothing is black and white. It always shows the two sides that the characters have. You’re never sure who’s really good or bad. It makes it seem very honest and true.

    I watched the show in English, and I have to say that the voice acting was some of the best I’ve ever heard. Brina Palencia plays Miharu. She also played the voice of Yin in Darker than Black, and this wide display of her talent is truly stunning. Miharu sounds like a boy, no question. Also, Yoite’s voice gives me happy shivers, it’s so good.

    ‘Nabari no Ou’ is 26 episodes. You can buy them in four or so episode sections, or you can buy two ’complete’ collections, each of which has 13 episodes. I bought the collections, and they were dirt cheap.

    Another thing to consider is that this series is based off of a manga. Only about half of the manga was written when the anime was made, so the middle and endings of the stories are wildly different. A lot of people seem to have adored the manga, but after looking into the differences, I’d say just see the anime. The endings are so different. I can’t even imagine the manga ending. It sounds…… terrible, frankly, and I loved the anime ending. I can’t say more without giving it away. You’ll just have to trust me- and no matter what you do, don’t look up the difference online! It’ll totally ruin the story.      -SEL

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  • Genre: Slice of Life, Fantasy, Yokai
  • Alternate Title: Natsume Yuujinchou
  • Number of Episodes: 52
  • HfC Watched It In: Japanese (highly recommended)
  • Alternate Formats: Manga, not HfC recommended

  • Natsume?s Book of Friends ‘Natsume‘s Book of Friends.’ …I don’t even know where to start with this article. This was a manga that I intensely disliked, a show I watched simply because I felt I had to due to the great reviews it got, and a series I never planned to like. I actually, kind of, hate to admit it, planned to dislike this anime. And instead, it bowled me over. After one episode, I couldn’t get enough of it. I was completely hooked, absolutely in love with it, and this ended up being nearly the best anime I’d ever seen.

    Natsume, the main character, is a teenage boy who has the ability to see and talk to yokai‐ kind of the Japanese equivalent of fairies. Not like fluttery‐cute‐things‐with‐wings, but like phouka and demons and sidhe and elves and all weird, dark, strange, things‐that‐go‐bump‐in‐the‐night type of fairies. Except, Japanese.

    Madara Madara 2

    Anyway. Natsume can see the yokai, but he hates them. All of his life, his ability to speak to the yokai, and the their demands for his attention, has made him seem very strange and unlikeable to everyone around him. He can’t get away from the yokai, can’t fully ignore them. Worse, he’s an orphan, and every family he’s ended up with has discarded him because he’s so strange. Natsume 2

    Natsume 4 Finally, Natsume ends up with distant relatives who truly care for him, and he does his best to ignore the yokai and be a normal guy, making friends at school and pretending nothing else is going on. Unfortunately, his new home is where his grandmother, who also could see the yokai, lived. When he starts going through his grandmother’s things, Natsume finds that she kept a book of friends‐ a book with yokai’s names in it. The names mean that Natsume’s grandmother, and now Natsume, has control over these certain yokai. And the yokai, still around after all this time, start badgering Natsume to get their names back.

    So the whole premise of the series is Natsume’s interactions with the yokai. It’s pretty simple. But the more time he spends with the yokai, and the more he, at the same time, struggles to make a place for himself in his new human life, the more Natsume learns about himself, about his family, and the more he starts to understand his loneliness. And he starts to understand the loneliness of the yokai as well, starts to see them as more than figures that haunt him. Natsume 6


    There’s nothing that’s not beautiful about this series. The art is gorgeous, all rich colors and fantastic creatures. The music is perfectly fitting. And the plot is meandering and barely there but so packed with emotion it’s hard to figure out how all that grief and loneliness and joy and fear and togetherness and friendship and confusion got packed into each episode.

    I think I probably spent more time blubbering over ‘Natsume’s Book of Friends’ than I have over anything else. Each little story, Natsume’s or a yokai’s, is so touching and gorgeous and wonderful. And honest. And real. The emotions are so very, very true, and their real, so their subtle, but the hit you really hard. While I watched, I would‐ this is embarrassing‐ find myself crying over Natsume’s conversations, his realizations that he wasn’t as alone as he thought. His growing relationships. I don’t mean to imply that it’s sad all the time‐ it isn’t. There’s a lot of humor and comic relief. It’s all just presented so simply and beautifully that you can’t help but let it affect you.

    It’s remarkable because, although there is occasionally some action, the show is, for the most part, devoid of any kind of real tension, except for the stresses and problems of everyday life. Natsume’s issues are, of course, complicated by the yokai, and sometimes he does face big problems, but for the most part, it’s nothing that should hook a viewer and keep them on the edge of their seat. But you are hooked. You feel everything Natsume feels. And you feel for all of the side characters.

    Madara 2 And speaking of those characters… what excellent characterization. Natsume is a truly complex character, with so much anger and grief, and, definitely, loneliness, and he’d good, really good, but sometimes he doesn’t want to be good. And he’s so real that sometimes I was angry at him for whatever he’d done. But I always loved him. He was just that kind of character. And the side characters are all as equally well constructed, all as multi‐faceted and interesting.

    This was another one of those series that I would have been perfectly happy to watch until the end of time. Unfortunately, the anime only runs for four seasons and a total of 52 episodes. The seasons each have different titles‐ in order, they’re ‘Natsume’s Book of Friends’ or ‘Natsume Yuujinchou,’ ‘Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou,’ ‘Natsume Yuujinchou San,’ and ‘Natsume Yuujinchou Shi.’ Generally when you watch online, the seasons all fall under the title of ‘Natsume’s Book of Friends,’ though.

    Hiragi The show is based off a manga. Now, to be fair, I only read the first volume, but I sincerely hated it. It comes across completely differently than the anime‐ I didn’t like Natsume and had no sympathy for him or any of the other characters. Since I saw the anime, I’ve planned to try the manga again, but I’ve never managed to make myself do it. Maybe it’s great and I just had a weird time of it. I can’t say. But I didn’t like it that first read, so I can’t recommend it either.

    But I can’t recommend the anime enough. It’s pure magic.      -SEL

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    NO. 6

  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Number of Episodes: 11
  • Quick Synopsis: Boys, mice, dogs, bees, gender-bending, romance, awesomeness!
  • HfC Watched It In: Japanese (highly recommended)
  • Alternate Format: Manga (8 volumes‐ it’s pretty good but not as great as the anime)

  • Far in the future, massive war and destruction have led to the collapse of civilization. In the wake of this destruction, six districts arise. These districts are self-contained, and each one is a little bit different. On the outside, district six, known simply as Number Six, seems like a paradise. Its citizens are given homes and food, and allowed to make whatever life they want- as long as they follow the rules. Although it seems like a utopia, it’s easy to see that Number Six is hiding a deep dark secret at its core.

    Sion of No 6; original by Bones; drawing by Sunnie LaPan

    Twelve year old Sion (pronounced Sheeon) is kind of a boy genius. His whole life has already been planned for him, but it seems like a good one. However, some kind of uneasiness is eating away at Sion.

    Nezumi, another twelve year old boy, is injured and on the run from Number Six authorities. Attempting to flee in the middle of a huge storm, he feels like he has no chance of escape, and has just about given up. Just at that moment, Sion opens his balcony door, steps out into the storm and begins releasing his frustrations by screaming into the wind. He steps away for a moment and when he looks back, Nezumi is standing in his room.

    Sion has never defied anyone in his life, but as soon as he sees Nezumi, he decides to help. The boys quickly form a kind of tense, close friendship. Each one is afraid, but recognizes something in the other. In the morning, however, when Sion wakes up, he discovers that Nezumi is gone. When the authorities realize that Sion helped him escape, his grand future is taken and his life is completely changed.

    Four years later, a mysterious plague begins spreading through the city. One of the places hit is the business where Sion is now working. Just as things start to slide out of control, Nezumi reappears and turns Sion’s life completely upside down.

