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8th January 2008
Mobile Suit Gundam Review
I've been meaning to complete this review for a really long time now, because I truly believe that most anime fans, especially those of the mecha genre, owe to themselves to watch one of the pioneering shows of the genre. Not necessarily because it was all that good, but to see where the entire Gundam phenomenon started from as well as how it spawned off an entire genre. :
The story of Mobile Suit Gundam revolves around the conflict between the Earth Federation and Principality of Zeon. During an attack on a Earth Federation space colony, Amuro Rey is inadvertently thrust into becoming the pilot of the Earth Federation's new secret mobile suit, known as the Gundam. He would join the crew of the White Base, the first mobile suit carrier of the Earth Federation. The rest of the show chronicles the trials of the crew of the White Base as the war between the EF and Zeon escalates, until the final conflict of the One Year War at A Baoa Qu.
Throughout the series, the viewer is witness to the impact of war on a large group of people, many of whom, are unwillingly drawn into war. The show very much focuses on the impact of war on youth who are called upon to fight and how their varying personalities would be shaped by their involvement in the war. The show does a very good job at showing how war can make one jaded or desensitized to his or her own actions and to those around them. Specific events that showcase this include Amuro's insubordinative behaviour at times as well as his dealings with his mother.
Character development is very much a focus of the series, as we see Amuro grow from a reluctant youth, to a determined man. While some of the cast can be irritating or annoying (Frau Bow, for example), Mobile Suit Gundam has a very wide and memorable cast. From the take charge attitude of Bright Noa, to the determination of Sayla, to the confidence of Char, the writers of MSG have crafted a cast that both sticks in your head, and also is quite realistic. While the main focus of the show (and of Gundam) is to show giant humanoid robots duke it out, the writers have not forgotten the need to develop and grow the cast (as characters, not in size). While the cast of secondary characters eventually gets very large, they are just that, secondary characters. They exist to develop the leads and to have them grow in different ways. They never rise up to the point of overshadowing the lead characters, but instead, are used to elevate them.
To say that the show has aged gracefully, would be generous. Let's be frank, the show is from the late 70s/early 80s. It most definitely looks old compared to any thing produced in the last 20 years. That said, I don't believe that the old animation should detract people from watching the show.
Overall, Mobile Suit Gundam was a great pioneering show. While it certainly has its set of flaws, ranging from some odd writing to technical issues, overall, it has stood the test of time as one of the defining shows of a medium. Most fans of anime should at some point watch this show to get a feel for how a show can shape a medium.
Good: Solid story, great character development
Bad: Hasn't aged all that well, pacing could be a bit better, some annoying characters, still centered around giant robots duking it out
Overall: 7.5 / 10
20th October 2007
Bokura ga Ita Review
Shows that are based on pure romance aren't all that rare, but finding a well written one is. I had heard that Bokura ga Ita was such a show, but it turns out that this show suffers from many areas that mainly revolve around how retarded the characters in the show are. :
The story of Bokura ga Ita revolves around Takahashi Nanami and Motoharu Yano. Nanami is an average high school girl, shy reserved, basically plain. Yano is the school heartthrob. Nanami initially finds him incredibly annoying, but falls in love with him. They start going out, but run into problems due to Yano's past relationships and the fact that his mom is moving at the end of the school year, meaning that they would be apart for their last year of high school.
Mixed into this mess are Nanami's classmate, Yamimoto Yuri, who is also in love with Yano, has slept with him in the past, and is the younger sister of Yano's former love. Also involved is Masafumi Takeuchi, who is Yano's best friend, but who also falls in love with Nanami.
Now, let's get this out of the way, the majority of the characters are the scum of the earth and deserve to rot in hell. Before you think they are evil, backstabbing characters, they aren't. However, most of them are incredibly self-centered and never think about other people whose lives they may be affecting. I'm mainly basing this on the final story arc, where Yano has to decide whether to move with his mom, or stay behind for his last year of high school. Now, you may be thinking, what's so evil about staying behind, let me point out that Yano's mom has cancer. Basically, by thinking of staying, he's basically saying to his mom, "Hey mom, I know you have cancer and all, but I want you to work your cancer-ridden ass off to pay for both yours and my living expenses so I can sit around and waste time with my insecure, neurotic girlfriend." Nanami also wants him to stay as does, for some stupid reason, Takeuchi. So yeah, here are three important characters, the two main protagonists no less, who think nothing (well, maybe very little) of working a middle-aged woman with cancer to the bone so they can fuck around as teenagers. At least Yano grows a backbone and at the end of the series leaves with his mom.
This one incident aside, Nanami is one of the worst female leads I've ever seen in a show. Her entire character revolves around her insecurity and her inability to deal with all the baggage that Yano brings to their relationship, despite knowing full well that he had a ton of it. She constantly badgers him about what his feelings are and what he did with his former girlfriend, Nana (Yuri's older sister), and then gets mad about it, acts all self-righteous and makes him feel like shit. I mean, what girl outright asks, "Did you and Nana have sex in your school gym?" This is really what most of the show is. Nanami digs into Yano's past, can't deal with what she finds, cries, makes Yano out to be a jerk, they make up, repeat.
Yano is no prize himself. He's incredibly jealous, to the point of locking Takeuchi into a room, so that he can't confess to Nanami. I'm not sure why people like this guy because a lot of the time, he's a jerk to people. I don't get Takeuchi, because he's willing to overlook this incident and still be best friends with Yano, which may explain why he has no other friends and even his own sister doesn't want to help him. If one of my friends seriously locked me into a room with no notion of ever letting me out, the minute I got out I would try and kick the shit out of him. What does Takeuchi do? Absolutely nothing. I though that Yuri would be the one character with common sense who can see that Yano is an ass, but nope, she's in love with him too.
The artwork is similar in style to that of Honey and Clover, so if you like that kind of thing, you'll probably like the art of Bokura ga Ita. I personally am not too fond of it myself, and at times I think the characters look kinda weird.
Overall, I personally really disliked this show. The characters are unrealistic (in real life, Nanami would've been kicked to the curb 3 times over for the amount of shit she kept bringing up, and no guy would've let slide getting locked up), and the plot just repeats itself until the very last storyline. Not on my recommended list.
Good: Yano and Nanami don't end up together at the end due to a sudden surge of common sense on Yano's part
Bad: characters suck, plot is repetitive
Overall: 2.5 / 10
3rd September 2007
Star Ocean EX Review
In general, most things that are published in a specific medium, are meant to stay in that medium. Star Ocean EX is a shining example of such. :
Star Ocean EX is heavily based off of Star Ocean: The Second Story, a game released for the original Playstation. Those familiar with the game should be able to easily recognize the characters and settings. The story of Star Ocean EX chronicles that of Claude C. Kenni, a young man who finds himself stranded on the planet, Expel, after accidentally activating a gate on another planet that he was exploring with his space explorer father. There, he saves a young girl, named Rena Lanford, and she immediately assumes that he is the legendary hero, due to his laser gun which she mistakes for a sword of light and foreign clothes. The two then set out on a journey to investigate the Sorcery Globe, a mysterious object that seems to be wreaking havoc on the world of Expel. Along the way, they do typical RPG style things, like recruit people into their party, fight monsters, fetch items, and explore dungeons.
Now I ask you, have you ever sat down and watched someone play an RPG from beginning to end? More often than not, it's boring as all holy hell, and that's the problem with Star Ocean EX. It is exactly like watching someone play an RPG from beginning to end, except the characters aren't developed as much. Like an RPG, the cast is sent out to do these quests because they're eventually all tiny little steps on their way to finally confronting the sorcery globe. Just because they were necessary though, doesn't make it enjoyable to watch. Another issue is that while the show does resolve the overall arc that it started with, it intentionally leaves the ending open and says that the characters have more stuff to do, but never show it. Way to leave a sour taste in one's mouth.
Part of the charm of a video game is that because you are actually playing as a character (or set of characters), the player can develop an affinity for said character(s). This is not the case with Star Ocean EX. It's much harder to do so, and double so in this show, as the characters tend to stay the same. Hell, Claude learns like 2 attacks in the entire course of the show, and the second one he doesn't learn until the very end anyways. The characters all tended to be the exact same, do the same stuff, react in the same, and never showed any sort of change or development.
Rena was really a sore point for me. She spent the vast majority of the show utterly useless, although I'm sure it was convenient for the writers, as they could easily put her in damsel in distress mode and have Claude come to her rescue. Given that the cast is from a video game, it is to be expected that they fit into typical molds. Claude is the young, headstrong hero, Rena the damsel in distress, Dias the mysterious swordsman/rival, Ashton the comic relief, and so on. What would have been nice is if they actually broke out of those molds at some point in the series.
The artwork is pretty crummy to say the least. At times, it is just outright bad, especially when compared to other work of its time. Don't expect to be wowed by the generic designs or bland backgrounds.
This is one project that should've been shelved early in its life. I feel sorry for the Star Ocean fans who sat through this, as it really doesn't do justice to the source material.
Bad: not a good retelling of Star Ocean story, characters are static, animation is bad
Overall: 1.9 / 10
12th July 2007
Shinigami no Ballad Review
At only 6 episodes, Shinigami no Ballad just might be the kind of thing to pick up when you really have nothing else to watch. However, don't expect to be horribly entertained. :
Shinigami no Ballad (or Shinigami's Ballad if you like an english translation) revolves around Momo, who is a Shinigami (something akin to the Grim Reaper, but all cutesy and dressed in white). The 6 episodes are all standalone, but all revolve around Momo and naturally, death. Each story chronicles how various people deal with the idea of death in their lives, whether it be their own, or that of someone close to them. Not all 6 episodes deal with death, but they all do share a link to it in one way or another.
Part of the problem with this show is its slow pacing. Nothing much really happens as the moment of truth approaches, and a lot of the show revolves around introspection. While it is somewhat interesting at times to see how each different individual may deal with such a touchy subject, all in all, it turns out pretty bland, and not much really happens.
One thing that could have made this a bit more interesting is in its use of characters. Momo, despite being the main character and common link between episodes, really doesn't play all that active of a role. She is, more often than not, just an observer or bystander of what is actually going on. You'd think that given the title, this show is about her, but nope. You really get 6 standalone episodes with a common bystander. She doesn't even really do much outside of observe, there's very little depth to her character and it really hurts the show, as you don't develop any type of attachment to the characters as they are just there for 20 minutes and then you never see them again.
The other characters, who the stories are actually about, do comprise a decent cast, and that's more because of how they choose to react to the situation at hand. Each of the reactions are unique, so you get a bunch of different perspectives. This helps keeps the show fresh and helps overcome the snail pace and lack of stuff happening. Ultimately though, it still isn't enough as it still doesn't make the show memorable.
The art is standard anime fare. It's one of those shows where you see it and say, that's anime, but nothing noteworthy that stands out.
Overall, not really a great show to watch, but not bad thanks to its length. It is an ok time-waster if you don't want to dedicate several hours to get through standard length series.
Good: decent supporting cast, show isn't too long
Bad: slow pacing, lack of strong lead character, not much happens
Overall: 5.3 / 10
1st July 2007
Gokujou Seitokai (Best Student Council) Review
So apparently getting a real job means I neglect to update my journal. I'm actually at a lost of what to review, but since Gokujou Seitokai is currently being released in North America, I figure I might as well get it out of the way. :
Gokujou Seitokai is the story of a girl named Rando Rino who is a freshman at Miyagami Academy. Very quickly, she is inducted into the student council as secretary, and finds that they wield an incredible amount of power within the school. The show really doesn't have much of a plot until near the end, when the viewer is finally privy to the secrets of the Jinguji family and that of the president, Jinguji Kanade. The rest of the show is really just a slice of school life show where most characters get their five minutes of fame, before the show shifts to another character.
