Saturday, December 30, 2006

Shiori: Sick Bishoujo or Not So Much?

Watching Kanon I'm coming to the inescapable conclusion that Shiori isn't really sick at all. I know better from watching the Toei series, of course, but that doesn't change the fact that she doesn't show any signs of being sick whatsoever. I'm not a licensed diagnostician or anything, but let's look at the evidence:

- She doesn't cough.
- She doesn't faint or stagger aimlessly (like Nayuki in the morning.)
- She doesn't seem to have a fever.
- She doesn't suddenly wake up in the middle of a street with no memory of how she got there (like Nayuki).
- She doesn't sound sick.
- She doesn't look sick.
- She carries a lot of pills but we never see her take any, and she doesn't act like she's stoned out of her mind.
- She eats ice cream in the snow.
- She allegedly can't go to school because she's sick, but this doesn't stop her from standing outside the school practically every single day.
- She stands the hell outside, in the snow, for hours on end wearing nothing but a sweater, short skirt, and a shawl. Sure, I've seen Icelanders walk around in T-shirts and shorts when it's 45F out, but Shiori's dressed like it's January in Los Angeles, and there's enough snow on the ground it's got to be cold out. Unless she's keeping warm thinking about all the different positions she could try with Yuichi in the gym equipment storage shed, I'm thinking she should be a Shioricicle by now.

Especially based on the last piece of evidence, I think Shiori's not really sick at all. She just enjoys cutting school and thinks the 'sick bishoujo in snow' ploy puts her on the express shinkansen to getting some action from Yuichi's man-lance. All those pills in her bag probably include something to knock Yuichi the heck out so she can have her way with him, just in case all else fails.

More seriously, I'm really liking Kyoani's Kanon--the only problems I have with it are more faults of the genre than with what Kyoani's doing. It's sad that Makoto just vanished completely out of Yuichi's consciousness after ep 10, but given they have to cycle through all the girls' stories it's probably unavoidable. If I lost someone that close to me, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be back to cracking jokes in the very next episode like nothing happened, but maybe Yuichi's just a lot more resilient. And if he spent the next 10 episodes getting over Makoto leaving--well, the series would be almost over.

I still picture Yuichi as Kyon and half-expect to see Haruhi dragging him down the hallway by his collar, but I guess that just shows how much I want to see Haruhi second season.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Top 5 Anime...of 2007

It's almost the end of 2006, and any respectable anime blogger would post something about the top X series that he or she saw in the past year. Unfortunately, this blog has long since fallen into disrespect, with monthly posts at best and a sorry lack of that whole "content" thing that makes reading other blogs worthwhile. But They say blogs are so 2004 anyway, so I might as well spew another entry into the ether. Instead of listing my favorite shows of 2006 though, I'm thinking outside the box, ending up a few beers short of a six-pack, and I'm going to list...(drum roll)...my favorite five series--of two thousand SEVEN. How can I do this? Simple--I can see the future. Hell, Mikuru can do it, and Mikuru's not exactly Mensa material, so I figure I can do it too. By the time the end of 2007 comes around, no one will remember this post anyway.

So without further ado, here, beyond any shadow of a doubt, are what will have been the best five anime series of 2007:

#5 - Zero no Tsukaima, Season Two: More of the Louise tsundere goodness of the first season, with enough screentime for Seista to satisfy her fans too. The wedding scene at the end was great, although the whole thing with Guiche, the horse, and the love potion...that's thirty seconds I wish I could erase from my consciousness forever.

#4 - Nagasarete Airantou: This really could have been the #1 series of the year except for the animation quality--not Yoakena bad, but just average. If Kyoani had done this, it would've been a contender. Yui Horie as Suzu was awesome, but I'm still picturing her in my head as blond, not brunette.

#3 - School Rumble, The Final Chapter: I was hoping for a third season and not a movie to wrap it all up, but the movie to end all Sukuran was still surprisingly good. I can't believe in the end Harima ended up with Napoleon and not Eri or Yakumo, but the backstory between the two of them really erased my doubts. That Napoleon would go through so much for Harima's sake was really moving. That'll do, pig.

#2.5 - Manabi Straight: Ufotable is just awesome, and with Manabi Straight they finally recaptured the batshit insane comedy of Shinobuden and Dokkoida. I can't wait until 2035 so I can get a scooter like Manabi's. Too bad by then I'll probably be too old to remember to wear pants.

#2 - Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu, Season Two: More Haruhi awesomeness--it was a really tough decision between this and the #1 pick. Evil Mikuru was a highlight, I knew she wasn't quite as stupid as she looked/acted. I can only imagine what Haruhi and Kyon's kids will be like, will they be demi-gods? Will closed space appear if they don't get to eat any more cookies before bedtime? The mind boggles, whatever that means.

And the best anime series of 2007 is...

#1 - Da Capo II: I was sure they were going the Yume route, but no, they picked Otome, and I couldn't be happier. Kyoto Animation really outdid themselves too, I have no clue how they finished Kanon, did a second season of Haruhi, AND did DCII all in the same year, but they pulled it off. I used to think it'd be impossible to level up from the drama at the end of the original Da Capo, but I was wrong. The scene in DCII where the sakura disappear and you-know-who vanishes with it (no, I'm not talking about freaking Voldemort, I'm trying to avoid spoilers here) was just perfect--I cried like a little girl, and I'll admit it with pride. In the end, this was a worthy sequel, proving that game-to-anime conversions can be done right.

Yes, I made all that up. But if I had to guess now, I would really expect those to be my top 5 next year (although Da Capo II is pure wishful thinking on my part, I don't think an anime series has even been announced yet...and ditto for more Sukuran). Part of what's awesome about being an anime fan though is that seasons are short, and the odds are no one has heard of the best series of 2007 yet. Hell, did anyone last Christmas expect that Haruhi would take 2006 by storm? I don't think it was even announced then, I know I didn't hear about it until only a month before it aired.

I think if I had to pick a top 5 for 2006, it'd be Haruhi, Negima, Kanon, Sukuran, and Zero no Tsukaima, with Haruhi getting top honors and the others close behind. It's been an awesome year for anime though--the fact there's always something new really keeps it from getting stale, and I expect next year should be even better. But if I had to ask for a Christmas present from the anime gods, it'd be getting to see the Da Capo II anime in 2007.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Back from Japan


I'm back from vacation in Japan, which was just awesome in spite of the fact that believe it or not, I didn't go to Akihabara and saw very few signs that anime even exists while I was there (one of which was the poster above on the street leading to Kyoto University). Part of me did want to go to Akihabara and take out a second mortgage on the house to make our living room look like Tsuyoshi's room from Densha Otoko, but I wouldn't do that to my wife, so I restrained myself.

I remember before my first trip to Japan, the Most Holy City of Mecca for all anime fans, I half expected to see ads for Love Hina in the subway and subway stations named after all the girls from To Heart, but quickly saw that anime's not really all that mainstream there either. You have to look for it, or you won't see any signs it even exists. This trip, I think the only anime-related ads I saw were a poster in Shinjuku for the PS2 versions of Fate/Stay for the Evening and Yoakena, and a couple posters for an upcoming Precure movie. Oh, and I saw a poster for Kirarin Revolution. No huge Kanon banners hanging from the rafters at Narita airport, no train conductors wearing Keroro Gunso kigurumi announcing "sugi wa Kyoto de arimasu~!", although if there had been that would have been really cool. But I'm not really complaining--anime may be a niche even in Japan but that doesn't change the simple fact it beats the crap out of most mainstream "entertainment" in my book by a mile.

If you ever go to Japan, I can't recommend going to Kyoto highly enough--even if it's just for one night, there's so much to see there it's amazing. This was our third trip, but we still found lots of places to explore that we'd never been to before (no thanks to guidebooks, though, which only give a handful of temples and shrines to visit--googling the places on the Kyoto taxi site and then finding them on our map gave us much better and sometimes well-off-the-beaten-path suggestions). Kyoto in the fall is simply the most incredible place I've ever been, as I've blogged about before in the 2nd half of this post, so I'd recommend going in mid/late November, but it's impressive any time of year. If you don't believe me, here are some pictures from last trip.

A few more pieces of (completely unsolicited, of course) advice if you get to go to Japan:

- Go to Kyoto. Or if you're on a business trip to Tokyo and you really don't have time, go to Kamakura which is the next-best thing, with lots of old temples (and it's only an hour outside of Tokyo, versus Kyoto being 3 hours by shinkansen).

- Take Japanese first. Just a 10-week, one night a week class at a community college or extension is fine, but it really makes a difference being able to order food semi-competently, and most importantly, understand how to ask "how for the love of Haruhi do I get to X from here" and then understand the words for "straight", "left", and "right". Plus there were a surprising number of people who started talking to me in Japanese, even though my butt-white ass doesn't look like I should know a word of it, I think when you're off the beaten tourist path people assume you must have some fluency (which in my case is dead wrong). It's really cool somehow to be able to communicate in a foreign language, especially in America where most people can go their whole lives without ever really needing to. Plus as an anime fan you're more likely than most to keep your Japanese skills up because you can listen to the language every day.

- Go to Kyoto. Did I say that already? Maybe temple gardens and fall color aren't your thing, but there's still a lot to see there regardless.