    Every single thing about ‘No. 6’ captivated me. From the very first episode, the very first scene, I was completely hooked. To me, it seems obvious that someone invested a lot of heart in this anime. Each episode is packed with the many plot lines that twist around each other, and at the center of the story are Sion and Nezumi, who are struggling against both their harsh realities and their own emotions. However, despite how much story gets crammed into each episode, I never felt like this was rushed or confusing. The story unfolds at a quick but natural pace. The character development is also fantastic. Even minor characters are really beautifully thought out.

    Nezumi and Sion of No 6; original by Bones; drawing by Sunnie LaPan

    This story is never boring. I was constantly surprised and shocked by the serious yet beautiful plot line. Up to the very end, I couldn’t predict what the real story behind Number Six was. When things finally started coming together, I was just blown away.

    This anime has a science fiction plot. However, for me, the heart of the story was really the subtle, tense and lovely romance between Nezumi and Sion. I read several reviews which were kind of wishy-washy about this anime. I think that, if you’re just looking for a sci-fi anime and you’re not interested in a love story, particularly this type of love story, it is possible to kind of brush the romance aside and pretend it’s not happening. However, if you do that, I think you’d miss out on most of the electric tension of the story, as well as nearly all of the character development. Even the second string characters are really developed by how they see the change in the boys as they get to know each other.

    This anime truly awed me. It’s rare that you find a show that’s this good. Although I just saw it two days ago, I already want to watch it over again and, at eleven episodes, it wouldn’t be hard to do. I really loved everything about it, including the voice actors. I watched it in Japanese, and I thought the voices were fantastic- Nezumi in particular was truly spectacular.

    ‘No. 6’ is available in one complete DVD collection. It’s been dubbed in English as well, so you can watch it that way, if you prefer. There’s also a nine volume manga, from which the story is based. It’s slightly different from the anime, in art style and how the characters are presented. From what I’ve read, it lacks a bit of the emotional impact of the anime. Watch the anime first. The manga, however, is probably worth reading after.      -SEL

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  • Alternate Titles: Ouran Koukou Host Club
  • Genre: Gender-bender, High School Drama, Comedy
  • Number of Episodes: 26
  • HfC Watched It In: English
  • Alternate Formats: Manga (HfC hasn’t read it yet)

  • Although I might try to deny it, I do read quite a bit of shojo manga. However, I don’t normally go for shojo anime. Actually, I think ‘Ouran High School Host Club’ is the first shojo anime I’ve ever seen, and when I started watching the first episode, I really considered shutting it off. Shojo is just not my thing. But in one of the first scenes in that first episode, this anime did something amazing and wonderful: it made me laugh.

    I kept watching, and then watched another episode, and another. I watched six episodes in the first sitting, and somewhere in there, I became hooked on this series. It continued to make me laugh, and as I got to know the characters I fell in love with them too.

    ‘Ouran High School Host Club’ seems normal from the outside. I watch a lot of science fiction and fantasy, and this didn’t have any of those elements. Despite this, it is definitely one of the weirder animes I’ve ever encountered.

    Hiraru of Ouran ’High School Host Club’

    The anime centers around, as the name suggests, the Host Club of Ouran Academy. This is a high school club, somewhat like your average newspaper or photography club that you’d find in a school. But this club is made up of attractive boys who spend their time at the club entertaining and flirting with the high school girls. Girls make appointments for a time when the club is open, and can even request particular hosts. It’s like a geisha scenario, but reversed and with high schoolers. The whole time I was watching I kept thinking ’What the hell??’ but I couldn’t stop liking the show.

    The weird factor of the show gets even stranger when you get to know the characters that make up the Host Club. It’s run by Tamaki Suou, who’s sweet but self-centered. Even though he’s pretty much in love with the other main character, Haruhi, he keeps referring to her as his daughter. (Whacked.)

    Haruhi is a student who’s at the prestigious Ouran Academy on a scholarship, and isn’t filthy rich like the other members of the Host Club. She dresses and acts like a boy for reasons that are never really explained. One day, she wanders into the Host Club’s room and accidentally breaks an expensive vase. The Host Club doesn’t realize she’s a girl, so demands that she must act as a host to pay off her debt. Later, after the club finds out her real gender, they have to work hard to keep her secret safe so she can continue working as a host.

    Other Host Club members include Mitsukuni Haninozuka, better known as Honey-senpai. He’s a third year (equivalent to America’s senior year) but looks and acts like a ten year old child. His best friend and protector is a stoic boy named Takashi Morinozuka. Although Takashi is the same age as Honey, he always looks after Honey, reminding him to brush his teeth and carrying him around on his shoulders. It’s pretty bizarre but also strangely cute.

    Honey and Takashi of ’Ouran High School Host Club’

    There’s also a pair of twins, Hikaru and Kaoru. They are close to Haruhi and are supposed to be attracted to her. However, they seem to be more attracted to each other. Some of that’s a play for the Host Club, but some of it’s… not. Kyoya Otari, a rather attractive-yet-imposing figure who really runs the club, even though he’s only the second in command, rounds out the cast. (Oh, and I did I mention Haruhi’s dad, a cross-dresser who works at a transvestite bar? Yeah.)

    Despite the absolute bizarreness that makes its home in this anime, I loved it, and hungrily watched every episode. It’s pretty silly and funny most of the time, but there’s also a lot of absolutely fantastic character development. The balance between comedy and human emotions is excellent.

    The show is absolutely packed as full as possible. I kept having to rewind to catch every little detail in the animation. I’ve never seen anything like it but I really enjoyed that such detail had been put into creating the show. Even the side stories are full and entertaining.

    Is this anime going to change your life? No. But it is exceptionally well done and well worth watching. I would certainly see it again.

    The anime is available as a complete set on DVD, and also in two parts. There are 26 episodes. It’s also available on Netflix, and a free month trial is way more than enough time to watch this online. However, as I recently and very disappointingly found out, Netflix always rotates what you can see online and what you can’t.

    There’s also a manga that came before the anime, and completed kind of at the same time. The manga has a longer story and time line than the anime, so I plan to read it. However, I was satisfied with the ending of the anime, so I’d say it’s not strictly necessary.      -SEL

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  • Alternate Titles: Peacemaker Kurogane
  • Genre: Historical, Fantasy
  • Number of Episodes: 24
  • HfC Watched It In: English
  • Alternate Formats: Manga- excellent

  • In the mid 1800s, Japan opened to foreigners for the first time in several hundred years. This caused a huge amount of political upheaval. Some factions supported the new influx of ideas and people. Others wanted Japan to remain pure and unchanged, and wished to expel the foreigners. After much ado, with samurais running around masterless and working for this faction and that faction, several different fighting groups appeared, including the very famous Shinsengumi, who, after a few political games, came to rest on the side of those who wished to keep the country closed. They established a base with thirteen core members in Kyoto, the capital at the time, where they were assigned to keep the peace of the city.

    Peacemaker Do you need to be intimately familiar with Japanese politics to enjoy this anime? Well, it wouldn’t hurt, but honestly, this time was so mixed up and everyone was stabbing everyone else in the back so often that it’s extremely hard to know what’s what. Both sides can equally be called good or bad, and there was an awful lot of shuffling around of stances and people. It’s probably enough to know that, in this particular anime, the Shinsengumi are roughly considered to be ’the good guys.’ The ‘Peacemaker’ anime takes place not long after the Shinsengumi moved to Kyoto, and, although a lot of creative license is taken, the story follows a roughly historical plot and features several real people.

    The story centers around Tetsu, who, as far as I know, is a totally fictional character. He’s a fifteen year old boy who witnessed the murder of his parents. This was, obviously, an emotionally scarring thing for a child to witness, and as a result, his maturity is kind of stunted. His growth has been stunted by the stress of it all, as well (which is actually a real condition that can happen, who knew), so he looks and usually acts like a child. However, he has decided that, in order to avenge his parents, he wants to join the Shinsengumi and become stronger.

    Tetsu’s older brother, Tatsu, is going to start working as a bookkeeper for the Shinsengumi. Considering this, and, after Tetsu befriends Soji Okita, a key member of the group, Tetsu is allowed to join the Shinsengumi, serving as page for one of the higher ranking samurais, Hijikata. However, as Tetsu gets to know the members of the group, he realizes the humanity that they have to give up in order to do what they do.

