Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Is Mamoru Hosoda The Next Hayao Miyazkai?

For those who don't know who Mamoru Hosoda is, you should get familiar with his work. The guy is building quite the legend these days directing the monster hits: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars and Wolf Children. Between the three films, Hosoda's works have grossed a total of approximately $75 million (in US dollars) and have won a multitude of awards. To simply state how successful Hosoda has been, he is the only Japanese director, other than Hayao Miyazaki, to be nominated for an Annie Award in an individual category. To put it directly, the guy has talent and is building quite the impressive resume for himself.

Having now established a pattern of success in directing animated features, it's clear that this feat would not go unnoticed. Hosoda has received massive amounts of praise from the media, whom have officially donned him "the next Miyazaki". I even recently noticed in Funimation's recent promotion for their release of Wolf Children that they have gone as far as stating so. Now, for those who are familiar with Miyazaki's works, this statement probably sounds down right ridiculous. But should it be? There is no denying that Hayao Miyazaki is the greatest animated director of all time and for good reason. He's earned the title. Not to discredit any other phenomenal directors, but all it takes is one look at the guy's resume to understand that he is the unquestioned greatest of all time. So why on Earth, is someone like Hosoda who's resume is nowhere near as impressive as Miyazaki's at the moment, receiving such incredible praise as to be put in the same sentence of the greatest there is?

Well, it's quite simple really. Hosoda has warranted the praise not only with the consistently astonishing films he has produced in the last few years, but also with the style he uses. Stylistically, has there ever been a director who mirrored Miyazaki's style more so than Hosoda? Other than those who produce titles for Ghibli, no one captures Miyazaki's style more so than Hosoda. All 3 of Hosoda's films feature a strong female protagonist in the same way that Miyazaki's films do. All 3 of his films tell a light hearted tale that in the end, we come out feeling like we learned something about morals and values the same way we do with a Miyazaki film. Hosoda films, however, often are not as politically focused as Miyazaki's films. This isn't to say that all of Miyazaki's films were politically driven, but it is pretty evident in a vast number of his works. A lot of Miyazaki's works also tend to have a strong societal message in them, often about the environment or our nature as people. This isn't to say that Hosoda shies away from the concept, he just applies it in a different manner. In The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Hosoda speaks to how our selfish actions can impact those who are surrounding us. In Summer Wars, he speaks to how too much dependence on technology can be a bad thing as well as the importance of family. In Wolf Children, Hosoda recycles the importance of family undertones but there is also present a huge sociological message about being different as Ame and Yuki are considered to be outcasts of society based on their genetic nature and how far their mother is willing to go to protect her children and make life as normal as possible for her children.

So stylistically, it is a fair comparison for Hosoda to Miyazaki as his films share a lot of similarities to those of Miyazaki's. More so than any other director I have seen thus far in animation. So what about Hosoda's works themselves? Do they justify the comparison? I know I will upset a lot of Miyazaki fans with this next statement but here it goes: I'd venture as far as to say that Hosoda's three major films right now stack up toe to toe with any and all of Miyazaki's films. Now I know that sounds crazy, how could anyone live up to Miyazaki's legend? No one can create better films than Miyazaki? If there was anyone who can tell a story more eloquently and dazzlingly than Miyazaki, it would be Hosoda. Albeit, the sample size is smaller, but the quality is on par, if not better than some of Miyzaki's works. Without letting nostalgia or the impact of the films cloud our judgement, based solely on pure execution and quality of the stories, Hosoda's works could rival any of Miyazaki's films. Without bias, I think after viewing all the works presented by both men, it is a fair statement that Hosoda's films are exceptionally brilliant and you walk out of every one of them with the feeling that you just witnessed a masterpiece. The same could be said for Miyazaki, however I believe that often times people allow the mystique of Miyazaki's legend to influence their opinion. Miyazaki is indeed a legend, but let's face it, he isn't god. With that I'm saying it's okay to say that one can produce a film that surpasses that of Miyazaki. I'm not saying that Hosoda is a better director, only time will tell for that, I'm saying there is nothing wrong with enjoying one of his works better than that of one of Miyazaki's.

With Miyazaki recently retired, presumably for good (although no one knows how long that will be with a few other previous retirements and returns) it is time for someone to carry on the torch for a new generation with producing top quality animated features. If anyone was going to garner the title "the next Miyazaki" then I'm glad it is Hosoda. Hosoda has been the best director in regards to animated features in the past decade, so I believe the comparison was well warranted. Stylistically, technically, and story telling ability, no one has lived up to Miyazaki's standards quite like Hosoda. For future generations, Mamoru Hosoda is going to be a legendary animated feature director, so if you are unfamiliar with the name, now is the time to get familiar. Remember the name Mamoru Hosoda.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Future of the Shounen Battle/Action/Adventure Genre

I'm sure by now, most of you are familiar with this subsection of anime and manga. I know that shounen is a demographic which is aimed at boys, but over here in the United States it is often inadvertently identified as a genre for a large list of series which share similar characteristics. I tend to usually identify these series as Jump series since most of the titles people readily identify as shounen come from Jump, but in this article I'm going to have to broaden my explanation as their are other series such as Fairy Tail outside of that magazine that use the same formula. Typically, I would tend to define these series as being an action adventure series or a battle manga, but for the sake of this article, I'm going to be politically incorrect and classify these series as just "shounen" so everyone knows what I am talking about.

Now on to the content of this article.What is the future of shounen manga and anime? When most of us (at least in the United States) think of the classic anime that have withstood the test of time, most of them were in fact the battle shounens. When most people are asked what anime are considered "classics" or "must sees" many, if not all of these lists will include series such as: Dragon Ball, Hokuto no Ken, Saint Seiya,, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Rurouni Kenshin (I know that there are other technical shounen series such as Slam Dunk, but I'm focusing on the subsection like Dragon Ball that the American audience readily identifies as shounen).