This seems to be a running theme nowadays with anime, where in a 26 episode show, the first 10 or so are devoted to random stuff happening, before actually diving into the real plot almost half way through. Gokujou Seitokai is much worse at this, since the real plot doesn't take off until the episode count is in the 20s (note that the show has only 26 episodes). There were always hints at a plot throughout the series though, but those generally get forgotten as the show progresses. My impression when watching this show is that the writers just wrote from episode to episode, rarely ever remembering what had transpired previously. The worst example of this is the rushed explanation of who Pucchan (Rino's living puppet) is until the very last episode, which doesn't line up with the past that we are privy to in earlier episodes.
Plot issues aside, another problem is in the writing itself. This is supposed to be a comedic slice of life series, but the comedy falls flat a lot. Add to that the repetition of some of the jokes, and the end result is a show that quickly loses its charm.
A large part of the problem with this show is the monstrous cast. Just to give an example of how big the cast is, each character is identified in the opening credits, and then is identified again in their first appearance of the show. Just forcing an identification in the show is already a sign that the cast is too big, but to do it more than once, should set off numerous alarms. Because the cast is so damn big, by giving each semi-important character an episode, it leaves very few for actual plot, since most of the cast don't have a role in the main plot. Another side effect of this is that it is pretty hard to remember those characters who only have their one episode, and maybe show up 2 or 3 more times throughout the course of the show.
As for the individual members of the cast itself, very few are memorable with the exception of the executive of the student council and a few others. They aren't even memorable in a good way ie. they don't have strong personalities or characteristics. Starting with Rino, she is a poor lead character as she really doesn't do anything. She is just along for the ride, and it is her puppet, Pucchan, that does the brunt of carrying this show. Pucchan is the antithesis of a hero, as he is brash, rude and very outspoken, not to mention that he looks more like he belongs in Sesame Street than in anime. However, this shtick gets old very fast, and he becomes more of an annoyance than anything else. Unfortunately, there is nobody else who is a strong enough character to carry this show, so it basically sinks into mediocrity. The fact is, none of the other characters really have any depth, and given how little time there is for character development, it is easy to see why.
The artwork is simplistic, and at some points, this is incredibly obvious. While Gokujou Seitokai has its own unique style, it isn't the most aesthetically pleasing at times. That said, Gokujou Seitokai suffers from "identify by hair" syndrome at times, since the style used for faces is very generic. For the most part though, the animation does its job.
In the end, Gokujou Seitokai really doesn't pull off what it intended to do. This is a show that could have benefited by having significantly more structure, in terms of plot, characters and how these two aspects fit together. For a large portion of the show, these two aspects are really at conflict with one another and the end result is a mess.
For people who want a comedic, slice of life high school show, there are many better options out there (such as Azumanga Daioh or Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou). Similarly for those who want something a little more plot driven (like Full Metal Panic). Given the market that this show is targeting, it just can't stack up with many of the other shows out there. For those who were thinking of watching this, I would personally recommend passing this one up and spending your time and/or money elsewhere.
Good: clean animation most of the time
Bad: too many characters, plot is not developed, rushed explanations, generic art
Overall: 4.0 / 10
12th May 2007
I was going to start this review off by saying that Basilisk will be the closest thing to an anime version of Romeo & Juliet, but the anime industry just had to one up me and actually produce an anime version of Romeo & Juliet (currently airing). That said, it doesn't for one minute change the fact that Basilisk is still pretty damn close to, quite possibly, the Bard's most famous tragedy. :
The story of Basilisk involves two ninja clans with a long history of bloodshed and hatred between them, the Iga and Koga. Due to a pact overseen by the Hattori clan, the two clans have been part of a peace which has been grudgingly imposed on many of the clan members. Complicating matters is that to determine his successor, Ieyasu Tokugawa will be breaking the peace and will use a battle between 20 of the top ninjas of the two clans as the basis. Involved in this battle are Gennosuke and Oboro, who are in love and betrothed to marry, despite being of opposite clans.
While Basilisk doesn't have the same "run away together" plot that was part of Romeo & Juliet, it still has the same setup of opposing clans and doomed love. The plot progression is also fairly similar, although Basilisk invokes a lot more bloodshed and death. I won't go so far as to say that Basilisk is a blatant copy of Romeo & Juliet, but it is pretty darn close. To be fair, it presents the Bard's tale in it's own unique manner but adding a much needed Japanese aesthetic that allows Basilisk to remain fresh in its own right.
Aside from the star-crossed lovers aspect of the story, the rest of the plot is pretty much just a segue from fight to fight, as the list of ninjas is slowly whittled down to 1 a side (and it's pretty easy to figure out who will be the last 2 standing). I would normally see this as a negative, but most of the fights are quite impressive. This is in part due to the creative powers given to the ninjas involved with the conflict as well as some superb technical work. Another aspect to the conflicts is that the viewer is truly given the impression that these people are ninjas, there is, at times, a high degree of stealth and cunning involved in many of these fights.
The characters are a little on the weak side. Aside from a very select few (ie. the ones that don't die early), we aren't really privy to much development. Most of the ninja show up, use their powers a bit, possibly kill someone (or a couple of people), and eventually end up dead. It's hard to remember every single character and its worse when some of them show up just to get diced to bits by some other forgettable character. Coincidentally, it seems that the uglier or abnormal a character is, the quicker they get offed in this show. The one major disappointment for the characters for me were Gennosuke and Oboro. They have potentially the strongest powers of all the ninja (an argument could be made for Tengen), but rarely ever get to use it. They basically introspect a lot, and have to be ushered around all the time. The worst injustice though, was Tengen's ninja power, which is basically regeneration. I freakin' hate characters who special ability is that they can basically survive anything because they have some random auto-regeneration ability.
The artwork of Basilisk is very good. All the main and supporting characters are unique and identifiable (even if they are only around for a couple of episodes). The special effects look very good and fights are fluid and smooth.
If one wanted to see Romeo and Juliet with ninjas, I'd highly recommend Basilisk. Even on its own merits, Basilisk is more than good enough to warrant a watch. I guess the only people who shouldn't watch this are those who just plain don't like ninjas, cause there are lots of them here.
Good: lots of ninjas, very solid artwork and animation, solid take on star crossed lovers story, fights are impressive with creative powers
Bad: most characters aren't developed well, stupid regenerating villain
Overall: 7.8 / 10
19th March 2007
Shura no Toki Review
There's just something about the shonen genre of anime that is so infuriating sometimes. It's as if the writers think that if they keep pumping out the same old, same old, the viewers will keep coming back for more, which is really what Shura no Toki is all about. :
Shura no Toki chronicles 3 generations of the Mutsu family, practitioners of a seemingly invincible martial arts style, known as Mutsu Enmei Ryu. What is notable about this style is that it is a weaponless style that is rumoured to have never been defeated, even with the aid of weapons. Each of the 3 generations is represented by one member of the Mutsu family, who coincidentally all look the same and wear the same clothes. Really what the show is about is showcasing various famous Japanese martial artists putting their own unique styles against Mutsu Enmei Ryu. So we get to see figures like Miyamoto Mushashi, Yagyu Jubei and Okita Shouji showcased in this show.
At the end of the day, however, Shura no Toki falls into the many pitfalls of other shows within the genre. It is pretty formulaic, there's a lot of standing around talking about how buff someone is, or how someone is going to get beat, and eventually, a few minutes of action to finally conclude all the taunting, posing and standing around. If you've seen one shonen show like this, you've pretty much seen them all, and yet, somehow in 26 episodes, this happens at least 5 times.
The attempt at having backstory to lead up to the dramatic fights, I found to be average at best, and at other times, just downright tiresome. There is a huge amount of time spent leading up to the fights, but like most shonen shows, the fights end in a couple of minutes, so unless you enjoy all that build up, which sometimes really has very little to do with the climatic fight, you'll probably be bored out of your skull until the fight takes place.
The characters are pretty bland. Each of the three members of the Mutsu family looks exactly the same, and generally acts like the others, so there isn't all that much there. They are generally happy-go-lucky, but get into fights for little to no reason. I guess there's supposed to be some honour in testing one's strength, but I personally would have preferred that the people who were fighting had better reasons than to see if they were strong. The only cast members who do stand out are the ones who end up going against the Mutsu Enmei Ryu. They're supposed to be legendary warriors, so it is to be expected. However, aside from they prowess as fighters, they lack any other depth as characters. A lot of the show draws on their desire to fight strong opponents, so it makes them seem somewhat shallow.
On it's own, technically the show doesn't look too bad, but when compared to other action shows of its time, like Samurai Champloo or Samurai 7, Shura no Toki just looks incredibly bland and dated. It doesn't have the fluidity of the fights in Samurai Champloo, nor the unique designs of Samurai 7. Considering what it was up against, Shura no Toki was basically left in the dust of its brethren. The irony is that you don't really need good animation to animate people standing around most of the time.
Those weened on Dragonball or other shonen shows of the like may find that there is something in Shura no Toki for them. Otherwise, pass up on this show, as there are much better shows out there.
Good: good if you like typical shonen shows
Bad: bland characters, loose plot doesn't always tie in with climatic conflicts, characters are dull, technically behind similar shows of the time
Overall: 2.1 / 10
6th March 2007
Hoshi no Koe (Voices of a Distant Star) Review
Hoshi no Koe is truly unique in the field of animation. While it is only the length of 1 standard television episode, it just might be some of the most satisfying time spent watching anime. :
The story is focused on two characters, Nagamine Mikako and Terao Noboru. The setting of this OVA is a somewhat more futuristic Earth that has made contact with, and is in conflict with, an alien race, known as Tarsians. Mikako is selected as part of the UN special forces, and is sent into space to search for the Tarsians. The OVA shows her long-distance (and I mean, long) with Noboru as she travels further and further away from Earth. By the end of the video, she has arrived at a planet near the star, Sirius, which is 8.6 light years away. Because of this, transmissions (made via cell phone) take that long between her and Noboru.
One of the major themes of this work is the preservation of thoughts (and probably feelings) represented by the phone messages, regardless of time and distance. We constantly are shown the thoughts of the two characters as they physically drift further away, but are reminded that those thoughts are still preserved and transmitted even with the distance between them.
The writer of this video (Makoto Shinkai) has done an effective job of wrapping the story around the characters. At it's heart, Hoshi no Koe is very much a character piece, and the story never threatens to overwhelm them. Certainly, the story blends well with the thoughts and feelings of the characters.
The characters themselves recieve as much depth as can be afforded them, given the length of the piece. With roughly 25 minutes to work with, these characters are developed as much as we could possibly hope for. The viewer is able to empathize very easily with both characters and while some may have made different choices in their situations, their thoughts and actions are very easily to understand. To be honest, there is more character development and exploration in these 25 minutes than there are in some full length series, which just goes to show how well they are written.
The animation for the most part, is stunning for its time. Even though it came out in 2002, it could very well be a modern day release. There are some flaws though. The 2D animation of Hoshi no Koe, does not stack up anywhere near as well as its 3D animation. That is where the technical aspects shine, as there are great 3D ships, and mechs as well as wonderful lighting effects. The 2D work is adequate, but the lack of polish is there when melded in with its 3D counterpart.
Those looking for a short and enjoyable flick, should give this a go. It is one of the best short films out there, animated or otherwise.
