Monday, September 27, 2010

More on Shimura-sensei's Hourou Musuko!

I mentioned that Shimura Takako-sensei's Hourou Musuko had been green-lit for an anime adaptation a while ago. Now we have more info on the show! ^^

It's premiering on Fuji TV's Noitamina block this January and being animated by AIC. (Nice timing since the first volume of the Hourou Musuko manga is being released in English this February.)

The director is Aoki Ei (who also directed Ga Rei -Zero- and the first Kara no Kyoukai movie) and the person in charge of the series composition and script is Okada Mari, who has an impressive resume of shows under her belt.

Shuuichi will be played by Hatakeyama Kousuke and Yoshino will be played by Seto Asami, both of whom are unknowns in the seiyuu business. It'll be nice to hear new voice talent. ^_^

I'll keep an eye out for more news!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Anime Review: Blue Drop

On paper, Blue Drop doesn't sound like much, but it rises above its tropes with superior execution. A new girl, Wakatake Mari, transfers to a prestigious all-girls' school and catches the attention of the coolest, most popular girl there (with the inevitable fangirl following), Senkouji Hagino. They have a less than perfect first meeting, but eventually learn that they like each other, and then that they really, really like each other. Hagino is, at first, only interested in Mari because she is the only survivor of a catastrophe Hagino caused 5 years ago on the island of Kamioki where Mari and her parents were living. Hagino is, incidentally, a member of the Arume, an all-female alien race that is preparing to take over the Earth (lol), and commander of the spaceship Blue.

As Mari and Hagino grow closer, Hagino is targeted for revenge by Azanael, an Arume who was the lover of Ekaril, one of Hagino's subordinates who died in the Kamioki incident. Hagino still beats herself up over what happened 5 years ago, especially as she falls in love with Mari. Rounding out the yuri dynamic of this show, Blue's operator Tsubael is in love with her commander.

Blue Drop's calm, mellow atmosphere and deliberate pacing, alternating the Arume's alien politicking (which I liked quite a bit) with Horime (that's "human" in Arume-speak) slice-of-life character-building, won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I enjoyed it. All of the characters get their due time in the spotlight, including the other girls Hagino and Mari are friends with in their dorm and their homeroom teacher Sugawara Yuuko-sensei, who is really at the school to gather intelligence on the Kamioki incident via Mari.

The relationship that develops between Mari and Hagino is sweet and believable (if brief), despite their rocky first meeting, and their inevitable parting (foreshadowed at the beginning) packs an emotional punch- especially when Mari starts reciting her lines from Michi's play and Hagino does the same, even though Mari can't hear her. It isn't happily-ever-after, but the tragedy makes sense and isn't abrupt, and it's a good choice if you're in the mood for a romance about star-crossed lovers. I really liked how the series showed Mari years later, as a diplomat for the U.N. on her way to negotiating peace talks with the Arume- while holding the script for the play that she and Hagino were in.

Story: B
Art: B+
Overall: B+

All 13 episodes of Blue Drop are streaming legally, for free on YouTube on the Anime Network's account. (Unfortunately, I think that it's only viewable in North America. The English dubbed episodes can be rented. Clips from them can be watched for free, for the dub-curious.)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Whoah. A new yuri anime!

I have never ever heard of this series, but I'm glad that we have something new to look forward to. Hopefully it'll be good. *fingers crossed* I'll keep an eye out for more news!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Anime Review: Kannazuki no Miko

Kannazuki no Miko is not only a benchmark yuri title, it's one of the most hotly contested in its genre. It is the first yuri-centric series in which the main couple gets a happy ending together (in this case, the chance to "fall in love all over again"), but it isn't without its blemishes.

For the two people reading this blog who don't know, Kannazuki no Miko is about Kurusugawa Himeko, an average, guileless high school girl who has the two biggest stars in her school, rich ojousama Himemiya Chikane and childhood friend Oogami Souma, madly in love with her. On the 16th birthday that Chikane and Himeko share, one of the eight mecha-piloting followers of the evil god Orochi (in this case, a sexy "nun" in an itty-bitty outfit named Sister Miyako) attacks them because they're the reincarnations of the Sun and Moon priestesses who must serve the god of swords, Ame no Murakumo, and seal away Orochi- until Orochi breaks the seal and they have to put him away again.

