Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Winter Season First Impressions

Well, there've been enough episodes subbed of the winter shows that I feel like I can finally make some kind of comment on it. It's kind of sad, but there are only three series airing this winter that I feel motivated to keep watching, which are:

#1 - Manabi Straight

I've only seen the first two episodes, but I like it so far--yes, it's just school slice-of-life, and there hasn't been anywhere near the insanity level of 2x2 Shinobuden or Dokkoida, which were also ufotable series, but I like Manabi Straight anyway. Do they look like high school students? Well, no. Although I've noticed every year I get older that real high school kids look more and more like infants, the character designs are definitely on the 'chubby loli' side. Despite that, Manabi's a fun character to watch, and what usually makes or breaks anime series for me is if it has likeable characters. Since it's an all-girls school I'm guessing there's going to be zero in the romance department, but if ufotable can keep things going and mix in some drama down the road I think this could be really good. It's not as high in insane comedy as I'd hoped, but if they're going to bring on the drama later, the contrast with the earlier episodes won't be as jarring this way.

#2 - Venus Versus Virus

I completely agree with Stripey that this is the most moe series of the winter--Sumire's deadly combo of arm and leg zettai ryouiki and Lucia's cool character are enough by themselves to keep me watching. Just two episodes in, I can't say a whole lot about the plot, although I can say the 'viruses' have the worst character designs ever. The virus in ep 2 looked like Washu had too much to drink and decided to cross a zombie with a basket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Are we supposed to be afraid of that shit? I'm pretty sure I could draw better monsters, and I suck donkey ass at drawing. The concept is interesting though, with Sumire having a dark side that takes out everything in its path, and I'm curious to see if she can eventually control that side of herself or not.

#3 - Deltora Quest

I never read the books this is based on, but since it's based on novels and not an RPG (as I originally assumed), this may end up having a decent plot. I can't say the first episode blew me away, and it had the longest introduction I've ever seen at the beginning--for a minute there I thought they were going to blow all 24 minutes of the episode reading us the damn novel. But despite CG that makes me cringe (I hate most CG though, so I'm biased) it's an interesting story, and since Jasmine's supposed to show up next ep to kick some ass I'll definitely keep watching.

Dropped

Kyoushiro to something no something else - Yes, this has lots of fanservice and yuri potential, but I just can't get into it. It goes back to having likeable characters--I can't find anyone in the cast to identify with and/or root for. Kuu's IQ and mental age are in the single digits, Kyoushiro literally riding in to save Kuu on a white horse just made me roll my eyes, and since I wasn't a big Kannadzuki fan either, Himeko x Chikane round two doesn't help make me want to watch. I'm not saying it's a bad series, and it has a lot of fans, it's just not something that appeals to me enough to keep watching.

Saint October - Yes, the character designs are cute, and the priest is pretty funny (although they overused the 'fake boobs' joke in ep 2). But man can not live on character designs alone, and the bad guys and the plot seem like something you'd find in a series aimed at little kids. Which is strange, because the time slot and the fanservice they throw in makes me think this is NOT aimed at little kids. Plus what is that gunk that dumps all over Kotono when she transforms? Maybe I don't want to know...in any case, watching episode 2 I think I stopped it three times to surf the internet or send an email, and that's a sure sign it's going to the dropped for lack of interest pile.

Confession


This isn't really related to the winter season, but I have to confess something (and I'm genuinely embarrassed as an anime fan to be saying this): I've never seen Crest of the Stars. I think the main reason is I'm not normally a big sci-fi fan--yes, I had a toy Millennium Falcon when I was little just like everyone else in my generation, but when I wasn't crashing the Falcon down the stairs I didn't watch a whole lot of sci-fi. As an example, I did like the original Star Trek (Shatner's overacting and all) but its many progeny just never did anything for me.

Yesterday, I started to right this wrong as the first volume of Crest of the Stars showed up in our mailbox from Netflix, and so far I'm impressed. Lafiel and Jinto are both fascinating characters, and while a lot of reviews slam the series for being slow-paced, to me slow-paced means Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, and Crest of the Stars is considerably faster-paced than that. I'm really looking forward to seeing more--I'm not really sure how I missed this series until now, sci-fi or no. Lafiel-hime seems destined to be one of my favorite anime characters, even just four episodes in you can see a glimpse of a warmer side beneath her cool, collected exterior. I'm restraining myself from just ordering the box set now because I want to watch it through before deciding to buy it or not, but it's hard to gamman.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Why Takaaki Needs to Level the Hell Up

To Heart 2 was a series I was really looking forward to, since I really liked the original--but sadly, the second incarnation disappointed me compared to the first. Why? There's not just one reason, but the biggest one is that Takaaki is a lousy male lead. He's generally a nice guy, sure, but a complete pushover, and I don't remember him having a witty or amusing line of dialogue in the whole series. You could program a robot to take his place and no one would notice, like in the onsen episode of Happy Lesson. You might think the male lead in a bishoujo series shouldn't matter, since let's be honest--no one watches Love Hina because they want to see Keitaro naked in the onsen behind Hinata-sou. But when I look back on bishoujo series I've liked and disliked, there's no more critical piece that makes the series work or not than the male lead.

