On My Time Reading Rurouni Kenshin

A reader requested that I review some volumes of the Rurouni Kenshin manga.  At present, I’ve almost finished the series and can almost review the antepenultimate volume of the series–i.e. volume twenty-six.  (Yes, I could not resist using the word antepenultimate.)  Now appears a good moment to look back on the series and why I enjoy it so much.  This manga is such a delight that I obtained the complete series in the original language in order to translate it from the original.

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After reading the first two volumes in English, I purchased all of the tankobun volumes.  I must say that the level of Japanese stood far above Inuyasha, which counted as my first exposure to manga and even to translating foreign works.  (Later, I would read Latin poetry, but it required three years of high school Latin before I started reading excerpts of Classical literature.  Conversely, two months of Japanese sufficed for me to plunge into Inuyasha.)  With Rurouni Kenshin, I soon developed a fear of running into boxes of historical digression written in kanji.  Having watched the anime previously, some of the long monologues were much easier to deal with; but, in Rurouni Kenshin, unlike in Inuyasha, most of the fight is cerebral.  Cases where one can sit back and admire pages of action with interjections here and there are seldom found in the pages of Rurouni Kenshin.

Continue reading

My Opinion of the Japanese Language

Tonight, I resisted the temptation to reblog an article so soon into National Blog Posting Month, made two pots of Jasmine green tea, and sat down to write about my opinion of the Japanese language.  I know that my original idea was to write about my history with the language in addition, but that will be covered in my article on my history with foreign languages in general.  And so, I sit down to ponder why the Japanese language appeals to me so much.

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First, it is possible to be very Spartan or Laconic when speaking Japanese.  I capitalize those adjectives in order to emphasize that the brevity with which the Japanese can convey complete thoughts reminds me of the Spartans.  It is well known that Spartan mothers used to say to their sons before their first battle, “Return carrying this shield or on it.”  It is less well known that what they literally said, which conveyed the above, was simply, “This or on this.”  Likewise, a complete Japanese sentence does not need a subject as long as both parties know what it is.  Often, even the object can be dropped.  And if the relationship between the subject and object is known, the Japanese will leave the verb out.  How much translators add to subtitles in anime becomes more and more apparent the more Japanese one knows.  Watch Noir to hear particularly Laconic Japanese.

Mireille lets her gun send most of her messages across, and her partner even more so.

Mireille lets her gun send most of her messages across, and her partner even more so.

Also, Japanese is ridiculously easy to pronounce.  Vowel collisions offer the greatest challenge to non-native speakers.  But if you can master the word chikusho! (pronounced “ch’k’sho!), Japanese holds few other challenges for you.  (That word happens to be what many Japanese consider the foulest word in their language.  Usually translated as “damn it,” it literally means “beast.”)  The vowels are exactly as they are in Spanish, and don’t ever vary.  Japanese does not even contain true diphthongs like English.  Hai sounds like “high” when said quickly, but hai is in fact a two syllable word: hah – ee.  (Remember that when composing haiku!)  Also, despite what Col. Pappy Boyington says in his memoirs, “Ohio” is not how the Japanese say good morning!  Rather, it is ohayou, which, I’ll admit, can sound like Ohio when spoken quickly!  But, vowel sounds in Japanese are purer than they are in English, and I love how easy it is to pronounce the language.

secret

The many layers of politeness in Japanese are also pretty cool.  Depending on who you are and whom you’re talking to, you can say the word “I” in all of the following ways: watashi, watakushi, atashi, washi, ore, boku, kono (insert name), wagahai, or sessha.  (And yes, I know that the chances of the last two ever being good choices are slim.)  The verb forms also have several layers of politeness, certain of which are far too polite or vulgar for most people ever having a good reason to use them.

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The one thing which drives me nuts about Japanese is how they place relative clauses before the noun they modify.  Doesn’t sound hard to you?  Imagine hearing this is another language: “Tokugawa (shamed his overlord by his sloppy dress during a formal review) no Daisuke Ise commanded to be put to death.”  (The no particle connects the relative clause to its subject.)  The point of the preceding example is that I can’t really show you in a grammatical manner how the Japanese do this, because this manner of turning relative clauses into long adjective is foreign to English!  By the time I have properly ordered the sentence in my head to “Tokugawa commanded that Daisuke Ise, who shamed his overlord by his sloppy dress during a formal review, to be put to death” several lines of dialogue have already passed.

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In general, Japanese is a pretty easy language which makes for a rewarding study.  It’s always fun to learn the different nuances the Japanese have for words.  For example, amai literally means sweet; but, unlike in English, sweet is an insult when applied to a person in Japanese.  It means either that the person is over-indulgent to others or naive.  I find it fun to delve into these nuances.

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If anything about Japanese is difficult, it would have to be the kanji or Chinese characters which the Japanese incorporated into their language.  As long as one has dedication and patience, these kanji can slowly be absorbed over the years.  And, then, the constructions for saying “may” or “must” can drive one bonkers.  Otherwise, I would like to reiterate that Japanese is a fun language to learn which really does not pose the learner with as many hurdles to overcome as one might initially think.

Picking on Black Bullet Again

Ah, these days, I have a hard time finding ideas for articles.  And so, I’ve decided to pick on Black Bullet for some things which excited my interest or peeves in the last three episodeswhich I watched on Crunchyroll.  I already wrote an article accusing Black Bullet of feeling trite or corny.  There were a few examples of that in these three episodes, but I prefer to concentrate on some other things.  Ready for a rambling rant?

