Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto (Someday's Dreamers): Long Title, Good Series

In a few weeks, the Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto sequel of sorts starts airing (although with a completely different cast) and that reminded me that I'd started watching the original series that aired in '03, only to drop it a couple episodes in. I don't remember why I dropped it, but on giving it a second chance I ended up marathoning it, and was pleasantly surprised that it was much better than I remembered. Maybe my tastes have changed or I was just watching too many other series at once when I watched it before, but on second viewing the story, characters, and atmosphere pulled me in, and I think it's worth checking out. It was licensed in North America by now-defunct Geneon so the DVDs may be out of stock some places, but Netflix has it, and if you can't get Netflix it's up on Veoh as well. Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto translates to "what's important to a mage", but the English subtitle is "Someday's Dreamers", which is what the DVDs in region 1 were released under.

The story focuses on a high-school age girl, Kikuchi Yume, who is moving from the countryside to Tokyo for her magic training. She has an idealistic view of what it's like to become a mage and help people, but as her training progresses she finds herself grappling with the realization magic can't always fix everything and doubting whether or not she can pass her certification exam to become a mage. There's a solid supporting cast as well, from her teacher Masami, whose tragic past haunts him and keeps him from moving forward in life, Milinda, who works at the salsa bar Masami runs and has a crush on him, Kare, who also works at the bar and grew up in an orphanage, Angela, a fellow mage-in-training in the Nagato Yuki mould, and an elementary school student who loves traditional Japanese comedy.

The world the series is set in has a pretty realistic view of what the world would be like if there were some people born with the ability to use magic but the majority of humanity couldn't--there are strict rules on when magic can be used, and all requests to use magic are routed through a government agency. Becoming a licensed mage who's able to respond to requests processed by that agency requires training under a more experienced mage/teacher and then passing a certification exam.

The atmosphere of the series is done really well, with JC Staff doing a solid job both on the animation and on the background music (although I hated the OP and ED). The setting is based on real-life locations in Tokyo, and if you've ever been to Japan the feeling of the area Yume lives in will probably make you nostalgic for it. Atmosphere is one of those qualities that's hard to define, and requires the right backgrounds, music, pacing, and so on to pull off well, but I think JC Staff nails it right on the head here. The animation when magic is used in particular is very well done, with each character having a distinct animal or object that represents their magic, somewhat like the 'patronus' in the Harry Potter series. The character designs aren't bad either, no rainbow of bright hair colors like in Shuffle, they're more subdued and true-to-life, but each character is distinct enough and easily recognizable. Yume has not one, but three hairs sticking straight up off her head, which you'd think would be enough to make her wear a baseball cap or buy some gel or something to keep those suckers down, but although it looked odd at first I got used to it pretty quickly.

Not to spoil things too much, but while at first the series seems like it will just be episodic, towards the end the plot does go more into motion, with Masami's and Yume's characters in particular getting a lot of growth and development. Don't expect much on the romance front though--if I had to pick my biggest complaint with the series it'd be that it leaves that pretty much completely unresolved, which is a shame, but this was still a solid series and it ended on a good note.

Overall, I'd probably rate this a "B" title--I can't picture it being something I'd buy on DVD and watch over and over, but having said that I'm still glad that I finally watched it since it has a likeable cast and a good message. And at just 12 episodes, it's really not hard to marathon either. It badly needs a short nickname though, as long as the title is...

