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  Every time and again I feel nostalgic about anime and manga. There are so many of those that I loved as I was growing up and later, so I periodically come back to it, hoping to get that feeling at amazement for a great story told well through drawing and/or animation. Yet if the Japanese are good at anything it's churning consistently decent product efficiently at scale. While their characters always seem to want nothing more than to grow in level, they keep doing the same things over, and over, and over again, nicely tucked in bento boxes for easy consumption.

  In Kaijuu No. 8, a guy who always wanted to join the force defending humanity from kaiju (giant monsters) is infected with a kaiju like thing and thus gets his wish. It's the typical shonen manga/anime thing where people protect their comrades, gain levels of power that are nicely quantified and monitored and overcome obstacles through the power of their feelings. It reminds me a little bit of Bleach, which was also about a guy who was fighting in a force dedicated to killing monsters, while being part monster himself.

  The problem I have with this is not that it's bad, but that it has been done before, almost identically. The comrades are the same, they have the same motivations, the psychopathic villains are the same, the levelling up is the same, the fights are the same, the feelings are the same. At no point does the story stop to look at the people in all of those destroyed buildings in Japan, on the political complexities of having a military force that is not the country's main military force gain so much power and influence. There is no attempt to communicate with the kaiju, once the intelligent and articulate ones appear, no attempt to find out where they are coming from, either. Just a mindless grind of ever increasing power in both sides. There is no explanation on what powers the monsters or the weapons, no real reason why individual people fight monsters without support, no attempt to understand how a human became a kaiju and so on and so on.

  The biggest issue in this story is not "how is it possible a human turned into a kaiju?" but "if he uses this more he will may not be able to turn back into a human". Like the most important part is not the safety of the country or its people, but the fascistic obsession to racial purity.

  Bottom line: after watching the first 10 episodes of the anime I read the manga up to chapter 108. There is nothing there. Nothing new. Just more characters with levels, people emoting on mindless battles and people surviving by the power of their shared feelings. If you like that kind of stuff, perhaps you should join the army. They kind of think the same way.

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  I really tried, but it was impossible to enjoy, especially after the second season started. It's like someone took the wrong bits of Naruto, Fullmetal Alchemist and Bleach and mashed them together in this mindless story. I was pushed to it by the very nice writing YouTube channel Savage Books, but in this case they messed up. Or maybe they were talking about season 700, the manga or whatever.

  So in Jujutsu Kaisen there is this kid who is preternaturally strong, but also kind, good looking and loves his grandfather. In hospital, grandpa tries to tell him something ominous about the boy's parents, gets interrupted, then proceeds on spouting some nonsense about helping as many people as you can, even if it's just one, then promptly dies. And then it appears his friends in a spiritualist high school club are about to unleash an ancient curse, so naturally someone from a secret society comes to take care of it, the boy gets in the middle and ends up eating a mummified finger that gives him demonic powers but also a demon inhabitant of his body.

  All well and good, but then it's just one full season of Japanese Hogwarts, complete with one dimensional quirky characters, dangers that seem to be handled exclusively by untrained kids, manic teachers and disgusting evil villain who attacks randomly and usually pointlessly. The inner demon barely makes any appearance and to be honest, his allies and friends seem a lot more unhinged. I would have maybe watched the mind numbing uplevelling of the main characters some more if they didn't completely change page in season 2.

  The animation is different, the characters are different and, even if I know the regular ones will return in a few episodes, I couldn't make myself care. I understand that almost everything in Japan has a form and the more derivative and ritualistic something is, the more powerful - hell, it's the same in Western society, we just don't openly admit it, but this was being derivative in all the wrong ways, then changing things in the worst possible direction. And of course, it was terribly boring as well.

Bottom line: no more "Sorcery Battle" for me.

P.S. Oh, hell, it's even a sequel. Yuck!

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  The premise of Ninja Kamui is interesting: superhuman ninjas join forces with a Mark Zuckerberg caricature in order to control the world. Yet some people left their shinobi order and decided to lead their own lives and that cannot be tolerated. So high-tech ninjas, a combination of robot and magical fight techniques, are sent to kill these deserters. Inevitably, one gets pissed and decides to kill the assholes. The animation is very good and the initial idea great.