Good: great 3D animation, well developed characters, story does not overwhelm characters
Bad: 2D animation flaws stand out relative to stunning 3D work
Overall: 8.2 / 10
23rd February 2007
25 Down, So What's Changed?
As per usual, the entry after a multiple of 25 review is some sort of personal commentary about what the heck is going on. : With regards to scoring
So, with regards to the reviews, I've noticed that I've been scoring slightly more harshly than before. While it may also be because there aren't as many super-duper shows being produced on a yearly basis than say in a 10 year period, don't expect to see many more reviews with scores greater than 9 to be pumped out. Part of this is because once you've watched so many, it's harder to find something fresh and original that merits this. Granted, you don't have to be fresh to get a good score. A good example would be Fate/Stay Night which scored an 8.5, and in all honesty earned that mark solely on solid storytelling and character development, not on originality. However, the "seen it before" syndrome sets in after awhile, and so new shows just aren't that impressive. A show like Strawberry Panic! might have made a bigger impact on me had Maria-Sama ga Miteru not been seen first, since it seems like Strawberry Panic! is simply riding the success of Marimite and pumping in a bunch of fanservice to gain wider appeal. In any case, for those regular readers, expect somewhat harsher scores, but also remember that the grading is still done on a relative basis, so the scoring shouldn't be out of whack.2005, Ignorantly bashed
After review 50, I came down pretty hard on the anime that came out in 2005. My bashing was based on the notion that the quality shows that came out that year were all sequels, or ripped off of some prior idea. In retrospect, this opinion was a little misinformed, and in all honesty, all it took was one show to change that opinion. That show was Aria the Animation, which is as good a show as any of the top quality shows that has come out in recent years. A wonderfully unique and original show that really doesn't get the attention it deserves. There were also other solid anime debuts that year, such as Honey and Clover, Kamichu and Zettai Shonen so 2005 was not a bust (still needed more 8 point caliber shows though).2006, Comeback Year
So what happened this year? Tons of new, original shows that had a lot of hype in the online community. The start of the year belonged to Fate/Stay Night, and it delivered in spades. Burdened with the expectations of the fans of being both the follow up for Type-Moon to Tsukihime as well as the anime translation of the Fate/Stay Night game (one of the best selling visual novels of all time), the anime had a lot to live up to. Honestly, I thought it came through, but a lot of people were dissatisfied with it. In any case, it set the standard for the rest of the year, and lots more came out to be excited about. If the start of the year belonged to Fate/Stay Night, then undoubtedly, the next season was the summer of Haruhi. Even as Fate/Stay Night began to lose a little steam, Suzumiya Haruhi was there to pick up the slack. A delightfully witty and smart comedy, Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu (The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi) became the next big thing and tons of fans across the internet became part of Haruhi-ism. So what was there to close out the year? This I would have to hand to either NHK ni Youkoso! or the Kanon remake (ugh). While I haven't watched either of these shows, a show that many claim is the show of the year (NHK) over both Fate or Haruhi must have some merit to it. Personally I think that Kanon is just riding the popularity of the original Kanon, but many fans think otherwise.
So, what else happened in 2006? Biggest pleasant surprise is currently Rec, which proves that short and sweet is still a powerful combination. There were, of course, disappointments. Utawarerumono had a great start, but faltered at the end, while Ouran High School Host Club fell to the hype machine. The sequel train moved on, with School Rumble, Ah! My Goddess and Honey and Clover putting out second seasons that generally maintained the status quo (in terms of quality). OVA transitions were also evident at the end of the year with Mai Otome, Maria-Sama ga Miteru, and Genshiken all getting the OVA treatment. In a somewhat surprising move, Kujibiki Unbalance made the reverse transition, and got a full season instead of a second season of Genshiken.
2006 was definitely a great year for new, original anime. I'm still looking forward to NHK ni Youkoso as well as Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, the latter which may serve as a standard in horror/mystery anime. Ergo Proxy also looks to be a solid show with a dark edge to it.So What Else is There
One thing that has been bugging me for a long time is the rating for individual group releases at anidb.info. I personally love anidb and think it is a great anime resource, but the comments that some people put there are just asinine. These comments tend to be focused on fansubs, although there are many that are based on R1 rippers. I know that I'm not the only one who is disgusted with the system, as fansub group, The Triad, have also spoken out against them (they are awesome fansubbers, btw, even if they prefer lolicon stuff). My main problem is that the comments are almost always based on the video quality. While that is nice and all, I personally think that if people are going to make comments on a fansub release, they should be knowledgeable enough to make comments on the quality of the subbing ie. translation, grammatical correctness, typesetting. It makes me cringe when I see someone post a comment about how the english grammar of a fansub is correct, yet the comment itself is full of grammatical errors. It makes me question whether the commenter is actually fluent in english and has enough grasp of english grammatical rules to make an educated assessment of the quality of the subs.
The point that the Triad (and I) also hate is the comment that lack of karaoke means a crappy sub. No, it doesn't. Personally, if it gets the subs out faster, I'd rather see no karaoke at all in fansubs. It's not as if I ever tend to sing along to them. I rarely ever watch opening or closing credits more than once, so it's just more added fluff and work for the subbers. For some reason though, a lot of fans tend to like these, and really, I'd like to know why.
The last issue that I have is the rating system at anidb. For a lot of releases, it's ok, but when it come to one group being the only group subbing a series, that group's rating will get a mysterious jump in their ratings (something similar, albeit significantly less pronounced also happens with speed sub releases). It's as if the mentality is that since that one group is the only one subbing the series, they should automatically be rewarded and not held to the same quality standard as other groups. This happened to Your-mom who found themselves the sole fansubber of School Rumble ni Gakki as well as 3WA, sole fansubber of Gokujou Seitokai. Your-mom's release got an astounding, 48 scores of 10 and 38 scores of 9 for their subs. Anyone who's seen their subs should immediately realize that this is just wrong. While a lot of people (myself included) appreciate their hard work, it is just rife with grammatical and translation errors (when you completely mess up subbing english in english, you know you need to take a serious look at your quality control). 3WA's work on Gokujou Seitokai is significantly better. There are a few minor grammar issues, but this could possibly be an english dialect issue (the group is Australian). Of course, when I read comments like "The english translation is exceptional..." and still see errors, it makes me cringe. I'm not saying that their translation is bad, in fact, it is quite good (especially for a first time release), but I'm probably just lashing out more at the comments made about it.
As a disclaimer, I will point out that I have previously worked in fansubs (no, I will not tell you on which one), so I know the pressures involved in getting quality work out on a timely basis.
Hmm...this post is getting really long, so I'll just quit while ahead, and stop here. Thoughts? Opinions? Am I completely off my rocker?
21st February 2007
75th Review: Haibane Renmei
Normally I reserve review numbers that are multiples of 25 for that special anime out there that just knocks my socks off (well, I messed up on 25 and reviewed Elfen Lied one review too early, 50 was Genshiken). This one is no exception. Haibane Renmei is an excellent show that every anime fan should watch at some point. :
The plot of Haibane Renmei revolves around a girl named Rakka. At the start of the series, she finds herself emerging from a cocoon in a brand new world. She learns that she is a haibane, beings that have wings and halos (which makes them look very similar to angels). The haibane live in a walled city called Glie, and Rakka's specific home, known as Old Home, is one of two locations that haibane inhabit within the city. While in the cocoon, Rakka dreams that she is falling from the sky, which is used as the basis for her name.
The first half of the show depicts Rakka getting used to her new surroundings, as well as coming to terms with the departure of Kuu (known as a Day of Flight), another of the haibane that she lives with and her own sins. The second half of the show is about Reki, who is looked up to as the leader of the haibane at Old Home. This part of the story deals with Reki's troubled past as well as Rakka's struggles to assist Reki with Reki's Day of Flight.
While the plot doesn't sound like the most riveting thing in the world, the execution of it is astoundingly brilliant. The pacing, while a little on the slow side, fits perfectly with the story and characters. Conflicts are handled very well, and resolved in a timely and concise manner. While watching the show, one is never left with the feeling that the writers left out anything that the viewer should know, despite the fact that there are things that are left ambiguous.
One of the great achievements is the depiction of the city inhabited by the haibane. I never once had the thought that this place didn't make sense or couldn't exist. It isn't the ideal society, but it is very realistic for that world. The people are nice, but human at the same time. I think that therein lies the greatness of the world, which is that the people in it are easy to relate to and understand. There are no ulterior motives, no sinister plots, just simple everyday life for everyone there. The writers did a great job of making a world that is both believable but one that also draws the viewer into it.
The situations depicted in the show are also well presented. They are not overly dramatic nor rely on over-reacting to carry the story. They deal with very down to earth, human issues and that makes the story much easier to relate to and understand. While the haibane do have some supernatural issues to deal with due to their "angelic" physical traits, how they deal with them is still very human and easy to sympathize with.
I've already mentioned the humanity of the characters. This is something very common to all the characters. Whether it is a lead, supporting or background character, they are all portrayed as normal people. However, each of the main characters has their own unique characteristic that makes them stand out and easily remembered. At the forefront, of course, are Reki and Rakka. As most of the show does revolve around the two of them, they need to be the ones that carry the show. Both of these characters are written in that way and turn out to be great characters. Rakka's progression from that of a confused, green girl to that of one of the belonging members of Old Home is wonderful to see. Conversely, Reki's role as the maternal leader of Old Home who tries to deal with her own inner issues independently is also a great journey to watch. They are great characters in that they are not static but are either evolving or showing the viewer other layers to them.
The characters are possibly the one low point, if you can call it that, of this show. What I mean is that some characters just don't get as much development as the two leads, but what the viewer is shown is that these characters still have unexplored depth to them. Mainly, this point is about the other haibane at Old Home, who are always there, but are never really the focus of the story. I wouldn't mind a few OAV episodes devoted to explore the nuances of these characters, but given the number of episodes the series does have, I think it was good to just focus on Reki and Rakka.
While some may not like the artwork, I found the subdued colour scheme to be both beautiful and effective. It certainly works to portray the somewhat primitive nature of the town as well as the simplicity of the life that exists in Glie. The animation also tends on the simplistic side, but is very effective and the show itself leads itself towards a simple approach, and the total package is one that is quite nice to look at.
The music is also something I will comment on (which is rare since I don't do it very often). The music, is both superb on its own, but it truly finds its place as part of this show. Quite varied in mood, it does a wonderful job at portraying the mood and atmosphere of the situation at hand.
Overall, there isn't too much to nitpick on at all with this show. Indeed, it is one of the few total packages out there, and certainly a gem that tends to get buried in a flood of fast-paced shonen anime or fanservice laden harem anime. However, for any anime fan, pick this up, you won't be disappointed.
Good: great story execution, wonderful characters, effective use of art and music
Bad: side characters could use more development
Overall: 8.7 / 10
25th January 2007
Every once in awhile, I think that I would like to watch a show where the characters act like regular people and do regular things. Then I realize that Lamune is a show just like that and realize that it isn't always a good idea. :
Based on a dating sim, Lamune is mainly the story of Tomosaka Kenji and Konoe Nanami, childhood friends who live next door to each other. Lamune is the story of their everyday life in high school as they grow up, as well as telling stories about their friends.
If there was a single genre that Lamune fits under, it is firmly a slice of life show. While there is a little comedy, a little drama, and a little romance, none of these is ever really the focus of the entire show. It is more written as an attempt to portray a firm, warm relationship between two people growing up. In many ways, Lamune is very different from most other dating sim translations. Since it is based on a dating sim, there is obviously a disproportionately higher number of females relative to the number of males in the cast. However, very few of them actually become remotely close to a romantic interest for the male lead, Kenji. In fact, throughout the entire series, it is pretty obvious that nothing is really going to come between Kenji and Nanami.
