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  1. Post on Best anime of 2014 in Extend

    By The Heretic, posted
    Another tough year down the drain. There were several deserving shows, regardless of the endless flow of mediocrity, and they deserve a mention.

    Space Dandy

    One of the all-time greatest creators in anime, Shinichirō Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo) returned with a fantastic premise in experimentation: start with a ragtag bunch of bounty hunters (Dandy, Meow, and QT) and throw them into impossible scenarios, and then... reset each episode, wipe it clean for the next one. This is anthology done right as each episode became a showcase for the top animators, directors and writers in the business. That did recycle the overall shtick, but somehow, each episode managed to shoot for the highest peaks in blending or bending genre, mixing parodies and homages. I often applaud creativity over technical execution, especially when ambition and originality plays a huge factor in this surreal and over-the-top series. You could say Space Dandy "saved" anime in 2014, but truth be told - there wasn't much to save in the end. Both whimsical and great, Space Dandy would've been a strong contender in any other year, because there's absolutely nothing like it.

    Kill la Kill

    Anime is an unique medium that isn't as grounded in mimicry or verisimilitude - and that means the creators should push its boundaries every time, exploit the medium without respect to realism in the slightest. And Kill la Kill is the latest exponent of this philosophy, in a long line that dates back to Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and FLCL - a madcap, hyper-kinetic spectacle with a barely coherent plot and outsized, totally outrageous characters. Absolutely zero filler episodes means this show had impeccable pacing. Admittedly, there were plenty of fan-service-y innuendo and inside baseball jokes (many of the puns are based on Japanese words), so many of the references might fly over your head. Competently animated, and completely slick with its stylized aesthetic, Kill la Kill is a shot of adrenaline to your groin, and doesn't let go until you're pumped at maximum capacity, frothing at the mouth, ready to change the world - or at least blog on the next episode.

    And... that's it.

    Two. Frigging. Shows. All. Year. Jumping Jehoshaphat. 2014 was a down year in Anime. I mean, we are talking the Leastern Conference bad in the NBA these days. Even my favorite anime bloggers burned out (Psgels) or delegated the burden (Scamp) or started blogging other non-anime shows (Guardian Enzo).


    Decent science fiction ideas in the wake of Gen Urobuchi marred by substandard execution.

    Fate/Stay Night Whatever Whatever
    No matter how great a studio is, it just can't get beyond the ridiculous high school setting.
  2. Fate/Zero and nihilism

    While I’ve read several works in literature that could pass as nihilistic, it wasn’t until Fate/Zero I could say I’ve come across a truly nihilistic masterpiece. Even the classic Neon Genesis Evangelion did not reach the nadir of such depraved nihility. Gen Urobuchi, the writer of Fate/Zero has expressed similar sentiments in his other works such as Puella Magi Madoka, but Fate/Zero serves as a platform that displays a potpourri of various philosophies that are exposed one by one as fictitious or illusory.

    The final episode aired last Saturday, and I finished the original light novel a few days ago. The following are my reflections of the material. Below lurk spoilers. Venture at your own risk!

    The history of a life, whatever it may be, is a history of failure. – Sartre
    For each major character that represents a certain ideal or a philosophical approach, Fate/Zero demonstrates the futility of ideals in which their consequences are necessarily failures.

    Kiritsugu and consequentialism

    As the major protagonist, Kiritsugu believed in sacrificing anything for the greatest good. Whether it was his father, or his mentor, or even his own wife, the only that mattered was a deep-seated desire for an abstraction — the end of all war, all conflict — the final redemption of all humanity. This accounts for Kiritsugu’s participation in the Holy Grail war, but the corrupt Grail itself exposed Kiritsugu’s utilitarian methods to be self-defeating, because it must be consistently applied until nobody is left alive – except for the utilitarian judge himself. In the end, Kiritsugu emerges from the wreckage as a broken man.