    I loved this anime from the very first episode. It’s funny and heartwarming, but also never forgets what it’s really about- a bloody and brutal time in Japan’s history. The show is balanced, though. Sometimes there are people being killed and there’s blood everywhere, but this is juxtaposed by the emotions and bonds of the group. The artwork was absolutely gorgeous and I thought that the character development was wonderful. Each character was really a unique individual and I enjoyed the many different personalities and personal stories that went with each one.

    Peacemaker This show is one of those animes that fills you with different emotions. It was totally addictive. There were also some very odd elements that made the show just a little different from what you might consider normal. I really enjoyed this as well. But, I don’t want to point out what these elements were, just in case. Some people are going to notice and love them, and some people aren’t going to notice and, in their case, that’s probably better.

    I had only two complaints with this anime. I watched the anime in dubbed English, and one complaint was that the local people had Southern American accents. This was most likely done to imply that the people had a different Japanese accent than the Shinsengumi, but hearing a Japanese geisha speak like a Southern belle was a little disconcerting. My other issue was that I constantly thought of Soji as a woman. He wears a kimono or yukata, which, lacking other male qualities, looks like a dress, he has a soft face, he acts somewhat like a young woman, and his voice is somewhere between a man’s and a woman’s. (He was voiced by a man, but…) Anyway, neither of these things bothered me that much, but both could probably be remedied by watching the show in Japanese.

    Keeping that in mind, though, I really adored the English voice acting and thought everyone did an amazing job (yes, even Soji’s actor.) This is another show that features the prince of voice acting, Vic Mignogna. I really adored him in this role, more than many others I’ve seen him do. Any character that he does that’s similar to Ed Elric leaves me with an image of Ed overlapped. In this show, though, Vic plays Tatsu, Tetsu’s older brother. This is a character who is a responsible adult, but one who is wracked with fear and worry. It was interesting seeing the difference and how well Vic could bring the character to life. And I thought the other actors were just as good.

    The show is just 24 episodes long, which, although I could easily have enjoyed it for longer, is, I feel, a nice length. You can buy the anime in one complete set, or in seven volumes. The set’s probably going to cost you less in the long run.

    The show was based on two manga series, called ‘Peacemaker’ or ‘Shinsengumi Imon Peace Maker’ and the second installment series ‘Peacemaker Kurogane.’ The anime is based off of the first series, ‘Peacemaker.’ Despite this, some people insist on calling the anime ‘Peacemaker Kurogane,’ which is technically incorrect. However, there’s only one anime related to these series, so if you come across either ‘Peacemaker’ or ‘Peacemaker Kurogane’ in anime form, they’re the same thing.

    Peacemaker The two manga this series was based off of are... stunningly good. The first, "Peacemaker," is five volumes long in the English version, and the second, "Peacemaker Kurogane," currently has five volumes published, although only four, I believe, are available in English. The problem is, as far as I know, the series was never completed by the author. However, the art in these manga is gorgeous, the story is intense, there’s more plot and a slightly different plot line... These are well worth reading, despite the lack of an ending.

    However, bearing in mind how great the manga is, I felt that the anime wrapped up nicely, and in a pretty good spot. We all know what happened in Japan- I mean, there are no more samurais. So you know that, the further you go with these characters, the less happy it becomes. It doesn’t mean the manga is terrible, but it can become depressing, something the anime stopped before really getting to. I still vote for reading the manga, but either way is satisfying.

    Anyway, watch this anime! I haven’t watched a samurai anime in a long time, but I bet when I re-watch old ones, this anime will still be at the top of my list for the genre.      -SEL

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  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Number of Volumes: 18 (in English)
  • Alternate Formats: Anime (HfC hasn’t seen it)

  • Sanzo of ’Saiyuki’; original artist/creator Kazuya Minekura; drawing by Sunnie LaPan

    In the world of anime and manga, there is no question that my absolute favorite artist is Kazuya Minekura, author of “Saiyuki’ and ‘Saiyuki Reload.’ Although most mangas are lovingly drawn, you must admit that they tend to be little more than clean lines and a bit of shading, if you’re lucky. In Kazuya Minekura’s manga, each drawing, each panel, is a complete work of art.

    Hakkai of ’Saiyuki’; original artist/creator Kazuya Minekura; drawing by Sunnie LaPan

    I remember randomly picking the first volume of “Saiyuki’ off a shelf in a book store to demonstrate how gorgeous anime and manga could be, and I bought it because the cover was really spectacular. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I quickly fell in love with the story line and the characters.

    “Saiyuki’ centers around four main characters. Genjyo Sanzo is a somewhat-rogue, swearing, cigarette smoking priest who guards a sacred scroll. After a madness strikes the Youkai, or demons, of the land, Sanzo is charged with stopping it. Traveling with him is Son Goku, a teenage demon boy Sanzo found as a child, as well as Cho Hakkai, a human-turned-demon, and Sha Gojyo. Each of these characters has a deep and often dark past behind them, and as the story progresses, you learn more and more about them.

    Sanzo of ’Saiyuki’; original artist/creator Kazuya Minekura; drawing by Sunnie LaPan

    “Saiyuki’ was probably the first truly adult manga I encountered- the content in these books is not for children in any way, shape, or form. The story and character development is intense and incredibly captivating. It’s the kind of series that you just can’t put down.

    KamiSama of ’Saiyuki’; original artist/creator Kazuya Minekura; drawing by Sunnie LaPan

    The “Saiyuki’ saga, which is nine volumes, doesn’t really end in the first series, but continues in the next, ‘Saiyuki Reload,’ which is also nine volumes long. There are also some other Saiyuki-related series that Kazuya Minekura has written. I’ve not read those, but based on her fantastic work, I’d be willing to bet they won’t disappoint. In addition, an anime was also created. Again, never seen it. The manga was full and gorgeous enough for me.

    In addition to Saiyuki-esque manga, I’ve also read and greatly enjoyed Kazuya Minekura’s ‘Bus Gamer.’ It’s a fantastic and intriguing story, but, unfortunately, only the first volume is currently available. I also read her full-color one shot manga, ‘Stigma,’ and that is well worth looking into. If you really enjoyed “Saiyuki’ and ‘Saiyuki Reload,’ you will probably also be really into another of her series that I adored, Wild Adapter.      -SEL

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  • Genre: Samurai, Historical, Mixed Modern
  • Number of Episodes: 26
  • Quick Synopsis: Champloo: A dish of mixed ingredients
  • HfC Watched It In: English

  • Samurai Champloo

    Fuu is a young girl with nothing much to lose. She doesn’t have too much direction in life, until she meets Jin and Mugen, two men who wander into the café where she’s working. Jin is a serious samurai with a dark, secretive past. Mugen is a swordfighter, more of an acrobat, really, who just loves a challenge. But he too is running from a past he could no longer bear facing.

    When the café burns down (it’s totally an accident), and Jin and Mugen end up in prison, Fuu cooks up a plan. She promises to break them out, as long as they promise to accompany her on a journey to find a samurai who smells like sunflowers.

    “Samurai Champloo’ is the hip-hop song of the anime world. It has all the bounce and fun and excitement, but also all that gritty reality and the dark undercurrents you find in the best rap songs. (And it does, actually, have a lot of hip-hop and rap in the soundtrack. This, mixed with some experimental jazz and a few re-worked traditional ballads, creates a truly unique and expressive dimension for this 1800s samurai story.)

    Samurai Champloo The plot of this anime is loose. I mean, it’s so loose it’s mostly not even there until the end. It’s just three people, wandering around Japan, trying to learn more about each other and generally making a big, fat mess of things as they go. Some episodes are hilarious. Some are sad, or touching. There were even a couple of episodes that I felt could mostly be classified as ridiculous. Overall, though, the show blends emotions, and even time periods, to come to a balance, and display a story that captures the confusion and disillusionment of the era. It was something totally new for me, but it also felt comfortable and familiar. And I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

    Another thing I loooved about this series was that the fight scenes were actually really good. There are quite a few- we are talking samurais here- and fight scenes usually bore the hell out of me, but these were clear, precise, accurate, fast and just overall really entertaining.