While different, there is a big issue with the plot of Lamune, and that is that nothing really happens. It really just goes from story to story, without really developing much and the characters tend to stay the same. Like most other dating sim or hentai game translations, there is at least one episode devoted to each major female in the cast, so a lot of the episodes don't exactly tie together well, giving each episode even more of an episodic feel as well as creating a sense of disjointedness between them. Only at the very end of the series is there a significant change in the story that forces any sort of change in character. While the last couple of episodes are certainly more engaging than the rest of the series, it doesn't make up for a significant amount of nothing at the start.
The characters are the other letdown of the show. While I do enjoy their relative realism, the fact of the matter is, most of them are just bland characters. There's nothing really engaging about most of them or they are just really annoying (as is the case with Kenji's friend and Kenji's cousin). While there's nothing necessarily dislikeable about most of the cast, there's nothing there to like either. Most of the characters also lack traits that make them stand out, and so the cast tends to be forgettable.
The artwork is clean and there isn't a need for state of the art animation. There are a couple of nice scenes throughout the show, but nothing spectacular that separates Lamune from the rest of the pack.
Overall, I would have to say a nice effort by the writers for trying something a little different, but the product still needed something to hook the viewer. For those who do want something easy going and enjoy a little romance, I might recommend this, but there are better shows. For this type of slice of life high school show, To Heart might be a better choice, and a much better high school romance is Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou.
Good: different than most dating sim conversions, easygoing
Bad: nothing that hooks the viewer, plot and characters are on the bland side
Overall: 5.0 / 10
16th January 2007
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shambala Review
Whenever I hear that a movie is being made as an addendum to a popular, long running series, I always get a feeling of dread when I think about what the end product will be. More often than not, the movie will end up being a significantly inferior product when compared to the show that preceded it. The FMA movie is no exception. :
Taking place a few years after the end of the series, The Conqueror of Shambala tells of Ed's time in our world and Al's search for a way to bring Ed back to their world. Throw in some nazis, a bit of travel between the worlds, and finish off what is left of the homonculus, and you get a mishmash which can be called a movie of sorts.
So some people were wondering what happened to the cast after the end of the series, but really, most of us were satisfied with the ending. At least the amount of closure that the original ending provided. There really isn't any point to this movie, except to cash in on what was an incredibly popular series. The ending of this movie is slightly more conclusive than that of the series, but not much so.
Part of the problem with this movie is that because so much happens in it, the pacing is just way too fast. I commented before about how the pacing of the TV series picked up in the last several episodes (partially so it could finish within a set number of episodes), but the movie ramps it up even further. A lot more happens in this hour and fourty five minutes than in several episodes of the TV series. Unfortunately, that means that the situations are never properly explained, the new characters are never properly developed and it stands in stark contrast to the TV series which went at a pace that the viewer could absorb everything that is happening in an easy fashion. With this movie, turn away for a few minutes and you've probably missed something important to the overall story that the writers are attempting to tell.
The new characters that are added to the cast do more to detract than to add to the movie. This is mainly because there just wasn't enough time to develop them. Dietlinde Eckhart, the main antagonist, is a simple villain in that her entire goal is to conquer Ed's world. How she plans on doing so is very contrived, as it is very evident that she knows little to nothing about that world (aside from the fact that there seems to be what she would consider to be magic there). The only reason why she is remotely a threat to Ed's world is because of a convenient plot device that gave her ship some uber-cannon and some freaky black sludge when she passed through the gate. It is possible that given time, this could have been properly fleshed out, but in the context of this movie, it is just something that the viewer has to accept as logical.
For the returning cast, there is little to no development whatsoever with their character from the end of the TV series. This is either a good or bad thing, but it would have been nice to see a little bit of development for some of the more important characters.
If there is one area that deserves some praise, it is in its technical aspects. Continuing and improving on the strong art and animation of the TV series, one expects solid art and animation and this movie delivers in spades. It is darker in tone though than the TV series, but that also due to the darker nature of the story. The older character designs also fit well with the TV series, and the characters do look like they have matured physically.
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shambala comes off as an overly ambitious project where the writers bit off more than they could chew. I couldn't help shake the feeling that had this movie been stretched out over say, 13 episodes, it would have gone a lot further as the extra time could have been used to properly explain what was happening and develop the characters and plot further. As it stands, while technically great, it really disappoints relative to the excellent TV series.
Good: technical work is great, nice character designs
Bad: rushed plot, poor character development, watching TV series first is a must
Overall: 5.5 / 10
5th January 2007
Ayashi no Ceres Review (Ceres, Celestial Legend)
When I reviewed Fushigi Yuugi back in April, an anonymous poster kinda took offense to my review, so before I continue, I'd probably recommend that they not read this one, since this review will also not be favourable. :
Before I even started watching Ayashi no Ceres, I had actually inquired as to whether I should watch this considering that I did not enjoy Fushigi Yuugi (another work by Yuu Watase). The general consensus was that I shouldn't. Despite that, I still decided to give Ayashi no Ceres the benefit of the doubt and watch it. In retrospect, I should've taken everyone's advice.
The plot of Ayashi no Ceres revolves around a seemingly ordinary girl named Aya. However, on her 16th birthday, her family tries to kill her. She soon finds out that she is the reincarnation of a celestial being known as Ceres, and that at times Ceres can manifest herself and take over Aya's body. She is saved from her family by Aogiri Suzumu and Aogiri Yuuhi. Aya's life is also later saved by a man named Touya who works for her family, and who Aya falls in love with. The rest of the story is mainly about Aya and Ceres' struggle to regain her celestial robe so that Ceres can regain her power, although for Aya it is more about saving her family.
While the story itself itsn't all that bad (it is actually based on a folktale which exists in numerous cultures), the execution is. This mainly stems from the utterly poor attempts at character development of the two main leads, Aya and Touya. The two characters occupy so much screen time and really do very little to actually advance the story that the main plot ends up taking a back seat to their relationship, which is unrealistically developed. The main plot in itself really had a lot of potential, but by the time any of it was developed, the viewer is already put through the wringer of watching a boring romance between two sterile characters.
The characters are really the one aspect of this show that drags it down. Aya is one of the most annoying leads I've ever seen in a show. If anyone has seen Fushigi Yuuhi, they may have been turned off by the fact that Miaka in that show doesn't do anything. Aya is pretty much the same, except she also spends nearly all of the show in a "Woe is me! Why is this happening to me?" state. Ok, so her family suddenly wants to kill her, but geez, the amount of self pity that she lathers on herself is way too much. It probably wouldn't be so bad if it didn't take away screentime from the much more interesting Ceres. Since they do occupy the same body, only one of them can be active at a time, and it was infinitely more interesting to see Ceres on her quest for revenge and to attain her robe back than it was to watch Aya cry in a corner. However, Ceres really doesn't get all that much screentime, and so the show ended up not developing one of the more interesting characters for a relatively static one.
Touya is the other main problem with the cast. He's the typical stoic pretty boy. That's pretty much it. He never changes over the entire course of the show. I never found him interesting and there is very little to his actual character. Ultimately, it caused me to root for anyone but him whenever he got into a fight, because I just wanted to see him get beat. That said, one of the most satisfying moments of the show is when Aya's brother maniacally pumps bullet after bullet into his body. Of course, the writers couldn't just keep going with a story when their oh so interesting male lead just got killed, so they brought him back to life a few episodes later, which (for me) is one of the most disappointing events in anime history.
The combined relationship between Aya and Touya is very unbelievable. They just love each other without ever really getting to know one another, except physically. They don't talk (I guess Touya's too cool for that), or really hang out, or do anything. They just arbitrarily decided that they love each other. It is a tough pill to swallow and then Yuuhi also falls in love with Aya for no good reason (probably because she's the lead). All of these relationships really take away from taking the show seriously because there isn't anything there to take seriously.
There is a lot of focus on Aya and Touya which really prevents any of the other characters to receive significant amounts of development. Yuuhi and Ceres don't get nearly enough screentime to really flesh out their characters, and lack depth because of it. Ultimately, the cast is very weak, and they really drag down the show since the story seems to depend very heavily on their development.
The artwork seems very much like that of Fushigi Yuugi, although given an upgrade. Nothing really special however, but adequate.
The amount of wasted potential in this show seems very reminiscent of that of Fushigi Yuugi, which also wasted a potentially interesting story. While Ayashi no Ceres does not suffer from the length of Fushigi Yuugi, it still has the problems with characterization which brings down Ayashi no Ceres' story more than that of Fushigi Yuugi. Pass this one up unless a fan of Yuu Watase.
Good: plot had potential, some characters seem interesting
Bad: Touya and Aya are bland, boring leads, plot never lives up to potential as focus is on Aya and Touya, supporting cast doesn't get enough development,
Overall: 2.0 / 10
19th December 2006
Mahoraba ~ Hearful Days Review
I just realized that my last two posts did not have the word "review" in the title. Oops. Well, the content is pretty self-explanatory. :
Normally, after I finish watching a show, I made a couple of notes about it so that I can remember stuff about it later when I go back to review it. Since I'm feeling incredibly lazy, I'm just going to review Mahoraba ~ Heartful Days right now instead of making notes.
Mahoraba is the story of Shiratori Ryushi, an 18 year old arts student who has just moved to Tokyo and to a apartment known as Narutakisou, so that he can attend a school there. There he meets Aoba Kozue, the landlady and 16 year old schoolgirl, and falls in love with her. Unknown to Shiratori, and also to Aoba, Aoba has multiple personality disorder, and will convert to another one of her 4 other personas if certain circumstances occur. The show is basically a slice of life show about Shiratori's life at Narutakisou and him getting tormented by the rest of the apartment residents.
If it sounds familiar, that's because it is. In fact, the basic premise is pretty much that of Maison Ikkoku's although there is more focus on humour than there was in Maison and Mahoraba is significantly more light-hearted. That said, Mahoraba is a decent show, but nothing special. I found that the episodes where Shiratori spent the entire time getting picked on and abused were especially tedious, since I had basically seen it all before. Of course, they can't show him actually stand up for himself because he's just that nice. In fact, he's so nice it makes me sick. A simple no in most of these situations would have saved his ass from numerous embarrassments or setbacks. The episodes that deal with the other residents were infinitely more entertaining, as they actually allowed the characters to develop somewhat.
I found the romance between Shiratori and Aoba to be forced at best. So why exactly do they like each other? Shiratori does simply because of her physical appearance, while Aoba has fond childhood memories of Shiratori (which he doesn't remember initially). That's pretty much the entire basis for why they like each other. I understand that this isn't a romance, but having seen so many shows where the only reason where two people like each other is just cuz, makes it harder to swallow each time one of them comes up. Perhaps my standards are too high from seeing shows like Maison Ikkoku (where the characters' relationships actually grows) or Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou (where the introspection allows us to see their perspectives on their significant others), but I would like to see a show that has a romantic subplot that doesn't feel tacked on for no significant reason. Then again, Aoba is a good cook and takes care of the apartment while Shiratori is a nice guy (who makes a hot girl according to his friend) so maybe there is actually some basis for their relationship.
I really didn't like the cast of this show. It mainly stems from the fact that most of the residents at Narutakisou are jerks. Aside from Asami, Sayoko and Aoba, all the other residents do is make Shiratori's life harder. There isn't even any reason as to why. They just do. Occasionally, they have a small moment of niceness, where they break out of their shells and actually do something decent, but more often than not, this just seems like a poor attempt at trying to get the viewer to like them. I can't say I like Aoba that much because if she really liked Shiratori, why doesn't she care that he gets in trouble all the time at school because he can never get his work done because of the other residents? At least Kyoko in Maison Ikkoku had the balls to (sometimes) control her residents. Aoba makes no attempts whatsoever. Shiratori is the typical nice guy who has to help out other people just because he's that nice. That's pretty much his entire character. Suffice to say, the characters really have very little depth to them, which makes it a bit harder to enjoy the show.
