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.