Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Manabi-ism

Finished watching Manabi Straight yet again, and 'chubby rori' character designs or no, I love this series. Although this time I noticed Mikan's wearing a different hair pin right before going off to Oregon...but then when she's back over the summer she's back to the normal one so maybe it doesn't mean anything.

Also, on Ufotable's site they have a 'Ufotable cinema' image with Manabi at top left, although I'm not thinking the movie posters are for anything they're really working on. I would love to see a movie called Dokkoi vs Onsoku though...nothing's more subjective than what's funny, but both of those series make me laugh every time I watch them. Although Mei getting the cicada to "SHUT UP" in Manabi Straight is pure hilarious too.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Kill Time Reading at Work #2: Toradora

Toradora is a light novel series that's going to be an anime series at some point in the future--and unless the B team from Doumu gets a hold of it, I definitely sense a winner. The first four chapters have been translated at Baka-Tsuki, and in the interest of lowering productivity a little while back I went and read it at work, and it's amazingly good so far.

The male lead of the story is Ryuji, a guy with fierce-looking eyes that make it look like he's glaring at the world--and accordingly he's outcast because almost everyone assumes that looking like that he's a dangerous delinquent. On the inside though, he's actually a nice guy, a really good cook, is great at cleaning and sewing, and no, that doesn't make him a hanayome trap (I think). The main female character is Taiga, a short girl who at a glance seems cute, but in reality is quick to snap at people and has earned a reputation as the fearsome "Palmtop Tiger." She has a crush on Ryuji's best friend Yusuke, while Ryuji in turn likes Taiga's best friend Minori--but through various things that happen Ryuji and Taiga end up teaming up to help each other get to be with the one they like. The smart money says Ryuji and Taiga will end up liking each other instead, but even if that path's predictable it should be fun to read.

Where I think Toradora has a lot of potential for greatness is the interaction between Ryuji and Taiga--the dialogue between them is really well written, and even through only four chapters, it's interesting to see them getting to know each others' true selves behind the perception that everyone else has. Taiga in particular has Saimoe Champion written all over her--she's got a complex personality in that she definitely has a fierce side, but can also be clumsy and painfully shy around the guy she likes. I'm sure she'll be labeled a tsundere, but I don't think that's an accurate label for her--she's definitely difficult to approach for most people, and can swing from homicidal to vulnerable, but she isn't tsun-tsun around the guy she likes at all. Ryuji is also an interesting character in that his home life makes him fulfill the stereotypical 'mom' role to a large extent, and he has Iron Chef-level cooking skills--unlike, say, Junichi in Da Capo, who no matter how bad Nemu's cooking is never entertains the thought that maybe his ass could cook something (unless Nemu's coughing up sakura petals).

I'm hoping that more companies will bring light novels over to the US, because I'm pretty much a sucker for them. Light novels fill a gap between manga and full-length novels that I'd expect would be popular on this side of the Pacific too, especially since we live in a short-attention span world where not everyone wants to or has time to read 800-page novels they can barely lift.

There have been a bunch of light novel-to-anime adaptations I've liked lately, from Suzumiya Haruhi to Shana to Spice and Wolf and others I'm sure I'm forgetting--here's hoping Toradora will also be a really good anime series.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

It's Good to be an Anime Fan: Narue no Sekai

At first glance, Narue no Sekai ("World of Narue" in Region 1) looks like it's going to be a pretty typical anime romance/comedy series--there's your average otaku-ish male lead, Kazuto, and one day he encounters a half-alien girl, Narue, and falls for her. You'd expect that from here he'd dither about asking her out for 3/4 of the series' length, try to confess to her six or seven times but always get interrupted, have his harem expand without his realizing it, and so on--but in a refreshing twist, none of those things happen. Instead Kazuto and Narue are basically an established couple from the first episode on--and instead of going down a harem path or throwing in a love triangle or rectangle, the series just focuses on their growing relationship and while there are obstacles that they overcome together, there's no doubt Narue and Kazuto like each other.

I think it's a pretty gutsy approach, when you consider you can usually get a lot of mileage out of romantic tension, and by having them start dating in the first episode they threw all that out the window. The most famous example of what I mean is probably Moonlighting, which had great ratings when Cybill Shephard and Bruce Willis sniped at each other (the cover of Newsweek even speculated on when they'd get together on the show), but as soon as they actually hooked up and became a couple no one watched it anymore. Or imagine if in the first episode of Kimikiss the main couples all started dating and you knew they'd be together throughout--the series would basically be over before it started.

But Narue no Sekai manages to work even without the 'when will they become a couple' angle, mostly thanks to a genuinely likeable cast. Narue herself, voiced by Mamiko Noto in a more energetic tone than most of her other, more reserved characters, is easy to root for, and Kazuto, while nowhere near GAR-level like Nagasumi in Seto no Hanayome, is still a genuinely nice guy who shows some guts when push comes to shove. The supporting cast is solid too, from UFO-addict-turned-friend Yagi, the obligatory sidekick Maruo, Kanaka, Bathyscape, and the rest.

The overall plot isn't anything spectacular, the animation won't make your jaw drop, but it's still a likeable feel-good type series, with a good cast and good character designs (except for the bad guys, but who am I kidding, it's most important to make the bishoujo look good). While the more cynical would probably find it crosses the line to cornyness at times, to me it stayed on the good side of that line. Yes, there are some very generic, badly developed bad guys ("terrorists" that don't want Narue to live on Earth, for reasons that aren't ever well-explained), and there are some solutions to problems that just seem too convenient (I'm especially thinking the end of the episode that introduces Haruna), but this doesn't detract from the series' enjoyment overall. There's a little fanservice thrown in, but not anything that would get you dirty looks if you're watching it in a middle seat on a full trans-Pacific flight. Overall, Narue no Sekai is just a fun series to watch when you want to relax, kick back and watch something that will put a smile on your face. And as a bonus, in region 1 the box set of all 12 episodes isn't expensive--despite being a bit of a cheapskate herself, I think Narue would approve me picking it up.