Saturday, June 26, 2010

Not yuri, but I don't really care

 I just finished Angel Beats. It isn't yuri, but I've been a fan-geek for Key's funny, sad, tear-jerker stories since Air. Even though I did cry while watching Air (during a certain death scene at the end), Kanon (the flashback about Sayuri's little brother), and Clannad ~After Story~ (I don't remember which scene it was ^^;;), I never cried during Angel Beats. Not sure if it's just me, or the story. lol*

Even though parts of the story were inconsistent, it definitely tugged at the heart strings and brought me close to breaking out the tissues at key points. (Why do I keep watching shows like that? lol) The saddest scene in the final episode was when the remaining "students" said goodbye after their graduation- and for something of yuri relevance, I know I'm not the only person who remembered Kannazuki no Miko during that final scene. But like all Key shows, Angel Beats also had a healthy sense of humor to keep itself balanced.

So yup- I liked Angel Beats. ^^

Speaking of good shows...
this was my reaction to the selection of new anime shows premiering this summer.

And this was my reaction when I found out that K-ON!! would be going full speed ahead with 26 episodes.

I'm really enjoying the current season- and willing to watch as many episodes as it takes for Houkago Tea Time to reach the Budokan. :)

* I watched Air and Kanon (the KyoAni version) in 2006-2007. I'm hesitant to re-watch either one because I'm afraid that they won't seem as good as when I first watched them. Don't want to ruin those sugar-coated memories. lol

Friday, June 25, 2010

Anime Review: Ikki Tousen Xtreme Xecutor

 Ikki Tousen: Xtreme Xecutor was pretty much a zombie flick- with scads of over-the-top service like the previous seasons.

Even though I knew that Ikki Tousen is a service-action show loosely based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, before watching it, I expected it to be lighthearted action, like...well...Koihime Musou, or Kämpfer. I didn't expect the body count that piled up by the end of the first season. (Like Ryofu blowing some random guy's heart out of his chest before suicide-attacking Toutaku. And *sniff* Chinkyuu.) I liked the second season a little better, because I preferred the Nanyou-Seitou-Kyoushou dynamic over Rakuyou vs. Nanyou. I tried one episode of season 3 before going, “Screw this,” and moving on to Xtreme Xecutor. (While, admittedly, hoping that season 4 would bring some overt Kan'u/Ryuubi without sacrificing Kan'u's kakkoii-ness, a la Great Guardians. Liu Bei and Guan Yu would probably be horrified. lol)

First, some superfluous character exposition. (Because I've never reviewed this series before.) Ryuubi, Seito's head, is a mild-mannered book-nerd who's willing to do anything to prevent her subordinates from getting hurt- although she causes devastation to her school at one point in season 2 by losing control of the dragon living inside of her. Sousou, Kyoushou's head, commands respect by being there for his team and, of course, having a crazy-ass dragon inside of him, although his own personality is overshadowed- especially in season 2- by his dragon and the despotic spirit of Cao Cao residing within him. Hakufu's a vivacious meathead who commands respect through her power (which she never abuses) and sheer bravura. Amusingly, she's the only school head who can completely control her dragon, even though she's easily the least intelligent.  ("Under imperial decree, I'm here to execute you." "Ummmmm.... *pondering* What does 'execute' mean?") My favorite characters from each of the three main schools/kingdoms are Kan'u (the baddest mother****er in the entire series; she had me when she fought and beat Ryoumou in season one right after Ryoumou broke her arm), Ryoumou (she's thoroughly badass, also; Hakufu is strong, but she lacks badassery), and Kakouton (not sure why, I just like him). Additionally- my favorite Rakuyou character will always be Chinkyuu. And my favorite Nanban character is definitely Mouyu, who has the same seiyuu as Satou Sei.

