Thursday, October 2, 2008

Five Series With Rockin' Female Leads Part 2

This time I'm going to focus on series that are more off the beaten path than the ones I listed yesterday. Everyone knows Utena, Ghost in the Shell, and NANA (if you don't, a pox on thee!), and enough people know about Rose of Versailles that it shouldn't be any surprise to see it listed. Here goes...

6. Creamy Mami: Surprise! I approached this title with a lot of skepticism, partly because of the title (really, go up to someone and tell them you're watching a show called "Creamy Mami") and partly because it's a 52 episode old school magical girl show (o_o). After getting past the first episode, however, the show proved why it's such a classic in Japan (it was even referenced in Gainax's Otaku no Video!). For a 10 year old kid, the main character, Yuu, is noticeably more competent and mature than your typical female lead (why wasn't Sailor Moon's Usagi like this?). Short story: Yuu finds and enters an alien spaceship (filled with trippy imagery) and saves the aliens from a dragon. (?? Somehow, it works.) The aliens reward her by giving her a pendant (sound familiar? This is pre-Sailor Moon.) that will allow her to transform into a pretty 15 year old girl (pretty for back then, at least. Her hairstyle looks very 80s.). Within a few episodes she gets recruited to be an idol and has to deal with maintaining her double life, even as the boy she likes develops a crush on her older, idol self, who she names "Creamy Mami." Honestly, I'm not finished watching this yet, but so far it's been a very entertaining ride. The entire cast really works well together, and each episode has a unique story line (no tired monster-of-the-day formulas). I highly recommend it!

7. The Story of Saiunkoku: Set in a fantasy world resembling medieval China (a la Fushigi Yuugi), "Saimono", as its fans call it, follows Shuurei Kou, the only daughter of the Kou clan (one of the two most powerful clans in the empire). As her clan (which is composed of she, her father who works as a librarian in the imperial palace, and their retainer Seiran, who Shuurei regards like a brother) has fallen on hard times, she is compelled to accept an offer to live with the Emperor as his consort for six months to teach him how to be a good ruler. If she succeeds, she will receive a large financial reward. Nothing tawdry happens, the emperor is a kind-hearted bishonen, and Shuurei more than holds her own in the men's world of the court. Honestly, before I looked up her age, I thought she was 18 to 20 (she's actually 16!). I've just become accustomed to 16 year old characters who act (and sometimes look >_<;;) like they're 12. -_-;; So yay Saimono! ^^

8. Read or Die (OVA and TV): The three episode OVA follows Yomiko Readman, a bibliophile/substitute teacher and agent for the Special Operations Division of the British Library known as the "Paper." She's a Paper Master, meaning that she can manipulate paper (i.e. making nearly impenetrable shields, paper sheets that cut like daggers, etc). Along with other agents, she solves crime and terrorist cases against the British empire. Fast forward to the TV series. Five years after the incidents of the OVA, Yomiko has gone missing and her best friend Nenene Sumiregawa, a bestselling Japanese author with a delightfully acrimonious attitude, is waiting for her. Nenene is saved from a terrorist in Hong Kong by the Paper Sisters, three Paper Masters who work together under the British Library, but who have never heard of Yomiko. They go back with Nenene to Japan to work as her bodyguards, and gradually uncover the truth about what happened to Yomiko and the machinations behind British Library. All of the characters (ALL of them!) are excellently portrayed, the writing is intelligent, and the plot has more twists than a Twizzler factory. As icing on the cake, the music fits the series to a tee, and the animation is about as good as anything you'll find in an anime (especially the action scenes! Oh my GOD!!!).

9. Simoun: As Theron Martin, a reviewer at the Anime News Network put it, "This may have started out as a yuri sci fi series, but by the end its yuri component no longer registers; it is simply a wonderful sci fi series, and that's all that truly matters." I can't really say it any better than that. This series takes place in a world in which everyone is born female, and, in Kyuukoku, the country the protagonists inhabit, everyone chooses their gender in a special ceremony at age 17. Kyuukoku possesses sacred aircraft called Simoun that are used to trace light patterns in the sky that destroy enemy air ships. Outside nations wish to possess the technology of Simoun, and are willing to wage war on Kyuukoku. The Simoun are piloted by priestesses, who are allowed to refrain from choosing their gender until the war is finished (people who have chosen cannot remain priestesses or pilot Simoun). The two leads, Neviril and Aer, are priestesses; Neviril is the head of their squadron who takes the duty of priestess seriously, while Aer just wants to fight in the war. Neviril and Aer, as well as the rest of the cast, are incredibly well-rounded and developed over the course of the series, and it's fun trying to guess which gender the priestesses will become. ^^ (And yes, Neviril and Aer count on this list because they choose to remain women.)

10. Ouran High School Host Club: Currently a fan favorite, Ouran is one of the funniest, most sharp-witted comedies to come out in the past decade. Haruhi Fujioka is a high school student from a lower middle class background attending the ridiculously elite Ouran Private Academy. Since uniforms there are expensive, she has to wear a regular sweatshirt and slacks. That, combined with her short cut hair makes other people mistake her for a boy, even though she's famous as the top student in her class. One day, looking for a quiet place to study, she enters the Third Music Room where she encounters the Host Club, a group of six attractive male students, each of whom plays up to a bishonen stereotype (the gregarious "prince" Tamaki, the faux-yaoi twins Hikaru and Kaoru, the cool, silent one Mori, etc) to entertain and charm the female students for profit. As Haruhi makes her hasty exit, she accidentally knocks over an 8,000,000 yen vase (roughly $80,000). To pay off her debt, she has to work as a host. By the end of the first episode, the Host Club finds out that she's a girl, but she still has to work for them anyway, pretending to be a guy. lol This series is freaking hysterical!! It pokes fun at shoujo and yaoi cliches and stereotypes (and even a couple of episodes that poke fun at Maria-sama ga Miteru), and it manages to balance comedy, drama, and a wide-ranging cast of characters while making it look effortless. If you want to check out a new comedy, you can't go wrong with this series. Oh, and why is Haruhi on this list? Just watch the series.

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