Sunday, December 14, 2008

Criticism of Cliches: Girl's School Vs. Non-Girl's School Yuri

(Listening to "Sensitive" by KOTOKO.)

Yesterday Erica Friedman was kind enough to point out on her Okazu blog that a new movie adaptation of the old yuri classic manga Sakura no Sono (that I'd never heard about before yesterday) is being made, and she even provided links to the trailers for what seems to be an older movie adaptation, which was creepy as heck (not what anybody's looking for in a romance movie, no? It reminded me of a freaky movie that was made in the early 90's that I had to watch in gym class, at the high school that I studied abroad at in Japan), and a trailer for the new movie adaptation, which looked good enough to be worth checking out.

However, my mostly apathetic reaction to the movie trailer made me realize... just how sick I am of the "all girl's school" subgenre of yuri anime and manga, even though Maria-sama ga Miteru is still one of my favorite series (not only because of its excellent writing and character development, but it was the cause, not a result, of the influx of "all girl's yuri" series that have been created en masse in the past few years; it's like what Tenchi Muyo is to the harem genre) and I like Strawberry Panic (not just because it, along with Marimite, was one of the first "all girl's school" series I watched, it also doesn't take itself too seriously). But seriously, to the mangaka and anime story writers who are involved in making series with yuri: think of something new. Don't fall back on a setting/plot vehicle that's getting as trite as the "loser guy meets a hot goddess/chobit/robot/vampire/alien/whatever and she falls for him because he's 'nice'" idea. To back up my criticism, here's a list of every anime and manga with significant yuri, set at at an all-girl's school (not in any special order) that I can think of off the top of my head:

1.Shiroi Heya no Futari by Ryoko Yamagishi
2.Oniisama E... by Riyoko Ikeda
3.Aoi Hana by Shimura Takako
4.Kuchibiru Tameiki Sakurairo (or in English, the more Harlequin-sounding title "Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink") by Milk Morinaga
5.Girl Friends by Milk Morinaga (She loves those girl's schools.)
6.Maria-sama ga Miteru (manga version's story by Konno Oyuki (author of the light novels) and art by Satoru Nagasawa.)
7.Strawberry Panic (manga version's story by Sakurako Kimino (author of the light novels) and art by Namuchi Takumi.)
8.Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteru (it pains me to include this one)
9.Blue Drop (the anime version, made as a prelude to the manga by Yoshitomi Akihito that I've only read one chapter of)
10.Hatsukoi Shimai (story by Mako Komao, art by Mizuo Shinonome, and design (whatever that means, exactly) by Reine Hibiki)
11.The Last Uniform by Mera Hakamada
12.Hayate X Blade by Shizuru Hayashiya (which at least distinguishes itself by not taking itself too seriously, and making the school a setting for sword-fight matches students need to win to move up in rank, instead of being another meandering slice-of-life story.)
13.Sakura no Sono by Akimi Yoshida
14.Shoujo Sect (manga version by by Ken Kurogane)
15.Candy Boy
16.Hanjuku Joshi by Morishima Akiko
17.Applause by Kyouko Ariyoshi (only volume 1)
Etc, etc, etc.

My-Otome could also, debatably, be included on this list, although it goes far and beyond in creating a plot that doesn't rely on the "girl's school" draw, and including male characters who play meaningful roles (unlike the school in Strawberry Panic, which seems to have some sort of invisible barrier that bars anybody with a Y chromosome from entering). And Gokujou Seitokai contains one canon yuri character, and some nudge-nudge wink-wink humor poking fun at how some yuri is expected in a girl's school series (like the paya-paya episode). Heck, even Girl's High, which is probably the most accurate anime depiction of what an all-girl's school is like, pokes fun at the "all-girl's school" yuri subgenre a few times.

On that note, this past week I re-watched the first 2 episodes of Kannazuki no Miko (that's all I had time for), and found that I enjoyed it a lot more than I did the last time I tried watching the first two episodes. Although it doesn't reach the stellar level of writing and storytelling achieved by Simoun (an excellent yuri sci-fi/fantasy that isn't set at an all-girl's school either ^^ ), it feels like a breath of fresh air to watch a yuri anime set at a co-ed school, with a real plot. (Two shinto priestesses representing the sun and moon must be continuously reincarnated together to seal away the evil god Orochi each time it begins reviving, and of course there's more to it...) But I'm looking forward to watching more over winter break, and finding what my impression is at the end. (Since the ending used to make me cry, or at least tear up every time I watched it. ^^;;) In fact, I'll make a list off anime and manga with significant yuri that aren't set at an all-girl's school (again, in no particular order):

