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[lvlln’s Take] Summer 2010 First Impressions – Ookami-san and the Seven Friends, Highschool of the Dead, et al.

Alright, the Summer 2010 anime season has started, and pretty much all the shows I’ve been keeping an eye on have had their 1st episodes air. I’ve already written on Amagami SS, which I found to be rather plain, but there are other shows I’ve been paying attention to that I’ve actually enjoyed a lot more.

I wonder if those pussy gloves will ever be explained or just be one of those in-jokes.

Ookami-san and the Seven Friends

A surprisingly entertaining first episode. I had passed it off as just another high school romantic comedy before this season started, but its amusing take on the Cinderella story both sets it apart from a regular romcom and leaves me wanting to see more of its “adaptations” of children’s stories. The protagonist and main love story is pretty typical, and that fight at the end reminded me too much of Shirou from Fate/stay Night – the obvious parallel with his protecting Saber from Berserker’s attack – but Ookami-san herself was very likable. Not many boxing girls in animu. And Satomi Arai as the narrator is great. Her distinct voice works well for the cynical and sarcastic narration that keeps breaking the 4th wall and is a pleasure to listen to overall (though there are others who don’t like her voice as much as I).

Way to be useless, Rei. Hopefully you'll make up for it in future episodes.

Highschool of the Dead

Zombies and fanservice! That was pretty much what I was expecting, and that was the 1st episode. Darker at some parts than I expected, but also kept a sense of humor. The two bffs who died about halfway into the episode was a great example of the show’s dark comedy.

Rei was very annoying, which is a shame, because her voice actor Marina Inoue is capable of so much more. I’m not expecting big things from the story, but if it can keep up the good action and the fittingly ridiculous comedy, this could be very good. Yukari Fukui is yet to be heard. That I’m very much looking forward to.

I've never seen School Rumble, but Shino reminds me a lot of one of the characters from that. I don't think I've ever seen someone so blatantly and unapologetically raunchy, though.

Seitokai Yakuindomo

Wow, this is dirty! Its style of dry humor isn’t unusual in anime, but I’ve never seen it taken so far. Almost everything out of Shino’s mouth is something related to sex in the raunchiest way possible. Like talking about the tightness of her lips. And it’s all at a breakneck pace, hitting us with jokes continually before we’re given a chance to recover. I like it, though not everyone seems to. I didn’t expect much out of this show, but the level of comedy in this first episode leaves me impressed. I’m definitely going to be watching more.

I do appreciate that Anime no Chikara is using fresh material. I had no idea what to expect from Maya, and I'm glad I didn't.

Occult Academy

It certainly doesn’t hurt that Maya is an Akiha lookalike. She was my favorite Tsukihime heroine, after all. After the disappointment of Sora no Woto and the mixed reactions that Senkou no Night Raid got, I wasn’t expecting much out of this 3rd Anime no Chikara project. Given the topic of the show, I was expecting something a bit dark and moody, but what I got instead was something that was pretty wacky and funny. A lot of physical/visual comedy was used to good effect, and I enjoyed seeing Maya’s various deformed reaction faces. Can’t say much about the story which I found to be a bit confusing, but I think it would be better if the show never got too serious. I’m not alone in being surprised and impressed by the silliness in this 1st episode.

Also, Kana Hanazawa playing the possessed girl was a blast to watch/listen to, especially after hearing her as Tenshi last season in Angel Beats!


So I’ve been more or less impressed with the stuff I’ve seen so far. Perhaps my expectations were just too low going into this season – the only show out of these that I had been remotely looking forward to was Highschool of the Dead, and even then, I wasn’t expecting anything more than some mindless violence. But, 1 episode in, there are a bunch of shows that look promising this season.

