Friday, December 23, 2011

Toradora OVA: Thank You, Santa

Somewhere in my late 20s I reached the age where there really wasn't anything I wanted for Christmas.  Even for my birthday I asked for something for my two-year old daughter, because I couldn't think of anything for myself.  It's not that there's nothing I want - but asking for a pension, or for my daughter's 529 plan to fully fund itself, or to pay off the mortgage isn't something even Santa can pull the hell off on his best day.

But, having said that, seeing the Toradora OVA out there when I had somehow completely missed the news and/or forgotten it was getting one, is one of the best Christmas surprise presents I can remember getting.  It's not the greatest episode of Toradora, but just seeing the cast in action again in new material was well worth the almost two-year wait.  To summarize it in a few words, the OVA is about Takasu's bento battle with Kitamura's grandmother, and if you liked Toradora at all, it's definitely well worth checking out.  Toradora is one of my favorite anime series of all time, and while this is a side story during the main plot and not a "ten years later" epilogue or anything, it's still well worth watching.

Idolmaster Finale

The final episode of Idolmaster is over - not much to say about this one, it was pretty much the ending I expected, with the big concert for everyone at 765Pro, Producer-san sneaking out of the hospital to go, and then finally an epligoue of sorts when spring comes and the Producer's back at work.  It was nice to see Haruka was finally able to give Producer-san the present she wanted to give him at Christmas, the concert scenes weren't bad, there was even the hint of a Haruka-Miki-Producer triangle down the road at the end.  Not the impact of the end of episode 23, sure, but then this episode was pretty clearly going to be a by-the-numbers feel-good finale, and I'm fine with that.

In the end, Idolmaster's been a fun ride - while I can't say every episode was epic, and some were very forgettable, when it was good, it was very, very good.  If I had to pack just 10 anime series to take to a desert island with me, would it make the cut?  Probably it'd only be on the bubble, but it's been an entertaining anime series, and I'd be happy if we end up getting more down the road (probably unlikely, but hey, I can hope for an OVA for something).  I think if they'd gone the Miki-Haruka smackdown for the Producer route and made better use of the drama from Producer-san's accident, it'd be at an even higher level - but as is it was still fun to watch and I'm sure I'll be rewatching Chihaya and Haruka's arcs, at least, pretty soon.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hayate Movie: Heaven is a Place on Earth

I loved both Hayate no Gotoku anime series - although like a lot of long-running series, some episodes I'd say were worth a re-watch and some were better off forgotten.  When I heard there was a Hayate movie coming out, I was really looking forward to it since there's certainly potential for it to be epic - the relationship chart is like an explosion in a spaghetti factory, which means lots of potential for drama, and while the story can be mediocre at times, when it's funny Hayate can be really funny.  Unfortunately...the movie, for me at least, wasn't all that great.

The good parts first - I'm a Nagi fan and Nagi definitely hogs the spotlight in this one.  If you're rooting for any of the other girls, this might be a good reason not to like it, but for me it's not a minus. 

It was also genuinely good to see the cast in action again, although in hindsight I'd have been more entertained re-watching some of the other Hayate anime instead.  Hinagiku getting to kick ass with a sword, even if just for a few seconds, was pretty badass also.  If you're keeping up with the manga, Kayura shows up throughout (I'm not, so I had no clue who she was - although it's not hard to figure out she's a friend of Nagi and a fellow otaku).

Now for the bad...the animation just seems a notch down from JC Staff's rendition, which is disappointing.  A little too much SD, which makes me think they're saving budget more than trying to be cute.  I should have known this wasn't going to be Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi-level, but it's still disappointing. 

That and the story...kind of sucks.  Nagi, while the heroine, is basically useless throughout, first whining and then becoming the damsel in distress.  There's no development here, no character growth at all.  There's also really nothing that made me laugh the whole 58 minutes - I had just watched Working and that was about 9,000 times more entertaining.  For a little while, I was getting a Beautiful Dreamer vibe, which is a good thing in my book, but...not nearly as well done.  The whole world of illusion cracks way too easily, and the climax gets resolved so fast I don't know why they even bothered trying to play it up as a situation of mortal peril.

In the end I'm more disappointed than anything else - Hayate no Gotoku has its weaknesses overall, but it also can be hilarious and moving at times, and I couldn't help feeling the cast was really under-utilized here.  Kayura busting out the SOS-dan uniform in "closed space" was funny, I'll give them that, but otherwise this just didn't put a smile on my face the way most of the Hayate anime did.  Your mileage my vary, of course, and there's far worse anime out there to spend 58 minutes on, but for me at least I think this ends up in the discard pile.  It's entirely possible I just had my hopes too high for this one.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Idolmaster 24: Family

Overall, this was a good conclusion to Haruka's arc - they went with the theme of friendship among the 765Pro idol family, and that's fine.  As much as I wish they would have delved into a Haruka-Miki-Producer-san love triangle, that would have been a little out of place with the rest of the series anyway.  Instead we get Haruka having a breakdown as she feels all her friends at 765Pro are slipping away, Ritsuko giving her some time off, and finally after a chat with Producer-san Chihaya asks Ritsuko to help get everyone together, Haruka remembers why she wanted to be an idol to begin with, and we're all set for a happy finale.

