Friday, May 19, 2006

Munto

Kyoto Animation has a well-deserved reputation for producing anime with high animation quality, their most famous series probably being Full Metal Panic Fumoffu/Second Raid, Air, and Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu. Kyoani also produced an OVA called Munto, which must have done well enough that they followed it up with a second Munto OVA, and there's definitely material for more (although I can't find anything that says exactly when Munto 3 will be out). While it's not perfect, Munto has the same excellent animation that viewers of Air and Haruhi will be familiar with, and it's nice to see Kyoani's work on Region 1 DVD. Overall, I'd recommend at least checking it out as a rental, and I liked it enough (and it's cheap) that I'll buy the DVDs.

Don't try this at home...

Munto centers around two characters--the king Munto, who rules the Magical Kingdom that floats in the sky above our world, and Yumemi, a typical junior high student, except for the fact she can see islands floating in the air that no one else can. Yumemi's in junior high and knows that this makes her a little different from everyone else, and like most people that age, she doesn't want to be different, going as far as carrying an umbrella when it's sunny so she won't see the islands at all. Since the ability to see these floating islands isn't useful to her in any way, and people (understandably) would probably cart her off in a straightjacket if she talked about them all the time, she learned at an early age to just stop talking about them completely. Yumemi has two good friends, Ichiko, who's the protective type and believes her story completely even though she can't see the islands for herself, and Suzume, who's more a dojiko, happy-go-lucky character. There are a number of other characters as well, such as Gass, the badass who has power maybe even beyond Munto's (and steals some of the limelight in the first OVA), and the requisite Bad Guy, who looks sufficiently dour if not all that menacing. Overall, it's a decent cast of characters, although due to the fact in two OVAs you get to spend less time with them than you wound in five normal-length anime episodes, some of them don't get very well developed. Munto in particular you get very little background on in the first OVA, although the second does a better job fleshing out his character with some flashbacks to when he was younger. Yumemi gets the most screentime and comes across as a sincere person and a good friend to Suzume and Ichiko, and her initial hesitance to enter the magical world's affairs was well done, I thought, being close to how I'd imagine a real person would react to that situation.

Munto may have mad magic skillz, but he needs to eat more...and is that Lum's cousin with the lightsaber?

The plot of Munto you could say is its weakest point--the first OVA in particular very little gets explained. There are people attacking the pillars of Munto's world, and if it falls to Earth both it and the people like Yumemi and the rest of us living on the surface will be destroyed. Munto's world relies on an energy called akuto, and its supply is waning--which is where Yumemi comes in, because although she lives in the "underworld" she has an ability to create new akuto. The first OVA Munto tries to reach her to get her power to save his world, although understandably frightened by the random person appearing out of thin air in front of her, she's hesitant at first. The first OVA ends with the resolution of the storyline, but it felt kind of like I was watching a 13-episode anime series that had gotten cut down to 40 minutes. If they'd been a little less ambitious with the plot I think it could have been much better.

It's not even Miko Monday, but can't resist miko screencaps...

The plot of the second OVA picks up a year after the first, and the new source of akuto is causing new problems, with the countries of the Magical World at war, and Munto again involved in the fighting. To control the akuto he needs Yumemi's help again, but he's hesitant to seek her out, either out of pride or fear for her safety. The second OVA is definitely not a self-contained story, ending on a cliffhanger that makes me have to believe another OVA or two is coming to finish the story. While it's fast-paced, with lots of mid-air battles, the second OVA's plot makes more sense than the first--there's more time to explain what's happening and while Munto and Yumemi have very little actual screentime together (which was the case in the first OVA as well), there's the potential for a lot more interaction between them in the next OVA. There are still plenty of unanswered questions, but with more OVAs coming, I can at least hope they'll get answered down the line. The relationship between Yumemi, Ichiko, and Suzume gets fleshed out a lot more too--it's hard not to like Ichiko, who wants to protect her friend Yumemi no matter what, although she knows what Yumemi is getting into is taking her where Ichiko can't follow her.

