N°6

Sep. 19th, 2011 06:47 pm
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N°6

A privileged boy living in a futuristic, oppressive city once sheltered and helped a runaway boy escape; thus dooming his own shining future. Some years later, he's in turn rescued by the boy he helped from being sent to prison for having witnessed a strange bee related death.



N°6 does two things : the relationship between two characters of very different backgrounds who learn a lot from one another; and a SF dystopic plot. The former is lovely and touching, with wonderful dynamics; and the latter is crap, barely coherent in way that easily undermines the themes of the story and resort to a Deus Ex Machina at the ending.

The series is at its most brilliant in the little touches and the details. The animation is lovely, the characters design good, the direction is wonderful and lets the characters develop and establish their dynamics in ways that are lovely. For me a big draw was how much I loved the two main characters and the ways they played off one another, especially in some of the most low key scenes. While the ways in which Shion embodied idealism and kindness contrasted to Nezumi's cynicism and pragmatism was sometimes a little bit pat; we also had a few moments subverting this, especially by the ending, which made both of them much more human and their dynamic more interesting.Plus it's great to see a series focussing on a male/male romantic relationship without falling into offensive BL clichés. It is not entirely devoid of corniness, especially with a use of singing in some scenes which fell mostly flat. Thought the secondary cast is less deepened, there too you have some good characterizations, especially with Safu and Dogkeeper.

I'm not sure what else to say about the plot asides that it made very little sense; at least by the time it came to the ending, very much a BONEStatic one. I don't even want to start, it's just silliness topped onto silliness, most of which came out of the left field, and probably a lot of it has to be blamed on a rushed adaptation of a too long material for one cour series. It's just a mess. The power of the images and themes they try to invoke make it all the more insulting for being used in such a nonsensical plot.

In the end I did feel n°6 was very much worth watching and I enjoyed myself throughout; but the weaknesses of the story itself makes it only worth it for people likely to enjoy it mainly for the characters and their interaction.



(yes, first review after a year - sorry about that :p)

RideBack

Aug. 2nd, 2010 12:54 am
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RideBack



In the near future, Ogata Rin is a ballerina who retired from dancing after a leg injury. As she begins college, she finds a new passion in RideBack; a sort of bike-like mecha that can be used in racing and war. Meanwhile, in the background, the GGP who was a resistance group which succeeded in overthrowing the former global government and took power, is slowly showing itself to be quite autocratic itself as they fight against offshoot terrorist groups who use RideBack machines in their urban guerilla attacks.

Even with only 12 episodes, RideBack is a pretty brilliant anime series, which especially shines with the strength of the character exploration of Rin; and with the beauty of its action scenes.

cut for length )

Link to an interesting blog entry comparing the dancing in RideBack and in Princess Tutu.
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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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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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Xam'd : Lost Memories aka Bounen no Xamdou aka Bounen no Zamned aka fuck that shit, it's got too many names



Akiyuki is an ordinary highschool boy living on the quiet Sentan island along with his separated parents, and his two best friends Haru (female) and Furuichii (male), when someday he helps a mysterious white haired girl trump the security to get on their bus for school. During the trip, Sentan Island is attacked by the Northern Empire by using Humanforms (= magibiotech weapon that transform ordinary people into huge rampaging monsters with flashy colours) and the white haired girl has their bus explode and puts a Hiroki in Akiyuki's arm that makes him into a Xam'd, a smaller scale rampaging monster who starts fighting with the Humanform, causing much damage to the city. Haru runs after him to help him, without success, until a mysterious girl (another one), Nakiami (aka 'Second Coming of Nausicaa'), shows up, gets Akiyuki to turn back into a human and then kidnaps him onto.... the Postal airship where she lives on, hoping to teach Akiyuki to control his Xam'd ability so he doesn't turn into stone and die. Meanwhile, the Southern country already at war with the Northern country allies itself with Sentan island and sends military forces there as well as a team of researchers into Humanform technology.

Xam'd is a show with excellent production values, awesome characterisation, compelling drama and a story that doesn't make much sense at all.