    Samurai Champloo I watched “Samurai Champloo’ is English because it had several voice actors in it that I just love. Mugen is voiced by Steven Blum, the same guy who voices ‘Cowboy Bebop’s’ Spike. But the real voice to watch out for is Kirk Thornton, who voices Jin. This acting is just simply superior, and really enjoyable to listen to. (From what I heard of the Japanese voicing, that also sounded good.)

    “Samurai Champloo’ is 26 episodes. You can buy it as a complete set, or in seven individual volumes.      -SEL

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  • Genre: Slice of Life, Science, Space
  • Alternate Title: Uchu Kyodai, Uchuu Kyoudai
  • Number of Episodes: 99
  • HfC Watched It In: Japanese (highly recommended)
  • Alternate Formats: Manga, HfC hasn’t read it

  • I was putting together a list of the top ten best animes, in my opinion‐ kind of for fun and maybe to use on this page. And it was a real challenge not only to narrow it down to ten (I think I ended up with twelve) but to figure out what order they should go in, which one was just a little better than another. But it never really crossed my mind that ‘Space Brothers’ wouldn’t be number one.

    Mutta I first came across ‘Space Brothers’ while I was writing content for a website for a client in my real‐world‐sometimes‐I‐make‐money job. Occasionally I get asked to write synopses for shows or movies, and I always try to grab the anime ones because they’re easy to write, if I’ve already seen them, and I get to find new anime, if I haven’t. I hadn’t seen Space Brothers but I’d heard about it, vaguely. So I wrote the article‐ I wrote how the show is about Nanba Mutta, a nearly middle aged guy who recently lost his job when he head butted his boss. Now, he feels totally washed up, especially because his younger brother, Hibito, is about to become the first Japanese person to walk on the moon.

    Lucky for Mutta, he has an awesome family, and together, they secretly apply for him to go the JAXA space training program, and he’s accepted. From there, the show follows his struggles as he attempts to learn and pass the space program and become an astronaut. The plot is a lot bigger than that, even, though‐ it really delves into what seems to be the real training and trials a potential astronaut goes through, and then it veers off into more emotional territory, giving us looks at the relationships between Mutta and his brother, his family, his friends… And you get to know all the side characters, too, get to know about their lives and their own struggles. Serika

    It’s an amazing show. It should be straightforward but it never is. It shouldn’t make you laugh or cry but it does‐ I find myself crying all the time when I’m watching this because I am just so completely invested in the characters and their lives. When they succeed, I’m thrilled. When they’re hurting, I’m hurting.

    So, the characterization is probably some of the best I’ve ever seen in any medium. The plot is stunning‐ simple on the surface but very deep and complicated once you get into it. And those are definitely the things I love most about this series. But another thing I’m absolutely in love with is how intelligent this show is. There’s so much science. They don’t dumb anything down for the viewers. It really does feel like getting a look into a working space program, being able to discover things and figure out how to make things work better, and the science of it feels very valid.

    There’s something that’s just completely magical about this show‐ when you bring all of the aspects of it together, it’s pure gold. Sometimes, when I was watching this series, I tried to figure out what, exactly, it was that set it apart from every other anime. It’s hard to say, because you can list every good thing about it, but there’s still something more there, when you’re seeing it, when you’re living the lives of the characters with them like they’re people you know. It’s just amazing. It’s amazing what you end up caring about‐ should I really be that distraught when one of the astronaut’s wives briefly loses her kid in a grocery store? I shouldn’t, not overly, but I was so freaking worried while I was watching it. Because I cared about those characters, too, even though they are some of the most minor characters in the series.

    Space Brothers ‘Space Brothers’ is one of those series that I really hoped would just go on indefinitely. I never, ever wanted to get to the end. And as far as I know, it hasn’t ended yet, but it is on hold. Right now, there are 99 episodes out. They’re all worth watching. I know, it doesn’t sound very exciting, or like very much at all. But it is. It’s the best.      -SEL

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  • Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Action, Drama
  • Number of Episodes: 24
  • Quick Synopsis: Visceral, unabashed and incredible
  • HfC Watched It In: English (highly recommended)

  • While browsing for new anime (well, new to me) SpeedGrapher was one that came up from time to time. It always seemed to have amazing reviews. However, the synopsis always sounded so dreadful that I kept trying to ignore it. Eventually though, the large amount of positive feedback got to me, and I caved and decided to try it.

    Saiga The anime takes place either in a near-future or slightly altered current Japan, and is mostly about the main character, Saiga. Saiga was once a fantastic, famous war photographer. Now, though, he’s become kind of disillusioned with photography and life in general, and is just living day to day as a newspaper photographer and journalist.

    Saiga takes a job to investigate a new and mysterious club. The club is extremely secretive, but seems to have cult tendencies, and many of Japan’s elite are said to be involved. Saiga infiltrates the club, but what he discovers is beyond anything he could have imagined. The club centers around a real, live ’goddess,’ named Kagura, whose kiss has the power to give normal humans frightening powers. She kisses Saiga and he ends up with the power to blow up whatever he takes a picture of.

    Kagura, the goddess, is really just a relatively normal girl who is being forced to do things she doesn’t want to. Saiga pretty much hates his new powers, but he doesn’t hate Kagura. In fact, right away, he feels some kind of connection to her. He decides to take his powers and use them to help free her from her miserable life. Of course, those controlling the club don’t want to let Kagura go that easily. Saiga and Kagura end up running for their lives while they try to determine the secrets behind Kagura, the club and the strange powers Kagura can bestow. sg

    “SpeedGrapher’ is easily the most disturbing anime I’ve ever seen. After watching the first two episodes, I was horrified. However, I was also really intrigued. I had to watch more, and after the fourth episode, I was completely hooked. This anime is packed with everything you never wanted to see- torture, greed, murder, rape. It’s pretty much a bloodbath, but not in the sense that there’s actually a lot of blood. There isn’t, and this makes it all the more chilling. It’s real.

    As you watch more of the show, though, you begin to realize that underneath all the truly awful things you’re seeing, there is a wildly creative plot, characters full of depth, and a pure wealth of emotional drama. The story is original and wonderfully refreshing. The characters are honest. The show keeps you on the edge of your seat. Also, even those characters that are ’bad’ at the beginning are fully developed, and you can really come to understand them. The show blurs the line between good and evil and instead chooses to portray a wide picture of humanity.

    I watched ‘SpeedGrapher’ in English, and I enjoyed the voice acting a lot. Several of the voices are recognizable if you’ve watched other Funimation animes in English. The voice I enjoyed the most, though, was Saiga’s. Saiga is played by Christopher R. Sabat. The amazing thing about this voice actor is that no two of his roles ever sound alike. I first fell in love with his acting when he played Kuwabara on ‘Yu Yu Hakusho,’ and again when he was Alex Louis Armstrong in ‘Fullmetal Alchemist.’ These roles are both pretty goofy, and his voice matches them perfectly. However, as Saiga, Christopher’s voice is husky, with a lot of depth. He always sounds extremely natural, not like he’s reading lines. This natural quality was rampant in the acting in this show.

    “SpeedGrapher’ is one of those rare, original animes, not based off a book or manga series. It runs for 24 episodes. There is a three volume manga series based on the show that was released after. I haven’t read it and have no idea how good it is, or how closely it follows the anime. Personally, I loved the anime and would recommend that over the manga.      -SEL

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  • Genre: Action, Drama, Game, Romance, Fantasy/Sci-Fi
  • Number of Episodes: 25
  • Quick Synopsis: Virtual reality as real life
  • HfC Watched It In: Japanese
  • Alternate Formats: Manga, light novels (HfC hasn’t read them)

  • Note- This review only covers the original SAO series, not SAO II.

    SAO "Sword Art Online" is the hottest new game, and in a near-future Japan, 10,000 people have lined up to get their hands on a copy so they can play. The best thing about the game, aside from the beautiful landscape, is that it involves the use of NerveGear, special equipment that lets players do a full body dive into a virtual world. It feels like they’re really there, when they’re in the game.

