Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fall 2010 Anime Season Part 2

Part two!

Omae Umasou da na:
A series of weekly 5 minute shorts about a Tyrannosaurus that tries to eat a newly hatched Ankylosaurus, but winds up adopting it. Based on a popular picture book by Miyanishi Tatsuya.

Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt:
Gainax's newest offering, "The story centers around a teen-celebrity-like blond-haired girl named Panty and a black-haired Goth Loli girl named Stocking. The two are angels sent from the heavens to battle the "Ghosts" on Earth."

Imaishi Hiroyuki, the guy who directed Gurren Lagann, will be directing this, so it'll probably have great visual style- if not necessarily any substance. And who came up with those names?

Update: PV streaming here.

Pokémon: Best Wishes!:
They're still making new seasons of Pokémon?

No one really cares about the seiyuu in a show like this- but holy crap, Hayashibara Megumi? How often do you see her doing voice work nowadays?

Rita et Machin:
An adaptation of a series of picture books by Jean-Philippe Arrou-Vignand and Olivier Tallec about "the happy daily lives of a precocious five-year-old girl named Rita and an easy-going yet somewhat lazy dog named Machin."

I'm not interested in watching this, but it is neat to see a Japanese studio adapting a series of contemporary French children's books. The studio producing it is Nippon Animation, which has adapted numerous classic non-Japanese literary works as children's TV shows. (Including Les Miserables. o_o I want to see that series, even though it sounds like a watered down version of the original novel- but changed appropriately, given its audience.)

Robin With His 100 Friends:
Another children's show, about a boy who moves from the downtown area of a city to a village, where he makes (presumably) 100 friends.

Seikon no Qwaser season 2:
Wtf, how did this get a second season?

Shinrei Tantei Yakumo:
A new mystery show by Bee Train based on a novel series by Kaminaga Manabu, "The story follow Yakumo, a young man who can see the spirits of dead people with his red eyes. He uses this ability as a gift to solve murder cases."

The description doesn't "wow" me, but Bee Train could make it work. It has Ono Daisuke and Toyoguchi Megumi (SEI!!)- something for weirdo-seiyuu-fangirls of all sexual orientations.

Update: A PV is streaming here.

Shinryaku! Ika Musume:
Based on a comedy manga by Anbe Masahiro, "Squid girl vows to invade humans' beaches for their pollution of the seas."

Sounds amazing. lol Tanaka Rie and Nabatame Hitomi have roles.

Sora no Otoshimono: Forte:
See what I wrote about Seikon no Qwaser.

Soredemo Machi ha Mawatteiru:
"The comedy story centers around Seaside, a slightly odd maid tea shop (kissa) in an otherwise ordinary shopping district of a mundane neighborhood in Tokyo. (Despite the addition of maids, Seaside is a traditional kissa, instead of one of the maid cafés made popular elsewhere.) Hotori Arashiyama works at Seaside and daydreams about being a high school girl detective. She, the other workers, and Seaside's few customers have various slice-of-life adventures."

I'm not really interested, but at least the maid uniform isn't sleazy. I don't see how a café with employees who wear maid uniforms on the job wouldn't be considered a maid café, though.

Sakurai Takahiro and Sugita Tomokazu have roles. Sakamoto Maaya is singing the OP.

Update: A PV is available here.

Star Driver Kagayaki no Takuto:
"On a cross-shaped island in the South, a mysterious and gigantic humanoid robot known as the "Cybuddy" is discovered sealed in the underground ruins for untold ages. A group known as the "Order of the Glittering Star Cross" attempts to remove the seal by abducting a girl named Wako Agemaki, who they dubbed the "shrine maiden" and is the key to activating the robot. A boy named Takuto Tsunashi arrives with his own Cybuddy named Tauburn to rescue Wako. Thus begins a struggle to unlock the secrets of the advanced technology and prevent disaster."

It's being produced by BONES, so at least its visuals should be good. The story doesn't interest me, though.

Fukuyama Jun, Miyano Mamoru, Koshimizu Ami, Taketatsu Ayana, and Sakamoto Maaya have roles. Update on 09/02: A PV is streaming here.

Another update: Two more PVs added.

Super Robot Taisen OG: The Inspector:
An anime project based on Banpresto's Super Robot Taisen role-playing video games.

Pass for me. A trailer is streaming here.

Sugita Tomokazu is playing the lead, and Shimizu Kaori (yay! Signum) has a role.

Tantei Opera Milky Holmes:
That's a special title right there. An adaptation of a "romance adventure game" about four girls living in a futuristic world who want to become detectives.

The basic idea sounds fine, but the character designs and trailer don't inspire any confidence.