  • Nameless already made a post on the 1st episode of Mitsudomoe. I couldn’t make it past about 5-8 minutes. The art style just put me off. That first gag with the misinterpretation of “anything goes” was pretty funny, I’ll admit. And it has received some positive reactions from various other blogs. It’s just that I just feel dirty watching it.
  • I also could only make it about 1/3 of the way into Shufuku no Campanella. The colors really were nice, but that was about it. Everything else was generic and way too sugary sweet.
  • I haven’t gotten a chance to check out The Legend of the Legendary Heroes yet, but it’s on my list.

Katanagatari 04

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Manga Review, Rakuen, adventure, drama, katanagatari, troll, white fox | Sunday 18 April 2010 9:56 pm

Another month, another installment of Katanagatari.  The series glazed over Nanami in the first episode, but this week she gets her turn in the limelight.  We get to see three thrilling fights against the Maniwani Corps!  Oh whom am I kidding, this series is about the dialogue, not the action.  Moreover, the cute sister is nowhere near as harmless as she appears.  The total fight time is about 2 minutes out of 50.  Well, let’s get this underway!

We are... the Three Amigos!

Holy cow, Shichika’s sister Nanami is downright mean!  Thus far, the writers have painted the villains in a sympathetic light, and the account from this episode says the same for Sabi.  So what do you do when you have straightforward villains with whom no one can sympathize?  Obviously, you make the hero sound worse than them.  Sure, they attacked her first so she can claim self-defense.  You can see she enjoys it though, especially with that creepy smile of hers.  She sets every one of them up to show her their techniques, and then kills them with the same.  Nanami even rips the fingernails out of the first Maniwani since she hasn’t seen his skill yet.

You can see where she got the negative personality.  I doubt she feels too good about her father passing over her as head of the Kyotouryuu style.  In addition, the inability to feel lasting pain of her own probably makes her a bit oblivious to the pain of others.  Perhaps the root problem here is the dissonance between her innocent look and sadistic tendencies.  At least she has the decency to give her victims a proper burial.

Please recieve the spirits of these pwned noobs.

You might think Nanami’s ability is awesome, but she highlights an aspect that makes it feel more like a curse.  While it seems counter-intuitive, much of the pleasure we derive from a task relates to the effort we exerted.  We feel accomplished when we complete a difficult task.  Conversely, if we expend no effort, we become disgruntled.  I might be crazy, but near the end of summer vacation, I wanted school to start.  You also see retired folk who quickly pick up a part-time job or several hobbies.  We need something to work on because if we don’t, boredom takes hold, which slips into depression.

Nanami hasn’t expended an ounce of real effort in her life outside of observing her father and brother.  It sounds great but it actually sucks.  Now she has the means to escape from her island prison and go seek out new experiences in the vast world around her.  She has waited for this opportunity all her life.  Of course, with a personality addicted to acquiring knowledge, you have to wonder what she will learn in her travels.  Will she approach Shichika as an ally, or perhaps as his enemy?

How could you be scared by this? Oh the stories I could tell...

Now, we come to the major point of contention in this episode.  I have to tip my hat to the author and White Fox for having the massive stones to troll us so thoroughly.  You might have expected this amazing fight between Shichika and Sabi, and instead you get an episode about Nanami.  Then they drive the stake into you further by having the protagonists talk, at length, about the amazing fighting techniques and how they came so close to losing.  For some, this didn’t just make or break the episode, it broke the whole series.

Well, as one person pointed out on MAL, given the length of the battles in this series, what we saw in the episode preview was probably the entirety of the fight.  You can compound this because if they had focused on Shichika and Togame, you’d all just complain about their dialogues instead.  I can’t find it in me to be really mad at them.  I would have loved to see the Sabi/Shichika fight, but I enjoyed what they gave me anyway.  All I can do is stand back, flip them the bird, and smile as I await the next episode.  Speaking of which, it will contain pirates and ninjas.  Did I mention I enjoy this series?

Seriously, who needs a fight when you can watch people eat!?