I know there are probably a few series here that I forgot to mention, but these are typically on every one's lists. The era of Dragon Ball and Yu Yu Hakusho really paved the way as being the inspiration to a wide variety of shounen manga. There was a second generational boom in the late 90s and early 2000s that really cemented these types of anime and gave it validity. As classic as series like the 5 mentioned above were, they really had no idea what they were doing as far as the style they were creating. I bet Akira Toriyama and Yoshihiro Togashi had no idea that a decade later, their way of telling stories would be the base template of what many similar stories have used over the past decade. I consider the past decade to be the golden years of these style of stories, the "shounen" series. While many of these probably won't have the staying power of these 5 "classics" I mentioned above, mostly due to the growth of the "genre" but if it weren't for these 5 stories then there would be no Bleach, Naruto or One Piece today.

I know we take it for granted since many of the series that were apart of this boom are still ongoing, but we need to look at this from a different perspective. The late 90s through mid 2000s provided us with several series which many people are familiar with today that have carried on the legacy of this art form of storytelling. Series such as: Gintama, Hunter x Hunter, One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, Katekyo Hitman Reborn, Fullmetal Alchemist (although considered by most as a "classic" and "must see" along with the 5 series mentioned above, it was a part of the new wave in the early 2000s), InuYasha, Soul Eater, D.Gray Man, Groove Adventure Rave, Flame of Recca, Kenichi the Mightiest Disciple etc. The point being, this was a golden period that released many anime and manga of this style of series that many of us have taken for granted the fact that it may not have the staying power we once thought. We became so complacent just expecting new series to continue this formula and find ways to make it unique and innovative. Maybe that is the ultimate demise to this subsection of a genre. Maybe the fact that every one of these series follows a similar outline is the reason why this boom has also started to fizzle out.

In recent years, not counting the ongoing series, what have we gotten from this subsection of this particular style of story? Maybe the fact that shounen took some time to catch on with the fans should have been an indicator that it would, like most things, eventually fizzle out. I find it hard to believe that after at least 20 years of staying power that there isn't a future for this type of story in Japan, but recent history makes it hard to foresee a future for these types of stories. The main stories to come out in recent years that have seemed to catch on with fans are Fairy Tail, Magi, Toriko and Ao no Exorcist. Some other series such as Deadman Wonderland and Code:Breaker have showed signs of promise but never really took off the way people expected. I guess Ao no Exorcist could kind of fall into that category as well. The main trait between most of these series is that they were not being serialized by Jump. Jump seemed to be the main facilitator to shounen series of this kind but it just hasn't produced a home run in recent years. And why should it have to? With One Piece, Bleach and Naruto being serialized weekly still, it has some home run names it can rely on. As most already know, however, Bleach and Naruto are both in the final stages of their stories and will soon be over. So what is going to fill the void? It appears as though Jump has been shying away from green lighting battle series recently and they are beginning to fizzle out more and more in numbers. While there still are successors in this style of storytelling, as mentioned above with Fairy Tail, Toriko and Magi, there don't seem to be the number of success stories as there had been the decade prior. Stories of this kind just don't seem to be catching on anymore  Ever since the mid-late 2000s and early 2010s, we really have seen a decline in shounen series catching traction with the fans the way it had a decade prior.

The question we have to ask ourselves is where do we go from here? Is there a future for battle shounens? I'd like to think there is, as I am a huge fan of these types of stories. There just seems to be something so special about characters having superpowers and having to rid the world of evils or fight injustices with these powers. There is some sort of magic in seeing opposing powers fight with aura as opposed to knives and guns. It's hard to foresee a future with series that show promise being cancelled prematurely. Series such as Hungry Joker looked like they had potential to carry the torch into this new generation and succeed the Naruto's and Bleach's of the world much they way the "Big 3" had to the manga of the 80s and early 90s. It's hard for me now to get into a new manga series that is under 100 chapters without having the fear that it won't gain the traction and click with the fans or that it will be prematurely cancelled when I do decide to follow the hype and attempt to catch a series early on in its development. Hell I didn't even give Magi a chance until it already announced the anime adaption because I didn't think it would be able to maintain. I did the same with Fairy Tail and yet still have yet to dip into Toriko. In discussing the future of the genre, it's hard to see a series like The Seven Deadly Sins be 50 chapters in and just now gaining a bit of traction and still not know whether I should look into it or not until it cements it's place. Maybe I'm contradicting myself here in complaining about stories gaining some momentum and not giving them a chance until they are established, but with modern day shounen series, it's just too hard to tell which ones will gain that momentum like Magi, Fairy Tail and Toriko and which ones won't like Deadman Wonderland, Code:Breaker and unfortunately the prematurely cancelled Hungry Joker.

So who knows what the future will hold, looking ahead as I have said, a series like The Seven Deadly Sins might be able to grab the reigns and take control of this new decade of shounen manga/anime. Maybe Fairy Tail, Magi and Toriko will have the staying power that One Piece, Naruto and Bleach had. It's just too hard to say at this point and maybe the fact that several of the shounen series from the late 90s and early 2000s boom are still ongoing keeping the subsection of this genre relevant today. Maybe it won't be until all of the players from that time period are gone that we will truly be able to determine where these type of stories will be. One cannot deny that the number of quality shounen battle series has severely declined since the late 2000s and early 2010s. Maybe the world today is just too impatient to start these series and watch them grow. Maybe the business is expecting boom or bust right away with these shounens and these expectations are leading to failure. Maybe the commercial failure of many of the anime that correspond to recent shounen manga is responsible for the decline in a demand for these type of stories. Only time will tell where we will be at down the road, but hopefully we will be able to have a clear crop of success stories to carry on the torch of shounen battle manga/anime.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Hunter x Hunter Phantom Rouge - Thoughts and Impressions

I have been anxiously awaiting this movie to be subbed to watch it, deciding to skip out on the raws to get the full experience in my first watch through. Knowing that this was Hunter x Hunter's first movie left me with great anticipation for what would be delivered by Madhouse and Hunter x Hunter Phantom Rouge did not disappoint (for the most part).