The real blame for Haruka's predicament rests squarely on Producer-san's shoulders, though - you don't put on a concert with all your idols without scheduling time for them to practice together, at least a few times.  All the stress Haruka put on herself trying to schedule time for everyone to meet was basically her trying to do the Producer's job.  To cut Producer-san a little slack, it's a very common mistake of rookie producers and project managers alike - over-committing, and as a consequence overbooking their idols (or "resources" in corporate-speak).  If everyone's overbooked, the end result is things don't get done and/or get done poorly.  If there aren't enough hours in the day for 765Pro's idols to get all their jobs done and practice, it's the Producer's job to step in and start saying no to people to free up time - otherwise, as Haruka foresaw, the end product's not going to be very good.  It's a fine line - you want to do as much as you can, but you don't want your idols/team to be overworked and start sacrificing quality either.  Bottom line, if like Producer-san you're on the phone telling people you're going to put on a great show, you need to line up the practice time to make the show great.

Uh...thank you...I mean, thank me...

The visuals were very well-done this episode though, and while Haruka giving herself candy was a little surreal (reminded me of that scene with the two Kyons in Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi a little), everything still clicked well overall.  The Producer was out of commission most of the episode but did at least give Chihaya some good advice, which partly makes up for his sucking at scheduling.  Miki impressed me because she didn't throw Haruka under the blame bus for what happened to the Producer, probably helped by the fact it was clear in the first couple minutes of the episode that he'd have a smooth recovery.  If his prognosis had been in doubt, it would have upped the drama some, but again, Producer-san wasn't the focus here, it was on friendship/family and that's fine too.

Finally, the good kind of tears

In the end, part of me still thinks they could have done a lot more with this if they'd thrown the romance angle in, but I can accept this story arc for what it is - we did get some very well-done, emotionally powerful moments that you never would have guessed were coming if you'd only watched, say, the episode about Hibiki and her dog.  Haruka's acting audition was conveniently close to how she really felt at the time, but it showed us a side of Haruka we hadn't really seen before.  At a glance you might think Haruka's one of those eternally cheerful people that would find the bright side even if the sun was about to explode, but this shows she's a more complex character than that, and how much she depends on her friends for support.

This was a nice touch, going full circle with the OP

Early on, Haruka seemed to disappear for episodes at a stretch and I was wondering if she was going to end up like Akari in Yuruyuri - but fortunately, in the second cour she had a lot of time in the limelight, and she's easily my favorite character of the cast.  It's going to be sad when the curtain goes down on the concert and the series comes to an end - but Idolmaster is something (at least for arcs like this one, Hibiki's dog not so much) I can see hitting my re-watch list.  

Friday, December 09, 2011

Idolmaster 23: Wow

This episode definitely surprised me at the end - the cynical side of me says the Producer ending up in the hospital is a cheap ploy to add drama, but hey, it worked. Most of the episode we see Haruka feeling down because her time with everyone else at 765Pro keeps slipping away, a victim of their busy schedules not allowing time to practice for the New Year's show, and their Sunday show where they all got to be together getting the axe. Throw in Haruka getting shot down by Miki's "you're my rival for the lead in the play, so I'm not 'doing my best' with you, I'm getting the lead so I can show off to Honey" and even Haruka's going to have trouble staying upbeat.

I've got to think from last episode Haruka does like the Producer - so for him to get hurt saving her has to be especially hard to take. Miki's the type that's likely to go off on Haruka next episode blaming her for what happened, although I'm sure Haruka blames herself already. I don't think there's any doubt the Producer's not going to die, but we're definitely set up for some more good drama next week.
I'm giving Producer-san a failing grade for time management though - it's his job to manage their schedules, Haruka shouldn't be the one trying to get them together to practise. 765Pro may need to hire more than just two producers, I'm sure there'll be a long line of otaku applying for the job.

Miki was pretty obnoxious this episode - while you can say she probably has the right attitude for someone in the cutthroat world of show business, it's still not an attitude I like. She's worried about the Producer at the end, but I'd bet instead of consoling Haruka or trying to understand she feels guilty, Miki's just going to lash out at her and pile on the blame.

I'd be surprised if Haruka's "I...." to the Producer was a confession, it was probably more like "I really want everyone to get to practise and do their best for the concert" but hey, I can dream. Will she get to tell the Producer what she was trying to say then? Will she drop out of 765Pro only to get brought back by the Producer and everyone else? Will I actually get the Haruka x Producer-san ending I've been hoping for? Damn, it's going to be a long wait for next week...

Friday, December 02, 2011

Idolmaster 22: Smackdown, Baby

I'll get the Producer a wallet for Christmas!
But if I fill it with condoms first, would that be too forward of me?

Just when I've completely given up hope that Idolmaster is going to go with the romance angle, we get a episode setting up a Haruka-Miki smackdown for the Producer. Maybe I'm just seeing what I want to see here, but if you were writing this and wanted to bring in a Haruka-Miki-Producer love triangle, this episode would be the perfect way to set it up. Miki declares she loves the Producer (on the Jumbotron no less), Haruka gets the lead in a play over Miki, but Miki wins new idol of the year over Haruka - then Haruka buys the Producer a Christmas present, but hesitates and fails to give it to him due to Miki. Most importantly, at the end of the episode, Haruka hesitates for just a moment to rejoin everyone, seeing Miki close to the Producer.

