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House of the Five Leaves aka Sarai-ya no Goyou



Masanosuke is a tall, naive and shy samurai who was sent away from his master because of his overly timid personality. Exiled as a ronin to Edo he tries without much success to make his life as a bodyguard when he meets Yaichi, a suspicious and easy-going guy, who takes interest in him and starts making use of him for the schemes of kidnapping and ransoming people he does along with a few friends as the gang of the five leaves.

I was looking forward to this adaptation of a manga by Natsume Ono (aka the author of Restaurant Paradiso) which I've been enjoying reading a lot in its French translation called Goyou; and I wasn't disappointed : House of the Five Leaves is one beautiful, nuanced and entrancing adaptation, suffering only from being a bit too short for its source material.

Goyou is an odd work, which, despite the involvement of samurai and criminals, is more a slice of life and character study than an action series. It's an understated, atmospheric and bitter-sweet work where we mostly learn to appreciate the characters and their interaction as they go about their day to day life and start revealing events of their past and changing as characters from their relationship with one another.

The production values are excellent and really carry out the atmosphere. The art is beautiful, with lovingly detailed backgrounds and a lot of fluidity; the music is unique sounding and lovely, and the character design is original yet pleasant (well, I liked it, I've seen people on the internet react badly to it but they know nothing :p)



The storytelling makes great use of Masa's candidness and genuine kindness to bring out interesting bits from the characters he interact with, as well as bits of subtle humour. With his awkward height, shy demeanour yet emotional boldness, he kind of reminded me of Fumi from Aoi Hana (is that an odd comparison? ^^). Yaichi's like those ambiguous allies with their eyes always shut you always see in shounen series, except his personality is treated in a much more realistic fashion in term of both his weaknesses and how annoying it can be for others. Their relationship is more than a little bit slashy. The rest of the five leaves are Otake, a beautiful woman who loves drinking sake and teasing people, Umezou the grumpy looking owner of the tavern they all always gather at, Matsukichi a silent and stern thief. Each one except for Otake has a narrative arc dedicated to exploring their background and personality. Overall, they have some very nice chemistry and subtle characterisation.

For a historical work, this one is really interested in looking at people's life from a different kinds of social class in a very down to earth fashion. The direction gives attention to small gestures and objects of the daily life, giving a rhythm and a poetry to the narrative as it fills it with subtle meanings. The situation of the character are quite morally ambiguous, yet revealed to be a complex result of their character, social situation, and network of conflicting obligations (with all the weight that obligation has in traditional Japanese culture) in a way that allows them to remain sympathetic while still having a dark undercurrent. How to handle the way the past can weigh you down and learn to appreciate life and friendship as they come form the core of the thematics of the series and are realised beautifully with deft touches.

The gender dynamics aren't the best : the few female characters were the ones which were the least focussed on by the narrative though it (barely) pass Bechdel's test. And despite some clever rearrangements to fully tell the story despite the shortness of the series' run, there are still some awkwardness of pacing in the middle and some plot threads that are just left hanging there, though they managed an ending that was fulfilling and cathartic enough.

With its down to earth attitude to the historical setting, its mature tone, the slow and deliberate pacing that build up the atmosphere beautifully, and its subtle characterisation, it kind of reminded me of Mushishi though it doesn't quite match that sublime anime series (what does?); it was still a pretty amazing anime and my favourite of the series of spring 2010.

Hakuouki

Jul. 5th, 2010 04:29 pm
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Hakuouki Shinsengumi Kitan



After going to Kyoto for a job, Yukimura Chizuru's father disappears, so she decides to dress up as a man in order to travel there herself in order to investigate his whereabouts. On the road, she is attacked by weird white-haired blood-thirsty people and saved by the intervention of the Shinsengumi who take her in (although with a certain amount of threatening). Chizuru's father was known to the Shinsengumi, and seems to have been involved in some of their secrets behind those weird white-haired blood-thirsty people.

Hakuouki shows the typical flaw of visual novel games adaptation : boring harem dynamics and lack luster lead. We are saved from boredom by the quality of the animation - always gorgeous, with some pretty good combat scenes and work with lightning and the sexy character designs of all the bishounens - and by the interest of the Historical period depicted plus the addition of a supernatural plot which is intriguing though too slowly developed.

Chizuru is a pretty unoriginal main character : she's cute, hard-working, kind, determined and has a knack to get herself into trouble. Despite the cross-dressing and wearing a sword that she's nominally supposed to know how to use, she rarely draws her blade and never uses it, thus frustrating our expectation. That would be okay if she was the sort of character using other skills and qualities in order to advance the plot (contrast with Saiunkoku Monogatori for a non-fighting heroine surrounded by an army of bishounen who defend her when needed, who nonetheless manages to be awesome because she actually saves the day with negotiation, paperworks, networking and other non fighting skills) but noooooo, in this show the plot only gets developed by random happenstance due to the many times Chizuru witnesses something she shouldn't have or finds herself in a situation she needs to be rescued from. Oh, and the Historical plot gets developed in voice over, for the most part.

