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Welcome to the NHK



Satou has been a hikikomori - a recluse suffering from anxiety at the idea of going outside - for the last three years after dropping out of college when he meets a highschool girl,Misaki, who decides he is perfect for her project : if he does what she says, including daily counselling sessions with her, she will cure him. Meanwhile, he also realises that the annoying otaku neighbour who listens to anime songs all day is one of his former school mate Yamazaki; and in order to prove Misaki that he is not actually a hikikomori, he decides to collaborate with Yamazaki to create a porn dating game; thus falling into the grasp of the otaku lifestyle.

I really enjoyed watching Welcome to the NHK as a dark comedy about depression with geek references in its first half; but I kind of got really fed up with it after a while, when I started finding the plot very repetitive - with Satou falling into yet another unhealthy/predatory fringe subculture every few episodes - the main character too dislikeable in his self-centeredness and lack of empathy for other people, and I had to struggle to finish it. I'm not entirely sure if that is a fair criticism, because when people are suffering from depression and anxiety, being unable of focus on other people is a factor of it, as is falling back onto unhealthy patterns every time you think you'd make progress - so it's not like those things are unrealistic. There are also many times when I felt that the show simply might be a poor adaptation of a much better original work - as it's adapted from a novel with autobiographic elements.

Read more... )

Cross Game

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



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

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

cut for length )

Toradora!

Jul. 27th, 2010 11:28 pm
salinea: Xavier & Magneto fist bumping, "Xav/Mag OTP" (shipping)
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Toradora!



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

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

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



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

Still, Toradora! remains an extremely entertaining and well crafted high school romance.
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Bakemonogatari aka Ghostory



Highschool student Koyomi Araragi has already encountered the supernatural (callled "oddity" in this show) once or twice before, in particular he was a vampire for a while, he got better but it left him with a super capacity for healing and a contact with oddity specialist Oshino. So when he discovers that a girl in his class Senjougahara is literally light-weighted as a result of an encounter with an oddity as well, he proposes to help her by asking for Oshino's advice. Then he goes it again and again as various girls around him have similar problems.

This is going to be a tough review, not least because I watched most of it last year, thanks to the ending being broadcast as web OAV (OAW?) - but also because it's show I almost dropped once before getting convinced to pick it up again by the fanboys of RPG.net gushing about it. Bakemonogatari is on many levels so annoying, but it also have some qualities that make it (barely) watchable.

First there's the harem dynamic. Araragi is a pretty boring lead. He's ridiculously self-sacrificing but that's his only quality (?), he's insensitive, a geek, and a little bit of a loser in that boring way that so many show go for; and he's surrounded by girls who need his help and a more or less have a crush on him (even the lesbian among them banters with him in a sexual teasing kind of way). To his credit when backed into a corner, he improves greatly. There's a some gratuitous fanservice, some of which came across as fairly creepy. This is only slightly undermined by the fact that Senjougahara is a pretty unusual female lead : despite calling herself as a Tsundere she betrays the archetype in various ways:
One is by how her violence is portrayed : usually in shows that have a Tsundere character behave in violent way, that violence is portrayed in a comical way, frequently by going so over the top it goes into slapstick and absurd reach. Senjougahara's violence is extreme yet portrayed as scary. She mostly gets away with it because Araragi heals so fast and because after showing what she can do, she mostly resort to threats and mind games after that. And yet that violent character is still somewhat portrayed as seductive in a way.
The second one is that Senhougahara is mostly straightforward and honest with her feelings, after a few false starts, she right away confess to Araragi and ask to date him, as a result of which they hook up very early in the show. Really, I'd be tempted to call her a Yandere rather than a Tsundere character (I wonder if anyone would agree with me on that). Despite being the romantically aggressive character in their couple, I was disappointed by the fact Senjougahara mostly did it through objectifying herself instead of treating Araragi as sexually attractive to her.

The artistic direction is very idiosyncratic in the way SHAFT tend to do them. In some occasions it's strikingly beautiful, but in most of them I found it annoying; though I'm sure many other people would have mostly loved it. (I saw someone at a blog describe SHAFT's visual style as an "acquired taste" which I find amusing because as far as I'm concerned, it's the opposite : I loved the first show I watched in that style - Sayounara Zetsubou Sensei - found it dull the second time - Bakemonogatari - and now have come to disliking so much I could barely go through one episode of it - Arakawa under the bridge). There's a lot of close up on eyes, Araragi's emotive hair ahoge, random items, and wall of texts; for a result of a faintly surrealistic atmosphere. The surrealism is increased by the fact the world is literally empty of people asides from Araragi, Oshino and the girls, for a rather claustrophobic result.