I think Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto ~Natsu no Sora~, the sequel of sorts with a new cast, could surpass the original based on what I've seen of the manga--I posted a summary of what I've read of the manga at AnimeSuki in this post. It manages to pull off an even longer name than the original, which probably sets some kind of record for longest name in an anime series, but it looks to have an interesting cast and more romance elements to it than the original, which could make it a winner. It starts airing July 2nd, definitely looking forward to the summer season more and more now.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Most Under-utilized Side Characters

I was thinking as I watched Yami's debut in Toloveru the other day that there are a lot of anime series that have really appealing side characters, but due to their side character status they end up suffering from a lack of screentime compared to the main heroine. The most recent example I can think of is Hinagiku, who in spite of winning the Best Moe tournament still found herself consigned to just a half dozen or so episodes out of 52 where she got to take a leading role, but there are plenty of other examples. In no particular order (and I'm sure I'm forgetting plenty of other good examples) here's my list of the most under-utilized side characters in anime:

Katsura Hinagiku (Hayate no Gotoku): The most obvious choice--in spite of leading the manga popularity poll, in the anime she didn't end up getting a whole lot of chances to shine, even getting cut out of the class trip to the beach, create-o. Although at least she did get to show up in that episode in the eyecatches. If you asked otaku to vote on the 'side character you'd most like to see in their own spinoff series in a lead role', Hina-chan might well win. Personally, I'm still rooting for Hayate x Nagi since they have more history and I think more of a bond between them, but it's hard not to root for Hina too.

Yoriko (Da Capo): Yoriko could carry her own series with the holy triumvirate of nekomimi, maido, and doji-ko on her side, but aside from just being a moe character, as Stripey recently mentioned she has one of the more emotional scenes in anime towards the end of the series. If Da Capo ep 22 doesn't bring a tear to your eye, odds are it's because you're too preoccupied with the rising cost of the oil that pumps through your cold, black heart.

Kotori (Da Capo): Kotori's a character that in almost any other bishoujo series would almost certainly be the winner, by a mile--but in Da Capo in terms of screentime she's really in third or worse, well behind Nemu and Sakura. Even in DCSS, she starts out looking like she'll be the star, only to lose the screentime battle, badly, to Aisia of all people. Kotori truly has no luck in love or the limelight, but at least she can console herself with the fact she has legions of fans who wish there was a Da Capo: Kotori After Story animated.

Kyou and Tomoyo (Clannad): It figures that when Key finally breaks out of its tendency towards needy, emotionally stunted heroines, and produces Kyou and Tomoyo, they then end up completely getting the shaft on screentime in favor of characters like Fuuko. Fuuko's a good driver, I'm sure, but come on, who would you rather see a multi-episode arc feature, Fuuko or Kyou? Then Kyoani teases us with Tomoyo's Sunohara ass-kicking at the beginning, only to forget she exists for half the series. I'm holding out hope that one day, Mahou Shoujo Kyou will become a truly epic Clannad spinoff, but no, looks like we get more melodrama and death instead. Damn you, Key/Kyoani.

Machi (Nagasarete Airantou): Machi deserves her own series--with her ku-ku-ku she's like a female version of Kururu, always with some evil scheme underway. That and her use of Akane voodoo dolls is responsible for a lot of the laughs in the series, for me anyway. It's too bad with a cast that seemed to grow every other episode, Machi didn't get as much screentime as I'd have hoped.

Kiyone (Tenchi Muyo): The ultimate tsukkomi character, paired with omega baka Mihoshi for all eternity--sadly, it's been long enough there's no way she'll ever get a Space Detective Kiyone spinoff. What about Sasami? Sasami has so many spinoffs I don't think she counts as a side character anymore, between Pretty Sammy OVA and TV, the more recent Sasami Mahou Shoujo Club, she actually made the side character->main heroine transition other side characters can only dream of.

Multi (To Heart): Last but certainly not least, Multi is possibly the most popular side character in anime history--granted she gets a lot more screentime in Remember my Memories (which most people would rather forget), but in the original To Heart a two-episode appearance turned into fame for Hocchan, a million Multi references in other anime to this day, and figures, doujinshi, and other goods that probably add up to half of Japan's GNP. To this day when I pick a broom it's hard not to yell 'Doryaa!' and start running down the hallway.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Speaking of Anime Awards...

