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Kara no Kyoukai: Garden of Sinners



Adapted from a light novel series, Kara no Kyoukai is a series of seven movies (yeap, actual movies, shown in theater) of urban fantasy mystery cases set in the 90s and told in anachronical way, revolving around Shiki, a young woman who dresses in a kimono and red leather jacket and can kill pretty much anything. Telling more about the story would spoil most of the fun which is trying to determine what the fuck is happening; especially due to the anachronical part and general lack of exposition.

Kara no Kyoukai is mostly worth watching for its mesmerizing beauty, with gorgeous action scenes and entrancing atmosphere. It is not much worth watching for its plot, asides from the middle 5th movie.

Read more... )

Durarara!!

Jun. 27th, 2010 12:01 am
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Durarara!! aka Drrr!!



Highschool freshman student Mikado Ryugamine has just arrived to Tokyo, and meets up with his old childhood friend Masaomi Kida who introduces him to the quartier of Ikebukuro : its infamous colour gangs, and the weird newcomer "colourless" gang of the Dollars, his eccentric otaku acquaintances, Simon the Black guy working at the Russian sushi restaurant, warns him about the dangerous Heiwajima Shizuo, the strongest man of Ikebukuro (and the one with the shortest temper), the perhaps even more dangerous information broker Orihara Izaya, and of course Ikebukuro's urban legend in the flesh : the (female) headless motorbike rider, the Dullahan. He also meets a couple more people at school, including beautiful and shy Sonohara Anri who along with him volunteer to be class representative. Them and a quite a few more characters of the city's stories end up involved in a complex, intricate way full of zest, swing, violence, drama and humour; where nothing is quite how it appears.

Adapted from a series of light novel by the author of Baccano!, by the same studio and director as Baccano!, with the same soundtrack composer as Baccano!, with an OP in the same style as Baccano!, there's actually a couple of times where it felt that it was trying just a little bit too hard to be Baccano!-like... it begs to make the comparison, and Durarara!! is just not as good as Baccano!; though it is a very good work of its own despite a frustratingly flawed second half.

For one it is an excellent work of Urban Fantasy in the truest sense of the expression, seeking the capture the sense of magic and entertaining chaos of urban places and modern life, the city & area of Ikebukuro as a character realised handsomely through the various motifs (like the frequent commentary and rumours given from an internet chatroom, or the silhouette way to render the people in a crowd which has an awesome eventual payoff) and themes of the various stories, mythologising it with both the supernatural elements of the show and a couple of larger than life characters. It is in this very much helped by the soundtrack, which is by turns jazz, hip-hop, pop or elegiac in a way that gave the series a very unique atmosphere and suited the mood of the story perfectly. The animation was a bit uneven, with some strikingly excellent work at moments, especially in the beginning, and some much less impressive. The character designs are endearing, and the background art is remarkably detailed, mapped after the real Ikebukuro.

The cast of character is pretty charismatic, with a very wide variety of characters from highschoolers to a Celtic fairy like the Dullahan as well as several adult characters. While I don't think any of them was quite as charming in that wildly over the top way the Baccano! cast had, they were still pretty damn awesome and had overall a great chemistry. However, the anime perhaps went ahead of itself by introducing a lot of characters without quite having the mean (and time) to tell their story and give them their full measure. I was especially fond of Kida, the extremely talkative and flirty best friend, Shizuo, the freakishly strong guy with a trigger-happy temper, Izaya, the manipulative and trickster-like information broker, Celty the badass and kind Dullahan in search of her lost head, and Simon the Black Russian who hates violence (but is able to dish out in the highest level when he has to stop it). This series was remarkable for someone like me who has the hardest time singling-out voice acting from characterisation as a whole because i was the first time when I thought : I could listen to those guys talk for hours on ♥ Though there's a couple of characters I could have liked much more if their story hadn't creeped me out a little bit (... I'm not sure if I can rightly call Durarara!! sexist, but it had a few elements that made me definitely uncomfortable in the way it handled its female characters, and in this case the comparison to Baccano! makes it worse because Baccano! is already not that great on that level. It's hard to articulate though. Actually female characters in both shows having trouble about articulating things as in lacking voices - sort of - is a part of it.)

