Keith’s Anime Reviews: Samurai Champloo

fuu from samurai champlooSamurai Champloo: a samurai-style anime with 2 insanely powerful swordsmen, a cute girl (and her cute pet squirrel), filled with (sometimes not-so-subtle) modern-day references, set to rap and hip-hop music.

This is a show that is made of awesome and win.

Samurai Champloo alternates between hilarious and fun and deadly serious and action-packed, sometimes in the very same scene! It is quite literally one of the most enjoyable anime series I have ever watched.

Surprisingly for such an action-packed show, Samurai Champloo also has its moments of depth – the characters all have complicated lives that brought them into the situation of the show, and throughout the series these back-stories are explored bit by bit… but never too much at once. You only really learn all about the characters at the very end of the series, when all the pieces fall into place.

But don’t let the exploration of the characters back-story distract you from the fun, often odd-ball quirkiness that this series is just chock-full of. From the goofy Dutch guy to the bunch of teens doing graffiti to the game of NINJA BASEBALL – this series loves to let loose with some truly entertaining insanity.

That said, the plot does move a bit slowly in this series, so casual viewers might feel a little lost by the end. So while I wouldn’t recommend this series to absolutely everyone, it is a superb show that I think anyone can (and probably should) enjoy.

p.s. If you enjoy Samurai Champloo, you’ll probably also enjoy its spiritual sibling, Cowboy Bebop.

Keith’s Anime Reviews: Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop - See you, space cowboyCowboy Bebop: an anime set in the future, with a sort of sci-fi/western thing going on, set to jazz music.

What more could you want?

How about beautiful animation that completely fits with the tone of the story? Or characters that seem “real” instead of just cardboard-cut outs of your standard character archetypes that are so common in lots of shows and movies? Or a truly fascinating story that explores the backgrounds of the main characters, as well as dipping into some truly deep and thoughtful territory?

Maybe the fact that this is set in the future has scared you off, or perhaps you just don’t like sci-fi. Well, don’t let that stop you from enjoying this anime – you could just as easily set this story in the old west and it would (largely) hold up just as well.

Oh sure, there’s a few downsides – the “fan service” we tend to get from Faye Valentine can kind of seem out of place at times, and a couple of stories don’t hold up as well as the others, but honestly these are very minor quibbles.

All-in-all, Cowboy Bebop is an immensely enjoyable show, which I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone, whether they be a fan of anime or not.

p.s. If you enjoy Cowboy Bebop, you’ll probably also enjoy its spiritual sibling, Samurai Champloo.

Keith’s Anime Reviews: Macross Plus

Think of this as being like Top Gun, but… IN SPACE!!! (Actually, very little of the show takes place in space – it’s more like Top Gun with planes that ALSO TRANSFORM INTO ROBOTS!!!) Given this description, how can you not think this is awesome??


Macross Plus is a little bit odd in that it’s not really a series, but not really a movie either. Perhaps you would call it an OVA? Released on 2 DVDs and covering 4 episodes, it sort of straddles the line between a feature-length movie and a TV series. Be that as it may, it’s still an incredibly good show.

There is a much larger mythos surrounding the “Macross” name which I only understand in the most general sense. However, understanding that mythos isn’t really necessary to enjoy Macross Plus.

The basic premise is easy to understand: in the future, on a different planet, the military is testing two new prototype fighters. The two test pilots turn out to know each other – they grew up together – but there is some sort of bad memory between the two that causes them to be very competitive with one another. On top of that, there’s their love of the same woman – a love triangle which is also complicated by their shared past.

Although set in a fictional future on a fictional planet, you could almost ignore the futuristic setting of the story and set it in the present day and it would still work just as well (though probably with less of the cool fight scenes and awesome special effects). Because of this, it’s the story itself which carries this show rather than the setting – and that speaks volumes about the quality of the story.