Harurun, you can never, ever have too much cake.
Or too much Harurun with glasses and a bigass hat.

If I were writing this, the next episode would see Haruka losing the lead in the play to Miki - which just reinforces Haruka feeling more and more like she's losing to Miki, both for the Producer and at being an idol. That sets up Haruka to be on the verge of quitting, the Producer stops her, Haruka tearfully tells him she can't compete with Miki and needs to go somewhere else, and blurts out that she loves him - cue the dramatic kiss, Haruka knockout performance in the play, and voila.

Miki fans would hate this ending, but Haruka's the main heroine, and the main heroine always wins. Everyone knew Haruka was the main heroine from the moment "Are you lady, I'm lady" started to play in the first cour's opening credits, because the camera was pointed right at her. Your heroine always gets the best shots in the OP credits. Even in the ED credits for this episode, she's walking in front of everyone. You can almost hear Dark Haruka saying "that's right bitches, you will all follow my lead and like it."


Thank God she doesn't look like Kaede from Shuffle here.

I haven't blogged in a coon's age, whatever the hell that means (actually, Google tells me it's this - the ability of the internet to know everything still amazes me, but that's my age talking). The fall season has been pretty good though, I've just been too lazy/busy to blog about it - and yes, Idolmaster is still what I'm looking forward to the most each week. Even if I'm wrong and they don't go for the love triangle drama to close out the series, it's been a fun show to watch. Every episode isn't epic, and sometimes the animation quality takes a dive, but it's almost always entertaining, and that's enough. Also, Amimami-chan needs its own series.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Looking Back at Summer

Chitose likes summer...

It's hard to believe the fall season is here already and summer is gone - and I never really did a proper writeup on the spring season, or winter before that for that matter. I should probably just pull a Yukiho, dig a hole and bury my blog in it, but since I have some time to play hooky at work, I might as well write up a few thoughts on the summer season, for what my two cents are worth.

Favorite Summer Anime: Idolmaster

Part of me can't believe this is true, but honestly this is what I looked forward to the most each week. This is where if you like your anime to be serious and have a plot you're free to throw up and/or make a localhost entry to block this domain until the end of time. Regardless, it's been a fun ride so far, and unlike K-On there's actually a healthy dose of different songs throughout too - no endless repeats of the same song, no cutting away to the empty school grounds in mid-concert, and so on.

I'm generally a sucker for anime about idols - I even watched all of Lovely Idol - so this was likely to be a hit for me from the beginning, and A-1 has done a great job with scenes like Ryuuguu Komachi's dance routine in ep 6, Makoto going all Jackie Chan in ep 8, and others. Granted, at other points the animation can be a little weak, but overall I can't complain. It's hard not to root for a dozen bishoujo trying their best, and while the Producer seems pretty ineffective in general so far, his heart's in the right place and I'm sure in the second cour he'll bring his idols up to Ryuuguu Komachi's level and beyond.

Probably not for everyone, but I'm enjoying it so far - and there's some hints of serious business to come, like Chihaya's family situation, that I think could add some powerful drama in the second cour if done right (and if A-1 bothers to go there at all - with such a big cast, you never know). Very glad this runs on through the fall season for another cour.


Nichijou - I can't say this is Kyoani's best anime ever, since I'd rank it towards the bottom of what they've done - but it did have some genuinely funny moments to it, and bizarre humor is generally right up my alley. Every time the airship appeared (far too infrequently) it was epic - Starla-hime should get her own series. And while Yukko's antics got a little old after 26 episodes, and the more experimental animation sometimes fell a little flat, it was still an enjoyable watch. I don't think I'll re-watch it a hundred times or anything, but it was another series I looked forward to each week.

Yuru Yuri - Not hilarious every episode, but when it was funny it was pretty epic. Chinatsu chasing down Akari, only to get caught in the act at the most predictable time. Ayano's "Toshino Kyouko!" Chinatsu's horrific drawing skills. Akari's endless battle with her lack of screentime and presence. Chitose-vision. Almost anything with Sakurako and Himawari. There were too many laugh out loud scenes to list, which makes up for some of the series being a little underwhelming, like they were trying to play it safe instead of dialing funny up to 11. I'd love to see a second season someday - it's just one of those casts you miss once they're gone.

Everything Else

I know - I didn't watch anything even remotely serious. I'm a viewer of moe crap, or whatever people call non-serious anime these days. But in the end, anime's something I watch for entertainment, not to show off my dual majors in philosophy and sociology. Some other anime I did watch this season:

Hanasaku - Liked the series overall, but as Kurogane pointed out, the story meandered more than a little in the second cour. Also, Ko-chan? Really? A girl would pick the boring guy over a guy who RIDES A MOTORCYCLE and CAN FREAKING COOK? Who's more plausible for the cover of a romance novel with their shirt off, Ko-chan or Tohru? Yeah, that's what I thought too.