  But from then it just goes downward: the same boring Shōnen tropes, the faceless armies of disposable goons and their sadistic freak of a commander that need to die every episode, the dedicated policeman and the sexy hacker sidekicks, the cruel shinobi overlord, the psychopathic but weak man in power. Even the fights are derivative, bringing almost nothing to the table.

  Worse, this is an original anime production, meaning you can't go online and read the manga and they release one episode per week on HBO. Best wait until its inevitable cancelation and watch it all at once.

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  I can't say that The Unwanted Undead Adventurer is not fun, or addictive, or that I didn't watch the first four episodes of the anime and then read all the manga till chapter 59. Because I did. That being said, it felt like hentai! This guy wants to be an adventurer, which is exactly what it sounds like, a computer game "career" that involves going to mysterious dungeons and fighting and killing monsters to increase in level. However, he meets a dragon who eats him and poops him as a skeleton. Only a skeleton that can use three methods of magic and can increase in level like a motherfucker. He reaches unfathomable levels of skill in days which he failed to do as a human in ten years. And as he does that he evolves into higher level monsters.

  An interesting premise, which I hoped would reveal some sort of kinship with the creatures he mindlessly killed as a fascist adventurer and so a dilemma that can only be solved by character development, but no, he just keeps killing "monsters", gets more and more female loli allies while he gains more skills and meets more and more outlandish characters which are either fully fledged good guys and allies or bad manipulative rich enemies and nothing in between.

  I guess it is a product of this era, where people write literature and manga from the only life experience they have: other manga, TV, movies and computer games. And since movies and TV series are increasingly idiotic and losing market share to the more addictive computer games, I guess those win. And here it is: a story which is no story at all, with heroes that increase in "level" but don't evolve at all as characters and with rules that are followed as tight as a Japanese accountant's anus.

  Such a disappointment, since the story started so fun and, even if it were rooted in MMORPG mechanics, could have evolved (pardon the pun) into an interesting satire. Alas, it goes on as deadpan as it started, taking itself seriously despite any connection to reality. The characters don't behave like people, more like NPCs, the world is completely mechanical and boring once you think about it, and you almost wait for the moment when they introduce the loot box or the pay-to-win articles.

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  At first, Shiki feels boring. Nothing really happens in the Sotoba village and, when vampires come to live there, no one bats an eye. When people start getting mysteriously sick and die, people first worry then, finding no easy to swallow explanation, get used to it. When strange things start happening, people invoke reason and "the way things are" and refuse to see what's there in front of their eyes.

  There is something terribly creepy in Japanese horror because, at the heart of their culture, normality is paramount. Things have to be in order, regardless of the desires of individuals or even whole social classes. The cleanliness and politeness of the Japanese, that we Europeans love to admire, are mere consequences of this oppression, which happen to be positive. Yeah, that's a thing in almost every culture, especially those which boast liberalism and freedom (God forbid you are not a freedom loving liberal!), but the Japanese take it to a different level.

  In truth, if they would have left it at that, a small village committing suicide by denial, it would have been powerful enough, but Shiki just starts from there. Because you see, when people turn to vampires, they don't get possessed by demons or lose their feelings or turn into instant psychopaths. Instead, they retain their personalities, but have to deal with the unstoppable feeling of hunger for human blood. And once they get it, they do what people do best: rationalize it somehow as a positive, necessary and unavoidable thing.

  So my advice is to stick with the story, even if it starts kind of slow and obvious. There is a lot to unpack, even if basically it is a harsh criticism of the small mindedness of people. I liked it a lot. You can read the manga online or watch the 22 episode anime. It is a complete story, there are no sequels and there is no point in there being one. I watched the anime and I liked it. I think in this case, it might be better than reading the manga.

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  Monstress is a feudal fantasy manga set in a world of ancients, old gods, humans and half humans. After a period of peaceful coexistence, the humans and the half humans separated in two different countries, which now head towards war. The main character is a girl with mysterious powers, powerful but angry, who is the center of a storm that will either save or destroy the world.