Ok, so I've ragged on the plot, and the writing, and the characters. Does that mean the show totally sucks ass? No, actually. As the title implies, the show isn't meant to be taken too seriously. It does do a decent job at presenting an easy-going atmosphere and if one approaches the show with that type of mindset, it can be an enjoyable experience. Some of the comedy works and some doesn't. The writing and storylines are crafted with this in mind, so in a sense, the writers actually achieved what they were planning on doing (sort of). Overall, the show ends up pretty decent, despite all the criticism I levelled at it.
The art is off. The characters do not look the age that they are supposed to, except Haibara and Asame. It's probably just the art styles, but these people do not look like teenagers/young adults. The art does work for the show though because there is quite a bit of abnormal stuff going on.
I can't really say I hated this show, but I also can't say I really enjoyed it. If one was in the mood for something light-hearted that they don't wish to take seriously, give Mahoraba a look. Otherwise, this should probably be passed over.
Good: decent light-hearted approach
Bad: unoriginal plot, dislikeable cast, art seems off
Overall: 6.5 / 10
29th November 2006
Groove Adventure Rave (Rave Master)
Ugh, Groove Adventure Rave is just another shining example of why shonen anime is so terrible most of the time. Incredibly formulaic, uninspired, unoriginal characters, and a storyline that seems to have been picked directly from another shonen show that happened to debut just a few years prior (Inuyasha). :
The story of Groove Adventure Rave is that of Haru, who is on the search for items known as Rave, which can power up his sword. Generally speaking, Rave is the only thing powerful enough to destroy items known as Dark Bring, which can be used to power up people and is being used by an organization known as Demon Card to control the world. Along the way, Haru brings together a ragtag bunch of people to join him, including a girl named Elie (who actually created Rave but doesn't remember), a silver master named Musica, and a couple of weird creatures, Plue and Griffon.
So yeah, the plot is the typical "let's go on a journey looking for something" similar to that of Dragonball or Inuyasha (which incidentally also has a giant, mystical sword). Everything that anime fans expect out of shonen anime is here. The long, drawn out fights, the even longer build ups to the fight of people standing around or talking about how they're going to kick the other person's ass, and the coincidental discovery of new powers either just before or during a fight that miraculously allow the heroes to pull through.
So 51 episodes later, we have a typical shonen show that has no redeeming values or anything original or interesting to attract people to the show. It also has an incredibly inconclusive ending. There really isn't anything that I found in this show that puts it above any other shonen show and like most shows in the genre, it feels like it never ends.
The characters also are the typical shonen cast. Haru is the normal, hot-headed hero who blindly rushes into combat, gets his ass beat, but makes the miraculous comeback at the end. Elie, despite having guns and a shitload of hidden magical power, spends more time playing the damsel in distress than actually doing anything useful. Musica is only character who is even remotely competent, but there are times when even he acts stupid and pays for it. As mentioned before, Plue and Griffon are just weird. There are also 3 guys who happen to show up time and time again with giant butts and who wear skin tight clothes, making for a very disturbing cast.
Like the heroes, the villians are typical shonen villians in that they are obviously strong enough to kill the heroes at anytime, but opt to wait it out for no real good reason. They also don't tend to finish off the heroes when given the opportunity, and thus, leave the opening for the "dramatic" comeback. Overall, the cast is not unique and really, they aren't even all that likeable in the first place. A definite thumbs down from me for the cast.
I didn't find the artwork to be particularly great. It looks very similar to One Piece at times, but there isn't anything that really puts it above and beyond any other show out there. Although, like most shonen shows, there are large clouds of dust everywhere.
Overall, this show really isn't my cup of tea. I can sort of see the appeal for those who really enjoy shonen shows, but even that context, I probably wouldn't rate this higher than an average show. Of course, I'm not rating it in that context so perhaps you may find my rating to be on the unfair side.
Good: may appeal to shonen fans
Bad: typical plot and characters, drags on for too long, no conclusive ending, really isn't anything that separates it from the herd
Overall: 1.8 / 10
22nd November 2006
Kino no Tabi - The Beautiful World (Kino's Journey)
When I first looked into watching Kino no Tabi, the premise of the show didn't seem too appealing. The whole idea of a guy (well, I thought Kino was a guy) and his talking motorcycle traveling from place to place did not seem like the kind of show that would be able to sustain an enjoyable plot or storyline for 13 episodes. Boy was I proved wrong. :
As I mentioned before, Kino no Tabi is the story of a traveller, Kino, and her talking motorcycle, Hermes. They travel from place to place, never staying longer than 3 days. Pretty much each episode is devoted to a different locale that Kino travels to, although some stories span multiple episodes and there is also an episode devoted to when Kino first decides to leave on her journey.
The point of Kino no Tabi isn't that of a continuing storyline. It is to showcase the beauty of the world that Kino lives in, despite the dark sides that many places have. Indeed, the theme of the dual nature of the world that she lives in just goes to emphasize that the world is in fact, a beautiful place. While there may be malicious people, unscrupulous practices, or even unfair or disgusting discrimination, the show doesn't try and hide it. The show tries (and succeeds) in showing that even though a visit to a location may not have been an ideal situation, there is still something to be retained from the experience of having gone there and from going through those trials; that really, the world is a beautiful place. Thankfully, the viewer is never slammed over the head with the theme, but are allowed to come to their own conclusions about Kino's world.
Another theme to the show is the diversity that exists in the world. Kino's visits to each place are unique because the places themselves are unique. There are different customs, different cultures, and different technologies. Not only does this make each place interesting, it makes the show interesting, as each episode remains fresh and original. It's not easy to predict what will happen from episode to episode, because there isn't really any way of determining the makeup of the next place that Kino journeys to.
I really have to say that I enjoyed Kino's character very much. She is realistic, and never jaded as to what may happen as she travels. She fully knows that there are bad people out there and people who don't have the same mindset and values as she does. Considering what she has to deal with in her travels, she is a very well balanced character. All too often writers have a need to put the hero on the high moral ground only to have it bite them in the ass later. This isn't the case with Kino. Yes, she is faced with tough ethical decisions, but she also makes tough ethical choices. Kino is refreshing in that she doesn't have a big morality stick that she bashes people over the head with. She makes decisions based on the current situation at hand. While the viewer may not always agree with Kino's choice of actions, it is hard to necessary disagree with her motivations behind them.
Being only 13 episodes, there isn't really too much else to the show. It is almost entirely focused on Kino's travels with Hermes, her experiences, and the places that she goes to. There really aren't supporting characters or sub plots or pretty much anything else that would detract from the primary purpose of the show. While some may argue this causes the show to lack depth in story and character, I found it to be an effective method of storytelling.
The art of Kino no Tabi is rather subdued. It reminded me at times of the tones used in Haibane Renmei to an extent, but it has a bit more variety due to the nature of the places that Kino travels to. The artwork overall is still rather nice and easy on the eyes.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this series. While it may not satisfy those who love deep, engrossing plots and characters, it is an excellent piece of work otherwise.
Good: solid theme presentation, good variety, keeps viewer interested and always intrigued as to where Kino will go
Bad: not really deep in terms of characters or storylines
Overall: 8.2 / 10
3rd November 2006
Fate/Stay Night Review
Quite possibly the most anticipated release of 2006, Fate/Stay Night doesn't disappoint. :
The followup to Type-Moon's Tsukihime, Fate/Stay Night was an immensely successful visual novel. Like Tsukihime, it received the anime treatment. In fact, Fate/Stay Night goes a long way to correct many of the mistakes that Tsukihime's conversion had, although this can be mainly attributed to the fact that Fate/Stay Night had an additional 11 episodes to work with.
Fate/Stay Night chronicles the story of Emiya Shirow, a seemingly ordinary boy, except that he has magical powers. He has the ability to reinforce objects via magic. He would be drawn into a battle known as the Holy Grail War after witnesses two men (who turn out to be servants) fighting at his school. Due to the secret nature of the war, one of the servants hunts him down and kills him, although he is revived by the master of the other servant. His active participation in the war begins when he inadvertantly summons his own servant, Saber. He learns that the purpose of the war is to attain the Holy Grail, a mystical artifact that has the power to grant wishes. As he gets more deeply involved with the war, he encounters other masters and servants and discovers many things about his past.
To be honest, I probably made the story seem a thousand times more bland than it actually is. Fate/Stay Night actually has a very engrossing storyline, all the more so because the servants are all legendary figures from various myths of the world. I was hooked pretty much once Saber appeared in the show (which was episode 3) and that's when the story really began to take off. When one looks at the amount of material that was available for Fate/Stay Night, it is pretty amazing that they managed to cram it all into 24 episodes (the same can be said of Tsukihime if all the stuff that was left out didn't leave so many damned holes in the story). Admittedly, the holes are there in Fate/Stay Night's story as well, just like Tsukihime, but the overall story is much more solidly presented. There are fewer glaring omissions and fewer questions that the viewer is left with after watching Fate/Stay Night. Obviously the writers saw what went wrong with Tsukihime and took measures to correct them, even though a lot of it was natural due to the longer length.
I applaud the approach that the writers took. Instead of trying to cram every single character's story in like most other hentai game conversions (see Air, Kanon, Da Capo), they stuck to pretty much one storyline and borrowed tidbits from others just to give some secondary characters a little depth. This was the same method used in Shingetsutan Tsukihime as well, but there it left an unfulfilled feeling because the side characters were sometimes more interesting than the leads. In Fate/Stay Night, very rarely are Emiya or Saber overshadowed by any of the secondary characters, except maybe Tohsaka or Archer on the rare occasion, and Tohsaka is practically a third main character herself (and well, Archer can't really overshadow Emiya, watch the show carefully and you'll understand).
That's not to say that Fate/Stay Night doesn't have its faults. Like Shingetsutan Tsukihime, there was just too much story to tell and there are still some unexplained concepts and some undeveloped characters (although they still managed time to have a filler episode). The focus on Emiya and Saber, in particular in the last several episodes, meant that some other interesting characters were neglected, like Tohsaka. However, Fate/Stay Night's story holds together very well, and the vast majority of oversights are minor details.
The ending is another aspect of the show that I would like to comment on. I don't know if this is a Type-Moon thing or not, but like Shingetsutan Tsukihime, Fate/Stay Night has a bittersweet ending. For me, the ending was rather enjoyable, as it wrapped up the story very nicely, and while the potential is there for a sequel, the odds are that most fans will not be disappointed with the way the series turns out even if there isn't one.
Before I get into the actual nature of the characters, I have to comment on the character design. I pretty much fell in love with Saber's character design before I even saw a single episode of the show (see avatar for this post). The design combined elegance, grace, beauty and power in a way I've never seen before in a character. This, unfortunately, made most of the other characters pale in comparison, as their designs seemed rather simplistic and a little crude, although the other female servants do look pretty good as well.
The characters themselves are a very good cast. For once, I finally get a solid resolution to the whole duty vs. emotions dilemma that most characters end up failing in other shows (irrationally picking emotion). The nature of the characters dictate that the story play out as it does, and really bring about a solid package. Saber is ruled by duty and honour and never strays from this, which makes her choice at the end all the more poignant because we get to see just how long she has been struggling with it. Shirow's idealistic nature is often challenged, it is in fact a running theme of the show, but he never steps out of character. In fact, the conflict between emotions and duty is something that most characters are challenged with in the show, and it makes them easier to relate to. The one character who doesn't really get the development needed is Sakura. Of any character in the show, her role in the show relative to her development is the weakest, and I would've liked to see the one episode of filler devoted more to her tragic past. That said, aside from Emiya and Saber, the pasts of most of the characters could have used a bit more fleshing out, but the viewer is shown enough about most of them to understand their situation.