Tina_calls_Rentaro

First, what is it with the Japanese obsession with numbers?  Especially as related to either chances of success or power levels?  (We all know that a plan which has a 0.0001% chance of success cannot possibly fail, right?)  In episode seven, Miori tells Rentaro that he has a power level rating of 2,200%, while Enju has one of 8,600% and Tina 12,900%.  While this is supposed to create a certain amount of suspense before the fight, one cannot get out of one’s mind that Rentaro will fight a little girl less than half his size.  It is very hard to make the audience enthusiastic about such a bout or to make the blond haired, blue eyed Tina appear that threatening.  (She’s not Balalaika, you know?)  In their defense, the fight was exciting, but I could not help feeling sorry for Tina when she got struck or thinking that Rentaro was more like a 13,000% than a 2,200% for that matter.

Tina vs Rentaro

Then, the scene immediately after the fight frustrated me on several accounts.  You had that punk attempt to execute Tina, as two persons with less strength than is in Rentaro’s index finger bring him to heel.  Rentaro just defeated terminator girl and allows himself to get manhandled by some losers?  Come on!  Before Tina is riddled with bullets, Seitenshi appears and rescues Rentaro and Tina by the might of her auctoritas, promoting Rentaro to #300.  Upon which, Rentaro shoots off the punk’s finger.  The hero just off and mutilates someone and Seitenshi, who’s all about peace and unity, just looks on.  Not saying that the punk did not deserve it, but what kind of society is she trying to build where cruel and unusual punishment is condoned?

Seitenshi

Another thing which annoyed me is well known to people that understand Japanese: the Japanese language and ordinary Japanese discourse is mostly free of curses.  If a Japanese person wants to insult someone, he mostly resorts to rude variations of the word “you” (temee, kisama, and omae) or prefixs kuso or bakato a person’s name.  And there are various forms of name calling, mostly revolving around whether someone is ugly or stupid.  But stuff that hardly counts as foul language!  And so, why does Yuyuki’s partner drop the f-bomb according to the subtitles?  He certainly doesn’t say the word, though he is speaking rudely to Rentaro.*  Surely, there was a more creative way to show his contempt for Rentaro?  The only place I recall anime characters actually using the f-word–an English loan word, by the way–is Black Lagoon.

Revy with cutlass

And there was one place, I do think the subber ought to have placed a pejorative where he did not.  As Rentaro is destroying Tina’s targeting sensors, he says, “Mittsu-me.”  This is simply translated as “three.”  But, you know, Rentaro often strikes me as a bland fellow.  Most other heroes would say “San-biki,” using the counter for a small, insignificant animal rather than the neutral counter –tsu.  It would really have added much more color and emotion to Rentaro if the subber tried to included the sense of the suffix -me by translating mittsu-me as “three of the damn things.”

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But, Black Bullet is a great show for what me and my friends affectionately term “anime lines.”  To understand what we mean, consider the following:

“I am going to kill many people and destroy many things, then my sister will be happy, and I will be satisfied. – (Full Metal Panic)

“People that dare to disturb a duel shall be run over by a tank!”
-Ritsuko (from Those who Hunt Elves)

“Our guns are useless against moving targets”
-Captian Romius (Gundam Seed)

“The 120 students that depend on baked goods sold on site will starve. The results are all too clear. Riots and pillaging. Moral decay. Order within the school will surely plummet.” -Hayashimizu (Full Metal Panic Fumoffu)

Black Bullet Kisara

You get the idea.  An anime line is a line so bizarre or random that one would only hear it in anime.  Take this one delivered by Rentaro to Tina: “When I met Enju, her eyes were even colder and more vacant than ours.” xD  Rentaro!  Do you really have no better object of comparison than your present selves?  Does this mean you believe both Tina and you have been divested of human warmth and emotion?  Then, Sumire’s “translation” of Rentaro’s promise to help Tina secures her position as my favorite character in the anime: “You’re a vital part of my little girl harem plan, there’s no way you’re getting away.”  I think her translation is perfect.

Black Bullet Sumire

I hope that you enjoyed this little ramble!

*Edit: I must thank AngryJellyfish for pointing out that the subbers did not needlessly add the curses, but that both Katagiri siblings actually did drop the f-bomb.  So, they provided an accurate, unbowdlerized translation.  For me needing several passes before I finally heard it, I accuse the Japanese voice actors of bad pronunciation. xD

Liebster Award Again!

Medieval Otaku has once again nominated for a Liebster Award, my dear readers!  At first, I thought that I would have to refuse since my site now boasts more than two hundred followers, but the rules have been amended since last I received the award.  This time, I must thank three fellow bloggers for their nominations: Masq of Behind the Masq, Tobby of The Overlord Bear’s Den, and Josh W of Res Studiorum et Ludorum.  (I love that pretentious Latin title.)  Masq nominated me back in February, but I kept putting off this post.  The other two nominated me recently, and so reminded me.  I shall answer all of their questions and hope that this post amuses you for the two hours or so it will take to read.  (Just kidding!)

liebster2

Let me post the most current rules for the Liebster Award, which Wording Well displays on that site:

1. Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.

2. Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”. (Note that the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog post.)

3. Answer 11 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.

4. Provide 11 random facts about yourself.

5. Nominate 5 – 11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have a less than 1000 followers. (Note that you can always ask the blog owner this since not all blogs display a widget that lets the readers know this information!)

6. Create a new list of questions for the blogger to answer.

7. List these rules in your post (You can copy and paste from here.) Once you have written and published it, you then have to:

8. Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of it!)

Hajime Saito

To my mind, it seems more orderly to list the random facts about myself first.  Here they are:

1.  I love swords.  I currently own four of them: a Norman sword (a broadsword which favors the cut but has enough of a point to stab with), a viking sword, a Catalonian sword (circa 14th century.  A light sword which cuts as well as it thrusts.), and an O-katana (a katana with a thirty-six inch blade–the kind only carried by the strongest samurai.)

2.  My favorite composer is Antonio Vivaldi, especially for his La Stravaganza.

3.  My favorite work of Tolkien’s is The Hobbit.  I like that book so much that I even bought the Latin translation of it, Hobbitus Ille.

4.  Despite my avatar being Sven Vollfied, I’d have to say that my favorite anime character is Hajime Saito of Rurouni KenshinAku Soku Zan!

5.  My first experience of the Japanese came through watching WWII films, from which I concluded that the Japanese were the most lousy, underhanded, and cruel race upon earth.  If not for my interest in martial arts, I might have retained that unfortunate opinion–only applicable to certain Japanese of the Second World War.

Anti-Japan2

6.  My favorite Japanese actor of all time is Toshiro Mifune, especially for his samurai roles.  He became an actor by his friends applying to a “new faces” contest in Mifune’s name without his knowledge!

7.  I learned Japanese so I would not have to wait for Viz Media to translate Inuyasha.  They’re abominably slow, I tell you!

8.  One work in my possession, The U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific, was a Christmas gift to me from my grammar school library, because no other student wanted to take it out.

9.  Arizona is my favorite state.  I hope to be able to retire there if I cannot find a way to become a permanent resident sooner.  My brother’s beating me to it by going to law school there.

10.  I am part of a very small minority who not only likes Lost Universe, but considers it one of their top twenty anime.  As a matter of fact, the existence of another such person is highly improbable.

11.  When I was young, I used to be part of the Sea Cadets.  At the time, I hated the experience, but it gave me many fine stories to tell and made me a little less shy.

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Now, onto the bloggers’ questions!  Here Masq’s list with my answers:

1. Why did you start blogging?

My dream has always been to write fiction, particularly fantasy fiction a la Tolkien.  But, the desire to write fell dormant after I won placed third in Athanatos Christian Ministries’ Short Story Contest for The Death of St. Magnus of Orkney until the writing bug hit me again two years ago.  This blog covered all my hobbies with the hope that my writing muscle would become stronger by doing so.  Now, my writing serves an aspiring cartoonist, and I hope to have a couple of novels out before the end of the year–sans blague!  (That’s French for “no kidding!”)

2. What is your favorite anime to date and why?

Rurouni Kenshin.  The characters have great personalities and compelling back stories, the animation is beautiful, the fights are awesome, the story arcs mesmerize the viewer, the characters defend interesting philosophies with both their blades and their words, and it gives surprisingly accurate historical information on Meiji Japan.  I doubt a better anime will ever come out of Japan!

3. What is your favorite video game and why?

Crusaders of Might and Magic.  Ask my brother and he’ll tell you that the frequency with which I replayed this game drove him nuts.  I loved Drake, the noble mercenary who defies a powerful necromancer as he foils all the necromancer’s plots.  It’s an old game and somewhat simple, but I loved the story and the combat.

4. You discover a Pokemon egg in your room.  It will hatch into whatever Pokemon you wish.  What do you choose and why?

An Arcanine.  I never got into Pokemon, but that one looks cool.

Arcanine

5. If you were to give advice for someone trying to start a blog, what would be the one tip you’d give them?

Be sure to read and comment on other blogs.  That’s the most important thing.  It’s better to write once a fortnight as long as one is active in the blogging community than to write frequently in obscurity.

6. Apples or Oranges?

Oranges.  They taste better and are used for more cocktails–especially the Old Fashioned!

7. What is your favorite non-anime TV show?

Magnum P.I.  Tom Selleck plays a great Hawaiian P.I. with a very complex history and persona.

8. Name one old TV series that should not be rebooted.

The Brady Bunch.

9. What board game should Michael Bay turn into a movie next?

Shadows over Camelot.  It would be fun to see how he weaves the game’s features into Arthurian legend–especially whether he shall include a traitor among the Knights of the Round Table.

10. What is your favorite Animal?

Wolves.  I have always been fascinated by how wolves run a kind of society and they are beautiful creatures.

Two Wolves

Now for Tobby’s questions:

1. What sort of music do you like?

J-pop, Classical, and 80’s music.

2. Is there a foreigner-made artwork that you really like?

I have a print of Jesus during the agony in the garden signed by Vicente Roso.  I believe this is the same Roso who’s famous for the comic Florita, but I might be wrong.  I love how the picture displays the world lying in darkness while Jesus is the light which will scatter this darkness.  In addition, Christ appears alone against all this darkness–even the three apostles lie in a deep sleep, but He is looking up to show that He has confidence in His Father’s plans for Him.