Tegami Bachi Reverse:
The second season of the Tegami Bachi ("Letter Bee") series. I tried the first season. It was solid, pleasantly atmospheric entertainment, but I didn't stick with it. Reverse should be a treat for fans.

Sawashiro Miyuki, Koshimizu Ami, Fukuyama Jun, Mizuki Nana, long-time fan favorite Hisakawa Aya, Saito Chiwa, Nabatame Hitomi, and Horie Yui have roles.

Update: A PV is available here.

To Aru Majutsu no Index season 2:
More adventures in Academy City. Like every other sequel, you know whether or not you're going to watch it.

Kawasumi Ayako, Noto Mamiko, Sawashiro Miyuki, and Itou Shizuka have roles- as well as another long-time fan-favorite, Inoue Kikuko.

Update: PV streaming.

Togainu no Chi:
An adaptation of a BL game about "Akira, a young man who was made to participate in a deadly game called "Igura" in post-apocalyptical Japan in exchange for being freed from jail. His goal is to beat the "Il-Re", the strongest person in Igura."

The concept sounds like it could have potential, but the trailer makes the show look like it takes itself way too seriously. Pass for me. It has nicely animated action, at least.

Tomokazu Sugita and Fukuyama Jun have roles.

Yosuga no Sora:
"Having lost both parents, the Kazugano twins; Haruka and Sora decided to move in and live with their grandfather to whom to they are fond of. However beneath the surface is a promise, and the lost of a lost treasure which underpins their reason to return to such place."

An ero-game adaptation. No famous seiyuu, surprisingly. I predict that the brother will have selective amnesia, and have some sort of childhood connection with every girl in his grandfather's town. The story will attempt to wring pathos out of its audience by threatening the life of a doe-eyed moe girl (likely with a terminal illness) as tinkly music plays in the background.

And that's it. ^^

Monday, August 30, 2010

Fall 2010 Anime Season Part 1

Here's another preview of the upcoming anime season. I hope it's useful!

Arakawa Under the Bridge x Bridge:
More 4-koma-based slice-of-life hijinks about a neurotic rich guy who winds up living with a cute but nutty homeless girl and her passel of eccentric homeless friends. I wasn't wowed by what I saw of the first season, but this is great news for people who enjoyed it. (Kamiya Hiroshi always plays the same character for SHAFT, doesn't he?)

Update: A trailer (of sorts) is streaming here.

Aria the Scarlet Ammo:
"The story takes place in Tokyo Butei High School, a special school where armed detectives — "Butei" — are trained to use weapons. Kinji Tōyama is a second-year-student who has a special ability, but he keeps it a secret to maintain an ordinary, peaceful life. However, when he gets caught in a bombing on the way to school, he encounters H. Aria Kanzaki, the most powerful S-Rank Butei student in Assault Studies."

A promo (that doesn't show any actual animation) is available here. I'm assuming that the appeal of this series lies in the everyboy protagonist being surrounded by weapon-totting cute girls, but I can't think of any guy (or girl) I know who would find these character designs appealing.

Two 9th graders strive to become manga artists whose work is adapted into an anime. One of them promises the girl he's in love with that he will marry her if his dreams come true. I wouldn't be interested in this at all if it weren't being directed by Kasai Kenichi (Aoi Hana, Honey & Clover, Nodame Cantabile), along with newcomer Akitaya Noriaki.

Kawasumi Ayako is voicing one of the characters.

Battle Spirits: Brave:
The third season of an anime based on Bandai's Battle Spirits card game.

A PV is streaming here. Kawasumi Ayako, Ono Daisuke, Endo Aya, and Itou Kanae have roles.

Fortune Arterial: Akai Yakusoku:
"The story revolves around a transfer student named Kōhei Hasekura who discovers that his new remote island school, Shūchikan Academy, has a female vampire named Erika Sendō within its student body."

Too...easy to mock. The title sounds like a pachinko game, but this is an ero-game adaptation.

Nabatame Hitomi and Ono Daisuke have roles.

Hakuouki Hekketsu Roku:
 The second season follow-up to this past spring's adaptation of the Hakuouki otome game, about a teenage girl who travels to Kyoto to search for her missing father and winds up living among the Shinsengumi. I sampled the first season. It had beautiful art and some slick action, but I didn't stick with it. It was fine, though. (Certainly better than Harukanaru Toki no Naka de, Angelique, and La Corda d'Oro.)

Hetalia season 4:
Danish and Norwegian Hetalia fans, this is the season you've been waiting for! The fourth, 24 episode season of this perennially popular net series will introduce Denmark and Norway. (And hence, a flood of Scandinavian-on-Scandinavian BL doujinshi.)

Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls:
Based on a light novel series by Suzuki Akira, "The story is set in the early 21st century — except in this alternate world, the Tokugawa shogunate never lost power and Japan maintained its enforced seclusion from the rest of the world. The 25th shogun assumed the mantle of Japan's leadership 20 years ago, and the student council enforces the suppression of rebellious elements at a giant academy for children of military families at the foot of Mt. Fuji. (Many of the students carry the names of famous historical figures.) The girls Yukimura Sanada and Matabei Gotō battle the mostly female members of the ruling student council faction such as Sen Tokugawa ("Sen-hime"), Hanzō Hattori, and others. A 16-year-old male student named Muneakira Yagyū and a female Jūbei Yagyū are caught in the middle."

Or going by the trailers, "Exploding clothes-fighting-BOOBZ."

The Hyakka Ryouran franchise has already released a line of figurines, and the anime adaptation will draw otaku in like flies with its famous seiyuu cast (Toyosaki Aki, Koshimizu Ami, Kotobuki Minako, Kugimiya Rie, Kobayashi Yuu- plus, Sakurai Takahiro as a member of the Tokugawa clan), if they aren't already sold on the service.

Kami Nomi zo Shiru Sekai:
Based on Wakaki Tamaki's romantic comedy manga about "Keima Katsuragi, a high school boy who is known as the "Capturing God" for his success at romance simulation games. [That isn't something...that I would really be proud of.] However, thanks to a contract with a devil, he now has to capture the hearts of real girls to catch the runaway spirits hidden in those hearts."

This series could have the greatest script writer on earth adapting it, and I still wouldn't want to watch it. Itou Kanae and Taketatsu Ayana have roles. A trailer is streaming here.

Karl to Fushigi na Tō season 2:
"The story centers around a mysterious tall tower built from an (unsteady) stack of building blocks. Every morning, noon, and evening, an old timekeeping man rings the bell in the tower to confirm the time for the local townspeople. However, one day at noon, the tower bell fails to ring — leaving the townspeople confused about when to eat lunch. The fantasy adventure begins when Karl, an inquisitive boy living in the town, decides to go to the tower's plaza to see what is the matter.

A children's show with character designs by "acclaimed children's book illustrator Junzo Terada." The first season aired as "shorts", so the second season probably will also.

Based on a josei manga by Higashimura Akiko, "The story centers around Tsukimi Kurashita, a huge fan of jellyfish (kurage, a wordplay on the "kura/mi" and "tsuki/ge" in her name) and a girl who moves to Tokyo to become an illustrator. She moves into "Amamizukan," an apartment complex that is full of fujoshi (diehard female otaku) with a no-men-allowed rule. However, one day, Tsukimi invites a stylishly fashionable woman to stay at her room at Amamizukan — only to discover that the guest is not who "she" seems to be."

Whoever came up with that description fails at being coy. Whether the guest is a transgender woman or a cross-dressing man, hopefully this series won't just make them a joke character. A comedy about an apartment full of fujoshi could be quite funny, and it's airing in the Noitamina timeslot. The director, Omori Takahiro, has also done some strong directorial work. (Ooh, Baccano and Durarara.)

Itou Kanae, Noto Mamiko (squee), Okamura Akemi, and Koyasu Takehito have roles.

"The story centers the life of Taro Sado going through high school. He came to realize his masochist personality and attempts to conceal this from his crush. To fix it, he enrolled in his school's "2nd Volunteer Club"."

Doesn't sound like my cup of tea. Taketatsu Ayana, Fukuyama Jun, Tanaka Rie, Satou Rina, Ohara Sayaka, and Gibu Yuuko (yay, Ah-chan's voice! but why does she have to be in this series? ^^;;) have roles.

Motto To-Love-Ru: Another sequel, this fall's obligatory nerdy-high-school-boy-cohabits-with-magical-girlfriend series.

PVs are streaming here. Tomatsu Haruka, Toyosaki Aki, Kawasumi Ayako, Noto Mamiko, Hanazawa Kana, and Itou Kanae have roles.

Otome Youkai Zakuro:
"It's the Meiji Era in a slightly alternate Japan, and the Gregorian calendar has just come into effect. The fox-eared girls living in the youkai part of town are about to be put to work together with a delegation of young human soldiers, to promote interracial understanding. So what will happen when Zakuro's strong personality collides with human sensibilities...."

The art looks pretty (girls with animal ears and bishonen- you don't see the two in the same series often), but the story doesn't sound interesting.

Nakahara Mai, Sakurai Takahiro, Toyosaki Aki, Hanazawa Kana, and Horie Yui have roles. PVs are streaming here.

Update: A longer trailer is available.

