Gabe Finally Watches: Nana

Nana tells the story of two 20-year-olds named Nana that have a chance encounter on a train to Tokyo—probably the most American-style setup for a josei I’ve ever seen. And the Western influence doesn’t stop there. From the apartment the two end up sharing, to the burger/bar the girlier Nana frequents, nearly everything about the series makes a point of distancing itself as far from your typical Japanese dramas as possible.
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Gabe finally Watches: Michiko and Hatchin

So Toonami recently started airing Michiko and Hatchin, which I’ve used as an excuse to finally watch the series in its entirety myself.

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Gabe Finally Watches: Genshiken

It’s strange to be able to refer to college in the past-tense. It’s even stranger to compare your college experience with those told in works of fiction only to see how painfully inaccurate they were to your dull, dull existence as an undergrad. Thankfully, Genshiken has my back when it comes to the ordinary (yet entertaining!) college life.

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Genshiken (shorthand for “Gendai Shikaku Bunka Kenkyūkai” or “The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture”) tells the story of an anime/manga/gaming college club and the people that inhabit said club’s clubroom. Actual scenes of the characters attending classes, studying, etc are few and far between, as the series’ main focus is on what the characters do in their spare time. As such, a lot of time is spent bumming around in Genshiken: playing retro videogames on an old 4:3 TV, having rambling conversations referencing last week’s anime episodes and in general just trying to forget that by the end of your academic career, you’re expected to nab a job and join the rest of the working world. That said, the series resonates with me to a painful degree.

You would think that the idea of nerdy college students spending their days bumming around making nerd references may get old fast, but the series keeps things fresh by constantly switching focus to different characters. Initially, you are introduced to college freshman Sasahara, who comes off as a rather plain guy that joins Genshiken on a whim. But as the series progresses, it begins to focus on other club members, like Madarame—poster-boy for anime fanboy, and Kasukabe—a complete non-nerd, who puts up with the club’s nonsense since her boyfriend Kohsaka is a regular member.

It is in this combination of newbie fan, fanboy, and non-fan that Genshiken begins to show its true colors as a thesis on what truly defines one as an “otaku.” And while the series may come off as meandering at times, if you are able to relate to any of the characters, then it’s well worth the watch.

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The series continues to roll with this concept in its subsequent OVA episodes, where a fourth type of fan is introduced in new freshman Ogiue—the closet fan. While the OVAs only total at three episodes, they do add something fresh to the table in its new character as well as continue to flesh out old ones—particularly Madarame and Kasukabe, who have become something of a foil to each other.

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It is in its second full season (Genshiken 2) that the series begins to take a somewhat different approach to its formula. While storytelling remains consistent with the past season and OVA, visual representations of the characters’ conversations have become noticeably more… explicit. Before this season, characters referencing sex (either in real life or in the games/anime they consume) would mainly keep the details to themselves. This season, however, seems to take full advantage of the clearly higher quality animation it’s been granted by showing in full glory the gritty and borderline not-safe-for-work perverted thoughts running through some of the characters’ heads. Fanservice in general begins to crop up more frequently with this season, resulting in some of the more out-there episodes.

Nonetheless, the series continues to deliver, not only repeating the same formula it’s started with, but applying it in slowly changing situations, as each of the characters begin to grow, ultimately ending in some of the upperclassmen graduating.

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One of the bigger factors that kept me watching the series with each new season was its clear passing of time. For those not in the know, Japanese colleges typically last for three years. That said, it seems like the series as a whole grants just the right amount of time for viewers to be fully acquainted to the characters before they graduate and are given significantly less screen time. Even as I finished up the first season, I still wasn’t able to remember each character’s name. But by the end of the second season, character names were remembered just in time for me to get sad when they left.

Genshiken Second Season (which is technically closer to a third season) introduces a new batch of freshmen. The club is now primarily female, and as such, club conversations have slowly become fujoshi-oriented. Speaking as a guy, it was jarring but interesting to see this sudden shift. Technically, the conversations were still nerdy, but it was geared more towards this different subculture that I’m just completely unfamiliar with. Talks about couplings, and who would be the proper “on top” partner… it’s all just so foreign to me. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to note just how the club changed in mood due to a sudden shift in gender ratio.

On top of the blitz of new characters/secondary characters coming to the forefront is Madarame—former chairman of Genshiken and recent graduate. Having taken on a job nearby campus, Madarame has taken on the role of the strange uncle that stops by the club room perhaps more often than he should. Knowing this, he begins to feel melancholic, not really seeing any progress in his life at all. As his personal story begins to unfold this season, we as the viewers are given a new dimension to the series. Build up emotions and character interactions from past seasons all begin to pay off this time around, which is especially amazing considering how episodic the series felt like until this point. While each season of Genshiken can be enjoyed as its own separate entity, Genshiken Second Season is definitely made with the long-time fans in mind.