The character design is lovely and vivid, the animation ranges from excellent to stunning, and the soundtrack is wonderful. I also loved both generics, Boom Boom Satellite who made the OP music is my new favourite band ♥

There are a lot of characters, and the story doesn't shy away from developing and giving their own agency to characters who could have seen as fairly minor or secondary. Akiyuki's parents are fairly well developed for example (and pretty damn awesome), so is Haru's sister and most of the characters on board of the postal ship. This throws up the story in a lot of interesting, complicated directions although it's also what made the story lose its focus. The main cast is also very endearing : Akiyuki despite beint your ordinary young male lead has a sympathetic personnality you can relate with and is willing to learn and grow very easily. Nakiyami, being Nausicaa Lite, is of course fairly awesome, determined and strong, empathetic, and very much badass. Haru despite being in the designated Love Interest role is a fairly interesting character with a lot of agency and backbone. However sometimes characterisation intersected with the WTF-ness of the plot in ways that were odd and disappointing, concluding a character arc in unsatisfactory ways or making some of them rather inconsistent.



The world building remained a little bit too vague and kitchen-sink-y trough most of the story. On the one hand there's the way they drop so many kind of elements in there : highschool students, aircrafts, a war, magitek and biomecha and what nots in ways that felt very... video games-y? I dunno, it didn't feel like there were much consistency to it, especially since there were very little exposition or explanation, and the underlying mythology that bears the story was very much confused and near-ununderstandable (still not sure there was actually something to understand). Despite this, thanks to the quality of the animation and soundtrack, it's very vivid and awe-inducing.

The plot meanders in weird ways. With good dramas, so I can't say I was ever bored or not enjoying myself, but in ways that are utterly baffling at times. Where do they go with it? Who are the antagonists? Who are the protagonists? What are the sides of the war? Exactly what roles do the Tessik, the token Magical Discriminated against people (that Nakiami belongs to), play in this and what is their past? Who are the white haired children and how are they related to the Tessik and what is their plan? Who does the Postal Ship work for exactly and do they have a mission asides from mailing stuff which explains how badass they are? I'm not really sure what's the answer to most of those questions after watching the show. I'm not sure there is one.

As a result, the themes aren't much clear or well developed either, there's a nice compassionate heart to it, where killing people/creatures that were once people is seen as bad/sad. There's a nice motif of letters / communication which is kind of cool if fairly aimless. And some more vague stuff about how war affect a population. And how embittered discriminated minorities shouldn't succumb to rage and stuff -_-;. And some disability fail which was fairly wtf x_x. So yeah, nothing great on the theme front.

One of the thing that amused me about that show was many of the similarities it's got with Eureka 7, another Bones show which I dropped after watching more than half of it. One of the thing I disliked about Eureka 7 was how tight the focus was on the main idiotic male character, and how other characters relate to him (and his family), with the large cast of otherwise cool characters having very little agency - Xam'd shows the flaw of going the opposite way, although I still like it better that way (at least Xam'd doesn't take more than 15 episodes before it first passes the Bechdel test, for example, and some of the female character's story in Xam'd aren't about male characters at all *gasp*). Of course another advantage Xam'd has is that its main character isn't utterly stupid. I assume Eureka had, in the end, a much better mythology/world and more consistent story and worthy ending though I never got up to that, based on how many people like the series.

In the end, I found Xam'd to be a very enjoyable show at the I was watching it, but when I think twice about it, I am disappointed by the waste of potential that a show with such gorgeous production value and promising characters ended up with.
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I am so late with anime reviews. I really need to catch up before all the winter shows finish and I have even more on my plate ^_^;;

Kazemakase Tsukikage Ran



In Historical Japan, Ran is, in her own word, a beautiful drifter, a female samourai with a love for sake, a lot of skill with swords and a cool, easy going attitude that doesn't entirely stop her from being involved when injustice crosses her path. The unlikely named Miew is a very carefree and not particularly bright female kung fu fighter who walks the earth. When their path cross they start bickering a lot drifting together and fighting crime (or injustice in general).

Dating from the year 2000, Kazemakase Tsukikake Ran is a short, pleasant and pretty simple anime series which does have a certain charm despite it's lack of subtleties. It is very much episodic, very much chanbara and comedy and not much else. One of the stuff I really liked about it are perhaps the ways it stands out as old fashioned : here's a story with two female leads and we have neither romance with other characters, neither hints of romance or fanservicy between one another. Likewise there is no moe of anykind or any overwhelming cuteness. The comedy is mostly basic Boke and Tsukkomi routine (in a way that was actually pretty annoying because I hate when humour relies on making the sidekick character very stupid, especially as Ran hardly needs that to look cool). The action scenes are pretty cool relative to the production values (which are of the 90's but pretty good for it), and I certainly enjoyed watching them a lot. The plots are simple but serviceable, very much to the point. Ran, as mentioned, is a very cool and awesome characters, and I really love her voice in particular (someday I'll learn to pay attention to voice acting in a meaningful way, riiiight). I also loved the opening music, which is a drinking enka song ^_^. In conclusion a pretty nice series if you want something short and sweet and chambara-esque (who doesn't?).