The storytelling is the big way in which it lacks compared to Baccano!. Durarara!!'s story (I need to stop having fun with the punctuation >_>) starts slowly, yet never boringly, with several effects of fractured narration by giving us different point of views on the same situation to light it with a different meanings each time, taking its time to introduce various characters, slowly bringing up the story strands together seamless for an awesome story arc conclusion in its middle. The second part, which starts 6 months of story time after that, introduces a few more characters yet doesn't quite do anything with the majority of them. Its story is much more linearly told than the first half, badly paced, and simply not as interesting, relying heavily on quid pro quo and communication breakage to bring out drama and - well - wangst. It still manages to bring it out to a satisfying ending; though yet lacking in conclusion for a couple of characters (what with all the light novels not being adapted - though of course Baccano! also had that disadvantage yet managed without that flaw). Had Durarara!! been a show of only 12 episodes, I wouldn't have hesitated to rate it awesome. As it is I can "only" call it good with a certain measure of disappointment. Still, and much like with Baccano!, I hope more of the light novels will eventually get adapted.

Sukisyo

Jun. 26th, 2010 01:57 am
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Sukisyo aka Suki na Mono wa Suki Dakara Shōganai!!



At an all boy Highschool, Sora Hashiba finds himself with a new Dormitory room mate in the presence Nao, except that at their first meeting 1/ Nao called himself "Ran" 2/ climbed up on him while he was sleeping 3/ insisted to him to talk to "Yoru". Also both Nao and dorm president and friend of Hashiba Matsuri used to know Hashiba when he was a child but he forgot all about them nowadays. What are "Ran" and "Yoru", why did Hashiba forgot his childhood, and why did Nao suddenly re-appear into his life?

Sukisyo is a cute, slightly dark and slightly sexy BL series, adapted from a visual novel. In other words, if you like BL, it's pretty charming all around. (Of course I've read enough bad BL manga that any BL story with #1 an actual plot #2 no rape-as-love automatically qualifies as "good" >_>;)

Its first half is mostly filled with fluff and comedy based on Matsuri's money-macking schemes which he persuades Nao and Hashiba to participate in (Matsuri is kind of like a only-slightly-less-crazy-and-overbearing Ayame (of Fruits Basket's fame); including in his character design).

The second half, more focussed on the resolution of the main mysteries, is darker and more dramatic, despite the plot lacking much in sense when you think twice about it and fulfils the character's arc well.

There's a relatively large cast of characters - all male (I sometimes wondered if women actually existed at all in this world ^_^) with several m/m couples. Most of them are rather endearing and well characterised (except the villains who are just... evil, cuz, evil I guess). Nao being the cranky trsundere kind of uke, he's pretty entertaining. Hashiba is a bit clueless, mostly well intentionned and willful kind of male lead; and they have good chemistry. Matsuri of course is awesome and brings a lot of energy to the story.

The character designs are a bit more stylisized than I usually like, but they work well in this case and I didn't dislike them at all. The animation is decent enough. Can't remember anything about the music.

All in all, not a great series in any shape, but a lot of good fun.
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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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Himitsu: the Revelation



In the near future, a technology is developed to be able to watch the visual memories of someone through scanning their brains shortly after the death. A unit of police called Section 9 is developed, specialised into watching the brains of the murder victims and criminals in order to solve cases.