Yumemi's family needs to change the bathwater more often...green water can't be a good thing...

The animation quality, as you'd expect from an OVA from Kyoto Animation, is really good--the fight scenes, of which there are plenty, are very well done, enough to make you cringe when you next watch a normal anime series fight scene. The character designs are good too, definitely looking similar to Haruhi and Air, although Munto's almost thin enough to be in Tsubasa Chronicle. The setting in the Magical Kingdom reminds me of El Hazard, with a vaguely Middle Eastern feel to the costumes, and the floating islands in the sky back for a breathtaking backdrop for the action. The only complaint I'd have is CG--no, it's not quite as bad as the space station in Soul Link, but CG just bothers me in anime. When everything else is 2-D and then there's a 3-D battleship floating in midair it just looks WRONG. I strongly believe CG fails if you can look at a scene and go "that's CG"--in contrast, the Negima manga uses CG for buildings and backgrounds, but it doesn't stand out, and looks like it could have been hand-drawn (by someone with a LOT of time to draw it). That's not the case with the CG in Munto, where you look at it and it's obvious someone plunked a 3-D model into a 2-D world. But that's not at all uncommon these days, and it really only appears in a few scenes briefly, for things like battleships. Overall, you won't be disappointed by the animation, it's definitely something Kyoani put a lot of effort into.

Chibi-flashback-Yumemi is smiling because she doesn't end up like Misuzu...

I'm off to Hawaii all next week, so no blogging from me for a while...until then, aloha... (aloha roughly translates to "Hello", "Goodbye", and "damn, I can't wait for the Pani Poni Dash crew's version of Negima.")

Monday, May 15, 2006

In the Wake of the Week - NYC


More random thoughts on anime:

Keroro Gunso - I still can't believe how fast Doremi-Keroro is cranking out episodes of this--hell, at this rate, we'll see Doremi sub episode 100 by Christmas. The anime continues to be awesome--it's pretty faithful to the manga, and some things (like Giroro doing synchronized swimming) are even funnier in the anime. I tried writing a review for this series, but words fail to do it justice. Imagine trying to convince a non-anime fan to watch this--you could describe the plot as "frogs from space who have a mission to take over the Earth but can't because their leader is obsessed with making Gundam models" but this is a much, much funnier series than that description makes it sound like. It's the characters and their interactions that make Keroro Gunso so great--Giroro consistently finding a way to sit between Natsumi (the girl he likes) and Mutsumi (the guy SHE likes), Tamama's burning jealousy of Moa-chan, Momoka's split personality (especially the ep where Dark Momoka completely splits off), Keroro's Gundam obsession and his fear of Natsumi...it just makes the series a lot of fun to watch. If only the Negima anime was this true to the manga...well, let's not go there.

Haruhi - Don't get me wrong, this is still my favorite series this season--but it'd be a LOT easier to follow if they just aired the episodes in Haruhi's order instead of Kyon's. Thank God for bloggers who are familiar with the plot from the novels to clear things up. And moe or not, I fear for the future if Mikuru is the best special agent they can come up with...

Soul Link - Maybe I'm just too hung up on his voice and have watched 2x2 Shinobuden too many times, but every time Delicious Morimoto or whatever he calls himself in Soul Link is talking, this is what I picture in my head:

Having said that, with episode 6 things are really picking up. My guess is Shuuhei's instant-healing power was somehow given to him by Cellaria--in the first shoot-out with Karen, Cellaria touched the cut on Shuuhei's face with her hand (which was covered in HER blood)...and that's when it started. Will Shuuhei turn into an alien, and as the infection progresses become Cellaria's bitch? And who's the male lead here, anyway? I thought it was Ryouta, but he barely got any screentime in ep 6 and Shuuhei's already rounding home plate with Nao.

