2017 Summer of Anime – One Piece Film: Gold

1 One Piece Film Gold

I love goooooooooooold.

Shortly after their adventure on Dressrossa (which I have yet to finish), the Straw Hat Pirates make their way onto a massive cruise ship/casino, Gran Tesoro.  The Gran Tesoro is run by the self-styled “Gold Emperor” Gild Tesoro, who seems friendly enough when he instructs his crew to treat the Straw Hats like VIPs.  Luffy and his friends are thankful for such a break and go on a massive winning streak until Tesoro reveals his true colors (gold) by cheating them and capturing Zoro.  Now, the Straw Hats have teamed up with an old friend of Nami’s to pull off the heist of the century by stealing Tesoro’s hidden stash–twenty percent of the world’s currency!  Only thing standing in their way is their own captain’s stupidity.  So, come on in to the Gran Tesoro where your dreams may come true, but nothing is ever quite what it seems.

The 2017 Summer of Anime is here, bay-bay!  Are you as pumped as I am?  Probably not, but that’s okay.  So, this summer we’re kicking it off with one of my favorite things–One Piece.  And yes, it is still one of my favorite things even if I haven’t read any of the manga in…oh.  Been over a year.  Well, then.  Should really get back to it.

Anyhoo, One Piece Film: Gold is probably my favorite of the three canon films (I’d really need to watch Z again to confirm).  I love how charismatic and genuinely traumatized Tesoro is, and his main henchmen were just a lot of fun.  Tanaka looks like some creeper who’s been thrown out of Code Lyoko, Dice is a masochistic Hulk Hogan, the resident traitor Carina is a nice edition to Nami’s backstory, and Baccarat…my, oh my, Baccarat.  Woman looks like the Rangiku Matsumoto of the Grand Line, and her powers come from the Luck-Luck Fruit.  She can either steal luck or give it to those she touches.  If she steals it, her victims have a tendency to slip on banana peels.  Which makes me wish the Luck-Luck Fruit was in the shape of a banana.  I just hope she gets a figure or a statue so I can spend tens of minutes at a time looking at it on Ebay without ever buying it.

Aside from the usual fun villains of Eiichiro Oda’s wonderful world, the are a couple things that made me say this is my favorite One Piece film.  The first is that there are quite a few cameos of characters I had no clue were in the movie.  I legitimately marked out for one of them.  I won’t spoil who they are ‘cuz I don’t know if they were advertised at all.  I won’t rob you of that joy.  The second thing is this is kinda a heist film.  Never in all my days did I think I’d get to see the Straw Hats plan out and execute a heist.  I mean, they’re not the greatest at following plans, so who’d’a thunk it?  Three guesses who’s responsible for everything falling apart.  And you should really get it in one.

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We make this look good.

My biggest complaint is the same thing that often prevents me from giving any movie based on a shonen franchise a solid Tye Dillinger:  There aren’t any stakes.  Obviously, it’s great to see these characters in more adventures, and everything’s gonna look super nice thanks to the powers of the Budget-Budget Fruit, but none of the main characters are in any danger.  I’m not saying I need to think these characters can die in any given story, but in the end, I know it’s just a sidequest.  Don’t really know how you could get around that problem.  Also, the One Piece films have a slight tendency to be a smidgen formulaic.  Just saying.

One more thing!  Want to let all of you know who haven’t seen this yet that Luffy delivers one of the most badass lines I’ve ever heard from an anime character.  Was actually stricken with the chills.  It’s great.

So yeah, I definitely enjoyed the Straw Hats’ latest cinematic outing.  Gonna stick this one with a 9 out of 10.  I don’t know if its the best One Piece movie they can make, but it’s gotta be close.

Got us a fine film to kick off this year’s Summer of Anime.  You can expect a few more movies to pop up in this series since I’ve gained a good few I really need to watch.  But yeah, I don’t know what all I’m gonna watch this summer.  I’m looking forward to finding out.

