Friday, December 28, 2007

Looking Back: Night Wizard

Night Wizard was possibly the biggest surprise for me this season, since it's one of those series that at a glance sounds like it should be just God-awful, and I had zero expectations going into it. First of all, it's based on an RPG, which many would argue is generally not a predictor of anime excellence (whatever that means). After the first episode, the plot seemed amazingly simplistic--a party of adventurers have to go collect seven gems that can help save the world from corny looking Skeletor-wannabes. But with a likeable cast, great character designs, solid animation, and some interesting plot twists down the road, I got sucked in and ended up enjoying watching it from start to finish.

Good Points:

(+) Good Characters. The characters make or break anime for me, and Night Wizard's cast was almost universally likeable. Hiiragi's determination, Elis's caring about her friends, Kureha, Akari, Anzelotte--there's nothing more subjective than if you like a given character or not (just ask a group who watched Sukuran who should end up with Harima and watch the brawl ensue) but for me the whole cast of Night Wizard was great, and impossible not to root for.

(+) Character Designs. The character designs were brilliant, hell, even the 'bad guys' were moe (Bell Zephyr in particular). Elis may even have the most moe character design I've seen all season, proving once again the Shirakawa Kotori White Beret Rule: namely, that white berets double the moe factor of whoever is wearing them (although Kotori is uber-moe regardless). Maybe it's a holdover from watching Manabi Straight and Potemayo, but I loved the gradient hair too.

(+) Plot Twist. The plot is where Night Wizard really surprised me, with the plot twist after all the gems are collected taking something that looked generic and making it much more interesting. The first episodes, the ice skating one in particular, were good in their own right, but once all the gems are collected is when the shit hits the fan and things get really interesting. It reminded me of Cardcaptor Sakura in a way, how at first you think the plot's as simple as it can get, since all she has to do is collect all the Clow Cards and the story will be over...but it's not that easy...

(+) OP and ED songs. Both pretty addictive, the OP up-tempo, the ED more ballad-like. Even a real anime blogger singled out the ED as good.

Bad Points:

(-) No Kiss at the End? I'm with Hinano on this, maybe it would have been corny if Hiiragi kissed Elis after he is reunited with her in the last episode, but so what? They were probably just too afraid to piss off the Akari or Kureha factions, but come on, I want Hiiragi x Elis damn it.

(-) Monster Designs. Night Wizard's skeleton-like things are better than what we got in Venus Versus Virus, although I realize that's like saying something's warmer than absolute zero.

She shoots...she scores!

You could argue I'm easily entertained since I survived re-watching Yoakena, but I can say I looked forward to watching Night Wizard every week, and when I sat down with a choice between a couple different series' new episodes to watch, Night Wizard generally won. Having said that, this is not the kind of series you want to watch with someone who thinks anime should be profound, or wears all black all the time and thinks if half the cast isn't dead or dying by the last episode then it's not worth a damn. It's basically a feel-good, everything-ends-well anime series, with some action, drama, and plot twists thrown in to make it interesting. In movie terms, it'd something like "National Treasure"--better not analyzed too closely but still fun to watch if you accept it for what it is. In the end, while I can't say it's the best anime of the season or anything, it still passes my "DVD test" and makes me glad I'm an anime fan--if this makes it to region 1, I'll add it to my collection in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tuesday Ramblings - Kimikiss

Going into this season, I was expecting D.C. II and Clannad to vie for the title of favorite fall series, but surprisingly, through week 10 it's Kimikiss that I find myself looking forward to the most. Week after week I expect it to falter, but so far they're the New England Patriots of anime, and Kimikiss's writers haven't let me down yet. I didn't have high expectations for Kimikiss (or any expectations at all, since I'd never played the game) but it's turned out to be much better than I expected, breaking free from the bishoujo-game-turned-anime mold of "a dozen girls all like one guy" and instead playing out with a much more realistic (and complicated) relationship chart, and a great cast of characters.

As a wise tanuki has said more than once, having a good male lead is critical to the success of a bishoujo series, and Kimikiss improves its odds by having no fewer than three (four, if you count Hiiragi) male leads. It makes for a much more interesting set of possibilities--will Kouichi end up with Mao or Yuumi? Will Kazuki end up with Eriko and have kids who are smarter than him by the time they're in fifth grade? Will Kai win over Mao or end up having to go play sax with himself? What kind of God could allow Hiiragi to breed?

If you draw the relationship chart for Da Capo, Kanon, or most other bishoujo series you get a million arrows pointing from all the girls directly at the male lead, but Kimikiss's chart would look more like Urusei Yatsura, closer to an explosion in a spaghetti factory. A complicated relationship chart doesn't make a series great, but it does set the stage for what should be some interesting drama, as we've gotten some glimpses of already, with Mao seeming torn between Kouichi and Kai. It's also more realistic, since as much as I love Da Capo the odds of every woman on the island wanting to take Junichi to the boneyard just defies all logic.

While fans of the game may not be happy, I'm glad Kimikiss threw the formula out the window--some of my favorite anime series, Da Capo and Kanon among them, have played things by the book, but it's a refreshing change to see a series where after the first two episodes I can't predict exactly who ends up with whom. I am rooting for Mao x Kouichi though--nothing against Yuumi or Kai, maybe it's just a anime-watching form of imprinting, but I have a habit of rooting for the first couple to appear together, and that was Mao showing up on Kouichi's doorstep in the first episode.

Plusses and Minuses so far:
(+) Blowing up the traditional bishoujo "Everybody Loves Yoshiyuki" relationship chart.
(+) Mao-neechan. Awesome in general, but especially her reaction to Kouichi fumbling trying to ask Yuumi to karaoke.
(+) The OP and ED. I could listen to them on endless loop all day before I'd get sick of them.
(+) Decent animation, nothing spectacular but it's easy on the eyes.
(+) Eriko coming up with the nastiest way to eat potato chips I've ever seen.
(+) A genius girl who's not ten years old.
(+) Pulling off a bishoujo series with no supernatural element whatsoever: no sakura trees, no girls falling in snow, no magic wands, no traps (OK, technically traps are not supernatural, but I don't understand the trap appeal), and no time-traveling virus researchers...from the future.
(-) Hiiragi's character feels like he's trying to be Suginami, but failing.
(-) The frogs. If I could, I'd throw them in a pot of water and bring that sucker to a rolling boil.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

D.C. II: When Side Characters Attack

It's official--Da Capo II is trying to kill me. It's not a quick, speedy death either. It seemed like it had such potential for greatness, with appealing characters, and (based on what I'd read about the game) a solid, dramatic plot, but instead, like a fresh doughnut with a creamy ear wax filling, what looked good at a glance is rapidly turning into something really hard to keep down.

There are a few things D.C. II has done well so far--the characters aren't bad (when they get screentime), the character designs are good, and the animation quality is decent, if not inspiring. So far they've forgone the love triangles, rectangles, or dodecahedrons common in bishoujo-game-to-anime series, with Yoshiyuki and Koko being monogamous and pretty much accepted as a couple by the rest of the cast (although Yume's a little annoyed...). On that count I have to give them points for originality.

However...then we get to the bad part, starting with the male lead, Yoshiyuki. Yoshiyuki is a perfectly nice guy--which also makes him perfectly boring. Compared to Junichi from the original Da Capo, he just has no edge at all. He rarely teases anyone, doesn't have a sarcastic bone in his body, and cries at sappy movies. There's nothing wrong with nice characters, but take Junichi and subtract the sarcasm and laziness and what's left, other than a pulse? The banter between Junichi and the rest of the Da Capo cast was great, but that's sadly missing completely from D.C. II.

The worst flaw so far, though, is the relentless focus on Koko. Koko is Kurumi from Pani Poni Dash--she's perfectly nice and all but jimi (plain) as hell. There's just not much potential for drama with her character in the spotlight. Not to mention focusing on one of the less popular characters would seem to be a bad recipe for selling a lot of DVDs. In a popularity poll for the game, Koko would rank well behind Otome, Yume, and Nanaka--but those three barely show up in the anime at all. Otome only cameos for a token second or two an episode, Yume gets a couple lines and that's it (an easy paycheck for Horie Yui, I guess), and Nanaka gets some screentime in episode 7, but other than that she doesn't get much attention either.

At first I thought Koko would get dumped halfway through the series, but they've focused on her for so long now that having Yoshiyuki dump her for another member of the cast would defy belief, since they've done nothing to develop Yoshiyuki's relationships with Otome or Yume (aside from the occasional Yume snippy-ness.) Minatsu has gotten some attention, but like Koko she's another one of the mostly forgettable "follow this route first so you can hurry up and get to the interesting people" side characters.

