Monday, April 7, 2008

Hatenkou Yuugi

I tried to give it another chance (the fun banter between the leads lured me back) but the episodes simply continue to get worse. Predictable, trite plots made worse by ridiculous scripts intent on saying instead of showing just make it unbearable despite often very fun chemistry and bishonen boys who are just so ridiculously over the top it's impossible not to laugh at them.

So I'm done. Not recommended to anyone, unfortunately.
based on 4 episodes : ANN : Wikipedia : YouTube : Crunchyroll

The Skull Man

The Skull Man is, in many ways, a very typical BONES production. Gorgeous, stylish, evocative, and compelling with amazing bursts of action. It's also riddled with loose ends and unanswered questions and full of a supporting cast that are far more interesting than the "main" characters, many of them clearly gifted with incredibly deep back stories we never get a glimpse of. It manages to simultaneously be surprising and tritely predictable.

The first few episodes suggested some kind of anime mixture of Batman and The Count of Monte Christo from the point of view of an outsider, a reporter trying to track down a brutal vigilante with hints of supernatural power. Add in some anime tropes of a spunky female sidekick and a mysterious old man who seems to know everything that's going on but refuses to say anything straight out and you have a pretty standard concept with the usual high production standard from BONES. I was expecting a formulaic and probably episodic show that would peter out mid-way through.

The show had an oddly compelling character to it, however. Maybe it was the somewhat retro feel to it with character designs that were clearly an homage to old classics or the strange, anachronistic pseudo-alternate history setting but the first several episodes manage to maintain a surprising momentum despise a startlingly slow pace (in hindsight). Very little is revealed about the histories of the main characters or the Skull Man himself. The supernatural elements of the show even come racing into the forefront when people start transforming into man-beast hybrids and having big knock-down, drag-out fights but the show still manages to maintain silent on what's really going on.

When it does start spilling the beans, though, it doesn't stop. The cast is fleshed out and the pacing picks up quickly, but more importantly The Skull Man keeps the audience guessing with a constant stream of red herrings and twists and turns that throw the original premise on it's ear, only to throw out the new premise as well. Conspiracies appear and collapse only to be replaced by another organization. Secrets are revealed - and then exposed as fakes themselves. This never feels cheap; instead, it keeps the otherwise simple, standard anime hero fighting monsters fresh and interesting.

Not everything gets resolved in the end. In fact, the ending is a huge, gaping hole begging for a sequel. The core storyline does get wrapped up, but many subplots receive little attention and some of those conspiracies introduced are clearly a platform for a further chapter in the series. Looking back, The Skull Man doesn't quite add up to more than the sum of its parts and it isn't really anything new, but it is all put together in a rather fresh way and is a great deal of fun.

Definitely recommended in general, especially for anyone who likes a bit of atmospheric action, likes guessing at what's "really going on," and can handle a very open-ended "conclusion."
based on full series, 13 episodes : ANN : Wikipedia : YouTube : Crunchyroll