March Manga 2016 – Nice Piece of Assassination

Surprise!  March Manga post from outta nowhere!  Yeah, I didn’t even know I was gonna write this.  I just so happened to buy some manga last month, and I finished ’em up yesterday.  The timing seemed too perfect.  So, I took it as a sign and decided to revive March Manga.  I hope I don’t wind up reading manga only once a year because I used to read manga all the time.  Really.  The vast majority of my money used to go to manga, but somewhere along the line, I just stopped following my favorite Japanese comics.  Someday I’ll get back to all the series I’ve abandoned.  Someday….

But, let’s take a look at all the volumes I read during March–six.  I read six volumes.  Don’t be disappointed because I already have that covered.

Assassination Classroom vol. 1

2016 Assassination Classroom

Hey, you.  Yeah, you!  Guess which ones are the main characters.

This is an odd duck.  Granted, that fits a great deal of manga out there, but Assassination Classroom is weird.  Okay, the set-up is 70% of the Moon has been destroyed by some sort of creature, and he has vowed he will do the same to the Earth in one year’s time unless someone can kill him.  Enter Class 3-E of Kunugigaoka Junior High.  Why them?  Well, Koro Sensei (the creature who effed up the moon) is giving the Earth a year because he wants to be their homeroom teacher.  So, not only does he teach them everyday subjects, but he also educates them in the ways of assassination in the hopes that one of them will be able to kill him.  The Japanese government agrees and offers ten billion yen to the person who can take down Koro Sensei.  Easier said than done since he can move at Mach 20, regenerate, and do all sorts of other strange things.  In case you couldn’t tell, he’s the smiling yellow tentacled thing in the picture.  Like I said, this is a weird series.

But it’s charming.  Yusei Matsui has done a good job of giving this series more heart than I expected.  The book is at its best and funniest when Koro Sensei teaches certain students one-on-one because he genuinely cares about them.  As strange as it sounds, this invulnerable thing that destroyed most of the Moon is really teaching these kids.

The students have been given these special BBs–among other weapons–that only hurt Koro Sensei.  When the pitcher in the class attaches them to a baseball to try to kill Koro Sensei, he actually travels to America to watch a baseball game so that he can help the kid with his pitching form.  One girl who loves chemistry is openly trying to poison him, so Koro Sensei helps her out with her concoctions.  A sociopath returns to the class and constantly tries to kill him, so Koro Sensei keeps giving the guy chances while also humbling him so as to keep him from disrupting class with his assassination attempts.  And the only time he’s actually angry in volume one is when a group of students come up with the plan of using Nagisa Shiota–the quietest kid in class and possibly the main character–as a sort of suicide bomber.  Koro Sensei thought the plan was great, but he was furious that the others didn’t even care about Nagisa.  He was so mad, in fact, that he instantly went to the homes of every student and brought back their nameplates to let them know he could get to their families if he ever wanted.

With all that said, this is definitely a volume one.  It pretty much just establishes the tone of the series and shows that Koro Sensei is willing to go a few extra miles to help out his students.  So, not much in the way of plot progression happens, and I can only assume there will be such a thing in a series that’s given itself a deadline.  It’s an amusing book, and I knocked it out pretty quickly.

One Piece vols. 67-71

2016 One Piece Punk Hazard

Those’re some hazardous punks.

I am positively ashamed it took me a year before I picked up the next five volumes of One Piece.  Seriously, I haven’t touched this series since last year’s March Manga.  I feel like I need to go apologize to Eiichiro Oda or something.

But yeah, these five volumes cover the Straw Hats’ next adventure in the New World–Punk Hazard–along with a bit more.  After leaving Fishman Island, the crew seem to be on their way to the most dangerous island they can find–something which Vice Admiral Smoker is counting on–but they intercept a distress call coming from the hidden island of Punk Hazard.  I assume it is so named because the famous Dr. Vegapunk used to do his experiments there, and I guess they could be hazardous.  Since Luffy is Luffy, he decides to answer the call because it sounds fun.  Of course, shenanigans ensue.