Koko's route in the game at least had a love triangle, but in the anime the only drama we're getting is the burning excitement of "Yoshiyuki and Koko: Will They Hold Hands?" I expect once the sakura tree comes into play we'll get some drama, but at this point they've done so little to develop Yoshiyuki's relationships with Sakura, Otome, and Yume that the drama is going to be seriously weakened. Unless they're going to cut the sakura tree story out completely, and really just make this The Koko Show--maybe that's the best I can hope for, with a "D.C. II Alternative" delivering the real drama in a later season.

You can do a solid, dramatic series in one cour, and I think Gift ~eternal rainbow~ is a good example--Gift started out with the introduction of the main love triangle, went through the side characters, and had a solid finish with the dramatic part of the story. But D.C. II so far seems like it's trying to compete with Shana II to put the audience to sleep, and the drama has been strikingly absent. Watching the original Da Capo, while some of the middle episodes you could argue wandered, the main drama/conflict was set up from the very beginning, versus D.C. II where it's nowhere to be seen halfway through.

Maybe, like Yoakena, on re-watch with lower expectations, I won't find D.C. II as frustrating, but right now I'm quickly moving into Disappointment territory. I'm hoping D.C. II will redeem itself towards the end, and as a Da Capo fan I'll definitely keep watching, but for now I'm baffled at the direction they're taking it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Seto no Hanayome

It's impossible to review comedy well, and since there's probably nothing more subjective than what's funny, reviews of comedy series are honestly pretty useless anyway. One blogger will say any given comedy is pure gold, the next will say they'd rather stick their face in a fan than watch it. Having said that, I can tell you I laughed out loud like an idiot at practically every episode of Seto no Hanayome, both the first and second times I watched it, but your mileage may vary. This is probably going to end up my favorite series of the year, so I'll ramble on about it anyway.

The basic plot of Seto no Hanayome is simple enough--Nagasumi goes to the Seto Inland Sea with his parents for summer vacation, and promptly gets a leg cramp and looks like he's going to drown. Of course, to avoid this being the shortest anime series ever, he doesn't drown and gets saved by a mermaid. It turns out that mermaid, San, is the daughter of a yakuza family of mermen and mermaids, and that since he knows her secret San has to die--unless, of course, he marries her, in which case he'll be a family member and knowing her true identity won't be an issue. So they end up engaged, even though they're both still in junior high, and heading back to Nagasumi's home in Saitama...although now the majority of San's family wants to kill him, including her father, and he has to made sure no one else finds out San's identity.
Just from the description of the plot you might think it's just another love comedy, and it's true it doesn't aspire to be more than that--but it does do the comedy side of things very, very well. The cast is excellent, with all of the characters being very unique and memorable. The character-based humor, slapstick, and over-the-top comedy all reminds me a lot of Urusei Yatsura, or more recently Magikano (from the same director as Seto). Luna's reaction when her Terminator-lookalike father shows up in serafuku...Mikawa's reaction whenever his helmet's taken off...San's reactions to Akeno's 'training' to resist turning back into a mermaid when she gets wet...Nagasumi's reaction to Masa's CPR...there are too many moments like this to list, but they're all hilarious, and wouldn't be possible without a great cast. You could argue the romance part takes a back seat to the comedy, and that's probably true, but overall I think Nagasumi and San's relationship gets developed well along the way too.
When this first aired, I wasn't sure Halko would be a good fit for San's voice, but I'm glad to say I was wrong and she did a great job. Lunar and Akeno are two of my favorite characters also...and although he's a clone of Mendou from UY, Mikawa always cracks me up too. Nagasumi is a refreshing male lead in that he's not allergic to girls or a total wuss--in fact, by the end he turns into a paragon of gar-ness.

Some would argue the best anime should be deep, or profound, or make you cry, or soil yourself in fear, or whatever--but for me anime is entertainment, and Seto no Hanayome did a great job at keeping me entertained from start to finish. If you're looking for a laugh at the end of a long workday, with a great cast of characters it's hard not to like, you can't go wrong with this.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Manabi Straight

Manabi Straight is the series I was looking forward to the most last winter, and pre-season favorites have a way of either living up to the hype you burden them with, or being very disappointing and making you slam your own head in a door in frustration (Exhibit A: Yoakena's Cabbage of Doom). Fortunately, Manabi Straight not only lived up to my hopes for it, it even managed to surpass them, with a great cast of characters and a solid story about friendship, teamwork, and overcoming adversity. It seems like Hidamari Sketch gets more love and attention, but for me Manabi Straight was far and away my favorite anime series of the (admittedly bare) winter season. I'd say even for my top ten anime series of all time, Manabi would still make the cut.

The main reason I was looking forward to Manabi Straight before the season was the studio behind it, Ufotable--I haven't liked everything they've put out, but I laughed my ass off watching Dokkoida and 2x2 Shinobuden, and while Futakoi Alternative kind of went off the rails in the middle, it had its moments too, especially an amazing episode 1. I didn't watch Coyote Ragtime Show since it's not really my kind of series, but with Manabi Straight I was looking forward to seeing Ufotable's take on school life. I expected it to be more comedy than anything else, but was pleasantly surprised to find while Manabi had its laugh out loud moments, there was a lot more than that to it.

Famous last words...

The plot starts with the catalyst for the series, Manabi, appearing in front of Inamori Mikan, the secretary on the otherwise deserted Student Council at a school whose enrollment has been declining for years along with Japan's population. It's 2035, not that it matters--other than laptops on everyone's desks it could just as easily be next Thursday. Given the name of the series I'd assumed Manabi was the main character, but Mikan provides both the narration and the point of view for most of the story, as well as being the character you could argue develops and changes the most over the series. They could easily have called this Mikan Straight, although that sounds like something I'd find in the drink section at a Japanese grocery store. While Mikan gets more screentime, Manabi does change the lives of people around her as her enthusiasm rubs off on even the more cynical and distant members of the cast. Watching the effect Manabi has on those around her is a lot like the scene at the end of the first episode where the school stage gets transformed into a park of swirling sakura petals--a dreary, apathetic, and not so heartful school life gets turned into a whirlwind of enthusiasm and activity. Under her leadership, the Student Council revives, gathers new members, and they grow closer together, then face a struggle between realizing the dream they're working towards and reality, a struggle adults are all too familiar with.

All talk...
I suck at episode summaries so I won't go into the plot much more--but in addition to a compelling story, the cast of characters really makes this series shine. Manabi's enthusiasm, Mikan's sincerity but her initial lack of confidence, Mei's tsundere-ness, Mutsuki's concern for her friends, Momo's biohazard suit...all of them are just a lot of fun to watch and easy to identify with. The character development during the series is really well handled too, as each of them has things they have to confront and overcome to move forward. The voice acting is solid, with Horie Yui as Manabi and Hirano Aya as Mei being probably the most well-known.

The first thing a lot of people noticed about Manabi Straight, before it even aired, was the character designs--and yes, this is the youngest-looking high school cast I think I've ever seen. Kinomoto Sakura looks like she could be Manabi or Mikan's older sister, and Sakura's in 5th grade while Manabi-tachi are supposed to be high school first-years. If there was a Dark Manabi she could save some serious cash buying child tickets for the movies and so on. This led some to dismiss Manabi Straight as a 'rori' series right off the bat or call it 'Manabi Chubby' but once I was used to them, the character designs really weren't bad. The gradient hair was actually pretty cool-looking once I got used to it, and the characters' expressions were done particularly well, which makes a huge difference both in the funny and dramatic parts. If you don't believe me, watch episode 3 of the TV broadcast of Yoakena--when the character's expressions are drawn so badly you can't tell if someone's embarrassed, angry, surprised, or constipated it really takes a lot of enjoyment out of watching the show. Animation quality really matters when it comes to being able to properly convey what the characters are feeling, especially since They say since half of all communication is nonverbal (which I think is a big part of Internet dorama, when you don't have a way to tell from people's voices or facial expression if what they just typed was serious, sarcastic, a joke, or what). Ufotable did a solid job on the animation throughout, and was perfectly consistent (unlike 2x2 Shinobuden where in a couple episodes the characters looked very different than in the rest of the series).