Link to a fun blog review comparing Tsukikage Ran to Samurai Chammploo : http://2dteleidoscope.wordpress.com/2009/11/08/tsukikage-ran-vs-samurai-champloo-artificial-pasts/


His and Her Circumstances aka Kare Kano



Yukino is a high school student who is very vain and likes nothing like being praised, and therefore puts a lot of work into being a model student and acting like the perfect, elegant, delicate and classy girl she is really not in personality. Arima is the perfect, kind, classy boy who beats her result without even trying because he's the genuine thing (for the most part). Also he's in love with her. Also he just discovered that she's faking it. Also, now, he's blackmailing her.

I'm seldom the biggest fan of shoujo high school comedy romance anime adaptation. That is for the most part because I tend to love their manga version so much more and find the anime doesn't add much. In this case, I haven't read the manga (yet), so I can't know if the very high opinion of the anime series would be significantly lower from the manga. It does show the main disadvantage of shoujo adaptation which is that it just stops without any ending, ARGH. But let's be clear : this is probably the single best shoujo high school comedy romance series I have watched as of yet.

Let's start with the characters. The characters are awesome, every single ones of them. Yukino is very entertaining, she's very competitive, she doesn't get intimidated by much and is very brave and mentally tough as well as smart overall. She does have some vulnerabilities at the same time, as well as some obvious flaws; but she also doesn't hesitate to grow and develop marvellously through the series. In general, she's easy to root for. Also, she's hilarious. Arima oscillates a bit between being too perfect in a sweet, humble, nice way, but at Yukino's contact he really shows some more mischievously and genuine personality which makes him more likeable. Of course he also has some massive angst and darker issues. Then there are the secondary characters. They are a lot of them, and they get introduced and developed progressively. AND THEY ARE ALL AWESOME.

Yukino and Arima's relationship is portrayed in a pretty wonderful way in that their relationship actually progresses, in a very organic way and without being set back by artificial drama. At some point they have sex. It's portrayed as a natural step which is Not A Big Deal. For a 90's shoujo, I bet that was pretty ground breaking.

Story wise, KareKano oscillates between crazy energetic crackful comedy and lovely depiction of romance and friendship. The comedy is pretty good overall, with good timing and no big cliches, though it's probably not the bestest comedy that ever was found in a shoujo. The romance/friendship/character dynamics in general however, is some of the seriously best stuff ever. I'm talking at least a Crowing Moment of Heart-warming every two episodes, here. And I'm using this term despite that I hate it because it's the most accurate in this case. It's very much cheering and sweet, without being very cute, just heart-warming and adorable and lovely.

The production values are pretty low. This is a late 90's shoujo series, handled by Gainax back when they didn't know how to handle a budget, and they probably didn't have much to start; at least that how it looks like. There's all sorts of tricks to avoid animating stuff; shift to drawn art at emotional moments, and lots, lots of recapping. The thing is, despite being obvious, all of those things aren't annoying (with the possible exception of the recapping); they are, in fact, turned into a STYLISTIC WIN. It's all done very ingeniously and in ways that improve the story instead of diserving it, which is, in itself, very impressive.

So basically, this is something of a classic for shoujo series, and for a good reason, and I definitely do not regret taking the time to watch it.
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I had promised... I forget if it was [personal profile] misstopia or [personal profile] haremstress, or both, a big rec post about SKU at some point; so there it is!

Revolutionary Girl Utena, aka Shoujo Kakumei Utena or SKU for short, is a series from the mid-nineties. It exists in both manga and anime form; and there also was an animated movie adaption made in 1999; but i mostly want to talk about the animated series which is, IMHO, the best and more interesting form the story takes. It was directed by Ikuhara, which at that point was mostly known for working a lot on Sailor Moon; and comports 39 episodes organised in 4 narrative arcs of unequal size.