Adapted from a josei manga by Reiko Shimizu (called The Top Secret in its French translation), Himitsu was something of a disappointment. I've watched so many great anime adaptation of manga lately, I had forgotten that it was such a risky form I can be very picky of XD. The problem doesn't come from the plot adaptation or addition, which, for the most part actually were an improvement (especially how they made Nanako a real member of the team SPOILER instead of only introducing her in order to be killed as she is END SPOILER in the manga) and necessary in order to increase the overall story's cohesiveness; but from the show's direction : basically it felt very forced and hammed to the point of cheesiness, always going for the overstated when it should have gone for the understated (especially since most of the plots are horrific and taboo enough in contents, they didn't need oversell the point to shock or hook us in) in a way that removed from the dramatic tension and made me roll my eyes more than a few times. The soundtrack is particularly grating, but, really, this is a flaw of the storytelling in general.

It's not all bad though : the source material is pretty interesting if you like mysteries about dark, mature subjects, with some interesting thematics about privacy and how secrets weigh on people. It can sometimes be gore; and there's a couple of episodes that sort of flirt with a CSI-like freak of the week vibe; but for the most part, it's handled rather elegantly. Most of the stories are well done. The art and animation is pretty good, with a realistic art style and beautiful effects of light. The cast of character is a bit slow to come into its own, but does have a beautiful dynamic when it starts. Our view point character, Aoki, is a young policeman newcomer to the unit. He's pretty straightforward and a bit lacking in confidence. Maki, the leader of the team, is a beautiful man with an aloof demeanour and a great capacity for awesome. Both the manga and the anime play with a sort of slashy vibes between those two in a superficial pandering to fangirls way which I find rather irritating since they obviously have no intention to pursue it any deeper than that.

Anyway, if you're as desperate for josei anime as I sometimes am, I guess I'd still recommend it, with some warning about the eye-roll worthy direction.
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Darker than Black (Kuro no keiyakusha)



In the near future and ten years before the story starts Something happened. The something involves several elements :
  • The sky and what it held has been... changed. The night sky now contains no moon; and the stars were replaced by new, fake ones.
  • Two very weird zones of weird stuff happening have appeared at diametrical location of the earth. One in Brazil, called Heaven's Gate, and one in Tokyo, called Hell's Gate. Those zones have been isolated and studied by a new branch of the UN called PANDORA; which has resulted in many breakthrough in technology, notably a lot of memory and personality manipulation stuff. Five years before the start of the story, the Gate in Brazil has disappeared, taking a huge chunk of South America along with it.
  • People have started manifesting powers. There are two sorts : Contractors have one kind of superpower, and are compelled to pay a "price" right after using it (called by various names in different translations, but my favourite is "obeisance" for the bad French) which ranges from the weird compulsion to the horrific (there's one Contractor whose obeisance was drinking the blood of babies. Fun!). Contractors also appear to lose all sense of morality and most emotions and only act pragmatically for their own self-interest. Dolls have the ability to observe things through one medium (such as water or electricity), however Dolls, as their name indicates, appear to lose all personality and will of their own.
  • The existence of Contractors and Dolls has been hidden to the public, by erasing their memories when they came into contact with them if necessary, but governments couldn't stop many rumours from spreading out, of course. The new fake stars are also somehow related to each Contractor, so they have put a surveillance system in place based on astronomy. A lot of spy agencies have business in Tokyo because of Hell's Gate and they are not usually shy about employing Contractors.

Our protagonist is a Contractor named Hei who works for a mysterious Syndicate in a team comprised of a grumpy old man who doesn't like Contractor much, a Gothic Lolita Doll and a cat. His work usually includes stuff like information retrieval, infiltration and assassination.

Asides from Hei, we also follow a variety of secondary characters, such as a team of cop charged with dealing with Contractors related stuff, led by Misaki Kirihara, a cool and determined female cop; a team from the MI6 composed of two Contractors and one Doll, and a (not very successful) private detective and his sassy, otaku secretary.

cut for length )
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In order of 'liked it most' to 'liked it least', no spoilers unless marked & whiteouted.