    Things go wrong when players realize there is no logout button. The creator of the game has decided to make SAO his own world, and now, dying in the game means dying for real in the real world. The only way out is for someone to beat the game.

    The players of the game must now decide whether to become warriors and fight, risking their lives, or to stay on the sidelines, safe, but making no progress towards freedom. Kirito was a beta tester for the game, so he knows the ins and outs more than almost anyone. He quickly makes a decision to do his best to survive. But he’s also unique in that he actually wants to live while he plays the game. He wants to enjoy the things he enjoyed in real life. The game becomes his life, and his home, and the life and home of all the other people playing it. As they build relationships and risk their safety to advance, Kirito, his close friend Asuna, and the other players must ask themselves whether the lives they’re now living are real and meaningful, and wonder whether they will ever escape. SAO3

    I love SAO. It’s one of those series that makes you want to cackle madly with glee, because it’s so good and you’re just so glad you found it. While I was watching "Sword Art Online," I was completely immersed in the show and the lives of the characters. When I wasn’t watching, I felt like part of me was still there. I always wanted to get back into ’the game’ so badly, to see what would happen, but at the same time, I was often so nervous that I didn’t want to watch. I was afraid, because I really cared about what happened to the characters. And it got so good that I started rationing episodes, to make it last longer.

    SAO2 I think there are three main factors which make this show great. The first is the idea behind the series. I’m a gamer, and I can definitely say there are times I’ve wondered what it would be like to live in the fantasy land of a game. You fall in love with the game, but also the characters and the landscape and the different life you can have. SAO takes it a step further and asks, what if you were trapped? What if the game were your life? Would you still be you? Would you still be living? Are you as real in a virtual world as you are in the real one? I found it to be a deeply fascinating concept.

    The second factor is plotting. The entire show is excellent, but the first fourteen episodes are some of the very best stuff I’ve seen. (I admit, the pacing is a little fast in the first few episodes, but it does smooth out, and it’s well worth it.) The thing I loved about the show and the plotting was that it doesn’t revolve around boss fight after boss fight, although there are some. If you’re hoping to see Kirito mow down game enemies episode after episode, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, the show takes the time to explore Kirito’s character, and eventually Asuna’s. And, the best part, the part that made it real for me, is that the series delves into the lives of side characters, and describes their thoughts about being stuck in a game. It’s so much more absorbing. It made me care about not just the main characters, but the whole Sword Art Online world. SAO4

    The third excellent factor is the characters. Kirito is one of my favorite characters ever in anime. He’s a little shy, a little awkward, and he can be cold, especially at first, but as he grows his character really develops and unfolds. You can watch him progress from a strong, intelligent but confused boy into someone who is capable and caring but still scared. And he’s so cool. I just wanted to follow him around.

    SAO5 I also loved Asuna. She’s Kirito’s love interest, and their romance is one of the most honest, deep, and extremely satisfying, romances I’ve seen in an anime. It’s very real. You care about them as a couple. I especially cared about their romance because I loved Asuna. She’s a skilled game player. She’s tough and brave and she speaks her mind. She’s capable and stands on her own two feet, but she really cares about Kirito. I liked everything about her.

    And of course, aside from those three things, the art is gorgeous, the dialogue is really good, the side characters have depth… The voice acting is great. I watched it in Japanese and loved it. There’s just a lot to like about this show.

    I have heard mixed reviews on this anime. People seem to either love it or detest it. I’d never played an online game when I watched this, so I really can’t speak to how accurate it is. But even if it’s crazy, and none of Kirito’s story would ever happen in real life, I don’t care. The character interactions, the deep thoughts about life and relationships, the way Kirito grows… these are all the things that make this show worth watching.

    "Sword Art Online" is 25 episodes long. You can buy it in four DVD sets, but it’s ridiculously expensive. I watched it on Hulu and CrunchyRoll. Hopefully, it will be rereleased at some point, at a lower price.      -SEL

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  • Alternate Title: Zankyou no Terror
  • Genre: Drama
  • Number of Episodes: 11
  • HfC Watched It In: Japanese
  • Nine and Twelve are two teenage boys who are anything but normal. They’ve just started at Lisa’s high school, and right away, she’s drawn to them. They’re exciting, they don’t act like other boys her age, and thinking about them helps pull her away from thinking about how depressing her life is.

    Lisa Nine and Twelve have a secret, though. They’re terrorists– honest to goodness terrorists who destroy buildings and wreak havoc. They have a plan, a path, and they are determined to fulfill it. But as they get closer to their goal, a disgraced cop, Shibazaki, is closing in on them. He knows there’s something more going on and is determined to get to the bottom of the attacks.

    (I’d just like to point out that, no matter how many times I write a description for a book or anime or whatnot, I find that I am never very good at it– I end up rambling or sounding like a cheesy movie trailer– so please believe me when I saw my summary above does this anime absolutely no justice.)

    When I first started watching ‘Terror in Resonance,’ I was appalled. These people were blowing up buildings. It just reminded me so much of 9/11, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to find a connection to the series. But at the end of the first episode, when I was getting ready to shut it off and never come back, I saw the name Shinichiro Watanabe. Now, I’m still not at the point where I recognize a ton of names in anime production, but this is one I knew right away. Shinichiro Watanabe is the director of some of the best anime ever created– ‘Cowboy Bebop,’ ‘Samurai Champloo’ and ‘Kids on the Slope.’ And he was also the director for ‘Terror in Resonance.’ So even though I was pretty much horrified by the show, I decided to watch another episode.

    Nine I’m so glad I did. ‘Terror in Resonance’ is easily one of the best anime I’ve ever seen. It’s one of those stories where nothing is black and white. Although I at first never thought I would understand them, Nine and Twelve, the terrorists, are exceptionally complete characters, who display honest emotions, and have legitimate reasons behind the things they do. Their actions are terrifying, but at the same time, understandable (and they ensure never to hurt anyone.) The way they were created makes them seem like real people– people you can empathize with. People you come to love. Lisa is frail and nervous and she’s not too bright, but she cares about the boys, and as you get to know her, you see how simply but elegantly and completely her character is designed. She was annoying at times, but I could understand her, too, in a deep way. She was so much more interesting than the cardboard cutouts of characters, especially girl characters, you often get. And Shibazaki, the cop who’s trying to catch Nine and Twelve, was a great, intensely interesting and sympathetic character. He’s an excellent detective, but he wants to do things his way, so that they’re done right, and so that the right people are caught. The way he inspires he fellow officers, the way he works for what’s right, was great.

    Shibazaki I found the art to be odd, almost… ugly sometimes, especially in the character’s faces in profile. But as weird as this sounds, it worked so well with the anime– that shock of un–prettiness (is that a word?), the reality of something that isn’t gorgeous, served to highlight how honest and beautiful the anime is. It’s like the flaw in a face that helps to accentuate the loveliness of the bones underneath. The music was also fantastic– subtle, a bit subdued, always serving its purpose to put the story and the characters first. And since it was done by the fantastic Yoko Kanno, who also did the amazing ‘Cowboy Bebop’ soundtracks, you know it did its job and more.

    ‘Terror in Resonance’ is probably the most intense anime I’ve ever seen– as the ending drew closer, I actually didn’t want to watch, I was so afraid of what would happen. It’s intensely emotional, too, though– the action is great, and exciting, but it’s your love for the characters, your desire to see things go well for them, that made me so panicky.

    Twelve ‘Terror in Resonance’ is 11 episodes long. You can get the soundtracks and, weirdly, a mouse pad, online, but a DVD version has not yet been released in the US. I watched it on Hulu.      -SEL

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  • Genre: Space Western, Science Fiction, Drama
  • Number of Episodes: 26
  • HfC Watched It In: English (highly recommended)
  • Alternate Formats: Manga, very different from anime

  • Vash the Stampede of ’Trigun’; original artist/creator Yasuhiro Nightow; drawing by Sunnie LaPan

    I’m a little stumped as to how to start this one, because "Trigun" is so amazing, and I feel like I just won’t be able to do it justice. The story and characters are some of the best I’ve ever encountered, not just in anime but anywhere. And, "Trigun" probably has a lot to do with why I love anime and manga to this day. So, if you’ve never encountered anime before, and you want to try, this is the one for you. And if you love anime and are looking for something refreshing and exciting to watch, this is also the one for you. Also, if you’ve tried anime and hated it, this series will probably redeem it.