The rest of the cast varies in interest, the usual Shinsengumi stars get their due : Hijikata, Okita, Saito, Harada, Shinpachi, Heisuke etc. all get their chance to shine. And look very pretty. Of course, everyone is pretty uniform ally fond of Chizuru, and she likewise; and all other relationships are mostly underdeveloped (I think, with the exception of Shinpachi and Heisuke's friendship). The supernatural plot is slowly revealed and is intriguing, adding a few other interesting characters, but with the second series set for broadcast next Fall, we've yet to see if it was worth the bother.

So, good for getting a katana-using pretty boys fix and for die-hard collectors of Shinsengumi-related series, but not for much else.
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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.

Mushishi

Sep. 15th, 2009 01:29 am
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Mushishi



In early 20th century Japan, but in rural areas where the time period isn't quite obvious, Ginko is a wandering Mushi-Shi, a man whose job is to deal with the creatures known as Mushi when they trouble the lives of people. What are Mushi? Invisible to most people but those who are sensitive to them, they are very much like supernatural faeries or ghosts, yet they are also described in very organic terms, as part of the natural world rather than part of the supernatural world. Mushi are also frequently just phenomenon, and few Mushi show intent and personhood in a way understandable to humans, and those few that do are still very alien, and come across as very differently than creatures from a yokai story. Yet they are forms of life, not beings either good or evil, just life that seeks to live its own life, and the ways they cross human beings' path is never simple, and never entirely good or bad.

Adapted from a seinen manga series, Mushishi is a thoroughly episodic anime, working on cases basis each time. In 26 episodes, only one character asides from Ginko is seen several times. Despite this, it manages some of the best characterisation and most beautiful storytelling I've ever seen. Seriously, this anime is sublime, utterly captivating in its melancholy atmosphere, quietly understated yet poignant, beautiful in its animation and gorgeous in its detailed natural landscapes. Each story makes splendid use of the 20-so minutes of an episode to be told fully, with a beginning, a middle, an end and often an epilogue, at a serene, deliberate pacing, yet with a storytelling alchemy and a fullness of conclusion that leaves you under its charm long after it's ended. Each story develops its characters with nuance, subtlety and a unique character design that let them be fully realised.

Thematically, Mushishi is also very strong and mature. Most mushi play as a metaphor for something of nature - not only nature as the wilderness, but also nature as the natural laws that affect human beings, from the things we use to survive and prosper like agriculture to the thing that plague us irremediably like diseases and aging. Some mushi are wonderfully beautiful. Some mushi are terrifying and horrible. Some mushi are useful. Some mushi extremely harmful to humans. Many mushi are both, to some extent. The solving of cases isn't ever a given, and frequently quite difficult. (Some of the episodes aren't about cases, as such). Most of the times, it's a matter of how you can live along, live with the problems caused by the mushi, or live without. A lot of stories have bitter-sweet endings. Several of them have sad endings. Some only end many years after the case. Some are up in the air.

I especially love how the anime focus on very ordinary people. That are several very varied range of mostly rural work and crafts underlain by the story, and there's something very refreshing in that kind of focus, and in the variety of ways people made their life, as well as the naturalistic treatment to storytelling.

Ginko himself is an interesting lead. He's not quite the cypher that the Medicine seller is in Mononoke, for example, he's got his own personality as a sardonic man who has his own ethical ideas about things yet is fairly cynical about people. Yet he's not at the forefront of most of the stories (there are several stories in which he appears very little) and is a rather quiet man. There's a handful of episodes dedicated to developing his character and his backstory, but not much. Of course, Mushishi is a great example of the less is more kind of storytelling.

In conclusion, this is easily one of the best anime I've ever seen. Watch it.

Baccano!

Aug. 16th, 2009 03:28 pm
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Baccano!



How do you summarize an anime that starts with a discussion on narrative and its arbitrariness prefiguring that the ensuing story will have no clear beginning nor protagonist, not to mention the fact it will be chronologically destructured?
Baccano! is a story set in the 1930's that involves robbers, mobsters, delinquents, cultists, assassins, innocent and not-so-innocent bystanders - a number of which are immortals - a newspaper agency and a train called 'the Flying Pussyfoot' running from Chicago to New York through three main separate interwoven time lines plus the flashbacks.
Slightly more details than I would usually give in an anime summary, without being spoilery as such )

Despite the complex chronology and massive number of protagonists, Baccano! is remarkably easy to follow (after the somewhat confusing first episode) in what amounts to a brilliant masterpiece of storytelling. It is fast paced, compelling, with beautiful action and fluid animation, a glorious jazzy soundtrack, frequently gory and yet filled with a communicative feeling of joie de vivre. A remarkable number of the characters in Baccano! are kind of insane - from the sociopathic to the so stupidly eccentric it's crazy, going through the psychopathic and the people who clearly have big issues which would be hard to describe. You come to love all of them anyway, or, at least, those of them that do their psychopathic rampage with style (there are several).
I have only one complaint against Baccano! : I want more.
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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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I haven't been all that good about reviewing series as I was watching them. Soooo watching up on series I've finished watching a few weeks ago:

Mononoke

Continuing on the Bakeneko arc of Ayakashi, Mononoke tells the stories of the mysterious medicine seller, as he goes about historical Japan, finding malicious spirits and exorcising them by finding their nature, the cause of their existence and what they're trying to do (roughly).

cut for pics not spoilers )


Spice and Wolf

In a Europe-like setting of the high middle age/early Renaissance, Lawrance is a wandering trader who goes about his business, when a pagan wolf deity of wheat (in the form of a young girl with wolf ears and tail) by the name of Horo hitches a ride on his cart and makes a deal for him to bring her up north to her native land.

cut for pics, not spoilers )
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Kannazuki no Miko is a short (12 episodes) story revolving around a romantic triangle, mechas and magical girls: Chikane is a very naive everygirl, friend to both Ohgami, a young boy raised by a shinto priest, and Himeko, the young high-class overachiever girl idealised by everyone at their highschool. Both Ohgami and Himeko are in love with Chikane, and Ohgami was going to confess when suddenly mecha attacked! (it happens...) The mechas are the Orochi, some kind of monster that regularly tries to destroy the world, and to do so, empowers and uses 8 humans who have reasons to despair. The only ones able to stop the Orochi are the priestesses of the Moon and the Sun, who are reincarnated into Chikane and Himeko, by doing a ritual to summon Ame no Murakamo to fight off the Orochi - so of course Ohgami's first mission upon awakening as an Orochi is to kill Chikane and Himeko.

I watched this anime because I saw it mentioned in the Utena thread at RPG.net as one of the rare yuri stories but the two girls actually end up together in an uplifting way. This information was not actually entirely correct:
SPOILERS
Since Himeko at one point rapes Chikane, even if there's an explanation to handwave it, and since Himeko eventually dies, even if she's supposed to get reincarnated and meet Chikane again. I think I'll take my happy-ending yuri fix from somewhere else. Athough at least this way it pushed my betrayal!angst button!
END SPOILERS
As a story, Kannazuki no Miko was just barely entertaining enough for me not to drop it. It uses a lot of obvious narrative tropes, some of which were appealing enough to me for purely buttons reasons (brothers set to opposite sides angst! Boy overcomes destiny of evil to save the one he loves! Meta commentary provided by one of the villain! Yuri! Unforeseen betrayal! Mindfuck!) rather than for any originality or cleverness in their execution and the ones that didn't appeal to me got on my nerve with their obvious Moe-ness set up (Chikane and most of the secondary character Orochi). Chikane is that kind of character who's supposed to be cute to your average anime fanboy, but who's really, really annoying to everyone else and feels like a 6 years old child was transplanted in the body of a 15 years old girl. She's not even genuinely kind and compassionate to overcomes her obliviousness, clumsiness and overall stupidity. Ohgami and Himeko are decent enough characters, if really generic ones. The visuals and animations are pretty good although I can't say I found the action scenes particularly riveting (of course I'm hardly a mecha fan). The yuri scenes were much better... and that's about it. I don't think I would recommend this anime to anyone but the diehard fans of yuri or perhaps the diehard fans of shinto mythology.

Ayakashi: Japanese Horror Stories is a series of three horror stories set in historical Japan of 3-4 episodes each. Each story have a fairly interesting and pretty visual design (the first one is done by Yoshitaka Amano, the other two by other people I don't know about).
The first story is a tale of betrayal between husband and wife leading to the ghost of the wife seeking vengeance. It's a rather gloomy tale where no one is particularly sympathetic, and then everyone die. In the hands of a very skilled storyteller that could make it a stark study of human nature, but as it was, it was pretty dull, with flat characters who you can't wait to see dying off.
The second story is a doomed romance between a falconer samurai and a beautiful fey girl (okay, she calls herself a forgotten god) who lives by preying on humans. It was somewhat more pleasant to follow and interesting than the first one, but rather lacklustre as well.
The third story happens as a household prepares to marry off their daughter, when they're suddenly attacked by a monstrous cat spirit, trapping them in their house as it kills family members one after the others. Thankfully a medicine seller is present who claims to be able to fight off the spirit if he is told by the family about what they did to provoke the spirit's grudge against them. This is the most successful story, both because of the investigation into the dark secrets of the family nature of the tale, and because of the claustrophobic huis-clot set up. The character of the mysterious stranger that claims to be able to help, and the young servant girl are both very well realised. There's a spin off of this story revolving around the same medicine seller called Mononoke which I will watch soonish-ly.
So overall this is a pretty mediocre anime apart from the gorgeous visual styles and the tie in with another series.
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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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