Saturday, April 29, 2006

Futakoi - Original Flavor

I rewatched this recently, and before you say "why for the Love of God would you put yourself through that a SECOND time" I should say a few words in defense of the original Futakoi. First of all, it has Yui Horie in it, so it can't COMPLETELY suck. And the premise is interesting enough, going with an all-twins harem for the undeserving male lead, and looking at some of the differences and conflicts between the twins. Futakoi even did a good job ratcheting up the drama at the end, although you can argue why did they bother since they wasted it with the 'I guess I won't make a decision at all' ending. While some of the cast are better than others, Futakoi had some very likeable characters, and a few memorable scenes, like Miyabi laying the smackdown on Nozomu in the final episode. I wouldn't rate Futakoi above To Heart, but it did a few things very well, it was entertaining enough to watch, and it's a pity it didn't get the conclusive ending it deserved.

A few random thoughts after watching this again:

- Kira and Yura's dad needs to get his ass kicked. Maybe Yuuya could do it since he seems to be a badass. Kira-chan-tachi's dad doesn't show up once all series--you'd think his wife dying might have taught him his family's more important than work, but nope, he just hands down orders to Kenmochi from afar. He's probably one of those overpaid CEOs with 60 billion dollars in stock options who's banging his secretary, cooking the books, jetsetting around the world, and wouldn't recognize his own kids if he saw them. Their dad in Futakoi Alternative was much better, in spite of being a yakuza boss.

- Miyabi is awesome, and needs to appear in every series where the male lead's dithering. The scene where she tells Nozomu that running away because he "doesn't want to hurt anyone" is bullshit and he really just doesn't want to be hurt himself was classic. Too bad he doesn't actually make a decision after that, but there's only so much Miyabi can do without putting the boxing gloves on.

- I like Billy. There, I said it. I know, everyone hates Billy. I mean, WTF is a goat doing in this? Why not have a freaking kangaroo in the yard while they're at it, or a pack of ocelots? What makes Billy great is his two-faced nature, sucking up to every cute girl he sees, while trying to kick the living hell out of Nozomu every chance he gets. I'm probably just easily amused but Billy kicking Nozomu in the gut or giving him the Glare of Death always cracks me up.

- Nozomu Must Die. Yeah, it's hard not to hate Nozomu-chan. Four girls confess to him and he promptly runs away and freaks out, tossing their homemade chocolate aside, soiling himself in abject fear, and babbling about how it's all the curse of the Twins. I'm sorry, Nozomu, most guys get confessed to by four girls and you know how they'd feel? One word: HAPPY. Instead Nozomu acts like there's a bomb up his ass, and in ten seconds it's going to explode. It's too bad Gouda from Kitto Kitto Kaoruko-chan, or whatever their fanclub was called, never got the chance to pummel him.

- Japanese needs more pronouns. If there was just a plural 'you' then the whole "Nozomu always says 'Kaoruko-chan-tachi'" issue could have been averted. Seriously, if I was Sumireko I'd be kind of annoyed too, with Nozomu essentially referring to them as "Kaoruko and that other chick" all the time.

- I want Nozomu's father's job. I know it's cold up at Moana Loa, but being able to take trips down to Waikoloa would so make it worth it. Hmmm...astronomy in Hawaii or middle management? Sadly, I know which one pays more and it doesn't involve looking through telescopes.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Spring Season Power Rankings

A couple weeks into the spring season, once again I find myself being damn glad I'm an anime fan, because some of these series are just incredible. Sadly, there are those who have not seen The Light that is anime, and watching Haruhi it is hard not to shed tears of sorrow for Those Unbelievers who think anime is just "boobs and giant robots". I'll have them know a lot of anime doesn't have giant robots at all. In any case, here are my rankings for the season so far:

The Big Three
#1 - Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu: No surprise here, other than Kyoto Animation surpassed my already high expectations. To some, it's the story that matters and the animation is irrelevant, but to me the quality of animation is part of why I'm an anime fan, that feeling you get when a scene is so detailed it's like you're watching a moving piece of art. That's exactly what watching Haruhi is like for me. The cast is awesome too--in a world of anime that at times has some pretty cookie-cutter characters (your average dojiko, meganeko, tsundere, or unremarkable male lead girls fall all over) it's refreshing to see someone like Haruhi that you can't say "oh, she's just like X from series Y". The plot, too, is very, very unique and interesting--the novels just provide great material to work with. I wish it was 41 episodes and not 14, but I'll take what I can get.