[Review] Metroid Manga

Posted by Author | Anime Review, Manga Review, Rakuen, Reviews, TheSpeedGamers, action, adventure, manga, metroid | Saturday 13 March 2010 12:00 am

As this post publishes, TheSpeedGamers will begin yet another charity marathon.  This time, they will run the entirety of the Metroid series.  In honor of this and out of my curiosity as a fan of the franchise, I checked to see if Nintendo had sponsored any anime or manga adaptations of the series.  Sure enough, to celebrate the release of Metroid Zero Mission, the company approved a two-volume back story to the games and the life of Samus.  I read it, and now I’m going to tell you about it.

Metroid’s story is typical for a space marine style series.  Samus grew up on a peaceful planet that contained a prized energy source.  The resources caught the space pirates’ attention, and they raided the planet.  As the sole survivor, the Chozo took her in and began training her to become a warrior and protector of peace.  As a teenager, she leaves the planet and enters the Federation.  Her unit manages to capture a space pirate, alive, and the interrogation leads her back to her home planet.  She returns to find the space pirates seizing control of the planet, under the directive of the Chozo’s own computer, Mother Brain.  She flees the planet, but years later, fate requires her to venture once again into the twisted world she once called home.  The last few chapters cover events you can actually play in the game, Metroid Zero Mission, up to but not including the final encounter with the biocomputer.

Metroid historically relies on the environment to tell a story, so while this two-volume series is light on progression, it is good for adding personality to the already established characters.  Samus starts as a traumatized girl whom the Chozo protect.  Over time, she fights out of an obligation she feels to defend the galaxy.  Of course, “obligation” only gets you so far, and when forced to stare down her past, she breaks down completely.  After the experience, she becomes a free-spirited bounty hunter who can fight for causes in which she truly believes.  The Chozo, who only show up in the games through their remaining technology, strive for peace in the galaxy.  Despite high hopes for their special projects, they fell woefully short and, in the end, set into motion all the events in the Metroid canon.

On the antagonistic side, the series reveals that the space pirates respond only to the strong, in a sort of hive-mind mentality.  Ridley, Samus’ nemesis and the leader of the space pirates, is portrayed as constantly sadistic.  He enjoys killing people, and even eats the corpses of his victims to regain his strength.  Mother Brain, however, starts the manga as a docile biological computer for the Chozo.  As time goes on, she develops a sense of fear, that the Chozo will leave her behind as they focus their efforts on Samus.  This eventually evolves into an egocentric god-complex that causes her to rebel against the galaxy.

From an artistic standpoint, the manga is simply sufficient.  Most of the problem rests on Samus, who has a disproportionate feel.  That’s a problem when she’s the main character.  I realize this manga occurs before the sexualization of Samus, but her body just looks too stocky for an acrobatic and agile bounty hunter.  It might just be me, but it seems like the artist made her head too big in some places and too small in others.  It has a weird rubber-band effect that steals your attention.  The space pirates lack detail, and Ridley looks kind of like a convoluted caricature of a demonic dragon.  The backgrounds also suffer from this same unpolished feel.  For a series that prizes detail in the environment, this is an unfortunate letdown.  On the other hand, I really liked the design of the Chozo.  Their avian features are a bit exaggerated, but they still look distinguished in their simple, formal robes.  The Metroids also have their traditionally interesting character design, and seeing Mother Brain’s slow but steady design progression is a nice addition.  In addition, the sci-fi space setting lends itself to many battle sequences, with the focus on firearms and explosions.  I found these enjoyable.

Your enjoyment of the Metroid manga will largely depend on how much interest you have in the accompanying franchise.  If you have never played the games but have thought about trying them, these volumes are the obvious starting point.  If you love the franchise already, then the story will shed some light on the characters and their backgrounds that will enhance your playing experience.  However, if you fall into the third group that has no real interest in the games, much of this will be lost on you.  The Metroid manga’s prominent weakness is its inability to stand alone as a single work.  You might enjoy the battle sequences, or the progression Samus makes, but there just isn’t enough here for a real recommendation.  I see it as a lost opportunity from Nintendo to explore the story in a different perspective.