Souma finds out that he's one of the Orochi (later, his long lost brother turns out to be one also- dun dun dun), but he rejects his fate and vows to protect Himeko. I still think that KnM has one of the best first episode endings ever- I love how the entire love triangle could have been resolved right then and there if Souma had looked down.

After Sister Miyako destroys Himeko's dorm, Himeko moves into Chikane's mansion, to the absolute delight of Chikane and the consternation of her lovestruck maid/childhood friend Otoha. (Not to mention Chikane's fans at school.) Chikane and Himeko keep trying to summon Murakumo, more Orochi followers attack (all of them more silly than threatening- catgirl nurse? Bored mangaka? Dull, muscleheaded thug? Snooty pop idol? Etc), Souma saves Himeko (and sometimes Chikane) again and again using his mech, Chikane despairs at having less power than Souma to protect Himeko, and Himeko doesn't have a freaking clue.

Where Souma is very open about his feelings but has limited contact with Himeko (i.e. they don't live/bathe/eat meals everyday together), Chikane keeps her feelings under a tight lid while constantly being around Himeko- even encouraging Himeko to go on dates with Souma. She's a pressure boiler waiting to explode, which Sister Miyako exploits after Chikane learns what happened in her and Himeko's previous incarnations. In episode 8, after Himeko buys coordinating pendants for her and Chikane, Chikane reveals that she is an Orochi a horribly gut-wrenching scene.

I understand that Chikane needed to make Himeko hate her, but there had to be another way to make the story work. If she had, for example, fallen down the stairs and broken one of her arms, then what would she have done?

This series manages to have a happy ending, if you watch past the ending credits.

Every reviewer is influenced by their past experiences when approaching any title. There is no such thing as an objective review. I have more of a bias towards KnM than most people.

Kannazuki no Miko is the series that made me a yuri fan. When I was a high school sophomore, the administration at the Catholic high school I attended told the students that we shouldn't join social networks because they were immoral, so I signed up for Myspace. While browsing AMVs on Myspace one day, I clicked on one that showed two miko standing in a field of yellow flowers. I looked up the show and began watching it on YouTube. It was addictive. I couldn't stop until I finished it, and by the end, I was happily crying over the ending. Kannazuki no Miko was described as a "yuri" title, so I started watching more shows recommended as yuri. KnM, Strawberry Panic (which I started watching about 10 episodes into its broadcast), Yamibou, Gokujou Seitokai, and Marimite were the shows that I cut my yuri fan teeth on, and Kannazuki no Miko, Strawberry Panic, and Marimite were "security blanket" shows when I was hyperventilating over what my sexual orientation must be.

How much do I enjoy KnM now?

Even though I knew what would happen, this series still tied my stomach in knots. All three of the lead characters torture themselves over their feelings and whether or not their feelings are requited, to varying extents. It's the worst for Chikane, who evokes the most pathos until episode 8, although Himeko and Souma have their own sad stories to make them sympathetic.

Unlike most KnM fans, I welcomed the Orochi and their silly mechs ("MEGATON KNUCKLE!!!") because they broke up the tense, emotionally fraught atmosphere. There are other humorous elements, like Himeko being a fan of Orochi villain Reiko-sensei's manga and Otoha's passive-aggressive behavior towards Himeko. I always especially like it when Himeko's roommate Mako rattles off the list of Chikane's suitors in the first episode.

Kannazuki no Miko is packed with anime stereotypes. The story set-up is pretty typical. Souma is the mech-piloting hero who saves the damsel in distress, Himeko, while a plethora of stereotypical villains attack under the leadership of a cackling baddie bent on destroying the world. The damsel in distress's (female) friend is in love with her, but she goes bananas, does something awful, and joins the Big Bad. Given this set-up and the year that KnM aired in, right on the coattails of Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito, there wasn't much cause to expect a yuri ending. But expectations were subverted. I just really wish that it had been done without rape. (Or after that, Himeko asking Chikane what she did wrong. Pissed me off.) Even before episode 8, Chikane's self-loathing, closeted angst is distressing, as well as the knowledge of what would happen in episode 8. I was still moved by the ending, especially when Chikane broke down and cried and when Himeko swore to find her no matter what she looked like in her next incarnation, as well as Himeko knowing that she needed to find "someone" after Chikane was erased from her memory. The epilogue was sweet also.