- Learn hiragana and katakana. If you take a class, they'll probably cover this--it's a pain to learn them, but it's also worth it. Going to a restaurant with no English menu and not having to resort to going outside and pointing at the plastic food because you can tell the Japanese menu says "mozzarella and tomato pasta" gives you a feeling of accomplishment you just can't get pointing and grunting "um...one of these". It's probably how you felt as a 3-year old learning to read, but you're old enough now to have forgotten so this is a one-time chance to relive the experience.

- Use the internet to help find places you want to go. Japan guidebooks are OK for the big tourist attractions, but not so good for finding the more out of the way places that can make your trip really worthwhile.

- Go to Akihabara. I know, I said I didn't go there this trip, but that's because I've been there before, and They say that you can't enter Otaku Heaven unless you go there at least once in your life. It's somehow cool to see what the world would look like if anime WAS mainstream.

- Bring plane socks. Wear a second pair of socks on the plane instead of wearing shoes. It somehow makes the 10+ hour flight more bearable. If you're lucky enough to fly business class the airline actually gives you plane socks.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Saraba...

It's been almost a month, so I should probably explain my lack of entries--I've decided to stop blogging for a while, since looking back, I think the time I spent blogging was at the expense of time spent on forums like AnimeSuki's, and I've missed some good discussions that way. Besides, as a Japanese-impaired fansub-watcher, there really isn't much I can offer the anime blog-reading world that's of interest--personally, I read anime blogs mainly for news (which this blog doesn't have much of), and writeups on episodes that aren't subbed yet (again, not found here). This blog is mostly just reviews (and reviews are useless to me for the most part, since I like to see for myself if I'll like a given anime series or not), and random thoughts (which would be better directed to a forum). So if there's anyone out there who bookmarked this site and was hoping I'd actually come up with some interesting posts at some point in the future, I apologize, but at least there are lots of infinitely better anime blogs out there.

To everyone who read this blog, thank you for your time and comments--it's really a great time to be an anime fan, this fall season has just blown me away. Since I don't know any real-life anime fans (unless you count getting my wife to watch CCS) I'm glad all of you in the online anime community are there to share enthusiasm with.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

In the Wake of the Week - Fall Week 1

A bunch of first episodes are out subbed, which makes me want to thank the Anime Gods for what looks like it's going to be yet another incredible season. While most of the US is left watching reruns on network TV thanks to the MLB playoffs, I'm in Anime Utopia, where it seems like the blue frog hasn't had a moment's rest as it endlessly pulls file pieces from the ether.

For better or worse, here are some random thoughts on the first week of the season:

- Is it just me, or do all the girls in Kanon look thirty years younger than Yuichi? I think Ayu's at least a foot shorter, if she kisses him at the end she won't be able to do that kawaii stand-on-her-toes thing, she'll need to climb a ladder.
- Nayuki in Kyoani's Kanon doesn't come across like Forrest Gump anymore, so maybe we'll get a decent love triangle this time.
- Is there a bigger bitch this season than Shouko in Asatte no Hokou? I loved the first episode, but I keep hoping she'll get run over by something heavy--I understand she's bitter but an adult taking her bitterness out on a sixth grader is pretty bad...
- Adult-form Kareha's offspring will never go hungry.
- Tequila + Apricot = better than all 26 episodes of Strawberry Panic.
- I can't help feeling the character designs in Tokimemo are generic, but God, everyone screaming NEKOMIMI!! was funny. I wish my high school had been like that, although back then we didn't have cell phones and we'd have had to write the details for the welcoming party in cuneiform.
- Shaft's Negima is just...awesome. Watching this I have to thank Haruhi/God/Buddha/Allah or the god of your choice this got a remake.
- Nose-pinching is the best personality quirk I've seen in a while.
- AugustSoft's character designer should be designated a Living National Treasure.
- I was wondering why people on the moon would agree to be ruled by a royal family instead of having a democracy or something, but after seeing Feena-hime my questions are answered.
- It took a few minutes to get used to, but Sasami's new seiyuu isn't bad--the original could sound like fingernails on a chalkboard after a while though, so not a high bar to clear.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Summer Power Rankings

The summer season is at an end--one of the good things about being an anime fan is that there's always something new, as some series come to an end and new ones start much more frequently than you'd see in network television. While sometimes I think it'd be nice to see a series like Zero no Tsukaima get as many seasons as Dawson's Reservoir got, the advantage to anime series' shorter length is they actually get time to wrap up the story and don't drag it on with endless filler episodes (certain long-running shonen anime excepted). While there are a number of series below that I'll miss, at the same time it's hard not to be excited about everything that's coming up this fall. Kanon, the new Negima, Yoakena, Galaxy Angel Rune, Happiness, Gift, Asatte no Houkou, and Megadere are all fall shows that have me waiting on the edge of my chair. But this isn't a fall preview, so here for anyone with the free time to kill reading it, are my rankings for series I've been watching this summer:

The Big Three

(#1) Zero no Tsukaima - It's a tough call between this and School Rumble, but Tsukaima had a better ending than 2-gakki so Tsukaima gets the top spot. The animation quality and character designs were good, and while I hear they left a lot out from the novel, the plot kept me watching too. The Saito-Louise banter was the best part of the series for me--if it had gone 26 episodes maybe it would've gotten old, but in 13 it didn't. I wish some of the side characters like Tabitha had gotten more screentime, but given the length of the series I think it was a wise choice to keep the spotlight on Louise and Saito.

(#2) School Rumble 2-gakki - Yes, the Harima-Tenma-Karasuma triangle feels like it hasn't evolved at all since the first episode of the first season. And no, I have no idea how the manga-ka is going to pair Harima with anyone realistically, given how single-minded he is about Tenma and how single-minded Tenma is about Karasuma. But it's still Sukuran, and Sukuran is definitely one of the series I'd want with me if I was stranded on a desert island (with a DVD player and electricity to run it).

(#3) Love Get Chu - It seems like almost no one is watching this but I love what I've seen of this series. I'm not sure why exactly--the artwork is nothing to write home about, and the story isn't anything ground-breaking, but I've already watched the four episodes that have been subbed more than once. It's just got a good cast of characters and it doesn't follow the harem series mold--yes, you can tell it's based on a dating sim since the girls outnumber the guys, but it's not "all the girls chase after the male lead" like you'd expect. It's really more a story about Momoka, the heroine, trying to make it as a seiyuu, with the "Love" part coming in the second half of the series (no, I haven't seen those episodes myself, but Hinano has been reviewing the raws).

Middle of the Pack

Akazukin - I loved the OVA that came out a couple years ago, so I went into this with high expectations. The animation for the TV series has been disappointing at times, but it's TV and not an OVA so I shouldn't be surprised. It felt like this started a little slow, but now that they're actually in Fandavale I'm hoping things will be picking up.

Chocosis - Only seen the first five episodes but I like it so far. Yes, there are times I feel like a pervert for watching it since it's got plenty of imouto fanservice, but with the yellow tape it's more family-friendly. I'm glad they don't seem to be going for a Haruma x Choco ending though.

Inukami - I could do without the frequent elephant sightings, but it's hard for me not to like a series where Yui Horie plays a tsundere character. Comedy, fanservice, action, Inukami has a little of everything, and the second half of the series even promises some drama and plot thrown in.

Tsuyokiss - Mediocre animation, but it's hard not to like Sunao, and I like the fact the story's mostly from her perspective. I understand it's a lot different from the game it's based on, but not having played the game (or knowing anything about it really) I'm not disappointed. Kani and Sunao working in the curry shop was pretty entertaining, although I'm not sure what's up with the owner's face...

Utawarerumono - If the main character had been Eruruu this would probably give Tsukaima a run for its money for best series for the season, but to me this just degraded into 'war of the week.' Too little screentime for Eruruu and too much hack-and-slash dropped this to the bottom of my list. The sci-fi elements towards the end reminded me of Hanihani, because they seemed just as out of place. The special was just nasty, too--couldn't they have taken a cue from the Shana-tan specials and found a source of humor other than diarrhea? A chibi Eruruu sitting on Hakuoro's head had a lot more potential. Overall, since for me even average anime is more entertaining than anything Hollywood pukes out, I'm still glad I watched this.

