Cross Game

Aug. 9th, 2010 02:24 am
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Cross Game



Kitamura Ko has grown up in the same neighbourhood as the four daughters of the Cafe Clover, and has always been friendly with them, especially Wakaba, who was the born the same day he was, who is pretty much his girlfriend; and baseball-crazed Aoba, one year younger, who bickers a lot with him because she resents him taking away her sister's attention - but the summer when they are 11, Wakaba dies in an accident. Fast forward five years, Aoba is still as serious about baseball; and still bickers a lot with Ko who didn't join the baseball team in middle school, but still practices for it, when another childhood friend, Akaishi, mention that Wakaba's last dream was for both of them to play baseball in the national high school competition at the Koshien stadium.

Adapted from a shounen manga by Adachi, Cross Game is a series that is... well, very much like every Adachi series. Quality slice of life / sports / romance / comedy story, with romantic development that take forever to develop; and simplistic, almost caricatural character design. It makes me nostalgic, because I remember loving Touch when I was 14; but that asides; it's genuinely a good series and very pleasant to watch.

cut for length )

Toradora!

Jul. 27th, 2010 11:28 pm
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Toradora!



Takasa Ryuuji is a highschool student with a scary look to his eyes (apparently inherited from a long dead yakuza father) with the result that everyone fears him and takes him for a deliquent, though his personality is pretty sweet and shy, with an obsession for the domestic (his hobbies are cleaning and cooking). As the new year starts, he realises that Aisaka Taiga, the petite yet fierce (exactly like that, random French reference at your service!) girl nicknamed "Palmtop Tiger" by the whole school, lives alone next door (and next window) to him and is in love with his best friend (and he in turn has a crush on her best friend). She bullies him into helping her making her confession, and more broadly taking care of her and they become friends of sorts.

Adapted from a series a light novels, Toradora! is that elusive jewel, the good and entertaining shounen highschool rom com, mainly by virtue of having some excellent comedy and some very endearing characters. It doesn't escape all of the flaws that shounen romance tend to have, but it does well enough I was willing to overlook them and just enjoy the series

The series is very solidly hilarious, with some excellent comedic timing, and very well built on the characters. Ryuji is just a little bit more interesting than your average shounen romance lose male lead, thanks to his supposedly scary design which actually makes him adorable and his domesticity. Taiga, asides from the archetype violent and tiny Tsundere character design, has enough subtleties and and shades to be wholly three dimensional and loveable (though her flaws are perhaps a little bit too much exploited for moe for my taste). The rest of the cast is also pretty damn awesome, with Minori, Ryuji's crush and Taiga's best friend, being an extremely energetic and cheerful girl with some quirky ideas who totally steals the show when she appears; Kitamura, Ryuji's best friend and Taiga's crush, being the popular class representative with some eccentric attitude; and Ami, the two faced bitch queen who is a popular model and Kitamura's childhood friend and who is the other show stealer of the series. They each are all well enough developed in narrative arcs to be more than stereotypes; and the series almost (almost! ;_;) escapes harem dynamics in the complicated and endearing relationships between its five main characters. I especially really liked how richly all the female-female relationships were depicted, this isn't a series that has any problem passing the Bechdel Test.



The drama part of the series, which increase in its second half with more emphasis on the romantic plot as well as the two main characters' respective family background, is a little less solid, coming across as a little bit too forced, trite and melodramatic for my taste, though it's touching enough and reinforced by continuous usage of humour in that undercutting way that tends to make emotional scenes more emotional by the whiplash. In the end I wasn't entirely convinced by the way they resolved the romantic plot, not because of what it involved, but because of how it was done.

Still, Toradora! remains an extremely entertaining and well crafted high school romance.
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Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood



In a dieselpunk world where alchemy is a powerful science, Ed and Al Elric are two teenage brothers who became crippled in their failed attempt to resurrect their mother in an alchemical experiment: Ed lost on arm and leg, now replaced by automail prosthetics, and Al is merely a soul bonded with alchemy to a suit of armour he can animate. They have enrolled in the army as State Alchemist in order to investigate the rumours of the Philosophical Stone which could have the power to help them recover their original bodies, but in the course of that investigation they fall onto a huge conspiracy and face the opposition of the strange creatures known as Homunculus who are named for each of the seven (Christian) Sins.