The movie starts out as what appears to be a flash back as we are show Killua standing atop a building waiting for the moment to attack his prey. After a brief conversation with Illumi who is lurking in the shadows, Killua hops down and takes care of business. After escaping from the murder scene which he had created, Killua is shown walking in an alley where he encounters a group of normal kids who ask him to throw them their ball back. Illumi then appears and gives Killua a pretty memorable reminder of how he doesn't need friends by ruthlessly killing all 3 of the boys. At this point Killua awakes from his sleep in a state of panic only to realize that it was nothing but a dream. This scene for me stood out because it was one of few times we actually get to see Killua do what he does (or did) best. Watching the days of him as an assassin, even if it was just a nightmare, was very entertaining.

After this we are rushed quickly into the plot of the movie as Kurapika is in the hospital after loosing his eyes. Gon and Killua search to figure out where the man who stole his eyes is hiding while Leorio stays behind to look after Kurapikia. During their search, we are introduced to the street performer Retz, who Gon accepts full heartidly but Killua is weary of. Retz, in my opinion, was a fairly useless character who was too involved in the story's plot. Retz's purpose was only to be a plot wedge to attempt to drive Gon and Killua apart, much in the sense Bisky initially tried to do (unsuccessfully of course) upon her introduction in Greed Island. Retz doesn't knowingly do so, but it is blatantly clear that this was the only purpose the director had in mind for her. She is almost successful too when Killua tries to stand in front of an oncoming train to end it all after he felt like he abandoned Gon. Of course, the shining ray of light himself showed up to push Killua at of the way just in time and then continued to put his friend at ease.

This all leads up to a final, action packed showdown between the four main characters and Hisoka facing off against Omokage himself and the Nen puppets he created of Illumi, Pairo and the remaining members of the Genei Ryodan. At the end of the day, Kurapika is able to capture Omokage in his Chain Jail and attempts to place the Judgement Chain on his heart before he is stopped by Killua who convinces him to not bloody his hands and to leave the dirty work to him. Before Killua can commit the deed, Retz shows up behind her big brother and stabs him in the back, which ultimately serves as his demise. Before this however, Omokage unleashes one final attack with his puppets of Phinks, Franklin and Nobunaga. At this time, the real three Ryodan members show up to destroy the last of Omokage's puppets. This leads to a stand off between Kurapika and the Spiders before they claim that as much as they'd like to, they can not strike him down until the remove Kurapika's Judgement Chain from Kuroro's heart. At this point, Kurapika collapses from exhaustion and the Ryodan leave. Our four main characters leave Retz and Omokage to die together and the movie pretty much ends at that.

The movie was a decent start for Hunter x Hunter movies, but it easily could have been better. My main problems with the movie had to do with the pacing. Movies pacing differs greatly from they way the shows pacing entails, and in the case of Phantom Rouge a fairly good amount of scenes dragged on much too long. Most of these were the scenes that involved Retz too, but there were some others that just drug out for way too long. Another problem I had was the misguided characterization that was on display here. This isn't anything unusual with shounen films, but I was hoping for a little more out of Hunter x Hunter. The characterization was mostly on par, but it felt a little too over the top, primarily with Gon and Killua. That scene where Killua was holding Gon's Hunter license and attempted to get hit by the train was way too over dramatic. There were just way too many occasions where Gon and Killua had some rehashed exchanges where Killua feels like he's not good enough for Gon and Gon reassures him why he is so important to him. These aren't anything new for these two, but it was way too over the top and kinda over did it. The action scenes were decent, but were nothing compared to what the series offers. They lacked the strategic element present in all the fights displayed in the series.

The highlight of the movie was definitely seeing Hisoka's badass skills on full display. Other than that, the main take away I have from this movie was it was interesting to see who Hisoka's predecessor was. Omokage wasn't a great villain by any means, but he did just enough to be entertaining and prove that he definitely fit in to the band of misfits known as the Genei Ryodan.

Overall, it was a solid movie, but it had several flaws and left much to be desired. I'd give it a 7 out of 10, but for the most part it was a pretty average shounen jump movie. It lacked that amazing ability Hunter x Hunter has to outdo the status quo and instead settled on being sub par. Hopefully the second movie learns from the mistakes of Phantom Rouge, but Phantom Rouge will definitely be a solid shounen movie I can watch for years to come whenever I am bored and in the mood for a solid anime film that isn't too heavy on content.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Top 10 Favorite Shounen Story Arcs

Okay, to start this blog post off let me be clear:
This post will most likely contain spoilers, if you have not seen the series or read the arc in the manga, then skip over the section where I discuss that specific arc. Also, I am human when it comes to watching anime, which means that there will probably be several of your favorite shounen series that I have yet to see. If a particular series has no arcs in this it is either because I haven't seen it or just didn't like it.

Now with that out of the way, let's begin.

#10 Chunin Exams - Naruto

To start the list, I decided to go with a classic shounen arc that for me was the first sign of validation for Naruto. As much as I enjoyed the previous arc in Part 1 as it introduced two great characters in Zabuza and Haku and also provided some of the best moments in Part 1, the Chunin Exams were the first full sign of major character developments for our main cast with Sakura, Naruto and Sasuke. Not only were our main 3 protagonists on the forefront of attention here, we were introduced to pretty much the entire core of the next generation of shinobi in this arc. This arc also was the major setup point in Naruto to send the next paths of the story into action by introducing Orichimaru and his goal of making Sasuke his next vessel. The arc consists of several different phases that show us what a shinobi truly is in the sense of this universe. While the arc is undoubtedly the best of Part 1, it wasn't without fault. I probably felt a lot less attached to this arc than many Naruto fans due to the fact that I watched Hunter x Hunter before I had seen Naruto and was already familiarized with the Exam story perspective so it was nothing really new to me other than seeing how they could present it differently than Hunter x Hunter did. While this arc is the best of Part 1 and still one of the best in Naruto, it lacks an overwhelming sense of danger that really grounds the story and never really presents the same amount of danger that later arcs are able to.