The Story

Tenjou Utena is a 14 year old girl enrolled at the Ohtori Academy. When she was a young child and after just losing her parents, she remembers meeting a Prince who saved her and gave her a ring to remember him by. She was so impressed by him that she decided to herself become a Prince as well as cherishing the ring in the hope of meeting him again. Thus motivated, Utena grows up as an impressively athletic girl who values noble qualities and straightforwardness; and she always wears a male uniform in high school to the annoyance of her teacher and to the boosting of her popularity amongst other girls.
One day, in order to defend her best friend who just got her heart broken by a jerk, she ends up involved in a duel against a member of the Student School on a very weird duel arena that exists in the Forest behind the school and under an upside down castle floating in the sky. It just so happens that every members of the Student Council wear the exact same ring that was given to her by her Prince, which marks them as Duellists in an elaborate game organised by a mysterious letters writer naming themselves The End of the World where the Victor receive a young girl, Himemiya Anthy, as their Bride for as long as they keep winning; and has a shot at winning the vaguely defined Power to Revolutionise the World. By the way, the current Victor needs not bring a sword to the duel, they can just magically bring forth the Sword of Dios from inside the body of Anthy. Because Anthy is cruelly abused by her initial Victor, and appears to submit to it meekly as per the rules of the game, Utena ends up participating in those games in order to protect her as, one by one, each member of the Student Council challenge her.

Pics and lengthy review )

Simoun

Jan. 5th, 2010 06:08 pm
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Simoun



In a steampunk-ish world where everyone is born female and then picks a permanent sex when they are 17 years old; the country of the Simulacrum Theocracy is at war with most of its neighbours because other countries covet their monopoly on an ancient technology : the Simoun aircrafts . The Simoun, which the Theocracy worship as the Chariot of the God and the way to commune with their Tempus-Spatium deity, are the most agile and quick aircrafts there is, and when they trace patterns in the skies those can produce various powerful effects, including explosive ones. The Simoun are piloted by pairs of priestesses called Sibillae, which must be girls who haven't picked a sex yet (due to the war, the government has been letting girls beyond the age of 17 keep holding the office of Sibillae). The story follows a team of 12 Sibillae, their relationship with one another and how the war affects them.

Simoun has a lot of interesting elements : the world building is pretty intriguing, the genderfuck elements has a lot of appeal, and there are many mysteries loaded in the setting to hook us on. However the story didn't end up focussing on the real resolution of those mysteries in a way which I found very frustrating, and the overall storytelling is pretty bad from a plot aspect and contains many plot holes. The pacing is also very uneven, with a lot of time to way before action starts kicking at first. On the other hand, the characterisation and character development is where the storytelling shone. Despite the huge number of characters, the show was dedicated to explore and develop everyone of the 12 Sibillae as well as a number of secondary characters, and did so pretty well, if in a rather melodramatic way at times (they are teenagers after all). Eventually, as a coming of age story, it is a very good one, although as an action or as a mystery focussed one it is an utter failure. It is not much of a romance anime either, despite all the yuri flavours, with only one of the secondary romance being convincing and interesting.

Graphically, Simoun is very colourful, with gorgeous landscapes & architecture drawn lovingly in watercolours and the beautiful design of the Simoun and the way they fly. I'm less crazy of the character design which I found pretty silly and overdone, but at least the fact each girl has a different hair colour helps remembering who each one is, a helpful cue with such a huge cast of characters. The music is also pretty good, unique sounding in a way that fits the peculiarities of the setting.

The genderfuck elements, while very intriguing as a concept, wasn't explored enough for my taste and didn't seem to result into coherent or interesting effects on the setting. For example, they appear to have conservative gender roles and not picking a gender is seen as a very bad idea in the setting, which gives the anime some unfortunate implication message for genderqueers.

On the other hand, the thematic of the confusion between religion and war and the problems this causes, with the girls' role as priestesses and the fact they are being used for war is explored much more satisfyingly, with a lot of bitter-sweetness, painful realisation and conflict between characters.

Overall, I have very mixed feelings on Simoun, because I was very disappointed by the ending due to the lack of resolution other than character-wise, but, aside from the expectations I had build for it, what it does focus on it manages to execute pretty well.
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Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann

Humanity lives (pretty miserably) underground in small villages, the existence of the surface being reduced to a myth. Only Kamina, a teenager with more attitude than brain insist it exists and repeatedly tries to reach it. One day, Simon the digger, Kamina's best friend and younger brother figure, finds a weird machine shaped like a human head; later on, a redhead girl with a big gun falls from a hole in the ceiling; quickly followed by an aggressive mecha and they fight it using Simon's new-found mini-mecha... and soon reach the surface. Sadly the surface is populated by beastmen piloting mechas who will hunt down and kill any humans who dare to live on it.