You know I feel kind of silly to summarise FMA's premise at this point. Who doesn't know what the series is about? Oh well.

No less than the second adaptation of a brilliant shounen manga, Brotherhood jumps into the fold in a rushed race to narrate the material already covered by the first adaptation as quick as possible and only hits its stride once it's done so after a dozen of episodes or so, at which point it becomes an absolutely wonderful and enjoyable adaptation of 64 episodes, delivering on the humour, the action and the epic scope of the drama provided by the excellent source material.

FMA is first of all an excellently plotted story, which is dramatic, interesting, coherent and epic all at the same time. It is very dark at times - dealing with such themes as mutilation, the trauma of war, genocide, and abuse of people in the name of "science" - while retaining an optimistic and humanist outlook. Brotherhood has a pretty steady kind of pacing, going with "build up build up build up epic EPIC EPIC and back to build up build EPIC EPIC EPIC kind of rhythm that isn't quite breathtaking, but is very efficient nonetheless and without any filler despite the length of the series. The comedy feels a little bit mandatory at times (oh look, an Ed is short joke, it's been a while, I had forgotten how they went), but is good at relieving the tension and preventing the show from falling into excessive wangst (one of the first adaptation's flaw, some would say) and building up the relationship between characters. Most of all, Brotherhood had the good taste to time itself so it could adapt the full of its original material and thus deliver an actually coherent and logical ending (which I would say was the major flaw of the first adaptation).

It juggles with a pretty large and diverse cast of characters, most of which are very endearing in their own particular way, and gives most of them their due in the course of the story (there are a few I wouldn't have minded to see explored and used more than they were, but oh well). Ed is a spunky, determined, intelligent and a slightly artless kid, and Al is adorable and kind hearted yet just as dangerous when roused. The secondary cast is so large I feel a bit at a loss at how to represent them - but let's just say they come in a variety of age, gender and ethnicity, and that many of them are awesome and loveable. One of the series' big quality was really the quality of its characters, both amongst antagonists and protagonists.



The production values are excellent through out, without really being overwhelmingly so. Most action scenes (though not all) are very well animated, the character designs are endearing with a pleasant roundness, the music is very efficient at underlying the mood of a scene without overpowering it. I'm ridiculously in love with the music of the second ED though not quite as much as I was in love with Bratja in the first adaptation ;).

The thematics of FMA are ambitious for a shounen series, and it does deliver on most of them successfully. What it does best is talk about the effects of war on individuals, with the Ishvalan rebellion and the ensuing genocide casting a heavy shadow in the past of many characters and their motivations. Unfortunately it does so much better from the side of the military people who took part in said genocide than it does on the (dark skinned) Ishvalans who were the victim of it. Another theme it explores is the responsibility and role of a leader, which is a little bit earnest and naive, but still strikes some interesting chords with how it parallels different characters. It does beautifully talk about human reserve and perseverance to struggle through, recover from and overcome difficult times together - though of course this is standard shounen themes but it handles them well in that it's not ridiculously over the top and mostly realistic, and I love how it does so through the motif of disabilities as well - as well as guilt (and hubris) and the question of how to take responsibility for it (which is more original and interestingly done).

I could pinpoint to few other things I didn't think worked totally well; bemoan that some flashbacks or scenes were too short or cut from the anime compared to the manga (though some of them would have been difficult to include without hurting the pacing), but overall Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood was an anime I absolutely loved watching every episode of and one awesome journey to take.
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Shikabane Hime (Aka & Kuro)



Oori is a young orphan boy who sometimes have weird visions of a talking cat. One day he realises that his big brother figure, the Buddhist monk Keisei who found him as a child and has been taking care of him since, has a strange relationship to a young undead girl named Makina who hunts down undead monsters known as Corpses or Shikabane. Makina herself is called the Shikabane Hime.

Shikabane Hime is an adaptation of an action / horror shounen series which keeps teasing us with glimmer of goodness : the direction is remarkably good, the graphic palette in faded colours is absolutely lovely and atmospheric, the main characters though archetypal are pretty well realised and sympathetic, some of the animation is really stunning especially in the first season, the horror ambiance building in general is pretty good and subtle, and some of the dramatic moments do work well. It's also pretty well paced, slowly and deliberate with episodic stories that lets them build up the cast of characters well in the first season, then quickly around with a more overarching arc in the second season. The ending is also pretty unique and well delivered.

