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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... )
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Shikabane Hime (Aka & Kuro)



Oori is a young orphan boy who sometimes have weird visions of a talking cat. One day he realises that his big brother figure, the Buddhist monk Keisei who found him as a child and has been taking care of him since, has a strange relationship to a young undead girl named Makina who hunts down undead monsters known as Corpses or Shikabane. Makina herself is called the Shikabane Hime.

Shikabane Hime is an adaptation of an action / horror shounen series which keeps teasing us with glimmer of goodness : the direction is remarkably good, the graphic palette in faded colours is absolutely lovely and atmospheric, the main characters though archetypal are pretty well realised and sympathetic, some of the animation is really stunning especially in the first season, the horror ambiance building in general is pretty good and subtle, and some of the dramatic moments do work well. It's also pretty well paced, slowly and deliberate with episodic stories that lets them build up the cast of characters well in the first season, then quickly around with a more overarching arc in the second season. The ending is also pretty unique and well delivered.

And yet for all that Shikabane Hime is just another boring shounen series, with a pretty lacklustre plot, some horribly timed comedy and fanservice. The only thing I'd want to rescue of the story is the way it relies heavily on Buddhist motifs like attachment to build its mythology in a way that feels pretty fresh. Also it's yet another series which portray badass young female (it's always young and female) warrior in service to (almost always) older male guardians/authority figures (which in this case institutionally at least treat them as unclean things) without the narrative providing much in terms of feminist commentary (that is to say : the institutional dehumanisation is obviously portrayed as a bad thing and exploitative, but without any kind of feminist self awareness, especially not related to the elements of fanservice the show exploits). That sort of tropes just officially got old (and I love me some badass young female warrior!).

In other word, I think I'll try to find what other things this director can do when he's not adapting silly shounen mangas.

I leave you with the OP which is remarkably good and, indeed, perhaps the best thing in the whole series:

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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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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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I haven't been all that good about reviewing series as I was watching them. Soooo watching up on series I've finished watching a few weeks ago:

Mononoke

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

cut for pics not spoilers )


Spice and Wolf

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

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

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

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

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Etrangere's anime reviews

September 2011

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Currently watching

- Legend of Galactic Heroes
- Katanagari
- Uraboku
- Senkou no Night Raid
- Madlax
- Welcome to the NHK
- Now and Then, Here and There
- Kaze no Yojimbo
- Arigatou Ghost Slayer Arashi
- Kara no Kyoukai
- Occult Academy
- Shiki
- Legend of Legendary Heroes


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