Norse Code: Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok

Face of a child, powers of a god.

He could end the world or save it.

I’ve been watching Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok for so many weeks now that I can hardly believe it’s over. Everything must end, though, especially this series, since Ragnarok is actually the end of the world in Norse mythology. In fact, that was my main draw to today’s show: getting to see anime versions of the gods of Asgard in action. It never quite turned into the series I was hoping it would (see my First Impressions for details) but it was still a worthwhile watch.

Meet Loki, a god, and Mayura, a girl with the power to say “Another strange mystery!” more annoyingly than anyone else on Asgard or Earth.

Loki, Norse god of mischief, has been exiled to Earth in the form of a child. He’s not quite sure why Odin (ruler of the Norse gods) has a vendetta against him, but he wants to return to Asgard (the realm of the gods) as well as his original form quite badly. The only way he can do this is by gathering evil energy (though what exactly he’s supposed to do with all that evil energy, we don’t know) so he opens a paranormal detective agency along with his trusty manservant Yamino. While solving a case involving an evil doll he meets Mayura, a teenager who is obsessed with mysteries and the paranormal. She begins hanging out with Loki (despite his initial objections) and tries to help solve cases, though more often than not she gets captured or is just in the way. Mayura doesn’t realize that Loki is a god despite all of the strange and magical things that happen when he’s around, proving she’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. Throughout the series more gods show up, some with the intention of helping Loki, others trying to kill him. It seems like just about everyone in Asgard is either in love with him or wants him dead. Either way, they all get into many escapades as the series progresses and Loki gets closer to the truth about who is the one actually thirsting for vengeance.

“Check out my super cool weapon Yamino! Wait, what do you mean you’re not impressed? I don’t care if you’ve seen me wield it a thousand times, you will be awed by it or you’ll taste my clichéd wrath!”

Let’s start with the good: the animation itself is excellent for a series that’s nearly a decade old, which one would expect with Studio Deen. It’s a little bright and cartoony in comparison to other works such as Hell Girl or Vampire Knight, almost as though Studio Deen were producing a typical American Saturday morning cartoon, yet even so the quality is apparent. The opening theme is great, and while the closing theme suffers from some shaky vocals, it’s still quite catchy. The idea of the story is an interesting blend of culture: Norse gods solving occult crimes in modern-day Japan makes for some amusing scenes. However (and here we get to the bad) the story overall never really took off. It was a series of similar plotlines, and even when new gods were introduced they were just blended into the background of another form episode the next time. The second half of the series was better than the first in that we finally had some established conflict within the plot, but it was still never riveting entertainment due to reliance on the same old story patterns. In that regard, Loki’s weapon transformation scene was never outrageously cool to begin with, and after seeing it in nearly every single episode I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. It became stale and predictable, which is a shame given that the subject matter had such potential.

Yamino silently wills Mayura to stab herself in the eye as the audience cheers uproariously.

I could have better dealt with the formulaic episodes if the characters had been well-developed and interesting, but they weren’t. Loki as a child was bland and aloof in a partial-tsundere way and only became interesting when he transformed back into his original form. Those episodes were my favourites, but they were far and few between. Yamino had two episodes of not being the cheerful manservant and was otherwise relegated to only having the quirk of overspending on home shopping to make him lovable. Mayura was, for lack of a better term, a complete idiot and did nothing but detract from the show. Even her shrill voice was annoying. The other gods each had their own eccentricity such as Thor’s obsession with part-time jobs, Freyr’s obsession with cheap food, and Freyja’s obsession with, well, Loki. However, there was little else to each character other than her or his one definable trait, hence they were impossible to connect with, which kept me as a viewer from getting truly engrossed in the story.

Loki’s true form. “Better luck next time, lol!”