And while the latest season has ended with Second Season, the source material manga is still ongoing, continuing to balance current otaku “funny because it’s true” jokes while fleshing out the series’ well-established characters.

Gabe Finally Watches: Code Geass

The first time I ever heard of Code Geass was many moons ago back when I moderated a Death Note forum, and a poster asked for anime suggestions with similar theming. At the time, I just shrugged off the suggestion and went about my merry way, content that my modern anime know-how was limited to whatever the American Shonen Jump articles took the time to hype up.

If only I stayed that content.

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Gabe Finally Watches Green Lantern: The Animated Series (2011)

The DC Animated Series that ran from the early ‘90s to well into the ‘00s has to be one of the greatest television achievements in that it was able to take a running list of series and have them all take place in one solid continuity. While literally pages upon pages of backstory exist for nearly every character from Batman, to Superman, to the rest of the Justice League, each series was also able to work on a more focused, episode-by-episode, basis. So when I realized Bruce Timm, one of the creators behind the DC Animated Universe was behind the Green Lantern Animated Series, I figured I’d finally give it a shot.

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Although Green Lantern: The Animated Series is technically not considered part of the same universe as the previous DC Animated Series, it definitely has the same feel as them. Getting past the art style of the series (which is essentially a 3D rendering of the 2D art style of past DC Animated Series), it takes similar cues from past DC works in that it drops viewers in the middle of the superhero doing their superhero-ing, summing up the details you’d expect from a hero’s backstory in an offhanded comment without bogging down the flow and general story progression. You’re immediately introduced to Hal Jordan, a noble human that represents the Green Lanterns for that particular sector of the universe, and his daily routine of handling intergalactic space policing with his job as a test pilot on Earth. Soon enough, the plot is kicked into gear when word on the street is that certain somebodies have been killing Green Lanterns across the worlds. Of course Hal, with his distinctly large sense of justice, takes matters into his own hands, resulting in his stealing a Lantern ship to track down the organization behind the killings.

What really makes the first season of the series is its sense of chemistry between Hal and everyone else that finds themselves as part of his crew. Hal is joined by fellow Green Lantern and resident tough-guy Kilowog, ex-Red Lantern and source of tension Razer, and the ship itself in sexy robot girl form, Aya. The cast’s interactions with each other is interesting in that each character actually interacts directly with the other members, rather than one speaking to a general whole as other shows tend to do. Hal not only shares personal dialogue between Kilowog, but also does so on separate occasions with Razer and Aya, and the rest do the same. It’s a simple thing to take note of, yes, but it’s something that really makes you grow attached to each character and is something that I personally missed the most once I got to the second season, which leaned more towards expanding the Lanterns’ world over character building.

Another aspect of the first season’s charm was just how tightly knit the plot was. Since the cast’s ship is limited to how far it can travel, not to mention finding out who the Green Lantern killers are with as little casualties as possible, something of a time stamp is made for the heroes, resulting in episodes that just fly by. It’s not a “popcorn series” by any means, but considering I was able to plow through the entirety of the series in less than a week, it is “popcorn” in the sense that the series isn’t bogged down by slow story-telling or sluggish dialogue.

Now with all this talk focused solely on the first season, you would assume that I would have some contempt for the second and final season of the series. It’s not bad by any means, but the quirky character interactions and all-around fast storytelling did come off as noticeably lacking. I can understand that since the main cast has been established that such interactions don’t need to be made as prominent, but the storytelling at times came off as unforgivably slow, especially when you consider that the stakes have been significantly raised. Later plot developments that tie in loose ends with the first season only further remind me of how I enjoyed those earlier episodes more so than the latter ones. It was just the type of season that took some time to build steam, and even at full speed, something just felt a bit off.

Still, even with the personal complaints I had with the series, Green Lantern: The Animated Series was one of the few American animated series as of late that was well worth it. And with all the flack GL’s gotten after the unanimously horrible live action movie, I say it’s about time things start looking up for him.

Gabe Finally Watches: Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a series that focuses on the consequences of becoming a magical girl, picking apart at a term that’s been thrown around for years without much thought to its meaning outside of Sailor Moon and similar shows. Its premise alone is enough to grab anyone’s attention, and the story it leads viewers through does not fail to deliver come its finale. The series has received praise left and right, and for good reason.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica logoBut since an overall consensus has been reached on the quality of the show itself throughout the entirety of the internets, I figured I’d take the time to instead write about one of the show’s more downplayed genres—horror.

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Gabe Finally Watches: Welcome to the NHK (2006)

Welcome to the NHK is one of those titles that you could definitely tell was made around the 2006 era. Animation quality aside, the series’ story progression felt rather stilted, moving from step to elevated step rather than a gradual slope over the course of its run.