And yet for all that Shikabane Hime is just another boring shounen series, with a pretty lacklustre plot, some horribly timed comedy and fanservice. The only thing I'd want to rescue of the story is the way it relies heavily on Buddhist motifs like attachment to build its mythology in a way that feels pretty fresh. Also it's yet another series which portray badass young female (it's always young and female) warrior in service to (almost always) older male guardians/authority figures (which in this case institutionally at least treat them as unclean things) without the narrative providing much in terms of feminist commentary (that is to say : the institutional dehumanisation is obviously portrayed as a bad thing and exploitative, but without any kind of feminist self awareness, especially not related to the elements of fanservice the show exploits). That sort of tropes just officially got old (and I love me some badass young female warrior!).

In other word, I think I'll try to find what other things this director can do when he's not adapting silly shounen mangas.

I leave you with the OP which is remarkably good and, indeed, perhaps the best thing in the whole series:

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Scrapped Princess



In a medieval fantasy kind of setting, Pacifica Cassul is a spoiled, sweet, cheerful, rather clumsy 15 year old girl. She's also the prophesied of Scrapped Princess who will bring destruction to the world when she turns 16 and as a result is hunted by pretty much everyone at the instigation of the Church of Mauser. Thankfully her two older foster siblings, Raquel, a magician, and Shannon, a fighter, are quite bad ass and will do anything to protect her as they run away chased down by various kinds of assassins.

Dating from 2003, Scrapped Princess is one of those shows I'd call solid and well crafted without really having any particular edge that bring it to excellence. Graphically, it's very pretty, with gorgeous animation, compelling, round character design; and a beautiful direction overall. Most of the characters are a bit too much stereotypical, but they are well used for drama and comedy. The setting is very basic fantasy and trite. There's a twist about it, but that also turns out to be rather predictable. The action scenes are boring. So the series is entertaining and easy to watch, with good drama and comedy, but it always feels a little bit artificial and manipulative, with a strong sense of deja vu (take one pinch of Slayers, one pinch of Gurren Lagann, powder with BtVS S5 and stir with a small dose Nanoha... now this is unfair, Gurren Lagann came after... it just did it better, is all).

Pacifica, our nominal heroine, doesn't do much. Her power is much more about what she is, and her personality is to be cute, kind-hearted, preternaturally cheerful, a little bit spoiled so we and random characters she meets feel like protecting her. Shannon plays the role of the badass, stoic, teasing, protective older brother (he vaguely reminds me of Touya of CCS in global outlook) in a more active way. Raquel is a cool character too, very polite and feminine in demeanour and quite deadly with a spell, but she's much less put in focus compared to the strength of the Shannon-Pacifica relationship. There are other important characters, such as a badass general princess (sadly underdeveloped) and her girlfriend; an airhead knight who falls in love with Pacifica; the stoic young elite soldier who was sent to kill Pacifica then investigates the origin of the prophecy; or the demonic emotionless girl who starts helping the Cassul family for her own agenda.

There are elements in the story that are interesting, the whole "protagonist is the one who will doom the world" bit is an interesting premise, exploited in good dramatic ways, especially the fact that most of the antagonists feel like they have a good reason to be trying to kill Pacifica, and the story sometimes offer ironic parallels with other characters and situations to complexify things. However the plot remains often too banal, despite the high quality of the direction and storytelling. The ending, while suitingly dramatic, felt way too easy and Deus Ex Machina in the way it resolved things.

So a good and solid series, but an underwhelming one.
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Pandora Heart



In a Victorian fantasy world, Oz is the young son of a rich noble family on the point of celebrating his ceremony of adulthood for his 15 birthday. Together with his little sister and his adoring servant / best friend Gilbert he explores the remote mansion before the ceremony occurs when he finds an old grave and a clock / musical box which trigger the vision of a young girl waiting all alone in a room filled with creepy toys who welcome him joyfully before trying to murder him. Later on, during the ceremony, a bunch of creepy guys in cloaks appear and send Oz to the Abyss, a parallel dimension of nightmares and demons called "Chains", for the crime of "existing". The girl, incidentally, is Alice, a Chain, and appears as well to defend him, because she claims him as her property.