TTGL doesn't do a whole lot of thing, but what it does, it does very, very well. TTGL is a reconstruction of the mecha genre, with a lot of homage to old shows and lot of things working on trope, literally, (tropes like the Rule of Cool and Hot Bloodedness, especially) and whole fucking lot of EPIC AWESOME. Also a lot of silly. And a lot of things so silly they cross the line twice and go back into AWESOME. It would be an understatement to call TTGL over the top. TTGL is flying far, far over over the top. Even the sky isn't the limit for TTGL, for it knows no limits (or common sense). It will frequently make you OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK THEY DIDN'T? THEY DID! This is made particularly winningly entertaining by the utter lack of shame and amused self-consciousness the storytelling shows.

Stylistically, the art is aggressively shounen and very dynamic, frequently sketchy and with some notable daring art-shift to suit narrative moods. There's pretty much always something racing, bouncing, drilling, popping or exploding on screen. Fanservice is also endemic, with most of cast - including male characters - wearing stripperific outfits. As a machine in creating enthusiasm, TTGL is a thing of beauty, helped along by an earwormy soundtrack ("row row fight the power") and many judiciously repeated catchphrases. In a way its a bit scary how good this show is at creating rabid enthusiasm amongst its fans. It's just... very, very catchy. Like a virus.

In pacing, TTGL also pushes beyond all limits, with a virtually absent status quo. Events don't just happen, they rush in rapid succession of topping over previous events; yet still in a way that is easy to follow and distillates the mood perfectly. This does have the bad effect of having a bunch of secondary character who have very little development besides showing up and being named, although TTGL rests very knowingly on tropes to be confident the audience still knows what those characters are about.

Those aside, most characters are very endearing and sympathetic. Simon's character journey is very well told and I found him much more interesting than your average shounen lead, not due to originality but simply to the quality of the storytelling. Kamina is... pretty much indescribables, but very hard not to love. Yoko and Nia, the female leads, are both pretty awesome and likeable. Relationships between those four (and the few other regular secondary characters) are also pretty rich and compelling (also frequently very, very slashy).

Thematically, TTGL mostly works around the idea of the importance of self-confidence, guts and actually trying things and not letting yourself stopped by anything; a theme it pursues relentlessly with the use of the "Spiral" motif, which is embedded (and drilling) everywhere in the series from art to narrative to theme to the show's very structure (also drilling). If you want a show to cheer you up and motivates you, you could do worse. It also addresses shallowly themes of idealism vs pragmatism and in the third arc (my favourite ^_^) also perhaps without fairness enough to make it work fully.

Gender dynamics wise, TTGL is... not very good. Asides from copious amount of male fanservice and the existence of a couple of very cool female protagonists, it relies way too much on putting those female characters in weakened or dangerous situation for the express purpose of making male characters look cool, especially by the ending. Otherwise, there's one flamingly gay character whose campiness is played for laugh, although he's portrayed as very awesome and competent.

In conclusion, an extremely fun and entertaining show, thanks to clever and bold storytelling and stylistic mastery, especially if your taste runs to AWESOME and over the top.
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Daughter of 20 Faces (aka Nijuu Mensou no Musune aka Chiko, Heiress of the Phantom Thief)

Shortly after WW2, in Japan, Chiko is a 12 years old wealthy orphan being taken care of by her aunt and uncle when the famous phantom thief 20 Faces infiltrates her household in order to steal her family heirloom jewels; upon which he finds out that the aunt is doing her best to poison her ward and that the remarkably perceptive Chiko is doing her best not to be poisoned; and decides to take the young girl with him as he makes his usual dashing escape.

This anime had a lot stacked up for me to like, yet ended up being quite disappointing in terms of stories. Chiko is a great female lead, intelligent, stoic and relateable; and several other characters are also charismatic (although not 20 Faces himself, a fact which ends up being rather crippling). The animation is of decent quality, and gives us some pretty impressive action scenes, especially well done in terms of having the characters make smart use of the environment. The setting is a bit of a mixed bag - the time period is interesting in itself in how it deals with the wake of the war and how it's affected people, as well as the show having a entertaining amount of pulpish elements like mad scientists and, you know, dashing phantom thief schemes, however it isn't deep or clever enough in its use of the time period, and in one specific episode set in China is downright offensive with it. The big disappointment is the overall story, while having a lot of unforeseen twists, it gave me the impression of not knowing at all where it was going. I kept expecting the story to start in earnest, watching with mild irritation the episodes where Chiko is still young and learning the ropes with 20 Faces, and when I expected things to start, it was more tepid plots without much aim nor depth to them. The finale is particularly boring and disappointing in that.


I had two more anime to review but I'm too lazy to do them tonight!
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All right, enough with the slacking!