#9 Tenroujima - Fairy Tail

Anytime a Fairy Tail arc appears on this list, I'm sure it will come with much disdain mostly due to how generic and cliche Fairy Tail can be at times. I, for one, appreciate the things that Fairy Tail does right. I feel as though most people get caught up in the things Fairy Tail doesn't do well instead of focusing on the enjoyable aspects of it such as the slapstick comedy, the great emotional bonds presented between the characters and great action. This arc includes all of that and really was only the 2nd Fairy Tail arc to hit me emotionally the way this one did. This arc starts off pretty easy going and slow beginning as nothing more than a test for the young mages of the Fairy Tail guild to see if they are worthy of the title of an S class wizard. Once we learn of the real Zeref's presence on the island, shit begins to hit the fan. After which we are introduced to the dark guild, Grimoire Heart and the war between Fairies and Demons begins. Grimoire Heart is led by the former master of Fairy Tail, Hades and his army under the name of the Seven Kin of Purgatory. This arc provides most of the best battle sequences to occur in the entire series and provides non stop action throughout the arc. The war provides many twists and turns and almost the complete annihilation of Fairy Tail's spirit after Azuma is able to uproot the Tenrou tree which seems to provide the mages of Fairy Tail with magic. This arc also shows the first confrontation between Gray and his teacher's daughter Ultear, whose past is finally revealed to us as a terrible misunderstanding that led her to hate her mother. This isn't even mentioning the fact that we get to see the first ever living dragon in this arc in Acnologia which takes the complete power of the entire guild and a miracle by Mavis (the first guild master) to escape. While many of the plot twists in this arc were completely predictable, it provided a lot of heart warming moments and great action sequences to be one of my favorite shounen arcs.

#8 Planet Namek - Dragon Ball Z

While I've never been the biggest fan of Dragon Ball Z as I feel it is heavily overrated by the Western side of the anime fandom, it is impossible to deny that it is one of the most classic series and is the god father of all shounen anime and what they aspire to be. No arc in Dragon Ball Z exemplifies this as much as the Namek saga. This saga includes the introduction of one of the greatest villains in all of shounen anime in the cold and ruthless monster that is Freeza. Freeza is the highlight of the majority of this arc as he ruthlessly wipes out the Namekian civilians without remorse. It also marked a landmark change for some of our main characters as Gohan showed some major strides in his character from the coward that was presented in the Saiyan saga. Not too mention Vegeta's slow transition from being an antagonist into a reliable ally of the Z fighters. None of this, however, compares to one of the most memorable moments in anime history when Goku takes the leap into becoming the legendary Super Saiyan. While the episode count for Goku's ascension to becoming a Super Saiyan is a little over dramatic, it still showed in excruciating detail what it took for Goku to achieve this transformation after witnessing Freeza kill his best friend in Krillin and Freeza's chilling murder of his arch rival Vegeta right in front of his eyes. My main complaint about this arc is primarily the overwhelming length of its climax. The final showdown against Freeza was extremely drawn out but the overall payoff was what I believe made Dragon Ball Z a powerhouse in both Japan and Western Culture.

#7 Kyoto - Rurouni Kenshin

I'm one of those people who feels that Rurouni Kenshin was a classic series, but wasn't the biggest fan of it. For me, the series had its flashes of brilliance, and at other times was too episodic and didn't have enough of a central plot for a majority of the series. The Kyoto arc is where the series truly shines as it is the culmination of all of the build up presented in the series as Kenshin must face off with his successor, Makoto Shishio, who is threatening the peaceful times of the Meiji era as a call for a more revolutionary time. Between Makoto Shishio and his right hand man, Sojiro, two outstanding antagonists are introduced to the series. Shishio is the definition of pure evil as he took on a much different approach to life after his time as a man slayer. Kenshin devoted his life to helping others to atone for his sins during the revolution. Shishio on the other hand decided that only the strong can survive in this world and decides to overthrow the Meiji government whom tried to eliminate him previously and failed, only leading to the creation of a greater monster and threat to the current peace. This dynamic between Kenshin and Shishio is incredibly entertaining to watch as every time the two are presented in a scene together their is so much hostility and tension in the air that you can feel it while watching. Kyoto is what every samurai/sword fighting anime should aspire to be when creating their atmosphere and their fights.

#6 Soul Society - Bleach

Yes, there is a Bleach arc included in this list. Back before Bleach got lost within its own convoluted plot, it got off to one of the best starts for any shounen series. This is the rare time in Bleach where the power ups achieved by the main characters weren't just bullshit asspulls because Tite Kubo doesn't understand what progression of characters through proper development means. Kubo was able to emulate many elements of Yu Yu Hakusho's first arc in his own work which proves to his benefit as this was the best overall arc of the entire series while being the most original at the same time. I don't think I can remember a more shocking moment then when it was revealed that Aizen, Tousen and Gin were all antagonists and were behind the attempted execution of Rukia. This was the only time in the whole series that the system of the Shinigami actually felt important as well and led to some of the most intriguing fights like Ishida's battle with Mayuri and Ichigo's battles with Kenpachi, Renji and Byakuya. In fact, these were probably 3 of Ichigo's most intriguing battles before the series went a little too over the top with the action and just trying to out do every fight with an even more epic fight. Fights have seemed to be the only thing to stay consistently good in Bleach, but Soul Society was really the only time the story truly elevated itself to another level that finds itself as one of the best arcs in all of shounen anime/manga.

