Friday, December 23, 2005

In the Wake of the Week (#4)

* Paniponi Dash (ep 17) - More pure comic genius--this time it's the school festival, and Becky's class does a maid cafe, which means plenty of fanservice. Rei would give Nanami from El-Hazard a run for her money when it comes to running a business. Although I wonder what the "Ichijo Matsuri" really was...then again, maybe it's better if I don't know ^_^;

* Shakugan no Shana (ep 11) - Ike is trying way too hard to set Yuji up with Kazumi. But I guess Yuji tried to do the same thing for (the original) Yukari-chan. The highlight of ep 11 was Alastor playing the overprotective father and Chigusa smacking him down and setting him straight over the phone. I think Alastor has a lot of respect for Chigusa now ^_^ The incest-shimai seem to be about to make a move, so we'll see if we're back to fighting next week, but I'm liking the character development so far.

* Aria (ep 9) - Akari and her friends go to the countryside to visit the legendary "mother of all undines" who was the big undine star back in her day, when she first started Aria Company. Akira is hoping Grandma (yes, that's what everyone calls her) will put them through training to help her become the best undine possible, but in the end it turns out like a vacation, and Grandma just tells them if they enjoy what they're doing, that's what really matters. I want a house out in the countryside like that, damnit... Next episode is an onsen ep, although since this is Aria and not Hanaukyo Maid-tai, I'm guessing there will be towels involved the whole time.

* Karin (ep 7) - Karin's friend has some really, really bad taste in guys. I mean, let's review: his name is pronounced 'Wiener'. He's a vampire hunter but doesn't realize Karin's a vampire. He faints at the sight of blood. He dresses like he's halfway to a padded cell next to Kaede's. Did I mention his name is pronounced 'Wiener'? I guess it's good Usui has nothing much to worry about from his new "rival," but so far I'm wishing they hadn't introduced Winner/Weiner's character at all. Still some good Karin moments in this episode, though, so the series is still high up on my list.

* My Otome (ep 9) - Arika is beaten down by exam week but rejuvenated by a school trip to the ocean--but then it turns out they're not going to the beach to play, that's just the starting out point for a 100km hike they have to do as an exam. Arika and Erstin are paired up, but someone tampers with their bags, and after Erstin gets bit by a snake an injection that's supposed to help her makes her collapse from a fever instead. Arika goes to get help but runs into a Bad Guy and she falls off a cliff.... Back at the ranch, looks like Akane actually has an interest in guys--good for her, since the rest of the students seem obsessed with Shizuru. Shizuru may have more girls in love with her than Junichi from DCSS, and that's saying something. Personally, I'd rank Shizuru near the bottom of the list, but whatever floats their yuri boats, I guess.

I'd do some kind of rankings for 2005's best series/best characters/best vending machine with a omnipotent cat inside it/etc. like everyone else, but since I've only been blogging for two months (and I'm lazy) I think I'll skip that this year. Hope anyone reading this has a great Christmas and New Year's! ^_^

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Da Capo Second Season 17-18

Episode 17:
Aisia follows Nemu around for a day and discovers that she does all the cleaning, cooking, etc for Junichi, who pisses Aisia off by seeming to completely take it all for granted. She finally blows up and says as much to Junichi in front of Nemu, but Nemu explains later while she'd be happy if Junichi thanked her, Junichi being happy is enough for her. This episode made me like Junichi less, but the way they showed how couples that have been together a long time can anticipate each other's needs (well, at least Nemu can...) and operate on the same wavelength was really well done. Looks like Aisia is getting even closer to "using her magic" to help rectify the situation though. And when Aisia uses magic, you better watch out...

Episode 18:
Sakura, my least favorite character from the original Da Capo, returns in this ep, after Utamaru leads the cast on a wild goose chase. After a second where I think Junichi was wondering if Nemu was going to try to strangle Sakura's loli ass for what she did in the first season, she hugs her instead and we get some bath service as Nemu and Sakura are reconciled. It was very un-Nemu like for Nemu to just smile when Sakura's hugging Junichi to show him her breasts are (slightly) bigger, but I'm sure Nemu was thinking "try all you want, Sakura, he's my bitch now." When Aisia finds out Sakura's related to Grandma Yoshino, she looks like she just won the lottery--so you can bet Aisia will be calling Sakura "shisho" before long and following her around hoping she'll teach her magic.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I"s Pure (ep 1)

I"s is one of those manga series that has a big following, but that I'd rather drink paint thinner than read end to end. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against bishoujo, and I'm a fan of romantic plotlines in anime. But watching a guy with no testicles to speak of moping because he can't tell the girl he likes that he likes her, even though it's obvious to everyone from here to Jesus that she's one "daisuki" away from doing the Mattress Mambo with him, is like dragging fingernails on a chalkboard to me.

Having said that--I"s Pure isn't all that bad, at least compared to what I remember of the start of the manga. The plotline looks like it's going to be like this: Boy meets Girl, Boy is too gutless to tell her he likes her, Girl misunderstands something and hates Boy, Boy mopes and is unable to set the record straight, third party does it for him, Boy and Girl reconcile, Boy meets Other Girl, complications ensue, et cetera, et cetera--and then I'm going out on a limb and guessing Boy finally gets the First Girl.

This isn't necessarily bad--hell, I liked Kimagure Orange Road and it follows the same formula to a point, dragging out to forty-eight episodes something that could have been settled in two if Kyousuke had more backbone. Or in one episode if someone, for the love of God, had just backed a cement truck over Hikaru. There's a fine line you have to walk, and in the first episode of I"s Pure it's still on the good side of that line.

Of course, at the end of episode 1 of I"s Pure the Other Girl shows up, and I'm sure Iori will be storming out of what's-his-name's house about 42 seconds into episode 2, but a few complications aren't bad. It's when the protagonist tries to confess for the 64th time but at that exact moment a meteorite comes through the roof, bounces off the TV, ricochets off the chandelier, and knocks over his glass of grape juice onto the girl's white dress, ruining the moment but setting up an ecchi scene where she has to change into a T-shirt that's two sizes too small for her...THAT'S when I start getting annoyed. But at only six episodes, I'm hoping I"s Pure won't get to that point.

So I guess if you want to see ecchi, good animation, and the struggle of one heroic dumbass to be with the girl of his dreams, this isn't a bad choice. Even if you haven't read any of the manga, you won't be lost at all, and the character designs are pretty good. I'll keep watching, although I may not be able to finish it without a lot of beer.

Random thought: This really is like KOR, in that half the guys in KOR were wannabe-rapists also. If schools in Japan were really like this, I'd pity Japanese high school girls.

Monday, December 19, 2005

To Heart 2 (ep 4)

Episode 4 of To Heart Deux is out, and it's another good episode, focusing on Manaka's friend Yuma this time. I like Yuma because she's filthy rich, but doesn't act like it at all. If anything, she comes across as kind of a hothead, versus the anime ojou-sama stereotype you normally see. I kept thinking at any moment she was going to burst into the ojou-sama laugh (think Ayaka from Negima, Ayeka from Tenchi, and probably a billion other examples I can't think of right now) but she didn't. To Yuma's credit, she acts normal and down to earth, although she can be a little irrational.

For example: let's say you're late to school, so you're on your bicycle doing Mach five-point-three. Someone's unfortunate enough to be in your path and you smash into them with your bike. Later that day that same person hits a home run and the ball nails a water nozzle and drenches you. After that, your grandfather comes to pick you up from school. You could call that karma maybe, but nooo, to Yuma this is a clear sign--even your grandfather showing up is all Takaki's fault because Takaki is targeting you! I guess on the Kaede scale, Yuma's nowhere near crazy, but she still seems to be looking for a fight.