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As God Dictates: The Tatami Galaxy Review

There are some series that warrant multiple viewings due to their story. Others warrant multiple viewings simply due to the beauty of their animation. Then there are those special series that excel at both, all while giving you that warm fuzzy feeling come the final episode.

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Gabe Finally Watches: Fullmetal Alchemist (2003 & 2009 Versions)

Fullmetal Alchemist was always one of those shows I’d see constantly advertised back in the day, but was never really interested in actually seeing since I had my fill of shonen titles for a lifetime at that point. But not wanting to feel completely lost as Toonami started re-airing episodes, I figured I’d finally get myself educated on the series. And with hulu having both the 2003 and 2009 versions of the anime, I really had no excuse not to backtrack at this point.

For the fellow uninitiated, Fullmetal Alchemist tells the story of Edward and Alphonse—two kids that lost part (well, “all” in Al’s case) of their body upon performing the ultimate taboo in alchemy of trying to bring the dead back to life. Wanting to make things right and get their full bodies back, the brothers travel the world in hopes of finding the Philosopher’s Stone, which is essentially the cheat code of the alchemy world.


Surprisingly enough, although the 2003 series is a mere 51 episodes (disgustingly short in comparison to other shonen titles), its low episode count wasn’t due to the manga being finished and thus the series not being bogged down by filler episodes. On the contrary, the author was still in the middle of writing the manga and allowed the anime staff to work independently from the source material. While this still resulted in something of a mixed bag in terms of story, I will say that nearly every other aspect of the anime was spot on.

The number one rule in alchemy is that of equivalent exchange: in order to receive something, you must give something of equal value. Not only was this rule mentioned at the start of every episode, it was also heavily laced throughout the plot of the 2003 series in terms of small things like payment for goods and more plot specific things, like sacrifices for the sake of creating something else. Such a detail is that much more meaningful when the latter part of the plot turns this rule on its head, having established the viewer’s mindset of one thing already only to have it completely ignored in a plot twist of sorts.

The 2003 series also did an excellent job of establishing its cast and shuffling between each group of characters, reintroducing them only when fitting. Unlike certain other cast-heavy shows like Bleach, FMA actually takes the time to not only introduce a cast of quirky characters, but give them enough of a backstory early on to make you care for them and thus make them feel that much more important when it comes to the series’ overall plot. The entire crew at Central (think an alchemy version of the army), while quirky, isn’t so one dimensional that viewers don’t see them as integral to the plot in any way. Similar things can be said to the rest of the cast in the series, all coming off as fully fleshed out, making their leave from the plot and eventual reintroduction (something that happens a lot in this series, to my pleasure) that much more meaningful.

Sadly, good theming and handling of character and character interactions can only bring a series so far. As mentioned, I was painfully disappointed in the turn the series takes as it begins to deviate from its source material. Having never even read the manga, I was still able to pinpoint where the anime staff started to write the story for themselves mainly due to the general disjointedness of the plot in the latter half of the series. Both hero and villain motives were getting rather muddled, and by the time I finished the series, I was left with more questions than answers. Even when a follow-up movie made to tie some loose ends was made, I still felt short changed in terms of the series strong beginning and mediocre ending.

Thankfully, another series was made.

2009 marked the start of the second Fullmetal Alchemist series (titled the redundant “Hagane no Renkinjutsushi: Fullmetal Alchemist” in Japan, and the slightly more distinct title “Fullmtal Alchemist: Brotherhood”). With the manga finally wrapped up by this point, a second crack at the series was taken.


Totaling at 64 episodes, Brotherhood wasted little time establishing its plot and separating itself from its 2003 counterpart. While the first 14 episodes were essentially re-tellings that the earlier series already covered, enough minor changes were made in those episodes that led to major changes later on.

While the theming of “equivalent exchange” was downplayed from the past series, Brotherhood’s plot more than made up for it. Heroes and enemies alike had a much clearer goal in mind, with all of their actions serving as an additional step towards that goal. And like the older series, an equal amount of time was taken in shaping each character that made up the cast, really making you feel for them when they hit harder times and cheer for them when they try to work past impossible odds.

Once the final arc of the series starts developing, minor cast members start popping up in some of the most unexpected places that really gives a feel of the end nearing. Even with the final arc taking place over the course of a day or two, there’s never any feeling of the plot being stretched too thin. Every character has a specific role to carry out for the finale, and once you’ve reached the last episode, you’re really given a feeling of accomplishment—that you really got something out of all the time watching the series, which is really the best thing you can get out of anything made for entertainment purposes, really.

The consensus I’ve heard from most is Brotherhood is the better of the two series, but the original series does a better job drama-wise when comparing the earlier episodes that both series touched on. Though I’m pretty sure that’s the uber-fan way of telling you to watch both series. My opinion: of the two, Brotherhood is definitely worth your time and money.

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