#5 Battle Tendency - JoJo's Bizarre Adventure (2012)

I decided to count this as an arc because it technically is 1 part of an overall story. Thus, Battle Tendency easily finds its way onto this list as it is, from what I've seen, what made me fall in love with JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. Part 1 of the 2012 anime was my first experience with the franchise as I had not summoned up the intrigue to check out the manga or any of the prior movie/ova adaptions out there. I decided that it was time to see what the buzz was about when the new anime was released October of last year. Part 1 was enough to keep me watching, Part 2 however was enough to make me hooked. There was just something about Joseph Joestar's cocky attitude and swagger that made him much more of an entertaining protagonist than the righteous Jonathan Joestar in Phantom Blood. Right from the get go with showing 1940s New York I was excited for what was to come of this series. Watching Joseph's fight with Straights made me realize that this part was going to be a whole different beast then Phantom Blood. My suspicions were confirmed when the first of the Pillar Men, aka Santana, were introduced to the series. Watching JoJo struggle to defeat this unstoppable force was wildly entertaining only to come to the realization that he was actually fairly weak compared to the 3 Pillar Men who were about to awake. I was told by a friend that Cars was going to be a much more menacing threat than Dio but I honestly feel it was Wham who stole the show. He had an unbreakable warrior's spirit to him that made every single battle he entered a grueling fight down to the wire with all different kinds of twists and turns. He went out a true warrior's death against JoJo. The arc had a masterful conclusion that was edgy and really portrayed an overwhelming sense of hopelessness once Cars was able to practically become a God. There were so many unpredictable moments that took me by surprise. The first was the reveal of who Lisa Lisa really was. I literally went back and rewatched that part several times after she was revealed as JoJo's mother just to make sure I had heard that right. The other major part that clinched this arc's greatness for me was when they finally came up with a solution to defeat Cars. I thought they pulled out all of the stops but was pleasantly surprised by the conclusion when they send  him flying into space. I would've never thought that they would resort to that but it worked and was an excellent conclusion to the arc. I'm hoping for a sequel series because I would definitely love to get a chance to check out Part 3 in anime format.

#4 Invasion of Pain - Naruto Shippuden

Spoiler alert now, Naruto is the ONLY series to have more than 1 arc on this list. Does this mean I think Naruto is that good? Hell no, it just means that I felt there were 2 arcs between the first series and the second one that really stood out. I know there are many people who feel that Naruto started to go down hill after the time skip due to the Akatsuki becoming the primary focus of the series, but I, on the other hand, loved the increased involvement by this group. There was a lot of build up from the previous arcs that I felt aided this one's greatness, but the arc as a stand alone entity outclasses anything and everything to be introduced in Naruto before or after, and yes this does include the 4th Great Shinobi War. Invasion of Pain is able to create a certain degree of panic and anarchy that is prevalent in a real war that even outclasses the true war arc of the same series. The pandemonium created by Nagato's 6 Paths of Pain and Konan was incredibly brilliant to watch as them alone were enough to tear apart Konohagakure. Pain is one of my favorite villains in  this series as he starts off as a looming enigma with no back story. It isn't until Jiraya scopes out Pain's headquarters that we learned that Pain (Nagato) was actually Jiraya's student before Minato and Naruto. Nagato was a product that shows the viewer the darker side of the Shinobi universe created by the hatred bread from war. This is the first time where Naruto is faced with an opponent whom he cannot reason with and when posed with the question of "how to confront this hatred?" he has no answer. This is also the first time in which Naruto almost willingly gives in to the Kyuubi before being stopped by the 4th Hokage. This is also the first time Naruto meets the 4th before it is revealed that the legendary shinobi Minato was actually his father. His father is able to give Naruto some encouragement which allows him to gather himself and continue his war with Pain. The fight with Pain was, in my opinion, still the best in the series despite the latter portions of the fight hindered by some shitty animation. What's even more interesting is how Naruto was able to sway Nagato's blackened heart into realizing what a fool he had been. Nagato realizes that he has failed Jiraya in stopping the hatered and instead decides to pass on his will to end the hatred of the world to Naruto. This arc was the perfect storm of anarchy and is easily the best arc that Kishimoto has written.

#3 Enies Lobby - One Piece

I really, really struggled with what to do with this one. I knew it was going to be a One Piece arc at number 3, but it was a matter of deciding which one was more impactful for me between Enies Lobby and Marineford. While Marineford, like Invasion of Pain, is a perfect storm of anarchy and chaos and contains the only moment to make me tear up while watching anime in Ace's death, I felt that the overall whole of Enies Lobby was more memorable that the sum of the parts with Marineford. Marineford was an arc that was much less focused on the Strawhats or even Luffy for that matter but instead focused more on the end of an era, primarily for one of the driving forces behind the great pirate era in the Whitebeard pirates. Enies Lobby, on the other hand is the second half to the CP9 saga with the first being Water 7. Water 7 leads us to the shocking revelation that Iceburg had unknowingly been harboring CP9 assassins within his town who show up to kidnap one of the world's greatest threats... which just happens to be Strawhats crew member Nico Robin. After suffering a complete physical defeat at the hands of Rob Lucci and a moral defeat when Robin willingly leaves with the CP9 members, the Strawhats rally together in an attempt to save Robin. Robin, who decided that leaving to die was the best option for both her and the Strawhats, felt that she still hadn't found her place in the world. She still felt that she was a burden to the world as she was the only survivor to the disaster on her home island of Ohara. There is a very touching moment here where Luffy and crew finally catch up to Robin and show their determination to rescue her, but according to Luffy, only if she wants to live. Robin, finally losing her calm composure, yells out to the Strawhats that she wants to live and travel the seas with them. It is from this part on that the arc is in full gear and nonstop action with the Strawhats dueling it out against the CP9 assassins in a race against the clock to save Robin. The moments in which Robin tries with every ounce of strength she has to stop Spandam from handing her over were very hard to watch as he brutalized and taunted this woman. This arc also consisted of my all time favorite fight in anime in which Luffy has to pull out all the stops in order to defeat the top assassin in CP9 in Rob Lucci. The arc is thrilling and always had me on the edge of my seat, which is the main reason why I feel it is able to edge out Marineford because this was the Strawhats biggest time to shine as opposed to us getting a glimpse at the end of the Whitebeard pirates.