Complaints? Yeah, while I like the character designs, I admit it'd be better if they looked their age. But my biggest complaint is--it's 4:3. Seriously, what other anime is in a 4:3 aspect ratio and not 16:9 widescreen these days? Did Ufotable take a time warp back to two thousand and freaking four here? For a series set in the future, the aspect ratio's especially ironic. Then again, they had CRTs in the Student Council room too if I want to nitpick--and I can't imagine even the most dead-broke school using a CRT by 2035. It reminds me a little of how Moldiver envisioned a bold future where even pay phones had built-in video screens and people live in gargantuan thousand-level sky towers, but no one on Earth owns a cell phone. I should talk though, I remember when CD-ROMs came out thinking they were the dumbest thing I'd ever heard of since who had a whole 650MB worth of crap, not to mention initially you couldn't read/write CDs like good old 1.44MB floppies.

Overall, it's hard for me to really describe Manabi Straight well, but to sum it up, it's a story of a group of girls who become best friends, work together for a common goal, and get a first taste of the politics and challenges of adulthood. It's the anime series you'd have students at Otaku business schools watch to learn about leadership. It's got a winning combination of heart, comedy, and drama. I'm sure there are some that will find Manabi a little overly dramatic, like the scene where Manabi signs the school song surrounded by imaginary sakura, or Mei floats into the student council room in spirit as the team works on the presentation. Maybe it is over-the-top, but for me somehow it really just works. While it's a good story about growing up and school life, the things like pulling all-nighters on a presentation remind me more of the "grown-up" world. That's what I think really pushes Manabi Straight into great territory--it has a point, a message that I think everyone can stand to hear every once in a while to keep them on the path of MASSUGU, GO!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Clannad Canned Bread

This has to be one of the strangest marketing tie-ins I've ever seen--vending machines that sell canned bread with Clannad characters on them (pictures here). The thought of canned bread is a little scary, but they really do sell anything and everything from vending machines over there...

Also, Zyl weighs in on YUA: Full Throttle and found it more entertaining than I did--I should really give ep 2 a chance with lowered expectations, just because I really want to like this series, even if I was unable to like ep 1. I suspect I've been Cursed by High Expectations on this one.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

More First Impressions: Kimikiss, Night Wizard, YUA, and Shana II

Kimikiss

Wow...I thought Clannad had a big cast, but I can't remember two-thirds of the characters in Kimikiss's names. If I had to guess from the first episode, I'm guessing by the end we'll have at least two couples: Mao x Quiet, Delinquent-Looking Dude Sitting Next to Her, and Guy Who Showed Up First And Is Presumably the Male Lead x Shy Girl in His Class that He Blushes Looking At. But there are so many characters we could have five or six couples by the time it's over. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not--a big cast in a one cours series has to make focus difficult, but on the other hand it's kind of refreshing to see a bishoujo series with more guys than the standard two: the Male Lead and the Best Friend Who Never Gets a Girl to Even Look at Him. I haven't counted, but in Kimikiss the guy:girl ratio may be close to even. In any case, the character designs are good, the animation's decent if not stellar, and the characters themselves are interesting enough to keep me watching. After a spring season without a whole lot of bishoujo series, this fall has really turned into a bishoujo explosion.

Night Wizard

I know, it's based on a video game and probably aimed at people born when I was in college, but hell, I'm a sucker for moe character designs, and Hiiragi's "I just want to go to school!" and Anzelotto's "answer 'hai' or 'yes'" are entertaining enough to keep me watching. Plus the high school the cast goes to is in Akihabara, how cool is that. You could buy anime goods on your lunch break...talk about an express shinkansen to bankruptcy. The plot's based on a battle between skeletal 'Emulators' and the Forces of Good, Hiiragi misses class to swing a sword around, Anzelotto lives in the big castle at Disneyworld, and Elis and Kareha look like they'll be doing some fighting with Hiiragi (male lead) as well. I'm not expecting anything Earth-shattering here given the source material, but the first episode was fun to watch anyway. I'm somewhat easily entertained though, so your mileage may vary.

You're Under Arrest: Full Throttle

The You're Under Arrest OVA series is one of the first anime tapes I ever bought...I bought it from Animeigo on VHS a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, and bought it again on DVD. I'm sure I've watched the four OVA episodes at least a dozen times, and I've seen the first and second TV series, the movie, and the mini-specials--none were as good as the OVAs in my book, but they were at least entertaining. When I heard there was a third You're Under Arrest series airing, I thought it was a hoax--the last series was, what, five years ago? The manga stopped running in the late Paleozoic era, so where were they getting the material? I went into the first episode of YUA: Full Throttle with high expectations--which were promptly crushed. Honestly, the first episode almost put me to sleep. I kept looking at the timer at the bottom of the screen, wondering if that guy in Catch-22 would approve of this as a way to live longer. And Miyuki and Natsumi...they look like they're obaasans now. I think it's the extra lines around the eyes, but I hate the new character designs with a passion. The boy we're supposed to care about in this arc, who Miyuki saves from a kidnapping, just didn't pull me in either. I was honestly more entertained by Night Wizard, which makes me question my own sanity. As a fan of the OVAs, I expected this to be a sure hit, but it really let me down--maybe in the end, the OVAs just set too high a bar to clear.

Shana II

Having just re-watched the first season, I didn't really need the recap of sorts that took up much of the episode, but it was a clever way to provide a refresher for people and to help get new viewers up to speed. The sakura in fall made me think I was watching Da Capo for a minute there. I'm glad to see it looks like Ball Masque will play a role again, so they won't just be forgotten after getting away at the end of the first season. And the Horned Girl...I don't think anyone on Earth would take a bet that this episode is the last we'll see of her. There wasn't much new in the episode, but it was good to see the cast again, even if I did watch the first season two weeks ago. Shana looks moe as ever, especially now that she's not as tsun-tsun as she was in the beginning of the first season, and I'm hoping Ike and Yuuji will both have some balls so we won't just see The Triangle from last season drawn out until the end of time. Although I have to wonder, what happened to Operation Get Yuuji out of Misaki City to Avoid Endangering Everyone from last season though? Guess they just decided, ah, to heck with it, half the people in the city are torches by now anyway?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

First Impressions: Clannad, D.C. II, Blue Drop, and Myself; Yourself

Fall is my favorite time of year--the momiji burst into brilliant color, the air starts to get that crisp, refreshing feeling...and, of course, there's a new season of anime. Actually, where we live we don't get the first two things at all, instead we get people's houses falling into the Abyss like it's Judgment Day or something...but at least so far the fall anime season is looking really good. Spoilers for first episodes and incoherent ramblings straight ahead:

Clannad

I just finished re-watching Kanon, which is one of my favorite anime series--but I have to admit I went into Clannad with relatively low expectations. I read in a couple places on the internet that Clannad was "more like Air than Kanon", and unlike most Kanon fans, I'm not a huge fan of Air. Don't get me wrong, Air did have its good moments, but there were some things I disliked about it: I didn't like the cast as much as Kanon's (except Kannabi no Mikoto), the side characters' stories in Air weren't that interesting to me (I still can't remember their names...), and honestly I was disappointed with the ending. Maybe I was helped by having lower expectations for it than most, but after watching the first episode I really like Clannad so far.

The animation quality in the first episode was just awesome, and seemed at least up to Kanon's level. The only complaint I have was it aired 4:3, but the 16:9 broadcast will air three weeks from now. The character designs felt slightly closer to Haruhi than Air/Kanon, which is good in my book. And while it's weird hearing someone other than Kyon in a leading role in a Kyoani series, I like Tomoya's seiyuu, and he seems to fit the character well.

There's a pretty good sized cast to Clannad but unlike Kanon, which staggered everyone's introductions, it seems like Clannad throws them all at you at once, like it's daring you to remember all their names. A lot of them get pretty minimal screentime, of course, but they all seem interesting from what I've seen so far. I think Nagisa's dad is my favorite just based on his overall attitude--trying to get Tomoya to add 'ginga' to his name was classic. Anime set in high school often treats family like they don't exist--did you ever see anyone's parents for more than an instant in School Rumble? In Da Capo? In anything? I understand family's a big theme in Clannad, so it can't go that route, and it makes for a refreshing difference.