Final Score: 6.5/10 Wave Beams

Katanagatari – Episode 03

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Manga Review, Rakuen, adventure, drama, historical, katanagatari | Thursday 11 March 2010 12:00 am

Last month on Katanagatari, Shichika and Togame retrieved Zantou Namakura from the tragic villain Ginkaku.  The next sword on the list is Sentou Tsurugi, or the thousand swords.  The weapon has fallen into the hands of Meisai Tsuruga, the matriarch of a shrine and yet another foe with a tragic history.  What are you going to do now Shichika?

Apparently, he's going to get punched in the face.

The episode starts with our heroic duo climbing the thousand steps outside of the shrine.  Shichika ends up carrying Togame up to the top, where Tsuruga greets them.  The two women retire to discuss the terms of their visit.  Tsuruga lays out the challenge: Togame must identify the original Tsurugi, while Shichika must defeat her in combat.  A shrine maiden attempts to kill the strategian, but Tsuruga blocks her and sends all the girls away.  The leader calls Shichika in to tell him about the purpose of the temple.  It serves as a refuge for broken women who have nowhere else to go.  Despite hearing the story, he stays determined to defeat her in combat.  Maniwa Kuizame shows up to claim the sword, but Tsuruga dispatches him with ease.  Togame believes she has found the original Tsurugi, and the battle begins.  Tsuruga lures Shichika into a trap, and then explains her past in detail.  Shichika “escapes,” and the two face off for a final rush between his martial arts and the true Tsurugi.  He emerges triumphant upon slaying her in a single blow.

I'm convinced the Maniwani exist solely for comic relief.

The shrine maidens set the framework for this episode.  Many of the girls suffered severe abuse at the hands of men.  The psychological damage is so extensive that they cower in fear of Shichika, even though he would do them no harm.  They all came to the temple looking for a sanctuary, both for their broken minds and from the crimes they committed.  While their assailants may have raped or abused them, in the eyes of the law, they are guilty of murder.  As a result, they also have to keep their faces covered so no one can recognize them.  Their circumstances force them to live in isolation for the rest of their lives.  Tsuruga puts their welfare ahead of her own life.  Thus, Togame offers aid from the Shogunate to take care of the temple and pardon the women for their crimes.

All he did was pick up a bundle of wood.

Tsuruga is quite an interesting character.  She lost her father to the rebellion.  To gain power and influence, she used the skills he gave her to kill hundreds of people.  Then, she found salvation, but only by treading upon the bodies of her comrades and an innocent priest.  Finally, she has helped all the girls at the shrine to repair their damaged minds, but they will have to pay with their souls.  Everything she set out to do has reached fruition, but she did it by paving the road of her life in blood.  To her, the ends do not justify the means.  At this point, she doesn’t feel she has the power to break the cycle, or no longer thinks she’s fit to try.  Following Shichika out of her trap seems like a tactical blunder, but she herself says she thought she would probably die.  Like Ginkaku before her, Tsuruga ultimately wants death, and she knows that Shichika is fully willing to grant her wish.

If this sounds familiar, it came up last episode as well.

On that note, Tsuruga also mentions a belief in fate several times.  Let’s look at the events in the series through that lens.  When Togame’s father died in the rebellion, it set into motion events that would cause her to resent the empire.  Since Shichika is the only heir to the anti-sword style, fate dictated that the two would meet.  Their search means that so long as they live, they will eventually meet every person who bears one of the twelve swords.  Tsuruga believes fate decided that her multi-sword style would bring her in contact with the Tsurugi that perfectly compliments her.  This means that her path would have to cross Shichika’s at some indeterminate point.  The ensuing battle would finally allow her to feel death’s embrace.  When you look at it in this manner, Tsuruga’s death broke her cycle, but served to prolong Shichika’s.

Finally free...