Ikoku something-something - Please, no more long anime titles. Also, I like french bread and baguettes but there's too much dog poop on the streets of Paris in real life for me to romanticize it. I also have this vague feeling of doom watching this because WWI isn't *that* far off, and Yune's kids would likely end up just the right age to go to the trenches of Verdun to show their élan. I had the same problem watching Taishou Yakyuu Musume, wondering how they and their kids would fare with a sky full of B-29s overhead. Yune is cute, I just never got around to finishing watching this - I blame real life trumping idealized late 19th century Parisian life, but it was a nice, relaxing series so I might well finish it down the road.

Mayo Chiki - I wanted to like this, and it had some pretty funny parts early on, but the lack of progress with Jirou and Subaru had me rolling my eyes halfway through. It's funny because I kept finding myself thinking the whole premise and setting is just ridiculous, but I didn't have a problem with the setting of Yoakena for one - still, for whatever reason, I couldn't really get into Mayo Chiki. Maybe it's the overly-oblivious guy coupled with the girls-give-me-a-nosebleed and the impossibly big harem - it feels like I've seen it a million times. As a guy, I never complain about fanservice, but it's not enough to keep me watching either.

Carnival Phantasm - I never watched Tsukihime, but damn, this is funny regardless. Some parts I just don't get, but most of it has me laughing even on re-watch, and doesn't hurt the OP is also addictive as hell.

It's been a decent season overall, even if I didn't end up watching very much compared to past seasons. Fall is looking like it'll be a great time to be an anime fan, with sequels to Ika Musume, Working, and Shana, all of which I liked the originals of, as well as a ton of new stuff - but I'll leave the preview posts to the professionals.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Idolmaster 1, K-ON{!,!!} 0

I think episode 6 of Idolmaster dropped my respect for Kyoani half a notch - I think Ryuuguu Komachi's performance beat anything K-ON (either single or multiple exclamation point version) put together. I keep thinking about the Thelma and Louise wannabe music video from K-ON! and it's not a flattering comparison. A-1 Pictures did, to be fair, cut to reaction shots and a brief conversation between Ritsuko and The Producer to save key frames, but still a pretty amazing effort.

I wasn't all that impressed with Idolmaster at first, but somehow it's become the series I watch as soon as I'm able to once it's out. Ryuuguu Komachi's costumes are much better than the outfits in the opening credits though, my 2 1/2 year old has more fashion sense than the OP, and this is someone who would wear a Halloween T-shirt with a pumpkin on it every single day if her parents let her.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Idolmaster - First Impression

I'll start by saying I've never played the Idolmaster game, but I'm kind of a sucker for series about idols. I actually liked Lovely Idol, which puts me in a very, very small minority. I loved the Nakagawa Kanon arc of Kaminomi, even with the weird taser thing. And I liked, although maybe not loved, Idolmaster Xenoglossia - I've always liked the idea of taking a cast of bishoujo and putting them in a totally different, original setting than the one from the game they came from. Haruka and Imber...well, whatever, but I give Sunrise props for trying something innovative. Now along comes another Idolmaster series, and given A-1 is the studio doing it, it looks like a dead ringer for Working, character design-wise at least. Is it good? Barely watchable? A worse idea than "Harry Potter and the Infection of Fire"?

For what it's worth, here are my random thoughts after watching the first two episodes:

- I think I get what Konata was trying to tell Kagami about how when Drama CDs have one set of seiyuu and they change it for the anime it takes a while to get used to. I miss Yui Horie as Yukiho. Also Joseph was much more badass than the Producer. But other than that, I'm adapting.

- The first episode with the game-like "documentary" was innovative, with the unvoiced lines appearing as text like you're playing a galge. But also kind of boring - it blows through the cast of a dozen bishoujo in 20-some minutes and you see a little of their antics. OK. Second episode, a little better, as it did have some form of plot.

- The second episode is better, but I find myself comparing it to Lovely Idol, and I'm not sure which is superior. I think A-1 Pictures has a real chance here to flesh out the characters' backgrounds and motivations, and throw in some drama, rather than just making it a bunch of characters with zero depth acting sort-of cute. Then again, from a business standpoint, cute and shallow sells shiny discs, and let's face it, they went all dorama with Xenoglossia already. Still, I know A-1 can do better, I've seen Kannagi and Sora no Woto - show us why Iori wants to be an idol so badly, aside from some clips in the ED that show her alone a lot in a big mansion. Why does anyone want to be an idol? Do they want to feel loved? To make an impression and rise above the billions condemned to anonymity? Because Mommy forced them to? This stuff just writes itself if they try.

- Back to Iori...a stuffed animal? Really, Iori-chan? You're trying to look grown-up like Azusa, but you carry a stuffed bunny everywhere you go? Just, no.

- The OP is addictive as hell, but if you're going to throw in English words, learn to enunciate your "r"s already. "Are you la-dy? I'm lady!" is all kinds of messed up. Although since I can only read ten kanji I probably shouldn't put down other people's grasp of English.