Sukuran Second Term - The more I watch Sukuran the more I think it would take at least twenty episodes just to pair everyone up and decide which factions win--it seems like in every episode, they introduce still more characters. I doubt the cast will ever quite hit Urusei Yatsura's size, but it's well on its way. I'm rooting for Mikoto x Anyone But Imadori so episode 6 was great in my book. The duel between Eri and Yakumo was great, although I felt bad for Eri when Harima pulled the curtain. I honestly don't know which faction to pull for with Harima...Tenma was my original choice, but as Sukuran goes on I'm torn between Yakumo and Eri. Eri has the advantage of liking Harima and having Horie Yui as her seiyuu, while Yakumo has the advantage that she's used to taking care of a baka (Tenma) so she'd be a natural at taking care of Harima too. I give the manga-ka credit for making it infuriatingly difficult to choose between factions.

It's almost one a.m. as I write this in Manhattan, fighting jet lag...it's a business trip week for me, which meant I had the joy of spending six hours today crammed in an aluminum tube, eating peanuts and slowly making my way across the country. Fortunately I loaded a bunch of fansubs on my laptop, so I got to watch anime while it seemed like everyone else on the plane with a laptop was working--just another reason it's good to be an anime fan ^_^

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 involve...um...guns and stuff. Probably not the kind of show I usually would watch and yet...it'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 ^_^;

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Love Hina

There are times, especially as I get older, that I meet up with a friend from college or a former co-worker who I haven't seen or talked to in years--and invariably, before long it feels like no time passed at all since we last met, and the intervening years were no more than an illusion. For me, re-watching Love Hina feels a little like that. Love Hina was the first digisub I ever saw, back in 2000 when I associated fansubs with big, yellow padded envelopes with VHS tapes inside. I remember being floored by the fact I could just to go to iDrive and download (in 20 or so rar-compressed pieces) an entire episode of Love Hina, in all its 40MB file size, 15 frame-per-second, yellow blocky subtitle glory, a mere week after it had aired five thousand miles away. I had just received DSL through work, and it felt like the megami-tachi of anime had, in their infinite wisdom, blessed me with broadband at just the right moment in anime history, so I could watch Love Hina without swearing at a 28.8k modem and tying up my phone line for hours at a time.

So part of the reason I like Love Hina is probably nostalgia, but even without that factored in, it's still fun to watch. Love Hina's not the greatest anime ever, but what makes it worth watching (and re-watching) for me is its characters--while everyone has their favorites and least favorites, during the 24 episodes you spend with them it's hard not to get at least a little attached to the residents of Hinata-sou. Akamatsu knows bishoujo, and he can be decent at drama too, when he puts his mind to it. It's not a harem series like Shuffle where the girls all fall all over the main character, trying to make him bentou, get him to marry them, etc.--yes, there are a lot more girls than guys in the cast, but the main focus is Naru and Keitarou's relationship. The other girls like Keitarou to some extent, but they also know who he likes and in their own way they work to bring him and Naru together. Akamatsu-sensei is good at creating memorable characters, and with 24 episodes to work with, even the ones that seem one-dimensional at first (Koalla Su comes to mind) get their own backstories and motivations fleshed out.

The most common complaint leveled at Love Hina is 'not as good as the manga', but I actually liked the anime storyline better. Naru's over-the-top violent in the manga, and while the Naru punch gets applied liberally in the anime as well, it seems like the anime Naru has a little more heart to her. Plus she's voiced by Horie Yui, so it's hard not to be a fan ^_^ . The manga also got stretched out into the whole Kanako arc, which just seemed like an attempt to draw the series out longer than it needed to be (and in an interview Akamatsu admitted as much, that his publisher wanted the series to keep going so he added Kanako in to pad it by a couple more volumes). The anime (except for Love Hina Again, which I'm not counting since I'm talking about the TV series) cuts Kanako out completely, and the story seems to flow better as a result.