    Why the series is called "Trigun" is beyond me, since there aren’t three guns, there are about a hundred guns, wielded by myriad characters that the main character, Vash the Stampede, meets as he travels the desert wasteland of his planet. "Trigun" is a futuristic, science fiction type anime, but it has a really cool feel which I’ve only ever come across in animes, in that although it’s futuristic, everything is also kind of western-y and slightly backwards. It’s like, these people’s ancestors traveled through space, crashed into this desert planet, and now they have lost a lot of their technology. But they make up for it by toting large weapons and displaying an amazing array of genetic mutations.

    Vash isn’t like the other people on the planet, though. He’s not really human at all. He’s also the best gunman anyone has ever seen. However, he’s made a vow never to take a life. This doesn’t stop him from getting into trouble and causing a lot of chaos. Vash travels around (my mother asked me what the show was about and my response was, ’Well, they do a lot of driving.’) and tries to help people, while staying under the radar. He is running from his past, which includes a psycho twin brother.

    Meryl Strife of ’Trigun’; original artist/creator Yasuhiro Nightow; drawing by Sunnie LaPan

    Meanwhile, Meryl Strife and Milly Thompson, employees for the planet’s largest insurance company, have been assigned to follow Vash and stop him from wreaking havoc. As they wander about with him, they realize there’s a lot more to him than meets the eye. Vash’s past is slowly revealed over the series, and it’s way deeper than it first appears.

    They also meet up with Nicholas D. Wolfwood, a gun-wielding priest. That sounds awful, but Wolfwood is probably one of the best characters ever created. This series is worth watching just for him.

    This probably sounds convoluted, and the fact is, it is. The anime is based off of a manga, and the entire anime was written while only about half of the manga was written. So I’m not sure if anybody really knew what was going on. There’s a lot of stuff that’s somewhat vague, and the whole plot is really layered, anyway. But the best thing is, none of that matters. The series starts of light and funny. It eases you into what’s going on, so you never feel lost. You just kind of let it wash over you.

    By the time you get into the heart of the story, with Vash fending off bad people left and right and still trying to figure out his inner demons, you’re not just hooked, you’re in love.

    I can’t expound enough on the fact that every single thing about this anime is done perfectly. The characters are amazingly complex. The bad guys are deep and honestly frightening. Legato Bluesummers and Knives are absolutely chilling. The artwork is superb and beautiful. The story is rich and full of emotions. Even the music is absolutely fantastic. (I even bought the CDs that went with the series. It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard.) The voice acting is also stunning. I watch it dubbed in English, so I can’t speak for the Japanese version, but Vash’s voice just melts right into you. These actors really know what they’re doing.

    Vash of ’Trigun’; original artist/creator Yasuhiro Nightow; drawing by Sunnie LaPan The series runs for 26 episodes, and it’s complete. If you’re looking to purchase "Trigun," I highly recommend you buy the boxed set, as opposed to seeking out individual volumes. There is also a full-length movie, called "Trigun: Badlands Rumble." It takes place somewhere in the beginning-middle of the anime story line. I’d say as long as you’ve ’met’ Nicholas D. Wolfwood, you could pop in the movie. It can’t spoil any plot lines. It’s not overly serious, but it is entertaining and gives you quite a few laughs. Also, as usual, the artwork is 100% super fantastic. The only problem I had with the movie was that, because it was created ten years or so after the original anime, some of the voice actors weren’t available. Vash is the same, but Wolfwood, Meryl and Milly are all different. These new actors aren’t bad, they’re just not… right. I was very uncomfortable with the idea, myself, but it turned out ok. Still, if you’re not into that, you’re not missing much by skipping the movie.

    There is also, as I said, a manga, from which the anime is based. I’ve never read it. Because they basically diverged in the middle, the anime and manga end up being vastly different from each other, especially in one key area, which I can’t mention here. It would spoil things. But anyway, I liked the anime plot, and didn’t want to mix two different plots. I suggest sticking to one story line or the other. But, hey, you know, whatever floats your boat.      -SEL

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  • Alternate Titles: Bokura ga Ita
  • Genre: Romance, Drama, Slice of Life
  • Number of Volumes: 16

  • We Were There We Were There4 Nanami is the new girl in her high school. She doesn’t know anyone, but when she meets Yano, she feels instantly connected to him. Yano, on the other hand, doesn’t want to get close to anyone ever again. He’s still grieving over the death of his girlfriend, and he does everything he can, including being downright mean, to get Nanami to stay away from him. Unfortunately for Yano, though, Nanami is stubborn, and sweet, and her open personality gets under his skin.

    ‘We Were There’ is one of the simplest stories I’ve read. It’s about people’s average lives, and how they crash into each other, and away from each other, and into other people, over and over and over, and that’s it. But along with being one of the simplest stories, it’s also one of the most stunning, beautifully written mangas I’ve come across. There are some scenes that are so average and yet so shockingly gorgeous that they just took my breath away.

    We Were There3 After reading the first volume of the series, I wasn’t overly impressed, and almost decided to stop. Luckily, I try to read at least two volumes of any manga before dropping it. Good thing I did. In the middle of the second volume, I started to find myself drawn into the exceptionally well-rendered characters and their unique, interesting stories. And then a scene appeared that was beyond anything I ever imagined for a shojo manga, and I was hooked.

    Throughout all 16 volumes of this series, I felt like my heart was being squeezed. It’s nothing unusual, or even very dramatic. It’s just a story about everyday life and love- a story that reminds you that just being alive is amazing. And that being together with people is amazing, and that it can be painful and difficult. And that life sometimes goes where you never expect it to, and you just have to deal with it the best you can. We Were There2

    Of course, the characters have a lot to do with how great the story is, and why you feel so much while you’re reading. All of the characters, Yano and Nanami but also all of their friends and the other people that revolve around them throughout the series, are completely three-dimensional, believable characters that you feel for, even when, sometimes, you don’t really like them.

    The artwork changes a bit throughout the series (probably because it took the artist ten years to write it), but I didn’t notice until I’d finished reading the series and went back to a picture from the beginning. Either way, throughout the story, I found the artwork to be really enjoyable. It’s sleek, clean and straightforward. The story is uncluttered but chock full of metaphors that bring an even deeper meaning to everything. It’s just… absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait to read more from the author, Yuuki Obata.      -SEL

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  • Genre: Science Fiction, Drama
  • Number of Volumes: 6 (unfinished)

  • Kubota of ’Wild Adapter’; original artist/creator Kazuya Minekura; drawing by Sunnie LaPan

    Kubota drifts through life. Although he is a skilled, and scary, fighter, he takes his role as leader of a gang rather lightly. That is, until one of Kubota’s friends becomes involves in a new drug, Wild Adapter, and is subsequently killed. After learning what he can about the drug- it changes its users into strange beasts before essentially poisoning and killing them- he leaves the gang to go his own way.

    Kubota and Tokito of ’Wild Adapter’; original artist/creator Kazuya Minekura; drawing by Sunnie LaPan Soon, Kubota finds a young man, Tokito, on the street. Tokito has lost his memory, and one of his hands has been transformed into a furry, clawed appendage. Tokito and Kubota quickly form a close bond, even though Tokito is loathe to trust anyone, and begin a deeper investigation into Wild Adapter.

    Like ‘Saiyuki,’ the artwork in ‘Wild Adapter’ is simply the best I’ve ever seen. The drawings are so striking and gorgeous that they’ll take your breath away. (Another thing I love about manga is how the artist usually adds in panel drawings at the beginnings of chapters that have absolutely nothing to do with the story, but only show off the characters. “Let’s show the boys in traditional Japanese garb. In this panel, let’s have them brushing their teeth. Why don’t we draw them in tuxedos? Why? Because it makes them look cool.’ It’s a bit weird, but it makes you feel like the characters are in on the telling of their own story and are just playing along.)