#2 - Utawarerumono: Granted, I've only seen the first two episodes, and this isn't in danger of knocking off Haruhi for the #1 spot, but I like this so far. My last post explains most of the reasons why, but they've definitely got me hooked.

#3 - School Rumble 2nd Term: The first two episodes haven't been roll on the floor funny, but this is still a great series--good animation, a memorable (and getting to be HUGE) cast, and a seriously messed up relationship chart.

Middle of the Pack

#4 - Himawari: Only seen ep 1, but it's passable so far. I was hoping for another Kage Kara Mamoru, this seems a little light on the comedy, but it's well animated and there's potential for drama. Plus it's about ninjas, but set in the future, test-tube ninjas.

#5 - Soul Link: I'll be honest, there are only two reasons I'm watching this. The first is it has Shiori from Kanon in it, even though in Soul Link she inexplicably goes by "Aya". The second is the XO has Onsokumaru's seiyuu. I have to laugh every time I hear his voice just because it invariably reminds me of something funny he said in Shinobuden.

#6 - Disgaea: Ep 1 was so-so, but with Etna's arrival in ep 2 this picked up--she's definitely the most entertaining part of the show so far for me. I think the whole cast may be anorexic, though.

#7 - Joshikousei: Well, if I had a fanservice rating this would get #1 by a mile, but unfortunately the first episode wasn't that funny. I have episode 2 sitting on my hard drive, and I mean to watch it--I almost watched it yesterday, but I ended up watching Haruhi again instead. Getting close to falling into dropped-land, but I hear ep 3 is better, so I'll probably give it another week.


Strawberry Panic: Gave up in the middle of episode 2--it's yuri without the fanservice, which to quote Ataru Moroboshi is like beefbowl without the beef. If it takes this long just to get Nagisa and Etoile to kiss, odds are they won't bump uglies until episode 15.4 trillion.

Magipoka: I was barely able to finish episode 1, the comedy just missed with me. I'm usually pretty easily amused, but I don't think I laughed once watching it. Unless reviews are stellar on the next few episodes, think I'm done with this one.

No Decision

Sasami ~ Mahou Shoujo Club: Before I heard Kyoto Animation was doing Haruhi, this was what I was looking forward to the most this spring, just because Pretty Sammy was hilarious. It doesn't sound like this new series has the same sense of humor...and since it isn't subbed yet, I may never find out, although I'm keeping my hopes up for now...

Not Even Anime Related, So WTF Is This Doing Here

The Back Dormitory Boys - I read about them in The Economist of all places--two Chinese college students in their dorm room wearing Houston Rockets jerseys and lip-syncing to the Backstreet Boys. I'm not sure what this says about globalization, but it's pretty funny, and evidently they're really famous in China now. Good thing when I was in college we didn't have this newfangled "Inter-net" thing, or God only knows what we would have done...

Monday, April 17, 2006

Utawarerumono First Impressions

Utawarerumono is a series I'd been looking forward to, just because it's from Aquaplus and I really liked Comic Party/Comic Party Revolution. The erogame-to-anime road is a crowded and well-worn path, but the premise of Utawarerumono sounded like it might be able to rise above some of the competition--the male lead wakes up in a small village having lost his memories, and ends up getting pulled into fighting for that village. It's definitely different from the typical school setting these games tend to be in, and with a full 26 episodes to work with, this looks like it should have the potential to rise above your average "girl of the week" game-to-anime series. So far, it's done a great job--I'd rank this as my second favorite series this season, behind Haruhi and narrowly ahead of Sukuran.