  The color drawing is very beautiful, as are all the gods and creatures, very detailed and purposeful. Faces and bodies are expressive. I like the story a lot, clearly thought and love has been poured into it by both writer Marjorie Liu and illustrator Sana Takeda. It reminds me of Berserk, back when it was still good - the first 26 chapters, both the drawing style, with detailed filigree indicating godly power, and the story, which is at time cruel and unforgiving, meant to forge the hero into something spectacular.

  At this moment the manga is still going strong, with 41 chapters published. You can read it online here. I highly recommend it. It has earned many awards, including five Eisner Awards, four Hugo Awards, and the Harvey Awards Book of the Year in 2018.

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  Don't want to be mean, especially since I've only read 42 chapters on the 1000+ that make up One Piece, but I found it boring. I did read Inuyasha, Naruto, One Punch Man and even Bleach religiously, but I was younger and had a lot of time on my hands. This one is just another "young male teen with no actual connections meeting friends and enemies and leveling up" story. And it's also very childish.

  I enjoy shōnen manga, but this is just too ridiculous for me. I understand it gets better later on, but I've skipped somewhere in the middle and it didn't seem to. Anyway, I guess I can category this as DNF and move on with my life.

  If you like it, you can read it free online here: One Piece

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  Junji Ito is a manga artist that creates horror, usually focused on personal obsession, body horror and disgust. He is like the Japanese Serge Brussolo, in a way. Uzumaki (translated as Spiral) is a 20 chapter story about a small town infested by spirals, which have more and more horrifying effects as the story unfolds (heh!). Yet perhaps the most horrible thing that transpires from the manga is the typical Japanese social and cultural pressure that keeps people in their place, in their role, denying that anything could be wrong.

  I mean, in the beginning, people were leaving the town and coming back, noticing as they did how strange it was compared with the place they were coming from. Later on, the main characters see horrible things happening and still won't leave, while anyone who heard them explain what had happened - even if obvious to anyone looking - refused to accept that it was anything but rampant imagination. And, of course, they stop telling people things, because of the ultimate horror: being stigmatized in their society. That is true horror to me, that people would choose to live their lives like that. The way the town folk end up at the end seems to me like a metaphorical criticism of Japanese culture, but I may be wrong. 

  Anyway, the drawings are good, imaginative, and the manga succeeds in instilling that pervasive feeling of dread. The story gradually getting weirder and weirder, but in small increments, also manages to hold the reader on the edge of disbelief. Short, too, so no need to invest a lifetime in reading it.

  If you want to read it, Uzumaki is freely available online, on the Junji Ito site, but also on a dedicated site that looks very similar, only with an extra bonus chapter, so I would go there. If you are a fan of horror, maybe Brussolo, maybe Lovecraft or even John Saul, I think you will enjoy this a lot.

  First of all, neither am I a philosopher nor have I read Nietzsche. The philosophical aspects that I am discussing are how a layman would interpret them. In this post I am going to discuss anime from the Baki Hanma and JoJo's Bizarre Adventures universes with a nod to Andromeda's race of genetically modified humans called Nietzscheans and also other media portrayals of similar concepts.

  Watching episodes from Baki or JoJo anime I got a weird feeling. Both series, while having completely different plots, focus on humans with superior abilities fighting each other. Nothing new here: both American and Japanese cultures are inundated with this cliché. Yet these shows are strangely humanistic in nature. The characters have impossible strong muscles, dress in their own special way and are proudly dedicated to particular philosophies that define their path in life. Compared to other people, they are intimidating, entirely dominating, and they are so strong that they defy the laws of medicine and even physics. They use their power in tactical and strategic ways, they hone their skills, they outthink their adversaries and use whatever the environment gives them in order to win. And this in order to gain power only over themselves.