Before I watched the first episode, I was a little worried that the main heroine, Nagisa, would fit the all-too-common stereotype of "weak girl who just follows guy she has a crush on around and can't do anything by herself," which always annoys the hell out of me. Is there something wrong with giving girls a strong personality? I'm not saying they should all be tsunderes, but for example, the "I live to serve Ren-kun" mentality half the cast of Shuffle had made me ill--for The Love of God, have some purpose in your life other than becoming an okusan. Fortunately, Nagisa doesn't seem to fit that stereotype--she missed most of a year due to illness, but she doesn't have a puppy-dog crush on the male lead (or at least doesn't seem to), and she seems competent, going to the Theater Club by herself without needing anyone holding her hand to make her go. Nagisa also doesn't say 'gao', 'auu', 'uguu', 'ahaha', or anything like that, which makes me wonder if Key really produced this. Who knows, maybe in ep 2 she'll start adding '-de arimasu' to every sentence, but I think other than a habit of talking to herself, Nagisa's speech patterns are shockingly normal.

Other characters that stood out? The obligatory male lead sidekick looks like he'll be as entertaining as Kitagawa was in Kanon, now we just need a Kaori-like character to walk all over him. And Tomoyo is going to be a strong candidate for winning the Oscar for Most Badass Female Character in a Bishoujo Series, taking delinquents down like nobody's business and doing it with style.

On the downside, the OP and ED were OK, but I don't think I'll be ripping them into iTunes anytime soon. The ED was something Wanya from Daa! Daa! Daa! would love, but I'd take taiyaki over dangos any day. I think the ending of Clannad will make or break it for me, but now I'm looking forward to the ride more than I was before. I think I'm going follow Jeff Lawson's lead and wait for the 16:9 version from now on though--it just feels weird watching this in 4:3, they should have just aired it in black and white while they were at it.

Da Capo II

As a fan of the original series, I've been looking forward to Da Capo II for a looooong time, and the first episode was great--I love FEEL's D.C.S.S./Otoboku-like character designs, and everything just seemed to fit Da Capo perfectly. The animation's not going to top Clannad, but it's on a par with D.C.S.S. and Otoboku, so FEEL is giving this more love than Airantou got. Yui Horie as Yume sounds almost exactly like her Suzu in Airantou, but I think I'll get used to her pretty quickly.

The biggest surprise from the first episode is Koko and Yoshiyuki starting to go out--but I'll give that three, maybe four episodes before they break up and he ends up with Yume or Otome. The fact Yoshiyuki was wondering if the fact she was important to him was love or not is not a good sign for Koko--if you have to ask yourself if it's love, it's not. Plus he didn't accept until she was about to cry, and I feel bad for Koko if he's just going out with her out of pity. Hopefully, if he does end up falling for Otome, Nanaka, or Yume later (my money's on Yume) then he'll let Koko down gently.

I read spoilers for the game a while back, and while ep 1 clearly breaks ranks with the game, I'm sure the main story from the game is going to factor into this, and that's what I'm really looking forward to. There's definitely some great potential for drama there, and if D.C. II is anything like the original, it'll deliver.

The original Da Capo seemed to turn some people off by the middle episodes, but it had a really strong ending--with just one cours to run with, I'm guessing D.C. II will eschew filler and keep things moving at a good pace towards the climax. Definitely can't wait for ep 2 now...it's too bad I don't have the willpower to wait and marathon this all at once after it's over, just to avoid the wait between episodes...

Blue Drop


Blue Drop is a series I didn't know a whole lot about going into this season, other than that it has aliens and possibly some yuri. That's really all it takes to get me to watch a first episode, so watch away I did, and I ended up really liking it so far. The animation is decent, the character designs take a little getting used to but aren't bad, and the whole mood and tone of the series was just set really well.

A lot of people were probably turned off by Mari generally being selfish and spoiled all episode, but given her situation and the loss of her parents, I'm willing to cut her some slack. Hagino, of course, being the alien is a more interesting character--why is she infiltrating a oujo-sama school? Why did she try to strangle Mari, only to back off? What kind of aliens keep such a low profile and don't just start blowing up cities and stuff?

The first episode ends on a cliffhanger, so they've guaranteed I'll be back for episode two. The CG was really the only part of the first episode that bugged me--I know, call me old-fashioned, but I *hate* CG in anime, and yes, the flock of swallows or whatever was pretty good, but I could still tell it was a computer doing the work. The alien ship/submarine of sorts just looked out of place--not as bad as the space station in Soul Link, but not great. Still, I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more of this, especially where they go with Mari and Hagino's relationship and how their characters develop.

Myself; Yourself

A tsundere miko is fine too...

A lot of people will write this off from the get-go because it's based on a visual novel (which interestingly enough, isn't actually out yet, so it's impossible to guess where the story will go based on that), but the first episode definitely pulled me in. The character designs are good, the animation is solid, and the story has enough mystery to it to keep me interested. The OP is probably my favorite opening of any anime this season so far, so it pulled me in right from the start. I don't know if it's the Live Alive influence or what, but I'm all in favor of bishoujo bands in anime.

The basic setup of the story is the male lead, Sana, returning to his former hometown alone after being gone for five years, and being reunited with his childhood friends from back then. Yeah, it's not exactly original, but the cast is interesting and there are a lot of questions raised in the first episode:
  • What was Shuu trying to yell to Sana when he left? Probably not "I'm hard gay for you!" although it'd be funny if he was...
  • Why did Nanaka smack him silly when they met in class? Sure, she's pissed because he didn't recognize her after five years, but she seemed to be acting funny even when she saw him at the shrine earlier, so I'm thinking there has to be more behind it. Or she's just an omega tsundere.
  • Why exactly did Sana come back to the town, alone? His phone call with his mother seemed a little awkward, and when his friends asked about it, he didn't want to say...
In any case, I'm a sucker for a series with any romance in it, so I'll definitely keep following this. Aoi's voice is going to take some serious getting used to though, I just can't picture that voice as belonging to anyone but Chiyo-chan.

Up Next

I haven't watched the first episode of Shana II yet, although I'm hoping it'll be a good series and not another ZnT II. I'm also looking forward to Minami-ke and ef--I remember reading the Minami-ke manga a while back and finding it pretty funny, and there's a serious need for comedies in my anime this season. My favorite series of spring was Seto no Hanayome, and while I don't expect there'll be anything as Laugh Out Loud Until the People in White Coats Take You Away funny this season, I'm hoping something will come along and surprise me.

Like every season, I'm sure something will disappoint me down the stretch, and something else will come out of nowhere to be just awesome--but one thing I know for sure is this fall is looking like a great time to be an anime fan.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Meron-pan Project: Shana I eps 19-24

Episode 19: Inside the Battle

Summary
Shana has to protect her rival, Kazumi, and bring her to Khamsin to tune the city, while Professor Crazy and his sidekick, Lotus Domino, continue with their plan. Kazumi tells Yuuji in spite of everything she learned she still considers him human and he cries like a little girl, er, I mean, he cries Manly Tears. Khamsin blows up the Hindenberg that Professor Crazy was arriving in, and it looks like the Flame Hazes have won--but back at the Hall of Justice, Bel-Peol, Sydonay, and Hecate aren't concerned, with Professor Crazy reporting the preparations for the real plan are complete...

Impressions
Margery must be taped in pretty good to keep from just falling the hell out of that yukata--if she ever has kids, they're going to be seriously well-fed. After initially folding like a deck of cards, Kazumi manages to pull herself together to her credit. Still don't like her though. While Shana was out of line earlier, it's hard not to be pissed off at Yuuji for making her cry, then not going with her when she went to fight Professor Crazy. About now is when Kamina needs to appear and knock some Manly Sense into Yuuji so he doesn't keep screwing around. Either he likes Kazumi or Shana, make a decision already...if you can't tell, I'm hoping the triangle doesn't feature prominently in season two...

Episode 20: Heartless Wilhelmina

Summary
Shana runs into Wilhelmina, who's not happy that Shana's upset about Yuuji instead of focusing on her mission of kicking Denizen ass. Wilhelmina and Shana end up at Yuuji's house, and Chigusa invites them in, but Chigusa's powers don't win over Wilhelmina, who's determined to be a bitch. Yuuji resolves to leave the city with Shana, but Wilhelmina is determined to end the rabu triangle by killing Yuuji, so Shana and Kazumi can get into some hot yuri action. Or she wants to kill Yuuji so the Ball Masque, a Denizen gang that Bel-Peol, Sydonay, and Hecate belong to, can't get the Reiji Maigo. Either way, Yuuji's going down. Oh, and Margery blows out of town and ditches her henchmen.