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3. Is there a fictional story that you would like to recommend?

Having read the comment that no one reads Sir Walter Scott anymore and determined that experience shows this to be true, I want to recommend Quentin Durward to my readers.  It focuses on a young Scot who travels to France to join King Louis XI’s Scottish bodyguards.  It also features the character Duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy and stands as the most fun and easy to read of Sir Walter Scott’s works–at least, to my knowledge.

4. What do you usually do when you’re in the Internet?

I suppose blogging or playing on chess.com occupy most of my web browsing.

5. Have you ever had to deal with a really short-tempered child?

No, thankfully.

6. Do you think that you are an optimist?

Yes, sometimes I think that I’m crazy for being one, but I still am.

7. What is your preferred way of dealing with people who hate you?

I pray for them and stay out of their hair.  If I were a better Christian, I would greet them with smiles, but I confess to being rather lousy!

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Padre Pio, one of my favorite models for leading a Christian life.

8. Do you think that the death penalty is a good way to curb crime?

Yes, it prevents repeat offenses.  At any rate, there seem to be a certain set of people who are either impenitent or will repent at nothing less than the threat of their own demise.

9. Who is the family member that inspired you most?

I believe that my mother, father, grandfather, and grandmother have all inspired me greatly.  Of all of them, I feel most inspired by my grandfather, who had several languages under his command, was a great student of European history, and led a very interesting life in Croatia during the Second World War, under the Communists afterwards, and when he emigrated for America in 1967.

10. In three to five words, what are your values?

Wisdom, Knowledge, Compassion, Patience, Loyalty.

11. What is your favorite food?

A stew based on a family recipe known as gumbo, though the concoction of pasta sauce, barbeque sauce, Tabasco, peppers, garlic, onion, chicken, and hot Italian sausage does not count as a traditional gumbo.  Over spaghetti with the right amount of heat, nothing else is so good!

Inuyasha and Ramen

Now for Josh W’s questions:

1. Prog rock or punk?

Definitely progressive rock!

2. What book(s) are you reading right now?

I have the horrendous practice of perusing many works until a particular work absorbs my interest and I read through it.  At the moment, I’m reading the following: Virgil’s Aeneid (in Latin, of course.  Translations of this work are lame.), The Lord of the Rings, St. Thomas Aquinas’ On Prayer and Contemplation, Aquinas’ Catena Aurea: Gospel of Matthew, Michael Dirda’s On Conan Doyle, Kipling’s The Light That Failed, volume one of Churchill’s history of WWII, Vikings: A History of the Norse Peoples by Martin J. Doughty, and Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova.  I might also add that I listen to Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities or Stevenson’s Treasure Island while driving or occupied such that I cannot focus on a printed book.  I could also add various manga, but that list is already long enough.

3. If you could instantaneously become fluent in one language which you are not already, which would it be?

Might as well pick a language I feel is beyond my capabilities: Classical Chinese.  Then, I would read the Four Great Classical Novels in the original form: Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Outlaws of the Marsh, Journey to the West, and Dream of the Red Chamber.

4. Name one piece of media, literary, musical, visual etc. which you believe has had a significant effect on your life.

Spiritual Secrets of a Trappist Monk by Fr. M. Raymond.  This is the most profound work I’ve ever read.  It teaches about the importance of each individual person in the history of salvation, and I would highly recommend my fellow Catholics to read it.

SSOTM

5. Has your worldview ever undergone dramatic changes? How many times?

I suppose that reading Spiritual Secrets of a Trappist Monk counts as the first.  Oblomov convincing me of the importance of friends stands as the second.  I can think of other changes, but they do not seem as dramatic to me.

6. Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest?

Never played Dragon Quest, and so I must go with Final Fantasy–especially Final Fantasy VIII.  I remember the days when the graphics of that game held me spellbound!

7. Favourite kind of verse?

Classical love poetry.  Ovid is my favorite poet, and I would heartily recommend his Heroides and Erotic Poems.  Concerning the latter, the seventh poem in book three has to be the funniest poem I’ve ever read–and not rated X, I assure you!

8. Are you a bot pretending to be a human? Please type: rI45yeARal3

Aquinas Bot

9. Favourite short story collection?

Of anything which I have read, nothing beats Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes.  I’ll just put The Complete Sherlock Holmes here.

10. Is it obvious that I am straining to come up with questions at this point?

It was obvious at #8.  I’ll be in the same boat shortly.

11. Would you rather be in Agamemnon’s army, or Odysseus’ crew?

Agamemnon’s army.  The chance for glory on the battlefield seems greater than finding it by risking death from cyclopes, oblivion by way of opium, or walking off a roof with a hangover.

Diomedes

My nominees:

Gaikokumaniakku

A Journey Through Life

Croatia by Us

Fox Diary

GAR GAR Stegosaurus

Gentlemanotoku’s Anime Circle

Yaranakya

Viking History with C. J. Adrian

The Null Set

Pretense w/Glasses

Head Noises

I hope that you enjoyed reading my answers in this oppressively long article!  Now, I shall wrap up with the questions I have for my nominees, which may not significantly differ from the questions I answered above.