The thing I actually liked a lot in the series was the treatment of the supernatural. Every oddities play up in a kind of punish way on the character's name, and everyone are a metaphor for some kind of psychological issues, usually a strong emotion that is being repressed. The treatment was usually pretty clever and interesting (though sometimes uneven), with some great moment of cathartic realisation. In general, the show had strong themes related to, as one of the best blogger on the show put it, inauthenticity and overcoming it. The storytelling overall had very good drama at the right points (with the exception of the Snake arc which was very underwhelming as well as having the creepiest fanservice).

The other thing that appeals is the cleverness of the writing, full of meta-ness, self-awareness and witty banter. While I didn't find those as amusing as many people seem to have, it was reasonably entertaining and funny. (Though so far I'm enjoying the adaptation of another novel by the same writer, Katanagari, much more in term of witty dialogues).

Overall Bakamonogatari is the sort of show that will appeal a lot to some people and repeal most others.



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Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei aka Tatami Galaxy



Our nameless protagonist (Watashi) is a student newly enrolled to a college in Kyoto as he picks a club to enter in, looking forward to a rose-coloured college life, filled with romance with a raven-haired beauty and other exciting accomplishments. Fast forward 2 years and he feels that his college life has been an utter waste of his precious youth. If only he hadn't been led astray by his best friend, the trickster-like and demonic-faced Ozu! If only he had picked a different club when he entered! So time rewinds to let him make another choice, and again, and again, and again. Always to a disappointing result. Yet opportunity is always hanging over him, waiting for him to pick it up.

Adapted from a novel (as in a serious, literary novel, not a light novel), Tatami Galaxy is a brilliant, inventive, quirky and resonant study of the unrealistic dreams and foiled expectations typical of young adults as they start their life in earnest. Served by a wildly imaginative visual style and a quick fire running commentary by Watashi; it produces an ironic atmosphere perfectly suited to its subject.

The visual is the most creative and interesting aspect of the series with some always entertaining, creative and surrealist ways of rendering the events, it is strikingly original and fluid. With Watashi's narration going on so fast, though, it is easy to miss details of the animation, but I wager the series bears several re-watch easily, especially given how many little details correlate with one another from one rewind to the other.

At first I feared the repetitive nature of the plot, with a feeling of little progression during the middle of the story, but that's when shit started kicking in a more interesting direction, building up to the truly amazing and exciting ending. Descending into greater magical realism it gave us a wonderful apotheosis of the thematics of the series.

The comedy works on a dark humour, surrealism and satire basis - and of course repetition gags - and while it's not really the kind that'll make you laugh out loudly, it's certainly efficient at creating the right atmosphere.



My biggest disappointment with the story was Watashi himself, who is the pretty typical socially awkward, kind of idealist, kind of cynical, mostly wishy-washy male loser character type you see in too many stories (both anime and others). I ran out of interest into those kinds of characters a long time ago. However since the narrative is especially there to criticise his hesitation, responsibility-fleeing, others-blaming and contradictions in order to build him up from there, I shall excuse this series (though it did take a while before it got there, due to the nature of the time-rewinding plot).

Thankfully, the rest of the cast is much more interesting. Ozu, the demonic best friend is remarkably entertaining, always up to untold mischiefs of various kinds that dynamise the story in a very trickster fashion (and not always unkindly though Watashi fails to notice it, of course). Akachi the love interest is also pretty damn awesome, a very cool-headed, intelligent and no-nonsense girl, member of the engineering club and with a phobia for moths. I wish we had spent more time exploring her character actually. The rest of the cast appear bits by bits, and is fairly high in colour and interesting as well. Despite all the rewinds, they remain true to themselves, though Watashi's always changing perspective on them depending on where he is gives them some surprising depth.

Thematically, Tatami Galaxy works really well, it puts us face to all the contradictions we have between what we dreamed of and what we accomplish, the little hypocrisies and cowardice; while capturing a sense of whimsy of college life and Kyoto's region evocatively. And for all the sardonic tone, it is strongly humanistic and optimistic to its core. It really makes the best use of of the motif of repetition and variation to highlight characters in both their failings and qualities.