An example? Just imagine how much better To Heart 2 would have been if you replace Takaaki with Yuichi from Kanon. Tamaki vs Yuichi would be a battle of wills and wisecracks for the ages, while Tamaki vs Takaaki is like watching Mike Tyson beat the living hell out of a cowering, defenseless newborn kitten. Would Yuichi just roll over and do what Karin tells him to without a fight? Would Yuichi not come up with some good wisecrack when Yuuma runs over him with her bike? Would Yuichi react to Sango and her bratty twin with nothing more than sweatdrops, like Takaaki? Hell, no. Kenji from Lamune, Hiroyuki from the original To Heart, even Junichi from Da Capo all had a lot more personality and strength of character than Takaaki, and their respective series are much more fun to watch as a result.

Not having a strong male lead doesn't just detract from the interactions with the various bishoujo, it even makes the bishoujo less likeable. If Karin was trying to manipulate Yuichi, and he wiggles his way out of it, it could be funny--but when Karin successfully blackmails a hapless Takaaki over and over again, it just makes her look mean-spirited (see earlier kitten-beating analogy). Maybe it's the way the game was written, that Takaaki is a really weak-willed guy, I'm not sure since I haven't played the game--but I'm sure it would be more fun to watch if they gave him more of a personality.

There is some hope, it looks like--I saw the trailer for the To Heart 2 OVA (the first of three episodes coming out in February) thanks to Darr3n's post, and it looks like OVA Takaaki has a different character design. Here's hoping the change isn't just superficial--with the cast of characters TH2 has otherwise, if the OVAs can just address the weakest link and level up Takaaki, they could end up living up to some of To Heart 2's promise.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hanihani

Hanihani's full title is "The Moon to the East, the Sun to the West ~Operation Sanctuary~", which keeps with AugustSoft's penchant for really long-ass titles for their games. The Hanihani anime aired back in '04, and it consists of 12 blink-and-you'll-miss-it length episodes. Just how short is each episode? Take out the OP credits and we're talking 10 minutes each, so the total runtime is really just about two hours. In spite of the short length, and while I can only describe the storyline towards the end as 'unique' but not all that great, it's a decent bishoujo game-turned-anime series for fans of the genre like me.

Hanihani's protagonist is Naoki, who lost his parents and his memory in an accident five years ago, and was taken in by his aunt and uncle. They have a daughter, Matsuri, who lives with them, and she's my favorite character in the series--in two words, the tsundere imouto. You'd think Matsuri would wake Naoki up in the morning, or he'd have an alarm clock like any normal single guy would wake up to, but instead following bishoujo game convention it's Naoki's childhood friend Honami who always wakes him up. He seems to have a pretty normal school life--at least until a transfer student named Mikoto literally drops out of the sky on him, which he writes off as some kind of hallucination. Naoki's life isn't perfect though, since he's bothered by recurring dreams of a post-apocalyptic world...and while at first the anime takes us through the usual episodes focusing on each side character in turn, towards the end it turns out there's something serious going on...
In the end, not to go into spoilers, but for me the greatest weakness of Hanihani was its plot. It's not Kanon, it's not Da Capo, it's not even Gift or Shuffle. The plot's not really bad or anything, it just seemed a little far-fetched to me. I won't try to poke holes in it, because if you watch it I don't think you'll have any trouble doing that yourself. But in Hanihani's defense, it does have a very likeable cast of characters--AugustSoft is the same company that brought the world Feena-sama from Yoakena after all. Mikoto, Honami, Matsuri, Yui-sensei (their homeroom teacher, who like Mika in Sensei no Ojikan is about three-foot-nothing tall) and the rest of the cast are all fun to watch and have their own distinct personalities. Usually I can tell from just watching the opening credits who the winner will be (whichever bishoujo gets the most screentime and/or is in the middle at the end = winner) but to its credit Hanihani keeps you guessing until towards the end when the serious part of the plot kicks in.

Hanihani's male lead actually makes a decision during the course of the series on who he likes too, and doesn't waver endlessly like other examples in the genre, which is another point in Hanihani's favor. The animation quality is so-so (but better than Cabbage Love by far) and while the character designs can't compete with the game counterparts, they're still easy on the eyes. Speaking of the game, insani has translated the Demo into English so you can play it (which I did)--and don't worry, it's work safe (in that there's no ero content--although unless your boss is really unobservant I can't say playing a bishoujo game at work when you should be working is really "safe").