The artwork is a little inconsistent at times. The use of lighting is especially good, but there are times when the animation seems a little off or a little sloppy. The CG dragon in one of the middle episodes is an example of an experiment gone wrong. It didn't fit in with the rest of the artwork, and some people even wondered what the point of it in the context of the story was. Overall though, the show looks rather good and having good character design to work from makes it easier.
As one of the first shows of the year, Fate/Stay Night certainly set a high standard for other shows to match. The extra length as opposed to Shingetsutan Tsukihime showed just how much adding depth to a story can improve on an otherwise solid work. Currently it stands as my pick of best anime release of 2006 (beating out heavyweight The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi), although this is pending my viewing of Aria the Natural.
Good: solid, engrossing story, some incredible character designs, good portrayal of characters, overall nice artwork
Bad: still a hole in story here and there, some minor characters are neglected, inconsistent art at times
Overall: 8.5 / 10
24th October 2006
D.C.S.S. - Da Capo Second Season
Moving right along with the Da Capo train wreck, we get the sequel to the original Da Capo series, aptly titled, Second Season (or DCSS for short). :
Picking up 3 years after the end of Da Capo, DCSS brings back the same cast of girls and of course, the male lead, Juniichi. Juniichi is in a state of depression due to the fact that Nemu left to attend nurses college. In the meanwhile, Kotori has been taking care of him. One day, a girl by the name of Aisha happens to stop by Juniichi's place, wanting to meet with his grandmother to learn magic. Learning that his grandmother is no longer around, Aisha switches her focus to Juniichi and comes to believe that Juniichi is a great mage (although all he can do is make sweets). Later on, Nemu returns, and there is a little turbulence between her and Juniichi. Eventually, Sakura returns, and Aisha wants Sakura to teach her magic, which Sakura refuses. Stuff happens, Juniichi and Nemu get married, the end.
Ok, so the plot doesn't sound so bad, except, what the hell was the point of watching these 26 episodes when we basically arrive back at the same point that the ending of the original Da Capo left us at? The structure of this show is very similar to that of the original with 1 or 2 episodes devoted to each girl, then a sad attempt at having a running plot at the end. What makes this series worse is that everything from DCSS we've pretty much seen in the original Da Capo and these episodes don't advance the characters any further. All the girls still have the "It's ok that we don't have Juniichi as long as he's with Nemu mentality" from the first season and that doesn't change at all as the series progresses. Aisha's development is retarded as she is a retarded character to begin with. Overly idealistic without a spec of logistic thinking within her head. Her belief that everyone can have Juniichi is incredibly flawed and her perspective that magic is inherently good is also stupid, although nobody for some reason tells her the dangers of magic. I can understand Sakura not really wanted to tell Aisha that she nearly killed Nemu with magic (end of Da Capo), but she can at least generalize by saying that Nemu was nearly killed by magic, and just not specifically implicate herself. Even for someone like Aisha, it should be easy to understand that good intentions don't always lead to good actions. In fact, Aisha nearly kills Nemu in the exact same way that Sakura did in the original Da Capo because everyone was too retarded to tell her the consequences of her actions.
I think the worse part of this season is the teasing that the writers inflicted upon the viewer. They specifically set up the beginning to potentially have Juniichi end up with Kotori (which would have been much better in my opinion, as she is a vastly more interesting character than Nemu), but basically bring back Nemu and shove Kotori back into the background. This whole reset is incredibly disappointing as I found Nemu to be the most uninteresting female from the original Da Capo and now she's back in the limelight, being just as uninteresting as she was in the first series.
I've already talked a lot about the characters, but the cast is much weaker in this series than they were originally. Most of them are the same, but afflicted with some kind of retard illness that prevent them from stopping Aisha from nearly killing their friend. Aisha is a terrible addition to the cast, as I just found her to be plain annoying and unrealistic. Kotori is much less of a character in this show as she is now very weak relative to her emotional strength from the first series. There is distinctly less screen time devoted to Moe, as she has now been relegated to an even less prominent role than in the first series (apparently nobody cares about you if you don't go to school). All in all, nothing new, no character development, just plain nothing added from the original cast and much taken away.
I will admit that the animation still looks good, but frankly, I put little stock into animation if the story and characters are as bad and redundant as they are in this show.
Overall, unless you REALLy like the original Da Capo, there is no incentive to pick up this show. It is a giant step back from the original which is saying a lot because the original wasn't good either.
Good: nice animation
Bad: little plot, bad plot, bad characters, most characters regressed from original series, Aisha is a bad addition to cast, doesn't develop at all on the story of the original.
Overall: 2.0 / 10
21st September 2006
Da Capo Review
Hmm...As I'm sitting here thinking of what to review, I am basically leaning either towards a really good show, or a really bad one. I opted for the latter, so without further ado, here's my Da Capo review. :
For those unfamiliar with the show, Da Capo is another one of those hentai games which was converted into an anime. For those who regularly read my journal, they will know that I do not generally hold these shows in high regard, and Da Capo fits well with the rest of its brethren.
Like most of these conversions, Da Capo took the easy harem road, and so the show revolves around one guy who has a gaggle of girls who follow him around. The guy in question goes by the name of Asakura Junichi, and he's the standard nice guy that appears in all these other harem shows. Well, he does have magical powers, but they are limited to being able to synthesize japanese sweets seemingly out of nothing. So yeah, there is a bit more than just the harem aspect as there is a magical element to the show. Some of the characters can use magic, some much better than others, and in fact, one of the main elements to the eventual plot is the use of magic.
The majority of the show revolves around the introduction of each girl, why they like Junichi, and an episode devoted to each girl for a small amount of character development. Considering there are 7 girls, that's 14 out of the total episodes gone with barely a lick of plot to be seen. Oh wait, that's not all. A decent chunk out of most episodes are side stories that have nothing to do with the show, except that the characters from the show are in it. The last bunch of episodes deal with what happens when a wish goes wrong and magic starts acting in ways that weren't intended. So really, a lot of the show isn't really about much.
The writers did try and show that one person's happiness is another person's sadness, but they balked at the end when faced with the tough decision. Frankly, I found how the characters were in the end incredibly unrealistic. The worst is how they deal with the relationship between Junichi and his sister, Nemu. In my Koi Kaze review, I mentioned how uncomfortable I was with the relationship between Koshiro and Nanoka, but I was just grossed out by Junichi and Nemu, and they aren't even biologically related. The problem for me is that they were raised as brother and sister. At least Koshiro and Nanoka didn't grow up together. Junichi and Nemu did, and yet still indulged in doing the nasty. Unlike in Koi Kaze where everyone who knew told the couple that what they were doing was wrong, the cast of Da Capo all pretty much say, "Oh, if it's Nemu, we don't mind". What the fuck!? The guy all these girls like is banging his sister and yet they all are able to suck it up and get on with their life.
Admittedly, I just didn't like Nemu all that much. The other girls were simply much more interesting even if they consistent of a lolita (who is of age), an energetic robot, a big-breasted, wispy voiced girl who is obsessed with nabe, an idol who could hear other people's thoughts, a catgirl, and the typical tomboy. I actually like Kotori a lot, as she seemed to be the one who had the hardest time out of all the girls (seeing as she had to try and be perfect all the time as she could read people's thoughts). She also had the guts to tell Junichi that she liked him (although she was rejected). I also liked Moe (big boobs), but mainly more for comedic value as it's a bit funny seeing her just go on and on about nabe, and it took a lot of edge off the show. For the most part though, the cast is very stereotypical, which may go to show how crappy of a character Nemu actually is.
In the end, Da Capo has nothing to offer over the next harem show and the incestuous relationship of Junichi and Nemu is just a huge deterrent for me. On a side note, I think this show has pretty much a zero percent chance of making it to North American soil due to the incest, so if you want to watch it, fansubs might be the only way to see it, not that I recommend it.
Good: Kotori had the guts to admit she liked the main male lead (in a harem no less), Moe is funny in a different sort of way.
Bad: standard harem fare, very little plot until the very end, lots of wasted time, stereotypical characters, accepted incest
Overall: 3.0 / 10
28th August 2006
Juuni Kokki (Twelve Kingdoms) Review
I've always loved fantasy. Perhaps it was the days of my youth spent reading the Hobbit and subsequently, the Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion, or the countless hours I've spent playing the many games in the Final Fantasy series, but I've always loved the notion of traveling to a different, mystic world where magic abounded and life was not confounded with the struggles of modern life. Thus, I'm constantly in search of great fantasy titles to watch. Juuni Kokki certainly does not disappoint. :
Juuni Kokki mostly revolves around Nakajima Youko, a seemingly ordinary, albeit quiet and reserved, high school student in Japan. However, one day she is confronted by a man in strange clothing carrying a sword by the name of Keiki. She, along with two classmates, would end up being transported by Keiki to a mysterious new world, where she eventually learns that she is the one who is destined to become emperor of the kingdom of Kei, one of the 12 kingdoms of this new world. The story then chronicles her rise as an emperor as well as telling the stories of other people from some of the other 12 kingdoms, although they all have a connection back to Youko in one way or another.
At first glance, the plot of Juuni Kokki seems like a typical girl in a magical world type of story seen in such shows as Inuyasha or Fushigi Yuugi. However, Juuni Kokki discards many of the unnecessary plot elements that tend to bog down other such fantasy shows. Gone are any type of superficial romance, with a much heavier emphasis on character study, growth and development. Indeed, the typical fantasy story of actual having a long quest in search of a mystical item/place or method to return home is largely abandoned. While Youko does spend some time in search of a way home, much more time is spent on her getting used to a new world and accepting the new world as her home. The show is also a lot more realistic in how it presents the characters dealing with being thrust into a strange, unfamiliar world. All too often, writers make it seem like integrating one's self into a totally foreign setting is a piece of cake, and that people won't notice, nor have any problems with someone who obviously does not belong to that world. Juuni Kokki does not try and sugarcoat this issue. Youko and her friends find that they must struggle with their new environment and that it isn't as grand or as ideal as they had expected. There are language barriers, the issues with appearance, as well as dealing with unfamiliar cultures and customs.
Even when Youko becomes emperor, not everything is hunky dory. The writers show the problems with suddenly being entrusted with the lives of a nation's citizens. Youko struggles to deal with the many issues of her nation and the overwhelming responsibility of trying to keep a nation's issues in order. The idealistic view of "once you're an emperor, you're set for life" is totally thrown out the window. Very rarely do the writers create situations where there is no character growth.
I have to admit that the first initial episodes are a little bit of a drag. However, once that introduction is finished with, the show is very engaging. While the characters start out as a bit naive, spoiled and somewhat annoying, this quickly changes when one sees the situations that they are thrust in. Their decisions, while perhaps not necessarily the most optimal choice, are still realistic and logical for people in that type of situation. There is a large emphasis on realistic story telling in Juuni Kokki, which just makes it all the more enjoyable. While there are fantastic elements, naturally as this is a fantasy show, There is nothing out there that will make the viewer roll his eyes and say, "That is just too fake".
I did find that the last arc seemed a little rushed and abrupt. I believe that this had to do with a lack of reference material for further episodes (the author of the novel that the show was based on had stopped writing) as well as some issues with members of the production team (illness related, I heard). It puts a bit of a damper on the conclusion of the show, as there really isn't one, and the last arc is subsequently the weakest of any arc in the show. It's a little sad to end the show on such a weak note when the rest of the show had been so strong to that point.
