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Anime Review 25: Spice and Wolf, Monster, and Elfen Lied
Spice and Wolf
Spice and Wolf
This show is a fantasy taking place in a country that resembles medieval Germany or England. What sets it apart from other fantasy genre adventures is realism. It's about a merchant, so if you're sick of all these tired old stories about princesses and knights, this one is about a regular Joe, albeit a devilishly handsome and clever one. That's what stuck out to me because it's rare to find fantasy anime or books that don't revolve around royalty. Even the Wheel of Time series, which starts out having 5 characters (2 female, 3 male) from a small village who are not born in a position of power, quickly leads these characters toward destinies of greatness; a few books later, the women are becoming some of the most powerful Aes Sedai (basically sorceresses) in the world and kicking some evil ass, while nations are bowing down before all three of the male characters. Of course, a story about important people draws a crowd. Fantasy is all about crowns and blood lines and royal curses and secret dungeons and hidden treasures. It's refreshing, however, to see one that isn't.
Spice and Wolf is at its core a love story, it's about the cute romance that develops over time between Lawrence, a traveling merchant who dreams of owning a shop one day, and Holo, a wolf spirit. Holo spent several centuries protecting a particular village's wheat and ensuring a good harvest and overall prosperity for her town. However, when she begins to feel that her town no longer needs her around, she decides to move on, and chose Lawrence as the human she wanted to travel with. Although she frequently tells him in no uncertain terms that she's the sage/wise wolf Holo (meaning, shut the hell up, I'm centuries older than you, I can take care of myself!), it seems that she's a little unsure of herself and counts on him for protection. She has a magical ability that is quite handy for a merchant to use: she's a living lie detector. Lawrence helps her by helping her hide her ears and tail and protects her from the Church, which is the main villain, they basically want to capture/harm her because she is a pagan wolf goddess. She wishes to go to the north, presumably that's her place of origin.
I was impressed by the beauty of this show and ultimately, it's earthiness and realism. The manga artist who originally created this story was apparently a fan of economics, and he works economics into the plot. Overall, the plot is about the chase, like Pacifia from Scrapped Princess or Vash from Trigun, Holo is hunted just about wherever she goes. In the beginning, I didn't like Holo much because I thought she was pushy/bossy, as you watch more episodes you get to know her a little more and she seems less annoying. Lawrence too, at first comes off as miserly, obsessed with making money (not a trait I would consider charming), as you see more of the show you see that he has a very good heart. This is a warm, fuzzy, amazingly beautiful show, with great characters, simple and realistic but far from boring. You should be watching this!
Kind of a letdown that this is not a "mon" series at all (you know like Pokemon, Digimon, Monster Rancher, Yu-Gi-Oh, etc.). But I digress.
It's about a doctor from Japan, Dr. Tenma, living in West Germany during the 80's. He's one of the best surgeons working at a hospital in Düsseldorf, and engaged to the daughter of the hospital director. Things are going great for him. Untill...
First of all, the director does not prioritize all human life equally. He forced Dr. Tenma, on direct orders, to immediately care for a famous opera singer and neglect a poor Turkish man, even though said man got in for surgery before the opera singer. Later, the next day, the man's wife is in the hospital, crying and screaming at Dr. Tenma, demanding to know why her husband had to die. This whole incident weighs heavily on Tenma's consciousness. Did he do the right thing? He feels guilty about it for a long time even though he was following orders in order to keep his job.
Later, he's given just as terrible orders: to value the life of the mayor over the life of this poor kid who's in West Germany because his parents are seeking political asylum. He was shot in the head the night his parents were brutally murdered, an incident that rendered the boy's twin sister catatonic. He elects to do what he feels is right, saving the boy from the brink of death by removing the bullet immediately, but the mayor dies. Dr. Tenma then suffers a demotion and, to add insult to injury, his fiancee tells him it's over. (I aint sayin' she a gold digger...) So he does what any reasonable German dude would do when faced with that situation, goes out and gets hammered to forget all his problems.
However, the morning after turns out to be a real bitch. He wakes up, presumably with a heck of a hangover, to two policemen knocking on his door. The director of medicine and another doctor at the hospital have been found dead. He races to check on the little boy, only to find out that him and his sister have disappeared, leaving no trace. Although the police suspect Dr. Tenma with some reason, after all, he had a motive, they can't pin anything on him because he had a reliable alibi. So he returns to his job, gets made chief of surgery, and gets the satisfaction of turning Ms. Thing down when she begs him to let her back in his life (you know, because he's on top again).