- Yayoi, Iori, and the twins fail hard at makeup, which was kind of funny, but...OK, I could see my 2-year old doing something like that if we were negligent enough to leave her alone with makeup. But come on, they actually think that looked good? No one that age is that stupid, unless I'm giving today's tweens/teens too much credit. Kids these days may not be able to spell, read, write anything over 140 characters in length, or find the USA on a world map (think I sound old?), but I bet they sure as hell know when someone looks that bad.

- Needs cameos from Xenoglossia and Working. An Imber model on the Producer's desk, or Poplar walking by in the background, would crack me up. Inami could even teach Yukiho self-defense, the possibilities are endless.

In the end, it's probably borderline worth watching if like me you're not a fan of the game to begin with - since I saw some improvement second episode I'm giving A-1 the benefit of the doubt and sticking with it for now. Haruka bumping into that guy in the hall isn't something you'd bother animating just to show she's clumsy, unless he factors into some kind of dramatic plot later on, right? Maybe the Producer could fall for Azusa but be torn between love and professionalism, right? Or Iori's absentee father sees the light and decides to retire as CEO to spend more time with his estranged daughter, forcing her to come to terms with why she wants to be an idol? Hey, I can dream.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Nichijou: I Am Wouldo Cube

I was close to dropping Nichijou after the first epsiode - you could say it's Azumanga on crack, but I didn't like the cast nearly as much as Azumanga or Lucky Star's. But somehow, episode after episode, it manages to grow on me all the same - last week's principal doing a German suplex on a deer was one of the funniest scenes I've seen this season, and this week we get the epic wooden cube drama at the beginning and Wakamoto Norio at the end. Got to think they could have done more with Wakamoto-sama's talents in the preview, but still a solid episode.

Minion #6 figures out which way the wind is blowing first.

If it's voiced by Wakamoto Norio, it's an ancient superweapon.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Spring Midterms: Denpa Onna, Sengoku Otome, Gosick

Part 2 of the spring midterms post - because it's Friday afternoon, and if you're trapped in a cubicle anyway, you might as well entertain yourself writing, I think...

Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko

Good Points
- Best cast I've seen this season. Erio is almost moe enough to make my laptop spontaneously combust, Ryuushi is pretty fun to watch, Maekawa's nasu outfit cracks me up, and Meme is like Ami-chan from Toradora on crack. The male lead isn't a spineless wimp who's inexplicably surrounded by girls either. +4
- I like writing in my free time, but to be honest I suck at it - it's always hard for me to come up with a truly original story, so when I see something like Denpa Onna I end up awestruck. Not that it's 100% original, but the whole thing with Erio losing her memories, the futon pizza-eating, aliens, and so on - I don't think in a million years I'd come up with this. +2
- The bike ride over the cliff. +1
- Shaft completely crushing my fears this would be all distance shots and random frames of real-life food, alarm clocks, and such. Animation quality isn't perfect, since ep 4 the first half especially seemed like the B-team was drawing the facial expressions, but when it looks good, it looks, very, very good. And the scenes around town actually remind me of the last time I was in Japan, they're not cutting corners on backgrounds. +1
- No idea where they're going with the plot - will it turn out aliens really are involved? Or will this be like Haruhi if everyone was just quirky and Nagato wasn't an alien, Koizumi wasn't an ESPer, Mikuru was just ditzy, and Haruhi just got bored easily? I kind of hope we'll have that Asakura Ryoko moment where it'll turn out there really is something going on, but right now I have no idea, and that keeps me watching the clock for the next episode. +2
- Awesome character designs. Yes, I'm a sucker for good character designs. +1

Bad Points
- Animation a little weak in spots in episode 4, facial expressions just a little off. But given everything else about this series I like, it just seems like quibbling to even bring it up. -1

Total Seishun Points: +10 - I think this is very likely to be my favorite anime of the season.

Sengoku Otome

Good Points
- Interesting premise, with our heroine sent back to the Warring States (sengoku) period of Japanese history. +1
- Hideyoshi's a good heroine, fun to watch how she deals with life in a different era. +1
- Talking dog - thought this could suck, but he's actually pretty funny. +1
- Good character designs, and the animation quality isn't bad either, for an anime based on a pachinko game especially. +1

Bad Points
- After the first couple episodes, I get less and less motivated to watch this every week. I guess the 'collect all the armor parts and conquer the land' plot is...well, a little lacking. -2
- Tokunyan is evil, but not for any good reason - there's pretty much zero character development. -1

Total Seishun Points: +1 - on the cusp of getting dropped, but hoping the plot will get more interesting once the armor's all collected. We don't know why Hideyoshi's teacher is back there yet either.


Good Points
- Victorique (Victorica?) is awesome. Has attitude, brains, and moe, a deadly combination. I'd probably spend 24 minutes a week watching this even if it was just Victorique playing Scrabble the whole time. +4
- Kazuya - some people complain he whines a lot, but let's face it, he had serious balls in the Queen Berry arc and is a good combination with Victorique. +3
- Setting. Saubure's a cool location, with the mountains, the impossibly tall library, the old-school European buildings, and so on. +1
- Drill hair. +1

Bad Points
- The "mystery" parts are...kind of weak. I guess it's good it's not something needlessly elaborate like some episodes of Detective Conan, but if you're a big mystery fan, you'd probably be let down. -1
- Avril. She's not a bad character, but do we really need a fake love triangle here, when we've already established Kazuya and Victorique are rabu-rabu? -1
- Fortune-teller dude at the Grey Wolf village - separating Kazuya and Victorique is not acceptable, WWII or no. -1

Total Seishun Points: +6 - somehow feels like losing a little steam since the first cour, but have high hopes for the rest of the series. Another reason to look forward to Fridays.