If Naoki was smart, he would choose Matsuri, damnit...

It's not the greatest bishoujo series ever, but for a reason that's hard to pin down, I still really enjoyed Hanihani, enough that I gave it a re-watch. Maybe it's partly because I played the demo so I got to know the characters a little better, or I liked the fact it has a conclusive ending (with a wedding set five years after the rest of the story), or it's just because I'm generally a sucker for romance/bishoujo anime. Your mileage may vary, but especially since it's not all that long I think Hanihani's worth checking out.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Mizuiro (2003)

Mizuiro is a short two-episode OVA that manages to do a better job of telling a story than most 13-episode entries in its genre, with a likeable cast, character designs that deserve to make the designer designated a Living National Treasure, and an interesting story. In the game-to-anime/bishoujo genre, although it's short, it's worth re-watching.


The story starts with a flashback to when Ken, Yuki, and Hiyori were children--Ken gets a ring from a toy machine, but is bummed because it's not the yo-yo he'd been trying for. Hiyori asks if she can have it instead, and Ken says OK, if she can get the yo-yo to trade with him for. Later on, Hiyori and Yuki try their luck at the machine and she does get the yo-yo, after a few tries--but she can't give it to Ken and asks Yuki to instead. Yuki does trade the yo-yo for the ring with Ken, but before Yuki can give the ring to Hiyori, Hiyori's moved away without a trace. Years later, Yuki and Ken are in high school, and one night Ken hears a voice from the closet--it's Hiyori, but how she got there, and exactly what happened to her since she moved away, is a mystery...
The storyline is short but interesting, with an air of mystery that reminds me of Kanon's, and with just two episodes to work with, they dispense with the side character fluff, the beach episode, the onsen episode, and the other staples of the genre, instead focusing on Ken, Hiyori, and Yuki. The characters are all likeable--Ken's your typical male lead, but he shows spine when he has to, which puts him in a class above most; Yuki's the not-related-by-blood imouto (makes you wonder, are any brothers and sisters in Japan actually related?); and Hiyori's more than a little ditzy, a bit of a crybaby, but means well. The supporting characters get a little screentime, but they aren't really the focus and given the length of the series it's just as well they just get more or less cameo appearances.
The animation and backgrounds are all really good--while it won't have your jaw hit the floor like some of Kyoani's work, it's still a good example of what "OVA quality" is supposed to mean (and sadly not all OVAs live up to). The voice acting is solid too, Yuuko Gotou (Nanami in Lamune, Asahina in Haruhi, among others) does a good job as Hiyori, although she has that kind of high-pitched voice that would maybe annoy some people. The character designs are what really stand out--the borders for the characters faces have thicker lines than some may be used to, but they really look good. If there was an award for the most kawaii character designs in anime, I'd be very likely to nominate this series--the character designer also did Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu's designs, so if you've seen that you'll know what to expect. The background music fits the series well too, there's just not much to find fault with.

Overall, if you like romance/bishoujo series I think it's likely you'll like Mizuiro. Part of me wishes it was longer, and that it ended with Ken making a choice on who he liked, but it was still a good, solid story, and although it was short it also helped to keep the story focused. Beware that like Pia Carrot, there's a hentai and a non-hentai version--"Mizuiro 2003" is the non-hentai version that I'm reviewing here, but there's also a hentai OVA that came out before it.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Cardcaptor Sakura Alternative

To be honest up front, as far as I know no one's actually thinking about creating an alternate, improved version of Cardcaptor Sakura--this post is just my thoughts on what could make a great series even better. You might well be thinking the idea of improving on Cardcaptor Sakura is insane, even blasphemous--and don't get me wrong, in my humble opinion it's the best mahou shoujo series ever, with a great cast of likeable characters, solid animation, and a compelling story. It avoids falling into the 'defeat the bad guys with the exact same attack every week' trap like other series in its genre do, as Sakura has to think about what card or combination of cards to use to prevail, and she doesn't always get it right the first time or without help from her friends, which makes it more realistic. But I already sung CCS's praises when I reviewed it earlier, so if someone were to do a CCS Alternative what could make it even better than the original? Or to put it a different way, where are its faults?

Here are the things I would change, if it was up to me:

- Take away Tomoyo's camcorder. Tomoyo could be just as interesting a character if she wasn't saying "I'm so happy to be filming Sakura's ultra-lovely self" every five minutes. Tomoyo is at her best towards the end when she's the perceptive one who sees that Shaoran likes Sakura, making comments about how tough it is for Shaoran and generally amusing herself with the situation. But when she's swooning over how cute Sakura is...it just gets old after a while. Tomoyo doesn't need the camcorder gimmick to be a solid character in the series, and since her obsession with Sakura just gets played for comic relief most of the time, I don't think if she was just her best friend (versus a borderline stalker), that her character would really suffer as a result.