Nine years later, there are a series of terrible murders that seem to be carried out by a group of criminals, and one of the suspects implicated with belonging to the group is a patient of Tenma's, a man known for his skills in the underground as a lock picker. In exchange for a plea bargain, the man, while recuperating in the hospital, is asked to testify against whomever is in charge of the group. He goes into a kind of shock at first, only able to say "Monster", as in, the dude he was working for was a terrible monster. I won't reveal who it was or how they were connected to Dr. Tenma, but this story has a fantastic twist.
I liked this show a lot. It's a smart, gritty, realistic story with a fascinating plot, combining horror, crime drama, and medical drama. I sometimes think that it would be amazing if they could make a show like House, M.D. only animated, to show the West that animation does NOT always equal for kids or stupid or childish. However, Japan is way the hell ahead of us on this one already.
Elfen Lied is a horror/action series about an escaped genetic experiment named Lucy, who goes on a bloody rampage, gets shot, and washes up on the beach naked. She's found by what I presumed to be a cute little couple, but the two are actually cousins (don't worry, it doesn't get creepy there... oh wait, no. Sorry.). At first, it seems like the shot to the head rendered Lucy harmless; she starts off unable to say anything but "Nyu" and the cousins who live together and go to the same college pity her and take her in, naming her Nyu. However, Lucy has a terrible power resembling telekinesis that kicks major ass whenever Lucy becomes threatened. When the facility that once confined Lucy sends a special team of highly skilled assassins after her, she proves herself quite capable of changing back to her decidedly less-retarded and more kick-ass self. What strikes me about this show is how quickly even characters with some depth given to their personalities can be killed off. So when the team of assassins fail, they send in one of Lucy's kind and we find out more about what she is; a kind of experiment in improving humanity called a Diclonius, with killer telekinetic powers, demon horns growing out of her head, and a desire to hunt humans (not sure at this point whether she wants to kill us all or simply mate with human males and then kill us all.). So they send another Diclonius after her, Nana (7 in Japanese), and an epic Diclonius-off ensues, but Nana is defeated. In episode 5, "Nyu" is recognized by a professor when the cousins she lives with decide to disguise her horns and bring her to class with them. The professor takes custody of "Nyu" claiming to be her uncle. He then proceeds to almost-rape her, but when she escapes his hot, nerdy embrace, he reveals his own secret; that he's a Diclonius himself! He rips off a wig and reveals his demonic white horns. He begs Lucy to partner with him to wipe out humanity. But it seems as though she has a different agenda...
After watching just 5 episodes of this anime, I still had a lot of questions but mainly "What the fuck is this?" I mean, they try to class up the fact that they show nipples in the beginning sequence with the art being inspired by Gustav Klimt and playing eerie Latin chanting in the opening credits, but that didn't stop the fact that I was ashamed to watch this show in my college's cafeteria, lest a professor or security guard should walk by and think I was watching hentai on the school's network, which is probably against their policy (probably doesn't name hentai specifically, but you know, it's got to be included in that "sexually explicit content" mumbo jumbo). Ok, so the feminist side of me was all "what's wrong with female nipples why are they somehow "dirtier" than male ones" and etc. don't even get me started, but the reality was that I was in public watching a show with an unexpected amount of gratuitous nudity and gore and was sitting there with a goddamn red face wishing the animators had gone with Barbie doll anatomy instead of the slightly more realistic approach. So I had to get that whole issue off my chest, so to speak. And I quickly learned that I should only watch this show at home, alone, regardless of the fact that the college offers a better internet connection.
So, Elfen Lied first and foremost is graphic, I would say in some ways it's more disturbing than hentai because it adds horrific scenes of graphic violence to the heart-wrenching depictions of tortured and abused (often nakedly, not sure if the Diclonii are sexually abused by their trainers or not but they seem to be chained up and naked a lot of the time, so it looks like a total possibility, blech.) adolescent girls, including a character in episode 5 who, it was revealed, used to get raped by her step-dad on a regular basis before running away from home. I'm glad I don't have a penis because this show would confuse the hell out of it; one second the main character, Lucy, is the innocent and child-like (literally she has the brains of about a 2 year old) Nyu, who can barely speak, and the next she's a homicidal escaped genetic experiment freak on the warpath. Most of the sexiness of this show is surrounded by that which is wretch-inducing. I could honestly take or leave this one. On one hand, the storyline is fascinating and unique, but on the other hand, ew...
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