The Twelve Kingdoms

Any fan of fantasy owes it to themselves to watch this series. So if you've enjoyed shows like Record of Lodoss War, Scrapped Princess, the Tales series (Abyss, Symphonia, etc), Inu Yasha, Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, or The Vision of Escaflowne, then this will probably be right up your alley.

The anime is based on a series of light novels by Fuyumi Ono. There are around 11 volumes which are currently being painstakingly slowly published in America by Tokyopop. The 45 episode anime series has been released in its entirety by Media Blasters, and can be bought as individual discs, a 2-part box set, and I believe I saw a recent listing for an upcoming new box set to be released this summer. I should mention right away that the anime does not cover all the story lines, and much is left out at its conclusion, including at least one major story line that is begun within the anime and left unfinished. Those who wish to continue the story (I know I do) will have to wait on Tokyopop (good luck to us with that, because it's going to take over a decade since they only put out one a year).

In The Twelve Kingdoms, 16-year-old Youko is attending high school as a normal girl in regular modern day Japan. Her most dominant, and most unfortunate, personality trait is that she feels she must please everyone around her, and rarely thinks for herself. Her out of place naturally red hair has always been bothersome for her. One average day a beautiful man with long white hair calling himself Keiki appears in her classroom and bows at her feet, swearing an oath of loyalty and protection to her. Strange giant bird-like creatures attack the school, where Youko has found herself with Keiki and two of her classmates Yuka (a girl obsessed with fantasy fiction) and Asano (a boy Youko likes early on, though he doesn't exist in the novels). Keiki states that he cannot fight the monsters himself, and gives Youko a sword, expecting her to defeat them. With danger and possible death imminent, Keiki and his youma servants transport Youko and her friends through a whirlpool in the ocean and into the strange land of the Twelve Kingdoms.

Once they arrive, they find themselves separated from Keiki, and must make their own way in this new land. They also become separated from each other, and Youko must search for Keiki on her own. Along the way she meets up with a hanjyu (sort of...beast people who can transform into human form...he's basically a giant bipedal rat) named Rakushun. They manage to find the kingdom of En together, where Youko learns that she is meant to be the new queen of the kingdom of Kei. Keiki is actually a Kirin, a mystical creature born to choose the ruler of a kingdom.

The story centers mostly on Youko as she journeys through the kingdoms, and then as she grows as a leader. She begins as a whiny, overly emotional, selfish, mentally unstable brat. But as she begins to discover herself, and takes on the responsibilities of ruling a people, she grows into a strong young woman (and a totally awesome heroine). There are several other story lines. One follows Yuka, who becomes incredibly jealous that Youko is the "chosen" while she feels that she is far more qualified, and attempts to undermine Youko's every move. Some of the other kingdoms are also explored, notably the kingdoms of En (Youko has multiple encounters with the En king and Kirin), Kou, Hou (the princess of Hou becomes a major character in the second half of the series), and Tai (which is currently missing both its ruler and its Kirin, and it is this story line that remains unfinished at the show's end). Another young girl named Suzu also plays a large roll alongside the princess of Hou in the second half of the series.

The story is fantastic, the show is well animated, well written (except for the slightly sudden ending, which, while it does tie up the story line currently in motion, leaves much unfinished), and is generally well acted (meaning the English dub). I really fell in love with it myself. The mythology is very rich, and it's explained through situational story lines, instead of slammed into you all at once. It's a land governed by a ruler chosen by a mystical creature, that prospers or decays (very literally) based on how well or how badly its ruler performs. The only real issue I had with the show is the rather large amount of terms you have to learn to understand what is going on, especially when some things have multiple titles (Kirin are also known as Saiho), and even multiple names (all the Kirin have their Kirin names which are derived from their kingdom and their sex (-ki for males, -rin for females) and a nickname given by the ruler; and the rulers have their original names, their royal title, and a nickname describing their rule).

It's definitely a good quality show, and I really recommend a watch.
Image (top to bottom, and left to right): Keiki, Shoryu (king of En), Aozaru (the spirit of Youko's sword's scabbard), Kourin (Kirin of Kou), Enki (Kirin of En), Rakushun, Yuka, Youko, and Asano.


