Monday, August 28, 2006

Tips for The Waru-Waru Gang

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 14, 2006

Negima Reborn (OVA preview)

Wow. Just....wow.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 04, 2006

Manatsu no Eve (Tenchi Movie 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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