Yuma eventually opens up a little to Takaki, telling him she promised her grandfather she'd take over his business when she grew up, but now she resents it because it feels like someone else is deciding her future for her. Plus she has to take Economics class after school, which is enough to piss anyone off. Takaki gives her some good, if a little obvious, advice to be honest about her feelings, and she leaves feeling a little better, even after getting spanked by Takaki in air hockey.

I like how Manaka got some air time too, and they show some of Manaka and Yuma's friendship--like the original To Heart, it's not ALL about the male lead (which is good, since the male lead is Takaki). In some other harem shows the girls all live to become the male lead's bride and don't seem to have any lives or friends outside of that goal, but in To Heart and To Heart 2 they seem to have a little more depth of character. Overall, I liked this episode, looks like Karin is up next and then, finally, Ruuko.

If you want to find out more about To Heart 2, bluemist's blog has some amazingly thorough walkthroughs of the girls' scenarios from the game.

Zettai Shonen (end)

Zettai Shonen is kind of hard to describe, and like YKK it's probably one of those series you either love or hate depending on your tastes. It's not filled with action, or written for an audience with a 10-second attention span, but it does have a great cast, good character development, and in the Tana arc awesome atmosphere. If you want action, swordfights, and monsters in your anime, avoid Zettai like the plague. But if you want to get pulled into a world that's more complex and mysterious than it first appears, Zettai is a great choice.

I marathoned the last seven episodes, and I'm glad I did to avoid the suspense of waiting. I won't go into detail on the plot, since I suck at doing that and Matthew has really good plot summaries for each episode already. It seems like I'm in the majority in that I liked the Tana arc much better than the Yokohama arc--it was just easier to identify with the cast in Tana, and the atmosphere in Tana was perfect for what was happening. In Yokohama the material fairies just seemed out of place somehow, and the cast as a whole just didn't pull me in like the Tana cast did. Although it was cool to get to see Ayumu two years later, and to get to hear Miki again, even if it was just on the phone.

The ending was better than I expected, although it didn't explain everything about the warm and cold colored lights, I think Ayumu gave a decent theory for what they were. Besides, I'm not sure how you could write a perfectly conclusive ending without it seeming completely out of place with the rest of the series. If Dosshiru had suddenly taken human form and starting pontificating to Ayumu and Sukuwara about how the material fairies came to be and why they cancel each other out, I think it would have just seemed really wrong. In the end, Zettai isn't about the material fairies, it's about the characters and how this experience changes them, and it tells that story very, very well.

Friday, December 16, 2005

In the Wake of the Week (#3)

Random thoughts on anime I watched this week (aka that I'm too lazy to blog properly):

Kiddy Grade (through the end): I liked the series overall, but it's kind of funny that stealing the most powerful (and doubtlessly expensive) spaceship ever created can be accomplished by a guy walking off with a single key. There's not even an alarm system--so a Chevy Impala has better anti-theft protection than the Kiddy Grade version of the Death Star?

Karin (ep 6): More good development of the relationship between Usui and Karin, as Usui starts to open up a little. Next episode looks like the weirdo with the feather in his hat is going to appear--can't say if this will be a good thing or not, but since I'd rather see more time spent on Usui-Karin, I'm guessing not. Still, maybe a rival will spur Usui to take some action...

Nanoha As (ep 6): More background story on Hayate, it's easy to see how the guardians of the Book came to like her and why they're determined to fill the pages of the Book of Darkness. It's good to see Nanoha, unlike a lot of mahou shoujo series, doesn't paint the world in purely black and white. I remember an English teacher once saying it's easy to write purely evil bad guys, but harder to write bad guys who are bad for a reason.

Aria (ep 7-8): One of the many undines whose name starts with A-sempai, from Himeya, is strict when she's training, but it's really strictness because she cares. That's right, even a kick in the nuts can become a warm memory when you consider the special feelings that went behind it. That's what I got out of episode 7, anyway. Episode 8 is all about Aria-shacho, the cat that makes pig noises and weighs too much--so I have to admit I skipped it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Shakugan no Shana 10

Another good episode with the spotlight on Shana and Yuji's relationship. Yuji's understandably a little depressed--getting your butt kicked by a little girl every morning can't be good for your ego, even if it is in the name of training. Shana, on the other hand, at school is acting jealous of Kazumi and protective of Yuji, even if she probably doesn't realize it herself. By the end of the episode though, it feels like they've taken another step down their respective paths, with Shana wearing a normal dress (kawaii~!) and Yuji becoming a little stronger and realizing although he may not kick ass and take names yet, he can still be useful to Shana just by being at her side. I really like what they did at the end of the episode, showing how even when you're killing a monster, it's still a traumatic experience, even for Shana.

I remember hearing once that one of the big disconnects between men and women is women like to talk about their problems just to get them off their chest, while when a man hears a woman tell him her problems, he immediately tries to come up with solutions, rather than just being there and listening. I guess I'm mentioning that since it seems like Yuji had a similar misunderstanding, thinking since he couldn't fight well yet he'd be useless to Shana, but not seeing that just his presence can help give her strength, even if his fighting skills need to be leveled up a lot.

Anyway, good to see a character development episode, and to see both Shana and Yuji slowly changing. Chigusa (Yuji's mom) kicks ass, it's funny how she seems to have decided Shana and Yuji make the perfect couple and gives good advice to both of them. Next episode should be interesting, Alastor versus Chigusa--I'm thinking Chigusa wins hands down, she's easy to underestimate. Plus it looks like a new enemy has arrived, in the form of siblings who are a little too Nemu and Junichi close, if you catch my drift...

Sunday, December 11, 2005

D.C.S.S. 16: Aisia and the Horror of Hatsunejima

Following episode 15, which closed out the all too short mini-Kotori arc, episode 16 takes a more dramatic turn, as Aisia tries to come to terms with how she can make everyone she knows happy--and stumbles upon Hatsunejima's horrifying secret.

Aisia's day starts innocently enough, although Nemu is getting on her nerves generally being Nemu and Aisia ends up storming out of the house, since she's a Kotori fan. Aisia goes to a park and thinks about what Kotori told her before about happiness...and she runs into Misaki. Misaki tells Aisia she likes Junichi too, and thinks Aisia does as well. In fact, Misaki says she thinks EVERYONE wants Junichi to take them to the Boneyard--and that's when Aisia's blood starts to run cold. What kind of messed up world could Hatsunejima be, where every single girl falls in love with Junichi? Junichi's nice and all, but why don't ANY of the girls she knows have a crush on anyone ELSE? Aisia's eyes widen with horror as she gets a brief glimpse of the truth, but she has to confirm it herself first...

Aisia starts with Tamaki, who denies liking Junichi, but while practicing archery her arrows make a heart shape. Aisia runs into Nanako, who's caught drawing doujinshi with her and Junichi going at it like rabbits on Viagra. Next Aisia overhears Mako and Moe's plans for a threesome. Miharu's more obsessed with bananas than Junichi, but Aisia figures she's probably retarded so she doesn't count. Alice tells Aisia she likes Junichi. Thinking about it, Aisia realizes she's starting to like him too. She realizes there is only one possible answer--Junichi is a magician, a greater magician than he ever let on, and he's been brainwashing every last girl on Hatsunejima to fall in love with him, like some kind of sick game you can buy in Akihabara. Overwhelmed with horror, Aisia wants to scream with the fury of a million exploding suns--but then she realizes that only she can end this nightmare. The episode ends with Aisia at a garden supply store, buying a set of pruning shears you could cut down a small tree with...