Utaware (I'll abbreviate it, since it's hard to say/type/read the full title anyway) opens with a fire, then the male lead wakes up to find himself recovering from a serious injury in the care of Eruruu, a girl who lives in a small country village with her little sister and her grandmother. He can't remember anything about his past, but Eruruu and the others treat him like one of them, and when a giant, pissed-off tiger attacks the village, he comes up with a plan to fight it and save his new friends. Through the end of episode 2 he hasn't remembered anything about his past, but he's accepted as a member of the village, and happy to be living with Eruruu, Aruruu, and the others.

I'd hoped this would excel beyond your standard harem anime traditions, and it does--just a few things Utaware does really well:

- The main character isn't a total loser. On the contrary, in just the first two episodes, he proves he's smart, brave, strong, and determined. Just picture any other game lead in his place and you'll see the difference--would Junichi risk his life to be bait for a thousand-pound maneating tiger trap? Would Rin-kun come up with a plan to kill it? Hell, no. They'd probably hide behind their harems and soil themselves in fear. An-chan, however, fights off a tiger--with a FOLDING FAN. Two words: Bad. Ass.

- The character designs are great. No, this isn't Haruhi-level animation or anything, but the series looks a lot like the first four episodes of Comic Party Revolution (the OVAs), and that's a lot better than I expected. I hope the character designer gets a LOT more work on other series.

- Eruruu. She's a great character, you see how determined she is and how much she cares about the people around her early on, and it's impossible not to like her for that. She's also really kawaii--the ears and the tail didn't seem odd at all, but then again, Tsukuyomi's Hazuki wore nekomimi almost the whole series so maybe I'm just too used to fill-in-the-blank-mimi for that to be distracting.

- Actually having more relationships in the series than "girls going rabu-rabu for protagonist". Yes, it's pretty clear Eruruu likes An-chan, but beyond that there's no harem in sight. Her little sister Aruruu sees him as a father figure (thank God, given her age), and the second episode is more about teamwork and friendship than anything rabu-rabu. Compare this to your average harem girls offering the protagonist their bentou, a hand-knitted scarf, casual sex, et cetera, and Utaware is on a different level. I'm sure more girls will appear based on the OP, but I can't see this turning into Eruruu and some other girl arguing on the rooftop about who gets to make An-chan lunch, and that's just as well.

Overall, it's looking good--this gets bonus points from me for having momiji appear in the opening credits, and the OP is surprisingly catchy and fits the mood of the series well. I was half-expecting this to be a harem series crossed with Dances With Wolves, but it has turned out to be better than that so far. I'm definitely looking forward to another six months of this series.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Haruhi no Haru

Some random (as usual) thoughts on the spring season:

- Haruhi (through ep 2): God, I love Kyoto Animation. The fact their office is in Kyoto just makes working there even more my dream job, since Kyoto's probably my favorite spot on Earth (if you ever go to Japan don't just sit in Akihabara or Tokyo, GO TO KYOTO, preferably in fall--you won't regret it). Haruhi episode 2 was just gorgeous visually, and the dance in the ending credits going full screen was extra icing on the cake. For once the series I was looking forward to the most at the season's start is shaping up to be my favorite. The story's looking interesting too--Haruhi's attitude is great, Kyon's narration/thoughts are hilarious, and there's plenty of mystery as far as why Haruhi is the way she is and exactly what power she has. It's a difficult series to describe, but also very funny and addictive. Episode 1 took a chance and went out there with the whole student film thing, but anyone who dismissed it on the basis of that episode alone is really missing out (I loved ep 1, but some of it's probably only funny if you've watched mahou shoujo before). It's rare for something to come along that you can't say "if you liked X you'll like this" or "it's just like Y only this time it's in space with guns and stuff", but I can't think of anything to compare Haruhi to. Episode 2 was really just introducing Haruhi and setup, so it should get even better as the story builds momentum. I know very little about the novels so can't say if they're going to actually put in some drama, romance, or anything but comedy as we go along, but there's the potential for anything with Haruhi around.