Adapted from an unfinished shounen manga, Pandora Heart is a pretty good fantasy / mystery series filled with fascinating characters and dizzying revelation. The pacing for the most part is fast and entrancing, with decent storytelling but for the fact with the manga unfinished it offers no proper conclusion (always frustrating). The direction is a bit uneven, varying a lot from episodes to episodes from barely mediocre to pretty good. The animation and background art is only barely decent most of the time (with a few flash of excellent animation at random times), but the character design is pretty cool. The music, by Kajiura Yuki, is gorgeous as usual and helps setting up the gothic atmosphere.

The characters are the big draw, at least for myself as they fell very squarely into character types and relationship dynamics I really dig, and interpreted well enough they aren't mere cliches either.

Oz himself is pretty damn adorable. He's a easygoing and sunny child on surface, hiding father-related angst underneath his cheerfulness to the point of being creepily carefree at times (especially in the manga). He's caring and pretty smart (and the narrative uses his intelligence in cool way), self-destructive and sometimes a little bit cruel. Seldom have I liked some much a shounen manga lead. The rest of the cast is just as interesting.

cut for squeeing & vague spoilers of early episodes )

Pretty much everyone has a dark past / dark secrets they might not even remember, to the point that is far from believable, but who cares? It's part of the overall gothic-crackful atmosphere. There's a nice sense of the plot being driven by the interests of various sides in a way that is murky, complex and very intriguing, although at this point not enough of the plot has been revealed for me to know if it's all that coherent and consistent.

There's a big Alice in Wonderland motif of course, used to good effect for the atmosphere, as well as motifs related to time (lots of clocks) tied in interesting ways to memory and time manipulation thematics in the plot. And chains, lots of chains ♥. The thematics also address ideals of self-sacrifice and devotion in critical ways worked through the characterisation. I want to say the gender treatment is good, since it starts with such interesting gender role reversals and has a few other hints of similar stuff later on, but way too few of those are followed up, and, for example, despite the fact Alice is technically the most powerful character in a fight, she too seldom get to play it up, so it's a bit disappointing.

In conclusion, though it's little more than the latest shounen in the current trendy style, I found this series very much to my liking thanks to the interesting characterisations & dynamics. I'll keep following on the manga (which I caught up on right after I finished the anime) and as well as hoping for a second season of animation.
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Sora no Woto



In a post-Apocalyptic world (long after thereof) and right after the end of a war, Kanata is a cheerful and optimistic young girl who joins the Army for the sake of learning to play the trumpet. She is sent to a small town in Switzerland, where five female soldiers are always stationed by tradition because of a local legend of five maidens and a monstruous creature.

Sora no Woto is a pretty dull and mediocre moe slice of life / comedy show, only enlivened by its intriguing setting, gorgeous background art and a lovely soundtrack. The characters are all pretty thin and fit too much into their moe template in artificial ways, I was fond of Rio (the cool sempai with a mysterious past character), but I could give or take all the other characters, except for Kureha, the tsundere, which I found rather annoying (which is odd of me, since I typically tend to adore tsunderes, go figure).

The comedy is adequate, except a couple of cringe-worthy events, and it's not unpleasant to watch but nothing to write home about. We keep getting intriguing hints about the setting, and how mysterious it is, what exactly was the Apocalyptic event that happened, why there is traces of a Japanese civilisation here and there in the otherwise European setting; and what was the local town legend about. Most of those hints are never full resolved; and while there's a real climax at the ending, it relies too much on unlikely events to be as dramatic as it could have been (it's not a terrible one though). There is one excellent episode in the middle of the series; and generally speaking, the way it deals with war, the traces it left on various characters is pretty interesting and well done. (I think there is way too few stories that take place after a war and deal with where you go from there, how you rebuild etc. so credit for a series for dealing with this at least a little)

To be perfectly honest the main reasons I was watching the show is that I really love Mediterranean landscapes, and the series portray them beautifully in its background art (apparently copied from a small mountain town in Spain). Also the music is nice, especially the OP, which also has cool Klint inspired visuals:



And, you know, winter was a pretty bad anime season, and it was that or watching Cobra.
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Towards the Terra