The fourth season brings in newcomer Bachou Mouki, who wants revenge on Sou Sou for killing her brother. Even though she's supposed to be part of Ryuubi's faction, she asks Hakufu to train her to be a stronger fighter. (I love how unruffled Ryuubi is at Bachou’s decision not to fight under her.) One of the stupidest/best scenes later on is where Bachou knows how to head-butt a giant snake because it’s moving exactly like the training machine that Hakufu made. (Very Karate Kid.) The main plot involves a fake fighting tournament that’s held to trap most of the strongest fighters on an island so that the heads of Nanban can more easily kill Hakufu, Ryuubi, and Sousou on the mainland, and the main villain can make Ryoumou and Kan’u fight until they spill enough fighter-blood to raise a zombie army. lol

My favorite episode was the final one. It made my little Liu Bei x Guan Yu heeheehee Ryuubi x Kan'u shipping heart go pitter-patter. :-) (I also thought "Damn it, Chouhi! Don't interrupt!" and later, "Hakufu, considering how many enemies you have, that kitten would probably be better off without you coddling it.") The penultimate fight also made me laugh- what with the Halloween music playing and the classic "villain-rising-from-the-dead" thing. It was so stupid and "wtf"-inducing- it was amazing.

Even though it is butchering a classic novel and chock full of plot holes (“This is present day Japan, right? Where are the police? Why did Kan'u turn purple when she was possesed? Does anybody care?”), this series actually has fairly likeable characters, a stupid-fun storyline, and well-choreographed fights. The most well-known downside (or upside, depending on your point of view) is the barrage of fan service. The only things that really made me want to punch the screen were the service involving Ten'i and that one god-awful still-image of Koumei. Otherwise, nothing out of the ordinary for this show.

It's kind of entertaining to contrast how Ikki Tousen and Koihime Musou both, erm, interpret RotTK, while watching each one.

Story: C- (A stupid-fun action story, muddled by panty shots and exploding shirts.)
Art: B
Overall: C+ (B for episode 12. Mwahaha.)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Manga Review: UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie volume 7

I'm starting to re-watch Kannazuki no Miko in its entirety- which I haven't since, like, right before my senior year of high school. (When I showed it to my dad to "test" his open-mindedness before coming out. Amusingly, since he isn't at all familiar with anime tropes- like mecha, cat girls, etc- he thought that the entire thing was pretty original, while looking forward to seeing how it would end. lol) It's a little bit like anime comfort food- anticipating the lines and musical cues that I've already heard several times. It's...nice to get back to the original story. Like Kyoshiro to Towa no Sora, Himegami no Miko, and (eugh) Zettai Shoujo Seiiki Amnesian, this particular volume of Kaishaku's UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie is a way to re-visit Chikane and Himeko in an "alternate world" context.

UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie is about a boy named Kazuto who runs a bathhouse, who dies when an alien princess's spaceship crashes into him. (Her name is Valkyrie, from the planet Valhalla. Clever, no?) To revive him, she gives him half of her soul, which turns her into a little girl. When she kisses Kazuto, she can temporarily re-gain her busty adult form. Something for the lolicon and something for the folks who like Barbie-figures, apparently. More characters join them, including Hydra, Valkyrie's rival from Valhalla, Sanada, a cat girl from Valhalla, Shiro, Valkyrie's talking dog(?)-like alien pet, and Akina, Kazuto's tomboyish childhood best friend who has a crush on him. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

In volume 7, the characters play in the snow and Sanada has a flashback to how she met Valkyrie and spent a period of time at a militant cat girl maid training camp. (Complete with incongruously bad-ass cat woman drill sergeant.)

The characters vacation at the Ototachibana ryokan, run by Ichinomiya Chihane and her (ahem) business partner Nijou Hinako. Chihane and Hinako both excitedly recognize Akina from a "strongest miko" competition that they competed in in the past. Silly romantic comedy hijinks ensue between Akina and Kazuto, and Valkyrie and Hydra find an underground cavern where Chihane and Hinako, in familiar-looking miko garb, are leading a group of followers trying to seal the evil god Hydra. More hijinks, in which Sanada, then Shiro, then Kazuto, and then Valkyrie are possessed by Hydra and more characters show up to seal Hydra. (Including Steel Angel Kurumi 2's Nako and Kurumi.) Things end happily, and the characters relax in the Ototachibana ryokan's hot spring. Then a bonus chapter.