- Soul Link (ep 1): Slow first episode, but the skirt-lifting punk from every Navel game makes an appearance. Maybe parents are softer on kids these days, but I'm pretty sure I'd have gotten my ass kicked for that when I was seven. With just 12 episodes to work with, the terrorists have to start their shiznit going pretty soon, unless this makes like Konomini and saves all the plot/drama to get stuffed into the last four episodes. So far at least, there only seems to be one girl who likes the male lead, which is unusual for this kind of show, but I'm sure that'll change soon. The CG in episode 1 reminds me of Ed and Al's Golden Rule of Alchemy--some shit is better not attempted, because if you try it you'll wind up with one nasty-ass mess. If I want polygons I'll start up my 1997-vintage Playstation, I don't want to see them in anime.

- Joshikousei (ep 1): I don't think I've seen this many panty shots since Agent Aika...although I'm not the type to refuse to watch a show because *gasp* it has fanservice in it--after all, watch any US network TV show and half the actresses are about to fall out of their tops so it's not like this is unique to anime. Having said that, while it's funny in parts, Joshikousei isn't anywhere near Haruhi-caliber humor either. Supposedly the next episode is funnier, and sometimes series like this where the quirks of the cast are a big part of the humor take a while for me to get into, so I'll definitely keep watching for now.

- Sukuran 2nd Trimester (ep 1): Great so far, just like the original. The cast is still growing, and we're beyond where I've read in the manga so I'm curious who will be getting the most screentime and if a front-runner will emerge for Harima, or if the relationship chart will continue to be such a tangled mess that the manga-ka will have no idea how to get out of it and just cop out with a totally open ending. I think the manga's still running, so guess there's not much chance this season will actually resolve anything.

Saraba D.C.S.S., Canvas 2, Rec, and Shinibara...

The start of a new season means the end of the old season (damn, I'm on a philosophical roll today) and that means saying goodbye to a few series I'll miss:

- D.C.S.S. (end): I'm glad Shinsen finished this, I was starting to worry--not a bad ending, but definitely didn't have the same punch as the original. Granted, I think the original Da Capo had the best ending of any game-to-anime series, so this was always going to be a high bar to clear. Aishia at the end was eerily parallel to what Sakura went through the first season, but again it just lacked the same punch. In the end, my biggest complaint with D.C.S.S. is it needed more Kotori, damn it, but this turned into the Aishia Show long enough ago that I'm mostly over it by now. I'm still glad it got a second season, D.C.S.S. is a better sequel for Da Capo than Remember My Memories was for To Heart at least.

- Canvas 2 (end): This was a much better series than I expected it to be. It lacked the "make you cry like a little girl" punch of Kanon or Da Capo, but it was still a good, dramatic story. I have to give the writers credit for making an interesting story without any girls in the sky, magic sakura trees, demons, virus researchers from the future, katana-wielding bishoujo, maid robots, or bishoujo falling out of trees in the snow. I really liked how the girls in the story formed friendships and interacted with each other--Elis and Tomoko hanging out, the art club president pushing Elis to overcome her fear of red, and all the little things like that just made it seem more realistic. Too often, the plot of ero-games is "girls all orbit around one guy" and they don't interact with each other much at all--they might as well be in six or seven completely separate stories. Canvas 2 wasn't like that, to its credit everyone affected everyone else in some way, somewhat like real life. The ending was a surprise but since the girl I wanted to win "won", I'm all in favor of it--and I give the writers credit for not letting us into Hiroki's head enough to let us know which way he'd choose until the very end. Overall, not a classic, but better than your average game-to-anime series.

- Rec (end): This was one of my favorite series last season--it started with a bang, but maybe a more realistic first episode than you'd normally see for this type of show. Yes, some people will complain Aka was a little "fast" sleeping with Matsumaru less than 11 minutes after the series started, but that's the way the real world works sometimes...although probably not for your average otaku, I guess...I mean, sure, when I was single there must have been HUNDREDS of times I got lucky with a seiyuu in training on a first sort-of date but that's probably just because I'm so damn hot ^_^; I'm sad to see this end because Aka-chan is off the moe scale, but on the other hand if they'd dragged this out to 26 episodes it probably would've gotten old, and the tenth time some misunderstanding got between Aka and Matsumaru I'd be screaming at the screen for them to just get together again already. I definitely hate the CM transitions though, and I'd rather it had been nine full-length episodes--but these are minor quibbles, and overall I'd probably buy this on DVD if it makes it to region 1. Hell, they could fit it all on one disc.