I love the characterization in this show. While the characters of Juuni Kokki don't quite reach the top of my most memorable characters, they are great characters in themselves. I really find little to dislike with pretty much any character in this show, even the so-called villains. I mean, I still didn't like some of them, but I understood their role in the story, what their goals are, how and why they change, and why they do what they do. The people of the show make logistic decision, act rationally and realistically, and are motivated by truly human desires and needs. I find it rare to find a show with such strong character development and to see a cast of characters that is so easy to connect to. I've read that the writers for the anime actually changed the novels a bit by ensuring that all the animated arcs are connected to Youko, and I do think that this works out quite well, as the viewer is able to connect more with Youko and to see how she is growing and understanding her new world. I didn't even like Youko initially, but after watching her struggle and grow, she is one of the great anime characters. I'm really glad that the writers did not write her to be the perfect princess type, but rather as someone who is strong yet also recognizes their own faults and shortcomings.
In all honesty, it's been awhile since I last saw Juuni Kokki, but I don't remember being wowed by the art and animation. It is noticeably darker than most shows, but it is a style that works for the show. It certainly works to match the harshness of most of the environs that the characters are thrust into.
Overall, if you like fantasy, pick up this title. Heck, even if you don't like fantasy, pick up this title. For a solid fantasy experience, you won't find too much out there that tops Juuni Kokki.
Good: solid writing, great characterization, impressive blend of realism and fantasy
Bad: a little bit of a slow start and a somewhat weak finish
Overall: 8.2 / 10
23rd August 2006
Revolutionary Girl Utena Review
For some reason, this show is screaming at me to write a review for it, despite the fact that I don't consider it an excellent show nor a mediocre one. :
The story behind Revolutionary Girl Utena unsurprisingly, revolves around Tenjou Utena, a girl who attends Ohtori Academy. She unwittingly gets involved in a series of duels for the hand of the Rose Bride, Utena's classmate, Himemiya Anthy. After winning her first duel with Saionji Kyoichi, she becomes the "owner" of Anthy, and the champion of the duels (ie. all duels are then challenges to Utena). Utena fights in the duels with the purpose of protecting Anthy from others. It is later revealed that the champion of the duels would be given the power to revolutionize the world (hence the title).
In a sense, when Revolutionary Girl Utena was released (back in 1997), it was revolutionary. The main character was a girl who (for the most part) doesn't act like a girl. Utena is pretty much a tomboy and is the lead of a show that in the eyes of many, has an unorthodox lesbian relationship between Utena and Anthy. Admittedly, Utena is not shown to be a lesbian, but many do view her and Anthy as a couple, especially because of the later released Adolescence of Utena movie (which was a rewrite of the Utena story). However, when one looks back on it, if Utena's sex is changed to male, it falls pretty firmly into that of a standard story with standard characters. Girls still act like girls, guys still act like guys. The only difference is, of course, that Utena is a girl. In many ways, Revolutionary Girl Utena is like a retelling of a standard fairy tale (if one ignores Utena's sex), with the prince coming to the rescue and protection of the princess.
As far as the plot goes, I found Revolutionary Girl Utena to be pretty bland until the final story arc. The first two just seemed like reasons to have duels over and over again, and even the third arc has a large number of duels to it as well. It is unfortunate because there is so much rehashed footage involved in the duels that the show has a tendency to drag on and on. In every duel, we are witness to Utena and Anthy's long transformation scene, the pulling out of the Sword of Dios, and the eventual Dios thrust (as I like to call it) by Utena to end the duel. That's a lot of footage to have to sit through over and over again. Considering that the show is (an unordinary) 39 episodes long, expect to see the same things over and over again. It isn't until the final arc where there is real meat behind the duels that the story really begins to pick up and become interesting. Unfortunately, there are tons of episodes of duels prior to reaching that point.
There are a couple of random comedic fillers thrown in which are actually pretty good (especially for fillers), and the Shadow Girls are ok every once in awhile to break through the seriousness of the show.
I'm mixed about the characters, because really they are a pretty stereotypical bunch of characters. While Anthy may be the deepest of all the characters, we don't see it until the third story arc, so for most of the show, she is a vapid, shallow slate. Utena should be a deep character, but really, she is a typical prince in girl's clothing. The only time she really breaks out of this mould is during her duel with Touga and when Akio shows up, and she inexplicably gets all mushy girly . This was a big disappointment for me, because it was such a deviation from her previously established character. If the writers wanted to get away from the stereotypical lead female, this shouldn't have been written. So apparently Utena becomes a typical girl who falls apart as soon as any pretty boy starts giving her some attention. I will admit that I liked the character of Juri. Really, if there was any revolutionary girl in this show, it would be her and not Utena. She probably acts the least like a typical girl and actually stays in character, unlike Utena. The rest of the cast I didn't like and I found to be forgettable.
While the background art for this show is rather nice, the foreground art and animation isn't. The bodies are very misproportioned and everybody is rail thin (except when naked). I guess this is just my aesthetic sense speaking, but I didn't find the character designs to be all that interesting or appealing. The previously mentioned reuse of old animation also knocks this show down a few steps.
Revolutionay Girl Utena just takes too long to establish a foundation for the eventual story that it wants to tell. The first two story arcs don't really hook the viewer in due to the fact that the story just isn't engaging. It just meanders from duel to duel. If one has the patience to sit through 2 dozen episodes to finally figure out where the story is going, they should give Revolutionary Girl Utena a try. Otherwise, I'd recommend shying away from this title.
Good: not bad for those who want to see a fairy tale in anime form, some unique themes
Bad: takes to long to establish story, characters are stereotypical and forgettable, way too much rehashed footage
Overall: 5.5 / 10
11th August 2006
Mai Otome Review
Major Wang time! Yes, the most important thing about this show is that the writers had the balls/ignorance of naming one of their characters, Major Wang. :
On a serious note, Mai Otome is the spiritual followup to Mai Hime. It is not yet determined whether or not the world of Mai Otome is the same as Mai Hime (set far into the future), or if it is a different world. I certainly believe it to be the same universe, as there are just too many references back to Mai Hime for it not to be a coincidence.
The story of Mai Otome revolves around Yumemiya Arika, a girl who enrolls into Garderobe Academy to become an Otome, a bodyguard who is able to materilize a suit that gives them special powers, just like her mother. Unfortunately, Arika has no idea who her mother actually is, and also has no idea how to enroll at the school. However, through a variety of circumstances, she is allowed to enrol at Garderobe, and thus her rise through the ranks of her fellow students begins.
The plot of Otome is very similar to that of Hime, but instead of Mai, we have Arika instead. The plot structure is somewhat different though, with the first half focusing mainly on Arika's life at Garderobe, with the second half more focused on a large-scale war where Otomes may once again fight one another for the first time in 50 years. So yeah, anyone who is familiar with the plot of Mai Hime, may roll their eyes again at the prospect of seeing the same show again. Now to be fair, Mai Otome is a fair bit different than that of Mai Hime. The way that the plot unfolds in this story is quite different than that of Mai Hime. Anyone expecting an Otome battle royale like that of Hime, will be disappointed, as there are actually very few Otome vs Otome battles. I will admit that the writers did try and smarten the plot up a bit by inputting more political elements into the story than that of Hime, but the fact is, the points of view on the escalating war are generally seen through the eyes of teens, and not exactly mature ones. If I wanted to see war experienced by a teen, I'd go watch a Gundam series. Speaking of Gundam, the second opening looks perfect for that of a Gundam series (not surprisingly, Sunrise was also the studio that produced Gundam Seed and it's follow up, Destiny).
I guess that the attempted scope of the plot for Otome tried to stay close to that of Hime but tried to put the issues on a larger scale, although putting the fate of the world on a bigger scale is a pretty hard thing to do. Really though, most of Otome is just a nostalgia trip for Hime fans. In fact, it's a mixed blessing because Hime fans will love all the references to the older show, but will cringe when they realize that Otome isn't as good.
As far as characters go, if you've seen Mai Hime, you know pretty much 95% of the cast, as most of them are pulled straight from there. While their characters aren't the same (sometimes), they look the same and most share a common name. The popular characters generally maintain their personality traits from the original show, like Natsuki and Shizuru, but some have undergone drastic changes, like Shiho. As for the "new" leads, I quote new because both Arika and Nina appear in non-talking roles in Mai Hime, they aren't anywhere near as likable as Mai or any of the other important characters in Hime. One thing that they suffer from is being unable to see the big picture. They never learn throughout the course of the show is that their actions can trigger much greater consequences than they say the death of one person. I mean, who cares if the entire world gets destroyed, if I get my man right? Of course nobody realizes that it's a moot point when you no longer have a place to live, except the people who are generally powerless to stop it. This selfishness and not being able to think more than about yourself and those close around you is incredibly annoying.
Fans of the original cast though, will be happy to see them back again. More often than not, they receive much better fates than what transpired to them in Hime, especially Akane. Of course, some fans will be pissed off because their favourites won't get the screentime like they had in Hime. Heck, Natsuki even comments on how little Otome time she actually gets in this show in one of the episode previews.
Chicks dig a guy named Major Wang. I mean, if this show has taught me anything, if your name is Major Wang, girls like you. So the guy's real name is Sergey, but girls didn't like him when he was just plain old Sergey Wang, it was only when he was Major Wang did the girls come flocking to him (not quite true, but it's funnier to think this way). I sometimes wonder if this was the real message that the writers were trying to get across.
The problems with this show is that, generally, when I watch a sequel, I expect that the mistakes of the original get ironed out. This isn't the case with Mai Otome. For one, the cast is still gargantuan. Seeing as they basically ported the entire cast of Hime over, and added a new character here and there, it's still big, and still hard to get a grasp on who is who and does what.
I will admit that they fixed the power imbalance from Hime, however it came at the cost of creativity. While the powers were horrendously imbalanced in Mai Hime, the writers were creative in their weapons and childs. In Otome, the Otomes get a robe and a weapon, which is usually similar to what they had in Hime, although I admit that Natsuki with a bigass gun looks much better than her pidly little pistols from Hime. Back to Otome, the robes look very similar to one another, so even though you can distinguish characters by colour, the robes themselves seem very similar and generic.
The fights are also a lot less creative as a lot of it is just flying around swatting at whatever with your weapon. It doesn't help that all of the Otome that would have unique powers and abilities, don't fight very often. Otome also skirted around the issue of character deaths by pretty much not killing anyone at all. Let's see, guy gets stabbed though the abdomen, but it miraculously missed all vital organs. Then he gets shot in the head and still survives. Um, yeah, that's not right. A girl can also survive a fall from several hundred meters in the air onto a building and come out no worse for wear (no, she's not wearing an Otome robe). While the death count of Otome is higher than that of Hime (higher than 0 isn't a hard thing to do), I got the impression that the writers were deathly afraid of actually killing off a character.
One area of huge improvement over Hime is in the technical area. I mentioned this already in my Mai Hime review, but Mai Otome is just plain brighter, cleaner, and better animated than Otome. There isn't quite as much rehashed footage, and the background art is definitely a step up. Compared to other shows though, it is still just good enough. Nothing spectacular, and the action scenes are still evidence that there could have been a lot more work put into the show, but like Hime, the Otome work is adequate.
Shows like Mai Otome are very much a mixed blessing. Yes, it is able to stand as an independent show from Mai Hime, but the full enjoyment comes from having first seen Mai Hime and being able to see the references. The problem is, Mai Otome is in most cases, an inferior show to Mai Hime, with many of the same problems and issues. Most people who have seen Mai Hime (in which case is the target audience), can easily see just how much worse Mai Otome is.
good: fans of Mai Hime will eat up all the references, a bit more politically stimulating than Mai Hime, technically much better than Mai Hime, there's a guy named Major Wang!
bad: really need to see Mai Hime first to get full enjoyment, lead characters are pretty darn annoying, people still don't die, cast is still too large, Otome robes need more distinguishing characteristics, more interesting characters don't get enough screentime
Overall: 5.5 / 10
2nd August 2006
Mai Hime (My Hime) Review
Ok, first things first, I'm going to start putting the English/North American release title in the subject line now for reviews. For the most part, the original Japanese title will be in the title followed by the English title in parentheses (some exceptions will apply). :
Secondly, I'm mainly writing this review because I want to get around to writing my Mai Otome review to talk about Major Wang.