OK, the episode didn't go like that at all, but it would have been great if it did. I know, it's a renai game so of COURSE all the girls like one guy, but damn. When you add all the girls who like Junichi up, like Aisia did in this epiosde, you'd think you'd question reality just a little. It does look like Aisia's getting closer to doing "something" about the situation, since in her eyes it looks like Nemu and Junichi are happy, but everyone else, herself included, is kind of screwed.

Friday, December 09, 2005

In the Wake of the Week (#2)

* Paniponi (ep 16): Awesome episode--I'm not a huge Ichijou fan, but this was hilarious. The "rabbit missile" part was great, it was uncharacteristically good luck on Mesousa's part that he didn't actually get launched into space. So in this episode we learned the alien captain has some kind of relationship with Ichijou...but Kami-sama only knows what. Maybe it's better not to know. Oh, and the principal has a helicopter available for the staff. Tuition at that school must be a damn fortune. Wonder how National Monument got a pilot's license, you'd think he wouldn't be able to reach the controls. Then there's poor Miyako getting her forehead stuck in the wall...Roukgou's attempt to comfort her didn't really work ^_^

* Mai Otome (ep 8): think this episode was setting things up for a fight between the current crop of Otome in the future? It's like the writers sat down and said "our audience is really, monumentally stupid, so we're not just going to Foreshadow here, we're going to Foreshadow With a Goddamn Sledgehammer." So now we know at some point in the future a war will break out and Erstin, Nina, Arika, etc. will have to fight, although right now Arika doesn't want to. Nina, on the other hand, is ready to lack the smackdown on her friends at any time, although I bet if she had to fight Sergay Wong (*snicker*) she'd change her tune. Just when I think they're going to get into more serious mode though, next episode is Natsuki in a thong. Wonder if the tentacle monster will come back...

* Da Capo Second Season (ep 13): A good episode that finally gives us some backstory on Aishia and why she's obsessed with magic and making people happy. I still wish DCSS was focused on Kotori more than Aishia, and it's hard to understand why Nemu and Junichi haven't gotten any further in their relationship given how far it had gone in the first season. I mean, the original series they sleep together, now in DCSS they're embarrassed when Aishia walks in on them about to kiss--it's like their relationship has regressed. You'd think they'd wait for Aishia to fall asleep and then get down to business, but I guess Nemu and Junichi aren't really the focus of DCSS anyway, so far it's all Aishia.

* Shakugan no Shana 9: Pool episode! Lots of fanservice, and Shana shows some more signs of being jealous when Kazumi tries getting close to Yuji, although Shana probably doesn't realize it herself. Shana signing up for the couple cavalry battle in the pool as soon as she hears you can get all you can eat melon pan was pretty funny. It looks like the Kazumi-Yuji-Shana love triangle will get a little more development next episode, before the next adversary appears and the series switches back to swordfighting mode.

* To Heart 2 ep 3: Much better than episode 2, where Tamaki was just annoying and Takaki just went and hid like a little wuss. In episode 3, Takaki is actually useful, helping Komaki-chan bar code old books in the library archive. Komaki's kawaii, and it was nice to see her character develop during the episode to the point where she stood up for herself at the end and managed to keep what was important to her. The guy who's in charge of the library club needs to be taken back behind the woodshed--how the hell did he get elected president? It's nice to see To Heart 2 following the same path as the original as far as focusing on the girls more than the male lead, hopefully that'll keep up as it goes on, since Takaki…well, he ain't Hiroyuki.

* Da Capo Second Season (episode 14) - Finally, more Kotori! Nothing against Aishia, but the "I'm going to screw up trying to make everyone happy" schtick was wearing a little thin. It's hard not to feel bad for Kotori, still pining after Asakura although she knows he's fallen into the clutches of Nemu, never to escape. They really need to put a much better guy than Asakura in the show and pair him with Kotori. That and how come Kotori hasn't sung anything yet? I think she sang every other time she appeared in the first season, but nada so far in DCSS. Moe sure as hell is never going to drown, it's amazing she can walk upright with those things. Anyway, got to like a Da Capo beach/onsen episode. Suginami and Asakura going to the beach with nine girls--guess that's the way the guy-girl ratio always goes in harem shows. It makes me wonder what Kudo-kun did to not get an invite, since the rest of the cast was there...although I still suspect Kudo's really a girl, maybe he declined because the beach would've blown his cover.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Futakoi Alternative 13 (end)

The first episode of Futakoi Alternative blew me away--it was just incredible, the kind of episode you want to hold up as an example when people ask you what anime is. From there it shifted gears and for much of the middle of the series the action took a back seat, and the drama kicked in, although not at all in the way I expected. I expected a love triangle, with a resolution in the end where Rentarou picked Sara or Soujyu, but since Japan isn't Utah, I never expected in the end he'd effectively pick both. The drama wasn't the choice between the twins that I'd expected--instead, the drama came from Sara being separated from Soujyu and Rentarou, and their determination to restore their inseparable three together again. It's a little hard for me to understand personally, but after watching the last episode I have to agree with what the people of Nikotama said--society may have something to say about three people living together, but Rentarou, Sara, and Soujyu being together is fine with me. In a way I still feel like it's a cop-out ending, but maybe there are triangles that can be resolved by keeping them just as they are.

The last episode was a good mix of action in the first half and a good epilogue in the second half. It seems like a lot of people stopped following Futakoi Alternative in the middle, especially when Rentarou moped around aimlessly, but the ending was strong, and as a whole this is still one of the better anime series I've seen. The whole plot with the squid monsters may make some say WTF, but it wasn't really the point of the story, it was there to facilitate the drama.

Watching Futakoi Alternative felt like I was watching a real work of art at times, with the way they played with the camera angles, visual effects, and flashbacks. I still think if they'd kept up the energy of the first episode longer, and gone with a more traditional resolution to the love triangle, it could have been even better--but Futakoi Alternative wasn't trying to follow the pattern people expected. ufotable really showed what you can do with a renai game to anime series, and I can only hope in the future we see more series like it. Futakoi Alternative may not be perfect, but it was a hell of a fun ride to watch.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

In the Wake of the Week

Random thoughts on this week's anime...a day early since probably won't post at all Friday:

* Shuffle (through ep 19): Pardon my use of clinical psychiatric terms, but Kaede is one crazy-ass motherfucker. I think right around the box cutter incident I'd cart her off to the Funny Farm for some serious therapy. Sure, you can say Kaede went through a terrible tragedy, and that's very true, but lots of orphans don't go psycho. Looks like Asa will win, but Rin's a fickle little bastard (it wasn't that long ago he and Sia were planning to start a big family when they were "stranded" on the beach) so you never know.

* Mai Otome (through ep 7): The episode with the tentacles in the pool was entertaining, but talk about walking right up to the line--why not just make it full-blown hentai if you're going to get THAT ecchi? Mashiro continues to be my favorite character, though, she's got Fine and Rain beat hands-down as the most unprincessly princess ever. Got to like a queen with a serious attitude problem.

* Aria (through ep 6): The "left hand punishment campaign" makes me think Alice could be winding up in the same zip code as Kaede before long. If she thinks her left hand is useless, wait until her biology teacher gets to the appendix--she'll be breaking out a box cutter. Yeah, this episode made a nice point about how people support you without you realizing it, and so on, but episode 6 just rubbed me the wrong way. Your roommate starts spontaneously singing in the middle of the night and you don't think that's odd? Sure, it's been a long time since I was in college, but if my roommate started busting into an operetta at 3am, I'd be calling Campus Security.