    Kirei and joy of pain

    The presumptive villain Kotomine Kirei was initially a loyal, selfless priest who did not truly know himself until the perceptive servant Archer tempted him with the forbidden fruit of joy – the pure, unadulterated joy of others’ pain. Kirei undertook an odyssey of self-discovery that ends in sadism — clearly a parody of the cliched moment of enlightenment in other optimistic stories.

    Saber and duty

    The tragic heroine Saber is a noble character who upheld the code of chivalry, but this very code drove her most loyal knights, allies and country to complete destruction. She desires to undo history and reset it before the Roman Britons lost to the Anglo-Saxons. Against her wishes, Saber destroys the Holy Grail, and returns to the moment of her failure — atop a mound of bodies slaughtered during a battle — a Pyrrhic victory that cost everyone’s lives.

    Lancer and fatalism

    The servant Lancer, during his mortal lifetime, failed to serve his master by falling in love with the betrothed. As a heroic spirit, Lancer desires nothing but the redemption of his honor – to serve his master. But the fates are cruel by repeating history – he fails again, due to a curse that forces women to fall in love with him.

    Rider and hedonism

    As the exceedingly charismatic king of conquerors, Rider aspired to an impossible dream – the dream of Oceanus at the end of the world. He never reached this goal during his lifetime, despite driving his army across the world for it, and as a heroic spirit, he falls in the end without ever seeing it.

    Kariya and vengeance

    Kariya enters the Holy Grail war for noble reasons – to save the young daughter of a rival master, Tohsaka, and gain revenge on his old rival. But in doing so, he undergoes many changes, many sacrifices until he sinks into madness and ends up crippling the mother of the very daughter he sought to save. His good intentions submarined his participation and ended up destroying himself.

    Ryuunosuke’s theology

    An accidental master who happened to be a serial killer, Ryuunosuke spelled out a nihilistic theology for his servant, Caster: God created everyone for his amusement alone. Ergo, both the master and the servant should continue in their creation of spectacle to amuse this dark God. Despite being eliminated early, these two realized the dark truth of Fate/Zero first.

    Holy Grail as corrupt artifact

    Despite being an omnipotent wish-fulfilling device, it turned out to be the worst possible artifact of power — it could only interpret the hopes or dreams of its possessor in the most horrific manner possible. It had been polluted by some malicious force in previous wars and continues to serve as the punishment for hubristic follies.

    Gen Urobuchi as a nihilist

    Urobuchi’s bleak portrait of reality is nihilism as a psychological condition, because of two aspects:
    life is transient, & the belief that the world has a definite or fundamental purpose ends in disillusionment. Each character saw the world as a purposeful one, or at least headed towards a goal, and then every event within it has meaning. Once everything has purpose or an ideal that it is headed towards, then the individuals, as the agents of the process, believe life is worthwhile, and they will discover meaning for their lives. But at the end of Fate/Zero, the purpose of life becomes illusory, and the search of meaning is pointless because meaning does not exist, then life loses all color and the vanity of the search corrupts everything. Nietzsche diagnosed this as an extreme nihilism (Will to Power 13, 15).

    In the end, what exactly is Fate/Zero‘s grand message? What was the point of refuting each and every character in its arsenal? Was Urobuchi just the mastermind villain that enjoyed crushing his characters under the remorseless heel of an absurd existence? Behind the narrative of Fate/Zero, under Urobuchi’s heel, lurks nothing. Just that. Nothing.

  3. Post on Best Anime of 2011 in Extend

    By The Heretic, posted
    Reposted from my blog here:

    Mawaru Penguindrum

    This will be my first time to attempt a “review” of anime (Japanese animated shows), and I think a good review is the fine line between fan-boy-ism and elitism, one that is honest with passion, but always facing the direction of the ideal anime. Because I’m a johnny-come-lately to anime, the actual best shows I watched in 2011 areRevolutionary Girl Utena, Bakemonogatari, and Bokurano.

    Cute, isn't it?