- Let Shaoran and/or Sakura smack the smirk off of Eriol's face. I know, Eriol's not an evil person, and blah blah blah, but wouldn't it be awesome if after Rika nearly drowns, Sakura found out Eriol was responsible, she confronts him, he says something smarmy, and she just smacks the stuffing out of him? For all the trouble he put her through, regardless of his intentions (and you can't tell me there wasn't a less obnoxious way to get Sakura to convert the cards) he deserves SOME punishment. It'd be a little out of character for her, but I'd love to see Sakura just snap and knee him in the balls. THAT would be a look I'd love to see on Eriol's face, dropping to the ground after taking a hit to the family jewels.

- Pair Touya and the Mirror Card. I think the idea of a human and a Clow Card falling in love would be cool, and could explore some more of the nature of the Clow Cards--can they exist all the time, like before they were captured, or just at their master's command? Would their kids be half-card, half-human? Or would they just have really badass magic? I know this is blasphemy to the yaoi fans, because it'd mean no Touya x Yukito, but this is an alternative CCS we're talking about here. I think I'm rooting for Touya x Mirror just because Touya x Yukito never seem to have any chemistry to me. Maybe that's just narrow-mindedness on my part, I'm not sure--but the couple episodes with the Mirror Card, especially where Touya gives her the ribbon, makes me think they'd make a really cute couple. I know I'm probably the only person on Earth to think that though, and Touya's doubtlessly just giving her the ribbon because he's a good guy and nothing more, but if you re-wrote the story I think they could have an interesting relationship. It's pretty clear the Mirror card likes him, and a Clow Card falling in love would be a good storyline to watch.

- More Meilin. Meilin comes across as really annoying in her first appearance, and seems to hate Sakura with the burning flame of a thousand suns--but one of the best parts of the anime, for me at least, is watching her relationship with Sakura change to where towards the end she views her as an important friend. The fact Meilin sees Sakura as her friend in spite of Shaoran falling for her just shows how mature she is--if Meilin was Kaede from Shuffle she'd be screaming at Sakura with a boxcutter in her hand, but Meilin bows out gracefully when she sees she's lost. In a way Meilin's a more interesting character than Sakura, she comes across as more human sometimes, and it would have been cool for her to be in Tomoeda throughout instead of having to go back to Hong Kong.

- Lose Shaoran liking Yukito. The way they explained this away in the third season, with Yue telling Shaoran he was just attracted to his power and not he himself, felt like a copout to me. Why didn't Shaoran like Kero-chan then? If you want to make an anime series that shows gay love can be as meaningful as straight, I have no problem with that, I'm not a bible-thumper--but they could have better developed Touya x Yukito if that was the goal. I can't help thinking the Shaoran-likes-Yukito thing was really just fanservice for the yaoi fans out there, and they could have better developed Shaoran's relationship with Sakura without it.

- Lose Big Kero-chan. Kero-chan is awesome, but Big Kero-chan--just kind of creepy. I don't have a rational explanation for why, but I don't like Big Kero-chan. My wife's with me on this, so I know it's not just me. I guess the best way to describe it is if Sakura suddenly turned into a 230 pound linebacker with a really deep voice, and tried to play the same character. Something about it's just...WRONG.

Those are just my random thoughts though, feel free to chime in if you think I'm nuts ;)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Azusa, Otetsudai Shimasu!

A maid robot playing baseball--how moe can you get? Azusa Otedsudai Shimasu (or Azusa Will Help) is a one-shot 44-minute OVA that came out back in '04, winning an award from Animax, and it was fansubbed by Lunar (available on AnimeSuki). It's not anything profound, but it's a good, short feel-good anime if you're looking for something to pick you up after a long day.
Azusa is set at a point a few decades in the future where school baseball teams are not only co-ed, but also allow a couple special-purpose "sports robots" for the teams with the money to buy them. The team our protagonists belong to is anything but rich though, and the manager is an old man who thinks sports robots are an abomination to the game anyway. Tired of losing to teams with robots and one player short of a complete team regardless, one of the guys on the team goes to buy a sports robot--but he finds the only kind of robot he can afford is an out-of-date maid robot, from back in the day before a law was passed banning human-looking robots. Azusa, the robot he buys, is still in working order--she's earnest, cute, and determined to do what she can. But while she's great at making the team's clubhouse spotless, when it comes to baseball she has no idea how to play...
From there the team goes to training camp, finally starts to play hard and believe in themselves, Azusa has some surprises up her sleeve and there's some drama towards the end--sure, it gets a little cheezy, but it's not aimed at cynics, it's just a feel-good story. There are some good comic moments throughout, and the cast is definitely likeable. The animation isn't spectacular, but it's solid throughout, the character designs are cute, and it's fanservice-free so I don't think anyone could find much to object to. Mamiko Noto (Yakumo in Sukuran, among a lot of other roles) is Azusa's seiyuu, and I think did a solid job. Overall, if this was ever licensed in region 1 (admittedly a long shot) it has enough re-watch value that I'd pick up the DVD.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Pia Carrot 2DX