1.Simoun (manga version by Hayase Hashiba)
2.Kannazuki no Miko (manga version by Kaishaku; the anime is a lot better)
3.Strawberry Shake Sweet by Shizuru Hayashiya
4.Sasamekikoto by Takashi Ikeda (with over 3 volumes published, and still running strong! XD )
5.The Devil Lady
6.Read or Die television series (barely makes it, though)
8.Revolutionary Girl Utena (manga by Chiho Saito; silly me, how could I include it this late? ^^;;)
9.Sailor Moon (manga version by Naoko Takeuchi)
10.Azumanga Daioh (also stretching it, since it's only one side character, but the yuri is hilarious enough to be noteworthy)
11.Ameiro Koucha Kandan ("The Amber Teahouse") by Miyabi Fujieda (my favorite manga by him so far! ^^)
12.The Miko's Words and the Witch's Incantations by Miyabi Fujieda
13.Iono-sama Fanatics by Miyabi Fujieda
14.Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito
15.Kashimashi (manga version's story by Satoru Akahori and art by Yukimaru Katsura)
16.Love My Life by Yamaji Ebine
17.Free Soul by Yamaji Ebine
18.Indigo Blue by Yamaji Ebine (I haven't read this one at all yet; I like all of Ebine's yuri manga, although I wish she would create a story that lasted for more than one volume)
19.Miyuki-chan in Wonderland by CLAMP (but does it really count if it's a trippy version of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland populated entirely by female nymphomaniacs?)
20.Cardcaptor Sakura by CLAMP (really stretching it)
21.Puni Puni Poemy (the protagonist's best friend Futaba, who is a very blatant parody of CCS's Tomoyo)
22.Hyakko (only for Nene, another side character who, unlike Azumanga Daioh's Kaorin, isn't that funny)
23.Transistor ni Venus by Izumi Takemoto (I haven't read much, but what I read so far made for fun reading; it's about a female spy named April living in the year 2269.)
24.Rica'tte Kanji by Rika Takashima (the main character does attend a women's college in Tokyo, but it isn't the focus at all)
25.Applause by Kyouko Ariyoshi (volumes 2 through 4)
26.Maya no Souretsu ("Maya's Funeral Procession") by Yukari Ichijou
27.Mnemosyne (which I've seen through episode 3, but personally wouldn't recommend)
28.Moonlight Flowers by Tsukumo Mutsumi (which I wouldn't recommend, because I don't like how it portrays all of its male characters negatively, and raises women by comparison on a ridiculously self-righteous pedestal. "Bah," is all I can say to that. I've met as many women as men who I consider asinine and obnoxious. -_-).
27.Shibuya District, Maruyama Neighborhood: After School by Mari Okazaki (Random comment: I feel more compelled to read or watch stories that feature Shibuya. ^^)
28.Creo the Crimson Crises by Takewakamaru (Can you say "lesbian Oh My Goddess" meets "Meru Puri"? I thought that this was "awesome" stuff when I read the first chapter in Yuri Hime. Even though, like OMG and Meru Puri, I see through the vicarious wish fulfillment elements like Saran wrap (as Zac Bertschy put it in his review of Meru Puri), it's still a cute series, from what I've read so far. Recommended for anybody looking for a light fantasy/comedy yuri manga with pretty, "flowy" art. ^^ Heh, and here I was criticizing the magical girfreind subgenre earlier in this post... ^^;; *hypocrite*)
29.Etc,etc,etc. (A one-shot I would highly recommend by an author who hasn't been mentioned so far here is, "Snowflakes Fluttering Down Through the Clear Sky" by Himawari Souya, which has already been scanlated by Lililicious.)

This second list as a whole makes me feel more positive now, even (or especially) after removing the crappy/non-recommended titles and the titles that only have one minor yuri side character. ^^

Edit (Added the next morning at 11:37 a.m.):
An unrelated question: Why doesn't one ever hear the term "magical boyfriend" used to describe an anime or manga? I can think of several series that would technically qualify as "magical girlfriend" if the genders were reversed, like Hino Matsuri's Meru Puri (Airi/Aram and every other magical guy vying for her affections) and Vampire Knight (Yuuki/Kaname and Zero; brilliantly subverts the "magical boyfriend" dynamic later on though... ^^ Heh, my bias is showing again. ^^;;); Yuu Watase's Fushigi Yuugi (Miaka/Tamahome and Hotohori), Ayashi no Ceres (Aya/Tooya), and Absolute Boyfriend (Riiko/Night); Arina Tanemura's Full Moon o Sagashite (Mitsuki/Takuto); Pretear (Himeno/Hayate, Sasame/?; manga version's story by Junichi Sato and art by Kaori Naruse); and even, arguably, Rumiko Takahashi's Inu Yasha (Kagome/you-know-who).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Maria-sama Christmas Album: Inane Commentary

Darn it, I want that album. Is it worth it to order it today? By the time it gets here, it will almost be Christmas. That's not enough time to be worth getting it by this Christmas, right? Plus, when it arrives at my house in Florida, no doubt my dad will be like, "Oh, can I see what you ordered?" And when he sees that it's a Christmas CD from Japan he'll want to listen to it. (Like, "We can play that now also to celebrate Christmas!") I checked to see if the CD was there, and found the list of tracks:

01 JOY TO THE WORLD(もろびとこぞりて)
02 Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town(サンタが町にやってくる)
03 O come,all ye faithful(神の御子は今宵しも)
04 Silent Night(きよしこの夜)
05 Angels we have heard on high(あら野のはてに)
06 We wish you a Merry Christmas

Sooo...back to my imaginary story. My dad will want to listen to this Christmas CD that I felt strongly enough about to import from Japan, and most likely hear some random Christmas carols being sung in "engrish" or Japanese (or both), and be like, "... o__o;;" (because no doubt it will be sung by the seiyuu), while I'll be like "Yayyy!!! Kana Uedaaaa!!! Miki Itou!!! Sachiko-sama!!! XD " And he'll be like, "How much did you pay for this...?" Alas, none of my friends at home (or people who I'm friends with at college, as far as I know) are into Maria-sama, so the appeal would likely be lost on them. (Although I'm going to show the series to Adrianna this winter break.)

Darn those fans in Japan who were able to just pick it up yesterday, or could order it so it would arrive by today! TT_TT

Maria-sama ga Miteru Season 4, and Subsequent Fannishness

Kyaah!! XD The Maria-sama ga Miteru season 4 trailer was released todaaaaay! ^^ posted it on its website. Each new second of Maria-sama animation is like being granted a teasing glimpse of heaven. ^___^ Yes, I'm using hyperbole, but such is the nature of fandom. The animation looks a little better than the previous television seasons (closer to the 3rd season OVA), and of course the art is as beautiful as always. ^^ Today I picked up my Maria-sama ga Miteru season 2 box set at the campus center post office. I don't have time to watch it now, but that's what winter break is for! ^^

And I found a new picture for...

a Maria-sama ga Miteru Christmas album! Perfect for the Maria-sama ga Miteru junkie in anyone's life. (A Christmas album actually makes sense, given the setting.) I'm intrigued as to what it would sound like.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Christmas Season, and Yasumicon 2009

Ack, what a tedious, yet fastidiously detailed post I put up yesterday. ^^;; Goes to show what people write when they're tired. I decided, since Christmas is coming up, to look up a few anime and manga I might either ask for or just buy for myself. I have to find out what other people I know want for Christmas too... My dad's pretty impossible to shop for, since he never says that he wants anything. So I usually give him coupons that say things like, "One Day of Household Chores All Done By Kathy," "One Pie (Any Flavor)," etc, although last year I also gave my dad a copy of Tuesdays With Morrie since he likes "inspirational" books like that (and I admit, I love Tuesdays With Morrie also), and I felt like I had to give something besides the same coupon idea that I've been using since...I don't even remember exactly when (several years). My mom, on the other hand, has always had something specific she'd like. My friends and I usually stick to manga, with handmade, normally anime-themed cards. A couple of years ago, my friend Adrianna even offered to draw me any character I wanted, and I chose Al, my favorite character from Fullmetal Alchemist back then (although now I think that I'm more of an Edward person, even though Al's still adorable).

I also recently received an e-mail from Austin, the person who's in charge of panels at Yasumicon (a medium-size anime convention that the Florida International University Anime Club hosts each summer in Miami). He e-mailed me to ask if I would like to do a yuri panel again at Yasumicon 2009. Definitely!! ^__^

Even though pickings have been slim this year as far as new yuri-themed anime, or at least anime with enough yuri included to be of interest to yuri fans, this year's panel will still have some new and improved aspects to it. For one, instead of making the manga portion of the panel "Top 5 Yuri Manga," it will be "Top 5 Yuri Mangaka," i.e. if you see this person's name on a yuri manga, you'll get an enjoyable, quality story. (Especially with all of the mangaka who put out a plethora of good yuri now like Shizuru Hayashiya, Morishima Akiko, Milk Morinaga, Miyabi Fujieda, Shimura Takako, Takashi Ikeda, etc.)

Plus, since I'm picky when choosing "quality" titles for my panel, I decided to turn that aspect of the panel on its head by creating a section titled, "Yuri to Show to People Who You Despise." This section won't include titles that I wouldn't consider quality but have (along with many other fans) found entertaining at some point or another, like Kannazuki no Miko and Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito. These will be the few, special titles that even the most desperate 4chan user would consider terrible. (I look forward to showing them! ^^) This section will be composed of two anime titles: the Iczer-One OVA and the ICE OVA (neither of which I finished, and probably never will).

Prior to the "Top 5 Yuri Mangaka" and "Yuri to Show to People Who You Despise" sections, there will be the same "What is Yuri?" and "History of Yuri" sections I had last year, along with "Yuri That You Can Call A Good Anime, Not Just A Good Yuri Anime," with an "Honorable Mention" section for Azumanga Daioh and Strawberry Panic.

I'm still waiting to see how Mouryou no Hako turns out, to see how much it should be included in the panel. For the first episode alone, I think it's at least worth mentioning, as long as it doesn't pull a Mnemosyne. (I started out loving Mnemosyne, but I stopped watching it after episode 3, when the story crossed the line from "edgy" to repugnantly exploitive. Two words: Poor Mimi.)