The Punk Hazard arc has a strange feel to it.  Even though it’s the second arc in the New World, it’s really just a prologue for the Dressrossa arc.  So again, the main villain never seemed all that threatening.  Sure, he’s a bastard who can kill most of the characters with poison, but I never imagined the Straw Hats losing.  You look at this guy and know he can’t take Luffy.  So, Caesar Clown is once again a weak main villain in the New World.  But, like I said, this is a prologue.

The true scope of the New World saga starts to show itself here.  Trafalgar Law is one of the Eleven Supernovas (a group of extremely notorious rookie pirates–a group which Luffy also belongs too) and a Warlord of the Sea (a legalized pirate, essentially), and he shows up on Punk Hazard helping out Caesar Clown.  Well, it’s just a cover as he really wants to take down the Clown since he works for Don Quixote Doflamingo (another Warlord), which will eventually lead to him defeating one of the Four Emperors (ridiculously powerful pirates who lead armies in their own right), Kaido.  In order to have any chance of accomplishing this, Law offers Luffy an alliance, and the Straw Hat captain accepts.  So, the main characters are now finally going after one of the big guns.  Maaaaan, I can’t wait.

Volume 71 is actually the first volume of the Dressrossa arc, and I’m already liking where it’s going.  I mean, it has a tournament.  Tournaments are cool.  It also promises to have an actual, legitimate threat with Doflamingo as the main villain.  I am really looking forward to that fight.

I also love that Oda continues to throw in imaginative things that you’d think would have no place in these stories.  Punk Hazard is the battle against Caesar Clown and the giant poisonous gas creature he created, but the Straw Hats also save a bunch of children he was experimenting on, ally with a pirate he turned into a croc-taur, deal with some of their own switching bodies thanks to Law, and help out a samurai they find in a bunch of pieces.  You can’t predict this stuff.  And Dressrossa has already introduced sentient toys and what are essentially Lilliputians!  My hat’s off to Oda.

So yeah, that’s it for March Manga…which I wasn’t even planning on doing anyway, so this is also technically a lot for March Manga.  But, let’s hope that I can now get back to the Book of Sawce (I probably won’t).

March Manga – King of Pirates and Baseball

Time for the second March Manga post!  Or the third, depending on whether or not we count the initial announcement.

One Piece vols. 62-66

They've changed so much.... Time to re-establish them!

They’ve changed so much…. Time to re-establish them!

I love One Piece.  LIke, a lot.  It’s probably my second favorite manga.  It’s an amazing and near perfect blend of action, adventure, and comedy.  The world is fantastic, and the characters are even better.  This is one of the manga that really got me into manga.  I picked up the third issue of Shonen Jump back when it dropped because it came with a DBZ card (Goku, If I’m not mistaken).  I decided to actually read the stories, and I was pretty much hooked.  I enjoyed what I read of Shaman King, Naruto, Sand Land, et al, but the one that really got me was One Piece.  It took a bit for the art to grow on me, but Luffy’s drive to become King of the Pirates endeared him to me, much as it does almost every other character he meets and everyone who reads/watches this series.

By the time of the volumes I read for March Manga, Luffy and his Straw Hat crew are well-established characters and bad-asses.  Despite the bad-assery, the crew had suffered some major defeats in previous volumes, and this arc details their first reunited adventure.  This time, the crew sail to the undersea (yes) island and home of the fishmen…Fishman Island.  Sometimes, Eiichiro Oda’s genius is his simplicity.  This arc is a lot of fun and full of the wonderment this series is known for.  It also sports a darker edge than many of One Piece’s arcs have.  Many of the Fishmen despise humans (and vice-versa, really), so racism becomes a pretty big part of the story here.

Like I said, though, this is still fun.  The racism is actually brought forth by Oda utilizing one of the classic manga gags.  See, I don’t know why, but in manga and anime, whenever a male becomes aroused, his nose starts bleeding.  Here, Oda has the lecherous Straw Hat Sanji’s nose bleed so much that he legitimately needs a blood transfusion.  The laws on Fishman Island don’t allow humans and fishmen to mix blood, so this almost kills him.  Comedy leading to tragedy.  Oda’s a master of that.