Ghost Hunt



Young teenage girl Mai likes telling ghost stories with her friends. Someday a supernatural investigation is launched at her high school, and after a mishap where the assistant investigator is injured, she finds herself replacing him in helping 17 year old head investigator Naru (short for Narcissist, due to his charming and remarkably humble personality, nicknamed by Mai and everyone followed up through on that ^_^) in this investigation an later on taking on a part time job officially at the Shibuya Psychic Research Center.

Adapted from a series of light novels by Fuyumi Ono (aka the writer of 12 Kingdoms), Ghost Hunt is made by a series of a few episodes long case stories. The cases are pretty classical haunting and ESP based stories, and never very surprising, but all very solidly told in terms of pacing, atmosphere and storytelling and as a result very successfully enjoyable and entertainingly creepy, each one better than the previous one. They also manage well to be credibly build their world in a way that made me want to reach for my Second Sights book to play nWoD: Ghost Hunters, if you see what I mean.

There's also a definite appeal to the cast dynamics. Naru is a pretty amusing character - a rather antisocial, extremely intelligent, exigent and dry-witted young man - and he plays up to Mai - your ordinary cheerful high school girl with a spine and lots of natural curiosity - in a very entertaining way. The secondary characters - we've got a kind hearted Australian Catholic priest, a laid-back and fashionable Buddhist monk, a Shinto priestess with a bad temper, a famous Medium girl with a traditional demeanour; and Naru's protective and laconic assistant - also all have their appeal and their moment to shine.

Although it's not show where i can point out one thing and say : "this is why it's awesome", I really enjoyed watching it all the way through, it's just solid and well done overall. The animation is also excellent and very fluid, and the musical atmosphere quite good.

One of the only bad point i have against it is that the series ended short of adapting one of the key reveal from the light novel, which I had to go find out on the internet (there's manga adaptation which does go until there, for the curious) - and it's a shame because that's one reveal that made me even more interest in the characters and their relationship.

Ghost Hound



In a small village, eleven years go, Taro and his older sister were kidnapped and imprisoned in the disaffected hospital beneath the dam, and when their kidnapper died unexpectedly when he was chased by the police, it was three days before they were found. Taro's sister was dead then. Nowadays he's a 14 years old boy whose whole family is still trying to get over the trauma of what happened. When a new boy from Tokyo, Masayuki, who likes asking uncomfortable questions spurs Taro and another boyfrom the village, Makoto, whose father may have been involved in the kidnapping before killing himself; to go back together to the deserted hospital in an effort to exorcise their fear and the mysteries from the past, they all end up having an Out of Body Experience, opening up to the Unseen World.

All right, as you see it's not exactly a simple premises, it's got a lot of texture, a lot of interesting and intriguing details interwoven thematically. The pacing is pretty slow, but it's got gripping atmosphere served by some of the most creepy sound effect I've ever seen. The characters are all very well realised and compelling. They play onto your average anime archetypes, yet feel much more realistic (and flawed) than that, while still ending up making you feel concerned with them. The somewhat claustrophobic setting in a small village where everyone knows everyone also works great.

In terms of the main mystery, I found the end of the story a bit of a disappointment, with a rather anticlimactic ending which didn't end up solving as much as I hoped it would. In fact, the true emotional climax of the story is three episodes before the actual ending, playing up to the psychological and character development which was the true highlight of the story. Despite the disappointment in the overall story, it's still got some really effective ideas, mixing psychological, quantum physic, biological and mythological concepts from right and left and building up a fascinating tension, interweaving characters and thematics in a great way.

The animation and graphics are top notch, and a pleasure to see. I love how they designed the Unseen World, full of old extinct species done with very lovely CGI. I really love the OP, too.


The main characters from Ghost Hound : sweet and cute Taro, nosy and cocky Masayuki, troubled boy with an attitude Makoto, and Miyako, a sensible elementary school girl and daughter of the local Shinto priest who sometimes gets possessed.

(so yes, I did review the two Horror anime with very similar names together on purpose ^_^)
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Fulfilling my resolution of writing reviews for series as I go, here's my opinion on the anime Natsume Yuujinchou, first season

An episodic shoujo series about a highschool boy, Natsume, who has the gift of seeing spirits and monsters; and which has always considered this as a curse - being seen as weird by his classmates, and being passed on from adoptive families to adoptive families. His grandmother had the same power and used it to bully spirits into forming many a "pact of friendships" which she collected in a book which is now in Natsume's possession. This brings Natsume a lot of unwanted attentions from yokais which want to steal the book for their own advantage, or to be released from their pacts of friendship. Natsume forms an agreement with one such powerful creature - Nyanko Sensei - which takes the form of a Maneki Neko to be his bodyguard against the other spirits, and in exchange will inherit the book of pacts once Natsume dies. Meanwhile Natsume will try to release as many yokai from the pacts as he can.