- Shinibara (end): Shinigami no Ballad, after episode 1, I was really afraid was going to go for a "let's make the viewer cry from an untimely death" approach each episode--but surprisingly, episode 1 was the only time one of the central characters bit the big one. The rest of the series is more about death's effect on those left behind, and how they get on with their lives (with a push from Momo). I thought it did a good job being touching without crossing The Line into melodrama. Momo and Daniel get more screentime than usual in the last episode, but there's no real "last episode" feel to it, it's just another self-contained story. Hopefully they make more of this, it did a good job capturing the Zettai Shonen feel (and it definitely had the same odd camera angles).

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Da Capo II - Promo Video

No, unfortunately it's not a preview for a Da Capo II anime series (that'll probably depend how well the game sells) but there's a preview video for the game here:

It's kind of fun to watch, you can definitely see the resemblances between some of the characters in Da Capo II and their ancestors in the original Da Capo (since Da Capo II is set 70+ years in the future and you see a lot of familiar last names...). The video's 4 1/2 minutes long, and almost the first half of it is black-and-white shots from the original, before it does a Wizard of Oz and goes color with shots from Da Capo II. Not being able to read Japanese, I can't say if much is given away about the plot, but if this does get made into an anime series I hope they have a good mix of drama and humor like the original. There's snow involved this time, so maybe there's going to be a Kanon-like atmosphere for part of it (maybe set in winter->spring?).

There are also sample CGs up in the character section on the main Da Capo II page:

If you can't tell from previous posts, I loved the original Da Capo anime--I have no interest in the game since I can't read/understand Japanese, but I'm hoping that Da Capo II will have a compelling enough story and be popular enough that someday we'll get to see it animated as well. I wonder if Kotori-obaasan or Nemu-obaasan will make a clue on that from the preview...

Capsule reviews: anime about soul-destroying poverty, urban renewal, and homicidal mahou shoujo

Binchou-tan (through ep 7): In episode 7, Binchou-tan almost misses a festival because she has to work late taking the trash out for her employers of the day, who are at least ten times her size. I can just tell in the last episode, Binchou-tan will finally snap, rise up out of her poverty, gather an angry mob, and burn Kunugi-tan's house to the ground, laughing maniacally as she stuffs Kunugi-tan in a rice cooker for a couple hours so she can see just what Binchou-tan's arubeito in episode 2 was like. I'm really hoping Habitat for Humanity will show up and rebuild Binchou-tan's house, because the rainstorm in the last episode shows it needs it. While they're at it, they can give Binchou-tan a blanket that doesn't have a big hole in it. Binchou-tan continues to be a laid-back slice of life series--I guess it's like Aria but everyone's a lot less well off. I hope by the end of the series Kunugi-tan will get to play with Binchou-tan, in spite of the fact she has about a trillion times more money.

Burn Up Scramble (end): I watched the last four episodes of Burn Up Scramble, thanks to Netflix--they were better animated than some of the middle episodes, but the ending still didn't do much for me. Sure, they leveled a few buildings and all, but I was left thinking, that's it? That's all you've got? No blowing up GOTT headquarters? No accidentally laying waste to a whole planet, or at least the better part of a prefecture? YUA had a much better cast, Dirty Pair had more explosions, Kiddy Grade had more intrigue--maybe the problem is Burn Up Scramble has a lot of competition in its genre. YUA is still my favorite 'anime cop duo' series just because of the great cast and the interactions between them all--Rio and Maya have a long way to go to match up with Miyuki and Natsumi. Although the one edge Burn Up has over YUA is there's none of this paint gun crap--when the cops shoot in Burn Up Scramble, they're shooting live ammo. Still, no duo will ever beat Dirty Pair at collateral damage, since when they mess up, entire planets bite the big one.