  1. Do you watch the Olympics?
  2. Who is your favorite historical figure?
  3. Vikings vs. Samurai.  Who wins on a level playing ground?
  4. Do you like Jane Austen’s books?
  5. If your were marooned on a desert island with little possibility of rescue, which five books would you want to have with you?
  6. Also, a lifetime supply of what drink would you want to have with you on that island?
  7. Have you ever thought about joining the military or joined it?  Which branch?
  8. If for one night you could dine with anyone–living or dead, who would it be?
  9. If for a fortnight you could be transported into a fantasy world before returning to the real world, which one would it be?
  10. (For men) If you could grow a beard like JEB Stuart’s, would you?  (For women) If you could be any height you wished, what would it be?
  11. What’s your favorite sea creature?

And here’s a picture of Jeb Stuart if you are unfamiliar with his glorious beard:

jeb_stuart1

 

 

A Medieval Interrogation

Having read several articles based on this series of chain posts, the thought that someone would select me as part of it never crossed my mind.  But, Marlin-sama of the blog Ashita no Anime has tagged me, so I will do my best to answer his questions and find people to tag.  Here are the rules:

Introduction

  • Each person is supposed to follow the rule of fives. You are allowed to ask 5 questions, after which you can tag up to 5 bloggers by hyper-linking to their blog; 5 questions because it’s not too many to flood another blogger and occupy too much of his/her time, but yet a large enough number to ask your most important questions, and 5 bloggers to avoid spamming. Hence, prioritize your questions, and who you wish to ask!
  • Those tagged are obliged to answer the questions in a blog post, and after which, they are entitled to create their own 5 questions and tag 5 other bloggers, so on and so fourth. You should answer your own 5 questions as well. You are allowed to tag the person that tagged you in the first place. Also, copy and paste this section on your blog so others can understand how the game goes.
  • In the case where a blogger strongly refuses to answer a question, he/she must instead post a nice anime image, wallpaper or cosplay picture, et cetera in response to that question.
  • To make things interesting, a blogger can include wildcards in his/her 5 questions by placing an asterisk, (*), after which those tagged are obliged to reveal something interesting about themselves that others did not previously know. There is no limit to the number of asterisks one can place (which means there can be up to 5 wildcard questions).
  • Anyone can feel free to start the game; you don’t necessarily need someone to tag you. Just create your 5 questions and tag your 5 people of choice. However, the catch is that you must answer your own 5 questions as well.
  • To potentially prevent an endless game, this round of games will end on the 8th September 2012, 12pm JST (GMT +9). After which, no more bloggers can tag others to answer their questions.

Here follows the questions and my answers to them:

Q1. What is your favorite anime of all time?  Then, objectively speaking, what do you think is the best anime of all time?  Explain why you chose these anime (especially if you chose the same anime for both questions).

For me, Rurouni Kenshin stands as my favorite anime.  This is the show which propelled me into anime, so I might be a little biased; but I’ve yet to find an anime which has better characterization or discusses its themes better.  This series does have drawbacks: overlong speeches, too many flashbacks, the first and last seasons are rather episodic, and the final season was badly done and not based on the manga.  (I consider that season as unworthy of being accounted with the first two seasons.)  But the first two of these drawbacks help the viewer to benefit from the technique of parallelism, which Nobuhiro Watsuki employs to great effect in delineating his characters and highlighting the themes.  I especially enjoy how similar the villains are to the heroes; but the villains deviate slightly from the right path, often having high ideals which are slightly twisted.  This makes the difference between the heroes less black and white and the characters more interesting to examine.

The fights of Rurouni Kenshin and the animation are also very beautifully done.  Kenshin vs. Saito is considered by many otaku to have been one of the greatest fights ever animated.  The tension between the two combatants is palpable, and the whole fight comes across as very realistic.  Qualities which bring the audience to the ends of their seats and makes them feel every blow.  The overall animation for the show is top notch, and the audience is treated to the bonus of seeing characters which look more Japanese than one finds in the usual anime.  May I add that this show weaves in historical detail better than any other anime?  So much so that many people (your humble blogger included) have passed Japanese history tests from what they learned on this show.

You’re going to think me very provincial; but, for my objective best, I’m choosing Samurai X: Trust and BetrayalSamurai X has more focus than the TV show, thus eliminating many of the drawbacks found in the TV show.  Also, the atmosphere is much darker and more tragic: Rurouni Kenshin makes one wish they were born a samurai and could participate in duels; Samurai X makes one frightened even to pick up a katana.  When people get cut down, the viewer feels their agony.  The swords even seem to emanate cruelty.  This atmosphere is very fitting for the dark days of the Meiji Revolution.  By the way, let me also say that AnimeNfo agrees with me in ranking this OVA as the best anime.

Q2. Same as question 1, but for your least favorite anime and what in your objective opinion is the worst anime of all time (for this question try to choose an anime for which you’ve actually watched a respectable number of episodes and try to avoid small titles that nobody has ever heard of).

My least favorite anime is Cat Soup.  My dear readers might have even been able to guess my response.  I remember reading a review that claimed anyone’s who’s not a religious nut would love it.  Though that puts it a little harshly, the term aptly fits me.  It contains a rather reprehensible depiction of God, I didn’t care for the animation, and it consists of a series of scenes rather than a story.  Fortunately, most of the details have long since been forgotten.

My first choice for objective worst would have been Ghost Hound had it not been for the stipulation that the show be well known.  That show entices the viewer by its weirdness, gives him enough interesting details to inspire hope that the show will become good, and makes one suffer through one dull episode after another before one is forced to throw in the towel.

