It's been quite a bit of time since the last post, which is a good indication of how many things I've watched lately that bear review. Unfortunately, all I can tell you other than the review below is that both The Daily Show and Colbert Report are pretty much spot-on with the satire in what has become even more ridiculous than 2008, 2004, 2000, et. al.
So, in that vein, I will talk about an anime which I am re-watching rather than a new one. Back in the 90s, when I was at college, there was a group that would meet up on Sundays to watch various anime. Before college, in those dark days, my gateway anime was Ranma 1/2 and the only real standby was Canadian broadcasts of Sailor Moon. Sailor Moon was, to some extent, an overarching narrative... but it absolutely followed some of the conventions of the 80s animated storytelling cliche, in that there was absolutely a villain-of-the-day and that the main baddie would not be called to task... except for that weird and wonderful day (spoiler alert? for a twenty-year-old story?) when they finally went up against Beryl, and some of the main characters actually died (albeit temporarily).
Ranma 1/2 was WIIIIDE open. I would compare that anime to a cage where you stick a bear, a tiger, three dogs, a few weasels, a wolverine or two, a honey badger... throw in a few chunks of meat, or poke one of the many animals, and watch the ensuing ruckus. The plot was driven purely on the chaos that Rumiko Takahashi built in to all of the characterizations. It was tons of fun, though there's only so many ways you can keep the status quo going as the series ended up to thirty-eight volumes. By the end, the author had thrown in as many different kinds of meat that was possible, and you were wondering when the bears/tigers/dogs would either finally make peace or rip each other apart. This is illustrated extremely well in the fanfiction that goes with Ranma 1/2, as the same character that was the final villain in one story could serve equally as well as the mentor/companion of the hero in the next story (Happosai and/or Cologne).
So, my college group would screen anime I'd never seen before. All anime in my hometown was either $30 for a tape of two (!) episodes at the Suncoast, or hopefully you found a friend who was into the same thing and had some tapes (little chance). It was at the college group that I realized what anime really could be. The first series they screened was Escaflowne... which wasn't bad as series go, but I just do not have a great interest in the mecha which seemed to be at least some of the focus of the show. That's a blog post for a future time. At any rate, having a show that told an overarching story and had characters reaching goals along a journey was much like the fantasy literature that I enjoyed (Lord of the Rings, David Eddings' Belgariad/Malloreon/Elenium/Tamuli series, Piers Anthony's series) and I was absolutely hooked into this form of narrative.
In that vein, by borrowing from the group library, I found Fushigi Yuugi for the first time. (It's finally time for the review!)
For a Cliff's Note version of the plot, two ninth-grade middle-school girls are in the Japan National Library and come across a magical book called "The Universe of the Four Gods". These two best friends start reading, and find themselves literally sucked into the book. Immediately they find themselves in trouble, and one of the main characters of the story saves them from danger. From there, one of the two girls goes back to the "real world" (and serves the story as temporary narrator and future plot point). The one that remains starts to meet the remaining main characters of the story, and then moves back from the book to the real world.
At that point, the narrator then gets sucked into the book to become a character herself, but aligns herself with the other faction. The plot then moves into two phases, where the main character now has to accomplish the goals of the book, wants to try to reunite with her friend (and to tell her friend that she still likes her) and also falls in love with one of the characters.
That is an amazing amount of material to balance, and I feel that the story does a very good job of balancing all of these focuses so that they all stay fresh yet provide additional conflict for suspense. I would say that one of the weaker plots was the falling in love part, but on the other hand it has to be remembered that the main character is a fifteen-year-old girl (and her seventeen-year-old paramour) so there would absolutely be situations that logical behavior would not be expected. With that being said though, there's really some weird stuff going on.
The other statement to make about the story is that (without trying to put too many spoilers in) that death happens. Once the first one hits somewhere around episode 30, it keeps cascading all around and through the story. In some situations it gets gratuitous, but in this story it feels right and it does a lot to advance the story (and to raise the stakes).
When I found this series and found that there was a location in my college town that I could rent the final few tapes, I was rather ecstatic. I ended up watching the series about four times in my junior year... once by myself, once with my college roommate, once with a couple of other college friends, and then with my significant other. I was able to watch it that many times because I enjoyed the show quite a bit, it has humor, suspense, and emotion. It may be an older series, but I think that it's held up pretty well.
Last caveat... there's an OVA series that is set after the original series. It started as a sort of fanfiction project, and then the author accepted it and the studio animated it. If you really like the characters, it's worth watching. Otherwise, skip... the plot and the storyline are pretty weak.
Rating (original series): 3.5. There's a reason I've bought the DVDs a long time ago.
Rating (OVAs): 1.2.