Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Killing-Time-at-Work-Reading-Volume-Nine of Suzumiya Haruhi

What the hell did people do on slow workdays before the internet? I guess they probably hung out by the water cooler and actually conversed with other people about the travails of hunting stegosaurus and such, but since my workplace is largely deserted today, I've been reading volume 9 of the Suzumiya Haruhi novels online instead. I'm waiting for the dark day when web filtering hits my workplace, crushing my diversions with the dark fist of productivity, but fortunately that day is not here yet.

But back to the novels--I don't really understand why these aren't out in the US, hell, I'd buy them in an instant, and given the DVDs seem to have sold very well I've got to think I'm not alone. I'm not going to spoil anything for those who have just watched the anime, but with every volume of the light novels I read I'm convinced that Haruhi season two and beyond is going to be amazing. There's just a lot of really good material to animate in the novels. Sometimes authors have a great idea but then down the road you can tell their best ideas have been used and they're just stretching things out--the last few volumes of Love Hina come to mind (although to be fair to Akamatsu-sensei, I remember reading in an interview that his publisher pushed him to make it longer than he'd originally intended, and that's where the Kanako arc came from). With Suzumiya Haruhi, while there are times I wish things were progressing a little faster, it seems like the author isn't running out of tricks up his sleeve.

It does worry me a little, though, that Suzumiya Haruhi volume 10 was pushed back and doesn't seem to have a release date yet, although months have passed--is the author having trouble figuring out where to take things? The author's taking the story in a turn his editor doesn't like, or that the publisher is afraid fans will hate? He's made so much money that he's spending his time in Waikiki downing mai tais at House Without a Key instead of in front of his laptop?

A lot of stories you can predict the ending of halfway through easily, but that's a lot harder with Suzumiya Haruhi. Is a 'happy ending' where Haruhi loses her powers and lives as a normal girl, dating Kyon? Just imagine if they have kids who are gods/goddesses too, if Haruhi's mental state isn't always even-keeled, a two-year old would blow the universe the hell up every day. By the end of the series, the author has to somehow explain what's up with Asahina (older version), what exactly happened three years back that gave Haruhi her powers (assuming Haruhi really is the center of everything), and a million other plot points--I can't imagine how he'll tie everything up in the end. I just hope we don't get an ending like the Yokohama Shopping Log manga, which didn't really explain anything at all, like the author had just picked an arbitrary point and decided "the story stops here." If that happens with Haruhi, there'll be riots in Akiba--although as long as it sells well, I'm sure the publisher will try to get the author to stretch Haruhi out to volume 95 or so, so I can't picture it ending anytime soon.

Come on,'s hoping season two of the anime starts this summer...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Why I'll Miss Kimikiss

* heavy spoilers *

So after 24 episodes, several kimis getting kissed, and probably the most complicated relationship chart ever for a bishoujo series, Kimikiss is over--Asuka and Yuumi fans will surely disagree, but I still think Kimikiss was one of the best anime series of its genre I've seen in a while. What made the series unique to me was the way it took the old "Everybody Loves Juinchi/Yoshiyuki/Yuichi/Tomoya" formula we typically see in harem anime and threw it out the window and into the wood chipper. Having multiple male leads made the relationship chart a hell of a lot more interesting--it was such a simple move to make, and I wish that other anime would follow the same example. Yes, it makes the story diverge from the source material, but since I don't play the games these series are based on, I don't have any predisposition to a "route" or "flag" that I want to see animated just so--if it's a good story, I really couldn't care less if it follows the game's path or not.

Here are the things I liked the most about Kimikiss:

* More than one lead character - I generally like most bishoujo-game-to-anime series because I'm a sucker for any series with a romance angle to it, but in a lot of examples of the genre it's insane the sheer number of girls that you have after a single guy. I've mentioned this before with Da Capo--while it's one of my favorite series, at the same time the sheer number of residents of Hatsunejima with crushes on Junichi defies belief, and hints at darker forces at work. But Kimikiss broke the lead role up into Kouichi, Kazuki, and Kai, with even Hiiragi, who by any measure is a side character, having his day, a day that you know will never come for Sunohara in Clannad... It immediately breaks the "let's go through each girl's route" formula you come to expect, and while I think Mao and Futami were front-runners from ep 1, it also introduced enough uncertainty to where you could realistically see Asuka or Yuumi getting the win in the end instead. Compare this to Clannad--did anyone think it was going to end with Tomoya x Fuuko, even for a second?