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai:
Based on a light novel series by Fushimi Tsukasa, "The story follows the daily life of an ordinary high school boy named Kyōsuke Kōsaka. Kyōsuke's younger sister Kirino is a pretty fashion model — but also a secret otaku of adult games. Kyōsuke is the only person to whom Kirino reveals her hidden obsession and other issues."

Again with a series featuring a nerd who revels in the seedier side of the otaku fandom- but I guess it's supposed to be cute or something when it's the main character's little sister. *eyeroll* I'm just getting creepy vibes from it.

The seiyuu include Taketatsu Ayana (she's really getting a lot of roles this season), Nabatame Hitomi, Hanazawa Kana, Satou Satomi, and Tamura Yukari. A PV is streaming here.

I skipped Iron Man, because I'm sick of doing a full write-up about it. It should finally air in Japan this fall.

Part 2 will be up soon. ^^

Friday, August 27, 2010

Anime Review: Kuttsukiboshi OVA 1

Kuttsukiboshi ("Stars sticking together") delivers on what it promises- "two girls' 'risky' summer vacation together." Code for: "They're gonna make out, HERN-HERN." It also delivers plenty more.

Kiko and Aya have summer vacation coming up. Kiko has had telekinesis since she was in an accident...I forget when. Aya knows about Kiko's power and they test it every day at school. Kiko loves Aya and Aya reciprocates and their relationship progresses pretty rapidly. One day Kiko enters Aya's apartment to retrieve the cell phone she left there (conveniently unlocking the front door with her telekinesis) and finds Aya sleeping with her older brother. Horrified, she runs out into the rain. I'm really glad that I read the spoilers for this OVA after people started complaining about it online, before watching it.

From a technical standpoint, it's impressive. Seriously, one guy directed, wrote, and animated this entire thing. The animation is surprisingly good (up to the norm for a television series) and the art would be considered rough if a full-fledged animation crew had worked on it- but one guy. ONE GUY did this twenty one minute animated piece.

I admire how Ishikawa Naoya had the gumption to go ahead and do a solo project of this length. With as much passion and commitment as this must have taken to make, I wanted to like Kuttsukiboshi even though I knew the story wouldn't be Voices of a Distant Star-level ambitious. (And yes, I know I'm being unfair in comparing the two just because they're both solo projects.) But I thought that it might be a cute summer love story. Unfortunately, it felt like a bad ero-game adaptation. (Thanks to Kuttsukiboshi, I learned about netorare.) The main story is as dull and fan-pandering as its ending is disturbing and the characters don't feel well-established at all. What do Kiko and Aya like to do independent of each other's company? Fumi likes literature, Ah-chan likes drama; Sumi does karate, Ushio fawns over general cute and girly things and helps her mangaka brother run the household; Mari likes reading and studying, Akko likes fashion and make-up; etc, etc. The telekinesis element feels like an afterthought.

But hey, Ishikawa succeeded in getting attention.

Story: D
Art: One guy... C+
Overall: ...who should let someone else write his next OVA. D

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Anime Review: Rose of Versailles episodes 21-40

The story in Rose of Versailles spans over the course of 34 years, from Oscar's birth and, 14 years later, her appointment as Commander of the Imperial Guard, through her inevitable death 20 years later in as poignant a finale as one will ever see in a historical drama. As the saying goes, "It hurts so good."

The second half of the story begins on an ominous note, with Jeanne orchestrating the Affair of the Diamond Necklace that played a major role in ruining the public's opinion of Marie-Antoinette, even though historians have determined that the Affair was one blunder that Antoinette was probably innocent in. The story takes a breather with the Black Knight arc, in which a masked thief begins stealing from the rich to give to the poor- right when Oscar's servant André has been disappearing at night. Hmmm....

Oscar's father tries to marry her off and she thwarts his efforts brilliantly. (Admittedly, it was a little weird that after so many episodes of the noblemen treating Oscar like part of the boys' club, she was suddenly the hot tamale.) Painfully aware of how she isn't completely free of the restrictions placed on women, Oscar leaves her relatively sheltered position as Commander of the Imperial Guard (where her status as daughter of the Jarjayes family gives her automatic respect among her subordinates, who are also nobles- although a great later scene shows that they respected her for more than her last name) and becomes Commander of Company B in the French Guard, which is composed of working class men who hate nobles and won't listen to a female commander, whatever her background. Revolutionary fervor boils over and all hell breaks loose after the royal family fails to negotiate with its citizens and turns guns on them instead. As a good person serving the royal cause (and leading men who cooperate with the revolutionary cause), Oscar is caught between a rock and a hard place.