Dropped

Demonbane - I should know better than to watch anime with giant robots in it, since there's never been a giant robot series that I liked. All the H.P. Lovecraft references were a plus in my book, but although I watched five episodes overall I just couldn't get into Demonbane. The bad guys having the good guys cornered only to back off for no good reason just had me rolling my eyes too.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Anime Drinking Games

It's a pity back in the Bronze Age when I was in college I didn't know any anime fans, because anime really lends itself well to drinking games. Just imagine watching the original To Heart and drinking every time Akari says "Hiroyuki-chan"--by episode three or four you'd be seeing double, with the paramedics arriving to pump your stomach sometime in the middle of episode five. I'm sure now with this newfangled "inter-net" you can find much more exhaustive lists of rules for anime drinking games, but here are a few humble ideas from anime I've watched recently:

Zero no Tsukaima

Drink once when:
- you see Louise's pantsu
- Louise busts out the whip
- Louise has a "wardrobe malfunction" from snapped elastic
- the headmaster tries to do something ecchi
- Kirche's breasts jiggle
- Louise says 'urusei' and reminds you of Shana
- Seista gets naked
- anyone mentions 'Gandalfr'
- the runes on Saito's hand glow
- Guiche declares his undying love for anyone
- Tabitha nods her head silently in response to something
- anyone calls Louise 'zero'
- Louise calls Saito a dog
Finish your drink when:
- Saito kisses Louise

Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu

Drink once when:
- Haruhi glares/scowls at Kyon
- Haruhi creates closed space
- anyone uses the phrase 'aliens, time travelers, and ESPers'
- Mikuru cries out in embarrassment or alarm
- Haruhi gropes or bites Mikuru-chan
- Haruhi has her hair in a ponytail
- Itsuki is sitting way too close to Kyon
- Yuki starts going all badass while techno music plays in the background
- you see a giant blue monster
- Haruhi throws her 1000th pitch in fielding practice
- Haruhi says she's bored
- Mikuru-chan changes costumes
Finish your drink when:
- 'homing mode' is enabled
- Kyon kisses Haruhi

Cardcaptor Sakura

Drink once when:
- Sakura blushes thinking about Yukito
- *Shaoran* blushes thinking about Yukito
- you see Tokyo Tower in a dream
- you see sakura petals
- Kero-chan stares at the moon and says "Yue"
- you finally find out who the hell Yue actually is
- Kero-chan demands some snack food/cake/candy
- Tomoyo makes a comment about how lovely/filmable/hot she thinks Sakura is
- Mizuki-sensei sneaks up on Shaoran
- Sakura says "Release!"
- Sakura yells "Umi!" more than once
- Shaoran blushes thinking about Sakura
- Meilin glomps onto Shaoran
- Meilin glares at Sakura
- Meilin screws up cooking something
- Clow Reed says 'water is a thing that flows'
- anyone says a variation of 'could this be a Clow Card's doing?'
- Sakura wears one of Tomoyo's costumes
- Tomoyo regrets not being able to film Sakura for some reason or another
- Tomoyo actually does something useful to help catch a card and isn't just filming
- Yamazaki tells a lie
- you see Penguin Park
- Touya appears somewhere random because he's his new part-time job
- Kero-chan calls Sharon or Meilin 'kid' or 'brat'
- anyone says 'I sense a Clow Card's presence'
Finish your drink when:
- Sakura actually realizes Shaoran likes her

Full Metal Panic Fumoffu

Drink once when:
- anything someone says is bleeped out
- Chidori hits Sousuke with her harisen
- Kyoko takes a picture with her camera
- you see anyone with a ponytail
- Kogure-sensei is taken to the hospital
- deeply disturbed female police officers are laughing maniacally
- Chidori hails a taxi by throwing Sousuke directly in its path
- Bonta-kun says 'fumo' (yes, there's one episode where I guarantee doing this will cause projectile vomiting)
- yakuza are getting their balls stomped on by a amusement park mascot
- Sousuke tells someone to enjoy the onsen in a normal manner
Finish your drink when:
- a rubber duck is blocking the view Tessa fans would kill for

Thursday, September 14, 2006

To Heart 2

The original To Heart is one of my favorite anime series, so I was eagerly looking forward to To Heart 2 when I first heard it was getting animated. Reading the excellent posts on Bluemist's blog describing each girl's scenario from the game, it was easy to see there was a lot of potential out there for a touching, dramatic anime series. Unfortunately, while you get the occasional glimpse of what might have been, overall the To Heart 2 anime was a disappointment to me, coming across as average and uninspired when it had the potential to be much more than that.

To Heart 2 follows a fairly conventional storyline--it takes your average high school guy, Takaaki, who is living alone because his parents work overseas (have you seen this before?), and you follow his adventures as he meets a bunch of different girls in his school. This may sound like a boring formula, but executed well it can really work--the original To Heart, for example, had good chemistry between the characters, a strong male lead, and an interesting story for each of the girls. No one saved the world from an alien menace, there were no giant robots, no magical girls--the original To Heart, Multi aside, was the kind of story that could happen anywhere but it still managed to be compelling.

To me, To Heart 2 just didn't hit any of the fundamentals of the genre well--to start with, Takaaki was a weak male lead, and failed to have any chemistry with the girls at all. There's no Junichi-Nemu banter, no Hiroyuki subtly showing he cares about Akari, no real chemistry of any kind to convince the viewer, OK, it's plausible that all these bishoujo like Takaaki. He just comes across as completely generic, a nice guy perhaps, but nice to the point of being a complete pushover who lacks free will. Scenes where Yuuma is challenging Takaaki to duels are supposed to show her tsundere side but instead are so one-sided they come across as ridiculous--Hiroyuki would've said something droll but Takaaki usually just stands there and looks baffled, or less charitably, retarded. It seems silly to critize a anime about bishojou for not liking the male lead, but with a better Takaaki I think To Heart 2 could have had better chemistry between the characters and would've been a better anime.

The stories for each of the girls is another area where To Heart 2 suffered compared to the game--you don't see Manaka's sister, Yuuma's struggles with her future, or several other key points of the plot. It's like they sucked all the dramatic parts out of the game and tried to make the girls more one-dimensional. Some of this I can just chalk up to the series length, but the original Kanon did a much better job of this in 13 episodes than To Heart 2 did (although I'm hoping Kyoani's Kanon, with more episodes to work with, will be better still).

The animation--well, it wasn't first season of Negima bad, but it was a long way from Haruhi or Air quality.

Not to just keep kicking To Heart 2 in the balls while it's down, there are some things about the anime that I liked. While the girls' characters didn't get a whole lot of development, there were glimpses where it was easy to see why they have their fans--Ruri excepted, it's hard not to like them. At times To Heart 2 did remind me of the laid-back pacing of the original, and I kept watching to the last episode so despite its faults it was still compelling enough to keep me hooked anyway. The end of To Heart 2 didn't really 'end' anything, but it was a touching moment and it's not like the original To Heart ended with Hiroyuki and Akari flying off to Hawaii for their honeymoon, so I can't fault it too much for that.

Overall while it had a lot of room for improvement, To Heart 2 was worth watching once and I'm glad Aquastar-Anime and Avalon saw this through to the end so that we could watch it subbed. Part of me hopes Kyoani will remake it someday, and with Kanon getting the remake treatment, you never know...

Monday, August 28, 2006

Tips for The Waru-Waru Gang

"Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it," They say, and They usually know what They're talking about so it must be true. Watching Inukami 12-13 and then Demonbane 4 right after it perfectly illustrates that The Bad Guys never learn. Dark Helmet may claim "evil will always triumph because good is dumb" but mostly it's the other way around.

Take Inukami first--let's say you're a shinigami, and you have Keita and Youko totally defeated. You can (a) kill them, ensuring your complete victory and putting the writers in panic as they rewrite the next 13 episodes to center on Kaoru and Nadeshiko, or (b) break into maniacal laughter and say you'll spare them for now for no good reason but tomorrow you'll kill them for sure, unless of course they come up with a better strategy next time and kill you instead.

Or take Demonbane--you have the good guys seconds from being messily obliterated, at least except for the surprisingly badass butler ("Winfred" and "total badass" are NOT words I've ever used in the same sentence before), and you're the leader of the Black Lodge. You can (a) do nothing, not even have to lift a finger, and watch your sworn enemy and his budding harem get blasted into their constituent atoms by your minions, or (b) order your lackeys to pull back, because you like living on the edge.

The only explanation I can think of for why if you're the Bad Guy you'd choose (b) in either case is that the writers have threatened you with something heinous in the next episode, like they're going to make sure you spend all 24 minutes alternating between projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhea after eating some bad shrimp, or some other fate sufficiently horrific to make you agree to do something as monumentally stupid as letting the good guys get away.

But it's a formula for a reason, and I have to admit it works on me, since after the shinigami acts thoroughly hateable in Inukami 12, it's hard not to relish him getting what he deserves in the next episode. Especially with the boxing theme I thought I was really watching Rocky VIII there for a minute. And although Adrian never turned into a 25-foot fox with razor-sharp claws and tore the stuffing out of Rocky's opponent, I'm pretty sure some of the later Rocky movies would have been better if she had. Keita has some serious balls to keep trying to cheat on Youko when that's her true form.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Negima Reborn (OVA preview)

Wow. Just....wow.

If you're a Negima fan and you haven't watched the Negima OVA preview yet, I'd highly recommend downloading it and checking it out, for the skydiving intro sequence alone (or check out Kurogane's megabytes of screencaps.) The background music, direction, everything from the preview was just all kinds of awesome. I think the last time I was this awestruck after watching just a couple minutes of anime was the start of Futakoi Alternative, when it was rapidly made clear I was in for a series about as different from its predecessor as it could possibly be.

Shaft has clearly understood what Xebec never seemed to--Negima is all about bishoujo, and to paraphrase Vidal, if they don't look good, the whole series doesn't look good. After all, Akamatsu-sensei KNOWS bishoujo. He wrote the book, or at least a lengthy interview, on moe. Shaft realizes this is a big part of Negima's appeal, and they make Akamatsu's bishoujo look as good in anime form as they ever did in the manga. There's a lot more to Negima, of course, which is also why it's popular--there's drama, there's action, there's magic and mystery, there's characters that it's hard not to root for. How Shaft does with all this the jury is still out on--but from the preview video I can at least say the animation quality, the character designs, and what I can see of their direction, they have nailed.