    Throughout the series, we watch as Tokito and Kubota become closer and learn more about each other, as well as more about Wild Adapter. You are never quite sure what their relationship will evolve into, but the story is intense and keeps you completely interested.

    The only flaw I could find with this series is that, at six volumes, it’s not yet finished. If more volumes will be written and marketed in the US, I’m all for it. I just usually don’t like to read, never mind recommend, a series that has yet to conclude. Still, ‘Wild Adapter,’ with its lovely character development and stunning art, is too good to pass by.      -SEL

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  • Alternate Titles: Arakure
  • Genre: Romance, Drama, Ninja
  • Number of Volumes: 10

  • Rakuto of ’Wild Ones’; original artist/creator Kiyo Fujiwara; drawing by Sunnie LaPan

    After teenager Sachi loses her mother, she is taken in by a grandfather she never knew she had. He is a yakuza boss (yakuza are like Japanese gangsters), and he takes her to live in a giant compound with his gang of men. There, Sachi is assigned a caretaker, named Rakuto, who is about the same age as Sachi. It’s Rakuto’s job to take Sachi to and from school and generally make sure that she is safe and protected.

    Instead of being intimidated by her new circumstances, Sachi almost immediately befriends her grandfather’s men and finds a permanent place in the yakuza household. The series follows Sachi over a period of years as she settles into her new life and tries to determine her feelings for Rakuto.

    For someone who claims not to really love shojo, I seem to read an awful lot of it, and ‘Wild Ones’ is definitely one of the best shojo manga series I’ve encountered. The story is captivating. I was addicted.

    Rakuto and Sachi of ’Wild Ones’; original artist/creator Kiyo Fujiwara; drawing by Sunnie LaPan
    This series has its flaws. In fact, when I started reading the first book, I thought it was awful. The artwork is very strange. The way the artist, Kiyo Fujiwara, draws the eyes often makes the characters look like aliens. In addition, the translation isn’t spectacular, and in some scenes, including the first few chapters of the first book, it’s a bit hard to follow what’s going on. You miss details. Sachi’s name is continually spelled two ways, which is distracting.

    Somewhere in the middle of the first book, though, I was hooked.

    The character development displayed in this series is nearly unparalleled. Each character, even the most minor ones, such as the men in the gang, is unique and fascinating. Sachi is charming but tough and you can’t help but love her. Rakuto is mysterious and aloof but also caring, making for the perfect male lead. I also adored the idea of all these tough, strong men being leveled by the love of a teenage girl. The way they go out of their way to care for her and make her part of the family was fantastic. (I am a sucker for these types of plot lines, generally. I don’t know why that is.)

    Also, although the drawing style was really bizarre, I learned to appreciate it because the boys actually looked like boys (although slightly alien-ish.) In so many shojos, the male characters are nearly indistinguishable from the female characters. The men and boys in this series were obviously manly.

    The series, which is ten books long, lingers over the romance developing between Sachi and Rakuto, but also delves into the side stories of other characters, such as Azuma, a friend who lives with the main characters for a time. The tension in the books is also fantastic and I never felt bored.

    I was lucky enough to get these books out of my local library, but I figure that I’ll eventually end up buying them because they are so re-readable. If you are looking for a fun story and a deep romance, don’t pass this series up.      -SEL

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  • Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy, Drama
  • Number of Episodes: 112
  • HfC Watched It In: English (highly recommended)
  • Alternate Formats: Manga, nearly as good as anime

  • Yu Yu Hakusho Yusuke Urameshi is a fourteen year old street punk. He is known as the toughest kid around, and is constantly getting into fights. His only friends are Keiko, a girl he’s known since he was small, and Kuwabara, another street fighter who is constantly challenging him to fights.

    Despite his outward appearance and attitude, Yusuke is really a soft hearted guy. When he sees a little boy about to be hit by a car, he dives in front of it and gets killed himself. Suddenly, Yusuke is a ghost looking down on his own body. He’s pretty confused until a pretty, blue-haired grim reaper girl named Botan appears. Botan tells Yusuke that, since the Spirit World never expected him to save a kid, they didn’t expect him to die, so they don’t know what to do with him.

    Botan brings Yusuke to Spirit World to meet Prince Koenma, who decides people’s fates. He tells Yusuke that if he can complete a challenge, he will be allowed to return to his life.

    Time passes. Yusuke slowly learns about Spirit World and another dangerous world, Demon World. He befriends a demon-turned-human named Kurama, and a demon named Hiei. Together with Kuwabara, the four become a team and Yusuke begins working as Spirit Detective, solving cases involving demons.

    There are a few animes that I would consider to be my favorites. ‘Yu Yu Hakusho’ is definitely one of those, which is kind of strange, since it is truly a fighting anime. Someone is always throwing a punch at someone else, which just isn’t usually my cup of tea. However, the beauty of this series is that there’s a ton of emotional involvement. The characters, while extremely tough and sometimes even brutal, are all kind of touchy-feely, emotionally. Not in a cheesy way- just in an “I’ve given everything I’ve got so I might as well lay it all out” kind of way. Even after just a few episodes, you feel like you’ve gotten to know their true hearts. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so connected to a group of characters.

    The fights are also really entertaining, so you’re never bored. Because they are demons or, in Yusuke’s case, humans with supernatural powers, interesting techniques and weapons are constantly being employed, so that each fight is different. Each battle also has a really deep story behind it, which usually ties into a longer, captivating story arc. It really seems to be the perfect balance- tons of action and bloody fights, mixed with an equal amount of emotional character development and romance. Even the side characters start to feel like old friends.

    The ‘Yu Yu Hakusho’ anime series is based off of a 19 volume manga of the same name by Yoshihiro Togashi (who also wrote the hilarious ‘Level E’ and one of the longest running mangas ever, ‘Hunter X Hunter.’) This series is so good that I started reading the manga after I started watching the anime. The manga is really great, and the anime follows it really closely. There are a few side stories that don’t make their way into the anime, so if you enjoy the anime, you may want to check out the manga. However, if you’re deciding which to try first, I strongly recommend the anime. It has much more emotional impact, the music is excellent, and the art is just slightly better. The scenes are also more filled out in the anime. The voice acting, in English, is also just stunning.

    The anime is 112 episodes in four seasons. You can buy the anime in four sets, one for each season, and they’re all pretty inexpensive.      -SEL

    Yu Yu Hakusho .

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    TO SUB OR TO DUB (And a Discussion on the Ethics of the ‘Right’ Way to Watch Anime)

    I have a headache today. I’m on my second Excedrin, but unfortunately, I took them separately and too late, and it’s not going away.

    I feel like listening to music, because I don’t get migraines like normal people‐ I hate loud noise when I’m having one, but I like music, particularly… metal or something that matches the pounding in my brain. But there’s nothing in me that will allow me to spend an hour listening to music and playing Freecell, so I need to do something while I listen. And lucky for all of you, I feel like going on a bit of a headache induced rant.

    This subbing and dubbing issue has been hanging over my head for a while. I had an article up on it at one point, but the way I watch anime has changed since then, and a friend also made several good points about the matter, and I realized this article was way outdated, so I took it down.

    Now I’m rewriting it. But… I feel like crap. This may be harsher than necessary. Still informative, though, I hope.

    I’m not sure exactly how to talk about the sub or dub debate without taking a side. The thing is, the anime community is… very, very snobby. I don’t like ‘belonging’ to a fandom or a community, especially online, because people get so caught up in doing things the ‘correct’ way. And here’s the thing‐ there is absolutely no right way to watch anime. I mean, it’s entertainment. You can’t really screw it up. You plant yourself in front of the show or the movie and absorb it in whatever manner you like best‐ in increments, all at once, with popcorn, with cookies in hand, with the subtitles on, with all the lights on, in the dark, alone, with a friend‐ whatever. No one tells anyone the right way to watch an American movie, or a sitcom. But for some reason, anime gets treated differently.