In the future where Earth was ecologically destroyed and humanity fled to the stars, doting itself of a computer controlled and fairly totalitarian government so as to avoid the mistake of the past. Children are created by biotechnology, then given to foster parents until they're 14, when they pass an "adulthood test", get most of their memories of their childhood erased and get send to orbital schools. Jomy is a teenager who, on the day he passes his own adulthood test, finds out that he is a Mu, one of the humans gifted with psychic powers and reviled by humans for it. As the computer orders his death, he is rescued by other Mu. On the other side of things, Keith Anyan is an elite young student who mysteriously retained zero memories of his childhood as he starts his higher education, and whom the computer controlling the orbital school has very high expectation of.

Adapted from a 70s manga, Towards the Terra really rocks the old school Sci-Fi vibe. I guess it might be a bit of an acquired taste, but AE Van Vogt and MZ Bradley were my favourite writers when I was 12, so I loved it. It helps that it's got some excellent storytelling and very decent characterisation, with the emotional high point of the series really compelling and well executed (with the exception of the finale episode, which felt a bit badly rushed through) and a good sense of epic and tragic events making the plot. It's got a very quick pacing (sometimes perhaps a little too quick) with some pretty drastic time jumps, which are well used to develop characters. Some of the plot development are slightly melodramatic or rely too much on unlikely coincidences (like the way Jomy's childhood friends are kept in the story) but with the right kind of suspension of disbelief, extremely fun. While the thematics are fairly cheesy in the way they are presented, they are well explored and set up by the characters and the way we follow both Jomy and Keith a lot. Jomy's a fairly archetypal young, hot blooded hero at first, but gets well developed; Keith's your average not!quite!so!emotionless and sarcastic anti-villain, and is quite fun as such, especially early in his story. Other important secondary characters are also well done (and it looks like the adaptation made a good work of filling some flimsy characterisation in some cases) though none are very original or deep.

The animation is pretty good and fluid, and I rather like the character design style - old school that it is. I love how characters wear capes and diadems and even headphones of power. It's all very disco ;) The soundtrack is also very good and atmospheric.

Sadly, the setting also shows its age on the gender, with female characters saddled with little presence, agency and power - despite the effort of adaptation to increase their relevance - or on the weird way the only place we see dark skinned are two minor characters amongst the Mu. On the other hand, we have a lot of slashiness, which should come as no surprise given that the original manga was written by Keiko Takemiya.

For a very random appeal, Towards the Terra has a couple of vague plot resemblance with the new BSG, except it executed those right and mostly coherently which made me feel very vindicated.

In conclusion, a very solidly entertaining work, if it fits your taste.
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Shion no Ou

When Shion was very young, her parents were murdered in front of her, the trauma rendering her mute. Nowadays, she's a 12 year old girl on the verge of becoming a female pro of Shougi - Japanese Chess; as various events conspire to remind her of this still unresolved murder; while she meets two other pros; Ayumi - really a boy who crossdresses in order to win as much money as possible to pay for his ill mother's treatment bills among the less competitive female pros - and Saori a girl from a very well off family who is apprenticed to the Meijin - the current top player of the Shougi world.

I first encountered mentions about this anime around the Hikaru no Go fandom, and it's easy to see why, both being shounen series revolving on board games; yet they are very different kind of series apart from some fairly standard Shounen tropes , although both are excellent. Where Hikago is a fairly straight forward Bildungsroman; Shion no Ou is much more focussed on the main mystery's investigation and one main tournament of Shougi, held at a breathless pace. This is the anime's strongest point : I watched the 22 episodes in about 2 days, driven by the intense storytelling.
In terms of characterisation, it is a little bit uneven. Shion herself is a bit distractingly "moe" on first aboard, not to mention the difficulty of giving strong presence to an animated character whose voice is only heard during the occasional inward monologue, but eventually as the story progresses she's revealed to be a very strong person and compelling lead. Ayumi's the other compelling character (and my favourite) as a very intense and earnest boy in a difficult situation. Saori is also very interesting, although too much put to the side of the main story in the latter part. Other characters are pretty well done in their role - I particularly like how, in contrast with Hikago, parents, even those who do not play board games, aren't entirely sidelined from the story. There's a couple of characters who are a little mishandled due to how the mystery plays out.
About the plot itself : I liked how it came across as the intersecting of different characters' agendas and own secrets. The main mystery of Shion's parents' murder itself is only decent and fairly easy to guess, but works well because of how tied it is to the Shougi games and Shion's psychology.
Sadly the graphism and animation is quite ugly and barely watcheable; although occasionally interesting.
The show also makes a few interesting commentaries on gender, and sexism in the Shougi world is addressed, which was appreciated.
Overall a solid series, very easy to get into and very fun to watch.