Pia Carrot 2DX is a six-episode OVA series that came out back in 2000--I just finished re-watching it, and while it's probably not real well-known, it's one of my favorite romance/comedy series. While the setup (male lead working at a family restaurant full of bishoujo) may make it sound pretty generic, it has great chemistry between the two leads along with a love rectangle and some accompanying drama thrown in to make things interesting.
To give a brief summary of the first episode: Kouji, the male lead, ends up getting run over by Azusa, the somewhat tsundere female lead, as she's sprinting to try to get to her part-time job on time since (of course) she's running late. Something about running late must be moe, because you never see heroines in anime walking casually down the street, glancing at their watches and saying "Damn, I'm early for work AGAIN, maybe I'll kill some time at Starbucks." So Azuna and Kouji collide, he lands on top of her, she slaps him for squeezing somewhere he shouldn't, he notices the old-fashioned locket she'd been wearing and makes a snide comment about it, which annoys Azusa--and they start having a verbal smackdown in the street before Kouji's friend Shinji, who's kind of struck by Azusa, pulls him away. Azusa gets fired from her part-time job since now she's really late, but her sister Mina works at Pia Carrot already and convinces her to apply to work there as a waitress. Meanwhile, Shinji and Kouji go to the pool, and Kouji gets pulled into saving another Pia Carrot waitress, Tsukasa, from nearly drowning when she falls into a swimming pool while cosplaying. Yes, Tsukasa is a cosplay fanatic, with her own fan club full of otaku, and she immediately falls for Kouji because he saved her. The next day, Kouji goes to apply for a job at Pia Carrot, runs into Azusa doing the same thing, and they're both hired. So at the end of the first episode we have: Kouji and Azusa (who so far seem like they want to kill each other), Shinji (who likes Azusa), and Tsukasa (who likes Kouji).
What makes Pia Carrot work for me is the relationship between Kouji and Azusa--as one of the other cast members observes, they fight like a married couple from pretty much the moment they meet, and they do a good job showing the development of their feelings for each other. They're one of my favorite anime couples, I think partly because I met my wife at work and we do a lot of bantering back and forth just like they do. Pia Carrot also has the usual bishoujo game-to-anime side characters, but they don't get much attention--since there are just six episodes, Pia Carrot forgoes the "one episode for each side character's story" formula that you usually see in the genre and spends almost all its time focusing on Kouji, Azusa, and Tsukasa. For that reason, I don't feel like the story suffered much due to the short length--it did a good job with the time it was given, and it was refreshing to see the focus on the main characters from the get go, with zero side character stories or filler. And it also has a solid, satisfying ending, something that much longer series have trouble pulling off (or they make you wait for the DVD-only ep 13).
Pia Carrot 2DX was fansubbed by Choco fansubs, and you can find the torrent at their website. Unfortunately, it's probably more likely we'll see Benedict XVI telling everyone ex cathedra that Suzumiya Haruhi is God than we'll see 2DX licensed for region 1 (there's a hentai Pia Carrot anime that is licensed, but not the 2DX series, which is NOT hentai). While I'm eternally grateful to Choco for subbing this, the downside of it being subbed way back in aught-two is that it's encoded in DivX 3.11. It was state of the art at the time so I'm not blaming them, but there's a lot of pixellation and it really shows how far video quality in fansubs has come in the last four years. Don't let that stop you from watching it though, you just get used to it.

Broccoli must have been involved in this somehow, since the Di Gi Charat characters get cameos in just about every episode. While I can't say I liked the whole cast (Tsukasa was just kind of annoying to me), if you're a fan of romance/comedy series, I think Pia Carrot 2DX is well worth checking out--Kouji and Azusa alone make this worth watching.