* Paniponi (through ep 15): Went back and watched all 15 episodes--the staff of this show must go through more drugs each week than your average hospital. The bus being stuck on the edge of the cliff the whole episode in ep 15 looked like it would be boring, but it was still pretty funny. Miyako's denial of reality was hilarious.

* Shakugan no Shana (through ep 8): Shana kicks ass. She even uses her own name now, which is pretty cool. Now that she has a name and more confidence, it's a matter of time before she starts talking trash during fights. From the preview looks like episode 9 is the oppai battle in the pool, which Shana's going to lose hard. Shana should take a page from Mahoro's playbook and just keep reminding everyone bigger isn't always better and big breasts cause back pain, etc. Kazumi better watch out, or Shana's "intent to kill" will take her the hell down. Swordfights are good, but looking forward to rabu comedy next week.

* Comic Party Revolution (through the end): Not a terrible ending--not great either, but I'm sad this is the last of CPR. If they continue it with another season someday, my vote is to give us the Kazuki x Mizuki ending they seemed to be aiming for with the original Comic Party. But plenty of filler eps focusing on the rest of the cast is good too--that's something CPR did much better than the original, giving the entire cast their time to shine. My favorite's probably Asahi-chan, although it pains me that Taishi would undoubtedly say the exact same thing...there's an alarming parallel for you...

* Karin (through ep 4): Awesome. The manga's awesome, the anime's awesome, J.C. Staff didn't have the "animators" who worked on Okusama wa Mahou Shoujo work on this--all I can say is awesome. Rabu comedy with a reverse vampire just can't go wrong. I'm glad it's not as ecchi as the OP, though, I'm a firm believer that when a series crosses a fine line the fanservice starts taking over and you end up with crap (*cough* Girls Bravo).

Next week: Looking forward to more DCSS, if Shinsen puts ep 13 up on BT. I am way too old to learn IRC...

Monday, November 28, 2005

Anime in Fortune magazine

It's rare for the mainstream media to write about anime without lapsing into stereotypes. I always cringe when I read statements like "anime, imported cartoons from Japan that feature graphic violence and sex" in newspapers and magazines. If you watch "ER" it doesn't mean you like "Debbie Does Dallas" but there's a tendency among people who aren't familiar with it to treat anime more like a genre than an entertainment medium. But Fortune has an article about the anime industry that avoids that and it's actually an interesting read, although it doesn't offer any amazing insights.

The article does imply that anime distributors in North America are making a lot of money, but it doesn't mention ADV's recent layoffs or the fall-off in region 1 licenses this year. I went to Animesuki's license database to see how 2005 stacks up against 2004 for licensing, and it's a pretty steep drop. Last year, 116 series were licensed between January 1st and November 28th, 2004. This year's total through the same dates? Just 51. It worries me a little that there's that big a drop off--what if next year only 20 series get licensed? Where's the bottom of the curve? Sure, just about everything is fansubbed, but all it takes is one R1 distributor to decide fansubbing is the root of their ills for the cease and desist orders to start flying.

On another note, Paniponi Dash 15 was pretty good, although it kind of felt like they had half the usual animation budget this time. Miyako reaffirmed her place as my favorite character (I know I'm in the minority here) by dealing with their situation by going into deep denial. She's probably the most sane member of the cast, and I've liked most roles Yui Horie has played.

And no, this picture of Yuma and Yuna from Paniponi has nothing to do with the article in Fortune, I'm just taking a cue from Anime on my Mind's fanservice week.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Paniponi 14

Episode 14 of Paniponi shows that Becky's older sister sucks at cooking, because her version of a BLT is a little different than most people's. I mean, at least cut the head and the legs off first, for the Love of God.

If there's a plot to the episode, it's Becky's scheming to get other members of the cast to make her lunch, because she doesn't want to make it herself and whatever else her older sister may be, she's sure as hell not Iron Chef Bento. Rei, as we saw in the camping episode, has l33t cooking skillz, but she refuses to just make Becky's lunch for her, hoping to get her to try her best to do it herself instead. Becky does just that, but her genius powers don't carry over into cooking, much unlike Chiyo-chan's. But in the end Rei sees Becky tried her best, so Rei makes her a lunch, with everyone chipping in.

Almost sounds like a Lifetime Movie of the Week doesn't it? "Becky's Hidden Lunch Struggle", or something hellish like that...but this was really a good episode of Paniponi, with lots of the usual insanity. The tanuki kicked ass, I love how it can transform to look like anyone--but with a tanuki's face. Reminds me of the tanuki in Urusei Yatsura who falls in love with Shinobu--now that I think of it, that tanuki had the exact same issue, it could transform to look sort of like people, but it still had a tanuki's face and a tail. Maybe tanuki have a reputation for incompetence.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Aria 5

Akari gets a mysterious invitation to "Neverland" (no, it's not from Jacko) and she and her friends go to deserted island with a beautiful beach, that's just a gondola ride away but remote enough that no one else has discovered it. But just when they think they'll get a day to play on an island paradise, Alicia and Akira arrive--Akira promptly gets into S&M training mode and turns their island adventure into boot camp.

Sure, you might think being an undine is all fun and games, but Akira seems to think undines need to go through Navy SEAL boot camp or their candy-asses won't cut it in the real world. I guess she has a point--when you're an undine you might be rowing down a placid canal one second, then the next a neo-Venezian shark jumps in the boat and you have to beat it to death with your bare hands. Or you get some 500 pound tourist who falls overboard, and you need to pull his SuperSized ass back up in the boat before he drowns. So there's a method to Akira's hard-ass training madness, even if it does give Akari and her friends blisters.

After training, they get cut some slack, have barbecue, and Akari thinks the island is so beautiful she cries. I wonder if Akira has *ever* cried, by the way. I'm guessing no.

Another quiet, relaxing episode, and it gets bonus points from me for having the cast in swimsuits. Although the world Aria's set in continues to be baffling in some ways. Manhome (that name always cracks me up) is so polluted you can't swim in the ocean AT ALL, but Aqua is so empty you can ride a gondola to a deserted island? In real life, there'd be a Grand Hyatt Suite Resort Centre on that island as fast as you can say "aloha, and welcome to your $700-a-night room." And if Manhome's so bad, wouldn't everyone from Manhome emigrate from there to Aqua, and Aqua would end up looking more like a wet version of Los Angeles than Venice? Or do they just have a really strong no-growth lobby on Aqua?

But that's not the point of Aria, so I shouldn't nitpick. It's still fun to watch, and next episode we get a new cast member, the "star" of Orange Planet, who's apparently also a dojiko.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

To Heart (original) 12-13

The original To Heart ends with a two-episode storyline that focuses on Shiho, Hiroyuki, and Akari, the three characters who get the most screentime out of the cast. Akari and Shiho are talking about how Christmas is approaching soon, and how they want to hold a Christmas party--but things get more complicated when Shiho starts to realize she likes Hiroyuki too.

To Heart ends the way most of its individual episodes ended, by putting a smile on your face as you watch it. It's not a profound, Earth-shattering series that will make you think about the nature of mankind or the meaning of life, but it does what it does very well, giving a snapshot of a bunch of people as they're growing up, and how they all interact together and support each other. The animation was great in the end as it was throughout the series--that's one other area where To Heart excels, it doesn't suffer from the inconsistent animation that plagues a lot of other series these days. And although I know To Heart: Remember My Memories had character designs closer to the game's, I still like the original To Heart anime's character designs far better.