As a fan of Norse mythology and paranormal anime I was really looking forward to this series, but it never blossomed into the dark, rich tale that I was hoping for. That’s not to say that there’s no merit here: it’s a unique depiction of Loki, to be sure. He’s certainly much more accessible (and even sort of lovable) compared to other portrayals of the god of mischief found in stories such as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Marvel’s Thor, or even the original Norse mythology. According to good ol’ Wikipedia the manga is much darker than the anime, which leads me to believe that perhaps the manga is better, or at least that it lives up to the tempting potential displayed in the gothic opening credits of the anime. Even so, something kept me watching week after week. Admittedly I’m harsher when reviewing a series that I’m really looking forward to since it’s easier to be pleasantly surprised when your expectations are low. Mine were rather high for this one, but had I gone in blind (or just not raised my expectations based on the references to Norse mythology in the title) I might have written a glowing review of a relatively light, enjoyable fantasy anime. Even though Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok didn’t quite deliver on its promise of dark intrigue and ancient godly battles, it’s still worth watching, especially if you adore the Norse gods like I do.

Rating: ★★★ Check it out for the fleeting mythological references, stay for the dreamy glimpses of adult Loki.


Curses Come Home To Roost: Hell Girl Three Vessels

Three stages, two girls, one hell.

Finding the truth can be a dark journey.

I’m not exactly sure where to begin this review for Jigoku Shoujo Mitsuganae, or Hell Girl: Three Vessels, because I did something very unlike me: I watched season three without having seen season two, Jigoku Shoujo Futakomori (Hell Girl: Two Mirrors). Usually I’m a stickler for watching things in order, but since my on demand offered season three and I wasn’t sure when I would get the chance to watch it again, I took the plunge.

Ai Enma: number one on the “do not piss off” list.

The bulk of Three Vessels follows the same formula as season one of Hell Girl: when you need vengeance that you cannot exact yourself, all you have to do is contact Hell Girl online via the Hell Link at midnight. Ai Enma will offer you a doll wearing a red string around its neck, and once you pull the thread you have entered into a contract with her. She will ferry the soul of your tormentor to hell for you, but then you must pay the price: once you die, your soul belongs to hell as well.

Hell, hell, the gang’s all here.

As the season opens Ai returns and resumes her duties as Hell Girl thanks to the unwilling help of a young girl named Yuzuki. Like Tsugumi in season one, Yuzuki has a strange connection to Hell Girl. Ai is able to resurrect through Yuzuki: she kisses her in the bathtub (fan service alert!) and afterwards co-exists in Yuzuki’s body, emerging in what looks to be an excruciating back-birth every time Hell Girl is needed. Once again the series consists of individual tales of betrayal and revenge with the undercurrent of a sustainable plotline being showcased through Ai and her helpers. There are two new hell minions this time, a young boy called Yamawaro, and a spirit that possesses a creepy little doll called Kikuri. (Kikuri was apparently introduced in season two.) As the season progresses we slowly discover more about Yuzuki, and grown-up Tsugumi even makes a few appearances. Just as before, the underlying story doesn’t really pick up until the final few episodes when we discover exactly who Yuzuki is and why she’s so close to Hell Girl.

Back-birth: when fan service gets gross.

The final season of Hell Girl was… okay. I was initially taken aback by both the new levels of fan service and the strangely goofy hell scenes. In season one when someone was getting dragged to hell there were nightmarish sequences and hellfire burning and screams and horror. In this season it was as if they were trying to make light of those former intense scenes, and they would have Ai and her minions show up as members of a rock band or in giant Mighty Morphin Power Ranger-esque fighting robots. The whole thing was neither funny nor frightening, just terribly odd. Then there was the fan service, which, mostly being between two seemingly young girls, was unnecessary and more than a little creepy.

