Wednesday, March 11, 2009

GetBackers: Complete Season Two (anime TV series)

The first season was, overall, fun and interesting. The second season was a letdown. It's difficult to write up a good season summary, because it's not until the fourth disc of the five-disc boxed set that the plot actually begins. Up to that point, there's lots of pointless (if often funny) filler, a few more art-themed episodes, and various characters' pasts coming back to haunt them. I guess I'll do it like this: first, I'll write about some of the things that happen in the filler episodes, then I'll write about the part of this season that actually dealt with an ongoing storyline.

Filler stuff: Ban and Ginji are sent to recover items stolen while their owners were bathing in some hot springs. While doing this job, they come across Kazuki and Juubei - Juubei has gotten it into his head that he needs to prove himself as a master of comedy, but he really just sucks at it. After that, Ban and Ginji have to get back a stolen briefcase with some important documents inside it. Unfortunately, they have to depend upon the help of an obnoxious teenage girl who makes them and everyone around them jump through hoops for what little information she can give them. Next, Ban and Ginji agree to help a man with amnesia get back his memory - but is that really the best thing for him? Clayman returns and asks for Ban and Ginji's help to get back the lost arms of the Venus de Milo - someone claims to have them and wants to reattach them to the statue, which Clayman fears will destroy its eternal beauty. In the process of fulfilling this mission, Ban, Ginji, Shido, and Emishi have to fight some very dangerous and powerful opponents - a pair of bald twins with freaky Chinese fighting techniques, Dr. Jackal, and the brothers Yukihiko and Natsuhiko. Don't get your hopes up - Yukihiko and Natsuhiko may seem like they have the potential to become recurring characters, but they never show up again.

More filler stuff: Himiko joins forces with the GetBackers to bring back a kidnapped child, a job that reminds her of her past and her dead brother. After that, Ban and Ginji take a job that sends them to the beach, leaving soft-hearted Natsumi to help an old lady. Then come a couple Shido-themed episodes. In one, Shido finally agrees to go see one of Madoka's concerts, but his past, in the form of an Insect Master determined to kill him, gets in his way. In the second, Shido seems to find his relationship with Madoka too restrictive, and attempts to deal with a marauding band of monkeys goes badly awry. Somewhere in these filler episodes there's also an episode in which Ginji is at the hospital, an episode dealing with Hevn's past, and an episode dealing with Paul's past.

Finally, the storyline stuff: MakubeX, who had been making progress on a plan to free the people of Lower Town from the control of the god of the Limitless Fortress, is kidnapped. Sakura leaves the Limitless Fortress to get help, but she has to be left behind, because she's dying of a seal put on her by a woman named Kaoru. Ban, Ginji, Shido, Himiko, and Kazuki all go to save Sakura and MakubeX. They meet up with Emishi and Juubei at Gen's pharmacy, and then everyone is forcibly split up. Himiko battles Kaoru, Ban battles Fudou, etc. No one's watching MakubeX very well, and he manages to send some information to Paul's place - Hevn hires Akabane to get that information to Ban and Ginji. Ginji discovers that Masaki, one of the former Four Kings of VOLTS, is indeed the one responsible for MakubeX's kidnapping. Ginji and Masaki fight - Ginji doesn't fare well, but Masaki doesn't kill him. Ginji uses his energy absorbing powers to heal himself and he, Ban, Kazuki, Juubei, and Akabane all decide to enter the Beltline, the dangerous place between Lower Town and Babylon City. Everybody gets split up again - Juubei fights Toshiki, Ginji fights Kaoru, Ban fights Akabane, etc.

In the end, Masaki finally reveals what the Brain Trust (basically, the "god" of the Limitless Fortress) ordered him to do - apparently, they saw MakubeX's plan to free Lower Town as a threat and wanted him eliminated. Masaki struck a deal with them and they agreed to let him just imprison MakubeX. However, MakubeX decides to take matters into his own hands and get the Brain Trust off of everyone's backs by deleting his own data himself. Of course, no one wants MakubeX to just disappear - Gen's plan and lots of teamwork not only saves MakubeX, it also completes MakubeX's plan to free everyone in Lower Town. Also, Kaoru removes the seal on Sakura. Everyone is saved, almost everyone is happy.

I'll admit that some of the filler stuff was very amusing and/or fun. Seeing Kazuki in a nurse's outfit was great, and the writers and artists apparently had lots of fun playing up the almost romantic relationship between Kazuki and Juubei (and Toshiki??). Even the annoying teenage girl was funny at times - that girl really has zero survival instincts. The episode in which Shido tries to go see one of Madoka's concerts was very sweet, and I enjoyed some aspects of the Venus de Milo episodes.