It’s because of the strong story that I highly recommend Macross Plus. It is a fantastic action movie in its own right, beautifully animated and highly entertaining, with a strong story and just the right amount of mystery and romance mixed in to make it appealing in the same way as many summer blockbuster movies. Unless you have an aversion to action films, you should give Macross Plus a try – it’s well worth it.

Keith’s Anime Reviews: Eureka 7

I’m very conflicted on how I feel about Eureka 7 – I’m not sure if I love it, or if I hate it.

On the surface at least, it seems TOTALLY AWESOME. I mean, c’mon, giant robots (that transform!) and also can fly/surf in the sky, a huge cast of colorful characters with enigmatic back stories, and a mysterious girl. What more could you ask for?

Actually, come to think of it, this plot seems oddly familiar:

  • Ragtag bunch of people
  • On a ship
  • Frequently living on the edge (no money)
  • Taking somewhat shady jobs (crime)
  • Evading the military/government
  • Captain of the ship is ex-military
  • 2nd in command is also ex-military, and used to serve with the captain, and is also a girl
  • Slightly odd young girl with mysterious past on board
  • Slightly naive boy who wants to protect the girl

Hmmm, yeah, where have I heard this before? *cough* Firefly/Serenity *cough*

Anyway, as I was saying – on the surface, this show seems like a total winner. It also doesn’t hurt that it has some absolutely monumental music – the theme music for the “Nirvash” (one of the big robots) is absolutely epic.

Once you get a little bit deeper into the show, however, things become a little less awesome.

Renton our main character is frequently a bit whiny and awkward and at times you just want to reach through the screen and slap him (hmmm… again, this sounds really familiar… *cough* Shinji from Evangelion *cough*).

Near the end of the series things also get a bit weird – as in, totally off-the-rails weird. At least in my opinion, the believability of the story takes a hit very near the end of the series – as if the writers were just more interested in making bigger, weirder, more unexpected things happen, rather than actually having a coherent story.

Although I think the show suffers for it, and it may leave you feeling a bit disappointed by the time you get to the end, there are other moments that do redeem this series. It has its share of truly heartfelt moments, and the characters really are quite colorful and interesting – undoubtedly at some point you will wish you could live on a big flying ship/plane/thing like the Gecko!

So, in the end, Eureka 7 is a show that gives me mixed feelings – but that doesn’t mean I won’t watch it again. And I guess that means I recommend you give it a watch as well.

p.s. Even though I know the character Eureka’s name is pronounced in-show as “el-wreck-ah,” instead of “you-reek-ah,” I still pronounce the show’s name as “you-reek-ah” 7, and nobody is going to stop me. So there.

Behind the Wheel: 2010 Volkswagen Beetle

The venerable old Keithmobile-D was in the shop recently for some long-overdue repairs, which means I needed to rent a car for a few days. This time, the rental agency set me up with a brand-spankin’ new black 2010 Volkswagen New Beetle – and of course, as I do with any car I get the chance to drive, I had to write up a review of it.

The New Beetle is a surprisingly small car, considering the fact that it doesn’t really look very small from the outside. But once you’re inside, you realize that only very small children or people with very, very, very thin legs would be able to sit in the back. And the trunk is… well, honestly it’s not that bad, but it’s not very big, and it has a very small opening for getting stuff into it.

So the New Beetle is a small car – but that’s OK! Because sometimes you want a small car. And as far as small cars go, it was actually quite comfortable – the little Beetle soaked up the bumps in the roads quite well (this last winter was very hard on the roads around here, so there were plenty of bumps to soak up!). The ride was quite comfortable, and I although I didn’t make any super long drives in this car, I did make some extended ones, and at no point was I squirming in my seat – so the New Beetle should be quite pleasant on a long drive.

The New Beetle also comes with a 2.5 liter engine which puts out a very reasonable 150 HP – nothing spectacular about those numbers, although 150 HP in a small car is nothing to sneeze at, and the New Beetle does zip around when you really mash your foot down.