* Great Cast - This is 9000% subjective, but personally I thought Kimikiss had an excellent, very likeable cast. No, they're not all perfect--as Stripey has pointed out before, there's nothing more cruel than stringing people along in the name of not wanting to hurt them, and Mao and Kouichi were definitely both guilty of this to a point. And yes, around episode five I wanted to put the damn frogs in a blender and set that sucker on 'frappe'. But at the same time, the characters' emotions, their struggles as they come to grips with their feelings, it all came across as very real, and I can't think of a single character that I really disliked. You know from the outset some people at the end of the series will be together and some will be left alone but hopefully better from the experience, and while if I had to vote I'd have said I was rooting for Futami and Mao, I can't say I dislike Asuka or Yuumi, far from it.

* Story - While lacking the drama of say, the last episode of Da Capo, the story was well-written overall, I thought--it didn't feel like there was much "filler" to speak of, and thanks to the multiple love triangles going on, there was always some advancement in the plot and a dramatic moment to end each episode on. While not everyone may be happy with the "winners", I think they did a solid job showing Kouichi and Kazuki's feelings and why they make the choices they do. As good a character as Asuka is, after Kazuki spent 23 episodes chasing Futami, there was just no way in hell she could plausibly get the win, and while Kouichi seemed more torn with Yuumi, there were plenty of signs he was looking more Mao's way, especially after she confessed.

* Character Designs and Music - It didn't hurt that I really liked the character designs (when they were drawn on-model anyway) and the OP and the ED (for the first half) quickly found themselves spots on my playlist.

Of course, nothing's perfect, so moving on to the parts I wished had been better:

* Animation Budget - Let's just say, this isn't Clannad...even ep 19 of Clannad with the ef-like distance shots was better than some of the distorted facial expressions we got in Kimikiss. Given all its strong points, I'd still buy Kimikiss on DVD in a heartbeat, but I'm hoping the DVD version they fix some of the more glaring issues.

* Mitsuki - Not a bad character and I have no problem with her personally, but why was she in this again? I thought for sure given the time they took to show her background and introduce the whole "engaged since she was little, but has never fallen in love" angle, that they'd explore this a little more, but nope. In the end, she doesn't even wind up with Hiiragi, since he seems to prefer tsunderes.

* The Play Within the Play - While the end was good, I was surprised they didn't use the student movie to better advantage--I was thinking we'd see at least part of it, that watching it all in edited form would be the catalyst for Kouichi running after Mao or something, but nope. Poor Hiiragi had to suffer all that time editing for nothing...

* Udon and the Frogs - I'm guessing both were more or less there for comic relief but...not nearly as funny as say, Tomoyo vs Sunohara in Clannad. But I hated the frogs, so I'm pretty biased...

In the end, I think Kai should get some kind of award for being the Martyr/Catalyst character--he was right on in his observation Mao and Kouichi were actually very similar. Mao lied to herself about how she felt about Kouichi, and Kouichi did the same, telling himself it was for Yuumi's sake. The scene with Yuumi and Kouichi in the end I thought was really well done too--Yuumi knew, as it'd be hard not to given Kouichi's expressions when he saw Mao, and clearly she'd prepared herself for "the talk" well in advance since she didn't shed a tear. Askua it's hard not to feel bad for since if she'd realized she liked Kazuki before he met Futami maybe there could have been something there--but to Kazuki's credit, he was consistently chasing Futami the whole series and not about to change his mind at the 11th hour.

In the end, I'm happy for Mao and Futami--Mao because while it took her a while to realize her feelings she clearly did love Kouichi and did the right thing breaking things off with Kai once she realized that. And in Futami's case seeing her progression to dere-dere mode it's hard not to be happy for her landing Kazuki, and somehow, to me those two make the cutest couple in the series. Futami's stubborn "I'm not crying" when there were tears rolling down her cheeks is one of my favorite anime scenes from this season.

Before the season started I didn't have much of any expectations for this--but if anyone from JC Staff is reading this, thanks for a series that I'm sure I'll be re-watching down the I just have to hope it makes it to DVD over here someday. Also thanks to BSS for subbing this at epic, blazing speed.