Impressions
A good episode, as the drama kicks up, with Shana torn between her duty as a flame haze and loyalty to Wilhelmina and wanting to be with Yuuji (specifically, a not-killed-by-Wilhelmina Yuuji). I'm surprised Shana is taking this much time to think about it, but if I remember right next episode she comes to her senses. A little disappointed in Wilhelmina's attitude--she showed some signs in the flashback of caring about Shana, but now she's ready to kill the guy she likes, and doesn't seem to care about much of anything except for her mission as a Flame Haze.
On a side note, Wilhelmina can say it all she wants, but no one does -de arimasu like Keroro. No one.

Episode 21: Diverging Feelings

Summary
Shana stops Wilhelmina from killing Yuuji, and convinces her to let him live (for now), but Yuuji and Shana have an argument, as Yuuji tells her he wants to leave the city to protect everyone, while Shana wants him to leave the city for a different reason, namely the chance to get some Hot Flame Haze Action with her. Margery's henchmen offer to go with Yuuji when he leaves, and everyone gathers at the bonfire of the festival decorations to see if Yuuji's hunch about there being some other purpose for them is right. It turns out there is another purpose to the decorations, as when the flames reach them they activate a huge Unrestricted Method. The Palace of the Stars, Ball Masque HQ, appears over Misaki City, and Sydonay makes a move to grab Yuuji to get the Reiji Maigo--Wilhelmina moves to kill Yuuji so the Reiji Maigo won't fall into the wrong hands...but Shana gets in the way, getting run through and saving Yuuji yet again.

Impressions
Ouch...Shana getting run through like that's definitely going to leave a mark. I'd say she should break out the neosporin, but this is a little beyond that... Any normal person would be dead before they hit the ground if they got run through like Shana did, but since she's a Flame Haze and there's three more episodes and a second season to go, I'm going to give her an excellent chance of survival. I don't think Wilhelmina looked sufficiently horrified at what happened--she seemed to view trying to kill Yuuji as necessary "collateral damage", but after gravely injuring Shana, who she helped raise, you'd think she'd have a bigger reaction. If Wilhelmina was ever going to break her cool exterior this would be the time, but I guess she really does have a heart of pure ice.

Episode 22: The Flickering Flame

Summary
Kazumi angsts again because--well, that's all she can do...meanwhile, Shana's recovering, and Wilhelmina thinks the best course of action is to go the Palace of the Stars and kill Yuuji. Margery's back in town, but she's got her hands full as Wilhelmina and Shana go to the Palace of the Stars, where Hecate is using Yuuji to make Reigi Maigo generate almost limitless power of existence, threatening the whole city...

Impressions
I'm noticing a pattern here--whatever the situation, Wilhelmina thinks the best solution is to kill Yuuji. Ball Masque's in town? Kill Yuuji! Ball Masque captured him? Well, we could go and rescue him but--nope, kill Yuuji! We're out of orange juice? Kill Yuuji! What did he ever do to her? Did Yuuji run over Wilhelmina's puppy with a truck, then back over it again for good measure while she watched in horror? I know she doesn't want Ball Masque to use Reigi Maigo, but how about rescuing him and then hiding him or something?
Anyway, a solid episode as we get closer to the conclusion.

Episode 23: Battle at the Dawn Star Temple

Summary
Shana and Wilhelmina reach the Palace of the Stars and run into their first obstacle--an army of Tetsu-jin 27 1/5ths produced by Professor Crazy and a machine that sucks away their power of existance, making it harder to fight. Wilhelmina gets an arrow in the shoulder and Shana gets shot right in the zettai ryouiki, but they keep fighting and Margery shows up to blow up Professor Crazy's machine, enabling Shana and Wilhelmina to fight at full power again. Wilhelmina asks Shana if she'll kill Yuuji, and she says no--she'll fight to save Yuuji and prevent the world's balance from being disrupted, as Shana and as a Flame Haze.

Impressions
A good episode, as the smackdown at the Palace of the Stars begins. Although I almost wish they hadn't translated the name in the DVD subs, because 'Palace of the Stars' sounds too much like something you'd find in Las Vegas. Wilhelmina redeems herself a little here, respecting Shana's decision and telling her she believes in her, -de arimasu.

Episode 24: Crimson Thoughts

Summary
The Final Battle--Margery faces off against Sydonay, with Wilhelmina taking on Bel-Peol, as Shana confronts Hecate. Hecate orgasms while 'touching vessels' to Yuuji to copy his memories, but Yuuji can tell Shana is there to save him, and tells Hecate she can't be fulfilled just by borrowing memories from someone else. Shana frees Yuuji, and Hecate goes batshit insane like Shiro, releasing enough power of existence to destroy Misaki City. Shana and Alastor can only find one way to absorb it all before the city is destroyed--have Alastor manifest in this world to consume it, although that would have the side-effect of killing Shana. Yuuji can't escape either, but he takes Shana's hand and tells her he'd decided a long time back to go wherever she did--and as they walk into what looks like oblivion together, Shana tells Yuuji she loves him...
Of course, she doesn't die--she just wakes up on the school roof, and Alastor says her 'vessel' turned out to be big enough that she didn't get destroyed after all, while Yuuji was protected by Friagne's ring. Cue the ending credits and epilogue...

Impressions
A good final episode, with some panty shots thrown in for fanservice during the Shana-Hecate fight--the "oh wait, turns out you didn't die after all" at the end seemed a little contrived, but it was much better than the series ending with Shana and Yuuji dying, so I can't complain too much. The moment where Shana and Yuuji were walking into the firestorm hand in hand was really well done. I remember the first time I watched this I was surprised they ended the arc with Bel-Peol, Sydonay, Hecate, and Professor Crazy all just getting away unscathed--even Lotus Domino got away. I was just waiting to hear Bel-Peol say "I'll get you next time" or something, followed by maniacal laughter as she disappeared. Now I'm wondering if they'll finally get what's coming to them in Shana II, namely a chance to check out the sharp side of Nietono no Shana up close, or if they'll just be forgotten, living out the rest of their days in some Denizen Retirement Community.

Final Thoughts

While it wasn't perfect, overall Shakugan no Shana was a fun series to watch--it passed the re-watch test well, and had a good mix of action, character development, drama, and romance. A few random thoughts:

- The Shana-tan Specials are just awesome, especially Evil Kazumi: "I'm definitely going to kill her..." or "Good luck then, Shana-tan" with an evil smirk. Chibi-Shana sitting on Yuuji's head eating melon pan, while he complains about all the crumbs, is just classic. Alastor ending up at the South Pole was good too--I'm hoping with Shana II we get some more short specials like this when the DVDs come out.
- Especially watching on DVD, there are a couple work-saving measures JC Staff took that get old--Alastor's 15-second spiel at the start of every ep before the OP, and the up to a minute-long recap of the previous episode before the title screen after the OP. It reminds me a little of Hayate no Gotoku, with the easy-to-animate 'Butler Network' taking out time at the end of every episode they'd otherwise have to fill with real animation and plot. I guess if you're watching on TV and you forget what happens week to week the recap is nice, but most other series get by without one fine...not a big deal, though, since that's what fast-forwarding is for.
- I know Noiji Itou illustrates a billion light novels and games and I really want to like her drawing, but I have to admit I just don't like her character designs as much as the anime's. Unfortunately for me, the region 1 DVDs all have her representations of the characters on the covers, while I'd much rather see the anime versions. In a perfect world, the covers would be reversible and you could pick, but no such luck.

Meron-pan Project: Shana I eps 13-18

Episode 13: The Declaration of War Behind the School Building

Summary
Tiriel and her brother, the tonsil hockey-playing Denizen siblings, seem to have the upper hand, but with help from Yuuji and Margery they end up taken down by Shana. Sydoney, the third Denizen, runs away, after fighting Margery.

Impressions
So Sydoney is supposedly nicknamed "Thousand Changes" and can assume any form he wants presumably--so WTF was up with the lion crossed with a chicken? You can't bring anything more badass looking than that? How about a dragon? Hell, even a freaking panda would inspire more ph34r. That was one fugly Denizen...if I was Yuuji I'm not sure if I'd be scared or just bust the hell up laughing.
There's a LOT of collateral damage in this series--just 3:30 into the episode, five innocent people are taken out by one of the Denizens' Rinne. By the end of the second season, Misaki City will have a population of about 300,000 torches and about a dozen real people left.
More Shana in action, with the flaming hair and sword combo--combined with the invincible zettai ryouiki, it's hard not to like her. Kazumi has no idea how formidable an opponent she has. And given Yuuji was prepared to kiss Shana at the end before he ended up with a faceful of melon pan instead, I'm thinking Shana will beat Kazumi down in the end. It's not called Shagukan no Yoshida-san for a reason.