Still excellent. There are so many wonderful, bittersweet, uplifting, heart-wrenching moments. Oscar winning the loyalty of Company B (and for the first time, we really get to know the men under her command), Oscar's actions at the ball her father set up for her to pick a suitor, Oscar and Antoinette's farewell scene, Oscar having her portrait painted for the first time (and later, the sad scene where André tries to describe what the portrait looks like even though he can't see it), what Antoinette does on the balcony after her family is captured, Antoinette's last request to Rosalie, Oscar's refusal to fire on the delegates representing the citizens at the Etats-Generaux, Company B's refusal to take orders from anyone besides Oscar ("We'll only take orders from our Commander!"), etc. I also especially liked seeing St. Just, who is as nutty (but not quite as much fun to watch) as his namesake in Oniisama E. (It made me smile to see him throwing daggers at a wall.) The one real negative is the hoary, unwelcome shoujo/romance novel cliché that wriggled into episode 28. It really bothered me, but the remaining episodes were powerful enough to compensate.

Whether you like them or not, you can never accuse Ikeda Riyoko's characters of being one-dimensional. Oscar is noble- like Oniisama E's Kaoru-no-Kimi, the sort of person who you would want as a friend- but not overly simple or a goody-goody. She deserves every bit of her iconic status. Antoinette is a terrible ruler but not really a bad person, and a good mother- it's interesting and a little freaky to see her change from a naïve, spoiled, but well-meaning 14 year old to a deluded queen who fanatically believes in the infallibility of the royal family- although her feelings of friendship towards Oscar are true to the end. I could go on.... Even the conflict between the nobles and the working class isn't painted in black and white. Since I love history, seeing the events of the revolution unfold was a treat.

There is comparatively little yuri in these episodes. (Unless you count Jeanne's assertion that Marie-Antoinette was getting it on with the ladies at court.) That isn't the point, anyway. This is a must-watch series.

Story: Points off for episode 28. A-
Art: B
Overall: A

You know you've seen something special when the grainy trailer for its movie re-boot alone sends a shiver down your spine. (I wonder what ever happened to that movie. If it were released, I'm sure it would be successful.)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mizucon 2010

At around 10:00 a.m. this morning, I was afraid that my day at Mizucon would turn into a disappointing con-horror story. Luckily, that wasn't the case.

I arrived at the con at 9:15, just to be sure that nothing would go wrong. The con was supposed to start at 10:00, so I wasn't surprised that no one was at the con's registration booth yet. I knew that my panel was supposed to be in function space 1- but no room was labeled "Function space 1" or marked with the schedule corresponding to my room. I walked to the dealer's room and asked where function space 1 was supposed to be.

I eventually figured it out, along with a con staffer- meaning that I set up shop in a room that had a slide projector when no one else claimed it. The con staffer was nice enough to draw a sign saying "Yuri Anime & Manga Panel" and place it outside the room, and he and two other people helped me make the projector work. At about 10:15, with only those three people there, I started the panel, and at about 10:30 a larger crowd suddenly came in. (Yayyy!! ^_____^)

The panel was pretty much divided into the same sections as my last few panels, with some editing and re-mixing of the content (which I do before every new panel because I don't want to grow bored with my own presentations). The audience participation was good- the usual mixed batch of questions and comments. ("Most of what you're describing so far sounds like it's really school-focused. Any reason why?" "Why didn't you say why it [Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito] has a bad ending? Is it that bad?" "The Utena movie is insane!!" <---Just like saying, "The sky is blue." "Why didn't you include Kämpfer? Because you think it's a crappy show?" My answer: "Yeah.") This time around, there weren't any heathens people who weren't familiar with Haruka and Michiru in Sailor Moon. And the only really weird moment was when I asked, "So, what are your favorite yuri titles?" and some guy frantically waved his hand and said "Have you read Legal Drug? It's yaoi." Despite the "Ack!!"-inducing beginning, it was a fun panel.

Then I went to the Artist Alley/Dealer's Room, where the con staffer who was helpful earlier offered to show me around before he had to help his friend "E" sell Japanese snacks. There were a lot of tempting things, but I wound up getting the two items that made me squeal internally- a Sailor Moon plush and a plush of Yui from K-ON! It's silly, but...eeeee!! They're so cute! ^___^ Here they are on my dresser.

I got lucky- the person who I bought the Yui-plush from knocked $5.00 off the price after I said I wanted it. I also got two boxes of Pocky from "E." Most of the merchandise focused on the usual anime and manga favorites, with a nice mix of more niche series and K-pop/gothy J-pop-related goods. (I like visual kei, but my budget at this con belonged to Usagi and Yui.) After the con, I went to Bayside to have a late lunch at the Mambo café and do a little window shopping. All in all, a good day.