In the first season of Negima, Xebec seemed to be thinking Negima was so popular they could spend a buck fifty an episode on animation and the otaku masses would still eat that shit up--they just cranked out shoddy animation and listless character designs and hoped the seiyuu would still be able to pull off bringing them to life, with some angst/drama thrown in for spice. That's like making fried rice with bat guano instead of rice, and counting on the rest of the ingredients to save the day. They also changed elements of the story, notably mangling the Kyoto arc and with the last few episodes. I'm not a "purist" who expects the anime to slavishly follow the manga, to the point every line of dialogue is the same--if the animators can improve on the manga storyline, more power to them. Xebec's telling of Sayo's story, to me anyway, was far better than Akamatsu's mediocre treatment of Sayo in the manga. But the rest of Xebec's changes WEREN'T improvements on the manga storyline, to the point where it sometimes felt like they were moving things around just to be different.

Shaft seems, as much as I can tell from a couple minutes of preview, to have done a good job bringing the characters to life with far better animation. The character designs are different from the manga, that's very true, but they don't feel like a downgrade to me, maybe because I'm already used to the style from Shaft's Tsukuyomi and Pani Poni Dash. The limited interactions between characters you see in the preview, like Asuna hugging Negi in the water, and Asuna fighting Ayaka in mid-air, all immediately remind me of their manga counterparts, even without dialogue or context for them. It makes me hope when the OVA comes out in October and Shaft's full season of Negima starts this fall, we'll see a more faithful representation of the spirit/heart of Negima than we got from Xebec. Heterochromia fans will be depressed both Asuna's eyes are the same color, but I thought Xebec's Asuna looked freaky that way, so I have to admit I'm all in favor of the change.

This turned into more of a ramble than I meant it to--but today is just another day I have to thank Haruhi/God/Budda/your-deity-of-choice that I'm an anime fan. Two more months to go before the second season and the OVA...

Friday, August 04, 2006

Manatsu no Eve (Tenchi Movie 2)

Manatsu no Eve is the second Tenchi Muyo movie, which came out in '97--while it's only sixty minutes long, I rewatched it again recently and enjoyed it. Manatsu no Eve takes the Tenchi Muyo cast that's familiar to a lot of anime fans and adds Mayuka, a mysterious girl who appears one summer day and claims to be Tenchi's daughter. What happens from there is a good mix of drama, action, and comedy as the cast reacts to the new arrival--Ryoko doesn't trust her and thinks she's out to kill Tenchi, Ayeka worries about losing Tenchi to her, Sasami's excited to find a new playmate, Washu sees a new research subject, and Tenchi himself is just overwhelmed (as usual).

If you're not familiar with Tenchi Muyo, it's a prototypical harem series--you have the main character, Tenchi, who thinks he's an ordinary high school student, but finds out his grandfather is really royalty from a planet called Jurai. Since he has Juraian blood, Tenchi has corresponding l33t powers, and through various events he finds himself living with a bunch of girls vying for his attention: Ryoko, former space pirate, Ayeka, ojou-sama princess of Jurai, Sasami, Ayeka's younger sister, Mihoshi, the most airheaded galaxy police detective ever, Washu, the brilliant mad scientist, and Kiyone, Mihoshi's hapless partner. Since most average high school guys would kill to be in Tenchi's place, it figures the series became very popular. None of this is really explained in Manatsu no Eve, it assumes you're familiar with the cast and the premise going into it. There's a Wikipedia entry that explains all the various Tenchi Muyo canons (yes, there's more than one) and spinoffs--Manatsu no Eve is the second movie, but has no tie-ins to the first one at all since it's in the OVA timeline (sort of) and the first movie was more a sequel to the TV series.

Manatsu no Eve starts out with a flashback to the midsummer Startica festival on Jurai, which is similar to Christmas, or more precisely Chrstimas in Australia since it's summer. A little boy who we later learn is Yosho is standing under a tree, waiting to meet someone. The camera cuts to a little girl who runs up, obviously excited to see him, and gives him a present, a small box that shows a hologram of a Christmas tree. But a moment later the Juraian version of a SWAT team shows up, grabs Yosho, and while he protests they attack the girl, knocking her to the ground and beating her as Yosho screams for them to stop. One of the SWAT team members cuts her in half with his sword, and we see she's not a normal girl, she's a demon from the world of darkness...then with a cry of anguish and anger she disappears...

Cut to the present, and Yuzuha, the demon/little girl, waking up in her room--she sees a scene Tenchi and the rest of the cast celebrating Christmas, and she gets an idea. She steals some of Tenchi's hair, and throws it in a vat with some of hers, chuckling that in a few months she'll be sending a midsummer Startica present to them...

That summer, it's an everyday scene at the Misaki household, meaning Tenchi's harem are doing chores, with the noteable exception of Ryoko, who's just getting up even though it's probably noon. Tenchi's tending his mother's grave near the Misaki shrine, but on his way home on the temple steps he runs into a blue-haired girl he'd never seen before--and to his shock she calls him 'Papa' (even though she looks about as old as he does), and follows him home. Ryoko and Ayeka are not amused that the mystery girl, who's named Mayuka, is clinging to him, and it's pretty funny to see both of them with more or less the same reaction. Mayuka says she knows Tenchi is her father, but doesn't remember anything else. Washu pulls out a strand of Mayuka's hair, in typical Washu fashion, and analyzes it--and confirms Mayuka really is Tenchi's daughter, possibly from the future, although Washu's having trouble figuring out who the mother is.

From there, Mayuka goes on to make friends with Sasami and the others, with the exception of Ryoko, who's convinced she's up to no good...and soon it looks like Ryoko may be right...

Manatsu no Eve has its faults, but overall I liked it--it has the same feel as the OVA series and lets you see the cast in a different light. Ryoko and Ayeka even have a serious conversation at one point, which is something that's a little rare in the Tenchi universes otherwise, where normally they're just fighting like feral cats. Mayuka and Yuzuha are both interesting characters--Yuzuha is an evil monster on the one hand, but she seems to have very human feelings at times too, and it's hard not to feel bad for her. To me Mayuka came across as likable and sincere, even in the face of not knowing her own past or what was really happening to her.
Manatsu no Eve may not have the animation budget of the first Tenchi movie, but it still looks good, even by today's standards. A few of the scenes really stand out, like the Startica flashback in the beginning--the sudden transition from two kids sharing a moment of awe at a festival to the violent arrival of the SWAT team was done really well. The dramatic scenes are intense, all the more so if you're familiar with the characters from watching the OVA or TV series. I really liked the movie's atmosphere, with very detailed backgrounds at times, and background music that always seemed to be perfect for the scene. The movie's only 60 minutes long, which isn't a lot of screentime to work with, but they did a good job fitting everything in and still telling a complete story. More background on Yuzuha would have been nice, or more screentime for Mihoshi and Kiyone, but with just an hour to work with it would've detracted from the main story to do that. In the end, it tells a solid story, and the epilogue that plays out over the ending credits is a nice touch.

Flaws? Well, it seems too convenient that Washu always comes up with a way to save the day on next to no notice (like the 'Jurai energy generators' from the first movie). And some may not like Mayuka, especially if your favorite character is one of the ones that gets little to no screentime.

If you're a fan of Tenchi Muyo I think Manatsu no Eve is worth watching (although since it came out so long ago you've probably watched it already in that case), but even if you aren't a Tenchi fan you won't really be lost since it's a self-contained story. Comparing the quality of the animation and the direction to some more recent series, I think Manatsu no Eve stacks up pretty well, so don't let the 1990s release date scare you off.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Moldiver

Most people have at least one anime series they like in spite of the fact it doesn't get much attention or even particularly good reviews--and for me, that's probably Moldiver. Moldiver is a six-part OVA series that came out back in 1993--it's not an old-school classic on a par with something like Urusei Yatsura, but somehow every time I watch it, it manages to bring a smile to my face. Moldiver is a superhero series, with a mix of action, fanservice, and battles that level large portions of Tokyo's infrastructure--somewhat like a cross between Superman and Dirty Pair. Overall the action's good, the animation is high quality, the characters are entertaining, and if you can look past its flaws it's just fun to watch.
The heroine of Moldiver is Ozora Mirai, bishoujo and recent high school graduate who lives with her older brother Hiroshi and her younger brother Nozomu, with absentee parents (of course). They live in Tokyo at some indeterminate point in the future, say 50-150 years from now, where a lot of people (including Mirai) live in houses in huge skyscrapers that remind me of the Sky City 1000 concept. Mirai's brother Hiroshi is an inventor of sorts and he's just perfected the ultimate fighting suit, called Moldiver--it makes you completely invulnerable to any attack, and gives the wearer superhuman speed and strength. The trick is there's a time limit, and when it expires you go from superhuman to normal (only naked).