The fantasy window-dressing is pretty half-baked, but I like how it draws on Japanese legends. Orochi is based on the eight-headed serpent Yamata no Orochi who was slain by the storm god Susanoo after he was expelled from heaven. Ame no Murakumo is based on a sword that Susanoo found inside Yamata no Orochi's body after killing him. The title "Kannazuki no Miko" is a pun based on the lore associated with the tenth month of the traditional Japanese lunar calendar, when the gods are supposed to gather at Izumo Taisha. ("Kannazuki no Miko" can be translated as "Priestesses of the Godless Moon" or "Priestesses of the Godless Month.")

The character designs are appealing, even though the actual animation for them isn't very good. The soundtrack supports the show well, and it's pretty to listen to. (I usually don't pay attention to background music.) The voice acting is noteworthy for Noto Mamiko as Reiko-sensei and Ueda Kana as pop idol Corona, as well as Kawasumi Ayako's silky smooth performance as Chikane. (Which made me go doki-doki enough in high school to buy Kawasumi's "Primary" CD when I was studying abroad in Japan.)

Sentimental Value: A
Angst: A
Art: B-
Overall: B-

Edit: Added two sentences to the end of the third to last paragraph about the ending of the series.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Anime Review: Rin ~Daughters of Mnemosyne~

Most people who know me would be surprised that I like this show. (Because my taste for the occasional dose of schlocky horror rarely comes up.)*

Rin, with its twisty roller coaster of a storyline about two immortal women, private investigator Asougi Rin and her computer hacker-assistant Mimi, is one part speculative fiction, one part trashy, sexually-tinged horror, and one part surprisingly involving human drama, blended into an appetizing smoothie of "wtf."

This show was released as a series of 6 forty-some minute episodes , which were broadcast on the AT-X channel to commemorate its tenth anniversary.

The early episodes involve Rin and Mimi solving cases connected to the tree of Yggdrasil that releases invisible time spores that turn women who absorb them immortal and men who absorb them into "angels" that eat the immortal women they encounter.

In the first episode, Rin helps Kouki, a man with a connection to a shady lab who feels as though his memories are fabricated, and he ends up joining Rin and Mimi's detective business. While the first two episodes take place in the early 90's, later episodes jump ahead by larger chunks of time, ending in 2055, with the last two episodes dealing with Rin's amnesia after an especially grisly death (baaaad idea to wrestle an android on the side of a flying airplane) and Rin and Mimi's confrontation with Apos, the pimp guardian of Yggdrasil who wants...I'm still not quite sure what his motivation is, aside from being a complete bastard. In a nice twist, Kouki's granddaughter Mishio helps Mimi save Rin from Apos- and the legend of Tajimamori from the Kojiki plays a major role in the denouement, which is a pretty cool touch.

Rin has a plot, but its most famous hallmark is the blood-and-boobs gratuity that permeates it like oil frying a doughnut. (Of course Laura attacks Rin when she's only wearing a towel- and what lab facility doesn't have a dominatrix mad-scientist? Etc, etc.) It can be disturbing at points (definitely not for the squeamish), but the excesses are so hammy and over-the-top that they can't be taken seriously. (In a From Dusk Till Dawn kind of way.) The characters are suitably likeable and/or demented, depending on their roles- Rin's a great protagonist no matter how many times she kicks the bucket. (Usually courtesy of Laura, with her single-minded, Wile E. Coyote-like dedication to killing Rin again and again.) I especially liked how the futuristic setting in episodes 4 through 6 was developed. (The last two episodes will probably be a hoot to people watching them in 2055.)

As for yuri- Rin and Mimi are pretty obviously bisexual and gay, respectively. Underground information in this series is sold by Grasshopper-ordering lesbians who require sex as payment. (How do they pay for their living expenses? lol Is there a larger lesbian sex-bartering network that this series just doesn't reveal? "What do I need to do for this month's electricity?") Subtext this ain't.