Aoi Hana

Read more... )

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0

Read more... )

Spice & Wolf S2

Read more... )

Taishou Yakyuu Musume aka Taishou Era Baseball Girls

Read more... )

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

Read more... )

The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi S2

Read more... )


That's all for this batch. Will review Bakemonogatori (if i feel up to it because I have some very mixed feelings about this one) and Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood when they are actually finished.
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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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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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Paranoia Agent

An epic-level mindfuck series by Kon Satoshi revolving around a pheonomenon ofa young boy nicknamed "Shounen Bat" randomly agressing people with a baseball bat, the investigation thereof, his victims, and a parallel phenomeon of enthousiasm for a cute pop character à la Hello Kitty whose designer was the first victim of Shounen Bat. Like all Kon Satoshi stories save perhaps Tokyo Godfather it features a lot of interesting mixing between fantasy and reality, and meta-ness. See the part where I said it was epic-level mindfuck.

Sadly the copy I've watched were borrowed japanese DVDs which just happened to have English subtitles but those subtitles were somewhat... lacking. I have seen worse, but they had a lot of typos, bad grammar, lines left untranslated for no reason at all, text appearing on screen almost never translated, etc. which in a series that's already pretty difficult to understand perfectly is a bit annoying. So yeah, I kinda regret not having simply watched some fansubs.

Otherwise Paranoia Agent is extremely fascinating. It does atmosphere perfectly, oscillating between cryptic, disturbing, cynical, morbidly creepy, morbidly funny and morbidly-I-don't-know-if-it's-funny-or-creepy-but-my-jaw-is-on-the-floor. It does a pretty good job of exploring various the rather big cast of character with pitiless examination. Add a very good graphism, animation and musical score, and it's certainly entertaining as well as brain-breaking, while dressing a rather depressing portray of Japanese society - or of people's neurosis in Japanese society. I also loved how the story focussed on not one person but on the way different people crossed the phenomenon, and i found the narrative modes picked by different independant episode very unique and brillant - I think my favourite was the episode focussing on the urban legends told by gossipning housewives.

Code Geass

TV Tropes wiki seemed to love this one, and the tropes involved made me think I should give it a try. I was right : I devoured one season and a half in two days.Then I watched it again with a friend and am slightly more critical. Not that I don't love it any less - the show hits fairly on quite a few of my favourite narrative kinks - but it's also fairly flawed in other ways.

In an alternate world where the empire of Brittania rules a good third of the world and invaded Japan 8 years ago, Lelouch, a young Brittanian student living in Area 11 - formerly called Japan - finding himself in the middle of a fight beween Japanese terrorist and the Brittanian army, meets a mysterious woman who gives him the power of geass which allows him to give an absolute order which must be obeyed to any person he meets the eye of. That's a good news for him : he's always planned to destroy the Brittanian empire, this power only makes it possible for him to move faster. The first step of his plan is to take over a Japanese terrorist group and work to liberate Area 11. Bad luck for him : his Japanese childhood friend Suzaku is working for the Brittanian army and is going to become an elite mecha pilot for them.

Code Geass aims at being a fan pleaser. It does so in various ways, cramming various genres together in a way that's not always wieldy : highschool hijinks, mecha battles, complicated plots & counterplots drama, harem-like fanservice. Despite this it holds itself pretty well together, with a good helping of a high threshold of suspension of disbelief and a fair resistance to fanservice abuse. It's very over the top, extremely DRAMATIC, occasionnaly quite subtle and clever, thankfully full of self-derision and never fails being entertaining.