#2 Chapter Black - Yu Yu Haksuho

This was the first time in which Yu Yu haksuho went from a black and white fighting anime, and entered a huge area of gray. This arc gets off to a rather peculiar start, after the Dark Tournament winds down the viewer is left wondering where could Togashi possibly go with this thing to top what he had just done? We quickly get that answer as we are introduced to Black Angel saving the Elder Toguro at the ruined site where the Dark Tournament took place. Not long after this Yusuke is kidnapped by a group of ordinary humans which leads the viewer's to ponder how this feat could even be possible. Of course, this was all just the master plan of Genkai in order to prepare Yusuke and company for the trials ahead as someone is announced to be digging a tunnel to Demon World. It is later revealed through what I believe is still the greatest character introduction that I have ever seen that Shinobu Sensui was the mastermind behind this plan. The look on his face was enough to scare even Yusuke as he admits that there is something darker looming in Sensui that not even he can figure out what it is. After this, Yusuke and company face several moral trials, all of which are set up by Sensui who is trying to break them psychologically. Koenma later reveals the first shocking revelation to this arc that Sensui was actually the Earth's Spirit Detective before Yusuke. This creates an amazing rivalry between the two which is developed throughout the arc and shows us that the two are complete polar opposites, right down to their fighting styles in which Sensui is a master of martial arts and relies heavily on kicks while Yusuke has no formal training and prefers street fighting heavily relying on his fists. It is revealed to us that Sensui had a linear black and white view of the world until he encounters a demon named Itsuki whom later becomes his partner. Itsuki is able to break through Sensui's emotional walls and begin to broaden his view of the world. It isn't until Koenma gives him an urgent job in an attempt to stop the Black Black club's sick depraved torture of demons that Sesnui begins to lose all sight of what is right and wrong. His mind too fragile to handle what he had seen, he completely snapped and lost all hope for humanity. This is the reasoning behind his cause, why he is able to justify digging the tunnel. He feels that he is saving the human world from moral damnation. Yusuke has many excellent physical and moral battles with Sensui, in one of which we experience the shocking reveal that Sensui has 7 split personalities all of which serve different purposes. The main persona of Shinobu is able to land the killing blow on Yusuke which enrages his teammates to follow Sensui into Demon World in an attempt to avenge their fallen comrade. With the tunnel open, it appears as though humanity is doomed until it is revealed that Yusuke has dormant demon blood in his genetics which is awaken after his 2nd time of dying at the hands of Sensui. It isn't until after Yusuke defeats Sensui that we learn Sensui's true goals in Togashi's masterful way of storytelling. After portraying Sensui as this vile and twisted human who was seeking the destruction of the human world, it is revealed to us that Sensui was truly dying with only a short period of time left to live. His whole purpose for digging the tunnel was not to destroy the human world, but was rather his way of getting through to demon world in order to see life through the eyes of the species he had mindlessly killed without questioning whether or not he was doing the right thing. His true goal was to find the answer to his existence before he died so that he could justify the life he had lived. This arc was not only the beginning of Togashi's masterful art of storytelling while making the viewer question the philosophical perspectives that Togashi brings to light. Togashi was also able to create the most complex villain I have experienced in anime or manga to date, and I feel it is really Sensui's underrated brilliance as a character and what his motives were that make this arc one of the greatest of all time.

#1 Yorkshin - Hunter x Hunter (2011)

If it wasn't obvious by now, then anyone who has ever had a conversation with me should know what number 1 was going to be. There was no way I'd have a shounen list without a Hunter x Hunter arc in it, and what better one to top the list than Togashi's artistic masterpiece in the Yorkshin arc. I know this may seem bias since my favorite series is Hunter x Hunter, but this arc explains every reason why Hunter x Hunter is at the top of all shounen anime/manga for me. It has had 3 different variations of the arc, and every single one of them were masterful. However, I will be using the 2011 series' adaption since it is the one that is most likely fresh in everyone's minds. Yorkshin is what every shounen series should aspire to emulate. It is the absolute perfect storm when it comes to story telling. This arc is much more about the story than it is the action, but that doesn't mean the action isn't present. This arc has some amazing battles between Kurapika's fight with Uvogin and Kuroro's fight with Silva and Zeno Zoldyck. Not too mention the Genei Ryodan's long standing massacre of the mafia and their own special forces of Nen users in the Shadow Beasts. The Spiders are, in my opinion, the best villain group to be portrayed in any shounen series. They are so dynamic in their goals and their actions and all of their differing personalities really mesh together well. Kuroro is such a dedicated leader, his orders are absolute but he, on the other hand, is not the Spider's top priority. This creates for some interesting scenarios towards to climax of the arc that I will discuss here in a bit. Kuroro is such a polarizing and charesmatic individual that it is really hard not to enjoy him as a character, even though deep down you know this guy is nothing but a cold blooded murder. This arc balances every aspect of the story brilliantly as it starts off following three different groups in showing us what Killua, Gon and Leorio are doing in Yorkshin. We are also shown Kurapika's movements as a bodyguard of the Nostrade family and we also get to see the Ryodan's plans in action as they terrorize the mafia in order to steal all of the items they are auctioning off. These 3 story lines are woven together brilliantly at the mid point of this arc and really tie the entire story together as all 3 groups begin to cross paths and have to deal with the others. While the Spiders may be a band of cold blood murderers, it is interesting to see how much compassion they have towards each other which is show most brilliantly through Nobunaga and Pakunoda. After Uvo is killed in battle by Kurapika, Nobunaga is able to shed tears in front of Gon and Killua for his fallen partner. This enrages Gon to see that these people could feel so much remorse and sympathy for one of their own, but show none of this compassion towards any of the innocent people they slaughter for fun or for their own personal gain. Pakunoda is quite possibly the clincher for this arc in showing how masterfully Togashi can tell a story. She is more than likely the most human of the Ryodan and is the catalyst for the major debate that occurs as an inner strife between the Ryodan members. After Kurapika kidnaps Kuroro, he realizes that he had left Gon and Killua behind as hostages. This lead to a very intriguing hostage negotiation as some of the members prefer to put the Spider first and let Kuroro be killed as others feel that they absolutely need Kuroro to keep the Spider moving. In the end, Pakunoda sacrifices herself to not only save Kuroro, but to also relay her story to the other Ryodan members so that they can be fully aware of why she made every decision she made and why Kuroro did not come back with her. After doing so, she dies due to Kurapika's Judgement Chain and the arc is pretty much brought to a close with everything resolved. This arc still has the best overall story of any shounen arc I have ever seen and also is the only shounen arc in which the climactic finally was not handled through a fight, but rather through a gut wrenching hostage negotiation in which Kurapika is able to win the battle against the Ryodan, but not the war. No other mangaka would dare to draw out an arc in which it takes a similar path that Yorkshin did. Togashi is truly one of a kind and one of the most innovative story tellers in terms of anime/manga. The main thing that the 2011 version did for me to make me want to use this version was that beautiful ending scene to the arc which is still my favorite moment in the entire series. That is the scene in which Gon asks Phinks what happened to Pakunoda and he replies by saying she died. Gon, showing sincere remorse and surprise on his face triggers Phinks to remember the final conversation Paku had with Gon and Killua in which she was genuinely moved by Gon and Killua's loyalty to Kurapika. Refusing to run away so that Kurapika's current fight with the Ryodan would be over without him having to kill anyone genuinely moved Pakunoda. After the flashback of this scene is replayed we are shown with Phinks staring at Gon and Killua soon who are about to leave. Phinks just says to them quickly "Paku wanted to thank you" before him and Feitan take their leave. This moment was so touching and really humanized Phinks and the Ryodan as a whole that they were able to honor Paku's last wishes. It was the perfect way to end off, what I believe to be, the best arc in shounen anime/manga. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Hunter x Hunter - Chimera Ant Arc Overview

