Thursday, May 11, 2006

Summer Season Preview / Why I Love (the city of) Kyoto

Yes, much like Sgt. Keroro would say, today (thanks to an afternoon of mind-numbing conference calls, giving me time to write this at my desk while seeming to be furiously taking notes...God, I love technology...) I have two posts in one, starting with--the summer anime season!

I know, it's only May, and the summer season doesn't start until July. And it's true that anyone thinking about summer right now, when there are so many spring series to keep up with, is probably fu*ked in the head. But as someone (I forget who) once said, anime fans are like crack whores, always looking for the next fix--and I definitely fall in that category. Summer never has as many new series coming out as spring or fall, but there are always a couple that I end up really liking--so here's everything I know about this summer's shows:

Zero no Tsukaima (official site) - It's based on a novel, and the seiyuu for Yuuji and Shana from Shagukan no Shana have the main roles--beyond that I don't know much about it. The female lead has magic powers of some sort, and the male lead hates Phys Ed, that much I got from Google's translation of the website. The novel-to-anime series I've seen have been pretty good (Zettai Shonen, Haruhi, Shinigami no Ballad) and J.C. Staff is doing the animation. Plus as an added bonus, Horie Yui is the seiyuu for one of the side characters. I'm so there.

Tsuyokisu (official site) - This is a harem series where...get this...ALL the girls are tsundere. This may be the most brilliant idea I've ever heard. Then again, other than hair color if all the girls have a tsundere personality it's going to be hard for the writers to really differentiate them...but what the hell, tsundere characters are my favorite character type so I'm definitely looking forward to this. Based on an ero-game by CandySoft (so no, that's probably not a work-safe link).

Otogi Jushi Akazukin (official site) - There was an OVA episode of this that came out quite a while back, and I liked it--but although that first OVA episode was really just introducing the cast and setup for the story, after that came...nothing. The OVA was fun to watch, and I'm glad to see it's getting a full season. The protagonist is a ordinary grade school boy (I'm guessing around Cardcaptor Sakura age) who has a mysterious power, and ends up running into a girl from another world who carries two swords and fights evil. There's also the required osanajimi character who's immediately jealous of the new arrivals. OK, that sounded really generic--I should watch the OVA again to jog my memory, but this has great character designs, and some of the side characters, like Shirayuki (who seems nice but has a glare that almost rivals Eruruu's when she's angry) were awesome.

Tonagura (official site) - I don't know anything about this...but the character designs look like bishoujo are involved, which means it can't be all bad...tabun.

Coyote Ragtime Show (official site) - Well, there's a trailer on the site and this seems to and stuff. Probably not the kind of show I usually would watch and's by Ufotable (2x2 Shinobuden, Dokkoida, Futakoi Alternative). I loved Dokkoida and Shinobuden and Futakoi Alternative had its moments too...and Coyote Ragtime supposedly has "gunslinging maids." We'll see, just because it's Ufotable doing it I'll have to check it out.

Muteki Kanbanmusume (official site) - Based on my vast sorry-ass knowledge of Japanese, I think this means "unbeatable kanban-musume" where a "kanban-musume" is a cute girl that draws in customers for a store. The website tells me nothing more about this, so...well, that's all I can say about it.

And while we're at it, why not go for the FALL season preview (for all of the two series I know are coming out in fall):

Kanon - Two words: Kyoto Animation. Kanon has a great storyline, and with a full 24 episodes to work with, I can't wait to see what Kyoani can do with this. Although if they start showing episodes out of order, I'm going to find their office the next time I'm in Kyoto and smack someone.

Negima: Second Season - Seeing Negima animated by the team that did Pani Poni Dash and Tsukuyomi is like a dream come true. The character designs I'm sure will take some getting used to for some people (they look like...well, Tsukuyomi more than Akamatsu's style) but I like what I've seen so far. And with most of the first season having the winning combination of bad writing and animation so God-awful it made my eyes hurt, the second season has a very, very low bar to clear to be an improvement.

Warning: the second half of this post is only barely related to anime...

Why I Love Kyoto

No, this isn't a post about Kyoto Animation, although not surprisingly their main office is there. A lot of anime fans dream about visiting Japan, and for good reason. When you love anime, it's hard not to be curious about the country that originated it. And once you've been there for yourself, a lot of the everyday scenes in anime, the narrow streets, the vending machines everywhere, the upturned roofs of shrines and temples--they all seem a bit more vivid somehow, because you can correlate those images back to what you've seen with your own eyes.

For anime fans, the Holy Grail of anime has to be Akihabara--tons of anime shops, maido cafes, figurines, enough erogames to make fundamentalists spontaneously combust in righteous outrage--it's all there. But the last time my wife and I went to Japan on vacation, we avoided Tokyo completely, because if you want to visit one of the most beautiful spots on Earth, all you have to do is go to Kyoto.

Kyoto is just 2 1/2 hours from Tokyo by shinkansen, and it's home to literally thousands of temples and shrines, mainly because it was the capital of Japan for over a thousand years. It's not a huge city--you can walk from one side to the other in a few hours if you're determined, and the population's only a million an a half, a rounding error compared to the size of Tokyo. When you first step off the train in Kyoto Station it looks like any other city--the station was recently rebuilt and it's not what you'd expect from the ancient capital of Japan; if anything it looks like the Death Star, with a big, cavernous central space. Like most Japanese cities, in Kyoto you have power lines overhead, vending machines that sell beer (I really wish we'd had these in college), lots of store signs I can't read since I'm kanji-impaired, T-shirts and signs with "English" that would make my high school English teacher commit seppuku, and far better customer service than you'll ever see in the US (in spite of the fact you don't tip in Japan.) But in Kyoto you get the sense you're never far from history--you'll round a corner in a shopping arcade, and right there past a store selling 100cm (about 3 feet) long socks for high school girls, there's the entrance to a small shrine that's been there for centuries. And when you get to the outskirts of town, in the foothills where a lot of the temples are located, is really when Kyoto starts to shine.