Finally, we need to look at Shichika’s character development.  You probably have trouble sympathizing with him given the way the writers have constructed his character.  When Tsuruga questions him on why he fights, he states that he does it because Togame wishes it.  It evokes thoughts of a soldier that carries out his duty with no regard for the task’s morality.  That idea is firmly rooted in reality.  Many times, we kill our enemies because they tried to kill us without taking a moment to think about why they tried to kill us.  Even when he’s given the opportunity to learn Tsuruga’s motivations, he ignores it.  This leads Tsuruga to accuse him of ignoring it simply because he doesn’t want to think for himself.  She is absolutely right, and he even admits it.  Think about it.  Tsuruga and Ginkaku are not truly evil characters.  At worst, they are simply misguided.  Their only real crime was standing in the way of Shichika’s, or rather, Togame’s goal.  He never questions if the ends justify the means.  I have to wonder if a real fight for his life would get him to start examining his actions, and it seems that Sabi will put him through hell next month.  I’m looking forward to it.

Hopefully, you'll have to think for yourself sooner rather than later.

Katanagatari – Episode 02

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Manga Review, Rakuen, adventure, feudal, historical, katanagatari, metafiction, ronin, tragedy | Wednesday 10 February 2010 9:19 pm

Last week on Katanagatari, the show acquainted us with our main characters, Shichika and Togame.  They didn’t have long to talk though, as Koumori from the Maniwa Corps attacked.  Shichika defeated him and retrieved the first sword, Zettou Kanna.  This week, they pursue Zantou Namakuma and the ronin that wields it.

It's good you have a strong grip, Togame.

The episode begins with the couple making landfall in Kyoto.  We already knew Shichika had problems telling people apart, and with so many people around, it’s a bit disorienting for him.  This leads to an “identification exercise” that seems more to bring the two physically close than to serve any real use.  He also questions the necessity of buying new clothes to replace his practical peasant garb.  The two encounter some bandits on the way out-of-town, and the martial artist handily disarms them.  Togame stops him from finishing them.  Unfortunately, it’s rude to kill everyone with a sword that crosses your path, even if they are a nuisance.

Where were you when they tried to KILL you!?

As Togame describes the sword’s owner, Uneri Ginkaku, the perspective shifts to his castle.  Shirasagi Maniwa has come to claim the sword, and his peculiar quirk is talking backwards.  You can imagine how difficult this might be to understand.  Fortunately, Ginkaku cuts him down in all of 90 seconds.  Togame continues to narrate the desert condition of the ronin’s domain.  Neither really understands why an accomplished swordsman like himself would be the sole resident in such an arid place.

Ninjas are a nuisance, even in death.

Their conversation turns to the bizarre with Togame lodging complaints about Shichika’s lack of personality and catch phrase.  She isn’t breaking the fourth wall, simply leaning on it quite hard.  Since she’s recording everything that happens on their journey, the discussion is based on the premise of exciting writing.  Of course, the guy really has no interest in all this extraneous stuff, and decides to just accept whatever phrase she spits out next.  You wouldn’t think this country bumpkin would have already mastered believable sarcasm, but there you have it.

...that you believe a single word I just said.

The pair reach the castle and literally trip over the body of Shirasagi.  They decide the event is lucky, because that means the sword is still here and reveals the ronin’s skill level.  In addition, a dead person can’t speak, so Togame won’t have to write dialogue for him.  They explore the castle and find Ginkaku’s room.  The strategian attempts to negotiate, and almost gets herself killed.  Shichika saves her at the last-minute as the two show their respective skills.  Today’s battle will come down to the no-sword style against the quick draw style.  The protagonists make a temporary retreat to strategize.

You might also "chill out," "max," or "relax all cool."

Shichika remarks that his style of attack and that he allowed them to leave means that Ginkaku must stay in the room to reach his optimal skill level.  Despite a rather clever plot to force the swordsman to leave, the pair decide to face him head to head.  Shichika asks that Togame stay behind him this time, so he can protect her.

Personally, I approve of this plan.

On the other side, Ginkaku reminisces about his current lot in life.  He’s thought about abandoning the territory, but could never commit to it.  All that he has left to protect is his castle and the sword by his side, which he resolved to defend until his last breath.