Like a creepy guardian angel, Ai is always there…

As the series progressed I enjoyed it more because the fan service and silly hell scenes were dialed down to make way for the actual story taking place between Yuzuki and Ai. By the end I felt just as invested as I did the first time around with season one. I was also glad that there was only one animal cruelty story in season three, and it was nowhere near as intense and heartbreaking as the animal stories from season one. Overall I’m happy that I got the chance to watch Hell Girl: Three Vessels, and given the chance I would certainly love to check out Hell Girl: Two Mirrors in order to fill in some of the gaps between seasons one and three. However, for my money, the best Hell Girl remains the original season.

Oh Pitiful Shadow Lost In The Darkness… Care To Give Death A Try?

Her voice whispers, “Time to die.”

This is no grim reaper.

This is vengeance.

Hell Girl, or Jigoku Shoujo, is one of the series that I purchased on sale last December at the beginning of my anime experience. It’s a serious anime (no swimmy eyes or nosebleeds here!) and I had my reservations when I saw that it was labeled as “horror,” because that term can mean different things. When it comes to American horror movies, a great deal of them involve screaming, helpless women running around half-naked (because they were just in the shower, of course) from some insane (usually male) slasher. “Blood ‘n’ boobs,” as I call them. Boooooring. (Here is where I could break off into a tangent about how American society is so repressed that we feel the need to turn any screen nudity into violence in order to make it “okay” for us to experience titillation in film, but I digress.) However, horror can also be fascinating and psychological, an experiment in how dark the recesses of the human mind can be. That’s the kind of horror that interests me. And I breathed a huge sigh of relief once I discovered that Hell Girl is indeed that kind of horror.

The series begins like a collection of short stories that all have the same ending: If someone has wronged you, and you cannot seek vengeance on your own, all you need is a computer. At midnight a website appears to those in need: the Hell Correspondence. Once there all you have to do is type in the name of the person who has tormented you or caused you anguish or pain. After that, a girl named Ai Enma will appear and hand you a straw doll with a red thread tied around its neck. Pulling the thread signifies that you have entered into a contract with Ai, also known as the “Hell Girl.” She will exact your vengeance for you and ferry the soul of your tormentor to hell. However, “curses come home to roost.” Once the thread has been pulled, and your grievance has been answered, you, too, are bound for hell. You will never know the joys of heaven, and you will be doomed to an eternity of suffering. Not until you die, of course. Ai’s parting words are always, “The decision rests with you.”

Someone’s about to get their ass handed to them in a blender.

This series raises a lot of interesting questions, yet the most persistent is, “What would push you so far to the brink that you would be willing to suffer in hell for all of eternity?” Part of the horror comes from the vengeance that is exacted, but part of it is simply the situations that these characters are in. As you watch you can’t help but wonder what you would do in their places. Sometimes it’s very obvious that there are wrong choices being made on all sides, but other times it’s not so clear. One aspect that I found creepiest of all was how awful and devious some of the young schoolgirls were. Kids in middle school calling Hell Girl to exact revenge? That is messed up.

If any one of these folks show up at your door, you know you f**ked up.

Ai Enma is quietly spooky in her own right, showing up late at night in darkened bedrooms, her deathly pale face lit by the glow of a computer screen that reflects in her abnormally large red eyes. She has three helpers who aid in her revenge business, and throughout the series we gradually learn more about their backgrounds as well as the origin of “Hell Girl.” This picks up steam in episode eight when the series finally begins to form a cohesive story arc thanks to the introduction of Tsugumi and Hajime Shibata, a daughter and father who have a strange connection to Hell Girl.

“Curses come home to roost…”

Overall this series is beyond excellent. Dark, certainly. Creepy, for sure. Disturbing beyond a doubt. But everything from the animation to the music is fantastic. Be warned, this is no happy tale. Many episodes left me feeling oddly quiet, and I cried more than once (always during the animal episodes!). But the sheer badass that is Ai Enma preparing for vengeance, tying on her kimono while the increasingly persistent and powerful drums of “Jigoku Nagashi” play in the background, that gives me chills every time I watch.