I remember how towards the end of my panel last year, Austin popped into the room where I was hosting it and asked me if I wanted him to show an episode of Candy Boy, and I freaked out and said "no." ^^;; (The poor guy; he was well-meaning, but if I wasn't going to show clips from Kashimashi and Kannazuki no Miko, why would I show Candy Boy? o_o;;) Unfortunately, the two highest profile new yuri titles this year have been Candy Boy and Shoujo Sect, neither of which I care to mention at the panel. (Even though I haven't seen Shoujo Sect, and don't plan to.) Arrgh! > < style="font-style: italic;">Simoun?! Or even the next Strawberry Panic?! Here's to placing my hopes on Mouryou no Hako, or for some other good surprise title to pop up, like Blue Drop did last year.

Mouryou no Hako: Absolutely worth watching regardless of the yuri.

Edit on 11/29/2009: Wow...this post is quite a trip down memory lane. ^^; It makes me realize how much has changed since I published it last year. There were certainly less yuri series to watch/anticipate watching than in 2009, and I was a little more of a hard-ass picky (in some respects) about what I watched/enjoyed/praised than I am today (and I hadn't started this blog yet; this post was originally published in my personal blog). I did include KnM in my subsequent panels, by the way. (And I didn't include Mouryou no Hako in my summer 2009 panel.) KnM isn't really, objectively a very good series- too many B-movie elements and camp moments-, but I like it and hold a fair amount of sentimental value for it. -///- I bought Kawasumi Ayako's "Primary" CD in Akihabara just because she voiced Chikane, after all. lol (I wasn't familiar with any of her other roles at the time- spring 2007-, aside from KyoSora's Kaon and Hitohira's Nono.)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Vampire Knight Episode 9

Heh, so many posts these past few days... ^^;; (This blog is in danger of turning into Vampire Knightholics Anonymous.) I just had the opportunity to catch episode 9 of Vampire Knight Guilty, and I thought that I would summarize my reaction to that episode with this pic:

Drat, that picture was supposed to be a gif of Yuuki Cross doing the Caramelldansen dance. ^^;; Well, you get the idea. :) Episode 9 was not only a great episode on its own entertainment/writing/plot merits, but it also dispelled my minor yet niggling fears (triggered by the last episode, despite what Kaname said in it), that VK was going to pull an Angel Sanctuary. Not only that, but prior to this episode I was pulling for Team YuukixZero. Now...honestly, after this episode, I'm stuck between who Yuuki should choose! XD (Zero...Kaname....agghh!!! But it's a happy type of pain. ^^;;)

At this point, Vampire Knight Guilty is the only new anime I'm still interested in following each week. (Although I want to watch the third and final Mai Otome 0~s.ifr- however you spell it- OVA, once it's subbed. I still can't forgive the story writers for naming the principal of Garderobe before Natsuki "Una Shamrock." It sucked all of the cool out of her character. > < style="font-style: italic;">Lucky Charms every time her name gets mentioned.) The rest of the fall 2008 anime, really, I can put off finishing until I have time during winter break. (Yay, marathons! XD) It's not that VK is (objectively) the absolute highest quality series airing this season (that would probably be Mouryou no Hako). I just have to. See. What Happens Next Week!!

Spring 2009 Anime

While many anime fans are avidly anticipating the premiere of Kyoto Animation's new television series, Sora o Miageru Shoujo no Hitomi ni Utsuru Sekai, or "The World Reflected in the Eyes of a Girl Looking Up at the Heavens" (which is based on the Munto OVA they released in 2003-2005), I'm actually looking forward to a much more mainstream looking series...Mainichi Kaasan ("Daily/Everyday Mom").

A picture of the Munto OVA (for some reason it reminds me of Air). Everybody who knows about the upcoming series is probably either drooling with anticipation, or planning to boycott it since it means another Haruhi Suzumiya-free season. I'm willing to watch this new series, but I'm growing tired of waiting for new Haruhi Suzumiya. ^^;;

The Mainichi Kaasan anime is based on a gag manga of the same title that has been running in the morning edition of the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper every week since 2002. Interestingly, the mangaka behind Mainichi Kaasan is a woman named Reiko Saibara, who bases the manga on her own real-life experiences with her two kids.

Better still, although Reiko Saibara won the Japan Media Arts Festival Award in 2004 and the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize in 2005 for Mainichi Kaasan, she got into a dispute with her son's school, due to some less than flattering obervations she made (drawing five children in one comic that was printed in 2004, labeling them "the five class dummies"). I could understand the principal or Saibara's son's teacher or somebody just asking her to be careful not to make it obvious which specific kids she's talking about (because of course that would be a pretty nasty thing to do, even though she has the right to it), but they went further when her son's class teacher asked her to refrain from depicting any school scenes. Rightfully, Saibara refused, saying that she has the right to freedom of expression.