How is Wakamoto Norio not designated a Living National Treasure? If you can't tell from the screenshot, I'm re-watching 2x2 Shinobuden now, and if there was an Oscar in the anime world for Best Male Seiyuu in a Series That Will Make You Soil Yourself in Laughter, he'd have to win it hands down.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Spring Season Rambling

The spring season is more than halfway over already, and I haven't really posted much about it--part of that is blogging falls in my "do if bored at work" category and work has been somewhat busy, but another reason is the spring season just seems kind of underwhelming for me compared to fall/winter. No more Kimikiss, no more Minami-shimai, no more Hayate, no more Spice and/or Wolf...it's kind of depressing when you list out all the good shows that ended. But that's not to say spring is bad, it's just there aren't as many series that I'm eagerly waiting for each week.

Random thoughts on what I'm watching so far:

Tower of Druaga
When I first heard about this, I was excited by the 21st Century Digital Boy approach to distribution--English-subbed episodes up streaming at the same time as the series airs in Japan, officially sanctioned by the animation studio. It's like I fell asleep, slept through a decade of wars between anime producers and fansubbers, and woke up in The Future. But when I heard about the source material, it was hard to stay excited--is there any worse source for an anime series than a dungeon crawling RPG? Maybe a toaster oven's instruction manual would provide even less riveting plot points, but it's a close call. Having said that, ep 1 was truly epic and had me laughing out loud, and although since then it's been more serious than comedy/parody, so far I like the cast of characters and there's just enough comedy to keep me watching. With ep 10 things are looking much more serious, but at this point I've come so far I have to see where it ends. Although I don't get why with ep 10 they decided to try to drive everyone watching it on YouTube to Crunchyland with a big ass banner taking up the top half of the screen.

DC II SS
I've been waiting for this ever since they announced the game, and having read spoilers for the game I went in to the first season of Da Capo II expecting a solid, dramatic story--and instead got Koko looking worried, Minatsu going down on choco-bananas, and Yoshiyuki acting like an even more clueless version of Junichi. Yoshiyuki's still clueless in DC II Second Season, but at least DC II SS is finally delivering on the dramatic story part, and we're getting the spotlight on Otome, Yume, and Sakura where it belongs. Although as little personality as Yoshiyuki has, he's less deserving of the bishoujo who like him than Junichi was. I'm still a little worried FEEL will botch the ending, or that like DCSS, it won't have the same dramatic impact as the original Da Capo, but it's still fun to watch so far. As usual, Stripey has a better post on the subject than what I could write.

Kamen no Maid Guy
The whole concept of a Maid Guy, with rippling biceps and a maid's uniform, seems like something I'd rather stick my face in a fan than watch, but while it's 50% fanservice the comedy part can be pretty hilarious at times. Maid Guy Badges kick ass, although I sure as hell never want to go through what's required to earn one.

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki
I was really looking forward to this before the season began, since it seemed like the kind of comedy I usually love, with Galaxy Angel-like insanity--but while it definitely has its insane comedy moments, there's a serious side to it that kind of jars with the comedy, like it can't make up its mind what kind of series it wants to be. It's still fun to watch though, and some of the dramatic parts it does well--they definitely have guts trying to mix comedy and drama this way, because it's clearly not easy to pull off. Teika has to be my favorite character so far, he'd knock Simba on his sorry ass.

Penguin Musume
Not all that entertaining for me, but it's so short I can't help watching it anyway. I wish they'd parody some *real* anime and just beep the names out like Hayate, versus whatever made-up mahou shoujo series that Penguin watches. If nothing else, I learned from this series that "nankyoku" means "South Pole".

Toloveru
Needs more Mikan. But other than that, it's like watching a more-ecchi remake of Urusei Yatsura, which is nothing I'm going to complain about. Although I hope the voice actress for Lala uses a different voice for Nagi when Kannagi airs this fall.

Zettai Karen Children
Not quite as funny as Hayate, but it has its moments. Part of me hopes it'll run into a second season, part of me hopes it goes off the air soon so we can get Hayate back, since it's done by the same studio. They may be zettai karen, but they're not Hinagiku.