With the Chimera Ant arc well underway in the 2011 adaption of Hunter x Hunter, I felt this would be a good place to start with this blog. Not many people have gone through the trouble to give an in depth analysis of this arc, but having previously re-read it and with the anime currently adapting the arc, it is fresh in my mind at the moment and I feel this is the right time to discuss the arc as a whole.


The following overview contains potential spoilers, if you have not read the Chimera Ant arc and do not wish to be spoiled, please don't read past this point.


The Chimera Ant arc picks up right where Greed Island leaves off, with Gon and Killua freshly completing the game and using the cards they acquired to take themselves to Ging. As it would turn out, Ging had already planned ahead for this and the two are instead taken to meet a familiar acquaintance in Ging's apprentice, Kaito, who had previously saved Gon 2 years prior to where the series starts. After getting reacquainted with Kaito, the arc gets underway introducing a new species to the series that had not yet been introduced in Chimera Ants. This introduction is met with an ominous feeling as the first we see of the Chimera Ants is the 2 meter tall Ant Queen who is in the process of her reproductive cycle in order to birth the next Chimera Ant King. After discovering the leg of the Queen, it is up to Kaito and crew to attempt to discover the Queen's whereabouts before she is able to birth the next King.

That is basically a brief overview of the premise to the beginning of the arc. Afterwards we are introduced to a lot of dark themes never explored before in any of the previous arcs with the only one coming close to it being Yorkshin. We are introduced to the intriguing idea of what would happen if a species existed that could reproduce offspring with  a multitude of split genes in order to create a "superior" race. While this concept is introduced very early on in the arc and perfected in its presentation of the early soldier ants who serve the queen, it is really only carried out through the rest of the time spent on the continent of NGL before the weaker level ants beginning to branch off and do their own thing, only really being presented through the King and his Royal Guards. This is the first flaw to the arc that is truly a glaring issue with the underlying themes that Togashi presented. His story starts off slow and hardly develops any of the early ants only using them as a tool to show the budding storyline of the ants beginning to gain a sense of individuality through their inheritance of human genetics. These ants were left severely underdeveloped and then just brought back in the mid points of the arc to present a sense of danger before the eventual meeting with the Royal Guards and the King. They were just their to present an army in numbers of an evolving species that was a threat to the human race that were deemed to dangerous to keep alive and had to be exterminated, which most of them are.

Another glaring issue with this arc is there is no consistent flow to keep the events in the story moving along without any interruption or side tracking. Part of this could definitely be chalked up to the amount of hiatuses that took place during the creation of this arc, but also to the overall length of the story. It is damn near impossible to keep a plot smoothly going without losing momentum for 132 chapters. Unlike in the previous arcs, the Chimera Ant arc does not move directly from Point A to Point B to Point C. It starts with Point A takes a detour then jumps to Point B and then takes yet another detour before we finally arrive at Point C. This made the story feel very disconnected. An example of this are how Gyro's flashback is suddenly jammed into the story about 20 chapters into the arc. Pretty much we start with NGL which introduces us to the Ants, then after the King is born and the Queen dies all of these Ants go there separate ways and we are thrust directly into a competition between Gon and Killua and Morel's apprentices Knuckle and Shoot. After this we jump around between random battles with lower level Chimera Ants (some of which were former officers who also know Nen) mixed in with the few random times the King and his Royal Guards are introduced back into the story. Then after all of that we arrive at the brilliant storming of the King's castle and after which get a drawn out final set of battles where the situation looks hopeless for the human race before we finally arrive at the end of the arc, with the human race left in shambles trying to recover from the national tragedy that was insinuated by the Chimera Ant invasion.

