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Ima, kore ga hoshiin da! - Return to Greatness

by Allen Divers,
Ok, so I've been slacking a little, but I have a good excuse. It's not that there hasn't been a lack of great shows premiering in Japan, and it has nothing to do with the constant barrage of emails asking me about the various aspects of Inuyasha. Out there, somewhere is a big sign with my name on it declaring the knowledge keeper of all things Inuyasha. But I digress, and I just need to get back into the game. New shows are constantly hitting the airwaves of Japan and will soon be making their way to the shores of North America faster than ever before.

The fact is most of these shows are licensed in North America long before they hit the air in Japan. While only one show this year has actually premiered in North America before it hit the air in Japan (that would be SD Gundam for those keeping score), it's just a matter of time before we see simultaneous releases on both sides of the pacific. This trend is already seen in major Hollywood productions, as the Matrix: Revolutions drew in the largest worldwide release ever. While many would point out that modern technology makes this more practical to pull off, it really boils down to simple economics. Movies, animation, anime and even TV shows are becoming more expensive to produce so companies want a faster way to gain profits. With cable, pay-per-view and DVD sales a movie has to make a huge impact when it first hits the screens, or it will simply fade away. Sure, it will make money back in those DVD sales, but will it stick with the memories of the fans?

And what do you do with a series once it manages to build a fan base? Ah, the age old cry of sequels and spin-offs. Some sequels make perfect sense as the original story never really ended. While you could argue that the story wasn't quite finished, movies such as Lord of the Rings make it clear there will be more. But would those sequels have been created had the fans not clamored for more? The Lord of the Rings sequels were pretty much guaranteed as all three films were filmed at the same time. But what if Matrix hadn't had the impact that it did? Would we be seeing the sequels if the fans hadn't found the first film captivating?

Which brings me to this week's series.

Full Metal Panic!? Fumuffo

The original Full Metal Panic! series can be viewed as a show looking for an identity. The first episode opens with a mecha fan's dream, a riveting night battle to save a young girl. From there, the show takes a detour as it turns into a fish-out-of-water high school comedy while the hero must guard a young girl from a possible kidnapping. For many, this strange mix of two completely different genres created a unique show with strong wit, interesting characters and a healthy mix of lighthearted comedy mixed with dramatic action. For some, it took a few episodes to figure out this show, but overall, it did quite well. It did well enough that a sequel was created.

The sequel takes a very different tact though than the original series. Following many of the side stories presented in the manga, Fumuffo sticks with the comedy side of things. Gone are the nail-biting tense battles in far off lands; Fumuffo focuses on Sousuke adjusting to "normal" life as a regular High School student. Unfortunately for Kaname, she's the one left cleaning up his mess.

Throughout the second series, Gonzo maintains its high standards for animation. Without all the mecha action of the original series, there is little call for CGI, but Gonzo manages to sneak it in for some exciting action sequences. Fumuffo is very much all about comedy and the strange relationship that has developed between Kaname and Sousuke. They come across as a classic comedic duo with Kaname being the straight man and Sousuke doing something every week to set her off.

This new series is sure to split the fans of the original series a bit. Fans of the comedy bits of Full Metal Panic! will love this new series, while the action fans may be bored with the lack of high mecha action that punctuated the original series. Overall, fans will just have to tune in and see if this show fits in with their original vision of Full Metal Panic!. Manga fans will be especially happy to see many of the stories appearing in the pages of the manga are now being animated.

Saiyuki Reload

The bad boys of Saiyuki are back as they continue their trek to the west to stop the evil causing the Youkai (demons) to go insane. Picking up where the first show left off, Saiyuki Reload feels a bit like a fresh start with slightly altered character designs and a slightly different style of animation.

It took me a bit of time for the original Saiyuki to grab my attention. At first glance, it comes across as a bishounen action series trying to get the ladies' attention. The story takes forever to unfold, with a lot of nonsensical monster of the week type episodes. Not until about halfway through the series do you begin to see the start of something resembling a decent story. After a quick run of origin shows, the characters actually become more interesting and Not Simple vapid girl toys that the character designs seem to be relying on.

Saiyuki Reload takes all that development that seemed to take twenty-six episodes and really starts running with the story. Well, that's what it felt like in the first episode anyway, but as the series moves on, we're back to monster-of-the-week stories and Sanzo being grumpy as ever. The upside to this show is that it looks gorgeous. Studio Pierrot has dumped many of the strange dramatic imagery they had developed in Tokyo Underground and carried through their other shows such as Naruto and the first series of Saiyuki. The animation for Reload is very smooth and leans more on action than the first series which liked to pause and close in on a character's moment of introspection. Unfortunately, the story is pretty much the same. Most character development has simply ceased as the main characters just battle another Youkai.

For action fans, this is the show for you. For fans looking for this story to come to a conclusion, well, you'll probably have to wait a while. Saiyuki Reload is simply another average monster-of-the-week action show. The imagery is gorgeous, the soundtrack rocking, but the story still lacking.

The good news for fans waiting for either of these series is the fact the previous series for both are currently being released by A.D. Vision. While ADV hasn't made any official announcement, unofficially ADV reps have expressed great interest in both shows. With this particular announcement, Chris Patton, ADV Voice actor and voice of Sousuke in FMP, was heard to say, "That would be Full Metal Perfect!"

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