Also- I didn't do a panel at Yasumicon, as originally planned, because Yasumicon was canceled for this year within a month of its date. The biggest downside is that I planned on going with my best friend, who was a great assistant at one of my earlier panels (she offered to be my "seed"; if people in the audience were shy during the discussion portion, she would jump-start it; that precaution wasn't necessary at all)- but she couldn't make it to Mizucon. On the plus side, I got the push I needed to go to a new con. (And of course, I got me some adorable plushies. There were three different types of Sailor Moon plush dolls, but I didn't have any trouble choosing the one I wanted. There were two Yuis, and I kept going back and forth between the booths selling them to compare- which was easy because they were right next to each other.) I'm willing to do a panel at Mizucon next year if they do a better job of labeling their rooms. (I'll definitely contact them about that.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Oh boy, guess what I got in the mail today?

The second volume of my favorite running manga series, Kaishaku's Zettai Shoujo Seiiki Amnesian.

Shimura Takako, eat your heart out. This is excellent yuri, a series that I would be proud to display on my bookshelf and recommend to any newcomer to the yuri genre who wants to know what the fuss is all about, or a teenager questioning her sexual identity.

Amnesian volume 2 continues Kaishaku's masterfully crafted narrative about an ordinary, pure-hearted yet frequently abused high school student who works as a nun, the large-breasted magical fighter who attempts to protect her and feel her up on a regular basis, and the cohort of villains and allies who free the protagonists from the binding restrictions of clothing.

Every page is like a painting, brimming with visual significance. Take special note of the cover, which uses Himeko's shredded nun habit and her struggle against the chains binding her as a critique of the patriarchy that persists against women today. On the interior pages, Chikane is clearly re-claiming her agency and subverting chauvinistic societal standards by swinging a sword around (Freudian imagery, I suppose?) even as her skin-tight clothing fails to provide any adequate coverage or support. The bottom line is that any self-respecting comics fan should get started reading this series a.s.a.p. You won't regret it.

Overall: F

I originally planned on reviewing this series in its entirety because of its Kannazuki no Miko connections, but this is the last volume I'm covering. Chew on that, Kaishaku.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Manga Review: Saki volumes 1-2

Saki was a show that didn't impress me when it first premiered in spring '09, but by the time it hit its halfway point I thought that it was a lot of fun. The characters were all likeable, the flashy mahjong-theatrics were entertaining, and there were several yuri pairs.

The anime and manga have virtually the same story. Miyanaga Saki is a first-year high school student who has issues with playing mahjong because of her stupid family. (Although her big sister Teru somehow managed to become a top-ranking competitive player in the same environment.) After relishing victory for the first time while playing with the Kiyosumi mahjong club, she joins it along with her old friend Kyou, former middle school tournament champ Nodoka, taco-fanatic Yuuki, oddly talented second-year sempai Mako, and third-year club president Hisa (who might be my favorite character). They all aim for the National Championships, but have to win the prefecturals first. The first volume covers the build-up to the tournament (my favorite part being when Hisa sets Saki and Nodoka up to play against a pro player so they'll realize how much they need to improve and start training seriously), while the second volume covers the qualifying matches for the prefecturals and Yuuki being brutally smacked down by Kazekoshi's president Mihoko in the first prefectural game.

While it is nice to see the characters introduced again in these volumes, especially after the other teams start showing up, the series hasn't hit its stride just yet. It takes some kind of talent to make a story about characters competing in a game that I don't know how to play entertaining, but this still isn't Saki at its best. (Admittedly, even though I don't know how to play mahjong, I can at least follow that it's kind of similar to bridge, in some respects.)

I actually prefer the anime's rendition of this part of the story. I shouldn't directly compare the anime and manga versions, but it's inevitable. The kinetic, (literally) electrifying visual flair of the games is more immersive with color, animation, and supporting background music. The anime also plays up the yuri subtext between the characters more. (High fives to the anime writers for that. ^_^) But the manga hasn't reached the part of the series where the yuri really kicks in (comparatively speaking), so I'll see how it turns out. It's a fun series, anyway- the characters' enthusiasm for competing against strong opponents is infectious in any medium.

Story: C+ in volume 1, B- in volume 2
Art: C+ (It does what it needs to do without extraneous clutter, although the character designs are bland. I could really do without the service.)
Overall: See Story

Monday, August 16, 2010

Anime Review: Rose of Versailles episodes 1-20

"Aishite mo...ai to yobenai, boku no me ha mou kimi wo miru koto ga dekinaku naru...aa...Oscar...OSCAR!!!!!!"