Any Dream Will Not Do

I don't like that casting a musical has become some sort of elaborate farce, American Idol knock off, reality show spectacular. American's would probably know what I'm talking of best from You're the One That I Want, a televised casting for a Broadway revival of Grease in early 2007 (I believe). England has been doing this as well, with Andrew Lloyd Webber. They cast the lead role of Maria for Sound of Music (a feature that Canada has since copied for a Toronto production). Today I caught Any Dream Will Do (also from 2007), a reality casting show for the lead role of Joseph for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (there was another of these last year for Oliver).

Webber himself is one of the judges of this thing. The man looks like a colossal joke sitting up there, a spotlight shining on him as the Phantom theme plays as his personal introduction and the lights flash behind him. I have a lot of respect for this man; he's written and produced some truly amazing works. But he's just this sort of commercialized clown.

As for what he's judging.... The way these things work, is they have open casting calls, take oh...50 or so of them to a "training camp," whittle that down a few times, and bring 12 of them onto the actual show when it premiers. Then they take turns performing throughout the weeks, rocks ballads, pop songs, things like that, and occasionally an actual show tune. Very much like American Idol. Where I was watching it today, they were down to 8. Maybe 2-3 of these guys could pull the role off in any satisfactory capacity. The rest can't sing for crap. Though they did keep repeating on the show that they were looking for presence, attitude and character over vocal talent. But you still need a voice that won't grate on the ears of your audience!

I don't know why they're always making these people butcher perfectly fine pop and rocks songs by turning them into show tunes, when they could just be singing SHOW TUNES. There are plenty that are appropriate, I promise. It's Webber. He writes rock operas. It's not hard to find music like that. If you can sing one song from the show, you can sing them all, because all the songs from a single show will all feel the same.

Although...here's one singing a rather lackluster performance of "This is the Moment" from Jekyll and Hyde so...maybe it wouldn't help them.

One of these guys is...I don't know a construction worker or something. His entire shtick, and he really says this in every episode after his performance, is that he's a rough new singer and can be trained, and that he doesn't have any bad habits to get rid of. Let me tell you right now - he's not very good. His voice is far too small. This other fellow, Daniel I think, they keep telling him he needs to sing songs with a different feel to show versatility because he keeps showing the same side of himself over and over again, which is this really sweet, nice boy routine, but Joseph has to be arrogant, etc. I saw a couple of his performances...the judges said it was "totally different." It wasn't. Decent voice, though. Another guy was told he was a good performer. He had zero stage presence. So yeah, I don't know what those judges were smoking.

The highlight of the show (well, one of the episodes I caught) was watching these kids make complete asses of themselves in front of professional West End performers. They sent these 8 guys to the Les Miserables set, where they were charged with performing on the Barricade set, singing the "When Tomorrow Comes" end bit from "Do You Hear the People Sing," and waving the big red flag around at the same time. They failed hysterically and miserably. The main cast (Val Jean, Enjolras, and I think Marius) stood there shaking their heads, clearly disappointed in their abilities and in the way they weren't really taking it seriously. Only 2 of them managed to pull it off in any acceptable capacity, and the rest were a joke (and not a "haha" funny one).

Also Meat Loaf. Meat Loaf performed a song there at the end. I'm not really a fan of his music, but I am a fan of him; I know that seems odd. I don't really enjoy the kind of music he performs, but the man himself is freakin' awesome.

Hell, they even turned getting kicked off the show into a staged production, having the cast sing "Close Every Door" from the actual show as the rejected Joseph takes off his colored jacket and leaves the stage. The three finalists...well...two of them I never would have let make it that far. I do think there is a level of viewer voting participation, but I'm not sure how it works or how much they rely on it. The guy that wins, I think is one of the fellows I thought was alright (he did have the look, too). So that makes me feel a little bit better.

I'm sorry; this has nothing to do with anime or whatever. I just get really frustrated by these ridiculous things. So why watch? Well, there was nothing else on TV while I was eating dinner. Also, it's that whole "train wreck" scenario thing. And I guess I kind of hope that one of them will maybe, MAYBE wow me, impress me, blow me away. It never happens, though. :(