Episode 14: A Remarkable Person

Summary
This episode starts the flashback arc, as we see Shana before she entered into her contract with Alastor. Shana was living at the Palace of Heaven's Road, being trained by a Flame Haze called Wilhelmina and a skeleton named Shiro. The Palace of Heaven's Road is a concealed floating island in the sky, and seems idyllic enough--but Evel Knievel and the Invisible Man are closing in on them fast. Shana tries to trap Shiro with ketchup, making him go batshit insane.

Impressions
Wilhelmina must have a Costco card or something to have that much freaking ketchup in the house, since Shana went through at least a dozen bottles. I mean I like hot dogs as much as the next guy, but do I have a whole bucket worth of ketchup in the house?
Not a bad episode, since Shana plus Chinese dress is an excellent combo, and it's interesting to see some of Shana's life before she met Yuuji. They say she was adopted as an infant, and being raised by Wilhelmina, I guess I can see why Shana's a little emotionally distant when she first meets Yuuji. For a minute, I thought I was watching Munto with the whole Palace of Heaven's Road on an island floating in the sky...speaking of Munto, it's too bad Gass isn't in this, he'd be a kickass Flame Haze.
I guess Shiro went nuts because the ketchup looked like blood to him and triggered his Dororo Trauma Switch or something...I'd think just life as a fleshless walking skeleton would be horrifying enough by itself, but fortunately I can't say it's an area I have a lot of experience with.

Episode 15: The Day when the Flame was Born

Summary
Evel Knievel arrives at the Palace of Heaven's Road, along with Tenmokuikko, a Mystes that lives to fight and kill strong warriors. The Invisible Man fights Wilhelmina, while Shana enters into a contract with Alastor, reaching her dream becoming a Flame Haze.

Impressions
A solid episode with some good action--Shana didn't look hurt enough to need THAT many bandages though... I wish they'd elaborated a little on Shana's 'hidden feelings' which turned out to be doubts about the cause the Flame Hazes were fighting for. It seems like she's gotten over any doubts she had, since up to this point she's been cutting down Denizens like nobody's business.

Episode 16: The Flame-Haired Scorching-Eyed Slayer

Summary
We get some of the past of the last Flame Haze to contract with Alastor--she died using an ultimate attack of sorts, but not before asking a Denizen who had fallen for her, Merihim, to train her successor. Merihim turned into Skeletor and did just that, but back in the present he changes back to his original bishonen form to kick the Invisible Man's ass. Shana defeats Tenmoku Ikko and claims his sword, Nietono no Shana, and her and Wilhelmina part ways, now that Shana's a full Flame Haze and her training is over.

Impressions
Shana's battle with Tenmoku Ikko seemed kind of anticlimatic for fighting a monster Mystes that's supposedly taken down all kinds of Denizens. She does a backflip, stops the sword with her hands (one of the few areas of her body not covered in bandages), and before you know it, it's over. She even took him down without a weapon of any kind, and he had a freaking sword. Not a bad episode overall though, and closes out the flashback arc, setting the stage for the last arc of the series to start.

Episode 17: A New Beginning

Summary
Shana asks Chigusa to help teach her to cook, and Kazumi asks Yuuji to the Misago Festival. Khamsin, another Flame Haze, arrives in town, and tells Kazumi about torches and what's going on in the town.

Impressions
I love how Chigusa keeps trying to set Yuuji and Shana up, with Chigusa helping Shana cook and then suggesting she wear a yukata and go to the festival with Yuuji. Too bad Yuuji the man-whore has already accepted an invitation from Kazumi, although Chigusa and Shana don't know that...
I think that split second just before the title is the only time Khamsin smiles all season--it just looks out of character on him. I keep wondering if Khamsin is going to end up liking Kazumi or not, but we'll see how big a role he plays next season soon...
At least Kazumi's first reaction when she found out about torches was asking about her family, and not Yuuji--if she'd thought of Yuuji first and her family was just an afterthought, I'd have been kind of annoyed.

Episode 18: A Shattering Wish

Summary
Kazumi discovers Yuuji is a torch and freaks out; then Shana goes to the festival and finds Yuuji chasing Kazumi, tries to stop him, but fails. Professor Crazy Denizen activates a Unrestricted Method over the whole town, and Khamsin asks Shana to find Kazumi to help him tune the city before Professor Crazy causes more distortion.

Impressions
Khamsin isn't very good at finding reliable help--he should have picked an obaa-san (old woman), not only would they know the town even better than Kazumi, but obaa-sans are completely freaking fearless. If you've ever seen a time service at a Japanese grocery store, you know not to get in their way, or they'll just run you the hell down with their carts. If an obaa-san was up against a Denizen, I'd put all my money on the obaa-san.
For a second, I thought Yuuji was going to slap Shana when she was telling him to just ignore Kazumi, but to his credit he didn't. Then again, he was probably just afraid she'd kick his ass.

Meron-pan Project: Shana I eps 7-12

Episode 7: The Two Flame Hazes

Summary
Shana trains Yuuji by hitting him on the head with a stick. Margery chases after Lamies, intending to kill him since he's a Denizen, and we learn she's looking for a silver-flamed Denizen who's not going to show up this season. Shana and Yuuji hurry to try to protect Lamies, since if he's killed enough energy will be released to seriously mess up Misaki City.

Impressions
Maybe it's because I just watched Kanon, but Yuuji's mom reminds me of Akiko a little--she gives Shana training Yuuji the 'one second approval' just like Akiko would. It's starting to be more obvious Shana likes Yuuji, but not being exactly experienced, she's not really aware of it herself. Got to love Shana telling it like it is--"Yuuji, you're really weak. No, really. I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone worse at this shit than you are." Shana's definitely not much for politeness, but she's probably also a wildcat in the sack, so Yuuji's smart to just walk it off.

Episode 8: The Beautiful Goblet

Summary
Margery finds Lamies' hiding place and tries to take him down, only to get her ass kicked by Shana and Yuuji. Yuuji finally has something useful to do, now that he has Friagne's fire-repelling ring.

Impressions
Good battle between Shana/Yuuji and Margery/baka Marco--J.C. Staff did a solid job on this episode. Some background on Margery too, although I wish we had more detail on exactly what went down between her and the Silver Denizen...but I guess that's what Shana II is for...

Episode 9: The Poolside of Love and Desire

Summary
Pool episode, which means swimsuits! Moe~!

Impressions
Love triangles can be interesting, but the Kazumi-Shana-Yuuji triangle just irritates me for the most part. It really just makes Yuuji look like an indecisive coward--coward's a strong word, but when two girls like you and you don't have the guts to make a decision between them and/or tell them how you feel, there's no other way to put it.
I think the love angle in Shakugan no Shana would have been much more interesting if Yuuji had been dating the real Hirai Yukari, who was killed by Denizens in the first episode. Then you'd have a more complex situation like Kaze no Stigma, where Yuuji would have to choose between a past that's no longer there and the present/future. You could have a Denizen create a Yukari-look alike using some of her memories and try to use it against him...there are a lot more interesting possibilities. Instead, Yuuji just comes across as indecisive and impossibly dense. Although at least this isn't School Days, so he's not getting Kazumi pregnant, then giving Shana chlamydia and having gay sex with the gym teacher...wow, there's an image I don't want...
Anyway, this episode was particularly easy on the eyes, since we get the cast in swimsuits--although Shana's swimsuit is...not moe. As Konata would say, maybe there are "special needs" people who like it, but I think the frills need to go. I'm a little disappointed in Yuuji's mom, since she picked it out.
Overall, still an enjoyable episode, especially when Yuuji's getting the top of his head pummeled by oppai.

Episode 10: Entwined Feelings

Summary
Ike keeps trying to set Kazumi and Yuuji up, this time putting away books in the library after school, and Yuuji's depressed because in spite of training with Shana, all he's getting better at is getting hit on the head. Kazumi gets all hot and bothered because she can't get the balls to ask Yuuji what Shana means to her, and the sibling Denizens show up in town, along with Hang in the Background Sunglasses Dude.

Impressions
A decent episode, mainly because Chigusa, Yuuji's mom, kicks ass--fortunately, Chigusa has better taste in dresses than in swimsuits, and we get to see Shana wearing something other than her school uniform for once. Also, at the risk of sounding like a criminal in Fumoffu, ponytails are totemo moe.
The two new Denizens, however, are kind of weak as bad guys go--they're brother and sister, but they have a habit of exchanging power of existence by french kissing. Now, if they were both girls, I'd have no problem with it at all, but when they're siblings it's more than a little nasty...

