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.