But what happens when there's nothing left..?

I will not spoil the final battle for you.  Suffice to say it has action, insight, and surprisingly, humor.  That’s kind of the series’ defining mark at this time.  The characters talk a lot, but the banter is witty and gives us a good look into the characters and the world around them.  Togame has loud, big ideas, while Shichika prefers a more subdued, practical approach.  Their polar opposite dynamic means that you’ll probably find yourself more interested as the dialogue progresses.  Additionally, the series immediately introduces the concept of the tragic villain.  Ginkaku really isn’t a bad guy, his motivations just ran counter to theirs and weren’t entirely clear.  However, in a way, the pair finally granted his wish by liberating him from his burden, and his brief last words are powerful.  You have to wonder why the antagonists to come made the choices they did to reach this point.  Next month they will target Sentou Tsurugi, and the preview animation promises much more action.  If you haven’t already done so, pick this series up now, I really think it will be one of the best by the end of the year.

And woe to humanity if they should ever succeed...

Katanagatari – Episode 01

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Manga Review, Rakuen, adventure, feudal, historical, katanagatari, swordsman | Friday 29 January 2010 8:07 pm

We’ve almost reached the end of the Winter season launches with the airing of Katanagatari.  However, this is a nonstandard series.  The plan is to be a sweeping epic series that is aired as one 45-minute episode every month for the rest of the year.  I don’t have a lot of time before shipping out for Ohayocon, so let’s jump right into this.

Going out in the middle of a blaze is pretty cool though.

The anime starts on an isolated island where our protagonist Shichika and his sister Nanami live.  They came to this island with their father when the empire banished him.  Shichika has inherited the no sword style, called Kyotouryuu, from his father, who died a year before our story.  Togame, the shogun’s “strategian,” has come to this island to seek out the head of the Kyotouryuu style, which means her aim is to recruit Shichika.

She's fallen for him.

Togame lays out most of the plot for us.  An infamous swordsmith by the name of Shikizaki Kiki made a series of 1000 swords.  Of these, the last 12 are especially dangerous, and have special properties.  The shogun sent ninjas and swordsmen to retrieve the weapons, but to no avail, as once obtained the hires disappeared.  She needs Shichika to aid her in her task, since he’s the only person in the world with the skills necessary who wouldn’t be swayed by love or honor.  She also wants him to love her.

You've got to believe in the heart of the cards... I mean... the power of love!

An assassin, Koumori, interrupts their conversation with a hail of kunai.  Our hero gives chase and the two stop at the beach.  It turns out this guy has the first legendary sword, which he keeps in an… unorthodox place.  The Zettou Kanna’s special ability is its extreme durability, rendering it mostly unbreakable.  After a lot of talking and a small amount of combat, the assassin escapes with Togame.

Dude breaks swords and doesn't afraid of anything.

Koumori takes on Togame’s appearance using his ninja skill, and goes to kill Shichika.  Unfortunately for him, our hero has quick reflexes and immediately lashes out when surprised.  Koumori reveals the strategian’s true intentions to  try to convert the martial artist.  It turns out she’s actually the daughter of the rebel leader, and Shichika’s father killed her father.  However, hearing that she decided to turn to her enemy for help actually moves the young man to commit to aiding her.  He dispatches Koumori, takes the sword, and the two then set off on their quest.

Stop hitting yourself!

This first episode serves as a prologue, and because it must set the stage for the rest of the plot, there is an incredible amount of dialogue.  Shichika lampshades this halfway through when he asks if ALL mainlanders talk this much.  However, the plot is interesting, and hopefully we’ll get more action in later episodes.  Shichika plays the role of the rather quiet, dumb protagonist, while Togame serves as the plot force and comic relief.  Foremost, the art style alone makes this series worth watching in my opinion.  The colors are vibrant and appealing and the art direction is a lot more fluid then what you might be used to.  It reminds me of Kaiba.  I am extremely interested in seeing more, unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a month for the next episode.

See you next time, feudal cowboy.

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