  In so many ways, they reminded me of the Nietzscheans, from Gene Roddenberry's TV series Andromeda (before the show went to shit, so first season only). They also reveled in their physical, mental and knowledge prowess. Violence, to them, was justified as a way to eliminate weakness. The characters in the two anime shows are the same: they risk their health, their lives, in order to try themselves to the limit. As a result, they cannot exist in human society. People can't abide such obvious difference, when these guys are stronger than guns, impossible to detain through cuffs, chains, walls or cages and at any time they can just destroy a normal human being with little to no effort. It is this part that actually got me thinking and writing the blog post.

  Usually in media, people who care only about their own betterment to the point they eschew social norms are portrayed as villains. Human values are represented as communal values: caring about others, respecting their way to live, abiding social constraints and obeying laws, forming bonds and families, then dedicating effort to maintain and preserve them. The hero will defend, not attack, will arrest, not destroy, will consider, not dismiss, will protect, not invade. In fact, a hero is a social construct and can only exist as society's protector.

  In regular situations, the ones that are considered normal in society, heroes are not needed. Performance is not needed. There are some boundaries in which one is allowed to strive for better output, but only as cogs in a social mechanism that needs them to perform within expected ranges. Only when things go awry, from the breaking of a component (be it a tool, a flow or a person) to some huge disaster, some people "step up" and take over the load. Those are heroes. And here is the dilemma, because someone who has not made the effort of being better than expected of them will not be able to step up, while someone who does make the effort is inevitably vilified during "peace times".

  This reminds me of Rambo, in the first movie and not the ridiculous propaganda sequels. Here is a man who, through circumstances that needed to be tragic and out of his control so as to enhance his heroic status, reached a level above his peers, at least in one particular domain: fighting and killing. He was perfect as a soldier, but as he returns home he has difficulties integrating himself back into society. It takes only a small town sheriff bullying to bring the beast to surface. The old adage still stands: the best heroes are all dead.

  Going back to the animes, I found myself in conflict. Here is the usual portrayal of society, a safe place for everybody to live in, defining what human life is and should be like, but functioning as a soulless mechanism. And here is the usual portrayal of the self absorbed villain, a monstruous being of immense power who threatens the existence of all, but functioning as a proud individual constantly bettering themselves. I feel like the latter option is more humanistic, therefore truly being human is in antithesis to human society.

  Can there be a balance between the two? Could we actually imagine a benign Nietzschean-like society? One that would truly embrace diversity, specialization and performance while despising mediocrity and also not eating itself from within? I find it hard, if not impossible. Still, I can't but feel a sort of admiration for these larger than life characters and their dedication to a random thing than then defines them for ever.

  What do you think?

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  There is this feeling in the online community that no matter what governments and corporations do, we will find ways of avoiding restrictions and remain free. Nowhere is this feeling stronger than in the media and software piracy circles. Yet year after year people get more and more complacent, moving from having to find and download the content they enjoy to streaming services that end up asking for more money than TV and cinema combined, moving from desktop games to mobiles, switching from software you own to software you subscribe to and lease. And every year more and more "hydra heads" get cut and none grow back.

  Today we say goodbye to HorribleSubs.info, a web site that provided a free archive of hundreds of anime show torrent/magnet links which were subtitled in English. "You could technically say COVID killed HorribleSubs.", the notice on the web site now says. If you think about it, it was difficult to understand how the site survived for so long, when my blog was closed for showing a manga image taken from Google and a YouTube video after a copyright request from Japan. How could these guys maintain a directory of almost every popular anime and get away with it? But they will be missed, regardless of the real reason for their disappearance.

  It's hard to say how this will affect people. TorrentFreak hasn't even written something about it yet. Will this mean that less translated anime will be available? Or maybe even make it harder to find anime at all? It's a shocking development... Hail Hydra!

I have a few posts that link to various sites that provide free online viewing of manga. Recently, I've been getting DMCA notifications about "copyright infringement", therefore I am replacing them with Wikipedia links. I am aware that whoever sent those notifications is wrong, since they can't possible have copy rights for links of sites they do not control, but I am not going down that rabbit hole. Google still works, after all.