I'm definitely looking forward to seeing this on R1 DVD when it comes out next year--supposedly the source was in pretty bad shape but it's going to be cleaned up to "look even better than the Japanese DVD release", and I hope they aren't lying. The fansubs look gorgeous, so I can only imagine how this will look on DVD. It's just a fun story to watch, that just draws you in despite the laid-back pace. With a great cast, good pacing and atmosphere, and good character development, the original To Heart is easy to recommend--this is one of those shows that makes me thank Kami-sama I'm an anime fan.

spoilers for the ending (although the screencaps are probably spoilers enough):

In the last episode, although Akari doesn't tell Hiroyuki she likes him, it's pretty much implied that Hiroyuki and Akari are going to be together. If I have any complaint with To Heart it's that they could have given it a more definite ending--I'm not a big Akari fan, but would it have killed the writers to have Hiroyuki at least kiss her after 13 episodes? Or have Akari actually tell Hiroyuki she likes him? But I guess Akari's made some progress, since she tells Shiho she likes Hiroyuki, and Shiho comments that's the first time Akari's said that, even if it is stating the obvious. Shiho kind of resolves the triangle herself by bowing out of the race and not taking any action, beyond the one shopping trip for the party she took with Hiroyuki. It'd kind of sad Shiho didn't at least get to tell Hiroyuki how she felt, but Shiho's not stupid, and probably realized she'd "lose". If Shiho confessed that she liked Hiroyuki it would make things more awkward between the three of them, and maybe to Shiho, Akari's friendship was more important.

Akari, to me, seems like the least mature of the cast, since she doesn't have any major goals of her own, other than being with Hiroyuki. She doesn't have Multi's enthusiasm, or Aoi-chan's determination, but she does have the osanajimi (childhood friend) card to play, and that's tough for the rest of the cast to beat. The last scene was well done even if it lacked a confession--Hiroyuki goes to pick up Akari and stops by the staircase where in first grade Akari had fallen in the rain and he'd helped her pick up her books. It's an important memory to Akari, but Hiroyuki hadn't been able to remember until now. And of course, since it's a Christmas episode and the two main characters are together, it promptly starts to snow--I think that's one of the Rules of Anime ^_^ To Heart really showed that game-to-anime conversions don't have to be generic harem shows, I just wish there were more series like it.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Paniponi Dash! 11-13

Wow. Just when I think the writers can't be any more insane, they find a way to prove me wrong, and get me to laugh while they do it. New fansub group "gg" has probably broken the Fansubber Code of Ethics by starting from the last ep Oyasumi did--I was afraid it would be a poor quality speedsub, but I'm happy to say gg did a really professional-looking job. I like how gg put the longer translation notes and the blackboard translation in a separate PDF file to keep from cluttering up the screen too much--it'd be awesome if all groups did this (although most series probably don't have as much of a need for it as Paniponi does). The six pages of notes shows that gg really put some time into this--reminds me of the exhaustive translation notes Animeigo did for Urusei Yatsura.

Paniponi has no plot, doesn't show any signs of developing a plot, and has a gigantic cast for a 26-episode series, which would usually all be strikes against it in my book, but somehow Paniponi makes it work. None of the cast gets any deep character development, but all their quirks work together to make it funny--it's a lot like Galaxy Angels that way.

Episode 11 focused on Rokugo, who's seen riding in a car after school with someone who the rest of the cast assumes is her boyfriend. Jiji's mad driving skillz gave me flashbacks to Yukari-sensei in Azumanga...good thing Japan has good mass transit or Becky'd be having a hard time getting around.

Episode 12 has the mysterious aliens doing some monitoring that ends up leading to the usual suspects finding themselves in Himeko's dream world, which is just as bizarre as you'd expect.

Episode 13 has the school, and Becky in particular, targeted by delinquents. Regrettably, Harima didn't show up at all. Although towards the end there's a good Cardcaptor Sakura reference.

A couple more random thoughts:

- Shuffle 16 was good, but a lot of other people are blogging it, so I probably won't blog Shuffle regularly. I liked episode 16, although it lacked the drama of the Primula arc, and Sia/Kikyou's story I don't think has as much potential as the whole Primula-Nerine-Licorice arc did. At least looks like episode 17 wraps this up and then it'll be hopefully on to Kaede's and Asa's arcs, which sound like they have more potential.

- Anime Blog Toshokan is a brilliant idea, one of those things that changes how you use the internet. I used to have a handful of blog sites bookmarked, and I'd do an "open in tabs" in Firefox to look through them all for shows I was interested in. Post-ABT those individual bookmarks get no use--instead in one place I can see a feed of everything everyone's blogging, and I get to read a lot of blogs and opinions I otherwise wouldn't get exposed to. AnimeBlogger Antenna is the same concept, although I like ABT's layout better personally.

Magical Project S

Magical Project S is probably one of those shows people either love or hate--the best way to describe it is Cardcaptor Sakura on crack. In Japan it was "Mahou Shoujo Pretty Sammy", and had a OVA series followed by a 26-episode TV series. In the US and Canada, that TV series was released as "Magical Project S" (subtitled only).

On the surface Magical Project S looks like your typical mahou shoujo series--fifth-grader Sasami goes to school and lives a happy, ordinary life, along with a good chunk of the cast of Tenchi Muyo in different roles (except Tenchi is absent--he only shows up in one episode). One day Tsunami, candidate to become queen of the magic world of Juraihelm, shows up at Sasami's house to scout her to become a mahou shoujo (magical girl)--in order to become queen, Tsunami has to restore the balance of good and evil by picking an Earthling to give magic powers and do good with them. Tsunami has picked Sasami--but Sasami looks at the baton and the outfit she'd have to wear as Mahou Shoujo Pretty Sammy and decides there's no way in hell she'll do it because it's way too embarrassing, and all her friends would laugh at her.

Later on, Sasami's still against the mahou shoujo thing, but she suddenly gets attacked by another mahou shoujo--Sasami doesn't know it, but there's another wannabe-queen, Ramia, who was passed up for queen candidate and wants to stop Tsunami from restoring the balance. So Ramia sends her hapless little brother to turn Sasami's best friend Misao into Mahou Shoujo Pixy Misa. Misao doesn't remember when she transforms into Pixy Misa and no one recognizes Sasami as Sammy, so the best friends end up on opposite sides, doing battle as mahou Shoujo without realizing it.

The "battles" are nothing like Nanoha--they're played for laughs for the most part. Pixy Misa's powers let her turn ordinary objects into "Rabu-Rabu Monsters", so in one episode she turns a flask in chemistry lab into a giant flask that attacks Sasami. But since it's a flask it can't move, and Sasami blasts it without much trouble as Misa shakes her head and sneaks out the back door, sighing and muttering that it always ends up this way. Washu has a great role in this series, too, as Sasami and Misao's science teacher--she knows exactly who Pretty Sammy is, and even moves in next door to Sasami so she can better study magic. Washu graduated from MIT when she was 10--seems like all child prodigies in Japan go to MIT, wonder if she knew Becky..

The best things about this series are the writing (the characters get some great lines), the eccentric cast, the fact it never takes itself too seriously, and getting to see the Tenchi Muyo cast in a completely different setting. It even leaves the monster-of-the-week format and has some drama towards the end, with some good character development for Misao. It's a lot of fun to watch--probably not for everyone, but if you like mahou shoujo I think it's worth a shot.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Shuffle 15

It figures that right after I rank Shuffle 11th out of 12 shows I'm watching, it redeems itself with a really good episode. Not quite Negima episode 19 good, where Sayo-chan stood like a shining, ghostly beacon, blocking out the mediocrity that was the first eighteen episodes of the series. Episode 15 of Shuffle wasn't THAT good, but it wasn't bad either, and if that's not a vague statement I'm Akamatsu Ken.