Wandaba Style

Wandaba Style is a 12-episode anime series that aired back in 2002, and the best way I can think of to describe it is kind of a cross between Lemon Angel Project and Excel Saga. It's a unique concept, a group of wannabe-idol singers who get hired by a boy genius scientist to be his test astronauts for a mission to the moon. Unfortunately, while usually I like the insane comedy genre, Wandaba winds up being just insane more often than it's funny, but there were a few parts that were entertaining enough to make it worth a rental for me.
The story starts with four down on their luck wannabe-stars, who've been pulled together into a band called Mix Juice by self-proclaimed "genius manager" Michael Hanagata, who has an afro bigger than Keroro's. The members of Mix Juice are all completely different--there's rock singer Yuri, folk singer Ayame (who can see green flying fairies no one else can), enka singer Himawari (who does construction work part-time), and former child star Sakura (who sells off her old underwear on eBay to make ends meet). Enter genius boy scientist Tsukumo, who's convinced the moon landing is a fake and that mankind hasn't really been there--and that to get to the moon it's important to use "natural" methods like dumping ramune candy by the thousands into a huge tank full of water, shaking it, and then using the carbonation to launch it into space like a giant bottle rocket. Hanagata's glad to sign Mix Juice up for the job, since Tsukumo is rich, and a number of attempts to reach the moon that would make physics majors cringe follow from there.
That's pretty much all of the cast, except Ichirin, a robot assistant of Tsukumo's that looks like a unicycle, and Kiku #8, a loli-looking robot Tsukumo built to help him. The other comedy elements come from Tsukumo's experiment ideas, the girls fighting each other, and Hanagata being over-the-top crazy. It works sometimes, but for me at least there just weren't that many points that were genuinely funny. If you do a vodka shot every time someone says "Wandaba" you'd probably laugh a lot more--at least up until becoming violently ill.

Towards the end is where the series kind of falls apart--Tsukumo's mom shows up and acts more or less completely irrational, there's a race to the moon, a flyby to the sun en route to the stars (or not), and while the ending's not BAD necessarily, it felt like it really should have ended two or three episodes earlier. Then there's Mix Juice's main song that gets sung in the background something like 37 times in the last four episodes (I didn't count, but it felt like it). Not that it's a bad song, but even Lovely Idol has a few different songs to rotate...

Wandaba Style has a lot of fanservice, so it probably wouldn't pass what I call the Starbucks test (can you watch it on your laptop at Starbucks without people looking at you like you're a hentai fan). The character designs are by GotoP, although of course they don't look as good animated as the still drawings he's renowed for. Chiwa Saitou and Kana Ueda fans will be happy since they're the seiyuu for Ayame and Yuri, respectively. Overall, it's not the funniest series ever, but it's worth a rental if the thought of a aspiring idol group crossed with Excel Saga-like wackiness appeals to you. It didn't get much love from fansubbers, I think it was only subbed to ep 3 when it first came out, but ADV released the whole series on 3 DVDs on region 1 DVD.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Manabi Straight - Promo

It's hard to believe, but we're at the start of the winter anime season already--since others have done excellent summaries of all the series coming out in winter I'm not going to create a sorry shadow of their work, but instead I'll focus on my preseason #1: Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight.

There's a fourth promotional video up at YouTube now, and it looks awesome. The first episode airs this Sunday, and although my Japanese is somewhere near fetal-level, I may end up watching the raw anyway. What's so good about Manabi Straight, you ask? From watching the promo, the animation quality looks great (although granted, you're not going to put your worst frames in a promo), the atmosphere looks like it'll be good, and the story promises to be a mix of school life, drama, and sci-fi. The story is set in 2035 when birth rates are falling and schools are faced with closing, and transfer student Manabi shows up and causes some changes at a school that had been dying out. It looks like the focus will be on her and her friends, and from the promo it mostly looks like ordinary school life (albeit in the future). So why would I look forward to it more than any other winter series? Mainly because ufotable is involved, and while I haven't liked everything they've done, when they're "on", they're really, really good.

Ufotable is the animation studio that also did 2x2 Shinobuden, Dokkoida, Futakoi Alternative, and more recently Coyote Ragtime. While Coyote Ragtime's not my kind of show, and Futakoi Alternative had an incredible start with the first episode only to get muddled down the road, I loved Shinobuden and Dokkoida. They aren't perfect, but they're batshit insane in a good way, and they can be gut-bustingly funny at times. I'm looking forward to Manabi mainly because I'm hoping they can do it again, create a series with a good mix of laugh out loud insane comedy, drama, and action. Time will tell if Manabi Straight is going to be any of that, but based on the promos I've seen so far I'm optimistic.
The latest promo makes me think there may be more depth to the story than I'd expected, with what looks like an older Manabi standing in the ruined classroom that her and her classmates had been in years before. Is Manabi Straight going to show us any more of the older Manabi and what happened between her elementary school life and a post-apocalyptic future? I guess we'll find out soon...there are three other Manabi promos on YouTube too (hitotsu, futatsu, mitsu) and if you watch them you'll see why I REALLY want a scooter than can fly like Manabi's to commute to work with. In SoCal I could use it pretty much year round too, and just go right the hell over all the traffic.
Three more days...

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Yoakena: Insane Rant Full of Hatred

Which one of you sons of bitches drew me cross-eyed?

Maybe I'm not quite INSANE with hate for it, but the Yoake Mae Yori Ruri Iro Na ~Cabbage Love~ anime has definitely filled me with an irrational desire to break the drawing hand of everyone involved in it. It seems like the whole world has been kicking the Yoakena anime down since the infamous cabbage scene, but I'm not above piling on so here goes.