Spring Midterms: Hanasaku, Kami Nomi, Softenni

I'll admit, it's been a long-ass time since I had a midterm. Let's just say, when I was in school, we used NCSA Mosaic to browse the inter-net. Instead of Web 2.0, we were talking Web 0.5. But since we're a third of the way through the spring season, might as well take some time and judge the anime that's aired so far, and that's midterm-like, right? Grades are too 20th century, though, so I'm only giving seishun points, taking my cue from Denpa Onna. So without further ado:

Hanasaku Iroha

Good Points
- Ohana: she's the cute, energetic, heroine of the series, and since this is in spite of being raised by a thoroughly negligent mother who dumps her off on her grandmother, it's hard not to root for Ohana to succeed. Plus her grandmother follows the Tiger Mom school, so you know Ohana won't grow up to be worthless. +3
- Animation quality and setting - I'm a sucker for interesting settings and atmosphere, and the countryside inn setting is pretty cool. Not quite Sora no Woto cool in my book, but visually, everything looks good and makes it feel like you're really in the Japanese countryside. +1
- Rina using random-ass dialects for the hell of it. Quirky characters are more fun to watch. +1

Bad Points
- It feels a little like a soap opera. It's a tough line to walk, but the whole thing with Grandma slapping Ohana, Minchi hating on Ohana, Minchi liking Tohru, and so's hard to know when you cross the line from drama to soap opera, but I have some worries. I still think odds are good Tohru falls for Ohana, and Minchi goes yandere, but I don't know if I want to see that. -1
- I'm just not waiting on the edge of my seat for new episodes. Let's face it, Nako is kind of a boring character, Minchi isn't good at much aside from being hostile towards Ohana so far, Grandma doesn't show up much, Ko-chan seems like he's nice but not exactly a thrill a minute, and he's been out of the picture for a while now anyway. Most interesting character is probably Tohru - need more interesting bishoujos too. -1

Total Seishun Points: +3 - enough to keep me watching, and I expect it'll only get better since it has two cours to work with and develop the characters

Kami Nomi zo Shiru Sekai - 2nd Season

Good Points
- Haqua. Although honestly, she's not as badass as the hype made me think she would be. She reminds me of Hinagiku a little, but in ep 3 she just came across as really annoying the way she refused help and refused to admit despite being a star in school, she actually sucked dong at catching loose souls. But in ep 4 she redeemed herself a little. +1
- Elcie. Pure moe in demon form. +3
- Keita seeing straight through Haqua's pretenses. They don't call him Kami-onii-san for nothing. +2

Bad Points
- Kendo heroine didn't do anything for me at all. I wasn't a fan of Shiori either, it's like Nagakawa Kanon aside, I wouldn't want to play any of their routes, if you know what I mean. -2
- Character design for the really dangerous level 3 loose soul looked like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Is that the scariest you could come up with? Really? -1

Total Seishun Points: +3 - again enough to keep watching, but I'm hoping the next bishoujo will be better than kendo girl, whose name I can't even remember. Kanon-chan needs more screentime too.


Good Points
- Good cast. Not the best cast ever, but they're quirky enough and interact together well enough that it makes this fun to watch. Not sure if they'll make it to Softenni Koshien, but if the cast is likeable it covers up a lot of other ills in my book. +2
- The guy with 'God's fingers' - I don't know why, but that whole scene cracked me up. +1
- Taught me that soft tennis is an actual sport - had no idea this existed before, so I can claim this is expanding my intellectual horizons. +1
- Fanservice. Because let's face it, no one watches Xebec series for plot and dorama. +1

Bad Points
- Censor cows. -1
- The weird thing with Chitose riding on salamanders and being obsessed with food. -1
- Their coach needs more backstory, why the hell did he quit at the top? Because being badass at the sport you love is boring? Really? -1

Total Seishun Points: +2 - as long as it's funny, I'll forgive a lot.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Hanasaku Predictions

After the first episode of Hanasaku, I think it's already safe to make some predictions about the plot. Some of these are close to 100% certainties, given the type of show I think it's going to be, but some are longer shots - anyway, I'll record them here for posterity's sake, in descending order of probability.

