Bartender

Oct. 14th, 2010 12:35 am
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Bartender



Eden Hall is a bar in Ginza in which the genius bartender Ryuu Sasakura is able to mix the "Glass of Gods", the perfect drink for a person in any given situation.

Bartender is an adaptation of a quiet, mellow, bittersweet and quirky seinen manga. Short and strongly episodic, it revolves around various people coming to the bar, an aspect of their life story, and the relief, inspiration or epiphany they might get there in a glass and conversation. With its laid back atmosphere and mature tone; it's a pretty excellent slice of life anime series.

Its strongest point is its storytelling and characterisation : each episode gets us under its charm, introduces its characters and tells their story with a very deft hand. The direction, strongly theatrcal, despite the simplicity of the presentation from the threadbare production values, really works at setting the atmosphere; and most of the characters really feel original and genuine, coming from a variety of background, age, social class, gender etc.. While the show isn't above some slliness - mainly alcohol and bartending being presented as What do You Mean This is Not Awesome - the rest of the storytelling is very sober (heh) and understated in a very efficient way.

Its weak points are... well the production value is pretty low, obvious especially in the animation (character design in general is fine and realistic) and the silliness of the way bartending is made Serious Business of. And the series is episodic enough that it never really grasps like other stories would.

Overall very much worth checking out for being an anime series out of the ordinary, and a very well done one.
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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... )

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 )

RideBack

Aug. 2nd, 2010 12:54 am
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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.

Toradora!

Jul. 27th, 2010 11:28 pm
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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.

Durarara!!

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



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

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

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

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

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



In a medieval fantasy kind of setting, Pacifica Cassul is a spoiled, sweet, cheerful, rather clumsy 15 year old girl. She's also the prophesied of Scrapped Princess who will bring destruction to the world when she turns 16 and as a result is hunted by pretty much everyone at the instigation of the Church of Mauser. Thankfully her two older foster siblings, Raquel, a magician, and Shannon, a fighter, are quite bad ass and will do anything to protect her as they run away chased down by various kinds of assassins.

Dating from 2003, Scrapped Princess is one of those shows I'd call solid and well crafted without really having any particular edge that bring it to excellence. Graphically, it's very pretty, with gorgeous animation, compelling, round character design; and a beautiful direction overall. Most of the characters are a bit too much stereotypical, but they are well used for drama and comedy. The setting is very basic fantasy and trite. There's a twist about it, but that also turns out to be rather predictable. The action scenes are boring. So the series is entertaining and easy to watch, with good drama and comedy, but it always feels a little bit artificial and manipulative, with a strong sense of deja vu (take one pinch of Slayers, one pinch of Gurren Lagann, powder with BtVS S5 and stir with a small dose Nanoha... now this is unfair, Gurren Lagann came after... it just did it better, is all).

Pacifica, our nominal heroine, doesn't do much. Her power is much more about what she is, and her personality is to be cute, kind-hearted, preternaturally cheerful, a little bit spoiled so we and random characters she meets feel like protecting her. Shannon plays the role of the badass, stoic, teasing, protective older brother (he vaguely reminds me of Touya of CCS in global outlook) in a more active way. Raquel is a cool character too, very polite and feminine in demeanour and quite deadly with a spell, but she's much less put in focus compared to the strength of the Shannon-Pacifica relationship. There are other important characters, such as a badass general princess (sadly underdeveloped) and her girlfriend; an airhead knight who falls in love with Pacifica; the stoic young elite soldier who was sent to kill Pacifica then investigates the origin of the prophecy; or the demonic emotionless girl who starts helping the Cassul family for her own agenda.

There are elements in the story that are interesting, the whole "protagonist is the one who will doom the world" bit is an interesting premise, exploited in good dramatic ways, especially the fact that most of the antagonists feel like they have a good reason to be trying to kill Pacifica, and the story sometimes offer ironic parallels with other characters and situations to complexify things. However the plot remains often too banal, despite the high quality of the direction and storytelling. The ending, while suitingly dramatic, felt way too easy and Deus Ex Machina in the way it resolved things.

So a good and solid series, but an underwhelming one.
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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.

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.

Ergo Proxy

Feb. 12th, 2010 01:49 am
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Ergo Proxy



In a post-Apocalyptic future, most of mankind, to protect themselves from the wasteland that Earth has become, lives in isolated domes such as Romdo in which our story starts; which got all the technology to make life luxurious and comfortable for its citizens, including androids they call Auto-Reiv, though not everyone is granted the status of citizens. However a virus called Cogito is infecting Auto-Reiv, often triggering them into murdering people; and there's another series of murders which seem caused by a strange monster called Proxy. Re-l Meyer is a young woman charged with investigating those matters. Vincent Law is a young immigrant from the faraway city of Mosk trying to become a citizen and who appears to have a mysterious connection to those murders. Pino is an Auto-Reiv of companionship in the shape of a little girl.