(this was my summary of the manga I just copy-pasted. I'm lazy, okay? :D )

Loving the manga a great deal, I was a bit apprehensive of the anime. I was wrong to be: this is an excellent adaptation, which manages overall to catch quite well the atmosphere and the characters from the manga, both in terms of animation, music and voice acting; and even manages to improve on it on a few points, such as making Natsume's school mates more present through out and fleshing their characterisation better (we also gain a bit on how Natsume look in their PoV, which is sort of funny in that he's much more cool in a mysterious way than when we're in his PoV). It also avoids to repeat the basis of the series as the very episodic manga did every chapter, also a plus XD and tied up a lot of storyline cutely together in the final episode (as well as including hints of some further developments in the manga, hehe) There are only one or two stories I found a bit weaker than their manga counterparts - stretching the pathos or cuteness too heavily; but nothing to really complain about. All in all, it has deepened my fondness for this series, and I'm now curious to see what the fandom is made up of and if there are fics with my ship.
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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!

12 Kingdoms

Jun. 5th, 2008 12:25 am
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12 Kingdoms starts with that good ol' trope : a young girl from our world is transported into a fantasy world where she has an important and mysterious role to play, around which various intrigues, adventures and magic revolve. The young girl is Youko, a nice obedient girl who has the flaw of wanting everyone to like her - if you're a HP fan fond of Remus as a big part of my flist is, you'll know what that mean - and she was carried away along with two of her school mate, one of which is another girl, Sugimoto, who is a big fan of fantasy novels herself and wants nothing but be carried into that world of magic, persuaded that she'll finally find there a place to belong (the other is the second girl's boyfriend and has very little personality and plot relevance so don't mind him). Quickly after travelling, they are, because of a fight, separated from the man who had made them cross over and find themselves stranded in a world which they know nothing about, and on which their status as travellers from another world makes them subject to pursuit and imprisonment.

However the anime as a whole presents several stories, only another one deals directly with the same character as the first (the others center around secondary characters from the first story or new characters altogether) - giving a bit of strange feeling to the pacing of the series as a whole. Both the opening and ending songs are gorgeous pieces that really help the immersion.

In terms of characters, the story intrigued me immediately by intentionally setting its characters as not very likeable. Most of the major protagonists are presented as flawed people - not in the glorified anti-heroic way of gritty fantasy - but with the essential pettiness, self-delusions, small hypocrisies and selfishness of teenagers. Their depiction is very stark and raw, but not without compassion for the hardships they suffer from. I liked seeing them grow out of those weaknesses and learning to face their responsabilities in all their forms, to blossom into better people. There's a certain feeling to this theme of responsability and maturing which reminded me of Utena, although the treatment is very different. Overall the characters are very nuanced, believable and differenciated.

In terms of story, it is very entrancing and tightly paced (a lot of episodes end up on cliffhangers!). Once we get to the part with more ambitious plotting it is also well constructed if not exactly complex. There was at least one point which surprised me when they completely glossed over what could have been a major epic moment summarizing in a short voice-over, but we got paid back on that with another epic moment in the sequel story. The storytelling, however, is mostly focussed on the evolution of the various characters which it does very well.

The world building of the 12 Kingdoms is pretty interesting. It's fairly low key magically. A lot of the details revolve around the concept of government chosen by the Heavens, what happens when it goes wrong, and the difficulties in making it work right, which might sound silly but is examined with a lot of earnestness and gravity as one of the central theme of the story and end up being rather fascinating as such, even as its political blindspots could occasionally be frustrating. There are also a lot of creatures, wolf-like, horse-like, bird-like and plain chimera, which look gorgeous and totally appealed to my inner 12 year old. The graphic design of the world is also beautiful and works well. There's a certain abuse of exotic terms and names which can be sometimes be hard keeping track of, but I couldn't figure if that was a genuine issue of the writing, or an effect of using those words without translating them in the adaptation (which was fansubs, of course). My other main criticism is that for all that it's got 12 kingdoms, most of them remain unused and have zero differentiation between them apart from which King or Queen rules over them.

There's a couple of excellent ideas such as the fact that this is a world in which people get born from fruits of a special tree. I kinda fell in love with this idea because I think it's got ginarmous potential to explore issues about gender and sexuality in a way that's very pertinent in a fantasy world without having the boys of the old boys' club of sexist fantasy complaining about the lack of realism. Sadly, the story doesn't much explore this idea - there's a couple of clever throwaway lines about different kinds of marriage contracts and how they're used by people and that's about it. All of the couples we see are also heteronormative.