So Mai Hime is the story of the Tokiha Mai, a seemingly ordinary girl who finds out that she is actually a HiME (which stands for Hi
ghly advanced M
quipment). The HiMEs are special girls who are able to materialize special weapons as well as call upon a unique being known as a child. The story of Mai Hime revolves around these HiMEs and the initial half is about their fight against an artificial HiME, who seems to have a super child and is attempting to bring about a Golden Era (which we never really find out what it is). The second half of Mai Hime is now a battle royale between the various HiME to determine (surprise, surprise) the fate of the world.
I will admit, for the most part, the storyline is pretty engaging (in fact, my cousin is addicted to this show right now). However, the plot does have it's downfalls. The romantic triangle between Tate, Mai and Reito seems pretty forced. In fact, I still think that the only reason that Tate likes Mai is because she has big knockers. The biggest travesty in the show is the ending. I like my dead characters to stay dead, thank you very much. I've always hated regenerating villains (which this show doesn't have), but I also hated the idea that characters who should be dead or appear to have died, are miraculously back. Mai Hime is one of the worst offenders of this. In fact, almost all of the sacrifices made by ANY of the characters in the show is a moot point because of the ending. Maybe I'm just a morbid person, but geez, if you're dead, stay dead.
Now, the cast of characters is huge. There are 15 HiME alone in the show, as well as other supporting casts, villains, incidental characters, etc. If you look at the size of the cast, there are easily more cast members than there are number of episodes. This makes it incredibly hard to identify with a large number of them. At least the focus remains, for the most part, on Mai, Mikoto and Natsuki, but there are some potentially interesting side characters like Shizuru and Akira who never really get explored to the extent that they should be. So in the end, there are a lot of characters who really don't get all that much screentime or the opportunity to develop. Because of this, what little is written for a lot of the cast is stereotypical surface stuff, because there isn't any time to explore much deeper. You mean that creepy looking and sounding kid really was evil?
My other issue with the characters is the incredible imbalance with the HiME's powers. For example, Mai gets the ability to fly with her flaming bracelets and anklets and her child is a giant, fire-breathing dragon. On the flipside, Yukino calls forth mirrors, which allow her to see only if her child, which is a giant plant, sends out spores. I think it is plain to see who got the better side of that arrangement. It seemed pretty obvious that the writers were favouring certain characters by giving them obviously better weapons and childs over the characters who would be less popular. This also ends up having a negative effect on the last half of the show, since the battles are a lot more one-sided than you would think. It is pretty obvious who is going to win most conflicts because the discrepancies in terms of power are so obvious.
At the time that I watched the show, the technical merits of it didn't seem to bad, but now that I've watched Mai Otome and then a few episodes of Mai Hime right after it, one thing is very plain, the animation and art of Mai Hime weren't all that good. In a very short time, the production staff at Sunrise really stepped up the quality of the art and animation in Otome as opposed to Hime. It is all the more evident since the character designs look pretty much the same. That's not to say that Mai Hime has bad technical merits. The art and animation get the job done, even though a lot of animation is reused, like many shots of Natsuki and Duran. Still, Mai Hime probably will not age well, as current production levels are already far ahead of where Mai Hime was just under 2 years ago.
I think that Mai Hime had a lot of potential, but got buried under a gigantic cast as well as some writing and technical issues. Just to make one last remark, the writers of Mai Hime had the chance to redeem themselves with Mai Otome, but whether or not they did is the subject of another review.
Good: generally engaging story, some interesting cast members
Bad: cast is too big, plot get bogged down due to cast, character imbalance, technically ok, but aging fast, dead characters don't stay dead damnit!
Overall: 6.8 / 10
22nd July 2006
Even the best laid out plans don't come out to fruition. I feel that this was the case with Gungrave. Yet another series with a promising plot, that is ultimately wasted due to poor execution. :
Gungrave is the story of Brandon Heat. An elite assassin in a syndicate known as Millenium. The first part of Gungrave chronicles the rise of Brandon and his best friend, Harry MacDowell, as they both work their way off the streets and up through the ranks of Millenium with Harry eventually assuming the position of head of the organization and Brandon as the organization's number one assassin. The later episodes show Harry's betrayal of Brandon, and of Brandon's transformation into the undead being known as Beyond the Grave, and of Beyond the Grave's war against Harry and Millenium.
The plot itself has a ton of promise and admittedly, the first half of Gungrave is very engrossing. However, it falls apart when it gets to Brandon's revenge against Millenium. A lot of this is because Harry's portion of the story is just way more interesting than Brandon. It is much easier to empathize with the ambitious, driven Harry than it is with the stoic Brandon. In many ways the first part of Gungrave is really about Harry's rise in Millenium with Brandon just tagging along for the ride. Once Harry's story is over, the plot degenerates into a monster of the week type of show, with Brandon just fighting the big, bad guys of Millenium, until the eventual, and inevitable final meeting with Harry. The subplot romance between Brandon and Maria is forgettable and could have been easily omitted without really having an impact on the overall structure. This is in contrast with Harry's romance with Sherry which goes to enhance the dynamics of the inner working of Millenium as an organization, as well as help develop characters like Bear Walken.
The biggest flaw of Gungrave lies with it's main character, Brandon Heat. I've never seen such an emotionless, unconflicted character as a lead ever in any show that I've watched. The problem with Brandon is that you see him once, and you've seen all of him. He doesn't change, nor does he stray from the path that he has chosen. He acts in exactly the way you expect him to and this really brings a huge degree of predictability to the show. He is also very untalkative, especially after his transformation to Beyond the Grave. There is very little insight into his character, and what little there is is incredibly shallow and predicable due to the fact that he really isn't a deep character. A lack of depth in a lead is a sure-fire way to ensure that the viewer may begin to lose interest in a story.
The real reason to watch the show lies with the character of Harry MacDowell. His shrewdness and cunning combined with his neverending ambition make him an immensely more interesting character than Brandon. It is very entertaining to see him plot and craft his way up the ranks of Millenium as it is never predictable in what way he will ultimately achieve his goals. His dynamic character keeps a viewer watching to wait and see just what he's going to do next. In many ways, it is like watching the development of Michael Corleone in the Godfather. Unfortunatly, as mentioned before, this only lasts for the first half of the show. I would have preferred that the last half of the show be devoted to Harry and expanding outside of Millenium's borders. There is very little shown of his work as head of the organization (when he would have to deal with the rest of the world) and I really think this was a good avenue to explore had Gungrave been his story.
The rest of the cast really just serve as support pieces for Brandon and Harry. None of them are really all that colourful, especially when compared to Harry. However, most of them serve the purpose that they were inserted into the story to do. The one exception to this would be Maria. Frankly, I felt that her role in the series was one that could have easily been omitted or at the very least, dramatically reduced and the story would have been no worse for wear.
The artwork is well though-out for the more mature themes and action oriented scenes of Gungrave. Not much more to comment on it other than it more than adequately fulfills its purpose. I have to admit that it's been awhile since I last saw Gungrave, so I don't remember much of the art or animation standing out.
Overall, a decent attempt, but I really hate when a good premise gets squandered.
Good: Harry is a very diverse, interesting character, plot had a lot of promise
Bad: Falls off in second half, Brandon is one of the dullest leads ever
Overall: 6.5 / 10
7th July 2006
Aria the Animation Review
It is shows like Aria that make me happy that I watch anime. Aria is quite possibly the best argument that 2005 was not a weak anime year. While I wouldn't go as far to say that it was the year's best release, that honour still sits with Banner of the Stars III, Aria certainly takes the crown for best anime that was not a sequel, spinoff, reboot, etc. and it certainly is not far behind BotS III in its quality. :
Aria is mainly about 3 gondolier in training, known as undines, on the planet, Aqua, which is really just a terraformed Mars. However, the process of terraforming Mars has effectively covered the planet in water, so the planet resembles Venice. Specifically, the story focuses on Mizunashi Akari, who is a trainee, in fact the only trainee, with Aria Company (hence the name of the show). The other 2 gondolier trainees, Aika and Alice, are training partners for Akari, but work for other companies. Alice is also of a lower rank than the other two trainees, hers being a pair, while the others are singles (the ranks come from the number of gloves worn to indicate rank), yet has greater technical skill than either of them. Aria tells slice of life tales of the 3 three trainees as well as their supervisors, who are coincidentally, known as the three "Water Faeries" due to their high skill as gondoliers.
The beauty of Aria lies in the fact that the stories that are told really don't have great conflict or angst to them. They are incredibly easy-going and generally just show happy times experienced by the undines. While this doesn't sound exciting, it makes for really fun, light stories that tend to leave the viewer as happy as the characters in the show (which is quite a bit). It is hard to explain exactly how infectious the mood of the show is, and one really has to see it to know what I mean. Maybe I'm just getting old, but I'm really starting to develop a taste for these easy-going slice of life shows. Even though there isn't really an overarcing goal or storyline to follow, Aria doesn't need it and easily maintains interest despite having stand alone episodes.
As for the characters, there isn't really any character that is annoying or unlikable. Even the airheaded Athena is easy-going and very likeable. At the forefront of the cast is the incredibly likable Akari. Normally, I don't like characters that are constantly optimistic, but Akari is an exception. Of course, her situation warrants her happy attitude. She is on a beautiful planet, doing what she loves, under the tutelage of the nicest and possibly the most talented of all the undines. Like the stories of the show, Akari's happiness is incredibly infectious. It makes the viewer all warm and fuzzy inside to see her enjoying her everyday life on Aqua. The rest of the cast play their roles incredibly well, and generally serve as great foils to one another. One thing that I will mention that bothered me, is that all the cast have names that begin with A. This does make remembering the names a little hard, especially with names like Alice and Alicia, and Akari and Akira. One other thing I noted is that each character has a unique facial expression used when in a more emotional or surprised state. Because they are used a lot, sometimes it seems a little out of place with what the situation would warrant, but they help keep the characters identifiable and just add more to the light-heartedness of the show.
I've generally been a fan of formal uniforms (with the exception of sailor uniforms which now seem very plain and ordinary), and the writers of Aria dress the cast in very nice ones indeed. Not revealing, yet they have an incredibly high level of elegance and professionalism which one would associate with a gondolier driver.
Speaking of great design, I sometimes think that Aria is a showcase for the artists that work on the show. While not the best show out there in terms of it's technical qualities, in fact, the animation is quite minimal, the artwork is nothing less than stunning. One can easily see the incredible detail and work that went into the water colour backgrounds and the water animation. Aria as a package is incredibly easy on the eyes, and while one can easily see how much of it is inspired from Venice and the beauty of the city. In fact, the beauty of the show is immediately showcased in the first 5 minutes of the show with breathtaking shots of Neo-Venezia, and it never disappointed throughout the run of the show.
Aria is a gem of a show and I'm incredibly happy to know that another series, titled Aria the Natural, is in production. If original shows like Aria can continue to be produced in the years to come, the anime industry will have nothing to worry about.
Good: infectiously light and happy plot and characters, beautiful artwork, just an overall enjoyable show
Bad: might not be exciting enough for everyone, a little difficult to match characters with names due to naming scheme
Overall: 8.5 / 10