The difference between an only-okay show and a great one is, I think, whether or not you care about the people involved. From the outside, I shouldn’t have cared much about Claymore and its cold, closed-off heroine Claire — but when I first saw the show (in fansubs, back before FUNimation saw fit to pick it up and grace us in Region 1 with it), something about the show, and Claire herself, grabbed me immediately. Somehow the way Claymore’s premise, characterization, storytelling and higher concepts all locked together did it for me. The same applied to the manga it was derived from, which explains why the TV series hangs together as well as it does: they had good source material.
Volume 1 set up the premise and gave us Claire, the “Claymore” of the title (one of many) who gains a human sidekick, Raki. The last episode on that disc hinted at why Claire’s icy surface has melted a bit: by taking in Raki she is recapitulating, in a sense, some of the same formative experiences she had. As a young girl, mute and near-insensate, the village Claire lived in was attacked by youma. Salvation came in the form of a Claymore, “Teresa of the Faint Smile”, so named for her trademark expression at the moment of a successful kill. Claire tried to follow Teresa and was at first spurned, but in time the Claymore warmed up to the girl and grew to care about her. Read more
Saiunkoku was almost a lost series. Originally set to be released by Geneon, it was one of the many titles that disappeared into limbo when the American arm of that company had its plug pulled in the Big Anime Shake-Out of 2008. Funimation stepped in to pick up many of the licenses that got dropped on the floor during that time, so to speak, and rescued a great many titles that would have left a sizable hole in anyone’s catalog: Samurai Champloo, Black Lagoon, Ergo Proxy, Darker Than Black.
And now Saiunkoku, too. I’d been anticipating this show ever since I caught a snippet of it during one of Geneon’s panels way back when there was a Geneon. What little there was to be seen made it look like a smarter and far less cloying version of Fushigi Yugi (a show I wanted to like but could not due to its shamelessly manipulative construction). Fans of Fushigi Yugi will probably pick up on this one as well, although in my opinion this is the better of the two shows. It lets its characters and their behavior drive the show, instead of just dragging them kicking and screaming into happenstance.
Saiunkoku is the name of the land where the story takes place. It most strongly resembles Imperial China, but is actually a little closer to the pan-Asiatic mix that we saw in Moribito — maybe about 90% China to 10% everything else. Power is split between eight great houses, all with allegiance (in theory, anyway) to the emperor. A few years back there was a savage internal struggle to see who would take the thone, and after the dust settled they were left with the current emperor, Ryuki Shi, a complete dolt who spends most of his time chasing other men (!) and delegating responsibility to anyone who’ll take it. The inner circle of courtiers is desperate to have Ryuki take up his responsibilities, and have burned through one option after another with no luck. Read more
A friend of mine and I somehow got into a discussion of what constituted dream logic as opposed to nightmare logic. (For perspective, this is the same guy who routinely torments me with questions like “What is the difference between flammable and inflammable?” Answer: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, p. 47.) After some batting back and forth of the verbal shuttlecock, the answer came to this: Dream logic is when things don’t make sense and you want them to make sense, but you don’t mind wandering around in David Lynch territory for as long as it takes to get all the pieces to snap together. Nightmare logic is exactly the same, except you want to get the hell out and interpret it later.
×××HOLiC seems to encompass both dream and nightmare logic in the same breath. For every one thing that Watanuki is entranced by, there are at least two other things that scare the bejesus out of him — and they’re often in the same place at the same time. How convenient. It doesn’t help that a good part of the time Watanuki’s terror is offset by Dōmeki taking everything — everything, from “pipe foxes” to losing his freakin’ soul — at face value. To Watanuki’s credit, a little of that preternatural calm is rubbing off on him … but not fast enough for him to retain all the calm he needs. Good thing he has Yūko and Himawari(-chan) to fall back on as needed. Read more