The gender dynamics of the series in general are a bit ambiguous. Definitely, they don't mean to show female characters as having less status or power in this world (except maybe in the Kingdom of Kei for very specific reasons), and the stories portray a lot of strong female characters as main protagonists. However the way that two Queens (one crowned the other consort) had their fatal flaws being their jealousy of other women left a rather bitter taste in my mouth. My overall impression is positive, it's just that it had the couple of WTF moments.

12 Kingdom is about an old trope, to some amount it did some acknowledgement of the escapist aspects of that trope, and some genuine effort to try to subvert it - but I don't think it was entirely successful. It also fell into that trap of telling the same story over and over. You know how in Darkover at least half of the books revolve around the story of a Terran, or someone who was raised among Terrans for reasons x or y goes onto Darkover, and discover telepathic powers and the culture there? Well, a good part of 12 Kingdoms gave me the impression of telling again and again the story of someone from Japan transplanted (for reason x or y) the 12 Kingdoms and having to discover the rules of that world and their own role in it. For all of that, it was a very interesting use of that trope and the best of those I've had the occasion of watching in anime (the others I know of being Fushigi Yuugi, Escaflowne and the first episodes of Kyou Kara Maoh...)

In conclusion a very good series well worth watching and very immersive, with strong and fascinating characters and a lovely examination of the themes of responsibility, admission of one's flaws and growing up. And pretty creatures/monsters ♥
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So Catie (Bless her ^^) recced Gankutsuou to me, so I watched it. She had promised to me it had nice slashiness and I would like it. She was totally RIGHT ! I loved it. Actually I cried. That makes... errr... two anime that makes me sob like a baby (not counting Graves of the Firefly, that'd make it three >_>; but it's cheating)

*cough*

Alright first, the aesthetics. It was absolutly lovely. I don't usually pay attention to this, because mostly I'm a story girl and I don't care if the art is lousy as long as the story is good, but in this case the graphism were gorgeous. They did this weird pattern imprit over flat surface that I found lovely. Sometimes it was a bit too much, but given it was XIXth century Paris (except in a futuristic way, but nevermind that, detailes, detailes...) we're talking, it was fitting perfectly with the baroque and over the top dramatics of the story.

For the uninitiated, Gankutsuou is an anime adaptation of the Count of Monte Cristo. Except in the year 5000 and a few. With a strange vengeance immortal spirit possessing the Count. And with Mecha, but not many of them (thankfully). Since Alexandre Dumas is the person who ought the least to complain about unfaithful adaptation (he lost that right when he made that quip about rapind History but to give it beautiful children) it works wonderfully well.

Anyway the story focussed principaly on Albert who balances between being the kind of moronic oblivious lambda anime hero you want to slap repetedly until he stops being so stupid, and being a lovable stubborn naive idiot.... errr well, I haven't made up my mind yet, but though he was on the verge of earning my hatred several times he never quite got it, as he meets the mysterious and wealthy Count of Monte Cristo and introduces him to the Parisian society, and his family. All of this works very well for the Count who is setting up a complicated and most cruel revenge upon the people who betrayed him twenty five years ago. *doom !*

Most of the characters are very likeable. I was totally under the charm of Franz and Eugenie. Franz because he kicks into my unrequitated love kink plus being so selfless, cheerful and earnest at the same time about it, and Eugenie by being a lovely garçonne with a vivid personnality without being as annoying as many female characters would be in that role. I also liked Haydée a lot (but I liked her before in the novel, so no surprise).
In general I absolutly adored the character designs, they fitted the characters perfectly from what I imagined in the books (of course I don't remember a lot from the novel, actually I still don't remember Eugénie at all from the novel, but what I did fitted perfectly) Especially Mercedes and Fernand.

The reproduction of the Parisian society was wonderful. Cruel, lively, proud, colourful, cynical, enthousiastic and ever so fickle. Some of the details made me laugh like the quick mention of the Queen (a quite famous gay night club on the Champs Elysée...) It serves as a great background for the dramatic tale of revenge unfolding.

The story in its adaptation is darker and more tragic than the one by Dumas. Overall, I like it better ^^ but so sad ;_; There's some weird stuff (like why the hell keep Caderousse when they don't do anything with the character ?) but it keeps you on the edge for the whole 24 episodes. I watched them all in two days because i couldn't stop myself (all right I had time too) ^^

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