- Ohana ends up befriending Nako (the girl who seems uncomfortable around her so far), and they become best friends. Likelihood: 99.9%

- Ohana ends up befriending Michi (who did nothing this episode but tell her to die - Yuu would smack her for sure), and they become best friends. Likelihood: 99%

- At the end of the series, Ohana looks back and says something about how her new life at the inn changed her and she was able to become a better person, yadda, yadda, yadda. Likelihood: 98%

- Ohana manages to get Grandma and Mom to reconcile. Likelihood: 95%

- Ohana ends up getting together with Tooru. OK, I know Ko-chan did the kokuhaku thing already and should be in the lead, but I like Tooru's chances better. Why? Let's face it, Ko-chan did have the balls to confess, but he's also the kind of guy who's texting on his phone while walking with the girl he has a crush on, so he's still kind of a tool. I also like Tooru's odds over Kouichi for a simple reason - Kouichi may be good at getting the corn, but can you picture someone describing him as a badass? Girls talk about liking "nice guys" but let's face it - there's a reason romance novels don't have accountants on the cover. Girls like badasses, and Tooru looks like he could be badass if push came to shove. Also, he just seems to disregard Ohana completely so far and their first meeting wasn't so great. As we all know from shoujo manga, bad first encounters always end up leading to rabu-rabu later. Likelihood: 50%

Then there are several things that *could* happen, although I don't think they will. The most noteworthy ones are:

- Ohana ends up managing the inn. It's probably about even money this will happen, but I don't like it. Somehow I see this more as a growing experience for Ohana than a permanent destination, so I don't think it'll come to pass. But it's certainly possible, and you could say predictable - she even asks Maleficent about it directly. Likelihood: 50%

- Ohana ends up with Kouichi. Ko-chan's the frontrunner by far since he confessed and no one else seems to like Ohana, but I still think he'll lose, and lose hard. Either Tooru gets her, or Ohana grows from her experience at the inn into someone who thinks she deserves better than him. Regardless, I don't see a good chance for Kouichi here - odds are he's sucking corn out of a can by himself at the end. Likelihood: 20%

- Ohana turns out to not really be her mom's daughter. I don't think it's likely, but she jokes about it in the first episode, right? Why put that joke in there, which isn't really funny, unless you think it'll be ironic later? Likelihood: still only 5% or so

- Grandma casts an evil curse on Ohana, that she'll prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into eternal slumber by her 17th birthday. Seriously, Grandma is a dead ringer for Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. I'm expecting Disney to sue the character designer any second, and Grandma will be redrawn as a big pink teddy bear from episode 4 on. Likelihood: less than 1%

- Michi's hostility to Ohana turns into passion, and they end up having steamy yuri trysts together in the hot springs, while lilies blossom around them. OK, it's not very likely, but that won't stop doujinshi authors and it won't stop me either. Likelihood: less than 1%

- The biggest competitor of their inn turns out to be Hinata Ryokan, and Keitaro and Naru make frequent cameos. You realize Naru would be what, 29 years old now, if we count from when the anime aired? Damn, that's as old as Miz Mishtal. Tempus fugit, as the Latinians say. Likelihood: less than one-millionth of 1%

For me, so far Hanasaku has done everything right, but the one thing that still worries me is, is it going to turn into a soap opera? Well, at least it doesn't have people falling into comas for two years after a car accident, at least not so far, so my hope is no. Drama is good, but there's a fine line between drama and soap opera in my mind, and I'm hoping Hanasaku stays on the good side. Looking forward to next week's episode and seeing if I get any of these predictions right by fall.

Hanasaku - Not All Grandmas Give Out Candy

Hanasaku is one of the series I was looking forward the most this season, and so far it doesn't disappoint - good animation quality, an interesting cast of characters, some drama, and even a love confession in just the first episode.  It may be a two cour series, but it's off to a fast start already - makes me wonder how they're possibly going to keep up the pace (although maybe they just won't and are off to a racing start - Futakoi Alternative Syndrome, although not nearly as insane).

The main character, Ohana, ends up shipped off to Hinata-sou to live with a grandmother she's never met, thanks to her mother being...well, a little too carefree is probably a charitable way to put it (I know, the inn's not called Hinata-sou, but that's all I could think of when Ohana first sees it - was half expecting Keitarou to come flying out of a third-story window).  Unfortunately for her, her grandmother is Cruella de Ville, and puts her to work instead of doting on her, and the only other girls her age that work there are one that hates her and one that seems really uncomfortable around her.  Of course, you can see Ohana winning them over and being best friends with them coming from space, but even if they do go that tried-and-true path, Ohana's a likeable main character and the story has a lot of potential.

Is it going to be truly epic, like Toradora?  I don't know, but it has potential to go there.  I'm a sucker for good characters, good character designs, and good atmosphere, and this has all three so far.  It could bog down in soap opera-drama down the road, or have the pace slow to glacial levels since there's supposedly a full 24-26 episodes to work with, but I'm keeping my hopes up.

Nichijou - First Impression

I haven't watched the Nichijou OVA, so the first episode was my introduction to the series - I went into it with very low expectations, given the consensus in the blogosphere seemed to be that the OVA was about as exciting as watching paint dry.  However, probably helped by low expectations, to my surprise I didn't look at the clock once while watching the first episode - it was actually pretty fast-paced and entertaining for me.

Nichijou is not Lucky Star, although you could say the animation is kind of similar, and it's not Azumanga Daioh either - I guess the best way to describe it is if all of Azumanga was as weird as the scenes with Chiyo-chan's dad in them, although unfortunately Nichijou is minus Wakamoto Norio.