Dai Mahou Touge (eps 1-2): Going into this I was expecting another Dokuro-chan, and while the gore is leveled down a little, there are definitely some similarities. Start with your average princess from the magic world, who has to perform a task on Earth before she can become queen, so she ends up in a normal school setting--so far, this could be a mahou shoujo series. Where it starts to diverge from your normal mahou shoujo is that the princess is bent on world domination, brings vegetables to life to beat the holy living Jesus out of her school's delinquents, knows a variety of bone-crushing wrestling moves, and has a cute-looking mascot who's just waiting for the perfect chance to kill her. Plus instead of "Release!" her staff answers to "Lyrical Tokarev...kill them all!" with "kill them all" in English. Overall, it's pretty funny, but this is just the kind of insane humor I like. There isn't as much fanservice as Dokuro-chan, and there's no male lead whatsoever--there's some kind of test the princess has to pass to be queen, but since it's a short OVA series I'm not expecting much plot. Waku waku mascot village was pretty funny--cute mahou shoujo sidekick characters drinking, gambling, smoking, getting stabbed, thrown out's like watching a bunch of Kero-chans on acid. The self-peeling vegetables were funny too.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Haruhi Wallpaper

OK, it's not quite the right size (1024x700) for wallpaper, but it's close. I'd have added a border to make it 1024x768, but if you center it on your desktop you'll get the same effect anyway. I found this at this site, which is mostly screencaps.

Watched a.f.k.'s subbed version of episode 1 yesterday, and it's even funnier now that I can understand Kyon's comments about the plot, direction, etc. It's a nice touch how a.f.k. went with a really basic font for the subtitles of the amateur student film portion, then went with a more "professional" font when we went back to real life and widescreen. I can't wait to see episode 2...or if you prefer Super-Director Haruhi's numbering scheme, I guess it's episode 1.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Suzumiya Harhui no Yuutsu 1: Wow.

A man who's not thinking this movie has Oscar written all over it.


There are a lot of series that start by throwing you into the middle of the action, leaving you to squint at the screen and try to figure out who's who and what the hell is going on. Episode one of Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu definitely takes that approach, but in the most unique way I've ever seen. The "play within the play" is as old as Shakespeare, but Haruhi dispenses with setup completely and just dumps you directly into a student-produced video about a bunny girl/mahou shoujo and her battle with an evil magical girl...alien. And when I say student-produced, it LOOKS student-produced, and I don't mean film school students who would know what they were doing. Actually, today's high school students could probably do better than this with iMovie--this movie has bad lighting, bad effects, bad music, everyone looking like they're reading off cue cards (which appear onscreen at one point), and really, really bad acting. If you got a bunch of fans together to shoot their own mahou shoujo series, and gave them a few beers before they edited it, it would probably look something like this.

Does it work? Is it funny? Hell yes, it works. I watched this raw, and I missed at least 95% of the narration, but I was still laughing out loud. Kyoto Animation did a truly brilliant job mimicking an amateur movie, but that alone wouldn't be all that funny--it's the cheezy mahou shoujo/sentai lines and poses, the skeptical sounding narration, the Paniponi-like glitches where people show up onscreen that shouldn't, the girl cracking up delivering her lines, the heroine looking embarrassed the whole time--all that is what makes this hysterical. Maybe it's not everyone's cup of tea, and I'm just the perfect target for it, but I loved it and I can't understand Japanese worth a damn. Once this is subbed I'll probably soil myself laughing, because it was pretty funny even watching it with less comprehension than a Japanese two-year old would have.

I can't think of another first episode where the main character barely appears at all and you're just tossed into the middle of a play within a play--I can see it being confusing and turning some people off, but if you watch it for what it is, it's just awesome. Next ep we should actually find out what's going on, but I hope it stays as insane, if that's possible. The ED is addictive as hell--I saved the audio and I've had it on endless loop in iTunes for the last hour. And although she doesn't appear in the student movie (she's the director) and doesn't get any screentime at all until sixty seconds before the ED credits, Haruhi's character seems awesome--she looks like she has even more insane delusional energy than Taishi from Comic Party. With the difference that Haruhi has a power Taishi doesn't...but I'm sure the next few episodes will get into that...

Final thought: I definitely get the feeling this will be one of those series that makes me face towards Kyoto and thank Kami-sama I'm an anime fan.