Here are a couple of images from the Mainichi Kaasan manga:

Mainichi Kaasan looks like Sazae-san on acid. I'm looking forward to it. ^^

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Strawberry Panic Light Novel 1 Impressions (and a long digression on why tastes change)

One thing that I've noticed in the past year is how dramatically my tastes have changed, especially with regard to anime and movies. The first show I collected as an anime fan (aside from the dubbed DiC Sailor Moon tapes I got in elementary school) was Fushigi Yuugi, on dubbed VHS. When I first viewed it, my 11 year old, 6th grade mind was mildly scandalized by the PG-13 soap opera antics of the show, yet I became used to it, and, moreover, addicted to it. I ended up marathoning the second season of FY in one night with a friend, watched the second OVA series (I still haven't seen the first; it's supposed to be pretty bad), and got the Limited Edition version of Fushigi Yuugi: Eikoden when it came out on DVD. (Because, zOMG, Miaka and Tamahome got married!!) This past summer I watched it again on YouTube in order to re-experience the magic, and suddenly found that the animation is terrible (like one scene when Miaka runs through a marketplace after Tamahome, and passes by the exact same group of shops, like, three times; and let's not forget the rough pencil sketch drawings that the animators replaced entire scenes of animation with), the writing is cheesy and melodramatic (and not in a fun, "we're not taking ourselves seriously" way), Miaka is annoying, and I can't for the life of me figure out why so many characters love her so much. (Right...reverse harem...shoujo demographic...I forgot.)

Fushigi Yuugi: Bishies galore

Which leads me to today's impression of volume 1 of the Strawberry Panic light novel, by Sakurako Kimino. The SP anime was one of the first yuri titles I'd seen, that I knew was yuri (i.e. I watched it and thought, "This is yuri!"). Sure I'd seen a few episodes of Utena and the Utena movie, and I knew that Haruka and Michiru weren't cousins. But perhaps because I was in elementary (for SM) and middle school (for RGU) when I first saw them, the whole yuri element just went over my head. (My reaction to the Utena movie: "Pretty colors!! Swords!!! Whoah, she turned into a car!!") But about a month before I turned 16 (June 28), I saw Kannazuki no Miko, a show that had nothing else going for it except the yuri, so it beat you over the head with it in the most ham-handed way possible. Of course, being new to the yuri fandom, I thought it was amazing, and avidly consumed as much of this amazing genre as I could; relying on recommendations from people on YouTube, which basically meant Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito, Strawberry Panic, and the first season of Maria-sama ga Miteru.

Kannazuki no Miko True Confessions: I used to like this show so much, that when I was in Japan during the second semester of my Junior year of high school, I bought two copies of both volumes of the manga (even though even back then I didn't really like the manga), the drama CD, the OST, and in Akihabara I bought a CD sung by Chikane's voice actress, Ayako Kawasumi. This, combined with the issues of Yuri Hime I bought, the KnM DVDs I had in the U.S., volume 1 of Kyoshiro to Towa no Sora (a series by the same mangaka as KnM, where Chikane and Himeko come back as side characters with new names), and the 70s classic Maya's Funeral Procession made up my yuri collection then.

Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito: I could have used a number of other pictures that would have showed how crappy/servicey this overall show is, but I like the main character, Hazuki (the one with the sword). Too bad she didn't get a better show.

Strawberry Panic: I don't think it's the greatest thing any more, but I still kinda like it. And I love the ending. ^^

Maria-sama ga Miteru: The only series from my early yuri days that I still think is a great show. (The guy who reviewed season 1 at Anime News Network, Carl Kimlinger, seems to basically agree, although I'm a little miffed that he only gave it a B+. Grr. ) I actually like it more now than I did when I first watched it. I can't wait for the 4th season, this January!! XD (Oh, and notice the "Whiteday" sign in the background. ^^ )

Just over two years after my Summer of Yuri, in which I consumed each new episode of Strawberry Panic as if it were fine ambrosia (zOMG Yuri love POLYGONS!!!), after watching and reading a lot more of the genre (including buying and watching all of Utena, and buying and re-watching the movie), I'm entering the world of Strawberry Panic once again, with a much different opinion. It's cute. It's ridiculous (but that's part of the charm of anime/manga/I suppose, light novels), but it's entertaining, not bad. It's pretty similar to the anime: Nagisa transfers to St. Miator Girls' Academy, Shizuma hits on her, Nagisa makes some more friends/admirers, the sort of story I ate up when I was 16. Nevertheless, this does make for an entertaining read. I hadn't read any light novels prior to this one, so I was surprised at how much the text reads like a manga (which I guess is the point).

