RideBack

Aug. 2nd, 2010 12:54 am
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[personal profile] salinea
RideBack



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

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

cut for length )

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

In the end, I found Xam'd to be a very enjoyable show at the I was watching it, but when I think twice about it, I am disappointed by the waste of potential that a show with such gorgeous production value and promising characters ended up with.
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Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

In conclusion, an extremely fun and entertaining show, thanks to clever and bold storytelling and stylistic mastery, especially if your taste runs to AWESOME and over the top.
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[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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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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