If four episodes may be considered respectable, I choose Dragonaut: the Resonance for objective worst, which tries to lure the viewer into continuing to watch through having well-endowed women all over the place and a modicum of action.  Nothing else to it.

Q3. What initially led you to anime and what keeps you interested in anime?  Do you think it will continue to be a lifetime passion?  Why or why not?*

As an avid lover of pre-modern pagan cultures, such as Rome, Athens, the Vikings, and Japan, it was only a matter of time until I discovered anime.  My father used to be an avid practitioner of Karate, has a great interest in Eastern philosophies and religions, and was dubbed an honorary Asian in college.  Naturally, some of his tastes, especially for martial arts and its philosophy, were impressed on me.  In addition to martial arts, I loved watching samurai movies.  These cultures all seemed to have a strong moral bent, which especially attracted me to them.

Then, I discovered that certain shows belonged to a genre called anime.  I saw Rurouni Kenshin on Toonami, discovered the manga Inuyasha, and found myself hooked.  As for whether it will remain a lifelong hobby, I must confess to having an aversion to clinging to anything–no matter how pleasant.  Despite the fact that I do very much enjoy anime, several of my other hobbies have been pushed aside for anime, and I want to make more time for those.  So, while I can see myself remaining an otaku for several more years, I hesitate to say that it will be a lifetime passion.

Q4. Do you think it’s possible to integrate or use ecchi content or themes to enhance a story rather than simply as fanservice that detracts from the overall work?

Easily, but it’s not advisable.  For me, the best example of nudity put to good effect was in Elfen Lied, where it highlighted Lucy’s deep-set desire for innocence.  In the Garden of Eden, the nudity of Adam and Eve symbolized innocence.  Here, the fact that so many terrible things happen around nude people stresses that innocence is nowhere to be found in this world.  But, many people cannot see through the characters’ bare bodies to perceive this theme.  For them, nudity turns them away from the show.

Such a pleasant face.

Freezing is a perfect example of ecchi elements ruining a show.  Frankly, this is a spectacular show.  The only drawbacks to it lie in that the plot was rushed and not enough details about the setting were given to the audience.  It has strong, likeable characters, stunning fights, outstanding animation, a touching relationship between the hero and the heroine, and several gut-wrenching situations.  Despite all of this, several people absolutely despise this show.  They become totally oblivious to this show’s good points in the face of all that fanservice.  Amusingly, I remember one reviewer who claimed to have been enticed by the fanservice before becoming so wrapped up in the show’s action that he ceased to notice it.  How much more popular would this show have been if only they had toned down or even eliminated the fanservice?

Q5. I think many would agree that some otherwise respectable anime have been let down by lackluster endings.  What anime do you most want to change the ending—not because you disagreed with it, but for quality purposes.  Then how would you change it and why?  (I understand spoilers may be unavoidable when answering this question)

Well, the ending of Scrapped Princess seemed a little unnatural and ludicrous to me–the triangle of land and sea on which the remnant of humanity lived fitting back into the world and everything.  I would have had it end with a final showdown between the aliens who had imprisoned humanity and our heroes.  It seemed a little inconclusive in that we never meet the original foes of humanity.  Also, Leopold would get the girl and ditch the Mr. Soopy suit: the ending had me feeling too sorry for him.

Amusingly, I discovered that AngryJellyfish has also tagged me into the game with a set of five questions.  So, let me answer those five before going on to mine.

1. Which anime protagonists (if any) do you feel you’d be able to do a better job than if you were in their situation?

Well, there are plenty of wimpy heroes or harem protagonists I could do a better job than.  (I tend to be decisive and stubborn about things, which would come in handy in many situations.)  But among a slightly higher class of protagonists, I’ll select Kai Kudou of E’s Otherwise.  Basically, he lacks any kind of good sense.  Give me his power and place me in the same situations, I’d probably do better–except that I’d be a lot more boring to watch.

2. Which popular anime series do you not like, or find overrated?

Any of the Big Three.  Even if they are entertaining, how can one justify creating a series of several hundred episodes without any closure in sight?  Why would one give so much of their precious time to just one series?  It appears absurd to me.

3. What manga or anime series would you like to see fansubbed/scanlated in your language, or licensed in your country?

Americans have it too good.  It seems that everything is sooner or later available to us.  So, I’ll have to go with the classic Ashita no Joe as a series which I’d like to see licensed in this country.  It’s very highly regarded among the Japanese, seems to have really strong characters, and Hajime no Ippo, which I highly enjoy, was likely based on this–the main difference being that Ashita no Joe has an anti-hero, while Ippo’s your perfect hero.  So, if Funimation or another company were to license boxed sets of this, I’d be one of the first to buy it.

4. What series would you recommend to someone who has never watched any anime?

That series would be Fullmetal Panic Fumoffu.  I’ve successfully hooked several people on anime through this show.  You see, most people expect cartoons to be centered around comedy, which is why Fumoffu, a show which nearly makes the viewer die laughing, offers a great introduction.  From there, you can expand their perception of the stories a cartoon may convey.