Hiroshi gets his first chance to try out Moldiver when he's at a special event before an antique F1 car race, and Dr. Machinegal's mecha attack to steal one of the Formula 1 cars on display. Mirai's there entering a beauty contest to be the race queen, and gets caught up in things when Machinegal's minions attack, but she's saved when Hiroshi transforms into Moldiver and easily defeats the mecha. Mirai suspects it's Hiroshi, since she finds his clothes there (when you transform you have to be naked or your clothes get destroyed in the process), and she confirms her suspicions later. Mirai decides to change the style of the Moldiver suit from a muscled guy to something more fashionable (well, by 1993 standards) that looks more like her. The next day she gets the chance to try it out for herself--and somehow, from there it's Mirai who's transforming into superhero Moldiver and not Hiroshi.
There's no more inexact science than trying to predict the future, and you can see that a little in this--for example, it's set in a future world where videophones are everywhere, but cell phones don't exist at all. When Mirai is trying to meet up with Misaki they have to do it the way we did back in the early 90s, leaving messages for each other at home from pay phones. These days they'd just text message each other on their keitais and find each other in a second.

While it's a superhero show, the "bad guy" in Moldiver isn't evil on the scale you might expect--he's an aging brilliant scientist (and Hiroshi's former professor) who loves old technology, from VCRs, to the Yamoto, to the Space Shuttle, and he uses his squad of female androids to go steal it for him. Most of the fighting is between Moldiver and the androids, and leads to the destruction of large portions of Tokyo's infrastructure--it reminds me of Dirty Pair a little although in Moldiver no one actually dies. Some of the funnier scenes are when Amagi tells his minions to be careful not to destroy the priceless objects they're supposed to steal, and much to Amagi's chagrin, they end up getting blown to pieces in the course of fighting with Moldiver. The background music is one of Moldiver's strong points too--it fits the superhero genre absolutely perfectly. The ED is slow-paced, but the OP is pretty catchy.

Moldiver's flaws really surface towards the end, when in the last two episodes they try to focus on the relationship between Mirai and her senpai from school (and Hiroshi's best friend) Misaki--they have no chemistry at all together, not helped by the fact Misaki has less personality than a toaster oven. They also try to turn things more serious, only to lighten back up at the very end. I didn't think the drama worked very well as a result, and it didn't fit with the tone of the first four episodes very well either. In the last two episodes there are a lot of things that happen that seem out of character, for Nozomu especially, like the writers suddenly wanted to go in a different direction but didn't have the time to smoothly transition the story. Don't expect any real character development either, although in any anime just six episodes long I guess it's hard to pull that off. If you consider 90s character designs and animation ugly then you should probably steer clear as well, although I really liked the character designs myself.

If you live in region 1, you can get the Moldiver DVD with all six episodes on it pretty cheap. If you're like me and watch the subtitles though, you'll find they're much closer to the dub than to what the characters are actually saying in Japanese. You know something's wrong when no one is saying anything in Japanese, but English subtitles appear anyway. I avoid dubs like I avoid sticking my face in a fan, so seeing "dubtitles" like this was more than a little annoying. Unfortunately, I doubt there's nearly enough demand for them to do a more modern subbing job on a re-release.

Overall, Moldiver is a lighthearted action/superhero show and while it doesn't do anything revolutionary, it does enough well to be an entertaining way to spend a couple hours. If you're looking for an older series with action, comedy, and some fanservice, I think it's not a bad way to spend your time.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Top 5 Most Beaten Down Male Leads

I normally don't do top 5 or top 10 lists, but just to change it up and make up for my sad lack of anime bloggage lately here goes. Thinking about this there are a LOT of potential candidates--slapstick in the form of the guy getting the stuffing knocked out of him by the bishoujo is pretty common.

#5: Keroro (Keroro Gunso) - Maybe aliens have a unique body structure that enables them to withstand beatdowns, but Keroro seems to be wrapped in bandages every other episode. Natsumi's usually the culprit but he also takes a beating from his subordinates on occasion, or the dreaded Nyororo. Although Keroro almost always deserves what he gets, so the pity meter doesn't register real high here.

#4: Chitose (Happy Lesson) - Being the plaything of five...unique...teachers makes Chitose's life a living hell. A funny living hell to watch, but probably not so funny when you're Chitose and Kisaragi-mama hits you on the head with a hammer. Chitose's got to have a titanium skull, otherwise he'd never have survived Happy Lesson, Advance, and Final.

#3: Urashima Keitaro (Love Hina) - Keitaro deserves a spot since he's at the receiving end of the Naru Punch in pretty much every episode of Love Hina, sometimes more than once. Usually he gets smashed through a wall and then knocked into low Earth orbit, and while you don't generally see him land it's safe to assume the landing hurts like hell too. Although like most abused anime guys, he never seems to actually get injured by all this, at least until Love Hina Again when he breaks his leg.

#2: Moroboshi Ataru (Urusei Yatsura) - Ataru takes a LOT of abuse, although my sympathy for him is diminished by the fact most of the time he clearly deserves it. In today's world, Ataru would probably be in prison for chronic sexual harassment, since he's always hitting on any girl he sees, and inevitably his pursuits end with Lum running 10,000 volts through his sorry skirt-chasing ass. But Ataru not only gets electrocuted by Lum on a routine basis, he also gets charred to a crisp by Ten, frozen in a block of ice by Oyuki, nearly chopped in half by Mendou, and gets slapped by every girl between age 9 and 90 in the Tokyo metro area.

And the most frequently beaten down male lead in anime is...

#1: Sakura (Dokuro-chan) - Sakura gets the #1 slot because Dokuro doesn't just beat him down when she's mad at him--she actually kills him, over and over again, and then resurrects him. I've never been killed that I can recall, but I'm guessing it hurts a LOT, especially when it's at the hands of Excaliborg, Dokuro's spiked club of doom. Although I have to wonder if Sakura's human because he seems to have at least a swimming pool's worth of blood in him.

And the Honorable Mentions...it was hard leaving them out of the list, but they didn't quite make the cut:

Kyon (Haruhi) - Haruhi doesn't actually punch him or anything, but mentally dealing with the SOS-dan is probably equivalent to one of Lum's electric lynchings.

Kawahira Keita (Inukami) - Youko fries him, destroys his prized ecchi possessions in front of him for maximum psychological impact, AND occasionally teleports him outside naked to be arrested and/or molested by dogs. Didn't quite make the top 5 this time, but if this keeps up for the rest of the series I might have to rethink things.

Saito (Zero no Tsukaima) - Seems to walk right into beatings, did he really think he'd get away with the "your breasts are zero" comment? I can't wait for the next episode, where during dessert he'll tell Louise "with every cream puff you eat I can see your ass getting bigger." I'm guessing he'll be whipped to death by the last episode.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Random Thoughts: Alien Frogs, Gift Imouto, and Summer...

Some random thoughts for a Monday morning:

* Doremi-Keroro has to have set some kind of fansubbing speed record--they've cranked out 32 episodes in just three months, and in the time it took me to type this post, they'll probably have five more episodes released. I'm considering giving my two weeks' notice at work because that's the only way I can possibly keep up and watch it all. Keroro is just anime gold--I love the manga, and this was the series I was looking forward to the most when it first started airing in '04. When it first aired, someone subbed just the introduction, and I must have watched that fifty times just waiting for the entire first episode to come out subbed. Out of the last dozen episodes, I loved episode 31 (where Keroro buys a defective airbike and Natsumi has to go find him), and especially episode 38. If you aren't familiar with the characters, particularly Natsumi and Giroro, episode 38 might not be as funny, but when Giroro gave her the password I was dying laughing--I'm lucky my wife didn't have me hauled off to a mental institution. I vaguely remember reading a story in high school English about a solider at the gallows during the Civil War who's about to be hung, but he escapes, overcomes countless obstacles making his way home, he's about to run into his wife's arms--and then he suddenly dies, his whole escape just a dream in the instant before his neck snapped. My greatest fear is kind of like that--that I'll wake up tomorrow and Doremi will never have picked up Keroro, and I'll still be waiting in vain for episode 9 to be subbed. I sincerely hope Haruhi grants long life and prosperity to everyone at Doremi-Keroro working on this.

* Speaking of Haruhi, I haven't blogged about it much lately (since it wasn't exactly underreported on by much better blogs than this one), but this was definitely my favorite series last season. The episodes airing out of order annoyed me a little, but Kyoani's gorgeous animation, the plot, and the characters all kept me hitting 'refresh' waiting for the next episode's torrent to appear. I'll be surprised if it doesn't end up my favorite series of the year, although if Kyoto Animation can strike gold again, Kanon may give Haruhi a run for its money. Haruhi had some of the best characters I've seen in a while, some good character development (even with the skipping around), and now I'm looking forward to re-watching it in chronological order. Although I'll have to squeeze it in between all the new Keroro episodes...

* I watched the first episode of Chokotto Sister raw--after reading the first 30 chapters of the manga it was easy enough to at least generally follow what was going on. The premise is definitely unique: Santa shows up on an airbike (I immediately thought of Benten from UY) and drops off the main character's little sister, who he'd wished for back when his mom had a miscarriage that prevented her from being born. The manga's a good mix of comedy, romance/drama, and fanservice, with an interesting cast of characters, and the anime seems pretty true to the manga so far. Yes, the manga takes the fanservice into "probably never going to be licensed in the US" territory, but it's toned down for the anime. I was half expecting when I downloaded the manga that this was going to go down the incest or the Asakura Nemu path, but it doesn't seem to be going that way at all. And the OP is addictive enough I have it on endless loop as I'm writing this.