For what it was (again- for what it was), this volume was okay. It was more entertaining when I mostly couldn't read it, because I projected better dialogue than what was actually there. lol (It wasn't difficult to read because it has a generous amount of furigana.) As far as series that portray Chikane and Himeko outside of their original KnM-verse, this volume ranks below Himegami no Miko and Kyoshiro to Towa no Sora, but above Zettai Shoujo Seiiki Amnesian, as far as Chikane and Himeko leading reasonably pleasant, non-abused lives together. One nitpick I have with their portrayal here is that, since Valkyrie is a cutesy moe-fluff story, Chikane and Himeko are more...cute? (When they first appeared, it was kind of...well...cute, but by the end, not really.) And the phrase that (it felt like) they used the most by far was "Akina-sama." When it was time to re-seal Hydra, I wished that they (especially Chikane) would do more instead of asking Akina for help. But the references to the original KnM story were kind of amusing, in a nerdy way.

As far as yuri, there isn't really any, if you aren't already familiar with KnM. Chihane and Hinako don't kiss or act lovey-dovey- but since they are Chikane and Himeko and they seem to live together (and even speak in synch with each other at times- they felt like the Greek chorus of this volume), they still hold their couple-status for me here. (I'd like to think that Kaishaku was thinking, "Well everyone knows that they're a couple. We don't need to point it out.") But for a silly cameo in a crappy story, it was fine.

I haven't read or watched anything else from the UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie franchise. This was something that I picked up a few years ago in Japan, when I was trawling through manga in a bookstore and was pleasantly surprised to see chibi-Chikane and chibi-Himeko on the cover.

Story: I skimmed parts, especially early in the volume. Whenever Chihane and Hinako appeared, my interest mysteriously shot up.
Art: C+
Overall: C+ (Points for Chikane and Himeko in a non-rapey context. Such high standards....)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wh-wh-what? (Kittsukiboshi OVA)

Yay, another yuri anime! ^^ That, and the fact that the trailer is out already is good news.

Plus, only one person, freelance animator Ishikawa Naoya, directed, wrote, and animated it. It's nice to see a fresh face taking the initiative to produce an independent project. (With as many tasks as he has on his plate, I'm more forgiving than I would normally be of the fact that the art looks rough and unfinished.)

The not-so-good news is that Primastea, the studio releasing Kittsukiboshi, is the same studio that churned out Isshoni Training: Training with Hinako and Isshoni Sleeping: Sleeping With Hinako. (Not exactly the best pedigree.)

The story shown in the trailer, about "two girls' "risky" summer vacation together", doesn't look like anything that hasn't already been done to death (and that spit-trail was pretty "bleh"), but I'll check it out. According to the Amazon JP listing, it's 21 minutes long. It could be a cute fluff story. We'll see.

Part 1 of the story is coming out on August 16, and part 2 is coming out next summer. My biggest hope for Kittsukiboshi is that it will help pave the way for more independent yuri anime projects.

Edit @ 11:22 p.m.: I just finished talking on the phone with a friend who is a graphic designer, who also attended animation school for two years, and she was like, "He's doing 20 minutes of animation by himself!? And the writing and directing? Go easy on him. Etc..." In short, I have had the enormity of the amount of work Ishikawa is responsible for on this project soundly drilled into my brain. -_- I'll keep it in mind when I watch the final product.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Anime Review: Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou

Every piece of animated work must have at least some microscopic modicum of artistic merit- through its visuals, writing, music, something. But Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou is a perfect example of a title that I would recommend if someone asked me for an example of animated art. (I normally divide the titles that I enjoy into two categories: "art" and "popcorn", even though they can obviously overlap to varying degrees. ^^;)

Ashihano Hitoshi's Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou manga ran from 1994 to 2006, collected into 14 tankoubon. In 1998, a two episode Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou OVA was released, and from 2002 to 2003 another two episode OVA titled Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou: Quiet Country Café was animated.

The story takes place in the future, after some sort of unnamed natural disaster has caused the human population to decline. People are living more simply, quietly enjoying life and accepting that they are in the twilight of their era. The main character is an android named Alpha, who is running a coffee shop while waiting for her human "owner" to return. At the start of the first OVA, Alpha receives a camera and message from her owner, courtesy of another android named Kokone, encouraging her to record her memories. The first two OVA episodes showcase the little highs and lows of Alpha's life, culminating in one of the most beautifully memorable scenes that I have seen in any anime.

Quiet Country Café is still slice-of-life, but it has a little more focus as Alpha's shop is wrecked by a typhoon and she decides to go on a journey and explore the world for herself- with Kokone waiting for her return, unbeknownst to her.