Hell Girl has been so popular in Japan that a live action television version was made as well as two more seasons of the anime. While I have not gotten to watch season two, I am in the midst of checking out season three right now. Stay tuned for an upcoming review once I’ve finished the series. As for the first season, this is the top of the line when it comes to real psychological thrills and horror in anime. You might want to watch it with a friend so that you not only have someone with whom to discuss the deeper issues that surface, but also someone to help keep you from getting freaked out. Say, it’s close to midnight right now…

Your grievance has been answered.

If Harry Potter Met Twilight, Their Baby Would Be Called “Vampire Knight”

The Hunter or the Hunted?

Whichever path I choose, blood shall be spilled.

Another Tuesday, another excellent anime series is being released. This time it’s Vampire Knight: Guilty, which is the highly anticipated second half of the story laid out in Vampire Knight.

It should be no secret by now, dear reader, that I am a huge fan of shojo anime and manga. Vampire Knight is the quintessential shojo tale, the shojo’s shojo, if you will. Our story takes place at an upstanding boarding school with a rather odd schedule: the students who wear black uniforms attend the day classes, which are pretty much your run-of-the-mill lessons in reading, writing, and arithmetic. However, the students in the white uniforms are part of an elite group who attend night classes. And every single one of them is so beautiful that hordes of the day class students fawn over them every evening as they make their way from the “moon dorm” to their night classes. What the day class doesn’t know is the real reason why the night class is so alluring, and why they keep to themselves and attend classes at night: each and every member of the night class is a vampire.

Mmm, tastes like raspberry jam!

The leader of the night class is a particularly powerful vampire named Kaname Kuran. He keeps the other vampires in line and helps the headmaster try to achieve his goal of unity between vampires and humans. He is also one-third of the central love triangle that is the swooning heart of this series. The other male part of the equation is Zero Kiryu, a day class student who is also a member of the disciplinary committee. This is a group composed of two day students who know about the vampires and are charged with the task of keeping the peace as well as the secret of the vampires from the rest of the school. Zero comes from a long line of vampire hunters, and he despises all of them, especially Kaname, because both have the hots for day class student (and other disciplinary committee member) Yuki Cross. Yuki is the adopted daughter of headmaster Cross, and her earliest memory is of being saved from an evil vampire’s clutches by Kaname one snowy evening. Several years after being brought to the headmaster, Zero also goes to live with him and Yuki after his family is massacred, again by an evil vampire. So Yuki thinks of Zero like a brother and a best friend, perhaps even a love interest. And yet Kaname has a strange hold on her, for she can never forget how he rescued her…

A girl’s best friend is always her gun.

And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of this intensely tangled tale of love and bloody revenge. I would dare to compare this tale to Twilight (which, in this author’s opinion, is a clumsy American version of a shojo story) only with all of the things that one might love about Twilight (the love story, the drama of having to choose, the fantasy of having powerful, beautiful boys willing to die for you) minus the questionable parts (Vampire Knight has better writing, a far more complex storyline, an identifiable heroine who actually has a clue…)

This was another anime that I magically managed to stumble into. The title intrigued me, as I’ve been a lover of vampire fiction since birth, but I really didn’t know what to expect. After watching all of the anime version of Vampire Knight my sister and I became obsessed. She immediately ordered the box set of Matsuri Hino’s manga and proceeded to read it in record time. I borrowed it immediately and read books 1 through 11 in just over 48 hours. And I am by no means a speed-reader. The story is just that engrossing: you can’t wait to find out what happens next, and then next, and then next. And there are some major twists and turns that you just don’t see coming at all! In terms of the complete package, you absolutely can’t go wrong with this series. The anime and the manga are equally great, with gorgeous artwork and a story that will blow your socks off. I’m now a huge fan of Matsuri Hino, and I can’t wait to see where her career, and this wonderful series, go next.

Once you watch, you will forever hear Kaname’s voice in your head, haltingly saying, “Yuki…” - Online games
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© Miss Pink and Otaku Haiku 2011-2012
unless otherwise noted.
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