The problem, however, is that this show has so many very interesting unanswered questions - there really wasn't any time for all this dithering about, and yet the writers did it anyway. I didn't particularly care about Paul and Hevn's pasts, so it was annoying that their pasts got screen time, while viewers were given no answers about Ban, Ginji, Himiko, and Shido's pasts. What's all this about Ban's curse? Where did Ginji come from, and how did he end up in the Limitless Fortress? What is Himiko's curse? Who is after Shido, and will he ever be able to permanently stop them? All this time spent on filler, with just barely enough time left for everyone to get as far as the Beltline - but not Babylon City??

The only way the filler stuff can be enjoyed is if viewers remind themselves that nothing that happens in them has any effect on the characters, their personalities, or their stories. In the filler stuff, Juubei is strange and goofy, but as soon as the MakubeX stuff happens, all of that is forgotten, and he's the same serious and tough Juubei he was in the first season. One filler episode gives a very sweet look into the relationship between Shido and Madoka, while the next filler episode makes it seem like Shido is chafing in that very same relationship. That really threw me. I think the writers' drugs must have been too strong that day.

While I liked it when the MakubeX episodes finally started up, there wasn't enough time for the writers to develop or explore anything. Just like in the previous season, people are frequently split up and must fight various powerful enemies. The Venus de Milo episodes set up the possibility of a very satisfying and thrilling showdown between Akabane and Ban, but their fight during the Venus de Milo episodes turned out to be more satisfying than their final fight. That fight is over in no time and all, and it doesn't seem to strain either of their abilities overmuch. Actually, the entire Limitless Fortress seems to be less dangerous this time around - everyone has a much easier time, fights go more quickly (they have to, too much time was used up in the filler episodes), and Ban only uses his Jagan once (and only to make one character's death easier - I though for sure that this would handicap Ban later on, but it doesn't even come close to causing him a problem).

Overall, I wonder what the writers were thinking. The first season was so good - what made them drop the ball this time around? Yes, as a Kazuki fan I enjoyed seeing him in a nurse's outfit and looking very girly while bathing, but, if I were given the choice of trading all of that for answers to all the character, world, and plot questions I've got, I'd do it.

This time around, I didn't watch hardly any of the show in English dub - the original Japanese (with subtitles) was more consistently good in the first season, and I figured things probably hadn't changed much. As far as extras go, once again, this is a thinpak boxed set - it has no extras, not even a clean opening and closing.

(Sorry that these read-alikes and watch-alikes are the same as for Season One, but I couldn't really think of anything to add or take off the list.)

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Cowboy Bebop (anime TV series) - Spike Spiegel is a bounty hunter with a laid-back attitude, amazing fighting skills, and a dark past. He's partners with Jet Black, a former cop, and, as the series progresses, his group grows to include Faye Valentine (a sexy, tricky gambler who can't really remember her past) and Ed (a weird and cheerful young hacker). There are a couple manga series based on this anime, but they're not nearly as good as the anime. In addition, there's a movie that takes place fairly late in the series timeline - I'd recommend watching the series before seeing the movie. Those who'd like another series about characters taking on various one-shot (for the most part) jobs and usually just barely breaking even might enjoy this show. Like GetBackers, the series has both its serious and comedic moments.
  • Staying Dead (book) by Laura Anne Gilman - Wren Valere is a Retriever, someone who finds things that are missing for people who, for one reason or another, cannot go to the police. Sergei, her partner and agent (and potentially more), finds the jobs and negotiates their fee. In this first book in the series, the two of them are hired to find a missing cornerstone with a protection spell on in. Unfortunately, they also have to deal with a dangerous runaway spirit that was freed when the spell was stolen. Wren does things with electricity that are similar to what Ginji in GetBackers does. Those who'd like something with a premise similar to GetBackers, only less light-hearted and comedic, might like this book and series.
  • Black Cat (manga) by Kentaro Yabuki - Ex-assassin Train and Sven are a bounty hunting team constantly trying to earn enough money for a decent meal. Their lives are mostly normal until someone who knew Train back when he was an assassin tries to recruit him into a new and dangerous crime ring full of people with amazing abilities. Those who'd like another action-packed story featuring a perpetually penniless team of characters who happen to have special powers may enjoy this series. There is also an anime based on this manga series, but I haven't seen it yet and can't comment on how similar or different it is from the manga.
  • .hack//SIGN (anime TV series) - This story is set mainly within a popular virtual reality RPG called the World. This particular story (there are several .hack//whatever series, manga, and games) revolves around a detached and introverted player character named Tsukasa. Many strange things happen around Tsukasa, and for some reason he can't log out of the game. The World has some similarities with the Limitless Fortress, so those who liked that aspect of GetBackers may want to check this out.

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