There's something about Ergo Proxy that really reminds me of a certain aestheticism that was much more common in the 90's or early 00's (and I don't just mean in the anime medium); something about cyberpunk and mindfuck and avalanches of philosophical references and 90's action heroines that aren't really the heroine and a general over seriousness. It makes it feel a bit annoyingly affected at time, as if it had already aged badly even though it's pretty recent. That said, it's a pretty good anime, though it has certain flaws.

Visually, Ergo Proxy is quite stunning, with a very unique character design style, fluid animation, and a gritty dark & brown colour palette that suits its oppressive and ambiguous atmosphere perfectly - to the point that the colourlessness occasionally made me feel quite morose.

In terms of plot, Ergo Proxy is a bit meandering. The first few episodes were frankly boring, and I probably would have dropped it were it not for the fact I bought those fucking DVDs and I wasn't watching it alone. Then the story finally starts in an interesting direction to go on... on a road trip with a very episodic nature to it. And I actually like those more standalone episode much, much more; especially as many of them were little jewels of Mindfuckery. I do love my mindfuck, I do. Plus, occasional meta-ness! And one episode where literally nothing happens, and it's actually one of the single best episode in the series! Then they wrap up the plot in an okay ending, though if you weren't following during the Quizz show episode info dump, you'll probably be very confused by the conclusion.

Characterisation is another of the pretty good aspect. It feels a bit bait-and-switch, with the way you think first that Re-l is the main protagonist; and then you think, oh, no, I guess it's really Vincent; and then it never really clarifies who's the real lead between the two and it feels a bit confusing. Anyway, Re-l is an interesting female lead, she's competent though often a bit overconfident, driven and stubborn; she's pretty sharp tongued and temperamental, and she's both a bit of a spoiled child and someone with acceptance issues. Vincent is very shy, unassuming and kind, sometimes to the point of being annoying, but in the end pretty sympathetic. They both feel very real. Pino is redoubtably cute, but small aspects of childlike amorality to give her a certain edge. The secondary characters vary greatly, but there's a few that really stand out despite only appearing in one or a couple of episodes.

Thematically... errr Ergo Proxy name drops a whole lot of philosophical names and concepts in a way that's rather baffling to me because most of them went way over my head. Does it build anything of consequence with all those references that end up for a deep and complex thematics? Or does it just use them for to look cool and symbolic without really making any sense? I have no clue. In the end, we have a pretty cool Existential message, which is always nice but I get the same from my trashy gonzo action modern pirates show without all the fanfare & trumpets. There's also a lovely sense of melancholy in the face of certain death; and a motif of relationship between creators and creatures which play at a series of levels in a beautiful sad way. And puns. Actually the puns were really silly and sort of Sailor Moon level. So, I dunno, you tell me if you saw anything really profound and intricate into it that would justify calling a series of talking statues Derrida, Lacan & I forgot the third, because I certainly can't guess why on my own.

So yeah, in the end a pretty good show, especially if you like intellectual cyberpunk shows and good mindfucks.
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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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Towards the Terra



In the future where Earth was ecologically destroyed and humanity fled to the stars, doting itself of a computer controlled and fairly totalitarian government so as to avoid the mistake of the past. Children are created by biotechnology, then given to foster parents until they're 14, when they pass an "adulthood test", get most of their memories of their childhood erased and get send to orbital schools. Jomy is a teenager who, on the day he passes his own adulthood test, finds out that he is a Mu, one of the humans gifted with psychic powers and reviled by humans for it. As the computer orders his death, he is rescued by other Mu. On the other side of things, Keith Anyan is an elite young student who mysteriously retained zero memories of his childhood as he starts his higher education, and whom the computer controlling the orbital school has very high expectation of.

Adapted from a 70s manga, Towards the Terra really rocks the old school Sci-Fi vibe. I guess it might be a bit of an acquired taste, but AE Van Vogt and MZ Bradley were my favourite writers when I was 12, so I loved it. It helps that it's got some excellent storytelling and very decent characterisation, with the emotional high point of the series really compelling and well executed (with the exception of the finale episode, which felt a bit badly rushed through) and a good sense of epic and tragic events making the plot. It's got a very quick pacing (sometimes perhaps a little too quick) with some pretty drastic time jumps, which are well used to develop characters. Some of the plot development are slightly melodramatic or rely too much on unlikely coincidences (like the way Jomy's childhood friends are kept in the story) but with the right kind of suspension of disbelief, extremely fun. While the thematics are fairly cheesy in the way they are presented, they are well explored and set up by the characters and the way we follow both Jomy and Keith a lot. Jomy's a fairly archetypal young, hot blooded hero at first, but gets well developed; Keith's your average not!quite!so!emotionless and sarcastic anti-villain, and is quite fun as such, especially early in his story. Other important secondary characters are also well done (and it looks like the adaptation made a good work of filling some flimsy characterisation in some cases) though none are very original or deep.

