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 ^_^