Story: Such a mixed bag...
Art: B+
Overall: ...but I like the overall package. B

Funimation's DVD release of this series actually has noteworthy extras- a commentary over episode 2 by the English voice cast and an interview with four of the main female seiyuu. I only watched a few minutes of the former- I like making inane comments with friends while watching silly movies, but I don't want to listen to a group of strangers doing the same thing. The seiyuu interview was entertaining- and not too long at about 15 minutes. (Although I would have loved to see how Ishida Akira felt about playing Apos. :-) )

* I like Mnemosyne, but I can't stand torture-horror movies like Saw, Hostel, The Hills Have Eyes, etc. (It kind of freaks me out that they've been so popular.) Go figure.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Manga Review: A Drunken Dream And Other Stories

Yes, this isn't yuri (or yuri-ish), but I'm a fan of good, classic shoujo stories, and there are hardly any "old school" shoujo titles officially available (and in print) for the English-speaking market. (Quick, think of as many as you can that were published in Japan before 1990- or even 2000.) I'd been looking forward to this collection ever since its release was announced.

Moto Hagio is a member of the "Magnificent 24-Year Group" (or the "Magnificent Forty-Niners", depending on which calendar you go by), a group of women who revolutionized the manga industry by pioneering the shoujo genre as we know it today. Before the Year 24 group, comics aimed at girls were, as described by translator Matt Thorn in his intro to this collection, "...a backwater in which most male artists, unable to find better work, drew either light humor strips that were cute-but-forgettable, or sappy, formulaic melodramas about some pretty, passive little girl tossed by fate from one abusive circumstance to another, until some handsome, kind young man shows up to rescue her and reunite her with her mother...."

Moto Hagio is especially well-known for her sci-fi stories like They Were 11, and she played a significant role in the early creation of yaoi. A Drunken Dream is a collection of one-shot stories by her, published from 1977 to 2008.

In the first story, "Bianca",  an elderly artist remembers the girl from her childhood who inspires her paintings.

"Girl On Porch With Puppy" is an allegorical tale about the consequences imposed on people to don't conform to society's expectations.

In "Autumn Journey", a boy visits his favorite novelist.

In "Marié, Ten Years Later", two men grieve over the woman they have both been in love with since the three of them were best friends in art college.

"A Drunken Dream" showcases Hagio's fondness for gender-bending sci-fi, with a story about two lovers who wish to escape the tragedy that they've been repeating over and over in their numerous incarnations. As a bonus, it's in full-color.

"Hanshin: Half-God" is one of the most interesting stories in this collection, about two twins conjoined at the hip, one of whom is intelligent but ugly and skeletal-looking, and the other who is incredibly pretty, but barely able to function. The intelligent one is offered the chance to be separated from her twin, although the pretty one won't survive on her own.

"Angel Mimic" is about a woman who wonders whether people could evolve to grow wings someday.

"Iguana Girl" is, arguably, the best story in this collection, about an iguana who obtains a human form after falling in love with a man, but is horrified to see that her firstborn daughter Rika looks like an iguana. (But only to the mother and Rika- other people see Rika as a pretty girl and don't understand why she deprecates her appearance.)

"The Child Who Comes Home" is about a family coming to terms with their grief for their youngest child who died in an accident.

In "The Willow Tree", one isn't really sure what the story is about until the last few pages- but it demands immediate re-reading after being finished.

This collection might sound sad and melancholic, but each story has a human core to it that prevents it from being schmaltzy or tragic for tragedy's sake. (And not all of the stories have sad endings.) These stories don't only entertain- they frequently invite reflection and at least some level of emotional recognition. The circumstances might often be strange, but Hagio's eye for human interaction keeps her characters (largely) grounded in believability- and that equals good storytelling.

The packaging is top-notch. Hardcover, extra-large, thick pages, with an introduction about the "Magnificent Forty-Niners" by Matt Thorn (which is worth getting this book for alone), and Thorn's introduction about and exentensive interview with Hagio-sensei herself. (I expected it to be good, but I was surprised at how incredibly thorough it was, and how straightforward Hagio is.)

Story: A (Must-read if you enjoy manga and want to appreciate the people who have been trailblazers its development.)
Art: Mostly B+, sometimes reaching A-
Overall: A