Rose of Versailles is transcendent. It's a must-watch for any fan of animation. As a testament to its staying power as a classic favorite in Japan that isn't a long-running Shounen Jump title, let me mention two things: this show aired from 1979 through 1980, and when I visited Japan to study abroad in 2007, weekly re-runs of it were playing on TV (my host family was naturally surprised that I was like, "Oh my god, Berusaiyu no Bara!!!"); and last fall a drama aired called Haken no Oscar about an OL who loves RoV (I mean, really loves it) and uses it as inspiration for dealing with her everyday problems. Search for "Rose of Versailles" (or rather, "ベルサイユのばら") on Amazon JP, and you'll see enough sparkly merchandise to make your typical otaku-pandering show that pimps out its characters for body pillows and stripper-statues turn green with envy.

Well...you get it.

Based on Ikeda Riyoko's 10 volume Rose of Versailles manga, which ran from 1972 through 1973 in Shueisha's Margaret magazine, the story follows Oscar, a girl born into the aristocratic de Jarjayes family who is raised as a boy by her father and becomes the Commander of the Imperial Guard at the court of Versailles. She befriends Marie-Antoinette right after Antoinette arrives in France to marry the Dauphin, and becomes entangled in the day-to-day intrigue and skulduggery at the court, while unrest continues to grow outside of the aristocratic bubble. (You know where it's going eventually.)

One episode of RoV contains more quality than most series can muster in their entire run. It starts on a small scale, dealing with relatively mundane problems like Oscar screwing up her audition for the Commander's position and Antoinette's refusal to address Madame du Barry, but the series continues to expand on itself, weaving a labyrinthine tapestry of characters embroiled in a delicious hodgepodge of relationships and power struggles- Jeanne leaving her family to climb up the aristocratic ladder, Antoinette's slowly blooming affair with the visiting Swedish noble Fersen, poor girl Rosalie living with Oscar so she can learn the ways of the court and murder the woman who killed her mother, etc. The most pivotal change in this stretch of episodes involves Oscar becoming aware of the poverty that exists outside of Versailles.

And of course I will cover the yuri. Even knowing that Oscar is a woman, the ladies at the court still get fluttery over her, sometimes very amusingly. (Especially when they get jealous over Oscar bringing Rosalie to a ball.) Rosalie also develops an infatuation towards Oscar. (Most evident in a certain uniform-hugging scene.) RoV also influenced later yuri series, most obviously Shoujo Kakumei Utena.

Story: A
Art: B (Good for its time. I like the hand-drawn old school look.)
Overall: A

I'll review the second half of this series in a later post.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Yuri Panel at Mizucon

I just got verification that my yuri panel at Mizucon is definitely happening there on Sunday, August 22 at 10:00 a.m.

I'm really looking forward to it!! ^___^

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Anime Review: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's

I'm still floored by how much Nanoha improved after the first half of the first season. The second season is significantly better than the first since it gets right down to the business of telling a tightly-paced action-adventure story instead of screwing around with introductory monster-of-the-week dreck. If you tried the early episodes of the first season and dropped it out of boredom (really can't blame you), I swear that it's worth it to give it another chance.

This season features a new set of villains painted in deeper shades of gray than Precia from the previous season.

The Book of Darkness is an ancient magical tome that travels through time and space searching for a master to fill its pages by draining magic from different sources. It makes a contract with Yagami Hayate, a girl debilitated by a serious illness, and materializes four "Knights" to protect her- über-cool Signum, mellow Shamal, hot-tempered Vita (who cools down around Hayate), and stoic familiar Zafira. Even though Hayate has no interest in using the Book of Darkness, the Knights still secretly try to fill the Book in the hopes that it will cure her, because it can grant her deepest wish after its pages are filled.

The catch is that the Book destroys whichever world it's in after being filled, before moving on to another world and master. After the Knights target Nanoha's magic, Nanoha, Fate, and the rest of the Time-Space Administration Bureau try to stop the Book from being filled- and in Nanoha's case, befriend the enemy. (I love how she's like, "*smile* Please tell me what's wrong and let me help you. Let's be friends!" and if she doesn't get an affirmative reaction right away, she shoots at her opponent/prospective friend with her device. Good thing Arisa and Suzuka took to her quickly when she first met them.)

There aren't any real bad guys in this season- just people trying to do the best they can to deal with the circumstances handed to them, however ineptly. Even on the good side, shades of gray seep in- like the old "should we sacrifice one person/a small group of individuals to more easily save a large number?", among other examples. Despite the bland, saccharine character designs and magical girl window-dressing, this is a surprisingly dark show written for an adult (otaku) audience, which is good in some ways (short season length, tweaking the magical girl formula for a more jaded sensibility) and not so good in other ways (fan-pandering ---> cat girl librarians, that unsettling, but mercifully rare new henshin). The new characters are almost all likeable.