The pacing for the arc overall is very erratic which also breaks the flow that was perfected in Togashi's other 3 previous major arcs to the series. The arc is also very battle heavy which isn't always a bad thing, but in the world of Hunter x Hunter took away what made Nen battles special. There were way too many unnecessary battles in this arc that were primarily used as stalling tactics to get us to the point of the storming of the King's castle which would serve as the arc's climax and as de facto training for Gon and Killua. Fights in which they are presented as Gon vs Snake, or Gon vs Bat and Owl, or Killua vs unnamed Chimera Ant served no purpose to the overall plot of the arc. Many of the ants were already past the level of mid level Hunters without knowing Nen, so providing them with Nen without them having to do any formal training whatsoever to improve their skills was rather disappointing. It would make sense for the frightening realization that these ants were able to evolve into learning Nen, but at the same point it eliminated what made the Nen battle system so intriguing. All Nen battles were predicated on strategy and the application of your Nen ability rather than having the most power busting ability. A character like Hisoka is revered to be an elite fighter due to the flexibility and creativeness of his ability. The Hunters who were left fighting the ants still used every creative application of their Nen possible in order to outmatch their foes, but this tactic was practically one sided as many of the ants weren't exceptionally skilled in their application of their Nen. To them, they felt as though if they had more powerful abilities, they could wipe out the humans. The only concepts of Nen that were even applied in fights throughout this arc were Hatsu and En. None of the more complex ideals introduced in Greed Island were necessarily exposed here in fights. While their entirely a need to point out when Ken or Ko are being applied, but they didn't even address that they were shifting their aura for offense or defense or that they were even using Gyo anymore. It was like Togashi was expecting the audience to forget that those were major tools in Nen fights and people would just assume that they were naturally being applied.

The arc was not all bad though, it did have its bright points. Other than Yorkshin, this is by far the darkest arc in Hunter x Hunter exploring the ideas of hopelessness, despair and tragedy. The overall plot for the arc isn't necessarily new by presenting a race of creatures who are trying to take over the world. It also isn't new in its presentation of the main villain, Meruem. Meruem is heavily inspired by Akira Toriyama's character Cell from Dragon Ball. Meruem is completely self absorbed and believes that he was created to be the ruler of the world. Meruem really starts to deviate from Cell when he picks up playing board games defeating every world champion at every board game in existence. Due to his exceptional ability to evolve, Meruem is able to absorb the knowledge through a few losses to each of these world champions before he outclasses them at their own game. It isn't until he meets human girl name Komugi who is the champion at a board game called Gungi that he finally meets his match. Meruem spends most of his time throughout the arc trying to defeat Komugi at Gungi but for some reason never can. Komugi is a young blind girl who can't even see the board and is very simple in her thought process, yet for some reason the ultimate being is unable to outwit her. Not only can't Meruem defeat this simple girl at her own game, but he also can't beat her in a test of morals. In fact, he begins to sacrifice his morals throughout the arc for this girl who he for some reason builds a special attachment to. Komugi, through her superiority over the King at Gungi, is able to humble him in a sense and begin to humanize the monster whom only acts according to his ant instincts. This leads to some of the finest philosophical moments in this arc in which Meruem begins to question why he exists and why some creatures deserve to live. As said by Netero, Meruem got caught in a dangerous internal power struggle between his ant instincts and his humanized emotional perspective.

The other major high point of this arc was presented in the beginning of the climax when the extermination team storms the castle in an attempt to take out the Royal Guards while Netero attempted to take out the King. The buildup to this moment was executed brilliantly and also provided a lot of tension that was much needed to present the oncoming danger they were about to face. After the incredible buildup to this moment, the execution of the break in was just as impressive as the build up. The moment was flawless and really provided a sense of hopelessness as the group of Hunters were clearly outmatched. Between the actual palace storming and the fights that followed, these moments provided not stop enjoyment and were executed nicely unlike a vast majority of the arc. The fights were well developed and clearly showed how outmatched the Hunters were as they practically failed to actually eliminate the Royal Guards. The only Royal Guard to successfully be killed by the person who was targeting them was Pitou, and that feat was only accomplished due to Gon's forced aging process in which he released all of his potential after realizing Kaito was dead. The climax to this arc provided many great Nen battles that didn't sacrafice the little details that made Nen battles so special. The groups collective fights with Youpi were enjoyable to witness as they were not able to overpower their foe. Youpi was able to defeat Shoot, Knuckle and Morel and would've most likely defeated Killua had he not ran off after successfully hitting Youpi. Netero's battle with Meruem not only presented the highest level of Nen battle to date, but also had a witty complex to it as Netero was clearly overwhelmed by the King's power, but at the same time the King was not trying to kill Netero. Netero was giving it his all to kill the King but the King was only fighting to learn his name. This also provided a very unique battle in which the main character was not fighting the main villain, another key element Hunter x Hunter displayed. That battle also displayed what Togashi does best and that is to do the unexpected. Netero did not defeat the King in battle, but was able to deal the eventual death blow. Through the miniature rose, Netero was able to deliver enough poison into Meruem's body to be lethal. The poison from the miniature rose ended up killing both Youpi and Pouf as they sacrificed themselves to keep the King alive. However, their efforts were all in vein as the King, realizing his inevitable death was approaching, chose to seek out Komugi to spend his final moments playing her in Gungi. Meruem and Komugi die in each other's arms in what leads to a very emotionally draining ending to the arc.

Meruem was definitely the bright spot to this arc in my opinion, his internal struggle and tragic relationship with Komugi provided for the most heartwarming moments in the series and really explored an emotional side that had never been shown in Hunter x Hunter beforehand. The support from the Royal Guards though is what made this dynamic so amazing too. The Royal Guards represented the conflicting ant instincts for Meruem as they were trying to persuade him to continue down the path he was destined to go down of ruling the world. They saw Komugi's presence as an obstacle and felt that the King's new found human emotions were a reflection of their own failure to guide the King down the correct path as his loyal servants. All of this combines for a very emotional ending to what was the longest and most controversial arc in Hunter x Hunter. I feel as though the Chimera Ant arc has its ups and downs, but overall is a solid shounen arc. In comparison to a vast majority of shounen arcs, the Chimera Ant arc still stacks up fairly well and is better than what most other shounen series are able to produce. However, in terms of the series, I felt the Chimera Ant arc was the weak point of the four major arcs. I say this arc is controversial because there seems to be a love it or hate it type of mentality and no people in the middle ground who didn't think it was the weakest but also didn't think it was the best.