* Summer Season: So far, keeping with my tradition of avoiding "serious" shows (like NHK) and sticking with romance/comedy, it looks like the winners are:

- Zero no Tsukaima: This reminds me a lot of Shakugan no Shana, not just because Louise and Saito have the same seiyuu as Shana and Yuuji (remember, you heard it here 47th). The relationship between Louise and Saito is similar as well--Louise just sees him as a servant at first, even being nonchalant about changing in front of him, but my guess is after he kicked Guiche's upper-class ass in episode 2 that's likely to change. It seems like their relationship is developing much faster than Shana-Yuuji, although from the preview for episode 3 it looks like Louise is going to be more tsun-tsun than dere-dere. The Harry Potter meets Versailles world the series is set in is interesting, and the animation quality is great so far. Although since I'm re-watching Okusama wa Mahou Shoujo I know all too well that JC Staff is capable of throwing their animation quality off a cliff at times--hopefully that won't happen to Tsukaima.

- Akazukin: I loved the OVA that came out a while back, and it's good to see this getting a TV series. I really like the character designs, they kind of remind me of Snow Fairy Sugar, and I'm curious how the Ringo-Shingo-Akazukin triangle will play out. Although as someone else mentioned, it's kind of hard not to hear Nanoha when Akazukin talks.

- Chokotto Sister: Hopefully this gets subbed, definitely looking forward to it based on the raw and what I've read of the manga.

On the bubble where I might drop them depending how they go are:

- Tsuyokiss: Not a bad first episode, focusing on Sunao instead of the male lead is kind of a nice change. Not sure if that'll last though, or if we're going to go into generic harem mode soon. For some reason I really don't like the character designs I've seen from the game, but the anime character designs aren't bad at all.

- Kanban Musume: This isn't too bad through the first two episodes, but I could see it getting old depending where they go from here. So far it's the "Miki Kicks the Crap Out of Everyone Except Her Mom" show, which is funny, but I can't imagine they'll keep it up for the whole run.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Soul Link

Unfortunately the Evil Empire I work for kept me too busy to blog last week, but I did finish watching Soul Link, and overall...well, I have mixed feelings about it. The setting, the number of couples (not all the girls chasing one guy), and the storyline were unique, but the animation and character development was lacking pretty badly. In the end all I can say is it was a mixed bag--I don't regret watching it, but it's probably not something I'll rewatch anytime soon.

The Soul Link anime is based on the game created by Navel, the same company that did Shuffle, and there's the usual variety of bishoujo (although no megane-ko, surprisingly enough--maybe in the future everyone gets LASIK). But instead of the typical high school setting, Soul Link is set in space, and the cast are mostly cadets who are training there, at an old space station called Aries. At first it's sort of typical military/school life, but then terrorists attack and take over the station, setting up the drama. It's kind of a refreshing change from the typical high school setting, although I wonder where you go to kokuhaku in a space station, the roof or behind the gym aren't really options anymore. A note in your locker saying 'meet me behind the trash compactor on level 17-B' just doesn't have the same ring to it somehow.

The part of Soul Link that impressed me the most was the girls by and large all like different guys. This is in contrast to Shuffle (aka "Everybody Loves Rin-kun") and most other game-to-anime series where all the girls have crushes on the male lead. In Soul Link, it's not even clear who the male lead is, since at first Ryouta gets a lot of screentime, but then his brother Shuuhei is squarely in the limelight. There are no love triangles, quadrangles, or so on--there's Ryouta, and Sayaka, his love interest; there's Ryouta's older brother Shuuhei, and his childhood friend Nao who has a crush on him; there's Kazuhiko, a classmate of theirs, and Karen; and there's Yuu and another guy that appears later on. I thought the less male lead-centric relationship chart made this more realistic than "all the girls in Hatsunejima want to be impregnated by Junichi and the other guys might as well be vegetables"--but the downside is in such a short series, there just isn't enough time to develop any of the characters or relationships. If they'd focused on Ryouta and Sayaka, or Shuuhei and Nao, then they'd have had the chance to develop at least a couple characters at the expense of the others--and realistically with 12 episodes that's all you can hope for. Instead they tried to be more ambitious and I think it backfired--all the couples just seemed forced to me, since there's very little backstory on any of their relationships, and next to zero character development. I give them credit for breaking out of the harem mold, but the relationships would have worked much better if they had focused on one, or if they had a 26-episode run to work with.

The animation quality is where Soul Link suffers the most in my book--yes, those Megami shots of Sayaka and Nao may look good, but you're not going to see anywhere near that level of animation watching this. Soul Link is one of the worst animated series I've ever seen, and it really hurts my enjoyment of it as a result. Some might argue that animation quality doesn't matter, but for me that's definitely not true. People do a lot of communication through body language and facial expressions--for example, when Nao should look worried about Shuuhei but instead has a vacant, neutral expression that looks like it was drawn by a five-year old, it makes it hard to feel what she's going through, or identify with her. Imagine Haruhi's tsun-tsun scowl replaced by a crudely drawn, neutral stare and you'll see what I mean. The animation quality in Soul Link started weak, took a dive for the worse, and surprisingly it didn't rally for the final episodes. Especially for a series with this many bishoujo you'd think they'd give it enough budget to let them shine.

The mystery of what the bad guys are up to probably kept me watching this to the end, along with the knowledge it was only 12 episodes. Although...

* spoilers for the end *

...a few things about the ending bothered me. Delicious Morimoto's death seemed unnecessary, since Ryouta had a gun and plenty of time to fire it, and Sayaka, as a military cadet, should have at least tried to push herself and Aya down to the ground to present less of a target. Someone should have told Sayaka rule one when a gun is pointed at you in combat is not "hug the person next to you and cower in fear." The whole "Morimoto is really Sayaka's father" thing just seemed...just odd. It's like the writers were going down a checklist for dramatic story elements and threw in the 'long-lost father' one at the last possible minute. Gale taking one for the team also seemed like it was just thrown in for drama's sake, since in the time it took Aya to get the shuttle ready to launch he probably could have just done that himself and gotten both of them the hell out of there. The extra ship for Shuuhei, Nao, and Nanami to escape in just seemed too convenient, and Cellaria seemed to have no coherent strategy the last few episodes other than 'send in the zombies'--I was expecting her to sabotage the shuttles or do something that would make the good guys' escape more difficult. Instead she just sat in the control room and busted out the diabolical laughter until Nanami took her ass down. Cellaria's seiyuu really took over the top to a new level, I haven't seen that much overacting since Dr. Claw.

So in the end, I don't think I'll be re-watching this soon, but it's anime and the storyline kept me watching it, so I can't say it was a complete waste of time. I think Soul Link had the potential to be really good, but the length of the series, lack of focus, and the lack of animation budget ended up hurting it a lot.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Whither Region 1 Anime Distributors?

Does that sound like a headline from The Economist or what? Well, it's a slow day at work, and between that and the recent clarion call for cold, hard numbers and graphs, I've decided that my trusty assistant, Microsoft Excel-kun, and I, are going to bust out some hard-hitting analysis of the region 1 anime industry. This means a US-Canada centered post, so those of you lucky to live in countries where you get more vacation time than I do (which means just about anywhere else on Earth) might want to skip this or risk falling asleep. In fact, this will be one of my least coherent posts ever, which means it should probably never be read by anyone.

A lot of people have opined (there's a word that doesn't get enough use) about the state of the anime industry in R1 (I'm saying "R1" because it's shorter to type over and over than "the US and Canada"). Is the anime "fad" dying out? Is the golden age of hundreds of DVDs coming out in R1 each year over for good, killed by the twin demons of fickle youth and swashbuckling pirates? Or are all US anime companies run by retarded baboons who are running their companies into the ground licensing (warning: sarcasm) pure anime gold like Divergence Eve?

It seems like there are a few main lines of thought on R1 anime DVD distributors. There are some who would say something along the lines of "who cares, R1 distributors don't CREATE anime anyway--they're just whores who sell it to make a buck. Let them and their shareholders go f**k themselves." There are those who say "who cares, i download animes anyway, since my allowance is th3 sux0r." And there are inevitably those who say "fansubbers are at fault, since they're evil, loli-rubbing bastards who are a nasty, suspicious-looking stain on the glorious face of corporate America". There are some who would say the R1 anime distributors just got greedy, and when the boom in anime flatlined, got caught with their pants down. So who's right?

To start with, we need some pretty-looking charts. Yes, ADV had layoffs, yes, Japanese companies have invested in ADV and Geneon, but what do the numbers say? Let's ask Excel-kun to crunch the number of volumes of anime released in R1 each year, since the dawn of the DVD format. Source for the list of releases is Anime on DVD, chart by Excel-kun.

That doesn't look so bad. I know, this includes releases of collections, but it doesn't look like I'm going to have to start importing region 2 discs and taking a crash course in Japanese anytime soon. No, I have no idea what the odds are 2003 and 2004 would see the exact same number of DVDs released (752), but that has to mean something. Tabun. How does 2006 look? Well, through the end of June, 366 DVDs have been released, and for the same period in 2005 it was 384. That's a 4.7% drop for this year, which--well, it's not exactly the end of the world. Still, you can see from graph #2 below that the rate of growth in DVD releases year-on-year has...well, not fared so well.