And speaking of Wikipedia, I've recently been to Turkey where I was shocked to see that the entire Wikipedia site is blocked. According to Wikipedia, the site is or was censored in one way or another in China, France, Germany, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan and Venezuela. Hmm, France, Germany and the UK, huh? I wish you'd have said something, visitors from those countries... assuming my blog is not censored as well, [intense stare into the future, horizon and the wall in front] as the shining beacon of freedom it is for the entire world [snapping out of it].

Anyway, seems that only China and Turkey are seriously banning the Wikipedia articles, so I've added a way to "Fix" the links by replacing them with Google queries *if* you are in Turkey, China or Taiwan, thanks to ipapi for the user location detection service.

Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari is one of those isekai animes where a normal Japanese boy is summoned in a magical realm to fight monsters. Once there, he realizes that the world and his character work exactly as in a fantasy video game, complete with items with upgradeable stats, waves of monsters and revealing female armor. He is summoned there with three other heroes, also from Japan, only from alternate universes, each of the heroes having their own magical item that defines their style. His item is a shield and immediately he notices that he is treated differently, with all honors given to the other three and only disgust for him. Long story short, he is forced to hone his skills through his will and efforts alone, while the others, spoiled by their environment, make no effort and therefore level up less.

I liked this anime and I will continue to watch it, although it's a bit ridiculous. I've read the manga as well, which is also new, and there are slight differences in the sense that the anime is a little more serious. If you want a mindless game like experience in anime form, go for it. Here is a trailer:

Violet Evergarden is set in a steampunk universe in which technology, other than metal prosthetics, is at the 19th century level, and the main character is a girl that was used as an elite child soldier in a terrible war who now has to find a purpose in a civilian life. She takes on the job of a "auto memory doll", a person who needs to put into words the feelings of others. That's a bit of a stretch, because she doesn't know how to feel herself... it's like me taking on a job in psychology or artistic design so as to learn a new skill. Certainly great for me, but kind of sucks for my employer!

Anyway, the animation is really well done and the acting is top notch. The story itself is beautiful, even if at times inconsistent. After watching the 14 episodes of the first season, I was itching for more, only to hear from a colleague that the studio responsible for the animation, Kyoto Animation, was destroyed in a terrible arson attack. That doesn't bode well for a sequel, yet a spin-off film had already been announced, so who knows?

Bottom line: it's not for everyone. PTSD romance, I would call it. But it nicely animated and I liked the story. I felt that the characters were a bit off, but not annoyingly so. Here is a trailer, in English:

Paranoia Agent (or Delusion Agent, maybe) is an anime by famous anime director Satoshi Kon, unfortunately killed by cancer in 2010. His work is always more than it seems, focusing on the inner worlds of people and how they all perceive things differently.

The anime is only 13 episodes and starts with a simple case of violent assault on the street and then becomes stranger and stranger until it is not clear which is real and which is in someone's head. It critiques the repressive Japanese society and human nature in general, it goes from police procedural to slapstick comedy, from horror to psychological drama. The ending is, as they say, a mystery that doesn't stay solved for long. I quite liked the anime and I recommend it highly. It is rarer and rarer to find Japanese anime which is not derivative or simply idiotic.

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos is the film that banks on the hunger of Alchemists all over the world after the Brotherhood series ended. It is not a sequel, just a full feature film happening sometime around the 21st episode of the series. The story is complicated: three nations in turmoils, alchemy of all sorts, chimeras and in the middle of it all: Ed and Al, fighting for what is right.

I liked the story, it hit a lot of sour points of the present, with large nations literally shitting on smaller ones, while they can only maintain their dignity by hanging on old myths that give them moral rights over some God forsaken territory. What I didn't particularly enjoy were the characters and the details of the plot. There were many holes and, in all, no sympathetic characters. The few promising ones were only barely sketched, while the main ones were kind of dull. The animation also felt lazy. If this was supposed to be a send off for the characters, it exceeded its purpose, as now I am considering if I would have even enjoyed a series made in such a lazy way.

So, bottom line, part cash grab, part great concept. A promising film that reminded me of the series I loved so much a decade ago, but failed to rekindle the hunger I felt when the series ended. Goodbye, Elric brothers!