Otherwise I finished watching a few series I've mentioned before:

Shounen Onmyouji: Had a pretty dull last tier. I'd hoped it would pull itself into an eventually interesting plot and antagonism but it disappointed me. I'm feeling very meh about this anime overall.

Saiunkoku Monogatori S2: Well, this was not an ending made of fucking awesome brilliance, what with so many interesting new plot threads only being hints; and any expectation of a sequel being unlikely to come very soon, what with the fact the anime already adapted almost all light novels it is based on; but it was still very decent, and made a nice counterpoint to the S1 ending. I really adore this series, despite some of its flaws.

Michiko e Hatchin: FUCKING AWESOME BRILLIANCE.

What's next? I'm currently watching Mononoke, Tobaku Mokushiroku Kaiji, Mouryou no Hako, trying to finish watching Zoku Sayounara Sensei, as well as watching Zoku Matsume Yuujinchou and Skip Beat as they're nearing to their ending. Currently wondering what I'll get into after I've finished those, so if you'vre got suggestions...
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Spiral: Suiri no Kizuna
A 25 episodes anima adaptation of a shounen manga about investigations and complicated mind games around some mysterious Blade Children (English in the text) and the just as mysterious hunters who try to kill them; the hero of which is the very intelligent yet insecure high school boy Ayumu and his impossibly genki and quite awesome friend Hiyono. Spiral sadly utterly lacks conclusion, leaving me a bit at a loss as far as rating how I liked this series go, since the main mysteries isn't even close to being solved, and all we're left are teasing and frustrating hints which so far don't explain much apart from sounding grandiloquent. I bet the conclusion is in the manga though, but I haven't read that yet to know if it a was worth all the plotting before and I wanted to do my anime reviews as I go >_>;
So the stuff I did like: the characters are usually pretty interesting and fun to watch. I'm extremely fond of Hiyono, as mentioned, and Ayumu is adorable in his ways too. I'm also intrigued and pleasantly entertained by most of the Blade Children too, especially Kousuke and Ryoko. Madoka - Ayumu's step sister and a police detective - is pretty cool as well despite too little influence on the plot. There's generally speaking a good balance of male and female characters, with most of the female characters being awesome in some way or another and good at impacting the plot. More than just the characters, the relationships between characters are well done and sweet, whether as teamwork, family, or shipping. It's one of the thing that makes the show very pleasant to watch as well as following the ongoing plot.
The storytelling has those ridiculously complex crime scenes to solve, mind games and other "Just As Planned!" plots; which it does pretty well and cleverly despite their hilariously over-the-top set up. The pacing's also pretty good.
So on the flip side, it's full of what do you mean this is not awesome and annoying and meaningless catchphrases supposed to sound meaningful, or characters that are supposed to be super-cool angsty badass but you just want to point and laugh at because they try so hard to look cool and are just emo.
I'm not crazy about the graphic style - even for a shounen; and the animation isn't really anything to talk of about either.
So I guess if it sounds like anything that would interest you, I'd recommend reading the manga first (even if I haven't myself) and then watch the anime after while because it's probably more pleasant that way than the reverse. (Experience tells most manga are better than their anime adaptations anyway)
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Somehow I tried to take advantage of the fact I had a lot of free time this year to watch a whole bunch of TV series and anime. I didn't actually review most of them, so I'll try to compile my impressions there.

The Awesome )

The Good )

The Flawed yet Compelling yet Flawed )

The Okay I guess )

The Boring )

The Not Sure Yet )

Whoa. This took me so long to type I started yesterday and only finished today. Next time I'll try to do more reviews as I go >_>;

Anyway, I'm off to see the new BSG ep!

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Etrangere's anime reviews

September 2011

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- Legend of Galactic Heroes
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