The fifteenth episode of Shuffle brings an end to the Primula arc, and seems to be steering the series towards a "Rin picks a girl" ending, instead of the "Rin marries everyone and moves to Utah with Rentarou from Futakoi Alternative" ending that I was afraid was coming. Rin, Kaede, Sia, and Nerine come to the Castlevania Research Centre for Artificial Life and finally meet Primula (which Rin should have decided to do about three episodes ago and skipped the angst). Rin calls out to Primula, but she doesn't respond--and then, miraculously she does, and I'm getting ready to roll my eyes. But then her power starts to go berserk, and it looks like she'll have to be destroyed--until Licorice shows up in Nerine's body to save the day, and then to say her last goodbye to Primula. Licorice leaves to join the Galaxy Angels (she'd be an awesome sixth angel, she's got the name for it) and Rin and Primula reunite.

Back at home after the commercial break is where things get even more interesting, as Rin and Asa are talking and joking, and Nerine gets the Petoko Award for Figuring Out Person X Likes Person Y. Nerine realizes Rin likes Asa and that Rin likes Asa as well even if he doesn't realize it yet--she says as much to Asa and implies it to Rin later when she does the kokuhaku thing in the park.

Next episode focuses on Sia, who takes an even bigger helium hit than usual before recording the episode and turns into her other half Kikyou. I can't even read the title of the next ep without picturing Inuyasha yelling KIKYOUUU~ into the wind, his arm outstretched towards the empty void as a doomed Kikyou falls off a cliff / is enveloped in liquid magma / gets hit by a Coors truck / goes into Applebee's expecting good food / and so on and so on. Seriously, how many times is Takahashi going to kill Kikyou before she just stays the hell dead?

But back on topic, it'll be interesting to see what they do with the last eleven episodes of Shuffle--will it be Rin x Asa? Of all the girls, she's the least doormat-like, so she gets my vote. Or will Asa's arc play itself out in the next couple eps and we'll move on to Rin x Everyone or Rin x someone else? Time will tell...but if it does the copout Rin x Everyone ending I'll burn this to DVD and take it to a firing range.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Fall Anime Power Rankings

Everything in this post is just my uninformed opinion, so if you're a fan of a show I rank low, try not to be too annoyed ^_^ This list's confined to fansubs coming out for series that are airing this fall in Japan...there'll be mild spoilers for episodes that are fansubbed (my Japanese still sucks too bad for me to watch raws):

Rank: Title (episodes watched / episodes total)

#1: Shagukan no Shana (5/?) - Episode 5 revealed a little more story and seems to be pushing this arc towards a close. So far with a combination of action, drama, and romance, this is my favorite show this season. A lot of people called Yuuji a wimp at the start of the show, but given his situation I think he did better than most people would--after all, not many people would put themselves between a sword and a complete stranger. Shana's character has the most potential for development, since the way she acts in the OP is nothing like the way she acts through episode 5. When this hits R1 DVD, I think Geneon will be getting more money from me...

#2: Karin (1/26) - Just the first episode out so far, but this has the best chance to knock off Shana from the top of my list. The story of a vampire girl who can stand sunlight and produces extra blood instead of sucking it from her victims. I've read the first two volumes of the manga, and have really been looking forward to this--hard to tell how the rest of it will go from the first episode, but so far the animation, voice acting, and everything else is really good.

#3: Aria (4/?) - A lot like Yokohama Shopping Log, slow-paced and relaxing. Curious if a plot is going to develop or if it'll stay slice-of-life, but looks like the latter. I wasn't real impressed at first, but as the cast as grown I like this more. If you thought To Heart was "slow", probably best to stay away, but I really like this.

#4: Da Capo Second Season (12/26) - Just one shot of Kotori in all of episode 12, as this continues to be "Aishia Screws Up Show". Although in ep 12 she actually did something useful, but I think that's a first. Really wish they hadn't brought Nemu back so early, but I've read more Kotori screentime is coming, and I like the rest of the cast, so I'll keep watching.

#5: Canvas 2 (6/?) - In episode 6 we get the obligatory beach fanservice, but the plot seems to be moving towards Hiroki x Kiri and Elis x new guy Shouta. I'll be disappointed if it ends up that way, since I'm rooting for Elis--she's obnoxious at times, but she's a more fun character to watch than Kiri. If Elis "wins", this will go back up in my rankings ^_^ Hiroki is a great lead character, and Canvas 2 doesn't fall into the "girls fawning all over male lead" trap.

#6 Pani Poni Dash (10/?) - Completely insane. But when it's funny, it's really funny. Genius 10-year old teacher Rebecca Miyamoto teaches a class of crazy people, is watched by aliens, and has a pet talking rabbit whose nemesis is a cat that lives in a vending machine and keeps soda at "body temperature" by holding it until its armpits. Not even sure how to describe this show, but it's funny just to see what they'll think up next.

#7: Mai Otome (5/?) - Didn't like Battle Royal High School Mai Hime all that much, but I like Mai Otome so far. Could go either way depending where they go with the plot, not much has been revealed so far. I hope Mai doesn't come back, since I'd rather see the new cast get more screentime, but I have a bad feeling her return is just an episode or two away. Mashiro is the best princess/queen ever.

#8: Nanoha As (3/?) - Hard not to feel like a roripedofiend watching the transformation sequences, but still an interesting show to watch, as good as its predecessor. It'll be interesting to see the motivation of the "bad guys"...Nanoha does a good job of avoiding the "white hats vs black hats" thing and giving its "bad" characters good backstory. For example, in the last series the "enemy" (Fate) was all buddy-buddy with Nanoha by the end--it'll be interesting to see if they pull that off again this time.

#9: Zettai Shonen [Yokohama Arc] (19/26) – I'm still having trouble getting into the Yokohama arc and the new cast. The first 12 episodes set in Tana were awesome, but think I'll wait until the rest of this is fansubbed and then marathon eps 20-26. It pains me to rank it this low, since the Tana arc was better than any anime series I've seen in a while.

#10: To Heart 2 (2/?) - I really wanted to like this, since I loved the original To Heart and while To Heart 2's animation didn't look stellar, it still beat the living hell out of Remember My Memories. The male lead for this show, though, is so generic it's painful--this show needs Hiroyuki back. And after episode 2 I just don't get why 4chan worships Tamaki. I thought the male lead (see, I can't even remember his name he's so generic) was going to soil himself in fear when Tamaki was after him, he must be allergic to being smashed by girls' breasts.

#11: Shuffle (14/26) - Not sure why I'm even watching this...actually, I think Asa and Mayumi are the only reasons. The Primula arc has finally brought the drama and put an end to the "I live to serve Rin-kun" babbling from the other girls/doormats. Sia meets Rin once years ago and decides her purpose in life is to marry him? She needs to get a life...don't even get me started on Kaede or the rest. As male leads in harem shows go, at least Rin isn't a total loser, but he's definitely a man-whore, one ep he's almost kissing Sia, the next Asa, and so on. Getting close to "dropped" status, although I have to admit I'm curious what's up with Asa's illness.

#12: Lamune (1/?) - Just watched the first episode--pretty generic so far. Nanami, the female lead, acts like she's still five years old, and Ken, the male lead, is pretty generic. Disk space is cheap but I'll probably drop this.

Learning Japanese

(OK, Shana has nothing to do with learning Japanese but she's kawaii [cute] so why not post a picture of her...)

A lot of anime fans at some point decide to take the plunge and try to learn Japanese, either so they can understand more of the nuances of the language, watch raws without waiting for the fansubs, or because they want to go to Japan someday and not be completely lost when they do. I'm only about halfway through the Japanese textbook I'm using right now, but I've learned a lot that was useful when I went to Japan, and it's fun to be able to understand even a fraction of what people are saying in anime without having to look at the subs. I'd definitely recommend learning at least a little Japanese, it just adds to the experience of watching anime.