    1. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica

    Easily the most hyped of 2011, and yet the near-perfect blend of stylish animation and epic storyline excused the mass hysteria. Besides, it also has the most impressive villain I’ve seen since Hannibal Lecter. Basically, Madoka is a fantastic deconstruction of the Magical Girl genre. Once a genre is deconstructed, it is actually revived, because tropes that have degenerated into clichés are now discarded. However, it did wrap up everything in a deus ex machina styled bow. The upside to that is no possible sequel is in the offing!

    Princess of the Crystal beckons.

    2. Mawaru PenguinDrum

    The creator of Utena, Ikuhara makes a grand return to anime with a possibly even better work in PenguinDrum. Despite riddled with symbolism & several philosophical allusions, this show keeps the plot moving briskly, and reveals its mystery painstakingly slowly. Its impact will be felt for years to come, long after the characters and the furor are forgotten. Which just might be its very own Seizon Senryaku!

    Future Gadget Establishment

    3. Steins;Gate

    With the antics of the best lead character of the year, Okabe, Steins;Gate starts off as a slow-boiling mystery, and halfway through, it successfully lurches into a thriller. Quite possibly the best use of time travel since Primer, Steins;Gate balances between subverting classic anime tropes and spining a well crafted plot, while leaving the door open for future stories.

    Yuno Gasai in the flesh

    4. Mirai Nikki (Future Diary)

    A classic battle royal game where the participants all acquire dairies that tell the future, and the winner gains the throne of the Lord of Master of Time & Space. Easily the most ridiculously high camp and yet revels in the absurdity of anime/manga tropes, which in turn combines into an understandable guilty pleasure. Where critics are divided on whether Mirai Nikki is pure pulp or pure illogical fantasy, I revel in its consistent inconsistency, as well as the greatest Yandere of all anime-dom: Yuno Gasai.

    Giddiyup, Daikichi!

    5. Usagi Drop

    Despite myself, I enjoy a great slice of life, and this is the best of the lot (Tora Dora, Dennou Coil, Nodame Cantabile, & Genshiken). Its unique watercolor designs will long outlive the most stylish of 2011. Precocious kid Rin moves in with her 30-year-old nephew Daikichi and teaches him how to become a parent. I felt this series ended prematurely, without a satisfying resolution, but perhaps that lack of denouement is precisely what life is like.

    Prince Baka

    6. Level E

    Quite the funniest show of the year, where an alien Prince lands on Earth and hides from his royal duties. His betrothed and bodyguards in tow, guarantee hilarity & hijinks. No other character successfully trolled the audience consistently.

    King Arturia

    7. Fate/Zero

    An epic series revolving around a magical artifact that harvests legendary heroes to duke it out for its wish-granting powers. This show slowly grew on me, from an excessively chatty opener to a well-animated, well-thought out result. Thephilosophical dialogue I blogged on earlier clinched Fate/Zero a spot on this list alone. The second half is due in April, so this low ranking may change.

    character design by Yun Kouga

    8. Un-Go

    A quirky, multiple-layered detective show that covers many themes: original characters, uncanny valley, rights of artificial life, discourse on truths vs Truth, and the collective culture of Japanese propaganda set against future utopian ideals. Had this show an extra cour to expand some of its interesting points, it would’ve frog-leaped towards the top.


    9. Dantalian no Shoka

    Another abortive attempt at interesting premises (Mystical Libraries, Phantom Books, Keykeepers) and historical fiction (set in 1920s) hamstrung by poor pacing and a single cour. Gorgeous visuals and amazing fashion, notwithstanding all those faults.

    Glittering Crux!

    10. Star Driver: Kagayaki no Takuto

    The curse of the classic “tremendous upside potential.” The following ingredients: Intriguing characters, quirky design inspired by french fashion, great premises and healthy plot are usually more than enough to determine the show’s success, but the convenient bottled format of villain-of-the-week held it back. The entire time I was waiting for Wako to jump both of her guys and engage in a menage a trois.