The positives: The presentation and translation of this book is extremely well done. Seven Seas Publishing retained the honorifics and everything, even "oneesama." So it's a very smooth read. It's nice for me, with my sugarcoated memories of first watching the anime (and I've recently purchased and re-watched the DVDs released by Media Blasters) to get the same basic story, but tweaked a little to make it somewhat fresh. I like how Nagisa's roommate Tamao isn't the raging pervert she was in the anime. (No, I didn't think the "uniform measuring" scene or "I'm gonna scare Nagisa without her knowing so she'll scream, and I can have her screaming voice recorded on a tape!!" scenes were funny. Jesus, Tamao, no wonder she picked Shizuma.) Plus, I like the over-the-top events of the Etoile competition, and the fact that the novel actually reveals why Chiyo has a crush on Nagisa. (It was actually a cute scene.) After getting past my sniggering cynicism over some of the Harlequin-esque dialogue after reading a couple of pages, I can enjoy it for the drugstore romance novel that it is. Plus, I'm still coming back to the SP franchise for entertainment, (unlike the craptastic Kannazuki no Miko) so there has be something good about it.

The negatives: This isn't anything more than a light romance novel. This series gleefully drowns itself in yuri tropes like an alcoholic with a twelve pack of beer. (Maybe that's why I like it. It's like a fast food franchise: I know what I'm going to get.) I'm still not really a fan of the moe artwork, but it's cute. (D'oh! That's the point!) And of course, to prove how lightweight this light novel is, here's an excerpt from the first page:

Flutter flutter...
All around them, cherry blossoms scattered to the ground. In the middle of a cherry-blossom-colored mist, a larger figure and a smaller figure stood close together atop a hill, surrounded by thick, old cherry trees. Standing atop the gently rolling hill of bright green, the two figures looked like they were floating in a thin, cherry-colored cloud.
"The time has finally come to say goodbye, hasn't it?"
"Oneesama, I...still..."
Fwooo. A gentle breeze blew. It scattered the cherry blossoms again.
Flutter flutter...

It does get better. But I had to stop giggling long enough to get to that part. Now you know what I had to go through each time I started reading this (until I got used to it and could just go with it). Naturally, no matter what good things I say about this light novel, nobody who isn't a yuri fan is going to really be interested in this.

Overall grade: 3 out of 5

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mōryō no Hako Episode 1

Oh my gosh, it snowed last night!! XD Technically, I only saw a layer of frost on one of the lawns across the street from my dorm by looking out the window, but still!! I'm from south Florida, and the only time that I've seen "snow" before was a layer of frost in my great aunt's backyard in Washington D.C. when I was 10. So for me, this is a big deal (if only because I'm looking forward to more snow). Anyway, on to my gushing review.

Any fan of horror, mystery, CLAMP, or dark, cerebral anime in general (a la Serial Experiments Lain) should view this. Yes, the character designs are done by CLAMP, the animation is by Madhouse Studios (of Death Note fame), and the story is based on a novel (an adult-oriented, literary novel, not a light novel) by Natsuhiko Kyogoku, whose novel The Summer of the Ubume, is due to be published in the U.S. in August next year. Additionally, the screenwriting and series composition was done by Sadayuki Murai, who wrote the screenplays for Boogiepop Phantom, Perfect Blue, Cowboy Bebop, Millenium Actress, Kino's Journey, and Bubblegum Crisis: 2040 (among numerous others). Few series have such a mouth-watering pedigree.

And so far, Mōryō no Hako is living up to its promise. The artwork is lush and stylized without sacrificing animation frame rate, and the foreground-background integration is flawless.The animation boasts high quality control, and I never noticed any obvious short cuts being used. Even for a series with very little action, every character gesture, or rustle of clothing and hair, has been rendered as smoothly as one could hope for from a modern anime studio working on a television series. The rich, yet not overly bright or glossy color palette and masterful lighting does an excellent job bringing each scene to life, and the backgrounds are realistically yet artistically detailed, without betraying the overly polished, obviously computer animated look found in some series that opt to juxtapose hyper-realistic backgrounds with anime character designs.

The prologue begins with a man sitting alone on a train. He notices a stranger sitting across from him holding an ornate box, which he opens to reveals the head of a teenage girl surrounded by flowers, still alive.

With our interest piqued, the story moves to a town in post World War II Japan, in which two high school students, Yoriko Kusumoto and Kanako Yuzuki, meet who come to become deeply enamored with each other while believing that they are each other's reincarnation. I won't spoil the end of the episode, but it's a nail-biting cliffhanger. :)

Alongside the beautifully executed romance between the sophisticated Kanako and more down-to-earth, middle class Yoriko, there are numerous other cryptic plot developments, like another man shown toward the end riding a train in which the windows become smeared with the bloody hand prints of his deceased war comrades.

Despite the far-fetched mystical elements, the tight story writing and editing keep the story flowing smoothly, with empathetic, intriguing characters serving as the story's backbone. All of this, combined with the animation, gives the series a dualistic atmosphere of dreamy mysticism alongside down-to-earth historical realism.

But enough of my effusions about how good this episode is. ^^ Every anime fan should at least try it, if he or she wants to view something different from the norm.