Love Hina has plenty of "love comedy" staples--there are lots of misunderstandings, punches, accidental groping, walking in on the opposite sex in the onsen, and so on. But to offset all of those moments, which don't really add anything to the plot, there are some really memorable ones, like Sara lecturing Keitarou on the difference between 'dreams' and 'chasing rainbows' (in English, even). Yes, the recurring gags like the Naru punch get repetitive, and I'll be honest, there are a few episodes I just skip over completely re-watching this (the 'detective' one in particular felt like a "we need to save budget this week" episode). Still, Love Hina has a great cast of characters, and I give Akamatsu-sensei credit for doing a good job with character development. Motoko, in spite of being a side character, maybe changed the most during the course of the series, but the way each character's issues are presented and ultimately overcome was done very well--much better than I'd expect to find in a "shonen love comedy" series.

Overall, I'm sure nostalgia is a factor here, but if I had to pick 10 anime series to be stranded on a deserted island with (an island like Kanna's in Happy Lesson, with electrical outlets in palm trees and a DVD player) Love Hina would make the cut. Go, go, Naru-chan!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Yoake Mae Yori Ruri Iro Na


Just when you thought Utawareumono was a long name for an anime series, according to AnimeNation News, Yoake Mae Yori Ruri Iro Na is going to follow the well worn game-to-anime path and become an anime series. Yoake is a game from AugustSoft, and that's about all I know about it, other than the character designs look just like Hanihani's (which is a plus in my book) and there's a princess of some sort involved, although the setting is a typical high school.

Why do I care Yoake is getting animated? Well, while the character designs in Hanihani anime didn't look quite as good as the game's, it had an interesting cast of characters, and while the plot twist near the end of Hanihani was a little "out there", I can say for sure it wasn't boring. So I'm hoping with Yoake they can pull this off again, and with a good cast and a unique story it could be a solid anime series. We'll see...there's no website for the Yoake anime yet, although you can see the game's homepage here, and download the promo video for the game here, which is where I took the screenshots from.

In the Wake of the Week

Random thoughts from last week's anime:

- The evil lord in Utawarerumono got what he deserved--make Eruruu cry and you must PAY.
- I'd say the death of a single person starting a huge war is unrealistic, but then again that's pretty much how World War I started.
- The year 2005 saw two episodes of Keroro Gunso subbed. In less than three weeks in 2006, five episodes. Kami-sama bless Doremi.
- Three episodes for a game of capture the flag? Every once in a while Sukuran stretches things out a little long (the sports festival from season 1 is another example) but episode 4 of Sukuran Second Term restored my faith in its brilliance. When Eri gets screentime good things happen.
- Joshikousei seems to get funnier the less fanservice they have.
- Howl's Moving Castle is the most confusing Miyazaki movie I've seen--it felt like about half an hour of plot exposition towards the end just got cut completely. It didn't help that Howl in bird form kept reminding me of Condorman (there's an obscure movie reference for you...).
- If they have dating sims that run on cell phones, why can't someone port Da Capo II to the Nintendo DS so I can play it?
- Is it just me or did they take the yuri-ness out of Koyuki-chan in the anime version of Keroro Gunso?
- I never thought I'd see it, but someone's subbing Dirty Pair TV now. Kei and Yuri are the undisputed champions of collateral damage.
- Just the screencaps of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni scare the crap out of me. If I actually watched this I get the feeling I'd never get a good night's sleep again.
- Is anyone ever going to license School Rumble for Region 1? What kind of sick world is this where Divergence Eve gets licensed and School Rumble doesn't?

Love Get Chu


Love Get Chu is...a series about aspiring seiyuu based on a dating sim that runs on cell phones. Let's just say I'm not expecting something as involved as Kanon's plot here, which is good because based on episode 1 I'm not going to get it.