The animation is pretty good and fluid, and I rather like the character design style - old school that it is. I love how characters wear capes and diadems and even headphones of power. It's all very disco ;) The soundtrack is also very good and atmospheric.

Sadly, the setting also shows its age on the gender, with female characters saddled with little presence, agency and power - despite the effort of adaptation to increase their relevance - or on the weird way the only place we see dark skinned are two minor characters amongst the Mu. On the other hand, we have a lot of slashiness, which should come as no surprise given that the original manga was written by Keiko Takemiya.

For a very random appeal, Towards the Terra has a couple of vague plot resemblance with the new BSG, except it executed those right and mostly coherently which made me feel very vindicated.

In conclusion, a very solidly entertaining work, if it fits your taste.
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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
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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[personal profile] salinea
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 ^_^)
salinea: (teasing)
[personal profile] salinea
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
Shion no Ou

When Shion was very young, her parents were murdered in front of her, the trauma rendering her mute. Nowadays, she's a 12 year old girl on the verge of becoming a female pro of Shougi - Japanese Chess; as various events conspire to remind her of this still unresolved murder; while she meets two other pros; Ayumi - really a boy who crossdresses in order to win as much money as possible to pay for his ill mother's treatment bills among the less competitive female pros - and Saori a girl from a very well off family who is apprenticed to the Meijin - the current top player of the Shougi world.

I first encountered mentions about this anime around the Hikaru no Go fandom, and it's easy to see why, both being shounen series revolving on board games; yet they are very different kind of series apart from some fairly standard Shounen tropes , although both are excellent. Where Hikago is a fairly straight forward Bildungsroman; Shion no Ou is much more focussed on the main mystery's investigation and one main tournament of Shougi, held at a breathless pace. This is the anime's strongest point : I watched the 22 episodes in about 2 days, driven by the intense storytelling.
In terms of characterisation, it is a little bit uneven. Shion herself is a bit distractingly "moe" on first aboard, not to mention the difficulty of giving strong presence to an animated character whose voice is only heard during the occasional inward monologue, but eventually as the story progresses she's revealed to be a very strong person and compelling lead. Ayumi's the other compelling character (and my favourite) as a very intense and earnest boy in a difficult situation. Saori is also very interesting, although too much put to the side of the main story in the latter part. Other characters are pretty well done in their role - I particularly like how, in contrast with Hikago, parents, even those who do not play board games, aren't entirely sidelined from the story. There's a couple of characters who are a little mishandled due to how the mystery plays out.
About the plot itself : I liked how it came across as the intersecting of different characters' agendas and own secrets. The main mystery of Shion's parents' murder itself is only decent and fairly easy to guess, but works well because of how tied it is to the Shougi games and Shion's psychology.
Sadly the graphism and animation is quite ugly and barely watcheable; although occasionally interesting.
The show also makes a few interesting commentaries on gender, and sexism in the Shougi world is addressed, which was appreciated.
Overall a solid series, very easy to get into and very fun to watch.

Otherwise I finished watching a few series I've mentioned before:

Shounen Onmyouji: Had a pretty dull last tier. I'd hoped it would pull itself into an eventually interesting plot and antagonism but it disappointed me. I'm feeling very meh about this anime overall.

Saiunkoku Monogatori S2: Well, this was not an ending made of fucking awesome brilliance, what with so many interesting new plot threads only being hints; and any expectation of a sequel being unlikely to come very soon, what with the fact the anime already adapted almost all light novels it is based on; but it was still very decent, and made a nice counterpoint to the S1 ending. I really adore this series, despite some of its flaws.

Michiko e Hatchin: FUCKING AWESOME BRILLIANCE.

What's next? I'm currently watching Mononoke, Tobaku Mokushiroku Kaiji, Mouryou no Hako, trying to finish watching Zoku Sayounara Sensei, as well as watching Zoku Matsume Yuujinchou and Skip Beat as they're nearing to their ending. Currently wondering what I'll get into after I've finished those, so if you'vre got suggestions...
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[personal profile] salinea
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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