Murderous Big Sisters And Kawaii High School Girls

I’m still spending way too much money on worthless junk, but I have cut down somewhat from my first week of being back in the black.  Whereas last week I spent about $200 on stuff, this week I spent about $110.

Who were the lucky purveyors of fine entertainment who managed to weasel yet more cash out of this student?  Bioshock 2 and two animes from Kyoto Animation.

I mentioned that good games like Mass Effect 2 come around maybe once or twice in a year.  Here we are in January and I’ve encountered the second such game: 2KGame’s BioShock 2.  Perhaps I should revise my statement to say a half-dozen?

2KGame’s BioShock, released in 2007 (I can’t believe that it’s been 2 1/2 years) was a game that told a very compelling story of a secret underwater Utopia called Rapture.  It was created by a society of artists, engineers, and scientists who embraced the Ann Randian principles of eschewing all government and religious interference in favor of personal gain.  It was, of course, ultimately doomed…

From the perspective of an accidental visitor in the 1960s, what awaited a player of BioShock was an unforgettable experience.  There were many incredible sights to be had and a plot that featured an incredible twist that I would hate to ruin.   Best of all, the game itself was pretty damn good… although the balance was not flawless, with supplies being a bit too easy to come by (for survival horror) and dying being largely inconsequential.

Bioshock 2 is the sequel, placing the player in a different perspective entirely, taking place some time after the original and giving us a continuation upon an already marvelous story.   We now play a whole new protagonist who has a completely different role in Rapture: as an important part of it instead of as an invader.   Also included is a new multiplayer mode that puts the player in the role of a citizen of Rapture being tasked to be a product tester in the form of open PvP scenarios.

2KGames went well above simply tacking on the end of the first game, and I expect BioShock 2 to be a good investment of 50 entertainment dollars.

Of the two Kyoto Animation animes I picked up, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is undoubtedly the more cerebral.   I managed to get the complete first season for $38 off Amazon.  A fair bargain, to be sure: it’s very hard to find 380 minutes of English dubbed anime for that price!

For the most part, this is a slice-of-life anime centered on Haruhi Suzumiya, an unusually-energetic high school girl bothered by the mundane realities of life.   The story is told from the perspective of Kyon, an unusually rational but otherwise normal high school boy for whom Haruhi would seem to have an attachment on despite his annoyance at her irrational behavior.

At Kyon’s accidental suggestion, Haruhi forms an unauthorized high school club, the S.O.S. Brigade, with an official goal of “finding aliens, time-travelers, and ESP users and having fun with them.”  On surface, it’s really more or less Haruhi bullying those around her into performing everyday activities that strike her as fun, but beneath the surface a unique supernatural story becomes apparent.

The other members of the S.O.S. brigade soon reveal themselves to Kyon as being members of different agencies who are carefully monitoring Haruhi.  It seems that she has a mysterious power to change the fabric of reality to her subconscious whims, kept in check only by her being a generally sensible girl who is completely unaware of her power.   Keeping Haruhi from having such melancholy as to reject reality is important, otherwise the entire universe may be remade overnight!

If there was a Harry Potter tailor-made for Japanese audiences, it would be this: part high school slice-of-life, part supernatural thriller, part soap opera drama, and part excuse to see cute, well-animated anime girls in zany situations.  It’s little wonder this anime was so wildly popular.

There is a second season, but it’s not up for sale in the U.S.  It’s probably just as well, because the second season is largely just a remastered version of the first season.   There are new episodes in the second season, but eight of them are actually just the same episode retold 8 times with different clothing and perspectives, a deliberate plot device that probably should have been 5 episodes shorter.

For those looking for more Haruhi Suzumiya outside of the anime, there’s quite a few mangas and light novels.   I can recommend the light novels – though they are quite succinct in their Japanese to English translation, there’s a certain enjoyable quality to them.  A full-length movie based off of one of the light novels, the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, is in development.

I picked up the Lucky Star OVA from Amazon for about $16, but I was not able to get the complete series because they pulled the more typical move of breaking the series up into 3-episode DVDs that they sell for $26 a pop.  The actual English dub is very well done, which might account for the higher price.

I think a good way to look at Lucky Star is with consideration towards the Golden Girls, as there’s a definite symmetry: just as the Golden Girls explored the humor of being past their prime, the Lucky Star girls pick up the opposite age spectrum of being girls in high school before their prime.  There’s a sort of off-the-wall humor to everyday situations encountered by people in an off-center age range.

While the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was more cerebral, I have to say that the Lucky Star series is more likely to be one that I would enjoy watching over and over again more.   Perhaps this is because Lucky Star is a rapid-fire comedy show that changes gears more often.  It also includes a “lucky channel” bonus segment at the end of each episode that features a burnt-out pop idol anime girl and her long-suffering assistant.  Even the unique credit sequences of bad karaoke are enjoyable to watch.

The last episode was a genius series finale, but it’s too bad it was so well wrapped up: I would like to see more Lucky Star.

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