Love Get Chu starts out with our heroine, Momoko, arriving in Tokyo from Kyoto to try to make it big as a seiyuu. On the train she thinks someone's grabbing her butt, but it turns out to be a misunderstanding and it's just something a guy on the train is carrying in a bag brushing against her. That guy looks like he's going to be the male lead, since he shows up later at an anime studio, and then in the end as kaninrin of the boarding house Momoko is going to stay at. But the focus of the episode is really on Momoko, who goes for an audition, but promptly gets lost when it's time for her number to be called. However, Momoko has the Loudest Voice on Earth, and when she yells that she's lost from the roof, her voice is so loud that down in the basement the president of the company doing the audition's hears her, is impressed, and she passes the audition without having to do anything. Not being the plan-ahead type, Momoko has nowhere to stay in Tokyo, but rather than pulling an Aka-chan and hooking up with a salaryman for free rent, she gets advice from one of the other four girls who passed to go to a cheap boarding house. Momoko does, and promptly runs into the guy from the train, who just came out of the bath--and then his towel falls off and she gets to see more than she wanted to (but fortunately the audience doesn't).

So far this seems...well, really generic--the character designs are OK, the animation's just average, and Momoko has ZERO fashion sense. I mean, legwarmers? For the Love of Haruhi, tell me legwarmers aren't actually cool again, and Momoko is just stuck in 1985. Momoko talks to her cell phone...er...mascot a lot, Musamaru, who looks like a cross between a rabbit and something out of the Nightmare Before Christmas. Musamaru doesn't talk back though, or I guess this would be mahou shoujo. There were a couple surprises in this episode--I didn't see the sucker punch to the gut coming, and I thought the misunderstanding on the train would have lasted for longer but Momoko found the truth out pretty quickly.

It'll be interesting to see where they go with this--the four other girls who made the audition's cut are probably the other four "playable" characters from the game this is based on, so I'd expect they'll each get an ep where they're the focus and they'll all end up with crushes on the male lead. I'll keep watching for now, every once in a while there's a really good game-to-anime series and it's hard to judge from the first episode, especially since the male lead had next to zero screentime.

I'm glad I never had a job interview end like this...

Good Witch of the West


I saw the first episode of this over the weekend, and the atmosphere, characters, and plot are interesting so far. With a title like 'Good Witch of the West' I was expecting at least a passing reference to the Emerald City, the Lollipop Guild, or Firiel doing battle with the Wicked Witch of the West, but no, it's an original story. I thought Kira-chan-tachi in Futakoi original had an absentee father, but Firiel's seems just as bad. The first episode and he can't even be bothered to appear on screen, he just bails and leaves his daughter and assistant to face the music. Guess some internships are rougher than others, I hope Roux at least got a paycheck.

Short summary:
The heroine of the story, Firiel, lives in a small country town, but thanks to the nobility having a "girls over 15 get in free" ball one night, she gets to go to the castle. She asks her friend Roux if he wants to go with her, but he's busy doing research and seems to have a grudge against the nobility so he declines--baka. He does give her a necklace though, saying her father (who he's assisting with research) wanted him to give it to her. She goes to the ball, catches the prince's eye and gets to dance with him, and there's much blushing involved. But the fun's spoiled when the prince's sister points out the necklace Firiel is wearing is actually a royal treasure that went missing along with a princess 15 years ago--and it turns out that princess was Firiel's mom. Roux shows up at the ball to rescue her, Firiel returns home wanting some answers, but her father's skipped town, and The Man shows up in the form of a bunch of goons who capture Roux and burn down Firiel's house.

Just a few of the questions we don't have answers to yet:

- Exactly what were Roux and Firiel's father researching that got The Man to come down on them?
- If Firiel's mom was royalty, why didn't her father ever tell her?
- Is this set in a different world than ours, or in some distant future?
- Why is the animation quality so bad?
- How do the princes have any depth perception when their hair keeps covering one eye? Wouldn't they walk into shiznit?

Well, there's enough mystery that they have me hooked so far. I hope the animation quality improves, but since usually first and last episodes are where the animation peaks, I'm afraid it may be getting worse soon.