What Nichijou does have is the scion of a farming family riding to school on a goat, a little girl genius professor (I keep thinking of Becky when I see her...), a robot girl with a wind-up key on her back (where the key only exists to make her big toe shoot off at high speed when it's wound), salmon falling from the sky...and that's only a small fraction of the total weirdness to be found in this episode.  It's like someone wrote a slice-of-life series after taking more opium than Coleridge did to write Kubla Khan.  (See, I can do pretentious literary references too - sure it was in the 80s, but I did pay attention in AP English and shit.)

In short, if you're hoping anime blogs will tell you if Nichijou is good or not, you're probably screwed, because I get the feeling this is the kind of series half the world will like and the other half will hate and think is stupid, without even introducing the polarizing effect of Kyoani into the picture.  If you like your comedy very, very random, then this might be right up your alley.  If you hate things that are weird for no discernible reason, then you should probably avoid it like the plague. 

But in the end, I give Kyonai credit so far - they took a series I was expected to hate and kept me watching from beginning to end.  I doubt this will be anywhere close to my favorite of the spring season, especially given all the competition, but it's kept me entertained so far.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi

I think I fell for Haruhi when I first read about the plot in a post on AnimeSuki's forum, a couple weeks before the first season aired - somehow it just sounded like it would be fascinating to watch, and in the end it was, hitting a good combination of interesting characters, a unique world, fluid animation, and a plot where anything could happen. I'd probably rank Toradora higher if I was doing my top 10, but I've still watched the first season of Haruhi more times than I can remember.

Then the second season came, and I didn't even bother watching the whole thing - not just the Endless Eight part, which has to rank as one of the most monumentally bad pieces of judgment in the history of the anime world, but the whole Adventures of Asahina Mikuru movie arc, which showcases Haruhi at her least likeable. With that background, I had mixed feelings going into Disappearance - two hours plus? Really? Was my attention span even that long anymore, after years of 24 minute anime episodes? Didn't Haruhi herself barely get any screentime in that novel, so we'll be stuck with Nagato looking expressionless for two hours?

In the end, I've got to give Kyoani credit though - I don't watch movies very often (honestly, any movie out of Hollywood lately has me looking at my watch by about an hour in) but this was really well done, sucking in my attention from the moment the prologue of sorts ended and the world changed on Kyon. I wouldn't have called the first season a "suspense" anime, but Disappearance did a good job creating suspense, and fortunately it was long enough after I'd read the light novel that I didn't remember most of the details.

The highlights? Nagato's obviously the star of this one, although I'm not a sucker for the overly bashful/shy type, so I didn't suffer death by moe, but if you do like that type this movie will get you where it counts. Even I had to be impressed by the power of the fully operational Nagato smile.

But the rest of the cast does get their time to shine too - Kyon's whining can get old after a while, sometimes it's hard not to say "if Haruhi drives you so fucking crazy, why don't you JUST GO HOME and don't go to the clubroom?" Maybe the world will end, but that's Koizumi's posse's problem anyway. But in Disappearance, Kyon does finally come to the realization that as much as he gripes about it, if he's honest with himself, he really *does* like his new life more than the boring everyday life he had before.

Haruhi herself does get more screentime than I remembered too, and alternate version Haruhi is pretty moe seizure inducing, with her long hair making a comeback. Asahina (big and small versions), Koizumi, even Tsuruya and Kyon's friends all make appearances too, but the reappearance of Asakura Ryoko is a big highlight too. One thing the Haruhi series has really lacked since the first novel is a bad guy, and Ryoko fits the bill perfectly, with the sweet, innocent smile never leaving her face as she's trying to plunge a knife into some vital organ of yours. I think until Disappearance, I didn't realize how much the series lost when she left.

Animation quality was another highlight, although I was (as usual) watching on my work-issued ThinkPad, which while it has a great keyboard and all, doesn't have the best display in the world. If it looked this good in 720p on a dimly backlit non-glossy 14-inch screen, I can't imagine what the 1080p on a real monitor would look like. A few of the scenes looked almost too fluid to me, like they were trying to use CG for inbetweening or something, but that's a minor complaint.

Lowlights? The whole daydream sequence with Kyon interrogating himself about whether he really likes the new world or the one with the SOS-dan better was well animated and...well, creative, I guess, but it just came across like it would be much more fun to watch if you're on an acid trip. Being surreal has a place, like in Beautiful Dreamer, but somehow it just felt out of place here. The 'prolouge' of sorts felt a little drawn out too, at 17+ minutes, before we get into the real action - but that's likely just my personal bias that no movie should ever run past two hours talking.

If you gave up on Haruhi and the endless wait for the tenth novel (or I guess the 10th and 11th novels now, if you believe the news they're both coming out around end of May), or if you gave the franchise up for dead after Endless Eight Hell, Disappearance may well convert you back to the fold of Haruhiism. I still think with the 9th novel the author got himself in a plot pit he'll never find his way out of, and I'm not optimistic the series will get a decent ending, but Disappearance does make me look forward to the day when the rest of the light novels make it to be animated. There's far worse ways to spend a couple hours of time at least.

Also, a belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year's to all of you out there on the Inter-net, and if you haven't given Milky Holmes a try (and like me, you liked Galaxy Angel, probably the closest thing I can compare it to), then I'd highly recommend checking it out, probably the series that made me laugh the most this season...