About the best thing I can say for Yoakena is that it's over--which is something I don't say about much anime. You can say my standards are low, or what have you, but it takes a lot for me to dislike an anime series. There are types of anime that I don't watch for the most part, like mecha, but if there's even a shred of romance/comedy potential I'll watch it. I'm not proud to admit it, but this season I'm even watching Lovely Idol. Yoakena in some ways was set up to fail the moment I saw the CGs--AugustSoft seems to have an uncanny ability to come up with character designs that are so moe they threaten to make your monitor, yourself, and anything within 100 feet of them spotaneously burst into flames. When I first heard it was being animated, I was excited just because I liked Hanihani, which is also from AugustSoft--Hanihani's plot gets a little out there, but I really liked the characters and was hoping Yoakena's anime could pull the same thing off, or even better. Little did I know...


I could post an endless stream of botched images from the anime (with the exception of episode 1), but I think the 4-koma from danbooru above is all the example I can stomach. Sure, anime artwork is never going to be the same level as a still CG, but it's like they didn't even TRY. When you have a series that let's face it, focuses on bishoujo, it should be common sense not to draw them like you're drawing Hideous Mutant Slugs from the Planet Fugly. I'd rather they'd just panned slowly over the CGs for twenty minutes than watch the eye-searing cross-eyed, square-headed, deformed monstrosities that the cast became. If they didn't have the budget to do a decent job on a 12 episode series, do an OVA instead--sure, short OVAs tend to give side characters the shaft, but you can still come up with a decent story, just look at Mizuiro.
Siscon, anyone?

It's not just the animation though, that ultimately made Yoakena disappointing for me. The story is also, and maybe this is typical of August's stuff although I haven't played the games, not exactly Kanon material. Tatsuya meets Feena, they fall in love, really one-dimensional bad guy tries to stop them, they prevail, the end. I don't expect anime to make me think profound thoughts all the time, it's entertainment after all, but this just fell flat for me. There was too much nose-pinching, not enough chemistry between Feena and Tatsuya, not enough drama when Natsumi realized she'd 'lost' him to Feena, too much 'wouldn't it be funny if Feena was Rambo', and WAY too much of that photographer dude. I remember somewhere back in the 80s my English teacher telling us that there was nothing easier than writing purely evil bad guys in a story, but if you want to create an interesting character you need to give them realistic motivations, and a background that explains the way they are. I know, we're talking about a anime series based on a game where the ultimate goal is to nail every female character in sight, not Shakespeare, but the blond guy was so bad he was inadvertently comical.

I started Yoakena hoping for decent (Hanihani-level, I wasn't expecting Kyoani) animation, a good story, and a love triangle with at least a little drama--but instead got...a mess. The sad thing is I like the characters enough, that I can't honestly say I hated the anime, overall it was still worth watching. Once.

Someday...Kyoto Animation will do a remake...kitto...

Daa! Daa! Daa!

Daa!Daa!Daa! episode 59 is out, thanks to AnimeONE, and watching it just reminded me of how much I like the series so I might as well do a quick review. Daa!Daa!Daa! is mainly a comedy series with a little romance and drama thrown in, with an entertaining cast of characters. While it aired in the late 90s and the animation's nothing to write home about, I think it's a solid entry in its genre.

Daa!Daa!Daa! starts off with our heroine, Miyu, a typical junior high school student, moving to a new home because her parents are heading off to America to follow their childhood dreams and work for NASA. She's going to be staying at a temple with a friend of her parents who's a monk, and his son Kanata. But soon the monk gets a call that he can go to India to train, which is HIS childhood dream--and so Kanata's father bails too, leaving Miyu and Kanata alone. They're not alone for long though, as a UFO promptly crashes into the temple, bringing a baby, Ruu, and his talking cat-like "sitter-pet" Wanya, who takes care of him. Wanya explains that he was out for a walk with Ruu on their home planet, far from Earth, when they got sucked into a wormhole and found themselves at the temple. They've sent an SOS signal, and Ruu's parents are coming to get him back, but since it'll take at least a year for them to get there, Wanya pleads with Miyu and Kanata to let them stay at the temple until then. Of course, they agree, and the four start living together, with complications from alien visitors, the fact Ruu has ESP and can fly (making him even more of a handful than a normal baby), and the danger of their classmates finding out what's going on.

Daa!Daa!Daa! has a great cast, and with 78 episodes to work with, there's lots of time to get to know them and their quirks. Miyu and Kanata's relationship is a lot of fun to watch, because you know they're going to end up together, but they both can't admit it and spend a lot of time exchanging barbs. Ruu mostly just floats around, says "Daa!", and causes trouble, but he even gets a love interest (of sorts), with Momoka-chan, who's a couple years older, becoming determined she'll be his wife someday. Wanya's fun to watch too, as he constantly declares he's a "capable sitter-pet" but in reality manages to misplace Ruu with a frequency that would make Child Protective Services cringe. The side characters are interesting too, especially Christine, the girl in class who's obsessed with Kanata and turns into a walking Weapon of Mass Destruction when she sees Miyu get too close to him.