In any case, it's clear the "boom" days are over. In baseball terms, we're not "on a pace" to see 5,000 anime DVDs per week by the end of 2010 or anything like that--it's leveling off, although 800 DVDs a year is nothing to shake a stick at.

But, you say, the number of DVD releases is a lagging indicator (yes, I can talk like Alan Greenspan if I have to--that's probably the first and last reference to the Federal Reserve in an anime blog too), so what does the future have in store? For that, let's ask Excel-kun to put Menchi down and look at the AnimeSuki license database, and tell us exactly how many titles have been licensed the last couple years:
That doesn't look good. If you just look at this, you might either be breathing a sign of relief that your wallet won't be violated as hard in the next year or two, or sweating bullets that your favorite series will never see the light of an R1 DVD. 2005 had not just fewer licenses than the year before it, but even fewer than in 2003.

But looking at 2006 so far, things don't look all that bad. So far in 2006, 29 series have been licensed, and in 2005 the total through June 30th was 33. We'll get a better feel after Anime Expo, but the decline seems to be leveling off. I don't read too much into the big investment a Japanese company made in ADV recently, because they might have just thought their shares looked cheap and oversold, but at a minimum it's a sign they're not seen as a sinking ship. And quantity isn't equal to quality anyway, some series that were licensed in 2004 make me wonder if the licensors were licensing under the influence.

Why did the anime boom in R1 level off? I don't think fansubs are to blame--yes, people *could* just keep their fansubs of Haruhi instead of buying the DVDs. But everyone in Japan can just tape Haruhi when it airs on TV, and the DVDs still seem to sell just fine there. Closer to home, you don't see NBC going after people setting their VCRs to tape E.R. because it might hurt DVD sales when people can watch it for free. I think (and I know this is just a guess, Excel-kun's charts notwithstanding) that the real cause of the end of the boom is that any product has a lifecycle, and the DVD format in general has just reached the "mature" stage where it's not going to go up 30-40% in sales a year. It's not just anime distributors having financial difficulty, Hollywood's DVD sales are hitting a wall too. While some will always blame piracy, I think there's a less sinister explanation, which is true for me anyway--most studios have their back catalogs out so they can't milk that for sales anymore, and a lot of people have hundreds of DVDs already and are more selective now about what they add to that. On a personal note, my DVD buying has peaked too, this year so far I've only bought seven.

(Yes, this makes four graphs in one post. Suck on that, Wall Street Journal.)

So far this year I've only bought seven new DVDs, and for the year I'll probably end up around 20-30, so there's a downward trend. With my shelves half-full of anime I feel like I need to be more selective and only buy DVDs that really have rewatch value. A DVD I'm only going to watch once or twice just doesn't make the cut. Plus I've bought a lot of anime from the 80s and 90s--a big chunk of my DVD catalog is made up of all the Urusei Yatsura DVDs, and they aren't making any more UY for me to buy.

So what's in store for R1 anime distributors? While the boom may have subsided, the fact licensing is still going on at about the same pace as last year tells me the worst is over. It's human nature when things are going well to get caught up in the excitement, and it wouldn't surprise me if companies like ADV expanded aggressively during the boom (much like dot-coms did in 1998-99) only to find when things leveled off that they'd paid too much for too many licenses that won't sell all that well. While ADV's star has fallen a little, Funi's seems to have risen, and with more money ADV might be back in there trying to be "the Microsoft of anime" (not surprising they changed their slogan...).

Time for me to go home so that's it for today's ramble. And don't worry, I don't think I'll ever post another graph in this blog again...

Asagiri no Miko

I've noticed a pattern in my anime-watching each season--at the beginning of the season I'm watching nothing but fansubs, as I try to digest as many new shows as possible to see what I like and what I don't like. But later in the season, I've dropped several series, and I find myself going to my DVD collection and re-watching older stuff. That's why I just finished rewatching Asagiri no Miko, which was released in region 1 on DVD as "Shrine of the Morning Mist." While the animation quality isn't exactly stellar, it has a good cast of characters, an interesting story, good atmosphere, and while it doesn't seem to be all that popular, I enjoyed watching it.

The heroine of the story is Yuzu, who works as a miko with her older and younger sisters at a temple in a rural area of Hiroshima prefecture (maybe not quite as rural as Tana in Zettai Shonen, but close). Yuzu is starting high school soon, and she's excited because her childhood friend and cousin, Hiro, is returning to the town and is going to be living with her family, after a several year absence. Yuzu has had a crush on Hiro the whole time he's been gone, but she hasn't seen him since he left. Yuzu and her sisters go to the station to pick Hiro up--and he's attacked by a mysterious person wearing a tengu mask named Ayatachi, who knows that one of Hiro's eyes can see the spiritual world and wants to use that power to help the evil god Yagarena descend to Earth. Yuzu beats Ayatachi back by accidentally crashing into him with her bicycle like the doji-ko she is, and while Yuzu's embarrassed by her entrance, Hiro's saved for now. But he's definitely not out of danger, so a Miko Club is formed at school to fight back Ayatachi and his minions and protect Hiro. At first recruiting is difficult, but Yuzu and four other girls form the Miko Shoutai (they don't call it that, I've just been watching a lot of Keroro lately) and they gradually improve their skills and bond as a team fighting Ayatachi and his Twilight Miko.

The characters make or break whether I like a series or not, and I liked the cast of Asagiri no Miko. You get a good feeling for how much Yuzu really cares about Hiro--to the point that in one episode when she's attacked by Ayatachi's minions, her first thought is to be relieved that this time they're not targeting Hiro instead. She's a bit of a doji-ko, and has the funniest SD facial expressions of anyone in the cast. The other mikos are Reiko, who's athletic, generally outgoing, and has been turned down by every guy she confesses to (although she has a lot of girls who are fans); Chika, who's short, looks like an elementary schooler, but has a lot of attitude; Shizuka, who's inconceivably rich and is mild-mannered; and Izumi, who's a UFO nut (her and Fuyuki from Keroro Gunso would get along well). All of them have very distinct personalities, and since the series is 26 12-minute episodes, while there isn't a whole lot of character development, there's at least enough time to put each of them in the spotlight so they're not just one-dimensional. Even the bad guys get their screentime, they aren't just faceless enemies, and they aren't completely evil either, with their own motivations for what they are doing.

The story has an interesting twist in that it's the reverse of the gender roles you'd "normally" expect--Yuzu's the one who's fighting to defend Hiro and not the other way around. Although it's not that Hiro's just the "guy in distress", he has determination and courage when he really needs to. The story starts with Yuzu recruiting the other miko, a few episodes where they train/bond together, and the "bad guys" even get a couple episodes about them and their relationship with Yuzu's group. But the end of the story is where Asagiri no Miko really shines, putting together a solid, dramatic ending.

For me, the high points for Asagiri no Miko were:

- The flashbacks with Koma and Tadaaki, Hiro's grandfather. For a side character like Koma to get a touching story like this really impressed me.
- The last few episodes and the ending. It may be predictable to a point, but I thought it was well-written and did a good job showing the relationships between the characters.
- The episode where Reiko thinks her bad luck streak in love is over and she's getting confessed to. You can see where it's going from a mile away, but it's still funny.
- Giving the "bad guys" some depth. It's easy to write evil characters, it's not so easy to write characters who do bad things but you can't say are truly "evil".
- Comedy--it isn't ALL funny, but Kurako-sensei vs Chika, Yuzu vs Ayatachi, Izumi vs Chika, Reiko and Chika misunderstanding Kusugi and Hiro's relationship...a lot of the character interactions are laugh out loud funny at times. Although I may just be easily amused.

And the low points:

- The animation is pretty poor at times. It's not "if a five year old drew this, instead of putting it on the fridge his mom would rip it up in front of him and flush it down the toilet" bad, but don't watch it immediately after Haruhi or the contrast in animation quality may kill you.
- Episode length. While it gets a full 26 episodes to work with, each episode is only 12 minutes long, and the story kind of suffers as a result at times. A few episodes are really multi-parters, but I think it would have been a better series if they pulled it out to 26 normal-length episodes.
- Generic fight scenes. Yes, each miko has a signature move. And that's the only combat move they have. I keep thinking of Cardcaptor Sakura, where Sakura has what, 50 different cards to choose from? It would have been nice if they each had a couple different attacks, and there's some thought required in which one to use for which adversary, but...not so much.
- Ayatachi's background. It would have been nice to get some background on his curse and why he is the way he is, but it's not really developed at all.

Overall, Asagiri no Miko has a good cast and has a solid story, which makes it exactly the kind of anime I like. If you can look past the animation quality, I'd definitely recommend it.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Petopeto-san

I just watched the last episode of Petopeto-san, and while it wasn't exactly the ending I expected, it was definitely a fun series to watch overall. Looking back on it, this series was a lot like Snow Fairy Sugar--at first glance, you might dismiss it as just cute, but it also dealt with more serious topics underneath.