5. Do you have any weird anime watching habits?

Well, I always have to be drinking something when watching anime.  This beverage is usually tea.  Sometimes, I see it as a good time to break out some hard liquor or port–even if the anime does not require it.  If I have friends around, I’ll offer some kind of alcoholic drink.  Though, this turned out to be a big mistake one night, when a friend of mine and I were watching the sequel to Geobreeders.  I’m not sure whether it was the two bottles of wine or the fact that we were talking too much, but we did not remember a single thing about the OVA the next day!  Which may mark the only time alcohol has caused me to forget things.

If I’m not drinking something, then I’m oiling go stones, which certainly counts as weird.  However, it’s not as much fun to play go if the stones aren’t shiny!

Now for my questions and answers:

1.  How else are you involved in Japanese culture?

In my case, I love martial arts philosophy and used to practice Judo and Aikido, the latter of which I’d like to return to someday.  I study the Japanese language, read light novels both in Japanese and English, and would love to graduate to more sophisticated Japanese literature.  I also enjoy Japanese teas and wish to study their tea culture more.

Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido

2.  What anime turned you into a fan?

In case, you forgot.

3.  Who are your two favorite Japanese VA’s (one male and one female) and two favorite English VA’s (also one male and one female)?  For the English VA’s, you can substitute actors in another non-Japanese language.

I used to be more into this facet of fandom than now.  But, here are my favorites:

Ken Narita, especially for his roles as Sesshoumaru of Inuyasha, Jeremiah Gottwald of Code Geass, and Durand of Le Chevalier D’Eon.  I particularly love deep and powerful voices.

Megumi Toyoguchi, especially for Revy of Black Lagoon, Yao Sakurakouji of Miami Guns, Layla Ashley of Avengers, Honoka of The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye, and Reni Vikuro of Innocent Venus.

Kirk Thornton for his roles as Hajime Saito of Rurouni Kenshin, Jin of Samurai Champloo, and Brandon Heat of Gungrave.

Laura Bailey for her roles as Michel Volban of Glass Fleet and Sylvia Ban of Solty Rei.

4.  Out of the shows you’re currently watching, which is your favorite?

For me, the answer’s Hunter X Hunter.  I love how much intellectual prowess the fights and the obstacles placed before our heroes require.  This makes is different from the run-of-the-mill shonen.

5.  What is your favorite era for anime and why?

My answer combines two time periods usually separated, but I feel that the earlier one still strongly influenced the latter: the late 90’s through the early 2000’s.  Some of my favorite shows were produced during this period.  Also, computers played less of a role in the animation of these days than now, and I particularly like the human touch one sees in these shows.
Of course, the anime of prior eras relied even less or not at all on computers, but the character designs were not as elegant.

Well, that’s enough writing for one post.  I’m trying to think of people who haven’t been tagged yet.  Here it is:

ChibiOtaku010

Naru of What is this “Culture” you speak of?

John Samuel of Pirates of the Burley Griffin

SnippetTee of Lemmas and Submodalities

Exiled2Oblivion

I hope that you enjoy this little game!

How to Weather the Anime Doldrums

In every otaku’s career, he arrives at a point where anime no longer satisfies: all the characters, plots, gags, and backgrounds seem to have been used 1,000 times over.  The show we’re presently watching seems like a cookie-cutter copy of the last one.  Unless you’re a certain kind of viewer, you have only three options available to you in order to break out of this rut: 1) attempt to learn new things about Japanese culture; 2) revert to an old hobby; or 3) learn about a new culture.

But first, let’s start with the case where it’s one’s own fault.  I confess to have fallen into the second fault, which caused the first period of anime doldrums.  Your ennui is your own fault if you’re the kind of viewer who 1) only watches what’s mainstream; 2) sticks to a particular genre; or 3) only watches new seasons.  As at one point being a samurai genre only fan, I can say that the best solution for the second case is to find a new genre.  If you believe that you’d only watch shoujo with a gun pointed to your head, watch Fruits Basket or even Sailor Moon–you might be pleasantly surprised.  Those of you who stick with slice-of-life shows need to give Full Metal Panic a try; those favoring mecha anime Rurouni Kenshin; and those with a predilection for comedy Wolf’s Rain.  Those of you carried away in mainstream need to find an off-beat show, and you’ll likely find one that speaks particularly to you.  For example, Book of Bantorra or Kara no Kyoukai might be up your alley.

Also, I know the joy of introducing one’s friends to the next great anime, but modern shows suffer from a lack of creativity (increased commercialization of a form of media always does this), and they tend to have a similar style of animation.  A fan like this needs education from an old otaku—one who has been a fan since the days when anime was considered a subculture.  (Fortunately, these are quite numerous and often in their early twenties.)  However, if one cannot find such a fan, there are many works, like Anime Classics Zettai by Brian Camp and Julie Davis, which are quite handy in providing a list of great old shows.  The magazine Otaku USA has many contributors from the subculture days who are only too happy to encourage appreciation for the classics.