Saraba, Kage Kara Mamoru, Magikano, and Lamune



It's sad to see these series end, all of them I went into with low expectations, but they ended up being really fun to watch. Thoughts on the end (some spoilers, as usual):

Kage Kara Mamoru - The 'reset ending' has to be one of the worst tricks at the disposal of anime writers--it's not the first time it's been used, and I'm sure it won't be the last, but did they really have to make Yuuna lose her memory at the end? She slips on a banana and only forgets the last week? I guess for someone as insanely ditzy as Yuuna it's possible--and if I were nitpicking on what's realistic, I guess there are many more targets in KKM than Yuuna's memory lapse. Mamoru's reaction to Yuuna's confession was a little disappointing--it seemed pretty clear he liked her all series, whether she was exasperating at times or not, so it would have been nice to see something happen between them at the end. Mamoru almost confessing and then chickening out at the very end was just an extra kick in the balls, but it's a comedy after all so I can't fault it too much for not giving me DCSS-level closure. Although I think Yuuna getting married to Mamoru and throwing a boquet of bananas would have been a much better ending. Overall, the animation was pretty bad throughout, the character designs looked like something I could draw myself (and I can't draw a straight line), and the ending was pretty bad, but it was funny, and that's what really matters for this type of series. If this made it to DVD in the US, I'd probably even consider buying it, but I'm a sucker for comedies.

Magikano - Magikano was the comedy I liked the best last season, beating out Kage Kara Mamoru just by virtue of pure insanity. The characters for Magikano really made it awesome--Haruo's cluelessness, Maika's insane jealousy, Mamiya's scheming, the crazy Supernatural Science Club people--everything just really worked well together. Not many series could pull off the baka neko pantsu episode, but Magikano did. I won't say it's better than Sukuran or Haruhi, but Magikano made some of the best use of SD and sound effects I've seen in anime--the insane laugh in the background when Mamiya's plotting, Maika turning into the lizard monster from Hell when Mamiya's getting too close to Haruo, the SD faces the characters get on the reaction shots--it's all just really well done. Maybe I'm just a sucker for this kind of series, but I laughed my ass off watching this. At first the character designs didn't do much for me, they looked too much like Tenshi no Shippo or Izumo, but after a while I got used to them, and overall the animation was pretty good. While the ending did a COMPLETE reset, back to the beginning of episode 1, I guess after Kage Kara Mamoru's ending my expectations were low enough that I just shrugged it off. Although they really missed an opportunity for some extreme violence, I can't even imagine what Maika's reaction to Haruo and Mamiya getting married would be.

Lamune - I was expecting this to be your average harem show--namely, a bunch of bishoujo all have crushes on a somewhat useless-ass male lead who has too little spine to pick any one of them, preferring to string them all along. But it turned out to take a different, and I think more realistic, path, instead focusing on Nanami and Kenji's relationship, with lots of flashbacks to flesh out their history together. The other girls, while some do like Kenji, mainly support Nanami and Kenji and stay in the background, instead of trying to keep them apart or steal Kenji for themselves. It really came across more as a love story between Nanami and Kenji than anything else, which was kind of cool--not that the other girls didn't get any screentime, but Nanami was the focus the whole way through, and from the first episode it's never really in doubt they'll be together. There's no 'walk in on girl X changing', no 'fall down and accidentally grab girl Y's breasts', no 'girl A walks in on guy in compromising situation and misunderstands, being pissed at him for the next two episodes'--none of the harem series staples I was expecting to run into. Kenji isn't a total loser, either--he works on and rides motorcycles (not your typical otaku hobby), doesn't break into a rash when girls touch him, and seems socially competent. The ending was particularly well-done, you really see how much Kenji means to Nanami, and while the ending is somewhat predictable, it was still decent. My only complaint would be there was no kiss at the end, but that's a minor quibble--I'll just assume they got jiggy off-camera. Especially compared to KKM and Magikano, Lamune had a good solid ending. Although I hope the Ramune drink people paid something to make this, because they got more product placement than I've ever seen in anime before, even in the last scene they're drinking Ramune. Unfortunately I drank the last Ramune we had in the fridge before watching the last episode, but if I re-watch it I'll definitely get a six-pack at Mitsuwa first, just to add atmosphere. The little marble thing in Ramune is cool, I wish I'd had Ramune when I was a kid.