I think the best way to learn it is to take a course, at least an introductory one--most community colleges will have Japanese classes, or a "Japanese for Conversation" class more geared towards people who will go to Japan for work or vacation and want to be able to have basic conversations (such as "where does this train go?" or "six more Sapporos, please" or "how the hell did I wake up in a ditch in Hokkaido hugging a Kotori pillow?"). Here's what I've found useful in learning basic Japanese:

Japanese Online - website for learning Japanese; not as good as a class or a textbook like the one below, but not bad as an introduction and it's free.

Japanese for Busy People I - available at Amazon and some bookstores, this is the textbook my Japanese conversation class used. Some of the chapters, like exchanging business cards, are geared to business travelers, but the majority of it is really well done, and the later chapters do a good job of pulling in material from the earlier chapters so you don't forget it. This is the best textbook I found--but don't get the "kana version", the kana version quickly dumps you into hiragana (the Japanese phonetic writing system), which is notorious for discouraging beginners. The regular version does introduce the hiragana, but it has romanji (roman characters, like we use in English) throughout as well. Quizzes at the end of each chapter have answers in the back of the book, so you can check your progress. There's also a workbook, which also has answers in the back if you're teaching yourself.

Remembering the Hiragana: A Complete Course on How to Teach Yourself the Japanese Syllabary in 3 Hours - also available at Amazon, the title exaggerates more than a little (at least *I* sure took longer than three hours) but it's a good guide to learning the hiragana, which is one part of the three writing systems used in Japan. The hiragana alphabet is used to spell most words; words with a foreign origin, however, generally are written in katakana, which has the same number of characters as hiragana but are written differently. Then there are the kanji, or Chinese characters, of which there are 2,000 that are used regularly. Not all Japanese even know all 2,000...but if you want to learn written Japanese and at least be able to read some signs, learning hiragana is a good place to start. The book tries to come up with a story behind each hiragana character to help you learn to draw it, and overall it does a pretty good job.

If you use a Mac, there's also a good hiragana/katakana program called Nuku - it can quiz you on whichever characters you want and keeps track of how well you do.

If you decide to learn Japanese, ganbatte (do your best)! It's hard work, but if you pace yourself (one chapter a week works for me) you'll find yourself understanding more bits and pieces of conversation in anime before you realize it. And unlike regular students, as an anime fan you have the advantage of listening to Japanese every day, which can't hurt your pronunciation (unless you only watch Abenobashi and wind up talking in a Kansai accent).

Monday, November 07, 2005

Aria 4

Aria episode 4 is a little different from the first three because it crosses the line into the supernatural. Near the beginning of the episode Akari encounters a little girl, who asks her if she'll promise to deliver a letter for her. While most people would probably tell her to go buy a stamp, Akari's nice enough that she promises to do so. This turns out to be more complicated than she thought, since the address doesn't seem to exist--but Akari feels bound to her promise, and eventually she finds out the address is for a "base" a couple hours' flight from Neo-Venezia, which was used to mine water and terraform Mars back before it was called Aqua.

Akari enlists the help of a messenger to take her there, since it's way too far to go by gondola, and she ends up riding to the old base on the back of an airbike. I guess they don't have safety regulations or seatbelts on Aqua--I can't believe Akari didn't fall off and/or have a heart attack, just hanging onto a bar as the bike shoots a couple thousand feet up in the air. They reach the old base that the address of the letter refers to, only to find it's not there--an accident a long time ago put the whole base underwater, killing those who worked there. It turns out the little girl wasn't what she seemed to be, and in the end although the letter's recipient wasn't there, the feelings of the person in the video mail still got across when Akari played it back.

This is the first time Aria has dealt with any kind of tragedy, as well as the supernatural element with the little girl (I was having Da Capo flashbacks for a minute there). Aqua's been portrayed as an idyllic vacation spot so far, but this episode reveals life was harder in the past, with people giving their lives to help terraform it. I guess this is as close to "dark" as Aria gets, although the ending was more bittersweet than tragic. I wonder if they'll do anything else in this direction, about the sacrifices people made to make Aqua what it is, but it doesn't look like it--next episode is a beach ep. Yes, even slice of life shows have to have fanservice (not that I'm complaining).

On a side note, I was about ready to strangle Aria-shacho in this episode--maybe it's because I was working until 1:30 in the morning, but I know what cats sound like and Aria-shacho does NOT sound like a cat. Although it's cool to see at the beginning of the episode that Alice isn't a one-ep wonder, since Alice, Aika, and Akari (again, what's with everyone's name starting with "A"?) seem to be hanging out regularly now. The OP for this show really suits it well...after watching the first episode this didn't do much for me, but every episode I watch it seems to draw me in more somehow.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Mahou Shoujo Rirical Yuri Aesu 3

Nanoha's an interesting series--a mahou shoujo series for guys, as a wise fan once described it. Take your average mahou shoujo show and add more action to it, plus magic weapons that talk in Engrish, no commercial tie-ins to sell toys, and no Kero-chan flying around eating all the food in the house. The result is pretty fun to watch--I'd buy the R1 DVD, although the odds are Nanoha will never get licensed--and if it did Congress would probably pass a law saying it's illegal because of the transformation sequences. I have to admit the fanservice sometimes makes me feel like a roripedofiend for watching it, since the majority of the cast is, like, eight years old. Scenes like this one from episode three make me think they're deliberately trying to give the loli-yuri doujinshi authors ideas...and no, they don't kiss next, they just hug.

Episode 3 took a break from the fighting for plot exposition and for Nanoha and Fate to recover from the smackdown in episode 2--and looks like next time Raging Heart will be Raging Heart Rabu Cartridge Level Up or something like that. The cartridge system thing is interesting, although if it's so powerful, why doesn't everyone in the magic world just use it? They mentioned it's "dangerous", but the Cloud Knights have been using it for a while and haven't blown themselves up yet. One cool thing about Nanoha is the bad guys aren't completely bad (well, Fate's mom was, but Fate herself wasn't)...I'm looking forward to seeing what this season's "bad guys" real motivations are. Although usually regardless of the reason, good people don't go activating things called the "Book of Darkness".

To Heart (original) 10-11: Multi

The original To Heart is one of those series I hesitated to check out, based on reviews that implied it was about as exciting as watching paint dry on a cloudy day. But it's almost impossible to be an anime fan and not see references to To Heart, and Multi in particular--Comic Party and Abenobashi, just to name a couple, both have Multi references. So finally last year I took the plunge and watched it, and I'm glad I did. In a lot of ways, it's your typical renai game-to-anime series, with Hiroyuki, the male lead, Akari, his childhood friend, and a bunch of other girls who each get their own episodes to shine. What makes To Heart different is it's really well done--the characters are interesting, the pacing and atmosphere is great, and it doesn't follow the "girls fall all over male lead" syndrome a lot of these kind of series fall into. In some episodes, Hiroyuki barely shows up at all. The pacing is like Aria or Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, and if you find those series slow then I can see how you'd find it boring. I thought To Heart was great though, it does a good job of taking you somewhere else and immersing you in that world--it's not a roller coaster ride, but more like relaxing in the sun on a warm day.

Episodes 10 and 11 of To Heart tell Multi's story--Multi is the green-haired maid robot in the screenshots above, and she's a unique character since she's a robot who's also a doji-ko (clumsy). She's always genki (energetic) and works harder than anyone else at keeping the school clean, and impressed with her dedication and seeing her struggle, Hiroyuki helps her out. Their relationship is really like a big brother-little sister ought to be, I thought--Hiroyuki helps her out and generally looks out for her. Although when Multi's sweeping the halls you better look out or she'll just run you the hell down. Multi's a prototype for maid robots that are about to be mass produced, and there's a competition of sorts between her and Serio, another model robot who boasts a wide array of features but has all the personality of Vanilla H. Multi's almost the exact opposite, getting things wrong often, but always being cheerful, outgoing, and sincere.