Kokone definitely has a crush on Alpha, and even though nothing really comes of it as far as we see, it's still cute and they have plenty of time. :-)

The art is pretty simple, but it captures the mood of the story well and matches what I've seen of the manga art. I slightly prefer the character designs in the 1998 OVA, which look hand drawn and a little warmer, if that makes sense. The voice-acting is spot-on, and the music is a treat, especially the music in the second OVA, by Choro Club. (Choro Club later did the music for Aria.)

The characters are great and the story flows as smoothly as silk. My one potential-nitpick is that, since these OVAs are animating a small slice of a much longer story, I'm sure that I'll appreciate them more after getting the larger context.

Still- it's 4 episodes. It's excellent. You have no excuse not to try it. *determined look*

Story: A-
Art: B
Overall: A-

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Certain Tardy Anime Review: To Aru Kagaku no Railgun

 It wasn't until I saw the line-up of shows premiering this summer that I realized, "Wow, I'm spoiled. There isn't anything that looks really interesting, or anything yuri-ish."

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun was one of the best shows to come out of the yuri-rich year of 2009. Railgun is like a pizza with a motley assortment of toppings thrown onto it that all bake together to produce a tasty pie- comedy, action, soft/social science fiction, romance, even a little mecha at the end, with a hearty sprinkling of yuri.

The story, about a group of friends living in a city mostly composed of espers known as Academy City (electricity-manipulating "Railgun" Mikoto, her amorous teleporter roommate Kuroko, who is part of the law-enforcement group known as "Judgement", Kuroko's "Judgement"-partner Uiharu, and Uiharu's best friend Saten, who is a non-esper) could have been another throwaway "teens with superpowers" sci-fi tale. But it isn't.

Part of Railgun's strength comes from the richly-realized setting. Located within metropolitan Tokyo, Academy City is a separate city unto itself, with its own technology (20 to 30 years more advanced than that of the "outside world"), laws, and not-entirely-rigid hierarchy. The slums and lesser schools are usually populated by lower-level espers and non-espers, while high-level espers go to top-notch schools and live in really nice, but strict, dorms in some of the cleanest, most aesthetic areas of town. But people who have little or no psychic ability can still do very well by being skilled in other areas, like Uiharu, who has mad computer skills, or Kiyama-sensei, a neuroscientific researcher. And Saten just...does whatever she can do, and she's fine. Plus, there's Anti-Skill, a law enforcement group composed only of non-espers who get called in if an esper abuses or loses control of of his or her power. The Darwinian principles underlying Academy City aren't ignored, but they aren't stiflingly oppressive either. (This isn't Ai no Kusabi.)

But Railgun's older sister series, To Aru Majutsu no Index, takes place in the same setting and it isn't as much fun to watch. What's Railgun's trump card?

Great characters.

Virtually all of the characters, down to the one-episode-special side characters and the villains, are entertaining, and their interactions keep the show moving at a brisk clip. No character falls into a simple stereotype. (Except for, maybe, the final villain Telestina- yes, that is her name- but even her cackling psychosis and disregard for human life is explained as the unfortunate result of her grandfather treating her as expendable fodder for his experiments.) Even though Mikoto is the lead, all four of the leads get ample time to shine. (I will own that when I first started watching the show, Kuroko annoyed me- especially her "pervy granny"-sounding voice. But before long, I thought that she was awesome, and her voice sounded fine to me- unique, but not annoying. Go figure.)

Not every episode is a winner (I really could have done without the beach episode- but at least it developed Mitsuko beyond the snooty "Ohoho"-ing ojousama character-type), but as a whole, the story (a sequence of smaller arcs that lead up to a much larger story arc- twice) works really well. When re-watching it, I noticed many more "plot seeds" in earlier episodes that were relevant in later episodes. And I loved the ending. In the manga, after the Level Upper incident wrapped up in volume 3, Kiyama and the issue with the kids who were comatose due to experimentation sort of...fell off the face of the earth, and the story moved on to the "Sisters" arc. But I really like how the anime provided closure on that plot thread, wrapping up the series satisfactorily while providing a good jumping off point for the "Sisters" arc, should a second season be green-lit. (If Index could get a second season, why not? :) Railgun's DVD sales are good.)