Episode 11: Yuji, Shana, and Kisses

Summary
Shana wonders what the meaning of a kiss is after seeing one on TV, and asks Chigusa. Alastor becomes alarmed and arranges for a phone call with Chigusa to ask her not to talk to Shana about such things anymore, but in the end he ends up impressed by Chigusa's argument.

Impressions
Chigusa really is up there with Akiko in the top anime moms list (although granted, anime mom mortality is high, cutting down on her competition)--she not only always gives good advice, she's even able to convince Alastor her view is correct. I keep thinking there has to be more to her than meets the eye--does she really know what's going on? It wouldn't surprise me if she knew Yuuji was a torch and had the Reiji Maigo...
It's cool that the writer didn't take the easy way out and have Yuuji living by himself with his parents working overseas in Oregon or something, like it seems like every single harem anime series does. Chigusa's an interesting character, and I'm hoping we'll get some more screentime for her in Shana II. I'm also curious what Yuuji's father is like--to marry Chigusa he's got to have something going for him.

Episode 12: Flowers Bloom in the Cradle

Summary
Kazumi angsts after seeing Yuuji and Shana together, and it turns out Ike likes Kazumi, making the love triangle a love square. Fortunately, the soap opera gets broken up by the Denizen siblings attacking. Shana goes after them alone while Yuuji searches for the source of their power, and Shana vs. Denizens is looking like the Denizens will win.

Impressions
Have I mentioned I don't like Kazumi? She's perfectly capable of being bitchy to Shana but can't do anything but simper around Yuuji--thank Haruhi for the fast-forward button. It doesn't help that the Denizen brother and sister who have major PDA issues aren't my favorite bad guys in this series either, I'm remembering as I watch this that it was my least favorite arc. But at least we get Shana in Badass Winged Flaming Mode.

Meron-pan Project: Shana I eps 1-6

Shakugan no Shana aired back in fall of '05, and quickly became popular with a combination of action, drama, comedy, romance, and of course, the sword-wielding, melon pan eating heroine, Shana. A J.C. Staff production, it was an fun series to watch over its 24 episode run, and I went ahead and bought it when it came out on region 1 DVD. Shana's character development over the course of the series, and a decent male lead in Sakai Yuuji, were a big part of what made it worth re-watching for me, along with good animation quality and action sequences. With the second season starting this fall, I figured now was the right time to marathon it (not all in one sitting though...unfortunately, I don't get enough vacation to take a "Shana sick day" to watch it all in one go).

To give a very basic summary of the story: Sakai Yuuji is an ordinary high school student--or at least he thinks he is--until one day on the way home he gets caught in a 'sealed space' and encounters a Rinne, a monster that consumes people in balls of fire. It turns out that unknown to ordinary people, there's a deadly battle being waged between the Denizens of the Crimson World, who are consuming people for their 'power of existence', and the Flame Hazes who hunt down Denizens to prevent the balance of the world from being disrupted. Yuuji is saved by a Flame Haze, Shana, but she surprises him by telling him he's already dead...

Without further ado...here's the play-by-play for the first series, one episode at a time (heavy spoilers, so be warned...):

Episode 1: The End of Everything, the One Beginning

Summary
Yuuji is having an ordinary day--until suddenly he finds himself in sealed space, with a Rinne facing off against Shana, a Flame Haze. Shana nearly cuts him in two, kills the Rinne, puts him back together, and to top it off tells him matter-of-factly that he's actually dead, merely a 'torch' that's a copy of the original Yuuji who was killed at some point in the past for his "power of existence." This is the kind of day that's really bad at the time, but years later you look back on and laugh about...well, maybe a lot of years later...

Impressions
Wow--the animation quality for the fight sequences was better than I remembered. Shana makes a dramatic first impression, and the direction throughout was just top-notch. Yuuji's narration set a dark, dramatic tone from the very beginning, giving you a glimpse of what's to come, with the scenes of normal school life interspersed with glimpses of the world in the shadows Yuuji's about to be drawn irreversibly into. Overall, a great episode. Damn, it's too bad Yukari-chan is going away in the next episode, because I'd pick her over Kazumi in Saimoe any day. I remember at the time this aired a lot of people criticized Yuuji for being cowardly--but come on, the guy stepped between a girl with a sword and a complete stranger to defend her (bad luck for him she turned out to be one of the bad guys). I doubt many of Yuuji's critics would have the balls to do the same thing, in that extraordinary a situation--most people would run like hell, and I couldn't blame them if they did. It's interesting seeing how cold Shana is in this episode--seeing where she started just reminds me how good the character development is as the series goes on.

Episode 2: The Lit Flame

Summary
Yukari Hirai, a classmate of Yuuji's who likes his friend Ike, became a torch after the Rinne's attack, and her remaining time is running out--but Yuuji tries his best to make her last moments memorable and preserve her memory. After Yukari disappears, Yuuji confronts Shana, asserting torch or not, he is Sakai Yuuji.

Impressions
Friagne and his minions must pay--killing bishoujo like Yukari is a serious crime. It's a crime she's only in the first two episodes...
It's hard to watch this episode without thinking of Yorito's sorry ass in Sola--in the same situation as Yuuji, Yorito's reaction is about a million times weaker. I think Yuuji's reaction is more realistic--if you think, you are, after all, and whether he's technically a torch or not, he's the only Sakai Yuuji left, and he thinks and feels the same things the 'real' one would, so who's to say he's not real? That last scene where he's arguing with Shana was especially well done--we finally see the first glimpse of dere-dere Shana when he gives her a name.

Episode 3: The Torch and the Flame Haze

Summary
Shana takes Yukari's identity to attend school and keep an eye on Yuuji, expecting the Denizens to make a move. She proceeds to bitchslap the entire faculty, pointing out mistakes in what they're teaching and making them flee the classroom in despair. Friagne the doll-loving Denizen appears, after his doll attacks Shana and fails, he makes the standard Bad Guy 'I'll get you next time' speech, and leaves. Yuuji turns out to have a special treasure, which regenerates his power of existence every night at midnight.

Impressions
The little touches JC Staff puts into this are collectively impressive--the shinkansen going by in the background, the sound of the wind flapping her jacket as Shana stands outside, the embers dancing in the air when Shana's in Badass Flame Haze Mode. Shana verbally laying the smackdown on her teachers was hilarious--she may be four foot nothing tall, but mess with her at your own peril.

Episode 4: The Confused Flame Haze

Summary
Shana ends up staying at Yuuji's to keep an eye on him, and at school smacks down the gym teacher this time. A new Flame Haze, Margery Daw, arrives and proceeds to kick Shana's ass.

Impressions
Iwata Mitsuo is one of my favorite seiyuu (Gan-chan in Mini-Goddess, Sato in Stratos 4, and a bunch of other roles), and he does a great job as Marco, Margery's smart-mouthed sidekick. I think every role he's ever done has cracked me up, and it provides some welcome comic relief. But who am I kidding, the real selling point of episode 4 is Shana fanservice! Although it's not just service--while Shana's getting nekkid in Yuuji's room, Alastor is doing plot exposition. Now that's multitasking.

Episode 5: Respective Feelings

Summary
Yuuji gets set up on a date with Kazumi, Margery recruits two of her classmates to help her and fails to catch Friagne, and on his date Yuuji meets with Lamies, a Denizen who's been collecting power of existence from fading torches. Shana, meanwhile, is getting pissed off because she lost her fight with Margery and thinks it's because Yuuji's keeping her from concentrating--Alastor suddenly suggests killing him, which I guess is one way to solve the problem...

Impressions
I know Kazumi has a lot of fans, but her type of character really doesn't appeal to me. Yes, the great Kawasumi Ayako is her seiyuu, but Kazumi is no Lafiel. Kazumi is your stereotypical 'the guy I have a crush on means everything to me and I have no personality of my own', and I really can't imagine a more boring girlfriend or wife. If this was School Days, Kazumi would be sleeping with Makoto like the rest of the hos, while Shana would take a pair of pruning shears to his wang. At least on re-watch I don't feel bad fast-forwarding through Kazumi fidgeting and pouting about a guy she barely knows.
Watching this episode also reminded me how many open questions there still are from the first season--what is Lamies collecting power of existence for? Hell, what are any of the Denizens collecting it for, why can't they just get it in their own world and leave ours the hell alone? Hopefully Shana II will give us more answers...

Episode 6: Complication - Invocation - Confrontation

Summary
Shana almost follows Alastor's advice to kill Yuuji, but hesitates--meanwhile, Rozen fan Friagne activates his plan to take over the city, which works OK, I guess, until the part where Shana shows up and kills him.