There's not a whole lot of ongoing plot, since most of the series is episodic, with Miyu and Kanata having to deal with whatever chaos is coming their way that day, and there's a heavier emphasis on comedy than on drama (although when it does do drama, it does it very well). The slowly developing romance between Miyu and Kanata is good though, and provides enough to keep suckers for romance series like me watching. While it aired in the late 90s and the animation is pretty simple, don't let that scare you off--it's much better than Cabbage Love, and while the character designs are nothing amazing, at least the animators can draw on-model consistently.

Daa!Daa!Daa! has been fansubbed for years, literally--I originally saw the first episode on VHS back in '99 or '00, in the Dark Ages when VHS tapes sent through the mail was the main way people got fansubs. Recently the pace has slowed down, with AnimeONE fansubbing just seven episodes over the last three years. Even though at that pace we won't see the last episode until 2015, I can't complain--I have to thank God/Buddha/Haruhi that AnimeONE picked up and started subbing this, because otherwise I never would have been able to watch and enjoy most of the series.

While it's not for everyone, if you like comedy/romance series and aren't put off by a baby going 'Daa!' every couple minutes, I'd highly recommend giving Daa!Daa!Daa! a try.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Winter Garden

As the new year dawns, every anime fan faces a critical choice--what will be the first anime you watch of the year? Will it be an episode of Yoakena or Soul Link, figuring that leaves nowhere to go but up? Or will you turn to face Kyoto, bow to the anime gods, and then watch an episode of Kanon, or Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu? For me it was an easy choice--I hadn't finished watching Winter Garden yet, so it got the honor of being the first anime I watched in 2007. And it was really pretty good, in spite of being just two episodes.

If you hate cuteness and/or romance in anime, I can guarantee you'll hate Winter Garden, because it's...well, a cute romance story. The main characters are Dejiko, who's 20 now, her younger sister Puchiko, who's 15 and lives with Dejiko, and Takurou, the guy Dejiko meets by chance on Christmas and becomes interested in. Dejiko and Puchiko are characters from Di Gi Charat, but since I've only seen one episode of it, that didn't mean much to me--if you'd watched Di Gi Charat you'd doubtlessly find more references and in-jokes that would've blown right by me.

The characters really make or break most anime for me, and Winter Garden has a very likeable cast--Dejiko's hard not to root for, she's innocent and a little ditzy, while Puchiko has the ability to tease her older sister down perfectly, and the interactions between the two are some of the best parts of the OVA. Puchiko's character is just awesome, and Dejiko's reactions to her comments are pretty funny. Puchiko gets to play the guitar in the second episode, although if like me you were hoping for something along the lines of Lost My Music, it's going to disappoint you--damn you, Kyoani, for setting such a high bar to clear for concert scenes. The character designs in Winter Garden are simple, but really cute, reminding me a lot of Snow Fairy Sugar. It's not jaw-dropping animation like the ball scene in Kyoani's Kanon, but it's not Cabbage Love either--the characters are drawn consistently well, the backgrounds are good, and the atmosphere fits the story perfectly.

Hinano already has an excellent summary of the plot (ep 1 and ep 2), but to put it in a single sentence, the plot is boy-meets-girl, misunderstanding between boy and girl (of course), and (as you can probably guess from a mile away) the misunderstanding gets cleared up at the end. The ending's not entirely conclusive (you don't see Dejiko get married or anything) but you can fill in what happens from there easily enough. It's nothing groundbreaking, but it's still a well-told story, it's cute, and hell, it's better than the allegedly heartwarming crap they show on US TV around Christmastime. I can definitely see myself watching it again next Christmas, or anytime I'm just looking to watch something that'll put a smile on my face. Although it's only two episodes, if it shows up on region 1 DVD, I'll buy it in a second, since I'm a sucker for shows like this.

On a side note, I really wish they would do this with Galaxy Angel--take the characters a few years down the road and put them in a romance-type story like this one. There were a couple serious epsiodes sprinkled throughout Galaxy Angel's run, but I'd love to see something like Winter Garden done with the cast, in an alternate universe or what have you. The second season of GA kind of went that way in one episode as I recall, but Milfeulle x Volcott? Ugh.
On a side, side note: between Winter Garden and Kanon, I'm really starting to miss snow. I'm sure I wouldn't miss it if I had to shovel out my driveway, but sitting here when it's 63 degrees Fahrenheit outside I'm just not feeling that winter atmosphere. But before everyone who lives in colder climates starts throwing e-snowballs at me, wishing it was anywhere near 63 where they are, I should probably shut up.