Anyway, now to offer advice to those of you who find yourselves legitimately bored of anime.  Those of you who wish to quickly restore your interest in anime ought to take the option of learning new things about Japanese culture, particularly by learning Japanese.  Some of you may consider this an overwhelming task, but learning basic Japanese is not too difficult.  Learning new syllabaries (We have an alphabet, the Japanese have two syllabaries: katakana and hiragana) is a fairly simple task, Japanese is incredibly easy to pronounce, particles make determining the function of words in the sentence simple, and Japanese incorporates many English loan words.  The difficult part comes in learning kanji, the more complex verb forms, and translating long sentences by ear–which subjects you may tackle whenever you feel ready.  (You see, the Japanese arrange ideas differently from us, particularly in cases where we use relative clauses.  Instead of having a relative clause following the noun it describes, they place the relative clause as one long descriptive phrase before the noun it modifies.  By the time the English speaker has made sense of this and reversed the order of the noun and its clause, five lines of dialog have gone by.)  But, having a beginner’s level of knowledge of Japanese will make it sound like a real language rather than “pera-pera” (the Japanese version of “derka-derka”), one can begin to see the liberties the translators take, and one can consider how they themselves would have translated certain lines.  All of this adds another level of enjoyment to your favorite pastime.

For those of you who still find this idea too daunting, try studying Bushido, Zen, Taoism, martial arts (i.e. through books unless you wish to really immerse yourself), their literature, or history.  Any of these fields will allow you to see deeper into the Japanese mind, and understand more cultural references.  Reading Yagyu Munenori’s The Life-Giving Sword will help you understand the talk about the life-giving sword vs. the death-dealing sword in Rurouni Kenshin.  Some other good books are Miyamoto Musashi’s  The Book of Five Rings, Hagakure, Nitobe Inazo’s Bushido: The Soul of Japan, Okakura’s The Book of Tea and his The Ideals of the East.  Reading about Gichin Funakoshi (the founder of Shotokan Karate) and Morihei Ueshiba (the founder of Aikido and perhaps Japan’s greatest martial artist) also make for great reading.  On the more literary side, Natsume Soseki (the father of Modern Japanese literature) wrote a very popular work called Botchan and  Jun’Ichirou Tanizaki is famed for his dark heroines (any time you enjoy watching a dark heroine in anime, you can thank him).  You can also read classics like Genji, Tales of the Heike, orThe Tosa Diary.

But option two, reverting to an old hobby for a few months, is perhaps the surest way to weather the anime doldrums.  People thrive on variety.  Also, one likely has a more difficult hobby which has been put aside for the easily attainable highs of anime.  After a month or two away from anime, it will seem much fresher.  One of your friends will have been apprised of your situation.  One day, he shall walk through the door with some awesome new title which will restore your interest.

Since a human being is often greater than the culture he dwells in, one should not focus on just one particular culture for too long.  One feels constricted after a while.  Did you know that many of the people who were interested in Japan during the twentieth century were Classicists?  There are many parallels between the Classical Antiquity of the West and pagan Japan.  For example, Stoicism feels much like Bushido, so you might benefit from reading Seneca or Marcus Aurelius, which will allow you to examine these ideas using a different perspective.  Even in Roman history, we find characters who act like samurai.  For example, Livy documents the example of the General Regulus.  Regulus was captured by the Carthaginians and sent back to Rome in order to be exchanged for Carthaginian prisoners and to convince Rome to ask for peace.  Instead, he argues against these things before the Senate and, even though he could easily have broken his oath and not returned to Carthage, he does so only to be tortured to death by these people.  Your humble author, a Classicist himself, could go on ad nauseam.

However, one may also stick close to Asia and read about the Chinese.  All of Asia was greatly influenced by this country.  Chinese Classics like The Romance of the Three Kingdoms are still very popular in Japan.  As another option, I do believe an anime fan would find themselves very comfortable among Norse Sagas.  Pagan cultures tend to have many similarities–like having a tendency toward tragedy.  Then again, one can really broaden one’s perspective by studying a completely disparate culture.

While I do hope that none of you are presently in this state, may these ideas come in handy at some point in the future!

Review of Okakura’s The Book of Tea

For those of my dear readers who did not know me in college, I am a tea connoisseur.  My preference for tea has existed at least since I turned ten.  Some time after that, I began to indulge in coffee but always considering it a lesser drink to be enjoyed with much milk and five teaspoons of sugar until after my college years.  Indeed, in my dorm room, you could find eight to ten high quality teas and a box of Folger’s bagged coffee just in case I needed a change of pace.  Even now that I enjoy coffee more, I usually keep only one premium coffee.  You see, I felt that all coffees were the same, but tea held real variety!  In the early days, Bigelow’s Raspberry Royal was the most prized of teas, now it’s Phoenix Mountain Oolong (a Peet’s item.  In addition to their coffees, they also offer some very high quality tea).

In order to enrich my tea hobby, I got a couple of works on tea.  One is an incredibly dense and informative work called The Tea Drinker’s Handbook by Francois-Xavier Delmas et al. and the other is Kakuzo Okakura’s The Book of Tea, which will be the book under review.  Okakura is famed for his resistance to the Westernization trend during the end of the Meiji Era (1868-1912).  He wrote two other works (also in English): The Ideals of the East and The Awakening of Japan in order to explain Japanese Culture to a Western audience.  He strove to demonstrate that there is much good to Asian culture and that it is worthwhile for Westerners to understand it–samurai are not the only worthwhile part of Japanese culture!  For someone working in a second language, his skill with English is incredible.  Also, the boldness of his style seems equal to the best passages in Nietzsche, and the variety of information and humor in this particular work make its 49 pages fly by!  I’d highly recommend picking this work up, especially as it deals with a part of Japanese culture which has almost disappeared.

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