Overall Episode Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (not perfect, because I want to see how the aftermath of the "nail-biting cliffhanger" will be handled in the next episode.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mōryō no Hako: Anticipation of Awesomeness

Ding! Ding!! Ding!!! We have a WINNAH!!! While reading Carlo Santos' review of the first episode of Mōryō no Hako on Anime News Network's Fall 2008 Anime Preview Guide (after Casey Brienza's excellent review), I came across this all too brief yet telling passage: "Mōryō no Hako's first episode is 15-20 minutes of the most heart-achingly beautiful yuri ever animated, bookended by some ... other things, like plot developments. Yes, those developments are probably the important part going forward—a decapitated head in a box in the first scene, a creepy doll that shows up midway, a tragedy that destroys a friendship in the finale—but the stuff in the middle is what will stick long afterward."

I am there. Screw La Corda D'Oro and Haruka Naru Toki no Naka de (another title I've begun casually viewing, based on a renai computer game aimed at girls/rip-off of Fushigi Yuugi). Enough with the insipid, saccharine, fan pandering bishonen fests. This is the friggin' real deal, and I look forward with the anticipation of a child on Christmas Eve to the first episode of this delightfully twisted looking anime horror tale (with yuri as icing). ^^

I plan to watch the first episode of Mōryō no Hako tomorrow, as I have a test tomorrow that I'm going to begin studying for in a few minutes. (Viewing this series will be my reward. :) )

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fall Anime Season/Vacation

Fall Break sure has been funnnn!! ^__^ On Saturday I went with my friend Laura to the nearest mall (it's in another town... ;_; ). It was fabulous (splendid, superb, delightful, etc) finally going to a mall for the first time since I left Florida! XD My college is located in a college town in Massachusetts. While there is some good shopping here, there aren't any malls. Selection aside, I just really dig the atmosphere of malls. The sounds of people buying and selling, the smell of different stores (like Hallmark as compared to, say, Borders, or Express, Macy's, Victoria's Secret, Bath and Body Works, etc), and the fun of shopping with a friend. ^^ (Although sometimes I like shopping alone too.)

Even though I love reading, anime and manga, etc, etc, it's also just nice to spend a fun, brainless afternoon at a mall, especially if it's around the holidays. I primarily looked for winter jackets, and even though I found one I liked, I decided to wait a little more for there to be more selection. I did get a copy of Shojo Beat magazine at Borders and some make-up at Sephora. I was pretty tempted to pick up some anime at Best Buy, but I didn't have any cash on me and decided to wait until the next time I go (soon) when I'll bring some expressly for that purpose, instead of charging more to my credit card.

As far as new anime series airing this season, I am definitely following Vampire Knight: Guilty (of course :) ), Rosario+Vampire Capu2 (silly, brainless fun, just like the first season), Kuroshitsuji (granted, I'm a little disappointed that *SPOILER* the butler Sebastian didn't actually kill the sleazy Italian guy who he trapped in a burning oven; seriously, how did he survive? *END SPOILER*), and Toradora (this is how you do a romantic comedy competently). I'm tentatively following To Aru Majutsu no Index (so far it has managed to be sufficiently entertaining; I'm just not sure how long it can stay interesting by rehashing psychic/magic user anime plot cliches in a way that feels fresh and stylish, with incredibly cool fight scenes) and Earl and Fairy.

Vampire Knight Guilty: Unequivocally my favorite anime premiering this season.

Kuroshitsuji: Tiding over my need for Victorian-influenced supernatural horror in between new episodes of Vampire Knight. Seriously, this is good stuff. It makes a certain other 19th century anime premiering this season (see further below) look like crap. I just wish I had a better picture.

Rosario+Vampire Capu2: Normally, this would be the kind of series I love to hate (a harem romantic comedy with fan service). Surprisingly, for me, it's a refreshingly brainless/funny take on the vampire/horror theme, and evil Moka rocks every scene she's in (the silver-haired girl). Not the most literate show, but each episode is fun to watch. :) (Besides, at this point I'm pretty desensitized to the fan service.)

Toradora! : One of the best series premiering, and certainly one of the funniest, most well-executed romantic comedies I have seen in anime, as of the past two episodes I have viewed. The series follows Ryuuji Takasu, a boy who everybody assumes is a delinquent because he inherited his yakuza father's beady eyes (even though he is actually a kind-hearted softie with a crush on a girl in his class), and Taiga Aisaka, a petite girl with a strong personality and a hair-trigger temper known as the "Palmtop Tiger." When they find out that they each have a crush on the other's best friend, they agree to help each other get together with the person they like. Ryuuji and Taiga play off each other brilliantly, and they make a great duo. Thankfully, at least so far, there isn't an inkling of romance between them, just a refreshing "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" friendship that works beautifully.

Earl and Fairy: This screencap pretty much summarizes the point of the show.

This too.

I was completely ready to hate/be amused by Earl and Fairy when I began watching it. Honestly, it's about a 17 year old girl named Lydia Carlton living in 19th century Britain (fine so far) who works as a fairy doctor(!) and lives with a talking fairy cat (groan), and while voyaging towards London to meet her father, she gets kidnapped by a dashing bishonen with ambiguous morals (he's suave and gentlemanly towards her, but is shown killing a man who tells him about Lydia in the opening scene) who asks her to help him obtain some fairy sword that will let him enter the land he inherited from an ancestor in the Fairy Nation. Follow that?