An awesome and unique anime overall.

Hakuouki

Jul. 5th, 2010 04:29 pm
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[personal profile] salinea
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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Angel Beats!



Otonoshi is an amnesiac boy, waking up in a high school which serves as a strange kind of afterlife / purgatory for dead people. A score of the "students" there, led by a coldly determined girl, Yurippe, have decided to rebel against God because their lives sucked and have taken up arms against the (female) President of the Student Council, whom they call Angel, and who exhibits strange superpowers to fight back against them (they, in turn, use an impressive battery of weapons). People who follow the rules of the school at Angel's request eventually vanish away, and the rest of the people at school are "NPCs". Otonashi agrees to go along with them until he gets his memory back.

Angel Beats! has one big quality and one big flaw : its quick, dizzying pacing. It never really rests, bringing up a new plot twist changing the direction of the series virtually every episode, and operates some pretty abrupt mood shift within the episodes themselves. On one hand, that makes it particularly entertaining and riveting as you wonder what they'll bring up this time, on the other hand it also undermines much of the atmosphere, leaves it with a sometimes incoherent plot and dramatic moments that feel forced and artificial because there was not enough build up leading to them. Add to that the fact that it crams several genres together (it tries for both gag-based comedy and tear-jerker melodrama, plus the mysterious setting and the odd action scenes) and has a large cast of character; and you have a pretty odd result of ideas flying together at random for some very mixed result. I can't really call it a bad show, because I mostly had fun watching it, but it certainly wasn't great.

Many of the characters are simply underdeveloped and merely served as one-note comedy jokes. I fairly liked the humour of the series (I wouldn't say it was very good, but I like random and deadpan humour so I found it amusing) so I liked most of them. Other characters are developed thanks to the Sob Story of the Week, usually told through a flashback and with little build up, so you're left wondering at Otonashi's strange power of persuasion that convinced everyone to tell him their life story in the middle of a scene. The characters that spend the most time on screen are still mostly okay : I enjoyed Yurippe as a cool-headed and grimly focussed leader (up until the last episode); and Hinata as Otonashi's male best friend, was pretty endearing and solidly characterised as well. Otonashi felt a bit too Sue-esque (though that's probably mostly a result of "easy" level of the scenario and the way he resolves everyone's issues thanks to... err, thanks to what anyway?) but not actively annoying. Angel was too much of a moe archetype for my taste being an Emotionless Girl, but she's not badly characterised either. And some of the dramatic scenes do reach the right note of touching emotion - mostly a credit to the excellent direction.

The plot only barely hangs together, and while you could fanwanks most of the stuff that did not, it's not like the narrative itself provided you with the rational. The setting is intriguing and well used to give the series its quirky atmosphere (with characters' dying always used as a joke, since they're already dead so it doesn't make much of a difference to them), but again, strongly lacks coherence in the end. At least the series has a neat end and concludes on a great note (if you skip the after-credit tag).

The character designs are pretty average and unoriginal, but the animation is mostly gorgeous, with a lovely direction and some great works on light, and an overall glossy feeling that suits the video game aesthetics of the setting well. The soundtrack, while not particularly awesome in itself, was used to great effect to bring the best out of dramatic scenes.

Overall, not a must-see, but an amusing way to pass time, and not an anime I can say I was ever bored watching.

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.

Planetes

May. 6th, 2010 11:55 pm
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PlanetES



Space, baby, space. And not any space; realistic, gritty, hard science space like you've never seen hard science on a TV or cinema screen before.

The year is 2075, space exploration is continuing at a steady rhythm, leaving a trail of a bunch of junk in orbits, and one day of course one piece of garbage causes a big accident, so various programs of debris collection are organised in the corporations that deal with space exploitation. Since of course, this is no profitable business, those programs are underfunded and a place to send employees nobody else wants. But they do their job nonetheless. Our story deals on one such agency, and in particular with a young Japanese woman Ai Tanabe, a clumsy, spunky, hard-working, idealistic busybody who just joined the program and needs to learn everything, and with Hachimaki (thus nicknamed because he always wears one) her senior astronaut, also Japanese , a jerk with a heart of... actually I don't think he's got much of a heart, but who loves space and dreams of owning his own space ship one day. The focus of the story starts very low key and episodic in a slice of life way with a side of romance, painting a broad and complex picture of space exploitation and exploration in the future along the way, then develops a more continuous dramatic storyline in its second half, brought to an impressive and emotional climax both on the global scale and the smaller scale of the characters.