It's hard not to like Multi's character, as earnest as she is, and her un-robot-like clumsiness and struggles to do things like cook pasta correctly just make her more endearing--it's easy to see why there are a lot of references to Multi in other series and in the anime fan community. Even if you don't like slow-paced series, when it comes out on DVD, I'd recommend putting at least the disc with episodes 10 and 11 on it in your Netflix queue. One of the lessons I learned from To Heart is you just have to see anime for yourself to tell if you're going to like it or not.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Mint: Be Very Afraid

From Galaxy just have to love Mint. She's talking about sentient seaweed that at the time Mint and the rest of the Angel-tai are trying to suck up to in order to calm its anger. The genius of Mint's character is she has the cute innocent look coupled with the personality you see displayed here. Lines like this make Mint my favorite of the Galaxy Angels.

Friday, November 04, 2005

First Post KITAAAA!

I'm finally taking the plunge and starting an anime blog...not for the fame or the money, but because I really love anime. I lead a fairly normal life and my wife and my house doesn't look like Tsuyoshi's room in Densha Otoko, but I thank Kami-sama every day that I found anime, because I really think it's the best form of entertainment you can watch. Maybe it's the depths of the characters and their stories, maybe it's because it's a glimpse into a different culture, maybe it's the breathtaking animation, unconstrained by the laws of physics--it's hard to say exactly why, but at the end of a long day, I'm convinced there's nothing better to watch than anime.

And then there's the biggest reason for me to start a blog--it's Friday afternoon at work, and I have nothing better to do. It's hard to kill the better part of a slow workday just reading everyone else's blogs, so that's just another reason to take the plunge and start my own. And while I sit here writing it sounds to the world like I'm typing an urgent email, important document, or company-changing directive.

In the future I'll actually write about episodes like normal bloggers do, trying to avoid series everyone else is blogging (and doubtlessly blogging much better than I would). But for now...a few thoughts on what's airing in Japan and being fansubbed right now:

  • Shagukan no Shana - I was thinking after the first three episodes this was a good series, with good characters, an interesting premise, action and drama, and potentially even romance--and then episode 4 took the series from good to excellent with Shana fanservice! Plus it wasn't Girls Bravo "I can't believe the entire purpose of this episode is just to get the girls naked" service, while Shana's looking moe the writers are actually doing important plot exposition. Two words: Un. Believable. This might be my favorite series this season.
  • Aria - Aria is set in a future world where for whatever reason people have built a replica of Venice called Neo-Venezia, and they get around by gondola. Also, it's a future where the Earth is known as "Manhome", which sounds alarmingly like a name for a gay bar. The main character is Akari, who's a relatively recent arrival in Neo-Venezia who has joined Aria Company and is learning to be an undine (someone who steers a gondola). I'd love to see a room of die-hard shonen fighting anime fans forced to watch Aria, because I think it'd melt their minds. There's an episode about the tide getting really high. An episode about how this middle school girl is a good rower but doesn't smile much. An episode about a girl who doesn't like Neo-Venezia, but after riding around with Akari on her gondola she does. And there's a really, really ugly cat who makes vaguely pig-like noises. That being said, I like this series--it's easiest to compare to Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, just a relaxing slice-of-life anime that's perfect for kicking back with a beer and watching after a long day. If you liked YKK and liked To Heart, you'd probably like Aria. It takes a couple episodes to grow on you, but now I think I'm addicted. The setting is pretty cool, although I went to the real Venice after college and neo-Venezia improves on the original, the real Venice is like a big tourist trap. Aria also gets points for every character's name starting with the letter "A" and for having a character named Akari who doesn't just say "Hiroyuki-chan" over and over and over.
  • Zettai Shonen - I loved the Tana arc, but the Yokohama arc hasn't grown on me quite as much. I think it's just because Tana was such a cool setting, the kind of place out in the countryside it'd be fun to go to for a week or a month to just get away from it all. The weird camera angles seemed odd at first, and seemed to exist mainly to cut down on the number of frames they had to animate, but even that grew on me after a while. I'll definitely watch this until the end just to see if they give us a real explanation for what the heck Dosshiru and Shissin really are.
  • Shuffle - I know I'm in the minority, but at the risk of the SSS, NNN, and whoever else coming after me, I have to admit that I hate this show. I'm still watching because the drama is finally kicking in, and that's redeemed it a little--but the first dozen episodes with Sia, Nerine, and Kaede going on and on about how "we only met once eight years ago but ever since then I've only thought about Rin-kun", "my only happiness is doing Rin's bidding", and "if Rin-kun likes my cooking, I'll be so happy I'll orgasm" just made me want to reach through the screen and throttle them. I don't understand why the anime version of the "perfect" wife tends to completely lack a spine or free will. I keep hoping Arumi-chan from Abenobashi will show up and beat the tar out of everyone with her harisen. All the signs are this is going to end with Rin marrying everyone and the girls all taking turns, but like a train wreck I'm still watching this thing. The Primula arc hasn't been all bad, although if just seeing Rin makes Primula miraculously wake up and be OK, I may dump this show.

Not sure if I'll make this a tradition or not, but since it's not 5:00 yet, here's my recommendation of the day:

* Urusei Yatsura (UY). UY is pure, old-school anime gold. Even before Imadori from School Rumble was a gleam in his father's eye, Ataru Moroboshi walked the fine line between picking up girls and outright harassment. Actually, I'm pretty sure any court would find Ataru crossed the line. Ataru is probably the most determined male lead in anime, but his determination is entirely directed at trying to get girls to go out with him who he has no chance in hell with (in other words, any girl at all). All the while, Lum, an alien princess who wears a tiger-striped bikini and wrote the book on moe, has an irrational crush on Ataru, and is convinced they're married whether he likes it or not. Lum's an oni, so she has horns, can fly, and most importantly can deliver million-volt electrical shocks to Ataru when he strays, which is several times an episode. The manga was written by Rumiko Takahashi of more recent fame for writing Inu-Yasha, and like Inu Yasha it ran practically forever--UY spawned 195 TV episodes, six movies, and something like twelve OVAs, almost all released by Animeigo in the US.

UY's hard to describe well, but it's got an incredible cast and while some episodes are funnier than others, the funny ones are bust a gut hilarious. It's hard to say where you should start watching the series, though--it's fifty DVDs for the TV series (forty of which are out and on my bookshelf), which can put a pretty big dent in your Netflix queue. The "right" way is to start with TV disc 1, but some of the first season's episodes had animation so mind-bendingly horrible that by comparison episode 10 of Negima actually looks good. DVD #3 has my favorite UY episode of all time, in spite of the title: "Pitter Patter Christmas Eve". It's great because it has Lum looking kawaii, decent animation, snow, and best of all Megane at his most psychotic. Many of today's anime fans would give Taishi from Comic Party the nod for best supporting male anime character, but Megane was even more insane. So I'd recommend starting with that episode--seeing it on late-night TV in 1998 got me back into anime, so I'll always have a soft spot for it. And if you want a better description of Urusei Yatsura than I could ever write, Tomobiki-cho is the ultimate resource for UY.

If you're still reading this, I commend you for your determination, and I'll try to be more entertaining in my next post. Everyone knows anime blogs need servicey screencaps too, so I'll try to throw some in later ^_^