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.