Impressions
So Yuuji always gets his power of existence recharged at midnight by Reiji Maigo...but what if he changes time zones? If Japan goes on Daylight Savings Time at some point in the future, does Reiji Maigo know to "spring ahead, fall back?"
Kind of disappointing how easily Friagne was taken down, although he was having mental health issues at the end...but it was very cool how Yuuji found a way to be useful to Shana, rather than just assuming he can't do anything. I also give JC Staff a lot of credit, they animate flames really well, especially on Shana's sword.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Funimation versus Fansubs


A piece of news just came out that I'm sure will be blogged to death, but I might as well pile on too--apparently Funimation is sending Cease and Desist letters on behalf of Gonzo, specifically to demand Shinsen stop subbing Romeo x Juliet (which isn't licensed). It's very possible Gonzo will enlist Funi to send C&Ds and lawyers after other groups subbing their series as well. Since I'd rather watch "Bass Fishing with the Stars" than most Gonzo titles this doesn't really affect me personally--but the more alarming thought is that this could be the start of a trend where Japanese studios enlist the region 1 anime distributors to crack down on fansubs in general.

To put it politely, companies that think fansubs are the root of all their problems are run by idiots. ADV's not making as much money as they used to? Maybe that's because no market grows at 40-50% a year forever--if they hadn't slept through Econ 101, they'd have realized someday the market would mature and growth would level off. It's simple math, not piracy--if anime sales had kept growing at 50% a year then 20 years from now 99% of the Gross National Product of the United States would be spent on anime, and people wouldn't have any money left for food. Besides, no matter how much ADV might wish otherwise, Divergence Eve is not going to outsell Shrek 3--anime is a niche, and always will be. It's a niche even in Japan, for Haruhi's sake.

I have around two hundred region 1 DVDs, almost all of which I watched fansubbed before I bought them (the exceptions being old-school titles like Urusei Yatsura), so when I hear the corporate PR people bleating that fansubs = lost sales, it's hard not to projectile vomit in disgust. All fansubs really do from a sales standpoint is level the playing field between me and the average Japanese otaku, who can tape his anime right off TV Tokyo. If being able to get a copy of an episode for free means people won't buy the DVD, then why does anyone in Japan buy broadcast anime on DVD? How is me having a fansub any different than Joe Izusu in Tokyo taping Seto no Hanayome on his DVD recorder when it airs in the middle of the night?

But, you might ask, what about the kids who proudly say they r too smart 2 buy anime, because fansubs are free? I'm guessing most of those people are tweens/teens who have squat for income anyway--unless Mommy and Daddy win the lottery, does Gonzo really think they're going to line up to buy anime DVDs? Hell, no, they'll move on to something else, like crack or a Nice Boat.

I can say for sure in a world without fansubs, I would spend less money on anime, and I suspect I'm not alone. If instead of previewing anime on fansubs, I have to wait to rent my anime from Netflix a year after it airs, I wouldn't buy individual volumes like I do now--at that point it'd make more sense to wait for a cheap box set. I'm definitely not going to buy anime sight unseen because Funi's marketing department tells me it's the shiznit.

In the end, though, I find it hard to believe this latest salvo in the War on Fandom will really change anything--there were cries of doom and gloom for the fansub world after Media Factory unsheathed their C&Ds back in December 2004, and nothing really changed. Part of the point back then was to stop School Rumble from getting subbed--well, it ended up getting subbed to the end, the second season got subbed too, it got licensed in region 1, and volume 1 is looking at me from my bookshelf right now. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail, and Gonzo and others will realize stamping out free marketing won't make their sales triple overnight...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Da Capo II - Promo Video

Thanks to jwthechamp on the AnimeSuki forums for posting the link to the short video for Da Capo II at Crunchyroll (you have to sign up for a free account to view it). I'm glad to see feel is using character designs that I really like, similar to D.C.S.S. and Otoboku's, and hopefully the animation quality will be top-notch.

Da Capo II (or "D.C. II"--no relation to the city with "Taxation Without Representation" license plates) is the latest iteration of the Da Capo franchise, set two generations in the future from the first Da Capo, with many of the cast being grandchildren of the original Da Capo characters. Although I'm sure Key fans would violently disagree, I'm actually looking forward to this more than Clannad. I let myself be spoiled on the general plot of D.C. II--I'm not about to give anything away, but I think it could be better and more dramatic than the original. Of course, if you're too good for bishoujo series and think all anime should be deeper and more profound than the Mariana Trench, you'd be better off re-watching Lighter than White, or whatever it is the serious people watch.

Yume appears first--does this mean Yume gets The Win? Or am I overanalyzing? She'll be voiced by Yui Horie of Kanon, To Heart, Love Hina and eight-billion-other-series fame, so next year's Saimoe better watch the hell out.

Otome! My first choice for 'winner' of the series, which probably guarantees she won't win. Pink ribbons are so moe it's amazing the screen doesn't just burst the hell into flames when she's on camera.

Sakura, the youngest-looking obaasan ever. If her secret for not looking older ever got out, the multi-billion dollar anti-wrinkle cream industry would go knockers up in a New York minute.

If you were a Kotori fan in the first Da Capo, there's Shirakawa Nanaka in D.C. II, who I'm guessing is her granddaughter. Probably stands a snowball's chance in hell of winning though...

Did someone say Clannad will be better than D.C. II?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Potemayo

Potemayo was definitely the surprise of the summer season for me--I had zero expectations for it and I don't think I'd even heard of it until subs started coming out, but I picked it up and instantly fell in love. I won't say it's the greatest anime ever, and I don't think I'd even recommend it to most people because they'd probably just look at it and ask questions like "did that baby just pee on that guy's head?" with horrified expressions on their faces. But if you like your comedy served with leisurely pacing, watercolor backgrounds, a pinch of gradient hair, an interesting cast, and a metric ton of crack, then you might like Potemayo as much as I did.

I don't think I can do a decent summary without sounding completely insane, but the hero of our story, Sunao, is a reserved junior high student who's practically living alone--his mother died (I swear, anime parents have the worst mortality rate on Earth...) and his father is something of an absentee thanks to his job. So one day Sunao is walking past the refrigerator, hears a rattling noise from inside, and finds there's something in it that isn't food--a baby girl with cat ears and a rabbit-like tail, who he names Potemayo. Whereas your average person would freak out and call the police and/or Animal Control, Sunao keeps his shiznit together and matter-of-factly adopts her/it, only briefly wondering much later exactly what Potemayo is. Shortly after, Guchuko appears out of the fridge, a Potemayo-looking being that also has horns that can...er...move on their own and shoot frickin' laser beams at things, although she's conscientious enough to always tape things back together after she breaks them. She also has a scythe, but fortunately this didn't get the Nice Boat treatment, since she doesn't use it on people. Guchuko ends up living outside a classmate of Sunao's named Kyo's house, and takes a liking to Kyo, who gives her food.

It's impossible to describe the humor in the series--it's something you have to see for yourself to determine if it's up your alley or not. But for me the cast and their interactions are hilarious to watch, and JC Staff develops the characters well enough that they can actually pull off some good more dramatic moments towards the end too. I enjoyed watching this every week just to see what they'd think of next, from flowers growing on Potemayo's head, to Nene making Mu-tan into her personal slave when he accidentally gives her chocolate on Valentine's Day, to Guchuko's various 'offerings' to Kyo, to Mikan's nosebleeding over her classmate and crush Sunao. (That's something you don't see very often in anime, a girl doing her best Ikuto impression...) Kawasumi Ayako did a great job voicing Mikan--her character in particular was a lot of fun to watch.

The animation quality is nothing to write home about, but JC Staff did a solid job overall, with watercolor backgrounds and simple, but consistently drawn character designs. I don't know why, but since Manabi Straight I've taken a liking to gradient hair, and that's out in force in Potemayo as well. The background music is light and matches the feel of the series perfectly, and the voice acting is solid too. It's hard to find anything to complain about, other than the narrator's voice--to me she just felt a little off for the tone of the series...but I'm probably just too hung up on hoping Onsokumaru would narrate every anime series ever made...

There are far better reviews of each episode at Tenka Seiha than anything I could write (even if I wasn't too lazy to do episode-by-episode reviews to begin with). I think the Earth will Crash into the Sun before Potemayo gets licensed in region 1--but if it does, I'd order it faster than Potemayo can say "honi honi ho".