The animation was utterly mediocre, although (of course) the character designs were pretty (but I don't care too much for the eyes). I found myself sniggering quite a few times at the scenes that were meant to pass as ravishingly romantic (like when the dashing, morally ambiguous bishonen, Earl Edgar von Something, waxes on about Lydia's eyes, or when the camera lingers on him in graceful bishonen mode, sparkles and all). I love cheesy bishonen behavoir, as shown in Revolutionary Girl Utena and Ouran Host Club, but those series do it in a satirical, tongue-in-cheek way. Earl and Fairy, sadly, plays it completely straight. Alas, shows like Ouran wouldn't be around if it weren't for self-important tripe like this. As it is, it still entertains me, and, unless it simply becomes tedious, I'll continue following it, gleefully mocking it all the way in between watching good series like Vampire Knight and Toradora.

Observe my mad fairy skillz.

Is that Herbal Essences, milady?

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.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Five Series With Rockin' Female Leads Part 1

Writing about Mnemosyne yesterday made me start thinking about which anime series have strong, uber-competent female protagonists without screwing them over like Mnemosyne does. To qualify for this list, an anime series has to star a strong, competent woman/girl who isn't moe or "endearingly" idiotic or air headed. I will post five series each day until I run out of eligible choices.

1. Revolutionary Girl Utena:
Shocking isn't it? Chiefly because of Utena and Juri for their pure, concentrated sword fighting awesomeness and Anthy, for subverting the subservient housewife/damsel in distress stereotype so effectively. Heck, all of the characters rock, even the ones I hate (because they're the kind you have fun hating! :) ). This is my favorite series, so I'm biased, but, as any reputable review site will inform you, this visually inventive shoujo fantasy is a must-see.

2. Rose of Versailles:
This influential 70's gem (it influenced Utena!!) is still being shown in re-runs throughout Japan today for good reason. Oscar, a woman raised "as a man" who serves as bodyguard to Marie-Antoinette, is one of the most memorable, interesting characters I have come across in an anime and, like RGU, there aren't any "weak link" characters in this series.

3. NANA:
Nana Oosaki, one of two protagonists who are both named "Nana", forms the backbone of this series as the chain-smoking, no nonsense lead singer of a punk band trying to catch a break in Tokyo. The other Nana, Nana Komatsu, is more of a typical shoujo lead: bubbly, rather ditzy and boy-crazy, hailing from a stable background (unlike Oosaki). The two play off each other brilliantly, and Komatsu turns out to be not as typical a lead as she appears.

4. Ghost in the Shell SAC:
I've only seen a few episodes from various points in the series on Adult Swim, but from what I've seen, Major Motoko Kusanagi fits the requisites for this list to a tee, in all her gun-toting android glory. ^^

5. Blue Drop:
The protagonist, Mari Wakatake, isn't a punk singer. She isn't a duelist, a French army officer, or an android. She's just an ordinary student (with an alien girlfriend) who just doesn't take crap from anyone or act "endearingly" ditzy, while still being entertaining and likeable.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Top Anime and Manga Disappointments

Anime and Manga that start out fabulous (or at least intriguing), then peter out and end with a hollow thud:
1. Death Note: Could have, should have been one of the all-time greatest series, a la Cowboy Bebop, but quickly grows stale and dull after *SPOILER SPOILER* Light temporarily loses his memory and the police waste episode after episode investigating some corrupt organization. *END SPOILER* I never finished the anime. My last faint memories of it are of Light and L playing ring-around-the-rosie and Matsuda sneaking into that evil corporation, what's-it-called. (I guess it really was evil, because it made Death Note jump the shark.) The later episodes of DN are still better than a lot of the crap I watch (*cough*Koihime Musou*cough*), but they leave a far more bitter impression on me because they began with so much promise and toyed with my expectations. I still like L, though.

2. Fullmetal Alchemist (manga): Not as bad a case as Death Note. Maintained its awesomeness for over 10 volumes (11? 12?) and was still good last time I read the new chapters (over a year ago). It was just over-long. Maybe I'll check out how it's going again (yes, it's still running) sometime.

3. Mnemosyne: Actually, I never made it past episode 3. It began so promising: an uber-tough, competent detective named Rin who's immortal and, along with her secretary/hacker extraordinaire and maybe-girlfriend Rin, solves supernatural, film noir-ish cases that are linked to the reasons for her immortality. Sounds pretty awesome, right? Until the series crossed the line from being edgy to exploitive and misogynistic in episode 3. I'm willing to tolerate fan service, but at that point I began imagining the story writers thinking, "Our female characters began too competent and strong. Let's see how much we can make them suffer!" And from what I hear, it only gets worse. Ugh.

Thankfully, that's all I can think of for now. :)