The main conflict here deals with two villainous fishmen pirates, Vander Decken and Hody Jones.  Vander Decken just wants to marry the princess Shirahoshi because she’s beautiful and might posses a secret mythical power (she’s also huge–like, Luffy fits in the palm of her hand huge), and Hody Jones is Arlong’s successor.  So, Hody just wants to go to war with the humans.  If that means he has to basically destroy Fishman Island to do so, then let it be done.  Decken is the classic One Piece comedic villain who’s also deadly, and Hody is the classic One Piece no-nonsense serious villain.  Good antagonists to establish what our main characters can do now.

And that’s probably my biggest problem with the Fishman Island arc.  Sure, it’s a well-needed breather, it introduces some cool new characters and concepts, and our knowledge of this fascinating world grows a little more, but all in all, this is a re-establishment arc.  Even when close to death on one or two occasions, the Straw Hats never seem to be in danger.  I’m not saying Hody and Decken are huge steps down in terms of power levels, but the Straw Hats have become so much stronger than they used to be, it’s hardly even a fight.  The climactic battle is kinda one big squash, save for a few shenanigans.  It’s really there just to show us how awesome the Straw Hat crew is now.

Still fun as hell, though, and I can’t wait to read more.

Cross Game

I'm cool. Some dirt from the pitcher's mound got in my eye. That's all. Really.

I’m cool. Some dirt from the pitcher’s mound got in my eye. That’s all. Really.

Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game is the story of Kou Kitamura and the four Tsukishima sisters Ichiyo, Wakaba, Aoba, and Momiji.  Kou is the son of the owner of Kitamura Sports, and they live in the same neighborhood as the Tsukishimas’ batting center.  Thanks to this, the families are quite close.  The closest of the two are Kou and Wakaba–much to Aoba’s dismay.  See, Aoba adores her older sister and always wants to spend time with her, but Wakaba and Kou were born on the same day in the same hospital, so fate itself ships them.  This makes Aoba dislike Kou quite a bit, but that doesn’t stop Wakaba from essentially treating him like her boyfriend.  It’s not like Kou’s against it, though.  Aoba does get some measure of revenge in a sandlot baseball game where she pitches circles around everybody and punks Kou.  Kou’s not one to accept defeat so easily, so he begins practicing his pitching in secret.  Also, this all happens while Kou and Wakaba are in the fifth grade.  That’s part one.  Part two jumps five years ahead and saying anymore would be spoiler-ific.

From the first paragraph you can already tell this is a romcom baseball manga.  Two of those I love.  I actually hate watching baseball, but that’s the beauty of fiction.  Fiction can take the things we can’t stand and make us love them.  Like boxing.  I get no enjoyment from watching boxing.  I love the Rocky movies, though, and my favorite anime is Hajime no Ippo.  I’ve noticed the Japanese are especially good at this.  That’s why I’ll almost give any sports anime/manga a shot.  They usually make the opponents real, legitimate characters, and the rivals are treated almost with as much care as the main protagonists.  That being said, although baseball is a central theme of this series, the romcom is the main focus.

The games do get quite a bit of attention, but the in-between antics are where the manga really shines.  Seeing the various characters’ growing relationships and how they spend their time is truly enjoyable.  One of the funnier aspects of this series is how Adachi treats the fourth wall.  He doesn’t break it so much as he jabs holes through it whenever he feels like it.  That kind of comedy can go too far and bring the reader out of the story, but Adachi as adept enough to know when to take those shots and when to let the story flow.

The feel of this manga is also great.  I read all eight volumes (17 in the original Japanese editions) on a Tuesday, but I should’ve done it on a Sunday.  The series was initially printed in Shonen Sunday, and that’s the most appropriate thing ever.  This manga feels like something that should be read on a lazy Sunday with the sun trying to sneak in and the fan going.  And, I gotta give props to Viz.  Kudos for publishing this series in eight big volumes.  This manga is a leisurely stroll.  It would not have behooved it to be put out in 17 volumes over a few years.  Eight volumes in two years worked pretty darn well.

That’ll close out the second March Manga post.  The third and final one will be dedicated to one author–possibly my favorite mangaka and also one of the best in the comics business, period.