Unlike most everyone I've seen talking and reviewing Planetes, I actually have mixed feeling about this anime. On the one hand, yes, it does some brilliant, beautiful and heart-wrenching things, and more over, does it about themes and situations that you almost never see anywhere else. Planetes does space like nothing else does it (but documentaries, I guess), and Planetes does personal drama excessively well, and both of those by themselves make it worth watching. But Planetes also does a number of irritating things I can't quite ignore; and also does a few problematic things that are so involved and complex I have difficulties even properly articulating them. I'll probably have to make a second spoilery post to even try addressing them.

cut for length & pics )

Kobato

Apr. 12th, 2010 09:14 pm
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Kobato



Kobato is a young, naive, airhead, clumsy, optimistic and hard-working girl who just literally fell down from the sky. Helped by a bad tempered flame throwing plush dog that goes by Ioryogi, she's got one year to fill a glass bottle full of confetti she earns by healing the heart of people. Soon enough she starts working at a kindergarten along with a kind young woman and her younger grumpy with a heart of gold foster brother. Good luck, Kobato.

Kobato is adapted from a seinen manga of CLAMP I had actually avoided reading because the premise seemed remarkably silly and fluffy to me, which tend to be the sort of CLAMP manga I like least. But I thought the anime was a good occasion to jump that bandwagon and I don't regret it. The concept remains pretty silly and fluffy as expected, but is charming and well executed enough to be pleasant to watch. As the story builds up and characterisation are deepened it even becomes pretty good in its second half, with a few excellent episodes filled with grace and bitter-sweetness.

Kobato despite her very moe flaws is very likeable thanks to her determination and kindness; and while Fujimoto was too much of a jerk through most of it for my taste, they definitely have a good dynamic. Even better is the dynamic with Ioryogi who has a complicated past I wish we'd have found more about. The characterisation of quite a few secondary characters also particularly shone through and gave the anime the chemistry that made it better than average. I can't judge it as an adaptation since I have read the manga (the one CLAMP manga I haven't read, lol), but it overall has a very nice direction and pacing. Add the fact the ending was particularly excellent and you really have a lovely slice of life anime series.
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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 )
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[personal profile] salinea
Sasameki Koto (aka Whispered Words)

Kazama is a sweet and a little bit airhead girl with the habit of regularly falling into a crush for cute and small girls, Sumika is her best friend and secretly has a crush on her. Sadly Sumika is the type of girl - tall, capable, excellent at both sports & academics - that would be more properly called handsome rather than cute, so she mostly spends her time suffering in silence while Kazama drifts from one crush related hijnks to another. One day they witness two other girls kissing one another in an emptied classroom.



I wasn't expecting to find another good yuri anime right after Aoi Hana, but there it is. While the story is fairly predictable and lacks originality, going from slice-of-life to comedy, gently pocking fun at some classic yuri tropes while following most of them along the ways, Sasameki Koto is a very good and entertaining watch, with endearing characters and excellent storytelling. In particular it strikes a very good balance between comedy and the emotion of (various) unrequited love and friendship; and executes both very well : the wacky stuff is very funny and adorable, the emotional moment are very sweet or heartbreaking. The cast of characters is pretty excellent : I found both Kazama and Sumika to be very charming; and all the various other secondary and tertiary characters are also pretty fun and lively. Tomoe and Miyaka, the couple of lesbians, are hilarious and great at giving impetus to the story by wanting to create Girl's club; and Akemiya, a boy with a crush on Sumika, who gets up to crossdressing for complicated reasons, is also adorable. The cast is completed by Sumika and Kazama's genki friend and another classmate who is a fangirl of Yuri novels.

The art and animation doesn't stand out as in any way, but they're enjoyable and fluid enough, with some good direction.

Much like with Aoi Hana, the biggest flaw of the series is that it couldn't adapt the whole run of the manga so it just... stops and doesn't deliver any ending; which is a bit frustrating (less than in a plot focussed series; but still).

In conclusion a very solid and well crafted if typical comedy/romance series.
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[personal profile] salinea
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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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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[personal profile] salinea
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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[personal profile] salinea
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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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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