My favorite part of this season was seeing how Hayate and the Knights form their own little family. (I liked to think of Signum and Shamal introducing themselves as Hayate's parents at PTA meetings. ^^;) As with the first season, there were several affecting moments- Hayate being manipulated into losing control of herself to the Book, Fate's dream of her ideal world with her mother and Alicia, and Reinforce's decision at the end being the most noteworthy. The ending was pretty terrific, wrapping up the story satisfactorily and capping it off with an epilogue that shows all of the characters six years after the main story.

This season is the lowest on yuri out of the three, although fans still see it anyway.

Story: B+
Art: C+
Overall: B+ (A- for the final episode. Seriously great ending.)

BGM: "Brave Phoenix" - Mizuki Nana

Friday, August 6, 2010

Manga Review: Oniisama E volume 2

AWESOME. Traveled home from my trip (where I didn't have internet access) late last night, and saw that Prop 8 was overturned!!!!! Yay, marriage equality!!! ^___^ I was shocked when Prop 8 actually passed over a year ago, and I'm ecstatic that the California Supreme Court did the right thing. *pops confetti* Now let's get marriage equality everywhere else!

On that happy note, part deux of my Oniisama manga review-

Volume 2 wraps up all of the loose ends, some in ways that you might find satisfying, some not quite- like life. But the Sorority is abolished (whoohoo!), Mariko returns to school, relationships are reconciled, people die, get married, move, graduate, and...Nanako grows up. That is the point of this manga. The ending was tear-inducing, but not unexpected. It brings the series full circle, with a grief-stricken Takehiko sending a letter to Nanako for the first time we see, prompting Nanako to write back to him.

The yuri in this volume is some yummy Nanako x Rei, Mariko's brief crush on Kaoru, and Fukiko's hilariously botched attempt to seduce Nanako.

Story: A- (Sometimes irritating, sometimes sad, but definitely worth reading. More to mull over than in most manga.)
Art: A-
Overall: A-

After her high school graduation, I want to think that Nanako would attend a culinary school and open a bakery, because she loves making sweets. Fukiko would become a bad ass politician and win the Prime Minister's seat after filling the National Diet with members of her own newly formed political party, the Sorority. If Kaoru were alive, she would become a pro basketball player, with Takehiko and the Seiran student body as her groupies. And Rei would open a pharmacy, while simultaneously running an underground drug ring with the yakuza. They would all lead happy, sparkling lives.

Don't read past this point if you don't want to read even more detailed spoilers for the Oniisama E anime and manga.

I always like comparing adaptations with their original sources, whether the adaptation is good (Aoi Hana anime), bad (Mai Hime manga), or a mixed bag (live-action Love My Life). The Oniisama E manga has some things that I prefer over the anime, while the anime includes some things I like that aren't in the manga.

The pros unique to the manga:
  • The diner flashback. It makes Takehiko's father infinitely more sympathetic. Where the anime made me want to punch him in the gut, the manga made me want to give him a pat on the back and some tissues. Correct me if I have a bad memory and the diner-flashback really was included at some point in the anime.
  • Fukiko's violin trauma isn't present. With her personality (spoiled, imperious, proud) and background (teenager who has been treated like the world revolves around her, aside from that one time) I can make it work- but it still feels kind of overblown.
  • Rei's death makes more sense. Where in the anime, her death filled me with peevish fan-rage ("NO!!! DATE!!!!!!!!"; really, it felt like I had a hot chocolate chip cookie waved in front of my nose, before it was chucked over a bridge in front of an incoming train), when she died in the manga, I thought, "Well...yeah, realistically, that would happen to someone who keeps popping pills like that."
  • 70's clothes.
The pros unique to the anime:
  • A happier ending. It brings the series full circle in a similar way to the manga, only with Nanako receiving a letter with a photo of Kaoru, Takehiko, and Nanako's new baby nephew/niece(?).
  • Misaki Aya's character development. After Fukiko, she's probably the closest thing to a villain in this series, but in the anime she and Mariko resolve their enmity after they realize that they've only fought because they're similar, and hate seeing their own weaknesses reflected in the other.
  • Mariko's resolution with her father, right after she lights her entire freaking collection of candles and tries to burn down the mansion.
  • The Sorority-abolishing arc lasts longer, the better to savor it. It's also less bittersweet, because the Sorority is closed on the strength of the student petition alone.
  • The scene in which Fukiko gives her final speech as President of the Sorority. It made me like her for the first time.
  • Fukiko's character development after Rei's death. I'm mostly thinking of the moment where she gives Nanako Poupeé-chan, and the revelation that she knew that she and Rei were sisters.
  • Tomoko's smack-down against Misaki's cronies.