On the plus side, as I've mentionned, it pushes some of my buttons :
The main character, Lelouch, is an adorable manipulative bastard. Between his pretty pretty CLAMP designed character, his reliance on complicated and twisted plotting, his fastidiousness and analytical mind, his love of DRAMA and chess metaphores, his evil overlord laugh and his genuine caring for the people close to him, he makes quite the fascinating anti hero. He reminds me much of a much younger Gerald Tarrant who hasn't learned to sacrifice as much yet but is well on his way to. He's a powerthirsty, ruthless revenge driven fiend yet angsts very prettily when he realises the not always foreseen consequences of his action. I've seen a lot of comparison to Light Yagami, and it does work as a comparison, but mostly for contrast. Lelouch sees just as big and is just as prompt to analyse the exact limits of his power and to exploit it to its utmost, but unlike Light he's not a sociopath - which I find much more appealing. (Also Lelouch has a power that's actually useful instead of somethign that forces him to see every problem like a nail!) Also, I love it when the show sets him up for mockery, and the show does it a lot.

The antagonistic relationship with Suzaku is the other point of appeal. Suzaku himself is pretty fascinating, quite a complex character and an excellent foil to Lelouch. Impulsive where Lelouch plans wheels within wheel, full of qualms where Lelouch is ruthless, physically able like Lelough isn't, willing to work from within the system that Lelouch wants to destroy, taking on a personna of a white knight where Lelouch sets himself up as a shadowy masked terrorist... and full of his own contradictions. Their friendship and its evolution as the fight gets more and more between them is very appealling.

Then there's the big screwed up Amber-like royal family of Brittania, huge, fucked up, full of infighing and caring and twistedness and all sporting purple eyes (perhaps they're a Taragaryen off shout;)). Yeah, I love this trope.

The alternate history that's the background of the world looks fascinating but is way underdevelopped in the anime itself - I learned most of it from the wikipedia instead. Still, it's definitly got an appeal and allows the show to explore ideas around themes of imperialism, nationalism, quite a few ballsy references to WW2 in a way that's surprisingly subtle. It's kinda funny to see a show where ethnicity matter to the characters involved yet they all look like polychromed haired anime characters to the audience. Appart from Lelouch (yes, he does get called on his mithey whitism) and Suzaku (yes, he does get called on his collaboration), there's Kallen a half-Brittanian half-Japanese who sides with fights with the Japanese yet passes for Brittanian in her day to day life, weapon support coming from India, in fighting between various revolutionary groups and many more. The morality play is never simplified and you sometimes get surprise character development even for villains (in one case posthumous).

The mandatory just as planned plot twist isn't always clever but is almost always fun to watch.

On the bad side, the show is riddled with fanservice in a way that is occasionnaly detrimental to the plot. There is a huge cast of character which is not always plot relevent as some characters seem to be only there to look pretty or moe, provide with comedy, or be the ubiquitous morality pet and source of angsty manpain. Female characters are especially treated badly : some of them are pretty cool (I'm very fond of badass strategist princess Cornelia and Euphemia for all that she is cringe inducing on first appearance is fairly well rounded, developped and plot relevent in her own character archetype niche and Kallen definitly has her appeal as well beyond the boobs) but they tend to be way too much used only to further male characters' story or just... to provide the fanservice.

Some of the plot devices are overused (amnesia I'm looking at you), and the parallels between s1 and s2 got old very, very fast. And yes, there is such a thing as too much cliffhangers.

So many characters and plot threads and it's sometimes overloaded. A lot of material isn't in the series itself but in drama episodes and book dramas or even elsewhere which I haven't managed to track yet.

For all of the flaws, I am hopelessly addicted. ♥

Nodame Cantabile

That would be the liveaction drama, not the anime. A friend showed me the first episode saying it was extremely silly and hillarious and I loved it right away. It's centered around a character whose dream is to become a musical orchestro conductor, yet is hindered by his phobia of flying when he should study abroad to get any far in his studies, and his relationship with a wacky eccentric and sloppy yet brillant piano player Nodame. It is extremely, extremely silly - sometimes not in a subtle or unproblematic ways (if you've got a squick for seeing a male character hit a female one even if it's done in manga comedy style, this is not for you); but also works very well at being adorable and tender. Then there's the musical score, which is awesome (great use of Gershwin).

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Etrangere's anime reviews

September 2011

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