    And anime fans‐ a lot of them‐ have decided that the right way to watch anime is subtitled. All the time. And if you do decide to watch an anime dubbed, you’re not only not doing it right, but you’re obviously an idiot and not really a true anime fan.

    This is where I take my side. I hate this elitist part of the anime community. It makes it really, really hard to admit that you like anime, not because of what anyone thinks of the medium, but because it’s seriously embarrassing to get lumped in with these people. My take on the matter is‐ I don’t give a damn how you take your anime, as long as you enjoy it.

    Is that not simple?

    Personally, I watch about half of my anime dubbed, and half subbed. I honestly like both, for different reasons. And a lot of it depends on what’s available, too.

    (Definition time: Dubbing is when the original Japanese voice acting is stripped from an anime and English voice actors, or whatever language you’re watching in, speak over the parts. Subbing is when the Japanese is left in and there are subtitles.)

    When I started watching anime on cable, dubbed was all that was available. And you know what? These voice actors are great. You get attached to them, just like you do actors you can see. I like them. They’re not better or worse than their Japanese counterpoints.

    I still watch a lot of anime dubbed because I do really enjoy these people. I can’t imagine watching ‘Cowboy Bebop’ in Japanese, for example. I just don’t think it would cut it for me. Another…

    Uhhn, Passion Pit on the radio. Please kill me.

    Ok. Anyway. Another reason I really like dubbed anime is because when you’re reading subtitles, it’s hard to focus on the art. I’m a fast reader. I read about a book a day, and still, when you’re doing subtitles, you sometimes have to go back. Sometimes this is mildly annoying, and sometimes it’s just ridiculous. Anyone seen ‘Tatami Galaxy’? This is supposed to be an excellent anime, but I wouldn’t know because, during the first 15 minutes of the first episode, I had to rewind about a million times, and I still didn’t get all the subtitles, never mind the art or focusing on any kind of story. The narrator talks way, way too fast. That’s an extreme example, but it’s just much easier to absorb things when you don’t have to look at two different things, listen to an unfamiliar language and try to understand a story at the same time.

    On the other hand, there are drawbacks to dubbing. The Japanese voice actors were selected by the director of the anime, and they were chosen because they fit the vision for the project. This isn’t the case with the English actors, and maybe you’re not getting the full experience because it’s not exactly as the people who originally created the anime envisioned. Also, some things get changed. You can’t tell what’s getting left out or replaced of the original Japanese. As my friend pointed out, English voice actors attempt to match, as best they can, their words to the character’s mouth movements, and this can create some problems in keeping the script as original as possible.

    How much does this change things? I think it really depends on who’s doing the dubbing. Some studios are good. Some are poor. You learn to lean towards the ones that do a good job.

    I like subtitles, too. This is actually more familiar to me, because I watch a lot of foreign movies, and 99.9% of the time, I watch them subtitled. And the Japanese voice actors are great. I mean, you haven’t experienced great voice acting until you’ve rewound a clip six times to hear Yoshimasa Hosoya say ‘It’s fine’ over and over, and gotten shivers from how amazing he sounds each time.

    Another nice thing about subbing is that it seems like more of the original script gets crammed into the subtitles. Which means there’s more to read, which can detract, but at the same time, you get more of the original script. Now, I want to say here, too, that I don’t think all of the script makes it into the subtitles, just like it doesn’t make it into the dubbed version. If you speak any Japanese, you might pick up on this. If you don’t, or your Japanese isn’t good, you’re not going to, and you’re missing stuff just like you might be missing stuff in the dubbed version. Maybe just not quite as much.

    As a side note, watching anime in Japanese is a fantastic way to pick up more of the language, if that’s what you’re interested in doing.

    Just like studios that dub, those studios that do subtitles can be good or bad. It really depends who’s doing it. Sometimes you get subtitles full of grammatical errors or obvious translation issues, and it sucks.

    So, here’s the point I really want to make, and this hasn’t changed since my original article‐ if you want to watch your anime dubbed, excellent. If you prefer it subbed, great. If you don’t mind either, well, I think this is the best, most open choice, because you do as you feel, and sometimes the English or Japanese is better, and you get an option.

    But here’s what I’m not ok with‐ shaming. Please don’t do this. Don’t tell someone they’re wrong if they prefer one way or another. Don’t tell them they’re not real fans. Exclusion is not cool, and it’s hard enough to be an anime and manga fan without people making it more difficult than it has to be.

    (And as an aside that may never get seen by those who it’s intended for‐ the plea for less shaming goes for those who aren’t into anime as well. You don’t like it‐ that’s fine. But stop lumping all anime into the categories of Pokemon and porn. It’s a great medium and there’s a lot more to it, and when you shame someone for what they enjoy, you come across as an ignorant, self‐righteous ass.)

    That is all.      -SEL

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    ⪼ Josei- Manga or anime geared towards young to middle aged women. “Saiyuki’ and ‘Nana’ are not only some of the best manga you can feed your heart, but also exceptional examples of josei.

    ⪼ Kodoma- Manga or anime designed to appeal to children. ‘Pokemon’ would be a good example.

    ⪼  Manhua- Manga-style graphic novels from China or Taiwan. There don’t seem to be too many of these around. The only one I’ve read is ‘History of the West Wing,’ which was very pretty but dull.

    ⪼  Manhwa- Manga-style graphic novels from Korea. I often feel that the art in manhwa is often even better than the art in traditional manga, although it does depend on the artist. Some great examples of manhwa are ‘Bride of the Water God’ and ‘Chocolat,’ ‘Time & Again’ and ‘Let Dai.’

    ⪼ Mecha- Manga and anime that features huge robots. Oddly, a pretty popular subject. Good examples are ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion,’ ‘The Big O’ and the massive ‘Gundam’ franchise.

    ⪼  OEL- This is actually an English term that means Original English Language (manga). It’s a manga-style graphic novel written by an American, Canadian or anyone else who speaks English. These books are waaaaay different from American comic books, both in story, format and artistic style. A lot of teen books are being turned into OEL mangas these days. However, for a great original OEL series, I recommend ‘Dramacon’.

    ⪼ Seinen- Manga or anime geared towards young to middle aged men. Hard to define, oddly, because in the US, seinen series usually get shuffled into either the shojo or shonen categories. Some seinen titles are surprising, such as ‘Chi’s Sweet Home.’ For what American’s might consider more seinen, I’d probably go with ‘Dogs: Bullets and Carnage’ or ‘Dorohedoro.’

    ⪼ Shojo/Shoujo- Mangas or animes primarily geared toward tween to teen girls. ‘Marmalade Boy’ and ‘Kare First Love’ are good examples.

    ⪼ Shoujo-Ai- Literally means girl love. These books and animes involve a romance between two girls or women, but are not explicit in nature. Can’t say I’ve read or seen any of these. Just not my thing.

    ⪼ Shonen/Shounen- Mangas or animes geared toward tween to teen boys. ‘Yu Yu Hakusho’ and ‘Bleach’ the perfect examples.

    ⪼ Shounen-Ai- Boy or boy’s love. The opposite of shoujo-ai. These books involve two boys in love, but are not explicit (no sex.) ‘La Esperanca’ and ‘Seven Days’ are exceptionally great shounen-ai reads.

    ⪼ Slice of Life- A story with a plot that’s not strong or not obvious, and is simply more a chunk out of the character’s life. It’s kind of hard to define. For me, the very best slice of life anime is ‘Kids on the Slope,’ and when it comes to manga, ‘Chi’s Sweet Home’ rocks pretty hard, as does ‘Yotsuba&! (That's not my over excitement- the name of the series has an exclamation point in it.) ’

    ⪼ Yaoi- Manga and anime depicting a romantic relationship between two men, and involving, either mild or graphic, scenes of sex. I like Kano Miyamoto’s work when it comes to yaoi, especially ‘Lovers and Souls’ and ‘Rules.’ Yugi Yamada is also great- these artists are both tasteful in depicting their romances.

    ⪼ Yuri- Stories that revolve around a relationship between two women, and depict sex, either graphically or mildly.      -SEL


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