It seems like every temple and shrine in Kyoto has its own meticulously cared for garden--sometimes with streams, ponds, and koi, sometimes with Zen rivers of gravel, and in the fall there's an explosion of color from all the maple and ginko trees surrounding you. It's not well known in the US, but Kyoto is known in Japan as the perfect place to view fall color, kind of like Vermont. Seasons are a big deal in Japan, and it shows in the fall--some of the temples we went to well off the beaten path were relatively quiet, but the more popular ones seemed to have every school group in Japan visiting them all at once. We went in the fall three years ago and it was just amazing--of course, in California fall color consists of the grass turning brown if you don't water the hell out of it, but even by the standards of fall growing up on the east coast Kyoto was impressive. Plus if you're Caucasian, it's the one chance in your life to feel like a celebrity--it seems like a common assignment for all the school groups in Kyoto is to go up to a random gaijin, ask your name and where you're from, then have you autograph something for them and take a picture with you, to prove to their teacher they really used English on a foreigner and didn't just make something up. In one case the teacher ran up to us to get us to talk to his students, introducing himself by saying "I have many questions." Ah yes, don't we all.

If you get the chance to make it to Kyoto, even just once in your life, I think it's well worth it. If you want to see more of Kyoto for yourself, I have some vacation pictures from our last trip up (I suck at picture taking, so my wife gets credit for all these) and I'd recommend checking out Alive in Kyoto, or Sushicam, both of which have a lot of Kyoto and Japan pics up on them along with stories about life in Japan. If I could turn back the clock, I'd seriously consider the JET Program where you can go teach English in Japan after college--Statement of Agreement is a great photo blog of sorts that goes through one guy's year in Japan doing just that.

Just don't expect to see anime everywhere in Japan--yes, in one store in Kyoto they were selling traditional Kyoto sweets in tins with the cast of Inuyasha on them, but that was the exception rather than the rule. You can cover a lot of ground and not see any signs the world of anime exists--but then again, every once in a while I'd see a poster in a train station for a Detective Conan movie, or a student-made sign for the Kyoto University culture festival with the girls from Onegai Twins on it--and it's hard not to smile, seeing proof there are other anime fans out there.

OK, I've just realized as I finish typing this that this is horribly off topic for an anime blog...but I can't bring myself to delete it all now that I wrote it, so hopefully you'll forgive me the digression since the first half of this post really is anime-related ^_^;


tj han said...

Great post. I don't think you should be worrying about the latter part being off topic. It is a topic that most fans are interested in anyway.

Japan (outside Tokyo) is a beautiful country. My own country is little more than a city with zero history and culture, so when I got to go to Japan a while back, (5 years ago :(), I was really impressed by everything.

The politeness of everyone, the friendliness of the people, the Ofuro, the amazing food etc.

My best meals so far in this short life was the famous Hamamatsu Unagidon and the "expensive enough to buy a CPU" beef.

Ix said...

Wow! The second season of Negima is being animated by someone actually good!! That might means I will actually watch it. (Agree with you totally on the comment about the first season)

And Kyoto is beautiful, (though last time I went there I got told off by a male miko for sitting on a shrine -_-)
Though I would prefer to live in Okinawa ^_^

hashihime said...

Oh, yes. Kyoto. So many beautiful places. Even if it doesn't have Akihabara. A lifetime is too short. As a devotee of the Tale of Genji, I feel like I'm on holy ground there, even without all the real history. Lady Murasaki's (purported) grave is there, for one thing. To walk where she may have walked is an amazing feeling. And there is one big reason that there are so many old buildings still standing there: it is the major Japanese city that US bombers didn't pound to rubble during the war.

tenbra said...

A manga museum is due to be built in Kyoto in the autumn of this year.
How about visiting it, if it gets bored with seeing a temple?


suguru said...

tj_han: I think the best meal I ever had was at Misono in Kyoto--they're a teppanyaki restaurant on Kawaramachi Dori that serves Kobe beef, and the difference between that and regular beef or filet is just amazing. I think it was about 3000 yen/person for lunch, which was so worth it (especially since dinner there is more like 10,000/yen person). I might go broke doing it, but I think I could eat that meal over and over again and never get tired of it.

ix: Never been to Okinawa, but it sounds like Japan with Hawaii's climate, so I'm sure I'd like it. I'm looking forward to Negima enough I'm sure I'll grab the raw as soon as it's out this fall, even though I won't understand much, just to see it...

hashihime: You're right, I'm amazed whoever was in charge of the US bombing in WWII didn't hit Kyoto at all. Lots of smaller cities, like Aomori, got practically obliterated by firebombing, but maybe someone had enough sense of history to spare Kyoto, I'm not sure. It was strange when I was in Tokyo to be walking around streets that if I'd been born 60 years ago I'd probably have been drafted to try to bomb flat, killing men, women, children, and anyone else walking them...apparently humanity hasn't learned enough from WWII to put an end to war completely, but here's hoping someday they will.

tenbra: Hmmm...we may be going back to Kyoto this fall, I'll have to check that link and see if it's built by then...