And speaking of mashing your foot down, you will find yourself doing this quite a bit, as the throttle is not exactly what I’d call “responsive,” especially at low speeds. It feels quite “mushy” at first, and at stoplights you’ll find yourself pushing harder and harder, because the car just isn’t going anywhere, and then suddenly, vrooooooom! You’ll be off in a rush. It’s almost like the car has only 2 modes – creeping speed, and full-bore. (It may also be that with more time I would have gotten more used to the throttle and been able to modulate it better, but over the course of a week – 7 days – I couldn’t, but your mileage may vary on this one.)

The transmission on the New Beetle, however, is a bit of a mixed bag. Since the model I was testing was a rental, of course it had an automatic transmission. But, as is common these days, it was a “triptonic” automatic – meaning you could shift (sequentially) through the gears by flipping the lever one way or the other. I like these sorts of transmissions as a good compromise between a boring automatic and the more fun manual.

However, one thing that I can’t understand is why the transmission on the New Beetle has six (yes, SIX) gears. Perhaps this is some new trend in cars these days – I have heard of some cars with 7 gears! – but honestly I just don’t understand it. Having a 5th gear made sense – it was a good highway gear – but 6 gears is just a little bit of overkill I think, especially in an ordinary car like the New Beetle.

With 6 gears, I found the transmission working very hard to shift very rapidly through the gears every time I pulled away from a stoplight. The time the car spent in first gear was probably less than a half a second, and likewise for second gear. Given this, why bother having the gears at all?

I suppose you could make the case for more gears = better fuel economy (since the car can choose a gear ratio that better matches the speed/engine RPM), but if fuel economy is your goal, why not just go with a CVT (continuously variable transmission) and cut out the need for gears altogether?

The other downside of having 6 gears is that when you use the “triptonic” feature of the transmission to do the gear shifting yourself, you have to do a lot more work! Maybe it’s just me, but I think 6 gears is probably one too many for this car. If I had to choose, I’d stick with the 5 speed manual in this car.

Another interesting (but possibly pointless) feature of the transmission in this car was it’s “Sport” mode. Right after “D” on the transmission lever was a “S,” which a quick double-check with the manual confirmed is “Sport” mode. Essentially, “Sport” mode just shifts later – or to put it another way, it stays in (numerically) lower gears longer than the normal “Drive” mode does. This is a clever feature, but honestly a bit pointless when the transmission already has a manual sequential “triptonic” mode!

Another potentially annoying feature of this car is it’s steering. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the steering on the road is quite good and very responsive – easy to drive would be how I’d describe it – but when it comes to parking, things get a little weird. Given that this is a small car, you’d expect it to be able to turn on a dime – and it does indeed have a pretty good turning radius. However… you have to turn the steering wheel quite a bit in order to get that good turning radius. Which makes it a bit useless – tight turning cars are only useful in city driving and parking lots if you don’t have to spend 5 minutes spinning the steering wheel one way and then the other. So, a black mark against the Beetle there.

Finally, it is worth noting that as a small car the New Beetle feels kind of… cheap in some ways. The interior is nice enough, but the dashboard is one gigantic expanse of flat black plastic. And the dimpled plastic on the steering wheel seems like it would give you a good grip, but after a while it just feels awful.

And although I may have said earlier that the New Beetle would give you a comfortable ride on a long trip, what it won’t give you is a quiet ride. Engine noise is quite pronounced and very noticeable, especially when accelerating, and at highways speeds the combination of engine and road noise is almost unbearable. Thank goodness the stock stereo in this car has an AUX jack for your iPod, because you’ll want to keep music playing all the time to drown out the noise, noise, NOISE!

However, I digress… in truth, the Volkwagen New Beetle is a nice little car, if you don’t expect too much from it. If you like it’s looks (and really, isn’t that half the draw of the New Beetle for most people anyway?) you probably won’t be disappointed.

But I wouldn’t want one.