The main characters in Petopeto-san are Shingo, who's your average human guy with a gift for making really good ramen, and Petoko, who's a youkai (monster), or as the politically correct term goes, a "specified race". The underlying plot to the series is how the youkai and normal humans get along, with some in their school disliking the youkai and being racist towards them at first, but eventually coming around to see deep down they're the same as everyone else. Since the governor of Tokyo routinely makes racist statements and seems to get re-elected anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to see an anime series promoting tolerance and understanding the way Petopeto-san does (although I know Ishihara doesn't speak for everyone in Japan's view of foreigners, so I shouldn't have been surprised).

Shingo first meets Petoko when she falls into the pool one day at school, he reaches out and grabs her hand, and she promptly gets stuck to him. Petoko is part of a race of youkai that has the ability to stick to people, supposedly so they could seduce them. She's stuck to Shingo until they both fall asleep, which is going to take a while since this happened in mid-afternoon. Talking back at his house, Petoko explains she was unable to go to school until now because she stuck to people, even though she always wanted to go. She's afraid her brief school life is over, but Shingo convinces her it's OK and helps cheer her up. From there, Petoko becomes popular in school, her sincerity and earnestness winning people over. No school life series is complete without a love triangle, and Kuguru, who's a kappa youkai and a little rough around the edges, fills that role, since she has a crush on Shingo, and Shingo likes Petoko.

I thought the Shingo-Petoko-Kuguru triangle was handled really well--Shingo doesn't vacillate back and forth on who he likes, Petoko's feelings are developed slowly and realistically, and the way Kuguru shows she likes Shingo (which could easily be mistaken for picking on him) is believable too. The last episode is well done, resolving who likes who (not that it was in much doubt), and taking a more serious turn but avoiding getting melodramatic. I would've liked to see a little more closure at the end (first Lamune, now Petopeto-san--it's like no couples kiss at the end of anime series anymore...), but everyone involved is young enough that there's plenty of time for that later.

The animation and voice acting was pretty good throughout--Petoko's Osaka-ben accent felt a little out of place somehow at first, but I got used to it quickly. The stretch towards the end of the series with the "little sisters festival" was a little odd and seemed to sidetrack the story somewhat, but the ending pulled the story back to its original track. Petopeto-san was a short, but sweet series--I can definitely see it having re-watch potential.

Dirty Pair

There are some events in the world of anime fandom that seem so improbably awesome that you have to pinch yourself to see if you're dreaming. Kyoani remaking Kanon and giving it 24 episodes. Doremi-Keroro cranking out new fansubs of Keroro Gunso faster than cheetahs on acid. Kodocha actually getting a region 1 license. Seeing the Dirty Pair TV series fansubbed is one of those kind of things, something I knew was theoretically possible in much the same way that I COULD come home and find my wife has entered, and won, the lottery and I'll never have to work again.

If you have an aversion to old school, you should probably stop reading now. Dirty Pair is an old-school classic--when the manga-ka of You're Under Arrest was still too young for solid food, there was Dirty Pair, the ultimate policewoman duo of Kei and Yuri, going after the bad guys, getting yelled at by their boss, and taking collateral damage to a level that occasionally wiped out entire planets.

To give a quick summary, Kei and Yuri are agents of the W3A, an elite organization set in a sci-fi universe that handles any problem they get tasked with, usually involving criminal activity. Kei's the red-haired, hotheaded Natsumi-type (in YUA-speak), while Yuri would be more like Miyuki, more calm and smarter. They're assisted by a robot and by their...er...dog of sorts, Mughi (an alien who looks like a large dog but is far smarter than, say, Scooby-Doo). Kei and Yuri's "battle bikinis" and the sheer number of explosions and casualties that their missions involve make some look at this as an example of what's "wrong" with anime, since it fits the stereotype commonly held by non-anime fans that anime is just "big boobs and guns". It may fit the stereotype, but it's still entertaining to watch--Kei and Yuri's bickering and the action scenes are all well done, and while it's pure episodic action, there are much worse ways to spend 24 minutes than enjoying the ride as the Dirty Pair take on their mission of the week. The characters really make series like this succeed or fail, and like YUA, Dirty Pair has a strong cast (although it's not as big as YUA's, and lacks YUA's romance subplots). The duo of Kei and Yuri has awesome chemistry--you really get the feeling watching them in action they've worked together for ages, and their bantering back and forth is always good for a few laughs.

The first three episodes of Dirty Pair TV are fansubbed, and if you're looking for an action/crimefighting/sci-fi series, I'd recommend giving Dirty Pair a try. In region 1 you can get the Dirty Pair OVAs (10 episodes, aired after the TV series, for $20), and three Dirty Pair movies from ADV (also $20 for the set). ADV never licensed the TV series, and based on their downsizing and comments that "old school doesn't sell" it seems like a license is unlikely. There's also a series called Dirty Pair Flash that aired in the 90s, which is a remake with different character designs and changes to Kei and Yuri's personalities--while purists will say it's just not the same, I thought it wasn't too bad either.

Just remember...Kei and Yuri's official W3A codename is the "Lovely Angels" so don't call them the Dirty Pair to their face or you'll end up in traction.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Shakugan no Shana

Shakugan no Shana isn't one of my top 10 anime of all time, but it's a solid series that provides a mix of action, drama, and romance with interesting characters set in a complex world. Based on a series of novels and animated by J.C. Staff (Mahoraba, Karin, and many others), Shana is coming to Region 1 DVD in September, and that DVD is sitting in a slot on my Amazon wish list.

The main characters in Shakugan are Shana herself, who's kind of like Rebecca from Paniponi or Hazuki from Tsukuyomi--she's under 5 feet tall, confident in her abilities, and not likely to win any awards for being Miss Congeniality. To give a brief summary of the plot, the world we live in isn't as it appears--people are being killed by monsters for their power of existence, and to keep the rest of us unaware and avoid too much disruption, those who are killed are replaced by "torches", which slowly fade away over time. Flame Hazes like Shana fight these monsters to preserve the balance of the world. Yuuji, the other main character aside from Shana, finds out that he himself is a torch--but he has a special power that makes his torch regenerate nightly so he won't disappear. The catch is that power makes him a target, because a lot of other people want it--so Shana reluctantly ends up staying by his side.

What makes Shakugan no Shana fun to watch, for me anyway, is the interaction between Shana and Yuuji and getting to see both of them grow as characters, especially Shana. Shana starts the series with no proper name, just a title as a Flame Haze, and she dismisses Yuuji as "just a torch" and someone who's not really alive at all. But Yuuji gives her the name Shana and that starts her on the road to becoming more human. Shana's a lone wolf at the beginning, but by the end she's found more to care about than her mission as a Flame Haze, and she's become a much more balanced character. She doesn't turn into a Belldandy clone (thank God/Haruhi for that), but her character gets some real development and change during the course of the series. Her and Yuuji get a few memorable scenes, and Shana's trademark "urusai, urusai, urusai" gets a little old by the end, but is good for a few laughs.

A lot of people criticized Yuuji for his reaction to the events in the first episode, but I think he actually handled it pretty well--not many people would jump between a total stranger and someone swinging a sword, most people would have just run like hell. He starts out pretty much useless in combat, but as things go on, he learns more and works hard to be useful to Shana, not just wanting to be a bystander. In the middle of the series, his lack of decisiveness over the whole Yuuji-Shana-Kazumi triangle can be annoying to watch, but given everything else he's been through, I guess I should cut him some slack.


Over the 24 episodes of the show, there are a few story arcs involving different bad guys--the final arc doesn't really get tied up neatly by the ending, although there's a movie in the works so maybe that will close out the arc. The bad guys are an odd bunch--there's the guy who has a doll fetish, the siblings who french kiss to exchange power, and so on. They're pretty much one-dimensional and just generally evil, with no real backstory on any of them. But some of the side characters stand out--Iwata Mitsuo is awesome as usual as Marco, the sidekick of one of the other Flame Hazes, and with 24 episodes to work with, the side characters get their chance to shine in the limelight. Kazumi, Shana's rival for Yuuji, has her fans, but she comes across to me as a drama queen, getting way more worked up about Yuuji than anyone in their right mind would. She also seems to have the "my only purpose in life is to make bento and someday become the male lead's girlfriend" syndrome you often find in anime girls, which just makes me want to roll my eyes--but fortunately she's not in the spotlight nearly as much as Yuuji and Shana.

The pacing of Shakugan no Shana isn't for everyone--people looking for Inuyasha-like action will probably fall asleep at several episodes of Shana that are 90% plot exposition and dialogue. There are long periods where nothing is going on but the characters talking, and for some people that's a big turnoff. That wasn't a problem for me personally--the world in Shakugan no Shana is complex and they throw around a lot of terminology specific to it, but the mostly-dialogue episodes still held my interest and were a good break from the action. There's also some Shana and Kazumi service thrown in throughout the series, but it's not like Girls Bravo or anything where it gets distracting.

Overall, I think Shakugan no Shana's a fun series to watch. It's hard not to like the melon-pan eating heroine, and the short special episodes (3-minute extra shorts that came with the R2 DVDs) are especially hilarious. I'm looking forward to the movie and hoping to see Kazumi get smacked down so Yuuji can end up with Shana ;)