Yuri mostly comes from Kuroko's hardcore crush on Mikoto- which, imo, the anime provides more fodder for than the manga does. One little scene that sticks out to me is the ending of the "Skill Out" arc when, after Mii and Kurozuma get back together, Mikoto and Kuroko are relaxing on the rooftop where Mii and Kurozuma used to hang out and Kuroko notices where Mii wrote "Mii" and "Kuro" under an umbrella. (The equivalent of drawing names inside a heart.) This could be completely delusional of me, but it felt like a small, subtle Mi(koto) + Kuro(ko)-shipping moment, by making a parallel between them and Mii + Kurozuma. ^^;; But the best Mikoto + Kuroko scene to me was Mikoto's method of using Kuroko as her "secret weapon" against Telestina in the final episode. (And there are other, funnier moments.) There's also the eyebrow girl's crush on Saten- promisingly, they're still exchanging letters by the end. And I'm sure there are people pairing Saten and Uiharu (especially if you interpret Saten as following the "tease-the-girl-you-like" mode of behavior) as well as Tsuzuri-sensei and Yomikawa-sensei.

The bottom line: it was fun.

Story: B+
Art: B+
Overall: A- (When will someone license this on R1?)

I'll review volumes 4 and 5 of the Railgun manga together after volume 5 comes out later this month.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Manga Review: Aoi Hana volume 5

 My last review of the Aoi Hana manga was almost a year ago. One year after the summer that I went crazy squeeing over the anime adaptation, I'm still in love with this story, whichever form it's in. ^_^

Having left off right after Fumi's confession to Ah-chan, volume 5 picks up with the Fujigaya Drama Club putting on their performance of Mishima Yukio's "Rokumeikan." Ah-chan hasn't rejected Fumi, but she isn't jumping into her arms either. (Although future chapters show promise. ^____^)

Ah-chan does a great job as one of the leads in Rokumeikan after Fumi calms her nerves, and Kyouko also does a fabulous job. (Even better than Sugimoto the previous year.) Fumi also meets Haruka's big sister Orie and, somewhat enviously, picks up on the lovers' vibe between Orie and Hinako-sensei. (I'm really glad to see Orie and Hinako playing a larger role- especially the great advice scene between Fumi and Hinako that will appear in volume 6 when it comes out. But- aughh, I'm getting way ahead of myself!! >__<) Meanwhile, Kyouko's dealing with her family issues and Kou, shockingly, tells her that they should break off their engagement even though (or really, because) he loves her. I'm really interested in seeing what happens to them. (Does Kyouko suddenly want to marry him only because she wants to leave her family? Or is she also developing some feelings for him that he doesn't notice? Since he's always been there for her, and they have that "childhood friends" thing going on like Fumi and Ah-chan....) While taking a painting lesson with Kazusa, Kyouko learns that Yasuko's returning from her study abroad for ten days during summer break. On Haruka's invitiation, Ah-chan, Fumi, Mogii, Pon-chan, and Yassan make plans to go to Haruka's grandfather's ryokan- along with Orie and Hinako. (Whoohoo! ^^)

I still staunchly believe that this is a fantastic series. The characters are as loveable as ever (not just "likeable"- loveable), with new insights and layers being added. The biggest insights in this volume have to do with Kyouko and Chizu's pasts- although I still don't like Chizu. lol Ah-chan, having never been in love with anyone, is walking a tightrope in trying to figure out her own feelings without hurting Fumi. Shimura isn't in any hurry to get them together (and yes, I am convinced that they will, eventually, get together), but the story still doesn't feel like it's moving too slowly. Not when it's this good. And of course, Fumi makes some progress in coming out from learning about Haruka's sister and Hinako. (Seeing someone older who has happily "traveled the same path" can make a big difference.) Chizu's story, on the other hand, serves as a parallel cautionary tale for what could happen if Fumi doesn't stay true to herself. And Yassan, Mogii, and Pon-chan, with their "outsiders' perspective", occasionally provide a nice break from the drama- even though it's freaking excellent drama.

Finally, after the story proper, Shimura provides another "Little Women" segment and a bonus comic.

Another awesome volume. Bring on volume 6!!

Story: A
Art: B+
Overall: Amazing :)

Ooh, if only this would be licensed.